Marcus spun around just in time to be caught with a clubbing blow to his jaw. That his dispelled him of all notions of balance. Despite his knees being turned to rubber and the muscles of his legs now transformed into water, Marcus managed to stay on his feet, only taking a single step backwards. A devastating uppercut to the base of his jaw took what remaining sense he had and Marcus felt something in his head crack.
The dome blinked out of existence and Marcus was sent sprawling, concrete chips flying into the air as he slid across the plaza. Once he was still, Marcus tried popping back to his feet, but four more strikes cracked his body and a myriad of pops accompanied a blow to his ribs. There was dull painful grinding deep in his chest too, but Marcus fought hard to ignore that.
Managing to scramble to his feet once more, Marcus tried making a small dome around himself, but a tendril of darkness snatched his ankles out from under him and upending him. When his head smashed against the ground, the materializing dome faded away and Marcus struggled to maintain consciousness as he was repeatedly smashed him on the concrete by that tendril. A minute later, mounds of dirt and concrete surrounded a pit three feet deep made by Marcus’s face and body.
The ring was likely the only reason he was alive and even conscious, but Marcus was still an unrecognizable bloody mess. He could feel the full extent of his injuries and he knew he was a dead man. Not a single bone in his body was whole and the shards of his bones were piercing his organs. The skin on his face hung limply by unraveling tendons and one of his golden eyes swung freely from the socket, entangling with the hanging skin of his face. With his skull smashed to literal pieces, his face was now lumpy and disturbing with no true discernible shape, but that just matched the condition of his broken body.
As he hung upside down in complete ruin, the tendril around his ankles spread and formed a table of sorts. Marcus’s wrists, ankles, head and waist were tied down to the table via bars of darkness and he drifted until he came face to face with a twitching triumphant face.
Marcus somehow managed to clench his fist to try and summon more power from the ring, but small vines sprouted from the table of darkness and laid his finger’s flat. One of the vines wrapped around the ring and gently lifted the gold off Marcus’s finger. The vine kept moving until the gold was gently placed in Noch’s waiting hand. Panic welled in Marcus chest and his heart began thudding heavily, the pace of his heart reaching heights that he feared would see him slump over in a heart attack. He wanted to put up a frantic fight to free himself and run away but without the ring, his strength slowly bled away and the pain from his injuries slammed into him.
Marcus’s head swam with pain at every jolt of movement sent fresh spasms of agony ripping through his flesh. He was numb from the agony he was currently in and he felt the optic nerve of his hanging eye reaching the tension limits. Just before the blinding snap came, Marcus was stabilized as the darkness overcame him.
He didn’t fall unconscious. Rather the cloud enveloped him and he felt the tendrils sliding across his body, roughly correcting his injuries. The darkness seeped into the open wounds and removed splintered bones from organs, resetting the fragmented bones and closing the wounds. Marcus cried out in sheer agony as his injuries were seen to in the roughest possible manner, specifically his hanging eye. However much it hurt, he was made whole again, but the only question was why.
Eventually, the darkness receded until Marcus could see Noch sitting in some kind of throne made of the black clouds. The brothers were in a room made of this darkness and Noch had two rings in his hands with a third on his middle finger. Despite his cries of pain, Marcus was positioned until he was in a sitting position and facing Noch. His brother tucked away the two extra rings in a pocket and put on that mischievous smile of his.
“I’ve taken our father’s mission upon my shoulders, Marky Boy.” Noch said.
Marcus kept the tremendous amount of pain he felt shuttered behind the Spyros cold face as he stared at his brother. The skin on his cheeks and forehead still felt loose so his eyesight was shadowed slightly but his golden irises never left the golden irises of his brother. Noch wore that mischievous smile and assumed a relaxed posture as he reclined in that throne. A posture that said he won, the both of them knew he won and he knew the both of them knew he won. At this point, his assumption of victory was undeniable, but why did he always have to call him that damned name?
“And what mission was that…Noxious?” Marcus asked. The name their sisters had for Noch popped into his mind at the last minute and Marcus was rewarded with a slight grimace.
“To bring about the death and destruction of the Spyros family,” Noch said covering the slip. “The Spyros family can no longer be allowed to remain organized as they are. I will not allow my daughter to come here with our eyes and our family in its current state.”
Marcus’s back stiffened as much as the pain would allow. “Your daughter?” he croaked.
“You remember that story of the Kingpin turned politician?” Noch asked. “My daughter’s grandfather, AKA the last loose end I had in Gamma. With him dead and me as the established Kingpin of Iota, I can now bring her here and know she’s safe from my old life. When I finally take down the Spyros, the last loose end in my life will have been tied and I can enjoy life with my daughter.”
“But why involve us?” Marcus asked. “Why bring me and Uncle Cato into your revenge plot? We had nothing to do with anything!”
