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Comparing Notes [Ep. V Side Fiction] [Ensemble]

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Thursday, 29th of August, Lunchtime

With summer fading, the students of Shelly High School by and large did not waste the daylight.  Taking their lunches outside when possible, stretching out on the grass, reading, listening to music, whilst on the field some of the football squad threw a ball to each other and horsed around, and the cheer squad arrayed themselves attractively in the sun close to the playing field, exchanging catcalls and banter with the football jocks.  Winter, to coin a popular phrase, was coming, and the old-timers and the experienced farmers that comprised most of Shelly's outlying population were intoning ominously that it was going to be a bleak, cold and dark one.  It was something in the air, they claimed.  Something the older generations remembered from, oh, must have been back in '92 or so.  A cold bitch winter where people would go missing, out in the snow, and folks cooped up together ended up going a 'little crazy' - the nature of which was not elaborated on, but everyone who'd been around at the time knew what it meant, didn't they just.

Shelly was a town rife with secrets both great and small, revelatory and mundane, fantastical and all-too-human.  As the members of the League of Extraordinary Teens - or the Fellowship, depending on whom you asked - started to make their way to the spot high up on the bleachers, each of them was mulling over that fact.  Some had had disturbing revelations about parts of their lives that they'd taken for granted.  Others were feeling fresh burdens - burdens of knowledge, burdens of responsibility that should by rights sit on older, stronger shoulders, surely?  More than one, possibly, considered giving voice to the most ancient of adolescent denials of life's hardships:  "This isn't fair".  But they didn't, because they had - putting it colloquially - seen some shit, more so than adults twice their ages; and they knew full well that the universe was a dark, dangerous and above all unfair place that would simply grin a shark-toothed smile at such a complaint... and then eat them.

Cassandra had called the meeting, telling everyone she'd found out critically important news.  But almost everyone attending carried with them some burden of knowledge - to share or not, to lay down at the feet of the group or else keep for themselves.  Because that was the nature of such burdens - they were yours to decide whether or how to carry.  And the consequences of sharing or not were also on you.

Spoiler

Scene is set!  Feel free to highlight or gloss over your character's day so far, whether you think it's relevant to their state of mind or just gives the readers an insight into them.  Then have them arrive - first person to post arriving is the first to arrive, for chronology and continuity sake, but it's not a race either. :) 

 

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Eager, even anxious to begin, Cassandra arrived first for the lunchtime powow. She reviewed to herself over and over what she'd learned, what had happened...wishing all along that she'd taken notes while it was happening. Would the Man in Black have spoken so freely if she'd been recording him? She'd never know now!

Record everything. Nothing happened if it's just you said what he said, she thought.

She picked a spot to sit where she'd be able to see the others easily and waited.

Edited by Cassandra Allen

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"It's every god damned time though!"  Devin bitched as Cassandra heard the Jauntsen twins from behind the bleachers.  Marissa was looking amazing and Devin was too, as when it came to school hours, they took their appearances in public very seriously.  Cass had to admit to herself she was not thrilled with the idea of being alone with the terrible twosome or whatever nick name the school had given them this week.

"Have you considered maybe stop pestering her?"  Marissa replied as her boot hit the first step of the bleachers and the climbed up to Cass.  Cass wondered if there was a story behind how Marissa squeezed into jeans that tight and wondered if they my have been yoga pants who got promoted to jeans but she snatched them up before the transformation could be completed.  "Seriously Deejay, you push her buttons intentionally, every day.  No wonder she approaches you ready for war."  Devin's t-shirt proclaimed him as 'Yer Mom' and he had on a white button down to cover it up in case the school staff gave him a hard time.  Marissa didn't seem to care so much and her bust seemed to be on display with a rather low cut, fashionable top that was obviously overpriced for what it was covering.  "You instigate, Deej, you can't blame her for having walls up."

"Or maybe she's just a bitch," Devin shrugged, having obviously solved the entire case.

"Or yeah, maybe that," his sister shrugged.  The twins approached Cass and finally took a moment to actually notice her.  "Where's is everyone?  Christ don't tell me we're first."

"Fashionably late doesn't always have to be a thing, Emjay."  Devin chuckled and sat next to Cass, draping his arm over his shoulder.  "Hey there, Blondie.  So, my girlfriend's moving away.  Good news for you, because now you have me all to your self.  So when we doing this?  Why ain't we hooked up yet?"

Marissa rolled her eyes and smiled at her brother running his game while she sat, crossed her legs and pulled her lunch from her pack to begin eating.

Edited by Dave ST
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"Okaaaay," Cass said, playfully pushing Devin's arm off. "You're not first, I am. You're second."

Her expression took a turn towards sympathy then. "I hadn't heard Lona's moving away though. That really sucks. I'm sorry."

She looked over at Marissa and nodded. "Sucks for all of. We could use her for this. I have a feeling we're going to need all hands on deck."

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Cade came walking up with his own backpack and lunch, and eased himself into the seat next to Marissa.  "Hey." he said, somewhat subdued, his mind was definitely elsewhere. He gave the gathered members of the Fellowship a nod, but he couldn't make himself smile, not even at Marissa.  He just felt drained.   He was kicking himself for not telling Marissa what happened the previous night, but with Haruka around he couldn't, and by the time he got done with his Dad, it was too late to call.   Sean of course knew some of the reason, what with the favor Cade had asked for the previous night.

Still, he couldn't believe his dad.   He didn't want to believe it even now, that his dad was having an affair.   It was easy to tell something was eating him up inside, as normally Cade was fairly happy go lucky, quick with a smile and kind word.  As he pulled out the containers with his plain peanut butter sandwiches and a Coke from the vending machine, he let out a muttered. "Dammit" and stared down at his food.   

Of course he knew Cass had something to relate to them all about the Dark, and that was why he came, but he wasn't thinking about that, even though he held out some tiny hope that what was going on with his father was due to the Dark's Influence.   It seemed to lead people to give in to their darker impulses, and cheating on one's wife definitely qualified there.   
 

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"We're first to arrive.  You can't be first when you called the meeting, that's like saying you were first to arrive at your own party," Marissa rolled her eyes and silently scolded Cass with a 'duh' expression.  "And call me later, we need to figure out what you're wearing to Homecoming."  As Cade approached Marissa lit up the area with her winning smile and greeted her man as he sat down.  "Hey, you." She leaned over and kissed his cheek, as her mouth was full of celery and peanut butter from her lunch.   When he didn't seem to acknowledge her much she frowned and tried to get his attention.  "What's wrong, boo?"

"She kinda kept it low-key."  Devin put his arm back around and she returned it to him with another grin.  He leaned back against the back railing, not getting involved with whatever Marissa and her new toy were talking about.  Instead, he settled for flirting with Cassandra, knowing she'd thank him later.  "I found out from Tawny, who, well, you know how small towns are.  I guess they're moving to Canada somewhere... I dunno."

"Not hard for you to visit her," Cass added.

"Yeah," Devin said with a smirk.  "Everyone keeps saying that."

"Still, I'm sorry."  She offered him a consoling expression and and bump with her shoulder.  "I know you liked her, under all the those jokes."

"Thanks," he smiled at her and nudged her back.  "I kinda did, yeah."

Edited by Dave ST

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Cade looked to Marissa, and sighed.   "Not till Sean gets here.  You guys know they're probably still watching us, right?"   He wanted to wait for Sean, who could scramble things, because what he had to say at least wasn't really for public consumption.   "It's about last night though, and the news really isn't good.  Might be related to everything else, could just be mundane, but it's bad either way."

He did offer Marissa a small smile.  "My sister said she had a great time.  Thanks for watching her for me.   She wants to know when she can continue her training."  The last part was him paraphrasing, but wasn't all that far off.   

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He wasn't looking forward to the meeting.

He wasn't dreading it either - dread, of course, being just one of the emotional states he couldn't share with humanity.  But his past experience of group meetings when there wasn't some immediate activity or - colloquially - ass to be kicked was largely a melange of arguments, drama, sneering, preachiness and emotional incontinence.  However, Cassie had called the meeting, and had re-affirmed her desire for people to be there during Chem class, and so Jason had shrugged and said that yes, he would be attending.

The day hadn't gone badly, otherwise.  Breakfast with Sean and Autumn and Cassandra had been quiet, companionable - at least, if he was any judge - and undemanding.  Autumn had asked how his dad was doing, and Jason had answered, with some warmth, that his dad seemed to be taking things in stride and looking towards getting the farm in order.  Talk had buzzed around that for awhile - Sean mentioning that his dad would probably be cool to advise on and bid for any building projects Gar had in mind and Cassie inquiring what sort of farming Gar was going to be doing - to the latter of which Jason shrugged and said that he didn't rightly know.  The general consensus was that it was good Gar was not going back to Crossroads to work as a janitor, though.

