The Exiled Prince - Chapter 19: Something Peculiar

“Were you able to remember anything from your past missions at all?”
Appearing out of nowhere, Dimitri suddenly found Mikhail standing right beside him. Clasping both hands behind his back, the AI butler had already donned his usual coat and tie sans the spectacles, Dimitri observed.
“No.” Ignoring the costume change, Dimitri shook his head and stood up, rubbing his hands, uncomfortable and barely tolerating the sticky feeling of sweat drying on his clothes.
“These videos are helpful. But other than that, I don’t really recall being on any of these missions.”
Both of their equally towering figures slowly walked towards the center of the now empty training platform, their eyes on the large virtual screen that remained still floating mid-air. The semi-transparent barrier, including the pile of trash Dimitri had accumulated over several training sessions, were long gone.
“What do you mean?” Mikhail turned to Dimitri with a questioning look. The training hall had already reverted back to its original pristine form, looking exactly as it was when they first came in.
“I simply couldn’t remember being on any of those past missions.” Dimitri shrugged, folding his arms over his chest, his eyes still focused on the multiple replays displayed on the screen.
It took them at least four hours to go through each detail of all the missions he had been on in the past. The entire ordeal was quite inconvenient and time consuming, a far cry from when the mysterious system hacked his previous training programs.
“Although the videos provide conclusive evidence that it was I, myself, who carried out those missions, I still feel a sense of detachment.”
“Mm-hmm.” Mikhail raised an eyebrow, keenly observing Dimitri’s facial expression.
“I mean, the man in each video is obviously me.” Dimitri turned to Mikhail and started to explain. “I recognize my face and figure despite donning various disguises. I also get the logic behind each action. But I feel like I am watching a stranger.
“I am completely positive that guy is me.” Dimitri continued, pointing to himself on the video. “But I still feel like it wasn’t really me. You get what I mean? I’m not really sure how to explain it exactly.”
“Go on.” Mikhail listened attentively as though he were analyzing Dimitri’s every speech pattern and gesture. Without Dimitri’s knowledge, the AI butler had been secretly gathering all these seemingly inconsequential data since day one, trying to sift the truth from all the lies.
“That man is absolutely a stranger to me right now.” Dimitri sighed and rubbed his chin with one hand, eyeing the virtual screen confusedly. “That’s all there is to it.”
“In short, you still could not remember anything.” Mikhail said matter-of-factly.
Dimitri nodded, completely lost in thought.
“Mikhail, have you noticed something peculiar about my last six missions?” Dimitri broke the silence and suddenly declared with intense interest. Both of them had been staring at the virtual screen for quite some time, replaying the mission surveillance videos one by one.
“Care to explain?” Mikhail asked nonchalantly, although not at all surprised by Dimitri’s observation.
Dimitri began pointing out the differences. 
“I am quite certain that you must have noticed that most of my past missions were quick and decisive. Did you notice some sort of a pattern? They were all skillfully and efficiently completed.”
“Go on!” Mikhail urged.
“The last six missions, however, seemed more elaborate and slow.” Dimitri added, still baffled by his past actions. “My inefficiencies were glaringly obvious. It appeared as though I was deliberately trying to sabotage or expose the Council by carelessly dropping some of the evidence.”
“The last six assassinations seemed to be completed by an amateur, not a professional.”
“And why do you think that?” Mikhail turned to Dimitri, again raising an eyebrow.
“Some incriminating evidence were haphazardly left at the crime scene.” Dimitri explained. “For example, I defied the mission parameters by killing the first target on my last mission out in the open. I could have done that discreetly, away from the prying eyes of the general public.”
“The mission parameters clearly stated that both targets should appear to die due to self-inflicted injury.” Dimitri explained further. “Now I understand why I had to undergo that trial by the tribunal.”
“The Council must have been pissed with my recent actions.”
“So you think your initial punishment was justified?” Mikhail asked with a smug look.
“I didn’t say that.” Dimitri countered. “I’m just wondering about the sudden changes in my behavior during my last six missions.”
“Do you have any idea why those sudden changes may have happened?”
“It appears as though you have been telling the truth all this time.”
Dimitri heard an old male voice say as he entered the cramped office space. The small room evoked a sense of familiarity. Just like all the other parts of the castle had felt familiar to him despite the fact that he thought he was seeing it all for the first time.
“Headmaster!” Dimitri immediately stood at attention when he saw the all too familiar old man. The Headmaster, wearing what seemed to be an intricately designed white robe, sat behind the large mahogany desk.
Ivan immediately noticed Dimitri’s stiffness. He swiped all of the virtual screens hovering over his desk away then pointed towards the two chairs across his desk. “Sit.”
Dimitri nodded and hung his leather jacket on the coat rack behind the door before sitting on the chair to his left. He now donned a fresh white shirt and blue jeans, his hair still wet after his quick shower.
“You still could not remember anything even after all those training sessions, could you?” Ivan eyed Dimitri, resting both of his arms on the table, his hands clasped together. The wrinkles on his face became more apparent in close proximity.
“No, Sir!” Crossing his legs, Dimitri sat more comfortably, sensing the old man’s amicable demeanor. “My memories are still as elusive as ever. I still could not remember a thing.”
“I believe you have no choice, but to bear with this loss for the time being then.” Ivan chuckled before his expression turned serious.
“I’m afraid so.” Devoid of any expression, Dimitri agreed, knowing there wasn’t really anything he could do about it. “I guess only time can tell.”
“Do you know why I summoned you here?” Ivan asked straight away.
Dimitri simply shook his head, uncertain as to why his last training exercise had been cut short. All this time, he had been looking forward to gathering more information about the Council. But it seems he had to put that on hold for now.
“The Council has already arrived at a decision on your case.” Ivan said solemnly and paused for a brief moment. “Unfortunately, we still need to wait five more days before we can hear it.”
“An emissary from HQ is on his way here, as we speak, to deliver the verdict in person.” Ivan continued while Dimitri stayed silent. “Do you know what that means?”
Dimitri merely shrugged, unsure how to respond.
“The severity of your punishment might be unprecedented.” Without waiting for Dimitri’s reply, Ivan answered his own question with a hint of concern. “No high-ranking official from HQ has ever had to personally be here to deliver a verdict throughout the long history of our outpost. Everything had always been done electronically.”
“His mere presence could spell our doom!”
Author's Notes:
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