Nearly translucent clouds diffused the light of the sun making the sky a mix of orange and violet as the day’s demise was in full stride. Marcus watched the polluted waters of Old Drakon’s Bay as he was driven down one of the smaller highways that lined the coast. History said King Drakon’s Bay was once teeming with life and that Damokles was once a small fishing village in the times of prehistory. Old Town was once what was known as Damokles and as the capital of a Kingdom, trade became key to the wealth of the Minoan kings. Subsequent generations of trading, minimal regulation, and corruption at every possible level, and what was now called the Bay of Old Drakon was one of the most polluted bodies of water in the western hemisphere. The water was a murky brown with trash everywhere and black masses that drifted throughout the entirety of the bay. Yachts still weighed people down with gravitas, but no one thought about the fact stories that said swimming in the waters of Old Drakon’s Bay put one’s life at risk.
Marcus’s stomach turned imagining the sickness he would get if he ever fell into those disgusting depths, but he had to suffer the sight because he was headed to a particular marina on the northern coast of the city-state. He’d come here right after work and he was glad to get away from Celina. She was as ruthless as Marcus imagined, but she was as loyal to the company as Dorian and twice as smart as Marcus. Which was galling because she lorded it over him at every given opportunity. He preferred to watch the filth of Old Drakon’s Bay sludge by his eyes as opposed to thinking about her.
The drive from downtown was a short one and they were pulling into an empty parking lot before long. Marcus got out of the car and sent the driver home after making sure he made his instructions were clear. Marcus quickly spotted what he was looking for and found his way along the floating walkways to his destination. The yacht wasn’t far and he was dropping onto the deck in a few minutes, the sound of music drawing him towards the front of the boat. He stumbled onto quite a scene in the hollow in front of the Captain’s Nest and he prayed to forget it as soon as humanly possible.Marcus immediately recognized Byron’s large nose and thick glasses. He saw the old man was wearing a plush yellow robe, but the robe was open, revealing his pale wrinkly body with gray hairs likely older than Marcus. The old man was lounging on one of the sleek brown lounge chairs with a cigar firmly between his lips and a cup of brown liquor in one hand. His other hand switched between the two heads bobbing up and down in his lap.
“At your age, Byron?” Marcus asked loudly. “I’m seriously impressed.”
The sudden noise made the three entangled people jump. The two women shouted and Byron spilled his drink everywhere as he stumbled to his feet. The women scrambled to their feet, reaching for whatever would hide their nakedness and Byron had thunder in his eyes as he turned to face Marcus. He snatched his cigar from his lips and pointed at Marcus, but was forestalled by Marcus raising a warding hand.
“I know you hate me but Byron please,” Marcus said motioning to his nudity. “For the sake of us all.”
Byron looked down at himself before looking back up at Marcus. “You’re the one trespassing on my yacht!” he shouted in that gravelly voice of his.
The small man’s anger made the women quail and he curtly ordered them to wait for him downstairs. The two naked women immediately got to their feet and disappeared down one of the staircases in the walkway. As they retreated, Byron covered himself, glared at Marcus as he aggressively tied the belt. He jammed his cigar in his mouth once more and motioned to one of the chairs as he walked over to a wooden panel in the hollow. Marcus made his way into the hollow and fell onto one of the couches as Byron pulled back a panel to reveal a refrigerator stocked with bottles filled with liquors of all colors. The small man took two cups and one of the brown liquors before he seated himself. He filled the cups and handed one to Marcus before setting the bottle down and turning back to Marcus, relighting his cigar as he settled himself.
“What now, Your Supreme Superfluousness?” Byron asked in that grinding voice. “Come to trick me into helping you take some retirement pensions? Or is it that you’ve come to go back on your word with this yacht? Maybe there are some babies with candy you’ve had your eye on.”
“You wouldn’t have poured this drink for me if you really blamed me for Nelson Trading,” Marcus said staring at the swirls in the dark brown liquid.
Byron grumbled something as he took small puffs on his cigar until the tip was glowing orange once more. “Doesn’t mean you’re blameless,” he said.