Chem had likewise been harmonious - at least for Jason in his capacity as unofficial teaching assistant to Cassie and Autumn.  He treated the exercise as a practice for his mentoring of Laurelei - knowing how to do a thing was not the same as being able to instruct those that did not, and so he paid attention to how Ms Lafferty taught, rather than what she was teaching, and analysed his own approach with his two friends.  He was, at least, patient and not prone to frustration if they didn't immediately grasp a concept, nor was he condescending, instead taking the position that he was not explaining it suitably, re-parsing his approach, and trying again until the light of knowledge dawned in their expressions.

The whole while, of course, he'd also been considering the revelations his mother had dropped on him the previous day.  Looking at his friends, he'd never felt more remote from them in the light of the knowledge she'd imparted, but was anything actually different?  Did the knowledge that he was a Teulu change the grin Sean shot at him whilst talking about the art choices for his new game, or Cassie's teasing about pluckiness, or the way Autumn would roll her eyes and tug an unruly curl of her red hair back behind an ear before bending once more over the chemical formulae?  No, it didn't.  It simply changed his perspective a little.  How, he wasn't quite sure yet.

It also didn't change the Jauntsens, and the fact that, in his view, they merely tolerated him until such time as they could be rid of him.  Not given to dramatic exaggerated rhetoric himself, in his literal-minded way he took them at their word:  Devin saw himself as a Damocles Sword over Jason's neck and Marissa viewed him as a cannibal rapist, or a raping cannibal, or whatever.  As he made his way up to the row of bleachers the Fellowship were gathering on, Jason's expression was it's usual neutral self as he nodded briskly in greeting to those already there.  His eyes flickered over the group, and if he noted Marissa's enticingly low-cut top and the cleavage it displayed, he gave very little sign of it.

Of course, he had noticed.  He was, as has been mentioned in the past, neither sexless nor devoid of libido, and Marissa, whatever her opinion of him, was a gorgeous healthy example of femininity.  He could, of course, remember every single outfit she had ever worn, and a lightning fast flicker through his memory indicated that this one was unusual in its daring.  At any rate, her interest in Cade was evident, and his in her, and so the ever-pragmatic youth stored the snapshot of Marissa Jauntsen's neckline in his mnemonic palace and went to sit down a short ways distant, still with the group but on its outskirts, removing a plastic container from his bag along with a fork and a thermos flask and settling down to eat while he waited.

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"She's a sweetheart," the raven haired beauty replied.  "She's welcome over anytime, and don't worry," she narrowed her eyes deviously.  "You'll get my bill."  With a wink she dipped her celery into a small cup of peanut butter and chewed as she smiled at him.  She didn't like the idea of waiting.  Seemed like everyone had something to say today and nobody just wanted to text or write a letter.  Was this what it was like before smart phones?  People having to actually talk to each other?  She perished the thought of such dark times.  As Jason approached the lovely teen raised her glance in his direction, if nothing more that to note that she'd noticed him and went back to being a part of something that wouldn't interest Jason in the slightest: socializing.

"What happened last night, dude?"  Devin asked Cade.  He wasn't pleased his sister was dating him, but like any brother, no guy was ever going to be good enough for his sister.  "Was the tiny Asian girl on our couch yours?"

"She's his sister, Deej, Haruka?"  Marissa glared at him.

"I don't think I've ever met her, but when I'm done with the Cassidy sister, I'll swing around and-"  Cade socked his arm and pushed his shoulder and Devin just laughed, trying not to show that it felt Cade may have broken his arm with the punch, and his other may have broken on it's own just to save time in case the behemoth decided to punch his other arm.  He rubbed his shoulder as Marissa ran damage control.  "Whud up Jaybee!"  Devin offered as Bannon arrived, not letting the personal issues of the group bleed over into their school life.

"Come on that's my sister,"  the hulking athlete didn't seem at all in the mood for Devin's antics today.

"He's just joking around, baby, relax."  Marissa's placed two fingers on her beau's chin and turned him to look at her.  "He's a jerk, but my brother never mess with Haruka.  Hey," she cradled his cheek peck a light kiss on hip lips.  "I know something's bother you, but we want to help, so chill?"  She gently pecked him again.  "Just try to relax.  Ignore my ass hat of a brother if you need to.  For me?"  Her radiant smile and maroon hued lips worked to calm him down.

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Cassandra frowned a little. Cade really did seem out of sorts. He was usually more careful when horsing around than that. The shoulder-rub in particular from Devin was concerning. It meant he was either not hurt at all and was trying to milk sympathy...or that it hurt enough that he'd forgotten to be stoic. Or maybe, just maybe, he was opening up some to the Fellowship?

Right. That was it.

"Yeah," she chimed in, with a quick glance at Devin to verify he was okay. "What's up? We're friends, we can help."

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The two other red-heads of the Fellowship were unmistakable as they headed towards the bleachers from the far end of the field, walking side by side. One was so tiny and slim, she might have been an escapee from the elementary school next door, while the other was only a few inches taller, but with a figure that was anything but child-like.

From a distance, Sean and Kat did have the illusion of familial connection, their hair shades of red not far apart, and a somewhat similar cast to the shape of their faces. But they way the moved with each other, they way their personal spaces interacted, gave away that they weren't related. Even at a distance, most people at school could recognize it was Sean and Laurie, or Devin and Jauntsen, or most of the other siblings at Shelly High, just by the way their carried themselves with the other.

One of the guys on the field yelled out a laughing comment towards the two red-heads, but it seemed Sean didn't hear it or was completely ignoring it until he casually flashed him a middle finger without even bothering to look in the boy's direction. His friends on the field laughed at his expense, not getting a reaction from what was usually an easy target.

His parents had been up late, Sean had seen the light on in their bedroom from the barn. He had wondered what they had said to each other about what he'd told them, and was still wondering about it in the morning, still worried if he had made the right decision to tell them. To distract himself, he'd thrown himself into joking with his friends and talking about more mundane matters, and his Sherpa duties in regards to Kat.

Sean glanced at Kat from the corner of his eye as they scaled the bleachers towards his friends. The smaller teen had been unusually uncommunicative this morning, her eyes and attention flitting almost manically about as always, but there was no attention, no thought behind her gaze, her mind travelling elsewhere. He was no expert, but he did paint models and minis, and had noted the light feminine coating of make-up adorning Kat that she'd been devoid of since he'd met her, that still didn't conceal the dark circles under her eyes or the slight haggardness to her features.

He'd also noticed the better fit to her jeans, hinting more of her slim, but far from child-like figure, and he idly wondered if she had had the clothes already or had somehow found time to go shopping. He hadn't brought it up with her terse, tense mood. Getting her to talk at all had been like pulling teeth, almost as bad as trying to get Jase to say anything when he was in a mood.

Sean had broken through her introversion a little during art class, when he'd started talking about a few new monster designs he had added to his game, and that had lead to talk about music and they both found out they played with keyboards and synthesizers. Kat had been distracted, but it was something.

"Sorry we're running a bit late, Cass," Sean apologized, sitting on the bleachers with his back to the field. "Got held up after Art. Kat had to sign up for and pay for supplies for the term, and got assigned a few extra projects to make up for the ones she missed."

Sean gave Cade a surreptitious nod, saying he hadn't said anything about what he'd called him about and wouldn't, and did passably well on not letting his eyes linger on the appreciative display to Cade's side. Even if he was growing more accepting of his appearance - despite all the trouble it had caused him and was causing him - he couldn't see himself ever wearing something that low cut. Must be cool though when it's hot and humid...

For a moment, did picture himself in something similar, then snorted at the mental image as he dug out a ham sandwich and a bottle of Pepsi from his cooler bag. Besides being sent home before he got within a hundred yards of the school, he'd simply fall out. He took a sip of his drink, the cola a bit slushy from the light freezing he'd given it to keep it cold.

"What's up? We didn't miss anything, did we?"

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"Not so far."  Jason spoke up for the first time, nodding in greeting to Sean and his diminuitive companion as he poured himself a cup of coffee from his thermos.  He'd been sitting quietly letting the conversation wash over and around him without paying apparent attention, but as he half-turned in his seat he nodded towards Cade.  "Cassie isn't the only one with something to share, it seems.  But Cade rightly pointed out it would be a good idea to wait until you arrived to ensure we weren't spied on."  He sipped the black brew in his mug, jade eyes regarding the others expressionlessly.

"Right."  Sean nodded, his eyes unfocusing and refocusing swiftly as he shifted his perceptions, examining all the data streams and signals in the area for piggybacked feeds or signs that someone was bugged.  "Nothing showing up on Sean-o-Vision(tm)."  he noted after a solid minute, turning his attention back to his lunch.

