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Episode VI Intermission: Meet The Parents

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Tuesday, 3rd September, 1900

Marias Medical Center

 

Annette was good as her word.

The conference room was on the second floor of the administrative wing of the Marias Medical Center, a carpeted and soundproofed room dominated by a polished oval table, ringed by chairs with a high-tech speakerphone terminal in the center.  Bottles of water and glasses were set on a side table, the only other piece of furniture present.  The Fellowship, along with such family as accompanied them, were escorted by curiously fit and watchful hospital security guards to the room, shown inside, and then left to their own devices.  Though nobody was standing guard outside the room itself, it didn't escape the more observant visitors notice that this section of the hospital did not have many people in.

Other than the guards showing them to the room, the only person present was Annette Giles herself, who was seated at one end of the oval table, her well-manicured hands folded before her on the polished surface and a patient expression on her lovely features as she waited for all to arrive.

 

Spoiler

This thread continues on from Fallout.  Please, when describing your character and their family's arrival, put in something about what they were doing in the intervening 2 hours or so since the meeting at the Jauntsens.  It can be as descriptive or not as you please, but try to represent that they have an existence 'off-screen'.

Annette will greet you and your families, rising to shake hands, etc.  If asked questions at this stage, she will politely but firmly demure, suggesting that questions for her can wait until the PCs families have been caught up on all the strangeness from the Fellowship's viewpoint.  She is there simply to observe, at least for the first part of the proceedings.

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The Juantsen family met at the medical center.  The twins meeting up with their mother and father after they had spent some time speaking with Tawny and Sophia, both of which were still tired and frazzled from the previous day’s events.  They didn’t press any issues with the two victims of Not-Cody’s violent kidnapping of them and were, thankfully, still unaware of the full extent of the suffering Sophia had endured.  Still, they had an opportunity to at least make an appearance and remind them both that they were in their thoughts before leaving them to rest.

They hadn’t spoken much to their parents about what powers they possessed or any of the Branch-9, Project/Crossroads, although they had given vague explanations, so they weren’t walking in blindly.  Still, as they entered the room it seemed more like a setup for government head hunting than it did an opportunity for the families of the children to speak openly and honestly amongst themselves.  The room was bugged, the government lap dog was sitting patiently and professionally at one end of the table, and she even offered false platitudes in her greeting and spouted the obvious ‘I’m just here to observe and mediate’ garbage.  The problem Annette faced with the Jauntsens was that they were all very intelligent and proficient manipulators, and to them, this was seen for exactly what it was: an opportunity to observe, collect, and produce intelligence work on the families of the children who possessed extraordinary powers so that could disseminate across the various government agencies.

“Thank you all for coming,” Annette said as the Jauntsen family took their seats.  She noted how Misti, Devin, Marissa and then finally, Carl, sat, sandwiching their children in between them, a classic ploy to allow the to deliver looks, gestures or even a touch without having to move to far.  They weren’t the best of parents, but they were here thinking of the best way to keep their children from saying of doing anything that might be used against them.  “The others will be here shortly, I’ve word they’re on their way.”

“So, this Proteus organization… you’re what?” Carl asked, craning his head a bit to imply a measure of distrust.  “Research, Special Ops?”

“Perhaps it would be best if we saved questions for me until the end, after the ‘Fellowship’ has had their opportunity to say their piece.”  Annette’s smile was textbook, her words carefully chosen, and she noticed the way Misti seemed to be paying less attention to what she said so much as how she said it, reading micro expressions, measuring the flush in her cheeks, her pattern of eye movement.  “Afterwards I’ll conclude with a few words to help alleviate any concerns.”

Marissa sighed and rolled her eyes.  “Christ.  Crossroads and Proteus are essentially the same thing, they look for people like us, study us, find out what makes us tick and-“

“-essentially put a collar around our neck to make sure we’re jumping through the hoops that benefit their agenda.”  Devin chimed up to finish his sister’s thought.  “The difference is Proteus at least seems to have some manner of moral compass, so in the end, they’re not so much our allies as they are business associates and the lesser of two evils.”

“That’s not entirely accurate,” the beautiful liaison said calmly but with still a hint of frustration in her voice.  “And a bit unfair.”

“From your point of view,” Marissa’s reply was like a swift razor blade seeking a throat to cut.  “We did battle with an ancient demon who kidnapped our friends and where were you and Proteus and Branch-9?  We had baseball bats and tire irons, where was Proteus and Branch-9?  Jason was almost killed today in retaliation for my spying on Enterich at your request.  Where was Proetus and Branch-9?  We wanted to have a calm meeting of the families to sit and discuss everything that’s happened to us up to this point and tell our parents what we could do and how we wanted to apply these new found talents-“

“-oh, wait… here’s Proteus and Branch-9!” Devin expressively held out his hands placatively towards Annette, feigning trying to convince her of what he was saying.  “‘Don’t have it in the comfort of your own homes, please, allow us to escort you to an isolated wing of the hospital by way of military escort and feel free to make use of our most-certainly observed meeting room.  Please.  All we want to do is help’.”  The twins did not seem at all pleased with Branc-9 or Proteus and the hard gaze they both gave Anette spoke volumes beyond their initial appraisal.  “I’ll tell you what unfair is, Ms. Giles: when it’s easy not to believe in gods and monsters until you wake up one day and realize you are one.  Then spend two months trying to figure out which one you are all-the-while trying to piece together which of these factions wants to be buddy-buddy with you now simply because you can make their lives really complicated if you're not on their side."

Annette sighed and cast a glance at their parents while trying not to say any more than she had to.  “Don’t look at us, Ms. Giles,” Misti offered a cold smirk.  “I assure you, we’re the least of your troubles this evening.  Secret installations, meeting with our children without our consent while willfully placing them in danger… irresponsible at best, outright negligent at worst, but as you said, we’ll discuss that later.”

“Wait,” Carl interjected, raising a hand while leaning to face his daughter.  “Jason was almost killed today?”

“Yuuup.” Marissa’s lips popped on the ‘p’, but she didn’t look up from her phone.

“Huh.”  He nodded.  “Well, damn.  Poor kid.  Glad he’s okay.”

Misti rolled her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose in frustration.

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"No."  Jason's tone wasn't petulant.  Indeed, he didn't even raise or project his voice.  The simple refusal was delivered with a cold, hard edge, like frozen diamond etching indelibly on glass.  Gar and Kaitlin looked at each other, Kaitlin giving Jase's father a faint shrug in response to the somewhat helpless frustration on the other's face.  "She's not welcome - not to the meeting, not in this house."

"Jase, she's-"  Gar began.

"Not my mother, except in the crudely biological sense of having once been an incubator for me."  Jason cut across his father's words with brutal straightforwardness.

"She raised you for eight years."  Gar scowled at his difficult son. 

"And then turned her back on me when she couldn't handle the truth of my nature.  Which seems to be a common trope of my life."  The lanky youth stood in the kitchen doorway where he'd stopped as soon as he'd seen Kaitlin sitting at the table, coffee in hand, talking in low tones with his father.  His head tilted slightly as he considered, then added with scrupulous honesty.  "With one or two notable exceptions so far."

"Oh, come on, Jase-!"  Gar started, then paused, scrutinising his son, looking for some signs in the cold exterior.  "Meeting didn't go well, then, I take it?"

"It went more or less as expected.  Some interesting revelations."  Jase moved from where he'd been standing and helped himself to a coffee, ignoring Kaitlin.  "I'm half expecting tonight's meeting to be just as stimulating and informative.  Which is why it is not the time for family therapy."

"Alright."  Kaitlin nodded slightly.  "I can understand that."  Gar started to protest, but the pretty blonde laid a hand on his arm.  "No, Jase is right.  If he expects a troublesome meeting, he can't afford to be distracted."  she told her beloved.  "However..."  

She set aside her coffee cup and stood, moving to stand directly in front of her son, looking up into his eyes unflinchingly.  Those eyes, so much like her fathers - cold, calculating, giving away nothing except perhaps wolfish readiness as he studied her in turn.  The scar on his cheek added to the impression she was gaining: her son was starting to look and act more Teulu every day.  Part of that would have been the attack this morning, she was sure.  And the combat he had seen the previous night.  He had tasted death, both dealing and surviving it.  He had gained a sense of his own power, and his own frailty - the latter of which might make a human more humble but would make a Teulu implacable, more viciously determined not to be so vulnerable again.

