New Guard

Fast Times and Claremont High

The office of Principal Summers is slightly cool. It’s that time of year where the AC has stopped cutting on, but the the heat still hasn’t triggered yet. The wooden walls are lined with book shelves and pictures. The elderly figure sits behind his desk and looks up pleasantly as we enter.

“Mr. Weeks. Ms. Wagner. How can I help you?”

Reggie looks at Schism, mouths “Here we go,” and steps toward the desk. “Well, Principal Summers. What would you say if I mentioned the name Adnan Homsi?”

In a snap, Summers’s eyes shift from kindly but questioning to steel. He stands and walks to the windows. His left hand touches the sill as his right hand closes the shades. “I assume both of you remember that name. Ms. Wagner, do you recall your summer activities?”

Schism gives Summers a steady look, but underneath there’s a hint of fear and anger leaking out, as she rarely tries to conceal her emotions. “Yes of course I do. You know something’s happened to him. Was it because of what we did in Greece?”

Summers gives out a slow sigh and sits back down. He takes a drink for himself from the table beside the window. “No. And it’s not just him. We are aware of other disturbances and are looking into them. Until this moment, we thought the student body was entirely unaware.”

Schism holds out Adnan’s bracelet. The one that looked like hers. She, Adnan, and Aramat had bought olivewood keepsakes in Mytilene, only Aramat’s was a string of beads. The two others had been captivated by a pair of solid carved bracelets that looked almost identical, a fact that neither of them mentioned to the other as they made their purchases. The one in her hand has the letters “A.H.” and a lightning bolt carved into the inner side.

“Please. This is the only thing I could find of him. Can you use it to get him back? Brian tried to dust it for prints, but the only ones that came up were mine, and just where I’d grabbed it. There should’ve been others. When he checked the databases for Adnan’s prints, on a hunch, there was no trace of them, though there should’ve been with his refugee status.” Schism takes a step towards Summers and then stops, tilting her head slightly in sudden thought.

“Wait. Why did it affect the students and not you guys?”

The head counselor, Gabriel Marquez, wheels himself into the room. Summers gestures toward Marquez. “I actually don’t remember Adnan. I was alerted to the change by Mr. Marquez.”

Marquez gives a soft smile. “I was writing some notes to myself to check in with Adnan after his experiences, when I noticed that they disappeared mid pen-stroke. I alerted the Administration and discovered they were unaware, just like we later found out the students were.”

Summers interjects, “We put in a few feelers to the student body and other spots. As far as we could tell, no one else remembers. It’s just you two and Mr. Marquez.”

Reggie shoots a quick look to Schism and then turns back to the faculty.

Schism turns to Mr. Marquez, the look on her face changes to one of mental calculation. She is trying to ponder what they all had in common. “Can you tell why some remember and some don’t?”

Marquez steeples his fingers over his wheelchair. He pauses, his brief contemplation fills the room with a starkly noticeable silence. “I think I was unaffected due to my ability to nullify powers. However, normally this requires me to use said powers. Oddly, when we ran tests, we can tell that my powers are active on me, however, they’re not coming from me. It’s like another me is using them on me.”

“Some of the members of Next Gen…the ones that have a reason to remember him, like if they’ve hung out with him before, they remember as well,” Reggie interjects.

Summers looks at Reggie. “That’s good. That means that some of our calculations are correct. We don’t know what is going on, but we’ve managed to gather some information. We chose you all because you’re brave. At your heart, you’re good. However, you were also chosen because we could tell that somehow you weren’t nearly as affected as others.”

He turns his attention to Schism and continues, “We are currently researching what it is we’re dealing with. However, and let me make this crystal clear, this isn’t some scuffle like with Doc Otaku where we can let the students take charge and see what it’s like to face a supervillain.”

“I knew it,” Reggie interjects. “You know something is coming. You chose us for next wave sooner than you wanted to because you know we’re going to be needed soon. To accelerate our education like that…for you to put us in that kind of danger before senior year…” Reggie looks up at Summers with realization. “Just how bad are we talking?”

Summers shoots Reggie a stern look. “As far as we can tell, we’re dealing with a possible end of the world scenario here.”

That last sentence hangs heavy in the room for a moment.

Schism shakes her head. Eyes narrowing. “Why though? Why take Adnan? Is he just like a test for what’s coming?”

Summers finally reaches out and takes the bracelet Schism had offered earlier. “It’s interesting that this is left over. It’s like the extraction was jagged. Imprecise. It suggests less control which is both reassuring and more concerning.”

Schism looks from the bracelet to Summers. “It was hidden in a crack in his floor. The only reason I found it was because I’d teleported him to his room while he was wearing it. It had a trace of my quantum signature on it.” She closed her eyes and braced for the answer to the question she was about to ask. “Do you think they hurt him?”

Summers’s look softens. “If this is leftover from you connecting to him, I think it’s likely that he’s not actually gone Just hidden. This could be the link. My theory, based on what I’ve heard about the boy, is that he got involved in investigating something and didn’t tell anyone else what he was doing.”

“Oh.” Schism lets out her held breath. “I might know something about that…”

Summers cocked his head. “Please go ahead.”

Marquez puts his hand out to Schism. “Take your time.”

Schism looks down, turning the bracelet over in her hands, trying to separate the emotion from the facts of that last conversation, where they’d been planning to take on the world together again. “He was kind of vague, but he said he was looking into some strange things going on with chemicals being put into children’s food and other weird pharmaceutical stuff. I’m trying to remember what he said specifically…”

Marquez’s eyes dart to Summers at that.

Summers maintains a friendly face, giving away nothing.

“We were going to look into it more using our, uh, networks.” Schism continues. " Do you know anything about that?"

“HA!” Summers let out a boisterous laugh of disbelief. “Your ‘networks,’ at 16. Unbelievable. All of you are both a joy and worry to me. More concretely though, we have someone looking into that situation. A hero. We’ve heard whispers of what you’re talking about over the last 5 years. It might go back longer. The trail is well-hidden. False companies in false companies. We can take down one hydra head, but we find so many more. Recently, those whispers are getting stronger.”

Schism adds, "He said something about…vaccinations. That he wasn’t an anti-vaxxer but the things they were trying out on kids to somehow improve them just didn’t seem right? Wait…which hero is looking into this?”

“Hmm, let me think on that. I don’t want to speak out of turn.”

Reggie uncrosses his arms and lowers his hand from his chin pointing in the air suddenly and interjects just before Schism says something that would probably get her detention, “There may be a connection there with the children many of us saw in our…visions during the last next wave tests.”

