Scene 1 – 23 Years Ago
Exterior City, Evening
“…that arrogant, sanctimonious, overbearing, stifling piece of moldy old parchment!” I swore as I stamped down the streets of the city, still furious with Arthur even hours after stomping out of our… his… house. What right did he have to cast a shadow over the world? To hinder the progress of magical research by his very presence? We weren’t like other people, he and I – we shouldn’t be interfering in the affairs of ordinary men and women!
Our argument had been building for years, almost since the day that he had taken me on as his apprentice, but it hadn’t exploded until last week, when he yet again turned down a request for collaboration from a Doctor Black due to lack of time, who yet again expressed a hope that he would be available next year. It was the same interaction they had had the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that, but his time I had finally burst that if Arthur said ‘no’ instead of ‘later’, Black would probably have finished his project by now.
We had argued for hours, harsh language and strong emotions rising quickly, followed shortly thereafter by magic. We didn’t quite come to blows, but it was a near thing… and, in the end, it was over. My apprenticeship was over.
It was probably for the best, I knew, as I used the wormhole gate I had created to send myself to New Venice, where I had family. I didn’t plan on staying with them, of course, not for more than a week or two while I found my own apartment and a job to support myself, but it was a safety net that I would need.
Because I certainly didn’t want the to live in the apartment that Arthur had offered to me, the smug fossil of a man. It was over. He didn’t owe me anything, and I didn’t want his help.
It was on thoughts like these that I was angrily musing as I walked to my parent’s place when someone grabbed me around the shoulders and pulled me into a nearby alleyway.
“We’re boyfriend and girlfriend, and we’re taking a nice stop in the alleyway for a little fun,” a voice growled in my ear, and I felt the edge of a knife against my throat, the blade concealed in the mugger’s hand. “Don’t scream, or your wallet won’t be the only thing I’ll be taking.” I felt a body press against mine. “…your wallet and your virtue.”
I knew I should probably be frightened, but to be frank, I was wearing an invulnerability charm that could certainly stand up to a measly little knife. Besides… “You wouldn’t,” I said confidently. “This is the Mountain King’s town – he doesn’t allow that kind of thing.”
“I’ve done it before, bitch,” the mugger hissed. “Don’t get mouthy and maybe I won’t do more than use your mouth. Now drop that backpack.”
I rolled my eyes and did as he said – while I had a few magical weapons, I wasn’t actually wearing any of them, and I wasn’t confident enough in on-the-fly-evocation to use it against a normal man. Besides, using them against this guy would probably draw attention from the MLED – even here in New Venice – which meant Arthur would hear about it, and I didn’t want to him to know where I was, even if he could probably guess. “You’re making a huge mistake.”
“Yes,” said a deep, resonant voice from the mouth of the alleyway, and I smirked. “Really.”
The mugger blanched and released me immediately, backing away in horror. “Your… your majesty! I, I’m sorry, I was just-”
Tendrils of stone wrapped around his feet and crawled up his legs, freezing him in place, as the Mountain King slowly, menacingly walked forward. “You were just?” he inquired mildly.
“I was… I was just trying to scare her! I wasn’t actually going to do it!”
“‘I’ve done it before,’” the supervillain quoted. “I don’t think I believe you.”
“I swear, your majesty, please-!”
“As you are by your own words a repeat offender, I think I should make an example of you,” he said as calmly as though he was discussing the weather. “Pardon me, my lady,” he commented to me.
Then he made an example of the man.
“I’m sorry you had to see that, my lady,” the Mountain King said to me after he had finished, golden mist swirling around him as he walked away from the remains. “But a king must be firm.”
“It’s fine,” I told him, following behind. “I’m honestly just surprised you’re so hands-on, to personally save people like that.”
“Normally I am not – it’s unnecessary and counterproductive to be too much so – but I happened to be passing by. And how could I could leave a maiden in distress?”
I rolled my eyes. “A maiden in distress? I was fine. I didn’t ask for your help, I didn’t need it, and I didn’t even want it.” I gave the armored figure a smile as he froze, seeming stricken. “…but thank you anyway.”
He relaxed slightly as I thanked him. “You’re welcome, my lady.” Then he chuckled. “You had me there for a moment, I admit. I was afraid that I had offended you with my protectiveness, that I had overstepped by boundaries with such a lady.”
I shrugged. “It’s your city, you can do what you like. Besides, you don’t do anything that anyone else couldn’t.” Unlike me. The Mountain King was arguably one of the strongest metahumans in the country, yes, but he didn’t stand out even above the strongest like Arthur and I did.
“Not technically my city.”
“It is, in fact if not in legalities, and everyone knows it.”
He chuckled again, and I couldn’t help but smile – he had a nice voice. “Perhaps so,” he admitted. “But it’s gauche to say it myself.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t want to seem like you think a lot of yourself, your majesty,” I teased.
This time he flat-out laughed. “You are a delight – may I have your name, my lady?”
“It has been a true pleasure to meet you, Morgan Longfellow,” the Mountain King told me, offering me a hand. “Might I ask if we could meet again, someday?”
I tilted my head. “…would it be a date?”
“I like your boldness, but I have to decline,” I said, smiling to soften the blow. “I won’t date a mask.”
“If that is the only problem,” he began, reaching up to his helmet.
My hands shot up and grabbed his before he could remove it. He could overpower me easily, of course – even if he wasn’t taller and more powerfully built than me, he had significant levels of superstrength – but he allowed me to halt his action.
“We literally just met,” I reminded him. “Do you ask out and offer to unmask to every woman you save from a rapist in a dark alley?”
