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A Goldfish in the Ocean (Part 3)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Tale

A Goldfish in the Ocean

by

Malagua

 

Part Three

 

Saturday, September 24, 2016 - 9:46 pm
Crystal hall

It was supposed to be an easy morning. Get up, go to Costume Workshop, get some praise from the teacher on her current version of the outfit. Then off to visiting Caro’s new lab, while leaving the paperwork to Chris. She would face all that with the peace of mind of a carefree weekend, which had been something she felt she’d been missing for a good couple of months. Even with the minor setback that drove her and her fellow Poesie back to the cafeteria for a late breakfast, she thought there was nothing that could really upset her…


And then she saw him. Up on the rafters of the second level, sitting on a table that was probably too elite for a freshman she had a clear view at a face she hadn’t seen since the tail end of her vacations.

Gwen’s eyes were about to pop from bugging out for so long, and stinging from the lack of blinking, but it was nothing short of a miracle that no one had made light of it for a good laugh. The last thing she wanted at the moment was for someone to point it out and, in the worst case scenario, push her for the details.

He's here? How? Why now?” she thought in quiet frustration, her mind dancing with shock and even a bit of fear. She thought back to the moments that should have played differently, from Victor’s disappearance from their home to the conversations she'd shared with him once found. Pleasant memories were few as the big fight filled the center spot in her memory. Recalling how they had both used force on each other, and how it had ended with her crashing to the ground.

A phantom pain throbbed, reminding her yet again that no matter what her powers rating stated about her toughness, she wasn’t above having her arm broken.

Once Vic turned around, she was ever so close to convincing herself that she had imagined seeing him. But his back was still there and she could still recognize him, especially since every now and then he cast a look her way from the corner of his eyes, quickly dodging her own glances before they could really connect.

I can’t believe this. Why didn’t Ronnie tell me about this, she thought, clutching her mended arm. She guessed she should’ve seen this coming; mutants were always welcome at Whateley but... it cost a ton of money. How the hells did a kid about her age manage to scrounge up enough to pay for the tuition?

She’d done whatever she could to distance herself from any news related to the whole Massachusetts incident and just sort of assumed that Vic had somehow managed to escape and was still living there, much like he seemed ever so inclined to.

He had to have robbed a fortune at some bank or something to make it here, Gwen thought once their gazes passed each other's one last time.

Her avoidance was now biting her in the ass, pushing her ever so close to making a scene as she fidgeted on the spot, driving her foot forward, only to retract it before the step was marked. What should she do now? Walk up to him to talk? To react with frustration at his presence here? Act relieved? Or even act as if the bad times had never happened? She wished she were in the mood for the latter, but the first option felt about right. She could also walk up to him and say nothing. An awkward silence would have perfectly encapsulated the status of their friendship. Should she even pretend as if nothing had ever happened and just go about on her usual day? Could she?

Vic remained on the second level, making an effort not to look her way -- a sentiment that Gwen felt was mutual. Fortunately, the lack-of-staring contest was brought to a close by outside intervention. On Vic’s end, it appeared that whoever he was waiting for had arrived, and the way his gaze and attention fully turned to greet a new arrival just cemented the thought.

Gwen was quite curious to see, wondering what sort of friends her step-brother had attracted, what circles he walked around. There was the inevitable concern he would be tagging along with individuals like the Masterminds, the Bohemians, or any other potential future evil organization -- and how that would be a mess for everyone involved!

Should I tell Dad--, she was mid-thought when she felt a hand land on her shoulder. The sudden weight almost made her jump. But fortunately, aside from a mild stiffening of her body, she kept herself grounded.

“Gwen! You haven’t told me: what do you want for pancake toppings?” Chris asked, making her best impersonation of Mr. Fantastic or Elastigirl by reaching all the way to poke her friend’s shoulder while keeping her foot set at the front of the line, right before the counter. She was already getting herself a couple of small frowns from those also late for breakfast. Nothing too harsh that would get her into danger, but they were still glares that would unsettle Gwen.

But Chris being Chris, she was unable to read the room or her friend’s reaction. “I said what toppings did you want today? Fruit? Syrup? Chocolate?”

“Uh? Um… Fruit is okay. Strawberries and bananas, please. Just hurry up.” Gwen blurted out.

“Okay.” Chris pulled herself back into the line to expedite the order as fast as possible and move over for the pickups.

Brought back down to earth, she looked up to see Vic was now entertained with a conversation of his own. What problems he could bring with him, and what things he'd had to do to get where he was now... those things still bothered her. Incredibly so, especially as she saw herself as both the victim and the aggressor. So many things needed to be yelled at the teenager, a full denunciation of his actions if necessary. It felt necessary. Yet, even if his presence in the school was upsetting to her at so many levels, she could at least take a small sigh knowing that he wasn’t all by himself this time.

“Here you go, Gwen,” Chris said, handing her friend the tray and platter of food that her stomach had been quietly pining for this past hour. And it brought her back to the thought of the somewhat perverse plan that Chris had cooked up.

While it was true that attendance to Mr. Syran’s class was open, she had never excused herself from a teacher or a lesson for any personal indulgences. Looking down at the platter of stacked pancakes with fruit over them, the sugary goodness was enough to trigger a full-on guilt trip.

“Right, we should probably head back soon,” Gwen muttered, following her friend towards the nearest table at the first level of the cafeteria.

“Relax, you know as well as I do that Mr. Syran doesn’t really care if we take a long time or not. It’s a workshop class.” Chris mused as she took a huge bite off her sandwich and continued, still chewing. “Beshides, we’re not as behind as the other classhmates. I’ve seen your design; it looks good.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah, a sleevelessh suit feels perfect, 'specially for the shummer,” Chris said with a small chuckle before finally swallowing.

“Don’t talk and eat.” Gwen sighed as she took a bite of her own dish. It was certainly good comfort food for an upset state of mind.

“Yes, Mom...” Chris smiled knowingly.

Gwen just answered with a smile of her own. Even if she knew that Victor Rivera was under the same roof as her, she shouldn’t worry about it. As long as they each remained in their same circles, same as they’d done so far, the odds that they would cross paths were drastically lowered.

A peaceful moment passed as the two carried on with their meals, with Chris enjoying the last bits of her breakfast. Gwen every now and then cast a glance over her shoulder at the second level and the stairs. “Are you alright?” Chris finally asked.

“Ye-yeah! I’m fine. I’m good.”

“You just seem a tad down. Did something just happen and I didn’t see it?” Chris asked.

“No. You didn’t miss anything.”

“So what are you thinking about?”

About how the boy that broke my arm is here? Whether I should tell my dad, who has been looking for him for the past couple of months? Maybe that I should issue some sort of warning or advice? Whether I should tell my friend? The thoughts fought to be made into words, but all that came out was, “Just wondering…”

The only reaction was the cocking of her friend's head to one side, like a confused spaniel.

Yet, with all the haste in devouring her food, it was obvious she preferred to just go back to the classroom. And it was fortunate, she thought, that Chris was a fast eater as well.

“Oh look! There’s Tek Rider!” Chris darted over to deliver the whisper before propping herself up, almost with a jump. “Wait for me, I’ll see if I can convince her to make me a bike helmet or some gear.”

“Um… Uh what? Wait!” Gwen blurted out. What with all the thoughts of her project warring with the awareness that Vic was around for the domination of her brain space, she could barely compute the first three syllables before Chris had turned tail to intercept the resident biker girl as she arrived in the cafeteria.

“Chris! You still have to work on those papers! You’re not really a speedster!” Gwen ventured to raise her voice, even if briefly, but her friend just gave her a distant nod that had a fraction of the attention and none of the understanding. “Great…” the sophomore could only mumble as she put her tray away.

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“That feels like the best option, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s the only one until Mrs. Savage can get the company to deliver a new mattress,” Sofia spoke as she walked alongside the girl she could only refer to as her roommate, since the word 'friend' was contentious at the moment. Her voice suddenly went discreet as they passed other girls from the school, which more than anything spelled out how much she wanted to keep quiet about the incident.

The two were on their way to the Crystal Hall, having decided that a morning snack was perhaps the best solution after a whole morning of bellyaching.

Caro just held her words for the time being. If she were honest, the last person she wanted to hang around with was her roommate, Sofia, also known as all animals-and-creatures-in-one, the amazing Zoo. But she knew that the problem wouldn’t go away just by ignoring it and she still had to share the room with the girl when the day was over. Suddenly, she was finding herself regretting her words with Mrs. Savage when she proposed a change of roommate.

“Come on, now. What are you thinking?” Sofia said, visibly unnerved by Caro’s stony silence so far. With a scowl she added, “Seriously, out with it."

“Thinking about how you didn’t just tear up the outer fabric but apparently shredded through whatever sort of special memory foam it had. I tried laying down on it; it was all lopsided. The worst part was that it was barely a day old!” Caro started with a mutter but ended on a growl and a deep sigh. She was quite already tired of sounding like her own mother did when she was indignant with her father. “I’ll try to phase those comments out. I know I said it just half an hour ago, but it’s getting really hard to keep the promise.”

“I can’t believe there aren’t any more of those things in the cottage…”

“Yeah, apparently there was some sort of incident with one of the junior’s experiments. Mrs. Savage said that she was using the mattresses as punching bags or some sort of piercing test for her new gauntlets… lucky me,” Caro sighed.

“So what do you think of my solution?”

“Switching mattresses? I’m not exactly a fan of the idea…” Caro admitted.

“Why?”

“Because, your bed is already torn and covered in all the stray fur and feathers you tend to shed in your sleep.”

“I don’t mind. Besides, I don’t shed as much anymore.”

“And let’s not forget the whole flea incident.”

“Hey! That wasn’t my fault! And it happened last year,” Sofia’s face was red as a tomato as she regained her assertiveness, holding out a warning hand should Caro dare to talk about it loudly, especially in proximity to the cafeteria. “I’m just trying to offer solutions to get this behind us.”

Caro looked at Sofia for a couple of seconds, which felt like minutes, before raising her hands in surrender. “Fine, fine. I’ll consider it.” She doubted she would take the offer, but it was best to put this topic to rest for now.

“Alright.” There was a marked pause in which Sofia allowed a sigh to escape her lips. To her, it seemed that the matter was settled and the trouble was over

Her roommate's dismissive attitude just irked Caro, but she didn’t want to stir up any trouble. She’d already tried that sort of stuff last year and it certainly hadn’t worked then.

“But you’ll have to get the mattress cleaned, okay? Washed, steamed or whatever service mattresses get. I want it clean.” Caro lectured. “And it has to be done today.”

Sofia frowned. “Today? Pucha… Crossby was planning on having a celebration night. He just got himself a new…”

“Every night is celebration night with that guy and his buddies,” Caro said with a roll of her eyes. “I guess you’ll just have to cancel, right? I’m sure there’ll be other occasions,”

Though I'm not sure what’s the point of getting stupid wasted and giggling about not getting caught, Caro was close to saying, but she halted her words. She had to remind herself of experiences like that in her old school. The ‘cool’ kids would find it a badge of pride to get drunk and smoke weed at the area behind the gym, where the unsmokable weeds grew rampant and the leaking hose of the gardener always left a puddle of mud that swamped the place. It was such a poor secret, she was almost sure the faculty just allowed it because they'd received a threat from one of the kid’s parents, yet it was infuriating to see how they just hung around. The ‘cool kids’ were always walking around the classrooms with their heads held up high as if they were school royalty. They weren’t. She was!

...that got a little too real for a second, Caro thought, shaking her head.

“I’ll try to deal with it as fast as I can. How hard can it be?” Sofia grumbled. “My boy wants me there for some shots. You know? You should come in too. Bet some of that drink can loosen you up.”

“Go to a place with the guy who keeps calling me 'horns' and making jokes about my appearance? I’ll pass on the offer, but thanks.” Caro muttered.

“He only… he doesn’t do that as often..”

“Sorry, but no. And you can’t if you really meant about the mattress.”

“What’s your problem? He’s a cool dude.” Sofia snorted.

“A ‘cool’ dude? I don’t know what sort of social hierarchy you had back in Lima, but that guy is at the bottom of the food chain.”

“He’s not a loser. I’m not a loser either.” Sofia snapped.

“You came back to our room hammered out of your mind and used my new bed as a scratching post. Yeah, that spells ‘winner’ to me.” Caro’s sarcasm had a tinge of delight, perhaps too much. Those were words that had been held back for a while.

“What… I… Uh.” Sofia growled, almost sounding like a provoked tiger, and Caro was almost worried that Security would have to step in for her, but much to her surprise, Zoo relented. “I already apologized. Can’t you drop this?” The tension was still there, but held in check.

“Fine, fine,” Caro answered, backing away. This whole morning was giving her an upset stomach, one that was already getting twisty by the sight of food from the Crystal Hall’s counter. “Then don’t go to Crossby’s party tonight. If not for yourself, then for the mattress you’ll give me.”

Aj… Bien,” Sofia agreed, albeit begrudgingly, uttering a couple of curses in Spanish.

Alright, that’s something… at least, Caro thought, relieved.

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“Really? That much?” Chris groaned. “Can’t you lower it? Just a little?”

Tek Rider could only sigh as she produced her phone and showed the screen to Chris. The digital blueprint of a helmet was present, a different version from the one Chris remembered from last semester’s combat finals. The sheer level of complexity on display got the sophomore longing for her own model.

“I get that they aren’t regular helmets. Any chance I can pay you in sponsorship, help, and promotions?" Chris ventured.

