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Cassandra Allen last won the day on November 24 2021

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  1. Location: Parking lot of Blazers' Fresh Food Market Time: Thursday, Sept 5th There were quite a few markets around Shelley and the unincorporated areas, but for groceries there were two choices. Albertsons...and Blazers. One was a giant; unrivaled in size, price and availability for anyone that didn't want to make the long trip to the Walmart in Great Falls. The other was Blazers. Bless them, they tried. A smaller store, locally owned, it got by on a small slice of loyal customers that lived in the neighborhood. Barely. What that meant was that, particularly before working hours let out, the parking lot was oversized; built for a time before big out-of-state megamarts were a thing. A handful of cars clustered near the store, leaving vast swaths of relatively flat paved asphalt with fading paint outlining where parking was to be done. Unlike smaller strip-mall venues, there were no culverts or big dips or ridges, barely even intermittent traffic, and no curb or rails or other features to make it an interesting place for skaters to hang out. That's where Cassandra texted Autumn to meet her. She was there before Autumn, easily identified on her bike with her bushy blonde hair floofing in the afternoon breeze like some kind of lion's mane. On spotting her friend's approach, Cassie waved and quickly got a scrunchie out to scrunch said mane into a quick-n-dirty ponytail that wouldn't get whipped into her face at an embarrassing moment. She wasn't bad at skateboarding at all, but she wasn't so good at it that she willfully handed the universe ammunition to use against her. "Hey!" she called. "You made it! Here...I have some stuff for you." Cass delved into the backpack she had on; pressed into service away from school for the day. From within came curious plastic pieces that Autumn didn't place immediately. They were curved and dully shiny, set onto stretchy-looking fabric. Then she saw the straps and bands and realized...oh, you wear it. "You are going to want protective gear," explained Cassandra, grinning. "This is why Marissa will never stand where you are now standing. No such thing as designer elbow guards. So...these are for your elbows, these your knees...some people get shins and knees both together in like a kind of...boot, but I like it better separate so that's what you got. Uh, helmet. Make sure you get it on pretty snug, but not TIGHT, you know?" She watched as Autumn got the hang of fitting the pieces to herself and fumbled with the straps, loosening them and tightening the elastic straps as she got used to how they sat. When her friend was all gussied up like she was ready to play a post-apocalyptic deathsport, Cassie produced her skateboard, which had been under her backpack on a little hook that had been sewed onto it. She set it down and gestured Autumn over. "So...just so you know how this works, the first part of doing this is falling off. Like, a lot. Partly just because you won't be good at first, but also because the thing that fucks you up the most is being afraid of falling, right? So taking a few spills, and not getting hurt, helps you get over that. Here it's just you and me, and believe me I will not be judging you for falling off the board." "Just a general note to get you started...and you'll start figuring it out as you go too, because your body kind of figures it out...but you get on the board like this..." she stepped onto the board with her left foot leading even as her right foot was pushing her forward in a normal sort of walking motion. Her foot started out pointing forward, but as she lifted her right foot up onto the back of the board, she rotated it so that both feet were sideways across the width of the board, and she was standing on it sideways. This set the skateboard rolling forward at about a walking speed. Cass waggled her eyebrows as she hopped back off the board and quick as a snake snapped a foot out to catch the board before it squirted out from under her feet from the movement. "Any questions?"
  2. "Alright." Leila pressed her lips together in thought, staring at the drink in her hand for a moment as she organised her questions. "Let's start with the obvious: Charlie's death. The serial killer that you and your friends supposedly faced off against, who doesn't seem to have a name or a description that my contact in the State Police can find. Who killed Charlie and kidnapped Sophia and Tawny? Was it the same person?" Cassandra took a deep breath. This was going to happen. It was a big risk, not just to her and the Fellowship, but to Leila possibly. But...she had to know. She had to understand what would happen. What would the Project do? How far were they willing to go? Leila was not dangerous to them. Even if she believed Cass, no one would believe her. Hopefully being on good terms with Cassandra was more important to them from plugging a leak in a high school newsletter. If not, then she'd have to seriously consider her associations. "Okay. Yes. It was Cody...but the story's deeper and stranger than just that. Cody wasn't in his right mind when he did it. He was being manipulated by someone else." Here Cass glanced around, then leaned forward a little. "This whole thing gets seriously weird, and it has its roots in the history of the town. Trying to get the facts down in a way that seems even a little plausible has been driving me crazy." Leila stared off into space for a moment as she digested this, absently chewing on the corner of her bottom lip, a gesture Cassandra was familiar with as an indicator that her snarky editor was having Serious Thoughts. Despite their frenemy status, despite their clashing over bylines and presentation, Leila was as much a newshound for a good story as Cassie. It was probably the only thing that made her tolerable to work with. "Alright... Alright..." she mused aloud, then focused on Cassandra's face. "You said the