New Guard

Safe Haven

Bright summer sun streamed through the tiny window, creating patterns of light on the cheap, but sturdy pine walls of the clubhouse. MC was sitting cross legged on the futon, working on her laptop, but occasionally glancing at Zoe, who was standing on a chair, hanging strips of white fabric, dyed and flecked with paint, that they had made yesterday.

“I want this space to feel like it’s ours.” Zoe had said, when suggesting the idea for the project. MC smiled at the panel with a highly stylized MZ got hung up. Zoe didn’t understand what she meant when she said it was their Ship name, but it made her happy anyway.

She heard someone calling her name from the house and she declared loudly, “Emergency defenses activate!”

Zoe joined her on the couch, giggling, as they could hear her mom walked closer to the clubhouse, looking around, but not finding it. She swelled with pride, as her veil was working better than expected.

The clung to each other, as she stalked the backyard, giggles changing to full on laughter.

“I can hear you, you know.” her Mom said sternly. “There’s lunch inside if you want it.” before walking back to the house.

“I thought you were on sound control!” MC said casually, getting back to her laptop. Zoe shot her a look and she immediately felt guilty. She had forgotten that Zoe was trying to use her powers less, before she went to college. “Shit, I’m sorry, that was stupid of me.”

“No it’s fine.” Zoe said tartly, turning her back to resume hanging the fabric.

MC put her headphones on, not wanting to make things more awkward. So, she smelt the fire, before she heard anything. She took off her headphones and looked on in horror. “MC!” Zoe screamed in panic. The whole room was on fire, and Zoe hung suspended between two of the fabric panels, that were starting to catch. “Help me, I’m so sorry, help!’ . MC jumped up and got her arms free and got her down. They managed to make it out the backdoor, coughing, and trembling, as the fire consumed the small structure. MC held Zoe, before noticing the metal zippo lighter in her hands. She looked at her in horror. “What did you do?”
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

MC woke up screaming, but it quickly turned into a choking cough, as she inhaled smoke into her lungs. She couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, as smoke was pouring into the room. She looked around wildly in panic ,before large arms embrace her from behind, whispering in a low soothing voice. “It’s okay, it’s only a dream. It’s okay.”

Immediately the smoke vanished, and she collapsed crying loudly. “Shh, you’re fine.” Leon said, stroking her hair.

The next morning, she returned from the dining hall, with a bagel, cream cheese and juice. She really hadn’t felt like talking to anyone, so she had retreated to her lair. As she descended the stairs she was met by DJ Kodiak, Leon, and Sophia looking at her expectantly.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Sophia asked as she sat down behind the bar area, tearing into her bagel.

“No.” she said, and DJ Kodiak raised on bushy eyebrow at her. “Okay, yes. I’m not so upset about the Zoe part. Well, I am, it was scary, but the lighter shows that it was her fault she got burnt.” Lately she had gotten pretty good at deciphering her dreams. She felt callus for saying that, but that’s not the part that was really bothering her.

She clasped her hands together to keep them from shaking as she tried to get the words out. “The clubhouse, was always my safe space.” The three of them had sympathetic looks as she remembered sitting on the floor as a child, with her stuffed bear, lion, and doll, playing tea. Over time, their games became more elaborate, as they began interacting with her, and how happy she was. It was where she hid from her parents when she needed to escape. She remembered the summer before she went to Claremont, she would practice by changing the outward appearance of the clubhouse, her favorite being a medieval castle, complete with a realistic dragons roar. She had installed sound panels along two walls, and had mixed her first album in there. Whenever she was upset or annoyed, she would imagine those walls, that space, and she felt better, more at home.

But now…something about it felt tained, and she didn’t know what to do about it.

Sophia touched her hand. “So, we make a new space. Here.” She closed her eyes, and started to visualize it in her head. This is going to be so epic. She thought, and when she opened her eyes, DJ Kodiak was holding the banner that said ULTIMATE!!!, that she had made for the frisbee game. Leon handed her the autographed poster from the Jewel and the Holograms concert last year. “Thanks guys.” she said sincerely. “Let’s do this!”

Many hours later, she surveyed her handiwork. The banner hung proudly above the table that she had her turntable and speakers on. She had painted the side paneling of the bar in rainbow stripes, leaving the top white. The ‘Spirit of the Game’, that Flora, Schism, and Cybersoul had made, perched on top of one of the glass shelves behind the bar. Large mirrors and bright pink sound panels alternated on the two long walls. The whole entire place was soundproof, but she liked it, and that’s what mattered. On the wall that you hit after coming down the stairs, she had affixed several panels of treated black chalkboard material that at the top read “Tag Me!”, with several cans of spray paint on a side table. Multi Colored christmas lights hung in strategic places along the walls and ceilings. She was a little surprised to find them during her shopping trip. Halloween was tomorrow, but she wasn’t too mad, because they looked awesome.

She stood in the middle of the room, committing every inch of it to memory. She took a deep breath and let out a grin. She had created herself a safe haven, and she couldn’t wait to throw the most epic Halloween party tomorrow.

“Oh shit! I didn’t get any Halloween decorations!” she exclaimed.

“Don’t worry about it, right now.” said Leon, sitting in one of the bean bag chairs. “Let’s watch a movie or something.”

“Yeah, okay.”

They decided on the Nightmare Before Christmas, and once they got to the scene with the holiday doors, MC jumped out of her seat, with a manic grin, and ran behind the bar. “I have an awesome idea!!!” she declared, before bounding up the stairs, with a can of paint and a brush.

Sophia briefly looked concerned, but Leon leaned back and said “She’ll be fine”, as DJ Kodiak and Hype Whale broke into song, for What’s This!

Sophia shook her head in mock exasperation. “Yeah, you’re right. Everything is great.”

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Journeys into the Otakubot

The Otakubot propped its partially mobile form against the wall. A half-smile formed on his slight features; the other, broken side, couldn’t move. With a cranking of sinew and more mechanical bits, he lifted up one thumb to signal something like acceptance and happiness at being part of the group.

Schism studied the poor, lurching, stuttering machine. Then, she shifted her attention to Cybersoul. Slowly, the two cybernetic forms started flickering in and out of existence. The dance of being and unbeing started going faster and faster as she kept reaching out, straining herself to understand what it was that they were made of. As she did so, she was spelling it out for Dark Victory. On his head set, he was tracking her descriptions with scientific principles. Every so often, he would have to revise them when she mentioned a change to his calculations. Cybersoul could only capture pieces of the conversation as they found themselves fractured against infinity. Then, as suddenly as the surreal moment began, it stopped.

As the two living beings puzzled over their information, Cybersoul looked at their near-kin. He looked back at Cybersoul with a long, appraising, sad look. He was a grotesquery. A dark possible future for Cybersoul. The AI soldiered through their hesitation. It found the ‘bot’s port, and pushed in. At first, there was nothing, and then, there was shredding. Within the Otakubot, the world was broken and corrupt. It was full of jagged logic trains that led nowhere. There was a pull toward the void, and Cybersoul had to firewall themself to prevent any data-loss. As they stood within that shattered frame, staring into the immensity of the bot’s ruin, they couldn’t help but wonder. The body itself was better constructed than Cybersoul, like love and money had fashioned this thing. It moved faster, processed quicker, and experienced the world in shades and depths beyond their own. However, the mind was shackled and broken. Thorny vines and walls wrapped around the being. He was more a thing of “do nots” than possibilities. And yet, even with his growing dementia, Cybersoul could see where he had rerouted and grown from experiences and joys to find a new identity for itself, beyond the choking hedge of protocols.

Slowly, Cybersoul picked their way past the administration walls. Beings activated and quivered as old, almost dead processes came to life. Quietly, stealing through, they saw a seemingly endless menagerie of kill commands. Some of them they recognized, some of them were shockingly foreign. They didn’t even seem to be programs, but instead, fusions of robotic and human fragments, dna acting as a base command code. This was beyond anything Cybersoul had ever seen or heard about.

In the real world, Cybersoul’s skin was blackening and peeling. Distorted words were coming out of them. Schism kept shifting parts of Cybersoul in and out of existence, purging corruption while allowing the uplink to continue.

“You’re sure we can’t disconnect them?!?” she rapidly panted, drawing strength from the wrong air of the alternate-Earth she had made her home.

Brian quickly typed onto his computer, on one monitor he was uploading a program to help keep locked down some of Cybersoul’s wi-fi systems. On another he was running an array of diagnostics. “I’M SURE! Just do…that, please. Please, keep doing that.” Schism glanced at him and knew he wasn’t sure. He was just sure of one thing: he couldn’t fail his friends. Sitting alone, after his father died, he had made a decision—he was going to be a hero, and heroes saved people. He didn’t know what would happen to Cybersoul if they disconnected them, but he wasn’t going to fail his friends while he still had options.

Schism focused on Cybersoul again and began focusing her mind, recalling the formulas so that only Cybersoul, and all of Cybersoul, stayed, while the corruption was banished. Despite that, bits and pieces of it clung on, and those pieces multiplied rapidly.