"Reassuring."  Jason remarked, glancing at his friend with a nod, then focusing on Cassandra.  "As you are the one who called the meeting you should go first with your news, at least once Charlie and Autumn arrive.  Other people can follow up with their concerns."  He shifted his gaze to Cade and Devin, studying how out of character it was for the large athlete to get physical outside of the sporting arena.  Obviously, something deep-seated was bothering the massive teen.  Whatever it was, if Jason could assist he would.  If he couldn't... well, he would at least lend an ear.

For now, though, he set his mug down and resumed forking his meal from the plastic container.  Revelations would come, in time, and though he was curious about what Cassandra had found out and, to a lesser extent, what was bugging Cade, he allowed that curiousity to sit quietly in the back of his consciousness whilst he gazed across the football field, his focus once more beginning to tread the halls of his mind.

Spoiler

In case it wasn't clear - no, there are no electronic snooping devices or bugs currently in or around the group.

 

Edited by GDP_ST
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It was probably the most perfunctory kiss Marissa'd had with Cade.   He really was out of it, even other times when he was still totally unaccustomed to it, he at least seemed to try.  Clearly what was weighing on his mind was doing so heavily.   Her words did manage to get a nod of his head, and a thin, half-hearted smile, not like him at all.

After Sean and Kat arrived, Jason said his piece, and Cade shook his head.   "I know Cass called the meeting, and what I've got may or may not pertain to anything, but it's a problem I've got and there could at least be some sort of relation to it. It could eventually effect everyone, If you don't mind, I'll go first."  When Cass motioned for him to proceed, he laid it out for them.

 "Yesterday morning my mom confided that she was suspicious that Dad was having an affair.  I consoled her, told her this couldn't be true, and reassured her of Dad's character.  I mean he's always so by the book.    I took my sister with me over to Marissa and Devin's place, to give my parents a night to themselves.   Dad didn't go home when he was supposed to."  he was getting angry just thinking about it.  "Mom called me, crying and I told her I'd find out what was going on."  He looked to Sean.  "That's when I called you, and with your help, went to find him.   I did, passing him on the way back.  By the time I got turned around and got home, He'd sweet-talked mom, and I left without her seeing me.   He did, though, and knew later we'd have words."

"When I got home, I tried to be civil.  I didn't want to accuse him of anything, I just wanted to know what was going on.  He wasn't having that.  He threatened all of us, that if I wanted to act in the adult world then he'd stop treating us like kids.  He expects us to get evidence and help make arrests.  He warned me to stay out of anything between him and my mother, that it wasn't my concern."

His hands tightened into fists.  "He lied to me to my face, telling me he'd gone there to meet someone about the disappearances.  He wouldn't say anything more, and left the threat all but unsaid.  He's hiding something, that much I do know."   

"I've never known Dad to act like this, sure he's a stickler for rules, I mean hell he's the sheriff, but last night It didn't seem like I was even talking to my dad anymore.  I don't know who that was.   I mean I guess it could be that I never really knew my Dad like I thought I did, or maybe The Dark got to him. Given that he does still remember everything else, It could be somewhat dangerous, and with him agitated,   I just don't know.   So yeah that's what's going on with me.  Sorry for dumping it all on you."  

He looked to Sean.  "Sorry for asking you to do that.   I wasn't thinking, and asked you to take a risk i probably didn't need to."

His hands relaxed, and he smiled at Marissa.  "At least my sister had a good time."  Cade let out a small sigh of relief having finally told someone else what happened.  "Sorry Devin, i really didn't mean to hit you so hard."  He offered a smile  "Though if you think of hitting on my TWELVE year old sister again...."   

Edited by Dave ST

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Kat had spent a terrible night, partly due to the fact that she had slept in the car on the way back from Great Falls. What Kat had experienced in Great Falls, was completely different from that moment in the hospital, on every aspect. Context, sensory input. Maybe not on every aspect. Both times, it had left her terrified, to some extent, of her powers. That is to say, she didn't sleep well. At all. Plus, the morning jog with her father had left her exhausted, the ghost of her former self, as if she didn't already feel like a zombie with a very unhealthy life hygiene when she woke up. She hadn't spoken a word, or barely, the whole morning, her brains still trying to rationalize the Shine high she had had the evening before. If it weren't for Sean, she probably would've ended up in the wrong classroom and missed her Art class.

The sunlight sort of pulled her out of her daydreaming once they got out and headed to the bleachers. Apparently, Sean wanted her to be here after mentionning that the blonde girl - Cassandra ? - organized a meeting with the other... psions ? at lunch break. Kat squinted her eyes. She wasn't used to that much light outside. It broke the laws of intermittent sun and clouds as she knew it back in Brittany. Even then, her pale skin was proof of her spending more time between walls rather than in the wilderness - which is what she called outside.  Still, it was warm enough for her not to wear her leather jacket and to stuff it into her Eastpack backpack. She was wearing her leather Franco Sarto booties - size 5 desert sand slip-ons with a 2 inches block heel, a pair of low-cut jeans she had bought the day before, along with the grey T-Rex-with-a-Rubix-Cube tee-shirt Tessa talked her into buying, leaving her tattooed arms naked, colorful string bracelets on the wrists. She had those since she was twelve. She remembered that afternoon she spent with Alice on these armlets.

Kat saw a bit of Alice in Tessa. She wasn't as agitated, she wasn't this volcano seemingly ready to erupt even in her sleep, but she seemed to have this drive, that... push, like a neverending momentum leading to enjoy life and look to the future rather than dwell on the past. After the event in the streets, something had changed between the two women. Tacitely, both recognized that they liked each other. Friends. The word tore a weary smile from Kat's lips as they arrived to the bleachers. There was something special about this tee-shirt, at least for Kat. This would be the tee-shirt.

"Hi..." Her voice had this faint hoarseness, this raw velvet of vocal strings left aside for too long. She quickly glanced at the other teens before picking a seat, grabbing her lunch-box from her bag, without a word.

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"Don't worry about it," Devin said, shaking his head.  "And I'm kidding, Jesus.  I promise I won't go after your sister, relax."

"She does think he's hot though," Marissa cooed in his ear, a playful smile forming on her lips.

"Please don't," Cade shook his head, trying not to smirk.  "My heart just can't right now."

"So," Devin leaned his back to the railing, putting his arm around Cass again so promptly returned it with a side eyed glare and they both smiled at one another.  At least she could take a joke.  "Let me get this straight.  You think your dad is fooling around and some homewrecker is messing up your family?  No prob, let's find out who this skank is and get her a pair of hiking boots... I'm Jase'll have a recipe for skank hikers.  No one will ever know."  The resident snark machine continued on.  "Aside from that, ignore the rest.  He can't do shit to us and he sure as fuck isn't in a position to bark a single order to us.  Let him talk his shit."

Marissa swung out and smacked Devin in the same arm Cade just hit.  Devin cried out in pain as the spot was still tender.  "Deej, stop, that's still his dad!  For fucks sake."

"Ow!"  Devin shirked away.  "Back off jizz-lips!  I don't care whose dad it is.  He's making threats on us.  The family issues?  That's on Cade, man," he peeked around Marissa offering Cade a friendly wave.  "Sorry, bro.  We can't fix everyone's issues.  Sometimes people just fall out of love.  Sometimes people are just not as great as we think they are.  Sometimes, people are just shit.  No one knows that better than we do," he met his sister's eyes.  "I'm sorry you're going through a rough patch, dude, I am, but my concern is us.  I'm focused on pissed off Sheriff trying to come at us for thinking we know too much, not a possible divorce.  If he comes after us, we'll have to play dirty and put him in his place."

"I can handle the Sheriff."  Marissa volunteered.  "With no shots fired, if need be."

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Charlie did not sleep that well over the night. Enterich and the thoughts about his dad and himself danced through his head like warped Jase-faeries (because Jase never cackled evilly. Whatever else he might be, he didn't cackle.) Learning about the meeting actually helped, since for once Dark monsters were a happy distraction from familial issues. At least until he mentioned his dad was in Crossroad's pocket.

The day passed by in a bit of a blur. Sophia snuggled up to him as he was heading out for lunch, but when he explained he had to meet with the Fellowship, she asked to tag along. Charlie agreed. It would help with her getting more grasp of the situation as she requested, and if the others objected, they would say so.

"Dare I ask about the Sheriff?" Charlie arrived with Sophia in tow, and there were rings denoting lack of sleep about his eyes.

