The next morning, there was no woman in an apron. There was no bathroom encounter. There was no fresh food on the stove. Cornelia was dressed in her suit. She exuded none of the messy sexiness she had slowly been building up. Her hair used to have a single strand loose that ran down the side of her face. All of her hair was now tightly put in a bun. She had a single button at the top undone, just hinting at whatever was underneath. That had been buttoned up. Her posture, which always just slipped a bit when I looked her direction but she pretended not to see was gone, replaced by a rigid person with a no-nonsense demeanor.
Last night, I had been annoyed and thus revealed that I had already known her behavior was an act. I guess I hadn’t realized just how much her behavior was an act. Her real behavior seemed to be designed to remove every bit of sex appeal she had. She was still a beautiful woman, but if you had to describe her, you might end up using a word like handsome as opposed to sexy. As my stomach grumbled, I found myself wondering if I should have just let her act her part a little bit longer.
“I’ve selected a woman for you tonight,” Cornelia spoke as I walked to the fridge.
“Is there anything to eat?’ I asked.
I spent the last six years of my life having my meals prepared and cooked for me. It had been so long since I had worked in a kitchen that I barely even remembered what to do. Even if she was going to turn to ice now, she could have at least considered that much.
“There is milk with cereal in the cupboard.” She responded.
I opened up the cupboard and made a face. “Granola? Who the hell eats granola?”
“If you don’t like it, we can schedule a shopping trip.”
“Schedule in?” I turned back to her. “Do I even have a schedule?”
“Yes, I have come to various conclusions last night.”
I sat down with the granola, eating it out of the box without even bothering with the milk. It was chewy, and I couldn’t help but make a face. It wasn’t even that bad for my old world. I truly had been spoiled by a life of luxury. Perhaps, cooking for myself wasn’t such a bad idea.
“Alright, let me have it,” I said.
“I tried to treat you like the other men. I realize now that it was a mistake. The biggest problem with my previous charges was that they were feeling stifled. They wanted freedom and the illusion of choice. They wanted to feel like an individual. They wanted to live life and feel acknowledged.”
“You don’t say…” I closed the box, unwilling to take another bite.
“It made sense to give them options and freedom. It made sense to haggle with them. It made sense to make them feel like they could manipulate… even me.”
“Until they find out you’re manipulating them, then it gets worse.”
Her face flushed for a second and she lowered her head. “You’ve heard about that.”
“I haven’t… so your ability isn’t foolproof.”
“The point is…” Cornelia ignored my egging on. “You’re a man who has had too much freedom. Maybe you’re good with your words. Maybe it’s just because of your strange understanding of runes. Whatever it is, fundamentally, you need to be controlled.”
“Do I now?” My eyes glinted slightly dangerously.
“A strict schedule that will keep you busy all day. That is what I am providing you. You will be allowed to follow your desired pursuits, but only carefully controlled pursuits. You will be able to train in physical fitness, then I have a tutor for swordsmanship. You will have lunch, and then there will be a runes tutor who will happily work with you on that. You’ll have a few hours to yourself, dinner, and then you will impregnant a woman at night.”
I raised an eyebrow, a bit surprised at how well thought out it was. Some of the things she was offering were things I had been denied even at the MPA reeducation center. It was a chance to finally have some proper education when it came to magic. I had thought that all of my knowledge would have to be self-taught or picked out of borrowed textbooks, but if she was willing to let me formally learn stuff, I had no reason to make it difficult for her.
“What about Brooke?” I asked.
“She has not been located yet. However, I was able to find Charlene. I’ve already done the paperwork and she will be transferred here. It was exceptionally easy as she was already a bodyguard for another man as part of the MPA.”
I wasn’t surprised by that. Charlene never made such an impression on me other than being very by the book. She had eventually quit after growing irritated over how often her advice was disregarded when discussing our safety. For example, after Hannah had left, I wanted the path she snuck in and out of to remain open, where Charlene wanted to close it. I wanted Hannah to feel like she could return at any time, while Charlene only saw it as a security risk. Well, I also snuck away a few too many times and angered her. I would have loved to see the expression on her face knowing she had to go back to watching me.
However, I probably shouldn’t tempt fate too much. If there was someone out there looking for me, then I needed to be exceptionally careful. That caused my mood to grow a bit darker.
“What about Rigor… and Dia’s shooter?”
I asked about Dia’s shooter as to continue to play dumb that it was Brooke. If that work ended up getting blamed on whoever killed Rigor, it would probably be best.
