The screaming came from somewhere down the street. In Damokles, old fashioneds happened all the time, that’s why they were called old fashioneds. People have always just kept about their business when they happened. No matter their color or creed, the citizens of Damokles have always kept strolling along when one happened like nothing was wrong because who wanted to be caught on the wrong side of an old fashion? The people on the street then were no different. Marcus had to navigate through the streams of people as he searched for the source of the screaming. The number of people on the sidewalk made it hard. They weren’t an impediment, he was wearing the ring, but he didn’t want to hurt anybody by bowling them over as he ran. He still managed to slip and slide through the streams of people and he found the woman just a few feet inside of an alley between two skyscrapers. She was fighting off a much larger man who had her pinned to the ground. Marcus moved without a second thought.
With two leaping strides, Marcus bounded forward and kicked the man in the back of the head. Marcus landed on the balls of his feet as the rapist went flying. The man flipped end over end until he crashed into the brick wall of one of the skyscrapers, smacking the wall so hard he left a slight impression as he rebounded off the bricks. Marcus turned to help the woman to her feet and was struck.
This woman was the most beautiful woman Marcus had ever seen. She was of Haavaian descent with smooth skin the color of roasted caramel and big almond-shaped eyes with hazel jewels at the center that seemed to see everything. She had the looks of a model and her lips were made to be kissed at every given opportunity. She wore a flowing green blouse, low-cut jeans, and white thong sandals, but Marcus was stuck on her lips. Lips that were framing a smile that could have lit up the night. Divine’s left sack, had he stumbled into another one? This had to be an old fashioned and he fell for it again. There was no possible way a woman this beautiful would be on the street. She should’ve been in front of some camera or something. Marcus fought to find something to say to take the initiative, but the young woman stuck her hand out.
“My name is Alitza, but my friends call me Ali.”
“Marcus,” Marcus said taking her hand.
“What’re you doing here, my guy?” Ali asked.
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that question?”
“Did you really just answer a question with a question?” Ali asked.
“I’m only here because I heard you screaming,” Marcus said smiling. He had no idea why he was smiling and he desperately tried to stop.
Ali jumped in surprise and looked back at the still motionless man on the other side of the alley. Marcus frowned when she flinched, but she latched onto his arm and began pulling him along.
“Let’s get out of here.”
Ali pulled Marcus onto the sidewalk and the two of them strode together arms locked together as the city opened up before them. Damokles was an amalgamation of small districts that had grown into one another on the western coast of central Iota. Old Town, home of the hoods and whores of Damokles, rested on the westernmost coast of the city on cliffs overlooking the Bay of Old Drakon. The Financial District, where all the major corporations were headquartered, was just south of Downtown Damokles which rested a few miles southeast of Old Town. They were headed north which would take them through the Midtown district where all the professionals of the city lived because of its proximity to the Theater district. Midtown was also the limits of the Eight’s haven of protection and that had Marcus feeling like mouse picking at cheese in a trap.
Although the criminal elements from Old Town trickled into the surrounding districts, the Eight kept crime away from the wealthier parts of the city for a fee. Sometimes, a thug or two would slip through occasionally, but Marcus still felt like he and Ali would be safe enough walking through the wealthier part of the city. Although he was raised in the Damokles city-state region, Marcus wasn’t familiar with the city itself and he didn’t want to accidentally kill someone like Uncle Cato did. Especially not in front of Ali. Still, he was proud he remembered the woman’s name this time. Wearing the ring, he wasn’t worried, but Marcus still noted where they were just in case this was another old fashioned. Ali seemed cool and all, but Marcus knew he wasn’t immune to the intoxication of a woman’s presence. Running into women this beautiful on the street was something that only happened in movies, books, and traps.
“So are your eyes A-one or are you one of those anti-society posers with the contacts?” Ali asked after walking in silence for a while.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Marcus said.
“Oh wow... they are real,” Ali said. “I get it. I won’t ask about your family if you don’t ask about mine.”
“So you from around here?” Ali asked.
“Yeah not far,” Marcus answered. “You from Old Town?”
Ali flinched. Old Town's reputation for crime stuck with all her inhabitants. “How could you tell?” she asked.
“You just seem like an A-one Townie,” Marcus said smiling.
Ali smacked his chest as she laughed. “Don’t you dare make fun of me!” she said through her fits. “I was not speaking Townie!”
