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Everything posted by Bannon

  1. "I've never threatened her, or anyone here, simply because they did or said something I didn't like." Jason replied softly. "Though I've certainly been threatened over such things. And I just got done saying it doesn't have to be all my way. And as for her trying to talk to me and my giving her the cold-shoulder - I have no idea what you mean. First time she sought me out she warned me that it was suspicious that Lilly disappeared and reappeared, and then yesterday she warned me not to hurt Autumn. Both times I listened until she was done. But... this is going round and round." He glanced at Cassie significantly. "And as I predicted, I'm the one that ended up being the real issue. So be it: I'm done repeating myself over and over. I'm not excising anyone from my life, but I'm also not going to pretend I'm welcome where, it turns out, that has never been the case. You all have my number, you all know where to find me, at least for now. If you need me to, I'll show up. If you come to talk with me, I'll sit and talk. Want to hang out? I'm down." He shrugged at Devin, then leaned slightly towards the Alexa. "Marissa included. Until then, I have other uses for my time." He pushed off from the counter he was leaning against, stepping over to Autumn and giving her a faint smile, then leaning down and kissing a freckled cheek. "I'll wait in the car." he told her in a murmur as her expressive blue eyes studied his face. She nodded slowly, watching for a moment as he turned and left the room.
  2. "Again with that insistence that I 'don't know what it is to be wrong'. I've been wrong. I quite clearly stated that what I did regarding Liam was a mistake, and why." Jason popped the tab on the second Coke, nodding at Devin and shrugging. "I'm also possibly wrong regarding the scorpion analogy - I'm not immune to a certain level of resentment based on what happened to me and certain things she has said to me. Certainly, you know her better than I do. You are also, however, the one person present who she won't sacrifice, Devin. And yes, I don't know what it's like to be frightened. I'm not judging her for being afraid." "Your assessment of what we did last week before fighting Cody is also lacking. We fought off a direct attack from the Dark into our world. Autumn and Cassandra uncovered what Cook was up to, and then we planned and executed a raid on a secret paramilitary underground research lab, with no fatalities, and rescuing several test subjects. We found out the probable location of Cassie's father, investigated the mystery of Mr Black, uncovered the bracelets, opened dealings with the Project, trained our abilities, discovered that at Site B there is likely an alien spacecraft left by the Radiants of old, and incidentally also discovered the existence of Enterich - Cassie seeing that Air Force Captain muttering about him with her gift." Jase studied the other youth, one corner of his lips twitching in a smile. "And yes, also all that stuff you said." "Look, Devin, I'm not jumping down Marissa's throat about what she had to do in the past. It's done, I'm moving on. And I agree that she uncovered valuable intelligence. My contention is that she believes that she has the right to put us in harms way without our knowledge if she thinks it's necessary, as though she is the commander-in-chief and we are soldiers who signed up to serve, and that she has no need to modify her behaviour or agree even in principle that we should be involved in such decisions. If I took that attitude, you'd be the first calling me out." He indicated Devin with his can. "Hell, man, you bitched me out because I injured those mercenaries in the Crossroads raid and 'encouraged' Charlie in being similarly violent by my example. You've threatened to attack me because I dangled Cook by his pompous neck to let some air out of him. If I'd gotten someone here shot by playing my own game and not warning anyone, then turned around and said I was right and would do it again, would we even be having a discussion about it?" "Which brings me to Cade." Emerald lasers fixed on the athlete's face. "Same goes for you, with the highlighting of my point that my proposal was just that, not an edict. I specifically said I couldn't function alongside someone 'without an agreement in that vein'. Nobody proposed anything different. No-one stepped forward and made a counter proposal. Marissa refused point blank, repeated her initial position, and claimed she wasn't a variable to be controlled - which wasn't my objective. There was no room for compromise, because she refused to even entertain the concept that her behaviour should be altered. I don't want rigid guidelines signed in blood. I just want some manner of agreement in principle that we shouldn't run around taking unilateral actions that will put each other in danger, so if it happens again at least there is an understanding that it's the last resort and there was literally no other option." "To sum up: Maybe my scorpion comment was out of line. We did plenty of import last week, and saying otherwise to try and highlight Marissa's contribution doesn't change that. I'm not taking the position that it's my way or the highway, merely that there has to be some basis of trust here. And there seems to be an amazing double standard in expected behaviour." He indicated everyone present with a sweep. "Of every one of you here who wagged their finger and told me that I was wrong in what I did with Liam or Cook, that such actions won't fly, not one has told Marissa that she's out of line and she needs to change her approach." He shrugged, taking a long pull from his can. "Fascinating. Why that is is best answered by yourselves, I'm sure."
  3. "If you want to be the frog that carries the scorpion, that is your choice." Jase's voice was conversationally calm. "I offered to move past what has already been done, and proposed to try and ensure it doesn't happen again. She refused to consider the proposal, and reiterated her position that she will do as she sees fit, when she sees fit, even if it affects our lives." He finished the last of the Coke and tossed the can into the trash, a touch of TK ensuring it crumpled mid-flight and landed squarely in the receptacle. "I also took her story at face value, as a sign of good faith. I voiced no doubts that she was telling the truth, even though some doubts could logically be thrown on her motives given her words to me yesterday. To remind you: she believes I am a violent animal who will abuse her friend." he indicated Autumn. "She flat out told me she doesn't trust my stated intent - why should I trust hers? Of the two of us, one of us has been lucky to survive gunshot wounds due to the other. She can say she attempted to dissuade Enterich. We have only her word for that - if she truly believes me to be a threat then a manipulated assassin's bullet takes care of that nicely." He shrugged. "But I have no evidence beyond her accusation yesterday to support that theory, so despite my doubts I proceeded - and will continue to proceed - as if all she said was true. That doesn't change the fact she will do it again if she has to, by her own admission." His head tilted to one side, cold eyes regarding Cassandra. "If all it takes for us to backstab each other is a threat to family members, if all Enterich or anyone like him needs to do is apply pressure and we fold like wet cardboard, perhaps there is no Fellowship after all." He let that hang in the air for a moment. "That wasn't a threat, or a declaration, to clarify. Merely an observation."
  4. "Well, that ends the discussion so far as I am concerned." Jason replied, unruffled and, to all appearances, unsurprised by Marissa's blunt refusal. As indeed he was. He looked over at the group's blonde seer. "Out of deference to Cassandra, who insisted I attend, I will remain until everyone has finished having their say." And with that he lapsed into silence, his eyes moving from Cassie to the wall opposite the counter on which he leaned, only the faint movement of his breathing and an occasional sip from the Coke can disturbing his stillness.
  5. "Enterich didn't want me dead because of my power." Jason had stood silently, his eyes on Marissa as she'd spoken, then tracking Cade as he'd voiced his opinions, then once more tracking their hostess during her follow-up. Now he spoke, his soft voice falling across the silence following Marissa's words as the jade ice of his stare once more settled on Cade. "Your analysis is simplistic. In terms of physical threat, perhaps I am the most dangerous person here." He shrugged. "Both my power and my capacity for violence contribute to that. But Enterich is a manipulator. He finds weak spots - fears for the most part, from the sounds of it - and pushes on them." He indicated Marissa with one hand, still looking at Cade. "Enterich fights using influence and cunning, on exploiting the psychological weakness of those he needs to use or destroy. Marissa, logically, is his greatest rival amongst us. Cassandra is a greater threat to a hidden hand or conspiracy than I am. Even Sean, were he so inclined, could be a greater threat to Crossroads - whom Enterich seems to be working with or for - than I could be. He could unravel their corporate structure and lay all their secrets bare in moments." Jason held up the can of Coke in his hand, condensation forming on the side as he cooled it once more to fridge-temperatures. "As for me? Power-wise, I am limited in such a struggle. My greatest strength there is my intellect - the ability to analyse and plan. And even that is useless without data with which to operate. So again, asking rhetorically - why me? Why not our Eyes? Or our Face?" he indicated Cassie and Marissa. "A further puzzle: he sent human flunkies to kill me rather than attend to me himself - why? He's a creature of the Dark. A demon of fear, according to Coyote. If he really wanted me dead, why not deal with me personally?" "Maybe he can't." Sean said thoughtfully, staring at Jason. "I mean, he might have underestimated you and figured his puppets would do the job, but perhaps he didn't do it himself because, well, fear demon." He gestured to Jason. "No fear, no power. Maybe he figures he'd have an easier time of it without you in the picture." "That was my thought." Jase nodded slightly. "But I also consider he might have a three-fold goal. Eliminate me, certainly. But secondarily isolate and expose Marissa." His eyes met the brunette's. "If I had died, he'd have had you at his mercy. Potentially his greatest rival in the game of influence - neutered. You'd have either done his bidding further, or he'd have made sure everyone else here found out you were responsible for my death. Which would bring about the third goal: destroy the Fellowship." He paused, eyes cutting over to Cassandra. "He may, or may not know how good Cassie's abilities are. Perhaps they factored into the equation too. Either way, I think this was a chess game move. My injury - and your part in it - is enough to place huge strain on our bond as a group." "I have made mistakes that have placed strains on that bond too." He went on calmly. "The morning after I attacked Liam, Lona said something that stayed with me: that the worst thing about that entire situation is that when she had a problem, I didn't ask her how she wanted to handle it. Instead I simply went and hospitalised her attacker. Marissa said something similar a day or two later - that I didn't stop to think of my friends, but instead just went to gratify my thirst for vengeance." He studied Marissa, his cool green eyes revealing little if anything of what was going on behind them. "You were right. And Lona had a point. I may not seem like I pay attention or listen to such concerns, but I do. My attacking Liam the way I did might not have placed anyone in the Fellowship in physical danger, but I did put everyone in moral difficulty and maybe legal danger." He shrugged. "So I resolved not to make that mistake again. Not to act unilaterally and take important decisions out of the hands of my friends." "I don't fault your pragmatism. You say we can trust you to do what you see as necessary. I agree, and hold a similar view. You say that you won't willfully put us in danger unless you are 'certain' we can survive it. The logical flaw there is simple: what if you are wrong, Marissa? What if your calculation of our ability to survive misses a decimal point?" He slowly shook his head. "No. You don't get to make the decision about our being put at risk for us. You said earlier that you don't trust us to handle your business, and that's fair - but the moment Enterich demanded details on us, the moment you were aware that forces were in play against us - that was the moment it became our business, not just yours" He glanced at everyone present, slowly scanning faces before returning to Marissa's. "I propose a different accord, one we all need to abide by, which should address your earlier concern that Devin and I would start kicking in doors and breaking faces, or Cassie would start being loud." The corner of his lips twitched wryly. "It is a door that swings two ways: firstly, if any one of us comes to the Fellowship with a problem, the default attitude is to be 'how can we help you?' rather than 'I shall take care of it my way'. And the other side of the agreement is that any business involving outside interest in other members of the Fellowship is the Fellowship's business. We can't afford for this to happen again. And personally, I am not prepared to take the risk again. Without an agreement in that vein on the table, I will walk away and compartmentalise my life from those I cannot trust. I don't need allies, or even associates, who think they have a right to shove me under a bus because it suits their purpose and they think I can survive it. You want me to play as bait, you get my consent first." This last was delivered without any particular rancor or hostility, a simple matter-of-fact statement as his eyes, gleaming in his tanned scarred face, rested on Marissa as he took a drink of Coke.
  6. He'd been tempted to follow them out into the yard - as much for the fresh air and stay with the two people in the room he felt most comfortable with right now as to take notes on setting up an exercise area. For all of his apparent casual demeanour, Jason's mind was analysing endless patterns and permutations and likely outcomes for the meeting, based on past interactions and observation. Of course, people could surprise him. But in his experience, it was usually people he didn't have enough data on to predict that surprised him, such as Autumn cycling up to retrieve her hoodie last Monday only for a friendship to spark up that had later flared into a relationship. Or Devin, turning around on his previous petty bullying ways, setting up a framework of the man he wanted to grow into that revealed deeper truths than had previously been apparent. Eyes the colour of frozen jade seemingly idly studied the other two present as Marissa bounced from the room to go and let Cade in, but in the silence following the female Jauntsen's bitter nihilism, the crystalline prism of Jase's mind performed calculations. Kat was still largely an unknown. But she seemed flighty, unfocused, lacking any real stake in the goings-on and uncertain of her own position. She may very well have feelings about Marissa's apparent involvement in the attempted murder, but what she would do about it was an unknown quantity. In her shoes, not really being close to anyone, Jason imagined he would likely just listen, observe, and then leave the drama behind as best he could. Sean. His oldest friend, and yet... Barely two words had passed between them since the attack. He'd been at the hospital, for sure. But his attention had plainly been elsewhere. With cold, crystalline clarity Jason assessed that it was likely that, whilst his friend cared, he was also uncomfortable with taking positions that he felt were outside his expertise or self-designated role as the groups 'technical wizard'. Could he count on Sean caring? Probably. Could he count on Sean acting, taking a stand? Probably not. Cade. His eyes flicked to the large athlete as he entered the room with Marissa. Nothing much had changed since his analysis at the Carousel Rest Area. Cade was a well-meaning, vaguely amiable mass of ambulatory carbon molecules who liked apple pie, truth, justice and the American Way. Give him a pair of spectacles and he'd be Clark Kent if the Last Son of Krypton had decided to shine athletically at school. Jason wondered how the hulking young man would handle todays revelations. Doubtless he'd be disapproving, but would he have the principles to weather the almost-guaranteed bile-spitting that Marissa would inflict on anyone who dared to disagree with or disapprove of her? Because, as his text exchange with Cassandra had laid out, Jase considered that the likelihood of Marissa being at all contrite, of expressing any regret of her actions or their consequences, was minimal. Even if such sentiments were expressed, they would doubtless be footnotes followed up by qualification and justification, and an air of imperious defiance that anyone could find her to be at fault. And somewhere in that would be a manicured finger pointed at him, more logically ridiculous assertions that he was a sick abuser, doubtless freshly fueled by his daring to inflict pain on the people who tried to kill him. Jase had agreed, reluctantly, to come to this meeting. His reluctance was not born of fear, as Cass had sophomorically suggested in an attempt to prick his ego. It was simply that he felt this whole thing was a performative farce at best, and an attempt to provoke him at worst. Either way, it was a waste of his time, time better spent doing literally anything else. He wasn't 'afraid to face Marissa': he simply believed, based on observation that it was wasted effort that would lead to no resolution. She would continue to yank people's strings so long as they allowed her to do so, and when they eventually tired of it, cut the strings and walked away, she'd find fresh marks to yank around. As in the old movie: the only way to win was not to play. Was his mind made up, as Cassandra had suggested? He paused his ruthless calculus and reflected for a moment. In a sense it was - every observation, every word, every inconsistent action, every expression on Marissa's face went into his current hypothesis of her behaviour. But his mind was not closed on the matter. There was an allowance that she, like Devin, had depths yet to be revealed, that she could yet decide to leave behind childish things. There was room in his calculations for the possibility that she was simply confused, a 'hot mess', or even that she was self-destructively unbalanced rather than malevolent to the core. But possibilities and maybes did not alter her actions to date. He could not base his concept of Marissa off what she might turn out to be. That required hope, and hope was not an emotion he could experience. He seemed to the others to be present, leaning against the counter as he now and then sipped Coke from the can in his hand. But his eyes, though tracking movements, were largely unseeing as he set aside his concerns and analysis and stepped into his mental palace, pulling up a text on string theory and it's relationship with quantum field theory he'd scanned into his memory not long ago. The conversation just now had sparked some thoughts regarding the physical relationship between the energies of Radiance and how they might quite possibly have their own isolatable particles or waves. Numbers danced in his minds-eye, and now and then he'd pause in his reading to seek a reference from elsewhere in his mental library. A master of chemistry, Jase's knowledge of particle physics and the higher math necessary to calculate it was perhaps at graduate level, but it was still incomplete to say the least. If he was to impress the Project enough for them to seriously consider his proposal, he would need more preparation. This would be easier sitting in front of his laptop, of course - but he could at least make some mental notes for deeper study later.
