Maximillian Wilhelm Kael
A black rental sedan carrying Maximillian Wilhelm Kael and his adopted son, Sutler Reynolds-Kael, moved through the streets of Houston. The drive has been relatively quiet with either man offering much in the way of conversation. Max seems more occupied with a large manilla folder that had the name Clay Byrd scribbled on the front of it. Sutler, on the other hand, was white knuckling the steering wheel as he tried his best to navigate the traffic.
“Can you believe this guy decided to move to Houston of all places?” Max says, breaking the silence of the vehicle. “Who moves to Houston? It’s got over two million people squeezed into this Texas excuse for a city.”
Sutler doesn’t dare take his eyes off the road though a flash of annoyance does touch his facial features.
“You know how hard it was to track him down? Nobody at PRIME would give me his forwarding address, they just gave me a PO box for this wretched city.” the Unquestionable One sighs with a wicked grin. “Thankfully Mina still has her sources. You know I used to hate her but now that she’s out of my head I find her whole spooky persona a refreshing change of pace. Some people are just too serious for their own good, you know?”
Once again his son does not answer verbally. Instead his hands tighten on the steering wheel as his nostrils flare a bit.
“So tell me again, what happened between the two of you when I died?”
There is another long silence before Sutler clears his throat.
“Can we talk about this later?”
Max looks up from the folder with a puzzled look on his face.
“Talk about Clay Byrd later? But we’re on our way to his house, if we don’t talk about it now it will be a moot point to discuss it later.” the Lord of Kaelsalvania snaps toward his son.
A low grumble rumbles up from the pit in Sutler’s gut as he carefully merges one lane over. It is obvious that that young man is not comfortable. Not comfortable sitting in a car with his unalived, relieved father, not comfortable with driving and certainly not comfortable discussing a subject like Clay Byrd while dealing with the first two.
“What? Not up to talking to dear old Dad? Listen, you and I, we’re basically the same age now. True, I’ve got nearly five decades worth of experience and memories up here but that doesn’t mean we can’t be pals! Buddies! Amigos!” Max exclaims as he leans up in his seat. “You don’t have to be jealous of Eddie Cross. Sure, he certainly fits the standards I would set for replacing you. Young, handsome, chip on his shoulder the size of the Wafer Scale Engine.”
Sutler simply grinds his teeth in response, causing Max’s grin to grow a little more. Antagonizing his adopted son was always one of his favorite hobbies. Given that he had been dead for a few years meant had left him missing the experience.
“Oh come on, Sutler, loosen up!”
“This is my first time driving outside of Arkham!” Sutler suddenly blurts out as he merges into the lane to the right slowly.
The smile on Max’s face wavers for a moment as he registers what his son is saying. His brow quirks as he tilts his head to the side like a confused dog.
There is another quiet moment as Max looks toward the road then back to Sutler then back to the road.
“We’re not going to die are we? Cause I’ve already died enough times for my own taste, thank you very much.”
“If you keep fuckin’ bothering me, we’re definitely going to end up dead.” Sutler spits out of the corner of his mouth as he finds the exit he is looking for. “Though honestly I’ve already considered driving into oncoming traffic since we left the airport. Fuck, why couldn’t we have just taken an Uber?!”
As Sulter speaks, Max lets his thin hand creep up the car window before entangling itself around the “oh shit” handle.
“I thought you could drive and would save us a little money!” Sutler’s father yells, his own panicky voice matching Sutler’s annoyed tone. The realization that they could both very well die on the road seemingly very likely to the Unquestionable One. “Plus if we need to bail quickly, better to have a getaway car then wait for an Uber. I suspect Clay Byrd can run pretty fast.”
“Can you just shut up until we get there?” The young Kael Family member begs as he gradually leaves the highway, merging with street traffic.
“Fiiiiine Mister Serious-Poopy-Pants. You get that from your biological father. If you were my REAL son, you’d be a lot more fun.”
“And I thank fucking GOD for that every day.” Sutler snarls as he does his best to keep his attention on the road. “We’d probably be dead now from trying to suck the gas out of an exhaust pipe.”
There was a long silence as Max stared out the front door with a frown on his face. After some consideration Max speaks.
“Ah!” Max exclaims as he snaps his finger. ”At least we’d die happy!”
