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Freedom City Historical Museum
September 7, 2015

It had been nearly a full week since most of the new students had moved into their dormitory rooms at Claremont Academy but to say the acclimation process had been going smoothly might have been a bit misleading. Fortunately enough the school's headmistress was known for her impressive foresight and instead of their normal classes the sophomore students of the girl's dormitory were ushered onto a bus and carted off for what was as much a team building exercise as a field trip.

As roommates Raina and Cathy had already been partnered up in the 'buddy system' as had been outlined by the students' chaperone in an explanation that had been as cheerful as it was unnecessary. As the girls were assigned to groups for the day Robin and Hannah joined the familiar faces from their first day, the latter being given a sheet of questions about various exhibits that the quartet were to find answers for by the time they had to leave. With a friendly - if slightly condescending in Raina's opinion - reminder to keep a low profile so far as metahuman powers went they were left to their own devices by the sprawling scale model of Freedom City, circa the early 1900s.

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Robin's first week had yet to manage to convince her that she belonged here in anyway. The siren song of showers whenever she wanted and steady food were nice but they'd not eased her generalized discomfit. The bed was too soft, the room was too quiet. Almost every night, she'd found herself fleeing the dorms to restlessly pace the edge of Claremont's property, wrestling with the urge to flee back to the life that, while not comfortable, was familiar. As soon as the weekend had come around, Robin had vanished back to the Fens to make up for lost time, returning in the wee hours, somewhat bruised and bloodied.

At the news they were off to a museum, Robin couldn't help but be intrigued. Her memories of museums were fond but faded. She hadn't seen the inside of one since she'd been small. Taking a seat in the back of the bus, she'd watched with curiosity as they left Claremont behind for even swankier environments, rubbing her thumb absently over the healing split lip she'd earned over the weekend.

"So, this is like a scavenger hunt?" Robin asked once they'd been split off and given their marching orders as she finally spoke up, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her ratty jacket. Her gaze moved from the pair of roommates towards Hannah in question, "But with learning. Where are we starting?"

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Cathy had grown up steeped in the history of her little corner of the world and how various invasions had shaped the Shetland Islands. But she had never had a chance to visit a full museum pack with so many things, and even if it was uncool to say so she was quite excited to be here. She’d even taken her parka off inside, though she still carried it tucked under her arm, though she still wore her jumper, this one with a knitted visage of Queen Victoria.

“Oh they have a display of Norse objects, my ancestor were Norse. We should go have a look at them, do we have any questions about them?”

She was so excited her powers seemed to be almost in check, providing only a pleasant slight cooling around her.

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Hannah was pretty excited about the idea of a museum. She'd been to the museums in Chicago before and thoroughly enjoyed herself. Freedom City probably had all sorts of interesting and cool things in it. She'd been left holding the proverbial bag on assignments like this before, where group assignments had turned into solo assignments because none of the people who were supposed to work with her would pay the assignment any mind. She hoped none of her classmates at Claremont would pull that on her.

"I think looking at the Norse stuff sounds great." She said. "I love museums." 

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"This is lame," Raina declared with a sigh, staring at her sheet of assignments before shoving it into her knapsack. She hopped over the velvet rope to walk right up to the model of Freedom City, taking an experimental poke at the cellophane of the South River. She was still annoyed over having to leave Merlin at home, even though he hadn't particularly wanted to come anyway. Maybe she was more annoyed that he got to stay home and she didn't, given that for once maybe her dorm room wasn't going to feel like a refrigerator for a few hours. "Freedom City's supposed to be so futuristic, where's the interactive technology? Or at least like the televisions and stuff? I feel like somebody's gonna walk up with a set of Barbie dolls so we can play with this thing." 

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"Get out of there, Sanderson, gawd!" an irritated voice demanded. It belonged to Madison Tyler, another girl in their year with a dark complexion, immaculately shiny, voluminous hazelnut brown hair and an outfit that easily cost more than everything Raina's group was wearing combined - even if Cathy would have been loathe to put a price tag on her jumper. As far as the pyrokinetic witch was concerned Madison's distinguishing characteristic was the perpetual scowl she had for her, one she was wearing again just then. Her cousin had been part of the group of mystics who had participated in the raid on the coven led by Raina's parents, something Raina only knew because Madison had taken every opportunity to let know and remind her since they'd run into each other in one of the orientation classes for students with spellcasting abilities. It didn't help that she'd impressed their instructor and the rest of the class with the variety and potency of her magic. "Maybe you could do whatever you wanted back in your little backwater cult but we won't let you get away with that stuff here!"