  7. "Coke sounds good." There was no overt tension or stiffness in Jason's manner as he nodded in response to Marissa's greeting - and, for that matter, agreement with her reasoning regarding the pizza. "Thanks." he said to both Jauntsen Twins as he came to rest, leaning by one of the broad windows, exchanging a companionable nod of greeting with Sean and Kat. Autumn, restless herself, noted the way he seemed to be at ease and tried to emulate it, perching one hip on the central island and murmuring her own thanks as Devin slid a condensation-frosted can across the countertop. "No probs." Devin said, holding out a second can to Jase and feeling the tug of an invisible hand as it plucked the can from his fingers. "Say, Jaybee, I got a question." The largely-irrepressible teleporter leaned against a counter near the lean, freshly-scarred genius, popping the tab on his own Coke as he looked at Jason quizzically. "You're not having any issues with your powers, right? I mean, you used 'em this morning and just now, and it doesn't look like you're having trouble. Cuz when I try to, it's like pulling my own sack off. I was thinking it's something to do with the teleporting across dimensions. That makes sense, right?" He took a drink as Jase's eyes narrowed fractionally in thought, going distant for a moment. "It makes the most sense." the lean telekinetic said. "Assuming that the working theory we have of a subquantum reality is true, and that our powers come from manipulating it, yours would likely place the most direct physical strain on you. The rest of us draw from it, or look through it in Cassie's case." He indicated Devin with his own can before popping the tab. "If I'm right, you physically interact with that layer directly... diving in and out. And like a diver, going too deep and coming up too fast can cause strain to your system." "So it's sort of like the bends." Sean put in, distracted from the urge to glower at Marissa's jibe about dresses by the topic at hand. "Mmh." Jase nodded absently, staring into space a second or two, lost in thought. "Which would also suggest that the layer of reality we travelled to was perhaps more 'distant' to our own, perhaps needing you to push on through the subquantum layer to some other realm it connects to, rather than pop down and back up again like you do when doing 'normal' teleporting around in our world." "That's def what it felt like, yeah. Like trying to push through a wall made of broken glass and barbed wire." Devin nodded, wincing at the memory. "So, you're not affected, because your powers just draw juice from this subcutie realm-" "Sub-quantum realm." Sean and Kat helpfully corrected in unison, eliciting a wave of a hand and a roll of the eyes from Devin. "Whatever. Whereas I, being all kinds of impressive, literally move through it." he proclaimed. That was good for a roll of the eyes from everyone else present except Jase. Marissa's eyes rolled so hard they should have been accompanied by a rattling sound, causing Autumn to experience a moment of sympathetic amusement. "Into and out of it, yes." Jason nodded, smiling fractionally. "Of course, it's all theory right now - based from observation and talking to you guys about your powers, but still only theory. I could be totally off." He took a drink of Coke. "More study needed?" Kat hopped up and perched, squirrel-like, sitting on the edge of the island counter, feet kicking slightly. "And equipment. Proper lab, and more than likely instruments that would need to be custom built - since I doubt any sort of sensor or instrument exists yet that can measure Shine." Sean frowned in thought, turning the problem over in his head. "Well, maybe in Site B." Jason nodded, then shrugged slightly. "Possibly, yes." he agreed. "It's not as immediately important as other things. Right now I'm just hammering together a theory, but it seems to hold up against the curveballs coming my way. Right now, though, the science of our powers isn't as important as what we need to do with them - thought it might help us to figure out other possibilities later on."
  8. They'd kept him waiting a little while, which he didn't really care about. It was logical to suppose that Annette Giles was a busy woman, and even a member of the Fellowship couldn't necessarily bump her schedule on a whim. Besides, it gave him a chance to sit quietly, alone with his thoughts, spiraling as they did in a loose double-helix of crystalline forms and shapes in the halls of his mind. The murder attempt, the mysterious Enterich, Site B, meeting a member of his species, Marissa's possible betrayal, Devin and Autumn saving his life, the reactions of his various friends, his plans here in the Project... All kept in the air, turning and presenting new facets with each turn as he considered each issue. He sat in a small anteroom obviously meant for visitors - though what visitors he was not sure. Perhaps serious men and women in uniforms and suits, come from D.C to be wowed by their off-the-books project? Worthies from the mysterious Aeon Society, come to nod and chatter as Cook put his show-ponies through their paces. That was almost good for a smile. Cook's best demonstration had been Courtney whose gifts, impressive though they were, were already being rivalled by the couple of telepaths in in the Fellowship's ranks. Right now, Courtney had the edge in experience with using her gift, but her raw power, the strength of her Shine, was lacking. That sent his thoughts down another tangent. What was the connection there? Had the experimentation of the Project actually harmed Courtney and Tawny's natural development? The early interference having somehow stunted them? If so, perhaps that could be corrected, once he had access to Dr Cook's notes and had time to study what the modern-day Mengele had been up to. The door to the anteroom opened and Ellie walked in, moving with the same feline grace with which she'd entered the hospital room earlier, and sat in the comfortable chair next to his, half-turning and drawing her long bare legs up to curl into the cushions as she gazed at him, cheek propped on one hand, her air contemplative. Jase, lounging in his own chair with his arms folded, stared back expressionlessly. She was beautiful, for certain. Clear complexion, wide grey eyes, full lips, and a body that was athletic, hardened even, yet with female curves in what his aesthetic sense deemed the right places. They stared at each other for a long moment, which stretched to a minute, then two, as some silent battle of wills played out between the two of them. Finally, she gave a slight sigh and inclined her head, still regarding him. "You have the eyes of the Draig." she stated, head tilted, considering him as she spoke. "I recognise the name of the clan." he replied. "It was my mothers, before she left El and came here." "She did not teach you about the Teulu." Ellie remarked then, her eyes narrowing. "She abandoned you." "When she realised that I would not be like her, or my father." Jase agreed, nodding. "She is Teulu, but feels fear, shame, regret." "Interesting." The blonde girl pondered. "I have heard of that deformity now and then. She is lucky to have made it to adulthood - perhaps the reputation of the Draig is not earned." This last was delivered with a faint amused look, which Jason returned. "If you seek to push a button, or prick my pride, you will have to do better." he rejoined with a shrug. "I have no investment in my mother's clan. I don't even know of them beyond their name." "You and the one called Autumn seem close." Again the frank studying stare as she looked him over, appraising him. "Does she know you are not human?" "She does." "She has a marvellous gift." Ellie commented. "A good choice, I think. She seems resilient, too. Healthy." "Are you commenting on her as a comrade in arms, a girlfriend, or as breeding stock?" Jason asked, tilting his own head as he stared at her, his emerald eyes narrowing a little. "All three are worthy of consideration." Ellie smiled a little, a sly light entering her gaze. "Does she know how you feel about her?" "I have told her, by word and action, what she means to me." Jason shrugged, glancing at the clock on the wall. Ellie regarded his profile. "Your scar is fetching." she noted, changing topic yet again. "A sign of danger survived, of a tale to be told, of experience. Many females would be drawn to it, I think." "Thank you?" "Not me, of course." Ellie stood and stretched, almost incidentally - he was sure - showing off her body in the sundress. "I am for Devin." "So I gather." Jase's reply was dry, reflecting his own amusement. Ellie glanced at him, a brow raised. "If I were not, though, your redhead would have caused to be nervous. Even if you are skinny and undertrained, and do not know your heritage, your mind is sharp and your Radiance is strong enough to make the warrior Taggart nervous." she eyed him speculatively. "And you are handsome. Handsome counts for a lot." "I am interested in learning more of my heritage." Jase remarked, studying her. Ellie shook her head. "Since your mother has not taught you, perhaps I will." she said in a tone of one thinking it over. "I would be sure to tell Devin what a fine ally you are, if you do." Jason smiled slightly, one corner of his mouth curving. Ellie's eyes sparkled with humor as she looked back at him. "You learn fast." she noted. "Good. You have much to learn." She stepped towards the door, beckoning him. "For now, though, Annette is waiting." = = = = = = = "I thought you'd gotten lost." Annette said pointedly as the two young Teulu entered her office. Taggart, seated in a chair to one side of her desk, studied the pair of them intently, plainly trying to catalogue similarities. "You were observing us." Jason said calmly, taking a seat in front of Annette's desk. "I'm fairly certain if you did believe we'd wandered off the path there would be alarms and soldiers everywhere." The older woman stared at him, then shrugged, looking at Ellie expectantly. "I wanted to speak with him." Ellie said as if that explained everything. "I was curious, and you did not say it was an urgent matter." "She didn't say to dawdle and flirt over coffee, either." Taggart grumbled. Ellie smiled a little at the Major. "I do not work for Annette, or yourself, Major Taggart." she told him. "And I have been without a male for a long time. So if I wish to take a moment to flirt with handsome powerful males, I shall do so. Besides, there was no coffee." She paused, a gleam entering her grey eyes. "Speaking of handsome powerful males, do you have a mate, Major Taggart?" she asked, eyeing him speculatively sidelong through lowered lashes, her manner one of semi-blatant flirtation. "Perhaps a coupling would improve your temper. I am for Devin, but he has a date to Homecoming already, so I am free if you feel the urge." Annette cleared her throat, trying not to laugh as Taggart reddened at being propositioned by a girl who appeared just about old enough to be his daughter. "Ellie." she said with a hint of reproof. "Please." The blonde girl inclined her head and moved to recline on the office's couch, still smiling a little, her gaze resting on the uncomfortable Taggart. Annette studied the young man across from her, noting the cheekbone structure so similar to Ellie's, the scar, and the piercing eyes that studied her right back without giving much, if anything away. "You wanted to speak with me, Mr Bannon?" "Call me Jase." came the calm reply. "Jase, then." Annette smiled, reminding herself she'd dealt with worse characters than the youth across from her. Perhaps not as dangerous in an immediate way, but definitely more malicious. She'd seen and heard the conversation between Jason and Autumn when they'd been alone, and though her heart had been touched by the sight of young love, more important was the knowledge that Jason Bannon was not an unreasonable savage. "What can I do for you?" "Funny." Jase didn't smile, but his eyes did reflect humor. "Once, Cook asked me the same question. And I answered him the same way - I want a job." That got the room's attention. Taggart straightened, glancing at Annette, who went very still, her expression one of intense thought. "You want to work for us?" she asked after a few moments. "With you." Jason corrected. Annette leaned back in her chair slowly, regarding him. "And how do you see that working?" she asked, trying not to fidget. "After all, you are only sixt-" "Please don't tell me that I am only sixteen as though that makes me somehow less worthy." Jason told her flatly. "I have perfect three-dimensional, multi-sensory recall. I can can do advanced calculus mentally at roughly the speed of a computer. I can read, parse and absorb data faster than likely anyone you know. I have taught myself to a post-graduate standard in multiple disciplines. I am learning literally nothing in high school except that teenagers are petty and how to be bored out of my mind." Jason spread his hands expressively. "In addition to which I am not even human, as you no doubt already know, and a psychokinetic of constantly developing potential." "I see." Annette glanced at Taggart. "Do you?" Jason asked rhetorically. "I am bored, Ms Giles. Worse, I am wasted. I am under-utilised and achieving very little forward motion in my current situation. I want to study these gifts, the Shine - or Radiance - and the energies of the Dark. I want to put my brain to use developing new science - because right now, Ms Giles, this cutting edge frontier is still in the realm of witchcraft and quackery. You've got people trying to understand, comprehend, and measure Radiance. But they cannot feel it, cannot use it. I can. I've even got a hypothesis as to how our abilities work - but I need equipment and funding to test it and develop it." "Perhaps you could sit down with some of our scientists-" Taggart began. "Who will listen attentively, be properly impressed, and then I shall be ushered off to school and cut out of the loop whilst they chase the breadcrumbs I give them blindly." Jason interrupted, his eyes glinting. "I'm not interested in a pat on the head, Major. I want to be on the inside of this one. What I don't know, I can be taught. Hell, assess me first if you don't think I can cut it. Give me a trial run assisting whoever is your lead scientist. Because frankly, I'm about as suited to high school as I am to the vacuum of space. I want to be doing, to be challenged, not to waste my damned time in a glorified day-care center." "What about your friends?" Annette asked quietly. "Your girlfriend, even? Socialisation is important, even to... your kind. I assume, anyway." "I don''t plan on cutting off contact with them." Jason retorted. "And, let's face it, you want them to be working with the Project too. I can be a test case, an example that the Project - specifically you two - can be trusted. Look," he leaned forwards slightly. "On paper I will still be going to the school. But pull some strings. Say I've been assigned to advanced lessons - it won't be false, because I will be learning here. I still plan to go to Homecoming, and to hang out with my friends, and live a life outside of the lab. But I have reached my limit with attending lessons that teach me nothing and waste most of my days." "Let's say we give you an assessment... and it your mental gifts are everything you say, and we bring you to come and work for us-" "With you." Jason corrected again. "With us, yes. How much do you see yourself being paid?" Annette asked with a small smile. Jase sat back in his seat again, smiling back at her. "For the initial period of three to six months, something reasonable." he suggested. "Comparable to a STEM graduate in a well-paid entry position. After that apprenticeship is done, perhaps at the end of winter break, we can renegotiate." The elegant brunette glanced at Taggart, then at the intently watching Ellie, then at the youth in the chair before her. "And your father-" "Will be fine with it." Jason said firmly. "Well." Annette steepled her fingers, plainly considering. "You'll need to be tested, of course. And we'd likely identify areas you're not fully competent in yet and set up a training program." "Good." Jason nodded. "I want to learn. Stasis is death." "But we'll need to think about it, too." Annette held up a manicured hand. "That is not a 'no', far from it. But I will need to seek approval for this, and so will the Major. I think, however, on balance, that our superiors will be agreeable." This last was not quite a question as she glanced at Taggart, who shrugged. "Provided Mr Bannon-" "Call me Jase." "-Jase has scores to match his claims, I see no reason why not." The soldier studied the youth. "I'll get a proper test sorted out for him, then we can take things a step at a time from there." "Good." Annette placed her hands on the desk and rose, smiling. "I have to say, this is possibly the oddest job interview I've ever been part of." "It's my first job interview." Jason admitted, standing up. "Not counting Cook, who shut me down fast." He took Annette's offered hand and shook it, then turned to the Major. "Major Taggart." he nodded. "Jase." Taggart offered his own hand for a shake. "Got to say, I like the moxie." The older man smiled wryly. "Good luck, because I won't take it easy with the test." "If I wanted easy, I'd stay in school." Jason replied with a faint smile, then turned to go. "I can see myself out."