"You disagree.  But I am your mother."  she began, looking him dead in the eye.  "Yes, I abandoned you, but I was wrong to do so.  I hate myself for doing so, Jason.  I've told your father the truth of me - and of you." she added, steeling herself not to step back as the pale green eyes narrowed on her face.  Jase looked over her shoulder at his dad, who just nodded slowly, then back at Kaitlin.  "You might never accept me as part of your family.  And I'm willing to live with that as consequence for what I've done.  But please, allow me to at least fulfill my duty to you.  There are things you need to know, about yourself, about your people.  I can at least do that for you."

For a long moment, he hesitated.  He studied her face, then his father, who nodded encouragingly from where he sat.  Finally he breathed out, slowly, and leaned back against the counter.  "Alright." he said quietly.  "Alright."

"Thank you."  Kaitlin wanted to reach up, to push his unruly hair back from his face, to stroke his scarred cheek.  But she refrained, instead stepping back and sitting down again.  "So... Gar tells me you have a girlfriend."

"Oh, no."  Jase stared at Gar, then at her, his eyes narrowing again.  "Really?  A birds and bees talk?  I think I know how the parts fit together, Kaitlin."  He gave them a crooked half-smile.  "At least, based on experience so far."  His parents exchanged a Look.

"You mean-"  Gar began, but Jason was already moving towards the hall door.

"I'm going to grab a shower, meditate some, and get ready for the meeting."  he told them, his eyes alight with faintly malicious humor.  "I won't need dinner - I had something with Autumn earlier."

"Jason, we need to talk about-"  Kaitlin tried, but he was already gone.  The two parents could hear his booted feet thumping up the stairs as they looked at each other.

"He doesn't usually make that much noise walking up the stairs."  Gar said after a few moments.  "Or at all."

"No.  He's acting out like a human teen."  Kaitlin sighed, picking up her coffee mug again.  They exchanged another look.  "At least that's normal, right?"

"How do young Teulu normally act out?"  Gar frowned, worried.  Kaitlin smirked over her coffee.

"...do you really want me to answer that?"

"No."  Gar said after a few moments reflection.  "Probably not."  He sighed.  "I'll be sitting in on the culture lessons though.  I need to know this stuff too, I guess."  Kaitlin smiled, laying her hand over his fondly.

"You've done a good job with him, seriously."  she told the worried looking man.  "He could have turned out much worse.  There's a sort of kindness to him... almost.  That's your doing."  She paused, then "You'll let me know how the meeting goes?"

"Sure."  Gar smiled back at her, turning his hand over under hers and returning the clasp.  "You can come over for dinner tomorrow."

"Are you sure?"  she asked, her blue eyes studying his face as he nodded.

"Very sure."

= = = = = = =

The Bannons arrived without fanfare or ceremony, father and son taking the first seats they came to and seating themselves as they murmured greetings to the other people present.  Gar seemed a little on edge, gazing around suspiciously at the room and plainly uncomfortable with such a formal setting, whereas Jason merely sat back in an almost indolent slouch in his chair, bright piercing gaze scanning the others before settling on Annette.  His scarred face expressionless, he studied her for a long moment before shifting his gaze to rest on the wall opposite his seat, to all intents and purposes content to seemingly stare into space as he waited.

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Cade had stayed long enough to eat pizza with the others who were there, it would have been rude to leave after they'd ordered, at least in his mind.   After that, he'd headed home, thanking Devin and Marissa for having them over, even if things hadn't gone smoothly, and for the Pizza.   He'd paused a moment, unsure of how to approach things with Marissa, given that the truth of their "relationship" had been outed by Devin, but only for a moment.   He enveloped her in a gentle hug.   "I meant what I said earlier."   He smiled and released her without trying to do anything more.  He didn't want to pressure her, she had enough going on right now.  

Heading home, Cade waited for his parents.   Haruka wasn't coming to the meeting,  She was staying with a friend of hers.   His parents would ride together, and Cade would drive his jeep.  It was a fairly major concession.  

When they parked next to him at the medical center, he met them outside the vehicle.   "Mom, Dad, I want say this before we go in.   People are stressed already, and I can't imagine that getting any better.   You're likely to hear things that are gonna sound crazy, and they're going to make you mad.  Yes, I've been doing things I didn't tell you about.   I know you're gonna be mad, but please, if you can, save that for when we get home."

His parents just looked at him, and his mother nodded.  "Cade, I  will do my best to hold my peace, so that you can all explain to us everything that's going on.   That is all I can promise."   She looked to her Husband who nodded.   Cade nodded and replied.  "All I can really ask is to let us explain."

His father put a hand on his shoulder.  "That's what we're probably all hoping for from this, son."

The Allister family walked in and made their way to the room that had been reserved for the meeting,    They took their seats to the left of Annette, with Ian seated the closest to her.   Like the Jauntsens, his parents sat to either side of Cade.  

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In the interim the twins tapped away on their phones, sliding through their social media accounts, and pausing only to lean to the other to angle their phones to smirk or chuckle at each other’s choice of memes.  They spoke quietly amongst themselves in hushed tones, sharing with each other their opinions of the content but by and large kept to themselves.

While his children made small-talk Carl leaned over a bit and addressed Gar as quietly as one could across the Arthurian-sized round table.  “Hey,” he opened, getting Gar’s attention in a voice that was not particularly low.  As silent as the room was, even the twins’ hushed conversations about Bebe Rexha, Dua Lipa and the direction of their music.  “You and Hank end up with anything over at Verden the other day?”

Gar shook his head.  “Hank’s good at hearing about the ‘best spots’, not so good at hearing about the ones that actually have fish in them.”  Both men chuckled.  “I appreciate what you did the other day, by the way.  I knew I had re-applied.”

Carl offered a dismissive curl of his lip and waved a hand.  “Eh, two days is nothing.  There are bigger crimes in the world than a two-day expired license.  Oh, I talked to Tammy, too, she cleared it all up.  Your new application was on the bottom of the stack.  They’d bumped several locals down to process al the new licenses for that small mouth tourney coming up.”

“That’s right,” the gruff man nodded, his finger bouncing along to the invisible thought in his mind.  “Forgot about that.  You managed to talk Tammy into bumping up an application?  People been trying to get her to do that for years.” He mused.

“Her daughter is sweet on Devin,” Carl smirked.  “That helped.  The rest is smiling despite wanting to unholster my sidearm and end myself.”

Gar nodded with another chuckle.  “Yeah, she can be a handful.”

“Try Holden’s Hollow,” Carl tapped his finger on the table.  “Busted a few guys there about a week back and they were dragging in bucket loads.  About eleven-hundred in fines all told.”

“Was it edible?” He asked.

Carl offered a shrug.  “Got me.  I don’t fish.  I’ve kept my interest more in the regulations than the sport-”

“-or pulling disgusting, unwashed things from the water when you can get them filleted and clean from the store.” Marissa chimed up with a look of disgust in her expression.  Her distaste for nature and things that happened outside the radius of her WiFi connection were nigh legendary.

“Thank you, Monkey.” He smiled but didn’t look back his daughter, who wouldn’t have seen him anyways through her phone as she fumed at his calling her his pet name for her that she thought was retired when she was... six.  "She’s not really an outdoorsy type.”

“I gathered,” Gar politely nodded and decided not to press the matter as Marissa’s eyes darted from Jason to Cade and then narrowed in suspicion as they were the only ones present who knew she’d been taken fishing.

