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    Vivi OOC

Everything posted by Autumn Keane

  1. Fondler's First-Aid and Molester's Massacre. Really? That’s fucking hilarious coming from a guy whose powers are all about running away or making himself the center of the world. After those little quips Autumn was roughly two seconds from telling Devin with one finger what she thought of him, but that would defeat the whole purpose of talking to him in the first place, wouldn’t it? God, that was fucking annoying. Exhaling sharply, she pressed the palms of her hands over her eyes, staring into the faint patterns and formless waves of color that overlaid the darkness; it occurred to her after several moments of slow, measured breathing that to him, it probably actually was hilarious. …And she had sort of set the standard herself with the leg-humping comment. So- Fine. Whatever. "Spooked?" She took one more deep breath and let her hands fall back to her sides, considering what she’d seen of the teleporter himself as much as the actual words he'd used. "No. Not 'spooked.' I don't have nightmares. I don't wake up in cold sweats. I'm not afraid that I’m going to lose control and accidentally turn everybody inside out, or anything like that. What's holding me back from using them is knowing how to use them.” Squinting a little, she tugged at the end of the fiery braid draped over her shoulder, looking out at the broad sweep of open fields behind Devin as the sun glared down. “Jase gave me some really good ideas on how to practice the actual powers themselves, which will definitely make learning how they actually work and what the limits are a lot easier. Plants don’t move, though, and they don’t fight back, and everything the Dark throws at us sure as hell does. That’s why I’m talking to you, and you can either help me with that, or you can’t.” “Look, I get that you have seen some shit, and you’re trying to be less of a monster than the things out there that want to eat our faces. Awesome. I am here for it, one hundred percent.” The ocean-hued eyes that had been dark and tempestuous in the loft were calmer now, her gaze clear and direct as she levelled it at the former bully. “But this whole Broda vibe you’ve got going on right now isn’t working for me. We’re not at the point in…” She gestured vaguely with one cinnamon-speckled hand, indicating the space between them. “Whatever this is… that I’m ready to talk to you about feels. Hell, your sister and I are supposed to be best friends, and I’m not even sure we’re there yet. So, if you really want to know what I can do, all right. I’ll show you. Well,” she amended with a one-shouldered shrug. “Part of it, anyway.”
  2. "Hey. Leg-humper." Brushing clumps of melting snow from her hair as she eyed the ravaged pizza boxes, Autumn nudged the back of Devin’s knee with her foot. As greetings went it wasn’t exactly the friendliest, but there was a measure of esprit de corps in its delivery that wouldn’t have been present a week earlier; a week earlier, she probably wouldn’t even have bothered greeting him at all. Funny how a few near-death experiences and waking nightmares could help put things in perspective. Fate, or chance, or whatever had conspired to throw them all together, headfirst, into uncharted waters to see if they could swim. And here she was, paddling alongside them as they fought to stay afloat, to survive the oncoming tide- whatever that was. Things were definitely changing, and not always for the best, but… That’s the nature of things, to change. They have to, don’t they? “’Sup, Granola?” The still-shirtless gymnast looked up from the somewhat thankless task of condensing the remains of the pizzas they’d maimed and mangled into one box, shooting a sidelong smirk in her direction. “And, uh, last I checked you’ve got two legs.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Autumn wasn’t sure which Devin was more obnoxious: the one who’d snapped her bra and ruined her chances with Tom Winslow the year before, or the one who now flirted with every pair of XX chromosomes he met. “Both of which I will use to kick your ass,” she threatened without real conviction, cursing silently as she felt the warning signs of an angry flush warming her cheeks. Maybe his super-power wasn’t finding pizza places- maybe it was being annoying. Or both. Could it be both? The redhead snatched a slice of 5-Cheese from the box in his hands and tore off a bite with mock-ferocity. Devin’s grin only broadened as he slid up next to her, his free arm slipping easily, casually around her shoulders; with or without a boyfriend in the picture, the fast-talking teleporter was a menace to female-kind. “Ooooh.” He feigned a shiver and leaned closer, balancing the pizza in his other hand. “You know, that’s not usually my thing, but keep talkin’. Let’s see where this goes.” Fuck’s sake, Autumn. This is already a bad idea. And, obviously it was, which was part of the reason she felt compelled to do it in the first place. Shrugging the arm off as she glanced heavenward, the spirited teen finished her mouthful of cheesy, melty deliciousness and turned to face him directly. “I want you to help me with something. Have you got a minute?” There was visible tension between her eyebrows now, the residual playfulness following her ill-advised teasing of their resident phytophile fading fast. “Hey, look.” Devin slowly shook his head, spreading his hands in the iconic gesture that begged understanding. “If this is about you and Jason, I just wanna say that I totally get where you’re coming from, and I’d love to help, but my heart’s in kind of a vulnerable place right now.” He paused, biting his lip and affecting a pained expression as he gazed at her with soulful, liquid brown eyes. “I just don’t think I’m ready to be hurt again.” Just eat your pizza. Eat. Your fucking. Pizza. She did. Swallowing her pride along with her food, Autumn took two more bites as intangible flames crept up the sides of her face, painting her skin in scarlet. It was fine. Totally fine. “Devin. I’m being serious,” she finally managed. “Like, Dark-fighting serious.” He blinked at her then, owlishly, and shrugged. “You know, you could’ve just opened with that.” As she stared at him, uncomprehending, that sly, smarmy grin reappeared on the former bully’s lips, and she tossed her half-eaten crust at him in indignation. “Oh my fucking god, Devin, so help me-“ “Chill, chill,” he laughed, holding up his hands to ward off further pizza-related violence. “I’m just messin’ with you. Relax, girl. Damn. You make this way too easy, you know that?” “Uggggghhh.” The versatile subvocalization, one the red-haired vitakinetic frequently employed, was in this case a low, elongated groan of frustration at the back of her throat. Sure, there were other people who could help her, but that wasn’t the point here. “Fine. I want help learning how to do what you and Jase did.” It was Devin’s turn to frown, then, forgetting for the moment how satisfying it had always been to get a rise out of her. “I don’t know if I can teach you how to do what I do,” he hedged, “and you know if you want to hear about fire and ice and all that you should talk to Jaybee.” “No, not that!” She shook her head, bending to collect the empty pizza boxes as the wave of crimson surging beneath her skin began to gradually abate. The mindless gathering gave her something to do and, potentially, something to throw, so helping out seemed like a win-win situation. “I mean more like the actual fight. You seemed like you knew what you were doing.” “Ohhh, you mean the sparring? ‘Cause I’m not gonna lie, were were just kinda making all that up as we went.” She glanced back over her shoulder as she worked, lips pursed in obvious skepticism, but Devin just shrugged and grinned. “Hmm.” Picking up another demolished scrap of cardboard, Autumn tossed it into the growing pile. It definitely hadn’t seemed improvised at the time; at some points, she’d wondered if they were fighting for real, or for practice. For those two, it could’ve been both, maybe. “Okay, well, I mean, watching you guys… I just thought it was sorta cool. You both seem so comfortable with your powers, like they’re just a regular part of your lives, y’know? I thought you might be able to help me figure out what to do if- when something happens. Or like, when we go deal with Cody.” Guiding the last box onto the pile with the side of her foot, she peered across the jumble of grease and corrugation, watching Jason and Lilly for a moment before turning back to the pizza-bearer. “I don’t want to be in the way,” she admitted. “And I don’t want anybody else to get hurt because of me, so I need to be able to do more than just… I don’t know. Kick a football player in the knee and yell.” “So why are you asking me, instead of him?” Devin jerked his head in the direction she’d been looking, setting the one remaining box aside and bracing his hands on his hips. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really mind either way, but you aren’t exactly a founding member of my fan club.” He paused, then added, not-quite smirking, “And I’d know if you were, ‘cause Tee would’ve told me. She’s the president.” “Mmm.” She pulled the hair-tie from her wrist, gazing off into the distance as nimble fingers wove the chaotic tangle of red-gold curls into a thick braid and secured it in place. Things did have to change. “A bunch of different reasons, I guess. I don’t like the idea of depending one person for everything, and he has things he wants to do, too. Can’t be all over him all the time.” She grinned a little at that, a new wash of pale pink warming her cheeks as she shrugged one shoulder. “Plus, he makes it, um, hard to concentrate. Also plus, if I’m gonna be hanging out with your sister, you and I should probably get used to each other.“
  3. “Hmm.” Autumn’s eyebrows knit together as she turned the thought over in her head, absently reaching up with one hand to rest her bronze-flecked fingers on Jason’s. She’d really only thought of how her powers applied to ‘life’ in the context of animals and people; humans could obviously be kind of a grey area because they had things like higher logic and the free will to make decisions, but the idea of intentionally hurting a creature who couldn’t even understand why it was in pain made her stomach churn. The concept was antithetical to everything she’d ever been taught about hunting, and about being a good steward of the land and its resources. Or even, she believed, about just being a good person in general. Not everyone agreed, of course. She remembered the two very different, very traumatized cats they’d removed from Crossroads, and the girl’s thoughtful frown deepened. Plants, though? Unless by some weird twist of fate the old memes about screaming trees turned out to be true, she couldn’t think of a single argument against it. There were plenty of subjects in an impossible variety of configurations, each with unique characteristics but all following the same general pattern. They didn’t have any kind of nervous system to experience pain- or at least not beyond a really broad interpretation of the word. They were also readily available: all she had to do was walk outside. Okay, yeah. That actually does make sense. And if it turns out I really can affect them with my powers, what else could I do? “I hadn’t thought about using plants for practice. Huh. I guess it seems kind of obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it? At least for the parts that could actually hurt someone.” The contemplative furrow in her brow smoothed and she grinned broadly up at the oft-distant young man, stroking the back of his hand with her fingertips. “Thanks for that. I should probably revise my definition of living organisms in this context, then, all things considered. Expand it, even. If I can affect plants, who knows? Maybe bacteria, or microbes. Viruses. Oh!” Brightening suddenly, the energetic redhead beamed up at him , bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet. “Oh, we should try that! At school, or something, in one of the labs. Not with a virus, or at least not until we know what we’re doing, ‘cause that could be a real fucking bad day for everybody, but other things! Just to see what happens. Like, holy shit,” she breathed, an undercurrent of mingled awe and laughter in her voice as an entire realm of possibilities opened up. “What if I could reprogram bacteria, or change what diseases plants are resistant to, or make a virus that eats cancer cells? And there’s no ethical issue with seeing if any of it works, is there? Fuck, you are a genius,” Autumn exclaimed, leaning up on her tiptoes and pressing her lips to Jason’s in a brief, but earnest kiss that sent a ripple of warmth humming through her veins. “You, Professor Bannon, are the literal best. Thank you. And thank you for suggesting the plant idea.” Taking a few steps backward, she tucked her hair behind her ears and smiled up at him, the light of fey mischief shining in her sun-bright eyes. “Speaking of… I’m gonna head back to the barn. Y’know. Maybe get some practice in. Catch up with you later?” With a wink the copper-crowned teen turned, and, laughing, fled for her life.
  4. Of all the members of the Fellowship, Jase was the one person she was least worried about telling. Not because they were dating, but because he was a friend. She was also sure- okay, mostly sure- that it wouldn’t change his opinion of her much, and completely sure that he wouldn’t freak out, because freaking out wasn’t a thing Jason Bannon did. That was more a reaction he inspired in other people. Cassie would probably be horrified, and Marissa would call her a serial killer in the making or something, and neither of those responses were particularly helpful. Honest, yeah, but not helpful. Right. Start with what you want, first. Then explain. “Okay,” she began, inhaling as she planted her feet solidly in the soft, grassy earth. “So, I need help figuring out how to train. The first time I ever used my powers to heal someone was you, in that conference room. And the first time I ever used them to make someone… better, I guess? Improve them? Was Devin, when we went to the prison afterward, because helping you kind of pushed me to keep trying other things. But neither of those was the actual first time. That happened earlier, when those two guys went after you in the hall.” She paused, lower lip once more between her teeth as she worked to formulate her thoughts, to arrange sensory impressions and adrenaline-clouded memories of that day into a coherent narrative. “It’s not that I was trying to do it. I didn’t even know I could. When- what’s-his-name, Mark or whatever- when I pushed him to get him off you, and he grabbed my arm, he was going to break it. I could actually feel it happening, y’know? I was scared, and it fucking hurt, and it just sort of-“ Her voice, which had risen slightly, broke off as she took another deep breath. “So, I hurt him back. Not like an injury, just… pain, until reflexes kicked in and he jerked away.” “Curtis, too, the one who ended up in the hospital. At the time he probably felt like he’d never walk again, because that’s honestly what I wanted him to feel. He hurt my friend, he hurt me, and I wanted him to know what that was like. I wanted to make him stop. So when I ended up kicking him and dislocating his knee, I made it a lot more painful than it should’ve been, hoping he’d just stay the hell down.” God, I sound like a fucking nutcase. Jesus. Autumn frowned and reached up to drag a hand back through the remains of what was once a ponytail of some kind, sighing. And it only gets better from here, the sarcastic retort surfaced, unbidden. “It’s not just that, though,” she admitted softly, the ocean-hued eyes that gazed up at him murky with uncertainty. “I could feel how to make it worse. How to splinter and tear and sever everything so that it would always just be a- a mess of meat and bone fragments, and it would’ve been easy. All I had to do was touch him. And that was just his knee.” For a moment, the restless young woman left it at that. She held one hand out, peering at the neat, short nails, the freckles and tiny scars, and the faint greenish-blue network of dorsal veins and arteries as if she might be able to see the energy moving there just beneath the skin. And then she caught sight of Jason between her widespread fingers and smiled a little, shoulders twitching up in a shrug as she met his eyes. “I still don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest, and I’ve thought about it a lot. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I have pretty much zero guilt where those two are concerned, because they would’ve done a lot worse. But I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t freak me out a little. Like, I know that there’s no such thing as life without pain, or death, and it would be stupid to think otherwise. And I know it’s not the only thing I can do. But even if it’s not the only thing, it’s still a thing, and I don't know what to do with it. Especially with everything that’s happened, and Cody, and the Dark. That’s why I haven’t told anybody yet. And, yeah,” she acknowledged with a tilt of her head, “maybe that’s unfair, but there’s a difference in having powers that could be used to hurt people and having powers that are meant to, and I can pretty much guess how they’re going to react.” “Fuck," she swore suddenly, pressing the heels of her hands to her forehead with a laugh. "Why do I always end up talking so much when I tell you stuff?”
  5. Grinning as she childishly stuck her tongue out at the pretty blonde, Autumn turned and reached up to push Jase's hair back from his forehead, running her fingers admiringly through the wet strands. She could feel the water seeping through her t-shirt and the denim on her thighs as she lingered there, but, really: So what? She still hadn’t completely dried off from the water fight with Cassie earlier, anyway. In lieu of a kiss, the lively young woman smiled back up into those luminous green eyes and mouthed a single word: Amazing, before sinking back down onto her heels. And it was. And he was, or so every atom of her being seemed to sing when he was nearby, like… ‘like billions of tiny stars in the dark.’ It wasn’t until she took a half-step back, reluctantly complying with Cass’s simultaneously totally reasonable and also completely stupid and unfair prohibition, that she really, truly realized that more than just Jase’s shirt was drenched. And water could be heavy. And… something, something science. Probably. “Um,” she managed eloquently, as every bit of the sun’s thermal output suddenly seemed focused on her face, heating her skin until she wondered if her fiery hair might literally ignite this time. It wasn’t just that he’d gotten wet during his unplanned trip to the pool- it was the way the water droplets clung to his lips, the way the sheen of it glistened on his skin and adhered the translucent white cotton of his shirt to the lean form beneath, the way tiny rivulets of it trailed down his exposed hipbones as the waistband of his sweatpants dipped perilously, thrillingly, distractingly low. It probably wouldn’t take much at all to- Focus, Autumn. Oh. Oh, I am. I really, really- Not on THAT! She blinked, inhaling suddenly as her lungs protested the lack of oxygen. Suddenly, Marissa’s insistence that he was going to kill her one day made sense, because Autumn was pretty sure he’d already done it half a dozen times in the last week alone. “So that’s, um,” she tried again, waving a hand in the general direction of Jason’s stomach as she struggled to look anywhere else but at him. “Really distracting. And we’re supposed to be focusing on Fellowship stuff. And I will definitely not be able to concentrate if you’re walking around like that for the rest of the afternoon. And neither will anyone else with a pulse. And… I swear there was something I needed to talk to you about, training-related, but I don’t think I can have a conversation with you right now. Like that.” Blushing furiously, the animated redhead tucked her hands into her pockets and wished that Devin would likewise drop her into a pool of cold water somewhere.
  6. Autumn had tensed a little when Lilly nonchalantly strolled up to the group- as if the Amazonian football player hadn't totally ghosted them for a week while everything went to Hell. As if she hadn't 'abandoned her friends' with some lame excuse like not having a phone, and hadn't just conveniently forgotten to tell people she was leaving for several days while the Dark was actively trying to kill people. To kill them. So when Cassie ran up and hugged the latecomer, the clear, candid blue eyes that watched the cheery reunion weren't exactly alight with the same enthusiasm. Instead, she returned Lilly's general verbal greeting with its casual kinetic equivalent- a brief upward jerk of her chin- and went back to finishing off her last (no, seriously this time) slice of pizza. In fact, she decided, stuffing the last bit of garlic-buttered crust into her mouth with a satisfied hum and licking the remnants from her fingers, finding good pizza places might be Devin's actual super-power. She was just about to tell him so when the elder Jauntsen got up and announced that he was going to loosen up for a- "Match?" she asked, glancing quizzically at the laconic youth lounging next to her on the warm grass. He nodded, watching for a moment as Devin and the two beautiful social mavens left the little circle, and then returning his gaze to the girl whose arm was still draped companionably around him. "Devin and I agreed that it would be wise to test some potential applications of our powers," Jason explained as comprehension dawned on her freckled features. "A friendly spar." "Yeah, that makes sense." Autumn nodded, pursing her lips as she peered off in the direction Devin and the others had gone, squinting against the light. "Well," she continued, turning back to him with a grin as she shifted a little onto one hip and fished a small cloth-wrapped bundle from her pocket. "If you're going into battle against the Evil Queen's knight, should I give you my favor to wear?" His answer was a slight smile and a nod, pale green eyes lambent in the golden glow of the afternoon, as he offered up his forearm; her whole face brightened at that, all sun-reddened cheeks and the suggestion of dimples at the corners of her mouth as she laughed. Unwrapping the lustrous coppery bracelet within, the redhead took Jason's outstretched hand in hers, slipping the etched band around his wrist with a reverence that was only partially in jest. "I'd give you a kiss for luck, too, but I don't think you need it," she teased softly, squeezing his fingers briefly before releasing them. "How about a kiss for reasons other than luck?" he asked quietly, his gaze warm with firefly glints. Autumn felt the blush rise with her smile. "So long as 'because I want to' is a valid reason..?" she said, leaning in and pressing her lips to his, feeling him respond as his hand gently caressed her cheek. "The best reason." he said softly as the kiss broke. Autumn felt like she'd never stop smiling, and shoved at his shoulder playfully. "Go kick his ass." she mostly-joked. Mostly.
