The story of Lady Velvet and others at Vilify 5 continues with the second of our remastered episodes, as the Con goes into Saturday and into depth, all at the same time.
Saturday — 9:06 am
Conventions ran on adrenalin and enthusiasm, but first thing in the morning, even on Saturday, they ran on caffeine. Elle was on her second latte. She wasn’t bone weary — that would come midday on Sunday and then hit hard Monday morning — but you still needed a pick-me-up first thing in the morning. She should have made some of her own coffee. Alchemy had its uses.
“A’course things are different than the old days,” the Hook was saying. “Back in the old days, why — a pirate with a hook hand? That was enough for villainy. A few henchmen to be me swabbies. A few mocked up flintlocks that fired more than one bullet. Why, we took on the Centurion in Mountainview or the Ancient Mariner on the high seas for years!” He shook his head. “But then, it’s like an arms race — and me with only half an arm! Arrr!” There was a chuckle. Elle smiled a bit too. The Hook was great in these panels. “More and more of the money I got from me villainy went to weapons and defenses. The flintlocks started firin’ energy bolts. Then me hook started firin’ energy bolts. Me boat became a military fortress. I needed radar an’ sonar an’ trackin’ an’ defensive fields. I stopped recruiting deckhands and started hiring tech support!”
“For me,” Elle cut in. “It was more a question of tone. I mean, when I first began threatening Greystone City, instead of the Nightwatch we had ‘Nightstick’ being followed around by teenaged sidekicks. Remember Cudgel and Shillelagh?” There was another chuckle. Elle kept her cheerful face on. The first Cudgel had become Truncheon. His successor — Elle didn’t like to think about the last night of the Jack O’Knaves, Nightstick, and Cudgel. Shillelagh had been destroyed during the Apocalypse Agenda. Now they were just camp nostalgia. “There was danger and excitement, but there was also this sense of fun in it all.” She shook her head, artfully tossing her hair. “Then, the Jack O’Knaves got deadlier. One by one the dark lords of Greystone either changed to match or retired. It took three jailings by the Nightwatch before I realized this wasn’t what I had signed up for.”
Tim Gordon, the assigned moderator for the panel, cut in. “I think most authorities recognize the real shift in tone happened maybe six to twelve months before the Apocalypse Agenda. We had Shillelagh being maimed, Paragirl’s death, the destruction of — yes? You have a question?”
The person asking was a Latina woman in the second row. She was maybe twenty-six. Attractive. “Yeah — I have a question for Refraction.”
Refraction had been quiet most of the time. He wasn’t in his element at all. Ah well, he’d learn soon enough. “Yes?” he asked.
“You first appeared a couple years after the Apocalypse Agenda, right? That fight against the Beacon? You were robbing the First Paramount City Bank?”
Refraction blinked, and laughed. “I guess that’s right,” he said. “Well, that’s the first place I fought the Beacon. How did you know that?”
The girl blushed and shrugged. “I dunno,” she said, and there was a knowing laugh from the crowd.
“Fangirls and fanboys, m’boy,” the Hook said. “They always know you better than y’know yerself.” Elle smirked again. She was always amazed at what her fans knew about her — what they remembered or researched or verified. More than once she had been corrected on her own life.
The latina blushed more. “Anyway — you first started after the whole Urizen thing, right? After the Agenda. I mean, you’re the only guy up there who started his life of crime after everything went dark-”
“We need to get to your question,” Tim Gordon cut in. Ah, the tyranny of Panel Moderators.
“Sorry. My question is — why’d you do it? Why’d you get into crime? And then why’d you quit?”
Refraction sat back in his seat, brow furrowed. Elle was a bit surprised — sure, he was floundering a bit, but there was no more basic question at any villain convention. Why’d you get into crime? “Well, I guess it was simple enough. I built these advanced optical processors for a startup, and then they shafted me, sold my patents off from under me, and crashed out with the rest of the economy. I had thousands of shares of worthless stock and a mortgage payment. And then I realized I could put my optics to making a little money the easy way.” He grinned. “You know, by taking it.”
