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Hot Time, Summer in the City (IC)


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Silberman's Books. August 31st, 2016 10:05am.


It was just after 10, and the forecast was brutal; the store had only been open for a few minutes, and it was already a furnace, because the AC was down and it would be a few hours before the HVAC repairman could make it over. This and the large standing sign in front of the door warning about the lack of AC kept a lot of the regulars from coming in for their morning cup, which was sad, but seeing that many of them were elderly, Lynn that it as best that they knew from the get-go.


Of course, due to their respective powers, neither Lynn nor her partner Gretchen was uncomfortable, so they pretty much had the store to themselves so far this morning; Lynn was using it as a chance to catch up on paperwork in her office, while Gretch sat on a stool behind the counter reading Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of reviews by legendary rock critic Lester Bangs. Normally she'd be on her laptop, but without working AC she was concerned about the poor thing overheating. Several industrial standing fans were set up around the store to offer some relief for any would-be shoppers, and an oscillating desk fan perched on the counter next to Gretchen, occasionally stirring her hair with its breeze.



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Cassidy Bauer was up early. A friend of his had needed a model of a piece of art, and Cass had the reputation of never really being busy. And, since said piece of art had to be turned in at noon, it had been quite the morning. His friend had called at 2 AM. Bonfire had fortunately just returned from patrol, so it was not him being woken up far too late/early. A quick shower, and an 8 hour art session later, a piece of regardable quality had been created. And Cass Bauer had an entire day and not much to do.


He decided to take a slow walk back. He had travelled there as Bonfire (and made up a reason as to why he’d managed to catch a bus that late at night), but didn’t feel like flying again, there wasn’t any hurry anyway. Instead, he simply walked down the streets, slowly, back towards the Fens. Probably get in a few minutes of sleep. Coffee was nice and all, but staying up on just Coffee was not something he did unless it was absolutely necessary.


And then he came across a coffee shop. Coffee, books and Free Wi-Fi? And it wasn’t a franchised shop either? Why had he not heard of this place before? Like, this looked like a great place. Granted, it was empty, but at this time of the day that was not so rare. No AC apparently. Yeah, that did not faze him. He walked further, turning around a corner, before thinking. Cass Bauer or Bonfire? The latter seemed like the worse option here, but at least there was no risk of him revealing anything he didn’t want to. Then again, Cass Bauer was more approachable, he wasn’t somebody you saw on the news. Yeah, probably the better approach.


He turned around, and walked towards the store again, pushing open both doors. A few steps inside, then he looked over to the counter. A soft voice, sounding a bit tired, left his mouth.


“Morning. This place open regardless of the AC thing?”

Edited by olopi
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Gretchen looked up from her book and cocked her head to one side as she studied the newcomer for several seconds; she wore black plastic frame glasses, several rings and bracelets, and a black Frank Zappa t-shirt, while several tattoos, including musical notation, were visible on her arms.


Her observations apparently made, she went back to reading her book before answering him."The door is open and I'm behind the the counter. I allow you to draw your own conclusions."


Cass did make one interesting observation of his own; despite the intense damp heat, the young woman showed no signs of sweating.

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Customer Service of the highest quality! Good enough, non-franchised stores had that sometimes. Also it wasn’t exactly the time or weather for nice words, Cass thought. He didn’t care much about either really, he’d been up long enough for things like the time of day to not matter much, and the heat didn’t bother him to begin with. Much like the cashier apparently, who didn’t seem to be fazed either.

Cass stretched his arms and shoulders, a few cracking sounds, and then looked at the menu. At the same time, he took a few steps forward. A yawn, and then he replied.


“Okay. I’ll take a quad espresso and a large macchiato in that case. “


He waited for a bit, before adding something on. Maybe these people were interested in conversation, maybe not. Either way, he wasn’t around this place too often, so negative opinions wouldn’t matter too much.


“Man, FreeSA and their deadlines. All these all-nighters.”

