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Sunderland College [4.2 – Heroic Arrival]

MONDAY

 

“Urgh.”

“I feel you, Jackson.” Cassandra says, smirking at the boy. “Everyone ready for another fun half-term?”

“A week off wasn’t long enough! My soul aches for more time!” Donovan groans, grabbing his head dramatically.

“I was able to catch up on my work, at least.” Xilog says. “Mocks are coming soon, after all. The name ‘mock’ always confused me; surely, making a mockery of your education ruins the idea that your performance is important? It isn’t a mock, because if we entered that exam thinking of it as a mock, we would hardly be giving it our all…”

Xilog continues to ramble to himself, and Boo smiles at him, listening carefully. Ten turns away from Xilog.

“Oh, don’t throw that word around yet. They’re not until the end of term, and I’d rather not think about ‘em yet.”

“Welcome back.” Simon says, staring at the class with his usual disinterested eyes. “Hope you all worked hard, since we’ll be pushing you really hard for the rest of term. I’d suggest you all start revising for your mock exams, too. You’ve had half a term to get to grips with your subjects, and now you need to start properly understanding what is being asked of you.”

Simon runs through the rest of the morning’s announcements, including a strange comment that Testfire Club is to meet on the roof for the evening’s session, and soon lets the class loose to go to their lessons. As they have General Studies first, the group go to class together, and Cassandra corners Boo.

“Hey! You were making some super dreamy eyes at Xilog all registration. Did you two… do anything over half-term?”

“Oh! U-uh…” Boo murmurs, blushing a bright red. “We hung out together. Xilog is a really good friend! He showed me the happy stuff.”

“The what.”

“Happy stuff. He gave me these mushrooms that make all kinds of weird things happen. It was lots of fun!”

“You did drugs?” Cassandra asks, hardly able to believe what she’s hearing.

“Um…” Boo says, pulling an awkward face. “Yes?”

“I kind of assumed you were just gonna fuck, but I, uh, suppose that works too.”

Boo’s eyes widen.

“You mean sex?”

“Yeah.” Cassandra replies casually. “You know, that thing people do when they’re attracted to each other.”

“Oh, me and Xilog aren’t-” Boo stutters. “I mean, he’s handsome, but I- uh… we aren’t even married!”

“Oh, you dear sweet angel. You and I have had very different upbringings, huh?” Cassandra replies with a grin. “You don’t need to be married. If you like Xilog romantically, you might want to tell him that; everyone can see that he likes you, but you keep calling him your friend.”

“Oh no!” Boo says. “That’s not what I wanted… I, um, I’ll think about it.”

The group arrive at their classroom, and with an amused smile, Cassandra skips into the lesson. Boo catches Xilog’s eye, and begins to shake with nervousness. They sit together, but Boo doesn’t say anything. However, neither does Xilog.

 

*

 

“Heya!” Aubree yelps, excitedly grabbing Anastasia’s arm and pulling her into a hug. Anastasia wriggles out of her grasp and grins at her friend. Registration is almost over, but Mia has given Form B some time to chat before lessons begin.

“Hi.” Anastasia replies.

“Don’t just ‘hi’ me! Come on, how was the date?”

Anastasia glances up at Zaphod, who is deep in discussion with Eiden and Clocksworth about clothing at the other end of the table. Zaphod seems to be doodling a design for the Hallowe’en party, looking eerily familiar to Ziggy Stardust.

“Oh, it was magical.” Anastasia says. “I never thought I’d be the type, but jeez, he did well. We had dinner, we saw the show… talked about all sorts. Then he walked me home and…”

“And?”

“Then we kissed.” Anastasia murmurs, blushing hotly. Aubree squeals and hugs Anastasia again.

“Ah, that’s too cute! Aw! I love it!”

“Oh, don’t go on about it, jeez.” Anastasia says. “Look, we can talk about it in more detail later.”

“I’m happy for you.” Aubree says simply, her eyes shining.

“Thanks, Aubree.”

 

*

 

“What are we doing on the roof again?” asks Eiden as he joins the rest of Testfire Club on the small roof outcrop above the entrance to the college, accessed from the first floor.

“I don’t know.” Zaphod replies, shrugging. “Tessa’s over there, so we must be in the right place.”

“Hey, guys! Glad you made it!” Tessa says, waving at the group. “Today’s clothing is a bit more supportive than normal, so I figured a demonstration from up here would help.”

The group notice what she’s wearing: strange-looking boots that go up to her knees, with a long spur out of the back that supports her heels. They’re a clinical white, made of some kind of reflective plastic.

“So, what are those?” Aubree says, then whispers her next comment. “And why are they the least interesting-looking boot ever?”

“Well, first, somebody kick me off this roof.” Tessa says, standing at the edge of the roof and grinning at the class.

“I’m assuming you have something planned.” Eiden says, walking forward. “I’ll do it.”

Lifting a foot, Eiden puts all his force behind a kick, booting Tessa in the stomach and flinging her off the roof. The class blanch in fright and run to the edge, only to find Tessa stood safely on the ground below.

