A few days after the incident with the bikers, Marcus and Cato were eating breakfast in one of the small rooms lining the formal dining room. Sly stood against one of the dark blue walls in his typical black suit directing the black dressed maids and making sure everything was perfect for Cato and Marcus. The two Spyros men sat at the glass table in the middle of the room in complete silence. Cato wore a fluffy white plush robe and pink rabbit slippers with a bowl of oatmeal in front of him, but he was content to drink his coffee and read the newspaper. Marcus wore a pair of black boxers and a white t-shirt. He knew he needed to finish his plate of bacon and eggs, but he couldn’t eat. He was too busy trying to keep himself from picking out which bodies seemed the most dead in his memories. It was an impossible task, but the guilt was crushing his soul.
For these past couple days, Marcus had occupied his himself with trying to find out who he killed and giving anonymous reparations to the family. He got nowhere in his discovery of the victims because the detectives were being stonewalled by their superiors as well as the AD members. Rumor said the Eight were going to resolve this because the Angels of Damnation were contacts of one of the member Associations. So the police stayed away and the city moved on. Even though there was a longing in him, Marcus stayed as far away as possible from the terrifying ring.
Marcus absently shoveled some eggs into his mouth as he stared out of the window to watch a streaming water jet of the Beautiful Fool fountain. The fountain had nine jets of water pouring into a deep bowl with a pedestal in the middle of the basin. The pedestal hoisted a white marble statue of a man leaning over precariously to gaze into the reflection of the water. Marcus was so consumed with his thoughts that he never noticed his uncle put his newspaper and coffee down.
“Is something wrong, son?” Cato asked looking at Marcus.
Marcus blinked away the memory of an eyeball that one of his punches forced out an eye socket, nerves and blood trailing behind the organ as it arched through the air. The angle of the eye and the stream of blood that followed closely resembled the angle of the water jet of the Beautiful Fool.
“What?” Marcus asked.
“What’s wrong, Marcus?”
“Nothing,” Marcus replied too quickly.
Cato stared at Marcus as a maid refilled his mug, face blank and unchanging as his golden eyes fastened on the face of his nephew. Marcus tried to look back at his uncle, but the scrutiny made Marcus squirm and he had to look down at his food like he meant to take a bite. That most definitely wasn’t happening. The eggs reminded him of the bile and vomit those bikers spewed with Marcus’ punches to their stomach. Especially with the bits of bacon spotting the eggs like the blood that spotted the puke. Yet he had to eat something.When the maid retreated to the kitchens, Sly put cream and sugar in the refilled cup before Cato grabbed the handle to take a sip, golden eyes never leaving Marcus. When Marcus didn’t look up from his food, Cato sighed loud enough to catch his nephew’s attention.
Cato smiled. “There’s nothing to worry about, son,” he said. “You don’t have to be nervous about your first day at the Lions Club. Dorian may be an exacting man but he’s fair and generous to those who deserve it.”
Marcus blinked a few times. How did he forget that? Today Marcus was being introduced as the Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions. Marcus knew he should be nervous. He was only twenty-four and he was about to take over one of the most crucial divisions of the nation’s most profitable corporations. And yet, he wasn’t nervous at all. He was too sick to be nervous.
Marcus sighed heavily, nodding and smiling. His uncle didn’t need to know what was going on in his head. He didn’t need to know the filth he allowed into his home, of the murderer he called nephew.
Cato’s smile faded away and after a minute he motioned to Sly, deliberately nodding a few times when the manservant looked at him. Marcus didn’t realized that he’d turned back to staring at his plate until movement caught his eye. He looked up to see the maids filing out the room with Sly ushering the maids to move faster. Sly closed the doors behind him and Cato turned to his nephew.“Come with me,” Cato said sounding resigned. “There’s something you need to see.”
Cato led Marcus to the network of flower-lined pebbled pathways that encircled every single fountain in the garden surrounding the villa. The two Spyros men didn’t say a word as they walked in the gray gloom of the morning and Marcus was happy to remain silent. He might reveal his murderous nature if he spoke. Before long, Cato led Marcus to an enclosure of dark red rose bushes with a fountain in the middle. The fountain had a statute of a benevolent looking woman in a flowing dress that seemed to meld into the water of the shallow basin at her feet. Her hands were outstretched and water poured out of her palms into the near mirror-like basin without disturbing the water’s surface. The Lady of Succor fountain had a single bench directly in front of the statue as though it was a place to receive her blessing and Sly stood there waiting like a supplicant.
