Author's Note: I'm working on making each chapter shorter than the first. I promise…Please read and review!
Love and the Age of the Supervillain
The Magician and the Conquistador
Gru marveled at the great expanse of trees that stretched in every direction: New England elm that burst with reds, greens, and browns. The road cut through the forest for another mile in the direction of a large clearing.
"How old is this school?" he asked the driver.
"It used to be another school, but it got turned into the Academy around the early 1900s. The river was made by us, though." They drove over a stone bridge that crossed over a moat. Craning his neck, Gru saw the sparkling river snake around the whole campus. Soon the two were driving through the campus, and were surrounded by old buildings made of red brick.
He felt as if he were somewhere in 19th century England; the quaintness of the campus made him feel a little sick. "I didn't think the Academy would look so…cute."
The campus streets were paved with cobblestone and lined with gas lamps, the taxi bumping rhythmically against the rocks. "The school officials are super old, so they don't want to change the look of anything." The driver turned left on a narrow street and parked in front of a large domed building. "Okay, Mr. Gru, here's Balch Hall."
He looked out the window hesitantly. On the very top of the hall stood a rusted cross.
"Are you sure this is a dorm? It looks like a church."
"It used to be the entrance to underground catacombs. Quit bugging out and get out of the car." Gru quickly hopped out of the taxi with his luggage, a strong breeze batting against his scarf and slapping it in his face.
"Meet with the dorm guardian and get your key," the driver said, ignoring the assault Gru's scarf was executing on his head. "Then go to Essex Hall in about 30 minutes." Gru gave a thumbs up and blindly made his way through the dorm entrance.
His scarf lay innocently on his shoulders again as soon as he stepped inside of the main entrance. A tiny man sat behind a huge desk in the lobby; two male students stood in line in front of the man, who seemed to have difficulty finding a document in the huge explosion of papers on his desk.
"Come on gramps," one student growled. Gru saw one of the students was in full knight's armor, sword and all. The fluffy feather on his helmet was tickling the nose of the shorter guy behind him, who was dressed as a cat.
"Okay, Mr. Fredricks, Mr…Panther, here are your dorm room keys." The old man's wrinkled hands shook feverishly as he handed small envelopes to the two students. They rushed up the spiral staircase that rose far above the main lobby. The knight's monstrous feet clanked on each step.
"Uh, hi." Gru shuffled to the desk and smiled. "My name is Gru."
"No need to scream and shout," the old man said. "I am Mr. Fife and I will be your dorm guardian for the year. I am here to check in outside guests, as well as alert you if you have any calls." He pointed to a row of old rotary phones lining the wall behind him. "Also, if you need to make any calls, they can't be longer than ten minutes."
"Hoo-kay." Gru bounced on the balls of his feet, impatient.
"I mean it. I don't care if you have some girl back home you care about."
"Well, I don't have a girlfriend, so that's good news for you."
"I'm dead serious." Mr. Fife leaned forward and sized up Gru. "I don't care how long you've been dating, or if she's just dying to hear the sound of your voice. In my day, kids went out on dates when they wanted to talk for more than ten minutes. They also waited until marriage to have sex."
"Okay, um, this conversation is gee-ting kind of awkward, so I would like to end it now."
"Hmph." Mr. Fife went through a stack of papers and pulled out a small envelope. "Here is the key to your dorm room: 305. Your roommate is Mr. Nefario."
Gru scratched his chin. That name…
"Hurry up before you miss the first meeting of the year." Gru nodded, snatched the envelope, and started his journey up the stairs.
As much as he hated to admit it, the idea of living with another person irritated him deeply for the sole reason that he never had to share with anyone before. He hoped the guy wasn't too annoying.
By the time he reached the third floor, he was ready to collapse. His hall was surprisingly clean and modern compared to the rest of the building. The doors were all made of shiny oak and golden plaques were mounted on the fronts with room numbers etched into the gold.
"Three…oh…five." Gru felt anxiety wash over him as he saw that his room door was wide open. He peeked around the door pane.
A large bunk bed sat in one corner, the wood also made of thick oak. Two wooden desks sat opposite each other, one already decorated with…playing cards…and a bunny? Even weirder, the bunny was sitting next to a handle of vodka.
Gru yelled and jumped around. In front of him stood a thin, auburn-haired guy with a black cloak wrapped around his shoulders. He came up only to Gru's chin, but stood with an air of confidence. Dark, round sunglasses bounced on the bridge of his nose as he tapped his foot impatiently.
"Did I scare you? I do that to people." Gru was amused by his Liverpool accent and knew forever when he heard Danny speak, he would think of John Lennon. Gru shook his hand generously, still weirded out by the cape.
"The name's Danny. But soon I'm going to be The Illusionist. Check it." He waved his hands elaborately in front of Gru's face. Gru scrunched his nose as the intrusion into his personal space, but his eyes widened when he saw something small appear out of thin air within Danny's palm.
"What is that?"
"A joint. Want some?"
Gru blinked. "Aren't we supposed to be somewhere?"
"Yeah, the first meeting of the year. But cool your jets." He placed his hand on Gru's shoulder, which surprisingly calmed him. His roommate was most definitely tripping out on something, but his smooth demeanor was oddly comforting.
