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January 13, 2017

3:45 PM

 

Even in a city that catered to as many esoteric subcultures as Freedom there were only so many places a teenager might go to improve their skills with medieval weaponry. With the faculty of Claremont Academy in something of a restructuring period - and portions of the student body's faith in the combat training there having suffered somewhat - Cathy Clouston had suggested the next best thing to her girlfriend: a privately run dojo in the city's West End that had been introduced to her by her roommate.

 

Said roommate had continued to receiving mentoring of her own there, albeit in the form of classes not openly available to the public at large. There were certain skills painfully absent from a young lady's usual education these days: picking locks while hanging upside down, disarming an attacker while wearing heels, disarming an attacker with a pair of heels...

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At some point, Raina's time at the dojo had become less constructed lessons and more open ended. Her mentor, after all, was a master of social nuances and Raina had grown more and more certain that her welcome was unquestioned whenever she stopped by, without ever being told so outloud. It felt far less like awkward charity that way. So, when Raina had arrived mid-Talya's late class of the day, she'd gotten a welcoming smile and a nod towards the alcove that somehow always seemed to be available to take over, whether that be for school work or relaxing. 

 

Barefoot and with her blonde hair back in a pony tail, none of the students learning basic self defense clocked Talya as Bombshell. Once the last of them filed out the door, her American accent dropped away along with the changes in her posture. "I'll let you do the heavy lifting then?" She offered to Erik with a sidelong smile as she collected water bottles to refill. Padding over to Raina on silent feet, she paused by the teenager, "Would you or Merlin care for a snack? There's some fruit we just picked up from the store."

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Merlin chirped immediate agreement, setting aside his phone and climbing out of his secluded spot in the lee of Raina's backpack. "Sounds like yes," Raina commented, rising to her feet as well and dropping the worn paperback she'd been reading into her bag. She was getting kind of hungry anyway, and dinner was still a couple hours away, but running tame at the dojo was still just new enough that the invitation was helpful.


"Don't you ever get bored when you're teaching th"beginner stuff?" she asked Talya as they headed toward the food. "I mean seriously, I'm just watching these people and sometimes I want to scream "use your goddamn left hand, it won't kill you.'" Most of them are just, like, super bad at it," she opined. 

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"You're so good to me," Erik snorted as he set to work rolling up the matts from Talya's class. Judging from the jeans and t-shirt he was wearing he wasn't preparing to teach himself but judging from the only mostly cleaned drool on the shirt's shoulder he'd been keeping busy regardless. "Hey, Boots," he greeted Merlin as the monkey made his appearance. Stacking the matts against the wall he added, "New wifi password, 'stabpunch' but the A is one of those 'at' signs. No capitals."

 

Raina's complaints earned a laugh which the fencer quickly attempted to hide under a cough. "Heh. Well, hopefully most of them will never need to win a fight, just knock somebody off balance long enough to get away. You're not wrong about the left hand, though."

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Talya's lips quirked in a small smile as she crouched down to the mini fridge to fetch out the fruit as well as replace the water bottle with a fresh one. Handing the bag of grapes to Raina, she gave a shake of her head. "No, not at all. Erik's right, though, hopefully most of them will never see any need to use the skills I'm teaching. I could say that I get enjoyment and teaching them empowerment and all of that... but it's really far more selfish. I was much... much, much worse. I was woefully unprepared the first time I had to throw a punch. I rather love that it's just something you can just... google, you know?"

 

She straightened to fetch a banana for the monkey, offering it directly to Merlin as she leaned her hip on the desk. "But if you're interested in offering tips, I'm always happy to have an assistant if you want an after school job." Talya suggested. 

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"Nuh-uh," Raina popped a few grapes in her mouth. "That sounds way too much like regular responsibility, and I'm not a fan." Merlin chattered agreement to that as he accepted the banana and peeled it neatly from the base. He'd gone through a brief period of flat-out refusing to eat bananas because he hated succumbing to cliche, but the fact that bananas were delicious had eventually overcome his resistance. "Besides, being able to set people on fire is the core of my self-defense strategy, and that takes a really long time to teach." She hitched one leg up under her like a flamingo, then hitched the other up as well, so she sat crosslegged in the air with her snack. "I'll stick with the babysitting gig. That's way more exciting."

