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Cassandra Allen last won the day on July 18

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  1. "Are you sure you know how to grill?" Cassandra's mother asked for the third time as they got out of the car and went around to the trunk to bust out their picnic gear. Cassandra shook her head dismissively. "Mom, it's the 21st century. You don't have to know anything anymore. It's all online." She held up her phone, which had a video of someone grilling 'great bbq chicken in under ten minutes' up. "So...what, you have to carry a phone everywhere and pay for access to every skill you need?" Teresa asked pointedly. Cassie shrugged. "Just until they can wire it into our heads directly. Besides, you sell books. That's charging for knowledge." "Hon. Library. We don't charge." "Hon. Taxes. You totally charge. It's just...harder to see." Cass stuck her tongue out. Teresa hauled out an armload of bags of groceries for the cookout and stared her daughter down. "Taxes keep the library open, but that's not the same thing as charging for books." Bacon, still in the back seat of the car, barked and awkwardly hopped up so his front paws were on the glass of the window. Cassandra glanced at Bacon and went over to let him out. "No but really. Like, what keeps a bookstore open? Profits from book sales. That's how they pay salary and rent on the building and all the taxes and stuff on them. So what keeps a library open? Sure some fees, like late charges...which are also sort of after-the-fact charges for books..." "No, those are completely avoidable!" "...but also local and county taxes. If it wasn't for those, you'd have to charge per book. As it is, you don't...but that's basically because everyone who isn't using the library, but does pay taxes, is subsidizing everyone who does use the library." Teresa sighed and looked around the Carousel fields. "Is it too late to encourage you to pursue a different vocation? What were you into before? Skateboarding? I hear that's a nice profession that doesn't involve as much talking back to your parent." "AND IN SUMMARY," Cassandra finished, "The internet is awesome, even if it costs money to access and is probably going to mean everyone gets stupider because it enables intellectual laziness. This chicken he made really does look good though." "It had better be, because you're now the honorary chef." Cassie opened the door, scowling. "I was thinking I'd serve in a supervisory capa...BACON!" The dog exploded out of the car with enough force to knock Cassandra back a few steps and bolted joyfully across the field. He made a beeline for the black Labrador that was snuffling around one of the unoccupied picnic spots. They exchanged doggie butt-sniff greetings, and then the German Shepard noticed something else that earned a bark. Cassandra spotted where Bacon was going next and winced. Was that a...lamb? A goat? It was kind of far away. What would Bacon do to a goat? "Hey mom, I'm gonna go get Bacon back. There's an open place over there." Teresa glanced over, shading her eyes, then said, "I'm not carrying all this stuff by myself." "I'll be right back!" Cassie called, already running off. "Promise!" --- Meanwhile, over near where the Houses of Keane and Crocker were holding court, Laurie was belatedly crossing to follow to where her family was setting up shop with her goatling hopping along at her side. The gamboling Rascal was suddenly accosted by a very curious dog. Bacon went up to Rascal and sniffed him all over. This earned a playful head-butt in response. Cassandra came running up not far behind, looking a bit winded. "Hey, sorry, that's my dog," she explained. "Bacon! Over here!" The German Shepard reluctantly disengaged and trotted over to sit at Cassandra's side, panting. "He wasn't going to hurt him or anything," Cass explained to Laurie, still in apolgetics mode. She turned a little and spotted Autumn's folks a little ways off, watching with a mix of curiosity and wariness. Bacon looked an awful lot bigger than that little goat. Cassie gave them a wave and a grin to let them know everything was okay. "Can I pet him?" Laurie asked, already coming over to let Bacon sniff her hand. He did so enthusiastically, and transitioned directly to licking. Cassandra nodded. "Yeah, he's super friendly." Then from a distance, "Cass!" The teen reporter-wannabe turned at her name to spot her mother lowering a bag onto the table she'd picked out, and gesturing back at their car...where another couple of bags sat atop the trunk. She winced and gave Laurie a 'what can ya do' shrug. "I have to get our stuff. We should all meet up though. I saw Autumn's folks...anyone else here?" Laurie nodded and answered, "Just you and Autumn so far, I think? Sean and Jason aren't back yet from wherever they went..." She paused, but Cassandra's face didn't betray any hint of knowing more about where that place was. "Okay, well, lets keep our eyes open. It'd be cool to see everyone." With that Cassandra headed back to get the rest of the cookout goods before it started melting into the bags, Bacon running ahead of her.
  2. The Allen Residence - Morning The Allens did not usually celebrate Labor Day. It hit a little close to home. It had been one of Arthur's favorite holidays, and he'd made a big deal out of the barbecues and celebration of it. That, plus it being pretty close to the day Teresa and Cassie were informed of his demise, made it a rather somber event for them now. Cassandra hadn't even been home last Labor Day, choosing to spend most of it out with friends instead. Even at the time she'd felt like shit about it afterwards, leaving her mom alone on that day...but the oppressive mourning and tension were just too much to deal with. There wasn't a good solution, so she just split. She wasn't going to let it go that way this time. Teresa was in the kitchen, absently stirring a bowl of oatmeal and milk as she gazed off through the sliding glass door to the backyard. She hadn't really realized it, but even though her mind was occupied with deciding what to have for lunch, and what kind of wine to have with it, her eyes were resting on the outdoor grill that was parked just under the awning over the back porch. When Cassandra came in she glanced over and managed a tired smile. "Hey hon. What have you got going today?" The casual words had a slightly forced quality to them, Cassie noted. Her mother hadn't forgotten. She shrugged, then said, "I was thinking of going to the Carousel fields....meet some friends." When Teresa nodded quickly and looked away, Cassandra came over and bumped shoulders with her. "I mean both of us going." "Oh, uh," her mother replied, taken off-guard, "...you know I like staying in on days off. Not like I get a lot, so it's nice to just rest up. You can go ahead..." "Please, mom?" Cassie interjected. "It'll be a really nice day out. We can get some super unhealthy food. And it won't just be my friends there...you'll have friends there too. We can bring Bacon." At the sound of his name, Bacon came scrabbling over from the little laundry room where he had a little bed of old blankets set up for him. He pressed in between Cassandra and her mother's legs, eagerly bridging the gap between them. Teresa smiled and reached down to give the German Shepard an affectionate scratching between his pointy ears. "I was thinking I'd just relax today," she demurred. Cassie was having none of it though. "You mean mope," she said. "Look, you don't have to stay for long if you really don't like it. But I think it would be fun to go out for once. You know, be in the sun, have some really greasy food...maybe on a stick... When's the last time you took a ride on a merry go round?" Her mother smiled a little in spite of herself, then looked down at her oatmeal. It was cooling, with the milk making little pools on top of the grey mush at the surface. "Look," Cassandra pressed, "the bottom line is that I'm spending today with you. I think we'd both have more fun out at the Carousel, but if we want to stay here and eat ice cream and watch Lifetime...cool. We'll do it. But...I think once you feel some sun and some wind, and once you get moving, and see some familiar faces..." Jesus, thought Teresa abruptly. How long has it been since I've seen any friends? Leaving out phone calls, texts...had it been weeks? Months? Suddenly there were tears in her eyes. "Honey," she said, trying to think of a good reason not to. "Just give it a try, mom," Cass quickly interrupted. "Come with me." Bacon wuffed at this, wagging his tail. "See? It's two versus one." Teresa laughed at that. "Oh, so we're a democracy now?" Cassie grinned and offered a hand. "More like a...pirate ship. We're doing what I say. If you hate it, you can mutiny. Walking planks may be involved." I'm not letting you waste away for someone who's not dead. And I'm not letting what might be our last time together be sad and depressing. After a moment's hesitation, Teresa gave Cassie's hand a quick squeeze and said, "Would you cover this up and put it in the fridge? I'm going to need actual shoes it sounds like."