Edited by olopi
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Gretchen cocked an eyebrow at the mention of her alma mater, then set aside her book and slid off her stool before moving behind the bar. "FreeSA's a good school, but make sure you have a back-up plan." She gestured dramatically to take in the entirety of the store. "You can see how far my BFA got me." For a few fleeting seconds, half a smile touched her lips.


As she began to set up the shots, the snarky barista paused as she expertly swept the excess coffee off the top of the portafilter with a cloth, calmly studying the young customer with those dark blue eyes of hers. "These two drinks...that's six shots of espresso. Are you sure you can handle it? I don't want to have to pry you off the ceiling later."

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Conversation starter was a go! A wild guess and some general luck seemed to have their intended effect. Good, Cass felt like talking with somebody, the last night had been nice and all, but it had also been a lot of waiting and doing nothing.


“Oh, you can say that again. I’ve been looking for a job ever since I finished there. Nothing beyond a few freelance commissions so far.”


“Made a bunch of friends back there, some still are at the school. And some of them are glad they know somebody who reliably is never busy. So I’m pretty much a “My deadline is in 8 hours, I need help” guy now. It’s nice and all, but it’s also rather exhausting.”


Cass quickly fetched his wallet, an old green leather piece, from his back pocket, and picked out a variety of coins, enough to pay for both drinks. Then, he picked up the espresso, and downed it in one go, before placing it back on the counter.


It felt like the heat in the room suddenly rose even more, while his red iris seemed to brighten up a bit, less of a dark red than before. He looked at Gretchen, a smile on his face, as he continued to talk.


“This is what I usually have every morning. I can probably manage. “

Edited by olopi
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Gretchen pursued her lips and nodded as she accepted the coins. "Fair enough." But behind her eyes, the wheels were turning as she carefully noted some peculiar things about the customer, but she needed to obtain more data before she came to any firm conclusions. Red eyes, a few visible burns, seems to be radiating heat...


"Let me see if I can guess your major," she mused as she leaned back against the wall and stroked her chin. "I'm guessing....film? Or advertising. Or social media, I'm not sure. Something people-heavy." She was left handed, and the words 'The Future Is Unwritten' were tattooed on her knuckles, the 'the' partially obscured by a silver ring with a large ruby on her index finger.

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Cass listened, occasionally looking around the store a bit. His attention remained towards Gretchen however, following her words. A slight smile formed across his face as she tried to guess his Major, and when she’d finished, he replied after a short pause.


“Surprisingly, it’s neither of those. I do a lot of social media, but I didn’t major in it. Not really sure why, I guess I didn’t feel like I needed it. Actually did photography. Rural kid and all, photography’s always interested me. I ended up getting a lucky chance, and did the course here in FC. “


He took a sip of his macchiato, still standing at the counter. The store wasn’t exactly busy, he wasn’t holding up anybody else, so standing at the counter wasn’t bad behaviour. He placed his arms on the counter, and continued speaking.


“I’ll take a guess too! I assume you did Audio Engineering or something else related to Music? “



Edited by olopi
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Gretchen pursued her lips and nodded. "I would not have picked you for a Photo major. You talk too much. All the photogs I dated either lived in their darkrooms or spent all day making Photoshop porn." She pulled a double shot for herself, raised it in a vague approximation of a toast, then downed it. 


"You're partially right, but I changed majors three times." She smirked and counted off on her fingers. "Musical Performance. Electronic Journalism. Music Production and Technology." Then she shrugged and washed her cup out with hot water from the steamer. "I dated a journo for almost a year. He actually got me to give a damn for a second there."


Setting her cup aside, she crossed her arms and considered the young man for several seconds, then abruptly stuck out her hand. "Gretchen."

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Cass reached out, and shook Gretchen’s hand. A firm grip, but not strong one.


“Cass. Nice to meet’ya.”


He then took his arm back, and picked up his macchiato again, taking a sip. The smile was still drawn across his face, and as he set down the cup on the counter, he started to talk once more.


“I’ve always been more of a go-out-and-shoot-photos kind of photographer. More fun than just sitting in a room all day, can do that enough the rest of the time. More talking too, gotta go out and have people pose, or just gain their permission.”