“Come on, my guy!” Marcus said, using his best Townie accent and speech. “Ain’t no need to be steel with me. Be icebox, baby, icebox.”
“Shut up!” Ali said laughing harder.
“Okay, okay,” Marcus said. “It's kinda cute though.”
“Yeah right whatever,” Ali said. “I thought you said you were from around here?”
“Well I’m not like most.”
“Isn’t that what you and yours kept trying to say wasn’t the case a couple hundred years ago?”
Marcus’s face staled, but he had to admit it. She had a point. He started laughing and Ali tugged him towards a coffee shop. That surprised Marcus because they were still in the Financial District meaning that there shouldn’t be any old fashioneds happening around here. However, when they walked in, the shop was legit, even down to the looks from everyone inside, but the place itself was nice.
The coffee shop was an upscale twenty-four hour restaurant with a coffee shop inside. Ali said her dad knew the owners or something and they had amazing pancakes. The inside was a large rectangle with abstract paintings hanging from honey wood walls and white tile floors with simple mosaic designs of food and drinks every few steps. White square tables and beige leather chairs filled the restaurant and the coffee shop was a bar with stools at the back of the restaurant. The front of the restaurant was walled with glass that opened to the street and a host podium stood at the entrance.
When Marcus and Ali walked in, they were met by the hostess, a tall black-haired woman with green eyes wearing a button-down white shirt and black slacks. Her green eyes were wide when they fell on the two of them and Marcus already felt the awkward interaction about to happen. Even though they didn’t talk about family, as a native born Damoklian, Ali knew the significance of the golden eyes and that was bad enough. Marcus began to try and cover his eyes when the woman started speaking to Ali. She was gushing over Ali and fawning over her presence. A few of the waiters pointed, but Marcus frowned when he noticed the points were directed towards Ali. Marcus was surprised to feel offended. He always tried to downplay his lineage, but now that his eyes weren’t noticed, he somehow felt...disrespected. That all changed when the woman turned to Marcus and gave him a double take. She froze and began breathing lightly, slowly backing away from him as though she stumbled upon a sleeping bear. She carefully motioned for them to follow her and led them into the restaurant with measured steps, making sure to keep Ali between Marcus and her.
As they walked, Marcus got the reactions he was more accustomed to. A snort here, a glare there, even a yelp of excitement or two, but luckily no one said or did anything as he passed. The hostess led them to a table in the back of the restaurant near the coffee shop and Marcus made sure to pull out Ali's seat for her like a genuine gentleman. That allowed him to freely ogle every inch of her curvaceous body like the creep he’d been wanting to be ever since he met her. Unfortunately, he ogled slightly too long and Ali caught him staring down her shirt.
“Okay so the first time it was cute, but I’m a whole woman, my guy.” Ali said. “More than some ass and tits, okay?”
Marcus was mortified. His eyes snapped back to her face and he nodded.
“At least don’t be so bold,” Ali continued quietly as she tried to hide her smirk.
Marcus nearly fainted in relief and the smile that broke out on his face had Ali laughing so hard she was holding her stomach. Marcus was free to ogle with her as distracted as he was, but he could tear his eyes away from that incredible smile of hers. He sat down as she laughed and drank in the sight of her as they talked.
The hours passed like a whirlwind until the two of them sat in the coffee shop talking about the cartoons of their childhood. Something outside the window made Marcus look up and he nearly jumped out of his skin at what he saw. The sun was beginning to peak over the horizon and he looked down at his watch, nearly fainting when he saw the time. He tried to flee the coffee shop. Marcus knew Dorian wasn’t kidding when he said he would fire him, but Ali caught him before he left. She pulled Marcus into a long kiss that made his boxers tight. When they finally parted, she tapped his chin and winked before walking into the kitchen, telling him to call her later.
The morning after that kiss was a haze. Marcus was too busy remembering the feel of Ali’s soft lips to keep track of his surroundings. Things like last night never happened to him. His mind kept replaying the day...well yesterday, and a dumb smile popped up on his face as he made his way to work. Marcus had that same smile on his face as he entered the Lion’s Club headquarters, oblivious to everything around him. He made his way to the top floor where he was expected to meet the investors in the boardroom when the opening bell rang. Lost in the haze, Marcus’ mind registered the presence of-
Something snatched him and jammed him up against the wall. All thoughts of Ali evaporated and Marcus snapped back to the present, ready to fight. After a second, Marcus saw conflagrated golden eyes and then he recognized Dorian’s enraged face. He had Marcus pinned against the gray marble wall and he looked like he was ready to kill something. To kill him.“Have you lost your damn mind?” Dorian asked in a harsh whisper. “After that stunt you pulled yesterday? Did you really come in here dressed like that?”
