Castle Roland

From the Cup of the Worthless

by Cynus


Chapter 10

Posted: 10 Mar 16

From the Cup of the Worthless

Copyright © 2015, 2016
by Cynus

Alexi looked up, blinking into the sliver of light from the doorway as it opened a crack and a figure stepped into the room. He hadn't seen light in hours, not since they'd last brought him water, though that hadn't been enough to remove the dryness from his throat. He hoped whoever was visiting him now had brought more refreshment, but he doubted it.

The door closed and the light faded for a moment before the figure flicked the switch to the side of the door, and Alexi's eyes stung at the unexpected change. When his eyes finally adjusted he focused in on Daisuke, whose bruised and battered face was scowling back at him.

"What happened to you?" Alexi asked, allowing a small bit of hope rise within him. "I'm surprised you're still here."

Daisuke's first words killed that hope immediately. "We wouldn't be having this conversation if you hadn't failed."

"Oh?" Alexi asked, returning Daisuke's scowl. "You're going to blame me, huh? It was your plan."

"And your comrades I trusted to make it happen," Daisuke replied without any change in tone or expression. He walked forward and stepped around the back of Alexi's chair, leaving Alexi's sight entirely. "We're going to talk about how you can make it up to me."

Alexi felt a chill on his neck and knew he was in worse trouble now than he'd been in before Daisuke had entered the room. He willed himself to put on a brave face and replied, "All I have to do is tell them you're the one who planned it, and I think they'll be willing to help me out. What makes you think you're going to get any help out of me?"

Daisuke chuckled dryly and Alexi shivered involuntarily. "Because they're trusting me to lead your interrogation," Daisuke said. "No one else is going to come anywhere near this room, I assure you. You're entirely mine until I'm done with you."

"Can I get some water or something?" Alexi asked, hoping to at least stall the inevitable. "I've received very little in the past two days. If you want me to talk, my throat's a little hoarse."

Daisuke snorted derisively. "You killed one of my men and threatened their boss. Do you really think they're going to treat you well?" He continued his circle around to stand in front of Alexi again, a wicked sneer on his face. "And I'm going to treat you worse than all of them."

Alexi switched to as much bravado as he could muster, meeting Daisuke's sneer with a look of barely contained contempt. It was forced, but Alexi had intimidated bigger men than Daisuke before. "Do your worst. You're not going to get anything out of me."

"Oh, I don't care much about that," Daisuke said dismissively. He leaned down and cupped Alexi's chin gently before roughly jerking it upward as he bent into him. "I already know everything I need to know. I hired you, remember? Every pain I suffered when they beat me is going to be given to you tenfold, and once I'm done you won't even be able to speak."

Daisuke delivered a swift jab at Alexi's jaw, sending the chair rocking backward, though Alexi had enough weight centered downward that the chair came forward again and remained upright. As soon as the chair had stopped moving, Alexi was met with a strong backhand across his face from Daisuke's right hand, and then another from his left across his opposite cheek.

Alexi spat blood on the concrete floor at Daisuke's feet then glared up at his attacker. "Keep punching, fucker," He growled. "I'm not going to—" Daisuke raised up on one leg and then stomped down hard between Alexi's legs, one dark black boot landing heavily on Alexi's balls and causing him to scream violently. "Aaagghh!"

"I'm done asking, boy," Daisuke said, keeping his foot on Alexi's groin. "What's it going to be? Are you going to make it up to me?"

"Fuck you!" Alexi spat through gritted teeth, but Daisuke seemed completely unfazed as he pressed down with his foot, grinding Alexi's balls into the chair. "Okay, okay! Stop. What do you want me to do?"

Daisuke eased up the pressure and then withdrew his foot completely. "For now, bide your time and heal up. We'll act once Masahiro's guard is down. Until then, I can't do anything for you, except give you some food and water."

Alexi sighed in relief, glad that he'd received at least a momentary reprieve. "What happens after that?"

"I set you free, and you kill Masahiro," Daisuke said with a slight shrug and a wicked smile. "There's still time to get it right."

"Okay, sounds like a plan," Alexi said quietly, hoping that by agreeing early he'd be able to get out of further harm. Daisuke knocked on the door and it was opened for him. One of the two guards outside looked inside, and Daisuke waved for him to enter before closing the door after him.