“The Long Fall Boots!” she announces with pride. “They have a gyroscopic mechanism that prevents you from landing on anywhere but your feet during falling, and the heel extension absorbs all the force. You can fall pretty much any distance – the longest recorded fall was just over thirteen thousand feet, though that brought the boots to their limit. Everyone put some on – though you don’t have to jump down if you don’t feel comfortable!”

Tessa disappears into the building as the stunned class members begin to put on pairs of Long Fall Boots, left in a box on the roof. She turns up moments later, and begins to walk around. Some brave students take the plunge off the roof, and are exhilarated to find that they barely feel the force of landing.

“The main weakness of the Long Fall Boots is that your ground mobility is somewhat slowed. Those of you who often wear high heels know exactly what I’m talking about, as the boots force your feet to do something similar.”

The rush of air feels somewhat freeing for Cassandra, in the few seconds before she hits the ground. As expected, the boots render her completely safe, and she smiles to herself. “Interesting.”

“They’re not too popular, though pieces of clothing made by Support Patches are typically the least popular. However, they were put to great effect by the Bombardier known as Lenny Heron, or Icarus, used in conjunction with the Draconic Blazer. They’re also used by Melody Zimmer, Superintendent of Macew’s Peacekeeper division; she’s often been quoted in the papers as saying that they’ve saved her life more times than she can count.”

The students continue to test the Long Fall Boots until the end of the club, and after the excitement of being able to safely experience such a thrill, everyone is pumped with adrenaline as they head home.

 

TUESDAY

 

On Tuesday, things begin as normal. However, at the end of registration, Cassandra stays behind. She waits a few moments for Simon to notice her, and then speaks.

“Um, Simon, I just wanted to ask… I was looking into the victims of the Bombardier killer over the half-term.”

“Morbid work.” Simon mutters. “What did you want to ask about?”

“Well, I found out recently that you were a Bombardier in the late 90s-”

Simon whirls around and glares at Cassandra. The force in his eyes causes her to shrink back.

“-and, um… I, uh, I…”

“Go on.”

“I was wondering if you, uh, knew any of them.”

Simon goes very quiet, and closes his eyes. Cassandra waits, and Simon slowly inhales, then exhales. He sounds tired; more tired than usual.

“Cassandra. I can’t tell you anything. I only knew one of the victims – Jessaline Sculera. Old classmate of mine.”

The room is silent for a few moments.

“Look, I quit being a Bombardier for a reason. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t go opening old wounds. Especially since- ngh.”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“Call me Simon.” Simon says, looking at Cassandra. A gentleness can be seen in his eyes now. “You don’t have to wait much longer. The person you’ve been waiting for is coming soon. They’ll have all the answers for you.”

“Why can’t you tell me who it is?”

Simon shrugs as he begins to walk out of the room. “College policy, and a safety measure. Only teachers and college higher-ups know anything about it currently. Now get to Clothing History, you’re going to be late.”

 

*

 

The library, as always, is quiet. The more one listens, however, the more one hears. There’s a vague sense of stress in the air, as the scribbling of students desperate to finish their homework and clunk of books being taken from their shelves in the name of research punctuates the air. Murmurs echo around the dusty desks, with the rising intonation typical of confused questions far more common to hear than anything else.

Hannah Peeler, sat at the librarian’s desk, looks up as a hooded figure approaches her. He gives a rogueish smile, and she adjusts her glasses and smiles brightly back.

“Hi! Do you need a hand?”

“Indeed, woman of books. I’m looking for any books on Sarah Monsman – more specifically, those about her use of the Obfuscating Hood.”

“Oh, OK! Let me take a look what we have. I’m sure we’ll have a biography or something somewhere.” 

Donovan makes small talk as he follows the girl around. When she’s not behind the desk, he notes that she’s quite short, and seems to be a bit nervous.

“Tell me, you aren’t the usual bookkeeper, are you?”

“Um, no, I’m just an assistant librarian. Milry is on maternal leave at the moment! I think she’s gonna be back next year. Running this place by myself is pretty hard, though.”

“I can imagine.” Donovan muses. “Still, you are performing the most important of works! Within these walls lies the secrets of humanity itself, just begging for a brave enough soul to open them up and read the contents within!”

“You’re quite interesting, aren’t you?” says Hannah. “Oh, here we go. These are the biographies… A, B, no… L, no… M… Monsman! Here you go.”

Donovan stares at the cover. “Graceless in Defeat: The Story of Sarah Monsman?”

“Indeed. It’s a really risque biography that goes into proper detail about the Dubrecht conspiracy and the supposed curse that was laid on her.”

“The Dubrecht conspiracy?”

“You haven’t heard it?” Hannah says. “Curious. It was all over the news three years ago, just after the 2001 Global Fashion Show. The guy who owns the Global Fashion League, Salvato Dubrecht, was publicly denounced by Sarah Monsman as a sexual predator who preyed on female models during the shows. Her designer, Mimi Slater-Calleby, helped bring him down by testifying about one such attack on her just the year before.”

