Canton chroniclesrising.., p.22
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       Canton Chronicles:Rising Power, p.22
 

           Faidra-Foteini Petaniti
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  Thank the Deities for the Institute’s best invention. The Negator.

  Henry hugged her tightly, pulling her away from the ledge. Val’s tears came unexpectedly, for the injustice of Alice’s demise.

  “She fell… I… I tried… to stop her… But…”

  She was still stammering from the shock. Henry kissed her forehead.

  “I know, kid. And she tried her best to take you with her. Good thing she failed in the end.”

  “But… but… she’ll never pay for her crimes now.”

  “Death is the ultimate punishment, Valentine. Trust me.”

  Val buried her wet face in his chest, as the crying shook her. Her tears stung her cheeks, but her heart was light as a feather. She was finally free.

  ***

  Epilogue

  The Canton Tower- 10:00, 27th October, 200 A.D

  Vanessa observed the people walking in front of the Tower’s entrance. Families with kids, couples with their dogs, even some lonely people, like her.

  She had been sitting in the Tower’s main stairway for a long time, lost in thought, feeling more like a teenager than a thirty-three-year old woman.

  The events of the last week wouldn’t leave her mind no matter how much she tried. Everything happening so fast, the Council changing at its very core.

  Aldus Green was send in the Underground, found guilty of high treason. His last action was to witness the burying of his daughter.

  Aldus’ estates, offices and private property were searched thoroughly, confirming his connections with the Red Ribbon, the drug dealing empire and a couple of mysterious deaths and disappearances on the Sky Mountains.

  After the revelations, every member of the Council was interrogated, as well as every single person of authority in Canton. The traitors were disposed, and the innocent remained. No more hidden snakes in Tom Rosenberg’s lair. But still…

  Why do I have this ugly feeling in my chest?

  Vanessa wasn’t an intuitive person, leaning more towards the practical side of the scale. But the churn in her stomach wouldn’t go away, no matter how hard she tried. And the nightmares that tormented her every night, dreams of people dying screaming in the Mountains and Magenta laughing.

  She heard the sound of steps and felt Tom’s hand on her shoulder, a touch she welcomed. He sat beside her in the shaded steps.

  “It’s nice to watch them go by isn’t it? Oblivious to all?”

  My thoughts exactly, boss.

  “How are you hanging on?”

  Tom had noticed the dark circles in her eyes and her unusual silence.

  “Pretty well I guess. All things considered. I just can’t help but wonder if everything is truly over.”

  “Vanessa, Aldus is in jail. He was connected with everything, the drugs, the murders. He had powerful friends in high places, but they’ve all been found and apprehended. I have to admit I feel pretty safe now, and I was the one almost killed.”

  Vanessa shuddered at the thought, but Tom just smiled, pulling her closer with his left arm.

  “The attack belongs to the past. There is nothing to worry about anymore.”

  “Then what about our Heroes, Tom? The ones you so proudly presented to the people of Canton seven days ago? With Aurelia’s blessing, and fireworks and everything? Our Holy Deity herself said she felt Magenta stirring again. How am I supposed to believe we are completely safe?”

  Tom had no answer to her question. Nobody did. Or didn’t want to.

  Time of a subject change.

  “So, when do you think our Council is going to start working again? For real?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I am talking about Aldus’ position. We are one Counsellor short if you haven’t notice.”

  Tom’s face lightened up all of a sudden.

  “Did I say something funny, Tom?”

  “Sort of. We’ve already found our 12th Counsellor.”

  “Really. Who is the lucky one?”

  “You.”

  Vanessa jumped from her sit so fast, Tom’s arm was almost ripped apart.

  “What? Why?”

  “Why? What kind of question is that? Who else have been through hell the last few months and survived it? Who went against everything and exposed Aldus Green? Who is more trustworthy?”

  Vanessa just stood there looking at him, speechless.

  “Vanessa, I don’t understand. This was your ultimate goal. Your biggest dream. Aren’t you happy?”