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"Sheriff Allister is likely, based on the evidence so far, having an affair with an as-yet unnamed person.  Cade confronted him on it, and the sheriff saw fit to make it a dominance issue between him and the Fellowship as a whole."  Jason said without looking round as he sipped at his coffee, then he half-turned in his seat and looked at them.  "Marissa says she can handle the sheriff without things getting unpleasant."  He nodded towards the lovely young woman in acknowledgement.  "I trust that she can.  And that is all that is relevant to us as a whole."

"Christ, Jaybee..."  Devin muttered.

"Not to me." Cade glowered slightly.  "This is my family, Jason."  Cold green eyes studied the hulking teen and Jason tilted his head slightly to one side.

"No.  Not to you.  To us, as a whole, from a pragmatic perspective."  he re-emphasised.  "Unless you want us getting involved in the affair - in both senses of the word.  Of all of us, Marissa can handle it neatly and without further unpleasantness - at least so far as conditions between us and the sheriff go.  If you want us to interfere and try to fix the problem, I will of course be of whatever help I can to you.  Understand that might undo her efforts, though."  He paused, his manner becoming a few degrees less coldly practical as his eyes met Cade's.

"It is not easy, to be betrayed or let down by one you should be able to trust.  I know you very much love your mother and sister, and look up to your father.  Perhaps this aspect of him - his human flaws - might, in the long run, help you understand him as more than an icon."  He contemplated the surface of his steaming cup, then nodded to Cade before turning back around.  "I hope so.  But if you do want my help, ask.  I don't have any skank hiker recipes, though."  He added with a twitch of his lips as he gazed out once more across the field.

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"No."  Marissa raised her hands.  "Noooooo."  She added a shake of her perfectly straight hair.  "Look, I will confront the Sheriff only on issues involving us as it relates to our, I do not even know, the right word-"

"Responsibility?"  Her brother offered.

"-yes.  We will use that.  Responsibility, Cade, sweetie, I can't, or more to the point, do not want to get involved in your family's business.  This is a family thing, it is not for us to get involved," as her boyfriend gave her a rather unpleasant look, she added.  "Now, if we find the Dark is somehow involved, then, yes, I think it proper we all help, but as it stands, do you, or your mother or Haruka, really want all of us knowing all the dirty laundry you have hanging on the line?  These things can get messy, I think you need to handle this as a family and we need to be here to support you as friends.  I don't speak for everyone, only me.  I will be here for you, don't worry."  She forced a consoling smile through clinched, maroon lips and rubbed his back sympathetically.

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Cade nodded.  and gave a quick recap to Charlie.  "I pretty sure my dad's having an affair, and otherwise acting somewhat out of character.  It could be Dark related,  though likely it it isn't.   It's put me in a foul mood, so I've been out of it this morning.  Everyone wanted to know why, So I just finished telling them."

He sighed "I understand, and Thanks everyone  for at least listening.  I don't expect you all to solve the problems going on with my family, but it feels good to have friends who I can at least talk to about this."  His gaze turned to Marissa, and he nodded.  I know you will be.  You're right though,  about airing all the dirty laundry.   Probably wasn't the best idea, but I don't plan to lying to y'all, and Dad did escalate things to Encompass  all of you.   I'll do my best to handle things in the family.  I'll only ask you guys to get involved again if I find something concrete that the Dark IS actually involved."

He seemed abit more relieved having finally said something to someone about it.  He turned his gaze to Cass.  "I'm done derailing things.  I'm sure you've got alot more pertinent things to share."  

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Cassandra winced sympathetically. "Kind of?" she admitted, "But I get that it might not sound like it to you. I'll help if I can, Cade. But...I feel like anything I do to help might really mess things up for your family. Exposing secrets and so on. I'll do it if you want, but definitely be careful."

She took a deep breath. "Anyway. I kinda wanted everyone to be here..."

And just then, her phone jingled at her. With an exasperated frown Cassandra took a look at it and saw a text from Autumn. "Oh...okay. Autumn says she's delayed and to start without her. Damn. All right, well...I'll fill her in when she makes it."

"So...two things happened to me. First, I had a chat with Mr Man In Black. It was pretty fucked up. Also, I spied on the old town hall and it was ALSO pretty fucked up, but in a different and honestly more fucked up way."

She paused, trying to organize her thoughts which were still bouncing around like particles at CERN, striking each other and fragmenting into subthoughtic fragments that peeled away in looping spirals.

"I'm just going to summarize everything before I get into it, because otherwise I feel like we'll never get to the bottom line."

Cassie held up a finger. "The Man In Black is some kind of alien or something, and he warned me not to go to Site B first, because if the Dark is still around when we do...whatever we'll wind up doing there...the Dark will feed on it and it'll be pretty much game over."

She ticked the finger off, then raised the next. "Someone's living at the old town hall, and from what the Man in Black said, it's almost definitely Cody. The Dark has him. He has a bunch of animals strung up from the ceiling and drew a freaky picture of a guy with antlers or branches or something on his head. And the Dark is STRONG there. I couldn't stick around when I was in the heart of it, where Cody's...lair, I guess...was. Like static in my brain, fuzzing everything out. But according to the MiB, we have to stop the Dark before we do much else."

"The thing is that the Dark isn't in the town hall. That's just where it's...closest, kind of. I think we have to actually travel into the dark world from that spot, but we'd be going blind, because I can't see across there." Now Cassandra looked at Devin. "Not without help."

"There's more, a lot more, but it's all kind of scattered. Those are the main points. So..." She closed her eyes, steeling herself. "Questions?"

Edited by Cassandra Allen
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"Blondie, I can help you extend your senses," Devin shrugged.  He began to recall the time he was hunted when the Dark pulled him through the caul that separated Earth from the Shadow Worlds.  He appeared visibly worried.  "But getting us there?  That's a cross-dimensional jaunt, sweet-thing.  Just rescuing Etienne about wore me out and that was getting us there.  Across a whole dimensional threshold... I've never done that.  I don't even think I can."

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Sean stiffened at the mention of Site B, his hands balling into fists inside the front pockets of his hoodie. He had an idea or three on how they might be able to get to the Other Side, but glanced away, not wanting the others to see what Site B meant for him, what not going there might portend for him, and his eyes fell on Kat. She was sitting in her own bubble, half-listening, half-elsewhere, her open lunch-box on her thighs. It didn't matter how tired or lost she could seem to be, Sean remained impressed by the speed at which Kat ate her food. It was like it disappeared before his very eyes.

He sidled a little closer to her, shifting his hips on the bleacher bench. "Are you okay, Kat?" he asked, keeping his lovely voice low so he didn't interrupt the others. "I know this must be a lot to deal with, and it's not fair you have to in so short of time. We at least got more than two or three days. Is it all this?" Sean nodded towards Cass. "Or something else?"

Kat shook her head at the sound of Sean's voice, running away from the dark thought she had been mulling over. She looked at the strange boy sitting next to her. Her... friend. Yeah, she definitely liked him. He was nice to her. "Yesterday, I almost got ran over by a car." Sean's weird turquoise-and-jade eyes widened and he gave the slight girl a quick once over, at though looking for obvious injuries he might have unaccountably missed. "He didn't hit you though? Bastard was probably texting. Where was this? When? I can look to see if anything was caught on camera so you can report the asshole."

Surprise painted on her features, Kat raised her hands. She did not expect her friend's reaction to be so vehement. "Wow, peace. T'was my fault. I was gone shopping with Tessa, and on the way back to the car... uh..." She rubbed the back of her head, trying to find the words. "The world turned... darker ? And there were all these shiny balls and I could feel how they felt. Scared the hell out of me... I don't know how, but I think I've been on the road, then ended up in another street, and then Tess found me-" The more she spoke, the more her voice cracked, as if she was living the experience yet another time. Tears started filling up in her eyes, uncertain of when to begin their course on her cheeks.

Sean hesitated for a moment. He, personally, was quite reserved with being touched, fully aware it was due to his own self-consciousness, and still struggling to overcome it. Other people were different. Tentatively, he reached out to cover one of her tiny hands with one of his, giving it a slight squeeze.

"It's... um, it's fine. It's okay. Tess found you." Who's Tess? "And you're here now. Sounds like you turned on Psion-vision without meaning to or expecting it."

"Psion-vision?" Kat rasped, trying to choke back the incipient tears.

"Psion-vision." Sean nodded affirmatively, then shrugged one shoulder. "Okay, it's not vision precisely, but usually it's the sense that comes closest. As far as we can tell, everyone with power like us can... sense certain phenomena, which overlays our usual senses."

Sean's voice was still low, but it was smooth. There was a rhythmic cadence to it, as though he was he was giving a verbal presentation, or setting the scene as Game Master, giving Kat something academic to latch onto, to distract from her emotional distress.