  7. As the initial round of exercises drew to a close, Autumn glanced down at the head of the sleeping princess still resting against shoulder. It would almost have been endearing, except for the fact that she was thirsty and it felt like if she didn’t get up and do something she was going to start putting down roots. “C’mon. No falling asleep,” she admonished, shrugging the exhausted brunette off and ignoring the sullen glower directed her way. Despite her grumbled protestations, Marissa managed to sit up with the help of a steadying hand, scowling like a petulant child as the redhead brushed the grass from her dark hair. It was a surprisingly familiar gesture, one that carried a faint sensation of warmth as the Girl Scout’s freckled fingers smoothed the disheveled sable tresses. “Finish that water up, and if you feel all right after that, we can go over what happened. With the attunement, I mean” she added after a moment’s pause, considering everything that had been said, and how angry she’d felt, and how nice it was to just be for a minute. No point revisiting that just yet. “The rest… That can wait. I’m gonna go grab something else to drink. Don’t try to get up too fast, okay?” Stretching as she stood, Autumn sighed and briskly dusted bits of grass and dirt from her jeans and hoodie before tightening the knotted arms around her waist. She’d have to go back to the barn for another bottle, since she was pretty sure sharing anything wasn’t part of Marissa’s “Girl Code”… at least, if her reaction to Tawny borrowing a shirt was any indication. On the other hand… Autumn found herself turning, blue eyes unconsciously following the long, easy strides that carried Jason into the center of the rough clearing. …there was a long, cool drink of water not too far away, and it was hot out in the field. Yep. The thirst is definitely real. It must have been the sun. Obviously. In fact, she was feeling a little feverish just thinking about it, she realized, taking a step forward as she licked suddenly dry lips. And… It was probably okay to actually think about it a little more seriously now, right? They were dating, regardless of the reason, and regardless of whether Cassie or Marissa or anyone else liked it. Mari had also been adamant about her lack of interest in him, so there was no good reason not to take her at her word. Probably. Which also meant that she didn’t really have to think about it anymore; if, as the diva herself had said, Jase was now her “problem,” that made however other people felt about it their problem. Right? Autumn could feel the unbidden smile on her lips as she crossed the open ground toward the others, and the slow suffusion of crimson in her sun-warmed cheeks, just as she always did where he was concerned, but there was something else, too. Something new. She’d told him, and she’d told her mom, and she’d told Cass and now Mari as well, but she hadn’t really made it clear to anyone else, had she? She liked Jason Bannon, whether he was a high-functioning psychopath, or secretly a dragon, or an interdimensional alien, or… whatever. As crazy as it was, as completely foreign as he seemed at times, and as likely as it seemed that at some point this whole mad experiment- or whatever it was- would blow up in her face, this was A Thing. They were A Thing. And instead of just making some awkward announcement, or trying to convince people he wasn’t some kind of leashed wolf just waiting for the chance to bite, well… Actions spoke louder than words. “Hey,” she interjected a greeting as she approached, her Thalassic gaze lingering curiously on the seemingly-new plow and the gamine young woman who’d just turned away, red-faced, a moment before. Had Jason said something that embarrassed her? Admittedly, he did have that effect on people, herself included; there didn’t seem to be much room for middle ground. “Nice ink,” the taller redhead added with an appreciative smile, noting for the first time the swirling tattoo covering Kat’s bare limbs. What she could see was a sort of neo-Celtic design, and clearly part of a much larger work- which was, in itself, an impressive feat for a teenager. Someone paid a lot for that. And then, with a slight tilt of her head as she turned to peer up into those fathomless green pools, Autumn smiled again, all mischief and promise. “I’m thirsty,” she stated matter-of-factly. “Mind if I have some of that?” The tall, imperturbable youth nodded, the pale jade of his eyes warming slightly as he called the water bottle back to hand, and the impish smile became a grin. With a slow shake of her head, Autumn leaned up on tiptoe as her fingers slid along the line of Jason’s jaw, threading through the dark hair at the nape of his neck. “Not that,” she murmured, savoring the sight of the long, slow blink he gave as his brain shifted focus, quickly catching on to her intent. “This.” Her lips brushed against his, gently at first and then more deeply as she felt his hands slip around her waist- and, simultaneously, over her cheeks and through the tousled mass of copper curls that defied the best efforts of the little elastic hair band to contain them. She could just make out a soft feminine gasp- Courtney, maybe? she wondered- but then Jase was kissing her back, was pulling her closer, and everything else seemed mundane and unimportant by comparison. It wasn’t a particularly prolonged kiss; in reality, it lasted only a few moments. It was, however, visibly intense, each focused on the other to the exclusion of all else: the faint scents of smoke and green, growing things that she associated with him; the way her skin warmed under his fingertips; the sound of blood pounding in both their ears like some ancient drum. “Not that I’m complaining, but what was that for?” he asked quietly, eyes intent on hers as they parted, both a little breathless. There were tiny golden fireflies in his gaze, banked embers that smouldered lazily in their depths, and Autumn smiled in response, pressing her forehead to his. She hmm’ed softly, thoughtfully, meeting Jason’s eyes as her fingers slipped from his hair to rest on his shoulders. “I’d say I had probably at least three reasons.” That earned her another blink, and a slow, faintly crooked smile. “Have I mentioned yet today that you’re amazing?” His voice was low, lips tantalizingly close, and it was only by sheer force of will that she managed to engage her boring, normal, thoroughly human brain enough to draw back from the precipice of scorching emerald madness his eyes promised as they remained fixed on hers. “I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be my line,” the blushing girl teased, settling back onto her heels as the quiet thrill of what she’d just done danced, exultant, through her mind. “And now that I’m not quite as thirsty anymore, I need a drink.”
  8. (Written in collaboration with Marissa's Player.) Her cheeks flush with a warmth not entirely related to the weather, Autumn fished around in the pocket of her jeans for one of the (probably) hundreds of elastic hair ties she owned. Between Jason being Jason, and Marissa being, well, Marissa, she was only too happy to trade the tense, stifling atmosphere of the loft for fresh air and sunshine. Out here, at least, she could breathe. Out here, it was just the grass, the sky, the breeze, the occasional bickering of chickens somewhere nearby, and… the occasional bickering of teenagers. Eh. Kind of the same thing, really. With the deft, half-conscious movements of one long accustomed to dealing with the unruly mane she’d inherited, the redhead twisted her hair up and off the back of her neck, considering her options. Kat, Cade, and Marissa had little to no experience with any of this, and without Sean or Charlie present, it made sense to pair up with one of them herself. Cade was the safe choice, of course, and barring his popularity with the jocks and seemingly even temperament, she didn’t really know all that much about him. Kat was the interesting choice, partially because she still had that fresh New Student smell and partially because she seemed honest- if a little on the timid side. Shelly High’s Queen B, though… Marissa was the difficult choice, for a whole host of reasons. Autumn wrinkled her nose a little in annoyance, idly plucking at the front of her t-shirt as the effortlessly gorgeous brunette sashayed out in her high-end, painted on workout gear in glorious bombshell red. It was definitely attention-grabbing, she had to admit, but also sort of like waving a crimson flag in front of a bull who kind of wants to smack you in the face a little bit. “Hey, Marissa,” her official ‘bestie’ called out as she approached, snapping the elastic band in place to keep her hair from just doing whatever it wanted. Whatever had changed between the texts last night and now, they could talk about it after. Right? Right. They were friends. It was fine. “Wanna pair up?” Marissa's head spun about, enlightening Autumn to the fact that dramatic hair whips were, in fact, still a thing. "Um, sure." She said, skeptically. "I don't really know why. I don't have magical mind bendy powers, so yeah. But! We need to talk anyway, so, yes. I think 'pairing up' is a great idea." She looped her arm in with Autumn's and led her away from the other groups. They were well within shouting distance, but not so close that their 'conversation' could be heard. "Okay, so, where do you want to start? The part where you stole my crush out from under me, the reasons you need to break up with him, or," she waved her hand dismissively at the part that obviously didn't interest her. "Or, whatever this whole magic nerd crap it is you guys do out here at the Bannon Compound?" Wait, what? "Wait, what?" No sooner had Marissa's words registered than Autumn stopped short, pulling back on the arm looped through her own so that the dark-haired beauty leading her away from the others was likewise obliged to pause. Uncomprehending, she frowned and shook her head, blue eyes narrowing in confusion. That… It didn’t make sense. Marissa not being interested in Jason was one of the reasons they’d decided to try dating in the first place, so… “How did I-“ she began, then shook her head again. “You’re going out with Cade,” she finally managed, as if that simple fact was a refutation of all the prettier Jauntsen had said. "Um, maybe, but I was still crushing on Jase, a bit," she shrugged, then waved her hands as if shooing away a fog in her mind. "Look, I'm not mad at you about the whole Jase thing. It's not your fault and you are new to this whole little group dynamic, but everyone knew there was like a 'thing' between him and me. You should have checked first, total Girl Code faux pas, but I forgive." No one knew anything about anyone liking anyone. Well, maybe Devin and Lona, but that was rather obvious. When it came to Marissa, the Fellowship knew less about who she was crushing on than they actually cared about who she was crushing on. "It was just, totally not cool, you know? You don't just walk in and take other people's ice cream, Autumn." She smiled pure forgiveness that resembled something akin to a thousand pounds of sarcastic bitchiness being dropped from a very high place, the limits of her ego, perhaps. "But now? You totally should break up with him." Autumn's head tilted slightly, blinking as if she had just stumbled upon some newly-discovered species and was busy trying to work out exactly what this particular social display was meant to communicate, and also whether she should've kept that bear mace at hand. “I don’t really think everyone knew, Marissa,” she replied dubiously, only to have the Queen of Mean cut her off. “Look, I get that he’s sort of charismatic, in his own special way, and that you aren’t used to having anyone show interest in…” A perfectly manicured hand gestured vaguely up and down, indicating Autumn herself as Marissa continued with a withering note of disdain, “…whatever it is you have going on there, but trust me, this is not going to work out.” A sudden, angry rush of bright pink flooded the redhead’s cheeks as her whole body went rigid beneath the scathing glare of Marissa’s dark eyes; the intent of that particular remark had gotten through perfectly clearly, it seemed. “What, because I’m not as pretty as you are, I’m not date-worthy or something? What the actual fuck, Marissa?” Autumn fought to keep her voice low even as she stared at her alleged friend in utter disbelief. “And what the hell are you talking about with ‘ice cream’? Nobody’s taken anything that belongs to you.” "Well, no, not now, anyway," Marissa admitted. "I've already let it go. Look, I was grooming Jason to be less of a Crystal Lake murder hobo, and more of something that resembled a human being, namely, my human being. I'll skip the ice cream analogy for now, you have enough coming at you without worrying about food." She gave her another judgmental once over, like Autumn didn't need to be worrying about ice cream. "Long and short of it, Autumn, Jason is dangerous," all the cattiness bled away and she looked at her bestie with a concerned, hardened glare. "We were at my house and he... well he made me feel very uncomfortable. You didn't see what he did to Liam. I know I'm mean, but I would never harm another human being like he did with Liam. It was barbaric and psychotic and frankly I'm concerned for you. He held weapons to people's throats, threatened to kill Dr. Cook, in a room of witnesses, and Liam's bones were practically dust." She held up her hands like she had something on them, looking at them then her. "I mean, he didn't enter the house, Autumn. He stood outside the kids' window and just threw him around until his body shattered. That's not anger, that's not impulsive behavior. He tortured another human being and then went on with his day like it never happened. I would almost say he was proud! And that's your boyfriend, Autumn. The guy who, a week ago, told me he loved me, but is now dating you. Red flags? Anywhere?" Autumn really did have a lot coming at her, that much was true, and most of it from the topsy-turvy world of Marissa What-The-Hell-Was-Her-Middle-Name-Anyway Jauntsen. Between the insults and the complaints about stealing her crush and the casual dehumanization of people and the list of Jason’s sins and the expression of concern for her well-being, it was almost impossible to keep up, to pin down exactly what the whole point of the conversation even was at that point. “Marissa, I… I swear, I literally can’t even with you. Jason’s not your property, and if you wanted him then you should’ve just-“ No. Inhaling sharply, she shook her head and tried again. “He and I already talked about it, about a lot of things, that he told you he loved you, that he kissed you and shouldn’t have, and you got angry, and-“ Autumn closed her eyes, squeezing them shut as she counted silently and willed herself to just get through this and get on with the day. “Jase admitted, when we went camping, that he fucked that up with you. That he pushed too far, and you told him he needed relationship practice, or whatever, because he’d never had a girlfriend before. So that’s me. I’m the trial run,” she added tersely, her face reddening further with the admission until the freckles patterning her skin disappeared. “Because you weren’t happy with him as he is. I guess you needed to ‘groom him,’ huh? And you know what?” The redhead took a step forward, eyes stinging with angry, unshed tears as she advanced, erasing the space between them. “That is so fundamentally fucked, Marissa, and it’s even worse that he’s still going along with it anyway and you don’t even-“ With an audible groan of frustration, Autumn pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. “Forget it. Jesus, fuck. Look.” She dropped her hands to her sides, scowling, then just as quickly raised them again, resting them atop her head. “I’m not gonna lie. I was terrified of Jason a week ago, so, if you’re scared, okay. Fine. I get it. I’ve been afraid of him since we were fucking ten, Marissa, and I’m trying not to be. I’m trying to understand. And if you’re actually worried about me, and not just saying that to get me to break up with him, great. I appreciate the concern, and I promise, if he murders the shit out of me one day and then eats my still-beating heart, my last thought will be that you were right and I should’ve listened. Scout’s fucking honor, if that happens I will dedicate my last breath to you. But I’m choosing to trust him. I’m choosing to believe that people fuck up, but they can learn from that. He’s my friend. You are my friend," she insisted. Marissa's eyes widened at the barrage. She took a stance that was ready for anything, but still casual enough to be impressed. With folded arms she chewed at the inside of her lip while Autumn let her have it. "Wow," she smirked. "You really want him, don't you? Fine. Your problem, your funeral. If after hearing all of that, he is the sort of person you want to hold hands with, he's all yours sister." She swiped her palms together like she was washing them clean. "And what's 'fundamentally fucked up' is grinding a human being’s bones into powder while standing outside their window like a fucking coward. But hey, I have standards and told a guy I wasn't interested in dating him, right around the same time he forced himself on me. I guess I'm the bad guy no matter what, huh? And no need to worry, you're not the trial run anymore." There was way more attitude in her voice than she intended but neither her nor Autumn were calm, rational, debating types. "There will never be a me and Jason. Ever. I'm washing my hands of him. So you two can just have at it all you like, I'm done. He might be wonderful to you. To me, he's the guy who told me he loved me and is now fucking my best friend. That's not love, Autumn. He doesn't know what love is, but, injured animals are your department, I'm more into fashion and he's so last week." She swept her arms out wide. "So, you won the guy. Congratulations. Now, how do we do this nerd stuff?" “Yeah. You clearly have standards, Marissa, when all you want in a guy is ‘fashion.’ Congratu-fucking-lations on your new accessory,” she shot back acidly, one hand swinging expansively in Cade’s direction. “He’ll go with everything.” In the few seconds that followed Autumn’s outburst, the serpent-in-a-sports-bra watched the high, vivid color drain from her BFF’s cheeks as the mortifying awareness of what she’d said sunk in. Oh, god. What the fuck, Autumn? Where the hell did that come from? What would have been a scream of frustration- were it not imprisoned behind clenched teeth- escaped the thin, taut line of the redhead’s lips as she pivoted on one heel and took two steps away to just… breathe, for a second, staring out across the field. The fact that Marissa was acting like a kid who’d just lost a toy she’d never played with and didn’t care about until she didn’t have it anymore was infuriating. The admission that she thought Jason was a coward was bizarre, and that she could own a person was horrifying. The casual assumption they’d had sex already was almost insulting, except that they actually probably would’ve if either of them had thought in advance that might be on the table. But all those opinions and assertions aside, that was still just kind of Marissa being a bitch- it had nothing to do with her boyfriend. I can’t believe I said that. Oh my god. It wasn’t even Cade’s fault at all. There was no reason to drag him into it, no reason to say anything mean about someone who, she was pretty sure, had never intentionally done anything offensive or controversial in his life. Well, except for dating Marissa Jauntsen- which wasn’t so much offensive, maybe, as it was masochistic. And yet, she and Marissa were supposed to be ‘besties,’ and that seemed to be working out just fine, so was she really in any position to judge? “Okay,” Autumn sighed, rubbing her palms across her eyes. “Okay. Look. I’m sorry. That was… totally uncalled-for. Cade seems like a nice guy. …Which, admittedly, makes him dating you pretty crazy, but whatever. None of this makes sense. So, fine. I’m not gonna waste my breath trying to change your mind about Jason and-“ She lifted a hand, her pale fingers tracing a broad, seemingly all-inclusive circle in the air. “Sit. We’ll try to figure this other stuff out, at least.” Folding her legs, the redhead sank down as she took a seat on the grass and fidgeted with one of her shoelaces as she waited for her Marissa to follow suit. Autumn rolled her eyes as Marissa unrolled her yoga mat to sit on. She didn't expect Shelly's glam Queen to sit on the ground where there was dirt and bugs, right? Ew. "Okay," she looked at her 'bestie' and spoke like she was annoyed. "Sitting. And, for the record, Cade knows he's an accessory," she added. "I was honest with him. I asked him to pretend to date me so Jason would back off and be less inclined to come back around me for a while, but if he did, Cade could shoo him away. It's easy, I know," the dark-eyed beauty looked at her best friend and it seemed like she was melting a hole in through her head. "To just think I'm a shallow, vapid, empty soul of a human being considering how opposite we think, but I'm still a person. I was honest with him about being afraid. I was honest with him about what made me afraid and he was still willing to go along with it to see that I felt more safe and secure from a guy who likes to loom outside people's houses and fold them into lawn chairs. Cade has turned out to be a great guy." "Maybe that's your type, I don't know. What I know is that you've yet to ask me my side of things or show any concern whatsoever as to why I was afraid, or how my fear of him has impacted me, at all. It's obvious who is actually important to you around here, because it certainly isn't your bestie. Jason is a genius, he knows I'm not going to be quiet about it and he manipulates his every behavior to be the stark opposite of everything I'm telling you. That's what he does. He's spent his whole life faking it, emulating emotions and expressions in order to fit in better. Reading people and exploiting their opinions of him with false emotions and fake faces. I would think you, of all people, would appreciate your best friend telling you that game notices game, but you don't. If you want to defend him so bad and he is so perfect, then I've done what I can. I can't force you to break up with him, well, I mean, I could, but," her eye's shimmered like someone behind them tossed up a handful of purple glitter. "That's not my way." “Do I have a best friend, Marissa?” Autumn asked with quiet intensity, blue eyes thoughtful as she considered the other girl’s invective. Everything, invariably, circled back around to Marissa Jauntsen. Her feelings. Her opinions. What she wanted. Was that a friendship, or was she just so eager to actually have a friend she was willing to take whatever she could get? The thought stung. How pathetic was that? “I never said you weren’t a person, even though you barely treat me like one. I never said you lied to Cade, but I do think he’s too nice for you. I never said you weren’t afraid, or didn’t have the right to be, and I even admitted that I was, too, and I didn’t ask why because-“ Pausing, the redhead shrugged a little, her nose crinkling unhappily. “Honestly, I just can’t make myself put everything aside to focus on your feelings when you don’t seem worried at all about mine. I don’t have to ask your side of things because you literally just told me.” She sighed, tugging at a blade of grass and twisting it in her fingers. “…Not to mention that you’re insulting me to my face and painting the guy I like as some kind of mass-murderer, so, yeah. Not super-thrilled