word 'facts'. So I'm guessing you've got some. Sources? Research? Eye-witness accounts of this weirdness you're talking about? How weird does it get, exactly? We talking folk tales? Cults? Ancient aliens?" "I'll let you be the judge of that," Cassandra replies. "As for sources...eye witnesses, of which I am one. With some supporting documentation." She picks up her phone and wiggles it. "I went to the place that the victims were taken, got some shots of the 'psycho lair.' It was pretty fucking grim." "...and believe me, part of me wants to just leave it at that. Teenage psychopath, brought down, everything's fine now. It's a good story. And it's true, but it's not the whole truth. The rest of the truth is where it gets harder to show my work." "Cody was sort of...possessed. The place he took his victims had a door that led to another dimension." Cassie holds up a finger. "Yes, I have a picture. Inside, the ground was covered with skulls, and a giant tree was growing out of them. Near the tree was a throne, and that was where the thing controlling Cody was." "...and now it's gone. The throne, the monster...and Cody. They were destroyed. I know who did it, but I don't have their permission to reveal who they are...and yeah I know that kind of fucks me over." Cassandra sighed and rubbed her forehead. "The whole thing fucks me over." "Shit." Leila stared hard at Cassie now. "Shit, Cass." "Yeah." "Okay." The snarky brunette paced a few steps away, then back as she thought. "Let's assume I'm taking this at face value The fact that you care about these 'other people' enough to sit on a story like this is a pretty good indicator as to the 'who' was involved. Let's go back to what you said about the history of the town. 'Cause it sounds to me, putting the edges together, that Cody and this, uh, other dimension wasn't how it started. It was how it ended. Maybe we can... I dunno... tell the back-story? Work up to the unbelievable shit?" Leila sighed then. "Who am I kidding? This whole thing is going to sound like Crazy Earl's Bigfoot stories, isn't it?" Cassandra nods glumly. "Believe me, I've worked that angle. Stories about this kind of thing go back to the natives. And Shelly's had weird disappearances and a sky high record of violence for a town its size ever since they started keeping records. All of that plugs into this, but that data looks unrelated at first...and some Indian folklore isn't going to make any of this sound more like news." She sighs. "It's...a messy story. The start is simple, but by the time we get to the present day so many fingers are in so many pots that untangling what's going on is really hard. And explaining it in a way that makes sense is even harder. And even that's assuming that people are willing to believe the many things that aren't believable along the way." After a brief, pensive pause, Cassie adds, "I've written it all out...mapped each thing that happened, and it reads like the outline of a science fiction novel." "Huh." Leila chewed her lower lip again, scowling at the sculpture hanging on the wall nearby. "This sucks." she said at length. "I know." Cassie replied. "Really sucks, Cass." "I know." "So you're saying this isn't publishable as news?" Leila asked rhetorically. "Maaaaybe." Cassandra shrugged. "Perhaps there's a way to get the story out, but it's not school newspaper stuff." "Alright. Let's do this a step at a time. Pick a day when we're both free, and we can meet up and you can walk me through it. Even if it's not going in the paper, I want to see the bottom of this rabbit hole." Leila gave Cassie a searching look. "Deal?" Cassie eyed Leila, wondering if there was another shoe about to drop. Then again, Leila wasn't risking anything by doing this, was she? If it all turned out to be Cassie going crazy, all Leila was out was a little time. And if it was more than that, well then...she was in on something that would turn out to be huge. Something she had no other way to get in on than this. But Cassandra needed help as well. And the Fellowship...she trusted them, but none of them were normal. None of them could help her make this story work for normal people. They were too close to it all, too set apart. With a certain sinking feeling, Cass realized that was true of herself as well. That was the real reason she needed Leila. This was all going to spill out, sooner or later. The Project's efforts to contain it would just mean that they wouldn't be able to control it when it did. How this story was framed, how it was told, could make all the difference in what happened to the Fellowship and other people like them. She nodded. "Okay. I'm thinking...maybe Sunday, but I'll make sure there's nothing else going on first and text you." "Deal." Leila nodded, looking pleased with herself. Cassie couldn't help but wonder if she'd still be so happy once she knew everything. Well, the clairsentient amended to herself, everything that Cassie herself did. Then that started a line of thought - how much to withhold? What was going to be 'safe' information, what wasn't? Was it even safe to hold stuff back, knowing that if it came to light, she'd have immediately alienated her ally in spinning the tale? Urrrgh. Oblivious to the internal dilemma, Leila gave Cassandra a nod to affirm they had an accord. "I'll hang out and wait for your text, then. If it comes." she added, narrowing her eyes. "I said it would." Cassie retorted, noting how easily the two of them fell back into the editor/reporter dynamic and somewhat grateful for it. Chill, easy to work with Leila would be creepy. "Alright then." Leila nodded once more then looked around. "I'm gonna go before my mom comes looking for me. This whole kidnapping thing has gotten the local parents jumpy." She snorted. "Like I'm in danger of anything more than dying of bad taste in this place. Later, Allen." That was true, Cassie thought, though not for the reasons Leila probably thought it was. And once she knew the story, would it still be true? That was food for thought as well. "Later," she said.
