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Sunderland College [2.2 – Getting To Know You]

MONDAY

 

The rest of the morning is devoted to everyone getting their Battle Clothing. For most people, it takes less than ten minutes to request a piece of clothing, then a further twenty for the lab assistants to prepare it.

For one individual, it takes quite a bit longer.

“Good day!” announces Donovan as he swishes into the clothing labs.

“You here for clothing?” asks a man in a labcoat, who looks busy and overworked. Donovan nods. The man walks through a set of double doors leading into the proper part of the lab, muttering “Wait here, let one of my assistants know which clothing and patch you want.”

An assistant exits the room. He’s a little older than Donovan, but evidently has already finished college. “Hey, I’m Jack. You know what you want?”

“Indeed, I already know of the dark powers I require. You see this coat I wear?”

“Yup.” Jack says.

Donovan lifts his hands with a flourish. “Take this coat from me and give it the upgrade of darkness it so desperately requires!”

Jack tilts his head in confusion, then opens up the lab door.

“Uh, Romein?”

“Mm?” the man replies, tapping some keys on a computer and preparing some mysterious experiment.

“Got a kid here asking for his own clothing to be used in the process.”

“Goddammit, there’s always one.” sighs Romein. He walks to the door. “Right, give us your coat. We’ll run some tests on it to make sure it’s made with Original Cloth, and if it is, we can patch it. What patch d’you want?”

“Uh, support.” Donovan says, removing his coat and handing it over.

“It’s gonna be a while. Come back in about an hour, OK?”

“Yes, sir!” Donovan replies. “Delve deep into your inner darkness and bring out a truly terrifying piece of Battle Clothing!”

“Sure thing, you crazy asshole.” Romein replies, muttering under his breath as he re-enters the lab. Donovan walks off, flushed with pride, excited for his new piece of Battle Clothing, completely unaware at how annoyed everyone at the lab is.

 

*

 

Form B have General Studies after lunch, and make their way into the classroom, talking excitedly about their new clothing.

“Yeah, I chose the Trench Coat and Power Patch.” Eiden is saying to Aubree. He holds up his hand, and his entire arm transforms into into a flexing, pulsating arm of darkness. Pellets of dark energy dance around his fingertips.

“Whoa…” breathes Aubree.

“This is the Shade Palm.” Eiden says. “No idea what it does yet, but hey, it looks cool as hell.”

“I went with a Jumpsuit and a Power Patch – the Sparkling Suit!” Aubree replies with a grin.

“It certainly looks flashy.” Eiden replies dryly.

Zaphod sits beside Phillis, much to his chagrin, whilst Eiden and Aubree sit together near the front. Anastasia joins them, and a few minutes later, Clocksworth runs in, sitting at the back.

“Hey.” Zaphod says to Phillis. Phillis doesn’t respond, and Zaphod isn’t sure what to say, so he just falls silent.

“Trust Clocksworth to be late.” Eiden says.

Anastasia smirks. “I’m not surprised – did you see how much food they ate at lunch?”

“I must admit, though, that’s a nice piece of Battle Clothing. Why do I recognise it?” Eiden murmurs. Aubree and Anastasia study it for a moment.

“Isn’t that the same as Simon’s?” Aubree says.

“Yeah, that’s it.” Eiden says. “The Phantom Overcoat, huh..?”

The teacher coughs to get the class’ attention, then begins the lesson.

“Welcome, class, to General Studies. This is a mixed subject where we’ll do a bit of maths, a bit of english and a bit of science; mastering Battle Clothing is important, but so is becoming a well-rounded person. Got it?” the teacher says. “My name is Peter Kingsley, and I’ll be covering your studies for this year. I’m a nice guy, but the boss upstairs says I gotta set you guys quite a bit of homework. Sorry ‘bout that.”

He strides over to the whiteboard and gets a pen.

“Right, gang, let’s learn us some mathematics!”

 

*

 

During the afternoon, in a free period, Donovan discovers Cassandra in the library, reading a book intently.

“Ah, Cassandra. How are you?” he asks. Cassandra jumps in surprise and looks up.

“Oh! Donovan, hi. I’m alright, just doing some reading on Bombardiers.”

Donovan sits beside her. “I’m just avoiding that Xilog fellow! Saw him walking down the corridor, and I’d rather not interact with him. Not after our discussion during the taster day.”

“What happened?” Cassandra asks. “Nobody could hear you guys talk up on those pillars.”

Donovan changes the subject. “Nothing too important, just stuff. Why are you reading about Bombardiers?”

It’s Cassandra’s turn to shift awkwardly. “Oh, I was just doing research. Look at all these cool Bombardiers from the 90s!”

“Ooh, these are cool!” Donovan says. “I used to collect trading cards of these guys- uh, I mean, used to do research on them too!”

“Fire and Ice – these guys were so good that they became joint Top Bombardiers. And then there’s Macklemore, the man who breaks through every barrier.”

“Awesome!” says Donovan.

Cassandra grins. “But here’s the real reason I wanted to find this book: look at this guy.”

Donovan stares at the Bombardier on the page – the name, the grainy photograph and the description are all accurate. “No way…”

“Yes way.” Cassandra replies. “Simon Rutledge used to be a Bombardier.”

 

*

 

Eiden and Jackson find themselves in Clothing History at the end of the day. Eiden recognises the teacher, Bradley, who begins to introduce himself to the class and talk about the first subject on their course: the history of Battle Clothing and Ubaid’s life. The class doesn’t seem relatively enthused, but Eiden and Jackson are taking fairly good notes.

“Hey, you’re Eiden, right?” Jackson asks. Eiden nods. “Cool. I just wanted to say, it’s nice to meet someone with similar interests to me. Can’t wait to do more design-based stuff in my other lessons.”

“Yeah, that should be good.” Eiden replies. “What was your second subject choice?”

“Performing Arts!” Jackson says with a grin.

“Same here!” Eiden replies. “That’ll be cool, we’ll be able to work on group work together.”

“For sure.” Jackson says. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”

Due to the relative dullness of the lesson, Jackson’s mind begins to wander. Outside, he is able to see another class through the window: Physical Education. A huge, buff man gathers his class on the training field outside, wearing huge boxing shorts and massive boots, with no top. His abs are rock-solid. He barks for them to get in line, and only then does he introduce himself.

