Rss

  • youtube

Sunderland College [4.4 – The Hallowe’en Search Begins]

Auralee Atwell is leaning against the wall just outside of the college as Eiden walks up, holding a t-shirt under one arm. Her right eye, the one with the strange object covering it with a glass pane, immediately looks down at the shirt.

“That’s the Pullover of Potential, alright. Looks to be a well-made one, too.”

“I see why people use the college to get their clothing.” Eiden sighs. “This was almost a hundred pounds at Max for both the top and Augment Patch. Romein still patched it for free, but apparently he can’t give us clothing on weekends.”

Lee laughs. “Ya know they get more expensive than that, right? Pinnacle’s tux probably set him back a couple of thousand, and custom clothing can hit above ten thousand depending on your specs.”

“Oh, that’s terrifying.” Eiden says. “What is Pinnacle’s tuxedo?”

“It’s one of the rarer pieces of Battle Clothing, and more expensive because of how powerful it is: the Lord’s Regalia. Gives you big metal wings that let you fly, and claws that can strip people’s clothing. Pretty good.”

“Sounds it.”

Lee looks at Eiden again. “Huh. You’ve chosen a new piece of Battle Clothing, I see.”

“How do you keep doing that? It’s not like I’m being that obvious, and yet you just seem to know what I’m wearing?”

Lee smirks. “Look, I already told you custom clothing gets expensive. Wanna know how I know? I have some.”

Eiden looks up at the strange object on her eye. “Let me guess; the monocle-looking thing?”

Lee, nodding, reaches up and detaches the object. She closes her right eye as she does, and hands the object over to Eiden.

“This is Trilby’s Third Eye. I got diagnosed with astigmatism when I started high school; my parents are pretty well off, they decided to look into medical Battle Clothing. It’s a pretty new field, you remember the news a couple of years back about the successful Battle Clothing arm they made?”

“Oh, yeah, I remember. They grafted a cloth hand onto someone’s arm, right? Somewhere in LA?”

“Right.” Lee says. “It’s still pretty new, and the process doesn’t work consistently, but small-scale custom pieces often do. A custom designer made this for me – it counteracts my blurry vision, and it lets me scan for nearby Battle Clothing and tells me what it is.”

“That’s amazing.” Eiden breathes. “I’d never seen one in person before.”

“They’re expensive, that’s why.” Lee replies, taking the Third Eye back and putting it back on. She opens her eye once more, and winks at Eiden. “So, there we go. Anyway, college is closed until later, but it’s still a convenient meeting point. The place I’m going to show you is pretty hard to find.”

“Where are we going?”

“There’s an abandoned barn on the northwestern side of town, just before you hit the fields. Coupla homeless people use it sometimes, there’s been a party or two in there, but mostly it’s my testing ground for new clothing. Come on, let’s grab the bus and get down there.”

Eiden nods. “Alright, let’s do it.”

 

*

 

Early in the morning, there’s a knock on the apartment door. Cassandra and her aunt, Esmerelda, look up.

“That must be Estelle, come to take you to the station. Finish your breakfast, dear.” Esmerelda says, walking over to the door.

“Hey!” Estelle says as the door opens, wearing an office uniform instead of her leotard and stockings. She hugs Esme briefly, then faces Cassandra, who is busy wolfing down her cereal and toast. “Ready in a moment, Cassandra? Hey, can I call you Cass?”

“I don’t mind,” Cassandra says, with a mouth so full that nobody can tell what she said. “Sorry, I don’t mind. Almost ready!”

“Excellent. The station is abuzz – this is the biggest break this case will have had in four years.”

“Four years?” Esme asks.

Estelle nods. “That’s when we found definitive evidence that the killer was more than one person. Of course, we still couldn’t find out who it was, but hey, that was progress.”

Cassandra finishes her breakfast and leaps up from the table. “Ready!”

“Then let’s get going. Do you want to come, Esme?”

“Of course. I assume I won’t be allowed in the room?”

“Unfortunately not. But we’ll inform you of everything that happens. I’d… really appreciate you being there.”

“I know.” Esme says, smiling. “Come on, let’s all get going.”

It doesn’t take long to drive down to Macew Peacekeeping Station, and once they arrive, Estelle directs them to an interview room on the first floor. Outside it is stood a large man that Cassandra recognises, drinking a cup of takeaway coffee, and a dark-skinned woman that she does not. The woman looks at her with a hard stare.

“Ah, you must be Cassandra! Thanks, Estelle.” the man says, sipping the coffee. “Took the overnight train from London to be here today. Let’s get this done!”

Esme sits down on plastic chairs placed outside of the interview room. The man and woman enter the room, directing Cassandra and Estelle to follow.

“You probably met me on the open day at Sunderland, right?” the man says.

“Oh, yes! That’s where I recognise you.” Cassandra says. “Mr Noble, right?”

“Barry Noble, Commissioner.” the man says, nodding. “This is the Superintendent of the Macew divison of Peacekeeping, Melody Zimmer.”

The woman nods curtly. “Pleaure to meet you, Cassandra. I only wish it was in more fortuitous circumstances. You know why you are here.”

“…Yeah.” Cassandra says. “The Bombardier killer.”

“So, you’re a witness to the crime. Let’s start with the night itself. Tell us every detail as you remember it. You were in your room, correct?”

“A loud noise woke me up.” Cassandra says, feeling herself transported back to that night. “My mother came in. She told me not to worry, and to stay in the room…”

Once the story is told, Estelle looks at the police officers with a wry smile. “Well? How’s that for a break?”

“Incredible.” Melody says, looking over the notes she took during Cassandra’s tale. “This is incredible information, Commissioner.”