This guard was armed, a heavy pistol at his hip. He didn't seem particularly warm and friendly toward Daisuke, and Alexi wondered if there might be another way out of this mess. Taking the risk, Alexi looked at the guard and pleaded with him, "You have to help me. This guy is the one you want. He's the one who hired us!"

Daisuke and the guard shared a look, and the guard drew his pistol, whipping it across Alexi's face hard. He shook his head and replaced the pistol on his belt before looking at Daisuke expectantly.

"You really think I would bring someone in here who wasn't already loyal to me?" Daisuke asked, shaking his head and sighing. He drew a knife from his belt and took a step toward Alexi.

"Wait, I agreed to help, what are you doing?" Alexi asked, trying to pull away from the knife, though the bindings made such a maneuver impossible.

Daisuke gripped Alexi's wrist hard, sliding his hand along the back of Alexi's hand until he took hold of Alexi's ring finger. "Getting insurance," Daisuke answered at last as he put the edge of the knife against Alexi's finger and pushed down forcefully, severing it against the armrest of the chair. Alexi screamed as blood poured from where his finger used to be, but his screams were met with no amount of mercy.

"Clean him up," Daisuke ordered the guard. "We still need him, for now."

Viktor was going mad, and if things didn't change soon he was going to lose his mind completely. It was Wednesday, two days after Vladimir had left home, and that wasn't the only worry. He hadn't seen either his brother or Nobuyuki at school since then, and neither was returning his calls. His father had barely been home since Monday, either, and even Dante appeared worried when Viktor had seen him during lunch.

With everything else going on he hadn't even been fazed when Mr. Morrison gave him a failing grade on his History paper. There was too much to worry about to focus on the passive-aggressive acts of a teacher who hated him, even if Mr. Morrison had uncharacteristically asked him why Vladimir hadn't been in school.

Viktor had answered with the only response he'd been able to give. He didn't know. This was the worst fight he'd ever seen his brother and father get into, and for the first time, Viktor didn't believe things were going to get any better.

He walked into his house and nearly broke down into tears at the futility of it all, but then he caught the scent of fresh coffee in the kitchen telling him someone was home. A chance for conversation was all the hope Viktor needed to pull him away from the brink of despair, and he pulled away from the door, walking toward the kitchen and not knowing whether to expect his father or Vladimir to be sitting at the table.

It turned out to be the former, a bleary-eyed Mikhail sitting with a cup of coffee in his hands and reading the news on a tablet in front of him. He looked up when Viktor entered the room and nodded to the chair next to him, indicating Viktor should take the seat.

Viktor slid his bag off his shoulder and placed it on the kitchen counter before sitting down and waiting for his father to speak. Mikhail did not immediately turn toward him, but finished reading whatever article he'd been working on before turning his tablet off and setting it aside.

"How was school, Viko?" Mikhail asked, lifting his coffee mug and taking a long drink.

Viktor could only manage a simple answer as he tried to decipher his father's emotions. "Fine."

"Did anything special happen?" Mikhail asked, a hopeful look in his eyes.

Viktor sighed, knowing what his father was getting at but not wanting to break his heart if he could avoid it. "Nothing worth mentioning," he said noncommittally.

Mikhail's face fell as he asked, "So Vladimir didn't show up again?"

"No," Viktor confirmed, looking away. "He wasn't there. And I haven't heard from him, either."

The coffee mug began to shake in Mikhail's hand and he lowered it to the table where it clattered loudly against the tabletop. "So he's really gone. I've failed as a father."

"I don't think so," Viktor said, forcing his eyes back up only to find his father was staring at the wall distantly.

"Viktor, you don't know what . . ." Mikhail began, but rethought what he was going to say and looked down, avoiding Viktor's gaze. "Vladi's in trouble. More than you know."

Viktor began to worry as he watched his father's tormented face. "What do you mean?"

"He has a lot of problems, but right now I'm more worried about his safety than anything else," Mikhail replied, and Viktor winced as his father's usual composure broke for a moment and his voice trembled.

But then Viktor remembered how angry his father had been at Vladimir, and how pained Vladimir had been the other day while they'd been walking to school. "Why? You didn't seem so concerned about his safety when you threatened to throw him out." Mikhail winced and Viktor immediately regretted his words and started to backpedal. "Father, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that."

