Every day, Sabien Pallis woke up to reports of what was going on around the world. He dressed himself in the finest clothes available in the world and ate a breakfast prepared by a celebrity chef. He did as he pleased for the remainder of the day. He could exercise on horseback, or read. He had an excellent gaming system and both outdoor and indoor pools. He could admire his art collection or listen to music. He liked to think it was the most luxurious prison in the world.
The fact was, he was Phoenix's captive. He was the third richest man in the world (and might soon be the second if this acquisition panned out). Through his company, Exron, he had bankrolled more evil schemes than anyone else on the planet. Things had been going extremely well until he and Phoenix had an argument.
Phoenix had finally won that argument by stealing research by Dr. Carnage and, with Professor Cognis' help designing and dispersing a virus that was highly contagious and would kill Sabien Pallis in minutes, but cured malaria in everybody else. More than two thirds of the planet carried that pathogen, and Sabien's private island was one of the few places he could be safe.
And of course, Phoenix was the only other person who knew about Sabien's vulnerability to the virus. Which meant he could force Sabien to do whatever he wanted.
Get it together, Sabien, he told himself. Maybe there was nothing he could do about his situation. All that meant was that he was forced into an early retirement. More time to spend his money, that's all. And more time for Phoenix to spend it, some part of him said.
He needed to clear his head. Riding, that was the thing to do. A little time on horseback, surveying his estate. Surveying my world.
Sabien visited his stable. He was startled to see a man standing there. No, not a man. No man could possibly be so menacing. The thing was clad entirely in black. Black armor. Black gauntlets. A black helmet with a black face-plate. It was ornate, yet it looked functional. And it seemed to be shifting.
"You know," the creature said in a voice that evoked high-end horror movies, "I was going to chop the head off one of the horses, Godfather style. Oh well, another time."
Sabien tried to regain his composure. "Wh- who are you?" Sabien had dealt with plenty of powerful supervillains before. This person- Sabien recognized he was Mephistopheles from the news- couldn't possibly be the most fearsome. But he did seem to be up there.
"I am Mephistopheles. And I come offering a deal."
Sabien had read Faust. He knew that when demonic individuals calling themselves Mephistopheles offer you a deal, you might not want to accept.
"What is it?"
"You are being held here by Phoenix. He has a biological weapon which will kill you if you ever disobey him."
Mephistopheles didn't appreciate the sarcasm. "I can solve this problem. Or rather, my associate can."
The villain, gestured to the shadows, and Plague revealed herself.
"Hello, Sabien," she said. The two of them had had dealings before. They'd most recently left on bad terms.
"You think you can save me," he asked. He didn't trust her. He didn't trust anyone.
"Phoenix is not the only scientific genius upon this Earth," Mephistopheles said. "Whatever he has done, I can undo. You'll find the backdoors into Exron's computer system have been shut, and one of my partners is dealing with the mountain of explosives beneath this island."
"What do I have to do in return."
"Break off all contact with Phoenix. Sever all ties between Exron and Estveria. Do whatever you can to ruin him." Sabien would have done that for free. "I run a little group of supervillains. I'd prefer if you sell us supplies, although you have every right to refuse." That was Sabien's line of business anyways. "And if you have any knowledge of Phoenix's doings, that would be most appreciated."
Sabien had done business with some shifty characters. He knew when an offer was too good to be true. On the other hand he was stuck on an island. How could things get any worse?
"Deal," he said, reaching out his hand.
Plague shook it.
"You should be immune within six hours," Mephistopheles said. "See you in the world."
The villains left the island separately. Mephistopheles flew away on great black wings. Traceable by satellite, but what would the authorities do? Mephistopheles thought about the state of things.
Sabien was a fool. He was trapped in paradise, yet he would sell his own soul to break free.
Plague was easy to manipulate. Her romance with Dr. Carnage made it clear she loved monsters. Her silly urges were his gain.
Phoenix was filled with overconfidence. He thought he was the greatest mind in the universe, and that nothing could hurt him. He was in for a nasty surprise. His pathetic attempts to find companionship made him weak. His arrogance left those weaknesses exposed. His brilliance made the weaknesses very profitable to exploit.
The entire world was still in denial about the coming aliens or the return of Dr. Demented. But Mephistopheles was already pushing his chess pieces into position. By the time the dust settled, Mephistopheles would be the undisputed master of the planet Earth. And beyond.
Sabien Pallis wasn't the only person liberated that day. Lucy also got a little more freedom. It began when she was sparring with Centurion.
She could see the message in his movements. The thoughts behind them. She could predict what he would do.
He could see her too. He sometimes saw her strikes.
He was stronger, but she was quicker. He couldn't be burned by her fire, but her katanas were hot enough to cut through his flesh.
She was glad Phoenix had made them so well.
She dodged, and spun into another attack. She tricked him by aiming high, and stuck low. She won. Again.
"How is it that I'm a machine trained and designed to be the ultimate in physical combat, yet the little girl I'm assigned to defend can beat me in a duel?"
"I'm not a little girl."
"Fine. A young woman." He got quiet for a moment. Lucy could read the quietness "I think it's time for the New Archivist to make an appearance."
Lucy was a little sad. She pulled the Archives out of her pocket and put it on her head.
She felt the thoughts flow into her. The knowledge. Her mind expanded and changed shape. The New Archivist emerged.
She felt her physical and mental power. It was impressive. She felt like she could do anything. But she knew she couldn't even stay conscious for prolonged periods.
"What is it," she asked, sensing that Centurion had something to say.
"I was just thinking about Lucy. She's stuck here far from home. I'm her only friend, and I'm a killing machine. She needs someone else to talk to."
"Are you suggesting this person be found or created?"
Centurion took a second to parse the implications there. "I think the person should be Phoenix. Lucy might look like a young adult. She might even think she's a young adult, but she's a child. She needs a parent, and Phoenix is the closest thing she has."
"I do feel her attachment to him, but I worry. He is not a good person, and I fear the influence he may have on her, and through her, me. Imagine the harm he could do."
"But isn't Lucy's mental health more important than that?"
The New Archivist took a second to consult literary sources from a dozen different species. A hundred psychological studies. The childhood recollections of a thousand orphans.
Too much at once. She waited for the dizziness to subside. "I'll see what I can do. I'm sure the Fortarians have some way for her to contact him."
Sure enough, they did.