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WEIRDER STUFF - Rainbow Connection

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Cade exhaled slowly, still abit concerned with the fact Bannon was still blazing, but happy that at least for now the creature wasn't a concern.   Hearing Lona's prognosis and that she had a piece of it, he shrugged his shoulders.  "I'm glad everyone's alright."   He still seemed almost unnaturally calm, and slowly the color would come back to his face.  It wasn't that he'd been unafraid, he'd just resolved that he wasn't going to let this thing hurt his friends anymore, a sentiment that they all shared it seemed.  

He moved to check on Cora, moving up beside her and resting a hand on her shoulder.  "That was pretty cool, what you did.   Are you alright?"   As Devin had saved her, he'd saved Etienne, a small part of him wasn't so happy that he'd been unable to do that, but at least he'd managed to save Devin too.   

 

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The monster crashed through the tree in response to Lilly's kick, the surprise registering through Jason's killing fury as the (admittedly well-built) teen athlete sent a creature at least three times her weight flying - with a slight upward arc, no less - though the air.  Flaming, ripped, torn it landed in a sodden heap, lifting it's head once more in a gargling scream which seemed to be echoed from somewhere even as Jason stepped towards it, hand raised to help him focus through the dizzyness of the knock he'd taken as he started to superheat the air around the thing for a final time, the corona of flame around his hand turning a white so bright it was painful to look at...

And then colour rushed back into the world, the flip-flop sensation as things righted themselves like that of an overturned canoe suddenly being hauled right-side up.  The monster was gone, and standing just beyond where it had been was a shocked Autumn, Marissa right behind her.  Mari gave a shriek and rushed towards her fallen twin as Jase met Autumn's eyes from behind a curtain of red-gold flames, nodding once as he lowered his hand and turning away.  He took a step, finding it slightly unsteady, but ignored that for now as he scanned the woods.  Cade was by Cora.  Lona, Marissa, Clara and Devin were all over there, with Lilly standing sentinel her face and exposed skin reddened slightly from the heat the beast had given off as she'd hit it. Cass was hanging back, eyes wide as she took in what had happened.  And Sara, he saw had walked to the edge of the clearing where she stood, back to the rest of them, facing east. There was no sign of Sean, but he seemed to recall his friend running for the trailer with...  Etienne.

Something inside him wanted to go after them.  To punish, to hurt the spy and traitor.  He took a few steps towards the line of trees shrouding the trailer, then got control of himself.  The fire... The fire was doing the thinking: that elemental part of him, the destroyer, the part that had awakened when Devin had been about to be monster food.  Devin...

There were more important things - at least for now - than to sear the flesh from Etienne's bones and hear him scream.

"Is Devin okay?"  he said, stepping towards the others.  As he did so the fiery aura around him flickered and died between one step and the next, faint shimmers of heat still coming off his skin and his hair before those, too faded on the next step.  As the flames faded two things became obvious to the other teens.  Firstly, that the right side of Jason's face and head was a mask of blood, only some of which seemed to be coming from his nose.  

And secondly, he was eggplantily exceedingly naked.

"Avalon.  You fixed him?"  he said as he took another step, his eyes fixed on her.  She met his gaze and nodded.  Jase smiled and stopped moving forward, his legs deciding they'd done enough for now.

"Good." he managed as he sat down on the ground heavily.  "Was concerned f'r a minute.  Tired now.  Lemme catch my breath then we can go... go get pizza and torture Eddy."  He blinked as he looked at them.  "Someone should check on Sean.  Don' trust that fuck'r wit' him..."

And with that, concussion, adrenaline and emotional exhaustion took their toll, and Jason fell backwards to look up at the tree canopy and the golden sunlight streaming through it.

"Jus' gonna rest a sec..."

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Lilly watched Lona work on Devin and then saw Jason approach, sans-flame pajamas, and begin to crash. She moved to catch him, but was a hair too late. Instead, she slid to a kneeling stop beside him, near his head. Jase looked up at Lilly and, a bit groggy and without his usual composure, said, "Heeyyyy...  Nice kick, beautiful." with a bit of a smile.

"Dude. You're crashing and you're..." Lilly looked very intently at Jason's face, so as to not look elsewhere, ":..naked."

"Huh? Oh. Must'a been fire." she said somewhat incoherently as Lilly pulled her Jersey off over her head, revealing the tank top she wore underneath as well as making her reddened, blistered, slightly seared flesh more visible as well as adding the scent of singed hair to the air near him. "Ohhh you get'n nekked too? Is it another party?" he asked.

"Shhhh. Just sit still." she replied as she set aside the jersey for a moment and pulled out the water bottle and some bandages from the first aid kit. She wet the bandages and used them to wipe away the blood, or at least thin it out, looking for any actual injuries. The fact that he kept closing his eyes was not a good sign either.

"Dude. You can't go to sleep, okay?" she said as she shifted position a little, placing her knees on either side of Jase's head to hold it still as she leaned over him and held out a finger. 

"Watch my finger. Okay?" she said, moving her finger from side, checking to see how well he could track it, which he mostly could, but his eyes seemed to have some difficulty focusing. Lilly went through the rest of the basic concussion tests, checking to see if he could answer simple question, like his name (which he could) and if he knew where he was (which he more or less did).

"Okay. You got to lay still and wait for Lona. But you can't go to sleep. Got it?" she said as she reached down and took his hand, holding it with both of hers.

"Lilly." a familiar voice came, causing her to look up to Autumn who was approaching and untying the hoodie from around her waist. "This might.. help." she suggested.

Lilly was relieved to see Autumn still here and seemingly okay. 

"Yeah. That's probably better." she said with a faint smile as Autumn spread out the hoodie and placed it on Jason's lap.

"Thanks. And.. sorry about all of this. It seems initiation is getting thrown in the deep end, I guess. Sorry." she said with a sigh.

"Dude!" she said looking down to Jason as she noticed his eyes blinking for longer and periods. She pinched him, which caused his eyes to open wide. "You can't go to sleep right now." she re-emphasized as she noticed Lona finished with Devin.

"Hey Lona? When you get a chance? I think he's concussed. And the blood... Seemed he hit his head, but the rest, I am not sure where it is from." she explained to Lona and waited, doing her best to keep Jason awake while she seemed unaffected by her own red, blistered skin.

 

Spoiler

Made significant edits as I missed some thing earlier.

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"Devin's okay?" he asked Lilly, who looked down at him as she held his hand, gently slapping his cheek as his eyes started to close.

"Lona says he's fine."  she reassured him, glancing towards the unconscious Jauntsen, Marissa holding his hand.

"He was brave."  Jase murmured.  "Stood with me, didn't run.  Saved Cora.  Saw it."  He closed his eyes, and Lilly slapped him a little harder.

