I was born with artistic sensibilities, but only a smidgen of actual artistic ability. So, periodically I will post some of my novice attempts at art. Here is one, just for fun, and to getting ball rolling.
And there you have it. Don’t burst into applause all at once. I know my limitations.
That is X, Sugar’s mentor and adoptive father. Or my best stab a him, so to speak.
Back when I used to roll with him, doing black bag gigs for a certain clandestine branch of the military, the boy was always like wisp of mist, coming and going without leaving even the tiniest trace. Back in the good, bad ol’ days, our set called X by the handle Xyresic, meaning razor sharp, or just Sick, for short.
He lived up to his nom de guerre, in every sense, I tell you what. Even back then he was one scary son-of-a-bitch. Something ’bout him gave us all the primal shivers, and we were as mean a bunch of hardcases as you’ve ever seen. Just lookin’ at the fellah you wouldn’t think much ’bout him…until he laid those bullet-hole black eyes on you. Six foot even, lean and hard, but compared to some of the bruisers in the corps’, ol’ Sick came off as positively innocuous, but I’m tellin’ you straight, there wasn’t a one of us that would have tangled with him, lessin’ we had to.
I figure there were maybe two of us that could go toe to toe with the man, me and our CO, a righteous dude, we called Holy. I’ll speak on that particular cat in a later post. We spared around a little, now and again, like most of us did in training, but it was never an all-in, only-one-walks-away kinda’ throw-down.
Of all us comrades-in-arms, I’d say I was the closest to him, maybe the closest thing he ever had to a real friend. He was hard one to gauge. He took stony-faced to a whole other level. Never saw the man laugh, and only caught a handful of times when a hinted trace of a smile twitched on his lips. He did have a sense of humor though. It was dry and dark, bitter with jaded sarcasm, but it only occasionally made an appearance in a single snarky word or two.
Sick didn’t say much. Never did. And most of what he did say was nonverbal. A look, a flick of those black eyes. Not that he had a giveaway tell, or anything. As poker faces go, I’ve never seen one more unbreakable, and trust me, I’ve seen my share. Sick rarely spoke more than he had to. He didn’t just keep things close to the vest, he kept his secrets locked in the soul vault deep beneath the Kevlar.
I knew that he was from Lost Peaks by his slight accent. He never told me so, but by his dialectic tone I was sure he was from Magma Downs. Over time, I picked up on a few tidbits ’bout the man who would someday known as X. It was like a puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle whose owner kept hiding most of the pieces of the picture.
I would have laid down a hefty wager in gold unions, that my friend was born in The Deeps of Magma Downs, and that’s a hot, harsh crucible of a womb from which to make a start in life. Anywhere in The Deeps was a slum pit, but The Deeps to the south under Flame Peak were arguably the worst.
Living in the shadow of Flame Peak was bad enough, but all of Lost Peaks felt the looming weight of the smoldering mountain, and what it represented. But actually living under the mountain? I make no exaggeration when I say that dying and going to Hell is probably a relief to those struggling to exist there. They call it Hell’s Hearth, and I think that’s too kind.
The Family who officially control the Claim has always been the Flints, but some fifty odd years back, the Flints merged in a marriage with a family called the Raspers. When the former Sugar Peak erupted and became Flame Peak, it devastated the Valley of Lost Peaks, but nowhere was hit as hard as the former Claim on Hiney Vale. For the better part of sixty years the Flints tried to rebuild their Claim into the far more substantial Magma Downs, in a vain attempt to return to glory. The other Great Houses watched them flounder, wait like vultures for the Flints to collapse, so they could swoop in and tear at the carcass of the Claim into pieces, but the Flints took a desperate gambit in finding a new financial backer when they merged with the Raspers.
The Raspers were from the big city of Knife Wind, back east, off the edge of one of the Titan Lakes, Lake Aurora. They made their ill-gotten fortunes within a vast network of organized crime ventures, until the Raspers controlled all the syndicates within the Union’s center. They had been trying to get a foothold in Lost Peaks almost since the founding of the Claims. If the other Great Houses had bolstered the failing Flints, they might have avoided having to deal with another player in the game for the next half century.
