A Good Servant – Ch. 20
By Laura S. Fox
Copyright © 2018 Laura S. Fox
All Rights Reserved
Intended for Mature Audiences Only
This story contains graphic depictions of sexual intercourse, strong language and it is not meant for readers who are less than 18 years of age.
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Ayn marched toward the man in charge of the local market with a purposeful stride.
"Hey, man," he greeted the merchant, and the old man humphed instead of a reply. "I need some of the good stuff. Medicine, antiseptic, antibiotics, anything you have."
It was the third settlement he was visiting, and he had to ignore the way his throat was getting tighter, just as his chest with each denial that the people had things like that in stock. Refusal would not have been a problem, seeing that he had good means of convincing people to give him what he wanted, but no one seemed to have what he needed.
"We're keeping those," the merchant made a small gesture, like Ayn was dropped from the sky. "For the cause, as it seems," the man added with a toothy grin. "They say we'll get paid well. The fortunes in Drena are all for us," the man said, raising his hands toward the sky, as if, any moment, the said fortunes were starting to pour from above.
"Cause? What cause? Don't piss me off, old man. I don't have time for riddles. Any medicine you have, shell it all out, or I'll do it. And trust me, if you're thinking yourself pretty, you won't be when I'm done with you."
The man started laughing, a sound that soon lost itself in an ugly cough. Ayn could feel his muscles flexing on their own accord. He pulled out his knife and held it swiftly at the man's throat. The old sack of bones wasn't laughing anymore and he was just watching Ayn warily.
"I swear," he gulped. "They come, they take everything. It's for the cause, they say. What do I know?"
"What cause are you talking about?" Ayn squeezed the man harder, making him yelp in distress.
"The cause, The One," the man fretted a bit more. "They say we're going to war. But what do they know? They stand no chance against the Trainers in the White City. They will be culled like harvest. They won't even know what hit them. They're stupid! And they took all my merch ... All, all, all, they left nothing! So go ask these warriors about your damn medicine and let me be!"
"Where are these guys?" Ayn shook the merchant one more time.
"Go to Nadaia's tent. You'll find them there, planning to take over the world," the man spat in disgust. "They convince the youngsters, people stupid like you, but they won't convince me. The desert has nothing to give!"
Ayn pushed away the man and began walking again. Whoever these so called warriors were, he was going to give them a piece of his mind and of his shiv, if they dared not to give him what he needed to save his lover.
There were, indeed, a lot of people gathered in front of the local ruler's tent. The men living in the desert were as organized as they could be, and still remain free people. The ruler's role was just to tell people how to schedule their raids, and to keep in touch with other settlements. So the fact that there was so much ruckus at that moment was strange indeed. Who were those warriors and what could they want?
Cory was certain that Tora was mistaken somehow. But that could not stop him from trying. Getting on his feet, he held the pendant the old woman had given him in one hand and raised it above his head, so that everyone could see it.
"Good people, do you know what this is?" he called out.
There were whispers and people started exchanging curious looks among themselves.
"You are part of it," he continued. "The people who are hard at work lose their lives digging under Drena, in factories all across the coast. Those who keep our Mother's memory alive are held as cattle, and forced into the most abject shape of slavery. But they are not dead! They are waiting!"
"Waiting for what?" one young man in the front row asked.
"For you to join them," Cory answered.
"What business do we have with these people?" another asked. "The workers you're talking about, they have it easy. Three meals a day and all that. And who are those you say they keep The One alive? The women in Tresalt? They're nothing but sheep, with nothing left for them except to pray," the man spoke with disdain.
"I won't mind visiting that place next time when I'm on the raid," someone from the back shouted. "No sweeter women anywhere else," he laughed, and others join.
"Is this all you think of your brothers and sisters?" Cory could feel his anger rising.
"They're not our brothers and sisters!" the men protested.
"Everything we are, everything we have, is here! Our brothers and sisters are right here, in the desert! Everyone else is the enemy! Yeah, sure, the women in Tresalt have it rough, but they don't have to worry about what they'll eat tomorrow. And others? You talk about the workers? They're nothing but the spawn selected and bred by the Trainers! With help from people like the one you have next to you!" an older man spoke.