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A cold breeze and a warm voice drifted in as the door to the dojo was opened by the before mentioned Cathy. Her very pale skin was in stark contrast to the brown and blacks of her knitted jumper, showing knitted Greeks heroes doing manly athletic things.

 

"I'm telling you that this will be amazing and really good for us." having been home for awhile over the holidays her Scottish accent was particular thick "They had the great equipment here and the people here are particular knowledgeable, not to mention pretty h..." she paused suddenly upon noticing that said people were already here, and her blush was particular obvious against her porcelain skin

 

"Oh hello there we're here to do some training, I believe it's all been arranged beforehand." she spluttered out not quite fully recovered from her embarrassment.

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The redhead beside Cathy took a moment to appraise the school, her eyes sliding past Raina and lingering briefly on Talya and Erik.  The corners of her mouth twisted into a faint smile when they caught the rings mounted to the ceiling but she managed to hold in her mirth for the moment.  

 

"Hello," Phaedra said, inclining her head slightly in greeting and offering one of her flawless smiles. "Thank you for giving us the opportunity to train in your hall.  it is quite... cute," she added addressing Erik.  Unable to avoid it any longer the half-demon turned her head to look at the witch.  She even managed to keep her smile.  "Good afternoon, Raina.  I trust you are well, have you been getting enough sleep?"

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Erik stiffened as the pair of teenagers stepped around the partial wall that separated the school's entranceway from the training area. It was almost imperceptible but the way his grip tightened on the rack of training equipment and his balance shifted, ready to throw the whole unit at a perceived threat to buy a moment to regroup might as well have been a billboard to Talya. There was a very short lift of things that got that kind of immediate reaction from the metamagi. Hellfire?

 

The agitation was gone almost immediately as Cathy called to the room and he turned to face her with a wan smile. "Snowflake, right. Sorry, must have gotten the days mixed up. Give me a minute, I'll get things set up. I didn't catch your friend's name...?" He looked sideways to Raina, gauging her reaction to the newcomers, remaining where he was standing with one hand folded casually behind his back.

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Whatever dry commentary Talya might have had about her offspring fell away as she caught Erik's posture from the corner of one blue eye. "Mmm," Talya said instead as she shifted in place at the counter. "We haven't been sleeping at all well. Teething infants do not make for restful evenings." She offered the easy explanation for Erik's distraction. The hand along her side, the one hidden by Talya's body, shifted, dropping the closed baton into her palm silently. It would be easy to miss even if she brought the hand up since retracted it wasn't much bigger than her palm and no wider than her thumb. 

 

"Closed doors sort of lesson, Erik?" She asked mildly as she left her position at the counter to head towards the door.

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Raina wasn't exactly thrilled to see her roommate and her roommate's girlfriend at her own private retreat, but her personal chagrin was swept aside as she noticed the sudden tension from the adults in the room. Erik was an energy controller, she knew that much about his powers just from Talya's brief description. She wondered if he'd gotten a load of the sulfur and brimstone taste that lingered around Phae whenever Raina opened her magical senses. Talya had obviously caught the discomfort; Raina recognized her moves to find a weapon and a better tactical position. She opened her own senses and caught the brimstone-yuck that was Phae and the wintergreen of Cathy, but nothing unusual beyond that. 

 

Unfolding her legs, she glided across the floor with a polite company smile. "Sleeping pretty well these days, I got a down comforter for Christmas," she reported cheerfully. "I wasn't expecting to see you today, Cath. You should've said something, we could've ridden together." She leaned in and gave her roommate an airy cheek-kiss, a well-practiced maneuver that should've been awkward but wasn't, and one that incidentally presented her unprotected back to Phaedra. It would be a clear sign that she wasn't worried, or at least clear to Talya, who'd taught her how to do it in the first place. "So you guys here to learn some self-defense?" 

