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WEIRDER STUFF
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Weirder Stuff Episode VI: Rainbow Shadows

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Courtney smirked evilly as she checked her phone.  She was just skimming people's posts about the Carousel and the current days events.  People had already begun making it a photo montage from everyone's collective selfies and rando-pics.  The one she was eyeing evilly was the one of Jason Bannon cupping Autumn Keane's ass that was swiftly getting a variety of comments that ranged from the quizzical to the down right comedic.  Devin's new arm candy was raising a few issues among the 'fan girls' he had the school that wondered who the new girl was and why none of them knew her.  The rumor mill was a abuzz with the addition of Jacob and Tawny making it onto the Shelly scene as one of the least likely couples in the history of... well, everything.  Most of their comments were mean spirited jibes about Jacob trying to get under her bible belt.  Of course, Marissa and Cade made the list as well with a few snap shots of them walking about arm in arm and both lighting up the area with their 'power couple' smiles.

"Hey, bitch."

"S'up, ho." Courtney smirked as her eyes panned to the source of the rather unorthodox greeting.  She scooted her butt down a bit on the picnic table she was sitting on to make room for Marissa who promptly perched herself beside the redhead.  "You and Cade... looking good, and rumor has it you're joining the cheer squad?  Girl, we can practice routines together."

"I started that rumor," Marissa smirked mischievously.  Truth be told, she had the Shelly rumor mill in a chokehold and most information was vetted through her before it moved on to the high school water cooler.  "But there's truth in it.  Going to join tomorrow."

"Um, what about try outs?"  The lovely ginger pointed out, still scrolling through pics on her phone.

"Pfft," Shelly's Queen snorted.  "I taught you everything you know about gymnastics and no one the cheer squad can even do a half-assed head stand.  The splits does not a cheerleader make.  I'm make it in, trust me."

Courtney nodded.  "God knows we could use someone beside me who could do something more than the splits."  She laughed.  She held her phone up to share the screen with Marissa.  On it was a pic of Cade and Marissa, her arms draped around him and looking up, smiling, into the dazzling blues of his.  "Aw, you two are so cute."  She chided her partner in crime.

Marissa grunted, rolling her eyes.  "He's a means to an end, Courtney.  Don't make it out to be more than it is."

"I have a hundo that says he falls in love with you."  She chuckled.

"I'll take that bet.  He's not going to fall in love with me, we've talked, set the terms, he knows the deal.  Besides, I'm not wearing a yukata."

"What?"  Courtney looked to her, confused.

"Nothing," Marissa sighed, scrolling lazily on her phone down the same list of pics her 'friend' was scrolling through.  She crinkled her nose at the Devin and Ellie one, flipping over to the texts to read, finally, who this new girl was.  So... that was going to be a conversation for later.  "So... what do you know about Jacob?  Crocker."

"Nothing, really, except that he used to pull Autumn's hair and make her scream his name." her matte red lips bent into a dismissive frown.  "I don't really know him to be honest.  We've not talked since... Jesus... third grade maybe?"  She giggled as a memory resurfaced.  "See, I was taking care of our class hamster for the summer and I had no idea what to feed it, but we ran into him and and his dad at the Kroger so I asked him about hamsters and-"

"Yeah," Marissa cut her off.  "Don't care."  Marissa had little knowledge of who Courtney was before the Queen of Shelly had entered her life.  The younger, still privileged little girl that was Courtney Adams used to almost be sweet and endearing before she became a spiteful, mean, nymphomaniac telepathic.  They grow up so fast.  "So, what could you find out?"

"Why would I want to find out anything?  The guy hates me and I've no love for him."  She shrugged.

"No, Courtney."  Marissa set her phone down and pivoted to angle herself to look at the redhead directly.  "I don't mean talk to him.  So... I ask again... what could you find out?"

"Ohh," now she was interested.  The evil little redhead pivoted as well as her phone went to sleep in her lap.  "That.  Well, I'm not sure.  What exactly do you want to know, Em?"

Marissa's lips spiraled as her malicious grin could get no wider.  "Everything."

---==={}===---

"Hey there handsome," Cade's brunette date mock cat called him from the tree she was leaning against as the stout young man approached her.  "What's a girl have to do to take you home?"

"Feed me," Cade smiled.  "And tell me I'm pretty."

"That all?"  She pushed away from the tree and approached him, wrapping her arms around him as the tips of her feet elevated her high enough to kiss him.  The gentle glide of her tongue across his upper lip sent a erotic shiver down his spine.  "You are so easy.  You offer all the girls the same deal?"

"Nah." her faux-bae replied while his hands set to rest as the base of her back, the tips his fingers tracing gently across the top of her ass.  Her jeans were so thin and tight she may as well had been naked to his touch.  "Most girls I just give it up for free, but I know you have money and I'm always hungry."  Surprisingly Marissa laughed at that, stepping away from him and slugging him in the chest with all the force of a girl who'd never thrown a punch before.

"Ugh, I feel so used," she replied, mocking a combination of swooning and being aghast by his bravado.  "Fine," she took his hand.  "We'll do pretzels, but I expect you to put out."  They both laughed and moved once more through the crowds, stopping to meet others from school and even posing for a few pics and group selfies with people they knew.  Finally they walked alone and Marissa was daintily pulling apart a large pretzel with her manicured talons.

"So," she asked.  "What've you been up to since we parted?  Oh!  I ran into Courtney.  She thinks we looks totes adorbs together.  Whole school is talking about us."

Edited by Dave ST

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"Ladies."  Courtney's smile was wide as as she descended upon the Heaths like a wolf on the fold.  Or something like that, not that she cared.  She had a Task to complete, after all.  

Courtney would be the first to admit - though never out loud - that for all her intelligence and confidence she was a natural subservient, albeit selectively so.  At various points in her young adult life, one individual or another had filled the spot of the unattainable, non-sexual 'master' figure in her mind.  At first, it had been Dr Cook, who she'd never managed to seduce, and who otherwise gave her a free hand to misbehave as she saw fit, so long as she didn't endanger the Project.  During this time the Jauntsens had come to Shelly, and actively and smoothly taken over the social hierarchy of the school.  Courtney, though a year above them, had noted their rise and, oddly, had not been able to do anything about it.  Her telepathy gave her some insight into Marissa's moods and reactions, but Devin had always been a wild card, impossible to reliably read.  And, despite how it rankled, she freely admitted that the Twins were good at their role, and the sense of rivalry had been mixed with some grudging respect.

And then Cook had fallen, and in his falling he'd shown himself to not really care about Courtney at all, losing interest in his 'star' as soon as brighter, stronger psychic kids had emerged to study.  And like that, she'd been adrift.  No longer special, no longer belonging, no longer wanted...  And then Devin had said "You're one of us, too."  And Marissa had come to her for help with the creepy guy threatening her family.  And Bannon had shrugged and said sure, come out to the farm for training, and then offered to help her if she wanted.  And Kat had-  well, done a lot of things, but mostly just extended affection and sexy fun times, and asked Bannon for Courtney to be included, and kissed her and murmured...

But they couldn't all be her master figure.  Kat wasn't a dominant person, Bannon was, but had no emotional need for a subservient.  Which left the Twins.  Devin had no more need for people to do his bidding than Bannon did, but Marissa...  Marissa thrived on having flunkies, especially reliable, talented ones who made her look good.  And Courtney needed someone she could look up to who needed her in turn.

It occurred to her that although she'd repeatedly tried to read Devin's mind, she'd never really tried to read Marissa's beyond the emotional level.  Almost as though, even before they were frenemies or even friends, there was something about the gorgeous, imperious brunette that engendered respect from Courtney.  So when Marissa had once again come to her for help, the redhead had jumped at the chance to prove her worth.  Of course, she couldn't just yank out all of Jacob Crocker's deepest, darkest secrets.  It was almost impossibly painful for her to do such a deep dive into someone's conscious and subconscious, and shameful or embarrassing secrets were usually well-hidden in a person's psyche so even they wouldn't have to look at them.

So she would have to work around the edges.  Talk to people who knew Jacob, who moved in similar circles.  Maneuver the conversation around to the handsome young man, then lightly skim and draw out such secrets as she could.  The Heaths were a good starting point.  Strong local roots, big into sports and community activities like Crocker was.  And not actually hostile to Courtney, which helped.  A few facts were gleaned, though nothing particularly damning presented itself, the strangely-identical cousins eager to gossip about Jacob apparently dating Tawny as part of the overall gossip about love and life in Shelly High.  Of course, there was also Lori and Lacy's somewhat mournful individual yearnings for Bannon for Courtney to privately experience some schadenfreude over.  There was a sense of smug superiority for her in knowing what she knew about their 'boy next door' fantasy.  To Courtney, who divided the world between 'special' and 'ordinary' people, Bannon was way out of the Heath's league, even if they presented themselves as a package deal.  Autumn, for all her flannel-wearing, bristle-legged homeliness, was 'special', and for some reason Courtney was still bafflingly unsure of was able to draw out gentle warmth and almost volcanic passion from the cold-eyed young genius.

Drifting on from Lacy and Lori, and mulling over what little she'd learned and where to go next, Courtney pulled out her phone and checked what new scandals were presenting themselves on Shelly's social media bubble.

*  *  *  *  *

Hannah yanked her overnight bag out of the trunk and, slamming the lid down and locking the car, stalked to the front door.  Relief with finally being home was mingled with intense irritation at her son's radio-silence.  Though she was broadly tolerant of teens being teens, and dearly loved Charlie, the fact that he hadn't answered a single text or call over the last day and a half was both worrying and frustrating.  Okay, fine, he had a new girlfriend and Labor Day Weekend was a big deal for him and his friends, but god knows it wouldn't take more than a minute of the boy's time to pick up the phone and say that, yes, everything was fine and no, the house hadn't burned down.

Which, she was relieved to note, it hadn't.  The blinds were drawn, though, which meant that Charlie likely had just gotten up and gone out without properly taking care of things.  Great.  Probably a pile of dishes in the sink and towels next to the washer, too.  Or else the blinds were drawn for privacy and he was up to no good with Sophia-

"I'm home!" she called out as she opened the door and, turning, plopped her suitcase down by the coatrack.  Her nose wrinkled - there was a stink like the garbage hadn't been taken out, or perhaps a drain had backed up.  The house was silent and dark, and as her eyes were adjusting Hannah stepped further in, listening.  "Charlie?"  she called out again, peering up the stairs.

Her foot hit something soft, and she looked down.

Next door, Sally Azuolas dropped her broom mid-sweep as a piercing, raw-throated scream split the air. Then another, if anything even louder.

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Cade chuckled.   "I think we look good together too.   Though most everyone's really just looking at you., the half that's actually pretty."   He smiled, and continued.  "Well after It became clear you weren't coming right back,  I figured now was as good a time as any to have my own talk with Jason."   When her eyes narrowed, he felt her tense up, and he shook his head. 

"Not about you, this was for my own reasons.   I told him what I had to say,  for better or worse, he explained the reasoning for what happened, and we both moved on."  

He shrugged his broad shoulders, and sighed.  "My concerns won't just vanish, but tonight we all have to trust each other.  I didn't want to let this go unsaid and cause me to hesitate later.   Maybe what I told him gave him something to think on too."

He expected her to be cross with him, but he knew far better than to lie to her.  He wasn't all that good at it, so he didn't see a point to doing so.

"Other than that I'd mostly just waited for you, and done a little people watching.   Seems some of the proto-couples on the track team are finally taking steps to move past that stage."   Seeing his friends happy made Cade happy.   "Nothing to major going on."

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"Cade, half the girls in our class would kill to date you," she looked at her man with a skeptically raised eyebrow.  "You know that, right?  And half of that half is all into animals and hunting and fishing and living and smelling like beasts."  She patted him on broad chest with her free hand, grinning sweetly.  "You know, your people."

"And yeah, I'm sure Jason explained his reasoning, and that's your business, but remember Cadums: he's a super genius.  For a guy who claims he can't lie, he's done it to me twice now, both times while looking me in the eyes.  He's smart enough to manipulate the truth and you along with it."  Her hand that was clasping Cade's lifted up and she gently kissed the back of his hand.  "Just keep your wits about you, okay?  Something's off about him."

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He'd wandered away from the main field, going into the woods that bordered the rest area and, finding a secluded tree to lean against, had fished a rollup from a case in his pocket and put it between his lips.  A barest flicker of his will, the end glowed, and he drew a deep drag on the fragrant home-grown leaf inside with a sigh of contentment.  It occurred to him that this was his first smoke of the day, and then he realised he'd not had a cigarette since... Saturday, maybe?  After leaving Autumn's place.  That was good for a faint smile as he looked up through the sun-spackled leaves of the tree, watching them shift and rustle in the breeze.  Birdsong came in sporadic snatches from around him, and he exhaled, wreathing the pleasant smoke around his head, letting the problems and cares of the world fade away for a few as he thought of coppery strands of hair curling around his fingers...

"Hey, Bannon!"  The lanky young man sighed, opening his eyes at the bovine hollering.  It seemed there was never a quiet moment, today...  Though that wasn't exactly true, was it?  Not long ago, he'd been relaxed with his head on Autumn's lap, her fingernails sending thrills of relaxation and pleasure down his spine as she'd idly caressed his scalp.  It was a good memory, that one.  The scent of her, warm from the sun and exertion, and the feel of her other hand under his on his chest, and the sensation of her eyes studying his face.  There had been a calm in that moment which surpassed the simple pleasure of working in his garden, or learning some new esoterica from a book, accompanied by a thrum of her energy, her presence.  That connection... that connection which baffled him, so similar in broad strokes to the sense of connection he'd once felt with Marissa, but so much more...

"Bannon?!  I know you're here, dude."  Several sets of footsteps, heading this way through the treeline.  A reach out with his senses told him there were four people.  At least one was...

"Here, Chet."  he stepped around the tree, hands in his pockets, rollup hanging from the corner of his lips as he regarded the senior and his company.  Two football players: Kieran and Todd, the latter of whom looked a little uneasy as the cold, calm glittering Jase's gaze passed over him.  And Tammy Keller - his ex-customer ever since she and two confederates had tried to discuss business at school.  As they approached him, he assessed them as a group.  All of them had reasons to hold a grudge against him.  Chet and Todd for the events at the county fair, Kieran for his girlfriend hitting on Jason at the first game of the season, and of course Tammy.  Calmly, Jase decided that if their purpose was to attack him today then that would not be permitted.  There was too much going on for him to worry about risking injury at the hands of primates, Dark-driven or not.  He didn't say anything else, just waited.

"Got any to share?"  Chet pointed at the rollup, his manner somewhat high-handed, as though it was not really a request.

"It's not weed.  Just tobacco."  Jase said.  "I've got two more of them on me... and they're mine, Chet.  I'm a businessman, not a tobacco charity."

"Cute.  I'm sure you give freebies to your friends."  

"I might.  But we are not friends."  Jason's tone was casually matter-of-fact.  "You are, at best, customers.  Except her."  He nodded at Tammy, who scowled.  "She's cut off."

"She's with me now."  Todd spoke up, putting an arm around Tammy's shoulders.

"My condolences to you both."  Jase's eyebrow twitched upward as a gleam of something sardonic and cold showed in his gaze, the closest he came to a smirk.  He took a drag from the cigarette as Todd colored and stepped forward, to be stopped by a hand from Chet.  The big senior turned back to Jase and stepped closer, still out of arms reach though.  He can be taught, ladies and gentlemen, Jason thought sarcastically.

"Okay, fine.  We get it, you're a tough guy now that you're friends with the Jauntsens."  Chet grinned.  "Here's the thing, though.  They're losing their throne, fanboy.  Devin's lost his edge, and Marissa is just spinning around on her six-inch heels pissing off everyone.  She even told me she doesn't care about being on top of the pecking order anymore."  He pointed a beefy finger at Jason's face.  "So your protection is for shit, kid."  Blowing twin plumes of smoke from his nostrils, Jase looked at the finger, then at Chet, who lowered it and went on.  "So here's the deal:  I want what they got.  Free weed, free Addys.  You did that for Marissa before you were friends, which is why the Twins mostly kept you off limits.  Tribute to the throne, y'know?  Or else things will get bad, without them sheltering you."

For a moment Bannon looked at Chet, then the others, blinking once as he took in their resolute features, then he smiled, his lips pulling back from his teeth in a grin that was roughly one-third amusement and two-thirds sheer menace.  Then he gave a soft, low laugh.

"You monkeys are adorable."  he chuckled.  "No, seriously, hear me out.  You are like retarded cavemen who see the sun and think it's the eye of a monster peering at them.  You hear thunder and think it's giant sky-beasts fighting.  You think fire is a flower from the gods.  You have no idea what you're really perceiving, because you lack the imagination or wit to look beyond the obvious."  He drew another puff of smoke, the end of his cigarette glowing briefly as he laughed again.  "You're actual imbeciles."

"Is that so?"  Kieran demanded, but he didn't move forward.  The sight of Bannon actually laughing was... unsettling.  It wasn't a happy sound, or even ironically happy.  It was full of eerie menace.  It was just wrong sounding.  Bannon just nodded, then fixed his gaze on Chet as his laughter faded away like the rustle of dry leaves over gravestones.

"The Twins ruled because they have a quality you do not, Chet.  I doubt even they were fully aware of it, but they had the instincts that make a competent ruler.  Sure, they bullied and pushed people around, but they also intuitively knew who they could push and how far.  They regulated what went on, stopped matters from getting out of hand.  Stopped people like you from getting in over your head."  Now he stepped forward, hands still in his pockets.  Chet had a couple of inches and probably thirty pounds at least on the lean youth, but that didn't even seem to give Jason a pause as he stopped inches away from the large senior, his gaze as sharp as emerald razors.  "Get this through your head, Chet.  The Jauntsens never protected me.  They were protecting you.  I'm glad they're not playing the pathetic game of high school grab-ass any more.  Good for them, shows they're growing up."  He blew smoke in Chet's face.  "So yes, you're right.  A new order will arise, surely.  But here's the message I have for wannabes..."  His gaze was coldly serpentine, his voice dropping to a hiss of warning.

"You want weed, you buy it.  Otherwise you leave me alone, you stay out of my business.  You leave Sean alone, and stay out of his business.  You leave anyone I sit with in class or the cafeteria alone, and stay out of their business.  Including the Jauntsens.  No shoulder-slams.  No locker pranks.  No keying of cars.  No malicious gossip.  Nothing.  Play your little game in the kiddie pool with all the other piss-stinking toddlers and leave the grownups alone.  Or I will take a personal interest in your misery.  And you'll only realise just how badly you fucked up when it's already too late.  Just like at the fair."  

Chet didn't move.  He was aware of the others behind him.  He was aware that, if he struck Bannon now, the others would join in.  They would beat the kid down, surely.  There were three guys - and Tammy - against him.  And then... And then what, really?  He looked into Bannon's eyes and saw nothing of fear or care there.  His gaze flicked down to where Bannon's hands were still in his pockets.  What if he had a knife?  What if he recovered from his beat-down, and then one night the sharp edge of something would come to rest on his, Chet's throat this time.  And Cody had disappeared after the fair...  He swallowed.  Had Jason killed Cody?  God knew there was enough trackless wilderness in Montana that a body could be dumped anywhere...  Oh god...And the rumor was that Bannon had criminal contacts in the big cities, too.  Cartel, some said.  Just the school rumormill, but looking into that hard, cold green stare, Chet wasn't so sure.  What he was sure of was that he desperately wanted to pee.

He'd started out the day with big plans, and some bravado.  This year was going to be the year of the Chet, for sure.  And now he'd run straight into both Marissa's vitriolic lack of concern, and Bannon's predatory menace.  And suddenly he just wanted to be away from here, drinking beer with his buddies in the sunshine, not face to face with someone who didn't seem quite sane or human, who seemed to radiate cold like an incarnation of Death.

"Feel free to go away now."  Jase said quietly.  "It's a pleasant day.  Go and enjoy it.  Elsewhere."

"Right."  Chet mumbled, stepping away.  "Right...  C'mon, guys."

"Chet?"  Kieran looked askance at the larger senior, then at Todd, who found himself aware of a full bladder all of a sudden and also just wanted to be away.  Tammy repressed a shiver - the air was suddenly cold, and huddled closer to her new boyfriend as they drifted away from the lean figure who watched them go, sunlight glittering in the green slits of his eyes.  Now and then, one or another of them glanced back, noting he was still watching them... until suddenly they looked and he was gone.

Back behind the tree he'd been relaxing against, Jase leaned back against the bark and enjoyed his smoke.  He wondered if the pretenders to the throne would take his warning to heart.  Probably?  He'd seen fear and uncertainty in their eyes, but then they were exceptionally stupid.  He drew in a puff and exhaled with a sigh, looking up at the pattern of sunlight through the leaves overhead.  Time, and Darwin, would tell.

For now, though, there was the comforting fragrance of good tobacco, and the warmth of the summer's end, and the memory of soft fingers playing with his hair...

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Cade just shrugged.   Truth was, he hadn't noticed, or even really cared so much about it.  His life was simple, so long as he had baseball and track, and was able to game with his friends.   With regards to her words about Jason, he nodded.   He is definitely different, as things stand though, he's on our side."

The idea of Jason being set against the Fellowship, that was terrifying.   He knew their weaknesses, how most of their abilities worked, at least all of them that had been used during the training sessions.

"Enough about that though.  I believe I promised you something to eat.   Do you still want a pretzel, or are you hungry or something else equally bad for you?" he teased lightly.  That gesture, her kissing his hand, made him smile at her, and he noticed the looks they were getting.  

"God I'm surprised they don't just pull out their phones and take pictures sometimes.."
 

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"Baby, you're with me," she looked up at him while squeezing his arm tightly and pulling him closer to her.  "Might at as well get used to it.  I have to admit though," she crinkled her nose up at the few 'fans' that were either gawking, faking a smile in their direction, or snapping a pic to post up.  "Since I've bothered to get to know you losers, it has started to dawn on me just how much damage my brother and I have managed to do to this town in a few short years."

"The people in our class are so petty," he captured the hint of disgust in her voice but decided it best to let her vent.  "I get it, I'm petty.  But I come from privilege and money, I'm allowed to be.  It's one of the bennies of having more than the poor people.  I mean, when you don't have anything, you're really not in a position to be petty, take what you can get you bunch of dust slitherers.  It's getting worse, though.  Chet and his new regime, I think, are going to try and wrench the throne from Deej and me, the problem with that lies in the fact the Devin and I had a system.  We thought meticulously about how and why we would manipulate people, every cruelty had a purpose and was part of our grand experiment."

"Which was?"  Cade chuckled and shaking his head at what he was hearing.  She was casual about how evil she was and the cruelty she dished out that sometimes it was hard to believe she and the girl who smiled and giggled along with were truly the same person.

"To take over the social hierarchy of the school, which we did.  The problem came in where we started to hang out with you guys... and you all plummeted our popularity."  She shrugged casually, spilling the facts, as she saw them, without any sort of filter.  She stopped Cade and faced him.  She looked up into his blue eyes and held his hands in hers.  "I know you guys think my me and my brother are horrible, and in a way, we are, but what you guys don't get is that my brother and I were holding the leashes of evil far worse than us.  They don't understand tact, planning, and subtlety.  My brother and I were bullies, sure, but we never physically hurt anyone."

"Marissa, you almost drove Stacey Williams to suicide, last year."  Cade reminded her.  "You literally embarrassed her to the point where she was home for three weeks and on suicide watch."

Shyly his date looked away from him, smiling pridefully of her accomplishment while failing to meet his gaze.  When she finally looked back at him she'd filtered the memory away.  "Not entirely my fault.  Courtney helped."  She chuckled.  "But even then, all part of the plan.  She was a prime example of the 'one bad day' theory.  We're all just one bad day away from snapping and going off the deep end."  Cade's judgemental glare cast a wide shadow over her.  "Anyway, Cadums, we're not talking about Stacey, stay focused.  My point is, without my brother and me to keep the real bullies in check, it's going to be anarchy.  What's trying to fill are shoes is a gaggle of violent hoodlums.  Cade, if we survive this crap tonight, we're returning to a Hellmouth of a high school."

She swayed her hands in his and looked up, offering him a seductive smirk that he knew by now was a precursor to her trying to manipulate him.  "Although, speaking of tonight... I don't see any reason we should die without having a little time alone first.  Want to, maybe, come over later before we all meet up and, you know..." she cooed with a wicked grin as she offered him a suggestive wink.

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"...and that about covers the basics."  Devin said as he and his impromptu 'date', Ellie, walked through all the various picnic settings of the other families who had gathered for the Carousel.  She'd locked arms with him, keeping close and doing her utmost to absorb all the knowledge Devin was spilling her way.  A crash course in 2019 teenage etiquette seemed far more complicated than her first training regiment.  And she thought the Teulu had rules...

"...what if violence is directed upon me without provocation on my part?  Surely I'm permitted-" The dazzling blonde looked at him, her eyes narrowing in curiosity.

"No."  Devin chuckled.  "You are not home, you are on Earth.  We don't, or at least, the well adjusted don't just mete out death as a solution to our problems."

"How has your species advanced this far?"  She shook her head in confusion as she looked around at all the families laughing and playing away their day, oblivious to the fact that an alien from another realm walked among them.  "It's like you have nothing to contribute to the other realms besides breeding stock."

"Baby Yoda."  Devin retorted with swiftly.  "That's us.  We invented Baby Yoda.  Oh, and peanut butter, and French kissing.  Pretty sure America invented too."

"I'm not very familiar with your culture, but even I know that French things are the product of a place called 'France'."  The athletic blonde squeezed his arm in warning that she knew he was trying to put one over on the tourist.

"French-Americans." Devin shrugged.  "Prolly immigrants, searching for a new life and really like licking the powdered sugar of their toast... and BAM, French toast, French kissing.  A total two'fer."

"The act you portray of the Fool, Devin, it does not fool me," she said calmly.  Like Jase her eyes were never just still.  They moved and scanned every person, every object, she was perceiving possible threats from all sides and assessing their surroundings with a trained, heightened awareness.  "You are a god, as you put it.  Yet you walk among insects.  I do not understand you, but I will."

"There's nothing wring with these people, they're good and you know, Xena, Warrior Teulu, a little love might do you some good."  He fist bumped someone from school as they walked past another group of teenagers their age.  They didn't take notice of the stares the the others teens were giving them as Ellie moved among them with fresh eyes drinking in her blonde hair, athletic frame and cheek bones that would give Marissa a run for her money.  She didn't know it, but Ellie was swiftly becoming the talk among the male students and in less than the half hour since her arrival people were wondering where she'd transferred from.  Small towns.  Got to love them.  "Not everything is a war you know, Ellie.  You're safe here, more or less."

"It's when you feel the safest," she said softly.  "That you're not."

"There you are!"  Misti and Carl caught sight of their son as the couple were passing by the Fingleman's picnic area.  Devin groaned an rolled his eyes as his mother waved him over.  "Of course you know our son, Devin."  Swiftly he was snatched up and with her arm around her son she presented him like a display.  "I believe he has a few classes with your daughter."  The nail digging into the back of his collar told him that was his cue.

"Uh, yeah!  Mr. and Mrs. Finger-uh ba-uh, man.  Fingleman.  Sophie's awesome.  We get on great."  He turned on his 'bullshit' smile as he rolled his shoulders, hinting for his mom to back off.

"Well, have you heard from her recently?  She hasn't answered her phone today."  Mr. Fingleman asked.

"Hmm?  Oh, uh...," Charlie an Sophie, to Devin's knowledge, were consummating their new found relationship with lots of sex.  Like, tons of it.  Now, the last thing one did was rat out their homies, so Devin being Devin who was so smart and so slick, he thought up a lie and he thought it up quick.  "Honestly, you probably won't answer it for awhile.  See, her and Charlie are big time theatre nerds and ol' Chuck got his hands on a preemo rendition of Les Misérables.  The whole thing performed live, Charles was going gaga over it.  Last I heard they were making a day of checking it out, singing all the songs and taking a lot of notes.  He trying to push it as a venue for this years school production.  I wouldn't doubt if they had it cranked to eleven and were singing along.  It's what los- lovers do.  Of theatre.  Lovers of theatre.  We're all meeting up in a bit, if she's still ghosting you by then, I'll personally see to it she checks in."

"We'd appreciate it," Mrs. Fingleman replied with a mother's concerned smile.  The one that said she was worried still but she was glad her daughter such good friends.  Neither of the Finglemans notice Carl, Devin's father, standing off to one side and slowly moving his finger through the universal hand sign for intercourse.  Devin nodded swiftly, yet conspicuously.  His father pursed his lips and made the 'I knew it' face.

"Who's your friend, Devin?"  Carl asked, intentionally putting his son on the spot again.  He was overcome with a certain measure of pride that his son was in the company of such a beautiful young lady.

Devin turned hi head to where Ellie was patiently waiting and observing the conversation.  "Oh!  Sorry, uh, everyone this is Ellie.  She's um, new to Shelly.  I'm showing her around."

"New?"  Misti narrowed her eyes in suspicion as she'd not heard of any new families moving to Shelly.  "Where did you move from?  I'd love to meet your parents."

"I did not 'move' here," she said calmly.  "I ventured through the Void and through a wayfarers portal I found myself here, where I was to begin my search for your son.  Teir fa Thunn is where I call home, I seek to return there and Devin has agreed to assist me in getting back there."

Had he the presence of mind to do so Devin may have bothered to count the number of blinks in the awkward silence to tally up just how screwed he might be.  He didn't mind so much that it was his parents, but the Fingleman's were right there...

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Cade smiled, though he wanted to laugh too.   A wise man doesn't laugh when their faux girlfriend invites them over for some ""before the fight with the eldritch horror" alone time.""  He nodded   "Always good to get a preview of what awaits after we get back safe and sound."  It was his turn, and he lifted her hand and lightly kissed her knuckle.   "Makes it all the more important that we make it back."

His grin was so honest, like it just came easy to him to smile this way.   "Later on, but sometime soon, just in case, I'm gonna need to pick your brain on fashion ideas."

When she arched a perfect eyebrow at that, he shrugged.   "I'm gonna need something good to wear when we go to Homecoming. Can't go with you looking like a hick in his Sunday best, right? I  knew better than to suggest my normal suit, well I'd rather not earn your wrath quite like that.   My options for people I know to ask about that sort of thing are my grandfathers, which would be pretty terrible, my Dad, who's probably worse, and Mr. Bancroft.   He's a sort of wildcard, he's offered good advice before.   But with this, I figure it's best to ask for help from the expert."

Truth was, he hadn't wanted to ask Marissa, but in the end, he wanted her to be happy, to not regret saying yes, so he set aside that desire, and decided to ask.   After all, she'd know what color dress she was going to wear, and he smiled.  
 