  3. The bike pulled up to Bunnee's burgers after a rather mild, ten minute or so, cruise through Shelly from the Bannon Farm. A death grip wasn't required by Cassie as her driver traveled smooth and slow down the streets instead of his usual speed demon manner. She assumed it was because he was in the crowded areas of Shelly now, and while the Sheriff might know about them, he wasn't above issuing tickets to the lot of them for being idiots. They walked in together, garnering a few looks from their peers who were here already (because Bunnee always had the high school crowd in here in some form or fashion). In the eyes of high schoolers a couple of friends couldn't just go eat a meal by themselves with out them obviously being on a date of some sort and they could both feel the judgmental eyes of their classmates silently calling them out on their business. Those who actually cared anyway. They say anywhere as Maxine instructed them while blowing past like a busty wind on the busy Sunday evening. The evening church rush was happening and their peers were in their Sunday best. They slid into a free both as the Heath twins passed them on their way out. They pretty blondes both said 'hi' at the two and they exchanged greetings. Cassie couldn't help but notice how they flushed when Devin politely replied in his own flirtatious way. H really couldn't help him self, it seemed. “Well, you two are not the pair I expected seeing in here,” Max smiled wryly. Being in on all the high school gossip she almost more familiar with the lives of the students of Shelly High than the students themselves. “When did this start?” She smirked while asking playfully. “Relax, Max,” Devin held out a hand to slow her roll. “It's just hanging out. Purely sexual.” Cassie's glare could have froze the waters she brought them solid. She was used to his humor, but, dude. “Oh, right.” Max nodded in sagely understanding. “I totally get it.” She touched Cassie's shoulder and nodded. “I get it sweetie. We ladies need to set our standards early in life, and we can't set that high bar without first realizing where the low bar is hovering at.” Her side eye to Devin screamed there was ointment in the back to treat the burn. Devin just half laughed and nodded his head, soaking it up. Max was good, she was an ace at dealing with him. “Two sodas and an order of chili-cheese fries and you're totally off my Christmas list.” “Oh,” she pouted. “Darn. She took their drink orders and sped off to the kitchen to do her thing. The two were left alone finally and Devin looked at his pseudo-date and didn't quite know how to kick this whole thing off. “Sooo...” Smooth, Devin. Real smooth. Cassandra let him hang for a second, just for the 'purely sexual' before offering him a hand. She arched an eyebrow and prompted, "So?" Then after a sip of soda reminded him, "Maybe start with Homecoming?" "Okay," he agreed. "So, where to begin? In case you hadn't heard my sister is pretty much kidnapping all of you for preparations at our place before the dance. I'm tasked with somehow making Cade and Jase presentable. If you don't have a dress yet, talk to her, she's in a 'formal affair frenzy', like a shark sniffing blood in the water. We won't be taking my bike, so no worries there, I'll have my car that night, so we don't mess up all effort we put into making ourselves pretty for for the ball. Seriously, if I ended up with mud on my slacks, I'd throw a fit." He shrugged. "So, yeah, that's my side if it all, whatchu got?" Cassie laughed a little. "A notepad, fortunately," she quipped. "Okay, so I should probably give Marissa a call then, since I do have a dress, but not one she's going to be happy with. And...hmm." Cass paused for a second, assessing Devin. "I'm trying to decide if you meeting my mom in advance will be a net positive or not... You've never set foot in the library, have you?" "Sure I have." He chuckled. "Ladies are totally into smart guys and all that. Whenever we have some big study assignment I always make it a point to hang out there after school at least twice in the first week it's been assigned. Some girl always needs some help studying." He grinned wide. "Totally down to meet your mom, though. Met Autumn's for the first time today, she totally loved me." He opened his arms wide like it should be a no-brainer that Cassie's mother would obviously fall immediately in love with the rich, spoiled walking white stereotype of entitlement. "Coooooool," sighed Cassandra, already imagining Devin being Devin in front of her mom. That would go down one of two ways...either 'what are you doing, Cass?' or 'are you doing this just to hurt me, Cass?' And it was so exciting waiting to see which one she'd go with. But you didn't get far telling Devin not to be Devin. One way or the other, she'd just have to deal. Cassie reached out to nab some fries out of the greasy little cardboard cradle they arrived at the table in. "That wasn't so painful," she remarked. "Even if it means a shopping trip with Marissa. Now all we have to do is...survive. Best Homecoming ever." "Didn't know if you'd still be hungry after the pizza, figured something munch on couldn't hurt though." He smiled, stealing some of the fries too. "That's it?" He looked at her skeptically. "No list of rules for friendship dating? Hands off the butt, hands off you, ghost arm only in all pictures? No? That was easy." He chewed his fries and washed them down with a sip of his soda, which she noticed had no ice in it. "So, out of curiosity... why'd you agree to go out with me for Homecoming?" "Dude," she admonished with a grin, "If I gave you rules, it would just be a checklist for shit to do to get to me. As for why?" Cassie stirred her coke with her straw for a second, watching the foam burble up between the chunks of crushed ice. "First, you're funny sometimes. I think we could have fun. But also because ever since this crazy shit started, you've let the whole 'naughty manchild' thing slip a few times. The guy I think I saw when that happens is one I'd like to meet." She looked up at Devin again and lifted an eyebrow. "Can you set us up?" "Wow, that was," his posture visibly changed as he sat up and rested his arms on the table, suddenly more invested in the conversation. She'd been interviewing people for years and, while certainly not a professional, she'd learned enough to know when she'd gotten someone's attention. "Surprisingly direct. I'm used to people dancing around answers with reddened cheeks and that annoyingly playful 'I don't know' reply." "Blondie, look, the... 'manchild', as you put it," his grin told her he found it amusing. "It's my way of dealing with all this 'shit'." He air quoted. "I don't mean anything by it, I j-" he paused and looked around the place at all the other people. "I just need to not be so serious all the time. One, I would be even more unbearable than I am as the manchild, and two, it would be far less entertaining. You have to admit." He smiled wide. "Buuut," he dragged out with a slight protest in his tone. "If serious Devin is what the lady wants, I think I can swing it. Might even waive the hourly rates, I dunno." Cassandra grinned. "I know, and truth is that I like it when you're funny too. We all gotta have some way to deal with everything. And us...I mean, everyone thinks they have it rough, but lets face it. We're going to war against..." Abruptly she stopped and looked around to make sure no one was paying them attention. "...alien magic monsters, so I think we owe each other some benefit of the doubt. So yeah. You don't have to stop being you. Just sometimes, when it's safe, be the rest of you. You know?" She took another fry and tapped it against her bottom lip, then ate it. "My turn now. Why did you ask me?" "Ugh," he rolled his eyes and flopped back in his seat. "I forgot this game goes both ways." Cassie smirked evilly at the bit of torture. "Come on, fair is fair." The fry she was pinching swiftly met its fate while she eagerly awaited for him to man up. He returned and rummaged about for a good, chili and cheese drenched fry to give him courage. Fine, but, no jokes." She raised her eyes brows in a silent promise as she sipped her drink. "Well, I'm shallow, so... if I didn't think you were, at the very least, an eight, I wouldn't have bothered." She was pretty sure that his way of telling her she was pretty. "Devin, the Heaths are like.... sevens, tops." Cassie protested. "And you flirt with them all the time." "True, but together they're a fourteen." He pointed out, proud with his math. She didn't have the heart to inform him that it wasn't quite how it worked. He seemed to sober up some from his fooling around. "...and aside from you being hot... that's it." He shrugged. "That's all I know about you, Cass. I... we..., hell, Cassie, we, all of us, fight and bitch and moan and yet here we are, at the end of it all, ready to die for people who will never even know what we did, together. And there's the old us, now there's the new us's, with unlikely friends and super powers... I guess I want to know more about Cassandra..." he paused, looking at her, his eyes wide as he struggled for the right word... "Allen." She nodded in that wow sort of way. "...Allen," he snapped his fingers. "Right, that was where I was going with that." His smile did to conceal that he'd even remotely remembered her last name. "We're all gonna make it through this, but... I don't us to do it as strangers. Y'know?" "Hmm," Cassie watched him for a moment, rolling the words around in her head. In the end, she decided, his reasoning wasn't that far from her own. They were just sort of...investigating each other. Scraping a layer under the surface. "Okay. You don't have to wait for Homecoming for that. Here we are...at least until the fries are gone. What do you want to know? AMA. Open book." She took another fry then and popped it into her mouth. "Oh," Devin chuckled. "Ohohohoho, alright, let's do this. Let's see... what are your top three turn-ons? Who has the nicer butt? Dana or Autumn? What are you most self-conscious about? What do most people think is true about you, but isn’t?" He kept counting them off in his fingers like they were preloaded in his mind like some spin the bottle, Truth or Dare Championship Belt holder. "What is the most childish thing you still do? What is something we, your friends, would never expect that you do?" "Those are the warm ups," he smiled but she noticed it faded fast and his expression went a little more serious in its presentation. "...and I know you have issues, with home and Crossroads... so, you know, don't worry. We'll bring him home... I'm trying not to ask the stupid obvious stuff. It's not like our lives are anything close to normal." "Okay wow," Cassandra laughed. "You've been giving this some thought. Let's see." She started ticking off fingers. "A good scalp massage, skinny dipping and victory. Autumn, definitely. I'm self-conscious about my hair...it sticks out too much when it's short, but it's super hard to style when it's long, which is why I ponytail it or just let it floof most of the time, but that feels lazy?" Cass shrugged. "People think I'm voyeuristic but it's really just business for me. Not that I get paid or anything, but that's how I approach it. I still love stupid-ass Saturday morning cartoons, and..." The last question forced her to think a little more. "I volunteer at the Sagebrush when I can." At Devin's blank look, she added, "It's the food pantry in town. Lately..." Cass sighed. "...haven't had that kind of time lately." "Why?" He asked out of curiosity. "Not that's a bad thing or anything, I'm just curious. What makes you volunteer there? Was it sort of a 'hey seems fun' kinda gig or did something draw you there? Oh, and I'm totally with you there on the Saturday morning cartoons." "So...my freshman year, I wanted to do something 'hard hitting' you know?" Cassie said, making air quotes. "And I was fixated on the prison, so I wanted to get like a word on the street kind of thing. But...here I am, comfortably middle class white girl, what the fuck do I know about word on the street? So I asked mom, and she suggested the Sagebrush. I didn't even know, at the time, Shelley had a food pantry." Cass paused to finish off her soda, slurping the last bit up the straw before popping the plastic top off to munch on a little ice before picking the narrative up again. "So it was scary at first, but I started talking to some, and...their stories were really kind of gut-punches. And I left feeling like absolute shit, because I'd thought they were scary. So after the article I wrote did not make it in the paper..." Cassandra grinned and shook her head. "...because it was kind of shit...I went back. I felt like I owed them something, because