March 1st, 9:22 AM
Kasimir Castle, Gotham City
Kasimir Castle, Gotham City
”...What the hell?” mumbled a very groggy Karen as she stared out the window of her guest room within the castle. ”Why did Zoey bring out the tank again? It’s not even July.”
After completing her morning rituals, she changed into a green tank top and blue jeans before heading down for breakfast. On her way down, she decided to check her phone for the news as she had gotten into the habit of doing in her years of heroing—at least before her isolation. That was when she noticed something odd.
She had over a hundred facebook alerts. What the hell?
Looking on her page, she was immediately horrified by the slew of vile, racist, sexist, and generally homicidal and rapey messages that had been left for her while she was sleeping. She could feel her eyes tearing up at the sheer volume of malicious intent streaming her way, until she noticed a common pattern between many of them—they kept mentioning Mal.
”...What the…” she muttered, unable to stop herself from swiping over to Mal’s facebook page.
If hers was bad, then his was at least ten times worse. She had met hardened prisoners with politer vocabularies than these people. Colorful threats abounded such as, “I’ll pull your fucking tongue out through your desicated asshole you stupid scar-faced little shit!”.
She then checked up on Zoey’s facebook. No comments, but she suspected her PR people had cleaned it up, as it was oddly barren.
What the hell was going on?
When she reached the kitchen, she asked Henry, “where’s Mal? I really need to talk to him right now.”
“Young Master Malcolm is in the living room watching television, I believe,” said Henry.
“Thanks—I think I’ll be skipping breakfast, I kinda lost my appetite on the way down,” explained Karen, turning to head towards the living room. Hearing how somebody wanted to use her little brother’s intestinal tract to lynch him didn’t really put her in the mood for sausage links.
Entering the living room, she saw Mal lounging on the couch in front of the TV with an insufferably calm look on his face, the dogs slumped across him. It seemed like he didn’t have a care in the world at the moment.
The boy in question responded in his usual way, though he didn’t turn to face her or wave- not due to anything she’d done of course, but rather because doing the former would’ve put his face in dangerously close proximity to the rear-end of the corgi that lay stretched over his shoulders while the latter would be next to impossible to pull off without waking Buttons, who’d opted to bury himself into his shoulder for a nap or disturbing Gwen, who was using his lap and hand as a pillow while very clearly only pretending to be asleep (made evident by the freakish gymnastic spasms her tail went into every time he so much as twitched).
Evidently, the Kasimir pups were still hellbent on making up for time lost cuddling.
”From your tone, I take it you’ve had a gander at Facebook recently?”
Karen frowned at his nonchalant tone, her eyes narrowing on the back of his head. ”You could say that, yeah—I had more than a hundred alerts worth of death threats, rape threats, and threats to do things I don’t even think you can do to a human body! And yours was even worse, somehow! What the hell’s going on?”
A little frown made it’s way across Mal’s face at that, as he extricated his arm from the border collie to his left’s grasp to pull Ker off his shoulders so he could actually turn and face the wizard, despite the immediate protests of the two canines (and the suspiciously smug sounding ‘Hmph!’ from the only one left undisturbed).
From the bags under his eyes, it was pretty clear he hadn’t gone to bed yet.
”Yeah… sorry about that. They really ran wild through my friends list for a while there… and there’s only so many people on there, so I guess they could take their time with it.” Malcolm stated with a light shake of his head followed by a sudden dodge right as a stubborn corgi leapt up to try and reclaim it’s throne. ”I can explain, but ya might wanna take a seat; It’s all kinda… really dumb.”
Karen glanced at the sofa, wondering if there actually was anywhere for her to sit. The dogs pretty well had everything occupied. Making her way over, she gently moved Buttons out of her way and took Buttloaf into her arms to stop him from squirming so much. His small, stubby tail waged excitedly.
”Fine, let’s hear it—why was everyone losing their shit last night?”
Mal frowned a little deeper at Karen’s tone, those freaky eyes of his looking her over as he was apt to do.
Slight straining of the adrenal glands.