"It's okay. You're right, and I think I deserve that," Mikhail replied with a bitter and helpless laugh. "You'll understand when you're a parent, but you just want to protect your child from everything, and at some point you have to accept they're going to go down their own path, and you can't control them. They grow up and make their own decisions."

"I'm sure he'll be back," Viktor said, though he wasn't sure he believed it.

"Really, you think so?" Mikhail asked, looking up at Viktor with hopeful eyes, but seeing the indecision there he dropped his gaze again and continued. "Because I'm not so sure. I was pretty cruel to him. I think I've lost him, and it's all my fault for pushing him away. I've been doing it ever since your mother died."

Viktor shook his head forcefully. "What are you talking about? I never felt that way."

"My relationship with you has never been like my relationship with him, Viko. You're like your mother but have my interests. It's easy for us to bond. Vladi . . ." Mikhail shook his head and sighed deeply. "He's like me, but we don't see the world the same way."

Viktor wasn't sure what he was supposed to say, but before he knew it words were coming out of his mouth, conjured up from some primal point in his mind. "But he loves you . . ." He trailed off hesitantly as his mind caught up to his tongue, and he looked at his father, searching for some answer to their shared pain.

Mikhail's eyes were wet and red as he replied, "I don't deserve it."

"You're being too hard on yourself," Viktor said, frowning as he eagerly sought for a way to divert the conversation. "You look like you've hardly slept."

Mikhail shrugged and took another sip of his coffee. "Hadn't had much time to, even if I thought I could."

"What's been going on?" Viktor asked, pursuing this new line of thought.

"You haven't heard?" Mikhail asked with a wide-eyed stare. "Do you even watch the news?"

Viktor shifted in his seat uncomfortably and replied, "I've had a lot of homework, and a lot on my mind otherwise."

"Fair points," Mikhail said, smirking. He stood and walked into the kitchen with his coffee mug. He stopped in front of the half-filled coffee pot and refilled his cup as he turned back to Viktor. "I've been closely monitoring the situation over at the new Horizons Hotel and Casino."

"What happened?" Viktor asked, feeling his heart skip a beat at the mention of Nobuyuki's home.

"Apparently someone there pissed off the Russian Mafia," Mikhail said as he replaced the coffee pot on the burner. "We don't know if it was a guest or one of the staff, but only staff were killed. It's a pity, too. They lost eight of their security staff, including a young Japanese guy." He shook his head and took a sip of his coffee before adding, "He couldn't have been much older than you."

Viktor paled and asked, "Do you know his name?"

"No. I can't remember it," Mikhail said, scratching his head. "Why, do you know someone who works there?"

"Someone who lives there, actually," Viktor replied, feeling sick to his stomach. "He's the son of the owner."

Mikhail nodded slowly and said, "Well, I can't tell you for certain, but I imagine Mr. Sato would have been much more upset if his son had been killed. When he led me through the building he was angry, of course, but not the way a father is . . ." He paused as he was struck with a sudden wave of emotion before continuing in a whisper, "when he loses a son."

"I'm sorry, Father," Viktor said, lowering his eyes, but glad that his father at least didn't seem to think it was Nobuyuki who'd been killed. "I shouldn't have pressed for details."

"It's okay," Mikhail replied, smiling weakly. "I have to focus on work to distract myself. It's the only thing I can really do. I learned something interesting about the Japanese while I was there, however. Did you know they have a superstition against the number four? They completely skipped the number when numbering their floors. They don't even have a button for it in the elevator."

"That is interesting," Viktor said, not sure what to make of the random fact. It seemed so out of place in their otherwise serious conversation, and Mikhail seemed to notice how jarring the observation was as well.

"You know, your brother might have been there, too . . ." Mikhail said quietly, but when Viktor looked up he could see the caution in his father's eyes.

"What!?" Viktor asked, eyes widening with shock.

"Your brother, his friends are in the Russian Mafia," Mikhail said with a sigh. "At least, that's what I've been suspecting. I've been trying not to think about it, but there was only one Russian killed last night and he definitely wasn't your brother. I think I'd know it, anyway . . ." he swallowed hard and took another sip of coffee. "I'd know if he was dead."

Viktor had only one word to help make sense of what was going through his head. "How?"

