Lure was pleasantly surprised, she admitted it. The mysterious mist surrounding the woods, the faintly lit firmament not yet decorated with a prospering sun and the remote mountains, all these impressions calmed her mind. Merles were singing in a chorus while woodpeckers were loudly protesting, both further painting the image of the vast, rich nature in her mind. The date proposed by Bastion started nicely. It did.
The young man led the way but waited patiently after several steps. His tread was nervous, restless. The farther they went from school, the more peaceful she felt. Relaxing was not a possibility in the last two weeks which were full of adventure, danger and strife.
“I love dawn, it represents hope,” said Bastion, sitting on a tree stub. “We should rest. Still a bit away.”
She sat on a stub as well, one meter away from Bastion, though she had to ask for some tissues which he readily provided. After putting the tissues on the stub, she, too, set down.
“I enjoy the tranquillity of nature, the whisper of the woods.” She observed the flora, albeit regretted that it wasn’t yet time for the maple trees to present their colourful leaf dresses. What a pity. She took a deep breath and asked, “How much evil can I do to create good without losing myself, becoming someone, I don’t desire to be?”
Bastion furrowed his brows. His expression was an odd one, indescribable. It was obvious that he was calculating, searching for the best possible answer. She smiled. She knew that he would take her seriously.
He carefully replied, “I heard the rumours about you. But I believe that you’re fundamentally a good person. Your opposition in the classroom didn’t actually put most heroes off, I think. My father even clapped when he heard your desire to argue – and he, too, is a philosopher. Not everyone is happy with the current system, but it works damn well.” He stopped. Looking into her eye, he said with a begging voice. “Please cease to be a villainess, this path leads to a dead end.” He stood up, moved towards her, grasped her shoulders and said earnestly, “Please.”
Agitated, she looked away. “I-I can’t. I have my reasons, I hate the system because it killed my family.”
Bastion let go of her. The Ferris family story was a well-known tragedy and one of the biggest failures of NIP. Lure hated those philosophers; she considered them as canting, as traitors, as those who took her mother from her and killed her brother.
“Sorry, I know it’s a touchy subject. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“No, it’s fine. It feels good talking about it, at least sometimes. Catharsis, it is.” She looked at the ground and picked up a twig. “Back to my question: how much evil can I do to create good without losing myself? Would you kill a man to save a child, trade lives?”
“Those are dangerous thoughts, trading lives like a farmer his cows.”
“Yet, they are human. I don’t mind doing evil stuff if the outcome proves to be a boon.” She threw the twig away, after having played with it.
“A villain would think like that but not one without a heart.”
“You’re right, only a villainess does.”
Bastion shook his head. “No, if only this were true, your mother wouldn’t…” He hesitated. “Your mother wouldn’t sleep.”
She brushed her cheeks. Normally she would feel angry when someone mentioned her mother, her heartbeat would rapidly increase and she would become aggressive. However, not this time.
“I want to change this society for the better, thus I need to become the first true S-rank.”
“This is naïve and unlikely.”
She looked at him. He hastily said, “I am sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
Nodding she said, “No, you’re right. I’m naïve and what I said is highly difficult to accomplish. That doesn’t hinder me from trying to pursue it, though.”
“Now, you sound like a superhero.”
“The division between heroes and villains is just a matter of politics.” She shook her head. “Humans bullshit too much, ask the wrong questions and deliver half-hearted answers to the most vital issues.” She paused. “Was the engagement your idea, Huic’s or your father’s?”
“I proposed it to my father.” He admitted, looking guilty like a dog who wronged his master.
“Why? Pray tell.”
“To answer your question. Some people like ideas, and so do I. I might not really know you, but I desire to do so. You have helped me more in the past than you think.”
“Remember the coming-of-age ceremony of your brother? I was that boy who spoke three sentences with you,” he said, puffing his chest.
Pensive, she tilted her head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t remember.”
Seeing his downcast body language, she sighted. “Close your eyes.”
She leaned forward and gave him a slight peck on the cheek. “A little reward for today. I’m feeling great at the moment. So far, this date went nicely, thank you.”
