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Sunderland College [4.1 – A Much-Needed Holiday]

TUESDAY

 

“OK, what if I’d taken the rocks and thrown them back, using the wind to propel them at him?”

“For the last time,” Xilog sighs as he runs on a treadmill alongside Eiden. “You came second, and that is still rather good. Please stop reliving yesterday over and over again.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Eiden says, chuckling. “Yeah, I guess it is pretty good.”

They run in silence for a few moments longer, and once they deem themselves thoroughly exercised, turn the treadmills down and prepare to head to registration.

In Form B’s registration, as Mia is taking the names, Eiden glances around the table.

“Where’s Aubree?”

“No idea.” Anastasia says. “With Phillis and Aubree gone, this table is looking pretty empty.”

Eiden, concerned, falls quiet.

The day passes relatively quickly, with everyone worn out from the Practise Model Competition; even the teachers seem to be lighter on the workload. Half term is getting closer and closer, and everyone is praying for the last two weeks to go by as quickly as possible.

Book Club is the usual fare, with the class discussing the details of the Dexter Duvoir biography, but once the club ends, Bradley is disturbed by the door opening and Donovan standing before him.

“Ah, hello.” he says placidly. “And you are?”

“My name is Donovan!” the boy announces. “Tell me, he who knows of bygone days, would you be able to tell me about some previous wielders of the Obfuscating Hood?”

“The Obfuscating Hood? Hm, yes… I could probably think of some. There’s one in this very college, as it happens. The first-year course co-ordinator, Marlow Bell, uses the Obfuscating Hood.” Bradley muses. “Of course, he has to use Dampened Patches, so there is a limit to his ability. In terms of full-power users, you ought to look into the 2002 Global Fashion Show and the 2001 UK Regionals.”

“Oh?” Donovan says, tilting his head.

“Sarah Monsman was modelling the Obfuscating Hood and the Full Cover during the time, and came third in the Global Fashion Show that year. You can probably find some articles or books about it.”

“Ah, amazing! Thank you, and may your spirit grow ever stronger!” Donovan replies, swishing dramatically out of the room with excitement shining in his eyes. Bradley chuckles to himself.

“That must be the one Simon mentioned, always talking about darkness and destiny. What a curious boy indeed… reminds me of Simon himself, before-”

Bradley catches himself and turns back to the classroom, observing the chairs and beginning to put them away.

“I really must stop chunnering to myself. You never know who might be listening.”

 

WEDNESDAY

 

Aubree recieves a text from Eiden – has has a day off on Wednesday, and so wants to meet up with her. Dragging herself out of bed, still resting despite the late morning hour, Aubree soon arrives at Cairo Coffee, where Eiden sits inside, sipping a drink using his straw attachment.

“Hi, Eiden! I’m surprised you asked me to come for coffee.”

“I was worried!” Eiden says. “You didn’t turn up to college yesterday.”

“Oh, that.” Aubree replies, sitting beside Eiden and giving him a disarming smile. “I got very disheartened about the competition, and I was super tired out, so I was just gonna have a few days off.”

“Ah, I see.” Eiden replies. He sips his coffee for a moment. “Was your dad impressed?”

“Yeah! He came by after the competition and took me out for tea. He thought the design was really cool!”

“I’m so glad. Aubree… I want you to know, I wanted to win as much for you as I did for myself. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be!” Aubree replies, beaming. “You did your best, Eiden. And this just gives us more motivation to win the next one!”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, that reminds me, though.” Aubree mutters. She fishes into her pocket and pulls out a letter. “I was going to tell you about this when I came back to college. What do you make of this?”

Eiden scans the letter. “…Hm. I wonder what this is about? What do you know of this?”

“Well, I’ve never met Lucas Gloom, but my mother has talked about him. She used to work with him.” Aubree explains. “As for the Battle Clothing, I’ve no idea. She’s never talked about owning a powerful piece of clothing. If Gloom thought he could find it with my help, I think he’s mistaken.”

Eiden muses on this information for a few moments. “Perhaps your mother knows something; I’d recommend telling her, if you haven’t already.”

“I told her that night. She didn’t say very much… but she also didn’t correct me.”

“That means it probably is hidden in the college, then.” Eiden replies. “We need to look for it. If we can subtly pick up some clues, we might be able to locate it before Hallowe’en, and take it somewhere safe.”

“Yeah… we can do that next week. Ooh! Let’s see whether Xilog would help us! He seems like a guy who can solve a mystery.”

