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Avenger Assembled

Twenty Questions

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September 2015

"Hey." Riley approached Raina outdoors in the quad, shooting a quick glance around for her monkey before saying, "I guess you got that stupid thing from Perry too, huh?" Raina wasn't in his developmental English class, but he'd heard some of the other kids complaining about the interview assignment while conducting his usual surveys of campus. After a couple of false starts, Robin had said Raina was OK, so..."You find a partner?" He was dressed in his usual fashion; hatchet on his hip, crossbow on his back, but with a brand-new three-ring binder tucked under his bare arm. He was wearing a big, bulky green and brown shirt, somebody's camo design that looked a size too big for him.

 

Not yet," Raina said cautiously, giving Riley an up and down study. "Sounds like a stupid assignment, I was thinking about blowing it off. You actually gonna do it?" Raina was dressed for a day somewhat colder than the actual weather, in a cream-color turtleneck and dark brown slacks that actually matched quite well with the fur colors of her simian companion. Who, Riley noticed abruptly, was also studying Riley from his perch on Raina's shoulder, half-concealed in her honey-colored hair. "You're not going to partner up with Robin for it?"

 

Riley locked eyes warily with the monkey for a moment, cocking his head to match Merlin's posture, before looking back at Raina. That monkey was weird - but he knew what a pet was. Even a creepy one. "Nah. S'posed to be somebody I don't already know. And Robin says you're pretty cool." He looked her over, wondering what secrets she held, and asked seriously "I heard you set that crazy statue girl on fire with magic, yeah? How did you do that? (1)"

 

That earned him a moment’s hard look from Raina, who relaxed somewhat when it seemed clear that Riley’s question wasn’t an attempt to trap her or lead into some exploration of her inner villainy. “I’m a witch,” she told him with some pride. “I can do all kinds of stuff with magic. But I didn’t really set the statue on fire, it turns out there was a girl trapped as a statue and I released her. Then she totally flipped out and went crazy on us and we had to use our powers to knock her out before somebody got hurt. She’s supposed to be getting better now. So are you really from some alternate reality where everyone lives at the nuclear plant?(1)”

 

“Uh…” Riley had evidently not expected that question, but he recovered quickly enough. “Yeah. I mean, on a typical day, people will go as far as the Interstate or the Bay, but almost everyone lives in or around Raymond. Safer.” He sat down next to Raina on the grass, carefully setting down his notebook and adjusting his hatchet, and studied her, hands resting casually in his lap. “What’s with the monkey?(2)”

 

With nothing better to do at the moment, Raina deigned to lower herself to the grass as well, neatly folding her legs under her in a way that would minimize grass stains (as though it mattered, given her cheap blue jeans). “I’m a witch,” she answered again. “Merlin’s my familiar. I empowered him with magic, now he’s intelligent and can do stuff on his own, but he doesn’t have any actual magic. Mostly he just lazes around and surfs the internet all day.”

 

Merlin, who had been studying the nearby elm tree as though he might possibly try to climb it, gave an indignant chitter. “Yeah, yeah, you know it’s true,” Raina told him dismissively. She opened her bag and pulled out the assignment sheet and a spiral-bound notebook. “Okay, let’s see. Already covered where you’re from, sort of. What’s your family like? (2)”

 

“Dad’s dead,” replied Riley shortly, looking down at the grass between his heavy boots. “Had cancer doc couldn’t fix. Mom’s head’gineer at Raymond.” A thin, sharp, humorless smile crossed Riley’s features. “I guess you saw Peyton when she dropped me off. That’s my mom here. ‘Cept not really. She runs the plant here too.” He looked over at Raina and said, “How about you? Where you from? (3)”

 

“Angel Mounds, Indiana,” Raina told him, relaxing from where she’d been braced for a different question. “Little bitty town just on the edge of Evanston, on the Ohio River. Everything that was worth visiting was in Evanston, the malls, the movie theaters, even my schools. But it was like tax advantageous or something to keep being our own town, so my dad was the mayor and they just kept on trucking along.” She consulted her paper again, then looked at Riley. “So I don’t even know if this is rude

or not, or how to ask in a way that isn’t rude. Are you transgender? (3)”

