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About this City Journal

A "Best of the Best" Hall of Fame city journal, featuring an ever-expanding cast of characters as they experience daily life in Port Matthew.

Entries in this City Journal

NMUSpidey

This is it, the absolute final issue. It's possible that in December I'll come back and do one last "special features" issue, but I have to finish my novel for National Novel Writing Month first. So, here's a bit of prose to get caught up on what's happened over the summer, and then we'll say good bye to Nina.

Pamela and Tsukino never fully recovered from their hazing at the party. They finished high school with their heads mostly down and other girls gained power in the cheer team (particularly Mari). Marley and Tory were Prom Queen and King and finished school as the uncontested social center of the school. Nina was named co-valedictorian with a girl named Yi and gave a very short speech praised by her family (her dad in particular) that was slightly embarrassing to the MPHS staff. After a tearful good-bye to Momo, The Six spent a comfortable two weeks on the beach in Schulman until Nina prepared to depart for the US...

NinasHouse-1.jpg

Nina sat on her bed and stared blankly at the carpeted floor of her room the night before her departure for America. Schol had been out for a month but it felt as though just a day or two before she ahd given her speech at garduation, and Momo had only just left yesterday, but there had been weeks and weeks between the two events. The night prior she had enjoyed a quiet night at Dan-O's house as a kind of farewell party with her friends (Dan-O, Kari and Taro, Ayumi, Erisa and Kyosuke, and Kana had brought Kellen along), just laughter and pleasant conversation, generally speculating on how much fun college would end up being after how eventful their high school lives would be. Things were already changing drastically, as evidenced by Momo's absence, and this being Nina's last night with them was not lost on them either. Erisa and Kyosuke openly discussed their future and thus the end of their short-lived relationship due to his impending departure to Japan for college.

Kari, her oldest and best friend, had come over that day. It was a heavy meeting, and it was plain by Kari's dark expression and shaky words that she was hurt by her friend leaving.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Hey, Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hi, Kari.

Nina smiled at her, but knew her happiness was coming across as flat.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: So tomorrow's the big day, huh?

Kari entered the room and sat down beside Nina on her bed. They looked at Nina's two packed-up suitcases for a moment.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yup. I'm like, totally nervous.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Whatever, Nina, you're like, great, so you'll be like, totally fine.

Kari's reply was almost as if she were offended. Nina picked up on the bitterness and fell silent as she thought about how to proceed.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *softly* Nina, I already miss you. I guess it's like, Port Matthew is such a nice place, I wish you wanted to stay. I don't know why you want to leave me.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm not leaving you, Kari, it's like...

Nina trailed off and she watched her friend stop fighting her tears back.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Sorry, Kari, I'm sorry...

She put her arms around her and Kari slumped heavily against her chest.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Dan-O and Erisa are still around, and Taro's like, always with you...

Kari shook slightly as she fought to regain her senses. When she spoke again her voice trembled.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: You've always been with me, Nina, as far back as I can remember, but this time, I mean, now... I was fine, but now I'm scared, like totally seriously scared of what the future's gonna be.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Scared? Why? I mean, even if I'm like far away, I'll never stop being your friend, I'd like, drop everything to help you if you needed it.

Kari sat back up and she and Nina looked at each other.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I've been thinking about joining the Defenders. I know what that means for my family and for you and your family and for Taro, but ever since the battle... And like, recently, I don't know, maybe it's like, I'm just so sad you're leaving or like it's post traumatic something or whatever, there have been these terrible dreams and I've started worrying about like, what if I'm somewhere a bad guy attacks, and suddenly he's like, so powerful before help can come? I'm not powerful, I'm defenseless, and so many people could be hurt, and like you, like, if you're not here to support me like you were after the attack, I just don't know what I'll do...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kari, you're like, I mean...

Nina knew deep down that she was all talk and that actually having powers would be terrifying on a scale she had difficulty imagining. She also knew that Kari was more stable than she herself was.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You'll handle it better than I would, I'd be like, honestly, like a total, like, like...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Like, mess?