“It is. So that’s confirmation that the killer is using other people, we have an alias in ‘Dues’, and we know he’s male. Tell me more about the ones he controls. The butler and the maid?” asks Barry.

“I can help you there. After all, it was the Friday night just before I met Cassandra that they tried to kill me again.”

“Again?” Cassandra asks. Estelle chuckles.

“Cassandra, I’ve been the Top Bombardier for seven years. I’m the prime target of Dues; a couple of years ago, he attempted to have me removed, but I fought off my attacker. It was all in the dark, so I wasn’t sure who it even was. All I remember is that when I fought the person off, they ran to the window of my room, and someone else opened it for them, and headed out with them.”

“So that’s why you knew it was more than one person.” Cassandra replies. Estelle nods.

“Let’s get back to the important information. You were attacked by the Bombardier killer’s servants?”

“Friday night, as I reached my room, the maid knocked on the door. I’d only just reached the room myself, barely enough time to take my coat off. I opened it, and she struck. Thanks to Cassandra’s input, my life was saved. The maid ran for it, and called for the butler to help.”

“Alucard. That’s what she said.” Cassandra says. “The butler’s name was Alucard.”

“More likely an alias, but useful nonetheless.” Barry says. “This is all good stuff, but Estelle, you must have realised what I just realised, right?”

“Yeah.” Estelle says, her face falling. “Whoever Dues is, he knew I was due at Macew that night, and he knew I was staying in a hotel.”

“The only ones that could have known were us and the Sunderland College faculty.” Melody replies.

“A mole at Sunderland.” Cassandra says, massaging her temple for a moment.

“What about it? Do you know something?” Melody asks.

“When Aranea attacked the college last month, one of my friends realised that the group attacked on Wednesday morning, when Sunderland has its departmental meeting. Only the teachers taking lessons at the time were there – the rest were in the meeting room. She suggested that the time they chose to attack had to be intentional.”

“That makes sense. One of my subordinates suggested the same thing, but we ruled it out as coincidence, since we trust the faculty.” Melody replies. “Perhaps we should ask Pinnacle for more details on his teachers…”

“If it’s not coincidence, though… this mole has access to give information to Dues and a wanted terrorist group. That’s a frightening thought.” Estelle mutters, tapping her nails on the table.

“Either way, that’s not for us to discuss now. Cassandra, we’d like to thank you for the valuable information you’ve given us. We’ll make strides in finding the killer thanks to you.” Melody replies.

“You’ve done your parents proud, lass.” Barry continues. “We will make sure this ‘Dues’ is put behind bars. Don’t you worry.”

“Thank you.” Cassandra says quietly. Estelle notes the way her knuckles whiten as she grips the sides of the chair, but doesn’t comment.

“Let’s get going.” she says. “Is that everything?”

“For now.” Melody replies. “We’ll be in contact again if we need more information or clarification. This, however, is more than enough to work with.”

“Alright. Come on, Cassandra. Let’s get back.”

As they walk out of the station with Esme, Estelle glances around the rooms and lets out a sigh. She turns back to Cassandra.

“Also, if you’re not busy until later, I’d like to train with you for the rest of the morning. We need to start your training as soon as possible.”

“I’m feeling pretty awake.” Cassandra replies. “Sounds good. Where will we train?”

“I’m a teacher now, Cass. We can access the Sunderland Training Centre just down the road.”

“Training Centre?”

“It’s a more wide-open space than the battlefields on the campus itself, and you can change the environment with different controls and stuff. Second-year Bombardiers and Peacekeepers often have their Combat Training lessons there.”

“I remember that place. Hated it. My sister would drag me every day to watch her training there.”

“She certainly did.” Estelle smiles. “Now then, let’s go. Your training begins today!”

 

*

 

“Almost here. C’mon.” Lee says.

“Hey, just had a thought. You’re going to the hunt tonight, right?” Eiden asks.

Lee nods. “Mm. It’s usually a fun night.”

“We, uh… well, I’ll be clear with you. We think someone’s going to attack the college, and they’re looking for a legendary piece of clothing hidden in the college somewhere. Would you be able to help us search for it tonight?”

Lee is taken aback by the frankness of the request, but shrugs. “I mean, gods know how you got that info, but I guess I’ll buy it. If someone’s attacking college, I guess I should help. You have my eye.”

“Thank you.” Eiden replies. “For now, though… why did you want me to make a Pullover of Potential?”

“I’ll explain.” Lee says as they enter the barn. It’s old, nearly crumbling to the ground, and there’s a strange musty smell. The floor has been covered in large flagstones, amateurishly placed. It’s a curious location, and Eiden looks around with interest.

“Go for it.”

“So, you bought a top and a patch, and I’m guessing you did some designing on the top before you got them patched?”

“Yeah, I did.” Eiden replies. “Want me to put it on?”

“I’ll be the one wearing it. Chuck it over.”

Eiden passes her the top, and she looks over it carefully. “Mm. Nicely designed. ‘Specially considering the short timeframe. Not bad at all.”

Lee is just wearing a jacket and a tank top, and she takes both off before reaching out for the Pullover of Potential. Eiden averts his eyes as she changes, standing awkwardly just a few feet away.

“OK, first rule. If you wanna be a designer, you’re gonna have to get used to people running around in their underwear. Aight?” Lee sighs.

Eiden blushes in embarrassment and nods. “Right, right. Go on.”