There was a laugh. Refraction looked a little more at ease with that.
The woman in the audience leaned forward, intently. “Then why did you quit?” she asked.
“I was wondering that, too,” Elle said, grinning and facing Refraction. “Did the Beacon just wear you down?”
Refraction’s smile slipped a bit. “Well, not really. I mean… she was always tough. I started really reworking my arsenal to fight her, you know? I mean, here I was — an optics master, and here’s a girl who turns into light.” He shook his head. “That last time, I was ready for her, too. Black light lasers. Refraction chambers. I was ready to suck her into the power pack for my ultimate weapon.”
“So why didn’t you, laddie?” the Hook asked. “Teach that Light House Lass a thing or two?” That got another chuckle.
Refraction chuckled uncomfortably. “Well, I baited the trap for her. But she didn’t show up. Paragon did.”
That got a full-on laugh. Paragon’s name always got a laugh in these cases. Even the odd Paragon villain who showed up to these things seemed to understand how inevitable his victories were.
The fangirl wasn’t laughing. “So, Paragon knocked you out of crime?”
Refraction sort of laughed. “The Beacon was the best foe I could have asked for. She was the one I wanted to fight. To finally beat. But — it was like the Hook just said. I spent a shitload of cash on this arsenal, and then there’s an invincible transdimensional demigod over my head blowing it all up and knocking me over like a two year old. I lost way more money in that twenty second defeat than I lost in the economic crash in the first place. So I just packed it in. Served my time. Got recruited to help out in an emergency which helped commute my sentence. And here I am.” He laughed, though he didn’t actually look happy. “I guess you really shouldn’t tug on Paragon’s cape.”
“Getting back to the topic of the panel,” Tim Gordon said. “Do you think there’s a difference between old school villainy and modern day criminals, Refraction?”
Refraction glanced at Elle. “I dunno,” he said. “I guess.”
Saturday — 10:22 am
“Mm. I’m surprised. The clove stuff’s selling, huh?” Elle had been looking over the stocks at the table when she got back from panels, checking the cashbox and the tallies. Like always. Just business.
Juliet shrugged. The seventeen year old was in a purple leotard and tights, demicape in darker purple off her right shoulder. ‘Working the evil.’ Elle remembered when she thought that was fun instead of a chore. “They like the stinky stuff this year.”
“It’s the villain aspect. You get a lot of goths and goth wannabes.”
“Can I put on some of the Enchantress?” she asked. “I like that one.”
Elle nodded. “Take it from the sample bottle. Don’t open a new one. Where’s Mary?”
“She’s on break. I think she’s hitting on that guy from Bookthuggery.”
“She’s been on break a lot today, hasn’t she?”
Juliet shrugged. “It’s not so bad. She comes back when we get a line.”
Elle glanced around. “Here’s hoping she has to come back, then,” she muttered. She smiled a bit more — trying to look congenial. “How’s your father?” Her father was one of Elle’s neighbors — and possibly the only person whose parents were more sadistic than Elle’s own in naming him. Sure, she was ‘Elle Chemical,’ but that paled in comparison to being named ‘George Bailey.’
“He’s okay,” Juliet said. “Wants me to apply to a bunch more colleges. I applied to four — apparently that’s not enough.”
“What do you want to study?” Elle asked, adding a few more bottles to the racks.
“What does it matter? There’s no jobs out there and even if there were — “
“You know, I don’t want to know how many situps you must do to fit in that bathing suit, squishy.”
Elle smirked, turning. Fletcher Joan had come up along the other side, still in the full body combat uniform. “At least I can still wear a bathing suit, dahling. That leather hides the cellulite sowell, though.”
Joan snorted. “Didn’t you hear? Leather is trendy. A flat chested nine year old thief in Meridian City told us so.” She smirked. “You staked the fresh blood early.”
