In a secure facility deep beneath the Defenders' HQ in The Cliffs...
Fearless: *into their heads* Turn it off, Eikyou, I don't need to know the thoughts of a pair of high school girls.
Eikyou's face took on a bit of a strained expression and, like a switch being turned off, the flow of random thoughts was cut off.
Fearless: *from the booth again* Okay, thank you, Eikyou. Go ahead.
Eikyou: Office. Desk. Chairs.
At Eikyou's prompt, the room blurred around them and suddenly they appeared to be in a very luxurious office somewhere in Marquette overlooking Capital Square. Nina's chair had morphed into a beautiful Victorian chaise longue and she praised Eikyou for the chance to put her feet up.
Eikyou: It's like I can read your mind.
Eikyou smiled demurely at the embarrassed surprise on Nina's face. She then turned to face Kari, sitting in a matching chair across the beautiful burled walnut desk between them.
Kari looked at Eikyou expectantly.
Eikyou: Hm... *leans back in her chair, narrows her eyes* Your power is not psychic... Cosmette's assumption was probably correct, some kind of cosmic accident...
Kari: But, I'm not any different from anyone else. Doctors have never said anything, and my life has been pretty much normal.
Eikyou: You cannot access your power.
Eikyou leaned forward and looked at Kari as if she could see beneath her skin.
Eikyou: Maybe with training you could... really though, I suppose it is appropriate to say that you yourself are powerless.
Kari: See? I'm not a super hero or anything-
Eikyou: No, but you could be more. Your powers (such as they are) boost the powers of those around you, so long as the powers are a part of the person wielding them, rather than being technological appliques. It seems to be based on proximity. What makes you special is how much you can help other heroes.
Nina: *mumbles* Or be abused.
Eikyou kept her eyes on Kari and suddenly felt on the verge of loosing control of her powers because of the blonde teenager. Nina's voice then rang shrilly in their ears.
Nina: Kari's insane for wanting to turn this down! Can't she see this is like, a winning lottery ticket?? How unbelievably stupid!
Kari: Shut up, Nina! What about the danger? My parents, Taro, you, your family, you'd all be in danger because of me, because bad guys think about how to hurt you like that. You read comics, you nerd, you know it's true!
Nina: You shut, Kari! The Defenders would protect us, like they protected the city, and-
And Nina's voice went silent. Eikyou looked on in amusement as Kari and Nina glared at each other and then became immediate confused at the sudden silence.
Fearless: Eikyou, please maintain control. I cannot handle hearing Professor Stark's daughter's voice in my head again. Also, Miss Stark, Miss Wilson has a point. Unless this is her destiny (and I have good reason to doubt destiny's existence in the first place), there is no way we could in good conscience put you all at horrible risk that way. That's selfish, not heroic. And Miss Stark, please stop thinking about Titus' armor. Eikyou, if you would.
Nina pouted painfully, but kept watching curiously as Eikyou began her final test.
Eikyou: Now Kari, I'm going to evaluate your psyche. For our files, you will be kept as a number and a series of vague bullet points pertaining to your psychological stability.
Nina: So you need to make sure she won't go crazy.
Eikyou: Something like that...
Kari: I'm not going to go crazy.
Eikyou: Just relax.
Kari sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. When she re-opened them, she was surprised to see them standing in the midst of a hazy blackness. Nina looked the way she looked in the fifth grade, only with a black eye, bandages wrapped around various parts of her body, and leaning on crutches. She sniffled woundedly. Eikyou frightened her slightly, clad in ornate samurai armor with the mask sculpted to resemble a (slightly feminine) demon's face. Her hair and blood red cape fluttered and danced in a breeze no one felt.
Kari: Nina, why do you look like that?
Nina: Look like what? Why do you look like that?
Nina sniffled slightly in her retort and cowered under Eikyou's gaze.
Eikyou: This is how we see ourselves deep beneath the surface. These are, if we are honest with ourselves, our most basic appearances.
A mirror appeared next to her and they took a look at themselves.
Kari: So you get to look like a big, scary samurai warrior, and I have to be my mom?
