"So uh... You get invited to these things a lot?" Arthur asked, avoiding eye contact with Lizzy. She didn't reply, instead sweeping her gaze across the ballroom, her nose shrivelling in disgust.
"... Yes." she said after a while, taking a sip from her children's champagne (after all, she was not quite twenty-one yet). She sighed and ran a hand through her hair.
For the first time since Arthur had met her, her hair wasn't its usual fiery red colour, rebellious or absurdly curly.
Tonight, for the first time, it was styled and almost boringly straight. All life seemed to have been sucked out of it.
Arthur hated that. He preferred it wild and uncontrollable. It made Lizzy look more alive and exciting. Upper-class snob simply didn't suit her. She looked so different and so wrong. He never thought a day would come when he'd take one look at her and think "Wow. Lizzy looks horrible.".
Yet here they were, at some business party or something (Arthur really had no idea what he was currently attending), dressed in formal wear with children's champagne in their hands.
Arthur had been forced to come by his father, who was the security chief of the Reliables Corporation, NYC. The teen had actually come nothing short of screaming and kicking, but was now glad that he had been forced to come.
Lizzy... Of all people, Lizzy was here. The girl Arthur admired the most.
"I suppose I owe you an explanation..." Lizzy said after a while, finishing her drink and placing it on a random waiter's tray. Arthur stood up straight. He had been waiting for this all evening.
Arthur knew why he was there. But why in all the world was Lizzy here?
"Come with me." she said. Arthur followed her to the roof. It was a clear night outside. There was a full moon. Too bad he couldn't see very many stars, what with them being in the centre of New York City. Then again, it wouldn't have mattered if they were in New York or not. Today was the fourth of July, after all. It was two hours before midnight.
The night was beautiful.
Lizzy cleared her throat.
"You know when we first met, right?" she asked, turning to Arthur. He nodded, remembering the event.
Arthur was nine years old when he first met Lizzy.
It had been a week since his to-be stepmother had died. Arthur was sitting in a corner in an alleyway, all alone. He was crying.
It was his fault his dad's fiancé had died. If Arthur hadn't been inside the library when that super bad guy had attacked, then everything would have been OK.
But everything was not OK.
Dad's fiancé... Mary... was dead.
Arthur choked and buried his face in his hands. Of course, of course, of COURSE.
Of COURSE Arthur had to be a friendless outsider that could only make friends with books! Of COURSE he had to go to the library every week to always have more stories to read! Of COURSE he had to go to the library last week! Of COURSE he had to be there when that super bad guy attacked! Of COURSE Mary had to sacrifice her LIFE so that ARTHUR could live!
It was all so downright STUPID. If Arthur had been ill that horrid day last week, Mary would still be alive. If Arthur had bothered making some friends, maybe he wouldn't have had such a large interest in books and Mary would still be alive.
If Arthur had never EXISTED Mary would still be alive.
But he did exist. And she was dead. Because of him.
Arthur cried. His dad would be so much happier without him. Arthur breathed in deeply. He sniffed. His nose was runny.
Why had Mary sacrificed her life for him? That was something he still couldn't understand. Arthur had so obviously hated her, why did she give up her life like that? She wasn't even a super good guy! Hadn't she hated him?
... It was all his fault...
While Arthur sat, curled in his corner, he failed to notice someone enter the alleyway from above. However, the child didn't fail to notice this someone hovering over him. He looked up and his eyes widened.
Standing in front of him was a super good guy, the most famous one of New York. Well no, Spider-man was the most famous one, but he didn't actually exist...
In front of him stood the most famous, real super good guy! His name was Final Tier.
There was a moment of awkward silence. Arthur, back then, wasn't aware that super heroes only ever ducked into alleyways to change into their civilian clothing. He looked up in awe. He sniffled.
Arthur wasn't quite sure what he had been expecting in that moment. A hug? Comfort? To have his life changed? To be told Mary wasn't really dead? To be...
