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The Kings of Men

By Jason All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 1

“Caste? What about him?” I overheard Jeremy say to the guard outside his cell.

“I don’t know entirely myself. The warden said he would like to have a word with the fella.” The guard said with a chagrined tone. I could tell he was upset at not knowing exactly what was going on, and I could relate entirely. Considering my name was Caste, I figure they are referring to me. I don’t often care if people are talking about me, but this was a unique week. Just four more days and I would outta this hell hole. I was tired of the prison food, and mattress that felt like it was made of pine needles, and I hated that damn guard Charles. It’s like I had a smudge of something on my face and he couldn’t stop staring. In case you were wondering, no. No there is not a smudge on my face, I just checked.

“Well,” Jeremy groaned, “You’d better tell Caste what the hell going on. He would like to know, in fact, I’d wager your baton that he will go peacefully.” I couldn’t see through walls, but I could imagine Jeremy twirling the guard’s baton around two fingers, a devilish grin plastered on his face.

“Bloody hell slick, you gotta stop doing that,” the guard said with a chuckle and took the baton back from Jeremy’s open palm.

“Not in a million years Caleb, not in a million years,” Jeremy trailed off and I heard the creak of his bed as he sank into it. A few steps later the guard, Caleb, was in front of my cell.

“Hey there Trickster, I’m assuming you heard all that?” The guard said gently, referring to me by a nickname I got after my third day. I put my hand under my mattress and removed a small coin. Coins were generally not allowed but considering my ‘outstanding behavior’, the Warden said it was alright if I have one. I tossed the coin in the air and gave it a tap with my finger to make what little light was in the gray room give it a flash. I took a step back to show that I wasn’t going to catch it. From Caleb’s view, it would appear as though it had just disappeared before it hit the ground. He stared in awe for about a second or two, still waiting to hear a clink of a coin smacking against the concrete. After he was done staring, he gave a slight cough and unlocked my cell.

“Alrighty then,” He paused “I will never know how the hell you did that, will I?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I still have a few days to teach you,” I said as I followed him into the prison corridor. He stopped and I just about walked into him.

“Are you for real? Will you actually teach me? Oh shit, I can’t wait.” He quickly started walking again, but he couldn’t hide the grin on his face. I may be in prison, but it still felt good to make someone happy again, even if it’s just the guard Caleb. Charles, the guard that liked to give me that “I wish I could steal your face and nom nom on your soul” look came up from behind us. At least he had the decency to rap his knuckles against the wall to let us know he was there.

“Speaking of waiting, the Warden will see you now.” He said in his ever boring monotone voice, and with that, he left.

Caleb turned to me with a tight smile, “Wow, that guy is really freaking weird.” He opened the door to the Wardens office and followed me in. It was like stepping into a different world. The scent of flowers and growing stuff was ever so slightly present, and there was a warm glowing lamp on the Wardens desk. I never noticed it before, but the lights in the holding cells seemed cold and unforgiving after experiencing the soft glow of the bulb. I had never thought that the worst part of prison would be the lights. My thoughts were interrupted just as quickly as they had come, and it was the first time since five years ago -- when he welcomed me to his prison -- that I heard the Warden’s voice. “Have a seat there, Mr. Caste. I have a few questions for you and I’m sure you have a few questions too. Who should start?”

I nodded my head in agreement. I was thinking about how I was going to get on his good side, not that I’m a kiss ass, but it is better to make friends than enemies. He struck me as a kind of guy that didn’t take any chances, and anyone that could outsmart him earned his respect. I had something in mind.

“Coin toss?” I asked with a suggestive shrug. He nodded slightly but I noticed a downward tug at the edge of his lips. Looks like I was right, not much one for chances. I watched him look around for a moment, only to realize he did not have a coin.

“Uh,” The Warden looked up at me, “I don’t have a coin...” he grunted.

Caleb gave a small snort as he made a failed attempt to stifle a giggle. The Warden looked up expectantly, and Caleb quickly recovered, “Sorry sir, Trickster here,” He gave a small cough, “I mean, Mr. Caste had just shown me a magic trick with his coin. I’m sure he has it somewhere.”

“Check your pocket”

“Excuse me?”

“Check your pocket, the right one,” I repeated, not looking back.

“Why would I,” He withdrew his hand and opened it, palm up, revealing my coin; the one from my earlier trick. “Oh my, how the... What the fu” The Warden gently tapped his desk before Caleb could finish. “No cursing in my office, remember?” The Warden asked softly. Caleb bowed his head in mock disgrace, “Sorry boss.” he said simply. Knowing him, he was likely grinning beneath that fake shame. Caleb gently placed the coin on the table, and the Warden gestured for me to pick it up.