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"Smart, gorgeous, plucky, but she's not a liar.  What you hear won't be easy, but every word of it is the truth."

Both of the Allens watched Devin make his exit, and then Teresa looked at her daughter with that narrow, pointed suspicion in her eyes again. Devin? those eyes asked her. Really?

Cassie sighed. She just wasn't ready to try to explain any of that and what she'd actually come here to explain. She waved a hand as if trying to clear a cloud of smoke away.

"These...abilities we have, they sort of pushed us into a very old and very weird, um, conflict. A fight that's been going on for a long time here in Shelly."

"A fight," her mother replied flatly, immediately not liking the sound of that. "What kind of fight?"

Cassandra felt herself wanting to deflect, but pressed down on herself. Tell the truth, or you'll never forgive yourself. "There's a kind of...parasitic force that operates in the town, and the area around it," she said. "It can influence people, it has powers a little like ours, but sort of...the opposite. It's a big reason why Shelly has so many disappearances and violent crime even though it's such a small town. It stirs people up, then kind of feeds on all the pain and anger and bad emotions that result. And when it gets strong enough, it sort of...takes people."

Teresa could only repeat again, "Takes people?"

"Yeah. The...the parasite itself isn't physically here. It's in a kind of, um, bubble, I guess? Like a tiny alternate dimension attached to our world. When it gets strong enough, it can reach across and into our world. When it does, it takes someone from here, over to there. And then the whole cycle repeats after a few years. It's been going on for centuries. Before the English settlers came, the natives who lived here knew about this place."

"Okay...okay..." Cassie's mom put her hands to the sides of her head and just held them there, eyes closed for a moment. "Jesus, this sounds so..." She opened her eyes. "It sounds like a book, Cass. Like a direct to paperback book. This is real?" Doubt danced in her eyes, a desperate sort of doubt. A needful doubt.

"It's real," Cassandra replied softly. "And we have to stop this...this parasite. Which means we're going to have to force our way into its messed-up dimension and confront it directly. And...I don't know how that's going to go, so I had to tell you. Just in case..."

Teresa shook her head sharply and said, "Stop. Just stop. Stop right there. That's enough." She started to reach across the table, but Cassandra pulled her hands back.

"I have to finish, Mom," she said. "Just...hear me out. No one else can do this. Okay? It has to be us."

"You're children, Cassie," Teresa countered...somehow both trying to placate, but also starting to show veins of anger pulsing under the skin. "There must be other people with abilities like this. Adults. Trained..."

"Trained in what? Interdimensional combat? Dark God hunting?" Cassandra shook her head. "Please just listen. For a second. It's on us. I know it's not...fair, and it's not right, but it is what IS. This parasite is only going to get stronger the longer we wait. It's infected one of our..." she paused. The word 'friend' didn't really describe Cody. "...schoolmates, and he's killing people. The police can't stop him. We can, but the creature, the real threat, it'll just keep making more. We have to stop it at the source. There's no other way."

"No. I can't let you." Teresa took a deep breath and steadied herself. "I hear everything you're saying, but I would be a failure as a parent if I let you do any of this."

"Mom, you know I'm going to be a reporter right? Not the kind that does...movie reviews or human interest stories. I'm going to be taking risks, sometimes putting my life on the line. That's going to happen."

"This is different!" Teresa suddenly exploded. "You're not talking about taking risks here! You're talking about...about...a bunch of kids taking on some kind of..." She trailed off, unable to articulate what she was thinking without sounding like an idiot in her own ears. Finally she concluded with what she was feeling instead. "I can't lose you, Cass," she confessed, eyes tearing up. "You're all I have left."

Cassandra took a deep breath. "...which brings us to the next piece of news."

As her mother wiped her eyes and gave her a suspicious look, Cassandra took her cellphone out and called up the photo of her father. She held it out for Teresa to see.

"What is this?"

"It's dad. He's alive."

Teresa grabbed the phone and brought it closer to her face with shaking hands.

"He's at the prison right now...which I should probably let you know is currently being run by a...rogue scientist."

Her mother's eyes flicked up from the phone to focus on Cassie. "What?"

Cass sighed and shook her head. "Okay, there's a LOT going on, but I want to sort of focus on the immediate stuff. I will give you a full run-down as soon as I can, but the short version is that the government set up secret labs around the area to study the weird things going on, and one of the scientists went crazy and set up a secret lab in the prison and dad must have seen something he shouldn't have so they...faked his death and brainwashed him so he doesn't remember who he was."

Teresa's face hadn't changed at all during the explanation. After a moment she repeated in a hard voice, "What?"

"...moooom..."

"No, I'm being serious. You knew this? How long have you known this?"

"Not that long? And before you even go there, I didn't tell you before because you wouldn't believe me unless I did ALL of this, and...and...I didn't even know how to START. And we were busy training to go up against the Dark..."

"The Dark?!"

"...that's what we call the parasite."

Teresa set the phone down and pushed it across the table back to Cassandra. "Well obviously we need to get in touch with the police. The FBI maybe. And Cassie, they might be able to handle this 'Dark' thing too! You don't..."

"They CAN'T, mom!"

"...KNOW!" Teresa finished over her. "Okay? You don't know! They might have a whole squad of...of...people like you and your friends, only professionals."

Cassandra shook her head. "They don't! And I DO know. The things we can do, the powers we have...they're because of something happening in Shelly too. It's all happening HERE. All of it. The good and the bad. Even if the government knew, and it only kind of partly does, they don't have anyone who has powers working for them."

With supreme effort, Teresa put that aside and persisted on another tack, "...all right, saying you're right about that for the moment, the situation with your father is different. No...dark parasites or strange abilities there. That's just kidnapping and assault and...I don't even know what brainwashing is, but I'm sure it's illegal."

"Yeah, but the prison...the company, and this scientist...they know what they're doing. The police and FBI won't find anything. And then he'll know that WE know, and we'll probably never see dad again." Cassandra drew in a deep breath, and reached out across the table to her mom's hands. "I'm going to get him out. Me and my friends. We can hit them before they even know we're there. Once he's out of there, you and me...we can talk to him. We can break through what they did." Now her own eyes were watering. "We can have him back, mom. You just have to trust me."

In a quick motion, Teresa grabbed her daughter's hands and squeezed. "I trust you, Cass...it's just...this is terrifying, okay?" She had to wipe her eyes. "You're not even out of high school, and...I can't even understand any of this. How am I supposed to feel?"

"I'm scared too, mom," Cass agreed. "I just...couldn't do this without coming clean. Even though I knew it would be hard for you to hear. I don't think we're going to lose, but...I didn't want to just disappear and have you never know what happened. This thing we're doing, it's worth it...it's worth the risk, but it is a risk."

"Oh baby," her mother sobbed, and suddenly pulled her hands away so she could walk around the table, sit down by Cassandra and enfold her in her arms. "My sweet little girl..."

For what felt like a long time, Cassandra let herself be rocked slowly. Finally Teresa took a deep breath and looked down deep inside herself. She didn't know what to say, but she needed to say something. There was a lot of emotional anguish in the way, uncertainty and fear and loneliness seething...but under all that was something that had always been true. Saying it was harder than she ever expected it would be.

"I...trust you," Teresa said at last. "If you say you have to do it...if you say you can do it...then I trust you."

Cassandra felt something in herself start to give way, and she tightened her arms around her mother. "You think I can do it?" she asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

Teresa laughed through her tears. "Honey...when you were a little girl, you threw yourself at a huge corporate prison so hard, and so often, they had to threaten to sue to make you stop. And that was before you had...psychic powers or whatever you have. There is nothing you can't do, Cassie. Nothing. So...keep your eyes open, and you think things through, and you go save the world. And then save your dad."

"It's just saving Shelly, I think," Cassie giggled into her mom's shoulder.

"Well," replied mother comfortingly, "One thing at a time."

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Posted (edited)

Just say it, her brain urged as Ian excused himself, the game on hold while he greeted Lucius Cole and some of the city council members that had been the subject of boring adult conversation earlier. Frowning, she tapped her cards against the table, condensing them into one neat stack that concealed their faces from casual perusal. It was literally that simple. She just had to say the words- uncomplicated, normal English words- and her family would be in on the big secret. Well, she considered, at least they’d be in on part of the big secret. The important part they needed to know in order to, hopefully, stay safe, and at least sort of informed. All the stuff about aliens and government conspiracies and shadowy extrajudicial prisons could wait, probably.

But being simple didn't make something easy, did it? If she told them the truth, there was the definite possibility- no, the definite likelihood they'd freak out. Her mom, maybe not so much, since she'd at least grown up with some of the stories even if she didn't believe them. Plus, there was the conversation from last night, and the letters, and the talisman… Those might help, a little. Her dad, though? Ugh. He'd probably want a psych eval or a drug test, or both. And, honestly, she had to admit that none of that was irrational. Accepting the undeniable nightmarish realness of the Weird didn't make it any easier to deal with, even after being shoved into the water at the deep end with the expectation that she'd either learn to swim pretty fucking quick, or drown.

If she didn't tell them, though, and something happened... An icy frisson, completely at odds with the warmth of the late summer afternoon, prickled the baby-fine curls at the nape of Autumn's neck as she remembered the tiny, forlorn shoe forgotten in the corner of a dark basement. No. Not an option, she decided, laying her cards on the table quietly. She couldn't- wouldn't do that to them.

"Hey, mom?" Just fucking say it, Autumn. She swallowed, taking a sip of watered-down lemonade to moisten a throat that had gone suddenly dry. Dana glanced at her daughter quizzically, her hazel eyes still bright with laughter at something Nathan had said- something Autumn had missed completely in agonizing over telling her parents what no parents would ever want or expect to hear from their child.

Just. Fucking. –

She inhaled. "Grandpa wasn't crazy. There is an- an evil, in Shelly, a Darkness. An, um." She hesitated as the avuncular warden tipped back his bottle in a long, deliberate swig, his attention fully on the girl he’d helped raise. "An Enemy, he called it. And tonight we're going to try to stop it, and I wanted to tell you in case..." Her voice trailed off in something like a hiccup, choked by a rising wave of emotion that flooded her sea-colored eyes like an incoming tide. Pale, bronze-flecked fingers twined together in a Gordian knot of anxiety. Good. You’ve got this. Keep going. Breathe. Drawing in a slow, quavering breath, she tried again, this time meeting her mother's gaze with some trepidation. "In case I, um. Didn't come home."

Her mom looked at her for a long moment, seconds ticking by like hours as both Keane ladies looked at one another, each wrestling with the paralysis that came from fear - not for oneself but for another. Not too far away, Autumn's dad was laughing and chatting with Lucius Cole and a couple of the town Aldermen. The sun was shining, the music of the Carousel coming as though from a greater distance to the little island of stillness that marked the Keane picnic table. A stillness that was broken by the sound of a bottle softly being set down. Both women looked at the bottle, and at the hand that still loosely gripped it, as anchor points for their whirling thoughts as Nathan watched Dana carefully. The slim older redhead took a slow, deliberate breath, only the faintest quavering betraying her inner turmoil as she looked back at her daughter.

"So." she nodded slowly, her tone almost deliberately clinical. Her 'trying not to freak out' voice - which was better than her 'you're in so much trouble young lady' voice, at least. "By 'we' you mean-?"

"Some friends... and people we know." Autumn hesitated, then "It has to be us, Mom. It's kind of a whole thing-"

"You know about this?" Dana looked sharply at Nathan, who shrugged and nodded his head slowly.

“Some. I knew Autumn was special. I knew there was an evil here - big 'E' evil. I knew she wasn't alone - she didn't name names when I talked to her about it, either." The man who was as her uncle looked at her sternly. "I didn't know they'd be rushing off on Labor Day to go and fight it, though."

"Right." There was a whole discussion yet to be had contained within that word, but Dana forced herself to focus on the immediate, important matter at hand as she looked back at her daughter, noting the way Autumn wasn't shifting her gaze away, noting that though she was plainly scared and worried, she wasn't panicking. "You know, I tried to get Jase to tell me what was up with you, what was going on." Dana's lips quirked wryly. "It was like trying to squeeze a stone for water. So - why does it have to be you and 'some friends', Autumn? Why not the sheriff, or the state troopers, or hell, even the National Guard? If this Dark Enemy is real and you can prove it, why not just get a bunch of men with guns to deal with it?"

"So..." Autumn hedged uncomfortably, shifting the plastic cup a little to reveal a damp crescent of condensation beneath. "I mean, saying 'it's complicated' is kind of an understatement. We didn't really pick Labor Day in advance, or anything, but going up to the rez, and some of the things that have happened lately... It kind of changed our minds a little." As she spoke, the restless teen half-consciously fidgeted with her drink, nudging it now and again to add to the vague flower shape she was creating in delicate lines of pooling water. "It seemed like a good idea to just, you know.” Her shoulders twitched upward in a half-hearted shrug. “Get it over with before things get worse. And honestly, if getting a bunch of dudes with guns was an option, the people who get to make those decisions would've already done it." She paused for a moment at that, recalling the situation at the hospital, and exhaled. Maybe? Hopefully? But Site B and Crossroads existed right alongside whatever this Aeon Society was, and Branch Nine, as well. They'd seemed capable of dealing, mostly, with the things that had crossed over, or through, or whatever, but that was a totally different thing from actually crossing the threshold of the Door that Cass had described. "Or at least I hope they would've."

With a quiet huff, the energetic young woman swung her legs over the bench seat of the picnic table and got to her feet, fingertips already drumming against her thighs as she moved. "The problem is that it's not here for them to go after it. It's like-" Exhaling, Autumn took a few more steps, slowly pacing the length of the table. "Okay, I could be totally wrong about this, because a lot of the whole subquantum theory thing is over my head, but, the way I picture it, it's like you're in a house. And you know there are people in the room next to you, but there's a wall there. You can't see them, can't touch them, or vice-versa, but they're there. There is a Door, though, and sometimes it's open, and someone on the other side can get through, or you could go over to the other side of the wall." She paused, gauging the effect of her words. The men with guns can't get through the Door, but we can." Probably. "We think."

"You think." Dana echoed. "Okay. I'm following you down the rabbit hole here because the alternative is to drag you to the medical center and demand a CAT scan." Nathan stirred as though he were about to say something and Dana lifted a hand. "No. Nothing about whether it's true or not right now. Let's just be happy I'm suspending disbelief, okay?" She fixed Autumn with a penetrating stare. "And once you open this door - what then? What's on the other side? Something bad, right? What are you and your friends going to do about that, Autumn Rae? What is my little girl going to do about this Dark Enemy she's talking about? You're not soldiers. You're not cops. Why you, is what I'm asking."

Her reply was almost immediate, requiring no serious consideration or agonizing because she'd asked herself this same question more than once over the past week. Why me? Why any of us? The answer was simple, and for a moment there was no element of pleading or hesitation in Autumn's voice, just the quiet certainty of someone who, peering out a window, was commenting on the weather. "Because there isn't anybody else." Her words hung in the air for a long moment, faint trills of birdsong and distant laughter brushing against, but not quite breaking the uncomfortable silence as she swallowed again, hard, and regarded her mother with as much conviction as she could muster. "We're it, Mom. Some of us can do things that, honestly, I don't have any explanation for. It's-" She sighed, a short, sharp exhalation, and braced her hands atop her head, fingers lacing together amid the coppery strands that had been teased free of the imprisoning braid by the wind. "The Blackfeet call it the 'Dawning Light.' Some of us call it 'Shine,' because that's what it does, what it is, like a verb and a noun at the same time. I've gone through a couple of Grandpa's journals." Nodding at Nathan briefly, a tacit acknowledgement that he'd been right about what she'd find in the study, she continued. "And talked to Laughing Joe up at the reservation. There are lots of stories about the fact that people like us, who can do what we can do, would show up one day and... I guess, clear away the Darkness that's been growing here, cut out the tumor and let things heal. I'm not trying to sound dramatic, or anything, but we really are it."

"Okay... Okay." Her mom was really trying, Autumn realised as she watched the veterinarian's slender fingers fidget with the cards in her hand. Really trying not to freak the hell out. Really trying not to stand up and demand to know what the damn hell was going on. Really trying not to ground Autumn for life for either telling her the greatest cruellest whopper in family history or to try and protect her daughter from the chance of death she'd felt was enough to warrant warning her mom over. Dana took a deep breath, closing her eyes and stilling the restless motion of her hands. "You, and 'some others', have powers. That's what you're saying. Weird mojo, God forgive me for even entertaining the thought." She opened her hazel eyes and regarded Autumn intensely. "I've got a pretty good guess who all you mean when you say 'we', 'some friends', and 'people we know', you know. It's not hard to put together."

"Yeah, but it's also not all my secret to tell." Autumn admitted. "What you suspect isn't the same as me blabbing other people's business."

"What's to stop me grounding you?" Dana asked bluntly. "Just locking you away in your room for the night? Jesus wept, Autumn, assuming I believe every particular of what you just told me, why should I let you go into that sort of danger?!"

"She told you." Nathan interjected, calm, quiet, but with a certain element of forcefulness. "It's her and her friends, or nothing. Assuming she didn't just escape anyway, you'd be making things worse for the ones going. Dana, listen to me." He leaned forward slightly. "You recall that mess at the Marias Medical Center on Tuesday? Biological containment leak, it was called. And those fellas claiming to be from the CDC sure wrapped everything up neatly. But that doesn't gel up with some reports from people who saw strange things that day. I've been talking to folks. Monsters, and ice forming from nowhere, and people appearing and disappearing. And a couple of the sheriff's boys who I know say they can't rightly remember what happened that day. But Autumn here, and 'some other' kids, were right in the middle of it." There was a long, pregnant pause as Dana looked at Nathan, considering his words, then at Autumn.

"Fine." she said at length. "But... if you come back - and you had better come back, Autumn Rae Keane-" The dreaded full name was invoked like a binding, a maternal geas. "-We're going to have a talk. I want to know everything. Beg, get permission from others to discuss it, whatever you need to do. Everything. That's my condition for not boarding you up in your room. Take it or leave it."

"When I come back," Autumn repeated, nodding solemnly. She had a vague idea how much trust was being banked in that demand, what it meant for her mother to even consider taking her seriously at all; pointing out that if she really wanted to get out of being grounded, she would, didn't seem necessary. "And, Dad, too. He'll need to know, if he's staying." Frowning a little, tiny creases like arrows appearing between her brows, the red-haired teen reconsidered. "Maybe even if he isn't. But I also need you guys to do something for me. A couple of somethings. Just, I guess for my own peace of mind. Mom," she continued, most of the earlier nervousness gone as her hands slipped from the crown of her head back to her sides. It was a strange feeling, actually having the conversation she'd been dreading, the one that had gone a dozen different ways in her head. It started as all tension and nerves and feeling like she couldn't breathe, and then... Then it wasn't much of anything at all. Just plans being made, as if there was nothing extraordinary about the whole completely unbelievable situation. Huh.

"You, and Dad, and, if they want, Uncle Nathan and Jay, need to stay at the house tonight. It doesn't matter what the excuse is. Just, once I leave," she added, her sea-colored eyes uncharacteristically grave as they studied the familiar perfection of her mother's features, "don't go out for anything. Unless the Crockers have a talisman, too, home is the safest place from the Dark, or as safe as any place can be. If the stories are true, it shouldn't be able to affect any of you there."

"And on that note." The restive teen paced a few steps back the way she'd come, putting some real and metaphorical distance between herself and her audience. She could feel the softness of the earth beneath her heels, beneath the thin rubber soles of her well-worn sneakers, as she turned her attention to the warden. "Nathan. Thanks. For telling me about the journals, and the trip to the rez. For carrying around something that shouldn't have been your problem. You said you guys would support me, as the 'Kavanagh in the hot seat,' and maybe later on that'll mean something different than it does today, but just know I appreciate it." Cutting her eyes briefly in Dana's direction, Autumn took a deep breath. "If I'm not back by tomorrow morning,” she stated emphatically, “if something happens and we get stuck over there, or it takes longer than we thought, I need you to go to the Old Town Hall, and I need you to burn it down.”  It wasn’t a normal request, to be sure, but this wasn’t a normal conversation, either, and the earnest young woman’s expression was rigid with the knowledge of what she was asking. “This is important."

There was a soft silence broken only by Dana's intake of breath, then Nathan nodded slowly. "So that's the place, huh?" he asked, eyes narrowing in his weather-tanned features. "Okay. I'll see it done. And don't worry none about Jake and me and your folks. We'll stay over, keep the light in the window for you and your friends."

"Yeah. Whatever happens, don't go exploring in the Town Hall with some half-assed idea of looking for us." Autumn fidgeted, trying not to let a tremor enter her voice as she thought of those she loved roaming that Dark place. "Just... burn it down."

"And once you've beaten the Enemy, then what?" Dana asked softly, hope in her eyes. "Normal life resumes?" Autumn hesitated then, pondering the whole 'alien conspiracy', the secret organisations, the mysterious Site B, Jase being an actual alien rather than just acting like one...

Was there such a thing as “normal life," anymore? She wasn't sure- which seemed especially strange when, not that long ago, she'd been completely certain that the answer was "yes." Now, though, even if she couldn't penetrate the full depths of the mystery she'd been caught up in (and, if she was totally honest with herself, wasn't sure she really wanted to just yet), there was no denying that it had been a comfortable lie. A veneer of normalcy painted over something deeper, and much darker and stranger, than she could ever have imagined. But... it wasn't all bad, was it?

The feeling of Marissa Jauntsen, of all people, hugging her like an actual human person for just a few moments, sharing genuine feeling in the wake of a near-tragedy. The flames of the setting sun illuminating laughter in pale green eyes as she soared over Shelly in the arms of someone she really, really liked. The sensation of enormity, of connection and unfathomable hugeness, of knowing what it really meant to actually touch someone. The vague memory of a spiral, a circle, a twisting ring woven from life and death and everything in between, a pattern observed simultaneously as the weaver and as a single skein amid the tapestry's warp and weft. And her family, the people she loved, were a part of that, too- part of whatever was happening, even if they didn't see it, and even if she didn't have the words to explain it.

"I think," she began slowly, carefully, "that's the hope. Or, at least as close to normal life as we can get. Just..." Autumn sighed, raking a hand back through the haphazard plait that seemed determined to unweave itself before the end of the day. "Things are already changing, and even if we go in there and save the day and all of that, and even if nothing else happens afterward, 'normal' is probably going to look different than it does right now, because we'll know more. We'll see the world differently, I guess. Does that make sense?"

"It does." Not for the first time this week, Dana found herself looking at her daughter not as a little girl, or even a teenager, but as a young woman who was growing up and out, often in unpredictable ways, but undoubtedly as her own person. Was the terrible secret and mysterious powers she'd talked about responsible? Was it her new circle of friends, from the impenetrable boy she seemed head over heels for, to the perky Cassandra and the admittedly-not-as-bad-as-feared Devin Jauntsen? Was it just... growing up? All of the above, perhaps, she decided as she got up from the table and circled round it, beckoning her girl to her and giving her a fierce hug. "You've grown. Right under my nose. And here I thought I was ready for it." she murmured, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried not to cry. Taking a breath, she straightened up and moved them to sit together. "So... " she began, looking for a way to broach the topic. "What do you do? I mean, your special powers thing. What is it?"

"My 'special powers thing'?" Autumn repeated, surprise and laughter registering in the sudden flash of a smile and the crinkling of her nose. Pressed close against her mother's side as they sat down again at the table, she could feel the tension in the slender vet's body echoed in her own. She's trying, the girl reminded herself as she took the older woman's hand, squeezing it softly in a gesture that was both comfort and comfort-seeking, simultaneously a response to the unasked-for reassurance that she was still Dana's little girl, and a tactile inquiry whether the reverse was still true. Even without the benefit of her Shine, the younger redhead could feel the faint rhythm of her mother's pulse through the light golden-ivory skin, the almost imperceptible twitch of the muscle at the base of her thumb. With it, there was so much more, information she could interpret intuitively but didn't yet understand well enough academically to really explain.

"I'm not sure what to call it." She mulled it over for a moment, musing on both Jason and Devin's comments, considering once more how it all felt, how intrinsically her abilites seemed to be linked to emotion- to passion, Jase had said, like two sides of a coin. That it should be used as an extension of her will, and not feared. “It's just sort of... life, I guess. I can see it, feel it." Frowning thoughtfully, Autumn shifted a little in her seat, angling toward her mother rather than curling up against her like the child a part of her still wanted to be. "Change it, in some ways, I think. Heal living things. Improve them." Her voice dropped a little, and she glanced furtively in the direction her father had gone, checking he was still occupied. "Or... The, um, opposite. There's a lot I still don't know, but the more I do with it, it seems like the more I'm able to do. I can show you...? If you want," she added quickly. "I don't want to, y'know, freak you out or anything, but if it'll help..." Autumn's voice trailed off, eyes wide and expectant as she glanced from one grown-up to the other.

"Maybe it would help, at that." Dana sighed after a moment’s consideration. "There's so much I'm taking on faith, and then there's your grandfather and his stories..." her voice trailed off, and Autumn could only imagine the lingering guilt her mom felt at not believing her father when he'd needed her to. The slim auburn-haired woman smiled at Autumn, a sad smile tinged with hope, and nodded. "Show me something, then?" She paused, flashing her daughter a wider smile. "Something non-gross, if you can." she added, throwing a wink at Nathan who was leaning closer, his own expression betraying an underlying excitement. After all the years and all the stories, the Warden was more than ready to see something wondrous, or so it seemed.

“Non-gross” cut out a lot of the most obvious options, but also the ones that might- on reflection- have been just a little bit on the traumatic side. She was reminded, suddenly, of Charlie's physical transformations, and narrowly suppressed a shiver. They were, if she was being generous, impressive, but... Yeah, no. The whole point is to reassure them, not make this worse. Nothing crazy, Autumn. No, like... slicing your fucking hand open and then healing yourself, or whatever. Her abilities weren't, she thought, as visually disturbing as his- or as obvious as, say, Devin's or Kat's- but even if her mom was used to the sight of blood, that didn't mean she liked it. So, okay. That left her with the subtle approach.

"Right. Non-gross." Nodding absently, Autumn got to her feet, Dana's fingers slipping from her grasp as she moved to the end of the table. "So, just to warn you, I haven't actually practiced this yet. Jas-"

Fuck!

"-someone," she continued in a rush, a bloom of crimson staining her cheeks as Dana's eyes rolled heavenward. "Suggested it yesterday, and it seemed like a good idea. So." Kneeling on the grass between the two adults, the red-haired vitakinetic gave herself a solid mental kick, swearing softly under her breath. Even if some things were probably super-obvious, and even if this was her mom and Nathan, both of whom were people she trusted, it wasn't like they'd all talked about who to tell, or not. In fact, she reflected guiltily as she reached up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, as a group they hadn't really agreed on much of anything at all, so far.

Exhaling slowly as her mother and her "uncle" craned their heads curiously to watch, she ran her fingers lightly over the broken blades of grass, her vision shifting until the carpet of fading green differentiated itself into countless individual clusters of leaves, their entwined roots spreading out in a seemingly-infinite net just beneath the surface of the soil. The sounds of the afternoon grew dim, distant in Autumn's ears, and the breeze that lifted the hair from her brow was cool, but the sun on her face, her bare arms and legs, was warm, a suffusion of light and heat that sank into her skin and bones as the grass tickled her fingertips. It was only crushed, she knew, not dead, and though there was no pain, no real sense of injury, the plant's primitive repair system was... aware? Hmm. Yeah. That seemed like the right word. Aware, in some way, of the damage that had been done. It would have to be in order to function, she supposed, simultaneously curious about how that worked, exactly, and intrigued by the prospect of more focused exploration later. Setting that aside for the moment, she drew in another deep breath and reached out, feeling her Shine trace the ragged edges of the slender green leaves that had been trampled underfoot. The energy she felt was smaller, quieter than she'd sensed in flesh-and-blood beings, but no less vigorous or tenacious for all that. Without the distraction of perceived hurts or shared sensation, healing the "wounds" of that single plant was almost shockingly easy, and as her fingers stroked the torn blades of grass meditatively, they slowly straightened, brightening at the infusion of vitality in her touch until one small cluster of green was vibrant as midsummer.

"Well, I'll be..." Nathan Crocker's oath trailed off as he watched the small miracle unfold. Dana just stared, eyes widening as the import of what she was seeing hit home, then she seemed to recover a little, looking at her daughter with fresh eyes.

"And it works in reverse, too?" she stated rather than asked. As Autumn nodded a trifle uncomfortably, Dana reached out and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "The boy whose leg you broke in that fight?" Autumn nodded again, slowly.

"That was sort of an accident." she admitted, remembering the fight, the heady red taste of her power as it had lashed out. "I mean, I wanted to hurt him - not too bad, just enough to stop him, to defend myself and Jason," she added hastily. "But I wasn't really thinking about how I was doing it. My... Shine just filled in the blanks. I kicked him, and it made the kick... worse, I guess."

"Hmm." Dana's expression was thoughtful as she helped Autumn back up to sit next to her. "Normally my next question would be: 'Why couldn't Jase use his own Shine to defend himself?' - but we're pretending I don't know he's one of the other teenagers you're talking about, and like you said, it’s not your secret to tell. Yet." she added significantly, then looked at the verdant, lush patch of grass Autumn had coaxed into renewed life. "That's... well, that's pretty damn amazing." she said quietly, a tinge of awe entering her voice. "I wish..." Her voice trailed off then, and she simply hugged Autumn tightly with one arm. Autumn didn't need to ask what her mother's unspoken wish was. Of course Owen Kavanagh would have gotten a kick out of seeing this.

And, of course, in one of the worst possible ironies, the same powers he'd have been thrilled to see with his own eyes could've told her something was wrong, could at least have made sure he got treatment if not actually saved his life directly, and of course they hadn't appeared until after he was gone. It wasn't the first time she'd thought about just how fucking unfair it was- but that's not what Dana meant, and Autumn knew it. And... Owen'd had a choice, hadn't he? As unfathomable as his decision seemed to the ones who loved him, he'd decided not to speak up. Not to sacrifice his stupid selfish pride. Not to pursue treatment. The feeling of grief was still there as she returned her mother's embrace, still rose up unbidden from some internal sea, but she was surprised at the fleeting nature of the emotion this time- it wasn’t a torrent or a violent upwelling, but a wave that rushed against the shore of her consciousness and then slowly, quietly withdrew.

Maybe it had something to do with the ritual the night before, or maybe there was too much going on to really process any of it fully; either possibility seemed totally reasonable. After tonight, she promised herself silently, pressing her cheek against her mom's shoulder. After tonight, assuming there was an after, she was gonna go up into the treehouse and get so high she wouldn't need Jase to fly her anywhere. 9'12" high. Johnny Cash eating cake in a bush with his bare hands high. Elon Musk sending a Tesla into space high. Turn down the television because she couldn't taste the mac and cheese high. Absolutely fucking orbital.

