Who’s the real monster here.
“Wake up sleepy head!” Sariah flung the blinds open, allowing the mid-afternoon sun into the room.
“Mm… fu’off…” Arkenheart flopped away from the intruding sunlight, hiding her head in her arms as she did so.
“Rise and shine, shoe pants, we’ve got a big day of sneaky thievery ahead of us.”
“Go ‘way. Wan’ sleep.”
“Fiddlesticks. It’s already two in the afternoon or some such. Day’s half over already.”
Sariah reached over, yanked the pillow out from underneath Arkenheart’s head, then struck Arkenheart in the face.
“Fucking fuck fucker fuck fucking alright balls! I’m awake now!” Arkenheart spluttered and thrashed momentarily, glaring at her sister. “Why you always gotta be with the violence?”
“I asked and you were all ‘I stayed up all night sporking whosisface’. I had no choice but to smite thee.”
“Blatant lies.” Arkenheart yawned, rubbing her eyes. “Why we gotta do stuff today anyway. Is Saturday, les’ just sit here and… and… I dunno.”
Sariah sat on the edge of the bed. “Listen here, shoe pants, we gotta make good on this job. If we don’t, we’re out of a home and who knows what kinda black hole loan sharks will be chasing us down.”
Stretching, Arkenheart asked, “Well, why can’tcha do it alone? You don’t really need me to rob a vault.”
“Oh, if only I could! How’m I gonna get past the guardians without your brilliant hacking expertise? Why, if you don’t help, I’ll probably be arrested and you’ll never see me again and it’ll be all your fault!”
Arkenheart yawned again. “I like it when you guilt trip me into stealing shit. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.”
Sariah grinned. “So you’re in?”
“Yeah. I can’t let you go by yourself. Now where’s my damn breakfast.”
“Go make it yourself bitch. I got things to do.”
“Balls to that. Bring me pancakes!”
“I will do many things for you. Wake you up, hit you with pillows, but making you breakfast? So sorry, a little out of my league.”
“Fucking love you too, sis.”
“Now now, grumpy pants, watch the language. You’ll hurt my poor virgin ears.”
One of the first things Arkenheart had designed when she’d had to actually follow a schedule was a bloop clock. Essentially the device was little more than a timekeeping gizmo combined with a small, sonic resonator. Usually such a device is referred to as an “alarm clock.” The device she had constructed, however, was far too polite to warrant the world “alarm” in its description.
She had called it a bloop clock, as it made a rather pleasant “bloop” noise.
Bloop went the bloop clock. Pleasantly.
Arkenheart blearily opened her eyes, blinked several times, rubbed them, yawned, and painstakingly pulled herself from her bed. The first rays of dawn were just poking through the shades drawn across her bedroom window. She dressed quickly. She wanted to at least try and get some breakfast in before Triss commandeered the kitchen for her damn tea.
Always with the tea. Why. Why the tea?!
She hurried out in the main area of the dormitory-
Triss was seated in the kitchen, a kettle of tea just starting to whistle. Triss glanced at her, frowned, then returned her attention to… well, nothing. Just turned her attention away from Arkenheart.
“Why do you always make tea? Every damn morning, fresh tea! Do you even drink it? I never see you drink it!” Arkenheart had suffered through constant tea making for a good two weeks now.
Triss looked back at her, the frown returning. “You are as unobservant as you are uncouth. Tea is balm for both the body and the mind. It is a soothing drink that nonetheless invigorates. I am sure these are concepts far beyond the capacity of your primitive mind, yet I hold hope that one day, one day you shall evolve beyond your-”
“Blah blah bloody fuck you’re annoying in the morning.”
“The sentiment is mutual, though I disagree on the stipulation that your intense stupidity is only present in the morning.”
“Yeah, well, fuck you, I’m hungry.”
“Your wit knows no end. Or a beginning.”
Striding to the kitchen area, Arkenheart casually knocked the tea to the floor. The kettle itself merely cracked, being rather sturdy in construction. Still, the tea itself quickly created a large puddle on the floor that smelled pleasantly of various citrus fruits with undertones of some sort of unidentifiable spice.
“Ewps.” said Arkenheart, pleasantly.
Triss glared at her. “What was the point of that? To demonstrate your own maturity? Some sort of primordial outburst of impotent rage? Pathetic.”
“Why do I even talk to you. Why… what the fuck did I ever do to you?! Since day one, just been verbal abuse piled on verbal abuse. We even fought like three times, and-”
“Fuck you, a number of times, and it doesn’t seem to help. So what the fuck is your problem?!”
Triss stood up, gave her a blank look, then fetched the magic mop from the closet.
“Great. So no reason. Just hate for hate’s sake. Well fucking fine, I can live with that. Just… whatever your problem with me is? Maybe just get the fuck over it sometime, yeah?” Arkenheart shook her head in frustration, grabbed a couple banana muffins, then left the dormitory.
Triss watched her go. Watched the door briefly after she had left.
Triss watched the mop clean up the tea.
