Click-click. Click-click. Click-click.
Elouise was thinking about high heels as she walked down the hallway towards her ‘throne’ room. She considered how impractical it was to wear seven-inch heels in costume – even with her physical enhancements, she still had to rest every now and then to avoid getting cramps! The least said about wearing high heels in combat, the better.
On the other hand, they made her legs and her butt look awesome – well, even more awesome than usual – and they made up for her rather lackluster height. It was alright for the Matriarch to be shorter than her male enforcers, but to be shorter than her accountant? Unacceptable, even if it was just an inch.
Presentation is key. Always be aware of the effect your appearance has on people.
Her mother had pounded the lesson into her from an early age, along with many others. Elouise was to be her perfect heir, a daughter who would never bring shame to her mother’s name once she took it on; and despite some rather persistent rumors in the underworld, her taking over as the Matriarch had always been the plan, from the very beginning, her mother’s (apparent) unending youth notwithstanding. Her untimely death had merely accelerated Elouise’s inheritance.
She still didn’t know whether to thank her mother’s killer or strangle him to death.
Such were her thoughts as she entered her hideout’s main hall, built on the top floor of the Seventh Cloud Casino.
Click-click. Click-click. Click-click.
Maybe she should have her costume adjusted, shorten the heels a bit. Losing an inch shouldn’t be too bad. Maria would jump at the chance to do it, and the girl was good at these things, in spite of her atrocious fashion sense.
Every little advantage matters. Even after all these years, her mother’s voice would still whisper into her ear, advising her, reminding her of the lessons… and of the punishments that came with disregarding them.
Being spanked had only been but one of her many, many painful humiliations.
Perhaps she would not shorten her heels after all.
She shook her head, lightly, not to look ridiculous by throwing her long, pure white waves of hair around. Her people were watching, after all.
Walking up to and lying down on her divan, she surveyed her gathered people. The first one, immediately to her right, was Kakitsune – Maria, the closest she had to an actual friend – in her customary, ridiculous outfit (not that she hadn’t earned the right to look as ridiculous as she liked to). Elouise gave her a small smile, which was returned with quite a bit less refined restraint.
Her gaze moved on, tracking over her twelve costumed lieutenants, the second-largest single group of metahumans in the entire Great Lakes region. Some of them were carryovers from her mother’s time, but most were her own recruits, drawn to her for various reasons.
Among the twelve were four she was particularly close to, and whom she trusted above the others, her four chief enforcers – Kakitsune, Holdout, Ducktail and Horrendous. They stood closest to her, flanking her divan to the left and right, each of them one of her own recruits, and close enough to nearly be friends.
Attachments are a liability. Use them, but don’t let them bog you down.
Of course, there was also one more person present, a new addition to her staff, and one she wasn’t quite sure how to feel about.
It had been as great a shock to her as to her half-sister, she was sure, to find out that her grandfather, her grandfather, was none other than the Dark himself. Inbetween the barely restrained glee at finally, finally having a family, however messed up it might be, a family that didn’t spank her for having her make-up out of place or starve her for not walking right at an official function, she’d been quietly terrified at the thought. He was the Dark, she was his granddaughter and yet, her success as a supervillain was questionable at best; even having the largerst local group of supervillains, enough people to take on any two other teams and not be at a numeric disadvantage, she was really only holding onto the title of Queen Bee of Chicago’s underworld by dint of there not being any suitable challenger to the title; none of the other villains were interested in ruling as the Matriarch had since the inception of capes and cowls.
What if her grandfather considered her a failure?
Of course, there had also been another thing that had hit her back then, and which she’d been thinking about ever since.
Finding out about her grandfather had put pretty much everything about her mother’s behaviour into a new light. Elouise could see, now, how she had been groomed to be his granddaughter, to please his way of doing things; perhaps, even, to become his heir in the absence of anyone else to do so. The Dark was a known family man, a traditionalist in many ways, who valued loyalty and blood; and so Elouise had been raised to both give and demand loyalty, to value her family above all, to be an intelligent, successful villain without being a brutish monster.
Her mother had never joined the Syndicate proper, though they’d cooperated a lot. She’d never aspired to join the Dark Five, even though she had the skills and the power to do so. Because she could never have expected being a mere underling of the Dark. The Matriarch had to rule, she had to stand at the top.
But there was nothing objectionable to the Matriarch serving under the Dark as his heir presumptive, as a beloved family member taken into the family business.