TR shook her head, a little slower with each sway.

“Fine, I’ll see if I can ask my parents for the money.” Chris defended, before adding, with a bit of hesitation, “Though it’s a bit unlikely.”

Tek Rider could only smile and give a complementary roll of the eyes. Her response came, if slightly delayed. “Sponsorship, huh? Maybe a contest?”

“Huh?” Chris asked lifting her head, but the biker girl was barely paying any attention to her as the gears were turning in her head.

“If I want my products to be seen as the best accessories for the fastest, and see how many of my babies break the sound barrier, I might as well give them to the fastest around.” The devisor's voice trailed off as she drew interest from the idea.

“Wait… are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Chris asked, excitement and a cheeky grin appearing on her face. “Are you planning on making a ra-”

“I’ve already said too much,” Tek Rider mused, just as a “Hey, Chris,” came from behind her.

“Huh? Caro?” Chris turned around to see her Whitmanian friend. “And Sofia. What's up?”

The latina shapeshifter only answered with a small wave of the hand as she moved towards the cafeteria line, mumbling a sort of curse.

“That was… quite rude.” Chris muttered.

“Well, yeah, it’s been one of those mornings,” Caro sighed. “Don’t ask for the next couple of hours.”

“Okay,” Chris muttered, reeling back.

“Aren’t you girls supposed to be in class anyway?”

“It’s an open workshop, we can just skip class if we want to.”

“We?” Caro turned to glance at the corner of the cafeteria, by the entrance. “Oh, you dragged Gwen into this? She doesn’t look particularly happy. Hi, Gwen!”

Gwen responded the greeting with a wave of her own before getting up from her spot. Neither friend noticed how she kept on glancing upward or towards the stairs.

“Oh, she just wants to get back to class. And we’ll do it as soon as I finish talking to Tek Ri…” she trailed off because the moment she turned around, she saw the object of her discussion was already gone. At the door, she caught a glimpse of TR's steel-soled boots slipping through. “Great…”

“So...” Caro weighed in, “are we still going to Berlin?”

“Yeah, of course we are. Is there a problem?”

“I still have to work on the glamour I’ll use. Some recent events just had my mind diverted to some other things, but I have a better idea for an enchantment with a little more oomph. I just have to start writing and testing...” Caro trailed off. Her eyes bore the telltale expression of someone who just didn’t want to dwell on the minor details. And, as scatterbrained as Chris might be on social cues, she’d learned this one the hard way.

“Okay, I’ll make it so we’re going tomorrow.” Chris reassured.

“Good, then at the very least I have an excuse for the evening,” Caro said.

“Might want to ask Chris on that later. She still has to fill in security paperwork for us to leave,” Gwen said as she joined her friends.

“Really, Chris?” Caro groaned.

“It’s a minor setback. I’ll get to work on it.”

“You should.”

“And we should get going already,” Gwen added in with a sisterly attitude that hid, behind a candid smile. some amount of urgency. But it was definitely a warning to Chris that the girl was ready to pick her up and carry her out the door just so they could leave the place.

“Hehe, alright,” Chris let out a nervous chuckle as she moved back to her table, picking up her sandwich, which was only a couple of bites away from disappearing.

“Are you going to make sure she gets the paperwork done?” Caro said as the two had their eyes trailed on Chris, who, much like a kid, begrudgingly took the tray away with the occasionally complaining pout while she chewed her food.

“I just want to head out of here and get back to the classroom,” Gwen muttered in a moment of perhaps a bit too much sincerity.

Her friend picked up on it right away. “Why? Is something wrong? Did one of those Amazons try something on you?”

“No… it’s nothing. Nothing, alright?” Gwen’s tone was surprisingly serious for her usual self, and Caro did make a note to ask her about it later if it became relevant again. Though at the moment , there was a mutual understanding between the two friends that neither was in the mood or had the time to explain.

Instead, Caro hoped to change the air as she leaned forth and whispered, still outside of Chris’s earshot. “Should I start making plans here at Whateley in case we don’t get to go? I mean, this is Chris we’re talking about.”

“I know, but she really wants to go to the skate park,” Gwen said as she began to lean towards the exit, following Chris who was waiting expectantly.

“Right… if she wants it that much, I suppose it’s her responsibility,” Caro sighed with a small ‘see ya later’ translated into a wave. “Be sure to tell me if anything changes.”

“I will,” Gwen promised as she trotted, almost ran, for the exit, with her eyes cast towards the stairs to the second level. Caro could only follow the gaze and see nothing particularly out of the ordinary. And for the time being, she could’ve used a friendly conversation with someone besides Sofia, who by this time had already nested herself with some of the patrons to Crossby’s bootleg bar.

“I wonder if Grimma would let me curse their drinks… Have them sprout long ears and donkey tails… No, Caro, no. You’re a hero in training; you have to keep yourself to higher standards..." She had to make an effort to think those words with a straight face.

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“So, I just got a message from Tanya,” Erica said to Vic, after the customary recounting of their mornings that began with the classic ‘how you doing?’ It all came out quite boring in Vic’s mind, with almost everything being balanced out by the crossing gaze he had accidentally shared with Gwen.

“What did she say?” Vic asked.

“Says she’s all done with the paperwork and that things are more than ready for tomorrow. We’re ready to go,” Erica said with a smirk.

“Great,” Vic said with a touch of excitement. And it was a unique sentiment coming from someone with the sort of odd experiences he'd had. “It feels odd, being out there in the city, walking around the mall with money in my pocket ready to spend.”

“Do I have to reach for a tissue?” Erica teased.

“Cut that out.” But the girl's reaction brought a genuine chuckle out of Vic. Sometimes, Erica could be as cool and playful as any of the guys at Twain. It was quite bizarre but at the same time it made Vic feel cool for having such a nuanced friend. “I mean to buy myself stuff. Feels like a long-needed Christmas.”

“A personal tablet, right? Are you sure you don’t want to splurge a bit more and go for the full gaming computer?”

“I only have about five hundred dollars in funds and I’m certainly not ready to start going into the red by spending on credit… as appealing as it might be,” Vic said. As much as he hated the feeling of envy, he had to keep the conversation ball rolling by asking, “How about you?”

“Me?” Erica said.

“Well, this isn’t just a trip for me, right? You're also going to the mall for something,” Vic said.

His attention wasn’t wholeheartedly on the conversation. Instead, every now and then he felt the urge to ogle over his shoulder to glance down at the lower levels, expecting to find Gwen staring right back. Of course, with his back to the handrail, he couldn’t do it without looking obvious.

“Oh, right,” Erica added. “There's a geek store by the mall, already researched it. I'll probably buy a couple of card games, a bunch of rolling dice, fancy looking ones at that, and then... I don’t know, maybe see if there’s anything else interesting. To be fair, I don’t really have a plan, I just look forward to spending some time off and just walking about with you and Tanya.”

“Speaking of which... Tanya told us to meet her here. Do you know where she is?” He turned around, taking the opportunity to see what Gwen was doing. A part of him was worried he would find her talking with her friends, her fellow classmates and Cape members, and pointing in the direction of Vic. Her membership in the Cape Squad was little detail she'd told him about last year that hadn’t felt relevant, until now. It was a reminder that, with Tanya being in the group, things could take a sudden turn for the chaotic quite easily.

A breath of relief escaped his lips as he saw that Gwen was gone from the spot. Scouting around he found no sign of her and just assumed she'd left. A meager relief, since he was reminded that his step-sister was at the school, but for the time being it just meant he didn’t have to talk to her right now. If luck deemed to smile upon him, odds would be that he could just carry on as he’d been doing until now, and he wouldn’t run into Gwen again.

It was a pipe dream, and Vic still had to worry about the possibility that she would relay his whereabouts to Dad. He just couldn’t deal with all the fuss that would entail and had no idea what front he would put before him if they were to meet face to face.

Vic felt like slamming his forehead against the handrail, or at least rest it there out of stress. And he probably would have if Erica hadn’t reminded him of her presence by saying, “I got a text from her. She says she’s still at costume shop and probably might be for the next half hour, till her break. She says to wait for her.”

“Is this to sign the paperwork?” Vic asked.

“Yep.” Erica sighed as she took a seat, resigning herself to the wait.

“They sure love their paperwork here,” Vic muttered as he threw his head back to look at the ceiling. “Have you seen the stack? I wonder how students are supposed to figure out what they need to do to leave campus.”

Erica chuckled. “I think the whole permit thing is to help the staff keep track of the students. You know, since they say a bunch of staff members just vanished. Probably it also helps keep trouble students with no head for bureaucracy on campus… or maybe it's a test for students on how to manage paperwork. Anyway, not easy.”

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Saturday, September 24, 2016 - 12:45 am
Tunnel L-65, Magical laboratory

“At the sun’s zenith,

Till the clock chimes for two

I’ll look the part…

“Damn it, what rhymes with ‘zenith’? Absynthe? ‘Many-th’? This is stupid, Grimma. Why can’t you give me a hint or an outline for this spell, like you did before?” Caro muttered as she tore another page of her copybook. The book had already suffered this damage for the past hour, as evidenced by the paper dregs that were left at the spine, and the pile of clumped pages that were littered around the trash can, to which the latest failed attempt was added.

“Poor trees,” she muttered again in frustration before forcing herself to take a deep breath. On a regular day, she would be much more conservative with her paper use, but today, with the whole thing with Sofia in the morning and the pressure to work out a flawless spell, there was something cathartic about tearing and crumpling the pages.

“I believe thou art still green to know metaphoric prose,” Grimma mused.

“You never give me a straight answer,” Caro muttered, knowing perfectly well how Grimma would reply.

“Thou dost ask, sounding an thou dost have nary a clue, and yet in reality dost thou know the answer. Much like in the tales of old and in the narrations of yore, there is power in the word and my magic, thy magic, respondeth to that.”

“I never really wanted magic, much less to be an outcast,” Caro whined. “Can’t there be at least an exception? I’ve been looking forward to a morning in town with friends for ages now. And before you say it, I can’t seem to pull out any coherent rhymes.”

“Perhaps thou shouldst start anew? With pallet pristine and canvas blank? Mayhaps to scribe in style more flowery and less conventional. Stingy, I am not,” Grimma mused. Out of the corner of her eye, Caro saw a shadow, a quiet presence whose voice bound itself straight into her head while bearing no presence in the physical world. Caro could still remember the first time she'd freaked out when she saw what, back then, she called her own demon ghost. “Every good warlock or enchantress need practice again and again.”

“Yeah, but I don’t feel like I have the time,” Caro shook her head before leaning against the back of the seat as Grimma’s shadow quietly dissolved into the air. “Lets see… If I’m to blend in with normal people or the common folk, as you call them. A spell I need to disguise. With the price of giving my palm a slice, I’ll make put myself in a form that will make no one balk.”

“That is a decent start,” Grimma said.

“Thanks,” Caro mumbled, closing her eyes and resting her hands on it. While she was feeling the literary side of her brain nudging her into the famous ‘zone,’ she felt cautious whenever it came to Grimma’s praise. “I wonder what you will do to screw things up for me.”

“Whatever dost thou mean?”

“Come on, whenever I omit a certain detail or a potential loophole you take it as a learning experience. Not to mention that you don’t give me a hint when I’m making an error.”

“Never would I do anything of that nature,” Grimma said, voice dripping in amusement at the obvious falsehood. “But thou already knowest what to do to prevent such happenstance--”

“If you reply with the same excuse you gave out last year, I swear I’ll just resort to the systemic checklist again. That certainly felt a hundred times easier than this.”

“Child, thus bored approach spurreth not any fun. Forget not that such measure was permissible only by my discretion.”

“It was simple, good enough...” Caro muttered as she sat back. Every now and then, this conversation would spur a discussion on Grimma’s affection for the antique and love for theatrics that would make a supposedly simple job into a more complex affair.

“Perhaps, it hath its merits but also its flaws. To read a list, ah, it is not as entertaining,” Grimma said. “I will provide thee with the essence thou lackest to make the powerful spell even more powerful, if I agree with it. Thou might have the makings of a great sorceress, but thou art still somewhat lacking in style.”

“Yeah, I knew that was the only move you would use… And how am I supposed to proclaim the use of magic before a mall filled with baselines and the like? I…” she quieted down before blinking, getting a small idea.

“Is that an epiphany I detect?” Grimma whispered, with her words trailing with a touch of excitement.

“Yeah, it is. I need to focus to write down the idea,” Caro muttered as she grabbed her notebook. She traced her finger around the cover in an imaginary symbol that glowed in her wake, forming on the front the image of growing roots and the smoothness of stained glass.

"If nothing works and ideas are afoul.

With the book missing pages, clumped by the stack.

I offer three droplets of essence now,

To mend the damaged papers back.

My trick and logic are all sound,

Grimma, there's no need to frown.”

She recited the lines with much chagrin as she poured into the book her essence, to an amount that felt like the “three droplets” as described. Much as she had rehearsed before, and with the preparations made, the spell worked its influence to reach down into the crumpled pages. There was a loud concert of rustling as each of the haphazard balls leapt up into the air.

“I know I should take offense by the fact that thou hast trivialized my rules of cost logic into a brash wording whilst mocking me, but at the same time, I still feel like I must praise thine ingenuity. Good job,” the voice in her head acknowledged as the pages flew around, unwrinkling and bleaching themselves blank and mark-less. “Didst thou enchant the book, mark each page, or enchant the ink?”

