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Claremont Academy. Third Floor, Rita Kord Dorm. September 4, 2018 10:05 am

 

Lulu didn't have too much stuff to bring in; most of her clothes were still back at the Harrows' place across in North Bay, still in the boxes and bags from the mall. She was used to travelling light, carrying her most important belongings in ziplock bags tucked into a backpack and a gym bag. Growing up in rural Alabama, there were always floods or hurricanes or tropical storms that forced you to relocate for days at a time, pulling up stakes in a hurry as you grabbed some bottled water for the road. Most of the houses in Columbia were either trailers or simple uninsulated structures that were cheap to repair or rebuild. There was no real sense of permanence; God could wipe out everything you owned with a simple wave of His hand.

 

But Freedom was very different; everything here was built to last, or even survive assault by supervillains. The walls and floors of Claremont were thick and well-worn, scuffed and polished by the passing of hundreds of youthful hands and feet. Everything was spotless and freshly-cleaned, yet you could still feel the history of the place.

 

Lulu found room 309 with little difficulty, and stood in the doorway for several seconds as she took in the space that would be her academic home for the next three years. Two beds, two dressers and two desks in a pleasant, airy room that somehow managed not to smell like a hotel. She picked the left-hand bed at random, dropping her two bags next to it as she laid down on her back, staring up at the ceiling, idly flexing her sneakered feet this way and that.

 

"Well...here we are."

Edited by Heritage

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Veronica

 

The southern teenager had not been lying down long when she heard voices out in the hallway and there was a knock on her partially open door.  Another teenage girl appeared in the doorway, smiling as she quickly focused on Lulu.

 

The attractive girl appeared to be Lulu's age, with long brown hair that was pulled back into a ponytail.  She was dressed in a brown T-Shirt, over which she wore a thin linen Khaki short sleeve shirt, olive green cargo pants and a pair of well worn-in hiking boots with thick socks.  On a necklace and several bracelets she had several dozen small silver charm-like objects.    

 

"Hi hope I am not disturbing you, just starting to make some rounds on the floor to meet some fellow students."  The other teen stated with a trace of what sounded like a French accent.  "I'm Veronica Danger and this is my cousin Janus."  Veronica said in way of greeting, indicating another figure just behind her.

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Janus leaned over Veronica's shoulder. There was certainly a familial resemblance between the two - the Danger good looks were a strong gene - but where Veronica could have been the next face of the Jungle Patrol, Janus decidedly fell into more of the 'fairy prince' spectrum with sharply handsome features and hair that started pure white before blending through many shades of pink to a deep rose red at the tips. Angularity androgynous, their tenor voice had some vaguely masculine quality to it, "Ronnie's a sociable sort that way. Personally, I'm just trying to scope out potential work out buddies."

 

The dry humor in their faintly accented English made it obvious that Janus was teasing as did the wink they added before leaning against the door frame once Veronica vacated it, crossing one booted leg over the other in a lazy sort of sprawl. Their clothes were as a-typical as anything else for a teenager though downright mild for Claremont from a poet's shirt to tightly laced leather pants and over the knee boots. 

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"Oh, well, come on in! Ah'm Louise Beaumont, but everyone calls me 'Lulu'." She held up her arms, indicating the small dorm. "Well, this is it! Not sure where my new roomie is yet, but ah expect she'll be 'round shortly." She began to dig into her backpack, years of Southern hospitality activated by having 'guests' over to visit. "Can ah get you anything? Ah think I've got some bottled water and trail mix; all ah can offer you on short notice."

 

The two Dangers were both very attractive, Janus especially so; his Continental accent made her all tingly! She got the sense they came from money, as they both smelled like expensive soap and shampoo. But her momma always said, rich folks were no different than poor ones; they had people put their pants on one leg at time, just like everyone else.

 

Taking a seat on her bed, she gestured for her two visitors to sit on the other. "Well, where are you from? Tell me about yourselves!" She had a little trouble making eye contact with Janus, self-conciously adjusting her cheap denim jacket.

Edited by Heritage

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Veronica

 

"So very nice to meet you Louise."  Veronica replied, her accent deepening slightly at her very French pronunciation of Lulu's name.  The teenager moved confidently into the room and took a seat on the bed across from the other teen, leaving room for Janus, if they wanted to join as well.

 

"Oh, thank you no, I am fine.  Though it is always a good idea to stay hydrated."  The Danger replied as Lulu offered some water and snacks. 