  Aldus’ words suddenly pierced Vanessa’s mind.

  You opened your legs to him, that’s why you have a position of power. You have no worth of your own, you little cocksucker.

  Tom took a good look at her face, and finally realised the reason of her concerns. He sighted and stood up, shaking his head.

  “You still thing I’m favouring you, because of our past?”

  “I never said…”

  “If you think my judgement as a High Counsellor is that clouded, then you can always deny the position. But you can’t let the whispers destroy your life, Vanessa. They’ve caused enough damage to our lives already.”

  Tom started ascending the steps, his shoulders low, only to be stopped by Vanessa. She grasped his arm roughly, and grinned at him.

  “The hell I’m going to say no to a Counsellor position, Tom. You know how hard I’ve worked for this? I am just concerned about your new Assistant, that’s all. You can’t do shit on your own, you know that.”

  “You don’t have to worry about that at all. I’ve already picked up my new Assistant. And he just so happens to be thrilled about his new position. We connected deeply on that fateful night, John and I.”

  “John Lucas is going to be your new assistant?”

  Vanessa’s mouth hung open from surprise.

  Tom nodded casually.

  “Of course. He can read minds, Vanessa. Seriously, what’s better than that?”

  An assistant with a Power. A truly good idea.

  “Well, in that case, I also happen to know the perfect guy to assist me.”

  ***

  The New Academy -11:00, 30th October, 200 A.D

  “John, you are looking completely classy. Seriously.”

  Mike admired John in his new Assistant attire, a white shirt with casual jeans, and a smart, not-too-official jacket.

  “I mean, you are born to be in a noble profession. It’s in your blood. Not like that other idiot.”

  Seb stood a few steps further, talking with Amy, who was concentrated on fixing the collar of his shirt. He stuck his tongue at Mike, earning a grandiose middle finger in return.

  “Well, it is a big achievement though, two of us working on the Council,” John admitted.

  “Yeah, we must have done a pretty good job on that night, haven’t we?” Mike wondered.

  “We did the best we could. Which was more than enough. I mean Canton did celebrate our existence with fireworks and drinks. And we’ll only get better after that.”

  “Proud words coming out of the mouth of a desert hermit.”

  Val laughed heartily at Mike’s comment. She loved seeing her friends excited once more. Together again, like they used to.

  “At least now you can take care of my stupid Uncle. John, make sure he won’t get any more hits in the head, ok?”

  “Will do.”

  Amy’s eyes were turned up, straight at Seb’s face.

  “And you make sure Vanessa Rehberg doesn’t seduce you, ok?”

  Seb pulled her closer, and their lips locked in a sweet kiss, earning the enraged shouts of Mike.

  “Man, seriously a warning would be appreciated.”

  Val’s stomach hurt from laughter. But she was truly happy for Amy and Seb. So much had changed the past month, but at least the two of them had found happiness by finding each other. The fact brought a warm feeling to her chest.

  “The singles will give you some space, guys ok?”

  Val took Mike an
d John by the arms, and the three exited the room, laughing hysterically.

  “My best friend is gone,” Mike said wiping the tears of his eyes.

  Mandy caught up with them in their way to the main Hall. After their victory against the Green family, the Academy was once again open and ready to function. With the major difference that the Heroes were now allowed to leave and return whenever they pleased. A majority of teammates had decided to stay at their own homes, but Val needed no apartment anymore. Her home was right here.

  “Hi, my three babies. Left the two lovebirds get alone and naughty, I presume?”

  Mandy raised her eyebrows cunningly.

  “Even Mandy makes fun of us now. I can’t take this humiliation anymore.”

  “Go suck one, Mike. I actually came for our High Assistant here. Johnnie, a girl is outside these two doors, wanting desperately to see you. Dark skin, black eyes. Pretty. Do you know her?”

  Val and Mike looked at him, speechless. John turned his back, facing his shoes.