“Yes, well,” Misti interjected in a volume that filled the small room swiftly.  It appeared that there was warm conversation taking place and that could lead to people possible be cordial and pleasant with one another and the black void that pumped ice-water through her veins just couldn’t cope with that possibility.  “We’ve certainly better things to do than sit here in silence all night.”  She was addressing no one in particular, but it seemed like Annette was intended to take the brunt of it as this meeting place was what she’d offered.  “If the others are not going to bother to show up, I see no reason to waste our time-“

“You get used to it,” Devin mused with an eye roll and a chuckle as he scrolled his phone, never bothering to address anyone  specific.  “It's like this every time.  That’s why I wanted this at the house, so when they ghosted us, we weren’t stuck with a drive home.  Cassie’s probably out taking pictures of raccoons in Bunnee’s garbage and in a few moments, she’s going to realize ‘oh my god, that was today?!’ and start peddling as fast as she can.  Kat’s was most likely on her way but saw a butterfly and wandered out into the wilderness, and Sean doesn’t show up to anything unless Jason personally drags him to it.  Autumn is just late for everything.  We’re fairly sure that’s her superpower.”

“I thought you were exaggerating, Devin, dear.”  Misti sighed in frustration.  “But so far, I concur: they do appear hopeless.”

“Told you.” Marissa said with a huff, never taking her here eyes from her phone.

"'Five more minutes," their mother said calmly, but matter-of-factly.  "Then we either begin, or we're leaving."

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Ian Allister's eyes narrowed, It wasn't that he didn't agree, there were other things he could be doing as well, but still.  He knew about Cade taking Marissa fishing, and looked to his son, who shook his head.  That was left best unsaid.   Cade looked over at Devin and shrugged.   "It's abit annoying, but at least it's fairly predictable.    The others will be here."    When He  met Marissa's gaze after hearing her nickname, he knew with grim certainty that if he ever tried to call her that, or probably even said the word around her, she'd end him in the most painful methods she could devise.

He looked at Carl and Gar, and nodded.  "Lake Elwell is still probably the best fishing nearby that's not someone's private pond.  Though it's a long haul one way if you wanna fish the eastern part of the lake, and most of the west requires an offroad to get near, or you go up the river."   He shrugged.  "I have a couple friends from the track team that caught some great pike and half an ice chest of bass and bream on their last trip about four days ago."

While Mr. Bancroft's pond was the main place he fished, he did go elsewhere, and he tried keeping up with what was being caught.   Ian looked to to Cade.  "That sounds like a good trip.  Maybe it's time we go there."   Cade nodded, but it was Miyakko who spoke. "You should take Haruka, she hasn't gotten to go on any of your fishing trips lately."

She looked around at the kids, and asked, quietly.  "It may be none of my business, so forgive me, but Are all of you alright?  You had many injuries before, is everything healing as it should?"  As head nurse at the facility, and in general, she was used to caring about the well-being of others.   She remembered with a certain horror how they all looked when they got back, and since she'd heard nothing about it, she was taking the chance to at least ask them if they were alright.   She knew about Jason's injury, and it at least seemed to have healed, though there was a scar.  
 

Edited by Cade

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"Far as I know, ma'am," Devin answered Cade's mother with one of the first times any of them had heard him sound respectful to an adult.  "Apparently, blindly opening a cross-dimensional portal and pulling nine people through it ruptures every blood vessel in my body."  He shrugged nonchalantly and chuckled.  "Who knew, right?  I feel like went an entire practice against everyone on the football team without any pads on, but aside from that I think we're okay."

"I'm not sure whether it's stubbornness, our powers or pure tenacity that keeps up all stitched together, Mrs. Allister," Marissa added, looking up from her phone.  "Physically, it seems I'm healing faster than I should, so there's that.  Mentally and emotionally, however... well, I was almost swallowed whole and torn to pieces by Lovecraft's illegitimate children.  But respectfully, how does the medical profession define the term 'healing as it should' after one is almost torn apart by other-dimensional monsters?"

"It's a bit stressful," Devin cut in, before his sister's words got to scathing or had a chance to be sharpened to a fine edge.  "We've a lot on our plate right now and we've barely slept, let alone had a chance to rest or recuperate for days now.  There's always something everyday we have to do or someone we have to save or somewhere we have to be..."

"It's called growing up, dear," Misti happily cut in with a honed edge of matronly sarcasm.  Marissa rolled her eyes as Devin's narrowed.

"Is it?"  Davin asked.  "Just out of curiosity how many ancient dark gods have you and dad had to take on your professional, adult lives?  Hmm?"  He leaned in like he was listening for something he wasn't hearing.  "Is that a 'none'?  Yeah, don't confuse being in the bleachers with a lost of good play ideas for actually being on the field.  We're not pulling down nine-to-fives, Mom-"

"-we're almost being bitten in half.  We're being shot at, we're damn near killing our selves every time we push our abilities because everything out there," Marissa pointed to the door.  "Is ancient, powerful and evil and we're a bunch of high schoolers who by all accounts shouldn't even be out there having to do it... but we are," her words were hiding the growing flood of emotions she was keeping in check behind her robust levy of composure.  "And we're doing it to keep you and everyone else safe.  So please, stop with the patronizing 'growing up' crap."

"It's not 'growing up', Mom,"  Devin's words were calm and compassionate as his voice emulated the caring tones of someone trying to make another understand.  "It's duty.  We were born for this.  We're the only ones who can do it.  We don't like it sometimes, sure, or even each other... but if we don't hold the line no one else can.  There won't be anyone else who can protect you or Shelly or the rest of the world.  It just," he shrugged.  "Is what it is."

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“Is there anything else you want to tell us?” Ian asked soberly, glancing up as the soft, rhythmic sound of bare feet descending the stairway stopped at the sound of his voice. Dana, likewise, looked up from her plate of half-finished spaghetti expectantly. It had been nearly an hour since Jason had brought their daughter home, almost half of which she’d spent in the shower after reminding them about the meeting at the medical center and chasing the dogs around the yard to burn off some nervous energy. “Go Take A Hike!” the pink-cheeked girl’s bright blue t-shirt cheerfully suggested, and knowing more or less which families were meant to be in attendance, the older redhead wondered idly if the choice of attire was deliberate.

Autumn paused at the foot of the stairs, her towel and still-damp hair draped over her shoulders, one hand reaching automatically downward to rub the top of Zephyr’s head as the golden-furred Shepherd mix padded over to greet her. It was a loaded question, of course. What her father really meant, she knew from experience, was: “Is there anything you’d like to confess now, before we hear it from someone else?”

She’d already told them some things, sure- not about what happened with the Marshal-Formerly-Known-As-Dale, obviously, or the whole Coyote/Man in Black thing, or the fact that her boyfriend was apparently, maybe, an interdimensional alien, or about the Crossroads prison conspiracy- but the immediate stuff. Things they’d actually needed to know. Priorities. And since no one had ever bothered discussing anything specific that they didn’t want discussed, Autumn had a feeling it was going to get pretty tense.

“The short answer,” she replied after a moment’s uncertainty, visibly uncomfortable at the quiet scrutiny of her parents from the adjoining room, “is ‘yes.’ Probably,” she amended quickly. “But, honestly, that’s why we’re going to this thing in the first place. So much has happened in the last week or so, I couldn’t cover everything if I wanted to. There’s stuff I don’t remember, or didn’t think was really important, or wouldn’t be able to tell you without getting into a whole other conversation just to explain how we even got to that point. Plus, some of it happened before I even got involved. And… some of it’s not my business to tell you anyway,” the earnest teen hedged, acknowledging the promise she’d made to them at the Carousel.

“So this way you get to hear all that kind of firsthand: who everyone is, what’s been going on. Just…” Smiling slightly at the feeling of a cool, wet nose pressed against her palm, Autumn focused for a moment on the dog at her feet, kneeling down to rub a happily squirming Zee’s neck and shoulders vigorously with both hands. “Just try to keep in mind that, um.” That all of this is crazy, and so are most of the people involved? “Some of it’s gonna be a lot to deal with, and I’m not really sure how much everyone else has told their families, you know? So… expect chaos.”

“Fantastic,” her father sighed, shaking his head as he tore off another bite of garlic bread and Dana poured herself another half-glass of wine.

A little later...