In the end, her mother had been willing to pass on her beloved name for the chance, however slim, that the Matriarch may one day stand at the top of the Syndicate.
Now she’d met the Dark and he’d… been way less intimidating than she’d expected, and way more personable; though, she was his granddaughter, and unlike all other descendants of his that she knew of, she was actually ‘in the business’. So maybe her mother’s plan would pay off after all.
It usually did.
After the whole mess with the Ascendant had been over and done with, he’d sought her out and they’d spent a whole night talking and getting to know each other… or at least, he’d been getting to know her. He’d been quite sparse with information about himself, and he’d been so smooth about it that she hadn’t noticed, that even her shadow hadn’t noticed.
But it had been nice, nonetheless. And helpful. Once she’d described all the problems she found herself faced with, he’d offered his advice, and then, to send a trusted lieutenant of his to provide her with advice and support, as her subordinate, of course, until such a time as she no longer required his help or decided to recruit him permanently.
She’d agreed, happily, after only briefly thinking it over, and the man had appeared on her doorstep on the very next day.
She still didn’t know whether to be grateful or insulted. She had certainly never expected that a man like this was so high up in her grandfather’s trust; especially as he had basically no history to speak of. He simply went by the name ‘Leopold’, and the most she’d been able to find out about him was that he was some kind of background character in the Syndicate, perhaps a secret enforcer of some sort, though mostly he seemed to just be an observer.
He was, however, undoubtedly skilled. From accounting and administration to planning capers, strategic decisions and tactical expertise, the man seemed to be able to do anything he wanted, and he was good at it. He’d almost singlehandedly increased her Casino’s revenue by a hundred and thirty percent within two weeks of arriving there, among other things. And he’d rooted out no less than a dozen plants in her organisation, both by law enforcement and by other villain groups; he now assured her that there were none left, and she was inclined to trust him.
To a point.
Right now, he stood a little apart from her people, close enough to make it clear she trusted him, not so close as to be thought of as one of her full lieutenants. He also stood apart in how he dressed, wearing a dark brown three-piece suit, with a black shirt and gold tie, and a golden pocketwatch in his vest pocket, tailored to fit flawlessly onto his rail-thin body. His hair was slicked back, shining almost like more gold, and his dark blonde mustache and goatee where so sharply styled she suspected that they might serve as bladed instruments. The former was also ridiculously twirled, each twist easily the size of the man’s eyes. Brown-golden eyes which were currently looking at her, twinkling with amusement like he was privy to some private joke. A very common expression on him, and one she’d grown accustomated to.
She finished surveying them all, and went on with her ritual.
“Good evening, my dear companions,” she spoke, carefully intoning every single word. “I’m glad to see you all gathered here. Let’s get down to business.”
Which one to call up first? The order in which they spoke was set by me, and I usually picked whichever one I favoured most first, and so on.
My shadow came to me, from where it had been drawing lazy circles over the walls, whispering. Leopold has good news, but it will offend one of your chief lieutenants. Kakitsune has nothing out of the ordinary to say, but she’s feeling left out since Leopold joined. Horrendous is looking forward to his turn. Ducktail has a problem and is hoping for help. Ducktail is nervous. Silverback is feeling guilty over something. The others have nothing out of the ordinary to say, it spoke to her, using her own voice, but with a different inflection, just enough to make it sound noticably different.
She thought it over, briefly, processing the information, as she mentally decided on the order. Maria had to be first, to soothe her ego; Leopold was going to offend someone, so she shouldn’t pick him last, or else the meeting would end on a sour note.
Only she didn’t know whom he would offend.
She took a glass of sparkling water off the small table next to her divan, drinking from it to buy herself a few more moments to consider it.
In the end, she decided to pick Horrendous last – he was the one least likely to get offended by anything, or hold a grudge if it did happen.
Yes, that will do. First Kakitsune, then Silverback, Leopold, Ducktail and finally, Horrendous.
She smiled. That would do. She put the glass down and turned to look at Maria, smiling.
“Maria, please start,” she said, smiling at her… friend.
The girl brightened up considerably at being picked first, standing up straighter… which wasn’t necessarily a good thing, considering her outfit. How she managed to get around without flashing her breasts every time she moved, Elouise would never understand. It certainly wasn’t her power’s effect, that was for sure. Nor did she use double-sided tape.