Lee closes her eyes, and the Pullover of Potential begins to take form. The top was a simple white one, with some black tendrils resembling lightning stiched onto the shoulders, following the trace of the collarbone. The patch is on the back of the top, directly in the small of Lee’s back. As the top becomes empowered, there is a faint grey light running through the top, like a visual indicator of a nervous system. The bottom of the top is frayed, as are the short-sleeved arm holes.

“Hm. Interesting design. Alright, hit me.”

“You sure?”

“Just once.” Lee says, nodding. Eiden prepares a fist and punches Lee’s stomach, holding back as much as he can. Lee jumps back, taking the hit solidly. The grey lights begin to turn orange in the place where Eiden punched, crackling with energy which begins to spread through the rest of the top.

Lee grins.

“Not bad.”

“OK, so why am I doing this?” Eiden asks.

“Coupla reasons.” Lee explains. “First, to show you how expensive patches and Battle Clothing can be when Sunderland isn’t paying for it. Secondly, to see what you can design on a tight deadline. This isn’t too bad. Your stitching isn’t great, though I’m guessing you’re no professional.”

“My interest has been pretty light so far. I’ve not really taken it seriously until recently.” Eiden says.

Lee nods. “Figured. But now that we have a piece of clothing that you personally designed, I want to show you how changing the base clothing affects the resultant Battle Clothing. So, let’s take a look at the changes you made to the base top, and we’ll figure out how you changed the Pullover of Potential.”

“How do we do that?”

“We fight.” Lee says. “I’ll test this top, and find out how it differs from a normal Pullover of Potential. Going by the stiching and the design, I’m guessing it’ll… well, we’ll figure that out as we go.”

“Let’s do it.” Eiden replies. Lee nods, and prepares to battle.

 

*

 

Cassandra turns to Estelle as they walk up to the Training Centre. “Hey, Estelle, do you have any idea where the hidden classroom is? The hunt is tonight, I wondered if you or my parents might have any idea where it is.”

“The hidden classroom, huh? Unfortunately, I can’t help you there. Tried to find it, but never managed it! Your mother and father also never found it, though they got closer than me; your mother was convinced that the key to finding it was in the principal’s office. Obviously that’s locked during the hunt, though.” Estelle explains, shrugging.

“Ah.” Cassandra says. “Makes sense. Thank you, though!”

The Training Centre is empty when Estelle and Cassandra enter. Esme has gone to run some errands, and the pair of them have an hour or two to train. A few minutes after they arrive, they step out of the changing rooms and head into the main training hall.

“Alright, take your Battle Clothing off.” Estelle says, walking to the other end of the room and standing in the white lines that mark out the battlefield. Around the edges there are place mats, wooden benches, and other things that can be used to change the battlefield. On the other end of the room, there is a temperature, humidity and weather control system.

“Off?” Cassandra says, looking blankly at her tutor.

“Yes, off.” Estelle replies. “First lesson: if you want to become the best, you have to learn to fight without clothing. Then, once you’ve hit your human limit, you can put on your Battle Clothing and you’ll find yourself effortlessly stronger than all the rest.”

“I see.” Cassandra murmurs.

“As an aside, fighting without Battle Clothing will increase your strength more, thus allowing you to wear two pieces of clothing much more quickly.”

“Alright, let’s go. I’m ready.” Cassandra says, throwing off the Chillbringer and standing in just some light workout gear, facing Estelle. Just before the fight begins, Cassandra stares in confusion.

“Wait, why are you still wearing your Battle Clothing?”

“Because!” Estelle shouts, powering up the Rocket Heels and blasting towards Cassandra. “You won’t learn anything fighting opponents you’re on an equal footing with – now survive, as long as you can! No Ward Aura Slippers to protect you!”

Cassandra sees the fire in Estelle’s eyes and realises she’s serious. With less than a second to spare, she hurls herself aside as Estelle thunders past her, but Estelle flips herself around in midair and slams both of her heels into Cassandra’s back, sending the girl flying across the room. Cassandra hits the ground hard and skids for several metres, clambering to her feet with an ungainly movement.

Estelle is charging again, on foot this time, and as she reaches Cassandra, the girl hits out at her. Estelle ducks past the blow and goes to punch Cassandra in the stomach, whilst charging her heels at the same time. Cassandra catches the fist, but the moment she makes contact, Estelle blasts off into the air, pulling Cassandra with her. The girl screeches in terror, realising that if she falls from this height without the Ward Aura Slippers, she could easily die. Twisting from Estelle’s grip, she wraps a hand around Estelle’s throat – the woman chokes and shuts off the Rocket Heels in the panic. As they plunge to the ground, Estelle blasts them both horizontally, slamming Cassandra into the floor and travelling almost the full length of the arena.

Cassandra digs her heels into the floor, throwing Estelle off of her. The back of her head, which was being dragged across the floor, aches, and a brief touch causes extreme pain. Cassandra tries to gather her thoughts.

Estelle’s bigger, stronger, faster, smarter and more well-equipped than me. What do I do? I need to stop her from flying – if she drops me from any height I’ll either fall unconscious or- well, I can only assume she won’t let me actually die… gotta go for the heels.

Estelle isn’t thrown off for too long as she spins on her feet and immediately runs for Cassandra again. Her Rocket Heels charge up, and she unleashes a rocket-powered kick, bringing her knee up into Cassandra’s chest. Cassandra dodges and swings her leg around, knocking Estelle’s other leg off-balance. With just one leg firing off a rocket blast, Estelle is hurled backwards, completely disoriented; it is only with a precise movement that she is able to land back on her feet rather than face-first into the ground.

