Revised 14 January 2017.
They pulled the hood off my head.
I blinked at the sudden light, disoriented. I was tied to a chair, figures surrounding me. Silhouettes. Agents.
“Agent Spencer. How nice to meet you again.”
His face was grim. “You’ve lost, Natalia. Or should I say, ‘Persephone’.”
“You got me,” I shrugged. “I suppose I couldn’t evade you forever.”
“You should note that your powers are restrained, and that you are surrounded by twelve Empowered agents, excluding myself. Any attempted resistance will be short, futile and suicidal.”
I looked around. “I can see that, thank you. So what brings you all here to this merry little party?”
“WHY?!” Spencer exploded. “You were our very best! Our beacon of hope! Why would you do this to humanity? Seven years. Seven years the world has lived in terror! The Masters granted you power to help your fight against the Horde, not to lead them! Why would you do this? ANSWER ME!”
His face, ruddy with exertion, was inches from mine. I looked into his eyes. What intensity. What foolishness. What ignorance.
I smiled sweetly. “Maybe I just felt like being a bad girl for once,” I lied.
Spencer straightened up, glaring at me, red-hot iron under a thin veneer of professionalism. “If that is true, then how were you able to keep your powers?”
I kept a blank look on my face. “I beg your pardon?”
“Don’t bother stalling for time, Persephone. All our powers are proportional to intent for good. You should have lost them when you turned from the light. How did you keep your powers?”
I feigned ignorance. “I don’t know. A lucky accident?”
Spencer scowled. “As if. Try again.”
I maintained the best innocent silence I could.
Spencer tried a different angle. “You are now in Division HQ, and will probably be here for the rest of your life. We were lucky that your veggie powers are somewhat less lethal-”
Veggie powers? How insulting.
“-but if we don’t find the loophole, and the next supervillian turns out to be fire-type, he’s going to attack HQ sooner or later. Let’s see how much your plants can do for you then. It is in your best interests to help us close the loophole.”
Not convincing. I shrugged.
Spencer waited, but finally understood that I wouldn’t be cooperating. He sighed and turned to leave. “As you will.”
As he reached the door, he stopped. “By the way, the Masters will be bringing the Lodestone here to revoke your powers. The escort will arrive tomorrow. On account of our former friendship, I would advise you to prepare yourself mentally. I have heard that it can be, shall we say… unpleasant.”
They were revoking my powers? Captivity I could escape, torture I could endure, but confiscating my powers would set back – no, it would completely undo the plans I had set in motion seven years ago.
“Wait,” I called to Spencer, though I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to tell him. “Come here.”
He approached suspiciously. By the time he stood before me, I had made up my mind. “I give in. I’ll tell you how I kept my powers.”
He smiled. “I knew you would come around. I should have played the revocation card earlier.”
The idiot actually believed he had convinced me to talk. Well, he had, but not for any reason known to him.
“On one condition.” I added.
His eyes narrowed. “At my sole discretion.”
“You send your goons out and turn off all the recording devices here.”
He narrowed his eyes, considering. “Alright,” he said, finally. He waved to his men. “Form a perimeter outside.”
He touched a switch on his headset as his men filed out of the room. I saw a green light on his earpiece wink out.
“And the one under the table. I have worked here before, in case you’ve forgotten.”
Spencer scowled. “Fine, fine. We all know how smart you are, Persephone.” He switched it off. “Now talk.”
“Well, to start off, I’m not really a supervillain.”
He snorted. “Save that for the jury, Persephone. I’m only interested in how you kept your powers.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, you dunce. I really have good intentions. My end goa-”
“Good intentions? Tell that to the ones in Vert whose homes you wrecked.”
“Ah, but I didn’t kill any of them, did I? And the Masters repaired the damage.”
“Pure luck. Half the buildings were on the very verge of collapse. If they had, any number of them might have died.”
My expression darkened. “Luck, was it? Say, what time is it?”
Spencer hesitated in confusion, then glanced at his wrist. “Three fif-” He stopped abruptly. In the space of two syllables, a small green tendril had grown around the metal band of his wristwatch. Roots grew, spread, burrowed, consumed.
The watch clattered on the floor.
Spencer was pale. “You are under five layers of restraint,” he said, eyeing the runed bands spiraling across my chest and arms.