Marcus hesitated when he saw the manservant. He would never understand how Sly moved as quickly as he did. Sly handed his uncle a black folder with a solemn stare. Cato looked away from the stare and Sly stormed off in silence. Cato stood silently, staring down at the folder in his hand. After a short while, he finally sat down with a sigh and patted the space next to him. Marcus complied, unable to take his eyes off the black folder. Cato shivered and thrust the folder into Marcus’ lap. Marcus frowned as he opened the folder to find old newspaper clippings and copies of police reports that looked to be directly from the desk of the investigating detective. Marcus picked up a newspaper clipping.
GHASTLY MIDNIGHT ATTACK LEAVES THIRTY BEATEN TO DEATH IN HEINOUS GANGLAND ATTACK
As he read the article, Marcus realized the details of this incident were nearly identical to his grisly deed… but this article was from seven years ago.
“What is this?” Marcus asked as he finished skimming the article.
“A newspaper clipping,” Cato said smiling weakly.
Marcus smacked his lips and sighed as he glared at his uncle. Cato could have knives protruding from his chest and the man would still make terrible jokes.Cato’s smile faltered under his nephew’s glare and he sighed, wiping his face. “I know what you did,” he said.
Marcus’ eyes snapped up to his uncle who stared at him with a mask of sympathy. The look unnerved Marcus. The one thing in the world that Marcus couldn’t handle was the disappointment of his uncle. Marcus adored his uncle and he knew his uncle would be tremendously disappointed if he really knew the truth of that night. Yet, there was something new he absolutely couldn’t lose. He was still trying to figure out which loss would hurt him more. The ring or his uncle…Marcus fought hard to avoid thinking about the fact that he was having this struggle at all.
“You really think I believed whatever that was even though you looked like an ant was tickling your butthole?” Cato asked. “After all this time you still think I can’t tell when you aren’t saying something?”
Marcus turned away. What could he say? His uncle was right, but Marcus couldn’t say anything. The guilt was threatening to drown him, but the look of disappointment he would see on his uncle’s face would push him under. Marcus already tried lying, but the truth couldn’t be told so he just remained silent.
“Fine then,” Cato said. “If I must say it aloud - I know you’re the one behind the attack on the Angels of Damnation.”
“What?” Marcus said trying not to panic, terrified of what he was about to see. But when he looked at his uncle, he didn’t see disappointment. He saw guilt.
Cato sighed. “I know you killed those men,” he said, “because I did the same thing.”
Marcus couldn’t speak. He had to wait and see if he was having a stroke. Uncle Cato...killed someone. No, not someone, thirty people, but that couldn’t be right. It’s not possible. Marcus waited for the story he knew was coming.
“You remember that old fashioned I told you about?” Cato asked. “The one that went badly for the other guy?”
“Turned out that the man I killed was the nephew or something of the gang’s leader,” Cato continued. “About a week later, the gang shot up my car in retaliation. Only I wasn’t in the car. Sly was.”
Marcus inhaled sharply despite himself. He’d never heard this story before.
“He was running errands for me while I was downtown,” Cato continued. “When I found out later that night, I thought Sly was dead and I lost it. It was easy enough to find out where the gang set up shop. When I did, I proceeded to kill every living person within those walls. Men and women. There might have even been some children...”
Marcus felt sick. “Divine above…”
“I know,” Cato said sounding miserable. “So many dead...and after all that, the leader who ordered the attack wasn’t even there. He turned himself in for some garbage charge the next day. I tried to get the City Prosecutor to release him to me. The bastard refused and carried out the trial.”
Marcus sat back, exhaling a breath he never realized he was holding. He never thought his uncle capable of anything like this. Cato had always been gentle in everything he did. Growing up, all Marcus ever really saw his uncle do was volunteer at places and raise money for charity. Anytime they were in Damokles, native born Damoklians would sometimes treat Cato like a celebrity when they saw him on the street. Then Marcus remembered the chilly reception between his uncle and Mayor Gunderson.
“Wasn’t Mayor Gunderson the City Prosecutor before he was elected?” Marcus asked, the question rolling out of his mouth as the thought came to him.
Cato remained silent, focusing on the stone woman in front of them and pointedly ignoring Marcus’ stare. His reaction was all the explanation Marcus needed. After a short pause, Cato got to his feet and reached into the pocket of his white plush robe. He pulled out the Crusader’s glittering golden ring and Marcus recoiled at seeing the ring, edging away as though it was a lethal animal. His eyes never left the sun worshiping stick figure on the face of the ring. Marcus wanted that ring back so badly that it terrified him, but he couldn’t allow what happened a few nights ago to happen again. Yet he knew what was going to happen. They both knew what was going to happen. Cato urged the ring to his nephew and Marcus sighed as he took it.
“I know how much you fear your desire for the ring,” Cato said with a sad smile. “I tried to stay away for months but it was of no use. That desire never goes away. It doesn’t get worse...but it doesn’t get better.”
