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Weirder Stuff Episode V - Rainbow Weave


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Tuesday Lunchtime - The Halls

Bannon

Autumn seemed hesitant for a moment as Jase smiled and nodded at her, then appeared to make up her mind about something and stepped towards the lean youth, causing him to pause in the act of turning to go and wait, head tilted in curiousity as his gleaming eyes studied her.  He had been intending to seek solitude over lunch, but the redhead was a friend and politeness dictated he give time if it was required.  He took a step towards her...

And that was when the attack came, suddenly, as two burly shapes bull-rushed Jason's lean form into the lockers with a crash.  He fell to the floor, cooler bag sliding away from him as he lost his grip on it, and was aware of being winded and dazed for a moment as he felt two pairs of hands grab him and yank him upright, shoving him back into the lockers once more.  He saw the glazed stare and leering grin of Curtis Denicott and, just beyond it, the similarly-twisted features of Mark Belcher.

"That's right, fucker."  Curtis slammed a fist into Jase's stomach, causing him to grunt and stagger.  The two seniors each outweighed Jase by perhaps a good forty pounds at least, perhaps as much as sixty in the case of the Belcher kid.  "Who's cut off now, faggot?"  Denicott stepped back, allowing his partner in crime to add his own clenched fist to the argument, the blow catching Jason in the ribs and sending him back into the lockers a third time, clenched teeth bared as he stifled back a cry of pain.  He saw students stopping and watching, their expressions ranging between shock, dismay and amusement, and realised none of them would help.  Not that he expected help anyway - it was not in his nature, even instinctively. to look outside himself for the providing of solutions.

The answer was obvious, and he felt the power within him moving, uncoiling in his veins... and then stopped it.  These kids, and they were kids, were being driven, controlled.  The Dark wanted him to kill them, or at the least to use his powers publicly, an act which would further split the Fellowship as well as feed the fear and death the Dark loved so much.  He was being manipulated, and crudely, a thought that made him smile as his shirt was grabbed once more, straightening him in place.  Belcher glared at him.

"The fuck is so funny, asshole?"  he demanded, then punched Jason squarely across the jaw, the impact of which would have sent the slender boy to the ground if Curtis hadn't caught him.  Jason knew that he couldn't outfight them, not without powers.  He also knew that to unleash himself would be to play into the hands of the Dark.  It didn't care about these two idiots - they were expendable.  What it wanted was for him to fight back - expose his gift, draw attention to him, perhaps even put himself in the spotlight for the attack on Liam.

"Sometimes you've got to take the punch."  Hank had said as he handed Jase an icepack for his ribs.  "Sometimes you've got to let the other guy think he's having it all his way.  Then he might think he's got you beat, but you're playing the longer game.  You might even throw the fight, so he comes to the next one - the more important one - expecting the same shit, and that's when you hammer him good.  Winning a fight is easy.  Winning a war takes sacrifice."

"Oh, I was just thinking I know girls who probably hit harder than you two."  Jase said with a grin that pulled at his split lip.  As the features of his attackers darkened, he hawked and spat his blood into Curtis's face.  As he did so, he wrapped himself in a weak cocoon of telekinetic force.  It wouldn't stop a solid blow - that would again draw attention - but might turn it into a glancing one.   He wasn't going down without a fight, though his calculating mind told him he was likely going to lose.  Curtis flinched, and Jason drove forward and launched an elbow-strike that took the senior squarely on the nose, hearing the crunch of cartilage and feeling a savage exultation fill him - only to catch a hook to his ear from Mark that made him drop to one knee.  Teeth clenched, he turned on that knee and slammed his left elbow into Belcher's groin, causing the beefy kid to groan and stagger back.  Jason tried to get to his feet, but a clumsy kick from Curtis, who was cursing and holding his streaming nose in one hand, caught him in the gut and sent him to the lino-tiled floor, the wind knocked out of him.

And then both seniors started to work him over with clumsily aimed kicks, and it took all of his control not to lash out and turn them into candles of fat and screams as he curled into a fetal position, protecting his head and vitals as best he could, blocking out the pain and waiting for them to get tired.

Edited by GDP_ST
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What the actual fuck?!

Before Autumn had even managed to cross the few meters between them, before she'd had time to register movement or shout a warning, Jase disappeared behind a wall of man-shaped muscle and rage, and for a moment it felt like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the air. The sound of his body hitting the metal lockers, the shouting, the impact of knuckles and elbows on flesh, the frenetic thudding of her heartbeat in her chest- it was all a dull, strangely distant roar, as if she were hearing it underwater.

Stop.

STOP IT!

She couldn't get the words out, couldn't force them past the almost painful tightness in her throat. It was like a nightmare, trying desperately to scream when she could only manage a whisper that was quickly swept away by the tumult and chaos, the vicious currents of violent geometry. He can't fight them both off, not at the same time!  ...And yet, the memory of what he could do- what he had done at the trailer, what he had, by all accounts, done to Liam- blazed into life at the forefront of the terrified redhead's mind as her friend, her friend hit the floor. She had the vague sense of something moving, a torrent surging not behind her this time, but through her, and realized she was running.

"Knock it the fuck off!" The lively young woman's voice, choked and angry, was almost unrecognizable in her own ears, and as Mark glanced up, the heels of her hands struck him solidly in the chest, sending him staggering back a couple of steps. The surprise in his eyes at having been hit, having been moved at all, lasted only an instant, being quickly replaced with an unrelenting malice that seemed utterly alien within the structure of a human face. Autumn had just enough time to process that, shock registering on her own freckled features, before he grabbed her wrist in a meaty hand and twisted.

A jagged lance of pain shot up her arm and arrowed down into her fingers as she gasped, instinctively moving to alleviate the pressure, but the older boy just grinned and turned it farther, until she was almost on her toes, a sudden wash of tears brightening her eyes. "Mind your own fucking business," he ground out through clenched teeth, and the redhead whimpered, clutching his arm with her other hand as if she could somehow stop him from snapping her wrist through sheer force of will. With her newfound awareness, she could actually feel the strain on the delicate bones and ligaments as they approached the breaking point, the sensation drawing a tortured cry from her lips; just when she thought they would snap, a sudden rush of crimson bloomed in her mind, deep and intoxicating as any wine she'd ever tasted. It sang through her veins as it spread, hot and eager, racing furiously, gloriously, through her fingertips and into the thick forearm of the brute holding her.

The sound was quiet at first, lost in the chatter and whooping of onlookers, but gradually grew louder, more intense until it was all she could hear: a quiet, almost girlish moan transmuted into a guttural howl of anguished rage as the nerves in Mark Belcher's arm shrieked in protest and failed, his primitive brain temporarily overwhelmed by its own capacity to experience pain. Flinging Autumn aside, he stumbled, nearly losing his balance as he shuffled, disoriented, across the blood-spattered floor. Dizzy and disbelieving, the redhead regained her footing and blinked down at her hands: apart from some redness that might turn into bruising, there was no perceptible difference, but she could sense it, whatever it was, just beneath the surface of her skin. She glanced in Jason's direction to confirm he was all right, when a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye reminded her with sickening clarity that there had been two aggressors.

An explosion of blinding white agony filled her consciousness, obliterating any sense of coherence or equilibrium the freckled teen possessed as Curtis cold-cocked her solidly in the jaw, his fist nearly large enough to cover the entire side of the young woman's face. She hit the ground, hard, sliding backward on the waxed tiles as the brief moment of silence resolved into a chaotic chorus of distant voices. Her hands scrabbled dazedly for purchase on the cold floor, every survival instinct in her brain warring with the almost total loss of spatial awareness. Get up! it hissed/screamed in some primal, wordless demand, but her vision was all swimming light and dark and smudges of color, and there was no "up" to get to. There was no conscious thought, no plan or consideration when his shadow loomed over her- only impulse, bright and sharp as the taste of blood on her tongue. The lumbering darkness in front of her deepened in warning, and, desperately blinking away the tears clouding her eyes, Autumn planted her palms on the tile and kicked.

The first time her foot met with his shin, she was rewarded with a grunt of pain, but little else. Vague shadows resolved themselves into the shape of a face, an arm, a fist- Gritting her teeth, the redhead screamed in defiance and kicked again, her vision washed in scarlet as the sole of her shoe connected with something that shifted unnaturally under her heel. In that split-second, Autumn knew, intimately, the fragility of ligament and bone, felt the upwelling of crimson exhilaration humming through her, and-

I want you to know how proud I am of you, the wasted, parchment-skinned figure whispered urgently up at her from his hospice bed, a terrifying whistle beneath his words. Don't ever forget that.

Curtis shrieked, a haunting, agonized wail echoing through the crowded hall as he crumpled to the floor not far from his intended victim. As he writhed, howling in helpless anguish and clutching feebly at what he knew were the shattered remnants of his knee, the dishevelled teen's freckled features tightened in grief and anger. Choking back the sob that clawed at her throat, Autumn slid backwards, bracing herself against the lockers as she slowly worked her way back up to her feet.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Cassandra hadn't been especially close, having headed to another class entirely. It was impossible to miss how the 'flow' of students was warped though. People started gravitating towards something out of sight. Cass didn't know what exactly was up, but she'd seen this behavior before. Somewhere there was a spectacle, and awareness of it was rippling outward from its point of origin through the kids.

She broke into a run, following the whispers and rumors and other kids being drawn. On hearing the sound of fighting she began sprinting.

Cassie burst through the ring around the fight just in time to hear Curtis' scream. For a second she didn't know how to process what she was seeing. Jason over by the lockers, looking beat up. Autumn on the floor like she'd been crawling. Another couple of guys, big ones, sprawled out on the ground. One holding... jesus... Cassandra wrenched her eyes away from his leg to the other one. He looked hurt too, but he was getting to his feet, murder in his eyes.

Waves beat against her head, like wind, like a storm. From between the slats of the shutters she saw pain, blinding bright, coming from everyone.The two boys she didn't know the names of had something else, something worse. Cassie struggled to make sense of it, but the image that locked in was one of those documentaries she'd seen about the aftermath of a big oil spill, with volunteers cleaning animals up. That's what they looked like then, in her mind's eyes. Like they were hopelessly gunked up with sticky gobs of oil, somehow both thick and black yet somehow iridescent as well. Tangled, engulfed, choking to death.

The Dark.

Curtis was clearly out of the fight, physically. No matter how much control the Dark had, it couldn't use him if he was broken that badly. She advanced on Mark, not sure what to do. The iridescent sheen around him, she realized, wasn't the Dark. It was befouled BY the Dark...and as Cassandra watched the colors dance and writhe, she grasped the meaning. It was a little like the graphic equalizer on her dad's old stereo system. The lights flickered and danced with the music. This was for his mind though, for his thoughts and emotions. She could 'see' them playing out in the patterns of color. The Dark was...infecting them. Forcing them towards unthinking rage, violence, resentment...far beyond what a person would normally feel.

Without understanding what she was doing, Cassandra 'reached out' with her own Shine towards Mark as she said aloud, "That's enough. You're hurt. You have to stop now."

As she said the words, Cass tugged on the 'colors' around him, trying to pull calm, acceptance, dawning realization of what he'd done...out from under the oil-slick of the Dark. Immediately though the sludge seemed to realize something was wrong. It slithered and constricted. Cassandra frowned and dug deeper, looking for a place in Mark's mind that the Dark hadn't sunk into. A place that was still his own.

Abruptly the Dark seemed to twist around and flare up, stretch out...angling back at Cassandra herself. She flinched back instinctively, but the light of her Shine seemed to stop it in midair before it could quite touch her. Perhaps, she thought shakily, because it had been aimed at Mark before. Maybe she was just lucky. Either way, the distraction gave her the opening she needed.

"Listen to me," she said urgently to Mark as he swayed slightly, struggling with his conflicted emotions. "You have to stop. Ambulances are coming. Police are coming. You're hurt."

His colors changed, bubbling up from under the Dark. He didn't throw it off entirely, but with Cassandra's help his natural instincts for self-preservation were able to push the artificial fury aside.

"Holy shit," Mark breathed, seeing Curtis and his condition. "Holy shit...what..."

Cassandra snapped her fingers, getting his attention. "You want to be here with the cops get here?"

He shook his head, suddenly terrified, unaware of the puppeteer's fingers on his heartstrings.

"Get out of here. Hurry."

Cass watched him turn tail and flee, pushing through the crowd and nearly stumbling in his haste. Then she said, "Are you two okay?" As she asked she was already getting her phone out to call 9-1-1.

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His window on the world had contracted to a single white aperture, a spyhole through which he could feel the thudding impacts and hear the grunted cursing of his attackers.  The pain was happening to his body, but his mind was clear and aware of what was going on, waiting for the kicks to slow and weaken from within the construct of his mind.

And then he heard a yell, a female voice.  Autumn.  The sounds of a scuffle, the voice of Mark Belcher.  And then he heard her whimper in pain, and Something uncoiled from deep under the foundations of his mind, something that rumbled the ground of the garden.  His friend, rather than standing by, had gotten involved because he hadn't ended this fight himself.  Of course she had, and he felt stupid for not considering it in adopting his 'wait it out' strategy.  And now she was being hurt.  But he couldn't just cut loose, couldn't rip the boys limb from limb or sear them into greasy spots on the floor.  If he did, he told that impulse that was rising, he would be forfeiting freedom, anonymity.  It was not practical.  Still, there was no excuse for doing nothing.

The kicks had stopped, and he heard the pain-wracked scream of Mark as he opened his eyes, seeing the senior staggering away from Autumn cradling his arm, even as Curtis hammered the slender redhead hard enough across the jaw to knock her sprawling.  Fury surged up behind the cold rationality of Jason's thoughts as he got his hands under him and started to rise.  Icily, he plotted out the next six seconds with computer-like precision.

Three seconds to gain his footing and fight off the pain and dizziness.  One second to cross the distance between him and Curtis while the senior was looming over Autumn.

And two seconds to reach around from behind and hook out both of the meat-sack's eyes with his fingers.

Autumn kicked out against the larger youth's shin, causing him to swear but only slowing him for a moment.  Jason rose into a semi-crouch, silently and with his face expressionless under the blood from his mouth and nose, green eyes focusing on the back of Curtis's head.  Three seconds.  His fingers flexed once, claw-like, and he started forward-

Autumn's second kick landed squarely on Curtis's knee, and there was a crunchingpopping sound that nobody looking on missed.  Curtis collapsed, screaming like a pig in a slaughterhouse as Autumn skittered back against the lockers and started to get up.  Jason regarded her for an instant - she seemed upset, angry, her face pale other than the ruddy imprint left by the fist of the youth currently filling the air with screams that caused the gawking students to blanch.  She seemed otherwise unhurt, and Bannon turned his predatory, glittering stare towards the rising figure of Mark Belcher.

Only for Cassie to step in the way, speaking to Mark, her voice sounding odd to Jason, who then realised that was due to the ringing in his ears from the blows he'd taken.  He watched Belcher waver in his violent posture, watched uncertainty flood the senior's face as he finally seemed to realise what he had done.  Part of Jason didn't feel that was enough. Part of him wanted to reach out and crush Mark's trachea with a telekinetic grip strong enough to bend steel.  But the threat was over.  The Dark had failed in it's objective now - due to Autumn and Cassie, no one was dead or dying.  Mark turned, fear in his expression, and stumbled out past the ring of onlookers leaving his whimpering friend behind still clutching at his leg.

Jason sighed softly and sagged back against the locker behind him.  He looked as though he wanted to sit but was staying (mostly) upright through sheer cussedness as he glanced over at Autumn, meeting her blue eyes and smiling a faint crooked smile, feeling the pull at his split lip and tasting his own blood in the back of his throat as he did so.  Then he turned his gaze on Cassie, nodding.

"Thanks guys." he said, then spat bloody phlegm to one side.  Remembering something, he looked around and spotted his cooler bag a few meters away where it had slid during the fight.  Moving slowly and with great care, fighting waves of dizziness and nausea, he stepped forward and leaned down to pick it up.  "My lunch." he explained unbidden to no-one in particular, then sat down on the tiled floor.  Dimly, he was aware that he probably had a minor concussion.  "Why is it I always get hit in the head when you guys are around?" he asked Autumn and Cassie plaintively, his bloody features creasing in a lopsided grin as, finally, teachers pushed through the throng of onlookers and started to take stock of the situation.