Schism looks to Reggie. “Yeah, maybe? I’m sorry. That’s all I can remember right now.”

Marquez says, “That’s totally alright. That alone tells us that we’re closer to finding his trail than we thought we were. Let me promise you something now. We will not let any of our students be taken like this without a response.”

Schism wheels around at the counselor, eyes blazing. “Responses are nice, but we’re getting him back safe, too!”

He stops for a second, looks down at his broken legs and looks back up with renewed strength. “We’re going to get him back. These aren’t empty words. I’m truly hurt by this whole situation and I’m with you.”

Schism looks at Counselor Marquez deeply for a moment, then nods. “I believe you.”

Reggie waits a bit then continues, “Principal Summers, if there’s anything you can give me information-wise that I can take back to my…extra-credit and look into, I’d be glad to help that way.”

“The Atom family and I have worked together before,” says Summers. “They’re analyzing something for me already.” He hands the bracelet back to Schism. “I think this could be very useful to finding him. If you and your friends follow up on this, please, be careful. I know you’re strong enough to handle a lot of things, but, I need to hear you’re going to use your head first, before you rush in.” He says that last part with a judging look at both students.

As he pulls his hands back, Schism sees that he has something palmed that disappears into his cane. What it was is unclear. Schism’s eyes narrow again at Principal Summers. She looks at his hand, then questioningly at him.

Summers looks at Schism, gives a brief smile, then shakes his head with a quick “No.”

“It’s like everything about him got put on another sheet of paper,” he continues. “We’re reading one page, he’s on another, but we’re all in the same book. We don’t know if this is due to temporal things, magic, an alternate earth, or what. I know that the Atom Family found an alternate Freedom City just on the other edge of the oblivion brought by Omega.”

Schism turns to Reggie. “You should tell him about what happened to you. The reason we decided to talk to him in the first place.”

Reggie takes a deep breath. “Yeah. The book analogy might be closer to true than you think. We were playing frisbee. I was racing Shadow for the disk. I pushed my limits. I ran faster than I ever have before. My chest burned, and just as I broke the sound barrier I started seeing pages. They were flitting by showing images of my classmates as freshmen, familiar buildings here on campus, and then my picture, again from freshman year. It was circled in red. I came to as I produced a sonic boom. It all felt so real though…”

Summers nods. “Coach Hot Rod saw something when he was pushing Mach 3. However what he saw was the book burning. Explosively.”

Reggie continues. “ Aaron had a vision of a child with many faces. Never the same one. He couldn’t nail anything else about it down though. He was pushing deeper into another pocket dimension…or that’s what he thought. The child told him he wasn’t supposed to be there and then screamed at him and threw him back into the simulation we were in.”

“Hmmm, many faces. Like of children being given odd vaccines?” Summers interjects.

“Yes. Given what Nina said earlier, that was my thought. There was also the 7 children Bobby and his teammates saw in their…vision. Tell them what you saw too, Schism.”

“I saw an angry eye looking at all of us from somewhere high up in Freedom City. There was fury or malice concentrated on Reggie, Aaron, and then me.”

“It’s seems sort of like that old movie, The Matrix,” Reggie Continues. “There’s a layer we aren’t seeing. Just past our perception of reality. Too many of us are experiencing things like that for it to be a coincidence.

“Then yes, it seems likely that another world is trying to insert or pull from this world,” Summers says. “However, that is conjecture. And we need to be careful about conjecture. We only have a few clues so far. I will follow up on my end. Please feel free to find out what you can, but be careful. We don’t know what we’re dealing with. We know it is powerful, though.”

“We’ll keep you in the loop of all the weird we encounter. The more people here that know, the more brains we have working on a solution.” Reggie says trying to get Summers to share more.

“Yes, please share anything you find with us. If we find anything actuable, we’ll share it with you. My days of roaming the streets beating information out of criminals is behind me, however,” Summers says with a wink, “I still have a few tricks.”

Schism almost unwillingly smiles back. “Hey, if you need any information beaten out of people, I could volunteer on your behalf.” She glances up again. “Just kidding. Kind of.”

Principal Summers looks at her appraisingly. She gazes back at him, then turns to Reggie. “ Deaglan and Aaron said that they were going to ask Angel about tracking the bracelet, and Blake said she might be able to pull some clues from it. Safely.” She glances back at the two faculty members. “Let’s see if we can find them.”

The students both excuse themselves and stop in the hallway outside Summer’s office. Reggie turns to Schism and says, “Hey. I’m really sorry. About Adnan I mean. We’ll get him back.”

Away from the adults, Schism allows herself to slump against the wall, betraying her lack of sleep since her friend’s disappearance. She looks back at him and the confusion of emotions she’d mostly managed to hold back in the office makes itself clear.

“Thanks, Reggie. He’s…look, he’s just a friend. Normally I’d be pretty up front about not wanting to be ‘just friends’, but you know I’m a born trouble magnet. I’m not ashamed of that, but I can’t risk anything happening to his scholarship here.” Reggie listens carefully, noting her insistance on the present tense with Adnan. “I mean, I already keep you and Bobby out of most of my revolutionary stuff because I don’t want anything happening to fu-I mean screw up your futures here. Adnan, he’s…different. I was going to see how things were after we all graduated. What he thought. I mean, he has a temper almost to match mine, and he fights so hard to help people, especially people that are going through what he did. We practically talk over each other with all the ideas and jokes and…damn it. We’re a good team, you know. I told you what we were doing this summer in Greece; he saved all our lives more than once, risking more than any of us. Whoever did this to him, whatever it is, he didn’t deserve it. He didn’t fucking deserve it!”

Schism spits out the last bit, almost shaking. Reggie puts a companionly hand on her shoulder. “Nina. Simone. Damn it, whoever you are, listen to me. We will get him back. And trust me. I can relate to the whole just friends thing.”

She gives a half laugh and nods, some of the tension easing. “Yeah, I know you’ve got your crazy atomic connections, and the others sound like they’re willing to help, too. I’m better now. Just needed to get it out, you know? Ok, soap opera time over; let’s go find Blake and the rest and figure out what our next steps are. And those two back there can laugh, but we actually developed a solid web of underground connections and contacts over the last year that I think could be helpful.”

“So you know, I’m pretty sure they weren’t laughing at the fact that you have connections or their validity. They were laughing in a sort of “of course you do” acknowledgement of how we’ve been stepping up. Summers was proud of you.” Reggie follows that up with a wide grin knowing how much Nina distrusts authority. Having their praise was too good an irony to not smile at.

