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The Espadas School: Helping Hand-to-Hand IC

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The bombastic sign above the otherwise nondescript storefront proclaimed the institution to be "The Espadas School of Self-Defense and Swordsmanship!" in bold gold lettering on a black backround complete with exclamation mark. Large glass windows revealed a currently unattended front desk and a diving wall that separated the training space from the street entrance. The second floor of the brick building looked to be given over to modest apartments, though it was worth noting that the window boxes hanging from them were host to some truly gorgeous flowering plants, fully in bloom in the August heat. Their leaves brushed against the top of the sign invitingly.

The school had been up and running for about a month by then, advertising through posters and word of mouth not to mention a surprisingly well designed and maintained website. It was in one of the nicer parts of the West End fortunately enough; those inclined to research such things might have noted that it had become a noticeably nicer area since the proprietors of the dojo had moved in. Thing has been a little slow to start off with but a new wave of self-defense classes were starting that day and a good number of new members had signed up.

Erik Espadas, the titular owner and head instructor busied himself unhooking a punching bag from the ceiling and moving it to one side of the larger section of the building, clearing off space in preparation. In a sleeveless white shirt and and comfortable sweat pants, the athletic, dusty haired young man certainly looked capable enough, built of lean muscle and angular good looks. The real question was just what this new batch of trainees would bring him.

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The white van moved down inner city streets of the west side rather slowly as it cornered around it's destination one more time. Dispite adament searching it became clear there was no available parking lots in reasonable walking distance of the school which was set in a more residental area of the city. Parallel parking onto the street it was not a prefered method of leaving her van out and in much more a position to be backed into or side swiped by a less then careful driver. Which was silly because her van was reinforced to take bullets and impact. Jasmine assessed the street before finding strip of clear space long enough for the van before parking and hopping out. She took a second to shed her lab coat and her scarf but otherwise she was wearing the same clothes she had to work, a sleevless violet blouse and dark slacks. It wasn't exactly work out clothes, but it wasn't that restrictive either. She had brough a strap for her glasses which she took a second to attach before closing the car door and locking up setting a couple of startling loud alarms before heading into the building.

No one was at the reception area, which wasn't that surprising. Checking her watch absently she found she was a few minutes before the actual class was supposed to start, which mean that there wasn't much possibility for there to be another class in session if she just walked in, or if there was it was ending. Either way she didn't need to stop for long before she strode to the room that looked most like the teaching area. In it she found a man moving rearranging various things in the room whom she got a fairly good look at with the room lengh mirror lining the back wall. He looked maybe a little older then college age, lean, handsome in a roguish sort of way, with light scars showing on well muscle arms exposed in his sleeveless shirt. Probably a local of the area, definitely someone who seemed familiar and comfortable with such equipment. Made her think for a second about how to get his attention, but it only took a second before she settled on the standard,

"Good evening."

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Tossing the heavy bag with both arms and a grunt on top of two others to form a small pyramid, Erik turned with a the rakish grin that seemed to be his default expression. "Hey, thanks for coming out!" he greeted amiably, dusting off his hands and walking over to dark haired woman. Her scars were immediately obvious, of course, but for better or worse the fencer had seen much worse before and left them unremarked. Digging a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket, he skimmed down the list printed upon it. "Don't tell me... Jasmine? Fair warning, a lot of the folks coming out tonight are teenagers," he informed her with a short laugh, tucking the page away again and extending a hand. "Erik. I'll be the instructor."

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A few months ago, Baxter Bowles might not even have considered self-defense courses. And why not? He had so many other things he could have been spending his vital but often short-lived allowance on: new clothes, a movie or two, maybe even a date with that cute girl in math class. But the wants of teenage desire - at least partially - had been replaced for this particular young man, and recent events had left him more than a little curious about self-betterment through pragmatic means. Besides, who needed a car when you could fly around in a fancy battlesuit?

