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Sunderland College [4.6 – The Regrettable Pursuit of Power]

MONDAY

 

The first day back is mostly uneventful, but as always, the usual is gathered outside after the day is done, excited for Testfire Club. Tessa comes up, carrying what appears to be a box full of anoraks.

“Raincoats?” asks Cassandra.

“Yup!” Tessa replies. “Everyone put one on, and make sure to spread out – these ones are… interesting.”

As the class get them on, Tessa empowers the one that she’s wearing and stands at the front of the group. A small cloud forms above her head.

“Yo, what?” Zaphod says, pointing at it.

“Huh.” Anastasia says.

“This is the Weather Overcoat!” Tessa announces. “It can create any weather you think of in a small radius around you… and you can freely control it!”

She opens her arms, and the cloud begins to grow larger; clicking her fingers as a spot nearby, a bolt of lightning blasts out of the cloud and scorches the ground. With a clap of her hands, the clouds part and begin to snow gently.

“That’s interesting…” Cassandra mutters. “Could pair nicely with the Chillbringer. Damn, I wish I could wear two pieces of clothing…”

“It does help.” Eiden says, grinning. “You train really hard in the gym every day, though. You’ll get there soon!”

“Alright, everyone, start making weather!” Tessa says, and the class begin.

As they begin to acquaint themselves with the strange new piece of clothing, enjoying the fun of drenching their friends in sudden rain, Tessa wanders around, explaining how it works.

“So, the Weather Overcoat effectively creates a small ecosystem around you, separate from the current climate. A tiny bubble that you can populate with whatever weather you choose! The weakness, however, is a pretty big one – it can only be done outside.”

Cassandra delights herself in making it snow, whilst Eiden and Aubree lunge at one another, testing out the lightning strikes and sandstorms. There’s plenty of interesting weather applications.

“Remember that the weather only exists in a small radius around you – making a tornado seems like a fun idea, but it’ll dissipate the minute it gets too far away from you, so the only person you’ll injure is yourself! You aren’t immune to the weather you make, so don’t have anything metal on you if you want to use the power of lightning!”

Soon, the testing comes to a close, and Tessa gathers up the Weather Overcoats. Everyone’s soaked through, and some are smarting from being hit with small lightning bolts, and they welcome the chance to get home and get dry. Jackson and Eiden discuss the upcoming competition as they head home, whilst Zaphod and Anastasia plan their next date. As she walks home, Cassandra gets a text from Estelle, asking her to come by the Sunderland Training Centre. Realising that she has a long training session ahead of her, Cassandra sighs and makes her way down the street.

 

TUESDAY

 

“Cassandra, are those bruises?” asks Ten once they exit registration.

“Eh, don’t worry about it. Estelle’s training me hard, but these aren’t bad wounds. The Cleansing Coat helps heal me.”

“If you say so.” Ten replies, eyeing the wounds carefully. “You really are determined to become strong, huh?”

“Definitely.” Cassandra replies, eyes blazing. “I’ve been given a chance that nobody else has. I’m going to take advantage of it, and become the best apprentice Estelle could have. If I get stronger, then…”

“Then you can hunt him down.”

“Yeah.” Cassandra says. “I owe it to mum and dad.”

 

*

 

In the library, Eiden is trying to find some information about the Nightmare Gown, intrigued as the possibilities of such a piece of clothing. He finds out some interesting information. It’s incredibly similar to the Silhouette Patch version of the dressing gown, the Paranoia Gown; he also finds an index of Silhouette Clothing which gives more details on the Paranoia Gown.

An old newspaper in an archive also stands out to him. It discusses an old Bombardier, suggesting that ‘Necro makes up for his lack of speed with the Nightmare Gown’s teleportation’. The Bombardier in question also wore a Full Cover, and Eiden wonders if that would be a good fit with the Nightmare Gown. The other front page article, about Osiris’ Tunic, doesn’t catch his attention.

He continues his research with interest. The Nightmare Gown has many secrets, and he’s determined to find out what strengths and weaknesses it has.

Elsewhere in the library, Zaphod locates a small girl working on an essay.

“Hey, Boo.” he whispers with a grin. She looks at him nervously.

“Uh, hi…”

“I noticed you were looking real glum yesterday. I was wondering if there’s anything I can help with? I can’t have a friend of mine being so down!”

“Oh… well, it’s just…” Boo murmurs. She blushes hotly. “Hallowe’en, Xilog said… he wanted to be just friends. Apparently he… has some stuff to figure out…”

She tries to fight back tears.

“He’s gonna do it, though. He’ll let me know when… when… when we’re dating.”

Zaphod stares at her, and his nerve fails him. “Yeah. Yeah, he will, Boo.”

The silence hangs in the air awkwardly, and Boo continues writing her essay. Zaphod looks at her, feeling sorrowful, and wonders what he can do to ease her mind.

“Did you see Phillis’ new tattoos?”

