Playing the Agitator
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
I let Nell off my shoulders, hid her behind me, and stepped forward.
“And who are you?” The action led the corpse-to-be to eye me suspiciously.
“That’s a pretty bold claim right there, buddy.” I ignored his question and asked one of my own. “You really think that this is all the hero’s fault?”
“Of course I do! I don’t know what she did to incur their wrath, or why she did it. But one thing’s for sure, she’s the only reason they decided to attack us!” He shouted. “Why else do you think they marched on the city the day she arrived in town? And without any prior warning, at that?”
“So where exactly did you learn that we just got here anyway? We were sitting in a carriage all day, so I doubt anyone’s seen us anywhere. And it wouldn’t really mean anything even if you did. We could’ve been in town for days. Yet, you seem awfully convinced that she just got here.” I smirked. “Is it just me, or is that kinda sketchy? You’re almost making it sound like you’re keeping tabs on her.”
He spent a moment in silence before flubbing out an excuse.
“I-I saw her get off the carriage! With my own two eyes!”
“You saw us? That’s weird. Because we didn’t get off until we were inside the inn’s stables. I got a pretty good look at everyone around us, and I don’t remember seeing anyone even remotely like you there.”
He flinched. He knew he messed up. Like us, he was well aware that we were staying at a location frequented by all sorts of rich and famous people. As such, it was built with anonymity in mind. Seeing into the stable, which was basically just a large, indoor lobby, was effectively impossible.
“Oh, and for those of you who are confused, we’re staying at the real fancy place, you know, the one all the nobles go to. An old governor we happen to know recommended it to us,” I elaborated, both to inform those who weren’t in the know, and to rub my victory in the supposed merchant’s face. “It’s got some pretty hefty security. They don’t let just anyone into the establishment, so I highly doubt you could’ve just seen her because you randomly snuck a peek or two. If you saw us get off, then that’d have to make you one of the inn’s staff members, a fellow customer, or some sort of trespasser.”
My claim was about half bullshit. I didn’t know how good the inn’s security really was. But it didn’t matter. The public debate we were engaged in wasn’t a true battle of wits. I didn’t have to be right. I just had to sound right.
“If either of the first two, then I’m sure we could get one of the other staff members to testify and prove you are who you say you are. Can’t really say much to disprove your point if you’re going to end up going with option three, but our good friends right here, the city’s guards, might end up wanting to have a word or two,” I said. “So? Which are you? One, two, or three?”
There was silence.
The “merchant” didn’t—couldn’t—answer the question. I had him checkmated. All three of the options I’d presented him ultimately led to dead ends. And he understood that. Still, he couldn’t just stand around and say nothing. The sharp glares that the people around us shot him eventually started to get under his skin. After looking around and confirming that he had no more allies in the crowd, he made one last desperate attempt to redirect the conversation.
“S-stop trying to change the topic! This isn’t about me! It’s about the girl!”
“Oh, righhhhht. My bad,” I said. “Alright, you know what? How about this? Let’s just assume Nell really is the reason the monsters showed up and consider the consequences.” I paused to put a hand on my chin and pretend to think before smacking the bottom of my fist against my palm as if to demonstrate that I’d come to a revelation. “Oh, would you look at that! There aren’t any!”
The man raised an eyebrow. He didn’t seem to understand why I was challenging him head-on, so I pointed at the scene that lay outside the city’s walls in an over-dramatic manner. The crowd’s eyes followed the tip of my finger and moved away from the “merchant.”
To the massive crevice that Nell had used my mana to create.
“She made that giant ass chasm. With a single swing.” I spoke in a low growl. “Look at it. Do you really think someone strong enough to do something like that would lose to a bunch of weaklings?” I paused, as if to wait for an answer, but continued to speak before one could come. “I don’t.”
“I-I think he’s right,” said one of the soldiers. “I saw her clear out all the monsters’ cavalry with just one spell!”
“Yeah!” echoed a second.
“I saw it too! There was a huge flash of light, and then they were all gone!” added a third.
“Obliterating monsters is something she does every day. Hell, she could handle a wave like that one in her sleep,” The volume of my voice grew with each word. The pace at which I spoke accelerated as my sentences began to drip with fervour and momentum. “None of this city’s people were hurt. Nor will they ever be. Because she is our beacon, the almighty shepherd that will protect our people and lead us in battle to victory!”
My ardour began to infect the people around us. Knights and citizens alike began shouting the words “victory,” “hero,” and “shepherd,” over and over as they cheered.
