X. (RE)

Never Aren had imagined he would meet face-to-face with his worse enemy: a clown. Seeing this monstrosity before him gave him traumatic memories of his past. He remembered the one time when several clown assassins almost killed his wife. And the other time when he faced off an infamous demon impersonating as a clown. Also, that time when he met a group of cultists dressed as clowns while worshiping the Demon Goddess. Overall, clowns meant bad news for him, and noticing one sitting behind a desk with attentive eyes sparked an instinctive reaction. He jumped back, assuming his combat stance, waiting for the clown to reveal its true intentions and attack him. The “clown” and Stein gazed at him, confused.

  “Well, this is unexpected,” Stein remarked, massaging his neck.

  “Give him time, dear friend, give him time,” the clown said. “He needs to adjust to the new environment.”

  “I’ll give you time, all right: a clown-ass spanking time!” Aren shouted. “Don’t you dare pull out the squeaky toys, you son of a bitch.”

  “Aren… This is Layette’s father, Dickus Hawkwood,” Stein came in. “It’s his way of expressing his confidence. Do you have no tact?”

  “That’s Layette’s father? You got to—wait a sec.” Aren tilted his head. “Dickus, really? His name is Dickus?”

  “Uh, yeah. What’s wrong with his name?”

  A moment of silence, then Aren slapped his knee and burst out in laughter. Dickus and Stein were confused once again as they watched him enter the room. It took a moment for him to calm down, though he had a wide smirk on his face.

  Stein blinked several times before speaking. “All right… Aren, this is Dic—”

  Aren broke out in laughter once again. “Stop, stop! You’re gonna make me laugh every time you say that name. Hoo-boy… Okay, okay, I’m cool. I’m good.”

  “Right. Dickus, this is—”

  “Okay, before we get on the serious business, who in the right mind named you that? I must know,” Aren interrupted. “Like is this a drunk person we are gonna talk about or…”

  Dickus sighed. “It was my dearest mother. She named me after a legendary hero in Damorian history, Begdic Maximus. My mother, of course, added the—”

  “BIG DICK, HA!” Aren wheezed, losing his cool. Dickus and Stein stared with disbelief in their eyes. After a moment, once again, he composed himself and gestured to continue the introductions. “All right, all right, I’m good this time. Man, that was funny.”

  Stein narrowed his eyes. “No more interruptions this time? Are you sure about that?”

  “Yeah, yeah. Totally.”

  Stein paused for a moment, then went on with the introductions. “Aren, this is Dickus Hawkwood. Former member of the Divine Circle, High Lord of Damore, the infamous Mage Killer, the ‘Trickster’ of the North.”

  “Trickster of the North? I mean, he is a clown,” Aren commented. “Anyway, just tell me he’s an important figure rather than spilling all of that.”

  Dickus chuckled. “I have little patience for those who poke fun at my name or call me ‘clown,’ but you are an exception. Why, you always were.”

  “Oh, why thank you?”

  “I see it hard to comprehend the situation of things with the body you are currently in.” Dickus smirked devilishly. “My greatest sympathies to you, Grand Hero of Thyderalis.”

  The smile on Aren’s face faded. “What did you say?”

  “Your ears do not deceive you, Atlas Reinhardt.”

  Aren looked around, seeing Stein and Dickus glance at him with anticipation. He shrugged and laughed out the awkward tension in the room. “Me, Atlas Reinhardt? Haha, right, good joke! I still think your name is funnier… than… um, my name.”

  “Do you think my statement is a joke?” Dickus said with a more ominous tone. “I have been waiting for you for years. Do you think my commitment of finding the greatest hero in history, a joke?”

  “No, no joke here or there, um, mad—I mean, sir. Totally respect your work, totally.”

  Silence befell upon them. It was brief, however, as Stein facepalmed himself, expressing his frustration. “Bah, Dickus, I’m going to say it here and say it now: there’s no way this kid is the man you are looking for. You are scaring the child, for god’s sake.”

  “Do not fret. You will see proof very soon,” Dickus reassured.

  “And how would you show this ‘proof’ of yours?” Stein continued, folding his arms.

  Within an instant, strong gale winds surged out from the room. Books flew violently, furniture tossed around like rag dolls, and the glass window behind the desk shattered into many pieces. Dickus appeared behind Aren with a sword in hand, lunging it at him. Aren opened his right eye and traced his movements. White flames came out from his body, forming into a rod-like shape on his hand. Aren pointed the shafted flames to the left and the tip of Dickus’ sword stopped near the back of his neck. Though Stein was knocked off from his feet, he watched the conflict unfold and his mouth was dangling in amazement.

  “Oh my gods… The white flames are only to… What a sight to behold,” Stein trembled as he straightened his glasses.

  “Are you too scared to move after threatening me, clown?” Aren growled.

  The “Dickus,” holding the sword of light, vanished into thin air. The real Dickus stood a hair’s length away from the flaming rod, having his hands up in the air. “No mortal can see through my illusions easily, not even the strongest among us. You, in the other hand, knew where I was from the start. The legends of your prowess in combat spare no details.”

  Stein got on his feet. “Never in my lifetime would I have the opportunity to see the legend himself. Well, in a child’s body, that is.”

  “Indeed. Let us settle down, gentlemen. Perhaps I have taken things too far.”