Edited by GDP_ST
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Lunchtime- Cafeteria

 

The surprise he felt at the kiss was thankfully not evident on his face, indeed, most of the morning was spent in her company, so this wasn't even the first time.  Still, walking to the cafeteria together was actually nice.   They'd not sat with the Fellowship, nor with Marissa's normal coterie, opting instead for a table near the windows, seated across from each other.  They ate mostly in silence, and Cade was acutely aware that nearly everyone there was trying quite hard to not look like they were looking their way.   "Well I'd say we have everyone's attention."   That said, he'd not seen Jason yet, or any of the Fellowship for that matter which was odd, Cade wasn't normally the first to make it to the Cafeteria.

"Don't worry about everyone else your attention should be focused on me."   Marissa's tone carried a small hint of pleasure, mixed with abit of danger, before she ate a morsel from her lunch in such a suggestive and decadent manner that  Cade's eyes narrowed and he stopped eating for a moment.   "There, that's better."

"That is not in any way fair."   He answered her with a slight smile, before trying to return to his own meal.   

She let out a small chuckle, and her eyes seemed to glint with mischief and promise.   "I don't recall ever promising to be fair."

His initial instinct was reinforced, this relationship would be a true trial, but perhaps not entirely unpleasant.

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Tuesday Lunchtime - The Cafeteria

Sean usually brought his lunch from home, but after worry about his visitor last night and his early morning creative coding frenzy, he hadn't gotten around to making himself a lunch today. Not a big deal, he'd just get something small at the cafeteria he could take out to the bleachers, and besides, after a quick question, Kat needed to get something for lunch too.

Weaving through the press of student bodies with the ease of experience from being a frequent target, his smaller charge in tow, Sean overhead some of the quips and comments in passing. They might not be as common and vulgar as the comments used to be, and they didn't hurt as much as they once did - everything that was going on now inured him to it to some degree - still, his full lips turned down in a tight frown, more for Kat's sake than his own.

"Is that another Cassidy sister Titboy stole his boobs from?"

"... must've wandered over from the elementary school, can't be more than twelve.."

"No, she's a new student, from France. Her family is on the run from assassins, I heard, 'cuz of something her dad did."

"...a boyish girl or a girlish boy..."

"No wonder they paired her up with the ladyboy - together they almost make a heteronormative couple."

"... cock or vag..."

"... eggplant! Haha! If anyone besides Sophia can give epic tittyfucks it's..."

Shoving the door to the cafeteria open with a shoulder then holding it for Kat, Sean gave the slight girl an apologetic shrug, his fine features still faintly flushed. He felt a warm tingle flow up his fingers when his hand brushed Kat's back in passing. He blinked, barely stopping his mouth from dropping in surprise when he looked at her and found that Kat shone as brightly as anyone else in the Fellowship. We still need a better name than that.

Sean tried to stomp down in the niggling root of suspicion that was struggling to sprout. Kat suddenly shows up, Shining like others who are displaying psionic abilities, and her father is just happens to be transferred to an Airforce base that I've found it has to be something more than just an Airforce base? What are the odds? If Sean had more information, he might have been able to calculate them, but that info was still with Dr. Cook, or whoever was behind him.

"Sorry 'bout that. Rumours and comments go wild whenever there's something new at school," Sean tried to explain, straining to keep any hint of doubt from his face. "I'd say it gets better, but well... it depends..." The buxom boy shrugged expressively as he led them to start of the line. "I'm just grabbing something easy to bring outside. It's a nice day and Jase and several of my friends usually hang out on the bleachers during lunch, if you'd like to be introduced to them, Kat. They're good folk, even if some of them," One specifically, "have their eccentricities that takes getting used to."

Picking several fruits and looking through which sandwiches were left, Sean shivered, brows rising as he felt a growing surge in signal traffic pinging from phone to phone (and the occasional watch and tablet). Dropping a sandwich on his tray without paying attention what kind it was, to join the apple, banana, and orange already there, Sean turned around, refocusing his senses and looking around the cafeteria, and witnessing the spreading swarm of singing fireflies of transmission signals.

His dark red brows also drew down over his exotic eyes when, through the electromagnetic haze, he saw Cade sitting alone with Marrisa, still, looking entirely too much like a real couple.

"What's going on, now?" Sean said, unintentionally voicing his thoughts on both the upward tick of texts and social media updates, and whatever the hell was going on with Cade and Marissa.

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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Lunchtime - Cafeteria

"C'mon."  Lona wasn't good at wheedling, but she did have adorable big dark eyes, which were currently leveled at Devin as the two of them collected their lunch.  "For me?"  Devin glanced across at where Clara and Charlie were currently seated at the Fellowship's regular table, and rolled his eyes slightly before looking back at his girlfriend.

"You're gonna make me sit with the therapy group?" he asked bluntly.  Okay, so Marissa was evidently undertaking some sort of project with regards to Clara, teaching her the ways of the Dark Side or some such thing, but that didn't mean he had to tolerate the overly-sensitive nutcase, even if she was his girlfriend's sister in everything but blood.  Lona scowled a little at the tone and wording of his question.

"They're my friends." she said firmly, trying not to over-react.  "I'm going to sit with them for lunch.  I'd like you to sit with me, but you don't have to."  Primordial warning bells went off in Devin's head at that, and he considered Lona for a moment before sighing.

"While we eat, then." he offered as a compromise.  "After that it's you, me, and a remote spot on the bleachers."  Lona flashed him a small grin, happy again.

"You got a deal." she chuckled before leading the way over the table.  "Hey guys." she said, plonking down her tray and taking a seat, Devin doing likewise beside her.  "What's new?"

"Marissa and Cade."  Charlie smirked, nodding over at the two by the window.  Devin rolled his eyes again.  He'd spotted them in Lit. doing the couples thing and had no clue what Emjay was playing at.  Surprising enough that she was actually publicly 'going out' with someone; Cade was totally not her type - at least, Devin wouldn't have thought so.  He frowned, shrugging.

"Guess it's adopt a puppy week and no-one told me." he snarked.  "Hope she paper-trains him at least."

"Charlie thinks it's a front."  Clara said with a smirk at the resident thespian, who nodded as he ate a mouthful of fries.

"She's not into into him."  Charlie explained.  "They're sitting across from each other, where you two are sitting next to each other."  He indicated Lona and Devin, whose shoulders were brushing each others.  "She's flirting, but the setup is sort of formal, rather than intimate and cosy.  Plus they're right there, good lighting, easy to notice.  Center stage."  Devin blinked, looked across at his sister and Cade for a moment, then looked back at the theater dweeb.  Lona did likewise, and nodded slowly.

"They're being seen." she said.  "Like a celeb power couple.  Nice work, Sherlock."  she added with a grin at Charlie, who grinned back.

"People-watching is my thing.  Helps with the stage work." he stated.  "Like: you two are totally into each other.  Nauseatingly so."  He teased.

"Of course Lona's into me.  I'm awesome."  Devin said slowly, eyeing Charlie with a fresh appraisal.  "Huh.  You can read anyone like that?"  Avalon smiled, looking at Devin before catching sight of Sean and the new girl out of the corner of one eye.  They weren't looking her way at the moment so she kept following the conversation at hand, stealing a fry from Devin's plate.

"It's not mind reading or anything.  I'm not Sara.  And some people are harder."  Charlie shrugged.  "It's mostly gut feeling and practice, plus studying how people sit and stand and how it reflects their emotions.  I'm not always right, but sometimes there's a sort of moment of clarity when it clicks and I can step into someone's shoes and kind of... see the world the way they do."  He shrugged uncomfortably, the conversation reminding him of how it had felt to do that with Bannon.  "It's. uh. not always as cool as it sounds."  The other teens considered that for a long moment, but further conversation was forestalled by Devin's, then Lona's phones chiming.

Across the room, Marissa's phone likewise went off, causing the lovely brunette to glance at the screen and her exquisitely-tinted lips to tighten as some colour left her features and she muttered "Shit." under her breath.  Cade looked around, noting that others were likewise looking at their phones with attitudes ranging between shock and excitement.  Movement out beyond the cafeteria windows caught his eye and he saw two ambulances and several Sheriff's Department cars pull into the parking lot.  No sirens, or lights, but there was an air of low-key haste to the movements of the uniformed men and women as they headed towards the school's main entrance.

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Tuesday Lunchtime - The Cafeteria

Kat clenched her teeth as they were slowly making their way to the cafeteria, through the crowd of students likely addict to the rumor mill. It was the first time she actually went to a different school, having attended the same for almost all her childhood. Back in France, other students had known her since the youngest age, and despite her sometimes jumpy temper, she was one of theirs. Suddenly having to face school in a different frame, with different people, and not knowing anyone, made her somewhat uneasy, and each stingy comment on her appearance was blowing on a newborn fire, catalyzing a growing wrath asking but to be unleashed. She kept a plain face until they reached the cafeteria, where people were obviously to busy eating/looking at their phones to pay attention to them, and then released a deep sigh.

"I'm marvelling at your patience." She replied to Sean, and he could clearly hear in her voice she had almost reached her limit.

"Hmm?" Sean replied, glancing over at Kat and over her head at the pair of ambulances and several Sheriff's Department vehicles passing beyond the cafeteria window, still distracted by all the new transmissions. He blinked. "Oh, that."

Sean's grin was bland, but Kat could see that shadow of resignation and endured pain cross his delicate features one more. "I've had practice more than patience, I've been dealing with this shit since I was ten. Not gonna say it's easy or that words can't hurt, but words hurt a lot less than what else people can do. Besides, when there's so much else going on," he added obliquely, waving a dismissive hand towards the hall and the comments and rumours that had followed them, "It makes that stuff seem no so big and heavy to deal with, trust me."

Shit! Sean thought as he peeked at one of the signals zinging back. It's Jase. Of course it's Jase. Kat's curvaceous guide pulled his phone from his satchel, frowning at it as he pretended to get a text of his own. He gave Kat a not entirely feigned look of worry. "Would you mind if we hurry and head back the way we came? I think that ambulance - or maybe the Sheriff - is here for a friend of mine."

Kat silently nodded, grabbing a couple sandwiches, a bottle of water and an apple. "Sure," she added, "let's check on your friend." They both left the cafeteria towards the lockers, the petite redhead almost jogging to keep up with her guide's pace. It was quite a restless day for the French student. Starting with meeting her how surprising guide, to noticing the police cars and ambulances while they walked through the main entrance, accompanied by an obnoxious rumor mill that forgot to conceal itself into texts, and was getting to her nerves.

Sean was looking around, seeming somehat worried now, for his friend, and they both ended up following the flow of students revolving around the incident that brought the ambulances she noticed earlier.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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"Why is it I always get hit in the head when you guys are around?"

Between the clamor of the assembled crowd and the incoherent moans of Curtis Denicott, all the sound in the hallway had merged into a featureless wave of noise, rising and falling in patterns that seemed completely meaningless to the shaken redhead; if her gaze hadn't been drawn to Bannon as he moved, laboriously, to retrieve the lunch he hadn't gotten to eat, Autumn probably wouldn't have realized he'd spoken at all. She stared at him for a moment, some of the choleric tension in her expression easing into concern, and turned wide eyes on Cassie as if to say, "Is he serious?" It was an absurd question in ridiculous circumstances, and despite the grimness of the situation (or perhaps because of it), she found herself laughing somewhat dazedly in response as she pushed carefully off the lockers and took a few tentative steps toward him.

"Are you okay?" she asked, smiling faintly, then blinked down at the tall, well-thrashed young man seated on the floor, and blinked again, eyes stinging as she processed how very not okay he looked. What kind of fucked-up question is that? He just got his ass kicked by two guys a hell of a lot bigger than he is. He's pretty fucking far from okay, Autumn. Jesus. "No," she amended, cautiously sinking to her knees on the blessedly cool floor in front of her friend, settling so that her face was roughly level with his. "That was a stupid thing to ask, wasn't it? Can I-" Gingerly she reached out, still trembling from the adrenaline rush, and rested her palm on the back of his hand in what she hoped was a reassuring gesture, concentrating on steadying her voice as well as her nerves. "I'm just gonna check you real quick, is that okay?" The reserved youth nodded once, very slightly, pale green eyes- brighter, sharper somehow in contrast to his bloodied features- considering her in the same focused, eerily attentive way he had at the farm the day before. Even with all the other distractions,  she could still feel her cheeks growing hot under the intense scrutiny, and silently prayed to any gods listening that nobody would notice in all the chaos.

Reaching up with both hands, his new friend brushed the hair from his face, lightly running her fingertips over the brow bone and resolutely ignoring both the audience and the proximity of the sharp, glacial eyes she was studying. She couldn't feel anything unusual there, or across the top of his cheekbones, although his left pupil was slightly larger than the right, which she was pretty sure they'd told her in first aid could be a sign of concussion... With a sigh, Autumn remembered what they'd worked out on Sunday, focusing for a few moments on the faint, icy thrumming of Jason's energy beneath his skin, beneath her fingers, and allowing it to resonate with her own- and grimaced, suddenly, as she became acutely aware of all the injuries he'd sustained. Bruising around his ribs, but nothing broken, lacerations, and oh goddamnit a mild concussion-

"You got hit."

The redhead blinked, startled at the sound of Jase's voice. It wasn't quite accusatory, she thought, but maybe something similar, and not quite a question, though there was a hint of that in the tone, as well. It was almost... childish. Maybe he was having trouble concentrating? "Yeah, I know, so did- Hey," she protested as he reached out, carefully nudging Autumn's chin to one side to regard the angry red and faint purple that had slowly begun to obscure the freckles on the side of her face. "So did you. A lot," she added, gently tugging his arm back down and away, glancing briefly over at Cass to confirm she was making- or, hopefully, had already made- the necessary calls. "So try to stay focused for me, okay? We can't both do this at the same time. If you wanna look me over later, O Impenetrable One, fine, but let's concentrate on you for now."

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Tuesday- Cafeteria

Quickly looking at his phone, Cade saw the message regarding Jason and Autumn, along with the video, and a quick summary.  "This will not be good."   He looked to Marissa.   He knew well enough that she was concerned with Jason.   This whole relationship was to keep him at arm's length without him going off on anyone despite the rejection of his attentions.  

Jason was one of them, and with both Cass and Autumn involved too, There were definitely reasons to get up and go see if there was anything they could help with.  He cast a glance to Sean, and the new girl, Kat, knowing they got the message too, wondering what they and the rest of the fellowship would do, quickly answered  by the worried look on Sean's face, and his exit of the cafeteria with Kat likely to go check on them.

When Marissa shook her head, he nodded.  "We don't need to go right now.    The professionals have it under control, and adding two more teens crowding in to see what's happening won't have any benefit." Marissa spoke softly, some of the color still drained from her face.  
"We can go check on Autumn and Jason later, once things settle down."  Cade offered a small smile as he spoke, and continued.  "Besides, I happen to know someone who can have both of them back on their feet in no time.  I've already seen such effects myself."  His tone was confident, yet slightly gentle.   

Marissa did care about others, even the guy she was rejecting, it was something Cade had always suspected, and that made him truly smile.  
 

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Tuesday Lunchtime - Jason, Cassie and Autumn

"Was the Dark."  Jase said quietly to Autumn as she assessed the damage.  "Wanted me to make a public display, I bet."  It was telling that Jase with a concussion was as cogent and aware as most people without one.  "Wanted me to cut loose."  He smiled slightly, amused by his next thought.  "To get everyone freaked out."

"Or it might have just wanted those two to kill you."  Autumn murmured back quietly.  Jase nodded, wincing as the movement caused a stab of pain.

"Win-win." he said simply, meeting her eyes.  "Good thing you were here."  Autumn smiled back despite the pull of pain in her jaw as Bannon's hand turned over under hers and gently grasped it.

"Hey, you guys okay?"  Cassie dropped to her knees next to them on the other side of Bannon.  "Called 9-1-1, pretty sure I'm not the only one too."  She looked at Bannon, then at Autumn quizzically.  "Is he okay?"

"He got beat up bad."  Autumn frowned, looking at the 'patient'.  "Nothing broken though." she added in a low tone.

"Okay ladies, let us take a look."  Mrs Meyers, the coach's wife and school nurse, bustled up.  Behind her, several teachers and the coach himself were clearing the crowd back as other faculty members, presumably first aid trained, tried to make Curtis comfortable and stop him thrashing around.  With the bustling, plump Mrs Meyers was an elegantly lovely blonde - the new substitute Biology teacher, Ms Forster.  Nora Meyers clucked at the blood on Jason's face, then glanced at Autumn with a similarly maternal air.  "Ms Forster, could you take Autumn here aside and check her real quick.  I'm going to see how Jason's doing."