when I first saw them, I didn't see people. And then after that it was just...kind of affirming. The guys that run it are super nice, and really grateful for any help they get." "Wow, I uh, huh," he nodded his head. "I didn't know either. I mean, I knew we had quite a bit of families around here that we help out around the Holidays with the boxes at the school." The look on his face was akin to something resembling a realization. "I just never really considered where all those boxes go. I guess, like you said, I never really considered that there are people receiving them." There was a long pause in their conversation as Max slipped by and offered to refill her drink. "Okay, you're depressing me..." he leaned in and tacked off a few more. "Last ones, and then... I guess it's your turn. Fair is fair. What is something that people think you would never be into, but you are? What is the silliest thing you have an emotional attachment to? What is the most embarrassing thing your parents have caught you doing? Why did you break up with your last boyfriend or girlfriend?" She saw the play there, asking about an ex while disguising it as part of the game. Devin might have thought he was slick, but the wasn't. Cassie was onto him, easily. "Hoo, okay." Cassandra exhaled, clearing the palette. "Lets see. Something people think I'm not into...that's kind of like that other question, but all right. I am hopelessly addicted to jigsaw puzzles. You know how most kids have, like, band posters or movie posters or whatever? I have puzzles that I've finished. And that's also the next answer. I got a three thousand piece puzzle when I was twelve, and I fucking knocked it out of the park, did it in like three days, working on it hours every day. My parents got it laminated, and framed, and I'm going to take it with me everywhere I go until I die." She fished around for what remained of the fries, getting a few chunks from the bottom of the carton. "Embarrassing...that would either be the time Dylan and me did 'breakfast in our undies' when Mom was out of the house...only she wasn't out of the house yet and walked right into us...or the time dad smelled pot on my breath and we went through an entire decade's worth of 'war on drug' slogans for the next two hours." She gave Devin a lazy smile then, arriving at the 'ex' question. "What makes you so sure I broke up with him...or her?" Cass asked teasingly. "Maybe he or she dumped me." "Maybe," he shrugged. "Either way, whomever they were, how'd it go down? I'm curious, the people have a right to know, Cassandra..." he paused and finally snapped his fingers. "Allen. Ha." "I just have never seen you with anyone, granted I never paid much attention to you, even when I was knocking your school books out of your hand while you were fiddling with your phone..." he chuckled. "Man, you made that so easy. You were always on that thing." He shook his head in fond reminiscence. "So? Who were they? How'd the whole last relationship go down? Mine's easy... unlikely pair, met, laughed, spent an afternoon making love, then she got grounded and moved away a week later. Which I suppose is a win because at least I didn't turn her gay... which is what my sister was betting on." "Are you sure?" Cassandra asked. "Did you keep in touch after you left?" She poured some of the melted ice water in her cup into her mouth and swished it a bit before swallowing. "Well, as you might have gleaned, my boyfriend's name was Dylan. We were together a couple of years. He and his friends are into skating, alternative music and slacking off...and when I met him all three of those things were things I was kind of into. I started hanging out with them, and we just started going out." She shrugged. "Nothing complicated, and that was the appeal. The whole thing was very chill, very laid back. But my situation changed. I wasn't happy just fucking around, watching the world go by anymore...and he was. So yeah, I broke up with him." "See? I knew you dumped him." He said with confidence. "Me being picky isn't necessarily good news for you," Cassandra reminded him with a grin. "Pfft," he chuckled. "I'm sure you told him what was up. all he had to do was grow up a little, be willing to be flexible in order to keep you happy. And he didn't want to do that after a couple of years? Fault lies with him, Blondie, not you're wanting to mature and grow. Had it been a few months, or something? Okay, I could see it. Two people need to be flexible for a relationship to be successful. Fixed thoughts and patterns of behavior can have a negative impact on a relationship leading to fixed patterns of behavior. Being able to break that cycle is called psychological flexibility." All she could do is just glare at him. "Sorry, my mom was a behavioral therapist before we moved here." He shrugged. "EmJay and me have had every blurb of psych-speak hammered into our heads. It's how we manipulated a whole school for several years. Bad idea in retrospect, but totally fun along the way. My point is you wanted to mature and grow, which at our age is not an unlikely want. We need to discover the whole 'who we are' thing. Your being picky wouldn't necessarily apply to me unless...," his eyes flared wide and leaned in, silently, but in feigned shock asked her: "Blondie, are you trying to get in my pants?" "I can neither confirm nor deny those allegations," Cassandra replied cagily. "For what it's worth, my dad is a psychologist too, so...yeah. That much I get." She tapped her chin as she looked at Devin. "I guess that makes it my turn." "Fair is fair," he smiled. "Just make sure you're ready to know the answer before you ask, I do have little shame after all." As Max walked past he raised a single digit and pointed to the dwindling chili cheese fries. Although hard at it, she nodded to him and went on about her duties. "You know, my sister might have some ways to help you out with your hair too. She's lazier than she lets on, and still looks like a million bucks everyday. Hit her up, she'll probably tell you how she does it." "That might almost be worth the ladling of contempt I'd get for it," replies Cassie. "Okay. Let's see." What did she really want to know about Devin? As fun as it might be just to ask questions to get under his skin, that wasn't the first priority. How deep did the 'jerk side' of him run? "If you could change one thing you've done in the past up until now, what would you change...how would you change it, and why?" she fished. That got him. His smile seemed to fade as swiftly as the witty quips sprang to his lips on any other occasion. She could tell that he was legit taken off guard by the question. Cassie half expected a dodge... but he began, with very little preparation, like he knew exactly what it was he was going to say. "I know that Marissa is easy to dislike. She's hateful and hurtful and... she used to not always be like that. We used to be like you guys, albeit richer and better dressed, but we were just... ordinary kids, y'know?" They way he looked into her eyes while he sorted through his memories seemed to indicate she'd found the serious side of the teleporter she'd been looking for. "We were the zero's among the elite. We weren't as super rich as the richest kids, so we were the poor kids who got picked on. Mom was always trying to get us some commercial and get us into acting on Disney or Nick but it never happened. We're pretty sure it was her they didn't like, not us." He sighed and shook his head at the memory of some of the antics his mother pulled at auditions but didn't dwell on them. "Anyway, it didn't bother me as much as it did her. It really hurt her her self-esteem and... I don't know, I'm her brother... I was supposed to be there for her." "When we got here, it was her idea to dominate Shelly. All we really did was become the monsters we hated so much. Now? She's so distant from people, doesn't really seem to in touch with how people feel or even care for that matter. She's so self absorbed that," he trailed off and rubbed his face with his palms, an obvious sign that he was bothered by saying these things out loud. Perhaps because it reminded him that it was real. "I don't know... if I hadn't agreed and put my foot down or made some effort to pull her out of this stupid prank sooner instead of letting it go on for so long, she might still be the EmJay I used to know. One you guys would wouldn't even recognize. That's on me, I guess." "Stupid prank," Cassandra repeated, sorting through the story in her head. "You mean the 'dominate Shelly' prank?" She sat back for a second, then said, "I know I don't really know you two, so...I should probably keep my mouth shut, but I'm me. So...this sounds like something you wish you could change that Marissa did. And you're maybe blaming yourself, but it's still her mistake. I mean..." she offered Devin what she hoped was a comforting smile. "...I don't think even you could stop Marissa from doing something she really set her heart on." "Normally I'd agree, even when it came to my sister, a topic I'm usually pretty bull headed on... but I went along with it. She didn't beg me or need to convince me, I went along with it Cassie and let me tell you, I had a blast doing it. I wish I could say I was sorry for all of it, but I'm not. It was a fun ride. Do I regret it? Yeah. In retrospect it was phenomenally dumb idea, but... I'm only realizing that now." He shrugged with one shoulder while reaching for his drink. "We're both hateful and spiteful, I'm just more a more 'in-the-moment' guy. Let me get it out of my system, I'm good. EmJay likes the long game. I part of me thinks I should have recognized it sooner and pulled her back. I don't really blame myself for what she's doing, or has done, or... will probably do," he smirked with a roll of his eyes. "I'm her brother, y'know? It's not so much as just wanting my sister to be safe and happy... and stable." He let out a deep, audible sigh. "But, yeah... that's my big goof. Knowing better and still being dumbass anyway." "Most kids our age are dumbasses," corrected Cassandra. "You've gone further than just that." She let that hang, then nodded. "But yeah, that was...more complicated than I expected it to be. Which isn't a bad thing. Again, I get the feeling you've thought about this stuff before, which...is good." She took another bite of crunchy ice and went on, "All right, now...think about your first crush. What about her did you notice the most? Why was she your crush." Then with a grin she added, "Or he." "She," he said with a smile. "Ugh, god...," he groaned. "Can we go back to complicated brotherly issues? Those are easier." "Nope," she teased. "You're horrible," the teleporter joked as she laughed a bit. "Okay, fine... but this goes no further. Her name was Hannah. She was year older than me and her parents were rich as hell, like Arab oil rich. I'm pretty sure bled gold and kept her room warm by paying bums wearing suits made of hundred dollar bills to light themselves on fire." They both laughed at his extreme example. "If you've never been out to Malibu or the surrounding area... it's nuts out that way. Crazy rich people, doing crazy things with money." "Brunette, she was... incredibly well developed," he smirked. "But that's not why I liked her. To be honest... there wasn't just one thing, which completely baffled me. I honestly didn't know why I was attracted to her, but, I was. That not knowing just made me want to know more. So, I joined gymnastics... because, yeah, you guessed it, she was in gymnastics too. Turns out I was really good at it and she wasn't, or maybe she just hated it... anyway, the more I tried to get to know her she more she treated me like crap and the more I let her because I really liked her." "It was awhile before Marissa pointed out I was friend-zoned, so I made my move and asked her out to a school dance." Dismissively the young man rolled his eyes and shrugged. "Not only did she reject me, she rejected me hard. Had all of her friends laughing at me, calling me out at school, basically making my life hell until it was no longer funny and they moved on to other torments. God I hate that girl so much." he chuckled, but she could tell it wasn't a half-hearted laugh... she'd really hurt him and he hated her for it. "She was my lesson on how to won everything I do so people can't make fun of me for it. Laugh at everything and be proud of the things I do. Forget what people think or say, y'know?" Cassandra nodded sympathetically. "I can totally understand it, yeah. I'm still curious about what you saw in her though. You might not have understood it then, but you've picked that part of your life over a hundred times. I bet you have some insight now that you didn't then, yeah?" "A thousand times, per