Ven was startled by the flock of children staring at her with curious eyes. She didn't know how to react at first, but Marie saved her with a small laugh. She seemed to notice that Ven didn't know how to respond and she dispersed the children.
"Now, now, let the poor lady breathe. You'll have all the time in the world to play with her later."
Marie took hold of Ven's hand and guided her down the corridor. The corridor was quite broad, with wooden doors at regular intervals. Picture frames were lining the walls. The photographs in those frames depicted the children of the orphanage playing with Marie and Jared.
At the center point of the corridor was a flight of stairs leading to the ground floor. Ven followed Marie as she went through a large dining room. Ven could see a modest kitchen and a living room with quaint furniture, but Marie instead led her outside.
At first, Ven was blinded by the brightness of the Sun, but her eyes quickly adjusted to the blinding light. She saw that they were standing on a porch that led to a vast and empty plain. As far as her eyes could see, there was no other man-made building to be seen.
For a moment, Ven was taken aback by the unusual location of the orphanage. She would have expected such an establishment to be situated in the heart of the city, but it seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. Marie mistakenly interpreted her silence at amazement, and she revealed a proud smile.
"Quite beautiful isn't it? Jared and I built this with our own hands. We chose this place because it was so far away from the business and cruelty of the city. A lot of those children survived on the streets for far too long, and we wanted to give them an escape.
-That's, quite an admirable goal, said Ven with a bit of uncertainty in her voice. However, doesn't it get inconvenient?
-Well, that's true, said Marie with a laugh. We cultivate some produce ourselves, and we make a run to the supermarket in the city every once in a while to buy what we're missing.
-This place is fully independent, right?
-Indeed, one of our greatest pride is having been able to do this without being sponsored by the Order.
-In that case, how do you get the money to sustain so many children?"
At those words, Marie's expression clouded slightly as her eyes drifted to the horizon. She quickly restored her jovial expression and spoke in a lighthearted tone.
"Well, we manage somehow. Our priority is to allow children peace of mind and safety.
-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry into your affairs. Bad habits die hard.
-Don't mind it; I'm not offended."
For a while, the two women stood motionless, merely gazing over the green plain. However, Ven couldn't shake her doubt about the way the place was run. She was an intelligence operative, but her qualifications weren't needed to see that Marie was hiding something.
Ven knew that she wouldn't gain any information if she pushed her now, and she wasn't sure it was even worth knowing. They were only staying at the orphanage until Amon was well enough to leave. She didn't need to care about their problem.
Marie was the one to break the silence with her cheerful voice. "It's almost time for dinner, how about you help me prepare it?
-I don't have much experience with cooking. I'm afraid I won't be of any help.
-Don't worry about that; I'll show you the ropes. Plus, it'll be good for you to do something. You'll get better faster if you're active.
-Alright, if you say so, I can't refuse."
Marie led Ven inside with a bright smile. Ven was rather uncomfortable with how cheerful of an individual Marie was. Having spent so much time in the Ravens, the individual with whom she interacted were mostly the solemn type. The infiltration missions she had done were also mainly in the military, so there wasn't much cheer to be found there.
Nevertheless, she followed Marie to the small kitchen and stood in a corner awkwardly, waiting for instructions. Marie was amused by her demeanour and tasked her with peeling some potatoes. Ven gladly got to the task.
When they got to work, Marie chatted incessantly with Ven nodding and interjecting every once in a while. As time passed, Ven started to get used to the woman energetic personality. When the two had talked during her recovery, she had been much more restrained, probably not to tire her.
Once they were done with peeling and preparing a variety of produce, Marie started to teach the basics of cooking to Ven. The latter was a quick learner, and she absorbed the knowledge she was given like a sponge.
As they were preparing the meal, a few children ran to the kitchen and merely observed the two women while they worked. Marie seemed used to their presence and paid them no mind, but Ven was getting distracted. Children were far from her field of expertise, and she didn't know how to handle them.
After a little while, a young girl, not more than ten years old, approached Ven and spoke in a soft voice. "Pretty lady, will you play with us later?"
For a moment, Ven was stunned, and she nearly dropped the carrot she was holding in her hands. Marie stifled a laugh to the side. Ven hurriedly looked to Marie for support, but the latter gave her a look saying: "Deal with this yourself."
When she realized just how much she was panicking, Ven forcefully calmed herself down. She infiltrated the highest centers of power of the Order without flinching. She fought with her life on the line with her nerves under control, yet she was flustered by a child asking her to play.
When she finally calmed down, Ven showed a dazzling smile and rubbed the little girl's head. "Of course I'll play with you, but only after dinner."
Happiness overcame the girl's feature, and she and her friends ran out of the kitchen while laughing.
"I think she like you, said Marie while still suppressing her laughter.
-Not that I have any clue why that might be, said Ven with a smile.
-Maybe it's because you're so pretty.
-I doubt that's the case. What's the little girl's name?
-She's called Vivian, now that I think about it, you might remind her of her mother.
-What happened to her mother?"
As soon as she spoke, Ven realized she had made a mistake. She had forgotten that she was in an orphanage and that every child had their own sob story. Indeed, Marie's expression clouded over and she went silent for a little while, her hands still mechanically moving.
Just as Ven was about to apologize for her misstep, Marie started speaking in a low voice, most likely to avoid anyone else overhearing.
"Her mother died over five years ago when Vivian was just four years old. She was a quiet but pretty woman. Her husband had left when she was pregnant, and she was left to raise Vivian alone. The two were as close as can be.
At that time, Jared and I had already established the orphanage, and I was on friendly terms with Vivian's mother. She often used to come here for advice, or when she encountered a problem she couldn't solve.
The days were peaceful. At least, that was until the Ravens came to London seven years ago. At first, there were only a few skirmishes between the Order and the terrorists, but things quickly escalated. It wasn't long after that the Ravens started using public buildings as targets to draw out the Order. Their baits worked, perhaps even a little too well.
They continued to use that tactic for nearly two years. At first, there weren't any victims as they typically attacked at night, when the buildings were empty. However, due to the Order's interference, they were forced to vary their methods. That led them to place a bomb into a bank. Vivian's mother just so happened to be in that bank on that day.
Seventy people died that day, including the girl's mother. The Order was swift and efficient in their response, and they were able to diminish the Ravens' presence in the city significantly. However, it was too late for the victims. When I learned of the events, I quickly went to Vivian and took her in. She didn't have any other relatives, so she came to live here.
For a while, she was a wreck. She barely ate anything and spent every day holed up in her room. She was getting skinnier by the day. One day, I was finally able to get to her, and she started getting better from there.
It was a long and arduous process, but she finally recovered from her terrible loss. I think that's why she wants to get closer to you. I don't expect that you will play the role of her mother, after all, you're only here until your friend is well enough, but I hope you will treat her well while you're here."