New Guard

Chiaroscuro Duality Vol 3 - Delving into Our Demons
Relationships are Complicated

Ugh, 3Journal, hey. I’ve been avoiding writing this. But my family are getting here any second, and I am losing my ENTIRE mind over it, so I figure this might be a good distraction. And I said I’d write whenever I was feeling like that, anyway, right? So, I’m doing that. Writing.

Life has been insanely busy this year. Classes are like, ten times harder than ever. Our Next Gen Plus responsibilities have us up late, and then up early, too. There’s that crazy stuff with Cybersoul and our brains and the chains and whatever THAT’S all about. And Yuna and I are trying to take things more seriously, and I’m trying to take everything going on with HER more seriously. Which is hard. Because it’s scary, sometimes. And I have to remember SHE’S not scary, but something inside wants to force her to be. And I think it scares her more than me. Man, okay, no, that deserves its own entry, so, uh, yeah.

But then we’ve got all this other stuff going on. Spooky ghost kids invading our dreams and visions. Hell-eyes glaring at us all freakin’ day. Adnan disappearing, and all the crazy stuff people are doing to try to fix that. My little yoga group in the mornings. That crazy stuff a couple weeks back with Elysium and the mall and. . . Tox Charlene.

Okay, so, yeah.

Took awhile to get there. Sorry. It’s been a whole thing.

I don’t know all the details, but I do know that Charlene really faced down some tough crap with a few of my friends awhile back. It almost got really bad. She’s hung out on that ledge a bunch of times over the years. And I can’t help but

There is an abrupt stop to the writing; another entry begins on the next page.

Chiaroscuro Duality Vol 3 – Delving into Our Demons
Relationships are Complicated

Ugh. Sorry, thought that was Devin calling, but it was just “Susan with the IRS.” Psh, whatever, Susan. Let’s start over, okay?

A couple weeks back, Deaglan helped me run a Demons & Delvers game here in my dorm while everyone else was out in town. He and Cass and Tim showed up to play, and Deaglan used some pretty sweet magic to help animate the grimdark world of Durafell, which was so freaking cool to see.

Except, well, it turns out I might have UNINTENTIONALLY written some of what’s going on in my life into the scenario I ran. I think that Deegs was reading WAY more into than was there, but I have to admit he made some good points right around when they were bashing Devos the Demonic Suitor to the Dark Lady of Durafell’s hand to death with a door about how maybe I need to work through some stuff with my family.

He also summoned some weird 1800s-looking suitcases that are labeled “Emotional Baggage” to cover up my laundry pile. They’re still here. Magic is weird. And Deegs is NOT subtle.

Anyway, point is, we all have to deal with crap in our past. It sounds like Charlene is really starting to have to face down some pretty serious demons. That whole being literal poison that can kill anyone instantly and painfully thing sounds like the absolute freaking worst. And I know that a lot of people in her life have made it worse than it had to be by treating her like a freak.

But, I mean, no one at Claremont is a freak, right? We’re all weird and crazy and gifted and powered and whatever else the government wants to label it, but the point is, EVERYONE here is like that. And even if most of them are INCREDIBLE wangs, so are the kids are Elysium.

So. . . why would any of us make Charlene feel WORSE about being the exact same as the rest of us? Like, what kind of douchebag would do that?

Well, fact is, that douchebag I’m writing about is—I know, this is going to shock you, 3Journal—me. I’m the one who was a complete and total wang to Charlene right at the start of freshman year. And I’ve been trying to ignore how she always tries to avoid me in the hallway and clams up when I walk by and never, EVER goes to events in the chapel, ever since then. Because I didn’t want to deal with how crappy I made her feel, because doing that made ME feel crappy. But that’s so freaking cowardly. And after all that stuff in the Fens last month, I am DONE being a coward, okay?!

So here we are then. I wrote her a letter. I’m going to get Reggie to pass it off to her, since I guess they’re friends, or whatever. He told me it was the right thing to do. She’ll probably just burn it to cinders. Like, I don’t deserve her forgiving me, I get that now. It’s not about ME feeling better. It’s just about trying to let her know that I shouldn’t have made HER feel bad.

And it’s really, really hard, even though I know that.

Anyway, I kept a copy of the first draft of the letter. Sorry for the handwriting, and all the ink marks. I figure you’d want to hang onto it for me, 3Journal. Thanks.

Between this page and the next is wedged a sheet from a Composition Notebook, or similar, a little smaller than the journal’s normal paper, and a different shade of white. It is covered in messy scrawl, replete with cross-out marks.

Hey, Charlene. It’s Twi Bobby, from class. Well, I mean, we don’t have any together this semester, but you know what I me

Okay, sorry, I’m really bad at this. I’m really bad at lots of things. Like not being a complete and total wang so

Look, I know that, like, you probably don’t want to hear from me, like, at all. I get it. I don’t even blame you for that. I wouldn’t want to talk to me either, if I were you and I had don

Ugh, sorry, that got confusing again. What I’m trying to say is that I was a complete wan dou completely insensitive bully to you freshman year, in the chapel, when I told you to find your own place to brood.

I said that because I was trying really hard to seem cool and mysterious and sad and whatever else. I mostly just acted like a total tool, though. I’m kind of amazed ANYONE talked to me after those first couple of months of school. I was an absolute nightmare to hang out with.

Except, you never did. At first I figured it was just, you know, wha random luck, or something. But eventually, I started to hear from folks that I’d really, really upset you that day. And that maybe that was why you never really seemed to want to hang out or talk.

And, because I was STILL a total tool, that hurt MY feelings, and made ME upset, because I didn’t know why you were treating ME like I wasn’t worth the time of day.

Like I said, tool.

I’m not saying I’m perf all better now, or anything, okay? But I AM trying. And it took a lot of trying to make dum myself realize that I was the one who was out of line back there in the chapel, and that I owed you an apology, and that you didn’t owe ME anything.

And to be clear, I mean that. I don’t expect you to write back, or to forgive me, or to become my best friend, or whatever. You’ve got enough going on in your life without trying to deal with me and all my crap, anyway. I just wanted to let you know that I did something awful to you, and I realized that, and that I was sorry.

Anyway, uh, good luck with school this year.

Bobby Cooper

Chiaroscuro Duality Vol 3.5 – Addendum to Delving

OMG 3Journal, uh, look, this isn’t a full journal, but you know those weird suitcases I was talking about? They finally disappeared! What the heck??

Oh, crap, that’s mom. Bye for no

Into the woods...
to find friendship....and deer

He’d given into it again, the call of the wild, the thrill of the hunt, this thing in him. It made him a villain, right? His parents sent him here instead of Elysium, but that’s where he belonged, with the budding monsters. He got the deer, it was no match for a demon wolf, slung over his shoulder he headed back toward the tree where he had stashed his bow covered in blood. All he could think, was “at least they can’t see me now.” He’d never felt more ashamed, or less human. “pull yourself together” he thought, smelling his way to the tree, you’ve got friendsgiving soon, they can’t see anything that looks like this can they Brah?

MC was leaving her lair, carrying trays under her arm, when something pinged in the back of her mind, that nagging sense that something demonic is around. It seemed almost familiar, and as she focused on it led further into the woods. She threw up a veil and walked forward but stopped in her tracks when she saw Thad covered in blood. For some reason, seeing him in demon wolf form was less unnerving than seeing him like this. She quickly ducked behind a tree, even though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Do I say something? Is this something private?” (in her head)

Thad was snapped out of his self-pitying reverie by a familiar scent. His sense of self-loathing only deepened into shame. Dropping the deer, he looked vaguely through a nearby tree. Wondering whether MC was having a private moment on the other side…and why she reeked of bleach…well. maybe she hadn’t seen him yet and he could slink off. On the other hand, wandering in the woods didn’t seem like MCs style. She might be having a moment out here, and he did not want to be seen like this.

MC gasped when Thad turned and looked right at her. Shit, she forgot about the super scent thing. She was about to run off until she saw Thad’s face. He looked, sad? Embarrassed? Something inside her tightened seeing her friend like that. She remembered when dove on top her to save her, without hesitation. Maybe this was her chance to repair the favor. She dropped the veil and walked out from behind the tree slowly. “Hey, Thad. Please don’t run.”
“I didn’t mean to sneak up on you, it’s just…are you okay?”

…. Thad’s mind screeched to a halt with the elegance of a record scratch in the middle of a concert. He had no idea how to answer her question, so he went for what had been working so far: “Yah Brah, I got the deer for your party” looking not remotely OK.

MC pondered what to say for a moment. Over the past few days, when she had ignored her gut instinct everything had gone wrong. So, she decided to just go with it. “It’s just that, you don’t look fine. And maybe it’s none of my business, but…I don’t want you to be hurting, if I can help in some way”

…Thad thought, what the hell, she was willing to be his friend and had known he was evil from the beginning…Maybe he could just level with her. “That’s very nice of you, but I don’t think anyone can help me. I’m cursed”

MC asked “Cursed how? Is that how you got your powers? Sorry, if that’s too personal…. it’s just…and I may be way off base, but I think it’s something more than that.”
“And I want to help.”
Thad sighed, “Yes, I was a normal kid with a normal life…. OK I was a normal rich kid with a normal rich kid life…one curse and a jerk through a window later and here I am.”