“Listen up! I am Andy Yates, and I run the Physical Education course here at Sunderland! Don’t think this is your fun Combat Training! Here we don’t just fight; we push your bodies to the limits and learn what it really means to feel alive!”

The class are staring in surprise. Andy glares at them with a twinkle in his eye, and he gives a fiendish grin.

“We’ll do some training exercise to get you all started – but first I want two laps around the college campus! Go!”

Most of the class set off awkwardly, but Cassandra and Boo sprint ahead, followed closely by Donovan, Phillis and Clocksworth, who are giving it their all.

“Is… this what… I asked for?” grunts Clocksworth as she runs. Donovan grins, but it’s clear that he is way out of his depth.

“Nope! But… we gotta… keep going! Get… stronger!”

Andy stares at the two girls pushing ahead of the rest of the class, not even showing signs of flagging as they sprint into the distance. “…Looks like we got a good batch this year. Might be able to get some decent Bombardiers out of this lot.”

 

*

 

The Physical Education absolutely demolishes most of the class, even those who are physically fit. Andy nods as the bell goes, and the class drop their dumbbells, cease their sit-ups and bring their running to a stop. “Right, there’s the bell – everyone get showered or changed and then head home. Good work today!”

Cassandra walks up to him. “Excuse me, sir, but would I be able to stay and train with my Battle Clothing for a bit?”

“Should be fine.” Andy replies. “If you’re training on your own, sure, but if you want to train with a friend, remember that you need a combat referee with you at all times!”

“No worries, it’s just me.” Cassandra replies. “Thank you!”

The class all drag themselves inside, but Cassandra stays on the field with her new duffle coat. As she focuses her power, the duffle coat becomes white and glitters with frost, transforming into the Chillbringer. She continues to focus, and soon, a cold air begins to surround her, and a snowstorm begins to form.

It takes a while to build up, but soon, a fierce frost rips its way across the training field, and Cassandra conducts the winds and ice like a dancer, swaying in the midst of the storm and commanding every aspect of it. She gets an idea, and tries to focus her power on one central point – a spike of ice erupts from the ground, throwing her back, where she lands painfully. She grins at the spike, however, impressed at her power.

Slowly, over time, the snowstorm dissipates, and Cassandra sits, satisfied with her new Battle Clothing.

 

TUESDAY

 

“P?”

Xilog turns and sees Eiden watching him running on the treadmill.

“Hello.” he says. He turns the treadmill off and hops onto the floor, breathing in and out heavily.

“Sorry to disturb your training. It’s quarter to eight in the morning, what the hell are you doing here so early?”

“I could ask you the same thing.” Xilog replies.

Eiden laughs. “I just wanted to drop by the gym before registration and figure out how some of these exercise machines work. Didn’t think I’d find anyone actually using them this early!”

“I’ve been here since six.” Xilog says, shrugging. “A good time to exercise.”

“Jeez, I didn’t think the college opened that early.” Eiden replies. “You wanna get showered and head to registration?”

“Yeah. I’ll be with you momentarily.” Xilog says. Eiden watches him walk into the changing rooms, and tilts his head in confusion.

 

*

 

After registration, Boo and Cassandra make their way down to Clothing History. Cassandra turns to Boo.

“Hey, I didn’t see you much yesterday. What clothing did you go with, in the end?”

“Oh, um…” Boo murmurs. “I liked the Sawblade Skirt, so I chose that. Y-you?”

“The Chillbringer!” Cassandra says. “It’s been a lot of fun so far – our first Combat Training lesson is today, right?”

“10 o’clock, right after Clothing History.” Boo replies. “I’m… I’m excited.”

As they arrive at Clothing History, they spot many familiar faces: Anastasia, Aubree, Phillis, Xilog and Clocksworth. Cassandra sits with Xilog and Anastasia, whilst Phillis sits at the back as usual. Clocksworth sits on his own, nervously, but Aubree and Boo also end up sitting near him.

The lesson is not particularly interesting to most, but Boo and Cassandra are taking incredibly detailed notes and listening to everything. Aubree seems bored by the lack of practical work and is doodling whenever Bradley stops talking for a little while.

Anastasia, meanwhile, is whispering bits of advice and explaining things for those around her who don’t understand it – she has an impressive knowledge of Clothing History already.

Once the lesson is over, everyone who has Combat Training excitedly heads down to the ground floor. Xilog bumps into Eiden on his way.

“Hey, how are you?” Eiden says. “You recovered from this morning?”

“Perfectly fine. For a given definition of fine, though one human’s fine-ness may only be what they innately believe; one human’s ‘fine’ might be another human’s ‘cripplingly depressed’. But that’s neither here nor there…” Xilog says.

“Thanks for the philosophy lecture as always, P.” Eiden says. “You off to another lesson?”

“Combat Training.” Xilog replies. “I am… not sure how I will perform. I didn’t do well during the taster day.”

“You’ll do great. Just make sure to have fun with your clothing – push it to the limits, and see what it can do. I didn’t do great at the taster day, but I have Combat Training this afternoon and I’m ready to kick some ass!”

“Excellent. We should discuss how we performed later.”

“Sure,” Eiden replies as he begins to walk away. “I’ll be on third in the lunchroom, getting a coffee.”

“Talk then.” Xilog replies, before rushing to catch up with his classmates as they head to their first lesson of Combat Training. He finds Donovan, Boo, Cassandra, Ten and Jackson readying themselves in the changing rooms.

The class, some ten minutes later, are waiting on the field as a woman walks up to them. She has blonde hair, a perfectly toned body, with piercing green eyes and a devilish smile. She wears a smoking jacket with a crop top underneath, and black leggings with trainers.

“Hey there, class! Now then, my name is Marion Summer, and by the end of this year, you’re gonna hate me. I run Combat Training, the class where you beat each other up and I give you points based on how well you did!”

“Sounds charming.” Ten mutters, but Cassandra notes that Ten can’t keep her eyes off Marion.

“Now then, can anyone tell me how to get better at fighting?” Marion asks.

Boo almost raises her hand, but is too shy to answer. Cassandra answers.

“Practise?”

“Almost!” Marion says. “Now, the most important thing about combat is that it isn’t about your opponent – it’s about you. It doesn’t matter who your opponent is; it just matters that you know your limits, your strengths and what you can do. Practise is part of it, but having a deep understanding of your own body and your Battle Clothing is another part.