“I marked the pages with a corner,” Caro said as the errant papers slipped neatly into the book, barely avoiding giving her fingers a paper cut before the book was as good as new, in a literal sense. “Sadly, I haven’t tweaked it to selectively delete some pages. But then again, this is why this is my draft book rather than my idea book.”

“I would wager that thou cannot do that kind of thing with thy 'tablet' or any such technological trinket.”

“Oh, I’m sure you can do other things with a tablet,” Caro muttered. “But yeah, paper does work better for scribbling notes. Now, if you excuse me, I have a new idea to write down, a new spell to prepare for something that I believe will actually work wonders in the long run.”

“By all means, let me not interrupt thee.”

With the creative juices glowing, Caro found herself lost in time with only the sound of her fingernails tapping against the wooden table on occasion, accompanied by the constant scribbles that ranged from the subdued cautious writing and glyph drawing to the aggressive corrective slash that crossed out wrong words.

Moments such as this rarely came by, and while in truth Caro considered herself bored out of her mind when writing, she was growing more and more accustomed to using private time for work, and this new lab she had for her own felt like the ideal option. As bare as it might be, it was still in its debut days and she already felt a sense of ownership whenever she looked around

She was brought back to reality when she heard a couple of taps on the door, breaking the quiet rhythm she had going. Still, with what she felt was a good amount of progress, it felt like an ideal break of the trance. “This lab is occupied,” she called out.

The tapping persisted, this time added by a meek voice chiming in from the other side. “Caro? Are you in there?”

“Ah, Gwen! Come on in, it’s open.”

The door knob turned and Caro’s friend stepped in. She was dressed in a weekend stay-at-home-girl outfit, a simple stamped shirt bearing characters from some obscure video game and the fake-ragged pair of jeans Caro gifted her some time ago. Neither look matched the body she had: the top made her look like a nerd while the bottom clashed in tone. And still Caro could be sure many of the guys in campus would find the image of the geeky bombshell to be a hidden gem.

Caro was close to making a whole ‘Supergirl’ joke when her friend broke the silence first. “You don’t have a lock? That’s a bit dangerous.”

“Yeah, well, the previous owner had his own system, which he took with him when he left the lab. Don’t worry, I’ll apply an enchantment to it.” Caro gestured at the empty room, wherein the only things of note were the table where she was writing and the box of chalk that rested on the cleared floor. “Besides, there’s not really much to take away.”

“I see,” Gwen said, letting herself quiet down.

“Are you already done with costume class?” Caro asked.

“Workshop closed about half an hour ago,” Gwen said and before Caro could ask, the girl added: “Don’t worry, I made sure Chris got to work on the forms for leaving campus.”

“Hope that turns out well…” Caro said. “I believe I have a good spell that will get me out. I can have it tested tomorrow before we leave.”

“How does it work?” Gwen asked.

“Oh, basically, I have some old photos with me. I stuff them in small envelopes and proclaim the spell upon Chris and you that will make it so as long as no one sees those photos for as long as the sun is up, I’ll look like the grown up version of the person in the pictures,” Caro explained.

“Old photos of you? And an older version of you? How old are you in those?”

“Eh… the ones I’ll get will probably be from when I was in middle school or kindergarten. I’ll have to suck it up and have my mom send them to me via e-mail tonight.” When Caro looked up at Gwen, her friend had a blush about her cheeks and a glimmer in the eyes. “Remember, the whole point of this is so that no one will see it.”

“I just got curious,” Gwen mused. “Must be some cute pictures.”

“The cutest,” Caro said with a smirk, “and you can’t see them, unless you want me to not go.” Saying those words to any normal girls would just call forth their innate cattiness and tempt them to take a peek at the picture. Whether to spite her or out of their own relentless curiosity, they would break the spell knowingly. At least that much she expected from her old friends at the school. But she knew Gwen valued their friendship not to do that to her.

“Are you sure Chris will be able to hold herself back, though?”

“I trust you’ll be able to control her… If that’s not enough then the promise of a reprimand from security should do the trick.”

“Sounds…”

“Hopeful? Hasty? It is.”

“Are you certain it’ll work, though?

“I don’t know the amount of mana I will need to pour in or how good I’ll look. But considering that I’m reading the spell out loud and this is a glamour rather than a transformation, plus the envelopes will be inscribed with the spell, and I mean tattooist level of care, I don’t think it’ll take that much out of me,” Caro sighed, leaning back into the open book, with the pen fiddling in her fingers.

“Gwen?” She asked as she turned the book into a new blank page.

“Yes?”

“Say, there is a person that has wronged you…” Caro began slowly.

“Wronged me?” Gwen spluttered. A bit of uneasiness crept into the girl's voice that was easily noticed, despite making all efforts to sound natural.

Caro managed to pay attention to the conversation, even if her fingers were at work with the pen on the page. “Yeah, wronged you. That has caused you trouble before, probably not on purpose and, even though they probably don’t have any reason or intention to create more troubles for you, there is a lingering part of you that believes that, when moving forward, you are sure you’ll be ticked at them soon.”

“Oookay…” Gwen answered.

“Yeah, so you know that being around that person might lead you to trouble and the two people involved are already flustered at each other. And that is not mentioning how certain unsavory parties are coming into the mix. How would you deal with them?”

“I… well… I don’t know,” Gwen said. The girl didn't seem terribly comfortable on the topic, while her friend was unwittingly being more straightforward, if not more confrontational, than she would ever have expected. So much so that she only stammered between “I mean… if they didn’t… and if you’ve known them for this long…” and “But if they hurt you then I think it is within your right to speak it up.” In the end it all came out as a bunch of mumbles that went unnoticed by Caro.

“What could you do? Should I just let things go on as if nothing had happened? Or should I downright try to avoid it and move to a different room? I’ve been thinking about casting a spell on her, but I’m pretty sure if she catches me I’ll be in trouble.

“Room? Her?” Gwen had to do a double take.

“I’m talking about Sofia,”

“Sofia? Your roommate?” Gwen muttered something, and then took a deep breath of relief. “For a second, I thought you were talking about someone else.”

“Who else?”

“Nevermind that. So, Sofia, right?” Gwen blurted out.

“Yeah, Sofia has been a bit of a handful lately and has caused some trouble there. I wasn’t sure if you saw us at the cafeteria, but did you see some of the tension between us?”

“Sorry, I was, kinda preoccupied over other stuff…” Gwen muttered.

“Well… long story short, she’s running around with Crossby’s whiskey club and has been for the past couple of weeks.” Caro began summing up as she began to doodle down the page, writing words that, while at first glance might look disjointed had the implied suggestion that she was preparing new verses of a spell

“What sort of thing happened? Did she come back drunk again?”

“Yeah, I also think she stashed a bottle inside our room… oh, and she shredded my new mattress.” Caro sighed. “I wondered if I should put a spell on her, nothing big or small, but something that will keep her from sneaking out and make sleep somewhat more manageable.”

“That’s… rough. To curse your roommate.”

“It’s not a huge curse. Just a simple curse that’ll trigger on command.” Caro mused, keeping her words and intentions ambiguous, much to Gwen’s irritation

“But it’s the use of your power. We shouldn’t be allowed to use them- You know what? Forget I said that. Who am I to judge that?” Gwen muttered with that last part being uttered by her inner voice, with a chastising small huff of frustration at the idea of being a hypocrite.

“So, how would you deal with that problem, if you were me?” Caro asked.

“Well, I would probably tell the cottage mother.”

“That’s out of the question.”

“Talk with her?”

“I already tried.”

“You really don’t think using a curse is the best option, do you?”

“I think it’s the only thing I can do that is guaranteed to work,” Caro muttered before giving Gwen a look. “Relax, I’m not planning to use it, this’ll just be as a backup… like all the things I write are.” She showed Gwen her writing book and flipped over the pages and pages of ink blots and scribbles around. “I have spells here that make no sense yet I write them for the fun of the absurd or to get parts for other spells.”

“Besides, I feel like I should be able to at least get a very good weekend of peace, don’t you agree?” Caro muttered with a small sigh. “Sorry, if I’m not listening, I just got a very good rhyme in head ‘Those who share the same living space as I——

“And you’re still writing the sleep spell, aren't you?”

“Actually, it's one designed to turn Zoo into a mouse… but I suppose she would be understandably more pissed and could easily get back at me in some other way. Maybe after that, I’ll write another that will turn all the girls in campus into mice as well.” Caro chuckled imagining the scenarios before letting out a sigh. “Dear God, I spend too much time with my head in the letters and I start to feel as if I’m going crazy…”

Gwen could only roll over her eyes. “I guess I’ll leave you to it, then.”

“Wait, Gwen.” Caro interjected, though she was still concentrated on writing. “You said you came here over to talk, is something the matter?”

“Just a small thing. Though, somehow I feel like I got the answer from this.”

“Come on, you can tell me about it. I’m close to finishing anyway, if you want, after I finish these verses, we can take a walk back to the cottages together.”

“Are you sure?” Gwen said with some reluctance, but Caro heard her stay and felt her lean against the wall of the room. “Well, here’s the thing… I have this friend that previously hurt me.”

“Here at Whateley?”

“Yes… no, wait, no. It happened before school. We were friends back in my hometown, practically grew together like brothers…” Gwen winced. “Ugh, I just bit mah tongue.”

“I hate it when that happens, though I should be grateful I wasn’t given the fangs of a serpent or anything,” Caro said as she got a brief flash of inspiration. “So you were close with this guy. I guess, childhood friends? Next door neighbors?”

“Eh… something like that,” Gwen muttered, leaning harder against the wall. “Well, we were close friends but at the start of the year, but he and another of my friends began to drift apart while I was over here. They began to get into trouble with the wrong crowd, bad mutants and even the gangs, and I mean into big trouble that would end up with them in jail. It would’ve ruined them. So I tried to help, I tried, though... a bit too forcefully and we all ended up hurt.” Her words began to run and slur, probably because of the bit tongue.

“I didn’t understood any bit of that,” Caro said, pausing her writing to turn around to look up at her friend. “You’re running with your words, can you repeat them a little slower? You had this friend that was getting into trouble?”

Gwen nodded taking a deep breath. “I know he’s not a bad dude. At least, I thought that much… but after I left for Whateley, things changed.”

“Did he know you’re a mutant?”

“Yeah, but I don’t think he cared. It was the distance that hurt our friendship.” Gwen said pacing her words, perhaps with greater care and caution than before.

“One can never be sure,” Caro said skeptically. Speaking from experience, she found it difficult that the fact that one manifested as a mutant wouldn’t change much… of course, for someone as pretty as Gwen, that probably wouldn’t be the same situation. “Okay, so your friend got himself into some trouble while you were away? I guess that would probably happen to Chris if you were to lose sight of her.”

The joke got Gwen to smile, if weakly. “Yeah, my friend, ahem, left and began to surround himself with bad company. I knew it would only be a matter of time before he found himself arrested by the police or worse. So I tried to get him to stop what he was doing and come back. In the end, we had a discussion, a big one..” She took a deep sigh as she pushed the memories away. “I was a bit sensitive after it all happened, so let’s just leave it at that.”

“And what happened then?” Caro asked.

“We parted ways. I kinda wish I’d used my powers a bit more, to get him back home.” Gwen muttered, bitterness clinging to her voice.

“Aw, Gwen,” Caro said, with a bit of sympathy that betrayed the ice queen image she’d forced herself in school. It was the fact that they were alone that she allowed herself to put her guard down. “You shouldn’t hurt yourself thinking like that. I’m sorry to say this, but your friend made his choice. The wrong choice, but you don’t have to blame yourself for that.”

“If I’d been more forceful, if I’d used my powers better, maybe our friendship would still be intact.”

“What do you mean 'better'?”

“It’s… a bit of a long story. Maybe one for another day,” Gwen said shiftily, an answer that didn’t sate Caro’s mood.

However, being away from her notepad for the past few minutes as the story was narrated had already gotten her into a more leisure-driven mindset, and she was finding herself itching to stand up, to stretch her legs and relax in Whitman’s common room. A part of her hoped that the whole mattress kerfuffle had suddenly been fixed.

“And you said this friend is here at Whateley?” Caro said with a bit of hesitation. All she could imagine was that this would be something akin to her old friend and new alpha bitch at her old school, Tina, showing up at Whateley out of the blue. Considering how things ended during the summer break, she would consider herself so lucky to not be in that situation. “What’s his name?”

“Eh… It’s… You know, I really don’t want to share the name right now.”

“Why not?” Caro cried, standing up and giving her arms and wrist a small stretch. “I mean, if you and him parted on such bad terms... and I mean, really bad ones, judging by how you make it sound, and he just happens to have powers... I don't know, it feels like it would be best to talk with the school.”

“I just found out he’s here. Haven’t even spoken to him. Besides, I have the feeling he has as much intention to continue our little discussion as I do. As long as we both steer away from each other, it will be a non-problem.”

“Just remember, whatever happened, it isn’t your fault,” Caro said, though she kept herself from adding “You blame yourself a lot,” from the end of the line and instead picked up the scribbled notebook. Her eyes had a good view of the eleven coherent lines of her most recent spell. That just begged for some consideration. “So, in your case... Sorry for prying again, but I wonder, back then in the whatever with this odd person, regardless of how it turned out... Do you, in hindsight, believe you should’ve used your powers to force him out of trouble?”

Gwen flinched, then sighed. “I’ll be honest, I did use my powers then. But I wasn’t strong enough.”