“Heads or tails, sir?” I looked at the Warden, twirling the coin between my pointer and middle finger. Old habit I guess.

“Let’s go heads, why not.” And with that, I tossed the coin in the air, the side with a head on it facing the ceiling. Giving it a slight wobble just before it left my hand gave it the appearance of spinning, and a moment later it landed back in my hand.

“Sorry sir, I hate to interrupt,” Caleb started hesitantly and the Warden gave him a nod, “Caste cheated. I know that trick, he has done it hundreds of times. It’s hard to tell, but the coin didn’t actually flip at all. You can tell by the way the light reflects off the edges.”

The Warden gave me a look and just shrugged. “Guilty as charged sir, it’s still your turn to ask the questions”

“Alright, let’s get started.” He said, leaning into the back of his chair and letting loose a small sigh. “Why are you in prison, and I don’t mean what you were charged with, I mean why did you do it?”

“That is not too difficult. Well, as you know from the files, I shot someone that had entered my workplace. He was threatening to blow up the building if we didn’t give him our technology, and I believed him. Not sure if it was the giant duffel bag with red and blue wires poking out, or the gun he was waving around, but it made me get really protective, really fast. I shot the man because I felt like my employees and friends were threatened. The only reason I’m here now is that I didn’t feel like waiting til he shot someone, so I technically shot a man whose only crime was a conspiracy to commit an act of terror.” Maybe I should have been upset that prison ate up five years of my life that I should have kept, but I learned things in prison. I learned there’s only one way to consistently not die, and that’s to always stay calm. The Warden nodded, as though he was not only okay with my answer but was happy for it.

“Okay, good, good” He withdrew a pen and paper from his side of the desk, made a few quick changes then set it down again.

“Now, do you have any plans for when you get out of here. I understand that is the end of this week, correct?”

“Absolutely correct,” I said matter-of-factly. “And no, I don’t really have any plans after this. I’m thinking I might go back to my old company but I don’t know if the board at Edge would even hire me again.”

“And Edge, this is the name of your company?” I nodded, “Okay, and one last question, are you aware of the whereabouts of your brother?” I felt myself frown a little at that. I hadn’t spoken with my brother for over eight years, and even then it was a short talk.

’Last I knew he was working as a hired gun, a mercenary of sorts. Why do you ask?”

“In all honesty Caste, we need your help. Your expertise in engineering and,” He paused, “Other hobbies.” He was likely referring to my past history when I used to work with my brother.

“How do you know about that?” I had to focus intently on not letting the worry I was feeling spread into my expression, which was calm and smooth.

“I know a lot Caste, people talk in prison. I’m surprised they didn’t know you were the other, more dangerous, half of the Twin Sabers.” The Warden’s eyes searched my face, looking for a reaction, I was not going to give him one. I was surprised at him knowing the name ‘Twin Sabers’, it was the nickname we got while working. I could remember the news;

Twin Sabers Strike Again!

The infamous duo of unknown assassins killed the head of a shadow organization

that was infecting the popular company known as Apple.

After a few moments, the images flickered out of my head as the Warden started to speak again.

“Why don’t you tell me a story, Caste.” He gestured a hand behind me, and I felt the chilly wind of the jail flow into the room as Caleb left. I hadn’t even noticed how warm it was in here, I don’t remember it being this warm when I first entered.

“I am assuming you want to hear the story? The one that can easily land me a death sentence?” I gave him a look, asking with my eyes if he thought I was stupid, “And why the hell would I do that?” I asked with a straight face, but on the inside, I was going batshit crazy. How the hell did he know about all of that? It was the closest secret I had ever kept and would defend it with my life. Heck, I had defended it with my life before.

“Listen, this going to sound strange, but there’s more to just this prison than four walls and a ceiling.” He said slightly annoyed, but I could tell he was also a bit intrigued to hear what I had to say. “In any case,” The Warden continued, “You will tell me because we want to recruit you for a secret task force. Don’t believe me, watch this.” He slid a small black case across the table, and it made an annoying screeching noise and he did so. “Uh, sorry about that,” he said awkwardly. I opened the case and saw DVD player and small DVD. I closed the case without watching, “This is proof enough,” I said gesturing to the small falcon on the side of the case, it was the insignia of my old employers rival. I leaned back in my chair and got very comfortable. This would be an interesting story.

