Honey and Vinegar Chapter 2
Cecilia didn't bother struggling as the man carried her through the streets towards the prison. She had tried at first, but her efforts proved to be in vain. The mocking words of her captor were lost on her as she exhaustedly slumped over in his arms.
She wasn't sure how long he had carried her or how long she had slept after he laid her down in the prison cell, but it was still night when she awoke. The same cursed moonlight spilled in through a single, barred window and her room was illuminated. The walls were made from the same, smoothed stone that she had scaled earlier in the night. Unfortunately, her knives had been confiscated or else she would have cut through them in seconds. Surveying the room for another means of escape, she spotted a big iron door. After a thorough inspection, however, Cecilia could not find any sort of key hole or lock. But it wouldn't have mattered anyway because she couldn't find the lock pick which she kept in her hair, and Cecilia began to wonder just how meticulously that she had been searched by that pervert.
The barred window also proved to be secure. Even if she had been able to somehow squeeze through, there were two unmoving guards who stood just outside. After spending nearly an hour kicking around ideas, Cecilia finally concluded that she wouldn't escape tonight. For the time being, the best course of action would be to sleep and try again in the morning.
"Rise and shine, sleeping beauty."
Not recognizing the voice at first, Cecilia slowly opened her eyes and rubbed the sleep from them. She sat up and saw the ugly, perverted man standing in the corner of her little room.
"I came down to talk to you, but you looked so cute sleeping that I thought it'd be a better idea if you and I just had impulsive, unprotected sex in this jail cell!" the man said.
"Ugh!" Cecilia shouted in disgust as she stood to her feet, "That's the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard! There's no telling how unsanitary this place is and you're probably even more unsanitary, and yet you don't even want to use protection! Even if you did, I still wouldn't do it with a pervert like you!"
"Ha ha," the man laughed, "I guess you're right. That was a rather stupid idea, even for me. Look, maybe we've gotten off on the wrong foot. My name's Andrew. What's yours?"
"Why are you here? What do you want with me?" Cecilia asked.
"I just want to talk since sex is obviously out of the question. Why don't you tell me your name?"
"Why does it matter what my name is? You're here to execute the would-be assassin, no doubt."
"Geez!" Andrew said, "How many times do I need to tell you that I'm not gonna kill you? If you're going to have such a bad attitude, maybe I should let you sit in here for a while longer."
He looked at her for a moment and when he realized that she was too proud to proest, he opened the iron door and left.
Cecilia sat in the corner of the cell watching the door, hoping that Andrew would return. It had been nearly six hours since he had left. The guy was a jerk, but she was beginning to regret that she hadn't stopped him from leaving. She was hungry, cold, and there had been a pressure build up in her bladder for nearly an hour. Cecilia didn't want to relieve it in this place, however, but she wasn't sure how much longer she could hold it. When she felt as if she were close to passing out, she heard a firm rasp on her door.
"May I come in?" a voice asked. It wasn't Andrew's.
Cecilia found it odd that her permission was being asked, so she remainded silent for a moment before meakly resonding. "Yes," she said, "come in."
The door open and Dionne-Lehve stepped into the sunlit room. He looked bigger and even more powerful than he had the previous night. The august presence of the Marquis suddenly made Cecilia feel a little more respectful. His face was calm and kind as he closed the door behind him, and the girl was glad that she hadn't killed him. She was glad Andrew had stopped her.
"Please stand up. I want to pretend we're just two ordinary people, rather than a Marquis and his prisoner, having a talk."
Cecila stared blankly at the man for a second before weakly getting herself off of the ground.
"So you're the assassin, huh? A young girl? This is certainly unexpected."
"I'm more dangerous than I look." Cecilia said defensively.
"I don't doubt it!" the Marquis laughed. "I've never had an assassin even breach my walls, let alone break into my home. You must posses an extraordinary amount of skill to have made it so far."
"Thank you for your kind words, sir." Cecilia said.
"I'm glad they were well received."
