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Electra   

Raina was in a terrible mood. She had plenty of reasons to be, good reasons. She'd hardly slept at all last night, and trying to wake up with her alarm had been torture, especially when certain nameless parties had apparently spent all night dreaming peacefully of Antarctica and the dorm room windows were frosted from the inside. And Merlin was bothering her. He'd been clinging to her shoulder all morning, and even when she'd forcibly removed him to shower, he hung from the shower curtain rod and glared ever-so-balefully at her for her treachery. She was doing a foolish thing, he'd reminded her a number of times, and potentially putting them both at risk. It would be very unpleasant, probably painful, certainly scary. Modern technology obviated the need for any of this, and why couldn't she just show some sense for once  and do things the easy way? She'd ignored him, but the constant haranguing settled in as a throb behind her temples that just made her more irritated. 

 

The best reason to be in a terrible mood, though, was that it let her ignore how utterly, completely, piss-your-pants scared she was. It was so much easier to be angry and annoyed with the world than to consider even for five minutes what she was about to let happen to her. Unconsciously Raina rubbed her wrists with her fingertips, remembering how cold the manacles had been when she'd been arrested the first time, remembering how it had hurt, how lost she'd been. Merlin wrapped his tail around her neck and rubbed her cheek with his own, commiserating with her in the poorly suppressed terror department. "It'll be okay," she told him. "We're gonna be fine. It's not permanent. I'll be back before dinnertime. You just... you just stay in here, okay? I've put away your computer already, so it's totally safe. Just wear the diaper and watch TV, and there's plenty of food if you get hungry. It'll be all right, I promise." She kissed his furry forehead. 

 

Merlin accepted the affection, but felt compelled to grouse a little more about the indignity of having to wear the diaper. "Nobody's gonna see you," she reminded him. "Cathy's not even going to be here, the place is all yours. And I won't say a word about it afterwards, really." He implied that she had damn well better not, as this was her fault entirely, and also he had plenty of blackmail material of his own to break out if necessary! 

 

"I know," Raina assured him. "I remember. I'll see you later. I love you." Merlin replied, only a little reluctantly, that he loved her too, and be careful, and listen to Talya. Raina managed an insouciant grin at that. "Much as I ever do, right?" As Merlin scrambled off her shoulder and over to the bed, she gave herself one last look in the mirror, grimacing at the shapeless, style-free gray coverall she'd been sent to wear. Ugly, ugly, ugly. With more than a little reluctance, she removed her earrings, the rings from her fingers, and finally the pendants around her neck, setting them with great care into a little bowl on her dresser. The pendant glowed slightly from the touch of her fingers, dimming when it left her hand.

 

Feeling entirely naked and extremely vulnerable, Raina picked up her bag of gifts and headed out of the dorm, walking to the large circular driveway in front of the school's administration building. She could feel eyes on her, curious eyes, judging eyes, but she straightened her back and ignored them. Shapeless gray coveralls and rubber-sole sneakers were totally in this year, and they should all feel sorry that they didn't have any to wear. 

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At least, even if the clothes weren't the sort to impress she could be comforted that her ride was almost as exciting as a flying broom. A sleek, black Aston Martin pulled up to the gates with the rumbling hum of its well tuned engine exactly on time. Talya stopped the car, unlocking the door for Raina to get in. If anyone could make the grey coverall stylish, it would be the blonde spy. Raina would likely be suspicious that Talya's shapeless coverall was actually tailored. She probably, honestly, couldn't have gotten away with her current super hero cachet but adopting the shapeless clothes had a two fold purpose. The primary one was to help Raina's spirits in what was doubtless a frightening and overwhelming situation.

 

The second, of course, was that Talya was sure that hiding the collapsed batons would be much easier without bucking convention and she was in no hurry to step into the prison without an ace up her sleeve. Just in case. 

 

"There's my girl," Talya said, her voice chipper like they were off on a much more light hearted endeavor. "All set to go?"