Marcus nodded but didn’t speak.
“There’s no need to fear the ring, son,” Cato continued. “I know that the addiction is worrisome but it doesn’t hurt you. With self-discipline, you can control every aspect of that ring’s abilities in ways I could only dream of.”
A second later, Cato got to his feet and motioned for Marcus to get up. Marcus obeyed and was surprised by the sunlight that hit his eyes. For some reason, that sunlight bothered him.
“Come on, son,” Cato said heading for the enclosure’s exit. “I’m going to give you all my wisdom on that ring and the lessons start today. Right now, in fact.”
Marcus nodded but then froze when he realized why the sunlight bothered him. “I have to go to work!” he shouted once he remembered the time.
Cato chuckled as he shook his head. He pulled out his phone and sent a text message before putting the phone back into the pocket of his comfy looking robe.
“You’re a Spyros at the Lions Club. You’re free to go in whenever you like,” Cato said. “You can go in tomorrow if you want but I wouldn’t want to push Dorian past tomorrow.”
Marcus almost asked how his uncle pulled off something like that but he knew better. Of course a prominent Spyros would have this kind of pull at the Spyros family business. This was Iota afterall.
Cato took Marcus to a place in the same vicinity as the lair, but this place was on the northern side of the grassy wooded hills enclosing the lair’s clearing. On this side, there was a depression in the ground under a grey stone cliff forty feet high. Huge boulders ringed a space at the base of the cliff and seemed to be in a position to block the view of anyone trying to see inside the ring. Marcus frowned when he saw the numerous scorch marks on the ground and on the boulders.
“Come on, Marcus,” Cato said waving his nephew over. “Go stand in the middle of that depression and put your ring on.”
Marcus obeyed but before he passed his uncle, Cato caught his arm.“Have...have you always been this much taller and bigger than me?” Cato asked as he poked his nephew’s arm.
Marcus scoffed and opened his mouth to reply as he looked down at his uncle but then he realized what he was doing. He’d always been taller than his uncle, but never before had he been able to look down on Cato to this degree. Marcus shrugged and Cato smacked his arm.
“I didn’t know the ring did that!” Cato said excitedly. “Okay now go stand over there.”
Marcus began walking once more and stopped in the middle of the depression with his back to his uncle.
“Okay, focus on the ring, son,” Cato said, his voice carrying over the distance. “Close your eyes and focus on just the ring.”
Marcus obeyed and as soon as he put all his attention on the cold metal touching his finger, he felt something. In the darkness, he felt a power pulse through him. Nothing alarming but something most definitely resonated through his body. He took a deep breath and then his heart thumped.
Marcus inhaled for what felt like hours. He felt electricity pulsing through every fiber of his being. When he put the ring on the first time, he was weakened by the ecstasy he felt. Now Marcus felt strong, incredibly strong, inhumanly strong. He felt as though if he tried, he could jump halfway to the moon before he would begin falling. Tearing down whole buildings didn’t seem daunting with the strength he felt in his body. This was that feeling of supreme power and ecstasy that made Marcus feel an inevitable addiction forming, but he no longer cared. His uncle’s love and the ring’s high were both his and there was nothing holding him back anymore.
Something buzzed in Marcus’ ear, but he ignored it. His entire existence was centered around focusing on the ring and the incredible high he was getting. When Marcus finally exhaled, he felt another pulse, another wave of electricity that reverberated throughout his body. Suddenly his body shook. Nothing worrisome, alarming or painful, but not of his conscious doing. Another spasm racked him and every muscle on his body went through rapid intervals of tensing and relaxing. He nearly fell over from the strength of each spasm, but the electricity that hummed in his muscles kept him upright and conscious.
The buzzing returned once more, louder and more insistent, but Marcus ignored the sound, annoyed that something would try to distract him. He was able to ignore the buzzing right up until something small and hard smacked him in the back of his head. Marcus’s eyes snapped open and his knees buckled with the suddenness in the change of focus.
He smelled burning. He didn’t know what was on fire, but the area was smoking. The slightly scorched ground was now black, burned to a crisp. The front side of the boulders in front of him were black and worn smooth like river boulders. He turned in the direction of the pebble and realized he was looking to where his uncle was standing earlier. The boulders were unharmed, but the black scorched ground wasn’t far from where the gray sentinels rested.
Marcus feared for his uncle but then he saw Cato’s buzzed black head pop out from behind one of the unmarked boulders. When Cato saw the coast was clear, he came out from his hiding place, he had a massive smile on his face. He began jumping and cheering as he approached and declared his lessons over. Marcus was already a greater ringmaster than he was. Marcus had to turn away because his uncle’s robe kept opening with all his enthusiasm.