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Sunderland College [2.6 – Demands From Aranea]

WEDNESDAY

 

Outside, Carlton is grinning as the class begin to bristle, but none of them are willing to make a move.

“OK, first off, fuck you.” Clocksworth says. She glares at Carlton. “Finger guns are my thing.”

“What you gonna do it about it, shrimp?” gloats Carlton. “Seriously; just stay there and let me hook this lil’ bomb up to the wall of your college.”

Donovan glances towards the building, and Ten turns to him.

“Don?”

“The others…” Donovan murmurs. “They ran inside, they’re probably threatening the other students. I’m going to send my clones in after them.”

In the scrum of the class, Carlton doesn’t see Donovan create two clones and send them running towards the main doors of the college. Andy Yates steps forward.

“You really wanna do this? I will win.” he says. Carlton doesn’t listen to him, and continues walking to the wall of the college with the bomb in his hands.

“Boo. We have to do something.” Cassandra says. Boo nods, though she is evidently not confident.

Cassandra and Boo charge at Carlton, who still continues to work on his task without turning around. He turns as Cassandra and Boo get close to him, and suddenly there’s a blast of air and the two girls are on the floor, their stomachs suckerpunched.

“Hah!” Carlton laughs. “You’re gonna have to be faster than that.”

“Same as Simon…” says Donovan, staring at Carlton. “He’s got the Speed Sneakers.”

“That was way faster than Simon.” Ten replies.

Andy runs forward. “Students, stay back! Do not put yourself in unnecessary dang-”

Faster than the speed of light, Carlton dashes over to Andy and throws a solid punch to his face, then seventeen punches to his chest and stomach. Andy falls back, too late to use his clothing’s power, and groans on the floor.

“Dammit.” Cassandra murmurs. “He’s so fast!”

“Too fast.” Boo says.

“That’s the power of the Slowdown Stockings!” Carlton grins. “The Speed Sneakers make me fast, and the Slowdown Stockings slow down time in a short area around me – why do you think I was chosen for this fast in-and-out mission? I’m the fastest man in the world!”

Boo and Cassandra lie on the ground, whilst the rest of the class nervously wonder what to do in the face of impossible speed.

 

*

 

Louisa Lefay begins to shift and sway in a sensual manner, and her Sensual Top becomes infused with power. The class, still trapped against the wall, watch as her transformation begins. Corrine sighs, and lunges at the woman. Around her neck, her scarf begins to open up and reveals eight appendages: the Spider Snood.

Louisa tries to dodge, but she can’t transform in time and Corrine grabs her legs, pulling her to the ground. With the other tentacles on the Spider Snood, she grabs Louisa’s neck and slams the woman against the wall.

Aubree stares at the scene in horror. Of course… she can’t use her Vibe Bottoms because the sound will injure her class, too. And her Sensual Top needs time to transform, and Corrine isn’t giving her any time.

The girl looks down at her Killer Heels, and a memory of slicing Eiden’s Spider Snood with a clean stroke comes to mind.

Corrine holds Louisa against the wall. “My job is complete. With you unable to defend this college, my colleagues will have enough time to place their bombs. In a few minutes they will leave, and I will leave with them. My apologies, Miss Lefay. I have… a great respect for you.”

“Let her go!”

Corrine turns around with a sigh. Aubree is standing, having freed herself from the fabric prison with her Killer Heels. She stands, partially confident, partially nervous, and faces Corrine. The woman lifts her hands and a few pieces of fabric fly towards Aubree; with some swift kicks, she slices the fabric into pieces.

“Aubree, don’t!” cries Louisa, but Corrine muffles her with the fabric.

“Hm.” Corrine muses. “You’re going to make me do this hand-to-hand, aren’t you? This is… troublesome. But fine.”

With a swish of fabric, Corrine traps Louisa against the wall and turns to face Aubree, all eight appendages on the Spider Snood flexing.

 

*

 

“Ah ha ha!” laughs Cecille, busying herself with attaching the bomb to the wall of the lunchroom.

“Anyone got any ideas?” Jackson asks.

“I, uh… can move.” Zaphod replies. “Does that help?”

A yell comes across the hall.

“Can I go to the bathroom?” Anastasia asks.

Cecille turns away from the bomb and stares at her. “What?”

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

“No.” Cecille sighs. She shifts Anastasia’s blood and makes the girl slap herself in the face. “That’s what you get for asking a stupid question.”

“Wait, Zaphod, did you say you can move?” Eiden says.

“Yup.”

“Of course.” Xilog replies. “I… yes, I read this in a book. You can’t control the blood of people who share your blood type.”

“That’s the weakness!” Jackson grins.

“OK. I can move the Spider Snood as well, since it works with thought, not my physical movements. With that, there’s gotta be something we can do.” Eiden says. An idea forms in his head and he turns to Jackson. “Yes. Alright, I have a plan. Jackson, we’ll take care of this.”

“If you’re sure.” Jackson replies.

“Zaphod, I need you to grab me and blast off with your Rocket Heels.”

Zaphod turns to Eiden. “…What’s your gambit?”

Eiden smiles grimly behind the mask. “You’ll see. We have to act fast, whilst she’s distracted with the bomb.”