"Wake up, dude.  Jason!" she almost yelled, and then felt relief as his pale eyes opened again, focusing somewhat on her upside-down face.

"All brave.  Didn't collapse.  Worked together." he said more strongly.

"Yeah, you were all brave."  Lilly smiled, shaking her head a little.

"No' me.  Can't be brave cause can't be scared.  QED.  You were all brave."  he smiled faintly, looking up at her.  "I'm just me."

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Right Side Up - The Woods, The Trailer

The world(s) flipped, reality reasserted it, and Sean almost stumbled as everything he could see snapped back into sharp focus and brilliant colour. Relatively brilliant colour, the trailer was still a melange of beige, brown, and orange from the sixties or seventies. Everything was back to the way it should be... and he hadn't done a damned thing. He glanced out the open trailer door, looking around Etienne crossing the clearing, and cocked his head. He heard some murmurs he couldn't make out, but no exclamations or distress, and the fires, Jase's fire, seemed to be out. The... the thing seemed to have been taken care of.

His eyes went back to the radio, feeling more than hearing the faint hum of power flowing through it, it and the Faraday cage. He frowned, then nudged the dials back to the settings they had originally found it on the night of the party. Like how he reached out to read a signal or transmission, he reached out to the radio, sunk into it, and flowed through it electronic circulatory system, trying to delve its secrets.

Odd construction aside, it was... just a radio, as far as Sean could tell, a fancy, homemade ham radio with incredible range, able to transmit on a wider range of frequencies than should be possible, but a radio all the same. He made a small grunt and glared at it. Then his eyes widened. Transmit... and receive. He stood up and rushed to the trailer door, brushing squeezing pass Etienne, and peered up at the sky, this way and that, though he suspected it was too late to pick up any rogue or suspect transmission. Maybe the 'radio' had picked up a signal that caused the weird instead of transmitting it. Sort of like how old school hackers used to phreak telephone networks with a series of tones and whistles.

"What are you doing?" Etienne asked the boy, still somewhat disbelieving that someone who looked like Sean, with curves like that, considered himself a boy.

"Just had an idea, that isn't panning out," Sean admitted with a negligent wave of his hand, trying not to sound disappointed as he scanned another part of the sky. Then he glanced over his shoulder and up at Etienne, brows lowering in a scowl. "What are you doing? Did you actually come here to help us, or did you just come when Clara called to act as a chauffeur and see what we could do? Because, helping-wise, you haven't done any more than I did, from what I can see. At least didn't lose a shotgun, I only rode it."

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Lona glanced over, saw Jason on the ground with a hoodie draped over his middle, and hurried to him. Rather, she attempted to hurry but she actually staggered like a drunk person, getting to her feet only to move as much sideways as forward. Correcting, she dropped to her knees next to his head and looked up at Lilly. “Can you move back, please?”

The other girls slid back and Lona took her position, smiling down at him. “Hi,” he murmured.

Lona quirked her lips up on a half-smile. “Hello. Again.”

“Are you okay, Avalon?” he asked, concern shining his eyes through a haze of confusion. 

“Yes. You are not,” she observed, then hesitated and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to get Devin’s blood on you.”

“Oh, no, but… the pox…” Jase sighed, closing his eyes.

“Fuck you,” Devin growled from where he lay next to his sister his eyes still closed. Marissa beamed at his words, her relief and joy evident, then gave him a quick hug.

“Keep them open,” Lilly ordered, but Lona shook her head and muttered, “Not gonna matter soon.” She slipped her bloody hands over his hair, her fingers settling against his scalp. “And despite the many rumors, Devin doesn’t have any horrible diseases.”

“Fuck both of you,” the teleport snarled, still keeping his eyes closed. 

“Maybe later,” Lona muttered, closing her eyes and focusing in Jase. All his injuries were to his head, and his brain was already swollen. “Mmm, concussion. Next time, Jase, you should duck.”

“It didn’t hit my head,” Jase informed her. “The tree did.” It sounded like he was smiling when he added, “But we’re hanging out more.”

“Yes, we are,” Lona said soothingly, only half her mind on what she was saying. “Now, hush. I need to focus.” His mumbled assent was far away as she scanned him. Swelling in the brain, minor blood loss, small contusion on his scalp. Broken nose, but some broken vessels in the nose due to pressure. He pushed himself.

With a sigh, Lona shifted her hand so that it rested on his forehead, gathering her energy. Once again, she pushed it into him, feeling that loss of energy as she commanded Jase’s body to heal. With her sixth sense, she watched as his brain de-bruised, the organ settling back to its normal size. His nose straightened as cartilage and bone realigned and the blood flow stopped. Other minor wounds -- scrapes and bruises that didn’t register in the heat of the fight -- disappeared too, and when Lona straightened up and removed her hands from Jase’s head, he felt whole again.

“You may want to stay down until you’re sure you can move,” Lona advised. Glancing up, she scanned everyone else with her medical sense and said, “Lilly and Autumn, you’re next. But can someone pour some water over my hands before I spread blood everywhere?”

Lilly complied; as Lona washed her hands, she heard her phone buzz three times. She ignored it, focusing on healing Lilly and Autumn’s healing. Clara was in shock and Lona soothed her a little, to help ease her distress. Only when she was sure everyone was fine did she dig her phone out.

There were three text messages from the unknown number. Turning white, Lona opened them. 

///you///     

///Ruined///   

///EVERYTHING///

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Etienne let out an annoyed grunt, muttering something half coherent. Sean caught the name Cook and several ugly sounding words in French. "I'm not a soldier," the Canadian finally growled in frustration. "And if that's what Cook expected when he hired me, then he's an idiot that doesn't pay attention." His tone indicated disbelief in such traits. 

The young man that looked like a young man slumped against the trailer, folding his arms and scanning the tree line, clearly still keyed up. "I came because Clara asked me to. Cook sent the car and the shotgun because, I think, he knew telling you not to do whatever this is wouldn't stop you and he doesn't want you all to die." He pushed off the trailer, pacing and throwing his arms out, "Sacrament, I've never even fired a gun before!"

He stopped abruptly, running his hand over the back of his neck. He shook his head, "I suppose I should learn, mhm? If she is going to be fighting monsters. That thing! Merde!


-=-=-=-=-

Back with the rest of the group, Clara managed to mumble, " 'Brave is what you do, despite how you feel.' " She still sounded zoned out, but she was fighting her way back to thinking. She looked over to Jason, "So if you weren't scared, you knew it was dangerous and you jumped in anyways. So take the compliment and don't be an ass. That's Devin's job." The last was said with a teasing tone, a smile struggling to make it's way through her mental haze. "We...we...should go check on Sean and Etienne. Make sure they didn't get stuck on the other side or I don't know turn into a sunflowers or something."