“…I’m just saying, we don’t really know what kind of people these-“ There was a moment’s pause as their escorts stepped away and Ian stopped in the doorway of the conference room, blue eyes quickly taking in the measure of the room’s occupants. “Oh.” The conversation he’d been having with his wife ended abruptly on that awkward, monosyllabic exhalation as he realized that some of the people he was referring to were already present. “Evening,” the entrepreneur added after taking a heartbeat to recover, smiling affably and continuing through the door as Dana and Autumn followed him in. “Ah, you must be-“

“Annette Giles,” the poised Aeon representative replied, rising smoothly from her seat as the Keanes approached and the traditional handshakes and parental courtesies were observed.

“Of course, of course,” Ian nodded, still smiling. “Autumn’s told us…” The smile turned wry as he glanced over at his daughter, the dry sarcasm of his tone unmistakable. “So much about you. And this is my wife, Dana, and this-“

“Dad,” the younger redhead murmured in bemused exasperation, nudging her father with her elbow. “She knows who I am.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Giles,” the elder Keane woman interjected with a smile, clasping Annette’s hand warmly in her own as Autumn and Ian exchanged a quick flurry of playful nudges and hushed exhortations to quit playing around.

“The pleasure is mine.” Her reply seemed genuine enough, as far as Ian could tell, although he couldn’t quite put his finger on the faint accent that marked it. “Please, make yourselves comfortable while we wait for the others.”

Ian nodded, turning back to the few other folks arrayed around the table, glancing from the Allisters to the two men sitting with their backs to the door, and then the well-dressed foursome at the far end of the room from Annette Giles. Were there really enough kids involved to require that many empty chairs? he wondered, approaching the older man seated nearby.

“Hi, I’m-“ He stood there for half a second, hand extended as he caught sight of the lanky, slouching figure he’d somehow missed before, and realization dawned.

“He’s my dad,” Autumn supplied helpfully as she ducked around his arm, smiling at Gar and, beyond him, at the remote youth sitting next to him. “Ian. And this,” she indicated the taller, svelte redhead who likewise offered the Bannons a smile, “is my older sister. Ow!” She complained, grinning even as she rubbed the spot on her side where Dana had pinched her. “My mom. Dana. Mom, Dad, this is Jase’s dad, Gar Bannon.”

"Nice to meet you at last." Gar had risen from his seat a trifle awkwardly, as though he hadn't expected the courtesies, but his smile was genuine as he took Ian's hand in a firm clasp and shake. The differences in manner were noticeable between his nervous warmth and his son's composed, though equally genuine faint smile-and-nod of greeting to the Keane clan.

"Likewise." Autumn's father said by way of introduction as he returned the handshake. He'd heard around town that Gar was a drunken bum and a bit of a nut, but the hazel eyes were clear and alert, the face was shaved and hair was combed, and he was dressed in standard Montana-casual of plaid shirt and jeans rather than the 'prepper chic' of Army surplus clothing Ian had been half-expecting. Beyond him, Jase unwound from the chair he'd been inhabiting and stood. Ian looked at him. "Good to see you're okay, Jase." he remarked, a heartfelt enough statement. Sure, the kid was odd, unnerving and, worse, was dating his little girl, but Ian didn't actually wish him ill.

Dana moved forward and shook Gar's hand, still smiling, as Ian stepped back. "Autumn's told us a little about you." she confided. "Thank you for making her welcome at your place."

"She's a real pleasure to have around." Gar replied, his smile widening a little as he winked at the younger redhead, who smiled widely through her faint blush. Dana cast an amused doubtful glance at both of them, but said nothing as she stepped a little past Gar and gave Jase a quick hug.

"I'm glad you're okay too." she told the lean young man, studying the scar that ran from over his ear down his cheek. It looked months old - Autumn's 'gift' at work undoubtedly - but was still noticeable against the bronze-olive tan of his face.

"Thanks." Jason replied, giving her a slight smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling a little, as Dana stepped back. His pale jade gaze found Autumn, the smile still lingering in his eyes. "Hey." he said to her softly.

“Hey,” the freckled vitakinetic replied quietly, the faint rose in her cheeks deepening by degrees, and it was only the light pressure of her father’s hand on her shoulder that reminded her where she was. Tearing her attention away from the frosty green eyes that threatened to swallow her where she stood, Autumn nodded politely at the Jauntsens, her enthusiasm dimming slightly as the older Keanes likewise offered the somewhat infamous family a cordial- if distant- smile and wave of greeting. Carl and Misti reciprocated with the faux-friendliness of experienced socialites; if Autumn hadn't seen their behavior at the hospital first-hand, she realized, she probably wouldn't have known they weren't sincere.

Gently, but inexorably, her parents steered her back towards Annette, pausing for a moment to once again observe the obligatory semi-formal ritual of greeting with the Allisters. Ducking away from the guiding paternal hand, Autumn continued around the table a little further before taking the seat directly opposite Jase and settled in, waiting for her less-impatient family to catch up. They were still missing the Cassidys, Allens, and... Barrases? Was that right? Slipping her cell phone from her pocket she frowned a little, scrolling through her contacts as her toes skimmed the floor.

“Really?” Ian murmured a trifle archly as he sat next to his daughter, earning a bemused smile and shrug from Dana as she took the chair to Autumn’s left.

“Really,” the youngest of the Keane trio confirmed, switching her phone to vibrate and placing it face-down on the table.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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The Bannons had retaken their seats as the Keanes settled in across from them, Gar smiling a little over at Autumn's family before glancing at Jase, who'd once more assumed a relaxed, almost deliberately slovenly slouch in his chair, only the faint warming of his eyes as they rested on Autumn opposite him any indication he was paying attention to anything.

The door opened again, admitting Captain Williams and Kat.  The soldier looked around at the gathering with a professional eye and a tight, in sincere smile and nod as he moved behind his daughter, who herself looked nervy and ready to bolt as she took in the assembled parents and the emotional texture of the room.  For a telepath it was tense here, clouds of of suspicion, angst and lingering hostility floating around, flickering with lightning, and she didn't want to advance any further into it than she had to.

"Hey guys."  she said, giving everyone a shoulder-high wave as she pulled out the seat nearest the door, the one on Annette's right.  Between the calm of the Aeon woman and the warm concern of Gar Bannon, and beyond him the utter frozen lake of Jase, she felt that this was likely the least turbulent spot in the room - as well as closest to the door if she needed to bolt.  Her dad took the seat beside her, nodding to Gar and offering a handshake and murmured greeting as a message ping went off from the diminuitive French girl's phone.  Flushing as she drew stares, she glanced at the message from Courtney, tapped out a reply, and thumbed her phone to 'silent' before tucking it back in her pocket and looking around at faces, waiting for the meeting to begin.

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By the time Cassandra got in, her mom was already home for a change. She'd taken most of the afternoon off, since she'd have had to have left a bit early anyway. Thus, Cassie was greeted with a distracted, 'Hey kiddo,' from the living room, which startled her for a second.

"Hey mom," she said back as she cruised past the living room on the way to her bedroom. Her tone was an excruciatingly well-practiced nonchalance, that formed an almost solid and concrete impression of a perfectly ordinary day, in which nothing particularly important happened and certainly nothing worthy of concern or discussion... And Teresa accepted it at face value largely out of habit.

Bacon, however, wasn't having it.

The dog was up off the floor in front of the couch like a shot, weaving expertly around the coffee table and interposing himself between Cassandra and the door to her room. His ears perked forward and he wagged his tail...but the whine escaping him was tense and anxious.

Cass kneeled down and cooed, "Aww, what's the matter? Mom watching scary movies? Do you need a hug? Animal protective services?" She did reach out to give Bacon a hug; the german shepard being big enough to make such a gesture possible. The moment she touched him though, Cassandra froze.

Worried. Bacon was worried about her, worried sick. She wasn't well, she wasn't right, and unbidden in her head she could see...well no, not see...but she could smell something rising up...a smell like sweat, only a little worse. Salty, sour, dank. Her brain instinctively tried to turn it into a picture, and what she came up with was a dark old basement that had been made into a locker room but then abandoned after murders had taken place there. The smell of fear, but not just any fear...the slow kind of fear. The rot that ate you from inside. The sudden realization that it was her smell brought her up short, and she yanked her hands away from the dog.

Bacon whined again, his tail thumping the floor, and he pressed the top of his head against her neck and chin.