“Best not. This letter suggests that there might be traitors anywhere. We need to keep this between us for now.” Eiden replies.

“OK.” Aubree says, nodding. “That makes sense… gotta be careful!”

After another hour or so of talking and drinking coffee, Aubree is tired out and wants to go home. She doesn’t seem interested in attending Textiles Club, but Eiden is still raring to go and find out the state of his mask. He makes it to college just in time to attend Textiles Club, and meets Jackson in the corridor.

“Man, having no subjects on a Wednesday and still having to come in for Textiles, that’s fun.” Eiden remarks.

Jackson smirks. “True. Hey, I’ve got some good news, though.”

“The mask?”

“Almost finished.” Jackson replies. “The base design is done… we just need to take it to Romein to patch it. But, uh… yeah, that’s where problems arise.”

“What’s the issue?” Eiden asks as they walk into the classroom and choose a table. Jackson begins to get out various fabrics and materials, one of which seems to be a fully complete mask.

“The college’s policy is that they’ll patch anything we take to them, provided it’s registered. It’s against the law to patch unregistered clothing, of course. So once we take this to Romein, he’ll have to send it off to London to the RCR, and after a week we’ll see whether it gets officially registered; until then, you can’t wear it.”

“What’s the RCR?” Eiden asks.

“Royal Clothing Registry. They test new Battle Clothing and publish the Battle Clothing Index, which is all the legal clothing you can wear. Anyone can submit, but of course, most clothing has already been discovered at this point.”

“Mm.”

Louisa comes over to the table. “Ah, the Royal Clothing Registry? Indeed… but remember, mon cherie, new clothing does exist! And it looks like you two have found it.”

Zaphod turns to Jackson. “Oh, yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask, Jackson. What’s the components of the clothing you were wearing for the competition?”

The boy gestures to what he is currently wearing. “Harem pants, with an Augment Patch.”

“Awesome.” Zaphod replies, scribbling something into his notebook. “So, where did you learn all this stuff about design? How did you catch the eye of Lindsey Stunne?”

“Oh, uh… I grew up in a family that was big on modelling. You just pick stuff up… mostly taught myself. Making use of my situation.” Jackson says. He doesn’t seem to want to talk about it further, but looks at Zaphod’s notebook with interest. “You had that on the day of the competition, too. What is it?”

“Ahah.” Zaphod chuckles weakly, brushing off the comment. “Uh, this is where I write down all the stuff I’m learning about models. I have notes on all the fights I did yesterday and how well they went, and all the tactics that the other fighters used!”

He holds it up, and Eiden can see a quick sketch of his own outfit, dotted with notes and comments, but it is too far away to read in detail. It looks incredibly thorough.

“You’re really serious about modelling, huh?” Eiden murmurs.

“Definitely! My parents always said my looks would take me far. But I know that I have to be strong, too! So I practise as hard as I can.” Zaphod replies.

“Ah, magnifique!” Louisa says, clasping her hands together. “Knowledge is power when it comes to modelling. You could easily become a star!”

“Anyway, Eiden.” Jackson says, gesturing to the mask. “It’s done, pretty much. If you’d like, I can go see Romein now and get it sent off. With any luck, we’ll have it back by next Wednesday.”

“That sounds good to me.” Eiden replies, grinning behind his own mask. “I’m very, very interested to see what comes of this.”

The rest of Textiles passes with more relaxed conversation about modelling, the competition just past, and the exciting types of clothing people want to design.

The rest of the week is similarly quick to pass; Dance Club is still where Clocksworth shines brightest, whilst another week of Knock ‘Em Dead proves once more that Simon Rutledge cannot be defeated. There’s a growing sense of anticipation for Eiden, knowing his birthday is soon, whilst Clocksworth has already claimed that next week is her birth-week. The last week of half term is shaping up to be a fun and relaxing one.

 

MONDAY

 

“Hey, everyone!” Tessa says, walking up to the group who are waiting for Testfire Club to begin. “Alright, so we missed Testfire Club last week thanks to college being cancelled, but hey, I have something fun lined up for you today!”

Tessa hands out a collection of jeans, which everyone gets on quite quickly. Tessa extends her shapely legs and the class watch as power begins to flow through them.

“These are the Launch Jeans. Let me show you why.” she says with a grin. She moves one leg back, and the jeans begin to glow, as if marking out the torsion. With a slight movement, she lifts her front leg up and the back leg snaps forward, flinging Tessa a good ten feet forward, where she lands and turns with a thumbs-up.