Cory did not have any doubt who they were talking about. Edgar was probably much more uncomfortable right now than when they had been in Tresalt, under the scrutiny of young women.
"No one chose to be made by the Trainers!" he spoke loudly. "My friend here, Edgar, can teach you how to make weapons. I know Drena and its weaknesses. You say that you don't care about the women in Tresalt. But what about the children that are raised there?"
"I don't have any child there," the older man spat.
"But I do," a local took a step forward. "And I want to know what this man with the pendant has to say."
A few others joined the man who had spoken last. They were looking at Cory expecting something. No, if he was to look closely, they were watching him like their hopes were hanging by what he was going to say next.
"You are the warriors, my friends," Cory spoke. "You will be the hand that will slash through the unjust ruling of the Trainers. You are the ones who will bring the dawn of a new world!"
There were murmurs again. Edgar and he had worked on this speech for hours, wondering if they were going to reach these men's and women's hearts. And he knew one thing. That from the first second he had begun talking, he started to believe, too.
"I'm with this guy," a short woman who could not be one day over 25 years of age hurried to the front. "For so long my mother and my father and my grandmother and my grandfather, and their parents, too, have waited for a sign. Do you think having food on the table is everything that matters?" she continued, pushing a mop of black hair away from her forehead. "You want the lives of those miners and those women? To eat and sleep and forced to live like animals? Here we are free. And maybe that seems little. But can't you see the truth? We are the ones who'll take down the injustice. Or else our freedom is nothing but a dream. I wasn't born to live like I'm asleep. For how long do you think the Trainers will let us live? My mother used to say: it will come a day, my child, when we'll be asked if we are ready, ready to fight for The One, and on our answer the future of all this world will rest. So, I'm asking you, my brothers and sisters: are you ready?"
Cory was staring, his eyes wide. That was the power of faith, there, in front of his eyes. Other men and women stepped forward, joining the speakers. He could feel his heart beating in his chest. And, for once in his short life, it was with pride.
It hadn't been easy, but now they could round up everyone capable of fighting and organizing them. The ruler of the settlement had let them inside her home, and together with Edgar, he was trying to strategize the next move.
"Who the fuck are these guys?" he heard someone yelling outside.
Maybe his ears were playing tricks on him, and he had spent way too much time in the desert sun, but he felt like he knew that voice. Could it be? Edgar stared at him, wide eyed. He could tell that the scientist was not used to this rough way of living. Neither was he, if he was to think about it, but getting used to people who spoke their minds was too little an inconvenience to really consider. Edgar was trying to put on a brave face, nonetheless. Cory made a small gesture towards his friend, and stepped outside.
"I need that fucking medicine and I need it now," the same voice commanded.
Cory squinted and blinked a few times. Was it really possible? Were his eyes seeing what he thought they were seeing?
"You seem like a healthy lad to me," the old woman in charge of the settlement spoke to the stranger. "What do you need that medicine for?"
"Ayn!" Cory yelled, and the newcomer turned on his heels, and remained there, stunned.
"Cory? For real?" Ayn smiled and hurried to him.
He was pretty certain he could not breathe, that was how tightly Ayn was hugging him. But he was hugging back, with all his force, too.
"What are you doing here? Where's Lucas? Did you two guys run away from Drena?" Ayn began showering him with questions.
"No, unfortunately," Cory mumbled. "I am the only one who got away. Lucas took care to send me away after ... ah, we have so many things to say to each other. How are you doing? And where is ..."
He did not feel brave enough to ask. Ayn's face fell.
"He's home, I mean, my home. But ... he's in a bad situation," Ayn breathed out.
"Bad situation? What happened?" Cory asked, his heart tight.
"It's a story at least as long as yours," Ayn joked, but his eyes darkened. "I need some medicine for him. He's gravely ill. And now I hear of some warriors setting to fight against the Trainers and taking all the good stuff off the market."
Cory caught Ayn's arm and squeezed in sympathy.
"Well, good thing you know these warriors then," he joked.
"You?" Ayn's eyes grew wide. "Damn! A lot of things surely have happened since we last saw each other. Are you as handy with a gun as you are with a spatula?" the former slave joked, earning a punch in the shoulder from Cory.
