In the General’s Office

In the General’s Office

It was dark in the room where they asked him to wait. Heavy blinds drawn across the room's sole window offered only small slats of light for illumination, casting long, barred shadows across the room. A wide, oak desk rested in front of the window, piled high with books, papers and file folders. He wasn't brave enough to approach the mass of organized chaos. Of the three uncomfortable chairs lining the opposite wall, he'd chosen the one furthest from the desk.

He sat with his head bowed, though out of respect or shame was hard to say. He hoped the bar of shadow which fell across his face would obscure his somber expression. Unruly black hair fell in front of his face, despite his efforts to contain it by binding the long locks at the base of his neck. A thick set of bandages were plastered across his left cheek, their brilliant, sterile white standing out in stark contrast to the dark, bronzed colour of his skin. Neither his long hair nor the shadows were enough to fully conceal his youth. He couldn't look old enough for the army uniform he wore; he certainly didn't feel old enough.

Beneath the pristine bandages, a fire still burned his cheek. It both hurt so badly his face felt swollen to twice its normal size, and itched so badly he wanted to tear free the bandages and scratch the wound till it bled anew. Instead, he forced his hands to remain folded in his lap. He didn't dare touch his cheek. The doctors warned him the wound might never fully heal without him disturbing the stitches. He wondered if that fire would ever burn itself out. What was he going to look like when the bandages came off? If his face was mangled half as much as the pain emanating from beneath those bandages suggested… Do I even want to see it?

Something dampened the impact of the still fresh wound. It wasn't the usual thought that things could have been much worse, which had sustained him in the days since his return from the nightmare of his first mission. It was the prickle of the tiny hairs on the back of his neck as they stood on end, informing him someone was watching him. He felt the gaze falling on him like a heavy weight. It took real effort not to shift and reveal his discomfort. Out of the corners of his eyes, he saw a face framed by the thin slit of the window in the door, but he was careful not to turn his head and make eye contact. He was no fool. He knew the men whispering on the other side of the door were discussing his fate. He only hoped they would end his miserable career swiftly and allow him to escape with some small manner of dignity before this turned into a full-fledged disaster.

Or before his father arrived. If he couldn't escape before the general arrived, he stood to lose more than his short military career…

The door slid open with a soft click. He jumped as the sound dragged him back to the present. He gulped as he shot to his feet, standing at crisp attention, saluting the man who entered until he was waved back to his seat. He resumed contemplating the floor while the other man, a general he assumed was on good terms with his father, settled into the comfortable chair on the other side of the desk, folded his hands on the hard wood surface and leaned forward expectantly. The tiny hairs on the back of his neck prickled again, as if he expected to be attacked at any moment.

"Lorcasf is it? That's a hefty name to live up to, young man."

He bit his lip to keep from wincing. "Yes, sir," he replied respectfully with a small nod.

"You look pretty young," the general continued, his tone casual. Despite the harmless tone, the youth was still anxious, every muscle in his body tense. "How old are you son?"

"N-nineteen, sir," he stammered. His arms were shaking. He clenched his hands into fists, hoping further tension would hide his obvious fear. His mind raced. His heart pounded. He felt as though he burned with fever, as if someone had just laid a gun to his head. He was in trouble. Bigger trouble than he anticipated. Somehow he knows everything. He had to have-

"Are you sure?" the general pressed. "You look pretty young for nineteen. Domerin, is it?"

The young man nodded.

"Domerin, how old are you really? It's alright, son. You're not in trouble. You can tell me the truth."

Domerin gulped again. His hands were sweating. He couldn't accept that he wasn't in trouble. People always said that to gain trust. As soon as this general gained the information he was after, the hammer would fall hard. He was well aware of the dire situation he was in. The military practically owned his soul and he had violated some of their principal rules. That wasn't a good way to start your career. "I'm sorry, sir. I... I'm eighteen, actually."

"But you've been in the army for a little over a year now, is that right?"

Again he nodded. "Yes, sir. That's right."

The general's eyes grew hard. "And it was at your father's suggestion that you lied about your age?"

