Equilibrium

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9: A Violent Question

Dean, 1182

I walked down the hallway and descended down the stairs; I had business to take care of. Below the large mansion was a small room, dirt floors, with cold stone walls. It had once been a cellar, perhaps intended for wine, but we had modified it to suit our purposes. Cuffs now lined the walls, for those unfortunate enough to be in our hospitality, and two isolated holding cells of impenetrable steel stood tall in the center, for those even less fortunate.

Inside this prison, there was a man chained to one of those stone walls; he was secured in those cuffs by ankle and wrist. He wore the garb of a castle guard, but it was no longer crisp and starched canvas, polished steel armor. Now, the cloth was torn and dirty, stained with blood dried dark, the armor scuffed and partially removed. He looked up when I walked in, his expression a mixture of pure hatred and unmistakable fear.

"Hello, filth," I greeted cheerfully.

He said nothing to me, unsurprisingly. I approached him like a friend, casual and pleasant. He eyed me with fear. I stood before him, my hands on my hips. He sat below, cuffed and bloody at my feet.

"You've given us some information, but you're quickly outliving your usefulness," I said in a singsong voice. "Got anything new for me today?" I knelt near him, just out of reach.

He lunged at me, so predictable. I tilted my head, watching him try to claw me to no avail, a smile tugging at the corner of my lips.

"Spirited, aren't you?" I laughed.

I got up slowly, laboriously. Tapping my lower lip with my index finger, I gave my victim an exaggerated expression of thought.

"Should I pull a tooth?" I asked him, still tapping my lips. "Relieve you of an unnecessary fingernail? Perhaps I could even carve my initials onto your worthless abdomen," I speculated.

The guard said nothing, but I could smell his fear, despite the brave and menacing look on his face.

"How can I break that spirit, I wonder?" I ran my tongue over my teeth, savoring his reaction. "Still honor your King?"

The guard scrunched his face in disgust at me. "He's a better man and King than you'll ever get the chance to be, you bastard!"

I watched him, calculating and expressionless, as he strained against his chains. A glint of metal caught my eye a few feet away, his discarded spaulder, the component of his armor that protected his shoulder. I picked up the dull scrap of metal, turning it over carefully in my hands, ignoring his screeches and threats. I could always pull teeth, fingernails, and decorate his worthless corporal self to my heart's delight later. I ambled back directly in front of him and showed him the shoulder guard.

"Looks like you're missing a piece, my friend," I said, holding up the spaulder.

His eyes flicked back and forth between the steel and my face, distrust and fear making themselves shown once more.

SMACK

He spat out a tooth and a spoonful worth of blood; the spaulder rang with resonant vibrations from the blow. I tossed it to the side, bloody and dented, the metal clattering on the ground.

"Is there anything else you wish to share before I end your miserable life?" I knelt down close, still out of reach, and stared him down.

He breathed heavily, blood pouring freely from his mouth, his jaw hanging open to reveal cracked teeth.

"Or I could be merciful," I said, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of him. "I believe," I said slowly, drawing out every syllable, "that if given something of value, I could return the favor."

I glanced up at him, watching his face twist and turn as he waited on my words.

"Your freedom, even?" I suggested.

The guard's demeanor abruptly switched; what had been anger became blind, trusting hope. His eyes, bloodshot and filled with tears from the pain of the blow I'd just delivered, were open wide, his jaw slack. Though that could've been because I'd just broken it.

"So, you do have something valuable?" I questioned patiently.

Slowly, so slowly, the guard nodded. I waited, leaning closer, my face blank.

"I've heard some things," he rasped, licking his lips to clear them of the blood. His voice was thick, all of the fluids constricting his throat. "The Bank of Kinia," the guard said, his words strained. "The King has an incoming loan from the Bank of Kinia."

"When?" I asked softly, retaining eye contact.

He told me the date that the money was expected to arrive in hushed whispers, his speech impaired. Blood speckled onto my face and shirt as he struggled to enunciate.

"Do you know what the loan is for?" I asked quietly, as if speaking conversationally to a friend.

The guard shook head his no, the pain evident in his reluctant motions.

I pushed to stand, brushing the dirt from my knees. Not even allowing him a second glance, I began to walk away. I heard his chains rustle and clang violently as he moved. He must have been trying to sit up to stop me; a futile act. I grinned wickedly.

"Wait!" he shouted, his words garbled, "aren't you going to set me free?"

I didn't look back at him to answer. "No," I said calmly. "I don't think I will."

"You promised!" he cried; his agony evident in his sobs.

I smiled, the anguish sweet to my ears, "I lied."

His screams were music, loud, screeching symphonies that I cherished as I walked away. I exited, leaving the guard heaving and silently crying. My feet bounced effortlessly off of the cold, hard stone below them. The next step, I looked forward to.

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