Knowing Good And Evil

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The four Aristocrats of the House of Hapsburg crouched in the dark. They were cold, hungry and afraid, not that any of them would admit it. The barn they were currently staying in was hardly fit for the descendants of Emperors. But at least they were alive.

It had been a close call. Peasants had invaded their private underground chambers, armed with loud weapons and armored like knights. The nobles had fought valiantly, throwing themselves at the invaders with blades and fists and teeth. But one by one, they had died, from the youngest infant to the Prince himself, noble blood pooling on cold stone.

The most important thing was the continuation of the bloodline. The four of them had realised that quickly, and had slipped out of a tunnel that had been overlooked by the peasantry. It had been a close call. There had been seven when they started, but three had been felled by bullets. Only four of them had gotten away, moving by night along roads and through rivers to ensure their tracks were not followed.

It was now too close to dawn to search for somewhere else to stay, and they could hear what sounded like a dog outside, sniffing them out. Although they could hear heavy footsteps, it didn't sound like more than one person. Their spirits were lifted by the prospect of a good meal.

The door of the barn was pushed open, and a tall figure walked in, shining a bright torch at them, the light glinting off their reflective eyes. They leapt forward, but hesitated when they saw her the size.

"Stop!" she ordered in French, and they stopped.

They could tell she was not one of them. But the pistol pointed at their leader was very persuasive.

She lowered it slightly. "I want to talk," she said in French. She stood more than two metres tall, and the spotted hyena that followed at her heels seemed small beside her bulk. She was old, with grey hair and and a tanned face scarred by violence.

The Aristocrats were smaller, but if she had been alone, they might have relied on their superior numbers. However, behind the giantess stood a young woman with leopard ears on her head, pointing an assault rifle at them. The Aristocrats knew from painful experience that they ignored that at their peril.

The smallest of them, a hunchback with a bullet hole in his left arm, bowed low and gestured at the one the giantess had been aiming at. In French, he said, "This is the Margrave Leopold, of the House of Hapsburg." The Margrave was tall, hairless, and had a particularly large head. He smiled at Rahab, exposing multiple rows of teeth.

Next were "His sister and consort, the Countess Eliza," and "Our aunt, the Baroness Marie". Both women were thin, pale, and hungry looking. The younger one stood out because she had a full head of dark hair, while the older one was bald and had a particularly long nose. Finally, the announcer muttered that he was "Rudolf", seeming eager to be forgotten.

Once they were finished, the giantess responded with "Rahab the Amalekite, Last of the Nephilim." She was relieved that they all seemed to speak French.

"We have not heard of that house," replied the Countess Eliza, who had made genealogy a hobby.

"It is the oldest." Rahab's tone invited no arguement. The hyena laughed briefly.

"Very well," said the Margrave apologetically. "Lady Rahab, we apologise for being unable to offer proper hospitality."

Rudolf added, "We only recently arrived here."

"You ran," said Rahab. "Everyone else died, and you're what's left. This was the first place you found to lie low."

The Baroness Marie cackled. "I like this one. She tells it as it is."

The Margrave glared at her, wordlessly threatening violence. She went silent.

"This is a temporary setback." He sounded like he was trying to convince himself. "We shall soon -"

Rahab interrupted. "You'll be hunted." Her words brought back memories of peasants with guns, approaching from all directions. She was right, and they knew it.

The Margrave insisted, somewhat weakly, "Next time, we shall be the ones hunting -"

"Shut up." Rahab silenced him, the pistol in her hand giving the words extra emphasis. She turned to the hyena. "Any advice?"

It snarled back at her, making noises no animal should be capable of. She nodded.

"Kabili says I should just give you the offer. Safe passage, with conditions. If you don't accept it, we'll just leave." She lowered her pistol again.

The Aristocrats decided it was worth hearing her out, despite her disrespect. If she'd found them, others would soon.

"It's simple, " said Rahab. "Strength is in numbers. If there are enough of them, they'll win. You know that. So join with us."

