Authors: G. X. Knight
Everyone, even X, just kind of groaned and followed Largo back up to the bridge with a slow trudge. I think we’d all be glad for this vacation to be over so we could get some much needed rest.
HOME, HOPE, HEARTACHE, AND SEX
It was nice to be home. I just wanted to forget the trip, but I couldn’t, in part, because the Amalgam news wouldn’t let me. Stories about a terrorist hijacking having been thwarted were plastered across two papers, and the main subject of three different television programs. Word was spreading about the
’s incident, but that wasn’t the big story.
The piece of news everyone was going nuts over was the return of the Infinite title I had adopted. Largo used his never-ending influence to conceal my name and identity. As a result, I was well on my way to becoming something of an urban legend as conflicting witnesses told opposing stories, skeptics discounted the possibility if being true, and believers offered their hopes of an Infinite’s return. I could handle being a myth, but, I thought Sway should have been actually recognized as the real hero. Interestingly, Frostwick’s, and Sway’s, involvement in the scenario had been downplayed to almost nothing.
The house was buzzing again, and everyone’s morale was climbing. Sway had been a little distant since we got back, but when was she ever just normal? I used the free time to think, a lot, and mostly about her. I wasn’t really ready to give up on Maeve, but I kept thinking about what I heard the fake Sway say. I figured Sway would never go for it, but I thought maybe she deserved the opportunity to be treated right.
Once, while on a hike, in the recesses of a grotto near Harbor House, I found some purple blooming wildflowers. I got up early that morning and retraced the two hour trail to pick a handful. When I got back home I tied a red ribbon around them, but my ribbon tying skills left a little something to be desired. It was sad looking, but it was the best I could do. Clearly, I was not a florist.
I dressed up in some of the designer slacks, a white button down, and pin-striped vest Sway got me before the trip. After debating my decision to do this for a good five minutes while outside of Sway’s door, I took a long deep breath before I finally knocked.
I knocked again. There was no answer. I thought for sure she had said earlier she would be in there most of the day but maybe she left and I missed her. I started to walk off when I heard the lock unlatch. I was surprised when I saw her standing there, wrapped in a black silk sheet. Her normally perfect hair was loose and wild. Her eyes shifted from side-to-side to see if anyone else was with me.
“Oh, hi,” she said. Apparently she had not been expecting for it to have been me.
“Hi.” I paused. I didn’t know what to say. She looked radiant. She looked happy… She looked like she was hiding someone behind her.
“Hold on,” she said to me. Then she turned away, and I heard her say, “Yeah, it’s just Scion. If you want to be one of us, you make the walk of shame sooner or later, Big Boy.”
She opened the door, and X smiled half-embarrassed. He was dressed in only a towel, and carried his clothes in one hand. I had to admit, he was cut. I felt a little subconscious. Are Cyborgs supposed to get jealous of non-metal types?
I was still at a loss for words. I wasn’t jealous… maybe just a little sad. I handed Sway the flowers, “Here, these came for you.”
“Who from?” She said looking over the bouquet as if it might explode.
“One of your admirers I’d assume.” I somewhat lied. “You have so many. It’s hard to keep up.” The snark I let into that last sentence was an accident.
Sway curled her lip, “Well, it looks like somebody just raided a neighbor’s garden instead of buying them like a normal person would.” She grabbed them and tossed them haphazardly behind her. I’m not sure, but I think I heard them land in the garbage. “Well, thanks,” she said. I nodded and started to walk away again, but she stopped me, “By the way, you don’t look completely terrible.” That was Sway’s idea of a compliment. “What are you all dressed up for?”
My mind ran to the well of ideas like a parched desert-walker looking for his first taste of water, “I thought I would dress to impress for Largo’s big welcome dinner for X. Plus, I was going to give Kata her gift. I thought it might help my cause to look nice.” Those lies would work.
“Ah. I thought maybe you had a hot date.”
I couldn’t hide the sadness, “Well, there was a potential for one, but she canceled on me.”
Sway’s eyes hit the floor. Message received.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you.” I said before excusing myself. I ignored the opened pit in my stomach as I set off for my next task.
Down in the lab Kata worked diligently on one of her and Sway’s fighting robots. She saw me come in and stopped what she was doing, “Hubba-hubba! Hot date?” She asked echoing Sway’s earlier sentiment.
“Peace offering,” I answered pulling a small velvet bag from my pocket. Her face lit up, and she squealed when I gave it to her.
Kata reached long delicate fingers, complete with pink nail polish, into the little bag and gingerly removed the snaking silver bracelet adorned in the collection of pink Soul Diamonds pieces.
“It’s beautiful,” she gasped.
“It’s a souvenir from the trip, and an apology.”
She tilted her head curiously.
“I am so sorry for the way I treated you before I left. I think you are one of the kindest and most brilliant women alive, and I was way out of line. I’m honored that you’re my friend, and I want you to know that I would do anything for you. -Even learn how to tame my bad attitude and stupid tongue.”
Kata put on the bracelet, admired it, and then stood and flung her arms around me. I even got a peck on the cheek. “Forgiven,” she said. “Then again, I forgave you that night after I ganked your cheesedip.”
“So you didn’t put rhino-crabs in my underwear drawer?”
Kata busted out laughing, “Sway will never let me forget some things. I promise you’re safe.”
