Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 6:10 am
Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy
The morning arrived with the first rays of sunlight that seemed to pierce through the horizon. For some people, it was a bother, like the day persistently telling them to wake up and get out of bed. Vic used to be like that, no more than a year past, now no matter his brain’s pleas for him to stay in la la land, he forces himself up by any means necessary.
A lot have changed, but that was the one that faced him at the start of every day.
Keeping up with his personal promise of self improvement didn’t seem to grow easier with every passing morning. Staying in bed and giving up to a good sleep always seemed appealing, even more so now that he slept on an actual mattress, but he knew that if he compromised on that, he would eventually stop at all.
He felt like he didn’t have the luxury anymore. Be the best. His distilled personal motto. A goal that didn’t feel that out of reach when he first uttered the concept out loud, but now that he was in Whateley, it felt ten times harder. He was now trying to stand out in a place where the bar of what was considered exceptional had been raised to… well, exceptional levels.
For example, Vic had never considered bodybuilding as a career path, but he had come a long way in the past months, exercising, working and even running for his life. Probably could beat up any of the bullies in his old school, but here, that was nothing. He’d seen the amount he could lift back in the criminal hideout and as impressive as it might be, many students could handle that level with just their pinkies. The other day, just as Vic was finishing his session, the rhino boy of the cottage, Hardnose, just tripled the weight and worked them with ease.
Come Thursday morning, Vic forced himself to go out yet again. He pulled himself off the bed and snuck out before the break of dawn, ready to shake off the lingering drowsiness or to work his mind around problems and questions.
Today’s musings were brought up by the train of thought that began when reminiscing.
Must’ve been weeks, if not months, now since Laura created the team just for the sake of getting a cool table in the cafeteria. While Vic didn’t mind enjoying the perks of the position, he couldn’t help but wonder how would they have to pay for it later on. After all, the Mutant Mayhem Machine, as cheesy as it might sound, is meant to be a combat group. He really wondered what that would entail as most of the sophomores and freshmen had different opinions about them. Some loved it, others dreaded it.
If it came to a fight, as he just experienced in BMA, he was basically useless, even with his bottle of water by the side, he found it hard to score a point, let alone win a match. What good would he be? And what would happen if he couldn’t carry his own weight in those circumstances.
“This is a school. They’re not going to throw you away,” he thought as he carried on with his jog. Turning around the corner of the impressive looking Holbrook arena, he was met up by a sudden crash in lavender that took away his breath. In that second, realized he’d run into someone and his butt was on the floor… by then he’d gotten his breath back.
“Vic! Are you okay?” Tanya said, almost abashed as she reached over to grab his hand and pull him up to his feet. One couldn’t let the petite package Tanya came in deceive them. She was strong and hit as hard as a brick wall, as it was the case with some if not over half of the students around here. While it was more common than one might imagine, it was still embarrassing for this to happen. “I’m so sorry! It was a reflex when I saw something crashing my way. Are you okay?”
“Just a bit ruffled,” Vic joked. Once that got a small smile out of Tanya, he pulled up and dusted himself off. “Hey, Tanya,” And just as sudden, the manly pride was thrown in the feeling of self-awareness to the opposite gender. After all, he liked Tanya and he was already breaking a sweat while she looked quite fresh.
“Morning jog?” The little girl said still skipping in place while Vic did his best to discreetly catch his breath.
“Always, about reaching the end of the first lap. How about you?”
“I’m on my second lap. Was making my way from Whitman, over to Poe, Hawhtorne and Melville and then back,” she said proudly before letting a small giggle as he saw Vic mentally piecing the route together.
“Are you okay?” Tanya asked.
“I am. Just thinking,” Vic mumbled.
“I’m just weighing the drawbacks of not being an exemplar,” he shook his head.
Tanya giggled as she gave Vic a down up look, lingering on his face for a moment, making him think he had a really bad case of acne that morning. “You’re not?” she said with sarcastic mockery.
“Many people often jump to the conclusion,” Vic said out loud. “I’m not really magazine cover material.”
“Aw don’t say that,” Tanya piped. “You are kind of handsome, in a way.”
Vic chuckled, thinking Tanya was making a small joke as his hand brushed his face to wipe the sweat and feeling some of the zits that were a result of puberty. That was something one wouldn’t see much of around this school.
“Besides, it is great you exercise to stay in shape regardless. A good habit.”
Still, Vic savaged some pride of that compliment. After all, this came from a really cute girl girl that could run twice as him without breaking a sweat. ”Thanks.”
“How about you?” Vic asked, meaning to change the subject. “I mean, I know why I train, but how about you? Having a BIT doesn’t mean your body will always look as it’s meant to be?” he asked.
Tanya flinched for a moment. “It’s a habit. I’ve been able to fly for the past months but I’ve always jogged. Besides, there is something more… um, what’s the word… cathartic about running.”
Vic nodded, there was a sort of bliss on exercising and that often came at the end of the routine, when he felt accomplished over all he managed. He was sweating, his heart was beating and the muscles were looking forward for a rest and a stretch. “I knew someone who developed her flight and she just loved it. Most of the times she wouldn’t even bother to take a step down the stairs if she could hover down.”
A small chuckle escaped Tanya’s lips. “Could you blame her? Flying does rock.” And with that she made a small skip, which, boosted with her flight made her practically hop over Vic.
“Show off,” he answered with a small smirk as she gracefully landed next to him to resume their walk.
“So, do you want to continue running?” she asked skipping in place.
Geez, was all Vic could think before he automatically answered “You bet,” while at the same time trying to clean out the droplets off his forehead.
“Good!” Tanya chipped as she resumed her trotting. At least given the height difference, Vic had a bit of an easy time keeping up by just making his strides longer. Even so, the petite girl was barely daunted and after a set of fifteen minutes of pure running, Vic was once again lagging behind her.
“So, how is Whitman doing this week?” he asked, just to give her a reason to slow down.
“So far it’s really good. Mrs. Savage put the girls together to talk to us about proper distinction between the cottage and the magic and devisor labs, you know, the whole stop bringing your pets in here if they are bigger than a golden retriever, and why it was frowned upon the usage of flight to sneak through windows. Oh, she also made a presentation on fire safety. I think she’s taking advantage that someone made a spell for trapping students in the room,” She said making the quoting gesture before going into a rather pensive mood. “My roommate has it easy though. Did I present her to you?”
“I think you did,” Vic said for the sake of politeness.
“I don’t know. It’s usually easier to keep track on who and how many people I present her to just by how silly they end up looking at me the next couple of minutes.”
When Tanya sighed Vic was almost close to ask whether he was detecting some sort of envy in her voice. It was surprising to find out girls talked about these sort of things… of course, this might be a special occurrence. Of course, he was also immediately imagining how big must they be.
Eventually, Tanya regained the reins of the conversation. “What about you? How are things in Twain?”
“It’s very odd,” Vic chuckled as Tanya smiled as well. ‘That’s Whateley to you,’ would be the common answer. “But you get used to seeing the odd as normal. And, honestly, I don’t really mind. I’m used to weird roommates.”
“I can only imagine. You come from living in the streets in the past months, right? Must’ve shared with a lot of people.”
“I wasn’t necessarily a homeless person. I somehow managed to get by with a self absorbed devisor,” Vic said and before Tanya could ask anything, he tossed another point. “Granted, it does feel like GSD students tend to have something against normal looking students.”
“Yeah,” Vic chuckled. “I’ve told you about this RA, Zephyr, right?”
Tanya nodded. “Yeah, the crow boy?”
“The one and only. He still tends to target me every now and then, calling Toby and I for any small reason. Once, for example, I happened to stumble into Hardnose, the rhino boy. It was, just like when I stumbled upon you earlier.”
“Sorry,” Tanya quipped.
“I mean, this was more pleasant,” Vic snickered, mostly to himself. “Anyway, Hardnose’s shoulderbump threw me against a corner of the hallway, giving me a good bruise, but Zephyr admonished me for not stepping aside, even though I was on the right, literally. The right of the hallway.”
“Well, that happens, I think,” she said unsure, so she fished an example she could find more familiar. “I mean, the girls at Whitman are just so nice, GSD and non GSD. They’re like a sisterhood that sticks together no matter what. All smiles and happiness… with some exceptions.”
“Huh…” Vic muttered.
“Nothing,” Vic snickered.
“Anyway. If there are problems, that’s what the other RA is for.”
“Shawn is cool. The guy has a knack for keeping troubles away.”
“Even him, though that might be a bit unfair for the big guy. Shaggy has a disarming personality about him. Think he and Daniel are taking classes somewhere to be instant friends with anyone. Still, I get in more complains than I’d rather have. But that’s just highschool.”
As the two moved on, they began to pay attention to the surroundings while enjoying each other’s company without needlessly filling the space with conversation. The school, which had been silent up until one hour ago was slowly starting to wake as students exited their cottages to pick up breakfast. Only few opted to work out in the morning, with the most notable exception being Taka Ono, who was out in the open practicing kendo and was now beginning to attract the attention of the group of both genders contemplating him. Although girls seemed to be fawning over him, men seemed to scowl at him as they passed by.
“Wow, Taka Ono is really into martial arts.” Tanya muttered observing as they passed, though not fawning over the Japanese student like the other girls were. “Do you know any?”
“Zero,” Vic answered.
“I know a bit. Nothing fancy, just the basics,” her arms moved as if to show off the basic blocks and punches “I just can’t wait for martial art’s lessons, it’ll be great.”
Yet before Vic could answer, Tanya let out a gasp as she caught a glimpse of the clock at the wall of Kane hall and then at her hand. “Shoot. It’s almost eight?”
“What’s wrong?” Vic asked.
“I just, I kinda promised to have breakfast with Sterling.” And with that, she showed Vic her hand, that had the appointment written down in marker. “I better hurry.”
“Are you sure?” Vic muttered “Can’t you just fly?”
Tanya shook her head “No way, it’ll be red flag day starting at 9 o’clock. I don’t want give the impression I am tempting fate by using my powers in a visible way. Besides, the fact that I can do something doesn’t mean I should. You know, great power great responsibility.”
“That doesn’t really make any sense. Flying would take you faster to the cottage. Keep you away from ‘trouble’.” Vic noted while inwardly thinking it’s been enough running for the morning.
“I think one shouldn’t rely all the time on their powers. You have to learn to do stuff the baseline way. I mean, at times it feels good to go floating around and would certainly be faster to fly in a straight line than run along paths and around building. But it’s not something I would like to depend on. It’s like using my PK shell whenever I need to do some heavy lifting.”
“Aren’t you an exemplar? Shouldn’t heavy lifting come easy for you?”
“Even heavier lifting?” Tanya muttered “Okay, that was a bad example. Um… It’s like you using your water control to take a shower… Do you do that?”
“Um…” Vic trailed off. Unsure on whether she was making a joke or actually asking.
Tanya paused for a moment as she began to consider her own answer. She opened her mouth as if to say something, her eyes widened for a moment and her cheeks blushed of a cute tomato red “Um… nevermind. Forget I said that.”
“Tanya?” Vic blinked, but instead she was quickly engulfed with a lavender aura as she took off.
“Ihavetogobacktothedorm.Promisedforbagels!” she excused herself as she floated off the ground and suddenly zooming out of the way across the sky.
Vic could only imagine that Tanya’s mind actually visualized him in the shower. Whether he was using his powers or not was the irrelevant part. That at least got a couple of laughs out of him as he walked his way back to the cottage.
Thursday, September 22, 2016 - 10:42 am
As eleven in the morning drew close, the anxiety was already permeating the air as many of the students seemed to be longing the action of BMA just to keep themselves from falling asleep before Mr. Kim’s English class and making scene. Like in normal schools, many underestimated the idea of studying a language they already spoke and were, instead, daydreaming for looking forward to the metaphorical meat of the day.
Everyone’s attention had been waning for a good half an hour and some eyes were drawn towards their phones being discreetly used under the desk or to the door, watching a couple of lucky students that had been let off early from their classes.
