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Familiar Problems (IC)

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March 15, 2013


Most people would have been planning something fun for an oncoming weekend, especially if they were turning 18 in a week. Marcus irons, however, was decidedly not most people. He hated his birthday. It wasn't something he openly discussed, and he'd never celebrated it at Claremont. It was a reminder of everything he'd lost... One of many reasons he was still so angry.


Of course, it was that natural propensity for rage that drew out the Beast Rune's power back then as well. And thus, here he was, standing in the quad, trying out a new spell instead of hanging out with his friends.


It was a surprisingly clear day, and Marcus had finally figured out the mechanics for actually utilizing the Flame Rune for more than just setting his hands on fire and punching things. Normally, he'd have performed this sort of thing at Parkhurst... but he'd already decided that he simply didn't feel like it, and he was at least reasonably certain that nothing would burn.

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Darren sat on the roof of the class building, feet swinging over the edge as he played with his phone. From the roof, he got pretty much the best reception possible on the Claremont campus, which he needed as he did his post-school pre-dinner internet updates. There were tweets to favorite and reply to, photos to filter and upload, so many, many followers to wrap further around his finger with mundane details and his not insubstantial wit. He leaned his back flat against the roof for a moment as he relayed a few texts to a room service contact to make sure he had a meal waiting for him whenever he got back home to the hotel. When he sat back up, Darren's eyes scanned the ground below and, briefly, landed on a familiar brick of a man.


Struck with a flash of curiosity, he stood up and stepped off the roof onto a thin disc of crystal that winked into existence beneath his feet before he could fall through open air. He floated down to Earth on his own little glass elevator, then hopped off of it and crossed the still mostly dead March lawn towards Marcus Irons. As he got close to the boy's back, Darren opened his mouth, which had become increasingly problematic for him. "You supposed to be doing, like, whatever you're trying to do out here? Though this school had practice rooms for that."

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Marcus was concentrating. The Flame Rune across the back of his right hand glowed rightly as he concentrated on the heat of the sun. A white nimbus of light surrounded his index and forefinger as he muttered a phrase in Latin, drawing his hand back...


"...!" Darren's untimely interruption made the spell instantly fizzle, the magic dissipating with a loud pop. He took a deep breath, biting back the urge to say the first thing that came to mind. Internally, the Beast Rune said it for him.


...it's him. We should end him.


Marcus had never met Darren directly. There was something about the guy that just made his nonexistent fur bristle when he spoke. It was completely irrational, but Marcus had learned some time ago not to dismiss his emotions so flippantly. Instead, he turned to face Darren, unable to help but look annoyed. It wasn't really a hostile look; all things considered, he looked at everyone like that lately. "I can't do this indoors. Doesn't work without natural light anyway. Not even fake natural light... Darren, right?"

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Darren jumped back at the sharp pop of Marcus's spell failing. Magic was not his area of expertise, a fact he usually led with whenever he had to deal with magic-types like Marcus or Subito. Instead of admit that, though, he instead lifted up his phone and snapped a quick picture of Marcus and his spell-casting digits, which he then started to muck around with to edit. He hummed to himself in thought for a moment and shifted his weight to his left foot, then waved the end of his phone at Marcus.


"Yeah, that's me, Darren Stelzer, Adamas, whatever. You're Marcus Irons, Arcturus, the werebear, that should, like, be it for introductions right?" Darren looked up from his screen and squinted. "Isn't that kind of a bad spell then? I mean, like, there's natural light indoors as long as there's a window somewhere, that's physics or something, so how much sun power does this spell need to work? Seems kinda limited in scope, really, how often are you going to be in a situation where you can, like, soak up a ton of rays for your solar beam? What if you put on some SPF earlier and it hasn't worn off yet?" He went back to his phone. "Have you tried making it less niche?"

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Marcus snorted; he really didn't like having his picture taken either. The Beast Rune briefly introduced the idea of Marcus snatching the phone out of Darren's hand and crushing it in his palm, but he'd get into all sorts of trouble for that... it really wasn't worth it. Perhaps more annoying was the prospect of having to explain his magic to someone who was clearly skeptical of its entire premise. He wasn't even sure if these were serious questions.


