This may very well be the best thing I’ve ever written so far. It’s so good, it deserves to be posted ahead of the rest of the story. Lance Ambu is the semi-villain of the story. He challenged Ankh to a fight and was humiliated, and then he was betrayed by his own people (who he had planned to betray) and rescued by Ankh. This chapter takes place right after that.
Ankh Infinitus and the Natural Cure for Mortality
chapter 20 – sunshine on the blackest of hearts
Lance nursed his wounded pride at a bar near the border of Russia and China. The bar’s owner, a young lady in her late twenties, was hesitant to serve him the strong alcohol he demanded until she recognized his face from the recent holovision reports. She had been fooled by the propaganda put out by the Russian government and saw Lance as a hero, not to mention very dashing. She served him on the house (not that Lance has any intention of paying) and listened to his tales of hardship and betrayal. Her big, dark eyes never seemed to blink; the long black hair she kept tied back in a tight bun gave Lance an unobstructed view of her youthful and comely face. Her attention was far more intoxicating to he magical youth than the synthesized alcohol, though it, too, played a role in the night’s events.
Lance had nowhere to go until the bar’s owner, Anastasia, invited him to her room above the establishment. It was just what the doctor ordered for his ego. He even stuck around for more of the lass’s “hospitality” in the morning. She wasn’t his first, but she was uncommonly passionate, especially for a stranger.
“How are you going to find the ones who betrayed you?” she asked when their energies were spent.
“By destroying their most important operations,” Lance answered, “starting with the McCloud Corporation.”
The McCloud Corporation was almost a government unto itself, so destroying it was a tall order. Anastasia, known by her friends as Ana, was impressed with Lance’s ambition.
“If anyone can do it, it’s you,” she said. “Will you come and see me from time to time?”
Framed by her thick mane of black hair, her face was even more irresistible than before. The warmth and smoothness of her naked body wrapped around Lance’s was the best argument possible in favor of her request.
“How could I possibly refuse?” Lance replied. “You have me in your power.”
At some point, Anastasia fell asleep, and Lance reluctantly got out of bed and put on his clothes. One last look at the enchantress stirred something in his heart. Yes, he had one of those, but he had never felt anything pleasant in it before. There was truly a kind of magic in the way this woman who gave of herself so freely endeared herself to the blackest of hearts.
Lance wanted to begin searching for clues as to the whereabouts of the Slavemaster Council, but it would be very tricky. The Council would find out about any inquiries he made and any information he received. They were very well connected. Then again, they might allow him to find them if they thought he would charge in without a plan like before. They had the upper hand because he didn’t see their trump card. He went to the one place he knew he could find an ally, Grandpa Carl’s Gaming Emporium.
Grandpa Carl was not Lance’s grandpa, but he was the first to take in the boy after his parents were killed. Lance lived with him from the age of 2 to 14. Carl retired from the Council’s leadership after being a prominent member for 297 years. Arthur gained his position in the ensuing power vacuum. Carl spent his days in meditation.
“I never thought I’d end up back here,” Lance said to nobody as he stared at the door of the game shop, which was a front for an occult supply store.
“Hurry up and get inside before they see you,” said the voice of Carl in Lance’s mind. “The door’s for using, not decoration.”
Carl must have been in a good mood.
Lance used the door and entered the candle lit store. Its location in a dangerous area of town with its front door facing the darkest alley there testified to how welcome customers were. He didn’t need money because the location provided him with plenty of rodents to eat. Whenever the landlord came to collect the rent, he walked away before reaching the front door, thinking that he’d collected it already from a leggy blonde woman in a bath towel. It always made his day.
“I know why you’re here,” said Carl as he levitated a few inches above the ground in full lotus position. His loose white robe moved like he was under water, and so would his hair if he wasn’t bald. He sat above the counter surrounded by a circle of candles, which also floated in the air at the level of his torso. “You’ve finally defected.”
“Yeah,” Lance confirmed.
“Now you want my help finding them so you can slaughter them. Did you know that Ankh fella already knows where they are?”
“WHAT?! How? Has he–”
“Took him no time at all. He hasn’t charged in after them. He’s not an idiot.”
“Hey, I wasn’t planning on doing that… again.”
Carl smiled with amusement. He could see anywhere in the world except Pantopia, and he could mask his presence from anyone, even Ankh. He was a master telepath.
“But you still plan on killing them,” he said.
“Don’t lie to me, boy. You remember my punishments?”
Lance shuddered involuntarily.
“Yeah, you remember. You want to be the only one with superhuman abilities. Did you plan on killing me too?”
Lance didn’t answer verbally, but he thought it.
“You’re a first class fool, you know that?” Carl asked. “I’m not a bug you can squish with your fingers. You see what I want you to see. I can hide right under your nose. I’m not even here! But at least if you could find me, you’d have a shot at overpowering me. What’s your plan for dealing with Ankh?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Ah, so you are smarter than you look. Your feelings are conflicted about him. I see admiration, hatred, jealousy, a smidgeon of sexual attraction, and a whole buttload of fear. Oh, and gratitude. Your feelings have more brains than your head does. I’ll tell you what I learned in almost three centuries of leading the Slavemaster Council. You’d better listen good, ‘cuz it’s the most valuable advice you’ve ever been given.”