 

At Lulu's question, Vernoica gave a small smile.  "Well, I guess that depends on how you define 'from.'  I was born in the south of France, but I have only spent a little time there over the years, same with here in Freedom City.  Otherwise I have spent most of my life traveling the world with my parents.  Just this summer we were in parts of Turkey and Istanbul.  How about yourself?"

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Janus demurred with a flick of one elegant hand, rings flashing from each finger at the gesture, "The offer is appreciated but I'm perfectly fine. We just checked out the mess hall and I snagged an apple then."

 

While Veronica made herself comfortable, Janus snagged one of the desk chairs to flip around backwards and drop into easily, arms folding on the back with lazy grace. "Veronica's branch of the Dangers are travelers through and through. It's probably shorter to list the countries she hasn't spent some time in."

 

Janus' grin was brief and a bit cheeky as they teased Veronica with easy familial camaraderie. "I grew up in what is commonly referred to here as another 'dimension'." Janus said, making a brief gesture for finger quotes. "My father fell into a magical land called Fortuna decades ago and met my mother there. I was raised in her kingdom of Aruivia - middle child of three. We visited a few times every year for family reunions. There's a lot of Dangers."

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Lulu was having a hard time forming intelligent thoughts, as she first listened to Veronica (The way she pronounced her name! Loui-suh!) and then Janus (His hair! His mouth when he spoke!) described their exotic and adventurous lives. She now felt impossibly dull and boorish, like she grew up in the mud flats with dirty feet and burrs in her hair. And yet, these impossibly rich and attractive people were talking to her; they wanted to know her story!

 

"Well, there's not much to tell," she began, running her fingers through her hair. "Ah was, uh, born in a small town in Alabama, lived there mah whole life. When ah was ten, ah started to develop these..well, ah suppose you'd call 'em powers." She pointed at the side of her head. "Ah can do things, with mah mind; make people see things or hear things, or see what's goin' on in their heads. Here, let me show you..."

 

She gestured towards an open spot on the floor, and a small apple tree sprouted right out of the floor! Wood splintered and carpeting tore as it reached towards the ceiling, the whole room now filled with the scent of growing things.

 

"You can't actually touch it, but otherwise it seems totally real, don't it? Won't fool cameras, though, and ah hear some folks might be immune."

Edited by Heritage

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Veronica

 

If Veronica was bothered in the slightest by Janus' friendly teasing, she showed absolutely no sign of it, instead focusing her attention on Lulu as the other teenager began to talk about herself and her home.  Although Lulu downplayed her past some, the look on honest curiosity in Vernoica's eyes never faded.

 

The curiosity only seemed to increase as Lulu began to describe her powers, and before Veronica could make a comment, Lulu was providing her demonstration.  The teenage Danger's mouth opened slightly with a look of awe as the tree began to grow in the middle of the room.  But, it was only moments before that look quickly changed to one of realization.  "Ah, that is impressive.  A mentally projected illusion into the minds of those nearby."  She stated, nodding her head slightly before focusing back on Lulu.


"And you have telepathic abilities as well?"  She asked, seeming in thought for a moment before she added.  "Okay, go ahead and read my surface thoughts."  She said, focusing on Lulu's eyes with a smile. 

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The young Alabaman's eyebrows went up; it wasn't very often that someone wanted their minds read. "Are you sure? Ah mean, ah promise ah won't go any deeper than surface, but even then, sometimes somethin' just bubbles up." Once Veronica convinced her it was alright, Lulu nodded several times, adjusted herself on her bed and rubbed her hands together. "Alright, okay. Now pick a nice clear thought or memory, and ah'll see what ah pick up, okay?"

 

The telepath closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began.

 

"Okay, alright...oh, this is a happy memory. That's good; happy memories are the best. You're layin' on your back. Ah think there's...ah think there's sand beneath you, like you're on a beach? Ah smell the salt of the ocean, and hear the surf. It's dark out, like real dark. You're far away from the lights of the city, and you're lookin' up at the night sky, and it's like a bowl of stars."

 

Suddenly Lulu stretched out on her bed, staring up at the ceiling with closed eyes.

 

"And you're lookin' up, and for a moment, it's almost like you're the one in the sky, lookin' down." She reaches up, fingers drawing invisible patterns in the air. "And you're holdin' up your hand, and you're tracin' the lines of the stars, the constellations. You're sayin' words, but ah don't know 'em...ah think they're from your Greek lessons? And the warm breeze is just...blowin' through your hair..."