“But that’s all wishy-washy philosophical stuff that we can consider another time. Right now, we’re going to have some fights! Our Combat Referee is just arriving – hi, Mike!”

“Hey.” Mike replies, walking up to the class. “I’m Mike, a combat referee. Probably saw some of you at the open day or whatever, but if not, hi.”

“Right, now we’re all ready to go. Who wants to go first?”

Boo, who has built up a lot of nervous energy throughout the day, puts her hand up, craving a fight. She does so at the exact same time as Ten. Marion points at them, and Cassandra and Donovan, who were in the process of raising their hands, put them down, disappointed.

“You two – what are your names?”

“Boo.”

“Ten.”

“Boo and Ten!” Marion calls. “Step onto the field and begin the fight!”

“Wait, are they-” Cassandra says.

Xilog nods, with a wry grin. “Looks like they both chose the Sawblade Skirt.”

 

*

 

Donovan sits by himself at lunch, eating as much as he can do recover his strength from the Combat Training lesson. Clocksworth is nearby, eating a huge plate of food with obvious enjoyment.

Xilog, meanwhile, takes a seat next to Boo at the lunchroom table nearest to the window. The blazing sun shines through, providing a nice warm environment to eat it.

Boo stares at Xilog for several moments.

“Um…” she murmurs. She puts her food aside and begins to get out a bit of her Clothing History homework.

“…How are you today?” Xilog asks. The question is awkward and stilted.

“Fine.” Boo murmurs. “I’m just busy doing homework…”

“To avoid social interaction, I suppose.” Xilog says. “Your performance in Combat Training was excellent this morning; you won with ease.”

“As I said, I did karate. I’m moderately strong.”

“And so humble.” Xilog says. “Well, I’ll let you get on.”

With that, he walks away, leaving Boo staring dumbfounded at him.

Half an hour of quiet work later, Eiden comes walking up to her, and stands at her table. She looks up at him.

“Uh… sorry to bother you.” he starts awkwardly. “I was just wondering… you were so strong at the training day, and you’re really good at fighting. Can you… maybe, give me some pointers? Or train me a little? I want to become more powerful.”

“Oh…” she murmurs. “Um… I have… uh, I have a lot of work to do. And I am very, uh, busy. I don’t think I would have time, our timetables are too different… um, I need to keep up with homework, and I, uh, have to walk my, uh, dog, that I definitely have, every night. So, sorry. I can’t help you…”

“Ah.” Eiden replies, sagging a little. “No… no worries. Thanks anyway.”

The rest of lunch is relatively uneventful, and Eiden starts to leave the lunchroom for his lesson when he spots two girls, both engrossed in whatever it is that they’re doing.

“Anastasia! Aubree! You’re gonna be late for Combat Training!” he calls. They look up in surprise.

“Wow, I got so distracted, I lost track of time.” Aubree replies with a bright smile. “Thanks, Eiden!”

The three of them head off, talking amongst themselves.

“You chose the Garrotte Garter, Anastasia?” Aubree asks. Anastasia grins and nods.

“Yeah – this dress is really nice and comfy, and when it transforms… well, I’ll probably be wearing it to all the fancy events that I go to!”

“Nice.” Eiden says. “I’ll be looking forward to battling you guys today. I’m ready to have my first proper fight!”

Anastasia laughs. “Yeah, I guess being punched into a wall within three seconds wasn’t really a proper fight, huh?”

“Certainly not.” Eiden sighs.

 

*

 

After the group are introduced to Marion Summer and the referee, Lauren Valleja, they prepare to fight. The first two to fight are Eiden and Phillis.

“Phillis, you’re a brave man, not choosing any Battle Clothing whatsoever, let alone being naked outside in September!” remarks Marion. “Alright, you two – begin!”

Phillis is slow and stately – he walks forward with the cunning assurance of a predator, whilst Eiden’s right arm transforms into a pulsing hand of dark energy, crackling with power: the Shade Palm. He gets a natural sense of the powers he has and raises his hand. With a blast of power, a projectile of darkness is launched from his hand, throwing him backwards. He stumbles, almost falling over, and Phillis leaps to the side to dodge the blast.

“Oh, I like this.” Eiden mutters, grinning behind his mask. “I like this.

He runs for Phillis, who prepares to grapple with him, but Eiden fires a warning shot first. With little room to dodge, the blast hits Phillis in the chest and knocks him back a little. He goes to punch the bigger boy, but Phillis grabs his left arm and hurls him over, sending him crashing to the floor.

Before Phillis can follow up the attack, Eiden slams his palm into the floor and a wave of dark energy erupts over everything. Before the radius becomes too large, however, it fizzles and evaporates, doing absolutely nothing.

“Well, that was special.” smirks Phillis, who goes in for the kill. Eiden clambers to his feet and dances backward to avoid Phillis.

“I don’t get you, you know.” he says. “I don’t understand how far you think you’re going to get without Battle Clothing.”

“I don’t get you!” Phillis replies, hurling a punch, which Eiden dodges. He prepares a shadow blast again, but Phillis takes it in his stride, the shot barely slowing him down. “How can you wrap yourself up in Original Cloth and believe that you’ll be alright? How can you walk around, not terrified that one day your clothes might just become Silhouette Clothes and consume you entirely?”

The class watch the fight in relative silence. Up above, the sun becomes briefly blotted out by a large cloud, darkening the college.

Suddenly, Eiden feels a surge of power course down his arm and fires a blast of shadow. It hits Phillis just below his left shoulder and sends him flying several feet backwards. He lands on the ground painfully, and Eiden slams his fist into the ground. A shockwave of shadows jets towards Phillis, looking like the fin of a shark, and it hits him squarely, hurling him beyond the confines of the arena.

The clouds clear, and the crackling energy of the Shade Palm dispels a little, leaving Eiden standing victorious on the field. He stares down at his palm.

“This… this thing is fun.”

Phillis gets up and exits the battlefield. Lauren gives him a friendly thumbs-up, but he ignores her entirely.

 

*

 

Later in the day, the gym is relatively quiet, save for two figures. One of them is running on a treadmill, and the other is pumping some iron.

Cassandra finally hits 5km and slows the treadmill down, hopping off and taking a gulp of water. She sits down for a moment to recover herself, whilst Phillis prepares to bench some weights.

“Hey.”

Cassandra turns in surprise.

“Phillis?”

