Criticality 16: The Piper Takes Credit
True, but Glove had waffled on his responsibilities to factions in the past, so his subtle shirk away from Vector Oblivion’s advance was not a flinch of fear but the optimization of his positioning which he needed to cock and rake his right claw in the direction of the deity!
Feeble or not, the leader of the Shokan was going to make his adversary have to earn this.
Glove’s soul had already been bought, sold, traded, and purchased time and time again over his sordid history. Desperation was the reasoning behind the question of why. Retrieving Billy was the ends, but he sought out to achieve this by any means and needed no justification. From the Doran Aristocracy to the New Alliance to the Doran Military to the Space Force to the Pillorian Regime, the leader of the Shokan had a résumé which read like an espionage thriller. People like him lost count of how many people that they had betrayed and/or killed. Hardened and remorseless, they only knew who they had not harmed as this list was much more manageable.
What had gone around sure took a long time to come back around – otherwise, Glove had masterfully avoided this day for the better part of his adult life. He avoided his day of repentance as easily as Vector Oblivion had avoided the forehand swipe. The deity wore a black body garb that blended perfectly with the darkness of the quarters, a close-fitting yet feature-masking hood helmet with those luminescent purple eyes piercing the material, and a deep purple half cape which managed to flow in slow ripples despite the fact that there was no noticeable breeze present. To add an additional contrast to the blackness, the Ethereal partially dematerialized its torso into a fine purple mist which the vicious claw whiffed through while its cape began to electrify with visible currents of a vile purple energy.
A woman after his own absence of a heart – Commander was the only person in the universe who happened to be as unrepentantly ruthless as Glove. Opposites normally attracted, but they had found a measure of comfort in their startling similarity. She was the Queen of the Doran Aristocracy, and he was the leader of the Shokan. For each to have ascended to these positions – many others must have fallen and even more probably needed to be fended off in order to maintain the status. Their love was a type A match made in he– and solidified in blood by way of a child. Both had to admit that the sight of Billy as a kinder, gentler offspring was unnerving, but this would be taken care of in short order. Genetics would see to that as the grip of the nurturers would be broken in favor of their child’s true nature. One parent would handle the deed while the other needed to visualize a way out of a more immediate predicament.
“No competition,” Vector Oblivion said as its torso rematerialized to solidification and it intercepted Glove’s wrist in mid miss with an unyielding right hand. He strained against the deity’s grip as the pressure quickly tightened to a grip which crushed the bones of his wrist before the Ethereal reached over with its left hand and savagely tore out what was left of the artificial right hand that sat encased inside of the claw! The leader of the Shokan probably hoped that the blood-curdling stream of blood that was spraying out of his mutilated arm and creating an additional liquid contrast to the darkness was blood-curdling in a literal sense rather than the nauseating figurative sense. But that was the lesson of all of this – was it not? He needed to be more careful about what he wished for.
Found in a similar situation which forced Glove to have to wield the claw in the first place and caused him to answer the offer that Vector Oblivion had extended to him after the Doran Military relinquished his services, the painfulness of near death was not nearly as bad the second time around. It was not necessarily a good day to die because that day did not exist, but for as bleak as the present was for the leader of the Shokan, the future happened to be looking bright. The future was looking up, and he could hold his head up even as the excruciating sting of a forgotten phantom limb returned and threatened to drive him down to his knees in submission. None of that mattered because Billy was finally home, and for as proud of his son as he already was by the fatherly default, he expected to be even more pleased as the reigns of Shokan leadership would be passed to its rightful heir.
This was a joyous occasion and one that warranted the celebratory passage of a last battle, but Glove was fighting on toothpicks. The pressure which Vector Oblivion had applied to rip apart his arm might have been gruesome in one respect but lighter than expected in another. His frame happened to be so frail that he probably could have fallen to the ground and netted a similar result. But thoughts like those were defeatist. Things were stacked against him, yes, however a thought crossed his mind about trying to possibly pull a victory out of this somehow. With a cocked left fist, the leader of the Shokan hauled off and put everything that he had into a punch which was aimed for the deity’s face in the moment that it was still recoiled back from the motion of ripping apart his arm and tossing the partial limb aside.
Vector Oblivion had managed to sap Glove’s vitality over a period of weeks, in advance of this day, and for this very reason. He was feisty, and in his prime – quite powerful. It did not want to make this any more complicated than the matter needed to be. A deal was a deal, and when the leader of the Shokan was informed of the caveats after his quest to find Billy had fallen brutally short and he wound up accepting the conditions of the life extension, his mind, body, and soul belonged to the Pillorian Regime and could be retrieved at any time of their choosing once his mission was completed. Perhaps he might have thought, hoped, or truly believed that the deity was joking. The eyes may have shone through the hood helmet but a smiling mouth was distinctly absent. This was not a game. This was also not that deep. A transaction had been made, so per the terms of the agreement, this was nothing more than business.