Kari gave Nina a funny little half-smile, then turned serious again.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I don't know, I think you'd like, be fine, you're more like your dad than your mom anyways. Honestly, George would be the mess.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hehe, he so totally would. *brief silence* You have to go for it. The Defenders are the best, and they do as much as they can to prote t the closest people to them, even my dad, and us. I think it's a good point you made about what if you're near a bad guy when he tries something and the Defenders aren't there yet. I totally get, like, how scary it is, like Eikyou's samurai demon, that was totally scary, and she's one of the good guys! But I totally know they'd be good for you, Kari. You know I support you no matter what, even from far away.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: That's the other thing: you're gone, like, you won't be here with me when I go, and you've been with me for everything! How am I supposed to do this without you?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kari, it's not like that, if you need me, I'll be here, I'll come, I promise. But even though I'm leaving, there's still like, Taro and 'Ris and our parents and Dan-O and George and Haley and Sandy. And like, if you go to the Defenders, you'll have them, too. I love you, Kari, and I always will, and we'll never be so far apart that it matters. I know you can do this, that you have to, and that you'll do it better than I would, and since you're like, way loved by us, you'll be great.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Thanks, Nina, I love you, too, you really are the best. I'll always make sure to take care of you when you need it.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You always have, and I appreciate it. That's why I'm like, there for you, too!

The rest of Kari's visit was a lot lighter after that. They talked about old memories and laughed a little and speculated a bit more about what was going to happen to them. Then Nina went with Kari to her house and she said good bye to Kari's parents. They hugged each other and Nina went home and had one last quiet dinner with her own parents and George. She knew her mom wasn't totally thrilled by her leaving, but Nina figured she'd be back on island after school anyways. They were together for the evening and ten retired to their rooms for showers and sleep and thus Nina sat.

She had been to America before plenty of times, both with her family and by herself, and wasn't really concerned about beign confused or surprised by a lot of “new” things. She was, however, nervous about how much her lifestyle was going to change, about being totally alone, having to try to make new friends by herself. And then, a year and two weeks later, she missed Marv.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: He said we were only temporary, and if things hadn't happened the way they did, maybe I wouldn't be able to handle it. My injuries were worse after the attack, the doctors couldn't believe it that I could stand it. Probalby I'll never be able to be an athlete or move like I used to, but I can still stay fit at least. But what if something had happened to him in the attack? What if we survived only to have to say good bye now? I'd never be able to do it...

Marv-3.jpg Marv: You did it once already, you'd do it now and be just fine.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm sorry, Marv, you were the first, my first love, and I lost you too soon...

Marv-3.jpg Marv: I can't disagree. It would have been nice to graduate, honestly. But anyways, you are a strong girl, bright and happy and you know how feelings of pain and lonliness go away. Everyone changes everyday, and your best friend is gonna be a superhero. You keep your wits about you and you'll be fine.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I love you, Marv.

Marv-3.jpg Marv: I love you too, Nina. *pause* The Six is finished, isn't it?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Well, you just said everything changes. Is it any surprise that this would, too?

Marv-3.jpg Marv: No, not really. It's a little sad, I guess. But one of the nice things about life is that there's never really an ending, but a series of endings and beginnings and we're never quiet finished with it.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: That's not true. Death is a pretty big end. You can't start anything from that.

Marv-3.jpg Marv: Don't be so selfish, Nina. Other people have beginnings after that, too. It's not all about you. But when it is, there are huge surprises waiting for you, good ones and bad ones.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Like, such is life.

Marv-3.jpg Marv: Such is life. Marley was right in that respect. Sometimes you really should just sit back and enjoy it happening around you.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, either that or she ravages my body in front of like, the whole school...

Marv-3.jpg Marv: I didn't say she wasn't crazy. Anyways, everything changes for you tomorrow, and there'll be a lot of good. Keep yourself warm in those winters up there.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Thanks Marv. I'll talk to you again someday.

Marv-3.jpg Marv: Even if you don't, don't waste a second feeling bad about it. Just keep going, Nina.

Just keep going.