In the end, it didn't matter what he had been expecting. He was disappointed either way, since instead of doing anything to cheer the crying child up, Final Tier turned around and left.
Arthur stared after him, shocked.
But... why? That had been a super good guy!
... Maybe it was because the super good guy could tell that Arthur was a horrible, horrible person? Or... Or maybe...
Maybe super good guys don't... care?
Arthur soon returned to crying.
This time he didn't notice a figure looming over him, until they grabbed his wrists. Arthur jolted and immediately struggled out of the grip, kicking viciously.
"Woah! Hey there li'l guy, no need to ge' all feisty!"
Arthur stopped fighting and looked up. He saw a girl, one of those big girls, looking down at him. Red hair, freckles and scary-looking. She didn't look scary because of any scary features, but rather... Well, her hair was so wild! And she was so tall!
"Now, what's you crying about?" she asked. Arthur sniffled.
"Yeah, I remember when we first met." Arthur muttered.
"... Well, you know when we were introducing each other?"
"And you stopped me from revealing my whole name to you?"
"Because it's dangerous?"
"There wasn't much point in that, was there?" Arthur teased, smiling a little. Earlier that evening, Lizzy had learnt that Arthur was Mr Kirkland's son.
"... I suppose. But that wasn't the only reason. If you knew my full name, you'd know I'm... Not from a normal family or home."
"I think I know that now anyway."
"Quit it with the smart remarks Arts." Lizzy snapped.
Arts. It's what she called Arthur when he was treading on thin ice. Arthur shut up.
"... Anyway, my name is Elizabeth Dare-Tudor. My ma married this guy called Robin Tudor more or less eight years ago. Ma wouldn't stop laughing about how I had suddenly gotten a historical name."
"Not Tudors, as in royal family which used to rule England, but Tudor, as in a shareholder of the Reliables. Ma had affairs with him since before I was born and when Pa finally caught on, well, she ran off and married him. Can't stand him. Or ma, sometimes. Which is why I used to run away from home. Not very long, but long enough to feel untroubled. Used to visit Pa; if I got away long enough..."
"So you're a Tudor? Wait... That's... Uh... Wow, just... Wow..."
"I suppose that explains a lot about me, doesn't it?"
"... It does." Arthur replied, still stunned. It explained why Lizzy got so furious when she learnt that Arthur was skipping school and was getting bad marks. It explained why Lizzy had an awkward posh accent and a, now that he thought about it, fake-sounding "street" accent. It explained how Lizzy's trip to Australia got financed...
"... So? How do you feel about all this? Arthur?"
"Uh... I don't know... First there's the whole thing with dad and then-"
"What about your dad?"
"... I'd rather not talk about it. But uh... Why are you part of the Pirates... I mean how...?"
"I got involved by chance. They were robbing some store and I helped them get away. Eventually I got tied in, joined and worked my way up. Never told them who I am, course. And the reason why I'm part of them... Easy. I told you, I hate ma and Robin. I hate everything they are and stand for. I suppose you could say I'm a rebellious brat, but I like to believe I've outgrown that all. Now I just generally hate the rich and powerful, as clichéd as that is. You... You can understand that, right?"
"I understand completely." Arthur replied, thinking about supers. Admittedly, his hate was probably nothing in comparison to Lizzy's and he really only disliked them, but to an extent, he could understand. And he wasn't really all that keen on rich or powerful guys anyway.
"Hm, wha...?" Arthur asked, blinking a few times.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to jump you. You kind of zoned out on me though!" Elizaveta said, smiling. Arthur rubbed his eyes. Right. He was at that whole celebration-thingy at the art gallery for the Rose of Britain. Got it.
"I didn't mean to. I'm just not feeling all that well. I think I've caught something."
"Well if you have, stay away from me! I can't afford to get ill now."
"Oh, just rumours that have sprung up here and there."
"Well, don't tell anyone, but I reckon the Magician is coming back. And I'm not talking about that idiot in a prom suit, but the Magician that had the whole city in the palm of his hands for two years running!"