Lane’s sincere admiration for Grandpa Carl opened his mind up wide to receive whatever wisdom he was about to divulge.
“You can’t suppress magic forever. Sooner or later, every spirit gets to the point where its experiences with life and death turn it into something that can’t be pushed down. Inside Ankh Infinitus is a truly exceptional spirit. Cloud McCloud had to reincarnate at some point, I guess.”
Lance’s eyelids snapped open, and the rest of his face went slack and white like a corpse.
“You think he’s–”
“I don’t think nothin! I know as sure as the sun is bright that Ankh Infinitus is Cloud McCloud reborn!”
Lance didn’t want to believe it, but he had to. He wished he hadn’t come to see Carl. There was no getting away from the knowledge. He never could have defeated Ankh.
“I’m glad you appreciate the scope of this,” Carl said. “The age of the Slavemaster Council is over. The world belongs to Ankh now. He’s extended a hand in friendship. Take it, and you can have a bright future. Hold on to that chickadee from last night too. You’ve got the makings of a great and happy life.”
Nothing Grandpa Carl ever said to Lance ever failed to ring false. Lance knew he was right about this too, but…
“I don’t deserve it,” he said, his eyes tearing up. It wasn’t just self pity that drove these words from his mouth. It was a deep-seated conviction from a lifetime of loveless parenting. But why the tears?
“Don’t be a fool, boy! I know you’ve had it rough. I was a bastard to you growing up, and there ain’t no excuse for it.” Then he said something so out of character, Lance wasn’t sure he was talking to the right person. “I’m sorry.”
For the second time in his life, something warm and pleasant stirred in Lance’s heart. It created a stark contrast between recent events and the rest of his life. It was all Ankh’s fault.
“Did you hear me, boy? I ain’t never apologized to anybody in my life, but what I turned you into… You’re a good kid. You deserve to be happy.”
No I don’t.
“Yes you do.”
“I don’t want to be happy,” Lance said. “I want to be powerful!”
The entire block was engulfed in a huge explosion. Wireless electricity couldn’t get through the electromagnetic field that Lance emitted, even for an hour after he left, in an area encompassing three kilometers. Fortunately for the area’s residents, building codes required all residences to be equipped with backup generators. The explosion still leveled four buildings and took the lives of 212 people.
Hearing about it on the holovision news, Arthur chuckled and sipped champagne. Sitting in his lecherous lap was a girl no older than 15. She laughed nervously, her fear evident.
“His only friend in the world lived there,” the old man said.
The girl looked confused.
“I’m obviously talking about Lance. Why do I find your stupidity so charming? Anyway, just let an old man ramble. That boy was a mess when I met him four years ago. He had more raw power than I’d ever seen, but also crippling emotional issues. Old man Carl has a cruel streak that sickens even me. Well, had. Good riddance.”
This from a man seconds away from fondling the barely-out-of-childhood body of a frightened young girl. This from a man minutes away from… well, never mind. The wrong kind of affection is arguably better than none at all. Still, Arthur couldn’t help feeling that Lance Ambu was his grim reaper. The boy wasn’t bright, but he was strong, and he was angry. Like water seeking the path of least resistance, anger has a way of finding a path to vengeance.
Lance stood in the bedroom of the woman who showed him kindness the night before. She had gone downstairs to open the bar, but her scent still hung in the air, and her pillow still held the shape of her head. The rage Lance had summoned in Grandpa Carl’s shop dissolved into despair. He broke down, kneeling before the altar that was Anastasia’s bed, sobbing uncontrollably. As out of character as Carl’s apology was, so was the self pity that overtook Lance. A childhood full of pain and indifference bled out in the form of electrically charged tears and singed where they fell on the blanket.
It wasn’t my fault. That became a mantra. It repeated in Lance’s mind throughout the cleansing ritual. Gradually, it became, This is all their fault. The tears boiled out as steam as the rage returned, but it was different this time. His thoughts remained clear and focused even as his heart beat at a pace that would give a cardiologist nightmares. His lips curled into a smile. He was reborn, rising from the ashes of a boy nobody loved.
“I’m going to get what I want,” he said to nobody. “And I will be happy.”
The first thing he wanted was not a thing but a person, and she was downstairs schlepping drinks for morning alcoholics. That wouldn’t do. A woman like that should be dripping with jewels and serving no one but herself. Lance marched downstairs, took a wrong turn, and entered a closet. Nothing had ever been so funny to him, and his boisterous laughter summoned the gorgeous Anastasia to him.
“What’s so funny, and what are you doing in there?” she asked with a smile that looked like she thought it was a little bit funny too, especially since a pink towel had fallen on Lance’s head.
“I took a wrong turn,” Lance replied with an infectious smile that upgraded Anastasia’s to laughter. She leaped into his arms, and he carried her effortlessly. “But I ended up somewhere wonderful.”
At long last, the blackest of hearts enjoyed the sunshine that the love of another can bestow. Lance and Anastasia had just met, but it was as if they were pieces of a puzzle that belonged next to each other. Among the many traits they shared was a sinister lust for power and a ruthless disregard for the lives of anyone in their way. The odds against two people as compatible finding each other without meaning to were enough to suggest the intervention of an outside force, but to dwell on such a thing could serve no purpose but to take away from the enjoyment of their time together.
Even overflowing from the blackest of hearts, love is a many splendored thing.