Cassandra immediately tries to follow up, charging towards Estelle, but the older woman grabs her around the waist and effortlessly tosses her into the air. Charging up another rocket kick, Cassandra is helpless to watch as Estelle’s leg swings around, roundhouse kicking her with the force of a missile. Cassandra shoots through the air and smashes into the wall of the room, landing on a mat on the ground and lying there, unmoving.

“You good?”

“I’m done.” Cassandra sighs, pulling herself to her feet. “Thank goodness the walls are padded.”

“That was a good start, considering that you’re just a kid and I’m literally one of the finest fighters in the world. Or that’s what they call me, anyway. I can’t imagine I actually am.” Estelle says. “So, after each fight, I’ll explain what you did, what I did, and how they combined to form our battle. Hopefully you’ll figure it out over time. And always remember this, Cassandra: the hardest part of becoming stronger is accepting that you’re currently weak.”

“Yeah…” Cassandra says, sitting on a bench. She pulls out a notepad and pen. “OK, what advice do you have?”

“Firstly, let’s talk about the opening kick. So, when I blasted, you tried to evade…”

As Estelle explains the fight in detail, referring in specific detail to the muscles used, the battle strategies and how the room served to affect the fight, as well as lightly pressing a damp towel onto the injury on the back of Cassandra’s head, Cassandra takes notes studiously, knowing that these fights will be the most important education she gets. They have a few more fights, as well performing some strenuous exercise routines. Estelle has also brought a Cleansing Coat with her, that allows her to heal Cassandra’s wounds.

By the time it gets to the point where they have to leave, Cassandra is feeling more fired up than she has been in days. She’s surprised that the fights where she didn’t have her Battle Clothing were the most exciting ones she’s participated in lately, and heads off to Cairo Coffee to meet Phillis with a newfound spring in her step.

 

*

 

Phillis, still thinking on the ultimatum that the strange woman left for him, waits in the coffee shop for Cassandra. He’s excited to finally get back to college after his suspension.

What better way to start back than go to the classroom hunt? …Wonder if everyone got stronger whilst I was away.

Cassandra enters and waves as she spots Phillis. Heading over to his table, she drops her bag off. “I’ll just get myself a drink, one second!”

Soon enough, Cassandra and Phillis are sat opposite one another, drinks in hand, sipping gently as they converse.

“How’s tricks?” Phillis asks.

Cassandra smiles. “I have an awful lot of news. Like, huge news.”

“Oh?”

“So, I don’t know if you heard, but at Knock ‘Em on Friday, Estelle Weatherby showed up, and announced that she’s teaching a second-year course at Sunderland.”

“Huh.” Phillis says, eyebrows raising. “Didn’t hear that, no. What’s she like in person?”

“Well, that’s the crazy thing. I went to see her after college, and turns out she… she knew my parents. Fire and Ice.”

Phillis lets out a long exhalation. “Fire and Ice? You’re their kid?”

“Yeah.” Cassandra says. “Sorry I didn’t tell you. Or anyone, for that matter. Only Ten knew.”

“No worries. So you actually spoke to Estelle?”

“Yeah! She took me on as her apprentice! Just this morning she was helping me train.” Cassandra explains. “It was amazing, Phillis.”

“Sounds like it. Big changes, huh…”

“Big changes.” Cassandra agrees. “So, uh, yeah! That happened this weekend. Estelle wants me to become stronger, and I’m trying as best I can. I’m changing my gym routine and fighting twice as hard from now on!”

Cassandra’s eyes glint with a steely determination, and Phillis gives her a lazy smile.

“Cool. Sounds like you’ve found your place.”

“Yeah. I’m happy.” Cassandra says. “I remember, that first day… I was asking Bradley about my parents. I’d seen a girl who seemed similar to me – Boo, a strong girl who was looking for her place. But she didn’t have dead parents. She didn’t have a tragedy that kept her up every night. She was normal, and I wanted that.”

Phillis watches, impassive, as Cassandra’s mood fades.

“Now I’ve realised that I won’t be normal. But I have a tragedy in my past, and because of that, I have someone I need to defeat. I have a villain that must be stopped.”

“Mm.”

“The police said that they’d do everything to arrest the man who killed my parents. But, Phillis… if I’m honest with you, I don’t think I’ll be satisfied until I kill him myself.”

Phillis’ eyes widen.

“Of all the people I thought would have some bloodlust, Cass, you were the last.”

“Do you believe in destiny, Phillis?”

Phillis closes his eyes to think. In his mind’s eye, the image of his mother appears. Then his father’s body. The Anticloth. A man in a labcoat… bright lights. Running, always running… the table, the needles, and that sign, that damned sign: ‘FF – BDI Laboratory 1’.

Phillis opens his eyes.

“I…”

 

*

 

As the evening begins, Cassandra’s apartment becomes a buzzing hub of drink, talk and costumes. Everyone shows up, some costumed, some not.

Ten is the first to arrive. She is greeted at the door by Cassandra wearing a Harley Quinn costume, complete with a faux hammer. Ten is dressed as herself, with a large bloodied t-shirt and gaunt makeup; obviously intending to be a dead version of herself.

“Oh, nice!” Cassandra says, laughing. “Where’d you get the makeup?”

“Eh, it was just whatever I had in the house already.” Ten replies. “Nice costume.”

“Hallowe’en is the best holiday; I had to put the most effort into it!”

Just as Cassandra and Ten are getting out the drinks to begin, the door sounds out once again. Cassandra invites the newcomers in: Zaphod, dressed in a costume that wouldn’t look out of place on Ziggy Stardust, in a bright neon colour, and Anastasia, wearing a long white dress with three pairs of pound-store wings, a halo covered in black markings and painted eyes all over her face: an eldritch angel.