MC paused. It was sometimes easy to forget that some kids were new to their powers. She remembered how awful and confused she felt when she first knew she had powers, but on top of that being at a new school…. “This isn’t the worst place to be. Honestly, at least for me, normal is boring. But…I get that it might be hard to adjust. But we help each other through it. Because we’ve all been there, at some point”

Thad sighed, “I get that you’re trying to help, I really do, but come on. Your powers are “a party of one” mine are “hellfire becomes you.” Something seemed to un-knot in Thad and he remembered what the spirit said about MC, so he decided to trust her…a little… "Every time I shift I get my own personal tour of hell, and it gets harder to think that changing back is a great idea, I have a perfectly good bow, I could have gotten this deer a nice normal human way,….but this was…more fun, do you really mean to tell me “you’ve all been here before”

“Well, not in the exact same way. But I know how you feel kind of. I’m not sure if I’ve ever explained this, but DJ Kodiak , Leon and Sophia are just illusions of my personality. It’s weird and hard to explain. But when I was six, my parents convinced me that they were a threat, and that they were just trying to hurt me. So, I sent them away, and it was really painful. Eventually I realized what they were, and everything just clicked and made sense. But for years I denied who I really was, and it was awful and lonely, because I was fighting against myself. And right now, I see that in you. Fighting against yourself I mean. So, as your friend, my suggestion is, don’t fight it. It’ll just eat you up inside.”

Thad “See, what I’m worried about is not fighting it, and eating someone else. I saved a demon and it gave me a ‘wish,’ I really should have known better, but here we are, and honestly, I’m scared to death of what this curse is doing to me, what it’s turning me into”

The words came out of MC’s mouth before she could stop them. "What did you wish for? Oh god I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…plus, how could you have known better?

Thad shrugged, "you’ve lived with supernatural creatures your whole life, does anything nice give out wishes? I wished to have the powers of an Alpha Demon Wolf. I wanted to be strong enough to be dominant, to be respected, to be feared. I didn’t want to be the weird kid who hung out in the woods all the time. What I got was hellfire hunting instincts. I can smell when you’ve had a bad day, and the last time you showered, with a side helping of slowly turning into a monster. What can I say, I was 14.”

“I don’t think you’re a monster. far from it. You look out for people, you want to help them, save them. You saved me, out of instinct. That means something. I’ve known people whose powers run off fear and dominance. You are nothing like them, and I’m glad for that.
And I do respect you.”

Thad stared in disbelief…“I’m covered in blood, telling you that I have a growing desire to hunt things/people/etc, that I made a deal with a demon…and you…respect me?”

“Of course. You care about everyone around you and sacrifice yourself to keep them from being hurt. And you actually are worried about what’s happening to you. If you were beyond hope, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I know things are confusing, but that’s why we stick together and help work through it.”

The dulcet tones of a “text received” chime shattered the tension. Thad took the excuse and flipped open his phone, showing MC the message from Schism “Hey, sorry, I was gathering my trackers and noticed you were in the woods right now. I’d been meaning to talk to you; mind if I come out?" MC nodded at him, as she materialized a set of beanbag chairs. Thad clumsily texted back “the more the merrier.”

Schism teleported in, raising her eyebrows in question at the duo in front of her, taking in their stances and expressions … and beanbag chairs. She then nods. “MC, I have a feeling you’re here for a similar reason as me.” She gives them both a friendly smile “I’m not surprised.”

Thad deflected, daring Schism to react to the overly large wolf bite and blood spatter fashion motif, “you wanted a prime cut of this deer before I got it to the party Brah?”

Schism extended her hand and delicately teleported a piece of the bloody meat near one of the gashes into it, settling into a beanbag chair and nibbling on the venison as she talked. “Did you have a good hunt?”

Thad cocked his head to the side like a confused dog, staring at Schism in shock. Killer cyborg dinosaurs, trash monsters, orbital bombardment, no problem. But he was not prepared for …. this. He “yes….” he tried cautiously.”

Schism continued, “MC, Thad, if you’re in the middle of a talk I don’t want to interrupt. But if I’m reading things right, MC is trying to get you to see that the powers you have, and their effects don’t define you as a person.”

“Exactly!” MC said, as Hype Whale high fived Schism. “I know it’s hard to believe but there are a lot of people on your side.”

Schism munched on her venison “And I’m glad you had a good hunt…it’s got to be an intense feeling, balancing out different parts of yourself in those moments.”

“Yes, it is” Thad says with some trepidation. “You’ve seen what happens when I lose focus, I creamed that reporter. I really liked creaming that reporter”

Schism laughed “Yeah…to be fair, most of us there fought with wanting to cream some of those slimy paparazzi guys. Maybe our own urges weren’t the same as fighting against a magical side of yourself, but maybe not as different, either."

“Oh, don’t worry about me getting sick from the venison, by the way. I filtered the bacteria out when I teleported it, which was something I didn’t know I could do until this summer. Comes in handy more than sobering up after shots of moonshine.” She paused to take another bite, chewing it slowly to savor the taste

Thad shrugged “I honestly figured elves were immune.”

“Technically, I’m not an elf or fae, like Deaglan. I’m from a nearby dimension, and some things don’t affect me (usually physics), but I take care with illness stuff. I’m pretty wimpy physically.”

MC gave Thad an awkward smile “So am I.”

“Yeah, teamwork is pretty key with this crew. Us wispy folks appreciate the ones who can take those hits. It always amazes me how much people like you just step in front of us to take pain on our behalves.”

She looks at the deer again, then back at him. “You hunted this deer. Ignoring the hellish part of where your powers came from, your way of taking it down and bringing it for our friendsgiving is way more honest and moral than the factory farming that is going to bring food to a bunch of peoples’ tables for this holiday.”

“Here’s the thing I’m learning about human society, and probably my own. People define and redefine evil all the time. I mean damn, for lots of human history a woman who was too powerful and too opinionated was considered evil, depending on who wanted or feared her power. MC has an ability to sense that you have powers that came from hell. She’s not sensing that you are evil. There’s a really, really big difference between those two things.”

Thad looked over at MC quizzically “is that true?”

“Yeah. I wanted to get to know you better to confirm what I already knew. And I’m so glad I did” And yeah, big difference.

Thad sighed, "that’s a relief, if I’m going to be cursed, I can at least not be evil”

“Of course, you’re not evil!” MC exclaimed

Schism continued “Humans have the choice to do evil or good all the time; you’re just like everyone else with that. The difference with you is that you have a much more direct path, and need to confront those questions in yourself, than most other humans do. Your powers come from a dark, dangerous place, so the stakes are high with you. But there are plenty of other people with high stakes and no ability to handle their own powers. You’re here, in this school, learning how to do exactly that. And you have people who want to be your friend. The real you, not the mask you keep putting up, brah.” She gives him a sympathetic smile to soften the teasing note in the “brah.”

Thad offered a fistbump, " I’m seeing that, brah" smiling widely, “pudding pals then?”

“Pudding Pals!” She gives a fist bump back “Oh hey, if you’d like some inspiration, there’s a great comic in this world – Ghost Pirate – where the main character gets his powers from hell but uses them to fight evil and protect the innocent.” She teleports the first couple issues from her room to her hand to show him the covers, then sends them to his room so he doesn’t have to try to carry them with the deer. “In the real world, there’s someone you might want to know about, named Lantern Jack. I’ll tell you more about him another time. Or you could meet him yourself. I’ve got to get back to working on some dimensional stuff to…to try to get some help to Adnan.”

Thad looked over at the carcass “So, I have a favor to ask… Is there any chance you could help me move this deer? and maybe get me to a shower so I don’t have to cross campus like this?”

She finishes her piece of venison, then walks over to the deer, putting her hand on it for a second in thanks for its sacrifice before teleporting it away. She turns to offer her bloody hand to Thad in another fist bump that teleports him to his room, phases her hands clean, and then walks back through the forest with MC as they talk quietly together about various things.

(many thanks to Allison and Marisol)

Show Me What You've Got
A story about navigation

A series of small rooms stretched down a hallway off Claremont Academy’s main gymnasium. Students could reserve the rooms for training outside of class hours, and the schedule filled up quickly as the weather got colder. Room 4a was reserved under Reggie’s name from 6:00 to 7:00 every morning.

Reggie watched as Cybersoul picked their way through the obstacle course he had set up, trying not to touch any of the cones or bars. His foot was a blur as he tapped it nervously. Had he imagined that Cybersoul seemed curt and to-the-point this morning? Were they giving him the silent treatment now, or just focusing on the task at hand?

Cybersoul attempted to duck under a rod Reggie had laid over two stacks of mats, but misjudged their movement and knocked it off. They looked at it for a moment, then let out a long sigh. “This is the point where one is supposed to say ‘Mood,’ correct?” they asked.

Reggie looked up, then stifled a laugh. “You’ll get it,” he said, sitting down by the wall and stretching like he’d meant to do before Cybersoul walked in. “You’ve improved a lot already.” Cybersoul didn’t answer, only bent down to pick up the rod. “Hey,” Reggie went on after a moment. “There’s, uh, something I wanted to talk to you about.”

Cybersoul focused on setting the rod in the correct spot, and didn’t reply to Reggie until they had successfully ducked under it and come up on the other side. “What is that?”

“It’s about the other day. I can’t help feeling like… like I let you down, not helping you with Leroy’s brother.” Reggie swallowed. It was hard to admit he’d let anyone down, even when he’d practiced what he wanted to say. When he looked up at Cybersoul, they had come to a stop in the obstacle course and were watching him.

“The project was completed,” they said after a moment. “You… you did me no harm. There is no need to feel guilty.”