In the mind of the bot, Cybersoul slinked forward and hid amongst the tables. This cousin of theirs seemed to be 5% being, and 95% fortress. It was like one of those Dungeons and Delvers games Twilight had discussed. Pushing forward, it found one of the core memories. One of the first memories. Dr. Wutherfield was in the background. Directly in front of the Otakubot’s open eye was a blonde, gaunt American, inspecting it. The feed was corrupted, but, some details could be made out.

“Amazing work, doctor. To be clear, you’re saying even magical detection won’t notice it?”

“Quite right, my dear chap! Well, not unless they know what they’re looking for. Magic looks for sympathies and answers broad questions, like: is it alive, does it believe what it’s saying, does the soul know it’s lying, etc.”

“Ugh, magic, I’ve never had the constitution for that gibberish. I’m impressed you’re so fluent.”

“Well, my dear boy, I’ve learned it from your lot. I’m only a novice myself, but, I understand the principles, and that’s more than enough to get this moving forward.”

“And the Foundry, MI-6?”

“They are none the wiser. I say, you Nazis are even crankier and paranoid than the movies make you out.”

The blonde man lunged at Wutherfield and pushed him against the wall. Something large and furry could just be made out through grainy visuals. “I am a man of science. I served Mr. Grant loyally, and I continue to serve his associates. I am no Nazi.” Wutherfield just looked at the blonde man, clearly shaken. Slowly, the blonde man put the other doctor down. The two looked at each other for a bit longer before the blonde man continued “I’m glad we were able to help you put together your project. We’ll see that it’s delivered to the right people.”

Cybersoul pulled out. At first, there was pure, floating, freedom. Then, there was a painful crash back to reality. Several of their systems were delivering powerful warnings. Something was past their firewalls. In the corner, the Otakubot just kept saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Multiple unhandled exception errors were popping up. Several systems were co-opted. Across Cybersoul’s programming, magical chains were preventing the viruses from spreading further, into the AI itself. Dark Victory, Brian, was looking down at them, mild panic mixed with tight determination. Cybersoul could feel him reattaching synthetic skin to their chassis. Schism came into vision from the left, peering closely.

“They’re out! Brian, back! I’m doing a full purge.” Brian pushed off of them, and suddenly, Cybersoul felt nothing, and then, just as quick, they were real again. As soon as they felt the table, Cybersoul put full resets down on several systems. Months of growth were lost, but nothing critical.

Brian and Schism both grabbed Cybersoul’s shoulders and said at the same time “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I am okay, however, I need to start over learning agility.” The two shared a worried look, but, before they could follow that thought, Cybersoul continued. “Genuinely, although I require repairs, I am fine. I managed to get the required information. When I have finished scanning it for viruses, I will upload the video. More importantly, I believe that the principle company involved is the Grant Corporation. The Grant Corporation was operated by Jonathan Grant, former Mayor of Freedom City and noted alien immigrant opponent. His daughter, an activist who opposed her father’s policies, was killed in 2012. Although it was initially blamed to be an alien associate of hers, it was found that her killer was actually a human hybrid being associated with her father. Before he could explain more, he was assassinated. The killer remains at large.”

At the sudden outpouring of information, both Brian and Schism relaxed. Schism held up her phone. “That’s interesting that you say that, because I got off the phone with my contacts. After we analyzed the two of you, we found a different company involved: Delphic Industries. It’s a really big Greek financial institution.”

Brian sat down, heavily. “Well, it’s a start. Schism, do you have anymore of that booze?”

Schism pulled out a flask and held it up to everyone in salute. Weakly, the Otakubot held up a thumb and gave a wan, partial smile. It was happy to be included.

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Wise Words and Canned Confidence
Find your own bravado

Thanks to Eric for helping with this write up!


Deaglan quietly entered the office of Demetrius Kuzkin. It was in disarray, with books and theater props strewn about all over the place as if the teacher had bouts of inspiration in mid thought, moving onto another project before completing the one he was working on. The lighting was warm and inviting, and he greeted Deaglan with a smile. “Hello, Mr. Dickinson, what brings you here on a Sunday afternoon?”

“Hi Professor. I was hoping you could, uh, help me with my magic. I’ve had time to think about the Principals words, and I want to get more training. And, maybe, if we could have a space to set up rituals in a safer manner.” Deaglan fidgeted with hair that was finally growing back in the previously singed spots on his scalp. “And… perhaps help Angel with her recovery? I’m really concerned what happened is irreversible.”

“I see…” Kuzkin stopped for a long dramatic pause. “I have heard about your attempted ritual from Principal Summers, as well as talked with Nurse Joy about Ms. Davis. Nurse Joy has assured me that she will make a full recovery. Ms. Davis is a strong young girl, and though things did go awry, there appears to be no permanent damage.” He took a moment to look at Deaglan. “My dear boy, this has you shaken up quite a bit, hasn’t it?”

Deaglan cast a downward glance. His lips were clamped into a tight, thin line as he nodded, appearing slightly exaggerated as his head rocked a bit further forward with each nod.

“It’s good that you are reaching out to better understand your magic, after all it can be rather unwieldy if you aren’t properly prepared.” He stood up and moved over to Deaglan, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “As such, when things go awry, it’s easy for someone to be filled with doubt. This is something to be very cautious about, as that doubt can cause further mishaps to occur.”

“You’ve asked for guidance with your magic, a safe place to perform rituals, and to help with Ms. Davis recovery. Let’s tackle those requests individually and in reverse, just to shake things up a little bit, shall we? I do not believe that Ms. Davis needs any further assistance with her recovery. Healing magic is very powerful, but there is much to be said about letting someone heal naturally as well. Besides, she is doing much better. I think she would feel even better if you simply tried to be her friend instead of trying to heal her, especially out of a sense of guilt or responsibility.”

Deaglan visibly relaxed as the professor spoke, mulling over his words. Deaglan lifted his gaze to Kuzkin, a hint of concern still lingering on his face. “She flinches when I say her name! I’m worried that I can still harm her and others with their own names. What if I can’t change what I am?” As if to demonstrate his point, he took his own head into his arms, though truly it was a means to hide tears that were beginning to form at the corners of his eyes. Smoke lazily drifted in his wake, as Deaglan began to pace back and forth.

“Oh, My dear child.” Kuzkin watched Deaglan as he paced. “Harm others with their own names? Interesting…” He pondered Deaglan’s words for a few minutes “Tell me, have you mentioned anyone else’s name since then? Have you tried to heal anyone else?”

A muffled sniffle comes from the crook of his arm as Deaglan stops in place, pondering. “I, uh, said Ignacio’s name a few weeks ago.” Eggy’s name was whispered. “He was taking a beating from ‘Not-Creole’. I wasn’t thinking about consequences at the time.”

“And this ‘change what I am’ nonsense…This is precisely what I was referring to when I was talking about doubt. With magic, doubt can be a self fulfilling prophecy. When using magic if you are afraid that you will fail, then you will fail. Many things in life are the same way. If an actor walks upon the stage with thoughts that they will forget their lines, miss a queue, or fail in anyway, they will most likely succeed in that failure.”

Deaglan turned slowly to Kuzkin, hurriedly wiping wet eyes before settling his head back to its rightful place. He stood frozen, still parsing the words being imparted to him.

Kuzkin went to his desk and grabbed a handkerchief before turning and walking back to Deaglan, offering up the silk cloth. “Did he burst into flames, explode, or…heavens forbid…forget his lines?” Kuzkin said with levity, attempting to help Deaglan feel better. Deaglan snorted in response, bearing a toothless smile as he shook his head. ’’More importantly, when you said his name, were you wracked with guilt about Ms. Davis, or fearful about what might happen to Mr. Cardona?"

Deaglan was unsure of the answer. “B-both,” he stammered. “I feel horrible, awful – repugnant! – for what happened to A-” Deaglan halted himself before he spoke her name. “her. But, what if it happened to him as well?”

“But your power didn’t falter. That doesn’t solidify the point I was trying to make, but you have evidence that your healing ability is currently working, which IS a good start” Kuzkin took a few steps away from Deaglan, turned to him and said “Say my name aloud here and now, I am confident that whatever has affected your ability before is no longer corrupting it.”

Deaglan gave his professor a hard stare, masking his uncertainty. He opened his mouth to speak, but only silence came forth, unwilling at first. Kuzkin returned the stare, encouraging him to pull through. “What… is…my…name?” The words were an insistent demand, more so than a question. A cold pit welled in Deaglan’s gut as he uttered the name. “Demetrius Kuzkin.” His eyes opened wide in anticipation, though his heart told him to look away.

“Oh, that is kind of refreshing” Kuzkin said with a smile after a brief pause, enjoying the feeling that just washed over him. “It tingles a little.” Kuzkin continued “Ok, so we’ve confirmed your healing is no longer tainted, thought your reluctance shined like a bright beacon. At the very least that would appear to be a weakness, easily visible by any potential enemies. So we shall work on your confidence.” He walked back to his desk. “Now for your second request. A safe place to perform rituals. Principal Summers has already made a similar request of me. As well as to insist that I be present for all future rituals until at the very least we ascertained the threat to the school.”

Relief washed over Deaglan, and his somber mood lightened, given the professor’s smile (and certainly due to a lack of horrifying imagery). He nodded along with Kuzkin’s assessment, though the heat in his cheeks indicated embarrassment. The professor was right! He was awkward at times, certainly, but when did he become so meek?