Mikhail stared out of the small window in the kitchen, but his thoughts were not wherever he was looking, they were much more distant. "As long as I'm still certain he's in trouble, I know he's not dead. It's just a gut instinct, Viko. Vladi's out there somewhere. I just hope he'll come home."

"Still no response?" Vladimir asked as Dimitry walked back into the room, a stricken look on his face.

"No. Alexi's still not answering," Dimitry said with obvious worry in his voice. "Something has to be wrong. Did you have any luck reaching Nicki?"

Vladimir shook his head and replied, "Nicki says he wasn't at the hotel either, but he'd look into it for us."

Dimitry settled onto the bed next to Vladimir and leaned into him. Vladimir wrapped his arm around his boyfriend and held him tight, as grateful for the warmth of Dimitry's body as Dimitry was of Vladimir's. "Well, the news says only one Russian was killed and they showed his picture, and I don't think I've even met him. Must be from the east side."

"As long as it's not Alexi, I don't care where he's from," Dimitry whispered, sniffling against Vladimir's chest.

"Neither do I," Vladimir replied, kissing his boyfriend's forehead. "I'm just trying to avoid freaking out."

They sat together for several minutes in silence, each trying to avoid thinking about Alexi and where he was. They'd had many moments like this since Alexi failed to report in. They'd had many more which were spent frantically trying to call him and other friends in the mafia who knew Alexi. Most had reported that they hadn't been there for the attack, and that had been the end of the conversation. At the moment it seemed as if there was nothing to do but wait.

But there was another option, one which Vladimir didn't want to consider. "Maybe . . ." he said hesitantly and instantly regretted it when Dimitry looked up at him with hopeful eyes. He continued, sad to crush Dimitry's hopes but knowing he had to finish the thought. "You know how they keep names out of the paper sometimes if they're young?"

Dimitry shook his head and settled back against Vladimir's chest, but his eyes were open again and he was staring into space with worry. "Yeah, I didn't really want to think about that either."

"Yeah, but they didn't use the Japanese kid's name, either," Vladimir said quietly. "Maybe I should . . ." he paused as Dimitry turned to look at him again. They shared a look of unspoken understanding as Vladimir fought through his doubts. "But I can't, you know?" He said at last.

"Do you really think your father would help you even if you did ask?" Dimitry asked.

"No," Vladimir replied, shaking his head violently, "but I could call Viktor at least. Maybe he could, I don't know, find out for me?"

"If you want to," Dimitry said, gently stroking Vladimir's face. "It's up to you, love. I'll support you either way, you know that." He smiled sadly and continued, "But, if you need help deciding, I'd do anything to find out about Alexi if it were me."

Vladimir shifted his position and Dimitry pulled away, thinking Vladimir wanted to get up. As soon as Dimitry was off his chest, Vladimir pulled him close again and kissed him gently but longingly. They held the kiss for a long moment before pulling apart and sharing another silent exchange of understanding.

After a moment, Vladimir pulled away and started a call to Viktor. The call was answered almost immediately by his brother's exasperated voice. "Vladi, what the hell? How come you haven't been taking my calls?"

"I've been sick," Vladimir replied quickly. Although it was the truth, Vladimir knew it was a cop out even as the words left his mouth. He hadn't been too sick to take Viktor's calls; he just hadn't wanted to.

"That's not good enough," Viktor said with a touch of anger in his voice. "I've been worried sick about you."

"I'm sorry, Viko," Vladimir replied, but he couldn't respond any further to the anger in Viktor's voice and he stopped the topic of Viktor's worry before it had even really begun. "Can we talk about that later? I have something important to ask of you."

"Yeah, sure. I guess," Viktor replied sullenly. "As long as you promise to stop avoiding my calls."

Vladimir smiled despite his recent anxieties. "Sure, and we'll get together soon, okay? But please, I need your help."

All of the anger was gone from Viktor's voice as he asked, "Okay, what is it, Vladi?"

"I need you to find something out from Fa . . ." Vladimir's smile became a scowl as he amended what he'd been about to say, "from your father. I need to know about the attack on the Horizons Casino."

"I was talking about that with him earlier today. He said you might have been involved," Viktor said quietly. "Is that true, Vladi?"

Vladimir's eyes widened at the worry in his brother's voice. He was surprised their father had said anything about it at all, especially since Mikhail had made Vladimir promise not to say anything to Viktor about what they'd discussed a week ago. "I can't answer that right now. I just need to know if Alexi showed up in the report. I need to know if he's been found. Do you think you can find out if Da . . ." he gritted his teeth and continued, "if your dad knows anything?"