"None of a kind, and frankly, I don't know how much of a warrior I am. But come, I want you to meet someone."
Ayn followed Cory, shaking his head and not believing his eyes. Cory seemed taller somehow, his soft features hardened, probably from too much time spent in the sun. His clothes were different, too, and he blended in with the other people of the desert, despite his golden hair.
"Ayn, this is my friend, Edgar. He is a scientist from Aeria, and the one putting up with all my lack of skill in handling all this war thing you've probably heard people talking about."
Ayn's eyes fell on a man who seemed thin under the rough clothes he was wearing. If he had thought of Cory to blend well with the environment, this guy was anything but. His intelligent eyes were taking in everything with a sort of wonder that Ayn would have resembled to a child's if it were not for the inquisitive look in them.
He also seemed more delicate and of a weak constitution. A scientist? Not exactly the type to make it out in the desert. But again, who would have thought Xav was going to do so well in the desert after living in the lap of luxury in Drena?
"Guys, I'd love to hear your war stories," he smiled, as he shook hands with Edgar. "But I have a serious situation back at home. Xav ... he's ..."
He could not bring himself to say it. His smile died on his lips, and he noticed how Cory and Edgar exchanged quick glances between them.
"What seems to be the problem?" Edgar spoke in an affable voice.
"He ... got his thumb cut out, and now he's fighting an infection," he said quickly.
He had no idea how he was going to explain the metal ends wrapped around Xav's bones, who knew to what extent.
"I am not exactly a medic, but I have knowledge of the human body that makes me believe that I can be of assistance," Edgar spoke. "Plus, I think we can spare a little medicine from what we got so far. It is, after all, for a good cause," the scientist turned toward Cory, as if he wanted to ask for the former servant's approval.
"You know how to make Xav well?" Ayn grabbed Edgar's arm and shook the poor man, something that seemed to give the guy a bit of a scare. "Sorry," he let go of the man.
"No problem. I suppose I need to get myself acquainted to the human touch a bit more," Edgar shook his head, like he needed to face a serious problem.
"We need to move anyway," Cory said. "How far is your home, Ayn?"
"We'll have to drive all night since it's already late, but we'll get there," Ayn said with conviction. "Are you guys coming? How many of you are there?"
"Besides Edgar and I? None."
"That's one hell of an army," Ayn joked.
Everything seemed a puzzle, but there was no time to talk about anything else except for saving Xav. But what if this scientist could not save the man he loved? He worried so much. What if he needed to say everything so that Edgar could know what to do? After a short moment of deliberation with himself, he spoke again.
"There's just one thing you need to know. About Xav."
"Yes?" Edgar encouraged him.
"It's kind of strange," Ayn added. "He ..."
He was probably not breathing at all, as he began explaining to Cory and Edgar about the bracelet and then what happened after Xav had tried to leave him. He could not get over that thing easily, but there was no time to think about that. With his heart as small as a berry, he waited the verdict. Cory and Edgar were staring at him, visibly surprised, and a bit scared.
Edgar was the first to break the silence.
"Some sort of mechanical intervention seems to have happened. That makes me believe that the medical problem should be addressed at the same time with the mechanical one."
The way the man spoke was making him feel more at ease. Cory was still silent, and was staring at him wide-eyed.
"Have you guys ever heard of anything like this?" Ayn opened his mouth. "I mean ... He is Xav, after all, right?"
"I doubt that this type of intervention could have altered the human nature of the person we are talking about," Edgar replied. "But forgive me if I feel a bit at a loss here. Who is this Xav person? Don't tell me ..." he turned towards Cory, and the former servant nodded slowly. "Oh. I see. Maybe that is why the First Ruler must be selected with extreme care. I doubt just any ordinary human being could be subjected to this sort of modification."
"We didn't have the time to tell each other the entire stories of our lives, either," Cory offered with a sympathetic smile. "And I didn't even properly introduced Ayn to you, Edgar. He used to be a slave in the household I served, while I was Lord Xavier's servant. He ... sort of ... took Lord Xavier away with him. And forgive me if I don't understand much myself."
