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Sunderland College [4.3 – Their Daughter’s Birthright]

Cassandra can’t stop the tears from beginning to well up. Estelle gives her a supportive smile.

“I… I’ve been waiting so long.” she sobs. “To find something, anything, to do with my parents.”

“Well, we have a lot to discuss.” Estelle replies warmly. “Take a seat. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Estelle walks over to her suitcase and begins to sift through it, whilst Cassandra dries her eyes and tries to control her breathing. Once done, she turns back to Estelle.

“Firstly, I wanted to tell you why I’m here; for the most part, it’s because of you.”

Cassandra is quiet.

“In 1992, my friends were killed by the Bombardier Killer. Your aunt, Esmerelda, took you in, as you know. What you won’t know is that there were many arguments and problems. You see, you were the first ever witness to a killing. The key to finding the killer.”

“Right.”

“Esme was concerned that such an event might scar you. You were completely traumatised, and so Esme refused to let you testify to the police. She and I agreed that if you came of age, and decided you were ready, you could testify your side of things. We… we know that such a decision caused greater threat. But we had to protect you.”

“I can testify.” Cassandra says. “If it’ll help catch him, I can testify.”

Estelle smiles. “Thank you, Cassandra. But first, I gotta know – how exactly did you come to witness it anyway? We were surprised to find you still alive.”

“I…” Cassandra says, and her mind flashes back to that night. “He didn’t kill my parents himself – he has a maid and a butler, and they did it. Slit their… their-”

“It’s OK.”

“Mm.” Cassandra says. Estelle looks at her.

“So, the maid that we just encountered..?”

“His servant.” Cassandra replies. “I’d recognise her anywhere. After my parents, he ordered them to search the house for witnesses. The maid came up the stairs, and I… I remember her spotting me, peeking out of my door. Her eyes were grey, but after a few moments, they turned blue.”

Estelle turns sharply, listening with renewed interest. Her eyebrows furrow.

“She turned and went back downstairs. They left. I didn’t see the man himself, but I can tell you that he calls himself Dues.”

“I see.” Estelle says. “You’re sure about this? Her eyes went from grey to blue?”

“Uh, yes.” Cassandra replies. “Is that significant?”

“This is asking a lot, but do you remember exactly what this Dues asked her to do?”

“Scan for witnesses, or something.” Cassandra says. Estelle’s eyes light up.

“Of course!” she says. “Cassandra, you’re lucky to be alive.”

Cassandra nods. “…I know. What happened that night?”

“That maid and butler… they aren’t just wearing costumes. Have you ever heard of the Buttling Tuxedo and Service Skirt?”

“No, sorry.”

“They’re rare pieces of Battle Clothing.” Estelle explains. “They grant incredible physical and combative abilities, similar to my own Bunny Suit. The drawback is that once you put it on, you become a mindless servant, only able to follow commands from the person who gave it to you.”

“No… so they’re both under mind control?” Cassandra breathes.

“Precisely. It’s hard to make a perfect version, though; over time, the servants will begin to fight their control. The maid had grey eyes under the control of the Service Skirt, but she was able to fight it briefly – that’s when she had blue eyes. Think for a moment: the exact wording was to scan for witnesses. Not to kill them. It was implied, but not explicit.”

“Oh my god.” Cassandra says, staring up at Estelle. “So because he didn’t explicitly say it, she didn’t have to kill me?”

“Exactly.” Estelle says. “This is so much good information. Let’s hold our horses on the rest of it – the Commissioner and Superintendent Zimmer will want to hear about this. I’ll call Barry tomorrow and tell him to make his way down to Macew ASAP.”

“OK.” Cassandra replies.

“But there was another part to the agreement between Esme and I.” Estelle replies, going back to the suitcase and pulling out the thing she was searching for earlier. “She thought your mother might want you to have this. You’re already wearing your father’s coat, but if you’re looking to change, here it is: the Draconic Blazer, as worn by your mother.”

Cassandra stares at the blazer; the last time she had seen it was on her mother, walking out of the bedroom to fight a home invader. Overcome with emotion, she cannot speak, and slowly reaches out to take it.

“…Thank you.”

Estelle smiles. “Now then, I had one last thing I wanted to ask of you, and I fully understand if you say no.”

Cassandra nods, determination flashing in her eyes. “Go for it.”

Estelle breathes in and out, and for a moment, says nothing. Her lips waver for a moment. Then, when a few more moments have passed, looks down at Cassandra.

“I need an apprentice.”

 

*

 

Boo stares at her phone, sat on the bed with her legs crossed. She got home twenty minutes prior, but all she’s done since she came in is draft a text and stare at it. It’s to ‘Xilog P’.

 

Hey. Did you want to come over for dinner tonight?

 

Closing her eyes and shaking with nervousness, she hits the button to send it. It doesn’t take long for a reply to come through.

 

Fortunate timing. Knock em just finished. Give me the address and I’ll be right over.