He opened his eyes, his cheeks reddening, and said, “Thank you. I too think so. Wanna still see the pond?”
They went for another half-hour and the sun had already appeared in the sky.
Lure admired the jade-green colour of the water, shining like jewels in the sun. Magical plants were probably growing on the bottom. Beautiful. In the middle of the forest was this remarkable pond, hidden far away from the school. It had taken him time to find it, for sure.
“This pond simply can’t compare to your most excellent features,” he said, stilted, as if he had prepared that line.
“Thanks.” She smiled genuinely.
They sat together near the water, only an arm-length away.
“How about reconciling with your father? I heard you had an argument.”
“With my father…?” her voice stuck and no further sound left her mouth.
“Wouldn’t you like to?”
He threw a stone in the pond and it rebounded several times. “Why don’t you go with me to The International Festival for Superheroes in 3N? It’s in a week. We’ll get the permission to leave for it.”
She looked at him. Furrows demonstrating emotional torment formed on her face. “I got issues... The death of my brother and the condition of my mother is simply too much for me.”
“I know. It’s fine. I’m there for you.”
He widely spread his arms in a welcoming manner. She understood the hint and hugged him.
Warmth. Strength. A silent teardrop left her eye, one of boundless happiness.
Age does not make one wiser. It’s foolish to think so. One only becomes stubborn in his ways, dismissing new arguments formed by juniors as idiocies of youth. He knew it. For he had done so himself – and that had cost him the life of his dearest, most brilliant disciple. Women reaching the level of grandmasters in chess are exceedingly rare, after all.
“I mourn her condition every time. If she wakes up, she won’t have aged a single day while I shall be a walking mummy. I am an old fool,” said Huic, depreciating himself further. He wiped the glass lid of the coffin with a silk cloth. “She still looks as beautiful as ever.” Like a sleeping Snow White, untouched by the nefarious effects of this world, waiting to be awakened. Sadly, no doctor, no Empowered, not even time itself could heal her. What a pity. She lay in this room full the with gold and luster, protected for the time being.
“She does.” Strider nodded. “Are you still pondering about the fact that you could never reconcile?”
“Every day, my old friend.”
Three years ago, it had happened. He had been sixty, she thirty-seven, although they hadn’t spoken to each other years before.
“She was damn stubborn, like her daughter.”
“I heard that you are shielding Lure rather well. I’m grateful for that. She’s the only one I have left since her brother doesn’t speak with me either,” said Strider with a calm voice, but his shoulders looked like they were holding every burden of the world.
Yes, Strider, he’s the most unusual person Huic had ever met, for he was average in a world of brilliancy, yet managed to climb to the top. Strider looked average, was of average intelligence, had average hobbies, had an average job before The Awakening, watched common blockbusters and had a typical American weird fetish for fast-food. Yet, he had married a top-class woman. In the end, though, he had lost a wife and two sons. How strange, how twisting, can fate be?
“It’s my duty.” Huic clenched his fists. “I’ll protect her. I shall make amends for my mistakes in the past.”
Strider patted him on the back. “You have done enough.” He smiled like a child. “Everyone has done mistakes in the past.”
Ah yes, Strider saw the world in black and white. You were either one of the good guys or a scheming bastard. This was the reason why Huic had never told his friend that he had become a villain long ago: he would else ruin their relationship, one of the few he had left since the stasis of his dear disciple.
“How will you treat your daughter, now that she has set her path?”
“I’m conflicted, I admit it, but she is the most precious I have left.” Strider had visibly aged too. His daughter aspiring to become a villainess had in some way undermined his whole lifework, however, undeniably, he cared more for her than for his life, this much knew even Huic. His daughter was his one weakness left, or better, his only pillar left.
Testing the water, Huic said, “So you’ll speak with her again?”
The A-rank nodded, “I’ll do, she’s my daughter; a villainess she may be, but that won’t change a thing. I’ll try to shift her, though.”
This last sentence caused Huic’s face to turn odd. I think he underestimates the resemblance between his wife and their daughter. Stubbornness, oh, that damn stubbornness. He smiled, for he was as, if not more, stubborn. My days are numbered. I shall prepare for the storm. We will win, us humans.