“Are you mad at me?” Reggie blurted, then winced. He had wanted to know, but he hadn’t meant to be so blunt about it.

Cybersoul tilted their head to the side, considering Reggie, then made their way across the room to sit beside him. “No,” they said finally. “I am… concerned, but I am not angry.”


Cybersoul seemed hesitant to elaborate, but they went on. “You asked me if Leroy’s brother deserved to be imprisoned,” they said. “When I- not at liberty to disclose- hmm.” They tilted their head back, trying to find the appropriate words. “I was imprisoned for most of my life. I did… things, then, which were far worse than selling cocaine. Still, I did not deserve it.” Cybersoul couldn’t cry, so their eyes were dry as they continued. “It concerns me that you think anyone deserves such a thing. Furthermore, it concerns me that you refused to break the law when someone’s life was at stake.”

Reggie turned to look at Cybersoul, who was still watching the ceiling. “I’m sorry,” he said, offering them a hand. They hesitated for a moment, then took it. “I didn’t know you had- been through that. It sounds awful.”

“To use the common metaphor, it totally sucked.”

“Nice job with the slang.” Reggie smiled at Cybersoul, and they smiled back. “I see where you’re coming from,” he went on, looking back at the room in front of them. “It’s not- I mean, I think you were right to want to keep him safe, but it’s more complicated than that.” He rested his head back against the wall. “I mean, it’s not just about him. He was imprisoned for a reason. Maybe I shouldn’t have said he deserved it,” he added before Cybersoul could protest. “But I mean- what about the people he was selling to? If he’s out of prison, any of them could die from overdose, because of him. I wanted to help you keep him safe, but… I have to keep them safe, too.”

Conviction made Reggie speak faster than most people could understand, and Cybersoul whirred as they processed what he had said. “That is wise,” they replied, much slower. “I had thought only of the immediate danger. Perhaps I should have consulted you further.” They paused for a second, then asked, “What would you have done?"

“I don’t know,” Reggie admitted. “I guess I wanted to find some way to keep him safe, but still in the system. I don’t know that there was really time for that, though.”

“Are you angry that I freed him?”

Reggie shook his head. "Under the circumstances… It was probably the only way to keep him safe. I couldn’t do it, so I think I’m glad someone did. Simone is always talking about this ‘diversity of tactics’ thing,” he said with a grin. “Maybe that’s what we were doing.”

Cybersoul nodded slowly. “Perhaps,” they agreed. “It is a relief that you are not angry.”

Reggie laughed. “Yeah, you too.”

“This is complicated,” Cybersoul complained. “Before I escaped… It was the worst, but at least I knew what I needed to do. Now I find myself… lost. I was foolish,” they said. “My creators were doing great evil. I am confident of this, but they were convinced we were doing good. I could not understand how they had deluded themselves so thoroughly.” They shook their head. “The difference between the two is much more obscure out here. Perhaps they simply failed to notice when they crossed from one to the other. I assumed that good people would know what to do, but it is much more difficult than I expected.”

“I think it’s more complicated than anyone expected,” Reggie said, squeezing Cybersoul’s hand. “That’s part of the reason we’re at Claremont, to figure out what our values are and how to live by them. Come on,” he added, standing up and pulling them after him. “We’re also here for agility training. Why don’t you show me what you’ve got?”

The Music of the Day

Deaglan’s fingers tapped away at his phone, sending texts out to Reggie.

Deaglan: “Hey.”

Deaglan: “Hey Reggie.”

Deaglan: “Do you have some free time? I’ve been thinking about those visions some of us had, and something Alea and I helped Angel do last year.”

Deaglan: “The only thing I’m missing is someone quick witted.”

Deaglan: “Not that I’m not quick witted! I just assumed you think as fast as you move.”

Deaglan: “I don’t think I am supposed to assume that… Something about mules, you, and me? But I was kinda hoping you could help?”

Deaglan frowned, looking at the empty signal bar, and frantically waved the phone above him, trying to catch those elusive signals. Oh well. Maybe they would send out eventually; he would check later on his way to the infirmary. Deaglan wasn’t expecting Angel’s help, but asking couldn’t hurt. It would give him a chance to talk about their last encounter anyways.


Reggie: “What do you have in mind exactly, Deegs?”

Deaglan: “Well, I’ve been doing a bit of reading. Found a ritual about collective and cultural memory, and I think I can tweak it some. If I can recreate what Angel did, perhaps with her help, we could slow the passing of time for us, and then delve into our own memories. If you perceive things as fast as I think you do, it should give us time to thoroughly examine what we saw in our visions. Pick out small details that could help?”

Deaglan: “I’m heading over to talk to Angel now. Then to Professor Kuzkin’s office. He has a space set up just for this sort of thing!”

Deaglan paused, and added another response.

Deaglan: “Can we leave Aaron out of this? I know he isn’t doing to well. I feel bad enough asking Angel for help, but she’s had more time to recover.”

Reggie: “Yeah sure man. I’m down. That sounds like a solid theory. We could get a more panoramic 360 view of what was happening when i was running…maybe even get a look at the source?”

Deaglan: “That’s my hope. I’m still struggling to piece together what’s happening. I just got to the Infirmary, I’m going to chat with Angel. If I don’t see you in the next couple seconds, then I guess I’ll see you at Kuzkin’s office?”

Deaglan knocked on Angel’s door, stuffing his phone into a pocket. “Uh, Friend?”


Kuzkin was leading the two boys to the theater stage. Deaglan carried several components for a ritual, as Reggie mentally recited his lines once more. Deaglan was already nervous about the plan, considering the changes he had made; The ritual may not even work.

“All the world is a stage, my boys! What better place to play out the narrative of wondrous story and consequence, than here, in the theater!” Professor Kuzkin beamed at the two, giving a small flourish atop the stage. “You can prepare the spell over here, Deaglan. I know it’s not quite what you had in mind, but it should let you glean something, nonetheless! Remember, my boy: Confidence. Is. The. Key!” Kuzkin stepped down from the stage and sat himself in the front row, letting the two prepare their performance.

After some preparation, Deaglan began the ritual, haltingly at first. A burn mark on his scalp was all the reminder he needed over how bad this could go. Kuzkin gave him a nod of encouragement when Deaglan glanced his way. After Reggie was given the cue, he began speaking, narrating more like. The sound of Deaglan’s ritual almost seemed to be a backing symphony. It rose and fell, whirling on itself as time lost all meaning.

At first, the music is soft bells, and then drums, as the laughter of friends and lapping water fill the air.

“Day time awakens, heightens each sensation
Sunshine stirs and warms imagination
Joyfully the senses abandon their defenses
Helpless to resist the notes I write
Quickly, brightly dawn unfurls its splendor
Grasp it, sense it, thunderous and tender
let your face embrace
the glorious light of day,
turn your thoughts away
from cold unfeeling night
And listen to the music of pure life”

As Reggie was singing, a spotlight moved with him, providing a warm illumination. In the shadows cast lurked a burning figure. When it started to sing, the primal drumming and joyful ringing of bells that backed Reggie’s performance shifted to a minor key melody.

“No more talk of daytime,
Forget these wide-eyed dreams;
I’m here, nothing can save you,
My words will doom and drain you.
Forget the thoughts of freedom,
Let shadows dry your tears;
I’m here, with you, beside you,
To hunt you and to find you.”

The burning figure splits into multiple selves to surround Reggie, who wore a concerned expression. However, from where the figures moved, the boys saw a frozen girl kneeling down. She began singing as well.

“Say you love me every waking moment,
Teach my head the world of summertime.
Say you need me with you now and always;
Promise me that all you say is true,
That’s all I ask of you.”

The burning figures whirled into the sky and became a burning eye, glaring at them balefully.

“Claremont’s not a shelter,
I’ll replace the light;
Unsafe, no one will find you,
Your hopes are far behind you.”

The woman melody picked up again.

“All I want is freedom,
A world with no more night;
And friends, always beside me,
To hold me and to hide me.”

The burning eye changes hue, fading from vision. It was no longer visible, but its presence was felt. Around them, fiery tendrils of Hell stretched into the scene through Deaglan’s tainted magic.

Once Deaglan caught a glimpse of the hellish taint that begun to creep onto the set, he willed more force and inflection to his incantation, trying to force the taint out. Beads of sweat formed on his brow, as the spotlight swung to focus upon Reggie and the frozen girl. Above and around them, a thin haze formed, drawing focus on the duo.

Deaglan winced as the hellish energy coursed through him. His focus waxed and waned until faint words reached his ears. “Face your internal demons. Focus on the magic that is yours, not what it’s trying to push through.” Kuzkin was kneeling beside him now. Deaglan was unsure of when he arrived, but thankful nonetheless as he began mentally sorting his magic from that which wasn’t his.

As Deaglan’s focus returned, an illusionary sun crest behind an emboldened Reggie as he crossed the stage to the icy maiden. As he neared, brutal cracks can be heard as the ice starts to shatter. Reggie puffed up his chest in defiance, denying the spotlight to the baleful eye, as intense light framed his form. While Reggie sung, the pounding of drums and ringing of bells returned.

“Open your eyes and pursue your wildest dreams!
Embrace your thoughts of the life you want to live.
Open your eyes, let your spirit start to soar,
And you’ll live as you’ve never lived before.

Purposefully, warmly, friendship will surround you
Feel it, hear it, expanding all around you.
Open up your soul, let your dreams come true
In this dawn light which I promise you should not fight
The brightness of the music of pure life!"