She sighed, slumping slightly.
Every day she made a pot, an effort at a peace offering. A futile offering, as every morning she managed to screw it up. She didn’t even know if Arkenheart liked tea.
“I made you tea. I don’t know how to be nice. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to talk to people. Let’s be friends.” Triss said to the floating mop.
The mop said nothing.
Triss stood up, picked up the mop, and casually snapped it in half.
Hurling both pieces aside, she sat again, staring blankly at the spilled tea.
“Sooo, whatcha making?” asked Sariah, munching on a blueberry bagel.
“Sticky bomb!” Arkenheart was seated at her makeshift workbench, an array of small explosives and random mechanical devices scattered around her, with a large tub of excessively sticky resin on the floor nearby. “Now go ‘way. Very concentrated. Work.”
“I brought you foods!” Sariah shook a small paper bag. “Come on, shoe pants, take the bag! It has bagels inside!”
Arkenheart turned to her, removing the goggles. “Cinnamon raisin?!”
Sariah winked. “Nothing but the best for my little criminal mastermind.”
“Glee! Gimme!” Arkenheart grabbed for the bag.
“Ap AP BAP bap baaaa.” Pulling away, Sariah kept the bag from Arkenheart’s grasp. “First, show me how the sticky bomb works. Then bagel.”
“Cruel but fair. Okay, it works like a regular grenade, only it sticks to whatever you throw it at. Precision grenades in a heated situation! They can’t be thrown back, can’t move around chaotically on their own. Far greater explosive control! You arm it like so…” The grenade made a pleasant bloop noise. “Then you throw it like so!”
Arkenheart threw the grenade at the far wall. Or at least, tried to. The grenade was stuck to her hand.
“Oh shit! Oh shit! Noooo-” The grenade exploded, drenching Arkenheart in a wall of rapidly expanding bubbles. A second later, the bubbles hardened, taking the same consistency as concrete.
Sariah, fortunately, had been able to retreat behind the heavily battered sofa, and was spared the wrath of the sticky bomb.
“Back to the drawing board, huh shoe pants?” Sariah could hardly keep herself from laughing.
“Hey fuck you. I’m stuck like this. Non-lethal explosive my ass… what if it had hit my head? Just sheer luck this stuff didn’t get in my mouth or nose. Suffocating to death on my own creation… what a horrible way to go.” Arkenheart was little more than a head sticking out of a huge mound of light gray, hardened glue.
“So, how do we get you out of this stuff?” asked Sariah.
There was a long pause.
Arkenheart said, “I… really have no idea.”
Sariah doubled over laughing.
Training was always different. Always the same, but always different.
The mornings were hard for combat specialists. The entire morning was dedicated to learning, practicing and perfecting combat. Always they fought their fellow students in brutal combat. Sometimes their teachers joined in. The fights were never fair.
Their teachers would come up with exercises. They’d pit ten students against one, just to see how long the one would last. They would leave five students alone in a free for all, last man standing wins, in an unlit room filled with randomly sized and positioned boxes. Sometimes they would fight with wooden swords. Sometimes with fists. Usually both.
It didn’t really matter, the body and mind was the weapon, the sword was nothing more than a focus. Or so they said every time they brought up philosophy.
Training would eventually cease when students were simply too injured to keep going. Broken bones weren’t unusual, nearly everyone ended up with bruises, scrapes, cuts, and sprains.
Then it was off to various chapels and temples for healing. What better way for students of healing to learn their art than on actual, injured elves? No better exercise could be developed for the aspiring priest and paladin healers. Combat, by its nature, is a very random and destructive affair. The injuries the warriors presented were diverse, giving the healers many new and exciting learning opportunities.
Lunch was usually spent in a medical bed, trying to enjoy whatever tasty morsels one had while three or four paladins hovered around trying to figure out how best to remove the massive wooden splinters impaled in one’s thigh.
Then it was off to the much more sedate and relaxed afternoon classes. Generally, students had some choice here. Some basics, like holy power manipulation, were mandatory for all blood knights to take.
Combat specialists did learn how to heal, though nowhere near the level or detail of what the healing specialists learned. Holy energy could be used for a great deal more than just healing, and it was those purposes the blood knights learned in the afternoon.
Some of them were simple. Creating shields, for instance, was relatively easy. It took no real finesse, merely directing some power towards a target. Extremely similar to basic healing, just infuse the target of your choice with holy power, the energy itself would take care of the details.
Some were vastly more difficult, like how to obviate the need for food, water or sleep. Divine strength was perfectly able to fill in for where the physical body failed or proved inadequate. The only barriers to learning tricks like these was simple mental discipline and fortitude. Great hurdles, overcoming them relied entirely on the strength of will of the blood knight in question.
Then there were the practical combat applications of holy magic. This was where most students concentrated their efforts.
From simply infusing one’s blade with holy energy to creating a blistering maelstrom of unrelenting, crushing power, holy magic could be manipulated to transform a blood knight from simply a formidable warrior into an unstoppable juggernaut.
