The Devil's Right-Hand Man

Robert Carter is a player — and today, he's gambling for the only thing he could not possibly need more of: money.

"You fucking—" the first man says, his face finally free of the bag that's been holding it back for the last four hours. Carter shoots him without a second's hesitation. He cannot stand rudeness.

"What do you think—" the second one starts, his eyes turning wide the second he realizes what fate has just befallen his colleague. Horrified, he locks eyes with Carter. "You," he mouths, his terror turning into rage. He spits on the floor. "You will—"

Carter shoots him too, already turning his weapon to aim at the third member of the Lighthouse Mafia, bound before him in a dark, wet storehouse somewhere deep within Three Portlands. Amused, he turns his sight toward him too, and raises an eyebrow. "Try again?"

Carter doesn't need any words to see the third man won't try the same tricks his two late partners have; the man knows that if he just takes the wrong step, him and his Mafia will be nothing but a memory one moment after Carter pulls his trigger. He might be a member of the single most ruthless criminal organization within Three Ports, but tonight, he's little more than a man who's just pissed his pants. More importantly, tonight he's also what he's never realized he's always been: he's Carter's bitch.

"Well, Mr. Harvey?" Carter crosses his arms, impatiently staring down at the frozen mafioso. "Have you found more reason than your friends, or would you like to meet them?"

Harvey swallows hard, and almost vomits from the pain that makes him feel. "C-Carter," he utters out, his bruised and broken face moving, but only barely. "I have no idea what—"

"Tsch," Carter scoffs, and squats before Harvey. Almost instinctively, the mafioso twitches back before the man in the immaculately groomed suit and his weapon. This time, the steel-tight grip of Carter's goons doesn't restrict his movements — were he not in such a state of panic, he maybe would have even noticed that this was because they let him.

Carter continues, "You know exactly what I mean." He taps the place where Harvey's ear was just ten hours ago. "But just in case my friends made it difficult for you to hear, I will repeat myself one last time:" Carter lowers himself even closer, his voice becoming colder than ice. "Where is my fucking tribute, Harvey?"

If his throat weren't this dry, Harvey would have already swallowed again. He looks down at his two fallen comrades, his two personal second-in-commands — two people he thought to be the absolute tops of the Three Portlands criminal food chain. He looks at his own hands, still tied before him in thorned manacles that dig ever so deeper into his broken skin. And he looks at Carter, who just squats there in that disgustingly stylish suit, his posture almost a monument to calmness.


"You? You what? What did you think you were doing here exactly, buddy?"

"Carter, please—"

"Hm? You get big because of my money, and then think you can stab daddy in the back? Rule the whole city all by yourself? Have the whole world under your feet? Well, Harvey," he says, putting special emphasis on the last word. "Here's a piece of advice from daddy Robert:" His voice is barely more than a whisper now. "Never again forget who owns you."

Carter points his gun at Harvey. He closes his eyes.

When the shot is fired, Harvey's shocked to see he's still breathing; he's even more shocked to see that his manacles have been blown to bits. For the first time in twenty-four hours, he is a free man.

"Now," Carter says, throwing Harvey a piece of dirty, old fabric he presumes he should cover his naked, broken body with. He points first at the shivering mafioso, then at the exit from the warehouse, the shy morning light ever so vaguely peeping through the doors. "Get out of my sight and get me my fucking money, Harvey. Pronto."

Harvey covers himself with the blanket, and nods, the movement almost identical to twitching.

"Because next time, you might not catch me in this good of a mood."

Robert Carter is a player — and today, he's gambling with the only party he could not possibly lose to: the law.

"Mr. Carter," the Yeren bioengineer says, correcting her glasses. "Everything is finished. I've personally seen to it." Her posture might be that of a scientist, but the angst present behind those orderly lenses does not escape Carter for even a second.

"Excellent," he says, putting his hands together. There is really no meaning behind the gesture, but the engineer does not know this; the only thing she sees is the image of a composed and strong leader. Carter resists the urge to smile.

Steadily and calmly, Carter turns around to eye every corner of the underground complex him and his people have just finished putting together. It's a marvel of paratechnology and bioengineering. There's no room for error here, no possibility of any of the precious materials harnessed in the farms lost: it's as close to perfection as Iris was ever going to get. But then again, after how terribly their last clown milk farm has turned out, Carter figures Iris would pretty much take anything that wasn't a total disaster. Not like he would ever want to risk it — his work must be nothing if not perfect. Both because he'd rather not deal again with the escaped lot of Fuller, and because he'd rather not deal again with Iris.

"Now, not that it's any of my business," the Yeren suddenly interrupts his train of thought, once again correcting her glasses. "But, ah, Mr. Carter, if I may…"

He raises his eyebrow. "Yes?"