A purple bubble shield formed over the area on the side of Vector Oblivion’s face which was in potential danger – split seconds before impact, blocking the punch. There was not going to be a Cinderella story comeback. There was not going to be any hope of escape. There was no need for debate. There was no need for questions. This was the end. Since matters were already over and done with, this also signaled new beginnings. It had expected nothing less than strident resistance from Glove, but even the deity, who held no opinions of its own, would have had to admit that this was becoming bad form. He was swinging and kicking away with his remaining three whole appendages, but each time the would-be blows were rejected by the bubble shields – forming at various places along the Ethereal’s unfazed body. If it had emotions, right about now would have been the time in which it had officially tolerated enough of the unprofessionalism. Time had come for the leader of the Shokan to own up to his new set of responsibilities, and things ran a bit differently in the Pillorian Regime, so he would soon learn his place. The quarters lighting up in a purple hue of its vile energy as frantic bolts of electricity pulsated throughout would make sure of that.
From his knees now, Billy had made it to all fours with his head bowed against the weight of jumbled thoughts. On one hand, he had the knowledge of what the Shokan had done to the Djibouti Clan and the Smith family. There was love on that hand for his Master Acro and Acra Lin. And there was love for his surrogate family of Johnny Smith and Charlene Eriksen-Smith as his adoptive parents and such an annoying adoptive sister in Erica Smith. She could be such a dork sometimes, and that brought a smile to his paining face through the tears which were trickling down to the floor at a sporadic rate. On the other hand, he had an immediate and irreversible love for his mother. But there was also hate on this hand for his Master Acro, Acra Lin, Johnny Smith, Charlene Eriksen-Smith, and Erica Smith for keeping any mention of Commander from him. Why would they have done that? And why was she holed up in this hidden location like some sort of hunted criminal? This woman had carried him to term – given him life, and his so-called family continually deflected any and all attention away from her. The Djibouti Clan student knew well about Glove and every single one of his father’s brutal exploits – vividly. Yet nobody would even discuss the one person whose womb he came out of. It was if they could not find the words or something. No, they were hiding something – hiding him from something. How peculiar. Needless to say, his emotions were a twisted mess.
As a quivering mess of flesh, Billy found it impossible to stand and face this like an adult. He was compelled to remain in that submissive posture – reduced from the skill and stature of an amazing martial artist down to the paralyzed meekness of a child who had been isolated for chastisement. It was like he happened to be in a ‘time-out’ which actually worked. Physically, there was no desire for any part of his body to go against Commander – even if he wanted to, although he was not sure that he wanted to or maybe he did but he could not figure out how to perform the reticent actions. The Djibouti Clan student was unsure of everything right now and found it next to impossible to make up his mind on anything. As if that mind was completely severed from his body and its reigns during this paralysis, the out-of-body experience provided a moment of clarity and calm in returning a measure of both his cognitive and motor functions: It was just too hard to think. But the truth of the matter was that these only happened to be unnecessary thoughts. The fact of the matter still remained that it was much easier to allow his mother to think for him. After all, she knew best!
And when Billy realized this, his chin moved upward – cupped between the soft index finger and thumb of Commander’s right hand. As she crouched down before him, he met the beautiful eyes of her motherly gaze and was provided a simple choice. The warmth of the query existed inside such a familial closeness that the Djibouti Clan student had not felt this way since he resided within his mother’s womb. That was the choice….
New beginnings seemed to be going around the Brael Moonbeam today, but this brand new start from scratch was sealed with a very mutual hug of love and respect. The child loved his mother, and in return, she respected his decision.
“First thing is first,” Commander said while parting briefly from the embrace, “the name that your father and I have chosen for you is Sheol.”
“Yes, Mother,” Sheol answered with the puffiness of emotionality remaining in his face but the tears having long since stopped. An involuntary sniffle came out, but he was otherwise back to being emotionally stable.
Clarity came and would seemingly now always come in the form of Commander’s wisdom, “A grave wrong has been perpetrated against our family. You know that, do you not?”
Nodding his agreement, Sheol replied with a greater conviction, “Of course I do. What they put all of us through is unforgivable. Sure, the Shokan and even you may have done some atrocious things to warrant the response, but I had nothing to do with it. Two wrongs don’t make a right; they created me.”