"Me, too." Focusing back on the present, Autumn glanced across the table at the warden. "Would've made a lot of this way easier. Nathan wouldn't have gotten stuck having to tell me, for starters." She smiled a little, the expression more apology than jest. "But the easy way wasn't how Grandpa did things, so I guess... The hard way, it is. It's just a whole lot.” She made a face, something like a grimace, but relented as something else occurred to her. “On the plus side, I don't have to deal with it completely by myself."

"Right," Dana agreed, her brows knitting together as she glanced over her daughter's head toward the Carousel and the crowds there. "You have your friends, who I'm pretending for now not to know about."

"For now." The younger redhead nodded, despite the urge to clarify that most of them weren’t actually friends at all. "But I'll get permission to tell you what I can, or have them tell you themselves." Her phone vibrated in her pocket, and, sighing at the thought of some other galaxy-brain-level comment in the group text she'd started earlier, Autumn fished it out and swiped at the screen.

-----Monday, 09/02/2019; 16:44-----

[From: Kat] Hey, I'm omw to get one of your armbands

That was reassuring, at least.  Two down, eight to go.

"Speaking of which, I need to go take care of something." The freckled teen leaned up and gave her mom a quick peck on the cheek as she swung her legs over the bench and got to her feet. "Just headed over to the car for a few, shouldn't take long. If Dad comes back, Uncle Nathan can finish my hand for me." Her mother’s worried frown gave her pause for a moment. “I just need to give out armbands for the party. I’ll explain later. It’s.. a whole story, more Grandpa stuff, but I’ll tell you. Promise.”

As Dana sighed and reluctantly waved her on, Autumn flashed her a smile she hoped was reassuring and headed toward the Jeep, typing all the way.

 

Edited by Autumn Keane
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On 12/26/2020 at 5:43 PM, Cade said:

Cade smiled, though he wanted to laugh too.   A wise man doesn't laugh when their faux girlfriend invites them over for some ""before the fight with the eldritch horror" alone time.""  He nodded   "Always good to get a preview of what awaits after we get back safe and sound."  It was his turn, and he lifted her hand and lightly kissed her knuckle.   "Makes it all the more important that we make it back."

His grin was so honest, like it just came easy to him to smile this way.   "Later on, but sometime soon, just in case, I'm gonna need to pick your brain on fashion ideas."

When she arched a perfect eyebrow at that, he shrugged.   "I'm gonna need something good to wear when we go to Homecoming. Can't go with you looking like a hick in his Sunday best, right? I  knew better than to suggest my normal suit, well I'd rather not earn your wrath quite like that.   My options for people I know to ask about that sort of thing are my grandfathers, which would be pretty terrible, my Dad, who's probably worse, and Mr. Bancroft.   He's a sort of wildcard, he's offered good advice before.   But with this, I figure it's best to ask for help from the expert."

Truth was, he hadn't wanted to ask Marissa, but in the end, he wanted her to be happy, to not regret saying yes, so he set aside that desire, and decided to ask.   After all, she'd know what color dress she was going to wear, and he smiled.  
 

"Then I will put you in touch with my brother," Marissa's lips curved into a sly grin as Cade kissed her knuckles.  She flushed slightly at his charm but still careful to not to show to many of her cards all at once.  He was certainly charming and sweet and treated her right, but he was a means to an end.  She had to keep telling herself that.  "Cadums, I can't give you advice, then it would look like I dressed you and, sweetie, we can't have that.  If it got around that your 'girlfriend' was dressing you up for dates, it would damage your rep.  Now, if my brother does it, well, then it just looks like bros hanging out and getting ready for their dates for Homecoming."

"Think he'll help out?"  Her date asked.

"Sure," her shoulders popped up in a swift shrug.  "He's helping out Jason, I'm sure he'll help you out too.  I mean, it's either that or you ask one of the Cassidy sisters, I hear Laurie likes dressing up little boys, but I swear if you show up a French maid's outfit sporting heels higher than mine, it's over on the spot."

"Your brother it is." Cade laughed.  "It is really cool of you two to sort of spearhead the Homecoming thing for everyone in the Fellowship.  Offering up your dresses and makeup advice and all that.  I'm sure the girls really appreciate it."

"I guess," she shrugged again, blowing off his comment with a lack of belief in her tone.  Once again she led him along the trails between all the people and their families.  "I really think they all just assume I'm trying to make little Marissa's out of all of them.  I get that it's a little harder to trust me, considering what my brother and me did to them for the last three years, but I mean, come on, I can't do better if people don't let me reach out and actually do better.  Trust has to go both ways.  I'll admit, you Fellowship losers aren't that bad.  A bit nerdy and tad on the psychotic side, but the conversations are okay, the food is good, the adventures are whacky and so far the sex had been mind blowing."  She noticed the way the large teen holding her hand turned a few darker shades of red as she mentioned their intimate relations out loud.

"Give them some time," he replied calmly, hoping to shift the conversation away talking about their sex life in public.  "We're all really worked up about the going on of tonight.  After we face this hurdle I think a lot of us will be more open minded about our thoughts on the future."

"Pfft," she scoffed.  "For those of us that come back.  I've seen the movies.  Super-hot rich white girls always die first.  I'm skipping my shower tonight just so I don't get caught unaware, wrapped in a bath towel."

"Hey," he stopped suddenly and turned to face her.  "Don't talk like that."  His thumb traced gently down her cheek as his eyes met hers, locking her attention in his stoically intense gaze.  "I will be there for you.  If I have to stand against everything the Dark has at its disposal, I will be there between them, and you.  We're all coming home, even if I have to tear down another dimension to make it happen."  He leaned in and kissed her lips gently, so gently in fact that she felt her eyes close and pang of want as he pulled away from her.

Wow. Was about all her brain could muster as a thought to the words her valiant knight spoke while the rest of her body tried to keep up with the fact that were once again walking and he was saying something else... she just had no idea what.  She'd not imagined Cade as so intense, so laser focused on being the Spartan who didn't care how many the enemy were, only where he could find them.  It was exciting and sent a chill down her spine as she also realized... it was kind of hot.

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Casssandra's phone rang with an electronic arrangement of 'Jessie's Girl,' informing her that Autumn had sent a text. She gave her mom a pat on the shoulder, tapping out of the full-nelson momhug she'd been caught in. "I'd better see this," she said.

Her mother released her and looked down at the phone warily. "Is that about..."

"I don't think so, but..." Cass swiped into the phone and tapped the notification.

-----Monday, 09/02/2019; 16:48-----
<<<Group Text>>> [From: Autumn]

Okay. You guys have about 15 to either come get these, or make arrangements to pick them up later. I'm not chasing you down. We've all got stuff to do today.

 

"Oh! Shit, I mean, shoot that's right," she blurted. "The bracelets."

Teresa's eyebrows drew together. "What?"

"No, it's...it's normal. We're just supposed to meet up with Autumn, it's no big deal. I'd better go." Cassandra got to her feet, then gave her mom a quick one-armed hug around the shoulders. "See you soon, mom."

She accepted the hug, but got one last zinger in before letting go. "You promise?" Her tone was light, but Cassie could see a steel-hard core of truth at the center of the words.

"Yeah," Cass replied. "I promise. I'll see you soon." Then she was heading off again, texting back as she went, crossing over towards where the Keenes were making court, getting smaller and smaller until she was gone.

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Sean watched Kat's slight form disappear into the crowd, then stood up from the picnic and helped starting putting the leftover food away, in plastic wrap and plastic containers as he replied to Autumn's text with a thought. He bounced another back after her response then gave Laurie a nod.

"I wrapped the food up, you get to haul it to the car, Laurie," he informed her with a smirk. "I'm getting ice cream."

"Get me one?" the taller Cassidy pleaded. "The peach one?"

"Who said I'd be coming right back?" Sean countered with a wave as he started sauntering over to the Wilcoxson booth. "It might be melting before I swing by again, then I'd have to eat the other one I paid for."

Laurie blew a raspberry and Sean laughed as he turned around and headed off to get his ice cream and Autumn's tea. He slowed his pace as he was passing by the Finglemans - he recognized them, having been over to Sophia's place before when they used to be friends - when he caught sight of Devin there with who he presumed was 'Ellie.'

He glanced at her covertly, wondering if he could see any similarities between her and Jase. From where he was, he couldn't really tell, other than she was tall. Of course! New girl in Shelly, likely an alien, and she's nearly six feet tall. There's a higher percentage of girls taller than average in town than there's red heads.
Sean snorted to himself and continued on his way.

It wasn't that being short for a guy - average for a girl - really bothered him that much. The ones who had teased him the most about his height were his sisters and friends. Puberty had given him other attributes to worry about and with the help of Dr. Cook, his therapist, and other specialists, he was finally starting to accept them, in his own way. It totally sucked they were killing him.

Sean caught a text zipping by from Autumn's phone and idly read it though it wasn't meant for him. Then he tripped over nothing when he read the words. Scrambling back to his feet and brushing himself off, people would presume his pink cheeks were for embarrassment for his fall, not what he was reading. His flush deepened when replies continued bouncing back and forth between her and Jase and he couldn't prevent his curiosity from peeking.

It wasn't like they were the worse texts he had peeked ever peeked on, not even close. Way more dick pics than he ever expected or was comfortable with. But they were between one of his best friends and his best friend's girlfriend, and that made feel it extra explicit. He stopped, he had to stop. And he did! Totally coincidental that when he stopped peeking, texts between Autumn and Jase also stopped.

Sean got to the Wilcoxson Booth beside the Carousel, flush fading with his good fortune at finding only one person ahead of him. Wilcoxson had been making ice cream in Montana since 1912 and it was so good. Even better, the person ahead of him, a tallish, older fellow with a broad brimmed hat and a drawl from Texas didn't dither about his choice.

"Miss," the fellow said politely, doffing his hat to Sean as he stepped aside.

Sean just nodded back, keeping his face neutral as he refrained from correcting the guy. It was a battle rarely worth fighting, and even less now to him with the fight the Fellowship had ahead. He stepped up to the counter and ordered the Mountain Berry Ice Cream in a waffle cone he'd been yearning for and Autumn's blackberry ice tea.

Matilda - horrible name for a pretty blonde in her early twenties, she'd crossed out the name on her name-tag with a sharpie and wrote 'Tilly' under it - handed him his order then nodded at him and gave him a wave. She'd been working at the Wilcoxson booth since he had spent some time with his dad fixing the place up a few years ago and had gotten ice cream pretty much every time he'd been there.

"There you go, Sean. No charge."

"What? Why?" Sean said, raising his head from taking a lick from his ice cream. Y'know, to make sure there wasn't anything wrong with it.

Tilly nodded over his head. "Texan feller before you laid down a hundred dollar bill. Said I ain't have change for a hundred. Said he weren't expecting none, just to let it cover the next orders 'til it runs out. Now, don't go be telling every one, Sean, just let it go and be fair."

"I won't," Sean assured her.

Sean hustled off to the parking lot, giving the Texan a less neutral nod of acknowledgment in pass, who tipped his hat towards him, the crinkling about his eyes the only shift in his expression of laconic geniality.

Sean's brisk pace made his scuffed red sneakers kick up loose gravel in the parking lot, as he looked down rows of parked cars until he caught sight of Autumn's red hair. Licking the ice cream - a delicious mix of blueberry, huckleberry, and bilberry - around the rim of the waffle cone, so any melt would take longer before getting to his fingers, he quirked a brow in surprise that no one else was there.

The buxom boy silently held up the cardboard cup to the other redhead, multi-hued eyes wincing at the spine-tingly cold crawling down his throat from the bite of ice cream he had taken. "Coooold," he rasped, taking several deep breaths as the cold faded. "Blackberry ice tea, as requested."

"Nice," Autumn nodded, smiling appreciatively as she took the cup. "Thanks. I owe ya."

Swallowing a mouthful of the tart, slightly sweet beverage, the outdoorsy teen considered the rather more curvaceous tech-wizard thoughtfully. She knew of Sean - no one who'd lived in tiny, rural Shelly for very long could avoid hearing about him - but it wasn't as though they'd ever had a real conversation. There'd never, she realized, been a reason to before.

"Did you see the smol one on the way here? I was expecting her first, honestly." The freckled redhead smiled a little and took another sip as she opened the rear passenger side door of the Jeep.

"I thought she'd be here, or already here and gone too," Sean admitted, considering Autumn right back. 

Yeah, Jase had opened up, or at the very least, started asserting himself since the end of summer. But what was it about Autumn that had broken right through to him? He shrugged and hoped his face wasn't reddening again when he recalled their private texts.

"She probably just got distracted by something shiny. Or someone. Also, er, 'shiny'." 

Fucking Courtney! He gave a contrite smile. "Okay, that might be a bit mean. I like her, but man, does her mind bounce around. She'll show up, I'm sure. Or you can pass me her bracelet and I'll make sure she gets it."

"Sorry," Autumn grinned in an almost-apology, setting her drink on the ground to lean inside and grunting softly as she reached under the seat. "Limit of one per customer. She can get her own. Personal accountability, and all that."

Her voice was muffled by the bench seat of the Jeep and the miscellaneous dog toys, cooler bags, and plaid flannel blankets scattered throughout. She hummed quietly, shimmying a little and all but crawling through to the back of the vehicle before pausing with a loud "Ha!" of triumph. Backing out, her cheeks flushed and hair dishevelled, the energetic young woman thrust an open metal lockbox in Sean's direction as she beamed at him.

"Take your pick. You're the first, so it's only fair." There was a momentary pause, a trickle of berry-colored ice cream welling up at the rim of the crisp cone; Sean hadn't been there over the weekend. He probably didn't know what he was getting, or why he was getting them from her. The smile on her lips faded. "Did, ah, anyone tell you what these are, out of curiosity?"

Sean hadn't been staring at Autumn's ass as she climbed half in the Jeep. But he had noted it with purely academic interest. He wanted to see what Jase saw in her, and as they hadn't ever hung out or anything, he couldn't help but notice the physical first.

Sean collected the ice cream starting to run down the cone along with a bit of cone with a bite. He shook his head, then leaned forward to look in the box, fingering the bracelets with his free hand. There was a tingle to them, something reacting to his Shine, like the artifacts he had seen in Helena.

"Jase gave me an update on the training session yesterday - along with a light excoriation for not being there - but didn't mention the bracelets," Sean admitted as pulled out one of the not-copper bands to give it a closer look. The swirling patterns on them were so faded to be almost indiscernible, felt more easily than seen. He arched a brow at Autumn. "These like the thing Devin got, er, on the 'Otherside'?"

"Mmm." Autumn nodded, the box shifting slightly as she leaned over to retrieve the tea he'd brought her; the circular bands of oddly weathered metal chimed softly, the faintly musical sound muted by the cloth in which they'd been wrapped.

"Probably? Honestly, I'm not sure," she admitted as another, clearer note sang out from her pocket like a bell of cool glass.

Recognition flickered across her bronze-flecked features, eyes widening slightly as the smile that had vanished suddenly reappeared- along with a subtle brightening of the pink suffusing her cheeks. Without actually talking to her, or being able to read her expression or body language, would Jason know what she'd meant by the invitation to go for a walk, or would he just assume she meant an actual walk walk? Her fingers were practically twitching with the urge to just hand the lockbox over to Sean while she checked her phone, but... No. If she was going to do this, she'd have to take it seriously. Texts could wait for a second, even if they were from him.

"They're supposed to be 'protections for warriors,' but we don't really know much about them. TLDR version: they're old, and we don't know who made them, or whether anyone else had them before, or how they're supposed to work. Cass has decided they bond to one person and lock everyone else out of using them, since Devin's nearly killed her, but..."

She shrugged, a gesture that simultaneously suggested a lack of practical knowledge and a lack of confidence in the claim. "We don't know. We'll have to test that later, I guess."

She paused for a moment, wondering how much Sean knew about the whole Teulu thing, and whether she should mention her grandfather... and then remembered the group text, copper brows knitting together. Probably better not to say anything else, just in case. Grandpa always said being smart didn't mean you had any sense.

"Anyway, they seem to respond to Shine, so... maybe tuning, like to a person, activates it. Could also explain what happened with Devin's, if Cassie just tried using her powers or whatever." Nudging the lid carefully closed with her thumb, Autumn set the lockbox on the back seat as Sean turned the not-quite-copper band over in his hand, the worn etching catching the late afternoon sun.

Sean focused on the band of metal in his hand, studiously avoiding the pulse coming from Autumn's phone that was practically begging him to look at the message it portended. Nope! Not now, not with Autumn standing right here.

The band wasn't a machine, it didn't contain any ancient, super advanced tech he could fathom, not as he and his voodoo senses understood it. It just felt... alive in some fashion to his basic awareness of Shine. Was it brighter than it should be under the afternoon sun?

"Maybe we should've swiped one of those psionically active arrowheads when we were at the Montana Historical Society Museum, after all," Sean admitted, glancing up from the band to flash Autumn a wry grin. "We might've figured out how to test things like this. Though a felony for convenience's sake could be asking a bit much."

Sean's two-toned turquoise and jade eyes went back to the band. Then without further consideration and some finagling with his ice cream cone, he slipped the band over his slim wrist. He stared at it expectantly. Nothing. No pulse, vibration, mental or audible tone, anything to suggest it was 'activated.' Just warmed by the sun and the ambient temperature while in the metal lockbox. 

"Huh." He twisted his wrist one way, then other, eyeing the patterns on the band again. "That's it then. Would have been convenient if it had told me all about itself, or given me a pop menu with its stats at least." 

Sean closed his eyes for a moment, picturing his brief foray to the Historical Society Museum. "Wished I had paid more attention when we were at the Museum, but with some research we should be able to determine a rough estimate of how old they are. At least to tell if they are pre or post Clovis era."

Autumn nodded in response, very deliberately not  grabbing at her phone as she took a slow, appreciative drink from the cup Sean had brought. It seemed strange that she'd gone on a day-trip with him, spent at least as much time in his company recently as some of the others, and still knew painfully little about the petite young man. But...

"Tomorrow, maybe." There was a wealth of subtext contained within that final pair of syllables despite the superficially casual tone: hope, fear, resignation, and uncertainty, and all of it was writ plain in the curve of her smile, the subtle shift of her feet in the dirt, and the squaring of her shoulders as the Girl Scout exhaled. 

Yeah. Tomorrow. 

"Thanks again for the tea, Sean. See you later?"

"Yup. Later."

Autumn could see all she was feeling mirrored in the other youth, in the sharpness of his nod, the tentativeness in returning her smile with his own, the tenseness of his shoulders. There was perhaps less hope and more determination in the tightness about his eyes.

Sean tilted his ice cream cone towards the tea in Autumn's hand in a sort of salute. "And no problem 'bout the tea. Grab me a coffee sometime."

Sean turned, intending to amble his way to the Carousel, licking at his cone and suddenly, it was like he was in slow motion. He made a noise, not a grunt of pain, a softer exhalation, as a... a sensation, akin to whacking your funny bone (Yes, Sean knows it's not actually a bone) hard, except it didn't hurt. And instead of going up from his elbow, it went down from his fingertips.

His fingers twitched. He tried to stop it, tried to catch it, but only made it worse, and watched as he lost his grip on his ice cream cone. Maybe, if he had just let it fall, if he had been built like a boy rather than a very well developed girl, it would have landed on the ground.

Instead, ice cream practically exploded across his chest, the white and black of his hoodie painted with pale lavender. His shoulders slumped as he stared down at himself.

"Fuck me," he muttered, in disgusted resignation.

Gingerly, he plucked the slider between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and unzipped his hoodie and shrugged out of it. Revealing he was wearing a femininely cut, dark grey shirt, the modest scoop neck offering up a discrete amount of cleavage.

Autumn could see red blooming across Sean's face as spun the hoodie to roll it up in a ball, but his attention on was his left hand. The red didn't seem like embarrassment, but barely subdued fury, as though his hand had betrayed him.

First the lemonade, then tripping over nothing. Now this!

"What the fuck is happening?"

"Whoa, hey. Hang on a sec." The decidedly less-developed redhead reached back, set her drink on the floorboard without glancing at it, and came up alongside him. "You okay?"

Concern replaced conviction in her wide, clear eyes as they studied Sean's delicate, feminine features. Why do guys always get the prettiest eyelashes? she wondered distantly, a part of her grousing inwardly about the seeming unfairness of it all even as she scrutinized the angry scarlet flush burning beneath his skin. Was he just pissed he ruined the hoodie? Mad that he lost the ice cream? 'Cause that'd ruin anybody's day, honestly. All she had were guesses, though the shock and exasperation of his last question gave her pause.

"C'mere."

It wasn't quite mom-voice, and it wasn't quite Marissa's signature hauteur, either, but there was a firmness in Autumn's tone that brooked no argument and left no room to decline as a hand on his elbow turned him back toward the Jeep. "We always keep stuff for emergencies, because..." She gave him a little smile over her shoulder and waved a hand vaguely, expansively at the interior before climbing in. "Dogs. Paper towels, Tide pens, that kinda stuff."

After a few moments of rummaging and muffled curses as she leaned over the back seat into the rear of the vehicle, Autumn re-emerged, napkins and stain-removing travel wipes in hand and with a slightly crumpled green flannel over her arm. "Here," she insisted, giving him a chance to clean up the worst of the purple smears on his jacket while she shook out the oversized button-down shirt. Although even if it did stain it wouldn't look terrible tie-dyed, she decided privately. Not really his aesthetic, though. "Just bring it back tonight, yeah?"

"I will. Thanks for this," Sean said, dealing with the worse of the mess with the napkins and stain-removal wipes. He nodded at the flannel Autumn held in her hand. "And for that."

He held up his hoodie, giving a grunt at the result, then folded it up and held it between his knees. He took the proffered shirt and slipped it on, rolling up the sleeves before buttoning it up. The colour in his cheeks softened to a diffuse pink as he noticed Autumn's gaze unconsciously drift downwards for an instant.

With girls and women who know about him, about his condition, even if only in a general way, they usually treated him in one of two ways. As just another one of the girls, or as some perverted spy trying to sneak his way into sacred feminine spaces. The former was way better than the latter in his experience, but holy shit, girls could be so frank and explicit in what they talked about.

"Just been clumsy all day. Getting all my ones outta way before tonight, yeah?" Sean explained, though not convincingly. Still, from the stubborn set of his jaw, Autumn knew Sean wasn't going to explain more. "'Til tonight." He gave her a nod, tucked his hoodie under his arm, then ran a hand through his red hair. "Think I'm gonna take a last ride on the Carousel. Later Autumn."

His tone left the meaning of 'last' ambiguous, even to himself, as he turned around and ambled off towards his Grand Cherokee to drop off his hoodie. It could have meant that he wouldn't ever have a chance to ride the Carousel again, through death or injury. Or that it would be behind him at this transitioning point between adolescence and adulthood. Or a number of other inferences he wasn't introspective enough to dwell on.

He could dwell on them on another day.

Or not.

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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Cade smiled inwardly, though he knew he'd taken a risk, saying what he did.   Still, she had asked him to "date" her to protect her from Jason.  This was just abit of a stretch on that.   He'd talked about some of the other things he'd seen, the couples from the track team finally getting together.

It was then he'd felt a buzzing in his pocket, and pulled out his phone.   The group chat had sorta blown up, and he'd missed it.  His phone was somehow on silent, and he'd found Marissa again, so he was understandably distracted.   "I forgot all about this."  He grinned at Marissa, and nodded.  I was Enjoying your company too much."

He shot off a quick message, and noticed that Marissa had already pulled her phone out to see it, and put her own message.   

He offered her his arm, and when she took it, they set off to meet with Autumn.
 

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Monday 2nd September, 16:45

Across Shelly, away from the sunny Champions Field and the high school drama and family revelations, things were happening.  The sheriff's department was called, Alister himself investigating.  A tough man, he still felt his gorge rise at what he found at the foot of Hannah Fuhrman's stairs.  He'd investigated maybe a murder or two - crimes of passion usually - and wild animal attacks, but the butchery of a boy his son's age, his son's friend at that, was enough to shake the stoic lawman.  Charlie Cole had been ripped open, as if some one had reached into his torso and ripped it asunder extracting their hand.  Hannah had already been taken down to the station, a doctor called to give her a sedative.  The woman had gouged lines in her cheeks with her nails before neighbours had been able to stop her, and would be on suicide watch, a female deputy with her at all times.  The first deputy to attend, after having thrown up on the dining room rug, had shakily taken down what passed for a statement from the hysterical mother of the dead boy.

Pulling on some protective forensic gloves, he followed the bloody handprints on the rail and wall of the staircase, as though the killer had almost gleefully stroked blood and viscera over the family photos on his - or It's - way upstairs.  The shower was still running, cold water now sluicing down the drain, and Ian Alister noted the splotchy red handprint on the frosted glass of the stall.  Reaching inside he turned off the water, then looked around the shower for any clue as to what had happened, his brain and eyes operating on autopilot while he locked away the nagging, gibbering voice that said this had something to do with what Cade and his friends were into.  An open bottle of shampoo lay on the floor of the shower as though dropped there - expensive woman's stuff, probably Hannah's.  Charlie wouldn't have used it.

The kid hadn't been alone.  So... what?  Was the female the killer, who'd cleaned up before leaving?

Hmm-ing, the big lawman made his way to the bedroom, noting the state of the bed, noting the clothes on the floor - a girl's skirt and top on the right side, with a purse on the nightstand.  He extracted the drivers license, and swore softly.  Sophia Fingleman.  She'd been the girl in the shower, and probably not the killer, given that she'd been cosy with Charlie on that day last week when everything went to hell.  So now she was missing, perhaps for a day or two judging by the state of the Cole kid's body.  Perhaps-

His phone rang.  With a curse, he answered, pocketing the license and the car keys.  "Sheriff Alister here."

"Sheriff, the doc says Hannah needs to be in a secure unit.  She's almost catatonic right now, but he can't guarantee she won't self-harm.  We're not going to get anything from her, Ian."  the voice of Charlie, his right-hand man, came over the line, lowering slightly as he used his bosses name.  "Hell, it'd be cruel t' even try right now."

"Yeah."  Alister sighed, rubbing his forehead under the hat-band.  "Alright, get her moved to Marias and make sure there's friendly eyes on her at all times.  We also want a coroner - get one of the deputies, not Fingleman."

"Not Fingleman?"

"His daughter was here, and there's no sign of her."

"Shit, boss!"

"Yeah, I'm headed to the Field now, I'll tell him myself.  Alert State and the Feds too.  Murder, with an obvious missing girl.  She left her belongings here, so she probably won't be in plain sight.  Have them keep an eye out for anything suspicious."  Alister turned and went downstairs, his mind worrying at the mystery as he skirted the dead body and stepped outside.  The nearby neighbours were having statements taken - so far nobody had seen or heard a damn thing before Hannah's screams.  Parked across the street was the Fingleman girl's car - a brief check indicated nothing inside.  The sheriff straightened, closing and locking the trunk, and sighed as he looked around at the scene.  There was nothing left to do here, at least at this stage.  No more reason to delay.

With another muttered curse, he headed for his cruiser.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Captain Josh Williams, U.S. Army, was having a good day off.  He'd eaten a stack of ribs and chicken wings, had a beer, and was currently stretched out on a blanket with Tess, who was looking decidedly cute in a short white sundress and sandals and a big floppy hat, cradling his head in her lap as the two talked quietly.  The Project, strange powers, and his own odd daughter were not issues for the day - Kat had wandered off to hang with her new friends, and while Josh was very much aware that the super-powered teens were, well, special in all sorts of ways both good and bad, he also figured that objectively, the same was true of Kat.  She had come back after hanging out at the Bannon farm in a good, if pensive mood, and he knew from briefings that the teens met there to practice with their gifts.  So evidently that had gone well, even if Kat hadn't been forthcoming about what, if anything, she'd learned.

Which was sort of a problem, too.  He knew his superiors would want him to try and glean anything he could about the capabilities of the kids, but one of those kids was his goddamn kid.  He was considering going to Taggart and asking for reassignment if the Major wouldn't back down on that.  It was unreasonable to expect a man to spy on his own child, but at the same time he personally wanted to know what was going on in his daughter's life, too.  He wanted her to trust him, not worry about whether he was turning around and selling her secrets for a promotion.

No doubt about it, compartmentalising his life was tougher than he'd first thought.  Perhaps he could talk to Taggart and the Director lady...  She seemed nice.

"...so I was thinking perhaps we could throw Kat a 'Welcome to Shelly' party."  Tessa was saying.  Josh blinked, looking up at her face under the sun hat.

"A party?" he echoed.  "With who?"

"Her friends, dumbass."  Tess lightly tapped the top of his head.  "Like I was saying - it seems she's made some good friends already, with Sean and those other kids she's hanging with.  A party would be a cool way for her to have them round, and we could meet them, learn who she's friends with."

Josh nodded, though the idea set soft alarm bells ringing.  Most of the kids hadn't seemed bad sorts, but having seen the footage of the Site C raid and the aftermath of the Marias Incident, what there was of it, Josh was leary about letting them into his actual home.  Tess cocked her head slightly.  "You don't like the idea?"

"No, it's not that."  Josh protested, sitting up on his hands and looking out over the field.  Kat wasn't with the Cassidy's anymore, he couldn't see her from here.  She was probably circulating, taking in the sights and sounds, hanging with different people.  "It's just that-"  He was saved by his phone buzzing.  Tessa made a soft exasperated sound, and he threw her an apologetic smile as he pulled it out.

"Got to take this.  Work."  he said, and Tess nodded resignedly as Josh got to his feet and moved a few meters away.   Answering the call, he put the phone to his ear.  "Williams."

"Papa-Papa-Echo Thirty-Three."  The automated voice declared before hanging up with a click, and Williams found himself automatically sifting through the procedures in his brain for what it meant.  He'd never heard this one actually used-

Oh shit.

'Papa-Papa-Echo Thirty Three' was 'Project personnel and resources under threat.'  Punching a call code into his phone, Williams lifted it to his ear once more.

"Captain Williams, seeking clarification." he said tersely into the device, his eyes looking around now for threats rather than to take in the sights.

"Captain, glad you called in, sir.  I was about to call you.  Major Taggart's orders: secure your little girl and bring her to the Project.  Someone or something has killed one of the special kids.  More details when you get here."

"Understood."  His hands feeling as though made of ice, Josh hung up and turned to Tessa, who was regarding him as she poured herself some lemonade.  "Tess, I hate to do this: can you manage getting the stuff home?" he asked, trying not to sound too tense as he waved the hand holding the phone.  "They're going nuts over some exercise or other."

"Urgh."  Tess made a frustrated noise, standing and smoothing down her dress.  "You are lucky I find uniforms hot, mister."  Forcing a smile for him, she shook her head and made a shooing motion before leaning in to kiss him.  "Go on, get.  I'll finish my book in the sun, then get Kat to help me pack up."