  9. "Well?" Taggart not-quite-demanded of the slender, athletic blonde in the sun-dress as she stepped out of the elevator into the Project complex main corridor. Her eyes tracked him as he fell into step with her, the grey of her eyes reflecting some manner of wry amusement, from what the Major could pick up. "Quite well, thank you." Ellie replied. "It was generous of you to allow me to meet them." "That's not what I meant." Taggart wasn't going to be brushed off, though he didn't show much frustration at the alien's evasiveness. In the day she'd been there, he'd pretty much come to understand that her people, these Teulu, considered direct questioning - at least from strangers - to be rude, and would therefore respond to it with verbal games. He was also aware that the girl was trained to at least the same standard as his men when it came to combat and survival skills, having killed five men, naked and barehanded, whilst making her escape from Site B, then had made her way across open country to Shelly without being recaptured. Even allowing for the element of surprise and the doubtless underestimation of 'a girl' by the Crossroads mercenaries, that was impressive. "I am sure." Ellie replied, moving with a graceful stride that looked unhurried until you realised that she was eating up the yards. "I prefer not to repeat myself overmuch, Major Taggart." she offered by way of explanation, throwing him another glance. There wasn't really much the soldier could say to that - technically Ellie the Alien was Annette's guest, by way of being Devin's friend, and Taggart's authority over her was strictly limited to ensuring she didn't cause or come to any harm. He was certain she found it somewhat amusing to be protected by 'merely human' guards, too - there was an element of amused condescension that, though never overtly expressed, Taggart was positive existed behind the ageless steel-hued eyes. Almost positive, anyway. She was as hard to read as the Bannon kid. "How did it go?" Annette asked as they entered her office, looking up from her desktop holo-terminal as Ellie moved without being invited to sit in one of the comfortable chairs, crossing one leg over the other without much apparent regard for the shortness of the sundress. "We shall have to get you some more clothes today, too." Annette noted. "Devin's friends recommend a place called Good Will." Ellie responded with a shrug. Annette considered. "I think we can do a little better than that. Great Falls isn't Milan, but there are clothes stores there so you can blend in with the locals a little better." she noted with an appraising gaze. Taggart cleared his throat, and the elegant brunette smiled mischievously. "However, before I take a day off to take you shopping..." "He is Teulu." Ellie stated calmly. "That is what you wanted me to find out, yes? You could see and hear what was being said, so the only reason you would be asking me anything is to determine whether or not Jason is of my people. He is." "How sure are you?" Taggart asked, now taking a seat as they got down to business. "He could just be a human psychopath. In fact, that's what he even told us he was." "Then he believed that to be the case at the time." Ellie responded. "Evidently he's learned differently. As for how sure I am: very. A wolf raised amongst dogs is still a wolf." "But his father is human." Annette noted, picking up a pen and fidgeting with it. Ellie nodded. "Then his mother is not." The Teulu girl replied. "There are no 'half-breeds'. Our genetics will always be dominant - the offspring of a human and a Teulu will be Teulu." "Great." Taggart sighed. "The psychokinetic is an alien killing machine." "Born here, raised here. He is more alien to me than to you." Ellie stated. "He has the instincts but not the training to best employ them. His instincts prevented his death at the hands of those two clumsy killers, but he failed to recognise the ambush until it was almost too late. If he had not been a Radiant, he would be dead." She shrugged eloquently. "It is not a mistake a grown male of my people would make. He is too human." "He's only a teen, though." Annette glanced from Ellie to Taggart, then back again as she toyed with the pen. "And the ambush wasn't as clumsy as you think." Taggart put in. "They were posing as officers of the law - hell, technically they are. There's a cultural imperative here to cooperate if such a person demands it, an implication of trust of the authority they represent." Ellie considered this. "As I said: too human." she said at length, shaking her head. "There is no such imperative for us. The only imperatives are the good of the pride and the clan. No stranger can simply walk up to a Teulu, proclaim their authority, and demand compliance or trust." She smirked faintly. "As amusing as such a sight would be." "Cultural insights aside..." Annette leaned forwards, clasping her hands on the desk. "I'm fairly certain that young Mister Bannon will be a lot more wary from now on. What about the others? What were your impressions?" "Devin's twin has an ill temperament, and does not like me." Ellie shrugged. "Doubtless she likes few females, especially ones close to her brother. Teulu sisters are similarly protective. The seer, Cassandra, is rude. Full of questions, which she fires off like arrows at a foe. The life-witch, Autumn, seems friendly - and fond of Jason, as he is fond of her." "And is that a bad thing?" Taggart asked intently. "It is a thing." Ellie answered smiling faintly, a cryptic amusement in her expression. "I am curious as to whether they are sexually active." She appeared to ignore the discomfort the two human adults evinced at her out loud musing. "I would say they are, given their closeness." "Not really our business." Taggart muttered. Ellie threw him an amused glance, one eyebrow raised. "The one called Sean was largely silent, at least until he tried to barter with me for my people's technological secrets." she went on, returning her gaze to Annette. "Also rude, considering I saved his pride-mate's life and that Devin had already freely offered to aid me." "Right." Annette nodded. "Now, the million dollar question - by which I mean a question which is very important... Are we going to have a civil war on our hands given the revelations Cassandra Allen kicked up? Will Jason take violent action against Marissa?" "How should I know?" Ellie asked with a shrug. "I don't know either of them very well, nor do I know the details of the situation." "You know Teulu. What would your people do in such a situation?" "For a pride-mate to betray the trust of the others - if that is what happened - I suppose it is one of the closest things we have to a 'sin'." Ellie's voice was contemplative. "But to kill a pride-mate is also terrible. It's not just cultural - it's instinctual. Even if Jason no longer considers Marissa one of his friends, so long as he considers Devin to be one there is unlikely to be violence." "In short, you don't really know, but you don't think it'll get messy." Taggart said. Ellie considered that, then nodded. "Yes. Unpleasant and tense, but not violent." = = = = = = = "You didn't have to walk me to school." Autumn said, not really complaining. After the events of the morning, it was kind of nice to walk along with Jase in the sunshine, her hand in his, their fingers entwined. "Probably not." Jason allowed, sharp emerald eyes pausing their study of passing cars and their surroundings to glance at her. "But I wanted to anyway." "Not gonna argue." Autumn grinned back, the sunlight shining in her blue eyes as she impulsively looped her arm through his and resisting the urge to slow down, perhaps to stop off in an idyllic spot, run her fingers through his hair and-. It wasn't a very long walk, after all - maybe fifteen minutes or so - and she knew Jase would be going back to the medical center afterwards. "So Hank's going to bring your car and stuff to Marias?" "Mmhmm." Jason nodded. "Then I'll be at home the rest of the day. I'll text you when I get my phone back." "Good." Autumn looked up at his profile as he resumed his watchfulness, studying the scar on his cheek and how the ends of his hair brushed it, then sighed as she saw the school grounds start to come into view down the road. "Ugh. That walk was too short." "It was." Jason agreed, smiling faintly as he slowed to a stop, turning towards her. "I'll leave you here - don't really want to be seen by a faculty member and have to answer a dozen tedious questions." "Right." The energetic redhead rocked up on her toes, then onto her heels as she tucked her hands into her back pockets and gazed up at his face, noting the way he seemed to be similarly studying her. "So I'll see you- umph" The kiss was sudden, though in retrospect should not have been unexpected, and Autumn's hands shot up and around Jason's shoulders to steady herself as he stepped into her, his lips seeking hers almost hungrily. Lazy heat uncoiled in her belly, arcs of golden lightning energising her nerves as she felt the brush of his Shine on hers, felt the vigorous, vital life of him pulse under her touch, reading his desire almost subconsciously in the dance of chemicals and the surge in his pulse. And then the time for assessment was past, her hands sliding up to lock into his hair as she kissed him back, pressing against the unyielding angular hardness of his lean form. His hands rested on her hips, exerting just enough pressure to keep her close as their mouths and tongues danced together for a long, searing moment. "...later." Autumn breathed as their lips parted, aware of the heat in her cheeks and the tingling of her lips. Dear God... Even his goodbye-for-now kisses were enough to steal the breath from her, though she took some gratification from the darkness of desire evident in Jason's eyes - and other signals of his interest. Refusing to look down, for fear she'd simply drag him into some nearby secluded bushes, she smiled up at him. "Definitely." he replied, giving her another kiss, this one more brief and gentle than the first. "Let me know how it goes today?" "I will." she nodded, sobering a little as she recalled her not-quite-pledge to help Cassandra out. With some reluctance on both sides, the two teens disengaged and stepped apart. "Be safe." she told her impossible Effing Boyfriend with another smile. "I will." he said soberly, before turning and heading back the way they'd come. With a sigh and a straightening of her shoulders, Autumn turned and headed to school. = = = = = = = Jason wasn't really sure this was safe, per se. Though he was reasonably confident that it wasn't dangerous, he wasn't one hundred percent certain. But then, whilst absolute certainty was nice, waiting for it meant that nothing would ever happen. Sometimes, like with kissing girls, one had to take chances. Sometimes you got a Marissa, sometimes you got an Autumn. It'd be a shame to miss out on the latter for fear of the former. He'd met Hank outside, the gruff former Marine handing over his car keys and his satchel before clapping his young friend on the shoulder and heading back to the farm. Jase told him he'd be along soon - he needed to sort some things out. Marias Medical Center was a big place, the size of a city hospital, vastly larger than Shelly or even Toole County required. But Jase remembered last week, and the route Taggart's men had taken escorting the Fellowship down to the complex beneath the medical center, and so he found his way to a distant store-room, shelves half empty but surprisingly dust-free. This, then, was the place he remembered. There was at least one other elevator down to the complex - but that was Cook's private one, in an office in a more populated part of the medical center, with a code lock that had probably been changed. "I know you know I'm here." he said in a conversational tone, looking around the vacant room. "I want to talk to Ms Giles, and I'd prefer to do so by invitation rather than the other way." There was silence for a long moment. Jason waited as the seconds ticked past into minutes, deciding that five minutes would be long enough for them to answer him, one way or the other. It took two. The far wall of the storage room emitted a grinding sound and slid up, revealing a large freight-sized elevator with a gleaming metal panel interior. Taking a moment to sheathe himself in an imperceptible glove of force, Jason stepped in, turning to face the door as it slid shut and the elevator began it's descent...
  10. "Hey, Kat." Autumn greeted the latecomer, smiling briefly if genuinely at her. There was an air of pensiveness over the redhead's mood as she sat on the bed's edge, fingers entwined with Jase's as she glanced at his profile, then at Kat, before shrugging and looking out of the window. "You, uh, missed a lot." The youth in the bed nodded agreement with her, cold jade eyes resting on the petite girl. "Thank you for coming, in any case." he said politely, gesturing to a chair. "You look more exhausted than I am. Have a seat." "Thanks." Kat said gratefully as she sank into one of the room's chairs, her eyes fixed on the bullet scars on Jase's chest and face. They looked like old scars, but that would be down to Autumn's miracle-working, she was sure. Christ, how bad had it been? "Uh, sorry." she stammered, suddenly realising she was staring at another person's boyfriend's torso. "It's just... Wow." she said, indicating his chest, then blushed as she realised how that could be taken. "I mean, that looks like it hurt." "It did." Jase nodded. "I'm lucky to have friends - Autumn and Devin saved my life." There was an oddness to the way he said 'friends', some subharmonic that Kat wasn't sure of the source of, but it made Autumn glanced at his profile again, biting on the edge of her lower lip worriedly even as she gave his hand in hers a slight squeeze. "So what happened?" Kat asked, leaning forward in her seat. Jase gave her a brief accounting of the events so far this morning, leaving out the revelations of Cassandra's oracular abilities which had taken place just before Kat's arrival - for a couple of reasons. One being that, logically, there was no direct proof that Marissa had had a hand in the murder attempt. There was circumstantial evidence up the ass, but that's all it was right now, and poisoning someone unnecessarily against Marissa wouldn't help anything. The other main reason was that Kat was a newcomer to the dramas and tensions of the Fellowship. Though she shared danger alongside them, and Jason appreciated that she was swimming well after having been thrown in the deep end, there was little personal stake for her here as yet. He certainly didn't care to embroil her in whatever shit-tornado was brewing between Marissa and himself - more than half the Fellowship were already involved. So he told of being pulled over, of the guy in the gloves and getting shot, of the woman checking to see he was dead, of dealing with them and making the decision to leave them alive to question. "...and then I blacked out. I came around briefly when Devin slapped me awake, but not for long. Then I woke up in the ambulance just as we were getting here." he finished. "Since when it's been a circus." Autumn added, wrinkling her nose. "Lots of questions, all the same, and that's the third time I've heard that story." she said with a faint smile. "Seriously, though, thanks for showing up. You look like-" "Yeah, I look like shit." Kat agreed bluntly. "Feel like shit too. "Who feels like shit?" came a gruff voice from the doorway as Hank stepped into the room, closely followed by Gar, Jase's dad, carrying a backpack on one shoulder. Hank paused, looking at the petite French girl in the chair. "Girl, you look like-" "I know." Kat said indignantly, scowling at the grizzled older man. "Late night last night. Fighting demons and stuff." She stood up, brushing ineffectively at her vest. Nothing was going to make it work with the ensemble. "Anyway, that's my cue. I'm gonna head out, try to find either breakfast or a bed." she told her... Friends? Fellows? "I'm glad you're okay, Jase." "Thanks again for coming." he replied calmly. She smiled, giving him a final once-over as she let herself out of the room. "I'll let you guys have some time." Autumn said, sliding to her feet and reluctantly disentangling her hand from Jason's, only for Gar to set down his backpack and enfold her in a hug. "Thank you." he muttered. "Thank you for-" "It's fine." Autumn managed to return the hug, smiling despite the situation. "Seriously. It's fine." "Because of you it's fine." Gar gently disengaged, his eyes full. "You don't have to leave, you know." "No, that's okay. Going to let my dad know not to wait on me here. Besides, Jase will need to get dressed." The redhead smiled as she looked over at the boy in the bed. Hank snickered, and opened his mouth as if to say something, but both the older and younger Bannon fixed the former Marine with a stare, and he shrugged and sat down as though he'd never even considered a ribald remark. Autumn fought the urge to grin and glanced at Jason once more. "Don't forget we've got a breakfast date to keep." "I packed some stuff and a thermos, as requested." Gar said, patting the backpack. "We'll leave you two to enjoy it in a bit." "Thanks." Autumn gave the older Bannon another quick hug, then slipped out into the corridor, breathing a sigh of something like relief. She wasn't sure she felt like sitting through another recounting of the morning's attack so soon, and of course Gar and Hank would want to know what happened. Settling herself and taking a breath, she let it out and went to find her dad.
