New Guard

Date Night
Welcome to Pasta Palace!

“I’m glad we finally were able to get together. You know, when we aren’t falling to earth on a satellite…” Brian fidgeted with his napkin, laying the heavy cloth over his lap. He glanced around the restaurant, noting the faux Italian decorations on the walls of the mid-level establishment that swore that when you were there they would treat you like friends and such.

“Yes, it’s easier than texting, that’s for sure.” Olivia pushed her glasses up on her nose, studying her menu. “So, did you want to work on something together, or….?”

Brian stammered a response while staring at his hands. “Well, no, see… I… I wanted to get together… uh, to get to know each other more… “

Olivia stared at Brian, perplexed. Realization dawned on her face. “Oh! Oh, no, I meant… I meant split an appetizer, not like… science work.”

Brian covered his eyes with one hand. “Yes, sorry, yes, an appetizer would be great. I’m sorry, I’m… not very good at this. Quantum phase calculations are easy, but dating… “

“It’s okay, I’m… not great at this either. But I’m glad you asked me to dinner. It had been a while, and I was wondering.”

“I’m sorry. Things have been…. Hectic.”

Olivia glanced up over the basket of breadsticks. “School hectic or superhero hectic?”

“Both. Mostly superhero hectic. There’s a lot of people with bad intentions out there, and they’re hurting people. If I’m not in alternate realities then I’m fighting in interstellar arenas or investigating people who are using other people for their conspiracies. It gets… intense.”

Olivia tapped a finger on the table, picked up a breadstick and broke it in two, chewing on one section. “So… logically speaking, why do it? You’re intelligent, you could get into almost any school. You could just be an engineer somewhere. Why put on a suit and fly around doing all this?

Brian thought for a moment. “I don’t know why some of my friends do it. For some of them, I think it’s the only choice they have. For me… I may be the only person that I know that can actually calculate the number of people I’ve saved as I’m saving them. I know exactly how many people defusing a bomb at a science expo or preventing a satellite from crashing into London saves. And someone else might step up and stop those things, but what if they didn’t? I could never live with myself, knowing that I had the responsibility and the power to save people, if I wasn’t at least trying.”

“… good answer. So, mozzarella sticks to start?”

“Sounds great!”

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Fear's Spiral

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You:
ok but seriously, like, are these suitcases ever going to disappear???
11/22/2018, 10:13PM

SCHISM (Simone Now):
Hah! Have you actually tried asking Deaglan about it? It IS his magic after all…
11/22/2018, 11:28PM

You:
Psh c’monnn. Way better to just complain to you about it. Alright. I should sleep—LAME. Not gonna lie, I’m kinda DREADING tomorrow. Like, ugh, I am trying not to be a total dick to mom about Devin and the wedding, but he’s just so. . . UGH. You know??

You excited to see your grandmother? I think it will be awesome to meet her. She sounds like a total badass!
11/23/2018, 12:02AM

SCHISM (Simone Now):
Yeah. It’s been a while since I got to talk to my family. And yours really isn’t so bad, you know. Devin does his best. And your mom was really nice!

Goodnight, Bobby.
11/23/2018, 12:09AM

You:
Hey, Simone? Look, I know you’re not, like, OKAY, but can you please let me know that you’re alright somewhere? You disappeared and we’re all worried after. . . just. . . please let me know, ok?
11/23/2018, 01:29PM

You:
Ugh, crap, I’ve gotta leave school for a while. I’m really sorry, but I’m stuck going out for lunch w/ mom and Devin, but please, when you get back, message me, ok?
11/23/2018, 01:52PM

You:
We’re at that vegan meatball shop over on Moore out by Freedom College. If you want to talk, you could meet us there. I think you and me could get away for a bit. Just let me know how things are.
11/23/2018, 02:26PM

You:
Heh, ok, so, Devin has literally been talking for like TWENTY MINUTES about the super fancy harvester thing they use for the soybeans in these “meatballs” and how it kills like 98% less insects than, um, however you normally get soybeans. Even mom looks boreddddd
11/23/2018, 02:38PM

You:
Ugh, sorry, I’m sure you don’t want to hear about that stuff. I just. Like. Ugh crap we’re leaving sec
11/23/2018, 03:14PM

You:
I’m just really worried. That was insanely crazyscary on your homeworld, Simone. And, I dunno. I just thought maybe reading something funny would. . . I’m sorry. That was dumb.
11/23/2018, 03:18PM

SCHISM (Simone Now):
Hey, I need some time alone to figure out what can be done about this. I’ll let you know when I have, ok? You don’t need to worry.
11/23/2018, 03:24PM

You:
Ok no problem seriously. That makes complete sense. I’ll be around, tho.

And. . . full disclosure, alright? That crazy brainlink thing with Cybersoul, right? I didn’t realize what they were doing back there, but. . . they told me afterward. I’m super freaked out right now. I know you’ve gotta be, too. Just please let me know if you’re alright out there. Please, please, please don’t get yourself hurt.
11/23/2018, 03:28PM

You:
I know you’re super strong. Seriously. Like, one of the strongest people I know. Superheroes or otherwise. And you literally just said not to worry. But that stuff back there was on a whole nother level. I know you said things were bad there, but OMG
11/23/2018, 04:55PM

You:
Ugh, sorry, I know saying that doesn’t help. It probably just makes YOU more worried. UGH. I am being such an idiot. You said you’d let me know when you could talk. Till then, I’ll shut up, ok? Just. . . please, when you can, let me know what’s up, ok?
11/23/2018, 04:57PM

You:
So I’m really bad about shutting up, but like, seriously, if there is ANYTHING I can do to help you and your family out, please let me know. You’ve helped me out so many times, Simone. I just want to be that good of a friend back. Ok. No more messaging now. Shutting up. Promise. For real.
11/23/2018, 05:09PM

You:
Hey again. I’m sorry. I know, I know. My parents finally left. They said I sounded like I was really upset about something. Shadow knew something was up with me, too. I didn’t tell her about what’s going on with you. I figure you probably don’t want everyone all up in your business. But. . . people are gonna get worried about you being gone, especially with the PT stuff ending.

I AM really upset, because I’m really scared Simone. Sorry. I just had to say that. You’re my friend, and today was insane.
11/23/2018, 09:07PM

You:
I wasn’t trying to, like, tell you what to do before. Just saying. A LOT of people here care about you, a LOT. I know you need some time to clear your head. But we all want to help, too.
11/23/2018, 09:15PM

You:
So, thinking about it, I get that you’re probably upset with me, too. I was basically like completely useless earlier today on your world. At least Sorrel was managing to talk them down; I was just sitting there like a gigantic idiot. I’m super, super sorry, Simone. I just made all of this even worse.
11/23/2018, 09:30PM

You:
I really meant what I said before, though. ANYTHING I can do to help you and your family out, I will. Want to make this right. Ok. Shutting up again. I have got to be driving you crazy with all the texts.
11/23/2018, 10:01PM

You:
Just in case, like, your phone is messed up, I did send you an email, tho. I don’t actually know WHY I’m texting you this, since, like, if you can’t see texts, you’re not gonna see this either??
11/23/2018, 11:24PM

You:
Hey look Im like falling asleep on the couch in the dorm lobby, but I’ve got my phone on like MAX. pleaes, If you get back send me a massage, k?
11/24/2018, 01:13AM

You:
hey i thought my phone just buzzed did you call??
11/24/2018, 03:58AM

You:
Ugh. I think all of that stuff above definitely just made things worse. Look, just. . . just please delete all that junk, ok? When you’re ready to talk, I’m here, though. Seriously.

Cuz, thing is, I KNOW you’re tough. You’re gonna be fine. I just know it. But. . . you’re just, you know, maybe not up for talking, yet. Which is literally what you said in your message yesterday. I’m sorry for being so impatient with you, Simone. I think that was probably, ugh, super selfish.

So I really will be quiet this time. I’ll talk when YOU ask me to. And if you don’t want me to at all. . . that’s okay, too. Whatever you need.

Good luck out there, Schism. You got this. <fistemoji>
11/24/2018, 09:40AM

SCHISM (Simone Now):
They’re all deleted, like you asked. I did read them, though, even if I couldn’t answer. They helped, btw
12/01/2018, 04:25PM

You:
Oh, uh, I didn’t realize you’d read. . . I mean, that’s fine. And I’m glad they helped. Sorry, I was just. . . you know, let’s just talk later. But I’m glad it helped. I owed you one. Or twelve. . . yeah. I’m really glad you’re here.
12/01/2018, 04:28PM
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A Walk to Dinner
Tocatta and Prelude

Thad walked down the front steps of the school to the car that was waiting for him. His parents wanted to have dinner with him, and he wasn’t entirely sure how he felt.

It had been the entire semester since they had spoken, and his parting words to them had not been kind. He remembered the argument, he’d been furious. His parents were going to send him away from his school, his friends, and drop into this place and not talk to him or support him for “a while.”

He got into the car; a nice simple, practical sedan made by Rolls Royce.

To be fair them most of that didn’t bother him. He’d been a lifetime loner, more comfortable in the woods than with the superficial rich kid world of his school and his friends. He’d been on his own before, an “independent study” project where he hiked the John Miur trail for months. And frankly most of his friends back home didn’t want much to do with him after the curse. He was so different from who they had known. He was mad because he didn’t want to have to start over. He didn’t want to have to do this. It was unfair. Even if it was what he wished for, kind of.

He got out of the car in front of a skyscraper and walked towards the door.

The curse hadn’t really changed him as much as he liked to blame it for all his problems. He’d been headed that way anyway. He felt trapped by the superficial world he lived in. His love of the outdoors only made it seem less real. He’d been looking for an answer and he’d found it. It was because he was “alpha” and he was surrounded by betas. He’d decided the issue was that he was trying to act like them, boring, superficial, and resting on their parent’s money. He didn’t want to be that. He wanted to achieve something, to be something, to respect himself on his own merits.

He walked through the lobby of the building. A marriage of high-tech features and old-world design.

But that desire had turned poisonous. He’d had to be better than all the fake people around him. He’d had to dominate them. He got involved in sports to prove it. Thad shook his head to himself at his own foolishness. The curse hadn’t made him do any of that; he did it to himself. The curse only made a comfortable solitude feel like exile. Until he came to Claremont.

He stepped on to a private elevator, heading for the top floor of the tower.

He’d never needed other people before. Maybe that’s what the curse had really changed in him. He wanted friends, close friends, since he had been cursed. Friends had been hard for him before, but Claremont was making it easy. Maybe his parents had sent him to the right place after all. He was so sure they had shortchanged him by sending him to Claremont over Elysium but meeting the Elysium students had turned that belief on its head. He was in the right place, he had new friends, and he even had a lead on a date to the winter formal. Hopefully cats and dogs could get along after all.

