Mason Thomas was not a pleasant creature. Surly, demanding, and aggressive, few in the area enjoyed the thought of seeing him in passing, let alone collaborating with him. Quick to anger and long to hold a grudge, he had little if any of the social tact his forebearers commanded, and often resorted to his fists when plans went awry. Even his own family worked hard to ensure he wouldn’t have cause to focus on them or their activities.

For years he had dutifully served as the left hand of his family’s eldest and most respected matron, a woman who demanded and received respect from the heads of the other families for her long service to the area and her uncanny ability to ferret out their secrets. As she moved up in the underworld’s political echelons, Mason Thomas stepped into her role, even if he could never hope to fill her shoes. Some whispered—most privately—that his own insecurity was the cause of his frequent lashing out, his fear that he would never live up to Lucia’s example.

He bore the title of “first born” not as a respected vestment, borrowed from those noteworthy individuals who came before, but as instead as a cudgel, using his increased political sway to bully and browbeat his opponents. None could rightly question his ability to get results—his methods were in equal parts brutal and effective—even if they quietly longed for the nights where the matron sat at the head of the family table. He commanded through fear, not respect. Heads of the other families tried to think of ways to exclude him from business dealings, but the groundwork Lucia had lain meant he had eyes everywhere, fingers everywhere.

In time the reigning king of the underworld sought a new second-in-command. Lucia had served him very well but her aims took her away from the city for long periods, and he feared one day she may never return from her secretive foreign sojourns. Parting on good terms, he gave her his blessing to retire from the cutthroat world of local politics. She faded from view, concerns for the local area replaced by whatever grand designs drew her attentions elsewhere.

The vacuum needed to be filled; the king had his hands full dealing with regional problems like municipal government, law enforcement, and the strategic organization of his assets. His second would help diffuse disputes between the individual families and focus on more tactical aspects of managing a widespread criminal underworld; finding ways to accomplish the king’s will.

The elder council was at once relieved and horrified that the king announced that Mason Thomas would be his new seneschal, on account of his ability to get results. They eagerly looked forward to meetings without the power-tripping malcontent, but also feared what giving such a maniacal creature more control could mean for the families and their treasured autonomy. The king had been generous in his hands-off approach, only stepping in when problems arose or quotas weren’t met. They knew Mason Thomas would not be so easygoing.

His ascension however left Mason with a difficult decision—who would lead the family in his stead. Traditionally a first born was the most respected, the most revered among them, but among those who shared his blood, he saw nothing but weakness and futility. Anyone named head of the family would be bullied about by the other political movers and shakers, and wouldn’t have the spine to stand up for their own interests. As much as he may dislike the rest of his brood, he didn’t want to see their legacy dragged through the mud—a mindset some outsiders may have considered highly ironic, given his penchant for violence rather than political discourse.

When next the heads of the families met, all eyes eagerly turned to the door to see who would be stepping up in place of the hated Mason Thomas. All were dismayed to see their foe stride in as if nothing had changed.

“This is an outrage,” one called out. “You cannot hope to handle your family’s affairs in addition to those of the king. You must choose another.”

“Are you telling my family how to manage our affairs?” Mason replied flatly, icily. The question was a challenge, a test of resolve. It was all but forbidden for families to interfere with each others’ business, thus the creation of the elder council in the first place. No matter how much Mason’s continued presence in the chamber flew in the face of tradition, to demand that his family do otherwise would set a dangerous and damning precedent.

“Of course not,” the man wisely acquiesced, cowed. Nobody else dared speak out against the violation of protocol.

Business began slowly, with many frequent sidelong glances aimed at Mason Thomas. The elder council was a place for the families to discuss internal matters, resolve internal disputes, without the king being involved. To have his direct subordinate listen in and even participate in the conversations turned the entire idea of that separation on its head. He sat, smugly, in no small measure enjoying the confusion and discomfort his presence caused.

A violent crash interrupted the otherwise mundane business meeting as someone fell through the ceiling of the council chambers, landing with a heavy thud in the middle of the oaken conference table. Covered in insulation and ceiling foam, one of Mason’s less-competent followers coughed dust out of his throat before sheepishly sliding off the table and running for the door, leaving a man-sized hole in the ceiling and debris covering the attendees.

“Mason, what the hell was that?” a rival finally voiced once the literal dust had settled. “Was he spying on the elder council?”

“Beats me,” Mason shrugged, nonplussed. “People do all kinds of stupid things when they think there’s opportunity.”

The meeting was quickly adjourned, with no-one able to concentrate on business.

Outside, the king had caught wind of the council’s disruption and held the interloper in a tight grip, pressed up against a brick wall. The council, Mason Thomas included, walked past without comment—the king would handle this.

“That room is for the council of the first born. Are you the first born of your family?” the king roared in the weasley man’s face.

“N-no sir,” he stammered, unable to meet the powerful man’s gaze.

“I’ll let Mason Thomas deal with you,” the king spat out with disgust. “I’m sure hell have a creative, and lasting, punishment in mind.”

The failed sneak caught up with Mason later that evening, having slinked away from public view while rumors of his indiscretion flew among the criminal underworld.

“What the hell was that?” the powerful man snapped at his spineless underling. “Crashing through the ceiling like a damned fool? You’re worthless.”

“But you told me to listen in! You said I had to be ready if I wanted to be named first born,” he squealed.

“And when you had the opportunity, when the king asked you if you were the first born, what did you say?”

“I told him the truth—I’m not the first born.”

“No, you certainly aren’t.” Mason shook his head with a frown. The search would continue for someone with enough confidence to take his place.

This story is inspired by events which transpired during a politically-charged acting exercise with a local theatre group. It was difficult to put in enough backstory to make the story impactful without throwing off the balance of the narrative. I’m still not sure how well I did, but I’m glad to finally get this story out into the world.

Header image taken by lllonill, a fantastic Los Angeles-based photographer and image composer who shares his flair for the near-future.