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Avenger Assembled

Little Girls and Cute Dogs (IC)

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Late August 2012

It was a warm summer day just before the start of fall term, in the pleasant quiet before new freshmen and returning students arrived on the boarding school's campus. Mali was just stepping out of her building's front door when a German Shepard leaped right through her chest! The dog seemed baffled by the transition, landing with a clatter of canine claws on the carpeted floor just behind her and looking up at her with doggy puzzlement as it gripped a black and yellow Frisbee between its teeth. Whining curiously, the big dog sniffed at Mali questioningly, its big eyes soulful and black as they looked up at the martial artist teen with a canine inquisitiveness. The Frisbee bore writing in a language Mali didn't recognize, the glossy plastic surface seeming to glow with an inner light through the yellow script.

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Mali looked down at the strange dog and, for a moment, looked worried. He seemed friendly enough, but between jumping through her and carrying a glowing object, she had plenty of reason to worry. Her limited experiences in superheroics taught her that you never touch a glowing object you don't understand.

"Hi strange...ghost doggie. Are you lost? Is that your toy? Where are you from?" She dropped down and looked for some form of identification. A tag, perhaps? She didn't try to reach out and touch him, figuring that was probably a moot point.

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The dog dropped the Frisbee and woofed at Mali in a friendly way, trying to sniff her face as she looked for a tag. She seemed real enough, breath warm on the teenager's face. The dog was wearing a handsome leather collar with a tag that read "LORA" above several more alien-looking squiggles, and responded readily with another woof and an outright facelick when Mali said the word out loud. Despite the dog's ability to run right through things, it could evidently make itself solid. A moment later, the dog woofed again and ran right through Mali again out a few steps onto the quad when she heard someone else call her name!

Mali had met Sharl before, the tall, lanky boy as ever in a black coat and shirt despite the heat, but not his companions; the dog who immediately ran up to him, or the pale, blonde girl of about ten at his side, who walked with a slow, measured stride that looked a little awkward. "Hey, Lora," Sharl was saying as he petted the dog's head. "See, I knew she hadn't gone far," he added to the girl before calling, "Mali, did she have a Frisbee in there?"

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"Oh, so she's yours, okay..." It was clear that she had been confused, even worried about the dog before it became evident who she belonged to. Obviously, spectral dogs weren't her specialty, and she wasn't sure how to handle it. The relief on her face was obvious. Knowing it was Sharl's meant that it was (probably) okay. "Did you run off, Lora?" She said, using that cutsey tone of voice many people did when interacting with animals.

"Yeah, she did, I think it's close." She said, clearly unwilling to try to find the frisbee with her own hands. She wasn't sure if that's exactly what it was, either. Could have been anything, wasn't about to test it by grabbing at it.

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"I must have thrown it too hard," said the girl with a strong Northern European accent, stomping along after Sharl with an oddly heavy stride. "I hope it did not break anything or become lost!"

"No, it's fine," said Sharl reassuringly as he petted the dog, "it'll have just turned into energy when it hit a wall. We can find it around." The trio of boy, little girl, and dog finished walking up to Mali.

"Eira, this is my friend Mali. She's one of the other students here at Claremont." Up close, Eira was as pale as Sharl but with a fair-skinned, creamy complexion and lustrous blonde hair in a ponytail. She actually bowed for Mali, then extended a hand to shake, her small hand extremely strong in Mali's grip.

"Eira is from Sweden, and she's visiting Miss A's lab this week, so I thought I'd take her on a campus tour," said Sharl with an affecionate grin down at the kid. "You don't get to see any of the secret stuff till you're of age, but there's a lot to see aboveground on campus." A woof from below made him add, "And Lora's my dog. Good dog."

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Mali smiled politely and shook Eira's hand. "The campus is a cool place to see, lots of interesting things" She looked over the motley crowd that were with Sharl. "So where are you guys going to next? What have you seen so far?"

She'd heard of Miss Americana a few times, but hadn't met her. Privately Mali thought that the idea of a female superhero not just being pretty, but being strong and very smart was really cool. She'd often wanted to meet more superheroes, but she supposed that would come with age and graduation.