She pulled herself up onto to unsteady feet, feeling drained. Neither Jason nor Devin where going anywhere right that moment, so Marissa was staying put, too. Likely Lona as well. She glanced at Cass. "Come with me? I'm pretty wobbly, but I want to check on them."

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Cassandra, wide-eyed and backed up against a tree from the fray, just stared at Clara for a long moment before seeming to actually focus on her. She had her phone in her hands, but didn't seem to be aiming it at anything. Abruptly she let out a breath she hadn't even realized she was holding, and sucked a replacement lungful in.

"I..." she tried to say, but nothing else came out. Then, "I don't know...if I can do this. I want to, but..."

Cassie nodded at where Lona was fixing up Devin and Jase, and beyond them the spot where Lilly had kicked the monster to...if that was even in this world...and covered her mouth for a second before she could continue.

"I feel like I'm going crazy."

When Clara offered her hand though, Cassandra took it and let herself be led away from the carnage. Not having to look at it definitely helped a little.

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Nope.

That had been Autumn's immediate and instinctive response to the scene that unfolded/expanded/shifted in the seconds following her return to the clearing. Fire. Monster. Blood. Other people? Guns. The warping of reality, yet again, the queasy feeling like she'd just rocketed to the top of a roller coaster and was about to drop back down to earth. And then... the aftermath. People were wounded, the beast was gone. She watched it move past her, time and energy running past in a bizarre twist in which she, for a change, stood still. For that brief moment, she knew how it felt to be not the river rushing onward, but the silent, invisible stone around which it surged. It was a split-second of strangeness that somehow stood out from all the other horrors and bizarre, inexplicable events of the day.

And then someone was talking... Lilly? Her pale, sea-colored eyes focused on the other girl, on the prone (and very naked) Bannon, and mumbled something in reply. Moving on autopilot, she untied the faded red hoodie from her waist and calmly, casually draped it over him for modesty. Lona said something, reached for her, but she lifted her arm, waved the other girl away. The songwriter looked terrible, why was she offering to help her? "I'm fine," she heard herself say. People were milling around all over, with reality reasserted. Weaving through them, she found her backpack, only slightly trampled, where she'd dropped it when Marissa had grabbed her arm. Methodically, numbly, she put one foot in front of the other and walked over to the pretty brunette, her jaw working as she noted the telltale signs of tears. "Hey." Autumn began quietly. "Do me a favor. When things settle down, tell them about the tree. Where it is. What we saw." She hesitated for a moment, then added soberly, "And, thanks."

Before the warring sensations within her- the urge to scream, to cry, to vomit violently all over the dry, sere underbrush- sorted out the order of priority well enough to manifest physically in her person, Autumn turned back toward Shelly and quietly started walking.

"Wait, hold up!" She honestly hadn't expected anyone to stop her, and she really didn't feel like talking, but the angel-faced devil-queen of Shelly High probably wasn't interested in an extended conversation, anyway- not with her brother half-conscious and bloody on the ground. The redhead paused and swallowed hard, blinking rapidly as she looked up at the clear, sunny skies through the canopy; she would rather choke on her tears than let Marissa see them. "Where are you going? Are you seriously going to just... just walk away after all this?" The other girl's voice sounded oddly un-bitchy, almost... concerned? The crunch of footsteps behind her stopped, and Autumn could almost picture Mari standing there, hand planted firmly on hip as she waited for an answer. She swallowed again, trying to ignore the acrid taste of bile. "Yeah. Yeah, Marissa I am. I'm going the fuck home." The pretty girl scout with the mouth of a sailor turned, resolutely not looking beyond the dishevelled, expensively-dressed young woman to the place where everything went irrevocably wrong. "I'm going the fuck home, I'm gonna hug my mom, and I'm not gonna talk to any of you," she ground out through clenched teeth, jaw tight with emotion. "Not about this, not about anything, not for a while. People almost died today because of shit that doesn't make any goddamned sense, Hell, your fucking brother almost died today, and you wanna know why I'm leaving?" There was something in the incredulous, near-hysterical cadence of Autumn's speech that reminded the curvier Jauntsen that, maybe, she wasn't the only one who only looked like she had her shit together. The redhead's cheeks were still flushed, both from the blast of heat and the sudden upwelling of grief and anger and fear as her face twitched, threatening to crumple.

The gravity of what she'd just said- how awful it was to remind someone that a person they loved almost died, even if both of those people were the Jauntsens- suddenly occurred to Autumn, and she reflexively inhaled, eyes widening with remorse. "Oh, god, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean- ! I mean, he's fine, right? It's fine." There was no disguising the rising note of panic in her voice as she flailed for words, desperately trying to extricate herself from the situation. "I'm sorry, I just need to go. I can't- I've gotta go." She could feel her chest tightening, the knot in her stomach threatening to work its way up her throat, and shook her head, abandoning all pretense of looking composed in front of every high school girl's worst frenemy.

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"Hey, Devin.  You awake?"  Jase said from where he lay nearby, eyes half-open and gleaming in the sunlight from above.  He'd winced at the unusual knitting-together sensation of Lona's gifts, even as his repaired brain had started analysing exactly how it worked and replaying the entire fight.

"Nope.”

“You teleported.”  Jase raised a hand to the sky, examining the way the sunlight permeated his flesh.

“That what it was?  Cool.”  Devin cracked one eye open.  “Dude, did you set yourself on fire, or was that more craziness?”

“Defensive barrier of some kind.  The fire didn’t actually touch me.”  Jase stated, frowning slightly.  “It felt odd, though.  Like a warm breeze.”  He could feel the others moving around the clearing, Cass and Clara heading towards the trailer without looking.  He felt Autumn leaving, and Marissa getting up and following her.  “And it wrecked my clothes.  Hopefully I can extend it a little so it doesn’t do that anymore.”

“I am so glad I didn’t flerpapork outta my clothes.”  Devin snickered.  “At least your thrift-shop chic will be cheap to replace.”

“Teleport.”  Bannon corrected absently.  “And true.  I think I’ll buy a dozen sets of shorts for powers practice.  It’ll be cheaper.”

“Man, how do you even think about that shit right now?”  Devin propped himself up on his elbows, glaring at his totally fucked jeans then at Jason just laying there with the red-head’s hoodie draped over him.  “We just dropped into Silent fucking Hill and fought a mutant fishasaurus with a mouth like Courtney’s coochie.  Why the fuck didn’t you run?”

“Why didn’t you?”  Jase likewise propped himself up on his elbows, meeting Devin’s exasperated stare with his own calm curiousity.