“Always the show-stealer, huh?” Ten says as Zaphod enters. He laughs, and Ten tosses him a drink from her position on the sofa.

“Of course! I always look my best, m’dear!”

“And you look really cute, Anastasia!” Cassandra says. “Scary and sweet, it’s a cool idea for a costume!”

Anastasia tries not to blush. “Nah, I just pulled this together this morning, it’s nothing really…”

“Nonsense, you look beautiful!” Zaphod replies. Anastasia was successfully not blushing before, but now she goes bright red and sits on the sofa to stop her legs from shaking.

Donovan arrives shortly afterwards – wearing black pants and a black waistcoat, carrying a bright blue duffel bag with him. He keeps it hidden behind his back, and stores it under the sofa as subtly as he can. 

“Before you lambaste me for my failure to wear a costume, know that I have one prepared! I’ll be getting changed once we get to college!”

“You can use my bathroom if you want to get changed.” Cassandra says, pointing to a door at the other end of the apartment. Donovan grimaces.

“Unfortunately, Cassandra, my dark costume requires the use of a piece of Battle Clothing. Only within the walls of the college can I properly express it!”

“Intriguing.” Zaphod says. “I look forward to seeing it!”

Eiden, Aubree and Boo arrive next, though Cassandra doesn’t know it’s them until they introduce themselves. Aubree’s costume is fine: she’s wearing a vintage witch costume, complete with a broomstick studded with stars. With her, however, is a very short person wearing a bedsheet with eye holes cut out, and a taller person wearing a black cloak, black clothes, a black hat and a mask, obviously aping the protagonist of V For Vendetta.

“Hey! Who do we have here?” Cassandra asks as she invites them in.

“I’m Eiden.” the taller masked person says.

The bedsheet trembles. “It’s Boo!”

Cassandra laughs aloud, and everyone else is amused by the adorable little girl in her bedsheet. “Oh, of course it is! Come on in, Boo. Cute costume!”

“I kinda ran out of time…” Boo murmurs. “But my mom found this bedsheet for me. We did it really quick before I left.”

“Hey, any costume is a good one.” says Ten, grinning. “Aubree, you look fine!”

“Fine as in OK or fine as in fiiiiiine?” asks Aubree, grinning at Ten.

“That’s the door again!” Donovan says, hearing the knock and dashing off. Cassandra follows behind him.

Phillis has arrived, and is actually wearing a costume: if you can call a miniature top hat at the end of his member, with comedy blood all the way down the shaft, a costume. Cassandra bursts out laughing when she sees it, whilst Donovan excuses himself and heads back to the main room.

“Ahahah! Oh, god, we have a winner for best costume already…”

Even Phillis can’t help but chuckle. “I pulled out all the stops.”

Xilog, Clocksworth and Jackson all arrive later, and one of them has forgotten to wear a costume.

“Xilog! No costume?” asks Cassandra. Clocksworth shrugs and heads in to get a drink, whilst Xilog sighs.

“Ah, I knew I’d forgotten something… with all the busyness this weekend, I forgot to arrange a costume. My apologies.”

Jackson follows Xilog inside, wearing a fanciful top hat, coattails and trousers, all crafted with a detailed steampunk aesthetic. It’s quite evident that the costume is handmade by Jackson; not because it looks worse than the store-bought costumes, but because it is clearly of a much higher quality than them. Jackson’s handiwork, as always, is a sight to behold.

“No worries.” Cassandra says. “Nice costume, Jackson – Mad Hatter, right?”

“Right.” Jackson says, nodding.

“Alright, both of you, come on in!” Cassandra says.

“What are you dressed as, Clocksworth?” asks Ten as Clocksworth glides in.

Clocksworth has a white t-shirt on, with a large green circle stuck on with a safety pin. “A photon. Because to a photon, there is no time! Whoo… scary, right?”

“Downright terrifying.” replies Anastasia with an eye roll.

With everyone now present, Cassandra gets out more drinks, and the party gets underway. There’s still several hours before they intend to go to the college, and everyone is enjoying the time to relax and chat to one another.

Zaphod heads over to Jackson, sitting beside him as he downs his drink.

“Heya!” he says excitedly. “Awesome costume, man. What should I have expected from you, though?”

“Oh, I just whipped it up this week. Thought it’d be cool.” Jackson replies, shrugging. He neglects to mention the hours spent every night working on it, deciding to play it cool.

“I feel like we never talk,” Zaphod says, abruptly changing the conversation. Jackson realises that he’s already quite drunk. “What’s inspiring you to work so hard to become a model?”

“It’s nothing exciting.” Jackson says, choosing his words carefully. “My mother is a designer, and everyone around me thought I’d use her to take an easy path through life. But I don’t agree with the way she runs her brand. So I started from the bottom. Taught myself, did everything I could to succeed. I work hard because that’s how people should succeed, not by using your family’s clout for a free ride.”

“I get that. I suppose I’m the opposite.” Zaphod replies. “I mean, I’m nobody, but I always wanted to be somebody. Models have always inspired me, you know? My family always said my looks could take me far in modelling, and so I put my all into it. Skipped the rest of my education to travel and find out more about modelling. Maybe not the wisest choice, since I didn’t manage to get discovered, which is why I signed on for Sunderland.”

Jackson nods. He wonders what it would have been like to be in Zaphod’s position.

“Makes sense.” he murmurs. “Do you think I’m selfish for giving up the influence of my mother?”

