“Have you ever broken in a horse, Mr. Caplan?”
The man who asked the question had no known name; he was known as the Breaker of Backs, the Bender of Knees, the Enslaver and Manipulator of the people…he called himself the Forge.
The Forge stood several feet from Mr. Caplan, wiping blood from his hands, wearing a sly, wicked grin. Caplan was suspended from the ceiling, hanging from straps around his wrists. His toes barely brushed against the floor as he swung ever so slightly. At least he wasn’t spinning anymore; the last hit he had taken had sent him on a twirl that would make an ice dancer dizzy. His left eye was swollen shut from a punch earlier in the day. He could feel his hair was matted down, though from sweat or blood, he was unsure. He could feel broken bones shifting and grinding, and sockets stretched beyond their limits. It surprised him that he was still conscious; then again, the Forge was a professional.
The Forge stepped forward and roughly grabbed Caplan by the chin. He leaned in close, his rage burning like the flames of hell behind his eyes.
“I asked you a question,” he snarled, teeth grinding on edge, his fury barely contained. “Have..you ever…broken…in…a horse?”
Caplan jerked his head away from The Forge’s grip and refused to reply.
The Forge closed his eyes and cracked his neck. He then took a deep, slow breath, and the sickening smile from before returned to his face.
“Well, let me inform you,” he said quietly as he pulled up a nearby chair and sat down.
“You see, there is a method to breaking in a horse. You must form a bond with it, make it trust you, teach it that it does not have to fear you. At the same time, however, you must break him of his wild tendencies. You must find a way to break the wilderness, as it were, without breaking his spirit.”
Caplan trained his one good eye on the Forge. He remained silent, but the silence asked his questions for him, betraying his thoughts as though he were shouting them aloud.
The Forge sighed dramatically. “I suppose I should let you in on our little exercise, shouldn’t I? Alright, allow me to break it down for you. You are here because you are in need of some serious retraining. You have not been eliminated because, despite your innate ability to be a thorn in the Archduke’s side, you have shown yourself to have an extraordinary set of skills. We have decided that you have the potential to be of significant use to our cause…with a little bit of retraining, as I mentioned before.
“Your reconditioning will be incredibly painful. I must extract all sense of individuality from you, taking away everything but your abilities and your willingness to fight. This will be a difficult task, and it will be the most excruciating process you have ever endured, but…that is the price we must pay. In the end, it will serve as a resource for you, a bottomless well of pain and pent-up aggression from which you may draw.
“You see, it is my responsibility to take you, a man of the people, and turn you into a man feared by the people. I must take all that raw talent and that drive to ‘fight the power,’ and turn it around. I must erase and eliminate your current reasons to fight, and make you into a machine. You have the potential to be one of the greatest soldiers we have ever put out, but there is a lot of work to be done. I must burn you, bend you, and burden you…and then…I must break you. I will take great pleasure in stripping you down to nothing more than a seething, furious mess of hate and blood. You will be my crowning achievement, my prize dog in this fight.
The Forge placed his right hand lovingly over his heart and gazed whimsically up at the ceiling. He sighed once more and looked back to Caplan.
“The things we will accomplish together, they will be the stuff of legends. We shall live on forever, our names will be remembered and recited by school children for thousands of years to come. We shall rule the world, instituting a reign of fire; we will usher in an era of peace the likes of which the world has never seen as long as man has walked her green surface. There will be no war, for the masses will be too afraid to lift their eyes, let alone their fists, against us. There will be no riots, no crime, no violence, for we shall place a fear in their hearts that keeps every man, woman, and child in line.
“The future, it is magnificent. Before we reach it, however, we must suffer; well, YOU must suffer. I have no need to. I am already on board with the plan. You, my future friend and slave, will need some…convincing. Now, I ask you once more, have you ever broken in a horse? Because this will be NOTHING like that.”
The Forge’s face twisted into a demonic image of malice and hate, and in one lightning-fast motion, he stood, lifted the chair he was sitting on, and broke it across Caplan’s face. The beating, burning, and breaking had begun. In the years that were to come, those who knew the tale would say that was the day Caplan died; in his place, wearing his clothes and walking around in his skin, was only the Executioner.