“No?” Boo says.

Zaphod chuckles. “He’s gone all Viking now; one Viking rune on each of his thighs. Certainly… interesting.”

“Yes. He’s a strange person…”

“Hey,” says Zaphod suddenly. “Are you entering the Winter Model Competition?”

“Oh!” Boo says, nodding. “Y-yes… I was hoping to. I’m just nervous to ask someone to be my designer…”

“Well, hey, why not give it a go? You can always text or something if that’s easier. Face to face can be hard, I get that.” Zaphod replies with a smile. “I hope you do! I look forward to facing you in the competition… by which I mean, I’m absolutely terrified to face you in the competition. I heard a rumour a while back that you defeated your entire class on your own!”

“Oh, that was nothing…” Boo says. “I’m strong, but I’m, uh, very nervous, so I probably won’t do very well. I hope it’s fun though.”

“It will be! 50 entrants this time, too.”

“Actually, Simon wasn’t being quite honest.” Boo says. “It’s 64. More than I thought…”

“Oh, I see!” Zaphod says. “Well, the numbers work better, certainly. I’m excited to see everyone’s clothing! The theme’s a little strange but I think it’ll give everyone a chance to do something incredible!”

“Yes. Something incredible…”

 

THURSDAY

 

Since signup for the Winter Model Competition doesn’t end until the 8th, Textiles Club on Wednesday is relatively scarce; people are nervous to begin designing outfits if they’re unlucky and they don’t get a place in the competition.

Alice Harvey, who lost to Zaphod in the Practise Model Competition, is one of the few who shows up, and begins working on a dark and gloomy outfit, to nobody’s surprise. Eiden and Jackson take the time to mess around with some designs, bonding over their mutual hobby, and the ever-confident Zaphod, who believes his place is guaranteed, arrives with Anastasia to start working on their outfit.

Thursday is considerably more exciting, as it is Xilog’s birthday. Xilog himself doesn’t seem to enthused by the day, but Anastasia and Cassandra are on hand to give the place a party atmosphere. Boo gives Xilog a present – just a book on Egyptian history and Battle Clothing – and everyone else signs a card for him.

Donovan and Zaphod are both free in third period, and find themselves sitting in the eating area, observing the cold winds outside blowing against the windows.

“Gonna start snowing soon.” Zaphod says.

Donovan nods. “The darkness grows, as winter takes hold…”

“So, hey… continuing what we were discussing at the classroom search.” Zaphod replies. “You like Cass, and you’re worried she’s falling for Phillis. Did you think any more about what I suggested?”

“What, spending less time with her?” replies Donovan, in a rare moment of frankness. “I just don’t understand how that will make her like me more.”

Zaphod gives Donovan a crafty wink. “It’s all about supply and demand. She gets used to you being around; suddenly you leave, and she feels like there’s something missing. You have to make her understand why she likes having you around.”

“I… see. Why she likes having me around… because she and I enjoy one another’s company. But she enjoys Phillis’ company too…”

“Has it occurred to you that she likes neither of you?” Zaphod says. “It is possible.”

“I… uh…” blusters Donovan. “False! The power of the heart far outweighs the burdens that she bears!”

“If you say so. But hey, if you and her get on, then if you make an effort to not be around as much, she’ll start to crave your company more.”

“But she might go the opposite way, and realise that she doesn’t need me! I couldn’t bear that horrific happenstance!”

“I suppose… look, Donovan, just do what you feel best. Perhaps all you need to do is spend time with her as a friend and, you know, give it some time.”

“Perhaps… yes! Thank you, Zaphod! If I invite her to the blues festival, she and I can enjoy one another’s company without Phillis, and she’ll see how much better of an option I am!”

“I… no. That’s not what I-” Zaphod says, but Donovan is already walking away.

Donovan arrives at the gym, where Cassandra is busy lifting weights, and prepares himself.

“Good day, Maiden of the Frost!” he says.

Cassandra looks up at him and nods. “Hey. Did you need something?”

“Indeed!” Donovan replies. His voice begins to waver. “I was communing with the darkness the other day, and I merely wondered, nay, I had a burning desire to know, if, uh… if you wanted to come to the blues festival on Saturday?”

Cassandra’s face falls. “Oh. Uh, sorry, I’ve already made plans to go with Phillis and Ten…”

“Ah.” Donovan says. “Yes, of course… makes sense. I hope you enjoy yourselves.”

He walks out of the gym, crushed.

 

SATURDAY

 

The air is buzzing with excitement, as hundreds of people mill around the big festival field, waiting for the first act to arrive. There’s technicians walking around the stage, food and drink being sold everywhere, and an incredibly fun atmosphere.

“This is amazing!” Ten says, staring at the stage in excitement. She loves blues.

“We should get some drinks.” Cassandra suggests.

“Someone needs to keep our space, we have a good view here.” Phillis replies. “I can stay, if you two get me a drink.”

