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New Squirrel on Campus (Open)

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Claremont Academy, Main Gates

Friday, Late Afternoon, March 4th, 2016


Where many of Claremont's future alumni arrived in a fanfare of activity and a whirl of commotion, Lee Young's was much more surreptitiously serendipitous. He'd arrived not unlike anyone who'd just traveled from the opposite side of the country, both jet-lagged and weary when the nondescript taxi had finally deposited him outside the entrance of Claremont Academy, easily recognizable from the colorful brochure provided to him a week prior and still stuffed in his jean pocket. Dressed in a humble red flannel shirt and jeans that had already begun to fade and toting both a hefty looking backpack and matching duffel bag, that same measure of weariness was soon replaced by undiluted excitement at finally having arrived. With childlike mirth, the young man's obvious squirrel-like tail was unabashedly aflutter as he took in the grandiose scope that was Claremont Academy with an unparalleled sense of wide-eyed wonderment. This was a whole new world for Lee, and the idea of having genuine peers rather than being that one weirdo who talked to squirrels in school was as refreshing an idea as it was an earnestly heartwarming prospect.


But before he could get to shmoozing and settling in, he had to figure out where exactly he was supposed to check in. The brochure only covered so much, and Claremont Academy was, after all, a big campus -- bigger than any Lee had ever seen, that was for sure! Peering about, there were plenty of students carousing about the campus, meandering here-and-there in groups or about on their own. Never one to balk from a golden opportunity, this was the perfect chance for Lee to kill two birds with one stone... y'know, metaphorically speaking.


"Excuse me!" cried the squirrely teenager as he trotted over, his face an energetic testament of sunshine and good vibes even as he shouldered the burgeoning bags across his shoulders and fished out the modestly crumpled Claremont Academy brochure from his pocket. "Hi! My name's Lee. I'm supposed to see Miss Summers about my enrollment, and I was wondering if you might be able to give me some directions."

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“Oh hello there you must be new! Pleased to meet you I’m Cathy, I’ll got a little time to give you the quick tour.” Cathy’s accent was a thick Scottish burr, though softer than when she’d first arrived in the States. The pale skinned girl gave, what she hoped was, a friendly smile.


Whilst the weather might have been improving there was still a slight chill in the air around Cathy and she bundled in several layers of clothing including a rather startling chunky jumper with a knitted oak tree pattern.

“As well as taking you to the Headmistress I can give you the rundown on the various cliques, who to avoid and who to be seen with.”

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"Oh. Oh, totally. That'd be great, Cathy! Thanks!" brimmed Lee with earnest enthusiasm and unbridled casualness, shuffling his bags full of clothing and other such necessities again as he returned Cathy's smile, trying hard to ignore the chill settling between the sharply contrasted duo.


"If it's not too much trouble, I'll take all the help I can get."

Edited by MysticSquirrel
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"Hey, you gotta 'nother newbie, huh?" 


The voice came from the quad's largest tree as they passed by - a moment later, its owner appeared, dropping out from where he'd been hanging one-handed to the largest branch. Short and wiry, Riley looked up at Lee before shaking his hand with a hard, rough-handed grip that belied the fact that the boy couldn't be much older than Lee himself. "Riley Smith. Nice to meetcha." He ran his hand over his smoothly-shaven scalp, then said, "Cathy's real good at diplomacy 'n stuff." 

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“It seems I am a victim of circumstances in that manner Mr Smith.” Her tone was pretty light, suggesting no malice in her statement “I warn you that we’re not exactly the cool kids, though despite what some might say we’re not super villains in training. Less Slytherin and more... Hufflepuff.” She trailed off not exactly happy with the analogy, before bouncing back with her happy tone

“Come on let’s get you the admin office, then we can show you to the dorms.”

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Claremont was certainly full of surprises, what with kids plopping from the sequestered boughs of trees and all! Had Riley not announced his presence, no doubt Lee would've been wholly startled - who hides in trees like that anyway?! Never one to balk at the sight of oddities, however, Lee rolled with the unorthodox introduction like a champ, returning the young man's firm handshake while mustering a wholehearted "Likewise! I'm Lee," accompanied by all the vim and friendliness such a warm welcome ought to be repaid with.


"Pfft. I'll be the judge of who's cool or not," winked the squirrely teen playfully in response to Cathy's opinion of the clique status quo, replete with a joyous flick of his own over-sized tail, barely repressing the urge to make a chilly pun out of politeness.


"So what are we doing just standing around here? I can't wait to get settled in and see what else this place has goin' on!" Lee prattled on excitedly, ever the perpetual lil' ball of positivity.

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"Not really a good judge," said the short, wiry boy, his heavy plaid shirt hanging loosely across his slim torso. "Let's get yata Summers." He and Cathy waited outside, the former idly tossing what looked like a camp hatchet from hand to hand, while Lee headed in for a private conversation with Jasmine Summers herself. 


