The conference room was large, wide open and bright. Three of the walls were white with the far wall being made up of windows that showcased downtown Damokles and the Thousand Skyscrapers. In the center of the room, a long black table shone in the sunlight and had six seats on either side with one seat at the head of the table. All but two of the seats on the right side of the table were filled with talking men and women, but only one man mattered in that room.
Ser Nathan’s eyes never wavered from Marcus’ eyes as he motioned to the two newcomers to sit. Marcus didn’t move at first, but when Byron nudged him his legs began moving on their own and they took the last two open seats. Ser Nathan’s smile widened as he got to his feet.
“I want to thank everyone for arriving on time…” he paused long enough to look at Byron, but said nothing to him. A few people around the table snickered like schoolchildren and he continued as the tittering went on. “As you all have no doubt noticed, there’s a new face not only on this board, but here at this company. This young man is fresh out of the United Universities where he graduated at the top of his class and made himself into something of a legend around campus if I’ve heard right.”
There were a few more chuckles around the table, but Ser Nathan raised a peremptory hand. Marcus fought the urge to groan. What have you done Uncle Cato...
“I’m serious!” Ser Nathan continued with a smile. “Legend says this young man attended the prestigious school in the hopes of entering the College of Engineering, but one fateful economics course saw him entering the College of Finance. While in the College of Finance, this young man studied so hard, he never missed a question on any test in a collegiate career that ended with a 4.0 GPA! He was known to teach his professors a thing or two and he even developed a new economic theory all on his own!”
While true it was that Marcus wanted to be an engineer when he completed his exit exams, there was no economics class that changed anything. Where did that even come from? Why Uncle Cato, why?
Ser Nathan turned from the group to stare directly at Marcus with a smile on his face. The smile made Marcus want to shiver, but instead he forced a smile as Ser Nathan motioned for him to stand.
“Why don’t you say a few words, Marcus?” the gold-toothed executive asked without really asking.
Marcus’ heart thudded in his chest. Public speaking was something he avoided at every given opportunity. He would much rather face the awkwardness of being stuck in a room full of strangers asking intimate questions but...no…no that would be worse. Not by much though.
With no other choice available to him, Marcus stood and nodded to everyone around the room.
“Hello everyone,” Marcus said, proud his voice was audible. “Ser Nathan has given more than enough of an introduction for me so I’ll keep this short. I’m excited to be here and I look forward to working with each and every one of you. Thank you.”
With that, Marcus sat back down and prayed for this ordeal to be over. Unfortunately, the Divine Everlasting was too busy laughing at him to listen to his prayers.
“Marcellus Felix Spyros the nineteenth, everyone,” Ser Nathan said loudly. “Let’s give him a hand.”
Marcus groaned inwardly.
Every eye around the table snapped to Marcus’s eyes almost before Ser Nathan finished speaking. Marcus focused on Ser Nathan as a means of keeping his eyes from roving around the table, but that didn’t last long. Ser Nathan knew of Marcus’ preference. Especially considering that he was a witness to the spat he had with Ser Cristiano, but the man was just standing there with one of the smarmiest smiles Marcus had ever seen. Suddenly, Marcus could understand Byron’s inability to describe his dislike of this man.
The meeting was a quick affair. These objectives meetings discussed the goals for each of the departments and with Ser Nathan running the company as he did, these were more orders than discussions. When everyone was dismissed, Ser Nathan handed Byron a thick stack of papers outlining targets for acquisition. Byron took them saying that he would get right on them. Both Marcus and Byron turned to leave and Marcus just began to feel like a man who narrowly avoid-
A hand on settled on Marcus’s shoulder and held him back with a soft, but irrefutable grip. After a few steps, Byron noticed that Marcus was not following him and he turned around.
“Marcus will be right along,” Ser Nathan said.
Byron looked at Marcus then at Ser Nathan. Byron’s eyes flicked around and Marcus turned to both sides, seeing Ser Nathan’s group from this morning stepping forward. The helpless look on his face told Marcus how he felt about leaving him there, but Marcus didn’t blame the man. What could he do? Byron nodded slowly and turned to leave the room without turning back. Once he was gone, Ser Nathan turned Marcus to face him and his group.
“So what do you think of Byron, my boy?” Ser Nathan asked as he chivvied Marcus into one of the seats. He sat down in the closet chair and leaned back like he was chatting with an old friend.
“Well, seeing as how it’s still my first day, I would say it is too soon to make an opinion of him,” Marcus replied, unable to think of anything else to say.
Ser Nathan smiled, his gold tooth glimmering. The others of the group settled into other seats around them, but remained silent as Ser Nathan continued.
“You two seemed to be getting along just fine in the elevator,” the CEO said, leaning forward in his seat as though they were co-conspirators.
Marcus had hoped Ser Nathan didn’t see that. His mind raced as he tried to make up something, but ten thousand things came at once. Not a single one of them left his lips. Ser Nathan’s smile melted into a piteous frown, patting Marcus on the shoulder as though he was a close relative.
“Don’t worry, my boy,” he said with a sigh. “I don’t blame you for trying to protect him. Byron has this innate ability to inspire loyalty in those under him. It’s one of his greatest qualities, but it’s also one of the biggest problems for the company.”
“How so?” Marcus asked.
Ser Nathan motioned to one of the people around them and a brown folder appeared. Ser Nathan accepted it with a heavy sigh. The look he gave Marcus was full of regret and a bit of indecision.
“I hoped I wouldn’t have to do this,” he said, voice dripping in sadness.
Ser Nathan locked eyes with Marcus as he placed the folder on the table. “What I’m about to show you cannot leave this room,” he said before he slid the folder over.
