The little two-story house that once sat alone in the southern plains was no longer quite so lonely. Shara and Darron’s monster hunting efforts had allowed other buildings to sprout up around it, giving birth to the small town of Borns. Aelius hated Borns, but he hates most places so he ended up wandering this way about twice a year regardless. It was a terrible place, but most places were actually worse. Besides, he had irons in the fire and it was still too early to cool them off.

However, Aelius did not see the calm little hamlet he expected as he pushed his way through the last of the cornfield. Shara’s adoptive family house was swarmed with official-looking people in crisp black uniforms. Their clothing was lightly armored, prepared for trouble but not expecting it. They fiddled about the place, poking at walls and excavating patches of dirt like some terrible crime had occurred and they were investigating its cause. Interesting. Today was going to be either amazingly entertaining, or a complete hassle.

The situation dipped into possible hassle territory as Aelius approached the house and caught a closer look at the uniforms. Placed above the left breast was the symbol of a clenched fist, stylized so that streams of light appeared to pour out of the spaces between fingers. It gave the impression that the hand was trying to grasp something impossibly bright, desperately denying any force that would make it let go. Below, words Aelius recognised as the Elpis national motto were stylishly inscribed: “We Can Always Be Better.”

Obvious and pretentious, like most mottos. Aelius had never been to Elpis before. The country lay all the way down at the bottom of the continent, meaning he’d have to pass through the entire southern plains to reach it. Aelius liked to walk (insofar as he liked much of anything), but that was a whole lot of nothing to try and cross without entertainment.

Speaking of entertainment, one of the little Elpis goons noticed him as he approached the house. He was a blonde-haired boy, looking to be around Shishkabob’s age. How old was she now? Nineteen? He should at least pretend to care. Anyway, the boy nodded cordially and returned to his work, which Aelius incorrectly chose to interpret as an invitation to go speak with him.

“Hello, my good man!” the Titan of Life addressed him. “May I ask what, perchance, you are doing? That’s a trick question, of course I can. What are you doing?”

The boy sighed and turned to face him, but immediately adopted a more professional posture when he realized who he was dealing with.

“E...excuse me,” he said, “but are you… Aelius?”

“The one and only!” Aelius confirmed. “Unless, I suppose, some fool parent was dumb enough to name a soon-to-be misfortunate kid after me. Gotta keep that name from wearing out, you feel me?”

The boy furrowed his brow, which seemed to indicate he did not, in fact, feel him.

“I’m sorry sir,” he said politely, “but I probably shouldn’t be talking to you. If you have some business here, I can go get my supervisor, if you like.”

Aelius hadn’t been planning to humor this dumb kid with much of a chat in the first place, but now he suddenly wanted to.

“Oh no, I insist!” Aelius informed him with a grin, “You and I are going to have a chat now, now two-ways about it! So, what are you doing here, chum?”

“I’m sorry sir, but I must decline to comment. My supervisor can be found–”

In a flash, Aelius had his hand around the boy’s throat. He lifted the kid up into the air and slammed his back against the wall of Shara and Darron’s old house. The Elpisian kicked and struggled, grasping at Aelius’ wrist but finding no slack in the titan’s grip.

“Perhaps you misheard me,” Aelius intoned, “but I believe I insisted.

“ can’t… kill me…” the boy choked out.

Ah, today would be a good day after all. Aelius leaned in close to the boy’s ear, and with a manic grin he hissed:

“...How exactly do you think that works out in your favor?”

Aelius reached into his robe and extracted a thin metal rod with a wooden hilt, its tip pointed and slightly angled. Slowly, carefully, he brought it closer to the boy’s eye, savoring the quivering fear as he redoubled his futile efforts to escape.

“Death is a gift, you pathetic, stupid child,” Aelius continued, “A kindness. Nature gave it to you to place a limit on the amount of suffering your body could take.”