 

“Yeah,” said Riley, shooting Raina a hard, level look. “‘S’wat I am.” He’d evidently been expecting something worse, though, so he relaxed fractionally when she was finished speaking. “Question’s all right. Least you didn’t ask if I was a boy all the way down or some crap like that.” He smiled that hard-edged smile again, chewing over her words. He’d been asked the question a lot less than he’d expected at Claremont - so maybe it was just Raina was good at seeing stuff like bio-gender. Prolly a magic thing. “People here are obsessed with each other’s things.” He looked at Raina and said, “Why is that?(4) Damn, growing up, I’d have thought people in a place like this would have had better things to do with their time, like flying in planes or going to malls.”

 

“Well, I’m not 100% trash queen, no matter what they say about me,” Raina replied, her tongue in her cheek. “But it’s not like there were a lot of people doing the not-totally-straight thing where I come from, or at least if there were, they didn’t talk about it. People love to get up in each others’ sexy business, it gives them stuff to talk about. And there’s a lot of religious fundamentalism still putting sticky fingers all over everything, trying to dictate everybody’s morality and who can do what with who because God.” She grimaced. “We’d all be better off if the nosies minded their own business more and everybody else’s less. Does it really not make any difference

where you’re from? (4)”

 

“Lotta bad things happened where I’m from. People had to lose a lot of stupid attitudes fast, or they got dead.” He shrugged. “I took _some_ crap about it, but mostly ‘cause I had to start training with the boys halfway through my first year with the Woodsmen. 14 year olds, buncha kids.” He hesitated a moment, then pressed on. “That’s where I got the name. Back home, I’m part of the Woodsmen Corps. We’re the ones that protect the people - and who go out and hunt for what people need.” Deciding to change gears (since there was no point in ruining the conversation), he went on, “Indiana, that’s westahere, right? You ever go hunting, stuff like that? (5)”

 

That drew a laugh from Raina. “No way, hunting’s for people who drive pickup trucks to school and don’t have anything fun to do on weekends. Um, no offense,” she added after an awkward pause. “I mean, that’s how it was where I come from, not where you need to, like, do it to survive. I imagine it becomes a way sexier skillset then. But I went out riding and stuff when I was younger. I had a pony named Starlight because she had this white blaze right in the middle of her forelock. We’d go out riding around the mounds and stuff, and I’d practice my meditation where there weren’t any people. Then I got tall and she got old and I couldn’t ride her anymore, but you don’t just give away your pony, you know?” Raina frowned down at her notebook and blinked hard a couple of times. “Anyway, did you ever have a pet? (5)”

 

“Took care of the cats when I was a kid,” said Riley. “Gotta a whole colony of ‘em around Raymond. They keep the rats off the stuff we grow in the fields, and some of ‘em still like people enough to get petted or even sit on your lap. Sometimes you eat ‘em,” he added baldly, “but only if hunting’s been real bad and if you’re out of food meat. I only had cat when I was real little. Anyway, there was this black cat I named Buddy when I was a kid, he was cool. Used to rub against my legs and purr. He’s got a whole buncha kittens now.” He looked down at his list of questions, shrugged, and said, “Okay, what’s your favorite food? (6)”    

 

Raina frowned. “Um, I dunno, ice cream I guess. Or no, no, I’ve got it. We had this housekeeper from Jamaica when I was a kid, her name was Eyana and she was super-old and needed another housekeeper just to do the second floor rooms, but she was an awesome cook. She’d make all the normal food for my mom and dad, but when they were on trips and stuff she’d make Jamaican food for me, and it was so good. There was this one pastry called gizzada that was like a shell full of coconut and spices and honey and it was so good. I went to Jamaica on vacation once and I ordered it at a restaurant, but it wasn’t even as good as how she made it. What’s yours? (6)”

 