“I think journos just are good at getting you to care. I had a few journalism courses on the side because of the same reason. Dated … a few … journos, most of them were pretty chill all things considered. Never lasted any long though. ”


He picked up his cup again, taking another sip, emptying it out in the process. As he set it back down, he looked around the room once more, checking out a few of the more noticeable things in the room.

Edited by olopi
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The young barista came out from behind the bar, revealing loose cut jeans and a pair of Doc Martin's. "If you want to buy books and not just chat, we've got lots of them. We find having actual books really helps with the whole 'bookstore' theme we're going for." She indicated the front of the store with a wave of her hand. "New Arrivals and Our Picks of the Month greet you when you come in, along with the magazines and newspapers we get in." 


Gretchen took a step up into main section of the store, stopping in front of a door marked 'Manager's Office'. "Oh look, it's the lair of our owner and operator, Lynn Epstein. Let's see if we can rouse the great beast." She knocked sharply on the door several times, which did indeed elicit some sort of irritable growl from within.


"What is it?"


"Hey, Boss Lady, we've got a customer. Do you want to meet him?"


"Uhhhhh...sure, why not. Gimme a sec."


Gretchen turned to Cass and nodded solemnly. "Probably not wearing any pants."


"I am not! Wait a sec, that's not- "


There was an exasperated sigh, then the door swung open, revealing a...very attractive young woman, who looked like she should probably be a model or an actress and not a bookstore owner. She had shoulder-length curly hair and dark brown eyes, and was wearing a white No Doubt T-shirt under a photographer's vest, denim shorts and brown leather flip-flops. Considering she just popped her head out of a small office in an un-airconditioned office, it was surprising that she, too, did not appear to be sweating.


"Hi, I'm Lynn Epstein, owner, proprietor and all that other stuff." She offered Cass a firm handshake of her own. "So, whaddya like to read?"

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Somehow, nobody in this room seemed to care about the heat. It was a bit weird, but at the same time, Cass did not mind at all. It was cozy, actually.  From the few glances he had given it, the store looked like it had quite a customer base. Just a few people being around was niec too every once in a while.


The young man took a few steps forward, his red long hair slowly drifting from his shoulder to behind his back, all the while continuing to look around the room, examining various bookcases.


“Hey, Cass Bauer. Photographer and Deadline-Model slash Inspiration source, I guess. “


He pondered his words for a few seconds, his eyes once more running around the entire store, all the while keeping turned towards the owner.


“Gonna be honest, I’ve not read a whole lot lately. Occasionally look things up on the ‘web, but other than that it’s really only been news for a few months. Reports primarily, but also just general things going on. But for books …. No, nothing really. I have a few written by friends on my phone or at home, but I’ve never gotten around to reading them. “

Edited by olopi
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Lynn actually looked a bit crestfallen at that, but she quickly recovered. "Well, to each his own; I love to read, but I don't get to read nearly as much as I'd like to. "


"I think he's here for the coffee, free Wi-Fi and scintillating conversation," offered Gretchen.


"Ah yes, those are three things we can provide! Our fiber-optic connection provides the best connection speeds in the neighborhood, and we work with an amazing local roaster to-" Then the owner stopped herself and gave her partner a quizzical look. "Wait, you were providing 'scintillating conversation'? You don't even like talking to people."


Gretchen shrugged like it was no big thing.  "I do if they're actually interesting. Most people are boring. Mr. Bauer isn't."


"Wow," said Lynn as she shook her head in disbelief. "You don't know it yet, but you just received a huge compliment, Cass; this girl is hard to impress."

Edited by Heritage
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The young man’s face showed some surprise, perhapos a bit of uncertainty. Cass certainly hadn’t expected to hear something like that. He didn’t see himself as all that interesting. Cass Bauer wasn’t, his more secret identity certainly was.  He replied calmly, but with sincerity.