Phillis looks back at her, and awkwardly shifts, gesturing towards his weights.

“Can… can you spot me?”

There’s a brief moment of silence. Cassandra gives a warm smile and walks over to Phillis’ bench. “Sure thing.”

Phillis begins to push the weight upwards.

“You’re pretty strong.” Cassandra says as he strains against the bar. “Have you been going the gym for a while?”

“Since I was… young.” grunts Phillis. “Dad always brought me w… goddamn this weight. Dad always took me with him… when he went.”

“Huh.” Cassandra replies. “Do you still go with him when you’re not at college?”

“I don’t… live with him… anymore.” replies Phillis, heaving the weight back upwards. Cassandra readies herself to catch it, should he begin to struggle. “I am… my own guardian.”

“Wait, you live on your own?” Cassandra asks.

“Enough questions.” gasps Phillis. “Just… reps…”

In silence, the pair help one another bench the heaviest weights they possibly can. Eventually, they finish and prepare to go home for the night. Cassandra calls to Phillis as he walks away.

“Uh, hey. If you ever need spotting again, call on me.”

“Sure.” says Phillis, walking away.

 

WEDNESDAY

 

“Morning, Ten.” Cassandra says as she walks into registration on Wednesday morning. The rest of the class is already there, and she sits with them. Everyone is writing something down besides Ten, and Cassandra chuckles. “Forgot the General Studies homework, you guys?”

“Did it last night.” Ten says. Cassandra nods in agreement.

“Same here.”

Xilog is visibly out of breath.

“Morning gym again?” Jackson asks. “Eiden mentioned that you were there yesterday.”

“The body is a temple… for the mind…” Xilog gasps. “It’s… important that I… hone my body… just like my mind…”

“Perhaps not so violently, though…” Boo murmurs, looking at him with concern.

“The gym is pretty terrible.” Donovan sighs. “I’m not even allowed to use Battle Clothing in there! It would be so much easier with my Obfuscating Hood…”

“True.” Cassandra laughs. “Oh yes! I’m gonna be in a free this morning, was gonna get a coffee if anyone wants to come along. I’m looking for people!”

“What’s happening?” Jackson asks.

“I’m going to have a party! Seven o’clock, Friday night, my house. I, uh, made these invites for everyone.” Cassandra replies, handing them out, feeling a little nervous.

Boo shakes her head. “S-sorry… I won’t be able to make it. I, um, will be doing a thing… super important stuff, definitely at around that time. Can’t miss that important thing, so I, um, can’t go. Sorry.”

Cassandra nods, obviously a little deflated. “No worries, Boo. I’m sure there’ll be another time you can make it to a get-together. It is a bit short-notice!”

“So, are you inviting the others from Form B?” asks Ten.

“I was going to.” Cassandra says, staring at the seven invites in her hand.

“Even the vicious Clocksworth and Phillis? You certainly did not have good relations with them the last time you met.” Donovan says.

“Everyone deserves a second chance.” Xilog says. His eyes meet Donovan’s for the briefest of moments.

“Exactly as P says; I’m going to give them another chance. We probably just got off on the wrong foot, and I’m sure they’ll be happy to join us for a little party!” Cassandra replies.

“It’s your funeral.” Donovan mutters.

 

*

 

Xilog meets Zaphod and Anastasia at the entrance to the Social Relations classroom.

“Hey! So glad there’s other people here. I thought I wasn’t going to recognise anyone…” Zaphod says. “Shall we sit together?”

“Sure.” Xilog replies. He sits near the front, with Anastasia on his left and Zaphod on his right. The teacher, Jessica Fir, soon enters the classroom, and the chattering class falls silent.

“Hey guys!” she says. “Alright, so Social Relations is all about the Peacekeeper’s relationship with the general public, and how sociological and psychological things can affect that. It’s going to be a tough course, but it’s very sought-after if you want to be a Peacekeeper; you’ll struggle to get a job as a Peacekeeper unless you have a B or better in Social Relations. So… are we ready to take an in-depth look at all the parts of the Peacekeeper’s job that they don’t show you on the TV?”

The class prepare themselves for the lesson. Anastasia, however, isn’t finding herself too enthused by the subject and gets bored quite quickly.

 

*

 

In the big Performing Arts classroom on the second floor, Aubree finds herself in a class where she does not recognise a single other student. Nervously, she sits in a seat and waits for the teacher.

The teacher doesn’t turn up, but eventually, the students notice that a dog has wandered into the classroom. It’s a tiny terrier, and it hops up onto the small raised platform in the centre of the classroom, where the performances of the students usually take place. The students watch in delight as the little dog yaps and hops up on its hind legs for a few moments, wandering around.

The antics continue as the dog begins to play with a little tennis ball at the side of the stage, batting it around.

“Oh. My. God.” breathes Aubree. “I want twelve.”

The dog knocks the tennis ball high into the air with a yelp, and suddenly, there’s a flash of mist, and the silhouette of the dog grows and transforms into a beautiful woman. She holds out her hand and catches the tennis ball, placing it on the ground. With a smile, she turns to the shocked classroom.

She is stunning. Her blonde hair is perfectly placed, and her eyes are a warm green. She is wearing an aquamarine blue crop top which shows off a moderate amount of her impressive bust, and her stomach is toned. A tattoo of a snake runs down her right arm, with the little hissing head of the snake on the back of her hand.

Her legs are long and shapely, and she is wearing bell-bottom jeans which match her top almost perfectly. She wears high heels, and when she speaks, she has a slight French accent.

Salut, class. My apologies for playing with you before. My Sensual Top allows me to become many animals… it is a most playful piece of Battle Clothing. To learn the ways of arts performants, one must be playful and yet fierce… calm and yet fiery. Your Combat Training will teach you the raw physicality needed to be a model. Here, however… we shall teach you to turn your clothing into art, and the battlefield into your canvas.”

Aubree stares at the woman, completely enraptured. This is the lesson she wanted to learn – turning clothing into art.

“My name is Louisa Lefay. Perhaps I was once a model, perhaps not… but now I shall teach. This is a very physical class; we shall be using our bodies to find le coeur de tes vêtements: the heart of our clothing. Do you wish to start, mon chéri?”

She is pointing at Aubree, who nods excitedly and is invited onto the mini-stage.

“Now, before we can hone your power, we must find out what you are capable of. Show us, please.”

