Michela was a good girl. Worked hard, thought big, and more importantly, didn’t waste his time with stupid questions or hesitations. He first met her at the start of it all, she’d been a secret asset of Celio, part of a secret intelligence agency of spies that had been disbanded almost immediately by the Don, who needed all assets for the direct confrontation with the beasts.
Her painting was her cover, and a very legitimate one since that was how he knew of her. She was a renowned painter all around the world, a true representative of Igtahlia’s propensity for all things cultural.
But it seemed that she was also an inventor and a very skilled one at that. She was a bit too quiet in his opinion – there was something suspicious, to him personally, about a woman not constantly asking questions or complaining – but it was something he didn’t mind when she was someone who absolutely got things done. Even if they were things he couldn’t understand, he still trusted them.
They could hardly fit together inside the contraption.
He gripped the pistol while Falk’s crazy sphere closed its ramp, gradually but quickly taking the bundled figures of the Mad Genius and Michela out of view.
The bottom of the sphere vibrated and ignited, steam ejecting off several chimneys that covered the top. Lumbering and violently, fighting gravity every inch of the way, it ruptured the ground and lift up to the sky.
The Don did not watch the machine going up and away, instead, he looked down at the busted up ground. Of his city.
His mind wandered to some thoughtless place amidst the cracks in the ground, aware only of the weight of the pistol in his hand, and lost track of the passing time. Instead of passing, it just inflated, spreading itself across an infinite extension of space inside his head. By the time the noise left behind by the sphere’s propulsion utterly dissipated, Lazaros felt like years had gone by.
It was probably weird to be alerted by complete silence, but that’s what happened.
He came back to the realization that Protos and the twins were watching him, seemingly intent on not interrupting despite their wanting to.
“Right,” he said, though failing to look away from the cracked cement. So he blinked away. “Sorry ‘bout that, I was. I was thinkin’ about somethin’. Let’s get goin’.”
Protos got into the car first. As usual, the twins took the front seats. The Don found himself employing a surprising amount of self-control to not look back at the crack. He sat down, closed the door, tried not to glance back but settled for doing so only suggestively.
What was that about?
Lazaros wasn’t very used to moments of contemplation, such that he didn’t really know what they were. Seemed to be a word people used so they could justify having an empty head.
He tried to show no signs that he was bothered, less even that he was contemplating anything. He watched his empty, deserted city pass him by, which was an interesting perspective since he was the one passing by. The city, after all, had been there for centuries.
Maybe I should send Protos away as well.
The thought occurred him, but with little to no support. That would be an admittance of impending defeat, which was definitely not going to happen. But still, his mind wandered a tiny bit across a field of reasons to do that, trying to find any that were actually good.
“Why’d you stick with me all this time?”
The slightly older man raised an eyebrow.
He glanced at the twins suggestively, but Lazaros waved his hand dismissively, he didn’t care what they thought, they wouldn’t jump ship at that point.
“Yer always against my calls, see? And when I met you, you were vying for Don, ya coulda been one, too. But instead, you settled fer me. Just curious why that was.”
Protos, still a bit uncomfortable, gave the matter some thought.
“Not always,” he ventured.
“Ya know what I mean. C’mon, tell me why.”
He touched his chin thoughtfully, digging up memories he had apparently already locked away. Not out of pain or regret, Protos wasn’t one to do that, but because he had nothing else to learn from it.
“I met your mother one day. You know that, right?”
“The Light warm her soul, she was a great woman.”
“She thoroughly believed in you, which was the odd thing. Parents like to say they believe in their children, to their dying breath, but they hardly ever do. I mean, they’ve seen their sons fail to walk right, to speak, to eat. Took them months to teach their daughters to use the bathroom properly. Not to mention about the more conventional failures. They’re apt to love their children no matter their failures, but they don’t really expect them to be…very successful.”
Lazaros grunted in agreement.
“Just like any friend, we don’t really expect someone we know to become… you know. But your mother? She absolutely believed that if you wanted to be the Don of Dons, you were going to do that.”
“Protos, ya tellin’ me ya stuck wit me because o’ my mother?!” The talkative twin snorted but contained himself.
“No, of course not. The matter is that, because of it, she’s been the one person I know who has been wrong the less.”
He looked at Lazaros.
“Yes, I’ve doubted your plans. Your strategies, your expectations and character evaluations. You proved me wrong often. You continuously proved me wrong. That’s why, Lazaros.”
He nodded, satisfied. It could be a lie, of course, but allowing Protos to be honest and straightforward had been a very important factor of his leadership. Lazaros looked out the window, his thoughts now on his mother. On the lullaby she used to sing to him before kissing him on the forehead to let him sleep, ending the day with the same catchphrase over and over again.
“Dream big, Lazaros, you’re going to be great.”
You hear that for long enough, it’s bound to have an effect.
“Ya know she’s the reason I never tied down with any woman.”
He felt Protos’s look on his head, but Lazaros didn’t react.
“I can’t forget the way my dad treated her, see? That’s how she passed n’ all. And I’m so obsessed with not doin’ that that I can’t get attached. It’s the one issue I never got clear of, ‘cause well, it doesn’t really matter to being a Don.”
Enzo snickered, along with Nico. The Don looked ahead insulted.
“What’s that about?!”
“Oh, sorry, boss, but it’s a bit funny, no? Considerin’ what you did to Donna.”
