Rss

  • youtube

Sunderland College [4.7 – Cursed Findings]

Outside the college, on a lone battlefield, a young man faces a young woman.

“Wh… why?” Zaphod croaks.

Alice looks at him, holding the coat tightly in her hands.

“Why have you told me?”

Alice doesn’t respond, and looks guiltily at the ground.

That confirms it, Zaphod thinks. She doesn’t want to go through with this… but she’s not strong enough to stop herself. She… she wants me to stop her.

“You know, Silhouette Clothing isn’t the only way to be one with the darkness.” Zaphod says, choosing his words very wisely. “Your fighting in the competition was excellent; it was merely the matchup that was unfortunate. Imagine what you could do with the Nightmare Gown! That’s pretty close to Silhouette Clothing, isn’t that, uh, what the experts say?”

“…I don’t want to be close to the darkness. I want to be swallowed by it. You wouldn’t understand.”

Something in Zaphod shatters, and his face whitens.

“I understand perfectly.” he says blankly. This new tack surprises Alice, distracting her from the coat. “My mother died five years ago. Tragic enough, but guess what? She… killed herself. I’ve asked myself the same questions every day since then.”

Alice begins to shake.

“Was it because I wasn’t a good enough son? Could I have saved her? Why would she leave me alone without a single idea of how to fend for myself?”

“Zapho-”

“Maybe I was too stupid? My mother always said my looks would take me far, but she was never as impressed by my grades. Dropped out of school after she died, and skipped my education to try and break into the modelling industry. Didn’t work. Failure after failure… and that brought me here, to Sunderland College.”

Alice drops the Cursed Coat as Zaphod continues to spiral inwards, collapsing onto his knees. He’s trying to remember why he started opening up, but can’t, and focuses instead on the words, the neverending words, pouring out of him like a monsoon.

“I thought I’d be the only one wearing a mask, in a happy little school of cheerful frolicking pansies. But no… it seems that everyone in this godforsaken college was brought here by the darkness in themselves.”

He fixes Alice with a wild look – his features, usually described as handsome, have become something else entirely, and Alice stands transfixed in his gaze.

“All you want to do is live in the shadows? You know you can’t run away from them? You have your priorities wrong. The very history of this college should show you that Silhouette Clothing is never the answer.”

Getting up off his knees, Zaphod stands before Alice, and stretches out his hand.

“You have your priorities wrong, Alice. You can’t run from the shadows – you’re right. But you shouldn’t run from them… you need to fight them with the light.”

Alice, completely overwhelmed by Zaphod’s outburst and subsequent return to normalcy, stays stock-still for a moment, the malefic coat on the ground completely forgotten. Zaphod remains in place, and slowly, Alice reaches out and grasps his hand in her own.

“I… thought I was the only one.”

“Everyone here has suffered, or is suffering. Please, Alice… talk to someone. Don’t resort to this. It isn’t too late; I won’t tell anyone about this encounter. You’ve suffered enough without having this on your head, so please… speak to someone, OK?”

Alice tears up, and nods. “…Yes. I… will fight.”

“Fight, and fight some more, and when you’re all out of energy… keep on fighting. You’ll get through it.” Zaphod replies.

Alice nods. She begins to walk away, and turns back to Zaphod. “…Thank you.”

“I’m glad we sorted this peacefully.” Zaphod replies. “Stay safe, Alice. See you later.”

Watching her leave, Zaphod breathes an immense sigh of relief. That could have been absolutely awful. We could’ve both been killed.

He then realises that the Cursed Coat is still on the ground.

“Well, hello.” Zaphod murmurs, picking up the Silhouette Clothing gingerly. “Let’s just, uh, hide you away for now until I can figure out what to do with you.”

The rest of the day passes as normal, with the entire student body completely unaware of how close they had come to having a Silhouette monster on the college’s campus.

 

FRIDAY

 

“Hey, can we try something different today?” Eiden says to Boo as they meet on one of the battlefields outside college. Boo looks at him.

“Uh, what?”

“I want to fight you without any clothing.” Eiden replies.

