By Elliot Pope
Vivian steps unseen into a small alley, coat whipping around her high-heeled boots. She walks purposely towards the back, not sparing a glance behind her. The wall in front of her warps and disappears as she nears the wall. A clever trick she fashioned up a year ago to disguise her private elevator, it’s one of her best illusions. Vivian pulls off her coat and eye mask- still reeking of the chemical fire- and stores them in another glamourized section. Her joints ache from the quick escape, and she stretches her arms above her, the fabric of her suit straining slightly. She moves to unclasp the belt when a soft clang echoes behind her. Vivian freezes, listening for any more signs of life. It could just be a stray animal. It most likely is. But still…
She pulls her coat back on and slides her hand into the pocket where she keeps a small silver handgun. In one fluid movement, Vivian spins around and raises the gun in front of her. Vivian takes one step forward, and then another. The alley remains quiet, but a shadow behind an empty dumpster shifts slightly. There. Vivian twitches her right hand slightly, and a copy of her shimmers to being. She wills it forward, and it dashes towards the dumpster. It’s not quite perfect, but Vivian hopes it will draw her stalker out of the shadows. But instead, it fades slowly before even reaching the end of the alley. Vivian frowns. Sure, it was a weak illusion, but it shouldn’t have done that.
She steps closer to the place the illusion fizzled out, confusion outweighing her suspicion from before. She quickens her pace, but her foot snags on a loose rock. As quick as lightning, something flies down from above, wrapping her arms behind her back and binding her legs together. Vivian grunts and falls forward, as her gun flies out of her hands and spins across the pavement.
Vivian’s body hits the ground with a thud. Sparks flash in her eyes as the wind is knocked out of her, and she turns her head at the last second to avoid breaking her nose. Her gun is a few feet away, near the edge of the dumpster. Only one thought flies through her head: get to the gun. She struggles forward, but a stylish high-heel appears from above and steps on the gun. “Not so fast, Vivi.”
That voice. That sickly-sweet, lilting voice. A perfectly manicured hand reaches down and picks up the gun. “Nice model you got here. Feminine but deadly. Just like you.” Vivian gasps as the tip of a shoe digs into her side and shoves her onto her back. Spots obscure her vision for a moment, but as they clear, the face of her attacker comes into view. Their face is partly obscured by shadows, but the grin is unmistakable.
Pippa Kennedy places one heel on Vivian’s stomach. “Hi, Vivi. Fancy seeing you around here. I thought you would flee faster than that from the scene of the crime.” Her heel digs into Vivian’s skin, and she muffles a grunt. Pippa laughs. “Oh, come on now. You’ve faced worse than this! You fought Metalio, for Christ’s sake.”
She knows. Of course she knows. “What… are you doing… here, Pippa?” Vivian manages to grunt out. The air feels thicker than before, and she has trouble drawing in a breath.
“Just collecting the stuff I left at your place! I know it’s been four weeks, but I really would like my coffee press back.” She toys with the gun, passing it back and forth in her hands. “I just couldn’t come here so soon after you broke my heart. It would’ve been like pouring alcohol into the wound.”
“You’re still… upset about that? I thought we… we agreed it was for the best.” It had been for the best. Pippa was getting too close to discovering Vivian’s identity- she had always been too curious for her own good- and she couldn’t risk it. It was foolish of her to even try dating someone. But then Pippa had appeared, and Vivian hadn’t been able to resist
She did not anticipate being assaulted and tied up by Pippa when she had asked her out, however. “We agreed? Or you did? You were always the one making the decisions in our relationship. Where we ate, when we went on dates, even when I would stay over. And you were so secretive. Never told me anything about your personal life, even when I poured my heart out to you. It’s like I was just some pet for you to play with when you were bored.” Pippa’s heel digs deeper with each jab. Vivian tries to squirm free, but Pippa just laughs.
“Honey, don’t even try.” She reaches into a small slit on the side of her dress and pulls out a skinny remote. “The cuffs around your wrists and ankles are magnetized and use up the static electricity in the air, so no trying any illusions with me.” Vivian lurches up, but Pippa drops the remote back into her dress. “Don’t you just adore dresses with pockets?”
Vivian takes a deep breath. She can feel the restraints around her wrists sapping her energy, and she knows what Pippa said is true. She’s virtually powerless. Her only option is to listen to whatever Pippa needs from her, and attempt to overpower her when she’s done. “What do you… you really want, Pippa? You didn’t need to go into all this… trouble just to get a couple of things back. A call would’ve been fine.”