  “I might know her, yes. See you later, guys, ok?”

  John walked hastily towards the front doors and Mike shook his head.

  “We’re now alone in the world, sweetie.”

  “Mike, promise me something. If we are thirty and still single, we’ll marry each other.”

  “Deal.”

  Mandy sighted.

  “Will you both stop being such cry-babies? Your other halves will come, in time. Trust the expert.”

  Mike and Val looked at each other doubtfully.

  “Anyway, Mike you promised you’ll help us in training? I don’t suppose you’d forgotten about that?”

  “Of course not. I always keep my promises, sweet bee. Are you coming, my future wife to be?”

  I still have some unfinished business.

  “I need to do something first.”

  ***

  Henry turned around, admiring himself at the mirror.

  Dressed in black pants, white casual T-shirt and a comfortable black biker’s jacket, he felt clean and strong. Like being his old self again.

  It’s high time you found your old self again.

  He heard the soft tapping at the door and went to answer it, surprised.

  Vanessa stood in front of him, dressed formally, ready for work.

  “Hi, Henry.”

  His heart thumbed on his chest, and shame took over him. He hadn’t spoken with Vanessa after the Tower’s incident. God knows, how much he’d tried. The others had already forgiven him, acting like the past year never happened. But some wounds run deeper than others.

  “Congratulations, Vanessa. I heard from Peter and I was so happy. Everything you’ve ever dreamed of, finally.”

  Her eyes were wet as she turned and faced him.

  “Not everything is like I’ve dreamt it. I always have thought that you’ll be by my side, celebrating with me. I’ve never expected… this.”

  Henry instinctively hugged her, before Vanessa had a chance to pull back.

  “I want things to be like before, Vanessa. You are my best friend. I isolated myself, spoke badly, almost killed myself. But I only lied for Valentine’s sake. Green had connections everywhere. If you and Tom knew, she would be dead.”

  “I know.”

  “So can we please try and make it work? Like we’ve always did? I promise you, this is the first and last chance you’ll ever give me.”

  Vanessa smiled, carefully wiping her eyes.

  “I suppose one single chance never hurt anybody. We can try, yes. I… I have to go now, it’s my first day, and I don’t want to be late…”

  “Just a moment.”

  Henry walked hastily to his drawers and took out a tiny necklace, Vanessa’s lucky negating charm. He carefully tied it around his best friend’s neck.

  “For protection.”

  “For protection,” Vanessa whispered and, with a turning of her back, she left.

  Henry closed the door, and reached for his bed, when he heard the soft tapping again.

  “Did you forget something, Van…” He stopped his sentence midway. “Valentine?”

  “Sorry. Am I interrupting something? I thought you were done with Vanessa.”

  “Kid, are you spying on me?”

  “Fuck you, old-man. If someone is spying, then that someone is you.”

  She stuck out her tongue and Henry burst out laughing.

  “Our magnificent Hero, ladies and gentlemen. Anyway, are you coming in? This room is Instructor-issued, and has a really sweet balcony…”

  “I have a better idea.”

  ***

  “So, this is where Alice tried to kill you?”

  “Yeah. The first time.”

  Henry and Val were sitting at the Atrium bench, admiring the forest below. The sun glittered in the treetops, giving the room a pleasant warmness through the looking glass.

  “Thank the Deities I’m staying here to protect you from now on.”

  “I feel safer already, Instructor White.”

  Val’s tone was ironical, but she really felt better with Henry around. If he hadn’t been in that roof, she would be a goner. And the others could also use his martial expertise.

  “How did it go with Vanessa?”

  Henry sighted.

  “Pretty good, I guess. If you think how much I hurt her that day in the cottage. What about your friends?”

  “They’re dealing with the whole thing perfectly, I think. After the whole Tower incident, we all stayed in the Lucas Mansion for a while. We had time to talk things through, everything that happened while I was gone. Sebastian and Amy are a couple now, so they’re flying through pink clouds.”