"Eh, you know, one thing led to another," Ayn smiled. "We're like this now," he explained, linking his hands together.
Cory burst into laughter.
"What did you do, Ayn?"
"You know me. He was too good to waste, right?" Ayn allowed himself a small joke. "We're ... well he's my man now."
"Well, at least it's good to know he's not a prisoner. I doubt he would have taken that well," Cory smiled. "Frankly, I don't know how you managed. I'm trembling a little, only at the thought that I'm going to see him again."
"I heard that Lord Xavier tends to have an overbearing presence," Edgar expressed his thoughts out loud.
Ayn shook his head and chuckled with mirth.
"You guys should drop the Lord stuff. He's one of us now. He's mine," he said with pride, earning looks of wonder from both the other men.
"Well, then we are counting on you, Ayn," Edgar spoke again. "I would not know how to behave in the presence of the First Ruler of Drena. I'm afraid that being cooped up in Aeria for almost all my living years didn't exactly make me good company for such select people."
Ayn patted Edgar on the back, making the young scientist cough, as if taken by surprise.
"I like this guy," he said loudly and laughed, earning an enthusiastic nod from Cory. "Let's go, warriors," he joked.
His heart could finally slow down a bit. Never in his life had he been a believer, but it was like someone from above had led him to Cory and Edgar. This was even better than medicine. He was bringing back home with him a healer, if what the scientist was saying about his knowledge of the human body and mechanics, was true.
Cory was hesitant, as Ayn jumped from his van and gestured for him and Edgar to follow. He hadn't seen his former Master in what seemed like years, even if only a few months had passed. Such a change had taken places, not only with all of them, but on the inside, too. But was Lord Xavier a changed man, too, as Ayn had said? He wanted to believe that was the case.
Edgar, next to him, seemed a little bit more preoccupied by something else. The scientist was mumbling something to himself, deep in thought.
"It looks like we're here, ready to meet my former master," Cory forced the words out, trying to sound much more energetic and confident than he was.
"The medical problem might not be without complications," Edgar spoke, totally oblivious to Cory's distress. "It really puzzles me. I cannot wait to see that."
Of course, now the responsibility rested on Edgar's shoulders and his knowledge. Cory chided himself for being so silly sometimes. He was merely a support character at this point, and the least he could do was to avoid burden Edgar with his issues.
Ayn hurried them.
"Come, come, time's a wasting," the former slave called for them, and Cory hurried to follow him.
Edgar continued his mumbling, but followed, as well.
Contemplating his inevitable demise was proving to become a tad boring, Xavier thought. Even that damn woman's presence would have stave off the black thoughts, but Myra needed a few hours of sleep, too, and he had been the one to insist that she needed to go home and rest, since there was no room for her to sleep in Ayn's home.
His former self would have not cared less if Myra was going to have a stiff back by trying to sleep in the only chair in the room. But that was not him anymore. Lord Xavier, the First Ruler of Drena, was a memory of a distant past now.
The thought of having to die eventually was not as much troubling for him, as was the thought of how much Ayn was going to suffer. And that thought was particularly difficult to take in. What could he do to prepare Ayn for what was to follow? The throbbing in his arm was just getting worse. Myra had changed his bandages, dressed the wound as much as she could, ignoring the hardened pieces of metal sticking from his shattered bones.
So the woman knew. Yet she had said nothing and continued to treat him like he was no different from her. Maybe she was not such a bad choice for Ayn, after all. Her soft touch could comfort the young man, after he was gone.
But no matter how selfless he was trying to be, in his own mind, he could not deny that the image of Ayn in Myra's arms was just leaving him angered and exhausted. There was nothing rational in his reaction. He didn't want Ayn to grow bitter and lonely, did he? Yet, he could not stand the mere thought of the man he loved being embraced by another.
He needed to make amends. With Ayn, and with himself. And that meant that when Myra was going to come again, he was going to make her promise, on the faith she had for that deity she had spoken about in her stories, that she was going to take care of Ayn. And help him forget.
It was barely dawn, but he could not sleep anymore. There was also a lot of noise outside. What could be? Was that Ayn's voice?