A light depletion of the tear-ducts, she had either been about to cry, or actually had been crying earlier.
All of which painted a picture that made him feel like three kinds of an asshat in that exact moment. Something that clearly showed on his face as he turned his head to stare at the floor, even as he complied in the simplest way he could think of.
”GRIMCOM, bring up bodycam footage, Naught-Two-Two-Eight-Two-Six. Mark at Two-One-One-Five hours. Authentication; Sierra-Echo-Mike-Papa-Echo-Romeo-Foxtrot-India.” The boy all but mumbled at the television, which instantly cut away from the usual broadcast of ’Giant Robot Kung-fu: 2046’ to a still-image of the hors d'oeuvres table at the Imperial Gotham. ”Begin playback.”
Again, the boy went right back to being quiet. The only hint of whatever was going on inside that computer-like brain of his being how the massive mutt on his lap quietly began to snuggle closer.
But he did finally speak. Almost a whisper, though his face remained as stoic as ever when these things happened.
”...I really am sorry about all this, though.”
Karen quietly watched the ensuing chaos on the screen in utter silence. What started out as a simple charity event—boring, but harmless—soon devolved into a clusterfuck of jealousy-fueled rage, threats, and general fanaticism, all because Mal had spoken to some woman whom they were all apparently enraptured with.
Even Lady Arcana had never ensnared people so thoroughly as this woman. While, from what she could see, this “Aelia de Herlua” was indeed quite beautiful; the way they were acting was more akin to a slavish sort of worship than simple attraction.
Wincing slightly at the image of the blonde woman as she stepped out of view of the hors d’oeuvres table, Karen glanced over to her little brother. ”What’s she doing to them? Was it some form of magic charm?”
”As far as I could tell, yeah.” Mal responded matter-of-factly, settling back into his usual calm when at work. ”No pheromones, no chemicals, nothing really going on inside of her to indicate a metagene but…”
Mal stopped for minute, furrowing his brow a little as he scanned the image his eidetic memory brought up in his mind’s eye.
”...What was going on inside her was… wrong. Some… pulsing shit at her core-- kinda looked like you when you’re wearing a cloak and lightning bolts-- but it got more… disorderly as it spread out across her body.” The boy added, moving to stroke his chin with one hand, but switch to the other as Gwen locked her arms around the first. ”Even moreso when I started seeing it floating around in the heads of the rest of the party-goers.”
Another pause. The boy clicked his tongue in thought.
”...I got the impression she wasn’t aware of it, either.”
Karen paused, something in particular Mal said having caught in her ear like an annoying itch. She had still heard everything he had said, but that one particular thing had lingered with her. ”Mal, are you trying to tell me that you can see magic? Like, actually see it?”
How the hell had she not noticed that before now? They had worked together more than a few times these past five years, it seemed ridiculous that she wouldn’t have caught wind of that.
”I… guess?” Mal responded, cocking that famous Kasimir brow the whole while. ”It’s a little odd, but ever since I picked up that scrying stone to call you a while back, I’ve started seeing things in the background I’ve never really noticed before-- kinda like looking at an old photograph and suddenly catching something you missed; you know in your head it must’ve always been there, but it still changes how ya view it.”
As for an explanation as to how and why, the boy could only shrug.
”Don’t ask me how; I’m just as confused as you are.”
Karen flinched slightly when he mentioned the scrying stone, her mind racing back to his call on that day roughly two months prior. Glancing off into the distance, out the window at the far end of the living room, her shoulders slumped. ”I see… so it was back then that you started noticing?”
”Mal, I never really got around to saying it, but...I’m really sorry for how rude I was to you back there. I was just… really out of my head at the time. It really did feel like I was a different person entirely from, well, Karen,” she explained, chewing on the side of her lip as she often did when she felt awkward. It felt a bit strange drudging something like that up after so many weeks, but she’d only just recently realized how mean she had acted.