 

*

 

Phillis walks towards Boo and Cassandra. For the first time, the group notice that he’s got a small, growing collection of tattoos on his body. There’s one on his shoulder which seems to be a spider being crushed, and one on his chest in the pattern of a Power Patch.

“Hey, what are you-” Carlton starts, then sees that Phillis is completely naked. “…Uh, what?”

“Cass, ready your ice.” Phillis commands.

“What? It’ll never be ready in time.” Cassandra replies, clambering slowly to her feet.

“Do it.”

“You’ll do nothing!” Carlton yells, speeding towards Phillis. He throws a mighty punch and slams into Phillis’ hard abs. In the microsecond before he can dash off, Phillis grabs him and throws him backwards towards the rest of the class. Carlton lands on his feet and turns to run again.

“Everyone get back!” Phillis yells, and runs towards Cassandra, who is being slowly surrounded by chill winds and ice.

As Carlton runs at Cassandra, Phillis grabs her and pulls her into his embrace. Cassandra feels an immense power flowing through her, and unleashes a shot of ice.

Shot is perhaps not the word for it. Cassandra is supercharged, and releases a sixty-foot spear of ice in just a few seconds, thick enough to crash through the entire courtyard of the college, and reaching up well beyond the roof of the building. With no way to dodge such a large attack, Carlton is trapped in the ice, with only his bust and one arm free. He stares in a horrified silence, with absolutely no words to describe what just happened.

“What… the hell…” Cassandra breathes as Phillis lets her go.

“I can explain later.” Phillis says. He spots Carlton beginning to hit the ice and free himself slowly, and is just about to approach when Boo leaps up and roundhouse kicks Carlton in the side of the face, knocking him entirely unconscious.

She looks at Cassandra and smiles. Cassandra smiles back, still tired out from the immense attack. On the other side of the ice, the rest of the class and Andy are completely floored.

“My god…” Donovan whispers. “Such raw power, such beautiful strength! Where in the seven heavens did this come from?”

 

*

 

Aubree lunges at Corrine, who dodges with the Spider Snood. In the large performing room, Corrine has an advantage with her speed of movement, and tries to trip Aubree up. However, the girl’s spinning kicks force her to keep her distance, and Aubree presses the advantage.

With a slick movement, Corrine leaps past Aubree and grabs one of her arms, hurling her across the room and slamming her into a wall. Aubree swings her legs around as she gets up, and Corrine, who was about to follow-up, curses as the Killer Heels slice through one of the arms of her Spider Snood.

Two other arms lunge at Aubree, who kicks out and dodges in one movement, forcing Corrine to retreat. She flicks her hands, and one of Aubree’s classmates, wrapped in the fabric, flies at Aubree. The girl screams and Aubree dodges out of the way, realising that she can’t slice through the fabric without risking cutting the student trapped inside it.

Corrine smirks as she continues to use Aubree’s classmate as a weapon. “Useless. You won’t win if you aren’t ready to… sacrifice some things. Or rather… some people.”

“Leave us alone!” cries Aubree, who leaps at Corrine with a spinning kick. Corrine easily evades with the Spider Snood, and she manages to fasten one of the appendages around Aubree’s neck. With a swift pull, she slams Aubree into the floor and immediately leaps to her side.

The Spider Snood begins to tighten around Aubree’s neck.

“We’ll have no more of… your antics.” Corrine whispers. “I’ll just put you to sleep. But I hope you’ll think twice about inconveniencing Aranea like this in future.”

Louisa writhes in agony and rage as she watches one of her students choking on the coils of the Spider Snood. Suddenly, the door slams open for a second time and a hooded figure leaps out and delivers a solid punch to Corrine. Cursing, Corrine lets Aubree go and swings around with the Spider Snood to avoid any further attacks.

“Who…” she hisses.

The hooded figure, who Aubree realises is one of Donovan’s clones, continues to run at Corrine. The woman lashes him with the Spider Snood, flinging fabric left and right, but in her distraction, her powers weaken. The students begin to drop as the fabric flops uselessly off the wall, and Louisa is freed from the fabric confines. She immediately begins to dance, and the power of the Sensual Top begins to overtake her.

The Donovan clone is whacked thoroughly in the side of the head by Corrine’s appendages, and vanishes into thin air. The moment of confusion is followed by a harsh caw, as an eagle flies from the spot where Louisa was and grabs two of the Spider Snood’s tentacles in its talons. With a swift flap of the wings, it pulls them across the room, leaving them taut.

Aubree sees her chance and kicks upwards, slicing neatly through the two tentacles.

“No!” yells Corrine, becoming angry, and then regaining her composure moments after. She sighs. “…Running out of time.”

Corrine leaps for the door, and the eagle flies towards her, but she is able to evade it. She glares at Aubree before she leaves the room.

“Aubree, wasn’t it? I… will remember your name. For every arm you have torn from me, I will tear an appendage from you. Blood for blood… Aubree.”

With her chilling message hanging in the air, Corrine vanishes into the corridors, and the eagle reverts back into the form of Louisa.

Non non! We must inform the others! Class, stay here. I shall return shortly.”