Gru put his suitcases next to the bunk bed and sat down. "You're going to get blazed before we're supposed to go?"
"Hmm." Danny looked down at the blunt regretfully, lighter already afire near the tip. "That probably isn't the best idea, is it?" He put the lighter back on his desk and dramatically slammed his hands flat onto its surface. "Good watching out. We party later."
Gru and Danny walked in a large crowd of awkward-looking freshmen toward Essex Hall, a looming building in the distance that resembled a statehouse.
"Danny, I noticed that you last name is Nefario. Are you by any chance related to the infamous Dr. Nefario?"
"I am." Danny grinned and rest both his hands behind his neck. "Dude's my uncle."
Gru felt his inner child squeal. "He shows up in the papers all of the time as the most infamous villain scientist."
"Yea. I'm truckin' on, keeping the family tradition alive." Danny smirked, but fell silent once he glimpsed over Gru's shoulder. He raised his sunglasses from his face and whistled. "Whoa."
"Huh?" Gru looked to his left and saw a girl with shimmering black hair tied into a hair knot. A tiny lily sat inside the bun, waving delicately in cadence with her walk. Casually she looked over at Gru. She looked ahead again. She did a quick double take, squint her eyes, and then sped up her trot.
"Watch this," Danny said, creeping up on the girl. He cleared his throat and tapped her on the shoulder. "Excuse me miss, but I don't believe we've ever met."
She spun around and frowned at him. "Buzz off."
"I'm not sure if you're familiar with The Illusionist, but I'm going to be the next big thing in crime. And honey, I think this magician's got something of yours you're missing."
"Oh, really? And what would that be?"
Danny reached into his jacket and pulled out a lacy bra. "Looking for this?"
She grabbed her chest and gasped. "How did you do that?"
He took her hand and kissed it. "My friends call me Danny. My lovers call me Daniel."
Mouth hanging open, the girl gently grasped Danny's hovering hand. "I'm Jun. Jun Yi. This—this is my roommate Illia." She weakly pointed her thumb behind her shoulder. The girl behind her waved, but Danny's eyes stayed glued to Jun's.
"You both look radiant today. But alas, I have to continue acquainting myself with my roommate before this meeting." He magicked a slip of paper out of thin air and handed it to Jun. "This is my business card. I expect to see you in my room soon."
"Uh, yeah," Jun mumbled. "Nice to meet you, Daniel." She blushed, grabbed her roommate's hand, and scurried off deeper into the crowd.
Gru's mouth hung open. "How did you—what just happened—huh?"
"I've got a magic touch with the ladies. No biggie. Anyway…What's your story?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know anything about you, Mr. Tall, dark and mysterious. You don't seem to talk a lot."
"I don't think it's necessary," Gru said.
"Yeah well, how'd you end up here?" Both the students became distracted by a hulking guy in front of them carrying a huge mace.
"Well…" Gru clasped his hands behind his back, looking incredibly contemplative. "I wanted to see if I could catch on to this whole villain thing." He brought his thumb and forefinger together in front of his face. "There's something about it that I feel good about. I was going to do something else, but, eh…"
"Were you going to be a doctor? Maybe a scientist? Engineer or something?"
Gru perked up. "Something like that. How did you—?"
"Everyone here is a huge nerd, Gru, whether it be love for the sciences or something geeky like being obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons." They watched a skinny, pale kid run in front of them wearing a wizard's robe and waving a staff. "Or, you know, you're just a plain freak."
"I am not a freak," Gru said with a deep-set frown.
"We've all got a little freak inside of us, if you know what I mean," Danny said, nudging Gru. "But anyway, I'm not surprised you're here. Usually smart kids don't fit in anywhere else, and next thing you know you're robbing a candy store for all its Twinkies with a machine gun and a can of pepper spray."
Gru raised a brow. "Really."
"Yup. That's when I knew villainy was my calling. Intelligence, family issues, and a lot of time on your hands can really screw you up." Danny shrugged. "But it all pays off because we get to end up as supervillains."
"Come on, move it along," said school official prodding passing students with a stick. Darkness and cool air washed over Gru as he stepped inside the building.
"Whoa…" He looked up at the massive auditorium and its hundreds of seats. The ceiling above was huge and vaulted; elaborate paintings of angels and demons graced the cement surface. Gru almost ran into several students while finding a seat next to his roommate.
He looked toward the massive stage and nearly went blind as a bright spotlight shone on a tall man. He rubbed the end of his long moustache and rested his weight on an elegant cane in his opposite hand. The man was in full conquistador get-up, a fluffy Spanish hat on his head and equally fluffy maroon pants on his waist. Gru noted that his ruffled blouse was amazingly pristine.
"I feel like I'm at a Halloween party," Gru whispered to Danny.
"Welcome, students!" The conquistador held his hands over the crowd to quell their chattering. "I am Dean Philips and I welcome you to the Academy of Villainy and other Diabolical Arts!" The crowd cheered and whistled. Dean Phillips bowed. "I know you are all excited to start your first day of class, but now is the time to focus." A few loud retorts echoed through the crowd followed by laughter.
