((Private entry, but feel free to comment!))
It was late–very late–on Saturday evening. The ball, held despite the heavy damage Piermont Landing had taken at the hands of Dr. Obolensky, was over, and Bookworm had returned home. But despite the tiring day she had had, she showed no signs of retiring for the night. Instead, she paced back and forth agitatedly in the front room, the full skirts of her gown swirling, while Mariah leaned against a large bookcase and watched her.
“Why me? Why is it always me?” Book asked, not for the first time. Mariah had kept silent so far, treating these as rhetorical questions. “And the things he said–I just don’t understand! It was…it was as if he was trying to *school* me in my interaction with him. But why?”
Now Mariah straightened up, looking at Bookworm keenly. “Tell me,” she said.
So Bookworm launched into a recounting of their conversation, as well as she could remember it. The way he encouraged certain reactions and ways of speaking, his insistence that there were correct and incorrect ways for her to deal with him. She was frowning well before she finished, though, seeing the expression on Mariah’s face. “Can you explain this?” she asked.
“I can, and it’s time I did,” Mariah said. She tilted her head toward the couch situated in front of the fire. “Let’s sit down–this will take a while.”
They both settled down on the couch. Bookworm leaned forward as Mariah explained matters as she had to Lord Mureaux’s subordinate: how Dr. Obolensky, as a traditional Villain, had been looking for a traditional Hero to oppose him; how, when no one stepped into the role, he’d chosen Bookworm to try in the role; how he continued to ensure her involvement in his affairs to see if she would develop into the opponent he wanted.
“You mean he’ll keep doing things like this?” Bookworm looked a bit pale.
“Is there no way to stop it?” Bookworm asked.
“Well, let’s look at the possibilities. One–you could die.”
“No,” Bookworm said unequivocally.
Mariah grinned. “He could die. But, as you yourself once pointed out, Villains like him are very, very difficult to kill.”
Bookworm smiled ruefully. “True.”
“He could be captured. But that would take a Hero.”
Bookworm sighed with exasperation. “Couldn’t we *find* a Hero, and bring him here?”
“Possibly. But consider–how long has Dr. Obolensky been here in New Babbage? His deeds are certainly widely known, but no one has come. Besides, traditional Heros, like traditional Villains, are a vanishing breed these days. The odds of being able to find one and convince him or her to come here…well, I wouldn’t make book on it. So to speak.”
“So that leaves us with…what?”
Mariah looked at Bookworm soberly. “You leave New Babbage. Permanently.”
Bookworm’s mouth moved in a silent “Oh.” Then she narrowed her eyes. “How long have you known all this?”
“I suspected it after the dust-up over the ruby. What happened at your first Salon talk confirmed it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me then?”
“You weren’t ready to hear it,” Mariah replied simply. “Now you are.” She leaned over and laid a hand on Bookworm’s knee. “You *are* ready, or nearly so, to do this, if you so choose.” With a pat on the knee, she stood up. “I assume you’ll be up all night considering this?”
“Aye,” Bookworm replied with a wry smile. “Mariah hath murdered sleep.”
Mariah chuckled, and went upstairs to her bedroom.
Bookworm waited for several minutes, waiting for the sounds from upstairs to quiet. Then she slipped upstairs, changed from her gown into her peignoir, and went back downstairs. She sat back down on the couch, drawing her feet up, and stared into the fire.
She’d been quite shaken by Mariah’s revelations. She’d never even entertained the thought of herself as a Heroine–at best, she was simply trying to do her part as a member of the New Babbage Militia. Could she really take the step to being the active, deliberate opponent to Dr. Obolensky?
She considered the options Mariah had mentioned carefully, and sighed. There really were only two feasible options–leave New Babbage permanently, or stay and live with the knowledge that, at any moment, she might have to battle Dr. Obolensky again.
A fragment of his morning haranguing drifted to her mind–the idea she had shied away from considering at the time.
“I suspect you would have been disappointed if I just rigged your front door with a net gun.”
The thing of it was, he was right, in a way. There was something about the thrill of the chase, the battle of wits, that was…appealing. It challenged her, stretched her to find her limits, and then go beyond them.
‘If only it wasn’t so painful when I lose,’ she thought wryly, fingering the lump on her temple. Still, better painful than fatal–though there certainly was the chance that any encounter with him could turn fatal, as last year’s Oiling Festival nearly had.
Bookworm continued to think it all over. At some point, though, she must have dozed off, for she suddenly started at a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she saw Mariah standing by her. “So?” she asked.
“Well, then,” Mariah said with a smile, “you’d best get dressed and have some breakfast. You certainly can’t let your training slacken now.”
With a nod and a grin, Bookworm headed upstairs.