year, since," agreed with her. Once again his eyes wandered off into that little pocket of reminiscence everyone possessed, where they kept the moments of their life couldn't, for whatever reason, let go of. "How can I say this and not come off like some creeper? So... I'd never crushed on anyone before her. She was gorgeous, sure, but everything about her attracted me to her... her voice, the smell of her hair," he looked to Cassie, holding up his hand to pause the action. "It was gymnastics. to paired up to help each other out so yes, her hair was whipped in my face on several occasions. I wasn't, like, creeping in while she slept and stealing locks of it or anything." He passively shrugged and offered one of his charming, witty grins. "The security at her house was way to tight." "It was her smile, her voice, I don't know, Cassie, before I knew it I was willing to join gymnastics just to meet her and felt like the luckiest man alive when we were paired off together to practice. Looking back honestly... I don't know what specifically it was and seeing how it all turned out, I must have looked pretty pathetic to everyone on the outside looking in." He sipped his coke and shook his head, looking for the words a bit more. "Sometimes there's just love. You don't know what it is, or why it happens, but there you are... joining gymnastics and letting someone take advantage of you for just the smallest chance that maybe, just maybe they'll be yours. Jason doesn't really understand how lucky he is, sometimes, not feeling things the way we do." "Aww..." Cassandra smiled, charmed despite herself. "I don't know, man. It sucks when it goes wrong, but...he's also missing out on the high of it. Seems like he's been like...trimmed. Clipped. Pieces of the human experience just carved off, and he'll never know what he missed. And you and me...we'll never be able to really explain what he missed." She shrugs. "But that's who he is." Then Cass jabbed a finger at Devin again. "...and we're not here to talk about him. You're still on the hot seat, mister." She folded her arms and smirked. "Okay then, I think just one more. We're almost outta fries and we'll need our sleep. Think back on a time when you felt completely at peace with...yourself, with the world. A moment when everything bad just melted away, and you were happy without effort. Now...what were you doing during that moment?" "Oh, Jesus... remind me never to spin the bottle with you. You're brutal." He laughed. "That one is easy though. Every since we," he looked around and leaned in all super spy-like and lowered his voice. "Our abilities. I've been skydiving a lot. I looked up that this Joe Kittinger guy held the record for something like a hundred thousand foot skydive. So, I went for it. First, it was incredibly cold, did not know that, so I bailed out early. Tried again with proper attire, and it blew my mind. Imagine three minutes of your life where you just let go and ride the wind straight down. For all the wind rushing through my ears it was amazingly quiet." "I fall for about two-thirty, which gives me plenty of time to negotiate a landing, but to just disappear from my room and be falling for two minutes over the lights and sounds of Hong Kong or New York, or... one of those phosphorescent algae tides that sometimes happen in the ocean, it makes the world seem so massive so, I don't know, massive. Me and my problems don't seem so big anymore in those two minutes. I see all the people we're helping, the lives we're saving and... I guess I realize that despite, the total shit I've been, I'm actually someone's hero, somewhere... even if they'll never know it. Nothing quite puts at peace like knowing I'm not as hopeless as I thought I was." His expression snapped back to the now and cleared his throat in the middle of another smile as he gesture towards her with his hand. "Wanna go sometime? Totally safe. We'll start low to the ground, thirty second freefall of the reservation. It'll definitely do wonders for your hair. "Hmm...I could kind of do that too, just seeing things at a distance," Cassandra muses. "But I think you're right. It wouldn't be the same if you didn't feel yourself falling. Yeah, that'd be really cool" She holds up a finger. "Not tonight though. Too much pizza in me. And now, soda and fries. Uhf." Cassie rubs her cheek ruefully. "I'm going to need a better workout." And with that she deftly grabbed the last fry and ate it. "Okay. I liked this. Thanks, Devin." "Anytime," he said as he stood up. "I had fun too, and whenever you're ready for the drop, let me know. Like I said we'll start low." He dropped a twenty on the table even though two drinks and fries couldn't have been more than ten bucks at the small diner, and followed Cassie out to give her a ride home. Perhaps it was their conversation or what awaited them tomorrow, but neither were in a real hurry for the evening to end and it showed in Devin's careful, rather slow (for him) cruise back to Cassandra's house. The purr of the engine was low and almost silent down eave avenue as the young man barely gave it what it needed to maintain the speed limit but, no matter how hard they tried, time moved ever onward and eventually the sleek, black motorcycle came to a slow stop outside Cassandra's home. He walked her to her steps and tried his best to make any of this seem like it had some weird date vibe to it. It didn't have that vibe did it? No, it couldn't have, because they weren't dating. "Well, I'll uh, see you tomorrow, I hope? Carousel? Before we all go off and..." Awkward silence was the order of the evening when it came to tomorrow. "Well, you know. Thanks for hanging out. I didn't realize Cassandra Allen was such a complex person. I might have to investigate further." He nodded with curiosity on par with mad scientists the world over. "Definitely," Cassandra said in reply. Her cheeks reddened as she realized that could be taken a couple of ways, "I mean, about seeing you tomorrow." She nodded...then admitted, "And also the other thing, except, you know, about you." Ugh...and she was wanting to make a living using words? "Okay! So...thanks. Seeya." Cassie fished her keys out of her pocket and gave Devin an awkward wave. A gesture felt appropriate but, like...what? Handshake was formal and impersonal and cringe. Hug felt...too the opposite. Shit, end on a joke! "Drive safe," she said, and managed a grin. He laughed at her safe driving comment, walking back a few steps as he winked at her. "No promises, Blondie." He turned to walk back to his bike. She breathed a sigh of relief as he didn't go for a hug or a handshake... just smiles and witty banter. After all, they were still friends and... he still had Lona issues he was dealing with, that much was obvious. He spun about around half-way to his bike and was stepping back again. "Oh, hey, if you want to, text me if you have Homecoming concerns or feel like going a few more rounds of questions or... you know... if you just can't sleep. Worst that'll happen is I don't respond because I'm already sleeping." It was close to 'I'd like to talk to you again' as guys who were not sure about their relationship status got to saying 'we don't have to be face to face to flirt shamelessly'. Since no one in the Fellowship was really getting a lot of sleep lately anyways, except Jason who was usually sound asleep stuffed full of hiker gibblets, his offer didn't seem like an unreasonable one. His bike roared to life and hushed to a purr before he revved it up and was on his way down the street. Her lips curled in a grin and she shook her head as the dark street lit up in a sudden, Back to the Future purple flash once he was out of sight.
  4. Ten minutes later, they were all gathered on the front porch for the hijinks. "Okay okay!" Cassandra laughed, and broke away from everyone and skipped down the steps to stand in front of Jason with her hands on her hips. "Anything I need to do?" Jason shook his head laconically and replied, "Just try not to move your arms and legs too much. You might hit something and hurt yourself." She got that skeptical expression that she often got...but then her eyes widened and she looked down as the ground started moving away from her. "...oh shit." The sensation was...weird. It wasn't at all what Cass had expected. She'd figured it would feel like invisible hands, maybe big ones or maybe some kind of tendril wrapping around her. She'd expected some kind of invisible tangibility lifting her up. But it wasn't like that at all. It almost felt like she was falling very slowly upward instead, in that there was no feeling of something solid that her weight was pressing on. The closest thing she could think of to relate it to was that resistance one felt when holding the same poles of two magnets close together. There was resistance without substance...a zone she could not move through, but that had no texture or surface. Overcome with wonder, Cassandra moved her hands around herself, but whatever force was lifting her didn't impede her movement at all. It was only lifting her...not a force field or something like that. When she concentrated on her own Shine, she could clearly 'see' the power emanating from Jason, stretching out to her and enveloping her in a glow that was not her own. He was being careful, Cass noted. He could have just affected her arm, and hauled her up that way...and that would be a lot less comfortable. Instead the force he was creating affected every particle of her being at the same time and intensity, and as a result she could barely tell she was moving aside from seeing the world shift around her. That concluded her study, and she devoted her remaining airtime to enjoying it. After doing some swimming moves, and tucking herself into a midair flip, Cassandra mimed holding a broomstick and shouted, "It's time to tryyyyyyyyyy defyyyyyyying gravity...and you can't keep meeeeeee down!" and dissolved into laughter as she zoomed around a few times, then descended and came in for a graceful landing. Cass flashed Jason a big grin after that, then turned to look at the others. "Okay, that's awesome. Fight over who goes next." As the other girls started shouting their names and jockeying for position, Cassandra backed off a bit and dug her phone out of her pocket. She punched up Devin's number and gave him a call. "Hey, Devin. If you still want to meet up, I'm game."
  5. Cassandra looked over from where Kat's flagrant Frenchness had distracted her, just in time to catch Devin's farewell address. She crossed the room after him and caught the door before it could quite swing entirely shut, then opened it up again. "Hey, Devin," she said, and immediately wasn't quite sure what came next. She'd meant to talk to him before this point, maybe even do a little 'training' with him, but without consciously meaning to had somehow managed to avoid him. Now Cassie felt like she had something to say to him, but couldn't quite figure out just what. It was way too late to pull the eject lever now though. "Thanks for the ride up here, and...for being on at least semi-good behavior tonight," she said with a half-grin. "I let you go easy this time, but next time we all do a training day? Punishment. Justice from on high." She nodded, then added, "See you there." Cassie hadn't really planned on saying that, but it felt right. A demand from her that he survive, and a promise to do the same. "Hey," Devin added as she started to back up. "Look, um, when you're ready to go, give me a call, okay? I'll get you home and... maybe we can grab a shake or a burger or something? Y'know, if you're up for it." Cassandra paused, then grinned wider. "Shake and a burger after a whole night munching on pizza? You'd better hang onto that sixpack if we're going to Homecoming." Then she looked away for a second and tucked an errant lock of hair back behind her ear. "But...a ride would be cool. And we could get something, sure." "Or we can sit and drink a Coke and talk for a bit. Max won't bother us as long as we order something." He laughed. "Don't worry about me Blondie, I'll be good and ready for you to show me off to all your friends." He smirked. "See you in a bit." "Yeah, seeya Devin." Cassie retreated back into the house and broke into a jog as she went looking for Jase with a bit more urgency than was strictly required.
  6. "That's not a bad point," Cassandra said, snagging her own floatyCoke. "And some weapons, you know? We can't all fling rocks like bullets or burn stuff with our minds. Even someone like me might get a lucky shot in. Oh, and...maybe some gas and a lighter? Just in case we need to set fire to the Tree the old-fashioned way for some reason. I'm sure there's some camping stuff in my garage I can grab without Mom ever knowing it."