Aelius strengthened his grip, crushing the boy’s windpipe. No sense ruining a perfectly good educational moment with something annoying like screams. Blood mixed with tears and flowed down onto Aelius’ arm as he slowly and carefully began to gouge out the boy’s eye. It would grow back immediately if he removed his extraction tool, so he took his time.

“I exist to remove that kindness,” he said, “along with many others. A person’s nerves, their sense of touch, would normally be damaged by severe injuries like this one. But I can keep them up and running at full effectiveness, even during situations like this!

Aelius suddenly dug his tool completely through the man’s eye, stopping short of the brain, and then began to yank his tool around in random directions, pulling the boy’s impaled eye around for the ride. The boy’s body shuttered and convulsed as his airless lungs desperately tried to scream. Aelius found himself really getting into the moment, and kept his monologue flowing.

“Titan of Life, they say!” Aelius growled, “Bringer of miracles! Savior of men! They love me as a father and worship me as a god! But none of them understand what I am, what life is! Life does not exist to please you, it exists to claim you! Life does not care for you, or for your family, or for your well-being, or for your happiness. It does not care, period. It exists only to continue.

Leaving the metal rod lodged in the boy’s face, Aelius reached into his robe again, and pulled out a small seed.

“Life only wants to exist. At any cost, in any form. You are no more special to life than a bug, a worm, or a flower. You think and feel and love only because life has found that those things will allow it to continue. You love so that you will procreate. You feel so that you can know danger. And you think, so that you can learn to avoid that which is dangerous before it catches you.”

Aelius smiled, his face so close to the boy that the only thing his one remaining eye could see was the Titan’s perfect teeth.

“But you didn’t quite think enough to realize that life itself is dangerous, did you? You told life that it couldn’t kill you, as if life somehow hadn’t thought of that. Why would life kill you, you pathetic, stupid child, when it far prefers your suffering?”

Aelius gouged a larger hole in the boy’s eye and swiftly inserted the seed inside of it. With a burst of Aelius’ power, the seed violently blossomed, tunneling vines through the boy’s flesh. Plant matter filled his throat, stuffed his lungs, and burst from his mouth, crawling along half of his face and meeting up with the vines growing down from his eye. The greenery quickly extended down his throat, burst through the walls of his stomach, and began wrapping themselves through and around his legs. Aelius dropped the boy, causing him to collapse to the ground in a heap, his one good eye leaking tears as the parasitic plant sapped too much of his strength to move.

“Now then, boy. Take life’s boon. Accept my blessing, and live forever.”

Gathering his strength, Aelius took a drop of his titanic power and planted it in the quivering mess of a young man, sealing his fate eternally. Well, unless Aelius took it back, he supposed, but he probably wouldn’t bother.

It had been a long time since Aelius had really cut loose like that, especially in front of witnesses. The stress of his unrelenting boredom must have really gotten to him. Usually he was a lot more… personable with strangers. Keeping up appearances and maintaining good relationships opened up a lot more opportunities to catch people by surprise, which was half the fun.

Speaking of witnesses, it seemed at least one of the other Elpisians had gone to get help. A dark-skinned woman approached from the house with an irritated look on her face. Her cropped black hair and relatively flat figure could have caused her to be mistaken for a man from a greater distance, but she was feminine enough to dispel such illusions up close. Aelius noted her uniform seemed to have a few more fancy stripes and insignias than the others, indicating she was likely the “supervisor” his idiot toy and been talking about.

The supervisor stopped as she entered Aelius’ healing field, apparently noticing its effects, and stepped back to remove herself from it. Her dark eyes flicked about between Aelius and his unfortunate victim. A disgusted scowl passed over her face before it was suddenly wiped away with the most condescendingly fake smile Aelius had ever seen in his life.

“To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit, oh Titan of Life?” the woman asked contemptuously. Given the scene before her, Aelius sort of expected a little more frightful reverence than he was receiving. She was either too bad an actor to hide the hate in her voice, or she just had absolutely massive lady-balls.