 

Lulu opened up her eyes and sat up suddenly. "Wow! You've got a really good memory! Most folks, it's like tryin' to watch a movie with your glasses off." Then she reached out, placed her hand on the back of Veronica's, and smiled. "Thank you, for sharin' that with me; it was a lovely memory."

Edited by Heritage

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Janus had watched the magic worked with open interest, one hand flexing absently as they restrained the urge to reach out and verify that it wouldn't hold up to touch. As Lulu seemed startled at the invitation to read thoughts, Janus' lips quirked up into a lopsided smile of amusement, "We're Dangers. The one defining family trait is heading towards things most people run the other direction from."

 

That was said with light amusement but it was no less the truth for the easy manner in which Janus mentioned it. One of their rings absently tapped on the back of the chair, as they went quiet while the telepath read Veronica's memories. That was well done of Veronica, Janus rather thought, as not everyone had the sort of encouragement in their abilities as they had been given; Janus' slight problems with their home world notwithstanding. Once Lulu sat back, Janus' eyes twinkled with good humor, "Did you want to do me next?"

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Veronica

 

"Yes, that is it.  Very well done Louise."  Veronica replied with a smile as Lulu described her memory, again using the French pronunciation of the other teen’s name.  "That was a few years ago on a small island in the Aegean.  I was reciting some lines from the Odyssey in the original Ancient Greek." 

 

As Lulu thanked her for sharing the memory and complimented her on her memory, Veronica's smile widened.  "Oh, it was nothing, you are very welcome.  I am rather lucky in having a nearly photographic memory, but thank you."

 

As Janus volunteered to be next, Veronica sat back out of the way, waiting to see if Lulu would take the offer.

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At the suggestion of reading Janus' mind next, Lulu went bright pink, which was quite apparent on her pale complexion. "Oh, ah, read you? Ah mean, ah, ah could, it's just -" The telepath could hear the blood roaring in her ears and her vision swam slightly. Normally, she was very comfortable with slipping into people's minds, often far too comfortable, but when it came to someone she was attracted to, she never could; she was far too scared to see what they thought about her to ever risk it. "It just, uh, it just takes a lot out of me, know what ah mean? Right now, more than one a day is just too much; hopefully with all the trainin' and stuff here at Claremont, ah can, ah can do that...more often." It was an obviously lie, and she knew it was obvious, but that's where she had to leave it right now; maybe one day she'd have the confidence to it, but that day was not today.

 

Nervously twisting her hair with both hands, the young redhead gamely tried to change the subject. "So Janus, tell me more about this kingdom you grew up in; did you say it was called 'Aruvia'? What was that like?"

Edited by Heritage

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Janus' eyes twinkled at that deflection, like they were full aware of the lie but said nothing about it. Winking one violet eye, Janus replied smoothly, "Another time then," as if it made total sense for that to be exhausting after Lulu looked not even the littlest it bit worn right after reading Veronica's thoughts. Shifting a little in the chair, Janus folded both arms across its back with a casual sort of posture that would totally have given their mother fits at home. "As you call this 'Earth', we call our world 'Fortuna'. My mother rules the largest kingdom; Aruivia. It's.... well, it's different from Prime in many ways. The more obvious is that there's no black powder or steam technology. We travel by horse and carriage - rooms are lit by fire, or magic for the elite."

 

There was a certain wistfulness to Janus' tone as there was no attempt to hide just how much Fortuna was missed by the teenager. Shaking it off, Janus continued, "It's not perfect. There are many dangers to life in Aruivia. Before my father arrived, it was ruled by a monstrous individual. My mother has spent decades trying to make up for the damage he did to the land."

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Veronica

 

Veronica was not sure why Lulu was more hesitant to read Janus’ thoughts, but figured it might have something to do with her blushing after Janus offered to be next.  Whatever the case was, Veronica was not going to question Lulu's statement.  Instead the teenager sat quietly as her cousin began to provide a brief description of Fortuna and Aruivia. 

 

Veronica was of course aware of this information, having heard it before, as well as considerably more details over the years.  When the wistful tone came into Janus' voice, the other Danger gave her cousin a comforting look, having spoken with Janus in more detail about her reasons for leaving Fortuna over the summer. 

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Lulu appeared enraptured as Janus described his home dimension; it sounded like something out of a Disney movie, all carriages, ballgowns and swordfights. The romantic in her wanted nothing more than to listen to him talk wistfully of home for hours, but she honestly wasn't sure if her poor heart could take it.