She swallows. "Right. I… I just wanted to say… is it really wise for… for this operation to run here, in Eurtec? Again, you know me, I'm sure the business will go great, but in Three Ports, we could easily control the City Council. And here… what if the Coalition—"

Carter's eyes narrow dangerously. "The Coalition can blow me, Ms. Har'grynn." She blinks twice, almost recoiling from shock. "They are nothing, here within their own city. They never were. They've no authority on these streets. They're a joke." He turns to face their farm again, as if showing the various tubes and harvest apparatus, already awaiting the clowns that will populate them soon. "This is what rules Eurtec, Ms. Har'grynn. Not guns, not Fivefold Missions, not that old fart al Fine, not the Nornir: money. And we've got more than enough money to spare."

She might've designed the immaculate system before them, but she's still unconvinced. "But if the Coalition was to—"

"Well, what if the Coalition did find out about our operation, here? What do you think would happen? They would surely not like it, from their ivory towers and high horses. They would come in, guns blazing, and raze the whole thing to the ground, even the poor things we use to get our product." For emphasis, he raps on the tubes with his knuckles. "Who knows, maybe they would even wage war against the Company itself. After all, to breach their Charter deep within Coalition-controlled territory would be paramount to betraying peace."

He pauses. "But here's the thing, Ms. Har'grynn: 'if' is a big word. A very, very big word. For example:" He turns to face her again. "If right now, I looked at my men and said, 'Please put a bullet through Ms. Har'grynn's head for insubordination', they would do so without even blinking. But I won't. And they also won't." He pauses again. "See how much a potential 'if' changes in terms of reality, Ms. Har'grynn?" He smiles. The engineer is dead-still.

Still, Carter continues, "Like I said, a big word. A very, very, very big word. Good thing for us, then, that it exists firmly within the realm of fiction, and not reality." He eyes the various guards stationed around the farm and the cameras above them, linked to myriad hidden security systems that monitor their every move. "Even better then that if someone tried to change that, if someone tried to move our good friend If from fiction to reality, well… we've got just the systems and people to ensure it stays right where its fucking place is."

He locks eyes with her, his posture unreadable, his smile almost a parody of the gesture. "Now, now that we've got everything cleared up, there's just one thing left to do."

She suddenly clears her throat. She's very good at keeping composure, but not nearly good enough for Carter to not notice what fear lurks behind those dark, dark eyes. She utters out, "What-What one thing?"

He smiles a warm smile, putting his hands together again. "Telling our good friend Iris that everything is up and running." He pats her on the back. "I'm sure she will be more than happy to hear our operation is ready for the first harvest within the week."

Robert Carter is a player — and today, he's gambling with the only party whose respect actually matters, at least for tonight: Foundation Overseer Five.

"Ah, Madame Overseer!" he says nonchalantly, smiling a roguish smile. "How great it is to finally have a chance at meeting you."

The diminutive woman raises an eyebrow, and crosses her legs. "Mr. Carter," the Firestarter carefully begins, as if treading unknown territory. Carter knows that she too is a player, but she isn't used to seeing anybody else than Iris on the other side of her chessboard. "I… I was not expecting you, here."

His smile widens. "Yes, yes, I'd like to apologize for this, ah, last-minute change. Our mutual friend Iris is… well, busy, let's say. She sent me here instead to act in her stead, if that does not complicate things too much. I hope that will not be an issue?" He takes his seat next to the Overseer, and also crosses his legs. Five's frown is almost unnoticeable. Almost.

"No, I do not believe it will be one," Five says, locking eyes with Carter, trying to read him. The fire that dances inside those brown irises is almost hot enough to rival the reds of her dress. Despite this, it's a playful fire, an amused one — it's very clear that though Five is suspicious at seeing Carter on the other side of the table, she does not consider him a real threat. Just like he intended. "Now," she says, correcting her posture and reaching for the documents on the table next to them. "Shall we begin?"

He nods, and reaches for his own papers.

What follows is a game, as the material exchanges between those two parties have always been — and Carter and Five are nothing if not born players. They have been in this dance before, many times and on many fronts, but the spark of excitement that makes itself manifest without the souls of both of them still burns ever so brightly.

For hours on end, they move their pieces and make their demands — five kilograms here, seven units there. They often retort, "That's more than enough!" and "Less, or the deal is off!", but in the end both know there is no universe in which the deal would actually ever be off. Not only because this exchange of information and materials is of great benefit to both parties, but because both the Firestarter and the Merchant enjoy this. She is not a bureaucrat, and neither is he — they are both stone-cold warriors, on fronts both thaumic and financial, and this! This finally makes them feel like they are truly alive.

So they play their little game, and enjoy every moment of it.

When all's said and done, Five just takes a sip of her wine. She does not usually do this. "I… You know, Mr. Carter, there is something I've always been wondering."

He raises an eyebrow. "And what might that be, Miss Overseer?" He knows that Iris is not one to easily give any answers, so what the Firestarter is about to say might just be very interesting.

She looks him dead in the eyes. "Why do you even bother?"

He blinks. "Pardon?"