  They both laughed at the sheer silliness of the thought.

  “Mike thought I was dead, so he harboured this guilty attitude for a while. But they were all supposed to think I was dead. That was the only way for me to secretly track their moves, and meet them at the Tower that day. But now everything is back to normal.”

  “What about your boyfriend? The High Assistant.”

  “Henry, he is not my boyfriend. Seriously, John has a girlfriend.”

  “Ouch. I’m sorry, kid.”

  But he wasn’t sorry, not a tiny bit. He was relieved. And then he felt guilty about his inappropriate relief.

  “We’ve caught all the bad guys.”

  Val’s ironic comment surprised Henry deeply. Mainly because it reflected his feelings.

  “You think there’s more to it than the official Council announcement.”

  “We’re here Henry. The Heroes are back. Of course there’s more to it. Is just that… remember Leonel Lucas? The crazy theorist on TV?”

  Henry nodded and chuckled. “The Theorists” was their favourite trashy TV show, and Leonel Lucas one of their favourite theorists. Total wacko.

  “Of course I do. Why?”

  “I asked John about him. He is his uncle, not some distant third-cousin or something, his father’s brother. And actually really smart. He’s read stuff so rare, books restricted from the Council. So I had this little thought. Leonel Lucas claims that Deities control our lives in ways we cannot imagine. That they guide people from the shadows, even your friends or family members. And that their ultimate purpose is war, with us as their soldiers. What if he is right? What if we are just pawns to an unseen game?”

  Every hair in Henry’s body stood straight and cold sweat dripped from his forehead.

  She knows. What you are up to, what you’ve been doing for all the years of your life.

  “Henry? Henry, wake up. What the hell?”

  Val shook him hard and Henry returned to reality once more.

  “Are you alright?”

  “I’m sorry, Valentine. The thought just overtook me for a second.”

  She smiled at him, and hugged him tightly. Even for ten seconds, Henry felt this warm feeling in his chest, one he thought he’d lost a long time ago.

  “It’s not like we’re going
to have a war tomorrow. It’s just a theory. Relax.”

  “I just hope, if Leonel Lucas is right and a war breaks out… I hope we’ll be able to change our fates Val. And win.”

  Val broke their hug, somewhat embarrassed. She looked towards the forest, her face red from excitement.

  “By the way, you never told me how you found me that night at the Tower.”

  Henry grinned.

  “Magic.”

  ***

  “Why are you crying, Valentine? Everything ended up well, and you are still alive. Are you not satisfied?”

  “Yes, of course, it’s just…”

  “Do you still feel guilty about the Green girl? You don’t have to. It was her decision.”

  The black-haired girl sat next to her, observing the increasingly cold wind and the, now scarce, flowers.

  The beginning of winter. Even in this field. Even in this dream.

  Val turned her head, wiping her tears with the back of her palm, and smiled at her companion. She felt better seeing the girl, warmer somehow.

  “Aren’t you cold? Summer is already gone by.”

  “I am used to it”, said the girl, and for the first time, she looked truly sad.

  Val hugged her tightly and the little one tried to get away, surprised.

  “It’s not easy to escape my arms, sweetheart.”

  The girl stopped fighting, crawling deeper in her hug instead.

  “Thank you for all the times you saved me. You are always taunting me, but you are actually a good person.”

  It was the girl’s turn to cry. Her tears were hot on Val’s shirt. They sat together for a while, until the sun had almost set.

  “I have to go, Valentine.”

  “Will you tell me your name, at least? Before you go?”

  “We will meet again, soon enough. But please, be careful. It’s not over. You have a long way ahead of you.”

  “I know. But I am not afraid. I have my friends. And you. And as long as you are here to guide me, everything will be alright.”

  ###

  I would like personally like to thank every single person who read this book, yes, including you, dear reader. The first book is already at an end, by I’ll make sure to finish the second one as soon as possible. Thanks for making my dream possible. See you soon.

 
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