to hear all about the World According to Marissa right now” she muttered. “As far as what’s important to me? What’s actually important to me is the people that I care about, who also care about me. Who show me that they care about me, so I can do the same for them.” The expressive young woman, who’d probably exhausted nearly every conceivable emotion on the checklist for today, braced her elbow on her thigh and lowered her forehead into her hand. Surely, Mari wanted the same things she did, but why did it seem so much more complicated with her? Why was it so freaking difficult to like someone who should have been impossible not to like? “I don’t know how to be your friend, Marissa,” she admitted despairingly. “I’m obviously not good at it, so… maybe we should just focus on the training for now.” "Hold up," Marissa raised a finger to pause the proceedings. "Autumn, real talk, this is not about me. I'm telling you these things because I'm worried about you. Read between the lines. Look, if I'm wrong, then great, I'm wrong, but if I'm not... if there is even the slightest bit of a chance that you could be in danger because of that psychopath, then you will not go forward only to find out that I knew something and didn't tell you." "I'm not good at this either, okay," her tone slowed and she sighed as admitting her failings wasn't something she was used to. "I'm used to people worshipping me, fawning over me and catering to my every whim because they love the notion of possibly being seen with me or making it into my little inner circle. Actual interpersonal peopling with no manipulation or personal gain for myself isn't exactly on my resume under 'additional skills'. I know I'm a bit... intense-" "Pain in the ass." "Intense," she glared at her best friend. "But I'm trying to warn you of possible side effects of that bitter horse pill you're so eager to swallow." She smirked, leaving Autumn to decide if that was innuendo or not. "I'm not trying to hurt you Autumn, I'm trying to help you." Her face scrunched into an expression that warned she was chewing back bile. "Oh. Oh, god. I just quoted Gandalf, in an actual conversation... oh, I'm going to be sick." “Riiight,” the young vitakinetic replied slowly as Marissa recovered her composure, brows knitting together as she rested her chin on her hand. “’Kay. We’ll just… revisit the Gandalf thing later. For now, if you say you’re trying to help, you’re trying to help.” Friend rules. Even if Marissa didn’t exactly fit Autumn’s ideal concept of friendship, the wicked queen in training had sort of conceded, and she ought to do the same. Friends were supposed to listen to each other and that much, at least, she should be able to manage. Just… later, maybe. With a sigh, she lifted her head, running a hand back through her already-disheveled hair. “Okay. So.” Autumn shifted her weight a little, straightening as she scooted closer to every high school boy’s dream. “It’s probably going to be harder now, to be honest. You’re supposed to be relaxed and focused. Kind of a Zen thing. So, you’re gonna have to trust me on this. Give me your hands.” The redhead extended her own, palms up, and flexed her fingers. "Oh, I can totally relax. You should come by and do yoga with me sometime," and just like that the young sociopath was back to being herself. She tried, and spoke her piece on the matter. If Autumn went on ahead and got herself eaten by Jason, well, that was just Autumn's fault at this point. Better Autumn than Marissa, after all, the Queen of Shelly did have a Homecoming to plan after all. Being dead would certainly get in the way of that and it's not like Autumn was really doing anything with her life anyway. "See?" With a smile and whip of her hair to put it over her shoulder, Marissa beamed an all-is-forgiven smile and presented Autumn with her hands. No sooner did the freckled redhead accept them did she find Marissa spinning her hands over to look at her nails. "No. No, that won't do. He might be a psycho, but I can't allow my bestie to have a boyfriend while she has bad nails. What did you even do here?" She presented one of Autumn's own hands up for viewing. "Do you just claw on random things like a cat? What even is this? Okay, we're getting you an emery board, like, pronto." “Yes,” Autumn replied, closing her eyes. “Exactly like a cat.” …and then immediately went pink again as the potential subject of said clawing appeared in her mind’s eye, a surge of warmth creeping up into her cheeks that she prayed would be attributed to the sun, her heated exchange with Marissa, or a combination thereof. Glancing at her partner through half-opened lids, she tugged lightly on the perfectly manicured hands clasping hers. “Shut your eyes.” With a perfect little moue of displeasure, her self-proclaimed bestie complied, and the two girls sat there for a moment in silence. “Okay, what exactly am I supposed to be doing right now? Is there a chant? Do we light some candles? What is this?” the more cynical young woman asked somewhat tartly, already beginning the process of mentally getting on with her day. “This is sort of a different version of how I do it. I don’t know if it’ll help you, but we’ll give it a shot.” Autumn’s voice was notably softer as she squeezed Marissa’s hands gently, just a light pressure to draw her attention. “So, for just a second, just focus on our hands, where we’re touching. The temperature. The tension. The texture of the skin. …And as you concentrate on that, just sort of noticing all those little details, you’ll start to feel the blood moving through your fingers. Maybe even in mine. Just this slight, constant pulse.” Even after her experience with Cade, the concept of ‘intimacy’ was an unfamiliar one to the younger Jauntsen, and holding hands for any length of time with Shelly’s very own wilderness girl was not exactly an item on her bucket list. But… it also wasn’t awful, either, as long as she didn’t think too much about it. Unlike some of the guys she’d known, Autumn’s hands weren’t hard, or clammy, or sweaty, and they weren’t trembling at the mere prospect of touching her skin- certainly a plus. As the red-haired teen continued to speak, to quietly coach her through the process, some of the initial awkwardness of actual human contact passed, and Marissa realized she could feel it. Where her fingers rested against Autumn’s wrists, there was a subtle rhythm: the faint beat of her own heart, and an answering pulse in the freckled hands grasping hers, a tiny, almost intangible sensation amid the waves of other stimuli. It felt… “It’s kind of… warm, isn’t it?” Autumn murmured, a little smile audible in her voice. “And once you can isolate that feeling from all the noise around you, from the wind tickling your neck, from all the colors and patterns behind your eyelids, from the weight of your own body in space, you’ll notice it everywhere. Running up through your arms, your legs, your stomach, your chest, your face- everything, carrying all that warmth and energy and life to every cell, every atom, waking up every nerve like billions of tiny stars in the dark…” She shifted uncomfortably in her seat as Autumn's vitakinetic energy surged through her. Then, Marissa wasn't sure if it was her, or Autumn, but there was a sudden electric jolt that seemed to spark from the center of her chest and beam outward. Every muscle suddenly contracted as every neuron exploded to life with a sudden awakening or raw power. It seemed as if the attunement had jump started something within her and things just made a bit more sense. She could feel her (the) world open up all around her and suddenly she was akin to an ant as her heart and mind expanded with the feeling of all living things around her. She felt life, ever-so-briefly, as Autumn did and it simultaneously made her want to break down in tears at the beauty of it all and run and hide as everything she'd come to know of the world suddenly seemed false and wrong as she bore witness to simple, beautiful truth. The dark-haired beauty's shoulders spasmed as a ticklish shiver jolted down her neck and spine. She reflexively gripped Autumn's hands as the rush and fear seemed to be nothing she wanted to be rid of anytime soon. It had been a matter of tacit agreement amongst most of the teens that a person’s unique energy, their Shine, was somehow intrinsically related to their personality or character. Although Marissa’s revelatory experience overwhelmed her awareness of Autumn in that regard, the reverse was not also true. The affluent brunette was a seething, swirling core of shimmering radiance contained within an aesthetically flawless frame, a seemingly boundless font of energy that- having been tapped- rushed forth in a great torrent through the link forged by their clasped hands. What Autumn “saw” through that connection was not at all like the others: a luminescence simultaneously less brilliant and more intensely focused than theirs, and somehow different in both tone and texture. Nevertheless, it was Shine, was potential and possibility and- “Holy shit,” Autumn breathed as her awareness of all the manifold lives around her swelled and sharpened. She could feel, even at this distance, the soreness in Kat’s slender limbs, the fatigue in Devin’s muscles, the bruising and inflammation in Marissa’s- oh. Well, that did explain a few things, at least, she noted distractedly as the ever-widening circle of her consciousness stretched further, reached beyond the boundaries of the farm and the fields nearby. There was so much, a dizzying array of humans and animals, insects, plants, the numbers and varieties multiplying exponentially as her capacity to sense them expanded with the influx of energy: breeding and breathing and being born, being devoured, bursting into new growth. It was impossible to concentrate on any one thing because just as quickly as she could acknowledge it a thousand more tiny flickering sparks took its place. Within her veins, beneath the surface of her skin, heat and blood and light inscribed the pattern of life’s beginning, its flowering and ending, an endless ring of humming sanguine threads edged in gold. That was hers. The acorn and the oak and the axe all belonged to her, and she knew- for that brief and blinding moment that spanned an age in her mind- what that meant. She could feel the energy thrumming in her body, but it didn't feel right. Wherever Autumn's mind had gone to, Marissa's didn't follow. As Autumn's perceptions grew wider and wider Marissa felt her own grow dimmer and dimmer as the vibrant redhead took more and more of her. "Autumn." She said calmly. Muscles fatigued and her head grew light as she struggled to stay awake and alert. A lethargy slowly crept through her bones and muscles, imploring her to simply relax and let herself drift off... "Autumn!" She managed to yank her hands away, severing Autumn's connection to whatever power she was tapping deep within her. They both fell back, their breathing heavy. Marissa's eyes felt heavy and she felt tired and fatigued. She took several deep breaths. "Damn. Oh, shit..." she panted like she was out of breath. "The hell was that? I feel like I'm sixty and just tried to run a marathon..." She rolled about to allow herself a view of Autumn. "Hey... you okay?" “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.” Squinting up at the sky, Autumn just lay back on the grass for a long moment. It tickled, brushing the sides of her face as the breeze swirled around them and lifted the strands of fiery copper that had worked loose, but any secrets it had harbored were already swiftly fading in her mind. She had touched… something, with Marissa’s help. For just an instant things made sense in ways they never had before: where she fit, what she was supposed to do. What she could do, if she really wanted to- maybe not right now, sure, but one day. Even if she couldn’t remember it now, she’d known right? Even if it was crazy, and just for a second. And… It made sense that if she could know, and had known, she could do it again. Couldn’t she? The muscles of her abdomen tightened as the redhead leaned up, pressing her palms into the warm earth. “That,” she added, regarding Marissa with laughing eyes and a slow, awestruck grin, “was totally wicked. How’re you feeling?” "Yeah," Marissa sat up, leaning on one arm. "It was, uh, different." She wasn't much for sharing. Whatever that jolt was she felt and whatever that energy was that now loudly banged on that door deep within her, she wasn't about to tell Autumn and end up in the 'crazy as Jason' social tax bracket. Also, she wasn't sure what Autumn was so stoked about. The girl seemed like she was a five year-old who got her hands on ice cream drizzled in chocolate and sprinkled in gummy bears then dipped in pure cane sugar. She attempted to stand and her world began to spin. What was ground twisted and swirled and became sky, only to become ground again. She dropped back down to one knee. "Woah. I... I think I need to sit for a bit. Is it like this all the time, or just on the first try?" She rolled onto her back, heedless of the grass and dirt (which was a major red flag that something was off). She sprawled out and just lay there, eyes closed looking up at the sky. "I feel like I need a nap..." Leaning forward, Autumn scooped up the unopened water bottle she’d grabbed on the way out and rubbed it idly against the frayed denim at her knee. “Here.” She shifted over, offering Marissa her shoulder and carefully helping the other girl achieve a slightly more vertical position. “Try sitting up. I’m not sure what just happened, but, uh… No,” she admitted thoughtfully. “I don’t think it was ever like that.” As the scarlet-clad socialite took the bottle with a mumbled ‘thanks’ and drank quietly, the blue eyes that had regarded her with enthusiasm a moment before narrowed slightly in concern. “Definitely not for me, anyway. That was…” She paused, wondering if there were actually any words to adequately describe the sensation. “Wild. Maybe just sit here for a minute, ‘til everyone else gets finished playing.” She groaned as she sat up, nodding. She didn't bother brushing out the dead grass clinging to her hair. "Yeah. Probably not a bad idea. It's like... I don't feel bad, or sick... just, tired. Like dealing with my brother when he's one of his unusually annoying moods..." She drank the water and then relaxed, resting her head on her bestie's shoulder. "Well, was it good for you?" She fluttered her beautiful lashes at the redhead as she snuck in a grin. “Hm… I’ll give it three stars. You’re new at this, so there’s still plenty of room for improvement.” As Marissa turned, staring up at her in incredulous wonder, Autumn tried her very best to maintain a straight face. Not being made of the same stoic stuff as Jason or Cade, however, she felt her cheeks going red with suppressed laughter, and the corners of her mouth twitching. Maybe it was the mind-altering experience and that faint, lingering sensation of the physical link they’d shared, or maybe just mental exhaustion, but for just a moment she was reminded of sitting with Jase outside his house- when she’d hugged him- and the way that simple, mundane human gesture had subtly shifted the trajectory of their interactions afterward. “I have notes,” she added, affecting an air of dramatic sobriety as she looped one arm around her first new friend’s back and the two of them sat and watched the others. “We’ll talk later.”
  9. Not all of us might come back, he'd said. Jesus, fuck. That was true, wasn’t it? Cassie. Jason. Marissa. Her first friends since… Well, in a long time, anyway. Devin. Cade. Sean. Charlie. Kat. Tawny. Even, she guessed, Courtney. They were all in this, now, when barely a week ago she'd been completely oblivious. At this point, almost anything could happen, regardless of how ready they were, or thought they were. They didn’t really know what Not-Cody was capable of, so any of them, most of them- Hell, all of them might just… not come home. Something twisted in her stomach as she thought of her mom waiting, checking her phone, calling Nathan and Sheriff Allister and her dad, probably in that order. Probably, too, Dana would never know what happened. It would be like that little boy in the basement, but maybe instead of her shoe it’d be a cell phone, a set of keys. Something trivial. Distracted from the grim consideration of her own mortality by the heated exchange between Marissa and Cassandra and their ensuing dramatic exits, Autumn sighed, dragging her fingers down her face in frustration. This was why they couldn't have nice things. This right here. Ugggghhhhh. A part of her wished she'd been late to this meeting, too. “Okay, look," she began as the sound of expensive heels faded downstairs. "Just to make it clear, none of what happened in the basement was recent. It’s fucking terrible, and Cassie is probably the only one of us who knows exactly how terrible, but it didn’t happen while we were,” she glanced sharply at the stairs, where Marissa had just disappeared in pursuit of the distraught clairvoyant, “screwing around." Her gaze shifted to the rest of the group then, clear and direct and unflinching despite the high color in her cheeks. "So if any of you are feeling guilty that Cody murdered a little boy and a bunch of animals in the last week, don’t, because he didn’t. The shoe, at least, has been down there since before Cody even disappeared, because Air Force Guy’s the reason it’s fucking down there, and he got eaten by the starfish-thing, or whatever.” A quick, dismissive shake of her head suggested that the specific taxonomy of the cephalogina didn't seem pertinent, and anyway, she hadn't been there, so fuck it. “We went to the Old Town Hall last night specifically to find out what we’re physically walking into. We went to the Rez this morning to find out what we could about the history of this stupid, bullshit cycle and see if there was anything we could learn that would be useful in dealing with Cody and the Dark and all of it," she continued, warming to the subject as she paced the length of the room, her hands moving seemingly of their own accord. "And you know, yeah. Sure. Some of it’s not immediately relevant, but we wouldn’t know if we hadn’t gone, in either case, and it still might be helpful anyway later on.” “Also. Cody isn’t the Dark, just helping it. So, sure, we deal with him first, because we know there’s a clock ticking down that we can’t see. That doesn’t mean the rest of it is irrelevant or unnecessary. This Enterich, whoever he is, is the one who sent the captain down to that basement with a little boy and some kind of crazy fucked up ritual. If he’s working for the Dark, he’s part of it, and he needs to be dealt with.” Pausing, the animated redhead turned her attention to Devin, spreading her fingers expansively as she lifted her hands. “So, yeah, you’re sort of right. The Dark is our priority, and if this Enterich guy is involved, he’s the next logical link in the chain. Then we just keep going until there's no more links, or, you know.” Autumn shrugged, a little twitch of her shoulders, as her hands dropped to her sides. “Anyway. I think that’s pretty much it from me. Unless…” …somebody else wants to blow up on someone who doesn’t deserve it, and complain about things not getting done while simultaneously not doing anything… “…anybody else has stuff to add, or questions. If not, yeah. I agree that maybe burning all this off outside is a fan-fucking-tastic idea.”
  10. "Sure," the redhead replied without much enthusiasm, abandoning her half-empty water bottle as she slid off the edge of the table where she'd sat perched. She wasn't thrilled about Courtney's involvement, especially after her snarky commentary at the medical center, but Tawny, at least, seemed nice. And they did have the Shine, or the Dawning Light, or whatever it was to be called, so she had to concede that it made made sense for them to be here. "So, just to make sure everybody's on the same page," Autumn began, taking a few steps to put a little distance between herself and the rest of the group, "Cassie and I went to the Old Town Hall last night to do a little scouting ahead, see what we might be getting into. I'm just going to tell you what I actually saw, and let her describe her side of it, and then we can do questions or discussion or interpretation or whatever afterward. Cool? Cool." Just like the hospital. Be clear, be credible, be concise. Don't make assumptions. "First, it was definitely capital d Dark inside, even though we couldn't feel it before we went in." Despite the sultriness of the day, tiny goosebumps prickled the backs of her arms at the memory and she frowned, sweeping her hair forward over one shoulder as she slowly began to walk the length of the room. "We got inside through one of the ground floor windows, and the place was deserted. Totally stripped. No furniture, no fixtures, nothing. It looked like it was falling apart, and definitely smelled like a hundred generations of mice had lived there, but the building itself seemed like it was holding up pretty well. Structurally, I mean." "In some of the rooms on the first floor there were these... drawings, I guess, on some of the walls. Like cave paintings. Really primitive, more like stick figures than anything. Cass got pictures," she added, half-turning and glancing at the blonde. "Basically, they were all similar: a big man with antlers coming out of his skull, a bunch of smaller people figures, and a huge, dead-looking tree. In a couple of them, the horned man was chasing the people, and in some of them it looked like they were kneeling or praying in front of him. Some were really faded, some a lot darker." "Upstairs was pretty much just the one big office. There was a drawing up there, too, a really big one." Autumn's hands rose, fingers lacing together at the crown of her head as she exhaled, some of the residual blush fading from her cheeks. "Pretty recent. Painted with blood from..." Oh god. Okay. Just... Just say it, and it'll be done, and you won't have to say it again. She hesitated briefly, grimacing as if the taste of the words themselves was awful on her tongue, then sucked in a quick breath and continued. "...from a bunch of cats. We know, because the bodies were all still, um. Still there." The red-haired vitakinetic licked suddenly dry lips and cleared her throat, and then turned and resumed her slow circuit of the loft. "After that, we went down to the basement." "It was basically just like Cassie described before. The room was dark, dusty, and more or less empty, with definite signs of activity, like footprints. Lots of small animals hanging from the ceiling, none of them fresh, and it smelled pretty much like you might expect, but not terrible. Another really big drawing on one of the walls, black, done with charcoal or something. This one was just the horned man. There were marks on the floor, where something was dragged, and streaks of old blood, all leading up to that wall. And-" Fuck. Autumn paused, blue eyes going wide and liquid in the sunlight pouring in from the windows as she inhaled, mentally counting to four in her head and visibly working to maintain some kind of composure in front of the group. With everything that had been going on that morning she'd almost forgotten it, hadn't she? Almost let the memory slip free, as if it might've magically disappeared out the window somewhere along Highway 2. But of course, it hadn't, and so here she was. "And a shoe," she managed finally, quietly, repressing a shiver. "A small one. A kid's shoe, with blood in the Velcro and the lining. It was there for a while... Several weeks, as far as I could tell from the dust and the color of the blood. And that's all."