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"I saw the library, and some of the flying students, and the gymnasium with all the equipment for very strong people. I have to return back to Miss A's lab soon," said Eira with a little pout, looking up at the teenager who was obviously a favorite big brother-type. "I am not supposed to overstrain my new batteries when they are not done testing them. But coming here was more fun than being in a hotel room again!"

"Yeah, your dad is here with the car," agreed Sharl, cocking his head as he picked up an electronic signal. "I guess we'd better start over there. Hey Mali, I was going to go downstairs and train after this," he said as he and his companions turned and started the other way. "you up for it? I think some of the rest of The Team were going to be down there." Mali could read the caps on the words well enough; with the kids on superteams like Sharl, it was easy to guess which one he was talking about.

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"Sure." Mali said with a smile. She was always eager to train with people. Either she'd get a chance at watching people spar, spar herself, or teach someone some more about fighting. She found all three of those things to be wonderfully entertaining.

Sharl was an odd one. She didn't dislike him, but she also didn't know him all that well. Ah, well, she liked it better at Claremont than her old school. Nobody judged her, and there were always interesting (if weird) new people to meet.

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Eira's dad turned out to drive an extremely nice, extremely large European sports car of a make Mali didn't recognize, his tanned good looks and blonde hair making him look a little like an aged Olympic skier. He and Eira were soon talking at each other in Swedish before the little girl thanked both Sharl and Mali before climbing aboard the big electric car. Mali just had a glimpse of Eira doing something that looked exactly like sticking her index finger into the car's cigarette lighter before the door closed and left her alone with Sharl and the holo-dog. "I don't know what we're getting into today, but better not bring Lora. Run home, doggie!" said Sharl as he pulled out a remote from his pocket and pressed a few buttons: within seconds, a glowing portal appeared and the woofing dog ran right through it.

Just another day in Claremont. "Eira's a full-body cyborg," he told Mali as they walked. "She was very ill, but Miss Americana and Dragonfly worked together to make her a full-body robot body to live in. They'll make her more and more as the years go by, until by the time she's an adult she'll have an adult body waiting for her. I spent a lot of time with her last year, after she'd been uploaded but before she had a body to live in. It was pretty neat," he said reflectively. "So how about you, how have you been? I heard you had a thing with, what are they called, ninjas the other day?"

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"Things are okay." She said. "Ninjas are kind of annoying. They're supposed to be these elite warriors, but they're really not very 'elite'. They're sort of easy to beat up. I had a run in with some bad people a few weeks ago, my dad got put in the hospital. He's okay now, but it'll still be a few weeks before he's completely back to normal." Despite her optimistic view of the situation, it was obvious that bringing it up reminded Mali of something bad. Still, the shadow fled quickly, as it had apparently been easily dealt with.

"Training you say? What kind of training were you thinking?"

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"It's an ethics and combat exercise, not just working out," said Sharl with a little shrug. "Those are always weird. One time Cobalt Templar and Papercut and I had to deal with a peasant uprising in a simian-dominated alternate dimension, it was some kind of historical exercise left over from the Freedom League of forty years ago. And speaking of Koshiro..." He caught sight of Papercut just across the way and waved to Koshiro, who was just heading for the Administration Building that overlay the Doom Room too. "Hey, Koshiro! Over here!" he waved.

"Koshiro, Mali, Mali, Koshiro," he said, knowing that Koshiro would remember the girl he'd told him about. "I...oh, shoot, I gotta take this." He cocked his head and seemed to be listening to an inaudible phone call as he took a step away. "Sure, just meet us at the Administration Building," he said aloud to no one visible, "Maybe we did leave it there."

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Koshiro looked over and cut across the quad at Sharl's call, loping past a couple small groups of students headed for class or the caf. He was dressed for training himself, his uniform partially concealed by a ragged-edged sleeveless hoodie with an odd and angular symbol scrawled across it. He gave Sharl an upnod, but most of his attention was on the new girl, who actually got a quick smile out of him.