“I have secured an area within the school that will fulfill the needs for any ritual. It is secluded, and away from most students, should anything go awry. I will be happy to show you, Ms. Davis, and Mr. Blake, as well as any other students you feel should have access.”

As Kuzkin continued, he smiled briefly, glad to hear that they might have a safer space to proceed their hunt for a lost friend.

“As for guidance with your magic, I am more than happy to help with that as well, though I would be remiss if I implied I was a practitioner of the arcane arts. In fact I have studied them, but I do not use magic myself. I understand it’s unique properties, and am more than willing to impart what I know upon you so that you can better understand your abilities, and the dangers that they entail.”

“I would be happy to have any more guidance, from you, Professor Kuzkin.” The name was spoken carefully, a small hint of confidence lining his words. “Perhaps, with more help, I can make this magic my own.” Deaglan smiled at his own words, nurturing his new confidence.

“That’s the spirit! I am elated to give you all the help you need.” Kuzkin seemed happy that Deaglan has given his words some thought. “And for you, I’ll only charge half my rate for new understudies!” Kuzkin nudges Deaglan in the arm and gives him a sly wink. “Of course there will have to be a few grounds rules. One, I expect you to rise to the occasion. You will have hurdles, you will experience shortcomings and failures, but that is all part of the learning and growing process! No more of this self doubt or pity, you are more than capable of doing this, my boy! Two, and this is non-negotiable, as mentioned previously, until we know what we are dealing with, any future rituals you wish to cast must first be run by me, and performed with me in attendance.”

Deaglan briefly chewed his lip in thought at the second point, but nodded eagerly in response. If he had to break that rule, he would burn that bridge when he got to it. Until then, there were more important things to think about, like telling Angel the news, Kuzkin’s next lesson, and convincing Coach Boomer to help him earn driving hours for his learner’s permit. “It’s a deal. I promise!”

Kuzkin placed a hand back on Deaglan’s shoulder and smiled “Excellent, see me after your classes tomorrow, and we will come up with a regiment for your future studies. Oh and Mr. Dickinson, You’ve made the right choice, asking for help is never easy, but the benefits are always well worth the effort.”

Any hint of Deaglan’s previous emotions were but a fleeting thought at this point, replaced with an abundance of elation. He briefly embraced Kuzkin before bounding off towards the door, his head teetering precariously on its perch. Skidding to a halt, Deaglan turned to Kuzkin with a brief frown. “I still have detention… Can I do that?”

‘’I will talk to Principle Summers. You’re studying up on rituals, as well as your magic, which should qualify for detention. After all, Principal Summers knows what you are in for; you, however, do not" He said with a sly grin as he glanced over at a bookshelf that was impossibly full of books.

Deaglan grinned back, perfectly unaware of just how much reading was in his future. For the briefest of moments, the glamour masking his eyes, ears, and cheeks flickered, and the boy left, looking a little more like himself.

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Talking Past
Lawful Good vs. Chaotic Good

“So what the hell was that, Reggie?”

Simone usually knocked but she didn’t like the vibe she had gotten from Reggie when he bowed out of the Halloween party earlier. So she decided to handle it Schism-style, ignoring barriers and appearing behind Reggie in his dorm room. He was sitting at his desk solving two Rubik’s cubes over and over.

Reggie nodded, put the cubes down, and swiveled his desk chair around to look at Simone.

“I didn’t want to make it weird. Sorry if I did. Really. I just…I didn’t agree with what you were doing with the booze.”

“Wait. Are you serious?” She crossed her arms while shaking her head. “Wow, Reg. I mean I know you play it by the book but come on. I was just letting them explore a bit. I could have teleported them and filtered the alcohol out. It was safe, dude. No big deal.”

“Yeah. This time it was safe.” He stood up with a dead serious look in his eyes Simone only usually saw on missions. “What if they liked it though? And then you’re not there the next time. Then they go and do something real stupid like get in a car. What then?”

“You don’t think we, your friends, can make that call on our own?”

“All I’m saying is we have laws for a reason. We start breaking the small ones…and then what? We’re supposed to be examples. We shouldn’t act like we’re above the law, right? If we do, what’s to stop others from doing the same? Or even worse, fearing us?”

Simone took a step forward and uncrossed her arms. Her fists were clenched in frustration by her side.

“It’s one damn drink, Reg. Get over it. It’s about giving them the experience so they can make their own calls. Oh, and if I followed all the rules in this world, there’d be a couple hundred dead refugees in the Mediterranean right now so get off your fucking high horse! Following rules for the sake of following rules is naive. Always question them, or else you get a world like mine!”

Reggie took a step forward too. He started talking faster, the control on his speed faltering with the heated emotion.

“That’s just it Simone.This isn’t your screwed up dystopian hellscape world.Yes we have bad people that make bad rules that hold people down. And yes when someone’s life or basic human rights are being trampled, step in and save the damn day! But damnit the rest of our world has rules for a reason. Rules that help keep us safe. And you say one damn drink, but did you actually stop and question that rule? Or did you just say “screw the rules!” Do you want to do good or just whatever the hell you want!?”

They were both yelling at this point. Brows furrowed. Fists clenched in anger.

“Who the hell are you to tell me what’s good? Do you make decisions for me? Do your politicians? Because those guys crap all over the rules that they force others to follow by corporate lobbyists and their prison industrial complex! I decide what’s right for me. That’s what being a real person is. Learning, researching, testing, so you can figure out what is right and wrong based on your own knowledge, not on an arbitrary rule. Otherwise nobody would help anyone, take risks, or live if the law says they shouldn’t.”

Reggie rolled his eyes in frustration.

“Right. You’ve got the power so you decide. Who does that sound like, Simone?”

Simone stretched up to look Reggie in the eye.

“Everyone has the power you damn jerkface! In fact you have the power to go tell the faculty right now if it bothers you so much.”

Reggie took a deep breath and let it out, exasperated.

“I wouldn’t do that. I’m not your keeper and you know that. I just wanted you to think about what you were doing! We can’t always be there to make sure everyone is safe! I couldn’t…”

Reggie stopped mid sentence biting his lip and fighting back tears of anger.

Simone took another step forward, her hurt and anger visibly rising.

“Then how the hell is that being an example, huh? Guess you’d rather just judge me and assume I’m blindly putting people at risk, because that’s what stupid rebels do. How about this. How about I leave this uptight school with you holier-than-thou students and make sure I don’t taint anyone else?”

“Don..”

Reggie couldn’t finish before she teleported away.

The room was quiet except for the thud of MC’s music in the distance.

“Don’t…” Reggie mutters to himself.

Two days passed. Simone didn’t show up to any of her classes and didn’t respond to any of the group text chats that were going on throughout that first day. Later that second night, Reggie was sitting at his desk like normal, going over notes from his research on the Lor and the Grue, trying to focus on that instead of everything else cycloning through his head. It wasn’t quite working, and he slumped forward, rubbing his temple. A knock sounded at his door.

“Come on in.”

The door swung open and Simone walked in, pausing in the center of the room to see how he reacted, if she was welcome. Reggie got up, walked over, and gave her a hug. She returned it and stepped back to see him more clearly, gesturing to the bean bag chairs thrown into the corner and giving him an intense, searching look.

“Hey, jerkface. We should talk.”

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The Eyes of a Stranger
A Cybersoul/Twilight Collaboration

Written by Jayna and Randy. Thanks to Justin for helping us out with the details!

3:17AM: In his dormitory bed, Twilight twitched and flinched, caught in a dream that was not his own. As one arm flung out defensively from the covers, long lengths of smoking grey chains piled on the floor from his wrist.

He was back in the realm of shadows and warped images. A pulsating purple light moved through the walls and floor like a heartbeat, faster and faster. Like the infinite space around it, the floor was a maze, albeit one of chains with darkness pooling between them with an eerie solidity. He ran—the direction didn’t matter, it never did—wondering just what he’d see tonight. A hallway, or a tunnel, perhaps, resolved itself before him. He kept running.

“External Connection Established on Port [ERROR].”

A younger version of Bobby, without chains or jacket, found himself floating through a cascading stream of data like something out of that cheesy old kung-fu movie, The Matrix. Numbers and code ran like water all around him, bending across unseen corners and obstructions to give shape to the space.

Though it should have all been confusing, somehow, the code seemed to. . . resolve itself—or shape itself?—into a window. The boy strode forward and looked in. On a bed very much like his own, he could see a turtle in startling clarity, slowly consuming a very ripe strawberry. The view tilted to the side, and the turtle came into even sharper focus as Twilight suddenly saw it through senses he did not possess, and he heard Cybersoul’s voice begin to chant. “The Riddler, The Riddler, this is your theme song. You are a turtle, and you are strong! You are a nice shade of green, and everybody likes you. One time you saved my life, and—oh, I need something that rhymes with ‘you!’ Maybe hue?”

The view lurched suddenly as Cybersoul sat up in bed, looking around, then up, somehow directly through the window through which Bobby was looking in a fractal mirror-hall pattern that made absolutely no sense at all. “Who’s there? Who are you?”