“Funny thing, actually,” Aelius responded, “I was trying to ask your kid here the same thing. Didn’t seem to want to talk to me, though. I wonder who could have taught him to be so rude?”

“My sincerest apologies,” the woman deadpanned, clasping her hands behind her back, “I will see to it that you are treated with more respect, so that we can avoid this situation in the future. To answer your question, we are here to assist in the relocation of the individuals that live here. Elpis is expanding, and we have need of agricultural workers to assist with the feeding of our populace. After extending an invitation with the promise of better and safer living conditions, the residents of this area agreed to immigration.”

“Oh, of course!” Aelius said, rolling his eyes, “That explains why your men are poking around here for every little detail like it’s some kind of…” he looked at his quivering victim with a grin, “...murder scene?”

“Yes, it does,” the woman deadpanned again, ignoring his sarcasm entirely. “May I ask once again what business you have here?”

“Business?” Aelius asked incredulously, “My dear, I don’t do business, only pleasure. But the reason it pleased me to be here is fairly simple: I am looking for someone. I don’t suppose you’ve seen her? Young woman, red eyes, blonde hair? Hobbies include weightlifting, juggling cows, and punching dragons? Answers to ‘Shishkabob,’ but only when I say it? She wouldn’t happen to be among the people you’re ‘relocating,’ would she?”

Recognition flashed through the woman’s face, and she looked distant, as if deep in thought.

“No… she was not,” the woman eventually claimed, “but I do know where she is. The two of you are… acquainted?”

“Oh, yeah!” Aelius confirmed, “She’s my goddaughter. Get it? Goddaughter? Heh. So anyway, how about you tell me where she is?”

The woman opened her mouth to speak, but stopped as she eyed Aelius’ trembling, tortured plaything.

“...I suppose I could be willing to part with that information,” she sighed, “if you would be so kind as to remove the… ‘gifts’ you have bestowed upon my subordinate. I’m afraid, as an officer, I can’t afford to play favorites. Having one of my men so supernaturally blessed could lead to… jealousy in the ranks. I’m sure you understand.”

Aelius couldn’t help but giggle a little at the woman’s absurdly political phrasing. Her apparent dedication to appeasing Aelius’ ego with the way she worded things was so crushingly overshadowed by her obvious contempt that he had to assume she knew he knew it was an act. If so, was that part of the act? Most people treated Aelius with overwhelming reverence, and he was sick and tired of it. The way this woman to openly mocked that attitude was downright elating.

“Oh, so you’re saying I just need to be fair, and give all your men the same treatment?” Aelius asked mockingly, and to his amusement everyone but the dark-skinned superior officer recoiled back in terror.

“No,” she simply said, “just undo what you’ve done to that one, please. Then I will tell you what I know of your goddaughter.”

Ah, but this game was too fun to end so soon.

“Have you considered that I could simply torture the information out of you?” Aelius asked.

“You could try,” the woman conceded, “but I think you would find it to be an enormous waste of time and effort for the both of us. Your purposes are better served by undoing the actions you have done to my subordinate.”

Oh, such confidence! It was certainly tempting to test her resolve on that, but Aelius supposed that game wasn’t as fun the more times he played it in a day.

“What makes you think I’d be willing to part with him so readily?” he countered instead. “I’m sure I can find Shishkabob on my own eventually. Why is your information worth this boy’s life?”

The woman smiled sweetly, but her eyes looked at him with disgust.

“Because you do not actually care about that boy’s life. My information is worth it because he isn’t worth anything to you.”

Aelius grinned widely. Not the argument he was expecting, but easily the best one he’d ever heard.

“Oh, you’re so very correct. But here’s the problem: I don’t actually care about my ‘goddaughter’ either. I’ve been coming around and playing nice with her every so once and a while, it’s true, but I just thought it would be fun to crush the innocent trust of a child someday. I suppose it will take me longer to find her if you don’t spit out the answer when I cut you open, but I’m sure the screams you’ll make will be more than enough comfort for the longer journey.”