 

Boo squeals in a mixture of fear and excitement, and hops downstairs to tell her parents the news whilst she sends her address.

 

*

 

The alleyway is dark, and anyone looking down it would only barely be able to make out a girl being held against the wall by a mass of limbs, being watched by another woman. Aubree struggles against the bonds as they continue to tighten, and she screams into the limbs muffling her.

The sharp pain of her arm being pulled suddenly restores her focus – she activates her Battle Clothing without a second thought. Corrine looks up as a large stone cover begins to form around Aubree; whenever it touches one of the limbs, there’s a small explosion that shatters the limb. Corrine steps back in shock and rage as the Golem Suit forms in front of her.

“I miscalculated-” she sputters.

“That’s the thing about Sunderland College.” Aubree says, glaring out of the front of the golem. Only her eyes are visible, and Corrine can see how hardened they are. “Most adults eventually settle on just one piece of clothing. But college encourages you to try lots of different ones – you thought I’d still be using the Killer Heels, weeks later?”

“It’s illegal. You don’t have a license!” Corrine growls, dodging as Aubree throws a ponderous, heavy punch. The golem’s stone fist slams into the wall on the other side of the alley, and with her two remaining limbs, Corrine vaults from the arm, slinking up the side of the building.

The moment she vanishes over the roof, Aubree gets rid of the Golem Suit and runs out of the alley, terrified.

Don’t go home. Your mother won’t be safe.

Aubree picks a random direction, and begins to run.

 

*

 

Zaphod sighs. Jackson turns to him with a wry grin.

“Everything good, mister moustache?”

“Yeah, yeah.” he says. “I heard on the grapevine that Xilog might not be too sure about Boo, and it just bums me out. They’re so cute, you know? Cutest couple, for sure.”

“Hey, you’re underselling yourself and Anastasia.” Jackson replies. “Also, hey, I got a text from Cassandra. Turns out Estelle friggin’ Weatherby showed up at Knock ‘Em Dead Club!”

“What? Estelle herself?”

“Yeah.” Jackson says. “Seems she’s taking a teaching position for second year. Crazy, huh?”

“Mm.” Zaphod agrees, then he shrugs. “I mean, I’m not too hot on Estelle, since models are more my thing. But I hear she’s the best user of the Rocket Heels. Wonder if I could chat to her about how to better use them?”

“You’ll have to drop by the staffroom on Monday.” Jackson says. He looks around. “Hm… speaking of dropping by, wonder where Aubree is? She usually takes this route home.”

“She’ll be fine.” Zaphod says. “Probably wanted to get home quick, you know what she’s like about rushing her homework at the weekend-”

“-so she can spend all week drawing clothing designs, yup.” Jackson laughs. “Yeah, I’m the same, honestly. Though I don’t always get my homework done.”

“Oh, same. I spent hours catching up on work after the competition.”

The pair continue to amiably chat as they walk home in the dusk.

 

*

 

“I’ll do it.”

Estelle’s smile gets wider. “Thank you, Cassandra. I’m looking forward to working with you!”

“So, can I ask, uh, why?” Cassandra says. Estelle nods, and sits on the bed beside her.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the Anticloth. We think something big is coming. The more years of silence that pass, the more I’m positive that the Anticloth is rising once more. We’ve traced it to here.

“You see, I’m in Macew for three reasons. Firstly, to teach at Sunderland for a little while. However, Pinnacle and Noble have also agreed to let me take the position so that in my off-time, I can investigate the Anticloth. We think there’s something happening here. And thirdly, I’m here for you.” Estelle explains, grinning.

“I see.” Cassandra replies, nodding to herself. “So, am I going to be helping you investigate?”

“Got it in one.”

Cassandra wonders about this for a few moments, then looks at the Draconic Blazer in her hands.

“Your mother did the same for me. I was her apprentice, as well as her friend.”

“…Yeah.” Cassandra says, barely hearing herself talk. “Yeah.”

“You alright?” Estelle murmurs. “I know it’s a lot to be laid on you.”

“No, no, I’m fine!” Cassandra replies, snapping back to reality. “I’ll become your apprentice.”

“Good. Because Dues and the Anticloth are incredibly dangerous, and in the event that I get… if I can no longer fight, let’s say, I’ll need you to take up my fight.”

“I’ll do it.” Cassandra replies. She’s never felt more sure about a decision.

“Brilliant.” says Estelle, smiling. “Now then, it’s still relatively early. How about I accompany you back to your apartment? It’s been many years since I saw Esme, after all. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see me.”

“Yeah, of course. I still can’t believe she knew you personally and never mentioned it.”

“We all have secrets, Cassandra.”

The pair exit the hotel room, Cassandra still tightly clutching the last vestment of her mother’s arsenal, trying not to cry. A newfound determination is overtaking her.

 

*

 

Xilog checks the address that Boo texted him one more time, and once he’s certain, knocks on the door twice. After a few moments, he hears the shuffling of feet or chairs and a kindly woman opens the door.