This time Domerin didn't answer. He grit his teeth while his mind groped for something to say. The answer was yes, of course. His father practically demanded he do it, even after Domerin offered to sign up the day after he turned eighteen. He'd never been keen on joining the military himself. Certainly he wouldn't have deceived an army recruiter just to get in a year early. But he couldn't say that either. His father wasn't just a high-ranking member of the military, he was well respected. What general is going to take my word over that of the formidable General Lorcasf? Besides, even if he was only admitting the truth, Domerin still felt he'd be selling out his father. While the two of them had never been on good terms, tattling on the general felt wrong.

Apparently his hesitation was answer enough. After a moment, the general held up his hand and chuckled lightly. "Relax, son. You're not the one on trial here. I know all about your father's arrangement. What I'm wondering is, how much you know about it. Domerin – forgive me, son, I just can't attach anything lower than 'General' to 'Lorcasf', I'm sure you understand – it's your father who's in trouble. Not you."

That brought Domerin's chin up, his eyes wide with surprise. Some of the tension melted from his expression, only to be replaced with confusion. His brows furrowed as he tried to work through the general's last statement. "I'm sorry, sir, I'm not sure I understand. My... my father came to me a little over a year ago and told me he made arrangements for me to join the military. After some... discussion," though that was hardly the right word for it, "and his assurance it was an acceptable deception, I agreed. I'm not dissatisfied with the arrangement, if that's what you're asking, sir."

It seemed to Domerin, his words brought a hint of satisfaction to the general's face. It was gone so quickly, however, he couldn't be certain he hadn't imagined it. Why are these questions necessary? If he knows about my father's arrangements surely-

This time the general interrupted his thoughts with a sigh. "I'm sorry to be the one to give you this news. But you're going to find out sooner or later, and it's best if you get the facts before they all get blown out of proportion. Your father's been arrested."

Domerin stared, struck dumb for a moment. His fear turned to ice in his chest. He must have heard wrong. "He... what?"

"It's alright, Domerin. Don't worry. It's obvious from your reaction, you didn't know what was going on. That's what we've been trying to determine. This may be hard for you to hear, but your father's been involved in some underhanded practices. I'm afraid his career will be over even if you don't want to press charges."

Domerin's jaw worked but he couldn't manage to form words. Press charges? Over asking me to lie?

When it was obvious he could offer no answer, the general continued. "It was no mean feat concealing your age, considering how many officers were aware of your birth. It goes beyond that. He arranged your first assignment, the platoon you were stationed with, the commander, everything. He's been pulling a great many strings the past year, son, all so he could position you like a pawn on a chess board."

Domerin was still grappling with the idea of his father being arrested. So he's been whispering and bribing in dark, secret, smoky rooms. How many high-ranking members of the military do that sort of thing? Sure, he'd meddled in decisions best left to the experts. How many powerful parents tried the same things?

"Sir, I understand what my father did was wrong, but surely looking out for the wellbeing of his only son isn't enough to ruin his whole career..." Even as he said it, a cold shiver ran down the back of his spine. There was something wrong about that statement. He never would have risked his entire career, not to safeguard my life and not to give me a chance at success.

"I'm afraid you don't understand, son. Your father's activities had nothing to do with your safety."

The story which flowed from the general's lips in the wake of that statement made Domerin's blood run cold. He listened with rapt attention, though it was the kind of tale at which people his age usually rolled their eyes. It was a story of conniving and lies that recalled the smoky rooms he'd imagined earlier. The general described the details leading up to his first assignment, the nightmare mission that had almost wiped out his entire platoon, and after each decision he paused to describe how his father had arranged it. It sounded like a mad conspiracy; his father deleting records, changing names on documents, bribing officials and altering intelligence reports.

By the time the general finished speaking, Domerin was unable to control his shaking. It was unpleasant to contemplate how close he'd come to death during that mission. Mortality was a frail thing, that's what he'd learned from all this. To discover it hadn't been the cruel accident he'd assumed made his stomach twist in his gut.

"So you see, son, it wasn't faulty intelligence that led to this disaster. Your father, and the men he manipulated, knew full well the situation had escalated. They knew the danger they were sending you to. They even knew the ambush awaited you when you arrived. And they sent you anyway."

"He sent us to die," he murmured, his voice gone cold and flat. It was as simple as that. His father had tried to kill him. It might not have been by his hand, but the deed would have rested on his shoulders as surely as if he struck the killing blow. The realization burned hotter than the fire in his cheek and stung harder than any physical blow he'd ever endured.

"But you didn't die, did you?" the general said, once more startling Domerin out of his thoughts.