“I’m flattered. Really. I don’t really think I’m all that interesting? I guess perceptions differ depending on people, heh. “


He paused shortly, before continuing to talk, this time adressing Lynn specifically.


“Guilty as charged though. Coffee and Wi-Fi, the two most important things in my life right now, I’d say. And I gotta say, the coffee is really good here! “


He leaned forwards a bit, and looked up at the menu. He considered his choice, then continued.


“Speaking of which, my budget’s not used up yet. So how about a …. Flat white? Haven’t had one of those in a while.”

Edited by olopi
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Lynn frowned slightly as Gretchen began to head back towards the bar; they exchanged a meaningful glance as she did so.


"Isn't that...a lot of caffiene for one morning? I know Generation Z has coffee in its veins, but it's usually not so literal."


Gretchen merely pursed her lips and shook her head as the milk hissed and the shots poured. "He's good. He can handle it." 


Meanwhile a somewhat different conversation was going on at a telepathic level.


-You can see why I was intrigued.-


-No s###; this kid ain't normal!-


-He's also a member of the No Sweat Club, like us. And that's after six shots of espresso, going on eight.-


-Whaddya think, speedster?-


-Could be. He's putting out enough heat to roast marshmallows. That could be a thing.-


-Good guy or bad guy?-


-Mmmm. Tough call. Charming and artistic, likes to help others, unless he's lying.-


-Sooooo, you're leaning towards good guy.-


-Or Robin Hood, which depends on who you ask. The Sherrif of Nottingham wanted his head.-


-Good point.-


The mental exchange was over in a matter of seconds, visible as only as a few looks between coworkers.

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The exchanged looks between the two women behind the counter probably meant nothing good. Was this one of those elaborate traps? It wouldn’t be the first time Cass would’ve gotten into a situation where that was the case. He was unsure what to do, so it seemed best to just go along with what had been happening before, and hope the heat burning up the coffee also had the ability to deal with potential poisons. He’d never gotten around to testing if that was the case, so it was just hope on his part.


Meanwhile, to the outside, not much changed. Cass gratefully took his coffee, looking into the cup and admiring the look of the drink’s surface, before taking a few sips.


“Too much caffeine and the effects get weaker. So you need stronger ones. Or something like that. Coffee’s good, is all I’m saying. I don’t feel tired anymore, so it’s certainly worked. “


His eyes went away from the coffee, and upwards at the two women again. By now his face looked a lot more energized, as if he’d slept comfortably for the right amount of time, with none of the usual effects of caffeine consumption showing apart from it.


“So, there’s Books and Coffee here. Anything else too?”   

Edited by olopi
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-I think we might have spooked him.-


-Well unfortunately, that is a frequent side effect of paranoia-


-We should probably start talking again.-




Turning to look at their customer once again, both women smiled warmly; well, one woman tried to, but really wasn't very good at it, so it came out more like an uncertain grimace.


Lynn, however, was much more successful, and when she spoke her voice was like warm butterscotch. "Why, magic, of course!" She gestured towards a poster on the wall, a colorful broadside depicting 'The Amazing Al-Kazar', wearing a tuxedo, golden turban and a stylish cape. The poster showed several scenes from his act, including a levitating woman, the magician thrusting several swords into a large wicker basket, and a tiger surrounded by an aura of flames.


"Ira Silberman opened this store in 1946 after he retired from the stage, and ever since that day, those fascinated by the unusual and bizarre have been welcomed within these walls." Her voice ringed with pride and theatricality. "I myself have dabbled in the Arts Mysterious from time to time. Please observe!" The lovely young proprietor flicked her wrist, and a beautiful Japanese paper fan appeared, seemingly out of thin air.


-What are you doing.-


-Having some harmless fun.-




Lynn fluttered the fan in front of her face a few times while adopting the demure expression of a geisha; then she held out her left hand in close fist, which she struck three times with the fan. Finally she threw her hand up in the air, and a cloud of flower petals exploded overhead, gently falling over the young man's head and shoulders. Then she closed her hands over the folded fan, collapsing it down to nothing as she turned her empty palms upwards.


