The number of people hanging on his efforts was still considerable. He had a backup plan, but seeing the immensity of the Beast’s army…there was no denying its futility. The Shadow Conclave had been right all along, fighting was useless.
The realization was damning, and it caused him to experience something he never had before. Lack of control. Seeing things moving along according to a plan that everybody knew would not work, but yet hoped it would, for what else was there? Even the Don shared in the madness of not speaking about it, believing superstitiously that it could jinx their chances.
“Don Infeperio,” yet another military leader greeted, “we’re about to cause the rockfall.”
The Don was suddenly aware they had reached their last defensible position. He didn’t consider it as their last stand, it’s not really a last stand when there is zero chance they’ll be left standing. The museum, which had been used as a base of operations, was destroyed. Brought down by the earthquake. Every painting and sculpture inside, millennium-old pieces of human history, were mere garbage now. Or dust.
“Well get on with it. D’ya need me to hold your hand?”
The would-be general flinched, having not expected that answer, but it apparently still made enough sense that he didn’t question it.
“Right.” He walked off.
I shoulda extracted all the art. I never thought they’d be touched.
He turned towards Protos.
“Sorry, it didn’t work. If anything should’ve–”
“We took down a lotta them,” the Don told him, unhesitatingly, while pulling out a cigar to lit it. Apparently, confidence still came naturally to him, even when it was fake.
“Not enough, though?”
“No,” he lit the cigar.
Not even close.
Protos eyed the twins and a couple of soldiers who were nearby.
“Come here, Lazaros, let me talk to you for a minute.”
The Don didn’t like the conspirational attitude, but with the circumstances being what they were, he begrudgingly followed him enough away that they wouldn’t be heard.
“Listen, I have a car that’s still working and an exit that’s still cleared.”
Lazaros breathed in, almost choking on that temptation. To flee. To survive. He frowned and puffed it out along with the smoke.
“You thought I was gonna fail.”
“I thought you could,” he said sadly, “no one can win a hundred percent of the times, Lazaros…and against these odds?”
The Don looked away, in the direction of the approaching beasts. Explosions shook the ground again and the hill he had been standing on when overviewing the final stand, gave way. Every building fell along with it, and the earth itself, broke and started falling, taking the beasts which had been climbing it with it. They caused a rockfall.
“Take the loss, Lazaros–”
“No.” The Don watched the broken horizon of his city, busted and inflamed, drown in the stale, putrid air generated by a nation on fire. He focused instead on the beautiful weather. On the shining sun and clear blue sky, it really didn’t care about them at all, did it? About any of it.
“Lazaros, be reasonable. The Shadow Conclave can still use you.”
“No.” The Don looked back at his friend. “This’s how I’ve been of use, see?”
The Don allowed himself to be honest. After all, that was Protos, his oldest friend.
“Every sliver of influence, every individual I control, I pit it all against the beasts, see? N’ I hurt ‘em more than anyone thought I could. I still proved everyone wrong.”
“You…” Protos couldn’t help but smile, even if sadly, “you did. But—”
“But I’m Igtahlian, see?” He looked away again, at his city. “I’m Don Infeperio. I’m not like those other spineless clowns, see? Who talk big while they can get their buttons to fight for them, but the second they need to get their hands dirty, their skin on the fire, they’re outta the country.”
The Don looked back to his friend and placed his hand on his shoulder.
“You go. Take the twins. And my confidence, as well, you’ll need it if yer to succeed me.”
“I don’t want to succeed you, my friend. I–”
“Well I don’t want’a lose either,” he let him go and smirked, “but some things’re beyond our control, see?”
The Don breathed out, now fully and legitimately crushed.
Who would’ve known?
“Hey, Enzo, Nico!”
The twins quickly responded, coming closer.
“Go with Protos and keep ‘im safe.”
“Where?” Enzo was quick to ask. The Don threw him an impatient look in response, cigar in hand.
“Wherever he goes. Got it?”
“What about you?”
“I started this n’ I’m damn well seein’ it to the end,” he threw the cigar at the floor, and in a moment of insanity, felt the need to put it out. A burning cigar would not make any difference in the midst of the broken, shattered spectacle that was now his city. Still, it was dramatic enough for Enzo not to say anything.
Lazaros walked off, leaving them behind. He didn’t look back at them. He walked straight to one of his men, the one now in charge.
“Hey, I’ll be in my home, come get me when those beasts’re done with.”
The poor man nodded, his confidence in the fight renewed.
“You got it, boss.”
He placed a hand on his shoulder as well.
Lazaros walked away.
It was a strange, unfamiliar feeling. Doubt, or rather, certainty but in the opposite manner. The certainty of failure. But there was still doubt in there. Could he have done more? Should he have abandoned his country for an alliance with another?
Self-doubt wasn’t, however, in his nature. By the time he reached his mansion, he had asserted himself that he had done nothing wrong. And anyone else, anyone in the world, would have done a poorer job. Would have made one of those decisions and it would have been worse.
Failure was, in the end, inevitable. But even more so when one didn’t believe and fight for success with every fiber of their being, with every ounce of blood coursing through one’s body. Even though failure was inevitable, people were stupid and saw failure even when it wasn’t there, and thought it was inevitable when it was just not true.
So assume it’s not true, he had been taught.
That was how he had gotten as far as he had. That was how Lazaros Infeperio had become Don of Dons of Igtahlia. That was how he had hurt the beasts so badly.
As he traversed his broken city, however. As he walked past the neighborhood he had grown up on, now destroyed. As he passed by his old home, now brought down, and as he arrived at his current one, still standing, much like he was. Well, he couldn’t help fessing up to the truth that it all didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter that he did all he could, or that anyone else would have done worse.
Losing was a terrible feeling, and there was no getting away from it, especially having gone all in and sacrificed so much, and so many.
The sounds of the battle waged on as he looked up to the sky, facing the gate to his manor, he found it blue and clear. Not even a cloud.
There would be no heavy rain, no cracking thunder or bustling winds. The world didn’t care about him, his city, his country, or even the beasts. The day was beautiful in Igtahlia, no matter the circumstances.
He considered pulling up the gun and shooting himself. For a moment.
Then he chuckled, remembering the gun could kill a beast, and pulled a cigar instead while pushing the gate open with the other hand.