“Before you guys try this, please let me remind you that we don’t have Ward Aura Slippers. The weakness of the Launch Jeans is that your top half isn’t protected at all – if you launch yourself into the side of the college, it will hurt!”

The students begin to test out the capabilities of the Launch Jeans, flinging themselves every which way, and getting a few cuts and grazes along the way. Tessa shouts out information as she wanders around, trying to ensure that there are minimal injuries.

“The Launch Jeans launch you further the more you put your leg back! If you just move it back a few inches, you can hop forward. If you want to move upwards, though please, for the love of God, take care, you can snap both your back and front legs into the middle; the resulting energy will send you straight up.” she explains, dodging to the side as Cassandra whizzes past her. “The Launch Jeans were most popularly used by Hamza Akbar, a Bombardier from the early 90s. He was murdered in ‘95, but he put down some very powerful Silhouette monsters, including Bantam in, uh, ‘90, I think? Of course, he was also one of the three Bombardiers who originally took down Ledraun.”

Aubree hops next to Eiden and smiles at him. “Hey! I spoke to my mother, and she said that she doesn’t want us to find the clothing. In fact, she said it’s impossible to find.”

“Huh.” Eiden says. “That makes things harder, but if she thinks it’s safe, maybe we should believe her.”

“I want to find it anyway! She’ll be in danger if he can’t find it, remember? But if we find it first, and move it, when my mother tells this guy where it is, she can’t be blamed for it not being there!” Aubree replies. “Apparently my mother also doesn’t know who this guy is. She was about to say something, but then… just fell quiet. So I don’t know what that’s about it.”

“Your idea makes sense. I guess we may as well give it a go. If we don’t find it, it’s fine; we’ll protect your mother anyway. But if we do find it, that definitely takes the heat off her. Next week, we’ll start scanning for clues.” Eiden replies, readying the Launch Jeans.

“Oh, can I borrow the Spider Snood tonight?”

“Uh, sure.” Eiden says. “What do you want with it?”

“Just wanna show my mother the design!” says Aubree innocently. Eiden shrugs, satisfied.

“Sure thing, I’ll give it to you at the end of Testfire. But for now – watch me fly!”

Soon, the testing is over, and it’s time for the students to go home. As they leave, they discuss the possible applications of the Launch Jeans.

 

TUESDAY

 

“Aiee! I’m excited!” Aubree says, grinning at the students sat around the table as they wait for registration. “Guys, I spoke to Cassandra, and she says we can come over to hers tonight to celebrate Eiden’s birthday!”

“Oh, awesome.” replies Anastasia. “I’m guessing it’s not gonna be a full-on party with short notice like this, but that should be nice.”

She glances at Zaphod. “Uh, Zaphod, are you… uh, you coming?”

“Yes, sounds like fun!” Zaphod replies. “I could do with a party!”

Anastasia smiles to herself, and Aubree tries very hard not to explode with excitement at how cute Anastasia and Zaphod are being.

“Alright, but keep it down.” Clocksworth replies. “Eiden’ll be here soon, registration is about to start.”

The rest of the day goes by in a blur, but Cassandra soon finds herself with a party on her hands that evening: Eiden is still unused to being the centre of attention, and doesn’t seem himself, but the rest of the class are enjoying themselves. Phillis is absent.

“Hey, Eiden, here ya go.” Zaphod replies, handing Eiden a card. Eiden thanks him and goes to sit down.

“Alright, guys, help yourselves to drinks and snacks. We’ll put on a movie soon and order pizza!” Cassandra says as she ushers everyone into the main room of the apartment.

“Sounds good.” Jackson replies. “Yo, Eiden. Didn’t get you a present, but Romein said they’ve registered the mask. You can get it patched tomorrow – Romein can tell you what the Power, Support and Augment Patches will do to it.”

“That sounds like a present to me.” Eiden replies, grinning. “Thanks, Jackson.”

“Hey, happy to help- whoa!”

Jackson is almost sent flying as Aubree skips in, shoving something into Eiden’s face. “Eiden! I was doing a trick yesterday!”

“Wh-what?” Eiden says, completely confused. Aubree holds up the object – it’s the Spider Snood.

“I took it home to repair it, not to show it to my mother! It’s all fixed up. Thought you might appreciate that!”