Aubree’s jumpsuit takes on a glossy yellow sheen, marked with small purple stars adorning the sides and shoulders: the Sparkling Suit. She raises her hand and electricity begins to crackle around her. Once she builds up enough of an electric charge, she discharges, releasing a light storm of electricity, zapping around the classroom.

Louisa claps and cheers, and her classmates begin to join in.

“Such passion! Such beauty! Yes, yes, this is exactly what Performing Arts is about. The art of battling whilst looking good – showing what your clothing can do whilst fighting an opponent. Being more powerful, and yet also more beautiful, than your enemy.”

She turns to the class. “Now then, we will all have a chance to show off… who next?”

 

*

 

“Hey, I’m having a party.” Cassandra says. Ten, Donovan and Jackson are with her. Clocksworth looks up in surprise at the four of them, reflexively reaching for his coffee.

“And you’re, uh, asking me?”

“Colour me just as surprised.” Cassandra says. “You deserve another chance, so I thought I’d invite you along. It’ll be a good night, promise.”

“Well, sure. I don’t think I have any plans on Friday night.” Clocksworth replies, her eyes scanning the invite. “…Thanks, Cassandra.”

“Don’t mention it. Where are the others from Form B?” she asks.

“Not entirely sure.” Clocksworth replies. “Zaphod and Anastasia have a lesson, I think? Oh, Aubree does as well. And Eiden said he didn’t have any lessons today, so he went straight home after registration.”

“Lucky bastard.” mutters Cassandra with a wry smile. “And Phillis?”

“Gym, probably.” Clocksworth says. Cassandra nods.

“Shall we?” Ten asks. Cassandra beckons to everyone. “Yeah, I’ll go ask. But you guys don’t have to come, I’ll be back in ten.”

“Want a coffee?” Jackson asks. Cassandra puts a thumbs-up as she walks away.

“I know which one she likes, I’ll get it.” Ten says. She and Jackson head up to the counter to order, whilst Donovan and Clocksworth sit at the table.

The rest of Wednesday passes without much trouble, and soon, all the possible invites have been handed out. People are looking forward to the party.

 

THURSDAY

 

“You haven’t done your General Studies homework?” asks Clocksworth incredulously. “Darling, it’s due today.”

“Eh.” Phillis grunts. He doesn’t respond beyond that, and Clocksworth shrugs and turns away. She grins at Zaphod.

“Ah well. How are we all today?”

“I’m good!” Zaphod replies. “Looking forward to Combat Training this afternoon.”

“Same!” Clocksworth says. Eiden, sat next to her, looks over her shoulder at the notebook she’s writing in.

“Clocksworth, what are you doing?”

“Nothing!” Clocksworth replies, jumping in fright and snapping the notebook shut.

“I’m not one to judge, but… that looked an awful lot like a list of pick-up lines. And a name at the top: Mia.” Eiden says, grinning.

“Dude!” Clocksworth replies exasperatedly. Aubree giggles in delight.

“You have a crush on our tutor?”

“Maybe.” mutters Clocksworth, retreating into his shell. “Just help me think of some pickup lines.”

“Another time, perhaps.” Anastasia chuckles. “She’s here.”

Mia walks in, looking radiant as always. She gets the class to fall silent and then begins the morning’s registration.

“Alright, I think that’s everything for now.” she says, then notices that Aubree has her hand up. “Yes?”

“I just wanted to ask, are there any clubs? Like, a textiles club, maybe?” Aubree asks, looking hopeful. A couple of other members of the class lean in to discuss the idea.

“Yes, there is!” Mia replies. “Clubs don’t run on the first week of term, but a newsletter will go out on Friday about the available clubs. Look out for that if you want to know when they all are!”

 

*

 

Straight after the morning’s registration on Thursday, Form A have Combat Training, and though they’re excited, they’re also all quite tired. The final fight of the lesson is between Donovan and Xilog, and the moment Marion calls their names, Donovan sighs. He’s been avoiding Xilog for most of the week, and this is the first time they’ll see each other properly.

“Alright, you know how this works by now. Get going!”

Donovan lets the power of the Obfuscating Hood flow through him, and several hooded copies of him ripple into existence. The class had been surprised to see it the first time he had revealed his Battle Clothing, and four against one is not a fair fight at all.

The copies are… not quite correct, however. Under the hoods, they are faceless, which is the only way to tell them apart from the real Donovan, and they look like mere shades of his body, not quite of this world.

Xilog, meanwhile, is wearing an old favourite that the group saw many times at the taster day: the Steel-Capped Kickers.

Donovan charges, and Xilog kicks the ground, launching himself over two of the copies as they lunge for him. He twists in midair and delivers a fierce kick to one of the copies; however, it simply fades away and reappears a short distance away. Donovan laughs aloud.

“My dark shadows cannot be defeated with mere physical prowess!”

“They were, though,” Xilog replies, dashing past Donovan’s punch and kicking him in the side, sending him sprawling to the floor. “I defeated the clone, and you recreated it seconds later, pretending it hadn’t been hurt at all.”

“I- you!” growls Donovan.

“I must say, though, you’re very intelligent.” Xilog continues, dodging another flurry of attacks and kicking one of the clones into oblivion. “Recognising your speed and physical strength as weaknesses and patching them up in a way that allows you to use strategy to overcome your enemy… nothing short of genius.”

“Uh… thank you?” Donovan replies, genuinely confused. He drops his head and his clones run amongst one another. When Xilog finishes his dodge manoeuvre, he can no longer tell which Donovan is the real one.

He kicks out at the nearest one, but two of the Donovan copies charge him and slam him into the ground. Slamming his heels into the floor, Xilog is able to launch himself out of the copies’ grasps and he lands on the edge of the battlefield. He sees the copies gathering, and notices one which seems to be moving towards him.

“Got you now.” Xilog murmurs, leaping up into the air and smashing both of his feet onto the ground at the same time. The resulting burst of energy launches him forward like a bullet, and he prepares to punch the figure running towards him-

-but the figure disappears, and Xilog sails harmlessly past the other three copies, landing on the other side of the battlefield, outside of the lines. The real Donovan removes his hood and the copies fade away like mere memories.

“Outsmarted!” he grins. “Sorry, P, but the powers I command far outweigh yours.”

Xilog clambers to his feet, staring at the ground.

“God damn it…” he mutters to himself, before turning around and returning to the bench.

