Platinum Angel

Chapter 34: Under Her Thrall

Later that day, Rei went and accessed the Animus like he usually did.

As usual, he went for a few rounds of Wanted, where, as The Sentinel, he took on the computer, and then on some of his fellow trainees, in digital recreations of various locations. From Renaissance-era Rome, to Colonial America's Fort Wolcott, he tested his skills in all sorts of virtual battlefields – as a form of stress relief, but more importantly as a way of further honing his skills. The good news was that by this point, his skills had progressed to the point that he was second only to one person in the current batch of rookies.

The bad news, however…

Reina…

Ever since Reina Carmine made her debut, Rei felt perpetually on edge. Not only had she continued to outperform him in both parts of the training, there was also something in her perpetually sunny demeanor that he couldn't get out of his head. Nor did it help that he did find her cute – not that he would ever admit it.

To wit, Reina was very forward in her attempts to know more about him. And again, he thought as he finished the current round by dispatching one of his fellow trainees with an aerial assassination, the way she reacted when she didn't get her way reminded him strongly of Shana. For that matter, he'd also had a brief crush on Shana herself during their first year, but had since come to view more as a mixture of mother and sister than a potential love interest.

The fact of the matter was, thought Rei as he exited the Animus, he would have considered Reina a godsend had she appeared sooner – by a year or so, to be exact. But now that he had Freya…

"You shouldn't be spending too much time in the Animus, silly. Don't you know it's bad for you?"

Reina Carmine's smiling face greeted him as he opened his eyes.

"Reina?!" Rei spluttered, leaping up from the Animus as though he'd received a particularly nasty electric shock. "What – why – what the hell d'you think you're doing?"

Reina's brilliant blue eyes narrowed as she glared reproachfully at Rei for the expletive that was blurted out at her. "Really, is that any way to greet a girl? I'll have you know I went out of my way to make dinner for you!"

Sure enough, there was a tray on his bedside table, laden with a bowl full of what looked like chicken risotto. It wasn't bad, either, thought Rei as he sat down on the bed and tried it. Indeed, for all his unease about her, even Rei had to admit that Reina was a pretty good cook.

"Daniel and the others cleaned out all the food a while back, and I thought you might be getting hungry after spending all afternoon in that thing," she explained as she sat right next to him. "You really ought to be more appreciative, Rei. It's not like I do this kind of service very often."

This she added playfully, complete with a childish pout and that V sign she liked so much. Looking at her, Rei thought she was something else.

Idiot, spat his inner voice – his conscience – as it made itself known.

Something's very wrong here. Can't you see it?

Maybe there was, thought Rei, but it probably wasn't that much of a problem. As a student of psychology, he was unable to spot any malicious intent in the girl in front of her. Maybe he was the one who was being unfair. And if so, he owed her an apology.

He'd probably just misjudged her; looking at her now, Rei really couldn't perceive any ill intent on Reina's part. One look into her eyes – those eyes of gold – was enough to convince him-

Wait, what?

"Hello? Earth to Rei?" said Reina suddenly as she tweaked him on the nose; when he looked down, he saw that the plate was completely cleaned out. "Really, it's rude to keep spacing out like that. At any rate, I'm glad you enjoyed the meal, though – I can't help but feel all fuzzy inside."

"Goodnight now, Rei," she said as she stepped out of the door, tray in her hands as she looked back at him briefly. "I do hope you'll open up to me a bit more from now on."

Finally, she closed the door behind her. And as she did so, Rei couldn't help but agree with his conscience.

Something did seem off, somehow, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

Like she'd quite literally had him under her thrall back there…

Days passed, and before Rei knew it, he'd just ended yet another gruelling week of training.

He was happy about it, too, and with good reason. If the remarks from Daniel, Mancini and Pinocchio were anything to go by, he was improving at a remarkably fast rate.

The last time he'd tried out Wanted Mode in the Animus, his kill-death ratio had been a respectable 8-1 – a huge improvement from where he had started. His records in the Animus Virtual Training Program had likewise gotten better, if the bronze and silver medals he'd gotten in the free running courses were anything to go by. His skills had also progressed when it came to stealth assassination and kill streaks; while he hadn't yet gotten any medals there, his scores were nevertheless a far cry from what they were starting out.

All things considered, Rei thought as he laid in his bed, he deserved a break for tonight.

Outside the Animus, too, his performance had also gotten much better. Rei had had difficulty with the obstacle course at first, given that fatigue came into play, but he'd since come to find it much easier to deal with. Even hand-to-hand combat was becoming less and less of a hassle, considering Reina-

Oh, really?

What about Reina?

Rei shook his head, not knowing what to do. Ever since they'd met, she'd been coming onto him quite strongly.