The maiden looks up and the ice is melting like two rivers of tears. Through the fractal ice a legion of teenage kids can be seen inside of it. Reflected off of it can be seen many younger kids, elementary age.

The girl looks at him and through him, however, like she could barely see him.

“Think of us, think of us fondly
Please know how hard I’ve tried.
Remember me, once in a while
Please promise me you’ll try

When you find that, once again, you long
To take your world back—"

The melody faltered as the background of the stage collapsed around them. Deaglan cried out as something crawled on the back of his head, reaching around to strangle him. Wide-eyed and pale, he whispered, “It’s here, I feel Hell is here.”

Behind them, a Chicago accent rung out in song, pulling the musical back on track before it came to a grinding halt; Angel walked up to the stage.

“Deaglan, we’re past the point of no return, no backward glances
The doubts inside are finally at an end
Past all thought of if or when,
We are resisting
Abandon fear and let this hell descend
What raging fire shall flood the soul?
What dark desire unlocks its door?
There’s no destruction here before us!”

Deaglan grasped Angel’s hand, focusing on Kuzkin’s lessons and borrowed Angel’s light to ward off Hell. The tumult of hellish taint ebbing from the stage let the ritual stabilize for a little while longer.

Reggie stepped forward towards the woman that wasn’t, looking deeper into the ice. A reflection of a tank comes into his view. He squinted, leaning closer to see who was suspended inside, but before he could, the diminuendo whispers of the ritual heralded the end. It was over.

Reggie straightened from his leaning position, looking to Deaglan and Angel. “Sooo that was awesome but nothing like you described it would be…”

Deaglan panted breathlessly, still squeezing Angel’s hand. The horrific and unfamiliar sensation of choking still clung to his thoughts, but did little to dampen the large grin on his face. “I took some artistic liberties with the ritual… Didn’t reenact any memories, buuuuuut we got something. You got close to her, what did you see?”

“Right,” Reggie replied, perhaps unconvinced. “It was obvious those weren’t my memories, and it wasn’t a woman. It feels like those kids are constantly reaching out and we just keep intercepting their messages. It was like some collective cry for help. Man… These kids that keep popping up…. The sooner we find them the better.”

Deaglan nodded, taking in the information, still kneeling on the stage. After a brief moment, he looked up to Angel, pulling himself to his feet. “You came? What changed your mind?”

“Yeah, it takes more than that to keep me down.” Angel helped him up then took her hand back. “I’m glad things went better this time.”

Reggie looked between the two before briefly interjecting. “I’m gonna go….share with the rest. I’ll leave you two alone.” In a flash, Reggie was gone.

Deaglan glanced to the spot where Reggie was before smiling at Angel. “Yeah. Me too. I planned more… This time.” Deaglan took a deep breath, still rattled from the ritual. “Thanks you. For being here. I’m not sure we would have succeeded without you.” He held out his hand to her, palm up. “Since you’re here… Could we talk?”

( A big thanks to Justin and Adam for working with me on this. Also, sorry for not recognizing Phantom of the Opera. :P )

A Worthy Gambit

The sun hung high in the sky above Freedom City. Sorrel and Nina Cruz had walked from Claremont to Liberty Park, a green haven with wrought iron fences breaking up the rolling footpaths. Sheep bleated from the nearby Children’s Zoo as the students approached one of the stone tables. Sorrel’s glances around at the nearby children, running and playing and squealing with excitement, showed a clear uneasiness and a touch of doubt.

“You’re wondering why we’re here, right?” Nina said as she slid onto one of the benches at the table.

Sorrel nodded as he sat down across from her, still glancing about anxiously as she laid a case down on the table, a sly glint in her eye as she removed something.

“We’re here to train your mind.” she continued, opening her hand to reveal a white marble Queen chess piece.

Sorrel slowly reached out and took the piece from her hand, one eyebrow raised in confusion.

“You need to concentrate to hold back the creeping dread effect, right? Well this game is going to train your mind, like one would train the body for endurance running. While planning and executing your movies, you are also going to control that heritage of yours. Don’t scare the kids, Sorrel.” she said as she began unpacking the chess board and setting the pieces. She continued, “You will be white, I’ll play as black. What’s your first move going to be?”

“I see we’re moving into the advanced exercises now.” Sorrel said as he quickly glanced around, making sure of his surroundings. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to draw the dread energy into himself and out of the area around him. After a moment, he opened his eyes and took another deep breath before reaching out and sliding his Queen’s pawn forward.

A few moves went by before Nina spoke again.

“Do you think the reason your powers are fear based is because of a subconscious desire to push people away?” she said as she flew her King’s Knight over the defensive line Sorrel had set up. “Don’t let your control falter, Sorrel.”

Sorrel’s mouth twisted to one side at her move before responding, “I would certainly hope not. After all, my conscious desire is to let people in for once. Just maybe to be able to relax around you all rather than playing the part of the weird, paranoid looking kid for sixteen hours out of the day.” He reached forward, sliding his King’s Bishop forward to take one of her pawns from the board. “It just happens, i guess. Part of who I am. And it’s useful when i need it, but the rest of the time it just feels like a huge burden, you know?” he continued.

Nina slid the dark Queen to the side, watching Sorrel closely. Behind him a dog began barking at an unnamed, unknown threat. “Your powers aren’t just fear, though. You can teleport, as well, right? It seems to be about creating fear as a larger aspect of hunting humanity, like a predator. Why do you think that is? Do you think that you can really be a hero, or, even more, accepted as a hero by society?” she said.

Sorrel seemed to flinch noticeably for once at the mention of being some kind of predator to humanity. He wanted to be nothing of the sort, but wondered if she might be right. Noticing Nina’s glance at the dog and reading her suspicion that he was the cause, he paused and refocused his ming, pulling back his energy again as the dog quieted.

“I don’t know that you are wrong about the nature of the powers. If it is based on being predatory, then I suppose that evil can be the prey. I know that I can be a hero. Heroism is about standing up to face the evil of the world. It is about doing something to help rather than being selfish or submitting to evil. How I use the power that I have is what determines if I am a hero or a villain” he said as he moved one of the Knights forward, putting Nina’s King in check. “I don’t know about society, though. A lot of society already fears those of us who have powers, so you may be right that with powers like mine, the chances of society ever thinking of me as a hero is slim to none.” he continued as he paused, re-evaluating his last move. “That said, fear is a natural, healthy emotion. Good, healthy fears help to keep us alive.” He paused again and looked at Nina. “So no, I guess i don’t feel like the nature of my powers are necessarily what would keep society from accepting me as a hero. Ultimately, though, I don’t need all of society to accept me. I’d say that you would be a right fine start for me, and I can worry about the rest of society later.”

Nina slid her King forward, out of danger from the Knight and gestured to her right, a slight breeze catching her hair. Sorrel glanced over to see three boys playing on large rocks that hung over the sharp top of one of the wrought iron fences.

“Gently now, see if you can get them to leave. Help them realize the danger that they are in, but be careful Sorrel. Too much and they might panic, maybe fall. If they do, I can catch them. I won’t have to though. I know you can do it, Sorrel.” she said, sitting forward to lean on the table.

Sorrel breathed calmly and closed his eyes. He allowed the now-inert tendrils of web flow out, slowly, around him. This time, they didn’t carry the dread energy along their strands. In moments, sorrel could feel the vibration of the webs brushing against his surroundings. He closed his eyes and focused on the strands that reached out to the kids on the rocks. The web pulled back from everything else as a single mote of energy pulsed out toward the boys. They looked around quickly, alarmed. One suddenly hugged the rocks and closed hsi eyes as vertigo took him. He allowed the cold, scratchy surface of the rock to settle his head. Sorrel could feel it as though he were almost thinking it himself. With a breath, the boy opened his eyes and shouted out to his friends.

“I’m not scared or anything, but we should totally go to the swings. Those are more fun that the rocks.” he said. The other boys agreed after making it clear that they weren’t scared either.

Sorrel opened his eyes to see Nina watching him thoughtfully, a small smile across her lips. He then noticed her King, laying on its side.

“Good job. So, do you want to go look at the animals now?” she said as she packed up the game. “Checkmate in two, by the way.”

Sorrel smiled back and offered to carry the case.

“Animals are generally less trusting than people, so this might be a good follow-up” he said as he stood aside, ushering Nina toward the zoo. “Thank you again for this, all of this, Nina. It truly means the world to me.”

They slowly made their way toward the sound of the bleating sheep before Sorrel paused in step.

“And maybe later we can get dinner. Somewhere other than Wong’s for once. The food is great there, but that place is starting to weird me out.”

A dinner filled with hope, gratitude, and awkwardness

Well, Flora, you’ve gone and done it now.

She had purposefully brought it up to the Next Gen crowd that they should maybe do a Friendsgiving thing, to which they all immediately jumped on board and eagerly waited for the anti-social mutant to delegate. This was a terrible, terrible idea and the most she had looked forward to anything in a very long time. Well, besides the chance to see her family again in the next week or so. It wasn’t all bad; MC had done a majority of organizing, securing the home-ec kitchen and the lounge to use, along with getting the word out to everyone. It was immensely huge and made Flora eternally grateful for her rave friend.

Flora had been in the lounge for a while now, setting up tables and chairs, while the the turkey was still in the oven. She was no gourmand, but could cook and had spent enough afternoons watching food network with Ms. North to make something edible. Heck, she had even been coached through the steps of stuffing a turkey by Ms. North that morning via phone. It was nice to hear her mentor’s voice, even if it was mostly a lecture. Still, Ms. North’s closing remarks rung in her head.