"Jase can extend his tactile sense at range, Autumn can sense all manner of things about your level of health and your biochemistry. And I can 'see' all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum and 'see' - sometimes 'feel' might be more accurate - the electrical impulses in someone's brain and nervous system."

He gave her a commiserating smile and squeezed her hand again. "If I was still figuring things out and suddenly saw all these fireflies buzzing about or streams of light flowing around inside people - or feeling what those shiny balls were feeling in your case - I know I would be royally confused and discombobulated. Don't blame yourself, Kat. Just learn from it, so next time it doesn't surprise you. As much."

Kat nodded silently, pulling out a kleenex to dry out the tearlings, her breath returning to a calmer pace. It felt good to talk about it. To confide in someone. "I just feel so... weak and useless... I don't even know what I'm doing here..." Her voice carried the weight of her contempt towards her own cracks.

Spoiler

plenty of help from Sean here !

 

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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"Okay, well, those two obviously have nothing to add and/or offer," Marissa said simply, leaving the two girls to continue their talk or lesson, or whatever it was.  "So, this MiB guy, he's like, on our side or something?  I haven't seen him yet, and if we have to take on the Dark on its own turf,  how do we do that?  Do we have to drop Cody and the Dark at the same time between worlds or, just handle Cody?"  She rubbed the bridge of her nose.  "This is all so confusing.  Why won't bad people just die when they see us coming?  It would make this a whole lot easier."

"Plus we still need to tackle the school play and Homecoming,"  she threw up her hands they drooped to her knees with a slap.  "Guys we need to save the town, like, chop-chop.  Evil is not going to interfere with my homecoming.  I have the the perfect outfit planned out, I just need to get shoes, it's so on point.  So, come on, how are we dealing with this?"

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"Devin has slipped into the Dark's realm, let's call it, before.  By accident, no less."  Jason noted quietly, turning in his seat once more and gesturing towards Devin's right wrist where he wore the strange coppery bracelet he'd been given - or LoJacked with - by a mysterious Someone on the other side.  "Four of us were sucked into the Dark's realm last Friday.  Since Devin got his mysterious gift on Monday, though, the Dark has had to come to us."  He let that sit for a moment.

"O-kay."  Marissa said slowly, eyes narrowing at him in silent warning that he'd better damned well continue.

"On both occasions where one or more of us was pulled over, Devin was the common factor.  Uniquely amongst us his gift is spatial distortion - it's possible to assume that his mere presence in a place without that bracelet - which doesn't seem to weaken his power so therefore can be assumed to be a dimensional anchor of some kind - thins the wall between our world and the Dark's reflection of it, at least enough that the Dark can somehow reach over and pull him and anyone near him through.  Perhaps enough that, when linked with Cassandra, the pair of them can find the way there as easily as he can find the way to his house - if he removes the bracelet."

"There's a lot of assume and perhaps there."  Charlie noted, none too happily.  Jason shrugged, nodding agreement.

"There is.  But we're in unknown territory, having only our observations to go on plus whatever hints Mr Black might have given Cassie."  He fixed his gaze on the blonde reporter.  "So what exactly did he say?"

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"Th-there has to be a way to bring The Dark to us," Devin interjected.  "Like Jase just said: it's had to come to us recently.  S-so, we make it do that and we defeat it."  Devin's cheeks paled as his forehead began to glisten.  The Fellowship were witnessing something they had never seen from the adrenaline fueled daredevil in the three years he'd tormented them: fear.  They weren't hunted alone and powerless by the monsters and mutations that stalked the The Thunder.  He had.  Only through sheer luck was he able to make it back safely and the attempt nearly killed him.

"E-even if I could get us there," he shot a look at Jason.  "Which I can't.  I wouldn't.  You haven't seen the other side.  You haven't been there, not like I have."  He shook his head softly from side to side while eyes seemed to lock on a vacant point in space that held his vile memories of that dark and twisted place.  He shook his head again.  "I could barely look after myself there, I can't be resposible for all of you.  I can't deliver that news.  No.  No," A vigorous head shake informed them that the frightened teen's mind was made up.  "We find another way.  There has to be another way."

Edited by Dave ST

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There were a dozen counterarguments that pinged around in Cassie's head to refute what Devin was saying, but...she knew as soon as they occurred to her that none of them were what needed to be said right then. Devin was sitting right next to her, so Cassandra turned where she sat to face him, then looped her arms around his shoulders and nestled her head against his on his shoulder.

"It's going to be okay," she said as she hugged him. "What happened before isn't going to be what happens again. I promise."

There was more to say, more to tell, but there was also time to offer a friend a little comfort. This couldn't be all doom and gloom, or else...well it just couldn't be.

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Posted (edited)

Sean shot Marissa a scowl. He'd was trying to put Kat at ease, at least he wasn't talking about something as inane in the grand scheme of things, as bloody Homecoming and the school play. Okay, that might be a little unfair. He understood the value of holding onto normal things, mundane things, in a world that had gone as topsy-turvy and downright scary as theirs had become. And if he didn't care as much about Homecoming or the school play as others, well, he had been working on his video an awful lot lately.

He wanted something to leave behind in case he didn't make it through all this, something more than just memories. He knew it for a grandiose sentiment, especially when he didn't really believe he would die... At least, not from the Dark. That at least would be a... better death, to go down fighting, rather than falling apart. Probably would hurt a lot more, be a lot more messy. Either way, it was game over, man.

Souring his own mood, the intersexed young man's brows rose in surprise at Devin, and Cass trying to console, to comfort, him. Devin was many, many things, but never unsure, never afraid. Or at least, if he ever was, he never let anyone see it. He was now, and it made Sean feel awkward. Devin had been trying to change, was changing, but Sean couldn't forget all the bullying at his hands, even as he made his own concerted effort to get over it, to leave it behind.

"It's dangerous to go alone," Sean said with surprisingly resolute firmness, quoting one of his favourite video game series, "... so this time, you won't. I don't have a sword to give you - I can manipulate photons, but haven't worked out the details for a lightsaber. Yet." A brief grin danced across the delicate boy's face. "But I'll go with you, as will Jase, and Cass, all of us. We'll be the sword and cut the Dark to pieces."

Sean spoke with a forthrightness, a declarative authority his friends rarely heard unless he was DMing, or talking about computers or video games. Jason arched a brow and Sean shrugged a shoulder.

"I was going to add some junk about 'safeguarding the realms of men' and 'bringing light to the darkness', but it seemed a bit much, y'know, a little cliched." Sean's smiled faded as he grew more serious. "As for getting to the Other Side, there might be another way to get there, or help with the transition. Your particular voodoo might make you vulnerable, Devin."

Sean pointed at the copper-looking dimensional anchor about his wrist. "But the only other time some of us were yoinked over there, was at the Trailer. If the Dark can - or could - pull us over anywhere, why there? I've been studying the weird-as-fuck-radio from there, and so far, all I can tell is that has ridiculously long range, and can apparently receive and transmit on just about any frequency. And the trailer, it has a Faraday Cage, or something akin to it, and from what Cook said, it belonged to Kline. The same Kline with deep access to Site B, where they were doing something big, and the Dark whammied them. My thought it, the Dark sent a signal, the radio picked it up, and interacting with what we took for a faraday cage, pulled a smaller version, or a slightly different version of what it pulled at the hospital. If we can figure it out, figure out the right signal, we might be able to do that ourselves, open our own door to the Dark. Or, at minimum, make it easier for you, Devin, give you a previously travelled path to follow."

Sean panned his odd eyes around the group, his friends, and potential friends, given time and opportunity. "We have someone who can go anywhere, someone who can see anywhere, someone who can be just about anything. One who can manipulate kinetic energy and the movement of molecules, one who can manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum and pretty much anything that uses electricity, and one who can manipulate life itself. And now, someone we don't even know what they can do yet."

Sean made a small gesture as though poking at something with something small and pointy held between his thumb and forefinger. "Boop! Why shouldn't we be able to poke a hole in the membrane of reality? We've been doing the impossible for weeks, now."

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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Shit, shit, shit, Autumn swore silently, her sneakers pounding on the shockingly pristine tile of the hallway that had been the scene of such brutal violence just two days before. Thankfully, it was mostly devoid of traffic, although the sight of the energetic redhead flying through the halls as if it were a matter of life and death did raise a few eyebrows, and a fair number of the students who caught a glimpse of her quickly took to social media to see if some fresh drama was unfolding. With her gym clothes bunched up in one fist and still-wet hair twisted up into an increasingly precarious knot, the girl was clearly in a hurry to get somewhere.

Of course we had our fucking fitness test today. Obviously.

And, obviously, the meeting was during lunch. And obviously down at the bleachers. And obviously she was going to be late.

