Archibald slowly opened his eyes to the familiar sight of his bedroom ceiling. He spent a minute or two of letting his gaze wander along the wooden beams, following the various patterns and minute cracks in the wood.
He sighed quietly as he found himself wondering if he would miss this sight when he was gone. Being close to death’s door sure made the mind wander in strange directions.
He slowly turned his head towards his left, quickly forgetting about the ceiling as his wife’s face came into view.
She looked so peaceful where she was snoozing away, her face inches from his own. He decided to just lay there and watch her for a litte bit.
Her cute button nose moved ever so slightly with every slow breath she took. The faint sound of flowing air was as soothing as an ocean breeze on a summer day. Archibald could not help himself and slowly moved his hand towards her face, gently caressing her cheek with his fingertips.
A faint smile soon manifested itself on her lips and she seemingly instinctively reached out with her hands, grabbing and gently pulling his hand towards her until his whole palm cupped her cheek (which was by now tinted by a faint shade of pink).
Archibald could not help but smile to himself. Helen always did enjoy cuddling, even in her sleep.
His gaze wandered across her face, past her floppy ears that she so enjoyed being tickled, and stopped when it fell on one of her horns.
As had so often been the case lately, a pang of guilt hit him as soon as he looked at it.
It was only a couple of inches long, same as her other horn and, even though he currently could not see it, her tail as well. It had been like that ever since that incident years ago.
The guilt that bubbled in his gut whenever he looked at her horns lately was not due to any self-blame for letting it happen, however. He had chastised himself for a while after it did, but Helen and the counselor they went to had convinced him that it wasn’t his fault and he had eventually accepted it.
No, the guilt he now felt was brought on by an entierly different event. Something he had never told Helen about.
Archibald rolled onto his back and staired up at the ceiling again. He felt like a coward. He had kept quiet all these years by telling himself that he was sparing Helen by not telling her the truth, but now he felt like it was more for the sake of sparing himself rather then anyone else.
Along with that feeling, another one had manifested in the last few days. The feeling of not wanting to leave important things unsaid before his time was up.
He rolled his head back to look at his lovely wife’s face again, trying desperately to work up the curage to tell her the truth.
“She deserves to know, and I deserve whatever she says to me as a result“, he kept telling himself over and over while waiting for her slumber to end.
Archibald’s train of thought was eventually interrupted when he noticed that his wife had opened her eyes and was looking at him. He greeted her with a faint smile. “Good morning honey, did you sleep well?”
He was greeted with a smile in return. “I always sleep well when I’m next to you Archie.”
Archibald felt his courage waver for a bit, but he steeled his resolve and reached out, cupping one of her hands with both his own. “Listen, there is something important I need to tell you. It’s not going to be easy to hear, but you need to hear it.”
He paused for a second when he saw a look of concern manifest on Helen’s face. He felt himself hesitate yet again and it made him angry at himself. “Come on you big coward, own up to it already!“
His moody thoughts were quickly disrupted however, when he felt Helen’s other hand touch his face. He turned his gaze back towards her eyes and was met with a look that was serious, but warm at the same time.
“Whatever it is, my love, I will listen until you have said everything you need to say”.
Feeling the corners of his eyes burning slightly, Archibald put his hand on top of hers.
Once he had calmed down a bit, he took a deep breath and slowly started talking.
“You know the guy who did… that.. to you. I said the last time I saw him was at the trial where he got his sentence.”
He paused for a moment, but when Helen didn’t show any signs of wanting to end the conversation, he continued.
“Actually, that’s not true. I did see him one more time after that…”
40 years ago
Jakob awoke to the sharp, ringing tone of the morning call bell. It was shortly followed by the familiar voice of Mike, booming though the PA system.
“Rise and shine you bastards, time for another exciting day.”
The voice was heavy with it’s usual and obvious sarcasm. The only time anything got exciting in a high security prison was when something you did not want to be a part of was happening. A fact Jakob had become all to familiar with.
As he got out of bed and stood in front of the barred door to his cell, waiting for the guard to do the headcount round, his thoughts drifted to the events that had lead to his current situation.
A few years ago he had thought of himself as some sort of grand champion of the human race, boldly daring to oppose the incursion of the alien monsters that had suddenly appeared through portals in several different countries and somehow managed to negotiate a “cultural sharing program” with the humans.
Jakob and his “brothers” had been the bold resistance, those who dared to fight back. Thinking about it now almost made him cry in resentment at his own stupidity.
They had all truly been the very definition of ‘young and dumb’, and had fallen for the honeyed words of the man who recruited them, words that condemned the monsters as demons from hell that needed to be opposed by warriors loyal to god.