And so here he was on the West End with a noticeably heavy gym bag slung over one shoulder, standing outside the modest storefront with its emblazoned golden sign hanging above his head. It had taken some convincing on Baxter's part to sway his parents towards the idea, but after stumbling across the Espadas School of Self-Defense and Swordsmanship online, Baxter had made up his mind long before even informing his parents of his desired enrollment. Between its proximity to home and familiar operating territory of the Bee-Keeper, it seemed a much more obvious choice than the perhaps more prestigious but also out-of-the-way Master Lee School in Hanover. This extracurricular was something he'd been pondering for a time, and a necessity that was becoming more and more prominent in his secret life as a superhero. While the suit was capable of doing a great deal of things, it wasn't ideal for every situation, melee skirmishes included. Sure, advanced targeting systems and augmented strength were great little boons to have as the Bee-Keeper, but when you're hitting someone where it's mostly ineffective, these things are made mostly moot; a trait Baxter had recently learned in his latest bouts. There was always someone stronger or tougher, and he needed to fight smarter if he wanted to maximize the capabilities of the Bee-Keeper Armor. That was, after all, the real reason he'd made the trip out here; a tiny factoid intentionally left out when he'd discussed it with his parental units.

With a surprising amount of enthusiasm, the dark-skinned teenager sauntered on in, eyes catching sight of his would-be instructor and an unknown woman. The smile formerly plastered on his face subsided slightly as Baxter looked around, taking note that the three of them were the only ones present as he moved towards the pair.

"Hey! I'm, uh... I'm not late, right?" inquired the boy, dressed in what might have been the most unconventional workout attire imaginable; bright blue kicks idly passing his ankles and leading up to a pair of well-worn jeans and plain white tee-shirt bearing an homage to the Freedom City Heroes. The place was practically deserted, and given his tendency for being tardy, it struck Baxter as unlikely that he was early - a thought that certainly put a damper on his upbeat mood.

"My name's Baxter. I was supposed to be here for the self-defense class," he explained sheepishly as he looked to the pair already present, adjusting the bag on his shoulder with a quick tug.

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The bus grumbled to a halt across from the large building, settling noisily on its air brakes before opening the doors. Tona Baudin was the first to bound down the steps. She was dressed in a tight-fitting tee-shirt that showed off her arms and a pair of jeans that went just past her knees, with her normal pair of combat boots. There was also a backpack slung over her shoulder that held another change of clothes, her bow, a dozen arrows, and her mask; the bare minimum to handle an unexpected situation. When her feet hit pavement she spun around and said to the girl descending behind her, "And that, mon pere said, is why the robin's breast is red!" She laughed at the joke and walked up to the edge of the pavement. The girl stepped off the sidewalk and into the lee of the bus; she held her breath as she glanced up and down the street. A part of her wanted to dash across, to test her reflexes in getting between the cars and getting to the far side safely. The larger part was aware, at least academically so, of how much energy those cars represented, and how fast her career would be over if one hit her. So she forced herself to wait for a break in the traffic.

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Kristin, dressed in a simple pair of black shorts and a comfortable t-shirt, thanked the bus driver and bounded down the stairs behind Tona, chuckling at the punch-line of the joke. "Oh come on, that's awful!" she grinned as she slung her bag over her shoulder and joined her friend to wait for a gap in the traffic. "It's like a joke John would tell!"

She glanced at her watch as they made it across. "Come on, we're going to be late!"

A short jog brought the pair to the gym, where Kristin immediately went over to meet the instructor. "Erik right? I'm Kristin and this is Tona. We're here for the self-defense class. We're not late are we?"

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Jasmine took the instructors hand and gave it a squeeze before she turned and watched the arrival of as Erik had promised several younger students. It wasn't that bad, they were maybe fourteen or fifteen at the youngest, not that she needed to ask. It made sense, this sort of thing took some time a lot of people her age couldn't afford to take out of their days. Overall it seemed like a fairly small gathering. She put up a smile at the younger boy and the two girls who arrived before looking back towards Erik,

"I am sure I can manage, how many people are coming today?"

