At last Lance was back in the world he knew. However, far from being relieved he felt like he was walking across a bed of nails.
He couldn’t see the monster who’d stolen his identity, but he could feel him right by his side. Somewhere hidden, always watching.
He’d split a mountain with one swing of his sword!
Someone that powerful had to have the mental strength of a Master Demonhunter. He couldn’t even hold a candle to such a creature. What’s more, he was able to move through space and manipulate reality! If he wanted to hide himself, then a piddling novice like himself would never find him. He only felt the man because he wanted Lance to know he was watching.
It was a threat. A naked, effective threat! Lance felt like he could cry.
He thought about the last twenty years of his life. Lascivious, lazy, bossy… sure he wasn’t a good guy, but he hadn’t seriously hurt anyone! Why were the gods punishing him this way?
And who was this monster? Obviously he had incredible power so why bother to pretend to be anyone? It was like fate had decided to play a cruel joke on him.
No, enough! Be calm, be collected…
If anything about his face or mannerisms tipped off his father he was doomed. And not just him but everyone he knew. All of a sudden Lance went from feeling mostly unimportant to shouldering the lives of his entire family.
“Young Master, your father – the Governor – has arrived!”
When word came that his father was here, Lance did not go out to meet him. He remained seated in his room, munching on snacks and sipping on a cup of tea. When his father entered Lance didn’t even lift his head.
Immediately the steward scowled in irritation. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off from a cough by Governor Nilam. The steward, reading the situation, bowed and made his exit.
Lance’s father stepped forward. “You stuck up little shit. I don’t care how big your britches get, you stand up when I enter a room!”
Lance answered by rolling his eyes. “This isn’t Byzantium, you can’t order people around here. But me? I live here and I can sit wherever the hell I want. What’s it to you, anyway? Always flapping your lips without saying anything meaningful. So get to the point already.”
Lance’s petulant attitude practically drowned the room.
“You worthless runt!” The Governor lost his temper, but that was somehow a relief. His son was the same smart-ass, disrespectful wastrel he’d always been. Maybe his suspicions were unfounded. But he wanted to be sure.
“Never mind, I’m not here to argue with you. Word got back to us that you defeated Jupiter Merlo! Why didn’t you ever tell your father you were this strong?”
“You think just because you’re my dad you get to know everything about me?” Lance paused to take a sip of tea. “If I have an orgy tonight am I supposed to share all the details with you, too? Really, if I did tell you what good would come of it? You’d just have me doing shit I don’t want to do every day. Much more comfortable pretending to be a worthless son, am I right?”
Governor Nilam’s face was calm and the irritation melted away. “What’s wrong with a son doing something for his father? It’s a man’s lot – the stronger he is the more responsibilities he carries. Besides, I’m at least partially to thank. If I hadn’t invited some of the best teachers to come and train you from six years old, would you be where you are today?”
Lance knew his father was trying to convince him. It was true that back when he was six, Byzantium invited one of the realm’s most lauded teachers to come. However he didn’t come to train Lance. He came to train his brother. He tried to learn from watching, which was hardly effective.
Lance spat out a fruit pit. “Bah, what’s this bullshit? I remember you beating me because I didn’t want to study with my brother. Since when did you get that trainer for me?”
Governor Nilam was watching his young son closely. Everything was the same, from his impudent speech to his dismissive attitude. All at once his suspicions withered. There was no doubt this was his son.
“Hey-hey! What the fuck did you think you’re doing? You better not be thinking of raising your hand at me!” Lance’s eyes widened when he saw his father step closer. He felt his heart skip a beat. Get back you idiot! There’s a monster watching all of this who could kill you with his pinkie finger. “I’m a part of the Argyris family. If you do anything I’ll make sure you regret it!”
The threats did not faze Byzantium’s Governor as he stepped close and slapped his hands down on Lance’s shoulders. Nilam’s Young Master felt the warmth of his father’s palms, seeping through his clothes and into his heart. He looked into his father’s wrinkled eyes and for a moment felt emotion well up inside of him. All that hate he thought he had was just a shell.
Now he recognized how he really felt, but was it too late? He didn’t know… didn’t know if he would live much longer to make things right. His doppelganger was much too terrible and killing Lance would be like swatting a fly to him.
