Scene 14 – December 19th
Interior Crazy Coffee, Late Morning
“To being done with finals!” we chorused, clinking our mugs together cheerfully. “How’d you do, Holly?” I asked my friend.
She shrugged. “I’m sure I did fine. I didn’t struggle with anything, finished my essays a little early. Wowed the magic examiners as usual. How about you?”
I waggled my hand in a so-so gesture. “I had a little more trouble than usual, probably because I was too busy to study as much as I usually do, but since I usually don’t have much of any trouble… I’m sure I still passed, just maybe in the top half of the class instead of the top five.”
“Way to brag, Quinn,” Simone teased.
“Yeah, most people try to downplay their achievements,” Holly said.
“Oh really, miss ‘wowed the magic examiners as usual,’” I teased right back.
“Yeah, well… I don’t get why most people have so much trouble with magic. It’s easy.”
“Ignore the prodigy,” Simone said.
“Dr. Wagner is trying to get me to feel more confident and to accept less than perfection from myself,” I said, trying not to sound too defensive. “Part of that is bragging, at least a little bit!”
“…yeah, that sounds like him. How about you, Simone? First college finals?”
Our younger friend sagged a little. “I had a lot of trouble,” she admitted. “I don’t think I failed any classes or anything, but… well, I might end up switching majors. It’s only going to get harder from here, after all.”
“Don’t jump ship too soon,” I warned her. “You might have done better than you thought you did. I thought I flubbed my first finals and almost wanted to drop out until my Dad stopped me…”
Holly nudged me a little almost immediately, and I was able to continue with barely a pause. “And it turned out I had done fine. Wait until you get your grades back before making any decisions.”
“On the other hand, don’t be afraid to switch if you have to or want to,” Holly countered. “You’re chemical engineering, right?”
“Just chemistry,” she corrected. “And I don’t want to switch, I just… feel like I didn’t do well.”
“Dr. Wagner says that pessimism can be a self-reinforcing loop,” I told her. “Be optimistic at least until you get your results back.”
She nodded, seeming a little cheered up. “Thanks, Quinn.” Then she brightened further as she looked over my and Holly’s shoulders out the window. “Hey look, its snowing again!”
We turned to look, and I found myself grinning at the light dusting that was coming down to join the inches already on the ground. “I love snow,” I confessed. “Rain I can take or leave, but snow is great. My dad and I had the best snowball fights when I was younger – sometimes my babysitter would join in too. Good memories.”
“Snow‘s always annoyed me,” Holly disagreed. “It’s really tough to get the drifting motion right in an illusion. Took me ages to finally get it right. Rain’s much easier.”
“You did get it eventually though?”
“Then don’t be such a grouch,” Simone said teasingly, standing. “Snowball fights, you said?”
I grinned. “Yeah, come on out!” I stood as well and offered a hand to Holly.
“Noooo,” she complained, leaning over her hot tea. “It’ll be cold!”
“You have a coat, come on!”
“Fine, fine.” She took my hand and let me pull her to her feet, and I tried not to blush too much as she did. “Powers or no powers?”
Simone hummed thoughtfully as we stepped outside. “Well, I should at least take us to a better place than in the middle of the street. Maybe April Park?”
“That’s closed until April,” I joked. Holly elbowed me, but I could see her smirking. Or feel it, rather – we were close enough that the sense of my presence traced out an amused smile on her face, even though the illusory construct of her was glaring at me playfully. I had been able to read her a lot better since I realized that my ESP could do that, and when I had told her, she had assured me that she didn’t mind.
“April Park sounds good,” Holly told Simone.
The teleporter scooped us up, one in each arm, and the world bent around us.
Scene 15 – December 19th
Exterior April Park, Late Morning
We landed in April Park and took a moment to just absorb the beauty of the drifting snow and the whiteness that blanketed the ground. Or I did, at least – Simone and Holly were taking a few steps away and stretching.
“Do you think we should get some of those guys involved?” Simone asked, pointing at a group of other teenagers who were already engaged in a snowball fight of their own.
Holly tilted her head, pursing her lips, then made a disgusted face and shook her head. “Uh, no. I just listened in on them and they’re talking about… well, I’ll spare your young ears, but Quinn and I don’t want to go near them, anyway.”
“Oh hey!” I said brightly, trying not to dwell on how common transphobia was. “I got something cool to share before we get started!”
“Yeah?” Simone asked, turning to face me.
“Holly, do you mind giving us some privacy first?”
She brought her hands together and brushed her fingers against and through each other in one of the impossible gestures she used to cast magic, and a transparent red field took shape around us. From outside the field, no one would see anything other than three friends chatting and snow falling – from within it, the red outline would show us where the edge of the bubble of normality was. “Done. What’s up?”
“So all the practice with the style of magic Holly found for me has helped me get pretty good at focusing on one particular thing with my powers,” I began. “But that got me thinking – one of the things that marks a really powerful telekinetic is how many individual items they can affect, right?”
“Sure,” Simone agreed.
“So I’ve been trying to stretch myself, find my limits in that area too,” I explained. “And as it turns out, it’s kind of the same limit as I have with distance. The force of my personality-”
“I still think that’s a silly name for it,” Holly interjected teasingly.
“-can affect a lot at once,” I continued, poking her in her ribcage playfully. She squirmed away, still with that same smile under her face. “But the more things I’m messing with, the less focus I can put on any individual object, and thus the less force I can apply to them. But…”
“But…?” Simone asked. Unlike my traitorous best friend, some people knew how to keep a story going.