As they start trotting down the hall, the two glance at each other conspiratorially, each pondering aloud possible answers to the same question: “So…which superhero do you think Summers actually was?”

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The Time for Childish Things

Late in the night, a hastily scribbled note slid under Noah Garcia’s door. It lay there until he found it the following morning. A faintly glowing “B” sealed the letter, breaking easily under Noah’s fingers.


Noah

When we passed in the hallway last night and you were back to your old self, I thought we’d finally got past that … awkward thing that happened last year. Things hadn’t been the same around you and us since. For a moment I was really excited to have things getting back to the way they were.

Then Kirby pointed out the device you slapped on my back…

Pranks are one thing, but you could have killed someone! Think how many times the school’s been attacked without warning! Or we’ve had to rush off to deal with some catastrophe! With or without a working suit, I’m going to try to protect others, that’s what heros do! And if device had shorted my dad’s suit at the wrong time… Noah, a lot of lives could have been lost, mine included.

And getting Donny involved is really over the line. You abused your friendship with him! You knew he’d trust you when you said it was fun, where someone like Reena, Reggie, or even Eddie would have told you it was a dangerous stunt and not to do it. Taking advantage of Donny like that is really low man.

Listen, I don’t know what you want to do after Claremont, but my path is pretty clear in front of me and it leads to me putting myself between innocent people and anyone who would try to hurt them. If your pranks are going to keep me from being able to do that, then you’re not someone I want around.

Jeff

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Posters Everywhere!
Open Casting Call

In the morning students and faculty of Claremont woke up to an unfamiliar sight. Hundreds of poorly printed posters had sprung up over night. They lined the walls and decorated the Halls of every building.

The posters were of a winged figure holding her knees to her chest. Her head bowed low to obscured her face. Her entire body engulfed in flames. The name Evelyn printed above her.

A brief letter was displayed underneath the image.

“Attention Students! This year the theater club is proud to present EVELYN! An original production created by Claremont’s very own Daniel Knowles.

Evelyn is the story of a fallen angel betrayed by the Gods. Will she succumb to her fate or rise above it, and what will she sacrifice along the way?

The theater club is going all out for this production but we need your help! This is an open casting call to the entire student body. Come be part of an exciting new chapter in Claremont history! Together we can bring the story of Evelyn to life!

Auditions will be held next Saturday morning in the Auditorium. We hope to see you there!"

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Alone
Self-imposed exile

The gentle rumbling of storm clouds loomed over Claremont like a tall black ceiling. Soft pitter patter of rain drops filled the cold still air with a quiet percussion. It was a sight many never got to see either through apathy or active avoidance. Most people were too busy with their day to day to stop and smell the flowers.

Well in this case it was a moment to stop and smell the wet pavement and grass with just a faint hint of ozone. Sitting alone outside the boys dorm was Daniel, Martyr to some. His black hoodie pulled up protecting him from the light rain. To him there had always been something soothing about a rainy night. It was calm and relaxing with just the right amount of white noise to captivate the senses.

The Stillness of night was also quite lonely. But that’s what made it Daniel’s favorite time of day. He usually enjoyed being alone most of the time. Living with anxiety coupled with depression and a fair bit of self loathing made it hard to be around people. Especially his peers who were constantly judging everyone’s every little action or inaction.

Night time was a chance to get away and finally breath a sigh of relief. Unfortunately this wasn’t one of those nights. As Daniel sat listening to the rain he thought about his past. About his grandmother and the horrible accident that gave birth to his powers. He thought about the events of last year with the butterflies and of his interaction with students.

True he didn’t put himself out there like others, and that was by design. The one time he tried to be himself he was chastised and ridiculed. He still hadn’t gotten over his confrontation with Dark Victory. Screw that guy Daniel thought to himself. Who calls them self that and expects to be taken seriously anyway?

Despite all that the one thing Daniel wished for more then anything else was to not be alone. The very thought almost made him laugh by how ridiculously absurd it all was. He spent every minute of every day locked inside his shell. Afraid to open up to anyone. Afraid to be hurt by anyone. Actively pushing people away to avoid any sense of emotional pain what so ever. When the thing that brought him the most pain was his own self imposed loneliness.

Maybe I should change my name to Irony. He thought to himself. The boy that could endure massive amounts of physical pain crumbled like wet paper at the slightest hint of criticism. He stared quietly into the night feeling the rain tap erratic patterns across his body.

I hate this place he thought, but it wasn’t true. There were things he enjoyed about Claremont. He couldn’t think of anything at the moment and he’d never admit it to himself if he did. Next to Theatre club and Theology, Science was one of his favorite subjects.

The rain had soaked through his hoodie and he figured that was as good a sign as any to head inside. Daniel took one last look into the night, breathed a frustrated sigh, and slipped back into the dorm.

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Ink and Paper
Not one, but TWO by-lines!

“And riiiiiiight…there!” The sound of an electronic shutter captured Aaron’s shining face with a fresh sunrise and tasteful lens flare over his shoulder. “Good morning BB, heart” he muttered as he tapped out the message that he and Cassie both knew was corny as heck. They’d started it this summer when they were away from each other, and so far Aaron had kept it going, much to Bluebird’s fake chagrin. Aaron pocketed his phone and heard a door opening and closing. The new Coach Boomer was passing Rekani on the way into the gym. One was leaving, and one was arriving…or were they both arriving? “I bet we’re the only three…four people awake on campus at this hour” he said, looking up at the lights on the corner second floor of the Admin building: Principal Summers’ office. Wait, Summers and Boomer…today was the day!

On his first lap of campus, the newspaper bins were empty. On the second lap, they were not. Aaron had not one, but two articles in today’s Boiler Plate, his first real contributions. Of course, he’d contributed them 2 weeks apart, but the new guy always gets page inches where they can be spared. He’d take it. He dug out a fresh newspaper from the bin, snapped open the front page, and then flipped 3 deep to find his first article. “Welcome to Claremont, Class of 2022!, by Aaron Blake” it read.

Welcome to Claremont, Class of 2022!

Claremont Academy has begun the Fall 2018 semester, and we’re off to a whirlwind start.

As many students are finding out, life at Claremont is different than what they’re used to.

Some students have even found that their usual happy-go-lucky daily academics are being disrupted by pranks…ones allegedly perpetrated by their own classmates!

Principal Summers, when reached for comment, referred The Boilerplate to our student handbook for guidance, saying “Claremont Academy is a place of acceptance and inclusion; we can have fun, but take care that a friendly ribbing does not cross over into hazing, bullying, or harassment.”