"Why are you being so kind to me? Why haven't I been executed yet? Isn't it your policy to execute all assassins?"
"You're awfully well informed. Yes, that is my policy. However, Andrew seems to have taken quite a liking to you and convinced me to talk to you before taking any drastic action. And after meeting you, I think I can see why. Just as you didn't want to kill me, now I don't want to kill you, either. I cannot overlook your crime, though. A trial will be held tomorrow morning. But until then, is there anything I can get you to make your stay here a little more pleasant?" the Marquis inquired.
"Well, I'm a bit cold and hungry." Cecilia said shyly.
"Then I will have food and blankets brought to you. Is there anything else?"
"Well, uh. . ." Cecilia stammered as her face turned a nice shade of crimson, "yeah. . ."
Cecilia was up an hour before the sun was. Wrapped in the blankets brought to her by the Marquis, she stared at the ceiling and pondered how the day would turn out. How could she possibly win in a trial? She was caught red handed trying to kill the Marquis. It would be pointless to try and lie. A confession, however, would most certainly assure her execution. But what choice did she have? At least she could die with truth on her lips. It would be better to take a little dignity to the grave, because that was surely where she'd be going. The Marquis would not and could not make an exception for someone just because he liked them. A law was a law.
She could try to escape, but Andrew would catch her, and that was something Cecilia hated. Andrew lacked any discipline. He was stupid and obnoxious. How did he ever become a ninja in the first place? How did he become a better ninja than her? Every time Cecilia thought of how the sexist ninja had toyed with her, she just wanted to hit the wall. She had absolutely no respect for that man and she wished that she could kill him. If he were dead, then no one could stop her from escaping. Not even Dionne, who was a strong man but certainly not fast.
After thinking for almost two hours, the girl finally decided that today she would die. She would meet death with courage. Her death would be dignified. An arrow wouldn't lodge itself into her back as she ran away like a coward; she would be strong. A ninja shouldn't feel fear. A ninja should accept its face. Cecilia swallowed and was preparing to do that when the door opened and Andrew walked into her room.
"Are you ready for your trial?" he asked calmly. The arrogance was gone from his eyes and Cecilia saw that he looked concerned. It was almost a handsome look, but that wouldn't stop her from killing him if given the chance. Unlike some ninjas, she wasn't fatuous enough to let someone live simply because of their looks. Or was she? She didn't know anymore. For the past half hour, Cecilia had been trying to swallow her cold feelings toward everyone. It was a failed attempt, but she still wanted to pretend that it wasn't. Either way, though, it would only matter if an opportunity did present itself, but she doubted that one would.
"Yes." Cecilia said as she stood up, "I'm ready."
She walked out the door that he held open for her and the two ninjas proceeded down a long, narrow corridor.
"I never did get your name." Andrew said.
"Cecilia." Andrew repeated thoughtfully.
The two said nothing as they continued down the hallway, passing a countless number of iron doors similar the one Cecilia had been behind. They turned into a small alcove perpendicular to the hallway, and Andrew opened a large door that loomed over them. A bright sunlight greeted them, and Cecilia shielded her eyes. Stepping through the door, she suddenly realized where she had been the past two nights. The prison had been built inside the grand wall which she had scaled with no amount of difficulty.
"I hope your ATAC piloting skills are sharper than your sense of humor." Andrew said as he lead her across the courtyard towards the ATAC hangar.
"Why does that matter?" Cecilia asked, "I thought we were going to a trial."
"We are." Andrew replied with a grin stretched across his face.
Cecilia had heard of Dionne-Lehve's great battling arena before. There was nothing else like it on the continent. Thousands of spectators would come to watch some of the best ATAC pilots in the world do battle. Duke Zeira himself had once challenged the Marquis in the arena using his famous Toreador ATAC, but was soundly defeated by the mighty Roaring Lion of Dionne-Lehve. There were even rumors that Duke Logan of Nordilain and the Marquis had battled it out privately in the arena.