“But you believe things would’ve worked out for the better if you were?”

A second sigh came from Gwen, as if still a tad sore from the memory, which inevitably piqued Caro’s confused interest. “I mean, he made it here to Whateley, so I suppose he is at the very least safe in some form.”

“Yeah, but I’m talking about back then, never mind how it is now. You used your powers because you believed…”

“That I was making the better choice… and not just for me.”

“That’s a bit murky, but thanks for answering.” Caro picked up her book and pushed the chair under the desk. She set to tidying the barely habitated lab and carefully stashed her writing implements, exotic inks, and some random knickknacks into her backpack. Perfectly smoothed river stones, a thin sheet of metal, a chisel, a bottle of pop, three regular dice, a stash of cue-tips and a brass bell -- all odd items that were esoteric-slash-magical aid for her spellcasting.

That variety of knicknacks must have roused Gwen’s curiosity, but Caro spoke up first before her friend could say any more. “So, wanna tag along? Maybe visit Chris and make sure she’s done all the paperwork stuff?”

“Sure,” Gwen said. “You aren’t still planning on using that spell on Sofia, right?”

“Oh, I don’t know...” She really didn't.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016 - 6:20 pm
Somewhere around the woods at Whateley

Under normal circumstances, Vic’s mind would have been spinning out of control as he was made keenly aware of what even a fraction of the costs incurred in the school looked like. From hearing Tanya blurt out her amazement upon seeing the second workshop’s specialized nano-loom devise to the reports of how often walls were simply knocked down. His usual thought as he walked around the woods, as he tried to lose himself in the wild edges of the campus, was often along the lines of “No wonder the tuition is so pricey… I don’t even think I need this.”

Today, though, his thoughts were quite focused on the subdued incident that had taken place this morning. The moment he'd crossed eyes with Gwen, he couldn’t help but feel a sinking pit deep in his stomach, like he'd been thrown off the top of a building.

Once he parted ways with Erica and Tanya, he half-expected to meet up with Security, coming over to pick him up over the Massachusetts affair and the cargo incident. Of course, he knew that Whateley was strangely easy-going when it came to whatever one did outside of the school year, which was why they didn’t have problems taking kids that had a criminal record to them. Still, the fear of being denounced was there.

Granted, Oll... old Gwen would’ve kept what happened a secret for everyone’s sake… But he just couldn’t take it for granted that she would stay silent, especially after the way she looked at him back in the cafeteria.

Even if it felt as if his priorities were somewhat misplaced, the biggest concern to him was the idea that word would reach his dad. The fear was that it would be inevitable, that Gwen would drop a bombshell on him and his stepmother the next time they talked, or that she would be unable to hide it for long. And then... he just wasn’t sure what would he do. What face would he put on when speaking with his dad. How he would explain the past months after he ran away from home… or worse yet, how he broke Gwen’s arm when all she tried to do was to help him.

Like someone awaiting the results of a test just to know how badly he'd failed, Vic’s mind couldn’t rest. Walking around the cottage, he always had an eye glancing back over his shoulder, looking out the window or just keeping that eye on his phone to see if a familiar number would ring. Stress was easier to come by these days, even more than it had been back when he was a runaway street urchin. Back then he'd had an objective, had lacked the luxury to worry about those he knew -- and even then, he'd had people looking out for him. Nowadays, none of that felt certain or true. Whateley-grade irony.

There was a point in his afternoon where he could only throw his arms into the air and say “Screw it” and walk over to the woods for some much-needed distancing.

The forest that basically engulfed the Whateley campus wasn’t exactly a secret, but for some reason, it was a place most students tended to avoid unless they were looking for a good hike or some simple wild cardio when the urban field was booked. And in Vic’s mind, it was the best way to sneak out for some himself-time.

The trees grew tall and healthy, standing tall and knitting their branches together to cast shade down below. The sun would begin to set below the horizon, and the bushes beneath each of the arboreal giants crafted many paths between them, from the commonly trampled, to the off-the-beaten-path, and then some that were just bunches of brambles and bushes.

There was also the assumption that there weren’t any dangerous animals around -- otherwise, wild bear fighting would be a weekend activity for bruisers. There was just silence, to be broken by a couple of birds singing out their last songs before the twilight, and a couple of small critters scampering around the bushes. Truth be told, he couldn’t ever be sure if he’d taken the wrong turn or veered off in the wrong direction, which would be dangerous.

It must’ve been during one of the teachers' meet-and-greets or something like that, but he recalled the lake that was near the edge of the woods. Parts of it were completely secluded from any prying eyes, its waters clean and clear for a swim. It felt like a good place to take his mind off... everything.

“It sounds so cliché,” was all Vic could think as the first glimpse of the large body of water brought a smile to his face. There was nobody around, as far as he could see.

There was this sort of expectation about him, considering his powers. Not only just because water was one of the better-known elemental powers in Whateley, only second to fire, but because of the whole schtick that was intrinsically stated in the common culture. At worse, people assumed that he was useless as Aquaman from those 90’s cartoons, and, at best, they would easily assume that he had some sort of affinity with the element that permeated into his own character to the point of obsession.

Granted, his end goal was never to become a superhero, or villain for that matter, and the use of his powers was mostly a means that got him off the street. He shouldn’t let it bother him, but it still felt like a sort of running gag.

Though perhaps the biggest bane for him, given the nature of his powers, was that he'd never really learned how to swim. Looking at the large lake, even with the water as still and peaceful as it was, reluctance clung about him. The idea that peace could turn chaotic with such little provocation. That a flat surface could turn into waves which would turn into a maelstrom that would bend any piece of metal.

Well, that just brought back some memories... Vic shook his head, reaching into his coat to produce a simple set of goggles, the standard kind with hard plastic and soft foam around the eyes to make sure no water would slip through. They had barely seen any use in the past years, only worn a few times since the day they were bought. Which was a bit of a pity, considering he’d kept them for over a year by now…

Looking at the goggles, he couldn’t help but wonder why he even bothered carrying them around. Truth be told, there was no valid answer other than they were there in the duffel bag he'd haphazardly thrown together. They'd turned out to be quite convenient, though not indispensable, during his months living on the street, in particular since the time his friend, the wild devisor extraordinaire, designed a spray that would make the glass surface polarized. Then they'd helped to hide his face during some of the more notorious moments of his summer.

Still, they had rarely seen proper use since those swimming lessons he'd had with Ollie, pre-mutation. The pair of goggles was perhaps the last thing they'd bought together. Not a huge story behind them and they were just normal gear, but Vic saw them as an obnoxious reminder of how things used to be, and more particularly, of promises that weren’t kept. And that just brought him back to the conversation he'd had with his friends and step sister, Ronnie. The idea of taking his mind off of troubles and just decompress. It was something that felt like a waste of time for his diligent “I must study to be the best” mantra but was endorsed by all other aspects of his psyche.

“Here I go,” Vic muttered as he allowed himself to sit by the grassy shore of the lake, staring at the soft water. With the sun disappearing around the tree line, the stars were in view, but the light still seeped through without much of a glare to block it.

“Think of nothing... think of nothing,” Vic reminded himself, perhaps the only way he knew how to keep his brain in neutral while watching the birds fly by. Not exactly the most relaxing pattern of thought, but given how he’d been dealing with his issues up until now, it was much more appreciated. It certainly brought him back to his evenings back in the abandoned building, during the evenings he was let off the crew early. It was just him whenever Josh was working on a new project, which happened almost every night. Him, the sound of the city life, the starry sky and a bucket of rainwater that was used for entertainment.

“I haven’t done this in a while,” Vic said to himself. Setting aside the goggles, his lock, his phone, and a book that he had actually expected to read while out there, he approached the water and dipped his finger in.

With the closing of his eyes, he felt his influence spread through the liquid, filling it with his will. There must’ve been a decent amount, near to the maximum limit that the testing examiners assumed he had, yet... Yet he felt, with an energy surge from deep within him, that this was barely an issue. Were the testing-dudes' measurements wrong or was he mis-measuring his own strength? He couldn’t know… but once again, he wasn’t particularly interested in pushing it to the limit, and instead just contented himself with playing with some images.

While Vic didn’t care about the strength, he was more than happy that he was rated with a high degree of control. He put it to the test for his entertainment, something he hadn’t done in a while, making the water rise up above the surface of the lake with a still surface. First it appeared as a sphere that rolled itself around, feigning a bounce. The shape changed, becoming round, cuboid and pyramidal before settling back at the start, where tendrils that resembled snakes rose from the water and wrapped themselves around its surface.

It was a tricky effect as, in his mind, Vic struggled to make the effort to keep a distinction between two figures. Whenever one of the snake’s surface broke and mixed with the water ball, he just dissolved it and began again. Before long, one managed to reach the top of the shape. There was a sense of victory for Vic, and he hoped he could get a good look at the last part of the trick.

The biggest bummer to the celebration was that, with both of Vic’s hands deep in the water, he was locked in a very uncomfortable squatting position at the shore, and he couldn't even get a good look at his work. Still, it shoved the troubles out of his mind, and a smile found a place there naturally. “I should be standing to see what comes next,” Vic mumbled, his neck aching as he tried to look up at the water snake coiled around the sphere.

“Damn… I do wish I had the ability to deep freeze it. Maybe Laura can give me a freeze gun? I’d get to show it around,” he said with a small chuckle as he put his foot in the water.

The feeling of the water flooding his footwear and getting in his socks wasn’t entirely pleasant… but much like at the showers, he could pull the water out to dry them later. With careful concentration, he relinquished control from his hand down to his foot and allowed himself to stand up. Ten paces deeper into the water, the coiled sphere still rested, wobbling ever so slightly as the shift was made but not breaking the tension between the two objects. It was a nice thing to see, especially as the last fleeting rays of sun shimmered around the surface of the liquid, giving the impression of a disco ball.

Unlike what many would assume, his hands weren’t essential for using his powers. He used his skin to do it, and it was something of a relief to have his hands free for the occasion.

Vic recalled one of his favorite TV shows of all time: Avatar, the Last Airbender. It would be a lie to say that he never thought of using the show as an inspiration for many things. His excitement had taken a bit of a hit when he realized he could only do this when in physical contact, and not at a distance like the characters on the show. Still, performing the hand gestures and arm motions did help him to forge a better connection with it. And now, as he stood at the shore of the lake with his hands free to perform… it was almost as if he were playing around with his fantasies for a moment.

That was another reason why he was glad there was no one here to see him: he could do the pretend martial arts to his heart's content.

Back to the trick, he thought bemusedly as he put his other foot into the water and released his grip on the sphere.

It was a simple scene that was art in motion -- much like those slow motion videos of a water balloon being popped, only without any latex. The surface of the sphere shimmered as it lost its shape, gushing out in every direction and sending radial ripples across the lake. The still-coiled water snake slid off as if its body was made of actual solid material.

“Awesome,” was all Vic could say. Still using his feet to control the serpent, he had the artificial creature’s body wobble around and dive into the water. It was so strange to manipulate the shape within its own element. There was less pressure to keep the shape, and so he could get more speed out of it. It wasn't particularly hard, but it was something that would require more practice, as the moment he forced his pet to resurface for a jump, parts of its body melted off and dripped back into the lake.

“Well, that’s the end of the show,” Vic announced to none in particular, releasing his control of the serpent in mid-flight and seeing the rest of it fall down with a splash.

The fun of this small trick, which must’ve lasted a good couple of minutes, left him wanting to exercise his powers more. And, unlike in Mr. Bergamot's Power Theory, he now felt he could do it at his leisure and pace.

“Perhaps, another day I could practice my breast stroke… For now, I think I’ll settle with this,” he said with a bit of pride. Only when he was alone could he allow himself a bit of smugness he was always lacking in front of his new friends. He began to lean more of his weight onto the lake’s surface, feeling the water through his wet socks raise his body like solid ground beneath him. It bore the full wobbliness of someone making a handstand, balancing the weight over every muscle and managing the point of contact. The irony about it was that he was standing as if normal.

Feet need to be spaced to the side, much like he were walking on jello. Vic found it amusing. He was not entirely proud of his abilities, since they still didn't feel entirely real to him, and they were of little use to the future he'd wanted to have... but it was still quite comforting to know he had gained some special perks others didn’t have. Carefully, he inched across the surface, going to great lengths to avoid falling over.

With his legs spread slightly, making movement somewhat easier, he still refused to unglue his feet from the lake's surface to take a proper step. The moment he tried, he instantly felt his balance threatened and the support under his feet, instead of feeling like jello, turned into a balancing act upon a stilt. So the rest of the path was just a glide across the surface, shuffling his feet like they were going over wax. And that meant sliding without much semblance of control, akin to balancing a ball on the previously mentioned stilt. There were more than a couple of close calls in which Vic’s face came just a foot or two away from hitting the water, but it was mostly under control.

It was in the first of those close calls that Vic realized the error of his personal training. It brought him so close to the surface of the water that he could get a good look at the carp that swam away from his sliding shoes. It wasn’t just the fact that he didn’t know how to swim well. Even if his power allowed him to do whatever he wanted with water, he was still learning to control it and already, in previous occasions, his power had proved itself to be problematic.

And that was not mentioning the slowly surging fear that some of the fish around this place, Whateley being Whateley, could turn out to be actual monsters. Now that he was already a good ten to fifteen meters from the shore, those fears were beginning to surface, much like the fish.