Mr. Kim, the english teacher was closing up the lecture by giving back the tests and book essays from last week, dragging out the handing over of each individual paper just for the sake of his personal enjoyment out of the student’s want for a shorter class. Of course, Vic was more nervous about the test than his peers. After all, he’d put a whole lot more effort reading the assigned book: George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”; than his cottage-mates. A rather short story that was a bit of a blatant metaphor for communism, or so Vic imagined, since History was perhaps his less developed area of knowledge and - while he might actually need to go through with it for the class - he didn’t expect English to draw heavily from that area.
Vic had taken a good chunk of every evening of the past week reading and writing the book report for Mr. Kim’s class, but when he was given the questions, he was sort of startled by how they expected him to draw parallels to real world events the author was referring to. “Who are the characters of Napoleon and Snowball supposed to represent?” “What character similarities can you draw from the pig Napoleon and its real world namesake?” “What are the most important elements in Molly as a character, why and what’s the meaning behind them?” And Vic’s certainty on the subject was thrown out the window.
Might not be much, but to someone like him, it was irking to know that his bests of efforts weren’t enough for a perfect score.
It might be quite odd for a normal student to pressure themselves so much for classes. No games, no hanging out or socializing, no staying out till late… But it all came back to his goals and that personal promise he made himself about half a year ago or so. That he would make it to the top of his class, earn a scholarship and make a living out of whatever he did with his life. Full independence. A reminder he kept on making an effort to not bang his head for.
The road ahead was none other than an arduous one that required him to remain determined. Not a night would go by without him rereading a chapter from the textbooks and no morning would go by without him doing his usual jog across school grounds. There was, however, an issue.
This was Whateley. Where the common student was expected to be either capable of arm wrestling a WWE star or smart enough to create their own robot and manage the AI. That plus some of them could fly. Keeping at the top was an impossible dream to attain and the motivation grew scarce.
The feeling of “why bother” that lingered in the back of his head just grew bigger to file a complaint when he looked down at the essay and quiz. An 85 out of 100. While not a bad grade, heck, even better than what Vic was used to in his old school, it still felt like a gut punch when he thought of the effort put into studying.
“This is Whateley,” he repeated with a whisper as he read through the annotations. There were several red marks on grammar and orthographic errors and just a couple of questions that Vic had missed, either when interpreting the metaphor of the book or by accidentally misremembering some minor details of the plot. Little errors that amounted to many details.
Vic looked over at the other students. While Mom had once told him that putting others down was the worse way to up oneself, he just couldn’t help but hope he was at the top of the curve. There was Bloodhound sitting by his side. The boy with a minor GSD that gave him a dog’s nose was entertained talking with playback and had left his exam up on the table.
An 82 out of a hundred. Not bad, Vic tried to tell himself, but inwardly, he felt a bit of his blood boil. As far as he was aware, from Toby’s account, that Bloodhound was rarely seen studying, instead preferring to hang around and play games. Like any normal teen.
“I don’t get that luxury.” The internal monologue seemed to coincide with the sound of the classroom bell ringing in the background, signaling the change of class.
Few students stayed around and only Vic was interested in talking with the teacher, Mr. Kim. The man was in the process of putting his stuff away with a bit of interested haste. Still, he gave Vic some attention as he saw the fourteen year old boy step up to his desk.
“Can I help you?” He asked before his eyes went down to the paper at hand. “Is it about the test?”
“Yeah, I was wondering, how is my grade so low?” Vic muttered, stumbling in the words as Mr. Kim was quick to notice.
“You have an eighty-five out of a hundred,” he said plaintively. “That’s a very good grade.”
“I’m just wondering, why didn’t I get at least a ninety five?” Vic argued, trying to muster courage to state his point. He could’ve been a physically impressive teen, he was still that shy kid in his old school. “I-I mean, here, did I have a question downright wrong? I’m fine with that costing me five points. It’s written here. Why did I lose the other ten points?”
Mr. Kim’s eyebrows furrowed for a moment before looking up to the student and then back at the paper before pointing at the markers with his capped pen. “You see here. There are some pretty apparent grammar errors. Here and here. Since grammar is approximately forty percent of this test’s qualifications, it brought down your total grade.”
“Forty percent?” Vic blinked. Almost close to bringing up that, back in his old school, it used to be close to ten or twenty percent.
The teacher took a small sigh as he finished putting his stuff back into the bag and got up while delivering the explanation. “Here at Whateley, I tend to prioritize proper writing and analysis over just getting the right answer. As I’ve come to learn last year, during my first year here, in a place where a percentage of the students get some sort of mental boost or have discovered a clever way to use their powers to have the right answer, mere retention and repetition of key facts is not as important as, say, proper analysis and the ability to communicate it.”
“But… but not every student here has a way or a help. Shouldn’t my grade be..."
He raised a dubious eyebrow. “Oh right, you’re not an exemplar, just a hydrokinetic, right?”
“And telepath, but that won’t help my case,” Vic thought as he nodded his answer. “Shouldn’t I have my notes upped just because I don’t have the extra skills required to get a perfect grade?”
“Do you want me to raise up you grade since you operate at a lesser level than the rest of your classmates?” Mr. Kim asked with an unamused expression. He knew Vic’s following shake of head and avoidance of his glance meant he conceded with him and just nodded. “My tests aren’t a higher level or anything one couldn’t aspire to perfect. Just takes a different kind of thinking and refinement.”
“Yes, sir.” Not the answer he’d been expecting but it was clear that he had a point, even if the grade still bothered him.
“Now, if you excuse me,” Mr. Kim said as he made his way to the exit. “I have a meeting with a senior with the ability of making the reader hallucinate a story. Keep up the good work, and see you in the next class.”
“Yes sir,” Vic muttered, somewhat disappointed. One of the first test’s he’d taken here in Whateley and his drive to push himself to the academic limit and his efforts amounted to the standard. He couldn’t do anything but hope that the day would get better. Probably wouldn’t happen immediately…
Since, up next, was Basic Martial Arts.
“Round one. Hajime!” Sensei Tolman announced raising her words and immediately pulling down her arm just to get both participants ready, sizing each other, or at least it’s how it should’ve gone.
Vic’s first instinct was to raise his guard and play it defensive, adopting his old habits as a street fighter: keeping others at bay and preparing to pour strength into the next punch. The stance of a boxer, preparing to sidestep at the sign of trouble, which was much more effort than his opponent was giving.
Hardnose, for all intents and purposes, was a boy in the process of becoming a rhino. He stood over a head above Vic and three times as bulky, with plates of hide growing over his skin. If it wasn’t for the half formed hardened welt that was growing in the top of his nose that added a bit of silliness to the image, he would’ve made it as a downright intimidating physical presence. With all the advantages he had, he was looking down at him with a perplexed look, akin to someone who was about to get attacked by a wiffle bat.
“Come on, dude,” Hardnose smirked.
“Hey, I have to try,” was all Vic could answer. But of course, he was with Hardnose on this point. He was by far the worst student in Basic Martial Arts. What was the point of even trying?
Since the start of the class, he’s been put up against his classmates and, while he couldn’t boast having fought everyone, he was pretty much in the lowest tier. He’d faced with many of his classmate and had been squarely beaten by each of them without any breaking a sweat. Nick barely felt any of the punches he threw at him and AJ put him in a headlock before he could understand what happened.
Sure, Vic might regularly have the upper hand when facing normal powerless students, who wouldn’t stand a chance when fighting without their quirks. Clod gave him a decent challenge and Vic would manage to win the first round against Crysis or Shieldwall in a rather contested encounter. However, once the restriction was lifted for the last two rounds. He would end up getting pushed out of the ring or beat quite easily. A couple of times he even lost consciousness when tossed around. Crysis telekinesis was perhaps the worst offender, lifting him up with no effort and humiliatingly tossing him around as some sort of payback.
And of course, GSD cases, were unable to turn off their powers.
“Come on, Vic. I don’t want to hurt you,” Hardnose chuckled after Vic managed to connect a punch onto his stomach. It was like hitting a leather pouch filled with sand. His fist almost bounced off from the recoil but he persisted trying to throw another one, but by then, the rhino had taken a step back to wind up his charge before launching himself against the student.
Vic saw it, and tried to sidestep his way out… but wasn’t fast enough. The shoulder connected hard on his chest and threw him up in the ear, flinging him out of the sparring area, with Sensei Tolman declaring the victory for Hardnose.
“Ugh…” Vic muttered as he pushed himself up, forcing the air back into his lungs. Needless to say, he now knew what it was like to get hit by a car. Hit, trampled, upchucked all the same.
“Are you okay?” Sensei Tolman asked, looking down at him with an undecipherable expression. He just nodded as he walked back to the circle. “That was a nice fall, Vic. Now start practicing getting back up as fast as you can. Use the momentum.”
Perhaps the only thing he’d have learned by the end of the semester would be to take falls like a champ.
“Second round, powers are allowed,” Sensei Tolman instructed, by now there was a couple of chuckles coming from students watching. By now this was almost a foregone conclusion, with the spectators already taking bets on how long would Vic last rather than if he could actually win.
Vic stepped into the sparring area, grabbing his bottle of water, which had been resting on the side of the circle, awaiting for the second stage. He stepped into his side of the field and took his stance, with his chest still sore from the shoulder bash, but the adrenaline offsetting whatever bruise or pain it left.
“Hajime!” Called the Sensei as Vic quickly upturned the water bottle over his hand. The liquid fell off as fast as the narrow nozzle would allow him, coating his hand once the hydrokinetic’s control was asserted, defying gravity and instead lingering about like a solid organism. It all just sound much better than how it looked: a big teenager desperately pouring water on his empty hand as if that would save him from the rhino’s second charge.
Hardnose rushed forth. His impressive height, his armored looking bulk of a body and the tremors caused by his stomp, it never ceased to be intimidating. A fist was swung down but Vic managed to dodge in the nick of time. Of course, the hit quickly turned into a backhand that went up fast, and the water bottle was smacked and thrown to the audience. “Hey!” they heard someone complain.
Unfortunately, Vic couldn’t afford any more attention as two more attacks were thrown. “Easy there!”
“Better safe than sorry,” Hardnose smirked as he used his entire body for applying pressure. A punch connected to an elbow jab which turned into a shoulder thrust, just like Sensei Tolman had been instructing him as an option for his fighting style.
Of course, he went after his opponent’s elemental baggage. ‘Way to put me at an even bigger disadvantage,’ Vic thought, keeping himself from complaining out loud as he made his best effort to dodge the next slow punches, that had more of a goal to push him aside than anything else.
Vic dodged one, two and even three attacks before he was attacked by a shoulder bash he couldn’t sidestep and, instead, attempted to catch it with both hands, plus the glove of water he was wearing.
“Get ready, someone’s gonna get splashed,” one of the spectators called out, followed with a chuckle of the audience. Who? Vic wasn’t in position to tell as Hardnose began just applying force to his shoulder push, driving him out of the ring. It worked promptly after as he quickly lost his footing and stumbled out of the line before hitting the floor.
His water glove broke apart and left a splatter on the floor as he pulled himself up.
“That’s the match. Good effort, Hardnose and Tidestriker,” Sensei Tolman said with a single clap for the participants which was echoed by the students, though it came across as condescending on both accounts.
“It was a good match. Can hardly believe you stopped big clown’s punch before, though.” Hardnose snorted as he passed by as Vic pulled himself up, dragging as much of the splashed water back up just to avoid anyone slipping in the future. Now if there was just his bottle around to fill it.
As if answered, Tanya came by with the empty bottle at hand. “Here you go.”
“Thanks,” Vic muttered as he had the water he picked slither into the nozzle, pooling up just about a third of the original content. Murky water with bits dirt floating around. Needless to say, not even a thirsty man would drink of it.
“You did well,” Tanya cheered up.
“Doesn’t feel like it,” Vic muttered dusting himself off.
“The next sparring match will be between Dragonsfyre and Miss Omega. Please step into the field,” Sensei Tolman announced as people gathered around the other limits of the field in anticipation for the face up between the two powerhouses.
The powerless sparring session started out with a slow tactical dance as the two opponents sized each other’s stances before engaging in a rather exciting fight. Like Hardnose, exemplars couldn’t turn off their trait. Morgana showed off some of the special moves dodging and blocking Miss Omega’s counterattacks and, quite easily managed to get her in a hold before throwing the little girl out of the ring.