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Electra   

"All set," Raina confirmed, slipping into the car with all the grace and confidence she could muster. "Though if you'd told me we were going to be driving around in this, I might have suggested we ditch the other plans and head to Atlantic City instead. Very pretty." She folded her legs neatly, then folded her hands over them, but within moments she was twisting her fingers together as though attempting to braid them. She looked oddly incongruous, with her shiny blonde hair, careful makeup and perfect teeth, bereft of jewelry and wearing the shapeless, colorless coveralls. Really, she was one anachronistic weapon away from being the heroine of a young adult dystopian movie. "Thanks for picking me up." 

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"Thank you. I've always liked this car. As to traveling, there's always another weekend but Atlantic City would not be my first choice. Monte Carlo, though, now there's a place worth visiting but we should wait until the spring. Weather's terrible this time of year," Talya replied as she pulled out smoothly from the curb once Raina had settled into her seat. Despite the flashy car, Talya drove through Freedom City at reasonable speeds. "It's the car I use for public outings as Natalya Browning. I have a few but this one screams 'British spy'. Its always good to remind people of my origins when visiting Blackstone."

 

Talya pulled the car smoothly onto the main road from Claremont's more remote side streets before she slanted a glance towards Raina, "How are you holding up?"

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Electra   

"Oh, you know," Raina shrugged and grinned too broadly to be believable. "I always get by. Hasn't been much interesting going on lately, and the bitches in my class are all busy with their own stuff, so I haven't gotten detention in like two weeks. And since Merlin ordered those down comforters for us, it's been way easier living with my cold-controller roommate. The 'controller' part is mostly honorary these days, so that kinda sucks. And I've been practicing all that proprioception stuff, but I don't know if it's helping that much. When I don't move, I can sense stuff with my eyes closed, but when I try going anywhere, I'm still ramming into stuff." She was speaking quickly, as though laying out enough thoughts end to end in a line would protect her from having to say anything too important. "Oh, and the old Headmaster was in his office the other day when I had to go in for evaluation, he said to say hello. So hello." 

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Talya's mouth curved up in a fond smile with the last statement. "Dear Duncan. He was quite the catch in his day, you know. All dark and brooding, if you go for that sort of thing." Talya added, making it sound as if she was not one of those sorts, which was true. Talya enjoyed the flair for the dramatic, clearly, but the silent, brooding sort had never drawn her attention. She signaled before turning down the long road towards Blackstone.

 

"You know," Talya said after a brief pause, "There are so many better words to use to suggest one's disapproval than 'bitch'. Oh, cuss words have their place. Believe me, I can curse in almost half a dozen languages when the time calls for it, but you know, the primary insult in that statement is their gender. It doesn't wound the same way that a properly aimed insult can. Words are as deadly a weapon as any you can hold in your hand. It's worth honing them."

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Electra   

Raina turned away towards the window and began winding her hair around her fingers, her shoulders curving in slightly towards a classic sullen teenager pose. "If they're bitches, I'm going to call them that," she insisted stubbornly, her voice defensive. "If they were boys acting like that, I'd call them bitches too, but the boys don't do the same crap, least not to me." She went silent then, staring moodily out the window at the sparsely populated roadside and the distant ocean. 

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"Mhm," Talya agreed, much of her expression hidden behind her sunglasses. "I'm just saying a little specificity goes a long way. You could call them cowards. Or puerile, mewling fools." Talya provided, offering the suggestions for offensive things to call the classmates that so vexed her student. After all, Talya had decades of taunting her opponents into foolish action to draw on. "Depending on what behaviors offend you."

 

She glanced over the rim of her sunglasses then, to cast a look towards Raina, "I've been called a bitch many times, usually when I was doing something better than a male counterpart. It's an insult one tends to grow inured to in short order. I'm not saying you can't call them whatever name strikes your fancy. I'm saying if the goal is to wound, then precision is often the key with more than fists."

 

Talya turned her attention back to the road, nodding towards the window to give Raina something to focus on other than responding, "There's Blackstone in the distance."

