Tulio was a short man, and as such, unsurprisingly irritable.
“We all got behind you on this thing, Lazaros. We all did.”
The Don sneered.
“Makin’ it sound like it was charity or somethin’.”
“It was crazy’s what it was.”
He had stood up. Lazaros refused to sit down, to make it clear he wouldn’t stay there for long, and that made it so Tulio had to stand up. Sitting down while someone else is sitting up talking to you can feel demeaning to some people.
“Tulio, d’you have anything to say or not?” He took a puff of smoke, looking at him like he was a kid having a tantrum.
His face gained some red, embarrassment or anger, one always had to flip a coin. The third option was that he was drunk, but since there was no alcohol around, that was probably not it.
“Put that thing out right now.”
Lazaros squinted his eye in annoyance, not due to the request, he wasn’t the first to get a small power surge out of commanding Lazaros to put out his smoke, but due to the further delay that that meant.
Looking angry and impatient, he squashed the cigar into his own hand and threw it in the garbage can. He showed no reaction.
“Can you stop wasting my time, Tulio?”
Again without reaction.
“I wanna know yer exit strategy and where we’ll meet. The others think you’re just gonna die, the idiots. Once we regroup–”
“Regroup?” Lazaros smirked and shook his head. “I’m stopping these beasts here. They are not getting my city.”
Tulio’s eyes browsed the bodyguards for a second before nodding, understanding.
“Right, of course, but if that just doesn’t happen—”
“Everyone leave,” the Don demanded, glancing back. The bodyguards, his and Tulios’, promptly left the living room.
The small beach ball that was Tulio, with an annoyingly full head of hair, even if it was gray, looked ruffled.
“Well, that’s not really necessary!”
“I’m not sayin’ this for anyone’s benefit, see?” Lazaros gestured. “I’m not leavin’ my city. I’ll die before I let these monsters into my home.” He spoke succinctly and seriously, as much as he could without yelling.
“Right, okay,” Tulio nodded, rolling his eyes, “but showboating aside, what’s the plan?”
Anger flared within the recesses of Lazaros’s temper, the time he was wasting there too impactful on his mind.
Lazaros stepped forward, and back.
Lazaros lunged and grabbed him by the collar, cowing the man. But still he brought the plump face right to him, so close they were almost brushing noses – he made sure they didn’t, that would make the exchange awkward, not intimidating.
“Look at me!” He whispered strongly. Tulio did so, locking confused eyes into what Lazaros knew were the dedicated, overwhelming eyes of the Don.
“I’m the Don of Dons, and this’s my territory. I will die, see? Do you hear me?” Tulio nodded, once and slightly, “I will die before I’m forced outta my city. I’ll kill them all before that happens, see? But you don’t wanna stick around, that’s fine.”
He pushed Tulio off with a sneer.
“It’s when things’re bad you see the true mettle of your don, huh?”
Emiliano had told him that. He had warned him, in the long distant past, that as he was starting out, things would look bleak most of the time.
The look Tulio gave him, Lazaros had come to know. A whole lot.
He’s crazy. He’ll never make it.
How many times had he seen that look? Especially on his way up? Even mere days ago, when he had lunged to become Don of Dons, Protos himself had looked at him like that. Even with all his loyalty, he had doubted. And Lazaros had been read because those were the lessons Emiliano had taught him to help him along the way.
Loyalty doesn’t mean belief. Someone’s ready to die for you? Doesn’t mean they’re following you because they really believe you’re gonna make it, you’re just the best bet. And things are gonna get bad. Everyone ‘round you’s going to think it’s over. But you’re the Don? Then prove it. It’s exactly when things get bad like that that you have the best chance to prove why they are the ones following, and why you are the Don.
Lazaros didn’t need Tulio. Tulio was a short fat man with no ability to fight, the heir to a crime family that just continued the business, without any particular ambition or change. He would be useless in any fight.
“Well.” Tulio finally understood. He adjusted his collar and actually showed some respect towards Lazaros. “Then goodbye.”
“Yeah.” Lazaros turned around and walked away from the conversation and from Tulio. “See ya when it’s all over.”
He was the Don. He was going to lead, make decisions, save his family and keep his territory intact. That was the goal.
Lazaros left the house and lit another cigar, allowing the two soldiers he had allowed Tulio to keep to walk back inside. They were nephews of his anyways, Lazaros wasn’t cruel to the point of robbing him of them.
He glanced over at the horizon. The sun was dawning to a cloudless day. He saw it through heavy eyes. Tired. He sighed comfortably, using his cigar, and waited for it.
The ground trembled, ever so slightly, as a flash of light erupted in the distance. Smoke followed, from the explosions. The twins were watching as well.
That was the sound, and sight, of men dying for the sake of ambushing the beasts at the very edge of the city.
Yes. Whether through victory or defeat, finality would come that very day.
“Beasts at the gates and now we gotta go meet damn Celio.”