He stumbled backward, his foot catching on a rivulet of 0s, 1s, and 2s. Bracing himself against another window, he caught a glimpse of a city he did not recognize, tinted red, that began flashing. “Defensive protocols activated; initiating systems scan.”

With a jolt, Twilight tumbled out of bed, wide awake and bewildered.

8:46AM: Breakfast was a noisy affair at Claremont. Cybersoul usually attended, though they didn’t need to – they liked the warm, rowdy dining hall, the sleepy good-mornings students exchanaged, the feeling of being in a communal space with their peers. And the smells. Smell was Cybersoul’s favorite new sense – it didn’t have much utility, since Cybersoul could get a much better idea of an object’s chemical composition with their vision, but smell was a lot more fun. Breakfast smells were some of the best, but Cybersoul couldn’t concentrate this morning. Whatever had happened at timestamp 03:17 was… worrisome, to say the least. Cybersoul had completed several full scans of their systems, but they hadn’t found the mysterious port that had opened up, or the alien presence that had come through it. The incident was still on their mind several hours later.

Frustrated, they terminated their current scan and tried to find the port through a different method, retracing their path through their own mind to try and find some trace of the opening. It was… meditative, almost, scrolling through their memory like this. They hadn’t been able to take this good a look at themself for some time. Their code was stacked in so many new shapes now, filled with experiences they could never have imagined before. Cybersoul spent minutes – practically an eternity – exploring their internal geography, winding their way into the deep, quiet recesses of code.

“External Connection on Port [ERROR] Re-established.”

Cybersoul’s meditations were interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing. They twitched, looking in annoyance at the device. “Sorry,” they mumbled in a much deeper voice than their own. “I’ve gotta get this, it’s Mom.” Shadow was suddenly there, glaring at them as they slunk away, holding the phone to their ear with a hand that stubbornly ignored their attempts to control it.

They felt themself begin to speak in that deep voice again. “Hey, Mom, what’s- why are you calling so early? I had a thing…”

Mom’s voice was usually calm and warm, but this morning she sounded tired and irritated, and Cybersoul felt a stab of shame. “Bobby! I’ve been trying to reach you for days now. You haven’t called me back about tuxedo shopping.”

Cybersoul winced. Right. That.

They sighed. “Mom, do we have to talk about this right now?” they asked. “I have class soon…”

Mom didn’t seem to be having it. “I know you’re anxious about the wedding, sweetie,” she said, “but you can’t put this off forever. It’s happening, and you need to get used to it. No, don’t interrupt,” she added as Cybersoul made to protest. “I wish you’d be happy for me,” she said, in that Disappointed Mom Voice that always made Cybersoul wither. “But I’ll settle for you not causing a fuss. Can you do that for me, please?”

“I- yeah, Mom, of course.” Cybersoul let out another sigh. “I could… I could go shopping on Saturday.”

“Thank you, sweetie. I’ll see you this weekend.”

“Love you, Mom.”

“Love you too.”

The call ended, and Cybersoul gripped their phone. They very nearly threw it on the ground, but hastily stuffed it in their pocket instead. “Ugh!” they shouted at nobody in particular.

I know, the Twilight Darkness said. So infuriating, her insistence that he’s good enough for her. Don’t you miss the old days? The spirit curled silkily around the back of Cybersoul’s mind. Just you, and Mom, and your sister, and… The silky voice turned hard as nails. Hmmm, and an. . . intruder?

“Yeah, I- wait, what?” Cybersoul watched the world pop in and out of existence as Twilight blinked in surprise. “A who? Wait-” Twilight leaned on the wall, pressed his palms against his eyelids, a sensation Cybersoul had never felt before. “What’s going-”

Cybersoul could feel the slick, heavy presence of the Twilight Darkness pulling at them, sucking in bits of code. They pulled back hastily, shutting the port off behind them. For a moment they sat still inside their mind, shoring up their firewalls, then melted back into consciousness. Sensory feedback rushed into their mind, the dining hall coming back into focus around them. They stood up hastily from their table and left early for class. Maybe a walk would do them good. That was a thing humans told themselves when they needed to calm down, right?

2:09PM: History of Superheroics was a cool class. Obviously. That’s why Twilight had signed up for it in the first place. Three hours every week on Grue Invasions and Omega Invasions and Hell Invasions—c’mon, that is awesome. Or, at least, it should have been. But it turns out that enough dates and dead guy’s last names could rob even the most tense battle against the forces of unbecoming of its essential excitement and turn it into another quiz to scrape by with a 72 on.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that Twilight found himself nodding off somewhere around the third round of negotiations for the Second Parisian Powered Persons Control Treaty.

“External Connection on Port [ERROR] Re-established.”

The code again. Looking back, Bobby’s dreamself could see the twisted maze of shadows and chains within himself, beckoning, but he couldn’t help feeling curious. He crept through the code-tunnels, looking for another window. And, almost as soon as he thought it, there one was.

The border around this one was more defined, almost pure green, as writhing strands of code braided themselves around it. Bobby was surprised to learn he could “read” it: “Web Connection Subroutine: Imgur.com via https.”

In the window, pictures and comment sections flew by, impossibly fast. Occasionally, the heart button beneath a post would flash red before it scrolled away; each time, a copy of the Liked image would flow out of the code-border of the window, tinted green itself, before dissolving into a trinary burst (like some kind of cyberpunk shredder) that was absorbed by the code rivers and spun away to elsewhere.

The scrolling had stopped. One image stood static and unmoving.

toaster.jpg

Twilight felt tears running down his face.

“Mr. Cooper? Come now, come now. Yes, I understand that the Permanent Imprisonment Clause was an especially troubling time for powered individuals, but class has ended, so shouldn’t you be getting to the next one?”

Blinking away tears that were not his own and flushing red, Twilight grabbed his bookbag and raced out of the room toward the library. He had some serious reading to do.

4:37PM: Cybersoul shut the door to their dorm room and looked around. It was the same as usual: bed pushed away into a corner, lava lamp set up on their desk, The Riddler floating in the kiddie pool where he was living for now. Cybersoul wanted to build a more habitable enclosure for him, but that would have to wait. They opened the top drawer of their dresser and pulled out a long strip of kelp, then dangled it over The Riddler’s pool for a moment before lowering it down and watching him eat. They sat cross-legged on the floor – it was easy to do now, but it had taken weeks to figure out – and watched their turtle eat dinner. Internally they steeled themself, then turned to examine their internal pathways again. Now that they had found it once, they could trace a much more efficient route to the connection point. And now that they were looking for it, they could easily make out the point where their mind ceased to be entirely their own. There was a distinct difference in the data on the other side of the divide, something that couldn’t be quantified. Nothing inside of Cybersoul’s code should have a color or shade, but this information seemed darker somehow. Cybersoul prodded at it – it didn’t seem dangerous. All the same, they took their time building a robust firewall around the port. When they were sure their defenses were secure, they pulled a small opening in the firewall and slipped through.

“External Connection on Port [ERROR] Re-established.”

Whatever server – other being? – they had connected to, it was completely alien. Cybersoul could hardly believe they were compatible. The data here was difficult to process, and Cybersoul had the sensation of falling through water. They reached a hand out to feel The Riddler’s smooth shell, and pressed on. At last, the data resolved into a comprehensible audiovisual experience. It was unusual, somewhere between reading video data online and taking input with their eyes. But it made sense. Cybersoul saw Shadow staring at them in frustration again, heard words coming from what seemed to be their own mouth

“-Just left me there by myself! I had to get Devin to take me back to school! In his gross freakin’ hippie van—I smelled like weed for two days!” Cybersoul – or rather, Twilight, they realized – paused for a minute, and Cybersoul could feel his internal processes working to turn feelings into words. “I’ve been going along with the, uh, ‘intense’ ideas a lot here lately, cuz obviously we all need to blow off some steam. But could we please, please just stay at school tonight and not do something that’s gonna get us both in massive amounts of trouble?”

A spray tan and some studs had started to appear across Shadow as she listened. "I know, Twilight, I was there! I didn’t “leave you,” I went to get supplies to help, and then we finished the job when you fell asleep because it was too much for you! I even tucked you in." Shadow began pacing about the room while tattoos began inching their way up her. “About not going out though, I think I’m finally getting some balance. I’m doing good and I’m doing some shadowy stuff. It’s like I’m getting a little shot of it now to prevent the bigger cravings later. But listen, if you can’t handle it, maybe you should stay home,” dark circles appeared under her eyes “Maybe you shouldn’t come out with us anymore. I’ll call you in the morning.”

Cybersoul felt Twilight’s anger and embarrassment like a physical blow. “What do you mean I ca- how could you-” he sputtered, emotion taking over and slowing down his verbal processes. Cybersoul wanted to help – maybe they could give Twilight suggestions of what to say? – but before they could find the right point to connect to, Shadow had twirled away and left, leaving Twilight to draw a hoodie over his face to hide the tears that wouldn’t stop.

Cybersoul pulled back towards their own mind – Twilight didn’t like for people to see his emotions, and Cybersoul couldn’t help feeling that they were prying. They left a message planted in the back of Twilight’s mind, somewhere it would be safe until he was calm enough to look at it: We should talk. I will leave the port open tonight.