Riley had no idea what Jamaica was - maybe an island somewhere? “Yeah, we used to get some Jamaican spices when we were scavenging; sometimes the cook would fry stuff up in ‘em... anyway, my favorite food here is pink cotton candy, definitely.” His eyes lit up like a small child’s as he said, “Oh man, you put it in your mouth, and it just...just melts there, and it’s _all sugar_! It’s great. Peyton got it for me my first week in her house, said she thought I deserved some treats, and I just about cried. She said I was like a little kid.” He grinned, maybe the first time she’d seen him smile when talking about his other mother. “Man, the food here is so great! If I didn’t train so hard, I’d prolly have a candy gut like woah.” He rested his hand on his flat belly for a moment, then asked, “So, uh, this may be a stupid question,” he admitted, “but how does magic work? (7)”

 

“Dunno.” Raina shrugged, turning to watch as Merlin finally made his break for the irresistable charms of the elm tree. “It’s like a channeling of natural free-floating energy through your will and your mind, so that you can take energy from different sources and make it do what you want. But like, where the energy comes from, and why it does what it does, that’s not really what I care about. I figure other people can do the research on that. But if you’ve got the right genes and the talent and the motivation, you don’t need to know how it works. There’s no magic where you come from?” (7)

 

“I dunno,” said Riley with a shrug. “There might be, I guess. There’s nobody left who can do magic in Raymond, anyway. I’ve hearda people who could do magic in the old days, super-people and stuff, but they’re all dead now.” Or worse. “I guess that sounds really cold!” he admitted, scratching the close-shaved hair at the back of his head. “Dr. Marquez wants me to talk about it more. Jerk loves to talk.” He frowned. “But I was just a baby when everything happened. I grew up hearing about super-people, but I’ve never really lived in a world with ‘em till I got here.” He looked back at Raina. “When we’re done with all this stuff, this high school stuff, where do you wanna go? (8)”

 

“Ugh, I don’t even want to think about all this high school stuff,” Raina replied, shaking her head in disgust. “It’s all just so much BS, pretending to give us an education while they train us to be, like, soldiers in their secret hero army. So it’s like if you have any talent, you’re likely to be used up or dead by the time you graduate anyway, right? It’s not like you see a lot of former students coming back to say how great it is that they spent four years getting tortured into being heroes. What I really need is a filthy rich boyfriend who doesn’t hesitate to throw his weight around on my behalf and can keep me in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed again. I can shake the dust of this place off my shoes, give my grandparents the finger, and it will all be amazingly satisfying. Do you plan to ever go back where you come from?” (8)

 

“Can’t,” replied Riley, his voice growing clipped and tight. “Door’s shut. Magic people, science people, can’t find it again. Got here by accident - n’ nobody on the other end’ll knowta look.” He shook his head, not wanting to admit he had no idea where he was going after high school. “Things are nicer here,” he admitted. “Cotton candy, nacho cheese, Innernet. Safer, too.” He scratched the back of his head again. “How about you, you ever gonna go back to Angel Mounds? (9)”

 

“Can’t,” Raina replied in turn. “They took my home, our cars, the bank accounts, all our stuff. Even my college fund and my clothes, all poofed and gone into somebody’s pocket. They even took Starlight,” she added bitterly. “Then they told me I should feel lucky because I wasn’t in jail, and that I got to fill one suitcase before I went, instead of just getting tossed out in my jammies. There’s nothing left for me there, and given the hatchet job that’s been done on my family’s reputation, if I tried I’d probably be burned at the stake.” Abruptly, she gave a sharp whistle. Merlin clattered down from the tree (he was a pretty poor climber for a monkey) and jumped back onto Raina’s lap, snuggling in affectionately.