He stepped off the elevator…

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Master and Friends
Talking about Important Names

Sorrel stepped back into his dorm room with a thunk. This trip seemed a little longer and faster than trips to his own home. He quickly, almost panicked, checked his phone for the photos he took before letting out a long sigh of relief. He opened his messaging app. “Aaron. You had mentioned that you were planning to go speak with your mentor. Hopefully I haven’t missed you. Not sure how long I’ve been gone yet. Smartphones still don’t handle temporal anomalies particularly well. I need to go with you to see him. I have more info on what I am looking for.”

Aaron’s in his room also, leisurely reading a modern translation of the Lesser Key of Solomon when his phone buzzes. He fires back his response, “Normally, he comes here when I call him. This sounds big, should I call him?" Guessing at the answer already, he bookmarks the page he was on, scribbles some notes into a notebook, and tosses the books over to his bed, clearing his desk. While they’re still in midair, the phone goes off again twice in rapid succession.

“I honestly don’t know where the best place to talk would be. Maybe your “space”? I am a little concerned about taking anyone to mine until I have more information."
“And with the subject matter, I don’t want to involve the school until I have more than a few mysterious sounding names”

Aaron’s heart jumps into his throat. “Sounds serious…” he muses to no one in particular, opening the bottom drawer on his desk and moving various items onto the desktop. His response reflects his change in mood: “Head on over. I’ll start setting up the Sending and it should be ready when you get here. Door’s open, don’t knock, and lock it when you come in.” A thick, dusty book emerges from under his bed and floats over to the desk, opening itself to a familiar page.

Sorrel grabs his overcoat and changes into more snow-appropriate footwear. He slings his bag across his shoulder, sends a quick “OMW”, and steps out into the hall, leaving his door standing open as he breaks into a jog down the hallway. He slows to a walk, entering the hallway where Aaron’s room is. As he approaches the door, he takes a calm look to see who might be nearby and if they are paying any attention. He opens the door quietly and steps inside before gingerly closing it and turning the deadbolt. It slides home with a satisfying thunk.

Aaron adjust the angle of a mirror and starts to greet his friend, turning around halfway through. “Hey Sorrell, what’s …. whoa dude, you’re a shade of white I’m not used to seeing, even in winter here. What’s going on?” He spins the chair around, hands on his knees. “I 100% believe that you want to get Maarten here, but what should I tell him to indicate the gravity of the situation? Sendings are theoretically secure, but there are some things you just don’t say out loud, you know?”

Sorrell doesn’t speak, which is just weird. He’s swiping through something on his phone, then turns it to face Aaron. Aaron takes it, looking at a photo of some sort of book. It reads:

I have been moving forward on my plan. The Elder Ones, the Neverborn, cannot be trusted. There is a reason the Modrossus oppose them. However, if I am to save these worlds, than I will need their strength. The Hunter has guided me to That Which Grasps. I have managed to devise a ritual to call forth its power but not its mind into the worlds within my care. It will latch hold to everything from the smallest pebble to the highest star. Much will be destroyed in the process, but that which survives will possess an armor that rivals the Throne.

Sorrell stood, looking anxious for Aaron to finish the passage. "I don’t know how to phrase that in a way that doesn’t include “some thing you don’t say out loud”, but that’s some heavy stuff and I need to know more." Aaron barely heard his friend, as some of the Names and their import were flashing through his mind. The Modrossus are beings called upon in advanced spellcasting, mainly dealing with protection and guiding influence. The Neverborn are much more concerning; Maarten has mentioned them once or twice and always refused to give Aaron anything more than a warning about them.

Aaron hits the button to turn the screen off, then delicately puts the phone down on the corner of the desk toward Sorrell. “So I see. I’ve got the Sending prepared, let me do my thing.” He spins the chair back around before glancing back with a grin. “Set a stopwatch when the glowing stops, I’m curious.” Sorrel grabs his phone, taps it a few times, then nods. A ladies’ dressing mirror sits on the desk, and the spellbook sits propped nearby. Aaron glances to it, then closes his eyes, locks his fingers into a gesture that looks mystical and painful, then says a few words. Condensation appears on the mirror, blurring the background and leaving only his head and shoulders visible. Opening his eyes, he speaks: “Master Maarten, your humble student wishes to speak to you in person at your earliest convenience. A fellow student here at the Academy has run across some names in a book that are forbidden for me to research on my own, but may be related to the current situation here. I eagerly await your response.” Relaxing his hands, he smears the fog on the mirror, ending the spell. “OK, start.”

There is a loud report from outside, somewhere close but near the street, like a pickup truck backfiring. Muffled curses follow, then the sound of a heavy boot kicking a tire. Aaron’s eyes go wide. “How long?” If Sorrell responded, he couldn’t tell, as the pair only heard “Blasted machine!” coming from a crotchety old man with an Appalachian twang. Aaron looks momentarily confused, like there’s something new, but altogether familiar in the voice. Before he can comment, footsteps punctuated by the tapping of a staff approach his door. No, wait…neither of them hear the door open or unlock, but an older man (probably 50ish, so like ancient) is standing in the room with them. He rubs his greying whiskers, then tucks his free thumb into the strap of his overalls. “Hey there, pupil o’ mine. Got any tea?”

“Of course Master, it would be ill-advised to extend an invitation without being ready to host. May I introduce Sorrell Suffolk, the fellow student I mentioned.” Aaron says, gesturing to Sorrell. “Hot, cold, iced, what’s your flavor today?” Sorrell stands and extends a hand. “It is an honor to meet you, Sir."

“Whelp, I’ll take something hot. Got to warm these old bones.” He looks at Sorrel and pauses. It only lasts a moment, but it can be felt almost palpably. He gathers his smile on his face again, and thrusts a hand out to firmly shake the boy’s. “Sorrel, good to meetcha. I’m glad lil’ Aaron here is making friends. The kid can be scary studious sometimes.”

“He is right here. And that can be an asset in places like this. However, yes, he has made a mighty many friends here at Claremont.” The pleasantries move into the background of Aaron’s mind as he moves into the center of the room. Three is a crowd in here, so there’s barely any room to kick aside the $10 area rug, revealing a circle of metal laid into the floor. With more words and gestures, the circle glows slightly green, the air inside wavy as if the floor were soaked in gasoline. “Tea and conversation is this way, gentlemen. It’s probably safest to talk in here."

“…and quite the host as well.” Sorrell finishes. One by one, they step through the portal into a cozy, solidly built room with walls of stone and comfortable light coming from everywhere and nowhere. An umbrella stand full of staves, walking sticks, and other long straight pieces of wood stands next to a coat rack half full of capes and cloaks. Aaron opens one of two doors and ushers them into a larger room. Lighting clicks on row by row, illuminating a large workshop. “I’ve got the tea, knock whatever’s on the long table out of the way and pull up a stool.”

Sorrell clears the table while Aaron pours out three mugs of tea. “I don’t believe I caught you name, good Sir. What shall I call you?" Maarten is walking slowly around before stopping at the cleared-off table in front of a steaming mug. He taps his staff on the ground causing a slow rolling echo, then thumps the mug. "Not bad, Aaron, not bad at all. I’m a little concerned about heliogeometric patterns being used in a terrestrial sphere. But, this is better than I was doing at your age. Oh, and you can call me Maarten.”

“Well sir, the geomantic anchor is going to go away next year when I graduate, so I only put enough effort into it to make it sturdy until then. Still, it works for now.” Not to mention that the real sacred geometry is behind that giant vault door that everyone failed to notice. “So, Sorrell, take it away.” Aaron sips his tea from a mug that says “A Wizard Did It”.

“Well met, Maarten. My friend and your apprentice here has brought us together because I have recently discovered some things that may not be immediately pertaining to the situation that Claremont faces, but may well be of import on a greater scale. You see, I have learned that it is suspected that Omega may be planning a return to our fair planet. It may be some time before that particular event comes to pass, but it is likely to not go as well as the last time. And the last time didn’t go THAT well, all things considered. In this discovery, I also came across reference to a number of possibly related entities, and each of their names sounded more mysterious and dangerous than the last.”

Maarten eyes the two teens. “Oh my, we’re really swinging for the fences this time. What are these entities?”

Aaron starts, “The Modrossus and the Neverborn were the names I recognized, but there are more listed.” Sorrell continues. "Aside from those two, there was also “The Hunter”, “The Throne”, and, most ominous, “That Which Grasps”. Now I am sure that some of those may be a bit startling as this is likely we’ll above anything we have dealt with. And though I understand just how much of an understatement that is, I also recognize that if Omega is returning, then we need to start working toward understanding these entities roles in this now rather than waiting around and possibly being late to the party to save the world." After a sip of tea, Sorrell wonders aloud, “Maarten”… “Maarten”… Is that Dutch?"

Maarten continues silently regarding Aaron and Sorrell. He’s smiling, but it looks like a mask he’s wearing, unnatural. Where he was relaxed, he’s tense now, ready to act if need be. The tension hangs for a beat, then he looks down at his mug and lazily stirs it. “Hey boys, this is really important. Can you tell me how you got those names, exactly? Did you do any reading?” It’s more than just tension in the air, Aaron realizes, feeling the momentary surge and ebb of magic. Maarten may be hiding his casting, or it may already be over; it was too quick and skillful to tell. Aaron raises a single eyebrow, barely, just enough to say I saw that.

Sorrell, unfazed, answers. “Not in the book that I suspect you are thinking of, no. I came by this knowledge from someone close to me who has gone missing and I worry that their absence and this information are related in some way. I learned of that other book as well, but have not seen it’s writings in any way.”

Maarten, seemingly satisfied, leans against the wall. “On the Winding Way, if you know how to look, you can see a shining beacon. Some say it’s the Throne of Heaven, the seat of the Allfather, the Wall of Gaia. Either way, it’s a source of life and hope in these worlds. One of the great enemies, Omega, wants to breach those walls. Should his black hands seize the source of power found within there, it will spell the end of all things. As to the Hunter, and That Which Grasps, they are known as The Neverborn. They’re a loose affiliation of predatory entities. Many of them have been sealed away by some of the higher beings. But still, they hunger. The Hunter has also been called The Watcher in the Web, and the Weaver of Shadows and Lies. It takes many forms, but the most common is the spider. It’s eaten many worlds, and is seeking a way into this one. Its cultists, the Eightfold Web, killed a great many Sons of Merlin, and destroyed all evidence of themselves. You need to be careful when researching these beings. Many of the books that detail them are traps for unwary minds.”

If those Names meant anything to Sorrell, his demeanor didn’t betray it. “Well that is all rather more dire than I had hoped.” He diverts his gaze to his mug, “So if any of these entities we’re to be allowed, event in small part, out of whatever prison they currently reside in, that spells the end of this world, right?”

Maarten had made his way around to stand beside Sorrell, clapping his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Son, a great many things are dire and terrifying. But, that doesn’t mean we need to despair. There are always people fighting the fight, and as long as that happens, good can win. As to the prison, they are all around us, unable to really see or touch, but they’re there, in the true dark. I wouldn’t trust bringing anything in. It’s less a slippery slope as a slippery pit.”