'We' turned out to include three more girls flanking Madison in a V formation as if they'd been practicing it for years. Sofia Torrez was a polymath and if buzz around the dormitory was true she had learned to duplicate the skills and moves of any other fighter just by watching them. There was nothing overtly super-human about her abilities, simply prodigious intelligence and physical gifts honed by long training with her parents, both of them famous non-powered heroes in their native Mexico. Powerfully athletic and only an inch shorter than Raina, the short haired girl had made no secret of wanting to spar with Robin, annoyed to be grouped into the same category as an unskilled ruffian who'd been given a place at Claremont through dumb luck more than anything. She took in Robin's visible bruises and pursed her lips, muttering in Spanish under her breath, "<Ugh. Thug.>"

"Now, be nice, Sofia." To Madison's left was Celeste le Faye - although there was a strong suspicion among the sophomore girls that that wasn't her actual name. Only barely over five feet tall, accordingly petite in build and pale as milk, Celeste was, depending on which rumours one chose to believe, either a full blooded fae, the child of a fae queen and her starcrossed mortal lover, a changeling child born under a momentous combination of star signs, and so forth. She'd certainly proven to be deadly accurate with a bow in weapons class and happy for any excuse to use her will bending powers at any chance. While out and about in public she'd used a simple glamour to hide her pointed ears, ephemeral butterfly-like wings and gleaming black, pupil free eyes but her long braid was still a different, unlikely shade each time one looked at her, a light 'suggestion' keeping any mundanes from noticing. Just then it was a frustratingly attractive lavender. Even needing to look upward at Hannah she managed to come across like she was looking down her nose as she patiently explained, "Cooper, I know you're not good at being assertive or thinking for yourself, but you don't have to throw in with bad eggs like this, you know? People will get ideas."

Faiza Saeed had had a bit of trouble adjusting to dormitory life, coming from a large British Pakistani family. The first metahuman in her family, when her friction control power had emerged with little control a few years before the entire community had rallied around the girl, helping her parents 'power proof' their home while local heroes took the time to teach Faiza how to keep her new abilities in check. Proving to be a quick study, the serious girl had made her plans to become a hero herself known but her parents had eventually negotiated her down to at least waiting until after she'd graduated from Claremont and further honed her gifts. She was much too polite to have outright called Cathy's frigid aura the result of laziness but she was also much too frank to have made the sentiment any less clear. Wearing a pale teal hijab that perfectly complemented the rest of her outfit, she stood just behind Sofia with her arms crossed and her thin lips pressed together in a disapproving line at Raina's antics.

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Raina turned from her examination of the model, her smile turning absolutely predatory as she surveyed the crowd of new girls. There was a time when she'd have been at the head of that formation, so it wasn't an unfamiliar scenario, just a slightly reversed ones. Deliberately keeping her hand resting on the model. "Oh look, girls!" she chirped, her voice frighteningly cheerful, "it's the Claremont High glee club, here to brighten our day!" She leaned in Hannah's direction as though about to impart a confidence, then spoke without lowering her voice. "They're hoping that by next year they'll actually grow some boobs, then they can be the cheerleading squad instead. Madison's going to get some for her birthday." 

Straightening, she gave Madison and her cronies her most infuriating smirk. "But hey, since we're all such good friends here, and nobody is going to be doing anything to freak the mundanes, how about you all go elsewhere and figure out which of you is wearing last year's shoes?"  

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Robin had stepped in front of the other three girls at the obvious threat. Sure, it was a more social threat than the sort she was used to, but Robin still keenly understood the threat implied with the sort of savvy that came from a life of threat and violence. Although she'd been about to point out that they might end up kicked out of the museum if they went about touching all of the exhibits, she bridled at the condescension implicit in the popular girl's tone. 

She moved forward, her worn sneaker squeaking slightly as she turned her foot and dropped her shoulders, her hands coming up in loose fists. To someone like Sofia Torrez who could read a person's body like a book, there was no bluffing there. If Sofia stepped forward, rules or not - witnesses or not - Robin was going to strike and she was going to play for keeps. Sure, Robin might be verifying every awful rumor about her right now but she'd not survived her sort of lifestyle by letting a threat go unanswered. Even to those less aware, there was a palpable danger that radiated from the way Robin lifted her hands ever so slightly. 