 

“Anyway, more questions.” Raina cleared her throat and studied the sheet. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (9)

 

“My mom wants me to be an engineer like her. Prolly gonna hafta,” Riley said with a little shrug. It didn’t look like he’d given the idea a lot of thought. “Somebody’s gotta do it - and even the youngest ’ginner’s almost 40 by now. We’re damn lucky at Raymond - half the reactors are still going, so we’ve got power for the defenses and t’keep the lights on at night. Most places don’t even have that.” As they spoke, he unfastened the hatchet at his hip and pulled a whetstone from his belt, and half-paying attention began the process of sharpening the blade. “Wanna be a Woodsman as long as I can, though. There’s a whole city out there to explore, and, heh.” He looked around the peace and quiet of the quad and added, “Maybe someday I’ll see what my Bayview looks like.” He said the words with the mixed excitement and fear of someone discussing something extremely dangerous. “How ‘bout you? You’d prolly get bored with your rich boyfriend after a coupla years.(10)” he said with a grin.

 

“I dunno, probably going to have to do something,” Raina admitted. “I was going to travel when I grew up. Go to college in Europe, then do a world tour, meet all kinds of different types of magical people, then maybe write a book about it. Can’t do any of that anymore, and not having any money definitely sucks. I might could just be a hedge witch, sell people little potions for their sex life, remove warts, hex enemies, stuff like that. I really don’t want to get into this whole superhero BS. That’s just begging to let somebody else run your life for you, till some big nasty comes along and squashes you flat. The whole costumes and codenames thing is ridiculous, and the Claremont getup is ridiculously unflattering. Not to mention,” she added, her voice dropping to a mutter, “it’s hard to be a hero when everybody thinks you’re a villain.” She frowned and shook herself. “Okay, here we go. “What’s your favorite school subject?” (10)

 

“Shop class. I love building stuff, and Claremont’s got a lot of tools and a lot less people trying to use ‘em.” He grinned. “And since it’s hero high, they don’t put the stupid limits on it they do at normal schools, like sixteen year olds are a bunch of stupid kids. I used to have an all-wood crossbow at home, working on making a new one here. And maybe a rack for Robin’s room.” With the signs of obvious long practice, he put up his hatchet, then took out his bow and began carefully removing parts of it for polishing. “I guess that’s what I like about this place,” he admitted. “If I was still living with Peyton and Riley, I’d be going freakin’ crazy in that house with nothin’ to do all day.” He shot a look over at Raina while he was in the middle of cracking open the magazine of the bow. “Why do people think you’re a villain, anyway? (11) Is it just that crap about your mom and dad?”

 

“You know how it is, sins of the fathers get passed along,” Raina replied caustically. “Assholes like Madison’s parents did a very thorough job painting my family as evil, and think that I must’ve known about all of it somehow. Add onto that the fact that I’m not interested in puckering up and kissing the ass of every half-brained thug in a costume or jackass in a position of authority, and obviously I’m a bad seed. They can have my respect when they’ve earned it, and so far nobody’s gone that far. The headmistress _might_ not be quite as bad as most of the idiots, but I’m still withholding judgment. So how did the government work where you come from anyway?” (11) she asked. “Did you still have elections and mayors and stuff?”

 

“Mayor, four people on the city council, even a police chief,” said Riley with a nod. “We hold elections every three years, have since ‘05. It’s what Lady Liberty woulda wanted. My mom was mayor when I was a kid for three years, but she said she liked tending machines more than tending people.” He shrugged. “Some people talk about maybe making a new state government, since we’re the biggest city in Jersey, but nobody really cares enough to do that. Local government’s only thing that really matters, since most people can’t travel. President Clinton’s supposed to still be alive in a bunker somewhere, but he can’t do anything either.” He made a face. “I watched some movies people made back before everything went to Hell, read some books too, and they’re so stupid. People here think human beings would just turn on each other when things go bad, but that’s not how it is where I’m from. We worked together, and we remembered who we are.” It was obviously a memorized phrase - but one he said with pride despite all that. “What’s your favorite class? (12)”

 