She runs out of the room, leaving the class to stare at Aubree in quiet admiration.

 

*

 

Zaphod sidles over to Eiden.

“What’s the plan, then?”

“Grab me.” Eiden says. “Blast off, and aim right for her.”

Cecille has set the bomb to the wall and begun the timer, and so she begins to amuse herself by getting some of the nearby students to hit one another. She doesn’t notice Zaphod grab Eiden and charge the Rocket Heels.

After that, it’s too late. Zaphod blasts off, and Cecille turns to see Eiden and Zaphod rocketing across the room towards her. Eiden’s Spider Snood has grabbed the nearest object: a table.

“Drop me!” yells Eiden, and Zaphod flies right over Cecille, dropping Eiden, who lifts the table above his head with the Spider Snood, and smashes it directly into Cecille’s stunned face. She is sent flying across the room and smacks into the ground painfully near the door to the lunchroom. As she clambers to her feet, the lack of focus has freed many of the students from the control of her Blood-Pact Bloomers.

“Damn…” she mutters. “Still, I got what I needed done! Now to scram!”

As she runs out of the room, she encounters Corrine.

“Hey! What’s happening?” she asks.

“Got wounded. Bomb set?”

“Yup! And Carlton?”

“Outside.” Corrine replies. “We need to go now. If yours is set, doesn’t matter about his – we’ll do some damage at the very least. But we’re out of time before the Peacekeepers arrive.”

The two women run through the corridors, and Cecille pulls a knife from her garters and hurls it at a nearby window. The window cracks and the pair crash through it. As they fall, one of the Spider Snood’s tendrils grabs the knife, whilst the other four grip Cecille and the wall, descending safely to the ground.

“What the hell happened here?” asks Cecille, staring at the impenetrable wall of ice across the courtyard. Corrine scuttles along the ground as fast as she can with the remaining tendrils of the Spider Snood, leaping across the ice with ease.

Boo looks up in shock as the two women descend on her, grabbing the unconscious Carlton before she can react. The kids begin to chase the terrorists, but with the additional manoeuvrability of the Spider Snood, they can’t catch up, and soon, the three figures are gone as fast as they arrived.

“What… what was that about?” wonders Cassandra.

“Peacekeepers will be arriving soon.” Boo explains. Phillis stares at the wall of ice, a look of intrigue in his countenance.

 

*

 

“The bomb!” Eiden cries, flexing his arms, free of Cecille’s control. The group turn in horror towards the object on the wall, but it has vanished. Next to where it was, a hooded figure holds it up and gives a thumbs-up.

“Donovan! …Or your clone.” Jackson says. “You deactivated it?”

The hooded figure nods. Soon, the room begins to fill with teachers and Peacekeepers, and the students are ordered out of the hall.

“That was… something else.” Xilog murmurs. “I… I…”

“Are you OK, Xilog?” Clocksworth asks. Eiden, Jackson and Zaphod have gone ahead, but Clocksworth remains with Xilog as they try to get through the throng of students.

“…Yeah.” Xilog says, breathing in and out slowly. “I don’t like conflict. It just scares me. I couldn’t… I couldn’t act.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Clocksworth says, smiling and patting Xilog on the back. “You don’t need to act. That’s why we’re a team, not solo performers. Zaphod and Eiden had us covered, and I’m sure one day, we’ll repay the favour.”

“…Mm.” Xilog replies, eyes downcast. “I hope so.”

 

*

 

In a coffee shop in the middle of Macew, several of the students have gathered; college has been cancelled for the remainder of the day whilst investigations take place.

“No way, Eiden! You just whacked her with a table?” asks Cassandra. “And I thought I’d put all the lads to shame by beating Carlton…”

“Yup.” Eiden replies. “Had to do something, right?”

“And Aubree beat an Aranea agent practically on her own! Her dark powers have truly come to the fore – take care, lest her wild strength consume you too!” Donovan cries.

Aubree buries her face in her hands. “Oh, jeez… I just did what I could to help. I had some help from Louisa and Donovan…”

“Where the hell were the other teachers? That’s what I want to know.” Ten asks. “Marion would’ve utterly ruined those guys. With how weak they were, I’m guessing they do more covert missions, not direct fighting.”

Anastasia has been silent up to now, but she pipes up. “Oh, they weren’t around. Departmental meeting.”

“Departmental meeting?” Jackson repeats.

“It’s a college-wide meeting; it’s always at that time on a Wednesday.” Anastasia replies darkly. “That’s why I think this whole thing is suspicious – those Aranea agents didn’t pick this time to attack by accident. They had to have known.”

“A mole?” suggests Eiden.

“It can’t be!” Donovan cries. “A figure of darkness, polluting the light that this college stands for? Who could do such a thing? I’m the only figure of darkness allowed in the college!”

“Whoa, let’s not jump to conclusions.” Cassandra replies, sipping her hot chocolate. Next to her, Boo takes a drink of her coffee, remaining silent, but watching the conversation quietly.

“Anyway, Cassandra… what the hell was with that huge ice blast?” Ten asks. “I’ve never seen you do that. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone with a Chillbringer do that, not even Bombardiers.”