Boo shrugs. “You can, but… um, why do you want to do that? It’ll only make it harder.”

Eiden removes the Nightmare Gown, and depowers his mask; for medical reasons, he cannot take it off. “Cass tried it at Knock ‘Em Dead the other week, and I’m wondering if that’ll help train my body more quickly. I don’t want to fall behind!”

“I see… OK.” Boo says.

Once Eiden is ready, she lunges, and training begins.

It doesn’t last long. After half an hour, Eiden has taken as much as he possibly can without Battle Clothing to aid him, but he has slowly been performing better against Boo, even with his immense disadvantage. Boo nods approvingly after he decides he’s done.

“I understand. You’re training your body, like I did in karate. You intend to prove that Battle Clothing isn’t the source of your power, it’s a modifier for it. Right?”

“Right.” Eiden replies, gasping for breath. “Still a long way to go, but thank you for practising with me. I’m gonna get there in the end.”

“I believe you.” Boo replies seriously.

The rest of the day finds the students fighting as hard as they can, 

 

SUNDAY

 

The weekend comes by, and with it, more training, more homework, and mounting stress: the Winter Model Competition is inching closer, and just after that, the first mocks of the year are due to begin. On Sunday, Cassandra is, as usual, up early to train with Estelle.

A well-timed rocket kick launches Cassandra against the opposite wall, where she slams into the soft padding and hits the floor.

“Sorry! Are you alright, Cassandra?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” replies Cassandra groggily, getting to her feet and shaking unsteadily for a moment. Once she’s righted herself, she nods. “Again.”

“Again? Cass, that’s a bit much. Take a break if you need to, alright?” Estelle says. “You’re getting plenty strong, and pushing yourself enough. Pushing yourself is important, but not too much or you’ll snap.”

“…Alright.” Cassandra says, relenting. She and Estelle flop on the ground, and Estelle throws her a bottle of water.

Cassandra takes a few sips, then turns to Estelle.

“Am I really improving?” she asks. “It feels like I’m performing as well against you as I was at the beginning. That is to say, not well at all…”

“Well, you’ve not been training that long. This kind of training will only show its true colours after many months, if not years.” Estelle explains. “Our first fight, I closed in less than a minute. These days, it takes me on average two and a half minutes to down you.”

“That’s not very much.” says Cassandra.

Estelle laughs aloud, and grins at the depondent girl. “Cass, I’m the strongest Bombardier in the world. And it takes me over ninety seconds to defeat a girl around half my age who isn’t wearing a single piece of Battle Clothing. Don’t you think that’s pretty impressive?”

“…I guess when you put it like that, yeah.” Cassandra murmurs.

“Trust me. Once this training regimen is done, which will probably be sometime near the end of your first year, I’ll let you fight me with Battle Clothing. And I will be very surprised if you don’t wipe the floor with me consistently at that point.”

“Beat you? I can’t-”

“You have to.” Estelle says, growing more serious. “If you’re to become my replacement and do the things you want to do, you need power. I’m not training you so you can become a Bombardier. I’m training you so you can become the strongest Bombardier.”

“I know.” Cassandra replies. “The Anticloth and Dues… I have to be strong to beat them.”

“Stronger than me.” Estelle replies. “But to get to that amount of power, first, we have to train you. So! Back at it, Cass. Let’s go again.”

Cassandra and Estelle hop to their feet, ready to fight once more.

“I have a meeting later, so let’s go for another half an hour. Ready?”

“Definitely.” replies Cassandra, eyes narrowing in determination.

 

*

 

28th March, 1991

 

Two of the most powerful men in Britain sit on opposite ends of a table. The restaurant is fancy, adorned with gentle candles and soft music playing in the background from a young girl at a bleach-white piano. The people around are the top of society, without question; expensive suits discuss business whilst trophy wives, clad in their best, pretend that they are enjoying themselves.

One of the men begins to cut his steak. Slowly, carefully.

“You have been gaining some notoriety as of late.”

The other man sips his wine. “You could say that, yes.”

“I trust that you know who I am, by now?”

“I have been informed.” the other man says. “Sir Edric Rinaldo.”

