Daylight was now prominently present all around him, even if there were still a few hours until the full brunt of the sun was upon the city. Yes, that morning shine always annoyed Lazaros. It attacked the vision, so directly it usually made driving hard, but with the absence of vehicles cruising the city, it really would not be a concern that day.
Still, feeling the heat on his hands, he thought back to the car he had shot bloody.
Sun’s gonna make that car smell awful.
It was a shame to have such a sight mess up the beautiful presidential manor, but Lazaros had no hands to spare to clean it up. Perhaps after the beasts were taken care of.
He went over his plan, his very expensive and ridiculous plan, which no one could possibly ever expect.
It should work.
It got to.
They pulled up to the workshop, catching sight of another car. Enzo was standing by it, and a bit apart, right next to the entrance, stood Protos.
He watched tensely as Niko pulled over the driveway and parked. Lazaros was, of course, smoking. He flicked it at the street before he opened the door and crushed it underfoot while stepping out.
“Protos? What’re ya doin’ ‘ere?”
The man had his arms crossed as if he was some kind of judgmental parental entity. Lazaros squinted his eyes in a kind of accusatory interrogation, staring at him.
Two seconds meeting that stare made Protos reevaluate his stance. He uncrossed his arms and put his hands in his pockets instead, slumping his shoulders to give a nearly imperceptible impression of submission.
The Don gave him a subtle nod.
“Did you just kill our president?”
“He was goin’ to take all my soldiers.”
“They’re his soldiers.”
“No, they’re not.”
They exchanged glances in perhaps too long of a pause. The twins, in their discomfort, tried their best to be there all while filling as little space as possible.
“Are you alright, Lazaros?”
“Tsk,” Lazaros shook his head and walked past Protos, “stop wastin’ my time.”
Surprisingly, however, one might say shockingly, Protos grabbed Lazaros’s arm to stop him. The Don flung him a glare in response. Protos met it with a stony expression.
“I want you to extradite Michela before things get too dangerous. Send her to the Shadow Conclave.”
“No,” the Don unhesitatingly replied, “Falk’s helpful, but she’s key, I need her.”
“She won’t have time to do anything else. Either this plan of yours works or–”
“…” Protos let go of his arm, “she won’t be of any further help, Lazaros. Let her leave and help the only other ones that will still try.”
Lazaros stayed silent for a few seconds. Anyone else and he wouldn’t give the request the time of day, but Protos had seen a lot, it wasn’t that he was assuming there was no possible way they would fail, he was simply cautious. Playing it safe.
“I’ll call her back tomorrow,” Lazaros told him, smiling warmly, “this’s only gonna be one more time that I make you look stupid for doubting us.”
Protos smiled back.
“I would like that.”
“But first, I wanna see about this gun.”
The Don walked inside.
Immediately, the sound of mad scribbling made itself heard, and the smell of steam welcomed him. Michela’s home had no divisions, she had brought all the walls down. Most of it was a mess of tables and floor, dirty and filled with the creations of an engineering genius. One of the walls was filled from start to end with paintings, and the other had a shady-looking mattress, separated from the corner where the toiletries were by a few feet of nothing.
Her whole home was an office, and she was bent unhealthily over one of the many desks, scribbling madly over a sheet of paper.
She stopped and turned around.
“Don Infeperio! You’re here! I didn’t expect you so soon.”
“I’m late,” he told her.
She looked at the part of her office that had a bed, at the clock hanging on the wall upside it, and then back at him.
“So you are. Guess I am, too,” she giggled awkwardly, “good news is, your new gun’s being field-tested right now, we should hear back soon.” She adjusted her custom-made spectacles, that seemed to be a thing with engineering geniuses, and held hands in front of her, in expectation of further dialog.
“Falk insisted,” she offered as an apology, “he should be back soon.”
The Don grunted in assent and looked around the room.
It was messier every time he returned there. With at least one added painting. They were piled now that nobody was around to buy them, but they were how she lived self-sufficiently. The Don wasn’t a great appreciator of paintings in general, but a lot of people loved her pieces, especially foreign nobility, they saw them as captivating and enchanting. If they could see her, they’d probably feel otherwise.
Wearing a spent lab-coat, now beige thanks to years of use, over baggy pants, Michela was a portly young woman who already looked like she was in the mid-thirties even though she was only getting started on wrapping up her twenties. She was the kind of woman who would probably look that age until she hit seniority. Her hair, deeply black, was tied behind her head in a ponytail, somewhat unsuccessful.
Whether she really had that sincere naïve smile he was used to seeing on her, or if it simply came naturally to her round pouty cheeks, Lazaros didn’t know. But she waited, awkwardly, smiling expectantly. It made the silence uncomfortable.
“What were you workin’ on?”
“Oh, nothing for the beasts. I’m tapped out of ideas, far as they’re concerned, at least for now.”
That was fair enough, it had been several days in a row thinking of and producing equipment to fight the beasts. Indeed, her spectacles did a good job of hiding the deep dark rings around her eyes.
How she looked so awake was beyond him.
He was about to keep the conversation going, so as not to let awkward silence set between them all, he sure couldn’t count on Michela for that. But a violent whistle grew in fast instants and led up to a powerful crash outside. Both Don and Protos reacted with surprise, but Michela simply perked up and pointed upwards, casually, with synchronized hands.
“Ah. That’ll be Falk.”
They left the house. Being the Don, Lazaros made sure to not look the least bit impressed or taken aback by what he saw outside. Protos and the twins did not feel that restriction.
