Reads: 6

- Nemesis Manor, London, 20:31, 2/10/XX – Twenty Years Prior to Holy Grail War-

The door to Lord Nemesis’ study flew open, and Earl Darius Wikström il Nemesis stormed out, straightening his ceremonial coat. The light from the chandelier above gleamed off his bald head.
‘Unbelievable – as soon as the brat’s born, you decide he’s already a better heir!’ Darius snapped, reaching the stairway’s intersection and turning toward the front entrance of the manor. ‘I’ve been training for this for years – no, my whole life!’
‘Training or not, nephew,’ Lord Edgar Vitale il Nemesis called from the doorway of his study, ‘the child’s capacity for mana already far outstrips your own. If you want to blame anyone, blame my brother for your lesser genes.’ He ended his sentence with a smirk. Darius stopped on the spot and turned to face his uncle, scowling.
‘You keep clinging to that antiquated rule!’ he snapped, marching back up the stairs toward Edgar. ‘All this talk of magic circuits and mana capacity – your new heir could have all the power in the world, and squander it!’
‘Then it falls to me, as his father and his teacher, to ensure he does not waste his gifts, does it not?’ Edgar replied, crossing his arms and sighing. ‘But I’m sure, whatever his accomplishments, he’ll prove a far more capable heir than you.’ He turned back toward his study. ‘Now, unless you’ve further business, you already know where the door is.’

‘Oh, I’ve no further business with you, uncle,’ Darius hissed, gripping the crest pin on the breast of his jacket. He tore it off and tossed it onto the floor in front of him. ‘You’ve slighted me for the last time! You, and Father, and everyone else!’
Edgar regarded the shattered crest on the floor and smirked again, then gave a sardonic laugh.
‘And how do you expect to survive without us?’ he chuckled, running his hand through his slicked-back golden-brown hair. ‘You’re a mediocre mage at best, Darius. Your keenest feature is your name – what will throwing that away accomplish?’
‘You’ll see,’ Darius growled, clenching his fists. ‘When people generations from now hear of my accomplishments, no-one will know of the Nemesis family. Earl Darius Wikström il Nemesis won’t exist. They’ll all respect my works on their own merits, and everyone will know the name of Oswald Hall!’
‘That’s your chosen name, then?’ Edgar scoffed, before making a dismissive gesture and turning back to his study again. ‘I’d wish you luck, but you know I’m not one for such pointless gestures.’ The study door closed behind him.
Oswald took a deep, trembling breath, then turned and descended the stairs once again.

‘I take it he’s gone, then?’ Briony Ruth ye Nemesis, Edgar’s wife, remarked from the corner of the study. She sat in her black silk nightgown, beside a cradle with a baby boy asleep inside.
‘I give him a week before he’s pounding on the door, begging me to bring him back into the fold,’ Edgar sighed, taking his seat at his desk in the middle of the room, then turning his chair to face her.
‘I’ll never understand why you let him get to this point,’ Briony tutted, reaching in and stroking her son’s forehead. ‘Men like him will take a mile if given an inch.’
‘He needs to be reminded that he’s nothing without his name,’ Edgar remarked, tenting his fingers in front of his face. ‘And I could do without his irritating presence during Vali’s training.’ He stood up and approached the cradle, looking in at the boy as he slept. ‘Of course, we’ll not cut off contact with him. Darius needs to be reminded of his place, and what better way than to let him watch our family’s true scion mature?’ His lip curled.
‘You’re a cruel man, Edgar Nemesis,’ Briony giggled, biting her lip.
‘No crueller than necessary, for the future of my family.’

- Noordwolderweg, Noordwolde, 11:32, 9/3/XX -

Mercy sat on the edge of the bed in Oswald’s spare room, wearing the spare underwear she’d gathered from her house. Evan knelt in front of her, unwrapping the bandages from her right arm. In her haste, Mercy had brought a black-and-white striped shirt with long sleeves, and a nearly threadbare pair of jeans, but no socks or shoes.
‘I said I was going to get clothes, and I didn’t even do that right,’ Mercy sighed, twirling a lock of hair around her fingers.
‘Quit it,’ Evan muttered, tapping her knee. ‘I’m here to help you get changed, not listen to you put yourself down.’
Mercy smiled and closed her eye, running her fingers over her surgical eyepatch.
‘It’s still weird, not being able to feel the eye there,’ she remarked, and Evan stopped unwrapping and looked up at her.
‘You’re taking losing an eye remarkable well.’
Mercy looked across the room, at the mirror on the closet door.
‘It could have been worse,’ she replied, resting her hand in her lap. ‘I didn’t expect to survive as long as I have.’
‘Seriously, Mercy, you shouldn’t—’ Evan began. Mercy raised a finger to his lip.
‘I’m not,’ she smiled, looking back at him. ‘I’m thanking you. You told me yesterday that I’ve gotten you this far, but the same’s true for you.’ She looked down at her unbandaged right arm. Scarring covered most of the right side, and her right hand now lacked its pinkie and half of its ring finger. ‘As bad as this is, I have you two to thank that it’s not worse.’
Mercy rose to her feet, then held her hand out to Evan. He took her hand and stood up, then reached for her bag, still on the bed.
‘I imagine it’d be a bit tougher without depth perception,’ he muttered, and Mercy sighed and shrugged. Evan nodded and pulled out her clothes.