“Hi, you must be Xilog. Uh-”

She turns back to the stairs, where Xilog can’t see. After a brief moment, she pokes her head back.

“Um, I’m sorry, Boo isn’t home.”

“What?” Xilog asks. “But she invited me not ten minutes ago.”

“I think she’s nervous.” Monique replies. “She’ll be hiding under her bed; feel free to come in.”

“Did she tell you to say she’s not home again, Mon?” calls a man from the kitchen. Monique laughs.

“She did! Head on up, Xilog. We’ll serve dinner shortly.”

Xilog ascends, and finds his way to Boo’s room. He walks over and sits on the bed.

“Is Boo here?”

A quiet voice trails up from under the bed. “…No…”

Xilog smiles to himself. “Well, let her know that I’m here whenever she wants to come on by.”

A few moments later, Boo comes out from under the bed and sits next to Xilog, looking at him sheepishly.

“So…” he says.

“Um, Xilog.” Boo mutters. She tries to steady her breathing and speak. “I never used to have lots of friends. But now I do. And you’re a very special friend. I, uh… I like spending time with you. And sometimes I think about what hugging you would feel like, and I just-”

Xilog blushes fiercely, for once completely unsure of what to say. “Boo. I… uh, I’m not saying no. I’d like to stress that I am not saying no. But this is a decision that requires some thought. Can you give me some time to think? I… you’ll be unsurprised to hear that this is the first time I’ve had to deal with, well, romance.”

“Oh, of course!” Boo says, nodding apologetically. “Sorry, yes, I can give you time. Shall we get some dinner in the meantime?”

“Sounds good to me.” Xilog replies, but in his head, his mind is aflutter.

 

*

 

“Hey, it’s Aubree!” Eiden says, spotting the confused girl running through the streets. He’s walking home with Ten, Anastasia and Donovan, catching them up after Cassandra ran off. “She doesn’t go to Knock ‘Em Dead Club – shouldn’t she have been home half an hour ago?”

“Something’s wrong.” Ten says. “Someone’s after her.”

“How can you tell?” Eiden asks.

“Girl intuition. Quick!”

The group run over to Aubree, who runs up to Eiden and hugs him tightly.

“Aubree, what’s up?”

Aubree gestures uselessly to her left arm, and gasps. “C-Corrine…”

Eiden’s eyebrows lower thunderously as he looks at the deep red marks on Aubree’s neck and arm. “Someone call the police. I’ll be back soon.”

Aubree gasps and points at a nearby rooftop, where Corrine is watching, perched like a gargoyle. A low growl echoes out of Eiden’s mask, and his eight limbs form around him. Within moments, he is clambering up the side of the building, and Corrine realises she is outnumbered. She flees, with Eiden in hot pursuit.

“Will he be alright?” asks Ten, holding the phone to her ear as she waits for a response.

“If anything, I worry for Corrine!” Donovan replies. “Eiden’s visage was overtaken by a rage most primal! The Spider of Sin surely hunts tonight…”

On the rooftops, Eiden hounds down Corrine; despite her lack of limbs, she is still managing to keep ahead, and her frequent changing of directions is keeping him at bay.

“You hurt Aubree.” Eiden whispers to himself. “You hurt Aubree.”

There’s a sound like metal being lashed out, and Eiden comes to a sudden stop as a figure springs up and swings onto the rooftop. He’s using a pair of grappling hooks attached to his wrists to chase down Corrine.

“Shit.” Eiden whispers, ducking down. He’s angry, but he’s not stupid – the man is a police officer, and the last thing Eiden needs is to get into trouble for using his clothing outside of college. He watches Corrine go, chased by the officer, and sighs, heading to the ground and returning to his friends.

The rest of the evening is uneventful, as is the day after – the group don’t hear anything about Corrine’s arrest, unfortunately, but they have more than enough to be focussing on with the Hallowe’en party at Cassandra’s the next day. Aubree’s wounds are light, and she is fully recovered by the next day, if a little shaken. She gives a statement, but hears nothing from the police.

Sunday is soon to come, and it is shaping up to be a very busy Hallowe’en for all: Eiden is ready with his Pullover of Potential to meet Lee, and Cassandra is preparing to testify about Dues to the police with Estelle, then meeting Phillis to discuss matters just before the party. Xilog is still deep in thought, and wants to talk to Eiden at the party about what he should do with Boo. Aubree is nervous for her mother, knowing that something is going to happen at the hunt for the hidden classroom that night. Lucas Gloom and Elysia Prim are sick with worry.

And somewhere in the city, a man curses the existence of Estelle Weatherby, the one Bombardier who refuses to die.

 

New Battle Clothing Discovered:

 

[No. 044] Grapple Shirt

Formation: Shirt + Support Patch

Effect: User’s cuffs become grappling hooks, can be used to move around

Drawback: If the cuffs break, takes twenty four hours to repair

Sunderland College [4.2 - Heroic Arrival]

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