“Mm? Refraction? Do you want him, dear?”
“Hey, I’m not sleeping with Potipher this year.”
“Well then. You’ll have to fight for him, won’t you?” Elle smiled a predatory smile.
Joan arched an eyebrow, smiling one of her own. “Well, if I have to.” She looked around. “Any sign of Upsilon yet?”
“What — the Justice Winger?” Juliet asked.
“Yes indeed the Justice Winger,” Elle said. “She shows up every year. Loves these things. No idea why. I hold out a bottle of ‘Trick of the Light’ for her. I haven’t seen her yet, though.”
“Exactly,” Joan said. “Yet. Oh — oh, Elle. Have you seen that one guy? He has the best costume I’ve ever seen at one of these.”
“Hm?” Elle looked around too. “I don’t see — ”
“There.” The archer pointed. Elle followed her finger. Just some guys in civvies.
Elle blinked. One of the men was in a blue suit with red tie. Horn rimmed glasses. Hair slicked back. He looked intentionally awkward. He was blond instead of brunette, but otherwise….
“Oh my God,” Elle murmured. “Some fan came as a mild mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper?”
“Isn’t it delicious?” Joan asked. “I might let you have Refraction. He looks fun. And well built, too.”
“The ice woman deigning to sleep with a fanboy?”
Joan snorted. “I stopped deigning a few years back. It’s bad for the digestion. And these days? I’m thinking of coming out of retirement purely to bring my name recognition back up. Fanboys are my last, best hope for an honest life.”
“I thought you and the Hook had something.”
“The operative word being ‘had.’ Besides, you know we shouldn’t mix business with desperation.”
“Which one of you were desperate?”
Joan laughed. “At our age? Who can tell? Mm. I’m going to try a little target practice on that fanboy. Do I smell all right?”
“A bit leathery. I’ve got a musk that will go well with it, though.”
“Nothing at all.” She looked around the stand. “Where’s the sample of Black Glove?” she asked Juliet.
“I think we’re out of the Black Glove,” she said.
“How’s it sold?”
“I think we sold two.”
Elle made a face, and grabbed the sample bottle of Elegant Dominion. “What do you think of this?” she asked, opening the bottle for Joan to smell.
Joan sniffed, and her eyebrows arched. “Oh, I like that,” she said.
“Good enough then. Let me do you up. I know a thing or two about lust potions.” She began to dab. Really, it’s not what she would have picked. There was musk, yes, and a hint of leather in the scent, but it had tannins and florals — more of a society dominatrix who wore leather as an accent.
But, then, Joan was lucky it wasn’t knockoff Charlie. “There, dahling,” she said. “You are enchanting.”
“We’ll see,” she said. “I’m goin’ in. If you don’t see me, watch for my hostage demands.”
“Hold out for a million,” Elle said, nodding as Joan withdrew. She watched her go for a moment, walking like a hunter through the crowd. She remembered back — oh, twenty five years back, perhaps? Yes. She and Joan had taken on Nightstick and Broadhead as a team. Joan been so cold then…
“All right,” Elle said, turning back to Juliet. “How did we go through three quarters of a sample bottle of Black Glove but only sell two? Are you sureyou’re watching them try it?”
Juliet shrugged. “Maybe they didn’t like it.”
Elle snorted. “This crowd? Well, maybe.” A woman leaned over the other side, looking at the massage oils. “Ah… welcome, dahling. Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?”
The customer blinked and stepped back, clearly startled by Elle’s attention. Elle recognized her — the woman from the morning panel. The Refraction fangirl. “I’m sorry,” the girl said. “I didn’t mean — ”
“Not at all,” Elle said with a smile. “Mm. Looking for massage? Sensual or therapeutic?”
“Therapeutic,” she said. “I… don’t get much of a chance for sensual.”
Elle chuckled. “A lovely woman such as yourself? I’m shocked and disheartened.” She ducked around. “Clearly, you need to accessorize, dahling. Have you ever had a makeover?”