The man smiles, and slowly chews his steak, making sure to savour the taste. He eyes the other people in the restaurant, and for a moment, wishes he was amongst them, enjoying himself. He turns back to the conversation at hand.

“Indeed.” Edric replies. “Now, I suppose you understand why we are here.”

“My… notoriety?”

“Mm.” Edric says. “To put it quite simply, Mister Arden, your group’s goal stands in direct opposition to the Foundation.”

“I mean no harm to the Foundation.”

“Your goal does.” Edric replies, somewhat more icily than before. “Now, you are a rich man. You have managed to further your goal more than most. But I am richer still, and the longer your organisation challenges our ways, the sooner my temper will give out.”

“Are you threatening me, Sir Edric?”

The man shrugs. “That depends, Arden. Do you intend to continue your acts?”

“I must. I have a belief, and I must see it through.”

“You do not have the political protection you would need to survive, should you irk me. You are lucky that nobody else knows who runs your organisation; the moment I inform somebody, it will all come crashing down. You are not infallible, Arden.”

The other man focusses on his food for a few moments, trying to think of what to say. Eventually, he speaks.

“I will not stop.”

“Then I will trap you, like a spider under a glass, and crush you.” Edric replies.

Arden stands up, his meal unfinished. “There are always more spiders behind the skirting board. Good night, Sir Edric.”

 

MONDAY

 

The next day brings with it the first snow. It isn’t much, just a light frosting over the city of Macew, but the cold air and lower temperatures bring with it the first signs of Christmas cheer and the resigned sighs of those who must now start keeping warm on their walks to college.

Xilog and Eiden are doing the usual, exercising in the gym before college begins. Eiden is lifting a medicine ball from the floor over and over again, whilst Xilog sits at a rowing machine nearby.

“There’s more people in the gym than usual this morning.” Xilog remarks.

Eiden nods. “I’d noticed that myself. I suppose they’re worried about mocks.”

“As we should be. The first hurdle, and the one we must pass if we are to continue studying at Sunderland.” Xilog replies. “And yet your only concern is the competition, isn’t it?”

“You got me.” grins Eiden.

“I suppose it makes sense. It’s coming soon, after all. Two weeks… a fortnight. It seems like a long time, and yet when you think about how many fortnights have occurred throughout history, it is almost impossible to even comprehend the number…”

Xilog rambles to himself as he continues to row, whilst Eiden chuckles at him and puts down the medicine ball, sitting beside the rowing machine and rubbing his face with his towel.

 

*

 

Clocksworth Clocksworth II is lost in thought, sat in Form B’s classroom long before the bell for registration. Phillis also replies early, and sits beside Clocksworth. The classroom is eerily quiet with just two students sat in it.

“Hey.” Phillis says.

“Oh, hey.” Clocksworth replies. “…Uh… Phillis. Phil. Can I call you Phil?”

She quails under Phillis’ unhappy gaze.

“Right, right, gotcha. Phillis. I just wanted to ask… have I met you before?”

“What?”

“Have I met you before?” Clocksworth asks. “Y’know, I feel like we’ve met before. No idea where, though…”

“I don’t know.” Phillis replies, shrugging.

Clocksworth nods, staring at the table for a few moments. He looks up at Phillis awkwardly.

“What did your parents do? For a job, I mean.”

Phillis thinks for a moment. “They both worked for a private corporation. Don’t know much about what they did.”

“Right, right.” Clocksworth replies, unconvinced. “That was all.”

“Good.” Phillis says. The pair fall silent once again as they wait for other students to begin arriving.

 

*

 

During lunchtime, Zaphod heads to the staffroom to speak to Mia. She turns up at the door looking uninterested, but when she sees that it isn’t Clocksworth, brightens up a little.

“Hi, Zaphod. What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to ask you something.” Zaphod says, stroking his small beard thoughtfully. “If, hypothetically, I was faced with a student with Silhouette Clothing, and I talked them into not putting it on…”

Mia immediately looks curiously at him, and he tries to keep his cool.

“But, you know, it gets left behind and I have to take it so nobody finds it… what should I do with it? Hypothetically, I mean.”