“I had nothing to do with this,” Commander disagreed, “but even if I had – would it have mattered?”
“Yes,” Sheol stated, “it would have.”
Commander sighed, “Then where does your loyalty lie?”
There was no hesitation in Sheol’s response, “Well obviously with you, Mother. And yes, even with Father. I can change the Shokan for the better and even assist you with the Aristocracy.”
“You are not ready for the Aristocracy,” Commander admitted, “but your sister, Angelica, has that covered.”
“I would sincerely like to meet her some day,” Sheol said.
With a nod, Commander thought that it would eventually be a good idea and said as much, “In due time, Sheol. There are some serious threats which are ahead of us, and we need to deal with some of those currently. Your former master is not going to take your defection by sitting down and wishing that it would go away.”
Sheol smiled, “I will deal with him as well as the rest of the Djibouti Clan’s fabled Crimson Red Belts.” Interestingly, he had decided to not take his anger out on any of the remaining, formerly fellow students. They were not to blame for the decisions of a few – or one, namely Acro. Acro and Acra Lin actually. “It’s been a while since those belts have been unified, and I think that it’s time that the fractured power structure be more appropriately focused by my hands.”
“It is interesting that you bring this up,” Commander explained, “because your former master is not the only Djibouti Clan member to wield a Crimson Red Belt who has crossed this family.”
“What do you mean?” Sheol asked.
The curl in Commander’s lips badly concealed a snicker as she very nearly burst out in laughter over the possibilities if not for the astonishing nature of the irony concerning the situation and its subsequent resolution, “There is another who not only threatens our family’s reign within the Aristocracy but also cost your father his hand.”
Sighing, Sheol also had to share in the dark humor, “Now you know that Father was probably responsible for that. But this person does sound like an amazing fighter and an even more interesting thorn in your side.”
“Understatement,” Commander replied.
Like a rabid animal who was snared in a trap, Glove turned away from snapping at his trapper and targeted the trapped appendage. Something had to give between the super grip that Vector Oblivion possessed on his right forearm and the connection of the upper arm to the shoulder, so as he turned into himself and savagely brought a powerful left elbow crashing down while unleashing an intense bellow in order to sike himself up for the task, the right arm was apparently it. The scream also served to mask from his ears the sound of flesh and bone tearing away from his torso. Having powered through his own body part, the leader of the Shokan fell forward to the floor but managed to brace the fall with his remaining left arm. A pool of blood was pouring out of him at this point, but he could not worry about that as he was running off of adrenaline at the moment.
“Father,” Sheol stood up from his knees and turned around toward the door to say. He could not have heard Glove’s screams with his ears because of Vector Oblivion’s otherworldly seal which had been placed around his father’s quarters, but he could hear it with his heart. “Something’s wrong.”
Before Sheol made a motion to exit the room, Commander also stood up from her crouching position but grabbed his arm to say, “No. As you said, knowing Glove – this is by his own doing. He gave up everything for you. Now do not dare to despair. Avenge him if you must, but live your life. The only way that you can ever repay your parents is to live well and strive to give your children a better life than you had. Because of the Shokan, he did not have the opportunity to do either – the opportunities that are presented to you now.
Glove’s father before him saddled him with such a burden that it became a gift which would not stop giving. Neither of us want you to become marred in this Shokan versus Djibouti Clan struggle, but being that you are our son, we will both understand if you do. It is in your genetics. And you would be supported in your endeavor if you did decide to engage in this.”
Turning back around to face Commander, Sheol questioned, “Then what are you saying, Mother? Somebody needs to end this. My surrogate family needs to be confronted. Who is going to pay for all of them keeping me away from you?”
“What currency, Sheol?” Commander countered. “Blood? Enslavement? Revenge? We have already won, and the fact that we are finally here together proves it. You are mine forever. Johnny, Charlene, Erica – they can say nothing. They can do nothing. Their loss is what I have regained for all time.”
“But I hate them,” Sheol pleaded. “They didn’t give me the chance to fail.”
Shaking her head in the negative Commander warned, “You need to know that taking on three Crimson Red Belts is a tall order. Just one of them can destroy an entire universe upon a whim, and they each have powerful allies to support them as well.
I have known Acro from before, and although he is a little jaded currently, your former master wanted the exact same thing that you currently crave – an end to the hostilities. It is in your power as to whether or not you are willing to allow the cessation to occur. You can take the reigns of the Shokan, as you said, and lead them in a different direction. Or…”
Close to disrespectfully, Sheol very nearly cut Commander off to ask, “Why are you trying to talk me out of this?”