“Nothing’s changed since the last briefing, boss,” she said in her usual, chipper voice. “Really, the Ascendant kinda did us a favour; all the chaos and damage he caused has got the other gangs running ragged trying to re-establish themselves. We and the Misfits are the only ones who didn’t lose any cowls, and that’s mostly because their cowls were all in lock-up at the time, thanks in no small part to, well to your dad.”
Elouise smiled, nodding. “So your part of the business is running smoothly,” she followed, referring to Maria’s protection business.
Maria nodded, and then beamed when Elouise smiled at her. “Well done,” she said warmly, and she beamed even brighter.
Kakitsune’s worries have been soothed for now. She won’t be an issue for at least another two weeks.
Elouise frowned, briefly, masking it by coughing and taking another drink. Maria’s not just an ‘issue’. She is my friend.
There was no answer, and so she moved on, looking at Silverback, a man who certainly looked the part of his namesake, being a huge man, as huge as one could be as a normal person, with shoulders almost as broad as her legs were tall. He was wearing an impeccable, if very old-fashioned gray suit that made him look like a mobster from the prohibition era. Appropriate, seeing how his family had been part of the mob (and then of her mother’s organisation, and now her own) for a good five generations now.
“Silverback, how’s the gambling ring coming along?”
He cleared his throat, then ran a huge hand through his squarish, black beard. “Not as well as we’d hoped – the recent crisis has had people stay home more, though we’re seeing an upward trend again – but we’re making steady profits, and most of them are even legal, especially thanks to Leopold here,” he inclined his head towards the smiling man, who acknowledged it with a deferential nod of his, “Putting us in contact with that corrupt official at the mayor’s office.” He coughed again, uncomfortable.
“That’s good to hear,” she replied with a smile, then turned it towards Leopold. “Your support is really extraordinary, Leopold.”
“Think nothing of it, my lady,” he told her with a fancy bow. “I am merely fulfilling my duties.”
Leopold means what he says.
She nodded instead of continuing, and turned back to Silverback. Even without her shadow’s whispers, she could tell that he was rather uncomfortable. “There’s more, isn’t there, Silverback?”
He coughed again. “Well… there was a bit of an incident, last night.” The huge man shuffled his feet. “I… lost my temper with one of our patrons, and offended him rather heavily. We may lose him.”
Her eye twitched, annoyed. Silverback was everything one could wish for in a lieutenant, ambitious without being treacherous, steadfast, loyal, determined, powerful… but he was not calm. His temper was his greatest weakness, and perhaps the only reason why she hadn’t elevated him to be her right-hand man. “Which one?” she asked, her voice gone colder.
“Judge Martherson,” he replied, his head lowered in shame.
Elouise had to really fight with herself to avoid giving a biting retort to that. Martherson was a snake, but he was her snake, god damn it! Even disregarding the fact that he brought old Chicago money to the table, and was all too ready to gamble it away, he was a Judge. Always useful to keep around.
“That is… disappointing,” she forced out between clenched teeth, trying to catch herself. “I will have to… talk to Martherson, and convince him to… accept an apology. My apology, to be precise.”
Silverback flinched, opening his mouth again, but she cut him off.
“What is done, is done. I’m not going to hold this one slip-up against you, Silverback, but please do try to reign in your temper in the future.”
He nodded, biting his own lip.
This will do.
Leopold took a step forward, without saying anything, causing her to look at him. He clearly looked like he had something to say – and well, she’d planned to pick him next, anyway.
“If you have something to say, Leopold, please feel free to do so,” she drawled.
He bowed again, smiling. “Mmm, well, I just wanted to say, dear lady, that I already had a little… talk, with our judge, after I became aware of the incident last night,” he said, making Silverback stare at him in surprise – and Elouise, too, for that matter. “He has magnanimously agreed to accept an apology… from Silverback, here.”
“You… you just went and…” Silverback clenched his fists, snarling, as he looked at the far shorter, slender man. She could see the red creep into his eyes, towards his pupils, and decided to intervene.
So this is the subject that would offend another. He went and resolved Silverback’s problem without consulting with him, promising that the man give an apology without consulting him. She was relieved, really, that it was something so minor, in the grand scheme of things. Though she still had to do something, to save Silverback some pride. She didn’t need her power to figure that out, either.