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Electra   

"Yeah, I see it," Raina muttered. Under the makeup, her face had lost some of its color, and she'd moved from twisting her fingers to rubbing her wrists with her fingertips. She was quiet for a minute as they drew closer and closer to the jetty where the boat to the prison was waiting. Finally she burst out with a rush of words. "Listen, if anything weird happens there, if I pass out or they arrest me, or anything bad, could you make sure to call the school and have somebody check on Merlin? I don't want him to be all alone and not smart anymore, he wouldn't be safe. He's in my room." 

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"Raina," Talya said, her voice dropping slightly. She reached up to pull the sunglasses from the bridge of her nose and give the girl a look that wasn't blunted by the tinted lenses. "I will make certain that nothing happens to Merlin, regardless, but you and I are going to walk into the prison, visit your parents and then we will walk out. Together. You have my word that you'll be back at school, safe and sound by the end of the day."

 

She pushed the sunglasses back onto the bridge of her nose as she went to pull the car into a spot. "Do you really think I go into Blackstone without having at least two contingency plans for how to get out in an emergency? And a back-up plan in case there needs to be a daring rescue. Erik would be annoyed if he had to come fetch us out of a super-max prison, but he'd come. We're in this together, my dear. Now, chin up. It's show time."

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Electra   

"But would he take off his shirt to do it?" Raina's smile was barely worthy of the name, faint and fast as it was, but at least it made an appearance as she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened her car door. By the time she was out of the car, she'd slipped back into the pose of confidence she'd worn on campus, looking nearly cocky as she strolled toward the waiting boat. "Hey, you looking for us?" she called down to one of the men manning the boat. "We've got an appointment at your jail over there." 

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For all Raina's worries about a witch hunt on board ship, no one looked too closely at the teenage witch on the ride out to the prison. If anything, the boat crew seemed more interested in the very pretty, and very famous, Bombshell. An older woman who seemed to be the boat's pilot turned out to have been a guard in one of the women's blocks during Talya's time in prison, but with her interest in taking a picture for her kids, she seemed to let bygones be bygones. The ride out was smooth underneath them, the sea like glass beneath and the sky blue like sapphire overhead. 

 

The good times lasted until they reached the dock - where someone was waiting to meet them. Raina remembered Seven, the witch (and other things that she knew Talya didn't like to hear) on the Freedom League, a member of the attack on her parents' home that had brought her old life to an abrupt and painful end. In her black costume, cape draped behind her, Seven looked every inch the dark magical avenger of the night. 

 

"Ms. Sanderson, Bombshell," said Seven with a polite nod as they disembarked. "I don't think we've met, Bombshell, I'm Seven. I'm here to let you know that I'll be, ah, facilitating the meeting with your parents today. We've had some concerns about security, so I'm here to make sure everything goes...smoothly." She arched an eyebrow. 

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Talya fell into her public role with a natural sort of ease, commanding much of the attention as if it were utterly natural. The differences in the Talya that taught Raina and Bombshell were subtle but present. Most of her banter took on a playful, flirtatiousness that was distinctly different from the banter that Raina had seen with Erik. She chatted up the prison guard about her children and posed for a handful of pictures, putting the guards at ease and at the same time, giving Raina time to her own thoughts. 

 

At Seven's approach, Talya arched a single brow above her sunglasses and stepped from the gang plank with an easy gait. "The pleasure is mine, Seven," Talya said, the words smooth and her accent as crisp as if she were wearing her proper costume, which she might as well have been. Her smile was dazzling beneath her dark sunglasses, "I can't believe they trotted the League out for me, though. I've been on the side of angels now for, oh, at least a few years? Such a fuss!"

 

Talya's tone was cordial, friendly even, as she inserted her presence as reason for the additional security but somehow didn't brook a verbal dissent. She put one hand very lightly on the back of Raina's shoulder blades. "We're ready when you are."

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Electra   

Talya could feel Raina's heart hammering under her fingertips, but the teenager managed to put on a passable show of blase confidence in front of the new mage. "Don't worry, Ossifer, no magic here!" She raised her bare hands and let the too-loose sleeves of the jumper fall to her elbows. "Just here to visit my parents while they're trapped in indefinite pretrial detention, which I will definitely agree is totally constitutional while I'm here on an island with hundreds of armed guards." She smiled, showing a lot of teeth but also the white all around her eyes. "What do I have to do?" 