NMUSpidey

This is the final issue of The Sensational Six. We will come back for the denouement, and perhaps a 'special features', but as this is National Novel Writing Month and I am 15,000 words in it might not be right away. So without further ado, the final adventure of The Sensational Six...

Toryshouse.jpg

Tory-3.jpg Tory: HEY!

Tory strode into the room with an air of power and arrogance, his arm stretched out in front of him. In his fist was Tsukino's hair, and she seemed to dangle from it helplessly, her face twisted with pain and irritation.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Whose [expletive] is this?! Who let her off her leash?!

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: Let me go, you giant ass!

She growled and struggled in vain, much to the amusement of everyone in the room.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: *jerking her around by her hair* Not only do you need a leash, you need a muzzle, too! Let's get you outside before you have an accident on my mom's rug!

JD-1.jpg JD: Whoa, wait up, brah! *hauls in Pamela by the collar of her shirt* Found another one!

Tory-3.jpg Tory: If she [expletive] on my mom's rug, I'm gonna be pissed!

The two athletes laughed as they roughly hauled the cheer girls to the backyard. As they passed, Pamela made eye contact with Ayumi and gave her a pleading look. Ayumi stared back at the edge of a glare, still hurt at how easily she had been abandoned by her old friends.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I'm not sure I want to be here to see what they're going to do to them.

Ayumi looked anxiously at her friends as they watched Tory and JD manhandle Pamela and Tsukino towards Marley amidst the laughs and catcalls of the revelers.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: It's like a train wreck, though. I'm pretty sure I don't want to watch, too, but I can't stop either...

They could hear Marley's shrill, drunken cackle clearly through the misty, humid night air. Her voice rang loudly over their classmates, and The Six stopped to listen. Marley was holding up dog leashes and ball gags.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Muzzles? I guess it's a good thing I remembered these! Let's get you two mongrels chained up before you hurt yourselves!

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: [expletive] you, Marley, I-mmph!

Tsukino's angry retort was stopped by one of the ball gags being shoved into her mouth and fastened tight by Marley.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: *calmly* Dogs can't talk. You're mine now, poochie, and I'm gonna tame that evil bark outta you.

Pamela.jpg Pamela: Marley, I-

Pamela's words froze in her throat at the sight of Marley's icy stare.

Pamela.jpg Pamela: Why are you doing this? What did we d-OOMPH!

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Dogs can't talk.

Marley was irritated at having to repeat herself. She fastened the gag tightly to Pamela's face and then wordlessly attached the nylon leashes to the girls' necks as they stared at her, panting in horror, their eyes wide open. Marley stepped back and took a look at them, clearly concerned about something. She took on an air of theatricality as she analyzed the cheer girls.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Something... Dogs... Dogs... Dogs... Dogs don't wear clothes! Panties, strip 'em to their underwear!

Taro-5.jpg Taro: *softly* This isn't right, do you think we should do something?

The Six stopped watching and looked at each other, but-

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina and Ayumi! Where are they?!

Momo-6.jpg Momo: There! We must go, too!

Momo pointed at them talking to Marley in the backyard. Momo was already running as she spoke, Dan-O, Kari, and Taro close on her heels. As JD and Tory were unsuccessfully trying to disrobe the panicking girls, Nina and Ayumi reached Marley and Nina spoke to her first, doing her best to be discreet.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Marley, please stop what you're doing. These two, well, they shouldn't be tortured.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: It's not torture, Nina, it's in-crowd business.

Marley answered with equal discretion as she watched Gabe and Noa and Mari eagerly join JD and Tory. Nina put her hand on Marley's arm and pulled on it slightly.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Marley, please. Please stop thi-

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Unless you want to be gagged and stripped like these two [expletive] here, you'll get your [expletive] hand off me and get the [expletive] out of my sight.

Marley's voice was firm and chilling and made Nina step back. She had clearly annoyed (and underestimated) Marley, and the smaller girl was now facing her directly.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: You are a straight-arrow princess with a reputation so clean even I would find it difficult to soil without resorting to extreme measures (although I would greatly enjoy trying). I told you many times this doesn't concern you, you're a pawn, your role is finished, you were invited here because for reasons I myself don't completely understand I rather enjoy your company and regret your not being part of the in-crowd, but you've now overstayed your welcome, and the thought of ravaging you in front of all these people is becoming extremely attractive.