"Hey," he said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. "You're Mali, right? I think I've seen you around this summer." He wasn't quite smooth enough to hide his quick visual assessment of her, but at least he spent most of the time focused on her face. "Training at the gym on Tuesday nights." Much as he preferred his own style of combat, Koshiro had been in enough close calls already to start him putting in time at the gym himself, mostly when there weren't a lot of other people around to see it. He had a ways to go yet.

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Mali noticed that he was checking her out. She didn't mind, really. He wasn't being obvious and obnoxious about it, and besides, he was kind of cute anyway, well, that and she was kind of checking him out too. 'Kind of' in the sense that her assessment was just a bit more subtle than his of her.

She had noticed that Claremont was absolutely full of attractive people of both genders. She couldn't hardly turn around without spotting someone at least cute, if not gorgeous. It was kind of weird, but she really didn't mind, nope, not at all.

"Yeah, I usually train mornings and evenings. Sometimes I do it at home though, kind of depends on my mood and if my parents need help with anything around the house."

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When his call was done, Sharl briefly stepped back to rejoin the others. "Eira begged and pleaded with her dad, and he said she can come back and watch us exercise. Summers gave her free run as long as she's with me, so we'll see how that goes." That kind of trust from the school's headmaster was something that still surprised Sharl a little, especially when he and his friends were planning something that could potentially get them all in trouble, but it certainly wasn't unwelcome. Just a little lie, so we can do so much good.

"Why don't you guys go down?" he said with a nod back towards the Administration Building, "and I'll catch up with you in a couple of minutes?"

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"Yeah, aight," Koshiro replied, turning to walk with Mali towards the admin building. As he went, he began checking his pockets in a way that seemed habitual, drawing out what seemed to be colored squares of blank paper, dozens or hundreds of them in different sizes and hues. From his hoodie pocket, he pulled a handful of little folded paper figures, visible upon closer inspection as little white paper cranes. He eyed them critically, seemed satisfied, then tucked them away again. "This your first trip to the Doom Room?" he asked conversationally as they went up the stairs and walked down the broad central corridor. He stopped in front of a stainless steel elevator door and pressed his palm against a recessed plate next to it. A blue light flashed on, sweeping across his eyes before the doors slid open. "Security's kind of tight."

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Mali thought it was odd to have all that paper, but she said nothing about it. After all, she was sure he had a reason.

"No, but I've only been in there a couple of times. It still kinda confuses me, but I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually."

Her hands reached into the pockets of her shorts out of habit, and she looked around the area. She was a bit nervous. She stepped into the elevator and waited for it.

"I'm not judging anyone, but...this place still freaks me out a bit. It's filled with so many different people. It's cool seeing people of different cultures and species, but it's also, well, a bit crazy. I have a hard time believing I go to school with aliens and all that. I'm sure you're pretty used to it by now."

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Koshiro shrugged on shoulder as he climbed in the elevator. "Sort of," he told her as the door slid shut and the lights began to flash, indicating descent. "Personalities, that's not too bad. Nobody here is too far from basic human psychologically, it's mostly different backgrounds and stuff. Sharl's a computer program, but he still acts mostly the way a human would, wants the same sort of thing. It's the physical stuff that's harder to get used to. I'm the only "normal" human on Young Freedom now, and it's a pain in the ass to get a lunch break or five minutes to rest sometimes. And picking a headquarters..."

He just shook his head over that, then moved on. "So where are you from?"

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"Oh, here in Freedom City." She said with a little bit of pride. She adjusted the backpack on her shoulders and chuckled a bit. "Only normal human, huh? That's got to be interesting sometimes. Hey if we're going into the Doom Room to work out, I might want to put on at least part of my costume, there's an armored inlay to protect me, and it has my chakram in it.

She reached into her bag and made sure all the parts she would need were in it. Her armored inlay, her chakram. She kept the bag out of Koshiro's sight, for fear of accidentally showing some private items that she didn't want some boy to see. That wouldn't be wise of her.