 Raina groaned. “Can I answer none of the above? They all basically suck. And if something interesting ever does happen, you can bet that Madison and her cronies are right there to squeeze the joy out of it before anybody can get too happy. Just trying to have a discussion in class with them around is like asking for a hard time. Otherwise Social Studies would be okay, I’ve been to a lot of the places they talk about on the syllabus, but I don’t need to hear what they think about my evil world travels. Just say study hall.” She turned a page in her notebook, absently petting Merlin’s furry head. “So who’s Peyton?” (12)

 

“She’s not my mom,” said Riley quickly, “but she’s...close. Peyton Quinn is my mom on my world. This world has a Peyton Quinn and a Riley Quinn, but they didn’t live through all the bad stuff. When I first got here, since I didn’t have any powers, they sent me to live with her and Riley once I was outta Goodman.” He shrugged, but there was a flash of pain in his eyes. “She’s nice - she tried hard to take careame.” He snapped his magazine back into place with an audible click, the bolt-polishing done. “Didn’t work out. Her Riley’s biggest worry is getting inta good college and workin’ for NASA. And my mom isn’t that lady. She still sends me stuff, though,” he admitted. “And that Madison, that’s the one who’s always talking about her aunt?” He made a face. “First time she sees me, she goes up to me and says ‘I want you to know I totally support your lifestyle!’, then she wants me to be in some kinda picture on her phone…” He threw up his hands. “Anyway, think she was expectin’ me to be grateful or something.” He looked at Raina. “So your grandparents give you crap about the magic stuff too? That sucks. Can they at least do spells and things? (13)”

 

“You’re her charity case,” Raina told him with a knowledgeable nod. “She’s going to use you to show what a good person she is to her asshole Facebook friends. ‘See how nice I am, being friends with this poor person who is totally weird to me?’ So long as you don’t cross her, she might throw you a bone once in awhile, but the second you do something she doesn’t like, you’re basically erased from her life. I knew tons of people like her back at my old school. What you should do is try to alienate her enough that she thinks you’re too weird to hang around with, without antagonizing her enough that she treats you like, say, me. You’ll get along a lot better that way.” Her voice was one of great wisdom and social experience, before she turned her attention back to the list of questions.

 

“My grandparents, doing magic…. not in this lifetime,” she said with a humorless laugh. “My dad grew up using magic, my granddad was the mayor of Angel Mounds for a long time before him. But my mom got into it against her parents’ wishes. They hated everything about magic and about my family. They’d disowned my mom before I was born, so I didn’t even meet them until Social Services was looking for somebody to dump me on. And they didn’t want me, but took me on because it was ‘their duty’ or some BS like that. We really didn’t get along. They were way happy when Claremont offered to take me off their hands, but I think they’d have given me away to pretty much anybody else who’d asked, too.” She jerked her shoulders to show how little that meant to her. “Anyway, let’s see here… what is your favorite book to read? (13)”

 

“Fiction books, not technical manuals or how-to guides?” Riley’s eyes widened as he considered what was obviously an unfamiliar question. “Huckleberry Finn, I guess. Huck lives in a crappy time and place, but he makes the best of it. When he decides to go to Hell instead of betray his friend, that’s good stuff.” He nodded. “Plus, he can go wherever he wants on that river. Must be nice.” He stood up, dusting off his hands, and eyed the tree Raina sat under speculatively. “For regular books, The Way Things Work is cool. ‘Sgot pictures and stuff of how all kinds of things work on the inside. I have that in my bunk at home.” Crouching low for a moment, he suddenly jumped upwards, a good three foot vertical leap, and grabbed ahold of a particularly sturdy branch overhead, where he hung with two hands. “What’s your favorite animal? (14)”  

 

Raina opened her mouth, but was interrupted by a chitter from Merlin. It was obvious, even to Riley, that Merlin was suggesting that Raina’s answer be monkeys, definitely monkeys. Raina rolled her eyes. “Monkeys, definitely monkeys,” she parroted dutifully. “Even though they’re really obnoxious and eat granola bars in bed.” Merlin gave her a toothy, ingratiating grin. “What about you? You seem kind of… maybe nervous sometimes around animals. Do you like them? (14)”

 