Jakob, who had struggled with his faith at the time, had found a sense of purpose in those words and happily fallen in line.
It had even been fun for a while, harassing monsters and the humans who where in relationships with them, organising raids on public cultural exchange events etc.
The gradual progression towards more violent methods had been a slow burn, too slow for any of them to realize what they were turning into.
Things really reached the point of no return when they abducted a monster, more specifically a holstaur, to “make an example out of”, as their leader called it.
Jakob had been given the task of sawing her horns of and severing her tail, and he had done it while his brothers filmed the whole thing. The holstaur’s screems as he put the electric saw to her horns still tormented him in his nightmares.
The plan had been to upload the video online along with a manifesto, but before they had time to get that far, they were raided and arrested by a special unit consisting of humans and mamano that had been put together to deal with people like them. Apparently they had tracked the kidnapped holstaur via a ritual conducted by a high level witch and the holstaur’s husband.
Said husband had been at the scene at the time of the raid, and Jakob could still remember it like it was yesterday. How he had been cuffed by a salamander and led towards a prison truck, how they had walked past the ambulance at the scene, and how the man who was holding his crying holstaur wife in his arms looked at him when they passed by.
Those eyes had burned with a silent, furious hatred the likes of which Jakob had never seen before, and he had been taken aback by the sheer intensity of it.
That look he had recieved back then was the main reason his mind kept returning to those past events whenever it had an idle moment, which it had a lot of in here.
It felt almost like the man was reaching out to Jakob from beyond the prison walls, not allowing him to forget the weight of his sins.
Jakob was brought back to the present by another sharp ringing tone, followed by all the cell doors sliding open with their characteristic metallic grinding noise. He left his cell and got in line with the other inmates, moving towards the mess hall to start of a new long, tedious day (if he was lucky).
Jakob had quickly learned that there were no such thing as a secret that could be kept in this place. Pretty much everyone knew exactly what crime everyone else was in here for, and he had come to understand that his particular crime wasn’t exactly benficial to his social standing.
In the eyes of his fellow inmates, he was somewhere between a rapist and a pedofile. In other words, he was pretty much at the bottom of the pecking order.
This was a prison for humans, but there were some mamano amongst the guards. One of them, a large minotaur named Enya, seemed to really have it in for him in particular.
She didn’t use any direct profanity when speaking to him, but it was easy to tell that her words were heavy with contempt. She regularly assigned jobs to him that were of a difficult nature, such as cleaning the entire shower room by himself, sweeping all the sand that got stuck in every nook and cranny in the outdoors gym area or even just moving heavy rocks from one place to another to ‘redecorate’.
She also seemed very enthusiastic about throwing him in into an isolation cell (‘the hole’ as it was affectionately known) as soon as he got into a fight, no matter if he had started it or not.
It was not overly difficult to figure out why she held him in such contempt. She was basically almost the same race as his victim after all.
There was one good thing about her harassment though, it provided a good distraction to keep his mind from wandering.
On this particular day, he could see her in a corner of the mess hall as he was having his breakfast.
As he glanced in her direction, his gaze briefly met hers. She gave him a thin smirk, typically a bad sign.
Jakob tried to ignore her and finish his meal, but there was an eerie quality to her telltale smirk today that made him get a really foreboding feeling.
Now starting to dread what she might have planned for him, he stood up from the table and tried to quickly make his way to the counter to return his tray so he could leave the mess hall.
In his haste, he failed to notice the leg that suddenly extended itself in front of his foot, curtesy of one of his fellow inmates, and fell straight forward as he tripped over it.
He landed face-first on a nearby table, his tray clattering loudly as he dropped it. Raising his head, he was met with a wide grin with a missing front tooth.
“Oi, what the hell do ya think ya’r doin’ boy?”
Jakob swallowed involontarily. The owner of that particular grin and voice was none other than Manfred ‘Marble Statue’ Grant, the man who held the current bench press record among the inmates.
He was more then 2 meters tall and basically solid muscle, and had the dubious honor of being a resident of the prison because he had beaten two men half to death (leaving them with permanent disabilities in the form of broken spines) with his bare hands.
The two men in question had attempted to sexually assault Manfred’s niece at a party, she had gotten away and called him to come pick her up, he had done so and then ‘payed a visit’ to the perpetrators. According to the rumors, eyewitness accounts from the people at the party claimed that he had busted the door of it’s hinges when he entered the house.
Manfred had also made it overwhelmingly obvious to Jakob that he utterly despised him.
“Guard, this lille piece o’ shit here just ruined ma breakfast. I do believf’ some dicipline ish in order.”
The grin on his face grew wider still as he saw Jakob’s reaction. The guard that approached the table was, of course, Enya.