  11. Mother. Fucker. Obviously, someone had to come upstairs, and obviously it had to be Devin. "Then they're waiting in the wrong place," Autumn retorted over Jason's shoulder as she lifted her head, bright scarlet cheeks and tousled red-gold hair a vivid contrast to the deep blue eyes that regarded the more annoying, less devious Jauntsen. There were storms there, dark clouds hanging low over restless, churning waves on the open sea- -and then she sighed, the sound ending on a quiet groan of frustration, and pressed her lips against the faint red mark her teeth had made at the base of the apparent psychopath's throat. Even now she could feel the heat surging beneath her skin, the hardness of every part of his lean, spare form in her arms and between the sure grip of her thighs around his waist, the mad rush of blood burning through her veins and his; if Devin had meant to embarrass her, he would just have to be satisfied with the fact that her face couldn't possibly be more flushed than it was at that moment. Reluctantly, she disentangled her fingers from her boyfriend's hair, mortification and anger writ plain in her expression as she glared daggers at the teleporter. "Also," she added, "you're an asshole."
  12. Autumn, Week of Labor Day/Ep. VI: Off-Camera: Autumn will be working on the tree house, trying to get it finished before the weather turns. She will also be reviewing the journals from her grandfather’s study, and buying a few books (le gasp!)- possibly on an afternoon trip to the mall with her mom, but online if that’s not feasible. If possible, a return visit to Browning to actually go through the museum and have a long, non-plot-related talk with Joe about her grandfather will also be on the agenda. School and After-School Vignettes: Open to almost anything! At some point during the week, Autumn will want to hit Cassie up for that skateboarding lesson, and likely consult with Marissa about Homecoming, as well as talk to Devin about art-making. There’s also the potential for an awkward run-in with Ms. Forster later in the week, or during the following week- dun dun dunnn. Sunday: After the Talk with her mom on Sunday evening, Autumn will ask Devin for help transporting Owen’s journals and documents, with the OOC objective of giving him an opportunity to make good on his conversation with Dana, and her to reach out a little and possibly clear the air a bit. Monday (Labor Day): Family time! Autumn gets to spend the Labor Day holiday with both her parents and extended family at the Carousel, commemorating the end of summer. This would be a good opportunity for an uncomfortable (for ¾ of those involved) meeting between Autumn, Dana, Jason, and her dad, as well as a prime chance for her to meet/interact with her friends’/acquaintances’ families. I would like for Autumn to have a chance to corner her parents, when time and circumstance allows, and actually ask WTF is going on with them. Maybe she doesn't get an answer, but it puts the subject on the table for later. Tuesday: Back to school. Probably. Allegedly. ???: She will want to push to speak with Annette, as well, regarding clearance to discuss Site B and the welfare of the cats they rescued from Crossroads. ???: As discussed in Discord, a story or scene involving Cass and Autumn talking to Sean about the physiological and sociological realities of his unique circumstance would be awesome. ???: Autumn can basically, at present, flail wildly in an actual fight. Some specific efforts at improvement in this area would be advisable, with the threat of Cody and shady cults and organizations looming large. ???: Autumn will attempt, repeatedly and with increasing levels of frustration, to actually get laid. With her boyfriend. This should not, under any circumstances, occur without interruption. · After that… who knows? Specifics will be determined by the events of Monday, as well as player input and interaction, and all of this is subject to change!
  13. "It's pretty amazing, huh?" the taller, freckled redhead asked- mostly rhetorically- as she approached Kat and nudged the petite girl companionably with her hip, the oceanic hue of her eyes tinged with reflected hints of green. "I've only been here once, but he's really not kidding about not touching things," she admitted, pulling her hair back with one hand and leaning down to breathe in the heady scent of the creamy white freesias nearby. "Some of these are really toxic and ohhh, holy fuck, that's sex in a flowerpot." She inhaled again, deeply, and sighed as her unspoken frustrations with the trip to Browning, Marissa's inexplicable 'tude, and the looming Serious Talk she was going to need to have with her mom all just sort of... dissipated like so much water vapor in the dense, humid air. It was easy for Autumn to forget, surrounded by the verdant glory of this miniature Eden, that she was still in Shelly, still firmly grounded in reality and not some primeval wonderland of warmth and botanical beauty. Yeah, she decided, smiling despite the deeply personal and existential concerns still lingering in the back of her mind. Definitely one of my favorite places. The sensory kaleidoscope of color, fragrance, and texture was no less captivating for having seen it once before; if anything, the growing awareness of life all around her only served to heighten the experience, layering a scintillating, intangible vibrancy over that which the redhead could experience with her more mundane senses. ...And yet, for all its seeming wildness, she knew that there was an underlying order in the chaos, each specimen meticulously arranged and cultivated according to the desires and aesthetic sensibilities of its creator. Here, the curious elemental polarities of his nature intersected perfectly- an idea which broadened the smile on her lips as it occurred to her, watching Jason disappear up the stairs to what she guessed was the second floor loft and "The Fortress of Jaseitude" (Working Title). "I'm gonna see if he needs any help," Autumn added thoughtfully. The garden would still be here after, and she could always sneak down if things got too crazy, or if she got bored. She'd also been late for the last big meeting here, so what lay upstairs was still a total mystery. Besides, she reasoned, it was only polite to offer, right? Right. Totally. It had nothing to do with stealing a couple more minutes of alone-time at all. She was just being a good guest, and he'd helped out at breakfast, anyway, so it was only fair. Breaking away from the others filtering in, she headed toward the door through which Jason had vanished, humming quietly as she did so. "Hey, Jase?" she called as she mounted the wooden stairs leading upward. She could hear him moving around up there, the sound of something scraping on the floor, then silence- that eerie stillness she remembered from the phone call earlier in the week. It sent a tiny shiver down her spine, that unearthly quiet, and the intrepid redhead fought against the instinctive urge to hold her breath for those last few steps. She knew he was up there, so it was fine. No big deal. "Do you need any-" "Sure," he replied, so calmly and from such close proximity Autumn was pretty sure she was dead. "Jesus fu-hmmm!" she just managed to clap a hand over her mouth, stifling the shriek of surprise as she whirled, leveling an accusatory stare at The Effing Boyfriend. "Ohmygod!" Heart pounding furiously somewhere just south of her larynx, the startled young woman blinked incredulously, wide blue eyes meeting cool green ones that sparkled faintly with amusement. "No, just me," Jase quipped dryly, moving to pick up another chair. "Ugh!" Simultaneously scowling miserably and trying desperately not to laugh, Autumn took in the 'war room' as she waited for her heart rate to drop again, and for her breathing to return to something resembling normal human respiration. It definitely looked more like a place Jason would just... hang out, than his room had, she decided, noting the workbenches and exercise area. Functional. Practical. Utterly apart from the lush world of the garden downstairs. When she'd recovered sufficiently, she grabbed a chair, unfolding it and positioning it in an empty space around the large table in the center of the room. It only took a couple of minutes, at most, the two of them working in relative silence as she glanced, now and then, at his shoulders, or the outline of his profile silhouetted against one of the open windows. Maybe Devin could teach her to draw... Hmm. As her eyes sketched the contours of Jason's back, movement followed, her outstretched fingers running lightly down his spine. "All done?"
  14. Autumn was struck, simultaneously, by two impressions: first, that she was glad that this man had been friends with her grandfather, with his gracious demeanor and forthright manner, and second, that this place was protected in the same way Owen's study had been. At least, it felt that way, which meant that she could relax a little about hanging the bundle from her grandparents' place in her own home. Smiling, she gestured toward each of the teens in turn. "This is Cassie, my partner in crime," the redhead grinned broadly, "and this is Devin... and I apologize for him in advance, for whatever he says, and this..." Glancing up at the laconic young man next to her, she inched a little closer to him. "Is Jason. I hope it's okay that they came with me, Warden Crocker suggested it." Cassandra gave the old man a thumbs up and a smile, and greeted him with a bright, "Hey." "It's nice to meet you Mr. uh, Joe." Devin offered the older man a nod. "So, uh," he jerked a thumb towards the door that would take them back out to the lobby, and to Mary. "Is she seeing anyone?" Cassie looked at Autumn and made a little 'elbow jab' gesture... suggesting that was her cue. With a quick heavenward glance, the redhead nudged Devin sharply with her elbow. "Like I said, apologies in advance." "Ow, what?" he exclaimed, scowling as he rubbed his side. Joe laughed, his grin infectious. "Mary? Oh, she's currently between boyfriends. But you can dally around another day, kiddo." Joe smiled broadly as he took in the four. "Seems to me to be downright provident, four of you being here." As Jason nodded in his own silent greeting and the teens grabbed chairs, Joe fixed Autumn with a friendly grin. "So. Warden Crocker sent you to me? Nate's a good man." The gaze took on a sharp, knowing air. "Anything else bring you here?" Devin looked to Autumn. It was obvious he wanted to say something- when didn't he?- but he gestured from her to Joe. "It's your show, Granola. Glare if you need us." He winked and smiled at her, his consideration earning a warm grin of approval from Cassie. "Mmm," she assented, tucking a rogue curl behind her ear before flashing a quick scrunched-nose scowl at the teleporter. "Nathan sent to me to ask about some kind of ritual, but I also got into Grandpa's study, and found his journals, and a couple of letters he left, and one of those..." Autumn glanced pointedly at one of the bundles above the entrances to the room. "...And," exhaling quietly, she pulled the little cloth-wrapped object from her pocket. "And a lockbox full of these." Unfolding the brightly-patterned bandana she'd carried it in, the redhead revealed a maybe-copper bracelet that looked oddly familiar. Cassandra frowned at the bracelet, then glanced at Devin. "Isn't that... Devin, lemme see your arm for a second." Devin held out his arm, positioning his wrist near the bracelet Autumn was presenting to the group. "I got this from The Land of Upside-Down Thunder. How did your Grandpa have a whole box of them?" The freckled girl’s response was a helpless shrug and a quick shake of her head. "You got it where, boy?" Joe was not laughing - or smiling - now. He stared at the bracelet on Devin's wrist, then at Devin as though the young man had claimed he found it on the moon. "It's not exactly the same...but yeah..." Cassandra murmured thoughtfully, studying the designs engraved on both bracelets- similar, yes, but not quite identical. "The Land of Upside-Down Thunder. The other side,” he explained, unsure if Joe’s question was from disbelief or ignorance. “It's a nightmare realm, darkness and corruption everywhere. It pulled me through, but I-" Devin stopped short as he suddenly remembered he didn't know this man from Adam and decided not to inadvertently spill any more of his friends’ secrets. "Aaaand, you probably think I'm crazy. Never mind." "So." The old man sat back in his chair, his manner thoughtful rather than disbelieving. "You've seen it. Just you?" "We all have." Jason spoke up quietly. Autumn nodded in silent agreement, her blue eyes uncharacteristically grave. "Most of us haven't been there, but...yeah..." Cassie remarked. "Actually," Autumn shook her head, glancing over at the clever blonde. "Most of us have. At least the ones of us here. At the trailer." Cassandra frowned, "I didn't think you were there for that... Wait, no, that was like where you first..." She winces. "Sorry. Never mind. Wrong time." Recognition dawned on the redhead's features that they were talking about two separate events, two separate slices of awful from the same evil pie. "Yeah, no. Different trailer, sorry. Not the party you guys went to." Cassie nodded, quietly working to piece together the fragments of things she’d seen, heard, and intuited so far. There were so many threads to weave together, and so many things that had happened it was hard to keep track of them all; once in a while, though, she was sure if she could just see a little more, she’d be able to make out a pattern… "Something is there,” Devin interjected, jarring the seer from her musings. “On the other side. Autumn brought us here as rocks to cling to. She has questions, we all do, now, I suppose. Help her and then we can go from there. I know her Granddad was important to her, so..." He half-smiled. "That's more important right now." "Okay." Joe had been rubbing his chin thoughtfully, listening to the various recountings of events. "Okay," he repeated and took a deep breath, seeming a little shaken. "Never thought this day would come, personally." He fixed Autumn with a look. "You wouldn't have been able to find these things if you didn't have the Light. So everything I've been told, all the secret stuff I've had passed to me... It's all true. And now I'm having to take a moment, here." He took a hip flask from his pocket and took a long pull from it, restoppering it with fingers that shook a little. "All of you got it. It's not my imagination, or wishful thinking, right?" he asked the teens. "The Dawning Light?" Autumn nodded. "Yeah. There are others, too, who didn't come with us." "We call it the Shine, though," Cassie elaborated a little. The hip flask in Joe's hand began to shimmer and blur with a purple aura before blinking out of his hand and appearing in Devin's with all the same fan-fare, save reversed as the object rematerialized. He held it up and showed Joe. "Yep. We’re just big balls of pure sunshine and bad assery." He leaned over and handed Joe back his flask. "But we're flying blind." With a smirk, Devin nudged Autumn and whispered, "Tell me that wasn't cool though." Incredulous and wide-eyed, she smacked his arm with the back of her hand, hissing under her breath. "Stop it! You can't just take people's stuff!" "I gave it back," the unrepentant Jauntsen protested even as she sighed. “I swear, we can't take you anywhere," Autumn grumbled, more to herself than anything. "Holy shit." The old-timer looked like he'd seen a ghost, then abruptly he laughed. "Holy shit!" he exclaimed, still laughing. "It's real." And the teens realised the old man was crying even as he laughed, tears working their way down the craggy leather of his cheeks. Jason leaned forward, offering a handkerchief, seemingly unmoved by the man's emotional display, then sat back and waited as Joe collected himself. "Alright then." The old Indian said eventually, nodding. "So, you've gotta understand, kids, this is all ancient stories and stuff handed down through medicine men since before we had bows and arrows - so it's said. So if there's gaps in the story, or things that don't make sense, treat it as one of them allygoryes." "Uh, one sec before you get started." Cassandra held up her phone. "Mind if I record this? So we don't have to keep pestering you if we forget something." "Not at all." Joe shook his head. "We're supposed to keep it secret until it's time, but now it's time. So... Record away, girl." "Thanks!" Cassie manipulated her phone, then nodded. "Okay, go for it." Devin looked to Jase and leaned towards him, silently whispering. "What's an allegory? We fought one of those yet?" "A story, or poem, or sometimes a picture that can have a hidden meaning." Jase murmured in response. "Like some of the Bible stories - not literally true, but true in a sense." "Oh! Okay," Devin nodded. "Got it." Joe had taken another hit from his flask while this exchange had been taking place, and now set it aside before handing Jason back his handkerchief with a nod of thanks. "Alright. I'm translating some stuff from the old tongue, so it might be odd, but here goes. Long time ago, this land was hit by a star that was a giant boat, ridden by two men who were not men, but gods. But they looked like men, and talked like men, and so the Blackfoot tribe met with them and talked with them, and found they were very wise, and had mighty medicine." Cassie brightened at that, a fiercely triumphant expression blooming on her face for a moment. It didn’t totally confirm her theory, and she’d definitely need more information to be one-hundred-percent sure, but it also didn’t not confirm it, either. Resting her elbow on her knee, chin on her palm, Autumn idly twisted the bracelet in her other hand, features rapt as a child's as she listened. Wedged between Cassie and Devin, she focused on the older man’s words, letting the sound of his voice paint pictures in her mind’s eye of the events he was describing. "Their star boat was broken, and its glow escaped into the land, causing strong shadows to rise. Because the stronger the light, the stronger the shadow it casts. And the two men-who-were-not saw this, and were angry - with themselves, and with the other gods who had caused them to crash their boat. One of the men wanted to bury the wrecked boat, to keep it from the hands of normal Man, who would not be able to use the magic inside safely. But the other was maddened at the thought of never sailing in his star boat again. And so the two men fought, with weapons and magic that shook the earth, and one of the men was the victor. But the other did not die." Autumn stiffened slightly, teeth catching at the inside of her lower lip as she frowned. They had never seen Devin so quiet. His attention was fully fixed on the old Laughing Joe, listening to his story like a five-year-old might sit and listen at story time. He leaned in, resting his elbows on knees and just listened, for once in his life. Jason was motionless, his face expressionless as he listened, but like the others, his gaze was fixed on the old storyteller. "The winner was the Trickster, who all the Indian peoples call Coyote, in one form or another. He won because he liked Man, and did not want him to be destroyed, which would have happened if the other god, the Huntsman, had his way and tried to sail the ship again. Coyote spent some time with us, as his wounds healed, and he warned us of the dark place to the east, where he and the Huntsman had fought. He said we did not have the Light to fight the Dark or heal the wound their fight had caused, but he could show us how to guard ourselves... and then he gave us those bracelets to keep, for one day warriors with the Light would come forward, and they would need protection from the Dark. And the Huntsman... He became a spirit thing. Angry, tied to the Darkness. He became the eater of hearts, the cannibal who turns brother against brother. The Wendigo." "Yeah, we've seen him. He's a dick." Devin said flatly. "Fuck," Autumn murmured under her breath, not bothering this time to apologize for her language. It made sense. The puzzle pieces that had shifted in the basement of the Old Town Hall were slowly beginning to fall into place. Laughing Joe nodded sombrely. "His power was limited to causing madness and violence before. But it seems to have grown, if he can now draw you into the wound that is his realm." "So, a god couldn't beat the Dark, and now us, warriors are supposed to do it?" He seemed all manner of skeptical. "No way. No flippin' way. How're we supposed to beat a god? I'm barely passing algebra!" The old man shrugged. "Hell if I know, son. I just know you're the first to develop the Light, like the gods themselves had. You can feel it, use it, and wield it. For all I know, you're the new gods." He winked gravely. "Don't let it go to your head though." "We met him too," Cassandra said. "Coyote. He told me a lot of stuff that sort of dovetails with what you're saying. ...left a few things out though. Please go on." Joe's eyes widened, then he nodded slowly. "He's been walking the earth since that time. Now and then he's returned to this place - to keep an eye on it, I'm guessing. Otherwise, he's been off doing whatever he does." The old man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "The talisman your granddad left you? He left instructions, right?" he asked Autumn, who nodded. "Follow 'em. As for the bracelets... They're for you - anyone with the Light, really. All I know is they grant 'protection'. That's it." He squinted at Devin. "I'd sure like to know how you got one on your wrist though, boy." "And why it almost killed Cassie," Autumn half-asked, half-stated quietly. "Because I'm a god and she was still getting a grasp of her powers. My greatness was too much for her mortal frame to endure." Devin looked at her shaking his head. "Obviously." "Devin," Autumn groaned softly. "Please, shut up." "I think it might have been because it had already bonded with you." Cassandra looked at Joe. "They can only be used by one person, right? Once they link...that's it?" Joe shrugged. "I've never seen one worn by