"My abilities are a little more involved than that. Upsetting natural balance is never a good thing, so I avoid it when I can." There was also the fact that keeping the Beast Rune from turning him into a rampaging monster took up a considerable portion of Marcus's magical talent. The second he went overboard, his concentration would slip and the Beast Rune would likely go unchecked for hours.


"What's it to you anyway?"

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"Dude, we go to super school, like, upsetting the natural balance is what we do every day." Darren pulled at his lip with his teeth and looked up at the clear sky to keep from saying the next line that bubbled into his head. When he managed to quell it, he slipped his phone into his pocket and gave Marcus what seemed to pass for his full attention, though he still occasionally turned his head to look at other students walking to and from the buildings on campus. "It's nothing to me, I was just curious. I like knowing things, you could say it's, like, my character flaw. Not a tragic flaw cause I don't normally get into too much trouble for it, but yeah. I've had to deal with more of you magic guys lately so sometimes I just get all these question and you never seem too accommodating about it. So defensive."


Darren shrugged, but smiled thinly. "But, like, if you're having trouble, maybe I can call in Crow or someone to help you out, I think I can totally convince him that he owes me a favor and he seems like he might be able to rejigger your spell or whatever to do the thing. What is it supposed to do anyway?"

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"Believe me, it's a little bit different if you're using magic to break boundaries."


Marcus had experience in the area. He'd seen the kind of megalomania that magic could give people, and that was just in a Doom Room simulation. His magic was limited to drawing on natural forces, not only for the sake of things around him, but for his own well-being--because he could use the same magic in his bear form. The consequences of that alone were enough for Marcus to actively limit the way he used his magical birthright. Especially given where his elemental magic was coming from.


He's worse than Kat.


Marcus smirked despite himself; the Beast Rune had a point.


"He and I use similar magic but... it's really not the same. No harm in asking questions though... I guess."


At least Kat wasn't trying to outsmart or undermine him. If there were ever an accurate test of his patience, this would certainly be it.

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"Magic's magic, right? Like...light and radio waves are the same thing. All electromagnetic irradiation or whatever. So magic should be the same way, just, like, maybe the two of you can only see different parts of the spectrum. Which probably explains why he's always jury rigging some dumb magic gizmo and you're doing whatever." Darren rolled his hands through the air as he spoke, then mimed Marcus's earlier pose of concentration. His fingertips glowed with tiny halos of white light and a few glittering flecks of crystal danced in the air around his hands. "But, I get it. I'm a mutant, so I'm kinda similar to other mutants, at least in how my powers work since otherwise I'm pretty much clearly better, but I'm not a T-baby, so they're still kind of different from that."


"You still haven't told me what you're trying to do, though. Besides breaking boundaries which is, like, so completely vague, sounds like something you'd say to try to throw me off the trail, but I'm a master at this so you may as well just explain, please."

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Marcus's right eye twitched. Learning magic was hard enough to do on his own, but trying to explain it? Part of him wanted to pawn Darren off on Etain. She was infinitely more patient about this sort of thing, but then again, he didn't want to inflict someone like Darren on anyone. And he seemed hellbent on getting an answer.


"...dumb magic gizmo?" He sighed and shook his head.


"If we're talking about being better at running your mouth, then sure. Gold star. What I'm trying to do is use light as a weapon... sort of. It's complicated. My magic channels power between here and elemental planes, with me as a sort of filter between 'em. So yeah, I tend to ease back on the world-breaking armageddon-level natural disasters."


The spell itself wasn't; the searing light spell actually required him to learn another first--hence the practice. And with all the vampires and ghosts and things that went bump in the night that he'd been encountering all over the city, he figured it was time to rely on his magical talent and not just the big angry bear all the time. It was clear that Darren didn't respect magic at all. Maybe he genuinely didn't know. Maybe he didn't care. Either way, Marcus could feel his control and patience being slowly chipped away.


"There's no shortcuts. I don't need anyone's help. Least of all y-..." Marcus cut himself off, realizing his annoyance was starting to reach the point where he was going to say and/or do something regrettable. His eyes had even gone from brown to red without him realizing it. "...never mind. I've got this. I don't even know why you'd want to know. It takes study and focus and... you don't really seem all that interested in either."