  3. "Time's up." To her credit, Leila had at least waited until Cassandra had made it to the reception, gotten a drink of sparkling apple juice, and was considering the catered buffet before pouncing. Cassie half-turned, seeing her editor and arch-frenemy standing next to her, likewise considering the food on display but with one eye on the blonde reporter. "Today's the day, Allen. I want my answers." Her tone softened barely perceptibly. "I know Charlie was one of your in-club of whatever-the-fuck. Devin LaDouche standing up and speaking at his funeral announced that loud and clear. But here's the thing: I'm the editor, you're a reporter sitting on a humungo humdinger of a story." She took a sip of her Coke. "So let's talk." Cassandra let out a breath and nodded. She then looked around and got a Coke for herself. "Okay," she said. "Come on, lets get a little distance." Cassie started leading Leila away from the others at the reception then. Leila followed but couldn't resist a snipe, "They'll still find my body, Allen. Dogs are really good at that." "Yeah, but the tub of lye I set up in advance is a little farther over so..." Cass paused and looked around to verify that no one else was lingering around in earshot. At least not to the best of her ability to tell. "Okay. You want answers...and I want to give answers. So it's AMA time. Ask me anything. And trust me, don't ask me to just 'summarize it' because...it's a lot. I think I know you well enough to know there's something you're really interested in, out of all of this. Instead of me trying to guess, just ask what's on your mind. I'll tell you. Even if it's not the answer you expect or...probably want to hear."
  4. The funeral was weird for Cassandra. For one, it was only her...second? Third if you counted the one she'd been practically a baby for way back when. She didn't count it because she had no real memory of it. So second. Why did that make it weird? She wasn't sure, it just felt weird. Everything felt off, like a room where all the furniture had been shifted two inches to the left since the last time you were there. Nothing was quite right. She felt hyperaware of the feeling of her clothes on her, and snippets of whispered conversations kept leaping up out of the buzz at her, like crazy fish trying to escape a net. And yet, when service was about to start her mom had to nudge her elbow to get her attention. Cass was lost in the weeds. She hadn't even KNOWN him. Not really. Why did that make it feel worse, somehow? Maybe because now she never would? Okay, sure, but...were you supposed to grieve for people you hadn't bonded with? Could you grieve for the potential of a friendship? Was what she was feeling grief? Cassie had grieved before, not even that long ago. Her dad, back when she'd thought he was dead. This wasn't like that. That had been a howling abyss in her heart that had expanded like a black hole gobbling stars, threatening to hollow her out. There were still radioactive places in her memories that she couldn't walk for fear of feeling echoes of that time, right after his funeral. This wasn't like that. It was...tighter. More focused. Something in her skin, not deep inside. It made her feel prickly, embarrassed. It was a sour, sullen emotion, stern-faced. Reprimanding. So she knew this one after all. Hello, guilt, my old friend. The service went on, Cass barely hearing it. The moment she identified what the feeling was, it seemed to rear up and whip off its mask. Immediately Cassandra realized why this was happening. When we went to fight the Dark, he was already gone. When we made our plans, talked it through...when we pulled together and got ourselves through it, he was dead. The Dark just creeped in, grabbed him, and took him out. And we barely even noticed. She took a deep, shuddering breath. It got worse. It was my job to see things coming. I was supposed to be the 'eyes.' But I was all tunnel-visioned on the fight. I didn't even TRY using my abilities before it happened. We all just assumed the Dark would wait for us to come attack it. But it's worse for me, because I didn't have to assume. I could have checked us all, every day. It might not have been perfect...the future is kind of hard to work out sometimes...but I could have saved him. At least maybe I could have. And what could she do with this now? Shrug and call it a lesson learned? Is that what Jase would do? Was that what she wanted? What would Devin do? Sink deeper into misanthropy, playing victim and aggressor at the same time; trying to have his social cake and eat it too? Autumn? Cade? She felt her mother lean towards her a little and put an arm around her shoulders, and Cass realized she had tears coming down her eyes. After a moment of hesitation, she let herself slump against her mother's shoulder. It made her feel a little childish, but...she was a little childish, wasn't she? And that had cost one of her friends his life. And it had cost the Fellowship one of their friends. Then she realized her mom was humming something, some old song Cass barely remembered. She sat up a little, and Teresa moved her arm to give her some space. "You doing okay?" she asked softly. Cassandra nodded. "Yeah." She was surprised at how dry her mouth and throat were. "I'm...going to get some water. Then...then lets go. Okay? Ugh, is it too soon? I just don't..." Teresa leaned forward to give her daughter a hug. "It's totally all right. Plenty of people have already left. You've been here for a little while. I didn't want to interrupt you." So Cassie went to the little table at the back of the place, where a few pitchers had been set up with cups nearby. The questions she had were still there, but they didn't have to be answered right away, she thought. All she could do now was try to grow up, so it wouldn't happen again...and when she did, she could remember Charlie and what he meant to her. Just because he was dead didn't mean all of his light had to leave the world.