“Of course!”

Somewhere else on the festival grounds, just outside of Macew, Anastasia and Zaphod are sharing a drink with two straws thrust into it.

“Ah, I could take some cool pictures here. Zaphod, do you want to pose with the stage and crowd in the background?”

“I can happily do that.” Zaphod grins, posing in as ridiculous a manner as possible. “How’s this?”

“Perfect,” laughs Anastasia, snapping the picture and smiling at it. “You excited?”

“Indeed! It’s not every day a festival of music and merriment comes to Macew!” Zaphod says.

“Oh, the music’s about to start.” sighs Phillis. “Cass, Ten, you’re gonna miss the first act if you don’t get back soon…”

 

*

 

At the old barn, Eiden Darrow and Auralee Atwell are hard at work.

“Alright, so what are we thinking for the competition? I can use your outfit as a solid way to educate you, even if we don’t get a place. Though you’re already picking things up quickly.”

“Well, I thought of some ideas.” Eiden replies, fishing a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket. “I was thinking of unpatching the Bifurcated Mask and going for the Mask of Comedy, with hypnotic flames coming out of it, and then the rest of my outfit glows like firelight.”

“Hm. Not bad, yeah.” Lee says. “We can work with that. If you want your outfit to really set alight, you could go with the Flame Cover.”

“Flame Cover?”

“Yeah, it’s a jacket that can be set on fire, and it shoots fire. There’s hella style points in breathing fire from the Mask of Comedy and setting yourself on fire.” Lee explains, as she pulls a notebook out of her bag and begins some light sketches.

“Sounds handy.” Eiden replies. “That could work, yeah. I did want to stick with the Nightmare Gown, though…”

“The most important thing about modelling is killing your darlings.” Lee says. “You always wear something new for the competitions. You always change, you never stick with something. Bombardiers will use the same pieces of clothing for friggin’ years, but models have to keep up with the trends.”

“I see.” Eiden replies. “Alright, so how are we designing this?”

“I thought I’d ask you that question.” Lee replies. She shows the sketch to Eiden. “Talk me through how I’d design this piece of clothing.”

“Uh, let’s see…”

The pair continue to work throughout the day, and Lee is impressed by how quickly Eiden is picking up the basics of designing.

 

MONDAY

 

Cassandra decides, as she walks into the Sunderland Training Centre at 7 in the morning, that telling Estelle that she’d rather practise before college than after was a mistake.

“Morning, Cass!” Estelle says. “You know the drill, clothing off.”

“I’ll warn you, I’m tired.” Cassandra sighs. “Right. Let’s do it.”

“You know, I’m impressed.” Estelle muses. “Most people would be dead on their feet. We’ve been training for an hour a day since last weekend, and I haven’t been holding back in the slightest. You complain, but you still do it.”

“I have to.” Cassandra replies. “I’m taking this very seriously. I’m going to become the apprentice you need!”

Estelle’s eyes glimmer for a moment – with sadness or happiness, Cassandra can’t tell. “…That would be nice.”

After a few moments, she nods.

“Right. Let’s begin. Ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Cassandra says wryly, and Estelle nods, before blasting across the room.

Cassandra dodges expertly, and as Estelle performs a swinging kick, Cassandra catches her leg and uses the force of the kick to knock Estelle to the ground. Estelle rolls as she falls, getting back to her feet in a matter of moments. She turns to see Cassandra rushing towards her, readying a punch.

Estelle goes to catch the fist, but Cassandra has faked her out, and switches to a kick. The Bunny Suit absorbs most of the blow, and Estelle puts her hand around Cassandra’s neck before blasting off. As they shoot upwards, Cassandra retains her focus, grasping at Estelle’s arm as she tries to free herself.

Gotta get her off me.

Estelle holds tight, but Cassandra flicks her body up and wraps her legs around Estelle’s outstretched arm. The additional weight pulls Estelle, and she begins to fall to the ground. Letting go of Cassandra, she throws the girl backwards through the air. Cassandra screams for a minute, realising that she has no way to land on the ground safely.

“Remember to loosen your body!” Estelle shouts. Cassandra closes her eyes and tries to keep her body free and loose. She hits the ground hard, but retains consciousness. Estelle thunders to the ground and readies herself to kick Cassandra, but the girl leaps aside, dodging the blow. Her head is ringing, but she’s still able to fight.

Estelle blasts across the room, and Cassandra only just manages to leap out of the way. She chases Estelle, and as the woman lands, Cassandra hits her with a flying kick. The Bunny Suit means that Estelle barely feels it, but it knocks her off-balance. As Cassandra lands on the floor after the kick, she swings her legs around, catching Estelle and sending her crashing to the floor.

Almost there! Gotta keep her down!