The Margrave smiled. "Ah, you wish for my leadership?"

"No." He stopped smiling. "You follow me."

"And what gives you the right to -"

"Shut. Up." Again, the large pistol, pointed directly at him. "I wasn't finished. I can take you to a place where they will not find you. But it depends on whether you can be useful to me. If you come with me, you hunt only with my permission."

"We are nobility!" replied the outraged Margrave. "Those terms are beneath our dignity!"

"Are they?" She looked past him, at the three others. "I leave that decision to you."

The Margrave turned to address them. "She is not one of us. She has not proved herself. She comes with false promises and empty threats -"

"Empty threats?" Rahab looked down at the Margrave. "Do you doubt me?"

It was clear to the Margrave that this would not be a fight he could win. Even without the pistol, she looked strong enough to tear him apart with her bare hands.

Rahab shrugged. "But if you come with me, you come because we have something to offer each other. No other reason."

"We do not barter like merchants!" insisted the Margrave.

Rahab turned to leave. "Agreed. I'm leaving. Follow if you choose. But if he tries to stop you, I will break his teeth."

After some hesitation and whispered discussion in an archaic dialect of German, the three lesser nobles followed her out into the pre-dawn twilight, hoping it would not be far. Loudly protesting, the Margrave watched them go, then ran to catch up, glaring at Rahab the entire time.

Rahab began leading them across a recently ploughed field towards a road. Her heavy boots sank into the soft earth.

Kabili the hyena looked up at her, and said in Swahili, "Like old times."

Rahab looked back over her shoulder, and replied, "You weren't even there."

Kabilli proudly said, "Grandmother told me."

Lea, the cyborg catgirl, asked in the same language, "I assume you're talking about Leopard Commando?" While Rahab was never talkative, Kabilli loved to pass on old war stories he'd heard from his grandmother. Most of them strained credibility, but it was clear she'd worked with Rahab at some point, and killed a lot of people.

Rahab glanced at her. Lea's sudden fluency in Swahili still unsettled her. Rahab thought of languages as something that took years to learn, not as something to just download into a brain implant. "This is very different."

Kabilli, glanced back at the Aristocrats, who were watching their conversation with curiosity. "New monsters." He looked up at Rahab again. "Same leader."

"Different goals." Rahab looked at the road ahead, and spoke in French, so that her new allies could understand her. "We no longer sell ourselves to humans. There's no future in that. We fight for our own side now."

Lea looked at Rahab skeptically, her leopard ears twisted back nervously. She asked quietly, "Do you really believe that?"

Rahab looked back at her, and smiled. "I've always fought for my own side."

A white van pulled up on the road. The driver, a pale man dressed in black, wound down the window. The four aristocrats began salivating.

Rahab sternly turned to face them. "No. He's with me. He's useful." They looked disappointed, but backed away.

White Crow called out in English to Rahab. "Can we use them?"

Rahab glanced back at them. Three were followers, but the Margrave glared back at her with bitter hatred. He'd be trouble.

"With training, perfect for night ops. They'll terrify the enemy."

Rahab directed the Aristocrats to get into the back of the van. The four of them reluctantly obliged when she told them there was raw meat in a cooler. Kabilli leapt in after them, as Lea climbed into the passenger seat next to White Crow. Rahab remained standing outside, and leaned closer to him.

"I don't trust one of them. Only a matter of time before I kill him or he kills me."

White Crow looked thoughtful. "Three would be enough. Wait until we're in the Library. Then provoke him."

Rahab paused. "Is that allowed?"

"You can say anything. Just don't retaliate, let the Librarians handle it. Show the rest of them why even you follow the rules there."

Rahab was already thinking of ways to undermine the Margrave's authority as she walked over to the back of the van, and took some pleasure in the thought of antagonising him until he snapped. She looked back over her shoulder, and said with admiration, "You're a cruel man."

White Crow grinned back at her. "And you're a useful monster."

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