“Hmm, I think you are right on the money with that remark, inmate Grant.”
“Innit right? Me thinks’ he’s ernd imself some nice quiet time.”
Enya smirked and extended her massive hand, sealing his arm in an iron grip.
“Come along now, you wouldn’t want to cause any more of a scene, would you?”
Jakob had no room to protest as he struggled to not get pulled off his feet while she dragged him away, Manfred waving at him as she did.
“Say ‘ello to them rats for me boy.”
Enya’s grip did not relent for even a second as she dragged Jakob towards the solitary wing of the prison. He knew that it was pointless to resist, and yet something in the back of his mind urged him to do so anyway. Something about that glint in her eyes scared him far more then the thought of spending a day in the solid darkness that was the hole.
His fears were confirmed when they reached the entrance area to the solitary wing, but didn’t go in. Instead, she moved right past it and entered a nearby room that seemed to be some sort of storage space.
There were a lot of shelves with boxes stashed on them, but they had been moved slightly to create a more open space in the middle of the room. Enya smirked as she dragged him into the room, closed the door and grabbed a folded chair that was leaning against the wall.
She set the chair up in the open area, pulled him down onto it, then cuffed his hands behind the chair’s back and tied his feet to the chair’s legs with plastic straps.
As he felt her powerful hands work on his restraints, Jakob could only shiver in dread at all the things he imagined would happen next.
To his surprise however, Enya stood up and left him alone as soon as she was done. She went straight to to the door and opened it, making her exit. Jakob stared at her as she left, but just before the door closed behind her, she turned around to face him.
“Be back in a little while, gotta grab my coffee from the staff room while it’s still hot.”
The obviousness of the lie made it very clear that whatever happened next would not be very enjoyable for him.
After waiting in a state of high-strung anticipation for what felt like an eternity, but was probably no more then ten minutes or so, the door slowly creaked open again.
However, the face that greeted Jakob when it did was not that of Enya, or any other guard for that matter.
It was a face he knew very well, the face that haunted his thoughts in every idle moment. The face of the man whose wife had been mutilated by Jakob’s hand.
Every hair on his body felt like it stood up and a chill ran through him. The man’s gaze radiated every bit as much cold hatred as it had done the last time he saw it.
Now fully realizing his situation, it was all Jakob could do to not scream out loud.
He could only sit there, not moving a muscle, as the man slowly closed the door and approached him, never once taking his eyes of him.
Eventually, he broke the heavy silence. “Judging from that look on your face, you remember who I am.”
He leaned forward, bringing his face right in front of Jakob’s. “And I most certainly remember you.”
The words were icy and hostile, so much so that they almost felt like needle pricks.
The man withdrew himself a short distance away from Jakob, then suddenly said a name. “Helen.”
Blinking in slight surprise, Jakob didn’t respond. The man continued. “That is the name of the woman whom I love more than anything. The woman who saved me from my depression and solitude, the kindest person I have ever met.”
His words had been rather neutral as he spoke, but they turned icy once more as he continued. “She is also the woman you saw fit to hurt for the sake of your bullshit agenda.”
Jakob knew that apologies were going to be useless. What he had done was inexcusable and they both knew it. The only thing he could do was to wait for the man to continue.
“Do you know what the worst part was?”
Jakob blinked as he looked up at the sudden question. He reflexively opened his mouth to respond, but thought better of it and simply shook his head.
The man sighed. “I didn’t think so. How could you possibly know such a thing.”
He moved closer again. “Helen was really proud of her horns. They were a part of her identity and she took good care of them. They were also the first part of her body that I complemented her on when we first met.”
He paused, looking of to the side for the first time since he had entered the room.
“Do you know what she said to me after she was rescued?”
As his face turned back towards Jakob, there were obvious tears in his eyes.
“She apologised to me for not having her horns anymore!!”
The sheer force with which he had roared those words was startling. The shock of it made Jakob forget to breath for a moment.
The man’s voice was heavy with resentment as he continued. “Can you even imagine how that felt?! I love her just as much no matter how she looks, but I couldn’t say that it didn’t matter if her horns were gone, because it mattered to her! They were important to her!!”
His breathing got heavier as he laid his anger bare. “She wants to be the best she can possibly be for my sake, and you stole something from her that she can never get back! You and your shitty friends who don’t give a fuck what your actions mean to other people!”
More angry words and profanity flowed freely from the man’s mouth for several minutes as he fully opened the floodgates and unleashed his fury. Listening to it all forced Jakob to fully realize the truth of not just his crime against this man and his wife, but all the other crimes he had comitted before then as well.
He had of course known it from a logical standpoint for a while now, but this was the first time he fully understood the emotional and mental effect his actions had on his victims.