“I have about as much blame as you do,” Marcus said taking a sip of the whiskey. “We both had the same amount of information.”
“If I hadn’t met you, Nelson Trading would still be a thriving company today!” Byron shouted. “Instead, your Daemon-blasted cousin will hack that company…my company! To pieces!”
Marcus frowned. “One,” he said taking another sip of the whiskey, “that was something already happening with Nathan’s embezzlement and two, meeting me was going to happen regardless because we had about the same amount of choice in that too.”
“Gah!” Byron said, smoke exploding from his mouth. “Nathan may have been getting greedy, but Nelson Trading would be still be alive!”
Byron let out a choked sob and he finished his cup in one painful-to-watch go. He picked up the bottle and filled his cup to the brim before drinking half the whiskey in the cup.
“Wait…Byron…Byron, have you left this yacht since Dorian bought Nelson Trading?” Marcus asked.
“He stole Nelson Trading!” Byron roared. “Stole my company like a thief in the night with skills to match Perdition’s King!”
Marcus repeated himself in a firmer voice.“Byron, have you left this yacht since Dorian acquired Nelson Trading?”
Byron blew out a puff of smoke before he took a more moderate but still painfully long sip. “Why would I?” he asked.
Marcus laughed. “Have you been on a computer? A phone? A newspaper?” he asked. “Have you had any contact with the outside world?”
Byron gave Marcus a flat stare as he pulled on his cigar. “Out with it, Your Majesty,” he said.
“Nelson Trading wasn't dissolved,” Marcus said. "It was split."
“What’re you talking about?” Byron asked.
“The core of Nelson Trading, the physical shipping, was sold to Nathan’s son and is now Nelson and Sons Shipping Company, a subsidiary of the Lions Club,” Marcus said. “The Nelson Trading stock portfolio was added to the Lions Club portfolio after a few sales to prevent monopoly concerns. The entirety of what was the Acquisitions Department of Nelson Trading is mine and I have a few ideas of what I want to do with it.”
Byron harrumphed but said nothing as smoke continued billowing from his mouth.
“Dorian wants to sell the Nelson Trading building or demolish it and sell the land for even more,” Marcus said. “But I think I can convince him to hold off on doing that.”
Byron frowned and took his cigar from his lips. “And why would you do that?” he asked.
Marcus’s smile bloomed as he leaned forward. “Because I want to combine the staffs of both the Mergers and Acquisitions Division of the Lions Club and the Acquisitions Department of Nelson Trading,” he said. “I want to form a new company, Lions Club Trading, a subsidiary of the Lions Club and absolutely dominate the stock trading sphere. Eventually I can see us moving on international markets, maybe even Xi one day.”
“Pretty audacious, but that’s what you purple bloods do right?” Byron said.
Marcus smirked. “I want to close all branches and house the entire company in the old Nelson Trading building,” he said. “We’ll maintain at least one floor in the Lions Club buildings in every major city, but the heart of the new company will stay here in Damokles.”
Byron’s lips remained occupied with the cigar while he stared at Marcus and refilled their cups. When the whiskey bottle emptied, Byron launched the bottle towards the bay and they both heard the bottle crash against something.
“It’s a good idea, Your Greatness,” Byron said as he settled himself. “Allows you to consolidate the effectiveness of your power as well as streamline your chain of command. Looks like you deserved that Valedictorian title after all.”
Marcus’s attention was drawn to a handle carved into the paneled wood underneath the false paneled bar. He reached for it and found a drawer for Byron’s cigars slid out. Marcus picked up one of the cigars, a wedge-cutter and a lighter. He cut off the butt end of the cigar and lit it. He took a puff of the cigar and inhaled.
“You know the reason I’m here,” Marcus said fighting the urge to cough.
Byron saw Marcus’ losing battle and shook his head. “You're not supposed to inhale, Marcus," he said smiling. "Just put it, son."