I knew that I’d already more than pulled the crowd over to my side, but I decided to push it even further despite feeling as if I’d already gone a bit too far.
“Remember this. Today is the day that a legend walked amongst us. Today is the day that we were saved by the woman who will go down in history as mankind’s finest! And today is the day we celebrate her advent!” I pumped a fist into the sky. “Long live Nell! Long live the hero!”
My hand was illuminated only by torchlight. But the people were able to see it well enough. They followed suit, raising their arms and repeating my final statements with impassioned zeal. Oh man. Playing the agitator is pretty goddamn fun. I should do this more.
While I was enjoying myself, the hero I had preached about wasn’t. She had at least in part wanted to stop me from going overboard, but gave up halfway. The evidence of her reluctance was plastered all over her face. She half-cringed and half-smiled as she did her best to remain unaffected by my embarrassing declarations.
“Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck fuck! What the fuck was that!?” Kakuza screamed a countless stream of curses as he whipped the horse driving his wagon. “The plans are fucking ruined! And it ain’t even my goddamn fault! I did my part perfectly!”
It was the crack of dawn. The sun had only just reached the horizon. The sky was still dark, with only a few faint traces of light could be seen amongst the fading stars.
“God damn it! ‘Only slightly stronger than the average soldier,’ my ass! She ain’t even fucking human anymore, not with a spell like that under her belt! I knew nobles were never to be trusted!” He clenched his teeth in rage as the man he was working for came to mind.
“Wow. Those are some pretty interesting claims I hear.” A familiar voice interrupted the driver’s thoughts. “Mind sparing me the details?”
Kakuza drew his blade and swung it at his earside—the location from which the voice had come— without a moment’s hesitation. Much to his annoyance, which he expressed with a click of the tongue, Kakuza’s attack hit nothing but thin air.
Retaliation came the moment after his attempt at murdering the voice’s owner. A sharp kick to the head sent him flying off his wagon and into the dirt path beneath him. Likewise, his horse also found itself unwillingly repositioned. The force of the blow had startled the poor creature and caused it to run right into a tree. This, in turn, caused Kakuza’s coach to flip on its side, covering him in a cloud of dust.
After a fit of hacking and wheezing, the hired hand managed to force his lungs to take in the air they so desperately craved. With his energies revitalized, he pushed himself off the ground and began observing his surroundings. His eyes immediately locked onto the masked assailant who stood just a short distance away from him.
“…You’re the guy from earlier,” he said.
“Yeah, and you’re the fake ass merchant,” he said. “Oh, and don’t even try to keep up the act. You gave yourself away the moment you drew on me. Ain’t no merchant’s got reactions like that.”
Kakuza recognized him immediately. It was the man that he’d argued against. The masked man had no weapons on him, which led the contracted ne’er do well to assume his foe was likely specialized in unarmed combat.
“What do you want?” he spat. “Here for revenge because I mocked that little bride of yours?”
“Well, I mean, yeah, sure. You’re not totally wrong. That was more or less on the agenda, but it’s not all I’m here for. You see, I was thinking that we might as well make full use of this opportunity to sit down and have ourselves a nice, long chat,” said the assailant. “So? What were you after? And who’s the shitlord that put you up to it? I heard you say something about him being a noble?”
Kakuza remained silent. As any experienced sellsword would, he looked to his blade. The collision had caused it to leave his hands, but that didn’t mean that it was no longer an option. In fact, he knew that picking it back up was his best choice. It was only a few steps away. A short dash would more than put it in reach of his fingertips.
I guess I’ll just kill him, thought the secret agent.
He was aware that the man under the mask was likely far more capable than him in terms of raw combat prowess. He had described himself as one of the hero’s subordinates, and the quick reactions he had demonstrated prior to the horse wreck had served to evidence that competency was the reason the honorary position had been granted to him. His ability to appear out of thin air also seemed to indicate that he was proficient with magic. That was precisely why Kakuza knew he had a chance.
The powerful were often as arrogant as they were strong. Evidence of this claim’s applicability could be seen in the man’s stance. Or rather, the lack thereof. He was acting with no regard for caution whatsoever. And that would be his downfall.
“P-please, wait! Don’t kill me! I know that I could have screwed you guys over real bad, but it wasn’t my fault!” With his plan constructed, the agent put on the dumbest, most over exaggerated expression he knew and began flapping his lips in apparent panic. “All I did was give in to temptation! I couldn’t help myself! They showed me way too much cash for me to refuse. Come on man, please. Just let me off the hook. I’ll tell you everything I know. I’ll even name the guy who hired me!”