"I'll call her to come and help you, explain myself."  Josh replied, stepping away with a smile.  He hated lying to her, hated that his work put that necessity on him.  Was it important enough, he wondered, to warrant such deception?  A question for another time, that, because right now his daughter might also be in danger.  Turning on his heel, he headed into the crowd, eyes peeled for Kat's coral-hair.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"So..."  Tawny said, smiling up at Jacob, aware of their hands holding as they walked through the woods some distance from the Field.

"So."  Jacob smiled back.  He had a nice smile, the blonde mused.  Not as heart-catchingly roguish as Devin's - it didn't make her stomach flutter the same way - but it was a nice smile.  Warm, reassuring, a little shy himself in that way that guys sometimes had.  He'd asked her out to Homecoming, and she'd been surprised herself at having said yes.  After all, she'd reasoned afterwards, if she waited for Devin to wise up she'd be an old maid with cobwebs in her panties - assuming he wised up before she was dead of old age.  So while she was waiting, she was going to damn- darn well be a teenage girl.

"Why'd you ask me out?" she asked suddenly, coming to a stop and leaning back against a tree, looking up at him, studying his handsome features. He was almost as big as Cade, though warmer in manner: where Cade seemed to walk very carefully so as not to break or offend anyone around him, Jacob seemed more relaxed, more comfortable in himself.  "I mean, the whole school knows that you and Autumn had been a thing for, like, ever.  So..."

"I guess."  Jacob sighed, leaning his shoulder against the trunk of the same tree, looking down at their entwined hands.  "Thing is, I dunno if that was just because we're such old friends, and when we grew up it was like a natural thing that everyone expected.  I never even asked her out, we didn't even really date - just hung out and, well, you know.  And then we fell out, and we almost weren't friends no more, which I realised was worse than not being boyfriend and girlfriend."  He sighed again, looking at Tawny.  "I guess what I'm trying to say is that Autumn was a friend with girl parts, not a girlfriend, and maybe we got turned around on that because of being teenagers and dumb."  He grinned self-deprecatingly, shaking his head.  "So we've sorta hit the reset button on that, and are trying being just friends again."

"I know what you mean." Tawny nodded, smiling up at him encouragingly.  "I've been crushing on Devin for, like, ever."  She held up her free hand to forestall objection.  "I know: he's the Devil himself to most people, but he's always been sweet to me.  Never took advantage even when I was throwing myself at him - he's not the dog people say he is.  I don't think he's even as bad as he says he is."  She gave him a sympathetic look.  "I saw him with Lona, and that was tough - even though I was happy he was happy.  Was it tough for you seeing Autumn with Jason?"

"Kinda?"  he replied, shifting his feet slightly.  "Especially since the first I know of it was them kissing.  I mean... He's Jason Bannon.  Before today, all I knew about him was that he's some misanthrope crazy person who deals weed and once threatened football players with a sickle."

"Hayhook"  Tawny corrected with a shiver, thinking about the cold eyes of the boy who'd taught her the previous day and what Devin had warned her about him.  He'd not acted at all hostilely to her, even been friendly and encouraging.  But still.

"But I guess, like with Devin, I didn't know the whole picture.  He's definitely made Autumn real happy."  Jacob admitted.  "I talked to him some, when he sat with us earlier.  He's odd, but he seems smart and maybe that's why he's odd... I dunno, really.  Guess I'm tryin' to say he's not what I expected.  I dunno what to think of him, right now."

"Yeah."  Tawny nodded.  "People often ain't what you expect.  The Lord made us all different, after all, and only He sees our hearts."  She looked down, then peeked up at him through her lashes.  "I'm glad you asked me, you know."

"You are, huh?"  Jacob felt heat rising to his face, but kept his cool.  She was, as his grandma would say, lovely as a sunrise.

"Yeah."  Tawny twisted an end of one of her braids, something on her mind.  Jacob just kept quiet, watching her.  Finally she met his eyes again.  "Would you... like... like to kiss me?  Just a kiss, is all."  she added hastily.  She wondered how it would compare to Devin.  She also wondered if Jacob was a good enough kisser to help her get over Devin.  Probably not, but what if...?

"Sure."  Jacob said quietly, moistening his lips, a trifle hesitantly.  Other than Autumn, he'd not really made out with anyone outside of the occasional game of spin the bottle, and that didn't count as everyone knew.  He smiled, and leaned down, his lips coming into contact with Tawny's.

The kiss was hesitant, and gentle, and sweet, Tawny half-closing her eyes as she let herself experience it.  It was different from her passionate kiss with Devin, which had been all hunger and need as well as unrequited love, a desperate need to bridge the gap between their hearts.  But there was some heat here, too, a comforting sensuality, the girl feeling it in her belly as she leaned up into Jacob, sighing a little.  He was a good kisser, after all-

Her eyes widened as a shape appeared behind the tall boy's shoulder, her squeak of alarm the only clue anything was amiss before he was torn from her and thrown aside like a doll.  Tawny opened her mouth to scream, but the grinning, sharp-toothed, noseless horror of a face that filled her vision stifled her scream in her throat, her mind rebelling in terror and revulsion.

"Hey, Tee."  Something that had once been Cody's face leered at her from his towering height, his voice glottal and thick with triumph and worse as he mocked Devin's nickname for her.  "Love your top..."

Too late, Tawny found her voice, but a hand the size of a catcher's mitt clamped over her mouth, and then all was darkness.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"Kat!"

The petite redhead looked around as her dad materialised from the crowd.  She'd been meaning to go and meet with Autumn, but had gotten distracted with... well, everything.  "Hey, papa."  she smiled chirpily, then sobered as she saw his face.  "Hey, what-?" she started as he took her arm, not ungently, and started to lead her towards the parking lot.

"No time."  Josh Williams said, his voice tense and eyes scanning the crowd.  "You're in danger, we're going somewhere safe."  Kat protested, but her father was too strong and his grip too sure for her to break it easily as he almost bodily carried her.  

"At least let me-"  she started, but they were at the parking lot, and a black SUV was pulling up and her father was yanking her up and into the back seat.  "-phone my friends... DAD!"  Her yell got his attention as the SUV's door slammed and they started away.  "What's going on?!"

Josh looked at the driver and passenger seats - two members of his team were in civvies, their eyes moving and weapons out of sight below the line of the windows, then he turned towards Kat.  "All I know is that one of your friends is dead, and I've been given orders to secure you.  That's it, so far."  He leaned over and took her phone, pocketing it.  "We're headed to the Project facility."  he added, in a tone that implied that was final, young lady.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The Fellowship had trickled by after Sean had left, Autumn fuming a little at the delays but managing a smile for Cassie as the blonde reporter had collected her bracelet.  Kat still hadn't shown up by the time Marissa and Cade had arrived, the Bitch Queen of Shelly receiving her bracelet with a barely hidden air of being in a fine old snit, as Autumn's Grandpa would say.  She didn't quite snatch it away from the offered box with a sneer - which was just as well because, given the text exchange, Autumn would have hauled off and slapped the taste out of her mouth.  Right now, she was past the rapids of caring why Marissa was pissy and in the still, cool waters of not allowing it to be her problem.  Fortunately, a pointed glare and a hair flip as she turned away, bracelet in hand, was all the acrimony apparently desired, Autumn meeting the first with a bland fuck-you smile and the second with an eye-roll.  By comparison, Cade was at least decent enough to look somewhat abashed as he smiled at Autumn, brow furrowing as he considered which identical bracelet to take, then selecting one with a 'thank you' before turning away to where Marissa was waiting nearby.

With a sigh, Autumn looked around to see if Kat was nearby, but her attention was immediately diverted by the lean shape propped comfortably up against the side of the family Jeep behind her, her lips curving in a smile as she shut the box and placed it back into the car for later.  If Devin and Kat showed up at the town hall - which was likely - then they could pick out their bracelets then.  Clambering back out of the Jeep, she closed it up and turned to her boyfriend with another smile.

"All done?"  Jase asked, moving closer, his eyes on her face with that intense expression that felt like it was going to drive the breath from her lungs.

"Yeah..."  she nodded, stepping to meet him, and taking his hand in hers.  "Let's go for that 'walk'."

"Everything okay?"  Jason murmured as they exited the parking area and headed into the woods bordering the Field, Autumn not-quite pulling him along.

"Peachy."  the redhead said, her voice containing a slight edge.  "I give everyone an hour and they take their sweet-ass time, plus Marissa being a... well, Marissa about the whole thing."

"I saw."  Was all he said.  He considered telling her about the talk with Marissa earlier, but wasn't sure it would help anything right now.  At best, it would simply cause deeper division in the Fellowship at the worst time.  At worst, Autumn could decide to turn round and go confront Marissa directly.  Who knew how that could end up?  He knew Marissa was not his friend, by her actions and her words.  He would watch and wait to see if she was Autumn's as she claimed to be, or if her pettiness would overcome that impulse.

"And Kat didn't show up at all, despite texting she was on her way."  Autumn continued, looking back at him over her shoulder.  "So, right now, I want to spend time with you and forget the whole thing."

"How did it go with Dana?"  he asked as they headed into a thicker section of woods, Autumn glancing around as though looking for something before glancing back at him once more, smoldering darkness in her blue eyes and a smile on her lips.

"Later, for all of that."  she said, stopping and pulling him close to her, her arms going around him as she pressed her lithe body against his lean frame.  Her lips were raised to his, her voice a breathy murmur.  "I want you, here and now.  So no more talking, oh Greatest of Calamities."  She pushed him back against a tree, hard, her mouth finding his as her hands roamed down past the waistband of his jeans, her breathing taking on a whimper as she felt him stir against her, his kiss deepening, his hands coming up to bury themselves in her coppery curls and hold her mouth against his.

This.  Yes. was all she could form as coherent thought as she felt him respond, felt her own insides become molten.  The drama, the terror ahead, all fell away as the fire rose in both of them.  He tasted of tobacco and spice and root beer, his scent underlaid with that cologne he favored.  And Jason was no less swept away, his senses overwhelmed with the taste and feel and scent and sight of her as he kissed open-eyed, delighting in the drowsy half-lidded expression of pleasure in her gaze.  The sun shone through the trees, dappling them both with radiance, flashes of red-gold hair and green-gold eyes coruscating in the scattered light.  Her hand wrapped around him, her other hand unfastening his jeans as she broke the kiss, gasping "...condom...".  He reached into his back pocket, releasing her as she stepped away, beginning to tug her shorts down-

"...help..."

Both teens froze, looking in the direction the weak call had come.  They had barely heard it over the thunder of their pulses, but heard it they had.  Autumn tugged her shorts back up, extending her senses into the bushes as Jason rebuttoned his fly, his expression one of cold alertness.

"One person, injured."  Autumn murmured.  Jase nodded, stepping forward, the air shimmering lightly about him as he formed a field of will-made-solid around his body.  Stepping past the bushes, Autumn a few paces behind, both of them stopped as they saw who was there.

"Jacob!"  Autumn moved past Jason in a rush, dropping to one knee by  her friend.  His face was bloody, a welt over one eye and leaf and bark detritus in his hair and stuck to the blood on his face.  His brown eyes were unfocused as they sought out the familiar voice.  

"Autumn...  Somethin' hit me..." he murmured.  "Tawny... Tawny gone."  As they spoke, Jason moved past in the direction Jacob seemed to have stumbled from, searching the ground.

"He was thrown against this tree-stump."  he said quietly pale eyes coldly evaluating the area before he returned to the two of them.  "No sign of anything else."

*  *  *  *  *  *

"CADE!"

Marissa and her boyfriend turned to see Sheriff Alister striding towards them, his face grim under the brim of his hat.  Stopping before the two, he looked around before leaning closer.

"Cade, I'm not officially telling you this, but it's your friend.  Charlie."  The sheriff hesitated, looking around again before lowering his voice.  "He's gone, son.  Foul play.  I've no idea who - or what - but I figured you and your friends need to know."

Marissa gasped, her face going pale before she recovered her composure some.  She glanced at Cade, whose face seemed to be set in stone as he digested the news, then looked at her bae's dad.  "Where?"

"His home.  Doesn't look like a burglary gone wrong or anything like that, either.  Looks like... well, your sort of weird.  Dark weird."  Alister was stoic as a man could be, but his eyes were haunted by what he'd seen, his voice hushed.  "And his girl is missing, too."

"Oh god."  Marissa brought a manicured hand to her mouth to stifle the outburst, or scream, she felt was building in the back of her throat.  The sheriff gave them both a warning look.

"Cade, before you and your superfriends do anything else, I want you to get your mom and sister home safe.  And if you do decide to do something else, don't go blundering around at a crime scene for crying out loud.  Kidnapping means the staties and the feds are going to be all over Shelly by nightfall."  Sheriff Alister straightened up.  "I didn't tell you kids any of this.  If your mom asks whats up, just tell her I will explain and you're just doing what I asked."  He sighed, straightening his hat.  "And now I've got to go tell Coroner Fingleman his daughter is missing."

With that, the tall sheriff strode off into the Field, the two lovers watching him go.

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Frantically Marissa tapped out a text to the group as fear began to ride her nerves and shake her fingers anxiously.  Dead?  This was not happening.  This could not be happening!  With that simple concept now planted in her mind it swiftly sprouted into an all-too-possible reality.  Something out there was playing for keeps now.  It was hunting them and so far, it was winning.

“Hey,” Cade tried to put his arm around her but she swiftly jerked away as the moisture in her eyes became the first tear of many that were going to fall.  “Marissa everything-“

“No!”  She stepped away from him and glared up at him.  “Everything is not fine.  It’s not going to be fine, Cade!”  She stepped in realizing she was being louder than she intended.  “We’re being hunted.  It killed Charlie, it has Sophia… bait, Cade!  It wants us to go after it.  Why leave him and take her?  We’re next.   It’s going to find us and it’s going to kill us.”

She backed away from him again, the panic rising in her mind while she paced, thinking it might calm her down.  She was showing her crazy and she knew better, but, fuck, wasn’t there a being stalked by an extra-dimensional demon clause in there, somewhere?  Should be.

Her lover took a step towards her, but she held up her hand, blocking him from getting any closer.  “Cade, I… I can’t okay.  I just can’t right now.  I don’t need hugs and kisses or a fucking fishing trip, I’m not some cardboard cut out of a girl.  I’m angry, I’m scared, I’m freaking the fuck out… I need space.  Room to breathe.”

She looked down at her phone and read the message.  “Delayed?  Are you fucking serious? UGH!”  She groaned at the sky, rolling her eyes, almost sure they were making a pit stop to sow their oats before the big night.  “Those two, I fucking swear!”

---==={@}===---

“You’ll be safe with her,” Devin said calmly to Ellie.  They were in the parking lot of Bunnies, a few miles away from the Carousel.  Ellie’s mind was still trying to get a hold of how his travel worked and him taking her with him was as much a blessing as it was an honor.  He had so much to learn about Teulu culture…  “Her name is Annette Giles.  She’s a friend.”

Annette stood several yards from them, just outside her car at the driver’s side door.  She couldn’t hear them but when Ellie saw her looked to Devin and cocked her head.  “Have you coupled with her?  She is extremely attractive.”

“No,” he smirked, stifling a laugh.  “At least, not yet.  She is a friend and if something happens to me tonight, she can try to help get you home.”

“Devin, I-,” she shrugged, not sure how to phrase her next words.  “I do not trust her.  I wanted it to be you.”

“I know, Ellie, but we can’t work on that unless I make it home tonight,” he shrugged, trying not to look worried.  “If I don’t, she will be there for you.  If I do, we get to work on getting you home.  Deal?”

“Very well, if there is no other way, then I suppose we’ve little choice.”  The blonde Teulu inhaled and exhaled slowly and steeled herself for meeting what was possibly the fifth, or sixth rival of the day?

“Devin, I’m so glad you called,” Annette said as a greeting as they approached her.  “You must be Ellie, I’m Annette Giles, a friend of Devin’s.”

“Yes, the one he claims to have not coupled with… yet.”  Ellie once again brought the crimson to the forefront of Devin’s cheeks.

“Is that so?”  Annette said in a dry tone.  “Yes.  Poor me, but I’m on the mend.  Holistic diet, yoga, the target range.  Anything to get him out of my head and bring peace to my loins.”

Ellie nodded sagely.  “Yes.  That is best.  Your age mingled with your lack proper respect for such a divine figure makes you an ill-suited mate.”

Annette’s icy glare fell on Devin.  “Well,” she exhaled.  “Isn’t she a gem.”

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said with a shrug.  “I didn’t rub her lamp.  I didn’t call her here.  She just… showed up.”  He slid the bracelet from his wrist and placed it in Ellie’s hand.  “Here.  Take this.  You’ll need it to get home.”

“You will be victorious.” The statement hung in the air with the confidence with which she spoke it.  Devin had never really anyone speak with such with a measure of truth and confidence in their voice before, except maybe Marissa, but this really didn’t compare to getting guys to fall for her because of a plunging neckline.  “I will get to know this Annette Giles and patiently await your ret-“

Devin looked down to his phone.  His eyes narrowed and his expression took on a stern, serious tone.  “Charlie is dead.”  He said out loud as he looked up to Annette, who was also looking at her phone with a look of sorrow on her face.  She nodded, confirming she got the same message.

“Jesus, fuck…” Devin stepped away, sliding his hand through his hair in disbelief.  “Jesus fuck… it killed Charlie, man.  Fucking, Charlie!  Dude just got a girlfriend!  I mean… who the fuck…” he paced; a bit frantic as he collected his thoughts as the death of his ‘friend’ settled in.  “I mean, she really liked him and she’s gone too.  Because none of us were believing the cherry popped last year in drama club story.  No fucking way.  Right up there with I got a ‘girlfriend in Canada’.”

“You have a girlfriend in Canada,” Annette pointed out.  It was a low blow, sure, but Devin’s new girlfriend called her old and unworthy of him.  Him!  A snot nosed, loudmouthed, moronic sixteen-year-old… with perfect hair and a charming smile.  God, she hated this job sometimes.

“Not the point!” Devin pointed out, loudly.  “We need to find her.  Save her.  Anette, I…”

“Devin, I know,” she nodded, offering him a caring smile devoid of humor.  “I want to talk all of you out if it, I do, but I know I can’t.  Something gave these powers for a reason, maybe this is it.  Ellie will be safe with me until you get home.  Go save the world, hero.”

“S'what we do,” he offered her a smile and looked to Ellie.  “Be safe.”  He turned and ran behind the building as a purplish flash faintly lit up the pavement in the summer sun.

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Cade didn't try to get close to her again.  "Okay Marissa.  We can either rush off to go meet the others, or go find our families, and get them to head home, then go meet the others.  My mother and sister will listen, based on me saying this came from Dad.  Will your parents do the same?"

"Unless you think we should just go straight to the table and wait for the others."   He knew his dad only told them because it was Charlie, one of their friends, who was "Special" like them, and because of concern for them, knowing a little of what they'd already been party to.  He wasn't so inconsiderate to just ask her to help him wrangle his family alone, wanting to make sure her parents were safe too.

"Whichever we do, I'm not going to leave you, I don't think any of us should be alone right now."   He waited for her to state what she wanted to do, and text to both his mother and sister, finding out where they were.

Cade seemed to be calm, almost inhumanly so, though that was only on the surface, and quickly gave way to anger.   He was worried, scared, but mostly he was angry.   A friend had died, someone that friend had cared for had been taken.   The same waited for all of them, if they didn't act now.   Like hell was he going to let that happen without a godamn fight. Like. Fucking. Hell.   As the thought went through his mind, it was probably the first time Marissa really saw what he looked like when he was angry.   It was a scowl that somehow made him look even more intense than before. Few people had ever seen this face, it was totally different than the normal, quiet Cade.

Seeing that look Marissa nodded, her composure returning.  They had things to do before, and despite what people thought of her, she didn't want to see people hurt.  "Let's go then."   She didn't take his hand, instead walking beside them as he went first to find his sister, with a trio of her friends.  Their reaction to Cade and Marissa was one of awe, and Cade smiled thinly.  "Sorry Girls, but I'm gonna need to borrow Haruka."   they all looked at him, and Haruka looked at the two older teens, about to protest.  Marissa of course saved the day, quietly convincing Haruka to come along.   She followed them, wondering just what was going on, but neither of them would say anything, though she could tell her brother was worried about something.

Miyakko was ensconced within a small group of other parents, not of the Fellowship, but from the track team.  She smiled as they walked up, though it faded as she saw Haruka with them.  She politely excused herself to come over to them, and Cade shook his head.  "Dad's fine, and Haruka's not in trouble.  It's okay.   That said there has been an incident, and Dad wants you to head home, Mom, and take Haruka with you."

"Cade, what's going on?"  she asked.  "Dad wants you to go home, and asked us to see to it that you do.  Please,  I'm sure he'll explain better once he gets home, but I really need you to just listen to me this once."

Haruka, about to blow up on her brother, looked and saw the worry and fear in his eyes, she saw the fear in Marissa's eyes, and took her mother's hand gently.  "Mom, let's just go.   There's no way Dad would do this without a reason, nor would Cade."

"Thanks Ruru."  Marissa gave the younger girl a smile.   "We'll make this up to you."

With her daughter going along, and seeing the concern in her son's eyes, Miyakko nodded.  "Alright we'll go, I know your father's got his reasons, as do you, but I want to know them too."

Cade nodded, and saw them over to the parking lot, to his mother's car and  looked to Marissa.  "Now, on to the hard part."   He didn't know her parents, but from what he'd heard, they'd not be anywhere close to as easy to motivate to leave.  She'd helped him, and though he didn't know what help he'd be, now he'd return the favor.

Edited by Cade

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Marissa was texting her brother as Cade spoke to his mother.  Finally, she rolled her eyes and turned to Ms. Allister.  “Seriously?  Ms. Allister, it’s an emergency.  The reasons are largely inconsequential, it’s for your safety and Haruka’s.  We’re not sticking around either if it’s any consolation, now please, go.”

“Christ,” Marissa fumed as the two drove away.  “She’s that sort of woman who keeps asking ‘why’ in the middle of a crisis then gets eaten by the giant dinosaur with a look of surprise on her face while it happens.”

“She’s just worried,” Cade offered as he tried to look calm amidst the tremors of emotions swirling like a maelstrom within him.

They two made their way across the park as swiftly as they could, Marissa keeping a surprisingly spry pace considering her four-inch wedged footwear, until they reached her and Devin’s parents.  They were in the middle of a conversation with a few families that they didn’t know, or care to know, and were almost thankful when Marissa approached and without explanation grabbed their arms and lead them away like children who’d just been caught doing something bad.

“Marissa!” Misti attempted to correct her daughter’s actions but found Marissa’s grip to be akin to iron and she seemed to be effortlessly dragging them along as they tried to keep pace.  Out of view of the rest of the park, she released them.  The trees concealed and obscured them as a row overgrowth completed the natural curtain that she hoped would allow her to speak with her parents openly.

“Ow,” Carl rubbed his arm.  “Christ, Punk’in.  The hell is going on?”

Misti glared as Cade simply followed silently, his face still a pool of emotions that shifted from anger to worry then to concern to rage.  She looked to Marissa then nervously to Carl.  “Sweetheart, what is going on?”  She managed a chuckle of concern as she awaited an answer.

“Mom,” she looked to her mother then to her father.  “Dad.  You need to leave.  Now.  There’s been a murder and there is a chance that the killer might come after you to get to me and Devin.”

Carl laughed.  “Sweetie, you and your brother have pulled a few in the past, but going as far as a mur-“

“Dad!” Marissa raised her voice to cut him off.  “For fucks sake!  Listen for once!”

Misti raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms defensively.  Her posture took on the disapproving mother kind as she interjected.  “Marissa Beatrice, I will not have you using that tone.  Cade, dear, you can go.  This is a family matter now, thank you.”

“Nah.” Cade shrugged slightly.  “Good where I am.  She’s as much my family as my blood.  We’re Fellowship.”

“The fuck is Fellowship?”  Carl fumed, now thoroughly pissed that his daughter was swearing at him.  “Some cult?  You run out and join a cult or something?”

Marissa sighed and rolled her eyes.  She held up her phone, the FaceTime on it showing Devin looking at his phone’s camera with a raised, yet confused eyebrow.  “Are you hearing this Deej?  I told you.  Dense as fucking uranium.  Do the thing.”

“Stop with the langu-“ as Devin appeared, instantly on the scene in a flash of purple light, Misti’s words seemed caught in her throat.

“S’up, bruddah.” He fist-bumped Cade who only offered him a silent nod and a fist.  “So, now that we have your attention.”

Marissa took a deep breath to center herself and pressed on, offering her brother a ‘thank you’ smile as she stepped forward.  “Mom, Dad?  Devin and I have super powers.  The killer is not a who, it’s a what.  Now, I know this is a lot to take in, but we’re the only ones who can stop it.”

“Wh-what is it?” Carl managed to get out after giving his son a creepy once over, as if looking for the smoke and mirrors that made his son instantly appear.

“It’s a god,” she replied.  “A being of darkness, ancient and evil.  We don’t expect you to believe to believe us-“

“Reassuring, because we don’t.” her mother said flatly.  “How did you do that Devin, and these super abilities, what are yours?”  Her eyes fell to Marissa.

“I think, therefore I go.” Devin smirked.  “We don’t have time to explain string theory to you two.  Marissa is not lying.  Not-Cody is on a warpath and we’re the only ones who can stop him.  He’s not vulnerable to conventional weaponry.”

“Okay, I’ll bite.”  Carl said lazily.  “What is he vulnerable to?”

“Us.” Cade said stoically.

“We’re hardly conventional.” Devin added.

“And let me guess, you have powers to?”  Mist threw a disbelieving gesture his way.  “What are they?”

“I look intimidating while using simple sentences to assert my dominance.”  Cade offered as he crossed his arms.  His tone told her she was barking up the wrong tree with him.

“Mine’s putting up with your shit for the last sixteen years,” Marissa interrupted.  “Look we don’t have time for this, you need to go home, lock the doors, stay safe and protect each other.  Please.

“But… why?  What is it and what does it want-“

“Mom!  We’re going to fight this thing.  We’re the only ones.”  Devin’s voice rose above his mother’s.  Marissa closed her eyes and looked away as the sound of her brother angry reminded her of harder times when he was the one always being bullied.  Bullied because he was protecting his sister.  “It’s done.  No compromises, no talking us out of it.  We’re telling you this because we love you.  We love both.  We might not come back.”

“And we don’t want you living the rest of your days wondering where your children disappeared to one day.” Marissa’s voice was soft and caring as she looked at her parents.  “You may not be perfect as parents go, but we both knew you deserved better than that.  We didn’t plan on you finding out this way, but… well, Deej is right.  This thing killed Charlie.  We must do this, and we might not come back.  We just wanted you to know that we love you.  Both of you.”

Devin shrugged; his lips not quite smirking.  “She nailed it.  I mean, this story is long and complicated, and to tell it to you, we need to survive tonight.  I teleport.  Marissa is like super hawt and mesmerizing.  That’s our power.  You wanna know more?  We need to take down the Not-Cody first.  For Charlie.”

“I cannot believe what I’m hearing,” Misti chuckled in disbelief and she tossed up her hands and paced away from the children.  “A-are you two high?”  The twins both exhaled and simultaneously rubbed the bridge of their nose in frustration in a moment Cade had only seen a few times where the twins moved, thought, and acted the same.

“That is without a doubt the single most loaded pile of bullshit I’ve heard in a long damn time,” Carl laughed.

“Thank you.” Misti gestured to him in thanks for supporting her point of view.  The twins’ faces sunk as neither of their parents seemed to believe a word of any of this.

“So, you better come home,” he continued as he stepped forward and held both his children, each in one arm, and hugged them tight.  “And tell me all of it.”

“You believe us?”  Devin asked, holding his father, the man he never got along with, like an actual son was supposed to.

“No,” their father stated honestly.  “I believe you just did something amazing; I’m processing that.  But I also know that Cody kid is still missing, you said Charlie was murdered by him and I think you idiot kids are about to go and exercise of some backwoods justice.”

The twins backed away and looked at their father then to each other.  “You’re not going to stop us.”

“We may not have been the best parents,” Carl motioned to himself and Misti.  “Suppose we owe you an apology for that, but we raised you to look out for each other, and taught you that when the world pushes… you spit in its face and push right back.  I know you’ll do the right thing.”

“How do you know that?”  Devin asked.  A hint of defiance in his tone as he studied his con man of a father.

“Because we wouldn’t.”  He offered his son a slight grin that seemed almost fatherly.  “Be safe and look out for each other.”

“Dad, I-,“ Marissa wiped tears from her cheeks while searching for the right words.

“Carl, you cannot seriously be buying into this.  That Alister boy is obviously feeding them some cockamamie stories and luring them into some weird hazing.”  Misti raged, glaring at Cade who only looked back at her with such a calm and composed expression that it could have brought a tear to Jase’s dried, unused tear ducts.  The children turned to leave and walked away while Misti was in mid-rant.  “Carl!”

Their father turned and held his wife, possibly for the first time in months.  “Mist.  Mist.  Shhh.”

“I’m a horrible mom,” he could hear the tears welling up inside her as her children walked away.  “They… they hate us…”

“No, no, they don’t.  They were talking and as usual we weren’t listening.”  He met his lovely wife’s gaze and smiled that charming, hereditary smile.  “Something strange is going on, we both know it, we both knew it.  Our children.  Ours, are at the middle of something big and they’re going to do great things.  We’ve both made mistakes, Mist.  Me especially… but look at them.  Strong, independent, smart, and doing what is right.  Don’t you see?  By being us, we’ve taught them how not to be us, and… well, shit… I’m proud of them for that.”

“We are a fucking mess, aren’t we?” Misti chuckled through tears.

He traced a strand of hair from her face and tucked it behind her ears as he dabbed away her running makeup.  “I knew what I was getting into.  No regrets.”  And there in the midst of all the chaos Misti and Carl met again for the first time…

Spoiler

Devin is now with Marissa and Cade.  The three can meet up with, or continue with, whatever the current trending path is.  If they need to simply be moved to the next scene, that's fine.  If anyone needs/wants them to help move their own snippets along, simply say so and I'm sure we can accommodate.

 

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Fuck                                  Fuck                 

            Fuck                                                                               Fuck

                          Fuck                                  Fuck

    FUCK                           FUCK              FUCK                         FUCK

                 FUCK                          FUCK                        FUCK

Kat's breathing was heavy as the SUV's door slammed, the noise akin to a prison door. One of her friends was dead? Phone. Fuck. She took a deep breath. Closed her eyes, focusing on her other senses. Anyone with two brain cells would know that a car is supplied in energy by the engine. If you simply removed the supply, then... She frowned. Turning the whole fuel tank into water suddenly didn't seem like a good idea.