  7. Jase's impromptu winter attracted Cassandra's attention, and she laughed at the spectacle of the lopsided snowball 'fight' that ensued. It stirred a corner of her head that wondered idly about how each of the Fellowship had a unique specialty. There were talents they shared between them, but no one seemed to have a real depth of strength in the same talents. That seemed...not random, didn't it? Mulling that over, Cassie strolled over to where Jase had settled down to brood, no longer paying attention to the others for a few minutes. "Hey," she said. "Mind if I sit here for a second?" "Not at all." The lean youth said without opening his eyes, gesturing at the grass with one hand before returning it to his knee. As usual, he displayed no sign that anything had been interrupted or that she was, in some way, intruding. Instead his eyes opened as the pretty blonde settled across from him, studying her for a long moment without speaking further, his attitude one of patient expectation. "Sorry if I'm breaking into your 'you time,'" Cassandra said, studying Jaseon right back. "You have my permission to tell me to get lost, not that I think you really need it." She smiled. "Your snowball fight got me thinking a few things, and one of them is that I want some practice working with powers. Lilly's got me started learning about punching and stuff...but I'll eat my bra if the Dark doesn't have some kind of ability like we do. It's...too similar, you know? Opposite, but similar." "A corruption of ours, perhaps." Jason said calmly, his gaze attentive. "The opposite of Radiance, as Coyote called it. Or maybe both are universal cosmic constants, eternally at odds from the beginning, like matter and anti-matter." His lips twitched in a slight smile. "And if I truly wanted to be alone, I would go elsewhere. You are always free to speak to me, Cassandra." She nodded in response. "So, once you've had a chance to rest, would you help me out with powers? I figure it might be easier with you because your powers are really noticible. With Devin he'd be jumping around too much, and most of the rest of us there's not much you can see with your eyes." "Of course." Jason nodded. "I can do some basic exercises without requiring much juice." He considered for a heartbeat. "How about this - I try to telekinetically shove you off-balance, and you attempt to counter me with your own powers-" he paused for a moment. "Out of curiousity, how would you counter that?" Cassie poked the inside of her cheek out with her tongue, then said, "I can see Shine when I try. And there was a couple of times when I sort of...without really thinking about it...used my Shine to sort of push or cut someone else's. Like when Courtney tried to read my mind before. I haven't really had a chance to try to do it on purpose yet though." "Interesting." Twin pale chips of green ice narrowed fractionally at her words. "So something like Clara's ability to cancel out powers. She was able to make me lose my telekinetic grip on things in her vicinity last time we trained. Good - I was concerned that her departure would rob us of that valuable talent." He was silent for a moment longer, considering. "Then yes, TK is the way to go. At least until we get a relative measure of your strength." Cassandra felt an invisible 'hand' firmly grasp her shoulder. "I will attempt to push, and you will try to make my grip ineffective. The worst that will happen is you get pushed over. Are you ready?" She took in and let out a breath, and nodded. "Okay." Then she closed her eyes to help focus on other, subtler senses. It took a second, but she remembered the chaos at the Medical Center, and how she'd managed to see both the Shine of her friends and the swirling Dark of the other creatures, heedless of walls and obstacles. And then there was Jase...unrecognizable compared to how he looked as a creature of flesh and blood. He was a river of light, covered in twisting tributaries that together twined and wove something roughly the size and shape of a person, but only roughly. As alien as it looked, Cass could tell immediately it was Jase. The 'hand' on her shoulder was essentially just an extrusion of that shining light, stretching from him to her. WIth a frown, she pushed at it...and saw her own Shine extend out from her shoulder, between herself and his own...and the sensation of pressure vanished. "Good." Jason said as he felt the grip brushed aside as though it were cobwebs. "Now I'm going to try sudden shoves. No warning but your own senses. These don't tax me at all, so we can keep this up as long as you like. Deflect or weaken as many as you can." Cassie nodded, and for the next five minutes a silent, invisible duel played out between the two teens. Jason was strong with his gift, with focus that came from living with it and using it as an extension of himself much as Devin did. Despite that, Cassie was able to weaken many of the shoves so they merely made her sway, and others dissipated into fog much as the first had. One or two, however, got through before she could adequately focus, with enough force that if felt like Cade or Lilly was playfully shoving her over to sprawl on the grass. "Okay," Cass grunted as she picked herself up off the ground for the third time. "Okay. I am gonna need a lot more practice at this." She shook her hands out...a little pointlessly, since they weren't needed for this, but it still felt right. Despite being purely mental, Cass found it hard to untangle her powers from her sense of her body. "And," she added, "I'm kind of wondering just how far out I can push my Shine like this. What I kind of wish was that we had a little Dark to practice with though, you know? What if it's different in some really important way?" "For the second question - the only answer will be trial by fire." Jason said with glacial calm. "Until we establish your ability against the Dark, then we cannot hinge any tactics on it." His head tilted very slightly. "You will be with us anyway, to guide us across the threshold. Once there, do what you can. You cannot be asked more than that." "As to the first question..." Three water bottles rose from the growing discard pile and began circling the seated pair at a range of roughly thirty meters. "Try to block what I am doing. Protect the empty bottles, make me lose my grip on them. If they are out of range, then I shall bring them in. If they are within your range, we shall extend. Sound good?" She nodded and lowered her head in concentration. Pushing the Shine out was easy at first, but rapidly became harder the farther it went. Even so, after a few tries she managed to get the distance she could make the bottles drop at extend to a good ten feet or so. With more effort Jase could feel the extra effort he had to exert further out still... By the time Cassandra finally waved a white flag out of just being tired, she'd been able to force Jase's mental fingers from them at over a hundred feet away, or so they estimated. Cass then asked, "Could you send one of those bottles my way?" She fanned herself and wiped her forehead. "This is thirsty work. I think I'm kind of...doing it wrong. Each time I try I've been pushing out again, but I think it's easier if I just push, and hold." Jason nodded, a fresh bottle rising from the cooler and arcing through the air to hover within easy arms reach of the girl. "You're doing well. And yes, establishing a constant zone of control would likely be easier, if you can." The water in the bottle cooled, beads of condensation forming and running down the sides even as Cass reached for it. "Have a drink and a rest, then we can try that." She unscrewed the cap and eagerly guzzled a few gulps, then splashed her face with it. "Ugh, between this and Lilly's workout, I'm gonna be a wreck by the time I get home," Cassie observed with a wry chuckle. "You ever wonder, like...how many powers we can have? I can see things at a distance, and back in time. Now I can mess with other people's powers too. What's next? How can we even tell?" "Our powers seem to be outgrowths of our personalities, drives, core passions." Jase's eyes tightened a little in contemplation. "I've theorised a lot around that, based on the evidence. Autumn has powers over life, suiting her vital nature and restlessness. Devin's core drive is freedom, and so his power reflects the ultimate ability to avoid confinement. You seek answers, the truth at the heart of things, and so your powers provide you with insights into the present, past, and maybe the future, as well as into the fundamental forces we all tap into. And so on, and so on." He smiled then, an impish glint of wry humor in his gaze. "But what's really going to bake your noodle is... Does our Radiance reflect our personalities, or were our personalities shaped by the Radiance within us?" "I was going to say, that felt backwards to me," Cassandra agreed, nodding. "Starting from the conclusion, and making shit up that justifies it. I'm not saying what you came up with is wrong, but...like everyone wants freedom, you know? And what about your powers? What secret mental need do they fill?" "Does everyone want freedom?" Jason asked rhetorically. "Really? How many rules and strictures and codes of behaviour do people bind themselves in willingly? How many religious cults have there been to take the onus for moral thought? How often do you hear someone say they could not help it, or had no choice? True freedom is scary to many." "Ehhh, I dunno. I don't think it's the freedom that's scary. I think it's not trusting other people with freedom," Cassie opined. "All the rules and strictures and codes are things we sign onto partly because that's just how we grew up...but it's also because we expect everyone else to abide by them too. Like everyone agreeing to follow the rules of a game. Only, you know, higher stakes." "It doesn't mean we aren't interested in our own freedom." "I think many don't understand what freedom really is. They tend to ignore the fact it also entails responsibility." Jason shrugged. "But then, I have a unique perspective. I choose to be bound by fetters that are, to me, no more substantial than a puff of silk. I do so not because I have no choice, but because I so choose. And if I chose differently, nothing would stop me. I can be killed, but I cannot be bound indefinitely against my will. I will never accept such bonds and, like Fenrir of Norse myth, would eventually escape them... or die trying." "And that brings us to your other question. My expression of Shine - it is an outgrowth of my core as well. Fire for passion, ice for control, force for Will. These define me." "We all have a choice, dude. Granted, most of us can't just ignore what other people think because they can't hurt us," Cassie admits, "But we have choice. There's just clearly bad choices that will result in us dying alone, and clearly better choices that will result in us dying...later. And hopefully not alone." She shrugs. "But anyway. It's as good a theory as anything else at this point. I guess if we want real science done, we have to go crawling back to Aeon, and that's not really appealing for some reason." "Its a new frontier of science, so there'll be a lot of theorising." Jason nodded. "And some of it the conventional scientists of Aeon's project would be less than helpful with - we need their resources, not their brain trust... at least for the most part. It would be better for us to formulate a working theory ourselves without being talked down to. So far, the theory of the subquantum strata myself and Sean are cooking up seems to hold. So far." he added with a brief wry smile. "And yes, you're right that trusting those who funded Cook's little eugenics project is not appealing. It may, however, be necessary. At least to a degree. If they claim they want to help us, then we should allow them - cautiously - to attempt to do so. Trust can be built from there." His matter-of-fact demeanour unchanging, he went on "Do you feel up to attempting that zone of control yet?" Cassandra nodded. "Cooperation may be necessary. Trust...we'll see. Yeah though, lets get back to it." She got back to her feet and tossed her head around a bit. Then, she tried pushing her 'shine' out in all directions, as far as she could...and just holding it. Filling that area with it. "This...isn't so bad," she said after a second. "There's this push at first...but then it gets easier to hold it. See what happens when you try to float stuff." Jason nodded, and attempted to pick up the first of the empty bottles from the grass. It