The empty coffeehouse smelled of pancakes with maple syrup, one of Lure’s favourites dishes she would certainly enjoy if it wasn’t for the precarious circumstances.
“When will he come?” asked the villainess. Sweat drops were running down her forehead. The stay was truly nerf-racking: they had to wait at least half an hour. Having experienced many dangerous situations in his life, Swiftly was on the other hand calm and his eyes were closed, impassive as if he was sleeping. Sinistra was soothing her brother and held him in her hands. Thibaut had released them under the condition that Lure’s group wouldn’t run away and would stay for a tea party. His grinning was truly mad; she believed he was entertained during the whole time. The waiting didn’t bother him. No, he seemed to enjoy it.
“He’s already here, on the second floor, I believe. A busy man that salmon,” answered Thibaut. He was wobbling on his chair in excitement. “He could certainly speed up. The main act is the juiciest, after all.”
Lure didn’t understand anything he had said besides the point that someone would eventually appear. Salmon, main act? From time to time Thibaut was actually willing to explain things, but, what he said didn’t make any sense. It somehow appeared that he had no rational motivation, only some weird delight in the suffering of other humans.
Swiftly was still stoically sitting like a stone and Sinistra was caring for her brother who looked frightened since he was only twelfth. This particular day had been the weirdest in Lure’s life. First, she and Bastion had been duelling some punks – and sadly lost –, then Huic had stolen the power supply of the whole city, causing total chaos, and finally, she had been ‘invited’ to a tea party.
“Ah, the protagonist of this play has finally deigned to grace us with his exalted presence,” said Thibaut while exaggerating the intonation of every word.
A man, no, a fish was walking down the staircase. His face was decked with grey shimmering scales that looked extremely beautiful. The fishman was dressed in a black suit.
“I greet my dear guests,” he said with his big fish lips and bulgy eyes.
“What are you?” shouted Sinistra and stood up, her body visibly shaking. When she was a kid, she had been frightened by deep ocean monstrosities. Apparently, the fishman had reminded her of her childhood angst, and Lure wanted to hug her, though the situation didn’t allow for it.
“An ordinary human,” the man answered.
Swiftly opened the eyes. “Noisy as always. He’s Piscis, an infamous underground criminal.”
“As I said, I am but an ordinary man who happened to look a little bit differently.”
“So, you aren’t a demi-human?” asked Lure.
Offended, Piscis crossed his arms. “I am not. Fishmen do exist, but they are a rare mutation that happened after The Awakening. Some might have invaded our world through portals, who knows. Demi-humans are still a rare sight on Earth and I can attest that I am not one.”
She was about to say something but was cut short by the fishman pretending to be a human. “Ok. Fine. I was cursed for my greed by an S-rank Empowered who used to be my lover.”
“Genius.” Thibaut turned towards Lure. “I have tried multiple times to get to know his origin story but to no avail. He has always blocked off my attempts.
“Ah. Darn the greedy vultures! I should have known… Your presence is cancer. I was speaking to a more noble company.” He shook his head and looked strangely human.
Thibaut was further nit-picking on his words. “The greedy vultures. Are you a child? Still referring to children's tales while swearing?”
Not only Sinistra and Swiftly, Lure too had to scratch her head. The story of the vultures and the Cookie Goddess was after all a well-known children’s fable created by the Belgian philosophers to demonstrate the pitfall of greed. Who would nit-pick on a common colloquial expression?
Finally, Piscis ignored Thibaut, the only reasonable tactic, and explained his objectives, “I am deeply sorry about the way you were treated by Thibaut. I had to disguise my intentions and needed to trick him into doing my bidding.”
“Wait that’s not how the script is supposed to go,” exclaimed the Belgian gentleman. "Shouldn't you start fighting or corrupt her in the next minutes?"
“Ofc it is. It’s my script, not yours, though. I may be greedy, scheming and narcissistic, but I’m no fool.”
Thibaut stomped on the ground. “This is the second time you anger me this day with your nonsense. I shall again take my leave. My help isn’t needed. I won’t meet with you again.”
He left with a 'poof'.
“Finally, he went away.” The fishman rejoiced, dancing around the tables.
Lure didn’t really understand the dynamic between those two villains: for one they seemed to be peers and worked together because Piscis had clearly asked Thibaut to teleport them, on the other hand, they were viciously insulting each other.
Apparently, Piscis could read the moot and replied, “Thibaut is also known as ‘the glitch in the matrix’. While a normal Empowered is bound in certain ways, this self-proclaimed gentleman isn’t. Furthermore, he believes himself to be a maker, a theatre director and likes to play with the emotions of his chess pieces. He celebrates in the misery and misfortune of those he manipulates.”