“First point goes for Morgana,” Sensei Tolman declared as she took a step back. “For the next encounter, you are allowed to use your powers. Prepare yourselves. The rest of the class, step to the second safety line.”
All the students nodded and walked back. Going from the main line that was two meters away from the ring to one that was about four or five. There was also a third safety level that was marked at least ten meters away, though Vic imagined that was reserved for kaiju/mech fights more than anything.
And then, when Sensei Tolman called for the start of the match, and it came with a hard exploding impact followed by flashes of heat as the two clashed together. Vic was just grateful he hadn’t had the chance to face up with Morgana or Miss Omega.
Of course, fighting with girls wasn’t ideal in any regard. He’d been raised with gentleman manners, as such, he instinctively held back when facing a girl, doing his best to not land a direct punch, but rather grapple and throw them off the field. Although all that extra care went out the window when ‘no power’ restriction was lifted and the girls were easily beating his ass with their own super powers. Between Bianca’s elemental inbuilt spells or Erica’s super strength (And that’s not counting people like Mouse or Laura who were more than skilled to beat Vic barely making use of their powers, out of sheer experience). Needless to say, facing a girl wasn’t easy.
Students gasped as a shot of flames soared close by and dissipated as it disconnected from the source, misting itself out as then came in a heavy thud as Morgana was tossed out of the ring, with her claws scraping the ground leaving red marks with burning flames to them, reminiscent of “Back to the Future”’s Delorean’s time jump.
Sensei Tolman announced the point had gone for Miss Omega and round three would begin soon. Every one of the students around was entrapped watching the show and making bets, yet Vic just wished he could get better at this thing. Not that he wanted a career as a martial artist, but he’d been ticked off by the ‘botched’ English test and was just wanting for things to run his way just once.
Every now and then, Sensei Tolman would step up to him and try to give him some sort of advice regarding his stance, the way one throws a punch or even falls, only for Vic to get pummeled in the next round. He couldn’t help but feel pity coming from the teacher’s attempts to coach him. And the more she insisted, the more he considered he didn’t belong in BMA.
“There’s just no simple way for me to win,” Vic shook his head. For a moment, he thought of switching over to the other class. “Survival training” but he wasn’t interested in losing face just to go for the low hanging fruit.
Fortunately, today’s class was close to over and he was just looking forward to a lunch break before the fun time history class with Tractor.
After BMA, most of the members of the Mutant Mayhem Machine spread apart into the locker rooms to get dressed. Given that most of them were girls, that only left Vic with Jimmy, aka Shieldwall, to walk with him to their cafeteria table, aka, their rendezvous spot.
Not that he had any problem with hanging out with Jimmy. It’s just that they had yet to find some sort of common ground other than the companies they kept. He came across as a distant serious person who often times opted to not disclose much of his past, and while Vic shared that same logic behind his interactions with others, that wasn’t something worth sharing. He imagined they could always chat about classes and day to day problems at Twain… but that just wasn’t a good leisure topic. And he really need some distancing from his instant circle of interest.
The talk came up after they passed over a group of the girls from Venus Inc. They were all the teenage dream for any straight guy. Curvy and sexy, with the faces, hairs and just sheer attractiveness that drove all guys head over heels. Needless to say, Vic would be lying if he said he was immune to their charms, even if he found them shallow. A rather hasty assumption, one might think…
But the fact that they were towards the building where the ESL class was being held could just mean they were trying to entice Kenshin like purring kittens. What made him so irresistible to them? He couldn’t know but envy the guy and wonder if he was aware of it. And thinking of Venus Inc, directed the train of thought to a good theme of conversation.
“Say, have you joined a club?”
That sparked the attention of Jimmy’s personal VI, Tavi, from his pocket. The holographic ferret climbed off the underside of his jacket with such realism, Vic almost wondered how it managed to render itself in full 3D and how he’d acquired one of those. And just for funsies, Tavi began to pantomime climbing a rope up Jimmy’s chest to his shoulder.
“Huh?” Jimmy blinked, taken aback from his own train of thought. “A club? Not really no. I haven’t considered it. Are you thinking about joining?”
“Eh… yeah,” Vic muttered peeling his eyes off the antics of the ferret, even if he found it overly amusing, if not cute. Not something any boy his age would bring himself to admit. “I mean. Not really. I was just wondering if you had and if you could recommend any.”
“I haven’t joined any… but if I had, I would just recommend the one I chose, since I didn’t know about the other options,” Jimmy said, giving Vic a look to ignore Tavi’s attempt to play Adam West’s Batman (with blue cowl and cape to match).
“Fair enough,” Vic said, trying not to look silly for not picking up in the flaw in logic in his question. “Back when it was the club fair, I didn’t pay it too much attention so I didn’t register to any one. Not that I’m complaining or anything, but I feel curious about what’s all that about.”
“You know, you can still join a club at any point of the year.”
“Yeah, I imagined as much. It’s just more awkward,” Vic said dispassionately. After all, he had his eyes set on academic excellence, if that was still a possibility in this place for someone like him. At the risk of sounding like a hermit, he was worried a club would take too much of his study time.
By then, Tavi got on Jimmy’s shoulder, with the batman cowl disappearing and instead let itself mellow and stretch into a furry boa wrapped around it’s owner’s neck. Again, though, he was paying no mind to the antics. “Well, if you were to pick a club, which would you’ve gone for? The masterminds? The theatre troupe? How about Venus Inc?” The last one was asked with a teasing grin as Tavi gave Vic a wink.
“Venus Inc,” Vic snorted somewhat offended. He thought on the Masterminds as an option and, while it made sense from a practical standpoint. Heck, Cole was nudging him to be a part of the group from the start, he wanted none of it. Though he did find it interesting Jimmy brought them up instead of, say, the Capes. “Don’t you have to be a girl for that?”
“Well, my roommate got invited by the girls,” Jimmy said with a small chuckle as Tavi batted fake eyelashes for attention.
“But,” he said after a small reasoning pause. “If I were to pick a club, it would be for something relaxing, that allows me to lay back and decompress. Not sure I’m cut for theatre though. Maybe an art club, a literature club or the culinary club.” That last one, though, might’ve been inspired by the aroma of served meals as the two arrived to their destination, Whateley’s Crystal Hall. “Not sure if I would have the time, though.”
Soon, they were taking seat at their reserved table, with Tavi disappearing from Jimmy’s neck and reappearing on the table, acting like a ferret: looking around and running in circles.
“What about you?” Vic asked. “If you were to join a club, which would it be?”
Jimmy thought for a moment. “I don’t know, maybe sci fi club? Laura makes it sound cool.”
“Hm… I always imagined you would be a good spy kid. I mean, you already have the cyber sidekick to go along with the theme.” Vic said with a small chuckle. “Besides, you have this whole junior detective going on for you.”
At that moment, Jimmy stopped in place with Tavi’s sprouting an exclamation mark over it’s head, which it promptly ate. “You think I have a detective look?”
Vic shrugged. “I mean, if we talk in movie and game terms, you look more like the smart hero rather than the punching type. Maybe you could also be a mastermind.” Now that last bit was a reversal at Jimmy’s joke, and he took it as well as himself.
“No, thanks. I’m not much of a fan of that kind of groups. From what I gather, they like to play puppetmasters.”
“Tavi gots the control,” the VI chittered in between laughs as a monocle and a curly mustache appeared on his ferret nose. Twirling it just for good measure.
“Well, no point thinking about it. It was just a question I had,” Vic mused, closing the argument as he reached over to poke Tavi. The VI ferret let out a small squeak as it hopped off, with the props it had been wearing vanish into holographic lights, as it tried to avoid the approaching hand as a form of game.
It didn’t took long before the girls joined them. Tanya was quick to sit by Vic’s side, a gesture he realized he’d been oddly pining for, with a good measure of his heart starting to beat up faster. Morgana was acting as if she was thoroughly bruised, evidently to get some sympathy from her roommate on some cohabitation matter, though by now their argument had reached the back and forth stage. Erica arrived with Cally, having fished her out of Survivor training.
Finally, Laura arrived last, taking in the seat in the farthest spot, spilling over it the many clunky devises she had been holding. A mixture of seemingly unfinished prototypes, with cables and bulbs sticking out, copper colored rings and necklaces that had a magnetic steampunkish look to them and a couple of oddly specific sci fi guns. None of which had any of Laura’s trademark sleek white and blue trademark aesthetic.
“What do you have there?” Erica asked innocently, picking one of the zappy guns by dangling it by the trigger ring. “Um… Laura?” Her friend wasn’t paying attention to anyone and instead blew into the open circuit, releasing a cloud of dust that had the two of them coughing and sneezing. At least that got the blue girl’s attention to answer… while still having her eyes trained on what her hands were fidgeting on.
“You guys won’t believe this. I just found a small treasure trove. Some guy just left this box of junk out at the entrance of the tunnels with a note “For the takes”. You know what this means?”
“Um… isn’t it a bit too suspicious,” Bianca said.
“Maybe. But honestly, I got clued by Mr. Cody, that, get this, if security finds and keeps track of a room that has been left abandoned for over two years, they clean it up and toss many of the devises away. Or rather, donates them for recycling.”
And with that, Tanya raised her hand. “What happens if you’re holding a nuke or something like that?”
That statement got people to exchange a couple of concerned looks while Tavi walked down a holographic fallout bunker that appeared on the table.
“Supposedly, these are checked and or have their dangerous components removed. Though I did run these things through a Geiger counter just to be safe. Isn’t it interesting?” Laura punctuated as she pried open the back hatch of one of the apparatus she picked, just to reveal a whole lot of cables and circuit boards, looking neatly stacked and held together by copper lines in a sort of strange fashion. “Just look at these circuits and cables. This devisor was into nano analoging or retro upgrading!”
“I thought devisors couldn’t copy other devisor’s stuff,” Cally asked, being the closest, she leaned over Laura’s shoulder as she produced a screw driver.
“Supposedly, we can’t… buuut I can try to figure out what these things were supposed to be, draw inspiration on what these things were supposed to do. Heck, if I can’t find any use for these things, I can always break them down for parts, if they’re still usable.”
Vic followed the dialog with interest and attention, as he usually did. He did have a couple of questions about it, but considering he was sitting quite far from Laura, he just figured it would be awkward to speak aloud. Specially considered he lacked the knowhow to deal with the complex parts of technobabble.
“So this is the devisor equivalent to student hand-me-downs?” Erica said with curiosity as she got up from her spot. “And I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m starting to get really hungry after BMA. Who else wants some food?”
“Huh,” the last answer came from Laura after she poked inside the box, causing a circuit board to get ejected.
“Okay, we lost her.” Morgana muttered after passing around behind Laura, waving her hand on the edge of her range of vision and still getting no answer but the mumbles of interest over the things she was tinkering on. Everyone exchanged looks.
“Should we let her go on like that?” Tanya asked. “I mean, she’s enjoying it.”
“She does it all the time at Poe,” Morgana waved her hand dismissively. “We’ll just bring her something to eat. She accidentally skipped breakfast today after missing her coffee cup.”
“Is it like sleepwalking?” Cally asked.
Vic couldn’t help but smile as he approached Laura from the side and poked her shoulder. “Food. Want?” he said no sooner as she turned over to look at him. She might have frowned for a bit, making a rather amusing expression with her blue face, especially with a lot of surprise in there. Fortunately, it didn’t take her much time to process the words, putting the parts down.
“Oh… sorry, about that,” Laura said with an small laugh and a bit of purple blushing on her cheeks. “I’m actually really hungry.”
And with that, the group set off to the stairs to make their way down to the first level. With Laura walking forth as Morgana following, making a comment about how everyone else seemed to be pecky eaters, casting a glance over her shoulder to Tanya, who was distracted at the time.
“She didn’t seem to enjoy that,” Tanya muttered to Vic, lagging behind the rest, along with Erica. “Though that was some way of getting her to pay attention. Did you use your telepathy on her?”