  5. "Okay, fine, joking aside, a bit of conversation might do us good. It's not something I'm good at, and I kind of owe you at least that much, considering the last couple of days, you know?" And all Cassandra could think for a second was...holy shit, is he actually playing nice? What was wrong with this picture? She knew damn well she was doing the conversational equivalent of standing balanced on a gangplank, windmilling her arms frantically to try to avoid falling off. Down in the water below was Beth, hungry for juicy gossip and ready to share it with...other sharks? Okay, the metaphor kind of broke down, but the point was clear. Devin would only have to reach out with a verbal fingertip and give her a tiny poke to send her down. But he wasn't doing it. And that was confusing and inconsistent! And maybe a little charming, goddamnit! She gave Beth a reproving look as if to say, 'see???' and then nodded at Devin. "We could probably both use the practice. So...yeah. I'll text you when me and Autumn are done and we can meet up. I will definitely have worked up an appetite by then. Because of the skateboarding."
  6. "Don't let him scare you," Cassandra was saying to Bethany, giving Jase a theatrical glare. "Ninety percent of this whole thing he does is an act." Beth glanced at her and asked, "And the other ten?" Cassie cleared her throat, not sure what to say to that. Then she was spared by a timely intervention. "Hey," Devin said to her. "So, uh, I didn't want to text you this, figured that be a bit lame. So, do you you have plans tomorrow night? I was thinking we could go out." Her eyes widened and she looked at Devin with an expression somewhere between 'what did you say' and 'why did you say it now?' Meanwhile Beth was giving Cass a knowing look. Cassandra shook a finger at her and said, "No!" Then she looked at Devin and said, "...plans? I...have an assignment, but...go out where?" Then Beth smiled smugly and turned in her seat to look at Devin and offer a hand. "Hi. I'm Beth. So you and Cassie are going out?" "Dude," reproved Cass, "we're friends, it's chill." "You said that about Dylan too." Cassandra nodded. "Right! Yes! And see how that went? So this time, I mean it." As Bethany rolled her eyes good-naturedly, Cass looked back at Devin and took a deep breath. "Anyway. There's the funeral and..." she trailed off for just a moment. "Actually, she already has a date," Autumn said cheerfully, with just a hint of veiled snark. "Right!" blurted Cassie quickly. "Me and Autumn are going to go skateboarding. Maybe after that? We'll be done before dark, so if you wanted to hang out then, as friends," she gave Beth another look, "that'd be cool. Where do you have in mind?"
  7. Cassandra scarfed a breakfast bar and a glass of OJ (the OJ first because it tasted hella gross if you ate it AFTER the OJ) on her way out the door the morning of September 4th. There was a very specific reason why. She made good time on her bike and chained it to the fence of the bike enclosure rather than walking it in and picking a loop of metal in the concrete. It saved a couple of minutes. A couple of minutes, along with some more from skipping breakfast at school, that she could use to get started on an article for the paper before Leila came in. The plan was foolproof. She even peeked in between the slats in the window to the 'newsroom,' while shading her eyes, and verified that Leila's bag wasn't on her desk. Cassie got her key out and let herself in and locked the door behind her and sat down and turned on her little Mac laptop, all ready and engaged and just bursting with news and stories to tell... ...and then had to delete her first paragraph. It sounded crazy her first try. How could it not?! It was talking about pretty crazy things. Cassandra tried another couple of drafts, but none got past midway through paragraph two. Okay, step back. What was the official story again? There'd been a murder at the old town hall, police were investigating? Right, well, a little boring but it was a solid starting spot. Cass started typing...and then stopped. Unease fluttered in her fingertips. They felt tingly. A little numb. It didn't take much introspection to figure out why, because the answer was echoing in her brain. If I do this..if I print this...then I'm spreading a false story to help cover up real events because some shadowy government agency wants me to. If she did this, she was one of Them. They were everywhere in conspiracy circles. Cassandra knew Them well, from when she'd been looking for something, anything, to explain what had happened to her dad. The government, both national and international. Globalist billionaire cohorts locking down world resources. Secret societies. If you went deep enough you could throw Satanists and aliens onto the pile. THEM. The ones pulling the wool over everyone's faces, to protect the status quo from the baleful eye of public scrutiny. Not caring who couldn't breathe because of it. And if she thought about it, why did she feel a need to protect Aeon? Branch 9? Obviously not Crossroads, but...were they that different? Did she KNOW Aeon didn't have labs full of human subjects? It wasn't like they'd ever been given a full tour. Crossroads and Enterich and Cook had spun off of Aeon after the fact, but how much of their agenda was set before the breakup? Shit. SHIT. Click. "Cool. That is going straight to the spank bank." Cassandra's agonizing was interrupted by the bored-sounding voice of Leila from off towards the little hallway that led to the bathrooms. She looked over, eyes wide. Leila waved her phone at Cassie and laconically explained, "I think I managed to capture the exact moment when you realized what a hack you are. It was majestic." And though Cassie had spent the entire semester coming up with internal excuses for Leila, she was way past her threshold right now. She spun in her seat and fixed the student editor with a stare that wouldn't have been completely out of place on Jase's face. "What is your problem with me, Leila?" she asked, and though she was angry she didn't ask angrily. There was force behind the question, but not any attempt to threaten or intimidate. "You've been giving me nothing but shit all year...and not just like, editor-shit either. That thing with the camera was fucking uncalled for, and it's not the first time." At this Leila rolled her eyes up to look at the ceiling and said, "Finally. Jesus. I thought you'd go the whole year." She went to her desk and sat atop it