"Sure.  Autumn, wasn't it?  Come on, he's in good hands.  Let's make sure you're alright."  Autumn found herself being drawn aside by the lovely blonde, aware that this was Jason's mom- well, 'female biological donor' as he put it - radiating calm professionalism as she gave the red-headed teen a once-over.  "Does that hurt?" she asked, raising a hand towards Autumn's jaw, only to have the girl move her head aside, her gaze never leaving the older woman's face.

"Yeah."  Autumn muttered.  Jason's mom seemed nice, and was attractive, but the way she didn't seem at all concerned about her son sitting there covered in blood bothered the girl.  She didn't even glance his way.

"You don't seem to have a concussion."  she remarked, nodding as she checked Autumn's eyes.

"No, Jason is the one with the concussion." Autumn said before she could help herself, saying her friend's name like an accusation, and was rewarded with a blink and slight drawing back from the woman, her lips tightening a little.  Now she glanced at the lanky figure of her son, then back at Autumn's direct stare with a mixture of curiousity, annoyance and guilt on her face before nodding slightly.

"Ah." was all she said, though, then "It's okay to be worried about your...?"

"Friend."  Autumn said firmly, almost defiantly, and saw the older woman blink in surprise, though she recovered well, studying Autumn with a scrutiny that reminded Autumn of Jason's gaze, only Kaitlyn Forster's sapphire-blue stare was a lot more... emotive.

"...friend, but he's going to be alright."  Ms Forster finished, looking away and towards the uniformed men and women hurrying towards them.  The EMTs and the deputies had arrived.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Tuesday Afternoon - Marias Medical Center

Cassie was sitting in the chair in one corner of the examination room, having claimed friend privilege to ride along with Autumn and keep her company - which would probably last until her mom got here, both girls acknowledged.  Autumn had been checked over and deemed 'fine' other than the bruise she was likely going to be sporting, the doctor surmised.  Autumn didn't bother correcting him - she could feel her Shine already working to fix the damage without even conscious prodding.  She'd be fine after a night's rest, but for now kept the ice pack she'd been given against her jaw - just because it was healing fast didn't mean it wasn't hurting.

Outside, the sheriff was speaking quietly with his deputies.  As all involved were minors, so none could be interviewed without a guardian present.  A search of lockers had taken place with the principal's cooperation, however, and the large bag of marijuana in the bottom of Curtis's locker in a gym bag was definitely pointing towards this being more than just a scuffle, especially considering the severity of the beating the Bannon kid had taken and the injury to Curtis's knee.  Then again, everyone else's locker had been clean so maybe the weed was nothing to do with anything, no matter how much the sheriff wanted to link it to Jason.  The kid was smart enough not to be easily caught, and Sheriff Alister's department was too small to keep round the clock surveillance on a sixteen year old, at least when all he was doing was dealing pot, and so he'd let it slide.  Perhaps Curtis would reveal where he'd gotten all the marijuana - enough to be considered possession with intent to sell - and that might be enough to get a warrant to search the Bannon farm... 

But right now the sheriff had enough to deal with.  Cody Sikes was still missing, and two college kids from Great Falls had likewise gone missing over the weekend, last seen in Shelly town limits.  Three people in under a week.  So no, busting a pot dealing teenager was not high on the list right now.  Reports would be written and statements taken, and the kids would be left to their parents and the school system to discipline, which probably meant suspension, maybe even expulsion for Curtis.  Probably suspension for the Belcher kid too, when he showed up.  So far as the witnesses had told, the worst Bannon could be accused of was self-defense and the Keane girl of stepping in to defend a fellow student.

Curtis was having his leg set - a dislocated knee was no joke - in one of the treatment rooms.  Meanwhile Jase was staring into a light being held by a coldly handsome woman with a calm mien, who was measuring the responsiveness of his pupils.  He recalled her name: Dr Carter, an associate of Cook's.  Head Neurologist.  Though his head throbbed, he was warily alert as possible - why would she be here?

"Yes, mild concussion.  Any head pain?"  she asked with professional levels of concern.  Jason met her gaze readily, nodding a little.  "We'll get you something for that in a moment.  I'd like to run an EEG-"

"Not necessary."  Jason said firmly.  He had to nip that in the bud - of course Cook and Co would want a brain scan.  Dr Carter's lips thinned.

"I think your parents will be the judge of that." she replied, and was surprised at the unpleasant glint in her patient's eye.

"My parent will defer to my wishes." he stated.  "I'd like some Tylenol, please."  Carter stared at him for a moment, expressionlessly, then nodded and turned to leave.  

"I'll send a nurse in with some."  She left the order at the nursing station, then walked briskly down to Dr Cook's office, knocked once, then entered.

"Well?"  Cook looked up from his desk as Dr Carter moved to take a seat.

"He's sharp, even when mildly concussed.  He turned down an EEG, and I doubt we can get his guardian to sway him."

"Of course he would."  Cook sighed, tapping his pen on his blotter.  Carter watched him.

"We could force the issue." she suggested coldly.

"Not without sedation, and that wouldn't suit either the pretext or the actual purpose of the EEG."  Cook shook his head, then crooked an eyebrow at his associate.  "And no, two burly orderlies holding him down is not a good way to proceed.  Based on what young Mr Bannon did to Liam Day, we do not want to try force.  How is Liam, by the way?"

"Sleeping at the moment.  He's in and out since waking, but hasn't said anything yet."  Her mouth quirked.  "Of course, his jaw is wired shut so he's unlikely to say anything for awhile yet.  I  know you believe it, doctor, but I find it hard to credit that the boy I just saw did that to Mr Day with his mind."

"Humor me, Julia."  Dr Cook stood to escort her out.  "If I am right, then playing it safe is a good idea.  If I am wrong, then all we lose is time.  And I'm not wrong."

Spoiler

School finishes at 4pm.  PCs still at school are, of course, at liberty to skip if they want to visit the others in hospital.  Last period is study hall ;) 

Autumn and Cassie, you can converse in private for now - though it's probably worth remembering that Marias Medical Center is the heart of the Project's territory and likely heavily monitored.

 

Edited by GDP_ST
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As the orderlies and doctors fussed about with Jason, Cassandra took advantage of the relative calm near Autumn to sidle over to her. Under the guise of commiserating with a friend, gently touching the ice pack and looking sympathetic, she murmured to the redhead, "Hey...how's this doing? Getting low yet?"

Before Autumn could reply, Cass shook her head and said even more quietly, "So, I'm thinking as long as we're in here...want to snoop around some? I figure a couple of teenage girls could look for an ice machine just about anywhere in a big confusing place like this."

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Tuesday Lunchtime/Afternoon - Sean, Kat

By the time the two redheads managed to force their way through the chaos and confusion brewing in the halls - Sean's phone starting to ping with texts and updates he didn't need to fake - the lights of the ambulances were already beginning to fade as they headed to Marias Medical with their charges. Sean watched them go with a frown.

Rumours were already flying. Autumn had bitten right through Curtis' knee? What?! Turning away as the ambulances were lost to sight, Sean saw Mrs. Meyers doing the same, her own frown on her face. He might be able to get some more real, less exaggerated answers from her.

Mrs. Meyers watched the extravagantly curvaceous boy approach her with a slight pixie-ish girl in his wake, a neutral expression on her face. She was well acquainted with Sean Cassidy, who had visited the nurse's office more than his fair share, though more often than not, had been reticent in revealing the reasons that had warranted the visits. She understood the reasons why students often skirted narcing on their tormentors, and she could guess why Sean might do so more than others, but it didn't mean she was pleased with it.

"Mrs. Meyers, what happened?" Sean asked, a forced brashness to his tone to conceal a rising worry. It could be Jase's own... enterprises coming back to bite him, or it could be the Dark, being more direct in its tests. Or even something else.. "It is Jase?"

"It's being handled by the property authorities, Sean," Mrs. Meyers replied, not ungently. She knew Sean was good friends with the introverted Jason Bannon, and had been for years. "I'm sure you'll hear more soon."

Soon wasn't soon enough for Sean. He looked up at Mrs. Meyers, his large, odd eyes wide and intent. "Please, Mrs. Meyers, Jase is my best friend. If I'm worrying about how bad whatever happened to him is..." Sean pulled out his phone and gave it a small wave. "... and I can imagine a lot with all the rumours that are already going around, I really don't know how well I'll pay attention in class..."

He didn't say it, but it was implicitly implied 'Or if I'll even stay...'

Mrs. Meyers sighed in defeat. "Okay, Sean, I'll make an exception in this case, but you keep it to yourself." She nodded at Kat standing at Sean's shoulder. "And you too, young lady. Two seniors accosted Jason Bannon, beaten him quite severely, before Autumn Keane interceded--"

"Autumn?!" Sean interrupted, his melodious voice rising into almost discordant squeak.

Autumn was considerably more athletic than he was, but still, standing in the way of two seniors who could mess up Jase like that... who could have made a considerably bigger mess of them if he had been of the mind to, but had let himself be messed up instead.

"The very one, and that nice, brave Keane girl didn't escape unharmed either. She'll be sporting a nasty bruise on her face if I'm to judge, though she got of light compared to the Bannon boy." The plump nurse's frown deepened in evident worry. "He's sporting a concussion at the very least, and his injuries may be more extensive than that and the bruises. The one senior on the other hand, has a broken or dislocated knee that will need to be set, and he may easily suffer lingering issues due to the damage."

Sean's own frown deepened, fine brows lowering in growing anger. He had the urge to immediately follow the ambulances to Marias to see how Jase and Autumn were doing, but he couldn't actually do anything for them, other than be company. Lona might, though.

"Who're the ones who jumped him, Mrs. Meyers?" Sean asked in a near growl. His friends would be hard pressed to call it threatening rather than cute.

"That isn't your concern, Sean," Mrs. Meyers said warningly. "The faculty, and the Sheriff, if it comes to that, will deal with them."

"Like hell it isn't my concern!" Sean retorted savagely, cheeks reddening with emotion. "Jase is my best friend. If the goons of Shelly are willing to jump him right in school, they will be willing to clobber me too. I wanna know who to look out for." And if you can't find them, maybe I can...

"Well, Curtis Denicott won't be harming anyone soon, that's for sure," the nurse admitted, eyes tightening with disapproval. "As I understand it, Mark Belcher is the other student involved. He seems to be... missing at the moment, but the Sheriff and his deputies will handle that." She shook at finger at the recalcitrant teen. "Not you."

"As you say," Sean said in not-quite-agreement, giving the nurse a short nod. "Thanks for telling me what you can, Mrs. Meyers."

With that, Sean stalked away, forgetting about Kat for a moment until she caught up and tentatively placed a hand on his slender shoulder, and he glanced sharply back in surprise. Kat withdrew her hand with a sheepish grin.

"Sorry, and I'm sorry about your... friend." There was the slightest hesitation in Kat's voice about the designation, but Sean couldn't identify why. "I hope he's okay."

"Me too," Sean agree, relaxing. "I know I'm supposed to show you around, Kat, but last period is just Study Hall, so I'm skipping out to see how Jase is doing at the hospital." He paused for a moment, lips pursing, then added, "You can come too - if you want - and I can show you around town some too. I mean, if you like."

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Kat gave in a sly grin at Sean's offer. Study Hall, first day of school ? Hell, she'd either be done with the whole month's program in the blink of an eye, or spend the whole time lost in whatever thought would come by. Yes, she was somewhat aware of her lack of focus, and knew that she'd need something else than a quiet ambiance, like music, to read.

Besides, strolling around town was something she could appreciate. "Frankly, I don't need no Study Hall today, I'll be fine. I'll tag along." She said with a wide smile.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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Tuesday Afternoon - Marias Medical Center

"Yeah," Autumn replied, nodding distractedly as she watched the glass window in the exam room door. Her feet swung idly from her perch on the paper-covered table, heels softly tapping the metal base. Ever since the fight, she'd been thinking about what had happened- what Jase had said about the Dark manipulating Mark and Curtis, which was creepy enough on its own, and... whatever it was she'd done to them. What the hell was that, anyway? It definitely hadn't felt like the meditation exercises at the farm, that was for sure. She was still aware of it too, a not-quite physical sensation that seemed stronger, more real when she focused on it; here, though, it was different, the odd impression of color and reactivity more subdued. Maybe it- the Shine, or whatever- was just responding to the threat, or maybe to her emotions... Which might explain why it changed...? Could it do that?

"Let's see if we can find an ice machine," she continued after a moment, shoving complicated questions to the back of her mind to focus on the current situation. If nothing else, Cass might have some answers since she'd been dealing with the whole thing longer than Autumn had, and she felt kind of trapped in the tiny sterile room anyway. "We should probably make it quick, though. I know they've called my mom already, and if she has to track me down, I'm gonna need more than an ice pack to recover." The redhead's grin was slightly strained from discomfort, but genuine as she slid down off the examination table with a sigh of relief. The moment her sneakers hit the floor, she was in motion, headed toward the door and the hallway beyond.

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The nurse had brought him two Tylenol, smiling sympathetically and turning the room's lights down at his request before heading out to the nurse station.  Jason gave the pills a cursory examination then shrugged before tossing them back with a swallow of water.  Though he might suspect Cook and Carter, he couldn't hold every nurse and orderly in the medical center under suspicion.  Or rather, he could, but it would achieve nothing.  Right now he was within the sphere of people who, whilst they might not be allies, were at least not mortal enemies.  Yet, at least.  And he needed something to reduce the swelling and bruising to his brain.  He closed his eyes against the faint nausea and throbbing ache of his head, pushing the world of the senses aside and withdrawing into his mind.

Pain fell away, nausea fell away.  Yet even here, in the halls and garden of his memory palace, the damage to his grey matter had a perceivable effect.  There was a haze in the air, a faint blurriness to the edges of things.  The colours of the flowers seemed by turns too vivid or too dull.  The faint subsonic, rhythmic breathing that was always present now occasionally caused vibrations in the structure.  He wandered the halls, assessing the damage dispassionately, and was satisfied that nothing had been severely upset, no images or experiences or knowledge had been removed.  Finally, he descended a set of broad stairs and found himself at the mouth of the Well.

It was a great, dark void, it's depths endless and falling away out of sight below the rough circular edge he stood upon.  The breathing was louder here, the exhalations causing the air to move in warm currents.  He stared down into the blackness for a long while that, in objective time, would perhaps only be a couple of heartbeats, feeling some satisfaction at having restrained what lay beneath his feet.  His capacity for violence was unfettered by fear, remorse, guilt, or even normal human physical limitation, yet his icy reason had contained it.

But had that been the right move?  What if the two pawns of the Dark had killed him?  What if that had been their goal as Autumn had suggested?  If she had not intervened, would he now be dead?

"I'm too pretty to keep crying over you."  Marissa said from behind him, and Jason turned, putting the Well at his back as he regarded the stunning brunette.  She was dressed as she had been when she'd come to his home that Saturday morning, and stepped forward to wrap her arms around his waist and hug him.

"It seems that you have found a way to stem your tears."  Jason replied, stilling the impulse to embrace her in turn, feeling the warm breath of the Well on the back of his neck stirring his anger.  "You could have just told me you desired Cade.  It would not have stopped me being your friend."  Marissa looked up at him, smiling a little mockingly as she shook her head and opened her mouth to speak-

 

"This is tasty."

The voice intruded on his thoughts, along with the faint sounds of tapping plastic.  Jase's eyes flicked open to see the Man in Black seated next to his bed, fork in hand as he dug mouthfuls of food from a plastic container Jason recognised as being his lunch.  Mr Black smiled as the youth's pale eyes met his, helping himself to another mouthful with relish.  "Really good.  What is it?"  

"Provencal mutton casserole."  Jason replied, quieting the urge to lash out immediately.  Now he was back in the world of the physical, the pain and nausea had returned, though the Tylenol was working already.  Focusing through the pain, he contemplated the black-garbed figure in the chair.

"You got a knack, I'll say that."  The man nodded approvingly, sitting back in the chair with the container still in hand as he regarded Jase critically.  "You look like shit, boy."

"You should see the other guys."

"Hah!  Yeah.  That li'l redhead busted that boy up good."  Mr Black forked up more casserole, speaking around the mouthful.  "Dunno why she had to, though.  You could have smeared those two all over the halls."