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What Seven wanted was Raina to submit to a magical scan that felt like spiders running up and down her skin (or so she told herself, anyway) while Seven chanted to herself in Latin and made arcane gestures in the air. Evidently satisfied by what she saw, she did the same thing for Bombshell before joining the two women for the walk through the outer perimeter of security, where another set of guards were waiting for them - this time with equipment. They were inside now, past the outer fence and gate, waiting next to what looked to Raina a little bit like a parking garage elevator, its walls thick and shiny. "These are standard magical nullifiers," said Seven, demonstrating them for Raina and Bombshell's benefit. "Worn on the wrists, they interfere with somatic gestures and they contain enough blessed cold iron and silver that casting spells with them is essentially impossible. I'm sorry, Sparkler," she said as she handed them to Raina apologetically, "I know how clean your record is, but given the circumstances, the prison's not willing to take any chances. We've had rumors of one escape attempt already." 

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"And they're so fetching with this charming grey ensemble," was Talya's dry commentary as she accepted whatever had been deemed necessary for heightened security procedures. She arched one brow up then as she pointed out, "You know, any clever escape attempt comes from the direction security is not looking in. Hypothetically speaking, of course."

 

The smile she offered then was lazy, as if there was no concern at all in walking into a secure facility that even she would have to work hard to escape. She gave Raina's shoulder a little pat of reassurance as she added, almost conversationally, "What exactly were the rumors about this particular escape?" She asked and then added to Raina, "There's always rumors of an escape. The incarcerated have quite a lot of time on their hands to plot, especially when the bulk of the clientele are of the super villainous nature."

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Electra   

"Of course you have," Raina muttered in Seven's direction, but it was clear her heart wasn't in it. She fumbled while trying to put the cuffs on, a maneuver that would've been awkward at the best of times, even with hands that weren't just a little shaky. It was immediately clear when the nullifying properties took effect; the instant the second cuff snapped into place, Raina sagged to the floor like a balloon losing its air. "'M good," she assured Talya, even as she leaned forward to almost touch forehead to knees. "Dizzy for a minute. It always does that. Lose a sense, it messes with your proprioception."

 

She knuckled her forehead and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to pull herself together. However horrible losing her magic felt, it was nothing compared to what Merlin was going through, all alone back at the school. She couldn't even think about what it was like for her parents to be half-blind and half-deaf for months now, cut off, trapped in this hell. Instead she pushed herself shakily back to her feet, hating every instant that the cold burn of the manacles touched her skin. "Are we done now? Can we go?" she snapped. 

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"They were sent a document containing information that could have been used to summon a demon," replied Seven. "I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to discuss the situation while the investigation is still live - just be assured that the attempt failed and that you need not be concerned about that." 

 

They were done, and they could go - albeit with an escort. Seven rode with Talya and Raina all the way down inside the island, their tram humming as it made its way down the circular, winding path deep inside the naked bedrock. Raina vaguely remembered that digging these tunnels had required significant superhuman exertion back in the day, but her Claremont training was very far from her mind as she descended, powerless, deeper into the mountain! 


The room where they finished, some two or three levels 'down', was more like a bunker with the thick, heavy steel door mounted into the rockface and the two armed blackguards stationed on either side. "Your parents will be arriving here in a forthcoming car from the lower levels," said Seven, her black costume a strange color in the glare of the artificial lights outside the meeting room. "Why don't you go ahead and step inside and wait for them?" she offered as the big, heavy door swung open.

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Talya did not lean over immediately to check on Raina as one might have expected. Rather, her weight shifted subtly, her hands relaxed and open. People who'd fought alongside her would have recognized the deceptively casual posture. Those who were especially keen eyed, or knew her well, might have noticed the way her left hand turned slightly. It was brief and one she relaxed out of at Raina's assurances. Her blue-eyed gaze cut to Seven and for a moment Talya's voice turned cutting, "Honestly. She's an innocent child."