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Tona dashed across the road alongside Kirsten and fetched up in the lobby of the school, grinning. It always felt good to be moving; buses and cars were useful insofar as they could move a lot faster than a human could run, but they'd never be as much fun as running was, in Tona's opinion.

She wandered to the back area, following the sound of voices talking. There were already a few people gathered there; a darker skinned woman with some nasty burns on her arms and hands, a man with even darker skin, almost as skinny as Kirsten, and a well-muscled man with a swarthy complexion, who looked at home among the practice gear. No doubt their instructor. Tona held back a moment, not offering her hand to any of the group or speaking up. She merely nodded at the others, content to let Kirsten speak for the moment.

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"Don't look so guilty, you're on time," Erik assured the chagrined looking young man you came in after Jasmine with a knowing smirk; he hadn't exactly been the most punctual person himself at that age. Before he could say more another pair of teenagers bounded inside as if they'd been racing, both petite, though the shorter of the pair looked like she had a pound of muscle over her lithe companion for every one of her numerous piercings. The heavily freckled redhead's accent stood out but the West End was hardly a stranger to regional inflections. The self-defense classes seemed to bring in a steady stream of active young women and the swordsman had been mentally kicking himself for not having opened the school when he was five years younger and single.

Laughing a little at her enthusiasm, he nodded to the rail-thin girl in confirmation. "That'd be me, yeah. So Jasmine, Baxter, Kristin, Tona," he repeated back, nodding to each in turn partly to introduce everyone around and partly to reinforce the names in his memory. His usual tactic of assigning nicknames to new acquaintances seemed a little unprofessional this soon. "Kristin or Kirstin? And to answer your question," he added, turning back to the first arrival, "that's about it. We had a few 'maybes' but we won't hold things up waiting for them. First thing's first, everybody grab a seat." He gestured to the mat covered floor before sitting down cross-legged himself.

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"It's Kristin, but I'm used to getting called Kirsten too. It's even worse when people try to spell it!" the Australian teen laughed as she walked to the side of the mat to drop off her bag. She surreptitiously checked that her costume was properly concealed at the bottom of the bag and then kicked off her shoes.

She bounced out onto the mat and dropped into a sitting position, folding her legs up underneath herself comfortably.

This should be fun!

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Tona followed Kristin over to the wall, picking a spot and dropping her bag off, then sliding to the floor and starting to untie her boots. She leaned close as she was tugging the shoes off, setting them carefully on the floor by her bag. "Why are we taking out shoes off," she asked the other girl. "We're learning to fight, right? With kicking, too."

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Relieved to hear he wasn't tardy to the party, that excitable grin of his once more made its way across Baxter's face. This was going to be so great! The slew of equally energetic students making their arrival - surprisingly, all of them young girls - only furthered Baxter's own eagerness to get this class underway. Flights of fancy played through the boy's mind; rife with cliche' movie anecdotes of punching bricks and kicking boards, perhaps to the colorful tunes that would make up a fantastic training montage. Of course, he knew this wasn't really what it was going to be like, but hey, a guy can dream.

"I think it's supposed to be, like, a thing of respect. You know, like in the movies," Baxter interjected as he followed the girls' lead, occasionally mustering a brief glance towards the one with the multitude of piercings. He wanted to ask her why she'd gotten so many; but that seemed rude for the same reasons about asking the older woman present about the ominous-looking burns. The last thing he needed was a bunch of girls pummeling him into the ground for being a jerk-face.

Plopping his bag of athletic attire beside the wall and giving it a slight push with his foot to reassure that the folded up Bee-Keeper armor was still present at the bottom and set the satchel flush with its new home, Baxter quickly kicked his shoes off right on top of the bag without so much as undoing the laces. His goods secured and footwear removed, Baxter bounded his way towards the mat as per instruction and crossing his legs as he took up a position beside Kristin, a smile still plastered on his face.

