Read Chapter 4 here.
There was pounding on the door. The loud, authoritative bang of someone who knew that they had so much power that none would dare stop them, and in knowing that, they didn’t care what they did or did not do.
“Open up!” a female’s voice called out, her tone cold. “You’ve got no way out, and if you do as I say, you won’t be hurt.”
There was silence.
“Come out. Right now.” It was rare that the woman ever gave a second warning to anyone; prehaps she was just feeling generous. Or prehaps she didn’t usually have the opportunity to warn twice. Not many dared disobey her. Those few who did…
She sighed, as though giving the order, although it didn’t. “Burn it down,” she commanded.
“Are you sure, Inq?” one of the mercs asked, uncertain. He was new to the fieldwork involved in being a mercenary. He’d learn.
“Of course I’m sure,” Inq snapped, not even bothering to look at the boy. “This is to teach them, and that filthy ‘Queen’ of theirs, the consequences of falling out of favor with the mercs.”
“What do you mean, Coffee? Haven’t we done enough? Haven’t you done enough?” Lectin asked.
“No, Lectin, I’m afraid we haven’t. It seems the so-called Queen Melkyre is more stubborn than even I believed. She’s yet to even notice.”
“Melkyre- that is to say, Melly the Robot Queen has yet to notice that her people are being murdered? Love, the Queen notices everything.”
A queen herself, Coffee stiffened. She noted that Lectin used Melly’s title so easily, but refused to refer to Coffee as ‘Queen’. She took a breath and let it out slowly, wisely choosing to ignore it.
“Apparently, she’s not the queen you make her out to be, Lectin,” Coffee hinted snidely.
Lectin sighed. “Princess-”
“I am no Princess, Lectin,” Coffee snapped.
“Princess,” Lectin continued on, ignoring her, “I think you are underestimating someone who has double the army that your kingdom does, and who even alone, could overpower you. Assuming when you don’t have all the details is a very dangerous thing-”
“What she doesn’t have, Lectin-Sensei,” Coffee cut in, ignoring his speech but still managing to soften the interruption by using her old pet name for the ex-tutor, “is you. So I, of course, am at the advantage.”
“Coffee, dearest, you’ve been here for weeks. Don’t you think it’s time that you return to your kingdom?”
“Eager to be rid of me, are you, Lectin?” she asked, keeping her head high and raising out of her chair. “Fortunately, I can take a hint. You will continue on as planned in my absence.”
It wasn’t a question, but Lectin answered it anyway. “Of course,” he assured her, grinding his teeth. Favors were favors, even if Lectin swore to keep himself neutral at all times. This would be the last time that he pulled any strings for Coffee.
“Good. I’ll send a messenger with further instructions. I’m going tor rest now; I leave at dawn.”
Coffee drew up her dressing gown and gave a low bow for her old tutor.
“Don’t mess this up for us, Lectin,” she said softly. “Winning this war will mean good things for us; but losing won’t be quite as pleasant.”
“Considering that instructions are but guidelines to me, Princess, I will be sure to take them into consideration.”
Coffee sighed, and held eye contact with Lectin, an understanding passing between them. Lectin knew how much Coffee had to lose this time round, if it failed. It all hinged on his precision. It had to be the perfect heist.
Lectin, himself, had quite a few things riding on this scheme of theirs. There was so much to lose…
Coffee nodded to Lectin once, and then left his office, calling for the one mercenary who she didn’t feel to be “vile, barbaric, or particularly unpleasant” to escort her to her rooms.
When Coffee was a good distance away, Lectin sighed, rubbing his forehead with an arm. But weakness was never acceptable, and he squared his shoulders, calling for his right-hand man and go-to advisor, Jon.
Jon entered through the door, once more refusing to knock. “What is it, Lectin?” Jon asked wearily. He’d been short of temper during the time that Coffee’d been rooming with the Guild.
Lectin knew that Coffee wasn’t the most… understanding of people, but he’d expected Jon to be the bigger man; but so far, he’d been acting like just as much of a child as Coffee had.
Lectin stood up, his hands on his desk, his temper reined in carefully. He didn’t become the best in the business without keeping his actions and emotions clearly apart.
He spoke quietly. “Don’t take that tone with me, Jon. Not today.”
“You aren’t the only one who’s been ordered around for these last few weeks, Lectin. That queen of yours-”
“That queen of mine is a Queen, a client, and an old student of mine,” Lectin cut him off. Though Lectin still believed Coffee only fit to be a princess (and some things may never change), appearances must always be upheld. There was a pause, in which Jon glared at him, but didn’t say a word. “Now, Jonathan, if you’re done throwing your temper tantrum like a little child, I need you to send a message to Inq.
Jon’s eyes widened at Lectin’s words. As the only girl badass enough to be part of the Mercenary Guild, calling on Inq could only mean one thing.
“No, Lectin, you can’t-“
“Excuse me?” Lectin asked calmly, raising his eyebrows. “Are you in charge now? Are you the one who gives orders?”
Jon faltered a bit, but pushed through. “Lectin, she’s been sent to Melkyre’s kingdom twice just this month. Are you really ready to sacrifice even more innocent lives-“
“Jonathan, we are mercenaries. Any talk of innocent lives is a waste of time. We’ve all taken our share of them. Now, you will do as I asked you to. You will speak to Inq, and you will inform her that she’ll need to go back to Melkyre’s kingdom.”
Lectin kept his eyes politely disinterested. After decades of working in the field, Lectin felt only the barest sense of guilt at what he was about to do. At some point, a mercenary had to learn how to think of the people as nothing but cattle to be slaughtered. It was gruesome, but it was nesseccary. The guilt that he felt wasn’t guilt for the lives that were inevitably going to pass in the following months. It was because he was breaking the code of neutrality he had sworn when he had cut his service to Queen Coffee’s court.
Disturbed, but unable to speak out against the leader of the Merc Guild, Jon nodded swiftly and turned away to leave, hand reaching for the door knob. Lectin stopped him once more with a few words.
“And Jon?” Lectin said. Jon paused, his back still to Lectin. “You will not allow your emotions to affect your judgement anymore. Have I made myself understood?”
Again there was silence; until Jon laughed. Lectin tilted his head, looking curious. “Do tell me, Jon, what is so funny?”
Jon turned and looked into Lectin’s eyes, now somber in expression. His tone was completely serious as he spoke, no longer willing nor able to hold his tongue.
“I find it amusing, Lectin. Your beloved Queen is in the wrong, and you are helping her. That leaves you in the wrong. Sir, you are in the wrong; and your words are far more applicable to you rather than me.”
Lectin maintained a polite face, but his words were venomous.
As much as he had a fondness for his second-in-command, no one, no one told Lectin, the leader of one of the most universally feared groups in the world, anything unless he allowed it. And as a leader, he could not allow this to continue. “Jonathan, when you deliver my message to Inq, I suggest taking your packs with you. You are hereby exiled from the Mercenary Guild.”