For some strange reasons, Lure thought that Lumière and Thibaut might make an awesome couple, mixing fire and ice, light and darkness together. No way, 0% chance.
“I need a coffee,” replied Swiftly with an expression that implied he was the only sane person in this room, and maybe he was.
“We sadly lack staff, however, you’re free to make yourself a coffee.” Piscis stretched his hands and opened his palms, showing everyone his benevolence and willingness to hold a discussion. Although he certainly looked suspicious, he had an air similar to a merchant trying to sell plungers, not to an overload trying to enslave the population.
Wordlessly, Swiftly went behind the counter and made himself a coffee. The café was peaceful, and no fighting sound could be heard outside.
“I think I have to explain the reason for this meeting.”
“Sure, you do,” replied Sinistra shielding her brother with her arms.
“I must say it is true that we started this negotiation perhaps not in the most amicable circumstances, and –”
Swiftly interrupted Piscis. “No bullshit. Be concise.”
The fishman waved in dismissal. “Pedantic, but fine. I propose a trade. First things first.” He paused and shouted, “Splendor, you may come in.”
Splendor had been one the guys in Sinistra’s band, or at least they had been working together for some time, though after the heist she didn’t know his true allegiance. Superheroes were easier to judge, and one could even label their conviction as simple-minded. Super villains had a lot more diversified goals and their intentions could theoretically range from helping the poor to aspiring the world’s destruction. Nutcases existed in both camps.
No old man walked the stairs down, but a young handsome guy with well-formed muscles.
“You’re in no way Splendor,” exclaimed Sinistra.
Splendor shook his head. “Remember, my abilities revolve around illusions.”
Piscis chimed in, “I’m happy that Thibaut isn’t here. He would rejoice at hearing the plot twist.”
Lure exclaimed, “Plot twist?”
“I think I should unveil the mystery about my being.” The man with the red striped golden costume stopped in front of the counter. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I am Splendor, Huic’s grandson.”
For several seconds silence reigned in the café.
“What?” exclaimed both Sinistra and Lure in unison.
“It’s true. Just think about it. Most heroes and villains have the same or similar abilities to their parents and I am in no way different.”
What he had said was true, Lure herself had similar abilities to her mother and so did many other empowered humans. She couldn’t however conceive that Huic had a family. He, a father? Impossible!
Sinistra was the first to regain her wits. “Let’s assume what you said is true. Why do you reveal that fact? What do you gain from it?”
After pondering for a moment, Splendor replied, “My grandfather had sent me a message: after tonight, the world we know will change.”
“Ah, this is my signal to intervene. Splendor works for me, thus he had informed me of this important fact that resulted in me changing my plans. As everyone knows, 3N has sunken into chaos. My master has been wounded and everyone working for him had been cursed.”
“Everyone?” Lure asked skeptically.
Piscis shrugged. “I am indeed an exception. I die when my master dies.”
“Wait, doesn’t that mean you’re the pawn of your master?”
The fishman shook his head and pointed towards the sky. “I may die, but I still got my free will. Besides betraying my master leads to my freedom. I ask for cooperation, that’s all.”
What Piscis had said so far seemed entirely reasonable. Betraying his master after seeing this madness outside the café hardly appeared far-fetched. On the contrary, Piscis was somehow congenial as he was willing to fight against his own fate, which should end in a tragedy if circumstances wouldn’t change.
“Your proposal.” Sinistra went for the meat.
“Right my proposal. I tell you the location where you find Lure’s father and as return service, you’ll help me defeat my master, called Maestro, in the future. A task you’ll do anyway at some point since Huic is now his enemy.
“This deal sounds too good to be true,” said Lure.
“Don’t forget that telling the whereabouts of your father and fiancé doesn’t cost me anything. From my point, I am trading stones for gold.”
She understood that both parties valued their bargain differently and thus everyone profited.
Lure glanced at Swiftly and Sinistra who both nodded. “This offer seems sensible. We accept. How do you guarantee though that we’ll keep our word?”
A violet bubble expanded in the room.
“I accept as well,” proclaimed the man with a white, elegant, coat-like uniform and a pencil mustache.
“What are you doing here?” yelled Piscis.
“I’ve actually never gone away. I merely hid in a dimension, listening to your excellent backstory. Quite tragic, how it turned out, isn’t it?
Piscis changed to a fighting position. Distressed people and fishman alike lose their cool, their rationality and embrace the illogical, a universal occurrence.
“Can’t we find an agreement?” asked Lure.
“Anyway, I take my leave, a new story is about to be told and I need to be the first to narrate it.” And so he disappeared again, this annoying Belgian philosopher.