For a second Cassandra was back in the Dark. Skulls crunched under her feet, and it wasn't a dog pressing against her. It was something else, fleshy and tumorous, biting at her with teeth that had no business being where they were...

With a horrified yelp she scooted backwards away from Bacon, managing to catch herself on the heels of her hands so she didn't just flop over onto her back.

Teresa looked up, and immediately felt a stab of not just unease, but fear...and for some reason, guilt? That made no sense though, so she stuffed that away and got up. "Are you okay? What happened? Did Bacon trip you?

Even asking it though she could tell that wasn't it. The body language was wrong. Everything was wrong.

"Cassandra?" she asked.

"No," Cassie said as her breath returned. "I'm f..." she broke off, unable to say the word she'd intended. She wasn't fine. Bacon's big anxious eyes bored into her, and seeing herself in them she couldn't say the word. "I, uh...I just...had a second there... I felt scared even though there was no reason for it.It was just Bacon though."

It was on instinct more than anything that Teresa leaned down to give Cassandra a hug. Instantly she knew it was the right thing to do, because her daughter immediately turned to return it, her arms unexpectedly tight.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Teresa asked gently.

"Can't right now," Cassie demurred. "Meeting. Maybe later?"

"There's still plenty of time before the meeting," pointed out her mother. "No pressure or anything. Just...whenever you want to. Okay?"

But when Cassandra decided to let go, she couldn't. So instead she said, "Actually...maybe now's good." Then Cass took a deep, shivery breath and went on, "I need tell you about what happened the other night. And...when I do, I just...just please keep remembering that we made it out okay. It's over, it's done..."

A flash of Enterich's face popped into her mind, smirking. Over and done, are we? What a relief. We wouldn't want to have to go through that again.

Even with as much time as they had, they were almost late to the meeting.

===========

On getting to the conference room, Cassandra realized there wasn't really a place left to sit that wasn't near the Jauntsens. She went up to the seat by Dana, and her mother took the one between her and Misti. Cassie didn't say anything, or meet many eyes as she came in. A sharp eye might have seen a little bit of puffiness around them that implied some tears had been shed.

Teresa, on the other hand, gave everyone a reserved smile as she went around to her seat and said, "Hello, I hope we didn't hold everyone up. We got off to a little bit of a later start than we'd hoped to...some last minute family business came up.

Under the table she reached over to give Cassandra's hand a squeeze. She'd suggested just canceling, but Cass had been rock solid firm that they had to go to this. There wouldn't be a make-up day if they missed this exam.

Cass returned the squeeze and then got up to get some water for herself and her mom just ahead of when the meeting started for real.

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Sean stared at his phone, head cocked in curiosity, having just finished a call with Brad Stanton, a rep with EA. The guy had been affable, enthusiastic, and maybe just the teensiest bit cagey with why he wanted to meet. Brad had known about Annwn, and had clearly played it from the way he talked, so his reasons might not just be about ReGenesis. Sean knew his curiosity wouldn't be sated without at least meeting the guy, so he had agreed to his offer of a business dinner at the Shelly Country Club on Friday.

The only time he'd been there was a kid, when he'd tagged along with his dad when he'd been on a job. Sean had no illusions about appearing super professional or anything, but he didn't want to look like a complete schlub or the archetypal antisocial neckbeard, as it were. He'd have to see what he could scrounge up, probably reusing most of what he'd gotten for Charlie's funeral.

While answering questions and comments on his game page, Sean tracked down Turing to give him a long needed good brushing and clipping of nails. His grey cat had been keeping himself scarce since Sean had used him as a test subject for one aspect of his powers. Turing accepted the brushing with dignified condescension. Sean didn't think he was forgiven yet. On the ReGenesis front, everything seemed to be going okay, though he had to firmly deny answering any questions asking about plot or hints for the game. He did have to walk one guy through the settings on his rig so that he could actually play the game. Sean wasn't even sure how the guy managed to mess up his computer that bad.

Dinner was a rushed mish-mash, everyone finishing off leftovers from the last week as Sean went over what was going on. He had actually told his parents, well, his mom, anyway, almost everything, except for Jase's, er, heritage, and what Dr. Cook had told him, and he didn't explain about those now either. But he did add when they'd learned about Enterich. Laurie looked riled and scared and annoyed that she was scared. Carolyn looked concerned, Jack grave.

The one bone of contention was when they started debating if Laurie should come to the meeting. Sean mentioned he was pretty sure no one else wasn't bringing siblings who weren't directly involved. Laurie stepped into his brother's personal space to leverage every inch of height she had on him, glowering down at him and grounding out she was directly involved - hell, Devin had even jaunted her to New Zealand. And other than Cade, nobody else even had a sibling who wasn't directly. Jack Cassidy reluctantly admitted Laurie had a point, even if he had to take a calming breath to avoid thinking what his youngest daughter and the Devin boy could have gotten up to in a foreign country. Sean and Carolyn had exclaimed, 'What?!' in various tones of surprise, concern, and totally not envy (Tolkien completely overrated). Laurie blushed, in embarrassment, self-recrimination at her blunder, and determination not to kept in the dark 'for her own safety'. The Dark was the danger in the first place!

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

The Cassidys rode to Marias Medical Center in Jack's work truck, a drive they had done often enough over the years due to Sean's medical condition. The atmosphere was more somber this time though. Walking through the Medical Center, Carolyn stopped to exchanged words with some of the staff she was friendly with, despite the exigency of the meeting they were there for. Sean slipped away to see how Sophia was doing, feeling a sense of shame and contrition. He was more than glad they'd been able to save her and Tawny. But it hurt that it had taken the depravity she'd suffered at Not-Cody's hands and the lost of Charlie for him to want to get over the painful grudge he'd held onto since she'd turned him down.

Tired and wan, Sophia still offered him an exhaustedly snarky smile edged with traumatic experience, mildly surprised it wasn't one of the Jauntsens poking their head back in. "If you ask me out, I'm still gonna say no, Sean."

Sean chuckled ruefully. "I'm not here about that." Sean ran his hands through this sun-touched crimson hair. "Just started to realize it's not good for me - or anyone else - to hold onto grudges and bitterness. Not with everything that's, y'know, going on."

"Uh-huh." Sophia's sunken eyes brightened as she sat up a bit more in her bed. Smile edged towards a smirk. "And what about Courtney?"

"Fuck Court-!" Sean sucked in a sharp sigh. He let it out slowly. "Look, it's a work in progress, okay? Just stopped by to see how you were doing. Not sure how long you'll be here, but thought I'd offer you a copy of my new game to pass the time." He tapped the laptop sitting at Sophia's side, an invisible digital spark passing through his fingers to the machine with a push of effort. "And if you want - not sure how my D&D game is going to go now, what with 'stuff' - I can fill in as guest DM for you for your group-"

"My Irregulars. Holmes."

"Better than The Fellowship," Sean admitted wryly.. "Anyway, offer's on the table while you recover. And after too, if you just need a break, or want on the other side of the DM Screen. What you running now,?"

"I'll think about it," Sophia said, before talking more animatedly about her campaign, grateful for the distraction. Sean interjected with his own questions and comments, unconsciously delaying going to the meeting. There was history between them, and new and not pleasant experiences, but for a moment, it felt almost like old times when they had been friends and co-conspirators in RPGdom. Until his mother found him, giving his shoulder an insistent squeeze. She gave the girl a sympathetic look and regretful look. She knew Sean and Sophia had had a falling out. Though not knowing the particulars, she had a few guesses.

"I hope you are recovering well, Sophia, dear, but I'm afraid I've got to steal my son back for something rather immediate."

"Thanks, Mrs. Cassidy. I'm getting tired again anyway." She looked back to Sean. "I'll send you a link to my gaming notes. I'll listen to any ideas or suggestions you have, even if I don't take you up on the offer."

"Alright. Later, Sophia."

Heading towards the meeting, Carolyn idly asked her son, certainly not prying. "Offer?"

"Mom!" Sean rolled his eyes. "It's just gaming stuff. God! She was dating Charlie."