someone with the Light before. So your guess is as good as mine” Cassie nodded. "Imma go with that." Autumn frowned a little at Cass then, her lips compressing into a thin line, but she said nothing, instead rewrapping the bracelet in her hand and tucking it back into her pocket. "So, do your stories tell of a third?” Devin asked. “Someone who exists in the Land of Upside Down Thunder? Because mine was given to me by a woman there. I didn't get mine from this realm.” Joe looked thoughtful, his gaze distant as he plainly tried to dredge up some mention of a third mythic figure. "It's said that the Trickster and the Huntsman had followers - people they ruled over. Not men, but looking like men. There's one old, old tale of a war party of ours meeting a handful of warriors in strange, bright clothing with strange weapons. These warriors hunted our war party for sport, it is said, and only three men returned home, and none of them without scars. One of these men told that the shining warriors asked about a horned man - which the earlier tales tell was the description of the Huntsman. When a larger war party went out, to seek revenge, the trail of the strangers disappeared into thin air. As if they had simply gone." "I can definitely confirm the horns," Cassie muttered. Tilting her head, Autumn peered over at Devin thoughtfully. "Does that sound like the woman you met?" "No, she was," Devin looked to the floor trying to recall her features. "She was... normal it seemed. Her head was covered with a helmet, but, I didn't feel a Shine from her. Then again, I'd just blown up the school and torn my organs apart by rapidly jumping to avoid the explosion... so, she could've looked like Beebo for all I remember." Grimacing, the red-haired teen nodded. "Okay, yeah. I guess that's fair." "A mystery, then." Jason murmured, his manner somewhat preoccupied as he turned over the terminology in his head. Two gods... the Trickster... Strange warlike followers hunting for their god, perhaps? Autumn straightened in her chair, again chewing the inside of her lower lip as she considered what her grandfather's friend had said. "All right. So it's basically just as my grandfather wrote, then, and we need to figure the rest out on our own. One of the things I'm curious about, though... And, admittedly," she added with a little smile, "it's kind of trivial compared to everything else. How did the lock to his study end up... um, 'tuned,' I guess? To people with the Light." Cassandra checks her phone to make sure it's still recording, then starts drifting away from Devin, Jase and Autumn to check the room out more, looking at the books on the shelves, and just sort of poking around as she listens to Joe. "You noticed that, huh?" Joe's eyes crinkled at the edges, the old man seeming somewhat pleased. "That was my doing. I don't have the Light - but I can feel it a little. All medicine men have, since the old times. And like the talisman, we've got some tricks to sort of... bend strands of the Light, in little ways. Rituals that look hokey and stuff, but they work. Mostly." She nodded, her expression relaxing slightly into an easy smile. "Yeah, it was pretty cool, honestly. I guess Mom gave up trying to get past it, at some point." Swinging her legs back and forth, the toes of her shoes scuffing at the floor, Autumn exhaled, clear blue eyes meeting the old man's deep brown ones. "So. What can you tell me about the ritual I'm supposed to do?" "Oh, that?" Joe smiled a little. "That's little initiation for the Kavanagh and Crocker line, a bit of a ceremony to bring them under our umbrella, so to speak. They learn some of the tales about the dark spirit, with some examples of the sinister stuff in Shelly's past, and then they learn about the talisman bundle, and hopefully enough belief is scared into 'em that they do what they're supposed to and protect their homes and watch for the cycle to start up so they can keep their loved ones close. That's about it, really. You already know it all, and your Light is stronger than any medicine I can give you to ward off the spirit." Autumn hmm’ed at that and nodded. Nathan had said this was for both the families, that the elders checked to see if they had the Dawning Light… But if Joe was right, that meant none of the Kavanaghs had- at least, not in recent memory. It was a lot to take in. "You mentioned we could 'heal the land' where the fight happened," Cassandra said. She looked over at Joe. "Do any of your stories mention how to do that?" "Plant trees and dance in the rain would be my guess." Devin said sarcastically. "We've all seen The Tree. I think if we're going to heal the land, we need to start there." "Yeah, but how?" Cass said, turning to face Devin. "It's huge. I've seen it." Distracted from her thoughts as the freckles on her cheeks vanished beneath a wave of crimson, Autumn glared at Cassie and Devin in turn. "Do not finish that thought, Deej. I can see it all over your face." Devin pursed his lips together, as though he was fighting a pitched battle against some great force within his soul. "Okay," he finally exhaled. "Fine." "That's what she said." Jason said quietly, a faint gleam in his eyes as a grin tugged at one corner of his lips. Cassie threw her hands up. "Aww, I was going to try to keep it going too. I was just about to say how impressive I thought it was he could keep a grip on himself." "Even if it does lead to blindness." Jase commented, nodding sagely. "Oh, come on." Devin glared at Autumn while gesturing to the other two. Joe's presence became a momentary afterthought. "How come they get a pass?" "I swear," the blushing redhead sighed, raking a hand back through her hair. "I literally cannot even right now, with any of you." Autumn covered her face with her hands, taking a few steps away from the group as she pleaded with all the gods, any god to just... incinerate her on the spot, right there in front of everyone. ...to no avail. Cassandra looked back at Joe, still grinning. "Seriously though...anything about the cleaning thing?" Joe was chuckling, his eyes bright as he watched the by-play. Shaking his head, he said, "There's purifying dances and ceremonies, but somehow I think this will take more than rattles and sacred feathers." "Trickster - Coyote - said that we have to destroy the skull, and that will do it." Jason commented, all business again as he looked at Cassie. "Isn't that right?" "Makes sense." Joe nodded approvingly Cassie frowned. "I don't remember him mentioning destroying the skull...but there is a skull over there. On the throne. And yeah, that does make sense. The throne is what...does it, I think. So the skull must be sort of a center of power." "The throne Is what does what, exactly?" Autumn asked. Cassandra shakes her head. "I'm not sure. The guy, the Air Force guy...he threw it off. He didn't go in. But I remember he was like...drawn to it. You could see it in his face. He couldn't take his eyes off of it. It wanted him to come to it. I think that's what happened to Cody." "Okay," Devin said with all his usual assertive bravado. "Then let’s go break that sh-" he paused and collected himself. "Thing." Autumn folded her arms over her head, slowly pacing the length of the room. "Okay. So. We deal with Cody. We deal with this spirit. We clean whatever's festering in the wound this ship made out, help it heal. More or less in that order. Yeah?" "Seems so." Jason nodded, sitting motionless in his chair save for the turning of his head as he watched Autumn. "I'm not sure the wound was made by the ship anymore. At least not ALL of the wound. I always thought it was weird the Dark is so far away from it. I think it's because the 'wound' that the Dark got in through was made by this fight," said Cassie. "Maybe," Autumn shrugged, unfazed, her eyes moving around the room, skimming over the artifacts and the faint, luminous overlay of silver that limned them as she walked. "So we deal with Cody. We deal with this spirit. We clean whatever's festering in the wound between worlds out, help it heal. What else do we need to find out?" Cassie considered. "I think, if we follow the Man in Black's plan, that's when we head to the ship." "Site B." Jason murmured, and Cass nodded in agreement. Autumn pursed her lips, the image of snowy mountains vivid in her mind's eye. "In the short-term, what do we need, though? Aeon's not calling back, so we're on our own." "Well, some of these bracelets, for one,” Cassie remarked. “And then...we just need to be ready to fight. If Cody was possessed or something by this Huntsman, there's no telling what he'll be able to do." "I have a dozen. You can pick the one you like,” Autumn replied somewhat tautly. "OH! And Enterich,” Cass exclaimed. “We should find him. Find out what he knows." "Ente- oh! The one who told Air Force Guy to..." Autumn paled a little, going still as she remembered what had happened in the basement. "Yeah. him." Devin looked to Joe and shrugged. "You get used to this. Someone says, 'loan me a quarter' and they all pace about and discern the meaning of his cryptic words: why does he need the quarter? Who else knows about the bargain of the quarter and why just a quarter? Will two dimes and a nickel suffice? If not, why?" He rolled his eyes and shrugged. "I'm still on break the skull." "That is definitely the end goal." Cassie nodded again. "You're also still on, 'That's what she said,'" the third official member of the Jauntsen Inner Circle quipped, a little dryly. "We train. We pick our bracelets. Then we go to the Old Town Hall and we do what needs doing." Jase's voice was as calm as his features. “Everything after that... comes after that." "See?" Devin gestured to Jason. "That's my plan. I like that. Let's to the thing." "Sounds like you don't need anything more than what you've already got." Laughing Joe advised. "Oh, sure. Lay out a simple, straightforward list of how we can proceed, and we're talking too much. Jason says the same thing, though, and suddenly it's reasonable. Ugh," Autumn huffed quietly. This was not how she envisioned this meeting going. At all. "That's my superpower." Jase's smile was microscopic, but definite, eliciting a faint, answering smile from his girlfriend. Cassandra had half-turned away, a thoughtful concentration pinching her forehead. "I think I may know how to get a lead on Enterich...but... Hey Laughing Joe?" She looked up at him. "This is all getting all out of control here, and we're kind of wasting your time now, but I have one more question before we go." "Shoot." Joe leaned back in his chair, eyes on her. "Do any of your stories tell you where any of these things happened? Like...the ship crashing, or where your people and Coyote talked, or any of that? Like, are they places around here we could visit? Or those three warriors...anything like that." "The star boat came down in the mountains to the east, so it's said. Coyote hid it from the eyes of Men... But there's a lot of official looking business going into and out of Glacier National Park. If folks have found it, then it makes sense that's where to start looking." Joe said, frowning as he considered. "As for the other events? They took place hereabouts in what is now called Montana. I've no idea where my people first met the god-men, or where the shining warriors hunted the braves, or any of that." Cassandra nodded and let her breath out. "Okay, figured I'd ask. Thanks for all of this. It's been a huge help." "My pleasure." Joe got to his feet, looking around at the four of them, his gaze sober. "Y'all have got a long road ahead. Miles stretching out, not all of them easy ones. You and your friends are welcome back here, though." The angsty loudmouth of the group got up to excuse himself, assuming the meeting was over, and took up a pen to begin writing something on a post-it there on one of the shelves. He passed the yellow square to Joe, where Devin’s phone number had been hastily scrawled. "If you need to Joe, please, call us. You helped us out, we owe you, big time. We're here." He smiled and shrugged. "And, y'know, pass that to Mary if she’s into gods or whatnot." Autumn's hands slid from the crown of her head, finding their way into the back pockets of her jeans as she hung back, watching the others. It was an uncomfortable feeling, bringing other people into something that was hers, inviting them into her house and her life… But that was a good thing, right? Wasn’t change supposed to be uncomfortable? The older man snorted a chuckle, nodding as he tucked the post-it into a pocket. Jason rose from his chair, nodding to Joe, then looked at the others questioningly as if to ask if they were all done. He smiled slightly as his eyes moved to Autumn, studying her expression and posture with his customary intentness. "Are we ready to go?" he asked, both generally to the group at large and specifically to her. "Yeah," she nodded with a little smile, grateful for the distraction. "I think so. The kids are getting restless. Go ahead, I'll be right there." "This is a nice pen," Devin said on his way out. "Writes good, I'm totally keeping this." Cassie snatched it from his hand with a roll of her eyes and set it back on the desk, pushing Devin out of the room. "Hey! C'mon!" "Haven't we stolen enough from the Indians?" Cass asked him archly. "Come on." She took his arm and escorted him from the back room back into the building proper, where he immediately began hitting on Mary, much to Cassie’s chagrin. "Thank you." Jason said quietly to Joe as he stepped after the bickering pair. Casting a glance at Autumn, he added. "I'll be outside." before following Devin and Cass from the room. Joe turned to Autumn, his gaze inquisitive. "Something on your mind?" "So, listen, I know that was a lot," she began, smiling as she stepped forward. "And like they all said, thanks for this. Everything's kind of been dropped in our laps, and we really have no idea what we're doing. Which, I guess, is kind of obvious." The leathery face creased in another one of those beaming smiles. "You're handling it well. Think I was half as composed when I was tapped to be medicine man and told all this stuff?" He raised a hand and grasped Autumn's shoulder. "Your ancestors are watching you, and they're proud, girl. Take it from one who knows." Oh, god. I am not going to cry in front of this man. Nope. Not happening. "Thanks," she breathed, her eyes brightening with emotion. "And, you know. I'm, um. I'm glad you were his friend. He didn't have a lot of those. So. Yeah. I guess that's it. I'll talk to mom tonight, and..." Sighing, Autumn licked her lips. "And deal with the rest as it happens. But at least now we all know we're not totally crazy, right?" "Well, not for believing in Light and Darkness. We might still be crazy for standing against it - but then, someone's got to." Laughing Joe said, his gaze more serious. "You be sure to stop by and let me know how it all turns out, once you win, hey?" "Yeah." She nodded, pushing the hair back from her face. "Yeah, I'll be sure to do that. Listen, um. Would it be really weird if I gave you a hug?" "It'd be weird not to." Joe laughed, opening his arms. Relieved, Autumn embraced the old man who'd been a friend of her grandfather's, and who'd given them more information than she could've hoped. It was exactly the kind of hug she'd expected from someone with his name, and exactly the kind she needed- warm and restorative. They talked for a few minutes more, with the youngest Kavanagh asking Joe a few more personal questions- how her grandfather had come by the lockbox, how they’d become friends, and finally... how to pronounce his name, which she sheepishly admitted she’d avoided on purpose. By the time Autumn headed out to join her friends she was smiling again, and glanced down the sidewalk toward the fast food restaurants. "So," she asked. "Anybody hungry?"
  15. The last hour had flown by like the scenery, bathed as it was in the golden haze of late summer, with the feeling of the wind and the sun all around her- and, now and again, the tickle of Jason’s hair sliding through her fingers as she watched the highway disappear beneath them. There was something inexplicably satisfying about driving like this, seeing the miles devoured by the great black beast that carried them forward, relentlessly and tirelessly forward, and she’d had the brief, wild thought that they could just… keep going. The two of them. That the broad and beautiful swath of earth and sky she’d always known was such a tiny part of what was actually out there, and if they just kept driving- -but then they stopped, and as the low rumble of the engine quieted and stilled, she felt the weight of reality reasserting itself. The soles of her grey All-Stars hit the pavement, the passenger side door closed, and Autumn was up and moving on her own, ideas of slaking her wanderlust evaporating in the lazy air. Circling around the hood of the Charger, she peered down the sidewalk toward the bank and the faux-Mexican restaurant. “Well, liquor store’s out,” the redhead mused aloud, tucking her hair behind her ears for the nth time already that morning. “Although, knowing my grandfather, that probably wouldn’t be the absolute worst place to start. The museum, maybe?” She eyed the gallery speculatively, considering their options. “There might be someone at the heritage center that either recognizes the name of the guy I’m looking for, or could point us to somebody else who does.” Taking a few steps in that direction, her fingers brushed the arm of the tall, lanky youth who had likewise scrutinized the most official-looking of the buildings on offer. “I say we start there,” she called over her shoulder, already moving on. Forward.
  16. “I’m honestly not one hundred percent sure where, specifically, I need to go once we get there. I just know they should be expecting me, and I know what I’m supposed to tell them when I get there, and who I’m supposed to ask for. It’s just…” Autumn hesitated as she thrust her hands into the pockets of her beloved red hoodie, the fingers of one hand curling unconsciously around the small, cloth-wrapped object there. “It’s a family thing, and the person I’m looking for should- I hope- have more answers. I asked if people wanted to come because it’s also related to what’s happening here in Shelly, and someone else might catch something I’d miss, or think of a question I might not ask, or whatever. So, I’m going for personal reasons, but it doesn’t just affect me, and it might help with all the other stuff.” Her nose crinkled in something like a grimace, the freckles there merging into a miniature Rorschach image before smoothing out again. “I know that’s vague, and I promise I’m not trying to be all cloak-and-dagger about this, I’m just not sure what to tell you guys.” “Do you trust us?” Devin asked, direct as ever. Taken aback, Autumn frowned curiously at the resident wild card. “Do I trust you, as a group, or you, specifically?” “As a group,” he replied soberly, and then shrugged, shooting a sly half-grin in her direction. “Pretty sure we all know the answer to the other one.” “Mmm. Mostly, I guess,” she conceded slowly, reflecting on what Jason had told her about his own admittedly complicated family dynamic. That had required trust on his part, right? Trust that she wouldn’t laugh at him, or run screaming, or whatever, and at least two of the three people here were her friends. So… “So tell us ‘mostly.’” Autumn’s initial response was a soft, sharp ugh as she stopped walking and briefly closed her eyes, the quiet subvocalization scarcely more than a frustrated huff that melded with the sound of rocks shifting underfoot and then faded to a sigh. The fact that a reasonable request had originated in Devin Jauntsen’s brain, especially after he’d been kissing up to her mom all morning, was annoying as all fuck. …But it was reasonable, she had to admit. “Okay. I’m going because after the whole hospital thing I found out my family- my mom’s side,” she clarified, glancing around at the other teens, “has some kind of agreement with the Blackfeet, going way back. Way back. When we’re old enough, we’re supposed to be taken up there to meet with the elders for some kind of ritual. I don’t know the specifics. Mom never did it, apparently, moved away and went to college and got married and all that. She never liked Grandpa talking about all the old stories and stuff anyway. So, now it’s my turn. It’s just that-” She swallowed hard, liquid blue eyes suddenly brighter in the sunlight. “There’s nobody to take me, anymore, you know? So I have to do that part on my own.” Digging her heels into the gravel with a little shrug and a smile, Autumn breathed in the morning air, silently willing the familiar scents to fill her lungs, to drive out the dull ache of memory in her chest. It’s fine, Autumn. He’d be here if he could, but you don’t need him to be. No. I know. But it would’ve been nice, wouldn’t it? Exhaling, she straightened her shoulders, setting the thought aside, and continued. “Anyway, the person who told me knows at least a little about what’s going on… Not who you guys are, or anything like that, just about the Dark and this whole…” Pulling one hand free of her jacket, the redhead described a vague circle in space. “Cycle, and stuff in general. And they suggested I bring anyone else like me to the Rez, in case the elders could help them, too. There’s…” A little frown knit the girl’s brows, then, as she thought about the journals, and the talisman, and the conversation she needed to have with Dana at some point that afternoon. “A few other things, too, but I think they can wait. At least for now, until I can talk to the guy I need to see up at the reservation, and all of us can sit down and go over everything after. And, I promise,” she added quickly, emphatically, “whatever else you guys want to know then, I’ll tell you, as long as it’s my story to tell.” Nathan had respected her willingness to keep the others’ identities to herself, so it seemed only fair to do the same for him. Maybe that wouldn’t be necessary later on, but, she reasoned, it wasn’t her call to make. “And, also. Thanks. For going with me, I mean,” she added, squinting slightly in the morning sun.