Again.

“No running in the halls!” a male voice shouted behind her as she passed an open doorway- one of the custodians, maybe? A teacher? There was no way to know for certain, and she sure as hell wasn’t stopping to check; whoever it was could follow her to her locker if they were that worried about it.

“Sorry!” she called back breathlessly, the soles of her shoes chirping on the freshly-waxed floor as she rounded a corner. Darting around a pair of students slowly meandering in the direction of the cafeteria, Autumn made apologetic noises in response to their cries of startled indignation and kept moving. She wasn’t sure how long it would take everyone to gather, but in the time it had taken her to shower, change, and get back up to the main building… Uggghhhh. Apparently, the universe still had it out for her. Nobody else in the group had P.E. for third period, which meant they could just grab lunch and go straight down to the field. Couple of minutes through the line, tops, even if it was busy- and some of them, she knew, brought their own. By the time she broke stride and came to a skittering stop in front of her locker, the red-haired teen was pretty much over “Thursday” as a concept. With mounting frustration, she fumbled unsuccessfully with the lock, cursing between breaths as she tried the combination again- more slowly this time- and finally threw open the door. Mother fucker, why was everything harder when you were in a hurry?

Heart hammering against the inside of her ribs, Autumn shoved her gym clothes into her bag and paused, pressing her forehead briefly to the door frame. She sagged there against the locker for the span of several ragged breaths, savoring the feel of the cool metal on her brow before fishing her phone out to text Cassandra; at least she could let everyone know she was actually coming.  

[Sorry! Running late. Literally. BRT. 🙏 ]

It wasn’t exactly the height of wit, but she grinned, nevertheless, and tapped the screen to send the message zipping off to its intended recipient faster than she could get there herself.

“Okay,” the redhead sighed a moment later, reaching into her lunch bag to grab a pack of cashews and a bottle of chocolate milk. “Round two. ...Fuck me,” she groaned softly.

It took a couple of minutes to get back down to the field, dodging students and faculty and making more sounds of apology that weren't, exactly. Most of the gathered teens could hear her before they saw her, the sound of rapid footfalls and breathless cries growing louder and clearer with her approach: “I‘m here! … I’m here! … Sorry! … I’m here!” And then, just as Sean booped, Autumn bounded up the bleachers, thigh muscles shrieking in furious protest as she ran up to meet the assembled group. “...here! Oh, god,” she gasped with the intensity of one dying, collapsing bodily onto one of the bench seats and lying there outstretched, heedless of emotional circumstance or physical proximity. The warm solidity of the metal beneath her was reassuring in its immobility as her chest heaved, lungs and legs burning; she could feel that same heat in her face, freckled cheeks flushed scarlet with exertion. "Hey," she managed as the deafening thrum of blood in her ears slowly faded into the background, grinning weakly as the dramatic tension of the moment she'd interrupted finally registered. "Did I miss anything?"

 

Edited by Autumn Keane

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"Just my brother freaking out and Cass not even waiting for Lona's body to get cold before she moves it," Marissa said dismissively to her bestie as she was in the middle of a some social media update on her phone.  She smiled at the soulless ginger who was currently adding breathless to it as well and patted the seat in front her for Autumn to have a seat.  Devin raised a middle finger to her face which she batted aside with a sisterly smirk.

Devin, rubbed Cass's leg gently and while that may have seemed like a typical, cringe-worthy Devin moment it didn't seem to 'feel' like one of typical flirtations or unwanted advances.  His touch was soft and seemed more a gesture of appreciation than his typical shenanigans.  Whomever this was, he didn't seem like Devin at all.  "Thanks, Blondie, but, we don't know that for sure."

"You're not getting it Cassidy.  This isn't a game so quit the lightsabers and stupid fucking game jokes."  The stressed out Devin baring teeth at Sean was the Devin the ginger electrokinietic remembered, that terrifying, angry bully that used to hurt him for fun.  Sean stepped down row of bleachers out of a habitual desire for self-preservation as his old tormentor continued.  "What will it take for you to get it through your damn head that isn't a joke?  I can't wear shorts because of what one of those things did to my leg!  I still wake up barely able breathe when the shadows in my room shift.  Let one hunt you.  Let one almost devour a part of you and see if your in the mood for 'hee-hee' and 'haw-haws' about video games and lightsabers.  This shit is real.  In The Thunder, they're more powerful.  It's their home turf.  They heal faster, move faster, and there are more of them and more that just keep coming.  How many photons do you have for that?  The radio didn't work so well last time Sean, because it stranded us there, and all of us could barely handle one of those things!  ONE!"  He extended his index finger up into Sean's face to punctuate his point.

"I'm not refuting the need to destroy battle the Dark, but... no," he shook his head.  "You guys aren't ready for that place.  This is still all a game to you.  Cassie and I should run the recon first, maybe we can locate something you eggheads can work with.  A means of pulling the Dark through to us, fighting on our terms, on our turf."

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"Devin's right about one thing," Cassandra agreed. "We definitely aren't ready yet. And we'll definitely need to try to look across."

"But I don't think the Dark can come here. And I think we want to keep it that way. Like, I really think we want to keep it that way."

"This isn't something we have to do tomorrow, or even next week. We'll need to prepare, and we'll need to know what we're getting into. But the Dark is more like a tree than a person. What came over to attack us wasn't it...it was just, branches, reaching through. We can break those off all day long, and it won't kill it."

"We have to go after the roots. Cut the whole thing down."

Cass gave Autumn an apologetic smile. "So, I talked to the scary Man in Black, and it turns out he's some kind of super-alien or something, and he told me Site B has some kind of...thing that we'll release when we go there, and if the Dark is still alive when that happens...it'll be able to break into our world and that will pretty much be..." She blew a raspberry and spread her fingers in an 'explody' gesture.

"Basically, our whole planet is kind of...shielded, sort of? Blocked off, to keep us from developing the Shine. This thing they have at Site B 'hit' us from outside the shield, weakening it. The Dark is taking advantage of that weak spot. But this thing is basically RADIATING Shine. That's why people in Shelly keep developing these powers. The whole project Cook is part of, they've been messing around, trying to control how and why and when it happens, but it started WAY before they came along. The Man in Black said HE'D been manipulating people to have kids with Shine for ages."

"The Dark 'eats' Shine though. He called it a parasite. If that thing at Site B opens, or is broken, then it can get strong enough to rip the shield open and spill into this world all the way."

She shakes her head. "That can't happen. If it does, then it's too late. That's what he said anyway."

Edited by Cassandra Allen

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Jason listened in silence as Devin protested the idea of taking the fight to their enemy, a faint narrowing of his eyes the only clue that he found the brash young man's reticence odd.  This was Devin, who seemed to live for thumbing his nose not just at social convention but also danger.  He seemed... afraid.  An observation backed by the fact that Cassandra obviously picked up on it too, and was hugging him - not sexually, at least Jason didn't think so due to context, but for comfort and reassurance.  Much as Autumn had hugged him on Monday, a lance that had let out the emotional turmoil he'd been experiencing that day, only it didn't seem to comfort Devin quite to the same extent.

The observation of his friend's fear concerned Jason.  Devin openly willing to not just admit fear but also to allow it to inhibit good tactical sense was a problem - as well as a shifting of the foundations on which the group stood.  To strike at the heart of the Dark was sound, especially with the force they could bring to bear now, and for one of the driving personalities of the team to lose their nerve could send the whole into a panic.  Also, Devin didn't seem like Devin when he was like this.  He had trouble sleeping?  Why?  He had survived, and fought the Dark's pawns hand to hand, and snatched people from the literal jaws of death.  It was Jason's first exposure to severe fear-induced emotional trauma in a person he cared about.  His father had spent years in sorrow and drunkenness over the ruination of his life and abandonment from the woman he loved, but Jason had rationalised that as being Gar's sense of being a failure, however unjustified.  Devin... had not failed anyone, including himself.

It was puzzling.  And troubling.

Then Cassandra answered his question, and Jason was left with more questions.  A super-alien?  Was the Man in Black a Teulu?  Would his mother know if another was here?  But Mr Black was old, and had been walking the Earth for centuries if the Aeon Society were to be trusted.  Jason didn't get confused, as such, but he felt the flapping ends of un-whole threads of inquiry writhing and whipping to and fro in his thoughts.  Puzzles and questions and riddles, and he felt like he was getting a second-hand account of a third-hand account.

Why can't people ever take words at their defined meaning?  Exact:  meaning 'without approximation; precise to the detail'. he mused silently.  Silently, because the meeting was already overly emotional and didn't need his particular brand of frustration added to it.  Plus no good was ever served by impatience.  And finally because he liked Cassandra, generally.  So he counted backwards from ten - in Greek - before speaking.