Cassandra gets up and goes to slam her body onto Estelle’s back, but she notices the Rocket Heels too late – they charge and explode whilst Estelle is on the ground, and Cassandra is caught in the blast. She is launched across the room and slams painfully into the crash mats outside the arena.

“Almost got me that time, Cass!” Estelle calls, getting to her feet. “Being a Bombardier isn’t about winning with style, sometimes; it’s also about pulling a victory from a defeat.”

“I… see…” Cassandra groans.

“Let’s go again once you’ve healed up. You did really well though! We still have a while before you have to go to college, too, so let’s make good use of the time.”

Cassandra nods, and despite the pain of her back and head, she can feel her blood pumping and a smile on her face.

 

*

 

At registration in Form A, Boo is staring at a piece of paper. Eventually, she folds it into a paper plane, and with a nervous toss, launches it across the table to Donovan. It lands in his lap, and he stares at it incredulously for a moment.

 

‘Donovan

 

I wanted to enter the Winter Model Competition, and I need a designer. I was wondering if you wanted to help me? Your costume for Hallowe’en was amazing, and I think we could work well together.

 

Boo’

 

As they exit registration, on the way to General Studies, Donovan corners Boo.

“I… uh…” Donovan mutters before collecting himself. “Thank you for the offer! I’m not sure if I can really help… I haven’t actually designed, and designing Battle Clothing is very different from designing some Hallowe’en costume, but if you require my services, then I shall do all that is within my power to do!”

“Thank you…” Boo replies, smiling.

She’s relying on me, Donovan thinks. I must create a truly legendary piece of clothing to attain victory!

 

*

 

At Testfire Club that evening, Tessa greets the group with a collection of scarves, which she begins to hand out.

“Well, it’s not the Spider Snood or Swift Scarf…” Eiden mutters, observing the clothes. “So this must be the result of a scarf and a Power Patch.”

“Quite right!” Tessa replies, pointing at Eiden. She puts on her scarf, and as power begins to flow through it, it begins to flow horizontally, as if caught in a breeze. “This, kids, is the Tailwind Scarf!”

“Tailwind Scarf?” Jackson asks.

“Indeed!” Tessa replies. She points her finger and soft breezes of wind blow through the students, causing them to shiver. “It lets you manipulate and control wind. Quite a handy piece of clothing, though the drawback is something troublesome – you can’t create wind with it. You can only manipulate naturally-occurring wind.”

“Ah, I see.” Cassandra says. She directs the nearby wind around her and enjoys the feeling of control. Zaphod cheekily blows some wind at Anastasia, blowing her skirt up. She grabs it and keeps it covered, blushing furiously, but laughing along with the irreverent young man.

Tessa explains the scarf’s past as she walks around, taking care to avoid the more fierce gusts of wind. “I’m sure you all know the most iconic user of the Tailwind Scarf – the Royal, Dexter Duvoir. He’s become such a master of manipulating the wind that rumours say he can practically fly. He’s sure got style!”

Eiden directs some wind at Aubree, whilst she blasts it aside with wind of her own. She giggles with the fun of it all.

“Of course, it was also used by Ice, of the late Fire and Ice. The Chillbringer and the Swift Scarf allowed him to create freezing winds, then launch them at his foes!”

Cassandra double-takes as she hears this information, then smiles to herself. Walking in your footsteps, dad.

“That’s interesting…” Jackson mutters. “So, the Bluster Bottoms can make wind but not direct it, and the Tailwind Scarf can direct wind but not make it.”

“They’d pair really well together. You’ll have to keep an eye on when you can wear two pieces of clothing!” Eiden says.

“Yeah, I was just thinking that myself. They solve each other’s weaknesses!”

As testing ends, and the club disbands, everyone heads home whilst a windswept Tessa begins to pack up the scarves.

 

TUESDAY

 

When Phillis gets back to his apartment on Tuesday evening, somebody is once again sat in the chair at the other end of the room.

“Phillis.”

“You again.” Phillis replies.

“Have you thought any more on our last discussion?”

Phillis nods, staring warily at the woman. He can’t see her face, and it’s making him uncomfortable.

“You know about the BDI. Did you work for him?”

“No, no.” the woman says. A fine layer of ice creeps into her voice. “The Foundation are our enemies. He is my enemy.”

“Who are you with, then? Aranea? The Bombardier killer?”

The woman breathes in, almost imperceptibly, when Phillis mentions the Bombardier killer. Phillis misses it, and she continues to smile.

“I’m sure you already know. My question remains, however – will you help us? We need your power.”

“No.” Phillis says.

There’s a moment of silence.

“Oh?”

“I want to stay out of all this scheming. I never asked to be the way that I am. I never asked for my parents to do what they did. They messed with the wrong people. And I don’t wanna mess with the wrong people and go the same way as them.”

He breathes in, and lets out a long sigh.

“I’m facing the facts. The more I get involved with the Anticloth and my parents’ disappearance, the more chance I’ve got of disappearing too. I’m going to find out what happened to them, not by making shady deals with people like you, but by getting stronger and doing my own investigations.”