She looked around, a little nervous. “Well, no,” she said. “These things don’t have mind control chemicals in them, do they?”
Juliet giggled. “Perhaps they do,” she said. “But you will never know….”
Elle rolled her eyes. “Clearly, I should be training her as my apprentice. The Viscountess Velvet, perhaps. Or Princess Satin. Lady Lycra.”
“The Sinful Spandex!” Juliet said with a grin.
“I take it back. You’ll never be my apprentice.” She encouraged the fangirl — the customer — to sit. “So what’s your name, dahling?”
“I — Rita. I’m Rita.”
“Hello, Ihmrita. That’s a pretty name. Persian, is it?”
Rita smiled, a touch self consciously. “Sorry. I didn’t really expect to be talking to you.”
“Mm. And now you’re star struck? Or disappointed I’m not Refraction.”
Rita flushed. “It’s not like that. I…” she paused, looking back at Elle. “Do you know Refraction? Outside of here, I mean?”
“I just met the boy yesterday, dear. Or do you mean know him? I mean, I’ll admit I work fast, but….”
Rita blushed even more. “Sorry. I didn’t… I can’t seem to get the words right today. This is all so strange.”
“Strange?” Juliet asked. “I don’t see how. Oops. ‘Scuse.” She stepped to the other side of the table, where a somewhat heavyset girl was looking over the perfumes. Attractive girl, red hair out of a bottle. A little too much eye makeup and kind of a goth schoolgirl thing going. “Salutations, dahling,” Juliet said, leaning and giving the trademark smile. “The Mistress bids you welcome and wonders what you might be looking for.”
Elle smiled. “Maybe I will make her an apprentice,” she murmured. “She likes doing that.” And apparently had no idea what to study in college… Of course, Elle had never gone to college. Her own studies had been very different.
“I don’t understand something,” Rita said. “You’re… an alchemist, right? Not a perfume maker?”
“Six of one. I don’t use quite so many eyes of newt these days but it’s all taking base components and synthesizing gold, my dear.” She smiled a bit.
“So… was there any magic to it?”
“Of course. Alchemy isn’t chemistry. It’s also not sorcery. It’s the natural meeting place of the two. Alchemy was prized by the nobility, suppressed by the church — banned and yearned for throughout time.” She picked up a bottle of the Nocturne and drizzled in some of this and that. She started to stir with a cedar stick. It wasn’t unlike whisking eggs, really.
“So… how’d you end up doing it?”
“How else? My father. How did you imagine I ended up named ‘Elle Chemical,’ anyhow?”
Rita blinked. “That’s your real name?”
“Elle Chemical, only child of Albert Chemical, himself the only son of Allen Chemical, and I think there’s an Elton back there somewhere too.” She added a couple of dried flower petals, crushing them with the stick and working them into the froth. “A long line of alchemists, desperately seeking to unlock the secrets of the universe. For my father, it was all about immortality — the regeneration and rejuvenation of the flesh, the recapturing of lost youth.”
“Wow,” Rita said. “Did it work?”
Elle shrugged. “He’s dead. I assume that means he failed.”
Rita flushed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know.”
“No worries. It happened decades ago — before I ever became Lady Velvet.”
“So why’d you do it?”
“Become Lady Velvet. That’s… part of what I’m trying to figure out. Why people become villains. And why they stop.” She sounded oddly earnest.
“One comes from the other. I studied alchemy because I never had a choice in the matter. My mother died in childbirth, and my father had me studying the Hermenutical when I was three. Now, most alchemists barely end up touching the mystical side. To really get somewhere you have to undergo certain initiations which require choices be made… in particular, a focus. For my father… like I said. He wanted everlasting youth. When I was younger than Juliet, I had to make my own choice.”
“And that led to being a criminal?”