"Drawing the Dark into our world is a no-no."  he gestured towards Cassie, then indicated Devin.  "But we're also not ready - I agree somewhat there.  We need more information, and more training, and to learn better not just what we're individually capable of but what we can accomplish in teams.  We did well on the Crossroad's raid - accomplished our objective without any deaths and even rescued some other prisoners.  That was, it's safe to surmise, easy compared to going into the Dark's realm to fight it.  We won't have Sean stifling communication or surveillance by our enemy there.  So when we go through, we have to be right on top of whatever we are there to strike at."

"Which is probably the Old Town Hall, based one what I felt." Cassandra said firmly.  Jason nodded, then shrugged.

"I have no reason not to trust your abilities.  Did the Man in Black say if there was a way to beat this parasite?"  His eyes narrowed as he recalled what Mr Black had said to him in the hospital.  "He told me we had to find Cody.  He seemed very insistent about it.  I doubt he cares much about one teenage boy in the grand scheme of his plans - unless Cody is important somehow."  He hesitated, then asked with poorly disguised interest.  "And did he say what kind of alien he was?  Where he was from, or anything like that?"

Edited by GDP_ST

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Kat didn't mind Marissa's snarky comment, silently agreeing with the fact that, yes, her own whining at how unfair her life was brought nothing substantial to the topic at hand. She timidly waved at Autumn - while the freckled redhead tried to catch her breath, her legs welcoming the rest their owner was giving them - then got back to listening what was being said, closing the empty lunch-box on her thighs and stuffing it back inside her backpack. She still didn't quite understand what was the group's dynamic, but then, she mostly spent her time with a single one of them, which didn't help her knowing the others better.

What kind of alien ? That's an odd question to ask, she thought. From what she understood, the only link between the Man in Black and the Dark was their enmity towards each other, so the Man in Black would definitely not be an agent from the Dark. Jason's question raised more of them in the mind of the petite redhead. Were there different kind of aliens ? What was the reason behind this sudden interest in extraterrestrial beings ?

The slender teen kept mum, still feeling quite like the outsider in this meeting.

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"So," Marissa shrugged. "We find Cody.  How hard can this be?"  She said it like it was just a simple matter of looking him up in the Dark Pages under 'recently taken hostages'.  "Can you find him Deej?  You located Tawny easily enough."

Her brother shook his head. "Tawny's different, we're close.  Cody and I were never really friends, we hung out, sure, but I can't say I really liked the guy.  All I know about the guy is that he wanted to swiggity your swooty."

"Classy, and not helpful.  I mean come on, what guy does not want to swiggy this swooty?" His sister smirked and leaned past Devin and looked to Cass, who had moved on from hugging Devin in a comforting manner.  "Cass?  You can find anything, right?  Except a date for Homecoming it seems, is he beeping on your radar at all?"  Autumn suppressed a smile, mildly amused that, once again, her 'bestie' had managed to speak without realizing the way her phrasing and delivery once again brought her reputation for being Shelly's Queen Bitch back to the surface.  "We find him, throw him in a sack, and give him to the project people.  They have scientists and stuff, we will let them deal with him."

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Cade had been listening, enough to know Devin really didn't want to go back to that other world, that they weren't ready to face the Dark yet, and that they had to be careful how they proceeded from here on out.   "Are we sure giving Cody to the Project would actually help? We have to do something, but it seems the consensus is that we're just not ready.   Okay, we agree, so how do we get ourselves ready, Another series of training days?  I'm down for that, but How do we even know this is the limits of what we can do?   It might be good to set up some more challenging situations, and see what we can do under pressure." 

Of course the raid of on the Prison was one thing, and it was stressful in many ways, but it hadn't really seemed to bring out anything they'd not already possessed.  

"Cass and Devin can do some recon, so we know where to go and what to expect when we're there."

He let out a sigh.  "So to make sure I'm following along, We have to deal with Cody and the Dark before we go to Site B, because if we don't our presence will somehow activate something that will Allow the Dark into our world at full power, at which point it will be Game Over for everyone."

He shrugged.  "If that's right, then at least we have the order down."

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As Autumn slid over to sit in front of her first new friend in recent memory, she took stock of who else was present, offering the petite French newcomer a quick smile and the busty girl clinging to Charlie a slightly more reserved nod. As usual when the group was all in the same place, there seemed to be a lot of yelling and finger-pointing, neither of which justified the effort she'd put in to get there quickly.

Jesus fuck, she sighed mentally, cracking the seal on her drink and munching on a handful of cashews as the Devin-drama died down. I should have just walked.

With surprising gentleness, Marissa combed through the heavy mass of Autumn's still-wet hair, the weight of the water stretching the normally riotous curls into obedient waves. Even as she tsked the girl's casual disregard for blow-dryers, flat irons, and styling products, a subtle difference in the texture of the strands proved she was, at least, heeding the fashionista's advice about proper conditioning since the sleepover. For her part, the redhead sat quietly throughout the process, drinking her well-shaken chocolate milk and watching the others through heavy-lidded eyes as Mari plaited her copper hair- uncomplaining as it dripped down between her shoulder blades, or even when the more stylish Jauntsen twin tugged firmly enough in securing a section of the neat French braid that it pulled her head back slightly. There was something unaccountably relaxing about the whole thing- whether it was the familiarity of the ritual or the repetitive nature of the movement or something else entirely- that, under other circumstances, would probably have put the Girl Scout right to sleep.

Unfortunately, that wasn't an option as Cassie's revelations about Site B and Mr. Tall, Dark, and Sinister inspired plenty of conversation, but very little in the way of actual decision-making. Jase's asking about the specific type of alien the Man in Black was earned him a curious look- how many kinds were there, and exactly how well-versed was he on the subject that it was relevant?- and Marissa's suggestion got a nod from her less-affluent friend/victim.

"Honestly," she chimed in when Cade finished speaking, "I'm kind of over this whole 'not being ready' thing. I mean, I get wanting to make plans, but if you wait until you're comfortable to do something, it's probably never gonna get done. Just fucking do it. Waiting around to feel good about ourselves is giving time to the Dark. We were supposed to find Cody anyway... That was the whole reason we skipped on Friday in the first place.  So, we find him." She shrugged, replacing the cap on the now-empty plastic bottle and leaning forward as Marissa finished weaving the ends of her hair together. "Either, like you said, Devin and Cass track him down, or whoever, but we find him. I'm not doing some movie montage where we train while whatever it is that wants to kill us gets more chances to do that."

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"Right, so...Cody," Cassandra said, louder than her usual speaking voice to try to recapture everyone's attention. "That's the other thing. He's gone. Like...the Man basically said that he was part person, part spirit that served the Dark now. And from what I saw in the Old Town Hall, I am inclined to believe it. More importantly though, according to the Man...the whole reason he even looked me up was that this 'spirit' from the Dark is frantic now. Desperate to, uh..." she cleared her throat. "Kill us. And he thinks it's going to do something extreme, soon. He wasn't more specific than that."

"So if we don't find him, he'll definitely find us. And we won't like how that goes."

Cass took a deep breath. "As for the kind of alien, so...he really really didn't want to talk about himself. A lot of this is me reading between the lines. So...take that for what it's worth. Here's a pieced-together version of this kind of deep history that he told me."

"Way a long time ago, no real idea HOW long, but a LONG time...there were beings that put some kind of barrier or shield around Earth to stop human beings from developing these powers, this Shine. The Man said this was out of fear, and that he didn't agree with it. Which implies to ME that he's on at least equal footing as them. Flash forwards to merely recent prehistory, and something which he wouldn't tell me anything specific about, 'hit' this barrier from outside and sort of...embedded itself in it. Like a bullet getting stuck in a cinderblock. It didn't punch all the way through, but it made a weak point. Like, a thin spot. All I know about this thing is that it's old, and it radiates a LOT of Shine. The Man in Black said that when he meddled with human beings around Shelly to try to get them to produce people with the Shine, that the 'others' would be really mad about it. He also said that they will be REALLY upset when we go to Site B and find this thing and learn the 'whole story.' So these aliens seem to be basically immortal, and have some kind of powers that I honestly can barely even imagine, and are very concerned about us having powers. No idea how many there are, or if there's others that are like the Man in Black and don't agree with the whole 'containment' thing they're doing to us."

She looked around at everyone. "I know that's not much to go on. I did try to press him, but he wasn't biting. I also asked him how to beat the Dark, but he said that was...my job to figure out. He kept calling me the Eyes. He went to some trouble to explain that what he could do was really limited. I got the sense that wasn't just about what he can DO but also about what he can tell us."