“…I see.” the woman replies. “Well, I’m disappointed, but not surprised. Phillis, I am sure we will meet again. After all, our goals are somewhat aligned.”

She stands up, and teleports behind Phillis once more. He doesn’t flinch or turn around, and she smiles.

“You are an Interwoven. One of the only ones. The more you abuse your power like you did during the Aranea attack, the more attention you will receive. Attention from all the wrong sources.”

“If they come for me, I’ll kill them.”

The woman’s smile grows even wider.

“I sincerely believe you. And so, I will give you a warning.”

She begins to walk out of the room. As she reaches the door to the apartment, she looks back at the impressive frame of Phillis.

“You were not the only successful Interwoven.”

The door closes, plunging Phillis’ apartment into darkness.

 

WEDNESDAY

 

At third period on Wednesday, Phillis spots Eiden in the library; when Eiden sees Phillis, he waves him over.

“What are you doing here?” Phillis asks.

Eiden sighs. “Wednesday’s my day off, but I just can’t work at home. I have to be here this afternoon for Textiles anyway, so I figured I’d just do my essay here.”

“General Studies revision. Exciting.” Phillis remarks.

“Anyway, I wanted to apologise.”

“Hm?”

“I don’t dislike you, and I don’t really want to get you kicked out of college. But after all the weeks of work we’d put into the competition, I kinda saw red when I realised you’d been undoing all that work.” Eiden says. “…I have a feeling we’re going to be a vitriolic pair, but I’d rather have you as a friend than an enemy.”

“Whatever you say.” Phillis replies. “I guess I was a bit out of line.”

“I wanted to talk philosophy.” Eiden says. “Rather than arguing about why you don’t like Battle Clothing, I was wondering if we could debate it instead. I want to understand you.”

“Alright. That should be interesting.” Phillis says. “You start.”

“Do you remember what we talked about in the nurse’s office that day? With Pinnacle?”

“Mm.”

“I asked why you resent Clothing so much, and you said that it was because people rely on outside sources of power too much.”

“I stand by that.” Phillis answers. “If everyone is using Battle Clothing, then I can bastardise it or make people need me. I know my weaknesses, but everyone knows a piece of clothing’s weakness. That can be exploited.”

“Yeah.” Eiden replies. “And then there was the question of Silhouette Clothing. You said that everyone gets twitchy whenever it’s mentioned, but I feel like you get more twitchy than most.”

“I…” Phillis mutters. “You know the Anticloth?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s back.”

“It is?” Eiden asks. “How on earth do you know something like that?”

Phillis grits his teeth and breathes out heavily. “The weekend before I tried to Mark you, my dad was murdered by whoever was wearing it.”

Eiden’s mouth drops open. “I… I’m sorry, Phillis.”

“I don’t tell you that out of obligation.” Phillis replies. “But you lost your own dad. You know how it feels.”

“Yeah, I was the same. Lost in grief. I used to be really good at designing, and my dad always inspired me to do more with it. Then when he… passed… I just forgot it. Didn’t touch my designs, didn’t do anything related to it. Just wanted to lash out.”

“Mm. I shouldn’t have lashed out at my classmates, but I was just so… y’know.”

“I do.”

“Lost my mum too.” Phillis mutters. “Long time ago now. She and my dad used to work at the same place, and they did some messed up shit involving clothing. So when my mum eventually had her choices catch up with her, I swore off Clothing. The power wasn’t worth it. I’ll rely on my own power from now on.”

“I had no idea.” Eiden replies. “I’m so sorry, Phillis. Sounds like you’ve had a rougher childhood than I.”

“Let’s face it, neither of us had a particularly happy one.” Phillis replies. “You’re dying of some new disease, and both of my parents went AWOL thanks to Battle Clothing.”

“Heh. Yeah, I guess so.” Eiden replies. “I understand that idea of relying on your own power, though. I’m much the same; starting going to a wing chun club in the city centre to train my body.”

“Sounds like a good idea.” Phillis says.

“Yeah, it has been. Anyway, thanks for telling me all that. I kinda get you a bit more now.”

“Same here.”

 

*

 

Zaphod looks up in surprise as he makes his way to lunch. The woman in front of him in the queue is none other than the Top Bombardier, Estelle Weatherby.

“Estelle Weatherby, isn’t it?”

The woman turns and smiles. “Hi, you must be a first-year. I’m Estelle. Want something autographed?”

“Oh, no, I’m not terribly starstruck.” Zaphod replies, shrugging. “I’m more of a fan of modelling. I do admire, however, your use of the Rocket Heels. I use them myself, and did well in the Practise Model Competition with them!”

“I see. How did you go about that?” Estelle replies with interest.

“Blasting across and carrying my opponents out of the field before they could react! I defeated my first opponent by removing her invisibility with blasts of light, too.”