"And played right into your hands."  Jase retorted.  Mr Black's head tilted slightly, then he smiled.

"Mine?  You got me confused with someone else, Jase - you mind if I call you Jase?"  He went on without waiting for an answer.  "Jase, my boy, I don't want you hurt by the Dark.  You or any of your Shiny friends.  Any more than you'd want to go around your garden tearing up flowers."

Jase was silent, regarding the Man in Black for a long moment as he chewed on Jason's lunch.  "You're not working for the Dark."  he stated rather than asked, though there was some skepticism in his tone.  The Man in Black shook his head, then leaned forward.

"The Dark hates those who Shine, boy.  It's in the name.  I know you've spotted the pattern in the killings over the decades and centuries here.  Every generation or so, right?  Just enough time to harvest those with Shine or the potential for it."  He gestured with the fork.  "See, you and your buddies are food to the Dark, and flowers to me.  I want to see you guys win."

"So tell me about the Dark, then."  Jason invited with a smirk as Mr Black shook his head, tsk-ing.

"Can't do that, kiddo.  Can't just give you everything, or you won't grow."  He rose, setting the empty container and it's fork back in the cooler bag.  "But you children need to find Cody.  And don't let the Dark kill you!  It's not just death it wants to eat, it's Shine."  He turned and headed for the door.

"And what do you want?"  Jason asked as the lean figure in black paused at the doorway, turning slightly and grinning back at him.

"Why, I aim to cause upset to the established order."  Mr Black said before stepping out of the room.

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Tuesday Afternoon - Marias Medical Center

"We're looking for Dr. Cook's office," said Cassandra from behind Autumn as she followed. A moment later she came up even with the redhead as they paced through the cool, sterile hallway. She'd pulled her cellphone out of her pocket and had it held up to her ear as they walked.

"I'm going to be talking to you even though I have my phone," she said in that funny sort of disconnected vocal tone people used when on the phone. "I want to have it out and ready in case I want to take pictures or record something in a hurry. Yeah." She nodded and rolled her eyes theatrically as a pair of nurses strolled past from the opposite direction. "No, I'm getting them on the way home."

Cass nudged Autumn as they turned a corner and saw the corridors outside the double-doors leading to the Intensive Care Unit as an orderly went through ahead of them. It was a quick reminder of just how big and well-appointed this hospital was for such a small town. And a warning. Standing just outside a man in sheriff's uniform. Farther back were a couple more.

"It's cool," she said to her phone. "They don't care about us. Just walk on by and look around for a directory or something."

They passed out from the ICU and strolled past the first deputy. The other two were in the middle of chatting with some orderlies, and Cassandra stopped for a second to 'listen' to her phone with an impatient expression. Just close enough to overhear the conversation the sheriffs were having with those orderlies.

"...well, he's out of his coma, Eating, drinking. Last I heard his prognosis was good."

"Can he answer questions yet? When's he getting released?"

"It'll be at least another few days, maybe a week. He was seriously injured. We have to make sure he's fully stabilized. As for questions...you'll have to ask the doctor about that. So...you guys have a suspect?"

"You know we can't talk about an open case..." then in a lower, but still audible voice, "...but yeah. And he's in your ICU. If we can get Liam to just give a statement, answer some questions...it'd make our job a lot easier if he'd do it while that Bannon kid's still here. Think about it. Mention it to the doctor if you have to."

Cassandra shook her head and explained to her phone, "No, look, here...one second." She quickly aimed her camera at the ICU door, then at the window nearby, then at the deputies and orderlies, taking a quick set of photos. "You have to meet me HERE. Okay? It's easy to find, just follow the signs. Okay."

Meeting Autumn's eye, she motioned with her head to the corridor leading away from the treatment center and headed out that way.

"Information desk," the reporter said, "or directory. Keep your eyes open. We might not be able to get in, but I at least want to see where it is."

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Tuesday- Marias Medical center  Study hall

Once it came time for Study hall, which both Marissa and Cade shared, it was decided the two of them would both go to visit Jason.   They'd drive separately, she to go home afterwards, and Cade had to go back to pick up his sister once classes let out.

He'd mentioned going fishing, that it would give them a chance to talk about  things in private away from everyone.   "I'll go, but I will NOT be touching the bait, or the fish."

Cade had given her a knowing shrug and a smile.  "Didn't really expect you to.   Don't worry, it will be fun."

At the Medical center, they managed to find adjacent parking spots, and left their vehicles to make their way inside.   He held his hand down between them, and as their hands brushed, took her hand in his.  Without looking his way, the tiniest of smiles curled her perfect lips.   If he could adapt and relax, this might not be a total waste.

There were two sheriff department Range Rovers in the parking lot, neither of them his dad's, Cade noted with some relief.  Though his father had not exactly laid down any strictures about associating with Jason, he definitely didn't want to trigger that discussion on the heels of Jase getting into a fight - a bad one - at school.  At least, he thought wryly, his dad wouldn't have an issue with his new 'girlfriend' - like most adults in Shelly, Sheriff Alister regarded Marissa as an incarnated angel, the 'good twin'.

The nurse in the lobby directed the two of them toward the room where Jason was being kept for observation, cautioning the two teens not to overstay and tire him out.  Marissa gave a small snort at that, and Cade found himself agreeing somewhat - it was hard to imagine Jason as being fragile even for a youth who outweighed him by a good margin.  When they poked their heads in, however, the sight of Jason on the bed made Marissa's hand tighten a little in his.

His left eye was swollen, and there was blood crusted around his nostrils along with numerous bruises and scrapes along his arms.  They'd removed his t-shirt, and a similar number of bruises were colouring nicely on his visible ribs.  His pants were spattered with rusty dark patches - dried or drying blood.  His eyes were closed, and in the brief moment after they stepped into the room both teens were struck by how young and vulnerable he seemed...  right until his eyelids opened and the familiar pale green icy gaze regarded them.

"Hey guys." Jase said after a moment, smiling slightly and wincing as the expression pulled at his split lip.  He lifted one hand from the bed in a perfunctory wave as he studied them both.  "What's up?"

"Damn man, they worked you over hard."  The words were out before he could stop them.  He knew Jase wasn't a fighter physically, he was more cerebral in how he beat people normally, even before getting psychic powers.   In some way Cade was actually proud that Jase had the sense to not use his powers to win for him.  It would have been utterly unexplainable, and caused even more trouble than it had.   "I won't say the cliche "you should have called me."   you already know I'd have come if you had, so would Lilly.  I hate seeing you hurt like this Jase, you're a friend."   Surmising from the fact they were in the medical center, he had to be careful with what he said aloud.

"If you want, I can show you some other moves, stuff my dad's taught Haruka and I, that may help you avoid a beating like this.  If there's a next time."  He'd heard the rumors about what had happened.  There probably wouldn't be one, not from those two at least.   He leaned down,  "That took alot of courage and resolve Jason.  I'm just glad you're going to be okay."

Cade expected some retort regarding how he, Jase had looked at it logically, and saw this as the only way.

Marissa, predictably, was not quite as high-minded.  "You should have wrecked those two rather than..." she indicated him with her free hand, then reached down and took his hand, trying to focus on his eyes rather than the bruises and bloody scabs.  "I know why you did it."  she told him quietly, giving his hand a squeeze.  "All three reasons, even.  But you should have run or something."

"Honestly, that didn't occur to me."  Jason said calmly, returning the handclasp gently for a moment before releasing it.  "Might be worth considering, though."

"Macho idiot."  Marissa sniffed, giving him a faint smile.

"Not altogether."  He shrugged.  "It helps establish me as harmless.  Well, mostly harmless."

"Hardly."  Cade grinned at him.  Jase met his eyes and smiled back.

"To people who don't know better, at least."

"Fair enough man, but the offer stands. "he smiled at him.   He looked rough, and in his mind Marissa wasn't doing the best job looking like she didn't care about him.  "Is there anything we can get you?  can't imagine the hospital food is too good.   Have they said anything about how long they're going to keep you here?"

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"Not tried the food yet."  Jase said, settling his head back on the pillows propping him up.  "And I guess they'll let me out once they're sure there's no serious damage to my brain."  Again that quirk of his lips that  heralded a smile.  "They've already tried to give me an EEG.  The head of neurology here, no less.  I'm getting the VIP treatment."

"They want to scan your brain."  Marissa's eyes narrowed.  "Cook behind that?"

"Probably."  Jason nodded.  "I refused it as unnecessary."

"What if it is, though?"  Cade asked pragmatically.  "Necessary, I mean.  You did have a couple of seniors dancing on your head."  Jason grunted, closing his eyes for a moment.

"What I need is rest, though visits from my friends could be an aid to recovery."  Both Marissa and Cade nodded as they grasped his meaning.  Lona could ensure there was nothing to worry about, and take care of it if there was.  Jason paused a moment, considering as he rested his eyes.  Though the Man In Black had conversed frankly and openly, Jase was not inclined to discuss the man's visit while under observation.  Perhaps Mr Black had a way to take care of listening devices, or perhaps he didn't care.  Either way, Jason decided, he would be more circumspect.  "I could also go for a soda, if the nurse thinks I can have one."

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

Liam opened his good eye.  He hurt, hurt all over, though the morphine drip was helping to numb the worst of the pain to mere aches.  It made everything seem kind of hazy and unreal.  He'd woken up this morning knowing that Avalon had been there, having heard her voice.  He also remembered, through the haze of chemicals, the face of Jason Bannon as he had-

No.

-as he had-

No, that isn't what happened.  There were two attackers, large men as big as the sheriff.  They had spoken English with an accent.  One of those harsh-sounding languages.  As the thought came to him, images likewise came to him.  Two men, black leather jackets and gloves, wearing balaclavas.  His mind whirled as the memory surfaced, conflicting with the sharp, angular pale features of Jason Bannon and the hellish look in his eyes.  Two men, yes.  They'd worked him over good.  Said he owed them money.  He remembered being afraid, so afraid that Ban-  that the large men would kill him.

I should sleep now.  Get better.  Then tell the sheriff about the large guys, probably worked for some scumbag in Great Falls.  Yeah.

Liam closed his eyes.  When he was ready, he'd tell the sheriff about the two guys who'd worked him over.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

"Well?"  Doctor Cook said to Courtney, handing her a tissue for the blood coming from one nostril.  The lovely girl dabbed the blood away, looked at him and sighed, brushing her vibrant red hair back over one shoulder.  The two of them sat on a couch in one of the Pedriatric Department offices, currently unused.

"He thinks two big guys did this to him, saying he owed them money.  No connection between the attack and Bannon in his mind now."  she replied, her tone subdued as she rubbed two fingers against her left temple.  Cook nodded, giving her a pleased smile, and handed her a couple of Tylenol and some water.

"That really goddamn hurts to do that, you know.  And his memories weren't a picnic either."  she groused, crimson lips twisting in discontent before tossing back the pills and the water.

"You're a trooper, Courtney."  Cook acknowledged, resting a hand on the girl's shoulder.  She smiled a little archly at the handsome older man.

"Not tonight, Doc.  I have a headache."  she teased, though she shifted a little closer to him, leaning into the one-armed hug.  Cook merely smiled, a considering look in his eye.

"Do you think you could get into Jason Bannon's head?" he asked.  Courtney sighed, making a tsk sound.

"Men!  Only interested in me for my mind." she pouted.  "As it happens, I've skimmed most of the minds in that band of freaks, and could maybe at least push their thoughts a little, most of them at least.  All except two.  Devin Jauntsen seems to be naturally resistant.  The few times I've tried to 'push' him emotionally or read him, he either gets a headache or just doesn't react.  And the other-"

"Is Jason?"

"I scanned his thoughts once."  Courtney said quietly.  "Once.  On Friday last week, when you said he and some of the others had shown evidence of talent.  I pushed him a little - with conversation - and then with my gift.  It was hard to do, too.  Like I couldn't feel his emotions at first, and then..."  Her voice trailed off, and the doctor was aware that the girl was pressing her legs together and squirming slightly in her seat.

"And then...?" he prodded.  Courtney turned and looked at him, and he was struck by the expression in her eye.

"One word."  she said.  "Wow.  It was like I was prodding fog, and suddenly got hit by a freight train.  And his thoughts?"  she shivered, and it was not altogether in fear.  "I gave my report, what he said to me.  You read it?"

"Yes."  Cook stated, remembering.  "It was very... graphic."

"Yeah, it was.  And he meant every word of it."  Courtney's eyes were wide and dream-like.  Not for the first time, Cook privately wished that the most gifted of the in-Project psions wasn't a hypersexual teenage girl.  Courtney's predilections were not easy to manage, and even though cognitive therapy and drugs were able to take the edge off her disorder she could get distracted, especially by dangerous or taboo prospects.  Whilst that wasn't a problem when all she was doing was seducing football players or cheerleaders with equal abandon, it could present a problem if she set her sights on other game.

"Courtney."  Cook's voice took on a tone of stern command.  "Focus, please.  Do you think you could get into young Mister Bannon's head the way you did with Liam?"

"Not a chance in hell."  Courtney shook her head, clarity returning to her gaze.  "I was able to get into his surface thoughts that one time, when his control slipped.  The rest of the time his mind is like a diamond - I'd have an aneurysm trying.  The night of the game I tried to make a connection - I wanted him to know I hadn't deliberately gossiped about his unit and tried to 'push' him to believe me more easily.  No dice."  She sighed.  "He believed me anyway, I think.  But yeah... Most of that bunch are pretty independent minded, enough so I wouldn't look forward to trying to do to them what I did to Liam.  Might be something to do with them being gifted too, perhaps."

"Perhaps."  Cook allowed.  Privately he mused that the 'Fellowship', untaught and unobserved by the Project, seemed to be manifesting levels of psionic ability beyond what the so-called 'test group' were capable.  The test group's psychokinetic could just about move a handgun and light a candle - whereas the Bannon kid could throw a grown man around like a rag doll.  Something was off with the science of their Project, regardless of what the all-knowing Doctor who ran the show thought...

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Cade smiled.   "Sure man, before we leave I'll get you a soda, and I'll encourage the others to come visit.  Maybe we can even hold a small mini session here if you're going to be here for abit.   The thought of the Fellowship trying to cram into the room to play a session of D&D was pretty comical.  

The hint to leave and get him a soda wasn't lost on him, but he'd led Marissa decide if she wanted to be alone with Jase while he did so.   Otherwise he'd hit the  vending machine before leaving the medical center and get him one.   He'd see if he wanted anything for next time, and he could pick it up when he came back.
 

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"You're a dingus."  Marissa said flatly once Cade had left the room.  Her arms were firmly crossed over her chest in the universal sign of distancing herself from whom she she was speaking to.  It was obvious that she was both a mixture of irritated with him (when wasn't she), and pleased that he was, at least, alive.  Her heels tapped softly on the tiled floor as she two-step paced not from his bedside.  "What the hell were thinking?  You should have walked away, ran even.  This," she motioned to his injuries.  "Is nothing more than male ego and pride."

She paused long enough to inhale an annoyed breath he knew was laced with a thousand reasons why everything was his fault, despite the odds he was up against.  "For what it's worth, I'm glad you're okay.  You're still a dingus though."

"Duly noted," Jason smirked.  "So, what's this?"  He pointed his finger to Marissa then shifted it to where Cade was standing.

"We're dating, sorta.  Kinda."  Her faced scrunched.  "It's complicated.  I got to thinking after you pissed me off-"

"Which time," he mused with a smirk.

Her eyes locked on him and she pressed on, not finding his jokes humorous in the slightest.  "The last time.  I tried to get along, I did, but Jason, I'm not designed like they are.  Evil isn't born, it's made, and frankly if that's the case, I want to be art.  Trying to be a part of the Abstinence by Circumstance Club was seriously damaging my reputation.  When I told you guys I would help you become popular and get the school on track, do you know how many approached me and how we were going to do it?  None.  Because the Nerd Herd doesn't care.  I may hate it here, but this is still my town, I worked hard to become the Evil Queen and I'll be damned if I'm going to let something run through and mess that up."

