Season 2 Prologue, Part 1
Documents of all sorts commanded the father's attention, the thick smell of whisky and cigars failing to overpower his senses. He was focused. He had his hand in every pot the sector had to offer and even the ones he was not supposed to be in. He'd be working well into the night. Research needed to be conducted, precautions needed to be established, and he could not afford to lose focus—
His eldest tugged on his suit jacket. The father looked down from his work and smiled. He could afford to lose focus if it was his children. They were the most important people to him. He picked up his preteen and placed him on his lap. The boy's face was scrunched together and his eyes were filled with questions.
"What's wrong, The Forty-Fourth?"
"Why won't anyone just call me by my name? Why am I always called 'The Forty-Fourth?' Why can't they just call me—" The father placed a single finger on his son's lips. He was not angry with him, but it was clear it was time for a refresher.
The father motioned to a servant to bring his son something that would help brighten his spirits.
"Do you remember what we talked about before?" His voice was kind. They'd had this talk before, many times, but it was not always the easiest thing to accept or understand. The father remembered asking his own countless times before it sunk in. And even then, it was not easy to live with.
"There is power in a name, my son. In the names you choose and in the names you are given—even the names you stumble upon by chance. They all hold a power that yearns to be wielded. You are blessed—and cursed—to have a name that holds so much power. We call you 'The Forty-Fourth' as a way of preserving that power, which also happens to be a powerful name in and of itself. It is the scalpel or the dagger instead of the mighty sword. One day, you will learn when and where to yield it, just like I had to. It is your responsibility and your destiny."
"Is that why they call you The Forty-Third? Because we have the same name?"
"Exactly," the father said. He kissed his son on the forehead just as a servant brought out a bowl of ice cream: vanilla, with strawberries and chocolate chips. The Forty-Fourth's favorite. It was his father's—The Forty-Second's—favorite as well.
"Can you tell me about The First again?"
Long, long ago, The First began studying the strange beings who were infected with Malice, the evil and cruel entity that forced our people from their home.
People like The First made it their mission to make our new home safe for us and that meant learning everything they could about the dangers we faced. We thought that by fleeing our old world that we had left all of Malice behind. However, we eventually discovered that Malice had managed to put a piece of itself in some of those who fled.
These beings could do all manner of things: control fire, summon lightning, cause tornadoes, and make the ground quake. They were passionate individuals, headstrong and firm in their beliefs. This led them to be first known by the term 'firebrand,' an old-world word meaning "a person damned to burn in hell." The word then morphed into the words we use to this day, including the catch-all term Branded. These "children" of Malice were fascinating yet completely terrifying. They were the worst parts of the creatures that caused humans to flee their home sector and navigate all those years to the Forge. It was as if history was repeating itself.
We marked them to help us keep track of them properly, to ensure humanity's survival. Everything we do and everything we've done has been in service of that goal: ensure the survival of humanity.
A select group of Branded, however, displayed abilities the others did not. These abilities defied even more laws of science than the others. These Branded could move all manner of objects with their minds. They could read the thoughts of those around them and have long-range communications with each other with ease.
Some could even predict the future.
That is how The First came upon the Portent. While studying these anomalies, he happened upon a conversation they seemed to be having with a figure that did not exist. They discussed things that made no sense to him. They, however, foretold things, such as the name of the planet they were on changing.
He heard the Portent of the Branded, and discovered that they were awaiting the arrival of a figure, someone who would help them "reclaim this land" as theirs. The Branded were dangerous. They could not be allowed to reclaim anything, else Malice would rise again and all the hard work his ancestors had done would have been for naught. He stopped the conversation in its tracks and began preparing. It was up to him and him alone to prevent the end of all we hold dear.
The Branded seemed to think a name meant something. They told this figure that the names he wore—whatever that meant—were not simply by chance. This fact was later proven by a descendant of The First, who recorded a Branded once again talking to some omnipresent figure about a name containing knowledge and power.