His heart made a small leap in his chest. He was going to see Ayn again. That made him grateful. But who to thank for the comfort of living enough to see his lover one more time? Myra was a wise woman. Faith was something to hold on to, in the darkest of hours.
"Here he is," he heard Ayn speaking to someone.
His eyes fell on the two guests that made way into the humble house, invited profusely by Ayn. He blinked in the poor light of the morning, filtered through the windows. That could not be, could it?
"Master," one of the newcomers bowed slowly.
"Cory?" he asked, his voice hesitant.
"Lord Xavier," the other spoke.
His eyes traveled to the other man, someone he didn't know.
"I'm Edgar, from Aeria. Please excuse my lack of manners. Lucas often mentioned you in our correspondence."
A scientist? He was vaguely remembering something from Lucas's stories from Aeria. Edgar was a name he found familiar, even if he didn't know the man.
"C'mon, guys, I told you to drop all the lord and master stuff," Ayn broke the solemn moment. "Edgar, can you make Xav well?"
"May I?" Edgar approached.
Cory was still in the same position, bent from the waste, his eyes cast down. The truth was he didn't know what to say, or what to feel. Everything seemed unreal.
"Edgar is a healer," Ayn said with pride. "We got some medicine, too."
"Ayn is exaggerating my area of expertise," Edgar said shyly. "But I think I can do something if you allow me to examine your wound, Lord Xavier."
"Please, just Xavier," he eventually spoke, trying to push himself into a sitting position. "Cory ... there's no need to bow. Not to me, at least."
He offered the wounded hand to Edgar, who quickly pushed the glasses up his nose and proceeded to unwrap the bandages. Cory seemed to have heard him, because he straightened up and hurried by Edgar's side. Xavier had a thousand questions, but everything had to wait. How could Cory had escaped from Drena? And what was Edgar doing away from his Aeria?
"Everything you need, Edgar, just tell me, and I'll help," Cory spoke.
"Always a good servant, right, Cory?" Xavier made a poor attempt at a joke. "How's Lucas?" he asked the first and most ardent question on his mind.
Cory shook his head and looked down.
"I wouldn't know. He sent me off to Aeria, and we don't know anything else."
"It would be difficult to know anything," Edgar explained, as if he could feel his companion's distress. "We sort of ran away from the Trainers."
"Ran away?" he asked, no longer able to reign in his surprise. "From the Trainers?"
"It is quite a long and convoluted story, Lord Xavier," Edgar replied. "We would be happy to oblige you as soon as we manage to solve this health issue that seems to bother you."
The diplomatic speaking mannerism Edgar seemed an expert in would have been amusing, if it hadn't been for the constant pain in his arm. But how were Cory and Edgar going to react, seeing his wound?
"Ayn explained the nature of the problem," Edgar said. "I can assure you that I will do everything in my power to help you, Lord Xavier."
"You should, indeed, drop the Lord part, as Ayn said," Xavier said with a small smile he could barely manage. "Here I am no different from anyone else. And, as you can surely notice, I am quite in a bit of pain."
"A bit, indeed," Edgar smiled. "I must commend you for how well you are taking it, Lo ... Xavier."
"So, what is your opinion?" he asked.
He could feel Ayn pacing the room while Edgar and Cory were crowding him, his former servant busy taking away the used bandages and Edgar preoccupied with looking at his wound.
"It may sound like a bit of a wild guess, but I suppose that the main problem we should address is the conflict between the mechanical part, on one side, and, the flesh and blood, on the other side."
"I am quite certain I am not a complete automaton," Xavier spoke.
"And you would be correct. If you were, there could not be any need for such a complicated design. I will need to feel your arm, if that is all right with you."
"Sure. I lived through being taken care of by a woman bent on sending me off to sleep with stories that must be centuries old. I suppose I can live with you examining me," he joked.
"I am afraid it would feel unpleasant, seeing that you are in pain. Could we have some sort of ... painkiller?"
"We brought some," Cory hurried, and took something from a small duffel bag he had left by the door. "Is there any water, Ayn?"
"Sure thing," Ayn pointed the water container in the corner that any home in Haven seemed to have. "Just let me bring it," the man hurried. "If I'm just staying here, next to you, guys, doing nothing, I might just go a bit insane."