The sedan rolls up in front of a pleasant, perfectly normal looking townhouse located in the sprawl of Houston. It seemed to match the same cookie cutter design of the rows of residences that stretched out in all directions. The whole neighborhood was alive with menial activity. Lawns were being groomed, cars were being washed, gossip was being discussed.
To the mind of Max Kael, this was all terribly frightening.
Easing out of the car, Max slips a pair of sunglasses over his eyes to dull the blaring light of the high Texas sun. Reaching back into the car he retrieves an old Daytona Diamonds cowboy hat he had purchased at the PRIME vendor before leaving Colossus Night 2. The sequined pink cowboy hat stands in stark contrast to his black three piece suit and red tie.
“Come on, cowpoke, it’s time to see that slightly gay cowboy!” the Unquestionable One bellows as he slaps the top of the rental. This draws the attention of some of the neighbors causing Max to offer them a tip of his hat. “The locals look restless, son, we better make this snappy.”
With the kind of petulant, over dramatic sigh you can only get from a misunderstood, early twenties sad boi, Sutler exits the vehicle. Unlike his father, Sutler is dressed far more subdued, white hoodie, black sweat pants and a pair of Nikes. Slamming the door Sutler turns his eyes toward the townhouse whose driveway they were currently occupying.
Both Sutler and Max register the red Toyota BEV in winter blue. They exchange a look that says “What the fuck?” before they look back toward the Toyota.
“You think this place is actually Clay’s home?” Sutler queries as he scratches his chin. “I just.. I don’t see Byrd driving a Toyota.”
“It’s definitely a Toy, partner.” Max replies with a fake southern drawl. He regrets, in that moment, not owning a toothpick to chew on. Wearing the Daytona Diamond hat really made him feel like a cowboy. He was starting to understand the appeal. “I reckon we just best mosey on up to the door and give the bell a tingle.”
The SRK rolls his eyes, bearing suppressing a groan before he starts walking toward the door.
“Let’s just get this over with so we can get the fuck out of here.” he says as he marches up the steps. Max looks around at the neighbors who were now, not so subtly, listening in on their conversation. There will be new gossip in the neighborhood tonight!
Reaching the front door, Sutler rings the doorbell three times in rapid succession.
“Come-on.. Come-on.” Sutler impatiently muttered. “Answer the door, answer the door.”
Looking down at the small doormat Sutler realized it was simply said “FUCK OFF” in big bold letters. Oh if only he could, door mat, if only he could. Unfortunately with Max pulling up the rear, turning and running back to Arkham were not a realistic option.
“Fuche Uff. Hm. Must be Swedish, heh-heh.” Max jokes as he saddles up to the front step, looking down at the door mat that occupied Sutler’s attention. “I do believe we are at the right house, partner.”
The door to the townhouse opens partially and Sutler tries to speak but the door then slams in the Kael’s collective faces. “Well that’s it! He doesn’t want to see us so…”
“That’s not the Christmas spirit!” Max bellows as he reaches past Sutler to press the button that seemingly made the door open. One press. Two press. Three press. Four press. Five press.
“We should really get go…” The door swings open again, this time the Monster from Plainview towers in the middle of the doorway. All six-foot seven, two-hundred ninety-five pounds of tighty whitey wearing anger. A sixth press, and The Behemoth fires off the taser in his left hand into Max’s chest. The Sig Sauer 1911 is pointed between Sutler’s eyes. Clay snarls as he holds the trigger of the stun gun.
“Sss..ss…s…s..zz..zSS.s.” Max Kael hits the ground and begins convulsing as Clay stares a hole where he wants to put a hole in Sutler’s forehead. For his part, Sulter is having a good laugh at his father’s sudden misfortune. This is unfortunate for the younger Kael as he probably should be keeping his eyes on the monster across from him.
“Ya were right kid, ya should have left,” The Behemoth growls as he pulls his gun hand back across his body and smashes SRK in the temple with the .45. The world goes black for the Kael’s as Clay finally lets up on the stun gun. With his fading strength, Max breaths out the word he’s been trying to sputter out for the last thirty seconds.
SRK blinks rapidly as the world comes back into focus. He tries to get up, but the plastic lawn chair he’s tied to comes with him. He looks around the room, a single couch, a coffee table made from cardboard boxes, and on the other side of the room behind a countertop still wielding the hand gun is his captor.