Kat was familiar with her powers, now. As she had told Courtney the day before, manipulating matter felt hard, whereas manipulating energy was but child's play. And she would've kind of felt bad for breaking that car. If she wanted to be able to reason her Dad, she needed subtlety. Not to break the engine. I guess I just need to tell the engine to fuck off for a moment.

And subtly, the car signaled to its driver, with an annoyed rattle, that it would not move any further until ordered to, coming to a smooth stop after a moment.

"We're not headed towards the Project facility." Her voice was cold, void of any hesitation. "We need to talk." Kat's heart was palpitating, but for some reason unknown to her, she was calm. A limpid truth shone in her mind, bright as day: if she wanted to stay alive, she had to be with her friends. And her mind was dead set on doing that. What could guns do against an entity able to walk dimensions?

Her dad looked askance out of the window, then at the driver in front of them as the SUV came to a rolling stop, but at her words and, more importantly, the tone, he refocused on his petite daughter.

"Kat?" he asked in a studiously calm tone. "Is this you?" He gestured towards the front of the car, where the driver was cussing under his breath and trying to restart the engine, getting nothing but clicking noises.

"Won't start, captain." he reported after a moment. The other soldier was looking around, eyes on the outside of the stalled black car.

"Kat?" Josh repeated.

The French girl sighed. "Yes. It's me. I can't just follow you to the Project facility. Especially not today." She paused for a brief moment. "Who..." Repressing the urge to cry, scream, or whatever her dysfunctional brains wanted her to do, she bit her lip, and kept going. "Did they tell you which one of my friends died? Because I saw almost all of-"

She stopped, thinking back. She did scan her surroundings earlier. It could be, as far as she knew, one out of three of her friends. And one of them did not show up at Bannon's farm. She pressed tense fingers on her closed eyes, nervous. "Point is, I'll be safer with my friends, you should know why. And... there's something else I need to tell you."

"Kat-!" Her dad stopped, pausing as he took in what she had said, then sighed softly. "Okay... Okay. What's the thing you need to tell me?"

She took another deep breath. "I have an idea of which one of my friends was killed, and not by who, but by what. It wasn't someone, it was something." She opened her eyes and looked at her Dad. "Tonight, we're dealing with that thing. Not negotiable."

Before he could object, she went on. "Two reasons. One, conventional weapons won't work on it, we're the only ones able to get the job done. Two..." She looked at the soldiers in the car, then back at her Dad. "... you guys can't travel through dimensions like that thing. We can. And I can't tell you who exactly, because it's not my story to tell. But, yeah, that thing? Totally hiding under your nose." Did I say too much? She thought. Time would tell.

He studied her for a moment. "Was it like... whatever was sending those things into the Project that day, last week?" As she nodded wordlessly, he chewed at the corner of his lip. "Shit." he muttered as he stared into space, then looked at her again. "And I've got a pretty good idea of who, Katherine." he said in a dry tone. "I do have a clearance, I've been briefed."

He fell silent then, regarding her somberly. "You're just kids." he stated quietly. "You know what you're asking me to do?"

Her mask cracked for a moment, fear painted on her features as clearly as her brushes would have on a canvas. Tears started rolling down her cheeks, her voice silent compared to the world around her. "I know." She wiped her humid cheeks.

"I have to. We have to. What if everyone in town ends up dead tomorrow, ha? That would totally suck." Irony replaced fear in her voice. She couldn't waver now, that would be the worse thing to happen. "I have to be with my friends. I couldn't just watch them die knowing I could've actually helped, right?"

She was talking to herself as much as she was talking to her Dad. She didn't want to go, but knew she would hate herself for the rest of her life if she didn't go. The rest of her life. It wouldn't mean much anyway if they failed.

"Shhh, honey, honey, c'mere..." Aware that the two soldiers in the front were still there and paying attention, Josh felt more than a little awkward thrust into the role of nurturing parent. But Kat was his little girl, and though she was putting on a brave face he could see the strain it was causing. He slid across the seat, wrapping an arm around her and patting her back as he stroked her coral-red hair, hugging her tight. When he spoke again, it was quietly.

"I've not been around much. Guess I was still seeing you as a child." he mused aloud. "If you really believe you have to... to go do this?" He looked down at her, and Kat nodded in response despite her teary eyes, despite wanting to cling to him. Josh took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh. "Okay then..." He pulled her phone from his pocket and passed it to her, one arm still around her shoulders. "Just... is there anything I can do? The Project can do? To help I mean? Do you kids- guys need anything?"

She sniffed, then grimaced. "I don't have a clue, to be honest with you." She paused, taking back the control of her voice, then: "First-aid kits for the after-party, maybe. Uh, yeah, no, scratch that. We got that part covered."

She fell silent for a moment, considering the question more seriously. "I think it's best for the Project to not get involved right now. If I read the room correctly last time we talked about it, things are a bit... tense?"

"Huh." Captain Williams grunted, looking at the other two Project personnel, both of whom were doing an admirable job of not appearing to pay attention. There were standing orders not to antagonise the bunch of superpowered kids. And his daughter was definitely one of them. He looked back at Kat. "Okay. I'll offer you a deal. I'm not going to have one of my men there tranq you, and I'm letting you go back to your 'Fellowship'. In exchange, you come back safe, and when you do, we sit and we talk about what you did, okay? A debrief." He forced a smile he didn't feel. "Over cocoa."

She gave him a poor grin, and a clumsy hug. "Deal. Cocoa sounds great." She mentally sighed, glad of how it had turned out. She then checked her newly retrieved phone, her eyes narrowing at the messages she had missed, and swore under her breath, typing a short reply to the group chat. "I need to get back to the Carousel, fast." She wondered if she could run faster than a car. Probably faster than this one. Wait...

She realized she was still holding a tight restraint on the engine's energy flow, and released it. "The engine should be able to start now."

The driver tried the starter, the engine purred into life, and Josh nodded with some relief in his expression. He wasn't sure what Kat's powers entailed - it certainly wasn't as easily summed up as 'psychokinesis' or 'teleportation', but he was glad she hadn't permanently disabled a government vehicle. He was going to have a hard enough time explaining this snafu to Taggart as it was.

Leaning past her, he opened the door. "We both better get going, pipsqueak." he told her, giving her hair a quick ruffle. "Be careful, and be smart, okay?"

"Aye, aye, Captain." She replied with a smile, as she stepped out of the vehicle. She waved her hand in quick goodbyes, then closed the door and started running. Really fast. Her lungs quickly started burning, but it didn't really matter. Three hundred meters? That's nothing compared to my morning torture.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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Sean rode the Carousel, , sitting astride his favourite steed, the one with that looked like a nightmare with a unicorn horn, its mane, hooves, and eyes lacquered a fiery orange. Wistful melancholy etched his fine features as he held onto the pole with both hands, his eyes closed, letting the rollicking music washing over him as his mount reared up and down as the Carousel spun round and round.

He had helped his dad, some, in refurbishing the Carousel several years back. Mostly just wiring the lighting and screwing in light bulbs. He knew he is dad once had expectations, aspirations that his son would join him in his contracting business. Once, Sean had wanted nothing more. He liked building things, putting things together to make something better, grander.

But even before puberty had sent his development careening in different directions, Sean's dreams had going in different directions as well. He certainly still liked electrical work, but his interest in landscaping and house renovations waned in favour of software programming, computer assembly, and cobbling together gadgets and devices. 

His father had never faulted him his interests, and was even proud of his eccentric son and designing and programming a full, indie video game - two, in fact, though Jack Cassidy didn't know his son had completed his second with the tremendous help of his developing electokinetic prowess. Still, Sean could help but feel a bit of regret, a sense that he was abandoning his dad in a way. Both Teagan and Laurelei had help their father too, but Teagan had gone off, joining the army with the goal to become a Ranger, and while Laurie was still searching for what she wanted to do, it had always been clear she would be joining Jack in the contracting business, eventually to take it over.

Sean's goals had been to make it big enough in the video game industry to let his parents retire early, with enough so they could enjoy their time, while not himself falling into the same miasma of greed and short-sightedness that the AAA game studios and publishers seemed stuck in.

It seemed like that would be a long-shot now...

When he caught the text from Marissa, Sean felt like Lilly had just kicked him in the sternum. He could hardly breathe while at the same time, the urge to vomit was almost overwhelming. One hand slipped from the pole, the back of his wrist going to his mouth, as though the physical motion itself could keep everything from coming up.

He didn't even bother pulling out his phone to send his reply, barely restraining himself from yanking on the flow of electrons coursing through the Carousel to bring it to a sudden halt. Instead, he swung one leg up and over the carven saddle and timing it well, jumped off the nightmare unicorn when it rode low with an unexpected show of grace he would have been proud of if he hadn't been so distressed and scampered away from the Carousel.

With a genetic sword of Damocles hanging over his head, potential doom weighing on him from Not-Cody, from storming Site B, from the idea that there wasn't actually a solution for him there, still in a way, it hadn't felt entirely real to him, it felt almost like one of his roleplaying games. Yeah, bad stuff had happened, but they had always pulled through.

He hadn't been burned in a way, like Devin had been. Sean might have been forced to face his mortality like someone his age should never have to, but there wasn't a visceral immediacy to it. Not like finding out Charlie was dead and Sophie missing, and in all likelihood, it was Not-Cody's doing.

If Charlie wasn't his best friend, he was still a good one. He had helped out Charlie, filling in for part in a play at the last minute when the girl dropped out. Charlie had been in the first D&D game he'd ever run, and been in practically every game and campaign he'd run since. The idea that he wouldn't be there anymore, was gone, seared deep. Other than his grandfather, Sean hadn't lost anyone that close to him, definitely not someone his own age.

Sophie. She was missing, possibly dead, too. They had been friends once. She'd been the first girl he had ever asked out. He didn't think anyone besides the two of them knew. She'd turned him down. Hard. Cruelly, even. That had hurt. Bad. Bad enough that he hadn't even considered really asking another girl out. Not until Kat, anyway. He had hated her, too, for a while, if not to the degree he held for Courtney, but it had faded quickly, an emotional scar, instead of a psychic wound he kept picking at, and he had never wished her harm.

Dead. but maybe not dead. Maybe a chance to save her from the monster Cody had become. Sean had started towards his sister and parents, to warn them, to send them home, to whatever safety home could offer, but redirected himself to the parking lot at a pace just short of a jog. He didn't know what the plan was now, if they were going to try to hunt Cody down now or not. With Devin able to blip around and take them along, they might be going as soon as they gathered and he wanted the go-bag he had stashed in his Grand Cherokee.

<<<To: Laurie>>> [From: Sean]
<Pack up. Get Mom and Dad and get home. Now.> Sean sent to his sister as his sneakers skidded on gravel, one arm over his chest as he hustled towards his SUV.

<<<To: Sean>>> [From: Laurie]
<What's going on?! I thought 'stuff' was happening when it was dark.> Even through text, Sean caught a hint of his sister's worry.

<<<To: Laurie>>> [From: Sean]
<Not-Cody hit us first. He - No, IT - got Charlie and Sophie.> Sean debated for only an instant to before telling his sister the truth, glad he had had the foresight to voodoo her phone. Okay, it hadn't really been foresight, she'd just wanted unlimited data, text, and phone, with a zero dollar phone bill. <Who knows who else it might go after. Tell the 'rents it's something like what happened at Marias.>

<<<To: Sean>>> [From: Laurie]
<Love you.> Short, trite, even, but the sentiment came through. <You guys stay safe. Okay, safe as you can while doing what you guys have to do. I'll look after our parents. You better come back, bro, or I'll kick your ass. And I can do it, shorty.>

Laurie stared down at her phone, willing Sean and the rest of the Fellowship success in taking down the fucker who was working for the Dark, or was a part of now, or whatever. Then she shoved her phone in a pocket, squared her shoulders, then turned towards her parents, hands balled into fists and eyes hard with determination. Watch. Study. Analyze. Act now. Breakdown later.

She looked over Champion's Field. Was the news out already? Were people rushing around, was there a subliminal panic growing the crowd. She saw the Sheriff, but he strode in the same brisk lope he always did.

"Mom, Dad, we gotta go," Laurie said with a firmness she had never directed at her parents before. She waggled her fingers in a way suggesting something ephemeral and then started bagging stuff up, throwing other things in the cooler. Work economically. No need to rush. A few minutes now will save more later. "Some stuff, voodoo stuff, is happening. Stuff like at the hospital Sean told us about. You understand?"

Jack's hand tightened on the tongs he was holding, his knuckles going white. Carolyn stared at her youngest child, who was an inch taller than she was now, and looked to have some growth left to her yet, then slowly nodded. "We don't like it, but we understand. Enough, at least, hon. What does Sean want us to do?"

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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Meanwhile...

The two women, one blonde one brunette, one older one younger, one human and one not eyed each other from their respective seats.  Annette kept one eye on the road, but couldn't help stealing glances at her passenger.  Which wasn't helped by the fact that Ellie, other than occasionally scanning their surroundings as they drove, was looking straight at her for the whole ride, a calmly assessing gaze that was, in light of what little Annette knew, vaguely chilling.  She cleared her throat.

"Is Ellie your real name?"  she asked, meeting those grey eyes for a moment.  "It doesn't seem... that is to say, it seems normal."

"It is a use-name.  Shortened."  Ellie replied without moving her level gaze from it's target.  "Devin must trust you a great deal.  Are you a mentor to him?"

"Well..."  Annette sighed, shrugging and giving Ellie a wry smile.  "He and his friends don't have much reason to trust the Project.  But then, I've only recently met them and the previous director was...  Not trustworthy."

"But he trusts you."  Ellie stated, eyes narrowing slightly as she considered the older woman's profile.

"I don't mean him any harm. Or his friends. Or you."  Annette replied gently.  "I understand you were a prisoner of our rogue elements.  And I apologise for that."

"I am curious why your own warriors have not already exterminated the 'rogue elements' and taken back your other complex."  Ellie's tone was level, no hint of suspicion in it, but the steady, unwavering stare reminded Annette uncomfortably of Jason Bannon, seconds before he had dangled Dr Cook by his neck.  "Surely you had contingencies in place for such an event?"

"As it turns out, the contingencies were designed by the people we trusted to run the Project."  Annette said dryly.  "We're planning to take back what has been seized, but we are trying to do it with a minimum of death or loss of valuable materials."

"That makes sense."  Ellie replied after a moment.  "Your enemies are dug in very securely, and they have Elder technology - barely understood, but they can use some of it in rudimentary ways."

"You've seen it?"  Annette asked as the sedan pulled into the underground garage behind the medical center and made for the 'loading lift' which would take it to the complex below.

"Some."  Ellie admitted with a slight shrug of her own.  "They tried to make me explain it to them, but in truth I don't understand it much better than they do.  I am no scientist or engineer."  She looked around as the car emerged into the Project's vehicle bay, noting the small detachment of troops with weapons that appeared to be waiting for them.  She looked back at Annette.  "And now I am to be your prisoner?"  she asked mildly.  The alert Aeon woman noted the way Ellie's hands shifted very slightly, resting casually on the girl's lap.  "Was Devin a fool to trust you?"

"No."  Annette brought the car to a stop, raising a hand to the soldiers as she faced Ellie directly.  "I did not order them to be here.  My second in command is protective."  The atmosphere in the car was charged, Annette could feel.  Ellie looked calm, her grey eyes flickering over the soldiers and their positions before returning to consider the human woman within arm's reach.  Appeals to pragmatism were likely the best route, Annette reasoned.  "If I harm you or treat you poorly, I will make an enemy of Devin and his friends.  That runs completely counter to my goals.  I understand you don't necessarily trust me, but trust that I do not want to make enemies of those people."  Ellie looked at her for a moment more, then nodded slowly.

"Yes. That would be a foolish thing to do, wouldn't it?"

"Absolutely."  Annette nodded, then gestured to her car door handle.  "May I stand them down?"  Ellie looked at the troops one more time, then at her and nodded.

"Of course.  And then we can talk more."

"Right."  Annette smiled, then opened the car door and stepped out of the vehicle, her expression composed, though inwardly she was fighting the urge to tremble.  Taggart might have meant well, and the alien in her car might appear to be just a young woman, but there was a distinct sense that her life had been hanging in a balance for a few seconds.  She was going to have some words with her second in command.  Later.

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On 1/11/2021 at 5:34 PM, GDP_ST said:

"Jacob!"  Autumn moved past Jason in a rush, dropping to one knee by  her friend.  His face was bloody, a welt over one eye and leaf and bark detritus in his hair and stuck to the blood on his face.  His brown eyes were unfocused as they sought out the familiar voice.  

"Autumn...  Somethin' hit me..." he murmured.  "Tawny... Tawny gone."  As they spoke, Jason moved past in the direction Jacob seemed to have stumbled from, searching the ground.

"He was thrown against this tree-stump."  he said quietly pale eyes coldly evaluating the area before he returned to the two of them.  "No sign of anything else."

“Thanks,” she murmured, flashing a thin smile up at the lean youth whose kisses still burned on her lips; if any of that warmth lingered for him, however, he gave no outward sign of it, his pale eyes focused instead on the trees around them. Something had hit him, Jay had said. Something. Hands trembling, Autumn gingerly reached out to brush the leaf litter and bits of bark from her childhood friend’s forehead and tried not to think about what that particular word signified. Jacob’s handsome features were dark and sticky with his own blood, his expression distant as he struggled, disoriented, to make sense of where he was. “Hey. Hold still,” she chided him gently, turning his face back toward her as he tried in vain to make sense of the patterns of light and shadow moving around them. “I need to have a look at you, okay?”

"Why is it I always get hit in the head when you guys are around?"

The sudden intrusive echo of those words rang in her ears as clearly as if she were kneeling on blood-spattered commercial tile rather than dirt and dried leaves, and for a few seconds Autumn just stared down at her wounded friend, eyes fixed on the crimson smear darkening the soil beneath his head. Avian laughter mocked her, the muffled din of the birds’ raucous cries and far-off chattering overlaid with that of the students who’d gathered to watch two seniors destroy the school weirdo. This was Jay staring up at her, though, not the inscrutable Jason Bannon, and without the latter’s glacial composure the fear and confusion of the former were achingly easy to read. Autumn shook off the déjà vu with a shudder, tracing the shape of his brow bone with her fingertips; one side was swollen badly, already turning a deep, livid purple. Probably where he was hit? Hmm. Gingerly lifting the dark hair plastered against his scalp, she could only grimace at the ugly wound she found there as something twisted in her stomach. Even if it turned out to be superficial, it still looked… un-good.

“Fuck,” she muttered aloud, disregarding for now the grit and blood smeared across his forehead and instead studying Jacob’s oddly mismatched pupils with a grimace- one little more than a pinprick, the other a deep black well in the warm hazel of his eyes. That, and his inability to focus, along with the gash on his head, ticked enough boxes that she didn’t really need supernatural powers to decide he had a concussion. But-

Oh, fuck. Fuck, fuck fuck.

Warmth and color alike drained from her cheeks as the restless tide of her Shine drifted through his prone form, describing vividly what her eyes alone couldn’t tell her: beyond the jagged edges of pain from the laceration on his head and the assortment of other cuts and contusions was a slow, insidious pulse that pressed outward against his skull, pooling and swelling and silently smothering the bright spark of his vitality like twilight swallowing the day. How long had he been lying there before they’d found him? What if they hadn’t come by? Shaken, the pale young woman swallowed hard. She wasn’t a doctor or surgeon or triage nurse by any stretch of the imagination, didn’t know the clinical terms for what she was seeing or how to even begin describing it to an actual medical professional if she had to… But she knew what it meant.

Okay. Okay okay okay. Chill. Focus. You can’t help him if you’re freaking the fuck out, Autumn. Do not freak the fuck out. He’s not dying. You’ve done this before. You’re good. It’s good. It’s fine.

Repeating those last words to herself like a silent mantra to stem the rising tide of panic that demanded she either cry or worse, Autumn exhaled slowly and deliberately and blinked back tears. Crying wouldn’t help. Yelling wouldn’t help. Helping would help. “Okay,” she managed after a moment, eyes still stinging. She could fix this. She could. Nothing was broken, at least, so it should be fine to move him, right? “Okay, fuck,” she began, nudging him gently back to wakefulness. “Listen. Jacob, I-“ Before she could get further, a pair of notifications chimed simultaneously from her phone and Jason’s, followed almost immediately by another. “Oh, god damn it, seriously?” she demanded of no one in particular, glancing briefly skyward. Of course they’d have to start talking again now. Well, whatever. It could wait. “Jay,” she tried again more urgently, hoping the use of the nickname would hold his wavering attention. “C’mon. I need you to sit up for me.” He groaned in protest and she scowled, lines of worry etched between her brows and around her lips. Heedless of the scarlet staining her hands, she raked her fingers back through the dishevelled curls that had escaped her haphazard braid.

“Seriously. Work with me here. If I have to pick you up and give myself a… a hernia, or something-“ She left the rest of the threat unspoken. “Come on.” Grunting softly, the redhead took hold of his shoulders and leaned back, pressing her knees into the soft earth as she heaved. Jacob grunted in pain and, bracing one hand on the ground, helped push himself upward. “Oh, thank fuck.” Autumn allowed herself a sigh of relief as she settled back on her heels, tentatively plucking away some of the leaves that were all but glued to the side of his head. “Okay. Now look at me, all right?” Resting her palms on either side of his jaw, she gave him a shaky, apologetic smile and leaned closer. “This is gonna feel weird, and I’m sorry, and I know you’re tired, but I need you to concentrate. I want you to count my freckles for me, all the ones you can see on my face, okay?”

“’s too many,” he mumbled drunkenly, the corners of his mouth curving upward slightly. “Don’ have all day.”

“I didn’t say you had to count them all, smart ass,” she retorted, turning his chin back toward her as his attention wandered again, forcing him to meet her gaze. “Just count.” Not that long ago, being this close to Jacob Crocker would’ve had her heart racing for far more pleasurable reasons, but right now it was all anxiety rather than anticipation. It was the first time she’d really, consciously tried to use her powers on someone who didn’t possess any of their own, and there hadn’t exactly been a lot of opportunities to use her abilities even on those who did. She had to get this right; even if healing wasn’t her strength, there weren’t any other options.

There was no resistance as she exhaled, reached out and into him with the red-gold current of her Shine; no answering flicker of invisible radiance as it flowed through her fingertips and rippled along nerve and bone. She could feel the same faint, soft glow that seemed to permeate everything living, but that was all, and for an instant Autumn wondered why she’d thought there might be more. Because he was more, maybe? At least to her. But even that thought was swept away in the rushing waves of energy weaving flesh to flesh, stitching together what had been severed so violently. The bleeding and swelling on his brain were the most critical, requiring not just the repair of damaged tissue but the dissolution and reabsorption of the blood itself, the reduction of inflammation, the reinforcement of bone- it was complicated and engrossing, her Shine guiding her intuitively through a process that would have taken hours of delicate surgery to manage elsewhere. She’d done this before. She could do this. She was doing this.

“Autumn.” The sound of her name snapped her back to awareness of the world and she blinked dazedly at the interruption, her head jerking upward. Jason’s eyes narrowed as he circled around into his girlfriend’s field of view, the mouth she’d so often admired lately thinning into a faint frown as he read the message on his phone. There followed a moment’s silence then, an unnatural stillness in his manner that reminded her of something he’d said before about things disrupting his thought process. "It's Marissa,” he relayed tersely. Then, just as succinctly: “Charlie is dead." Glancing up from the screen he scanned the trees once more, then tapped out a quick, staccato reply as she stared up at him, sea-hued eyes uncomprehending. What? Autumn wanted to ask. What the actual fuck? But the question wouldn’t form on her lips. Dimly, she realized Jacob’s blood felt slightly cool on her hands, the weirdly metallic smell mingling with the scent of the earth beneath her. Someone she knew was dead. Someone she knew was missing. Someone she knew had almost died. "I've told everyone to meet at my dad's table. We should hurry." He paused, considering her for a moment, and then added, “I’ll let them know about Jacob and Tawny.”

“No, not yet.” At his expression, Autumn swallowed and shook her tousled head, ignoring the piercing, glacial gaze that scrutinized her; a part of her recognized that the only reason it didn’t bother her was because she was probably already frozen, numb to shock and horror as her brain went into preservation mode. “It won’t help, and there’s no point making people panic any more than they probably will be already. I’m taking care of Jacob and Tawny is Devin’s friend. If you put this in the group chat, he’ll go running off half-cocked to do something stupid all on his own. Besides.” She hesitated, drawing in a slow, deep breath. Devin wasn’t exactly on her list of favorite people, but he deserved better than just a text. “This is important enough to tell him in person. I need to get Jay back over to Nathan, and we can talk about it when we get to your dad’s. All right?”

“All right,” he replied neutrally, glancing once more at his phone and nodding slightly in confirmation before putting it away. And then with that singular focus that left everything else drifting somewhere on the periphery of existence, Jason dismissed the conversation as if it had never been and once more focused on the sights and sounds of the forest around them.

"Mother fucker," Autumn swore a few moments later as the clear, cheerful sound of an acoustic guitar rang through the clearing from her back pocket. "Little busy right now," she muttered. Her fingers were dark with blood as she tried to concentrate on closing the remainder of her friend’s wounds, but the song persisted, and then began to repeat. "Son of a- uggghhh, god fucking damn it," she growled, glancing up at the silent figure nearby. "Hey, can you-" Exhaling, the frustrated redhead closed her eyes for a moment, counting slowly to four as she did so.

Not his fault, don’t take it out on him. Jesus, this day is fucked, though.

"Sorry,” she tried again, less intensely this time. “Would you mind answering that for me? I've kind of got my hands full."

"Sure." Jason had been hanging back, staying out of the way and letting Autumn do her thing, but at her request he stepped forward and smoothly knelt beside her, his hand dipping into the pocket of her shorts like a cat's paw would scoop a fish from a stream, emerging with the still-ringing phone. Staying next to Autumn and the softly-groaning Jacob, he keyed the touch-screen answer button with his thumb, his tone calm as still lakewater as he took the call. "Autumn's phone."

"Autumn-" Dana's worried voice broke off suddenly, the presumptive greeting dying away as the pretty vet on the other end of the connection processed the fact that it was not her daughter who'd answered. "No, who is-?" The pause was much shorter this time, and the relief almost audible. "Jason. Thank God. Is Autumn with you?"

"She's here, Dana." If there was a warming to the tone, it was barely perceptible as Jase caught the sideways glance Autumn gave him at the mention of her mom's name. His head tilted, analysing the relief in Dana's voice. She had been expecting something... bad news? "She's fine, but helping someone with something. What's up?”

The response was hushed as she lowered her voice, the animated conversation in the background fading by degrees as it was replaced by the soft sound of grass and pine needles underfoot. "The sheriff just came by while Ian was over talking to some of the other local 'boys' club' members. Lucius Cole's son, Charlie, was-" She took a slow, shuddering breath, and when she continued there was an audible note of fear underscoring the carefully chosen words. "They found his body, Jason. You guys go to- went to school with him, right?”

He answered after only a momentary hesitation, his eyes glancing sideways at Autumn as he spoke calmly. "Yes. Charlie was one of us, Dana." he said with a faint emphasis on the 'us'. "We got the word a few minutes ago."

"News travels fast in a small town," the older redhead muttered on the other end of the line. "Right. Well, before my husband sends out a search party, tell her I said to get back here. They're talking about shutting everything down early, so-" The sound of another, muffled conversation cut into the end of her sentence, as though Dana had suddenly pressed her hand over the phone, but even if the words themselves were indistinct, the tense, angry tone of the other speaker was not. "Sorry, Jason. Or Jase, rather," she amended. "Listen, Autumn said you guys have some kind of plan tonight. And I won't lie, it's taking everything I have to even consider going along with this. But now...” Another pause, another uncertain breath. “Just, when she's done with whatever it is she's doing, I need her over here. Please."

"I understand. One moment." Jason looked at Autumn. "News about Charlie is going public. Your mother needs you back over there ASAP. Got a message?" he inquired tersely.

"Um." She blinked up at him, surprised at both the question and the sharp manner of its asking, then at the canopy of sun-gilded green that framed his impassive features. It was such a jarring contrast from before, but... That was before. "Yeah, uh, tell her Jay's with us and we'll head over as soon as we can." She paused, glancing down at Jacob, and then sighed, rubbing idly at her forehead with the back of her hand. If she never had to do this again it would still be too soon. "And to go ahead and start packing up."

He nodded, straightening up to stand as he spoke again into the phone, his eyes resuming their scan of their surroundings. "Jacob is with us, and we'll be there as soon as we can. Autumn says to begin packing up." he told his girlfriend's mother, then after a moment added. "I second that. The sooner the better, Dana." he advised in much the same tone as one would use to warn of incoming rain. "We'll be there soon."

"All right," the elder Keane woman sighed wearily. "Thanks, Jase. I'll let the boys know." There was a soft chirp, and the call ended.

He tucked Autumn's phone into his pocket for now and glanced down at her. "How is he doing?" he asked, pale eyes intent for a moment on the blood-matted hair of Jacob's scalp. "Want some help moving him?"

"Mmmm," she nodded, meeting his gaze for a moment before returning her attention to her childhood friend, frowning thoughtfully as she checked his pupils again. "Please. He's heavier than he looks. I think I was able to deal with the worst of it, at least the bleeding and the swelling on his brain, but he'll probably hate life until at least tomorrow morning." She paused, glancing back up at her inscrutable, impenetrable boyfriend with a curious, searching expression as her eyes roamed his face. "Hey. Are you okay?" It was a ridiculous question, she knew, even as she asked, but something in the brusqueness of his manner demanded it.

"Not really. Things are not as I would have them be." He moved to crouch beside Jacob, slinging one of the larger boy's muscular arms around his shoulders and one of his own arms going around Jay's waist. He cast another glance at Autumn, frost melting somewhat in the glacial jade of his eyes as they met hers. He smiled, very slightly. "But I am functioning. I cannot really do otherwise." With that Bannon stood, easily supporting the athlete despite his own comparatively slender stature as though their positions had been reversed. "Easy now." he told Jacob. "One foot in front of the other."

"Oh, good, because if you'd said 'yes' I'd probably have lost it," the freckled young redhead replied with something that could almost pass for a smile in dim lighting. Almost. After all, if even Jason Bannon could admit to being less than sanguine, things really were totally fucked, she realized. With the immediate crisis before her over, and Jacob tentatively vertical, there was nothing now to distract Autumn from- well, everything, and the bloodless coils of nausea and horror in her belly looped around themselves once more. Charlie Cole was dead, Jay had been attacked, and Tawny had been taken by... Something. An icy frisson prickled the back of her neck as she remembered the choice of words: not someone, but something. And she could still be-

Fuck. Oh my god, Autumn, you’re such a dumbass.