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"Sure, go ahead," he told her, nodding in the direction of the girl's locker room that sat halfway between the subterranean gymnasium complex and the Doom Room. "I'm just gonna head in." Since he'd been coming to train, he was already in costume, such as it was, so he didn't need the next-door boy's locker room. Hands still in his pockets, he left Mali to her own devices and walked into the simulator. It was live but unprogrammed, the light gray grid humming softly with power over the dark gray walls. Belatedly, he realized he didn't know what program they were running today, so with an air of nonchalance, he leaned against one of the gridded walls, took a sheet of paper from his pocket, and began to fold.

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Mali headed into the locker room and changed quickly, stuffing her clothes into her bag. She took the pouch with her chakram and placed it on her belt, then slid her sleeveless gloves onto her arms, followed by her boots. With that done, she stepped in front of the mirror and made sure that her costume was in order. She wasn't bothering with the mask, choosing instead to let it hang off of her shoulders a bit. After a quick inspection, she walked out of the door and back to the room Koshiro was in.

She watched him fold paper for a few seconds, wordlessly. "That's cool, I'm not all that craft oriented myself."

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His eyes flicked up to hers, even as his fingers continued their practiced movements of folding and creasing. "Origami's not hard," he told her casually. "Anybody can learn the basics pretty quick. But it's what you do with it that counts." He held the finished product out to her, a rather unimpressive little red diamond with a crimped base and open top. "Here, hold it by the base," he instructed, putting his hands under hers and curving them so that she held the figure loosely cupped in her palms.

As the paper settled into her hands, it seemed to warm and soften for a moment, and then it began to move all on its own. With a soft rustle, the top of the figure began to bloom, paper petals unfurling and curling outwards into a double-layered crimson blossom. Koshiro looked at her over their cupped hands, gave her that quick grin. "Even normal humans need a few tricks up their sleeves," he told her, then removed his hands from hers, leaving her with a pretty red paper flower.

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Mali smiled and looked down at the delicate little flower. So this is what he could do, all in all it was pretty cool. She assumed that he wasn't 'Paper Flower Man' or something. He could probably do some really cool and interesting things with it.

Still, she was at a loss for a moment. On the one hand, she wasn't sure what to do with it. It looked so delicate that she was afraid she might damage it. While he could certainly make more, it would be insulting of her to throw it away. So, she reached into her bag and fetched something she could use to attach it to her bag. She wasn't about to throw something so pretty away.

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The Doom Room doors hissed open behind them, and in floated Citizen and walked Eira. Sharl was in costume, complete with shades and blazing chest symbol, while Eira had pulled on one of the rare Young Freedom sweatshirts that were still being made for the new team by James Prophets' old merchandising company. "Hello Mali!" she said with a gregarious wave and a heavy Swedish accent. "I have come beck!"

"Hey guys," said Sharl with a smile, "Koshiro, this is Eira, she's the girl I've been telling you about. Eira, this is my room-mate Koshiro. He does cool stuff with paper." The little blonde girl bowed to Koshiro and gave him a cheerful wave. "Eira's going to be watching us train, and staying out of the way! Miss A and your dad would kick my butt if you get that new body scuffed."

"I will be good," promised Eira with a little sister's big, innocent smile. "I know you may be doing something very exciting, and I do not want to get in the way. I will be in the safe spot."

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Koshiro gave the little girl a brief but practiced bow in return. "Nice to meet you," he told Eira. "Stay out of trouble in the observation room, or Mr. Archer will get you!" With a smirk that said he was joking, he turned and began doing some indifferent warmup stretches, mostly in case they had any running to do during the scenario. Koshiro was a decent climber, but he wasn't much of an acrobat or a hand-to-hand guy. He'd leave that to folks like Mali. "I'm Papercut, by the way," he thought to mention to the new girl, then nodded to Sharl. "He's Citizen."

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Mali reached up and put her mask on. "I'm Crimson Tiger." She said before beginning her own stretches. Dropping down into a split, she grabbed her toe and began stretching her hamstrings, before spinning back onto her feet with practiced ease. With that, she began doing other stretches, before finally jogging in place and shadowboxing a bit, a left, a right, and finally a snap kick.

"Okay, so...what is it we're doing?"

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