“I’m so glad you’ve been making friends. Keep them close, dear. It is so important to keep them close.”

She wasn’t sure if Ms. North was offering sage wisdom or actual guidance, but either way, she wasn’t going to chance it. After almost losing one of them, Flora promised she wouldn’t let another one be lost. Enough were lost; it was time to bring everyone back.

The first to arrive were Cybersoul with Otakubot, who had armfuls of decorations in their hands. Aramat came in shortly after, excited and determined to recreate a perfect cornucopia. The alien and A.I.s then spent many minutes determining the most efficient layout of decor and how to make an identical replica of Thanksgiving symbolism. It was a bit too meta for Flora, so she gave them relative free reign and went to head back to the kitchen.

The next arrival were the team who had volunteered, or had been pressured by MC, to help out with the festivities. They found the short mutant, dressed surprisingly nicely in a blue sweater and black skirt, but wearing smudged apron from some of the cooking she had already done.

“H-hey…thanks for coming” Flora managed “ If you have anything you need to cook or heat up, you can come with me to the kitchen… otherwise, I think just setting the tables and helping get this place ready would be great”

“Okay awesome! This looks really great! Did you, err…get the venison as well? It should be in the kitchen. I would help, but I’m not really sure how to handle that. I’m just going to help out over here.” MC said, eager as always and carrying a box of string lights to hang up. She was dressed up for the occasion too , although from the corner of her eye, she swore she saw her hair turn from blue and pink to bleach blonde as she stumbled on the chair. Yet when Flora fully turned to check on her, her hair had turned back to its naturally unnatural colors.

“Yeah … Thad sent me the cuts. Let him know I’d appreciate a bit more of a warning next time” Flora said shaking her head as she remembered washing dishes as roughly 65 pounds of deer meat dropped on the counter behind her and she nearly dropped the platter she had been holding. Through somewhat quick thinking and movement, Flora had been able to bacon wrap and season a few tenderloins and throw them in the oven, packaging the rest up to be used for later or sent to someone who needed it more. .

“Show me the way!” Deaglan piped in, bearing a small bag of fruits and sweets, flour, and other baking needs. Tucked under his arm were a couple books, one earmarked in several places. He grinned at the others.

Bobby showed up with Yuna, both dressed up. Although Bobby’s version of dressed up was his cracked jacket over a button-up shirt and slightly darker black jeans than normal while Yuna sported a lovely pure black, heavily pleated dress. Bobby had brought a medium-sized shopping bag from Shaws full of canned cranberry sauce, paper plates, and a discount can opener.

“Hey, sorry I was late; the line at the store was absolutely crazy. Like, I’ve never seen that many people there before. What gives, huh?” The sullen boy muttered, to which Flora could only stare, trying to determine if he was serious or joking with her.

It was then Deaglan, who was dressed in hoodie and jeans seemed to catch onto some sort of pattern of attire, before shifting his outfit briefly through a series of prints until it settled on Argyle, bearing festive oranges, browns, and blues. He blinked at his pants, shaking a leg until they shifted back to plain denim.

“Oh man, Deaglan, you’re wearing those fancy triangles. Nice, man!” Bobby said impressed as Flora was more bewildered.

“"Thanks! I read about them last week!" Deaglan stated proudly.

Brian came fairly quickly around the corner carrying a rather large spiral-sliced ham from the Honey Smoked Ham Company, and staggering from the weight. Flora was quick to move over to assist him with the ham. “"This is all… a lot… thanks"

“I mean, worst case scenario we box whatever’s left and find some needy folks to give it to.” The genius suggested

“Maybe we could bring some to Lugnut and… Well, not Lugnut, but the people he watches over?” Deaglan suggested to which Brian could only manage a sigh.

“Lugnut isn’t my favorite person for obvious reasons… but from what everyone has said, at least he’s trying." The reasons were not quite obvious to Flora, but she could make a few guesses. Deaglan was the one to step in.

“I’m glad he is. Effort is what makes the difference.” The strange boy pointed out.

“He’s honest…that’s more than I can say for a lot of folks “Flora noted. She briefly contemplated the two former gang members, particularly Lugnut, who despite his condition was unapologetically honest and wore it with…, confidence? It was hard to tell and not the time to think further, as she looked the rest of the group, with Thad finally joining them and moving to help MC with the decorations and mingle. “I guess it’s just you and me in the kitchen then, Deaglan?”

YUP! Lemme just get some of this stuff set aside. I’m still trying to figure out how your weird space magic ovens work without fire. I mean, it’s been explained, but I don’t want another toaster incident…” He answered cheerfully, before Flora finally noticed one of the books was actually about modern kitchen appliances and caused the Vermont native to pale. She could kiss her scholarship goodbye if anything happened to the home-ec kitchen.

“Deaglan, w-wait up!” Flora called, as she quickly trailed to catch him, carrying Brian’s ham easily with her. Curiously trailed by Thad, who now seemed interested in helping getting things done in the kitchen by getting some vegetables ready. She had very brief interactions with the wolf boy, and while he seemed to be mostly bravado, he pitched in without being asked.

She was somehow able to convince Deaglan to let her help him with making his pastry, at least with showing him how to preheat the oven. To her credit, she let Deaglan make the rest of the apple-pie, only offering minor tips while she put the ham in the oven and tended to the rest of the meats. The pie came out messy, and lopsided but smelled pretty good. He seemed discouraged though, pulling out a few packages of pre-packaged cookies to use instead from his magic pocket. “It’s okay, Deaglan…you just need a little practice. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it it no time” Flora said attempting to sound encouraging.

MC finally poked her head back in the kitchen, looking to the three “How’s everything going in here? People are starting to arrive. Is there anything I can help with?”

“I think we’re pretty set” Flora said looking over at the kitchen and the massive amount of food “ Just need to let everything rest and then I can bring everything out. I-I guess I should help with the greeting thing…”

When she came back, the lobby had been turned into what could best be described as a stock photo that seamlessly melded into an abstract interpretation of a Thanksgiving dinner table centering around a cornucopia and a giant platter of cranberry discs.

It was perfect.

Reggie, Charlene, Simone and Aaron arrived shortly after everything had come together. Reggie and Aaron were debating which of their pies were better but both were in fairly high spirits. Flora directed the boys to set up the desert table, and directed Simone to some free space on the table to lighten her load. It left her alone with Charlene, who was hard to read, but Flora knew the girl was doing better than she had been. Seemingly out of nowhere, Flora gave Charlene a quick hug, ignoring the slight sense of vertigo. “…I’m so glad you could make it and that you’re here” She said before awkwardly letting go and having her join the rest of the group.

Simone looked to be having a good time, on the surface. The dimensional girl had brought a variety of snacks and sides from a local Syrian import market in honor of Adnan, and seemed determined to keep her interactions mellow and light. Yet, she had been very quiet and Flora had a feeling there was a lot she was holding in. Unfortunately it was a bad time to address it, there was never seemed to be a good time. It was one of the few times Flora wished she was as good at speaking as MC or Reggie; to give her some reassurance. The only thing she could manage was “This is great…thank you, Simone. Oh … by the way, do you mind if afterwards, when I’ve gotten everything cleaned up, you could send the leftovers to Lugnut and Twitch? I-I have a feeling they have a better bead on who is really in need of a hot meal”

Simone seemed a bit surprised, before a more natural grin came to her face “Sure thing, Flora!”

Kirby came like clockwork bringing white asparagus with a hollandaise sauce, and a pot of hot cider. Along with his optimistic demeanor, he brought a little more cheer into the room and began to mingle easily with the rest of the group.

The room got quiet as Blake and Rekani arrived, everyone seemingly uncertain for wildly different reasons. Yet, Flora approached, taking a guarded stance on instinct as she gently stopped Rekani before he stepped in. “This is Friendsgiving … you have to act like a friend” Flora said, internally cursing that her voice was always too quiet, too soft. She watched as he stared intensely at her for a minute, before presenting a platter with two giant haunches of some kind of smoked meat covered in sauce.

“It’s Hangikjöt … not as good as Afi makes it…” He muttered but eased slightly in his demeanor.

“T-Thanks, this is nice of you …” Flora said, before finally letting him enter, and the din of everyone talking resumed.

Sorrel was one of the last to arrive, with little apology, an easy smile and a casserole dish filled with mac and cheese. She didn’t know what to make of the kid, but appreciated his efforts.

Speaking of efforts, Flora returned to the kitchen and came back quickly with the fruits of collective labor. In her threads she carried the turkey, ham, venison and roasted vegetables to the table, carefully lowering them down safely onto the table. She only stumbled as she retracted her threads, sheepishly putting her gloves back on and taking a seat. She watched as everyone seemed briefly mesmerized by the food, a rattling of chains sounding close by excitedly.

It was MC that stood up before everyone could dig in “ “Thanks to all who contributed to this wonderful meal, and to Flora who put this together!” There was a polite applause that forced all the color of Flora’s being to rush to her cheeks. “ As per tradition, I’d like everyone to take a moment and tell us what they are thankful for. I am thankful for the chance to be here with everyone, and that we are all here safe, sound and in one piece.”

“I’m thankful for being able to be here at Claremont and meet all of you.” Bobby paused and looked at Yuna to his side for a long moment, cracking a rare smile. “The last couple of years have been really, really cool.”