  17. Autumn's answering grin was immediate, illuminating her freckled features with its sudden sincere intensity. "A hundred plus expenses? Oof. I don't know... That's a little out of my price range right now. Cookie sales have been kind of slow since they made us stop setting up outside the medical weed dispensaries," she quipped, shrugging a little. Swirling the half-full mug of coffee in one hand, the redhead narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "What about skateboard lessons, though? How are your rates on those?" "Hmm. The going rate." Cassie considered the question with all due seriousness. "I'd say, snacks and drinks for when we started to work up an appetite. Those are friend prices," she added considerately. "Deal." Her new friend's smile broadened visibly; 'Happy Camper,' indeed, Cass mused, with only a little of that earlier bittersweet feeling poking at the thought from somewhere in the back of her mind. "We can start there, then, and worry about the high-end services when and if I need them. Sometime this week, maybe? Like, after school, or something. I've kind of always wanted to learn, and it would be nice to hang out without looming existential threats. I mean, apart from the normal ones like the oceans being clogged by giant islands of plastic, ethnic cleansing, the planet being literally on fire, and the imminent collapse of society due to unsustainable population growth and agricultural practices." She blinked and smiled again, and took another long drink of coffee. Yep. Happy Camper.
  18. Now what? She’d done what she’d set out to do: confirm whether or not Nathan had been telling the truth about her grandfather and about their families’ involvement in Shelly over the last… who knew how many years. She’d found the study, unlocked the door, and the journals were all there just as he’d said they’d be- waiting, as they’d waited somewhere for Owen in his day, for probably all of the Kavanaghs. As they might wait, still, if this cycle of insanity and death continued, perhaps with the addition of her own account wedged between the former Warden Captain’s and the colorful slab of petrified wood she used as a book-end at home. ...If she survived to write it, anyway. The chair gave another cursory squeak of complaint as Autumn rose, sock feet silent on the rug. They paced, once, the length of the room. Then twice. And then paused in front of the tall cabinet with beveled glass doors. The latch clicked softly at her touch, hinges swinging wide to lay bare lifetimes of observations by her family- families, really, she considered, remembering what Warden Crocker had said about their shared history. About Jacob knowing some of it, probably more than he let on. About her hypothetical role in all of this. Pale fingertips skimmed over the volumes arrayed on the shelves- some hand-stitched and clad in dark leather, others little more than slim notebooks yellowed with age. There was a kind of power here, wasn’t there? A sense of… what was the word? Gravitas. She could almost feel a faint tingle as she stroked the spines and worn bindings, an almost-tactile sensation that, while not precisely magic, was in its own way magical. Although her grandfather probably hadn’t intended for the contents of this room to be part of her inheritance, they were now- perhaps more so than even the house itself would be when she came of age. Sliding the first of the books carefully off the shelf, Autumn sank to the floor in front of the cabinet, crossing her legs as she sat. This was where it started. Not for her, but for someone who’d maybe stood in her place. At least, metaphorically speaking. The unmarked cloth-bound cover crackled softly as she opened it, laying it gently on the carpet in front of her; Thomas Michael Kavanagh, the faded graphite scrawl read on the front page. “God, how old is this?” she breathed, half-disbelieving. And there were more journals than she’d expected, too… Which meant that either her ancestors had been seriously prolific note-takers, or this had all been going on longer than the five or so generations since Shelly had existed. Or, the redhead suddenly came to a grim realization, and swallowed hard: They might have all just died young. The first entries, frustratingly dated by month and not by year, detailed the hardships of frontier life, frustration at the implacability of the landscape, and grief at the loss of an infant son. ...Which, she realized, was pretty standard fare for pioneers. There was no obvious mention of war, famine, drought, mining, railroads- nothing that could point to a specific point in time in either country. It was instead an intensely personal chronicle of a man of faith attempting to eke out a life with his family in an unfamiliar and unforgiving world. As she continued to skim through the tricky penmanship and creative spelling, though, Autumn found a curt entry describing an uncomfortable meeting. [...Yesterday evening we had been visited by some few of the local Indians who asked after our stock. I am grateful to God that Catie and the children were in-doors. I think they meant to trade but I cannot be sure...] It was an anomaly, a definite interruption of what (she admitted guiltily to herself) was otherwise relatively boring text. It was probably fascinating stuff for an historian, but for her? Not so much. There were other interactions after that, she discovered, interspersed among those that discussed the awful spring weather, Thomas’s prayers for the future, and his wife’s poor health. All of them were similarly brief, but there was a gradual shift in language and tone over a period of several months, from “the local Indians” to “our neighbours” and, eventually, “our friends from across the river.” Soon after, an entry in June: [...Word came in the morning to-day that a terrible thing has befallen the Byrnes, late of Wicklow. All perished save the father, and himself missing. Catie lit a candle, and we all of us prayed for his safe return and the peace of Our Lord on his family, may He grant them eternal rest...] Followed by another, less than a week later: [...Young Stephen Moore was found in a very sad state, fallen afoul of some wild animals. My darling Anne is beside herself, and has been all evening in prayer. They were a fine match…] And a few days after that: [...An affray in town this morn. James Byrne stabbed three men at the G.S. before he was brought down. I do not dare tell my Catherine…] There were more such events over the following weeks, even with those involved being separated by miles, and as she read Autumn felt a growing sense of unease: numerous violent attacks attributed to “wild animals,” children gone missing, ordinary people suddenly flying into unreasonable rages over trivial matters. Even Thomas’s own offspring weren’t immune, as he reported in July that the two eldest boys had that afternoon beaten each other bloody without good explanation; the oldest of the girls, Anne, whose sweetheart had died, reported fearfully that she had dreamed of the Devil himself with great horns and flaming eyes. The next entry was dated several days later, with no mention of what transpired: [...The trinket our friends brought hangs above the door, though I can hardly bear to look at it. I do not know what power their heathen prayers have to bless our home, but I am a desperate man and must believe it was Our Lord’s will that they came to us. My dear Catie awoke this morn. Surely we are all children of God…] “Holy shit,” the red-haired descendant of this long-dead author whispered into the silence, peering up at the arrangement of beads and feathers above the door to the room in which she now sat. “Holy. Fucking. Shit.” Then, sheepishly as she remembered where she was: “Sorry, Grandpa.” Was this talisman the same one Thomas had gotten from the Blackfeet, or a more modern replacement? This was… Wow. Just, wow. She had no idea what time it was, or how long she’d sat there on the carpet in her socks- but now that she’d begun the story, she had to finish it, right? Bending over the journal again, Autumn resumed turning the pages, her expression rapt as the faded letters carried her back through time. Thomas wrote of the worrying frequency of these awful, inexplicable happenings in the area at first once a week or so, and then almost daily, until suddenly… Nothing. He continued to write, of course, in that same archaic style and spare prose, but only about the mundane frontier life he’d described through the first several months. The final entry was dated simply, “November:” [...The horrors of recent months seem now like a fever-dream. I grieve for the lost, though my family was spared by the grace of God and the blessing of our Indian friends, whom He sent as our earthly salvation. We will keep their symbol next to His, lest we forget our peril now in times of good fortune…] Autumn slumped forward bonelessly over her crossed legs- hands on the floor, forehead on her hands- and just sat for a moment, breathing in the faint, sweet whisper of tobacco. This wasn’t a story someone told about something they thought they saw. This was someone’s real, actual life, written as it happened, probably at least a hundred years ago… But apart from the language, it could almost have been pulled straight from Shelly, circa 2019. If there was an older record than this, she decided, the Blackfeet would likely have it. The other journals might provide more details, but for now, this was enough. Well. Lifting her head to peer once more at the cabinet, and then the desk, the youngest of the Kavanagh line frowned. Almost enough.
  19. Oh. So, this was a thing that was happening now. Because the fact that she- Autumn Keane- was dating Jason Bannon was A Thing. And, now, it wasn't just a between-them Thing, but an out-in-the-open Thing. A Thing that, she was suddenly reminded, had apparently made Marissa angry, which... kind of made no sense, unless she was upset she didn't hear it from her. That seemed like a girl best friend reaction, right? Maybe? Autumn sighed, resigned to spending the rest of the day as a hot blushing mess. Glancing back in the direction of the kitchen and the delicious smells of breakfast pouring from the doorway, she weighed her options. Cassie was a friend now, even if they hadn't exactly put a label on it yet, and although she'd always considered Jason a fairly private sort of person, he didn't seem to mind being open about their status update. Obviously. Her lips were still tingling, slightly warmer than the rest of her face, as the red-cheeked redhead pressed them together. ...Which was not helpful, because it only made her think about how different it felt when he was the one doing that, and- Whew. "As a boyfriend?" she repeated, pointedly focusing on the spirited reporter's actual questions and edging away from the doorway just in case either Devin or her mother happened to be paying attention. "I mean..." Autumn reflected for a moment on the events of the last few days, holding the warm mug in both hands as she took a long sip of her coffee. "It hasn't even been that long, just since Friday, so I don't really know. Like, no flowers and stuff, obviously, which is fine. The ones in his barn are way nicer, anyway.” She smiled at that, the sunlight catching the faint green flecks in her eyes as she turned to watch the dogs and squirrels through the sliding glass doors. “And no, we haven’t. Stuff just kind of happened when we went camping, like he said, and…” Exhaling, she took another drink, resolutely keeping her gaze fixed on the landscape and not on Cassie’s smirk. “And neither of us expected it to, so we weren’t… you know. Prepared.” The tone of her voice was suggestive, framing the word in audible quotation marks. “Or we probably would have. I don’t even know how to describe it, honestly, just like…” The sensation of sparks turning her blood molten, of flickering flames in his fingertips, remained vivid even in her memory; despite her embarrassment, the Titian-haired Girl Scout grinned. “Like fwoosh,” she elaborated, gesturing expansively with one hand as she turned back to Cassandra. “Fwoosh?” the intrepid journalist asked, her grin equal parts skepticism and amusement. “Yeah,” Autumn nodded, still smiling even as the pink in her cheeks deepened again. “Like the sound of something suddenly catching fire, you know? Physics. Chemistry. Honestly, I kind of feel a little bit like a crazy person around him in a very, um, sciencey way, and a totally different kind of crazy person when I think about how crazy it is. I mean, he’s Jason Effing Bannon, right? And that’s a whole thing on its own, but…” She glanced again in the direction of the doorway, the music, and the mouthwatering scent of bacon and lowered her voice. “But when we left Bunnee’s last night, I went to his house. I know, I know. I just showed up, and asked for a shower and a hug, and Cass, he just said ‘okay’ and freaking gave them to me. Like, sat there for over an hour and just hugged me while my clothes were in the laundry and talked to me until I calmed down, and then he brought me home and dropped me off at the end of the driveway so I could ride back up, and I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m totally out of my depth with him, and it’s probably either the best idea ever or the worst, but I need to know.” Autumn paused to take a much-needed breath, her expression utterly earnest. “You know?”
  20. As Autumn watched Cassandra pedal away, the reflectors on the spokes of her wheels catching the light, the redhead shuddered at the sensation of icy, intangible fingers trailing down her spine. It was just a glint of flickering brightness against the shadows lining the road- not even the right color- but again, the image of a child's shoe appeared unbidden in her mind, and the saccharine sweetness of the ice cream lingering on her tongue was suddenly bitter ash in her mouth. Her mother was waiting for her; she, like the pretty reporter, would get to go home tonight. But, as she nudged the kickstand up and placed her feet on the pedals, it wasn't toward home that her handlebars turned. Not yet. It was nearly 11:30, after what seemed an eternity spent racing down country roads between pale, moonlit fields, that the building came into view. Even then, some instinct kept Autumn from looking back the way she'd come, now that she was more familiar with that sense of creeping unease at her back- dread- than she'd been the first time she traveled this path alone. Instead, she let that feeling spur her forward, overriding the dull ache in her lungs and the burning in her thighs. What had once seemed to her the lair of Shelly's most fearsome boogeyman was now simply a house rising up from the surrounding farmlands; having seen the den of an actual monster, the Bannon farm was an inviting sanctuary by comparison. Muscle memory applied the brake as gravel crunched beneath her bicycle tires, dropped the kickstand and carried her up the porch steps. There was as little thought in the movement as there'd been in leaving the diner parking lot, for once no inner dialogue or contemplation on the ride. Similarly, there was no real consideration of the time, or circumstance, as she knocked quietly at the door. Quiet rumble of male voices from inside, a scrape of a chair, a footfall. The door opened, revealing Gar Bannon, a plainly surprised look on his face at the sight of the young woman. He started to speak, then peered closely at her face. "Autumn." Whatever tone of surprise he'd initially intended to speak her name with was muted, overlaid by concern at something he saw in the shadowed pools of her eyes. "You, uh, here to speak to Jase?" Swallowing past the sudden tightness in her throat, the red-haired girl nodded. "Hi, Mr. Ban- Gar," she corrected herself for what would likely not be the last time. She liked Jason's dad, and despite knowing he'd been present for their last encounter with the nightmare hellbeasts, it seemed wrong somehow to relate the combination of otherworldly and mundane awfulness that brought her to his door. "I'm sorry to bother you, I know it's late. Would it be okay if..." She rubbed her palms against her thighs to still their trembling, the polite smile on her lips taut. Uncertain. "Is, um- is he still up?" "If he's not," Gar stated gravely, stepping aside and waving her in. "He'd want to be, I'm sure." His gaze was filled with questions, but with a stoic practicality that seemed very much like his son's he set them aside and focused on the matter at hand. Closing the door, he went to the foot of the stairs and called up in a low, but carrying voice. "Jase?" There was a pause, then a door opened somewhere above them. "Yes?" came the familiar tone, crisp and alert-sounding, curiosity a faint note rather than the substance that the word suggested. A creak of floorboards, a shadow moved on the wall above the bookcases that lined the staircase. "Autumn's here. You decent?" Gar smiled faintly, winking at the girl. There was another pause. "Sure." Now there was curiosity in his voice. Gar gave Autumn a nod and indicated the carpeted stairs. "Thank you," the subdued redhead replied, her gaze following the neat rows of books she'd noticed the last time she was here, though she'd had no reason then to venture upstairs. Now, suddenly, Autumn was conscious of the state of her hair, the film of sweat and dust and... probably worse that clung to her skin and her clothes, but it was too late to turn around, wasn't it? She was here, even if she wasn't entirely sure why, and the only thing to do was climb. Ascending the steps slowly, she noted the sheer number of volumes present as well as the apparent variety of subjects covered; while most of the books downstairs were related to cooking or practical household concerns, these seemed more esoteric. A few sets of what looked like very old encyclopedias, noteworthy for their impressive leather and gilt spines, stood next to well-worn science textbooks, botanical field guides, and ones marked with characters she couldn't even read. It occurred to Jason's brand-new, very first girlfriend that he'd probably read all of them more than once. Reaching the landing at the top, Autumn unzipped her jacket and exhaled, counting to four. He was standing on the landing, in the dim gold radiance cast by an overhead bulb that picked out the bronze tones of his hair and features and warmed the glacial pallidity of his gaze as it studied her. His head tilted slightly, something she now surmised was a deliberate visible cue rather than an unconscious one, something he added for the benefit of others. Part of his 'peopling'. "Autumn." He didn't smile, despite the warmth in his voice as he uttered her name, the glittering interrogation of his gaze at odds with the warmth also there as he stepped towards her. "Jase," she replied, and took another deep breath, her fingers tangling themselves in the fabric of her hoodie. Even with everything that had happened, even with the uncomfortable way her t-shirt was sticking to her skin, there was something about those cool, not-wholly dispassionate jade eyes that made it difficult to think of anything else. Focus, Autumn. "Listen, I know it's really late, and I kind of just showed up, and we've only been dating for like a day, but I have a favor to ask." She paused, then amended, "Two favors. If it's okay, I would really like a shower, and a hug. In that order." There was another pause, another slow exhalation. "Please." A half-beat of her heart and then "Okay." The word was simply and sincerely spoken, without fanfare, and Jason half-turned, gesturing towards a doorway. "The bathroom is there. One moment, and I'll get you a towel." He started to move towards a closet, his manner composed. So composed, in fact, that Autumn experienced a weird but not-unpleasant sense of surprise. "Wait." she managed, causing him to stop and look at her. Then she wondered why she'd spoken up. It was just odd, the way he accepted without questioning or demanding to know what was going on. Jason considered her a moment as she stood, silently trying to put into words the question in her blue eyes. "You're upset." he said by way of answer to the unvoiced query. "Shower first, hug second. My curiosity can wait." He turned and retrieved a large dark blue towel from the closet, along with a matching washcloth. "I'll get you something to wear. Leave your clothes outside the door and I'll get them cleaned up." He led her to the bathroom door, then handed her the towel and cloth. No argument. No inquiry. No demands. Just... "Okay," and "I can wait." As if the explanation for her completely unreasonable request- after showing up unexpectedly in the middle of the night- was less important than the fact she'd made it. Autumn blinked up at him, surprised, in the soft golden light, her eyes the murky, indeterminate grey-blue-green of the ocean in the wake of a storm, and then nodded as he pressed the bath linens into her hands. She'd half-expected to be pinned to the wall by that piercing crystalline stare, questioned in precise and excruciating detail about why she'd shown up and what had happened, but... "Okay." At least for the moment, she didn't have to explain anything, to really even say anything at all, except- "Thank you," she breathed, cool fingertips lingering just a moment on the backs of his hands as she took the towel and turned, closing the bathroom door quietly behind her. For the span of several heartbeats, the redhead sagged back against that door, the thick wood panel reassuringly solid against her shoulders and spine as the reality that she was safe slowly penetrated the fog of apprehension she'd been moving through all night. With that recognition, a growing awareness of physical discomfort replaced psychological unease. She was sore. She was sweaty. She could actually feel the grime on her skin, and although being in the Old Town Hall had effectively granted her temporary immunity to its smell, she was pretty sure no one around her could boast the same. Ugh. Her nose crinkled in displeasure at the thought. In less time than it would have taken to list the layers of clothing she was wearing, she'd managed to tear them all off- opening the door just enough to confirm no one was watching before leaving them just outside. As Jason found something for her to wear and explained to his father, briefly, that she'd be staying for a little while, Autumn did her best to scrub away the physical residue of the night. At least she wasn’t sick, this time. The hot water was a soothing balm to both achy muscles and jangled nerves. It rinsed away the faint traces of earlier tears as well as the ones that spilled out unbidden beneath the spray, and banished the visible evidence of the girls’ adventures down the drain in a dark swirl, surrounding her in the clean scent of unidentifiable herbs and green, growing things. Jason’s soap. Jason’s shampoo. She lingered there a few minutes longer than was strictly necessary, the idea of his smell on her skin warming her as thoroughly on the inside as the shower was outside, and by degrees, the red-haired young woman felt herself relax. Wringing the water from her hair and combing through the damp curls with her fingers as she finished up and dried off, Autumn drew in what felt like the first full breath she’d had all evening. One of Jase’s oversized t-shirts and a pair of shorts with a drawstring waist lay on the counter, neatly folded, and she allowed herself a little smile as she pulled them on, her still-pink cheeks flushing a slightly deeper shade of rose as it occurred to her that her underwear had gone with everything else she’d been wearing. Although, she reflected with a faint grin, the most effective way to deal with most of it… except her hoodie… was probably just shoving it in a furnace and walking away. Between