Each of us has a responsibility to create a welcoming and productive learning environment and empower our fellow students to best the best that we can be.

Reprobate behavior reflects poorly on individuals and Claremont as an institution, and frankly, that sounds more like something that Elysian would be involved in.

On the mirroring page, under the School Events heading, he found his second contribution.

Instructor Spotlight/Introduction: Coach Boomer

I tried to sit down with the new Physical Education teacher, Coach Boomer, to find out more about Claremont’s newest leader, but he insisted on conducting our interview during a leisurely jog around campus.

Struggling to keep up with this force of nature wearing gym clothes, I got a few words from him.

[Aaron] “Coach Boomer, I’m sure I’m not the first to say “welcome to Claremont”. Ordinarily, I’d ask you to tell us a bit about yourself, but let’s jump past that: what brings you to Claremont Academy?”

[Boomer] “What brought me here was a personal request from Principal Summers. Due to special circumstances, I was asked to take over for the Coach Archer as he was needed to take personal time to look into a family matter.”

[Aaron] “Most of the student body will end up with you as their Physical Education coach, tell me, what should they expect from your instruction?”

[Boomer] “Well I will tell you, I’m firm but fair. There aren’t any free rides in P.E. Everyone participates, and I expect effort. If you are reading this, then chances are you are going to be a super hero in the future (At least that’s my hope for you). Heroes need to be fit, so they can save others and, just as important, themselves. With that said, if you can run five miles, I’m going to push you for that sixth mile, if you can do fifty push ups, I’m going to ask fifty five, maybe even sixty. I’m going to work you, but I’m also going to work WITH you.”

[Aaron] “Probably for the best, honestly. Regular classes give us a chance to flex our minds, but not so much to get outside and get moving. OK, another fun one: put yourselves in the shoes of a student. My next lecture is yours. I’m expecting, what, exactly?”

[Boomer]: “Pretend I’m a student? No one really asks what it’s like to be the new teacher…But the answer works for both I guess. Go out, meet your peers, introduce yourself AS yourself. At no point should you try to pretend to be something you are not. It comes out eventually, and people will respect you more for being yourself. Sure it’s hard, but it’s worth it in the end, and it helps with your self esteem. Look, being new is scary, and not everyone will accept you for you. But you HAVE to accept yourself for who you are.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to get so serious, but if there is one thing I’ve seen at every school I’ve gone to is students trying to be what they think people want instead of being what they are. It’s painful to watch, and they end up hurting themselves. If a student needs a friend, I want them to know I will be that friend…but that doesn’t mean they are getting out of pull-ups…”

[Aaron] “Speaking of, I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to ditch this run, but my next class is in half an hour and I should probably get to it. Education’s why we’re here, after all, right?”

[Boomer]: “That’s right, son, and thank you. Hopefully my answers don’t scare any of your classmates…”

[Aaron] “Don’t worry about that, Coach, we usually see six terrifying things before lunch!”

They were not a lot, but they were something. And Aaron had quickly figured out that saying “I’m with the paper” could get you in almost anywhere. With any luck, this would let the Boiler Plate issue him a camera better than what was on his phone, and he could start covering school events…at least the ones the school wanted students to know about.

Aaron folded the paper back to its original state, and it disappeared from his hands for safekeeping. “Hey, it’s cardio. Keep that heart rate up!” yelled Coach Boomer from the gym’s door. Aaron waved, nodded, and continued his run. He was four steps in when he cocked his head to the side and had the odd thought, “Something wasn’t quite right with those articles. What was it?”

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Chiaroscuro Duality Vol 1 - Dissonance Cascade
The Tart Taste of Self Improvement

Okay.

Point one, the truth from which all other truth stems and flows:

Devin is a gigantic friggin’ tool who is literally ruining my life and a walking embodiment of stupid hippy dippy stereotypes.

That’s our starting point, alright, 3Journal? That is true above all else.

So. This week.

Yeah.

Ugh, why is this hard to write? You’re literally a bundle of faux-parchment and organic plant-derived unleather and glue that got me kind of high. It’s not like you’re going to judge, right?

Okay, let’s try again. This week.

I got sucked into some kind of ridiculous Home Ec thing to bake weird little pies for a faculty appreciation event. Yeah, we all really appreciate those idiots simultaneously trying to control every single aspect of our lives and ALSO managing to completely fail to keep us safe from all sorts of insane crap every single year.

Whatever. Soon enough we won’t have to listen to them anymore.

Anyway, before class started, it’s possible we might have nicked some brownies. Some, uh. . . special brownies. Some, like, really extra-special brownies, at that. So really, I’m pretty much off the hook for what came next, right? A trip is a trip is a trip, not some kind of, like revelation of the soul or whatever.

But man, what a trip. It was some holy-crap weird-out Alice in Wonderland crap mixed up with that Great British Bake-Off Show that Triton won’t shut up about every week. But hey, whatever. We’ve had VR missions on runaway trains and into haunted houses before; what’s a little Strawberry Regicide, right?

Except this time, we had some freaky-as-hell hallucinations inside the other hallucination. Like, halluception, man.

And in mine, this creepy freaking praying mantis version of Devin was trying to get me to chill by using a weird, magicked-out version of you, 3Journal. And now I’m writing about the whole thing in you. How’s that for meta, huh?

Anyway, look, point is, creepy dream bugged out Devin was exactly as obnoxious and pointlessly cryptic and self-absorbed and holier-than-me as the real thing, so, again, total butthole.

Except. . . all that crap he was spouting about centering your fifth chakra or finding yourself or seeking inner peace or whatever really kind of saved us all in there. Junk Drawer and Beat Hazard were having some hardcore freakouts, and if I’m being honest, trying to keep a handle on my own crap was getting pretty tough, too.

And then after that, after the faculty event or whatever, this whole thing with Stormking disappearing out of, like, reality crops up, and I’m trying to explain it to Yuna after all of us (MC, Schism, Warlock, Taboo, Checkmate, Barricade, Masquerade, plus some of the newbies like Siege and Junk Drawer and Beat Hazard) were talking out what was going on, and she freaks out over how I’m always leaving her out of this stuff.

Except, like, she didn’t remember Stormking, either. I’m not the one that left her out, you know? Like, reality did that crap; I’m just trying to deal with it! And I mean hey, I did talk to her about it afterwards. I dunno. Maybe I should have called her up sooner. But everyone was so freaked out by him disappearing, and you could just tell how worried about it Schism was (and she NEVER freaks out about ANYTHING) and how fast Checkmate can get off to the races with planning stuff, so, I mean, it’s not like I decided not to call her. It just. . . happened.