Now Cecilia would have a chance to test her skill. Unlike everyone else, though, she wasn't competing for glory or recognition. She was fighting for mercy.
"It's obvious that you're guilty," Andrew had told her, "there's no reason to debate that. Your trial is going to determine whether you deserve to live or not."
Cecilia was quite pleased. Confident in her abilities to pilot an ATAC, she was sure that she would defeat whatever the arena threw at her.
Andrew led her into the hangar to get her geared up for the fight. Mechanics were busy everywhere making repairs to ATACs and building new ones. The smell of machine oil filled the air as various parts were scattered everywhere. On top of a catwalk, a rather large engineer was barking orders, but it didn't seem like anyone could hear him over the loud noise the machines. Just ahead, Cecilia saw her green and white Barbatos ATAC.
"What's that doing here?" she asked suspiciously.
"We've brought it in for you. It's been checked to make sure its parts are all working correctly and it's been refueled, so you shouldn't have any malfunctions on the battlefield today."
"You've been tinkering with my ATAC?! That's hardly fair. How do I know your engineers haven't messed with the controls or something?"
"You can check it for yourself if you don't trust our integrity." Andrew responded with feigned hurt evident on his face.
The young girl didn't bother. She was eager to start the fight. "I trust you." Cecilia said. "Well, I trust Dionne anyway."
Andrew grunted. "Fine. The match is going to start soon, so you should go ahead and get suited up. Good luck."
Cecilia watched the man walk away, then turned to her ATAC. The Barbatos was a pretty generic machine; there was nothing special about it. But being so plain, it had been given little security. Stealing it had been a piece of cake. It still wasn't great, but after she had made some modifications it was faster and queiter than any other Barbatos. It would be enough to get Cecilia through the day. She hoped so, anyway.
Cecilia climbed the small ladder resting against her ATAC and crawled into the cockpit. Two of the mechanics below grabbed the ladder and moved it out of the way. The girl threw a switch and the machine roared to life. Lights flickered on and the internal parts began to hum queitly. A touch of a button sealed the cockpit shut and Cecilia moved forward with the control stick. Men below directed her to the arena entrance, and she followed their signals. Cheers and applause greeted her as she moved through the giant door into the arena. The crowed was excited and wanted to see a good fight. Cecilia was going to give them one.
Though she had heard plenty of stories about the Great Arena, she had never actually seen it. Rows upon rows of spectators formed the perimeter of the circle where the battles took place. The walls separating the battlers from the crowed were dotted with large doorways for ATACs to enter from, and only a single, narrow passage lead from the arena to the outside.
Standing in the center of arena was a bright green Barazaph ATAC, which was even weaker than a standard Barbatos. Both machines stood at the same height of twenty-five feet and both used the same weapon: a standard issue gradius. But the Barbatos was a bit more durable.
The Barazaph turned to face Cecilia and charged. Working the controls quickly, but calmly, Cecilia sidestepped the thrust of the sword and quickly pressed an attack of her own. She raised the ATAC's right foot and connected with the other's knee, causing the Barazaph to stumble back. Seizing her opportunity, Cecilia arced her weapon upwards in flawless motion and sliced her opponent's sword arm clean off. Sparks flew from the severed limb and there was a loud cheer from the crowd, but Cecilia wasn't finished. She raised her sword and cut deep into the Barazaph's shoulder at an angle, severing the fuel injectors. The ATAC fell to the ground after Cecilia pulled her sword free and lay motionlessly.
The spectators let out a loud cheer for Cecilia, but there was already another machine entering the battlefield. It was a tall, scarlet ATAC of exceptional dexterity known as the Dantarius. But thanks to the modifications made by Cecilia, the Barbatos was faster and still more durable.
This time, Cecilia would be the first to strike. She rushed forward with her sword outstretched knowing that the Dantarius pilot would sidestep easily. But at the last possible second, Cecilia kicked in her jump thrusters and violently slashed at her enemy as she descended from the air. Her onslaught had knocked the other machine to the ground, and the ninja took the opportunity to plunge her sword into its chest while it was on the ground. The stone, the most vital component to any ATAC, shattered from Cecilia's attack. Power was cut off from the rest of the parts, and the machine died. The crowd cheered even louder.