Pretty much every student already knew how to infuse their weapon. Channeling energy from one body to another body with the intent of harming the latter was the most basic of blood knight skills. Students would learn how to increase the power of their strikes, how to weaken their enemy with each strike, how to cascade that energy to strike other, nearby targets, and even how to take that harmful holy energy and cascade it to the user for a reasonable amount of healing energy.
The magic the blood knights learned to manipulate was very malleable. So long as it was to heal someone, protect someone, or harm someone, a blood knight could do pretty much anything with it.
Today, Arkenheart was learning how to summon hammers.
It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. The point was to bring a sharp burst of holy energy to one’s hand. Not a problem. Then, one had to coalesce that energy into something solid and brutal. The intent was to essentially create a weapon from nothing but energy, then throw it. On impact, the summoned weapon would explode, dealing kinetic and holy damage.
However, the intent was for this process to be nigh instantaneous. Good blood knights were able to simply create the weapons while they made the throwing motion.
Arkenheart was struggling. It took her easily half a minute to get the desired result. At which point the weapon itself would inevitably lose coherency and become useless energy. Not exactly the best way to promote combat versatility.
Selsis Skylight was her instructor, and she was not pleased.
“What kind of excuse for a weakling are you, anyway?” Selsis shouted. “And here I was under the impression you were a blood knight! Just look at you! A miserable failure! How, exactly, do you think you’ll be of use to anyone if you can’t even complete a simple task such as this?”
“Sorry, I’ll do better.” Arkenheart was incredibly frustrated. “I’ll… get it…”
“You damn well better! Imagine how embarrassing it would be if I had to send you to join the remedial military. How’s being a common foot soldier sound to you?”
Arkenheart tried again. Failed again.
“Again! Why do you try! Just accept it, you’re never going to get it right. Look around, you’re the only one having trouble with this.”
Sure enough, all thirty one of the other students were doing quite well. Not exactly masters of the ability, but they were able to create and maintain whatever instrument of smiting they conjured. Arkenheart could barely even make the thing, let alone maintain it long enough to throw around.
“Oh it’s hard, is it? Is little miss frilly pink leotard having some pwoblems wiff a dwifficult abiwity? Well toughen the fuck up you little shit! This isn’t daycare! This isn’t vacation! You’re here to be a fucking warrior! You can’t do that? Then go home and cry to your mommy and sister!”
Shock, despair, then anger. Arkenheart had told no one about her family. Well, no one alive anyway. How did she find out? How did this random instructor… oh, of course. She didn’t know, she was just trying to make Arkenheart angry.
Well mission fucking accomplished, Arkenheart thought.
She tried it again.
It worked, damn near immediately. Maintaining it took nearly no effort.
Selsis Skylight looked pleased. “At last the maggot shows improvement!” Leaning in closer to Arkenheart she whispered, “Whatever it is you were thinking, whatever dark memory you drudged up just now, hold on to that. Hold on to your vengeance. You’ll find that manipulating holy energy is a lot easier when you use that feeling. Good job.”
After flashing a brief smile, Skylight turned sharply away, scolding the other students for not being as good as Arkenheart.
Arkenheart looked at the crackling beast in her hands. It looked like an over sized blacksmith hammer constructed of raw holy energy. Lightning crackled around the entire thing, though it was obviously not electricity that arced.
Three days ago the technique was first taught to her. Only now, with thoughts of her family darting across her mind, as seething hate surged through her, was she able to finally produce results.
With a small shout of rage, she threw it at the nearest practice dummy.
The hammer pinwheeled through the air, bolts of energy sparking off into the air. It smashed into the dummy, exploding with tremendous force. The dummy was ripped open, parts of the hardened wood catching flame.
She didn’t feel any better. If anything, she felt even angrier then before.
Another burst of energy. Another blazing hammer flew through the air.
The dummy was reduced to ash.
She stood, shaking slightly.
The entire class was watching her, most with shock.
Selsis Skylight chimed in abruptly. “Now see that you worthless hides! That is how you make a fucking hammer of wrath! Why the fel aren’t any of you putrid pests matching that! Now I want each of you to destroy a dummy before you go for dinner! You do not get to eat until a dummy burns down!”
Most of her fellow students glared at her. She was used to that by now. They probably enjoyed the few days where she had failed. Damn near every other teacher praised her. Verdan practically bragged about her all morning, every morning.
Well fuck them all. Life was mostly going her way for once, and she would be damned before she let social concerns get in the way of that.
Arkenheart was mad. Very mad.
“It got in my hair! My hair! Do you see this?! My hair!”
Sariah sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Can’t you just dissolve it like the rest? What possible harm could it do?”
“What possible- chemical burns! It will absolutely ruin my hair! It would be the end! Destroyed! Finished! My poor hair will be ruined!” A handy mirror allowed Arkenheart to see the full damage the grenade had left behind. Her hair was horribly clumped, wads of the concrete like substance clinging to her hair in a style reminiscent of drain clogs.
“Want me to cut it for you? I promise I’ll only take a little bit off.”