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Jasmine just smirked as she let them discuss and she removed her own shoes by pushing them off with her toes on the heels and repeating the process with her trouser socks. She brought herself to the ground and crossed her legs as she looked at the others. They were much more her eye level sitting down, the rest of the class was likely around the same age as each other. Which was school age, but it was high school. She was interested in the girls, bit hard to think she might have to spar one of them. They were rather small, but she could easily imagine laying her hands on her sister with them as a proxy. It made her a bit uncomfortable, but it was nessicary. She couldn't not get into the habit of facing someone head on. It was easier from a distance, most of her ammo was harmless, and when it wasn't it was only brought when it was a clear other methods were futile. In her head though, she hoped she could spar the instructor as opposed to one of the other students, if only because he looked like he could take any hits however inexperience and soft that hers may be better then any of the students.

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Kristin grinned at Tona's question.

"No shoes because we don't want to scuff up these nice new-looking mats. And because I don't want you kicking me with those boots of yours on!" she replied.

"And besides, it's probably better to learn without them. If you learn to kick without the boots on then you'll be able to kick a whole lot harder with them on if you need to!"

Guess she's never taken martial arts classes before either? she thought as she turned her gaze on Erik, wondering if the instructor would have anything to add to the discussion.

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Erik placed one finger to the side of his nose and pointed with the other hand toward Kristin as everyone took a seat. "Gold star for the girl who want to keep all her teeth," he confirmed with an easygoing nod. "Not saying here's not a good chance of racking up a few bruises, but I generally want you all in one piece when you leave. If you want to scuff up the mats a bit, though, that'd actually be great," he muttered as an aside shifting on hand to rub the dusting of stubble along his jaw. "The lingering squeaky-cleanness is kinda damaging my credibility here."

Turning to the redhead's companion, his broad smirk returned. "And hell yes 'with kicking, too'. If anyone ever tells you kicking is unsporting, kick them." Still smiling faintly but turning to more sober topics, he continued, "If your goal is to learn a formal martial art form for tournaments or expositions that's fine, but frankly there are better schools for that I could recommend to you. What we're going to be learning here is not about looking cool or playing fair or impressing anyone. It's about keeping you and people you care about safe in an emergency." He met each of the group's eyes in turn. "If you are very, very lucky this will all be a colossal waste of your time. So, before we do anything, I want to hear from each of you why you're here."

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Tona felt herself flush when Erik's eyes fell on her. She couldn't hardly say, 'I'm here to learn how to kill people more efficiently, because right now I'm only good at doing it was a bow and arrow.' Killing was frowned upon by heroes on this world, and in any case it would be bound to draw more attention than was good. "I'm friends with Kristen," she said eventually. "She said she was coming down here, and it sounded like fun." Her tone was anything but fun, almost like she was challenging Erik to poke holes in her story.

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She looked at the girl who spoke first, she sounded a bit off. She could honestly believe the other girl, Kristin was here to have fun, in fact she was almost certain she already was, there was that sort of energy about her. This one, seemed a bit more dead set. Though Jasmine didn't think to really push the issue, it was her own business.

"It's practical,"

Jasmine spoke up, her tone rather matter of fact,

"And I honestly don't have the time to do all the other stuff, forms, splits, tournaments, so I'm very much here to learn how to hold my own if I ever get cornered by, huh, it's a long list isn't it, is there anything that hasn't invaded this city in the last few years?"

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As his would-be instructor quipped his philosophy on kicking people, Baxter couldn't help but give a small chuckle. But it wasn't long before that smile of his faded, and the dark-skinned boy's enthusiasm was stifled, if only a little. After all, he truly was here for the same reason Mister Espadas had denoted: to protect himself and those he loved whenever the need arose. But for Baxter, that last part was a... well, a bit stretched. Not to mention the other reasons he'd taken an interest in the class. Sure, crooks and criminals were one thing, but bullies in class? Or those times he'd been caught without his beloved Bee-Keeper Armor? Without them, he was all but a sitting duck; a living punching bag for the amusement of those bigger, stronger, and faster than him. It was those weaknesses that made him feel helpless in the face of an overwhelming situation, a feeling he didn't like in the least.