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“That’s good to hear, we wouldn’t want you to miss any sleep.” unlike some she was actually genuine in her statement.

 

Though she had more control of her powers she still felt guilty of what she put her roommate through, she had thought several times of moving out to another room, but she wasn’t comfortable enough within herself to move in with her girlfriend and not many would share with her due to her association with their little team. Beside despite her sometime acerbic nature Raina someone Cathy considered a good friend. She actually looked at getting something similar for her this Christmas, but it was outside her budget what with flying home and she’d instead got Raina a nice pair of knitted bed socks.


“And yes we're here to pick up some self defense tips. I thought I’d mentioned it to you?” at least she’d tried to, but she’d never managed to work up the courage to mention visiting. Sometimes there was an advantage to the fact that people generally didn’t think that she was a good liar.

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The difficulty Phaedra had adjusting to Earth-Prime had much to do with the similar-yet-different social cues it shared with Throne.  What Raina just did would have been considered a grave insult between two peers back in Throne, one that openly courted a response, and while Phaedra assumed that the witch DID intend for it to be an insult--this was Raina after all--the young half-breed had spent enough time on Prime to consider there might be another motive.

 

Her attention shifted from the training hall itself to the two adults in the room, first to the seated woman and then the man.  Ah, Phae thought, that's Raina's game.  Stepping out from behind her girlfriend, the redhead kept her hands open and gave Erik a slight bow, like how she would have greeted a weapons master back home.

 

"I apologize for the lack of manners," she said, sounding casual but still giving the sense that she was picking her words carefully.  "I am called Phaedra Morningstar.  With the state of things at the Academy I was given the impression that this school would be the ideal place to train."

 

She hesitated.  "Though, if you will forgive my saying so, the space does not seem adequate.  Not enough room to spread my wings.  So to speak."

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Of the New Hampshire Morningstars, sure, Erik muttered silently to himself, heaving a mental sigh. His fingers reflexively went to the ring hanging from the chain around his neck, fumbling for a brief moment as though expecting to find something else there. "It all how you use it," the fencer drawled aloud, stepping away from weapons rack and rolling the shoulder of the arm he'd been holding behind his back. Raina not-so-subtly vouching for her classmate was enough for the time being but he still had to fight the urge to tell the kids to get their demonic magics off his lawn. He wasn't entirely sure what was going on with the little passive-aggressive back-and-forth between the teenagers; if nobody set anybody else on fire he supposed he'd call it a win.

 

"Heard they've been sorting out some... issues, yeah," he continued, exchanging a look with Talya. The manner in which the blonde had recounted her visit to the school had made him preemptively pity anyone who got on the wrong side of her at a PTA meeting a few years down the road. "I know some of you Claremont kids have special needs but I'm pretty sure we can come up with something for you. Have something specific you wanted to work on?"

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Talya gave Raina's actions a look of approval, inclining her head ever so slightly as she turned to lock the door and slip her baton back away from her hands. The deadbolt slid home with an audible click and the blonde woman turned the sign on the door before closing the curtains. As she turned around to catch up to the girls, she gave Raina's shoulder an affectionate squeeze.

 

"Personally, I think there's never enough practice in tight confines," she replied easily, her lips kicking up in a sidelong smile towards Erik, "I don't get taken to nearly enough fights in ballrooms these days. Its always back rooms and dark alleys with the occasional warehouse to spice it up. Alas." She gave a long suffering sigh as she brushed her hands together to clear the last chalk from her palms. 

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"The school can teach you to fight with your powers," Raina pointed out, giving a quick smile to Talya before going back to where she'd been sitting in the air. "You know, more or less. Archer's not the only game in town. But if you're supposed to live in the regular world and have a secret identity and stuff, you should be able to fight with your hands or a weapon too. I've been informed that I can't just set every grabby jerkass I meet at a club on fire, at least not for a first offense, but a quick jab to the solar plexus works pretty well. You should try it." Raina's voice evinced complete disinterest in whether her classmates actually did try it, but that was Raina's default attitude for many things, whether she wanted them badly or hated them passionately. 