Carolyn blinked, feeling more than chagrinned at the revelation. That was a blunder. Her chagrin didn't relent when the Cassidy contingent entered the meeting room and found they were the last to arrive. Discomfited, she went around the table, making introductions to any she hadn't met before, Jack Cassidy taking it in his more habitual laconic stride. He worked for all sorts of folk. As long as they didn't try to cheat him on payment and treated his workers with a base modicum of respect, he could deal. He exchanged a few brief words with Ian Keane, seeing if he needed any help with flipping or fixing up a house, while Carolyn remarked on how good Gar was looking, and how trials could bring out the best in someone. Then the Cassidys took their seats between the Jauntsens and the Bannons, Jack next to Carl, followed by his wife, Laurie, and Sean next to Jase.

"Apologies for running late," Carolyn said sincerely, though she didn't offer an explanation for why. "If we haven't missed the opening round, how shall we start?"

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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"Excellent," Misti said with a smile that lacked and and all caring for the proceedings.  "Well, as you all know, I'm Misti Jauntsen and this is my husband Carl.  He's a Federal Wildlife Officer, and I work for the school's administration department, so I know you all quite well, if only by reputation," no one missed the side-eyed glance she offered to Gar, whose reputation as a drunk was not unknown.  "While I'd love to say he and I have been fully able to grasp the happenings of the last few days, I unfortunately cannot.  We've agreed to listen with as open of a mind as possible, considering some of the things we've seen," she offered her son a glance.  "So, who wishes to start?"

As their parents eyes fell on the twins the two looked around the table and smirked evilly and simultaneously.  They leaned back in their chairs, Marissa crossing one leg the other and Devin resting an ankle on his knee.  Devin shrugged.  "Good question," he said.  "Who would like to go first?  We always used to, but now, it's not our circus-"

"-not our monkeys."  Marissa finished as the two sat and waited to see who would pick up the mantle of spokesperson for the Fellowship.

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"I think you should start talking." Bill Pryor said as he glanced at his daughter in the rear view mirror while telephone posts slid past the car rhythmically.

"It's, I dunno. It's a lot and right now things are still kinda fuzzy." Lilly said, rubbing her head.

"How about you try to start from the beginning?" Cassandra Pryor chimed in, putting an arm around her daughter in a side hug.

Lilly sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "From the beginning? You mean, like, the beginning beginning?" she asked.

"Wherever you are comfortable from. We just- This is a lot to take in, honey, and I'm still not sure what to make of it." Cassandra offered.

Lilly rested her forehead in her hands and signed once more. "It's kind of a long story. and you're not gonna to believe it until you meet the others, I'm sure." she semi-protested, but at the silence from both of her parents, she relented and continued. "Fine. I and my friends we all have... abilities."

"There are more like you? How did you get these abilities and why didn't you tell us?" Cassandra asked with some concern.

"I'm not entirely sure on the 'how' part, but I didn't tell you, partly, because I think it was due to the exposure to the interdimensional portal or whatever at the secret bonfire party thing we had on the reservation. And, for the record, they are not like me. They go things that I'll never do, like move things with their mind. Conjure fire and ice, teleport, read minds..."

"You are not serious." Cassandra said with her voice tinged with more than a hint of disbelief.

"As a heart attack." Lilly chimed back. "Oh, and that guy that went AWOL? Captain Cooper? He was there too.. sort of. He was looking almost like some zombie, but we found his uniform and stuff in the trailer we found there. Oh, and there was a saber-toothed tiger and the... monster-thing in the woods. They almost ate some of us." Lilly said with a nod, catching a glimpse of her father's eyes looking at her in the rear-view mirror, though she was unsure what to make of his gaze.

"Lilly. Honey. This is jus-" was all her mother got out before her father cut her off, "Let her talk." he said, his once again and coldly calm, making Lilly feel a little more like she was the subject of an investigation than his daughter right now.

"That was back in July, and I didn't tell you because what would I say? 'Hey mom and dad, I got these powers from the interdimensional portal that was at the secret bonfire party we threw on the reservation. Thankfully the zombie guy, saber-toothed tiger and monster thing didn't kill any of us.'? You would've though I was high or out of my mind." Lilly explained somewhat matter of factly, which prompted Cassandra to give a faint shrug of her shoulders and roll of her eyes in a 'well, that's true' gesture.

"So we found this fortified trailer out there with an interdimensional radio or something," Lilly continued, "...and Captain Cooper's uniform and all these photos of a Cessna's tail. So we go looking into things as best we can and, along with some of us getting temporarily stuck in this really bad dimension, we learn some stuff, like every twenty-seven years Shelly collectively loses its mind. Seriously. Go look in the papers and stuff. It is this cycle of this thing that we call The Dark. It like feeds off of bad emotions and pain and stuff, and it is trying to get from where it is trapped and into our world, and we realize that we are the only ones who have a chance at stopping it. And again, I think you can see why we didn't exactly go telling our parents."

"So yeah, we go doing more research and start learning to use our abilities and stuff and that's when I realize that me competing at the Olympics wouldn't be fair. I mean, I could probably beat this car in a foot race and I can run hurdles with high jump bars. It just wouldn't be fair and any victory would be hollow. I still want to go, and wish I could, but it's something I had to let go of. Other things are more important. So, like, I want's lying when I told you why I sandbagged, at least not fully. I just didn't think I could you everything behind it. So I'm sorry for that too. For what it's worth though, I was going to tell you yesterday, after the picnic."

"I kept playing football because it would draw more attention if I were to just up and quit, and it seems that, like positive emotions, like hope and happiness work against the dark. So yeah, I kept playing, but I held back a lot and try to not use my abilities, so help bring the town some hope and excitement, and the others have been helping with it too, trying to change the towns attitude and make it better and brighter.

"Cody, he got possessed by The Dark or gave into it or something, we found out, and it seems The Dark noticed us too and started coming after us." Lilly said as she turned to look at her mother. "Like the thing at the hospital the other day while we were out of town? That was actually an attack by The Dark, or Cody, or both. The other were there to fight it and now some government agency or something is involved and covering it up to help us. Oh yeah, some of the staff at the medical center are part of it too and had been experimenting on the population of Shelly for, like, decades and using a girl in school, who's a telepath, to help them. Hooray medical ethics." she said sarcastically and then sighed.

"Anyways, we had found Cody's like lair, or whatever, and last night we were meeting up and going to go there and face Cody and the Dark head on. It seems we won, or at least everybody survived, so that's good. But I was supposed to be there. I already let them down by not being there to help at the hospital, and then last night too." Lilly said, her voice trailing off a bit. "It's like what he said is true. Why do I even bother? They clearly don't need me." she said in a bout of self pity.

"If it's true, then why are we going to this meeting?" Bill asked.

"Because their are my friends and I'm not going to abandon them." Lilly replied without so much as a thought.

"Exactly. You said that this 'Dark' feeds on stuff like that, so are you going to make your enemy stronger and your side weaker? So you end your little personal pity party." Bill said, his tone firm, but not harsh, as he spoke to his daughter like he knew she needed. "Self pity lies to you about who are and steals from you who you can be. You're stronger than that, and I don't mean physically. Just look at what happened. If all you are saying is true, no matter how hard it is to believe, then you were asked to grow up quite a bit and do the mature and moral thing, and you did. You were asked to put something down so you could pick up something greater... and you did. And for that, we're am proud of you." Bill told his daughter, looking at her in the rear-view mirror again as the car sped down the thankfully straight and low traffic road. "...even if we aren't too thrilled about bonfires with underage drinking and being lied to." Cassandra added, resting her hand on Lilly's knee, giving it pat.

Lilly lifted her head, looking to her mother's eyes and then her father's in the mirror as she gave a small nod. It as nice to hear her father say what he did, really nice even, but the faint, momentary smile quickly faded. It was hard to take in what he said, to truly believe it after what she had been through the last twenty-four hours, but she would try.

 

Several minutes later...

The meeting room doors opened and in walked Lilly with her parents. Lt. Col. Bill Pryor was calm, neither smiling nor pensive, and gave the room a quick scan, interested in exactly who was at this meeting, as well the usual concerns his training taught him to be aware of, while Cassandra Pryor, who had worked as a head nurse in this very building for years, had a much warmer demeanor, smiling politely and nodding to any of the parents or kids who made eye contact.