“Oh, god, thank you.” Eiden says, taking the Snood appreciatively. “I’ve had to use the Shade Palm for way too long now. I miss this.”

“Heheh. No problem.” Aubree says, hugging Eiden.

“Outta the way, darlings!” Clocksworth replies, coming through. “I need a drink and I need it yesterday!”

As everyone else comes in, giving Eiden well-wishes and trying to decide who’ll be the one to phone for the 7-pizza order, Cassandra smiles to herself.

Almost perfect. Wonder how Phillis is doing?

 

FRIDAY

 

The rest of the week passes with little event, though Clocksworth’s birthday is plenty of fun, as the birthday girl herself causes chaos throughout the day and brings in cake for everyone. Eiden and Aubree begin searching for clues regarding the powerful piece of clothing, but find nothing useful. Aubree also helps Eiden get on his new mask once it gets the all-clear from the RCR – a tense process where the young man can’t breathe for the few minutes that it takes to install the new mask, but it goes off without a hitch.

Friday comes with a sense of excitement: the last day before half term begins. Simon quietens down his class and gestures to the computer.

“So, as you all know, it’s half term-”

“Yes!” shouts a class member. Simon sighs.

“Thank you, Jerry. So, once half term has passed, those of you that are more model-oriented will probably want to think about entering the Winter Model Competition. It’s on the 1st December, which is a Wednesday; college will be cancelled again, so those of you who just don’t care can enjoy a day off.”

“Oh, that’s cool.” Cassandra says. “Jackson, you entering again?”

“Shouldn’t be too bad.” Jackson replies, shrugging. “I’m definitely entering.”

“The Winter Model Competition is more popular than the Practise Model Competition – it’s one of the three main college competitions, including the Spring and Summer ones. Luminaries from across the world attend these three competitions, scouting out new potential models and designers.”

The class is quiet now. Simon sounds quite serious.

“Those of you who played at modelling at the Practise Model Competition don’t know anything yet. There were eight entrants.”

Jackson is watching Simon carefully.

“This time, there will be fifty. And that includes second-years.”

After making sure the class has understood the message, Simon nods.

“And, to be more like a regular model competition similar to the Global Fashion Show or the Regionals, there will be a theme that designers and models alike have to adhere to. So, the theme for this term’s competition is: “the hearth’s warmth”. Make of that what you will.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” whispers Ten, and Boo shrugs. She seems to be listening intently to Simon’s information.

“Of course, standard rules apply. You have to submit an application before November 8th, you’ll be more likely to get in if you’re a designer/model pair, and you’ll have to prepare your outfits in your own time. That’s all on the Winter Model Competition for now.”

The rest of the registration is far less interesting, and everybody is distracted by the news about what the Winter Model Competition will be like. Jackson is already doodling a mind map for “the hearth’s warmth”, and as the rest of the lessons fly by – even the teachers seem to be just killing time until half term – the final bell rings for college, and the students excitedly head out of Sunderland, ready for a holiday.

Some students have decided to begin their weekend in the usual way: rigorous combat with Simon at Knock ‘Em Dead Club.

“Alright, kiddies. It’s been 6 weeks now and you’ve yet to knock me down.” Simon says, standing on the edge of the battlefield with a cocky smirk. “Anyone think they can handle it, before we all have a week off?”

As usual, several students think they can handle it. They are proven wrong by Simon’s overpowering combo of the Phantom Overcoat and the Speed Sneakers; first Donovan is knocked aside, then Cassandra puts up a fight but is also hurled against the wall of the college. Ten and Anastasia follow suit. Moments before Xilog is about to run onto the field, Eiden directs him to get back, and walks slowly onto the battlefield to face Simon.

Eiden runs for Simon, and the gigantic arm of the Phantom Overcoat slams into the ground. Eiden leaps aside, using his Snood to outmanoeuvre the arm, and continues gunning for Simon. He lunges, and Simon uses the Speed Sneakers to dart past the limbs, skilfully evading the onslaught. Eiden lashes out with one of his limbs as Simon runs past him, and wraps the tendril around Simon’s normal arm. The Phantom Overcoat’s arm swings round and smacks into Eiden, forcing him backwards.

With grim determination, Eiden grabs the wrist of the Phantom Overcoat with most of his limbs, refusing to be knocked out of the arena. Simon pulls back and with a fierce swing, hurls Eiden to the ground. As he runs to Eiden, readying the arm once again, his eyes widen and he jumps back.