Aaron watches as the two speak. “Don’t take my concern for despair, Sir.” Sorrell sips his tea and raises his head. “And if we could control our descent? Are these beings powerful enough to protect this world against Omega when he returns? And don’t take my interest for intent, either.” Maarten leans back and looks Sorrell over. Aaron recognized that some folksy wisdom that might not make sense at the time was coming. “Well, having a bear is certainly a guard against bandits, but, I wouldn’t want to sleep there, and, eventually those bandits will get some good guns. Now, I haven’t looked into it that closely myself, obviously.”

“Well I haven’t either. I know tenfold more now than I knew when you stepped through Aaron’s door. Have you looked into any other possibly route to dealing with Omega’s inevitable return? As you said, there are a great many dark and terrible things that exist, but I only know if one that is certainly intent on destroying the world as we know it. I’ve seen what happens when The Terminus Invasion succeeds.” Sorrell pauses. “Most of the Dutch settlements we’re in the Northeast, I thought. So how does a man of your age have an accent more of Appalachia than New England?”

“Whelp, I’ve been around a great many places and done a great many things. Along the way, I’ve picked up some idiosyncrasies that I wouldn’t worry about. As to Omega invading again, we’ve set up our wards and our protections. And we’ll keep doing that. You’re going to school boys, that’s step one of any big fight. You need to learn things. As to Omega, I’m not as concerned. He’s lost before, and he can lose again. There are a great many threats to keep an eye on, I’m not going to lose my sleep trying to keep up with every one. Then, you lose all the flavor that this world has to offer. Let’s focus on the here and now, while preparing ourselves for what might come ahead. Now, if that’s all, I’ve got to take a leak.”

“Well, some of us have more time than others to ruminate on the future. Not everyone has that luxury, Maarten. If you aren’t willing to help, then hopefully someone else in all of the infinities will be. Take care, old friend. And always, thank you for your hospitality, Aaron.” Sorrell stands and leaves the way he came in. That was…final.

Aaron looks around for Maarten, but he’s gone too. He raises the voice to the echoes of the empty room, “Can one of you lock my room door on your way out?” He spins idly on the stool, coming to rest leaning back on the table and staring at a wall of sliding chalkboards like he saw in a lecture hall once. Closing his eyes, he picks up a scrap of chalk from the table and hurls it toward the wall, deciding to work on whatever project plan he hits to unwind his mind. At the sound of impact, he opens his eyes to find the mark. “Huh, 24 Karat Magic. Well, it never hurts to get started early.”

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Home Sweet Home

For the first time in my life, it felt odd being Home.

It had been a fair bit easier to get here than I anticipated, as I normally had my father with me for the trip. The smell of sandalwood was familiar, though, and made me feel a bit of peace as I stepped between the old, dark wood furniture and marble statues. As always, fine webbing clung to the walls, but not a speck of dust was to be found.

I walked through the grand foyer to the receiving hall and waited a moment, listening for any indication of my father. Only heard the shuffling of the staff nearby, though. That is when it started to really feel odd. He had always greeted me when I arrived. I wish I had taken the time to talk more when i saw him in the mirror, but Alea was in trouble. I had to do whatever I could to help her. I thought the rest could wait, but now he’s gone. Nowhere to be found where I have always been able to find him before. That is when I started to feel loneliness, true loneliness, for the first time.

I continued on, through the great hall and the formal dining room, and up the staircase. The hallways stood ahead of me, the trees growing in the alcoves looked as healthy as ever. The door to father’s study stood out from it all, bright red against the deep browns and faded green around it.

When I touched the doorknob, it felt oddly cold, like it was warning me of something terrifying that lay within. This was too important, though. I prepared myself for what might be within, but when I opened the door I found nothing unusual. Just a normal room that looked like it had every other time I had seen it. I stepped in and glanced about at the seemingly endless shelves of books that contained what must be one of the greatest collections of ancient knowledge in existence, most written by my father’s hand. The door quietly closed itself behind me.

After a few hours of gathering the tomes and quickly scanning them for any reference to That Which Grasps or rituals, I ended up with two that seemed to hold answers. I wasn’t sure how long it took and was less sure of how long I had been gone from the real world. I wasn’t sure how many days of classes I had missed or how many people had begun to worry about my absence. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to know when I would return, but I hoped it wouldn’t be too long. I hadn’t yet found the answers that I required, but I had found the questions to ask.

I sat and read his journal, somehow making sense of the numerous languages in which it was written. I read passages in Ancient Greek that made as much sense as anything else I had ever read. The same for passages in Aramaic, Gaelic, French, and Japanese. Eventually the passages were in English.

“I have met a woman. In the different worlds she has so many faces and ways of being, and in each world I love her so fiercely. I know she’s the one. If I’m going to have a child, I’m thinking about naming them Sorrel.”

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It's Just a Movie...
right...?

The sun sets over Freedom City early, as winter approaches. Flora found herself thankful for biting winds, to give slightly more plausibility to her jitters. The short vermonter found herself pacing at the front entrance of Claremont and trying to calm herself down.

It’s just a movie, you’re just going to go to a movie with THE PRINCE OF THE FREAKING OCEAN.

It was at the peak moment of her internal panic that she saw Prince Telemachus at the top of the stairs. As per usual , he looked effortless in a silver silk shirt and designer jeans and Flora felt like a hot mess in a light blue sweater and black skirt under her worn green coat. He was designer and she was bargain bin. Even so, she noticed a shy grin on his face before he spoke “I’m excited to do this. How are you?”

She realized her body had gone rigid, and tried to ease herself a bit with a deep breath and a slight smile. Her hands were buried deep in her pockets to hide the current rapid motion of her threads “Y-yeah, I am too … ready to go?" She asks as they head towards the door. Tel holds the door open as they brace against the night wind.

“Yes! I saw there were a few movies that looked interesting: Hyperborean Melody, Ray Wrecks the Internet, and the Nutcracker. What are you interested in?”

Flora moved through a deep list of calculations before coming to a slightly confident decision “I’d go with Hyperborean Melody, good decade fashion and great music" . As they walked to the parking lot,Flora watched Tel from the corner of her eye. She still had no idea how she had gotten to this moment, especially after last time hadn’t gone…great, but she was going to try to get it right this time.

As they came to the Audi, Tel seemed a bit embarrassed “Sorry for my car, I don’t like to show off.” He assured as he opened the door for her “I hope my driving is okay, it’s so much different than the ocean.”

“Thank you” Flora said, nervously getting in and buckling up. Her nerves felt on fire. “I’m sure it’s fine. It can’t be much worse than Hal with the old truck” She tried to be reassuring “…May I ask a dumb question?”

“Go for it”

“How do get around where you’re from…what’s it like?” Flora hadn’t learned a whole lot about where he was from, and what she did find seemed to have some…wild exaggerations

Ha," He seemed wistful if only for a moment. “It’s a bit different than up here. I love the modern conveniences. Down there, there’s no mass production. Mystic crafters can make special chariots pulled along by dolphins. Otherwise, I swim from place to place.” His eyes glanced towards Flora as he started the car “What was it like for you growing up? I’ve never ridden an old truck. It sounds marvelous!”

“I…wouldn’t call it marvelous, but…I suppose it has its charms” Flora explained, reflecting on the long winding roads of Vermont that seemed to stretch on forever and go to nowhere." It’s a lot less developed where I live. A lot less buildings and a lot more woods, fields, farms and dirt roads. Have you only ever been to Freedom City?"

“Yes, the Caribbean. I’ve walked in Port au Prince, and San Juan. But, I’ve never been able to stay long. I was just a child. They also had their charms. That’s what’s wonderful. There is so much to see here! I love my coral reefs and angry shark friends. But here, there are apples and dogs”. He paused to point at the snow gathering on the bridges. “The first time I saw that was only three years ago, and even when it gets muddy, I still find it so amazing. "
.
And Flora simply listened, and watched. She found herself content listening to how passionately he found the world around him. She imagined him seeing an actual mountain, draped in a cloak of snow and pine, and the thought made her smile. “I guess it’s just a matter of perspective…but I don’t disagree.”.

The Pharaoh loomed in the distance, growing closer before they pulled into the parking lot. Flora wasn’t used to being in the city, but she was used to the movie theaters on a Saturday night, and the parking lot seemed emptier than one would expect. Tel took Flora’s arm, his cheeks flushed as he led her forward. He wore a grin but avoided her gaze, which made Flora nervous…but not any more nervous than she usually was.

It was then she began to notice a few odd things. People were just…staring, unaffected by the cold and their gaze unwavering. As they came to the ticket booth, the mousy girl seemed to be trying to hide the fact she recognized them. Flora watched as her eyes flicked over to something unseen on her counter, before back to the two through the entire transaction. Telemachus was blissfully unaware and breezed into the theater asking “So, a big popcorn or a HUGE popcorn?”

Flora stood up straighter, glancing around and interrupted by his words. “O-Oh…huge…" she answered absentmindedly, before pulling him gently over to the wall of movie posters and away from prying ears. “Tel, I think we’re being watched…” She said, trying to keep her voice even quieter.

At that Tel finally looked around, and became aware of the people watching, who that suddenly began to act as if they were not. Tel looked back to her, determined rather than afraid.

“Well, if it’s a fight they want, we’ll give it to them. We’re both very strong. You’re agile, and I’m slightly invulnerable, although, not as much as my big sister.” Flora didn’t know why she was so flattered to be called agile.

“Let’s wait to see what happens, and try to play it cool. No reason to ruin our…to ruin things until the worst happens.” While it didn’t seem to be a great plan, it was a plan.

“Okay” Flora said with a wary nod. She supposed they hadn’t attacked them yet. She kept an eye as Tel headed over to concessions. She tried to get a count of how many there were and intentions…but her gaze moved back to him. She watched as the panicked concession stand attendant almost screamed at Tel’s rather casual approach. He returned with a giant bucket of popcorn and several kinds of candy. “I know we’re maybe in danger for our lives, but, I’ve never tried most of these, and I just have to know what wondrous delights are in here.”

“Oh… I guess I should have told you” She said lightly patting an inner pocket in her coat, where one of the hidden boxes of candy rattled lightly. She had brought her own variety, not sure what Tel liked “…Let’s go to the theater, I guess…?”.

The two made their way to the auditorium and to there subsequent seats. It slowly filled with several muscular people that filled the front row. As the orchestra music from the theater speakers filled the space…two more figures walked in; a blonde fair-skinned middle-aged man, and a dusky muscular woman. “Oh no,” Prince Telemachus whispered and Flora watched confused.

And then it became painfully clear.

TELLY!” The man’s voice boomed as he entered “Oh, what a surprise. We were just passing through the neighborhood. I never could have guessed where you would be.”

Oh God.