Lee's conversation with the headmistress was short and to the point - Jasmine Summers might have been close to fifty but she was tall and athletic, her grip firm as she shook the young man's hand and invited him to take a seat in one of the stuffed chairs across from her wide desk. "Welcome to Claremont, Lee. I know you had the introductory talk when you were recruited for the school - and you've had the folder with housing and other information to study on your way here. Do you have any questions for me?" 


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Perfectly content to follow along with Cathy and Riley to the Administrative Building to meet both his benefactor and (hopefully) benevolent overlord, young Lee was absolutely livid with excitement. He'd been on campus for less than an hour and so far, Claremont had proved to be the single weirdest place Lee'd been to yet. In an equally weird measure, he was grateful for that! Back home he'd always felt alienated amongst his peers. In comparison to a super-chill girl and a guy who hides in trees and carries a hatchet, he had to admit he was suddenly feeling a little more normal by comparison! Still, they seemed like nice enough people, and besides, what's a little weirdness between prospective friends, right?


At their arrival, Lee dropped his bags off outside the door before heading in to meet Miss Summers, plopping into the plush chair at her behest after reciprocating the middle-aged woman's surprisingly fierce handshake. It wasn't her brevity or her directness that unnerved the boy, but the inquest. There were, of course, a million questions he wanted to ask Callie Summers -- but perhaps that was expected, given both his newfound home and the rare opportunity presented to him. But there was one that burned brighter than any other and, perhaps, it was a question best left unasked. Yet Lee felt he had to ask anyway, even if it meant metaphorically shooting himself in the foot.


"So, uh..." he began, his fingers and tail in a synchronized dance of nervousness. "So I know I'm here to get an education, and that Claremont's got a pretty unique student body. That's very cool, and I'm totally jazzed just to be here! Really!" he continued honestly, accompanied with a side-dish of nervous laughter, "But... but let's say I'm interested in continuing to pursue more hands-on extracurricular stuff. What's the official, y'know, stance on that exactly?"

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"Are you asking about part-time superhero work?" asked Jasmine, giving the boy a level look that seemed to go right down to his core. "Many of our students volunteer in that capacity - others don't. Having superpowers doesn't mean you have to go into superheroing," she said, her tone deadly serious. "This is a high school, not a military academy. We're here to give you a well-rounded education that will prepare you for whatever career, or further education, you follow once you graduate." 

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Cathy stood beside Riley as they waited for Ms. Summer to do the necessary introductions, they seemed to spend more time here than she’d expect but luckily never so far for anything bad. Still waiting in the office was still somehow nerve wracking and she had to spend some effort to keep her aura of cold under control.


“You know you’re pretty good at the whole tour bit, I think you have some diplomacy skills of you own going on.”

She guest that Riley and Robin were, for the most part, good for each other.

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"Oh, man. That's a relief. That I can keep at it, I mean," Lee nervously laughed again, relaxing both his shoulders and in his seat a little too much. For some reason he'd expected this conversation to go completely one-eighty in direction, with Miss Summers abruptly shutting down any notion of superheroic activity until graduation. It took him a moment to realize just how unprofessional it must have seemed to suddenly begin slouching in front of Claremont's deathly serious headmistress before affixing his posture rapidly to avoid further embarrassment, noticeably unnerved by the woman's piercing gaze and accompanied by a sharp clearing of his throat.


"That's really the only big question I had, Miss Summers. Ran into these folks, Cathy and Riley, and they said they'd give me the grand tour and stuff. Pretty sure I can manage from here between em'."

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Lee wasn't quite off the hook. "I'll meet with you first thing tomorrow to discuss your academics. The time will be in your campus email. Right now, go circulate with Ms. Clouston and Mr. Smith. Let them show you campus." With that he was dismissed, right out to where Riley and Cathy were waiting for him. 


Outside, Riley snapped his hatchet back onto his belt with a practiced manuever. "Ya done? Let's showyaround." He rolled off the wall he'd been leaning against, wiry frame agile as a cat's, and began sauntering along next to Lee. "Where you wanna go? You gotta nice tail," he said after a moment, having sorted out in his head what someone with an appendage like that that they didn't bother to try and hide. "You turn into a giant squirrel or somethin'?" 


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Cathy gave Riley a gentle nudge in the ribs along with a side glance.


“I take back the whole diplomacy thing, you can’t just ask someone questions like that out of the blue.” She gave Lee a smile “Don’t worry you don’t have to answer any question, unless of cause you want to...” She must admit she was as curious as Riley, just not quite as blunt about it “You’ll find many unusual types at Claremont that’s for sure.”

She counted herself as one of the “unusual types”, though she more or less fine with that now.