 

*

 

Form B have Combat Training in the afternoon, and the class are excited to get started.

“Alright!” Marion shouts. “Clocksworth and Zaphod, get to it!”

Clocksworth steps onto the battlefield and allows his arm to transform into a huge, fearful-looking claw made of shadows: the Phantom Overcoat. It stretches over many metres, and the hand is gigantic – though Eiden notices that it isn’t as big as Simon’s.

Zaphod walks confidently onto the battlefield wearing showy high heels. Aubree stares at them. “Wait, they look like-”

The heels transform, charged with energy, and brimming with power: the Rocket Heels.

“Begin!” Marion shouts.

Zaphod gives Clocksworth no time to move, immediately charging the heels and launching himself across the battlefield. Before he can move, Zaphod swerves and kicks Clocksworth right in the face, hurling him several metres backwards. Before he can fall out of bounds, however, Clocksworth slams the shadowy arm of the Phantom Overcoat into the ground and pulls himself back to safety. With a lightning-fast turn, he smacks Zaphod with his arm, but Zaphod is able to roll under the blow, avoiding most of the damage. He gets to his feet, tottering unsteadily on his high heels and charges once more.

Clocksworth prepares for Zaphod’s rocket jump and throws a punch the moment he spots the heels flaring up. Zaphod’s rocketing body collides with the fist of darkness and for a moment, the pair struggle against one another, before the energy overflows and both combatants are knocked backwards. Zaphod breathes heavily, well aware that he doesn’t have the bodily strength for more than three jumps. He runs for Clocksworth, who prepares to slam down his hand. Zaphod dodges to the side to avoid the shadowy hand, but Clocksworth is faking him out and delivers a sharp left hook with his unshadowed hand, sending the taller boy spinning.

Before Zaphod can recover, Clocksworth grabs him in the big shadowy hand and hurls him as far as he can. Zaphod’s eyes refocus as he’s flying towards the ground, and he charges up one last jump. With an explosion, he is launched into the air, and he manages to grab Clocksworth’s huge shadow hand by the wrist. Clocksworth pulls back, but the force of the rocket allows Zaphod to perform a mid-air suplex, heaving Clocksworth into the air by his arm, over his head, then slamming him into the ground, out of bounds, on the other side of the arena.

With no fuel left, however, he slams into the ground like a brick.

“Oh, god.” Marion says. “Dave, how are they? Damn, we should’ve had Alarna on duty…”

The referee on duty, Dave Madding, heads over to check the boys. Clocksworth is barely conscious, and sits up, dazed, within the minute. Zaphod is fully unconscious, and Dave picks him up, carrying him to the nurse.

“Right, Clocksworth, you can sit down… who next? How about Aubree and Anastasia. Let’s just wait for Dave to return; those knives will be painful without the Ward Aura Slippers protecting you guys…”

 

FRIDAY

 

“Alright, everyone, settle down.” sighs Simon. “Today’s registration ends with an announcement about clubs starting next week. Clubs run from 4, after college, usually until 6. Monday is Testfire Club, Tuesday is Book Club, Wednesday is Textiles Club, Thursday is Dance Club and Friday is Knock ‘Em Dead Club.”

“Dance Club.” smirks Donovan. “Who’d go to that?”

“It gets more popular with the boys.” Simon says, glaring at him. “Especially as the Winter Ball approaches. Because it would be an awful shame if your date were ruined because you hadn’t learn to ballroom dance, wouldn’t it, Donovan?”

“Bold of you to assume he can get a date.” Ten says, and the class laugh. Cassandra high-fives her friend and Donovan grins.

“I already have a date, Ten – with destiny!”

“What’s Knock ‘Em Dead Club?” asks Xilog. Simon grins.

“I run that. Basically, a bunch of students club together and fight me one by one. The aim is to knock me down, and each week, if anyone manages it, I buy all their coffees for that week.”

“And Testfire Club?” another student asks.

“That’s quite simple. Basically, each week, they introduce you to a rare or unique type of Battle Clothing, and you all get to try it out. If you like it, you can go to the labs and ask to have a copy of it. It’s a good way for students to experiment with new kinds of clothing. I’d recommend giving it a visit if you can – you don’t have to go every week.”

“Sounds like fun.” Jackson says.

“Alright, that’s it for today. Off you go.” Simon says. With a sigh, he sits in the chair and begins tapping at the computer as the students file out for the day’s lessons.

Ten walks beside Boo.

“Hey, how are you doing?”

Boo shrinks away nervously. “Oh, um… I’m OK. I have to, uh, go do work. In the library.”

She dashes off before Ten can reply, and Ten sighs. “What is with that girl?”

 

*

 

Right before lunch, Form A have Combat Training. Marion gets them to fight as usual, but she seems a lot more critical than previous days, pointing out the flaws in the groups’ fighting styles.

“Boo – your technique is good, but I’m not sure that the Sawblade Skirt is synergising well with your innate physical capabilities. Think about how you can combine the two more efficiently!”

“Xilog – you aren’t kicking with confidence! You can’t play defensively the entire match and still expect to deliver one-hit KO kicks!”

“Ten! You have to make that sawblade work for you! Use it as both defense and offense, and keep an eye on your opponent at all times!”

“Jackson, remember that your shoes are your weapon! High kicks and high speed are what you need; always bear in mind exactly how long your lasers last before fading!”

Finally, it’s time for Cassandra and Donovan to fight. Donovan walks onto the field with confidence and flair. “Cassandra, I don’t want to hurt you!”

“And you won’t.” she replies calmly. As Marion prepares to start their fight, a chill comes over the battlefield. The snowstorm is brewing.

“Cassandra, what have I told you about starting the snowstorm before the fight’s started? Play fair, my god.”

“Sorry.” Cassandra says, smiling cheekily.

“Alright, begin!”

Instantly, three copies of Donovan appear, all hooded, and begin to charge at Cassandra. They leap amongst one another, and she’s unable to keep her eyes on them all. Not knowing which one is the real one, she goes on the defensive and dodges around the first flurry of blows.

One of the hooded figures charges and slides on his stomach at Cassandra, who has to leap up to avoid it. A second figure grabs her and slams her into the ground. The three copies immediately jump on her, pinning her arms and legs to the floor.

The real Donovan removes his hood with a grin and walks over to Cassandra.

“That was almost too easy, my dear.” he grins.

“Almost.” Cassandra replies, closing her eyes.