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"Light as a weapon? Like a laser, right? Pew pew!" Darren poked his fingers through the air with a chuckle. He pulled back his enthusiasm and brushed his fingers back through his hair. "That's cool, though, being able to channel elemental stuff like that. Though, I mean, considering the name Arcturus, I can see why you'd be a little pissed about not, like, being able to use light on the first try. Good thing astronomy isn't in right now, right?"


"But, really, like, don't pat yourself on the back too hard there, wow." He dropped to a squat and plucked a brown blade of glass out of the lawn, then stood back up with the plant between his thumb and forefinger. As he spoke, the piece of grass drained of color, turned glossy, and went rigid until he held a tiny prism of crystal in his hand. "You think this doesn't need a bit of focus? When I first got my powers, I crystalized a whole warehouse and everything in it and I still wake up in diamond PJs sometimes, so, like, don't think you can patronize me cause you're a cool wizard and I've got a bad attitude. It's just part of my appeal." Darren flicked the crystal towards the ground and it shifted back to brown and leafy as it fell. "And just cause you want to not need help doesn't mean it's, like, true. It takes a village to build Rome in a day."

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Marcus really was trying to keep his composure. Darren was a particularly trying individual, and Marcus understood why. He really seemed to believe he had the whole world figured out. That kind of overconfidence was just unpleasant to deal with in general.


"If I needed help, I've got people i can ask," Marcus replied flatly. It was actually true; between other Parkhurst magic users, Professor Quinn, and instructors at Claremont, he could at least get a general idea of what to do next. "The first time I used my powers? I broke a guy's collarbone from tossing him across a room. And the last time I lost control of it, I almost dropped a car on someone. I'm not being patronizing, but, real talk, you don't know me."


"...and the least you could do is pick one metaphor. 'It takes a village to build Rome in a day'? Really?"

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Darren didn't say anything.


Instead, he looked at Marcus with one eyebrow up just enough to be intentional and a tight smile. There was a lot he could say and almost as much that he wanted to, but he refrained. He whisked his hands up and a lounge chair creaked and crackled into existence behind him, solid crystal and slightly cloudy from a lack of effort. Darren turned about and sat on the edge of the chair as he opened his book bag and withdrew a copy of Le Petit Prince, then reclined and opened the book to an earmarked page. He pointed one finger overhead and a thin dome of diamond burst forth and planted itself into the ground with a pole, giving him the fanciest umbrella imaginable. Darren cleared his throat.


"I thought, like, maybe you'd be more interesting, less normal, but I guess lightning doesn't strike twice. Just pretend I'm not here, I have to read this for like the fourth time by tomorrow."

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"It does when I do it," he commented. a demonstrative violet display of electrical energy passing between his fingers. "And what's so wrong with being normal anyway? If there even is such a thing as normal."


He couldn't help but feel a little resentful, as if trying to live life as usual was some sort of taboo. And so flippantly, at that... Still, being offended or irritated was a colossal waste of energy, and he had plenty of other things to think about.


"...are you usually this show-offy with your powers?"

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"There's nothing wrong with being normal per se, like, I wouldn't say something stupid like 'normal people are worthless'. That'd be insensitive or something." Darren flipped a page and put his thumb over the first word to mark his place. He looked up and held up his other hand towards Marcus so he could count off on his fingers. "It just means one of two things. Either you're boring or you're lazy. Sometimes both. It's not bad, it's just a thing. That's all."


Darren didn't bat an eye at Marcus's crackle of energy or his obviously rising temper, but decided instead to turn back to his book. "I'm what you might call, like, an out superhero. Everyone with access to Google knows I have powers whether I want them to or not, so what's the point of hiding them? I don't go around giving laser light shows, but I don't live a tortured existence of trying to hide my true self from people on the street." He worried his lower lip a moment. "Well, no angst about the powers, at least."

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"Yeah, well, people don't run screaming when they see your 'true self'. I swear, one day I'll Google myself and it'll look like something out of one of those terrible sci-fi channel movies..."