“I’m not that strong, you should know that,” Vic said with a sigh. “I just know that, no one wants to go hungry, specially when they skipped breakfast. Think tinkerers know they get lost into their creation. So, at times, they need someone to break them from “non important” lapses. Besides, I used to do that to my friend all the time. I’m sure Laura will forget about it, I hope.” After all, this wasn’t a dude he was talking to, it was a girl. Albeit a blue girl, but a girl nonetheless. He would be lying if didn’t feel like just made a fool of himself before the group of girls he frequented, and Jimmy - though he might’ve been busy trying to get Tavi out of the table bunker to notice.
“You obviously haven’t heard about how women can hold a grudge,” Erica mused.
“Last thing I want is to apologize for something petty like that,” Vic admitted. “Hopefully, she won’t take it too far.”
“Who knows,” Tanya said sheepishly. Vic was now finding his worries offset by the goofy smile that announced she was just about to play games with him. “She might find a way to turn you into a salmon.”
“Or,” Erica snickered. “Or, create mind controlling hair clips on you.”
“Or have you shrunk down.”
“Or all of the above and post it on social media,” Erica said in a definite tone to close the train of jokes.
Vic shrugged. “It’s fine by me, I haven’t checked up social media in months. Though not by choice. I just lacked the means.”
“What about the laptops the school issued to us?” Tanya piped.
“They’re good for doing homework… but I don’t feel comfortable using those for websurfing. I don’t want to sound paranoid, so let’s leave it at that,” Vic answered dismissively, though that did bring up a point he’d been meaning to bring up to his friends. His hand fidgeting at the blue credit card in his wallet. “Although that reminds me. I recently came across some money to spend, so maybe it’s time I buy something.”
“About time,” Erica snickered. “I mean, I’m not wholly dependent on technology, but, it never helps to have it around. Specially at school. We can get you a gaming PC. With a high graphic card and a good processor to boot.”
“I probably would want something affordable… like an Ipad or a tablet.”
“That works too,” Tanya snickered.
“That’s so cool. Maybe, we can take you computer shopping one of these days. It’ll be fun.”
Vic found some happiness in the invitation. Quality time with friends outside of the cafeteria did come across rather rare for him since he got here. It was a welcomed change of pace that was only elevated by the two girls in question being among the cutest. “Though, I don’t mean to impose,” he said.
“Oh, it’ll be fine.” Erica smiled as they reached the line for food.
“But, how did you get the money?” Tanya blinked.
“From my sponsor. Been sitting on it for a while,” Vic said, leaving aside details like the line of work of the sponsor or the price that endorsement carried with it. Things are just easy left like this, lest he wanted for the aspiring super heroine finding out about his Syndicate scholarship. “So, when do you girls think it’d be a good time?”
Tunnel Exit L-3, South Laird Hall access
“Caro! Caro!” Heard a girl just fresh from traversing the underground labs. She was of rather nice and attractive in shape, that is until one gazed down at her exposed arms that bore bits of copper and green scales on the back and the small curved horns that poked out in between her curls. When she turned around to see who was greeting her, she gave a modest smile.
“Gwen! What a surprise.” Caro greeted her friend with a warm hug. “I see you’re back to normal now.”
“Mostly,” Gwen smiled shyly as she looked a bit self aware. Caro couldn’t help but regard her friend with a mixture of envy and appreciation by the way she carried herself around the school. Sure thing, Gwen one of the most attractive Sophomores, with the makings of Venus Inc’s higher circle: slim figure, beautiful face, no GSD, unless one counted her luscious brown hair with golden tips hair she was always showcasing as such. And yet, both attitude and fashion sense seemed to lean towards the unassuming side. That just made guys go head over heels for her, unlike Caro herself.
“Is the arm still bothering you? It’s been weeks.”
“Sorry, I just never had an arm broken before. I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with that problem since I manifested.” Gwen said as she flexed her arm just to show off her physique.
“Well, that’s what people call work hazards. I mean, I think even Carson wasn’t invulnerable.”
“True,” Gwen shook her head, “I made an appointment with Doyle to have it checked, make sure I can go back on relying on Lefty.”
“Hey, if you’re up for it, I can tag along if you want,” Caro said. “Be there as a good friend in case they need to re-break your arm to try to realign it.”
“Eh…” Gwen wailed scared, holding her left arm and with a quivering lip. Showed just how unaccustomed she was to all this.
“I’m sorry. That probably won’t happen,” Caro rolled her eyes, nudging them to move forth. “Come.”
Gwen took a calming breath as she adjusted her backpack. “How’s lab time? I heard you fought tooth and nail to get Mirai’s old lab.”
“Oh, you have no idea. It was a heated discussion in between me, a couple of the wizards from our class and some upstart freshmen who wanted for it, fortunately, they all decided to let me have it,”
“They all decided?” Gwen said raising an eyebrow, though her friend was already grinning knowingly.
“It’s how I see it. I convinced them good,” Caro snickered “But yeah, for lab user squabble. It was hectic as the usual workshop shuffle came around the corner. I came up on top and just today, I finally got done moving into the place.” Not a bad place, though an enclosed environment does nothing in particular for my type of magic, she mentally added.
“Classes has been going on for weeks now,” Gwen pointed out.
“And I just happened to finish setting up in my new lab. People procrastinate, Gwen,” Caro defended. “Just as Chris.”
“Chris,” Gwen smiled shaking her head. “Speaking of which. I’m going to hang out with her. If you’re done, wondered if you wanted to tag along.”
“I’m up for it.”
“Great!” Gwen smiled, extending a hand to offer carrying her bag, as it seemed to be a habit between the two. That’s much more like it, Caro thought, recalling how in her old school, she was so used to having boys line up to carry her books. That’s before she grew her horns.
The two set off away from the tunnel’s entrance and heading towards the wreck zone by the side of the shooting range. The ‘urban warfare’ parkour terrain practice field, which quite a westbound expedition for Caro who had to do the walking, but then again, there was something about the forest that put her at ease. Seeming almost fairytale like.
Caro leaned a bit to look at her friend. Despite the optimist green eyes and the smile she bore there was a bit of evident concern about it as the corners of her lips tended pointed downward depriving the expression from sincere meaning. She was well versed in facial tics. “Why do you want to meet Chris there?”
“Oh, I just thought of hanging out.”
“But we usually just hang around Poe or Whitman. No need to make the long walk. Not that I’m complaining.”
“I guess, I just want to spend some time, move around the school.”
“Does it have to do with the reason your arm is in a cast during the first week?”’ Caro asked, in a moment of dead seriousness.
“God, no. I don’t think he’s here. Haven’t seen him around.” Gwen muttered, her hand idly moved to the back of her head. “Besides, the accident was partly my fault. I was the one who flew up so high that when I came crashing-”
“No! Stop!” Caro said walking before her friend, with her golden eyes almost glowing as her horns added a much more threatening. “Don’t try to absorb the blame. You got your arm broken and it’s because someone attacked you. You’re the injured party. Can’t be your fault.”
“Y-You’re right,” Gwen muttered.
Yet Caro couldn’t help but just sigh. The girl could bench-press a car with nary an effort, but was just as vulnerable as the shyest girl in a normal school. Old Caro would’ve dominated her, make the weak of will into her ‘friends’. Since coming to Whateley, though, she’s had to turn a new page. There was no point in pretending to be wolf in sheep’s clothes when everyone could see the horns on her head.
“Have you talked to Megaton about it?”
Gwen shook her head, a tad startled. “Talked with Megaton? What does he have to do with it?”
“Well, isn’t Megaton your boyfriend?”
“Unofficially. I think. But we haven’t gotten anywhere formally.”
“Formally?” Caro smirked. “There isn’t a reason to be coy. The guy is quite a catch. Or maybe is he too much for miss cheerleader.”
Gwen rolled her eyes as she resumed their walk, sidestepping around Caro and prompting her to follow. “Why do you even bring him up?”
“I mean, I normally wouldn’t. But as of late, every time I run into him, and we share classes, he asks me if you’ve told us anything about why you came back with your arm in a cast. And actually, I’ve told him off but he thinks it means “ask me later”. He doesn’t even know it was a boy. He thinks it was a whole criminal gang.”
“And he doesn’t have to know. Last thing, I want is for him to set off on a crusade in my honor. Again.”
And why do I care about his quest? Caro was close to say before sighing, exercising the restraint and tact she would’ve needed two years ago. “Well, if you want to sort out this ‘maybe not maybe girlfriend’ matter, you have to talk to him, because, god forbid, I make myself a target to the Capes by cursing him.”
“Oh, I know you’re perfectly capable of doing that.”
“Am I not?” Caro smiled smugly though the pause of silence became a silent stare contest as the two continued on their walk. It must’ve been a while of silent treading as Gwen silently tried to hold her ground and her passivity. Caro’s piercing golden eyes were forcefully trying to instill action into her meek friend. It might be the horns or just the fact that Gwen knew what she was capable of, but she found herself caving in, reeling back slightly and about to say something when she tripped.
“Oof!” Gwen gasped as she caught herself, with her body almost glowing gold as a reflex to cancel out the rules of gravity. A very bad habit she really had to avoid. Luckily, there was no one around to see the incident.
“So?” Caro asked, uninterested on the excuse or the incident.
“I tripped with…” Gwen muttered, looking over her shoulder to see what she stumbled upon. There was nothing around, though she could swear she heard something skitter around the place and dart through the grass making some rustling. “Uh… I tripped with… okay. Fine. You win,” she sighed as she extended her hand for Caro. Who just smiled knowingly and just helped her up.
“I’ll… I’ll talk with Derek. Tell him it’s not a big deal.”
“Good,” Caro said relieved as they the carried on to their destination.
And the rest of the way, Gwen just spent in silent contemplation at the prospect of talking about with her ‘boyfriend’. Derek is such a hotheaded jock talking with him often times felt so intense and overwhelming, long interactions with him would end up with her exhausted. And yet… there was something about him. How he acted and how he looked that just made her foundations shakes and her heart beat up faster than she could think, taking in stride control of her body. Hormones took the shots while her heart couldn’t deign to face him on equal ground.
Fortunately, concerns didn’t last long as they arrived to their goal. The urban training grounds, or rather, the big ass ruins that were just next to Whateley’s shooting range were perhaps the ideal place for any sort of ‘semi’ realistic ideas the students might have. From trying to topple down buildings with a new destructive weapon - for which the school had contractors that were sort of magic workers, skilled in putting things back together or rebuilding buildings in three days tops -, jumping around practicing parkour or even joking around in super hero roleplays or practices - things that Gwen, still holding a love for Power Rangers in her heart, considered doing more often than not.
The entrance was but a large fence that made for a jarring division between the forest trail they had to take to get there and the concrete jungle that laid ahead, bearing a billboard on the side that announced who was currently using the place and what events had it booked. Most of the time it was the Hooligan’s, Whateley’s parkour club, but today, it was open for public.
“So what’s Chris doing?” Caro asked.
“She’s been planning to enter into a skating park near town while a competition is playing around.” Gwen smiled.
“She has the grace, reflexes and sense of a balance of a cat. Wouldn’t that be cheating?” Caro raised an eyebrow.
“She’s just planning to show off.” Gwen muttered.
Caro just smiled. Of course her friend was planning on making up for her life pre the mutation. Not that she knew much about pre-Whateley Christina, other than she was from central Maine and that her mom was a prosecutor, but she understood the desire to make up for what the changes has denied them. Afterall, who was she to argue against it. “Fair enough. And speaking of the devil…”
She drew Gwen’s eyes to a nearby alley, where a figure emerged from. A woman’s figure clad in a purple jumpsuit with dark grey vest and padded guards. A sleek black helmet protected and hid her face, though the dead give away was the black hair with a purple and white streak that flowed behind her. As usual, she rode her rollerblades with recklessness and haste, Caro was equal parts scoffing and impressed at how her friend played around with the cliched ‘cool’ means of personal transportation… but then again, that was Chris to them. Their friend.
She reached the end of the alley and lowered her body on her left, extending her right leg and, like following a compass, making a good hard turn that raised a cloud of dust in its wake. And then, Chris proceeded to rush their way in a racer’s manner. Her moves decisive and energetic, though there was a bit of her looseness and lack of discipline to them. Any one who knew her could easily guess that their friend was smiling behind the helmet.