We laughed together, and then she showed me the improvements she was making to the training bot, as well the beginnings of other projects she was working on. We talked about how excited we were to have X the house since him becoming something of an orphan after having nothing else to do with his parents. Of course, we gossiped about his walk of shame.
“Hope he enjoys it while it lasts,” Kata said about the affair. “By next week, he’ll be back in his own bed.” Then she blindsided me with a question, “So, how jealous are you?”
“Me?” I stammered.
“Oh come on,” Kata took off her lab coat and started shutting down her equipment, “I know her well enough, and I’m learning you fast enough to know something went down on the cruise. Unfortunately, what went down was neither of you, but I feel like something sparked, and you’re both too busy looking in other directions to really get it.”
“Now you’re just trying to show off how smart you are,” I said trying to dodge the question.
Kata looked at me as if I had no secrets. She wrapped her icy arm around mine, and we walked toward the elevator. “Well, here’s what we’re going to do. You look far too yummy not to have an amazingly beautiful woman on your arm this evening when we go out for dinner. It just so happens that I am available to fill that role. I’m going to freshen up, we’ll go eat and welcome our newest tattooed beefcake to the party, and then after dinner, well steal away, and you’re going to tell me all about it. Even if we don’t solve any problems, we’ll still have some great gossip time, and that always makes everything better.”
I nudged my shoulder playfully into hers, “Sounds like a plan. I’m just going to have to ask one favor…”
“I need you to make me some more cheesedip,” I joked.
She tried hard to hide her vengeful smirk, “Two words,” she raised a finger with each word, beginning with the middle, “Rhino. Crab.”
I nodded haplessly, “You know, on second thought, I think I’m good on the cheesedip for a while.”
We both started laughing again. Always the elegant cutie, it was funny to see Kata’s nose crinkle and her cheeks scrunch when she giggled. I led us to the elevator, but before doors could open I leaned over and planted a quick peck of my own on
cheek, “Actually, my favor is, this: Promise me you will never, ever change.”
She held my arm a little tighter, and then rested her pink and platinum head on my shoulder. “You got yourself a deal, Bro.”
“I have been playing this game long before it had a name.” Red Mask said to Yellow. Do not worry yourself. You, more than any of us, have lost the right to feign concern now. If not for the fear of your yellow soul, the board would have already been set. I do not fault you, but I can ill-afford to entertain your regrets at this juncture.”
Red Mask made a broad sweeping motion to a large black-and-white game board in the middle of the white chamber. A single column of light staved the encroaching darkness away. He looked over the checkered-field confident about his plans. The black king and queen held their position. The only other placed piece, a bishop, stood ready. On its side, a fallen knight waited to be picked back up.
“Are you sure this is the only way?” Yellow Mask asked.
Red Mask held out his hand, “As sure as I can be, considering what we’re facing. Now, if you don’t mind, your second donation, please.”
Yellow Mask conceded, “Very well.” He pulled the new piece from his robe, and handed over an orange rook. Red Mask snatched it away and hurried over to a waiting paintbrush. After a few long strokes of the ebony bristles, the orange piece was covered in black paint and placed on the board.
Black Mask entered the chamber as Yellow Mask marched away. He looked to the board and then met Red Mask’s stare, “The game has yet to begin, and pieces have already been lost. Others still prove to be less malleable than we had originally hoped. Perhaps the selection of a new Game Lord is in order?”
“Be careful my
friend,” Red Mask placed a green king piece in the palm of his own hand. One-by-One he wrapped his fingers around it. His fist squeezed the figure until green powder began sifting from between his fingers. When at last his hand opened, he held a newly-shaped pawn. He thrust it toward Black Mask so he could take a good look. “King’s are made into pawns, and pawns into kings, every day. If there is a new Game Lord chosen, who is to say it’s not because I wished it? Would you be eager to wear a crown
willingly allowed to pass from my head?”
Black Mask turned his head away. He remained silent.
“You have your own missions, brother. Allow me to finish mine.”
“As you say,” Black Mask replied.
Red Mask continued working with the pawn. His brush turned the piece black as he done with the orange rook, but then he covered the new black with a shimmering white. Yellow Mask returned as Black Mask retook the possession of the white game figure. Yellow Mask placed a filled soul vile onto the painting table. All three Masks stared in hushed reverence.
“It’s really him?” Black Mask asked.
The vile flecked with flickering light of the ancient wisp. The soul still smelled of Frostwick’s ash. Down within the heart of the light, a small fire from the prisons still burned. The soul had been held there for so long, the licking flame would never be quenched.
“It is,” Yellow Mask answered. “Where will you put him?” He asked.
“In here!” The Blue Mask yelled proudly to announce his entrance. He floated into the chamber. If his face had been visible, it undoubtedly would have been swathed with a hubris smile. “It seems our Red brother knows what he’s doing after all. From the Celtic Isles, I
present Valera’s daughter’s Summoning Coin.” Blue Mask hovered over and placed the silver coin on the table next to the soul vile. Beside the Coin, he placed a grey knight.
Red Mask turned the grey knight to black with a stroke of his brush, “The pieces are falling into place. Soon, the game will begin. Soon, the Infinite, and his friends, will bend to our will…”
The other Masks left Red Mask to work as he placed the soul vile on top of the Summoning Coin, “…And during the course of this game, we shall see how this Thantosa fairs against another Thantosa.”