"You want to dance now, Torrez?" By contrast Robin's tone was mild, the polish falling away from her words as her chin went up, the scab of her most recently acquired split lip on display almost defiantly. Hell, she figured it was only a matter of time before she got bounced from school for something. Maybe that was today. "Either put up or shut up."

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Having gone a small rural school Cathy hading come across anything like the rivalry on display here. Most of the students had look upon her with awe, if not flavoured with a tinge of fear. But she'd seen enough US TV and movies to know what to expect.

It hadn't been enough.

She hadn't expected to be one of the popular kids, she looked a little to weird for that, but to be the target of there scorn was unexpected. She wasn't afraid to stand up for herself, or her friends, but the witty responses seen to flee her mind until well after the event. Still she didn't want anyone in trouble so she stepped forward.

"I think we should all calm down and chill a little!" she winced a little at the unfortunate pun.

 Whilst Cathy didn't feel the cold she knew that when nervous she tended to lower the temperature around her, and the judgment gaze of Faiza suggest that right now she was doing exactly that.

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Hannah had never been popular, and she resented the things the other girls were saying. What Raina said had been harsh, but she hadn't been the one to start it. Hannah had not expected to be called out, not specifically. She straightened herself as best she could, and gave a half-hearted shrug.

"I don't think they'd pick anyone to go to that school who didn't deserve it." She said quietly, with as much firmness as she could muster. "Why would you waste time on someone if they weren't worth the shot?  Everyone deserves a chance to succeed." She meant it, too. Some of these girls weren't the nicest, but good people aren't always nice, and nice people aren't always good. She'd seen enough artificial niceness in high school to figure that one out.

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Madison bristled at it became clear that Raina didn't even have the good grace to know when she was dealing with her betters. "Oh, like that's a subject you really want to get into, man hands," she shot back coolly with an expression that Raina recognized well enough as trying to decide if there was a spell she could use without getting caught. "Don't expect everyone to be as shallow as you. Did I tell you they actually had to confiscate a pony from her house? A pony. Like the monkey wasn't ridiculous enough."

Rolling her eyes at the obvious lost cause that was Hannah, Celeste pulled her glitter encrusted denim jacket a little closer. "Ugh, what part of the 'don't use your powers in public' memo did you miss, Clouston?" At some point her hair had turned to honey blonde with strawberry pink streaks and she turned her attention to the confrontation between Robin and Sofia with a sort of relaxed interest in who might come out on top.

For her part the polymath's nostrils flared very subtly, looking like she very badly wanted to take the Fens native up on her offer. Instead she let out a silent breath and spoke slowly and precisely to minimize her accent, "When I beat you, Chevalier, it will be in class in front of our instructors, where it matters. Some of us have more self control than to jump at every pointless brawl."

"Enough," Faiza finally spoke up in a voice that had been practiced on many unruly siblings, both younger and older. "Hannah and Sophia are both correct, this is neither the time nor the place. Honestly. You're acting as badly as they are." That was leveled primarily at Madison who looked ready to protest but instead made a gagging sound and waved her hand, ceding the argument for the time being. "We all have work to do; unless anyone causes trouble I'm sure we can stay out of each others' way." It was clear who among them she thought was more likely to be causing trouble and it wasn't any of her friends but she did lead her group away from the model of the city and off to one of the museum's wings. To Cathy's disappointment, it looked to be the one containing the Norse exhibit.

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"Call me shallow when you're wearing enough money to put a kid through a year of college and you still manage to look like you bought it off a truck?" Raina called after her, but the moment was past. She glowered into the scale model of Freedom City, rested her hand on one of the larger churches. "God, if you're in there, please give Madison herpes. Amen." She straightened up, stepping back over the rope. "Well, that was fun," she told the others, all false cheer. "Shall we blow this popsicle stand? I bet we could get out a side door and out to the street before anybody noticed we were gone." 