Arkenheart looked sadly at her hair. “My poor babies… I’ll miss you…”
“Oh for… it’s hair, damnit! It’ll grow back! Stop being so melodramatic. You have only yourself to blame anyway.”
“I know! I murdered them! All my fault! A boo hoo hoo!”
“I’ll try and make it look cute. You won’t have long hair anymore, but you should be able to pull off one brilliantly cute bob.” Sariah sat Arkenheart down in a stolen chair, scrutinizing her hair. A pair of scissors in one hand, a comb in the other, she set to work.
“How long is this going to take?”
“Relax, you’ll be here a while. Probably half hour. Maybe more.”
“Damnit, why so long?! I got things to do!”
“Blatant lies, you do not. It takes time to make it look non-shitty. If you just wanted this damn stuff out, that’d take like… maybe four minutes. But it would look terrible. You fucked your hair up pretty hard.”
“Yeah, I know, don’t remind me.”
“How about I continuously remind you every day? A sticky grenade that stuck to your hand? Comedy solid fucking gold!”
“Shut up! It was an accident!”
“A funny accident worthy of telling at parties.”
“Don’t you dare!”
“Hey Duvani, have you met my sister? She’s got quite a thing for y- hey! Hold still shoe pants! I got scissors here, and I will cut you with them if you do that shit.”
“I’ll kill you if you tell Duvani!”
“Fair enough. If I actually ruined your chances with him I’d probably kill myself first. ‘Cause hot damn, that is one fine piece of man flesh. I wouldn’t twatblock you like that. Think he’d go for a threesome?”
“Hey now, edging in on my turf before my turf is even claimed? The fuck, sis?”
“Oh please, like he wouldn’t be interested. We practically look like twins, remember? What guy would turn such an opportunity down? Especially a delicious morsel of rippling muscle like him…”
“Fine, just so long as we don’t get a repeat of last time.”
“Oh bloody fuck, no, let’s never do that again… with the blindfold and that damn banana…”
“Did you burn the banana?”
“Of course I burned the banana!”
Arkenheart threw open the door, stumbled inside, and face planted on Theronidas’ couch.
Theronidas looked up briefly from his worktable. A myriad of very small parts and pieces lay on the table, neatly ordered and number. A rough outline of a zeppelin hull was gently suspended above the table.
“Rough day today?” he asked.
“Iff frum furffle ffmmff mmrrfff.”
“Stop speaking into my pillows. You’ll leave spittle marks.”
“I said, Iff frum furffle ffmmff mmrrfff!”
“Oh… uhm, I see. Well. That sounds interesting.”
“Triss was all ‘bitch bitch I’m a bitch suck my bitch’ like every morning, Verdan was all ‘hurf durf look at how fantastic Arkenheart is you should suck her cock’, and then Skylight was all ‘hooray Arkenheart master of the hammer of cock sucking!’ Woooo. Pretty much everyone must hate me by now.”
“People aren’t the smartest things around. They don’t like cock sucking, especially… oh damn, did I just say that?”
“Ha! You did! Finally he says a naughty word! I’ll corrupt you yet boy!”
“Oh deary me, the evil wench hast wrought her cock sucking ways on me. Forever I am damned to be a scalawag!”
“That… was some interesting slang right there. What, four different stereotyped eras all at once? For shame, at least keep your slang to one century.”
“I’ll be boonswoggled afore ye hump my rifting sail barge!”
“…Yeah, that was total nonsense.”
“Was not! Goblin slang, from the early stages of zeppelin exploration.”
“Right, yeah, seriously though… what is up with Triss? I tried being patient with her, like you asked, but it’s damn impossible! I cannot even begin to believe how incredibly annoying she is!”
“Well, I did say-”
“No, shut up, this is my rant time. She’s always bitchy, always full of nothing but bile and perfectly willing to spew it everywhere, as bitter as a harsh cocktail and twice as frustrating. What did you ever see in her?”
“I, well, it was… complicated at the time.”
“Complicated, huh. Did you fuck her?”
“I… wh… what?”
“Did. You. Fuck. Her. Not a hard question.”
“I… well… yeah, I mean-”
“Then why won’t you fuck me?”
A stunned Theronidas said nothing.
“Just… answer the damn question already. Why won’t you fuck me?”
“I… how… can I possibly…”
“It’s very easy! You take off your pants! I take off mine! We make with the humpa humpa!”
“Are… are you drunk right now?”
“Right fucking piss drunk off my ass!”
“I am not having this conversation with you. Not… not when you’re like this.”
“Fine. I didn’t expect you to. You’re such a damn pussy anyways, you don’t even need me.”
She got up, left, slamming the door behind her.
Theronidas steepled his hands and bowed his head.
This was not how he expected this relationship to go. Not at all.
“Look, Sariah… this… this just wasn’t what I expected! Not at all!” said Arkenheart.
“Oh please, nothing’s wrong here! He’s just… a little…”
“He’s completely fucking out of his mind! You said this was a standard vault hit. Sundown smash and grab, quick and clean. And here you’ve managed to partner us with a damn anarchist!”