Pippa kneels next to Vivian’s face, gun still in hand. “That’s true. But this was so much more fun. Getting to use these restraints, watching your eyes widen when you realized it was me who figured you out… a phone call wouldn’t give me that.”
“How did you… know? Have you known all along? You could’ve asked for the truth, Pippa, or did… whatever this is sooner,” Vivian says. If Pippa had asked what she was hiding, where she went at night, she wouldn’t have told her the truth. But she knows Pippa, and she knows that she can’t resist showing off.
Sure enough, Pippa’s eyes light up and a smile spreads across her face. “It would be so satisfying to say I knew all along. But sadly, I figured out your little secret after you dumped me. I was suspicious before that, but I had much more free time to look into you under the guise of a jealous ex. It only took some light stalking and illegal surveillance to fit all the pieces together. For such a famous and wanted supervillain, you’re quite careless.”
“You’ve been watching me? I knew you were a bit voyeuristic, but that’s seriously creepy, Pippa.”
“Oh shut up, you’re the actual villain here, Vivian. You can’t get mad at me for doing illegal crap when you murder people.” Vivian hadn’t actually killed anyone in her five years of crime, and she was sure Pippa knew that.
“Pippa please just get to the point. If you’re looking to win me back, keeping me bound like this isn’t helping your case.”
“While having you back is a truly tantalizing offer, I don’t care about that. I want to make a business deal with you.” Pippa kneels on both knees now, staring down into Vivian’s eyes. “Let’s get you up first. It feels a bit… unequal right now.” Pippa grabs Vivian’s shoulders and pulls her up into a sitting position. She drags her almost gracefully to lean against the wall of the alley and then steps back to admire her handiwork. “There. Much better. Where was I again?”
Vivian’s head throbs from the sudden movement. “Something about a business-”
“The deal! That’s right. I know there’s no hope for our romance, but I was thinking we could still maintain a working relationship. You could be of use to me, Illusioness.”
Vivian did not like where this was going. “What do you mean?”
Pippa stands up and grabs the gun from the ground. She passes it back and forth in her hands as she talks and paces. “I’m glad you asked! You see, Vivi, my many years as a philanthropist and genius inventor have granted me some leverage in this city. But there are still so many people who just don’t like me. And I think it would be really wonderful if they did.” She stops right in front of Vivian and places the muzzle of the gun under her chin. Vivian focuses on trying not to flinch. “That’s where you come in, sweetheart. If I try to… fix up my problems, I could get into serious trouble. But the Illusioness, famous for being an actual villain, has never been caught.”
Vivian still feels woozy, and it takes a second for Pippa’s words to sink in. “You want me to commit crimes for you.”
“Yes! Exactly! God, you’re bright.” Pippa jumps and claps her hands like an excited child.
Vivian breathes slowly in through her nose and out through her mouth. She still can’t grasp exactly why Pippa is doing this, but she knows now how much she underestimated her. “You do know I’m incredibly wealthy with loads of pull around this city. If I wanted you to be gone, you would be gone. So tell me why I should do this for you. And not just ‘because I broke your heart’. I’m beginning to think you don’t have one.”
“Oh, that’s good. I like that. As for why you should do this, well…” Pippa pulls out another small remote from her pocket. She moves a turn pad on the top, and a soft whoosh fills the air. Three drones fly out from hiding spots along the alley. They come to a stop behind Pippa, and a cool, hard lump forms in Vivian’s throat. “These little guys have been filming you all day. Your suit-up, the factory fire, the elevator… The footage isn’t the best, but it’s clear enough. And if you don’t do exactly what I tell you to do, I’ll release this to the press. The entire city will know that the brilliant, untouchable Vivian Blake is really the evil mastermind Illusioness.”
The alley falls quiet. Vivian leans her head back and casts her eyes skyward, hoping for some divine intervention. The sky is dark with the pollution from the city, and if she squints hard enough she can almost make out the smoke lingering from the fire. She closes her eyes and thinks. Pippa has put her in a difficult position. It would be so easy to scoff at her deal, to tell her there’s no way she’ll be blackmailed like this. But she knows Pippa isn’t bluffing about her evidence. If her identity was revealed, it would ruin her. She can only hope that if she agrees to this foolish deal, she can find a way to destroy those tapes. And, deep down, she has been awfully lonely this past month.
Vivian turns her head back towards Pippa. Her eyes gleam, and her smirk holds no guilt. She really is quite beautiful. “You have a deal, Pippa.”
Pippa’s grin widens into a full smile, her teeth as sharp and bright as knives. “Smart answer. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun together, Illusioness.”