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"Yeah. 'Cuz that's when fighting matters. When it's for brownie points and a pat on the back," Robin shot back coolly, her posture still coiled and ready until the girls began to make their egress. When they were well out of range, she finally dropped her posture - slowly straightening up to her full height once more. Without turning to look back at Raina, Robin spoke up her voice as steady and even as it had be, "That's exactly the sort of thing they expect us to do, you know. Cut and run. Prove we can't hack it in 'their' world."

As the girls moved out of sight, Robin turned back to the other three girls that she was supposed to do this assignment with. Her jaw was stubborn, set pugnaciously and she thrust her hands back into her jacket pockets once more. With effort, she forced the tension creeping into her shoulders and neck back down. When she smiled, it held little humor, "You can do whatever you wanna, Raina. I'm not gonna stop you but I'm pretty sure between the four of us we can slam through this assignment and be done first. I'd kind of rather show them up, personally, since being 'best' in teachers eyes is so important apparently."

She met Raina's gaze, a question implicit before she shifted it to Hannah and Cathy, "What d'you say? Shall we see if we can beat the teachers' pets to the finish line?"

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Hannah sighed, relieved. Nobody was going to brawl in a museum and cause people to get suspended. It was strange, but she felt better staying with these girls over them. Maybe they were rough, and uncouth, and a little vulgar, but that didn't bother her. She had a feeling that neither Raina nor Robin would pretend to like her, or try to manipulate her. 

She turned to Cathy and smiled. "They don't look like they'll stick around anywhere. I'm sure we'll be able to swing by the Norse exhibits before we go." She turned to the other girls. "If you want to finish the assignment first, I think we can manage that." She was also relieved that the other girls wouldn't necessarily be leaving her stuck with the assignment. For the moment, at least, it looked like they wouldn't mind if she stuck around.

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Cathy was quiet whilst the other girls left some of their parting words cutting to the quick. She knew her powers were always active but despite her best efforts she couldn’t control that, it was one of the reasons she’d come to Claremont. She took a few moments to calm herself so she didn’t make things worse and the temperature warmed a little.

“I agree we should try to get this assignment done, I wouldn’t put it past them to tattle tale on us the moment we bail on this place.”

She wasn’t one to dwell on things too much and already her mood was beginning to lift.

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Raina seemed torn for a minute, then took a look at each of the other girls and heaved a sigh. "All right, fine. But it had better not take too long. Why did the boys get to go to the natural history museum anyway? At least there I might have found some stuff I could talk to." She dragged the assignment back out of her knapsack, straightened the crinkled edges. and took a look at it. "Okay, the scale model of Freedom City was built by Nicholas Delray, who could really have used some practice sculpting water. What's next?" 

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Robin shifted, pulling the folded map of the museum from her back pocket as she went to straighten it out and compare it with the list of questions that the other girls were holding. A bit more shuffling and she'd produced the nub of a pencil that probably should have been discarded for a fresh one long ago with the way she had to curl her fingers to hold onto it. 

"Letsee," Robin muttered, skimming over the list. From her grim determination, one might think that she were gearing up for something far more dire than trying to find the most expeditious route through the museum, "Most people are probably going to just wander around but I think if we head down that way, we'll probably find the answers to questions seven, ten and thirteen from the topics there." 

She gestured towards one hall and its 'Technology in Freedom City' banner. 

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Cathy opened up her notebook filled with her tiny incredibly neat writing looking at it intently for a second or two.

"I think I've already got ten, we're renowned as Engineers after all." She gave them a smile at her own joke "If we go this way..." She traced a route on the map "...we should be able to keep out of those Mean Girl's way. After all we don't want any more trouble today."

She naturally fell into the back of the group as the girls began to move again, she just felt more comfortable that way.

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Between Hannah and Cathy's studious reading of the exhibits' placards and spurned on in equal measure by Robin's competitiveness and Raina's immediate boredom with each new display, the group powered through the first wing they inspected in short order. Circling around brought them to the collection of 19th century artwork, with a newly featured collection of unattributed pieces, most of which had been borrowed from other museums worldwide. The placards went to great lengths to play up the mystique of the various works and their creators but the somewhat lackluster grouping of art nouveau paintings and neoclassical sculptures made the case that there was perhaps a good reason the artists hadn't bothered to attach their names.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, however, was of a different category altogether. A life-sized jade statue of a young woman, no older than the girls themselves, doubled over and screaming in palpable agony was breathtaking in its realism. The smooth stone, a vivid green that reflected the overheads lights brilliantly, captured the smallest details down to the texture of the girl's hair and beads of sweat, frozen in the terrifying moment the unnamed artist had chosen to capture. Her clothes were torn rags, her eyes were clenched shut, her scream exposed individually carved teeth and the fingers of her one outstretched hand were curled into a rigid claw. The piece had never received a more poetic title than 'Screaming Girl in Jade' but from the accompanying write-up there were several hotly contested theories as to the master sculptor responsible for the exquisite but disturbing work.

