Chapter 67:



Diallo slipped from the back of the merchant’s wagon just as it rolled in from the desert. Originally, he had arranged to pay for his passage to Port Pistola, but, of course, he had no intention of making good on that pledge; if the little people couldn’t even be bothered to keep an eye on him long enough to secure their payment, he reasoned, they probably didn’t deserve to have it.

Not that he could have paid them even if he’d wanted to. All he had on his person were the tattered remains of his usual clothes: slim black pants, smart black shoes, and a periwinkle vest overlaying a tight white dress shirt. They were ripped and bloodied in places, and Diallo imagined that he’d look quite conspicuous walking the streets of his hometown. Instead, he elected to keep to the alleys and side streets of the wretched neighborhood he found himself in, proceeding with his ultimate goal in mind:

The Grenado district. If he could make it back to the villa and assume command of the Moukahla family’s resources, he might just be able to catch up to his dimwitted cousin and exact revenge. It had been many days since their confrontation in Sebastopol, but Diallo was optimistic about the prospect of tracking him down; after all, a group of travelers consisting of a giant, a man with snow-white hair, and a girl dressed like a circus performer would be sure to attract attention. Someone among the Moukahlas’ extensive spy network would have an idea of where they’d gone. He was sure of it.

After an hour or two of slow, stealthy progress, the peak of the villa’s terracotta roof came into view. Diallo’s stomach rumbled as he rounded the property’s extensive border wall. Revenge was a tempting prospect, to be sure, but food would have to come first. The meager offerings of the merchant caravan had done little to sate his appetite, but the family housekeeper’s seafood gumbo would surely fill the growing void in his belly. And, as every good mafioso knew, launching an extensive manhunt on an empty stomach was just asking for trouble.

He strode up to the villa’s open front gates and carried on through them without delay. Was this how security had been handled in his absence? If so, he’d be lucky to find a single piece of furniture remaining when he made his way insi–

He stopped dead in his tracks. What was all this? Workmen were toiling away all over the grounds, moving things, erecting statues, and trimming perfectly good hedges into artful shapes. A massive pile of unfamiliar furnishings and knickknacks sat just a few feet away from the front steps, and someone stood at the fore of it barking orders–a heavy-set man in a deep red suit:


Diallo crossed the lawn in disbelief, squinting at his cousin’s back as if he expected him to dissipate at any moment. What was he doing here? Lazar was one of the organization’s top lieutenants, certainly, but what gave him the right to alter the villa’s grounds in such a fashion? If Diallo didn’t know better, he’d say it the man was moving in!

“...Cousin?” Diallo began, coming to a stop a few feet from Lazar’s back. “What is going on here?”

Lazar froze. He turned his head slowly to regard him, and when he did, his eyebrows nearly lifted all the way up to his shiny bald pate. “Ahh… C-Cousin?” he stammered. “What… How is this possible? Is someone playing a trick on me?”

Diallo tapped his foot on the gravel of the drive. “What exactly are you doing, Lazar?”

Lazar turned to him and gestured broadly toward his small army of contractors. “What does it look like? I am making the villa my own.”

“I thought as much,” Diallo replied drily. “Such opportunism does not suit you, Lazar. As you can see, I am alive and well and next in line for succession. The villa is mine. Send these people away and let us get down to business, hmm? I have an urgent matter to attend to, and I will need your help.”

To Diallo’s surprise, Lazar frowned and shook his head. “No, cousin. You are dead. Multiple members of the PPPD saw it happen. And even if you were not–which does appear to be the case–I heard they saw you personally execute the chief of police! It would be impossible for you to return to public life under these circumstances, much less as the family’s patriarch,” he explained. “But fear not, cousin! Before he left, Marka gave me his blessing to take control of all our operations. I waffled over it a little, but in the end I decided to accept. We cannot let all our hard work just die on the vine, now, can we?”

Diallo couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Lazar? The patriarch? The thought of it was sickening. He liked the man well enough, but he had a poor head for strategy and logistics. Under him, the syndicate would surely crumble.

“Lazar. I need you to reconsider,” he said. “You are not cut out for this. You know it, I know it. Return to the casino and allow me to worry about the challenges posed by my reputation.”

Lazar shook his head. “No way, cousin. I have warmed to the idea of leadership over the past few days, and I will not give it up–not even for you. However, if you are willing to assume a new identity, I may be able to find a place for you in–”

“Oh, stuff your pathetic little handouts, Lazar!” Diallo hissed. “This is not a negotiation! I am assuming control, effective immediately. Now, get off my property before I am forced to take radical measures to–”

Before Diallo could finish, Lazar had snapped his fingers. He looked on with grim satisfaction as a couple of broad-shouldered enforcers stalked out from their place by the door and took Diallo’s arms in-hand.

“Gentlemen, this man is confused,” he said with a smirk. “He claims to be my dead cousin, but I have caught him in his lies. Throw him out and share his description with your inferiors. If he is caught within a hundred feet of the villa from this point on… Well, you know what to do.”

Diallo struggled against his captors’ grip with all his might, but it was no use; he had handpicked these men himself not too long ago and was well aware of their physical capabilities. “Damn you, Lazar!” he bellowed, watching his treacherous cousin recede into the distance as they dragged him back across the lawn. “I built this family with my own hands! I will take it back, and I will end you!

“Do you hear me!? I will end you!!”

The last syllable had scarcely passed his lips before he’d been cast into the dust beyond the villa’s grand gate. It shut swiftly behind him, locking him out of his home, his business, and his birthright. All of the intelligence, equipment, and personnel he needed to pursue his dreams of revenge were locked away with it. A feeling of insurmountable dread overcame him as the truth suddenly dawned on him:

He had nothing left. No family. No purpose. No ability, even, to repay those who had wronged him.

In an instant, his life had become utterly valueless.

For the first time in many years, Diallo could not find it in himself to seethe. He rose to his feet and dusted himself off, but inside he felt empty. What was he to do, now? Where was he to go?”

“Hey. You’re that Diallo guy, aren’t you?” came a gravelly voice from behind. “The boss’s right-hand man?”

Diallo straightened up, refusing to meet the man’s eyes. “Not anymore,” he replied. “In fact, if I ever see ‘the boss’ again, he is a dead man.”

The speaker chuckled. “That so? Well then, I’d say our goals align.”

At that, Diallo felt compelled to turn around. There, leaning against the wall beside the villa’s front gate, stood a horribly-dressed man with sharp eyes and an overbearing scowl. He was clad in a form-fitting leopard print bodysuit arrayed with tactical gear, and a sweat-stained scarlet bandana rested on his brow.

“The name’s Viper. Hard Viper. And I think we can be of use to each other,” he said. “My associate and I were just about to leave for Wesson, and I have it on good authority that your old boss is headed there too. You interested in tagging along?”

Diallo hesitated for a moment before nodding slowly. The man seemed to be an idiot, but if he had a lead on Marka’s whereabouts, how could he possibly say no?

“Great. Now, before we get started, I just have one question for you…” Viper began.

“...What do you know about the Guardians of Prosperity?”

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