"I realized, if I'm going to re-establish my dominance at Shelly High, I'd need arm candy.  Chet is now Courtney's thug, so, I found my own.  Cade is like my big dumb Rocky, flexing his arms for his innocent damsel, Janet Weiss."  She looked at her phone and wedged it firmly back into her tight back pocket.  She looked a smidgen more irritated. "My brother is coming.  Anyway, I needed to date again, I don't like it, but I can't stay some beautiful princess in a tower my whole life.  Cade is weak, malleable and easy to control.  Like a puppy.  He doesn't talk much, and when he does it makes little sense, he's hot, built like The Rock and as dumb as one too.  So, its like dating, with training wheels.  He wouldn't know what to do with me if I was naked with tattooed instructions.  I feel safe with him.  Not too fast, not too slow... I'm in control, you know?"

There was a notable shift in the air as it slowly rippled and shifted like a stone being thrown on the surface of a pond, then a sudden purple snap of energy spat out Devin as he appeared in the blink of an eye from nowhere.  Teleporting into the medical center was probably not the best idea, but Devin was cocky and at this point was almost living to give Cook the finger every day.  "S'up, Douche Strudel."  He nodded to Jason.

"Where's your girlfriend?"  Marissa said with the typical measure of snark involved when she brought up Lona into any conversation.

"Where's your puppy?"  Devin shot back with a smirk.

In unison they both gave each other the finger.  It was amusing, but a part of Jason wondered if they shared a noetic link, being twins and all.

"So, what?  Charlie decide on Stomp the Yard and you just had to audition with your face?  How'd that work out for you?"  Devin asked Jason.

Jason smiled and shook his head.  "Don't make me laugh right now."  He replied as he tried not to laugh.

"Say the word, bro, and they'll wake up in North Korea wearing 'Make America Great Again' t-shirts."  Devin offered as Marissa snickered and covered her laughter with her hand.  "I gotchu fam."

Edited by GDP_ST
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Both Jauntsens saw their friend's pale green eyes narrow for a moment, as though he were seriously considering Devin's offer - which, for all they knew, he could well be.  Then he shook his head a little, sighing.  "Tempting.  But they were being pushed and besides, they're already neck deep in shit."

"Pushed?"  Marissa frowned prettily - she did most things prettily, Jase noted not for the first time in passing.

"The Dark."  Devin asserted as he plopped into the chair and rummaged through the cold bag next to it.  "Oh hey, Bannon's Special Honey Jerky, made from organic locally sourced honey and organic locally sourced hitchhikers."

"Go ahead."  Jase shrugged.  "I'm not up to chewing right now."  He gingerly prodded at his jaw, then put a finger in his mouth to feel whether any of his teeth were loose.  Apparently satisfied, he glanced at the other two.  "I did actually give your idea some thought, Mari.  And it's a good one.  The only reason I didn't come forward is because popularity doesn't interest me - I am not a social creature and failed to see what clique I could possibly influence...  But that was an error on my part.  I should have asked you how I could help with your plan, rather than assume there was no place in it for me."  He smiled, careful of his split lip.  "So, when I'm out of here, show me what needs doing and I'll see it done.  Queen or not, you're not on your own."

As Devin grunted absent approval around a mouthful of jerky, Marissa's gaze met Jase's, softening slightly even though her arms were still folded across her chest.  "You volunteering to be my knight?" she asked challengingly, her smirk a touch coquettish.

"I'd hardly aspire so high." Jase retorted deadpan, his eyes gleaming.  Devin grumbled something that might have been 'get a room already', but it was hard to say for certain.

"There is another thing."  Jason stated slowly, considering.  Cook and Co knew a lot already, and he was pretty sure Etienne had told them something about the 'Dark'.  "I had a black-clad visitor today, before you two got here.  Came to tell me that he and the Dark are not on the same side, amongst other things."

"You believe that?"  Devin asked, suddenly intent.  Marissa likewise abandoned the playful demeanour and frowned once more.

"I was at his mercy.  He's had two chances to kill me that I know of, and I'm still here.  All he did was eat my lunch."  Jase shrugged.  "There's more, and it makes sense with what I've observed... But I'll drop that when most of us are here.  Saves repeating myself."

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Tuesday Afternoon - Marias Medical Center

Directory, directory... Okay, seriously? she grumbled inwardly, pressing the ice pack to her bruised jaw and grimacing as two of the facilities staff rolled past with a cart of cleaning supplies, chatting about the previous night’s episode of “Mindseeker.” It was more or less the same tone the orderlies and deputies had used when talking about the “Bannon kid”- I have no personal investment in this subject, and don’t really care what happens, because it doesn’t affect my life in any real way. It stung, a little, that until recently she’d thought of Jase that way herself, and the realization was enough to quench the nascent flare of indignation on his behalf. Maybe she’d get a chance to check on him before she left, say hi to his dad or something… Jason was in pretty rough shape, and based on their talk at the farm, Gar might not handle it all that well. Autumn mulled that over as they walked, her sneakers quiet on the polished floor.

The two girls had been wandering the hallways for several minutes without running into either a reception desk or someone they recognized, and while that meant no one had stopped or questioned them yet, it also meant there was no clearly-designated person to ask directions. It seemed a little odd that, despite the number of people in uniforms busily milling about, no one had offered to help them thus far, or done more than give the teens a cursory glance. Were clueless-looking teenagers such a common occurrence at the medical center that no one noticed them anymore?  Maybe everyone was just crazy busy, or just super uncomfortable interrupting someone who was on the phone; for all Autumn knew based on the rumors she'd been told, they were being monitored from a closet stuffed full of computer equipment somewhere, so nobody who worked there cared about underage trespassers. Under the circumstances, it's not that she particularly wanted special attention, but the pointed lack of it seemed either rude, creepy, or both.

"Oh, for crying out loud, did they design this place to be confusing, or what?" Autumn muttered under her breath, restlessly scanning the signs and pinboards that occasionally interrupted the otherwise sterile, featureless walls. The whole place was immaculate, clean and contemporary, and if she'd never heard anything about Dr. Cook or the sinister-sounding "Project," she probably would have been impressed with the setup.

"Deeefinitely a possibility," the pretty young journalist next to her replied airily, rolling her eyes for dramatic effect and miming a talking mouth with her free hand. The redhead grinned at that, in spite of the twinge of pain it caused, and returned her attention back to scanning the hallway for anything that might help them navigate the maze of white corridors. There was something compelling about Cass's improvised performance, a certain degree of confidence, as well as the aforementioned "pluck;" even if the inquisitive blonde wasn't sure what she was going to find, exactly, she still needed to look, and that was a sentiment Autumn could definitely appreciate. As they approached another intersection, a large, glass-covered rectangle caught her attention and she paused, tapping Cassandra on the shoulder.

"Hey, ask if three o'clock is okay," she suggested, meeting the other girl's gaze before darting a glance in that direction: just around the corner was a directory of the ground floor and quick reference of the other areas of the medical center. Holding the ice against her cheek, Autumn took a deep breath and walked over to examine the names and numbers listed there, feeling a tiny knot of anticipation coiling eagerly around itself in her stomach. She was nervous, sure, but it was like the feeling just before getting on a brand new roller coaster, or leaning out to rappel down a ledge- once you started, you were committed, regardless of what happened. And, there it was, near the top of the list, in crisp white plastic letters on a grey background: Dr. J. Cook. Diagnostic Medicine. East Wing.

And, conveniently enough, a little further down, Vending.

 

“Think he’s in there?” she asked, slate-colored eyes scanning the board for other useful points of reference as Cass appeared next to her and covertly snapped another pic. 

 

“One way to find out,” the intrepid reporter grinned, and the two girls wasted no time heading further into the complex.

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Sean Cassidy stunk. That was Sophia's opinion of her fellow big-breasted gamer. Why, was a subject of the usual teen gossip and rumor, for Sophia had never shared the motivation behind her dislike of Sean to anyone, not even her newly-minted boyfriend Charlie, whom was friends with Cassidy. But that was at most, a 3 on the Bothering Scale. No, the real problem was Jason Bannon.

Bannon was shady as fuck, a criminal and Sophia had heard about the Hayhook Incident. Being assaulted by seniors didn't give him sympathy points with her, not for a dope dealer whose junkies turned on him. But it made her wonder why sweet Charlie was friends with Jase, much less sitting worriedly with hands clasped in the waiting room with her. This was the start of a relationship with her crush, so Sophia wasn't going to give him a hard time, and even came along with him. But it was weird. Almost as weird as what happened when Mark Belcher grabbed Autumn Keane and she grabbed him back... assuming her eyes hadn't played tricks on her.

Cade came by and nodded. "Jase's looking forward to seeing people." Charlie smiled and got up. "Glad to hear it." His smile dropped itself briefly as he caught the last portion of Marissa, Devin and Jason's conversation. "Looks like you're recovering well if you're back into Sherlock form. I'm happy to see that, but a little miffed too. This is my first time hearing of a Man in Black unrelated to The Princess Bride, but definitely not yours. I'm sure you had a good reason for not saying, but it would have helped to have known." Charlie blinked off the images coming to mind. "Especially if he wasn't so merciful."

 

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Jason, Devin, Marissa and Charlie

"You kiddin'?"  Devin stared at Charlie, snorting around a mouthful of home-made jerky.  "Weren't you at the-?"

"No, he wasn't."  Marissa sighed, rolling her eyes.  "He skipped it after having breakfast with me."

"Shit."  Devin summarised an entire couple of sentences of general disappointment and disgust with one word.  "Well, now you're playing catch-up, Glee Club.  There's a reason Jase had us around at his barn, and it ain't for the joys of company."

"In short,"  Jason interjected, focusing on Charlie.  "There is a mysterious person, dubbed Mr Black or the Man in Black, who some of us first saw at the post-game celebration at Bunnee's.  Since then he has challenged me to an impromptu drag race, wordlessly menaced Cass and Cade, and now appeared here and eaten my lunch while dropping some hints as to what is going on.  We're not sure whose side he's on, but my first guess would be 'his own'.  He claims not to be on the side of the Dark.  And now you know about as much as we do."  Jason smiled slightly, though it still pulled painfully at his torn lip.  "At least, about Mr Black."

======================

Autumn & Cassandra

The further away from the main treatment areas of the hospital they got, the quieter it got.  The one time anyone seemed to notice them it was an orderly coming out of the Imaging Department who, looked askance at the two girls before Cassie stepped forward.  Autumn tried not to look tense, instead focusing on the icepack she was holding to her face as she glanced over the orderly's shoulder into the room he'd left, seeing machinery and other people moving about.

"Hey, the sign said there were vending machines this way.  Are we on the right track?" she perked at the orderly, who smiled back almost automatically.

"Sure."  he nodded.  "Right down there."  he added, pointing the way they'd been headed.  Cassie thanked him, then led Autumn further down the corridor, pausing as they finally came to a door with the words "Dr James Cook, M.D." embossed on the frosted glass that comprised it.  They looked at each other, then up and down the hallway, then back at the door. 

There was a lock.

Biting her lower lip, Cassandra reached out and tried the door, her pensive expression becoming a wide smile as the latch clicked and the door opened inwards.  Throwing Autumn an excited grin she glanced once more up and down the hall then slipped inside, beckoning the redhead to follow her.  Blowing out a breath, Autumn snuck in and shut the door, both girls taking a moment to look around the office of the man who'd claimed to have 'made' the gifted kids.  A coatrack by the door held a brown sports jacket and a spare white doctor's coat.  The room was sparsely decorated, the carpeting was thick underfoot, and there were no windows, several bright lamps illuminating a couch against one wall, a couple of chairs and then a large, oak-finish desk with a blotter, keyboard and two computer monitors arranged on it, with a very comfortable looking chair behind the desk.  The wall behind Cook's desk sported a number of framed certificates and awards, along with a full-length mirror to one side and a huge print photograph on the other.

Spoiler

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"I'll keep watch."  Autumn murmured as Cassie took stock of everything, her eyes bright and inquisitive.  Stepped to the door, Autumn cracked it a fraction and peered out into the corridor.  "What does this guy look like?"

"Tall, dark hair going grey, handsome in a smug-and-knows-it-way."  Cassie said as she looked around.  "Probably wearing a doctor's coat, too."

"Right."  Autumn said, peering back into the room for a second and nodding before returning to keeping watch.

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Tuesday Afternoon

On 1/14/2020 at 9:38 AM, Catherine 'Kat' Barras said:

"Frankly, I don't need no Study Hall today, I'll be fine. I'll tag along." She said with a wide smile.

Sean arched a quizzical brow at Kat's insouciant grin, but nodded. "Okay, then. I'd have to go anyway, I have an appointment scheduled with my doctor." Which I can't let you sit in on.

Sean glanced around the milling students and faculty one final time, the press of bodies starting to break up now that the action and excitement was over, then shrugged a shoulder down the hall. "It's over for now - we should get to class before we're late."

Sean tried to be a good guide during their afternoon classes, explaining the quirks and regulations of Shelly High, formal and informal, as they came up, but Kat to see he was fidgety and eager to get out of school. Only a fraction of his thoughts were on class, though he was able to answer any question when called upon. Kat caught him doodling in the margins of a notebook, strange creatures, some indistinct and amorphous, others with features suggesting features derived from rather explicit anatomy.

"What're those?" the new student asked with blatant curiosity, pointed at some of the doodles.

"Huh? Oh!" Sean glanced at what he'd been idly drawing. He was much better with graphic programs than sketching, but these were better than most of his drawings and he'd barely been paying attention. "Just ideas for a game."

It wasn't a lie, but Kat got the sense there was more to it, especially after Sean closed the book with a snap, flashing her an apologetic smile. "Game's still in development."

The bell sounding the end of class had hardly started ringing before Sean was up and out of his seat, his satchel over his shoulder, and with an emphatic, "Finally! Let's get out of here."

Sean led Kat to the student parking lot at a brisk pace that made his figure move in interesting ways she couldn't help but notice, nor be aware of others noticing too, though Sean didn't seem to see, or was ignoring it. The vehicle Sean led Kat to wasn't what Kat expected, though if she questioned herself honestly, she'd have to admit she didn't know what she'd expect the dichotomous boy would drive.

A jacked up, deep forest green Jeep SUV. Both of them needed the running boards to climb into the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk with any sort of grace. It was almost reversing out of the parking space before Sean got the key in the ignition or Kat got settled in the worn but plush passenger seat.

"It's... big," Kat offered, looking around the vehicle, glancing inside the central compartment, scrolling through the preset radio stations.

"We can get a lot of snow in Montana, and I'm not exactly built for pushing a stuck car," Sean explained, giving the steering wheel a pat. "'Sides, it was what I could snag at the auction." He grinned, he was still getting used to driving the SUV, compared to when he could borrow his mom's Corolla. "I like it. I like driving so high."

Uh-huh. Kat noticed something in the back seat. "What's that? A drone?"

"Yup! Built that one myself. I also have a DJI one."

Sean enthusiastically talked about his drones and their respective specs, interspersed with pointing out the modest features of the small town of Shelly as they drove away from the school. Sean had a great speaking voice, fluid and animated, but his words suddenly cut off with a pursed frown, considering what he had heard about the fight and how badly Jason was beaten.

"Can you hang on a sec, Kat? I gotta make a call."

Before waiting for a reply, Sean had pressed a button on the central console.

"Call Jase, home," Sean commanded.

Do you mean Call Jase, home? came a smooth electronic query.

"Yes," Sean sighed, already annoyed with the confirmation, even as he was annoyed when the car asked if he was calling some other random name that didn't sound anything like Jase, so the confirmation was necessary.

Calling Jase, home.

The sound of a call being made filled the SUV... and continued filling it until the answering machine came on.

"This is--"

Sean cut it off with a sharp jab of a finger and an irritated, "Harrumph!" His nose scrunched up as he considered, then he quickly glanced over at Kat. "Do you mind if we make a quick stop before heading to the hospital? I just thought of something."

"Sure! I mean, of course not," Kat replied.

Sean took a sharp turn and soon he had pulled into the small lot in front of a clothing store, Larsons Clothing. Sean hopped out of the SUV, Kat following at his side, and a bell tinkled as they stepped into the last of a breed - a small town family owned merchant with great service and excellent prices.

"Good afternoon, ladies," chirped the friendly and matronly woman coming out from around the service the service counter, a warm smile on her face. She was one of the owners of the shop, Sandra Larson, as stated on her name tag. "Can I help you with anything? We sell mostly men's clothing here, which may not be a trouble for your slender friend, but it may be a little trickier for something as, hmm, shapely as yourself, miss. But let's me see what I can do..."

"No, no, it's okay," Sean assured the proprietor, blinking. He'd been in here before, and recognized Sandra, but realized the last time was when he looked a great deal more like Kat than he did now. "I know what I'm looking for, shopping for a friend."