Okay, hey, I get it, I could have played that one better.

But the thing is, that temper is scary sometimes. And I know sometimes, it’s just because I’m an idiot. Trust me, I know that. But other times, that shadow of hers is just. . . gyah, it really, really freaks me out. And here lately, she’s seemed to almost enjoy letting go a little and just giving into it. And you know, the first three or four times you’re setting the faculty toilet on fire, it’s pretty fun.

But I also know at least some of the insane stuff it used to goad her into back in Japan, back before they pulled her into Claremont. I know how scared she gets when she thinks back on that stuff. I mean, she was just a kid practically. That shadow, that anger, that curse, whatever it is, it’s friggin’ nasty.

And. . . I want to help her out. I really do. And maybe I haven’t been doing the best job of that here lately. And maybe for real, I’m not gonna be much help until I get my own self under control some how. Solve your own problems first, right?

So. . . I guess what I’m saying is that, even if Devin is a gigantic douchenozzle, even a douchenozzle clock is right twice a day, or something. Whatever. It sounded better when I was screaming it at his statue earlier.

I’m not saying I’m gonna haul off and start burnign incense and growing out dreads and lining my jacket pockets with healing crystals aligned to the seventh house of Venus or whatever.

But. . . yesterday, when I was brooding in the chapel, I did try this simple yoga thing that we did sometimes this summer when me and my sister would get in a fight and Devin would try to calm us down. And. . . I dunno. It felt kind of okay. Maybe.

Crap. That reminds me. Sorry, 3Journal, but I gotta rip out a couple of your pages. I owe someone an apology.

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A Not So Chance Encounter
In which Flora is bad at introductions

This was hard.

Everything’s going good, Hal! Congrats on that win!

This was so, so hard.

Hey Dad, I know we’ve both been really busy, I promise I’ll call tonight when you get home from your shift. Love u

It had only been a few weeks and Flora didn’t know if she could handle this.

Truth was she had been avoiding calls home for the past few days after the trial. Flora couldn’t tell them anything that had actually happened. Especially not the freaky visions, it felt unjustifiable to accuse her family of wanting to be rid of her. The vision had scared her, even if it was only an accident and not really real. It felt real though…she felt that pain. She felt her pain too. The pain of a stranger she had never met.

And then she found her. Toxin, or rather,Charlene stepped into the common room nervously. The two naturally tried to avoid the other’s gaze.

Flora had been trying to figure out for the past five minutes of how the heck she was going to introduce herself to Charlene and have it be the least amount of weird and awkward as possible.

She would rather have needles in her eyeballs at this point.

Approaching people, having conversations, and making friends were not strong suites of Flora’s. Yet she walked forward, trying not to be nervous. It felt like the 60 feet of threads that came to her fingers were suddenly just balled in her stomach. Still, she willed herself to approach the suited girl.

“Um…Hi. You’re Charlene…right? I’m Flora…do you have a minute to talk?”

“Uh, um, hey there. Is somethin’ wrong?” Flora couldn’t tell for sure, but she seemed startled. Did she mess this up already?

“No! Well…not with you, it’s me.” The two faced each other awkwardly as Flora brought her gloved hand from her pocket. “Look, I’m a little new here but it was recently brought to my attention that you and I…we have some things in common” Flora said as she showed Charlene her hand, and the threads moving rapidly underneath seemingly in time with her current heart rate.

“Oh! Do you need a cure, too? Everyone says these powers are a gift, but, that’s the same as when people are sick and everyone says to ‘hang in there.’ I’ve been working with someone. I think I’m really close.”

Cure? From the limited tests the Doctors could tell her, this was…non reversible. It sounded like Charlene had a chance. Flora though didn’t pretend to further understand the details.

“It’d be nice, but I think the mutation is permanent. I’m managing. But yeah, I get that, you suddenly are the jerk for not being positive and keeping hope. That’s awesome you’ve made progress”.

An awkward silence fell between the two. Charlene broke the silence, asking the one question Flora did not want to really answer.

“How did you hear about me?”

Flora looked down at her hand before putting in back in her pocket. The moment of silence became twice as awkward before she finally explained “Okay, so…you know how things at this school can be weird?”

“Um, yeah. What’s going wrong, now?”

“Honestly? No clue, but I was going through a test with some other kids, when something gave everyone there a different vision. I had a vision about you and me talking. Now, I’m new to the whole magic and mental, or really any kind of powers thing so it could all be nonsense, but…that’s why I’m here. Besides…I’m trying this whole meet new people thing” Flora explained, giving Charlene a nervous smile. It was hard to make out her features…but that seemed to ease a little bit of the awkwardness.

“Oh wow, well, hi! It’s good to meet you. I’d shake your hand but, uh, that’s not always safe. The last time I had a vision was when there was some magic stuff going on freshmen year, but I haven’t seen any of that this year. Do you think it was a warning, or was it just a glimpse at future friend talks? Actually that sounds silly now that I say it out loud.”

“It’s really nice to meet you too and don’t worry about it. I get it. Actually, you saying that makes me feel better, but it was definitely a future friend talk” She meant it in that it was a future conversation and a conversation that should be had in the future. Suddenly a buzzing came from Flora’s pocket; she didn’t even need to see the screen but she still confirmed. “Shoot, that’s my Dad; I really need to take this. Charlene, would it be cool if we hung out later…if you’re comfortable with that?”

“oh, uh, yeah. Good luck with your dad!” The two shared a nervous wave as Flora headed towards the door to pick up the phone, barely hearing on the way out from Charlene “Good luck with your dad, what does that even mean…?” It made Flora smile, more so that there was someone else here she could relate to a little.

“Hey Dad, how was your shift? … Great! It’s been a rocky start but I think I’m starting to make some friends”

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Pāhoehoe

Lava lamp: A lava lamp (or Astro lamp) is a decorative novelty item, invented in 1963 by British accountant Edward Craven Walker, the founder of the British lighting company Mathmos. The lamp consists of a bolus of a special coloured wax mixture inside a glass vessel, the remainder of which contains clear or translucent liquid; the vessel is then placed on a box containing an incandescent light bulb whose heat causes temporary reductions in the density and viscosity of the wax. The warmed wax rises through the surrounding liquid, cools, loses its buoyancy, and falls back to the bottom of the vessel in a cycle that is visually suggestive of pāhoehoe lava, hence the name. The lamps are designed in a variety of styles and colours.