When the torrent of anger finally subsided, the man took a minute of heavy breathing to calm himself down.
When he spoke again, his tone was different from before. “My mother used to say that my old man wasn’t the most refined individual you ever met, but if it was one thing he always got right it was how to treat a lady.”
He slipped his hand into his pocket. “Do you know what he always told me? He said ‘Son, a real man does not seek payback for every little slight against him, imagined or otherwhise, and only resorts to his fists as a last option for solving a conflict’.”
He pulled his hand from his pocket, revealing the small pruning shears he was now holding. “He also said this: ‘However, if someone does something to hurt your woman, then you respond in kind without mercy’.”
He slowly losened and tightened his grip on the handle of the shears, cutting the air with them. “You understand what I mean, don’t you?”
He moved behind the chair that Jakob was tied to, grabbed the index finger on his right hand and placed the blades of the shears around the joint closest to the knuckles.
Jakob was shivering uncontrollably by this point, yet he knew he was powerless to stop what was going to happen. He wondered if this was how Helen had felt back then when he stood over her with the saw in his hands.
The man behind him leaned forward until his mouth was right next to his ear. “I haven’t told you my name yet, have I? It’s Archibald.”
Jakob awoke to the sound of a door in the distance creaking open. He didn’t bother opening his eyes, there was no light in the isolation cells anyway. After severing the fingers on his right hand, the man named Archibald had left the room and swiftly been replaced by Enya, who had dragged him into this cell after wrapping his hand tightly in bandages.
There had been no kindness in that gesture though, she simply explained that she didn’t want him bleeding all over the place.
Jakob had only been in the hole for about 24 hours but it felt longer. His hand was painful, sure, but it was nothing compared to thinking about Archibald’s words and the look in his eyes.
He had thought a lot about Helen as well. In his rant, Archibald had mentioned a few more details about her.
He had met her late in life, when he had pretty much given up on love and on ever having children. He had turned to drinking, and his mind had been in a very dark place.
Meeting Helen had completely turned his life around. He had quit drinking, started doing many things he had never tried before and even opened up an art gallery. It was no exaggeration to say that she had become the sun in his life.
She was also the last person to ever deserve having something so cruel done to her.
Suddenly, the door to his cell opened. Jakob instinctively pressed his eyelids tighter together as she sharp, piercing white electric light flooded the small room. He heard the familiar voice before he could see it’s owner. “Y’ello boy, ‘ad a gud night’s rest?”
As his vision slowly came into focus, he noticed Enya standing behind Manfred outside the door.
“Wonderin’ why ma beautiful self is ‘ere? Well don’ you worry boy, I’ll tell ya’.”
Manfred gave him his trademark grin that showed of the gap between his teeth.
“As miss guard ‘ere were letting yer sorry arse out of yer cell, and movn’ ye back to gen pop, I suddenly jumped ya and bit yer fingers of. Miss guard will naw throw my arse in the hole while ye get to go visit the doc to get yer hand patch’d up.”
His grin widened even more. “Isn’t that hella nice of meh? No need fer thanks, it’s on da house.”
Jakob understood perfectly well how everything had transpired now. The two people in here who loathed him the most had cooperated to enable him and Archibald to have a ‘meeting’ off the books.
Bizarrely, it almost made him laugh when he though about just how much Manfred despised him to willingly take a vacation in the hole just to screw him over.
On top of that, Enya showed no sympathy whatsoever for him as she dragged him to the doctor’s office.
“Talk about a sobering realization”, he thought to himself.
20 years ago
Jakob awoke to the sharp, ringing tone of the morning call bell. It was shortly followed by the familiar voice of Mike, booming though the PA system.
“Rise and shine you bastards, time for another exciting day.”
This had been his daily routine for years now, and he had long since stopped worrying about the sarcasm in Mike’s voice.
Standing in front of his cell door, he took his usual morning time-out, while waiting for the headcount to be completed, to reflect on some thoughts.
He idly scratched one of his stumped fingers, the source of the nickname he went by in here now.
It was kind of a cruel joke, as someone had figured out that with fingers that short, you could not play scissors in a game of rock paper scissors.
And so, whenever people challenged him to that particular game, they kept playing only paper against him (since any attempt of playing scissors was deemed ‘illegal’ for him) until he eventually gave up and played rock to lose and end it.
Because of this, he was now known as ‘Rocky’.
The other half of the joke was all the comments about ‘hitting rock bottom’ whenever he played rock to lose.
It had bothered him in the beginning, but he had learned to live with it. In fact, he even found an unexpected use for his mutilated hand.
After about 15 years in here, he had suddenly been called into the warden’s office. There, he had been informed of a rather unexpected opportunity.