“…no,” he said. “I realize this is somewhat uncharacteristic, but… if you’ll forgive me for saying so, something about you struck me, and I couldn’t bear to not at least ask.”
“Forgiven,” I said immediately, curious. “What struck you?”
“…one of my lesser-known powers is a sort of precognition. Hazy and difficult to interpret, so not usually very useful… but the moment I heard you speak, I felt a remarkably certainty that you would be very important to me.”
I snorted. “That’s cheesy as hell, your majesty.”
“And yet true.”
“…I won’t date a mask,” I repeated. “But who knows – maybe we’ll meet out of costume. Ask again then.”
“Something to hope for, then.”
The Mountain King nodded. “Farewell, then. Until that lucky day.” He vanished in a blur of motion, too fast for my eyes to follow.
“Good night,” I said into the empty evening. It was true what they said – he really was the nicest supervillain out there.
Scene 2 – 23 Years Ago
Exterior April Park, Afternoon
“We have a few other candidates to go through for formality’s sake,” the interviewer told me, “but as far as I’m concerned, you have the job. We’ll call you in a few days to give you the official offer.”
“Thank you,” I said, offering him a handshake. “I’m looking forward to working here.”
He shook with a nod. “And we’re looking forward to having you. You’ll be a real asset.”
My lips pursed in hidden distaste at being called an asset, and I decided to go. I rose from the picnic table that we had held the interview at, slipping the folder that had held my resume into my bag, and bid him farewell.
And almost immediately ran face first into a blonde, bearded man in a Hawaiian shirt who had been passing by. “Oof,” I exhaled, stepping backwards. “Sorry about that. I’m afraid I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“It’s quite alright,” he said with a smile, his voice deep and low and making me shiver for some reason. “What had you in such a hurry?”
I sighed and began walking in the same direction he had been going, jerking my head for him to follow. “I just finished a job interview,” I told him.
He winced slightly. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Ha! Thanks, but it went fine. Well, even – I have the job, pending the last few interviews finding someone better. Which they won’t.”
Blondie raised an eyebrow. “Confident, are we?”
“I’m ridiculously overqualified for the job,” I said with a smirk. “The interviewer was practically begging to have me on board from the get-go.”
“May I ask what the job is?”
“Magical technician at the hospital. They have some healing artifacts that need maintenance at unpredictable times, and want to have someone on retainer to fix them when to happens. And there’s literally no one better for that than me.”
“You’re a mage?” he asked, clearly impressed. “I’ve heard that magic is incredibly difficult, you must be a real genius.”
“Yes, I am,” I agreed, not seeing any reason for false modesty.
“No modesty here, hm?”
“Not when I have no reason to be modest.” I offered him a handshake with a smirk. “Morgan Longfellow. You may have heard of me.”
Instead of shaking, he bent over my hand and kissed it, and I found myself giggling at the chivalry. “The name does ring a bell,” he agreed, “but I must confess, I can’t say from where.”
“I just left a position of twelve years with a man named Arthur, if that helps.” God… could it really have been twelve years? The time had just flown by…
Blondie’s eyes were sympathetic. “Divorce?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s been nearly as long since I wasn’t single.” No time to think about romance while working with Arthur – it wasn’t long after taking the position that my girlfriend and I had had to part ways because of it, and I had never found another partner. “I was apprenticed to Arthur Peregrine.”
His jaw dropped. “The Arthur Peregrine? Well… I can see I’m out of my league here. Beautiful, confident, and no doubt one of the most intelligent and powerful mages on the planet.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” I smirked, pleased by the compliments. “So yeah, I literally invented the artifacts they’ve got, no one else is going to be able to fix them even half as well.”
“They’re very lucky to have found you. Of course, so am I.”
“You’re lucky I like cheese,” I laughed, “because that was almost as bad as a line I heard a few nights ago. What’s your name, anyway?”
“Arthur Könberg, if it pleases you.”
“It’ll do,” I teased.
He laughed again, then a ringtone came from his pocket. “I’m terribly sorry, Morgan, but I have to take this,” he said apologetically as he slipped the phone out. “Hopefully it’s nothing, because I’m really enjoying talking to you.”
“And I you. But go ahead, take the call – just don’t take too long.”
He gave me a grateful nod, then took a few steps away and began to speak quietly into the phone. I, meanwhile, leaned against a nearby tree to think.
Arthur – this Arthur – had certainly caught my attention, although I wasn’t sure at what point in the conversation he had done so. He was certainly attractive – I always liked muscles on a man, and that voice – and kind as well. Chivalrous, too, which I hadn’t thought I would enjoy – the concept had always struck me as somewhat sexist, but somehow I could tell that it wasn’t sexism, in this case. Arthur would treat anyone just the same way – that protective, courteous, manner which said that he considered it his duty to protect everyone around him. And, of course…
I was brought out of my musing when he turned back to me with an apologetic look. “It’s important, I’m afraid. I have to go deal with something, and it’s rather urgent. But I truly have enjoyed this chat, and I would very much like to talk more sometime. Perhaps over coffee?”
“Of course,” I told him with a smile. “Do what you need to do, your majesty – we’ll find each other again.”
The Mountain King blinked in surprise. “…you know?”
“How could I not recognize you?” I reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. “After all… if I’m going to be important to you, you’re going to be equally important to me.”
He blushed. “I can’t possibly deserve you.”
“I think you can. And I’m very much looking forward to find out.”
“And me.” He smiled down at me. “I know it’s too soon, but… might I ask for…”
I stood on my tiptoes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Go get ‘em, your majesty.”
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