“I’m thankful to be in the correct time, at the correct place, in the correct body, with the friends I’ve made.” Brian noted with conviction and sincerity

“I’m grateful for all present, and those not, who have made Claremont worth being at. This truly is a home away from home!” Deaglan exclaimed excitedly

“I’m thankful we have survived the semester thus far and for new friends” Thad said, sincere for a brief moment.

Everyone spoke of their gratitude, and Flora grew nervous realizing she was last. She was touched by everyone’s responses and frustrated that she couldn’t seem to find the words. It was a moment of silence as they finally came to her before she nervously rose. “I-I-I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be here…with all of you. I really don’t know where I would be…and I’d rather instead focus on where we’re going…together". She sheepishly raised her mug of cider. “To Caremont?”

“To Caremont!” Her peers, her friends responded raising glasses.

“And to Flora!” Thad called to which Flora immediately sat down to hide. That said, with laughs and smiles, the feast began. Despite all coming from different backgrounds and with different abilities, it was a great dinner, filled with gratitude and hope. It would be what Flora would remember vividly, even as she was cleaning up later that night.

Well, Flora, you’ve gone and done it now. She thought, smiling as she was washing dishes

You’ve actually made some real good friends.

{Thank you to Allison, Evan, Spencer, Randy and Kris for contributing, and for everyone else to offer ideas. Happy Thanksgiving, folks!}

The Light Begins To Shine

“Sure, meet me tomorrow at Hero’s Knoll in Liberty Park. 2:30.”

That was the text Reggie had gotten back from Sonia when he asked her to meet up. It was 2:35 and Reggie hadn’t spotted her. Come to think of it, he didn’t really know what Lady Liberty looked like when she was just Sonia…

It had been a few weeks, and he’d been avoiding the issue, but something big happened that day when the Power Corps attacked the city. Reggie had rushed to Lady Liberty’s side when she was struck down by a member of the Power Corps. Centuria was on the ropes and Reggie knew that Lady Liberty’s healing light was the only thing that was going to turn the tide of that battle. Cybersoul and Silver Eagle had deftly neutralized the sniper team that had been pounding Centuria with black hole bullets, so all Centuria needed was a nudge to get the fight under control. Reggie extended his hand and said, “Come on. Your friend needs you. Do you think you can keep up?”

“Yeah. I’m good. Lets do this,” she had replied with renewed determination.

Sonia’s Light of Liberty shone out in front of them like an ever expanding bridge as Reggie began running. She was right behind him, flying, slipstreaming in his wake. Reggie saw #1, the Power Corps leader, readying for another blow on Centuria. The urgency of the situation took him over. The sky opened up as a massive rod descended, shattering into a thousand shards, and heading straight for a collision course with the city. Centuria began spinning in the air, trying to pull them in to her, but there were too many: too many shards, too many bad guys, too much to do at once. Reggie felt the pull of countless responsibilities weighing him down in that moment but then something else began to creep in.

Lady Liberty’s light began to envelop him. His body began giving way to his own light. Liberating him. He pushed himself harder and faster than he’d ever gone before.


They broke the sound barrier. But he kept pushing faster. Her light fueling his. Merging. Mixing.

And then something within him accepted her light’s embrace and awoke.

Reggie and Sonia slammed into #1 with a million pounds of determination and hope and sent him crashing to the earth. The two of them and Aaron joined Centuria, and, they managed to whirlwind the falling rods safely into the bay.

Reggie was still scanning for Sonia when suddenly from the other side of Hero’s Knoll came the now familiar song, “Ameeerrrriiiicaaaaa. Ameeeerrriiiicaaaaaa!”

“Shhh! No. Nope. No need for that thank you,” Sonia awkwardly said as she stuffed the materialized American flag into a messenger bag. “Hi folks. Yes. Nothing to see here. Just paying my respects to those who came before me!”

She hurried over to Reggie, embarrassed.

“Hey, you didn’t recognize me a bit ago so I thought I’d make it more obvious for you. Obviously, it was a bit of overkill. Sorry.”

Reggie laughed awkwardly. Ok she’s obviously as nervous about this as I am.

“Come on. No need to apologize. Heck I’m the one who should be apologizing! Pretty crummy of me to not recognize you.”

“No, I transformed myself. You should see me when I go to the club, then you really won’t be able to recognize me! Anyway, what’d you want to talk about? The attack?”

Reggie shifted with uncharacteristic embarrassment. He usually had no problem talking to anyone about most anything. But for some reason this was really getting to him. I mean she’s in the Freedom League after all. His confidence was fading fast.

“Yeah. That. More though like…the last bit. With your light. And my light. And….” Her cheeks flushed red at that. “Yeah,” he said. “I know. It was…”

“Intimate,” she finished for him.

“Yeah. That’s the definitely the word for it. So what did it feel like for you?” he asked almost immediately regretting it.

She laughed nervously and looked away, pondering how to put it into words.

“For me,” Reggie continued, “it was like your Light of Liberty set something free inside me that I only passively knew was there. Something that had been growing with me woke up and became more active. It was…” He fumbled for the word.

“It was awesome.” Sonia was looking Reggie in the eye. “It was awesome. My light definitely touched something and I felt even more…alive. Like your light was was giving mine a nudge. I’ve…I’ve not felt like I deserve this power. Like it mistakenly chose me. But when it touched your light…I felt…right.”

“So…you wanna do it again?”

She smiled wide. “Absolutely!” Sonia looked around and noticed more people watching the two of them than she was comfortable with. “Not here though. I know a place.”

Professor Zed’s defunct laboratory was full of aimlessly wandering robot sentries. The perfect test dummies for their little experiment. They started off smashing some smaller bots. Reggie slamming through multiple sentries while Lady Liberty punched and threw the robots into each other. After a quick warm up destroying tech, the ground beneath them began to shake. Emerging from the ground at the end of the lab’s courtyard was a massive 25 foot sentry bot. It floated, looming above them, like a huge Surveyor Tyrant from Bobby’s Demons and Delvers games. Its eye stalks were ocular nodes with lasers trained on the two heroes. The massive metal mouth with impossibly sharp teeth laughed maniacally as it started to charge at them.

The two heroes looked at each other and nodded.

Without speaking they began working in tandem. Her light bridge projecting out in front of them as she began floating behind Reggie. He took a brief sprinter’s starting pose and she laid her hand on his shoulder. He shot off faster than before, but she was right there with him. She leaned into the pocket of air building around them as she started drafting Reggie. He took a wide arc circling the sentry, building up speed. Its lasers fired off in rapid three round bursts as it laughed its mechanical, maniacal laugh poorly mimicking Professors Zed’s.

Without warning the enormous sentry fell to the ground and sprouted 8 spider-like legs. The hydraulic joints screamed and hissed as the robot sprung at them with break neck acceleration. It slammed into a stone wall, barely missing Lady Liberty. Reggie faltered briefly as her light bridge shimmered, but in a swift recovery gambit he yelled “BEHOLD!” as he gave his body over to his light and slowed, briefly phasing right through Lady Liberty. His life giving light invigorated and energized her as he shifted back to flesh and blood behind her, using her forward momentum to propel him. He began running again a 16th of a second after he’d stopped, and was now pushing her forward. Like the Northern Lights dancing in the night sky, he swiveled around her glimmering in a flurry of motion as his body became unstable and her light passed right through him. It emboldened and fueled his need to be free. His form began phasing just like before as he turned to make one more run at the mechanical juggernaut.


They broke the sound barrier as they barreled toward the Zed-Bot. Sonia began screaming a triumphant cry that filled the courtyard drowning out the sonic boom. Mach 3…10…20! Reggie’s mind could barely keep up with his vision as their lights merged and finally became one.

For a moment, time and space lost meaning. That singular moment seemed to stretch forever both forward and backwards. There was a hammering sound in the background. As the clang of the hammer sounded, suddenly the Earth lay before the two heroes, and even as they saw the Earth they were also in the ocean; a thousand-thousand microscopic molecules struggling and yearning to find a path for themselves. Yearning, they reached toward the life-giving sun and its energy pushed them forward. They spread across the ocean and over the land. Devastation rained down from heaven as meteors and wildfire, and yet, they grew. Trees reached higher, gathering the light. Humanity moved among its branches, growing, exploring, discovering. Then came domination, subjugation, a populace yearning. Dying. On and on came the hammering in the background. The voice of all cried out for hope and liberation from the dark, and out poured a light of life and hope held aloft by a lady of liberty; an embodiment of the promise that they would not live shackled and forgotten. Reggie was no longer Reggie but every person, both tormentor and tormented. Faster and faster he rose up through the generations hammering from life to life until at last he slammed into a moment on a space station. His parents were performing an experiment. Everything seemed so slow as he saw the moment where he gained his powers. He saw the sun, white-hot. Beating inside of its fusion heart, he saw someone hammering away, forging reality for the planet Earth. For a moment, it glanced at him, and a single drop of sunlight fell down and landed right on his chest. He felt his heart start hammering in time with the sun. With each beat, new vigor grew, and a triumph of humanity took hold. Time started to speed up with those heartbeats, and all at once, sirens were blasting in the space station. Multiple systems were failing. Reggie looked back at the sun, and it said to him “Behold.”

That feeling of elation and majesty flowed through both of them for that brief moment as they slammed head on into the mass of metal and wire with the force of a meteor, obliterating the armored death bot and creating a smoldering crater around it.

They separated and crashed to the ground as the giant Zed-Bot exploded behind them. They lay there, hand in hand, without looking at the jubilant destruction they had wrought, laughing and crying tears of joy.