The warden had told him that the prison was starting a new program. One where select inmates would be allowed to go outside the prison (escorted by a guard of course) to visit schools and talk about what lead to them becoming criminals.
The idea was that the children could learn from their mistakes and hopefully use that knowledge to avoid ending up in such a life themselves.
When Jakob had asked why he specifically had been selected, the warden had answered him by saying ‘When one of my best guards recommends that I give the inmate she used to hate the most a second chance, I am inclined to listen’.
As it turned out, Enya herself had suggested him to be selected for the program. On the condition that she was to be the one to escort him whenever he left the prison.
Jakob had accepted the deal.
Since then, he had visited several schools and told the assembled children his life story. He told them all the traps he fell into when he was recruited, about the self delusions he lived by as a ‘soldier of god’, and about the effects his actions had on his victims.
He always made it a point to show them his stumped fingers while talking about this, an ever present symbol of the kind of feelings his actions had evoked.
He did not, however, mention that it was Archibald who had severed them, instead sticking to the story Manfred had spun all those years ago.
He would sooner lose all his remaining fingers then cause more grief for those two.
Today was another ‘field trip day’, and so he had been reciting his speech yesterday to get ready.
He had come to really look forward to these trips. Partly because he finally felt like he was doing something to make up for his crimes, and partly because he had discovered Enya to actually be a good conversation partner on the drive to the schools and back.
She no longer treated him badly, she had gradually toned it down ever since a couple of years after Archibald’s visit to the prison. The two of them were now on fairly decent speaking terms.
He was pulled back to the present as another loud buzz rang out and the cell doors slid open. He stepped out of his cell and got in line, heading for the mess hall.
Jakob sat in the passenger seat of the car, idly watching the landscape flow by as the car moved. Enya, who was driving, was going over their schedule for the day.
“We will be arriving shortly after the first bell has been rung, so all the kids should be in their classrooms. I’ll go and meet the headmaster and then I’ll come and get you. I’ll set your ankle bracelet to the car’s proximity until I get back. Sound good?”
Jakob turned his head to face her. “Yep, no complaints here.”
He recieved a nod in return. “Good. You are scheduled to appear on stage in the auditorium after lunch, so you will have more than enough time to get everything in order.”
Jakob nodded back. This was the typical routine these trips followed, but it felt nice for some reason to talk about it all the same.
On a whim, he asked her a somewhat overdue question. “Why did you recommend me for this program? It was pretty much the last thing I expected you to do.”
Enya took a moment to answer. “Because despite how much I hated you, I could still see how deeply you came to regret your actions, and how hard you struggled to change yourself once you did. I thought you deserved a second chance.”
The way in which she said it surprised Jakob. Not just her words, but the tone of her voice was decisively different then her usual deep and gruff one.
“I, well eh, thanks.” The words came out awkwardly, but Enya didn’t seem to mind.
“That, and I truly do believe this program can make a positive difference for a lot of young people. So make sure to keep doing your best.”
Jakob could only nod in response. Her words continued to linger in his mind long after they stopped talking.
Enya parked the car near the school gates and started typing on her wrist band’s small keyboard. It was linked to Jakob’s electronic ankle bracelet and showed her his exact position at all times. She was currently setting the alarm to go of if he moved from the car.
This was actually her way of doing him a small favor, as staying in the car while she went to greet the headmaster was a rare chance for him to be alone and unwatched outside the prison enviroment. He was actually very grateful to her for these little moments.
Her wristband beeped, signaling that it had recieved and implemented it’s instructions. Enya opened her door and stepped out of the car.
She turned to look at him before closing it. “See you soon.”
He nodded back, then watched her close the door and head over towards the school entrance.
As soon as he was alone, Jakob lowered the window a tiny bit and took several deep, slow breaths. It was spring now, and the trees in the nearby park were in full bloom. The scent was amazingly calming. He made it a little game with himself to see how many different types of smells he could single out from the mix.
After having his fill of rich flower scent, Jakob turned to look at the people passing by on the street. He had once been just like them, free to roam wherever he wanted. Observing them like this was a good reminder of just how much you could lose by making stupid decisions and by not questioning what people told you.
Jakob shifted his gaze towards the school building. If his efforts during all of these trips would prevent even one of the many children inside that building from going down the same path he did, then it would be worth it.
When he lowered his gaze back towards the street, his eyes were immediately drawn to one specific individual. He had never seen one before, but he knew right away that she had to be a unicorn. The clear, white fur, characteristic horn in the middle of her forehead, and dazzling beauty were unmistakable.
She looked like she was around twelve, although Jakob had to admit to himself that he wasn’t very good at judging centaur age.