“Cause... Cause you didn’t!”  Devin blurted.  “And I asked first!”

“I didn’t run because you didn’t.”  Jase replied with a small smile.  Devin stared at him, then the two boys both started laughing.

“Big damn heroes, that’s us.”  Devin said through his laughter, laying back down again.

“For sure.”  Jase agreed, smiling as he sat up.  “Clara said so.”  That was good for another round of quiet laughter, even though it wasn’t all that funny.  “Really, though?  I wasn’t going to run out on a friend.”  He tossed a granola bar at Devin which landed on the other boy’s chest.  "Any more than you would."

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A hissing sound caught the two's attention as the Charlie-zard lurched over. Then with a crackling sound as fangs became teeth and plates molded back into flesh like putty, Charlie, collapsed onto the ground alongside them. His torn clothing still clung on, but loosely. Reaching with a hand, he began inspecting his mouth, before stopped in revulsion and then began spitting into the ground hard.

"Ugh. Phff- I think I got some of that monster guys still in my mouth. And stuck in my teeth! Good news, I think I know how to control all this now. Phff-pheth peth!"

Jason floated some water over. "Thanks." Charlie said before swallowing it, swishing and spitting again.

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"I only did it to protect my sister," Devin lied, lazily lying there a morphine patient trying sort the haze of the fading adrenaline.  Then he chuckled like a drunk a drunk idiot.  "Charlie ate Courtney cooch..."

Then Bannon giggled like a drunken idiot.

Then Charlie giggled like a drunken idiot.  "Fuck you both," laughed as he spat, still working on getting the taste out of his mouth.  "Kay, seriously... a mint?  Gum, anyone?"

With a grunt Devin tried to stand.  His leg wobbled and gave out, putting him on one knee.

"You okay,"  Lona asked, looking back at him.  Her concerned toned was noted.  "Is it not healed!?"

"Yeah, yeah," he groaned.  "Side effect, I think.  Looks about ninety percent.  It just feels like a massive charlie horse in my muscles... mingled with my whole leg waking up from me sitting on it wrong."  His leg looked almost as good as new.  At least in the last couple weeks of healing stage with reddened marks on his skin in a spiral pattern and an 'X' shaped soft scab on his thigh.

"It's probably because of how fast she healed you." Lilly offered.  "Perhaps your body needs to get used to the new tissue?"

"It wasn't a complaint," he said casually.  "Hell, I'm grateful,  Shelly's women are grateful."  All the ladies rolled their in sisterly derision.

"I'm just gonna go..." he pointed off towards the trailer.  "Stretch my le-"  In a swift distortion he collapsed in on himself and disappeared again.  They looked about quietly knowing now that he could do it but were still kinda shocked he *was* doing it.  Still any moment of silence where Devin was involved was an unspoken moment to cherish.

He reappeared only a few moments later and fell six to eight straight down to where he started in a belly flop that caused a collective wince from everyone as the small dust plume rose up from his impact.  "Well, *that's* gonna get old..." he wheezed as he tried to take a breath.  He rolled over back onto his back.  "Just... just gonna lie here... I'm a patient... not a good idea to move me."  He sighed.  "Yeah."

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"No," Marissa said calmly.  She approached Autumn and in one swift motion wrapped her arms around her, hugging her gently.  "No, no... none of us are apologizing right now, Autumn.  My brother is fine and I think if I talk about it... I'm gonna cry."

"Look, I-I know I've done some terrible things... my brother too, but, he's a guy so... all of this makes as much sense to me as it does to you. These guys? Through the laughter and stupidity and testosterone... mostly stupidity, they're scared and confused and stabbing at the dark to make all of this not... suck." "But," she sighed and wiped away tears from her eyes, still refusing to let go. "They're good people, Autumn. Alone, whatever it is you're trying to make sense of up there in your mind is only going to find you easier prey. You're not crazy. We both saw it. We all saw it. And I could really use your help right now because I'm so emotionally fucked that if you leave, I'll leave and... and... I could really use a friend right now!"  Once again the brunette broke down and balled her eyes out.  Almost losing her brother, the fear, the arenaline, the pure, unadulterated P-90 Insanity of the entire last couple hours... it was too much.

"We're?" Autumn tried to find words. Her mind could barely wrap around the darkness and monsters... and now she and her high school tormentor were... friends? Marissa just nodded as she cried a few more tears. Like Autumn she was all bent out of shape and her mind was barely hanging on. Where Autumn walked it off, Marissa cried it out, usually over a tub of Haagen dazs and and old Britney tracks, but out here supplies were scarce. She sniffled and held up Autumn's hair to look at while while her chin rested on her friend's shoulder. "Not apologizing for the hair comment though... please, come see me after all of this.  Damn, girl."

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"Look then leap, perhaps?"  Jase suggested needlessly as he got to his feet, one hand keeping Autumn's hoodie in place until he could tie the baggy garment around his slender waist.  He looked off towards where Marissa and Autumn were... hugging it out?... as he tossed Lilly back her jersey.  "Here, you'll need this."

"Eat a dick, Bannon."  Devin grumbled from the floor.  The lanky teen grinned, and then gingerly felt the side of his face, sensitive fingertips picking out where the scrapes on his face had been before tracing the gash at his hairline.

"Scarring?" he asked Lona, who jerked her eyes up from her phone, peered at her handiwork and shook her head.

"Shouldn't be much once it's done healing."  she opined.  "A little on your cheek there, and a faint one at the hairline.  They'll fade in no time."  Nodding, he ambled over to where his satchel and keys lay on the forest floor, the hoodie around his nethers thankfully sparing blushes from those who might otherwise have crimsoned.  Digging into a hidden pocket in the satchel, he extracted a roll-up with a happy little grunt of satisfaction, placing it between his lips.

"Dude, so not the time to get wasted."  Lilly sighed as Jase turned back towards them all, theatrically patting himself as if looking for a light before snapping his fingers, causing a flame to dance on the tip of his forefinger which he brought to the end of his smoke, then made a show of blowing out.

"Relax.  It's not weed." he replied around the end of the cigarette as he looped the strap of his satchel over one shoulder.  "And it calms me down - which I need right now, because I know I saw Eddy rolling up here with all of you."  Pale eyes, hooded from wariness, regarded those of the Fellowship who were in the clearing.  "Figured I ought to at least hear what's gone on before I do something nasty, and this smoke buys time for me to hear it."

He took a deep drag, the end of the cigarette glowing red and gold, then exhaled the smoke in twin jets through his nostrils.  Despite the fact he wasn't exactly dressed to impress, being naked except for a girl's hoodie wrapped around his waist, it was hard not to take seriously his implication of something nasty happening to Etienne.