“That, uh, wasn’t me; that was Phillis.” Cassandra says, turning to a taciturn Phillis at the end of the table. “Can you explain that now, Phillis?”

The larger boy shrugs and downs his coffee. “It’s this tattoo here. It’s in the shape of a Power Patch, and so I have a few of the properties of a Power Patch. But since my body is much larger than a patch, the power I give is… supercharged.”

“Like a big, walking Battle Clothing battery…” murmurs Jackson. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before. There must be something unique about your body that allows you to do this, because I know people with tattoos in the shape of Patch patterns, and they can’t do this kind of thing.”

“I dunno. Just needed to resolve the situation quickly.” Phillis mutters, turning away. Cassandra gives him a warm, genuine smile that cuts into his heart.

“Thank you so much for helping us. If we’d given that guy time, he would have got away with his plan. Your quick thinking saved us today.”

Phillis stands up and eyes the group angrily. “…You’re welcome.”

Without another word, he walks out of the coffee shop.

“So, is Textiles cancelled tonight?” asks Jackson.

“Probably.” Eiden sighs. “That’s gonna set our work back a bit.”

Anastasia pouts. “That’s no fair. We don’t have long until the Practise Model Competition as is!”

“Goodness gracious! We shall have to work doubly hard next week to make up for it then!” Zaphod announces.

Boo rises from her seat and begins to walk to the exit of the coffee shop.

“Bye, Boo!” Eiden says, waving.

“See you later. Nice work today! I heard about it all.” grins Donovan.

“You did great.” Cassandra says.

Overcome with emotion, Boo tries to say something but no words come out, and she begins to walk away. Xilog gets up and walks after her, waving a brief goodbye to the group.

“Hey, Boo.”

The girl blanches in fright and turns, then relaxes a little when she sees that it is Xilog.

“P… P, right?” she mutters. Xilog nods and gives a friendly smile.

“About the other day… I would like to, uh, ‘go for a pencil’ sometime.” he says. “Let me know if you want to do that at some point. It’d be nice to speak with you more.”

“Oh… oh, OK.” Boo replies. “Th-thank you!”

Blushing hotly and burning with anxiety, Boo nods, does a small bow, and runs off. Xilog watches her turn the corner at the end of the street and smirks to himself.

“What a curious girl.” he mutters. “Right… time to go home. I have plenty of work to be doing.”

 

THURSDAY

 

On Thursday morning, the college has been reopened, and investigations have ceased. Eiden and Xilog are doing their usual morning gym exercises.

“Did you hear about Clocksworth?” Eiden asks.

“What specifically?” Xilog says, putting down his medicine ball and taking a few breaths.

“I saw them when I was walking up to college today, so I was like ‘You’re here early’. To which she just replied ‘fuck yes, I’m gonna be a blood-bender’, and walked off.” Eiden says. “Looks like she’s gonna be wearing the Blood-Pact Bloomers from now on. Which is concerning.”

“Certainly is.” Xilog replies. “Still, experimentation with clothing is one of the main focuses of this college.”

“True.” Eiden replies. “I’d do the same but I’m still very fond of the Spider Snood.”

“The Steel-Capped Kickers have served me well so far.” Xilog says. “Though I can’t deny, a change would be nice. I am just not sure what I would change them to.”

Eiden shrugs. “Who knows? Let’s get to registration shortly. I can only imagine they’re gonna want to talk to us about yesterday.”

 

*

 

“Quieten down.” Simon grumbles. The class fall silent as Simon looks over the classroom. “As you know, several of you were involved in the Aranea attack on the college yesterday morning. Students who were involved in it, it is compulsory that you visit the nurse’s office for a mental check-up whenever you’re free today. We need to make sure that there were no lasting effects, even if none of you were injured.”

Cassandra gives a loud cough.

“…OK, two of you got punched.” Simon sighs. “You got checked up immediately after and you were both fine. Anyway, that’s the last thing for today’s registration. You may go.”

The class head off to their various lessons, and they all have Combat Training first. The lesson is pretty normal for the most part, with Marion Summers keeping a careful eye on the students’ fights and offering tips. The students, somewhat shaken up by yesterday’s events, seem to be fighting even harder than normal.

At the end of the lesson, Marion sends them away as usual, but one of them catches her eye.

“Boo, can I speak to you for a moment?”

As the rest of the class head off, Boo turns to Marion with a look of confusion.

“Am I… in trouble?”

“No, no, nothing like that.” Marion grins. “Boo, I’m just worried about your Battle Clothing.”

“…What?”

Marion looks down at the tiny girl. “You’ve gone with the Sawblade Skirt. A solid offensive piece of Battle Clothing that forces your opponent to keep their distance.”

Boo is silent.

“But I don’t think that gels well with your abilities. Boo, you’re an amazing combatant without Battle Clothing – you mentioned doing karate in the US, right? So I’m baffled why you’ve gone with a piece of Battle Clothing that doesn’t really help you use those abilities. The Skirt forces your opponent away from you, but with your physical abilities, you could stand to use Battle Clothing that favours close combat.”

“I…” Boo murmurs. “I suppose.”