Cybersoul watched a large globule of wax mixture break off and rise to the top of their lava lamp, then slowly drop back to the bottom.They had been observing this phenomenon for two hours, thirty-seven minutes, and fifteen point five seconds now, ever since lights-out. There were other students, they knew, who didn’t need to sleep. Maybe they wouldn’t mind Cybersoul’s company in the library or common room. But Cybersoul appreciated the time alone. They hadn’t had much time to themself for most of their life: regular check-ins meant they only had an hour at a time alone with their thoughts. This had made it difficult to plan their escape. They hadn’t expected to need time alone once they made it to Claremont, but it turned out to be unexpectedly pleasant.

This time, it was a series of small globs that broke off and floated up to the top of the lava lamp. Internally, Cybersoul filtered out different light spectra coming from the lamp: only visible light; near infrared through green; orange, blue, and ultraviolet. The .png files wouldn’t look the same as the actual lamp, if Cybersoul uploaded them to look at. They were already translated into visible light only, a stunted representation of what Cybersoul could see. The raw data would always be there to tell them what colours there had been, but pulling up data wasn’t the same as seeing something.

Art: Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative, conceptual idea, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.

“Why don’t you make a piece of art that only you can see?” Duncan Summers had said, looking around Cybersoul’s empty room. The words “Why don’t you” were well-indexed within Cybersoul’s archive of human interactions, with a large data pool to back up Cybersoul’s extrapolations. The words almost always indicated an order was being given, but Summers had relented when Cybersoul insisted that they had no use for sensory input without purpose.

Cybersoul’s face twitched: 0.43 seconds of involuntary smiling. It had been a victory to get Summers off their case.

It hadn’t been long after that that Reggie had showed up with the lava lamp. He’d called it a present, a concept unfamiliar to Cybersoul at the time. What it meant, they had since determined, was that this thing belonged to them. Also, they owed Reggie some kind of thank-you note. Cybersoul’s chassis made an involuntary shudder at the thought of handwriting.

In visible light, the lamp featured orange wax in a translucent green liquid. It didn’t emit much along the ultraviolet spectrum, but the interplay of heat and chemistry was vivid when viewed in near infrared. Cybersoul partitioned out the visible and ultraviolet spectra and watched the heat signatures as the wax rose and fell. It was a meaningless exercise – their handler would have told them to stop messing around with sensory control they had mastered months ago and get back to work on their motor skills – but Cybersoul found themself enjoying it.

Art and Emotion: In psychology of art, the relationship between art and emotion has newly been the subject of extensive study thanks to the intervention of esteemed art historian Alexander Nemerov. Emotional or aesthetic responses to art have previously been viewed as basic stimulus response, but new theories and research have suggested that these experiences are more complex and able to be studied experimentally. Emotional responses are often regarded as the keystone to experiencing art, and the creation of an emotional experience has been argued as the purpose of artistic expression. Research has shown that the neurological underpinnings of perceiving art differ from those used in standard object recognition. Instead, brain regions involved in the experience of emotion and goal setting show activation when viewing art.

Once when asked what Trans-Siberian Orchestra was about, Paul O’Neill replied, "It’s about creating great art.” When asked to define what great art was, Paul said, "The purpose of art is to create an emotional response in the person that is exposed to that art. And there are three categories of art; bad art, good art and great art. Bad art will elicit no emotional response in the person that is exposed to it, i.e.; a song you hear in an elevator and it does nothing to you, a picture on a wall that gives you the same emotional response as if the wall had been blank, a movie that chews up time. Good art will make you feel an emotion that you have felt before; you see a picture of a forest and you remember the last time you went fishing with your dad, you hear a song about love and you remember the last time you were in love. Great art will make you feel an emotion you have never felt before; seeing the pieta, the world famous sculpture by Michelangelo, can cause someone to feel the pain of losing a child even if they’ve never had one. And when you’re trying for these emotions the easiest one to trigger is anger. Anyone can do it. Go into the street, throw a rock at someone, you will make them angry. The emotions of love, empathy and laughter are much harder to trigger, but since they operate on a deeper level, they bring a much greater reward. Source.

Visual input on its own had never elicited an emotional response from Cybersoul in the past. Sight, for most of Cybersoul’s life, had been an aid to GPS positioning. Now it just kept them from bumping into things. There was no point in watching wax heat up and cool down inside a tube for hours on end. But watching the lava lamp triggered memories of receiving it, which triggered memories of Reggie and the other friends they had made. That elicited an emotional response, alright. And the feelings didn’t end there. Looking at a lamp was one thing; looking at a lamp and knowing it belonged to them was another. Cybersoul had never owned anything before- not the room where they stayed, not the clothes they wore, not the body they lived in. Now they owned a lamp. The feelings connected to that were just as complicated as the ones connected to their friends.

Cybersoul’s face rearranged itself involuntarily several times: a smile, then a frown, then tightly pursed lips. With some effort, Cybersoul managed to bring their expression back to neutral. Was this what art was about? Did humans seek this out?

Cybersoul decided to table that research and move on, doing a full scan of their internal schematics to try and figure out what had happened to their footage of Adnan. It was important work, but the thought of the lava lamp nagged at them, impossible to fully ignore. Annoyed, they shifted away from schematics and pulled up their class schedule. They had one class period they had chosen not to fill. They had planned to use it for agility training, but… well, they were supposed to try and understand humans better, right?

With their art class application emailed to the administration, they went back to their schematics.

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New Room, New Decor

“All right. He’s on the other side of campus, it’s go time.”

They’d been planning it for months. After the events of last year, they had decided A) Devin wasn’t such a bad guy, he’d made them brownies for goodness sake, and B) Bobby needed to relax a little. And nothing helps you relax like a good pranking, right?

The three accomplices started toward Bobby’s room. They’d timed their mission for when most of the other students were hitting the cafeteria. Aramat was carrying a statue, scaled in perfect 1:1 ratio. It had been covered with glitter, and painted with neon flourescent pegasi, and was the spitting image of Bobby’s stepfather. It had a doll with a scowling expression on its shoulder. If you looked closely (which Aramat hadn’t), the doll was flipping the bird.

“This is a friendly joke, right?” she asked, a little anxiously. “Pranking fosters goodwill and healthy competition between humans. And our decoration of his stepfather acknowledges his antipathy toward him. He will enjoy it, and feel heard, right? Do you think I should have added a ‘You’re not my father and you never will be’ speech bubble to the doll?” Not all humans know all cultural references. He may not be familiar with Ruple.”