Marcus looked down at himself and realized not only was he wearing the same gray suit from yesterday, nothing was tucked in, his tie was loose and askew, and his sleeves were rolled up. He looked like he’d been out on the street all night...which he had been, but Marcus could never tell his cousin.
“Divine’s shaft, Marcus what is wrong with you?” Dorian asked. “Did the takeover cause a disconnect in your brain somewhere? Are you stupid now?”
Marcus fought the anger welling in his chest. He was losing the fight when he noticed someone coming directly towards them. A tall slender middle-aged woman with broad manish shoulders in a long black dress with golden shoes that shimmered in the light. She looked familiar, but Marcus knew he’d never met this woman before. However, even from where he was down the hallway, Marcus could see her golden eyes glittering like her shoes. She thundered over to them, shooing away witnesses Marcus had no idea were present with snaps and harshly whispered words. Those who saw her snuck away, those who didn’t, ran at her command.
“Easy, Dorian,” she said grabbing Dorian’s arm. “Be easy. You know the kind of stock his branch of the family comes from.”
That anger in Marcus’ chest spiked once more. The stock of what? Was she talking badly about his family? About Uncle Cato? Who was this bitch?
“That doesn’t fucking matter!” Dorian answered. “Go tell the board…. ahh I don’t know! Dammit Marcus! This was supposed to be the easy part! Do you have any idea how much weight I put on your damn name? Do you have any idea of how stupid I’m going to look when I have to fire you? Firing one of my own?”
“You know you can’t,” their female relative said. “Cato wouldn’t stand for it. No matter the reason.”
“That damn Cato...”
“That damn Cato,” the woman repeated.
“At least explain yourself,” Dorian commanded as he let go of Marcus. “Maybe that’ll help keep me from killing you.”
“What did you expect?” Marcus asked as something came to him.
The woman scoffed. “Apparently he does know his stock,” she said.
“What did you just say?” Dorian asked Marcus, fists clenching.
“What did you expect to happen after yesterday?” Marcus asked. “Dorian, I don’t know if you realize how much I look up to you. To have you shout at me like that? To say the things you did? I got caught up in looking at myself as a man and trying to come to grips with my responsibilities as a member of the Spyros family.”
“Are you kidding me?” the woman asked. “That’s what you came up with? Really, Marcus? I told you I should’ve raised him. Cato made him weak.”
“Who are you again?” Marcus asked.
Dorian bristled. “You’re not in a position-”
“No, he needs to learn at some point,” the woman interrupted. “I’m Celina, Dorian’s sister. Get used to my pretty face, bitch. You’re gonna see it a lot.”
Marcus wanted to snap back, but he had bigger fish to fry...and something about her scared him. Even though he towered over her, between the siblings, Celina looked like the one more likely to kill him.
“Marcus, you’re going to need a backbone if you’re going to be a man in this world,” Dorian said with a sigh. “You’re going to need one made of steel if your eyes are golden. That’s a pitiful excuse... but I get it.”
“Softie,” Celina said.
Dorian waved off his sister. “I had dark days too when father made me give up the gloves,” he said to his sister. He turned back to Marcus and continued. “But this isn’t about me. Things were guaranteed and I can’t break those guarantees. Lucky you. Go find a woman named Samantha. She’ll take you to my office. There’s a bathroom and a few old suits that might fit you. Hurry. The investors will be here soon and I won’t be embarrassed by you again.”
Marcus scurried off as though he was terrified. He didn’t know who Celina was, but something about her made Marcus uneasy. Dorian had an intimidating presence because of his size, but that woman was downright chilling. Marcus realized she’d been using the family stare on him and she was much better at using it than her brother.
Marcus found the woman his cousin mentioned and was showering in a few minutes. Yet his mind kept swirling around this new relative of his. She was ruthless, but at least she was family and technically on his side. There were others like her and worse who weren’t on anyone’s side. People who weren’t afraid to do whatever they had to do for power and those were the kinds of people who inflicted the worst evils upon the world. Thinking of Celina and people like her, Marcus absent-mindedly fingered his ring. He was coming to the realization that the city needed the Crusader to fight against more than just the Eight.