Zaphod places a shaky hand on Jackson’s shoulder and looks at him in the eyes, making a concerted effort not to drunkenly slur as he talks. “Not gonna lie to you, dude, I’d have killed to be in your position. But at the end of the day, you’re probably gonna be a better model because you didn’t have that help. I’d have loved to take the easy road, but I think in the end, I would’ve done the same thing as you. It’s just not as, I dunno, satisfying, unless you’re the underdog.”

“I get you.” Jackson replies, deep in thought.

Xilog sits on the sofa next to Eiden, and turns to him.

“Eiden. I’d like some advice.”

The masked figure turns to Zaphod. “How the hell did you know it was me?”

“I know how tall you are.” Xilog replies. “Anyway… advice.”

“Advice? Uh, sure, go for it.”

“It’s about Boo.” Xilog says. Both he and Eiden look up at the small girl in the bedsheet, nervously engaging in conversation with Cassandra and Donovan on the other side of the room. “I spoke to her on Friday, and she… well, she confessed to me. I told her I needed to time to figure things out. I’m not sure if she’s a distraction, like all the other little interests I have briefly and then drop, or whether I am serious about her. Maybe it’s just because I pity her. I don’t know.”

“That’s a pretty important thing to figure out, definitely. A relationship, especially one that’s as unofficial as this one, isn’t going to be perfect after just a couple of weeks.” Eiden replies. “Keep spending time with her for now, and just be aware that you don’t have to move things on yet. Once you’re sure you feel the same way about her, then you can think about taking it further. And if you don’t think you do, explain it to her.”

“That makes sense. Thank you, Eiden.” Xilog replies.

“And can I stress that when you explain it to her, you do it gently? No using the words ‘pity’ or ‘distraction’, OK?”

Xilog chuckles. “I understand.”

Anastasia and Zaphod are chilling out on the other sofa as they drink moderately.

“This really is shaping up to be a busy night.” Zaphod muses. “Do you think we’ll find the hidden classroom?”

“I’m not sure, but with how many students have looked for it over the years, probably not.” replies Anastasia. “It’ll be fun, though. The college is going to be so creepy late at night.”

“Oh, definitely! I wonder what fun will transpire? I hope we can scare some of the teachers!”

“They’re probably used to the students trying to scare them.” Anastasia laughs. “But we can try it, for sure.”

Ten, watching the party and exchanging brief conversations with the nearby people, suddenly feels a strange fear well up in her. The feeling of a hand closing around her throat begins, and she turns to Cassandra with terror in her eyes.

“Cass-” she chokes out, and Cassandra instantly knows what’s happening. She rushes over and offers her shoulder to Ten.

“Let’s get you to my room, quick.”

People look up briefly, but Cassandra and Ten are soon out of the room, and the partygoers forget the strange incident.

In Cassandra’s bedroom, Ten sits on the floor, trying to breathe in and out, but struggling, and feeling her vision go blurry. Cassandra, beside her, staying completely calm, holds her hand tightly.

“It’s OK. It’s OK. We’ll get you some food once it passes. Breathe, breathe…”

Ten tries to force another sentence out, but can’t, and falls back, her head resting against the side of Cassandra’s bed. She clutches Cassandra’s hand tightly – so tightly that Cassandra winces in pain. She bears it, however, and continues to whisper calming things to Ten.

It takes ten or fifteen minutes, but eventually the panic attack subsides. Ten’s eyes open and she looks at Cassandra. Looking down, and seeing Cassandra’s reddened hand, she lets it go.

“That was a bad one.” Cassandra murmurs. “You OK?”

“It’s not the worst one I’ve had. You didn’t call the ambulance, did you?”

“I would’ve if it had lasted any longer than that.” Cassandra replies. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise. It’s just another by-product of my fucking stupid anxiety.” Ten sighs, pulling herself to her feet, breathing in and out slowly to try and regulate it once again. “Need food, though.”

“I’ll get some snacks or something. You sure you’re alright, now?”

Ten smiles at Cassandra. “Cass, you stayed calm the entire time. Thank you. You’re always there when they come about. And you always help.”

“I’ll always be there.” Cassandra says, grinning back. “Come on, let’s get back to the party. Let me know if anything else happens tonight.”

“I will.”

The two girls exit Cassandra’s bedroom, both worried, but relieved.

The next few hours pass with enjoyable conversation, a relaxed atmosphere, and, for some, a growing sense of unease. Getting the late-night bus to the college, Eiden and Aubree invite several people to sit with them at the back of the bus: Xilog, Anastasia and Jackson.

“Hey, guys. We need to ask you a favour.” Eiden says.

Aubree looks around at the group. “So, my mother’s a historian. She hid a very powerful piece of Battle Clothing in the college, and someone’s looking for it! I got a letter from two old friends of hers called Lucas Gloom and Elysia Prim, and they said he’ll be coming for it tonight. Me and Eiden have been trying to find it, since my mum could be in danger, but we’ve not had much luck. We want your help!”

“We have a basic plan.” Eiden explains. “My friend Lee has the power to see nearby Battle Clothing, so with Anastasia, Aubree and Jackson’s eye for detail, you three should be able to find the hidden classroom. Me and Xilog will sweep the school, making sure to hold off any invaders that might show up.”

“This sounds quite serious.” Xilog says. “We can help – I offer my services, anyway.”

“I’ll help.” Jackson replies. Anastasia nods.

“I don’t know how much use I’ll be, but if you need me, I’m here!”

“Thank you so much, guys. Now, we’re meeting Lee outside the college. Once we’ve found her, we’ll head in and split into the search team and the lookout team. We’ll stick close, though, since we need to stay in touch.” Eiden says.

“Sounds good. We’ll do all we can.” Jackson says. “Who is this person looking for the Battle Clothing?”

