tagNonConsent/ReluctanceThe Rebellious Slave Ch. 23

The Rebellious Slave Ch. 23

byHisPet21©

It was a good thing that Lord Arlington had a driver, because he was positively blind with fury. Hidden in the dark interior of his limousine, Arlington furiously clenched the leather armrests there, mumbling to himself the entire way and trying to subdue the adrenaline that was roaring through his veins. He thought himself an abnormally patient man, but he didn't take kindly to incompetence. Yet, Isleydor's men had failed him not once, but twice. Arlington could feel his mood darken at the thought and without intending to, he gripped the leather armrests of his chair so hard that some of the material tore away from the wood.

Glaring out of the window, Arlington tried to distract himself by watching the street lights as they whizzed by in a continuous blur, the night life just beginning. Colorful neon signs advertised local clubs and laughter filled the air, all in stark contrast to his lordship's mood. But swept up in a haze of emotions, Arlington's mind began to wander and he found himself envisioning Kara, snuggled up against Karrington's chest half naked and looking rather comfortable. It was enough to send Arlington's fist into the limousine wall.

"Insufferable morons!" Arlington cried, the urge to stand and pace nearly all consuming. Back at his manor, he had nearly worn the carpet away striding back and forth across it, pondering the situation fretfully. Sitting still like this made Arlington antsy and he returned to clenching and unclenching his armrests, simply for something to do. "Idiotic, incompetent fools!" Arlington continued, his voice raw from cursing. "What kind of bounty hunter can't even hang onto a medic!"

Wallowing miserably in his own fury, Arlington almost failed to notice when his driver pulled up to the curb beside their destination, the East Side Convention Center. It was a massive stone structure which was held up by marble columns and at the culmination of a series of steps—broad and well worn—intricately carved double doors guarded the entryway. The stairway itself was bordered on either side by brightly colored fall blossoms and glowing lanterns, giving the entire building a festive look. Tonight, the venue was being used for a charity event, collecting funds for the men and women injured during Isleydor's war with Calihistra. Outside, Arlington could see a number of guests sipping campaign and laughing brightly, enjoying the light hearted atmosphere.

For several minutes, Arlington merely remained where he sat, taking in deep, calming breathes and trying to retain his composure. It wouldn't do to appear out of sorts in public, especially at an exclusive event that a number of powerful politicians and ambitious reporters would be attending. It was difficult, but eventually Lord Arlington managed to feign some semblance of normalcy and ordered his driver to go around and open the door. Luckily, it was cool outside and the chilly air helped dim the furious blush in Arlington's cheeks, although it couldn't eradicate it completely. With a graceful stride—or, at least, as graceful as could be expected of a man on crutches—he began to ascend the stairway, being greeted with lowly bows and curt nods as he went. Trying to keep up appearances, Arlington graciously nodded and smiled in reply, but his heart beat abnormally fast and there was a stiffness to his form most uncharacteristic of the Fourth Lord.

Arlington wasn't on the guest list, of course. Originally, he'd had other, more pressing meetings planned for the evening, all of which he'd had to cancel in order to deal with this new development. But after an awkward double take, the doorman stepped aside and directed Lord Arlington toward a large ball room. There, a number of game tables had been set up, including black jack, craps, poker, and roulette. Attendees who were not otherwise occupied at the bar or buffet were using clay chips to gamble for a number of generously donated prizes—everything from rare scotches to fancy cars—and jovial laughter filled the air. A number of guests invited Arlington to join their table, but he politely declined. His lordship was looking for someone in particular and he had no time for gambling and fine wine.

Azalia Richards was easy enough to spot, in spite of all the noise and chaos. At almost seven feet tall, she towered above even Lord Arlington and stuck out rather conspicuously amongst the guests in attendance. Scanning the floor, Arlington eventually spotted her beside a craps table, leisurely sipping scotch and chatting with the other guests. The woman was a stunning creature—lean and fit—wearing a lengthy navy blue dress which shimmered underneath the chandeliers. A slit up the left side of her skirt exposed a smooth, muscular leg, reminding Arlington of just how dangerous the woman truly was.