Marcus opened the folder and saw a massive letterhead at the top of the page emblazoned with an emblem of a brain superimposed over a mountain with simple lines.
‘MOUNT GUDRUN MENTAL REHABILITATION CENTER.’
As he looked over the form, Marcus began questioning why Ser Nathan would give him hospital records in the middle of their discussion about-
Marcus’ eyes must have widened because Ser Nathan spoke up.
“It says that he has acute delusional paranoia and bipolar depression,” he said. “Go on, keep reading. You’ll learn all you need to.”
Marcus frowned as he did just that. Something wasn’t right. Something felt wrong about these documents, but he was too confused by what he was seeing to think critically. He saw a few words he recognized, but never two recognizable words in the same sentence. Then he reached the final page. This page had a heading that read ‘FINAL DIAGNOSIS’ with a rubber ‘RELEASED’ stamp. At the bottom of the page, there were five signatures over names that had no less than four degrees each.
“Read the summary paragraphs,” Ser Nathan said.
Marcus wanted to ignore Ser Nathan but his eyes still fell down the page and caught onto the final paragraphs.
The patient has exhibited five of the seven signs of Acute Delusional Paranoia in addition to exhibiting all four signs of Bipolar Depression Syndrome. The hospital staff has recommended an official diagnosis of these two conditions for the patient.
The claims of ‘someone being after’ the patient have been systematically proven false. The patient refuses to accept the truth. The elaborate plots explained by the patient have been systematically dismantled by not only the hospital staff but by people close to the patient as well. The patient clearly refuses to accept reality. The ‘missing’ people mentioned by the patient have all been contacted by the authorities. The patient’s delusions have taken over the patient and the patient refuses to accept any explanation to the contrary.
The hospital has repeatedly recommended the patient extend their stay, however, because the patient voluntarily entered the hospital, the hospital staff is unable to keep the patient under supervision and has released the patient under the patient’s own recognizance. The staff has requested the patient be observed carefully once out of the hospital and the patient’s medicinal intake be regulated closely.
Marcus sat staring at the bottom of the page. He was fighting to keep himself from shaking, his mind blank with the odd reality admiring someone declared partially insane. Just as Marcus’ mind began working again Ser Nathan laid a hand on his shoulder.
“It was a shock to us all, my boy,” he said sounding as though he was holding back tears.
Marcus looked up at Ser Nathan and saw pain on his face. Marcus’s skin still prickled from the ice in his eyes. Ser Nathan sighed as though he was fighting to hide a deep pain and the performance was actually kind of admirable. Something that might have won an acting award possibly, but this wasn’t a movie and Marcus didn’t have a ticket in his pocket.
“Byron and I started in the mail room together when my grandfather was still running the company,” Ser Nathan said with that same piteous tone. “He was one of my groomsmen. We were once incredibly close but after his son died-“
“His son died?” Marcus asked.
Ser Nathan nodded.
“Jonathan hung himself about six years ago now,” he whispered. “Angelica left him three years later. It broke him. The man I knew, the man I loved and respected is nothing more than a memory now.”
Marcus heard a sniffle and turned to see more than one red face and a few wet cheeks. He didn’t hear Ser Nathan get close in the short space of time. Marcus couldn’t help but inch away from the too close man when he felt the uncomfortable warmth of the man’s presence.
“I didn’t want it to come out like this, but I have no choice,” Ser Nathan said. “I needed you to know why I had to have Byron gone.”
“With this diagnosis, you have a case to remove him legally,” Marcus said still maneuvering for more space.
“That diagnosis means nothing until he is a danger to himself or to others,” Ser Nathan said as he began leading Marcus towards the elevator. “If I remove him before I get that declaration, I would leave the company open to a lawsuit that could devastate us.”
“So you want me to do what? Provoke him?” Marcus asked.
Ser Nathan paused for a very long second before he shook his head and resumed leading Marcus out of the conference room.
“No, nothing like that,” he said. “I just didn’t want you to get too close to him. I like you Marcus. Trust me when I say getting close to Byron wouldn’t be good for you, but I can’t blame you if you’ve already fallen under his sway.”
“It’s one of Byron’s specialties,” Ser Nathan said as he motioned for Marcus to enter the golden box. “Don’t be fooled by his gruff demeanor. My father liked to say that Byron could blend in with a hive of honey bees. I myself was caught by his sway once before. He’s a sick man and he needs to get help before something worse happens.”
Ser Nathan reached into the elevator and pressed the floor for the Acquisitions Department. His eyes fell to the brown folder and his eyebrows jumped, but that was the only sign he saw the folder. He casually reached into the elevator just when the doors began closing and plucked the folder out of Marcus’ hands. He looked at Marcus intently as he handed the folder to one of his people without turning to them.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, my boy,” Ser Nathan said. “But if those documents fell into the wrong hands you could imagine what would happen to our stock prices. You know how the market is with perceptions.”
If he was so worried about perceptions, then why would he even allow something like those records to exist? As opposed to accidentally voicing this thought, Marcus just nodded.
Ser Nathan smiled again before turning around to accept a phone call being held at bay by one of his people. Marcus thought he heard Ser Nathan start speaking Anurian but the elevator doors closed before he could confirm what little he heard.
None of that mattered now.
The battle lines were drawn and Marcus was being asked to declare for one side or the other in the upcoming civil war. Marcus had to admit that Ser Nathan made a compelling case, but the fact that his eyes never once changed throughout that whole meeting told Marcus exactly what he needed to know. He couldn’t believe that he once thought that man had a demeanor similar to a con artist.
That man was an ice wraith made flesh.