"Ah, of course." There was a twinkle in her eye as she smile grew a trifle. "I'll be at the counter if you need any help."

Sean took a quick look around the modest store, then strode towards one corner, Kat trailing in his wake, looking around with more casual interest. Sean knew why women took longer shopping for clothes, and it wasn't just that they generally had a lot more options to choose from. Women were a lot more varied in shape and what fit one didn't mean it would fit another, even if technically there were the same 'size'. Sean had to deal with it and was reasonably good at estimating what fit.

He pictured his friend and with a critical eye, picked out a pair of grey jogging pants, a pair of socks and boxer-briefs, and a heavier shirt, with the local high school sports team, the Rangers, on the chest. It wasn't long before he heading back to the counter with his selections in his armed held to his chest. Kat raised a pair of questioning brows.

"I tried calling his place, but his dad didn't answer, and I didn't want to nose about trying to get in with nobody there," Sean explained softly, not adding that Jase's dad was part of a survivalist group or something, and had access to too many guns. "I figure Jase will have been all bloody after the fight and could use a change of clothes."

Sean plunked his purchases on the counter and Sandra began ringing him out, making small talk. "Shopping for a friend?"

"Yes'm. He's in the hospital and could use a change." Sean usually did his shopping in Great Falls or online, and wasn't paying that much attention to retail small talk.

"How sweet, I'm sure he'll appreciate it."

"Um-hmm."

Sandra folded the clothing neatly and placed in a plastic bag and handed it over to Sean. "You and your friend stop by again sometime soon, y'hear?"

"Yes, sure, we will," Sean replied with automatic politeness, then was heading back to his Grand Cherokee, tossing the bag in the back, before climbing back into the driver's seat. "Now, the hospital."

Sean was well acquainted with the Marias Medical Center, and even if this was the first time he actually drove there himself, it was with a sense of familiarity. Over the last six years, he'd been to Marias more often than most of the most accident prone athletes in school, and so knew the lay out of the place very well.

Or at least, the public layout of the Marias Medical Center, now aware there was much more to the place. And much more to his personal doctor, Dr. Cook. Still, Kat noted the blithe confidence with which Sean walked through the hospital, exchanging the occasional greeting with a nurse or doctor he recognized or who recognized him.

At the desk for general admissions, he asked for where Jason was - saying he was a friend  - and when after giving him the ward and room number, the nurse went to give him directions, Sean waved the offer away.

"I know the way, I've been here enough. Thanks, though." Sean pointed the way down the hall with his chin, the bag of clothes tucked under his arm. "This way, Kat. It isn't that far."

Edited by GDP_ST
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Kat was gently following Sean's pace staring amazed at her surroundings. It felt like switching from her grandparents's in Port Navalo, to Paris. She was now wondering if the entire population of Shelly was made of the people who run the hospital. But well, everything felt big to her. That's what fucking Erwann would've said, at least. Fucking Erwann.

"I don't mean to sound rude at all, but how comes there's such a big thing in Shelly ?"

Sean looked at her, an eyebrow sky high, and as he was about to answer, caught sight of Sophia sat in the corridor, his mouth puckering as though he'd just bitten into a lemon  "We're there."

They entered in the room, which room looked crowded now that they were in, in comparison to what she would've expected. The slender figure in the bed, she barely recognized him from her Chem class, this had to be Jason. He looked like he had been through hell. Now that she thought about it, the dark-haired girl was in Chem class too. Pretty, she thought, before noticing the resemblance between the girl and another guy in the room. Buy one, one offered. As for the last guy, he was completely unknown to her. Not bad looking, though. I could hit that.

Then Jason's last words, she overheard as they entered the room, came back to her. Mr. Black ? She couldn't help but raise an eyebrow.

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Cade had left to get Jason a soda, and thanks to having visited his mother here many times, often to bring a fresh cooked lunch when she had a night shift, he knew his way around the medical center.    After getting a soda he knew Jason liked, as well as another one he'd seen Marissa drink before, he began heading back to Jason's room, only to run into one of the deputies.   


"Officer Lennox."   he said warmly with respectful nod of the head.   Of course all the deputies knew Cade, thanks to his father, and Lennox was no exception, still he seemed abit nervous.   "Bringing your mom dinner?"  

"No, here to see a friend."  Cade answered politely.

"That Bannon kid?"   The deputy seemed abit concerned.   

"Yeah, Jason's a friend, he got worked over pretty bad by those two.   He wanted a soda, so I went to get him one."  Cade replied with a thin smile.

"You know your dad... The Sheriff..."   He didn't seem to want to get involved, but likely had some instruction from his father...  Lennox was one of the younger deputies, not too long out of the Academy, so of course he'd do what the Sheriff asked.


"I know officer Lennox.  My father doesn't run my life though.   I decide who my friends are."   There was a coldness in his voice that wasn't there before, but he was still smiling, albeit not by much.

"Alright then Cade, just be careful.  'S alot of strange stuff happening as of late.   Weird reports of impossible occurrences.   Most of it's probably pranks, or people smoking bad weed or such, but it's been alot more than just a few calls."  The young deputy seemed to back off, knowing better than to overplay it.

"Thanks for the warning,  seeya later."

With that, Cade head back to Jason's room, finding it had filled considerably since his departure.  "I leave for abit and the whole party assembles."   He smiled as he passed the soda for Jason up so it could be set on the small table by his bed.  He handed the other to Marissa. "I thought you might like one as well."

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As Autumn took her position, Cassandra breezed around the room, just giving it a once-over. She took a snapshot from one corner, then the opposite one. At the big print with the mountain and the lake she paused thoughtfully, then took a photo of that as well. She'd seen that before. Might be important. On searching the sports jacket on the rack, Cass found a set of keys...which by the fob went to a car. A Porsche. Her eyes widened and she held them up for Autumn to see...then even took a picture of them in her hand, and put them back. No grand theft auto today. Tomorrow though...

Her exploration of the walls yielded a small keypad set into one. At that keypad she hunched over to bring it level with her face, and exhaled onto it repeatedly. When Cass turned to see Autumn staring at her, she blushed a little and said, "It's...supposed to fog up the keys except the ones that have skin oil on them. It, uh, didn't work though." Clearing her throat, she quickly made her way over to the desk.

Between the two monitors was something odd. A funny sort of projector that was actually built into the desk itself. She tried wiggling it, but to no avail...it seemed to have been bolted on, or perhaps was poking up through a hole in the desktop. It'd have to be disassembled to get it out, Cass reckoned. She bumped the mouse a little, and the righthand screen awoke to a password prompt. Dr Cook had left his office unlocked, but not his computer, it seemed. In the drawers was a bounty though. The top right one opened to show a notepad upon which was written, 'J.bannon 4oclock meeting. Notes and observations.' In a neat printed script. It was otherwise blank. Her breath caught though when she pushed the pad aside to see what was under it.

A gun.

She didn't know a lot about guns, so she wasn't sure how big it was, or what make or model it was. She did notice, by chance, that it didn't have the little switch by the handle. The safety. That seemed odd to her. Cass quickly took a picture of the weapon, without touching it, and closed the drawer. The middle drawer of the desk then had just stationary and breathmints and boring stuff. The other drawers were locked.

Dead end. Other than he might be planning to shoot Jase. Cass didn't think that'd go well for him.

"Find anything?"

Cassie looked up at Autumn and shrugged. "He has a gun. And he was planning to see Jase at 4 today. That's like..." she checked her phone, "...a half hour from now? Probably made that plan before the fight though."

Autumn nodded, though seemed ill at ease at the mention of a gun. "So what now?"

That was the question, wasn't it, Cassandra thought. "I think I'm gonna try something...shiny."

She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. In her mind's eye she built Cook's office, just as it had been while she explored it. Cass let the details seep in, the colors fill out, until it was as good as the real thing. Then the shine took over. She felt more of the roomness entering her mental construct...more detail than she'd been able to see, but that was still there, noticed only subconsciously. The smell of it. The feel of the still air. The slight tension that came with it belonging to someone else. And beyond that, a kind of weird intangible sense that her mind didn't really know what to call, but that clearly identified the space as 'Dr Cook's Office at the Medical Center.' And then Cassandra rotated that space, not along any physical axis, but along the axis of time.

thewindowslightenedanddarkenedandlightenedandablurofmovementCookandsomeoneelseandothersandthenemptyand...she managed to slow it down in time to spot Cook at his computer, and let the 'playback' go long enough to look over his shoulder and see where his fingers fell on the keyboard. With a gasp she let the vision go and quickly scrabbled at her phone's Note app, copying the code down into it.

Autumn was looking at her again. "Everything okay?" the redhead asked.

Cassie nodded. "Yeah. Just...had a lot at once there. Why, what did it look like?"

"You were just kinda...standing there for  minute, and then did a jumpscare. Sort of jerked and..." Autumn sucked a breath in as if startled. "Like that."

"Okay." Cassie squared her shoulders and steeled herself. "I'm gonna try again."

This time the mental 'construct' of Cook's office came almost immediately. When she started to 'rotate' it, she did so far more tentatively and carefully...and that caution was rewarded. Days sped past, timed by the light sluicing in through the blinds over the windows. She found resistance after a few days, and didn't push it...instead releasing the image and allowing it to move forward normally.
 

Spoiler

It's Saturday. Cook came in not too long after sunup, hung up his coat and left again. Much later in the day he returned and sat down at his desk. Cassandra realized this was when she'd gotten his password...but playing the image further she saw him turn the projector on. A picture appeared in midair in the middle of the office, outlined in bright glowing light. A hologram, like from movies. Images of the kids in the Fellowship flickered in that space, along with words that hovered serenely alongside the pictures. As the light in the window started to turn orange he had a call on his phone, then went to the keypad. Cassandra followed him, zooming in on his hand as he put the code in. A panel in the wall retreated inward, then slid aside. Cook stepped through, and the panel closed again. It's not until well after dark that he emerges and leaves.

The next day, there's no activity at all. He never comes in.

Monday morning...Cassandra thinks it's probably near mid-day just from how long it's been since the light came...Dr. Cook comes into the office and he looks upset. She can 'feel' a sort of mist around him, sense that he is apprehensive, or troubled by something. He sits at the desk and logs into his computer, then brings up Jason's file on the hologram. He edits it, putting in another paragraph...and Cassie is startled to see him note that Bannon had agreed to help the Project, even if Dr.Cook was clearly conflicted about it... then shuts it off again. And into the secret door he goes. Not for long this time though, and when he comes back up he has the gun. Cassandra watches him put it in the drawer where she'd found it. That night, as Cook seems to be preparing to depart, Etienne comes in. He looks angry, and tells Cook that he's done taking orders from him. Cook's anger rises to meet Etienne's, but Cassandra can sense an undertone of fear there. This rebellion wasn't expected. He takes the gun from the drawer, and held it up, aiming it at Etienne. At gunpoint, Cook took his underling into the secret door. A little while later, no more than half an hour if that, Cook leaves the secret panel alone. He goes to his desk, and from one of the locked drawers takes a bottle of something, pours himself a shot and drinks it in one gulp. He puts the glass and bottle back, closes the drawer, locks it. Leaves.

 

"Holy shit," Cassandra exhaled, her eyes opening wide. "Holy shit, I think he killed Etienne."

Edited by Cassandra Allen
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ICU Room - Everyone except Autumn and Cassie

"You're sweet."  Marissa took the soda from Cade with a soft smile.  "Thank you." she murmured as Devin set the can bought for Jase close at hand after popping the tab.  Everyone else seemed to stop discussing what they had been discussing, which Sean had been expecting as he pushed forward and set the bag of clothing down by Jason.  

"Sweatpants, shirt, socks and boxers." he noted in response to his friend's raised brow.  Jase smiled a little, the uninjured corner of his mouth lifting gently.  

"Thank you."  he replied, picking up the soda and taking a sip.  "I think they burned my old shirt." he said with a wry gleam in his eyes, a statement which caused Marissa to snort.

"They should torch the rest of your wardrobe while they're at it."  she snarked with an expressive quirk of her maroon lips.  "Do you even have anything other than grey, white and army green shirts in there?"  Jason didn't reply, just smiled a little as he took another drink, Devin chuckling agreement with his sister's assessment of their friend's dress sense.

"When do you think they'll let you out?"  Sean asked, pondering the nicely flowering bruises on Jason's torso.  Ouch.  He looked back at Kat, who was being unobtrusive at the moment near the door, and gave her a reassuring smile.  He knew first hand that being in a room with this crowd was daunting - hell, being in a room with just Marissa was daunting.

Kat wasn't really experiencing that, though there was the usual sense of 'oh hey, strange people.  Don't mind me!' in her manner.  That seemed secondary to her, though, as she got a feel for the room and it's occupants.  There was something else here, a harmonic that seemed to fill the available spaces around the room's inhabitants.

Like... Jason, who seemed to have a personal space that took up the whole room, as though no matter where you stood you were in arm's reach.  Sean, who seemed to buzz on the cusp of hearing with the activities of his thoughts.  Marissa seemed to draw all the light in the room to her, as though moving in her own personal spotlight as she smiled devastatingly at the big guy - Cade - and tossed her hair over one shoulder.  And her brother, who seemed never at rest, even while sitting down stuffing his face with what looked like jerky from a bag and chatting to Jason about how someone called 'Lona' would be by later.

The sensations weren't intrusive or overwhelming, but there were there nonetheless - and they were definitely sensations, not opinions.  Like all of the traits she noted were registering on a sixth sense of hers.  It was strange, and so she remained quiet for now as she watched and tried to make sense of this new thing.

 

Dr Cook's Office - Autumn and Cassie

1 hour ago, Cassandra Allen said:

"Holy shit," Cassandra exhaled, her eyes opening wide. "Holy shit, I think he killed Etienne."

The words were breathed rather than spoken, and the tone of them as much as the shocking import of the words themselves was what drew Autumn's attention back from the corridor outside, her blue eyes widening as what Cassandra had said hit home.

"Fffuuuck."  she said in a similar low tone.  "Are you sure?  I mean, really sure?"  To think that Dr Cook, who was a pillar of the community, had murdered someone...

"Etienne came here, he was angry and telling Cook he wasn't going to spy no more.  Cook got mad and scared, and pulled the gun on him, taking him back there."  Cassie pointed at the secret door, then looking at Autumn's curious expression.  "It's a secret elevator.  Anyway, when he came back he was alone."

"Fuck."  Autumn said quietly, less drawn out but more emphatically this time.  "What now?"

"Now I'm going to try and get into the computer here-"  Cassie said, her lovely features still a little pale at the prospect of investigating a murderer's office.  Autumn raised a hand suddenly, cutting her friend off.  She had heard something, and turned back to the slightly-ajar door.

Doctor Cook was walking down the corridor towards the office, and by his side was Courtney, both of them walking purposefully.  The pair of them were talking in low voices which carried to Autumn's ears.

"...get you back to the school."  Cook was saying.  "They'll be looking for you at cheer practice, yes?"

"Yep.  Wouldn't do for the beloved cheer captain to miss practice."  Courtney said.  "Especially since everyone thinks I'm still there."

"Take the underground transit."  Cook told her.  "Just make sure no-one's hanging around the egress point when you get to the other end."

"Gee, thanks."  Courtney's crimson lips spread in a smile.  "Can I borrow your carkeys next, daddy?   I promise I'll be careful handling the stick."  It seemed to be an old game between them, Cook rolling his eyes slightly at her blatancy.

"Just get back to school, and keep an eye on things."  he told her firmly.  "This attack wasn't your doing, or so you say.  But both young men aren't even sure why they were angry with young Mr Bannon."

"They caught the other one, then?"  Courtney asked, attentively.  Cook nodded.

"His mother drove him to the sheriff's office herself.  Seems he's remorseful and confused."  The doctor grabbed Courtney's arm just as they got to the office door, turning her to face him.  Thus far, neither had noticed the door was ajar.  "This better not have been you, Courtney.  The Doctor was livid when he got the report about you pushing a cheerleader and one of the football players instigate an incident with the Bannon boy.  No more games - all of them are hands-off until further notice."

The expensively dressed redhead pouted, her dark eyes sullen.  "Fine.  I got the message.  Just so you know, when they're hands-on again, I want in on that action.  I know just how I'd tackle it."   Cook released her, and the two turned back towards the door...