“How monstrous.” Donovan murmurs. “I had no idea this kind of evil lurked behind the fashion league…”

“There’s more detail in the book, but yeah, it’s certainly something. Hope you find what you’re looking for!” Hannah replies, then disappears off back to her desk.

Donovan is more interested in Sarah Monsman’s use of the Obfuscating Hood, but he also does some reading on the Dubrecht consipracy. He finds that Dubrecht was arrested for life in early 2002, apparently responsible for the disappearance of two models in the 80s: Margot Lefay and Nina Kilbride. Following this, he cursed Monsman, and it is widely believed that this ‘curse’ is the reason she lost out on the position of Royal to Lindsey Stunne’s model, Dexter Duvoir.

He also finds out a lot about the battles involving the Obfuscating Hood. Monsman was able to use her three clones in conjunction with her second piece of clothing, which often changed. Using a second piece of clothing that every single clone has quadruples the firepower, and allows for some impressive performances. Donovan muses on this for a while, wondering what clothing he could use alongside the Obfuscating Hood once he gets access to two pieces of Battle Clothing.

Soon enough, however, he realises he’ll be running late for Combat Training, and dashes off, creating quite a stir in the library.

 

*

 

“Hey, could I get a Nightmare Gown?” Eiden says to Romein as he walks up. He’s stood with Aubree, just outside the workshop. Romein nods, and a young man heads into the workshop.

“Sure. Come back tomorrow for it.”

The pair don’t move. Romein looks up at the two figures, grinning at him.

“Mm?”

“You, uh, also said we could come to yours on Tuesday lunchtimes to train in the art of Patchworking. Apprentices.” Eiden says.

“Oh, I did, did I? Hm, alright. Fetch me a coffee.”

He disappears into the workshop, leaving a nonplussed Eiden and Aubree looking at the door swinging shut, then at each other, then back at the door.

“I’m sorry, what?” Aubree says.

Romein’s assistant, Tessa Valleja, is stood nearby, and giggles at them. “Hey, don’t take it personally. Patchmaking is a pretty secretive business, and only those who earn Romein’s trust can learn even a little bit about it.”

“What do you mean?” asks Eiden.

Tessa grows more serious. “I mean, me and Jack have been his assistants for three years now, and I haven’t touched a single patch. If you’re serious about learning the ways of Patchworking, you have to be ready to learn nothing but discipline for a very long time.”

“Discipline.” murmurs Aubree. “My father is a Patchworker. I remember, when I was much younger… he told me it took twelve years of training to become one.”

“Yeah. That sounds about right.” Tessa replies. “First, you learn how vital it is that you protect the secrets of Patchworking. Once your Patchworker thinks you’re ready, you then learn how to apply patches to Battle Clothing. Finally… you learn the secret of the patches, and begin to research how to extend their powers. But that’s only for masters like Romein.”

“I see.” Eiden says.

“That sounds like such a long and difficult process.” Aubree mutters. “Will it be worth it..?”

“If the answer to that question is ‘yes’, then you’d better head up and fetch Romein’s coffee.” Tessa says, walking over to the workshop entrance. “I hope to see you around here more often.”

The workshop door swings closed once more.

 

WEDNESDAY

 

The car comes to a stop outside Sunderland College.

“Are you alright, Boo?” asks her mother, Monique.

Boo glances up at her, a fierce determination in her eyes. “Y… yes!”

“What’s got into you?” Tony asks, turning around from his position in the driver’s seat.

“I’m going to try and make some more friends today.” Boo murmurs. “I can do it.”

Tony laughs aloud. “Atta girl! The first step is to talk to people. And I mean proper talking, not whispering.”

“I know…” sighs Boo, staring at the floor.

“And did you speak to that P boy?” Monique admonishes. “You can’t leave him hanging forever. Attraction is fleeting and fickle at this age.”

“You think he’s going to find someone else?” Boo says, her voice rising in pitch as the panic wells up in her.

Tony gives her a warm smile. “If he’s a good lad, he won’t. He’ll stick by you, Boo – but he won’t unless you tell him how you feel. OK?”

“…OK.”

“You never did tell us how that date went, either. Did you say you went out to a field?” Monique asks.

Boo leaps out of the car. “I, um, I have to go. College. Date was good. Um… bye!”

Before either of her parents can say anything else, Boo grabs her bag from the car boot and dashes off to the college.

 

*

 

In Physical Education that morning, Ten finds herself jogging alongside Boo. She’s amused by how much taller than the girl she is, but is surprised when Boo turns and smiles at her.

“Hey.” Ten says, breathing heavily between words. “You alright?”

“Um, yes. You’re Ten, right?”

“Yeah.”

“OK.” Boo murmurs.

They continue to jog for a while. Cassandra is ahead of them, somehow even more determined than usual.

“You’ve been friends with Cassandra for a long time.”

“We met in high school.” Ten says. “Yeah, I guess it’s been quite a few years now.”

“I don’t really have any long-term friends.” Boo says quietly. Her voice is hard to hear over their laboured breaths and pounding of their feet. “I try and keep in touch with my friends in Texas, but I haven’t received any letters from them in a while. You have to stay with Cassandra.”