“Simon told me that you did amazingly well with the Powerful Pullover on the taster day. I think that’s a good option that augments your current physical abilities. I’d also recommend the Tough Top or the Inner Heat Jumper. If you want to get a higher mark in Combat Training, you need to use the right Battle Clothing for you. Alright?”

“Alright.” Boo says quietly. “Um… thank you.”

She walks off, deep in thought.

 

*

 

Over lunch, Eiden spots Jackson furiously scribbling away and walks over. “Hey friend! What are you working on?”

“Oh, Eiden…” Jackson says. He shows Eiden the drawings of the mask. “I’m… working on the design.”

“I thought we’d finalised it?” Eiden asks, sitting down besides Jackson and studying the mask.

“Clocksworth told me what Phillis did on Tuesday. I’m reworking the design to have the patch on the inside of the mask. We have to change a couple of things, but… it’ll be safer.”

Eiden falls silent. “…Thanks, Jackson.”

On the other side of the lunchroom, Boo is busy doing work, and she looks up to see Cassandra sitting beside her.

“I brought you some lunch. They’re doing burgers today, and… well, if I’m honest, I don’t think you’ve eaten today.”

Boo stares at her work. “…I haven’t.”

She accepts the burgers gratefully and eats them whilst she works. Cassandra sits beside her, doing her own work. After a couple of minutes, Cassandra pulls a small object out of her bag and places it in front of Boo.

“I…”

“It’s a pin badge in the shape of Texas.” Cassandra says. “I thought you could pin it onto your bag. You know, taking a little piece of your home with you wherever you go.”

Boo is near to tearing up. “I… can’t accept that.”

“Yes you can.” Cassandra replies with a smile, and she places the badge in Boo’s hand. “It’s just a little something.”

“Thank you…” Boo says, clutching the badge tightly.

 

*

 

Clocksworth knocks on the door of the staffroom.

“Hello there.” Bradley says, opening the door. “Who are you after?”

“Mia.” Clocksworth grins.

A short while later, Mia exits the staffroom and accompanies Clocksworth to an empty classroom. Mia sighs, and looks around. Clocksworth begins to close the door.

“Keep it open.” Mia snaps.

Clocksworth sits down and gets out some paper. “So, uh, yeah, design.”

“Right. What are you looking for, Clocksworth? What Battle Clothing are you going with?”

“I was thinking Vibe Bottoms and Blood-Pact Bloomers.”

“And here I thought it’d be the Phantom Overcoat, seeing as you’re wearing it…” Mia sighs. Clocksworth chuckles.

“I’m meeting a friend later who wants to practise against the Overcoat. That’s all! But I just got the Bloomers today, and I am very excited to try them.”

“Can you wear two pieces of Battle Clothing yet?”

“Probably.” Clocksworth says, shrugging.

“Probably, or no?” Mia presses.

Clocksworth gives her a cheeky grin. “OK, maybe not. But I got the Vibe Bottoms for now! The minute I can wear two, I can add the Blood-Pact Bloomers to that and dance some peeps to their doom!”

“OK, so Vibe Bottoms.” Mia muses. “You’re gonna want a flashy top to go with those gaudy bottoms. How do you feel about capes?”

“I would kill a man to have a sparkly swishy cape.” Clocksworth says, entirely serious. Mia nods.

“…Right.”

Over the course of an hour, the pair of them begin to design Clocksworth’s outfit, and Mia is very annoyed to find herself enjoying Clocksworth’s company. There’s something about Clocksworth that is just equal parts entertaining, relaxing to be around and cute.

 

*

 

As lunch comes to a close, Zaphod exits the college and begins to wander around. Soon, he comes across Eiden, throwing punches and moving around as quick as he can with the Spider Snood. As Zaphod approaches, Eiden decides to take a short break.

“Hey.”

“Hi.” Zaphod replies. “You, uh, practising?”

“Yeah. I’d been shirking my practice lately, but with the attack yesterday and the competition coming up, I figured I should do more.” Eiden says.

Zaphod leans against the wall and nods. “Sounds like a plan. You did great yesterday, though, Eiden. Such a good plan in such a short space of time!”

“It wasn’t much.” Eiden mutters. “Could’ve done better. Did you hear that Aranea officially claimed culpability this morning?”

“Yeah, I watched it in my free period.” Zaphod says. “Do you think their plan will work? Making parents take us out of college out of fear?”

“Nah.” Eiden replies. “We’re all attending this college because we want to become Bombardiers and Peacekeepers and the like – we’re gonna have to get used to combat anyway. I know my mother is worried, but… she’ll have to just live with it.”

“I know my parents aren’t bothered.” Zaphod says.

“Not at all?” Eiden asks. “Surely they’re worried-”

“It was a little joke.” Zaphod chuckles. “My mother passed away a number of years back.”

There’s a moment of silence.

“I’m sorry.” Eiden says.

“Don’t worry about it.” Zaphod replies. “Still got an hour before Combat Training… wanna spar for a bit?”

“Sounds good.” Eiden answers.

 

*

 

Bradley looks up as there is a knock on the door of his classroom. “Come in.”

Cassandra walks in. “I asked at the staffroom, they said you’d be in here.”