“He’s, well, he’s not… you know, really…”
“Yeah, he’s not, is he? All that spouting off about how bank robbery was helping to ‘topple the establishment’ and ‘bring back the era of freedom and ratification of inner will’ was just a pep talk then?”
“He just has strong beliefs is all.”
“Sariah, he’s a terrorist. Blows things up, reprograms guardians to attack everyone. Burns houses to the ground.”
“He does… you have no proof! You don’t know!”
“He introduced himself as Cain. Cain! Doesn’t that just scream codename to you?”
“Look, what does it matter anyway. We’re just hitting a vault. A government vault to boot. Surely that’s not so bad.”
Arkenheart pursed her lips. “Not the point. The point is, we’re small time. We stay obscure, never making a big enough impact to attract attention. That’s how we’ve survived this long.”
Sariah crossed her arms. “You don’t have to tell me that. I’m the one who came up with this whole idea, I’m the one who keeps us going day to day, I’m the one who-”
“Spare me the lecture! You’re also the one undoing all of that! These guys don’t do subtle, they don’t get low key. They are all about making impacts, usually in the form of gigantic explosions!”
“Fine. No, you’re right. It’s… just… we need this job, alright? We don’t have a lot of other options.” Sariah slumped into their makeshift couch. “This is the best I could do. He… came through for me. We wouldn’t even have this job if it wasn’t for him.”
“You really like him then, don’t you.”
A small smile came to Sariah’s face. “Yeah, yeah I do. He’s… I don’t really know how to describe it, really. I haven’t felt this… since…”
“Since Theronidas, I know.” Arkenheart hugged her. “S’okay, you know where I stand on this. Let’s go make a fucking fortune.”
“You’re still in?”
“Damn straight, sis. Know anyone else who can hack Silvermoon security as easy as me?”
Sariah smiled warmly at her. “Thanks, Arkie. It’s good to know I can count on you.”
“Oh, don’t get all fuzzy on me. You know I’ve got your back. Always.”
She wasn’t sure where she was going, just that she needed to go. Go somewhere. Anywhere. It didn’t matter where, just as long as she was putting one foot in front of the other.
Her drunken mind trudged right along with her.
She had to admit she didn’t know what she was doing.
Sariah had always given her direction. In life, and in death. She had done the planning, the logistics, the strategy side of it. She had dealt with the real world, and sheltered Arkenheart from it.
Her death defined Arkenheart’s life for the better part of two years. Whether it was searching for her, spending weeks worrying to death, and eventually seeking out and carrying out vengeance, everything revolved around Sariah.
When even that was gone, what did she have left?
Arkenheart pondered this.
She had joined the blood knights because Sariah had wanted to. Both of them were naturals at holy magic manipulation, but that was to be expected when your father was a knight turned paladin and your mother a priest.
So that was an easy conclusion then. Sariah had been robbed of her life, so Arkenheart was living it for her.
Was that, then, why she was with Theronidas?
When they were younger, Arkenheart had never really… felt anything for anyone. Sure, she knew lust and leered at the soldiers like any normal girl. Sariah… was different. She felt things. Strongly.
She fell hard for Theronidas. He was her entire world. She would blather about him for hours and hours. But she was never brave enough to tell him herself.
The problem was that Theronidas was madly in love with Arkenheart.
That made things very complicated.
Life never really returned to normal after that. Puberty had made such a horrific mess of things.
Arkenheart sighed and looked for somewhere to sit.
She had somehow managed to make herself to a large plaza. Little clusters of plants dotted the open expanse, each with several convenient benches.
She trudged to the nearest one, collapsing onto the bench. The levitating pot of flowers next to her hummed quietly. She welcomed the little sound, it matched the white noise in her mind quite well.
She wasn’t even sure why she was with Theronidas now. He had pined after her for years and years. And here, all of a sudden, she just went with it.
Well, they were bestest of friends when they were little. They already had quite a history together, so was it just comfort maybe? Just a desire to not be alone?
She sighed again, reclined in the bench, and stared up at the sky.
There had been no one for two years there. Two years with no one to really talk to. She’d never had a real relationship, just bedmates. Plenty of guys and the occasional girl, but nothing ever serious, it was always just the sex. She’d never made any friends either, Sariah was more than enough to fill that particular spot.
In their youth, there wasn’t anyone else to befriend. The three of them were the only kids for miles around. After the Scourge, well… everything went to hell. Not having any friends was simple pragmatism, you never knew who’d try and fuck you over just to survive a few more weeks.
Theronidas had moved to the city with his father about a year before the Scourge attack, that had hit Sariah pretty hard. But Arkenheart was there. There for her sister.
There had never been need for anyone else beyond the two of them.
Two years alone carries with it a heavy toll on the soul.
Yeah, that’s how she felt. Heavy.
She recognized this particular plaza.
“So, what do you think?” asked Sariah. “Doable?”