“Heh, I will. I know stuff about her that nobody else does, and I’m not just talking about her lust for Principal Pinnacle.” Ten replies. “I’ll stick with her, partly because she needs someone to keep her sane, and mostly because she’d kill me if I ever spilled her secrets.”

Boo laughs. “That sounds like a fun friendship.”

“Hey, Cass talks a lot about you, you know.” Ten says. “Oh, fuck, I’m tired. How many more laps?”

“Twelve.”

“Argh…” Ten sighs, staring with venom at their hard-nosed teacher, Andy Yates. “Fine. But yeah, Cass seems to like you a lot too. And you’re strong as hell, so keep her safe, OK?”

“Oh! OK.” Boo replies, taken aback. “Um, thank you, Ten. Mind if… um… we hang out, at, uh…”

Ten turns to her, and Boo loses her nerve.

“Hm?”

“Never mind.” Boo mutters, blushing hotly. Ten shrugs, and they continue to run.

 

*

 

Cassandra wipes her forehead with a towel as she slows down the treadmill. Workout sessions after college always feel good, and she feels blood pumping through her veins. She’s arranged to meet Phillis in just half an hour, so heads to the shower to ready herself.

It isn’t long afterwards that Cassandra and Phillis are sitting in Cairo Coffee, with coffees and two slices of cake. Phillis hungrily devours his cake, whilst Cassandra picks at hers daintily, finding that she doesn’t have much of an appetite despite her busy day.

“How are you, anyway?”

“Bored stupid.” grunts Phillis. “I come back next week, thank god. Wandering around, getting weird requests, going to drink whenever I’m bored… ugh.”

“Weird requests? What’s that about?” Cassandra asks.

Phillis turns away, and the memory of the woman who visited his flat flashes in his mind. “Nothing. Doesn’t matter.”

“Alright.”

“You got anything interesting to tell me about?”

Cassandra smirks as she sips her coffee. “It seems awfully unfair that you can keep your secrets, but you ask for mine. As it happens, I do. I was speaking to Simon about the victims of the Bombardier killer, and when I pointed out that he was a Bombardier-”

“Hm?”

“Oh, right.” Cassandra says. “It wasn’t something I mentioned to you. I was researching this weeks ago, and me and Donovan discovered that Simon used to be a Bombardier.”

“Huh.”

“When I pointed this out to him, he got really defensive about it. I’m wondering if he knows something about the Bombardier killer.”

“That seems like a stretch.” Phillis says.

“He said, and I quote, ‘I quit being a Bombardier for a reason.’” Cassandra replies. “What better reason to stop being a Bombardier than coming face to face with a person who kills Bombardiers?”

“Hm. When you put it like that, I guess it makes sense.” Phillis replies. “Probably best not to push it though. Simon beats you up every week, doesn’t he? Perhaps don’t give him a reason to go all out.”

“On the contrary, I’m thinking that if I beat him, he might respect me a bit more. Might tell me more.” Cassandra says. “He’s not going all out on Friday: I am.”

“Sheesh. Good luck.” Phillis says, rolling his eyes. “Don’t do anything rash.”

 

THURSDAY

 

Eiden and Xilog lift weights in silence, doing their morning exercises as per usual. Eiden looks up at Xilog, who seems to be in another world altogether; he sighs to himself.

“I can’t take it any more. P, what the hell is up with you?”

“Hm?” Xilog says, looking up.

“You’ve been virtually silent all week, barely saying anything during our morning sessions. What’s been on your mind?”

“Ah. My apologies.” Xilog replies. “Just sorting through my thoughts. Mostly on Boo.”

“Oh, I see. Anything you wanna talk about?”

“I appreciate the offer, but I will continue to mull this over myself first.” Xilog says. In his head, his thoughts are broiling.

I get bored so easily. Flitting from thing to thing. First Boo, now Phillis’ past… I’m getting bored of her. But she’s so friendly to me. Can I really break things off? I suppose that’s not the important question right now. The important question is… hm. Is this cycle of distracting myself with things just because I’m avoiding my past?

Maybe it’s time to stop running.

 

*

 

Eiden, with a strange excitement, approaches the Performing Arts classroom, and spots Louisa inside. He enters, and before he can say anything, Louisa claps her hands together happily.

“Ah, charmant!” she exclaims. “You have arrived. Shall we begin your further education in textiles?”

“Please.” Eiden says. “How is this going to work?”

“I spoke to Principal Pinnacle, and he suggested I introduce you to a second-year student who is looking into the same things you wish to learn. The arts of designing new and unique Battle Clothing – testing the limits of what is possible!” Louisa says with dramatic flair, and for the first time, Eiden notices a figure stood at the other end of the classroom.

They begin to walk forward; they have very short, blond hair, which is messy, and a long fringe almost obscuring their eyes. Their hands are in their pockets, and they walk without a care. Though the build has a certain hardness about it, the figure is undoubtedly female.