"See? Magic!"

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As the performance started, Cass took a few careful steps backwards. He wasn’t sure what was about to happen, so he prepared for things to go south, but remained mostly calm outwards, looking on in amazement. Sure, he’d been doing this hero business for some time now, but he’d only ever encountered a mage once, and that was more in passing than anything. So, he followed each movement, getting somewhat drawn in, but still keeping a safe distance.


When the flowers started to descend over his shoulders, Cass did his best to applaud, moving back towards the counter at the same time, the petals still on his shoulders and hair. After a few seconds, he stopped applauding, a smile on his face. He didn't seem too surprised by the show of magic. Impressed, yes, but not surprised.


“That’s pretty cool actually. So this is just a mage hangout? I think I like this place even more now!”

Edited by olopi
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The young man's lack of surprise did seem to suggest that he was 'in the biz' as Lynn put it, and both she and Gretchen relaxed just a tad. The young barista leaned over the counter to peer around. "Anyone else in the store?"


The store owner's eyes went unfocused as she sent her senses throughout the building, using various glamoured items like magical security cameras. "Nope, we're alone." She blinked a few times as her attention returned to Cass.


"Good." Gretch held up her left hand, and a book flew across the length of the store and into her waiting grasp; the whole time, her intense gaze never left Cass. "What do you know about magic."

Edited by Heritage
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Okay, that was either real good, or real bad. Either way, it was not what Cass had pictured when he’d walked into this store, but this was Freedom City after all. Things like this happened. He looked around a bit, before returning his attention towards the store’s employees, Gretch in particular.


“Well, not a whole lot, actually. Only ever personally dealt with a mage once so far. Was an interesting fight sure, but not very fun. Really versatile.”


He stopped for a second, thinking, before going on.


“That’s personal experience at least. I’m mutual with a few blogs, and read a few others, so I have a general idea what’s going on with some of the more heroic mages. They’re usually not that specific though, understandably so. So yeah, my magic knowledge’s not really that spectacular. “


He continued, sounding ever more passionate.


“Have mostly been dealing with more mundane things in my career so far. If you want to call skeletal dinosaurs, nuclear reactors, the government and a …demi… god, I think, mundane. It’s been quite the year alright.“

Edited by olopi
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The two women exchanged looks, and Lynn looked slightly embarrassed. "Well, technically neither of us is actually a mage; I'm actually a faerie and Gretchen is...what would you call yourself, Gretch?"


"A surly bitch with some magic shinies."


"There ya go. Here, gimme a sec!" The lovely changeling hurried over to the front door, conjuring up a sign that read 'Closed due to no AC! Hope to be open later today!' on the way. She stuck the sign to the door, and then locked it before coming back. "For a bit of privacy."


Meanwhile Gretchen continued to study Cass, her head titled to one side like a giant, inquisitive bird. "You do hero work. I'm guessing your powers have something to do with heat, speed or both. Unless you're just 'Captain Coffee, the Man with the Bottomless Stomach'. Which would be the best s###y superpower ever."

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First, Cass‘ eyes followed Lynn walking to the door. Once she walked back, he returned his attention to Gretch, who was still talking to him. As she started to theorize about his powers, a huge grin drew across his face, and he talked, sounding quite upbeat.



“Well, on the heat part. And the bottomless stomach. No speed, unless I somehow missed it. Which, mind you, wouldn’t be suprising.”

“But yeah, heat. And thanks to a few tricks, about three or so ways I can get that bottomless stomach. And only one of them requires me not to actually consume the things. “


Cass turned around and walked a few steps towards the center of the room, before turning back around in a single spin, and holding out his right arm. Slowly, the arm became more transparent, fading away into a very light smoke, which grew stronger and thicker by the second.


“Oh, and this little trick. “


The smoke started to disappear, the arm returning to its solid form. While this was happening, Cass stepped back towards the counter, looking back towards Gretch.


“So, that’s my stuff. What do magical shinies do?”


He then turned towards Lynn again, before also addressing her, still looking quite upbeat and excited.