“Zaphod, was a student threatening to wear Silhouette Clothing? This is a serious crime.” Mia hisses.

Zaphod remains tight-lipped. “I can’t say anything. This is all hypothetical, remember.”

Mia sighs, and shrugs. “Well, alright. Hypothetically, then, you can anonymously report it to either a teacher or the police, and a Bombardier will safely retrieve it. However, they will definitely want to know who originally made it or where it came from.”

“I promised I wouldn’t tell. Er, hypothetically, I probably wouldn’t tell, I mean.” Zaphod gabbles.

“You really aren’t making this easy for me, Zaphod.” Mia sighs. “I’m going to cut you some slack by not reporting it to Pinnacle. If you speak to a Bombardier you trust you might be able to get away with not having to incriminate whichever individual-”

“Hypothetically with a bad home life that’s already enough of an issue, without then getting into trouble for this too.” Zaphod interjects.

Mia nods. “I see. Yes, I’d advise you find a Bombardier or police officer you know personally. That way, you can keep your misguided friend safe.”

Zaphod grins at Mia. “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome, hypothetically.” Mia says, and watches Zaphod as he flounces away. “Hm. This is definitely about Alice. I really must speak to that girl’s mother again…”

 

*

 

The library is filled with the sound of quietude – the flicks of pages, the light taps on computer keys and the distinct scrape of books being pulled from shelves.

“Oh, hey!” Eiden whispers, gesturing to Aubree. “Roy Preston replied to my email!”

“What? Who?” Aubree asks, sidling over to look at Eiden’s computer screen.

“I sent an email to Roy Preston – the Top Bombardier quite a few years ago. He wore the Nightmare Gown, so I wanted to ask some questions about it.”

“Oh, I see! What did he say?” Aubree asks, leaning over more. Eiden raises a hand and she hops back a short way. “Sorry! Didn’t mean to get in your way. Go on!”

“Alright, let’s see…” Eiden says, opening the email.

 

Name: Eiden Darrow

Subject: Re: Nightmare Gown

 

Hello, Eiden!

 

Thanks for your email. I’m glad to hear that there’s still students using the Nightmare Gown today! I think it’s a very good piece of clothing. As for your particular questions…

 

1) Yes, the whispering is unavoidable. The more trauma you have, the more likely you’ll hear it. Though you can’t fall to this piece of clothing like Silhouette Clothing, the whispering can and will drive you insane if you let it.

2) That’s a very dark question to ask. I can’t recommend that you do it, but if you must know… they say you never wake up. Not quite a coma, and not quite sleep paralysis, but something horrible in the middle. Please do not ever go to sleep with it on, alright?

3) My most famous fight was probably years before I became Top Bomb, actually – the fight with Elizabeth Giles at the International Collegiate Bombardier Competition in 1987. She beat me, but the fight was so incredible that we were both potential considerations for being the Top Bombardier the minute we graduated. After she married Charles, and they became Fire and Ice, they became joint Top Bombardiers; honestly, they deserved it. Of course, I became Top Bombardier afterwards, but… only after they passed.

Another famous fight of mine was in 1994, against Karrimoor. He was a terrifying Silhouette monster that had killed two Bombardiers before me, and was terrorising New York City. I can’t really describe it, but fighting a Silhouette monster in the middle of a thunderstorm on the Brooklyn Bridge… it was something else. No strategies, no powers… just the two of us, at our most animalistic, going wild. That was the closest I’d ever come to understanding what a Silhouette monster feels like, that’s for sure.

4) A strategy that not many use, but I’m quite fond of, is actually the reason I used to go by Necro. You see, you can retain the momentum of your body when you teleport with the Nightmare Gown. If you get knocked down, you can teleport just before you hit the floor so that you’re facing the opposite way. The momentum of the fall will bring you right back to your feet! This “rising again” trick used to creep people out, so I decided to roll with it, but it’s very useful for turning the tables when you’re at a disadvantage.

 

Let me know if you think of anything else you’d like to ask! And good luck for the Winter Model Competition; I’m not much of a model but I do enjoy watching the competitions. Too bad they don’t televise the Sunderland ones in the US, otherwise I’d watch you!