After a second of reflective silence, Cassie added, "And I know there's something important he's leaving out. I pushed him over and over again about what he wants out of this, but he never directly answered me. He definitely wants us to kill the Dark, but he wouldn't say why. I feel like it's related to him being limited though. All he'd tell me is that he likes to upset the status quo. He was implying that he does it for its own sake, but I don't know if I believe that."

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Posted (edited)

"Okay," the athletic redhead conceded as the journalist shared the final results of her interview, swinging her legs over the bench as she spun around to face Cassandra and the Jauntsens. "So, yeah. That's... a lot to process, and you're right, it's probably important. ...But let's maybe worry about the whole thing with aliens and Mr. Black after we settle this situation with Cody, or we're gonna just keep going in circles. You said Cody was 'gone.' What do you mean, exactly?" Leaning forward, she braced her hands on the metal on either side of her hips. They only had their lunch hour for the meeting, and she was reluctant to spend too much time on information that wasn't immediately relevant- Jason and Sean had plenty of brainpower to process the details of motivations and connections anyway. Besides- she had mysteries enough on her mind that she wasn't eager to take on another. "Like, he's not in the building anymore? Disappeared? Dead? A lost cause?"

"Also, you are 'the Eyes,'" Autumn continued, her expression thoughtful as she remembered how Cassie had traced the source of the wrongness at the medical center. "You're the one who could see the Dark on Tuesday, where it was hiding in the Old Town Hall, and where it had spread over Shelly. You're the one who could see what happened to Etienne in Cook's office, and how many of those... whatever-the-hell-they-weres were in the hospital. I don't know if it's supposed to mean more than that," she added, crumpling up the empty cashew packet and shoving it in her pocket, "but that's kind of what you're good at- seeing things the rest of us can't. Makes sense to me," the redhead smiled up at the resident authority on pluck, blue eyes bright in the afternoon sun.

Priorities, she reminded herself. Focus on what you can actually do.

"So. Cody," she repeated, getting herself back on track and trying not to sound too impatient in the face of the reality that they were under threat. "Where is he, how do we get to him, what do we do when we find him?"

Edited by Autumn Keane

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Cassandra grinned at Autumn as the redhead mused on the 'eyes,' but her smile was short lived as business was returned to.

"By gone, I meant that...it seems like he's possessed. Or something like that. At least according to the Man in Black. He's not Cody anymore. At least not enough of him to think of him as still being...him."

She took a deep breath.

"I've seen where he lives now though. I can find him. It may take a few tries, but I'm pretty sure I can. He's going to be thick with the Dark. That sticks out. As for what to do with him?" Cassie shakes her head. "I'm not sure. But he's way too dangerous to not do anything with. I don't know if we can undo what the Dark did to him."

"Regardless, we have to catch him first."

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"And that means we need to find him."  Jason said quietly.  Cassie looked at him, then at the others, nodding as she bit her lip in both thought and trepidation.  Using her gift wasn't just like watching something on TV.  She got sensory impressions, feelings, as with the Old Town Hall.  And given what the Man In Black had hinted about with Cody, she really wasn't looking forward to this.  But... she was the 'Eyes.  

Grreeeaat.  Yay me.

She settled herself against the back of the seat, leaning slightly against Devin as well.  "If I jerk or something, don't drop me, okay?" she told him with a smile.  He nodded, smiling back through the shadow of fear that still haunted his eyes.  Cassie took a last look at the others, who were all watching her bar Marissa, who appeared intent on her phone but shot Cassie a jaunty thumbs-up.  "Right."  the reporter said, and closed her eyes...

Shelly fell away below her feet, except she had no feet here.  There was a sensation of motion, but she wasn't the one moving: somehow the universe was, sliding like Google Maps when she used the mouse to scroll.  The stars stretched out, shining brilliantly against the backdrop of the cosmos, and it would be easy to get lost there so she focused:  Cody, or what was left of him.  And her field of vision narrowed, forming a tunnel through which she peered.  Dark shapes clustered around the tunnel's end, and with a sense of grisly horror Cassandra saw a floor made of bones, skulls, ribcages both human and non-human.  Somehow she knew that this was, geographically at least, the Old Town Hall, but now she was peering through to the other side.  The walls of the building were not there.  Just a plain of... bones, God knew how deep, some of them massive like the bones of dinosaurs or whales sticking up like rocky pillars in the Arizona desert.  Creatures lurked and slithered on this plain, monstrosities like the fish-creature-thing splashed in curdled crimson pools, far away chitinous horrors as least long as a Greyhound bus burrowed through the 'earth', chewing on dessicated bone and dried marrow.  But there was a spot where only one thing moved, and it was here that her focus was drawn.  

A man- no, a humanoid figure squatted on a pile of skulls and giant rib-bones that, Cassie realised, had been fashioned into a crude throne, the back of which was surmounted by a skull at least twice the size of a large man's.  From it sprouted a proud rack of antlers, yellow with age and pitted and blackened in spots as if succumbing to mold.  There was a sense of Something about the skull, something ancient and powerful and terrible, and Cassie avoided focusing too intently on it.  Something warned her that those empty eye sockets were not sightless or blind, and that the skull itself was far from a lifeless relic.

The figure on the throne was dressed in the bloodstained rags that had once been jeans and a letter jacket, and with a sick sense of recognition Cassandra marked the name of 'Cody Sikes' upon the breast.  He was muttering to himself, clawed fingers tugging at the antlers that grew from the sides of his head between the remnants of his stringy blond hair.  His face was lean and cadaverous, his eyes sunken and, in the darkly crimson light of this place, reddish in their hue.  Abruptly he stood and began to pace, and with a start Cassie realised that he had grown taller - much taller.  He was stooped, thin as a skeleton with the rags hanging off him, but he was easily eight feet in height even so.  His arms were spindly and lengthened, tipped with talons that scraped on the bony ground as he picked up what looked disturbingly like a child's arm bone, this one with some flesh still hanging in strands from it, and with a tongue as long as Cassie's forearm licked the rotten gobbets from the bone.

"Punish them.  Yes."  he muttered, pacing as he indulged whatever twisted appetites he'd come by in this place.  Cassie knew, as surely as she knew her name, that it must be this place - it must be the dreadful leering skull behind the throne that had changed Cody.  "All of them?  Must I punish all?"  he then asked no-one, before immediately snarling.  "Yes.  All.  Sluts and freaks and losers!  Weak!  Nature abhors weakness.  Hunt them!  Yes...  Yes..." his voice dropped to a croon as he turned to the throne and the skull.  "Feed the Tree.  Feed it.  And then I can go home as a king!"  The last was a cackling shriek as he cast the bloody arm bone from him.  "In time for Homecoming!  A king!  I shall be the king!"

He turned, falling to his skinny knees and with his arms raised in supplication and praise, and Cassandra turned, following his gaze, and beheld a great, dark heaving mass that towered into the red sky.  It was not unlike a great black tree, but immense beyond the mind's ability to comprehend, as though what she was seeing was just the tip of the iceberg.  It's surface rippled, pulsed obscenely, as 'branches' waved in an intangible breeze.  And she knew it was no tree at all.  This was the parasite, the Dark.  And though it was mindless, she felt it's rudimentary awareness of her, and felt it reaching out to her...

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During her trance, Cassandra's face was deeply troubled. Her brow furrowed, her lips tightly pressed together. She actually seemed to be holding her breath for a really long time, and suddenly let it all out in a explosive, "Ho shit!" as she opened her eyes and flailed around with her arms as she nearly fell over in her haste to 'get away.'  She managed to catch hold of Devin's shoulder though, and save herself further shame.

For a second she just sat there, breathing hard, then nodded as she assembled the surreal nightmare she'd seen into something that could be put into words.

"Okay, I found him. He's...on the other side. I saw where the Dark lives. Jesus. It's not a tree at all. It only looks like one from a distance. And Cody..."

Cassie shook her head. "He's...it's not just changing his mind. He looks like a monster now. Tall and...skinny with long arms and claws and...he's insane. Talking to himself, eating meat off a human bone insane."

Then she hesitates and adds, "But there was something else there with him. Everything was like bones. Just bones, everywhere. And he was sitting on a throne made of them. With a skull on top with deer horns on it. Human skull, only really big, with horns on it. And the skull..." Cassie thought about it. "The skull is what's doing it to him. Not the Dark, not directly. I think maybe the skull is something else. The Man talked about a spirit loyal to the Dark. That must be what it is."

"If we can destroy that, it might help Cody."

With that, Cassandra met each person's eyes. "We have to hurry though. Whatever he's planning, he was going on about being Homecoming King. It's going down in time for that."

She took a deep breath and covered her mouth with her hands as she slumped back a little.

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