"So who wants to fill me in?"

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Lona stuffed her phone in her pocket, some color coming back to her face as she firmly put the texts out of her mind. “So Clara called him, because… Wait, I need to back up to this morning.” Tersely, she described the conversation with Cook, well aware that it wasn’t likely calming Jase down, but hoping it was turning his ire away from Etienne. She honestly wasn’t hoping that Jase would stop hoping to kill Etienne, at least not until Clara had made up her mind about him.

“So when I texted Devin and hadn’t heard back, and remembered that the last time that we’d felt that kind of weirdness, it was the night of The Party, we all blew off school to ride in on the calvary,” Lona finished. “So Clara called him because he’s a mercenary, and she thought we could use the firepower.”

“So he’s not only a piss-poor example of a human being,” Jase said icily, “he’s also a piss-poor mercenary.”

Lona shrugged. “Cook is covering for us this afternoon. He might be willing to cover the whole day. And no, it doesn’t matter if you don’t accept his help. He knows who all of you are. I’m guessing that the cafeteria is wired, because he mentioned floating footballs specifically when talking about what we could do. So Etienne is here to help, and also the Dark has my phone number.”

She just blurted out the last without thought. As Jase frowned at her, Lona swallowed and said, “After I texted Devin, I got a reply from a non-number. It was gibberish followed by ‘Break the Rules, Face the Tree’ followed by more gibberish. That was the moment when all doubts were removed and we knew you guys needed backup.”

Don’t think about the Dark having a personal connection to you. All it can really do is blow up your phone and try to friend you on Facebook. No biggie.

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Oddly, Jason didn't go literally incandescent at the involvement of Dr Cook or the mention of a four-decades long conspiracy.  He simply nodded, now and then asking a question to clarify what Lona was telling him, but otherwise remaining silent.

"I actually think it might be worth seeing how Cook can help us."  he said at length, still chewing over Lona's news about the Dark having her phone number.  "He has resources.  We need them.  Especially with what we have found out."

"You mean: play along?"  Lona asked, not quite sure she was hearing him right.  "Follow his direction like good little lab rats?"

"Not at all."  Jason said, blowing a smoke ring.  "I follow no-one.  I do travel in the same direction as people when it suits me - until it no longer does."  He gave a thin smile at this last statement, and Lona stared at him for a moment.

"You're going to try and play him."  Charlie not-quite accused.

"I am going to extend cooperation.  So long as we each provide something the other wants, cooperation can continue."  Jase returned cold-bloodedly.  "He desperately wants to study what we can do.  We control the relationship.  Reveal as much or as little of our abilities as we feel comfortable with.  Speaking as someone who has made a school career of under-performing, I plan to be circumspect with what I show the good Doctor."  He jabbed a finger in the direction of the trailer.  "We are going to be doing some powers practice - my place is probably best due to the open spaces and no-one around.  Eddy is not to be invited nor told what we are doing.  He gets the mushroom treatment."

"Mushro-  Ohh."  Lona nodded.  "Feed him shit and keep him in the dark, right?"

"Right."  Jason replied, smiling a little at her.  "Make sure Clara understands that and keeps her boy toy out of my hair.  Please.  Because if I learn that Eddy knows more than he should or catch him snooping around my farm..."  He spread his hands in a shrug.  "Then she'll need a new pretty pet.  I suggest a Shitzu.  They're easier to housetrain."

As that statement settled over the clearing like hoarfrost, Bannon tossed his keys up in the air and caught them as he placed the cigarette back in his mouth.

"I'll be at the cars, eventually.  Going slow so as to avoid stones and thorns and fun things like that.  If anyone wants a lift I've room for one.  Personally, I'll be heading to my place, then ordering pizza.  I really want pizza."  He announced generally as he turned away and gingerly picked his way out of the clearing.  "If anyone else wants pizza, I'm buying."

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Coraline let the chatter flow over her, eyes flicking over Cade to make sure he had no obvious injuries before throwing herself into a hug with him and letting herself breath again. The fracturing kaleidoscope of light and dark had stopped. The monster was gone. Hopefully. And everyone was 'okay' for a given value of 'okay', thanks to Lona. And Devin. Just thinking about the near hit made her squeeze Cade tighter, wordlessly needing the stability on offer to beat back the bramble of fear the memory offered. She was going to have to work a lot harder. And talk about letting the spider continue to spin his webs over them? Oh, well. If that was vote... She wasn't feeling up to challenging anyone right now.

"Nothing Bannon wasn't already doing, Cade, if it wasn't just him hitting it again," she breathed in a whisper, uncertainty gnawing at her, before sucking another breath and finally pushing away from him and looking at the group, falling back on the tried and true in the face of existential uncertainty, "I'll split that bill, Jase. Pizza sounds good. Pizza and football later maybe? Go Coyotes."  

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Sara pulled her mind back, she had a connection now. She had only half way been listening to what was going on in the background, but she recognized it for what it was. Bonding, coming to terms, the denial was fading from all of them.

That was more important than anything she had to tell them at the moment.

Sara turned away from the distant town and strode back to the rest of the Fellowship and rubbed her face with her hands and ran her fingers through her short hair. "Can we get out of this place, now?"

Spoiler

I think max has a post he wants to make I just sent him info.

 

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"Yeah..." Devin stood up, carefully, with his eyes closed.  His stance was wide and prepared for another uncontrolled jaunt that would send him belly flopping to the ground.  "Pizza... pizza sounds great."

He took a large Frankenstein step... then another.  "I think I got this... center... focus on here..."  He slowly opened his eyes and... nothing.  He took a deep breath and lowered his hands like finding his Zen.  It looked like he was stable for moment.

A thin smile of excitement spread across his lips as the more he thought about... the less he could shut up about it.  "Oh.  Em.  Gee!"  And he bamfed out.

"...this is the coolest..." he reappeared by Jason for a second and then was gone in a breath.

He was now by Lilly, the implosion of air as he reappeared causing her a slight jump and trying her nerves.  "...thing, anyone could ever..."

"...have possibly happen to them  in the history..." his arms were draped over Lona for just a moment before he was gone, again.

"...of ever!  Ladies..." he was now in the middle of Marissa and Autumn's special moment.  "...we're talking about me right now, pay attention..."  And again he was gone.

"...can you seriously..." The smack across Devin's face shut him up.  He appeared before Sara and she let him have it.  He rubbed his face.  "Thanks... but y'gotta admit this is the tits!"

"You're being annoying," she said flatly, then smirked a bit.  "Is kinda neat though."