 

Best,

R Preston

 

“I’m sorry,” Aubree says, staring at the email. “Did this email just say that Fire and Ice were actually called Charles and Elizabeth Giles?”

“That’s what you got from this? Look at all the other interesting information there is!” Eiden replies. Aubree shakes her head.

“Eiden, think for a second. Giles.”

“Oh my god,” Eiden says as it hits him. “Cassandra Giles is the daughter of Fire and Ice?!

“Keep it down!” Aubree hisses, looking around. “She hasn’t told us, so obviously she wants to keep it a secret. I think we should keep this to ourselves for now.”

“Yeah, true… but I wouldn’t mind talking to Cassandra about it at some point. Maybe after the competition, though.”

“That’d be best.” Aubree says, nodding. “It explains why she lives with her aunt… I’m so sorry for her. I just want to give her a big hug and tell her it’ll be OK!”

“I’m sure you’ll get the chance.” Eiden replies. He stares at the body of the email once again. “Well, this was very informative, in more ways than one…”

 

*

 

As usual, Testfire Club is populated by eager students looking forward to the next piece of clothing. Tessa arrives, wearing a labcoat and jeans, looking quite stylish. She has a number of labcoats with her, and hands them out to the group.

“Don’t put those on yet, guys.” she says. Confused, the class acquiesce to the request and simply hold their labcoats, watching Tessa.

“What’s happening?” asks Aubree.

Tessa looks around. “Hm… we need a good volunteer… Cassandra! Mind helping me out?”

“Uh, sure. What do I need to do?” Cassandra asks.

“Hit me with an icicle. As hard as you can. Don’t hold back!”

The group turn to look at Cassandra, who is taken aback, but only for a few moments. She begins to gather a cold air about her and nods at Tessa, trusting her.

“Now!” Tessa shouts a few moments later. Cassandra raises her hand and prepares to launch a gigantic spear of ice at Tessa, and throws her whole body forward, putting as much force behind the throw as she can.

“Yah!”

There’s silence, and as Cassandra looks up, she sees Tessa completely unharmed. The cold air is gone, and her icicle spear is nowhere to be seen.

“What just-” Cassandra says, at a loss.

“Everyone, I’m pleased to introduce you to the Experimental Labcoat! What does it do, you ask? Quite simple – it negates any Augment Patch clothing in range!”

“Wait, what?!” Eiden says. “There’s a piece of clothing that just… negates Augment Patches?”

“Yup!” replies Tessa, winking. “It goes with the Unlearning Robes, which negate Support Patches and the Restful Yukata, which negates Power Patches. They’re three very potent pieces of Battle Clothing!”

“You’re telling me.” Jackson replies, staring at the labcoat, impressed. “Let’s see how this works, then.”

“I’ll be wearing the Command Jeans for this exercise, so you can all get a chance to negate my clothing, OK?” Tessa replies. “Let’s begin trying it out!”

Tessa continues to inform them about the ins and outs of the Experimental Labcoat whilst the students try their hand at negating her clothing.

“Now, I’m sure the first thing you’re thinking of is why you don’t see these pieces of clothing more often. Negating the opponent’s clothing? Hell, if you wear one of the other ones as well, you could negate two of the three main patches! Right?” she says, looking around. “However, one important thing you have to remember, the main drawback of these pieces of clothing: it negates all patches in your range.”

“You already said tha- oh…” Zaphod says as the penny drops. “Does that also mean allies and yourself?”

“Nail on the head.” Tessa replies. “It’s not very good at working with other users, so the only times you really see it is in some model competitions. Negating nearby patches can be difficult for Peacekeepers, who usually work in groups, and it has no benefit to Bombardiers, who pretty much exclusively fight Silhouette Patchers.”

“I see.” Eiden murmurs. “Still, could be useful for those who can wear two pieces of clothing.”

“Oh, it’s certainly useful.” Cassandra says. “This has plenty of interesting applications.”