trembled slightly, rolling as his 'grasp' slipped and faded, but otherwise did not move. Focusing more intently, he reached out and tried again. This time the bottle rose into the air, but he could feel the grasp was tenuous, weaker. Nodding, he floated the bottle towards them. "It's harder." he said with a smile. "I have to concentrate a lot harder to do something that should be reflexively easy." Even as he said it, the distortion of Cassandra's zone of control caused his grip on the bottle to falter and the empty container fell to the grass. "Interesting. It's affecting my kinetic perceptions a little, too. Like trying to see through fog. If your power can affect the source used by the Dark in the same way, we might have a real advantage." "Especially if I can tune it in," she agreed, frowning in concentration. "So it affects the Dark, but not us. But that'll also make me a big target..." "We will have to take steps to defend you, then." Jason nodded slowly as he considered. "There's something I want to try, if you're willing? It should work, and if so will be painless." Cassandra eyed Jase warily. "Something you want to try...that's painless. Explain while I get ready to run.." That was good for a smile that reached the pale eyes, the corners crinkling a little. "I can protect myself with a forcefield that turns aside and dampens energy of all kinds, including kinetic. I can also create shapes, tools and structures out of pure force that are mobile and usable. Theoretically, I should be able to extend my personal shield to others on an individual basis." "Oh!" Cassandra thought, then said, "Try it on me, and I'll leave my shine on. Lets see if we can get them to work together." "Alright. Tune your field of control away from Shine, focus on the anti-Shine you've sensed and felt before." Jason advised, picking up his half-full bottle of water from next to him as he focused on Cassandra. As the reporter nodded in the affirmative, Jason smiled... and hurled the bottle at her chest... ...where it stopped dead on impact, all of it's momentum bled away harmlessly before it fell to the ground at the blonde's feet. "It seems to work." Jason said calmly, that gleam of mischief back in his eyes. Cassie put a hand up to her chest over her heart and rubbed her shirt there, as if verifying the lack of bruising. She grinned and shook her head. "Man, not complaining that I have magic super powers, but I gotta say, it mighta been nice if my unconscious mind gave me something a little more kickass than 'mega-voyuerism.'" She looked at her fingers as she held them up and wiggled them. "Though I guess if I can hold back powers, that's not bad. Unless the Dark starts hiring normal assassins and sending them after me." "That is what Lilly's training is for." Jason said quietly. "It's why I train with Hank, and study widely on a variety of subjects, and run to keep fit. The powers should not be a crutch, but one arrow of many in your quiver. For me, that is just an evolution of my prior attitude - to be competent in as many disciplines as I could. For others... Who can say?" He smiled a little at her. "Like it or not, we are all warriors now. Not all front-line, but our attitude has to be one of preparation." She sighs. "Yeah, but it takes years to get good at something like martial arts, you know? And between this Enterich guy, and Crossroads...we have more than just the Dark to worry about. As if it wasn't enough." "True. And Site B." Jason nodded, the faint pressure of the forcefield around Cass dropping away. "And even after that, we're not necessarily done. Who knows what fresh challenges come after?" "The other aliens," Cassandra agreed. "If Coyote was telling the truth about them. The ones who didn't want people developing powers." The teen reporter folded her arms over her stomach, unconsciously protecting her underbelly. "What do you think we should do? I mean...after the Dark, after Crossroards and Site B. Try to blend in with everyone? Go public with powers? Something in between?" "Whatever we choose will present difficulty. Go public, and people will attempt to lay claim to us, to vilify or glorify us, to make us heroes or villains... or heroes then villains, much as they do all their idols. Try to blend in, and we shackle ourselves by trying to avoid standing out. Something in between? What would that look like? Secret identities? Masks and spandex?" He gave a lopsided smile. "Whatever we choose, it will be interesting." "That's not really an answer," points out Cass. "But okay. I just can't help but think there's a lot going on that people need to know about. Things that would...totally transform our understanding of the world, and ourselves, and the universe." She shrugs. "It feels selfish to keep it to ourselves." Then Cassandra glanced at Jase again and asked, "So...okay change of subject. Autumn. How's that going?" He was silent for a moment, considering her as the lopsided smile faded and left his habitual stoic composed mien, then "Do you really want to know?" The question was quietly, but genuinely asked. Cassandra smiled. "I always want to know." "It is a series of revelations." Jason said simply, without any sign of discomfort or embarrassment. "From the moment she talked with me, expressed genuine interest in me, then hugged me last Monday, as a friend taking away pain, to the camping trip and the fun we had together, to the first kiss, to that night and so on through to today." His eyes never left Cassie's as he spoke calmly. "Her touch makes my blood warm, her kisses linger even when she is not here. I find myself laying awake thinking on her laugh, her smile, the way she feels when she puts her arms around me. It is an effort for me not to be distracted by her." He smiled then, very slightly. "You asked." She nods, not seeming put out at all. "I mean...here though." Cass stepped forward and put her hand on Jase's heart. "It wasn't that long ago you were telling everyone you're a psychopath. How do you feel about her?" "It may be possible I was wrong about the psychopathy." Jason shrugged a little. "Certainly, no psychopath should be capable of feeling as I feel. Loyalty to you as friends, love for my father, and for Autumn..." he sighed softly, glancing down at Cassie's hand on his heart, then back at her eyes. "I am young, whatever else I am. I do not wish to speak the word that comes to mind, in case it's utterance causes her to retreat from me. She is, after all, also young. Let us just say I feel very strongly towards her." Cassandra's eyes stayed glued to Jase's for a second, inhaling his expression, his posture and movements, the shifting of his eyes...then she nodded. "Okay. Good. If you want to talk...I mean, to someone other than her...you can talk to me." She took her hand back. "Thank you." he inclined his head, not smiling. "And likewise. You are her friend, and mine." "Right." Looking around again, Cassandra chewed her bottom lip for a second, then said to Jase. "Okay. I think that's enough for me, for now. I'll let you rest up. Thanks for helping me out. I feel better about going with you guys." Jason nodded, settling back down to his sitting position. "I'm glad you are our Eyes." he said simply, before closing his. Cassie nods, then heads out to see who else she can pester...
  8. "We're not all fighting," Cassie reproved Cade. "It's...good natured ribbing. Maybe neutral-natured ribbing. At worst. We're fine." She waved Lilly over and said, "Okay, let me get you caught up." While Jase and Devin got warmed up, Cassandra regaled Lilly with the tale of the very, very busy week the Fellowship had had. From their explorations of the medical center and the Darksplosion, to the visitations of the Man In Black, the revelation that Courtney and Kat were also 'shiny,' and of course the gruesome secret of the Old Town Hall and Cody's grim fate. She wound up on what they'd learned at the reservation...a legendary account of where it all had started. And because Cass was Cass, she had a SIM card full of photos and videos and other visual aids to call upon on her phone to help get it all across. Finally she wound down, saying, "I know that's a lot to process...believe me, I'm still working through it and I was there for most of it. What is all boils down to though is that we're going to make our move on the Dark. We're going to punch through at the Old Town Hall attack the Tree, and knock that fucking skull right off the Throne there and crush it to dust. And we think Cody might well be ready for us, so..." Cass waved a hand at the sparring match. "We're getting ready for him." "Any questions?"
  9. Cass did her best to keep a straight face, but finally threw in the towel. She burst into laughter and ran over to Lilly to throw her arms around the athlete and give her a big hug. "I'm so glad you're back!" the wannabe-journalist exclaimed. "We had no idea what was going on! We thought you'd moved or something!" A bit bemused, Lilly returned the hug, looking around at everyone over Cassandra's shoulders as if to assess the danger of more hugs ensuing. "No," she said, chuckling and patting Cassie's shoulder. "No, it was just the trials." Happily Cassandra did release Lilly and back up a step, beaming. "Right, well, it's really good seeing you again. I mean, it feels a little weird to say I'm glad you're here...because here is a madhouse of danger and horror, kind of...but after some of the shit we've seen..." She shook her head. "I'm just glad you're okay."
  10. At the Miracle of the Tractor Reborn, Cassandra clapped her hands and whistled like she was at a rock concern. On some level she couldn't help but feel an inkling of something deeper though. No one had really talked about it yet, at least not with her, but what were they going to do with these powers after the whole Dark thing was finished? Go public? Live secret double lives? Find some kind of balance? Cass figured Jase probably already knew, but what about everyone else? And maybe more to the point, what about her? At first it might seem like someone like her could get a lot of mileage out of her powers. Track down secrets, stories, scoops...find the guilty and expose them... But it was that last, wasn't it? Was she prepared for that situation where psychic visions told her unequivocally that someone was guilty of something awful...but she couldn't find proof, so nothing happened? Or would she, in that case, act on her own, or with the help of the Fellowship, to exact justice outside what the law could? Because that idea troubled her. It felt like a no-win situation. Do something, and weaken the very concept of law. Do nothing, and let the spirit of the law be violated. It wasn't today's problem, but it was still troubling. No, today's problem? Well, seeing Autumn and Jase do their thing reminded Cassandra of some of the perks of having a boyfriend. She didn't miss Dylan so much as she missed the feeling of arms around her, lips against her. The warmth, the contact... It was nice. But yeah...pickings were slim. Jason was crazy, and also taken. Cade dull, also taken. Though the idea of stealing another of Marissa's boyfriends gave the mean slice of her brain a chuckle. There was Devin, and lets face it...she could do worse. He was good looking, he was fun, he had a cool power... For all his faults, she liked him. And they did have a weird kind of bond from way back when they'd both seen their very first Weird Thing together. And they were going to Homecoming. So why not? Maybe it was seeing him and Tawny. Or him and...basically every other person with tits that wasn't Sean. Maybe it was just that they'd been friends 'too long.' Maybe it was the thirteen-year old emotional affect. Cassie just didn't feel a romantic spark between them right now. Maybe that'd change if they went out a time or two or three. I just don't know who he is yet, she decided. Not really. Then who though? Courtney? The thought brought a laugh to her. Like, okay, sure you go and experiment girl, but Courtney? Cass got along better with Marissa than her...and that was saying something. Sean? The funny thing there was that, even putting aside the whole 'looks like a girl' thing, Sean and Cass just didn't have anything in common, it felt like. They barely ever even talked. Definitely no sparks there at the moment. Ugh. Maybe just no one. She was young, there was no hurry! It's not like there wasn't enough other stuff on her plate to focus on. Speaking of which. "If that's all the porn we're getting, lets get back to business!" she called out. "What's next?! Get naked or break it up!"