“Oh, you will? Great. Saves me the trouble of squeezing it out of you.” He crossed his arms and leaned in. “Well? What are you waiting for? Go for it.”
“His name is—”
He never finished the sentence. His foe had lowered his guard even further. And Kakuza wasn’t one to miss such an ample opportunity. He broke into a sprint, darted to his blade, kicked it into the air, and caught it by the hilt before charging the hero’s subordinate. He leveraged his momentum to boost the force of the blow and ensure that it would both strike true and create a fatal wound.
But again, much to his confusion, he hit nothing to thin air. The other man had vanished without a trace before his very eyes.
He was shocked, but didn’t waste any time relishing in the emotion. He immediately tried to recover and take up a stance with his blade, but a heavy blow to the spine sent him crashing back into the ground.
“Someone sure seems full of energy. Anyway, where were we?” The voice came from behind him. “Right, you were in the middle of telling me about the guy that hired you. So who was it again?”
Kakuza tried to push himself off the ground to escape the predicament he was in, but the moment he put strength into his left leg was the moment he started to scream in pain. The sensation of something tearing right through his flesh caused adrenaline to pump through his system, and cold sweat to drip from his pores. While clenching his teeth to endure the pain, he directed his eyes towards the dagger that was its source.
The blade had not only impaled him, but also gone all the way through his body and stitched him to the earth. Blood seeped from both ends of the wound at an alarming rate. The ground had already turned red. He knew that he could move his left leg no longer, else risk it losing all function.
The spy tried to tighten his grip on his weapon, just in case, but it was propelled from him regardless. A kick to the hand had both loosened his grip and sent his blade flying far out of his reach.
“Oops. Sorry! I really wasn’t meaning to be such a klutz.” The man spoke in an overly frivolous tone. He was clearly lying to his face and intentionally doing it so poorly it was almost insulting. “But you just startled me so much I accidentally dropped my dagger! My bad!”
“You bastard! how dare you do this to meargh!?”
Another dagger ran its way through Kakuza’s body and pinned his other leg to the ground. The attack, which had come with neither hesitation or remorse, almost seemed to declare its initiator as a fellow psychopath.
“Hey, hey, no shouting, okay? You don’t want to scare me into dropping another dagger or three, do you?”
“Shit!” The agent screamed between gasps of pain. “Fuck you! And fuck that stupid bitch of yours! The two of you fucked up everything! She’s a freak, practically inhuman! And you! You’re a fucking scam artist! You had that whole god damn crowd strung along like a set of puppets!”
“Wow, thanks! It’s been a while since I’ve heard such a nice compliment,”
Kakuza appeared enraged, but in truth remained calm and collected. He examined his remaining options in order to turn the situation around—or at least escape. His sword was out of the question. The state his legs were in made it impossible for him to reach it. Even if that weren’t the case, the masked assailant was sure to snap his arms the moment he tried.
His only choice was to make use of his last resort, to throw a hidden dagger on his person and slit the other man’s throat. Bluffing hadn’t worked the first time, nor was it even applicable in the perilous situation he had found himself stuck in, so he finally opted to drop his facade in its entirety. He reached into his chest pocket, twisted his waist, and attempted to throw the knife as quickly as humanly possible. There was no waste in his movements. Every muscle did only what it needed to and nothing more.
“Sorry man, but your turn’s been over.” But not even that had proven successful. “And it’ll never come again.”
The masked man had grabbed his arm midswing and used nothing but brute force to bend it a full ninety degrees backwards. Kakuza wanted to scream, but found himself too winded by the pain to manage any more than a quiet gasp, one covered up by the snapping of his bones.
“Oof. That one looked like it probably hurt,” he said. “But don’t worry. I happen to have five whole high grade potions on hand. I don’t really feel like wasting them on trash like you, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.” The hero’s subordinate dangled a set of glass bottles in front of the secret agent’s eyes. “Isn’t this just great? Now you can answer all the questions I’ll ever want you to.”
After picking up Kakuza’s dagger, the mysterious assailant squatted down right in front of him.
“The whole experience is bound to be a masochist’s wet dream.” A sinister smile could be seen from within the mask’s gaps. “I don’t know exactly how much of a masochist you are, but I’m not exactly what I’d call a sadist, or all that keen on getting you off. Hell, I don’t even like gore. So how about we agree to settle this quickly?”
The tone in which the words were spoken was laced with such cruelty that Kakuza couldn’t help but tremble in fear.