“Sure, I like cats, and dogs, and this lady at Raymond kept these parakeets for a while.” He began doing chin-ups on the branch, slow, regular ones, without a sign of strain in his steady movements “But other animals…” He was quiet for a moment, moving up and down, then he suddenly pulled himself up, both hands, until he was perched carefully on the thick overhanging branch, his head half-obscured by fall leaves. It looked like he belonged there. “Animals are...different where I’m from. The ones that live with people are the same, but the ones from the Forest are smarter, and meaner. I once saw a wolf pack lay in wait for a hunting party, then jump out and grab the flashlights _first_ before they went for the others. I’ve heard about bears wearing human clothes, and foxes who write messages in the dirt…” He shook his head. “It’s not all animals, but I’ve learned you can’t turn your back on one without studying it first. Yours seems OK, though. How’d you meet Merlin? (15)” he asked.

 

“I rescued him from a research facility,” Raina replied, both she and Merlin tilting their heads back to see Riley in his leafy perch. “He was just a baby and they were going to do experiments on him to see if their stupid chemicals would burn off his fur and blister his skin and god only knows what else. I freed pretty much all the animals they had caged up there, but he’s the one I took home with me. I wanted a familiar who had thumbs and stuff, you know? Didn’t anticipate he’d be so much trouble.” That earned her another very cheeky monkey grin. “Is it weird having to learn about all the technology and stuff here?” (15)

 

“Some of it’s weird,” he admitted. “I still don’t see what’s the point of Facebook and Snapchat and all that stuff, but smartphones seem pretty nice. The Internet is great! We’ve got computers at Raymond, but they’re just for running the reactors and the super-equipment. I just have the phone Peyton bought me, but I like to look at webcams of places all over the world, like Washington, and Socotra, and London…” He had climbed to his feet now, balancing carefully on the branch, and was obviously eying the branches above his head. “You ever been in a fight? (16)”

 

“Like a fistfight?” Raina asked, leaning back on her elbows to watch Riley more comfortably. He certainly had some muscles in those wiry shoulders, which she could appreciate even if she wasn’t attracted to the small and skinny type. “I got into one pretty good slapfight at the school my grandparents sent me to, got a bruised cheekbone and gave a black eye and a bald spot, so it was pretty evenly matched. Shouldn’t talked about my parents if she didn’t want to go a round.” She looked grimly satisfied at the memory. “But before that, my combat was pretty much always social. There are much more effective ways to hit than with your hands. What about you, have you? (16)”

 

Riley laughed from up inside the tree - it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Yeah.” He started climbing, impossibly graceful in those heavy boots, climbing with slow, deliberate speed as he ascended through the branches. “But if you mean like a fistfight, yeah, that too.” He turned down to watch her as he spoke, but still didn’t miss a step as he worked his way around the tree. “Even to go out in the Forest, you have to prove you can handle yourself in a fight - and between one thing and another, I got inna lot of ‘em.” He leaned back and looked down at her. “I guess you heard about the thing with that dumbass Jayawan?  Heard that room still stinksapuke.” He shook his head. “Marquez wants me to talk more about the stuff I did. Like that’s same as killin’ people.” He looked down at Raina, and decided not to ask that question. “What’s your coolest power? (17)”

 

“I heard about that, yeah, but it’s better not to believe everything you hear in this place,” Raina told him. “Jayawan is a loser anyway, you’re better off without him as a roommate. He’s like sixteen and already trying to apply to the Freedom League. Brownnoser.” She scoffed, while Merlin scoffed right along with her. “My coolest power is definitely throwing fireballs. Not always useful, but definitely cool. But I can talk to animals and fly and go invisible when I want, so none of it exactly sucks. I was learning more, but then that all got derailed, obviously. Do you have any superpowers? (17)”

 

“Nope. I just shoot really well and I make my own arrows. I could probably cut power armor up and recycle the parts, but I couldn’t make my own, that stuff is crazy.” He leaned out of the tree to look directly at Raina, leaning precipitously out with one hand still clinging to an overhead branch. “Hold up, do you really fly?” he asked, his eyes lighting up. “Do you grow wings or something? (18)”