"Shit." Teeth catching at her lower lip as she patted her pockets agitatedly, Autumn groaned in despair and self-contempt. "I didn't even think- Tawny. I thought we should tell Devin in person after we saw my parents and got Jay back, but I'm an idiot. Jesus, fuck. He could just meet us."

A slight movement caught her eye as her phone floated - mercifully behind the semi-conscious Jacob - to her hand as Jase began to walk with the other boy. "Agreed. Here." the Effing Boyfriend said, his eyes back to scanning the path ahead. "Text him as we move." Jacob was conscious enough to walk with aid, now, though from the occasional faint grunt it was plain his head was suffering. "Tired..." he mumbled again, dimly wondering why he felt so light on his feet when they felt so loosely attached right now. He was faintly aware that his head was spinning and his balance was off-kilter, but he wasn't stumbling. "You've a concussion." Jason said quietly, eyes still moving. "Stay awake, stay focused. Just concentrate on walking right now."

For a brief moment as she watched him leading Jacob toward the treeline, Autumn considered asking Jase whether he was agreeing that she was, in fact, an idiot, or that Devin should meet up with them, or both. Probably both. Still swearing softly to herself, she opened up the contact list on her phone and tapped the teleporter’s name, half-consciously trailing along behind them under a shifting veil of shadow and light.

-----Monday, 09/02/2019; 17:25-----
<<<To: Devin>>>
[From: Autumn] Gotta take care of smth before we get there, but need to talk to you. Meet us here?

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"Okay," Devin walked with Cade and Marissa through the crowds of people and he couldn't help but have that uneasy feeling of 'I know something you don't know' as he passed by the oblivious families trying to enjoy what little of summer they had left.  Charlie filled his thoughts as they moved, his stride determined, his mind elsewhere.  The talks they'd had, the small frame of time in which they had to build memories and now... that was it.  There would be no more opportunities for the two to build a friendship.  There would be nothing else from Charles Cole and all that kept flashing through the young teleporter's mind was Charlie sitting at the breakfast table in the morning at school, laughing and smiling and... his phone spoke up with the voice of Queen Elenore from the movie Brave scolding the young, fiery haired Princess Merida, 'Don’t just play with your haggis!' she cried out, alerting Devin that it was Autumn, the Fellowship's own fiery haired princess trying to get a hold of him.  "You know where to go, right?  Don’t waste time getting there." He told the other two as he fished his phone out of his pocket.

"What about you?" Marissa asked.  She was unconsciously holding Cade's hand tightly, finding some measure of solace, warmth and protection with the two men she trusted would take care of her.  She was no fighter, and outwardly appeared to be holding together.  Inside, the Queen of Mean's emotional and mental stability was a winner take all game of Jenga and the tower was wobbling more and more with each new strange they got word of.  "Devin, we've already lost someone, don't go playing hero."

"I'm not," his smile did nothing to reassure her.  "Hermes gotta do, what Hermes do, right?  Texts or no, I'm the fastest.  I can help make sure we're all safe and message traffic is getting relayed.  You'll be safe with Cade," Devin glanced to the six-foot-four tower of muscle and Cade knew that look silently told him that he was trusting his sister’s lover with his world.  She wasn't just his sister, but his twin sister.  Losing her would be like losing half of his soul.  It was a twin thing.  "If he's crazy enough to sleep with you, he's crazy enough to punch a dragon for you.  I'll meet up with you guys soon, okay?"

She mustered a smirk at his bad joke and punched him in the arm playfully.  "Okay, jerk.  Love you."

"Love you too, sis." He disappeared into the crowd as Cade tugged Marissa's hand gently to spur her back into motion.

Stoically Cade moved through the people and towards where his Jeep was parked.  "How can you be so calm?"  Marissa asked the Terminator she was not dating, just sleeping with because they didn't want to put a label on it.

"I'm not.  I'm afraid, angry, and unfortunately for whatever squares off against us, determined.  I will mourn when there is time.  I will laugh at the memories, offer a moment of silence for the fallen, and if need be, cry tears that refuse to be kept in any longer.  For now, though, Marissa, none of those things will help us or bring Charlie back, so I will place our enemy in my sights, and I will slowly squeeze the trigger of my fury until whatever took Charlie away from us is no more."

“I’m so turned on right now,” she said out of nowhere.  “Just thought you should know.  So, you know… the faster we get this shit done...”

---===[@]===---

"Devin!"

He'd barely made it thirty paces, his phone in hand, before he heard someone cry out to him.  It was so cool being so... well, cool.  He turned his head, looking towards camp Cassidy as his parents packed up for the day.  Families were starting to take notice and their expressions read that something seemed 'off' about the direction the day was going.  He ran over to the lovely redhead, the youngest of the Cassidy sisters, Laurie.  "Hey, been awhile," he greeted her, and she tried to force a smile at his never-ending sense of humor in even the most trying of times.  He'd just been over here talking to her just a couple hours prior.  "Sean, is he-"

"Yeah, yeah... he ran off to wherever it is you guys are supposed to go, I'm um, doing what I can, I guess." she thumbed back to her parents and the camp.  "So, is it, uh... is it happening?  He told me about Charlie... and Sophie."

"Something is happening, but whatever it is, we're going to stop it."  It wasn't intentional but he delivered the phrase with the confidence of a superhero.  "Charlie, yeah... he's gone.  Sophie?  We don't know a hundred percent yet, but if she's alive, we'll find her."

Neither teen noticed the Cassidy parents approaching from behind Laurie.  Perhaps it was the chaos encircling their thoughts or the momentary meeting of their eyes that tore their attention away from anything going on in the world around them.  It was Jack, Sean's father, clearing his throat as they approached that brought the two teens out of their silent reverie and back into reality.

"Devin," Jack's voice was a firm, but fair greeting.  Neither of the Cassidy parents approved of Devin spending time around their children, not after what he'd done to them for the last three years.  The stories of his torture and abuse of the Cassidy siblings were cause for more than one argument in the household about going to the school and reporting him.  Carolyn offered him a false smile forced through tightened lips.

"Mom, dad," she looked to Devin, pleading with him silently and he offered her a slight nod of approval.  "It's okay.  Devin's one of them, like Sean."  When they both sighed and offered a roll of the eyes in a silent curse to the heavens, Jack shook his head.

"No, no..." she pleaded with them to understand.  "He's okay.  He's changed.  Really, he's trying to be better and... that's saying a lot coming from me since I was seriously considering setting his motorcycle on fire a few weeks ago."  Devin offered her a WTF glare with hurt in his eyes.  "Don’t glare at me.  You were a total jerk and had it coming."

"Uh huh, still going to do it?"  He jokingly asked her.

"Might settle for slashing the tires," she said honestly.  His joking expression faded fast as that was not the answer he was expecting.  She shrugged innocently.  "What?  I've a lot of pent-up anger towards you."  He barely noticed her playful grin as Jack spoke up.

"Then, you'll be with my boy tonight?"  His fatherly gaze settled on Devin, indicating that the time for jokes was done.  "All of you.  You'll see him safe?"

"Sean," Carolyn's worry was evident in her voice.  "Isn't a fighter."

"You'd be surprised." Devin said honestly.  He shifted back into Devin mode before someone noticed him being too serious. "Mr. Cassidy, Mrs. Cassidy... I'm not going to lie.  What we are about to do is dangerous, but I'm sure he's already told you that we're the only ones who can do this.  So, I know I'm a horrible influence on your kids, but we’re going to take Sean out tonight and we are probably going to be out way past curfew.  There's going to be violence, possibly experimental recreational drug use and most likely, pre-marital sex, you know how us teens and our parties go, and we're gonna misbehave and make all kinds of noise until the job done,” his tone suddenly took the air of unsurpassed confidence.  “But we are coming home."

Jack stared for a long moment at Devin, unmoved by Devin's humor and unable to let go of three years of torture and abuse that he'd put his kids through.  This was his life, his son's life, and if parenting had taught him anything it was that children never stopped surprising him.  He offered Devin his hand, which the teenage boy accepted and was quickly locked in the tight, powerful grip of a man who worked hard for a living.  Compassionately he spoke as a father, leaving the past in the past, for now.  "You bring my son home, you hear me?"

It was the most serious he'd sounded in a long time as Devin stood tall, like the man he was growing into and nodded his confirmation. "Yes, sir."

"You guys, be careful, okay?"  Laurie forced a worried smile as Jack let her friend(?) go.

"We will."

He turned to leave as Jack and Carolyn stood with their daughter, thankful that there were others more responsible than Devin Jauntsen looking after their son.  "Devin, wait," like man leaving to go to war, Devin turned to look back to Laurie.  She was already near him, running the distance between them as she called out.  Her lips pressed to his cheek gently.  It was nothing more than a simple kiss, but it carried with it a weight that said someone would miss him if he didn't come home.  Her emerald eyes seemed to capture all that remained of summer's defiant surrender to winter's cold, shimmering with warmth.  "For luck."

He nodded.  "For luck."

---===[@]===---

The air weft briefly, turning a violet hue, before Devin appeared with a vacuous 'bamf' standing not far from where Autumn was.  With all that was going on, his sudden appearance startled her, and she jumped, offering him an icy glare.  "Fuck, Devin!"

"Sorry!" He apologized, matching Autumn's tone and volume.  "It's not like I can knock!"  He noticed Jason assisting Jacob and immediately he felt he understood why they'd called him.  "Shit, Jacob..." he said quietly.  "He okay?  You need me to get him somewhere, hospital, maybe?"

"No, no." With a quick shake of her head the red-haired teen declined the teleporter's offer to play ambulance and tucked her phone back into her pocket. "It looks worse than it is, I promise. We're taking him back to my parents' table so they can get him home and keep an eye on him." Glancing surreptitiously in her childhood friend's direction to see if he'd noticed Devin's abrupt appearance (and hoping he was still too out of it to care), Autumn tugged idly at the hem of her t-shirt. "Thanks, though," she added, as an afterthought.

"Yeah, sure, no problem."  Since everything seemed handled, he half shrugged and gave them a look. He seemed anxious and, in a hurry, like he wanted to get everyone to 'The Table' and start getting revenge for Charlie.  "So... what's up then?"

Jase kept them all moving as he supported the half-conscious, mumbling Jacob, eyes pausing their wary scrutiny of the surroundings long enough to look at Devin.  "We texted you because Jacob was with Tawny."  he said quietly, green gaze holding Devin's stare.  "No sign of any violence other than to Jacob.  It's likely she's been taken."  He didn't say by whom.  They all (except Jacob) knew who had taken the girl.

He went on into the momentary silence. "We need to act together.  That's why we're talking face to face."

"And also," Autumn interjected quickly, her fingers twisting in the cotton fabric. "I really wanted to tell you in person. I know she's your friend, and that's not something you should have to read in a text."

Devin about faced, cutting onto Jason's path and pressing his hand against Jason's chest to stop any further movement.  "Woah, woah... the hell you mean 'likely been taken'?  By whom?"  If it weren't Charlie that had his guts in a knot a sudden sheen of dread washed over his face.

Not her.  Oh god, not her... not Tee...  Not-Cody didn't seem a likely answer to him.  It was broad daylight on a cloudless summer day... the idea of a monster or creature of the dark didn't seem likely to be able to get away with sneaking through this crowd of barbecuers and happy families.  "The hell's going on?  Who has Tawny?"  He looked to the delirious Jacob and they noticed one of his hands tighten up into a white knuckled fist.  Neither could be sure if he planned on using it, or if it was just the stress of the moment getting to him.  "Jacob!  Who has her!?  Where is she!?"

"I dunno...  threw me..."  Jacob blearily focused - or rather, tried to - on Devin.  "Dev'n?  Wh'n y' get here?"

"He was hurled headfirst into a tree."  Jason explained, shifting slightly so he was between Devin and the insensible Jacob.  "Devin?  Look at me."  There was a note in Jason's voice, an edge of some undefined urgency usually lacking.  "Tawny Shines, so we know who's taken her.  We know where they are.  We are going to get her back.  Right after we hand Jacob off.  Okay?"

"Jesus fucking-" Autumn swore quietly but intensely, stepping in to get her shoulder under Jacob's arm as his balance wavered. "I just got him put back together, could you please not jump down his throat?  It's not his fucking fault, Devin. Just-" God, what was with this freaking day?! "Uggghhh," she fumed aloud, an angry flush rising in her cheeks as she tried to keep her voice down.  "Look, we thought you needed to know, and since you can fill everyone in faster than we can get back to Gar's table, this is where we're at right now."

Jason saw it.  That gleam in eyes that spoke to pure rage mingled with the myriad 'what ifs' now running through it.  Jason had saw that look in Devin's eyes before, that moment right before he lashed out at Chet weeks ago.  He knew Devin, like all beings of reason, had demons of his own, and although they remained quiet were never silenced.  Calm as he may have seemed everyday they were always there waiting patiently for a reason to wake, take a long over due breath, and crawl back into his thoughts.

In this moment, they were on a party line.

He paced like he was consumed by the Dark Side and ready to rampage on anything and everyone.  Any attempts he made to look like he was calm didn't fool either of his companions.  The air around him warped and distorted, his eyes seemed to shimmer with streams violet and golden energy.  His emotional state was quickly approaching 9000.  "Whatever this thing is... or was... it's dead.  If it hurt her, I swear..." he stopped there, obviously not sure how to follow up that threat.

"And I'll help."  Jason told him, letting the details of whatever dire vengeance Devin could not or would not articulate be left for future determination.  He watched his unlikely friend, observing some manner of kinship in the rage on display, however diffuse it was.  "We need to work together, though.  All of us.  Like Autumn said, best thing you can do right now is go get the others up to speed."  He exchanged a look with the redhead.  "I think we need to move right after we drop Jacob off.  Grab bracelets for those that don't have them and get going."

"Yeah. I don't know what I'm gonna tell my dad, but I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it." She glanced at the other two members of the so-called Fellowship, then back up at Jay. "Listen, if you guys want to go back, I can take care of him and catch up with you once I'm done with my family. It'll be faster, and you two can get everyone on the same page and moving forward."

Jason shook his head almost immediately.  "No.  You'll get Jacob back faster with my help, and we are not leaving any one of us alone and vulnerable right now."

"Jase. It's fine. Jacob is my priority, not everyone else's. Making sure people know what's up and coming up with a plan is more important. You're good at that," she stated firmly, then glanced back at the seething teleporter. "And you two are kind of in charge, I guess. So let's get it done."

"She's right." Devin said.  He was without quips or humor, not even a smile dared to wander to his lips.  "Jason, go with Autumn.  Cade's with Marissa.  Pair up, handle Jacob, meet me at the table.  I'll relay the news."

"Devin, where's your bracelet?"  Autumn asked absently as she noticed he wasn't wearing his.

"Ellie has it." Devin took a deep breath.  "Good thing too, or we wouldn't be having this conversation.  Best if you keep my replacement for now, you can be my good judgement... because I'm almost out."

Jason nodded in agreement and coaxed Jacob, not ungently, into motion again.  "Let's get going, then.  Let the others know what's going on, Devin."

Wide blue eyes blinked incredulously at the pair as they either pretended she either hadn't spoken at all, or that she'd said something entirely different- she wasn't sure which. There was no mistaking the expression on her flushed features, though, which translated her thoughts as clearly as if they'd been written across her freckled forehead: What. The actual. Fuck? Jacob groaned softly, and the redhead sighed, her hand on his back. Right. Bigger problems. "I'm right here," she murmured as they started walking again, carefully picking a path out of the trees. "We're gonna head back to the table, okay? C'mon."

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Devin nodded, space warping as he disappeared in a muted flash of rippling purple light.  They walked on in silence for a short few minutes. Somewhere, inside the jade and crystalline halls of his mind, Jason had been and still was processing the loss of someone who, whilst not a close friend, was nevertheless part of his circle. Someone he'd talked to, who'd talked to him, who he had shared games and snacks and dangerous situations with. A sense of loss, of sudden and wrongful absence was there, but there was little of what would recognisably be called 'sorrow' to a human mind. More keenly was felt the sense of personal failure. He should have checked up on Charlie when the other teen hadn't answered his phone or come to training, that chilly observer told him. Perhaps it would have done no good, but he had been lax regardless. Memories of Charlie flickered across his mental screen: the raid on the Crossroads facility, the time Charlie had tried to reach out to him last Monday...  And now Tawny: kind, friendly, peripherally also now a part of his circle.  Yes, he felt similarly to Devin. Rage roared and crackled in its chains in his soul, a fire similar to that which had flared to life when Liam had attacked Lona. Someone - something - had killed one and taken another of his people.

And would pay in screams.

But he was learning, also.  His anger was not blinding him completely to what was happening in front of him.  He'd noted the flush of anger and the widened eyes of disbelief on the cinnamon-freckled face he spent so much time studying these days.  He had spent time in learning to people, analysing context and expressions, and Autumn was an easy subject for such studies.  Warmly and openly emotional, every flicker of the flame of her personality could be read in her face.  Was now the time to address it?  Rationally, it seemed better than letting such feelings fester, and it was not as if there was anything else to do whilst guiding Jacob to safety.

"You were not wrong."  he said quietly, glancing at Autumn past the youth between them.  "I just cannot take the chance that our enemy is waiting for another one of us to be alone and distracted."  A pause, then.  "Least of all you."

Three long, cleansing breaths. Three counts of four on each measured inhalation as she concentrated on the lingering scent of spice-laden smoke from dozens of grills and the bright, sharp fragrance of conifers in the warm afternoon air, followed by a slow, deliberate exhalation. It was fine. Everything was fine. They were just going to take Jacob back, still looking for all the world like he'd just been smashed in the head and thrown against a tree, because he had, somehow convince her family she needed to stay behind instead of going with them where it was safe, and then go plan an assault on a psychotic murderous monster that used to be one of their classmates, try to rescue another classmate before he ate her face, find a way back home, and not die or lose their freaking minds in the middle of all that. It was fine. Everything was fine. Autumn was... Okay, maybe "fine" wasn't the right word for it, she admitted to herself, cutting her eyes past Jacob to where the Effing Boyfriend was helping him take one step at a time.

"Cool." She turned her attention back to the field, to the shapes of people and food trucks and cars ahead. "So, I wasn't wrong, but you guys decided to just do what you wanted anyway?" A part of her felt guilty for being upset at something so stupidly trivial, especially when there was so much else to be angry and worried and sad about- but she couldn't pretend not to be, either.

"Further planning is superfluous."  If Jason was relaxing his vigilance at all now that they were close to 'home', he didn't show it as he resumed scanning the woods.  "We have as much of a plan as we can formulate.  Get to the location, cross over, take out whatever we find.  The key tactical move right now is to minimise any damage we can suffer until we can strike as one.  That means pairing up, not leaving anyone exposed, and meeting in one spot before we go after the enemy."  His manner was calm, matter-of-fact.  "Devin can rally everyone.  You were not wrong, but you were not right either."

"The only reason I did not address it before is because it meant more standing around rather than acting, and Devin needed to be doing something to keep him focused.  That's why I'm discussing it now."  He paused for a moment, glancing over at Autumn once more.  "It was not my intention to be rude or thoughtless, or imply that your opinion has no weight with me."

"You're right." And, she had to admit, he was. Mostly. It was a completely, totally, frustratingly reasonable argument, much like Jason himself. "Devin does need to be doing something. And Devin also could use somebody who isn't freaking out about losing his best friend to a monster to help him do that. He basically just admitted if this Ellie, or whatever, hadn't taken back the bracelet, he'd have done exactly what we assumed and run off like an idiot. He listens to you," she added quietly, her free hand tugging at the end of what had once been a passable braid draped over her shoulder. "So, yeah. You're right, but you're also wrong. Because even if you don't see a need for planning, people can't read your mind, Jase." 

She was quiet for a moment as they walked, and then conceded with the ghost of a grin, "Not that they would. Or at least not more than once, probably." Sobering again, the redhead continued. "But, still. Ten bucks says everybody's freaking out right now and nobody knows what's going on, and they're all gonna be talking over each other. I think you should've gone with him, and even if you didn't mean to seem like my opinion doesn't matter, it did." Frowning, she glanced back up at Jacob, checking his eyes before focusing on the pale green ones just beyond. "They're more important."

"So we are both right, and both wrong."  If Jason was ruffled by her statement it didn't show.  But he did nod, slowly, his gaze thoughtful for a second as it once more rested on her earnest features.  "When there is no clearly logically superior answer, I will come down on the side of protecting those dearest to me."  There was another moment's silence as they saw the Keane / Crocker enclave come into view, and the composed youth's lips twitched in a faint smile.  "And next time, I will make it plainer that I am not simply dismissing your concerns.  That was clumsy and rude, and I apologise for it."

"Oh. Well, okay then," was all she said for a few seconds, her expression somewhat mollified as she gazed at the familiar figures ahead: the slim auburn-haired form of her mother, the tall warden in his faded green cap, and her father, perpetually business casual. The sheer act of walking, of moving, had, on its own, dissipated some of the immediacy of her frustration, and he'd apologized, and he'd said he'd handle it differently in the future. If there was a checklist for defusing arguments, she could see him methodically marking off each box as he went... But it worked, she admitted grudgingly. He'd been like this when they'd gone camping, too, though, when she'd gotten embarrassed and upset. Totally reasonable. Totally logical. Totally, and utterly, and-

"You're completely impossible," she sighed, admitting defeat. "You know that?"

"Yes."  he admitted, tone taking on a slight warmth that matched the hint of dimple in his cheeks and the look he gave her as they covered the last of the distance.  "I know.  You're sort of neat yourself."

"'Impossible' isn't a compliment."  Autumn replied tartly, fighting the urge to smile again.  Damn him, was he distracting her?

"I suppose it depends on who I hear it from."  Jase responded mildly, but there was no more time for byplay as the adults ahead took notice of the approaching trio and reacted, Dana reaching them moments ahead of Ian and Nathan as they clustered around.

"Oh my god!" the pretty vet exclaimed, the color draining from her face as she took in the sight of the boy who'd grown up alongside her own child, his hair and featured dark with drying blood. "Autumn, what-?" Nathan swore under his breath and slipped one arm around his son as the younger redhead stepped aside, her hand leaving a faint smudge on the back of Jay's shirt. 

"Help me get him to the table where he can sit down." The warden glanced at Jason, eyeing the leanness of the young man supporting Jacob, and nodded toward the denuded picnic table, now stripped of cloth and snacks and drinks. They'd been busy, and had apparently taken the teens' advice about packing up to heart. 

"He's okay." Autumn murmured to her mother. "He just needs to get cleaned up and get some rest." Dana stared at her for a moment, at the wild disarray of her hair, the remnants of leaf litter and dirt on her legs and her clothes, and the deep reddish-brown stains on her shirt and hands. "I'm serious," she added. "He's got a little bit of a concussion, 'cause I wasn't sure how to deal with that and we were in a hurry, but the big stuff is handled already." She hesitated for a moment, glancing at the wide blue eyes of her father, and then back at her mom. "Like the grass."

"Like the grass?"  echoed Ian, looking from daughter to wife with a confused expression.  The news of another teen's death, and now Jacob, and through it all the vague sensation, strengthening all the time, that his family were keeping something from him, was taking it's toll on the man's patience.  "Why is he covered in blood?  Why are you covered in blood?!  What do you mean 'the big stuff is handled'?  Jacob needs a hospital-"

"Ian."  Dana put a hand on his arm, exerting an effort to keep her own voice calm, especially since the angry husband's voice was raising in volume.  "Please.  There's a talk we need to have."

Meanwhile, Nathan and Jase got Jacob to the table and lowered him to the bench, the keenly observant warden not failing to notice that he barely had to do any of the lifting.  As he checked his son's eyes and the wound on his scalp, he looked at the silent, lean shape who stood a little apart, his own attention on the family unit nearby.  "What happened?"  he asked, and the pale emerald gaze moved back to him.

"He was attacked and the girl he was with was taken."  Jason's voice was low and quiet.  "Autumn got him out of danger with her gifts, we brought him back."  He paused, that cold stare assessing the older man.  "From what Autumn has said, you know some of what is going on.  Our enemy is moving against us.  That is why he was attacked and Charlie is gone."

"We can have it now," Autumn cut in, hoping she sounded calmer than she felt. "He's covered in blood because he was attacked while he and Tawny were out walking," she explained as succinctly as she could, trying to call to mind the cool, clear focus she felt when Jase's Shine brushed against her own. She avoided entirely the issue of that walk being in the woods, and how exactly she and Jason had found him. Here we go, I guess. "This-" she took in a deep, steadying breath and plucked nervously at her shirt, wincing as, for the first time, she considered what she might actually look like, "is Jay's, not mine, and he doesn't need a hospital because I took care of him."  Ian stared at her as though she were speaking some other language than English, something he hadn't studied in college. Was he angry? Hurt? Confused? Yeah, probably, she reasoned, a pang of guilt twisting in her chest. But it was better to just take the Band-Aid off all at once, now that they'd started, rather than try to peel it off a little at a time. ...Did they even have time? Ha.

"There's gonna be a lot of bruising over the next few days," she continued, glancing anxiously at her mother, and then back at her dad. Back at the face that had been conspicuous in its absence over the last couple of years, but which also belonged to someone who- she knew- loved her unconditionally despite all that. "And he's probably going to have the worst headache of his life when he finally does get some rest, because he does still have a concussion. But the cut on his head, the swelling and bleeding on his brain, and some of the minor stuff from getting thrown around are all taken care of."

Over at the picnic table, Nathan was struggling with questions of his own.  Sure he, like Dana had presumed that Jason would be one of the 'special' teens Autumn had hinted at.  And he knew there was an enemy, a Darkness over Shelly.  But the answers he possessed simply led to more questions, and the silent youth standing there regarding the Keane's once more was not forthcoming with further answers.

"So what now? What are you all going to do?" he asked, sitting down beside Jacob and keeping his boy upright, helping him to rest back against the table's edge.  Jason looked back at him again, and Nathan was struck again by the composure: that weirdly quiet confidence that belonged on a much older man.

"Same plan as before.  Only we're moving it up."  the youth with ancient eyes responded.  "We rescue who we can, avenge who we must, and put the threat down.  Or we die trying."

"Taken care of how, exactly?" Ian asked warily, studying the freckled features of his dishevelled daughter. Reading people was part of his job, gave him insight into what his clients were thinking and how best to take advantage of that; Autumn was nervous, but she wasn't lying. He'd often teased her about her terrible poker face, but depite the sense of growing unease and his own frustration, a part of him was grateful for at least that one constant. "Because he looks like he's been dragged backwards out of hell and you look like you were the one doing the pulling."

"Um." It wasn't exactly an eloquent start, but with her father staring at her like she'd just put a soccer ball through the living room window, it was the best she had. "Okay." Resting her hands atop her head, Autumn fixed her eyes on the realtor and held them there, the rubber soles of her worn sneakers flexing slightly as she shifted her weight from one side to the other. "So, there's a super long story, but basically, I can affect living things. Hurt them, heal them, make them stronger or weaker, things like that. That's how I helped Jay."

The wary expression on her father's face fell away, replaced by a mask of utter disbelief. "You're telling me you have magic healing powers."

"Kind of?" the restless young woman hedged, her shoulders and elbows twitching upward in something like a shrug. "I mean, at least it's useful, right?"

"Right." Ian nodded, turning to regard Dana speculatively. "This is your father's fault," he stated flatly, as his wife's warm, honey-colored eyes widened in outrage.

Jason stepped away from where he'd been speaking to Nathan as he registered the shift in tones and body language.  The colour leaching from Dana's warm complexion and the way her eyes widened was an indicator that Ian's comment, hardly delivered at a discreet volume, was about to trigger at the very least a blazing argument.  In the chilly calculus of Jason's mind not only was this likely to slow things down, but it would also layer additional anxiety and stress onto Autumn at a time when she could not afford distractions.  A quick glance around showed that the Keane-Crocker enclave was remote enough that a demonstration would not attract attention, especially now that the word was spreading about Charlie.  People were packing up, the festival atmosphere shattered, the Carousel coming to a halt as parents collected their children with hugs, guiltily grateful that they had not suffered the same loss as Lucius and Hannah.

Dana's eyes were going from wide with shocked outrage to narrowing in simmering anger.  Ian had the look of a man who knew he had spoken in haste and poorly, but didn't know if it could be unsaid and still uncertain as to whether it should be.  And Autumn was looking stricken from her father to her mother as Dana brought her hand up in a sharp, blurring half-circle.

The slap did not land.  Nor did it impact a bruisingly solid force.  Rather, something in the air between the two adults stole away the kinetic momentum of the blow and stopped it in mid-air, a few inches from Ian's face.  Startled, Autumn's father stepped back a pace as all three Keanes looked at the motionless open hand.

"Excuse me."   The tone was calm, but carried the faintest of edges as Jason stepped into the circle, not quite between Autumn's parents, standing across from his girlfriend.  He held out a hand, palm up, and motes of light coalesced there seconds before a flame sprang up from his palm, dancing golden and orange.  He looked at Ian as Dana's hand dropped to her side.  "Autumn is telling the truth.  And you need to listen." he said into the silence.

The girl in question sighed, a heavy sound that faded into a soft groan. Of course, it would be too much to expect that this conversation would go as smoothly the second time around, and they were already running behind. "So, I guess that's one person I don't have to ask permission to talk about," she quipped nervously, her father's face going from angry to ashen in a matter of moments as Dana reached out tentatively toward the flickering flame held captive in Jason's hand. 

"It's actually warm," she murmured in astonishment, staring at the unblemished skin of his palm. "How?"

"The same way I do it," Autumn interjected quietly, hazarding a smile. "It's all energy, sort of, just... He uses it differently. So. Yes, Dad, there are plenty of myths and legends, but a lot of them, especially the ones Grandpa believed, were based on true stories. This is part of the truth they were based on."

"Fine," he muttered irritably, passing a hand over his face with a weary sigh. This was not how he'd pictured the day going when they'd started that morning. He'd expected to have to work to get back in his family's good graces, but dealing with whatever insanity this was defied all reason. "Fine. We'll talk about it at home. Let's just finish packing up, and you can tell me all about how this is completely normal and not at all crazy." When Autumn didn't move, but glanced instead at her fire-conjuring boyfriend, a sense of apprehension crept up Ian Keane's spine. "Autumn?"

His daughter's eyes widened slightly, brightened as though suddenly wet, and she shook her head. "I'm not going." 

"Autumn," he repeated firmly. "We don't have time for this."

"I know!" Her voice shook, hands slipping from the top of her head as she stared up at the open expanse of blue sky above, its brilliance mocking the grim horrors of the day. "I know we don't have time. Tawny's missing, Charlie's dead, and Jacob was nearly killed. I can't go home with you. Not until we fix this."