  11. "After saving Devin in the Blight, I put my bracelet on him to protect him from its energies so I could take him home." Ellie explained, lifting her leanly-muscled left forearm to show a familiar coppery-gold band around her wrist. "He then disappeared - which is when I realised he must be a Radiant." "A what now?" Autumn asked, even as Marissa interjected "Wait, take him home?" "Those who can fully draw on the Radiance - what Annette tells me you call 'Shine'." Ellie explained to Autumn, her gaze studying the way the redhead was sat comfortably close to Jason on the bed's edge. "Beings of power. And yes, my original intent was to take Devin to my home. He is brave, has wit, and is handsome." she said as she switched her gaze to Marissa. "He would be a fine catch, whether for myself or for some other female. That is changed now, of course. He is a Radiant, not merely human." She shrugged artlessly, indicating them all. "Like yourselves, he is superior." "See? Superior." Devin grinned broadly, winking at Jase and Autumn. Jase smiled very slightly, and Autumn just rolled her eyes at the teleporter, the pale fingers of one hand lightly toying with the ends of Jase's now-clean hair where it brushed his neck. "Great." Marissa said through pursed lips. It was uncertain whether she was trying not to scowl or smirk. "Now my idiot brother has a groupie from... Where are you from, exactly?" "We commonly call it El." The slender blonde replied, her gaze unwavering. "Though the old name for it is Teir fa Thunn. It is where the Radiants of old placed us when they discovered our creation by two of their number." "The Trickster and the Huntsman." Jason's quiet voice replied. Ellie glanced at him appraisingly, and nodded. "So, you know something of our history." she stated, considering him. "Some of it." Jase replied, shrugging. "Its all new to me still." Grey eyes locked with green for a long moment before Ellie nodded, slowly, then looked at Devin. "So you were telling the truth." she said quietly to the teleporter, glancing at Jase once more. "Interesting." "Ahem." Marissa interrupted. "Eyes off my bestie's boy toy, Ellie. You've still not covered why you're still here." "Without my bracelet, I was lost." Ellie returned her gaze to Marissa as though the odd interlude had never happened. "I wandered through the Blight until I came to an opening. I emerged into a place inhabited by many of your warriors - whom Annette tells me are mercenaries - called 'Site B'. I decided to allow them to capture me, figuring that they would treat me as an attractive human female and not a Teulu warrior. They were studying the entrance to the Blight, and other things too. Technology that I recognised as being of Radiant origin. As expected, the males they had guarding me were fools. I escaped, though I had to leave my equipment behind, and homed in on the call of my bracelet which Devin was still wearing. I found Devin yesterday, before your great battle. Annette has been offering me shelter whilst I tell her what I saw of the interior of Site B." She paused then, looking down at the simple sundress she was wearing, then at the clothing of the two girls present. "This dress seemed appropriate for the end of summer festival yesterday, but I find what you are both wearing to be more practical." she noted, tilting her head to one side and examining the brunette and the redhead intently. "If, as Devin asks, you can assist, you would have my gratitude. This dress has no pockets." She made a small micro-expression of disapproval. "Do human females not like pockets?"
  12. "Good luck." The corners of Jason's eyes crinkled slightly at his friend before he turned his gaze on Marissa, his air one of understated contemplation, like he was trying to understand something. Her raspberry lip balm and scented body lotion tickled his keen sense of smell, and the press of her lips on his forehead and the following caress had been warm, completely at odds with her flippant bitchy attitude after the kiss. He couldn't decipher her, he really couldn't. Devin he could understand: the patterns of behaviour were all contiguous with one another. Marissa, though... She spoke like she hated him, but wanted him to talk to her at the Labor Day picnic, and had sought him out at the training session the day before that. She didn't date, and had rebuffed his (admittedly) clumsy and pushy overture... but then she was on Cade's arm the next day. She scolded him for getting hurt like it was attention-seeking behaviour, right after a sign of physical affection. Devin, the young Teulu mused, might be right when he said that Marissa liked him, but didn't know how to approach that. Or Devin might be right when it came to a shorter, more pithy phrase he'd used once or twice: 'Bitches be cray'. Or Devin might be right on both counts. "Where are the two who tried to kill me?" he said after the few moments that had passed while he cogitated on the confusing brunette. "Chick with the crispy claws is somewhere in the ICU." Devin said, watching Jason warily. "I heard the paramedics say she was in shock. The dude you knocked out, though... I dunno where he is. The sheriff drove off with him- Whoa, slow your roll!" he admonished as Jase began to sit up. Marissa laid a hand on Jason's shoulder and pushed him back down with surprising, though gentle, strength. "Dude! After yesterday I just about burst something pulling that bullet out of you. Now Granola's juju might have put you out of danger, but there's plenty of time to rest before you go and commit a war crime or two." "ID said he was a U.S marshal." Jase tried to sit up again, but Marissa's palm on his shoulder was enough to foil his efforts. "He might be able to pull some strings and get-" "He won't." said a calm voice from the doorway. All three teens looked to see a tall blonde girl, who appeared to be roughly their age and was dressed in a simple sundress and sandals, enter the room with a straight-backed casual grace Her sparkling grey eyes regarded the three of them, moving from face to face before settling on the youth in the bed. Her full lips quirked and her eyes narrowed as she considered him, then she looked directly at Devin. "Annette says the would-be killer is in her custody. She will be getting answers from him." she told the teleporter, pointing down at the floor with one finger as she approached him, her gaze traveling down his exposed torso under the blanket before lifting once more to study his face as she came to stand before him. "I am glad to see you are well, Devin." she said softly, a faint smile curving her lips. "Uh, hello?" Marissa said from where she stood by the bed. Autumn, coming back into the room with a jug and a glass for Jase, paused at the door for a second as she took in the scene. Marissa lifted her hand from Jase's shoulder as her bestie returned and stepped away, gesturing to Autumn to go ahead. "Don't mind me, AyRae. Jase was about to go and look to start round two with the assassins - I was just making sure he didn't pop a stitch or whatever. Now..." she said as Autumn, somewhat nonplussed, nevertheless moved to perch on the edge of Jason's bed and pour him some water. "Who the hell is this?" she demanded, looking from her brother to the tall, graceful blonde who was looking at Devin like he was a steak on the grill. "I am called Ellie." The blonde replied, half-turning away from Devin to study Marissa with a discomfortingly direct stare. "And you are Devin's twin, Marissa. It is an honor to meet you." She glanced then at the boy in the bed and the redhead holding the cup so he could drink from it. "It is an honor to meet all of you." she added, returning her gaze to Marissa.
  13. Smell was the first thing to come back. Sensitive nostrils twitched, picking up an astringent antiseptic odor, immediately identifiable as a hospital room, a faint scent of his own blood, along with some manner of cleaning solution on his skin. A puff of warm citrus and juniper. Autumn. The beep of a heart and vitals monitor was next, the distant sounds of people talking, phones ringing, a tannoy. Nearby, someone breathing, the rustle of fabric. Then he became aware of warmth, the sun on his face, the sticky patches where the monitor trodes were attached to his chest, the tickle of hair on his bare arm. Jason opened his eyes, slowly, squinting slightly against the light. The acoustic tiles on the ceiling met his gaze, then he glanced around without moving his head whilst he took stock of how bad he felt. Private room, not the ICU. Good. That meant Autumn and Devin had been able to extract the bullet and treat his wounds. His head felt fine, his thoughts clear. There was a slight itch in his chest and at the side of his head, which he knew from experience was a sign that the accelerated healing Autumn had triggered was still at work. His throat was dry, and he was hungry - another sign of artificially sped-up healing - and he felt a little weak, probably as a result of blood loss. Turning his head, he saw the tumble of fiery copper curls resting against the edge of his mattress, Autumn sitting in a chair with her head leaning against the bed, eyes closed and arms folded across her chest. Silently, the normally cold-eyed genius studied her for a long moment, taking in the glint of pale lashes brushing against her cheek, the dusting of bronze freckles that accented the ivory skin, the tilt of her nose and the soft rose of her lips. Unwilling to break the stillness of this reverie, he merely watched her, green eyes glimmering with warmth as they caught the sunlight streaming through the half-open blinds. = = = = = = The faint hum of an electronic vibration elicited a soft, short grumble of displeasure from the drowsing redhead as she shifted in the chair, pressing her cheek against the lightweight cotton blanket. Just let me sleep a little longer, her dream self mumbled, frowning a little at the uncomfortable contours of her bed and burying herself deeper under the blankets, clutching them possessively to her chest. A few moments later, there was another buzz; she scowled, fumbling about in the ocean of quilts for the alarm that shouldn't be going off yet. It was too early. ...Or too late? Either way, it wasn't time to be up. Either way, school wasn't for... Hmm, she hummed in both worlds, frowning a little as she tried to remember when she was supposed to go to class. It probably wasn't for hours yet, was it? No, because her dad was supposed to take her, and- Her phone vibrated again, still in her hand as she protested the intrusion with a quiet, unhappy groan. She sat up in bed this time, blinking into the patterns of light and shadow that rippled around the edges of the room. What time was it? She was supposed to have coffee with Jase, wasn't she? Or breakfast. Was that today? Movement nearby tugged at her attention, banishing thoughts of time and classes and linearity. A pair of ageless, luminous green eyes regarded her from the darkness, as fathomless and deadly as the draconic creature to whom they belonged, but as Autumn's breath caught in her throat, the gleaming hoard surrounding him flickered into brilliant life with the light of an unseen flame. There was no treasure there, she realized with mute horror. Not gold, not silver, not glittering gems, but brass, and the metallic scent of blood. Buzz. Another notification brought her fully awake, wide-eyed as she jerked upward suddenly. "Jesus fucking-" Autumn froze mid-swear as she caught sight of Jase, head tilted slightly and pale jade eyes alert. "Oh my gosh. You're awake! Are you-" Her voice broke even as her cheeks flushed with the realization that he'd been watching her. But he was awake, awake and alive, and all the ominous remnants of her dream vanished in the wake of that knowledge. "Are you okay?" she breathed, then made a face. "I mean, how do you feel?" Her eyes moved over his features, drinking in the sight of him as a traveler in the desert might an oasis as she held tight to her phone and the arm of the chair to keep herself in place. "I feel good." The reply held a dry rasp that altered the normally quiet notes of Jase's voice to a hoarse whisper. He moistened his lips with his tongue, and swallowed slightly. "Bit weak." His gaze turned contemplative. "Glad to be alive." He shifted his arm, extending his hand towards her palm-up atop the blanket covering him as his eyes held hers. "Are you okay?" he asked softly, studying her posture, noting the tension in her arms and face. "Am now," Autumn nodded, allowing herself a small smile as she reached out, freckled fingers brushing across his palm before lacing slowly through his. The sense of relief at that simple contact, at the mere fact that he really was okay, was nearly overwhelming. She wanted to throw her arms around him, cover his face in kisses and hold him until the sterile chill of the hospital disappeared, but awareness of the fact that it was a hospital, and he was recovering from being very-nearly-dead, restrained her enthusiasm. At least for the moment. "Do you want me to get you some water, or something? Are you thirsty?" He nodded, the edges of his eyes crinkling in a smile as Autumn gave his hand a gentle squeeze then stood, extricating herself from the chair and looking around the room. It didn't look like anyone had brought any water or cups yet, which considering the somewhat hectic nature of the last half-hour or so was understandable. "I'll be right back." she promised the youth in the bed, before turning and slipping out of the room, leaving the door ajar behind her as she went. In the waiting area beyond, her dad sat a few seats away from the door, looking somewhat uncomfortable. Opposite him, against the other wall of the small private waiting area, Devin lounged in his seat with the blanket thrown idly around his shoulders, casually alternating between watching his phone and watching his twin. Marissa was pacing a few feet away from her brother, her impatience evident in her stance and stride as she tapped at her phone's touchscreen intently. All three glanced at Autumn as she exited the room. "He's awake." she announced quietly, her relief still obvious on her features. "He's fine." the redhead said then, as much to hear herself say it as to reassure those waiting. Moving past them and up the corridor she added "I'm going to get him some water." As she headed the ten or so feet towards the nursing station, she didn't fail to notice the two men wearing hospital security uniforms that were guarding this lobby. They seemed tougher, harder than one might otherwise expect from rentacops, and she was sure she recognised them as two of the soldiers who'd accompanied her and Cassie with Taggart that fateful day - had it only been last Tuesday?! One week ago? Putting that from her mind, and somewhat reassured that the teens and her dad weren't alone here, Autumn went to get the water.
