The middle of the night. Haden was sipping his tea. He couldn't sleep tonight, because he had a little eagle to catch. He had given his orders already, but nobody could tell what would happen tonight. He had a sneaking suspicion something untoward was going to happen.
"You're a little too fresh to be scheming against me," he mused, shaking off the feeling of foreboding that gripped him.
He knew someone as smart as Alissanda wouldn't be foolish enough to actually destroy the two supply convoys.
The reports on the young man said he was braver than most. He would definitely act the moment he heard about the convoys. Haden was waiting for this; he had carefully analyzed the routes and marked where the prince would most likely attack.
If he wanted to secure the convoys, he would cause a vacuum in the security, and the best place to do that was the town of Pato. There was a good chance Alissanda would show up personally.
Haden had received a report a few minutes earlier confirming his hunch. Pato had been attacked, and the fight was still raging.
He planned to gather Alissanda's three units together and deal with them all at once. He'd overlooked nothing.
Despite that, he still felt a tingle in the back of his mind, a nagging itch that just wouldn't go away. Was there some unseen weakness in his plan? Impossible. Alissanda's three units would definitely converge on Pato and be slaughtered.
He was trading several hundred lives for a couple dozen, but it would still be a profit. Most importantly, Alissanda would be among the dead. Even losing two whole divisions would be worth it for his head.
The youth was not even 20, but his achievements and status as a member of the imperial family was central to the enemy's sustained will to carry on. If he could be killed, the enemy would effectively lose half its strength. Stok's imperial family was also offering a county to anyone who killed the prince, title included, and 50 thousand gold coins. If he got that, he would be General Manhattan's equal.
Mahattan had served Ecto's father, Duke Thrum, the late emperor Ecto himself and now, Larwin. He was old, in his seventies. Alissanda was what, maybe in his mid to late twenties? No one doubted that, given enough time, the prince would become their most formidable enemy.
He had to die tonight!
Haden's plans took into account the prince's presence. He hadn't missed out on any detail. There would be no mistakes.
Unfortunately, he had obsessed over Alissanda a little too much. He focused on the young man so intensely he was blind to the other people around him. It couldn't be helped; the golden eagle's brilliance was so great he overshadowed everyone else… especially the shadow that lurked beside him.
The price for such blindness was severe.
"Sir, we have a new report."
"Enter." Haden ordered.
Perhaps because of his time working in Stok's intelligence department, but he loved to be alone. No servants were in his office, the nearest stood outside his room.
"Fill up the teapot," Haden ordered as he took the strip of paper.
The report stated that they had prepared well for an impending assault, but one of the convoys had suffered damage and their supplies had been torched. So far, however, they were still moving on as planned and would arrive at Pato in an hour.
"It's only a small loss."
Haden smiled and turned the paper into ash in his hands. He took a sip from his field cup. It tasted off.
"Who are you?" he hissed as his gaze turned to the leaving servant.
He immediately noticed that the servant had 10 strata of impetus, but that couldn't be right, the servant on duty tonight could not use impetus.
The servant started and slowly turned around back. He raised his head and revealed the eye blocked by his hair. He wasn't big, he was more on the slender and small side. He sported blue-black hair with rather good-looking youthful face; no more than 18.
"Guess my cover's blown," he muttered.
'Xeno?” Haden started.
"Surprised?" asked the young man, gazing at Haden teasingly.
"Not really. I knew you wouldn't be able to resist. I didn't think you would act today, though."
"I strike only when I'm confident. Wasn't that what you taught me?" Xeno said, staring at Haden with a fierce grimace. "You taught my sister that too!"
"So it's for her sake…"
The boy and his sister had been inseparable since they could gurgle. It was no surprise he would do something like this after her death. Death warriors were still human and had emotions, however little was left.
"You ought to know she died by the northerner's hands, so why come after me? I never touched her."
"She died because you gave her a mission she could never have accomplished! It's your fault! All you! You had my sister killed!" Xeno roared, eyes bloodshot.
"She died because of your incompetence!" Haden snapped, "Even if she managed to kill Larwin, she wouldn't have escaped given how heavily guarded the palace was! This was fate. You are my death warriors and your deaths are mine to decide! Your fates belong to me!"
"Death warriors? Fate?! Are we just tools to you?!"
"What else did you think you were?" Haden smiled genuinely, "I was the one who fed you and watered you, that kept you alive until today. What's the big deal of repaying me with your lives?"
Xeno was silent. He knew a death warrior's purpose, but he didn't think his life would be worth that little. Was he really worth only a bread a day? Two children for some bread. Was that how the world worked?
"Enough, I don't want to hear anymore of your bullshit. Your poison won't work on me. Don't forget, I was the one who taught it to you.
Xeno reached towards his back.
"You know I consider betrayal really humiliating," Haden said as he looked teasingly at the nervous boy, "I won't kill you outright. I'll give you a taste of hell before you go meet your sister in the real place. I promise."
Xeno drew his dagger and leapt at his master furiously.
Haden didn't bat an eye, laughing mockingly instead. The high-order assassin accurately grabbed Xeno's wrist and tapped Xeno's sternum with his free hand.
Those well-versed in the art of killing knew infusing impetus into the sternum caused the worst pain imaginable.
As expected, Xeno howled like a beast at the tap. He threw his weapon away and rolled on the ground in pain.
It would last at least another ten minutes. Three such strikes were enough to kill most men. Haden had tried to find a way to make it last longer, but that was as many as he could get, it looked like tonight would be no different.
"I liked your sister better, to be honest," Haden said, gazing at the writhing boy, "At least she was far more obedient than you."
"Aaah! Die! You demon! You devil! I'll kill you as long as I take another breath!" Xeno cursed.
"This is where you two are different. I remember how obediently she gave her body to me before she left, unlike you, ingrate, who curse your master."
Haden wore an elegant smile.
"Then again, it's quite a shame I won't enjoy her deliciousness. Don't worry. I'm not a wasteful person. I let the men enjoy her thoroughly as well. She made quite a few people happy before she went off and died."
"Bastard! Haden you animal! Aaaaah! I'll kill you! Haden!"
Xeno shouted, his voice beginning to crackle as his voice box threatened to give.
"About time to shut you up."
Haden bent over and retrieved Xeno's dagger. Just as he approached, however, a dark figure zipped out and flew at his back!