The group don’t test for very long, as the clothing itself is quite simple to grasp. With the testfire done, everyone heads home, discussing which of the three pieces of negation clothing is the best and how they would use it in their fights.

 

WEDNESDAY

 

Aubree decides to spend her Wednesday observing everyone in the competition, trying to glean any possible information. Her first target is Clocksworth, who she corners right after registration.

“Hey, Clocksworth! I haven’t seen you at Textiles Club lately… working on your competition outfit in secret, huh?”

Clocksworth looks up at her. “I’m not entering, yo.”

“Not entering?” Aubree gasps. She almost runs into a student walking up the corridor and has to apologise as her shoulder clips the student. “Sorry! Clocksworth, your defeat didn’t get to you that much, did it?”

“No, no, nothing like that. Couldn’t find a designer and I wasn’t really focussed on it. Eh, there’s always Spring and Summer Competitions, so I’ll just do those. For now, I’ll focus on my mocks.”

“I’m surprised.” Aubree replies, eyebrows raising. “But good luck for your mocks! I believe in you!”

“Thanks.” Clocksworth says, grinning. “You heading up to third to get coffee?”

“Oh, I can’t, I have Performing Arts first thing. I’ll see you later, though!”

“Later.”

Aubree dashes off into the crowd of students, leaving a bemused Clocksworth to head for the lunchroom.

 

*

 

Cassandra, Ten and Phillis, all free first thing on Wednesday, are relaxing in the lunchroom together. Cassandra is drinking a coffee whilst she tries to keep her eyelids open.

“Sheesh, Cass. You look like death.” Phillis says. “We’ve been here about ten minutes now and you haven’t said a word.”

“Sorry.” Cassandra replies. “Estelle is pushing me really hard… so much exertion is tough.”

“Mm. I mean, physically, you’re looking well, though.” Ten says.

Cassandra blushes, and Phillis glances up. Ten’s far from wrong – Cassandra’s musculature is more defined, her face is harder and there is little to no fat on her body. Her form and figure is close to perfect.

“Estelle’s certainly sculpting you.” Phillis mutters. “You sure you’re gonna handle it, though?”

“I have to.” Cassandra says. The conversation ends there, and Ten recognises the silence is getting awkward.

“Oh, yeah, did anyone hear that there’s gonna be an exhibition match at the Winter Model Competition?”

“No?” Phillis says, looking at Ten. “What’s the match for?”

“It’s something that Sunderland model competitions do, apparently. For each competition they bring in two famous models who perform in an exhibition match before the competition begins. We won’t find out who until the day of, though.” Ten explains.

“How exciting. I wonder who it’s gonna be!” Cassandra replies. “Maybe Alison Pearce?”

“No idea. We’ll have to wait and see. But personally, I’d love to see…”

Cassandra brightens up with the new conversation and the pains of the morning’s training begin to leave her.

 

*

 

At Textiles Club that evening, Aubree takes the chance to look over the different students’ designs. Eiden is sketching some fiery designs, but it isn’t explicit what piece of clothing it’s for yet. Donovan is working hard on a jumper, interweaving it with glow-in-the-dark thread and working on a heart-shaped design on paper; every so often he places the paper on the jumper and tries to figure out what changes he should make to the design.

On the other side of the room, Jackson is working on his designs, plural; he’s sketching and rejecting so many different ideas that it’s hard for anyone to make sense of or keep track of what clothing he’s actually going to be using in the competition.

Aubree continues to look around, satisfied with what she’s seen of her competitors. With an excitement building up inside her, she begins to plan out the changes she needs to make to her costume if she’s to win.

 

THURSDAY

 

“Hey, Eiden! How’s your designing going?” Aubree says, leaning over to Eiden during General Studies on Thursday morning. Eiden looks up from his worksheet.

“Not too bad. Me and Lee have some pretty solid ideas for what we’re doing.”

“That’s good. I’m looking forward to seeing it… will you be debuting the mask?”

“Well, I- hang on. Are you prying?”

“No!” Aubree replies defensively, in mock horror. “Would I do such a thing? I’m just excited!”