Elle smirked. “I decided I wasn’t interested in immortality. I didn’t want to live forever. I wanted to live well. And I had the means to do just that. At first through what I could produce, and then from what I could take.” She threw in the last bit of spice, and there was a burst of purple fire and light. “Hah HAH!”
There was a gasp, and light applause. A crowd had gathered — it usually did when Elle was actually mixing something up at the table. “Thank you, dahlings. But don’t just watch. Buy.” That got a laugh, of course, even though Elle meant it.
Rita cocked her head. “Is that for me?” she asked.
“Not exclusively, dahling. But here.” She began to work on Rita — using what she made, along with her makeover board’s samples. She gave a few of these away per trip, because it meant people would pay later. It was a scam, really — but no one got hurt, and she had to steal something. Scent on the neck and a touch behind the ears. Creams in the skin. Slight color in the cheeks and on the eyes. A little bit of tingle to refresh the skin and open the pores.
“The MAC counter was never like this,” Rita murmured.
“Hacks, the lot of them. One step off from greasepaint. Cosmetics should be mysterious and personal, don’t you think.” She smiled a bit, and held up a mirror. “Well?”
Rita blinked. A casual observer would never think she was wearing anything, but her natural beauty was accentuated and drawn out. “That’s me?” she asked. Then flushed. “Wow, that’s the dumbest thing I ever said.”
“Then you’re an uncommonly wise speaker.” Elle smirked. “A perfectly baited hook for a rogue, perhaps?”
Rita opened her mouth. “Uh, you… you mean Refraction?”
“But of course. You are his biggest fan, aren’t you?”
Rita sort of shivered, folding her arms in front of herself. “I didn’t say that,” she said. “And… no. Like I said. It isn’t like that. I don’t like him like that.”
Elle was practiced at hearing the things people didn’t say out loud. It had improved her villainous methods once upon a time. ‘I don’t like him like that’ was often a weak denial of the truth. Not this time. Elle realized what Rita really said was ‘I don’t like him at all.’ And meant it.
And yet, here she was.
Of course, Elle didn’t let any of that touch her expression. A solid poker face was another good trait in a villain. Or, for that matter, a small business owner. Elle smiled a bit more, insterad. “Good. I won’t feel so bad for stealing him away from you then.” She set the supplies down. “Now, let me select a few things. If you’re not buying right now, we’ll write them down for you. But you’re far too pretty to hide behind graduate student chic.”
“I — thank you,” Rita said. She looked a little overwhelmed.
“—think my girlfriend would like this?” Elle heard nearby. She looked. Juliet was talking to a man — a boy, really. He was holding one of the men’s scents. ‘Conviction,’ it looked like.
“Hm,” Juliet said, biting her lip and touching her chin with one gloved hand. A pose. “I’m not sure. Here.” She leaned forward, slightly arched, and opened the bottle. Elle frowned — she should have used the sample — but watched her take the top and dab it on either side of his face. The man was trying very hard to look anywhere but down the girl’s top.
Elle watched Juliet lean forward and sniffed, letting the scent from her shampoo hit his nose. “Oh yes,” Juliet said. “Your girlfriend will love that.”
The man didn’t quite faint or explode, but it was a near thing. “I’ll take it,” he said, not quite squeaking.
“Wow,” Rita said. “Are you sure she isn’t your apprentice?”
“I just hope her father doesn’t show up while she’s doing that. He’ll kill me.” But Elle was frowning. Juliet lacked a certain polish, and of course she wasn’t any kind of alchemist, but beyond that…
“What are you thinking?” Rita asked, very quietly.
“Daddy — why do you care so much about immortality, anyway? It sounds like such a bore!”
“Elle, my Belle… you have no idea. You don’t know what it’s like to look at some young buck — nineteen years old, convinced he can’t die, no pains in his knees, no gout in his toe, no sense it’s almost all over. You don’t know what that’s like. You don’t know how badly you’d want to just go back.”
“Nothing,” Elle said. “Here. Let’s start with fragrance.”