-The pursuit of power
London near Piccadilly
Every time Sir Tristan moved his body rattled like a sack of bones and creaked like rusted gears. He reminded himself that his body was nothing more than dirt and ash. A shell that encased his soul recalled from beyond the grave. He drank water, which trickled down his throat and leaked from his ribs. When he tried to eat food, it turned to ash in his mouth. When he went outside to enjoy the morning sun, he felt nothing.
He heard the wind howl as it rustled a pile of leaves. But he couldn’t feel its grace caress his cheek or blow his robes. But his soul was not his own. He longed to return to the afterlife so he could be at peace and be absolved of his sins. But not if Sullivan Grundy had anything to say.
During the day, he hid in the basement of Sullivan’s manor with the other horsemen in coffins. It seemed like a dream. He never knew when he slept or when he was awake. Sullivan snapped his fingers, which broke the horsemen from their slumber to do their master’s bidding. And when Sullivan was done with them, he tucked them away into their coffins and shut the lids…
Tristan awoke but much to his surprise, he didn’t see Sullivan. His lid fell forward, and he left his coffin. Straw and dirt lined the basement floor, and the decor resembled that of a torture room. Old corruption and misery lingered around the room that brought a chill to even a dead man’s heart. Tristan welcomed this chill, at least he felt something.
His gaze brought him to a rusted pair of sabers hanging on the stone wall. He thought of Drake, and his mind boomed with resounding steel. The memory brought him to his knees. A memory that was one of the most thrilling moments of his old life.
He dueled Drake in a riot of blades across a marble floor. Other crusaders formed a ring around them, staking their swords to the ground still wearing their training tunics. He spared Drake shirtless, sweat glistening off his chiseled body. A wolf howled over the mountains and he remembered that full moon burning through the night sky. And Drake’s blue eyes flaring at him…
Sir Tristan dual wielded a pair of sabers. One of which could spin and rotate its blade on a fixed axis. When it twirled, its blur resembled a cross. Drake wielded one saber that he usually kept on the red sash around his trousers. More knights gathered around the ring to watch a master at work. But not Sir Tristan.
Drake took up a relaxed stance and motioned Tristan to attack. Tristan did just that with a swing of blades that Drake parried away with ease. He pressed forward with sloppy, almost drunken blows that were easily predictable.
Drake made a face as he deflected the blows. “Stop using the standard attacks, use the unorthodox!”
Sir Tristan pressed his guard, but Drake’s footwork was supreme. He sidestepped as the knight lunged forward and lost his balance. Drake closed in and swung at his blind spot. He deflected it just in time with the hilt guard and stumbled back. At least he had some space again. But Drake didn’t allow it and they continued.
The other knights watched in silence.
“How often must I tell you? Control my central line!” Drake scolded, his face growing darker.
He rotated his saber to break Drake’s sight picture while swinging downward with the other. It broke through his guard and forced him to readjust himself. Tristan seized the moment to continue his offensive. For a moment, he thought he might have stood a chance at winning. But Drake’s countenance remained the same, blank and unbothered. His moves resembled a dance more than swordsmanship. Even with one saber, Drake was being generous. The fight was decided the moment they crossed blades.
“Good,” Drake said, acknowledging the clever move.
He never gave compliments freely. Nonetheless, Sir Tristan resumed, trying to keep the momentum he had gained. As he rotated his special blade and mixed in a series of light and heavy attacks, he could see Drake break a sweat, but his feet never stumbled. Fatigue crept on him and he realized he would need to end the fight quickly. Drake made a smirk almost as if he could read his thoughts.
“Must you destroy my focus?”
Sir Tristan’s blades hit nothing but air. His grip loosened from sweat, so he held the sabers tighter. With each strike, he felt the force resonate within his bones.
“You’re holding the saber too tight!”
Drake broke his guard, and with two decisive strikes disarmed him, taking his saber. He crossed the blades with Sir Tristan’s neck in between them. Drake regarded him coldly and lowered the blades.
“Now, too lightly…”
He plunged the sabers into the ground and walked away. Sir Tristan fell to his knees, his fists pounding the floor. The other knights muttered amongst themselves and dispersed as Drake passed through them. Then they too left, leaving Sir Tristan alone.
“I swear one day!” Sir Tristan bellowed. “I will surpass you!”
Drake glanced over his shoulder. His face softened. ” No, you don’t have enough hate. Weakness of any kind disgusts me.”
Sir Tristan rose and pulled his saber from the ground. He tossed it aside and screamed; the moon being the only witness to his agony.
If you first saw Serina Ackner, you would have thought her to be a movie star or a model at the very least. With her platinum blonde hair, hallow golden eyes and neat side-plait, she surpassed extravagance. Tonight, she lingered at the pub, its lights still shining bright and the bartender, an older gentleman enjoying the solace. She finished her drink and was about to leave a tip of ten pounds when she noticed the man a few seats down from her.
She waved her plait and grinned. Her legs dangled about a foot from the ground as she hopped off the pivot seat. Her ruby red slippers hurtled against the textile floor as she sauntered over to the man, invested in his conversation with the woman by his side. A briefcase rested by his seat and he wore a three-piece Armani suit that fit him snug but not overly tight.
Curly black hair twisted atop his head like snakes and she could smell the crisp cologne lingering from his person, as if it enticed her to come closer. So she did.
Another patron put his coin into the jukebox and changed the music. She knew this song, one from America. She didn’t remember the exact name, but she knew Michael Jackson’s voice when she heard it. Western culture made its way further and further as the years went by. Even former communist countries like Russia embraced it the further east it traveled.
She took a seat by the man and rested her cheek in her palm. He looked over and smiled. Serina noted his striking blue eyes and sharp smile.
“So, when are you buying me a drink, handsome?” she asked.
He chuckled. “I’m sorry, have we met before?”
The woman next to him folded her arms and scoffed. Serina glared, and she watched the woman’s face go pale. She grabbed her mini bag and left the bar in an instant. The bartender made his rounds and inquired if they wanted another drink. The man nodded and raised two fingers. Then the bartender departed to conjure his special martini.
“I’m Serina and you are?”
“Drake,” he said, and they shook hands.
“So, what’s your trade, Drake?”
The bartender returned and placed two martinis before them. Serina took a sip and winced from the taste. But she smacked her lips and smiled as the bitter taste dispersed into something much sweeter and appeasing. Drake ate the olive floating from his drink, and they clinked their glasses together.
Drake shrugged. “I work for the Crown Prosecution Service. I’m the lead attorney,” he replied, “and you?”
“I just graduated from Harvard as a virologist. I took a job here in London at one of their research facilities.”
Drake raised a brow. “So, what are you researching?”
“Well…” Serina paused and gathered her thoughts. “Right now, there is a particular lily that’s only endemic to the Aegean region. We know it blooms a few times a year, which makes it nearly impossible to find. Anyway, there’s a unique strain of a virus found in the lily that’s been harvested and it’s a medical breakthrough…”
“Have you named it yet?”
Serina nodded and traced the edges of her glass. “Yeah, we call it… the Aegean strain.”