“…you can use the Shokan as the first block in building up your power structure,” Commander slightly raised her voice to continue.
After bowing his head and dropping his eye line to the floor in honest and obvious penance, Sheol submissively apologized, “I’m sorry, Mother.”
Commander’s control over Sheol was impeccable, but she expected nothing less from thoroughness of her methods. Since mistressfully exercising her control over him, it was time to impart some wisdom to her son based off of a wide-ranging amount of experience and other, soon-to-be-known objectives. She leveled with him, “I agree with you, and my hesitation in coalescing around your stance was done solely to find out if your hate was true – which I know that it is. Had you felt any other way, I would have been so disappointed in you, and we now know how much my approval means to you. As your mother, I just got you back, and I do not want to lose you to this. So, we are going to make sure that you are prepared by building up your base of power. It is all about taking baby steps, and I will gladly be cheering you loudest along the sidelines as you destroy the Smith’s, the Crimson Red Belts, and anybody else who gets in our way.
You see, Sheol, I do also agree that this needs to end. Unfortunately, there are a few factions within the oligopoly of the universe’s power mix who have been in the running and gumming up the works for far too long. It is time to shake things up. It is time for reorganization. With my guidance, you will rise to the top of it all, and so may you become powerful enough to be able to avenge your father. As of right now and as with the Aristocracy, today you are not strong enough to defend him from and prevent his fate.”
“I understand,” Sheol acknowledged. “May I ask you a question, Mother?”
“Of course,” Commander welcomed.
Picking his head back up in order for his eyes to meet Commander’s again, Sheol inquired, “What’s in it for you?”
Uncharacteristically, Commander started to tear up when she mentioned, “Your sister asked me that exact same question when we went after control of the Aristocracy and fractured the Doran power structure. I merely want what any parent wants for their children. I want to give you the universe.”
The passageway which led inside of Glove’s quarters was not conducive to close-quartered offense, although he had been a master in such areas during his prime and with a little bit more whole of a body than he currently had now. Feeble and sick was not going to cut it, and that door was not going to open back up until Vector Oblivion was either defeated or lost interest.
None of which were going to happen as Glove performed a forward roll to Vector Oblivion’s left side – pushing further into and toward the center of the quarters. The deity tossed what was left of his right arm aside and turned one hundred and eighty degrees in order to follow him. Its vile purple energy swirled around the quarters and sparked voraciously in anticipation of a forthcoming use.
This was the moment that Glove had been looking for. Using his left arm for balance, he led with his right leg in performing a reverse sweep as Vector Oblivion stepped forward with its left leg. As usual, a protective bubble formed over the area on the deity’s ankle which was in potential danger. As unusual, the protective bubble did not deflect the attack this time around but caught and absorbed it! When it took one step backward with its left leg, the leader of the Shokan was pulled onto his back and dragged with the angling of the Ethereal.
A desperation move was being considered by Glove to perhaps use his free left leg and kick Vector Oblivion in the shin or kneecap, but who was he kidding? Certainly not the deity who had just reached down and grabbed him by the throat with its left hand in order to raise the leader of the Shokan up. and certainly not himself who could do nothing more than try to brace himself up on his wobbly yet free left leg as his right leg was being slowly consumed by the green bubble that was tracing all the way up the captured appendage.
It was not a painful occurrence outside of the handle that Vector Oblivion had around Glove’s throat. This was something which happened to be much worse than pain that he was feeling – or not feeling, rather. The absence of feeling was death and it was not necessarily eating away at his right leg but engulfing it. He could do nothing! Not even hara-kiri with the knife that was concealed within his robe would save him from his fate because the Pillorian Regime would still lay claim to his soul. Committing suicide would welcomely hasten the process from their estimation. Before he could move his left hand up to unconsciously take hold of the deity’s grip around his throat, the Ethereal let go.
Separated from the direct connection of the bubble through Vector Oblivion’s leg, Glove flailed in a funk of levitation by the deity’s otherworldly power. The purple globule was still tracing its way up his leg – numbing the life from the extremity with every inch that it gnawed away at.
Vector Oblivion crossed its arms by placing both fists against their respectively opposite pecks. It pulled its arms down and away and brought them around in a circle – joining the fists above its head. Energy swirled, surrounded, and pulsated about the deity – causing the entire quarters to light up even more vibrantly in the purple hue than before. The Ethereal brought its arms down viciously, and every bit of the energy throughout the whole room (including that which was surrounding its body) engulfed Glove excruciatingly through a thorough inundation of his physicality where the vile energy traced all the way down to his core – his soul.
