68 The Promise that could be broken*
It was just before the Winter Solstice that Zaroth managed to take a second batch of samples from Rassa. It'd taken longer than usual because Rassa had taken to attacking the guards to get small sips of blood. Not enough to kill them, but enough that it not only took longer for him to starve, but it was also more of an effort for Zaroth to get anyone to enter Rassa's cell.
It was how Rassa liked it. He'd found he preferred their fear now. He'd once said that fear made them cruel, it felt like a lifetime ago now. But what Rassa had learned was that fear also made them wary, and if they were wary, they weren't eager to come anywhere near Rassa, let alone be cruel to him.
Besides, the darker part of Rassa, the part that had become stronger since his imprisonment, found itself enjoying the fear in their eyes. Enjoying their utter hopelessness when encountering Rassa's predatory instincts. The only two people that seemed to still tolerate Rassa's presence if not enjoy it, were Zaroth, whom Rassa would rather not have around, and Aegin.
The Winter Solstice came, and with it Aegin blew in like the shadow he was getting better and better at becoming.
Aegin knew the tunnels and mine shafts like the back of his hand now, he usually visited Rassa first before reporting in to Zaroth. This time was no different. But his clothing was.
Rassa tilted his head as he appraised Aegin who stood on the other side of the bars.
"New uniform?" he asked.
Aegin, who no longer wore a mask as he had before, smirked as he sat down cross-legged in preparation for his usual talk with Rassa.
"I passed the advancement tests, so I'll be given more official missions now," Aegin said, "You should wish me a happy birthday as well".
Rassa rolled his eyes, "You say that like it matters".
Aegin's smirk dropped, "It does matter, too old and I loose my value, too young and I'm incapable of carrying out the tasks assigned to me".
Rassa was silent. He'd meant it didn't matter to him, but he hadn't actually told anyone he was immortal yet despite the hints he'd left behind. So far no one seemed to have worked it out though. He could see Aegin's point of view. Had he still been human, Rassa probably would have worried that the rest of his life would be spent in this cell, but he wasn't. Coming to terms with that reality had helped his mentality immensely. This wasn't his end. Though no promises that it wouldn't be the end of anyone else.
"Well, whatever, how've you been?" asked Aegin.
Rassa knew by now that Aegin meant to ask whether or not Rassa was being fed regularly.
"I make do," Rassa replied.
Aegin sensed the story behind that, and suddenly realised why all the guards had been so wary of coming near this tunnel, let alone the cell Rassa dwelled in. He'd witnessed it on the way down, how the guard patrols grew less and less regular the further into the mines he went.
"Slaves not enough for you?" asked Aegin. He didn't mean it in a malicious way, in fact, he sounded vaguely amused.
"I figured by now they would have taken the hint I don't like Anthrite, yet I'm still stuck in here," Rassa sighed.
Aegin nodded. Wasn't like there was anything he could really do about that. He was under orders. They were silent for a moment, then Rassa spoke up again.
"Being a Man of the Ridge, is it what you want?" asked Rassa.
Aegin frowned, "What do you mean?"
"I mean have you ever thought about doing something else with your life besides serving a man who would use you as cannon fodder at the drop of a hat?" Rassa elaborated.
Aegin was silent for a moment, "I didn't think you knew what being a Ridge Man meant..."
Rassa looked over at Aegin, "I know a lot more than you think".
"How much more?" asked Aegin.
"Enough to know that your employer shouldn't inhibit you from asking questions," Rassa said, "Those who are inquisitive and curious and can think for themselves serve a better purpose than those who are essentially trained dolls. A leader should not be afraid to allow his subordinates to think for themselves. After all, a leader who leads dolls doesn't get very far".
"Perhaps you don't know who I serve, or else you wouldn't say that," Aegin replied.
Rassa chuckled, "The Kildare Family. The Emperor's own bloodline. Of course I know who you serve. A group of rich and priveleged royals who only know how to serve themselves. If their own arrogance doesn't kill them off, their inability to sympathise with the lesser men will".
Aegin was silent for a while, before finally giving his reply, "You sound as if its personal".
Rassa gazed at Aegin with a smile that hid one too many secrets, "Like I said, perhaps you should ask more questions".
"If I ask questions I'll be killed," Aegin stated.
"Not if you're clever about it," Rassa said, "You don't need to involve anyone else to seek answers".
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Why do you keep coming here?" Rassa shot back, "You are earning nothing out of this relationship. Whatever it is. I'm a prisoner and a predator. By all rights you should act like all the rest, but you don't. It's really starting to bug me".
Aegin sighed, "So you want me to be cruel to you? To treat you like a monster and leave you to rot?"
Rassa frowned, turning away.
"I thought not".
There was silence between the two of them for quite a long time, then Aegin's voice broke through the darkness as he prepared to leave.
"To be honest, I have no idea," Aegin admitted, "Ever since I first saw you, there's been this part of me that just feels...I don't know...drawn to you, I guess. And when I spoke to you, interacted with you, it was like something just...clicked. I don't care that you're a predator, a monster, a vampire, a boy, whatever you are. However you define yourself. To me, you are Rassa, he who does not fear death. Who does not fear imprisonment. Who does not fear the cruelty of the humans who desire to keep him as a pet. Watching you feels...liberating in a way".
"Liberating?" Rassa chuckled, "I think you've misunderstood. Of course I feel fear. Of death, of imprisonment, or being treated like I am-"
"Perhaps, but you do the one thing that very few your age, or few ever, have done," Aegin cut him off, "You have the courage to overcome it. To accept it has happened, and move forward. That is why I continue to come here and speak with you. Because if you can do it, maybe I can learn how to do it as well".
Rassa looked at Aegin for a moment, then tasted the saltiness of a tear he hadn't realised had fallen. He wiped it quickly away, forgetting for a moment that Aegin couldn't actually see him in the darkness. Then he spoke.
"I need you to promise me Aegin," Rassa said.
"What?" asked Aegin.
"Promise that when I get out, if what this place has done to me turns me into...a living death...promise you'll kill me so that even with all the cruelty in this world, at least the innocent won't drown with the guilty," Rassa said.
Aegin stared through the darkness for a moment, then nodded, "So long as I can break that promise".
Rassa frowned, and Aegin seemed to sense his annoyance. With a smile, he stood and turned away.
"No matter how dark you get Rassa, you're a good judge of character. I don't think you'd ever let the innocent drown, you'd probably build an island just so they could be kept safe on it".
Rassa found himself being glad that Aegin sounded so sure, because in all honesty...he wasn't.
In the silence that remained, Rassa went once more into deep thought. What Aegin had described to him, about how he felt drawn to Rassa...it wasn't keeping with the norm. Most people weren't drawn to Rassa unless it was for their own selfish desires. But like Rassa had said, Aegin wasn't getting anything out of this. Feeling his suspicions rise, Rassa consulted Victor.
'I can't be sure unless you ingest his blood,' Victor explained, 'But it sounds to me that the boy is from a long line of Sanguine'.
Rassa frowned, 'I thought Sanguine required a bond to be loyal'.
'Normally yes,' Victor agreed, 'But if the bond is consistent across generations, is becomes a part of their genetic makeup. Despite the thousands of generations between the fall of Chaos and now, it seems his contact with you has awakened a need within him to be close with you, and in turn, your instinct to trust him to fulfil your needs to the best of his ability. He would be a fitting Sanguine for you'.
Rassa tilted his head in thought. He supposed Victor was right, but still, it wasn't smart for him to form a bond just yet. Not whilst he was still imprisioned.