Reina always insisted on sitting next to him during mealtimes, always tried to get him alone; even pointing out to her that he, Rei, had a girlfriend, didn't seem to help much. Ever since he'd let down his guard that night, she became even more aggressive and insistent in her actions towards him. In the process, too, he'd learned not to look into her eyes while talking to her.

Perhaps he was just paranoid, but for some reason, it was as if eye contact made it easier for Reina to get him to agree with her, or to otherwise do something for her. Regardless, it was partly thanks to Reina Carmine that Rei spent half his time in the Animus, and the other half hanging out in the room shared by Daniel, Mancini and Pinocchio. Reina couldn't get in there, at least, which was more than could be said for his room.

He didn't know what she was thinking, but he wasn't sure he liked it. Yet for some reason, neither could he bring himself to push her away.

As a student of psychology, Rei couldn't help but suspect that there was some reason Reina was acting that way, and he felt that he ought to at least find out why.

Is that so?

He winced as the voice at the back of his head made itself known again.

If you ask me, it's like you love the attention.

I don't blame you, though – Reina would have been a good match for you-

"Shut up," Rei hissed to himself as he turned to face the wall to his right.

"Get it together, Rei," he told himself, as forcefully as could be. "You're here because you want to protect Freya. Don't let this girl get in your way now."

Tomorrow was Rei's day off, and it was just as well. At least then he and the guys could go out, and he could use a break from her attentions.

The next day came.

As was the usual custom, Rei woke up at sunrise, and had breakfast in the dining hall with his comrades. He took his usual seat with Daniel, Mancini and Pinocchio, eating silently as the three chatted animatedly as to their plans for the day. Much to his surprise, Reina was mysteriously absent, but then she was a girl, after all; for her to feel awkward surrounded by men all the time was but normal.

In the meantime, he listened as Daniel gave them their instructions.

After their usual lunch at that restaurant where he, Rei, had first met them, they'd be free to wander the city and to whatever they liked. The one rule Daniel had laid down was that they were to return to the Chateau by sundown.

"But for you, Rei," Daniel said suddenly, just as they'd finished eating, "There's another rule to follow."

At least, that was how it usually was.

"Oh, yeah? What's that?"

"You're not to see your family, least of all Freya. Nor, for that matter, are you to make contact with anyone you know."

That took him by surprise. "What, why?"

At the question, Daniel's face took on a serious expression. It was the same one he used when speaking as their mentor and leader, which probably meant that even this strange command had a purpose. Rei had come to expect as much from him, actually; from what he'd experienced over the past week, Daniel usually had some good reason for even the most seemingly arbitrary things he did.

"It won't be just a regular day off for you – we'll be testing your fidelity to the Creed, too." Daniel explained, in the process confirming his hunch. "Think of it as your practical exam, Rei. An Assassin's work sometimes requires him to keep secrets, even from his loved ones. You do remember the second rule, right? Hide in plain sight."

"And besides," he added as though he were an older brother pointing out something to his younger sibling, "Wouldn't it be nicer to wait until you finished your training before seeing them again? It'd make the reunion that much sweeter."

"That, and there's something else, too," Mancini interjected suddenly, looking up from the paperback novel he'd whipped out in the meantime. "Pinocchio?"

"Y'see, Rei, Daniel told your classmates you'd gone to a special training camp," Pinocchio clarified. "They've all assumed you went up with us into the mountains or something. So if you suddenly turned up in front of them later, it'd make us look like liars, don't you think?"

"I know it's difficult, but bear with it," Daniel finished sympathetically, placing a hand on Rei's shoulder as he did so. "You've come so far, and it's only been halfway into your training! Don't get sidetracked now!"

He said nothing as he pondered the implications of what his comrades had said.

His friends did make valid points, thought Rei. Of course he'd taken all three tenets of the Assassin's Creed to heart, and as they pointed out, disobeying Daniel's directive would be tantamount to a violation of two out of the three. The part about hiding in plain sight was obvious, but more importantly, if he revealed himself to them, he'd inadvertently end up compromising his comrades.

And besides, I'm not sure if I'm ready to see Freya again.

Finally, after a long silence, Rei nodded, getting a clap on the back from Daniel in response. "I understand."

"Excellent, Rei. I knew you'd come through for us."

I'm glad that went well.

Daniel Cross sighed to himself as he sat, alone, in his office. There was always a reason for the things he did, though he knew they might not have made sense to others at times. Regardless, he did have his own reasons for allowing the three of them – Rei, Mancini and Pinocchio – to have their day off.

For one thing, he needed to stave off any possible suspicions Rei might have been having about them. After all, he thought, it would've been rather fishy for them to keep him locked up in the Chateau all the time. Besides, he could take care of himself and, should those thugs come after him again, he had Mancini and Pinocchio watching his back.

More importantly, however, there was something he needed to take care of.

Daniel knew perfectly well that Reina Carmine had been stationed here for a reason, and he fully intended to find out exactly what it was.

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