I grinned. “Well. Snowflakes don’t need much force to control, now do they?” I said, and every single flake of drifting snow within the red outline of Holly’s field froze in midair.
Simone stared in awe. “That,” she said, peering at them where they hung, motionless, “is so cool. Isn’t that cool?” she asked Holly.
Holly was staring at me with a look that I couldn’t quite decipher – not without the assistance of my actual eyes, at least. “It’s very cool,” she agreed.
I held up an open palm, and the snow zoomed around my friends and me until it reached a point a few inches above my hand. Only a few seconds later, a perfect snowball fell into my grip, and my smile, always a little crooked, turned positively wicked.
Holly smirked, and pointed a finger gun at the snowball. A lance of fire burst forth and quickly melted it, and cold water splashed over my hands.
I frowned and focused, getting a surge of information about the water before pushing it off of my hands, instantly drying them. “When did you figure out fire?” I asked.
“Just recently,” Holly answered. “One of my classes this year was magical thermodynamics, and parts of the final unit helped it click for me.” She conjured a ball of flame in her hand, then a few more, juggling them for a moment. “Best part? They don’t even have to be dangerous if I don’t want them to be!”
“How does that work?” Simone questioned, sticking a hand through one of the fireballs as it fell. As promised, she barely flinched as it scattered across her skin, harming her not at all.
“Heat spreads in a radius and weakens as it does, right?” Holly explained. “And there’s a point in that radius at which it’s not harmful, but still noticeable. So instead of making a point source of high heat that can spread, I make a sphere of that harmless level of heat, centered on the point. It spreads normally from there, but doesn’t harm you if you get too close.”
“And you’re controlling heat, not just generating it?” Holly nodded in confirmation, and I continued, “Does that mean that you can do ice, too?”
She waggled a hand. “Sort of. I can certainly make cold, but that doesn’t mean ice forms unless the humidity is crazy high. Whatever effect Vulcan has which lets him form ice regardless isn’t something I can replicate – yet – so it’s not ice yet. His job is safe.
“On the other hand,” she continued, “this does mean that my illusions can be even more realistic. I’m still working on adding heat to my stock constructs, but I’ve already got it for the ones I use most often.”
A spray bottle appeared in mid-air, pointing at Journey, who instantly teleported to the other side of me, crouching to hide from Holly behind my significantly-shorter frame. “Save me!” she begged.
“Hmm… I don’t know if-” I started. Before I could finish the joke, however, we were interrupted by an unpleasant chirping noise, coming simultaneously from all three of us. We each produced a small pager-esque device that the MLED had given to us – mine, like Holly’s, was attached to my keys, while Simone seemed to have clipped it to her phone. All three were chirping in a pattern and flashing several colored LEDs.
“There’s an attack at the MLED Compound,” Holly told us, interpreting the alarm’s pattern faster than Simone or I could. “The red light blinking like that means that all available heroes are called to come assist, the steady blue light means we’ll get overtime pay.” A white LED was blinking as well, 4 times and then a pause, 4 times and then a pause. “Four hostile metahumans on site,” she added. “Odd. None of the gangs in the New Venice have four metas.”
“…we should probably head over there, shouldn’t we?” Simone asked, sounding a little dejected. She had been looking forward to hanging out with me and Holly – I thought that she probably looked up to Holly, as the oldest and most experienced member of the Journeymen. Plus, there had also been some drama with her girlfriend – ex-girlfriend now, from what little I had heard – and although she hadn’t gone into the details, I knew she wanted to distract herself from it.
Holly had clearly picked up on it as well, as she said, “We’re probably not needed. I mean, Zookeeper is on console today, and Canaveral may be on patrol but he can be back pretty quickly, and between the two of them they should be able to deal with just about anything. And… well, Anima is a fast mover if she’s flaring a strong enough aura, even though Vulcan and Starling won’t show up.”
“…wait, why won’t they show up?”
“Vulcan had a lunch date planned for today – I suppose he might duck out of it and come, but I wouldn’t count on it – and Starling never takes overtime,” Simone told me.
“How do you keep track of all this stuff?”
“The point is,” Holly said, “that the three of them will probably have it covered. This is a general call for everyone who’s able to, not for any of us specifically – I can say that we just weren’t available.”
“…I don’t think you should.” I said, looking up. I had noticed something moving through the sky at the edge of my presence, and my suspicion was confirmed when I laid eyes on it – the giant bird golem that Anima used was moving, and away from the Compound.
Holly and Simone followed my eyes, and Holly cursed. “That…” she made a few quick gestures, and her eyes flickered with strange light for a moment before returning to normal. “Yeah, that’s carrying Anima, Zookeeper, and the boss.”
“Why are they leaving the Compound?” I asked.
“There must be something going on that needs them elsewhere,” she said grimly.
“That means that we can be back faster than they can,” Simone said. “So we should go.”
“Yeah, we should,” I agreed.
Holly frowned. “Four hostile metahumans,” she reminded me. “That doesn’t match the Buff Boys or the Crows – not that the Crows would ever attack the Compound, they’re not that stupid. That means that it’s a probably a new group, metahumans whose capabilities we don’t know – and barring a miracle, we won’t have Referee to even the odds. None of the New Champions beside us – are you sure you two are ready for this?” She, of course, was more than ready, and we all new it.
“I’m ready,” I promised her, and Simone nodded. I took her hand, and so did Holly, and a moment later we were gone.
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