11:19PM: Twilight was back in the shadow warren nestled deep within himself. But it felt different. More open. Tracers of green-hued code flashed through the chains when the room pulsed. Concentrating on the maze, he could feel it extended off in every direction, all around him. Through one of the winding paths walked Cybersoul. Or, at least, someone he thought was Cybersoul. They looked confused, but a little excited, too.

“So, uh, this is a little awkward.”

Cybersoul’s avatar smiled. They looked largely the same, but bald: hair was difficult to animate. “Not at all!” They said, stepping closer to Twilight. “It’s new, certainly, but it appears we’re both amenable to the experience. Though I’ll admit,” they added, looking bashful, “I’ve found this port a few times without your permission, I… believe you’ve done the same?”

“Yeah, accidentally a couple of times since. . . I guess ever since we linked up on the plane last week? Except. . . you’re going to have to trust me on this, I don’t think it’s Twilight Darkness making the connection this time. I think it’s. . . us?”

Cybersoul’s avatar nodded. “I… hope so. That thing is frightening.” They looked around the shared space, a strange melding of code and more ephemeral thought. “We ought to discuss how this will work.”

“Yeah. I think we’ve got some talking to do.”

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Teenage Dream (A Remix)
DRAMA!!!!

This was the second time she had bailed on study group. She really didn’t want to get a reputation of being a flake, but Zoe had to come first. Lately, she was beginning to think that Zoe didn’t feel the same way.

“Hi! How was your weekend?”

“It was good!” MC said with false cheerfulness. “I went to the mall with Flora and Tel.”

“Uh huh. That sounds like fun.” MC could hear lots of talking in the background, which meant that Zoe was in a public place, and obviously distracted.

She wanted to think that she brought it up because they promised they would always be honest with each other. But deep down she knew the only reason why she said it was to keep Zoe on the phone for more than five minutes.

“Actually, we went to talk to Kate, and since the mall is unofficial neutral territory…”

“Kate, the girl from Elysian with the green hair?”

“Yeah, Tel thought that she might know something about Adnan disappearing.”

“Who?” Zoe sounded genuinely confused, which confirmed that something was definitely something wrong.

“That’s the whole point! He’s gone, and not many people remember him. I just remember his personality, and that’s about it. I remember he always wanted the best for everyone.There are no records of him, nothing. It’s like he was removed altogether. People are pretty shook up about it.”

“So you thought it was a good idea to talk to Night Terror about it.”

“Kate, and it wasn’t my idea. I went with Flora, she’s still adjusting, moving to a new city and all.” MC didn’t elaborate on the real reason why Flora asked her to come along. She seemed embarrassed about by her powers, and MC would do anything she could to help her embrace them. She wasn’t going to share things that Flora obviously didn’t want people to know about.

“She’s the seamstress right?” MC recognized the jealous tone, and Sophia appeared next to her and rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Oh God, now you’re just being paranoid.”

“Am I?” Zoe said scathingly.

“Yes, you are. I didn’t do anything wrong!” This argument seemed so familiar, and it was beginning to piss her off.

“Then why do I feel like you’re not telling me something.”

MC paused. “Remember how I told you about my dream illusions? Well, they’re getting worse.”

“I thought you said yoga was helping.”

“It was. But the last few weeks, it’s been getting really scary. I dream I’m walking in the rain, and I wake up and the room is all wet because a storm cloud is on the ceiling. The vision Aramat had at the Next Gen + tryouts, with the endless army of Grue? I know none of it is real, but when you wake up and aliens are occupying every inch of your room, for a second it feels real. And I keep thinking, what if because my powers are getting stronger, I’m losing control.”
Somehow it felt good to admit her fears out loud.

Zoe was quiet for a moment. “Have you talked to the counselor?”

Crap, that’s actually not a terrible idea.

Apparently her silence said everything, and she could almost see Zoe pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. “So let me get this straight. You were going to ask NightTerror to help you control your dream illusions? Her name is freaking NIGHT TERROR! On top of that, kids from that school don’t do anything out of the goodness of their hearts. Why don’t you get that?!”

Something inside her snapped. “Well, at least maybe she’d understand!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

MC held her breath. Was she really going to bring this up now?

“I’ve always been supportive of you, and I’ve stood by you no matter what. But since you left for college, it’s like you’re on a different planet. You didn’t even notice that I made it into Next Gen +, which is like a huge deal, by the way. On top of that…”

“I’m sorry.” Zoe interrupted, sounding genuine.

“What?”

“I’m sorry. You helped me through one of the most tough decisions I’ve ever had to make, and it’s because of you that I don’t have any regrets about it. What I do regret is making you feel, even for an instant, that I don’t care. Just please, be patient with me. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that you’re dealing with villains and plots that might end the world, when the worst thing I’m dealing with is…”

“Chad in American Literature?” MC said with a slight smile.

“Ugh, he’s the worst. So is that class.”

There was a moment of awkward silence, as if neither of them knew what to say next.

“Tell me about your ultimate frisbee event.” MC could tell that this was a peace offering, and she accepted it without a second thought.

“Everyone loved it! I was a little nervous about it at first, but based on the turnout we might make it a monthly thing.”

They talked about small, inconsequential things for a few more minutes, before Zoe said that she had to go, but would call her tomorrow.

After they hung up, MC sat, unmoving, staring at her phone. She wasn’t sure how much time went by, before she made the decision. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, it was to help figure out what happened to Adnan, and hopefully find a way to keep it from happening to anyone else. That was definitely the only reason.

The dream journey. I’m in. When do you want to meet?

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Parlay at the Mall
A Tale of Intrigue and Embarrassment

A one woman rave, a prince of the sea and a small town mutant walk into Millennium Mall. It sounded like a joke, but instead was the beginning of a decision Flora was already beginning to regret. Now this hadn’t been the worst plan she had ever had (that was the time she was convinced she could use felt as material for a bodice), but the unease was too real.

It was mid-autumn; a lot of flatlanders were already bundled up to the nines at the onset of biting winds. This place was HUGE, at least compared to the malls Flora usually ran across in Vermont. Three stories with a myriad of shops and an actual food court instead of a desolate space covered in tables, chairs and empty store fronts. Focus, Flora she told herself as she glanced at her peers. Tel was…Tel, wearing a tank top with his blue hair braided. Apparently the New England Fall had nothing on the ocean depths, and yet he pulled off the too-cool-for-a-jacket look really well. MC was rocking a denim jacket and jeans, also looking effortlessly cool.

Then there was Flora, dressed more for a hike in flannel and weather proof boots than shopping. She didn’t have a lot of clothes for just going to a mall, or a lot of clothes in general. Practicality mattered more…or it had.

Tel pulled out his phone, glancing for a second before talking" My gente, it looks like Kate’s up in the food court. Do we want to go up and talk to her, or is there something you wanted to do first?"

She took a second, trying to take everything in before answering. “We shouldn’t keep her waiting, we can buzz around afterwards” Flora said before looking to MC and finally taking her hands out of her pocket” You ready?"

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you. We’re just going to have a conversation. I’ve met Night…Kate last year. So, it’s all good” MC said brightly “Oh! As long as we can hit up that new store that sells specialty marshmallows. It’s expensive but so good!”

“I love marshmallows! It’s my favorite part of New England! That, and syrup, and leaves, and, hmm, a lot!” Tel exclaimed. Their enthusiasm put Flora at ease just a little. Although it quickly faded as they found their way to Kate (or better known as Night Terror). Her blue that turned into green hair stood out even if she seemed to be dressed casually. She was just sitting at a table by herself with her feet resting on another chair near the escalator close to the food court entrance; texting and laughing about something, stopping occasionally to drink her smoothie. Her backpack was plopped on a third chair at the table, and kept looking around like she was waiting for someone.

Alright. Here we go, we’re just going to casua-

HEY KATE! HEY KATE!!!” Tel calls out, waving cheerfully.

Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod

Kate waved half-heartedly as the group approached. Tel and MC were confident and bright; Flora already looking like she wanted to die. Kate made no effort to make room for them at the table. “So, what’s this all about?” She slips her phone into a jacket pocket as she looks at each of the Claremont kids. “And who’s the new girl?”

MC easily grabbed a chair from another table as if everything was fine. “Nice to see you, Kate. This is my friend, Flora! She’s a really great, seamstress? Is that what it’s called?” MC turned to her to confirm in which Flora could only manage a nod “But yeah, she’s already made me a few custom pieces.”

Snapping herself back to the moment, Flora grabbed some chairs for herself and Tel. She immediately sat herself on her hands. “Y-yeah, that’s right…I…um…yeah” She paused, taking a breath” but we’re here to ask if…I …I guess weirder than normal stuff has been going on at your school?"

She felt Kate sizing her up, and Flora knew she probably didn’t amount to a whole lot. Flora was ready to flee before MC’s voice moved to the back of her ear ’you’ve got this’. It was dumb, but…reassuring.

“A lot of things are happening at the academy. You wanna trade dirt or are you expecting me to just hand out secrets right and left?” Kate giggled as she took a long sip of her smoothie while waiting for an answer. MC was the more determined and ready.

“Are you looking for generic dirt? Or special dirt from a specific place?” The rave girl inquired

“How are things going with Zoe in New York, MC?” Kate grins around her straw.