Marcus thought about taking another puff in response, but his lungs couldn’t hold out any longer. He began hacking as though he was trying to get rid of a lung and Byron caught the cigar as it slipped from Marcus’ fingers. Marcus was sure was going to die and he would never understand how someone would willingly put their bodies through something as foolish as smoking. After putting the cigar out, Byron began patting Marcus on the back as the youth continued to cough and once he recovered, Marcus took a sip of water. After his throat no longer felt like it was on fire, he turned to Byron and looked him deep in his eyes.
“Byron,” Marcus said breathing heavily. “I’m sorry for what Dorian did. I truly am, but there’s nothing to be done. I know you’re miserable in this self-enforced exile. A man like you needs to work. Come work for me. Only me.”
Byron wasn’t dumb man. Marcus knew he’d been waiting for this offer. Even still, the old man flinched when Marcus extended it. Marcus tried to will Byron into accept this offer like his cousin did with Ser Nathan but he was't sure if it was working. Marcus was prepared to do anything in his power to get Byron on his team. These past few weeks of trying to juggle corporate life with crusading and fitting in Ali where he could were more than Marcus could take. He desperately needed help. When Byron said nothing and continued puffing on his cigar, Marcus continued.
“I will make a new title for you through this Lions Club Trading Company,” he said trying to keep the desperation from his voice. “You’ll be Executive Proxy. You’ll have all my powers except the hiring and firing of inner circle staff and you’ll be answerable to me only.”
Bryon rolled the cup in his hand for a long while as he stared out into Drakon’s Bay. “What will my responsibilities be?” he asked as he looked at the black waters.
Marcus nearly cried out in relief. “You’re going to run the day-to-day operations of the company,” he said. “You’ll take Nathan’s office and I’ll keep an office and small staff at the Lions Club headquarters. You’ll have full control of the budget and targeting priority.”
“You really think Dorian will be up for this?” Byron asked. “He could get at least two or three billion fex from selling the plot of Nelson Trading.”
“But we’ll make more money from the sale of our offices in other cities,” Marcus said. “I’ve totalled everything and we’ll actually come out ahead by at least three million fex if things go right with the downsizing.”
“What makes you think he will allow you to make these changes with a now sizable chunk of his company?”
Marcus laughed. “Because he gave me full autonomy,” he said.
Divine bless Cato and those guarantees he fought for.
“It would be nice to stuff some things back down his throat,” Byron said under his breath.
“I do have to tell you that you would have to interact with Dorian from time to time.”
“How much ‘time to time?’”
“At least weekly,” Marcus admitted.
"So I might have to see the Shadowspawn again," Byron said shivering.
Marcus didn't even have to ask to know who he was taking about. “I might also need you to attend the objectives meetings in my stead from time to time,” he continued.
“I'm definitely going to be seeing the Shadowspawn again," Byron said sadly. He frowned and looked up at Marcus. "What will you be doing from time to time?”
Marcus stared at Byron. “Things.”
“Should’ve known better than to ask a Spyros to reveal a secret,” Byron remarked as he took a sip of the liquor.
“So are you in?”
“You knew I was in as soon as I let you sit down,” Byron said tapping the ash into the water. “I’m still going to refer to you however I wish even if you’re technically my boss, Your Majesty.”
Marcus smiled as he got to his feet. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said looking at the moon in the purpling sky.
Byron frowned when he saw Marcus getting up. “Where are you going?” he asked. “I can have my friends downstairs bring more friends.”
Marcus shook his head. “There’s something I have to handle,” he said walking towards the platform. “Call my secretary in the morning and she’ll fill you in on the finer points. Until I see you again... Rocky Baby.”
Byron shot to his feet. “Who told you that name?” he shouted.
Marcus shrugged as he left the yacht, Byron shouting at his back until they could no longer see one another. There was no rush, but Marcus left the marina parking lot quickly. Once down the road a bit, he took his clothes off and put on the corny uniform of the Crusader from a duffle bag he had the driver leave. He grimaced in disgust at what he must look like as he readjusted the uniform until he was comfortable. Once the final wedgie was pulled out, Marcus began running and then leaping as far and fast as he could.