 

She turned slightly to step forward in case Raina needed a hand but let the teenager choose if she wanted to reach out and didn't elaborate further but she was already planning her phone call to those she knew in the League to share her opinions of this whole matter later on. Her expression smoothed out into an urbane, polite mask as they journeyed down into the abyss. "Thank you," she said to Seven as she went to usher Raina into the room, adding to the teenager, "I'm afraid all of Blackstone goes for this particular brutalism aesthetic. Did you decide to bring any photos for your parents after all?"

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Electra   

"They're not allowed to have any paper or any representations of people," Raina replied, rubbing her hands up and down her arms. "Photographs can be used as magical foci... if anybody could do magic with these things on them twenty-four hours a day. They pretty much can't have anything. I think they can watch TV that's outside their cells, but no books or writing utensils or anything. I don't think they get to see each other either. I don't really know what they do all day. I don't know what I'd do, besides go crazy...

 

She was interrupted when the door on the far side of the room opened and a woman walked in, flanked by two guards until she was through the door. She was tall, like Raina, and had ashy blonde hair that had once been expertly colored but was now liberally streaked with gray for several inches from the roots. She wore magic suppressing bands as well, though unlike Raina's dull gray ones, these glowed with a sickly green arcane energy. Obviously a beautiful woman once, and still lovely in her bones, Rochelle Sanderson did not appear to be thriving in maximum security. 

 

Raina's head came up the instant the door opened, and in a second she was all but flying across the room. "Mommy!" All her questions, all the things she wondered about, all the things she'd learned that didn't seem to add up, all of it was forgotten as she clung to her mother and sobbed. "Mom, Mom, Mom, I missed you so much!" 

 

Rochelle seemed no less affected than her daughter, staggering a little under the sudden impact of her sixteen year old daughter jumping on her like a toddler, but she wrapped her arms around Raina and clung right back, tears seeping from closed eyes. "Raina, my sweet baby girl, You shouldn't have come, but I missed you more than I can stand." 

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Talya followed in after Raina, her shoes making no sound on the ground and although she smiled a little at the reunion, her gaze scanned the room first before studying Raina's mother. Talya, of all people, was well aware that humans were complicated creatures. It was possible for criminals to be loving parents, it was possible for heroes to be terrible ones. Discretely, she scanned the woman's responses with a discerning eye and deemed them genuine for the moment as she took up a place off to the side, her hands laced lightly in front of her. 

 

Eventually, she'd introduce herself but Talya felt no need to interject herself into a family moment and it gave her the opportunity to watch Raina's mother. 

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Electra   

It took a few minutes before Raina was able to collect herself enough to even speak rationally, and even that was muffled against her mother's shoulder. The guards behind them were looking uncomfortable, but hadn't made a move to pull them apart, and there was no way Raina would step away voluntarily. "Are you okay? You look really tired. They haven't been hurting you have they? The bracelets..." 

 

"Shh, I'm all right," Rochelle murmured back, stroking her hands over Raina's hair, down her back. "It's boring here, dull as dirt most days, and not a good conversationalist amongst the entire lot of guards. I miss you, and I miss your father, but this will all be straightened out soon." To someone of Talya's experience and discernment, the whole thing was a pack of reassuring lies, but Raina obviously needed to believe it, She began to relax almost immediately, steadier in her mother's embrace. "But I don't want to talk about me," Rochelle continued, steering Raina towards the table with its bolted-down chairs. "I want to hear everything you've been doing. Tell me about this school you've been going to. Are the other children nice? Have you been working hard on your studies?" 

 

Raina squirmed a bit as she sat down, uncomfortable in an entirely different way. "I've been studying," she equivocated, "but a lot of the stuff is just not interesting. They hardly know anything about magic, and what they do teach, a lot of it is wrong, or just dumb. But like, I was reading an article Merlin printed out about learning styles, and report cards don't really tell anything about a student's actual learning..." 