“Mm, not bad, for an amateur.”

“Excuse me?” Zaphod says. Estelle grins warmly at him.

“I don’t mean that offensively; you must remember that I’ve been using the Rocket Heels for over ten years now. I know them inside and out! So, hey, let me teach you a fun little thing.”

“Oh?”

Estelle shows Zaphod her Rocket Heels, and begins to charge one of them up. “Usually you charge both simultaneously, but if you focus really hard, you can charge just one. It feels like crossing your eyes, if that makes sense.”

“I see. And what’s the purpose of such a thing?”

Estelle launches the one charged heel, and kicks up with immense force; so strong, in fact, that Zaphod feels the rush of air as the leg kicks past him.

“Rocket kicks!” Estelle says. “The weakness of the Rocket Heels is a close-combative opponent – I’m sure you’ve recognised this already.”

Zaphod pictures Eiden, his eight limbs ready for combat, and nods. “Indeed.”

“Well, rocket kicks help out with that, since it gives you immense close-combative capabilities. Better yet, if you kick or knee your opponent with a rocket kick, chances are you’ll launch them into the air.”

“And then they’re sitting ducks for you to blast up and take out!”

“Quite so!” Estelle says, grinning. “Give it a try next time you have Combat Training.”

“I will!”

Estelle realises that she’s next in the queue and turns back to Zaphod. “I ought to order – before I do, though, what’s your name?”

“Zaphod Smith!” says the young man.

“I look forward to seeing you fight sometime, Zaphod.”

 

*

 

Louisa Lefay smiles at the students in Textiles Club that evening. “Ah, my students, the placements have finally been revealed! S’il vous plaît, check the whiteboard for the 64 entrants and their designers!”

Eiden, Jackson, Zaphod, Anastasia and Aubree all crowd around the board, whilst other students discuss amongst themselves who got in. The group can see several familiar names.

 

Jackson Slacall (designer: Jackson Slacall)

Paris Duvoir (designer: Genevieve Ascot)

Talia Fortescue (designer: Nicole Holliday)

Boo Viejo (designer: Donovan Bullard)

Zaphod Smith (designer: Anastasia Brooks)

Mariana Trina (deisgner: Jasmine Laride)

Eiden Darrow (designer: Auralee Atwell)

Aubree Cyrus (designer: Aubree Cyrus)

 

“Boo and Donovan?” Eiden says, pointing at the board. The others react with surprise when they see it.

“How strange! I didn’t know either of them had an interest.” Aubree replies.

Jackson shrugs. “I’m excited, though. They might have some really cool ideas for Battle Clothing.”

“Of course.” Eiden says. “This is Donovan we’re talking about, it’s going the be the edgiest, most eldritch thing anyone’s ever designed.”

The group, now with their placement in the competition confirmed, begin to work on their projects with renewed vigour. Everyone’s interested to see what everyone else will be capable of, but they’re all keeping their designs under wraps. Once Textiles is done for the evening, everyone goes home, feeling the growing sense of excitement as the designs take shape.

 

FRIDAY

 

“Alright, you know the drill.” Simon says, standing on the battlefield after college on Friday. Knock ‘Em Dead Club is about to begin. Cassandra, Eiden, Donovan, Ten, Anastasia and Xilog prepare themselves, but one of them is not quite as prepared as the others.

“Cassandra, are you-” asks Eiden, gesturing at the girl. She’s wearing some light workout gear, but her Chillbringer is obviously absent.

“I’m fine.”

She steps onto the field.

“Alright, let’s go.” Simon mutters. “Begin!”

He charges, and Cassandra readies herself. Once he’s halfway across the field, he prepares the Phantom Overcoat and slams the palm into the ground where Cassandra was. She dives out of the way, rolling expertly and getting back to her feet, running to Simon. With the Speed Sneakers, Simon easily manages to dance around her, swiping with the arm of the Phantom Overcoat.

“Nope! Nope!” Cassandra trills, keeping herself just ahead of Simon, avoiding the blows by mere inches.

“No ice today?” Simon says, darting back and swapping arms. The shadowy hand of the overcoat rears up above her.

“No clothes.” Cassandra says, shrugging. She darts forward, and Simon pauses, completely thrown by the fact that Cassandra has no Battle Clothing. In his moment of confusion, Cassandra reaches him, and bulls into him fiercely. He is knocked back, but retains his balance and spins around furiously, clocking Cassandra in the side of the head with his non-shadowy hand. Cassandra is taken by surprise, but continues to spar with him.

Eventually, Simon sighs and lunges at her; when she tries to jump aside, he uses the Speed Sneakers to get some distance between him and Cassandra, then bats her out of the arena with a single slam of his Phantom Overcoat’s shadowy arm. Cassandra hits the ground and rolls, and Lauren Valleja, the referee, winces.

“You weren’t expecting to win, were you?”