Telemachus stared them down as they approached the row and Flora stopped moving “You were just passing through the neighborhood?” Tel asked sighing before gathering a new thunderhead of steam. His musical voice took on a strong timber.“You live in the ocean over a thousand miles away! This is a new one, even for you!” He seemed to calm a bit, as Flora barely seemed to be remembering how to breathe. “My royal father and mother, may I introduce Flora Madison.”

Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod

The king snickers to himself for a moment before reaching out to shake Flora’s hand. “OH, is THIS Flora? Well, any friend of Telly is a friend of ours.”

She forced herself to take a breath, and glanced to Tel before back to his father. “….H-h-…hello” She said offering a hand to the KING OF THE SEA to take. Her gloved grip was unsure, the threads underneath were rigid.

Satisfied, he sat down next to Tel and Flora; the queen sat next to him, a mild scowl on her face. Telemachus whispered to Flora “It is the worst.”

Flora struggled to find even basic words for comprehension. “…Is this…?…I…” She paused again to breathe"…how do you want to play this…?"

Tel whispered back “I wish I knew a spell to just have us cease to exist temporarily.” While that wasn’t a plan, Flora realized how useful a spell like that would be.

His father suddenly leaned over, she found herself sitting upright “You know Telly…”

“Please don’t call me Telly.”

“…did I ever tell you how your mother and I met?”

“He knows, Theseus.” The Queen interjected

The father kept going as though neither his son or his wife had objected; a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“She was my bodyguard. Absolutely hated my surface-loving ways. But, in the end, we actually found some common ground.” The queen placed a loving hand on her husband’s own, her face softened for a moment as the king continued. It was…a touching moment. “So, Flora, what do you like to do outside of school?”

“…oh…I just do a lot of sewing…some design work for the drama club”. She glanced towards Tel, trying to make sure she was not unwittingly creating some major offense towards two major political figures of unknown ability.

The queen narrowed her eyes “A thespian. I suppose that makes sense.”

Before Flora could even begin to untangle that statement Tel thankfully interrupted. “Oh look! The movie’s starting, we can’t talk.”

The lights dimmed…although the theater didn’t grow dark. Flora realized Telemachus’s magical parents are glowing as if they carry within themselves the magic and glory of a lost age.

And she was a nobody. His mother had problems with her being involved in a theater club? What would her reaction be when she noticed her son was hanging around with some mountain hick mutant. She found herself crawling deeper to hide in her own self doubt, before Tel’s voice pulled her back. His lips and body were still, but she heard his voice clearly in her opposite ear. “Let’s escape, and find our own way out there. Do something else, like karaoke. I’ll hide your leaving and sneak out, after.”

It seemed like a bad idea, that she might get him in trouble. She didn’t want that or to be a wedge in their family. At the same time…Flora didn’t know if she could handle sitting in a slightly dark room contemplating her self worth with three amazing beings in absolute silence to the soundtrack of Monarchy.

She liked Monarchy a little too much for that.

Flora nodded, and waited a few minutes for the movie to get into its pace before she stood. She realized she did not make a sound. Instead of questioning it, she used her silence to slip out of theater. She worried Tel might not make it before he bounded out excitedly. “WE MADE IT! I worried we were doomed. Are you okay? Do you want to get a taxi?”

Relief washed over her with a few deep, relaxed breath. She ran a hand over her hair looking around a bit and trying to figure out their next move. “…I mean, yeah…I’m … okay… why don’t we walk a bit before we grab a taxi. I could use the cold air…” Flora said and they made their way out of the theater, employees still keeping their eyes on them. Something still felt off and wrong. The night air seemed to pierce through the layers of her clothes, and chill at her bones. Cautions eyes glanced around before she finally saw it.

A large icicle on the roof suddenly grew fat and sharp, and threateningly hung over Tel’s head. In a split second it fell. She only barely heard the sound of ripping as her hand lifted, threads bursting forth to pierce and shatter the icy spear. Tel jumped to the side quickly to miss the debris, looking around and hissing “Stay here!”. He bounded to the roof in a single leap, leaving Flora to wait … but not alone.

From the shadows, The Queen stepped out and noted “You have a warrior’s heart when it counts.” Flora studied her carefully, seeing the signs of worry and the posture of one ready for a fight. It was one Flora mirrored as they both focused on the rooftop.

“We learned that the Sea Sorceress was up to something with our son. She tried to steal his voice when he was younger, and it looks like she’s trying to be more direct now. We’ve stopped a few attacks already, quietly. I wanted to do this without gathering your attention, either, but my husband couldn’t resist the chance to tease you two when he learned that Telly was on a real date.” She explained before releasing a sigh “I don’t have my husband’s command of the water, and I don’t have my son’s siren songs that he inherited from his grandmother. I was just a poor warrior woman who fought for something I believed in. I see something similar in you. I hope you two have a good night.”

Flora listened, but her eyes kept going back to the roof, a thread slung on the side of the building trying to feel if there was anything other than Tel up there. It was… a lot to process, there wasn’t the time for her to say what she wanted, and in the right way. “…Thank you…I’ll do my best for him…” was all she could manage.

“Do what’s best for yourself.” And with that, the queen walked back to her movie experience.

Relieved she had not completely messed things up, she focused on the task of hand. Flora only waited a few more moments in the blistering chill before pulling herself up to the roof. She was grateful to find Tel unharmed, and then a new level of concern as she noticed a cold and injured cat curled into his arms.

“I found presence of the sea witch, but I didn’t see her, anywhere. I did, however, find this little girl. I know it’s not as fun, but I’m worried, would you mind if we stopped by the animal shelter, along the way?” He asked

“No, no…of course we can take care of her first” Flora said, her eyes followed his gaze to her torn gloves, her threads dangling out. Instinctively she retracted them as far back as she could looking away for a moment. He reached out to take a hold of her hand, her threads naturally and gently wrapping around his own.

“You must be freezing. Growing up in the dark depths of the ocean, I’m immune to the cold. I’m sorry I didn’t think of that sooner. Thank you for saving me, just now. I’m sorry tonight has gone so wrong.” Tel whistled out for a few seconds and a few moments later, some sleepy birds dropped a blanket around her shoulders.

“My mountain blood is a little thicker than most kids…not immune, but I’ll live” Flora said, laughing slightly but was appreciative for the weight of the blanket. “This honestly isn’t anywhere close to my worst days…and I mean…if we keep trying…we’ll eventually get this right…right?” Flora asked , her cheeks red from more than the cold.

His gaze moved down, and a sheepish smile crossed his face “Yeah, let’s keep trying, tonight, maybe next week as well. I’m sure we’ll get it right, soon.”

And in that moment, for Flora, it already was.

{A huge thank you to Justin for the collab!)

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The Music of the Day (Epilogue)

As the very theatrical seance ended, the lights dimmed. Reggie had already zoomed off, and it was just Angel and Deaglan… And Professor Kuzkin.

Professor Kuzkin looked at his two students with a slightly knowing smile. “Oh, my two dears, how marvelous. I feel real breakthroughs were made. Oh my yes. Now, I simply must be off. No, don’t try to stop me.” He said aloud to the students who were, in fact, not making any indications that they were going to.

“Ta-ta for now!” With that, he flumphed out.

Angel glanced at Deaglan for a moment, one hand touching his head to make sure it was fully on. “Well, that was something! Do you want to walk me to my room?”

Deaglan blinked at the professor as he left, his hand still extended towards Angel; the touch quickly brought his attention back to Angel. He nodded, lowering his hand. “Oh, certainly!” He glanced at the stage, checking if Reggie or he had left something behind before gesturing to her with a flourish. “Shall we?”

Angel took his arm with a wan smile. Dark rings of fatigue were under her eyes. She was quiet as the two left the dimly lit building. The leaves crunched underneath them as they made their way across the commons.

“You seem to be recovering well,” Deaglan remarked, breaking the silence.

He rubbed the back of his neck as he continued. “I’m not sure how to safely broach the subject, but I’ve been meaning to speak with you about something since last week…” He sucked his teeth, talking a fraction of a moment to quash the uncertainty in his voice. "I’m fairly confident with my magic now, more so than I was before. Perhaps ever.”

“Even after assuring myself and talking to Professor Kuzkin since the incident, I still am. Yet, I’ve noticed that every time your name falls from my lips, you… Flinch? Retreat? I’m not certain, but I need to know if it’s hurting you?"

He slowed his pace as he spoke, glancing at Angel with a concerned expression.

Angel missed a step before moving forward. “No, uh, no, it’s not like that.” She breathed out a second to steady herself before she continued. “It’s just…that got really rough, when we used the coin. It was really scary. Then, when we were done, and I was hurt, when you said my name, I thought everything was okay, but then, it got so much worse. It’s like a musical instrument, you know, like a violin. At first, my name was plucked and it was pretty. But then, the string snapped, and it whipped back. My name whipped back and struck me.”

Deaglan looked somber as he listened, nodding with understanding.
“I didn’t realize I was flinching,” she continued. “I’m just worried. I’m especially worried about my light inside me. But, I’m healing. I think everything will be okay. I’m just not sure at the moment.”

They walked in silence for a few more moments, until they arrived at the dorm entrance. He turned to Angel, speaking earnestly. “Then, perhaps it will just take time? A violin without strings may not sing, but the possibility for it to will always be there. Until then, I will refrain from using your name, if it helps.” Deaglan’s mouth hinted a smile. “You know, I feel that your light will be fine… I could feel it’s strength, earlier when we were on the stage. I was told to focus on the magic that is mine and not what was trying to push through. Perhaps focusing on your Light will help it recover naturally?”

Deaglan’s smile faded, replaced with an unusual seriousness. “I would hate to see this stop you, to never play that violin again. I hope I can help you find certainty, that things will be alright- no, great!”


Thanks to just for assisting with this write up, that occurred like, 3 weeks ago.

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One Night in The Fens
Apothecary and Schism put out a fire

Thanks to Justin for running this session for us

The nights are very cold right now in Freedom City. The wind, whispering over the ocean and river bring it down to the teens. The school lights are bright and warm still. Distantly, you can hear Chump hanging out with Noah. The two of them are arguing with Donnie that a joke in some tv show is funny, even though it wasn’t logical.

The moonlight lights up the area just beyond, which is where we find Apothecary and Schism.

Kirby has an overstuffed backpack filled with medical gear and a change of clothes. He is holding a fresh stack of missing person flyers. “Its going to feel a lot colder for anyone who might be lost out there, I was wondering if you could help me get to the fins a little early tonight?”

“Of course, where do you want to go?” Schism lightly rests her hand on his jacket sleeve, looking distractedly around the area. “Here, I’m going to be in some ugly places tonight, but if you need anything or find yourself wanting to move someone quickly, use these.” She hands him a communicator she snitched from the Next Gen supply and one of her trackers to teleport him from a distance.