She also looked like she was in a hurry, lightly galloping on the sidewalk with a school bag on her back. Jakob guessed that she was running late, recalling what Enya had said earlier about the first bell being rung before their arrival.
So that meant this was one of the new human/mamano coed schools.
Jakob almost laughed at himself when he thought about how such a thing would have made him cringe back in his younger, dumber days.
What happened next, however, immediately stifled any potential laughter he might have had.
A man, who had been standing with his back against a wall right next to an alleyway, suddenly dropped the newspaper he had been holding and started chasing after the unicorn as soon as she ran past him.
Another man, who was further ahead along the sidewalk, placed himself right in her path and grabbed her as she ran into him, putting a hand over her mouth.
His partner caught up and grabbed the hourse part of her body, lifting her feet of the ground as the two quickly ran towards the allyway, the unicorn struggling in their grip, her eyes reflecting pure terror visible even from across the street.
Jakob felt as if his blood had turned to icewater, his mind playing flashbacks to when Helen had been abducted.
His body moved before he had time to think, as he threw the car door open he almost flew out of his seat and started running after them, his legs carrying him faster than he ever remembered being able to run.
His ankle bracelet started beeping angrily, but he didn’t even hear it. All of his thoughts were suddenly focused on a single solitary thing. To not let them get away.
It turned out the allyway was rather short, as the men had almost made it through it by the time Jakob entered it. Jakob could see a white van with an open side door waiting for them on the street that it lead to.
Somehow he found himself going even faster as he chased after them, the terrified unicorn noticing him and desperately extending her free hand towards him while trying to scream.
Her struggling slowed them down just enough that he caught up with them as they were about to exit the allyway, and he used his momentum to sink his fist as deeply as he could into the stomach of the man who held the human half of her body.
The guy let out a weezing noise and fell to the ground in a fairly unglamorous way, having had all the air knocked straight out of him.
Roaring in anger, Jakob kicked the man on the ground straight in the face to make sure he stayed down, then aimed another blow at the man who as still carrying the unicorn, but he suddenly found himself jerking violently to the side, almost falling over but managing to regain his balance after several steps.
Turning back towards the now screaming unicorn, it became obvious what just happened. Another kidnapper, most likely the driver, had jumped out of the car and shoved him away.
Jakob sized him up. He was wearing a tank top which revealed his muscular arms. He was a far cry from mister Marble Statue back at the slammer, but still plenty intimidating.
He placed himself between Jakob and the white van while his partner dragged the hysterical unicorn into the back space and yelled something about needing to split.
Jakob had gained some muscle during the past few years, but he could tell that he was probably outmatched in this particular fight. Even so, backing down was not soemthing he even considered an option.
He raised his fists and charged straight forward. Words would have been wasted breath.
Jakob managed to dodge the kidnapper’s first swing and hit him straight in the chest. This did not seem to have much effect however as the man quickly returned the favor.
The shock of the impact felt almost like a hammer, but Jakob blocked out the pain as best he could and swung straight at his face next.
This time the result was more pleasing as the soft cartilage of the man’s nose broke with a crack.
He staggered backwards a few steps, but quickly regained his bearings and came after Jakob hard, his fists raining blows on him.
Jakob had to go completely on the defensive, but the heavy blows that hammered him soon made him keel over from the intense pain.
Extending his hands to break his fall, Jakob blinked furiously in an attempt to clear his foggy vision. He had taken a hard blow to the head.
His ears were ringing, but he could hear the man in the van yell something, and see his partner turn towards the driver’s door.
Jakob gritted his teeth in frustration and chastised himself. “Come on you lazy ass! Stand up! Don’t you dare let these assholes get away!”
Jakob used his legs to launch himself straight at the muscular man’s back, grabbing him around the waist and holding on for dear life. The man began flailing to throw him of, but he couldn’t quite bend his arms enough to get a good hit in.
Jakob moved around as much as he could, doing everything in his power to keep the man from getting into that driver seat. It was a losing battle however, as he could feel his grip slipping every time the man thrashed around.
Eventually, he lost his grip and was thrown to the ground. The muscular man seemed to have taken the whole thing as a personal insult, because he bent down, pulled jakob up by the collar, pulled his fist back to his shoulder and then delivered his hardest punch yet.
Jakob could taste blood and a few teeth swimming around in his mouth.
He fell down and landed flat on his back, barely managing to stay conscious. He tried to move, but he had no more strenght left. Everything hurt. He could still hear the crying voice of the young unicorn.
Right around then he heard it. The sound of large, heavy hoofs slamming down hard onto the ground.
He knew she would come running as soon as his ankle bracelet alarm went of, and he had bet it all on keeping the kidnappers occupied until she arrived. It looked like he had won that bet.