"I'll see what I can do, but if you're worried about him being found dead, he wasn't. They only found one Russian, and I'm certain it wasn't him," Viktor replied with conviction.

Vladimir realized he was holding his breath and let it out slowly, which immediately drew Dimitry's full attention. "He's not dead," he said, patting Dimitry's arm gently. "At least, not that anyone knows of."

"Thank God!" Dimitry said, closing his eyes and saying a brief prayer of thanks to whatever gods were listening. When he opened them again he smiled at Vladimir and said, "I'm going to go get us some tea, okay?"

Vladimir nodded as Dimitry left the room and he returned his attention to his conversation with Viktor. "Viko, thank you," he said sincerely. "That's what I needed to know. Will you keep your ears open, anyway?"

"Will do," Viktor replied without any hesitation. "And Vladi, I know you're hurting right now, but you know I love you, right? Maybe I don't say it often enough, but . . ." he trailed off as he choked on his words.

Vladimir smiled as his eyes started to mist. "I understand, Viko. I love you too."

"See you tomorrow at school?" Viktor asked hopefully.

Vladimir's smile became a smirk as he answered, "Probably not, but call me this weekend and we'll get together, okay?"

"Okay, sure," Viktor said enthusiastically, but that enthusiasm was overrun by a low beep in Vladimir's ear indicating someone was trying to reach him.

"I'm getting another call. I'm going to have to switch over, Viko," Vladimir said quickly, though he was surprised to find how reluctant he was to say goodbye to his brother so suddenly. "This might be news about Alexi."

"Sure thing," Viktor said, though there was obvious hesitation in his voice. "Goodbye, brother."

"Bye, Viko," Vladimir said, a single tear leaving his eye and traveling down his cheek as he ended the call and switched to the new caller. "Nicki, what's going on?"

Nicki, business as usual, wasted no time in saying, "I found Alexi. He's alive, for now. He was captured by the Yakuza, and they're holding him hostage." His voice instantly became intensely angry as he explained, "Masahiro sent us a package earlier today. It was one of Alexi's fingers."

"Shit," Vladimir cursed, standing up quickly as he began to pace anxiously. "So, any plans to break him out? If so, I want in."

"No," Nicki replied immediately. "The Yakuza have made it clear that any moves we make against them will kill Alexi. They're going to try to barter, but that will take time."

"Fuck!" Vladimir said, running his hands through his hair and gripping the back of his head tightly.

Dimitry came rushing back into the room with wild eyes. "What is it, Vladi?"

"Nicki, I'll have to let you go," Vladimir said, shaking his head helplessly. "I need to tell Dimitry . . ." he paused and met his lover's horror-stricken eyes. "I . . . thank you for calling back."

Nicki said his goodbyes and ended the call, but Vladimir wasn't even listening to him. He was completely focused on Dimitry and the worried question he asked. "What's going on?"

"Sit down, love," Vladimir said quietly. "You're not going to like this . . ."

Viktor had been pacing in his room ever since his conversation with his father. The brief talk with Vladimir had settled some of his nerves, for at least he knew his brother was safe, but it had only freed his mind to focus exclusively on Nobuyuki. Although his father had said there was little chance Nobuyuki had been harmed during the attack on his home, there was still the sliver of doubt which nestled in Viktor's mind and continued to grow by the second.

It wasn't long before night had fallen, but Viktor was a long way away from being able to sleep. He only knew of two ways to get answers, and neither seemed particularly inviting. With a growl of frustration, he finally took the option which seemed most appealing of the two and used his communicator to search the school directory and make a call.

It was several long seconds before the call connected, but Viktor was ready for it and said impatiently to the boy on the other end of the line, "Dante, we need to talk."

"Viktor Karimov, you're the last person I expected to hear from," Dante replied with a touch of awe. "How did you even get my contact information?"

"School directory, and stop stalling," Viktor growled. "You know exactly why I'm calling you. What's going on with Nobuyuki? Why hasn't he been in school?"

Dante's tone became sickeningly soothing. "Calm down, Viktor. You realize that his home just got attacked, right?"