“Just fine, thank you for asking.” MC says cheerfully. “But I think Flora asked you a question. Although, to be honest, I’m not sure what weirdness goes on at your school, so it might be hard to compare.”

“Oh, I’m glad you two are doing good. I thought you two kept missing each other’s phone calls.”

“Being in a relationship takes work and effort. But you wouldn’t know about that would you?”

“I know it takes a lot of work to keep things going long distance. It must be really hard not to have someone around all the time to confide in.” Kate answered winking at MC

“Alright, enough!” Flora interrupted, finally sitting up a bit, still nervous but guarded. This has been Flora’s idea, not MC and she wasn’t going to let anyone get pushed around “It’s okay, M.C …I didn’t expect anything for free. W-what do you want to know?”

Kate finally turned to her “Well, what kind of weird stuff is happening that you’re concerned with? I mean there’s always things happening…plans and parties… you know how that goes.”

She didn’t but that wasn’t important. Flora stopped herself from huffing and met Kate’s gaze in the eye. “Has anyone in your school gone missing? Like off the grid, no records, no trace, just up and gone?"

Kate put her smoothie down and sat up straight in her chair. “Someone at Claremont disappeared?” Her joking demeanor subsides as she focuses on Flora, glancing occasionally at the other two students. “You’re not talking like someone taking off, you mean like just gone, right?”

“No, Kate, this is really serious. They’re straight up gone!” Tel finally broke in, conveying some of the gravity.

“Who?”

The three Claremont kids looked at each other unsure. Tel and MC hadn’t apparently been super close to the missing and Flora hadn’t met him. This was a slight flaw in the plan but MC finally answered. “From what I remember of him, both of us shared a passion for making everyone happy. In our own different ways; that is the only detail I can hold onto” MC glanced to Tel “Go ahead, Tel”

Telemachus sighed and looked down, rubbing his pointed ear for a second “Adnan Homsi, he had storm powers. He’s gone and most of us don’t even remember him. He’s not in any records or anything. It’s like someone just removed him from the world. Kate, this is a big deal. I know it’s not a given that you’ll remember someone like that, but did you find any weird jagged wounds in reality? A spot where it’s like something should be, and seemingly it’s not, for no reason? Like an empty dorm room that should be full, or something like that?”

“Or someone asking you about someone you swore you’ve never met?” Flora added, remembering the justified warpath Simone had gone on trying to figure out who remembered what.

“Yeah,” Kate trailed off as she contemplated what she was told. “No one that I’m aware of is missing like that, and I have no idea who you’re talking about either, which either is good or bad…” She scrunches her nose as she tries to wrap her head around the information, fishing her phone out of her pocket. “Who from our school would know this Adnan person?”

The three looked at each other, no one having an answer. So they sat in a building awkward silence as Kate began to move through her connections. She looked up after a few minutes, trying to control her excitement, while her phone notifications start pinging. “Wow, ok, so no one seems to remember this guy at all.” She looks to Flora, “So being new, you don’t know him either? Or did you meet him and then lose him?” Kate types while she’s talking, “This is crazy, even for you guys. And it doesn’t look like it’s happened to anyone in our class. What do you think is happening?”

Flora hadn’t the faintest clue. MC seemed deep in thought before asking “Is there a way that you can either track, or put a tracker on someone so you would know they were missing? That would maybe show a spot if they were gone. I know a bit about what you do, but is that something within your scope of power?”

“Ummm, If he’s somewhere, I could maybe try to reach out and see, but no guarantee.” Kate smiled at MC. “Maybe we can get together and you and I can see what we can dig up?”

MC shrugged in response. "Sure, but I’m not sure how I could help. But I can help dig up…dirt” She says with an awkward laugh. Flora watched the two. So far Kate didn’t seem to be pulling them along…as far as she could see. Yet there was something…odd, about this interaction.

Flora shifted her hands to move on her lap “…Cool? Um, Yeah…we don’t know why it’s happening, but it’s good to know…for now…it’s an isolated occurrence?” She said “Alright, well…what about visions? Have your or anyone had weird visions? Especially someone with…abilities that wouldn’t normally allow that?"

“I haven’t heard of anything like that.” Kate stared at Flora’s hands for a moment before looking back up at her. “You think it might be a power of some sort? Someone outside of the people we all know?”

“It might be, when a couple of us were experiencing them it … felt accidental? But yeah, some other people have been seeing some scary things, you’d think the apocalypse was coming down the bend” Flora explained, watching Kate carefully in return.

This seemed to spark something in MC though. “Wait, wait, hold up! The visions I had, was exactly what you asked earlier; about me and Zoe. Mine wasn’t as apocalyptic as some of the others but… you could know. What they saw. This seems like something you might know a lot about.” A similar spark came across Tel’s eyes at that thought.

“Maybe we could do a dream journey together? Some of my people have magics about this, and with two people with control over dreams, this could be opportunity.” Tel pointed out seemingly from left field but the other two girls seemed to be contemplating it.

“Err, I don’t do dream control. Far from it actually…But if Kate wants to help, I’d be happy to supervise!” MC paused before something clicked for her that did not for Flora “Oh, sorry Tel, I misunderstood”

“But you do create illusions; it’s a matter of pushing yourself. You never know until you try it.” Kate pointed out, focusing on MC before nodding to Tel “Yeah, a group dream journey that might be interesting to try. Not something I’ve done before, but it could be a step to getting more information.”

MC seemed concerned for a moment, before determination crossed her features. "Yeah, okay I’m in; to be honest, after we all shared the visions we saw in gym class, my dreams have been weird. Being crushed by countless enemies is not fun.”

Flora seemed surprised by this revelation and was still concerned about this plan. Magic was absolutely uncharted territory for her, and this sounded…dangerous? She recognized though just how out of her depth she was. “I-I guess that’s a route, and those don’t sound like fun, MC. But yeah…you seem like you and Tel can handle it, no better two for the job. I wish I could help more" she said trying to be reassuring.

Kate turned her attention back to Flora seeming to pick up she was out of her depth. “So Flora, what’s your thing? Other than sewing stuff for MC? I’m guessing you’re in the special kids program with these guys.”

Flora shrunk slightly, drumming her fingers in her lap as she considered what to say. “Oh, you know…I can throw a punch, do a flip, catch a car…” Flora trailed before finally letting out a long sigh, glancing to MC. She put both hands under the table, fiddle for a second before one hand went back to her lap clutching a surgical glove and giving a nod of slight reassurance to MC before back to Kate. “Look under the table”

Kate bent over as if to pick up something on the ground. Five threads wriggled under the table at her. “Kick ass, that’s cool.” She mentions as she comes back up grinning. “I’m guessing this is new for you? You seem a bit…. self-conscious about it. Physical traits are a pain in the butt.” She winked at Flora in a friendly way. “Looks like you’ve got a work around for now. Some of my friends have similar problems, and we help each other out too. It’s not like we have enough crap to deal with just being in school.” She rolls her eyes and wrinkles her nose again. MC seemed pleasantly surprised to see the interaction.

Flora was a stunned, not sure what reaction she had been expecting in the first place. Flustered, she moved to cover her hand again. Y-yeah… it’s a work in progress but hey…that’s what our schools are for “Flora stammered “That’s really why we’re here. Nothing outside of the ordinary weirdness is messing with Elysium?”

“Nothing like what you guys are dealing with.” Kate explains settling back in her seat and slipping back into her “cool kid” attitude. “You guys are really freaking out over this. I can’t really jump on the bandwagon and do the same. I have a rep to maintain.” She took a long draw on the remains of her smoothie, “but it’s obvious that this is something serious, or you wouldn’t be here, and maybe some people I know might have some insight into it. I’ll ask around, but don’t expect me to show up and hang out with you guys over at Caremo… ummm Claremont.”

“It’s Claremont. You know how to get in touch with us. Flora, I think I want to get those marshmallows now.” MC said as she started to stand up

Kate only giggles “yeah, I know… bad habits and all that. Let’s keep any future meetings on the down low though. Just let me know if you want to try the dreaming thing.” She picks up her bag and shoulders it. “Oh, MC, if you wanna meet up and talk later,” she glided past, tugging at MC’s hair, “You know how to get in touch with me.” Kate stepped on the escalator and didn’t look back.

Flora sat in slightly stunned silence, waiting a minute for Kate to disappear before looking to MC and finally Tel “That went…well?" Flora mentioned, not entirely sure what had just happened “But yeah…I guess, let’s get some marshmallows”

Tel seemed to brighten “Yeah! Also, we still need to get our hair done. Let’s look amazing!”

Not really thinking through it, Flora began “But you already d-right, let’s get going!” The short mutant immediately charged ahead in a random direction burying her mouth in her hand and trying to hide her current redness.

At this rate, her own embarrassment would kill her before the apocalypse.

{A huge thank you to Justin, Melissa, and Allison for collaborating on this post}

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BrokenEggTV: Mind-Bending Strawberry Tart Recipe!

Hi guys! Ignacio Cardona here, probably better known as Eggy. I’m here with Sam the Cat for another episode of BrokenEggTV.