“We have our issues you and I, but you’re still young. You don’t understand the pains of being a father. I am a Governor also, and that means pressures and responsibilities above the norm for all of us. That’s why I always hoped all three of my sons would grow to be excellent men.” It was the first time Governor Nilam had ever been so candid. “I am proud of you.”
Lance stood still, dumbfounded. After sharing his feelings, the Governor turned and walked toward the exit. “Steward, let’s go see the Elder.”
The steward hopped into action excitedly. “Of course, Patriarch!”
Lance watched his father leave. He wanted to call out to him, but didn’t dare. A confusing mix of emotions roiled inside him. All the praise he was given wasn’t from anything he did, but it felt… good. Maybe the stranger was right. Maybe it was a good thing he was chosen to be replaced.
His thoughts were interrupted by a voice from outside. A young girl’s voice. “I am Idonea, daughter of Bruno Argyris. A pleasure to meet you, Governor.”
“Ah, Mrs. Idonea. We’re family now, you mustn’t be so formal.” The Governor’s rich laughter was muffled by the door. It was a genuine expression of happiness. He was happy with his new daughter in law. “That little brat can be a handful sometimes. If he causes you any problems you just let me know. I’ll break his legs.”
Embarrassment crept into her voice. “Actually he’s been quite kind,” she said timidly.
“Well that makes my day to hear, Mrs. Idonea. Seems that kid might have grown up a little.” The Governor was so pleased by how things were going he decided to celebrate with a drink. Such praise from a refined noble such as herself spoke well to his son’s growth. It was unexpected but appreciated.
Lance listened from the other side of the door, stunned. He’d had plenty of women, but they all spent their time with him for his status and money. It was all just a show. He’d always known deep down that he wasn’t worth much – just relying on his family’s riches and reputation, even to get him into demonhunter training.
Those women from before put up with him. But how did they really feel? He didn’t know.
Lance had been opposed to this marriage and everyone assumed it was because he was just being contrary. The truth was, however, that he was afraid he didn’t deserve this noble bride. She was the daughter of a mighty Patriarch, after all! Her father was the legendary spatial Master Bruno Argyris!
How could someone as worthless as him live up to her expectations? Yet, somehow, over the last couple days he’d become one of Fulmulta’s Mighty Ten and everything had changed.
He felt lost.
“Hey, you’re just standing there staring into space?”
A pretty young woman of maybe sixteen or seventeen strode into the room. She was pleasing to look upon, with excellent features and a lithe body. She had a mixture of noble temperament and immaturity that suited her well.
He felt his heart race. It was a unique feeling for him.
“I heard your conversation.” Idonea stepped closer, noting his shocked expression. “You aren’t a child, you shouldn’t quarrel with your father. You should go apologize.”
She wasn’t sure why she felt compelled to share her opinion, but she did. Lance wasn’t sure how to react. He’d never seen this girl before now, but the way he felt… he wished they’d met earlier.
“Your father seems like a decent man.” Idonea had no idea this person she was speaking to now was not the same person she’d gotten to know over the last few days. She was too focused on her own thoughts. “Some things we just have to deal with, like family. Sometimes it feels more like a burden than a treasure, but if one day you lost everything you’d see how precious it is.”
Idonea was speaking literally. She realized what she’d lost when her father disappeared. Her mood was low and she brought it up because she wanted Lance to say something reassuring. Over the last couple days she’d felt calm with him, safe.
But this time he didn’t give her what she wanted. He didn’t say anything at all.
Idonea raised her head and looked into his eyes. They were different somehow, like that profound wisdom wasn’t there anymore.
“Well, figure it out yourself!” Idonea spat the words in irritation and stormed out of the room.
Lance watched her go, obviously upset. He didn’t know why but he felt guilty.
A few moments later Cloudhawk appeared from ripples in space. Lance hesitated for a minute but gathered his courage. “If I am going to die, can you do me a favor?”
Cloudhawk looked at him in silence. “What?”
“I want the people of Stormford to remember me as a good man.” Lance considered his words for another moment. “And that girl, if you could...”
“I told you I only need your identity for a little while. When my mission is complete you’ll be returned to your normal life. How people remember you will be up to you.”
“Would you tell me who you are?” Someone as strong as this stranger had to be widely known.
“I can’t, not right now. But I think eventually you’ll figure it out.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter