Let's Get Dangerous
Let's Get Dangerous
By Red Cloud
It had been a week. A week of running, hiding, trips to the student store for supplies, and a lot of careful work in his room after scaring Gander out. He felt bad about that, but if he was going to survive, he had to play with and learn his new toys, and he needed privacy to build and practice.
He’d worked on his new look, too, and as he stepped out of his room in full gear for the first time, he hoped like hell that his powers were working for once. Looking at himself in the mirror, he thought he looked stupid as shit, but everything else he’d come up with looked even dumber, and well...it worked for the secret squirrels for a reason.
He walked the path towards the Crystal Hall for breakfast, trying not to mess with his hair. Slicking down his curls into tight, gelled waves had been the part the fucked with him the most. He’d gotten in the habit of touching his hair since he manifested, the curls weird as shit to him, and the tight cap of slicked back hair was part of the image he was presenting. It was supposed to look neat, precise, and smart. He thought it looked dumb, but he looked less initmidating with his hair all loose, and he had no intention of buzzing his damn hair to try and look hard.
Add to that black clothes, starting with long sleeve shirts that were lightweight. He’d worn similar shirts for a while to hide his scars, but now the sleeves hid more. His pants looked like jeans, but they were fighting pants, skin tight and meant to flex in all the right ways, giving him freedom of movement that wasn’t immediately obvious.
Black gloves, a material that he’d seen when looking things up, meant for the spandex crowd. It was breathable, skin tight, and he could manipulate things as though he was barehanded. And with the gloves up past his wrists, he didn’t show any skin at all, helping to conceal the contents of his sleeves even better.
The boots were one of the pricier parts of his new look. They had matte metal toe and heel caps, the better to kick someone’s teeth in with, and tiny hobnails on the soles, so he made a very precise clicking sound when he walked. They’d also rip a normal persons skin off with a kick, so that helped a bit.
Sunglasses were another important part of his look, or rather, shades. From the outside, they were black, shiny, empty, hiding his eyes. From inside, they were optically clear, like wearing empty glasses or stage glasses. The frames didn’t impede his vision almost at all, and even better, they were trick glasses that he’d picked up from the squirrel supply section. They had little mirrors that let him see behind himself, increasing his field of vision and giving him some added warning of ambushes.
He turned his head slightly, tracking sounds on the quad, listening to the people around him.
“-the fuck is that-”
“-uess the capes were right about hi-”
“-it, he’s not hiding anymo-”
He relaxed. The buds in his ears, totally invisible, allowed him to filter out some sounds and focus on others, increasing his range of hearing, and letting him hear things that might give him an edge in a bad moment. And as well as they were working, this getup seemed to be working better. The students were developing whole new levels of fear of him.
If that hadn’t been the plan, he might have screamed. As it was, he just hoped that the rest of his toys worked as well as simply changing his clothes and hair had.
After breakfast, and listening to more comments and speculation about his appearance he wasn’t meant to hear, he headed for his first class of the day. There was one more reveal on hand for his coming out, one more nail to slot in place, before the students got the full picture. With it in hand he hoped that he could finally start directing their paranoia instead of just falling victim to it.
He slid into his seat, pulling out his phone and the little keyboard he’d bought for it. No more backpacks, all his text books were scanned or digital. He didn’t want to be carrying a load of books all the time that could hold him back if he needed to run or, heaven help him, start throwing down as best he could. The armored holster on his hip for both pieces of equipment would ensure that he would break long before his devices did, even if the phone hadn’t been a gadgeteer special Dad had picked out for him, and keep them relatively safe so no-one tried to steal them. He hoped.
The teacher called roll, his attention snapping back to the room as he held his breath and tried to look like he wasn’t listening carefully for the new name he’d chosen, half afraid he’d miss it.
“Here,” he called, voice quiet, tension draining at having it out and responding to it in time.
He didn’t need his earbuds to hear the sudden in rush of breath. It was a dramatic name, a name that had all kinds of connotations. And as he watched the students around him take it in, he breathed a small sigh of relief inwardly. They were all but crossing themselves and backing away. He actually saw one girl, draped in a sort of half cape and hood that was spangled with magic symbols, make some kind of warding gesture at him.
Seemed to be working.
Jude stepped out of class to find Warden waiting for him, face set in stone. He was out of costume, red flag day, but there was no mistaking that jaw, that hair, that glare, and the FSA pin.
“Argent,” Jude said flatly.
“I don’t give two shits what you call yourself-”
Jude lowered his glasses slightly and looked at Warden, letting all his anger show in his eyes. The taller boy faltered. “My name is Judas Argent, Jude to my friends, which you are not. Or I can call you Nancy Pissypants, since names don’t matter. Pick one. Now.”
Warden swallowed. “We’re watching-”
Jude took his glasses off entirely, opening his stance just a fraction. “That was not a rhetorical option, Nancy. Which will it be?”
Warden’s mouth tightened. “We’re watching you, Argent.”
Jude slid his glasses back on. “Naturally. It’s all you can do.”
He turned on his heel and clicked away, watching in the mirrors of his shades as Warden tried to strike a balance between the fury surging through him and the fact that his knees were shaking. He stepped out of the building, heading to his next class, listening to the movement around him, and paused. Soft footsteps in the grass to the right side of the path with no-one to go with them, and a little catch of breath accompanying what sounded like a missed footing...time to test his fake super senses for real.
“Squirrel, front and center.”
There was a long moment, as the presumptive squirrel tried to be very still and small, but he could hear breathing, and bushes didn’t breathe that he was aware of. If he was mistaken, he’d look stupid, but...
He turned and looked at the bush, going for broke. “If I have to come over there, you will have a bad day.”
He nearly fell over with relief as the girl that had jumped at him on his first day slid out of the bushes with a look of truculence, and not a little fear. “Cadet Corps.”
Jude stared at her for a moment, thrown, before he recalled that ‘Secret Squirrel’ was an insult he’d picked up from his Dad, not a proper name. For a second, he almost pushed on it, and then he cocked his head. He wanted to seem scary, not petty.
“Mm. I did just snap about names. Apologies, Cadet. Now, let’s have it.”
She looked vaguely flummoxed, and he fought a grin. He’d been reasonable all along, but apparently they’d been so busy being terrified of him that it took actively scaring them for them to see it.
Now Jude smiled, thinly and coloring it with annoyed amusement while inwardly, he thanked all the stars in heaven for all the stars in Hollywood that he was mimicking with his face and tone. The smile must have been extra intimidating, because she actually stepped back a little.
“Cadets fall out of the ceiling to threaten me when I walk too fast. I’ve decided to stop hiding. I assume there is a pointless threat somewhere on your person. Let’s have it.”
She swallowed. “I…”
Jude’s smile widened, showing teeth now. “Nothing?”
She gritted her teeth. “Fuck you.”
“Not my type.” Jude lowered his glasses, trying the stone angry look again, letting his smile fall. She took two further steps back. “If you have nothing to say, I will. Follow me? Fine. I don’t particularly care. If I want you gone, you will be.”
She swallowed hard.
“But the jumping out stops. The next, and I mean the very next, Cadet that jumps out screaming cliches at me will be given reason to scream. Pass the word.”
“I don’t work for you,” she said, her voice soft.
Jude shrugged. “Then the next Cadet is in for an unpleasant surprise, I suppose.”
He turned and walked off, and once again, enjoyed the sight of someone that had pissed him off having an existential crisis. The general student population being scared of him? Not fun. But twigging the squirrels and heroes? That...he might enjoy. He was starting to see why Dad had spent his highschool career poking them.
It was lunch before the last faction of his merry band of observers made a move. The Goobers had been his watchers, never approaching but the once, so when a camo goth came to stand on the other side of the table, he was half surprised.
The boy had a hand on his stake, but it didn’t seem to be a conscious or threatening gesture. He was running his thumb over it, a nervous tic. “You’re not magic.”
Jude considered for a long moment. Confusion to the enemy, or possibly lose an enemy if the truth would make them go away.
The boy swallowed. “Planning to be?”
Jude stared at him woodenly. “Do you really expect me to answer that?”
The boy shuddered and hesitated. “The Goobers, uh. We, uh-”
Jude blinked behind his glasses, startled that ‘Goober’, of all things, wasn’t a pejorative. Outwardly, he sighed, cutting off the boy’s stammer.
“Watch if you want. I don’t care. You are, by far, the least offensive group to take up a vigil on me.”
The boy swallowed and nodded, then simply walked away. Jude went back to his meal, watching surreptitiously as the Goober boy sat down and talked with his friends. They looked at him, and Jude shrugged inwardly. He’d find out soon enough if they were going to keep tailing him.
It had been, to his relief, three days. Three days since he’d started this role publicly, and not once had he had to avoid an ambush, slink around, or hide somewhere to avoid students that might have been looking for him.
Students were, of course, pissing themselves to stay away from him, but at least it was holding, so far. He’d noticed the students starting to get a little used to him, the ebb of people around him creeping back in to a wide berth, rather than walking the other way, but with any luck, it wouldn’t escalate from there.
So of course, it did.
Jude sighed as he spotted some guy waiting in the quad. By the eyes, and the shape of him, he was pretty sure it was Army Surplus, and from the look he was giving Jude, he’d worked up the nads to go for another shot. Since he was one of the very few people that Jude had bluffed empty handed, it made a certain kind of tired sense that he would assume the look, name, and attitude were more of the same.
Jude stepped into the quad and paused, cocking his head. The voice was right, it was his old friend Army Surplus. For a long second, he cursed himself for not knowing the boy’s powers. Bluffing was all well and good, but he had a sneaking suspicion he was going to need to start learning who the other players that the table were and what kinds of hands they showed off.
As his mind raced, he raised and eyebrow, affecting unconcern as best he could. “Yes?”
The boy pointed an accusing finger at him. “You’ve been fucking spying on me, haven’t you?”
Jude blinked behind his glasses. The paranoia seemed to have taken a real, solid root in this one. He thought back to his parents and had a sudden, deep discomfort as he wondered whether long term exposure to his powers would always drive someone off the edge. He set that aside for the moment in favor of dealing with this. Maybe if he tried reasonable again...
“Why on earth would I spy on you?”
The boy shuddered, mouth working, and Jude held his breath. “You want my secrets!”
Jude raised an eyebrow as he quailed inwardly. Nope, too far gone, he was spinning theories beyond the bounds of logic and reason, feeling hunted. This was going to be a fight, no two ways about it. Hopefully, he didn’t have some kind of power that would let him smear Jude across half the school. Still...secrets? Devisor maybe? Devisors were humans with weird weapons, so...he might be able to handle that. Maybe.
Jude stared at him for a long moment more while the boy vibrated, his accusation hanging in the air, and then decided to just lean into this and hope for the best.
“I don’t even know your name. I’ve been calling you Army Surplus in my head.”
The boy shuddered. “You...you...since you...that...nothing’s worked! I feel watched! It has to be you!”
Ah, damnit. He’d scared him too badly the last time...and it had fucked with his head, and he blamed Jude for that, as best as he could tell. Jude swallowed and carefully adjusted the way he was standing. Basic Martial Arts might still be the most basic for him, but standing right was one thing he’d glommed onto fast, if only because a proper stance made him look ready and dangerous, and gave him a better chance. Because he had precisely one, and that was to stop holding back and mash that fear button on his own time before the kid lost it unexpectedly.
Jude lowered his glasses, hit him with The Look, and in his best snide tone, said, “Surplus, if I was watching you, you would never know.”
It was crude, but it did the trick. The boy snarled and shot forward. Jude blew out a breath and held his ground, hoping like hell the kid was in fact a deviser and not some kind of brick.
At the last second, the kid whipped up a weird little gun, but he was way, way too close to make use of it as anything but a club. Jude skipped to one side, thankful for all the agility drills and dodging he’d done over the last couple years. Remembering something he’d seen a better trained student do once, he slapped the kid on the back sideways and grabbed wildly at his shirt. The material of his gloves gave him a much better grip than he’d hoped for, and he jerked the opposite direction of the kid’s momentum as hard as he could, clotheslining him from the rear. He fell back and Jude held firm as the kid hit his knees.
Somewhat startled that it had worked, Jude had half a second to decide what to do with the kid now that he’d caught him. But in the end, he’d planned for this, he knew what he had to do, and all he could hope was that it looked as impressive in the quad at four in the afternoon as it did in his room at midnight.
He flicked his hand and a knife appeared. Not just any knife. It was a knife made of shimmers of opalescence and glowing purple blue outlines that shifted and crackled, the faint hum and snap of electricity amplified whenever it moved. Jude tried not to do a dance, and hoped it looked as good to everyone else as it did to him. Surplus certainly seemed stunned to see it.
Jude released his shirt and grabbed his hair, hauling his head back as he placed the spitting, crackling outline of a knife at his throat. He had tried and tried to come up with something, anything, to explain his bullshit, and finally fallen back on magician’s patter. So he just hoped like fuck that the line of grade A nonsense he’d planned didn’t backfire.
“This,” he said quietly, “is not a knife. This is the idea of a knife. A Platonic ideal, if you will. You read Plato, Surplus?”
The boy nodded slightly, trembling all over. So far, so good.
“Good,” Jude said, moving it a little closer to him, the sound ratcheting up a notch. “Now, if this was a knife, it would be only as sharp as the materials allow. But this, this is an idea. A knife that has ‘sharp’ as its total function, its definition. In real terms, this is the sharpest thing to never exist.”
Jude held his breath, but Surplus whimpered. Again, he wondered what the fuck people heard when he talked. Still, time to bring it home.
“But all that’s a little past your pay grade, isn’t it, Surplus? You want to know, what does that mean? What does the idea of a knife even do?” Jude leaned down, pitching his voice as if he was being intimate, but allowing it to carry. That had taken a lot of going through theater videos and instructions to figure out. “What that means for you is that I can cut you as hard, as deep, and as painfully as I believe I can.”
To be fair, that was absolutely true. He fought down the urge to push more, and hoped like fuck Surplus was buying what he was selling. “Would you like to find out what I believe, Surplus?”
Jude smelled urine and froze for a second as he tugged the boy back, staring at the spreading stain on his groin. This was working...far, far better than he’d hoped. He swallowed and forced himself to keep character.
“Sorry, Surplus, I didn’t quite catch an answer to that. Are we testing this idea, or not?”
The boy shook his head minutely.
Jude nearly shouted with relief. “I see. So, if we’re not going to test out the strength of my ideas, then I assume that when this idea in particular is no longer at your throat, you’re going to go away very, very quickly and not bother me again?”
“Yes,” Surplus said, almost in a whisper.
“I’m glad we understand each other.” Jude stepped back and the knife vanished.
The boy shot away from him, half crawling as he fought to his feet, and the moment he got a solid foot on the ground, he was running. Around him, Jude could see multiple people who looked very much as though Satan himself had manifested in the Quad and started eating a live baby sandwich.
Aw, damnit. Jude took a deep breath and turned to look at them. “Hello, officers.”
The guards slowed up, looking at him warily. Jude looked right back from behind his blank glasses and kept his face even with an effort as his knees started shaking from the crash of the near fight. Not only could he not show how much that had taken out of him, but Security would actually know what his powers were.
If they called bullshit, particularly here, now, in public...he was back to square one.
The lead officer glared at him. “Argent. What the fuck did you do.”
Jude blinked behind his glasses. Maybe...maybe they didn’t know his powers? That could be a real problem-
“Nothing,” came a calm voice from off to the side.
Jude looked over, blinking. A young woman in a school uniform was sitting there. She didn’t look much older than he did, which meant she was probably the same age as he was, given his stature.
She had somewhat sharp features, full lips, and a flat expression that made him shiver. Her creamy lilac skin was the biggest standout feature, and she had dark hair pinned up with an honest to god hairpin surmounted by what looked like a massive costume gem on first glance.
But on closer look, that and the little pieces of jewelry scattered on her person had uncomfortable symbols and weirdly deep gems. They looked fake, but in the sense that they seemed somehow too real. He’d seen something like that somewhere, and the little bells in his head that told him when to run were starting to come to life as he looked at her. She seemed perfectly normal aside from her skin, but there was something...off, about her.
The guard hesitated. “Ms. Gault.”
Jude nearly lost his character. Gault? Like, Hieronymus Gault’s daughter? That would fucking explain the offness!
She stood up, eyeing the officer flatly. “There was a boy, acting a boor. Judas attempted to reason with him. The boy attacked, and Judas halted the attack, flashed his powers, and inquired whether there was going to be a fight. The boy declined and ran.”
The officer stared from her to Jude and seemed to make a decision. “Argent, you’re coming with us.”
The young woman flushed a darker purple, mouth tightening. “I’ll be happy to come make a statement.”
The officer looked at her uneasily. “That won’t be necessary. Do I need cuffs, Argent?”
Jude blinked. Ok, they didn’t like her, and they definitely didn’t like him. Friggin great. At least he hadn’t tried to go to Security about any of the issues he’d been having. “No, officer, I’ll come quietly.”
He fell in with him, giving Ms. Gault a friendly nod as the officers obtrusively moved to surround him. They marched off, and he had to either keep up, or have men that stood head and shoulders over him run him over.
As they walked, his mind spun. Security was a problem that would hold for a minute or two, and the appearance of the lilac skinned girl had his brain on fire.
Hieronymus Gault was piss-your-pants terrifying, a B-lister that could be A-list if he pushed. He was a wizard, mutant or learned no one was quite sure, and since he’d popped up fifty years ago already looking to be in his forties and hadn’t appreciably aged in that time, it was doubtful anyone would ever be able to find out.
To date his feats included things like dropping a demon in the middle of Dallas, apparently for the fun of it, blasting a number of moderately powerful heroes halfway to the Stone Age, and making a small Midwestern town disappear entirely from the tallest building to the smallest crack in the pavement. Not cloaked, not invisible, gone. As far as most people knew, the town had disintegrated, which was handy for Gault since it meant no-one had poked the pocket dimension he’d shoved it into.
Jude himself only knew about the pocket dimension because Dad had visited Gault’s private fiefdom for a weekend with him in tow. The townsfolk were living, mostly comfortably, under Gault’s rule, serving his every whim. Dad had picked up a job, and then spent the rest of the weekend chilling with Jude in a place that looked like an MC Escher painting, but cooler and with more flavors of ice cream available. Jude was pretty sure the place was on good behavior while he was there, which seemed a shame in hindsight, but at the time he’d still been new to the idea of being a villain’s kid.
Gault wasn’t a common name, though. If Gault had a kid, a daughter, and she was here, if there were second generation villains at Whateley who might have had the kinds of upbringings to give them the ability to see him correctly like adult villains did?
Jude shivered as his mind presented him with a whole new course of possibilities.
He had to dop that flush of hope as he followed the officer into Kane Hall, and then immediately into the bullpen. He swallowed inwardly as he was walked straight to a door marked Chief Delarose and pointedly waved through, the door closed firmly behind him.
The man behind the desk glared at him. “Judas is it, these days?”
Delarose, or so he assumed, had a face so still and cold that he might have been wearing a death mask.
“Judas, I’m going to be blunt. So far as I and my staff are aware, you have an unusual fear field that makes people think you’re dangerous, and makes them paranoid about it.” He leaned forward, and his face was deceptively calm. “So, if you have, say, lied about your powers, we’re going to have a somewhat unpleasant conversation.”
Jude swallowed, frantically wondering if his powers were going to stop him form explaining this, if the chief could even see him and not Judas Argent, Boy Antichrist.
Delarose tilted his head slightly, waiting a moment, but Jude kept his mouth shut, trying ot figure out how much trouble he was in before he started making it worse. The chief’s head tilted back upright and he went on as though the fractional pause hadn’t happened.
“Or rather, let’s say you have hypothetically managed to get a dangerous, unknown devise or magical artifact onto this campus and are walking around with it in your pocket without registering it.” The chief’s face shifted only a fraction, but Jude suddenly had a small idea of how people must feel about his own abilities, because he wanted to be in the next county at speed. “If that’s the case, we are going to have a really nasty conversation. Finally, if there is a third explanation, I will be delighted to discover what type of conversation we are having. Which is it?”
Jude looked at him for a long moment, swallowing as he tried to decided what way to go with this. The chief was, frankly, terrifying, and Jude wasn’t entirely sure that even showing him what he had was going ot work. But...he was clear eyed, none of the slightly wild look that Jude was used to seeing in people hat were susceptible to his aura. He was angry, yes, but he was justifiably angry, since someone that he’d been told was not a problem seemed to have become one. Jude doubted the chief liked surprises of any sort, working this kind of job.
Jude blew out a breath. Just the truth, and he hoped like hell it would set him free. “Option three, sir. I need to make a movement with my right hand. It’s not dangerous.”
The chief nodded slightly.
Jude gave his wrist and forearm a specific flick and twist, and the knife snapped into being, crackling in his hand. The chief stared at it, eyes narrow. Jude held it up and switched it off, then set it on his desk.
The chief moved to look at it from a couple of angles, and then picked it up, turning it over.
With all the bells and whistles turned off, it seemed to be a plastic kitchen knife, air clear, coated in opalescent stain and carefully strung with LED’s that were nearly invisible even turned off. A small speaker was embedded in the pommel, where it would likewise be invisible against the Jude’s black gloves, and a little gyro, like the kind in motion video game controllers, rounded out the look. The chief located the switch and flicked it on, and once again it was a crackling, spitting, glowing outline of a knife that seemed to be an insubstantial hole in the air. He gave is a couple of swishes, and the gyro made the crackle and snapping sound effects change as he did.
He switched it back off and touched the edge.
“It’s a prop,” he said, voice faintly disbelieving.
Jude nodded, relaxing just a bit. “Yes, sir. As I said out there, it’s the idea of a knife.”
The chief handed it back to him, and watched as Jude made it vanish, then pulled up his sleeve to show a wand tossing rig, designed to help a very amateur magician make things appear and disappear seamlessly. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Delarose relaxed. Jude fought the urge to flop into the nearby chair and shake.
Jude took a deep breath. “I’m...people are scared of me. And that makes them attack me. I tried not being scary, and they just attacked me harder. So I’m trying out being scary, but...I’m not dangerous. I’m not powerful, or skilled at fighting, or magical. What I am is really good at bluffing, a half decent athlete in baseline terms, and pretty good at picking up sleight of hand.”
The chief sighed and rubbed his face. “So you just whipped up some props. Kid, that’s clever, but it’s not going to do much for you if you get in a real fight.” he looked at Jude for a moment. “We can put a band on you, rager or ultraviolent if you want to hold onto your image. Make you off limits-”
Jude coughed and raised a hand to forestall that line of thinking. “No disrespect, Chief, but I have been out on the streets unarmed, bleeding, starving, and running for my life, and people take one look at me and decide I’m pants wettingly, grab the shotgun terrifying. Putting me off limits won’t make people not attack me, it will make them more secretive about it. I can’t turn my powers off yet, but I can control what people see. What fears they have. I can direct them to be scared of specific things, so the paranoia I induce doesn’t just run wild and end up eating my face by proxy.”
He flicked the knife out, and it snarled and spat. “Props give me the image of danger, which is all I have anyway, without requiring me to grab something actually dangerous and try to use it.”
The chief rubbed his head, eyeing the prop. Jude looked at it as well, half admiring his own handiwork. Even here, under hard fluorescent lights, it looked pretty good.
“That’s gonna get you hurt, son.”
Jude made the knife go away, and sighed. “Maybe it will, sir, but no more than doing nothing has. My power is literally making people want to hurt me, and all I have that’s worked is the ability to get scary enough to kick them from fight to some other response. Unless you ban my blunt, scary looking prop knife that couldn’t cut butter, I’m gonna keep doing it for as long as it keeps me safe.”
The chief eyed him for a long moment. What else have you got?”
Jude licked his lips and raised his other sleeve to show a little feeder line. He twitched his hand in a practiced gesture, and a little black capsule fell into it. “Ninja style smoke bombs, the student store sells them in bottles of a hundred. They’re basically paintballs that make a big cloud that obscures...pretty much everything. X-ray vision might get through it, but beyond that, nothing is getting in. I carry 50 in a hopper on my back, and use a paintball feeder to palm them as needed.”
The chief blinked but stayed quiet. Jude swallowed and carried on, raising his shirt to show off the black padding under it. “Low grade ballistic and stab armor. Covers my torso. Also got strike plates on my elbows and knees to match the strike points on my heels and toes.”
Silence reigned, and he blew out a breath and showed off his last trick. His hands rolled over each other in a weird gesture, and there was suddenly a glowing ball, not unlike the knife, hovering between his hands. It was much louder and brighter, and as Jude moved his hands back and forth, it hovered and bobbed, floating over one hand, then between them, then the other.
“I call this trick the idea of unmaking.” He leaned close so Delarose could see the virtually invisible “floating object” rig that anyone who wanted to do a magic trick could pick up at the store. “Looks scary, sounds scary-”
Jude detached it from the rig and handed it to Delarose after switching it off. It was a gel ball, capable of being compressed into a tiny little blob the size of a quarter, and then popping up to size and shape instantly.
Delarose sighed and handed it back, watching as Jude made it disappear.
“For the record, I think using stage magic to bluff your way through people is a bad idea.” Delarose rubbed his head, and shrugged. “But it’s not against the rules, and I can’t see what else you could do without breaking a lot of rules or getting hurt worse.”
Jude smiled tentatively. “So, I’m good?”
Delarose eyed him. “Try not to get in fights, but yes.”
Jude blew out a breath. “Thanks, sir.”
“Yeah. Thank me when you don’t die.” Delarose sighed and glanced at his screen. “Other kid corroborates, says he came at you first. You're free to go, no consequences.”
He glared at him, and Jude’s smile evaporated. “This time. The other kid pissed himself. I’ve seen fear fields that cause heart damage, brain damage, stress responses that make people break bones and tear muscles to get away.” The chief’s face was back in that ugly, cold, calm space and Jude fought not to lean back from him. “You start doing real damage with that field of yours, you’re going to see some real consequences. Do you understand me?”
Jude swallowed. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Now, out.”
Jude nodded and put his shades back on, squaring his shoulders and trying to get his persona back in place. Delarose, it seemed, was immune or the next best thing to it, which should help a lot if he needed to report someone attacking him. Downside, running into someone that could see him so soon after putting his new face in place had shaken it a little, not to mention that the man seemed to be every inch as scary and dangerous as Jude’s field made people think he was.
He closed his eyes and adjusted how he held himself, opening the door.
“And I better not see in you in here again, Argent!” Delarose snapped, loud enough to make his head twitch slightly.
He looked back, and the chief’s eye twitched in what might have been a wink. “Not planning on it, sir,” he said, holding his character with an effort.
Delarose nodded flatly, and Jude walked out, mind blank for a moment, before the meaning of the wink caught up with him. The chief knew, had let him go...and then had made noises like he was the big threat he was pretending to be.
The chief had just helped his bluff immensely.
If Security was going to help his cover, then he was good to go. They’d know he wasn’t dangerous, but if they pretended he was, then students wouldn’t question it too closely. He was just starting to relax when he passed by the desk and the woman on duty glared at him openly, in a way that made him think she wasn’t immune to his powers, or at least not entirely.
Ok, some of Security would know, and some...would see the illusion. That could be a problem, but...to be honest, if some of them reacted genuinely, and some of them didn’t, it would make it harder for people to tell what was what. As long as the ones that knew held back the ones that didn’t, he’d be ok. He hoped.
He stepped out of Kane, trying not to think about Security shooting him for waving props around. He glanced around for threats by habit and slowed down. The lilac girl was sitting on a bench nearby, and she looked up at him as he emerged. He considered, and then walked over to her, curious despite himself.
“Thanks for trying,” he said calmly, stopping short of her. No need to be threatening if she wasn’t who he thought she was, and he did appreciate her sticking up for him.
She smiled a little bitterly. “Security doesn’t respond to us bad seeds very well.”
Jude relaxed inwardly. She seemed to be able to see him, so that was something. Outwardly, he shrugged. “I can see that, but at least the officer seems to have passed on your support. They found the other guy and asked him, and he backed you up as well.”
“That’s something, at least,” she said. She held out a hand. “Alethea Gault.”
He took it, shaking firmly, and mentally crossed his fingers. “Any relation to the wizard?”
She smiled a little. “My father, yes.”
Jude nodded slowly, fighting not to dance in place. Seemed immune, scary dad, still didn’t mean she wanted anything more than to stick up for another villain’s kid. “An honor, then. Klumyx is stunning.”
She blinked. “You’ve been?”
Jude grinned, letting his persona drop a little. “Once, a month or so ago. Dad was there to talk business, and he brought me along.”
Her smile widened. “Ahhh. I knew Locksley had visited, but I was in Karedonia at the time. Father didn’t mention that you were there at all.”
Jude thought back to the man he’d met. Gault had been...wary of him, to say the least. “To be fair, Mr. Gault probably didn’t think too much of me being there. He mostly dealt with Dad.”
She snorted. “Or likely, he didn’t want me getting the idea of bringing friends home for sleepovers or something.”
Jude laughed. “Yeah, I don’t see your dad being too keen on random super powered kids wandering around his pocket dimension.”
Alethea chuckled softly, and then looked away, her tone careful. “So, I have a small confession to make.”
Jude swallowed. “Oh?”
“There’s several of us here, with parents on the other side. And we tend to keep an eye out for each other, and for others like us.” She coughed. “I’m sure you’re sick of it at this point, but we’ve been watching you, and-”
Jude snorted with laughter and she stopped. He held up a hand and flopped down on the bench. “Sorry, just...that would make you the absolute most polite group watching me, which is friggin par for the course at this point.”
“How so?” she asked, smiling slightly.
He ticked off fingers. “Heroes: absolute jackasses that flex and snarl and intimidate at every turn. Spies: noxious, but only when they think they have something. Monster hunters: openly observing, but almost no contact, and very polite about their confusion.” He grinned and tapped his pinky. “Villains: complete courtesy, totally unobtrusive, leave me completely alone until I actually do something.”
Alethea laughed softly. “And in order, bumbling idiots, slightly clueful idiots, posers with a cause, and those of us with the common sense Satan gave a gnat.”
Jude laughed softly, and then let his head fall back. “That’s fair, but…” he eyed her for a moment. “Dad was very...careful, about a lot of things, so I was not really aware of who and what I was until it all went to shit. And I’ve had to rapidly learn that the only people I can trust are the people everyone else thinks of as scum. The more other people hate them, the more likely I am to find a friend.”
Alethea nodded slowly. “With reservations on trust, mind.”
“Oh, absolutely. Calcigore’s little soldiers tried to take me apart as soon as they laid eyes on me, and I’m pretty sure your Dad had a moment where he was trying to decide if he wanted to give me directions to the ice cream shop or the dungeons.”
She laughed. “To be fair, he feels that way about most people.” She eyed him. “Would you like to meet the rest of us?”
Jude nodded slowly. “Yeah. That’d be really nice.” He checked his phone and sighed, rubbing his face. “Unfortunately, at the moment I have a date for more powers testing.”
She grinned. “Have you been in for it here?”
Jude shrugged. “No, but the MCO gave me the once over, and Dad had a friend do it, and it’s frankly my least favorite thing in the world.”
Alethea nodded sympathetically. “It won’t be that bad, I promise.”
He stood up, smiling tightly. “No worse than the first two, I expect.”
Jude stared woodenly at the testing team as they hemmed, hawed, and bounced back and forth as they tried to find a way to tell him that his numbers were baseline, and they were very scared fo whatever that meant he was hiding. He was trying very hard not to lean into his new persona and lose his mind at them. This, at least, was an area of his life that he would have no trouble throwing an absolute tantrum about.
“-really strange, it’s almost like-”
The door opened and to Jude’s shock, in walked Professor Quintain, the Powers Theory teacher, face alight with more animation than he’d ever seen in the man.
“You, my boy, are astounding.”
Jude blinked slowly. “Professor?”
Quintain smiled, and gently waved the other testers out of the room. “This test was, I assume somewhat frustrating for you, but we needed to get some parameters to design better tests, you understand.”
Jude took off his shades. “No, I don’t. What?”
Quintain nodded. “The nature of your power is very indirect, as you’ve noticed. It obscures the test itself, makes it difficult to quantify. So, we had to use multiple staff members that have varying degrees of knowledge and exposure. The ones in the room, and eight out of the room, at fifty feet and a hundred feet away. The ones out of the room were a mix, two had visual contact with you at varying ranges and prior knowledge of you, two with no visual contact and prior knowledge, two had visual contact but no prior knowledge, and two with neither knowledge nor visual contact.”
Jude’s head spun as he tried to wrap it around the fact that the blandest, most boring teacher in the school was immune to his powers, or at least enough so to design the first functional test of them. Mostly, he was having trouble picturing Quintain doing anything remotely dangerous or illegal.
Finally, what came out of his mouth was, “That’s...a lot of people.”
The professor chuckled. “We had to borrow a few, but it definitely gave us some interesting data. Everyone that knew of you previously was completely taken by your powers, regardless of range or visual contact. Those that had visual contact but no knowledge were also taken in. Of the two that had no knowledge or contact, the one closest to you was taken in as well. Only the singular researcher who was outside your field, which seems to be somewhere between fifty and a hundred feet in size, was able to really see the numbers for what they were and compile a cogent analysis of them.”
Jude stared at him. “So...so anyone that can see me, knows of me, or is physically near me is fooled.”
Quintain nodded in excitement. “Precisely. It seems you have a sort of memetic effect. As a final test, we took the researcher that was able to clearly determine that you seemed baseline by the standard testing and moved them to the other side of the campus, well outside your range, and then exposed her to an image of you. That had no effect, until someone told her about you. We specifically designed the script to be as minimal and non-descript as possible, but it seems the act of describing you passes on the meme, as the researcher was then unable to cogently summarize the numbers.”
Jude’s mouth opened and closed. “But...that doesn’t make sense.”
“It doesn’t!” Quintain agreed, positively salivating. “It points to some physical or compulsive effect that can be passed on through secondary parties, and while there are precedents, it could be something entirely new!”
Jude sighed and rubbed his face. “That’s...great.” He looked at the man. “So what does that even make me?”
Quintain chuckled. “A challenge. And I do love a challenge.”
Jude stepped into the room, looking around with a delighted smile. Hidden away below Shuster, below the Homer Gallery, the villain kids had a cozy, delightful hideaway. At least the parts he could see of it looked cozy. For all he knew it was huge.
Villains just had the coolest shit.
Alethea stepped forward, leading the way into the room, and he took in the tableau. And it was a tableau, there was no doubt about it. There were two armchairs separated by a little table, and then perpendicular to them were a pair of couches. The couches were angled slightly, bowing out from the chairs so that every place to sit had a clear, unobstructed view of the door. All the furniture was the same blood scarlet, the tables oak. And that students here had arranged themselves as though they were taking a group photo for a very eclectic album cover.
The tallest kid stood at the back, looming over the others, maybe a senior. Or maybe not, given that they seemed to have a bad case of GSD that made them look like a huge, furred orc thing. They had to be eight feet heel to head, and almost as wide across the shoulders as Jude was tall. They sported a thick, low brow that had huge eyebrow tufts sweeping off of it, combined with an almost batlike nose and huge, upswept ears like a lynx, also tufted. Their mouth had thin, downturned lips that spanned wide enough that he was pretty sure the kid could eat a basketball without deflating it first, though the upward jutting tusks poking up from their mouth looked more than up to the job.
Under their mouth was a goat-like beard, and they had a partial mane, their hair blending into a ruff that tumbled down their neck. Their fur was the color of a grizzly bear, dark, short, and thick, like a pitbull’s fur, seeming to cling to their skin, outlining a body that seemed to be built like a caber thrower, thick and blocky and powerful. The tufts, beard, and mane were all tawny yellow brown, with a ruff on their chest that trailed down, presumably to their groin.. Perhaps in deference to the heat, or by preference, they’d mostly skipped clothes. For the second time on campus, Jude saw a chlamys, and he idly wondered why those were so popular, though he had to admit the dark cloth garment looked far more natural on the huge kid than Warden’s stupid cape did on him.
The chairs in front of the huge kid were both occupied. The left one had a tiny, tiny kid, and while Jude couldn’t throw stones on size, either there was a bad case of GSD or BIT going there, or the small Asian boy was a literal child, no more than ten. He would have looked eminently normal if he hadn’t been wearing a targeting reticle that seemed to just sit on his eye like an unconnected monocle and what looked like a custom blend of fantasy armor and motocross gear. It had the plastic, matte look of the motocross, moulded to shape, and it lacked the solidity of medieval armor, with gaps for mobility all over, like motocross gear, strips of brown between the crimson and cream armor.
But the pieces were shaped like medieval armor, covering portions of his legs, arms, his entire torso in two segments with a thin strip of emptiness between his chest and hips. His hands and feet were also covered, but those seemed to be articulated to his digits. Jude’s eyes snapped to his hands, seeing the bare palms, and as the boy shifted, he could see the soles of his feet. He fought down a start as he realized the spaces between the gear weren’t cloth or leather, but the boy’s skin. The armor seemed to either be a part of him or the next closest thing to it.
The opposite chair held an older girl, but again, mutations meant that while she looked to be in her late teens, she could be five, 11, 15, or even 30, for all he knew. She looked completely baseline except for the weird perfection he’d come to expect from exemplars, which in itself was intriguing. Most exemplars looked like porn stars or models, but she seemed to be a normal girl who happened to be flawless. Mahogany hair, lightly tanned skin, a pretty Barbie Doll face from which stared the only other thing that gave any hint to her mutation: her eyes, which were smoky pink, like rose quartz. She wore casual jeans, a pair of combat boots tucked under them so the looked like normal shoes, and a pink t-shirt with a cartoon unicorn that read Hail Satan!
At the far end of the left couch, a boy sat, tapping his fingers restlessly on the arm of the couch. He was dressed ridiculously, in a full coat and tails, a classic roaring twenties evening suit, except it was violently paisley, repping all the colors of the rainbow. Only the rainbow colors, actually, Jude noted, no off shades or variation. His shoes matched the suit, as did his ascot, but his shirt, cuffs, spats (spats!) and gloves were all jet black.
When Jude managed to get his eyes up to the guy’s face, he found a puckish looking blonde boy staring at him appraisingly, and hid a grin a he realized the outfit was better than a mask. No-one was going to get a clear description of the kid with that friggin suit right there to call attention. He wondered if the kid always wore that one, like a uniform, or if he had a whole wardrobe like that.
Next to him, the girl on the couch was anything but normal. She was Goth, and he wasn’t sure if the chalk white skin was natural or a lot of makeup. Her hair was pulled up in twin buns on the side of her head, and her lips and eyes were drowning in black makeup. She had the kind of face that screamed “sarcasm,” not hyper pretty, but not plain, but with all the makeup, he had no way to know what she looked like out of it. Her nails were more of the same, black and shiny, but short and neat, not extended like she’d had a manicure.
And she was wearing...well, not much. Her skirt was a ruffle that satisfied legal modesty standards, and her top was more of the same, starting at the top of her breasts, and ending immediately under them, looking like little more than a ruffle, like her skirt. He could see a hint of black under the black ruffle that told him it wasn’t just a skirt around her chest, she was covered under there, but he doubted anyone that liked girls was going to notice that. Other than the two strips of cloth, she had not a stitch else on, barefoot and bare legged, which meant that either she was very, very dedicated to her makeup regimen, or her skin was just that pale.
Opposite her, on the other side of the room, was a boy that was very, very definitely a senior. Jude knew this because the guy was in Emerson and he’d seen him coming and going from the top floor. He was...well, normal. He had a bit of a gut, an anime t-shirt on, khaki slacks, plain black shoes, and a big pair of round, wire rimmed glasses, the lenses almost the size of Jude’s palm. He had a soul patch in a slightly darker red-brown than his hair, and the pasty skin of someone that spent more time soaking up monitor glow than sunlight.
He also had a massive pistol tucked under his arm, the weapon that Jude had recognized him by, as long as the boy’s forearm, the thing almost square from the blocky protrusion under the barrel that melded into the trigger guard. It looked like it weighed as much as Jude himself, but the guy seemed to have no trouble wielding it. The matching holster on the opposite hip was the inspiration for his own tech holster, except that the older boy’s seemed to be some kind of device, not an actual holster, studded with simple, functional buttons in two neat rows.
The second to last of the Seeds in the room, holding down the far end of the right hand couch, was the only kid in the room that, aside from the thin beige kid gloves he wore, could have walked into a mall right now and never been noticed. Beige cargo shorts, gray t-shirt, white socks and tennis shoes, brown hair, brown eyes, skin that didn’t seem to lend itself to anything but “vaguely ethnic.” Jude stared at him for a long second, but the boy was remarkable only in his unremarkableness. If he changed clothes, Jude doubted he’d be able to pick him out of a lineup.
Last and not least, leaning against right hand wall of the room, way, way back behind the others, was the final Seed in the room. She seemed to also be a senior, with burnt umber skin, a rounded, friendly face, and her hair cut in a close buzz on the sides. She had designs shaved into it, swirling lines that looked awesome, and the hair on top of her head was in a light bouffant of tight curls.
She was dressed like an Intelligence Cadet on a mission. All black, form fitting, clothes in a weirdly familiar texture that seemed to soak in the light in the room, though her shirt was short sleeved, showing off her black gloves...the exact some kind he wore, he realized, binking. His eyes flickered over the rest of her outfit, and he realized she was wearing that material exclusively, right down to what looked like the kind of toe shoes climbers wore, giving her total articulation there. She had a harness, like a climbing rig or Molle web, on her torso, hips, and thighs, though he couldn’t see what purpose it served other than to look cool as shit.
As the silence stretched, all of them taking him in as he looked them over, Alethea stepped over and completed the tableau, sitting between Goth and Paisley. Jude considered them for a long moment more, and then an idea hit him. His mouth twitched into a smile that he struggled to hide.
“I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here today,” he intoned.
There was a startled moment, and then the armored kid burst out laughing, a high pitched, childish cackle of glee. That set the others off, and in moment, Jude was surrounded by mostly laughing kids. Goth, the older Emerson boy, and the ninja looking girl in the corner just grinned, and the big furred kid made a kind of barking sound. Paisley didn’t so much as twitch, though, still looking at Jude as though considering what kind of soda he’d like from a vending machine.
The Emerson boy waited for the laughter to die down and then raised a hand. “Nice entrance,” he said, grinning.
Jude smiled back. “Nice arrangement. Did you guys practice, or-”
The furred kid rumbled and let out a couple of more barks.
“No, this is how we stand,” they said, startling Jude with a gentle tenor that carried a delicate French lilt. They glanced at the others. “Well, I stand, they sit. Besides, have you been near a mirror lately? Don’t you know villains are all très dramatique?”
Jude laughed, blushing at being called out on his own dramatic tendencies, though to be fair, he doubted any of these kids literally lived and died on their looks. “I mean, all the ones I’ve met are, yeah.”
The girl in the corner straightened slightly and the room went quiet. Jude wondered how much she would charge to teach him how to do that.
“Welcome to the Bad Seeds. I’m Shademark, the senior in charge of this mess.” She eyed the kids. “And the rest of you can damn well introduce yourselves.”
The bland kid smiled. “Cellophane,” he said, and Jude marveled that even his voice was completely neutral and boring.
“Anole,” the goth girl said, smiling.
“Warfang,” the furred kid said, and as they spoke, Jude saw more fangs in their mouth to back the name up even more than their tusks.
The tiny armored boy piped up, “I’m Datu!”
The rest of the Seeds sighed, and Shademark gently murmured, “Dat…”
He blushed. “Right, sorry, I’m Oathbroken.”
The Emerson senior waved. “Manifold.”
“Catalept,” Paisley boy said quietly, his voice a tritone harmony that made Jude shiver. No question about his powers, then.
The normal looking girl smiled. “I go by Dame.”
Shademark nodded. “And you know Alethea.”
Jude’s lips quirked. “Judas Argent.” He glanced at Alethea. “No codename?”
She snorted. “Tacere, but only in the testing rooms and on my MID to satisfy school rules. No point anywhere else. My father doesn’t use one, our names are just out there.” She nodded at Dame. “Same reason for her.”
Jude blinked. “Your name is actually Dame?”
She laughed softly. “No, my title. Dame. My parents have a sort of royal court theme going, and I’m a knight in it. And a female knight is a dame, not a sir.” Her mouth quirked. “Was a lot of fun watching the school attempt to apply their ‘no unearned titles’ rule, only to have my parents call and explain in no uncertain terms that it’s mine by right and blood.”
Jude nodded slowly. “Fair.”
Cellophane cocked his head. “So...Locksley’s kid, huh?”
Jude shrugged. “Apparently. As I told Alethea, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to Dad’s side of life until I manifested, and then I had a whole bunch really, really fast.”
Shademark chuckled. “I feel that. My parents wanted me to be a doctor.” She shrugged. “And then mutation hit, and here we are.”
“So...if you don’t mind my asking, I know of, and have briefly met, Alethea’s dad, and you all know who mine is…”
Shademark shrugged. “Minor syndicate thugs that do well, no-one important. They have a bit of a rep in the community, but since you’ve not been in long...”
Jude grinned. “Try me?”
Her mouth quirked. “They go by Flick and Flack. Warper and-”
Jude grinned wider, recognizing the names from several rants as Locksley had tried to plan something or other. “Brick, yeah, Dad speaks really highly of them. He’s mostly annoyed they’re always busy.”
Shademark blinked. “Really?”
“Yep.” He changed his stance, his voice changing to a sardonic, frustrated tone. “Damnit, this job is killing me. I need some goddamn professionals, like Flick and Flack. There’s some pros, never get caught, don’t dump jobs, adapt fast, work well, and they can follow a fucking order without yelling about it unless I’m wrong, and when I’m wrong, they have that. I need thirty of them, but they won’t let me near them with a clone sampler.”
Shademark burst out laughing. “That’s...huh. You know, I’ve heard that voice, sorta, but I never realized it was your Dad.”
Jude bowed slightly. “So yeah, good rep, well deserved I hear.”
Cellophane smiled. “Me next, then. Mom is Gelignite, flame manifestor that make things go boom a lot. She does demo and shock and awe mostly.” His smile dimmed a little. “Not as clean about it as she should be, she keeps landing in jail. But she’s in Karedonia right now, doing security work with considerations, so.”
Jude nodded, filing that away.
“My dad is Doktor Patayan!” Oathbreaker chirped. He eyed Jude for recognition, and sighed. “Yeah, no-one’s heard of him. He makes plant monsters.”
Jude shrugged. “Sorry, most of who I’m going to know is who Dad works with. Like I said, I wasn’t really in this til recently. But he sounds very cool.”
Oathbreaker beamed, and Dame smiled a little, cocking her head as she looked back at Jude. “Heard of the Templars of Shadows?”
“Uh, yeah, I have,” Jude said, eyes wary behind his glasses. The Templars were...weird. Chivalric, as Dame had noted, but crazy with it. Cross between a cult and a mafia family, the Templars ran ops up and down the west coast, but mostly did overseas smuggling. They’d also crossed wires, objectives, and literal swords with Locksley on multiple occasions. “Does that mean we’re enemies, or?”
She snorted. “No. If anything, becoming friends might smooth things out between our families.”
“Maybe,” he said cautiously. Jude recognized bait when it hit him right in the face, but he’d take that up with Locksley later.
Dame smiled a little wider, but held her silence.
“My parents are kinda low profile, criminals with superpowers more than supervillains,“ Anole said, breaking the moment. She grinned. “Dad’s a biodev, but only like a 1, he can only do one thing really well, but that one thing happens to be narcotics, so...he makes good money. Mom’s his enforcer, PDP with really limited precog. They both do some Syndicate work when they can get it, but you almost certainly haven’t heard of them. Dad’s a strictly local operation, just ships orders to the Syndicate with their warper network when they buy, and Mom rarely goes out of state except on big contact jobs.”
Before Jude could respond to that, Catalept looked up from his nails. “Jack Lacquer.”
Jude swallowed. Lacquer was one of the infamous loose cannons, and even a lot of baselines had heard the name. His signature power, move, or whatever, involved assassinating people by coating them in some kind of black substance that hardened stronger than steel, suffocating them. Which wouldn’t be that bad, but he tended to strip his victims and pose them obscenely before he murdered them, and it was rumored that he did far, far worse before he got to that point. He had zero limits on who he’d kill, considered himself an artist, and while he took money, was really more of a serial killer than anything else.
Before he could stop himself, Jude’s persona kicked in, hours of practice making his stress response cold and in character. “Would you prefer condolences or congratulations?”
Catalept looked mildly affronted as Anole and Oathbreaker burst into giggles. Anole waved a hand, and they all waited for her to get her composure back. “Sorry, he definitely wants congrats. He brags a lot.”
Jude nodded slightly, resolving to keep an eye out for Catalept if the boy’s expression was anything to go by. “Then congratulations.”
Warfang laughed softly, the sound still barking, but not as bracing as their guffaw. “Myself, I’m from a nice little family of cheats, cons, and sneak thieves. We call ourselves Vivra Verra. Some mutants, some wizards, some baselines, all of them beavering away at separating whoever they can from whatever they can by whatever means works,” They glanced down at themselves. “They were less than pleased when I lost the normal look.”
Jude shivered. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be,” they said laughing. “Mostly they were upset because I was tres petit, and they’d hoped I would be a good pickpocket and scammer. It, how you say- compromis?”
Dame smiled. “Jeopardized, I think is the one you want?”
“Ah, oui. It jeopardized my future.” Warfang shrugged. “They were worried about having trained me wrong, essentiellement. That is why I am here, to get me the education they cannot offer.”
Jude felt a lump in his throat at the memory of his own parents, and half wished he could trade with Warfang. “Good parents, then.”
Warfang blinked. “Merci.”
Jude scratched his head. “Uh, possible rude question, but...pronouns?”
Warfang chuckled. “Any are fine, I have misplaced my gender somewhere along the line. Though I live in Twain, so comme tu le feras.”
Jude nodded, wishing he’d gotten some kind of memory upgrade so he could do the trick of picking up languages overnight. Warfang seemed like friend material, and being able to speak the other kid's language would help that immensely. “Uh, gotcha.”
Manifold grinned. “Professor Pulver.”
Jude’s jaw fell open. The others were C list, some high B list, but Professor Pulver was a Grade A supervillain. Known for being a prolific baseline with devisor style abilities, Pulver’s specialty was kidnapping large swathes of people for ‘testing.’ What he was testing for was uncertain, since his methodology was frankly batshit insane, but the results were a steady stream of ever more dangerous clone soldiers and a consistent increase year over year in how powerful and fucked up his inventions were.
Manifold laughed softly. “Yeah, he’s um. Kinda nuts, but you have to love a man that clones you a flying miniature pony for your fourth birthday.” He rubbed his head. “Granted, the pony was a carnivore with razor hooves and the ability to unhinge its jaw and shoot its tongue out like a frog to grapple prey, but...that just made flying through flocks of birds more exciting.”
Jude licked his lips. “Shit. Makes me wish I’d been raised with Dad.”
Manifold laughed louder. “Fair.”
Shademark cocked her head. “Not to be rude, but do you sit? Cause you’re looming worse than Fang, and I for one am still not sure if you’re staying or about to walk out.”
Jude blushed. “Oh. I’m in? No interview?”
Manifold snorted. “The only reason I didn’t walk into your room day one was that you seemed to be trying to hide, and we wanted to respect that.”
Catalept shifted slightly, giving Manifold a faint glare. Jude doubted that had been a unanimous decision.
The older boy either didn’t notice the side eye or ignored it. “But yeah, your Dad’s an international mastermind villain, you’re an automatic in if you want it.”
Jude grinned and took the open seat between Cellophane and Manifold, trying not to focus too closely on the hot older nerd’s proximity.
“Anyway,” Althea said, smiling at him. “I’ve been working on a new power gem, and if anyone cares to toss that ball around, I’d be open to feedback.”
Warfang snorted. “You are always saying that, yet you are the only sorcier here!”
Jude blinked as others chimed in, teasing, ribbing, the topics moving and shifting. None of the Seeds reacted to his aura and for the first time since he’d come to whateley, he felt almost at home. For a moment, he considered opening up to them, but a glance at Dame and Catalept stilled his tongue. The former an enemy of his father, at least in theory, the latter a serial killers son that, now he knew that, was eyeing him like a dissection cadaver. Not yet.
Maybe, at some point, but for now...he’d just settle for people to hang with that seemed able to tolerate being near him.