“Sit back down,” The Behemoth mumbles as he steps around the counter. Luckily, a pair of ‘Vae Victus’ Wednesday edition basketball shorts have made their way onto Clay’s body, along with his black cowboy hat. The pink rhinestone covered hat Max had been wearing sits on the countertop, SRK glances to his left and sees Max stirring.
“The fuck do you want with me?!” Clay loops around the counter and down into Sutler’s face in the blink of an eye. The big man drives the cold metal of the 1911 under SRK’s chin, and pushes the back of his head down onto the steel.
“I SAID THE FUCK DO YOU WANT WITH ME!?” The Behemoth roars and pulls back the hammer of the .45. “I swear, if ya don’t start talkin’ kid, and tellin’ me what this Max look-a-like contest winner wants, I’m gonna put yer brains all over the fuckin’ ceiling.”
“I… I… I have no idea, it’s him…” Sutler’s eyes shift to the now bleary-eyed Maximillian Wilhelm Kael beside him. The Colossal Cowboy haphazardly shoves SRK over onto his back as he wheels towards Max. The Sig Sauer finds its way underneath Max’s jaw, the barrel of the weapon presses snuggly against his throat. The elder Kael begins to mutter something beneath his breath, impossible to make out.
“I wouldn’t…” Sutler starts but is cut off by his host.
“Of course ya fuckin’ wouldn’t,” Clay’s now taser free hand wraps around the entirety of Max’s wide-eyed face. The Behemoth squeezes his cheeks together and grimaces.
“What.The.Fuck.Do.You.Want!?” Clay roars, his steel blue eyes staring into Max’s.
Max’s eyes seem to bulge in his head as he is choked by Clay though a smile slowly creeps across his lips. Struggling against Byrd’s grip Max attempts to spit out a few words to appease his current captor.
“Y..young.. Younger than the mountains.. G-growin’ like a breeze..” the Unquestionable Kael sputters through Clay’s grip. Sutler stares at his father with a look of disbelief while Clay slowly figures out what is happening. “Country Roooooads.. Take me home. Howdy, cowboy.”
Having two eyes it is clear that Max is winking at Clay. The Lord of Kaelsalvania looks to be having a great time at the mercy of the Behemoth. Sutler watches on in horror, pretty sure there is no outcome here where he doesn’t take on another mental scar.
Skull and brain matter explode from the back of Max’s skull as his body and the chair he is tied to collapses over backwards. The Behemoth pays it no mind, it’s them or him, and he leaps down on top of SRK, pinning his shoulders to the carpeted floor. The warm muzzle kisses Sutler’s temple as Clay stares down at him wild eyed.
“Where’s the bitch?!” Clay roars, the adrenaline causing the gun to shake against Sutler’s temple.
Sutler has his eyes pressed shut, terror and disgust frozen on his expression. Little bits of Max’s brain and skull are painted across his visage.
“Mina’s back in fucking Arkham!” the Son of Scions screams out through gasping breaths. He’s terrified right now and who wouldn’t be with a gun shoved in their face? “Listen! Either put me out of my misery now.. Or get ready, man! Because he’s not de-”
Before Sutler can finish that soft, unpleasant giggle gurgles up from the spot where Max’s corpse should have been silently rotting. The SRK becomes a quivering mass of limp jelly, the ptsd from a lifetime of abuse paralyzing him.
“..oh Clay.. PRIME is so..al̵͙͇͂̿̒ī̶͎̜̆̕ve.. with fresh ideas. They’ve even got someone who comes back to life whenever they die! Imagine that.” Max’s voice hisses as he picks himself up out of the wreckage of the plastic furniture. He looks more or less restored to his previous self, a malicious grin on his face.
Confusion. Horror. But mostly confusion etches its way across the Cowboy Colossus’ face. Clay turns the pistol to the threat and removes himself from the quivering lump of flesh that is currently Sutler Reynolds-Kael. He keeps the gun firmly on Max as he stumbles backwards into the countertop.
“Listen, buddy, pal! We’re both cowboys and I thi-” Max pauses as he realizes he doesn’t have his cowboy hat on anymore. He pats his head a few times in confusion before shrugging it off. “Well, I don’t have the hat on but you probably saw it earlier. I’m just here cause I heard you had something that belongs to me. Me old eye. Wouldn’t have it handy would ya, partner?”
As he mentions his eye, Max lifts his hand to cover his left brown eye while winking, or perhaps just blinking, with his right. He doesn’t seem overly concerned about the gun in Clay’s hand though he does keep his distance. Off to the side the acrid scent of urine indicates that Sulter had pissed himself.
