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The Red Bridal (IC)

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Fall 2021 

Neko and Danica's room 


"Falling in love at first sight is less common in Japan than in the West; party because of the - peculiar constitution of Eastern society, and partly because much sorrow is prevented by early marriages which parents arrange. Love suicides, on the other hand, are not infrequent; but they have the particularity of being nearly always double. Moreover, they must be considered, in the majority of instances, the results of improper relationships." Having been speaking in a low whisper as she read the Hearn book, Neko closed the book with a sigh and set it on her desk, the largest piece of furniture on her side of the room. With much more care in picking out her words, she said, "Enough for today."


Turning in her seat, she said to Danica, "Can you want to buy some food?" 

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"That book is creepy," Danica complained, rolling out of the beanbag nest she'd assembled under her loft bed and climbing to her feet. "If you love somebody, run away and find a way to be with them! And don't let anybody pick who you're going to marry!" She stretched, her movements fluid but slow as always. "I was thinking about just going to the caf, but we can maybe get something else if you want. There's a pretty good pizza place around here that delivers, and a Thai place that has good curry. If we're gonna go out-out, we probably have to wear disguises." 

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Neko responded to that by swiveling her ears around and folding them down onto her head, then running her fingers over them as the white color faded from her hair and eyebrows. In a moment, she looked like any petite Asian girl of her age, though there was still something distinct about how she cocked her head and smiled with a squint. "That is easy." She considered a moment. "I have a pizza with - pepperoni? It was very, um, thick, and greasy. But I have never had Thai food. Is it - is it like noodles, tied together?" she asked.


Her eyebrows moved together, and she suddenly looked worried - "Will there be trouble if we go out? I don't want trouble with the headmistress." No one had said a word about corporal punishment at Claremont, but she was sure a school with such powerful students must have fearsome ways indeed to keep them in line. 

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"Nah, I'm an upperclassman this year," Danica explained, looking extremely proud of this fact. "I don't have to be in until ten on school nights, and if you're with me you'll be fine. They just don't want us out and getting into trouble. Patrolling is different, there's all sorts of different rules for that, but you don't have to worry about any of that yet." Danica concentrated and suddenly the shell on her back was shrinking, forming itself into a large black and gold backpack that looked almost too big for her short frame. "Let's do Thai," she decided. "It's got some noodles, but it's also got rice and vegetables, and amazing sauces with spices and coconut milk and good things. You'll like it," she promised. "And I'll buy this time, my folks paid me to work at the zoo this summer so I'm good for awhile."


Climbing onto her scooter, she touched the controls that covered some of its more fantastic accessories with plain white panels and hung a blue handicap placard on the front. It seemed much plainer that way, and Danica had explained that the blue card let her take the scooter to places it would otherwise not be allowed. "You ready?" 

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"Okay, Thai." said Neko with a nod, feeling pleased that the school had assigned her someone with so much power. There were real advantages to having someone with so much experience as her guide to Claremont! She headed off, hands in the front pocket of her hoodie, sneakers making her almost silent as she padded after Danica outside. Danica's machine was one of her favorite machines around the school, though not quite so interesting as Ryder's bugs. It was a little frustrating to have to walk slowly with Danica around campus sometimes, but the ride made everything easier. She thought about inviting Owain as they passed his floor, but then remembered he was going to teach James how to fight with swords that afternoon. "Are there many Thai people in America?" she asked curiously. "There are - not many people there" 



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"Well, no, we're not just going to leave him outside. There's plenty of space in the dorm room. Advantage of a super single, and all that!" There were lots of odd sights at Claremont but the British teen heading towards the door at a quick clip was unusual even by Claremont standards. An oversized black bird was perched on top of her curls, talons digging into her braid to try and keep purchase and occasionally squawking with outrage and a flap of big black wings to keep balance. Dark blue tattoos covered much of Tori's exposed skin and around her neck was a handsewn pouch whose contents were occasionally wiggling and moving about. Keen eyes might spot the small snout of some young creature occasionally poking over the edge before quickly burrowing back down to avoid the chaos. In her hands, a tan and black snake curled limply around her hands. "He's a ball python; probably someone's pet. They're not native and it's way too cold. I know all snakes look alike to you, Achilles, but we didn't leave you out in the wild when you cracked that keel bone, did we?" 