"Wait." Dana shook her head, turning away from the inscrutable young man to regard her daughter with a frown. "No, no. Wait just a minute, young lady. You said this was happening later." Ian opened his mouth to protest, to demand a clarification, but the pretty vet lifted a hand in warning. "What happened to later, Autumn?"

The expressive young redhead looked over at Nathan, at the friend she'd only just found again and almost lost, and swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Jacob and Tawny happened."

"And Charlie happened."  Jason closed his hand, snuffing the flame out as he moved to stand by Autumn's side, slender fingers reaching down and taking her hand gently.  "There is an enemy, an entity.  Malevolent, old, and hungry.  Normal weapons cannot harm it, normal people cannot face it.  Together, though, we can destroy it.  And we need to.  And we cannot put it off any longer, because now we know it's actively after us, and not content to wait anymore."

"This is... it's..."  Dana and Ian said almost in unison, then glanced at each other before looking back at their teary-eyed daughter and the outwardly calm youth beside her.

"This is a lot."  Jason said quietly, almost sympathetically.  "We thought Autumn would have time to explain it to you more gently.  But we are out of time.  The rest of us are gathering and getting ready."

"The house is safe. As safe as it can be made, anyway. When you get home..." She hesitated, her fingers tightening reflexively on Jason's. Why was it so hard to say, when everything was already decided?

"Are you kidding me?" Autumn blinked at her father as he stepped forward. "Ancient evils that can't be hurt by conventional weapons are killing high school kids and you expect me to just, one, buy the whole story, and two, let my daughter walk into that? No. And even if, if you're both telling the truth, that's all the more reason for her to come with us."  He reached out, plainly intending to grasp Autumn's arm and tug her to his side and away from the quiet-voiced interloper, a possessive and protective gesture as old as fatherhood.  And now it was Ian Keane's turn to contact that strange immobility, his face contorting with effort and frustration as his hand would not move forward anymore, no matter how he pushed.

"That is up to Autumn to decide, not anybody else."  Jason's words were as simply spoken as when last uttered, but now took on an edge that overlaid the unadorned conviction of before.

"Ian." Dana's hand trembled as it slid over his arm, drawing it back. He stared first at the strange, too-composed youth, then at his wife, who shook her head. "She's coming home. Just... not right now. Not with us. All right?" Her voice, for all that it wavered, was underscored by resolve as unyielding as the earth underfoot. "Jason," she addressed her daughter's boyfriend with an air of quiet resignation, her chin held high. "You can drop her off later." There was a sense that the slender, dignified woman was not so much granting permission, but issuing a decree.

He inclined his head slowly - almost respectfully - to Dana, and Autumn felt his fingers squeeze her hand in reassurance as he glanced at her.  "Are you ready?" he asked her softly.

"Almost." Her eyes burned, and Autumn rubbed at them with the back of her arm as she pulled away. Without ceremony or preamble, she jogged over to the picnic table and threw an arm around Jacob's shoulders, heedless of dirt and blood alike as she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. Nathan didn't wait his turn, but instead swept the athletic young redhead up in a bear hug, lifting her feet off the ground until she squeaked in protest and he finally set her down again. There were no emotional farewells, no promises; nothing else needed to be said between them. 

As she walked back toward her parents, however, all the words she wanted to say caught in her throat, the sounds snarled together in a knot that emerged only as a strangled cry. This might be the last time she'd see them, and somehow she couldn't even say goodbye. It wasn't fair. None of this was fair. With a soft murmur, Dana caught the girl up in her arms, resting her chin atop Autumn's copper curls as the sunlight coaxed sparks of red and gold from their hair. They stood like that for a few moments, until Ian pulled his daughter into a hug and she hiccuped, tears streaming down her cheeks. Finally, she shook her head and took a step back, her whole body shaking with silent sobs. 

"I gotta go," she managed, trying to keep her voice from breaking. "Love you. See you guys at home."

Ian looked at his little girl with fresh eyes, as though suddenly realising that, in his absence, she'd become a young woman.  The burden she was carrying was heavy, but she was carrying it, he recognised.  And... she wasn't alone.  He eyed the enigmatic youth, who returned his gaze with an unruffled, glacial look of his own.  Ian cleared his throat.

"Look..."  he started to say, but normal fatherly injunctions and finger wagging seemed... pointless in the face of everything he'd experienced in the last few minutes.  "Jase... just please... take care of her?"

The frost that had limned the other's stare thawed slightly, and he nodded much as he had to Dana.  "We'll take care of each other."  he replied, his implication clear that he trusted Autumn at his side as much as she him.  Autumn stepped to his side and the two of them turned and headed away, Dana looping her arm around Ian's and hugging it slightly as the two parents watched.

= = = = = = = = 

Devin had been keeping busy, Jase and Autumn saw as they approached the Bannon table some minutes later.  A number of bags and backpacks were leaning against the benches as the rest of the Fellowship stood around, talking in low tones.  Evidently, the teleporter had collaborated with the others present to get such equipment as they had readily available to the place where it was needed.  Even Jase's go-bag was there: in response to his questioning look, Devin shrugged.

"Hey, I saw where you keep it."  he said by way of explanation.  Jason nodded, looking around at the others present.  They were all there - all of them that remained, at least.  Quietly and efficiently, still a little red-eyed from her earlier tears, Autumn handed a bracelet to Devin and to Kat, both of whom clasped them into place.

"Alright.  We're all here."  Devin said, studying the goldlike gleam of his bracelet before shaking his sleeve over it and looking at the others.  "We don't really need to discuss what's happening next, do we?  Charlie's dead, Tawny and Sophia are taken.  Let's go get the girls back and Not-Cody's head on a fuckin' stick."

Spoiler

GM note:

Everyone has been brought up to date by Devin as to what has happened regarding Tawny and Jacob.  Everyone now has a bracelet.  Everyone has access to such gear as they might reasonably have access to, which includes Cade's high-tech rifle.  Ask me questions in Discord if you have any regarding gear.  Autumn can, if need be, either borrow gear from what has been collected or borrow Devin to go get her own.

The following discussion, if any takes place, should have a sense of urgency.  Your characters are on a time scale now.  Get to it.

 

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The metallic bracelet clasped around her wrist with a noise akin to the slam of the Gates of Hell sealing her fate. But who was she fooling, aside from her? They all knew it would come to this in the end, and were but delaying the inevitable confrontation. The Dark hadn't even shown its hand yet. To her, what they knew of the Land of Upside-Down Thunder, was little. Too little to be planning a rescue mission. Any military strategic leader would advise against invading unknown territory without having had scouts report to him. Alas, they didn't have the luxury, as the lives of their friends were in the hands of some degenerate monster.

The petite French sighed, her shoulders suddenly feeling heavy, her throat tight, a strange but familiar knot making her breathing difficult. Fear. She had felt it at the hospital, but at that time, she also had adrenaline. Now she didn't, and the feeling was becoming unbearable. She glanced at her friends and took a deep breath. Her eyes were still red from her conversation with her Dad, and her cheeks still showing signs of her running back to the Carousel, but most of the post-effort shaking in her limbs was gone. Her throat felt parched and she couldn't see any bottle of water in her surroundings. Fuck it.

"So..." she started, clearing her throat, "my Dad tried to yank me out to the Project, but I talked him out of it. I also asked that the Project didn't get involved, and I hope they'll do just that and stay comfy in their base." She rubbed the back of her head. "What now?"

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“Hey.” Autumn leaned over a little, positioning herself in Devin’s field of vision. He seemed like a different person, with the knowledge of Tawny’s abduction hanging over his head- there were no snarky quips, no crass jokes, no obnoxiously flirty comments. It seemed like a bit of a mixed blessing, though, because while she didn’t have the urge to strangle him on sight, she also knew he had to be having a hard time. Had to. He was a jerk, but a human one, at least. “Listen, my family’s on their way back to the house. Would you take me to pick up my stuff real quick? I don’t, um, really wanna run into them and do the whole goodbye thing again, so…” She shrugged, a barely perceptible movement of her shoulders.

“Yeah,” he said almost unconsciously, the response fast enough that she wondered if he even heard her.  His mind was clearly on other things while the others were milling around and it was obvious at this point he was only looking for ways to keep his hands and his mind occupied.  “Sure.”

He motioned for her to step forward and she did so, assuming that he was going to hold her hand or put his arm around her, as it allegedly made the travel more stable and accurate (although anything would’ve been an improvement after the trip to the prison).  As she moved closer to him he slid his arm around her waist and she felt a sudden, sharp blow to her gut, as though someone had wrapped a rope around her midsection and the other end to a truck that just sped off at light speed. It was awful, and she wondered if Devin felt that every time; he never seemed to be bothered by it.

And then, just as suddenly, it was over, and they were in the foyer of the Keane family home.  He let her go with no quips or jokes, not even a smile or eye contact.  As she raced up the stairs to retrieve what she came for he followed after her slowly.  “At least yours said ‘goodbye’.”

His words caught up with her as Autumn all but slid into the bathroom at the top of the landing, and she paused as she let the warm water from the faucet soak a washcloth she’d pulled from the towel rack. Had his parents actually not cared? Or did they not know? Frowning, the grubby redhead grimaced at her reflection and swiped the grime from her face with one hand, rummaging in one of the cabinet drawers for hair ties with the other. She didn’t know much about the Jauntsen parents, except what the twins had mentioned, but considering the way Devin and Marissa had turned out… Ugh. She grabbed a couple of spare ponytail holders in case the other girls needed one, shut off the water, and ran back out. 

“One sec!” She held up a finger as she darted past him,  through an open door to the right. “And no peeking!”

“No peeking at what?” he asked, glancing around at the photos on the walls, the familial touches that differentiated a house from a home.  “Is that your room?  The Keane sanctum?”

“Yes, it’s my room, and I’m changing,” Autumn called back, then, an on impulse added, “The sanctum’s in the basement.” Grabbing the clothes she’d worn on her adventure with Cassie from the chair, she was momentarily grateful for her own laziness in putting them away; sometimes not being a neat-freak had its advantages. They still smelled faintly of fabric softener, she realized, and the light, clean scent of whatever it was the Bannons used for detergent.  She kicked off her sneakers, aiming in the general direction of the closet and, with a surreptitious glance at the door to make sure Devin wasn’t looking- because Devin- shucked her cut-off shorts and quickly yanked on the infinitely more practical trousers. “Boots, boots…” she muttered, scanning the floor. “Must be downstairs. Okay. Ummm.” Think, Autumn. “Right. Okay.” She pulled on the long-sleeved shirt over the one she was wearing without bothering to button it up and, after a moment’s consideration, grabbed her faded red hoodie from the back of the desk chair. For luck. 

“Backpack’s in the garage. So, um, did your parents really not say goodbye?” She was just fastening her belt as she walked back out to the landing in her sock feet, and glanced curiously at the unusually somber comedian.

“Eh, dropped the powers thing on them, so they know now.  Side of the chair,” he said, drawing her attention to where a pair of teenager-sized boots were.  One looked like it might’ve been carried off by a dog judging by how it was further away from the other, which was just lying forlornly on its side.  “Teleported in front of them, and my mom only saw dollar signs.  Probably already on the phone with Hollywood trying to get us a movie deal.  My dad, he didn’t believe it but he couldn’t deny it.  More or less just…” he grumbled.  “I don’t know.  He seemed parenty, but after years of them sucking at it, I don’t even know what to think, you know?” He fell silent for a moment, then dismissed the thought. “I don’t know.  My mind’s not right,” he shrugged.  “Maybe I’m just taking it out on them, I guess.”

“Maybe,” the redhead agreed, standing up from the sofa where she’d been sitting, and settling her heels into the weathered hiking boots with a quick stomp of her feet. “Or maybe they’re just kind of assholes and don’t know what to think, either. I mean, honestly,” she shrugged a little, knotting the arms of her hoodie around her waist. “You and your sister… Okay, how do I put this?” Jerking her head toward the kitchen, she motioned for him to follow her as she headed past the dog bowls, and then paused, chewing thoughtfully at her lower lip. The four of them were probably napping under the deck by now. “You haven’t exactly been great, you know? And, yeah, I know I’ve said this before, but if I’ve had to deal with you guys for the last three years, you can deal with me complaining for a while.”

With a sigh, Autumn grabbed a container of treats from the counter and dropped two each in Lexi’s, Dakota’s, Briggs’s, and Zee’s food dishes. It’ll at least be something nice when they come back in, she decided, closing the lid and replacing the jar. “I guess what I mean is, you two still suck, but you suck less than you used to. And…” Tilting her head, she stared at the ceramic cookie jar, drumming her fingertips on the counter. “And you’ll probably suck a little less tomorrow. So, maybe your parents are the same? I dunno. Anyway, let me grab this stuff and we can go,” she added, heading toward the garage door. “I know we’re kinda in a hurry.”

“Hey, wait,” she felt his hand tighten around her arm, stopping her.  Devin was a joker, sure, but he was never really a handsy guy with his antics, he generally kept them to himself.  When she turned to face him he met her eyes.  “Real quick, look… um, I know I deserve it, and everything you said was spot on for the most part, I just want you to know Autumn, seriously… that I’m sorry.  I’ve got a lot of work to do before I earn your trust and respect, I get that, but all jokes aside, I’m trying.  I want to be your friend, I want to find some way to close that chapter on our past and maybe write some better ones, you know?  With me being a better and more likable guy and you… I don’t know,” he chuckled.  ”You’re pretty great, so I guess you just don’t have to do anything but be you.” He watched a faint pink flush spreading beneath the freckled skin of her cheeks as one eyebrow arched skeptically upward.

“But,” he nodded, looking grimly serious.  “If you can’t forgive, I understand.  Please know  though that until this craziness is done, whether you love me or hate me, care for me or are careless, miss me or think me invisible… I’ll be there for you.  For all of you.  I mean it.  Don’t hesitate to call me.”  He took a deep breath and tried to compose himself a bit.  Perhaps he’d felt like he had said too much.  He cleared his throat and motioned past her, signaling he wasn’t going to hold her up any more.  “Considering what we’re about to do, I uh, didn’t want to die without you knowing how sorry I was.  For everything.”

Autumn’s wide blue eyes were serious as they studied Devin’s expression, and she was quiet for a moment, simultaneously waiting for the punchline and considering what he’d said. It didn’t seem like he was kidding, but this was also Devin, and he had a tendency to spring his signature brand of snark when you were least expecting it. When he let the words just hang there between them, awkwardly, instead of trying to twist them into a joke, she nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. You are trying. I’ll give you that much.” The corner of her mouth twitched upward slightly, a crooked half-grin on her freckled features. “I can’t promise I’m not gonna give you shit about it, though, or get pissed off, because even if I am pretty great, I’m not perfect yet. So.” With a decisive huff, she turned back toward the door and grabbed his arm, leading him through it along with her. “We take care of all this, survive the night, and go from there. Not a closed chapter, necessarily, but…” 

Releasing him as they entered the garage, the red-haired vitakinetic glanced back at the former bully over her shoulder and grabbed a sturdy-looking backpack from a shelving unit along with the crowbar that had lain next to it. “Maybe a new page, at least. Deal?”

"Fair enough,” he said and then she saw it.  That signature smirk of his that told her he was still in there, somewhere, under all the turbulent currents crashing against the rocks of his mind- and she was pretty sure there were actual rocks in his head.  “C’mon, let’s get back, and um… thanks.” He slid his arm around her and this time he looked at her for a moment before they left.  “You know, if you uh, take a deep breath before, it doesn’t jerk as much.  It’s the vacuum pulling the breath from your lungs.  It’s an instant, so it doesn’t get all of it.  I don’t even notice it anymore.”

She drew in a deep breath experimentally and felt the pull as reality shifted, but he was right: only a portion of that breath got drawn from her lungs and she hardly felt a thing this time.  Before she could blink they were back with the others and he let her go wordlessly.  As his arm slid away from her waist he just walked off, his eyes still empty and his head still full while his heart remained heavy. Watching him go with a pensive expression, Autumn let the pry bar slip through her fingers until it rested on the ground, braced against her thigh. A new page... Yeah. That could work. She slipped a handful of elastic bands from beneath the bracelet on her wrist and held them up. "If anybody needs a hair-tie, speak now or forever hold your peace."

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There'd been a fair number other things Cade wanted to say in response to Marissa, but he didn't.   He thought about sweeping her up in his arms to kiss her, whether anyone was watching or not.  He didn't.  He wanted to reassure her that everything would be alright, that they'd all make it home, and they'd end this.   He couldn't guarantee any of that.   He knew he didn't have the powers of the others, that his methods of attack were mundane, that they probably wouldn't amount to much.   He was still resolved to go, to fight, and to protect his friends.  He didn't want to die, he still had alot to live for, dreams he wanted to make reality.   The promise of a very fun celebration, with his friends, and with Marissa, they were great incentives to come back, just as his family was.  He put away his worries and nodded, squeezing Marissa's hand, bringing it up to his lips to kiss her knuckles softly.   

He didn't want to set up any flags, but he couldn't help just the one.  "We'll make it back, and  this time I'll take the lead."   That was his answer to her previous statement, a hint of mischief in his eyes, and slight smile.  

Devin had been busy, gathering everything up for everyone, and he found his own bags, things he had grabbed, and of course the advanced rifle  there at the meeting point they'd all agreed to.  He set one out and opened it, revealing a half dozen metal baseball bats, which he knew some would wonder about. They were his personal collection, from years of playing baseball.   "Help yourselves.   We don't all have cool powers, and while they may not kill anything we fight, it's better to have something than nothing.  Not like they're all that hard to use."  He took his favorite, a slightly heavier but still within the regulations Aluminum bat he'd used all last year.

The other bag he opened had the rifle he'd taken, which he took out and began unfolding into its active configuration.   He donned the ammo belt he'd also grabbed, He checked the ammo clips he had, and placed them where they went.   He didn't have a large number of throwing knives, he'd only just managed to convince his father to let him have them.   He remembered what he'd said to him.  "You saw what I have to deal with.  I can fight in close where I might get hurt, or I can take advantage of one of things I do well, and throw knives.  I know you won't let me have a gun, but this much at least should be okay."   His father had relented, and he had half a dozen of them.  He'd been practicing, knowing he'd have to use them, always away from home, so his mother and sister hadn't seen him.   His grandpa'd taught him how to sharpen and keep an edge on a knife, and he'd made sure they were sharp and ready.   He had the big Bowie knife his grandpa'd gotten him for his fifteenth birthday, and the scabbard it came with.  He had hoped to come up with more, but it would have been very difficult.

He was aware of what he looked like, one of those old action stars, getting ready for battle.   He let out a light chuckle, knowing it probably wasn't far off, though he lacked a flak jacket, camo paint and an endless supply of explosions.   He'd just have to rely on his friends for those.  He had on the bracelet he'd gotten from Autumn, and smiled.  They'd all have them, and he let out a soft chuckle. "Guess we got our decoder rings after all."

Geared up like he was, he zipped up the now empty bag and laid it by his bat-bag.   Cade nodded, and answered Kat.  "We all get ready, make whatever preparations we need to, and then we go get our friends back, and put an end to this."  he wasn't trying to sound cool, in fact his voice was eerily calm, as if he were simply stating the facts, or talking about the weather.
 

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Marissa had slithered off with her bag, a large, gaudy leather backpack that prominently displayed 'GUCCI' in brass letters.  As Autumn changed at her house with Devin and Jason and Cade organized equipment, they barely noticed her missing.  She was walking out from behind some tall bushes, sheathed head to toe in all black with her signature black 'hiking heels', and as always, she looked like a million bucks.  Autumn and Devin reappeared but a moment later, as Marissa's bag hit the table cueing Cade and Jason to stop for a moment and take in her day to night transformation.  She'd went from jeans and a halter top with bright red lips, looking like all kinds of all American dream girl to a faux-leather clad Valkyrie whose lips were about to go back to their trademark maroon if her wiping her lips with the makeup cloth seemed to have a say in the matter.

"If anybody needs a hair-tie, speak now or forever hold your peace."  Autumn declared while offering up a handful of them.

She took a moment to shift and sift through numerous things in her pack, which seemed to be more small pouches of makeup (sorted by color scheme and style), a phone charger (totes mandatory), an emergency battery for her phone (just in case), the clothes she wore to the Carousel... and that seemed about it.  "Here!"  Leaving her bag, she walked over to Autumn, hand out expectantly as it seemed hair ties was the one important thing she forgot.

She groaned in relief.  "You are a life saver.  Two head bands, but not a single hair tie, god, what was I thinking?"

"Four-inch heels, Marissa."  Autumn nodded, her lips a thin line withholding to the urge to laugh or choke her 'bestie' out on the spot.  "Very practical for trotting around a Hellscape."

"Right?!  And they totally go so well with this outfit, plus I got them at a steal.  Normally they're like, five hundred and seventy, but I totally managed to get them for four hundred and seventy.  I was so stoked that they got here just in time for the showdown.  It's like absolute bad-assery at a premium."  It had dawned on them that the boots she was wearing were not the original pair she'd worn a week or so prior.  No.  Marissa not only had one pair, but saw it necessary to buy a second pair for the sole purpose of having a new set of boots to battle The Dark in.  No flashlight, no food, no water... but hey, she had a new pair of heels to show off to Not-Cody.  Devin just shook his head, a smile across his lips, as if to say: 'this is my everyday folks'.

"Autumn?"   Her tone shifted to something more serious and Autumn could see how Marissa's gaze shifted to her brother who just silently nodded at her.  She was getting used to understanding their silent communication as the twins had a way of quietly planning and then confirming those plans with simple glances or gestures to one another.  “So um, look I know we fight, like, a lot and I totally forgive you for that, but I wanted you to know… uh, that’s what I like about you.  You’re not a ‘yes girl’.  You have opinions and you call me on my shit of which I know there is a lot.  You have a good heart and a good soul, which I’m not oblivious to the fact that I have neither.  We sort of compliment the other and it’s really cool.  You have a big heart and soul and I got, well, everything else.”  Her hands traced down her own frame obviously signifying that Marissa was blessed with beauty, money, the perfect body, and Autumn at least got a decent personality.

It was strange hearing Marissa stammer in a search for words as she spoke.  She was always so composed and knew exactly what to say to press someone’s buttons.  Now, however, she seemed to to just be playing it by ear… actually speaking from her black, shriveled, ice-encrusted void she called a heart.  “When I saw you with Jason earlier,” Autumn visibly tensed, preparing for another bitch bout with Marissa but her bestie shook her head in an attempt to calm her down.  “No, no… I’m not looking to start anything, really.  Hear me out.  I’m trying to say that you looked really happy, and you deserve that.  Life isn’t always fair, and none of us asked for this, but I want you to know that behind all my overly critical appraisals, bitter comments and bitchy attitude… I uh… I am thankful and grateful that you are my best friend and that you found some small sliver of happiness.”  Her eyes were adopting the sheen of emotion overload.  “My, um, only friend, actually.”

“So, look… stop listening to me.  If he makes you happy, then please be happy.  You deserve that much, right?  It’s seriously in short supply in this fucked up town and we could all use a bit it, right?  I can’t go back in time and make all those things I said and did to you go away, Autumn, but… I’m s-…” she paused, literally unable to say she was sorry.  She took a deep breath, composed herself and carried on.  “I am sorry.  I was wrong and despite all that I did… I… I would like for us to be friends.  If, you know, we live through this.”

Edited by Dave ST
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On 1/27/2021 at 2:19 PM, Marissa Jauntsen said:

“So, look… stop listening to me.  If he makes you happy, then please be happy.  You deserve that much, right?  It’s seriously in short supply in this fucked up town and we could all use a bit it, right?  I can’t go back in time and make all those things I said and did to you go away, Autumn, but… I’m s-…” she paused, literally unable to say she was sorry.  She took a deep breath, composed herself and carried on.  “I am sorry.  I was wrong and despite all that I did… I… I would like for us to be friends.  If, you know, we live through this.”

A number of responses sprang immediately to the forefront of Autumn's mind as she slid the elastic bands back onto her wrist, some more charitable than others: a somewhat skeptical observation that both the twins seemed determined to clear their consciences along with a grudging appreciation for the same, despite the timing; a (slightly) sarcastic expression of gratitude that Marissa was giving her permission to be happy, and a genuine one at the notion that one of America's Most Wicked would actually apologize, as well as some incoherent internal screaming at the pernicious princess's persistent inability to be sincere for ten whole seconds.

"Marissa." The redhead's voice was uncharacteristically thoughtful as she tugged intently at the front of her long-sleeved shirt, lining up the buttons before beginning to fasten them. Maybe this really would be the last conversation they had, and while there were so, so many things Autumn wanted to say, none of them seemed necessary, or relevant, or helpful at all in this situation. "EmJay. We are friends. You said so yourself, and, honestly, it's not like you gave me much choice," she added with a wry, one-sided grin, her nose crinkling slightly as warm blue eyes fixed on the beautiful socialite's deep brown ones. "Besides. Apparently fighting is a thing friends do, so... Progress." She shrugged, the smile fading by degrees as her pale, bronze-flecked fingers combed through the tangled mess that was her hair after a very busy day. "It'll be fine. And the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can figure out what happens next, yeah?" As Marissa nodded, forcing a smile, the red-haired teen reconsidered; even if a part of her grumped cynically that the apology was really too little, too late, it had obviously been difficult for Mari to even offer it in the first place. Maybe it was sincere, and maybe it wasn't, and maybe the glamorous girl herself couldn't tell the difference. Does that matter, though? Really? She was obviously having a hard time with a seriously fucked-up situation, and they were friends, and there were rules, sacred and inviolate. "Yeah," Autumn reaffirmed as she gave up trying to un-snarl the riot of copper curls that stubbornly refused to be tamed, reaching out instead to pull the dark-haired diva into a brief, fierce hug- abandoning one lost cause for another.

"Speaking of what happens next," she called over Marissa's shoulder, leaning up a little to compensate for the brunette's ridiculous shoes, "who's driving?"

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8 hours ago, Autumn Keane said:

"Speaking of what happens next," she called over Marissa's shoulder, leaning up a little to compensate for the brunette's ridiculous shoes, "who's driving?"

"Cade and Sean have their cars, Marissa has hers, I have mine, and Devin has his bike."  Jason spoke up quietly from where he was sitting on the picnic table, a lit cigarette idly dangling from the corner of his mouth, smooth fragrant tobacco smoke a hint in the evening air as he watched everyone in that calm, intent way he had.  He turned his gaze on Autumn, shrugging.  "We might as well just head to the Old Town Hall in convoy - it isn't far - and it means we can take the bags with us without causing much comment."

As he spoke, he slid from the table and hefted a strap of his own go-bag onto one shoulder, glancing around at the others, glacial eyes studying them all.  It was hard for those unfamiliar with him to say what thoughts moved behind that inscrutable, somehow ageless stare.  But those more attuned to the differences and variations in Jason Bannon's moods could see in the depths of the green pools of his gaze a gleam that denoted banked embers of rage, a terrible eagerness merely awaiting oxygen...

And something to burn.

"Is everyone ready?"  he asked, moving to Autumn's side as she released and stepped back from her embrace with her friend.

=  =  =  =  =  = 

Tawny didn't remember much of how she got here.  There had been the sensation of being seized, and then a terrible wrenching, sickening sensation like... like falling backwards into water and feeling it go up your nose, but a thousand times worse.  She guessed she must have sort of passed out, because then there was just dimly-remembered sensations of being carried like a sack of potatoes over a large, bony shoulder through a bitingly cold, foul-smelling darkness filled with chittering, whispering things.

It was the muttering that brought her back to herself: a voice both familiar and not talking - no, arguing in a hoarse, glottal tone with someone or something that could not be heard.  The pretty blonde girl blinked, taking stock of the slick wet sensation under her hands and bare legs.  Going by touch alone, it felt like she was in an inch or so of water, interspersed with lumpy, uncomfortable protrusions.  From beyond her closed eyelids came a reddish, dull glow.

"You promised.  You said I could have them.  All the girls I wanted!"  There was a yearning, gnawing wheedling sense to the voice.  But Tawny recognised it despite the inhuman undertones.  God save her, she recognised the voice:  Cody.

"This one too!  She is Devin's!  I want her, just like I want all that is his!"  The muttering rose to a shriek on that last sentence, then fell away into murmurs again.  "Jauntsens, and Bannon, and all of them.  I will take what is theirs.  Like they took from me.  Make them small, make them afraid."

Tawny sat up and opened her eyes, and fought the simultaneous urge to close them again and retch.  She was sitting in blood.

Thick, cold and viscous, it oozed around her, staining her sneakers and hands, seeping into her shorts.  She'd been laying in the foul stuff, clotted and rotting, with lumps of bone and... well, best not to look to closely.  She bit back the scream that threatened to tear itself from her throat and forced her gaze upwards.  The landscape was bones, bones and blood, with a red sky that pulsed with dull light.  Almost directly ahead of her was a throne built of aged, yellow bones, fitted together like puzzle pieces, held together by God-knew-what, and topped by a giant skull, the antlers of which spread above the throne like a grisly sun-shade.  And on the throne was... Cody.  Only not Cody.  She'd heard the story from Devin and the others.  Heard that he'd been changed.  But it was one thing to hear and another to see, and all Tawny could do was experience a wave of mingled terror and great pity as she looked upon what Cody had become.  Sure, he was always creepy - only Devin's aegis had protected her from the boy's attentions - but this?  Surely nobody deserved this.  She forced her eyes away from the muttering, arguing figure, unwilling to call it's attention to herself, and looked around.

Behind her was the Tree.

It was, if anything more horrible than anything else she'd ever seen.  So black it appeared to leach light from it's surroundings, the Tree gave the appearance of motion, of hideous slithering life.  Whether it was her Shine, or some other instinct, Tawny knew that whereas Cody was a perversion of God's plan, the Tree was from outside that Plan altogether.  It was wholly unnatural, a hellish mockery of a growing thing.  Under her horrified, fascinated gaze, two of it's 'roots' slowly withdrew themselves from the fetid morass of blood and worse around it's base with a sickening sound, waving gently in the air from side to side, as if scenting fresh prey.

Then it was reaching for her, the black tendrils slowly undulating through the air, groping blindly, hungrily.

Finally, Tawny was unable to hold back her scream.

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"We don't really need to discuss what's happening next, do we?  Charlie's dead, Tawny and Sophia are taken.  Let's go get the girls back and Not-Cody's head on a fuckin' stick."

Finding out about Tawny and Sophia was a one-two punch right after the haymaker of the news about Charlie had landed. Cassandra was reeling too much to think straight. Half of her wanted to just run on foot to the old Town Hall and punch through the gateway with her fist. Another third wanted to run and hide and cry, and another third...which was too much but that's how it felt...wanted to go to Walmart and stock up on guns and knives and then head to the farm to plot and plan and...and she needed a camera...but mostly she just needed her friends...