“What’s he afraid of?” asks Cassandra, staring at Eiden. “…Oh.”

The class watch as Eiden gets to his feet, and his mask begins to change. It extends past his cheeks, going into sharp points, and the marks that cover the front of it glow a fierce red. When Eiden exhales, a black smog is released from his mask, which begins to disperse into the air. Simon keeps his distance, watching warily.

“Wait, what?” Ten says.

“There’s only one explanation: Eiden is now capable of wearing two pieces of Battle Clothing.” Xilog murmurs.

Eiden hoists himself up onto his limbs and begins to skitter towards Simon, breathing copious quantities of the dark smog. Simon only just avoids Eiden bearing down on him, and swings his massive purple arm to swat the smog aside. The air generated by the arm manages to shift the smoke, but Eiden continues the assault, breathing more. For the first time, Simon looks genuinely worried.

Taking in a large breath, Simon runs grimly towards Eiden, who, taken by surprise, doesn’t see the arm until it grabs him and hurls him out of the arena. He lands on the ground and turns to see Simon coughing heavily and walking on unsteady feet. He falls to his knees.

“Ugh… alright then. That was new.” he mutters. Xilog runs onto the field behind him, and uses the Steel-Capped Kickers to fling himself towards Simon. Simon gets to his feet just in time to cross his arms as Xilog crashes into him. Simon dissipates the arm and moves his arm to the other arm of the coat, slamming the gigantic fist into Xilog. Xilog stumbles as he hits the ground and Simon follows up near-instantly, shoving him out of the arena.

With the class soundly defeated once more, Simon stands in front of them all.

“Well, you all get a week off now. I’d recommend you keep up with your exercise by going to the gym in town, but I must say… I’m pretty impressed. This year’s students are pushing me a lot harder than previous years have. You’ve a long way to go before you beat me, but you’re doing well. All of you. Enjoy your holiday.”

Simon begins to walk away with Lauren, who was observing the club. The rest of the students crowd around Eiden, asking about the mask, but he shakes off their questions and heads home. The students follow suit, ready for a week’s holiday.

 

HALF TERM

 

Phillis waits in the coffee shop, trying to shake off the strange and disgusted glances that people are giving him. Nudism is relatively unheard of, but the growing fear of what Battle Clothing might be capable of has led it to increase in popularity. That said, he breathes a quiet sigh of relief when Cassandra walks into Cairo Coffee and comes to sit with him.

“Hey! How’ve you been doing?” Cassandra says.

“Not bad.” Phillis mutters. “Bored, mostly. I’m looking forward to beating everyone up when I get back.”

“Heh.” Cassandra smirks. “Sounds about right. I’m looking forward to having you back. Need a gym partner to spot me!”

The pair continue to catch up as Cassandra explains the events of the last few weeks. Phillis listens with idle interest, sipping a black coffee as he does so. He looks up as Cassandra begins to discuss the Hallowe’en party.

“So, the secret classroom hunt is on Hallowe’en itself, but it doesn’t start until 9. I was thinking of hosting a party from 6 onwards at mine, and everyone has to come in costume!”

“Sounds good. I think I’ll go as Frankenstein’s monster.” Phillis says, in a moment of surprising levity. “I’ll just paint my entire body green.”

Cassandra giggles. “Whatever you decide, I’m interested to see it. We can do a costume competition, and then once we’re all ready, head over to college to try and find that hidden classroom!”

“Should be fun.” Phillis says, nodding.

Another hour passes in Cairo Coffee as the pair talk about this and that, and Cassandra finds herself having quite a lot of fun. Phillis is pleased that his attempt to be a bit more social has worked, and doesn’t find talking to people nearly as awkward as it once was.

Once the meetup has reached an end, Cassandra makes her way to the Macew Library in the city centre, interested in doing some research on various topics. She discovers, by reading several newspaper articles from the last fifteen years, that the Bombardier killer has been active since 1989, and taken eight lives: Kirk Wolthome in 1989, Garret Pearce in 1990, Fire and Ice in 1992, Hamza Akbar in 1995, Image in 1997, Jessaline Sculera in 1999 and Icarus in 2002.

Cassandra doesn’t quite find what she is looking for, however, and sighs.

 

*

 

Eiden and Aubree are trying out a coffee shop on the outskirts of Macew called Rosebud’s during their week off. Both are deep in discussion as they eat cake and sip their drinks.