Tori was so invested with arguing that she almost ran right into Neko and Danica. She caught sight of them out of the corner in her eye just in time to stop short. "Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry. I wasn't watching where I was going."

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"I like stories like that," Neko was telling Danica. "They are - romantic, and are very bloody!" She smiled at that, though the look on Danica's face suggested she had perhaps picked the wrong word. Come to think of it, the Red Bridal did end with the doomed young lovers meeting their end by an oncoming train. Maybe it wasn't really the right story to read around Danica, who was of a rather sensitive disposition in Neko's opinion. When they almost ran into Tori, she hesitated a moment, then momentarily fixed her gaze on the girl's bird. She didn't make a hostile move, but automatically a low chattering came from inside her mouth, and the pupils of her eyes grew bigger and bigger until her topaz irises seemed to vanish entirely. 

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"See, the romantic part is great, it's the bloody part I'm having a hard time buying into- oh!" Neko's sudden stop had her braking hard, the compensators in the scooter itself enough to make up for her own slow reflexes and avert an accident. "Sorry about that!" she said, almost over the stranger's own apology. "Guess there's just a lot of traffic today!"


She smiled at the new person. "Hey, I'm Danica and this is Neko! I love your bird! Is he a familiar, or is he just your friend?" Danica had seen some of both with animals on campus over the years, and the bird had a canny look in their eye. "Oh!" she said again, getting a better look. "You have lots of friends! Look at that cutie," she cooed, smiling down at the snake. "Poor sleepy thing." 

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"Hullo!" Tori offered, returning Danica's smile with a warm one of her own. She lifted the ball python up slightly. It was young still but old enough that it was probably getting too big for a tiny pen and had started to reach the level of 'more work' than some errant pet owner had been willing to put in. "He says his name is 'Fang' but he doesn't like it very much. I told him we could come up with a new name. He got left out in the park today and it's just too cold, poor little guy. I said we could get him warmed up and find him a new place to live. I'm Tori, by the way. My crow friend is Achilles, although he's a friend, not a familiar. I don't have one of those - just friends that need a bit of help."


Tori took in Neko's reaction and offered a small smile of understanding as the crow sidled back and forth on top of Tori's curls, digging in talons to try and keep purchase even as it reacted with some alarm to the clear predator. Achilles either felt very comfortable with Tori's protection, or he hadn't yet recovered enough to fly. When he began to flap his wings, Tori reached up one hand soothingly. "Don't bolt, Achilles, it's not polite to trigger someone's hunting instincts if you can help it. If I launch him to fly to my room, is that going to bother you, miss?"


There was nothing but sympathy in Tori's tone, and some familiarity with having to play peacemaker between prey and predator species. As she talked, a sleepy head poked up from that pouch; an orphaned opossum by the looks of it. Followed by three more little heads of its siblings to see what all the fuss is about. "And these are the babies," Tori added as the opossums peered over the edge of the bag. She lowered her voice a little, deferential and sad, like she was telling the other two girls about a human's loss rather than an animal death and certainly like the opossums could both hear and understand her words. "Their mother passed away a few days ago. Car accident."

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Neko took a few moments to calm herself, taking deep breaths, and let herself be soothed by Danica and Tori's gentle voices. "Okay," she told Tori. "He can fly." She made a little wave up towards where they had come from. "We are going to eat Thai," she added after Danica had finished speaking. She started to point off in the direction Danica had suggested, then realized abruptly she wasn't actually sure where they were going once they left campus. She looked at Tori, noting the girl's bond with animals, and tried Do you speak the language of cats? To Danica's ears, it sounded distinctly as if Neko had simply started meowing at the girl. (This was usually how Neko sleep-talked.)


At some point during the conversation, Neko had acquired a cat that she now held in the crook of one arm, a short-haired Japanese Bobtail whose brown and white coloration matched the odd color of Neko's hair, its eyes the same color of yellow as it watched the two girls. 