Kari's disappointed words did not quite match up with how inexplicably little the image of her 50 year old self bothered her. She put her arm around Nina and smiled warmly at her.
Eikyou: *to no one in particular* So far so good.
Kari: If this is about me, why is Nina here?
Nina wanted to know the same thing, but was much too scared to ask.
Eikyou: You do not know me and you do not trust me. This girl, however, you trust completely. She will help you with keeping yourself open and relaxed. It may not look like it, but I have no desire whatsoever to fight your mind or harm you in any way.
Nina: *quietly, hiding behind Kari* She spends more time with Taro, though. Wouldn't he have been a better choice?
Eikyou: How soon you forget.
Eikyou looked at Nina's small, wounded image and terrified her yet again.
Eikyou: Taro had surgery yesterday. Also, we know your father. It is much easier to grant you security clearance than him. But perhaps most importantly, you two have a long and deep relationship together, similar values, and trust. No one else will see what we see.
Kari: Won't it need to be recorded somehow?
Eikyou: Ah, Mt. Plains does produce bright students. No, these are your private thoughts. We will not violate your trust. Our file will show two things: A number, and a vague explanation using as few words as possible. No details will be recorded.
Kari: Okay, um, thank you?
Kari shrugged. She looked to Nina for support, but her friend appeared completely terrified.
Kari: It's okay, Nina, just relax, nothing bad will happen to you.
Nina sniffled and nodded, but glanced fearfully at Eikyou.
Nina: *whispers* But she's so scary...
Eikyou: You have had bad luck recently.
Eikyou approached Nina, who backed away fearfully.
Eikyou: Let me help you.
Kari: What are you doing? She's scared!
Kari tried to prevent Eikyou from reaching down and touching her cringing friend's head. Kari then gasped as the crutches disappeared and some (but not all) of the bandages fell away.
Eikyou: I helped you feel better.
Eikyou knelt in front of Nina. Her mask withdrew from her face and she smiled kindly.
Eikyou: I'm your friend. I'm scary because I have to protect you from other scary things. You have to help me, too. We have to take care of your friend. Can you help me?
Nina: Yes. I'm sorry for earlier. I can help.
Nina's body seemed to grow a bit at that moment, looking more like a junior high school student than a mere child. Eikyou nodded in satisfaction, and then they all looked in the same direction. They found that they stood in the midst of a long hall lined with stately-looking doors. It was dark, but a strange kind of sourceless, ambient lighting helped them see down the hallway.
Nina: *trying to appear brave* Where are we?
Eikyou: These are Kari's memories and secrets. The doors like this are actually a good sign.
Kari stopped to open a door and took a peak inside. She gasped, drawing Nina's eyes, and closed the door quickly. Kari, her face burning red with shame, tried to shake her head ands ay something to Nina, but was frozen. Nina gazed back in confusion.
Nina: Was that Renna?
Eikyou: Leave her to her own memories, Nina.
Nina: I'm sorry...
Kari: It's okay.
To all their surprise, however, almost every door in the hallway seemed to open at once.
Kari: Oh my god!
Eikyou: Accessing that particular memory triggered the recall of a number of memories one could consider embarrassing.
She smiled in amusement as she closed the door to a memory of Kari's sisters laughing at her for wetting her pants when she was in kindergarten.
Eikyou: Trust me, we all have memories like these.
At once, all the doors closed and Eikyou smiled at Kari.
Kari: What happened? I feel so... dull...
Eikyou: I turned these off. I am not here to violate your memories. You are lucky to have this girl as your friend. She kept her eyes down after seeing that first memory.
Nina smiled happily at Kari and at once looked less injured and slightly older. Kari, taking a moment to regain her senses and reorder her thoughts, smiled back at her.
Kari: Thanks, Nina.
Nina: You're welcome, Kari.
Eikyou: Let's keep going.
They followed the warrior down the hall, feeling no closer to the end despite their advancement. Every once in a while, a door would open slightly, causing Kari to sigh. Nina, not wanting to betray Kari's trust, kept her eyes on Eikyou, who kept her eyes trained forward. It went on like this for a while.
Kari: What exactly are we looking for?