“I presume you want to continue discussing what we were earlier in the week?” Bradley asks, as Cassandra takes a seat next to his desk. Cassandra gets a book out of her bag.

“Um, that too, but actually… I just finished reading the book. I recognise some of the stories. I think my mother used to read some of them to me when I was a child.”

“Ah, I see.” Bradley replies, nodding. “Which ones in particular were you interested in?”

“The Last Patchworker, and the dress for marriage one…” Cassandra says. “Is the Elven Patch real?”

Bradley laughs gently. “That is a question that historians have been discussing for decades. It is true that there was a real Patchmaker called Beckett. However, we have no verifiable proof that he developed an entirely new Patch. What is true, however, is that he did create the Anticloth.”

“So that Anticloth is real?”

“That is a certainty.” Bradley answers. “It has arisen several times. The last I heard of it, it had been discovered somewhere in the Midlands in the 1980s. Somebody was on a rampage with it, but they were stopped by a pair of powerful Bombardiers. The Anticloth was intended to go to London and be stored in a deep vault for safekeeping, but it was stolen during the journey, and has not been heard from since.”

“I see…” Cassandra breathes.

“What did you want to ask about in regards to A Dress Fit For Marriage?”

“I’m not sure.” Cassandra replies. “I just… remember the story from my childhood. It made me feel cosy when I was reading it. Like an old memory.”

“I’m happy to hear that.” Bradley replies. “Anyway, was there anything of the previous conversation you wished to ask about?”

“Oh, right.” Cassandra says. She returns the book to her bag and shifts nervously in her seat. “Um, you said that you taught Simon. Did he, uh, know-”

“No, I’m afraid not.” Bradley replies. “I am sorry. I will say that there’s someone very important who you will likely meet soon. Your journey is just beginning.”

Cassandra and Bradley continue discussing the various Bombardiers that Bradley taught in the past for another twenty minutes or so.

 

*

 

Dance Club, led by Chrissie, goes on as usual. Clocksworth seems a little checked out, but he still applies himself rigorously to the teachings. The other students enjoy the chance to relax and do something a little different for a bit.

Soon, the lesson ends, and the students file out of the college, excitedly chatting about the upcoming model competition, the latest news from the world of models and fashion, and everything else under the sun.

“Hey, sorry.” Clocksworth says as he walks up to Donovan, stood in one of the arenas outside the college. “Dance Club takes a while. You wanna fight?”

“Indeed I do!” Donovan announces. “Do your strongest, my good sir! I will defeat you with aplomb!”

With a sigh, Clocksworth raises his right hand and a gigantic shadowy fist appears; the Phantom Overcoat. Without announcement, Clocksworth slams the fist into the ground where Donovan was stood.

As Clocksworth lifts the fist, he is unsurprised to see that Donovan leapt back to dodge – whilst he was behind the fist, however, Donovan has created three clones, and he has no idea which one the real Donovan is. The clones begin to split up.

“I see.” Clocksworth murmurs. He places the hand on the far right and swipes the entire arena in one stroke. The first figure he hits is a clone, as is the second. The third leaps up, and as the hand reaches him, he tries to create a clone inside the hand. There’s an explosion in his chest, and he is blasted backwards, as is Clocksworth’s phantom hand.

The shadowy hand begins to recede, having taken too much damage. Donovan, however, has planned the battle to the letter, and his one remaining clone catches him as he is hurled back by the explosion. Whilst Clocksworth busily tries to remove his Phantom Overcoat to use the other arm, Donovan and the clone charge, and as they approach, Donovan has recovered enough to re-summon his defeated clones.

Clocksworth gets his left arm into the coat, and has to leap backwards to avoid Donovan’s punch. However, he leaps right into the grip of two of Donovan’s clones, who lift him up and hurl him out of bounds. Before he hits the ground, Clocksworth lashes out with the other shadowy arm and slams it into the ground, trying to pull himself back to the safety of the arena.

Before he can, however, he lands heavily on the ground, and clambers to his feet, staring in surprise at a proud Donovan.

“I… I did it!”

“OK, my dude, but you know for a fact I’m not as good as Simon.” Clocksworth replies. She walks over to Donovan and offers a high-five. “Nice job though.”

Donovan high-fives her and then punches the sky. “This is my beginning, Clocksworth! As my dark powers continue to grow, soon, I will be able to defeat all who stand in my way. Watch your back!”

“Sure.” Clocksworth smirks. “Wanna keep going for a bit?”

“Absolutely!” Donovan says. “I must refine my power. It is paramount to success!”

The pair continue to battle, and though they are generally evenly-matched, Donovan does manage to win a surprising number of the bouts. His confidence against the Phantom Overcoat is growing.

 

FRIDAY

 

The last day of the week, for the most part, is uneventful. During registration, the class get some time to chat about this and that.

“I heard a rumour that Xilog asked Boo out.” Zaphod says. The group react to this with surprise.

“No way.” Eiden says. “P? And Boo?”

“Hey, I’m just saying, they had to be talking about something outside the coffee shop on Wednesday.” Anastasia replies. Zaphod nods in agreement.

“Maybe it was just as friends.” Eiden presses.