"Yes, I've heard," Viktor replied, taking a deep breath in an attempt to get his nerves under control. "But he won't take my calls and—"

"You've been calling him?" Dante interrupted with surprise. "I thought you didn't want anything to do with him?"

"Uh, well . . ." Viktor hesitated, caught off guard by the question in Dante's tone. "He's my friend, and I'm worried about him."

For the first time in Viktor's experience with Dante, it seemed as if the young Italian-American wasn't judging him. His voice was calm and gentle, and didn't seem the least bit antagonistic. "He has a lot on his mind. His father was just targeted by assassins. Don't you think you'd stay home in his position?"

"His father?" Viktor echoed. "Why would anyone want to kill his father?"

Viktor could hear the wince in Dante's voice as he said, "Just forget I said that, okay?"

"No," Viktor replied, shaking his head furiously. "What the hell are you getting at? And what do you know? Is Nobuyuki all right?"

"As far as I know, yes," Dante replied. "That's all I know."

"Have you ever been to his home?" Viktor asked, "I remember he told me he lives on the top floor, is that true?"

"Yes, but . . . I can't tell you anything else, Viktor. I'm sorry," Dante said, and he sounded genuinely apologetic. "I've already said way more than I should have. Just wait, and everything is going to be okay."

"And I'm supposed to trust you of all people?" Viktor asked. He had been wrong to call Dante, he realized. He looked out his window at the growing darkness and nodded resolutely. With a determined stride he retrieved his jacket and slid into it. "I don't think so. I'm going down there to find out for myself."

"What?" Dante asked, surprise and desperation in his voice. "No, Viktor, that's—"

Viktor terminated the call, cutting Dante off immediately as he left his room. He crept quietly down the stairs and then opened the front door as stealthily as possible before slipping into the night, hoping his father hadn't heard him leaving.

His heart was pounding in his chest as he crept along the streets, continually jumping every time a dog barked or a cat's movement cast flickering shadows across his vision. He wasn't used to traveling the streets of Vladivostok at night, and he'd heard enough stories to know he was being a complete idiot, but he was determined to find the answers he was looking for.

He was surprised to make it to the area surrounding the hotel without incident, but as soon as he saw the hotel standing tall amongst the nearby buildings he wasn't sure he could go any further. Not only was he uncertain as to how receptive Nobuyuki would be to his visit, but the entire building seemed rather quiet, which was understandable considering the violence which had occurred there.

But they were at least somewhat operational, as he saw several customers heading inside and others leaving through the large doors at the front of the casino. Steeling his resolve, he walked forward slowly but surely, trying to appear as just another customer.

Viktor made it through the doors and into the foyer, walking past two armed guards wearing black suits and matching ties. The guards watched him as he passed and he couldn't help but shiver. He took the quickest route available to him to get away from the guards, not wanting to attract any more attention than necessary, and walked into the rows of pachinko machines.

Even with the machines keeping him from view, Viktor couldn't shake the feeling of being watched, and even when he made it to the elevator he was sweating heavily and glancing around nervously. He noticed a guard watching him from across the room and instantly felt the need to get out of the open. He spied a door which entered a stairwell and headed toward it, thinking to avoid the confining space of the elevator, and was too distracted to notice the guard standing in the shadows nearby.

As soon as he opened the door and entered the stairwell he knew he'd made a mistake. The floor was stained red, the remnant of blood which had been spilt the night of the attack. This was one of the areas where fighting had occurred, which meant it was being watched closely.

He turned around to exit the stairwell but found a black-suited guard coming through the door after him. The guard shoved Viktor against the wall, drawing his pistol in the process and pointing it in both hands at Viktor's chest.

"What do we have here? Another Russian trying to get inside, huh?" The guard asked in gruff Russian. "Well, we'll just see about that."

"What?" Viktor asked, completely flustered. "No, I was just looking for—"

"Shut up, Mafia dog," the guard spat, removing one hand from the pistol to backhand Viktor and steal all his courage. The guard then nodded up the stairs and said, "You're coming with me, and don't even think about resisting or I'll put a bullet in you faster than you can blink."

Viktor nodded numbly and started up the stairs, glancing back occasionally to see the guard glaring at him and gesturing with the pistol for him to continue. Although the guard walked with a slight limp as if he'd been injured recently, he still walked with a determined stride and the grace of a warrior. Viktor didn't even try to speak, not wanting to risk it being taken the wrong way after the violence he'd just experienced, and focused instead on staying alive. He kept his hands where the guard could see them and walked forward at an even pace, climbing each flight of stairs until they'd reached the fourth floor.