Fear reflected in his control of things and the water around his feet became suddenly turbulent. Things started out slow, with waves rising up and moving, forcing him to ride them without getting him anywhere. And the more he tried to gain control of the situation and force the waves down, that caused depressions which also threatened to topple him. The images of his most recent trauma slowly began to resurface in the back of his mind.

The memory of the inner steel sides rocking themselves, the emergency red light that intermittently dyed the walls and containers into a bloody red as things were thrashed down and about, the blaring alarm that signaled all too late that there was a breach in the hull... There were objects hard to make out or distinguish floating in the water, objects he hoped to soon forget, and then there were large blocks of steel, hard-trenched sheets of metal that rumbled about, and it would be only a matter of time before one of them would fall on him like a truck… And one did.

The sudden memories made it all feel real for Vic as an energy surged through him. His own field of vision felt somewhat unrealistic as the storm that had caught him back then began to rise up in the now. Shapes emerged from the water, solid despite their transparent bodies. Thrown around as if in a tumbler, it took a lot for Vic to convince himself that they weren’t real and would just splash if struck, but his worst fear came at the idea of being dunked down deep into the water where he would have no idea how to swim anything but a desperate paddle that would only be made worse if he panicked.

The turmoil on the lake’s surface grew worse and worse. The waves become more erratic, rising up to make hills out of water like Vic didn’t even knew he was able, having never tested his own powers to this degree. Confusion barely had a chance to settle in, between the rising tides and the sudden spouts of water like someone was dropping invisible boulders in the water.

Every attempt at compensation made things worse, and his balance was soon gone as an unseen wave came out behind him, frightfully similar to his memory. The angle grew higher and higher, and before long Vic saw himself falling down face-first into the lake.

“Stop!” Vic exclaimed just before he expected to meet the hard surface of the water.

And it worked. When he opened his eyes, he found his face was just a couple of inches away from the liquid surface. Close enough to see his own reflection against the fleeting sun. His reflection? He thought, realizing what had happened. The water was suddenly still, frozen, and it had a hard feeling to it. Not like the lake when he first arrived, but like a glass of water that had been left on the floor of a sealed room. No wind would move it and none his own movements would generate ripples, much like cold-less ice.

His hands were dug deep into the water, with his fingers clenched into fists as if holding an invisible rope for dear life. Even his toes were curled, which just added to the discomfort of the wet shoes, now fully submerged. The feeling and desire was clear and it was enforced upon the so-called ground. Even as the water around the meter radius he'd created kept on thrashing and shifting from the upheaval, sweeping onto the platform, it just slid away.

“I can’t believe that worked…” Vic muttered, trying to push his confidence, and slowly he got himself up on his own two feet. That was a frightful ordeal in itself, fearing he would lose the consistency of the space the moment he released even one of his hands. Digging himself out was a slow process, but in the end, he was crouched in the water, all the while pouring so much effort into keeping the water still. Even out of the water, his hands were still clenched into fists, which seemed to make it easier to control.

“Alright… I have it now…” Vic pushed himself back up, dedicating a good chunk of the time to talking and reassuring himself to keep the memories from returning. “I have it. It’s all good. Just have to make it back and--”

'Back' was the spot where Vic had left his phone, wallet and other items. There, his personal belongings were being scoured and sniffed through by the nose of a cat. Its face had peeked out of the air, sporting an oddly dark fur which Vic couldn’t identify on account of the sun being nearly gone from the horizon. But he could, very clearly, see how the rest of the animal’s body was misted out. There was an outline of the body in the form of rippling air and trails of smoke, but at the same time he could see the bushes and trees through it. At the connecting point, where the neck would be, there was just some sort of obfuscating movement that got in the way.

“What the hell?” Vic blurted out, and this time, the creature, whatever it was, picked up on the attention it had attracted. The thing didn’t seem to enjoy it, because at that moment, it stared at Vic with a point in the middle of its forehead glowing. A second later, a warning hiss escaped its muzzle before it suddenly jumped back into the woods, with whatever effect that was keeping it blurry spreading to the rest of its body before vanishing into the bushes.

“I've heard of the invisible bunnies, but I don’t think they referred to that…” Vic thought, still dumbfounded by whatever had just happened. He would’ve actually said it, but then he realized that, in the surprise, he'd released his grip on the imaginary ropes that were keeping the water solid and after that…

Splash! Like a stick falling end first into the water, Vic suddenly fell into the depths, and desperate thrashing about ensued.

The panic he’d been dealing with not more than five minutes ago resurfaced faster and harder than he could. Now Vic was head-deep in the water and struggling to keep his nose and mouth above the surface, paddling desperately to no avail. He could barely tell which way the shore was, and no effort to paddle towards safety seemed to get him anywhere.

In his mind, Vic found himself back at that night. With the ship sinking and the world turning on its head. With large containers forcing themselves into the water and sending the waves around into a sort of chaotic maelstrom. With each descending large mass creating a current that threatened to drag him under, even after he managed to dodge them.

It all became too real, and his powers began to act against him, making the water much more fluid and shifty, easily nullifying whatever paddles and strokes he tried to make, Despite being mere meters away from the shore, he couldn’t feel the ground, either with his feet or with his chaotic abilities. “Shit, a trench?” he thought urgently.

The moment he began to taste the lakewater down his throat, he knew he was well and truly screwed. He wanted to cough it out, but that only served to get more water in. Learning from his previous experience, he held his breath as best as he could.

Short of breath, with his throat wanting to cough and barely able to see anything in the night, he forced out his abilities in desperation.

Arms stretched out in a direction he hoped would be true and his fingers clenched down into fists, Vic exerced the same level of mental pressure and acuity he did before. The results were palpable as the water around him became taut under his control, standing still even as the rest of his splashing rippled about.

Delving further into the image, he slungshot himself out of the lake with all the strength he could muster. It was a desperate gamble that sent him flying through the air, like he'd been spat by the lake. The bubble barely held itself together as his mental grip slipped.

The ground was in sight, getting closer, and all he could tell was that the landing would hurt.

He landed legs-first upon the ground. Between the splashing and the momentum, he couldn't stop as he tumbled down onto the grass, tripping on dead leaves and hitting a bush that fortunately cushioned the impact a little before bouncing him off to the ground, which did less to cushion anything. He was pretty sure his sides, if not also his back, would be bruised in the morning.

“Ow…” Vic muttered, coughing out as much water as he could. “Ugh… I can’t do that again… No clue what got into me to actually try something like that. I mean, sure it was fun while it lasted but this is the reason why I don’t swim and why I shouldn’t use my powers while I do.”

A couple of minutes later, he was up on his feet and working extra to get his clothes cleaned. Having the power to control water just allowed him to instantly dry himself up with little problem, The issue was that it didn’t get rid of any of the filth or mud. And the last time he'd tried to use his powers at a greater strength to get the cleaning done, he'd ended up wearing and tearing through the fabric.

“This will be an annoying walk back,” Vic sighed as he made his way to the side of the shore where his belongings were. Fortunately, there was nothing missing. Whatever that creature had been, it wasn’t a kleptomaniac… just some weird lurker. He couldn’t help but wonder if it was still around spying on him. The evening was held in silence for a moment, as if expecting to hear a twig snap or leaves being rustled, but there was no such thing. Whatever it was, it was already gone.

Even if curiosity demanded him to pursue this, he had to remind himself. “Only at Whateley does this stuff happen. Something out of the ordinary can and will happen, and most of the time, odds are you’ll never understand what’s up with that.” There were always rumors of odd things, even by this school's standards: invisible bunnies, disappearing principals and teachers, a supposed race of fairies and werewolves around the corner. And that was beyond the commonplace mad scientists and magic users that hounded the corridors, many looking to make other people into the butt of their jokes. He had to accept that it was probably some sort of chance encounter… Besides, if he were to launch an inquiry, he would have to share his embarrassing story of near-self-drowning, and he didn't feel that was worth it.

Time to call it quits, he thought as he began to pick up his items. He couldn’t help but think he was lucky that neither his wallet nor his phone had been on him the moment he fell into the water. Losing his phone would certainly throw an even bigger wrench into his mood for the evening.

After all, tomorrow had the makings of a really good day. He would be heading out to the mall with his friends, one of them hopefully his girlfriend in a more official manner, and he would also get to treat himself to some rewards. Something which felt quite needed.

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Somewhere else

Through the night traversed a creature that was not to be seen by the mortal eye. Moving like a bunch of smoke, it darted from bush to bush, diving under benches and making strong leaps up to walls that would keep it from being seen.

There was a sense of excitement and a thrill to it, with its world expanded. Suddenly it felt like a new ruler over this metaphorical jungle, or at least like a kitten with a new toy. Yet it found itself unamused by the creatures that inhabited the place. The beings around that would easily be a source of fear and caution yowling over their own things.

“Strangers,” it thought with a warning every time it disappeared from sight. Never had it dared to be out in the open until now and everything but the familiar enclosed spaces felt dangerous. It all got the fur standing to no end.

It should never draw close to them… but it was incredibly curious as to what they had and what it could take. Traversing in the first greenlands it ever saw, with a maze of thin green papers and crooked sticks, its thirst had led it to water where it was allowed to get a better look at some of the things these strangers kept on their person. “Is that food?” it thought.

Yet the moment its paw felt the hard surface, a feline grimace appeared on its face as it backed away. “A tablet?” Nothing special, in fact, a bit simple compared to what it was used to seeing, yet that was enough to get its guard lowered as it tried to bat it for an answer.

Eyes crossed with a stranger that walked by the water. A sudden movement was all it needed to let out a warning hiss. “Stranger! Back!”

Shock and fear reminded it of the strange new world the door suddenly led it to. Its body stiffened and it disappeared into the shadows, becoming translucent dark mist from ear to paw as it scampered back.

Splash, came a tumultuous sound from behind that just urged it to sprint faster, jumping from tree trunk to tree trunk before climbing up branches and finally making it to the open field, where no one would see it in the dark. “Chasing, chasing! Must hide in box!” it thought desperate as it retraced steps.

It wasn’t long before a sound that felt oddly similar to one of the tests, reached its ears. A simple arf arf that came out in an echo, but it was an arf arf. “Strange stranger?” it wondered as it took a couple of paces towards a nearby tree. Hiding behind the trunk, it spied the creature.

One of the strangers... humans, if its memories served right, stood a tad plumper than the ones it’d seen so far. “Not threatening?” it thought with its whiskers prickling forward.

“Cookie! Here pup!” it called out as another animal came out from behind the bushes, an odd creature that the spy did not recognize as its own kin, but not as a human either. Memories of the so-called training it had undergone brought the idea of a dog… but this one was quite larger than those that appeared in the images… and it had two heads resting atop its shoulders.

“Experiment?” it wondered, cocking its head, but it stayed planted within its hiding spot. Its body eased up as it saw the rounded human play with the dog, with its tail wagging and the two heads asking to throw the crooked stick.

Before long, the same human it saw on the lake arrived in and was greeted by his kin. There was some talk, friendly. One pointed towards the house and the other nodded its head. Words meant little to the viewer but it understood that playtime was over, a sentiment it could sympathize as human bid ‘good night’ to the dog and tied its leash around a special house next to the much larger one the humans used.

The dog, seemingly entertained by anything that transpired, panted as it looked up toward the bigger building, as if its ears could pick up on everything that happened inside. The two heads exchanged looks and toyed with each other to stave off the loneliness.

The creature watched this with an uncertain feeling…

And then the right head looked down the spy’s way, with its tongue lolling out panting and its tail wagging as if wanting to play.

Of course, the invitation did not make it feel any safer, and the first time the odd dog let out a bark, it quickly darted out of the way, running back into its hiding place.

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Sunday, some time before dawn.
Outside Whitman

While night was still prevalent around campus, light already seemed to be seeping in through to start the day. It made Giselle Philips almost cry at the idea of facing the crack of dawn without a good night sleep. Needless to say, it was taking a great deal of effort to keep herself up awake and on track.

Already she was wishing she could get this favor out of the way just so she wouldn’t have to subject herself to the humiliation of being out in the open without proper grooming. There were a couple of cowlicks upon her head that simply had to be seen to. No sooner was this done than her plan would be to spend the rest of the day locked up in her room with the drapes closed to sleep off the Sunday.

“Who would’ve thought that being up this sober would be so annoying,” Giselle mumbled to herself. “Still, I suppose it's no worse than waking up with a hangover.”

She carried on with her path and soon arrived at her objective: Whitman Cottage.

Cottages didn’t actually have set hours, and most of the time the front and back doors remained open for visitors or last minute departures, so slipping in wasn’t a challenge to Giselle.

She skulked about in the dark, out of respect for the girls that were still asleep. Cottages like Whitman and Dickinson shared a similar layout, which made it easy for her to orient herself. Eventually, she arrived at the common room, where she almost let out an audible gasp.

It wasn't that she was terrified, but she was certainly taken by surprise when she saw the figure resting by a reclining chair. A girl with long black hair and soft horns that grew on her forehead. Under the faint glimmer of the lamp, it took her a moment to recognize her as Sofia’s roommate, Caroline Hersberg. She seemed out of commission and in deep slumber among the cushions.

She’d met the girl a couple of times before, but really didn’t think much of her other than being a killjoy, from how Sofia complained. In the end, though, her being outside of her room meant Giselle's job would be much easier. So she carried on down the hallway.

Eventually, she found Sofia’s room and, without bothering to tap on the door, helped herself in. It was lucky that it had been left unlocked.