 

Rochelle gave her daughter a mock-severe frown. "Merlin," she began, "is a very clever monkey, but he isn't the one who has to worry about getting into a good college! I don't want you getting your head turned by this hero business, your job is your schooling, not some nonsense about letting you put yourself at risk with crazy stunts. Don't you like any of your classes?" 

 

"I like P.E.!" Raina replied brightly, giving her mother her very best wholesome good-student smile. "I have an independent study course going, so I don't have to do the stupid exercises or hero simulator stuff. Talya is teaching me self-defense, she knows pretty much everything there is to know about fighting smart instead of just standing and punching. And she offered to come with me today." Talya suddenly found herself on the receiving end of a very intense, calculating sort of study from Rochelle as the other woman sized up this new influence on her daughter. 

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"Natalya Browning. Enchanted," Talya said as she stepped forward with a very white smile and the offer of a handshake. It was as polished and practiced as the greetings she'd offered the guards but where she'd made effort to put the guards at ease, Talya now projected polished aristocracy. She put one hand lightly on Raina's back although she remained on her feet. "I work with a group that has an arrangement with the school. We're very good at what we do. Your daughter is a delightful young woman and I enjoy teaching her."

 

Talya's handshake was firm without being overly-so, nor did the contact linger as she straightened. "And neither the school, nor our classes, push heroic work. It's more about ensuring very special children are capable of handling any obstacles they might encounter due to their unique natures and abilities... but I'm sure you've already heard the spiel."

 

She offered a very disarming smile then, "Raina's been making no small amount of friends from what I've seen."

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Electra   

Rochelle rose to return Talya's handshake, stepping forward just enough that it would be awkward for Talya to keep her hand on Raina's back, without being overly pushy. "A pleasure, I'm sure," Rochelle told her smoothly.  Despite the circumstances, for a moment the two women could've been at any of a hundred high-society cocktail parties, sizing each other up for flaws and weaknesses over smiles and compliments. "It's good to know that Raina has people looking out for her while she's on her own and far from home." The guards were obviously getting uncomfortable over Rochelle leaving her seat, so she sat down again quickly, brushing a hand over Raina's cheek as she did so. Raina seemed to appreciate the contact, even as she flinched away from the sickly green light seeping from her mother's bracelet. 

 

"My parents contacted me to tell me when they sent Raina to the school, but I'm afraid I know very little about the agency except that it is a sort of holding pen for young supernaturals," Rochelle told Talya. "From the way they described it, I was rather concerned it was juvenile detention, but I've learned a bit more during my time here. There are several alumni within these sturdy walls," she added with a thin smile, then turned back to Raina, her entire mien softening once more. "You don't look like you're eating enough. And you've gotten taller again! You need to eat properly if you want to fill out properly, you know!" 

 

"Moooomm..." Raina blushed, but she was grinning. "I eat! I eat all the time. The food's better than at Grandma's house, she gave me peanut butter and jelly everyday unless I was grounded. It was gross. Claremont's got cafeteria food, but it's okay." 

 

Rochelle looked unconvinced. "You can't do magic properly if you aren't fueling your body," she reminded her daughter sternly. One of the guards shifted at that, but after a quick glance, Rochelle ignored him. "Once all of this nonsense is cleared up, your father and I will be able to continue your education. Until then, you just hang in there and keep yourself healthy and safe. That's your one job, no matter what anybody tells you about superheroing," she said firmly. 

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Talya's release of Raina's shoulder was natural, relaxed and the smile she aimed at Rochelle had just the sort of easy 'nothing to prove' charm that made it equally clear that the blonde Brit didn't feel threatened. "It's a school designed to help special children realize their potential," Talya said smoothly as she joined them at the table in a graceful movement, taking a place at Raina's side. Personally, the ex-spy took some concern with Rochelle's perhaps unintentional efforts to continue to paint Raina as alone until her parents could be freed. 

 

Talya's smile was all charm as she folded her hands neatly on the table, "Indeed, the food isn't terrible although certainly no Michelin dining but the children get off of campus for all sorts of recreation. There was even an off campus Halloween party, I believe."

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