She was just at about half a block away, approaching at blinding speed when she leapt into the air, waving her arms and letting out a thrilled scream as she seemingly lost her balance. Caro noticed Gwen start to align herself to catch her friend when Chris thrust her arm forward in that brief instance and reddish areas of energy began to appear in the air, shimmering and dancing like oil in water, that caught the speedster zapping away her momentum. She did it again, making another field appear in layers near the ground and no sooner she was done going through it, her feet touched the ground and she rolled naturally around her friends.
“Wow, that was close,” Chris’ sweet voice came from the other side of the helmet
“That was… neat,” Caro said a bit dryly. “Nice fall, though.”
“Yeah,” Chris mused as she let the momentum carry her around them, idly scratching the back of her head as if looking nonchalant. “I’m still not used to gravity or free falling. For a moment, as I jumped into the air, there was a moment where I thought I would kiss the asphalt.”
“Wouldn’t that have ruined your pretty face.”
“I can always count on you to use a rewind spell on me or on someone else to heal me here. But I learned that the best way to heal injuries is to just not get injured in the first place.” She stopped her rolling and let herself fall between her friends, with her arms wrapping around their necks and hung from their shoulders in a hug. “See?”
Both of them had the same reaction as they brought arms to reciprocate the hug only for Chris to fidget around as she reached over to take off her rollerblades, using them for support. Caro threw a look to Gwen, both amused by their friend’s antics.
“I almost poked an eye out with your horns,” she said sheepishly in between shuffles as she unlatched her transport and let the plated boots fall with a sordid clatter.
“You’re wearing a helmet,” Caro pointed out, holding the roll of eyes until it could be seen.
“Am I?” She said sheepishly as she pulled back and her mitten hands began to reach up to fidget with the helmet. “This thing gets me so claustrophobic at times.”
“But it keeps you safe,” Gwen said in an almost motherly tone.
“And it looks at least cool.” A small whisper of success escaped her as she found the clasp at the side of the neck and popping it off. The helmet easily opened down the middle, revealing Chris’s rather modest yet beautiful face.
“All that matters?” Caro said raising an eyebrow as she looked down at the riding attire she was wearing. While at first she didn’t pick the difference from last time she saw it, now she could appreciate them. Legs were covered in padded layers of fabric that went from her laceless thin shoes up to her mid thighs; chest area and waist was concealed in a rather unflattering black padding that extended from crotch to neck, though it did little to limit her movements; and the arms bore some protection from knuckle to elbow. Reminiscent to some sort of armor.
“The suit is the same as last school year, just worked on it a bit more during the break. Of course, it’s still very lacking,” she said as her finger caressed a couple of the loose strands of the padding. “Sewing isn’t my forte and I know little about design. That’s not mentioning the material is too tight weaved to be worked on. The helmet is a gift from my parents, though. They figured that if I was gonna be attending here, I might as well be prepared for anything I set my eyes to.” Chris smiled as she held up the helmet. “But it serves its purpose. Although I wish I could get the kind Tek Rider crafts. The collapsible type. Those look sweet.”
“I think you’re overselling her designs. Those thing do malfunction.” Caro huffed as Chris was picking up her skates before making the short distance to one of the benches, where she had left her backpack. “I prefer more classic tastes.”
“You mean like a tattered black cloak, a scepter and a pet raven?,” Gwen said with a small smile. When other girls drew the comparison with that Disney character, they were usually awarded a watered down Pinnochio curse, but coming from the usually shelled Gwen, it was receiving a pass, this time.
“Har har,” Caro snorted as she glanced over at Chris who was now struggling to cram her skates, helmet and extra black paddings into the backpack. Those things are going to break… or end up irreparably frayed one of these days, Caro thought.
“Hey hey! I got an idea for one of your curses. Do you wanna hear it?” Chris said in sing song as she slipped into a beige coat over the blueish purple undersuit.
“You treat my tricks like its just making limericks.”
“It’ll be fun,” Chris snickered as she approached them, now with the backpack slung over her shoulder in a deformed ball that spelled out it’s max capacity.
“One of these days,” Caro agreed.
“You always say that.” Chris smirked. “You’re sooo evil.” For that last part she deliberately thinned her voice just to sound like some cartoon villain.
Caro just smiled. “You say that so often. You should be glad we aren’t in the same cottage or I would go around playing pranks on you. And believe me, I can cook up with some creative whacky conditions.” That was a bit of a lie as she didn’t consider herself a creative personality, despite the reassurance of others.
And that was perhaps the biggest inconvenience of their friendship. While Caro herself was far from a loner, her two most solid friendships belonged at Poe, while she was at Whitman. Not that she complained about her current company, she just imagined it would be much more fun if they were all in the same cottage. Her mind sprung into amusingly devious ideas they could try out.
During the break, she’d tried to request a transfer to their cottage just to spend more time with them. She kept it a secret to them, though. An offer that was rebuked. Sure, she’d heard that Poe was the so called ‘loonie bin’ of the school, where all the basket cases were placed, but, she thought, Gwen and Chris were so well adjusted that the whole arrangement seemed unfair. Her mind just entertained the idea that perhaps there was something more to that.
“So, how are you two faring at Poe? Heard little miss mafia was taking residence there, though I haven’t brought myself to care enough on that aspect.” Caro asked as they lingered around the entrance.
Both girls exchanged looks and shrugged. “She’s fine,” Chris shook her head, massaging her scalp and combing her hair. “I mean, we see her and her entourage every now and then. Not much of a trouble.”
“She seems like a decent person at least. Just a tad eerie,” Gwen added.
“The whole white skin and hair?” Caro said with a smirk. “I should know better than anyone that appearances don’t really matter.”
“Besides,” Chris smirked, “We already have to deal with the likes of the Staulfaust and her clique. And boy, that girl knows how to hold a grudge.”
“She hasn’t forgiven you for the egg and pie incident?”
“Not in the slightest,” Chris snickered. “We’re just lucky that Mrs. Horton does her earnest to keep the peace in between the girls there. Any problem you have, just take it up to her and she’ll get it sorted up as best as she can. Locked out of your room, look for the house mother. Girls are fighting over who sat on a Star Trek phaser prop? Take it to her and she’ll have someone fix it and make it functional. Your roommate snores too loud, Mrs. Horton will move her to a room with another heavy sleeper with a deviated septum.”
“Ugh, don’t mention it or I’ll begin to feel the whiplash of the lack of sleep.”
“Problems in paradise?” Chris smiled.
“It’s Sofia,” Caro sighed. “She has… an erratic sleep schedule. Sometimes, she goes out until late and wakes me up when she returns only to start snoring like a lion and elephant. Other times, she naps during the afternoon, heads off, gets drunk and then stumbles her way back to the room turning into some random animal while giggling.”
“I thought she had it under control.”
Caro shook her head. “I mean, she’s better than she was last year. Back then, she tended to have active dreams and I would wake up at her bellowing, roaring and/or howling. You have no idea what it’s like to wake up to a literal cow tossing and turning. One time, I swear she turned herself into a cock, rising up before the crack of dawn just to cock-a-doodle-do me. I’m aware how that sounded.”
“Heh,” both girls laughed, though there was a bit of an uncomfortable feeling there, much to Caro’s confusion.
“She’s gotten better in that at least now she turns halfway into an animal.” Caro shook her head. “I need some time out. So I was thinking. Are you two girls up for a time at the city?”
Gwen and Chris exchanged look again, this time, both perked up. “You bet we are,” Chris smirked standing up at the idea. “There’s this movie I’ve been wanting to watch for a while: ‘The Huntsman’s Bodyguard’. It sounds just around my alley.”
“That would be fun,” Gwen admitted.
“Yeah, sounds fun,” Caro said trying to sound casual, though inwardly, she was expecting more of an afternoon at the mall, windowshopping for new outfits. “I’ll get the permissions then.”
“Do you have glamours that hold up?” Gwen asked.
“Don’t have any planned for the time being… buuut I’ll write them down as soon as I come up with something strong enough for Grimma to boost and I’ll let you know what breaks it.”
“Perfect,” Chris mused. “And perhaps we can buy you some earplugs there.”
“Sure, we’ll see. Though I’d rather not have to stick things down my ear canal,” Caro smiled as the three girls were linked together by the upbeat friend as they set back to the school grounds. The night was already setting in and each knew they had things to do in their own cottages. Make sure trouble the freshmen wouldn’t stir up any trouble that would distract them and make preparations for future plans.
Caro had to start writing down a contract that would make her passable to the eyes of the baseline. Gwen was already wanting to forget the conversation she had earlier with her friend about procrastinating a talk. And Chris was just happy to have a good time back at the cottage. A plan of fun.
Plans are good. But the thing about them is that they don’t go as easy as you envision them..
Twain Cottage - Front
Twain, like most cottages, grew livelier as the evening began. As students just arrived back from classes, they sought the means of entertainment and decompressing from a day packed with learning, basic martial arts, and overall wandering around the extensive campus. While there were some getting together with friends or making plans around campus, Vic noticed many were just doing their own stuff.
He waved at Daniel who was just happy playing around with Cookie in the front porch of the Cottage, with Humorless watching behind, pretending not to be interest, specially when he spotted Victor, throwing a scowl his way. Cookie did notice to him and the two heads of the puppy just barked his way, panting as if expecting a treat.
“Hey, Daniel,” Vic’s greeting was returned in the form of a smile, a wave and an oatmeal cookie that was thrown his way. “Thanks,” he said as he took a bite of it as he carried on his way.
Delicious, he thought as he entered in the lobby area. Oddly enough, tonight, most of the free couches and sofas in the common area were taken as Bacon and Hardnose were the center of attention as the two were arm-wrestling each other and a couple were just lining to watch in amusement. Passing by, Vic could hear people joking about who would win? The warthog or the rhino.
Vic’s money was on the rhino. Though, with his luck, in the nearby future he might end up facing with Bacon in BMA again. So he discreetly went upstairs to his room without taking sides.
On his way to room 206, he passed by Nick Brennan’s room just in time to hear him strumming his guitar through the gap on the door. While it was a rather sweet melody, Vic felt like preferring silence tonight. Stress was so pent up in the back of his head, the sound of electric guitar strumming would just pile on it. Perhaps all he needed was to relax. Take a nice hot shower and just lie down, maybe rest and call it a night.
“But I can’t really do that,” he mumbled thinking back about the grade for his English test and that just earned him a stiffness in the back of his neck. “I’ll go bald at an early age if I get easily stressed like this,” he shook his head and sighed.
A part of him wondered if swimming would help him discover his ‘center’ -as cliche as it might sound, there’s a reason why people tick it as a relaxation tool- and so called peace but many objections popped up there. He pictured himself paying a visit to the pool in the school, with the risk of people finding out he couldn’t swim.
“But, that’s in the past,” Vic brought himself to talk out loud, now within his own room. Toby was out tonight, as it seemed to be the new normal here. Devisors gadgeteers and mages had a penchant (to not say addictive habit) to stick around in their labs, doing whoever knew what with their inventions and magic. At least it meant that he would have the room for himself for at least a good couple of hours, granting him the small moment of introspection.
“But the future doesn’t seem much better… I find myself stuck in whatever I try. What am I working for? A normal life once I’m done with school. A school I’m not paying as of now but will have to deal with in a future? And what happens then? I have to work for a criminal organization. If I get captured then I get a criminal record, and with that my future is ruined, isn’t it? What else can one do? They say there’s a good way out, and I would be optimistic if I could at least get a fucking excellent grade out of a measly English test. But even that is impossible. No matter how many hours I throw away reading a stupid book. What’s even the point of it if nothing will happen!”
That last part ended up with a punch down on the bed. With the soft springs under the mattress creak in disagreement… At least it helped Vic take his mind off the train of thought before heading over to the front door of the room, towel under his arm.