Arkenheart snorted. “Of course it’s doable. What am I, a journeyman? Please. Big plaza like this is actually way easier to convincingly reprogram. The guardians here will have some randomized pathing anyway, so no one will get suspicious when they deviate from that.”
“Good, good. The vaults we want to hit are on the north wall. You can see the bank entrance from here, the one with huge purple curtains next to the tailoring place.”
“Yeah, I see it.”
Sariah and Arkenheart were seated on a bench, pretending to enjoy a quick dinner, just like the dozens of others. Some families, some couples, it didn’t matter. They blended in, no one gave them a second glance.
“The bank itself has two levels. The upper one is a public spot, for all the little mooks, peons and peasants. The lower one… well, now that one is a little more interesting,” Sariah continued, “That one is the one we’re after. It’s effectively a massive holding area for the government’s wealth, both in cold, hard gold and various material wealth.”
“Not so fast, shoe pants, the lower levels have incredibly high security. We’re talking rolled titanium here.”
“Eight hundred millimeters, at least. Probably more layers we don’t know about.”
Arkenheart smiled. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I got a leetle itty bitty something I threw together for just such an occasion.”
“Cain already has a plan for that. All you need to do is make sure the guardians don’t get-”
“Hold up there. I got a better idea. Tell Cain that I have access to silenced shaped siege charges. He can have them, provided our share of the cut is increased.”
Arkenheart grinned. “Let’s see how he reacts to that.”
There was much that could be said about Cain. He was handsome. Had that predatory gleam to his eyes that nonetheless held a note of kindness. He was confident. He carried himself like he owned wherever he was.
And he wore the sexiest black shades this side of Stormwind. Or so Sariah claimed.
Arkenheart just thought it made him look like a jackass. But who was she to question taste.
For his part, he merely raised an eyebrow and accepted the new terms.
Arkenheart had to admit she was somewhat disappointed that no one had even asked her where she had gotten silenced shaped siege charges. She had it all planned out in her head. I made them hahaha!
But alas, nobody asked.
Apparently Cain wasn’t really concerned with the money. The goal was to make a point, a very loud point. Hitting such a heavily guarded bank, stripping it of wealth while conspicuously leaving all of the citizens funds untouched would send a very powerful message to the populace.
Or so Cain said.
“It will be a glorious night for us all. The very engine of the heart of material wealth, stripped away from our grand oppressors! They will feel our wrath, and the citizens of our people shall witness our terrible vengeance, and know that we are on their side!” Cain had a cape, of course.
“Right, that’s nice and all,” interrupted Arkenheart, “But I have a job to do. There are a lot of guardians to hit, and not a lot of time to hit them.”
“Of course, my terrible mistress of all that is construct. Your contribution to tonight’s upheaval is perhaps greater than all.”
Arkenheart shook her head as they left the small, dark basement that served as Cain’s makeshift headquarters. “Can you believe that guy? Overwrought, pompous douche.”
“You’re just jealous of the shades.” said Sariah. “And what was that business about hitting all the guardians? I thought you said they were all linked, so you could just hit one.”
“Well, yeah, but I didn’t want to hear that guy talk anymore.”
“Soooo… you don’t like him then?”
“I think he’s a DOOOOOOOOOUCHE. That clear enough for you?”
Sariah grumbled. “Yeah, I get it.”
“I don’t have to like him. If you like him, then what does it matter what I think.”
“Oh, it’s… I just… well… worry sometimes, about you. You never reach out to anyone, you just stay in your own little bubble and pretend the world isn’t even there.”
“We’re not talking about this now.”
“Come one, you tell me everything else, why n-”
Arkenheart whirled to her, glaring at her. “We are NOT talking about this now. Okay?”
“Yeah… Okay. Shutting up now.” Sariah looked at her, just a vague note of sadness in her expression.
“Good. Now excuse me while I work my magic.”
Arkenheart cracked her knuckles, adjusted her frilly top, and flounced over to the nearest Guardian.
“’Scyoose me, mistah wobot?” she asked, as adorably as she could.
The massive guardian turned to face her. “GREETINGS CITIZEN. QUERY?”
“Can yoo tell me where little me can find the hospital? I’m afwaid I’m gotten all sick.”
“NORTH EXIT OF THIS PLAZA, TURN LEFT, FOLLOW SUNWALKER AVENUE ERROR ERROR CARRIER NOT FOUND IT IS THEN ON YOUR RIGHT.”
“Excellent.” said Arkenheart, dropping the cutesy voice and walking away. “Carry on then.”
“HAPPINESS IS MANDATORY, CITIZEN.”
“So, how’d it go?” asked Sariah.
Arkenheart grinned devilishly at her sister. “Exactly as planned. The entire network is now my plaything. We’ll have no problems whatsoever from these guys.”
She found herself back at Theronidas’ door.
She took a deep breath. She was starting to sober up. Still drunk enough to go through with it.
She was about to knock again when the door opened.