“Or maybe he wants to bend her over and take her to pound town over the weekend.” Phillis interjects. The group wisely decide to completely ignore him.

“Well, that’s interesting. What the hell does P see in her, though?” Clocksworth says. “Eh, who knows.”

“Hey! How’s your designing going?” Aubree asks, as she looks over Anastasia’s shoulder.

“Oh, not bad.” Anastasia says. “We just need to go to Textiles at some point. Next Wednesday is the last Textiles Club before the competition.”

“Yes, I feel the same.” Aubree replies. “Still, I’m excited to see what everybody’s going to do! Are you coming to watch us, Don? Phil?”

“Of course!”

“If you ever call me Phil again I will rip your arm off and slap you with it.”

 

*

 

In Combat Training, Form A are fighting their hardest.

“Alright, last fight before we finish the lesson.” Marion says. “Boo, and… hm. Xilog, you look the least tired. Get up here!”

Xilog lifts his weary body towards the arena and stands, ready for combat. On the other side of the field, Boo stands, stock-still and watching.

“Begin!”

Kicking the ground with the Steel-Capped Kickers, Xilog launches himself towards Boo. Exercising more control than he has previously, he is able to do shorter jumps to confuse Boo. He flies towards her and readies a kick, but Boo turns and with a single movement, grabs his incoming foot, twists around violently and slams him into the ground at her feet.

“Ooh, that was rough.” Cassandra says.

“She’s a terror, even without Battle Clothing!” Donovan replies, unable to take his eyes away from the battlefield.

Boo pulls herself towards Xilog, readying the spinning blades of the Sawblade Skirt, but she can’t quite reach him without putting herself in an awkward position, and so Xilog kicks up from the ground, hurling Boo backwards several feet. He takes the time to get back up off the ground and launch himself a short way into the air with a kick at the floor.

Boo prepares to grab his foot and do the same action again, and Cassandra winces. “Xilog’s smarter than that, Boo – he’s not gonna fall for the same thing twice.”

Cassandra’s prediction comes true; Xilog kicks out and Boo catches the foot. Before she can move, however, Xilog’s other foot collides with the side of her face and launches her out of the battlefield, where she crumples and collapses.

Boo closes her eyes and feels the throbbing pain in the side of her head. Maybe I do need a different kind of Battle Clothing.

 

*

 

“Welcome, class.” Louisa Lefay says as Donovan, Jackson, Zaphod and Eiden enter the Performing Arts classroom with the other students. “Ah, mon cherie, we have a good lesson today! It has been a long week, but we shall be relaxing with some videos of old pros.”

“What kind of lesson is this?” Eiden asks, leaning over to Jackson, who shrugs.

Louisa puts a video tape into a player and turns on the projector on the ceiling of the room. Immediately, a grainy image of two models battling in a gigantic stadium begins to play.

“An important skill for models is not just knowing your own clothing, but knowing others. Oui! Proper knowledge of Battle Clothing is necessary! You may relax and watch the fights, but as you do, I would like you to fill in the question sheet on your desk. Analyse the clothing and moves that they use – if you learn all the different types of Battle Clothing, you will have an advantage over your copains who do Physical Education or other subjects!”

During the lesson, one match in particular stands out to Donovan. It’s Dexter Duvoir, in the legendary match where he first earned his status of Royal, fighting a blond girl who has an array of powers.

“Hey…” Donovan whispers to Zaphod. “Unless the darkness in my heart deceives me… that model is Louisa herself! A lot younger, certainly, but it’s her for sure!”

“So it is! Look how powerful her Vibe Bottoms are, my goodness…” Zaphod replies.

The lesson continues and the class are somewhat thankful for an easy end to the week.

 

*

 

Knock ‘Em Dead Club begins the moment that college finishes.

“Alright, let’s not beat around the bush.” Simon says, as he sees the students gathering just outside the arena. His left arm transforms into the Phantom Overcoat. “Knock me dead, if you can!”

The first to step in is Ten, and Simon is visibly concerned. He doesn’t hold back, and immediately throws a number of powerful attacks out. Ten dodges past several of them, and her spinning Sawblade Skirt prevents Simon from going all out. She approaches Simon, but he gets a lucky punch in and launches her right out of the arena.

“God damn, he really isn’t pulling his punches now.” Lauren Valleja murmurs. She looks down at her Ward Aura Slippers and nods to herself. “Best of luck, you guys.”

“This is not going to be fun.” Anastasia mutters. The group turn in surprise as Donovan is next to charge onto the field.

Simon readies his fist and drops it right on top of Donovan, who dodges backwards as he practised and creates his clones. As Simon lifts the fist, he grins as he realises what Donovan did, and begins to sweep across the battlefield, aiming to get rid of all the clones in one stroke. Donovan, prepared, readies his attack as his clones charge.

As Simon’s hand punches through two clones and approaches the real Donovan, he jumps up and performs his special move, creating a mighty explosion inside his own chest as he tries to make a clone in Simon’s phantom fist. He is caught by his clone, and Simon curses as his hand crumbles into nothing.

“Oh my god.” Eiden says. “What the hell was that?”

