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Multilayered Antagonism

Multilayered Antagonism

Kei was tired. Kei was always tired. The price for ambition, she supposed. It was just something she’d learned to deal with over the years. Just one more thing she had to fight through, on top of everything else on her plate.

Why, just in the last twenty-four hours, she’d had to deal with Gilveidan the Stick-up-his-Ass, Doug, all his shitty little friends, and now the fact that on top of everything else, Tommy was in Discord. And if he was here, then it was only a matter of time before he knew that Kei was too. That was one meeting she was not looking forward to.

She had more important meetings she needed to worry about right now. When you had as many irons in the fire as Kei had—i.e. All of them—you had a lot of meetings to attend. Actually, she was lucky that Doug and that smarmy little weirdo had decided to fuck off to the Soul Market, because even though her meeting today wouldn’t be the hardest thing she’d ever done, it would certainly be… trying, to say the least.

It had to go exactly according to plan. If she didn’t play her cards right, it could go entirely tits up and that would just make things… even harder for her.

The first step of this plan was picking out what she would wear. One thing she had learned in her now many years of experience was that clothing said almost more than you could with your mouth. Today, for instance, she wanted to appear more put together than she’d been wearing recently, but not so put together that she put herself on the wrong side of Discord’s ideological conflict. Hot but not slutty, in charge, but not bureaucratic.

After spending more time than she’d like on that endeavor, Kei stepped out of her little safe house—the location of which she’d never told a single soul on Discord and never would—and made her way to the last place anyone would expect her to be: Sixth Avenue.

Ultimately, Kei had no idea what the big hullabaloo was about this place to both sides. To her, it looked nice, stately, and secure, but otherwise just really… boring. There wasn’t much to do unless you liked smoking fancy cigars and looking down at people. Both figuratively and literally.

Of course, it was more of a symbolic thing, she knew that. It was what it stood for: a change in policy, a new direction for the city of Discord. Kei knew the power in that. Hell, she was even actively utilizing it right now when she invoked the power of Bacchae like a shield. But in practice, it just looked to her like a lot of whiny men with small dicks pitching a fit over things that didn’t really matter.

When she ruled this city, she’d probably just tear the whole thing down. Wait, but that was a symbol in and of itself, wasn’t it? Shit, the metaphors of monarchy were impossible to escape from.

Ugh, she should be focusing right now. This whole train of thought was pointless. And besides, she had reached her destination. Of course, just as she had, the sky had darkened, and Kei heard thunder in the distance. It didn’t often rain in Discord, but when it did, it was certainly dramatic about the whole thing.

So Kei didn’t get the final pause she was hoping for, as she scrambled under the awning of the rather nondescript building in order to avoid the first raindrops. It was nigh impossible to look intimidating when you were dripping on the carpet.

Pressing the intercom, Kei sighed as she waited. She knew very well that Malachi was standing right by the door at this moment, but was delaying letting her in in order to prove the “power” he had over her in this situation. That might have worked on Wall Street, or wherever the fuck equivalent he’d come from, but to Kei, it was just a waste of time. And made him look like a petulant child.

Finally, there was a small beep, and the door in front of her clicked. So he wouldn’t even dignify her with a word, huh? What a little shitheel.

Kei pushed open the double glass doors, and strode across the ostentatiously off-white lobby without giving it much thought. Yet another dick-measuring contest that she wanted no part in. The elevator was equally nauseating, but she persevered as she rode it all the way up to the penthouse at the top.

The elevator opened silently and directly into Malachi’s living room. Or, at least, the awkward little entryway adjacent to his living room. It was darker than Kei expected, usually he’d never miss an opportunity to flaunt his “impeccable” taste. Maybe he was attempting to lay low. In his penthouse suite.

“We had an understanding, Kei.”

His voice came from the darkness. Squinting, Kei made him out, sitting on the leather sofa, before a singular gas-lamp flickered to life behind him.

God she was already sick of this peacocking bullshit. “Oh, we’re just gonna get right into it, huh? No ‘glad to see you again, old friend,’ or even just a ‘hey, you’re not dead’?”

“Double-crossers don’t get courtesy.”

Having gotten a better look at him, Kei couldn’t help grinning to herself a little. He’d put himself together as best he could. His suit was pressed to perfection, his hair gelled to the degree that it had hardened to a plaster-like consistency. But his tie was sloppy, and several locks of the distinguished white that was creeping into his dark hair were limp and out of place. There were bags under his eyes.

“You know what you sound like, right now?” she asked. “A spineless, deflated doucheballoon.”

“That tactless language is not becoming, especially on a woman as intelligent as yourself,” he retorted. “That little maggot is rubbing off on you.”

She laughed at that, even if it sounded a little forced. “Come on, Malachi. Give me more credit than that. You ever think that maybe I’m just not trying so hard to pretend around you?”

“I always thought you had a little too much of the old guard in you for your own good. In that case I suppose, ultimately, that I should have seen this coming,” he sighed. “Perhaps a little loyalty was too much to ask from anyone in this damned city.”

“You should know that better than anyone.”

“Why did you do it, if I might ask? We could have built an empire together, you and I. And instead you decided to throw that all away.”