For a moment, Mal’s eyes simply shifted towards the infamous Kare-bear. Looking on stone-faced as she bore her little heart about it. Something clearly twitching at the back of his throat to get out, but quickly squashed back down just as swiftly as it had nearly arose as his eyes turned back to the television in silence.
”I’d be… I am a colossal hypocrite for pulling you away from your work.” The boy finally managed to get out, eyes still set away from the girl and his tone even. ”But I’m glad you actually heard me out all the same.”
His jaw tightened a little.
”Whatever... that was, wasn’t you- And I sure as shit didn’t want it to be.” He continued as his bag-ridden eyes finally turned back towards her, tone unusually soft for the hard glare he was giving her ”I’ve told you before; ‘Who we become when we forget who we are isn’t worth the sacrifice’. That’s not a lesson I’d ever want you-- or anyone-- to learn the hard way.”
A few seconds of silence followed that as the boy stared her down... until his free hand slowly rose into the air and flicked Karen right on the nose. Heralding the triumphant return of Mal’s characteristic cheeky grin.
”Mal I—buh!” Karen stopped, reaching up to rub her nose.
”So don’t worry about it, dumbass. I’ll live.”
Shaking her head, she settled back on the couch. Buttons was now slumped across her lap, so it was really all that she could do. Well, no, there was one other thing. Pulling her phone from her pocket, she opened chrome. ”...Let’s see if we can’t find out a little more about that woman.”
Searching for the name…
”Err, Mal? How the hell do you spell her name?”
”Fuck if I know, but with how she is with people, Google’ll probably give it to you just by typing in ‘A’”
Pursing her lips again, she typed the name out to the best of her abilities. It was, of course, quite wrong—and yet google still recognized it enough to autocorrect her. “Aelia de Herlua.”
Karen looked increasingly baffled as she read. ”So...she’s the daughter of this megacorp CEO. So what? Why is she so popular? Does she act as their public face here, or something?”
That’s when she noticed something in her original search—a video had been released about the assault at the charity event. It was, apparently, some kind of Public Service Announcement by that woman. ”Mal, look at this!”
Clicking on the link, the video began to play, with the woman’s face immediately at the front and center.
”Greetings, mo—err, citizens of Gotham City. I am Aelia de Herlua of Herlua Industries, and on behalf of my family and our company, I am here to condemn the senseless violence that took place yesterday at an event that was meant to commemorate those who bravely gave their lives during the One Week War.”
Hearing her speak, and seeing her clearly on screen, Karen had to admit she was certainly beautiful—but not to the point where she felt compelled to drool on her feet like many of the guests at the charity event nearly did.
”Firstly, we wish to issue a formal apology to Malcolm Talliron-Kasimir for the unfortunate events that transpired that evening. We in no way endorse the actions of Brian Lafayette, and our company will no longer conduct business with him or his estate,” she continued.
That was when Karen noticed it—the camera had started moving. Off her face, slowly, subtly. As she continued on about how opposed to violence she was, the camera found itself focused squarely on her chest. Aelia, seemingly oblivious to this at first, finally reached out to redirect the camera back to her face about a minute later.
Her lips now held a slightly terse frown as she spoke. ”The Kasimir family has often used their considerable wealth to pursue the betterment of mankind, and do not deserve the scorn that has been levied against them in these past twenty-four hours.
The camera then flashed to an image of her shapely ass without warning. ”Let us put aside our hateful words and come together to—oh, really now?”
The picture shook violently, the sounds of rustling being heard, and then the video ended abruptly.
A long silence followed that. Absent of even the sound of any of the gaggle of mammals on the couch breathing... as on by one, all the assembled canids on the sofa turned their eyes upward, toward Mal. Waiting. Somehow knowing what was coming.
”...What the fuck was that?”
"A mage. The exact wrong kind to get mixed up with, too."
Came a response that no one was actually expecting, echoing from all corners from the room... as the dormant embers in the fireplace on the far wall slowly began to glow, kindling forth a gentle flame that, by means beyond mortal comprehension, spoke with a voice that was powerful, but just as soothing as the soft crackling of the fire.
"Got a minute, son? We need to talk."