“Yes he will, Shift. Yes he will. It’s perfect as it is. And it’s RuPaul.” Aaron bent down, giving the room’s door the once-over. He squinted at the lock, the threshold, the ceiling. “Far as I can tell, we’re in the clear. No wards, no traps. Your move.”

“Nice.” Brian reached to his utility belt and pulled a lock release gun. He quickly popped the lock on the door, opened it, looked around the room once and pointed at a location near the far wall. “Set it there, Shift. Eyes facing the door.” As Shift oriented the statue, Warlock kept an eye on the hall to make sure Bobby didn’t return suddenly. Dark Victory pulled a power tool from his backpack, checked the orientation of the statue, and quickly bolted it to the floor. The three swiftly left the room, making sure that they hadn’t been seen.

Once they’d returned to their staging area (aka Brian’s room), Dark Victory pulled up a wireless feed on the large monitor on his desk. The picture came through clear and perfect, and was obviously fed from the camera in the statue’s head.

“Good work team. Now we wait. Popcorn?”

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We Can't Afford to be Innocent
Schism, Shift, and Storm King have an adventure and almost die

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaxQIY5mLNs

“So, Adnan knows some people who can get us to the safe house closest to the beach where most of the immigrants around here end up. The weather is looking pretty nasty this week, which works in our favor. He can manage the storms at least near us, if you can patrol under the water to find where the boats are in trouble. I’ll use your back, if you can take on a large enough form – like a killer whale or something – as a teleport jump spot so we can hop them to the shore, where the Greeks can get them to the safe house. What do you think?”

Aramat, otherwise known as Shift, pushed her auburn hair out of her face as she looked over the map Schism had drawn into the red clay outside their youth hostel. The hostel was a good cover, but also the only thing Schism could afford, her parents having cut her off after her latest refusal to return home this summer. They were supposedly spending their vacation backpacking in Mytilene, the capital city of Lesbos, which just happened to be one of the islands Syrian refugees, desperate to escape civil war, crossed dangerous waters to get to. The alien girl pursed her lips in thought.

“I think we need to do a better job this time to not get caught, or we are going to get Storm King expelled.”

“Yeah. You’re not wrong. I’m pretty sure Summers knows we’re going to try again, and he didn’t explicitly say not to. But I’ve been thinking about how I can keep you and Adnan out of the spotlight with this if we do get caught again.”

“Nina…sorry, Simone, I am not afraid to take the punishment, same as you! It is his scholarship that is on the line.”

“I know! That’s why neither of you can get caught. You need to be his cover if the authorities start questioning him. Simple plan: he came to Greece to find members of his family. You were there to support him. It’s all true. We just leave out the part where we’re considering all of Syria his family and that you’re literally supporting him as a shapeshifter carrying him and refugees to safety. Yeah, they probably won’t buy it, but it’s not technically perjury. I can get you guys away and, trust me, I know how to be a distraction.”

“I do not like this, but I do not know this legal system and I know you have been studying it. Let us just not get caught, ok?”


Five days later, spitting salt water out of her mouth and squinting against the spray from an unruly ocean, Schism managed to make out a dark shadow racing toward her underwater. The family of seven, huddled into their makeshift lifejackets, watched with preternatural calm as they made ready to teleport out of this sinking lifeboat with the extraordinary teenagers that had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, just a few minutes ago. Adnan was able to quickly explain the situation before he had to take off and redirect the storm away from another boat while scrambling the visuals on the Russian drone attempting to track it. His agony at the decision to leave was painfully obvious; through both insane luck and sheer determination, they’d managed to not lose a boat yet this summer, but who knew how long either of those would hold. Shift, Storm King, and Schism knew any failures were going to stay with them forever, and all of their powers were being pushed to the limit to prevent anything going wrong on their watch. The Greek, Turkish, and Russian authorities had put out various APBs on the trio, though with no more detailed info than “suspicious superhero activity bypassing security protocols.”

The shadow grew alarmingly large as a giant octopus shot toward the wracked vessel. Smoothly dodging around the side, a tentacle lashed out toward the boat, and the two younger children screamed in at first fear, then surprise, as the beast snatched them to safety away from a series of jagged rocks rising up through the storm. “Good work, Shift!” The gray elf screamed out into the storm, hoping her friend could hear her. Suddenly, a humanoid hand and face rose up next to the boat edge. Aramat pushed her sodden hair out of her eyes and gasped out. “Schism! We are near the next jump point, but it is going to be under water any minute. You need to move these people NOW. I will watch the boat but get them going!”

Schism’s mind, which had been slipping into a state of exhaustion, flared back awake. “I can only manage two at a time right now; otherwise it’s getting too dangerous. Storm King’s handling his situation, but he’s close to dropping, too. This is our last one, understood?” The weary girl nodded, then shifted back to her octopus form, bracing against the rocks and holding the boat in place. Schism spoke quickly to the two parents, both grim-faced and ready to move. Haya, the mother, was to go with the youngest – a little boy barely five years old. It took some convincing with Schism’s limited Arabic to not have her return and escort each child back, but ultimately the three of them blipped out, first landing on a bare patch of land in the sea a mile closer to the Lesbos beach. The water was nearly sweeping over it, and Schism paused only enough to catch her breath before teleporting them into the waiting arms of the Greek activists at the final point. Twice more again the journey was made with the rest of the children. Their father, Ruzgar, insisted on being the last one left as he saw his family taken to safety.

“One more jump, with Ruzgar and Shift, and we’re done,” thought Schism in relief as she made her hop from the midway point, now nearly under water, back to the boat. She teleported in just in time to see it ripped from Aramat’s exhausted hold and thrown into a black wave that enveloped both it and the man clinging to its side. As he disappeared from sight, Schism instinctively jumped to the jagged rocks behind her and clung to them, screaming his name and desperately searching the water. Something, anything, all she needed was a glimpse and she could save him. But there was nothing more than churning waves and howling wind. He was lost.

“No. NO!”