"I thought it was three."
"Two, three years, what's the difference? Anyway... I reckon the one we've been seeing around was an imposter."
"While nobody reported it, you cannot deny the fact that somebody was murdered by the Magician a couple days ago. It looks so awful, so much blood... The body was missing, there was a trail for a while, until you hit the lake... And then, of course, the classic Magician symbol left right next to the murder scene... The figurative fake Magician never used that symbol, which supports my assumption that the Magician we've seen in the last three years is actually an imposter! Though, it does make one wonder what happened to the real Magician in the last three years. Any why in all the world someone decided to impersonate him."
"Huh. That's quite a lot of assumptions." Arthur commented. Elizaveta shrugged.
"I may be paid as a photographer, but I occasionally write some of my own articles. And if the Magician returns, well, that's something that has got to be covered!"
"Huh. Shouldn't you leave the coverage to Watchful Eyes?"
"No. He covers what the good guys do. I cover what the bad guys do. It balances itself out that way."
"Oh. I wasn't aware of that."
"Elizaveta! Come here, I wish to introduce you to somebody!" Roderich suddenly called out, waving the photographer over.
"I've got to go, catch you later!" she said, smiling at Arthur and walking away. Arthur nodded and then took a sip from his orange juice. He was staying well away from the alcohol. He had to perform soon and he couldn't afford to do it while under the influence of that particular drink.
Arthur checked his watch. Speaking of soon, he should leave. He wasn't the only guy with his eyes set on the Rose of Britain.
"Hello, Mr. Kirkland was it?"
Arthur jumped and dropped his glass. He looked behind himself and saw Karpusi, smiling.
"What are you doing here?" Arthur practically shrieked.
"What do you mean? I do not believe we have ever met?" the man replied. "Champagne?"
Arthur calmed down, a hand on his erratic heart that still wasn't aware that nothing scary had actually happened. No one had heard Arthur. Good. Karpusi was pretending they had never met before. Accurate, seeing as it wouldn't make sense for a multi-billionaire and some guy "off the streets" to know each other.
He glared at Karpusi.
"No thank you. Alcohol has a negative effect on me." he stated. A waitress scurried over to clean up Arthur's mess. He smiled at her apologetically. She blushed. Then she looked at Karpusi and turned bright red. She quickly finished the job and walked off.
"So, how did someone like you get to a place like this?" Karpusi asked calmly.
"I work for New Heta Papers and they like to promote class-equality, so they often invite random members of the staff to these kind of stuff. I got lucky. Or unlucky, considering how awkward it is here."
"Not to mention dangerous. I've heard a lot of nasty men plan on taking the Rose of Britain tonight." Arthur raised an eyebrow. Karpusi continued. "I'm sure this evening won't remain... Awkward, as you put it."
"... Well, I don't think I'll be around long enough to see the turn. I'm not feeling so well." Arthur replied. "In fact... Oh goodness. Please excuse me, I'm just..."
He didn't have time to talk to Karpusi. Snow Princess would be around soon and he had to take the Rose of Britain before she got her hands on it. He ran off to the toilets. Someone was in there. Arthur quickly opened a stall, slamming the door shut behind himself.
He pulled out his phone (God bless smart-phones!) and a bag containing "artificial" sick. He played off the already selected soundtrack and emptied the contents of the bag into the toilet.
"Ugh..." he muttered after the recording ended.
The good old I'm-really-sick-look-at-the-toilet trick was priceless. The recording was from when he really was sick a decade ago and the fake stuff...
Arthur had never been a good cook, however he was very good at creating things that could look like anything from hearts, guts and intestines to sick. He considered it a talent not many possessed (and certainly didn't want to possess at that!)
"Dude, you OK?" the man in the toilet asked. He opened the stall, so he could see if Arthur was OK. The Brit was getting up on "shaky" legs and had just finished cleaning his mouth. The man's nose scrunched up and visibly paled. Obviously he wasn't somebody that could tolerate the site of someone sick.