Theronidas stared at her tiredly. “Arken… what are-”
“I’m sorry I yelled I’m sorry I said those things I didn’t really mean it I just haven’t really been intimate you know not ever ever I’m not good at it and you’re my only friend and I know that sounds bad but it’s still true without you I’m all alone.” Arkenheart rushed everything out as fast as you could. “And I’m just… confused maybe. Don’t really know what I’m doing and maybe I never will and I dunno much but this… I… miss you. Miss everything. Everything we… just us… and… and… I’m sorry but I think I’m going to cry…”
Theronidas guided her in. He sat her down at his kitchen table. “Here. Sit. Just… you don’t have to tell me, alright? I’m here for you.”
“I just… I, yeah, thanks.”
Theronidas moved to the kitchen, bustling around. “I’ll make you some tea. It’ll help calm you down. It’s good for you.”
“I was just doing some thinking today, and I was wondering… what am I doing? I don’t really know what… just living is what. Don’t really have any aims, no goals… Why did you join the blood knights?”
Theronidas looked at her. “You really want to know?”
“Yeah, yeah I do. Maybe it’ll help me figure out why I’m here.”
He prepared a pot of tea as he spoke.
“Well, two reasons, really. It felt like the right thing to do. This whole world is pretty awful, overall, and I thought… maybe I could make a difference, you know? I could have simply stayed at home, been spoiled rotten my whole life. I could have been a little prince-ling, doted on hand and foot every day. Which is the second reason I joined. I want no part of that life. So…” he shrugged, “I joined the knights. Get away from everything. Get away from all that politics crap and just be someplace where virtue meant far more than where you happened to be born.”
“Heh,” Arkenheart sniffled, “Guess you fit the noble type. Not noble noble, but noble noble, you know what I mean. Noble as in-”
“Yes, I get it,” he laughed, “Really, that’s what it comes down to. Here I can fight the good fight.”
The sun had long since gone down. Darkness permeated the streets outside.
Hidden in the darkness above the apartment, Triss quietly shuffled slightly, making herself comfortable. She wasn’t sure how long this visit was going to last, so just in case it took a few hours, she needed to be limber enough if Arkenheart left again. Numb limbs would be a liability.
Fighting the good fight. She smiled. Liar, she thought.
It was like stepping into a nightmare.
The heist itself had gone off easily enough. The guardians had been quietly shuffled away or outright cut off from the network to prevent any alarms, and muted of course. Having guardians standing around shouting “CARRIER NOT FOUND” over and over again wouldn’t exactly be an advantage.
The charges worked exactly as advertised. They made no noise themselves, the only sound was that of the vault walls being ripped apart. That did create some noise, but nothing loud enough to attract any attention. Mostly it was just irritating to listen to. Like a thousand nails on a thousand chalkboards.
They didn’t take everything, just what they could carry. Cain’s group numbered twenty three besides himself, of which twenty were simple loot runners. Everyone filled up their pockets, backpacks and various sacks with gold, and that was that.
But Cain had different ideas.
He and his group had taken most of the material wealth up to the upper, citizen portion of the bank. Some of it was paintings, some weapons, records, manuals, various priceless artifacts. All of that was unceremoniously chucked into a huge pile.
The pile was then soaked in accelerant.
That was when the nightmare started.
Cain and his group had captured a very high ranking noblewoman. A politician of some sort. She was wearing incredibly wealthy looking clothes, or what was left of them. It was obvious she had suffered greatly under the hands of her captors. Her face was horribly bruised and split open in many places. She was gagged, her hands and feet bound viciously together with a crude sort of barbed wire.
Earlier, Cain had requested that Arkenheart give him full control over a single guardian. He hadn’t said why, but she had just assumed he needed a mechanical guard for something, maybe carrying some of the gold they were stealing.
Guardians carry extremely sophisticated recording technology. They can record visuals across multiple spectrum and sound across a greater range than elven ears could. This was intended to aid them in their security role. They also came with sophisticated projection technology, though this was primarily meant as a way to assist living guards and as a way to give directions.
They could, however, be used in other ways. Say, recording something. Say, broadcasting that something. To every single guardian in the entire network.
Which Arkenheart had so conveniently handed to Cain.
He and his three remaining compatriots were garbed head to toe in black. Their faces were totally obscured by stark white skull masks.
He was making a speech, a speech the guardian was no doubt recording.
“Your government has failed you. The leaders you hold in such high regard have abandoned you to your fates. You struggle, day by day, merely to survive. For what do you struggle? Your leaders, the nobility that preside above you, they sit in the Sunspire and abuse the power they have stolen from you. They are deaf to your plight, to your pleas. Every day they work to strip you of your rights and your dignity. They rob you of your will, sap your strength, leave you withered husks of your former selves, and they laugh as they do so. They crush you beneath them, and they care not.”
He spread his arms wide, gesturing to the massive pile of wealth behind him.
“This is what the government takes from you. The system is broken. The system has abandoned you. But we…” here he gestured to himself and his three fellows, “Can fix that. Who are we? We are you. We are we. We are anonymous. We are everywhere. We cannot be stopped.”