“‘Sup.” she says, bringing a hand out of her pocket to give Eiden a brief wave. Eiden notices a strange-looking object attached to her face, covering her right eye with a glass pane.

“This is my finest étudiante, Auralee Atwell. She is a natural in the field of design, and is the girl who discovered the Tie set of Battle Clothing. She will one day become a shining star of her own, but for now, I have instructed her to pass on knowledge to you, who shows so much promise.”

“You can call me Lee.” the girl replies, shrugging. She points at the mask. “This your design?”

“How could you tell it was even patched?”

Lee smirks to herself. “I have an eye for this kinda thing.”

Eiden sags.

“Uh, well, nicely spotted. But no, I only helped with the design. A friend did most of it.”

“Hm.” Lee muses, stepping closer and observing the mask. “It’s not bad. Not bad at all. You weren’t the one who designed your outfit in the competition, either, were ya?”

“Uh, no.” Eiden replies, feeling like he’s disappointing Lee. Louisa, smiling to herself, exits the classroom, her work done.

“Looks like we’re starting from the very bottom.” Lee says after a moment. She fixes Eiden with a grin. “Alright, for this first session we’ll just figure out what you know. Next session will be on Sunday, if you’re free.”

“I’ve got a party at 6, and then there’s the search starting at 9.”

“Sunday morning will be fine.” Lee replies. “All you need to bring with you on Sunday is… hm… design me a Pullover of Potential. Doesn’t matter how it’s designed, but feel free to put your own flair on it.”

“How do I make one of those?”

“Romein’ll do it.” Lee says. “T-Shirt and Augment Patch. Make me one and bring it on Sunday. For now, though, let’s see what you know about design. Tell me, what the highest percentage of Original Cloth that can be put into a piece of clothing before patching it will destroy it?”

“…Uh, 100%?”

“Correct.” replies Lee, grinning. “Yeah, you can’t destroy clothing by patching it with too much OG cloth. So, why is the legal limit 50%?”

“Because, um, I… don’t know.”

“No worries. Anything you don’t know, I’m gonna tell you, so don’t feel bad for not knowing. The more you ask, the more you’ll know. The legal limit for clothing is 50%, and even that’s viewed as pretty high, because Original Cloth extracts a toll on the body. The average is 33%. You should already know that Battle Clothing takes energy from the user to transform; the more Original Cloth in the clothing, the more energy it takes.”

“I see.” Eiden replies. “So, what about the legendary clothing?”

“Ah, you do know some stuff.” smirks Lee. “There’s six pieces of legendary Battle Clothing that we know about. First we have the three patches, applied to 100% Original Cloth – the Effervescent Wear, the Master Robe and the Protoclothing. Then the three patches, applied to linen tunics of 80% Original Cloth – Ra’s Toga, Anubis’ Mantle, and Osiris’ Tunic.”

“Right.”

“This is why they’re legendary. The Egyptians made their Original Cloth in such a way that despite containing so much Original Cloth, these pieces of clothing could be worn by ordinary humans. They just… lowered the strain on the body. We don’t know how, and because of that, we can’t replicate them.”

“So they passed into legend.”

“Exactly.” Lee replies. “OK, let’s keep going. Talk me through your Spider Snood. In what ways did your friends change the design of the base form to affect the outcome? I.e. the more spidery design.”

“Oh, well, Aubree was explaining it to me…” Eiden says, and begins to report. Lee listens with interest, amused by her new protégé.

 

*

 

“Mistress…” whispers a woman as she walks into the boudoir. It’s dark, and the woman can only make out the vague outline of a figure on the bed. A bar of metal, wrapped around her left wrist, feels heavy. “I apologise for bothering you so late at night. But I… would like to request-”

“A visit to Macew?”

“Yes.” Corrine Primero says breathlessly. “Please, mistress, I cannot sit idly by whilst this girl continues to walk unscathed.”

“Personal vengeance, hm? A limb for a limb.” the mistress muses. “Or rather, three limbs for three limbs. I trust you understand that our intent is not to take lives?”

A vicious grimace appears on Corrine’s countenance.

“Of course, mistress. But there is nothing stopping me from maiming her, at least.”

“Very well. I can see that this is something that will bother you to no end unless you quell your blood feud. For the sake of you being on peak performance, I will allow it. One night; one action. Remember that we have seventeen agents in Macew, should you need assistance. Do not get caught.”

“I won’t.”

“Good girl. And remember, your punishment will resume upon your return.”

“Yes, mistress. We deserve it for our failure.”

The mistress smirks. “My, I trained you well. In that case, I wish you the best of luck. Whilst you’re over there, I’d like to hear more from Pinnacle. He was so helpful to us the first time, but the second attack on Sunderland College has no more room for mistakes.”

Corrine allows a brief smile to grace her lips.

“I shall. Thank you, mistress.”

“Ah-ah-ah.” the figure says. She’s wearing a very sheer, lacy negligee, and her body is nigh-perfect. Corrine can’t help but feel nervous and excited as she lays eyes upon it. “You know how to thank me properly, Corrine.”

“Sorry, mistress.”