  14. Core Values: Aesthetic - Bannon appreciates beauty. The colours of a sunrise, the hues and scent of an orchid, the sparkle of moonlight on water and the music of birdsong all engage and interest him, as do the curves of a healthy female body, the pure dance of mathematics, acts of genuine kindness and bravery, and the lyrical composition of well-written and evocative poetry and prose. But it is not all sunshine and orchids, because with Jason beauty is truth, and truth is beauty. A snake preparing to strike is beautiful. A wildfire raging and consuming all before it is beautiful. A tiger stalking prey is beautiful. Tropical storms are beautiful. Life or death struggle is beautiful. Because all of these things are as True as sunrises and Brahms. Jason, lacking the conventional drive of morality as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, has instead formulated a ‘morality of aesthetics’. The beautiful and the True has more worth to him than social accepted norms or signalled virtue. Conversely the perversion of natural beauty, inelegant and small-minded thinking, cruelty towards those not one’s enemies - for its own sake, without some higher rational purpose behind it - all disgust him to varying degrees. Example: The Dark twists and perverts natural life, as well as the minds of those it touches. Even if Jason did not feel the wrongness of it intuitively as a Psion, he would still regard the Dark and it’s works as disgusting, a threat to the concept of beauty. If the Dark ever triumphs in its mindless quest to consume All That Is, there will be no more beauty to be found: all that is True in the cosmos will become twisted. Autonomy - Autonomy is, for Jason Bannon, a base state of existence. He is his own star, and sees by his own light. He needs no-one’s approval or, most of the time, assistance when it comes to living his life or achieving his goals. He has no innate respect for those older than him: whether a parent or teacher, sheriff or Project Director, perceived authority means nothing to him compared to demonstrated common sense, merit or ability. When he does let someone else influence his course, it is a rare honour indeed - most likely because that person applied logic and reasoned with him rather than simply expecting compliance. After years of flying below the radar, the advent of his powers and physical maturity, as well as the dominance instinct of his race, are reinforcing this sense of autonomy. Attempts to browbeat or bully him will be met with cool disdain and, if the confrontation escalates to the laying on of hands, sudden and painful reminders of why that is a bad idea. Non inultus premor - “I cannot be touched unavenged.” - is Jason’s new motto. Example: Jason is taken aback by how his friends seem so dependent on their own families or society at large, to the point of allowing their parents to take away their agency or belittle them. Whilst he loves and respects his father, he does not consider himself subject to him in any fashion, and would not tolerate any parental interference with his life. Whereas a normal teen might complain about the unfairness of a grounding but comply, Jason would simply ignore the punishment. Friendship (The Pride)- Closely related to, but distinct from his valuing of Loyalty, the wellbeing of those he chooses to call friend is of high importance to Jase. This includes their mental and emotional wellbeing as well as their physical, as he has learned that humans are not perhaps as emotionally stoic and resilient as his own species, but if forced to choose he will put the physical health and autonomy of action of his Pride over other considerations. This can lead to chilling results at times, as Jason is perfectly capable of committing almost any act to ensure that his Pride is safe - or to avenge them if they are harmed. This can also extend to driving away (or potentially even removing) individuals who weaken or damage the efforts of his Pride. He will also nudge or push members of his Pride to improve themselves, whether through goading Autumn with the prospect of driving the Charger whilst he rides in the passenger seat, helping Devin with algebra, or chiding Sean for his lack of physical activity. This umbrella of concern and protection extends to a lesser degree to family and friends of his Pride (the Clan), and is intensified still further with those to whom he is closest: his father, Hank, Sean and Autumn, for instance. Example: Jason will act to save Sean from serious physical harm, whether at the hands of bullies or from a creature of the Dark, but would not lift a finger to help his friend lift his bike into the flatbed of Lily’s truck in Episode 1. He strikes a balance between looking out for someone and fighting battles he judges they are capable of fighting themselves, but will always watch his friends backs. Loyalty - Jase puts loyalty ahead of most other social considerations, partly due to his Teulu instinct to form a Pride. Though he doesn’t understand that instinct consciously yet, he is ferociously loyal to his Pride, and to a lesser degree those he perceives as allies to it. They can call on his aid should they need it, and he will trust them to have his back until such time as they demonstrate otherwise. However, the flipside is that he is disgusted by the disloyal, and will seldom forgive or trust someone who exhibits such a trait, like Sophia turning on Sean when she found out he was different. He decides who is his Pride and who is not by a simple criterion: if you’re not his friend, he’s not yours. He also doesn't tend to care about, trust or feel any obligation to treat fairly anyone outside the Pride or their immediate relatives, and will take any hostile actions against his friends personally. He is a strong believer in reciprocity - those who deal fairly by him are dealt with fairly in turn. Show him openness. kindness and courtesy, he will repay it, show him hostility and he will remember, do him injury and he will retaliate. Example: Cody, Chet and Todd were menacing Cora. Liam Day attacked Lona with the intention of sexually assaulting her. For Jason, both girls were technically part of his ‘Pride’ and so these actions were unacceptable, and met with vicious retaliation that shocked and worried even his friends. On the other hand, Sean and his family early on accepted Jason despite his oddness, and have been nothing but kind to him. As a result, he regards them with almost the same level of affection and loyalty he possesses for his father. Wisdom - Learning for the satisfaction of learning. Jason values experiences and knowledge deeply, and for him there is little in the realm of knowledge that is useless or irrelevant. Whether it is languages or physics, poetry or chemistry, botany or mechanical engineering, Jason’s mind is a dragon’s hoard to which he adds constantly, greedy for more, never satisfied to sit on his laurels and always seeking the next bit of learning to absorb. He respects those who seek to learn, to grow their own understanding regardless of topic, and will even readily lend his aid to such endeavours. The flipside of this is that Jason disapproves of ignorance. Those who refuse to learn, those who allow emotional concerns to override facts, evidence and logic to the point of ignoring them completely, even those of a scholarly bent who don’t seek to expand or evolve their understanding tend to attract his disdain. The universe is there to be understood, in all it’s beauty and daunting size. Example: Jason is the quintessential polymath. There is little in the field of intellectual endeavour he cannot turn his mind to, aided by a mind that parses, stores and retrieves data with a speed that rivals a computer. He can learn a language in a week, recite poetry in Russian or French or Italian, perform advanced calculus on the fly, code to a high standard, create exquisite perfumes or repair a car engine. He never stops learning, his mind is always busy with something - several somethings, usually. He doesn’t just absorb facts: he analyses, breaks down, reassembles and comprehends them from all angles. Other Values Achievement Bannon treasures his personal achievements. Whether it is learning a language, mastering a tricky chemical formula, training in combat skills with Hank or learning to ‘people’ well, reaching his goals provides the young man with a deep sense of personal satisfaction - which will persist even as he begins looking for a new mountain to climb. The journey (Wisdom) is more important than the goal (Achievement), but the goal is still a major reason Jase does what he does. Challenge There is a reason Jason enjoys physical activity, hiking, swimming, running and training his body and reflexes. For him, such things come no more easily than they do for anyone else. Likewise with practicing his cognitive empathy skills - it is a point of pride for Jason that he can now rudimentarily understand the emotionally-driven thought processes of his friends, given his incredible disadvantage in the area. More intellectual challenges, though easier for him, still attract his attention. Jason enjoys challenges, partly out of a sense of dominance and pride that refuses to allow him to quit, partly for the thrill of achievement when he beats the challenge. Whilst he’s not a fool about it, it is a struggle for him to turn down an honest challenge to his abilities. Pleasure Good food, fine coffee, comfortable clothing. The feel of heated kisses on his lips, the scent of warm earth and blooming flowers. Jason values life’s pleasures as well as it’s experiences - often seeing little difference between the two. Even the pleasure of achieving some difficult goal is a motivator for him. Whilst he won’t abandon more important tasks to chase pleasure, in a quiet moment he is not above sneaking away with Autumn to make out in a closet, or sitting quietly with a fragrant smoke and a cup of good coffee. Power (Dominance) Almost more of a primal drive than a value, Jason does not take well to being subject to others, and indeed tends to instinctively see himself as superior to most. While he will agree to work and cooperate with individuals and groups, he never considers himself to be the underling in such arrangements. Attempts to force or impress that role upon him will trigger unfortunate results. He is aware enough of this facet of his personality that he works to keep it leashed, but it can still leak out now and then. As he reaches full maturity now, this instinct will become more pronounced and noticeable. Within the framework of his Pride he is more than happy to allow give and take, putting the cohesion and good of the whole over his dominance drive. When dealing with those outside his circle, however, when there is a conflict, whether of words and ideas or of physical violence, he has few compunctions in finding out which party is the superior. Time Freedom Jase considers it important to have time - for his private studies, for his projects, for his friends, and for his girlfriend. As such, he is unlikely to get involved with many extracurricular activities unless they serve as spending time in one of the aforementioned ways. He vaguely resents the mandatory attendance of lessons from which he gains nothing, and in prior years considered the school social scene as unworthy of his time or energy. This year is proving to be a little different - dating will do that to a guy - but having the flexibility and freedom to pursue his own interests is still important to Jase.
  15. "Dunno... why dey sho'... me." Jase's voice was slurring, his pronunciation sloppy - a worrying contrast to his usual precise, crystal clear diction. The light behind his eyes, usually fiercely bright and intense, guttered like a match flame in a high wind as his half-lidded gaze tried to focus on Devin. "Jus'... walk up an'... drew gun. N'er see 'em... before." "You just got one of them faces, Jaybee." Devin said chattily, trying to keep the mind behind the dimming eyes engaged as he wrapped a terrycloth turban around Jason's head, staunching as much of the bleeding as he could. The pain made Jason draw in breath in a hiss, momentarily jolting his thoughts into focus. "ID says... marshals." Jase tried to tap the wallet on his lap, but his hand wasn't obeying instructions, instead just twitching and flopping. "Used cop light. Pulled me over." His voice started weakening further, his eyelids slipping lower. "Be... careful." "I will. Yeah. Being careful is top of my list." Devin replied almost manically. "Right after 'living long and prospering', so you don't need to tell me to do that." He busied himself ripping up another section of towel to put as a compress over the chest wound, then realised there'd been no answer to his repartee. He swore and looked up. "Jaybee?" Jason's eyes slipped shut, as the sound of a Range Rover drew nearer...
  16. "Thank you." A few gazes turned to Jase, who's eyes had now opened and were swiveling towards Mrs Allen as the slender youth sat up, swinging his legs off the side of the examination bed and perching on the edge staring at Teresa like a bright-eyed young falcon - albeit one in torn army surplus clothing covered in blood, soot and gods-knew-what else. "Seriously. Thank you, Mrs Allen." he said with an incline of his head towards Cassie's mother. "A levelheaded response, absent of hysterics, finger-wagging, disapproval or 'what is this I cannot even'." He smiled slightly under the layer of grime on his face. "It's plain to see where Cassandra gets her centered forthrightness from." He gestured at the blonde girl that the older woman still had her arm around. "You should be proud of her. Without Cassie, we wouldn't have been able to find the enemy, or how to get to it, or known how to defeat it. She saved lives - not just ours, but countless others who would have suffered if we'd failed." The green laser of his gaze swung to Devin's father. "And you and Misti should be proud, Carl. Devin and Marissa were fucking champions out there. Devin got us there and back again under the worst of conditions, and when we were in that place his first thought was to save the helpless, to rescue Sophia and Tawny, and with them secured he then pitched in to fight an enemy that could have ripped him in two with ease. He didn't fuck up, he didn't hesitate." Heedless of his wounded leg, the lean teenager stood up and limped over to his backpack, rummaging around in it as he spoke. "And Marissa? She used herself as bait, distracted the enemy so the rest of us could do what we needed to do. She fought shoulder to shoulder with us." He straightened and turned back around, a couple of MRE packs in his hands as he limped back to the bed. "Devin... Marissa... Cassie... Cade... Sean... Kat... Autumn. All of us went out and kicked ass." he said forcefully as he glared around at the adults present, zero fucks evident in the icy depths of his gaze. "We might be your offspring, but stop thinking of us as 'kids'. Because none of you, and no-one you can name, could have done what we did today, and until Mrs Allen all I've been hearing is irrelevant, incredulous and frankly ungrateful bleating." In the silence that followed he ripped open the two MRE packs, smaller packages extracting themselves and floating into the air around him in a loose orbit. He looked pointedly at his friends, his chosen family... his pride. "Who wants pizza? It's MRE pizza, but hell, it's pepperoni, cheese and carbs." He gave them a crooked smile. "I'll save a couple of pieces for Autumn and Marissa when they get back."
  17. "Devin's ability re-writes conventional understanding of spatial physics." Jason said quietly from nearby. The lean, angular genius was sitting on the edge of an examination bed, his cool green eyes on Carl as he spoke. "In fact, as far as I can tell it's also unique to him. We all tap into a theoretical sub-quantum strata of energy, but Devin is the only one that travels down into and through that layer. Or can send or retrieve objects and people through it." "Sub-quantum strata, huh?" Carl's expression was of a man who didn't quite understand the words being used, but understood their import. He glanced from Jase to Devin, who shrugged slightly. "That's our working theory." Jase nodded. "A layer of reality where time, space, and thought are as tangible and subject to manipulation as matter and energy are on our layer, connecting everything that exists together. We-" he indicated the Fellowship "-are all connected to it, and through it, and draw on it to do what we can do." He paused. "That's as far as I've gotten with the theory. I've not really had the time or the equipment to test the particulars, so it's only a hypothetical right now. But the concept is solid, and also provides the Grand Unifying Force that conventional physics is missing." "Right." Carl blinked several times, nodding slowly. Not a stupid man by any measure, his areas of expertise were finance and people rather than hard sciences, but he was a man of the world and had seen enough Discovery Channel specials to at least grasp the basics. He turned back to his progeny, smiling a little bemusedly, his expression clearly asking 'is this guy real?' "Don't engage him, dad." Marissa said from the comfort of Devin's hug. "Give him an inch and he'll ruin string cheese, cancel Christmas, and spoil all the Harry Potter books in one go." "Dumbledore dies." Jase deadpanned to the snickering of several of the other teens as Marissa affected a horrified gasp of betrayal and hurt. Smiling very faintly, the shaggy-haired youth leaned back and watched the room. People's parents were filtering into the room now that the docs were letting them, and the people-watching opportunity was too great to pass up. This was a new situation, after all. He'd never seen Misti act in any other way than the pleasant, smiling substitute teacher and part-time administrator, and to see the Twins actually cowed as she raged at them was... unusual. It didn't fit right, in his self-admittedly slight understanding of human behaviour. Misti was being completely unreasonable and domineering, though Carl's explanation that she was under stress and frightened certainly explained that. Was the Twins reaction simply one of ingrained filial duty? A result of being too tired to openly fight right now? It couldn't be genuine fear, surely: after what he had seen Devin and Marissa both endure and face down, an angry middle aged woman hardly measured up. He considered that. If Gar became angry at him, or sought to punish him for some perceived misdeed that was in fact not a misdeed, how would he react? Would he endure the punishment out of respect? Would he tolerate unfairly placed and emotionally driven restrictions on his comings and goings, or for Gar to take away his car? Probably not, he surmised. Not if he hadn't committed some genuine transgression against previously understood rules. For example, Gar was strict about smoking in the house. If Jason smoked inside and had been caught, he would accept that Gar had a place to punish him. He reflected then that his father placed very few restrictions or expectations on him, compared to the parents of his fellows. Keep clean, tidy your things away, don't smoke in the house, don't get into trouble at school. Other than that, as Misti had implied in the car, Jason had been more or less allowed to grow wild. At least some of that was Gar's sense of depression and alcoholism, but even so Jason had always been a low-maintenance child. Largely self-sufficient - show him how to do something and he would do it for himself without complaint or hesitation. It was never necessary to check he had tidied his room, or cleaned up after eating. If he'd needed anything like clothes or food in the refrigerator he would say so. He never needed comfort or reassurance or encouragement. He briefly wondered if that bothered his father at all. Autumn's dad, earlier, obviously trying to protect his daughter, had seemed desperate to be relevant, to matter in the scheme of things in a practical sense. Her mother had perhaps been quicker to accept the situation, but still had felt that urge from what Jase had observed. Did his father also need to be needed? He filed that away. He was coming to understand that the emotional needs of those he cared about were important, and his father was certainly one of those. Compare and contrast Gar to Misti, who demanded perfection in all manner of particulars, who put her children through grueling exercise and performance routines, set standards of personal appearance and comportment, for whom it seemed little was good enough. And the results... Devin, ever-defiant to a fault, who rebelled simply for the act of rebellion itself. And Marissa, outwardly strong, yet at times fragile and had suffered an overdose according to what he'd overheard. There was no judgement in Jase's thoughts regarding the Jauntsen twins. They were products of their environment, much as he was. He did understand a little more why Devin had spoken well of Gar, last Thursday at the farm. After the hectic demanding enforced perfection of the Jauntsen household, the laid-back still waters of the Bannon Farm must have seemed a sanctuary. And then, somewhere between the extremes, there were the others. Autumn's mom, Sean's family, warmly nurturing and yes, also with certain levels of rules and expectations. Involved in their children's lives to a level that Jason, used as he was to self-direction, might have found stifling, yet they seemed happy and loving even when irate with their kids. He wondered how the other's parents would behave. So he sat back and watched, his cool calm gaze assessing what was going on from his dirt and soot-smudged features.