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Back in Summers' office, the pending return vis-a-vis his academics left an all too familiar pit in Lee's stomach, the mere suspense more than enough to instill a modicum of nervousness within him. But that nervousness, though practically palpable, stayed right there in that office as he made his exit, relieved to be reunited with his de-facto tour guides outside. For a moment there's the telltale hint of dread on the squirrelish young man's face, but just as quickly as it made itself evident it evaporated into an unrepentant display of unnatural sunniness.


"It's okay," Lee laughed with a smile, both in response to Riley's query and Cathy's chastisement as he saddled up alongside them bags in-hand, giving his most noteworthy feature a casual flick and swish for dramatic effect. "People ask me, like, all the time about my tail. But hey, it makes an awesome conversation starter, so it totally works out!" Lee brimmed enthusiastically.


"But nah, I don't turn into a giant squirrel or anything like that. I've always had a tail. Runs in the family," he continued, discussing his appendage as casually as one might the weather. "I just have squirrel-like powers, so it comes with the package: agility, teeth, claws, the works. Oh, and I talk to squirrels," stated Lee, the last bit rather nonchalantly. "Probably way less awesome than what you guys can do or, y'know, what I guess most of the students here have going on."


Clapping his hands awkwardly, Lee shifted his gaze between his newfound peers, eagerness rife on his face. "Alright! So, how 'bout that campus tour? I want the whole shebang, not just the basic walk. But, uh, maybe you could show me to the dorms first? Bags full of clothes are surprisingly heavy!"

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They wound up in Claremont's mixed-sex dorm, Riley leading the way onto one of the boys' floors. "Yer lucky," Riley opined as Lee found an empty, furnished room to inhabit. "Kids couldn't hack it first semester went home or t'schools in other places, left ya some space. You gotta nice roomie - Anibal's'a friend of us. We ever got a team name?" The last was a question sent Cathy's way. He twirled his hatchet as he talked, his eyes scanning the room automatically even as Lee set his stuff down on the bed. "Kid next door is Huang, nice guy, does magic stuff. Guy 'cross the way is Jay. You'll meet him later." Riley scowled at that name, dark brows furrowing. "So, you talk to squirrels, huh?" he asked. "Whadda they say?" It didn't sound like he entirely believed squirrel communication was a real thing. 

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Cathy was trying to not to show it to much but she was pretty pleased that people were actually listening to her finally. She’d been going on about them forming a proper team for ages, cause that would really show the plastics who were the better superheroes.


“It’s still a work in progress name wise.” She was trying to sound as nonchalant as she could about it “I’ve been doing a little research and I thought that we should use the Young Freedom name, it’s a bit of a legend around the school. Some think it’s a bit lame though.” She wiggled her fingers in air quotes.

“One good thing about dorms is it’s not difficult to make friends, you amoung some good company with this lot.”

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"Lucky me, I guess. Can't wait to meet the guys who stayed!" Plopping the bags down with a decided measure of relief, Lee turned his focus back to Riley, smile unwavering at his newfound compatriots' inquiry into what sparkling conversationalists squirrels must be.


"Oh, y'know. Typical squirrel stuff," said the equally squirrely kid nonchalantly, as if he'd heard this same question a thousand times, yet still managed to retain that unerring air of chipperness. "What kind of nuts they like, where to get said nuts, the best trees to hide those nuts in, how funny it is to throw nuts at things. Stuff like that. Back home the squirrels were nice enough to let me know when they saw some weirdo in a costume doing things they weren't supposed to be doing, but I'll have to win over some new squirrel buddies out here before they start trusting me like that I bet," Lee rambled on, enthusiasm spilling over despite his best endeavors to remain cool. "But hey, never underestimate that squirrely spirit! You'd be surprised what those little guys can do."


It was Cathy and Riley's discussion of a team name and its degree of coolness, however, that'd instantly managed to pique Lee's interest. "What's Young Freedom?" he inquired, his naivete and curiosity instantaneously making themselves noticeable as he shifted his gaze between the two guides. "And why would people think it's lame? That name sounds totally rad for a team!"

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Kyle made his way up the stairs of the dorm hall muttering, it seemed, to himself. "I don't know what he looks like. She just said I'll know him when I see him." He peeked into each open door as he strolled down the hall, pausing in the common areas, searching for someone. His light blue oxford shirt, khaki pants and penny loafers made him look like a typical preppie highschool kid, which actually made him look a bit out of place here. He ran his hand though his shaggy brown hair -- a boy with a puzzle he was trying to solve.


It had been a while since he did something like this -- just being an errand boy. He liked it. Since school started this year, he hadn't much time to mingle with other students given all the intensive tutoring he'd been undergoing. He was ready to get out and mingle a bit. He almost passed the open door to the room where the threesome were gathered and stopped abuptly as he took in the big fluffy squirrel tail of the school's squirrely new arrival.