“Kiss me like you love me.”

Corrine walks forward nervously, and sees the ruby-red lips coming out of the darkness. She closes her eyes and opens her mouth, and feels herself connect with her mistress. As she loses herself in the kiss – every time feels like the first time – she feels the gentle fingers of her mistress prise the metal bar around her wrist loose.

The strength needed to bend a bar of solid metal is immense. Corrine stares at it, in awe of her mistress’ power, and pleased that she was able to contribute to it.

“Ahh… I feel better now. My own visit to Macew had tired me out. Now go. I’ll put your shackle back on when you return; you know how this works.”

“Yes, mistress.” Corrine says. She turns, and begins to walk away. One last question comes out of the darkness, and it sounds almost wistful.

“…How does it feel, Corrine? To be owned?”

Corrine is silent for a moment. She stares at the floor.

“It feels worthwhile. I chose this.”

She walks out without another word.

 

FRIDAY

 

On Friday morning, Boo meets Eiden on the field outside, both ready to spar. Eiden is wearing a new accroument, his Spider Snood nowhere to be seen.

“The Nightmare Gown?” says Boo, and Eiden nods.

“Yeah, it is. Thought it might be useful to train in hand-to-hand combat with this.”

“Alright.” Boo replies. “Shall we, um, just fight?”

“Yeah, there’s nothing in particular I want to do. Just point out what I’m doing wrong as we fight. OK, go!” Eiden says, and immediately teleports halfway across the field, reappearing in the centre, sprinting towards Boo.

Eiden hurls a punch, and Boo blocks it easily, but widens her eyes as she realises that the Nightmare Gown increases his strength quite a bit. His speed is also improved, and Boo is hard-pressed as Eiden begins teleporting and dashing around her, throwing punches and kicks with reckless abandon.

Boo continues to block, but doesn’t return any punches. At first, she thinks that Eiden is being reckless, but she soon realises that it is deliberate. As she readies a retaliatory punch, Eiden’s eyes gleam and he grabs her wrist and hurls her over his head.

“As I thought.” Boo murmurs.

As she heads to the ground, Eiden slams as hard as he can. Boo’s feet hit the ground forcefully, but she twists before the rest of her body hits the ground, and Eiden is the one who is thrown aside, whilst she gets to her feet, unscathed.

“How-” Eiden gasps.

“Without balance, there’s no control.” Boo says. “You hoped to lure me in with reckless behaviour, but after you thought you had me in your grasp, whilst you were throwing me backwards, you went off-balance. I took advantage of that.”

“I see.” grunts Eiden, clambering to his feet.

“You must gain ground with every attack you make. Do not hit thoughtlessly, even if you are using it as a ploy.”

Eiden’s eyes widen, and behind the mask, he pulls a grimace. Boo stares at him evenly, and he readies his fists once more.

“Alright. Again!”

The fighting continues, and Boo gives Eiden advice as she soundly beats him, fight after fight. He wins one out of seventeen sparring matches, and soon, the pair are tired out, and take a break, sitting by the wall of the college and resting.

“Sheesh, it’s getting colder.” Eiden mutters, pulling the Nightmare Gown around him. “I guess that’s winter for you. Might snow soon.”

“Mm.”

“Oh, uh, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention to anyone else that I’m using the Nightmare Gown. I want to keep it a secret for now.”

Boo nods. “OK.”

“Hey!” shouts a figure in the distance, and the pair look up to see Aubree running towards them. “I thought I saw you two fighting out here. I was wondering, Boo, if you’d be able to train me, too? I want to get stronger!”

Boo stands up. “Alright, I’ve rested enough. Hit me.”

Aubree readies a punch. Boo sidesteps her neatly, and with a single outstretched leg, trips Aubree.

“Aubree!” shouts Eiden. The girl gets to her feet and grins apologetically. “Sorry, sorry! I’m not gonna be too great to begin with, so please go easy on me.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know.” Boo replies. “Very well.”

Aubree is the weakest of the three, but as she rigorously trains during the afternoon, she begins to pick up some tips on how better to fight in close range. She also makes use of her Golem Suit to lend her attacks overpowering strength, and together, the three hone their skills. Eventually, Boo stops them.

“You can continue sparring if you’d like. I have to go, though. I have Combat Training before lunch.”

She heads off to a different arena where her lesson will be, and Eiden grins at a tired out, but satisfied, Aubree.

 

*

 

The day comes to a close, and as the clubs begin, Aubree heads home, cheerful after a fun day of work and play. As she’s on her way home, she gets the strange sense that something is wrong, but chalks it down to night falling earlier as it gets closer to the winter solstice.

Humming to herself, Aubree turns down a street that leads to her home, and wonders how her mother is doing. She’s found nothing useful out about the powerful piece of clothing, but after the training with Boo, she’s feeling more confident that she can protect Ellis.

“Aubree.”