With the influx of cash provided by the Raspers, House Flint rose in prominance again, but ever after everyone in the know understood which Family actually controlled Magma Downs. More than anywhere else, the Downs were rife with crime and poverty. Up in the soaring, volcanic black, skyscraper Aeries lived the disgustingly rich, while the tourist zones remained fairly safe, most of the rest of the Claim was untamed and extremely dangerous. No more exponentially so than The Deeps of the Downs, Hell’s Hearth.
I did not know for a surety, back when Sick kept my six safe in the Corps’, that he was indeed from that infernal place, but in times anon I was to be privy to much intel, including his true origin, given to me from the lips of none other than Sugar herself.
Like I said, the man was a puzzle. His life’s journey was stranger than I could have ever anticipated. But then everything was about to change, and in ways beyond comprehension. In retrospect, I should not find it all that unusual what path anyone took to survive.
My friend, who came from literally nothing…well, it always make me smile bittersweet while I get teary. And me? It makes me shake my head to say it… I was born into the most extravagantly wealthy family in the world, and gifted with not a little talent. Yes, I birthed with not just a silver spoon, but a platinum one with a jewels encrusted handle, stuck firmly in my squalling mouth. Despite (or maybe because of) all my advantages, I was a selfish, callous, overindulgent, little shit as a youth.
My parents tried, but I was as bullheaded as they come. And as fame found me as a teenager, I tore up the town. I thought I was above it all, above the law, above the plebs, above my Family. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and fuck all who said otherwise. I tried most of the lesser vices Lost Peaks had to offer, and I’m sure I would have fallen prey to much worse, but for a mistake. I got in a fight. Just like many I’d been in before. I always had bodyguards, but I was as tough as any of them. Stupider too.
I killed a man in that fight. Didn’t really mean to, but that doesn’t fix dead. One too many punches, one too hard, and a man was dead. All that he ever would be in this life snuffed forever.
My father, he didn’t come to my rescue, at least not in the way I wanted, and thought I deserved and was entitled to. Any other scion of a Great Family would have skated, but House Eternal is of different stuff, or at least we like to think so. No, my pop left me at the mercy of a Zionite judge, and, well, the rest is history.
Before the fight, I was a very famous son of a very famous clan. I was a rockin’ pop star, and everything was handed to me on a solid gold platter, not just because of who my Family were, but because I was Little Jimmy, heartthrob for millions and millions of screaming females the world over, and the envy of jealous males everywhere. After that fight, I was stripped of my station, my wealth, even my name, and it was the best damn thing that could ever have happened to me.
The only price I had to pay to over coming being a total asshole, was living with the fact of that life I petulantly took. I didn’t pay the price at all. A fellow who was only defending his wife’s honor, the mother of his unborn child, when I, like a brutish cad, groped her while on one of my infamous drunken rampages across the Claims. He stood his ground against me, my bodyguards, and the hangers-on of my entourage. It didn’t matter that I was famous, or that she was too shocked and shy to scream or refuse. He stood up to me, told me what a punk I was, then surprised me by bloodying my nose, even though he was just a stick of a guy. I can’t undo what did in reaction. He was the price for my change, and he paid it. I can still see the light go out in his eyes as he fell. I can still hear the scream of his beautiful girl as she found he wasn’t breathing. I can still feel my torn knuckles, wet with his blood and mine.
I hope I always will.
I’ve killed many others since then. War and combat are like that. I don’t know how many exactly. I don’t want to take stock. I never take a life without paying a price. I see every face in my dreams. Even though I know many of them were villains. They were still someone to somebody.
If that man had not paid the price, I would have never met X, never known Sugar, never have been who I am. He paid for my change, and I’ll forever be in his debt. So, I live my life trying to live up to the price paid for me to become who I am. I strive (and often fail) to be the better man. The man who holds the line when all hope is lost. The man who never gives in, or gives up.
I fight for the woman without a husband, the boy without a father, the mother without a son. I fight on, because fighting is the price I pay every day until I can draw breath no more, and I go to see if I have made up for the price paid for me.