If she wanted to, Azalia could probably kill all seven people at her table in under two minutes and that was only because she was in a skirt and without her favorite weapon, a handsome scythe that had earned her the ominous title, "Lady Reaper." As Arlington approached, he saw that the dark, copper strands of her hair just barely managed to obscure the crimson dragon she bore, proudly framed by her backless evening gown. Azalia was just throwing the dice when Lord Arlington eased up beside her and leaned against the game table, allowing her to get a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye.

"My lord, what a pleasant surprise," Azalia greeted, her lips quirking ever so slightly at the sight of Arlington—normally so calm and collected—with an angry flush in his cheeks and a blatant rigidity to his posture, which he was managing to hide none too successfully. When the dealer handed Azalia her winnings, she took her chips off the table and causally turned to face her lord. "You seem tense," Azalia teased, her dark red lipstick making even her slight smile appear bold. "What was it that broke the camel's back?"

"Unfortunately, I've manged to get myself into quite an awkward position," Lord Arlington replied coldly, his voice totally devoid of its usual cruel amusement and self confident wit. "I'm going to have to teach a stubborn young man who, exactly, he is dealing with and it isn't going to be pretty. If you have a moment, I'd like to discuss the matter."

"But of course," Azalia grinned, sweeping the floor with a gracious bow. "I always have time for his lordship and besides that, I'm growing rather tired of the company here. Senators, district representatives, military personal... They're such inelegant, dense creatures, my lord. Really, I don't know how you can stand them." With a condescending sneer, she surveyed the room of guests, then led Arlington into a secluded corner of the room, cut off from the rest of the guests by a partition of fake plants and a darkened atmosphere. "It does astound me that you left the dragon's lair for this rabble, my lord, but I suppose it isn't my place to say so," Azalia continued, sitting down and gesturing for Arlington to do the same. "But that aside, how may I be of service?"

Shifting about in an attempt to get comfortable, Lord Arlington finally sat down and leaned his crutches against the wall. Then, from an inside pocket of his cloak, he withdrew a tin of cigars and lit one up, contemplatively blowing smoke into the already hazy air. "As you recall, you owe me a sizable favor," Lord Arlington finally explained, turning toward Azalia with a deadly expression. This time, he didn't bother to keep the malice from his voice, which complimented the man's predatory features and made them all the more frightening. "I'd like to hire you to help me get my trophy slaves back, but Kara Chrystein in particular."

Azalia snorted at that, a look of sheer disbelief coloring her painted face. "My lord, with all due respect, I'm not a dog," Azalia sneered, putting her hand to her chest as if insulted. "I have no interest in fetching wayward slaves and bringing them back to you with my tail between my legs. I'm a highly qualified assassin, my lord. I believe a bounty hunter would be better suited to your needs."

"Normally, I would agree with you," Lord Arlington admitted, unfazed. But at that moment, they were interrupted by a service slave, wearing a silver collar engraved with his company's logo. He seemed about ready to offer the pair drinks, but as soon as Lord Arlington glared at him, the poor creature backed away and scurried off into the crowd. "As I was saying, normally I would agree with you," Lord Arlington continued, leaning back in his seat to enjoy another inhale. "But Charlotte's men are, apparently, out of their element here. Kara Chrystein is under the protection of a number of highly trained military personnel, including Alyssa Terrance and Ben Karrington. Getting to her might require a little...slice and dice."

"Oooh, now you have my attention," Azalia squealed, clapping her hands together a little excitedly. The smile on her face was both gleeful and devilish, giving the woman a most disconcerting expression. "Perhaps we can work something out, if you give me the kill shot on Karrington," Azalia mused, leaning eagerly across the table. "We are talking about the Head of the White Horse, yes?"

"Indeed, we are. Unfortunately, I'm going to need him alive. It appears as if my girl has become somewhat attached to him," Lord Arlington growled, and Azalia could see a flame rise up and then extinguish itself in his lordship's eyes. "If I kill him now, I turn him into a martyr and make it even more difficult to break past Kara's defenses. If I'm to sever whatever bond they seemed to have established, I'll have to get them to betray one another. And as you can imagine, I'll need the boy alive for that procedure."

"My, the rumors are true. You've changed an awful lot, since you've been elected Fourth Lord," Azalia teased, waving toward the same waiter Arlington had scared off just moments before. "You used to be quite the little softie, back in the day. Too easy on your enemies, in my opinion, and a romantic to boot."