 

"It sounds simply magical, Janus; no wonder you miss it so much." Though the handsome prince hadn't said those words out loud, one didn't need to be a telepath to pick up on his obvious homesickness. "Ah miss my home, too; not my actual home, 'cause it was a nest of cottonmouths, but the sleepy little river town ah'm from? Yes ma'am, ah miss that very much."

 

The apple tree had discretely faded away earlier, and now Lulu closed her eyes as she was surrounded by a cloud of night; lightning bugs bumbled around in the air, and sounds of crickets and frogs and lapping water could clearly be heard. There were damp swampy smells mixed in with the heady fragrance of flowing trees, and the very air itself took on a hint of a humid Southern summer night. Lulu breathed in deep, self-inducing a powerful wave of nostalgia.

 

"Mmm...home is the smell of our dreams..."

Edited by Heritage

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Janus gave Veronica a reassuring smile; they missed their home terribly but better than anyone, Janus understood the necessity of leaving. "It is magical. Though I do enjoy the benefits of Prime. Technology isn't all so terrible, after all. I greatly enjoy my phone and driving - that's certainly an enjoyable past time. Both Veronica and I have our licenses."

 

Watching the lightning bugs swirl with interest, Janus finally gave into their impulse to let one fingertip ghost through the illusion in question, "There are new adventures to enjoy, after all, and there is very little better than that."

 

That might as well have been the Danger family motto. 

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Veronica

 

Veronica glanced around them as Lulu once again brought up a mental illusion.  But now that the teenage Danger had been given an example of the other girl's abilities already, she was able to realize the illusion much more quickly.  She actually found it slightly disappointing to see through the illusion so fast, as she had enjoyed getting a glimpse of Lulu’s home and what it was she would miss about it.

 

So instead Veronica focused on Janus’ comment about the two of them having their drivers licenses, nodding her head slightly as she added, "and I am looking forward to see what those Danger Cycles can really do."

 

She also had to nod in agreement with Janus' statement about their being new adventures to enjoy.  "Yes, exactly!"  She stated grinning at the other two.  "I have always lived wanting to know what was over the next hill or down under the waters of some lake, now we have a school full of new people to get to know and learn from, and start looking for the next adventure together!"

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At the mention of driving, the Alabama teen nodded in shared enthusiam. "Oh, ah love drivin', too! And ah'm a real good driver; hell, ah been drivin' since ah was twelve! Daddy used to put me on his lap and let me steer while he worked the pedals. He taught me stick, because Daddy always said automatic transmissions are for two kinds of people-" Lulu stopped herself before she finished her father's credo, because it was not at all nice. She smiled with a touch of embarrassment. "Well, Daddy said all kinds of things. 'Course, ah don't have my licence yet, so we got to straighten all that out first."

 

At the mention of new experinces and new adventures, Lulu reached out to lightly slap Veronica on the leg several times. "Oh, oh, ah know! Do either of y'all know how to go into a meditative trance? If you don't, ah can show you! Ah learned it to help me control my powers!"

Edited by Heritage

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Janus gave a shake of her head, "Not so much. I find my mind calms the most when my body is in motion. I'm learning the sword," Janus explained, although really - by most normal standards - Janus had learned the art of the sword. They grinned at Veronica then, "Ronnie has always been far better than I at the more meditative arts. She has a knack for magic which tends to go hand in hand with focusing. Personally, I am more of the hitting-punching-stabbing side of the Danger family."

 

Janus shifted a little in the chair, tipping it up on the legs before thumping it down again, as if talking about getting out and moving was leaving them restless, "Paperwork is one of the burdens of this world, it seems. If you're having trouble, I'm sure we can help. If nothing else, Prudence is always looking for things to do."

 

Technically, Prudence was always looking to make sure the Danger teens were doing what they were supposed to do, but close enough!

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Veronica

 

"I learned to drive younger as well."  Veronica replied as Lulu talked about learning to drive when she was young.  "Several of the places we lived were not as strict on the age for driving, and in any event, it was a good idea to have an extra driver around just in case." 

 

The teenager returned Janus’ grin as the conversation shifted to discussion about meditating.  "Yes, I have some experience with meditating, having spent some time with Buddhist monks in the Himalayas and Hindu monks in India.  But I cannot say I have learned how to enter a trance.  It would certainly be something I would be will to give a try."

 

At Janus' comment about volunteering Prudence to help Lulu with getting the paperwork done for getting her license, Veronica grinned again and looked over toward the Alabamian teen to explain, "Prudence is our personal assistant assigned to us by our Aunt Rachel.  Since we are going to be in Freedom City while here at Claremont, we have had to take on some responsibilities at Danger International, the family business so to speak."