“We could just ignore ‘im, boss.”
“He’ll send away troops if we do,” the Don pointed out in annoyance.
“Enzo, go tell Protos I’ll be a bit late. Niko’ll drive me.”
“Yeah,” Lazaros flicked the cigar at the ground and squashed it underfoot. “Nobody else in town to pose any danger. They’re all gone.”
“Donna’s still around.”
“Like I said,” Lazaros smirked. Enzo nodded and walked away while Niko walked to the car and opened the door. Lazaros gave the sunrise another look.
“Our home’s really beautiful, Niko. ‘Ve ya ever noticed?”
He looked over the car at the horizon as well. Then he looked back and shrugged. The Don grinned at that.
“Youth. Can’t ‘preciate the finer things in life.”
Niko showed an idiot’s smile while Lazaros got inside the car. He then got into the driving seat and started the engine.
It was the architecture. His people didn’t just construct buildings or streets, they designed. Just like they didn’t simply manufacture any of the things they produced, they modeled. There was an almost subconscious desire to make things look good. As a result, the streets looked uniquely aesthetic.
The buildings craned, edifices poising proudly. The streets extended off of them like red carpets for the people to walk on, only there were no people anymore.
It was all empty.
It was an especially sad sight for a city like that to be so empty. No other place was as deserving of attention, of life brimming and bustling with delight, like that one. The Don quietly watched and considered all of this, as they rolled up to the president’s mansion.
His car was by the driveway, right after the gate. The woman who had come to get him was getting things into it, leading a child inside the vehicle. Celio noticed Lazaros.
The Don threw his cigar down and opened the door.
“Stay inside, Niko. N’ get the tommy out.”
He responded with a thumb up and relaxed as he reached down his seat. Lazaros walked out, meeting Celio halfway between their cars.
“I should never have backed you!”
“That’s stupid, Mr. President. You made the best choice you had to make, and you know it.”
His face contorted.
“I’ve lost half my military! The Dons are furious with me, they’ll probably have me killed!”
“Nah, they’d never go against me,” the Don casually assured. “I’m planning to end it all in this last fight, see? I’ll stop ‘em.”
“You’ll stop them? How? HOW?”
Lazaros squinted his eyes, fully aware the president would have punched him right there were he not afraid of the consequences. And rightly so.
“Settle down, prez,” the Don warned.
Celio breathed out, flustered and angry.
“I haven’t lost half your army,” the Don continued, “I still have half your army. That’s better than anyone’s ever done. The eastern alliance lost all their people before the beasts even got outta Runshia. We’re the first real opposition since then, see? We’ll stop ‘em.”
“You’re blind. Power’s made you blind, Lazaros.” This was no longer the crafty and seasoned politician. This was a man who saw everything crumbling in front of him. A man who had given up on his power out of an assumption it was already gone. “I’m ordering my men to retreat.”
“No,” he smiled, “no you’re not.”
“The void I’m not!”
“Celio. I’m tryin’ to stop the beasts fer good ‘ere. And I’ll do it. If you take away my manpower—”
“The outcome will be the same!” Celio turned around, “you’re done. Do what everyone else is doing and run for your life, you’re done.”
“They’re Igtahlians, Celio!” The Don frowned insulted, “if they’re dyin’, they should be doin’ it for Igtahlia.”
Celio turned with an impatient and desperate expression.
“This is bigger than you! Bigger than Igtahlia!”
Lazaros said nothing and allowed Celio to turn around and get in the car. The woman closed the door behind him while Lazaros made use of a solemn nod to gesture to Niko.
Niko casually leaned and rolled down the passenger window.
Lazaros put a cigar between his lips and lit it. He watched in silence as Celio’s car, carrying his wife and child, was driven past his own. He said nothing as the first spray of bullets took down the driver.
He said nothing as his president, and his wife and child, were mowed down despicably right in front of his eyes.
He kept his gaze even. His hard eyes, darkened by exhaustion and a week filled with thousands of tough decisions, did not stray from the consequences of his decision.
He blew smoke just like Niko’s automatic weapon, one of Michela’s inventions. The woman, behind him, fell to her knees. Why she had been left behind, he didn’t know, just as he didn’t know whether that was a good or bad thing for her.
She began to cry.
“Why? Why would you do that?”
He let out a breath and looked at the woman.
“Same reason I do anythin’, see?”
He turned and walked towards his car.
“I got to.”
He opened the car door himself and then hesitated there.
“You know where to go? To get outta ‘ere?”
She fell on her knees, sobbing and incapable of responding.
“I’ve got no time for this, woman. Just head in that direction,” he pointed left, “you’ll find people who’ll take ya ta safety.”
The president’s car was now bleeding onto the floor, from all seats.
The Don got inside his own and closed the door, a bit too diligently.
“Let’s go, Niko. Drive to Michelas’.”
The mute nodded and started the engine.