  11. Cade smiled as the group began pairing off for this. With Marissa and he being different, they'd not be together for this, so he turned his attention to Cassandra, who was near Kat. "Hey Cass, Kat." They'd had at least one little adventure together, and he knew her abilities probably served her well with all of this. "So you two gonna give this a try? Would you mind if I join? I know you've got more experience with this, and given we don't know how exactly it will react with me, I figure that might be something good to have when we try." He smiled at Kat, and nodded. "If you two want to try it out first, just to get Kat used to it I can wait, and then we can try adding me in, or just try with you and I first, Cass." He gave her an almost mischievous grin. "Or we can jump in feet first and just try linking all 3 of us at once, which I don't think has been tried before." "Sounds like fun," the petite redhead replied, "but I got no idea of how this works." She didn't mind pairing with the blonde girl, as she knew very little about her. It would be an occasion to chat. Would she be able to with Cade around? She mulled over that, and caught a glimpse of Jason sitting not far. Ugh... does he even know what he's doing? She thought as her gaze trailed off to his sweatpants. She shook her head and turned her attention back to the big guy talking to her. Cassandra looked over at Cade, assessing him. Cade's particular 'brand' of shine wasn't like the others, except maybe Marissa. She honestly had no idea how trying to include him in a link would work...which meant this was the perfect time to try it. BEFORE it became a matter of life and death. She looked at Kat and nodded. "If you're okay with it, lets start off with Cade. If it's too weird we can do it again without him, but I want to see how hard or easy it is to bring him in right off. Don't worry about not knowing how it works either. I've done this a few times now, and it's not really that hard to do." She waved Cade over. "Lets give this a try." "Okay, so how do we go about this?" It was clearly his first time trying, they'd just not had time before. He looked at Cass, since she had, and made his way to her. "What do you need me to do?" "Alright, lets hold hands," Cassie started with, and held out her hands. "You don't really have to, but I think it's a little easier with contact." When the other two had taken a hand each, she went on. "Now close your eyes and try to clear your heads. Just...try to take in everything you're experiencing without thinking about it. You should start to feel a kind of...light, or warmth...from the rest of us." She looks at Cade. "I'm not sure this'll happen for you, but try it anyway." Cassandra then added, "I'll try to sort of bring you in, and you'll be able to sort of decide if you want to let me. I'm not sure what exactly it will feel like for you. For me, it's kind of a pulling feeling. Whatever it is, just go with it. Once we're linked we'll be able to share our senses, our thoughts...whatever we want. We won't be able to invade each other's minds, but just be aware it's easy to let things slip sometimes so just be aware of what you're thinking." She smiled. "Any questions?" The French girl shifted her weight from one leg to another, uneasy, and shook her head. Clearing her head. That was going to be a challenge. The back of her head was itching for a rub, but her right hand was currently busy gently squeezing the blonde girl's, and she didn't feel like rubbing it with her left hand. The corner of her lips twiched in a brief smile as she found the thought funny. I'm wondering if people have a favorite hand to rub their head with. Is it related to left or right handedness? As Cade too the hands of both girls, he nodded, and did all he could to clear his mind. From the outside, it was as if the others could feel the stillness of a deep pool of water. He allowed himself to simply go with the flow, as he hoped to feel the link established between the three of them. He was unsure how this would work, but this needed to happen now, they needed to know before it was life and death. He just wanted to be helpful to others in some way. For Cassandra, sensing the 'shine' of Kat and Cade was easy enough. To her senses Kat was much like the others in the Fellowship. Cade's was quite a bit different. He wasn't exactly the same as 'normal' people, but she was hard pressed to articulate exactly HOW he was different. There was a shine to him, but it felt like it looped and whorled almost entirely through his body, hardly leaking out at all. She let her own Shine pour out, engulfing the two of them. From there it was kind of like 'tuning' it, like tuning a guitar string to a proper harmony with another string. Not imitating Kat's shine, but rather fitting alongside it, closer and close until the division started blurring...and yet without losing their distinctiveness, like how a rainbow could be made from a single ray of light, but had distinct colors within it. From Kat's point of view, she felt a sense of presence...and suddenly a light she couldn't see exploded all around her, carrying with it an almost overwhelming feeling of 'Cassandra-ness.' It was like flying, or like falling...a vague sense of motion at unthinkable speed. She knew she could pull away if she wanted but, forewarned, she didn't resist. The Kat and Cassandra circles on the Venn diagram overlapped, and part of each of them became both of them. They didn't so much communicate as immediately comprehend what the other wanted to convey. Through Cassandra, Kat realized Cade's energy was different, and Cassandra wasn't as confident about how to bring him in. Through Kat, Cass felt that dizzying feeling of wonder and startlement at the first experience of a link all over again. She was right, as it turned out. Bringing Cade in was not as simple. He wasn't 'sensitive' to Shine in the way Kat was. Cassie could feel him and adjust herself to try to overlap...but the result was muted to the point it was essentially useless. There was no feedback loop; his power didn't 'listen' to hers, it felt like. Or maybe Cass wasn't listening to it? She changed her focus. Instead of trying to 'harmonize,' she just listened to it. It took a few seconds, but she thought she understood. His Shine was almost completely passive...it was reacting to events in the world around him, even at a minuscule scale. It resonated to those events, giving them power over him and allowing him to exert influence over them. What events though? She followed her own advice, stilling her thoughts and ego as thoroughly as she could, trying to experience Cade's power without any filters. A leaf falls. A cell stops moving and ruptures. Nearby, a dead earthworm just underground is broken slowly down by uncountable bacteria. At the ground water absorbs sunlight and releases molecules into the air...far above the drop in temperature causes those molecules to start binding to each other, letting tiny beads of liquid water form. Destruction. Creation. Changes of state. Disruptions of steady states. And Cassandra realized what was missing. Understanding that, the 'rhythm' of his Shine started to make more sense. He was more like an antenna for power than a generator. The key to synchronization wasn't to try to measure and respond to him...it was to try to broadcast the signal to him directly, let him react to it, then let that form a feedback loop. Cade found Cassandra looming large in his thoughts without really realizing when that had started. It felt natural, as if he'd always found her fascinating. Thinking about her sparked odd associations. The thrill of victory after a fierce game, the sharp satisfaction of getting an A on a tough test, but also the weird joy of popping bubblewrap, or firing a gun at a range.Before he could comment on the phenomenon something changed...the part of his mind that had been preoccupied with Cassandra starting imagining what she was thinking, what she was seeing and hearing. It didn't feel like telepathy...more like him speculating on her frame of mind. But Cass nodded at him. "It's real," she said. "Your power, and your mind...it's not the same for you, but we have some kind of link now." She frowned slightly. "It's...it's almost completely subconscious for you think, it feels like. So you may not get the full effect of this..." She opened her perceptions, feeding the full force of her psionic senses into the links she'd forged with Kat and Cade. For Kat, there was a sudden feeling of intense vertigo. Without moving at all distances contracted at knee-weakening apparent speeds. At the same time the luminous 'weave' of the Shine became apparent to her, like a thin netting woven from pure light. Not just the Shine of psychic powers radiating from the Fellowship like lanterns, but the much dimmer, looser fibers of grass and insects, the floating pinpricks of airborne pollen and spores, the majestic scaffolds of trees that branched into the sky, but also underground forming a vast interconnected network of roots that Shone almost like the branched neurons of the brains of the others. For that moment, Kat felt for the first time in a visceral and personal way just how 'small' she was in the vast tapestry of living things...yet despite that, how rare and precious...for there was nothing else exactly like her anywhere. Tiny but not insignificant. And she'd only just begun. For Cade, he felt his adrenaline start to spike and quickly grow into a sharp endorphin high, as if he'd been running long enough to get a second wind. He felt...stoked...engaged, alert. There was a weird feeling of distorted scale in the back of his mind as well...he felt as if he was a good fifteen or twenty feet tall, even though the evidence of his eyes was to the contrary. He felt close to Cassandra, as if they'd been best friends since childhood, but whatever psychic awareness the link normally conveyed, he didn't have conscious access to. Cassandra was watching him, her brows furrowed in concentration. "I feel like I can do better than this, but it's going to take some practice. Plus, it's tricky juggling two of you. Kat, can you feel him?" The French girl squinted slightly and shook her head. Then she could...though immediately sensed the difference between Cade and Cassandra in this link. If Cassandra was the towering basalt face of Lincoln at Mt Rushmore, Cade was the novelty plastic model on sale at the gift shop in the link. He existed, and Kat could sense him...but it was through a glass, darkly. Even with the surge from the Runner's high he felt, an abnormal calmness reigned when it came to Cade's mind. The increased feelings of friendship, though he knew otherwise in a corner of his mind weren't unwelcome, but he did wonder at the nature of them. He could feel Cassandra there, but in truth, he could only barely feel Kat. The whole of the link was centered on Cassandra, and he wondered about it. "I feel the connection to you, Cassandra, though it's kinda hard to express exactly how it feels. I guess like it's a mix of being on a big runner's high, and likve we've been friends nearly all our lives. I find myself associating you with things that make me feel exhilirated." His eyes flicked over to Kat, and then down. "I can only just feel you there, on the other side of all that." He had no idea what to do with this, but that was after all, why one of the reasons they were doing this now. It was a humbling yet exhilarating experience to the French girl, and the small part of her that feared her own Shine, her powers, washed away the bias she had developed after the incident in Great Falls. There was beauty in it, and she only needed to tame the wild horse, and ride it. Make it become part of herself. She now wanted to, more than anything else. A genuine smile drew on Cassandra's lips as she could clearly see the surge of the petite redhead's excitement, painted on her extatic face. "Whoa, this is fun!" Kat whispered in a chuckle. She turned to Cade with a puzzled look. "It's true that you do feel different from, say, Cassandra. I'm struggling to understand to what extent though. As to what you can feel from me, my wild guess would be that since Cassandra pulled us together... She's got more... presence?" Her unruly grey eyes flicked to the blonde girl's at that question. And it was then she realized she no longer wanted to rub the back of her head. At least with her right hand. "That's partly it," Cassandra said to Kat, "but only partly. There's something really different about Cade's shine. Ours reaches out into the world and his sort of stays all curled up inside of him. Now that we're linked though, I can kind of feel through it. I just...don't think Cade can feel the link the way we can. It's all sort of instinctive for him. But you guys, this is something! This is a big deal! I didn't even know if we could bring him in at all!" Her enthusiasm blared through the link, mingling with Kat's own exhilaration. Even Cade felt himself buoyed by seemingly sourceless glee. "Alright, we should check in with the others and see how they're doing," Cass said. "I'm really curious to see how it went with Marissa now."