  Dickus snapped his fingers. He used magic to repair the room: putting the furniture back into place, books arranged in proper matter, and broken objects were repaired to their original form. He smiled and gestured Aren to sit.

  “Tea, Sir Reinhardt?”

  “Stop calling me that. Oh right, my things: give them to me then I’ll take it down a notch.”

  “Certainly. Mr. Wolfenstein, if you may.”

  Stein nodded, opening the nearby cabinet and handed the items back. Once Aren put on his eyepatch, the white flames were put out. He lost his sense of balance and Stein caught him before he fell to the floor.

  “You all right?” Stein asked.

  “Yeah, just a bit dizzy. I’ll be fine.” Aren straightened himself before he spoke to Dickus. “So, the secret’s out: I am who you say I am. What are you going to do about it?”

  “Nothing, absolutely nothing. I mean no ill intent, good sir. From my bottom of my wretched heart, please forgive me for testing you.” Dickus poured tea into his own cup, adding sugar before stirring it. “If you want me to beg for forgiveness, such as kissing your feet as proof, I would do so. All would have the honor of such in front of your presence.”

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  A drop of sweat fell from Aren’s forehead. “N-No, that won’t be necessary. I’d rather have that cup of tea instead.”

  Aren sat down and took the cup from his hands. He stared at his own reflection from the hot, steaming liquid. Before he spoke a word, several guards came in with weapons in hand. They quickly filled the room and their captain rushed inside, yelling at the top of his lungs.

  “High Lord Hawkwood, we have come to your aid! The enemy shall taste the might of my… eh?”

  Dickus smiled. “What is wrong, captain?”

  “O-Oh, nothing, sir. We saw that burst many eyes away, so we came in as fast as we can to aid you.” The captain shook his head in disappointment. “Looks like there is no organized attack to kill you. My apologies.”

  “Oh, no, don’t look down upon yourself, captain. I am relieved to know the Academy’s response to an outburst was quicker than a fox’s wit! Compliment you and your soldiers for their commitment.”

  “You flatter me, my lord.” The captain saluted and ordered the soldiers out of the room. “I will explain the situation to the other security personnel. Please, excuse us.”

  The captain closed the door, leaving the three alone in the room. Dickus sighed, continuing to stir his tea. “It would be nice for my daughter to have noticed the unnecessary squabble. She slacks off too much at the night, though I suppose it is well needed for a person like her.”

  “Yup, considering her recent debacle,” Stein chimed in, taking out his pipe and smoking from it.

  “Yes, yes, that incident. They informed me of the boy’s quick recovery.” Dickus opened the glass window behind him. He breathed in the fresh air before speaking. “Now, where were we, sir…?”

  Aren lowered his face. “Call me Aren, I don’t go by that name anymore.”

  “Why? Oh, please indulge me with the details.”

  “I… don’t want to talk about it. It’s a mood killer, so let’s cut to the chase.”

  “If you insist, Sir Aren.” Dickus sat back down on his luxurious chair and took a sip from his tea. “As I said before, we mean no ill intent, only cooperation.”

  “So, what scheme are you dragging me into?”

  “I believe Stein had brought up the Eadburt family, yes?”

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  “What about them?”

  Dickus showed his palm. “The Eadburt family has too much power over the ruling families. They control trade, influence diplomatic deals through monetary transactions, overrule decisions from the court. Their power remains unchecked and fear for the worse.”

  “So, you want me to, like, slaughter the entire family or…?”

  “No, no! I will never suggest such action, especially to my own brethren.” Dickus leaned forward, his chin on top of his clasped hands. “I am suggesting removing the current Head of the House from power for the safety of this kingdom.”

  “Remove. Kill. Basically, the same thing.”

  “Oh, please, such barbaric actions are last resort. You can easily convince them with your powers and—”

  “Nonononono, hell no. That’s a huge nope for me.”

  Stein blew out a smoke ring at the ceiling before talking. “And why not?”

  “Imagine what would happen if I reveal my identity to the world. It would cause mass hysteria. Assassins will flock left and right, kingdoms would probably start wars against me, people will come and demand me to solve their problems. Hell, it would even bring unknown terrors out of nowhere and cause mass havoc just to get my attention!” Aren exclaimed.

  ”That’s… a good point.”

  “Besides, I do not have as much power as I used to.” Aren sighed. “You saw what happened: using my powers takes a toll on my body. I have to be careful when using it.”

  Dickus fluttered his eyes, then faced the glass windows. “Well, it is an issue I must take note of. It is getting rather late, so I believe it is best for us to continue this conversation tomorrow. Stein, would you show our beloved hero to his quarters?”

  Stein rolled his eyes. “Playing servant once again. All right, Aren, come on, I’ll show you to your room.”

  “Wait, I want to know one thing.” Aren faced Dickus with a serious look on his face. “How did you know?”

  “How did I know, indeed. I am a man of secrets, though I can let you in on one minor detail.” Dickus turned around. “I have received information about a person wearing the Mystical Shawl of Destiny many days ago. I thought it was fake, like the rest. However, even with a mere gaze, I knew yours was real.”

  “Right. Change my attire, got it.”

  Stein and Aren walked from the front entrance. Aren turned to face Dickus once more. The front door slowly closed on its own, and Dickus showed an eerie smile.

  “Have a good night’s rest, Hero of Thyderalis.”

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