“I, uh, I’m… not sure.” Aubree admits. “Nobody will tell me, but if Lucas is here tonight, we can ask him.”

“Speaking of, we’re not far off. Let’s get ready. Hopefully we can deal with anyone that attacks the college.”

“We beat Aranea.” Jackson replies, grinning. “We’ve got this, Eiden.”

 

*

 

The students arrive just after nine o’clock, and the college is open. There’s not many teachers, but enough to guide the students into the college to hunt for the classroom. Plenty of first- and second-years alike have shown up, and a second-year wearing a bloody labcoat catches Eiden’s eye.

“Hey, Lee!”

“Eiden. Sup.” Lee says, waving. “These your friends?”

“Yeah,” Eiden says. “Everyone, this is Auralee, or Lee for short. Lee, this is Xilog, Aubree, Anastasia and Jackson.”

“Jackson, huh? You won the Practise comp, didn’t you?” asks Lee.

Jackson, taken aback, nods. “Uh, yeah, that was me.”

“I saw that. Good performance, kid. I was impressed.” Lee says. “Anyway, we ready?”

Aubree nods. “Almost! I think that’s Lucas Gloom over there; I recognise him from some old pictures.”

Lucas Gloom, accompanied by the ever-mysterious Elysia Prim, head over to the group.

“Aubree.” Lucas says, smiling. “You’re so grown-up now. Pleasure to meet you properly; last time I saw you, you were too small to talk.”

“Hi! It’s cool to meet a friend of my mother’s.” Aubree says, shaking Lucas’ hand. Elysia gestures to the college.

“We’ll need to sneak in, since we don’t have security. We’ll meet you inside – I presume you intend to help us protect the piece of Battle Clothing?”

“Absolutely.” Eiden says. “Though I’d like to ask, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, what clothing we’re protecting and who’s looking for it?”

“We never asked you to find it, or to fight our battles. But we are thankful for your help, so I suppose we owe you that much.” Lucas says. “The Battle Clothing is one of the three Egyptian Regalia: Ra’s Toga. Your mother found it many years ago, and against my advice, hid it in Sunderland College; hidden enough to be safe, but close enough to be accessible, so she could research it.”

“A legendary piece of clothing..?” Aubree murmurs. “My mother had it?”

“The man looking for it,” Lucas continues. “Is another old friend of ours, and his name is Axis Gascoine. He is a man searching for power, and this will not be the first time I’ve fought him. The date of Hallowe’en has a lot of relevance to us, since it is on that date, thirteen years ago, that we discovered the Regalia.”

“My mother said she didn’t know who was looking for it, though.”

Lucas sighs. “Yes… she would say that.”

“Axis Gascoine was thought dead thirteen years ago. He and Lucas were trapped under the ground, and Lucas barely managed to escape with his life. But Gascoine survived. Went back to his historical research, publishing books about old legends and myths. But all of the research was for one reason: to find out where the Regalia had gone after we’d discovered them. Finally, he’s tracked it down to here.” Elysia explains.

Lucas nods. “Your mother doesn’t know who’s looking for it because she doesn’t know that Gascoine is still alive. After the tragedy of Hallowe’en 1991, she cut ties with most of us. That’s why we’ve had to contact her through you, Aubree.”

“I see. This guy sounds pretty dangerous, then; we have to protect Ra’s Toga!” Aubree says.

“We will.” Xilog replies. “But let’s get inside the college already; I’m rather cold out here on the street.”

Lucas and Elysia disappear, and rejoin the group inside the college grounds minutes later. The group of eight split into two parties and head inside the college. The darkness makes it unfamiliar; despite the walls, floors and classrooms being second nature to the students, the shadows seem long and fearsome, and the corridors regularly filled with chatter are instead replaced with quiet whispers of small groups of students, looking at every nook and cranny to discover the secret classroom.

“First thing we should do is get to the library!” Aubree says. “There might be a map of the school somewhere, so we can methodically go through.”

“I think I’ve seen one there. Let’s take a look.” Anastasia replies. The search team heads off to the library, whilst the lookout team, comprised of Eiden, Xilog, Lucas and Elysia, remain where they are, keeping a careful eye on the people coming in.

“We’re going to scan around, just to make sure he’s not entered by another way.” Lucas says. Eiden nods; Lucas and Elysia head down the corridor, the concern evident on their faces.

Donovan, with his duffel bag, splits from his group and ducks into a classroom to get changed. It takes a good ten minutes, but soon, four figures exit the classroom and walk over to Cassandra, Ten and Phillis, who are searching for the hidden classroom.

“Whoa, Donovan?” asks Cassandra.

The first of the figures is Donovan himself, wearing black and white face paint in the design of a skull. The second wears a cape obviously taken from a store-bought Dracula costume and a handpainted white pauldron made of cardboard, with a crown and a scepter. The third wears a mottled brown and grey cloak with a cardboard-and-string plague doctor mask. The final one wears a plain red-buttoned shirt and a knight’s helmet, complete with a sword thrust through a brown belt.

“It is I, Donovan! And my three clones! Our outfit is complete!”

“…Four Horsemen?” guesses Phillis. Genuinely surprised, Donovan nods.

“Indeed, Wall of Flesh! I am the most notorious, Death, and these are my compatriots – Conquest, Pestilence, and War!”

“I thought it was Death, Famine, Pestilence, War?” Phillis asks. Donovan sputters whilst Cassandra nods in agreement with Phillis.

“No, it’s Conquest! He who conquers things! He who shall crush the earth underfoot!”

“So what’s War then?” asks Ten.

“He’s, uh, War! He who is always victorious! He who commands the forces of the damned!”