Thus, she smiled at Leopold, though she made it a little sharper an expression than was strictly friendly. “Leopold, as usual, you amaze me with how… swift and efficient you are, resolving this little dispute,” she drawled, sipping from her glass. Be grateful, Elouise. He saved you the need to demean yourself to make an apology. “Thank you for that; however, I can not simply tolerate it that you intervene in Silverback’s business without even consulting him – much less allow that his apology be promised to another, like that. This will not happen again, understood? She underlined the last few words with a sharp glare at the man.
Leopold sighed, though he didn’t seem intimidated at all. However, he did make an apologetic face, and bowed at Silverback. “I am sorry, my friend, that I acted in so rushed a manner – I was only thinking of mollifying the judge, and did not stop to consider the insult it would bring to you.”
He is sincere, though still amused at the whole situation.
Annoying, but at least he was sincere enough to mollify Silverback… slightly. She would still have to deal with this in the future.
Worst of all, she was not at all able to tell whether Leopold was doing this deliberately, to test her. He was here on orders from her grandfather, after all, both to support and, perhaps, to evaluate.
The corner of her mouth ticked up as she considered just how problematic this could still become, having someone in her inner circle who didn’t answer to her, first.
She blinked, banishing those thoughts from her mind. There would still be time to pursue that line of thought later on.
Instead, she moved on with the evening’s business.
The rest had gone quite smoothly. Ducktail had some problem with the heroes coming after her underground fight rings, and Elouise had assigned Maria to help shore up security. Horrendous had only good things to report, as he was in charge of smuggling goods and the relatively high taxation on a lot of luxury items, due to the brewing war in Europe, was driving up their profits quite nicely.
All in all, even considering Silverback’s little blunder, and Leopold’s provocation, this had been a pleasant enough meeting.
Leopold will continue to be a problem, though he should be enough of an asset to justify keeping him around, her shadow whispered to her as she was walking towards her private suite.
Not that it mattered, in the end. Her grandfather had sent him, and she was more than willing to put up with the occasional annoyance – she trusted the Dark to have her best interests at heart.
She smiled to herself, as she opened the door to her bedroom’s antechamber, already looking forward to spending the rest of the night…
“Well, what are you smiling about like that?”
Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the man waiting for her in the room (how did he get inside? None of her security systems had noticed him!), sitting on a love seat next to the old fireplace (she rarely used it, but now there was a small fire going) with his cheek resting on a hand, his elbow on the armrest, as he smiled at her.
“Daddy!” she shouted, and leaped clear across the room, all thoughts of decorum forgotten as she wrapped her arms around his neck, nearly bowling him and the seat over.
Presentation is k-
She ignored the little voice as she hugged him tight. To her delight, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her.
She’d never known what it felt like to just be held by a father, had often imagined it, but never thought it’d feel this good.
“Hey there, baby girl,” he said as he patted her back, before he kissed the top of her head. “How was your evening so far?”
“Oh, quite alright,” she replied as she pulled herself up to sit properly – on his lap, that was. They had almost two decades of cuddling to make up for, after all. “The aide grandfather sent to work with me went a little over the line and pissed off Silverback – you remember him, right, I introduced you – and I had to tell him off, but otherwise, everything’s going more or less smoothly.”
He smiled down at her, making her feel all warm and fuzzy inside. She just couldn’t get enough looking at him. He’d grown less haggart, ever since the business with the Ascendant had been done with, and he didn’t dress quite as formally anymore – or at least, not quite as often. Just jeans and a shirt with a rockband’s name printed on it, though she’d never heard of this particular one. He still kept his beard, though, which she liked – it made him look nicely mature and father-ly.
“Well, knowing my father, he’s likely sent someone who’s certain to be annoying and testing, just to see how you’ll deal with him,” he told her, confirming her own suspicion. He didn’t really seem happy about it, though. “I wish you hadn’t taken him up on his offer, though. It’s not healthy to get drawn into the Syndicate’s business, even for an established supervillain.”
“We’ve been over this, daddy,” she replied, pouting at him as she took her mask off. “I’m not going to give up being the Matriarch. Not even for you, or Henny.”
He sighed. “I know… just like you know that I won’t stop trying to talk you out of it.” He smirked, winking at her. “And I’m doing that just for you, not for Hennessy’s sake. Though that’s a welcome bonus, too.”
She giggled, glad that he was being light-hearted about it. “How’s Henny doing, anyway? She hasn’t really been replying to my e-mails much.” Finding out that her arch-enemy was actually her half-sister, and one with such a horrible trauma in her past, had been more than a small shock. Fortunately, though, they hadn’t clashed since finding out, in large part due to her being too busy with keeping her organisation low-key and out of the heroes’ eyes, so they’d focus on the other gangs instead.