Lilly, for her part, looked a bit rough. Her eyes were tired and to a keen eye like Marissa's, a bit puffy, even if it had gone down considerably already. Her long, dark, hair was up in a crude bun to try and hide its non-brushed state and she wore dark grey leggings and an oversized, black t-shirt. She smiled, though it was not hard to tell that it was at least somewhat forced, and gave a small wave as she looked to each of her friends, hoping not to find any visible injuries.

After a quick exchange of handshakes and simple pleasantries with Ms. Giles, the Pryors took the last remaining seats at the table, filling in the space between Annette and Kat, with Bill nodding to any of the other parents who made eye contact as he looked around the table, while Lilly glanced back over to Devin and brushes a few errant hairs from her face as she give him a less forced smile and softly mouthed, "Thanks." It was not lost on her that he was the only one to try and check on her when she did not show up the previous night. 

Edited by Lilly Pryor

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Lilly's entrance - and her somewhat drawn appearance - caused a curious raise of an eyebrow and narrow-eyed scrutiny from Jason, but he returned her wave of greeting with a nod and the merest hint of a smile on his scarred face.  He'd wondered if perhaps Lilly's disappearance from the Carousel had been related to the Dark, wondered if perhaps her body would be found as Charlie's had been.  The musing had not been particularly welcome - even given their estrangement he still didn't wish the girl ill: like Sean, she'd been a decent friend for too long for him to readily dismiss her simply based on recent changes and actions - but with other more pressing matters at hand, he'd been distracted from following up on his concerns.  He'd expected to see her at school this morning, and if she hadn't shown then would have followed up.  Events, however, had a mind of their own on such things.

Evidently, though, Devin had reached out, and now here she was, looking as though she had gone through her own version of hell if he was any judge.  He restrained his questions - Lilly would doubtless have a chance to speak just like the rest of them.

As the Pryors settled into their seats, the remote genius's gaze roamed the varied expressions on the faces of the fractious Fellowship.  From the affected aloof smirks of the Jauntsens, to Cade's stoic mien, to Kat's nervous yet resolute expression.  Beside him, Sean looked uncomfortable, but somewhat reassured with his family about him, giving Jase a rueful smile and a half-shrug as he noticed his friend looking his way.  Across the table, Autumn's fingers tapped lightly on the tabletop as the energetic redhead forced herself to sit relatively still rather than pace nervously, flashing him a faint smile that reached her sea blue eyes.  Lilly looked a little pale, weary in ways other than physical, but she was here, at least, and whole.  And next to Dana, Cassandra sipped the water she'd gotten herself, her own puffy eyes evidence that events had taken a lasting toll on her.

Jase kept his gaze on the blonde girl, and as she noticed it, gave her an encouraging nod.  She was the reporter, after all.  If there was to be a chronicling of events, or at least a commencement of one, it should come from her.

Edited by GDP_ST

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"Okay."

Cassandra looked around the room, and felt a little tingle of nervousness and anticipation. This would be the first time all this was laid out for everyone. She was writing the Bible here, and hoped she didn't fuck it up too badly. Look what happened the last time.

"Some of us have heard at least some of this before, but I don't know who's been told what...and we need to all be on the same page, so I'll ask everyone to just bear with me. I'll also start off by saying, yes we each have powers that most people don't have, and we very recently used those powers to protect Shelley from a threat no one knew was there. And...I'll circle back around to that, so don't worry."

Feeling a little restless, she scooted backwards and stood up.

"It all starts with a tale of two parties, back in July. Chet was having one, distributing flyers, and so..." she nodded at Jason, "...Bannon had to get in on the deal and threw together a shindig of his own out on the reservation. More discreet...invitation only. Just kind of, teenage angst playing itself out, normal day. That would have been the eighteenth."

"The night of the party, things got wild though. Not in a good 'party-way' but in a...sort of reality is coming apart like wrapping on a Christmas present way. A bunch of us..." Here she indicated the Fellowship at the table, "...basically all of US, plus Clara and Lona and Charlie and...you know...we got separated from the main party. Went out on the paths into the woods nearby. Now, I don't know the details of what everyone else saw. But I bumped into Devin by accident, and he and I saw this crazy guy, naked, run out from the trees. And he had a gun." Cassandra took in a breath here, remembering that moment. "We were freaking out...this guy looked like it'd been weeks since he'd showered, if then, and he couldn't talk...just made noises. Before he could do anything though, there was this cloud behind him. And out from the cloud came...a creature. It looked kind of like a floating octopus, but I only say that because it had tentacles. It wasn't really that much like an octopus other than that."

She shook her head. "It grabbed the man, hauled him back into the cloud. Then the cloud vanished again. At the time, we had no idea what was going on. Now we have a pretty good idea, but...that's not going to make sense yet."

"Devin and me, we ran. Grabbed the gun he dropped and ran. We finally found the others near this...like trailer? Out in the woods? It was where the guy we'd seen had been living. Most of the rest of us were already there...we found Lona in the woods on the way there...but as I understand it, the ones at the cabin had been attacked by a sabertooth tiger. So...a whole LOT of crazy going around that night."

Cassandra held up a hand. "And I know what the adults in the room are thinking. Not...I'm not actually reading your minds, it's just obvious. Drugs. But you have to understand most of us hadn't taken anything that night. Even if someone had, pot doesn't make you see alien monsters or sabertooth tigers. Believe me, we've all been all over that. In the weeks after the party, I know I tried every rational explanation I could think of to deal with it. There's nothing. We learned the truth much later."

"Anyway, the trailer was full of maps and writing and...even though he'd seemed crazy when Devin and me saw him, he'd been working on something in that trailer."

"That's what kept pulling us back."

Cassie shrugged. "Most of us kept going back there over the next few weeks. Kept seeing each other over the summer, talking. Trying to make sense of it all. The trailer was full of files...Jase wound up moving most of it to his place in the end. Even so, it wasn't until after school started again that things started to fit together."

"That's when we found out Cody was missing. It's when we started putting pieces together that there was some next-level spycraft going on in Shelly, and it was connected to the Medical Center. It's when I found out about the prison riot on the night of the party, and some coverups related to that." She took a deep breath. "And it's when we learned about what we call the Shine...and the Dark."

"We call it the Shine, because that's what it looks like to us. There's this way of looking at the world that's just a little different, it's hard to explain. People have a glow to them, everyone has a little. But we...we have a lot. We're searchlights. I don't know if that was always the case, or if something happened that activated us or something. But when we met at lunch, we started putting all these pieces together in a kind of...random, chaotic way. So we decided to meet up at Jase's place and actually try to organize."

With a nod, Cassandra concluded, "And that put us on a long road that led us to where we are now, really. Obviously there's a lot more, but...lets take a breather for a second. First of all," she looked around at the Fellowship, "Am I missing anything important? I know I kind of glossed over a few details, but I'm trying to keep it manageable here. Still, I didn't see or hear everything, so if anyone wants to add something, this is a decent time. Or if there's questions about what I've said so far, this is good too. Just don't leapfrog ahead of me. I know there's still a lot to go over, but we will get there, I promise."

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"Leapfrog ahead?"  Devin said while Cassie reached for her water whet her throat after part one of the Fellowships epic tale.  "You left out the part where you came to my house that evening and totally went all handsy on my abs."  Cassie's cheeks swelled like a chipmunks when she choked on her water and her mother turned her head a shot her a look of pure 'excuse me young lady'?

Devin flipped his finger about his mouth, calmly advising Cassie.  "You got uh... a little something... um, yeah... you two hash that out..." He nodded to the ladies while Devin earned himself baleful glares that demanded blood and pain from Cassie while a few others from the Fellowship, well used to his antics by now, tried to suppress a grin.  Devin may have been an irritating guy most times, but he was never short of entertaining, especially in these rather tense moments.

He produced his phone and showed it to everyone then looked at Sean.  "Dude, you mind?"  He then slid his phone into the center of the massive table.  "For those of you who don't know, I'm an artist-"

"-and here we thought you were some punk who whose only talent was running his mouth and torturing our kids." Sean's father Jack interrupted him.  Whatever temporary truce had been struck between them before the Not-Cody battle seemed to have dissipated at the news of Devin jaunting their daughter half way around the world to do God-knows-what, at God-knows-where.