“The damned?” questions Cassandra. “Surely it’s Death who commands the damned?”

“Oh, come on, it’s just a Hallowe’en costume…” sighs Donovan. Phillis chuckles, and the girls join in. Donovan grins wryly at them, never kept down for long, and points down the corridor.

“So,” he announces. “Our quest is clear: find the hidden classroom!”

“Indeed.” Cassandra says. “We were gonna check all the classrooms and see if there’s any hidden switches or whatever.”

“Good start.” Ten replies. “Let’s get going.”

The four students head off into the darkness.

 

*

 

In the library, Aubree finds a map of the college from the late 90s.

“This should help!” she says excitedly, holding it out for the rest of the group to see.

“Impossible to see in this darkness.” sighs Lee, looking over it. “Hm… OK, let’s just check each classroom in order. And the cupboards, let’s not forget those.”

Anastasia nods. “Sounds good. If we find any doors that aren’t on this map, that’s definitely something we should check out. Let’s go take a look.”

The search team head out and begin to walk around the first floor, checking classrooms and comparing everything to the map. They don’t make much progress, though discussions about ways to access the basement run rampant: the basement, Romein’s workshop and Pinnacle’s office are the only places that are inaccessible during the search, and the students are very suspicious of the basement.

“We could sneak in.” suggests Jackson.

“There’s a teacher on duty at all times.” Lee says. “Someone tried it last year, and Simon was not impressed, lemme tell you.”

“There must be a way…” murmurs Aubree. “Well, let’s keep checking classrooms and offices for now. If we don’t find any possible clues, we’ll move onto the basement!”

“You’ll need a good plan for getting past the teacher. Wonder who’s on duty tonight?” Lee replies.

“No idea, but we can check.”

The search continues. Whilst checking the ground floor, Aubree’s group walk past the basement stairway, and find Chrissie Ansell, Form C tutor, on guard. She gives them a wave as they pass. There isn’t much to find – all of the doors match up to doors on the map, and none of them seem to hold any secrets.

“Damn! Why is this so hard?” Aubree says as they finish their tour of the third floor. Some students milling around also seem to be getting frustrated with their lack of progress, though most are simply using the evening as an excuse for some social time with their classmates.

“No idea…” sighs Jackson.

Anastasia is getting tired. “There has to be something we’re missing. But if the search has been running for years and years now, how are we supposed to figure it out?”

“Most people think it’s impossible, that the classroom was sealed long ago.” Lee replies. “Even with my Third Eye, I can’t sense anything as powerful as Ra’s Toga.”

“It’s OK!” Aubree says. “We’ve still got some possibilities to check. Where should we go next, guys?”

 

*

 

“That looks like a man.” says Xilog, pointing to a male figure entering the college and looking around – it’s difficult to make out distinctive features in the darkness, but he is evidently not a student. Another figure walks in behind him, also an adult. “It’s hard to say what makes ‘a man’, but regardless of innate man-ness, that figure over there is unmistakeably an adult. Besides the teachers, there shouldn’t be any other adults on college grounds.”

“You’re right.” Eiden says. “Let’s intervene… carefully for now. He doesn’t know we’re onto him yet, so let’s not give him a reason to attack us.”

The pair approach; the man lifts a torch and illuminates the corridor, revealing the pair. Xilog, who also had the good sense to bring a torch, lights up the two figures.

“Oh.” Eiden says, genuinely surprised.

The man looks at the pair. “You two here for the classroom hunt?”

“Yeah,” Eiden says. “But what are you doing here?”

“I’m Chief Inspector Nathan Mustang, Macew PD.” the man says, holding up his badge. His hair is greying, but he only looks middle-aged. The figure behind him is a woman, with short, shoulder-length black hair and pursed lips. Her eyes are old, jaded, and though she is fairly short, the way she holds herself makes her look much taller. She lifts her badge.

“Inspector Ruby Magnum.” she states. “We got called out to this joint thanks to an anonymous tip-off.”

“The tip-off said that people might be looking to illegally enter the college tonight. Do you know anything about that, boys?” Mustang asks.

Eiden nods excitedly, but Xilog is looking suspiciously at the police officers. “Yes! My friend Aubree first heard about it, and we’re here to protect the college, as well as going on the classroom hunt. We can help!”

“We’d prefer it if civvies stay out of police business. Sunderland sprogs can usually defend themselves though, so if you do get attacked, we’ll allow you to fight back.” Magnum replies. “That said, you ain’t here for fun, evidently, so if you can give us any dirt on the people that are said to be here, that’d help.”

“Our anonymous tip-off informed us that the names of the possible invaders are Lucas Gloom and Elysia Prim. If you see anybody you don’t recognise, or if you know who those people are, let us know, and we’ll apprehend them immediately.” says Mustang. Eiden’s face falls, and he turns to Xilog, but Xilog also has absolutely no idea how to respond.

 

New Clothing Discovered:

 

[No. 030] Pullover of Potential

Formation: T-Shirt + Augment Patch

Effect: Absorbs energy launched at user, and turns it into a strength boost

Drawback: Has no innate boost, user is weak until enough energy is absorbed

 

[No. 037] Lord’s Regalia

Formation: Tuxedo + Power Patch

Effect: Creates metal wings and grants user the ability to strip opponents

Drawback: Wings can only fly for ten minutes before needing to recharge

 

[Unregistered] Trilby’s Third Eye

Formation: Custom-Made + Augment Patch

Effect: Scans and informs user on nearby Battle Clothing

Drawback: Eye can be easily disrupted by bright lights

Sunderland College [4.3 - Their Daughter's Birthright]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.