Owning Your Mistakes

It was the fourth time in three days that Aaron had walked by Vice Principal Dugan’s office, though one of those days was Sunday, so he felt it shouldn’t count. She’d been there almost every time, but he’d always made an excuse to not go in. Today was different. Resolute, he turned the corner to stand in her doorway. Mrs. Dugan sat at her desk, going over various forms and paperwork accumulated from the day to day business of Claremont Academy. A faint knock on the door jamb got her attention. “Mrs. Dugan, can I have a moment?” Aaron said, half hoping he’d be shooed away in favor of paperwork.

The look on her face said that she knew this conversation was coming, and was not one she was looking forward to. “Mr. Blake, yes, come in. I’ve…been expecting you.” This look, and that response, was familiar: Aaron had seen it a thousand times. It was a difficult one to decipher, but all of the clues said that this conversation was not going to be easy on either of them.

Shutting the door as a matter of course, since most of their conversations necessitated privacy, he sat down in the chair facing her desk, bolt upright at first. Mrs. Dugan lay the papers she was reading aside, giving the student her undivided attention. There was something in her eyes that Aaron hadn’t quite figured out. Respect? No, it couldn’t be. He began in a formal tone, “Mrs. Dugan, thank you for speaking…” Wrong. He caught his words, continuing slightly more relaxed, “…no, this isn’t an assignment for Boilerplate. This is going to be tough. Can I just get something off my chest?”

“By all means, Mr. Blake. And when you are finished, I believe there is something I would like to speak to you about as well.” Aaron must have looked like he was facing his own execution because she followed up with “This must be serious, is everything alright?”

While he’d rehearsed this in his head several times already, it came out stilted and, well, rehearsed. “OK, if Amelia’s Typhonic fanfiction is at all true, we both went through some serious stuff on Friday. We both very nearly lost someone dear to us in one way or another. And I think we both felt her pushing us away. Am I close?” A momentary look of shock crossed the Vice Principal’s face before she regained her composure.

“Perhaps we wish to talk about the same subject.” Aaron nodded his head, the universal sign for I was hoping I was wrong. “My daughter is the most important thing in the world to me, Mr. Blake. At times I feel she doubts that. Friday was one of those times.” Her iron exterior softened ever so slightly. “I want the world for my Cassie, I want to protect her from all the horrible things in it. I want to protect her from being hurt. Every mother wants to do that for their child. One day I believe you will know exactly how I feel. I want her to be happy as well. I’m willing to listen to what you have to say, as you make Cassie happy. But when you are done, I want you to listen and think about what I have to say on the matter.”

Tension hung in the air as Aaron swallowed on a dry throat. “I believe you. That’s why I believe you said what Amelia wrote. I’d like to think that I can convince you otherwise, but I’m not sure how. I’m not here to cast blame…the opposite, really. I’m not sure how much of what you said to Cassie was what you actually feel or was from that outside influence, but at this point it doesn’t matter. She was ready to throw her life away, and I cannot stand by while that happens. I have done some very dumb, shortsighted, impulsive things so far this year, and it’s only November. But it wasn’t until Friday on the rooftop that I realized what was actually at stake.” He fidgeted nervously in the chair and stared at an empty spot on the desk instead of looking Mrs. Dugan in the eye. “What I’m wrestling with is the fact that we both…care about her so much. And that you might be 100% right.” He hazarded a glance upward. Mrs. Dugan was watching intently. He dropped his focus to the desk again. “I talked her off the ledge, literally. And believe it or not, I was thinking of you, not me, when I did. I couldn’t be part of tearing you two apart.” His hands went up, open-palmed, a gesture that said here we are…now what?

Mrs. Dugan thought long and hard before responding. Aaron grew more nervous as the seconds ticked by. “Mr. Blake…Aaron.” He couldn’t help but smile at the sound of his name. “Frankly, this conversation is not at all what I was expecting. It appears a bit of self reflection has done you some good. But let’s be frank. Your behavior of ‘dumb, shortsigted, and impulsive’ didn’t just start this year. You had me concerned about you ever since you’d shown interest in my Cassie, and her reciprocating that interest.” Aaron nodded in affirmation. “I had hoped it was a fleeting teenage infatuation, but I now know that she cares deeply for you. And by your coming here and talking to me in this manner, I can tell that the feeling is mutual. You’ve come to me and started a conversation many adults aren’t capable of having, which is showing me that I’ve failed to notice you growing as a person. You have given me the decision on how your relationship with my daughter will continue, if it continues, out of concern for my daughter and I’s relationship. That is very surprising and unexpected…but appreciated.”

Aaron looked up at Mrs. Dugan, but past her. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer to his next question. “And that decision is?”

“If I were to ask you to end your relationship, I would be in the wrong.” It came out with telling reluctance. “The truth is, your relationship and how it continues has to be up to you and Cassie, otherwise she will resent me for interfering more than I already have. I ask you, as her mother, to take a long hard look at what you want, Aaron, as well as what she wants. Because what I see in you is someone who is going to put themselves in danger, frequently, and what I see in my daughter is a pure soul. One that would be devastated if something were to happen to you. I do have to admit, with your joining NextGen+ I have also seen you rise to the occasion more than once. Your actions have hurt fellow students, but I have seen you learn from that, and I‘ve seen how you are willing to be hurt for them as well.”

“I do what must be done for everyone else to be safe. That will not change.” The words came out like a statement or mantra, words he was trying to live by. He wasn’t sure they’d even been aloud. Mrs. Dugan continued.

“I’m not just talking physical wounds, Aaron. Weigh just how much it will affect my daughter, should you be hurt.”

“I dropped everything to make sure she was safe. I ignored Amelia’s plight to see that she was OK. It was a hard choice…” His eyes finally met hers. “…but it was the easiest one I’ve ever made.”

Mrs. Dugan had her mother-tone going strong. “Having had this conversation, know this, if you thought I was a harsh judge of your actions before, you haven’t seen anything yet.” Now that she had his attention, she smiled ever so slightly. The smile disappeared in an instant, replaced with the grave seriousness only a mother can summon. “And if you hurt my daughter…”

“Mrs. Dugan, I love your daughter.” Aaron’s body language screamed relief and revelation. “Wow, she’s not even heard that. But there it is. Now it’s out. It might be me being a dumb teenager, but that’s how I feel right now. With everything seeming to close in around us, I want nothing more than to hold her safe and happy.”

A long moment passed. “Perhaps you should tell her, and perhaps both of you need to have a very long talk.”

Aaron’s expression finally relaxed, most of the tension in the room seeming to have vanished. “See, I knew it. You’re 100% right. Thank you, Mrs. Dugan.” He stood up to leave.

“Aaron, thank you for coming to talk to me about this.” After he left, she wnet back to her paperwork. Now much work actually got done; she was too preoccupied with what had just happened.

Four Dorks and a Prison Break

[User CYBERSOUL has created a new group chat. Group chat members: CYBERSOUL, MAX, NINA, NOAH]

CYBERSOUL: Hello, everyone! I want to thank you once more for helping me this afternoon. Outside of the importance of the mission, I also enjoyed working with all of you. Perhaps we can find cause to work together again!

CYBERSOUL: It might also be fun to think of a team name…

NOAH: Oh heck yeah

[NOAH has changed NOAH’s nickname to LF]

[LF has changed CYBERSOUL’S nickname to CB]

[LF has changed NINA’s nickname to SE]

LF: …Hmmmmmm, Max doesn’t have a hero name, does she?

LF: Max???

LF: Maxxxxx

LF: …She’s asleep one bed over.

[LF has changed the chat name to Leapfrog’s Rockin’ Squad]

LF: nah jk jk

[LF has changed the chat name to The Time Stopping Rockers]

SE: …So this is what was blowing up my phone during history of superheroics.

[LF has changed the chat name to The Time Stopping, Sky Hopping, Cop Clocking Rockers]

[SE has changed the chat name to Absolutely Not, Noah]

[LF has changed the chat name to Nina Is Boring]

[SE has changed the chat name to Don’t Make Me Turn This Groupchat Around]

[LF has changed the chat name to But Mommmmmm]

[CB has changed the chat name to Is This The New Form Of Communication?]

LF: lmaooooo

[LF has changed the chat name to It Definitely Is, CB]

[CB has changed the chat name to Fascinating!]

SE: Ok enough of this

SE: No, Cybersoul, normal people don’t use chat titles as communication.

SE: …We’re just dorks.

CB: Still fascinating!

[LF has changed the chat name to Four Dorks And A Prison Break]


[SE has changed the chat name to Four Dorks]

LF: Boo

CB: I found that one amusing!

SE: You don’t just ADVERTISE that

SE: What if I was talking to the police or AEGIS and that notification popped up???

LF: …Sorry.

SE: You’re all going to give me a heart attack

[LF has changed the chat name to SE’s First Heart Attack]

CB: Apologies. I don’t wish for any of us to be in unnecessary danger.

SE: It’s fine. Just… be careful

CB: Understood!

LF: I mean technically we didn’t do anything, right? That’s the point of Max’s rewindy thing?

LF: Oh wait that’s perfect

[LF has changed the chat name to Wasn’t Us]

[LF has changed MAX’s nickname to RW]

LF: RW = Rewind

CB: That’s very clever!

SE: Hey, that’s a good one. We’ll have to see what she thinks when she wakes up.

LF: So what’s our next mission, CB?

CB: I beg your pardon?