“I suppose.” Eiden replies. “Well, we haven’t figured out all the details yet, but yeah, I’ll be running the mask. What about you?”

“Oh, I have plans.” Aubree replies, grinning. “But you gotta wait! I can’t reveal them yet.”

“Are you done with the worksheet, you two?” asks the teacher, Peter Kingsley, at the back of the classroom. Eiden and Aubree mutter apologies and get back to work.

 

*

 

In third period, Xilog spots Eiden and Jackson eating lunch and talking. He heads over to them once he has his own food. “Can I sit with you?”

“Of course. How are you doing, P?” asks Eiden.

“So-so. It’s been quite difficult recently – the workload is mounting and my stresses outside of college are not helping. That said, today has been quite relaxing. I decided not to do any revision today.”

“Oh, you’ve already started revision..?” asks Jackson nervously. “I’ve been working on the competition and Performing Arts, but nothing else.”

“I think it’s important to perform as well as I can. I’ve been doing half an hour for each of my subjects.” Xilog explains.

“Damn. I’ve not had nearly enough time for that.” Eiden replies, then quails under Xilog’s unimpressed stare. “…Well, OK, I have, but I usually find something else better to do.”

“Sounds about right!” Jackson laughs.

“What about the Winter Model Competition? You two must be concerned about that.”

“Yeah, a little.” Eiden says. “It’s important, since it’s one of the three major competitions at Sunderland. I mean, if Linsdey Stunne herself was at the Practice Model Competition, it’s obvious that luminaries in the design world are watching Sunderland’s competitions, looking for new talent.”

“Yeah, scouts are always at the competitions.” Jackson replies. “The more you win, the bigger you become in the sphere of new talent. So when the time comes for you to finish college, every design company and modelling agency goes nuts to try and recruit you before their competitors.”

“I see.” Xilog murmurs. “Yes, that would place additional stress on your young shoulders. But I have every faith that you two will perform well; after all, you placed first and second in the Practice Model Competition. It bodes well for your future endeavours.”

“I suppose. I hope you’re right.” Eiden replies.

 

*

 

In Combat Training that afternoon, Marion is observing the class. “Alright, who’s going to fight next? Hm… Anastasia! Zaphod! Show us a fight!”

“Oh, gosh.” Zaphod replies. He turns to Anastasia.

“Hey, it’s fine. Just because we’re dating, doesn’t mean I’m not going to wipe the floor with you in combat!”

“Hah! Alright, let’s see how we do!” Zaphod replies. “My blood’s pumping now!”

“The only question is where that blood is pumping.” Phillis mutters.

The pair take their places at opposite ends of the battlefield. Marion nods. “Alright, go!”

Zaphod opens proceedings by launching himself across the arena with the Rocket Heels. Anastasia lunges with one of the knives of the Garrotte Garter. Remembering Estelle’s words, Zaphod lands just before he reaches Anastasia and dodges out of the way of her first swing. Grabbing her arm, he readies a rocket kick and blasts his left leg. The right rocket also fires, so he kicks Anastasia, but sends himself sprawling, off-balance, to the floor as well.

Anastasia is stood up before him, and he leaps aside as she throws one of her larger knives at him. He prepares a rocket blast and launches himself, grabbing Anastasia on the way past, going up into the air. About five metres above the arena, Zaphod throws Anastasia back and prepares a rocket kick, performing a front-flip in midair and-

-and he catches sight of the look in Anastasia’s eyes, a look he has never seen before; he only has a millisecond to spot it before he completes the flip, slamming his heel into Anastasia’s stomach. She drops like a stone, slamming into the area outside the arena with immense force, completely unconscious.

Without any nuts or sources of energy, and with no more strength left, Zaphod cannot get himself down safely and crashes into the ground alongside Anastasia, also knocking himself out.

“Well, Zaphod wins…” replies Marion cautiously. “Kind of. Alarna, if you could get them to the nurse, that’d be excellent.”

The referee, Alarna Marigold, spins her skirt and lifts the pair into the air, then walks alongside them slowly, carrying them through unknown means into the college.

“How’s she doing that?” asks Clocksworth, pointing at Alarna.