“Wonder what’ll become of me,” he ended with a small sigh as he placed out his pajamas, some smooth clothes bought by his guardian and prepared himself to leave when in came an odd echo from the depth of his head. A feeling of dizziness washed over him followed by an odd sense of peace. Like the emotion triggered memories he’d experienced of his trauma, these came in the opposite way. They bore no horrific images that drove in the experience, but they were linked to a soft echo, lights and a smooth tune. Peaceful memories that pushed back some of the frustration. He wondered if it was the wind or assumed it was some sort of charm placed in by Toby to help him relax. His roommate had taken notice of how much effort Vic put into his stuff and might’ve decided to treat him to make the existence much more peaceful between the two.
“Yeah, that must be it,” he thought as he carried on. Bathing supplies at hand, he took a deep breath, trying to concentrate in the nothing and just let himself be guided to the showers, which, at that time of the day would most likely be close to empty.
Whitman Cottage - Lounge
Caro’s wanderings took her back to Whitman just as the sky had darkened and brought forth the peace of evening. Just outside the window, she caught a glimpse of Meow Mix and Madcat arguing over something. From the snippets she heard, it was for a devise Telekat made for the cat girls, potentially calibrated to hide their GSDs. The item in question looked almost indistinguishable like a dark blue rubber mouse. A part of her wondered if this was Telekat’s idea of a joke or something like that.
She just seemed to happen to pass by at the right time as Meow Mix had enough of arguing and swiped the item from her friend before tossed a bunch of, presumably manifested catnip on Madcat’s nose before legging it the opposite way.
“Why you!” Madcat hissed, showing off her fangs in a threatening way and covering her nose from the effects of the catnip as she chased after. The two nimbly hopping over benches and trashcans, running trees and threading through people, or at least trying. Messes were being made and destruction would ensue. It was just sheer luck that red flag day ended about an hour ago.
By the side of the door was large cat wearing a cloak sitting on its haunches, with its ears perked and its semi paw outstretched waving her way. A rather cute look considering her tabby fur was just developing the fluff like winter coat. “Shisa? What just happened over there? Were they really fighting for a toy mouse?” Inwardly, Caro was inevitably thinking about how amusing was that most GSD cases tended towards house cats, at least for the current sophomores and freshmen, though of all those she’s met, Shisa was the one that got it the worse looking almost like a cat, albeit a big one.
“TeleKat crrreated a some sort of illusion that would somehow disguise their GSD qualities, The… smaller qualities,” she mewled a bit saddened, obviously wishful but aware that whatever the junior RA had designed, wouldn’t be enough in her case. “Though between us, I don’t think it’s gonna work.”
“How are you sure?” Caro asked as she found her usual spot. A lounge chair with short arms and a long seat, the kind one would expect to see at a therapist’s office at a nice corner of the room, just far away from the light to not be in the spotlight but not enough to be shrouded in darkness.
“Think Telekat just got annoyed of the girls insisting for a copy of the devise she wore to cover her ears. Wouldn’t surprise me if were a fake. I mean it’s obviously a cat’s toy. I just don’t understand why they are playing along.”
They’re cats, Caro was close to saying, but seeing how, after she sat down, Shisa was standing on her hind legs looking at her curiously, she relented, instead focusing on not petting the freshman student. “Maybe they want to believe whatever doodad TK gave them will work, or maybe they know that by now and they’re just messing around.”
“That sounds silly,” Shisa frowned looking at the entrance. “If I’m going to put faith in someone else to fix my situation, I’ll make it’s someone who really means to help.” And then she looked over at Caro’s way, so transparent that she could actually tell what she was meaning.
“Shouldn’t rely on me. I’m not the best person to solve your problem,” Caro tried to be as blunt as possible in this aspect.
“Everyone says that mutations, specially BITs can’t be changed in any way… but that can’t be an absolute, right? I don’t wanna stay like this.”
“I don’t know. I’m no expert and, with my luck, I might end up making things worse.”
“They’ve told me you’re one of the most powerful mages in the cottage.”
“Potentially. I’m the great and powerful mage in the same way Esperanto had the chance to become the universal language rather than the language everyone knows by name but can’t speak. Too many stars need to be aligned for me to earn that status”.
“Shisa. No,” Caro said firmly. It was a fortune there was no one else in the vicinity to make the scene even more awkward than it was.
Caro brought herself to look at the catgirl (whose ‘girl’ part of the word was debatable), with her ears flopped down and her gaze down, it was a heartbreaking sight. When she got her paws off the couch and put them on the floor, it was the image of a scolded cat. A picture that felt as if it was almost tugging at Caro’s heartstrings.
Damn it, I used to be tougher with the cheerleaders back in highschool, she grumbled before rationalizing it, but then again, I didn’t live in the same building as those girls.
“Shisa,” she said as the cat slowly turned too look at her with some trepidation.
“Listen, and I say this with the best of intentions,” the whole nurture and caring aspect didn’t exactly come as easy to her, specially when it was around a girl she just met a month ago. “I do want… no, wish to help you with my magic… however there is a lot of steps in between wanting to aid and actually start doing something tangible. I don’t think it can happen overnight, heck even this year or the next. I will, however try to help you in any way I can. I might not be able to fully make you human and if I do, you might not be able to keep it for long. Or worse yet, there might be a steep price to pay for it, will you be willing to take them?”
“Anything might be better,” she said, her ears and tail already perked up at the prospect. “I’ll take what I can get.”
“I’ll try to do so, but I believe you need to submit some sort of permission and agreement to be experimented on. So you might want to ask our housemother about it.”
“I’ll get on it,” Shisa nodded, she looked like she was about to go over to Mrs. Savage’s room.
“Just don’t get your hopes up. It won’t happen soon, or, maybe, at all.”
“Thanks,” Shisa said, although a tad disappointed she did bring a smile on her feline face. “I’m glad to know you’ll at least try.”
“Good, Then we have an agreement,” Caro smiled petting Shisa’s head as she leaned back on her seat as the girl cat trotted away, uttering a mewling. “Thank you so much” before crossing the common room and diving into the hallway.
“Ah, what I’ve gotten myself into,” Caro shook her head as she produced a small notepad and a notebook from her purse’s pocket. Flipping them open, she made herself comfortable while she picked up where she left off.
The notebook contained a whole list of scribbles, bearing an assortment of selected words and small annotations of things she’d discovered about the way these could be worded as well as obscure meanings. If she wanted to make things complicated for others, she could always find ancient english words or downright utter her verses in a completely different language… that is if she knew any other language well enough.
The other book, the notepad was flipped open into a blank page, flipping through verses and rhymes that had once been scratched and crossed out while others had been marked for future reference thanks to the success.
“There was once a girl cursed to look like a cat,
Small furry with paws, a nice coat and a tail to boot,
With the curse in genes, I have limited options with that,
Perhaps she might find help in this magical reboot,
When the sun lines signals its shortest stay in sky,
She’ll have to be present ready for the blood price,
Give in a tail and fur just to grow to a normal height,
Normal human features will have to suffice.
For I still require the power to restore Shisa to what she would’ve been.
… Yet it is my skill’s true strength that remains to be seen.
She paused for a moment as the rhyme broke down. According to Grimma, rhyming was an element when it came to strengthening the magic spell. Certainly made easier to come up with the clauses when you just search for a rhyming word. Sometimes, playing madlibs with yourself could produce some unthinkable conditions. Of course, that was the excuse. To Caro, that was just Grimma’s love for theatrics and mischief that once inspired those two brothers to create all those stories.
But as it was, it would definitely not be enough. The rhymes were decent, but at the same time felt a bit forced (specially since boot and reboot felt similar to the same word). The issue usually laid in the amount of magic that should be pumped into the spell to counter a mutation as well as defining how long would it last? The restrictions she put were so far were the standard: picking up a specific stationary day and offer a blood price. Probably wouldn’t be a fitting solution to Shisa predicament.
But then again, this wasn’t supposed to fix everything yet. It was just wordplay practice. She had to remind herself she didn’t have to think on the spot, right now. She could take her time, think and just come up with contrived ideas that she could make happen.
“I think poet or a novelist might end up being viable career options for me,” she said with a small forced smile, leaning back against the cushion and closing her notepad before trying to come up with an excuse for her lack of creativity… like a novelist.
She couldn’t help but smile at her own mental joke. And that was just it when she noticed her roommate Sofia Fontana, aka, Zoo, skipping down the stairs, clad in her casual clothes. A loose shirt and some tight jeans that gave her a wild girl kind of look. Fitting, Caro thought amusedly as she took notice of her strides. She was preparing to go out and she had an idea where, specially after she waited for Mrs. Savage to pass on her way to the front entrance to make her move.
“Sofia? What’s going on?” Caro asked as her friend almost rushed by
“Caro!” She said, a bit startled, edging herself towards the door.
“You’re not heading to Emerson, are you?” As she did she was discreetly flipping down the pages of her personal notepad behind her back.
“I’m just…” she muttered rather urgent, if not frustrated. “I have to get there and I’m already running late.”
“Are you off to see Crossby?” Caro inquired raising an eyebrow.
Sofia blinked and looked at her friend with a small frown. This her roommate’s common behavior this past couple of days. She would head over to Emerson, meet up with Crossby, her ‘boyfriend’, of the same informal kind she’s already had to deal with specifying today with her friend. A rather casual relationship that was just as worrying as Gwen and Dereck’s, only in the opposite ends of the scale.
“You know, if you really need something, you can always talk to me. I mean, I barely hear from you past six in the afternoon. I have no idea if you’re okay or where you are,” Caro mused sidestepping between her and the exit, notepad hidden behind her. As she noticed Sofia was getting really close to ignoring her and just walking past her, she pressed her notebook against the door frame. “It doesn’t feel safe if you don’t share a secret,” and with the trigger words and her mana pumping through the paper into the open page, the magic began to take effect.
“What- Oh come on!” Sofia gasped when she spotted the green energy spread from behind her friend, across the entirety of the entrance door, creating an ethereal sheen that shimmered and wobbled like a plastic cover.
“Really, Caro? Come on!” Sofia growled, almost realistically as she placed her hand on the magic wall, with it just reacted and glowing around the area of contact. She began to fight for it, much to Carolina’s amusement. The thing might bend like rubber under force, but wouldn’t break, not even letting her get a grip of the door’s threshold.
“Come on, come on,” Sofia frowned as she tried to pry it, either hoping to grab it or scratch it, with her fingers turning into the clawed digits of any big cat, but the thing was as smooth as glass and as slippery as oil. The spell had turned out to be effective, and be very rather useful.
And to think Mrs. Savage asked it as a way to have the girls stay in room during lectures and interrogations.
Whitman Rallies itself for a talk,
I will be called by my writer or the owner of the house,
To Ensure no one tries to balk,
Restricted access to anything bigger than a mouse,
Contained within the dorm,
An emerald barrier is magically erected,
No strength can’t tear its form,
Please hold till the twenty minutes subjected.
A lasting barrier holding an entire class,
Scattered by a voluntary master’s touch.
Secret uttered will add a way to pass,
should mysteries be revealed as such.
Simple and childish. It might be forced, but it did a really good job during the first two meetings of the school year. Of course, her literary knowledge was limited, so, for a good measure, at the back of the paper were extra clauses for any unintended loophole the students were bound to find as amendments and clairifications.
“Okay, horns, I mean, Caro. What’s wrong with you?” Sofia frowned, with her claws receding back into her fingers and her arms losing muscle until returning to their original form.
“I just want some talk with my roommate. I mean, she just leaves out barely without saying a word and I just want to know where she goes with such haste. Must be really important.” Caro was just letting her old sassy self run rampart over Sofia’s beastie side.
“Who are you? My mom?” she asked with a bit of teenage revelry though her tone barely left the ‘slightly hostile’ point of the scale. “I can just take the front door.”
“By all means, if you think you can sneak by Mrs. Savage then give it a try,” Caro said. “Or, since my spell doesn’t cover the entire cottage right now, you can turn into a cat and sneak out a window. But what’s that? You’re not wearing your special clothes for that.”
“Okay, Caro, what do you want?” she grumbled, taking a deep breath.
“I want you to tell me what you’re up to so I can advise you accordingly. Come on, I told you what this spell does and the loophole in it.” Caro smirked waving the notepad before her.
