The Replacements, Part Nine: Malleus Kaine

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(December 29th)

An hour ago, the room had been elegant, but opulent. Thick carpeting, the shade of drying blood, stretched wall to wall, creating a backdrop against the oaken walls. Abstract paintings, carefully spaced to not crowd one another while leaving no area of the room empty, had subtly directed attention towards the beautiful bay windows and the long chair that sat in front of them, such that despite all of the room’s chairs being placed facing towards the centre, there would never be doubt as to who the room was meant to adulate. A few bookcases had contained various treatises and tomes of magical theory – nothing too rare or illegal, just the sort that most warlocks might be expected to have, or at least to want. All in all, it had been a study in brilliance.

But that was an hour ago.

Clockwork ducked a half-second before one of the paintings, a dappled construct of browns and beiges, flew over his head and through the tempered glass window, falling several stories to the ground. “You know, glass shards do lower the resale value on those,” he observed blandly.

“You promised me!” Storming across the room towards him, Malleus Kaine let out a roar of frustration. Tendrils of eldritch energy, blacker even than his hair, coiled around him like snakes, hissing outwards to lash scars in the walls or to tear gouges in the carpeting. Clockwork winced as one narrowly missed another painting.

“I mean it, Malleus. Those paintings do not come cheap.”

“Forget the stupid paintings!” Out of uniform, Clockwork reflected, Malleus lost none of his intimidating nature – in fact, bereft of the archaic jet armor than he typically worked villainy in, with its dozens of spikes protruding from every reasonable angle, he looked every inch a high society member, his dark shirt tailored to match the room they stood in, his goatee trimmed so that every hair stayed in place. The effect was rather spoiled by the magical temper tantrum he was throwing, admittedly, but you couldn’t have everything. “I want to know why Lucky Ladd isn’t out here right now where I can crush his head to a fine red paste!”

Clockwork shrugged. “No plan is proof against all variables.” He gestured around the room. “Besides, haven’t we given you quite a lot already? Your newfound powers are, after all, drawing on the magical artifacts that Warzone and I acquired during our years with the Fear Force. If either of us should be upset that you failed to live up to your part of the deal, it should be me.”

The unspoken threat hung in the air for a moment as Malleus and Clockwork regarded each other, the one angry, the one implacable. Finally, the energies around Malleus died down, and he nodded slowly. “You are, as always, right. I’m sorry.”

“Not at all, Malleus. You have dedication, and I appreciate that.” Clockwork steepled his fingers. “But if we’re going to have you destroy Lucky without the SEA catching on, it will take time. I didn’t expect his first journey here to be his last, to be honest. For now, go about your business. Embarrass Strategos some more, I know you enjoyed that. If things continue to get worse here, in a few months Lucky won’t have any choice but to come back. He can’t keep his nose out of this forever.”

“Very well.” Malleus sighed. With a wave of his hand, he summoned a quartet of imps, who set about repairing the damaged room. “I was so close.”

“We all experience setbacks in our lives, my boy. It’s how you deal with them that matters most.” Clockwork’s smile was serene.

“So… I guess I’m not in.”

“You’re not out, either. You’re just on the backup list.” Stepping to the door, Clockwork smiled. “Remember, my boy, that you’re dealing with a very lucky man. But no luck lasts forever.” As he spoke, the blue energy of a psi-port began to surround him. Malleus nodded as he faded from view. Then he turned back to the window, looking out over Milwaukee.

Some day soon, Lucky. The thought was a warmth in the depths of his soul. We’re going to have our reckoning.

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