"Annoying is what I do, momma," he slid his arm around her waist and she casually unslid his arms from her waist and held him away from her.  "I'm like the Beast Boy to this collective of Teen Titans.  I keep it fun.  Cheeky and fun.  And pizza, I eat pizza... we need to get on that."  He glanced one last time at Sara and gave her smoulder... "When you gonna let me in, boo?  I know I can make you happy, don't give up on this, on us."

Sara rolled her eyes and grunted as she spun away from him and walked off.  Devin looked around and spotted the others.  He pointed and nodded.  "I'm wearing her down.  She's warming up to me."

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"Just like Beastboy wore down Raven maybe."   He looked over at Devin even as he had an arm around Cora.   "All bullshit aside, I''m glad we're all okay, and second or third the call to get out of here and head back home.  I'll let y'all catch the pizza, but you know there'll be an afterparty at Bunnee's when we win, so I'll pay for abit of that."  

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On 9/17/2019 at 11:46 AM, Clara Lys Wright said:

The young man that looked like a young man slumped against the trailer, folding his arms and scanning the tree line, clearly still keyed up. "I came because Clara asked me to. Cook sent the car and the shotgun because, I think, he knew telling you not to do whatever this is wouldn't stop you and he doesn't want you all to die." He pushed off the trailer, pacing and throwing his arms out, "Sacrament, I've never even fired a gun before!"

He stopped abruptly, running his hand over the back of his neck. He shook his head, "I suppose I should learn, mhm? If she is going to be fighting monsters. That thing! Merde!

From where Sean was standing at the end of the trailer, so he could look beyond its bulk to search for any fleeting transmissions in the sky, he looked askance at Etienne. His motives might be suspect, but he hardly seemed dangerous to him, not even a bit nefarious... though Sean guessed that could be an act. He was hired to honey-pot Clara, apparently.

"What kind of mercenary are you?" Sean asked dubiously. "Never held a gun... "

Etienne growled in exasperation. "Because someone is hiring you for a job, even if that job turns into somethi--"

"Oh no! Don't go there, Don Juan," Sean interrupted with a pointing finger, giving up the search for now and walking back towards the trailer down. "I don't want to hear it, and I really, really, doubt Clara will."

"D'accord," Etienne agreed with a hard nod. "But, as I was saying, because someone is hiring you for a specific reason, that doesn't make you, make me, a mercenary. Cook, he's been so wrapped up in his own thing, sometimes, I am thinking he's forgetting the rest of the world."

At the mention of the Doctor, Sean's full lips tightened into a thin line. Sean really needed to a talk, a candid, hopefully open, talk with his doctor of the last near seven years. "Yeah, well... it's not all on him, is it? You agreed to it. You shouldn't worry about learning to fire a gun because Clara might be fighting monsters. You should learn if you're going to fight monsters. Because right now, none of us really want you at our side, let alone guarding our backs."

Giving him a pointed look, Sean went back into the trailer, slipping the pack off his shoulders, opening it up and pulling out the contents. The water and emergency foodstuffs went into the small fridge, something in case anyone ended up back here unexpectedly. The first aid supplies went on the counter of the tiny kitchen area. The backpack empty, Sean unplugged the weird radio and stuffed it into the pack. He wanted to study the blasted thing, and he wasn't going to always hike back up to the trailer to do it. Unless of course, the atomic generator and/or the Faraday cage integrated into the trailer had something to do with its functions.

Slipping the backpack back over his shoulders, Sean hitched it up so it sat more comfortably, then headed out of the trailer and locked it back up, covering the key from Etienne with his body. Slipping his keys back into his satchel, he turned around and went down the three steps from the trailer more cautiously than he had first gone up them.

"I think it's about time we, all of us, leave this place. Some of us need to recover, some of us need food, and all of us just need to go."

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Autumn was floored. She had no idea what to say, how to respond to an overture of this magnitude- from Marissa Jauntsen, no less. If the girl's tears and snot weren't smeared on the shoulder of Autumn's t-shirt, she wouldn't have believed it was genuine, but here we are. Even if she hadn't been in shock and on the verge of vomiting on her own shoes before having a nervous breakdown, the hug and... everything else was just layers of weird heaped on top of fucked up in some kind of worst-day-ever parfait. She hated it. She hated whatever that thing had been, hated that they'd been unceremoniously dumped in a wet dream crafted personally for Tim Burton by whoever made those Alien movies, hated people kicking monsters into trees and setting them on fire and turning into monsters, hated being dragged into a world that looked and felt exactly like hers, but which suddenly wasn't because people had some kind of powers and nothing made sense anymore. It wasn't a world she recognized, even as she caught the scent of the forest over the perfume of Marissa's shampoo. Familiar, but... changed.

Was it like this for them, too? The others seemed mostly unfazed, at a quick scan of the clearing. Maybe they were used to it.

Autumn, though, was not. She didn't belong here, not with these people, not with all this craziness. Mostly, she really, really wanted to go home. Physically exhausted and emotionally drained, the redhead did her best to summon up the words to describe what was going on inside her.

"Marissa," she whispered hoarsely, taking a step back to hold the beautiful socialite at arm's length as their eyes met in a moment of genuine communion. Autumn was terrible at intimacy, and as she bit her lip, the breeze lifting the girls' hair gently, she wondered if she could find a way to convey her feelings. When she finally spoke, it was barely a whisper, her voice wavering with the involuntary shivers that still sent her trembling every few moments as her adrenaline and cortisol levels normalized.

"You're not even my type."

Eyes widening in shock, the predatory Jauntsen princess found herself suddenly pulled into a quick hug, and then released. "You could be, though," the still-shaky elf girl quipped lazily, conjuring a smile that was both uncertain and fleeting. "Besides. Can't walk it off if I'm not walking. Come on."

"Hey," she called out more loudly, taking a few steps back toward the other teens still milling about. "We found your Tree."

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Lilly sighed and rolled her eyes as Jase, Devin and then Charlie all bantered, all three having apparently forgotten the contributions of the girls as they reveled in their macho "hero-ness". She sat back against a tree, her feet flat on the ground and her knees in front of her chest with her forearms resting on them, holding her jersey in on hand and the spike in the other, the metal no longer cool, but warmed by the heat of her hand.

She closed her eyes, laying her back against the bark covered tree, taking a breath and finally allowing herself to relax. They had fought a monster... an actual monster that looked like it was ripped right from the pages of their D&D Monster Manual. It was a monster. She would not have believed it had she not seen it with her own eyes and felt it under her shoe when she kicked it, and she still was not sure about it.

Pushing herself up from the ground she got up and walked a little into the woods. She vaguely remembered where she had stood when she kicked the creature, and from there she began walking, looking for any signs of its passing or.. wait. Did she kick it so hard it broke a tree? No. She couldn't have kicked it that hard. Lilly's head snapped around, surveying the trees in the area... all of the fully intact trees.