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Danica cooed over each of the animals as they were introduced, but her interest was definitely with the snake. "Can I hold him?" she asked eagerly. "He's so cute, it's so mean if somebody dumped him on purpose! My parents are reptile specialists at the Freedom City Zoo, I'm sure they'd be able to help find a good home for him, if you want. Are you going to do rehab out of your dorm room? That's really neat, do you need an incubator? We have one at my house that we don't really use, it's from when I was little and used to hibernate if I got cold at night. Do you have any other pets? Have you been doing this for a long time?" Her torrent of words cut off when she noticed Neko. "Um, you're not going to try and eat that bird, are you?" 

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Tori grinned at Neko, "Yep. I understand you just fine. And you'd be able to understand me even if you only spoke 'cat', though I think it'll just sound like English if you don't? Or maybe your native language? I'm not sure how the magic interfaces with people who speak human and animal, honestly. I can tell you that the animals and plants all understand whatever I'm saying, to the best of their ability to understand, I mean. They get the intent." Tori didn't stop speaking English but under the language, now that it was pointed out, Neko could make out the echoes of the language felines communicated in adding clarity to Tori's words. Along with it came the strong sense that Tori was safe; someone who would have warm places to sleep and likely to leave out tasty food for a hungry stray. It wasn't an intentional magic, just the pulsing of druidic power that signaled that Tori was a safe harbor in a human dominated world.


"Of course. He's still cold but my magic's protecting him from the worst of it at the moment," Tori was perfectly happy to hand over the ball python to Danica, murmuring softly as she transferred the balled up reptile into Danica's waiting hands. It was clearly a baby still, not even a foot in length from nose to tail. It freed up her hands to reach up and coax Achilles from her hair and onto her arm to prepare for a launch. "I'm in a super-single this year cuz, uh, they weren't too keen on my taking over the closet to do rehab, but it's been decided with my power set and all that it's not like I'm keeping pets, so much as part and parcel with what I am. I have stuff to set up a temporary shelter but I got to do some internship stuff with wildlife rehabilitation over the summer so I have a couple of contacts because, I think, there's some concern I'll just take up any space provided. There's always more animals that need help, you know?"


Tori shifted the bird to her arm and warned Neko, "He's still in rehab so he's going to flap a little lopsided when he launches," because wounded animals tended to trigger that hunt instinct worse in predators and Tori was hoping that the warning would help. She kept one eye on Neko as she threw her hand up in the air to launch the injured crow and only relaxed once a few flaps of those black wings took Achilles into the air and towards her always open dorm window. Only then did she give Danica back her full attention with a smile. "I've always felt pretty strongly about ecology stuff. Drove my mum nuts that I kept bringing home strays but it kicked into high gear when I inherited the power. It's plants too. I can hear 'em all. I think that took a bit to understand as Lady Celtic's powers didn't work quite like that and my Mum gave Ms. Summers a real earful about my habits of finding tatty strays to take in but they get that I hear cries for help from not just humans now and I can't just ignore it. D'you wanna see if your folks wanna take him in, Danica? S'fine with me. I try to find good rehabs and homes when they're stable past what only I can do. Ms Summers DID point out that part of being a hero is trying to maximize the stuff that only you can do. I'm working on that part. It's hard not to help."



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Neko considered asking if Danica would eat a giant strawberry or huge lettuce leaf if it was plopped down in front of her, but then remembered Danica's face on "garden vegetable day" in the cafeteria and decided that was a silly question. "No," she said, a little nettled. "I would not eat her animal." But then, great day in the morning, all annoyance was resolved when she realized that Tori was still speaking and that she could understand her. Neko's eyes popped open wide and a huge smile crossed her face, the sort of genuine joy that Danica didn't see that much from her roommate. (Neko was one of those people who smiled when she was nervous, which meant Danica had seen plenty of smiles from her.) "Danica, she - understands me!" she exclaimed. "That is very wonderful!" She hesitated a moment, then realized that if Tori's powers let her speak English and the tongue of cats at the same time, then Danica must have understood her too. Well there was no use dwelling on that now. 