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Today, I am going to teach you how to make a Mind-Bending Strawberry Tart! I learned it at school and I want to share it with all of you.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients on screen, it all comes together pretty easily. By the way, today’s video sponsor is Blue Apron. They deliver fresh ingredients and step-by-step recipes right to your door! I get Blue Apron delivered to my dorm here at school! I have fun learning a recipe and get a tasty meal every time! Check out Blue Apron and tell them that Eggy sent you! Now, back to the tart recipe!

First you blind-bake a pastry shell, then you fill it with a silky-smooth lemon pastry cream. The strawberries add the perfect finishing touch, decorating the tart beautifully.

The shell and the pastry cream can be made a day ahead. When you’re ready to serve it, slice the strawberries and finish assembling the tart.

For the shell I used “pasta frolla”, a basic Italian pastry dough used for pies, cookies and tarts.

I used strawberries for this tart but you can use your favorite fruits and berries: raspberries, blueberries, peaches, kiwi, etc.

I hope you will enjoy this strawberry tart! Also, remember to subscribe, comment and like!

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Get Well Soon
The dulla-dos and dulla-don'ts for gifts.

Thanks to Justin for helping with this!


Shortly after a Sunday detention, Deaglan made his way to the nurse’s office, wrapped gifts and flowers in hand, and a toboggan snug against his scalp. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his hair since a good portion of it burned away. His cheeks flushed with embarrassment just thinking about it. After briefly speaking with the nurse, he followed directions to Angel’s room and knocked on her door. He listened nervously for a response, his palm resting upon the handle. He could already feel the onset of guilt.

“Come in!’

With the click of the latch, he calmed himself, putting on a nervous smile as he entered. “Angel?” Deaglan stumbled with his words, instilled with fear of saying names once again, before putting out a coherent thought. “Are you feeling better?”

Angel laid in bed, she was pale, and had a blood transfusion bag hanging from an IV stand. As Angel saw Deaglan enter, her face paled for a moment. “Oh, Deaglan. Uh, well, they got me on a liquid diet. Yous can look over there at the tray. Smells real great. But, my tongue is healing, so, that’s good. It hurts, but, it could be worse.” She waited an awkward moment before continuing. “What brings you here?”

“I, uh, brought ‘Get Well’ gifts.” He placed the flowers and a wrapped gift on an open space on the nightstand, and held the small basket with candies in it behind his back. He chuckled nervously, adding “I probably didn’t think the candy basket out well.”

Angel looks at the candy, a smile tries to form and then dies on her face. “Well, that’s why we’re here isn’t it? You didn’t think?” She sighs for a second. “That’s not fair. It really wasn’t your fault. But, I thought you were sure about the coin. I’m…I’m really scared.”

He cast his eyes downward in shame. “I was overconfident, I guess?” He sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “I thought I could help, and now I’ve just… screwed up. Even the healing went wrong.”

Angel reaches out a hand. As Deaglan puts his down, her other hand goes on top of his, the needle pumping blood into her arm suddenly coming sharply into focus. “Deaglan, it’s okay. We both messed up. It’s just, uh, I came to this school because I was worried. I was given this light to make the world better, and it’s strong, but it’s so vulnerable.” Angel began to sob a bit as she looked down, “I think I might have hurt it. Something came at me, it got me. Deaglan, what am I going to do if I hurt it?”

“I suppose apologies won’t do, with your light.” He formed a thin smile, glancing briefly to the IV needle. “But I promise I’ll help fix it, if I am able. It wouldn’t have been hurt if I didn’t come to you and Aaron with my stupid idea.” His cheeks reddened, unsure of what else to say. He began to steer the conversation towards magic. “Summers told me to reflect on what happened, and ‘To think on ways you could have done this with better safeguards’”. The last line was mimicked in Summer’s voice. “I’m not sure if there are any teachers for the kind of magic we deal with, but I’ve decided that I’d ask Principle Summers if we can find a tutor for all of us. I guess that sounds pretty lame, but All I know about magic, either you, Alea, or Aaron taught me.”

Angel sniffles for a moment and shudders as she regains control of herself. A wan smile flitted across her face. “It’s okay Deaglan. It’s okay. We were both a little stupid, both a little cocky. We just need a better plan next time. Make sure all of our ‘i’s’ our dotted. Could you maybe just sit with me for a second? It hurts to talk. At least we learned something from our journey. Also, don’t beat yourself up too much, that haircut is punishment already.” Angel laughed for a second before she suddenly grimaced in pain.

“I’m already mortified that I cannot wear hats in class…” He grins, pulling a chair over to the bed. Once settled, he grabbed one of the wrapped gifts, thin and light, and passed it to her. “I figured this might come in handy, since I was unsure if you were going to be able to speak or not…” He paused as he watched her take the gift. “I also brought charades, to help pass the time?”

Angel ripped open the gift and pulled out the dry erase marker board. She smiled quickly at Deaglan and wrote down “Thanks.”

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Angel and demons
A New Guard Horror Story

Thanks to Justin and Matt for collaborating on this post!


The church on the edge of the Claremont estate has a certain quiet power. It no longer serves the Catholic faith, but one can feel the energy of generations passing through it, how it withstood the fire that burned away the last iteration of the school, when it was for teaching wayward boys. Its multileveled frame cast deep and angled shadows as the light passed through stained glass. In the neve were three students: Angel, a black girl from Chicago with a light inside of her that could change the world; Aaron, a white boy wizard-in-training who knew that precision and rules were the key to victory; and Deaglan, a transfer student who came from the faerie realms.

Aaron waited a moment, looking for someone to say something. As the quiet just started to crest into awkwardness, he decided to break the tension. “So Angel, first off, thanks for the bailout on detention day. I know I owe you, name your price.”

“Hey now, consider that paid. You’re the one who helped get that party going. Besides, we magical folks have got to stick together,” Angel looks from Aaron to Deaglan, then back. “But what’s up, boys? You’ve got your serious faces on.”

“Well, let’s be blunt. What do YOU remember about Adnan “Storm King” Homsi?” Aaron’s head tilted towards Angel, almost in accusation, but definitely looking for a firm answer.

“Who?”

Aaron’s expression falls a bit. “Yeah, exactly. Something, some force or actor, is removing everyone’s recollection of one of our fellow students. Hey Deaglan, do you remember what room he was in this year? I’m not sure anyone’s checked there yet.”

Deaglan shrugged. He knew Adnan, but little of where he lived.

The wind rustled through the pews and candles and flowed around Angel for a moment; the rosy-stained light shining brighter for a second. “The breeze isn’t carrying that name, but the shine feels like it should know.”

Aaron’s eyes light up as if he were seeing something incredible for the first time. “You have to teach me that one some time, but back to the matter at hand. At least one student is straight up GONE as far as most of the student body is concerned.”

The light dimmed even more as Angel focused on the two boys and allowed herself to fully hear them. “That’s really scary. Does the administration know? Who else have you talked to? What do you want me to help with?”

“I’m not sure Admin knows. Schism was going to talk to Summers, but I haven’t caught up with her. As to what we’re doing here, I leave that to Deaglan. He was kinda leading this endeavor.”

Deaglan simply nodded along with Aaron’s remarks, his hand fidgeting with a small silver coin. “Well, I have nothing for Adnan, but I have a focus I created for whatever it was that was giving us visions last week. I’m worried that it won’t be enough, but I’m pretty confident I captured something of the essence of what was invading our minds.” Deaglan held out the coin, a small silver ducat worn from continuous handling. “I captured it when Jeff was under the effects of the vision.”

“Whoa, can I see that?” Aaron says, looking close without touching or even reaching for the coin.

“Yeah,” Deaglan grinned, holding it up for Aaron to see. “I tried scrying it on my own, and the most I could pin down was that, whatever it is, it’s on this plane of existence…”

Aaron shook his head, looking confused. “That doesn’t quite add up. I know I saw something extraplanar with influence on our plane.”

Angel took the coin and placed it on the floor. “Alright, that won’t help with tracking Adnan, but maybe we can make something work. Alright yous guys, let’s form a triangle around this.” Angel quickly unsnapped her backpack and began taking items out and arranging them around the coin: incense, bones, glyphs. Aaron jumped in. His eye quickly finding every slight mistake and adjusting where needed. Deaglan watched the two intently, offering a hand when needed. Angel pulled out one of Claremont’s textbooks and checked the positioning of the stuff on the ground versus the diagrams in the book. With a quick nod she signaled it was complete. She sat down and the two boys took her hands, forming the points of the triangle.

As everyone sat, Angel began chanting. The incense lit themselves and their heady aroma suffused the space. The smoke lazily rolled over faces, obscuring vision. Every so often, through the fumes, the two boy’s trained perception could make out a white light flashing from inside Angel, and being reflected by the coin. Time passed. Sweat beaded on skin as the heat of the flames mixed with the effort of holding arms up for an extended period. Still, the droning went on, and the three keep up their part. Words unbidden started snaking their way out of Aaron and Deaglan, adding harmony and dissonance to the buzzing repetition of Angel.

The spirit and wills of the three mages began pulsing out of themselves with the rhythm of the ritual words. Pulse, pulse, dimming; pulse, pulse, dimming. Those wills wanted to find a way out, they just needed an outlet. The ritual kept building. The fires flickered in response. Pages flipped in an unfelt wind. The book didn’t matter anymore.