“Where are your ice powers now, hm?” Donovan asks, turning to Marion. “I pinned her down – I win, right?”

Marion just smiles.

“Where are my ice powers?” Cassandra grins. “Somewhere over there.”

With that, a storm of icicles rains from the sky, slamming into all of the copies of Donovan, forcing them to flee. Cassandra gets up, none the worse for wear, and begins to move her hands in arcane patterns as the snow and mist piles around her. Two copies of Donovan race towards Cassandra, whilst another two advance more cautiously.

All four get hit with a blustering wind as hail courses across the battlefield. Cassandra, in the midst of the storm, cools the temperature even further than normal, freezing two of the copies’ feet to the floor. One of the Donovan copies leaps towards his copy, trying to pull the feet free, but the ice is far too strong.

“This is ridiculous!” Donovan yells, wriggling in the ice.

“Is it?” Cassandra asks. “Your greatest strength is overwhelming the enemy and confusing them, meaning they don’t know which you is the real one. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the best way to beat you, then, is just to use attacks that hit all of you?”

“Well, yes,” Donovan sighs. “But it’s not fair.”

The storm begins to dissipate.

“Well, Cassandra wins. Technically.” Marion replies. “Donovan, you mustn’t get overconfident. Your power is strong, but you must not let your guard down once you think it’s over!”

“Noted.” Donovan grumbles, shaking free of the ice and going to sit down on the bench beside Jackson.

“Cassandra, your greatest moments of weakness are when your storm is building up and when it’s dissipating – you have to get better at hand-to-hand combat so you don’t get beaten before your storm even builds up, alright?”

“OK, thank you.” Cassandra replies. She gets out a small notebook and writes the advice down, taking it very seriously.

“Right, let’s do some more practise fights, this time trying to focus on pushing your power to the limits. Here we go again!”

“Here we go again…” sighs Boo to herself.

 

*

 

The final lesson of the week is Performing Arts, and Zaphod, Donovan, Eiden and Jackson all find themselves at the lesson. Sitting together, they see the same trick with the dog transformation that Aubree saw during her first lesson, and Louisa Lefay introduces the class to the idea of turning battle into an art form.

Donovan is one of the first to get a go at performing. He stands up on the stage and is a little nervous at first, but then spins, and three copies of himself appear, spinning around him. The hoods flutter ominously, and in the middle, Donovan raises his hands and the three copies swish their capes around, covering him completely. When the capes drop, Donovan has also put on his hood and joined the group. The performance finishes with each hooded figure pulling a pose, before fading out of existence to a polite clap.

“Marvellous!” beams Louisa.

“Blimey, Donovan’s a natural.” Eiden murmured. “Who would’ve guessed?”

Nearer to the end of the two-hour lesson, Jackson is asked to go up on stage. He’s still relatively unused to his Battle Clothing, but he wants to try and impress everyone in Performing Arts. His shoes light up and become streaked with neon: the Laser Runners. With careful movements, he begins to jig. However, it looks far more impressive than just that: whenever he moves, he leaves a trail of sparkling lasers, which glow in every colour of the rainbow. The more he moves, the more he envelops himself in a spinning cascade of lasers. Over time, the lasers fade away, but Jackson continues to dance around the stage, keeping the trail up for several minutes. Eventually, he tires and stops, and the light show fades into nothing.

Fantastique!” Louisa says. “You were quite the stunning spectacle, my dear!”

“Thanks.” grins Jackson. He steps off the stage, flushed with pride.

The lesson eventually ends, and everyone is pleased to go home after the long first week of college. However, for most, there is a party being held by Cassandra at seven, and the celebrations have yet to begin.

“See you at the party, yeah?” Jackson says to Eiden as he walks out.

“Yeah. See you later.” Eiden replies. He stays behind as the class file out, and walks over to Louisa.

“Um, hi, I was just wondering if I could ask about some stuff?”

“Of course, mon cher. What do you need?” Louisa replies.

“Well, firstly, I wanted to ask about Lindsey Stunne. Why is she the biggest designer in the world right now – why is she such a big name?”

“Ah, Ms. Stunne?” Louisa says. “Étoile… a shining star. She rose through the ranks in record time, and created some fantastic clothes. Truly beautiful creations. Once she had reached the top though… she began to make the same kinds of clothes. Her millions of pounds could go to discovering new and unique kinds of Battle Clothing, but she refuses. However, her clothes are undeniably incredible quality…”

“I see. Was there anyone who really shook up the scene in terms of innovation? What goes into making Battle Clothing?”

“Ah, such questions…” says Louisa, smiling at Eiden warmly. “A true connoisseur, aren’t you, hm? The one who invented the very coat you wear was the most famous designer of all: Mimi Slater-Calleby. Her clothes are less popular, but she invented the variants of the trench coat and was the first to discover the bell-bottom family of Battle Clothing… the ones I wear, ahah!”

“Huh.” Eiden says. “Why’ve I never heard of her?”

“She’s a big name, definitely, but not as heavily featured in the UK.” Louisa replies. “Her work is still on its way over, for the most part… but once it does! La bonté! It will be a marvellous renaissance of clothing.”

“Thank you very much for answering my questions.” Eiden replies, deep in thought. “I, uh, should go. Thanks again.”

“No problem.” Louisa says, nodding. “Safe travels – until next week, mon cher!”

 

*

 

“No, mother, I’m fine.” Donovan sighs. His parents smile at him as they pull up to Cassandra’s apartment at around five past seven. “Please just go around the corner.”

“No, no, my dear.” his mother says. “We must make sure you get to your first ever party safely!”

“Mother…” Donovan groans.

“Have a safe time,” his father says. “We’ll pick you up at 11, alright?”

“Midnight will suffice.” Donovan replies, rolling his eyes.

With some last-minute advice from his parents about not drinking or doing anything he might regret, Donovan gets out of the car and begins to walk to the front door, which is opened by Cassandra.

“Saw you arriving from the window.” she smiles. “Come on in, Edgelord McGee.”

“The party can get started for real, now that Donovan Bullard has arrived!” he announces with a grin. Cassandra’s apartment is on the bottom floor, so it takes very little time to get into the main room, where everyone has gathered, chatting, listening to the exciting music and pouring themselves drinks.

“My aunt’s out this evening, but she bought some drinks and snacks for everyone. Do you drink alcohol?” Cassandra says as they enter.