Xavier followed his lover with his eyes. There was comfort in watching Ayn's purposeful stride across the small room. He was pulled back by Edgar's steady hands feeling his arm, pressing and proding, like they were looking for something.
"I would appreciate if you could let me know what is it that you're searching," Xavier addressed Edgar.
The scientist was frowning, obviously focused on something. He could not hold against the man the fact that he was ignoring Xavier's demand.
"As far as I can tell," Edgar spoke after a while, time during which everyone in the room seemed to be holding their breath, "the wiring stops before the elbow."
"Should we cut it all?" Xavier spoke, earning a gasp of disbelief from Cory, and a few pained cuss words from Ayn. "It could be a solution to eliminate the entire problem," he added.
"Let the doctor speak, Xav," Ayn said through his teeth. "Edgar?"
"Xavier is not off the mark," Edgar spoke, making Ayn curse again and hit the nearby wall with his fist. "But, if my years spent studying in Aeria could ever be put to good use, that is a good time. A good time, indeed," the man added with a bit of strange satisfaction. "I would just need some tools."
Xavier's attention squared on Edgar.
"Please do explain."
"I cannot make your hand as good as new," Edgar spoke, continuing to examine Xavier's hand with serious eyes. "That would be way outside the range of my knowledge. But I can opt for the alternative, if that is fine by you."
"What alternative?" Xavier asked.
"I can compensate the part that is missing with a mechanical piece," Edgar said promptly.
Xavier had to admit that he was impressed.
"Is that truly possible?"
"It is worth a try. Balancing that against having your forearm amputated gives it extra points, don't you think?" Edgar added, with a small forced smile.
Xavier could appreciate good humor in a man. Edgar was, however, trying to draw his attention away of the grimmer of the two posibilities. But that, in itself, has to be appreciated. He could vaguely remember something he had once read about the ability to be compassionate and yet still have a clear head, as being an important part of being a medic. Edgar seemed to fill in that part rather accurately.
Not that he could recall compassion, in how the Trainers had often handled him, as a child. They spoke of love, but Xavier was certain he had not known such a thing until he had met Ayn. And it was not about the physical part of things, although the simple thought of Ayn's strong hands wrapped around him was making him tremble slightly, and not from cold. It was like somewhere, deep inside his chest, he felt warm.
His eyes met Ayn's, dark and worried. He attempted a small smile.
"Edgar here seems to know what he's doing," Xavier said.
Ayn seemed to relax, if only a fraction.
"Just tell me what you need, man," Ayn addressed Edgar, his eyes still on Xavier. "If I have to turn the entire desert and the coast cities upside down, I'll bring it to you."
"Oh, nothing that extravagantly," Edgar waved.
But those words had not been meant for the scientist. Xavier smiled. It was Ayn's way to show what he felt inside. It was Ayn's fierce declaration of love, and Xavier wanted so much to just get up from his sick bed and walk over to his lover, only to keep him in his arms.
Dion was delving deep into the darkness. For long moments, he felt like he was turning blind, but slowly, his eyes began to adapt, while lights from torches in the distance began to lick the walls.
With new found confidence, deeply rooted in his desperation, he walked forward. He almost stumbled upon someone, his eyes fixed on the lights ahead.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
The man he had almost crushed into said nothing, and just moved away. Dion could feel icy chills running down his spine. He turned to look after the man, when he felt sudden unbearable heat coming from below.
His feet struggled to keep him upward. He balanced over the edge of what looked like a chasm opening under his feet. His breath caught in his chest, and he almost screamed.
Fire, burning bright, in tones of orange and yellow, made the shadows of the people walking slowly around the huge cauldron at their feet, seem gigantic, projected on the tall walls. And the miners were humming, like they were all in a trance, raising their tools, chipping at the walls, and sending the results of their labor into the fire pit.
What was the point of all this? From the corner of one eye, he noticed sudden movement. He jerked toward the source of that movement, only to witness a man falling to his death into the fire pit.
Without a scream. Without a sound. Without his mates noticing his dive. Dion could feel his feet shaking. One man almost pushed him closer to the edge as he moved by, humming and obsessed with swinging his pickaxe.