“Front pocket…” The .45 trembles as Clay points to a ‘Vae Victus’ pink duffle bag on the floor. He glances towards the blood and brain matter on the wall, and back towards Max. “Take it and get the fuck out of here.”
“Gladly, Paartner!” the Prime Minister of Maxopotamia giggles, prancing over to the duffle bag and fishing around in the pocket. As he withdrawals his hand he realizes that what he was expecting as one eye has become several broken pieces. His smile flickers for a moment as he stares down at his former mechanical eye with a whiff of disappointment. “That’s.. Unexpected. Life, am I right? I can’t drive so I’ll need my son back, unless you’re looking to adopt?”
The drive back to the airport was awkward, to say the least.
Sutler was still covered in the blood and bone matter of his father thanks to Clay’s trigger happy escapades. Max’s regeneration had cleaned him off though oddly he was still wearing the same clothes and didn’t appear to have shifted in personality. Once the SRK had finished freaking out and had a moment to digest the whole fucked up situation, he noticed this.
“Why didn’t you change?” Sutler finally asks, having come up with no solutions himself.
Max, who was staring at the broken pieces of his old mechanical eye, looks up to examine the road ahead of them.
“Not entirely sure. Could be that we’ve reached character development bedrock, I’ve gotten the maximum amount of value out of dying.” Max muses as he ponders the nature of his regenerations. “Could also be that the powers that be in charge of my regenerations have decided that I need to be here for whatever reason. Maybe there is no rhyme and reason to this thing, it’s thrown to the whims of chaos? In either case I’m in no hurry to get shot in the head again. I’ve only got four more of these things before I’m tapped out of extra lives.”
So, Sutler notes to himself, Max had to die four more times before he could once again be permanently unalived. Good to know. You too, readers!
“So why did we come all the way down here to get that eye? I hope it was worth wasting an entire Regeneration and a pair of my good pants.” the adopted son of Max Kael asks, the trauma wearing off as the youths’ more traditional anger falls back into place.
“Oh! Because I need it for..needed it for..”
Max’s brow furrows as he tries to remember why he had come down to Texas for that eye. His brain tries to connect all the plot threads but some of them.. Actually a large portion of them appear to be missing.
“..Hmm. You know, I can’t really recall why I needed this eye. Probably has something to do with PRIME.” Kael considers as he looks back down at the broken pieces of the mechanical ocular replacement.
“Was it for Eddie?”
Max looks up from the eye to stare at Sutler with a perplexed expression.
“Eddie? Do I know an Eddie? Edward? Edgar?” He runs through the list of names that he knows might be linked to the name Eddie but nothing comes up positive. He shrugs, still confused. “Nobody pressing named Eddie comes to mind.”
“Stop fucking around, Max, I’m talking about Eddie Cross!” Sutler says, slamming his hand on the steering wheel to emphasize his frustration with his father. Max jumps in surprise at Sutler’s little outburst before he shoves the bits of eye into his pocket.
“I don’t know any Eddie Cross, stop inferring I do!” he protests loudly, an accusatory tone in his voice. Though at first Sutler’s suspicion, rightfully so, had assumed Max was pretending, he recognized the tone in his father’s voice. For a guy who constantly lies and lies about the lives of others, Max was extremely thin skinned when he felt someone made assumptions about him.
Sutler is quiet for a moment as he tries to understand when things click into place.
“Do you remember your match from Colossus?”
Looking back toward the road Max seems deep in thought for another few moments before he snaps his fingers.
“The match with Crash in it? I sure do! I won, if I remember, against some local talent. Was just some early card match, I think Troy is trying to butter me up with pity matches! Still, a win is a win.”
Max was lying. Sutler knew he had no memory of his opponent and that he used the one piece of information he still had connected to that match, that Crash was in it. He used that one fact to build his falsehood out of a root of truth.
It was all Sutler needed to know.
“Yeah, Eddie Cross was the name of the guy you beat. Just a throw away match, no major repercussions there.”
The rest of the drive to the airport was silent. Sutler pondering about what else Max had forgotten since this last regeneration.
Max, deep in concern as to why he couldn’t remember his last opponents and why he had bothered to come all the way to Texas, to the home of Clay Byrd, to retrieve his eye.
And the Herald, unsure why nobody had let him out of the trunk this entire trip.