The cat girl was by now so distracted that her disguise had begun to lapse; it was a fortunate thing they were still on campus. But she wasn't bothered as her ears seemed to unfurl atop her head like rolled up paper and her tail seeming to wriggle its way below the line of her blouse and out above her bright floral dress. She wasn't so distracted, however, that she missed the name Tori invoked while speaking to Danica. 


Lady Celtic. 


Memories of a briefing a lifetime ago came to her; the British witch and her Yankee lover, who no doubt would lay waste to the good people of the empire unless its brave defenders guarded its borders. She knew the fate Lady Celtic had met at war's end too, and then the American too at the hands of the Katana, not that long after he'd abandoned her in Burma. What would a scion of that line make of her? She dismissed the cat she'd been holding, the beast vanishing to smoke and a faint scent of fish as it disappeared into the shadowy place of imagination where she had first found it. Tori did seem a kind, sweet friend, but surely that would only make her heart break even worse to know that she and her grandmother? great-grandmother? had once been enemies. 


Wringing her hands nervously, she followed the two animal lovers. 

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"Look at you!" Danica sing-songed to the little snake, cupping him in her hands with ease that spoke of practice. The snake seemed to like Danica's slightly-warmer-than-human skin, unbunching a bit to maximize surface area contact. "You're just a little bitty bit!" Baby-talking the snake took most of her attention for a little bit, but she smiled in response to Neko's joy at finding someone to talk to. "That's great!" she enthused. "I didn't know anybody on campus this year who speaks cat, that's lucky!"


Winding the snake around her neck like a scarf, she gave Tori a smile as well. "We were just heading out to dinner off-campus, do you want to come with? Your friends probably can't come, but maybe they'd like to get settled in anyway? And I'll be happy to give my mom a call tonight about Fang or Monty or whatever name he comes up with, and he's welcome to hang out on the warm rock in my room." 

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"That's brilliant. Will save me having to spend the time to set up a terrarium," Tori commented cheerfully. It was a slightly longer trip to Tori's room as she had to feed the opossums before tucking them in to a cage in the closet. Tori's room was one of the singles, with the side that would have been occupied with a bed holding shelving that held a few cages and a lot of supplies. At the moment, there were just the opossums and Achilles sleeping on his roost in the corner. "I was a little worried I was going to be lonely, honestly. I raised two foxes last year and although I would love to have them with me, it's time for them to be grown foxes doing fox-y things with others of their kind. Saying goodbye is always tough, you know? But someone shot poor Achilles with a BB gun and cracked his keelbone, and then I found the babies. Otherwise its just too quiet."


Tori's smile was undiminished and she quickly shut up her room before she tucked her hands in her pockets and joined the pair heading towards the Thai place. "Uh, I can't hide the tattoos or anything, just to let you know?" Tori offered, her tone apologetic. "But most people just think they're regular tattoos even if they give me dirty looks for having face tattoos as a teenager. Not like I could have sat through all that. My pain tolerance is not at all high enough for extensive work."


She tipped her head towards Neko and then offered, "I'm happy I can understand you, too. Always happy to translate though... if you speak Japanese, there's a couple of other kids who are fluent. I'm learning, actually. I want to know what Utsawa mutters under his breath when he's annoyed." Tori grinned, gesturing for them to pick the table. 

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"<I can hide the tattoos,>" Neko offered as they walked towards the restaurant. "<But they will still be in any pictures people take.>" Once they were at the table, she held back so that Danica could find a seat that would match her shell, then climbed in after her. Considering Tori's words and wanting to make allowances for Danica, she said in careful English, "Utsawa does not - see me. He does not like me, no." She had never asked if the moody boy simply was offended by her appearance, or perhaps recognized a figure from his nation's own past. She was still in Japanese history books, anyway. She'd seen them herself. "Ryder is my friend," she offered, "he makes machines." Ryder's Japanese was not exactly what she could call fluent, but he certainly had a charming way about him. 


"Aah, sushi!" she said, tilting her head as she smiled over the menu. Sushi had not been on her own childhood staple, but all the flavors of fish and rice were certainly good. "What is good here?" 