Shifting his hazy vision towards the allyway, he could see Enya charging towards them at a ferocious speed.
The two men seemed to have noticed her as well, as the man who was holding the unicorn slammed the side door shut while the muscular guy was now struggling to get in the van as fast as he could. But no matter how fast he managed it, it was already to late.
Enya crossed the last of the distance just as he shut the driver’s door and slammed into the van with a massive, crashing noise. The whole side of the vehicle deformed as it toppled over, coming to a rest laying on its other side.
Wasting no time, Enya moved to the back of the van, promptly tore the back doors straight of like they were made of paper, and entered the van. A few sickeningly crunching noises escaped the van’s interior, most likely originating from the two kidnappers being introduced to two large minotaur fists, and then everything became silent.
After several minutes, Enya emerged from the van with the sobbing unicorn girl in her arms, moving over to and kneeling down next to Jakob.
He coughed and spat out a pool of blood and teeth to be able to speak.
“D-Did you get em?”
She nodded. “You did well Jakob, you can relax now. I’ll call the cops and deal with the paperwork.”
She paused to set the unicorn girl down. “Don’t fall asleep just yet, there is someone here who would like to tell you something.”
She smiled at him (that was a first) before she stood up, took out her phone and started making calls.
Jakob could feel his concentration slipping, but he managed to stay awake and turn his face towards the unicorn.
She walked up to him, then folded her legs and laid her horse belly flat against the ground right next to his torso. Fresh tears fell from her eyes as she looked at him.
She bent down and gently, ever so gently embraced his head while almost wispering in a soft voice. “Thank you Jakob, thank you so much!”
Jakob could feel her horn touching his forehead. A strange, tingling sensation slowly began to spread from the point of contact.
The sensation seemed to replace the pain as it slowly spread through his body.
“Ah, that’s right. Unicorns can use powerful healing magic, now I remember”.
With that last thought, Jakob finally fell unconscious.
When Jakob awoke, he found himself in a hospital bed.
“Good morning sleepyhead, or perhaps I should say good evening.”
Turning his head towards the familiar voice, he saw Enya sitting in a chair next to his bed. He returned her greeting with a grin. “How bad is it?”
She actually smiled as she answered. “Not nearly as bad as it could have been. Little miss Erika refused to give up until she had managed to re-attach your teeth and heal your broken ribs. Because you had a few of those.”
He gave her a quizzical look. “Erika?”
“The little unicorn lady you so gallantly rescued. She actually wanted to be here when you woke up, but I convinced her to go with her parents by promising to stay with you.”
Jakob let his head sink back into the pillow. “Is she alright?”
“She was not physically hurt. She did get one hell of a shock though.”
Enya leaned a little closer. “The hospital shrink told me to ask you if you wanted to participate in Erika’s therapy sessions once you’re better. Having you around might help her feel safer, according to what she said.”
Jakob almost cried when he heard her say that. A feeling unlike any he had felt before spread through his chest. It was a warm, pleasant feeling.
He turned towards Enya again. “Only if you come along as well. You are the one who actually saved her in the end.”
Enya surprised him by grabbing his hand. “We saved her together. I want you to know I am proud of you and what you did, don’t try to belittle yourself.”
Jakob was unable to formulate a response, so she giggled and continued. “Don’t you always tell the children we visit that if you hurt someone, you must be ready to accept thier anger? That means you should learn to accept the grattitude and praise you get for helping people as well, doesn’t it?”
Jakob paused for a moment, then let out a big sigh, followed by a smile. “I guess I can’t fault you on that logic.”
They both looked at each other, then quietly laughed together.
Archibald was sitting in his favourite armchair in the living room, a cup of hot coffee sitting untouched on the small table to his right.
He was nervously twirling his thumbs as his gaze wandered back and forth.
He wasn’t quite sure what he had expected would happen when he told Helen the truth two days ago, but it certainly hadn’t been this.
Rather then becoming upset, sad or angry, Helen had seemed relieved when he told her. This had puzzled him for a moment, before she let on that she had known about it for a while. She had even wanted to bring it up, but never seemed able to find the proper time to do so.
“Not entirely unlike me”, Archibald thought.
As it turned out, Helen had a cousin that worked in the prison where Jakob had been incarcerated. A minotaur named Enya.
Archibald had met Helen’s grandmother, who was an echidna, and knew that one of her children was a minotaur, but he did not know that she had a child of her own so this was news to him.
Helen had laughed and explained that her minotaur aunt had always been the lone wolf of the family, and was pretty much always off somewhere with her husband, looking for new things to do.
“Her daughter seems to have adopted a polar opposite mindset with her choise of profession then”, Archibald had thought to himself.