 

“Course not,” Raina replied with some amusement. “What kind of witch do you think I am? I use a broom, like normal people. But I can do a little bit of it just by myself. Just gotta think of a wonderful thought.” She hummed a few bars of music under her breath, then raised her hand and rubbed her fingers together as though she were sprinkling something onto herself. She rose slowly into the air until she was face to face with Riley. “Ever flown before? Wanna try it now?” (18)

 

“You...hell yes!” declared Riley, a look of uninhibited joy on his face that was as rare as hen’s teeth. He climbed to a particularly high branch (one with relatively few leaves and subbranches) and deftly shimmied his way over to Raina. close enough to reach out and touch her. All that was holding him up was his double-handed grip on the branch overhead, but he looked as comfortable as he had on the ground - he looked at Raina, studied his options for a moment, and reached out his hand to her.

Raina reached out and grabbed his hand, and suddenly he was buoyant as well, his feet lifting from the branch as gravity lost its grip on him. She tugged him away from the tree and into the open air and then, rather alarmingly, released his hand. As it turned out, though, the physical contact wasn’t keeping him in the air, it was just the magic. Raina laughed and turned a quick somersault in the air, then pushed off of nothing and shot in a circle around him like a seal. “Kind of a trip, huh?”

“I’m flying! I’m just freaking flying!” yelled Riley, and he was excited and terrified all at once, emotions that themselves were not too common in his life. It was like the first time he’d swung from one of the Pyramid Plaza towers to another, but despite the lower heights, the fact that gravity had no hold on him at all made this even more impressive. “Can you teach me how to do this!?” (19)

 

“Well, I can’t personally,” Raina admitted. “I’m just an acolyte, I don’t know enough magic to actually teach it. You’d probably turn yourself into a frog, if you even had any magic potential at all. Lots of people can’t use magic the way I learned it, you gotta have the power inside you before you even start. I can’t really tell if people do or don’t, not unless they’re already really powerful.” She climbed higher into the air, above the level of the buildings, so they could see a good chunk of Bayview around them. “But if you really wanted to and were ready to work at it, you might be able to find somebody to assess you, then teach you if you had the spark. Just don’t mention my name, cause then nobody will give you the time of day!” she added cheerfully. “So what are you gonna do with yourself while you’re stuck here for however long? Just gonna do high school?” (19)

 

“I dunno!” called Riley, who was taking a few tentative ‘swipes’ at the air like he was trying to swim in it. “Gonna get back there one day,” he said, “They need people there.” He gradually found his way in the air, following Raina up into the sky and looking out over Bayiew - his eyes slowly translating it from what he saw there to his own. “Raymond’s almost outta juice. Time’s gonna change.” He looked over at Raina and said, “In the meantime...I dunno.” This close, in the sky, he gradually quieted, as the thoughts of his own world weighed him down. “Prolly be a huntin’ guide, something like that. Just something so Peyton doesn’t worry.” He leaned back, popping his neck in the air. “Where’d you come up with Sparkler? (20)”

 

“It’s a toy we have here, well, kind of a toy, it’s like the tamest kind of firework you use on the Fourth of July. It’s like a stick, but if you light it with a lighter, it starts to throw off harmless colored sparks everywhere. Kids like to take them and just run around like mad with them, they look amazing in the dark.” Raina pulled her legs up under her, sitting crosslegged like a genie in bluejeans. “They told me I needed a codename, I figured I’d better pick something innocuous. Sparkler’s fire that can’t hurt anybody. Someday I’ll have something better.” The words were light, but her face was grim and entirely serious. “So what are you hoping to get out of this whole high school thing?” (20)

 

Riley looked down at Bayview beneath his feet - but saw a forest of oak and pine rising higher than where he hovered now, and heard the sounds of monstrous Ferals crashing or leaping through the trees, smelled the sharp, tangy scent of the Forest Primeval. He had only one good answer for Raina.

 

“Home.”

 

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