Marcus didn't even want to think about what Googling himself might mean. He'd never tried it before. Then again, he hardly ever used his computer; he was always in a book... or a dark alley hunting the latest boogeyman. Zombies, vampires, ghosts... and then there was the cult that wanted his blood. Literally. With that much going on, he enjoyed quiet moments whenever he could get them.


"I don't necessarily HIDE my magic, I just... I'd rather use the less risky aspects of it more often than just going all feral on everything. Boring, maybe, but hardly lazy. Most people don't really know who I am, bear or no bear, and that's fine by me. Makes it a lot easier to do what I've been doing."

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Darren smirked. "I've had them run screaming, but only ever towards me, not away, so there's that. I was in talks for a marketing deal in Japan for a bit, but, like, I was advised that it might affect my credibility in the states. Many a screaming fangirl anyway." He set his book upside down in his lap and pulled out his phone. After a few seconds of fiddling, he turned the screen to show Marcus an picture of himself in full bear mode on what looked like a street downtown. "You're right, they definitely could have gotten some better CGI for this, maybe it wasn't in the budget after, like, shooting on location."


"And wanting to be subtle or whatever, that's fine, it's just kind of missing the point. Yeah, you've got powers, so does everyone else on campus. You're not even the only person who can turn into a bear and probably not the only, like, kid wizard who can do it, either. If we're being relativistic, and we are, that doesn't matter." Darren pulled his phone back, locked it, and hid it away again. He wagged a finger at Marcus. "This'll sound so made-for-TV, but boring is on the inside. You're the kind of person who says 'you don't know me', and all that does is signal that you're not worth getting to know. If I was Elias, this is where I'd undercut any response by, like, preemptively accusing you of getting defensive over a simple statement of fact." He wriggled into a more comfortable position. "Luckily, I'm not him, bless his little telepathic heart."

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"You're that sure you've got me pegged, huh?" Marcus thought about it for several moments. Was he really that boring? The more he considered it, the more sense Darren made--his underlying point, at least. He was still kind of a jerk, but it wasn't as if he was saying anything outright insulting. He'd come close when he almost implied that Marcus was lazy though; that really tended to rub him the wrong way.


"You could have a point. Maybe. Maybe I am 'boring'. There's certain things about my powers that make the predictable a lot easier to deal with. What can I say? I'm kind of a control freak that way." It definitely seemed 'lazy', but if playing things safe meant he wouldn't have the same sort of mishap his father had... he would deal. He'd never been the type to be driven by notoriety.


"So you know Elias too, huh?" Marcus had to wonder if Darren knew what he knew about Elias. They had very similar issues, which was probably why he ad Elias got along as well as they did. He certainly wasn't going to mention anything he wouldn't say in Elias's presence though; that was his story to tell, and Marcus didn't ask for detail for a reason.

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"That's the point. Control freak? So is everybody else, it's so, like, common." Darren fished through his bag for a candy bar, chocolate and caramel, which he ripped open and took a bite of. He spoke as he ate, but kept his fingers over his mouth for some measure of politeness. "You gotta, like, think of it this way. What you're trying to do is squeeze the ocean into a bottle instead of just, like, trying to channel the river." He bobbed his head. "There are other ways to handle your awesome power and responsibility than keeping it in a box and only letting it out when it's convenient for you. Didn't anyone ever tell you it's okay to shine?"


Darren chomped his way through the rest of the chocolate and swallowed before he went on. "Of course I know him, I know everyone. But, like, to answer the question you meant to ask, yes, we're friends. Maybe that'll make it easier for you to see where my bar for interesting is."

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"That wasn't what I meant to ask."


Marcus shrugged. He really wasn't sure what to make of Darren, but he had to consider what he said. He'd always been so concerned with people finding out what his parents had done and subsequently judging him for it. Maybe he really had cut himself off from being something more than he currently was. He was a little annoyed at himself for not having seen it sooner, but this was likely why his instructors were making him get out a little more and interact with his classmates.


"I don't remember saying I was interested in where your bar for interesting was, either. But... for the record? Nah, nobody told me that. I think even some of the instructors were a little intimidated by the whole bear transformation thing. Apparently it triggers a fight-or-flight response in most normal people."