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"I've had the pleasure to fight in a ballroom quite recently, well a school hall, and it's not as much fun as you'd expect. Well not something I want to repeat in the near future." it was nice to be able to talk about this stuff with people, for as much as she loved her friends they were either fairly stoic or not interested in such things.

 

"And I do need to practice my close combat skills a little more, especially with a 100% less bear urine!"

 

It was an outside chance but she was hoping that her girlfriend and roommate could maybe learn to get on with each other as they went along. But having them in the same room without, unplanned, violence was for now a bonus.

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The redhead cocked her head to the side and gave Talya a thoughtful look, but then shook her head.

 

"I think you misunderstand," Phaedra said.  "I am here for weapons training, not for hand to hand combat.  The Academy is inadequate for this purpose and none of my peers are trained enough with arms to avoid being a danger to themselves or their sparring partner."

 

There was no malice in the half-demons tone, just a little irritation because Phaedra wished that wasn't the case.  The irritation was short lived and she couldn't help but laugh at Cathy's reference to the Urine Incident, and gave her girlfriend an impish grin.

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"I think you're underestimating the place of a fine sword in proper ballroom attire," Erik riposted easily while flashing Talya an apologetic look. It was true that he tended to rope those close to him into fights in darkened alleyways and bleak alternate dimensions more than fancy parties. Or darkened alleyways in bleak alternate dimensions. "And I'm not gonna ask about the bear piss, Snowflake," he added, wagging a finger at Cathy with a lopsided smirk, "'cause that's gross and I don't wanna know."

 

While the smile remained on his face it left his eyes as he considered the pale girl and her redheaded companion more seriously. "Cielo, why don't you start figuring out where Cathy is sitting in terms of skill level while I work with her gal pal? What sort of weapons were you thinking about, Red? Quarterstaff, batons?" He cocked his head to one side quizzically. "Pitchfork?" 

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"Oh no, you'd appreciate the bear urine story," Raina assured Erik, folding her legs into a neat midair lotus position and accepting her bunch of grapes back from Merlin. "It's like a textbook lesson in what happens when you learn only one way to fight and try to make it applicable to every situation, even when it's completely different. I guess when your only tool is arrows soaked in bear pee pheremone, every problem starts to look like a bear. It's a much less useful multitool than, say, setting something on fire." Obviously pleased with herself, she looked ready to observe the goings-on in the dojo for the moment, rather than stir herself to participate. 

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Phaedra laughed.

 

"No," she said shaking her head, "though I am proficient."  

 

Turning toward her girlfriend, Phaedra leaned in until she was nearly cheek to cheek with Cathy, her lips near her ear.  "Just breathe," the redhead whispered, laying one hand on the white-haired girl's midsection.  Kissing Cathy on the cheek, light flared under the hand she held against the Scot.

 

That light soon resolved itself into the haft of a weapon that the half-breed slowly withdrew while she supported Cathy.  It was over in a few heartbeats and in the end Phaedra was holding a glaive in one hand and her girlfriend in another.  The haft of the weapon looked as thought it were made of dark polished wood, the blade appeared to be made of translucent ice and it was bound together by what looked like white-gold.

 

Phaedra examined the weapon in her hand for a moment and gave a self-satisfied smile.  "This is more my speed."

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Caught completely by surprise, despite the warning, Cathy gave a little gasp of surprise. And as she did the temperature around her rapidly dropped with her skin forming an icy sheen, though she gathered enough wits not to go into her full ice form.

 

"Oh... wow... um I didn't..."

 

She took a deep breath and regained a little more of her composure, with the temperature returning a little closer to normal.

 

"I'm sorry about all that everyone. I wasn't really expecting that what so ever." she even sounded a little sheepish about the whole thing.

