Written by Nada Hemida

Previously on Long Live the King: Episode 4 – Fallen Masks

“I’ve always heard stories about you…”

“If you know all of this,” I tell him, “How are they even letting you walk?”

He gulps, nodding to himself. He knows the risk he is taking, meddling into what is only danger and possibly ultimate death. “They don’t know that I know this,” he confesses, “I had witnessed a lot that’s happened in this company, a lot of which can’t be identified as good. This time, it felt different… wrong. I – I had to know what was happening. So I hacked into the company’s systems and found the files and footage from Karim’s project.”

My eyes widen involuntarily. A man with a talent like his could be living in wealth, doing people’s dirty work and digging up skeletons in closets for blackmail. Instead, he is working at a company, owning a small apartment on a random street.

I wring my hands, trying to find out what feels so wrong about this case. I know it’s bad enough that Karim had made a whole elaborate lie and almost got away with it, but something else feels off. Why did Karim suddenly get the increased security? If he needed to get it because someone knew about this project of his, he’d either be dead or have gone into hiding – unless…unless it wasn’t Karim who hired his own security. What if Karim already has a client, who is in turn making sure his product is safe and sound until it was delivered?

“Seif, was there anything strange that you saw in the footage?”

He shrugs then says, “Only that they weren’t always in the lab, which is weird because I already told you, no one came out of their labs, or up on the ground at all really in the past few months. I don’t know where else they could have gone.”

It takes me a moment to make something out of this and I stand up abruptly, almost scaring Seif.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“There’s something I have to do,” I say, “I’ll be back.”

I start walking away before he calls, hesitantly, “Nour?”

I keep walking, but that doesn’t stop him from stammering, “Could I ask – I’m curious – how old are you?” A chuckle escapes me as I turn around.

Surprisingly, I find myself answering, “Twenty-two.”

He looks as though lightning had struck him. “Twenty-two?”

“Makes me threatening all the more, right?” I drawl, “That I can be so ruthless, so deadly now. Makes you wonder what I can do with a few more years of experience and skill.”

He’s horrified for a moment, and I start to think he might have forgotten how to breathe but then he says, “I’ve always heard stories about you and thought you were this ruthless killing machine. You walk like an ancient warrior -”

“And you watch too much TV,” I interrupt, but he doesn’t hear me.

“A vicious one,” he continues. I’ve been called worse, a voice in my head says, but I blink at his confidence. No, not confidence, he must see it as idiocy. He’s past horrified, and he already thinks his end is coming. That’s why he’s not afraid of letting his thoughts flow. “But you care,” he adds, “You could have just walked away, forgotten what I said. Another one would have done the job and gotten the money even if they had their suspicions. You… you care,” he repeats. “You have a kind heart, there. You don’t care about money as much as you care about those who need it.”

The words take me by surprise, if only because I hadn’t expected to hear something so true. This man knows how to not just take note of people’s words and actions, but what to make of them. I stare at him for a moment longer, and then say, “You gotta keep your thoughts and suspicions to yourself if you want to keep this life of yours. You played a dangerous game coming to me, and continue to risk your life with every step you take in this path.”

I turn away to leave, but I find myself speaking up again when he doesn’t respond. I don’t move or look back at him as I say, “You were there on purpose, weren’t you.” It’s not a question. “At Pervigilium, you knew about the meeting.”

A moment of silence passes, and I slightly turn. He nods, still caught off guard by my warning. “I learned about all those they hired before you. You’re their last straw; they were too wary of hiring you.” I snort, and make my exit without another word.