The levitation of Glove’s body continued, and all at once, he not only felt but tasted, smelled, heard, saw, and became pain. Then the the vile energy exploded outward in a concussive manner which flung the leader of the Shokan forward, through a dematerializing Vector Oblivion, and into plus out of the door which crumbled under the impact. The pressure was such that his body skidded to an uneasy halt in the outside corridor with his head turned and his eyes pointing toward the way in which he and Sanjuana had come down to reach the quarters.
That was not only felt but heard across the Brael Moonbeam.
“What the fu–?” Sanjuana had just made his way back to Sylvia before turning around to run back while shouting out, “Master!”
Sylvia made a motion to head for the door to the room that Commander and Billy were meeting in to alert them, but at the moment when she reached the door, Commander and Sheol emerged and each seemed to be indifferent to the occasion as they very nearly ignored her presence and walked in the direction of Glove’s quarters at a considerably slower pace than the apparent urgency of the situation would have called for. This was not just peculiar behavior; it was downright puzzling. If they were in no hurry to arrive, she was not too sure that she should have been either and fell in line to trail them curiously down the corridor.
As Vector Oblivion stood watch over its handiwork from outside in the corridor, the purple globule had made it successfully up to Glove’s neck in creating the encasement which was necessary for the completion of his reformation.
Having long since arrived on the scene and stopped in his tracks, Sanjuana did not dare to approach Vector Oblivion or the mess who was his Master Glove. After all, his right arm was already in a sling, and noticing that the leader of the Shokan was now missing an arm while lying there terminally incapacitated happened to be all of a dire forewarning that he needed in order for him to hold his position.
Commander and Sheol eventually caught up to Sanjuana, but only the son of Glove continued to walk forward. When Sylvia came up from behind and caught sight of the scene, she placed her hand over her mouth in disbelief and horror among other emotions which she was just too startled to be able to express at present.
Before the purple globule covered up Glove’s head, Sheol performed a subtle pushup motion of contracted form as he bent down at the waist and bent his knees in order to get in position to kiss his father on the forehead. Vector Oblivion merely watched the sequence, but Commander was watching it.
Sheol stood back up and sidestepped Vector Oblivion in order to enter Glove’s quarters. There was no way that he could have found the article which he sought in the darkness of the room had he not been initially drawn to it, but he located the only heirloom of his father’s which he wanted as the right-handed claw sat a little ways beyond and around the corner wall of the passageway that led inside of the quarters.
After removing the mangled, prosthetic right hand from the sheath of the custom-made glove, Sheol fit the claw around and it conformed perfectly to his right hand. Testing out the dexterity and envisioning the lethality of the weapon for a moment, he liked what he felt and saw. In accepting his birthright as the new leader of the Shokan, the first building block was now set in place.
As the purple globule formed completely in place over Glove’s brutalized frame, a transformative energy began to repair the damage and reverse the course of Vector Oblivion’s proclivity toward concluding business deals in one form or fashion that ensured that every deal would be as done as the requisite will of the Pillorian Regime. Next, definition began to fill itself out across his body as the purple energy striped into various, transparent, and apparently medicinal rings which reinfused the physicality with life and power. Soon, what looked to be a right arm made of the purple energy signature seemed to grow out of horrific former vision of the arm socket. Finally, the coloring began to return to the former leader of the Shokan as the vile purple energy began to dissipate – starting at his feet. But this time around, that coloring revealed the enhanced body form of a Pillorian Ethereal: The black body garb, the close-fitting yet feature-masking hood helmet which allowed the luminescent purple eyes to shine through, a deep purple belt wrapped about the waist which managed to flow in ripples despite the absence of a stimulus that would have caused this to occur, and an interesting addend of long luminescent purple arms to augment the posture from a slumping yet deceptively ready and dynamic frame.
While this was last part was happening, Sheol exited the quarters to watch his father stand at the attention for Vector Oblivion who announced, “Monster Master, Glove is yours per the agreement. Reborn from the mutual pact, Tentalor Rep will destroy you-all.”
Exuding confidence and purpose in every movement, Sheol went to stand before Tentalor Rep, but whatever this incarnation was of his father did not seem to even recognize him. It simply dematerialized into a fine purple mist and dissipated. Conversely, Commander and Vector Oblivion (who now returned her gaze with a luminescent purple-eyed stare of its own) seemed to know each other quite well. The deity dematerialized to join its Ethereal counterpart wherever their travels might take them next.
“Who or what in the universe was that?” Sylvia now stood beside and turned to ask Commander.
“My ex,” Commander announced as she continued to vehemently stare down the dissipation of Vector Oblivion’s fine purple mist.