Was there even a creature in the first place?

Lilly stood there and looked down at her arms. She vaguely remembered being scorched by some heat. Though Lona had healed her burns, Lilly had only been even vaguely aware of the presence in the first place, and yet, somehow knew exactly how superficial they were and that they would have been gone with a day of rest even without Lona's aid, which she knew was much faster than one should expect.

This made no sense. Nothing was adding up. Maybe it was the woods? Something in the air? Lilly shook her head and looked at the spike in her hand and then back to the tree where it had impaled the teddy bear. Then she recalled the flood of visions that she could not really comprehend. It was not the first time she had visions like that. Well.. not like that, the other times were still fast, fractions of a second she was pretty sure.

The night of the party, when she went running toward the gunshot, she saw different stands of trees, different barriers and remembered on of them where a tree had fallen, which in turn knocked down a few other, making a barely passable path to somebody with good enough coordination. She walked along the wall of trees and found it, the path she had seen, but somehow, she knew it was not there that night... at least not originally. Had she done that?

Dr. Cook, supposing he was not full of shit, said she had some sort of perception that allowed her to move and react just a bit before she even knew what’s going to happen. That did not seem to explain the path, but when she thought back, it did explain the Devin and Chet's fight at Bunnee's. She had seen him throw the phone and she could see what was going to happen, but could also see other.. possibilities? Chet would have died that morning, and Devin would be in custody, but she couldn't allow that. Somehow she changed it. She picked a better, less lethal option and made that reality.

Lilly staggered back, feeling a little lightheaded and caught herself against a tree as that realization hit and she tried to reconcile it with reality. had she really done that? Could she really do that? And it still did not explain her knowledge of her body or the kick, if it even happened. It was too much for her to deal with right now, so she shut her eyes tight and shook her head, dismissing it for now as best she could. They had other stuff to deal with right now. 'Eddy'. The trailer. How Jase and Devin got to the other side. How they got back. And there was still the football game tonight and the team would be depending on her.

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By the time the trailer came into view, Cassandra was either feeling better or shock was finally starting to numb her to the horror and surreality of what she'd witnessed. It felt like cotton was packed into her skull, cushioning her mind but also making it sort of soft and unable to grasp things. It was comfortable, but it wasn't right. She couldn't leave it like that. Treat it like a story, something she was investigating. Maybe that'd help wrap her mental fingers around it. How did that go again?

To really break a story, you have to understand the causality of it. Find the first causes, and document them. Everything you build will be on that foundation.

First causes. Where had it all started?

The bear, nailed to a tree. Except no because...who nailed the bear to the tree?

She pulled her hand out of Clara's, making the other girl pause and look back at her with a mix of confusion and concern.

"I'm okay," Cassie said, "I...I just realized something.I have to go back." Then she turned and ran back towards the tree the bear had been staked to, the place it was still on the ground where she'd dropped it in shock and horror. And yet 'going back' had more than one meaning, Cassie felt. Not just back to the right spot, but back to the right time. The first cause.

At the foot of the tree, propped against the bole of one of the roots just before it plunged underground, was the teddy bear. Dirty and battered, now with a hole in the midsection where stuffing leaked out like wispy white entrails. Cassandra leaned over to pick it up, half expecting it to writhe and moan. For the moment though, it contained its agony and simply stared at her with scuffed black glass eyes.

The stake. Lilly had pulled it free...did she still have it? Cassie wasn't sure, but it seemed like a good place to start since it wasn't on the ground. She went over to where the other kids were gathered, to where Lilly was staring dazedly off at something maybe only she could see. She went up to the athlete, feeling a little awkward. She didn't have words of congratulations or comfort or anything a normal person should have at a moment like this. Just a weird request.

"Hey, uh...Lilly? Do you happen to still have that thing? The metal thing that the bear was stabbed on?"

Lilly looked confused for a second, more at the utter left-fieldedness of the question than at the meaning of it, then nodded. "Yeah, why?"

Cassandra nodded, encouraged. "Can I have it for a second? Borrow it. You can have it back if you want. I just need to see something."

The metal spike...some kind of climbing piton or something? Cassie wasn't sure...tingled in her hand as Lilly shrugged and handed it over. A circle was closing; she had all the pieces, she just needed to...arrange them properly.

With a grateful nod, Cassie ran back to the tree and found the deep notch that the spike had carved into it when hammered home. She held the bear up to that hole, then held the spike up to the bear.

...the tree, clouds racing past overhead as the sun crawled visibly across the sky...there was a flicker of squirrels in the branches, then nothing....and then some kids went past; the Fellowship kids who'd gone to the trailer first...the sun tracked further...and abruptly time slowed down...something indistinct moved to the tree trunk and the bear was pressed to the old, rough bark...the spike driven in with a sound like breaking glass...then it was gone, and the sun tracked further...and then Cassandra saw herself and the others who'd come with her arrive at the tree, and Lilly put her hand to the spike...

No. First causes.

She followed the Bear, back through time, unraveling it to a thread and hauling herself along it as if rappelling up a cliffside...until it was in the dark...the dark that stretched off into history like the impenetrable gloom at the bottom of the sea...then the dark was breached by light; a lid opening, hands reaching inside to lift the bear out...out of a lockbox...a lockbox in...the trailer?! The hands were shadowy, indistinct, like the figure that had nailed the bear into the tree...with the stake!

Cassandra unraveled the stake as she had the bear, making it from an object into a string of events, then tracing those events back and back...until it lying half-embedded in the ground, almost covered by old growth grass...in the background was the campsite that marked the spot that Bannon's party would one day be...one day soon...and then a hand reached down, shifting, shimmering, occluded by shadows, and pulled the stake up from the earth. It hadn't searched first, Cassandra realizes. It hadn't hunted. It had known precisely where the stake would be...she quickly spooled back out, to the tree, to the bear being hammered in...and tried to see the face of this person...all she saw was dark and cold though, rising up, flaring out, trying to swallow her....

With a startled gasp, Cassandra's hands flexed open, and the stake and bear fell to the ground. The vision...or...whatever it had been...broke immediately, leaving her pale and breathing hard. Suddenly dizzy, she leaned against the tree to hold herself up.

She had to tell them...but there was something she wanted to do first. And everyone was still dealing with this truly messed up situation. Maybe after the game? Give her time to dot her I's and give them time to recuperate before hitting them with yet another big huge Weirdfish right in the face?

Okay.

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Devin wandered to where autumn and his sister were approaching.  Marissa sped up her pace and passed the ginger to hold her brother tight.  " You ass, you had me so scared"  she squeezed him. "Don't you ever do that again.  I'm serious."