“What in the world?”
The twins had stepped away from the large patched metallic sphere that was now opening a ramp which contained a few steps of stairs. The Mad Genius showed some excitement as he walked out.
“Oh Michela, Michela!” It apparently did not bother him that she was exactly the only person who was not there at all. “How have I lived this long without knowing about you and your inventiveness??”
He was holding a pointedly dangerous handgun. That had to be it.
“Falk,” the Don greeted, making use of a particular inflection that strongly suggested he should be noticed immediately or else.
“Ah, Lazaros. You’re here.”
“Michela tells me you were testin’ the latest weapon?”
The Mad Genius glanced down. Bigger than anything the Don had ever seen, its barrel was as long as an arm, almost reaching the ground since Falk was holding it aiming down.
“Does it work, does it work?”
The Mad Genius looked past Lazaros and Protos to find Michela. He brought the hand-cannon that was her pistol up to his hand.
“It packs too much of a kick on the recoil, my dear, but that aside, it really does work.”
He smiled. The Mad Genius might have been mad, but Michela knew better than to ignore the Don, for example, by just walking past him. She stood behind him and Protos and immediately engaged him.
“So there you have it, Don.”
Lazaros stepped towards Falk and extended his hand.
“Lemme see it.”
The Mad Genius hesitated at first, weirdly, but did relinquish it. The Don held it in his hands admiring its stupidly big size.
“It’s really more of a tiny cannon, huh?”
“Are you surprised that’s what it takes to get through the beasts’s hide?”
He looked up at Falk.
“So it worked?”
“I killed one,” the Mad Genius grinned, “I shot one right in the eye. If the Shadow’s shown anything, however, is that that will only antagonize them. If you thought you’d have more time…”
“Nah, today’s it,” the Don told him, eyeing the pistol again, “that’s the plan.”
“You can’t use it,” Falk said, using an uncharacteristic tone of voice, one of warning. “The recoil’s too strong for you, we need some kind of mounted version of it.”
“’Preciate the concern,” he smirked, in the way men do when they disregard advice that doesn’t apply to them. “How’d you reload it?”
“You open it up,” Michela approached and pulled on the barrel, it came out and bent down, showing the entrance, there was a bullet there, massive and sharp. “You put a bullet there. Eventually, you need to refuel the gas,” she squeezed the two canisters that were at each side of the base of the barrel, like bloated wings.
“It can only shoot one at a time?”
“It’s a prototype…” she mumbled timidly, “I have designs and uh, plans and—it’ll be better.”
“It’s what it is then,” he lowered it and looked at her. She looked back, her mind running to figure out what he was thinking. The Don eyed Protos, and then returned to her.
“Go get things ready, I want you to go with Falk.”
Michela opened her eyes wide in surprise.
“What? But this’s my home, I thought you were going to stop them.”
“’s just a precaution.”
“A wise one,” the Mad Genius nodded in agreement, “Besides, I’m certain you can hardly wait to ride on my capsule.”
She smiled bashfully. “Well…of course, I’ll do what you think is best, Don. Be right back, then, give me a few minutes!”
She turned and made full use of the perkiness of youth to hop back inside. Lazaros half-glanced back at Protos and the Twins.
“Wait’n the car, the rest o’ ya.”
“Alright,” Protos said, while the twins just did it.
The Don looked down the street, he had never seen it so empty. He had never seen his city so deserted. Then he looked back at the pistol.
“This thing’s too big. I can’t holster it.”
“Why would you want to hide something like that?”
“I have to admit, Lazaros, you’ve surprised me.”
The Don raised an eyebrow at him.
“I believed your claims in the meeting were vain and ultimately arrogant, but you have truly accomplished something here.”
Lazaros grunted, half-insulted, half-thankful.
“Of course it’s only due to Michela and my help, but that doesn’t minimize it. Nobody can get anything done without these great minds of ours – that is not exclusive to you.”
Lazaros scoffed away, shaking his head.
“You’re really a pretentious prick, Falk.”
“No no, I mean it. The entire allied eastern armies, led by the greatest general of our time, they lasted a couple of days. These beasts have been going without stop, unrelenting up until they hit tiny Grehkia and met you. It’s been a full week.”
The Don felt like grinning but he couldn’t. No matter what he said, the results were poor, and everyone knew it. His country was utterly shattered and broken apart.
“You’ve done more than anyone else. You recognize genius when you see it, and you’ve made use of it cleverly.”
Lazaros sighed and looked back at Falk.
“You also think I’m dying today, don’t you? That Igtahlia is—”
“Since when do you care what I think?” The Mad Genius extended his real hand with an amused half-grin. “Or what anyone thinks? You’re the Don.”
Lazaros took his hand and shook it, smirking at the mad scientist who had decided to spend a couple of days helping him.
“Finally, someone who gets it.”
“Please, look at who you’re talking to.”
He nodded and let go.
“Take her to the Shadow Conclave and work more on this thing. I’ll contact you tomorrow.”
The Mad Genius didn’t say anything to that for a very long group of seconds, which was telling. He did think Lazaros was a goner, but at the same time, he had been right. Why should Lazaros care what he, or anyone for that matter, thought?
Everything had started with only him thinking it was possible. For Infeperio to be a powerful name. For his family to be the most powerful. For him to become a don, and a don of dons on top of that.
That whole situation? The war, the beasts, surviving and beating them? That was just life coming full circle. Once again, there was only him to fully believe in himself.
Next came success.