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Cass had been running a little simulation in her head all this time. The "If Cook Gets Back, Here's What We'll Do" simulation. It featured she and Autumn playing it cool, greeting Cook in his office like they'd been waiting a little while and were totally chill about it. They'd say something like, "Hey there you are. About time, we were about to go looking for you." And he'd be confused and maybe a little mad at first, but he wouldn't really suspect them because waiting around wasn't what people did when they were up to no good.

But in that simulation, Cook was alone. And also not a murderer. Those things changed the calculation significantly.

When Autumn motioned for her to stop talking, Cassandra realized by the clenching of her heart that they were about to be cornered by a murderer in his murder-lair.

She immediately went to the keypad and punched in the numbers she'd seen Dr Cook put in during her vision. As the door slid silently open, she waved Autumn over.

The redhead's eyes widened and she gave Cass an 'are you nuts' look. Cassie shook her head and gestured around the office, indicating its spectacular lack of hiding places, then back into the elevator as she stepped inside.

Autumn hastily followed, and Courtney saying she wanted to get her hands on them was the last they heard as the door slide closed again, and Cassandra pushed the 'down' button within.

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Autumn and Cassandra

The elevator dropped rapidly, but smoothly so.  It was sleek and sterile inside the tiny moving room, barely big enough for three adults to squeeze into - obviously a personal conveyance rather than one used for transporting cargo or large numbers of people.  The control panel had two buttons arranged vertically - their arrows making their purpose plain - and a red button set further down and to one side, un-emblazoned.  Mentally, both girls were ticking off seconds as the elevator travelled - how long for Cook to get into the room, perhaps banter some more with Courtney, and then call for the elevator himsel-

The doors hissed open almost before the two of them registered that they had come to a smooth stop.  Beyond the doors was a short corridor, a double fire-door at one end and another, single door situated about halfway along.  They stared for a moment, then Autumn firmly took hold of Cassie's arm and propelled both girls from the elevator as a soft chime sounded and the door began to close.  They looked back at the door closing behind them, then at each other.

Someone above had pressed the call code.  They had maybe thirty seconds, now.  Nowhere to go but forward.

They moved along the corridor, Cassie trying the side door and finding it open as Autumn quickly paced up to the double doors and glanced through them in turn.  Beyond the single door was another office, only this one had no regular computer monitors on a wood-finish desk as the one above had possessed.  The desk here was smooth, glossy and black, the surface underscored with tiny scintillating lights that changed colour in lazy accordance with the holographic displays being projected into the air above.  Across the office, on the opposite wall, was another door, currently closed.

Autumn, meanwhile, peered through the panels of the double doors at a large, brightly lit hallway beyond.  She heard machinery, and voices., and ducked out of sight as two uniformed men walked past.  They appeared to be wearing U.S. Air Force BDUs, and though were only carrying sidearms looked tough and competent.  The two Airmen turned a corner and went out of sight, and Autumn looked back to catch Cassandra's eye, each girl silently asking the other "Which way now?"

 

Project Argo - Elsewhere

"We're ready to go again." a woman in Air Force fatigues reported in a crisp tone.  "It took some doing, but the wave-form oscillation matrix has been stabilised.  This time the Argo's interference shouldn't throw off the projector and cause a breach elsewhere."  Though the woman, a Captain with a double PhD in Astrophysics and Quantum Mechanics, privately mused that she wasn't entirely sure how it had happened last time.  It was as though something had reached out and redirected the focal point of the machine - how or why was still a mystery.

"Excellent." came the digitised voice of the Doctor from over the speakers.  "Proceed with the startup sequencing."

"Yes, sir."  The Captain said automatically, turning to give orders to the Airmen at the consoles.  Beyond the control center's massive observation pane she could see the cavern beyond, containing the Key - the cyclotron-like device which she had helped design and build , currently swarming with techs in radiation suits and, beyond them...

A shimmering, white surface that made up one wall of the cavern.  A material that defied drills, explosives, or any other means of entry that they had tried over the last decades since it's discovery, it curved slightly between floor and ceiling, continuing into the rock that embraced it.  It was just a glimpse, she knew.  The thing was larger than the cavern, easily as large as the lake over their heads.  No, she corrected herself.  Not a 'thing'. A vessel.  Caught in some manner of phased-state between the atoms around it, preserved like a fly in amber, outside of normal space and time.

The Argo.

 

Cody Sikes / The Horned Man

They were trying again.  He/they could feel the ripples in the cosmic foundations washing across his consciousness.  Good. he/they thought, rising from the grisly remnants of his last meal and staring around in the dark cave-like place which sheltered him, hid him from those who would harm him.  The air was redolent with filth and the reek of decomposing meat, buzzing with flies, but Cody paid it no head as he breathed in deeply.  When he'd first come to this place, drawn by the Tree in his dreams, he'd been weak, and vomited at the scent of ancient death.  But now he was strong, the Horned Man told him.  Now he was the Horned Man, and he had to bring home the harvest, water the Tree.  He had been chosen, and should be proud of that.  The Horned Man had set his eyes on other candidates, but they were blinded by the light that emanated from their own souls and were worthless because of it.  No he, Cody was perfect, and strong, and without Light.

The Light shone brightly in his minds-eye, a gathering of the brightest currently at the hospital.  His pawns had failed, as the Horned Man had thought they might do, but the Horned Man was subtle.  The Light that drew them together, the bond they shared, was a weakness.  Injure one, and others would come running... And a cluster of stalks of grain were easily reaped and threshed.  That was why he had let Cody try his scheme - all ways led to the End of the Path, after all.

He felt the ripples strengthen and the Horned Man joined with him - or was he already joined with him, or was he already the Horned Man?  It was confusing, but what wasn't confusing was the power.  The men in uniform were making a key to a door they ill-understood, but that key could be used... differently.

 

Marias Medical Center - Above AND Below

They all felt it at the same time.  Cassandra and Devin the most severely, then Kat.  But all of them felt it to one degree or another.  There was a subtle wrenching in the Shine, the subquantum as Jason and Sean called it.  Space from elsewhere was being folded over itself, like a shroud being pulled over a corpse - an apt description as the sensation was accompanied by a bone-deep cold that lasted forever and an instant.  The air turned stale within the medical center, the radiance from various light sources seeming... wrong somehow.  Muted, throwing odd shadows.  The Fellowship looked at each other.

"Oh, hell to the fuck no."  Devin vocalised what they were all thinking, feeling his stomach dip and roil as space became twisted.  Marissa glanced out of the window, noting that the sky seemed to be entirely formed of black, billowing clouds, the leaves and bark on the trees outside taking on a withered look. Charlie glanced out into the hospital lobby, spotting Sophia coming to her feet, looking alarmed.  People were milling around uncertainly, looking up at the sky, wondering if this was a storm or a sudden tornado.  Dark patches began to appear on the walls, growing from the floor upwards, glistening like oil slicks as they stained the pristine hospital paintwork.  Jason pulled off the monitor electrodes he was wearing and sat up, swinging his legs out of bed and grabbing his boots, pulling them on and heedless of his lack of shirt.

"We're the target of this." he said tersely.  "The Dark wants to kill those with Shine, feed off them somehow."

"How do-?"  Sean began, but Jase cut him off, his manner curt but calm.

"Mr Black told me.  Let's move, hmm?"

Below ground, for Cassie and Autumn, the effect was much the same, and they quickly realised they were not the only one to notice it.  An alarm began to sound in the complex in which they had found themselves.  Cassandra clutched at her head for a moment, feeling cold hatred so intense that it made her gasp.  Autumn felt a wrongness to the quality of the air, like the air itself was sick, and fought down a feeling of nausea. The sudden change had taken only moments, and the elevator carrying Courtney and probably Dr Cook was likely still on it's way down.

That was when the screams started.  For Autumn and Cassandra, the first was a high-pitched yell of a man in pain and mortal terror, suddenly cut off, from beyond the double doors Autumn was standing at.  For the Fellowship in the medical center's ICU, the screams were of fright, accompanied by a crash of glass from the front of the building and finally, as though punctuating the whole horrible cacophony with an exclamation point, a gargling, shrieking roar that all remembered from the previous Friday.

 

Spoiler

There are two teams:  Team Pluck, consisting of Autumn and Cassie, and Team Fucked, consisting of everyone else!

Team Pluck - you are being hunted.  Your instincts (Danger Sense edge) and reason both tell you that nasty Things are coming for you.

Team Fucked - Everyone gets a chance to make a reaction poast.  There is at least one creature, by the sounds of it the Coochiesaurus, coming from the front of the hospital.  There's also plenty of innocent bystanders terrified and confused.

 

Edited by GDP_ST
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Charlie briefly responded to Jason's summary with a sheepish "my bad". Had Kat not come in with Sean, he would have made a quick recap of the three players now active in Shelly. The Fellowship didn't count, since they were trying to figure things out - and since all the other sides seemed to not care about their game board being comprised of a whole town of people - find out how to stop them. Even the fact that they were probably being recorded wasn't an issue, because it's not like he'd be saying anything Cook didn't know.

Even if Cook and his spooks didn't know about the Dark, Etienne would have filled him in, right? Etienne couldn't screw that up, right?

Anyway, Charlie would have simply commented they had plenty with the Project - hands-off as they currently were - and the Dark driving people to attack them without: assuming it didn't try something new. Instead, Kat had come in, and the byplay had passed for a few moments before Charlie realized he should ask Sean to introduce her, so she didn't feel uncomfortable and rudely ignored.

As such, the universe would lose a great moment of drama. Instead, it would settle for making the shift sensation that much stronger. Charlie was instantly worried about Sophia, but Jason had a point. "So we have to draw them after us, away from everyone else."

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At first, Kat felt terrified. Never in her life had she felt her blood freeze that way. For a brief instant, she could... feel that there were so much more things to the world that what her eyes told her. And something was twisting it. Defiling it. Then her eyes stopped on the dark spots moving like sentient abyssal pools, growing like an infestation spreading its horror wherever it could.

Then the others began to move, towards her - towards the door. And her gaze met with Jason's intense eyes, the pale green of his iris acting like an electroshock on her. And from her puny shape rose a crystalline voice, vibrant with fear and surprise.

"Hold the fuck up ! Am I the only one to see this ? Anyone cares to explain to me what's going on ?"

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"Yeah," Devin said, already in motion and looking a might bit concerned.  "Let's get you spun the fuck up.  Certainly sounds like we have time for that as the walls a melting away all Silent Hill up in this bitch."

"Devin, get us out of here," Marissa turned to face her brother as she reflexively gripped Cade's hand.

"No can do."  He replied to his gorgeous sibling.  "The Dark emanates raw dimensional interference.  It doesn't belong here, and the closer it is, the more my targeting goes all wonky.  I can manage small jaunts, but if I try anything farther, it'll rip my guts apart like before."  Kat had no idea what the hell he was talking about.

"Damnit," she cursed.  She looked to everyone else and squeezed Cade's hand.  "We need to go."  She looked up to her boyfriend and rest her free had on his chest.  "You are on Jase duty.  He's injured and you are the biggest thing we have right now.  Stay with him.  The rest of us will look out for each other, and..." she took a concerned breath as she looked at him.  She gripped his shirt and pulled his 6'4" self down to meet her 5'8" gaze.  For a few moments the hospital faded as her lips pressed against his and her palm cupped his cheek to hold him in place she motivated her soldier.  She pulled away and opened her eyes.  "Be careful.  I mean it."

"Cathrine, my brother, Devin, new French girl, now let's get the hell out of here."  She urged them.

"On it," Devin, with no regard for Kat's presence, jaunted from where he stood in the room to the doorway leading out into the hallway.  For the first time all of them, for the briefest of moments were able to see the two apertures in the same place at the same time, the shimmering purple distortions left by his jaunts pulsed and shimmered briefly like oil on water giving off all the various hues of purple from lavender to periwinkle before fading away.

"Shit," Charlie muttered.  "Sophia.  She's in the waiting room!"

"Dude, seriosuly?"  Devin looked stunned and defeated at once.  "Okay, look, I'll go get her, you stay with the girls and help Cade lead everyone out. I'll catch up."

"But-" Charlie attempted to protest.  After all, he'd brought her here and he felt like she was his obligation to protect.

"I get it, bro,"  Devin smirked a friendly smirk, not his usual sarcastic snigger.  "But who's faster?  Keep my sister safe, and I'll make sure Sophia is fine.  You got this."  He raised up his fist and Charlie bumped it.  "Head away from the screams of terror, text me locales, I'll find you."  He dashed off towards the waiting room.

Marissa jogged to the door, the heels of her boots clacking on the tiles.  She took up position where he brother just darted from.

"Running in those might not be the best idea," Cade offered up to her as he was helping Jason with the last few moments of his preparation to vacate the Hospital of Horrors.

"Baby, me running in heels is the least of our concerns right now."  Marissa replied to her boyfriend right as she looked at Kat.  "So, please don't allow what happens in the next several moments of excruciating madness and horrific terror to put too dark of a mar on your opinion of our little town, it truly is a quaint place to live."

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Marias Medical Center - Team Fucked

Sean felt a surge of annoyance, as well as an attendant flush threatening to stain his delicate features, at the lumping-in of him with 'the girls' that could be said to be implicit in Devin's words to Charlie.  Charlie was one of 'the guys', like Cade, and therefore a protector for 'the girls' - which included Sean - as well as the wounded Jason who, if he wasn't beaten half to shit, would probably have been equally part of the guardian bro club.  Or something.  He set his lips in a determined line - last time they had run into a Dark-spawned aberration, he'd run away from the fight.  Sure, he'd headed towards the trailer, to try and figure out if he could stop whatever was causing the problems, but at the end of the day he'd been looking for something else to do because he was woefully under-equipped to fight monsters.

At least, that had been true then.  But they had done some experimentation and training since then, and Sean could feel the zip and crackle of photons and electrons in the air around him.  He could amplify and emit photonic energy to such a degree he could vaporise holes in metal.  He could enhance his own awareness and reflexes.  Sure, he might not be the tankiest of tanks or anyone's idea of a living weapon, but he was far from helpless now.  Even so, he wasn't eager to go forth and fight that Cthuloid monstrosity head-on in the middle of the hospital.  Taking a breath, he focused his Shine a little, expanding and refining his awareness of the neurological electrical activity of living creatures near him.  He'd only toyed with it a little, but if he was right it could help him discern and avoid attacks, so long as he could see them coming.  He became aware of the bio-electrical buzz of those nearby, the emotionally-charged reactions of the electrons in their brains to the sudden fright and tension of their situation.

Apart from Jason.  His brain activity felt like it always did - fast and clear, a little slower than usual right now due to the pain receptor interference from his injuries - but there was no chaotic crackle of emotionally charged activity as he straightened from pulling on his boots, then fished the Rangers shirt out of the bag Sean had brought and, moving stiffly, tugged it on over his head where it hung loosely on his slender torso.  He shoved the rest of the clothing into the leather depths of his satchel before shouldering it, then glanced at the door and Marissa.

"I don't need guarding." he said without petulance or any real emphasis.  The lovely girl scowled, pointing a finger at him.

"You are a mess.  You're moving like an old man and your eyes still aren't fully focusing a hundred percent.  So help me god, Jason: Do. Not. Test. Me." she snapped, brown eyes flashing.  Their gazes,  the one of pale jade ice and the other of dark fire, locked for a moment in a battle of wills that was as epic as it was instantaneous - before Jason's lips twitched in a faint smile, and he nodded once slowly in silent assent.  Her gaze narrowed slightly, resting on his face for a moment longer before, apparently satisfied, Marissa turned with a flip of her hair and peered down the hall.  "There's a side entrance leading to the employee car park.  If the monster is coming in the front way, we can make it out that way."  she asserted to the rest of them.  Cade nodded agreement as Sean moved to stand next to Kat.  He felt responsible for her, and the shocked fright currently on the tiny French exchange student's face was familiar.  He'd felt the same way, back when shit had started getting weird last Friday and a lifetime ago.

"Ever see Silent Hill, or play the games?" he asked her conversationally, his tone low.  She shook her head mutely and he gave her a smile he hoped was reassuring.  "Well, think of it as being in a horror movie.  There's a monster coming to eat us.  And we're leading it away so hopefully not too many other people get hurt."  He took her hand on an impulse.  "Stick with me, okay?  We've... sorta done this before.  And we can answer questions later."