“No.” Cassandra says, grinning, clambering to her feet. “I just wanted the practise. It was… recommended to me.”

Eiden stares at Cassandra, stunned into silence.

“…Huh. Maybe I should start practising without my clothing.” he mutters. “That seems to be an interesting way to train your body.”

Simon, too, is impressed.

“Estelle, you’re training her well.” he says to himself. “Who’s next?”

Ten grins and runs onto the battlefield.

 

MONDAY

 

The weekend passes somewhat normally, with Eiden and Lee continuing their sessions, Cassandra and Estelle having their tough training, and everyone else catching up on homework. On Monday, right after first period, Donovan heads down to the nurse’s office to get a checkup. He enters awkwardly, and a nurse soon spots him and walks over.

“Hey there! You need a checkup?”

“Uh, generally, yes!” Donovan replies. “However, I’d like to also ask about the inner darkness of my Obfuscating Hood. I have… well, I’ve been using the chest-explosive capabilities in order to achieve victory in some instances.”

“I see.” the nurse replies. “Well, I’m Richard, and I’m pretty free. Let’s take a look at that chest of yours.”

The checkup doesn’t take long. Donovan is told to calm down with the explosion capabilities of the Obfuscating Hood, as it could cause serious damage if used any more.

 

Nurse’s Notes

Nurse: Richard Nolan

Students are tested on strength and intelligence through a point-score system. 7 is around average for students of this age. Their bodies are only capable of handling more kinds of Battle Clothing once their strength score reaches 14.

Students with 11 or more strength will likely be able to wear two kinds of Battle Clothing by the end of the winter term. Those with 8-10 strength will be able to wear two kinds of Battle Clothing by the beginning of the summer term. Those with 7 or less will be able to wear two kinds of Battle Clothing during the second year.

 

Student Name: Donovan Bullard

Analysis: Highly intelligent, moderate physique.

Int 13/Str 8

 

*

 

Testfire Club is well-attended, as usual, and Lauren grins as she hands out the new piece of clothing – a thick, warm jumper. Everyone begins to get them on as Lauren watches them. Over the next few minutes, the jumper she’s wearing begins to glow, as if a powerful light is being generated under the jumper.

“What’s this one?” asks Anastasia.

“This, pals, is the Inner Heat Jumper! Over a few minutes, the jumper will generate a powerful heat. And, when you point your arms…”

A blast of heat thunders past the students; even stood several metres away, they can feel the warmth.

“It shoots a heatwave! It can’t launch fire, unfortunately, but even the heat can be handy.”

“This is gonna be fun.”

“Please, please be careful!” Lauren says as the students excitedly begin to generate heat in their jumpers. “The heat will cause severe burns, and as usual, we’ve no Ward Aura Slippers. Point them at the floor if you want to try it out!”

The students start to test out the jumper’s capabilities, and as usual, Lauren monologues about the jumper.

“The main weakness of the Inner Heat Jumper is the fact that if you leave the heat in your jumper for too long, it’ll start to hurt you instead! More than seven minutes and it’ll practically self-combust, so be careful!”

Eiden is uncomfortable with the immense heat. “…Jeez, this is a strange piece of clothing.”

“It really is.” Zaphod replies. “Hot, just like me!”

Eiden chuckles.

“The Inner Heat Jumper is generally not widely used, though some people have found success pairing it with the Kingdom Come Clogs. The most well-known user of such clothing is the Deputy Commissioner of the National Peacekeeping Organisation, Paula Fir. She also uses the Chillbringer, and utilised both heat and cold to keep her opponents on their toes!”

The testing comes to an end after half an hour, but the blasts of warmth keep the students satisfied as they travel home in the coming winter.

 

TUESDAY

 

“Are you excited, honey?” asks Tony, turning to a quiet Boo in the back of the car. She’s wearing her normal outfit, but a big badge with ‘17’ is plastered on her shirt. She blushes hotly.

“I… didn’t want to make a fuss.”

“It’s your birthday, my girl!” Monique says, smiling warmly at her daughter. “You can take the badge off if you want, but it would be nice if you let your friends know that it’s your birthday.”

“I didn’t tell anyone, really…” Boo murmurs.

As she steps out of the car, Cassandra is coming to greet her with a smile. Tony and Monique observe the conversation worriedly, knowing how shy Boo can be.

“Hey, Boo! Happy birthday. I know you didn’t want much attention, so I’m gonna give you this before registration. My aunt and I made a Texas-shaped cake for you!”

She holds it out, and takes off the cover, revealing a wonderfully-made cake. Boo struggles to fight back tears, and nods at Cassandra.

“Thank you so much… thank you!”

She walks into college alongside Cassandra, who is talking excitedly about doling the cake out at lunch.

“She’s got some really caring friends.” murmurs Tony.

“I was worried when she moved. But she does seem to be fitting in.” Monique says. “Thank goodness for that… I didn’t want another repeat of her eighth birthday.”