“He pulled that off flawlessly.” Cassandra breathes. “That was incredible. Come on, Donovan!”

Emboldened by the group’s support, Donovan and his remaining clone charge. Simon switches to the other arm of his coat, and readies a gigantic fist. He slams down on Donovan, who hasn’t yet got close enough to attack Simon yet. However, Donovan bends over and keeps running as his clone lifts his hands and catches the fist. The clone can only hold it for a few seconds before Simon crushes it, but it’s enough time for Donovan to run right up to Simon.

The older man sees the boy throw a punch, and uses his ordinary left hand to catch the fist. However, Donovan immediately follows up with a punch to the stomach using his other hand, and Simon exhales in surprise.

“He got a hit.” Xilog says.

“No kidding! He actually has a chance!” Ten replies, watching the battle intently.

Activating the Speed Sneakers, Simon punches Donovan and follows up with a kick to his stomach. Donovan, recovered enough to use his clones again, summons two clones behind Simon that grab both of his arms and pull him back. Simon flails his phantom hand randomly, and though the clones are holding him, the hand hits Donovan and knocks him aside. The momentary confusion causes the clones to drop Simon, who speeds over to Donovan, picks him up in the giant shadowy fist and throws him out of the arena.

“No!” Cassandra yells. “Oh, Don, you were so close… damn!”

Eiden is next, running on and dodging the first two swinging fists. He tries to grab Simon’s fist with the Spider Snood, but like the week before, Simon switches between his arms and catches Eiden out with a mighty punch from his other hand. Eiden lands on the ground and tries to run back, but Simon dashes towards him with the Speed Sneakers and hits him at full pelt, knocking him out of the ring.

Staring at the sky, Eiden smashes a fist into the ground. “God… dammit!”

Xilog enters the field and kicks the ground repeatedly, flying through the air around Simon’s punches. However, as he comes towards the ground, Simon plucks him out of the air and throws him out of the ring. Anastasia runs on immediately afterward to try and take Simon by surprise, but with one swinging fist, Simon smacks her to the ground.

“You’re gonna have to earn your coffees, kids!” Simon yells, dashing towards Anastasia, who draws her knife.

“This guy is such a dick.” Eiden says.

“We’re doing better.” Ten replies. The defeated members of the group turn to her, and she shrugs. “Last time, he was forced to use the Speed Sneakers when fighting me. He’s had to use them for every fight so far; he’s seeing us as more of a threat.”

“Nice analysis.” Lauren says. “You’re certainly more of a threat than you were last week.”

“Anytime you want me to be a threat, let me know.” Ten says, winking. Lauren smirks and goes back to watching the battle – Anastasia has been knocked out.

Cassandra runs onto the field, but she is more prepared than last week. With advanced fitness, she puts all of her focus into dodging Simon’s swipes and blows, and though the misses are often narrow, she manages to dodge all of them.

“You have to attack to win, you know.” Simon taunts. “Your dodging is great but you’ve not even approached me yet.”

He slams a fist into the ground near Cassandra, who grins – the cold that the Chillbringer possesses has had enough time to ready itself, and as Simon’s fist hits the ground just next to her, she unleashes the power within.

It is a perfectly-timed counterattack. As the fist hits the ground, ice from Cassandra’s clothing sprouts up around it, freezing the entire fist and most of the arm to the ground. Simon grimaces and tries to heave the arm free whilst Cassandra creates ice around her feet and skates towards Simon at a surprising speed.

“Whoa…” Ten says. “My girl’s learning how her clothing works!”

“She’s certainly demonstrating a real mastery of it. I suppose it would have to be strong, considering how long it takes to get cold enough to use its power.” Xilog muses.

Cassandra skates towards Simon, who dissipates his arm, freeing it from the ice, and hurriedly switches to his other hand. With the Speed Sneakers, he dodges Cassandra’s punch, but she launches an array of icicles. Simon lifts his hand, and the shadowy arm protects him from the brunt of the blows; however, it hides Cassandra from view, and she prepares a mighty ice spear.

Once the icicles stop, Simon drops the hand and prepares to attack, but then sees the spear of ice in Cassandra’s hand. She throws it immediately, and Simon has to throw himself onto the ground to dodge it. He twists and lashes out blindly; Cassandra is dealt a glancing blow and launches icicles again whilst she recovers herself. This time, Simon blocks the icicles with his hand, but charges forward with the Speed Sneakers, and smacks into Cassandra, knocking her just out of bounds.

Simon breathes in and out slowly, and takes off the Phantom Overcoat. “Alright… that was a week. I… need a break… see you… on Monday.”

Completely worn out, Simon begins to walk back into the college, accompanied by Lauren. Impressed by how well Cassandra and Donovan performed against Simon this week, the group congratulate the beaten-up pair as they exit the college.

Several of them, though, have just one thing on their minds: the Practise Model Competition, which is now only one week away.

 

New Clothing Discovered:

 

[No. 056] Slowdown Stockings

Formation: Leggings + Support Patch

Effect: Allows user to slow down time in a small area around themselves

Drawback: Affects everything except user, including allies

Sunderland College [2.5 - The Spider's Web]
Sunderland College [2.B - Patches For Gods]

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