LF: Our next mission!! We gotta get back on the grind

LF: Once RW and I get out of the infirmary anyway

CB: Oh!

CB: I hadn’t thought about it.

SE: Something slightly less… frowned upon, maybe?

LF: Boo

SE: You guys know I want to work for AEGIS, right??

RW: Oh, wow, it looks like I missed something.

LF: WOW RW say hi to the chat before saying hi to the guy sitting right next to you huh??

RW: I’m sorry…

SE: Don’t pay attention to him, Max.

LF: Hey!

CB: Max, do you like the hero name Leapfrog came up with for you?


LF: Scroll up :D

RW: Ooh, yeah I like that

LF: Yesssss

CB: I’m glad you like it!

SE: welcome to the team, Rewind!

[User CYBERSOUL has created a private chat with NINA]

CYBERSOUL: Nina, I know you were uncertain about what we did today. Reggie had the same reservations, but you helped me when he did not. I want to express my gratitude to you in particular.

NINA: …Yeah. I mean, it seemed like the right thing to do, I guess.

NINA: Let’s not make a habit of being morally gray, yeah?

CYBERSOUL: I am confident it was the right thing.

CYBERSOUL: It’s hard to do something when you’ve been told all your life it’s wrong, even if it’s not. I’m glad to have friends who will do the right thing despite their superiors’ beliefs.

NINA: Maybe it was right this time. But… we can’t just go doing stuff like that, okay? If we’re gonna do this thing, we have to be sure it really is the right thing every time.

CYBERSOUL: That seems wise. I will not ask you to do something that seems wrong.

NINA: Okay, good.

CYBERSOUL: If you do join AEGIS, I hope you will hold them to the same standard.

NINA: …Yeah. Yeah, I will.

CYBERSOUL: Then Freedom City is lucky to be under your protection.

NINA: Thanks, Cybersoul.

NINA: …Today was pretty cool.

NINA: I mean, not as cool as that fastball special we did, but still pretty cool.

CYBERSOUL: It was very cool!

NINA: Do you want to train together this evening?

CYBERSOUL: I will be attending the Jewel and the Holograms concert! Will you not be there?

NINA: Nah, too much homework. Let me know how it is. Maybe at lunch tomorrow?

CYBERSOUL: I’d like that. I will make a highlights reel for you!

NINA: Looking forward to it! :)

Intervention (A Remix pt1)
MC Gets Her Groove Back

MC was watching Cyberoul interacting the holograms in the VIP room after the concert., when something in her mind made her look over at the door. It was Leon, motioning at her from the hallway.

She excused herself, and walked over to him. It was weird, she normally had a good lockdown on them in public. “We should probably get things ready for our guests.” he said. She nodded in agreement, and went back in to let everyone know that they could head over whenever they were done.

The flight back to campus was quiet, and she got this feeling of dread that she couldn’t quite place. As she opened the door to the lair, Sophia and DJ Kodiak were waiting, looking sad but determined.

“What’s going on?” MC asked nervously, as Leon guided her down the stairs, paws on her shoulders.

“You’ve not been yourself lately.” Sophia replied. “And we’re worried, that you aren’t thinking clearly. ”

“I…I’m hurting…” She said, looking at DJ Kodiak for backup. He gave her a sad look, before disappearing.

“You can’t use that as an excuse anymore. You need to find some way to deal with it.” said Sophia, vanishing with a small pop.

“We want to help you. This is an intervention, I’m so sorry.” Leon disappeared.

A cacophony of sound filled the room, as several soldiers appeared, clutching their heads in agony, before falling over.

She stared at them in horror, frantically reaching out with her mind to make them depart. “I’m doing this, they are my illusions, why won’t they go away?” She was starting to panic.

All of this is already in your mind. You need to SEE it. She heard Leon’s voice in her head.

“Everyone is afraid of you. No one wants you”. MC, as DJ Kodiak was grabbing Kate, roaring in her face. “No one wants you!”

“No, no, no, that’s not was I was going to say…I didn’t mean it!”

More images appeared, playing out like movie clips, each of them spewing dark swirls of purple mist that did nothing to obscure the images, but darkened the room, to the point where she couldn’t see anywhere else to go.

Kate putting her hands on her head, easily breaking through the mental barriers.

Her Mom and Dad shaking their head in disappointment. “You should have known better. I thought we taught you to recognize evil.”

“She’s not evil. She’s just…”

Zoe yelling at younger version of MC, accusing her of flirting with other people. “Are you into bad girls, is that it?”

“I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Zoe ignoring her calls. Zoe kissing someone else. Zoe laughing.

Pain lanced through her chest, and she couldn’t breathe.

Zoe curled up on her bed, staring at her phone. Through her tears, whispering “Why won’t you talk to me? I need you."

The pain went away, to be replaced with grief and tears. “I gave up on her so easily. I walked away. What’s wrong with me?”

Aaron, Brian, Cybersoul, and Schism in the infirmary. They were talking and each of them were holding violet tendrils, that were starting to be woven together. MC was walking towards them, holding a string in her hand, but something behind her distracted her, and she walked away, dropping the string.

She could feel the dragon, it’s heartbeat was deafening. The endless storm, with it’s rains rising to swallow MC up. She called for help, but there was none, not this time.

“STOP! “ The noise stopped, and instantly all of the scenes were contained in a translucent bubble.

Tears streaming down her face, she walked up and touched the bubble. The feelings were still there, but not as overwhelming. One by one she touched the surface, recognizing and acknowledging the fear, doubt, disappointment, betrayal, confusion, hurt, loss.

As she regarded the last scene, Zoe crying, she saw a faint light coming from behind the bar. She went around, and there was a child hidden underneath, her knees drawn to her chest. The girl looked at her, her eyes shining in defiance, without fear.

“What are you doing here?” MC asked.

The girl sniffled. “I’m lost. I don’t know who I am.”

Without hesitation, MC reached out to her. “Let me help you.” As soon as the girl took her hand, all of the bubbles burst, and the dark mist was replaced with golden sparkling light. New scenes began to appear one by one.

Zoe walking on a tightrope, doubt causing her to stumble, but MC was there to catch her everytime. She shone with a fire as bright as her hair, she was able to walk across with her head held high.

Flora at the mall, shaking with anxiety. MC smiled warmly at her. “I’ve got you.”

Pure teenage exuberance and joy, evident on everyone’s face, as MC flung a frisbee down the field.

Reggie, in a lab, frustration pouring off him in waves of intense heat. MC walked through it, fearless, and told him, “You’re close. Don’t stop now.”

Schism, her back bent from carrying the weight of her determination for so long. “We’ll figure this out. We will save him.” MC said, taking it from her, and draping it around her shoulders like a magnificent cloak.

All of them together, facing down wave after wave of enemies that she couldn’t see, but they were endless. As one of her friends started to falter, the light inside them fading and flickering out, MC grabbed them and picked them up. “We’ve got this.” she yelled, and they fought on, bright beacons against the darkness.

She took her eyes away from the scenes to look at the girl. Except she had vanished, and was replaced with a tall woman with rainbow hair, light reflecting off her in colorful beams. MC could feel a beat flow from their clasped hands and as that beat synched up with her heart, something inside her burst open. Feelings of joy, love, certainty, hope, erupted and MC was overwhelmed with just how right it felt.

The woman laughed warmly, and kissed her on the forehead. “Never lose sight of who you are. Your friends need you.”

Instantly all of the remaining illusions melted away, except for DJ Kodiak, Leon and Sophia, all looking at their feet, waiting for her to say something.

“I’m so sorry.” said DJ Kodiak rumbled, giving her a hug. “I know that hurt but…”

“It’s okay, I think. I was a bit of a mess. You were right, seeing it helped.” She rummaged around behind the bar for a bottle of water and a granola bar, before flopping down on a sofa. She felt emotionally drained, but in a good way.

“Are you feeling up for company?” Leon asked as they heard laughter coming down the stairs.

“Oh crap, I forgot we’re the after, after party! Umm, hold up.” MC ran to her laptop, and put on some Joy Bunnies. “Yeah, company sounds good right about now."

She sat on a barstool, swiveling back and forth, while watching Shadow and Blake play Guitar Hero VR. Occasionally, golden sparkles would fly out from Blake’s guitar.

Melissa sidled up with a slice of pizza. “Do you have anything besides beer? Bud-lite is fine and all but..”

“You need something stronger?” She smiled, creating flames while Shadow was nailing her solo. “Check the cabinet.”

“You’ve got a really sweet setup here.” Melissa said, pouring two shots of tequila.

MC accepted the shot and knocked it back. “Yeah, I won the space freshman year. I’m not sure what the others do with their lair, but…”

“Wait, hold up, call this a lair? I think you fundamentally misunderstand what a lair is!”

“What do you mean?” MC took the bottle from her, to fill the glasses again.

“First off, it is way too colorful.” Melissa reached up and tugged on one of the strings of christmas lights. “Secondly, lairs are supposed to be secret.”

“Says who?” MC stuck out her tongue and spun around again.

“Well…everybody! Plus, if everyone knows about it, how do you keep it protected?” Melissa threw her hands up in the air, laughing. “Okay, stop I can’t take you seriously right now.”

MC stopped spinning, and said seriously. “This is a safe place for me and my friends. And you are welcome at any time”.

Melissia looked taken aback but said “Thanks.” before grabbing the rest of the bottle and settling in on the couch.

MC could have whooped in triumph, but resisted the urge. One down, two to go

“Okay who wants to watch a movie!?!”


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