“I’d like to get started on 62nd street”, then make my way east." Kirby puts the tracker under his watch, makes a scan of the communicator then hands it back. “Thanks, I’ve got the frequency. Do you need back up?”

“I hope not, but I’m not so dumb as to think I’m invulnerable. Only insubstantial.” She gives a half-hearted grin, “I’m going to see if I can find some problems to fix. Or at least hurt. Not sure you want to be a part of that. If you hear from your EMT buddies any word of corrupt cops or people beating up on innocent folks, or both, let me know, though?”

“Kind of crazy, one minute we are struggling to get a joke on tv, the next we are trying to size up what we mean by ugly places. This city’s seen some trauma. If you are looking for problems to fix, the people south of broadway can use some hope”.

“I’ll start there, then. Anything in particular, or just bad scenes in general?”

“If I hear of any innocent people being beat up, I’ll let you know asap. Corrupt cops are tricky. You have to find a good cop to work with, or you are going to to run up against the blue shield first and foremost.”. " Bad scenes in general."

“Yeah, but people still talk, if they trust who they’re talking to. The victims, at least. Ok, hold on.”She brings them both to 62nd St. and holds them both as insubstantial in the shadows until they can both tell the coast is clear. “I’ll keep you updated on my locations, if you don’t mind checking in with me.”

“All clear. Signal me, if you need someone to check in more frequently than an hourly basis”.

Reality disappears, and a new one is thrust upon you. We’re in the farther ends of the Theater District. This is the area people don’t want to visit. Nearby, there’s a store with blacked out windows promising “LIVE SHOWS” and “CHEAP BEER.” In the distance, a fire burns in a trash can as some hobos try to survive the growing cold. This is the Fens. There is cheap housing for those who need it, but corruption runs rampant.

“Hey if you seem me tonight, call me Rohan!” Apothecary sets an alarm to remind him when his shift starts at firehouse #6, then makes his way to the store putting up a fresh flyer, along with some glowing glue.

Schism tips him a salute, and phases away to a nearby rooftop to begin scanning for people in trouble, or causing it. Following the sounds of sirens, she teleports from building to building, wondering if she should invest in a cape.

There are no hospitals in the Fens proper; they can’t afford that. It’s known that sometimes people die en route to the hospital due to the distance. However, there is an urgent care. As Kirby walks up to the firehouse, people are unsurprised to see him. Joe is there, smoking her cigarette.
“Hey ya, Kirby! Do you ever sleep?”

“Not with finals coming up, thanks again for helping me with this internship, any word on areas we have to avoid tonight? Also, you know those are bad for your health.”

“Ugh, don’t I know it. However, how do you give them up? I’m hearing about a few heart attacks. White boys that don’t look like they belong around here. Down by Laurel Gardens, I heard about some people getting hurt from some of my neighbors. Police are looking into it, but, haven’t heard anything else.”

Meanwhile, on a nearby rooftop, Schism peers down. There is no cold, there is no wind, there’s nothing affecting her when she’s phased out of reality. Everything blows through her, untouched. She’s blinking from rooftop to rooftop trying to get a feel for the world she’s come back to. She knows she has contacts to talk to, but isn’t ready to chat with anyone yet. The longer she can go without trying to act like a normal human right now, the better…at least until she can get this terrible fear and anger under control.

After a while, Schism alights on a building. A heating unit is failing to turn on. The world usually smells jagged and dirty, which is part of what she loves about this Earth. However, tonight, there’s some other smells wafting up. Some police are wandering around the front step, shooting the breeze at each other. However, what really catches her attention as she’s shifting around for insight, is a nearby dumpster a block and a half away. There’s a bag of trash that was thrown out, and on the handle is some vomit. She partially phases the vomit, scanning it for any traces of drugs or disease; she doesn’t find any drugs. What she does find is blood and bile. Some of it she recognizes as coming from a ruptured liver. Schism teleports to the dumpster, but blips into the apartment attached to the broken heating unit to see if there are any signs of a fight or other event.

Kirby has put on an emt uniform, with the Rohan name tag. He uses tries to edit the roster list to make sure he is riding in a fins ambulance tonight. Heading to Midtown takes a bit of time, but, it’s not too hard. There aren’t any ambulances specifically going to the Fens. However, he sets it up so that the next one that goes out, will be routed to his ambulance, regardless of what the ambulance is doing.

As Schism teleports into the apartment with the broken heating unit, for just a second she sees carnage. There is some blood on the wall, a body that’s been burned, and some police tape over one of the doors. Then, you are next to the dumpster.

[PM from Kirby: Schism, Its 23:00 checking in, are you okay? We are okay. Some reports of people getting beat up at Laurel Gardens]

Schism steadies herself after that horrifying sight, and then crouches down next to the dumpster, near a gap between the metal sides. She softly whispers, “Hey. I’m not the cops. I know someone’s in here and you’re hurt. I can get you help. My name is Nadie. Have you heard of me?”

[PM from Simone: Rohan, I’m right next to Laurel Gardens. There are cops here and something really nasty just happened in an apartment. Looks like a person burned. Not sure if they were alive at the time. Looks like someone hurt is hiding in a dumpster here, and I’m trying to talk them out of it. May need your help in a few minutes.]

“Hey Rohan, nope, FMC’s all quiet since those Southside guys came in. Haven’t heard anything about Laurel Gardens. No calls to 911 or anything. I think those guys were on Zoom. Probably came to the Fens for more of that shit to pump in their systems.” Apothecary has heard of Zoom. It’s a designer drug that temporarily gives you super-speed. However, it’s not just physical, it’s also mental. You can calculate faster, think clearer, do everything. Afterwards, it might kill you. Heart attacks are very common with it.

Schism hears a man’s voice moaning in the dumpster. “Please, I need some help. I think…I think I might be dying. Oh God, I don’t want to die in a dumpster. Please God.”

“It’ll be ok, just hold on.” Schism messages Kirby [I’ve got a badly hurt person I’m about to bring you, looks like a ruptured liver at least] scans the dumpster and realizes it’s too packed to phase in and grab him easily. She silently teleports the lid open and levitates over the side, into the dumpster.

Kirby begins prepping the bed in the ambulance. [I’ve got the tracer on. When you teleport, can you phase out some of the bile build up? Imagine the space on right side a catheter would take up, from the groin to where the rested elbow would be. It would be a little warmer than blood.]

Schism teleports the lid up, but doesn’t even have time to take in the disgusting spot. There’s a black man lying in the trash. The top of his skull is broken open. Swelling has covered a third of his face. The steam from his ragged breathing is labored, partially due to the vomit and blood coating his beard and moustache, with more covering his thin sweatshirt.

“Ok, it’ll be ok. I’ve got a friend who’s an amazing paramedic. Just let me get things prepped.” [Schism to Kirby: His skulls is crushed, lots of swelling. I need to see where I’m bringing him to make sure he doesn’t get shifted too much on landing. Let me know when it’s safe to come in.]

Kirby quikcly works to create a message on the radio of an spb transporting an individual this way, then preps the bed for arrival. [We are ready when you are.]

Schism teleports to Kirby, checks out the situation and blinks back to bring the man over, reaching out and creating a bridge in reality. Where before this man was lying on trash, suddenly a gurney takes its place. Immediately, there’s a sucking, seizing sound as the fluid build up is removed, but, Apothecary is there with an oxygen mask. His eyes flash open for a second at the sudden change in surroundings, and the bright light, but, Schism is there to shield them with her hand. The eyes are obviously jaundiced, and in this lighting, the yellow in his skin stands out as you can see how pale it is, especially with the blood and vomit left behind in the dumpster during the phase. Apothecary however, doesn’t stop, he begins quickly and efficiently checking him, and can tell that he has received multiple wounds, two of which are severe, one to the head, and one to the abdomen. Both of them were at high speed, reminiscent of Reggie. However, where Reggie’s are fist sized, these are long, like an aluminum bat was used. With incredible skill, Apothecary is able to stabilize the man. He’s fading in and out of consciousness, obvious signs of concussion can be seen.

Realizing what she’s seeing, her temper flares, a terrible rage burning inside. During one of his moments of consciousness, Schism leans forward, whispering in his ear, “Who did this to you?”

“Thank goodness you were there. Stay awake, sir. My names Rohan, what is yours? What happened, is anyone else hurt" Kirby looks at the mans sweat shirt. Rough night to be a Freedom City Blades fan. For the benefit of any observers, he speaks formally to Schism, “Ma’am this is probably going to get me in a lot of trouble, but you might want to grab some tranquilizers from the medical bag over there. Blitz addicts are making a bad night worse.”

He glances at the two of you. “I’m…I’m…Detective…Oh God this hurts. I’m Detective…no, I can’t say that…My name is Bruce Jordan. Oh, my wife.” The man starts to roll his eyes back for a second. “You can’t let anyone know where you found me.”

“Mr. Jordan we found you at Fire House #6, its going to be okay.”

Schism grabs the tranquilizers, passing them to Kirby

“Thank you, oh f-, oh.”

The ambulance reaches the hospital and a crash team shows up. Instantly, they begin asking questions about the victim. Kirby gives them his name and injuries. The two of them have heard of Bruce Jordan. He’s recently come to the Fens. He knows a cousin and what not that vouched for him. He sells some of the Designer drugs. Putting the pieces together, they realize he’s an undercover cop and that the identity is false.
“Rohan, I need to get back there and figure out what the hell happened. Do you want to come with me? There might be other people hurt.”

“Take those tranqs, watch out for Blazers looking for the rest of his stash. We’ll call it in”. When “Rohan” gets free he will change into Apothecary and signal Schisim for a teleportation.

“There were two cops, or people dressed as cops, guarding the scene. You said that there was no 911 call in. I think those guys are either fakes or corrupt.”

“Too elaborate to be a disguise for that level of abuse to Bruce Jones. They weren’t looking for a smash and grab, they wanted to keep him quiet. Obvious trauma to distract us, or keep him out cold, until he died in that dumpster.”

Schism teleports on a roof and begins looking closely at the cops, now realizing she recognizes them. They travel around, not really caring about things. They definitely are the type that think of this job as their personal sport. They seem unconcerned with what’s inside, and are obviously aware of it. As she’s thinking this, one of them spots her. His red eyebrows shooting up in surprise. Rather than call it in, though, he yells out “Hey, you! Clear out of here! Nothing to see here.” He’s unholstering his gun.

“Funny. I’m not hearing any sirens, officers. With a dead body and everything. Did you get a little too clumsy with the matches after your fun?” she spat out.

One of the officers pulls out his phone and begins speaking to someone. The other one moves his hand away from his gun. “Hey miss, you don’t need to worry your head about what’s going on, inside. Now, you seem to know something, were you a witness?”

The way their faces reacted, and from what she’s seen of them before, these two cops don’t know exactly what went on inside. They were paid to guard this place, probably by another cop, as they wouldn’t accept payment from someone here. The cop with the phone is calling his buddy who paid them while the one talking wants to know how much she knows to see if he needs to intimidate her into keeping her mouth shut.