Oswald sat in his armchair, watching the morning news. He wore light grey jeans and a red flannel shirt, with its long sleeves rolled up to the elbow, and fingerless leather gloves. He glanced aside as Evan and Mercy entered the room. Mercy wore her spare clothes and her eyepatch and had tucked her bag under her arm. Beside her, Evan still wore his navy-blue parka and black jeans. Oswald took the remote and switched the television off.
‘You finished? We need to talk,’ Oswald began, gesturing to the couch opposite from him, beneath the shelf full of bottled ships.
‘Talk about what?’ Evan asked, leading Mercy across the room and taking a seat with her. ‘Is something the matter, Oz?’
‘Not particularly,’ Oswald replied, pinching the bridge of his nose. ‘I just wanted to clear the air.’ Evan and Mercy shared a glance, then Mercy cleared her throat.
‘How did the two of you meet?’ Oswald continued, resting his hands on his knees. ‘I’ve got to ask. You two have been acting awfully intimate.’
Mercy flushed deep red and Evan’s eyes widened.
‘Intimate? What makes you think that?’ he stammered.
Oswald grinned and snapped his fingers.
‘I knew it! I figured you two would have to have something going, the way you’ve been all over each other since she woke up!’ he chuckled, leaning back in his chair. ‘Don’t think you can put one over on your cousin, kiddo.’
Evan and Mercy shared another glance, and Mercy sighed and scratched the back of her head.
‘Well, I don’t know if it’s quite the way you’ve put it,’ she muttered, and Evan nodded.

Oswald leaned forward and tented his fingers in front of his mouth, his smile vanishing.
‘Whether it is or not, it still doesn’t add up,’ he remarked, drawing Evan and Mercy’s attention again. ‘You two are acting awfully close, yet you’ve never introduced her to me or anyone else in the family. When you two got here, she was almost torn to shreds, and you won’t tell me why.’
Evan inhaled through his nose, and gripped Mercy’s hand tight.
‘Didn’t I say it was because of the dogs and the—’ he began.
‘Bullshit,’ Oswald replied, and Evan fell silent. ‘The only dogs in town belong to an old lady on the other side of the church. You’re going to tell me she got those wounds from a couple of Shih Tzus?’ He lowered his hands and scowled at Evan. ‘And don’t think for a second I haven’t heard what you’ve been saying. All this talk of surviving. Do you think I’m an idiot?’
Evan closed his eyes.
‘You two are taking part in the Holy Grail War.’
‘Now what do we do?’ Mercy whispered to Evan, and he squeezed her hand for a second.
‘Like I said, you can’t put one over on me,’ Oswald sighed and rose to his feet, before clenching his fists. ‘I should have figured Edgar would get you involved in this.’
‘What does Father have to do with anything?’ Evan replied, and Oswald shook his head.

‘I warned him,’ he grunted, ‘as soon as word got out that they’d finally found where the Grail was going to appear, he told me that you’d be entering.’
‘I still don’t know how that affects you!’ Evan shot back, standing up. ‘You told me, years ago, that you’d left the family behind!’
‘Use your head for a second, kiddo!’ Oswald snapped. ‘How do you think your cousin’s going to react when he’s told you’ll be taking part in a deathmatch like this? I may have left the family, Vali, but you’re still my blood for God’s sake!’
Evan looked down, and Mercy frowned.
‘Did he just call you Vali?’ she stammered, glancing across at him. Oswald crossed his arms and shook his head.
‘You two have been fighting together all this time, and you haven’t even told her your name?’ he sighed. ‘Earl Vali ad Nemesis, that’s his name. His father made him heir to the Nemesis family, the day he was born.’ His expression darkened. ‘It didn’t matter who was heir before him. You’ve seen what he can do, how adept he is with magic. There’s no way the head of the family would pass that up.’

‘You sound pretty bitter about it,’ Mercy remarked, standing up beside Evan.
‘It’s in the past,’ Oswald replied, facing her. ‘For years now, I’ve had a new objective.’ He closed his eyes. ‘It’ll be my name people honour forever, not that of House Nemesis. And whether you two are taking part in the Holy Grail War or not, my objective doesn’t change.’
Evan’s eyes widened, and he looked up at Oswald.
‘What are you saying?’ he gasped, gripping Mercy’s hand again.
‘It’s just a damn shame, you know?’ he added. ‘If Berserker had just done his job properly, neither of you would have had to suffer.’

Submitted: November 22, 2020

© Copyright 2020 J W Cooper. All rights reserved.


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