If a name held such power, he wanted it for himself. He wanted it for his descendants. What better way to ensure humanity's survival? It was at that moment that The First became The First—the first of his name. To ensure the name kept its power, he passed it on to his firstborn, who would then pass it on until there was no need.
There is still a need, so we continue this tradition.
"And that is why you are The Forty-Fourth."
As the father finished his tale, he noticed two oddities in his office.
"Jack, Jamie," he said with that kind yet firm voice. His twins—the next in line after The Forty-Fourth—laughed and came out from their hiding spots. The two boys, almost eight years old, were always causing mischief for him and the staff. Their poor mother could barely handle them—not that she could handle much with her condition. They would turn out to be fine adults, he was sure of it. They would shake things up for this world in the best of ways.
"Sorry, Father," Jamie said with a playful smile. He was wearing one of his mother's dresses again. He was the devious twin. The father sometimes feared for his servants, but—at the moment—it was all playful pranks. He worried for whoever caught the wrath of his ire as an adult. The father was excited to see his potential.
The father smiled and shook his head. "It is alright, children. I was just telling The Forty-Fourth the story of The First and the Portent."
"Is it true?" Jack said, looking far more concerned than his brother. "Is someone going to come and ruin everything for us? We like it here." Tears began to well up in his eyes, as was normal for him. He was the more emotional twin. He cared strongly and deeply. He frequently used his deep connections with those around him and played on their emotions to get them to do whatever he wanted. The father was sure that would turn advantageous as he grew older.
"Of course it's not true," Jamie said with a condescending tone, slapping his brother on the back of the head. "It's just a scary story Father tells us to get us to behave. 'Watch what you do or the De—'" he said mocking his father.
"I assure you," the father said, cutting Jamie off. "The Portent is very much real, children. It has been passed down for generations. Why, we even have recordings of it from our predecessors as well. Each of us adds what we discover to the tale and collective knowledge, and passes it down further so we can be prepared. According to the story, he is alive now. He could strike at any moment, children. We must be vigilant."
It was at that moment that the father realized Jamie's heavily-applied makeup. The child had picked up such skill. The father was ashamed that he had not caught the detail earlier. It annoyed him. Not at the interest of his son. Never that. He was proud of all of his children and loved each of what made them unique.
He was annoyed that, once again, his ill wife had left their children unattended.
"Where is your mother?"
"Talking in her sleep, again." Jack could sense the frustration in his father's voice and began to fidget with his arm.
Jamie twirled around, showing off the ill-fitting dress. "Do you like the dress on me, Father? Mother never wears them anymore."
"I love it on you, Jamie. Jack, I'm not upset with you. I'm upset with your mother. We should go check on her."
He put The Forty-Fourth back down on the ground and walked his three children up the four flights of stairs and down various hallways and corridors lined with trinkets and paintings. Servants froze in place and bowed as they passed. Lights flickered on to guide their paths as his children ran around him. The Forty-Fourth almost ran into a china cabinet—one that Jamie had pushed him into. Jack trailed behind, his house slippers dragging on the lush carpet beneath them. As they approached the master bedroom, the father stopped.
She wasn't simply talking in her sleep.
She was talking to someone.
He listened for a moment, unsure of what exactly she was saying. She did her best to speak in a hushed tone. Clever. One word, however, cut through and froze his blood. He had feared this day would come. The Thirty-Seventh apparently dealt with something similar, but the father had thought himself immune to such a tragedy. Never did he think that he would be unfortunate enough to deal with it in his own home.
He burst into the room, slamming the door shut behind him. His children could not witness what was about to happen. He had learned much from the Thirty-Seventh's records. He knew how to handle this situation, though he had wished he would never have to utilize the knowledge.
His eyes locked on his wife, his eyes narrowing as she saw looked on in fear. She had to have known what was about to happen. It was clear she was terrified.
Similarly, he was full of fear as well.
The Plague was affecting his family now.
She looked to the side as if she was talking to someone—someone who wasn't there. She begged and pleaded.
They were her last words.
"Detective, we are rooting for you!"
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