Noch chuckled bitterly. “Cato could’ve done something,” he said. “He should’ve done something, but he just retreated like a coward instead. Used you as an excuse to justify living the life of a confirmed and verified coward who let the murderer of his only brother continue breathing.”
“Sounds like you’re just using the murder of our parents to justify killing your own blood to take over the Lions Club,” Marcus said. “Because I’m sure you had no intention of letting the Lions Club die even for all your hatred of the Spyros.”
Noch smiled. “The Lions Club will be crucial in ensuring my continued reign as Kingpin,” he said.
“But why the deceit?” Marcus asked. “You know how many enemies our family has. You could’ve easily joined the ranks of a rival and taken down Dorian with honor.”
Noch laughed. “The Spyros don’t deserve honor,” he said. “Not even me. Besides, I needed to find the cache of rings I knew Cato was going to have.”
Marcus frowned when he felt the room jolt, but he didn’t take his attention off his brother. “What do you need the rings for?” he asked.
Noch’s smile grew sad. “For the event no one hopes to see, but that everyone expects to occur with each passing day,” he said quietly. “Cato wouldn’t give me the rings so I will just have an excavation team tear apart the grounds until I find them.”
Marcus cocked his head. “Cato would never allow you to do that,” he said, heart hammering in his chest.
Noch smiled but said nothing. He stared at Marcus, his smile spreading across his face as the room slowly dissipated around them. The two of them were high in the air over a familiar landscape with a very unfamiliar scene.
The horizon was lined by the folded forested lands and from their height, Marcus could see the slow lazy creeks and moss covered ponds resting at the bottom of the tree covered heights of the land like always. The tall thin trees that dominated the land and grew in bunches still swayed gently with the blowing wind and the tall grass underneath rippled in the wind, but that was where everything familiar ended.
Below them Cato’s villa, the entire compound was destroyed. The gardens, the fountains, the manor, everything gone. No two stones stood upon one another in the smoldering ruins of Marcus’s home and Marcus felt his heart lurch. Breathing was hard and his stomach made him feel like the back of his throat was opening, preparing to eject whatever was there. Marcus’s head swam and his vision became fuzzy as he realized what he seeing was really meant.
Please dear Divine no. Please Papa, no.
Marcus looked up at Noch feeling the wetness forming on his bottom eyelid. Noch nodded with that huge smile of his.
“Yes,” Noch said darkly.
Marcus shook his head. Refusing to believe. There was no possible way. Noch may hate the family but not this...never this.
“I killed him,” Noch said, reveling in his victory. “I killed Cato. Choked him to death with my own hands. It was glorious.”
Marcus saw the truth in Noch’s eyes. Cato. Uncle Cato. His Uncle Cato…was gone. Never again would Marcus see or talk to his uncle. Never again would Marcus scoff at his terribly timed jokes. Never again would he frustratingly laugh at that simpering dog look of his uncle’s. Never again would he have the one person he needed most in this world. The reality of his loss settled on Marcus and the pain bubbling inside of him released in a shout of rage and anguish.
Noch laughed as he basked in his brother’s cries, twirling on top of a black cloud with his arms exultantly raised to the sky.
“I would've killed that puckered hole of a man Sly, but he wasn’t here,” Noch said as he drew closer to Marcus. “I’ll find him soon enough.”
“But he had nothing to do with anything!” Marcus croaked out between his sobs.
Noch shook his head. “Cato played his part,” he said. “But only he can tell you what part that was. But don’t worry. You’ll be seeing him again soon enough.”
Marcus frowned just as a sharp pain flared in his chest. He looked down and saw that a tendril of darkness had solidified in his chest. The bars around his ankles and wrists dissipated and his weight was agonizingly anchored onto that tendril through his chest. Noch came down to stare into Marcus’ shocked eyes.
The two didn’t turn away from one another as Noch angled the tendril to slowly slide Marcus off the solid darkness until he slipped off the tip and began plummeting to the ground. Marcus waited for something to happen as he fell. He knew this wasn't how his story ended.
The Divine Everlasting himself had laid a mission before him, there was no possible way this was how his life ended. The prophets and heroes in the Testament didn’t die before their mission was complete. Marcus was meant to help foster the Prophesied Son. What mission was more important than that? There was bound to be a divine miracle that would bring Marcus back from the brink of death and save him from the jaw of defeat. Something was going to save him before-
Marcus crashed into the rubble of what used to be his home, still staring up at his brother who looked down, face twitching wildly as he gloried at the scene of his creation. Marcus’s last conscious sight was seeing Noch drift away on his black cloud. The last sound he heard was his brother’s madly cackling laughter. Neither he nor Marcus saw the hooded figure standing in the shade of the ruined gardens.
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