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At the Dangers' offer of assistance, Lulu just smiled, shook her head and waved a hand dismissively. "Oh bless your hearts, but it's fine; ah just need to take Driver's Ed and get a permit, is all. Best to be all legal and above board, know what ah mean?" 

 

She wasn't terribly surprised or hurt by Janus' disinterest in mediation; he was obviously a man of action, with better things to do then lay around doing breathing exercises. However, she was delighted to see Veronica's interest had been piqued; it meant she had something to offer to the sophisticated world traveller, and made her feel a bit less like a dumb hick.

 

"Okay, well, obviously this isn't somethin' you can just learn in one session; you got to practice and whatnot. The key is to be willin' to let go of all your worldly desires, and just be in the moment, just like them Buddhists say. You do it in four stages, focusin' on your breathin' as you slip away."

 

Lulu lay on her bed, hands folded on her chest, and closed her eyes. "Now just so you know, ah'll be in full control of the trance; it can look a little scary from the outside, but ah'll be perfectly safe." A mischievous smile touched her lips. "It's especially scary if you and your girlfriend come home drunk off your ass and stagger into the wrong bedroom; my brother Kyle still ain't over that."

 

Then the young redhead became quiet as her breathing slowed, her chest rising and falling rhythmically. Little by little, her breath rate became slower and slower...and slower...and slower...until...it just...stopped.

 

Lulu laid there, unmoving, like a beautiful corpse.

Edited by Heritage

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Veronica

 

"Well, we were not suggesting anything deceptive, just that Prudence could help in getting the paperwork necessary submitted, but no worries."  Veronica said with a small smile, letting the driver's license issue pass as she instead focused on what Lulu had to say about going into a meditative trance. 

 

The teenage Danger nodded in understanding as Lulu mentioned that the technique would require practice to perfect.  She gave a little chuckle as Lulu mentioned the experience of another time she had been using the technique and the effect it had had on Lulu’s brother and his girlfriend.

 

Veronica then watched as the other teen began to demonstrate the technique.  It took a few moments, but then Lulu was lying as still as if in death, her chest not rising or falling as it should.  Veronica had to resist the urge to check her pulse or start trying to administer CPR, recalling what Lulu had said about her being in control and the effect looking frightening.  The young Danger had heard about similar results from such techniques before, even if she had not observed any first had.

 

"Wow!"  She stated after a few moments, continuing to watch Lulu closely.  "That is very impressive control.  I have never seen any trances performed quite to that level of control before.  It must have taken considerable disciple to be able to learn this."

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Janus eyed Lulu with considerable alarm, watching Veronica's reaction to the trance and then their gaze cut to the clock, marking the time. Three minutes without air was dangerous and Janus had serious reservations about this. "I've seen a spell like that," Janus stated and from the flat intonation, it was clear that it hadn't been a good thing. They stood up in one swift move, crossing to where Lulu rested just in case intervention was needed. Janus did not bite back the urge to check with Veronica's level of restraint. The taller Danger leaned over, calloused fingers finding Lulu's pulse point in her jaw to make certain that it continued to beat - if terribly slowly.

 

"Didn't end well," Janus said, the laconic statement making clear just how unpleasant that particular encounter had been.

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Lulu twitched slightly at Janus' touched, and she slowly raised one index finger, as if to say 'wait'. By small increments, her breath rate began to become more visible, and in less than a minute, she opened her eyes, which bore a hint of concern as she looked over at Prince of Fortuna.

 

"Ah'm sorry, Janus; ah didn't mean to upset you." Then she sat up and stretched like she'd just taken a nap. "Well, there you go! It's not just some kind of magic trick; if you need to hold your breath a long time, it's pretty darn useful. Or if you get poisoned, it can buy you some time." She shrugged. "So, if you ever want to practice, ah'm your gal."

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Veronica

 

Veronica could understand Janus' concern.  It certainly looked as if Lulu was not breathing and she knew that it did not take too long of oxygen deprivation before serious damage could result.  But…Lulu had told them not to be alarmed and that the result of what she was showing could look scary.

 

But still…

 

Then, Lulu started breathing once more and sat back up, seemingly no worse for wear.  "You were right, that did appear pretty frightening.  I was starting to contemplate going back to our room to get my first aid kit and the adrenaline injector inside it."  Veronica then gave a small smile.  "But that was quite impressive, I can see how it could be useful in certain situations.  It might take me awhile to master, but I certainly would be up for trying to work on the technique."

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