Looking as if this particular order might be his last, the poor waiter carefully made his way back to the pair's table and took up his pad and pen expectantly. But Azalia was, thankfully, quick to order. Handing the waiter her glass, she held up two fingers, to indicate that he should bring back one for each of them and in another moment, the man was off.

"All men make mistakes in their youth," Lord Arlington hissed, glaring at Azalia and keeping his voice low. "If you are referring to the incident with my former apprentice, I can assure you that my character has much improved since then, under the watchful eye of Walter Greyson."

"Indeed," Azalia chuckled, as if oblivious to the fact that she'd hit a nerve. Although, of course, she wasn't. "You're quite the evil bastard now-a-days, aren't you?"

"Keeping this country in line does require a certain flare," Arlington admitted, raising an eyebrow expectantly in Azalia's direction. "Now, do you intend to help me or not?"

"My lord, I really don't think I can," Azalia sighed, watching their waiter dart back towards the bar fearfully, as if he might be shot in the back at any moment. A cruel smile graced her lips and she turned back to Lord Arlington with a meaningful expression, both amused and very slightly annoyed. "You say I owe you a favor, but that's not entirely accurate. I owe you a kill and I'm surprised that the distinction has been lost on you, my lord," Azalia drawled, crossing one gorgeous leg over the other and looking the very picture of feminine. "You see, I don't deal in warm bodies, Arlington. They're just so loud and wet and fucking whiny. I prefer them cold, quiet, serene, and perhaps a pleasing shade of blue. And if you can't help me pad my resume with someone of repute, I'm afraid I have no interest in chasing down this unruly slave of yours."

But just as she was about to continue her little rant, an idea occurred to Azalia and she paused mid-thought, a horrible expression darkening her features. "This Chrystein Girl is related to the famous Florence Querren, isn't she?" Azalia asked, though she didn't bother to wait for an answer. "Give me Querren, Arlington, and I think I may be able to help you after all."

Lord Arlington frowned at that, taken a little off guard. Truthfully, he had wanted to deal with Querren himself, but to have Azalia on his side was to have the support of her entire guild. There was no denying that the Crimson Dragons might come in handy, should negotiations with Nardia turn sour. Normally, assassins didn't work in large groups, but perhaps Lord Arlington could push for a few more favors later, if he pleased one of their more prestigious members now.

"Very well," Arlington sighed, looking a little dejected, and suddenly Azalia's eyes were once more alight with a disturbing glee, reminiscent of a child in a candy store. "I'll give you the kill shot on Florence Querren. And, in addition to erasing your debt to me, I'll pay you handsomely for the favor. I'll give you the standard rate on all your captives and kills, plus a shipping and handling fee for anyone I want alive."

"So, for Karrington, you'd give me the Class 'A' Rate, my lord?"

"Karrington is not a Class 'A' Target; I'm a Class 'A' Target!" Lord Arlington hissed, turning piercing eyes toward Azalia, dark and foreboding. The injury in his voice was all too apparent, even when it was contorted by rage. "Karrington is nothing but an overgrown soldier, who doesn't understand where he stands in the food chain, least of all who he is fucking with!"

With that, Lord Arlington slammed his fist into the table, just as the poor waiter from earlier appeared. The violence of the gesture was so sudden that it made the waiter jump and he dropped both their drinks upon the floor, sending glass everywhere. Trembling where he stood, the man could only stare in horror at the mess before him and then at the heated expression on Lord Arlington's face.

"Out!" Arlington cried, standing to his feet and pointing forcefully back toward the main floor, but the waiter needed no prompting. "Get out!"

"Awww, now that's not very nice," Azalia chided with feigned concern, although the amused expression on her face revealed that she was not the least bit fazed by Arlington's outburst. "Look at the poor lad run. I think he nearly shit himself."

"I'm getting this bloody cast off tomorrow," Lord Arlington growled, sitting back down with an irritable sigh and gesturing toward his injured leg. "The doctor doesn't recommend it, but even if there's still a bit of healing to do, I should be able to walk and the pain will be minimal. But I can't keep sitting idly by while incompetence is allowed free reign in my absence. I know it's a cliche, but if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself."