"No promises," he smiled.  He looked to Autumn as his sister let go.  The two stood there with their arms around eachotherclike an inseparable pair.  "Whaycha got Granola?" Since she didn't want him caller her Red.  "You guys found the tree?  What, that way?"

He pointed to the direction they ran off in during the battle.

"Um, not exactly," Marissa said, uncertain or unable to form words.  She looked at Autumn with a 'help me out here' glare.

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Jase, at Autumn's shout, had stopped his painful and slow progress out of the clearing and turned, regarding the redhead and Marissa as they walked back towards the others.  He didn't grumble, since that was not really in his nature.  What he did was sigh slightly and then make his way back into the clearing where the fight had happened, adjusting Autumn's hoodie around his waist to give a little more coverage and increase it's likelihood of staying on.

He approached the Jauntsen's and Autumn - who was very intently not looking his way - and then stopped, waiting patiently for one or the other of the two girls to make sense.  That they might not make sense did not, at this point, occur to him, and so he remained silent as his pale green eyes regarded the two of them from a blood-streaked face.

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"It's..." The redhead paused abruptly, shooting Devin a weary glare at his use of the new nickname, involuntarily glancing in Jase's direction, and immediately regretting it. Why? Why did I give Mother. Fucking. Jason. Goddamn. Bannon my favorite hoodie to cover his junk? I mean, because it would've just been out there if I hadn't but, still! My hoodie! What was I even thinking?!

...Fuck my life.

He looked for all the world like an extra from some porno version of Lord of the Flies, and the blood rising in her cheeks wasn't the least bit interested in how exhausted or miserable she was.  It was a completely inappropriate thing to be (NOT) thinking about, and it wasn't like she'd never seen a naked guy before, but just, like... casually naked? No. Casually mostly naked. ...Which, somehow, was worse, especially with the look he gave her when she accidentally flinched and met his gaze. It was difficult to read: not quite a smirk, almost expectant, but also a bit like he was laughing at her, just behind the forest-canopy hues of his slightly narrowed eyes. The male Jauntsen twin wasn't any easier to gauge, for all that he seemed superficially open and carefree, and she had heard more than a few stories about his exploits. She was just glad that at least Devin's clothes were basically intact, or she probably wouldn't be stringing words together at all; it seemed somehow unfair to average-looking guys that a place like Shelly existed. Helpfully, her brain reminded her that she already wasn't stringing words together, which she was supposed to be doing, because three people were currently staring at her.

Oh.

"Um, yeah, no. Not exactly. It's in the other place." There was a faint quaver in her voice, one not born of weariness and neurochemicals, on the last two words. Licking her lips, she looked from Marissa back to her less patient sibling, scrupulously avoiding the final member of the dysfunctional group of high-school antagonists. "About 15 miles that way." She jerked her head in the direction of town, and Devin, for all his idiotic bravado, actually blanched slightly.

"Bullshit," the handsome young hotshot muttered darkly, shaking his head. "No fucking way. It's in Shelly?!"

"Deej," his sister interjected, tugging on his arm. "It gets worse."

Autumn exhaled. "It's not in Shelly. We didn't see town at all. Honestly, uh... We were thinking maybe it is Shelly." She let the words hang in the air, folding her arms across her chest like a shield, a subconscious attempt to either ward off whatever that meant, or to shore up her emotional walls enough to keep moving long enough to get home. Maybe both.

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"You're certain?"  The question was not asked with skepticism, or disbelief, or even any real doubt.  In fact, it was as much statement as question, the inquiry simply thrown on the end as a formality.  Marissa and Autumn both glanced at Jason, but he wasn't looking at them, he was instead looking at some inner vista, considering what they were saying.

"As certain as I am of anything."  Autumn managed.  Marissa nodded, dark eyes wide.

"We saw it, Jason." she asserted.

"I believe you.  Hmmm."  he trailed off, still thinking.  He didn't pace, or fidget, or do any number of other things associated with thought.  Instead he simply stood there, sunlight playing in his distant gaze.

"Hmmm..?"  Marissa said, without as much snark as usual.  "All that grey matter and no words?"  Jase didn't blink, merely focused his gaze on her as Lona, Charlie and Lilly trailed closer.  Cora hung back, one arm around Cade's waist as the baseball player looked on.

"The Tree is Shelly... And yet the Tree is also Devin and Marissa's invention.  A boogeyman to frighten teenagers."  Jason mused.  "Fear is interesting.  It is in the nature of humankind to threaten others with what they themselves fear most, whether the purpose is to entertain or intimidate.  Most horror writers, the best ones, use their own fears in their works.  The fear caused is loaned solidity by the fear felt by the originator, made real by their own imagination or experiences."

"So?"  Devin asked, feeling a slight chill at the analytical expression in Jase's eyes.  Marissa nodded slightly, seeing where the half-naked genius was going.

"We made it the Tree."  she said.  "It could have been anything, but the Tree is the boogeyman right now."

"Wait, so it's not really a tree?"  Autumn asked, glancing from Marissa to Devin to (oh god) Jason Effing Half-Naked Bannon.

"It looks like a tree, and it sits there as a tree.  I don't think it's really a tree, any more than the... dimension we flipped into was really a forest.  It was a reflection."  Jase mused.  "Probably - the Dark has to take some shape, after all.  Something to think about.  If that is the Dark and not something else.  I wonder if I would have seen it as a tree."  He also wondered if perhaps it had always been a Tree, and Devin had been inspired from somewhere other than his own imagination.  He didn't voice that thought, though.  Some things needed careful examination before scaring the bejesus out of his friend with them.

"You wonder that because you don't feel fear?"  Lona asked before she could stop herself, then pressed her lips together as a few of the others looked at her, giving the lanky teen an apologetic look.  Jason shrugged slightly, giving her a small smile in return as if to say it didn't matter.

"What do you mean 'he doesn't feel fear'?"  Autumn demanded, trying not to glare at the Effing One as Marissa put a hand on her arm.

"Girl, let's not even go there.  It's a whole thing."  Mari suggested, shooting everyone a warning glance.  "Come on.  Lets get out of here before shit gets weird again.  And then Jase can get into real clothes and wash your hoodie. Several times.  Right?"  she gave Jase a narrow look.

"Of course." he replied, glancing at Autumn.  "Thank you for the kindness." he added with simple sincerity, even as his eyes studied her red face.

"Is it at least comfortable?"  Devin grinned, gesturing to the impromptu eggplant-shroud.

"Very."  Jason said as he turned to start hobbling out of the clearing once more. He glanced back over one shoulder, a trace of a smile in his eyes.  "Doesn't chafe at all."

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