The woman once again didn’t react to his threats, a trait Aelius couldn’t decide if he found annoying or exciting.

“...Well then,” she murmured, “perhaps I can give you something else to sweeten the deal?”

“Lady, if you’re coming on to me, you should know that I find all mortals to be equally hideous and disgusting, yourself included.”

“I… no!” the woman growled, “I mean I have more information I’d be willing to trade with you. Something I guarantee you will care very much about.”

“Well?” Aelius prompted, “Out with it, then!”

“You have a daughter.”

“...Come again? You do remember the thing I said about finding people hideous and disgusting, right?”

“Yes, well, in your process of affirming that, we believe you had questionably consensual relations with a woman in Sentonis five-thousand eight-hundred and ninety-three days ago. That woman gave birth to a girl, two-hundred and forty-three days later.”

“Lady, you can just say she’s fifteen years old like a normal goddamn person. How long have you guys been stalking me? Actually wait, I don’t care. Better question: why do you think I would want to associate with anything even remotely related to me? Even I know I’m an asshole. And hoo boy, if you think I’m going to rush off and develop some kind of paternal instinct–”

“Your relationship isn’t what makes her interesting,” the woman said, cutting him off. “It is the cause of what makes her interesting. Your daughter is also a Titan.”

Aelius shrugged. “So?”

The woman took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. She gritted her teeth in disgust, suddenly dropping any pretence of civility.

“Aelius… they call you the Titan of Life, but you are nothing more than an overgrown child. You have been playing with the same set of toys for longer than you can remember, amusing yourself with your favorite games over and over again, but none of them are quite as fun as they used to be, are they?” She raised up her palm, gesticulating with the first major show of passion she’d displayed so far. “Aren’t you tired of it? The eternity of stagnant boredom? Isn’t it time to put down your toys and deal yourself into a bigger game, where the other players actually have a shot to win? When will you realize your ennui stems not from this world’s lack of entertainment, but from your own laziness towards seeking it? Why should you pretend to be satisfied with the paltry suffering of us mortals, when you could work to destroy a Titan?

Aelius smiled, a genuine, joyful smile that he hadn’t felt in quite some time. This was a woman that hated him, truly and completely. Yet while she seemed to despise his cruelty, here she was encouraging him to go and give cruelty his all. Who is this enigma? What does she want?

“What’s your name, woman?” Aelius asked.

“You may call me Marisol,” she responded, glaring through narrowed eyes that somehow stared down at him from half a foot below his height.

“I believe this is the start of something beautiful, Marisol,” Aelius claimed. “I will remove my blessings from your subordinate, if you would be so kind as to tell me about my daughter.”

“Your daughter’s name is Neoma,” Marisol said with a smile, “and she is the Titan of Annihilation. I do hope her powers will not be a danger to you.”

Ah, those scathing words. Aelius soaked them in as Marisol continued to explain where his daughter could be found and how she could be tracked. Never in his life had Aelius met someone who truly understood him like this. Her pronouncements had shaken him deeply. As loath as he was to admit it, she was right. It was past time to play a much bigger game. There would be time for minor pleasures along the way, but for the first time in a long time he had something to do that made him feel… alive.

Marisol was wrong about one very important thing, however. True, most mortals weren’t worth his efforts, but it would seem some of them were exceptional indeed, like Shishkabob, her father, and, oh, especially Marisol herself. That grumpy, dark-skinned woman was the true prize. Why, if he didn’t know any better, he might think he was falling for her.

For now, however… it was time for a family reunion.

A note from Thundamoo

Editing this one was very difficult; I think I'm somewhat more squeemish than Aelius and Marisol.  Let me know if you find any errors, and as always, thanks for reading!  

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