to return Cassandra's aggrieved stare. "Alright, first and foremost, it's because you're pissing me off. Second it's because I don't trust you. Third...because it's fun. And don't worry...I will elaborate." Leila reached over to turn her computer monitor towards Cassandra, and tapped her mouse button. Keynote popped up, with a slideshow on it. It was titled, 'X Things I Hate About Allen.' Leila shrugged. "It's a work in progress, but I'm not letting that stop me from doing this. So, slide one. How you're pissing me off." "You're a fraud," she explained, moving the cursor over that line on the bullet points. "Everyone else in school seems like they forgot, but your freshman year you skipped like half your classes. You didn't give a shit about school, about journalism, about anything but getting high and falling off skateboards with your slacker boyband harem. Then your dad dies, which is...okay that's legit tragic...and you fall off the planet for most of that year, and then you show up...Cassandra the go-getter. Going to class and getting into activities and all that, and everyone buys into your redemption arc." She tapped between her eyes. "Except the ones who pay attention. You show up to class but you don't pay attention and your grades are kind of shit. You join the paper, but I have to constantly ride your ass to get you moving, and you never, ever, FUCKING EVER, talk to me about what the fuck you're doing." She took a deep breath, visibly calming herself. "...which is fine. I don't have a horse in the trainwreck of your life, except for one thing. My grade for THIS is based on how well the WHOLE PAPER does. Which means you're in a position to fuck it up for me. That means I can't just ignore you, and that pisses me off." Cassandra, more than a little taken aback, opened her mouth to try to respond but Leila cut her off with a scowl and a neck chopping motion. "Not done yet. You asked, so I'm gonna answer." "Anyway, why I don't trust you is kind of...tangled up in there, but yeah. Whatever this big change you're marketing in yourself is, it's skin deep, Allen. You're still not taking any of this seriously. Which is, again, you know it's fine except now it's affecting me. Worst of all you're super deep in denial over it? Every time we talk you keep trying to talk like fucking Lois Lane or something and if you can't even be honest with yourself, what does that mean for everyone else? Uh...number...three? Yeah." She moved the pointer down. "Right. It's fun. So, here's the thing. About ninety percent of school I don't care about either. It's literally just smoke and mirrors. Everything we do here will get crumpled up and smushed down and result in exactly one important thing. Our senior year GPA. That's all universities, or employers, will look at. Literally all. Nothing else matters. All the drama, all the...bylines, all the gossip...it's completely meaningless. We're all trapped in Plato's fucking Cave, Allen. Watching the shadow puppets. We may as well make the show entertaining." Leila lifted her hands and made funny gestures, as if a light was shining past them onto a wall. "If you weren't in a place you could hit my GPA, I would still give you shit, because why not? Besides, maybe it'll do you some good. I mean, if you can't keep it together when a high school girl pretending to be an editor gets on your case, how the fuck do you think you'll do with an actual editor?" Cassie sat silently for a second, then asked the only question that still made sense. "...you actually put together a Keynote for that?" The final slide showed some clip art of a hand flipping the bird out of the screen. Leila looked at it and nodded. "Yeah, I'm super pro at this job. It's like your annual review or some shit. 'Needs Improvement.'" "That's oddly touching. Thanks, Leila. I mean, you know, eat shit? But also thanks." The student editor snorted and sat down at her desk, pushing her monitor back around to face her. Then she said, "One more day, by the way." Cassie nodded as she got back to work. For whatever weird reverse-psychological Jungian-Freudian archetype bullshit reason, Leila's tirade had not made her more angry. It had kind of...done the opposite? Somehow? "I know," she replied. "I'm on it."
  8. "Things got heated earlier and I was a complete jerk. I just wanted you to know that I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I was wrong and I'm sorry." Cassandra was quiet as she let Devin lay out his confession and tried to decide how to handle it. On the one hand, despite a certain performative quality, it was rare to get any kind of mea culpa from Devin, so she didn't want to shove it back in his face. On the other hand...she wasn't exactly sure what he was apologizing for. Running back over the meeting in her head, there was only one time that Devin had specifically annoyed her, and that was when he been...well...himself after the first part of her telling the story. And it had been annoying, but not especially annoying. Not out of proportion to his normal interpersonal style, which he'd never thought merited an apology before. There was one thing though. One other thing that she was pretty sure he wasn't referring to, but maybe he should have been. "Look," Cassie said, "the only thing that really hurt my feelings was when Marissa decided you two weren't in the Fellowship, and that we are apparently all terrible human beings...and you just stood there and seemed to agree. Whatever else you did..." she shrugs, "next to that, it doesn't matter." "So, assuming you don't feel bad about that, then I guess we're cool." Cass hesitated, then added, "Sorry about the situation with your mom though. If you want to talk about it sometime, let me know. I know a thing or two about dragon moms..." Teresa swatted her on the shoulder with faux outrage. "Okay," she said, "I think that's enough of that." She looked at Devin then, and her expression was complex. There was sympathy for the boy yes, but also a bit of motherly wariness. She knew they were going to Homecoming, of course. She also knew Cassandra kept assuring her that they were just friends, but she also also knew that those sentiments could change in a hurry at this age. Beyond all that though was something else, something softer. The gratitude in her voice was genuine when she said, "Thank you for being there for Cassie when she needed you." There wasn't time to really talk though. The Jauntsens were on their way out, and Devin's stunt only bought him seconds at best.