"I think I should go home..." Arthur muttered. The other guy stared.
"Ew! Uh... I'll go and get someone to clean this mess up. You take the first taxi home!" he said and quickly left. Arthur flushed the toilet and washed his hands.
Good. Now Kirkland had a good reason to leave this place early.
After some commotion, Roderich organised a taxi to take Arthur home. Arthur was given back his coat and his trusty satchel. He was practically pushed into the taxi. He watched as the distance between the Art Gallery and himself grew. Arthur looked at the driver. The driver looked back. Roderich hadn't paid the taxi driver.
"Uh... Could you drop me off here? I don't have enough money to pay you." Arthur spoke up, watching as the cost of his taxi trip grow bigger.
"Sure." the man replied and pulled over. Arthur got out and gave the guy his money. Roderich had also avoided telling the guy that the reason Arthur had had to go home was because he had been sick. Admittedly that was something you shouldn't tell a taxi driver. They wouldn't want you being sick all over their taxi and would probably refuse to drive you anywhere.
Arthur sighed and walked a little, before heading towards a dark alleyway. He opened his satchel and put his mask on.
It really was amazing how much you could fit inside a satchel. His whole suit had room in it and the best part? Completely crinkle-free. He put the suit, then put on the black trench coat he had bought for this occasion. After all, white was a very noticeable colour, especially after dark and this part of the mission required Arthur staying as unnoticeable as possible (what he'd give to have Inviso's/Mattie's powers right now).
He placed his Satchel into a crack in the wall, hidden by a bush. The thing should still be there when Arthur came back for it. He sure hoped it would be. Well, it didn't matter. He only needed to get some of the bag back to know who had taken it and then, voilà, he'd have everything back.
Arthur walked down the street, back to the Art Gallery. Time to get the Rose of Britain.
The sun rose. Birds were singing. Arthur was lying in his bed, still half-dressed from last night and smiling to himself.
He was, simply put, very happy. On the night table next to him lay the Rose of Britain. He wasn't quite sure what to do with it yet, but he supposed he could figure out the details later.
It had all been so simple. Steal the real Rose of Britain before anyone else got the chance and place an obviously fake one in its place. It had been so easy.
The horror on everyone's faces when they realised what was happening. OK, some freaks had started smiling (excluding himself, naturally), but never mind. Amongst the freaks were Karpusi and Elizaveta. What was wrong with that woman? She kind of scared him...
He could understand why Karpusi smiled.
Arthur opened his eyes, rubbing them. Last night had felt so good. Arthur had had no idea how much he had missed this. The excitement. The danger. The running.
What would his next move be? What would he do next? Who would he mess with next?
Oh, all these what and who questions could wait for later. Arthur should just enjoy the feeling of chaos under his control.
He lay in bed a little longer until he got bored and got up.
He walked downstairs and entered the living room. He turned the TV on and then walked off to make some tea.
"... The rose of Britain was stolen last night..." he heard the TV drone. Arthur finished making his tea and walked back to the living room. Ah, he was just in time to watch... well, himself.
Sam and Sal were sitting in their usual expensive armchairs with their usual expensive coffees on the table, but did not look anywhere near as happy or peppy as they usually did. This already pleased the Brit.
They looked so miserable and uncomfortable and a bit like someone that had been told that a loved one had been murdered (... not that Arthur knew what that looked like!)
"... Here is some amateur footage, shot before the camera crew could arrive." Sam finished. Arthur sat back in excitement. He really loved watching his work.
The footage started playing.
It was focused on the stage on the other side of the Art Gallery. It had been used by the musicians to play their instruments, but now, in the film, it was being used as a platform by an enraged Snow Princess.
"Where is it!" she screamed. The response was screaming, panicking and running around. This did not calm the Snow Princess down in the least. "I said. Where. Is. IT?" she yelled again, her voice becoming shrill. As a warning, she turned into her diamond form (despite what the name would suggest, she did not have any snow-based powers) and destroyed the drum kit that had been abandoned on stage.