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"Tattoos are fine," Danica promised as they walked, "they're used to the kids from Claremont being a little different, plus it's a generally cool neighborhood. They just still have to follow the health codes, and we can't advertise the school too much, you know?" Slipping out of her shell was an easy, if slow, process for Danica and soon they were all seated comfortably in a booth. "I'm not sure Utsawa likes anyone," she offered to Neko, picking up her menu. "But lots of boys are like that at his age, just downright crabby. They usually grow out of it. Let's see... what do you like? The sushi is good, the curry is good, they have a very nice spicy coconut soup. I'm just going to get the pad thai though, because it's my favorite." 

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"It's probably more that Utsawa assumes you won't want to associate with him. His powers are... eh, it unsettles a lot of people and he definitely falls into the habit of shunning other people before they can shun him. Danica's not wrong about the thing about boys being full of fuss and bother. Some girls are too. Teenagers are terrible, at least that's what my mum says. She thinks lots of things are terrible though so, grain of salt and all that."


Tori slipped into her chair and reached for the menu. "My treat, okay? Least I can do for tagging along at the last minute." She glanced over the menu, brow furrowing as she contemplated her options, flipping back and forth and half distracted. There was the occasional flicker of light under her markings as her magic translated her words to things Neko understood but nothing overt or showy. "Ryder's a total cutie. Sweet and smart. He's a good friend to have. First one I made at Claremont too. And he makes a mean smoothie. Lots of people think with my stuff, I won't like tech but his ro-bugs are super neat. Shame my magic doesn't let me talk to them. Maybe some day I'll figure it out... Oh, and you can always cloak my tattoos if you don't want attention, Neko. You don't have to ask in the future. For a lot of reasons, I'm not gonna ever have a secret identity but doesn't mean I want to out everyone from the cape closet along with me. I leave it at your discretion."


Tori grinned and went to set her menu aside finally. "I like Utsawa alot. He's just, you know, big hedghog energy."

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"<Hah! A needle-rat!>" Neko laughed nervously at the unexpected word, looking around as if expecting Utsawa to pop up and scuttle away from a dark corner. The restaurant looked to be doing well for itself in this afternoon, though she didn't really have a good basis for comparison. The place was certainly full of smiling, happy people and the food smelled wonderful, she thought, her nose twitching slightly. 


"Sushi, and...pad thai," she said, nodding to Danica. Carefully, she said, "Where I am from, there was...not many kinds of food?" she said, thinking of salted fish cooked over the fire, and real thick potatoes that boiled up nicely in the pot. It certainly had tasted good at the time, but there had not been much available for the farmers of the village back in the Iya Valley. "Here there is very much, all the time." She did not look displeased by that fact. "You have been here very long time," she asked Danica, "who do you know?" 

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"Exactly!" Danica agreed with Tori. "Cute but prickly, but probably okay underneath. I like that. And Ryder is awesome, he helped make my new scooter, and he's got the best robots at school! There are a lot of really cool people here, I know you guys will both make friends fast. I'm going to be trying to make some new friends too. All my friends from my first two years have graduated by now and it's kinda weird not having them around." Her face fell briefly before she deliberately cheered up. "So it's a good thing you guys seem rad!" She took a couple minutes to give them the rundown on teachers, who gave homework and who did not, who ran a tight ship and who did the fun field trips.


"You'll probably get put onto a team pretty soon too, that'll help you meet people. It's not like Sorting Hat or anything, just the kids you train with most often, do simulations with and stuff," Danica added. "And if your team doesn't work out you can always change it, but they do an okay job grouping people up. It depends on your powers, mostly. What all do you guys do?" 

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"I was here last year but I ended up bouncing back and forth a lot. I dunno if you guys have heard of her; Lady Celtic? She was a hero during World War II. That's my great-grandma," Tori said, her expression scrunching up a little as she mentioned the legacy. The fact that she had some complicated emotions over inheriting a mantle played out across her expressive features. "She had kids with another hero, the Human Tank but their kids didn't get any powers, and neither did my dad's generation, but I inherited Gran's powers when I hit my teens though they manifest a little different."