Through pursed lips Devin nodded and soaked it up.  The Fellowship could tell, just form his poise and tensed nodding that Devin wanted to go balls deep and run a train on Jack's attitude, but instead, he composed himself and smiled politely.  "Fair.  I do talk a lot.  So, I'm going to let that go because your daughter kinda has a thing for me-"

"NoIdon't!"  Laurie swiftly intercepted the conversation and then looked at her parents like she'd been accused of something she didn't do.  She shook her head at her parents.  "I don't."

"-and," his glance across didn't go unnoticed.  "Redheads are all the rage right now."  There was an audible 'thump' from under the table as Marissa suddenly shifted, but never allowed her attention to be pulled away from the table.  Devin grunted and tensed to one side, the side closest to his sister.

"You were saying, Deej?"  Marissa asked him, her lips curling into a smirk that falsely told how she was hanging on his every word.

"Anyway," he grunted, collecting himself from the stabbing fist that met his side just moments prior.  "Sean, you find it?"

"I've found a lot, dude."  Sean said, his eyes glossed over as a terabyte of data flowed through his mind in a series of 1s and 0s.  "Is there any girl at school that hasn't sent you a selfie?"

"There's a few I wish hadn't..." Devin added with a hint of sarcasm.

"Me too.  This whole phone needs to be set on fire and tossed into a volcano afterwards."  Sean added with a grin of his own.  "I think this is what you meant."  From Devin's phone there was a brief upside down pyramid of light that encompassed nearly half of the the table itself.  All the angles were visible, though see-thru as in its  center Sean pulled the images from Devin's phone and in two dimensions, like large playing cards, the artwork Devin had drawn of all the monsters they'd faced rotated there in the center of the table.  Sean's mind manipulated the data while simultaneously manipulating the light waves in the room to turn that data into floating holograms.

"I've drawn dozens of them," he continued.  He pointed to the one Sean was rotating, a blackened cloud of ink and tentacles with a gruesome jaw of sharp, stiletto-like teeth.  "That's what came after us in the forest that night."  The artwork scrolled and rotated, lingering long enough for all of them to see.  It wasn't just the monsters that Devin had drawn, he'd illustrated entire scenes he was present for, providing a still frame visual of everything the Fellowship had gone through, like a story book others could follow along to as Cassie talked.  Every argument was drawn in detail, the Fellowship around the table fighting like cats and dogs, Clara and Devin yelling from opposite sides of the room at one another as Lilly stormed out in frustration.

The creature they battled not far from the old trailer, the one that nearly tore Devin's leg off, was brilliantly displayed in a scene where everyone was doing their best to not lose their shit as it's barbed and mouthed tongue was wrapped around Devin's leg as he screamed and frantically tried to crawl away.  He'd captured the essence of The Dark wondrously with graphite and charcoal, a monochromatic testament to the visceral beauty of horror.  "These are what keep me up at night, Mom, Dad.  The night terrors, the insomnia, me spacing out and staring at nothing for minutes on end.  We've asked all of you here today because despite our differences we've all managed to do what needs to be done to protect Shelly and it's people.  Were you to ask me a month ago if I were to be hanging out with Sean, or Autumn?  Hell no.  I'd probably be beating up Sean in a bathroom or tipping Autumn's books out of her arms so I could watch her bend over to pick them up."  Her glare told him that she was not ammused.  "What?  You might have been a pleb, but girl, you still got dat peach, hnnng."  He flexed his fingers like he was squishing something soft.

"Ah, the good ol' days," Marissa added with a smirk as she reminisced.

"But we can't do this alone," he continued, shelfing his antics and soberly addressing everyone once again.  "We can't carry this burden on our own, we need help and lying to all of you doesn't help us or anyone else.  We need you to understand that a few weeks ago we were all punk kids, sure, but now... now we're friends."  He chuckled.  "Horrible friends who still don't trust each other, but we're getting there... slowly but surely, I think.  So watch," he motioned to the pictures then to Cassie.  "Listen.  And while you may not trust us at first, I think we'll get there, slowly but surely."

Annette surprised a smile behind her steepled fingers.  There were times she wished she could bottle whatever it was the Jauntsen children had in their words.  At only sixteen, they had a knack for working a crowd and she hoped that between Cassie, the twins and the testimony of the others, this night would end on a positive now.

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"So those creatures... they're the 'Dark'?  Or from the Dark?  Or... what?"  Ian Keane peered at the projections, fascination mixed with skepticism in the man's expression.  The other parents, too, leaned forward, recognition on the faces of Sheriff Alister, Capt. Williams and Gar Bannon at the giant fish-dinosaur abomination that was trying to eat Devin as Ian went on. "Seriously, it's hard to believe."

"That's the thing that attacked us here."  Gar said quietly, soberly, gesturing towards the creature's image.  "Came crashing through the doors to the lobby last Tuesday.  I could smell the damn thing it was that close behind us."  He looked across at Ian, shrugging.  "It's real, alright."

"And those."  Captain Williams spoke up from his seat next to Kat.  Out of uniform, the soldier gestured to the rubbery, saw-toothed creatures Devin had depicted swarming along the corridor walls and ceilings.  "They were all over the place.  Your girl warned us about them, or my men - and me - would've walked right into them blind."  He gave Autumn a wry smile.  "Thanks again for that, by the way."

"Sorry, who are you?"  Misti eyed him curiously, tapping manicured nails on the polished tabletop as her attention was diverted from Devin's portfolio of horrors.

"Captain Josh Williams, ma'am."  Kats dad nodded to her politely.

"That doesn't explain much..."  Carl's tone was dubious.  Lilly's father was glancing sideways at his fellow soldier, similarly curious as to what was going on.

"Captain Williams is part of our operations detail here."  Annette put in quietly.  "But tonight, he is here as a parent to a special child, just as you all are."  That plainly didn't satisfy all questions, but was sufficient to get the parents back on track.  Dana gestured at the projections, looking at Devin, then Cassandra. 

"So, back to my husband's question..?"

"They are corrupted life."  Jason didn't stir from his relaxed slouch as he spoke, his voice calm, almost professorial as he spoke up for the first time.  "Cassie told you about Shine - at least a little.  It's the energy of life, of thought, of... nature, I suppose.  We've also heard it called Radiance.  It exists, theoretically, below the quantum layer of what we call reality.  Everything that lives, from a blade of grass to all of us around this table, draw on it a little, possessing a little spark of it."  His lips quirked in a not-quite-smile.  "If you want to be profound about it, call it the breath of the Universe."

"Or the Force."  Devin suggested helpfully, smirking slightly.  There was some rolling of eyes and chuckles from the others.

"That fits too."  Jason shrugged.  "Though we should probably avoid that comparison.  All the hellish forces of the Dark are as nothing compared to the Disney legal team."  As people relaxed a little, chuckling, he went on more seriously.  "The Dark is a force which corrupts life, corrupts minds and bodies, blights whatever it touches.  Like Radiance, the Dark seems to be a cosmic constant, existing on another level of reality, and seeking to twist and feed on the energies of life.  Here in Shelly, there was just one parasitic fragment of the Dark - and it was enough to curse the entire area for who knows how long.  Our research showed that every twenty-seven years, as far back as there were records, there would be a surge in violent crime and disappearances.  The worst kinds of crime, too - brothers knifing brothers over a card game, murder-suicides, domestic disturbance calls that would end in bloodbaths...  The list goes on."

"And that was the Dark?  Well, the parasite, anyway?"  Dana asked quietly, her eyes on the lean, quiet-spoken young man, who nodded.

"We think it was.  My research initially was into strange sightings, you see.  After the party, and after a couple of us started manifesting strange abilities, I was looking for information about local legends, cryptids, monster stories.  That led to disappearances, which led to crime spikes.  I stumbled over the twenty-seven year cycle when I was sifting through all the data."  He gestured towards Cassie. "We all met up, compared notes, and decided to investigate further, including into why we had these gifts in the first place."

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