With that, Lord Arlington pulled a folder from beneath his cloak and handed a series of documents to Azalia, each depicting a different enemy fighter's picture and biography. Lazily, Azalia began to skim through them, then turned towards a series of stapled papers, which were labeled "Briefing."

"The day after tomorrow, I have negotiations with Nardia and you're coming with me, on the pretext of being a bodyguard," Lord Arlington explained, watching Azalia carefully and trying to read her facial expressions. But, much to his relief, she now looked rather interested in his mission. "After negotiations are over, I'll send a body double across the border and into Isleydor, so that it appears as if I've left the country. But the two of us—along with a few other dragons under my hire—are going to secretly stay behind, track these fugitives down, and drag the live ones back, preferably kicking and screaming the entire way."

"And as promised, you'll give me the kill shot on Querren?" Azalia asked, picking up the demolition expert's biography and looking over it eagerly. Carefully, she traced Querren's picture with a perfectly manicured, red painted nail and sighed as if staring into the eyes of a lover. "God, who wouldn't want to go after a man who likes to play with fire?"

"Indeed," Lord Arlington mused, looking up into the ceiling. "I haven't been human hunting in years, but I expect it should be quite fun."

***<>***

Kara glanced out the carriage window, quietly surveying their surroundings. They were following a more treacherous route now, which cut through the northern mountains and led down into a green valley, isolated on all sides from the rest of Nardia. Long ago, they'd ventured away from the flat farmland and fenced in livestock to the south and Kara could see the dark blue silhouettes of mountains on either side of her, their peaks bathed in the white shimmer of snow. Being unpaved, the trail they took was difficult to follow, requiring the carriage to navigate around large hunks of fallen rock and deep, stagnant puddles. Every so often, the carriage managed to get caught in a rut or hit upon a rock and would jolt precariously, throwing Kara from her seat.

Except for the occasional whinnying of the horses and the persistent grinding of carriage wheels, it was completely silent. Greenwood had been staring out the window in a quiet reverie since they'd started their journey ten hours ago and he hadn't said a word since. No one dared interrupt whatever thoughts were swirling through his head, not even Alyssa, although she would sometimes look worriedly in his direction and move as if to touch his shoulder. But in the end, she always thought better of it and withdrew at the last second, returning once more to her own quiet reverie. For once, Kara actually felt sorry for her. Even if she didn't approve of their affair, Kara knew how close Alyssa and Greenwood had become. It must not be easy, quietly waiting for your lover to meet his wife, after years of absence. The result was a peculiar atmosphere. It wasn't exactly sorrowful, but there was a definite sanctity to the air that warned against any violation its mighty presence.

Eventually, Kara was able to glance out the window and see that they were being taken through a dark, narrow canyon—cut into the rock by running water, very long ago—and suddenly, she was being bathed in the golden light of the sun. Their little carriage had turned onto a steep path, lined on either side by dark vegetation, which led down into Highland Valley. The sounds of falling rock and trickling water quickly gave way to the laughter of children, the barking of dogs, and the obnoxious clanking of tractors. Looking up, Kara could see that the sky was once more visible, clearer and brighter than any she had seen before. The great expanse was very nearly cloudless and a brilliant shade of blue, so crisp that it hurt a little to look at it. Then, in the valley below, Kara could see a tiny village, consisting of no more than twenty or so families, a single general store, a ramshackle tavern, and a few tiny farms. Indeed, if you wanted to hide your family away, this would be the place to send them. It was quite an isolated little place, bordered on all sides by the precarious Northern Mountains.

"Could we stop for a few moments, do you think?" Greenwood asked and suddenly all eyes were upon him, looking concerned, as if he were a frightened rabbit and any sudden movement might startle him. "Come on, what's everyone looking so odd about? It's not like I'm dying or anything, for god's sake," Greenwood told them, narrowing his eyes and sounding quite irritable. "I'd just like to stop at the general store for a moment and pick up a few things. I'm already showing up uninvited, so I better come bearing gifts."

"Sure, yeah, we can stop," Alyssa replied and Kara found the gentleness in her voice disconcerting for one normally so obnoxious and loud. "I'll stick my head out and let the driver know."

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