The audience froze in their panic. They were also confused. The Snow Princess rolled her eyes, angry and frustrated. She knew why they were confused. They had no idea what she was demanding from them.
"Where is the Rose of Britain!? Where is it!"
At this point another villain broke into the Art Gallery, through the window. Black Ninja. It was almost ironic that they still called him that, considering that he no longer used very... subtle methods.
"Yes. Do tell where it is." he demanded, although he, unlike the villainess, seemed calm and didn't raise his voice. In all honesty, at this point the Magician would have popped into the party, but he had noticed Francis trying to change into Allure. And since a super hero arriving too early to this party would ruin everything, the Magician quickly had to go and deal with this problem.
Quite frankly, Arthur had no idea how he had lived without the Stun Gun. Life was so much easier with it.
The Snow Princess' eyes narrowed.
"... What are you doing here...?" she asked coolly. Typical teenager with mood-swings, that was Arthur's only thought on the matter.
"Same reason you are here."
"Aha! So you took it!"
"Well, if I haven't got the Rose of Britain, YOU must have it!"
"I thought you might have it..." The Black Ninja was confused and knew crashing the party had been a mistake, but... Well, how couldn't he? No one could deny it being fun to crash a party.
"But if you don't have it and I don't have it and they don't have it... Who has it?" the Snow Princess asked, now thoroughly confused.
"I think you will find that I have it." came from above. The camera swung upwards, to see a figure dressed in white, his face hidden by the darkness surrounding him, sitting comfortably on a ledge near a ceiling window.
"Who are you?"
"Has it really been that long? Three years gone and you already have no idea who I am! Shocking!" the other mocked. The Black Ninja, unlike everyone else, recognised him. His eyes narrowed.
The man in white jumped down from the ledge, holding a nearby curtain to slow down his fall. He landed on both feet. The audience was even more confused and scared. Well, apart from Elizaveta and Heracles, but they weren't in the picture.
The man in white held up his hands, smiling.
"I am the Magician. And I think that that ever so precious jewel you're looking for can be found here."
And there it was. With the flick of his wrist, the Rose of Britain "magically" appeared in his hand. Nobody reacted, nobody knew how to. Those who still remembered the Magician were freaked out. How could the Magician so suddenly be... Back? Worst of all, this one... He wasn't that pathetic excuse for a bad guy that broke into liquor stores. This one was... Well, for starters, he actually lived up to his name and performed some magic tricks (though there were rumours that those tricks were actual magic).
"Of course, this isn't the end of my performance. Fellow villains are such pitiful creatures nowadays. They're all too focused on the game to realise that there are many other balls on the playing field. Why, some of you failed to realise that dearest Lady Celia was wearing the Spider Amulet! Such an amateur mistake~!"
Another flick of the hand. The Rose of Britain turned into the Spider Amulet.
"Or that Mr. Truman was wearing the ever famed Time Turner, a well-loved pocket-watch made nearly two centuries ago!"
In place of the Spider Amulet, the Magician now had the Time Turner in his hand.
There were some gasps from the audience, as they realised their jewellery was either stolen or replaced by something more or less believable or something utterly ridiculous. How had he done that...?
Arthur, the one sitting on his sofa in his living room, grinned. He had pick-pocketed them earlier in the evening as Arthur Kirkland. He had had to rely on people not noticing. And they hadn't! He loved how men could so easily be fooled. It made his life so easy.
Arthur sighed. For Amateur footage, this was a sure downright good recording.
The Magician continued talking.
"And any minute now, some members of the Dream Team should turn up, so if you'll excuse me..."
A puff of smoke and the Magician was gone.
Arthur grinned. Too easy. Sometimes he wondered, whether or not it really was so bad that super heroes always arrived late. Certainly not if you were on the flip-side of the coin.
The first plot arc is now complete. :D
I hope you enjoyed this chapter ^.^; I had to rush it a bit because of... writer's block... gr... I'll find a cure to it one day! I tell you!
Happy Easter. :3