the fries, the ice cream, the exertion of the ride, and the luxury of a shower and clean clothes, she could almost convince herself that things were okay. Almost. As she stepped out of the bathroom, Autumn’s eyes caught on a sliver of light escaping a half-open door across the way. Padding across the carpet, she peeked inside, rapping her knuckles against the door frame in a quiet knock. “Jase?” The room was another library, shelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling and broken only by a closet door, the large sash window and a desk in one corner. The center of the room was largely dominated by a low bed consisting of a king size mattress only slightly set above the floor - a futon style, she thought it was called. As her eyes took in the room, it's lack of pop culture posters, or art, or photos, the lack of clothing strewn about and, most notably, the absence of eau-de-sock, it struck Autumn that this was by far the tidiest teenagers - especially teenage boy's - room she had ever seen. The only marked disarray was the couple of piles of books next to the bed - which the room's occupant currently sat on, long legs stretching out in front of him as he leaned back against the wall, reading by the light of a lamp. Jase looked up as she knocked, smiling slightly in that way he did - the faintest of crinkles at the corners of his eyes as they took in her freshly-washed self. Heat flickered in the depths of his gaze as it rested on her pink-tinged cheeks, but all he did was close the book he'd been passing the time with and set it aside, watching her as he motioned for her to enter. "Come on in." he invited. A touch of a wry smile graced his lips. "I believe you would be the only person other than my father who has." "Thanks," she replied with a faint, answering smile, pleased at the inclusion in such a select group as she stepped over the threshold and into the decidedly un-hoardlike inner sanctum of Bannon the Magnificent, he of the spear-like claws and teeth of swords. Then again... Scanning row upon row of books, it occurred to the curious redhead that the library in the rest of the house wasn't singular at all. It must instead have spilled forth from this room, the accumulated knowledge of minds great and good and simply novel overflowing down the stairs and into the kitchen and- she assumed- probably elsewhere, as well, like so many gold bars and gleaming gems amassed for his pleasure. A cave of wonders, of mysteries and secrets, treasures for the brilliant young man's keen intellect to peruse at his leisure. "It suits you." Autumn's footfalls were silent on the rug as she closed the distance between them, hesitating for little more than the span of a heartbeat before she perched on the edge of the bed next to Jason, feet on the floor. The camping trip had been one thing, but this was his room. Girlfriend or not, there were rules for this kind of thing, right? Some kind of protocol to be observed? Angling toward him, she turned slightly, pressing her lips together as her eyes moved thoughtfully over his face. She'd just seen him earlier that evening, had spent almost two full days with him, but in that instant it didn't feel like even that had been enough. "So, um, the hug. Should I just...?" Meeting Jase's gaze, his companion gestured vaguely toward him as if asking permission. His head tilted slightly, the wry smile widening for a moment and revealing a hint of dimple in each smooth cheek, then Jason simply held out a hand to her. "Come here." It wasn't quite a command, and wasn't quite a request, and contained warmth of emotion not usually present in his habitually precise and clinical manner. She took the long, strong fingers in her own, folding her hand around his, letting him draw her to him as she shuffled closer until she felt his arm slide around her shoulders and tug her into an embrace. "You never need to ask to touch me." he murmured with his lips on her damp hair, his free hand stroking the ends of her curls, fingers toying with them. "That privilege is yours." In answer, Autumn simply nodded, pressing her face against his chest as her other arm curled around his side. Her fingertips slid under the hem of his shirt, finding the warm, bare skin of his back beneath the cotton and exhaling a long, shaky breath that seemed to come from her toes. Her eyelids drifted shut at the feel of Jason's breath on her hair, the pressure of his arm, the dextrous fingers entwined with hers; although she didn't feel the least bit sleepy, it was the first time since she and Cass had left the basement that she'd seen nothing at all when she closed her eyes. That alone was worth the ride through the dark Montana night. "Same," she murmured against his collarbone, drawing her pale legs up onto the bed and all but melting against the reclining youth. The awfulness was still there, that haunting chill that whispered that things weren't at all okay, and that they might never again be okay, but at least for the moment it seemed distant, muted by the heat radiating from Jase's lean form next to hers. "You have really good hugs, you know?" his potentially biased girlfriend opined quietly, her thumb moving lightly over his knuckles. "For an alien." In the diamond-etched crystal prism of his mind, Jason was hard at work analysing Autumn's appearance, manner, and possible reasons for being here. He was also focused intently on the feel of her wet hair, cool on his fingertips, and the warmth of her touch on his skin. That connection, that sense of being touched and the vulnerability of being close to another, was deeply personal to the strange young man - which is why he tolerated very few people within arm's length. It was also fair to say that Autumn's proximity, after his earlier wrestling with the remembrance of their sensual play of the night before, was performing an excellent job of undoing the locks of his self-discipline like a practiced seducer's fingers would unfasten the buttons on a shirt. "It must be part of the genetic superiority." he joked softly. "Intelligence, aggression, fearlessness... and really good hugs." He breathed in deeply, his eyes half-closing as he struggled with the urge to change the nature of his caresses, to seek her mouth with his and draw out gasps of pleasure, to bury his fingers deep in her hair and crane her head back so her ivory throat would be laid bare for his lips... He breathed out again, feeling his center stabilise once more. It was apparent to him that Autumn hadn't come seeking sex. She had seen something, or experienced something, that had upset her deeply and needing comfort she had come... to him? Perhaps. Perhaps she had also been scared, and so wanted a sense of protection? It was hard to say with any certainty, at least for him. So he concentrated instead on what he did know. Autumn wanted to be held. That he could do, and so his arm snugged her closer as, in a gesture of comfort he'd seen others do, he softly kissed her forehead. "Mhmm," the redhead agreed, smiling in spite of herself at the gentle brush of his lips. Even in this, she realized, Jase was a fast learner, and a part of her wondered what he'd be like when he was older, more experienced with life and women and, well. Everything. That was a question for future Autumn to answer, though, as current Autumn had more pressing concerns. "Must be. The other stuff just makes it hard for people to figure that out. Lucky me, huh?" Shifting slightly in his arms, she tilted her head back to catch Jason's eye and smiled, one corner of her mouth curving upward. "Probably all the Irish in my family." Even under questionable circumstances such as these, it was impossible to remain completely unaffected by his nearness, the firefly glimmer of gold in his gaze, the lingering hint of tobacco just underneath the verdant, crisp scent she'd come to associate with Jason Bannon. Feeling her face growing warmer as she studied his features, the blue-eyed teen caught her lower lip in her teeth, biting down just hard enough to remind herself that was definitely not why she'd come out here. Probably. Then again, it hadn't really been a conscious choice on her part, had it? "You said earlier you were curious," she stated, focusing on the here-and-now of those pale green eyes. "And you've done both the favors I asked for, so I kind of owe you some explanation. Would it be okay with you if we stayed like this while we talked, though?" Neat white teeth worried at her lower lip, causing it to redden enticingly, and Jason almost lost his struggle there before getting control once more, remonstrating sternly with himself and more than a little concerned. This was not like him, to feel so easily pulled like this. "It's more than okay to stay like this." he said in answer to her question, his eyes studying her upturned features with a gaze that was half analytical, and half appreciative. "And you can give as much, or as light of an explanation as you choose right now. I kind of get the impression the scouting was... unpleasant?" Autumn snorted softly in something like laughter, though there was nothing at all to laugh about. It was just easier, preferable to the alternative, which was to start crying again. "Yeah. The two of us went to Bunnee's, after," she explained, resting her cheek against the smooth plane of his Jase's chest, turning his hand over in hers and studying the faint marks on his palm, the whorls on the pads of his fingertips as she traced them with her own. "We talked about it a little, but I don't think either of us have really processed, yet. There's a lot of pieces of ideas kind of floating around in my head right now, and I don't know how much help it'll be. If at all." Exhaling, the animated redhead frowned, rearranging herself again as if to get closer. When she began again, her voice was quiet, distant in the way it had been when she'd spoken of her grandfather on the porch a week before. "It was a lot like Cassie said when she described it, but worse. The darkness, the smell... Awful. Cody wasn't there, though. Just us, and all the, um." Her voice wavered, a sudden shiver prickling the freckled skin on the backs of her arms. "The animals he'd killed. There were a whole lot of them, and not just in the basement, and most of them had been there for a while." There had been so many of them, their little bodies just mangled, brutalized and tortured and then discarded like trash... Her eyes darkened, lashes trembling slightly at the memory as she fixed her gaze on the lines encircling the base of his thumb. Focus, Autumn. You have to be able to talk about it. She inhaled, counting silently in her head and holding the breath before releasing it again. "He wasn't around, but it felt like... If you walk into a room where someone was just standing, and you know that they were there? Like, there's no hot coffee cup, or lit cigarette, or anything to give you a definite clue, just that feeling. They just stepped out, but they might be back any second. Sort of like that." "Well, that settles the matter of where we go to find him." Jason murmured, part of his mind examining the description of the place. Mangled, tortured animals. To him, no more than distasteful, and more so due to the apparent senselessness, but from recent experience he knew it was more than that for his girlfriend. He gave her what he judged was a reassuring squeeze, and upon feeling her make a small noise, tighten her embrace of him and press her face into his chest assessed that the comfort was well-received. "Tomorrow, if you feel capable, I'd like you and Cassie to do a floorplan of the place for us to study. To describe it so that we're as ready as we can be. We know we're on a clock with taking him down, so the sooner we prepare the better." "But that can wait till tomorrow. This is hug time." he added with another small kiss on the top of Autumn's head, breathing in his shampoo mingling with the warm smell of her hair - of her. His scent on her. Odd how that affected him so strongly, causing not just arousal but also provoking urges of protection, of possession. Mine, the urges rumbled, and the diamond-clarity of Jason's thoughts resolved to keep a strong watch on that, lest it come on him at a bad time, or lead to... unproductive confrontations. "Was there anything more? Either of you get hurt?" he inquired with mild concern. He had initially assumed that, if that was the case, Autumn would have led with it. But people were strange sometimes - it would not surprise him for Autumn to disregard a wound in her distress over the dead animals. "No, not hurt. Freaked out, scared, angry, yeah, but not hurt. The place sounded like it'd fall on our heads the whole time, but it seemed pretty solid. Some of the old stairs were out, broken railings, stuff like that, but I mean, that's what you expect, right?" She sat quietly for a moment, weaving her pale, cinnamon-flecked fingers through Jason's long, tan ones. The actual physical aspect of the place was easy to describe, just a practical assessment of its construction and how time and the occasional vagrant or animal incursion had changed it; its effect, however, wasn't quite so simple for the earnest young woman to relate. "I know we'll probably talk a lot more about it tomorrow, and Cass took a lot of pictures, so you guys can see exactly what we found- there were drawings all over the place, but not like graffiti. More like creepy cave paintings of the… monster, I guess? That she talked about. Cody, or the spirit, or whatever. Skull, antlers." Wait. Autumn leaned back suddenly, straightening to meet Jase’s eyes. Whatever questions or ideas she had about the meaning of those primitive scrawls, their origin, or what they might suggest about the historical goings-on in Shelly could wait until everyone was together. That was just details. It might help them come up with a working hypothesis, or add some color to the outline of events they were sketching, but it didn’t seem immediately useful. …Except in one instance. "Not just drawings, though. There’s a big one, on one of the walls down in the basement, and we’re pretty sure that’s the Door,” she added soberly, a subtle emphasis on the last word. “Cassie felt it there, I think, and-“ The redhead blinked, wide, dark pupils constricting sharply at the memory of the marks on the floor, the rust-red flecks on Velcro, the fluorescent stripes, as she tensed. “-and there was a little boy’s shoe, and… And that’s- the wall is where the blood stopped,” she finished tautly. He remained silent for a moment, his eyes on hers as he absorbed everything. A Door, audibly capitalised. A boy's shoe. Blood. Autumn's pupillary constriction and the way the colour drained from her ivory skin, throwing the dusting of freckles into high contrast. The way her voice tightened and the tremor in her fingers around his. "That'll do for now." he decided softly, tugging her back to snuggle against him, resuming the gentle stroking of her hair, fingertips lightly brushing strands back from her cheek and ear, resting his jaw and cheek on the top of her fiery curls. "Did I tell you yet today that I admire your courage?" he murmured with a soft smile that would have astonished practically everyone in the Fellowship, except possibly Sean. "Don't feel brave." Autumn muttered, her eyes closing as she listened to his heartbeat against her ear and breathed in his scent. "And yet you are. You're scared, and do what needs to be done anyway." Jase said firmly, his voice still low as he dropped another kiss on her brow. "I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that's the definition of bravery most people agree with." "Mmmm," his girlfriend hummed noncommittally, too preoccupied with allowing him to spoil her for a little bit longer to contest the point. This wasn't at all what she'd expected, this tenderness in his manner- Jason was clinical, pragmatic, and, yes, passionate, if the last twenty four hours had been any indication, but this was an entirely different sort of intimacy. For all its strangeness, though, the feeling of gentle fingers in her hair, the rise and fall of his chest, the warmth of his breath on her skin and the faint resonance of his Shine interacting with hers... It felt pleasantly familiar. He'd offered actual comfort- not empty platitudes or reassurances that everything was going to be fine, but simple physical presence. Connection. He'd told her not so long ago that if she ever had a bad day, he'd be right there, and she was pretty freaking sure that tonight qualified. ...And he was true to his word, wasn't he? He listened. Even if it wasn't something he knew anything about, or had any experience with, he'd actually been there. It wasn't just something he'd said to make her feel better. "Okay, Professor Bannon," Autumn conceded after a moment, inhaling tobacco, something crisply botanical, and what she could only identify as 'Jase' under that. "I'll take your word for it." Releasing his fingers, the freshly-showered young woman wrapped both her arms around the laconic youth's spare, wiry torso, her hands sliding beneath the hem of his shirt as she attempted vainly to get closer to him. The journals, the trip to the reservation, talking about the basement and how to handle it- all of that could wait a little longer, she decided. At least until tomorrow, and that seemed, at the moment, to be very far away. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It was a little while later. Jason had recited poetry to Autumn - poetry in various languages, spoken in a soft voice - as she'd cuddled close, and whether it was his voice, or choice of poems, her emotional exhaustion, his smell or some mixture of them all she had fallen into a doze, lips curved in a faint smile as she occasionally made 'mmh'-ing noises and wriggled as though it were possible to snuggle closer. "His spots are the joy of the Leopard, his horns are the Buffalo's pride." Jase said softly, smiling a little at the drowsing redhead as he quoted Kipling. "Be clean, for the strength of the hunter is known by the gloss of his hide. If you find that the bullock can toss you, or the heavy-browed Sambhur can gore-" Whatever came next was interrupted as a text tone went off from Autumn's phone and her eyes snapped open. "How'd that get here?" she asked, blinking a little. What time was it? "It was in your hoodie. I retrieved it when you put your clothes outside the bathroom." Jason explained, passing it to her without glancing at the screen. With a murmured 'thanks,' Autumn tapped her phone, visibly reluctant to shake off the reverie as she sat up with a little huff and swiped away the broad field of wildflowers that appeared on her lock screen. Maybe Cass was checking in, or her mom, or- "Oh. It's from..." Copper brows knit together in confusion as she checked the name. "Marissa." There was a hint of a question in the word, a note of surprise, and then she tapped the screen again. [Wow, heard from Devin you're sleeping with Jason? Nice, Autumn. Nice.] "Wait, how did- ?" she murmured, re-reading the text one more time. Fully awake now, the companionable warmth she'd been drowsily enjoying seemed to rush suddenly upward, flooding the girl's bronze-flecked cheeks with scarlet. It didn't really bother her that Marissa knew, but she'd meant to tell the beautiful fashionista herself, and... Autumn had never actually been congratulated on making out with a guy before. This whole 'having a female best friend' thing was a little different from having a guy best friend. Huh. Grinning in spite of herself at the prospect of being able to actually talk to another girl about things like this, of having a 'bestie' who wouldn't show up to threaten the guy she was seeing, Autumn leaned back against Jason's chest. Still blushing, she tapped out a quick reply. [No, not sleeping! Will tell you about it tomorrow!] Marissa's response was almost immediate: [Can. Not. Wait.] The redhead's smile widened as she read the emphatic reply and set the phone on the bed, her rosy flush deepening by degrees as she peered up into the pale green eyes in such close proximity to her own. "I guess the cat's out of the bag with Marissa. Apparently Devin said something to her about us." "Devin knew we were going camping. Though it's improbable he knows what happened there." Jase noted, running his thumb along Autumn's lower lip as his palm caressed her cheek. He paused, reflecting. "I did ask him if perhaps your behaviour towards me indicated attraction. I wasn't sure, and didn't want to presume and make another mistake." "You talked to Devin about me?" Autumn asked, embarrassment warring with the little skip her heart made at the confession. "Not by name - I just described the behaviour and asked his opinion. Though he might have put two and two together." Jason smiled a tiny amount. "He's far from blind or stupid." "You're taking girl advice from Devin?" Autumn didn't know whether to laugh or be aghast. Jason shrugged, smiling. "He was pretty helpful. Said the best way to find out was to test the waters. It didn't occur to me to do so until that moment by the fire, though." He lightly brushed his lips over hers. "I'm glad I did." he murmured against her mouth. His pink-cheeked companion was glad, too; in fact, she spent the next few minutes communicating her satisfaction at the arrangement with quiet enthusiasm, heated kisses stealing the breath from their lungs and ardent caresses igniting incandescent sparks along their nerve endings. That it went no further was a testament to Jason's strength of will and Autumn's fear of being sent off to a remote convent on a mountaintop in Eastern Europe, and before the hour was too late to be considered "wholly unacceptable" by weekend standards, he offered to drive her home. Unlike the last time she'd visited, there was no argument or debate over whether she'd traverse the dark roads on her bicycle. As she changed back into her own clothes, somewhat reluctantly relinquishing the t-shirt he'd loaned her, she was silently grateful not to have to make the trip on her own after everything that had happened that night. "Oh, hey, I forgot to mention it earlier." Twisting her still-damp curls up at the nape of her neck, Autumn rolled the little elastic band off her wrist and looped it around the knot to secure it in place as she sat on the edge of the bed, getting ready to leave. "My mom said if you guys come by around 8:30 or so, we can all have breakfast before we head over to the Rez. Normally I'd just text you, but, you know. Sort of not an option." She grinned over at him, nose crinkling slightly as she leaned down to pull on her hiking boots. "Nothing crazy. Waffles. Bacon. Probably whatever fruit she picked up from the farmer's market. Coffee, of course. Wanna come?" A smile curved Jase's lips. "Having me over twice in two days for a meal? People will talk." he teased her, enjoyed the renewed dark rose that flooded her cheeks even as she smiled back at him. "What do you think they'll say?" she asked, playing along. Jason pretended to consider as he stood, moving to shuffle his feet into his own boots. "Probably that you're leading me astray by means of feeding me." He gave a small grin as he opened the door for her and followed her down the stairs. Autumn chuckled as Jason quickly told his dad - and Hank, who was still trying to beat Gar at chess - that he was driving her home, and as the pair headed out onto the porch, collected Autumn's bike, and headed over to the smaller barn she nudged him with an elbow. "Is the food method working?" "Definitely." Jason nodded, deadpan. "I'm totally led astray." He popped the trunk of his car and helped her hoist the bike into it, giving her a smile across the roof of the Charger as they moved to the driver and passenger doors. "Now let's get you home before Dana rescinds the offer to feed me."