“That is something that will be handled by the police.” Cornelia sniffed. “You don’t need to worry about it in the slightest.”
I had expected that answer, but I couldn’t help but wear a bitter expression all the same. As we descended into silence, I wondered if there was anything else in the kitchen I could eat. At that moment, there was a sudden knock on the door.
Frowning, Cornelia stood up and walked over to the door, hitting the buzzer. “Who is here?’
“It’s the police, ma’am.” One of the bodyguards informed us through the door.
“I guess we’ll be behind schedule.” I snorted.
“I’ve given plenty of time for the morning. You’re not even dressed yet.”
I shrugged before turning to the door. “Let them in!”
She made an irritated noise before also turning to the door. “Do as he says.”
The door opened up and a woman stepped in. She had a friendly smile on her face, and I instantly felt glad it was her and not that unpleasant woman Roxanne.
“Ah! Clyburn remembers.” She smiled. “I’m so happy. Ah! Wh-what are you wearing?”
“I-isn’t that the problem!” She covered her eyes.”
I did go out that morning completely naked, and I still hadn’t put on any clothing. I was curious if I would have gotten a reaction our of Cornelia, but she barely even mentioned it. Seeing Grace grow flustered at least had the desired effect. Although, since I was sitting in front of a chair, it wasn’t like my stuff was on display or anything.
“Clyburn! You’ve had your fun, now go put on some clothing!” Cornelia stated like a schoolteacher.
I wanted to ignore her, but I had already planned to go get dressed anyway. At that point, stubbornly waiting while a policewoman was left uncomfortable was just acting childish. With a sigh, I stood up and walked to my room. As I reached the door, I glanced back to see Grace quickly close her hands where she had been peeking previously. With a chuckle, I went into the room and got dressed.
I wore the typical button-up shirt and sports jacket I had grown used to in this world. I had been a businessman in my previous world, so the somewhat fancy way men tended to dress wasn’t a bother for me. I had grown quite comfortable in suits, even when the weather was hot.
When I came back out, Grace was sitting down, although very deliberately not in the seat where my bare ass had just been. As for Cornelia, she was in the kitchen making tea.
“I see, you’ll make tea for her,” I muttered under my breath.
“If you want something from me, all you have to do is ask,” Cornelia responded sharply. “That is the arrangement we have. I will also take requests from you. Do not think that if you never ask, that I won’t either.”
“It’s not the times you ask that bother me.” I responded. “it’s the times you won’t.”
“Uh… should I come back later?” Grace asked, her smile showing just a bit of strain than before.
“It’s fine.” I sat down back in my spot, giving Cornelia no more mind. “What is it that you came for?”
“Ah… the detective sent me. Given the attempt on your life and the death of a friend, we’re concerned that someone may be after your life.”
“You think?” I responded wryly.
Grace nodded, seemingly oblivious to my sarcasm, and then leaned forward. “Some people think it might be followers of WRA.”
There was a sudden thud from the kitchen as Cornelia dropped the sugar container. “Ah… sorry… what do you mean a follower of WRA? They were disbanded as a hate group following the day of WRA.”
WRA was an acronym for a women’s rights association They were made up most of Lilith supporters and lipstick lesbians. Lipstick Lesbians was a term for women who had sworn off men, although recently this term also meant a pathological hatred for men and everything they represent. Lilith supporters were demon worshippers, who followed the teachings of the demon queen Lilith. This was especially silly because the real Lilith was anti-demon. It wasn’t the first time society used a historical figure to represent the opposite of their beliefs.
What made it even sillier was that the same women who hated men supported demons, who happened to only be able to manifest through men. Perhaps, had this not been the case, demons would have had a resurgence already.
Then, there was the day of wrath when members finally surged up and created mass slaughter, intending to punish and remove men, although hurting just as many women in the process. Of course, their group wouldn’t be allowed to continue to exist after such a show, and the leaders were arrested while the organization was labeled a hate group. With the passing of the extended MPA, they were considered a threat to all of humanity, and all remaining factions were dispersed.
Grace shrugged, taking the tea that Cornelia had offered her. “Just because they were disbanded doesn’t mean they don’t still exist. There are plenty of angry women who still want to push for those kinds of beliefs. One of them is just willing to go too far.”
Cornelia sat down across from her. I noticed that Cornelia still hadn’t made me any tea. With a sigh, I stood up and poured what was left of the hot water and then found the tea bags before sitting down again.
Cornelia had her head down as Grace spoke, a serious expression on her face. “Clyburn will be safe. I’ll make sure of it.”