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"Well. That's not hellfire," Erik mused quietly to himself. Whatever the redhead had done was skirting the edges of his senses; there was magic at work, certainly, thrumming like plucked strings in complimentary colours to the synthesia of his metamagi senses but that was just the framework. The power behind the manifested weapon was beyond his expertise but given how it had been formed and the personalize results he was able to make some educated guesses. 

 

"Don't worry about it, Snowflake," he assured Cathy, rubbing his hands together in the abrupt cold that spread through the room. The fencer didn't bother pretending to be surprised by the display of otherworldly power or to conceal the careful adjudication in his gaze. "Polearms it is. Get warmed up, Red, I just need a minute."

 

Walking across the practice mats to where Raina was hovering he positioned himself so that his back was to the other girls and lowered his voice. "Alright, kid, help me out here. I'm guessing I don't have to explain why I'm uniquely qualified to teach the winner of Miss Brimstone 2016 back there how to use weapons she makes from what's around her. But that would mean putting her and your friend on the very short list of people besides family who know what's what." It was a grimly serious as the young witch had ever seen her mentor's partner even when she'd watched them sparring. While he'd shed some of the paranoid fervour with which he'd protected his secret identity even from those he trusted at the beginning of his career it wasn't something he ever took lightly, not with so many people depending on him. Blue eyes stared intently into blue eyes. "Can I trust them?" 

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Raina grinned at him, a carefree smile that didn't make it anywhere near her eyes. "I don't trust anybody," she said lightly. "It's bad policy. But I don't think they'll give away your secret." Merlin nodded agreement. "Being at Claremont makes us privy to all kinds of sensitive information about people's secret identitites, and it sort of gets drummed into us not to tell. And I don't really know Phae that well, but Cathy does, and Cathy's good people. So it's a sort of innocence by association thing, I guess. If one of them were to tell, they'd be in pretty bad trouble, if that's any consolation." She shrugged, indicating her inability to help him any more than that. 

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Erik frowned slightly at the young blonde's pithy comment. Using a dry one-liner to deflect actual emotional baggage came right out the old Jack of all Blades playbook and his instinct was to press the matter but it was neither the time nor place. Instead he schooled his features into a sardonic expression that matched the teenager's demeanour and drawled, "Forgot who I was talking to about trust there for a second. Point taken." He briefly wondered if it was something she'd be more willing to talk to Talya about or if she'd be too concerned with looking cool and composed in front of the older woman. It hadn't been so longer that he didn't remember being almost impossible to talk to at that age; letting her work through it herself might be the only real solution. It occurred to him that in a few years he'd have four of those running around and suddenly felt very, very tired.

 

The fencer ran a hand over his face, rubbing the stubble along his jawline while looking back over his shoulder at Cathy and Phaedra. Nothing Raina had said was particularly reassuring but he couldn't help thinking about the scars he still had from those younger days when he'd been figuring out his powers through trail and error in the heat of a fight. Frank discussions about feeling might have been a little out of reach but maybe he could save someone a few bumps and bruises or worse. Eventually he heaved a sigh and caught Talya's eye, giving her a broad shrug. "Alright, Dora," he told Raina, "let's at least make this look good. Set me up with a little fire when I give you the signal, yeah?"

 

Turning around he took a few steps back toward the centre of the training mats. "Listen up, ladies. Here's the deal: what I'm going to show you doesn't leave this room, got it? We're talking privileged information." He paused with his hands on his hips and considered changing his mind one last time before nodding to Raina. Once the floating witch had summoned a ball of roiling flame above her palm he extended his own hand with a flourish. Streamers of fire responded to his call, red-orange ribbons twisting across the empty space, weaving together as they came. What coalesced in his waiting hand was nearly solid, nearly opaque but still flickered and crackled like a living thing, an arc of fire gracefully curving around his fingers to form a guard while the long, thin blade that extended above it tapered to a needle's point.

 

With a flourish he snapped the blazing rapier up into an en guarde position and gave Phaedra a lopsided smirk. "First joke about yours being bigger and I will kick you out, fair warning."

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