“Oh, was that when nobody showed up? That was disheartening for the poor girl. My baby girl didn’t deserve that.”

“Nobody deserves that. At least she isn’t celebrating alone this year!”

“And next year she’s 18… where did the time go, Mon?” grins Tony as he prepares the car to drive away. The rest of Tuesday is taken up by fights, lessons and partying; Boo goes for a checkup during her lunchtime, and comes out of the nurse’s office with a spring in her step.

 

WEDNESDAY

 

Wednesday passes quickly, and it is evident by the number of students attending Louisa’s Textiles Club that the competition is already on everyone’s mind. The students are working hard, but all too soon, the club comes to a close. Alice, who was working on an outfit, walks over to Zaphod and taps him on the shoulder as he’s exiting the college.

“Would you… meet me tomorrow?” Alice asks.

Zaphod, confused, nods. “Uh, alright.”

“Battlefield A, round the back of the college. Third period.”

“Right.” Zaphod replies. He stares at Alice as she walks away, completely confused.

 

THURSDAY

 

First period finds Form A doing their Combat Training, and Marion Summer is calling out for students to fight. “Alright, good job, Donovan and Jackson! Nice performance! Next up… let’s see… Boo and Xilog!”

“Ooh, awkward.” Cassandra mutters.

Boo and Xilog prepare to face one another. The referee, Alarna Marigold, observes the fight dryly.

“Begin!”

Xilog uses the Speed Sneakers to dash towards Boo, but she dodges out of the way almost imperceptibly, and kicks him in the chest.

“What was that?” says Ten. “She avoided him, even though the Speed Sneakers give him such a boost in speed!”

“I wonder…” mutters Xilog, landing on the ground and turning around quickly. He runs again, and once more, he feels a strange sensation slowing him down.

“Wait, I recognise those trousers!” Donovan announces. “This girl of darkness is wearing the Slowdown Stockings, slowing down Xilog’s movement!”

“But she also has-” Cassandra says.

Boo leaps towards Xilog and in a flash, punches him heavily using the Powerful Pullover. The class erupts with surprised gasps as Xilog is launched out of the ring.

“Boo is capable of wearing two pieces of Battle Clothing! Slowdown Stockings and Powerful Pullover, strength and speed, what a combination!” yells Donovan. “Glorious, glorious!”

Boo looks up at Marion, who gives her a grin. Boo knows what it means: Well done.

 

*

 

Alice turns to see Zaphod strolling up, right on time at the beginning of third period. She looks at him intently.

“You came.”

“Yeah, what did you need?” Zaphod says, shrugging.

“I… wanted to train with you. I have a new piece of clothing.”

She bends down and begins to pull a piece of clothing out of her bag, as Zaphod observes her cautiously.

“Do you think you can control the darkness, if you’ve spent long enough in it?” Alice asks.

“What?”

“My mother forgets I exist, sometimes. My father left years ago. Home is quiet. Never any food in. Darkness all around.” Alice mutters, half to herself, half to Zaphod. “I’ve spent many years living in the shadows, and now… all I want to do is live in them forever. I know I can’t run away from them now.”

She brings out the clothing: it’s a coat, but it’s bubbling with dark energies, and Zaphod automatically distrusts it. He spots a patch, black, on the coat. It’s a Power Patch, but it’s been reversed and badly stitched onto the coat: a homemade Silhouette Patch.

“Is… Alice, is that a piece of Silhouette Clothing?”

“Do you think you can control the darkness, if you’ve spent long enough in it?” says Alice once more, holding the coat and looking at a terrified Zaphod.

I don’t remember anything from Social Relations… what the hell was I supposed to say in the event of a Silhouette Clothing incident? Need to take better notes… damn. This is exactly the kind of situation Social Relations is supposed to prepare me for.

Fully aware that he could be facing a dangerous Silhouette monster if he says anything incorrectly, and horrified that a student would even bring a piece of Silhouette Clothing into college, Zaphod wracks his brain, trying to think of a peaceful way out of this situation.

 

New Clothing Discovered:

 

[No. 014] Weather Overcoat

Formation: Raincoat + Support Patch

Effect: User is followed by the weather of their choice in a small radius

Drawback: Can only be made naturally, has no effect inside

 

[No. 085] Tailwind Scarf

Formation: Scarf + Power Patch

Effect: Allows user to control and manipulate wind

Drawback: User cannot create wind, only manipulate wind already there

 

[No. 040] Inner Heat Jumper

Formation: Jumper + Power Patch

Effect: User can generate heat under the jumper and expel it powerfully

Drawback: Inner heat can harm user if they keep it bottled up for too long

 

[Note: the Silhouette Clothing Index can now be accessed from the contents page.]

Sunderland College [4.5 - Gascoine's Playthings]
Sunderland College [4.A - The Fabrication, 5th June, 1995]

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