Schism teleports the other officer’s phone away, looking at the number, catching whatever the other guy on the phone is saying. [PM to Kirby: I can teleport you directly into the apartment, if you like, while I deal with these two yahoos]

[PM to Schism: that will work]

“…don’t need loose ends. Find out if she knows anything,” the voice on the phone says. It raspy, like it’s smoked a thousand cigarettes yesterday. The two cops see the phone in her hand. “SHIT, METAHUMAN.” They pull out their guns. “ON THE GROUND. HANDS IN THE AIR!”

Schism goes insubstantial and keeps talking. “You don’t have a fucking clue what you’re involved in, do you? What your buddy is getting you implicated in, huh?”

As Apothecary signals Schism, there’s a moment of non-existance, and then he’s in the apartment. Blood and smoke fill his nose, but, even worse, he smells burned pork, which he realizes in only a moment is human. Drawers have been ransacked, and there are a few splinter marks on the wall where something fast struck and then kept going.

Schism puts the phone to her ear. “Hey asshole, looks like your chumps here are about to break.” As she growls at the two, they open fire. Several bullets fly through her. Again, she’s untouched by this world. First, there’s the popping sound of the guns. Then, there’s the panicked screaming behind her as the bullets his the adjoining building. She glances back, they’ve just hit bricks, they missed the windows. Schism smiles, her rage growing at them being willing to kill not only her, but also putting the people in those buildings in danger. The next round of bullets she phases two of them back at full velocity, striking each in a leg.

[PM to Schism: shots fired, are you okay?]

She teleports the phone to him. And through the communicator, “Yep, can you track this number?”

Apothecary begins looking at the burns. As he examines them, he doesn’t see evidence of either. Something much less mundane happened here. There was obviously some signs of a struggle. You can see there were multiple people in this apartment. Someone opened a window and jumped out several stories, hitting the ground below. If you were to guess, you would say that was your detective, and that’s why he’s not dead. Looking over details, if you had to guess, you would say there were three assailants. Further, analyzing hair strands and what not, you think there were four people in the apartment initially. Which means two are unaccounted for. A scuff mark on the floor suggests they were dragged away. Carved into a wall near the door is a haphazard Othala rune, a neo-nazi symbol for the nobility of the white race.

The bullets fly into their legs, and they fall down screaming. As Schism glances at the phone, it’s labeled “J-knight.”

The gravelly voice whispers, “I don’t know who this is, but, I’m guessing your some kind of hero. Listen up. I’m the real hero. I’m saving society from the mongrel races. If you’re not going to stand up, and be part of the change, you can be consigned to history.”

“Saving Freedom City? How, with a purifying flamethrower? This is literally a city built of immigrants and superheros; you think you can take them all out? Especially not with help like this. Your buddies aren’t looking too good right now, and I think there are going to be sirens heading this way pretty soon with all their idiotic gunfire.”

“Freedom City was built by those people with a real work ethic. It was built by a people with a real heritage. The people of Mozart, and Elizabeth. Not by the laundry cleaners and chinese food boys. I can tell you’re one of those people who are willing to coddle. Well, when the purifiers of the Brotherhood show up, you’ll see what angel fire really looks like.” He hangs up the phone.

Apothecary goes outside and starts treating the wounded officers, on the ground, afraid and in pain, after looking for recent mail or signs that may indicate who the occupant was. Her name was Elizabeth Jordan, a woman known in the neighborhood for being kind and looking out for others. It looks like she vouched for the detective as her cousin. Putting the pieces together, they realize he’s Detective Jamie Lynn. While Schism is talking to this J-Knight, she’s texting 911 with a call in for shots fired and a burned body in an apartment. Kirby boosts the text as a tweet, broadcasting it throughout the city.

She then crouches down by the cops’ heads. “Look, you pieces of shit. You’re working for a white supremacist murderer and you have one chance to get yourself out of this without the smell of his shit all over you in addition to your own.” Terrified by the metahuman leaning down on them, they look at each other and say “Listen, it’s Sam, Sam Green. We don’t know anything about this. We’re just watching over a place. Sam’s also not a murderer. He’s a normal guy. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Schism takes both their arms and teleports them to the apartment, showing them the burned body. "Really? Is this what a normal person does? He’s out to “purify” the city, and he had a good, kind woman killed, killed like this. Maybe because she was black and trying to help people out in a place he thinks he deserves more than anyone else? What do you guys think? You like that smell?"

As this is happening, Apothecary looks at his headset. He can tell that the call came from Southside. Fitting, since that’s where the Brotherhood is based. The Brotherhood is a neo-nazi populist group that’s been growing in Southside. Graffiti marks have been seen being spray-painted. It used to just be made of youths, but recently, a number of the middle-classed have joined its ranks. It’s been heard around town that they’re organizing more and more recently. They “know” that the problems with America come from the “mongrel races.”

[Pm to Schism: I need your help. They took somebody, from that apartment. They are going to hurt them, because they think it will stop their pain. I can move fast, but not fast enough.]

Sam Green is another Detective, in Southside; he’s known for being gruff but fair. He has ties with the local community there. However, more recently, he’s been a lot more lenient on the Brotherhood members, saying that they’re just misunderstood boys who need another chance. They have a big future ahead of them, and he wouldn’t want to ruin it from a silly charge.

The two cops look at Schism and are buckling down, shocked at the sudden horror of the change of the night. In their minds, they are victims, of all this. They didn’t know anything bad was happening. Schism returns to the stoop, and drops the officers back where they were. “Make yourselves out to be heroes or whatever bullshit you claim. Don’t say a word about us. We’re going to try to save the people you failed to protect, Officers.” She takes all their communication devices from them so they can’t warn anyone else.

“We won’t say a word, promise.” They will definitely not say a word. They don’t want it to be said that two teenagers got them, even if they were metahumans. They don’t want to be part of this scene at all.

The two feel reality bridge between points. In one moment, they’re standing in front of one crime scene, the next, they’re in a very different scene that’s hiding a crime. Poor, quick built housing has been thrown up. It’s for students and low income families. Meth houses are starting to pop up behind these walls. In front of them is a warehouse with crossed grenades carved into the front. It’s a Brotherhood front, and they can hear talking inside.

Schism glances at Apothecary. “I’m ready to start some shit." She then makes the front door disappear and reappear falling forward as she strides through. The metal shutter door clatters to the ground. In front of Schism, about 300 feet away, there are four men. Three of them have a real Southside Scotch/Irish feel to them. The fourth is Sam. Pale skin marks an ill pallor. He slowly unwinds himself. One hand pushes back his sandy blonde hair. “Ah, and the loathsome wolf comes to the good shepherd.” Fire erupts around Sam. “See the favor of my lord.”
Apothecary begins recording the encounter. He steps out of the shadows and pronounces through his intercom. “Officer Green we are here to treat the injured. Stand down.”

“Good, I’m glad you’re recording this. I don’t see any injured people. I just see some vigilantes attacking an officer of the law.”

The two toughs inject themselves with something. Sam looks between the man and the woman and decides the woman is the more offensive. He charges Schism. As he approaches, she actually feels the fire, unlike her normal numb state. The heat doesn’t feel holy. It feels wrong. It feels like when the skeletal swarm of hands were reaching out for Aaron. As the fist goes through her, she feels two things: the first is that the mortal fist of Sam Green sails through her without effect. It slams into the floor shattering it. The second is that something hellish slams into her face. This is hate personified. Schism’s cheek bruises under the impact, dazing her. Even worse, she feels it find that core of rage that she feels about her homeworld and it begins stoking it. It wants more. Schism’s overwhelming will prevents it from fully seizing, but, it still made an inroad. Only the current immediacy of the fight prevents it from twisting her into a caricature of herself.

“Gift of God? This is fucking Hellfire, you monster! What are you, Detective Green? A racist or a devil?”

Remembering that Our Lady of Mercy is very close by, Schism thinks rapidly, then reaches out to teleport the holy water she remembers is always in the basins by the front doors, sending it streaming toward his face. He screams in pain as the blessed water hits him. Steam and smoke rise up from his impure flesh. As his fingers rip at his face trying to pull the water off, deep gouges and fire appear underneath.

Apothecary swings into one of the three henchmen trying to incapacitate him. The thug is hit by apothecary but he doesn’t fall. With their superspeed the three rush over to a corner and grab bats. They’re about 15 feet away now, and grinning. They believe they see every possibiity, and they know how this will end. The monster that Sam Green has become, however, is stunned by the holy water. Listening for signs of the victims, Schism can faintly hear them below, in the machine storage area. About 50 feet away is a trapdoor leading down. Impatient to deal with this jerks, Schism uses extra effort to teleport all three of them up in the air outside the house while phasing the drug out out of their bloodstream; one of them falls unconscious from the drop, one of them starts seizing from a heart attack, and the last looks over at his friends…he wants to help, but the sudden departure of the drug means he can barely move. All he can do is watch. As the bats hit the ground, and a sickly spray falls with them, Apothecary is up.

Schism says to Apothecary “The victims are under the trap door! I’ll get them, you tackle the racist antichrist over there!”

Apothecary sprays Knight-J with tranquilizers; he tries to spin away but just barely gets tagged. He just barely shakes off the effect of the dart; the body wants to fall, but the monster inside refuses. At a second round of darts, though, the demon staggers back a second, shocked at what just happened. It shouldn’t be possible.Sam staggers to his knees, and then a burning form arises from him. Looking at it feels wrong, it feels like a burning boil in the universe. It’s a creature made of ruined Christmases, Diwali becoming a tourist trap. It’s that hurtful thing you said to a friend not realizing you would never see them again.

Apothecary gazes at the demon, and says, “Somebody is breaking curfew.”

It sneers back at him, helpless. The ground burns underneath it, and it disappears, leaving Detective Green passed out on the floor.

“Hey, I think one of the baseball bat guys outside is having a heart attack, if you care.” Schism mentions, still feeling the pull of the hate demon, as she teleports down to the room under the trap door. She clicks on the lights down there and sees two teens tied down on a ritual space. Hateful words are written around them in endless circles, like cruelty itself is the ritual area. Their eyes are open, but rolled back until only the whites. Can be seen. They bear burn marks on several spots on their bodies. Schism swears and suddenly wipes her eyes, the joy of rage dying in her at the sight of them.
Apothecary rushes outside, as the man with heart attack is on his last moments. It’s very likely he’s about to end. Pulling out all the stops, including the single tear, he manages to save the tough’s life. He looks up at the hero and and simply asks, “Why?”

“You’re sick, that doesn’t mean we let you die.”

The tough looks up again at Apothecary, and without the spirit of hatred egging it on, takes a second to look at his life.