“Sofia? Pst, Sofia?” she whispered in the dark room. “Wake up.”

Her fingers were about to reach for the light switch on the room and she braced herself for the intense light when the less potent night lamp was turned on by Sofia’s hand.

“Who’s there?” asked a half-asleep girl shifting, slowly prying apart the covers and revealing herself into the light with squinting eyes. “Giselle? What are you doing here?”

“Don’t get up. I just came here for something quick… Do you have the last bottle of shine you borrowed from Crossby?” Giselle whispered, Now with the light she at least could give the place a proper scouting. Of course, she would’ve been more than worried if she’d found her target out in the open. And from what she could spy, the room just drove up her anxiety and desire to go back to her own space in Melville. So much stuff lying around, things she didn’t want to touch, and the thought of searching through the drawers...

The inner snob could only scoff and groan at the sight of the place. It all looked so drab and messy, unrefined and odd-smelling, once again making her wonder how could someone put up with a shared room for the entirety of the school year. And the moment she saw the air mattress in between the bed she was close to making a groan. “Do you still have it?” she pressed the question.

Sofia slowly pushed herself up, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hands. “Yeah, I have it here… why?”

“Can you hand it over to me? We’re in full-on clearance mode,” Giselle said, drawing closer. On the way, as she passed right next to the girls’ work desk, she was startled as she stepped onto something hard and smooth, but the sound of crinkling confirmed it was just paper and a notebook.

“Clearance mode?” Sofia muttered. It took her a couple of seconds to piece together the meaning of the words. “Did something happen?”

“No,” Giselle told her as she kicked aside the books and papers on the ground. Who was she to pick up someone else’s mess? She drew closer, giving a small kick to the air mattress to get it out of the way. “They’re just taking it as a precaution.”

“Oh, right, yesterday was Crossby’s big party.” Sofia’s tone was sour as she peeked down under her own bed, grasping about.

“You missed it, right?”

“I made a promise to my roommate that I wouldn’t tonight.”

“That sucks…” Giselle muttered.

“Speaking of which, where is she?” Sofia muttered making a pause to look onto the air mattress, only to find it empty. “Que pendeja, she didn’t even bother to sleep here.”

“I suppose that works out. I don’t think I would be happy about doing this in front of someone else. So… where’s the stuff?”

“Here it is,” Sofia muttered as she pulled out a simple glass bottle. Previously nothing more than a simple Coke bottle, it was the most economic and discreet way the students in Crossby’s crew had to take the drinks out of the safe space that was their room. Still, with the contents of the drink still visible in the bottom corner, it would be damning evidence if it were to be discovered and imbibed by the house mother, especially with the rumors that oftentimes circulated around.

“Good,” Giselle said as she accepted the bottle and backed away, back to the desk to give herself some space to perform.

“Say,” Sofia ventured, wondering about making small talk despite already finding herself sliding back among the bedsheets. “Did you go to Crossby’s party? How was it?”

“It was nice, as usual. The boys got together in the room across the hallway and annexed it for the party. There were cards, movies, drinking -- discreetly, of course -- and there was even a roulette.”

“Sounds like fun,” Sofia mumbled. “What was the best part?”

Giselle thought for a moment. “Between the drinks, the games, and shows, I’d say the stupid got a good piece of the cake. Some of the guys attending just do the dumbest things when they're too much into their cups. By the end of the night and right before Emerson closed up for the girls, they were already annexing two more rooms while already making even more stupid dude stuff.”

“Heh… dudes will be boys.”

“Something like that,” Giselle, sighed. “Anyway, I couldn’t stay and was starting to get bored. Thought I would have a good night sleep. Not marching home wasted, like some others I know,” she mused, giving a smug look at Sofia.

“I don’t get wasted. I get, as you say, blitzed.”

“That’s kinda worse,” Giselle answered flatly. “Anywho, I made my way back home, hoping to get some sleep, maybe wake up and pay them a visit to check on the aftermath, but lo and behold, my boyfriend calls me for the clearance order.” She muttered naughty words under her breath as she flicked the bottle in the air and caught it.

“What happened?”

Giselle held the bottle now under both hands and looked at it with a bit of concentration. “Nothing, really. Well, just the usual intervention. Said the RAs dropped by in the middle of the party a couple of times, one of them had the house parent in tow in hopes of trying to prove that the boys were drinking alcohol. According to him, even though the people around were giggling like idiots they weren’t able to prove anything.”

“So, they...” Sofia was interrupted by a yawn as she covered herself under the blanket. “They were worried they would be sending someone to search you and me for any unaffected bottles?”

“Correct,” Giselle smiled as her eyes began to glow and the tips of her fingers did as well. All the points of contact with the bottle released a quiet subdued light, accompanied by a soft rumbling akin to smooth stones grinding each other that ever so slowly rose up in pitch, before the bottle disappeared. It imploded itself with the muffled sound of several windows shattering in unison that resonated in the dark and silence.

And just like that, the bottle was gone, atomized into the air in the form of bright dust that easily faded out of the eye, leaving only Giselle’s glowing fingertips as they faded back to normal.

“Ugh… splashed some of the gin on my shoe…” Giselle muttered in disgust as she rubbed the tip of her toe against the air mattress while her arms swiped at the air before her..

“Did you really have to do that here?”

“I would be stupid to carry the bottle out of the cottage. Besides, it’s fine. I have the powder, I can just re-integrate it later today. Well, time to head out. Rest well, Sophy.” Giselle said with a courteous smile, that wouldn’t be seen by her fellow sophomore as she dived under the covers.

“Thanks, you too.”

“Hey, by the way, Crossby is planning on making a good bargain deal with the Bohemians. Fingers crossed so that he can up the party material,” Giselle said as she backed away towards the door.

“That sounds fun…” By then Sofia was barely feeling herself conscious, yawning as sleep beckoned her home. “See you later.”

Giselle only answered with a small wave before disappearing from the room, the door closing behind and already taking a hastened quiet pace towards the exit in the dark.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 5:36 am
Twain room 217

Whateley was what Vic would label as a college experience. Judging from his conversations with Ronnie, a lot of things overlapped between the two: Each student was in charge of their own time and activities outside of class, they had a place to live that required a cleaning standard, and they took care of their own laundry. It was a taste of independence.

With his second-to-last wearable outdoors shirt stained with mud, there was no other option but to go ahead and do some late night laundry -- another taste of the independent lifestyle. Fortunately, Daniel Diggins, a.k.a. Doughnut, was someone he knew who was at least acquainted with the process -- something which certainly had to do with manifested pastries leaving crumbs of chocolate and bits of cream around.

The laundry process had taken more time than expected, but he didn’t mind. It gave him a lot of time to pal around with some of his classmates while forgetting about Gwen and the whole lake incident of not so many hours before, making it feel like it happened days ago rather than that same morning and afternoon, respectively. By the time it was through, he was more than ready for a good night's rest.

For as long as it lasted. Vic’s constant habit of waking up before the crack of dawn kicked in when he opened his eyes and saw that it was early enough to beat the alarm on his phone. And while his body and brain gave him the usual complaint for more sleep, force of habit dragged him up onto his feet in a silent motion.

As was usual, at this time of the day the entire dorm room was in the dark, with the exception of the slivers of light that came through the draped windows. Still, Vic found it easy to maneuver.

“It’s still too early to meet up with the girls,” he mumbled, glancing down at the clock, which marked past five thirty of the morning. Once again, force of habit subtly suggested he get into his workout clothes, do some rounds around the school, and then take a shower before the rush, but he wondered if it would be such a good idea. It felt needlessly busy and a part of him wondered if he would even make it back in time or keep the girls waiting.

Punctuality being something he quite cared about, Vic decided, against his better judgment and his personal promise, to give himself a break. He even feigned to gasp when he reached that resolution, but he figured he might as well use the time to prepare. Maybe force himself to do some reading for school since it was already early.

And while it might be tempting, he knew he had to work harder on being perfect. Both to justify and to fulfill his agreement with the syndicate. To get a life where he could handle himself. Get to college with a scholarship and achieve it all.

“Even if I end up breaking my back and mind over all this,” Vic muttered with a sigh. He lifted his gaze up towards the myriad stuff Tobias kept around his place: from Magic: The Gathering cards to some books that had a couple of comics sandwiched between. But what always drew his eyes was the strange little monolith that stood by the wall. An object that exuded a strong presence about it.

“Hey Tir, are you there?” Vic half-joked as he dressed himself in the darkness. Obviously, Tobias personal spirit, the Leannan-Sidhe, was only heard by or talked to him. Which was funny, as Vic could easily have assumed Toby was making her up so that Vic wouldn’t pull any pranks, jokes or lewd activities in the room. That was what he'd imagined when they first met, before they at least got to know each other well enough to be friends.

Perhaps it would’ve been better if his roommate had kept quiet about her? Vic wondered what was worse, knowing that you have a spirit on your shoulder or believing there is nothing there when there really was. Vic thought it over as he slipped into the small nook of the room reserved for the walkway from the door and the closet, just in case the spirit was watching him slip into his freshly laundered underwear.

Whether real or not, once the idea was introduced, it was hard to believe there wasn’t an extra pair of unseen eyes that would be around the room. Toby speculated that one would be actually able to see Tir if they were to touch and hold the relic that sheltered her. Of course, Vic passed on the offer, on account that it would make her more real than she already was. Even getting dressed when the thing was around was a bit of an awkward hassle.

“You better not watch,” Vic muttered. Mild inconvenience aside, he was actually appreciative of the idea of having a sort of spiritual guardian that would help ward off other unseen entities. At least that’s what he chose to tell himself until he could believe it.

“Tir wants me to tell you something…” Toby mumbled in his sleep. Every now and then, he would be woken up by Vic’s persistent morning habits and would either mumble a wish for a good start of the day or just go back to la-la-land. In the beginning, it was just grumbles and complains upon his return. Fortunately, by now they were all accustomed to this, though there was always a slight snarl in his voice and a warning at the tip of his tongue.

“She says she wasn’t watching… that even spirits like to sleep…” Toby groaned as he buried his head in the pillow, “Okay, okay. Meditate. Even spirits like to meditate.”

“Alright,” Vic whispered as he grabbed the backpack he'd prepared the night before. It was mostly slack from the lack of items, so he picked up the math textbook to entertain himself. He might as well take the opportunity to move on to the next section of the syllabus. “I’ll be out most of the day, so see you later.”

“Yippee…” Toby trailed off as he descended back into slumber.

“Hm…” Vic closed the door behind him and walked down the hallway towards the common room. The whole cottage was in cozy silence, either because his cottagemates were much more successful at slipping out of their own rooms or they just kept on sleeping. It was Sunday, after all. With only the sound of his footsteps and a couple of snores from the big boys in the cottage, he made his way down the path wondering how it would be to sleep through most of the morning like he used to do. Certainly, many of the other students must have had great Sunday mornings.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016 - sometime before 6:00 am
Whitman Common room

“Ugh…Dreams and long nights are fuzzy, when my friend acts like a hussy. I want a good mattress for sleep, I do not care if the price is steep…Damn, where was that inspiration yesterday, when it could’ve been useful...” Caro groaned as she straightened herself up on her usual lounge chair, pressing her hand down the back of her neck to alleviate the stiffness. In this state, she couldn’t even be bothered to grab her pen and notebook to take note of her sleepytime inspiration.

“I’ll get to it later.” Caro rubbed her eyes. “Must be a consequence of getting my brain to think up rhymes and rhythms for five hours straight. Grimma, are you meditating or off to who knows where?” she inquired with a small sigh. There was the sound of silence in her head, giving her at least her morning’s peace.

“Ugh… how did I get into this?” she muttered, leaning forward and stretching her arms. Fortunately, at this time of the day there was no one up and about, leaving her the entire living room to herself and no one to hear her voice. Even earlybird Tanya wouldn’t be up and about before the crack of dawn of a Sunday. Not that she cared, with a poor night behind her, she couldn’t be bothered to act with decorum. “Oh right, my roommate mauled my mattress.”

It felt like she was beating a dead horse by this point, but that really was the reason why she’d slept in the common room. Sofia suggested they swap mattresses. Given how the girl rolled around in her bed and easily shifted forms in her sleep, she wasn’t as bothered with its current state… However, the whole cleaning of the thing had taken quite a turn when Mrs. Savage decided to send the mattress through premium cleaning as a precaution. This was done so late in the day that neither girl had a soft foundation to sleep on. Sofia soldiered through using a flat replacement, but Caro hadn't been that keen on the idea.

So Mrs. Savage had brought in the back-up: an inflatable mattress she saved in case of emergencies. The thing was quite unappealing for the normal girl, and Caro accepted the offer with some trepidation. Even if her horns weren’t that prominent, there was always the fear and risk that she might poke a hole through. She really needed to work harder on her own spell to make herself more human -- that, or ask for some sort of special pillow that would keep her from moving her neck. Annoying as that would be, it was still better than getting a horn caught.

All choices being equally rotten, Caro had decided to give her borrowed air mattress a try. It was not exactly the most comfortable thing on the planet. Being a girl who had never been outdoors camping, or rarely slept anywhere there wasn’t a good fluffy mattress, she quickly found the airy stiffness of her temporary bed too irking. The fact that she had to keep her head almost off the edge for fear of horned happenstance did not help matters.