“OK, so we couldn’t find the clothing.” Eiden remarks. “But the college basement is off-limits. So it might be there.”

“We also weren’t able to check Pinnacle’s office.” Aubree says. “Maybe my mother gave it to Pinnacle to take care of?”

“Perhaps, yeah. Either way, what’s our next bet?”

“Well, when we go back on Monday, we should see if we can sneak down to the basement and look around.” Aubree replies. “Perhaps we should check the college library, too. There might be a floor plan or some documents or something that could give us some clues.”

“Yeah, we should have done that.” Eiden says. “Good idea.”

The pair move their conversation over to more trivial matters, and enjoy one another’s company. Eventually, Aubree excuses herself, wanting to get home and watch a television show with her mother, and Eiden wanders into town, not sure what to do with himself. He spots a familir face on the other side of the road, and heads over.

“Hey, Boo!”

Boo blanches in fright, taken completely unawares. “Oh, Eiden… goodness, you scared me.”

“What are you doing out and about?” Eiden asks.

Boo points to the gym nearby. “I need to exercise. I, um, I’ve been going twice a day during the holidays.”

“You take your body really seriously.” Eiden says. “It’s kind of inspiring.”

Boo smiles. “Um, thanks…”

“Hey, I was wondering, do you think we could do more practise with hand-to-hand combat when we go back to college?”

“Oh!” Boo says, nodding. “Yes, that’s fine. That will be nice.”

“Yeah. Thanks for your help.” Eiden replies.

“No problem.” Boo answers. “Um, I’d better get going, anyway…”

“Yeah, of course. Don’t let me keep you.” Eiden replies, waving as Boo wanders off. In high spirits, he heads home.

 

*

 

Later in the week, with Clocksworth’s furiously loud Vibe Bottoms on his mind, Donovan buys some earplugs.

 

*

 

In a curious turn, Xilog decides to invite Phillis to the Fae’s Patch, the local bar, to catch up. Phillis arrives exactly on time, and orders a drink before coming to join Xilog.

“P.”

“Phillis.” Xilog says. “Hope your suspension hasn’t been too dull. What is the difference between a suspension and a holiday? Is enforcing a holiday the same as enforcing an unvisitable area, and does the existence of a holiday imply that we cannot visit college during this period? This bears further thought…”

“Uh, sure.” Phillis replies. Xilog snaps out of his musings.

“My apologies. I just wanted to ask… after some of the things that you’ve done lately, I was wondering what events in your past caused these things to transpire.”

“That’s a question that doesn’t need answering.” Phillis replies defensively.

“Noted.”

“Besides, most people think my past is pretty mysterious. But it’s not like you talk about yours much, either.”

Xilog gives a plastic smile. “Yes, I suppose not. We shall leave our mysteriousness to ourselves, then.”

“Sounds good.” Phillis replies. “Anyway, what’s been going on lately? Anything I should know about?”

“Socially?” Xilog asks. “Not a terrible amount. I suppose you missed Eiden’s party. That was- hm?”

Xilog’s phone buzzes. He flips it open and scans the the screen before wincing. Phillis raises an eyebrow.

“Boo texted me. She wanted to meet up a few days ago, but I was somewhat distracted researching the Anticloth and speaking to some old family friends. Now she’s asking if I’m free tomorrow. I suppose I ought to see her.”

“You and her are a thing, huh?” Phillis says.

Xilog tilts his head. “I believe so. Boo seems rather innocent, though. I’m not sure if she understands that these ‘hangouts’ she’s arranging are dates.”

Phillis chuckles. “She seems pretty innocent, yeah. You may wanna let her know tomorrow that you guys are basically dating.”

“I suppose we are.” Xilog muses. “How curious.”

The rest of the afternoon passes with relaxed conversation.

 

*

 

On the other side of the city, Anastasia is very nervously stood with Aubree outside the Lea Empire Theatre, wearing a beautiful reimagining of her Garrote Garter; the show-stopping ankle-length dress is catching many eyes.

“Oh, god, I can’t do this.” Anastasia mutters. “I can’t believe he invited me to see a show. It’s an actual date, Aubree! How do I handle this?!”

“You’ll be fine!” Aubree says. “He’ll meet you here at 5, you’ll go get a meal in town, and go watch the show. It’s gonna be a super cute date!”

“Man…” Anastasia replies. “I suppose. I… I can do this. Just a date. With a cute guy. A really, really cute guy.”