"You are an heir to the single most wealthy family in the history of mankind. You have more money than there are sentient beings on this planet." She pauses for a moment. "If you wanted to, you could retire right now and do nothing for the remaining two hundred years your immortality still has you left with — and even then, you could still live like a god." She crosses her arms. He does not do the same. He does not want to show that he is shocked at her knowing about the specifications of his lifespan. "Us and the Coalition at least have some final goal, something ultimate to strive for — but you and your Company don't. There's only ever so much money you could possibly need. So why? What's the point of this whole exercise in futility?"

Carter can feel a deep chuckle forming itself within his guts. "Ah, Madame Overseer," he lets it all out, laughing a polite little laugh. "There seems to have been a misunderstanding. We are not in this business for money."

She raises her little eyebrow.

"It's not about the dollar. It's about the thrill. It's about the power." She lets him smile, and he continues, "You're right, there is no reason we would ever need this much money — that would be ridiculous. So we aren't after that. Money can only get you so far, but power — power! That's something to strive for. When you can buy out whole nations, it is not about the number you can give to have them: it's about the sheer fact that you can. It's about the realization that if you wanted, you could collapse that empire and buy that god. Not because you need to, but because you can. That is what we want."

"But… Why? What's the point of that?" She squints her eyes, trying to see whether or not Carter is lying. He can see she knows he isn't; her confusion only widens. "What possible use could you have for all that control, if you do not actually do anything with it?"

"Because, Madame Overseer—" He smirks. "—there is nothing in this world sweeter than the realization that if you wanted to, you could own it."

Carter's facade falls down the second he crosses the doors to his apartment.

His breathing quickens, as does his blood pressure; for a split second, he is no longer the calm and collected businessman; for just a split second, he is the prey, finally happy to be safe within his quiet nest.

He takes a deep breath.

With an unsteady pace, he walks towards his kitchen, its darkened windows revealing the hellish landscape all around his little Obelisk; with shaking hands, he reaches for a bottle of whiskey, and pours himself a glass, avoiding spilling it, but only barely; and with a head full of terrible thoughts, he drinks it all up, feeling the alcohol burn his throat.

He swallows the liquid, and puts down the glass.

He stares at his hands.

They do not stop shaking.

He swallows again, this time out of pure reflex, and looks around the cold and dark room that now stands before him. He knows it is empty — if anyone else but him were to attempt to enter, they would most certainly not live to tell the tale — but still, he eyes the place suspiciously. Like a child looking at their clothes at night, expecting some monster to take their place, he too scans every surface of the place he calls home, searching for his own personal monster, one far more real than any kid could ever think up.

But Iris Dark is not there.

When he is certain beyond words that he is alone, only then does he finally take a breath. He looks at his hands again. They are now still, just like the cold blackstone that entombs Carter whole.

He exhales, and sits down. He puts his head in his hands.

For a few minutes, he is silent. He just sits there, unmoving, praying to an absent god, willing to promise everything so that Iris thinks he did well today.

After a while, his breathing calms down. He once again looks beyond the windows of his apartment, and stares deeply into the burning wasteland of the Fourth Ring before him.

Tsch. The Devil's Right-Hand Man. What a sick joke. He does not know how he got that title, really, even all those years later; he might serve under the devil — or, rather, a devil, he supposes — but he's not her right hand. She would rather chop it off than allow someone as sloppy and unprofessional as Carter to be her limb.

He swallows again.

In truth, Carter hates his little moniker. Not because it paints him as a ruthless monster — that much he greatly enjoys — but because it implies that he is somehow beyond the hierarchy the rest of the world suffers under. That he somehow escaped, and serves its unholy master as someone almost like an equal.

He lets out a silent whimper.

Dad. He thinks of his father again, in all of his ruthlessness and coldness. That's what he thought about him, when he was younger — he thought him a distant figure that was never there. He hated him for it, more than anything else in the world. But now… now that he was truly and utterly gone, really to never be there again, Carter… Carter almost misses him. Or, at the very least, he misses the fact he had a choice, when it came to what he thought about his father. Now, all those years later, when Iris took him by force to take the throne for herself… well. He's very little more than a slave to his circumstances.

Somewhere deep inside, Carter fears that he loved his father.

Somewhere even deeper, he fears that soon he might even see him again.

He shakes his head, and leans back in his chair.

That's what's the worst thing about his situation, he thinks. That, for all of his money and prestige, he is still little more than a prisoner in a golden cage and with a Dark master. The people think of him as someone like her — after all, the Company name mentions his surname as that of an equal. And yet, he is not a senior partner, no matter what the people like to say. And say they do: he's heard it all. He's heard what they call him.

And yet, despite all of their words, every title they give him is just wrong.

Well, not all of them. They got one thing right: Robert Carter is a player, that much is sure — and ever since his bosses have changed, he has been doing only one thing: playing one big gamble.

A gamble over his own life.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License