Phillips raised his large arms forward and clapped his hands together, a giant gust of wind rolling over the audience. "SILENCE!"
The freshmen immediately fell silent. One guy fainted in the second row.
"The first thing I want to say is that this institution will change your life forever…if you want it to. You have a lot of difficulties to overcome before you are a true villain."
Oh God, the stereotypical school speech where the dean tells the students the importance of education and how they would have to overcome hurdles to reach their goal. Gru sat through high school graduation and wanted to kill himself then.
"For the class of 1984, there will only be thirty graduates."
Wait, what? Gru frowned and looked around at his peers. There had to be—
"There are currently 500 of you here today. During each and every day during your stay at the academy, our institution will test your prowess as a villain as you grow. All of your professors will see how much you value your strength, your sanity, and your life. If you succeed, you will find yourself graduating and being one of the world's top villains. All other 470 students will find themselves failing."
A girl sitting next to Gru leaned over and whispered, "Is this guy for real?"
"If you are one of the students that will fail, you may find yourself getting shot, maimed, set on fire, or killed by our own staff." A collective gasp. Phillips held up his hand. "Or even worse—in the middle of a jail cell."
Phillips walked the span of the stage, huge hands now on his hips. "I will not sugarcoat anything. In order for our institution to survive, we cannot harbor any fugitives. If you are on a mission a professor assigned to you and the police come here to find you, we cannot protect you."
Several people in the audience yelled. One person yelled, "That's bullshit!"
"It is. But!" Phillips faced the crowd again, smiling. "Our professors will accompany you on many of your first missions and will protect you from law enforcement you encounter the best they can. Remember—our institution has no intention of destroying you, but training you. We will teach you how to not get caught, and those that excel never will be."
Gru felt hot in his sweater. What have I gotten myself into?
"Some of you I'm sure are thinking about withdrawing from the program as soon as this meeting is over. Those of you will never become real villains." Phillips flipped his feather out of his face. "But for those of you who will stay, please go to your left and register for your classes in alphabetical order. I wish you luck and safety in your first year."
And with that, Phillips disappeared behind the heavy stage curtain. Students mumbled and made quick exits; a large mass made their way to the side of the auditorium lined with long tables. Hesitant, Gru followed the crowd to the registrar's table.
He stood in line for a few minutes before taking a sweeping glance of the "characters" in front of him: a few young guys were stroking nefarious-looking curly beards. Some students even had hand-made guns while standing in line, only to have them confiscated once they reached the registrar.
"Come on, keep on moving. Yes, you right there, put that ray gun into the box." Soon Gru was looking into the face of a heavyset woman going through a giant stack of papers. "You know the rules: all weapons are to be registered or made on the campus labs."
"I don't have any weapons on me." Gru held up both hands.
"Good." The woman grinned. "There a lot of rich kids who come to this school with ready-made arsenal. What's your last name?"
"Gru, Gru…" She went through a stack of envelopes and pulled one. "Mr. Gru, Here is your registration packet. Good luck." She handed him the large envelope and shooed him out of the line.
He opened the envelope and was greeted with the header Freshman Orientation Packet. He wandered off to a seat in the auditorium where it was less noisy and opened a pamphlet. He skimmed over the monster paragraphs until he got to the second page:
Freshmen are required to take five mandatory courses that span both semesters. They must choose two elective courses, both which will also span both semesters.
Gru smirked at some of the course descriptions, feeling significantly less-terrified about his recent scholastic choice.
The History of War and Villains – Professor Tzu: It is important for all students to have historical knowledge of villains and criminals, as well as the educational background to distinguish between the two. A world history course with a villain theory perspective.
Becoming a Villainous Architect: The Basics of Being Despicable – Professor Johansson: How does a villain construct a devious plan? What are several pitfalls that a villain encounters when plotting? How does a villain interact with civilians as to not blow his or her cover? And perhaps most importantly, how does a villain choose allies? This course is the base all other freshman courses are built upon. Those that excel in the class have an advantage in being considered for graduation.
Gru's eyes widened at the last sentence. And the name Johansson…He skimmed the rest of the mandatory courses catalogue and chuckled. "Basic Combat and Kung-Fu…General Chemistry and Bomb Building with Lab…Spying 101..." He checked the boxes beside the courses. Hopefully the classes wouldn't be as ridiculous as they sounded on paper.
He flipped the page and glanced at the electives. There were over a dozen foreign language courses and a memory suddenly flashed before him:
"Look, mom!" Gru yelled while running across the lawn. He waved a large news journal with the acronym NASA printed across it. "Guess what!"
"Did you get your drawers twisted up again?" Gru's mom crooned.
Gru frowned. "No. I read in this book that NASA likes to recruit astronauts that are multilingual!" Prideful, he puffed out his chest.
She scoffed. "You know Polish and English. Not very impressive."
"I learned some Russian before we moved!"
"Eh, barely." She went back to her knitting.
Automatically, he wrote down Russian I as his first elective. He bit his lip hard out of frustration and put down Spanish I as his second elective. Feeling his childhood pride swell inside of his chest again, he got back in line to give his schedule to the registrar.