“Heheh, you’ll be fine!” Aubree replies, reaching forward and adjusting the top of Anastasia’s dress. Anastasia reflexively moves away as Aubree’s hands touch her chest, and Aubree hops back. “Ah, sorry! Too hands-on?”

“Just a bit. I’ll be OK, Aubree. What are you gonna do now?”

“I dunno! Go home and design some things, probably. It’s how I kill some time… maybe I should get a new tattoo, too… hm. I was thinking about getting one- uh, never mind! I don’t wanna distract you; look, he’s here!”

Aubree dashes off as Anastasia turns, seeing Zaphod getting dropped off by his father. Anastasia goes red: Zaphod has pulled out all the stops. His beard and moustache are immaculately groomed, and his dark blue suit looks pristine. He fixes Anastasia with a wry smile, and proffers his arm.

“Hey. Shall we get some dinner before the show?”

“Y-yeah.” Anastasia says breathlessly.

As they walk, Zaphod begins to talk, and Anastasia is surprised to find the conversation come easily and naturally.

“I’m disappointed that there haven’t been any model competitions on. That’s what I initially wanted to take you to!”

“Oh, I understand that.” Anastasia replies. “I was hoping to go to some if there were any this week, but of course there weren’t. If only we lived in London or Manchester.”

“They have more competitions than they know what to do with! But at a hell of a price.” grins Zaphod. “I ought to pick up a part-time job. Then we could afford to go and see a model competition, maybe over Christmas?”

“That’d be amazing!” Anastasia replies. “I could get some awesome pictures.”

“Pictures, huh?” Zaphod says. Anastasia nods, and fishes a photograph out of her purse.

“I don’t really mention it much, but I’m really interested in photography. These are some shots I got on the fields outside Macew earlier this week.”

“Huh.” Zaphod says, looking at the images. “These are pretty nice! You have a good eye.”

“That’s why I really like watching model competitions. The pictures you can get are amazing… I was going to get some at the Practise Model Competition, but I wanted to focus on making sure you could do your best.”

“Yeah, I suppose taking pictures is better when you’re not competing.” Zaphod says. “Excellent! We’ll have to arrange a trip to Manchester and get some pictures of the model competitions they have there, then!”

“That sounds good to me.” Anastasia says, blushing. “Oh, is that the restaurant we’re eating at?”

“Ah, yes. Here we are. Come on in!” Zaphod replies, guiding Anastasia into a fairly classy-looking restaurant called the Well Spring. Anastasia feels completely overwhelmed: she’s never been somewhere like this before, and she’s very excited to see how the rest of the date goes.

 

*

 

As the end of the half term draws near, Xilog finally agrees to meet Boo, and the pair find themselves sitting on a bench, in the park on the outskirts of Macew. Boo sits there for a few moments, then turns to smile at Xilog.

“Hello.”

Xilog smiles despite himself. “Hello, Boo. You seem in good spirits.”

“It’s always fun to spend time with you.” Boo replies. “Hangouts with friends are nice.”

“Mm.” Xilog says. “Say, do you want me to show you someplace interesting?”

“Uh, sure!” Boo replies. She follows Xilog as he walks to the edge of the park, then hops over a fence. The fields outside Macew are quite large and expansive, and Xilog seems to be following a well-worn path through the field to a copse of trees. The city’s noise is distant now, and the sound of birdsong flutters through the air. It’s cold, and Boo pulls her coat tightly around her, shivering.

“Hm…” Xilog mutters to himself as he begins to scan the ground. “…Nope, poisonous. These? Ah. Here we go.”

He stands up, holding a selection of mushrooms, and hands one over to Boo. He sits on the ground, soft and grassy, and gestures for her to sit beside him, which she does.

“Eat it.” he says.

Boo stares at it curiously. “You can eat these?”

“I know my mushrooms.” Xilog replies. “Used to come here all the time in my youth. My dad… passed away. I didn’t want to spend time around my mum after that, so I came here. I stay with my uncle now, but I don’t really spend much time at home.”

“So this is where you come…” Boo mutters, still staring at the mushrooms. “I see.”

“After the stuff about Phillis happened, I actually spoke to my uncle and some family friends. I had some contacts who I thought would have some interesting stories to tell, and I want to share some thoughts with you.”

“Go on?” Boo says, tilting her head.

“One in particular told me some interesting details about patch history. So, as you know, Patches only work when applied to Original Cloth. However, there’s another detail that not many people know. Patches are also made with Original Cloth.”