Eikyou: It is difficult to explain. It is different for everyone.
Nina: Um, what's different?
Nina managed to conquer her fear enough to ask Eikyou (who still righteously terrified her).
Eikyou: Our personalities are built upon our genetics, our experiences, and our fears and desires. People tend to do many things alike, but there are still some individual differences, especially in the way they manifest themselves in our heads. Mine looks like a museum. Nina, your father's is like a library and your mother's is like a computer. Kari's appears to be rooms, and I believe yours is like a garden, or a park. What we are looking for now is trauma, or darkness, and unfortunately while I cannot tell you what it looks like, I can tell you I will know it when I see it.
Kari: I haven't exactly lived a traumatic life...
Eikyou: That is great.
After walking for another indeterminate amount of time, Eikyou stopped at a door that was boarded over. She looked at Kari.
Eikyou: May I?
Kari: *hesitantly* I don't want to see what's behind this door...
Eikyou: I must see them.
Kari: I don't want to remember them.
Kari began shaking and backed away.
Nina: Kari, I'm with you, I can help you.
Nina stood at Kari's side and looked up at her, concern plain on her face.
Nina: I think she can help, too.
Kari stared helplessly at Eikyou for a moment, then looked down at Nina. She closed her eyes and sighed and the boards fell away. Eikyou opened the door and stepped inside as Kari fell to her knees and started sobbing. Nina put her arms around Kari but simply could not help herself and looked up to see what was in that room. There was Kari being pushed out of the car and Nina jumping after her then lying on the grass crying together. Nina saw herself in the hospital bed with Kari and Erisa waiting patiently with her family. There were her parents, in the midst of a terrible argument with each other and their three daughters about something Nina could not hear. She saw Kari's oldest sister Haley slap a much younger Kari before Eikyou stepped out of the room and closed the door, cutting off the flow of memories. Eikyou pulled the two girls delicately to their feet and looked each one in the eye.
Eikyou: You are a healthy enough girl.
Kari looked totally calm, her face free of tears and the red puffiness that followed crying.
Eikyou: Enough. You have not had any first hand experience with real trauma before this week, and you are dealing with your problems so far as well as anyone your age does. You do not have anger issues and you do not have aggression boiling beneath the surface. You are a normal girl, more or less.
Kari's hallway shimmered around them and they blinked to find themselves back in Eikyou's stately “Marquette” apartment. Eikyou smiled at them and the “office” faded into nothingness, just the plain, metal walls of the Defenders' training room, the door, the control booth, and the furniture upon which they sat.
Eikyou: She will be fine, Dr. Brooks, Fearless. I certify that we have ntohing to worry about at this time.
Kari: Is that it? Are the assessments done?
Dr. Brooks: Yes, I believe we are finished here. We will need to speak with you and your parents once again for legal explanations and paperwork. Professor Stark's daughter will need to wait elsewhere for you.
Eikyou: Kari, once you are out the door, please follow Dr. Brooks and Carlos. I will take care of your friend and when you are done you will all be free to go.
Kari: Thank you, Eikyou.
Kari stopped at Nina's chair and helped her get situated on her crutches.
Kari: I'll see you soon, okay, Nina?
Nina did her best to avoid looking hurt.
Kari: Are you okay? You want my mom or dad to stay with you?
Nina: No, no, you need them both with you. I just need to rest, especially before I go home and deal with my mom!
Kari: Is she upset about you being here?
Nina: I avoided her this morning, but your parents teased me about her the whole way here this morning.
Kari: Haha, well, good luck!
Two men, a white-haired man with a well-groomed beared and an open, kindly expression on his round face and a barrel-chested hispanic man of about 40 years old with spiky black hair and a pleasant smile walked up the hall towards them. They exchanged introductions and Kari was led away to a meeting room for official proceedings. Nina sighed and jumped a little at the surprise of seeing Eikyou still there.
Eikyou: *friendly smile* Nina, would you like to see our clubhouse?
Eikyou: We will get you something to eat and drink. It is more comfortable up there than anywhere else in the building.
Nina nodded happily and followed the Defender up the tower...