  9. "So that's the ship," Cassandra said quietly. "The one they came on." At the quizzical looks from the table she added, "Coyote and the other one, the one who turned into the Dark. This whole thing, with the Darkness poking into our world...that ship is what made the 'crack' that let that happen. The world has some kind of protection, like a shell sort of." Cassie hesitated, then said, "Okay, protection is a little misleading. It's not there to protect us specifically, though it sort of does by accident. It's there to keep us in, more than keep other stuff out. In the end it does do both though. And by 'keep us in,' I don't mean on the planet. It's more like we're not supposed to get these powers, and definitely not supposed to go out into whatever's beyond. So this shell stops all that from happening." "Until it was cracked. That let the Darkness in, but it also meant people around here could grow in ways they don't in other places." She shrugged. "At least, that's what I think he meant when he explained it to me. There's room for interpretation when Coyote talks, you know?"
  10. "Okay, I wasn't sure how...or whether or not to...get into this stuff, because like Autumn said we only just started unpacking it ourselves...but I guess that ship's sailed," sighed Cassandra. Then she quickly added to Annette, "I actually met the cat before. He seemed nice. A little cryptic, but cool." Then she looked back at everyone else and took a deep breath. "First, just...everyone please try to calm down. I know it's...emotional and tense and it's just a LOT. All at once. Believe me, I know. Rule one though...no one here has, to the best of my ability, acted with actual malice towards anyone else in this room. We're all at least kind of on the same side. In particular because Lilly's right. The thing we fought in the Darkness wasn't the only one. It was probably the...the biggest. Maybe the most important. But it wasn't working alone." Cassandra closed her eyes for a moment and let the words roll down and off of her, like water droplets. "Which means the job isn't over yet." "I know it's hard to hear. I mean, hard enough we already took all these risks, but now we're going to have to keep doing it. At least a little longer. I don't think we'll have to go back across into the Darkness though. That was the other one's home turf. Enterich lives here now. We'll face him here. But you have to understand this isn't something we can push off onto the police, or the military. I don't know exactly what he is, but I have a feeling I know how it'd go. All he'd have to do is say a few words, and they'd be shooting each other instead of him." "So it's on us. And doing nothing isn't an option, because like the situation with Jase shows, Enterich knows we're a threat and he's already moving against us. That isn't going to stop."
  11. "Okay." Cassandra looked around the room, and felt a little tingle of nervousness and anticipation. This would be the first time all this was laid out for everyone. She was writing the Bible here, and hoped she didn't fuck it up too badly. Look what happened the last time. "Some of us have heard at least some of this before, but I don't know who's been told what...and we need to all be on the same page, so I'll ask everyone to just bear with me. I'll also start off by saying, yes we each have powers that most people don't have, and we very recently used those powers to protect Shelley from a threat no one knew was there. And...I'll circle back around to that, so don't worry." Feeling a little restless, she scooted backwards and stood up. "It all starts with a tale of two parties, back in July. Chet was having one, distributing flyers, and so..." she nodded at Jason, "...Bannon had to get in on the deal and threw together a shindig of his own out on the reservation. More discreet...invitation only. Just kind of, teenage angst playing itself out, normal day. That would have been the eighteenth." "The night of the party, things got wild though. Not in a good 'party-way' but in a...sort of reality is coming apart like wrapping on a Christmas present way. A bunch of us..." Here she indicated the Fellowship at the table, "...basically all of US, plus Clara and Lona and Charlie and...you know...we got separated from the main party. Went out on the paths into the woods nearby. Now, I don't know the details of what everyone else saw. But I bumped into Devin by accident, and he and I saw this crazy guy, naked, run out from the trees. And he had a gun." Cassandra took in a breath here, remembering that moment. "We were freaking out...this guy looked like it'd been weeks since he'd showered, if then, and he couldn't talk...just made noises. Before he could do anything though, there was this cloud behind him. And out from the cloud came...a creature. It looked kind of like a floating octopus, but I only say that because it had tentacles. It wasn't really that much like an octopus other than that." She shook her head. "It grabbed the man, hauled him back into the cloud. Then the cloud vanished again. At the time, we had no idea what was going on. Now we have a pretty good idea, but...that's not going to make sense yet." "Devin and me, we ran. Grabbed the gun he dropped and ran. We finally found the others near this...like trailer? Out in the woods? It was where the guy we'd seen had been living. Most of the rest of us were already there...we found Lona in the woods on the way there...but as I understand it, the ones at the cabin had been attacked by a sabertooth tiger. So...a whole LOT of crazy going around that night." Cassandra held up a hand. "And I know what the adults in the room are thinking. Not...I'm not actually reading your minds, it's just obvious. Drugs. But you have to understand most of us hadn't taken anything that night. Even if someone had, pot doesn't make you see alien monsters or sabertooth tigers. Believe me, we've all been all over that. In the weeks after the party, I know I tried every rational explanation I could think of to deal with it. There's nothing. We learned the truth much later." "Anyway, the trailer was full of maps and writing and...even though he'd seemed crazy when Devin and me saw him, he'd been working on something in that trailer." "That's what kept pulling us back." Cassie shrugged. "Most of us kept going back there over the next few weeks. Kept seeing each other over the summer, talking. Trying to make sense of it all. The trailer was full of files...Jase wound up moving most of it to his place in the end. Even so, it wasn't until after school started again that things started to fit together." "That's