  21. If only she’d stayed outside just a few more moments… There is no god, Autumn reaffirmed to herself in that moment, crimson flames creeping up her throat to scorch the sides of her face. Or at least, not a merciful one. Fuck. Distraction? Distraction. “Ohhh, heyy, coffee!” the expressive redhead exclaimed as Cassie winked at her, pivoting on one foot to retrieve the mug she’d abandoned in her haste to meet Jason out front- ‘Happy Camper,’ it read, in a cheery blue font above the illustration of a tent. It was, at least good coffee, although admittedly not as good as whatever they stocked at the Bannon house. That stuff barely needed any cream or sugar at all. She was just debating whether to ask him what brand they got when something pricked at the girl’s awareness. It was quiet. Blinking, she glanced around the dining room, a creeping sense of unease slithering up her spine. She and Jase were there… Cass had just gone to wash up… Her mom was in the kitchen… Devin was gone. He was in her house, unsupervised- oh god, what if he was in her room?! Autumn’s eyes went wide at the thought, as if the teleporter were a toddler who’d disappeared in a shopping mall. Oh, for-! I just took my eyes off him for a second! There’s no telling what he’s getting into on his own! “Um. Jase, did you see where Devin went?” she asked, trying to quell the rising sense of panic at the idea of the more annoying Jauntsen poking around in her dresser. Or desk. Or under her bed… Oh, god. Wordlessly, Jason pointed toward the kitchen, a faint suggestion of amusement in the almost imperceptible quirk of his mouth, and as Autumn glanced in the direction of the doorway she realized she could just make out the sound of conversation over the radio. Exhaling bodily, the animated young woman’s shoulders dropped a full inch as she relaxed and took a long, steadying sip from her mug. "Cool," she replied as casually as possible, narrowly resisting the urge to run upstairs and close her bedroom door. "Cool."
  22. As the troop of teens tromped into what looked like the quintessential Montana home, all stacked stone and golden wood and natural light, Dana Keane leaned out of the kitchen doorway as four dogs darted past her to investigate the newcomers. "Autumn, can you-?" she called over the chorus of canine greetings/challenges/inquiries. "Yep, got it." Letting Devin's comments about his sister being angry slide for the moment, because why in the world would she be angry, the energetic redhead intervened on the hungry reporter's behalf, maneuvering between Cassie and Briggs as she stretched to nudge Zephyr with her bare foot when the sprightly little Shepherd mix circled around. "Noooo, c'mon, guys," she laughed, "You know the rules. I'll introduce you after breakfast. Let's go. Those squirrels have been teasing you all morning, so now's your chance." Herding the two youngest fosters away from the long hickory table, she glanced back at the oldest of the quartet. "Come on, Lex," she smiled encouragingly, leaning down a little to scratch behind the Pit's ears as she trotted up, pressing her nose against the back of Autumn's knee. "There you go. Good girl, thank you." There was a brief pause, the two younger dogs waiting expectantly by the door, and the Girl Scout turned, arching one copper eyebrow in amusement. "You, too, mister." The big rust sable Shepherd had been studying the pair of tall male visitors in wary curiosity, planting himself quietly between the two of them and his human charges... but his ears twitched at something in Autumn's voice, flicking briefly in her direction before the rest of him followed suit. "Be right back," she grinned at her guests as her four-legged housemates crowded around the glass doors to the backyard. "Probably." The sliding door opened, accompanied by a brief wave of excited barking as all five of Dana's "children" poured out into the bright gold and green of the late summer morning, and then closed again, leaving the pretty vet, and her daughter's... friends?... alone in the quiet. "Nice to meet you, Cassie," she smiled as she joined them in the sunlit dining room, hazel eyes warm with that bemused glimmer the young journalist instantly pegged as 'maternal.' The resemblance between mother and daughter was undeniable as the taller woman sipped her coffee and watched Autumn playing out back with the small pack they’d somehow accumulated in the last year or so, though the elder Keane’s hair was darker, her frame more slender than athletic. “And Devin Jauntsen. I admit, I’m a little surprised. You’re one of the last people I expected Autumn to invite over, even as a school project.” The warmth in her expression cooled dramatically as she peered at the wealthy young gymnast over the rim of her mug, something in her tone suggesting a rattlesnake would have been both less unwelcome, and less surprising. “You’re Autumn’s mom?” Devin asked, affecting an air of incredulity. “I would never have guessed. I just assumed she had a stunningly beautiful sister. If I’d known, I’d have worn a nicer shirt,” he lamented, glancing down at his choice of attire and shaking his head. “It’s nice to meet you anyway, Mrs. Keane,” he added with a polite smile, amping up the charm he’d practiced over years of dealing with private schools and agents and the watchful eye of his mother. “It is ‘Mrs.’ right?” The juvenile Casanova grinned. “Thankfully,” Dana replied dryly. "If you guys want to wash up before we eat, there's a bathroom just down there." Lifting her mug, she indicated the hallway, and then tilted her head, smiling again at Jase with an undeniable spark of mischief in her eyes. "Jason, you remember, don't you? Would you mind showing them while I finish up in here?"
  23. Enterich... Enterich. Hmm. Autumn chewed over Cassie's revelations along with a bite of her fries, resting her phone on her thigh. It didn't sound like a Shelly name, if there was such a thing; a lot of the older families had Irish roots, and this sounded sort of German. Someone from Marias, or the military, maybe? If he had something to do with Bulwark, that could explain how he knew Cody's... What would you even call him? His predecessor, she guessed. There were other possibilities, sure, apart from being someone on the base- that it wasn't his real name, that it was part of some crazy-convoluted plot by Mr. Black as he played chess with peoples' lives, that he might be Mr. Black himself, or that through the miracle of the internet the guy wasn't even geographically anywhere near them, like some rando on a subreddit. That didn't explain how Cody got involved, though, did it? There were probably- no, definitely- options she couldn't even imagine. Cass was right, regardless: if this guy was involved, whoever he was, they needed to find him and figure out the part he was playing in what was happening. What she'd said about ritual sacrifice did, in an awful way, sort of fit with what they'd found in the Old Town Hall, especially those weird drawings scattered around. Which meant maybe this Enterich had been the one to bring Cody into it. There were other thoughts, too, or at least fragments of them, but after what they'd seen down there, it was hard to put them in any kind of order; every time she tried, the image of those little reflective strips glowing incandescent in the shadows filled her mind's eye. The ride to Bunnee's had helped a little, the fresh air both cleansing her lungs and drying the faint trails her tears had left in the smudges of dirt on her cheeks, while salt and grease (somewhat ironically) were helping with the lingering nausea. Once the food was gone, though, and this was over... She shivered involuntarily and took another drink of her soda. Just focus on what you can do right now, she reminded herself. There was a time and a place for meltdowns, and as the past week had illustrated so very clearly, it was almost always going to be "later," and "not here." "It doesn't sound familiar to me," the red-haired teen finally replied, her brows knitting together in an uncharacteristically thoughtful frown. "So either he's not from Shelly originally, or-" "Hey, ladies, have you decided?" Their waitress, a somewhat matronly woman who, despite looking generally exhausted with life was still making a laudable effort to sound pleasant, derailed Autumn's train of thought. "Oh, hey, sorry. Um, yeah," the redhead replied, picking up the menu she hadn't really given more than a cursory glance yet. Aware of the warmth flooding her cheeks under Connie's polite scrutiny, her eyes flicked across the table at Cass in a silent plea. "Right! So, I'm thinking the extra thick chocolate shake looks good," Cassie chimed in helpfully. "What exactly makes it 'extra thick,' though?" As the weary server patiently explained that they used three times the normal serving of chocolate ice cream, so it was almost impossible to drink it through a straw, Autumn quickly scanned the list of flavor options and silently thanked whatever innate telepathy girls seemed to share. "Oooh, good to know," the future Pulitzer winner chirped brightly. "Yeah, I'll have that. And maybe a spoon. Autumn?" "Umm... Yeah, I think I'm gonna go with the strawberry shortcake shake this time. Thanks." Smiling up at the obviously overworked waitress, she waited until the older woman was almost back to the counter before continuing. Just in case. "Okay, so... Where was I?" "He's not from Shelly, or..." "Right, yeah. Okay. So, maybe he's not a native, or maybe it's not his real name, but you're right. If he was the one who put Air Force guy up to..." Autumn hesitated, sucked in a sharp breath, and pushed onward. "Up to that, then we need to know more about him. God, this is all crazy. It's like, the more we find out, the more we realize how much we don't know. You know?" Meanwhile The Jauntsen compound, as their neighbors joked, lit up the Montana horizon with a brilliant dome of soft white light visible from quite a distance away. It originated from the training yard the family had constructed about two years ago. It was a large area, roughly a fifty yard square on their property that was dedicated to various gymnastic and acrobatic athletic endeavors separated by stretching and rest stations throughout. Like a fifty yard by fifty yard gymnastic obstacle course in possessed nearly everything from space of a floor show to station for rings to one for vaulting. Uneven bars and parallel bars were about half way through the course, since those were what Devin favored the least, making sure he had to do use them or live with knowing he skipped them and left his work out incomplete. It was a sly trick on his father's part, preying on his son's ego and 'not a quitter' attitude. Carl Jauntsen had the construction commissioned a couple years back so his son would have something to do while he was bored in Shelly. Most of the equipment itself wasn't difficult to obtain inexpensively on line once the workers had cleared and leveled the land. Since then it was where his son had retired nearly every evening for no less than an hour, often times longer and when he was particularly stressed or irritated, Devin could spend all day on the course. Marissa, to a lesser degree, would use the stretching station and open floor for yoga and stretching exercises. It allowed the twins more time together and kept them out of their parents' hair. Devin and Marissa were out there now, talking and carrying on about whatever the twin's found time to gossip about. They lowered closer and closer to ground as their legs slipped further and further apart until they were both doing the splits side by side. Marissa leaned to right and left, stretching her body and leaning forward so her chest touched the mat. Devin was no less flexible. Resting his palms on the mat he slowly lifted himself until he was horizontal, then pushing himself up until he was in a handstand with his legs still in the splits. "Look! Look!" His voice was strained trying to get his sister's attention under his own weight. "I got it! Do I get a laser sword now?" "What? Like a Jedi?" Marissa answers, looking back in his direction as she continued stretching. "And they're called 'lightsabers', dumbass. Also, I don't think so. You have to be able to do that with nothing but your magical space body parasites or something... I don't know. I was never really a big fan of Star Wars. It's so convoluted. I mean, Terry Brooks might be wordy, but at least he's always made sense and not changed his mind mid-story.” “Nerd.” He grunted, as he continued to push himself up slowly, bringing his legs together in an attempt to rise to a full hand stand. “I'm not a nerd, I just read. You know, books? Those things with pages and all the words.” When the blinking of Devin's phone caught her eye she rolled from her stretching and scooped it up, swiping it on to take a look at who was texting. “Texts from Autumn, huh? She says they're all good.” Devin's arms wobbled from the exertion but his legs came together and he allowed himself to arch forward swiftly, bending until legs touched the mat and he swung himself up until he was standing next to his sister. “Better,” she critiqued. “You need more strength training though, you're still too wobbly.” “Yeah,” he nodded in agreement. “It's harder than I thought it would be. Lemme see,” he accepted his phone from her and took a look at the screen. “Looks like they're done with the Scooby Dooing.” Glaring at the screen he tapped out a response. [Nice, Scrappy. Good to know you two are okay. If you and Velma need anything, HMU.] He set down his phone and scooped up a towel, padding himself across his shoulders and forehead. He quieted a bit as he dried himself from his exertions. “Alright, what's up?” His sister sighed, noticing he was a bit less interesting after replying to their text. “Spill.” “Huh? Oh, nothing really,” Devin had both ends of the towel and looped up and over the back his neck. “It's just, being current year, I don't want to be all macho and smother them when they go out to do something stupid like that alone, I mean, I dunno.” “You're worried about them.” Marissa said plainly, dabbing her abdomen with her own towel and letting it drape over one shoulder before twisting the cap off a bottle of water. “Yeah, I mean, I trust them, sure, but, if something were to happen and I wasn't there-” “Then you'd be either dead or dying right along with them,” Shelly's Queen Bee put it simply. “Those two want to explore spooky ruins on their own without thinking of taking an obvious, instant, emergency exit along with them 'just in case', then I say Darwinism will simply do the work that social media, bullying and public schooling have failed at. Pick your battles, Galahad.” “You're all heart, Emjay.” Devin smirked. “Alright, two more sets, lets go.” The twins stepped away from their phones and went back to their exercises.
  24. At first, there was nothing but the sounds of the building slowly decaying over their heads as Autumn waited, glancing now and then at Cass who sat still as stone on the floor with the dusty, blood-flecked shoe in her hands. Restless and on-edge, the red-haired young woman shifted from one foot to the other, occasionally giving the heavy wrecking bar an experimental swing. It was reassuringly heavy, solid, something tangible to hold onto as the minutes crept ponderously by in the oppressive gloom. The past two days had flown past, but now- when she wanted time to go quickly- her concept of what time even meant seemed to just sort of... dissolve. It left nowhere to direct her energy, nothing to do but wait, as if her entire body were a bowstring drawn without an arrow. Directionless. Unfocused. Nothing to concentrate on but the smell of death, the sound of the old Hall breathing around them in the darkness, and the awful image of dark rust-red stains on a small white shoe. Then Cassie cried out in alarm, and all of that potential translated into movement: the beam of her flashlight cutting through the shadows, the pry bar falling to the filthy concrete like the angry tolling of an iron bell, her hiking boots striking the floor in a quick flurry of steps that brought her to the pretty blonde's side. "It's okay," Autumn replied automatically as awareness dawned on her companion's face at the sound of her name, her arms going around Cassandra's shoulders even as she tried to slow the mad surging of her own heartbeat. The horrors the young seer had borne witness to manifested in violent trembling as the redhead squeezed her close, resting her chin atop the other girl's hair. "It's okay," she tried again, wanting to at least sound as if she believed it, attempting to summon forth some of the confident reassurance her mom used with agitated animals and what are panicking teenagers but seriously agitated animals but... Could it be okay? Even without hearing any specifics, it was pretty obvious from Cass's reaction that whoever had owned that little shoe didn't miraculously escape the basement to return home safe and sound. The same awful feeling she'd had on seeing it- really seeing it and recognizing what it meant- constricted around her heart, mingling horror and despair into an unfamiliar weight in her chest. Things like this didn't happen in the world she knew. But does that world even exist anymore? Did it ever? These weren't questions to be considered in the dark, surrounded by tiny furred bodies and ominous drawings and the almost unbearable psychic miasma of suffering and fear. Swallowing her nerves and revulsion, Autumn slowly got to her feet and glanced from the door to the Door, pulling Cass carefully up with her. "Hey, listen... Let's get out of here," she all-but whispered as she gave the plucky reporter another quick squeeze, almost succeeding in keeping the quaver from her voice. There was no guarantee that just because no-one had caught them there yet, no one would, and she had absolutely zero desire to be there any longer than absolutely necessary. "I need some fresh air and a whole lot of sugar, and not to be here." She was quiet for a moment and then added soberly, "...without a couple of gas cans and some matches." Before long the two girls, both looking dishevelled and ill-at-ease, were seated on opposite sides of a massive basket of fries, the overhead lights of Bunnee's relegating literal darkness to the world outside the diner. Carbohydrate therapy was a time-honored and well-documented practice, and one of which Autumn was particularly fond. As she scraped a pile of golden-fried deliciousness onto her plate, she peered across the table at her friend- because after the hospital and now this, Cassie had to be a friend, right?- and then back at the crowded restaurant. Saturday night in Shelly. "What kind of milkshake are you thinking?" the redhead began conversationally, breaking the relative silence. "I mean, I know we probably need to talk about... Well." Shrugging uncomfortably, she made a vague gesture with the fork in her hand. "About what you saw. I just kind of wanted to, I don't know... Just breathe for a little bit, first, you know?" Pause. "Also, we should probably text Devin, because I don't trust him to not grab Jason and go looking for us." She managed to muster up what felt like a smile and took a sip of her soda, pulling her phone from the zippered side pocket of the pack sitting next to her on the seat. Swiping the screen with her thumb, Autumn savored the comforting normality of French fries and a Coke before tapping out a quick message to the teleporter. [We're out. No search party needed. Meet at my house for breakfast in the AM, 0830ish if you're hungry. Will let Cass and Jase know. Ask if you need directions.]
  25. "I don't... I don't know, Cass," she replied distantly, the sound of the other girl's voice and the light pressure on her shoulder dragging the horror-stricken young woman back from the nightmarish precipice. She blinked, turning to focus on vague shape of the pretty blonde who, in the grayish ambience of their flashlights, was also visibly struggling to keep from totally losing her shit. "I mean, maybe...? But this looks like it's been here a few weeks, at least." As she spoke, something clicked into place, a puzzle piece that suddenly fit. "...Since before Cody disappeared. Oh, fuck." Never the most studious or intellectual of her peers, Autumn was nevertheless faced with what seemed, in the face of what they'd seen in the last few minutes, to be an inevitable conclusion: Cody Sikes probably wasn't the first, or the only person aiding the Dark in Shelly. If the drawings were any indication, there may even have been other "Codys" before him. The whole cycle-thing had been going on for decades- generations, really- but was it always like this? This... horned, skeletal figure? Someone being possessed? Like a, a cult, or something... And if so, could some of the people from the last time, people who weren't stopped, still be in town? She kind of wished she'd gone through some of those old journals, now, but that'd have to wait. A shiver rippled down her spine that had nothing to do with the chill in the dank air, or the ticklish trickle of icy sweat that rolled down her neck. Slowly, she got to her feet, freezing as the end of the pry bar scraped in angry protest against the grimy concrete floor, but only the ordinary sounds of old buildings filled that aeons-long moment of tense silence, the muffled groans of aged wood and the skittering of mice insinuating themselves into the space between heartbeats. The tense, hard line of her jaw softened fractionally, and the redhead took a shaky breath before exhaling. "Listen, um." She hesitated, joining the young seer next to the ominous sketch on the wall. "If you want to find out what happened..." The earnest, wide-eyed adventuress peering at Cassandra from the shadows of the basement hesitated, her free hand instinctively rising in a placating gesture, fingers spread. "And if you don't want to do it, I totally get it, and it's fine, because this is a whole lot and I kind of want to just set the building on fire and walk away, but we still have stuff to do, so... Maybe you could do the thing from Dr. Cook's office? On the, uh... On the shoe, I mean. And, maybe you're right, you know?" Autumn continued, attempting to inject what she thought sounded like optimism into her voice. "Maybe somebody was just... I don't know, just playing down here, and nothing happened, right? But we'll know for sure, and then we can just not worry about it and focus on all the other stuff."
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