Come to think of it, it’d been her dad who’d convinced her to pursue that course of action…
He doesn’t want his daughters to clash in battle, or otherwise, came the unbidden whisper, not that it told her anything new. It was almost annoying how good her dad was at confounding her shadow – he was just too controlled to be read, even with its power, perhaps even more so than her grandfather.
“Hennessy has recovered well,” he explained, looking away – focusing into the distance. “Now that the Ascendant is behind bars, she and her friends have… relaxed a lot. Hell, Dearheart has even forgotten to glare at me, a few times!” he laughed, and she couldn’t help but join in. “So, who’s this guy the old man sent to you? Maybe I remember him,” he continued.
“Oh, he’s a weird one, so you’d remember him for sure!” she replied. “He doesn’t use a codename, he just calls himself Leop-“
“Leopold!?! He sent you Leopold!?” he shouted, making her flinch. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.”
“So, uh, I guess you know him?” she asked, leaning against his chest as she threw her legs over the armrest. They’re the same age, likely to have interacted in their youth if he has such a strong reaction to him.
He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, he’s my age. Did a few jobs with him, back in the day. He is… an unending source of frustration.”
“He seems quite alright to me. Really competent. And almost as hard to read as you.”
“He would be. Guy’s an a- a jerk, but he’s competent, I’ll give him that,” he replied, editing his own swear-word out – like that’d bother her. It was really kinda cute.
“Yeah, that he is. But enough of that! Tell me what you’ve been up to – I was really surprised you and Henny didn’t go to help with this Crocell incident in Esperanza City!” she moved the conversation along, not wanting to dwell on her business for too long when he was around.
“There’s no way the authorities would allow Hennessy to participiate in an S-Class situation, unless it actually came here – and maybe not even then,” he explained, looking troubled. “She’s much too unstable.” He sighed, and she could tell that he still blamed himself for his other daughter’s state. It hurt her to see, but there was nothing she could do about it -she’d already told him that she, at least, did not blame him at all for being absent from her life until recently, and she was pretty sure he still beat himself up about that, even though she hadn’t gone through half as much horror as her little sister.
“And what about you?” she tried to move on, away from the subject of Henny. “What were you up to?”
“Oh, I was out of the country for a few days, down in South America to visit a few old friends who’d moved there. Came running as soon as I heard about the attack, but by the time I reached Esperanza, I could only help with the rescue efforts.”
He frowned, tapping his chin. “Gotta wonder about this gadgeteer boy everyone’s gushing about. He killed that thing in one shot – while dad failed to put the one he fought in Tokyo down at all.”
She shivered at the reminder of what had happened in Tokyo – that was… bad business. Far beyond any limits she was willing to come even close to.
“Brennus. I’ve heard, yeah. New Lennston never disappoints in producing some amazing capes and cowls,” she said, more subdued now. “He’s independent, isn’t he? I wonder how he’s managed to resist being recruited by either side.”
“I don’t know about the heroes,” her father said slowly, “but I was talking to my father, and well, he didn’t say anything straight out, but I get the feeling that he considers Brennus to be off-limits for some reason.”
Possible that he’s related to a Syndicate member, or else a high-enough ranked hero to not be worth the trouble.
“Curious…” she rubbed her chin, considering it. Maybe he was off-limits to the Syndicate, but she wasn’t quite a member yet, and who knew, maybe she could recruit herself an up-and-coming gadgeteer…
“Elouise, stop it,” her father chided her. “No scheming right now, alright? I didn’t come here for that.”
She pouted at him. “But I’m supposed to be a mastermind, scheming is what I do.”
He smirked. “Oh yes? Even if the alternative is going out for a late dinner with me?”
She leapt off his lap. “I’ll go get changed!” she chirped happily, making him chuckle as she all but ran into her bedroom. Spending time with her daddy was way more important than some new scheme, anyway!
Her heels clicked on the expensively wood-tiled floor, making her stop just beyond her bedroom door, looking down at them.
Hm, they really are too high, aren’t they? I’ll ask Maria to shorten them tomorrow.
She smirked, ignoring her mother’s angry rebuttal, and walked into her wardrobe to pick out something for her impromptu dinner-date.
The night could only get sweeter.