“And being a faerie, I suppose. Probably does some cool stuff too?”



Edited by olopi
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Gretchen clapped her hands loudly, then tapped her nose. "I knew it! I thought there was something familiar about you." She began to come out from behind the counter. "Earlier this year, maybe March or April.  The break-in at Hinocorp Nautical Concepts." She stopped in front of Cass and sharply twisted the ring on her left hand, transforming her via a weird fluttering light into...the Shrike! The young man instantly recognized the silver bird-like mask and black hooded cloak from their previous adventure. "I remember you were good. Very professional."


Lynn slapped her forehead and laughed. "Ohhhhh, so this is 'Smoke Head Boy'! I remember you talking about him. Cool!" When Cass asked she could do, the changeling shrugged nonchalantly. "Oh, well, y'know, faerie powers are okay, I guess; they come in useful from time to time." 


Suddenly a swirl of mists surrounded her body, which began to grow and shift; when the mysterious vapors disappated, she looked...a little different. "Good for infiltration, misdirection, and of course, interrogation," she said with a sly wink and a sophisticated English accent.


The Shrike could only stand there with her mouth open, looking up at her partner who was now nearly a foot taller than she was. "How...how are you doing that?"


"It's all about proper mass distribution, y'know?" She waved a hand vaguely in front of her tummy, her tea and crumpets accent clashing with her words. "Just moving everything around." And with that, she shrunk back down to her normal height, with spiky auburn hair, a black domino mask, and a costume of black and midnight blue leather, then bowed with a dramatic flourish. "Grimalkin, the Mistress of Mystery, at your service!" She offered Cass a firm handshake and a cheerful grin. "Pleased to meecha, kid! Shrike told me all about you; some of it was even nice!" Behind the mask, she looked and sounded a bit like Lynn Epstein's little sister, but with pointed ears and impish features.

Edited by Heritage
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When Gretch revealed herself to be the Shrike, Cass’s grin turned towards full laughter, laughing for just a moment before calming back down, as he continued to speak.


“It’s a small world, isn’t it?” He added in a quick pause, separating his statements from each other, before continuing. “I’m once more flattered by the recommendation, good to hear a fellow hero’s opinions on how I do. “


He then turned his attention towards Lynn, clearly impressed by her display of powers, and probably her identity too.  “Oh, that is useful, yeah. I have to rely on people not noticing that it’s just smoke, you can just do it whole. And all the other things you could use for it, whoa.” He then proceeded to let Lynn do her thing, including her introduction. Cass’s smile continued to stay, clearly happy about how all of this was turning out. “Grimalkin? I’m meeting the big league players, huh. Cool to meet you, have heard things about what you do before. “


He shook Lynn’s hand, while at the same time his head slowly started to fade away, becoming almost translucent, before slowly losing all features and becoming darker, looking like a cloud of smoke. The cloud did not stay at quite the size of Cass’ head, expanding outwards just a bit, but occasionally being disturbed by a bit of air, making the edges change their exact position.


“Figured I should costume up as well. Hey, it’s me, Bonfire. “



Edited by olopi
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The changeling got all 'aw shucks' at Bonfire's compliments, as her cheeks and tips of her ears flushed a litle pink. "'Big league'? Maybe once upon a time, but three years away sort of resets the clock a bit; I'm still working to find my footing, or at least it feels that way to me. But a girl can't get enough compliments, so, y'know, keep 'em comin'! And please, call me 'Grim'."


And with that, she shifted back into her civilian persona; it felt kinda weird walking around as Grim in the shop. "Or, well, 'Lynn' when I look like this. So, howd'ya like hero work? It can be a big adjustment in the early days." She shrugged as she took a seat on the edge of one of the reading tables. "I'm always happy to offer a hand to the rookies."


Meanwhile Gretchen also changed back to her street clothes and took a seat beside her, entwining the fingers of her left hand with those of Lynn's right. She said nothing, but continued to study Cass intently; her gaze was unflinching, but not hostile, merely analytical.


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