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Darren rolled his eyes at Marcus, as obvious as possible. He scanned down the page he was on, then turned to the next one, and let out a little spiraling sigh. "It was what you meant, you just don't want to admit that this rich snob you just met has you figured out already. You probably, like, want to think that Marcus Irons is complicated and deep, but really he's just a kid with magic powers and...hmm..." Darren looked up from his book and framed Marcus between his hands like a photo op. "I'm gonna say something...home life troubles. Magic powers and, like, parental baggage. And the very common presumption that no one can figure that out by looking at you."


He sniffled and ran a hand through his hair, played with it. "Normal, normal, normal. Fight or flight is so last season, why even bother?"

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"No, that's really what it is. Something about the magic involved that triggers peoples' instinct around predators. Not so much a problem if people are around me and the Beast Rune long enough, which is why most people at school don't have an issue with it. It is what it is. Whether you happen to find the explanation 'interesting' or not."


Marcus's right hand slipped into his pocket for a second. When he realized that what he was looking for was missing, he checked all his pockets. "...well, crap. Forgot my key. Ah well. At least you were the one to say 'rich snob' and not me. Maybe you really can read minds."


He started to walk away--he wasn't sure why he hadn't simply done that before. Part of him wanted to punch Darren right in his smug little jaw, even now, but he could think of better ways to channel that instead of keeping it buried. At least in that respect, Darren's 'insight' had been helpful, however unintentional it might have been.

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Darren shrugged.


"I'm no telepath, I just get people. And like..." he rolled his hands through the air as he thought, "I'm used to that specific sentiment, it's pretty much been the kneejerk reaction to me since I got to Claremont. I can't say it isn't unfounded, either." Darren smiled, coy but teasing. "I mean, I am rich and I know how to be condescending, don't I? Well, I guess I personally wouldn't consider it condescending when I really am just better. More like all my pity for the little people just gets taken the wrong way."


He looked back down at the book in his lap and started to read again. "So, you're giving up then, right? I was, like, curious to see if you'd actually figure your spell out, but I suppose I'll just have to be disappointed. Not really surprised, though." Darren brushed his thumb against his lip. "I even had some sage advice tucked away, but I'm not about to force it on you. That'd be, like, totally rude."

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"Giving up on what, exactly? I'm not out to prove anything, so..." Especially to some spoiled rich kid.


He had the spell mostly figured out. The real spell he was researching was next to impossible to test outside of an actual combat application--a ray of light that was harmful specifically to the undead. He'd been encountering so many demons and the like that it seemed incredibly appropriate.


"Sage advice, huh? I think I'll pass, thanks. You've said plenty." He didn't mean that in an entirely condescending way; he really was considering being a little more 'open' in the way he used his magic.

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"Everyone's out to prove something. Especially everyone here. The kinds of kids who go to super school aren't exactly the most self-confident on the whole."


Darren drummed his fingers down the spine of his book. He gave Marcus a bit of a bored stare, then rolled his eyes. His phone started to buzz - he unlocked it and started to swipe his way through the menus to race out a text message. "Unfortunately, like, one of my super powers is the power to be super talkative, I really can't control the deluge sometimes. It can be a total handful, you have no idea how hard it is for me to keep quiet during, like, tests and stuff. Just awful!" Darren smiled at his screen.


"And anyway, I was going to say that, like, you should try to think of your magic conduit as a prism when you're channeling light as your source. Light bends, but it doesn't shape, so you can't think of it like any of the more classical elements, right? Totally clutch magical theory here."

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Marcus opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. For all his quirks and annoying attributes--especially the talking--Darren had a point when it came to what he was actually trying to do. It made sense. He always felt like he had to force it to power through the Beast Rune's interference, but...


"Huh." He scratched at his chin. "...didn't consider that. Might have to give that a shot later. Somewhere more appropriate, maybe." The school had nearly burned down once already; there was no sense in risking a preventable accident.


"Clutch magical theory... hm. I dunno about all that, but it's alt least useful advice. Guess you're not all random talk after all."

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