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"Holy crap, look at that one!" Raina had been seriously contemplating ditching the assignment again, but she perked up with interest at the sight of the macabre sculpture. At least it was different from the endless rooms of landscapes and old dead people. Once again slipping the velvet rope, she crouched down next to the statue for a better look. "Whoever made this one was seriously screwed up in the head. Like, how do you get a model for something like that, anyway? She looks almost like she's real." With no self-consciousness at all, Raina flopped over onto her back on the floor next to the pedestal, the better to get a good look at the statue's face and strange hands. 

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Robin stepped over, right next to the ropes to lean slightly over where Raina was laying down. The statue was disturbing and Robin didn't like it. Whoever felt the need to memorialize that level of agony was one seriously messed up artist. She kept her gaze averted from the statue as she didn't care to contemplate that degree of torment and focused on Raina.

"Maybe it just came out of their twisted imagination. Though how you carve something in jade this refined, I don't even know. It would have had to be a massive piece to then go 'I'm'a create some truly tortured young girl'. Hopefully, they got hit with a horse drawn buggy," Robin said, her voice a little tight as she leaned over and offered one calloused hand to the other girl hoping to coax her out before some overzealous rent-a-cop hustled over, "But unless you wanna get kicked out, we should probably not, like, lick the statue."

 

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Hannah didn't recognize the statue, but if it really was jade, it was a lot of jade. She knew enough to know that jade was very expensive. It would be very strange for such a large statue to be of an unknown origin. If indeed it was pure jade, which she wasn't qualified to determine. It looked like jade, at least to her unqualified eyes. She hoped that their fun wouldn't damage it. The craftsmanship was beautiful, even if the subject matter was disturbing. Sometimes art got like that, beautiful yet disturbing. 

"That statue is more than just weird. Jade doesn't usually come in such big chunks like that. It's probably extremely valuable, so please be careful."  She said, not loud enough to call attention, but hopefully loud enough for the others to hear.

 

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Whilst the whole thing looked terrible there was some beauty in the statute and Cathy spent a few minutes looking at the statue.

“I’m not sure about why but the thing it gives me the willies. I mean it’s really, really good, almost life like but that just makes it even more creepy.”

It wasn’t the statue that she was worried about right now, after everything they’d managed to achieve today she didn’t want it to all end with all of them getting into trouble. She knelt down beside Raina her discomfort obvious even if her face didn’t show it.

“I don’t think we should be doing this, we should leave before we get into trouble.”

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"You're not doing anything, I am," Raina pointed out cheerfully, still on her back but turning her head to look at Cathy. "But you should really blame Robin, she's over here practically daring me to lick it. I wonder what ancient-ass jade statue tastes like?" She turned back to the statue, fully ready to give it the Tootsie Pop treatment, but stopped when she looked again at the tortured face. It was hard to fathom how something carved from stone could look like it was in so much anguish. She lifted her hand instead and ran her fingers over the smooth stone cheek, carefully avoiding the little bumps that were teardrops. "It's really horrible, isn't it? I can see why nobody ever wanted to put their name on it, give all the little kids screaming nightmares attributed to them personally. Poor unloved creepy statue girl." 

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Robin made a rude noise in the back of her throat from where she was standing, staring eye to eye at the creepy statue, "Nah, if I dared you to lick it, you'd have probably dug up the cajones to actually do it." She pointed out, perhaps not inaccurately but certainly escalating the situation despite the efforts of cooler heads to not get them all kicked out of the museum. 

Unable to resist, Robin offered Raina a small smile that was actually fairly friendly. Brash and bravado was the sort of interactions she at least was used to and for a moment, Robin gave into the temptation of not feeling like an outsider as she encouraged, "You going to give the tortured statue a little love, Raina?"

Now that. That was definitely a dare. 

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