when we found out Cody was missing. It's when we started putting pieces together that there was some next-level spycraft going on in Shelly, and it was connected to the Medical Center. It's when I found out about the prison riot on the night of the party, and some coverups related to that." She took a deep breath. "And it's when we learned about what we call the Shine...and the Dark." "We call it the Shine, because that's what it looks like to us. There's this way of looking at the world that's just a little different, it's hard to explain. People have a glow to them, everyone has a little. But we...we have a lot. We're searchlights. I don't know if that was always the case, or if something happened that activated us or something. But when we met at lunch, we started putting all these pieces together in a kind of...random, chaotic way. So we decided to meet up at Jase's place and actually try to organize." With a nod, Cassandra concluded, "And that put us on a long road that led us to where we are now, really. Obviously there's a lot more, but...lets take a breather for a second. First of all," she looked around at the Fellowship, "Am I missing anything important? I know I kind of glossed over a few details, but I'm trying to keep it manageable here. Still, I didn't see or hear everything, so if anyone wants to add something, this is a decent time. Or if there's questions about what I've said so far, this is good too. Just don't leapfrog ahead of me. I know there's still a lot to go over, but we will get there, I promise."
  12. By the time Cassandra got in, her mom was already home for a change. She'd taken most of the afternoon off, since she'd have had to have left a bit early anyway. Thus, Cassie was greeted with a distracted, 'Hey kiddo,' from the living room, which startled her for a second. "Hey mom," she said back as she cruised past the living room on the way to her bedroom. Her tone was an excruciatingly well-practiced nonchalance, that formed an almost solid and concrete impression of a perfectly ordinary day, in which nothing particularly important happened and certainly nothing worthy of concern or discussion... And Teresa accepted it at face value largely out of habit. Bacon, however, wasn't having it. The dog was up off the floor in front of the couch like a shot, weaving expertly around the coffee table and interposing himself between Cassandra and the door to her room. His ears perked forward and he wagged his tail...but the whine escaping him was tense and anxious. Cass kneeled down and cooed, "Aww, what's the matter? Mom watching scary movies? Do you need a hug? Animal protective services?" She did reach out to give Bacon a hug; the german shepard being big enough to make such a gesture possible. The moment she touched him though, Cassandra froze. Worried. Bacon was worried about her, worried sick. She wasn't well, she wasn't right, and unbidden in her head she could see...well no, not see...but she could smell something rising up...a smell like sweat, only a little worse. Salty, sour, dank. Her brain instinctively tried to turn it into a picture, and what she came up with was a dark old basement that had been made into a locker room but then abandoned after murders had taken place there. The smell of fear, but not just any fear...the slow kind of fear. The rot that ate you from inside. The sudden realization that it was her smell brought her up short, and she yanked her hands away from the dog. Bacon whined again, his tail thumping the floor, and he pressed the top of his head against her neck and chin. For a second Cassandra was back in the Dark. Skulls crunched under her feet, and it wasn't a dog pressing against her. It was something else, fleshy and tumorous, biting at her with teeth that had no business being where they were... With a horrified yelp she scooted backwards away from Bacon, managing to catch herself on the heels of her hands so she didn't just flop over onto her back. Teresa looked up, and immediately felt a stab of not just unease, but fear...and for some reason, guilt? That made no sense though, so she stuffed that away and got up. "Are you okay? What happened? Did Bacon trip you? Even asking it though she could tell that wasn't it. The body language was wrong. Everything was wrong. "Cassandra?" she asked. "No," Cassie said as her breath returned. "I'm f..." she broke off, unable to say the word she'd intended. She wasn't fine. Bacon's big anxious eyes bored into her, and seeing herself in them she couldn't say the word. "I, uh...I just...had a second there... I felt scared even though there was no reason for it.It was just Bacon though." It was on instinct more than anything that Teresa leaned down to give Cassandra a hug. Instantly she knew it was the right thing to do, because her daughter immediately turned to return it, her arms unexpectedly tight. "Do you want to talk about it?" Teresa asked gently. "Can't right now," Cassie demurred. "Meeting. Maybe later?" "There's still plenty of time before the meeting," pointed out her mother. "No pressure or anything. Just...whenever you want to. Okay?" But when Cassandra decided to let go, she couldn't. So instead she said, "Actually...maybe now's good." Then Cass took a deep, shivery breath and went on, "I need tell you about what happened the other night. And...when I do, I just...just please keep remembering that we made it out okay. It's over, it's done..." A flash of Enterich's face popped into her mind, smirking. Over and done, are we? What a relief. We wouldn't want to have to go through that again. Even with as much time as they had, they were almost late to the meeting. =========== On getting to the conference room, Cassandra realized there wasn't really a place left to sit that wasn't near the Jauntsens. She went up to the seat by Dana, and her mother took the one between her and Misti. Cassie didn't say anything, or meet many eyes as she came in. A sharp eye might have seen a little bit of puffiness around them that implied some tears had been shed. Teresa, on the other hand, gave everyone a reserved smile as she went around to her seat and said, "Hello, I hope we didn't hold everyone up. We got off to a little bit of a later start than we'd hoped to...some last minute family business came up. Under the table she reached over to give Cassandra's hand a squeeze. She'd suggested just canceling, but Cass had been rock solid firm that they had to go to this. There wouldn't be a make-up day if they missed this exam. Cass returned the squeeze and then got up to get some water for herself and her mom just ahead of when the meeting started for real.