  18. Jase was soberly regarding the ruins of his sole remaining rolled cigarette as she approached, his pale jade eyes flicking to Autumn as he gave her a slight smile before he let out a soft sigh and held up the blood-soaked, crumpled ruin. "It was in the outer pocket of my combat pants." he stated matter-of-factly, indicating the leg Autumn had recently tended to. "Ahh, well." The roll-up went up in a small puff of incineration, fragrant smoke rising for an instant in the air before being whisked away by the breeze. He turned to her, still favouring the damaged leg a little, and smiled once more. "Everyone alright?" "Mostly. I'll be happier when Sophia and Tawny get checked out. I'm not a proper doctor or anything." Autumn admitted, looking up into the green pools of his gaze. "How's Dana doing?" he asked quietly, his eyes still on her face in that intent way he had. Autumn ignored the prickling at the corners of her eyes and smiled at him. "She's fine. Said to remind you that you said you'd bring me home." she said in a tone that contained a hint of their usual playful banter. He nodded somberly. "That I did. Once we get everyone to the med center and checked out, I'll do just that." he replied, glancing at the other teens for a moment before looking back into her eyes. Autumn remembered why she'd approached him, then, shaking off the spell of his nearness. "Oh, hey. You've got a survival blanket, right? Tawny has mine, and Sophia is going to need one-" she had barely gotten the words out before a zip in the side of Jason's go-bag was opened and the slim packet containing the thermal blanket emerged, floating to hang in the air in front of her. She grabbed it, flashing him a grin that was less subdued, her freckled nose crinkling adorably. "You're awesome." Stepping closer for a moment, the redhead kissed her boyfriend's cheek and turned, hurrying back over to her recumbent patient. Jason watched her for a moment, observing her tugging the thermal blanket from it's wrapping and kneeling down to fold it around Sophia, before he turned away. His leg hurt, his head ached from power strain. The weariness of the post-adrenaline crash was on him and he slowly sank down to sit in the long grass, looking out over Shelly as he tugged his phone from another pocket of his backpack. The number was dialed. "Dad. It's me." He watched the distant lights, noting the scarcity of moving ones denoting cars as he spoke. "We won." A pause, then. "Just tired, mostly. Some scrapes, a cut on my leg that is already healing thanks to Autumn." His nose wrinkled a little. "And I stink of unmentionable stuff." There was another pause, Jase's eyes distant as he listened. "We're all fine. We kind of came out in the middle of nowhere outside town, but Carl and Misti Jauntsen are coming to pick us up and take us to the med center. No, you don't need to come down there." He pictured the chaos that would likely be taking place soon, parents and cops trying to figure out what was going on whilst medics tried to do their jobs. He shrugged off his go-bag and leaned back in the grass, looking up at the peaceful-seeming stars overhead, part of his mind cataloguing the constellations he could see. "It's going to be a circus - people yelling and getting excited. As soon as I can, I'll be home." Yet another pause, and he reflected on the question this time. "It could have gone a lot worse. We all did well. And no, the Tree isn't going to be a problem in Shelly any more. Not saying there's no Darkness left, but it's rudderless. Cleanup can wait a little." He smiled just a fraction, then. "I will, yes. I love you too. See you soon." Hanging up and letting the phone sit on his chest, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath of the still-warm evening air, folding his hands behind his head as he relaxed. It was a lovely evening, after all.
  19. Jason knew what was happening to him. Teulu did not have a flight reflex: they lacked the capacity for fear, and in it's place was a redoubled inclination to fight, to kill. Abstractly, the wryly logical portion of his mind, that dry observer that catalogued all with merciless self-awareness, informed him of all of this. But it was one thing to know what was happening, and another to feel it in a way that was immediate and near-overpowering. His veins sang, the music primal and intoxicating as the adrenaline of combat worked it's euphoric magic on his alien neurochemistry. The fire burning in his soul right now was similar to the flame kindled in the kiss of the copper-tressed girl behind him in temperature, it's edge was as savagely joyous, yet the focus and purpose of the flame was entirely different. Almost without his noting it, Jase's lips peeled back from his teeth in a soundless laugh. His enemies were in front of him. It didn't matter to him that they were hideous mockeries of twisted life. It didn't matter to him that they might overwhelm him. There was only the pure, wild amoral joy of combat. He was Flame and Destruction incarnate right now, the roar of the power he was channeling loud in his ears and mind. He was... Putting his friends at risk. He fought down the killing laughter that had been threatening to bubble up from his throat and ring across the blighted battlefield as he glanced back to reaffirm what his kinetic awareness of his surroundings already told him. Almost everyone was clustered together, Autumn looking at him, Sophia's limp form draped across her shoulders. Still wreathed in flame, he glanced over at Sean, who was wide-eyed at the approach of the horde, already taking his first steps towards the others. Time to run. He turned and ran fleet-footed, a lean wraith limned in flames seeming to skim above the grisly soil of the glade, so lightly did his feet touch down. He hurdled a small pool, wove around a larger one, and arrived at the base of the hillock upon which the throne rested. Skidding to a stop, he gave everyone a quick, searching glance before turning to watch his oldest friend's progress with something akin to concern. Sean was many fine things, but a foot-racer was not one of them.
  20. The bruises from Devin's attacks were stinging fly bites, made all the more galling by the fact that Cody could. Not. SWAT. HIM. The transformed teen flailed at his tormentor with curses drooling from his lipless mouth, until a sudden presentiment - or perhaps, the yammering of the older, more experienced voice of Araun - brought him up short, eyes widening as the fire-wreathed figure nearby took another step forward. Bannon's eyes were blazing slits of green flame, his lips pulled back from his teeth in a rictus grin of pain and effort as blood oozed from his nose in twin streams. And as the air about Cody suddenly warmed, steam rising from the pool of rot he stood astride, both troubled sociopathic teen and elder consciousness finally realised they they had been played. By Devin, by Coyote, by their own hubris and pride, by treating these young shards of Radiance as prey to play with and devour rather than true threats to be neutralised. The two Devins that had distracted him both shot Jason a thumbs-up as they vanished, grim smiles on their lips. The fiery tornado formed above the cloud of swarming creatures, a swirl of destructive flame that leapt downwards, incinerating the foul mockeries of insect life before smiting down full upon Cody with punishing force, driving him into a crouch as the pool and the layers of bone and soil vaporised in the blast. Those in the glade felt the heat of it from across it's breadth, as though a furnace door had opened in their faces. Cody screamed, the wail of pain rising above the roar of the firestorm as claws of sentient flame sought him out and ripped at his body, tearing the last shreds of vitality from him. The scream cut off. Dimly, very dimly through the blaze, the spindly figure could be seen to rear up and waver before falling apart into ashes which were whisked up into the funnel of the firenado. Though only Autumn could sense the life - miserable and corrupted as it was - end, all present felt a lessening in the oppressive corruption around them. The buzzing, greasy sensation was still there, but it's avatar was no more. And the Tree felt it. The ground rumbled, the black nightmarish trunk of the thing which looked like a tree but was not writhing against the sullen red sky. Those nearest the Throne felt it first, a malevolence, centered on the skull, emanating and growing in strength. Cody was dead, but something that had possessed and empowered him was very much present, seeming to glare at them through empty sockets. Behind the Throne, root-like tendrils erupted from the ground, slowly tearing themselves free from the gory earth, and the buzz of Corruption which had faded with Cody's death began to grow once more. Cassie saw what would happen now, saw it as clearly as if it were written in stone. The spirit in the skull was unleashing the Tree against them. It would devour them all - their powers would not stand against it. And then it would break free into the 'real' world, bringing the Blight into downtown Shelly, turning Shelly into the Blight. Which would grow, unstoppable, turning everything living into monstrosities who would prey on each other, until the world was a Blight. The Tree could not be defeated. Not while the skull existed. And nothing could damage the skull. Not fire, not impact. Nothing could damage it... but it could be unmade. Unraveled. She saw a flash then, a memory of a tractor plough at the Bannon farm, old and broken, being made whole again...
  21. "Yes." Jason's voice was quiet, almost unheard beneath the furor of the corrupted glade as the straight-backed youth stepped swiftly but surely to one side of Sean's laser walls. As Not-Cody snarled his pain and flinched away from the orbiting bead of stinging red light, baring it's teeth in pained menace, Jason's pale emerald stare rested on the creature that had once been Cody and once been a god, and now was neither, as he lifted his arms away from his sides almost as though about to bestow a benediction. His voice was still soft as the firefly motes of copper and gold in the depths of his gaze danced. "Burn." His words had been soft, unnoticed. What came next was neither. Brilliant gold so bright as to be almost white, the aura of his power surged into being around his lean form in a pillar of flame, casting every object in the glade into sharp relief, the shadows themselves flinching back as searing pinions of fire leapt from his arms, reaching out and forward in a sweeping crackling wave of destruction. Shallow pools of rotted blood flash-boiled into the air, the surface layers of bone were reduced to ash as the purifying, terrifying tsunami descended on the howling beast that was their target. The rags of Cody's clothing and hair disappeared into smoke and ash, his flesh charring and blackening awfully in the wake of the attack, which as it receded left the creature of the Dark thrashing at his burning arm, screaming in pain and fear and rage as he cowered from the blazing figure that was staring at him implacably. Cody's mind was chaotic. He wanted to put the fires out, he wanted to punish Cassidy and Bannon and the Jauntsens. But the rage was tinged with fear now. He had been hurt, not once but twice, and badly. A beast at bay, he snarled at them all, a note of confusion now in his defiance. This was not how it was supposed to go! They were supposed to be the afraid ones! Dimly he could hear the older, wiser voice, but it's words seemed unimportant, distant as he glared with smoldering red sunken eyes at his tormentors.
  22. The portal hung before them in the air, the purple hues of Devin's energy mingling with the sullen dark red of what lay beyond. They could all feel it, that unnatural presence, that seeping, creeping wrongness that had several times now reached out to try and claim them. It should have filled their veins with ice, stolen their will to do anything other than flee or curl up into a ball and hope not to be noticed, sapped their connection to their Shine. But as that presence wreathed around them, something pushed it back. It was Marissa who noticed it first, a faint vibration around her wrist, a tingle of warmth. Tearing her gaze from the portal in front of her she glanced down, her pretty dark eyes widening at what they saw. "Guys..?" Whether it was her tone - one of wonder and hope in the midst of this horror - or some sympathetic vibration as they each became aware of the same sensation around their wrists, each of the Fellowship looked down. The bracelets were shining - no, they were Shining. The gold-like material, ancient beyond easy reckoning, was suffused with a glow that warmed, reassured, drove back the Dark as it reacted with the teen's own Radiance. Devin felt expended strength seep back into him, slowly but surely, as the artifacts billed as 'protections for warriors' hummed in silent unison with one another. The teens became aware of an acute connection to each other, something only before experienced during the exercises of attuning to one another at the farm. In that curious extra sense they all possessed, they each felt Devin's rebellious flickering energy, Autumn's restless vitality, Marissa's untapped depths of true strength, Cassandra's questing, seeking flow, Jason's focused, harnessed fire, directed through the cold prism of his mind, Cade's stoic fortitude, the deep waters that ran still, Sean's brilliant patterns of endless fractals, Kat's formless urge to create and discover. There was no need for words. Jason stepped forward and helped Devin to his feet with one arm, the two young men exchanging a nod before turning to face the portal. The air around each of the Fellowship shimmered, blurred slightly, as they felt Jason's power reach out and envelope them all, protective shields of force that should, in theory, turn aside the worst of blows. As one, the teleporter and the psychokinetic squared their shoulders and moved to step through the portal.
  23. "Cade and Sean have their cars, Marissa has hers, I have mine, and Devin has his bike." Jason spoke up quietly from where he was sitting on the picnic table, a lit cigarette idly dangling from the corner of his mouth, smooth fragrant tobacco smoke a hint in the evening air as he watched everyone in that calm, intent way he had. He turned his gaze on Autumn, shrugging. "We might as well just head to the Old Town Hall in convoy - it isn't far - and it means we can take the bags with us without causing much comment." As he spoke, he slid from the table and hefted a strap of his own go-bag onto one shoulder, glancing around at the others, glacial eyes studying them all. It was hard for those unfamiliar with him to say what thoughts moved behind that inscrutable, somehow ageless stare. But those more attuned to the differences and variations in Jason Bannon's moods could see in the depths of the green pools of his gaze a gleam that denoted banked embers of rage, a terrible eagerness merely awaiting oxygen... And something to burn. "Is everyone ready?" he asked, moving to Autumn's side as she released and stepped back from her embrace with her friend. = = = = = = Tawny didn't remember much of how she got here. There had been the sensation of being seized, and then a terrible wrenching, sickening sensation like... like falling backwards into water and feeling it go up your nose, but a thousand times worse. She guessed she must have sort of passed out, because then there was just dimly-remembered sensations of being carried like a sack of potatoes over a large, bony shoulder through a bitingly cold, foul-smelling darkness filled with chittering, whispering things. It was the muttering that brought her back to herself: a voice both familiar and not talking - no, arguing in a hoarse, glottal tone with someone or something that could not be heard. The pretty blonde girl blinked, taking stock of the slick wet sensation under her hands and bare legs. Going by touch alone, it felt like she was in an inch or so of water, interspersed with lumpy, uncomfortable protrusions. From beyond her closed eyelids came a reddish, dull glow. "You promised. You said I could have them. All the girls I wanted!" There was a yearning, gnawing wheedling sense to the voice. But Tawny recognised it despite the inhuman undertones. God save her, she recognised the voice: Cody. "This one too! She is Devin's! I want her, just like I want all that is his!" The muttering rose to a shriek on that last sentence, then fell away into murmurs again. "Jauntsens, and Bannon, and all of them. I will take what is theirs. Like they took from me. Make them small, make them afraid." Tawny sat up and opened her eyes, and fought the simultaneous urge to close them again and retch. She was sitting in blood. Thick, cold and viscous, it oozed around her, staining her sneakers and hands, seeping into her shorts. She'd been laying in the foul stuff, clotted and rotting, with lumps of bone and... well, best not to look to closely. She bit back the scream that threatened to tear itself from her throat and forced her gaze upwards. The landscape was bones, bones and blood, with a red sky that pulsed with dull light. Almost directly ahead of her was a throne built of aged, yellow bones, fitted together like puzzle pieces, held together by God-knew-what, and topped by a giant skull, the antlers of which spread above the throne like a grisly sun-shade. And on the throne was... Cody. Only not Cody. She'd heard the story from Devin and the others. Heard that he'd been changed. But it was one thing to hear and another to see, and all Tawny could do was experience a wave of mingled terror and great pity as she looked upon what Cody had become. Sure, he was always creepy - only Devin's aegis had protected her from the boy's attentions - but this? Surely nobody deserved this. She forced her eyes away from the muttering, arguing figure, unwilling to call it's attention to herself, and looked around. Behind her was the Tree. It was, if anything more horrible than anything else she'd ever seen. So black it appeared to leach light from it's surroundings, the Tree gave the appearance of motion, of hideous slithering life. Whether it was her Shine, or some other instinct, Tawny knew that whereas Cody was a perversion of God's plan, the Tree was from outside that Plan altogether. It was wholly unnatural, a hellish mockery of a growing thing. Under her horrified, fascinated gaze, two of it's 'roots' slowly withdrew themselves from the fetid morass of blood and worse around it's base with a sickening sound, waving gently in the air from side to side, as if scenting fresh prey. Then it was reaching for her, the black tendrils slowly undulating through the air, groping blindly, hungrily. Finally, Tawny was unable to hold back her scream.