“A little.” Donovan replies.

 

*

 

The party is going well. Almost everyone is there, except Boo. For the first hour or so, everyone gets together to drink and chat, getting to know one another. Soon, Cassandra moves the topic of conversation over to a drinking game, and ‘Never Have I Ever’ is suggested.

“Alright, how does that one work?” asks Xilog.

“We’ll go round in a circle, and say ‘never have I ever x’, where x is something. All the people who have done that have to drink!” Ten explains, a little drunk. Phillis, sitting on the sidelines, raises his hand.

“I’ll watch the first round and join in the second round.”

“Sure thing!” Cassandra says. “Alright, you start, Donovan!”

“Hold on, guys, gotta get ready.” Eiden says. Everyone turns to him, and he fiddles with something in his pocket. He brings out a strange device that looks like a black allen key, and he then fiddles with his mask for a moment. Once he moves his hands away, the group find that he has put a straw attachment onto his mask, allowing him to drink, and they burst out laughing.

“Fucking incredible.” Clocksworth grins.

Even Phillis is mildly amused, sitting disinterestedly on the other side of the small apartment room.

“Uh, right… never have I ever… kissed someone!” Donovan says, evidently thinking that one will stump everyone.

Cassandra, Zaphod, Anastasia, Jackson, Xilog and Ten all take a drink. Getting a little friendlier now he’s tipsy, Zaphod leans over to Clocksworth.

“My man! So sorry about your loss this week and at the taster day. Don’t worry, I’ll punch the asshole that did it to my buddy Clocky!”

“What?” Clocksworth says. “It was you that beat me both of those times… forget it.”

Eiden, meanwhile, laughs.

“I can’t really kiss anyone with this mask, can I?”

Phillis chuckles at Eiden, and the rest of the group titter.

“My turn next…” Ten says. “Well, I’ll do the big one. Never have I ever had sex!”

Cassandra, Jackson, Clocksworth and Xilog take a drink. Zaphod looks quite relieved that he doesn’t have to drink.

“What on earth, Clocksworth?” Aubree says. “You’ve never kissed anyone, but you’ve had sex?”

“Why are you keeping such a close eye on my answers?” Clocksworth smirks. Obviously embarrassed, Aubree falls silent.

“Xilog, your turn!” Cassandra says. Xilog nods.

“Uh, never have I ever… been commando.”

Clocksworth, Xilog and Zaphod drink. Then, simultaneously, Clocksworth and Zaphod say “I’m commando right now!”

Then they look at each other and burst out laughing. Zaphod downs the rest of his drink, and Anastasia looks at him in concern. “You have drunk way too much tonight, Zaph…”

“Oh jesus. Please don’t remove your pants at any point.” Cassandra sighs. “You next, Jackson.”

“Never have I ever… uh… how about… never have I ever been to a fashion show.” he says.

Cassandra, Ten, Jackson and Anastasia drink.

“Bitch, I AM a fashion show.” Clocksworth announces with finger guns, swigging her drink.

Zaphod, meanwhile, breaks down in drunken tears. “I’ve always wanted to go to a fashion show but I never have! It’s my dream! They’re so expensive and the TV shows aren’t as good as the real thing! Why can’t I ever get tickets for a fashion show?”

He dashes off to the nearest bathroom.

“Oh, brother…” Eiden says. “Someone ought to talk him down. He’s had too much.”

“I’ll do it.” Ten says. “I’m used to it.”

“I’ll help.” Cassandra replies, standing up to join Ten. She feels responsible, since it’s her party, and she’s still relatively sober.

Eiden nods, and when he looks at the room, he notices that Xilog is no longer sat on the sofa next to him. He sees the door of the apartment slightly ajar.

 

*

 

“You alright?” asks Eiden.

Xilog is sat outside, staring up at the moon. “…Yeah.”

Eiden sits beside him. For a few minutes, they remain there in silence, but eventually, Xilog speaks up.

“My parents had a party like this once. I didn’t have much reason to be there. I was too young to really understand it.” he murmurs, still staring at the moon. “Mother was… so beloved. Nobody had a bad thing to say about her.”

Eiden isn’t sure what to say in response, so he continues to listen.

“Father was funny. People used to laugh at the stuff he said. I never understood it myself. They were… such a nice couple. But they were just acting happy. When it came to me, they never told jokes or funny stories.”

“I…”

“Sorry.” Xilog says. “You aren’t the right person to tell this all to. What’s the difference between the Phantom Overcoat and a caveman talking about a cow breathing?”

“I, uh, I don’t know.” Eiden replies. Xilog smirks to himself.

“One’s Battle Clothing, the other’s ‘cattle blow thing’.”

“That was truly terrible.” Eiden says, chuckling despite himself.

“Yeah. Let’s get back to the party.” Xilog says. They stand up and make their way back inside.

 

New Battle Clothing discovered:

 

[No. 001] Shade Palm

Formation: Trench Coat + Power Patch

Effect: Allows user to fire blasts of shadow

Drawback: Power of shadow becomes weaker when in direct sunlight

 

[No. 049] Sparkling Suit

Formation: Jumpsuit + Power Patch

Effect: Allows user to generate and launch electric charge and sparks

Drawback: User’s suit is rubber and cannot supercharge user’s other clothes

 

[No. 006] Chillbringer

Formation: Duffle Coat + Augment Patch

Effect: Allows user some control over and strong resistance to snow

Drawback: It takes a while for a snowstorm to begin and dissipate

 

[No. 047] Sensual Top

Formation: Crop Top + Support Patch

Effect: Grants user dances that allow them to turn into various animals

Drawback: User cannot communicate as an animal, and will revert if damaged

 

[No. 067] Vibe Bottoms

Formation: Bell-Bottoms + Power Patch

Effect: User can release shockwaves of sound

Drawback: User must protect their own ears, as they can be affected too

 

[No. 005] Obfuscating Hood

Formation: Duffle Coat + Support Patch

Effect: User can create copies of themselves so long as they’re hooded

Drawback: The copies have no faces under the hood, and user can only make 3

 

[No. 070] Laser Runners

Formation: Trainers + Power Patch

Effect: When user runs, creates a trail of lasers that can harm and trap foes

Drawback: Lasers fade away after a certain amount of time has passed

Sunderland College [2.1 - Checking Up]
Sunderland College [2.3 - Out To Play]

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