Two of them moved around to opposite sides of the massive pile.
It was then that Arkenheart and Sariah arrived from the lower levels. Upon seeing the setup, Arkenheart quickly ducked back down and hushed Sariah’s protests.
“Shh. They’re… I dunno what they’re doing.”
“Behold now as the fires of our hate is kindled!” The booming voice of Cain came to them.
Massive jets of flame erupted from the hands of the two standing near the pile. Easily hundreds of thousands of gold worth of materials ignited in an instant, creating a huge bonfire in the center of the bank.
“Arkie, let me see what is…” Sariah pushed herself past Arkenheart, “… What are… oh, holy shit, no…”
“What? What are they-”
“Did you see the woman?”
“They have somebody up there! Someone all tied and… and they’re going to…”
Cain’s voice boomed again. “This woman you see here is not one of us. She is not of you. She is one of your oppressors. The North Reach. The Southern Glen. The brutal repression of the Sunwalker Plaza. All of that is her doing. You suffer because people such as her continue to exist. But no more.”
“You have to stop him! Sariah…”
Sariah was shell shocked, mumbling. “He… he wouldn’t… he’s… no…”
“Fuck Sariah! Fuck! I told you! I told you he’s a fucking terrorist!”
“Behold! Behold the terrible heat of our vengeance!” Cain forced the bound woman to her feet. “Gaze into the face of our enemy, and know this: we are without mercy!”
With that, her hurled her into the flames.
She screamed and writhed as the heat and fire took her. Slowly, painfully slowly, her screams faded into an even worse sound. The sound of boots stomping on rotten fruit. The sound of organs boiling and rupturing.
“Cease recording.” ordered Cain.
“RECORDING TERMINATED.” intoned the guardian.
A faint smile tugged the corners of Cain’s mouth. “I love that expression. Terminated. Carries such weight. Well done, fellow citizens! Rest well tonight, for we-”
“WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?!” Sariah may have been willing to sit there comatose, but Arkenheart was not.
“Ahh, the architect of the hour. I must thank you again, my dearest mistress, without you none of this was possible.”
“Shut the fuck up! You just straight up burned someone alive! What… no, what’s the use. You are a fucking unbelievable criminal.”
“Criminal? You dare hurl such an insult at me, petty thief?”
“We take what we need to survive. We don’t kill people!”
“Not even those who deserve-”
“Fuck you! Fuck you fuck you fucking fuck you! Shut the fuck up! Me and my sister are leaving, fuck our cut! You, and you’re little terrorist cell, will never, ever contact us again. Or I swear be everything I hold dear, I will kill you.”
“Big words and idle threats. But fear not. Your assistance today was more than sufficient.”
Sariah got up. Took several steps into the room. Stared at the fire. Stared at Cain. “How could you.”
“How could you do something like… like… this! How?! You… you were so… you told me you weren’t… that you… you said you loved me! That we… that we…”
Cain spread his arms. “What I love is my people. The elven people. For them, I will go to any length, take any action necessary to free them from the bonds of slavery. If I must lie to get there, if I must murder to accomplish that, I will.”
“You… you lied… then, how much, was anything true?”
“Not a word of it. You are a tool, Sariah. A glorious instrument in service to something far beyond your scope.”
“You… you… I…”
Arkenheart touched Sariah’s arm. “We have to go,” she whispered.
“Yeah… we do…”
They moved quickly towards the entrance of the bank. The darkness of the night welcomed them, a cool embrace after the heat inside the building.
Cain’s voice followed them. “How does it feel to be impotent, Arkenheart? To be incapable of doing the right thing, knowing that you cannot turn me in, as the system would execute you for your role in tonight’s glorious vengeance?” He chuckled, “We are all monsters, Arkenheart. You just have to be monstrous for the right reasons.”
“I am not a monster.” Arkenheart whispered under her breath. She and her sister faded into the night, into the back alleys. Sariah was crying softly, she was barely moving on her own. Arkenheart nearly had to carry her.
Hidden in an alcove a block away, two pairs of eyes watched their progress.
The first, an elf by the name of Triss Brightsword, asked, “How about them?”
The second, an elf by the name of Theronidas Theron, shook his head. “No, not them. It… wouldn’t be right.”
Triss said, “Bah! Since when do you care about what’s right?”
Theronidas shook his head again. “I wouldn’t expect you to know. Not. Them.” He didn’t tell her that he had recognized the two elves skulking through the alley beneath them. It was better that she not know.
Triss shrugged. “Whatever you say. First time I’ve seen you picky about a kill before.”
She gestured at the bank, faintly glowing from the fire inside. Four figures left the bank, quickly moving towards the same alley they currently stood sentry over. “What about them? Two apiece, and they look armed too. Might have some fun.”
Theronidas looked them over quickly. “Much better choice.” He carefully drew his sword and unslung a shield from his back. “Let’s go make a bloodbath.”
Triss grinned at him. “I love it when you talk dirty to me. Dibs on the one with shades.”