She must’ve clocked in at about two hours of sleep in her room before waking up with a pain in her neck and a soreness on her shoulder. Sofia’s soft snoring from the flat cushion sounded like a purring tease, and she found herself regretting her decision... but as per usual, she couldn’t allow herself to back down from a decision. After the whole argument the previous day, she just didn’t have it in her to wake up her roommate to demand the bed swap right now.

In the end, the easiest answer was to sleep elsewhere, and what better place than her favorite spot in the common room: the couch where she rested, or even napped, most evenings.

Fishing in the darkness of her room for her always handy booklet of spells and notepad of inspirations, she clutched them and recited one of the incantations that came out the most handy at the simplest of times: giving herself the eyes of a cat (unsurprisingly inspired by the large amount of catgirls around). With them, navigating through the pitch black room and down the hallway felt like a breeze.

Once she'd settled herself in, the spell wore off and she allowed herself to sleep. To say that the position was impractical was an understatement, but it, at least allowed her to fall into dreams and recoup some of her sleep, with the promise of the day in Berlin being her best motivation to be well rested and in a good mood for fun with her friends.

“And it’s no big deal… I had the pictures I needed sent and printed. I have Gwen briefed on this and I’m sure the envelopes are fully marked. All I need to do is get the wax to seal them and it’s done. I just hope it works well enough to convince security at the checkout…” She muttered to herself during one of her waking moments as she wrapped the covers over herself.

The rest of the night passed in spurts and light was starting to come in through the open back entrance as her dreams became more fragile. The girls in the cottage stirred and went about their usual habits, starting with those that had some sort of predisposition towards twilight times, like Shisa, and followed by those who were getting themselves up and ready for their usual routines or for early meetings, such as Mrs. Savage.

Fortunately, no one bothered her nor even dared to ask. Whether it was out of consideration or respect, it was still appreciated.

“What time is it?” she muttered once her rest was at its tail end and the common room had begun to spring up to life with activity. Some of the more reserved girls, like Faollass, a prim and proper lady whose lupine features just made her look somewhat more dignified humanoid version of Lassie, were entertaining themselves with proper discretion. Of course, that was the exception; many others were just messing around with their phones and tablets, presumably just conscientious enough to not bother their roommates with their laugh or reactions to whatever they were seeing. But not all was quiet. Madcat and Meow Mix were just emerging from the hallway, laughing together, already having forgotten their minor scuffle from a couple of nights ago. The higher pitch from their conversation and giggles might’ve been annoying to Caro had she still been asleep when they arrived.

And she was certain that Gigi’s high pitched laughter would’ve gotten her on the warpath had it been her wake up alarm. Apparently she was in some chat with Petshop from Wondercute, trading pictures or something. Right now, Caro could only find it moderately annoying. It was all enough to shake the sleep out of her. “What time it is again?” she asked out loud, this time more coherently.

“It’s about seven twenty in the morning,” said a voice from down below, this one belonging to a large tuxedo cat.

“Thank you, Shisa,” Caro said with a small sigh as she pushed herself up from the spot and stretched. Her back felt sore from sleeping mostly upright, but at least her mind felt rested.

“Is everything alright?” The feline hopped up on the reclined seat Caro had been enjoying not long ago, her paws kneading the mattress. “Did you sleep here through the night?”

“It’s a long story. I just hope I don’t have to repeat it tonight,” Caro replied, popping her shoulder mid stretch. For all the aches, the chair had got her back to being good as new and ready for the day.

“Yeah, Mrs. Savage gave us the shortened version. Must suck to have your mattress come in defective,” Shisa said, prompting a double take from Caro.

Of course Mrs. Savage would try to keep this sort of incident on the down-low, Caro thought. She could recall back how many times in the past year she’d helped her house mother deal with all types of embarrassing problems, from bedwetters to pranks that were blown out of control. In all those times, she'd been asked to keep this quiet to avoid tanking the girls reputation… In hindsight, it probably should have come as little surprise that she’d be given the same consideration.

Being on this side of the issue, however, wasn’t entirely reassuring. “Yeah, the mattress came out with problems in the seam. I’m just that unlucky.”

“And couldn’t you share beds with… Sofia, right?” Shisa said.

“I considered it,” Caro lied. “But in the end, I’m worried I might accidentally poke her eye with my horn.” To name the tamest thing that could happen. “By the way, where is Mrs. Savage? She saw me get up, right? She must be around?”

“I think she said she’s heading to New Hampshire. Meet up with her family, run some errands and visit the mattress factory,” Shisa said as she stretched on the soft mattress and nudged her body into the crannies of the couch.

“She’s so nice,” Caro couldn’t help but add as an agreement. “You said it's close to seven thirty, right? I have to get ready.”

“Heading out to the city, right?”

“Yeah, so I really need to get things in order. Get dressed in a proper outfit, find the things I need to cast the spell, wash my face, the whole prep before Chris drops by… I doubt she’ll be early, but it’s best to hurry up.” Caro was grabbing her books and making her way to the hallway.

Back at her room, she found her roommate in a state of semi-awakeness, with her body still wrapped in the bedsheets and her eyes under the pillow, looking much like someone who'd just had a hangover or a rude awakening. Caro hoped for the latter.

“Morning,” the girl said with a small yawn as she peeked out from under the pillow. “You didn’t sleep on your temporary mattress, last night.” A currently-nailed finger pointed down at the inflated bed that was still wrapped in her bedsheets.

Great, a small reminder that she would have to deflate it, fold it and hand it back. Usually, on Sundays one didn't want to have to do anything.

“I did; I just couldn’t get a nice sleep. All in all, I think I would’ve woken up with my head wanting to roll over.” Caro dropped her book onto her bed and began to search through the drawers. “How about you? Why do you look like you had a hangover?”

“Don’t have a hangover,” Sofia mumbled.

“Did you sneak out to Crossby’s party during the night?” Caro was half prepared to admonish her roommate were she to answer with a ‘yes’. But had to remind herself she didn’t really have the time.

“No, I didn’t. And from what Giselle told me, it was a blast. They annexed the adjacent rooms for their party and had a lot of things set up. From card games to movies. Someone even brought in a roulette wheel. I’ve never played roulette.”

“Yeah, I’m so sorry about that,” Caro said in a disingenuous tone. Not that she minded as she was already quite busy sliding her horns safely past the collar of her shirt. It was a stylish one that bore a stamped-in quote from one of her favorite movies: “Don’t be afraid to dream big, darling.” This kind of geeky fanaticism would've gotten someone mocked in her old school, probably by herself, but it fitted perfectly with the group she would be accompanying, knowing both Gwen's and Chris's senses of fashion.

“Why do you even like to drink?”

“It makes you feel good? Everyone around does it, so it’s probably no biggie.” Sofia muttered.

There were so many issues with that answer that Caro just wanted to break down, yet she couldn’t really bother to argue at this time of the morning. “Just be careful.”

She stepped up in front of the vanity mirror that was on their closet door, idly adjusting her shirt and pulling her hair around the horns and making sure none of the scales that grew on her back could be seen. Not that it mattered much since she would be using a glamour on herself; it was mostly force of habit. There was a small concern that still nagged her: Security’s authorization.

With all that had happened the day before, she'd barely gotten a chance to test the spell, meaning that today, right before they left the school’s perimeter, she would have to give her magic the old trial by fire routine. And despite being a ninety percent certain that the effect would be as expected, she knew it was usually the little things that she failed to see. Like, for example, her horns: one would imagine that if they were to be magically photoshopped out of her hair, it would leave her with a couple of bald spots, in the worst case… And for that, as much as she hated it, she picked up the wide-brimmed hat that seemed to fit better with a sun-dress for a Sunday church outing. Paired with the stamped shirt, it might as well have spelled out “lack of fashion sense”. Still, the hat was large enough to be worn over her horns.

“You know that the school has a very very low tolerance for drunkenness, right?” she continued, retrieving the picture she would use for the spell from the drawer.

“Crossby won’t get caught. He’s too sneaky.”

“If you say so,” Caro said, holding the condemnation in her tongue for later as she moved over to her desk and quietly searched through her books.. “I had to put up with a couple of drunk guys near the end of my last ‘normal’ school year and and they became complete assholes after the second can. I would get really worried about what could happen when someone with heat vision gets drunk.” As she spoke, the sound of papers being shuffled grew more hasty.

The rattling of the pages became too much for Sofia to handle. “What is going on there?”

“Sorry, I’m just looking for two marked envelopes I made up for today. You wouldn’t have seen them, right?”

“Not that I know of. Was there anything special about them?”

“I need them to cast my spell.” Out of the corner of her eyes Caro could see Sofia gesturing for her to elaborate more. “Some simple manila envelopes for a letter, about the size of a postcard. No, exactly the size of a postcard. I worked on it last night, decorated it with a series of glyphs and seals. The ink and details were still fresh, so I left it… on my notebook…”

Caro’s eyes glanced down at her notebook as it rested on the bare bed frame and then at the desk she left it at. “Oh… It must’ve fallen off when I picked up my book over the night. I do hope you didn’t step on it.”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave the bed,” Sofia mumbled.

“As long as the circle is fine. It can be crumpled, I think,” Caro muttered regardless as she crouched down and began to lift the bedsheets off the inflatable mattress. Yet her words quickly stopped as a gasp escaped her lips.

“What is it this time?” Sofia muttered, a bit of trepidation about her but mostly frustration as it was perhaps a tad too early for this kind of conversation.

“It’s ruined…. The envelope is ruined,” Caro muttered, shocked.

Sitting up, Sofia got a good look at Caro, who was shifting between bright red and pale pink as her hands held the envelopes. As she'd described them, they were the size of postcards with black inked markings over them. Despite being somewhat wrinkled, they looked entirely whole and, at first, the zoo girl couldn’t spot the difference. Yet, leaning herself in closer she caught a glimpse as to the problem, what would soon be the incriminating evidence against her.

As Caro'd said, the piece of paper bore rather careful and fine inking. Thin lines scribbled with the utmost care, as it was the case with her more complex spells… with the exception of two large spots. One rested close to where the lid’s corner met with the body and another larger one was closer to the edge of it. And where those spots were, the ink had already washed itself into a blur.

“Can… it still work?” Sofia asked.

“I… I don’t think it can… I could try, but I’m worried it won’t work as well or break apart in the worst of times.”

“What about that spell you have that fixes your book?”

“It only works for my book… it also erases everything, so it wouldn’t work.” Caro muttered as she flipped the envelope and sighed as the other face had a spot on its corner. While the damage wasn’t as great as it appeared at first glance, the spots had damaged the sigil lines, blurring them into inked spots.

“Can’t you redraw it?”

“It would take me an hour to work the glyphs and… it’s seven thirty three, I should be getting ready to meet up with Gwen and Chris… What happened to it? This thing is doused!” Caro glanced down at Sofia and leaned in closer, putting her nose against the spot. “Is this… alcohol? Crossby’s devised alcohol?”

“I… I don’t know.” Sofia said dodgingly even after Caro presented the envelope for a sniff, as if she were a dog.

“Sofi, please! This smells strongly and we don’t keep any water -- or anything liquid for that matter other than my ink -- and we can both tell this isn’t ink… Were you keeping bottles of Crossby’s booze in our room!?” Caro blurted out, perhaps a bit too loud for her convenience.

“I…No. Well, yes, I was, BUT...” Sofia hesitated and tumbled at the start, but finished with a very marked last word.

“Do you have any idea of what could happen if we are caught with those bottles in our room?!”

“I told you to calm down. It’s been handled!” Sofia insisted, pushing herself up.

“Evidently not entirely,” Caro muttered frustrated. “I was supposed to use these things to go to the city with my friends! How am I supposed to hide my horns and scales? Do you have any idea how frustrating is to have my plans broken down because of my drunk roommate?”

“Caro, tone it down! What if Mrs. Savage-”

“Mrs. Savage is out, so don’t worry about being caught. And you should be sorry for ruining my day.” Caro flicked the envelopes down onto her roommate. “The spell will either not work or quickly fizzle itself out at the worst of moments. Security would certainly ground me if the spell is not perfect. I won’t be able to head out at all.”

“Ugh…” was all Sofia could say before standing up and walking over to the door of their bedroom, much to the befuddlement of her roommate.

“Where are you going?”

“Where else? To see my friends at Emerson!”

Caro gasped as her roommate disappeared into the hallway. “That girl,” was all she could utter as rushed after Sofia with her notebook in one hand and an item snatched from the drawers in the other.

“You can’t go there now,” Caro called out as she exited to the hallway and followed at a brisk pace.

“Why not? And why do you care?”

“I care when my roommate gets wasted and thrashes my room.”

“I don’t get wasted!” Sofia snapped. “But I certainly would feel like it if I have to stay around with someone nagging at me. And what are you going to do to keep me from moving? Are you going to use your barrier spell to stop me?”

“Sofia, don’t go to that guy and his clandestine bar.”

“You keep on acting like my mother.” Sofia snorted. "You can't tell me who my friends are!"

“No, but I can make sure you don’t leave the cottage...” Caro's fingers pressed against the cover of the book. She was able to visualize the page she needed, inscribed with a spell for a simple and quick reference. “Good night, Sofia.”

The book behind her back began to glow with the markings that wrapped around its cover, and then there was a quiet flash. The mana traveled down the ink of each word, interpreting it like a printed circuit and casting the spell at the target.

Caro felt the energy of the book, of her magic and the spell in question billow itself down the hallway before her. It was a shade of dark blue. That... was not optimal. She urgently poured much more of her essence into making the effect transparent, until it vanished into a gust of wind that blew lightly through her roommate’s hair, keeping her none the wiser as to what happened.