She stretched out one hand towards the vase of slightly wilted flowers on the table to pull one carefully. With a flicker of magic, she curled her hand around the blossom; restoring it to full bloom and spawning a handful of other similar blossoms until she had a small bouquet to offer to Neko with a smile. "It manifests as a connection to the earth and the creatures of it. I can grow and talk to plants, or I can take on an aspect of one of the animals that shared a bit of themselves with me; taking on their strengths as my own as the situation requires it. From what I gather, great-grandmother was a bit more of a traditional spell caster and its gone a bit more neo-druidic in my hands. Still, it's tied to the soil of the British Islands pretty strongly but I do just fine when not home for long stretches of time. What about you two?"

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Neko looked around nervously at the display of power in the crowded restaurant, but luckily no one seemed to be looking their way at the moment. "Um, I am from Japan," she said carefully. "The Iya Valley. It is very small, not near anything, any kind of place. I never left my home before now-" her voice tensed at the mention of home before she shook her head, then added, "I can make things appear and disappear," never tell them it's just illusions - or that you can make the blood spill from their ears if you want to. save that for when you need it a voice from the past seemed to speak in her ears. "My ears and tail are real," she added. "Back home, everyone is - like me." She added with a shrug, wondering to herself if they still were. "I live with my friend Owain in a place in the city. He is from Britain; he knew King Arthur." 

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"That's cool!" Danica enthused, looking over the flowers with no evidence of concern. Of course not a lot seemed to concern Danica, so that wouldn't necessarily be reassuring to Neko. "I love nature control powers, they're so fun and heroes can do bonkers conservation work with them sometimes and it's totally wicked!" A belated glance towards her new roommate reminded her that Neko probably was going to have a very hard time translating that. "I mean, your powers are really great, thanks for showing us! And your great-grandparents are famous! I read about them in school!" 


"So everybody in your town had ears and tail and cats made of light and small-item teleport?" she asked with curiosity after Neko spoke. "That must be an interesting place to grow up. When did you meet Owain?" 



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"Hunh, I wonder if he knows the druids that I met," Tori mused at Neko's commentary, her curiosity piqued. She smiled slightly at Neko, "The ears and tail are cool. I can't grow any but it's so neat when I take on keener senses. I bet your night vision is crazy good, right?"


Tori folded her arms on the table, leaning a little closer in as she grew more interested in the conversation. "That does sound interesting. Everyone around where I grew up is, y'know, 'normal'. I've never been to Japan, before, but I want to go sometime. I have a whole list of places I want to see someday... What about you, Danica? I know a little bit about your abilities but only a little. What sort of things do you do?"

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Neko felt herself start to sweat, picturing in her mind a giant sweat drop forming above her eye but banishing the thought before it could become reality. "It was very interesting," she agreed, her voice a little shaky as she spoke to Danica. She'd missed several of the words her friend had used but she'd at least managed to get the gist of it. "I had to, um, hide myself when I went to school. Everybody did."  Because if the government found out about us, they would come for us. And that's exactly what happened, isn't it? "I met Owain when we were..." She looked down at her water glass, big yellow eyes wide, and managed "children." I told Danica that I knew him before. She must not have understood there is only one before for me! 


Owain of course had had a great many befores - or at least more than the average person had had. Then she thought of the Human Tank and what the Katana had done to Tori's family, and bit her lip. She had been sleeping in a bed of ice when the Katana had quietly murdered the Human Tank and Gunner while they lay sleeping in their beds, but she had read the story.


It had all seemed so...expected. The idea that the Katana had responded to the arrival of American superheroes by simply killing them without a struggle had been exactly what she would have expected him to do...


Luckily the food arrived then, sparing her from a conversation that was growing increasingly uncomfortable, and thoughts that were spiraling out of control. She picked up her chopsticks with a practiced hand and dug into the sushi, nodding in satisfaction and closing her eyes almost to slits as she ate. "This is very good! I never had anything...so much before," she added, smiling. "Danica is...wicked keen!" she added, a phrase she'd picked up from her room-mate that morning. 

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