“Isn’t it the Gravity Tutu?” replies Aubree. “I’ve seen it before. It lets you shift the centre of gravity in a small area.”

“Yes, it’s very exciting. But for distracting the class, Aubree and Clocksworth – you can be next to fight!”

“Aw, I have to fight this golem motherfucker?” Clocksworth moans. “Physical attacks can’t break her!”

“Well, Clocksworth, you’d better think of an imaginative way of getting through her defences when she’s inside the golem, then!” replies Marion. “Ready? Go!”

 

*

 

Eiden and Boo run into each other in the corridor during the afternoon. Eiden holds out a hand to steady her.

“Sorry! Didn’t see you there. Are you OK?”

“I’m fine.” Boo says quietly.

“That’s good. You know, Boo, you’ve seemed pretty out of it lately. Are you sure everything is OK with you?”

“Yes, of course. I’m just trying to figure things out socially. I’ll get there.” Boo replies.

“OK, good.” Eiden says.

“Anyway, I was just heading to the library… I have lots of work to do.”

“Of course.”

Boo walks away, and Eiden wonders what could be eating her up.

 

*

 

“Oh, my head…” mutters Anastasia. She sits up, and isn’t too surprised to find herself in the nurse’s office. She turns to see Zaphod in the bed beside her, though he’s already awake, and grins at her.

“Hey. Feeling alright?”

“Yeah, just about.”

“Sorry.” Zaphod says, smiling sheepishly at her. “I kinda got swept up in the fight, but hey, I can certainly pull that move out at the competition!”

“Please do.” Anastasia says, smiling back. She leans back on the bed and stretches out.

“Uh, also…”

“Mm?” Anastasia says. She looks over at Zaphod, and sees him looking more serious than he usually does.

“When we were fighting, just before I beat you… there was a look in your eyes. What… does that look mean?”

Anastasia blushes hotly as she realises which moment he means. “I… uh…”

“Ana?”

“I realised, when I saw you there, framed in the sky with your blazer and Rocket Heels… your little smile and your determined eyes… I realised I loved you.”

Zaphod, pretty much for the first time in his entire life, has absolutely no words.

“And, uh-” Anastasia stammers, worried about Zaphod’s lack of response. “I don’t mean to be overdramatic! That word has so much, er, weight, and I feel like it’s not quite apt, if you get me? I, um, just can’t think of another word.”

Zaphod begins to tear up, and he leaps out of the bed and runs over to her side. “I love you too, Anastasia! I’ve been waiting to hear you say that!”

Anastasia can’t help but smile as Zaphod pulls her into a deep kiss. She’s never felt happier than this one moment, and loses herself in the bond with the boy who has occupied her thoughts for many months.

 

*

 

The weekend and the rest of the next week are quite uneventful, but under the surface, tensions are bubbling away. Eiden and Aubree are still unsure of how best to speak to Cassandra about what they’ve realised, whilst Clocksworth, Phillis and Xilog all seem to be lost in thought a lot of the time; what they’re thinking about, however, is unknown. Zaphod is wondering who he should speak to about the Cursed Coat in his possession.

Estelle Weatherby is also battling with her own stress. With the fear that something or someone is watching her, she’s very nervous about Cassandra’s growth. Cassandra is becoming strong – very strong. But her first apprentice was strong, too. And that didn’t help them when the unthinkable happened.

However, for many, there is only one thing left to think about: the Winter Model Competition, set to begin on Wednesday 1st December. As Wednesday approaches, sixty-four entrants and their designers are nervously awaiting what could be the beginning of their modelling and designing career.

 

New Clothing Discovered:

 

[No. 026] Experimental Labcoat

Formation: Labcoat + Support Patch

Effect: Creates a field that negates all Augment Patch clothes

Drawback: The negation includes allies and the user themselves

 

[No. 063] Gravity Tutu

Formation: Skirt + Augment Patch

Effect: As user spins skirt, shifts the centre of gravity in a small area

Drawback: User must concentrate to shift gravity, distraction causes it to reset

Sunderland College [4.A - The Fabrication, 5th June, 1995]

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.