22. Who Did This To You?

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He sat at his desk in the corner of the Center, which was how the oldest gathering chamber had come to be known as. It was nothing more than a large open cavern with several support pillars and various odd and end furniture, but it was now well lit and regularly patrolled by his 'personal guard'.

The thought made Mr. Black grimace, though he didn't show it outwardly. Even though he didn't often interact with anyone outside of barking orders, he seemed to have gained some kind of loyalty from a bunch of fanatics. He'd shoo them away time and time again, but they kept returning to his side when he wasn't looking, no matter how harsh or terrifying he tried to be.

Wherever he went in the underground fortress, they followed. Some were barely able to hold a weapon, but others were far more capable. Especially since some of his more trusted people joined their ranks when they were off duty. Though he suspected they only did so because they knew it irritated him.

He leaned forward on his desk, rested his chin in his hands, and glowered at two in particular. They had taken up a position beside the main doors, appearing casual and relaxed, but he knew better. They'd be the first to throw themselves at a skittering cockroach if they'd thought it'd try to bite him.

Mr. Black wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. Maybe both.

After watching them for a while, he couldn't take it any longer. "Alainna. Seb."

Both of them snapped to attention at the sound of his voice. The young woman's face brightened, and she gave a sloppy salute, the kind that would make drill sergeants horrified. "Yes sir, Mr. Black!"

The other one remained silent, only giving a slow, deliberate blink. Most of his skin, including that of his face, was covered in layers of yellowed linen bandages, but his clear, sharp green eyes were ever alert.

Mr. Black didn't miss how the other people in the room seemed to perk to attention, much like a group of eager puppies. Their names hadn't been called, but maybe he'd grace them with his attention. He could see that hope on their faces. Unfortunately for them, he wouldn't do so. Not just because he had no clue what their names were - why would he care for the names of stumbling fanatical idiots? - but because he had no use for them.

He lifted his chin from his hands and crooked a finger at the two he'd named. "Come."

Alainna grinned as she obeyed his order, humor in her eyes. Behind her, Seb seemed to float like a ghost, silent and unobtrusive. Mr. Black observed them for a moment. The two made a good pair. One was brash, inexperienced and full of eagerness, while the other was an older veteran, cunning and wise. Although complete opposites in personality and skill sets, they complimented and worked well together. And - he smirked a little - now they were observing him as closely as he was them.

So cute. They learned quickly. Well, in Alainna's case. Seb was an old hand at this sort of stuff, which kind of sucked the fun out of it. Still, it was amusing to see her imitate Seb and himself.

"Alainna," he said mildly. "Report."

Startled by his sudden request, she froze on the spot. "Huh? I already told you everything when you got back the other day."

Mr. Black smiled. It was a gentle curve, with sharp edges. "Oh? You don't wish to?"

Alainna shivered, blinking a couple of times. Though she did a decent job of hiding it from her expression, he could easily read the uncertainty in her body language. "But ... I don't have anything to..." She cut herself off, then tried again, cautiously. "What do you want me to report on?"

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