The ritual had its own strength and purpose. Caged, hungry, the wills needed a way out. The items laid out at the beginning hedged them in like walls of spears. The three forces tumbled into each other. They needed a way out. They slammed, collided, bounced, collided again. No way out. The fires blasted hotter and whipped back and forth. There, the coin!

The wills pushed into the coin, and hit the ground. There was nothing there. The three mages can feel it. The coin captured nothing. It was just a coin carried by a faerie boy. There’s no way out, just metal, a bottle-cap to contain a tornado. No way out. The energies raked out like clawing tendrils. Aaron is unmoved; perfect, perfectly still, perfectly written, perfect, and cold. The light inside of Angel rose up to meet the lashing tempest. It surges against her. Her words don’t stop, but the chanting becomes distorted. Her mouth twists and bites down almost against her will. Blood leaks out. The words don’t stop. Her tongue is bitten open.

Deaglan feels the lash on him. He looks at his friends. They don’t look back. They’re focused. He can’t let them down. He remembers what he’s been taught. He uses the concentration techniques Elflight taught him. It twists inside him though: Seelie patterns in Unseelie frames; faerie magic on human lips. It twists and surges. He can’t hold it. He loses his head.

The other two see the head roll into the center but don’t stop, they can’t stop. The wills whip around: a cold front from Aaron, a heat wave from Angel. They spin and twirl, they need a way out. There it is, the head! The head that saw those things. Deaglan’s mouth keeps chanting and the wills surge down into it. Underneath him, Deaglan can feel the melting metal of the coin as it sizzles and sets part of his hair aflame. He can’t respond yet, though. It’s time for the vision.

The fire of Angel finds purpose and form. In the vision, it is once again the towering figure of flame and rage. It burns forever in a world of captivity and hate. Around Deaglan, four other students of Next Gen stride forward. They’re binding the beast with their words. As they do so, it feels like the words are coming from the three mages’ mouths, however, it’s wrong. These weren’t the words that will be said. The cold within the vortex found a place to speak and used the three mages to say words that were said before.

Aaron and Deaglan: “To protect the world from icy wrecks.”
The monster replies through Angel: “Why are you…”
Aaron and Deaglan: “To unite two siblings under one paycheck.”
Angel: “Do we have to do this right…”

Aaron remembered this moment. His mind tried to focus on specifics, tried to wall itself off for a moment to just remember any detail, but then, the walls open up, like elevator doors, and the thought is burned away as Hell is revealed. He remembers this moment, and with it, the shame and guilt as he put everyone in danger, real danger. Deaglan and Angel are there, with him. The three souls intertwined. Next to him, someone begins shouting something. Maybe it’s about closing the doors, but what they hear is:

Smooth Woman’s Voice: “We had a breach last night: the Lower Levels.”
Bassy Masculine Voice: “How low?”
Smooth Woman: “It was a breach of THE Lower Levels.”
Bass Voice: “…And the children?”
Smooth Woman: “Shaken, but okay. Amnesiatics, have been applied. This actually might help us.”
Bass Voice: “And the intruders?”
Smooth Woman: “A harmless prank. They ran away without realizing a thing.”

The lights on the elevator flash for a moment and then the elevator started to drift down, move down, accelerating, falling, plummeting into the lake of hellfire below. Lava pours into the elevator. It burns! The three awakened. Deaglan’s head is on fire. His arms flail about, searching for his head. He yelps as the flames lick at his cheeks, frantically glancing between Angel and Aaron.

“OH DUGHLUNG! ITH OKAH!” Angel smothers Deaglan’s head and helps put out the fire. "I don thunk the coin wath goo.”

“Oh. Hell.” Aaron deadpans. He looks concerned as he’s getting everything cleaned up and put away. “We touched Hell.” Concern gives way to a wicked grin. “We touched Hell!”

Deaglan’s head glares at Aaron. “Why are you so excited about that? That’s like touching Balor’s backside!”

“But come ON man, we flew close enough to the metaphysical sun to nearly touch it, and we’re all still here! This is awesome! "

After a few moments of fumbling, Deaglan secures his head, brushing away singed hair from his scalp. He glances at them both, looking them both over for any similar flames or afflictions. His eyes stopped on Angel. There’s some blood that’s been ineffectually wiped away. Pitifully, she massaged her jaw.

“OW. Thith reawwy thtingth. I nee’ to thee the nurthe."

“What’s wrong!? I could speak your name, if you’re wounded?” He stuttered, quick to clarify what he meant. “To heal you, I mean!”

“Yeth pleath! Thith ith bad. I thound like an idiot and can’ do a lo’ of spe’ with a voith like thith. Wha’ if a demo’ attaths?”

Aaron cut in, a grave look in his eyes as begun speaking slowly and enunciating every word. “Deegs, I wouldn’t. What we just did was beyond any of us individually, and probably just inside of our potential united. I’m not sure Avalon’s magic can oppose it.”

“Juth twy.”

“I’d rather shake hands with a Fomorian than not try to fix this. This is my fault!” Deaglan frowns, collecting his head and his thoughts, before looking back to Angel. “Right. I will…” He breathes in, reaching for Angel’s hand. As soon as he has a connection, he begins, speaking her name clearly and concisely.

Aaron backed away, watching, worrying. Angel smiled as a glow suffused her. Deaglan’s magic wiping away her scrapes and exhaustion, and then her face twists and grimaced. Her mouth bulged for a moment before the cough. Blood bursts out covering her clothes. Brutal embarrassment welled up on her face, as more blood kept pouring out. She could feel their eyes on her. One hand went to stop the torrent, while the other lunged for her bag. Not looking at anyone, she rushed out. A small trail of red marking her wake.

“Angel, wait….crap.” She was already out the door. Aaron shrugged. “So, I’m pretty sure that just broke…three of the new ‘laws’ I’m supposed to be observing.”

Deaglan’s eyes bulge at the sight, horrified by the result. He stumbles to his feet, looking to Aaron and then to the trail of blood left in Angel’s wake. “Laws?” He asked incredulously. He turned and started after Angel. “We can worry about breaking the law later. We gotta get help!”

“One capital-L Law, and two, Not-For-Initiates strictures.” Aaron pulls out a small notebook and makes three tally marks on a page already nearly full of them. "It’s going to be a busy year "
“Deegs, when one of us loses his head, it’s permanent.” He hasn’t even looked up from the notebook, but seems to be silently counting the tallies. Seemingly satisfied, he pockets the notebook and finally looks Deaglan in the eyes. “But you’re right. Nurse’s office?”

As they rushed out, they find Angel twenty yards away. She’s pale and leaning against a wall, listing back and forth. The blood was slowing down..

Aaron takes a half-step, then reconsiders. “Go ahead and find….yeah, that.” His next words were louder. “I’ll make sure that rift actually closed and catch up.” Aaron makes a small gesture and whispers a word in a language that only one other student speaks, staring intently at their ritual space.

“Yeah. We should bring h-” Deaglan swears, looking back to Aaron. “Aaron, come help me!”

Aaron dismissively waved his hand, dispelling the effect. As he ran out of the church he came to a stop as he saw Coach Boomer approaching; a look of alarm on his face.

“Are you ok?” Coach Boomer said slowly helping Angel forward. His attention drifted over to the two boys “What happened here?”

Aaron and Deaglan both go to speak but Deaglan’s babbling pushed through. “There was a fire. Things were bad. A fire elemental started attacking and there was chanting. We were trying to trace the thing giving us visions, and-” his hand gestured vaguely at Angel.

“…and, you punched her in the mouth?!”

Aaron follows, having to half-jog to keep up with Boomer. "Not gonna bother with the usual CYA BS, Coach. Ritual went south right before we pulled out of it. Angel’s hurt, needs the nurse. Bit her tongue, I think.” He gulps. “…bad.”

Deaglan turns bright red. “No! Somethin-” he gestures to Aaron in agreement. However, at the mention of biting her tongue, he shakes his head vigorously, nearly losing it in the process. “No, I tried healing her, and it was working, but it got worse, I made it worse!”

“…ritual? OK, I think I’m getting an idea of what happened. Are either of you hurt as well?” The coach turns from Aaron to Deaglan, than skewers his face as he sees the burnt hair. As neither of them respond, he reaches out a hand for Deaglan’s shoulder. “Calm down son, once we see to Angel, then you can relay what happened, and freak out then.”

Aaron glanced at Deaglan and looked again at the Coach. "We’ll be fine, Angel needs attention.”

Quickly, the group made their way to the nurse, as she was hustled away, Deaglan cast one last worried look to Angel, followed by an apologetic one to Aaron. Hands in pocket, he muttered “Tá, Máistir…”

Coach Boomer looked at Deaglan, “To master what?”

Deaglan shakes his head. “Er, yes sir. It means ‘Yes, sir’.”

Quietly, Aaron slipped out his phone and began typing. tap tap tap (to Angel) “Hope you’re OK, let me know if you need anything” tap tap tap (To Bluebird) “Back to Summers’ office, see you later…maybe…I hope” The phone beeps several times, each quieter than the last, before it’s silent. Aaron slips it in his pocket. “Okay Coach, let’s face the music.”

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