  12. "We're getting off topic, focus." Marissa smiled her diva, do-no-wrong smile. "Like everyone, you are doing your damnedest with a situation that was, quite literally, dropped in our laps. My brother is all I have," Cassie detected a strange pause akin to a lump in one's throat. "...besides you guys. I get bitchy when I'm worried. Forgives?" As Cassie and Marissa's conversation was cut short by the interruption of her brother and the now the horde of mouth-breathing barbarians that were somehow selected to protect the world, she touched Cassie's arm and reassured her, "We'll revisit this later. Take your time, collect your thoughts. I'll leave you be." Cassandra nodded at Marissa numbly, still trying to get her brain re-oriented. Somewhere in the back of her head she felt like that was the point...keep her off-balance, keep her guessing. But yet another feeling told her that not everything was calculated, not even for Marissa. And weirder still, those two feelings were somehow not incompatible, even though they seemed like they should be. That Marissa was both a gigantic bitch and a scared, sensitive girl, at the same time. Like a photon of light, she was a particle and a wave...it all depended on how she was being measured. She saw everyone emerging from the barn and making their way across towards the fields, but she decided to take the scenic route before joining them. This was the first time Cassie had realized that she shouldn't be going with them to meet the Dark. She'd always assumed she would be, but the harsh glare of that epiphany, when she realized how...pointless her contributions had been, burned that assumption away. Oh, knowing about the Town Hall and Cooper and Enterich would be great later on, but none of it mattered at all for keeping herself, or anyone else, alive in the beast's belly. And If she went across not only would she be powerless to help, but her presence would actually make things harder on everyone else. They'd have to keep her safe while simultaneously trying to fight. Fuck. Cass wandered back into the barn, idly playing with the idea of sampling some of Jason's stock. As long as she paid him, he wouldn't mind right? And some goddamn medication would help right now. Her brain was full of daggers, and she couldn't pick up a train of thought without slicing herself open on it. Anything to dull those edges seemed welcome. She figured the cuts might be there still, but they wouldn't...matter so much. Then again, that's exactly why she'd broken up with Dylan, wasn't it? Because that one time she'd thought about her dad getting murdered and had just kind of shrugged it off...and then suddenly realized it after the fact? If that could lose the edge, if that could feel like it didn't matter anymore...what next? That her friends would be risking their lives in some kind of supernatural hellhole? That her dad was alive and brainwashed and basically enslaved? It hurt to know those things and to feel helpless...but her answer now had to be the same as it had been before, right? Hell, right now more than ever. If she hadn't been afraid to feel helpless BEFORE she had magic superpowers, then where the fuck did she get off feeling it now? There had to be a way to use this! Or...maybe there was more she could do? Cassie knew that their powers were still...evolving somehow. There'd been a time she could barely sneak a peek at the world through her powers without getting her brain blasted open. Now she was gallivanting all over entire timelines. There had to be way to USE this. She just had no idea how! Fortunately she didn't have to do it alone. Cassandra went to one of the barn windows, all dirty and smudged in the way that ground-floor windows inevitably became out in the boonies, and saw the distant stain of light from where the Fellowship had gone. She still felt a little hollow tug away from that light. The ache of a voice whispering that she didn't belong with them and should just leave before they finally kicked her out. But Autumn was really nice, and she'd been there for her. Jase was mysterious and dangerous and alluring. Devin was funny and chummy and catastrophically immature. And Cade and Tawny and Kat...she still needed to get to know all of them better. And Marissa? Well...she had an apology to accept, and an apology to make. So. If they wanted to kick her out, then Cass wouldn't be making it easy on them by self-deporting. Sooner or later something would have to give. Their tolerance, or her own imposter syndrome. Cassie wiped her eyes dry at last on the hem of her shirt and left the barn to go up and join the others where they were all in their sweats and workout clothes. "Hey guys...shit, am I late for the orgy? Please tell me I didn't buy three gallons of lube for nothing."
  13. Cassandra stood there, nodding her head as the twins had their say, then she said, "Yeah, you know what? Mari? You don't get to say anything, to anyone, about them being useless. You may not value having information, but you won't be one of the ones jumping off a fucking cliff with their eyes closed. You'll go back home and worry about which shoes to wear with that blouse. So be as harsh as you fucking want." She looked at Devin then. "And you WILL be jumping off the cliff, so yeah...I want your eyes open. I want you to be as safe as I can make you. And okay! I get that being able to SEE THINGS isn't as cool as teleporting around, and it doesn't kick as much ass as making things fly around, or burning shit up...but this is it! It's what I have! Fucking sue me for..." Cass shook her head and shrugged away from Autumn. "Whatever. I can't help you, you know? I mean, what am I going to do against the Dark? Take photos? Write nasty editorials? I've SEEN what you'll be jumping into the middle of! Up close! And I don't know if we...if we're ready! We need every advantage we can get!" With that Cassandra seemed to visibly deflate and she headed for the stairs down. "And yeah...I know. Haven't found one. So I guess I don't get to call anyone useless either. Excuse me, I need some air."
  14. "That little boy got torn apart, Marissa!" Cassandra said loudly, angrily. She fixed Marissa with eyes that were reddened with tears, but by no means despairing. "The tree crushed him, and tore him up, and sucked him in, and that's on Enterich. Cooper's gone, but Enterich's still here, and it's on him." She shook her head. "Not to mention, if Crossroads is capable of all that shit you're saying, if they're listening to our phones, watching our computers...and if Enterich really is part of it...then we need to know. Not just assume! Because he's working WITH the Dark. He's working FOR the Dark. And everything they find out about us, all the spying they're doing...all of that is getting passed straight on to whatever Cody's turned into. They even probably know by now that we're coming, and they're going to want to turn our ambush into a trap." "We have to stop that from happening, or we'll just feed the tree even more. We have to know what Enterich knows about us, and we have to find out what he knows about the Dark, or we're walking into our worst nightmare. All we have to do is find him. Once we do that, we act. Fast...efficient. I can spot him, Devin can take Jase there, and before anyone knows what's happened he's under our control." Cassandra wiped her eyes again and scowled. "I'm not just letting him walk away from this."
  15. "It was the guy we saw, Devin," Cassandra said, stepping seamlessly into the conversational pause Autumn left for her. "The one that the cephalo-whatever got, the night of the party. Back when all of this first started. Captain Cooper...air force." She took a deep breath. "I looked back in time, using the room and the shoe for anchors. I saw the guy carrying in little boy. He was really upset and talking to himself...some of it was crazy talk, but I could make some things out. Anyway, he...he put the boy down by the big drawing on the wall in the main room there, and there was some kind of incantation. I don't know what language, it sounded really weird. The boy was tied up, awake..." Cassie had to pause again there as her throat closed up for a second. "...at first nothing happened. Cooper was like...I think he was almost relieved. But it didn't last. The wall sort of...shifted around and disappeared, where the picture was. And it turned into a hole that led straight to the Dark. The tree was looming over EVERYTHING. And the ground was just bones. And there was this big chair, a throne, up on a mound...and on the top of the throne was a skull, like a human skull, but with antlers." Cass took a second to breathe, trying to get herself controlled, trying to keep a lid on the emotions that were still raw even now. "The tree started growing through the hole, with...vines or roots or something. Cooper panicked. He started shouting it was just a scam, just a hazing...trying to back up. But they weren't after him. They grabbed the little boy." Again she stopped and just shook her head. "He tried to take it back, he tried to pull the boy away, but it was too late. The skull laughed. It was mad at him...it had wanted him to step through, go and sit down. It had been whispering to him to do that, but Cooper never did. But he couldn't save the boy either. The tree took him." For a moment she just wiped her eyes until she could speak again. "But...he's gone now, Cooper. But when he was babbling to himself, when he thought it wasn't working, he sort of...he reassured himself that the guy who'd put him up to it had been scamming him. Someone told him what to do. What to say. Told him what would happen, at least...some of what would happen. And Cooper said his name." Cassandra squared her shoulders and nodded. "Enterich. I don't know who that is yet. I...feel like maybe not in the military, since Cooper didn't say his rank? My gut says he's gotta be with Crossroads, but they don't have an online staff directory so I haven't been able to verify anything. And I haven't found an Enterich living around here online yet either. Still...it's something. If we find this guy Enterich, we find someone who's directly responsible for this boy's murder, and maybe involved with what happened to Cody. He obviously knows a lot about the Dark, since he's the one that told Captain Cooper how to open the portal there." "Homecoming's nearly here, and we have to make our move first. If we can get to Enterich, he might be able to give us some idea what we'll be up against. And..." Cass shook her head. "Whatever we have to do to find out...he'll deserve it."
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