Cecilia whipped her machine around just in time to see the Flaros approaching. Dionne was getting serious, she could tell. Flaros was a quick and powerful ATAC, stronger than a Barbatos. Usually it was reserved for officers; normal soldiers didn't pilot them. As it moved in closer, the enemy brought his sword down on Cecilia's ATAC, but it glanced off the girl's own sword as she brought it up to parry. Dodging the second blow, she quickly charged into the enemy like a mad bull. Under normal circumstances it was an easy attack to evade, but the Flaros was still recovering from its attack and had no time to do so. Cecilia's shoulder rammed into the mercenary's side and knocked him over. The ATAC quickly tried to rise, but Cecilia had already pushed a button to feed more juice to her machine and slashed downwards at the Flaros and severed its head. The screams from the crowd became deafening as Cecilia looked around for another opponent. The ground was littered with disfunctional ATACs, but there were no signs of any other challengers. It seemed as if her trial was over. The screams grew louder and Cecilia pressed the controls to do a bow. As she looked up, however, she realized the cheers weren't for her anymore.
A tall, blue ATAC with gold trim had entered from one of the side doors. It carried a very long katana in its hand, not a standard issue gradius. Its presence was intimidating, and it was clear that this was no normal ATAC. Cecilia began to a feel a bit nervous as she slowly realized that this ATAC was the Vedocorban, an original model that had never been reproduced. Many attempts had been made to copy its design, but no engineers had succeeded. Its secrets had died with its creator. The machine was known to be extremely quick and agile, faster than even the Sylpheed and Sarbelas ATACs piloted by the children of Emperor Degalle.
Her intercom suddenly came to life with a very obnoxious voice, "You did very well against those last three ATACs. Dionne thought it was time kick things into high gear. You know who this is, don't you?"
"Andrew! You pilot the Vedocorban?!"
"Of course I do. Don't you know anything?" Andrew asked.
"I'll show you what I know, you sexist pig!" Cecilia was furious now.
"Don't lose control of yourself now, or else you'll lose the fight."
"We'll see about that, Andrew. I don't care what ATAC you pilot, I'll show you up with superior skill."
"I absolutely love cocky women." Andrew calmly replied.
"And I hate sexist men!" Cecilia answered as she charged forward. She raised her sword and brought it down quickly, but Andrew wasn't there anymore. Then she felt a powerful impact from behind and toppled forward. Rolling quickly to the side, she brought her sword up to deflect Andrew's follow up attack, but his katana sliced neatly through it. Then its point ran through her stone and the battle was over.
"Your wind stone was poorly made. You need a better one."
Cecilia's cockpit opened up, and the girl climbed out. Andrew, too, got out of his ATAC.
"Kill me now so you don't have to do it later." Cecilia said, defeat, and tears, evident in her blue eyes.
"You passed the trial, though. You defeated the first three opponents. I wasn't part of the ordeal."
"I don't care."
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself. That's not what ninjas do."
"How would you know?!" Cecilia retorted angrily, "You're not a real ninja! You're not disciplined enough!" her eyes were burning from the tears now.
"I see your teacher was obviously incompetant. There are a lot of people who think they understand the art, but few rarely do. If you'll let me, I can teach you the real art."
"I already know the real art." Cecilia said lamely.
"Oh, do you? That must be why you were able to defeat me so easily and why you were so successful in your assassination attempt." Andrew replied sardonically.
Cecilia stood in silence. She knew he was right, but she wouldn't dare admit it. Not to Andrew.
"You have a lot of pride. We'll need to remedy that."
"What if I don't want you to teach me the art?"
"There are other things I could teach you," Andrew laughed, "but if you don't prefer those lessons, either, then you're a free person. Leave if you like."
Cecilia looked at him uncertainly for a moment, then turned her back and left.
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