Aubree stops in her tracks, and turns down the alleyway where she heard the voice. The moment she’s distracted, a figure grabs her from behind and runs into the alley with her. Two long tentacles wrap themselves around her neck and slam her against the brick wall of the building where the alley is located. More limbs grip her arms and legs, and three wrap themselves around her left arm. They begin to tighten as Aubree looks into the face of Corrine Primero, Aranea Agent 01.

“Aubree Cyrus. I warned you that for every limb you took from me, I would take one from you.”

“No, plea-” Aubree begins to yell, but one of the limbs from around her neck slides up to cover her mouth. She screams, but they are muffled.

“Nobody will hear you. You have three limbs that I intend to take. First, your left arm…”

The tightening worsens, and Aubree can feel the limbs genuinely trying to rip her arm off. She screams, and screams, and realises just how terrible of a position she is in, unable to do anything.

 

*

 

As dusk falls, there is a gathering on one of the battlefields outside, and the end of the day brings with it the same as the beginning: combat. Simon Rutledge, wielding the Phantom Overcoat, begins Knock ‘Em Dead Club once more, looking at all the students gathered around, hoping to defeat him.

“I can tell that some of you were training hard over the holiday. Looks like this’ll be interesting.” Simon says. “Beat me, and I buy you coffees for a week – you remember the rules. Let’s get back into it, shall we? Begin.”

Ten is the first one on the field, and despite putting up a good fight, is eventually knocked aside by a lucky punch from Simon. Before she’s even come to a stop outside the arena, Anastasia has already run on with the Garrote Garter, wielding two knives in her hands. With a fluid, almost imperceptible movement, she grabs the third knife from her garter and hurls it at Simon, who winces as it impales the Phantom Overcoat’s monstrously large arm. Anastasia leaps past the flailing arm and charges at Simon, who switches arms and races towards her. He dodges past her first few knife swipes, then kicks her in the stomach and swipes her to one side.

“Damn, he’s giving it his all today.” mutters Cassandra.

“When is he not?” Xilog replies, running onto the field. He’s using the Speed Sneakers today, and zips around, trading blows with Simon at an incredibly high speed. However, the strength afforded by the Phantom Overcoat manages to overpower Xilog, and he is grabbed and thrown aside. Simon is breathing in and out heavily.

“We’re tiring him out more.” Donovan notes. “Our strength is growing, day by day, and his own darkness-given-flesh coat cannot keep up!”

“It’s keeping up perfectly well… but we are getting stronger.” Cassandra says. Ten, now stood beside her, wincing in pain, sighs.

Donovan runs onto the field with his three clones. He manages to keep Simon busy for quite a while, but he, too, is defeated. Cassandra and Eiden are the only two left. Eiden darts onto the field, now back to using his Spider Snood. He skitters around Simon’s first few punches, and notes with satisfaction that Simon is growing tired. The older man speeds towards Eiden, but he activates the Bifurcated Mask and breathes a horrific odour. Simon jumps, leaping over Eiden in one acrobatic flip, just clear of the gas.

“Too close.” he mutters to himself, and throws out another powerful punch with the Phantom Overcoat. Eiden uses the fist as platform, crawling along it with the Spider Snood and closing the distance between himself and Simon quickly. Leaping down as Simon swaps arms, Eiden wraps two limbs around Simon’s legs, and tries to hoist him into the air. Simon slams the Phantom Overcoat’s hand into the ground, grabbing the floor for all he’s worth as Eiden lifts him.

Eiden remembers what Boo told him about balance, and he sees it the moment before it happens; Simon takes advantage of his confidence. He reacts quickly, but having trained with the Nightmare Gown, he’s used to being faster than normal; at normal speed, he is not nearly quick enough to avoid Simon driving an elbow into his back, leaping for safety, and punching Eiden as hard as he can.

“Damn it!” Eiden yells as he collides with the wall of the college and slumps to the ground. “Urgh, I almost had him. Son of a bitch…”

Cassandra faces down Simon, and readies her ice. The cold is swirling around her, and as she runs onto the field and prepares to face Simon’s fist, crystals of ice form under her feet. She skates along the ground towards Simon, darting easily past the huge fist, and Simon gets even more aggressive, throwing out more punches with increasing speed.

“Oh, god, he’s not even giving her an opening.” Eiden says. Xilog shakes his head.

“No, he’s really not. But look, Cassandra’s finding openings anyway.”

On a second look, Eiden realises that Xilog is right. Cassandra is only narrowly avoiding the first, but each time it crashes near her, she’s covering more and more of it with ice. Eventually, it lands in a prime position on the edge of the field, and Cassandra launches a wave of ice that freezes the fist in place. Simon pulls hard, but it won’t budge, and he can’t recall the fist.

Throwing off his coat, Simon uses just the Speed Sneakers to race towards Cassandra, who ducks past his first punch and tries to freeze the ground he’s on, but Simon leaps out of the way and kicks Cassandra whilst in mid-air, knocking her to the ground.

The moment Cassandra hits the floor, she knows it’s over – Simon’s barrage of attacks give her no chance to get up, and she can’t help but feel herself be lifted up and thrown to the ground outside the arena, cursing to herself.