"Oh!" A profound realization began to register on his face. "Ohhh! I get it now! Of course!" And then another realization... "Oh, I'm sorry, I hope I'm not interrupting anything, but I think I have a message for you," he said addressing Lee.



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"Was a team hereabouts," said Riley with a little shrug. "Name'scool." It wasn't the Freedom League, or any of the other teams that had existed in Freedom City on the night of December 31, 1999 - so it was all right by Riley. "We're kinda the-" He thought for a moment, then realized he didn't really have a good word for what he and his friends at Claremont were. "freaks'a nature, I guess." He studied Lee, then asked, his voice still a little baffled, "So you just eat nuts, or-ah, never mind. Don't needta ask ya lotsa questions about yourself." He laughed nervously, deciding he'd maybe better not ask Lee about eating squirrel - which was too bad, because no one else at that damn school liked hunting. Or if he ever had any other animal urges. From animals more threatening to humans than squirrels. "So whaddya do for fun when yer not talkin' to squirrels?"

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Cathy tried not to show her discomfort at Riley’s choice of word, he could be a little rough around the edges at time. Having lived around “salt of the Earth” types back home she was pretty use to people like that, it was comforting and refreshing sometime. It was probably one of the things she liked about Phae, among other things.


“I think what Riley’s trying to say is that we’re all a group of outsider’s, with various stories of woes. And I think the probably with the name is that some of the stories about their exploits are pretty far out, there one about them defeating an almost godlike being!” Even Cathy was a little dubious on that one.

“It’s okay you not disturbing us at all. And hi there sorry I don’t think we’ve met.” She beamed at Kyle when he arrived “I’m Cathy, pleased to meet you.”

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"Well that just makes it sound even radder!" addended Lee with a solid nod at the description provided by his guides, whilst simultaneously shrugging off Riley's apology for his curiosity. "Seriously. How could anyone call a team that punches godlike-whatevers in the face lame?!"


Before Lee could segue into Riley's next question, another new face entered the room -- this one sporting a message just for Lee! With a telltale swish of his tail, he could only imagine what was so important that someone would be sent to pass the word on. Maybe Miss Summers was skipping the return visit? Maybe it was about his new roommate? Perhaps, still, it revolved around his pending curriculum!


"And I'm Lee," the squirrely youth added in tandem to Cathy's greeting, hoisting a jovial wave towards the newcomer. "So, what's up?"

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"Oh, my name is Kyle!" he said with slight southern drawl. "Yeah, I haven't been around outside of class much and I don't think we have any classes together. Nice to meet y'all!" he added, smiling warmly.


"I have this for you," Kyle said as he handed Lee an index card. The card had a set of GPS coordinates written across it in pencil. "Those are coordinates to a spot in the state forest West of here."


He stopped and looked at the other two students a little bashfully. "Um.. so, this is... kind of weird. The thing is this: there is this dryad -- a spirit of the forest -- and she heard about you. Knew you were on your way here. Something about 'mutual friends.'


"Anyway, she wants to meet you sometime, but it's hard for her to leave her tree. That's what that is," he said pointing to the card, "the coordinates of her tree. It's big. In a clearing. Can't miss it."


Kyle paused awkwardly, shrugged his shoulders and ran his hand through his hair. "Yeah... so... right... so, y'all were talking about starting a team?"

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"What did you just say?" Riley demanded of Kyle, anger and outrage mixing on his dark features as he hissed up at the other boy. He didn't yell - but the look of quiet, razor-sharp intensity on his face immediately told Kyle there were some truth to the rumors about the other teen. "There's a goddamned creature out in the woods luring people out there and nobody's doing anything about it? What the hell is wrong with-" He turned, before Kyle could respond, and looked away, his hands clenched into fists at his sides, lean body pulled tight like a bowstring. When he spoke, it was in a more normal volume. "I mean...sorry, I mean...sore subject." He swallowed and looked back at the other guys. "Is that what you were asking? You want us to come out there with our team and help you with that?" 

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Kyle blinked a few times, processing what just happened. "What? No! No, not at all. Dryads are pretty shy. I doubt she'd even come out if we all went. And they are pretty harmless, really. I think she just wants to meet Lee sometime."


Kyle shrugged. "I get caught up in doing weird stuff for spirits. Word gets out in the spirit worlds you can hear them, and next thing you know..."

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Cathy had heard some of the stories about Riley’s past, or at least enough to know why this might upset him a little. She gently put a comforting hand on his shoulder.


“Riley’s had a problem with such things in the past, it’s kind of complicated.” She wasn’t sure if the new students we’re ready for the whole from another dimension truth “We’ll have a word with Robin about it later, discuss our options as to what to do.” If anyone could talk sense in Riley it was Robin, though that didn’t always work

“We were going to show Lee around the school a little care to tag along?” She tried to quickly change the subject.

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