  24. Devin nodded, space warping as he disappeared in a muted flash of rippling purple light. They walked on in silence for a short few minutes. Somewhere, inside the jade and crystalline halls of his mind, Jason had been and still was processing the loss of someone who, whilst not a close friend, was nevertheless part of his circle. Someone he'd talked to, who'd talked to him, who he had shared games and snacks and dangerous situations with. A sense of loss, of sudden and wrongful absence was there, but there was little of what would recognisably be called 'sorrow' to a human mind. More keenly was felt the sense of personal failure. He should have checked up on Charlie when the other teen hadn't answered his phone or come to training, that chilly observer told him. Perhaps it would have done no good, but he had been lax regardless. Memories of Charlie flickered across his mental screen: the raid on the Crossroads facility, the time Charlie had tried to reach out to him last Monday... And now Tawny: kind, friendly, peripherally also now a part of his circle. Yes, he felt similarly to Devin. Rage roared and crackled in its chains in his soul, a fire similar to that which had flared to life when Liam had attacked Lona. Someone - something - had killed one and taken another of his people. And would pay in screams. But he was learning, also. His anger was not blinding him completely to what was happening in front of him. He'd noted the flush of anger and the widened eyes of disbelief on the cinnamon-freckled face he spent so much time studying these days. He had spent time in learning to people, analysing context and expressions, and Autumn was an easy subject for such studies. Warmly and openly emotional, every flicker of the flame of her personality could be read in her face. Was now the time to address it? Rationally, it seemed better than letting such feelings fester, and it was not as if there was anything else to do whilst guiding Jacob to safety. "You were not wrong." he said quietly, glancing at Autumn past the youth between them. "I just cannot take the chance that our enemy is waiting for another one of us to be alone and distracted." A pause, then. "Least of all you." Three long, cleansing breaths. Three counts of four on each measured inhalation as she concentrated on the lingering scent of spice-laden smoke from dozens of grills and the bright, sharp fragrance of conifers in the warm afternoon air, followed by a slow, deliberate exhalation. It was fine. Everything was fine. They were just going to take Jacob back, still looking for all the world like he'd just been smashed in the head and thrown against a tree, because he had, somehow convince her family she needed to stay behind instead of going with them where it was safe, and then go plan an assault on a psychotic murderous monster that used to be one of their classmates, try to rescue another classmate before he ate her face, find a way back home, and not die or lose their freaking minds in the middle of all that. It was fine. Everything was fine. Autumn was... Okay, maybe "fine" wasn't the right word for it, she admitted to herself, cutting her eyes past Jacob to where the Effing Boyfriend was helping him take one step at a time. "Cool." She turned her attention back to the field, to the shapes of people and food trucks and cars ahead. "So, I wasn't wrong, but you guys decided to just do what you wanted anyway?" A part of her felt guilty for being upset at something so stupidly trivial, especially when there was so much else to be angry and worried and sad about- but she couldn't pretend not to be, either. "Further planning is superfluous." If Jason was relaxing his vigilance at all now that they were close to 'home', he didn't show it as he resumed scanning the woods. "We have as much of a plan as we can formulate. Get to the location, cross over, take out whatever we find. The key tactical move right now is to minimise any damage we can suffer until we can strike as one. That means pairing up, not leaving anyone exposed, and meeting in one spot before we go after the enemy." His manner was calm, matter-of-fact. "Devin can rally everyone. You were not wrong, but you were not right either." "The only reason I did not address it before is because it meant more standing around rather than acting, and Devin needed to be doing something to keep him focused. That's why I'm discussing it now." He paused for a moment, glancing over at Autumn once more. "It was not my intention to be rude or thoughtless, or imply that your opinion has no weight with me." "You're right." And, she had to admit, he was. Mostly. It was a completely, totally, frustratingly reasonable argument, much like Jason himself. "Devin does need to be doing something. And Devin also could use somebody who isn't freaking out about losing his best friend to a monster to help him do that. He basically just admitted if this Ellie, or whatever, hadn't taken back the bracelet, he'd have done exactly what we assumed and run off like an idiot. He listens to you," she added quietly, her free hand tugging at the end of what had once been a passable braid draped over her shoulder. "So, yeah. You're right, but you're also wrong. Because even if you don't see a need for planning, people can't read your mind, Jase." She was quiet for a moment as they walked, and then conceded with the ghost of a grin, "Not that they would. Or at least not more than once, probably." Sobering again, the redhead continued. "But, still. Ten bucks says everybody's freaking out right now and nobody knows what's going on, and they're all gonna be talking over each other. I think you should've gone with him, and even if you didn't mean to seem like my opinion doesn't matter, it did." Frowning, she glanced back up at Jacob, checking his eyes before focusing on the pale green ones just beyond. "They're more important." "So we are both right, and both wrong." If Jason was ruffled by her statement it didn't show. But he did nod, slowly, his gaze thoughtful for a second as it once more rested on her earnest features. "When there is no clearly logically superior answer, I will come down on the side of protecting those dearest to me." There was another moment's silence as they saw the Keane / Crocker enclave come into view, and the composed youth's lips twitched in a faint smile. "And next time, I will make it plainer that I am not simply dismissing your concerns. That was clumsy and rude, and I apologise for it." "Oh. Well, okay then," was all she said for a few seconds, her expression somewhat mollified as she gazed at the familiar figures ahead: the slim auburn-haired form of her mother, the tall warden in his faded green cap, and her father, perpetually business casual. The sheer act of walking, of moving, had, on its own, dissipated some of the immediacy of her frustration, and he'd apologized, and he'd said he'd handle it differently in the future. If there was a checklist for defusing arguments, she could see him methodically marking off each box as he went... But it worked, she admitted grudgingly. He'd been like this when they'd gone camping, too, though, when she'd gotten embarrassed and upset. Totally reasonable. Totally logical. Totally, and utterly, and- "You're completely impossible," she sighed, admitting defeat. "You know that?" "Yes." he admitted, tone taking on a slight warmth that matched the hint of dimple in his cheeks and the look he gave her as they covered the last of the distance. "I know. You're sort of neat yourself." "'Impossible' isn't a compliment." Autumn replied tartly, fighting the urge to smile again. Damn him, was he distracting her? "I suppose it depends on who I hear it from." Jase responded mildly, but there was no more time for byplay as the adults ahead took notice of the approaching trio and reacted, Dana reaching them moments ahead of Ian and Nathan as they clustered around. "Oh my god!" the pretty vet exclaimed, the color draining from her face as she took in the sight of the boy who'd grown up alongside her own child, his hair and featured dark with drying blood. "Autumn, what-?" Nathan swore under his breath and slipped one arm around his son as the younger redhead stepped aside, her hand leaving a faint smudge on the back of Jay's shirt. "Help me get him to the table where he can sit down." The warden glanced at Jason, eyeing the leanness of the young man supporting Jacob, and nodded toward the denuded picnic table, now stripped of cloth and snacks and drinks. They'd been busy, and had apparently taken the teens' advice about packing up to heart. "He's okay." Autumn murmured to her mother. "He just needs to get cleaned up and get some rest." Dana stared at her for a moment, at the wild disarray of her hair, the remnants of leaf litter and dirt on her legs and her clothes, and the deep reddish-brown stains on her shirt and hands. "I'm serious," she added. "He's got a little bit of a concussion, 'cause I wasn't sure how to deal with that and we were in a hurry, but the big stuff is handled already." She hesitated for a moment, glancing at the wide blue eyes of her father, and then back at her mom. "Like the grass." "Like the grass?" echoed Ian, looking from daughter to wife with a confused expression. The news of another teen's death, and now Jacob, and through it all the vague sensation, strengthening all the time, that his family were keeping something from him, was taking it's toll on the man's patience. "Why is he covered in blood? Why are you covered in blood?! What do you mean 'the big stuff is handled'? Jacob needs a hospital-" "Ian." Dana put a hand on his arm, exerting an effort to keep her own voice calm, especially since the angry husband's voice was raising in volume. "Please. There's a talk we need to have." Meanwhile, Nathan and Jase got Jacob to the table and lowered him to the bench, the keenly observant warden not failing to notice that he barely had to do any of the lifting. As he checked his son's eyes and the wound on his scalp, he looked at the silent, lean shape who stood a little apart, his own attention on the family unit nearby. "What happened?" he asked, and the pale emerald gaze moved back to him. "He was attacked and the girl he was with was taken." Jason's voice was low and quiet. "Autumn got him out of danger with her gifts, we brought him back." He paused, that cold stare assessing the older man. "From what Autumn has said, you know some of what is going on. Our enemy is moving against us. That is why he was attacked and Charlie is gone." "We can have it now," Autumn cut in, hoping she sounded calmer than she felt. "He's covered in blood because he was attacked while he and Tawny were out walking," she explained as succinctly as she could, trying to call to mind the cool, clear focus she felt when Jase's Shine brushed against her own. She avoided entirely the issue of that walk being in the woods, and how exactly she and Jason had found him. Here we go, I guess. "This-" she took in a deep, steadying breath and plucked nervously at her shirt, wincing as, for the first time, she considered what she might actually look like, "is Jay's, not mine, and he doesn't need a hospital because I took care of him." Ian stared at her as though she were speaking some other language than English, something he hadn't studied in college. Was he angry? Hurt? Confused? Yeah, probably, she reasoned, a pang of guilt twisting in her chest. But it was better to just take the Band-Aid off all at once, now that they'd started, rather than try to peel it off a little at a time. ...Did they even have time? Ha. "There's gonna be a lot of bruising over the next few days," she continued, glancing anxiously at her mother, and then back at her dad. Back at the face that had been conspicuous in its absence over the last couple of years, but which also belonged to someone who- she knew- loved her unconditionally despite all that. "And he's probably going to have the worst headache of his life when he finally does get some rest, because he does still have a concussion. But the cut on his head, the swelling and bleeding on his brain, and some of the minor stuff from getting thrown around are all taken care of." Over at the picnic table, Nathan was struggling with questions of his own. Sure he, like Dana had presumed that Jason would be one of the 'special' teens Autumn had hinted at. And he knew there was an enemy, a Darkness over Shelly. But the answers he possessed simply led to more questions, and the silent youth standing there regarding the Keane's once more was not forthcoming with further answers. "So what now? What are you all going to do?" he asked, sitting down beside Jacob and keeping his boy upright, helping him to rest back against the table's edge. Jason looked back at him again, and Nathan was struck again by the composure: that weirdly quiet confidence that belonged on a much older man. "Same plan as before. Only we're moving it up." the youth with ancient eyes responded. "We rescue who we can, avenge who we must, and put the threat down. Or we die trying." "Taken care of how, exactly?" Ian asked warily, studying the freckled features of his dishevelled daughter. Reading people was part of his job, gave him insight into what his clients were thinking and how best to take advantage of that; Autumn was nervous, but she wasn't lying. He'd often teased her about her terrible poker face, but depite the sense of growing unease and his own frustration, a part of him was grateful for at least that one constant. "Because he looks like he's been dragged backwards out of hell and you look like you were the one doing the pulling." "Um." It wasn't exactly an eloquent start, but with her father staring at her like she'd just put a soccer ball through the living room window, it was the best she had. "Okay." Resting her hands atop her head, Autumn fixed her eyes on the realtor and held them there, the rubber soles of her worn sneakers flexing slightly as she shifted her weight from one side to the other. "So, there's a super long story, but basically, I can affect living things. Hurt them, heal them, make them stronger or weaker, things like that. That's how I helped Jay." The wary expression on her father's face fell away, replaced by a mask of utter disbelief. "You're telling me you have magic healing powers." "Kind of?" the restless young woman hedged, her shoulders and elbows twitching upward in something like a shrug. "I mean, at least it's useful, right?" "Right." Ian nodded, turning to regard Dana speculatively. "This is your father's fault," he stated flatly, as his wife's warm, honey-colored eyes widened in outrage. Jason stepped away from where he'd been speaking to Nathan as he registered the shift in tones and body language. The colour leaching from Dana's warm complexion and the way her eyes widened was an indicator that Ian's comment, hardly delivered at a discreet volume, was about to trigger at the very least a blazing argument. In the chilly calculus of Jason's mind not only was this likely to slow things down, but it would also layer additional anxiety and stress onto Autumn at a time when she could not afford distractions. A quick glance around showed that the Keane-Crocker enclave was remote enough that a demonstration would not attract attention, especially now that the word was spreading about Charlie. People were packing up, the festival atmosphere shattered, the Carousel coming to a halt as parents collected their children with hugs, guiltily grateful that they had not suffered the same loss as Lucius and Hannah. Dana's eyes were going from wide with shocked outrage to narrowing in simmering anger. Ian had the look of a man who knew he had spoken in haste and poorly, but didn't know if it could be unsaid and still uncertain as to whether it should be. And Autumn was looking stricken from her father to her mother as Dana brought her hand up in a sharp, blurring half-circle. The slap did not land. Nor did it impact a bruisingly solid force. Rather, something in the air between the two adults stole away the kinetic momentum of the blow and stopped it in mid-air, a few inches from Ian's face. Startled, Autumn's father stepped back a pace as all three Keanes looked at the motionless open hand. "Excuse me." The tone was calm, but carried the faintest of edges as Jason stepped into the circle, not quite between Autumn's parents, standing across from his girlfriend. He held out a hand, palm up, and motes of light coalesced there seconds before a flame sprang up from his palm, dancing golden and orange. He looked at Ian as Dana's hand dropped to her side. "Autumn is telling the truth. And you need to listen." he said into the silence. The girl in question sighed, a heavy sound that faded into a soft groan. Of course, it would be too much to expect that this conversation would go as smoothly the second time around, and they were already running behind. "So, I guess that's one person I don't have to ask permission to talk about," she quipped nervously, her father's face going from angry to ashen in a matter of moments as Dana reached out tentatively toward the flickering flame held captive in Jason's hand. "It's actually warm," she murmured in astonishment, staring at the unblemished skin of his palm. "How?" "The same way I do it," Autumn interjected quietly, hazarding a smile. "It's all energy, sort of, just... He uses it differently. So. Yes, Dad, there are plenty of myths and legends, but a lot of them, especially the ones Grandpa believed, were based on true stories. This is part of the truth they were based on." "Fine," he muttered irritably, passing a hand over his face with a weary sigh. This was not how he'd pictured the day going when they'd