“Alright, it’s done. You’re doing really well.” Simon says, as the ice crumbles away and he retrieves his Phantom Overcoat. “You’ve got a long way to go before you beat me, though.”

A strange sound fills the air. It sounds like an explosion, but from quite a distance. Simon’s eyes widen in panic, and he throws the Phantom Overcoat’s fist in front of him protectively; just in time, too, as a figure falls from out of the sky, blasting at full-force into the fist. Simon flicks his fingers outwards, but the figure acrobatically moves around them and delivers a kick to Simon’s face. Before he can recover, the figure’s feet charge up with a bright light and an explosive kick launches Simon backwards, landing in a crumpled heap alongside Cassandra.

“Damn.” Lauren murmurs, unable to say anything more.

Everyone turns to face the newcomer. Her hair is short and red, and her lips are a similar red. She wears fishnet stockings and a tight leotard – a Bunny Suit. On her feet are futuristic-looking heels, pulsing with a powerful energy – the Rocket Heels.

“Oh my god, is that-” gasps Donovan.

“Well, Simon, I believe you owe me coffees next week, now, right?” the woman says. Simon clambers to his feet, trying to glower but is obviously pleased to see the woman.

“I believe that offer only extends to the students. If you want a coffee, though, sure.”

He spots the shocked faces of the students around, and gestures at the woman.

“You’ve probably already realised this, but this is the Top Bombardier, Estelle Weatherby. She’s actually taking over a second-year teaching position for a while.”

“I am! You guys look like first-years, so I probably won’t be teaching you, but hey, you’ll see me around. I’m looking forward to meeting and fighting all of you!” Estelle says. “Simon, I was going to talk to you, if now’s a good time-”

“Not right now. Save it for the weekend. I have to get home.” Simon replies. “I’ll see you again, Estelle.”

“Alright. I’m at the King’s Garb if you need me.” Estelle says.

“Everyone else, you can head home. Good work tonight. Won’t be long now before some of you beat me, I shouldn’t think – though probably not as quickly as the Top Bombardier over here.”

Estelle makes her way to the exit of the college, shortly followed by the rest of the class members. Ten, Anastasia, Donovan and Cassandra are walking together, chatting as they make their way into town to go home.

One of them spots Estelle, wearing sunglasses and a hood, heading to the nearby hotel, the King’s Garb.

Then they spot a very familiar-looking figure, dressed in a maid’s outfit, following Estelle.

“I have to go.” she says.

Donovan turns as one of them runs off. “What was that about?”

 

*

 

The girl makes her way to the King’s Garb, still following the maid as quietly as possible. Estelle checks in, and moments later, the maid sneaks past the receptionist. The girl follows her, vengeance in her eyes.

It doesn’t take long to reach Estelle’s room. The door is just closing as the two tails reach the corridor, and the maid walks slowly to the door. There are two loud knocks. The girl hears the click of the locks opening, and spots the maid draw a horribly familiar knife, and gives a frantic, desperate scream.

“Estelle! Don’t open the door!”

Estelle hears the shout as the door opens, then gasps as the maid goes for her neck with the knife. Pulling the door closer, Estelle blocks the first attempted stab with it. The knife digs deep into the door, and the maid heaves it out. In the time it takes to get it out of the door, though, Estelle charges the Rocket Heels and delivers a rocket-powered kick that launches the maid into the wall just opposite her hotel room door. The maid drops, and Estelle charges to follow up, but sees the maid lunge up with the knife as she hits the floor on her feet. Estelle is moving too quickly to get out of the way, and in the tight space of the corridor, there’s nowhere else to go. The blade gets closer and closer to her neck, and-

The girl runs full-pelt into the maid, knocking her to the side. Estelle catches her balance, and both she and the girl turn to see the maid’s countenance momentarily troubled. She dashes down the corridor, and Estelle prepares to chase her.

“Alucard!” the maid shouts.

From a dark corner at the end of the corridor, a butler appears, as if by magic, and grabs the maid’s hand. The pair vanish completely, and by the time Estelle and the girl reach the other end of the corridor, there’s no trace that they were ever there.

By this time, people are beginning to open their doors to see what the noise is about, so Estelle turns to the girl. “Into my room, quick. Let’s talk about this in there.”

The girl follows Estelle into her hotel room, and the red-haired Bombardier gives her a smile.

“I was wondering when you’d show up.” she says. “I didn’t imagine our first meeting being like this, but ah well. I can see it in your eyes… you must be Cassandra Giles, daughter of Elizabeth and Charles Giles.”

“Yes.” Cassandra breathes. “You knew my parents?”

“Of course I did.” Estelle replies, smiling warmly. “They were my closest friends, my wisest teachers… my fellow Bombardiers, otherwise known as Fire and Ice.”

 

New Clothing Discovered:

 

[No. 074] Long Fall Boots

Formation: Boots + Support Patch

Effect: Allows the user to safely fall any distance

Drawback: Somewhat slows the user’s ground mobility

Sunderland College [4.1 - A Much-Needed Holiday]
Sunderland College [4.3 - Their Daughter's Birthright]

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