"What about Autumn and Cassie?"  Jason asked as he came to the door, Cade hovering behind him like a minder.  "They're somewhere around too.  Probably the treatment rooms near the front."

"Shit."  Marissa took out her cellphone and tapped on it as she started down the corridor, Charlie moving slightly ahead of her, using his sense of living things to discern if anything was ahead of them that wasn't human.  "Let's get moving.  We can update them."

"Text will be slow."  Sean warned, following along on Marissa's heels with Kat in tow.  "There's some kind of latency in effect for cellular signals.  Just saying it might take a minute or two for them to bounce back."  Even as he spoke, he pulled out his own phone and tapped rapidly.  "I'm texting the others - the ones not here.  Laurie, Lona and Co.  If monsters are out Shine-hunting we might not be the only targets."

"Double shit."  Marissa said, but she didn't stop tapping as the six of them hustled along the hallway.  "Slow texts are better than nothing.  Hopefully those two will be getting the hell out as well.  I've told them and Deej where to find us."

Jason and Cade were bringing up the rear, the massive athlete spotting a fire extinguisher on the wall and picking it up.  As improvised weapons went, it was better than nothing, he mused when suddenly all of the teens heard gunfire coming from the lobby, followed by a screech of outrage from the monster and a booming male voice shouting above the screams and hubbub.

"JASON?".

Jase stopped moving, turning towards the lobby.  "Dad." he said, a faint tension in his voice and the widening of his eyes the only signs he was alarmed, but for those who knew him, it might as well have been a panicked shout and an expression of abject fear for another.  He glanced at the rest of them, but it was not in search of approval or advice, they saw.  He needed neither one.

"You guys keep going."  he said simply, then headed back down the corridor towards the waiting area, breaking into a painful jog, the air around him taking on a faintly distorted heat-shimmer like effect as he tried to wrap himself in a cocoon of telekinetic force... which failed as a stabbing pain in his head announced some manner of feedback.  He staggered a couple of steps, then gritted his teeth and continued on his path.

Thirty Seconds previously

Sophia was staring in panic towards the front of the hospital.  Something large, something that roared, had from the sounds of it broken into the lobby twenty feet away.  People were screaming, and the world was going twisted like something from a video game or horror movie.  Black oily blotches were spreading on the walls, and the overhead lights seemed to be emitting a sickly greenish, purple tinge in addition to their normal radiance.  Two burly-looking guys in hard-wearing clothing who'd just come into the waiting area and had been standing by to talk to the nurse at the desk were likewise looking around with a shocked expression, and she noticed one of them already seemed to have pulled a gun from somewhere, holding it low in a competent-seeming grip.  She placed him then - Hank Graskle, the loony survivalist gun-nut.  Both he and the guy with him were looking towards the front of the hospital too, hearing as she did something large slithering and thumping towards the doors leading into the waiting room.

And then it got really crazy.  Devin Jauntsen, of all people, appeared in a ripple of purple-blue light that hung in the air behind him for a second, staggering slightly as he materialised and shaking his head like he was getting rid of some disorientation.  "Hate that." he muttered, then looked around and spotted her.  "Hey, Fingleman.  We've got to get outta here.  Charlie sent me to getcha.  Come on."  he grabbed for her hand, and Sophia on reflex pulled it away.

"What the fuck, Devin?!" she half-yelled-

And then screamed, along with the other people present, as a hideous thing burst through the doors.  Part fish, part lizard, with stunted twisted humanoid limbs adorning it's bulbous, oily body, the thing looked as though it had been badly burned at some point, cracked weeping blackened flesh visible under the sheen of whatever sickening fluids seeped from its pores.  One dark, shark-black eye focused on Devin, the other eye a puckered burn scar, and the thing's maw unfolded open like the leaves of a toxic alien flower, drool collecting around the many teeth it showed before it issued a terrifying, glottal scream of rage and recognition.

"Aw shit."  Devin groaned, his face pale.  "Hey ugly.  Nice to see ya too.  Will you come the fuck on now?" he demanded of Sophia, grabbing her arm and tugging her towards the treatment rooms.  Behind them, the creature shrieked and started forwards, squalling in pain but it's progress unchecked as a rapid sequence of shots from Graskle tore into it's side, the blubbery mass of flesh protecting it from serious harm.

"Fuck."  Graskle cursed, backing up with his hand out, moving the other guy with him.  Devin recognised Gar Bannon from his visits to Jase's house over the summer.  "Let's find Jason."  Hank told his friend.

"The fuck is that?"  Gar demanded, eyes wide and the colour having left his face.  Hank didn't seem so obviously shocked, though his face was taut with fear and adrenaline as he reloaded his pistol.  

"Move!" he snapped, pushing Jase's dad in the same direction Devin was pulling Sophia.  Gar turned and ran up the hallway, calling Jason's name...

Spoiler

Sean has activated Precision Understanding with 4 net succs.  This will give him +4 defense against any attack he can perceive coming.  Spent 1 Psi.

Jason is on +1 Difficulty to most physical actions due to his injuries, and also on -1 Defense. He has also botched his Perikinesis roll to activate his shields, so that power is unavailable for now.

Devin is on +1 Complication to any Teleportation (bear in mind Complication is not the same as Difficulty) due to the spatial fuckery that is taking place.  His bracelet shields him from the worst of the bio-feedback, but short jumps are the best he can safely do, and taking anyone along for the ride is risky.  The Complication factor will go up the more he pushes the envelope.

Sophia is not currently resisting and Devin can easily drag her along after him.  Gareth Bannon and Hank Graskle are heading up towards the ICU treatment rooms with them, the monster is in hot pursuit.  Luckily it's still a bit messed up from the last time it met the Fellowship, so isn't as fast or mobile as before.

In case anyone had forgotten - this is the monster:
Goemul.jpg

 

Edited by GDP_ST
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Marias Medical Center: Team Pluck

What the fuck. What the actual- No. No no nonononono. This is not happening again, oh fuck me, it is not happening, Autumn insisted silently, as if the simple act of refusing to accept the unfolding nightmare could somehow stave off the madness and horror it brought. But the alarms going off in the hallway were just as loud as the ones in her head, and for all their screeching, neither drowned out the short-lived scream of someone on the other side of the doors who could no longer hear them. And suddenly, the redhead realized she couldn’t think of it as just a nightmare anymore, because she had just... 

...listened to someone die. 

“Fuck,” the terrified young woman breathed as hot tears rolled down her cheeks, her back pressed to the wall near the fire doors. She wanted to throw up, felt her stomach knotting in revulsion at the oily sensation of diseased corruption in the air, at the faint, sickly-sweet smell of burnt-sugar she recognized from the woods, at the sudden realness of what couldn’t- shouldn’t be real, but that would require time she didn’t have. Through the wall, she could sense… something moving. Several somethings, things that she instinctively felt didn’t belong here, and every impulse and instinct she possessed pushed her away from the wall, propelled her forward- first at a jog, and then a dead sprint toward the door Cassie had entered. She couldn’t explain the shift in perception any more than she could explain the rest of what was going on, but she wasn’t about to question its accuracy, not if it helped keep them alive. There was a momentary, irrational pang of regret as she bolted away from the doors and the unearthly terrors behind them, as if she were somehow abandoning people- but the men and women on the other side of those doors had guns and training on their side, and the two teens did not; if they couldn’t hold their own, there was nothing she- unarmed and inexperienced- could do to help them. 

Survive. Whatever it takes, just keep going.

Autumn barely slowed as she neared the office, instead grabbing the door frame to shift her momentum and skittering, breathless and wide-eyed, into the room just as the elevator chimed softly down the hall. 

“We need to get out of here,” she gasped as she tried to catch her breath and slow the frantic pounding of her heart. Cassandra could see genuine, bone-deep fear in the other girl’s pale features, her eyes a strange green-grey in the unwholesome light as she glanced quickly around the room. “Like, right now. And we can’t go through those doors.”

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Marias Medical Center - Team Fucked

As Bannon started away the others glanced at each other for a moment, Marissa's mouth setting in a grim line, Sean looking as though he was tempted to go after his friend and only the fact he had also taken it on himself to guard Kat was keeping him with the others.  Cade looked likewise torn, as did Charlie, who glanced back from his position at the head of the group.  None of them said anything for a moment - even Marissa at that moment unable to fault Jase being concerned for his flesh and blood.  She chewed her lower lip, weighing one life against the other five in this corridor.

"We should-" she started, but what she had decided remained a mystery as Charlie's head snapped round to face the way they had been travelling.  He'd felt something...  a few somethings, perhaps as many as half a dozen.  The size of dogs, maybe, but their size was not what troubled him.  The twisted, corrupt energies of the realm of the Dark seethed in these creatures the same way as they did in the Coochisaurus, and they moved rapidly.  And they were coming from the direction the group had been headed towards, from the side entrance to the medical center.

"Guys."  he said urgently.  "We've got company ahead."  He peered down the corridor, the weird quality of the light playing tricks on his eyes.  There.  Something had skittered across the corridor, moving in a fluid low crouch, which would have been disturbing enough if it wasn't for the fact that it had skittered across the corridor on the ceiling.  He'd gotten an impression of a child-sized body with over-long limbs, and greasy skin that gleamed weirdly in the light.

Then another one appeared, this time creeping around the corner thirty feet ahead, clinging to the wall.  It was a misshapen parody of a humanoid form with a torso not much larger than Kat's, but with arms and legs more resembling tentacles ending in many-toothed appendages, it's mouth a raw, open hole lined with inward curving teeth, and it sniffed the air as it slunk along the wall, then stopped moving when it spotted the teens.  The tableau froze for a moment, then the creature let out a whistling, warbling cry of triumph and hunger, and three more came scuttling and slithering around the corner.  One moving low along the shiny tiled floor, one on the ceiling, and the third on the opposite wall of the corridor.  They paused for half a heartbeat, then charged, moving with an unnatural, boneless gait that seemed almost languorous - until you realised that they were covering the distance with terrifying efficiency.

Spoiler

Aberration3.png

 

 

Meanwhile, in the Waiting Area

As Devin tugged Sophia along in his wake, he threw a glance back over his shoulder.  The fishasaurus was limping badly compared to the brutal speed with which it had moved last time he'd seen it, but it was keeping pace with the four people running ahead of it.  He recognised Jase's dad and Hank now, and mentally groaned.  This kept getting better - the way Gar Bannon was yelling, Jason would probably hear him and...

Yep.  Up ahead, he saw Jase come into view around the corner.  There were days Devin would happily trade being right all the time, and this was one of them.  The creature recognised another of it's tormentors from Friday as well, letting out another bloodcurdling shriek.  Casting another look back, Devin saw some of the warty, bulbous growths on it's body swell, pulse and... burst in a gross squelching noise and sprays of black oily substance as clouds of buzzing, chittering things that he was pretty sure he didn't want to get a closer look at boiled into the air above their monstrous progenitor's head - then came swarming after the fleeing humans.

 

Spoiler

Team Fucked:  Initiative rolls please.  Use the lower of either your Cunning + Athletics or your Dexterity + Empathy.  I'll be putting up a combat initiative tracker thread - post results there please.

 

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Under Marias Medical Center - Team Pluck

Cassandra startled as Autumn followed her into the office and she nodded shakily. Whatever had happened had hit her head like the world's biggest hand scraping the world's biggest chalkboard with its massive, massive fingernails. She'd felt as if her skin would literally peel itself off of her body for a second there, and it was kind of a relief having a distraction from the memory of it.

She could still feel that sensation...tingling all over her, a feeling of desperate dissonance inside and out. The universe was ringing like a gong, and it wasn't making a pretty sound.

Her eyes fixed on the hologram hovering over the futuristic desk for a second. She recognized the double helix of a DNA molecule, but didn't really understand what the words next to it meant. Maybe some kind of scientific notation? With a trembling hand she got a snapshot, then crossed the office to the opposite door and pressed the side of her head to it.

No screams was a good start. No footfalls or talking. Autumn was right, they had to move. That meant taking some risks.

"This way," she urged Autumn, and opened the door.

Beyond was what looked like a laboratory, all white-paneled and well-lit, with a row of equipment neatly lined up along one wall, and a bunch of cabinets along half the adjoining one. A couple of tables occupied the center, with yet more equipment on them. Cassie moved in, looking around. She couldn't make head or tail of most of it, but took a picture of the equipment so Sean could have a look later. The far right wall seemed equipped with a pressurized environment, maybe like those clean rooms they made computers in...on the left was a set of double doors.

She waved at Autumn and headed for the double doors.

"Did that come from here?" Cass asked as they went, "Is this something they're doing?? It must be...what the hell is it?"

Autumn could only shake her head. As they crossed the lab, she scanned the various instruments and racks of test tubes and such...seeking some kind of weapon. Short of trying to rip apart a stool though, there was nothing light or wieldy enough to satisfy.

Cass cracked the doors open and peeked through, then opened them and scooted into the corridor beyond. It was fairly long, stretching the same direction that the big commotion had been coming from only a minute before. Cassandra hesitated, then shook her head and pressed forward. The only way back was the elevator and coming face to face with Cook and Courtney. And if they didn't find out what had happened here, then no one would ever know. She couldn't stop now.

At the T-junction at the end of the corridor, Cassie looked back to verify that Autumn had followed and nodded. She pushed up to the wall, leaned out just enough to peek right, then left...hoping not to be noticed while doing so.

Edited by GDP_ST
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Under Marias Medical Center - Team Pluck

The hallway was broad, well-lit despite the weird effect of the Dark's dimensional overlap, and lined with pipes and cables along the ceiling.  Doorways, some with doors, others without, opened onto the hallway in both directions from the T-junction.  The corridor went roughly thirty feet in both directions, ending in double doors at each end.  Cassie took all this in with a glance as Autumn kept a watchful blue eye back the way they had come, swallowing back her nerves as the screams had ended.  The siren still hooted overhead, blue lights flashing at intervals along the walls.

Of more immediate import than any of this was the twenty armed Airmen in full combat gear following a grizzled, hard-faced man similarly outfitted down the corridor towards the t-junction.  Cassie shrank back, but there was really nowhere to go - the hallway she and Autumn were in was empty of hiding places.  She could hear the guy in charge issuing orders as he came closer.

"Captain, you take your section and head to the bio-labs.  Seems the incursion has come both above and below ground.  Sweep everywhere.  Bravo section you're with me.  We're headed topside to splash that ugly critter before it can eat any more civilians.  And remember-"  Whatever he had been about to admonish his men to remember went unsaid as they stopped at the junction, the leader's eyes widening, sharing the astonishment of his men's expressions as they saw the two girls.  A couple of guns came up, but the guy in charge - a Major, if Cassie remembered her ranks right, made a hand signal and the weapons were lowered as fast as they had been readied.

"And what the hell are you two doing down here?"  The major rapped out.  "Identify yourselves. Now."  Even as he issued that order, the doors to the lab that Cassie and Autumn had recently been in burst open and disgorged Courtney and Dr Cook, both looking somewhat wild eyed as they hurried along the corridor towards the group at the junction.

"Major!"  Cook called.  "Thank god.  Something has gone-"  he registered the presence of Cassie and Autumn then.  "What the hell?"  Beside him, Courtney scowled.

"Fucking Cassandra Allen." she said with some disgust.  "Figures you'd be neck deep in shit going south.  Oh, and it's the plain redhead of Shelly High, too."  Crimson lips smirked at Autumn.  "Nice work on Curtis's leg.  I'm sure your new psycho boyfriend will love that you put a guy in hospital for him.  What, was steak and a blowjob too basic?"

"Courtney, please."  Cook said with a weary tone, despite his wide-eyed demeanour.  "Ladies, you shouldn't be down here."

"Beg pardon, Doc, but none of you should be here right now."  The Major gestured, and several of his men moved to flank Cook, Courtney, Autumn and Cassie.  "This is a Level Five lockdown.  You'll all need to come with me.  Captain Williams?  Proceed to the labs."  As one section of ten men followed the captain back the way Cassie and Autumn had come, the major looked at the civilians with the air of a man who wished he could lock them all up somewhere.  Instead he motioned up the corridor from the junction.  "Let's get moving."

Spoiler

Autumn and Cassie, you're being escorted by men wearing the blazons of the Para Rescue unit from Bulwark Airbase.  You can go quietly or put up resistance, let me know which you prefer :D  
If you go quietly, talk to me about where they escort you to for your next posts.  Feel free to have some more Courtney bitchiness or have Cassie pull a j'accuse on Cook. :D 

 

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