“So what in Hell do we do now?”
Draxas slides his eyes sidelong to pin his underling with his metallic gaze. Draxas the Golden, he is called, and for good reason. Being an animated statue of solid gold has its disadvantages: one must be especially careful of weak floors, for example. It’s a bigger problem than one might think. And chairs? Forget it. Except for the heavily reinforced furniture in his home, he never sits, but making a virtue of necessity, he is known for always standing, sentinel-like, gazing in the distance.
Being impervious to most weapons is quite nice as well, and a single punch is usually enough to splatter brain matter and bone shards in every direction. And he is, naturally, astonishingly beautiful. I should have been a leader, he thinks. Long before this. But Nekh kept me a mere bodyguard.
No more. Now he is a captain of his own gang, and he has big plans.
His voice is hollow and metallic, as if he is speaking from a deep barrel. “The Dukaine Family is no more. We’re seizing our own territory now. And with that big battle next ward over in Three Rats, the Dukaines were severely weakened there. We move in and take over. Establish a base. Then return here to Little Falls after we–”
Another voice breaks in. “But din’t them Guardia in Three Rats take out practically all the Dukaine divines there? Do we really wanna be messin’ with those guys?”
Draxas grinds his teeth, creating a squealing sound that silences the murmurs that spring up at that. “The next person who interrupts me will learn firsthand what I plan to do to those Guardia, both Dei and Popula.”
“Punch them in the teeth, Draxas?” The voice rings out from a shadowed corner of the room, away from the door and the windows. A figure steps from the shadow as if from a hidden entrance. Draxas sees a short, trim man, hair cut very short, slightly balding, with a beard equally close-cropped. He wears a dapper black suit with a blood-red vest and necktie, and holds a silver-headed cane of jet-black wood.
Draxas shifts back slightly. “Margrave…” He recovers from his surprise and stands tall again. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d been taken down along with Nekh!”
“Nekh was making mistake after mistake,” the wizard says dismissively. “His emotions were controlling his decision-making. The writing was on the wall.”
The living statue laughs deeply. “You helped them, didn’t you? You helped them take him down!”
“That proved unnecessary,” Margrave says. “He managed to destroy himself quite handily. It is sad. His – well my, if we’re to be accurate – plan to control crime throughout the entire Insula was nearing completion of its first stage: controlling every ward in the Fourth Ring. But it’s not too late to salvage it.”
Draxas’ eyes narrow. “No! You’re the one who kept me in a lowly position all these years! Poisoning him against me, telling him I wasn’t capable of leadership. Now I’m the head of my own gang! I’m not going back.” He takes a threatening step toward Margrave.
The wizard looks thoroughly unimpressed. “You are incapable of leadership, Draxas. You are a disaster in the making. Best to keep you under control, so you happen to our enemies rather than to us.”
“Us? Who is this us, Margrave?” The auric creation flexes his muscles. “This is my gang! You are not welcome here!”
As Draxas reaches out a hand to seize the wizard by the throat, Margrave lightly raps his cane against the outstretched forearm, creating a metallic ringing. Draxas flinches, then looks at the inside of his forearm where the silver wolf-head of the cane touched him. It is glowing red from heat, the metal bulging like a wasp sting, softening.
“What…what did you do to me??” Draxas suddenly falls to one knee and bellows in pain, smashing his knee partway through the floor.
“It’s a small, highly energetic demon,” Margrave says. “Vicious little thing. It’s heading for your brain. Well, what passes for a brain in a solid-metal head. Whatever matrices that make you what you are will be melted inside your skull, Draxas. Then it will be gone, leaving you a slightly marred but otherwise lovely, and completely inert, statue.”
Draxas looks up at Margrave in desperation. “Please…get it out! I’ll obey!”
As his vision begins to blur, as the structures that hold his memory and personality within his solid gold skull begin to liquefy and lose coherence, the last words he hears are, “But you see, I can really use the starter capital your body will provide. The price of gold is on the rise, after all.”