“I never had any intention of working with you, Malachi. Sure, we might have built something bigger together, but in my opinion, size has never really mattered that much. I just want a little something, a little piece of the cosmos, that’s mine.”

“So even back when I dragged you out of that deadend soul-running job, offered you a place at my side, a chance to be a part of something greater, you were already planning this?”

Kei couldn’t believe that he of all people was asking her that. “And are you telling me that you weren’t, when Bacchae did the same for you? I have half a mind to believe that you’re the reason he disappeared. In fact, now that I think about it, that makes a lot of sense, considering that you never really expected me to find him at all.”

“As if I ever had the ability to do something like that,” Malachi scoffed. “You underestimate just how powerful Bacchae really was. Though I suppose you’ve never met the man, after all. And it was a gamble. I never expected you to really find him, no. But if anyone had a chance at finding a suitable… replacement, it was you.”


“I beg your pardon?”

“You just thought I was getting to be too much of a thorn in your side. Did you think I’d forget what you said? To ‘not bother coming back without him?’ And don’t you go on about any ‘grand plans’ when I succeeded at finding you a good puppet. You just wanted to get rid of me.”

“Is that why you’re doing this? You feel I’ve slighted you in some way?”

She scoffed, taking a solid step into the room. “Not at all. Like you said, I’ve had this planned since we met. Or something like it, at least. The plan was always a little nebulous. I just knew to take the chance when you finally gave me the opportunity. I couldn’t give a single shit about you personally, Malachi. You just happened to be in my way.”

“I wouldn’t start using the past tense quite so soon.” Malachi glared down at the glass table in front of him. He was keeping his composure well, but Kei could see his clasped hands shaking in fury. “You haven’t disposed of me quite yet, I’m afraid. There are still some who remain loyal to me.”

“I don’t see anyone around here, do you?” Kei laughed out loud. “Newsflash for you, pal: nobody ever really liked you. That whole ‘Wall Street Scum Shark’ thing you’ve got going on here is so antithetical to everything Discord is that I’m thoroughly surprised Bacchae ever gave you the time of day. Besides, even if you did have anyone left, I’ve already enlisted a sizable security force that’s just waiting to go into action, so I wouldn’t try. Funny part is that half of them used to work for you.”

Malachi opened his mouth, but Kei spoke right over him.

“Face it, the only thing that ever attracted anyone to you was that you were the de facto Lord of Discord, and now that that’s gone, you’ve got absolutely nothing and nobody left.”

There was silence in the room for a long time. Normally, Kei would chalk it up as another Malachi-ism, but this time, she thought he might actually be at a loss for words. He simply stared down at his hands, a nearly… defeated look in his eyes. It almost made Kei feel a little bad to see this once great man in such a state. Almost.

Though she tried her best to maintain her composure, on the inside she was gloating. Finally, after all these years of being gazed down on like she was some sort of worm, here she was, utterly victorious. It wasn’t quite time for celebration yet, however. This was only one part of a plan with so many steps it would make anyone else’s head spin. So she kept her own glee in check.

“So why did you come here?” he asked quietly, finally meeting her eyes again. “To rub it in my face?”

Well yes, she supposed. But also no. “I came here to warn you,” she glanced away. “Think of it as a courtesy to a former employer.”

“Warn me? I think it may be a little too late for that.” His words were biting.

“Nope. Cuz there’s more. I’m warning you that maybe it’s time to retire. Find yourself a nice little tropical reality somewhere and just vanish. For good. What I’m saying is that you should get out of town while you’ve still got a chance to go quietly.”

“Get out of town? Frankly, I’m not going anywhere. If I do recall, I was given express permission to stay by ‘Bacchae’ himself. A word of advice? Keep your dog on a tighter leash.”

“Well,” she shrugged. “When shit goes down and the mob’s at your door, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“I find your confidence in that child highly disconcerting, especially coming from you. As if he could do anything more than incite a drug-fueled orgy. The path you’ve chosen is most difficult, Kei. I don’t envy you.”

“Is that sympathy I’m hearing?” A strange smile broke out across Kei’s face.

“You have your work cut out for you. That boy is an idiot. He may be a better actor than I gave him credit for, but he’s just a man. At some point, be it tomorrow or in five years, he’ll mess up, and this whole scheme of yours will come crashing down around you.”

She couldn’t hold it in anymore. Kei erupted into laughter, the sound reverberating harshly around the tinny room.

“What do you find so amusing?” Malachi asked after letting her go for a minute.

“It’s just funny,” she said, wiping a stray tear from her eye, “how you think he’s going to be around long enough to have a chance.”

There was a moment of quiet, before Malachi’s eyes abruptly widened. Kei could see the pieces clicking into place as he realized just what her end goal was. Finally. Took him long enough.

“You never intended to play the role of vizier at all,” he whispered, sounding nearly impressed. “You’re going to cause utter chaos and use that to claim that damn throne for yourself. Nowhere else in the entire cosmos is that feasible, except… except here.”

“Like I said,” Kei waved, turning back to the elevator. This had gone exactly as she’d wanted it. “I’d get out of town while you still can, or you just might go down with him.”

The only sound in the room was the ding and shutter of the elevator as Kei left Malachi utterly dumbfounded. The elevator descended smoothly to the lobby once more, and Kei felt like she was floating. Floating all the way down to hell with a grin on her face.

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