Cassie felt fingers lace with her own and when she looked down and then up to see whose, she was already holding hands with Marissa.

“Ride with me?” the beautiful socialite asked with an expression that Cassie could only describe as pleading. “If I drive alone, I might lose my nerve.”

The admission left Marissa vulnerable and Cassie’s particular gift saw how truly scared she was. Hell, how scared they all were, as they stood upon the threshold of Death’s doorstep. The twins had even gone so far as to try and clear their consciences like prison inmates before a lethal injection, in the hopes that if there was some higher power and a Hell to follow that perhaps bit of last minute honesty and selflessly sacrificing for Sophia and Tawny might save their souls. It was strange notion, but honestly, at this point in their lives, what really qualified as strange?

As jarring as it was, seeing Marissa of all people openly asking for help bumped Cassie's spinning head back into something resembling order. She wasn't alone. She had more friends, and they were counting on her. It was time to get her shit together.

Her fingers tightened around Marissa's, and she nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."

They went to Marissa's car and got in without further comment. As they started to pull out, Cass said, "Hang on, I wanna pick something up from mom's car. I brought some stuff."

That earned her a quizzical look from Mari, but it was an easy stop to make. Cassandra popped out and opened the trunk with her fob. Inside was a brown paper grocery bag that she'd assembled on Jase's advice to make a 'go bag.' Inside was some camping gear she'd scavenged from the garage, along with the pads she'd used when learning to skateboard. It wasn't much as 'armor' went, but she figured it was better than absolutely nothing.

She hauled the sack back to Marissa's car and set it on the floor between her feet as she got back into the passenger's seat.

Mari gave her a raised eyebrow, then shrugged and set off again.

They went in silence, neither knowing what to say...and perhaps feeling that there was nothing left TO say. Everyone knew what the stakes were now. The Dark had left no room for questions or discussion. Now there was only the fight.

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Hands stuffed in the front pockets of his hoodie, Sean paced restlessly as the Fellowship gathered at the Bannon table. His naturally pale face seemed almost tinged with grey from fear and worry about Not-Cody and the missing girls, the lost of Charlie,  though his eyes were tight, but dry - he'd been bullied enough, he'd learned not to show tears in public. He wasn't a stranger to fear, even fear for his life, but not like this.

Around bullies and bigots, a healthy fear and cautious wariness was only sensible, especially when he was usually smaller than them. Not-Cody was something else entirely, literally. He wasn't human anymore. And he - it - and the Dark behind him could do worse than just kill them. And they were going to take it on, because they were the only ones who could. Sean gritted his teeth, because it was better than hearing them chatter. He couldn't affect a cool stoicism like Jase or Cade, brewing fatalism or no.

As each one of the Fellowship showed up, he asked for their phones, to give them the same voodoo he'd given Jase's and his own. It wouldn't help them in the Land of Upside Down Thunder, but it gave him something to do as he waited. He should have done this as soon as they got to Champion's field for Labor. He should have done it yesterday as the training sesh at Jase's place.

Before scurrying to the Bannon table, he'd gone to his SUV to grab his go-bag and surreptitiously, but quickly, change in the backseat. Grey cargo pants for his jeans. Rugged hiking shoes for his red sneakers. Autumn could tell at a glance his hiking shoes were so new they couldn't have touched dirt before and hoped they were good enough quality that they didn't need much in the way of breaking in. He'd replaced Autumn's green button-up with one of his older hoodies, the black faded and the grey Skyrim sigil on the front cracked and pocked from many washes. His vibrant hair was mostly hidden under a black cap, 'I Paused My Game To Be Here' written in blocky letters on the front. His snug, heavy duty travel pack, nylon web belt, and molle pouch on one hip looked as new as his hiking shoes, but the multitool on the other hip looked well used and well cared for. Though despite how sharp the blade might be, it's use as weapon was dubious at best, especially compared to Cade's hunting knife, baseball bats, and rifle. 

Though if it came down to Sean fighting hand-to-hand, he'd wouldn't be fighting with a physical weapon. Also, if it came down to Sean fighting hand-to-hand, they were doomed already.

His multi-hued eyes widened in surprise at Marissa's seeming vulnerability as she spoke with Autumn, then with Cassandra. They were about to go toe-to-toe (hoof?) with a monster that was planning on eating their Shine, their Souls, and probably their meatbags of mostly water. Sean wouldn't have minded some of Marissa's usually unlimited self-importance and uncompromising bitchitude at the moment, and it's now she chooses to be human? Ish, she was still wearing four inch heels, hiking or not, on this foray.

"Did she get a mood lift, or something?" Sean muttered to no one in particular. "She's sounding almost like a real person."
 

17 hours ago, Bannon said:

"Is everyone ready?" 

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," Sean said, his voice a touch higher than usual from the danger they were throwing themselves in willingly. "Let's get going before I start reconsidering just how ready I am." He stood next to Kat, giving the shorter redhead a nod and wry grin that had a hint of quease to it. "As your Shelly Sherpa, I never intended on a tour of an otherdimensional terror realm to face off with creature made of nightmares and angsterone, but here we are. Want a lift?"

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The group all pulled up outside the old Town Hall in a matter of minutes.  The streets were bare due to  people retreating back to heir homes on a the Sheriff’s orders.  Shelly looked like a ghost town after what was a festival and celebration not just an hour before.  The eerie quiet of the Silent Hill-like town was enough to rattle their nerves.

They all gathered one last time outside their vehicles.  Devin was needed to wrench open the portal to… wherever, so they all huddled close making small talk as he situated himself.  Tee?  Don’t know if you can hear me, but we’re coming for you.  He set his helmet on his bike, threw his pack over his shoulder after one last go-through of its contents, even Marissa’s stuff because he knew she’d forget everything important in lieu of makeup and a spare set of shoes in case the scenery changed, and her outfit suddenly clashed with it.

Devin approached Cassie and his sister and offered the blonde a reassuring wink and he rubbed his sister’s shoulder.  “Hey, Blondie,” he greeted Cassie while giving his sister a once over and nodded.  “Not bad.  It’s a little CW, but it states bad ass.”

She forced a smile and then admitted bluntly, “I’m scared, Devin.”

He continued to rub her shoulder, forcing a smile of his own.  He thought of something that couldn’t sum up of the Fellowship more clearly in a million years, and it was Marissa that had taught it to him years ago.  “How did that go?  Though much is taken, much abides; and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven-“

“That which we are, we are,” She stood a bit taller as the words of Tennyson’s Ulysses rolled off her tongue.  She knew that what he’d said was all he’d remembered of the poem that she had ran throughout the house reciting when she was younger.  She’d found the prose beautiful and the words back then so inspiring.  Now, here, he’d returned to her a part of who she was that she’d locked away in order to become the Queen of Mean.  He always knew what to say.  “One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.  To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

“Not to yield,” he softly repeated his sister’s words.  “Amen to that.”

”It’s okay do be scared.” Devin said loud enough for everyone to hear him.  Anger and rage swelled in his chest as the thought of Not-Cody hurting Tawny haunted his every thought, action, and step that he took.  Words were always Devin’s weapon of choice.  He was a master at deflecting his feelings with a joke or a quip, but now his mind couldn’t find any joke that fit this mess.  There were no quips to make any of this seem ‘okay’.  Words gave him comfort, kept the demons in his ears quiet long enough for him to collect his thoughts, and so… he talked.  He let his eyes lock with his sisters for a few moments more before he turned to face everyone.  “I’m scared.  None of us asked for this, but here we are.  Sophia, Tawny?  They didn’t ask for this either, but they are out there somewhere, and we’re going to find them and bring them home.”  He had no idea if Sophia was still alive but he they didn’t need to hear that right now.  They needed to hear that she was alive, and they were going to find her.  They needed that.  He needed that. 

“Coyote?  He sees something in us.  He knows that each of us are dealing with something in our own way; loss, self-loathing, being different, identity, closure, redemption,” he looked to Autumn, Marissa, Sean, Jason, and Cassie respectively and gestured to himself last.  “Individually we were broken but together we’ve managed to start putting ourselves back together.  Sure, we’re still not perfect, but it’s a start and I for one am no longer afraid of all the little fractures that run along this twisted path through the darkness we’ve been set to walk upon.”  He walked, circling to walk to past each of his friends and let them meet the intensity behind his eyes.  “See, I believe that all those little fractures in the darkness are what let the light in so that we could find our way to each other.  That’s a powerful statement from the Powers That Be that we were never meant to walk alone.”

He passed by Cade and raised his fist, the large quarterback bumped it.  He gave Jason a nod and a light pat on his shoulder as he passed him.  He stopped and met Sean’s eyes for a moment and continued.  “This isn’t about us, our differences, our personality clashes or our griefs with one another.  Right here, today, now, we are bigger than all that.  We are a Fellowship.  Coyote sees something in us, kindred spirits that were destined to inherit great power, but he is also the God of Mischief and a little of that beats in all of us,” he pressed his hand to his heart and bowed slightly.  “Some of us more than others.”  For a second everyone was able to smile without forcing it past doubting convictions or fear of any numerous possibilities.  “It’s in our blood, guys.  We were born for this.  Now, let’s go rescue our friends, stomp the Dark in the chubby, and go get our mischief on.”

He walked away and they reflexively followed.  They had a mission, and it was like a math test or a book report… they didn’t want to do it, but they had to, so they got to it.  Lives were on the line though, and there were no make ups or extra credit if they failed the first time, this was it.  It was go time.

The eight of them stepped into the dark alleyway that led into the old building.  Debris and brick and rust littered the small passageway and the shadows after the mouth of the alley seemed to grow deeper and more constricting.  Sean held out his hand, palm up as they moved with purpose and were undaunted by darkness as long dimmed light fixtures exploded to power in a shower of sparks that rained down on them as the electrokinetic breathed life into them once more.  The padlock on the old door twisted and knotted on itself as an unseen force telekinetically rent it asunder into metallic shards as the door opened itself in greeting.  Cade slung his rifle up onto his shoulder while Marissa slid on her leather jacket, pulling her hair out to fall over the collar.  Cassandra checked her battery power on her phone and camera, sliding one into her bag the other into her pocket.  Autumn nervously rubbed her bracelet before tucking her hands into the pockets of her hoodie.  Kat looked about everywhere, her eyes darting from shadow to shadow with nervous energy as they entered and approached the distortion.

No one could see it, not even Devin.  It wasn’t something that could be seen, only felt.  For a long moment that’s all Devin did was just feel it.  It was nothing, and he never quite understood how nothing could have a feeling to it… but it was like emptiness, like one of those days when he wanted to do something but no matter what he considered that one thing he’d chosen just wasn’t it and on and it went.  He would search all day, but nothing was good enough and he just felt bored and like he’d wasted a whole day by the time that day was done.  This feeling was like that.  It was hungry for something, but it didn’t know what, so it just ate and ate and drank up all the good and decency and joy looking for that one thing to sate its hunger.

Cade tapping Devin on the shoulder snapped him back into the real.  “You’re up.”

The monster that chased him through the halls of the school flashed in his mind.  He twitched visibly.  “Y-yeah.”  He stepped forward a few steps and clenched his fists at his sides, he closed his eyes focusing on the distortion.  He could the difference in his power compared to the essence that formed the distortion, almost like pure malice had found a way to smash though reality.

His mind made his thoughts a reality.  As he focused, he could hear the thumping, hollow like something banging against something thick.  He opened his eyes and saw the distortion opened, its iris spiraling outward to show the vast expanse of nothingness in the form of a mirrored wasteland of their own world.  His gut tightened as the creature from the school, the one that had spent hours stalking him and hunting in the corrupted hallways of his school.  It loomed there in the threshold of the gate, drooling, and hissing as its form slithered in place to keep its balance.  It hissed which soon mingled into a screech that could make ears bleed and it lunged for him only to slam against the portal, like a pane of glass was keeping it from crossing over.  It slammed against it a second time and the barrier cracked, and a third with blinding speed and all Devin could do was stand there, paralyzed as the barrier shattered its massive jaws closed the distance and everything went dark.

Devin’s snapped open and took a step back, almost staggering and falling into Cade and Cassie who were directly behind him.  Cassie managed to brace him and noticed the droplets of cold sweat coating his brow.  “Woah.  Devin, you okay?”

“Y-yeah.” He lied.  “Just, uh, feedback.  The distortion is made of some pretty foul stuff.  Dark shit.  Scary shit.  Wasn’t ready for it, that’s all.”  His smile was less than convincing as he stepped forward to tried again.

He could lie to them, but he couldn’t lie to Autumn.  His heart rate and brain chemistry had spiked so high he was on the verge of shock.  Still, he stepped forward for another try.  She silently watched him, monitoring his health as he stubbornly made a second attempt.  He closed his eyes once more and tried to focus through the fear.

He still had dreams from his time in the Void, as Ellie called it.  IT was only a few minutes in his world, but it was a few hours there when a demonic horror had hunted for him and on several occasions, had almost killed him.  He’d been putting up a good front, but the experience had left him with nightmares and terrors about ever having to return to that place.

His world faded away again, and he focused on the distortion.  His eyes tightened shut and Autumn could feel his heart rate increase.  Chemicals flooded through his body as his senses extended outward and into realms beyond their own.  The creature slammed against the barrier of his senses and once more it cracked the protection in his mind and lurched back for one final strike that would shatter his confidence.  Forward it lunged and…

…he was standing in a field of tall grass, a field he knew, and he remembered.  "Don't say I'm your best friend!” Tawny’s voice was low and seemed come from the lowest depths of her throat as she fumed and shook her head. 

Devin stood stunned for a moment, he remembered this!  This him and Tawny during the summer when… when he was an idiot.

"Don't you dare say that, because I know Deejay, I know we're best friends.  Jesus God, do I know, and it's not fair.” She sobbed.  “You really want to know what 'in love' is?  Even if I had never met you that day outside of your house... I'd miss you.”

Tears welled up in Devin’s eyes.  He shook his head in a vain attempt to apologize to this phantasm for not understanding then how much he was hurting her.  His fists clenched at his sides and he shook his head in defiance that he was about to give up on her.  Not yet.  No way.  The valley turned dark, the grass shriveled and died.  Tawny, along with the field faded into a colorless grey and dissolved like ash only to be blown away on a sudden wind.  As the breeze cleared Devin stood only a few feet from the giant snarling creature that terrified his dreams.  Slime-like saliva dripped down from its jaws as it lowered its head to meet its prey eye to eye.

“Jason,” Autumn looked up at her boyfriend, worry in her eyes and voice.  “He’s not well.  Whatever he is doing to open this thing, it’s killing him.”

“He can do it.” Jason said calmly.

“Jason.” She glared at him through gritted teeth as if his name were suddenly entire conversation to convey her disagreement with his appraisal.

“Everyone is looking for something in their life, Deejay.” Tawny appeared, fading into view like a ghost now clothed in a virginal white dress with white satin ribbons and sash that chaotically danced in the breeze.  Her very presence was the brightest thing across all the landscape.  She stood in the space between him and the great creature.  “We're all born incomplete and we spend our lifetimes searching for that piece that completes us and makes us whole.  I feel that when I'm with you.  Whole.  The powers may seem to make me glow, but it's you Devin, it's always been you that makes me shine.  That's why I love you, that's why I'm in love with you.  You make me a better person."

Gold spun itself with Rumpelstiltskin like magic through the violent violet energy that slithered down his arms and coalesced into his palms.  It swirled and danced in a fervent unbridled rage within his eyes, and gateway to his soul and at this moment, Devin’s soul was on fire.  “You will not keep me from her.” He snarled at the great demon.  The landscape crumbled and collapsed around like a poorly made movie set that was no longer needed.  As it crumbled the room, he and the others stood in were left behind, fear was replaced with rage.  Sorrow replaced by hope.  In a great bellow Devin cried out and the mighty demon that only he could see was hit by the power of his battle cry and exploded backwards like smashing ash with stick.  The room exploded with power and the iris of a portal collapsed in upon itself.

Sweat mingled with blood as Devin collapsed to one knee.  His nose dripped crimson with the toll of crossing between worlds, but he’d done it.  The way was open.

Courtney collapsed over the sink in her bathroom and coughed up blood in an unladylike matter.  Her nose dribbled blood and rivulets slowly slithered their way from her ears.  Every capillary in her head felt like it was fire but still, she managed to look up at the massive mirror and Tawny, clothed in virginal white, faded from her sight as the awakened memory from Devin’s mind faded as her link was broken, her power stretched to its limit.

She collapsed onto the soft, comfortable rug upon the bathroom floor and she stared at the ceiling.  Her breath was shallow and weakened but still she smiled, her teeth blood stained as it ran down her cheeks from her nose.  She’d done all she could.  She'd given Devin the push he needed.  “Go get him, guys.”  She closed her eyes and left herself rest.

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The portal hung before them in the air, the purple hues of Devin's energy mingling with the sullen dark red of what lay beyond.  They could all feel it, that unnatural presence, that seeping, creeping wrongness that had several times now reached out to try and claim them.  It should have filled their veins with ice, stolen their will to do anything other than flee or curl up into a ball and hope not to be noticed, sapped their connection to their Shine.  But as that presence wreathed around them, something pushed it back.

It was Marissa who noticed it first, a faint vibration around her wrist, a tingle of warmth.  Tearing her gaze from the portal in front of her she glanced down, her pretty dark eyes widening at what they saw.  "Guys..?"  Whether it was her tone - one of wonder and hope in the midst of this horror - or some sympathetic vibration as they each became aware of the same sensation around their wrists, each of the Fellowship looked down.

The bracelets were shining - no, they were Shining.  The gold-like material, ancient beyond easy reckoning, was suffused with a glow that warmed, reassured, drove back the Dark as it reacted with the teen's own Radiance.  Devin felt expended strength seep back into him, slowly but surely, as the artifacts billed as 'protections for warriors' hummed in silent unison with one another.  The teens became aware of an acute connection to each other, something only before experienced during the exercises of attuning to one another at the farm.  In that curious extra sense they all possessed, they each felt Devin's rebellious flickering energy, Autumn's restless vitality, Marissa's untapped depths of true strength, Cassandra's questing, seeking flow, Jason's focused, harnessed fire, directed through the cold prism of his mind, Cade's stoic fortitude, the deep waters that ran still, Sean's brilliant patterns of endless fractals, Kat's formless urge to create and discover.

There was no need for words.  Jason stepped forward and helped Devin to his feet with one arm, the two young men exchanging a nod before turning to face the portal.  The air around each of the Fellowship shimmered, blurred slightly, as they felt Jason's power reach out and envelope them all, protective shields of force that should, in theory, turn aside the worst of blows. As one, the teleporter and the psychokinetic squared their shoulders and moved to step through the portal.

Spoiler

Jason is using Bulk Shielding and keeping it up for the foreseeable duration.  He is down to 12/15 Psi.

Everyone has 5 Soft Armor so long as the power remains up.

Okay!  It's been a long time coming.

If your character is using any powers prior to stepping through, state it in your post and mark off the Psi points / Flux used as I did above.  When everyone has posted and done this I will move the scene into the Blight around the Throne.

The bracelets have activated now that the 'Warriors' (thats you) are facing the Dark for the first time together.  This provides the following benefits:

  1. You are all Attuned to one another.  This means you can boost one another, transfer Psi points, or any other effects that required Attunement without having to be in contact.
  2. You are immune to the negative effects of the Blight.  Normally, the Blight would add +3 complications to all power uses, as well as potentially corrupt those inside it in body and mind. This means Devin can teleport around in the Blight now without ripping himself a new asshole.
  3. Certain other effects which will be discovered.  

 

Edited by GDP_ST

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"When I said I wanted to travel someplace outside the US, this isn't quite what I meant for my first time," Sean said, sweet voice hushed, but still echoing oddly in the dark, charged atmosphere, portal of amethyst and ruby rippling with every sound.

He pulled back from the electrical system of the Old Town Hall, letting the lights go dark, their immediate area dimly illuminated by the portal and their bracelets. Exhaling slowly, he refocused his psionic senses, sharpening his awareness on bioelectric activity, both that which flowed through living brains and nervous systems, and the traces that lingered behind for some time after someone's or something's passing. Sean was surprised when he had first learned that bits of bioelectric activity were left behind.

Sean's friends, the Fellows of the Fellowship, shone even greater to his senses, both to sight, and sensation. He could see the fireflies of thought and action racing through them, and he could feel them too, like subliminal magnetic fields opposing his own, giving him an intuitive idea of what they were doing, how they were moving, and how to slide out of their way. And then like a scent laid by electrons, he could see/feel - rather than smell - where they had been. In moments, the trails piled upon themselves in the area before the portal, yet he could distinguish each one.

If Sophia or Tawny had come this way, or if he got close enough on the Otherside, he should be able to pick them up. He frowned, considering Cody, or rather Not-Cody. He had changed so much, he wasn't sure he'd be able to recognize his specific bioelectric signature. On the other hand, it might now be so twisted and corrupt, that it wouldn't be mistaken for anything else.

He should be able to track down the missing girls, should be able to get out of the way of danger if he saw it coming. Now to see if he could do something to eliminate that danger. He rubbed his arms, feeling the tactile something of Jase's shield, as he pictured the Hospital, the terrors galumphing down the halls, and the living, burning lights he had called up and welded to his will.

It was still a strain to call them once more - his psionic discoveries had travelled down other paths since that day. He remembered how he had blundered when he had first used them, fear and anxiety stressing his control. The stakes were even higher this time, he - they, all of them - couldn't afford the same mistakes. He sampled the different flavours of the Fellowship through the link, then gave Kat an entreating look, dark red brows and slender shoulders raised.

"Help?"

"'Kay," Kat responded, giving Sean a tight nod.

Kat grabbed hold of the formless, ephemeral potential inside her and threw it Sean's way. Sean accepted it, collected it, and focused it, like a prism, like a magnifying glass, directed to a specific function. The first time he had summoned his pet lasers, they had been spikes of light. Then he had formed them into rings. This time, they were three tight, concentrated balls of compacted, coherent photons, no bigger than marbles, pure red, blue, and green, respectively. Even from a distance, their heat and destructive potential could be felt.

Sean gave Kat a sharp, grateful nod, feeling the finer, more precise control he had over the photonic weapons and tools, even as his skin prickled and his head felt tight with the rush of energy he had bent to his will. Kat felt the effort she had expended flow back into her from the buxom boy, her psionic reserves back to brimming. "Thanks, Kat. I needed that."

He squared his shoulders, the incandescent marbles floating above his left one, and taking a deep breath as though he was going underwater, he followed Devin and Jase through the portal. "Just a heads up, stepping through to the Otherside, I better not hear Silent Hill's air raid siren. Just sayin'."

Spoiler

-Activate Precision Understanding (Electromanipulation 2) - Perceive Bioelectrical Reactions to Situations:  9d10 + 4 Enhancements (Difference in ranks and Favored Aptitude)
Asarasa Roll: [8, 7, 6, 6, 6, 5, 3, 2, 2] Result: 1 = 5 successes/enchancements for effect. Lasts one scene [p..226]

-Activate Precision Understanding (Electromanipulation 2) - Read Bioelectic Traces: 9d10 + 4 Enhancements (Difference in ranks and Favored Aptitude)
Asarasa Roll: [10, 8, 8, 7, 7, 7, 5, 5, 1], [9] Result: 4 = 8 successes. 2 successes spent to identify specific people Sean has previously sensed with Electrokinesis, 3 successes to provide additional details, 3 successes spent to increase length of time in the past by 90 minutes, 120 minutes total. Lasts one scene, can sense traces within Short Range. [p.226]

-Activate Dynamic Control (Photokinesis 4) - Create Mode (3) Lasers, w/ Quantakinetic Boost: 11d10 + 0 Enhancements (Increased Diff. cancelled by Favored Aptitude)
Asarasa Roll: [9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 3, 3] Result: 2. Power activated, but requires new rolls for later attacks and defenses. Lasers have the Beam, Destructive, Incendiary, and Piercing Tags. Lasts one scene. [p.229]

Costs: 2 Psi + 1 Psi (Power 1 dot higher than dots in Mode) + 1 Psi (+3 tags on lasers) + 1 Psi (Quantakinetic Boost) + 1 Psi (Shared back to Kat) = 6 Psi

Sean's Psi Pool: 8/15

 

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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11 hours ago, Sean Cassidy said:

"When I said I wanted to travel someplace outside the US, this isn't quite what I meant for my first time," Sean said, sweet voice hushed, but still echoing oddly in the dark, charged atmosphere, portal of amethyst and ruby rippling with every sound.

"Yeah," Shelly's socialite leaned down resting her chin on Sean's shoulder and was so close he could smell her shampoo.  He remembered thinking that if she were ever that close to him, it would be so she could tear his throat out with her teeth.  "First times are never as fulfilling as you expect them to be." She said so innocently that they were left to wonder if she was trying to funny or was actually being serious.  A few tight lipped grins were well hidden in the darkness as Cade slowly turned his head to look at her, hit expression a slate of a wordless 'seriously' uttered with a stare.  The diva looked at him, her innocent demeanor never faltering.  "What?  I'm talking about travel, Cadums.  I swear."

"Uh, huh."  Cade managed a smirk as he slowly nodded.  Marissa smirked devilishly now, letting this small segue break the gloom of rancid depression in the air.  Cade approached Devin, placing a big hand on his shoulder as the teleporter was wiping blood away from his nose with the back of his hand.  "We better get this ass kicking done in a hurry if I'm going to have time to hit the Home Depot and get that dog house your sister just put a down payment on."

Though expression remained cold and determined, Devin smiled.  "Okay, nerds," she stepped up, casting a glare at Cade that told him there was no chance in Hell he'd ever doghouse her lovin'.  "C'mon, cast your buffs and let's go, before I lose my nerve, because that place looks like it's going to be terrible for my complexion and I have a very robust skincare doctrine and I just hope you all realize the sacrifices I'm willing to make for you."

"...and the continuation of the existence of all three thousand souls that live in this small town?"  Jason's cool green eyes locked on her dark glare.

"Sure, why not," she shrugged as an after thought.  "But I swear, if I get one zit... I'm blaming all of you."  They could see how hard she was trying.  To not be scared.  To not keep looking into the Hellscape yawned itself open and shattered their resolve with a dare that none of them had the courage to venture onward.  Yeah.  They could see how hard she was trying.

Edited by GDP_ST

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Cade had released Devin's shoulder, and taken a breath.   It wasn't something to preface some big speech, Devin did that already, and said everything that needed saying.   He smiled and exhaled slowly, steeling himself against the darkness to come, against the violence, and for whatever else they'd be facing.  Defeat the Dark, save their friends, and bring everyone home safe.  Those were the objectives that they had, and he focused on them.  

He knew everyone was afraid, he wished they'd had more time to prepare, to learn about their powers, but that wasn't to be.  They had to act now, before it grew stronger, before more of their friends were taken, slain.  The Bracelet on his arm Shone brightly, and he too heart at that, this was what they'd been called to do, and he wouldn't run.

Cade moved to Marissa's side, through the attunement he seemed even calmer than normal,  He was resolved to see this through, they all were.   He  reached down to take her hand in his free one.  He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and nodded.  "Together."  That word held alot of different meanings, intentions, and emotions as he said it,  but the clearest of them was that He would stand beside her come whatever may that night.

Still holding her hand, they followed Jason, Devin, and Sean into the Portal.

 


spending Inspiration to activate Indomitable, rendering Cade immune to mental effects for the scene
spending Inspiration to activate Sharpshooter for the scene
Inspiration 6/8

Edited by Cade

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In silence, Autumn had ridden in the great black beast beside her unexpected, inscrutable, impossible new boyfriend- a boy, who was also a friend, and also more than either of those things. She'd braided her hair, tied it down with the same bandana she'd worn before, and then... waited, backpack and crowbar between her knees in the floorboard of the Charger. She could feel his eyes on her profile from time to time as they headed into town, but he said nothing, and neither did she. There was nothing, really, to say. Instead, as she exhaled slowly, images of family and home flickering through her mind's eye, she felt the warm, sure grasp of slender fingers around her own, and that was enough.

Things moved quickly once they arrived, almost too quickly to track as individual events, and suddenly they were inside, in the dark and creaking emptiness of the Old Town Hall. The air of the basement was much as she remembered it when she and Cassie had been down here a scant few days before, stale from disuse and foetid with the decaying bodies of small animals hanging from the ceiling like grisly trophies. The portal that had been torn open in the wall, though, pulsing like a wound where the awful charcoal (?) drawing had been... Autumn shuddered, glancing at the inquisitive blonde, the other half of Team Pluck. Was this what she'd seen? The small white sneaker, if it was still there in the corner- don't look, don't look, do NOT look Autumn, don't you fucking dare- merely suggested horror, and terrible as it was, it couldn't have compared to whatever the young seer had experienced. Not if it was anything like... like that. Swallowing her inherent revulsion, the redhead gave the pry bar in her hand a nervous practice swing, gloved fingers closed tight around its reassuring weight and solidity.

She wasn't afraid.

She was goddamn terrified.

...But the gaping portal beckoned, a festering lesion in reality that oozed malevolence, and through which several of their number had just stepped and left her no more time to think about consequences or consternation.

"After you," she insisted, gamely attempting what felt like a smile as she glanced at Kat and Cassandra. "Can't go anywhere without our Eyes, right?"

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"Right." The French girl replied, or tried to, but the sound remained stuck inside her throat, as she looked in horror around her. Eyes... Everything about this place reminded her of that day at the hospital, when- Eyes... right. If I'm half as stupid as I'm supposed to be, this should help... And suddenly, sight. She looked at what Jason gave them, understood how it worked, appreciated its shining halo, wrapped around them in a protective manner. And she came to wonder if she could do the same.

"What are you staring at me for?" The blonde reporter asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Uh... I got an idea." Kat replied, closing her eyes, reeling in strands of thoughts usually wandering about the mess her mind was. She was convinced there was a way for her to act against the Dark herself. If what Sean had told her about his theories with Jase was true, then-

Click.

She had done something, that she was sure of, her shoulders dropping under the weight of the effort as she sat on the ground, but she wasn't quite sure what. She glanced at her arm and it became clear, her jaw dropping as she followed the thin aura expanding from her, shrouding her two friends as it reached them. "Okay, that's cool!" Her lips stretched in an excited grin for a short moment, only for her expression to darken again as her eyes fell on the portal. It gave her goosebumps.

She stood back up, rubbing the back of her head. No use in delaying it any further. "Let's go." She almost whispered, tightening her grip on the slings of her backpack, and approached the portal. Clad in Shine, pure will and fear, she looked back at her friends and extended a trembling hand. No way I step through that thing alone.

"Help?"

Spoiler

Activating Subquantum Sense.

Activating Shield (Fundamentals[2]), shielding against corruption, lasts for one scene.

cf9ee40821afe76e91d713642bfd471d.png

Psi pool: 6/10

 

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