Xilog fixes Boo with a stare as he explains his thoughts.

“The only possible explanation as to Phillis’ abilities, then, is that his body, somehow, has Original Cloth in it. I don’t know exactly how that’s possible, and the people I was talking to didn’t, either. The only other thing I was told was a story about the theft of the Anticloth. Did you know it was stolen twice in the 80s?”

“It was?” Boo asks.

“The Anticloth was originally stolen from an armoured van in the 80s after it was defeated, but apparently the people that stole it ended up having it stolen by somebody else.”

“I see.”

“So,” Xilog says. “There’s lots of interesting things about both Phillis and the Anticloth… but that’s all I could find. What do you think?”

“I think those are some interesting thoughts. I’ve never heard of humans with Original Cloth, but… I suppose it’s possible? I don’t know.” Boo says, shrinking in on herself as she realises she has nothing to add. Xilog shrugs.

“Well, they were just some thoughts. Anyway, try that mushroom. Come on, we’ll eat them together.”

“OK.” Boo says, and the pair simultaneously eat some mushrooms. Xilog lies flat on the ground and stares at the sky. He turns to Boo.

“So, have you ever tripped before?”

Boo looks at him curiously. “Wait, you mean like, dru-”

 

*

 

Home sweet home.

Phillis stares at the house of his childhood, where his mother and father had once raised him. He walks through the door and scans the living room. No trace of his father. Or of any life whatsoever.

Old man. Who took you? How did they get in?

The house is clean, but sparse. The investigations had ceased a while ago, with no traces of who could have kidnapped and killed Mr Stevens. The sofa is bare, as is the coffee table, save for a half-drunk mug of tea, a key, and some magazines.

The television is switched off, and as Phillis turns to look at the kitchen, he notes that the washing up has not been done. Something in his mind clicks, and he turns back to the table.

A key?

He stares at the object, and picks it up.

Dad’s body was found with his phone, wallet and keys. So… these aren’t dad’s keys.

Phillis’ mouth goes dry.

Whoever took him had access to our house. Mum was the only one who had another key…

He places the key in his bag.

This must be related to mum’s disappearance, too. For fuck’s sake… I hope this doesn’t mean what I think it means.

It doesn’t take Phillis long to reach his own small living space, a cheap apartment on the outskirts of the city. His mind is broiling with thoughts, and he is so distracted that for a few moments, he doesn’t notice the person sitting in the chair in his room.

When he does, he begins to move aggressively towards them.

“Hold it.” a woman’s voice says.

Phillis stops, and stares angrily.

“Who are you?”

The woman uncrosses her legs. The light from the window she is sat next to masks her face, but her form is slender and she seems very self-assured.

“My name is immaterial. I would like to speak to you, Phillis. You see, I am a… representative of a particular organisation. We intend to do the impossible, and stop Battle Clothing altogether.”

Phillis stays quiet.

“Initially, my intent was to follow on from my father’s plan. However, a very powerful piece of clothing came into my possession some nine years ago, and it led me to wonder if it would be possible to amplify the power of that clothing: it has the ability to negate all Patches in its radius.”

“What’s it to do with me?” Phillis demands.

“You… you have the power to amplify clothing, don’t you? And your father was part of the BDI… you would be perfect for this goal. If you work with us, we could generate enough energy to negate every Patch across the entire world. Including the Anticloth.”

Phillis looks up sharply, and the woman gives a sly grin.

“My question is, Phillis, will you help us achieve this goal?”

“That can’t be a yes or no answer.” Phillis replies after a moment. “I need some time to think on this.”

“I can give you a few weeks.” the woman says. “That’s fair.”

Phillis nods, satisfied.

“Just remember,” the woman says as she stands up. “If you tell anybody about what I have told you today, I will not hesitate to have you silenced. Permanently. This remains between us.”

“Understood.” Phillis replies, eyeing the lady carefully. He suddenly feels a rush of wind, and turns to see the woman teleport behind him, walking out of the apartment without another word. “Including the Anticloth…”

 

New Clothing Discovered:

 

[No. 099] Bifurcated Mask

Formation: Mask + Augment Patch

Effect: Comedy mask: healing breath. Tragedy mask: painful death breath

Drawback: Requires user’s own breath, prolonged breath causes coughing fits

Sunderland College [4.X - Payment]
Sunderland College [4.2 - Heroic Arrival]

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