“With my level of power and control, you can rest assured that if I wanted to kill the Verds, I could have done so easily. Same goes for killing you, too, restraints or otherwise. But I’m not doing it. Now do you believe that I mean well?”
“I should be calling in-”
“Then you’re a fool. You’ve known me for twenty years, since we were trainees together. You know I’m not evil. You know I’m not crazy. You do, however, know that I am and have always been much smarter than you. So which do you think is more likely – I suddenly turned from your best buddy into your worst enemy, and became the first person in all history to retain her powers while evil, and entirely failed to kill anyone at all in seven years of tenure? Or, am I the same person I’ve always been, just that I know something you don’t yet understand?”
Spencer ground his teeth.
“Don’t assume that I’m going to believe you.”
“I lived at the Crystal Palace for two years, as a bodyguard to Master Elyn. I saw how the Masters lived. I saw their powers. I saw them use the Lodestone, when Elyn’s sons were Empowered at their coming-of-age. You remember how they recited the ritual to Empower us? You remember the part where they say ‘bestowed for good, strengthened by good, and preserved by good’? Those parts were missing for Elyn’s sons. Missing! And nobody said a thing!”
“I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
“You dont?! They were Empowered unconditionally, Spencer. All the Masters were Empowered unconditionally! While the common people have to be pure of heart to maximise their powers, the Masters get it for free and forever! How do you think they repelled the Horde at Lumhart? How do you think they rebuilt Vert in a day? Did you think they were all more well-intentioned than every other person in the world? One of the Masters might be, maybe five, perhaps ten, but definitely not all of them!”
“So what? Isn’t it good that they use their powers to protect us?”
“You don’t have a clue, do you? They are controlling us, Spencer! Do you realise that any time they wanted, they could destroy the Horde? The Lodestone can grant powers to each and every person in the land, the Masters could provide food, shelter, technology, weapons to every person on the planet! Instead, they use the threat of the Horde to keep people in line, and grant only just enough power to a certain few, the “good people” who promise only to fight the Horde! The Masters are afraid, Spencer. They don’t want to risk Empowered commoners usurping the position they have enjoyed for centuries. The Masters present themselves as saviours, yet allow people to die to the Horde, for their own selfish gain. They sit in their ivory tower, defended by their powers – powers that they have locked away from the rest of the world.”
Spencer was unmoved. “If what your are saying is true, then why didn’t you tell us? Why didn’t you fight them?”
“I wasn’t powerful enough. We aren’t powerful enough. The Masters would just crush us like ants under their heel. We must wait, as I have waited. All these years, I have played the villain, gradually showing more and more of my strength, to force the Masters to Empower more and more common people in response. Only when there are enough Empowered can we reveal our knowledge to the people. Only with all our strength can we overthrow the Masters. Right now, I am only planting the seeds of rebellion. The time is not ripe for the harvest.”
“You mean to claim the Lodestone for yourself.”
“Yes, and no. I mean to claim it, but not for myself. I want to use it for everyone. The Lodestone’s potential is infinite. Potential that is, right now, untapped. The world can, and should, be made better by it. When the time is ripe, when there are enough Empowered, I will reveal everything, and the Empowered will overthrow the Masters, and we will change this system. We will change the world.”
Spencer looked at me, brows furrowed. Considering. “You’re talking really big for someone currently restrained and imprisoned. How are you going to do that?”
“Well, the Masters have been Empowering fewer and fewer people recently. I feel my impact is wearing off. Given time, I could easily escape to continue the fight, but I was wondering if there was something else that could be done… something that would make the Masters sit up and take notice.” I looked up at him.
Spencer narrowed his eyes. “You want me to join you.”
“And you let yourself be captured so that you could talk to me. To bring me to your side.”
I had actually been captured due to inattention and a few moments of blinding stupidity, but I wasn’t about to let him know that. I broadened my smile.
Spencer took a few steps backward, dropped to one knee and punched the ground. The metal floor tore like paper, and a sandstorm raged. I saw that the doors to the room was now blocked with a thick wall of rock, and there was a hole in the ground, a flight of earthen stairs descending into inky darkness.
Spencer tore off my restraints, throwing the runed straps aside. I stood up. Flowers bloomed in the thin layer of soil covering the ground, as I stretched my muscles and mind.
Spencer waved me toward the stairs. “After you, Natalia,” he said.