There was just a hint of emotion buried deep within that voice. It caught me by surprise that she seemed to care all that much. I thought I was just a charge to her. She noticed my look of surprise and glanced at me.
“I just didn’t expect you to have such strong feelings about my safety,” I responded wryly.
“What? Believe it or not, I do care about your safety, Clyburn. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be doing this job.” It would have been more believable if she had not spoken those words without any real feeling.
“Clyburn has already been at two crime scenes. We have to make sure that all of his safety needs are being taken care of.” Grace responded hesitantly, looking a bit helpless. “When you take him out…”
“I have set it up so that he won’t be leaving for a while. His trainers will all be meeting him within the complex. This is the safest apartment complex in the city.”
“Even so, I’m sorry, but I have to check everything to make sure that Clyburn remains safe.”
“Do what you must.” Cornelia didn’t sound pleased, but she did give permission.
Grace nodded and after drinking the tea Cornelia put in front of her, she stood up and began to look around the apartment. She checked each of the windows and the doors.
“You should consider getting cameras in Clyburn’s room.”
Just as I was about to protest, Cornelia spoke first. “Extended MPA act, section 15, right to privacy. That would be illegal without Clyburn’s expressed permission. You don’t give permission, correct?”
Cornelia spoke like she wanted me to say no.
“Ah… no…” I spoke the genuine truth.
“That’s right…” Grace snapped her finger, “Forgot about that one.”
“The MPA does look for male best interests.” Cornelia shot me a glance.
“Mm…hmm… Do I need to be here while you look around?” I shot Grace a look.
“Hmm? No, I suppose not. I’ll just be reviewing the locks, talking to the bodyguards, and coming up with a list of suggestions.”
“Your trainer will be coming in an hour for your physical fitness regime,” Cornelia said with a frown.
“Then, that gives me one hour to do what I want.” I snorted. “I’m going to the pool.”
She relaxed when she heard I wasn’t leaving the apartment complex. I supposed that this place was safe. Most of the people here had their security, and you couldn’t get in or out without going through several security checkpoints. There were also cameras everywhere.
I had grabbed a towel and swimming trunks and left Cornelia to continually shoot glares and unhappy looks at Grace while she asked about various security aspects in the building. When I exited the room, I told the bodyguards where I was going. To my annoyance, they still wouldn’t go until they got Cornelia’s permission. In the end, it was Brianna and one of the experienced women who followed me down. It looked like the pair were still being kept apart for their retraining after failing to keep up with me.
I wasn’t really happy about this. It wasn’t like the two older women had done any better. They hadn’t chased after me at all, and instead just stayed in their car and waited for Cornelia’s next order. I would have gotten involved, but Brianna had given me a look that said I shouldn’t butt in, so I decided to leave it to the two young women to deal with themselves.
I let them lead the way as I followed them down the elevator and out to the courtyard with the pool. I hadn’t taken a dip in a pool in a very long time. The Bonholdt estate didn’t have anything like this, and just going to the public pool was difficult for a man like me. As soon as I walked out into the area and got a good look at the pool, I felt like I had been missing out.
The pool was a somewhat standard pool, except that it had several other additions. Since magic could power things beyond my imagination, the pool had a few features I never could have imagined. In the center was a massive pillar of water that came out and formed a dome falling back down. Except, where a normal pool had a tower in the center, this one was freeform. A man was floating on the top of the dome, being pushed up by the water underneath.
There was also a water tube where the water broke the laws of physics and came out of the pool in a long tube which then dipped back into the water somewhere else. Someone could swim up into it, and then float over the pool. This had to be technology similar to how they made islands fly.
“Ah… it’s been such a long time since I got to dip in the pool.” Brianna sighed as we walked out into the courtyard, the hot sun beating down on us.
“Your job is to watch him, not play.” The other woman responded sternly.
“What if I’m drowning?” I asked. “Are you just going to jump in fully clothed?”
“Yes.” The woman answered without hesitation.
“What if there is an assassin in the water, wouldn’t being closer to me, like in the water, make it quicker to get to him?”
The woman’s expression flickered for a second. “I suppose… in that case, it might be best if one of us was in the water.”
“Alright!” Without hesitation, Brianna ripped off her shirt excitedly.
I looked away briefly until I realized she was wearing a swimsuit. As she pulled her pants down, revealing a full two-piece under her suit, the bodyguard could only look helplessly while I raised an eyebrow.
“You just happened to have one of those on you, did you?“ I asked.
“Accident! A complete accident!” She laughed it off before blushing. “It’s laundry day. I couldn’t find any underwear this morning.”