She blinked and sighed, letting her arms sway in exasperation. “Right, you said secret, and I have to tell you where I’m going. I’m heading to Crossby’s. They have just devised a good beer that has a good buzz… or at least he claims. I’m heading there to check it out”
“Is that all?”
“Well, he’s kinda my boyfriend and I shouldn’t have to tell you anything else. Happy? I thought you were cool with it.” As if answering to her request, the barrier began to glow a tad lighter as she drew closer. With a bit of curiosity, she pushed her hand through and almost like a resistant soap bubble, it converged and ballooned in the area around to let her in.
“I’m cool with it when it doesn’t bother me. At what time you’re returning?” Caro said.
“What does that matter?” Sofia asked with a small smirk stopping half way.
“It matters to me when my roommate thrashes the place when she comes back home after a full night of drunken fun and then wakes me up after she accidentally falls on my bed. And before you say what you’re thinking. It’s happened more than once.”
Sofia blushed, looking away, something that looked rather strange with half her body through the magic barrier. “I can’t tell right from left when I’m drunk. Is that all this is about?”
“That and I worry,” Caro was holding in her tongue the words “that I’ll have to see that guy more often around my room.”
“It’s just fun time. I lose notion of time.”
“You tend to have a lot of fun time with that guy. And to be honest, I don’t think he’s a good influence.” Inwardly, Caro was chastising herself for actually sounding like her mother.
“He’s a good guy. I like him.”
“I know… I guess I don’t really trust the guy that much. He comes across a bit as a… slacker,” she said carefully, again, she’s come a very long way from her alpha bitch persona, “Not even putting effort on anything else.”
“He. Is. An. Okay guy.”
“If you say so…” Caro said a tad insecure almost defeated, though should anyone ask, she would deny her internal defeat. She was almost tempted to use a spell on her just to help her ‘see’. But she wasn’t in a hurry to cross that line… again.
Not that she knew the guy, but they’ve met up around the school, and a couple of the times that Sofia invited him over. Old Caro would’ve said that the guy had the makings of a loser, and horned Caro agreed with that, with the only reason both kept quiet was because it wasn’t worth the roommate troubles that can of worms would bring. The guy is some pothead Dylan member with a thing for booze who for some reason believed himself like a genius that would revolutionize the world. Even those who delude themselves into thinking they would make it great in Whateley at least have the skills to back it up…
Needless to say, she disliked Crossby, and that was in no small part for the fact that he kept on referring to Caro as ‘horns’ and Sofia as ‘pet’ .
Finally, Sofia sighed. “Listen, I have to get going, but I promise I’ll try to work on it. I’ll be back earlier and try to be as quiet as a mouse.” And with that, she finished crossing the barrier and set off into the looming evening at a hastened pace.
“You better,” Caro muttered. Part irritated at her roommate’s stubbornness and part stressed, knowing that by time she returned, she will have completely forgotten about this conversation.”
“Honestly, that girl is-” Caro muttered shaking her head and turning her back on the still enforced magical barrier when she heard someone scream from upstairs.
“Ratel has joined the chase! Ratel has joined the chase!” Shisa exclaimed as she ran into the lobby from the stairs almost in panic, and that immediately got some of the girls around in high alert, which was followed by a sordid splat that landed onto the green energy wall. Making ripples and singing like a spring, but fortunately sparing the glass backdoor.
“I got the mouse! I win!” the tiny girl that was Ratel exclaimed waving the small toy in her hand. TK had played a prank on the two girls, by the looks of it, though she probably didn’t assume it would include the resident bruiseseeker. Yet, other than a couple of scratches on her cheek and the cracked glasses on her face she was just a happy camper.
“Oh, hey Caro. Did I miss a lecture?” she said with a bit of an oblivious laughter, still glued against the magical wall.
Fortunately, despite the escalation, there was no actual property damage involved (excluding the trampled rosebushes and knocked trash cans), so there was no need for security to be summoned. The girls involved did get a whole week worth of cleaning duty around the cottage and Caro got brownie points for preventing the destruction from spreading into the common room. A close call to something that could’ve zapped whatever enjoyment of her evening.
Twain Cottage - Room 217
A relaxing hot shower was what Vic had been needing. It certainly allowed him the time to think and, with the hot water falling on his shoulders, he could feel the worries slowly melt away. The fact that there was no one in there at the time felt like a huge plus. Last thing he wanted was for someone make the stock comment about him being some sort of hydrophilic.
He made his way back with hasty steps to his bedroom wrapped in a towel - he was not used to the idea of sharing showers and common corridors with a whole household of other guys, a feeling that seemed to be shared by some of his cottagemates. Once in the privacy of his space, he proceeded to slip into his comfortable clothes.
Toby had yet to return, and, judging by the time, he would still be alone for a good couple of hours.
As it was his habit in the evenings, he placed his laptop on his nightstand and booted it up, letting the operating system load while he picked up the history textbook and let his mind dive into it. He was glad that a computer was once again part of his daily life, and was already looking forward for frequenting the old websites he used to hang around in before he left home… But he wondered if it was safe to do that here.
A part of him was wondering if all the handed out laptops were truly isolated from any sort of major network on campus. After all, they were all superpowered or supergeniuses, some with aspirations or proclivity towards the wrong side of the law. He imagined that campus would be savvy enough to put some sort of bug or spy program in them. Specially considering someone involved with a high stakes heist and studying under a syndicate scholarship.
It all made Vic feel uneasy about using the computer. Of course, he had to rely on it for simple things, like writing and handing in homeworks and checking up e-mails, but he’d refrained himself from doing any sort of websurfing.
Not that all of the places he planned on checking were porn websites, but the idea of privacy seemed to hold some value given the shared space. Last thing he wanted was for some guy in security to know that he’d been, to come up with an example, been catching up on My Little Pony or checking out the trending harem anime.
His upcoming trip to the nearest bestbuy just couldn’t come sooner. While averse at spending money in frivolities, a tablet would definitely be a good investment to have.
Still, with the laptop booting up in the corner, he himself let himself get lost in his reading. With the proper mindset he could blaze through the chapter at a rather modest rate. Though today, that didn’t feel like the case. Still he managed to complete the last days of the Romans and rise of the Byzantine Empire. Materials that would be covered next class, as per Tractor’s instructions, but weren’t exactly mandatory reading. The retired superhero just knew how to make learning entertaining and put so much effort and passion in teaching, one just wanted to reply by being a good student.
“Wonder if this will come up in the upcoming exams-” he muttered, though the sentence was half cut when his computer began to ring out as he was receiving a video call. “Huh?” Vic muttered as he reached from the bed to the nightstand, sitting up from his near slumped posture.
“Ronnie Silver,” he muttered before hitting the answer button.
“Hey, Vic,” asked the college girl in the other end of the screen, light auburn hair that framed her heart shaped face. She bore a wide smile and her eyes beamed with excitement, she had wide hazel eyes that barely bore any shade outside of the normal spectrum, coincidentally hiding the fact that she was a mutant within her college. Yet, the amusingly weirdest part of the call was the background which had taken the form of an aquarium tank, with the fishes looking evidently CG with minor attributes such as smooth and colorful surfaces that made them look like toys. “Like my new place?” She added jokingly.
“That does look cool. Is it green screen?” Vic asked leaning on a side.
“No. Just a small sideproject of mine. Program detects the moving person in the foreground and switches the background. Nothing too fancy… for a magic worker,” she said with some false modesty, presenting her cheek. One of the fish swam closer to her face and leaned in to poke and kiss her cheek. It was so detailed Vic swore he could see the point of contact. “I just happened to finish this program of mine and, just gave myself some time to chat with you. To catch up. I haven’t seen you since July. So, how are you?” she said as she blew the computer fish away.
“I’m okay. Just trying to keep up my personal promise, studying and working to get ahead.”
“Hm… hope I’m not interrupting. Are you with someone?” Ronnie asked as she pretended to crane her head from side to side as if looking through a window.
“Nope, I’m by myself tonight. My roommate is out at the labs and I kinda needed the time off.”
“And you’re studying?” Ronnie raised an eyebrow. “Not watching cartoons, surfing the web or playing games? Sheesh.”
“Well, I have this laptop that was lent by Whateley. Not that I mean to be distrustful, but I’m kinda worried someone will spy on whatever I read or watch here.”
“Oh, why didn’t you say so? I can give it a remote scrub, make sure it’s clean.” Ronnie said, yet before she could start typing, Vic raised his hand.
“I would still have to give it back. Better not tamper with it and get into trouble. Besides, I’ll be buying a tablet soon.” There was a small pause before adding. “I could actually use your help. I mean you know about tech, right? Maybe you can tell me which is the best brand.”
“Sure, just send me an email so I don’t forget. What you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to pay and I’ll give you a recommendation. I’ve been reading a lot of tech articles lately.”
“Bet you have.”
“Hey, being a hack easy. The problem is justifying your work,” Ronnie let out a small laughter. “But yeah, send it over and I’ll tell you which ones you should probably get. Hey, can you show me around the place? I want to see my little bro’s room.”
Vic blinked and looked around the place. Toby’s side, while not extravagant, had a bit of effort put into the decorations, with some posters hanging from the walls and a couple of mystical looking doodads on the table. The shelves housed some figurines and comic books. Compared to it, Vic’s side was embarrassingly naked. Given how few things he had on his person when he arrived to Whateley, it was understandable, though that didn’t encourage him to show his room to anyone.
“Can I? Or is it not presentable? Maybe you do have company and are hiding them from me,” Ronnie teased until Vic caved in.
“Just keep in mind I haven’t stocked up on… well, anything, yet,” Vic said as he carefully unplugged the laptop and held it up, carrying over to the different spots of the room. “This is my bed, kinda simple but it’s much better than I was used to some months ago. My nightstand, where the computer rested. Nothing to see here.”
“Why haven’t you gotten even a poster or a plushy?” Ronnie asked as the camera was moved over from Toby’s side of the room to the closet and then back to the entrance before completing the lap.
“Doesn’t feel like spending money when I’m not getting any is a good idea.”
“Thought your sponsors gave you money to spend, right?” Ronnie said.
“Yeah, but it’s money for school supplies… besides, I don’t really feel like getting more indebted to the Syndicate just because I feel like I need a poster over my bed.
“I understand what you mean, but you are already owing them a good chunk, really doubt a five dollar poster would amount to mu- Oooh! Such a nice view.” And before she could carry on with the topic Vic wanted to leave forgotten, he placed the laptop camera close to the window just to let her see the outside. “I thought Whateley would be a whole lot more sci fi ish.”
“Well, I’m okay with it. The campus looks so big and normal, so much so it’s refreshing.” And with that, Vic placed the laptop back on the nightstand, this time facing into a more complete view of the room.
“So this is Whateley?” Ronni commented with a bit of giggle to fake hide a tiny bit of disappointment. “To be honest, I thought it would be more… impressive.”
“Yeah, well. I know there are deluxe suites, though that’s just reserved for, like, uber rich.”
“Right,” Ronnie shook her head. “The people one wouldn’t be able to stand?”
“Eh, not all of them are bad. Overly, at least. Do wish you’d gone to Whateley, at least I could’ve gotten a heads up on what I was getting into.”
“Why not ask…” she was about to say but held her tongue and back-pedalled before bumbling into a sore topic that would derail the conversation. “Whateley is not for everyone. The fact that I’m in college and no one has discovered what I’m capable of is living proof of it. Unfortunately, for you, it’s a more complicated matter.”
“I know so well.” Vic sighed. “I can’t believe I got wrapped up into this. I wish I hadn’t taken up that deal.”
“Then you would be back in the street, trying to figure out a way to get forced papers to get into a good school.”
“For the record, there was this guy with the crew, Bobby, who was rather skilled when it came to forging documents and tugging connections. He was always on and off, but had a thing for making things happen. I bet if I’d remained there a tad longer, I could’ve-”
“Yeah, but Vic, the old crew is gone. They were all take care of during and after the tanker incident. Even if the guy were still around, do you really think you could have a normal life while still living on the streets? You would’ve ended up being found out or eventually unable to keep on affording the education while living two lives.” Ronnie’s tone was uncharacteristically serious on the matter. She wasn’t one to enjoy dwelling often in the serious parts of reality.