But here it was nevertheless. The meat and potatoes of Erik's question, and the truth of the matter regarding Baxter's attendance. It was plain on his face that the query came with some significant weight, and Baxter - from his prone position along the cushy mat - shuffled uncomfortably as he mustered out a suitable response even as the ladies answered in kind. Between keeping secrets and being honest, it was putting him in quite the awkward state of affairs.

"I... uh... I just get into a lot of fights," the boy hummed out after a moment of thought, choosing the middle road as a forced laugh escaped his lips as he turned his gaze towards the mat, arms resting themselves along his folded lap. It sounded almost hilarious in his head by comparison to the more pragmatic response of the older woman, or the friendly camaraderie of the heavily pierced girl. "So, y'know, thought I'd see about learning to defend myself."

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Kristin smiled faintly at Tona's awkward response, and then again as Baxter sounded almost as uncomfortable.

When Erik's eyes fell on her she shrugged. "A couple of reasons for me I guess. Knowing how to defend yourself is never a bad thing - you can't always control the situations you get in so I want to make sure I have options if things get out of hand. The second reason is that it should be fun! I like martial arts. This might not be a traditional martial arts class but just because it's more practical doesn't mean it won't be fun!"

She paused for a moment, then couldn't resist teasing Tona just a little. "And I want to learn to fight, With kicking too!" she grinned.

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Even if Erik hadn't been something of an expert in the arena of body language and verbal sparring it would have been pretty obvious that Tona's explanation was as full of it as her face was full of piercings. Parts of it, anyway; he assumed she really was friends with Kristen but if he had to guess he would have bet that it was the girl with chocolate brown hair who'd dragged the other to the dojo. It was more the question of why she'd felt the need to evade the question that interested him but he decided not to call the teenager out in front of the group. Oh Dios, I'm starting to think like a mature adult and parent.

Jasmine raised a legitimate point; Freedom City residents did have a decent chance to running into something a little more dangerous than the average mugger sooner or later. He wasn't sure how well any of the group would ever be able to do against a genetically engineered Grue supersoldier if it came down to it but it was at least worth preparing as best they could. Baxter he actually felt badly for for a moment. It wasn't too hard to imagine the slightly awkward, lanky youth being victimized by his peers. It sounded like he wasn't one to take the abuse passively, however, and the mere fact that he'd come out to learn to defend himself more effectively pleased Erik. Hopefully Kristin's good cheer and enthusiasm would help being the others out of their respective shells a bit. Reminds me a little bit of Zip before he went to future and came back all serious.

He nodded simply. "Alright. I know I put you guys on the spot there a bit, but it's an important question." He took a breath and continued, "Jasmine's point actually leads me to another, which I can't believe I actually have to say out loud. If anybody here, just hypothetically, is some sort of super powered heroic type... I don't want to know." He raised his hands in front of himself, palms facing the group of four. "Seriously. I'm not going to be checking anybody's bag for tights or laser beam gloves or whatever. Hell, I can think of a few heroes who fight sloppy as all get out and I wouldn't mind showing them how to keep their fists up" He chuckled a little, breaking some of the moment's tension. "All I'm asking is that if you're going looking for trouble, you wait until you know what you're doing. A couple of sessions here is not going to make you the next Raven, clear?"

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"Well of course it wouldn't,"

Jasmine smiled lightly as she looked at Erik,

"That name's been trademarked."

She stretched quietly as she examined the lot around her, they didn't seem like the types to secretly be wearing costumes and fighting crime, but then again, did she? It didn't matter,

"I severely doubt you'll find anything of the sort in my bag even if you did look, especially tights. Which I always question why, they always seem like a hazard trying to get near any of the things that like to attack this city wearing such thin material. Given, I suppose some of the people don't need to worry about that sort of thing, even if I'm clearly not one of them."

She hoped she wasn't being to forward joking about her injury like that, it was sometimes the elephant in the room with some people. Curiousity is like that.