He was directed to open the door and step inside, where he found himself in a small antechamber with a solid pair of double doors ahead of him and a grey featureless door to his left and another to his right. A small reception counter stood to the side of the double doors with another armed guard standing behind it, glancing up from the monitor in front of him.

The two guards spoke in Japanese and Viktor was barely able to make out a few words, none of which were useful in his oppressed mental state. The guard at the desk turned away from the other and began speaking into his ear, again in Japanese. After a moment, Viktor was being guided forward again, through the grey door on his left.

They were in a long and dimly lit hallway which ended in an identical door, and the gloom did nothing to help Viktor's mood. It felt as if he were walking to his own execution, and he couldn't see a way out of it. But still he marched onward, knowing that stopping would do nothing to spare his life.

He opened the door at the end of the hallway as he was instructed to do and stepped into another antechamber, though this one had an elevator beside it, and another door and reception counter. A young woman stood at this counter and exchanged brief words with the guard before both turned toward the elevator expectantly.

Viktor didn't have to wait long for the elevator to reach the floor and for the doors to part. A well-dressed bearded man with hard eyes stood most prominently in the front, and he immediately locked his stare on Viktor. A middle-aged man with an even more hardened face was standing next to him, glaring at Viktor with his one good eye while the eyepatch he wore over the other only enhanced the effect. Behind them stood Nobuyuki, though Viktor could barely see him through the other two.

"So, this is the boy who was sneaking in, huh?" the bearded man said in perfect Russian, keeping his eyes on Viktor. "Do you work for the Mafia as well? What do you think you're doing, boy?"

"I . . . uh . . . I'm not . . ." Viktor stammered, locked in place as he turned his pleading eyes to Nobuyuki, but fear cluttered his mind and made it difficult to form a coherent thought. "Please, you have to know I'm not with them!"

The bearded man had no patience for Viktor's excuse and he immediately turned to the man with the eyepatch and continued in Russian, "Daisuke, get him to talk and then cut him up if he's mafia. Send the pieces back one by one. I don't want them to think they can get away with this. Make sure he knows to shut up if he isn't mafia. We can't afford another security risk."

Viktor cringed and tried to back away as Daisuke started forward, but he only ended up running into the gun of the guard behind him who shoved him forward again. The conflicting momentum caused Viktor to lose his balance, and he fell to one knee as Daisuke advanced, a gleam of sadistic glee in his eye.

Which was when Nobuyuki started forward and shouted in Japanese, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. The bearded man, whom Viktor had now realized must be Masahiro Sato, Nobuyuki's father, turned toward Nobuyuki and asked a question in Japanese.

Nobuyuki didn't answer in Japanese however, switching to Korean. This surprised Viktor but didn't seem to faze any of the others in the room, and Daisuke least of all. He approached Viktor and lifted him to his feet by the front of his shirt, hard features meeting the terror in Viktor's. He backhanded Viktor hard enough to send him flying back to the floor, landing hard on his tailbone as the conversation continued in Korean between Nobuyuki and his father.

Masahiro quickly acquired Daisuke's attention and Daisuke turned toward him with surprise, only to find Masahiro nodding him backward. He said something in Japanese to Daisuke and then stepped back into the elevator, waiting for Daisuke to join him.

Viktor breathed a sigh of relief, thinking Nobuyuki had been spared, but when he turned to look at Nobuyuki his eyes widened even further. Nobuyuki was holding a knife in his hands and staring at Viktor with a mixture of sadness and anger. He approached Viktor slowly, alternating between tightening and loosening his grip on the knife.

"Nobu?" Viktor asked in disbelief, but as Nobuyuki continued his approach he realized what he was seeing was really happening. "Nobu! What are you doing?"

"I'm sorry, Viktor," Nobuyuki replied, shaking his head solemnly, raising the knife and aiming it toward Viktor's throat. "This is the way it has to be."

Author's Note: Thank you to my Patreon supporters, Scott, Bill, Paul R, Joe, and Jos for helping keep the dream alive.

Thank you also to Peter, John, and Jesse for their continuous support.

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