He did have a point. "No sir. I didn't."

"Listen, son, there's nothing I can say to change your feelings about this situation. It's a terrible tragedy for everyone involved." Domerin thought that was a fine understatement. "I want you to know that many of your father's associates, myself included, find his actions obscene. They won't go unpunished. It is, of course, your right to pursue justice for his actions. No one would blame you. But I ask you to consider one thing before making that decision. You are the reason your platoon survived, are you not?"

The young man arched an eyebrow at the question. He supposed it was only a matter of time before someone asked him about it. About the thing my father was so keen to hide. Based on his father's reaction, Domerin assumed all his associates would have similar feelings about his abilities. They're the ones in real trouble here, he realized, though it did nothing to ease his anxieties. If one word of this is breathed to the media, they'll be in more trouble than they can reasonably spin. He knew enough about the military to know what that meant; they were going to offer him a way out of his mess that would preserve their reputation. All he had to do was cooperate.

"It's possible, sir," he replied, not arrogant enough to take full credit for the group's survival.

Again the general looked mildly amused. "Do you remember what you did?"

Domerin considered for a moment before answering. Whatever he chose to say would likely affect whether or not they offered him a swift retirement. "Yes, sir," he said finally, "I know what I did. I know how I did it too."

The general looked surprised. He arched an eyebrow over one stern eye. "This isn't the first time it's happened?"

"No, sir. It happened once before. My father knew I could do it. He disapproved. I don't think he liked having an ascendant for a son." Apparently his distaste was strong enough he'd tried to eliminate its source.

When the general snorted with disgust, it surprised Domerin enough that he gave the man a sidelong glance, uncertain if he'd overstepped his boundaries with his last statement. The general must have caught his uncertainty.

"Your father is well aware we have special interest in ascendants like you, Domerin, ascendants whose abilities have a practical application in our line of work. Hiding your abilities must have been another level of his deception. Can you control it?"

"I..." Domerin was so stunned by the question, he didn't know what to say. "I'm not sure, sir. With practice, probably. I... you're not going to dismiss me?"

The general laughed. Embarrassed, Domerin returned to a careful contemplation of the floor. He obviously doesn't share many of my father's opinions.

"Dismiss you? Son, I have a special assignment in mind for you – of the opposite nature from what your father had in mind, of course. A talent like yours could be incredibly valuable, Domerin, surely you can see that."

He did. Like the last piece of a puzzle falling into place, he finally understood the purpose of this interview. "I understand, sir," he said, for once not afraid to openly speak his mind, with or without permission. "You'll arrange this special assignment for me if I agree not to press charges against my father."

It looked as though the general was trying not to grin. He leaned forward again. "You're a sharp one, kid, as sharp as your father. Then there's no need to mince words. You understand what I'm offering; what's your answer?"

Domerin didn't have to think very hard about his answer. What his father had done was horrible, he wouldn't soon forget it. He certainly didn't think he'd ever forgive it. But no matter what he chose, his father's career was over. Even if the military buried this incident, they couldn't let it go unpunished. Ending his career will affect my father more deeply than any punishment I could imagine. That wound will run deep, maybe as deep as the one he inflicted by putting me through all this.

"Sir, your offer aside, I don't want to press charges against my father." I just want to be free of him. Pressing charges would make this a public affair and he didn't want his relationship with his father to be front page news. "I prefer to keep things simple, and private." Things were bad enough between the two of them without every journalist and Internet message board offering their opinion about it.

The general arched an eyebrow, but it was clear he was impressed by Domerin's answer. He was relieved when there was no comment about living up to his father's reputation forthcoming. Instead the general said, "Well, Private Lorcasf, you'd better be careful. You're in danger of becoming a wise man. I take it you will accept my offer?"

Domerin took a deep breath and held it. "Yes, sir. But if it's not too much to ask, can I add one condition?" It was a bold question and he knew he was dancing on a delicate line before the general gave him a sharp look.

"I suppose that depends on the condition."

"Can you do it quietly? My father's trial, I mean. Can you make it so my mother never finds out?"

Again the general seemed surprised. After a moment, he nodded. "I'll see what I can do, son. That will depend on your father though."

"Don't worry, sir," Domerin said with a soft sigh. "The last thing he's going to want is my mother finding out any of this ever happened."

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