“I think it’s a much better choice.”
“Would it? At least, right now, you have a roof over your head and are getting the education you need. And that is not mentioned you are among friends now, even if you feel like the odd piece.” Ronnie said.
“And then, once this is over. I’ll have to work for the Syndicate. Robbing banks, intimidating people and dealing with criminals? There goes my future for a normal life.” Vic said.
“Don’t be like that. I’m sure there are ways you can do some sort of well paid office work, and then after the five years of service with the organization. Just in case you haven’t picked up on it, I’ve stayed in touch with Caroline after our small encounter in July. She’s a pretty nice lady, isn’t she?”
“She is…” Vic nodded with a small sense of guilt. After all, he’d spent a good chunk of his time at Whateley thinking shit of the organization he would be forced to go into and at the same time, he recognized that there were good people there. Carol had been the one who fought tooth and nail to give him the scholarship and had been nice enough to take over as a legal guardian to the homeless student. A great favor with seemingly no strings attached. It was easy to forget she worked for the Syndicate.
“She’s explained to me that a good chunk of the organization, at least in the marrow of it, they’re beaurocrats. They evaluate, make decisions and file paperwork, like any other business. What they do, is an entirely different matter. They also do ex employees the favor of falsifying them a background in case they wish to pursue a different job.”
“I still believe there has to be some sort of loophole, a way out.” Vic muttered though then again, just taking that sort of approach would be incredibly disrespectful to those who’d lent a hand to get him this way. Carol, Cole and even Ronnie herself.
“If you feel so,” Ronnie sighed in resignation. “I won’t lie. A part of me is also worried on the Syndicate matter, despite Carol’s reassurance. I want to believe things will be alright as long as you have your lifeward looking after you.”
There was a small pause between the two. Evidently, the talk was as uncomfortable as Ronnie as it had been for Vic, though for some reason he doubted it, trying to keep himself from over thinking the matter. It was a nice evening tonight and didn’t wish to sour it.
“So, how’s it going? I’ve only heard of you from text messages. Are things still going smoothly in the new school?”
“As good as they can. In spite of all things. I did tell you that my friends tend to get into too much trouble, right?
She paused for a moment, recalling. “Yeah, you told me something about it. Friends getting cornered and attacked by others. Giant students going on rampages and a headmaster that was a former member of a criminal organization. So much trouble going through a school… Must be fun.”
“It feels so ironic.” Vic muttered closing the book to show it on camera. “Luckily, I’ve been burying my nose in my studies, so I don’t really think you’ll have to worry about me getting into a fight.”
“How’s the study going? Is it paying off?” There was a small drop in her interest as she brought that up.
“Eh…” was all Vic could bring himself to say, with his mind going back to his above average grade in English, the mistakes he made in his last math class and the many times he got thrown around in basic martial arts and he just couldn’t find himself feeling good about his goals and plans.
“Not as easy as you thought?” Ronnie answered. The response must’ve been plain and simple in Vic’s face by the look of it.
No point trying to disguise things. “It’s just, so many of the students here are so above the normal education standards. There are some people around that I know are “A” level class slackers, but because their mutations, they can get grades close to if not above mine,” he sighed, with the doused frustration from earlier slowly trying to creep its way back into the surface.
And just at the time, there was a snicker coming from Ronnie’s side. She seemed to be holding back her laughter and the sound seemed to be drawing the digital fish swimming around her. Of course, they scattered when she finally spoke up. “Another of the reasons I didn’t come forth and talked about my powers with my dad, I wouldn’t have graduated with the scholarship and recommendations that got me into college. I mean, and I say this with the best wishes in mind, it’s hard to believe you would end up with the top grades in a school where people can suddenly remember everything they read. Being a big fish in a small bowl is not easy to come by naturally. Even harder if you expect to achieve the status.”
“It was my goal, Ronnie. How am I to get a scholarship or into a good university if I can’t stand out among the genius around that are coming up with cold fusion,” Vic said sternly, though making a small effort to not raise his voice.
Ronnie nodded. “I mean, we knew coming here was going to be hard.”
“I just never expected it to be this difficult,” Vic grumbled. “I sit back and read the material after class, take a test only to find that I’m still a bit too short from an acceptable goal. And it happens in almost every class. Expecting me to measure up to people who can memorize entire passages of books just by looking at them once.“ And that was not mentioning the repeated beatdowns he’s been getting on during BMA. But then again, he knew there was little he could do about that. “Feels like it was all for naught.”
“Nothing is for naught. Things happen for better or worse and when you pick a path, you’re bound to find something as long as you keep on steering the boat.” Ronnie said as she snapped her fingers and the underwater filter on her side of the camera fizzled and vanished. “I still respect your personal promise to be your better self. I can tell that you’ve lost a lot of weight since the old school I saw you and that you’re studying a lot. Granted, as far as I recall, you were mostly a B+ student on average, with your best grade being some A pluses you got in math. You’ve come a long way, there’s no reason to feel discouraged.”
“Think you’re right,” Vic admitted with certain reluctance. “Maybe, I just need to put some more effort into the whole studying. Just sit down and read a couple more chapters before going to bed.”
“Wait wait,” Ronnie muttered holding up her hand. “Are you sure that’s the best thing?” She asked plaintively, raising an eyebrow.
“What do you mean?” Vic asked with a bit of a frown.
Ronnie sighed. “I know I just said that you’ve progressed, it just feels like you’re leaving aside so many more of the important aspects of the school life, and that is the friends you make.”
“I have friends,” he argued. “Though, unfortunately, most of them are girls. And one of the guys speaks japanese and… well, has kinda been ruining anime for me.” Vic muttered, partly as a joke.
“Yeah, you are a real hearthrob with girls,” Now it was Ronnie being coy about this bit of information. “And yet you aren’t spending much time with them.”
“Kinda worried I might end up getting friend zoned. All the girls are just so friendly and nice.”
“We tend to be.” Ronnie smiled, just the way she was looking spoke how she noticed Vic’s blushing embarrassment. “How about guy friends?”
“I have some friends among the cottage mates.” Vic added.
“Do you spend time with them? And your roommate doesn’t count?”
“Ehh…” was all Vic could say then. Of course, he could bring up any time he’d spent with people, like playing with Daniel and Cookie or just hanging out with guys like Playback and Bloodhound. But the go to moment his mind went to was to earlier that day, when he spotted the guys cheering on at what seemed to be an arm wrestling competition. Probably the socializing moment, Ronnie was alluding to.
Ronnie shook her head. “My point goes that, it’ll be… wasteful if you don’t seek to spend more time with them. To broaden your friendship circle, so to speak. Rather than spending all your evenings cooped up in your room studying for an upcoming test you already know the subject off. Why not go out and spend some time with them?
“But what can I do then?” Vic said with a bit more of defiance than he intended. “If I don’t study, my grades won’t get better. I won’t be able to compete with anyone and will fall behind, maybe even fail.”
“We both know that’s not going to happen. You might not be an uber genius like some of the kids attending the school, but you are far from being one of the dumbest. You can achieve decent grades just by cutting back, if not for just a moment.”
“But I don’t want ‘decent’ grades.” Vic muttered. I want the grades that make people admire you, that draw the attention of others, he thought within his head. “I want to get better, but I feel like I’ve reached a limit. Starting to feel that headache come back,” that last part was meant to be of Vic’s internal monologue.
“Well, Vic,” Ronnie wasn’t one to get frustrated easily, but Vic was starting to notice how she was closing her eyes and taking a deeps breath behind the camera before speaking up. “From what I understand, you have two options: You can go over with your friends and ask them for help. Try to let them closer in on you; Or you can just ditch the whole graduate as the top student and settle to be among the top five and just have a good time as a normal teenager. Because I believe it’ll take a lot of your sanity to make things work on your own. Either way, the two options will lead to you to talk more to others.”
And at that time, there was a second moment of silence
“I guess, it’s up to you to see the answer for yourself. I don’t wish to stress you just by confronting you and saying that your beliefs are slightly off, even if you’re heading the good way,” Ronnie said, with a quick and meaningful sigh before adding in a more perky note. “Let’s leave it at that, okay?”
Why did she have to say it like that. It was the classic passive aggressive comment that just shook a person’s foundations in their argument. As of now, Victor was wondering if his approach to the new school life had been the best of ideas, but couldn’t just admit to Ronnie or himself he was willing to make a change just yet
Regardless, their conversation carried on, this time prompted by Vic’s question on how his sister was dealing with classes. Ronnie narrated a couple her computer science classes, even going as far as to giving Vic a quick lesson reading binary and the components of a regular computer, in case he ever wanted to build himself one. And in turn, he shared his anecdotes in Basic martial arts, in the sparring matches, not that he cared about it since, he’d made peace with the fact that he wouldn’t be beating up rhinos and warthogs at any point. There was a small air of gossip regarding their conversation, thing which was common between the two.
Before long the conversation carried on for what felt like hours but began to slow down as Ronnie informed Vic that she was now waiting for a pizza to arrive and that they should wrap it soon. “I’ll have to let you continue with your studies, little brother. But before I leave, I just want to know if you’ve contacted Dad.”
Vic frowned and edged himself, as if avoiding the center of the screen. “I don’t really want to talk about that. You know what that means to me, right?” Vic muttered. As his gaze went instinctively down to the foot of his bed, where he could make out the corner of his old backpack sticking out from a side.
“Fair enough, I’ll stop myself from dwelling on the subject here. However, I’ll just say that he does worry about you. He doesn’t know what you’ve been through or if you’re safe. And don’t worry, I haven’t told him anything about your current whereabouts or the problems you got yourself into. That’s not up to me to say. Just ease his worries if just for a minute.”
Vic sighed, making an effort to not sound exasperated. Not that talking with his step sister was a chore, he actually enjoyed the little chats, seeing her as a source of wisdom, if not fun and advice, he felt she tied him up with a part of his life he didn’t want to bring into the light, at least not in the nearby future.
“I’ll… I’ll think about it,” Vic sighed.
“But you’ll want me to insist on this later?”
“Yes, please,” Vic whispered, sounding embarrassed enough for Ronnie to nod.
“We all care about you, Vic. Just because misunderstandings are scattered here and there within our time line, you can’t let it invalidate all that came before or the meanings for our actions.”
Despite being in her late teens, Ronnie was, perhaps, one of the wisest person he knew, at least charged with actual maturity. Her advice seemed valid but at the same time, wasn’t exactly something Vic wanted to over hear. The whole mention of Dad just casted things in a somber light. It’s true that he’d done things he regretted, but so did he. Actually almost everything felt like it’s been into pieces for a while.
Perhaps he should try to talk to him. Perhaps. But would she be there? Would he have to face the consequences of that summer? Reliving the fiasco that drove a wedge between him and his family? It wasn’t just his father he was looking out for, but also a certain face he was sure he’d spotted back in the crowd just a couple of weeks ago. Another person he wouldn’t want to face.
A thought occurred that if he wanted to make amends for the damage he caused, talking to Ronnie would’ve been a good idea.
The third silence was interrupted by the loud sound of a doorbell that got her to turn her head away from the camera. “My pizza’s here. I’ll see you later, Vic,” she said.
“Bye Ronnie,” Vic said with a small sigh, bringing himself to end the videocall with a smile as Ronnie’s screen collapsed and closed, punctuated by the ding of the phone call ended.
And that just left Vic on his own in the room. Him and the swirl of emotions within him. Between the happiness of seeing his sister and the fun catching up between the two, mixed with negative feelings of guilt, frustration, hopelessness and anger. Not a healthy combination, but for the most parts balanced out.
He glanced at the history book that rested over the bed and just thought: Two options? She’d said. Either live a normal life making friends in school… or study with them so they can help you.
But that would entail in talking more. Talking about things he didn’t want to happen, being the center of attention and at the risk of being cast as a criminal by others. Tanya in particular. Did he need the help?
He considered the words, yet ended up going back on the bed, with the book on his lap, opening where he left off and carrying on with his intended schedule.