started that morning. He'd expected to have to work to get back in his family's good graces, but dealing with whatever insanity this was defied all reason. "Fine. We'll talk about it at home. Let's just finish packing up, and you can tell me all about how this is completely normal and not at all crazy." When Autumn didn't move, but glanced instead at her fire-conjuring boyfriend, a sense of apprehension crept up Ian Keane's spine. "Autumn?" His daughter's eyes widened slightly, brightened as though suddenly wet, and she shook her head. "I'm not going." "Autumn," he repeated firmly. "We don't have time for this." "I know!" Her voice shook, hands slipping from the top of her head as she stared up at the open expanse of blue sky above, its brilliance mocking the grim horrors of the day. "I know we don't have time. Tawny's missing, Charlie's dead, and Jacob was nearly killed. I can't go home with you. Not until we fix this." "Wait." Dana shook her head, turning away from the inscrutable young man to regard her daughter with a frown. "No, no. Wait just a minute, young lady. You said this was happening later." Ian opened his mouth to protest, to demand a clarification, but the pretty vet lifted a hand in warning. "What happened to later, Autumn?" The expressive young redhead looked over at Nathan, at the friend she'd only just found again and almost lost, and swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Jacob and Tawny happened." "And Charlie happened." Jason closed his hand, snuffing the flame out as he moved to stand by Autumn's side, slender fingers reaching down and taking her hand gently. "There is an enemy, an entity. Malevolent, old, and hungry. Normal weapons cannot harm it, normal people cannot face it. Together, though, we can destroy it. And we need to. And we cannot put it off any longer, because now we know it's actively after us, and not content to wait anymore." "This is... it's..." Dana and Ian said almost in unison, then glanced at each other before looking back at their teary-eyed daughter and the outwardly calm youth beside her. "This is a lot." Jason said quietly, almost sympathetically. "We thought Autumn would have time to explain it to you more gently. But we are out of time. The rest of us are gathering and getting ready." "The house is safe. As safe as it can be made, anyway. When you get home..." She hesitated, her fingers tightening reflexively on Jason's. Why was it so hard to say, when everything was already decided? "Are you kidding me?" Autumn blinked at her father as he stepped forward. "Ancient evils that can't be hurt by conventional weapons are killing high school kids and you expect me to just, one, buy the whole story, and two, let my daughter walk into that? No. And even if, if you're both telling the truth, that's all the more reason for her to come with us." He reached out, plainly intending to grasp Autumn's arm and tug her to his side and away from the quiet-voiced interloper, a possessive and protective gesture as old as fatherhood. And now it was Ian Keane's turn to contact that strange immobility, his face contorting with effort and frustration as his hand would not move forward anymore, no matter how he pushed. "That is up to Autumn to decide, not anybody else." Jason's words were as simply spoken as when last uttered, but now took on an edge that overlaid the unadorned conviction of before. "Ian." Dana's hand trembled as it slid over his arm, drawing it back. He stared first at the strange, too-composed youth, then at his wife, who shook her head. "She's coming home. Just... not right now. Not with us. All right?" Her voice, for all that it wavered, was underscored by resolve as unyielding as the earth underfoot. "Jason," she addressed her daughter's boyfriend with an air of quiet resignation, her chin held high. "You can drop her off later." There was a sense that the slender, dignified woman was not so much granting permission, but issuing a decree. He inclined his head slowly - almost respectfully - to Dana, and Autumn felt his fingers squeeze her hand in reassurance as he glanced at her. "Are you ready?" he asked her softly. "Almost." Her eyes burned, and Autumn rubbed at them with the back of her arm as she pulled away. Without ceremony or preamble, she jogged over to the picnic table and threw an arm around Jacob's shoulders, heedless of dirt and blood alike as she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. Nathan didn't wait his turn, but instead swept the athletic young redhead up in a bear hug, lifting her feet off the ground until she squeaked in protest and he finally set her down again. There were no emotional farewells, no promises; nothing else needed to be said between them. As she walked back toward her parents, however, all the words she wanted to say caught in her throat, the sounds snarled together in a knot that emerged only as a strangled cry. This might be the last time she'd see them, and somehow she couldn't even say goodbye. It wasn't fair. None of this was fair. With a soft murmur, Dana caught the girl up in her arms, resting her chin atop Autumn's copper curls as the sunlight coaxed sparks of red and gold from their hair. They stood like that for a few moments, until Ian pulled his daughter into a hug and she hiccuped, tears streaming down her cheeks. Finally, she shook her head and took a step back, her whole body shaking with silent sobs. "I gotta go," she managed, trying to keep her voice from breaking. "Love you. See you guys at home." Ian looked at his little girl with fresh eyes, as though suddenly realising that, in his absence, she'd become a young woman. The burden she was carrying was heavy, but she was carrying it, he recognised. And... she wasn't alone. He eyed the enigmatic youth, who returned his gaze with an unruffled, glacial look of his own. Ian cleared his throat. "Look..." he started to say, but normal fatherly injunctions and finger wagging seemed... pointless in the face of everything he'd experienced in the last few minutes. "Jase... just please... take care of her?" The frost that had limned the other's stare thawed slightly, and he nodded much as he had to Dana. "We'll take care of each other." he replied, his implication clear that he trusted Autumn at his side as much as she him. Autumn stepped to his side and the two of them turned and headed away, Dana looping her arm around Ian's and hugging it slightly as the two parents watched. = = = = = = = = Devin had been keeping busy, Jase and Autumn saw as they approached the Bannon table some minutes later. A number of bags and backpacks were leaning against the benches as the rest of the Fellowship stood around, talking in low tones. Evidently, the teleporter had collaborated with the others present to get such equipment as they had readily available to the place where it was needed. Even Jase's go-bag was there: in response to his questioning look, Devin shrugged. "Hey, I saw where you keep it." he said by way of explanation. Jason nodded, looking around at the others present. They were all there - all of them that remained, at least. Quietly and efficiently, still a little red-eyed from her earlier tears, Autumn handed a bracelet to Devin and to Kat, both of whom clasped them into place. "Alright. We're all here." Devin said, studying the goldlike gleam of his bracelet before shaking his sleeve over it and looking at the others. "We don't really need to discuss what's happening next, do we? Charlie's dead, Tawny and Sophia are taken. Let's go get the girls back and Not-Cody's head on a fuckin' stick."
  25. He'd wandered away from the main field, going into the woods that bordered the rest area and, finding a secluded tree to lean against, had fished a rollup from a case in his pocket and put it between his lips. A barest flicker of his will, the end glowed, and he drew a deep drag on the fragrant home-grown leaf inside with a sigh of contentment. It occurred to him that this was his first smoke of the day, and then he realised he'd not had a cigarette since... Saturday, maybe? After leaving Autumn's place. That was good for a faint smile as he looked up through the sun-spackled leaves of the tree, watching them shift and rustle in the breeze. Birdsong came in sporadic snatches from around him, and he exhaled, wreathing the pleasant smoke around his head, letting the problems and cares of the world fade away for a few as he thought of coppery strands of hair curling around his fingers... "Hey, Bannon!" The lanky young man sighed, opening his eyes at the bovine hollering. It seemed there was never a quiet moment, today... Though that wasn't exactly true, was it? Not long ago, he'd been relaxed with his head on Autumn's lap, her fingernails sending thrills of relaxation and pleasure down his spine as she'd idly caressed his scalp. It was a good memory, that one. The scent of her, warm from the sun and exertion, and the feel of her other hand under his on his chest, and the sensation of her eyes studying his face. There had been a calm in that moment which surpassed the simple pleasure of working in his garden, or learning some new esoterica from a book, accompanied by a thrum of her energy, her presence. That connection... that connection which baffled him, so similar in broad strokes to the sense of connection he'd once felt with Marissa, but so much more... "Bannon?! I know you're here, dude." Several sets of footsteps, heading this way through the treeline. A reach out with his senses told him there were four people. At least one was... "Here, Chet." he stepped around the tree, hands in his pockets, rollup hanging from the corner of his lips as he regarded the senior and his company. Two football players: Kieran and Todd, the latter of whom looked a little uneasy as the cold, calm glittering Jase's gaze passed over him. And Tammy Keller - his ex-customer ever since she and two confederates had tried to discuss business at school. As they approached him, he assessed them as a group. All of them had reasons to hold a grudge against him. Chet and Todd for the events at the county fair, Kieran for his girlfriend hitting on Jason at the first game of the season, and of course Tammy. Calmly, Jase decided that if their purpose was to attack him today then that would not be permitted. There was too much going on for him to worry about risking injury at the hands of primates, Dark-driven or not. He didn't say anything else, just waited. "Got any to share?" Chet pointed at the rollup, his manner somewhat high-handed, as though it was not really a request. "It's not weed. Just tobacco." Jase said. "I've got two more of them on me... and they're mine, Chet. I'm a businessman, not a tobacco charity." "Cute. I'm sure you give freebies to your friends." "I might. But we are not friends." Jason's tone was casually matter-of-fact. "You are, at best, customers. Except her." He nodded at Tammy, who scowled. "She's cut off." "She's with me now." Todd spoke up, putting an arm around Tammy's shoulders. "My condolences to you both." Jase's eyebrow twitched upward as a gleam of something sardonic and cold showed in his gaze, the closest he came to a smirk. He took a drag from the cigarette as Todd colored and stepped forward, to be stopped by a hand from Chet. The big senior turned back to Jase and stepped closer, still out of arms reach though. He can be taught, ladies and gentlemen, Jason thought sarcastically. "Okay, fine. We get it, you're a tough guy now that you're friends with the Jauntsens." Chet grinned. "Here's the thing, though. They're losing their throne, fanboy. Devin's lost his edge, and Marissa is just spinning around on her six-inch heels pissing off everyone. She even told me she doesn't care about being on top of the pecking order anymore." He pointed a beefy finger at Jason's face. "So your protection is for shit, kid." Blowing twin plumes of smoke from his nostrils, Jase looked at the finger, then at Chet, who lowered it and went on. "So here's the deal: I want what they got. Free weed, free Addys. You did that for Marissa before you were friends, which is why the Twins mostly kept you off limits. Tribute to the throne, y'know? Or else things will get bad, without them sheltering you." For a moment Bannon looked at Chet, then the others, blinking once as he took in their resolute features, then he smiled, his lips pulling back from his teeth in a grin that was roughly one-third amusement and two-thirds sheer menace. Then he gave a soft, low laugh. "You monkeys are adorable." he chuckled. "No, seriously, hear me out. You are like retarded cavemen who see the sun and think it's the eye of a monster peering at them. You hear thunder and think it's giant sky-beasts fighting. You think fire is a flower from the gods. You have no idea what you're really perceiving, because you lack the imagination or wit to look beyond the obvious." He drew another puff of smoke, the end of his cigarette glowing briefly as he laughed again. "You're actual imbeciles." "Is that so?" Kieran demanded, but he didn't move forward. The sight of Bannon actually laughing was... unsettling. It wasn't a happy sound, or even ironically happy. It was full of eerie menace. It was just wrong sounding. Bannon just nodded, then fixed his gaze on Chet as his laughter faded away like the rustle of dry leaves over gravestones. "The Twins ruled because they have a quality you do not, Chet. I doubt even they were fully aware of it, but they had the instincts that make a competent ruler. Sure, they bullied and pushed people around, but they also intuitively knew who they could push and how far. They regulated what went on, stopped matters from getting out of hand. Stopped people like you from getting in over your head." Now he stepped forward, hands still in his pockets. Chet had a couple of inches and probably thirty pounds at least on the lean youth, but that didn't even seem to give Jason a pause as he stopped inches away from the large senior, his gaze as sharp as emerald razors. "Get this through your head, Chet. The Jauntsens never protected me. They were protecting you. I'm glad they're not playing the pathetic game of high school grab-ass any more. Good for them, shows they're growing up." He blew smoke in Chet's face. "So yes, you're right. A new order will arise, surely. But here's the message I have for wannabes..." His gaze was coldly serpentine, his voice dropping to a hiss of warning. "You want weed, you buy it. Otherwise you leave me alone, you stay out of my business. You leave Sean alone, and stay out of his business. You leave anyone I sit with in class or the cafeteria alone, and stay out of their business. Including the Jauntsens. No shoulder-slams. No locker pranks. No keying of cars. No malicious gossip. Nothing. Play your little game in the kiddie pool with all the other piss-stinking toddlers and leave the grownups alone. Or I will take a personal interest in your misery. And you'll only realise just how badly you fucked up when it's already too late. Just like at the fair." Chet didn't move. He was aware of the others behind him. He was aware that, if he struck Bannon now, the others would join in. They would beat the kid down, surely. There were three guys - and Tammy - against him. And then... And then what, really? He looked into Bannon's eyes and saw nothing of fear or care there. His gaze flicked down to where Bannon's hands were still in his pockets. What if he had a knife? What if he recovered from his beat-down, and then one night the sharp edge of something would come to rest on his, Chet's throat this time. And Cody had disappeared after the fair... He swallowed. Had Jason killed Cody? God knew there was enough trackless wilderness in Montana that a body could be dumped anywhere... Oh god...And the rumor was that Bannon had criminal contacts in the big cities, too. Cartel, some said. Just the school rumormill, but looking into that hard, cold green stare, Chet wasn't so sure. What he was sure of was that he desperately wanted to pee. He'd started out the day with big plans, and some bravado. This year was going to be the year of the Chet, for sure. And now he'd run straight into both Marissa's vitriolic lack of concern, and Bannon's predatory menace. And suddenly he just wanted to be away from here, drinking beer with his buddies in the sunshine, not face to face with someone who didn't seem quite sane or human, who seemed to radiate cold like an incarnation of Death. "Feel free to go away now." Jase said quietly. "It's a pleasant day. Go and enjoy it. Elsewhere." "Right." Chet mumbled, stepping away. "Right... C'mon, guys." "Chet?" Kieran looked askance at the larger senior, then at Todd, who found himself aware of a full bladder all of a sudden and also just wanted to be away. Tammy repressed a shiver - the air was suddenly cold, and huddled closer to her new boyfriend as they drifted away from the lean figure who watched them go, sunlight glittering in the green slits of his eyes. Now and then, one or another of them glanced back, noting he was still watching them... until suddenly they looked and he was gone. Back behind the tree he'd been relaxing against, Jase leaned back against the bark and enjoyed his smoke. He wondered if the pretenders to the throne would take his warning to heart. Probably? He'd seen fear and uncertainty in their eyes, but then they were exceptionally stupid. He drew in a puff and exhaled with a sigh, looking up at the pattern of sunlight through the leaves overhead. Time, and Darwin, would tell. For now, though, there was the comforting fragrance of good tobacco, and the warmth of the summer's end, and the memory of soft fingers playing with his hair...
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