As Schism approaches the two children of Ms. Jordan, she can tell that they’re semi-comatose. It seems like it’s due to the mental trauma of tonight’s events, the physical damage, and, the toxicity of the space they’re in. The demon was feeding on their helplessness. She reaches down to the two kids, trying to teleport them out of this hellish place and away from those ropes around them. But as she reaches out, she realizes that these ropes of oppression can’t be ignored. Her own temper almost acts as a counterbalance, preventing her from offering them freedom.Realizing that what’s inside her, her own rage and hatred feeding into all this, she swears and lashes out at the wall next to her. The pain jolting up her arm and the concrete scraping the flesh off her knuckles send a greater warning signal: giving into this isn’t going to help them. Taking a deep breath and trying again, she begins working at the knots, tearing at them with her nails and biting them to get a grip to loosen them even a little bit with her fingers. Trying find a way to move through her rage at her world, her friends, her enemies, her helplessness.

Apothecary, with the rush of adrenaline fading from saving the kid, feels exhaustion catching up with him. He’s been been staying up night after night using a cocktail of chemicals. It’s relatively safer than what these idiots were doing, but only by a generous mind, and the battle with the demon fatigued him even more. He manages to resist falling asleep, but does hit the ground, like the tough next to him. Snow begins to slowly fall. It almost feels warm. Rousing himself, Apothecary starts crawling towards the trap door, laughing as he quietly says to himself, “How can you give them up?”

Schism’s mind for a moment drifts back to history class of this world, and the story of the Gordian Knot. Piece by piece, and movement by movement, she begin pulling at the cords. They’re as psychological as they are physical. As they unravel, she feels her mind untying the knots within themselves. Things become clear. It’s not that she has new thoughts welling up, but, as though the parts of her blocking herself are falling away. “I have other ways of reaching my family. There is still hope, no matter what happens.” Apothecary, stumbles down the stairs just as her shaking fingers finish, and he bandages up Schisim’s hand.

“Let’s take these kids home. Their mom loved her neighborhood, and their neighborhood will need to love these kids to heal.”

Schism shakes her head. "We need to get these kids somewhere safe, like a hospital. They’re really hurt. They’re also traumatized. Rohan, their home is…yeah. I don’t think they should go back there. Let’s talk to their “cousin” once he’s doing better and see if he has any ideas on that."

Schism pulls out her phone and messages Sebastian, otherwise known as Casanova. “Hey. You know your grief counseling you’ve been doing for people? I’ve got two brutalized teenagers here that just had a demonic racist burn their mother alive, probably right in front of them, and we could really use your help right now. Can you meet us at Freedom Medical Center?”

Casanova is quiet for a second, before he responds. “Yeah, I’ll be right there. I’ll send a message to my Doctor I work for to start expediting things. What’s the name of their mom?”

“Thanks, Sebastian. I know this is ugly, but you were the person I could think of that could help them the most. Her name was Elizabeth Jordan.”

There’s a sudden intake of air. “I, uh, I knew her. She looked out for me when my mom was away. I know it looks like I have a lot of money, but my mom worked hard to get me to this spot. Damn, uh, just, damn! Okay, yeah, I’ll meet you there.”
“Oh no. I’m so sorry. She’s…she was killed trying to help people. Are you going to be ok to do this? I can find another counselor if this is too close.” She pauses, listening, then nods. “Ok, we’ll see you there.”

In the coming weeks, the video from Apothecary will start to go viral about police corruption. Police Commissioner Barbara Kane will be seen making a statement. An undercover police officer sent in to root out corruption in the Fens managed to survive an attack from a few of his own with the help of two heroes. The three members of the Brotherhood would go on to testify against Detective Green. Detective Jamie Lynn (or Bruce Jordan) made a full recovery thanks to Rohan, and is able to help the two kids find a good home. Casanova is working with them to try and help them find a way to cope with things.

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I'll Never Walk Away Pt 2

Zoe,

You were right in calling me crazy. Things have been really intense here lately. I didn’t mean to give up on us so easily. I was hurt, and I reacted badly. That’s on me.

All I’ve ever wanted is for you is to be happy. If that means college, that’s fine. If it means being with someone else, I’ll accept that, eventually. You need to do what’s right for you, and I will support you all the way.

I realize now that I need some time to figure myself out. But, if you want to talk, I’m not opposed to that. I hope that we can be friends, and see how things go. I am so sorry for walking away. I hope you can forgive me for that.

I do miss you, a lot.

Love,
MC

The letter was written on thick paper, and folded neatly into an envelope. It was then wrapped inside a pink shirt, and then wrapped up again in a section of white painted cloth.

MC left quietly, not wanting to wake Melissa or Blake, slipping slightly on the dewy grass as she heads toward Reggie’s room. He answered the door, and she could practically feel his mind working on overdrive. More so than usual. “So, why do you need me to run 250 miles away?”

MC held out the parcel with trembling hands. Reggie took it from her and said, “It’s been awhile since I’ve been to New York. Do you want me to say anything to her?”

MC shook her head, not really surprised that Reggie had figured it out. “No, that’s okay. I really appreciate this.” She walked away, hands in her pockets, thinking about how to make things right.


Three weeks later, present time.

MC glances at the clock and saw that it was about the time that Zoe would be between classes. With a shaky hand she hit the dial button. “Please pick up.” she repeats over and over.
Just as it is about to go to voicemail someone picks up. She can hear people talking in the background. There is an uncomfortably long pause before Zoe says something. “Okay, you’re calling. I guess that means you want to talk.”

She let go of a breath that she had been holding “Yeah. Sorry it took me this long to reach out. Things have been…well, it’s been a lot. I’m still sorry though. How are you?” she finished lamely.

A harder note creeps into Zoe’s voice as she responds. It’s a familiar voice that Zoe has when she’s getting passionate but doesn’t want to. When she has a lot of emotions that she doesn’t want to acknowledge. “I got your letter where you once again accused me of cheating on you. However, you forgive me for it this time. So, I guess I’m doing great.”

She totally forgot her original reason for calling Zoe at those words. She had never really asked Zoe for her side of the story. Why hadn’t she? Was it because it was just easier to walk away, than actually try to work on their relationship? What did that say about her? “I think I should be asking you to forgive me. I get it if you don’t want to.”

UGH, I TOLD YOU. I NEVER CHEATED.” Her voice becomes muted as she yells at someone listening in. “Do you have a problem? Yeah, keep walking. Yeah! Ugh, sorry about that that. I threw up some privacy. Anyway, I never cheated on you. Why won’t you believe me?”

MC paused, trying to get the words out around the lump in her throat. "It’s not that I don’t believe you, now. I…I had a vision, where you were cheating, it was so real, and I think it made me paranoid. Then I got a text, that I thought was from your phone, and I blew up at you, instead of just asking your side of the story. And the more time that passed, it was easier for me to keep telling myself that’s what happened, instead of facing you. I’m so sorry it took me this long to reach out. Like I said, things have been weird around here.”

“Yeah, things have been really messed up, down here. I’ve…I’ve had some missing time. But, that doesn’t matter. Why didn’t you believe me? Last year, we said we would make this work. Ugh, I push everyone away. Maybe it’s better if you go.”

“No, no, this isn’t your fault at all. It’s mine. I’m the one that gave up. Wait…you’ve been missing time? When did this happen?” Her words came out in a rush, as she remembered her original reason for calling.

“I don’t know, it was really happening a lot in October. After Halloween, it kind of stopped. This month there have been a few moments here and there, but, it’s less. I was thinking about reaching out to your parents, but, then everything was weird.” Zoe stops and breathes, making a decision. “I’ve had some really bad nightmares. Occasionally, I see a pale girl with weird hair in the corner of them, watching me, smiling. Listen, I have to go to class, but, if you want to get coffee or something this weekend, go to Dunkin Donuts, maybe talk a bit, catch up. I’d be okay with that. I’m not saying we’re back together or you’re off the hook, but, it would be nice. If you want to, that is.”

MC stopped herself from spilling the beans about Night Terror, not wanting to scare Zoe, or ruin the moment. "Yeah, I’d like that. Just tell me when and where. I do miss you. Just, take care of yourself okay?”

“You too.”

After she hangs up. slight smile creeps across MC’s face, and the knot inside her chest loosens a little. “She wants to meet up. She wants to meet up! I was such an idiot.”

DJ Kodiak, Leon and Sophia look at her with expressions that clearly say Duh.

“I’m going to make this right.” She declared, a small amount of hope returning.

“Of course you are.”

View
I'll Never Walk Away Pt 1

(Thanks to Justin for working on this.)

TW: Emotional Manipulation/Abuse

MC was dreaming. It was Thanksgiving, and she was surrounded by her friends. Platters of delicious food were being passed around, and everyone was laughing and enjoying each other’s company. She could not imagine anywhere else that she would want to be.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kate lean out of her chair at the head of the table, a fireplace crackling behind her. She was in a renaissance gown adorned with fox pelts. The fox sleepily looked at Kate, and then glanced at MC. “Do you hate me?” Kate asked.

At first MC was annoyed. Kate had been dodging her texts, and now she was here interrupting her good dream. Still, she was here, so maybe they could have the conversation MC wanted to have weeks ago.

She got up and sat down in an empty chair next to her. “I don’t hate you. I just don’t know what I’m doing.” She glanced over at Brian, who had warned her that Kate was crazy and dangerous, immediately after the had returned from the Logoverse. “All I want is for you to feel like you can be yourself around me. I am sorry for the things I said. I didn’t mean them.”

Kate drummed her nails on the table, they sparkled and swirled as she did so. “You picked me up in a bear and shook me.” She sighed, “You know I’m at Elysian, right? Sometimes things get messy over there. REALLY messy.”

Her fox whispered in her ear for a second. “I’m on team Alpha. That means we’re the best. We’re the best because we win. And we have to keep winning.”

“Brimstone isn’t the only monster there. You got mad at me at your party because I decided to get a little messed up, and you got mad at me when I helped Apex. Do you actually want me in your life?”

“I wasn’t mad at you, not really. I’m just frustrated, because I keep trying and you won’t open up to me, even a little bit. I understand that it’s hard for you, I really do. But I feel like I don’t know anything about you, and because of that I felt blindsighted, and hurt. I do want you in my life, I just need you to give something back.” She noticed the fox staring at her, which was unnerving. “Look, can we meet in person?”

Kate looked hesitant for a moment, before saying, “If you want to know me, let me show you.”

The world shifted. The Thanksgiving dinner was gone. In its place was an office. MC was sitting in a chair, she wasn’t sure why, but she could feel the shame. In front of her was a woman in her mid-thirties, her brown hair was pulled back in a tight bun. MC knew it was the Elysian headmistress, Ms. Braid. She was sitting back in her leather chair. She breathed out a slow sigh of disappointment as she leaned down on her elbows.“Honestly, Kate, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with you, I try and I try, but if you’re not going to meet me halfway, how will we make any progress?”

MC wanted to say something about her sleepless nights, how the only time she could feel anything to dream about was when she was feeling someone else’s, but Ms. Braid kept going.