  13. "She needs friends," Devin said with no hesitation in his voice. "But, what do I know? I don't have a one-thousand I.Q., or an icy-jade stare, so obviously I'm not qualified to tell you how to set personal standards for yourself, so I could be wrong." "Stop coming to me for the answers guys." he sighed and shook his head. "Either step up to the plate and figure your shit out, or don't. Either way, stop wasting both hers, and your, time." Cassandra, who'd already started turning to go knock on Marissa's door, paused and looked back at him. "Jesus Christ, Devin, you're her brother," Cassandra retorted. "Who the fuck else should I ask for advice for how to relate to her from? I mean, I don't know if you were aware of this or not, but your sister has the temperament of a wounded wolverine sometimes. And yes, she has reasons, and yes I am sympathetic, but I am also," she ticked off one finger, "A, wanting to approach her in a way that will not make things worse, and B, hoping to avoid losing some fingers!" "But yeah. Sorry to waste your fucking time. And hers. You two clearly have it all fucking worked out. What a fucking shock she needs friends if this is how it goes." She grimaced and worked her hands as if trying to shake water off of them. It felt awful feeling awful...like there was an actual goop clinging to her. Moments like this brought back fond memories of just hazing out with the skater crowd, making inane jokes and not giving a shit about anything. "Anyway, enjoy the pizza. I am suddenly not in the mood. I'll talk to everyone later, I'm out." There was a needle of guilt that threaded under the frustration and displaced anxiety that drove the outburst...this wasn't going to help Marissa, and it wouldn't help the Fellowship. But then again, she was not really fit company right now. She'd just make things worse if she stuck around. A little time to cool off was all she needed.
  14. Cassandra listened to it all spiral downward, and when Devin addressed her directly she watched him, nodding as he spoke. None of it was a shock exactly; she'd heard enough dribs and drabs to put the pieces together in hindsight...and it did put things in a perspective that made a kind of sense. An awkward adolescent sort of sense. She shook her head as Jase left and said again, "All I'm saying is that I feel for her. I think she was wrong not to trust us, but I understand why she didn't. And I think turning our backs on her now is the worst thing we could do. If Enterich had dangled my dad in front of my face, and threatened to hurt him or kill him...and he easily could have...I don't know what I would have done. And it isn't really important, I guess, because it isn't about what I would have done anyway. It's about Marissa, who didn't feel like she had anyone to turn to." Cassie shrugged. "I don't know if she'll ever feel like she can turn to us, and it honestly kind of hurts that she doesn't now. I always thought we had her back when it counted, but again...not about what I think." She looked at Devin. "So...you know her. What does she need right now? Sympathetic ear? Space?"
  15. Cassandra took a deep breath, held it while imagining it was a sponge for all the frustration and fear and anger in her body...then expelled it with a bit more force than a simple exhalation. It was just a mind trick, but in that moment it did feel like she could think a little more clearly. She hoped. "Okay, so I may be in the minority here, but I actually think that mostly went pretty well," Cassie said. "Obviously Jase and Marissa are both incredibly, superhumanly stubborn and seem committed to pissing each other off simply by existing...but given that? Not bad. Not bad at all." She looked around the room and let out another cleansing breath. God, it had been tense for a second there. "As for what to do now, I think trying to push harder tonight isn't going to lead to anything good...though, Devin, you're the expert here so please correct me if I'm wrong. It feels to me like Marissa needs to deal with some feelings right now, and Jase probably isn't the one to help her do that. And Jase...she's not going to be able to deal with your whole...thing...until that happens. So she'll need some space." "For what it's worth, she's right though. We're going to need each other. It's going to be messy, and frustrating and we're going to have to really work at it...but it's still true. If one thing like Enterich got in while the Tree was stuck in the world, then more probably have as well." Cass closed her eyes for a moment. "I already know how this plays out for me. If I don't miss my guess, we're almost at the part where he uses my dad to try to rope me into something like he did with Marissa. And I have to say, even knowing what I know, I'm not super sure what I'm going to do about it. So if I seem sympathetic towards Marissa right now...it's because I am. He could have done that to me. He could have, but he picked her, and even God may not know why." Cassie looked back the way Marissa had gone and reached absently up to brush her bangs out of her eyes. "I should talk to her."
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