“Alright, story time begins now. I used to work with my brother. Things were good for a while, our employer would send us an encrypted hard drive in person. It would have everything he knew about the target, as well as the reward for completing the task. We hardly had any rules, except two. We take fifty-percent of the cut before the job, and the rest after it was done: And we never, no matter the circumstances, lied to each other. It all started to fall about eight years ago. We were both young, I was sitting at a day after my twenty-first birthday, and he was turning twenty-three in four months. We got the hard drive, as usual. The weird thing was that we got two. One was the normal matte black with a glossy sheen and had a triangle with inverted fractals crawling towards its center, the insignia of our employer. The other though, it was different. It was smaller and could fill the hand of maybe a teen girl. Its corners were sharp, not rounded like the ones we were used to. The encryption was different too. The one we were used too had asked us to kill the president of the United States of America. Personally, that was a good challenge but not really something I was easily willing to do. The other drive, well, that’s where things went straight to hell. It was the President of the USA who sent it and was offering us diplomatic immunity in any country, and a lot of money. To do what, you may ask? Just to kill our employer. I told my brother that something was going on here, something bigger than just us, and I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. That’s when I left, I used me saved up money from previous hits to start Edge. And now I’m here.” I was half expecting the Warden to stand up and arrest me right then and there, but he had an oddly satisfied smile on his face.

“You’re in,” The Warden said flatly. Not what I was expecting.

“Excuse me?”

“I mean, you can join the task force, but only if you want to.”

“Can I have time to think about it?” I said as if I was interviewing for a job.

“Sure. Hey Caleb, since I know you are trying to eavesdrop, just come on in. He said he would think about it.” The door opened behind me, and Caleb walked in.

“Steven, you son of a wild whore. You called him the Trickster as soon as I left. You always kept yelling at me for giving the prisoners nicknames. Dick.” Caleb was about to start complaining some more, but then I saw his eyes light up with understanding. “Oh. He knows now, doesn’t he? Caste, please say yes, please join the task force!” He begged, mockingly kneeling on both knees and clasped both hands together in front of his chest.

“Why should I do that?’ I asked, on the verge of laughter because of how stupid he looked right now. Caleb stood up and gave a wicked grin. Oh God, why did I even ask?

“So you can teach me that damn magic trick!”

“Caleb,” The Warden said in a displeased tone, then lightly tapped the desk. Caleb gave a nearly imperceptible lurch backward. I had spent a fair time around dangerous people and grew accustomed to noticing every little thing that was offset. There’s a story there, but it’s better left to another time.

“Sorry boss, I keep forgetting about the no cursing rule.” Caleb bowed his head for a quick moment, and this time it was genuine. He seemed frightened, his eyes alert and his muscles ready to react, but I could tell despite whatever had just happened he still held the Warden in high esteem.

“So,” I said slowly, changing the topic so they didn’t notice I picked up on whatever the Warden had just done, “What happens now, and exactly how long do I have to give you an answer?”

The Wardens eyes looked down for a quick second, pondering the question. “Now you go back to your cell and wait until your release, and the answer to the second question, we were only given ten days to recruit.”

“So I have up to five days after my release to give you an answer?” I asked.

“Exactly” The Warden responded.

“One more question, can I take this lamp?” I said, giving a jealous look at the lamp, and I was not joking about earlier. “It honestly makes the lights in the cells look cold and dead.”

The Warden looked at me stupendously, not entirely processing the question. I waited for a response and looked at Caleb who just shrugged. It took another few seconds for the Warden to process my question and he responded off-handedly, “Sure, I mean, yes. Sorry, that was just a weird question. Promise not to break it or sell it?”

“Yep,” I responded.

“Now, get out here,” The Warden said with a grunt, and Caleb escorted me out.

I knew how silly I must have looked. I mean, after all, I was walking back to my cell with a three-foot lamp help near to my heart. It was different, being back in my cell after hearing everything that I had. I had no idea if I was going to yes or no to that ‘Task Force’, I mean if it was anything like a job at all it would give me money. And so long as the world hasn’t changed too much, I believe it still cost’s money to get food and water to stay alive. On the other hand, I was not really looking forward working with the FBI. I did not want to kill anymore, maybe they just wanted me for my connections or brain, but I had a hard time seeing the FBI overlooking the fact that I was also an expert marksman, swordsman, and had mastered the art of hand-to-hand combat. A rusty, and all to familiar voice filled my cell.

“Hey there punk, how did you get that lamp?” It was Charlie, that freaky guard that always seemed to have it out for me. I am absolutely sure that I had felt actual, physical pain at the sound of his voice.

“The Warden gave it to me,” I said innocently.

“Yeah? Well, I’m gonna give you this,” He whispered in his toxic and disturbing voice. He reached slowly into the inside pocket of his blue and yellow guard jacket and for a split second I saw a metallic gleam, a side effect of my new lamp. Who knew that a lamp would give me a heads up when I was about to die. Instantly my brain kicked into full alert, that was, as soon as I saw the Glock twenty-six he was prepared to shoot me with.

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