“I know you’re scared, you’re just so fragile and sweet. You’ve heard some stories, but you need to listen to me, I’m doing all of this for you.”

Ms. Braid stepped up from the chair and smoothed out her suit before she walked around to the other side of the expensive desk to look at MC. MC bowed her head, to stare at the floor. She hated the look of disappointment in Ms. Braid’s eyes. It was better than the fear she saw in her parent’s eyes. She hated this chair, it was always too low, it made her knees stick up awkwardly.

Ms. Braid cut into her thoughts “Look at me when I’m speaking to you, Kate. If we’re going to have a healthy relationship, you need to at least try. Now, we’ve talked about this before, I know that Sarah can be a bit of a handful. That’s why you need to learn to be a step ahead. What are her secrets? What does she want?”

MC finally broke in, quietly “I was just hoping for a room reassignment.”

The headmistress’s eyes rolled back in annoyance. “Kate, we’ve talked about this, you need to learn to speak and move with purpose. Don’t mumble.”

MC gathered up her strength and said a little loude “I want a room reassignment…please.”

The Headmistress’s mouth tightened. One hand reached out and took MC’s chin, moving her head to the side so that she could inspect her a little better. “Hmm, getting a little chubby. Anyway, no. You need to learn to stand up to bullies Kate. Wasn’t that your problem at the last school? Well, before you had your powers. Now, you’ve hit a new class of bullies, and will need to rise above them again. I think I’ll need to put you in detention again…”

“NO, please no, I’ll rise above them again!”

“…so that you can reflect upon things and see if you really have what it takes.”

MC’s clothes started shifting on her body, mummifying her.

“NO! I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES! I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES!”

As the clothes smothered her vision, MC saw a brief smile on Ms. Braid’s face as she said, “I only do this because I care.”

MC had a disorienting moment. She had been in the chair, but now, she was on the edge of the office, watching it like a spectator. In was no longer her sitting in the chair, but Kate, sightly twitching. Ms. Braid walked around the desk and sat down calmly. She pressed a button before she went back to writing in one of her journals; she had work to get back to and she had taken up enough time already. She didn’t bother glancing over as two men came in and picked up Kate’s twitching form.

Another Kate, the real Kate, breathed out, releasing her held breath, as she watched her past self get taken away like garbage. She was in normal clothes. Dark circles were under her eyes, and her skin was pale in the soft glow. “I did learn from that.” She avoided looking at MC. “When I was released from detention, Sarah had to be put in the medical ward. She wouldn’t stop screaming for a week.”

MC trembled, tears flowing down her cheeks. What she had just seen had shaken her to her core. She thought she knew what Elysian was, but she obviously had no idea. There were a hundred things going through her mind, things she wanted to say, but she was afraid the words would come out wrong. Instead she pulled Kate close and whispered, “Tell me about something that makes you feel safe.” She had never tried to use her illusions in her dreams, but imagining a safe space always made her feel better, so she was going to try. If it helped Kate even for a moment she would do it.

Before she could do anything they were in Kate’s room. It was spartan, like a drug addict, the polar opposite from her room. There were a few knick-knacks, treasured trophies from people she had managed to get close to. She moved to the side and picked up a ribbon MC had given to Zoe.

“I feel safe when I’m connected to people, when I’m in their dreams. I feel what they feel. I live their lives, their secret lives. I know everything about them. When we were in Logoverse, I was so warm, so full. Now, I’m just me. I’m nothing.” She paused before continuing. “You’re only safe when you know something someone else doesn’t. When you’re a step ahead.” She rubbed the ribbon absently. Her rainbow hair fell across her face as she whispered “I’m not safe to be around.”

Kate’s words echoed what MC’s friends had said about her, but none of it was Kate’s fault. MC looked around the room and she saw a girl who was broken and alone. It was something that was almost impossible for her to imagine, as she had never felt alone, even when she was by herself. Knowing that someone was telling Kate that she was nothing, punishing her, making her believe it was heartbreaking, yet at the same time she felt her resolve strengthening. She was not going to walk away from Kate, she wouldn’t be able to forgive herself if she did.

“You’re not nothing, and whoever told you that is wrong. You are witty, smart and so much stronger than you realize. You don’t need to live other people’s lives to feel connected. They are trying to make you feel like nothing, so you can’t break free. You don’t have to live like this. Please, let me help you.” MC reached out and took Kate’s hand, purposefully amplifying the beat that was inside her, that always drove her forward, so Kate could feel it.

Kate looked at MC’s hand and shuddered for a second as she kept trying to pull herself together. “You say that, but you don’t know what you’re fighting. She gets inside your head.” Night Terror began pulling at her hair and bits of color started falling off. “I don’t really know who I am anymore. She’s doing something big and she’s not even the one calling the shots. I saw it in her office. Someone else is pulling her strings. Adnan’s just a small piece.”

Kate grabbed MC by the shoulders. “None of us really matter, we’re too small. Let’s just go back to the way things were and enjoy it. You can just forget, the way I made Zoe forget.” Her gripped tightened. “Please say yes.”

As MC tried to wrap her mind around what was happening, Night Terror’s eyes started to shimmer and the room fell away replaced with rippling lights. As she stared at the shimmering lights, the beat gets fainter, further away. She’s struggling to remember where she is, what she’s fighting for. Why try to fight at all?

An image of a tall rainbow haired woman reaching out to her breaks through, and she says, “Never lose sight of who you are, your friends need you.” MC comes back to herself, feeling Leon’s paw on her shoulder. He is breathing hard, and looks shaken. “We need to leave, now.”

Night Terror’s skin becomes whiter. There is a terrible hunger in her eyes, feral and almost monstrous. Deep down MC knows that’s not true. They made her this way, they were the true monsters, forcing her into believing that this was the only way to get ahead. Using her fear against her. MC squared her shoulders, prepared to do anything to break through to Night Terror.

“Maggie, you can’t help her here.” Leon roared. “This is her dream, she could trap us.” MC hesitated for a moment, but knew he was right. Before she turned to run, she created an illusion around Night Terror. It was of her lair, and an illusionary MC says, “Kate, I know you’re better than this, you just need to fight it. I can’t do that for you, but I’m always here for you”

They run out of Kate’s room, through the office, and down a long corridor. As the doors of the dream slam closed, she can hear Kate cry out, “Please don’t leave me here alone.”

MC woke up, screaming and crying hysterically. “I left her. I left her there.” she repeated over and over, until her throat was raw. She didn’t realize it, but she had carried her fears out of the dream with her.


The next day

MC spent the entire day laying on the couch, alternating between staring at the ceiling and her phone.

You’re not alone was the last message she had sent, and there had been no response. She hadn’t really expected one, but she kept imagining Kate laying on her bed in her bare room, curled in on herself, crying.

Hours passed by slowly, and as she felt herself dozing off, she repeated the phrase You’re not alone in her head over and over. When she entered her dream, she was sitting on a stool at the bar, a large neon sign reading “You’re Not Alone” shining like a beacon. Sophia appeared behind the bar shaking her head. “That isn’t helping.” She unplugged the sign, everything dissolved into darkness. MC could feel Leon and DJ Kodiak stalking nearby, as the dream melted away.

When she woke up she was both relieved and disappointed that Kate never came.


Two days after the dream

“So what if I call Ms. Scorpion and have her let me in. I can use my Doom Squad disguise. I can take Kate back with me, so she can ride this out somewhere safe.”

Sophia sighed . “That is a terrible idea. I can think of at least a hundred ways that could go wrong.”

Leon nodded in agreement “In all likelihood someone would see you leaving, and then you’d be captured.”

“Okay, then I won’t leave. I’ll just go and sit with her.”

Sophia put her face in her hands. “Did you not hear what we just said? You saw what Ms. Braid is capable of, do you think that she’s just going to let someone waltz in there to comfort someone she is emotionally manipulating.”

“I can’t just sit here and do nothing!”

DJ Kodiak, walked over to the chalkboard panels and picked up a spray paint can. In an area that was not covered by her friends signatures he wrote Good > Dumb.

She threw up her hands in frustration. “Fine, whatever. I’m going to class.”


Three days after the dream

Emotionally exhausted from replaying the worst parts of the dream over and over, something Kate had said popped into the forefront of her mind. “You can just forget, the way I made Zoe forget.”

What had Night Terror done? What had she made her forget? What if Zoe wasn’t Zoe anymore? How long ago did this happen?

Leon appeared, looking pointedly at her phone.

“I don’t know if I can.” MC whispered, feeling ashamed. She had been ignoring the whole Zoe situation, and the more time passed, the easier that became. At the same, time the idea of facing her became more painful.

“You can’t ignore her forever.” Sophia chided.

“Calling her would be doing something.” DJ Kodiak rumbled.

“Yeah, yeah okay.” She glanced at the clock and saw that it was about the time that Zoe would be between classes. With a shaky hand she hit the dial button. “Please pick up.” she repeats over and over.

She lets out a sigh of relief as the other line connects.

20 min later

A slight smile creeps across MC’s face, and the knot inside her chest loosens a little. “She wants to meet up. She wants to meet up! I was such an idiot.”

All three of them look at her with expressions that clearly say Duh.

Suddenly her phone vibrates, with an incoming text from an unknown number.

(1 / 5) Hey, this is Leroy. I was told to contact you from our mutual friend. She said to tell you things are weird there. Our friend said that if you want to get in, you’ll need a plan because it doesn’t seem likely that you’re leaving. I don’t know what that means, but, when our friend, or Apex, say things are bad, then I get scared.

(2 / 5) OH JEEZ! I SHOULDN’T HAVE SAID APEX. CAN YOU DELETE THE TEXT!

( 3 / 5) Um, all of these messages. But, if you see our friend, can you tell her I was real subtle and did a good job?

( 4 / 5) oh, tell Cybersoul thanks. My bro is hiding out in Florida.

( 5 / 5) damn, I shouldn’t have told you where he was hiding, please don’t tell anyone.

MC texts back. I’ll tell her that you are awesome. I’ll make sure Cybersoul knows, they’ll be happy to hear that. Tell our friend we’re working on figuring it out.

“So now what?” DJ Kodiak asked.

“We’re going to go storm the castle.” MC grinned, some of her resolve returning.

DJ Kodiak went back to the board and underlined the word Dumb.

“That’s not a plan.” Leon sighed.

“Get everyone together, come up with a plan, and then go rescue our friends?”

“Evil emotionally manipulative headmistress, whose is being controlled by someone probably more evil and powerful, remember?” Sophia said.

“Rally everyone together, gather all the information we know, and then go to Principal Summers?”

“Yeah, I think that’s good.” DJ Kodiak said.

“We’re still going to rescue our friends, though.” MC declared.

Leon wrapped her in a hug. “Of course you are. All of you together.”

She sent a message to everyone over CASPER. Emergency Meeting. Lair. 8pm. Snacks will be provided.

“Looks like we need to get snacks.”

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