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Kristin blinked in surprise for a moment, then chuckled "How many lessons do I need before I can be the next Raven? About five right?"

She glanced at the others to see how they were reacting to Erik's very straightforward assertion. She knew of course that Tona was packing a bag full of surprises, and while neither Baxter nor Jasmine appeared to be anything other than ordinary people, but she knew full well that appearances could be deceiving.

"By the way, if any of you guys are packing laser gloves I do want to know. That would be totally awesome!"

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"Yes, sir," Baxter responded in an odd mixture of energetic enthusiasm and quiet awe. Even as the young instructor laid down his disinterest in learning secret identities, recent superheroics, or other such traits, Baxter couldn't help but feel that all too familiar tension building in his stomach. Doubly so given the ironic, almost serendipitous analogy of what may or may not have been in the African-American teenager's backpack, causing Baxter to throw a sidelong glance towards his precious belongings.

The levels of awkwardness had been aptly rising - at least for him - though the girls at least managed to alleviate a portion of the prolific stress through their idyllic sense of humor. That dour demure that had befallen the young student found itself uplifted in the wake of Kristin in particular, whose either feigned or earnest interest in laser beam gloves at least made him feel a bit more comfortable about his high-profile, low-key lifestyle as the binary student-hero Bee-Keeper. Letting loose a low chuckle, Baxter panned from the more mature woman to the more bubbly redhead, their jovial natures a nice contrast to the sudden heaviness of the conversation.

"You wanna be the next Raven, huh?" Baxter crooned, eyebrow arched as his gaze shifted to Kristin in mild amusement, another coy laugh escaping his lips. Whatever he was thinking regarding the girl bashing crooks with gizmos, gadgets, and kung-fu were aptly kept to himself as his attention drifted back towards Erik, his quaint little speech having sparked some curiosity in Baxter.

"So, I've got a question, Mister Espadas," he began, raising his hand a little late even as he made it clear he had an inquiry. "You know why we're here, but how come you're running a school to teach people how to fight? I mean, yeah, Freedom City's dangerous and all, but what I mean is, why are you doing the instructing, 'specially if you can supposedly show those capes a thing or two?"

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Tona pulled a cloth bag with a rawhide drawstring and a clean cloth from one of her many pockets and dropped it in her lap, then began the long process of removing the many metal-and-wood bits stuck in various holes in her face. Each stud or ring was carefully wiped down, the cap re-screwed, and dropped in the bag. At one point she pulled up her shirt and gave the rest of the class a good look at her well-defined abs as she retrieved a belly button piercing. Eventually they were all packed away and she tossed the bag from hand to hand, listening to them clink. She dropped the bag in her backpack and stood, stretching against the wall in preparation for the training.

She didn't have much to contribute to the conversation, so she stayed quiet. She'd seen the Raven at Freedom Hall when she was living there, before moving to Claremont; the woman had a grace and an ease to her movements that Tona only associated with a few people in her life, all of them supremely dangerous. Tona didn't think that she herself would ever reach such levels, but on the other hand no one else could follow a trail or fire a bow like Tona, so she was content with that.

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"I figure looking good in tights is a superpower all on its own," Erik agreed with a short laugh, letting any lingering tension seep out of the room. The glib jokes were about the reaction he'd been expecting but if he could save them all some grief later by being direct now it seemed worth a shot. With any luck it would also keep any of his students from wondering too much about his own extracurricular activities.

Baxter's inquiry got a surprised but thoughtful look in return. "Alright, fair question. The way I see it, in a world where you've got larger-than-life heroes showing up to save the day, you've got two options," he explained, turning both palms upward as if weighing each choice. "You can decide to be a victim who always needs saving - which, for those of you playing at home, is the stupid option - or you can take inspiration and improve yourself. 'Cause if they can do that, you don't really have much excuse, do you?" After a heavy moment, his serious expression melted into an easy-going smirk once more. "I'm not saying it has to be fighting, but mi hermanita got all the brains in the family, and you're looking at what was left over!"

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