The Don of Dons brought on such an oppressive aura upon the interior of that car that it momentarily slowed down, Nico getting the sensation he was being strangled without actually having his neck squeezed.
The Don was a man who was easy to anger, he knew that but as angry as he got, he had never been able to fault someone for being right about it. And in that instance, Enzo was right.
The meaning of it crushed the Don. He suddenly felt his mother was looking down at him in disappointment, and had been doing so ever since the act. The moment he became the Don of Dons, his ultimate success, was now tainted.
But only for a moment.
“There’s no comparison, you idiot,” he told him, not hiding his anger, “Donna was an equal rival tryin’ ta beat me n’ kill me, see? Ya call me a woman-beater again – well, let’s just say I can drive myself just fine, see?”
“Boss, sorry, of course,” Nico mumbled. “Yeah, we didn’t mean anything by it, yer right, of course.”
Lazaros glanced at Protos to receive a smile from him. And a nod.
“Anyways, back to the smart conversation…ya really get what it means to be Infeperio, Protos.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that, Lazaros.”
The Don gave him the nod and looked away, still holding the large hand-cannon on his lap. He opened the window and lit a cigar, smoking as he was driven to what would be the place where the beasts would be turned around.
Lazaros had chosen that place to be in his territory. Like the other Dons, Lazaros had had his own home, around which was his turf. A large mansion in the middle of what had been a quiet district, that would be the place where history would note the beasts had been beaten for the first time.
As they approached, signs of people started popping up. They were either in the military uniform of Igtahlia, being soldiers, or in trench coats and casual suits, being buttons. Whoever they were, they watched the car pass them by fully aware of who was in it. They looked on with relief and respect as their Don rejoined them.
Leaving the car with the massive hand-cannon in hand made Lazaros feel he was making a proper appearance. Everyone was impressed by it, and by extension, by him.
I’m here, now.
He walked straight towards his favorite general, and the one responsible for carrying out his plans so far.
Ignacio, a hard-looking man with a glass left eye behind a half-burnt face, saluted him.
“We received orders from Celio, sir.”
“Oh? I already talked with him, told him pullin’ ya out was a bad call.”
The old man, who was better perceived as seasoned, nodded unflinchingly.
He knew it was probably a lie, but the man was old-school, nationalist, and spoiling for a fight. Any excuse would do.
“Everythin’ set up?”
“The bastards’re a k out, roughly. We have twenty minutes ‘till they get here, roughly.”
The rough man liked that word.
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“Right,” he nodded in concession, “we’re ready. I see you got that gun, there. Mind if I use it?”
“It’s useless,” the Don immediately lied, “it’s got no more rounds, see? ‘M just carryin’ it around for morale.”
Ignacio was the kind of a man who didn’t question things, in general, but even more so when their relevance to a fight was negligible.
“Smart, sir. Will you be going back to the mansion?”
The Don smirked.
“Nah, I’ll stick around. I want ta see the damn things being pushed back with my own eyes.”
“Ha. Alright, Don Infeperio, have it your way.”
“Always do, general.”
“Ha. I’ll make sure to give you a rough good show.”
“I expect nothing else.”
With no more one-liner bonding banter available to the general, the man nodded and walked away to hand out orders. Lazaros gestured at the twins to follow him, he didn’t have to do anything for Protos to do so.
He was handed binoculars by a soldier, who immediately ran off, and was then approached by Florin and Antonio.
“Lazaros, it’s almost time, huh?”
“That’s right, boys. Any problems with our buttons? It’d be a bad look for them to mess up the plan.”
“Working with the gov’s pretty weird, I’ll admit,” Florin spoke first, “but everyone knows better than to disappoint Don Infeperio.”
They both smirked together, proud of the position their Don held and the intimidation it exerted upon their past rivals. They were happy to see them constrained and obedient to their Don.
“Damn right.” They walked together for a bit, and in fact, Lazaros didn’t slow down at all for the two. Men were watching, he needed to show them that undeniable confidence which, in all honesty, could only be found in him. “It’ll get pretty ugly, but we gotta hang in there. We can always rebuild this city, we just gotta make sure we keep it.”
They both nodded.
“Same for the rest o’ the country, huh, Boss?”
“We’ll get it all back, that’s for sure.”
He walked past entrenched positions, cars being used for cover, and so many soldiers and buttons relaxing – or trying their best to – in the calm before the raging storm of battle.
They climbed the street for several minutes.
The city had a particularity of having been built, and expanded, over a large assortment of hills. For that reason, he didn’t actually need a tall building or any kind of structure, he just needed to walk to a nearby block, and he’d be able to oversee the battle site.
“Alright, see ya after the fight, Boss.”
“You boys make sure to live through it. I’ll need ya to get our home back in shape, see?”
They smiled back at him, years of loyalty having fashioned a confidence in their survival, and that of the Infeperio name, that rivaled any sort of fervent patriotism.
They walked off.
Lazaros stepped into the steps of a building and turned around. He leaned back to the door, looking down at what would become a historic scene. Many would die, half the city would burn, but the beasts would be stopped. And pushed back.
“I will go to see to our arrangements in the fallback positions,” Protos announced. Lazaros nodded and shrugged.
“We ain’t gonna need ‘em.”
Protos smiled and tapped Lazaros’s shoulder.
“Prove me wrong.”
Lazaros watched him go for a few seconds before turning his eyes again towards the city that spread below him. He took out a cigar and put it to his mouth, promptly lighting it.