He needed to find John. So he just grabbed the man nearby and looked into his glassy eyes, on which the fire pit played its demonic dance.
"John, have you seen John?"
For a fraction of a second, the man seemed to make an effort to look back at Dion. But he just raised his pickaxe and returned to his job. Dion looked around him in desperation.
There was no other way. He hurried toward the next man, grabbing him and forcing him to look up. Not John. The heat was unbearable, like his own breath was turning to soot in his mouth.
Was he going to just check each and every miner in there? There were hundreds of men, if not more. But there was no point to dally. He needed to find his man, and he needed to do it soon.
He looked around. Even among these hardened men, John had to stand out, due to his stature. Dion was the only one moving about, against the tide of human bodies, bent awkwardly over their work.
He had to find him. There was no way he was going to fail. If there were things in the world worth fighting for, this was one of them. The most important. How he felt about John and how John felt about him.
A man moved, navigating a nearby corner and threw a wheelbarrow field with rocks into the pit. Dion followed him, as the miner returned with the empty tool. After the fiery glow of the pit, his eyes were blind in the darkness, again.
"John! John!" he called out loud, running after the miner.
He hit solid mass and almost fell back on his ass. He could barely make the outline of a human being standing tall and unmoved in front of him. There was no time to dally. He pushed himself up to his feet and caught the miner's arm, forcing the man to turn towards him.
Or, at least, he tried to, as the miner remained there, like a statue. Was this man his John? Dion threw all caution to the wind. He could sense other people moving around them, busy with their constant digging. But he got in front of the man, and put his hands on the guy's face.
He knew that face. Tears were prickling his eyes. He had found him. Throwing himself into the man's arms, he began sobbing. Fear was fast at work deep within his soul, and the only person who had ever loved him, as a lover, not only as a friend, was there, looking like a dead man.
He could feel the man stiff into his arms, not rejecting him, but not responding either. With frantic moves, he began searching the man's pockets. It had to be there, it had to be. But he was only coming out empty.
Blindly, he searched the man's chest, sliding his fingers through the shirt opening. His fingertips could make the shape of a metal object, but, when he tried to grab it, it felt like it was set within the flesh.
No, no, no, that couldn't be! His fingers began digging, trying to find an edge, a corner, something he could grab on, too, and when they found it, they pulled with all the strength Dion was capable of.
The man groaned as Dion tore the pendant out of his body. Dion was trembling, feeling moisture around his fingers.
"What the hell," the man mumbled, touching his chest.
"John," Dion called, his voice hoarse from his shouting from earlier.
"Oh, John," Dion dropped the pendant to the ground and hurried to embrace his man.
"Hey," the man called softly, confusion clear in his voice. "What are you doing here? Weren't you supposed to be out there, into the sun?"
"No," Dion sniffled, and buried his head into the crook of the man's shoulder. "I don't want to be there, alone."
"You could be in danger," John whispered. "Ah, my chest hurts," the man complained.
"No, it is you who's in danger," Dion said and pushed himself a bit away so he could feel John's chest.
Yes, there was blood, but the wound seemed artificial.
"What is it, baby?" John's voice was hesitant.
"There's no time to explain. Not here. We need to get out," Dion took John's hand to make the taller man follow him.
"Wait. How do you want us to do that?" John spoke, slurring the words a little bit, as if he was drunk. "The entrance is guarded, and there's only one way in and out."
Dion stopped. John was right.
"Can't you tell me what's going on?" John whispered. "I feel a bit dizzy. Am I imagining you here, with me?"
"No, you're not imagining it," Dion replied. "But there's an evil here, something that keeps everyone like this," he made a small gesture around them.
John seemed to take a moment to try observing their surroundings. Maybe his eyes were more accustomed to the dark.
"Hey," he called for one man, but the miner slid past them. "What's going on?" he spoke, turning toward Dion again.
"I don't know, but it's like ... they're under this strange spell and ... I'm the reason your chest hurts. I needed to take that thing out of your body."
"Thing? What thing?"