“So?” I looked to the elder bodyguard.
She sighed and nodded. “Very well, but stay vigilant!”
“Yeeees,” Brianna said, but was already jumping into the pool without me.
I let out an awkward laugh as she shot me a look and then followed after Brianna. I had underestimated her exuberance upon jumping into the water.
“Little did you know, I was part of the swim team at the academy!” Brianna announced while flexing her arms. “I placed silver in the 100M breaststroke.”
“Ah… impressive.” I clapped as she eagerly tried to show me her moves.
“Ah! That.” She came out of the water with her hand over one eye. “My eye patch came off.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t wear it in the pool,” I said.
“That’s impossible! It looks really bad!” I swam up to her and grabbed her wrist that she was using to cover her eyes.
“Ah… Master, please.” She blushed as I touched her.
I slowly pulled her wrist away from her eyes, revealing the gash. She still had the eyeball, but the pupil was greyed out, and there was damaged skin around the eye that resembled burns.
“This was my fault.” I saw, my voice shaking slightly.
“I-it wasn’t. It was those damn WRA. They didn’t just target men that day.”
“I know…” I sighed. “You’re beautiful either way.”
She blushed. “You shouldn’t tease me like that. I’ve already been denied from the catalog. They say no man would want to have a one-eyed woman. If I ever want to become a citizen, it’s the sperm bank.”
“I wish I could help.”
“You are helping!” She protested. “If I do this job for ten years, a chance at the sperm bank is one of the awards.”
“I see…” That didn’t make me feel better about it at all. “The spellmen really couldn’t fix it?”
“No, apparently not, I guess there is some kind of shrapnel stuck in there. If they tried to cut it out, the eye would be lost in the attempt.”
“… I might know someone who could fix it.” I said stubbornly.
Lilith could do all kinds of things. She had even managed to fix my body that had been turned into a shish kabob, although it required removing my soul from the body for a while. I did need to get in contact with her again.
My hand had loosened on her wrist, and Brianna covered her eye again, still not comfortable with anyone seeing it.
“We still need to find my eyepatch either way!” She sniffed, looking around. “Ah, I think it’s there.”
She dived underwater, and I was just about to join her, but I suddenly heard a sound I didn’t expect to hear. It was the sound of a baby crying. Frowning, I began to swim to the pool edge. The sound appeared to be coming from the pool shed. Looking around, I noticed a pair of bodyguards who seemed to be talking to mine frantically. Brianna was still underwater looking for her eyepatch. No one else was in the pool. The guy who had been playing on the dome was no longer there.
I pulled myself out of the water and began walking over to the door. The crying was getting louder. Did someone leave a baby in the pool shed? The door was opened just a crack, and I put my head up to it. The crying was clear, but I could hear nothing else in the dark. Looking back one more time, the three bodyguards were looking around. Brianna burst from the water with her eyepatch in her hand. When she noticed me, she cried out.
I opened the door into the pool room. I could hear some kind of machine running, but the baby crying stopped as abruptly as it started. That’s when I noticed that despite the courtyard being bright, the pool shed was still completely dark. I couldn’t see a single thing inside. Frowning, I turned away from the door. I was weirded out.
“Hey, get over he-“
I suddenly felt my body grabbed and pulled back. I couldn’t even let out a scream as the door slammed shut. I was plunged into darkness, but I could feel two hands grabbing my arms. There was also a thick smell of iron, and it was extremely humid.
“Hello, Clyburn. I’m glad we could finally be together again?” A voice whispered in my ear.
A feeling shot up and down my spine. I recognized that voice.
I didn’t hear a response though. Instead, I felt dizzy, and as I heard banging on the door, I collapsed to the wet floor.
I had to have passed out for only a moment because when my eyes snapped open again, I could hear the door cracking open as people kicked it. I stood back up, trying to brush off the dirt. Instead, I felt a thick wetness spread over my body. I also realized that I was holding onto something sharp. Meanwhile, the cracks were becoming sharper and more distinct. Finally, the door burst inward and a group of people appeared.
As the light of the courtyard broke into the small pool room, I squinted at the silhouettes. I could tell that it was made up of the four bodyguards, although they had all stopped short at the door. I heard a gasp, and then a scream. It was only then that I looked down at the floor. It was covered in blood, and I was standing in the middle of it. I slowly turned around to see the body of a man. It was the guy who called himself Charlie. He was dead, with numerous stab wounds all over his body.
As the uneasy feelings shot through me, my eyes finally fell to the object in my hand. It was a bloody knife.