At any rate, Enya had pretty much kept Helen up to date on everything that happened with Jakob, so she knew the full story and had told Archibald everything. She had then suggested that they should invite them over.
So now, here he sat. Waiting for Enya and Jakob to arrive and not having the slightest clue how to feel.
His thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell ringing out.
He could hear the sound of Helen’s hooves as she went to open the door, and his chest tightened as a wave of nervousness came over him.
He sat as still as he could, listening to the sounds from the entrance hall. He could hear them talking, but not quite make out the words. The tone of their voices seemed to be bright though.
Helen was the first to enter the living room. She walked up to him and sat down on his left side (The armchair was big enough for them both, which was one reason he liked it so much).
She wrapped her arms around his left arm an leaned her head onto his shoulder, almost instantly dissolving most of his tension.
Archibald turned to look into her eyes, quietly thanking her. She had always been very good at calming his heart whenever he felt nervous and agitated, yet another reason why he loved her so damn much.
After steadying himself, Archibald gave her a slight nod. She returned the gesture and turned towards the door. “You can come in now.”
Enya was the first to enter the room. Her tall, massive form managed to obscure the man behind her for a few moments, but as they moved closer Archibald could see his right hand. A hand with stumps for fingers.
The minotaur stopped in front of him and extended her hand. He took it as he introduced himself. “Archibald, nice to meet you.”
“Enya, Helen’s told me a lot about you.”
She then stepped aside to reveal Jakob, who had been standing behind her.
It was strange seeing the man again after so long. The last time Archibald saw him, his heart had held nothing but contempt for him. Seeing him now though, he couldn’t really make sense of what he was feeling.
Several different emotions mingled together, making it hard to even discern what they had been in the first place.
Jakob was the first to break the silence. “Before you say anything, let me just tell you this. Don’t apologise.”
Archibald blinked in surprise, opening his mouth to inquire further, but Jakob continued before he could formulate the question.
“I know, it sound weird coming from me, right?”
He sat down in one of the two chairs that Helen had placed slightly in front of Archibald’s armchair in advance. Enya took a seat in the other one before he continued.
“Believe it or not, I am actually grateful for what you did. It taught me the most valuable lesson I ever learned.”
His gaze shifted over to Helen as he spoke. “It taught me just how much of an effect my own actions could have on other people’s minds and hearts.”
Looking back at Archibald, he gave him a genuine smile.
The next hour or so was spent talking about everything that had happened since Archibald’s visit to the prison. Jakob did most of the talking with Enya filling in at certain points.
When they got to the part about the attempted kidnapping, Enya even pulled out a photo she had taken of Erika standing next to Jakob’s hospital bed with a brilliant smile on her face.
She made sure to emphasize not only Jakob’s bravery, but also the fact that he would not have been there to stop them in the first place if he hadn’t turned his life and self view around.
At this point (once his blush subsided a bit), Jakob leaned forward and grabbed Archibald’s hand.
“This wonderful girl is safe and sound thanks to you.”
He then turned towards Enya and gestured towards her stomach. “And so is the little fella in here.”
At those words, Helen stared wide eyed at her cousin. “Enny! You didn’t tell me you were pregnant!”
Enya squirmed in her seat, suddenly finding a specific point of the ceiling to be very intriguing. “Y-You know I have a hard time talking about, stuff like that.”
Helen clapped her hands together. “Oh but this is great news! Archie, we need to let the kids know! I’m sure they will be thrilled to know they are going to have a second cousin.”
Archibald turned to look at Helen. She gave him that cute smile he so utterly adored.
She then slowly reached for his face and used the back of her index finger to wipe away the tears he hadn’t even realized were there until now.
His gaze wandered to the big picture frames on the wall that held the images of his and Helen’s two children when they were small. A holstaur girl named Mandy and a bright looking boy named Richard.
It then continued towards Enya’s stomach, not yet shoving the telltale signs of pregnancy, then to Jakob and his honest smile, then finally back to Helen.
Feeling more tears was on the way, he hugged his lovely wife tightly and turned back towards Jakob and Enya.
“Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Helen held him close as his tears started to flood. Archibald felt like he had been stuck in a deluge under a dark sky, then suddenly saw the coulds part and a ray of warming sunlight hit his face.
The four of them spent the rest of the day talking until it grew dark outside. Jakob and Enya offered to leave, but Helen wouldn’t hear it and prepeared the guest room for them.
When Archibald finally laid down in his own bed with Helen at his side, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her tenderly. She returned the kiss and embraced him, pressing her chest against his.
Archibald mused to himself as he felt her warmth. “Heh, I might decide to stick around for a bit longer in this life after all. It seems like there will be a lot of interesting things to see soon.”