“It’s done now…” Caro said with a snort of triumph. The feeling was short lived, though, as all of a sudden, the hallway ahead blurred and her legs felt boneless. If it weren’t for the wall to her right, she would’ve made a scene by falling down to her knees. “That took a lot more out of me than I thought it would…” she whimpered, taking a deep breath as her vision steadied itself up.

She felt drained, as if she could barely muster the energy to cast another spell, and her body was feeling the rest of the repercussions. Fortunately, the spinning world wore off soon enough, and seeing as Sofia had almost made it to the common room, she hastily followed after, leaning up against the wall of the hallway while, barely giving a thought to the exhaustion that had just assaulted her. The spell must have had its wrinkles that needed ironing. That, or she wasn't as well rested as she'd thought.

“Hey! Wait up!” Caro called as she pushed on.

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Meanwhile

“Chris! Hi!” Tanya sprinted up, spry and cheerful at this time of the day, announcing how much of a morning person she was to a world that was not ready to know. She was already dressed up in an outfit that showed thought and care: a set of jeans, a nice matching shirt and a denim jacket that bore several pins that spelled out her levels of geekiness.

Chris could only throw her gaze down at her own clothes, which consisted of an unflattering white shirt and a pair of tracksuit pants that would be perfect for the tricks she planned to pull off that. She'd made at least an effort to look as a skater. Old Chris would probably never have bothered to look her best. Of course, that was back when she was in that pretentious private school where uniforms were the norm. And even then it was her mother or her friend, Bruce, who would feel the shame instead of her. Now that she had no one to shunt the feeling onto, she was already considering walking back to the room to get a change of attire.

“Um… Chris?”

“Yeah? Oh, sorry,” Chris said, relying on honesty this time. “I just feel a bit carelessly underdressed.”

“What are you talking about… you look… well...” Tanya struggled to say something about the plain outfit. “It’s practical.”

She was trying to lie, bless her heart. Chris hid a grin as she stepped into the cottage’s lobby. “Are you heading out already?”

“Yeah, we agreed to get together in the art room to meet up with Josephine. Erica sent me a text. Apparently, they say Jo pulled an all-nighter there… So it might be a good idea to pass by the Crystal Hall to get her some coffee.”

“Cool, thanks for the tip.”

“How about you, Chris? Did you get the paperwork done?” Tanya asked.

“I did… fortunately. I have it ready and I'm on my way to deliver it to Security while Gwen gets ready. But I wanted to check on Caro, hopefully help her in anything that needs to be done for her glamour spell.”

“Caro… um,” Tanya said as she took a couple of steps into the room just to lean into the lounge. Chris could see for herself, though. She had the habit of coming around here at least about once a week, so she was pretty accustomed to the place and knew most of the girls.

“Is something wrong?” Chris said, already feeling her mind's eye twitch and itch to warn her of something, yet she couldn’t ‘see’ or identify anything different.

“Oh, it’s just that it looks as if she and Sofia have been having some trouble,” Tanya explained, pointing at the lounge where Caro tended to lay down. “She spent the night there, so something is wrong.”

“Oh,” was all Chris could say. Normally, she would’ve made a joke with something along the lines of ‘problems in the honeymoon’ but she was more than certain that line would only work on guys without earning her any resentment points. “Do you know if she is awa-”

“I told you to stop walking away damn it!” Caro's voice came from the hallway, labored and heaving with every step. “I told you we’re not done with this.”

“Screw this,” came Sofia’s voice as the sophomore emerged from the hallway and into the common room. Having a bad hair day and still in her rather discreet pajamas, the details provided all the context for her attitude that was needed. And not long after came Caro, who despite being dressed ready for a day out, looked physically and emotionally exhausted.

“No! You don’t get to say ‘screw this’!”

“Of course I can. I just had a poor day yesterday. Completely wasted it trying to give you a fix for an accident you kept bringing up throughout the entire day. Now I wake up only to get accused of this… Stop that.” Sofia cut in as soon as she felt Caro grab her wrist, quickly whipping it away.

There was a brief silence between the two as the two girls glared daggers as half of Whitman looked on. Some of the girls looked too scared to move or otherwise get between the girls. Sofia was ready to fight and Chris could see subtle changes down the sophomore’s hand as claws grew and retracted.

Caro was unyielding on her own right. Despite lacking the physical strength of her roommate, she had a strong resolve that was intimidating. Maybe it was the horns or the scales or the fact that the spell book was plainly visible in her hands. There was an imminent feeling that the roommate spat would escalate beyond a verbal sparring.

“Where are the RAs when you need them?” Chris thought urgently. Only seeing sophomores and freshmen present, she mentally prepped her own warping abilities, in case she needed them ready to put a pause to the two girls.

“You can’t go.”

“Why not?” Sofia snorted.

“Because you ruined the preparations for the spell I was working on! And you have the nerve to bail on me?”

“Oh… crap,” Chris muttered. The situation began to feel incredibly awkward now that she got a clear picture of what just happened. Suddenly appearing in front of her friend as a reminder of the trip she wouldn’t be able to take... that felt like a moment she’d rather avoid.

“Um… Caro?” It was Tanya who joined in. Not in a big way, just finding herself slightly above a small cough one would use to draw attention.

“Yes?” Caro replied, slowly prying her gaze away from her roommate to see the lavender-haired girl and Chris standing at the threshold of the room. Emotions swirled across her face, with sadness, frustration, and anger being the top three. A lower lip quivered as the girl tried to find the right words. “Sorry, Chris, but I don’t think I’ll be going. You should go without me.”

“A-are you sure? I mean, we can always pass it on for another day.”

Caro took a sigh. “We can always go another weekend. That is, if my spell doesn't get destroyed even before I can use it.” The horned girl may not have been looking at her roommate just then, but it was obvious to all that she was pissed.

If there were words to make her friend feel better, Chris didn't know them. She had a certain lack of experience with making girls feel better about things.

“Just go, Chris, please. I know you wanted to go to New Hampshire. Don’t cut your plans short for me,” Caro said in her most controlled manner. “Just go and have fun.”

“I… We’ll get you something on the way back,” Chris answered as she stepped out into the corridor with Tanya meekly following in tow.

Before coming to Whateley, Chris had never had any girlfriends -- in both senses of the word, romantic and non -- at least not many that she could count herself as close to. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to comfort the girl or do as she said, but the situation was already awkward enough to get her out of the Whitman with quiet relief. And a concern about what was brewing.

“That was… something,” After a good number of steps away, Tanya broke the silence with a bit of an awkward.

“Yeah…” Chris muttered. “Do you think I should’ve stayed over there to help?”

“It’s not an easy call.” The lavender hair colored girl let out a small sigh. “I was really hoping to hang out with her. I don’t see her around in the Capes too often.”

“Yeah… she tends to only show up if it’s mandatory. Otherwise, we don’t really expect to see her there.”

“I’m surprised she… I mean…” Tanya blundered her way through words.

Chris snickered. “I know. With her powers, codename and attitude, it’s not hard to think she would play for the other team. Yanno?”

“How did she get to that point?”

“Well… it’s a fun albeit long story. I should tell you about it one of these days but right now… Crap! I’m late. I have to run over to Poe and get Gwen, along with my skateboards and rollerblades,” Chris blurted after looking down at her phone.

“Boo,” Tanya’s face seemed to say, with a small stick of the tongue before glanced down at her phone.” Well, my friends are already at the meeting spot. See you later?”

“Sure thing,” Chris before she broke into a jog.

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Back at the Whitman Common room

After Tanya and Chris had quit the room, the tense silence filled their vacated space as the two roommates exchanged glares while the bystanders who chose to remain out of curiosity lingered, wondering how it would all end up. More than a few were debating whether they should go look for Mrs. Savage or campus security, while others were already dreading the moment Ratel would smell the impending fight and come to stir up trouble.

Sofia did her best to hold her stance and keep a stern face to mask her uneasiness over the entire situation. But her own admission of guilt was weighing her down against Caro, who was discreetly rubbing her eyes with her face turned. Tears held a universal, almost primal feeling, and Sofia’s frustration was subsiding even as she spoke up. “Listen, Caro. I am sorry,” she whispered, reaching over for her roommate’s shoulder, only for the hand to be shoved away.

“No! Don’t. Do you have any idea of how long I’ve waited for an outing in the city. A normal day like any normal girl? I’m sure many of us around here could ask for the same,” Caro shouted.

“Don’t you dare escalate this,” Sofia growled. “It’s already bad enough to be talking about it in public and now you want to bring them in?”

“Then don’t go to your boyfriend’s place,” Caro shot back. “At least try to have some solidarity!”

“Believe me, after this, I need something to numb myself.”

“Really? Isn’t that what caused this?” She raised up the two envelopes that were visibly stained, into plain view. “Given how they are now ruined, I have no use for them.” She punctuated the moment by tearing the envelope into halves, then fourths and eighths before flicking them over her back.

“I didn’t do it. No! Don’t give me that look. And besides, what am I supposed to do? Offer my help to do some complicated magic when I don’t even have an idea how it works?”

“Anything is better than heading off to get wasted!”

“Oh callate,” Sofia hushed. “How are you saying that out loud! I-I don’t get drunk!”

“What a comfort to know,” Caro said sarcastically, which pushed Sofia’s patience to the limit.

“You know what? Fine. I’ll just head over to Emerson and deal with problems there. I have no idea why I’m still talking to you if you’re going to keep on shunting all the blame onto me.”

“Of course! It is your fault.”

“Well… I…” Sofia mumbled through as she searched for a defense or even a word in her favor. Her glance briefly strayed around to take note the many eyes that were trailed on her. “I didn’t do this, I swear… But you‘re not blameless either!”

Caro was speechless for a brief moment, and even a couple of girls around the room let out gasps and began to whisper. “What are you saying?!”

“You also did this. The envelope was on top of the desk. You said it yourself, it was on top of your little book before you went to bed and ended up on the floor when you took it out.”

“I…” Caro blurted out. Almost reflexively glancing down at the spell book that rested down in her hand.

“Tell me I’m wrong.” Sofia challenged, and it was something Caro couldn’t bring herself to refute. Whatever had happened would probably not have stained the envelope if it had been on the table. She barely knew how the splotches had formed. When no answer was given, she continued. “I’m done here. This argument is doing nothing but sour my morning.”

“I haven’t given you the permission to leave!” Caro blurted out.

“I don’t need your permission to meet up with my boyfriend and hang out with friends.”

“You don’t get to do that?”

“Why?”

“You ruined my spell and you’re just leaving?”

“Again, what else can I do? Or is it just because you can’t do anything I’m supposed to stay back and grovel for forgiveness? No fastidies.”

By this point Caro was fuming and her face was red, contrasting against her darker scales. Many of the girls were anticipating the worst to happen when Sofia turned on a heel and walked towards the exit of the common room. It was difficult to focus on their books or phones with a scene like this unfolding before them.

“Can someone fetch Mrs. Savage?” Faollass whispered.

“Think I left my phone in my room,” Meow Meow Mix added to excuse herself.

The panic in their eyes only grew as they saw Ratel walking out of the hallway. Still dressed in her PJs, the honey badger girl had a sunny disposition at this time of the day and a grin that told the world she was looking for trouble.

“Is someone fighting?” she asked, half joking, half thrilled.

Many of the girls expected Caro to sic the freshman after Sofia, but the sophomore barely processed Ratel’s appearance. She searched a pocket, to produce a small brass bell, a simple trinket that might have been pulled straight from the nineteenth century.

“This is the last warning!” Caro challenged, taking one more step before Sofia could walk outside of the carpeted floor.

The roommate didn’t give any sort of response, instead just waving her arm dismissively, not heeding Caro's warning. And that was enough for Caro. She flicked her wrist, and the bell rang. Common as it was, there was something about the moment when the clapper struck the sound-bowl. The ring that should usually be sharp yet fleeting and dry came out strong and drawn out instead. The ring of the bell swept through the air like a tuning fork that pierced through bone and head. The curse was now in force.

Sofia’s next step became suddenly wobbly as her body was drawn forward by its momentum and nothing else. There didn’t seem to be any sort of loss of consciousness. The spell had worked and the sleep was instantaneous; the girl stumbled over like a ragdoll and fell right onto the carpet.

Caro winced and hoped her roommate hadn’t broken her arm. In the after-echoes of the bell's sounding, her brain was already ringing with thoughts of "Oh damn, what did I just do..."

“Girls, I can explain…” Caro trailed off as she turned around. There was something wrong with the entire room. Every one of the eight girls present were… for lack of a better word, out of consciousness. Faollass had her back on the couch with her arms splayed out and her tongue lolling out of her canine muzzle. Meow Mix, who had been about to get up, had instead fallen the moment the brass chimed, landing with her back on the carpet and barely missing the table. Shisa had been in the middle of slipping off the resting couch, and was now in a compromising position with her head and forelegs resting on the carpet and the rest of her body up on the furniture.

The sight of an entire room of passed-out girls would’ve elicited at the very least a chuckle from Caro if it were happening to someone else in her situation. But it wasn’t.

“Oh, curses…”

 

To Be Continued
Read 2712 times Last modified on Tuesday, 31 August 2021 03:08

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Original Timeline stories published from 2004-2009

Original Timeline stories published from 2010 - 2015

Original Timeline stories published from 2016 - 2021