Seconds passed like an eternity. And then, exploding from the darkness, an impossible entity tore itself from the ocean. First in the shape of a siren, powerful tail lashing against the current, and then a great phoenix with wings straining against the wind, Aramat flew upward with the unconscious man grasped in her talons. Schism could feel the power ripping through the other girl as she pushed herself to extraordinary limits, and knew there was very little time before it burned out the young shapeshifter. As soon as the Schism got a clear line of site, she dove toward them, frightened to miss them and channeling her teleportation so quickly the two seemed able to pass directly through her like a portal. In a desperate measure, she reached her powers into Ruzgar’s dematerialized form, filtering out the water that had filled his lungs and leaving it behind. Solidifying herself alongside them and staggering through knee-deep water, Schism tried to gather her strength for one last jump, but felt her body start sinking into the ocean instead. Over the wind, she thought she heard the Storm King’s voice, strained and frantic; seconds later the three of them were whisked up in the air, toward the beach and safety.

Her last memories were of Ruzgar, conscious now and stumbling toward his wife and children, while the other rescuers bundled them in warm blankets and hurried them to the safe house. The sound of helicopters was approaching, though, and everyone knew what that meant. Aramat stared at Schism, unwilling and angry. “Follow the plan,” Schism managed to grate out, her red eyes blazing back at her friend. Adnan raised his head from the sand, tense and confused. “What is she talking about?” The other girl, with her alien strength, managed to grab him and drag him away with the scattering activists. Nina…that is, Simone heaved herself up and stood to face the Greek Coast Guard closing in. The Storm King’s voice, raised in delirious anger – “What the hell is she talking about?! Damn it! Nina!” – echoed in her ears. She smiled to herself, a slight blush appearing for just a moment on her face.


Seventy-two hours later, Schism looked up from the floor of her cell as the unmistakable cadence of American voices sounded down the hallway. The restraint collar around her neck shifted slightly, and she gripped it for a second, willing herself for the hundredth time not to tear at it in panic. She hadn’t been in a room like this since before coming to Claremont. Her old home had started becoming a series of cages, each one more powerful, as both her family and the local authorities had tried to contain her and her powers. Those were painful memories, and not ones she’d thought she be revisiting in this world, so it was a bad first day after her capture. The good news was that her friends got away pretty cleanly, thanks to both a great deal of sophistry and a well-developed network of contacts among the allies they’d made over the last few weeks.

She forced her hands away from the collar and picked at the remnants of her dinner. At first, her food tray would arrive half empty, the guard delivering it staring at her in rage and disgust. “Freak” and “monster” were words she now knew in both Greek and Arabic. But as time went on, she noticed things about him. How he kept looking at his phone, at a photo of a man bearing a close resemblance to himself. How he sometimes smelled like spoiled milk or would hastily shove a child’s bib back in his pocket. She asked another, friendlier guard a few questions, learned about how his brother had been in the Coast Guard, and was lost in a Syrian refugee rescue operation last year. How his grief was turning to rage against those refugees and the people who risk everything to bring them here.

Learning this, Schism found she couldn’t despise the man the way she’d wanted to at first. So, instead of returning hate for hate, she started talking to him, ignoring his insults and cold silences. Saying that she knows this isn’t right, that it’s not just some fun adventure, that good people die. That new people – immigrants – are scary, and it seems like there isn’t enough to go around already. But sometimes, even when there aren’t any good answers, you have to fight for the best things you can hold on to. That his brother must have believed that, and if he and his children were ever in danger, like these Syrian families were, she would be just as willing to risk everything for them, and him. At that, he snorted and said, “You, you’re just a kid. You don’t know anything.” Schism smiled back at him then. Kid is better than monster. Not a huge step, but her trays started appearing with more food now. Maybe there’s something to this “diplomacy” thing, she thought.

As the voices got closer, she leaned in and listened intently. Recognizing one in particular, the girl was engulfed in a combination of relief and embarrassment. Principal Summers had arrived.

When she looked at him, his air seemed easy and calm as a smile played across the seventy-year-old’s face. However, when she met his eyes for a moment, what she saw was disappointment.


On the plane ride back, a tense silence filled the passenger area. Summers wasn’t speaking, and Nina refused to be the one to break the silence. Aramat shifted uncomfortably before speaking.

“Why is no one speaking? Is that not what you humans do, talk and talk to express yourself because you have no ability to interface more directly? This feels wrong and I…” She suddenly stopped when she caught Summers’s gaze.

“I’m not human, and I’m not going to apologize, if that’s what you’re waiting for,” Nina murmured. “We did the right thing regardless of what the rules say.”

“I also feel we did the right thing,” Aramat chimed in feeling more confident in numbers.

Nina repositioned herself in her chair, picking up steam. “Rules aren’t as important as people. I thought this world was different. If you’re going to try and intimidate us into following the line, or say we don’t know anything because we’re children, you can stop right there. I’ve heard more than…”

“It was sloppy.” Summers waited a moment before continuing. “You allowed yourself to get caught.”

“But there were several days where we were not caught!” Aramat happily pointed out.

“If you hadn’t gotten caught, you could have just as easily drowned in those waters. And it wasn’t just you. In your state, you were on the edge of making a mistake and then someone else would have died. You pushed yourself beyond your limits. You rushed in, trusting your power. I thought we were teaching you finesse, how to use your head.”

Nina breathed in quickly, rage and shame mixing together. “We had a plan. It was a good plan, We just didn’t expect how strong the storms were. Things shifted.”

Summers set down his cane and put a hand on each of his students’ shoulders. “It was, but it could be better. Obviously, I’ll need to take a more hands-on approach with both of you.” A wry tone entered his voice as he continued. “I really am getting too old for this.”


As Nina entered Claremont, things felt different. There was no security cell, no warm blasts of salt and rain. Autumn leaves drifted along lazily and children laughing in the distance could be heard. Then suddenly the wind spiked up and a lightning bolt cracked the air, as Storm King touched down from the sky, his hair whipping about him.

“I didn’t ask you to take the fall for me!”

“I know.”

“I was ready to take the consequences. If someone’s going to fight, they need to be ready to accept what comes next.”

“You have a scholarship. If you were caught, it would all be over.”

“But we were in it together! We could have kept protecting one another.”

“Adnan, we had already pushed ourselves too much. If we had fought, something bad would have happened.” For a moment, Nina could almost feel the collar again. “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you. I’m sorry you were taken without a choice.”

Adnan looked down at his feet for a second. The air settled and the electricity in it faded away. A bird started chirping. “I thought the three of us were a really good team.”

Nina risked a smile. “Yeah, me too.”

“Okay, let’s do that again. Well, maybe not that! But, uh, something like that. Soon!”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about a few things.”

“Okay, good. Uh, I need to go. Okay, bye.” Adnan suddenly rushed off.

Nina stared at him for a moment before making her way to detention, which has started becoming her new school year tradition. Hey, at least she would get to see the janitor’s cat.

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