"I don't know what it is," Dion spoke quickly. "But the moment I got in, someone pushed one into my hand, and it felt like I was starting to grow numb, so I just threw it away. But you, you had that thing set in your chest, like your flesh was going to swallow it, so I needed to pull it out, you see?"
John caught him into his arms. Now the man was tense, and Dion could tell he was processing fast all that information.
"I remember what you're talking about," John's voice was now rigid and void of emotion. "It is the token they give us, the moment we pass through. You said it was set in my chest?"
"Yes," Dion whispered.
"All the others move about us, like they cannot see us," John spoke. "What is going on here?" he mumbled, mostly to himself now.
"I don't know, but we need to get out," Dion insisted.
But John stopped him.
"We need to wake them up. Wake everybody up."
"But," Dion tried to protest, but John just squeezed him into his big arms.
"If there's an evil spell, you just found out how to break it, baby," John said lovingly. "And they won't be able to stop us, if we're that many."
What John said was making sense. Yet, he could still not avoid the feeling of unease settling in the pit of his stomach. Could they truly free all the people?
"Our son," the Head Trainer spoke in his deep cavernous voice, while examining Lucas with cold dead eyes. "We have an important task for you. The most that any son of ours could hope to be given."
"I am here to serve," Lucas bowed slightly, his eyes remaining on the Trainers gathered around the long wooden table.
"You will need to go through an important transformation."
Lucas reigned in the trembling in his body.
"I have been retrained," he spoke.
"Yes, and the process was a success. But, as you are, no matter how strong and intelligent you are, we are afraid you cannot be as much as Xavier. Not without our help."
"Could you not find Lord Xavier? I thought that the bracelet was going to point out ..."
"For the moment, Lord Xavier appears to remain lost," the Head Trainer interrupted him. "We will find him, when the moment is right, and we need your help for that."
Lucas remained standing, without blinking, ignoring the hard thumping in his chest.
"We do have one in Aeria, as you well know. But we created one here, for you and you alone," the Head Trainer spoke again.
His mind was brought at a halt. Could it be? Never before had he been subjected to the malicious attack of that machine, not when he had been Aeria, and not after. But Edgar had often told him, in their correspondence, what an awful trick that machine was. And he feared its consequences.
"Is there no other way?" he opened his mouth, words coming out with difficulty.
He knew what it meant. He knew how his mind was going to be destroyed, and more than that, his heart. So, after all, he wasn't going to have not even one thing left, the only one that matter.
"There is no point in wasting time," the Head Trainer replied. "It is for your own good, Lord Lucas."
The honorific sounded hollow in that creature's mouth, as his words of love. They weren't humans, the Trainers. But while for the duration of his life before Cory, he had no trouble thinking this, and thought of the Trainers as superior beings, now he could see them all the more clearly for what they were.
Monsters. The kind not bent to disappear come morning, when nightmares could no longer survive in the light of day. They were superior, indeed, but only in their malice. Evil was deep within their souls, provided that they had any.
The Head Trainer gestured for him to follow, and he did, his legs filled with lead. One of the others pulled a heavy curtain, the color of old wine. And there, Lucas saw it, the machine that killed all dreams, as Edgar had used to say.
This was an execution. He was going to get up from that machine, but he, as Lucas, the man Cory loved, was going to be dead. And instead of him, a shell of a being, turned into a tool, was going to emerge.
His servant from home was present there, his perfect symmetrical face, as serene as always. Lucas could feel something was odd, in the way the servant stood, one hand resting on the machine.
"The procedure can be painful. We wanted you to have someone familiar close by."
How was this servant familiar to him? Lucas could swear the servant was like a shadow, moving inside his home like he was calculating each step to be the most efficient.
He closed his eyes for one second. Enough to say his goodbyes forever. To Cory, the man he loved, to Xavier, the friend he had found in Drena, and to Edgar, the one who had tried to save his Cory when Lucas had asked.
The Head Trainer placed on hand on his shoulder, forcing him to walk and sit in the metal contraption.
"Everything will be okay, Lord Lucas," he heard his servant speaking.
The young servant took Lucas's hand in his. Lucas's last thought, before descending into darkness, was that the servant's hand felt nothing like a human's.
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