Marley smiled at the tears in Nina's eyes and then addressed the crowd.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Who here wants to see cute little Princess Nina gagged and [expletive]!?

A cheer answered.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: By me?!

The cheer was louder and the crowd of classmates felt as though they were going to collapse in around them. Nina and Ayumi clung together, looking as scared as the two cheer girls, now trying to cover their colorful underwear as they awaited their fate.

Faceless boy in the crowd: [expletive] 'er, Marley! Both of 'em!

The students took up the chant and they started pushing Ayumi and Nina in front of Marley as she smiled sinisterly at them. She held up her hands and the crowd obediently quieted down.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Not tonight.

The statement earned Marley disappointed groans.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Not any night.

The harshness with which she said that brought about the obedient silence once more.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Nina is my friend (and by extension Ayumi, too), and she has unbelievably done more for me than almost all of you combined.

She put her right hand tenderly on the side of Nina's face and said softly:

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Drive home safe, Princess.

Nina caught the deft look she gave Tory and the curt, nigh imperceptible shake of his head he returned. She felt Marley's hand fall to pat her hip and then the standoff was over.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: *with slight regret* Now go, Nina. And Ayumi, you have the most ridiculous luck of any girl in school, being attached to Nina's side instead of stripped and gagged like your sisters there.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina!

Kari's voice finally broke through the ring of students watching and Ayumi and Nina stepped towards their friends and away from Marley.

Another faceless boy in the crowd: Hey Marley! How 'bout Momo and Kari then?!

This shout earned a few drunk guffaws. Marley merely ignored them and turned her attention back towards Pamela and Tsukino.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Dogs can't walk on two legs!

The crowd cheered at the continuation of the show, Nina and her friends promptly forgotten in the spectacle of the hazing of the cheer girls.

The Six quickly passed aruond the outside of the house to get to Taro's car as quickly as possible. Marley's voice and the cheering became an indiscernable mass of noise among the crickets and frogs and cicadas of the night. They stayed quiet until they were inside the old Legend and heading for Dan-O's...

***

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Wow, I forgot just like, how crazy Marley is. She's been like, so totally nice to me all year, but that was...

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I do remember saying something to this effect. She's dangerous, legitimately, seriously dangerous. I really thought we were gonna join Pamela and Tsukino...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Why did she say you were lucky?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: When me and Kana first started hanging out with you, she came up and asked me why. I said just for something different and that you seemed pretty nice and then she warned me not to harm you, probably because Kana and Tsukino got into that fight, and with you disciplining Mari the way you did Pamela got pretty upset about it and ended up siding with Tsukino. You heard her too, though, she called you her friend.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Pff, yeah, right after she threatened to violate us right there in front of everyone. Wait, did anyone else see Erisa or Kana?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Kana's with Kellen and his friends tonight. They were never interested in this kind of party.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Erisa and Kyosuke split before we even got there. *poking at his special, one-of-a-kind smartphone* He's got some kind of family thing and they could only sneak away for like 30 minutes or whatever.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Things're gonna be different on Monday.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: For them, maybe. Not so much for us, I think.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: We are in the bubble.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Bubble?

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Yes, in the bubble, everyone is in different bubbles with each other. When we exit from the bubble, we can be in trouble, maybe that's what Tsukino and Pamela did.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Well, I kinda exited our bubble, too, then. I mean, I'm kind of the reason Tsukino and Pamela are... uh...

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Tsukino's big mouth got her in trouble. What happened between you two was incidental. Pamela was pretty upset about you and Mari, but her little “thing” with Marley goes back a lot farther than that.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Just face the facts, Nina, you're just not that important.

Dan-O leaned between the seats and put his hand on her knee as patronizingly as he could manage. Nina slapped his hand away and laughed.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh my god, whatever, Dan-O.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: So what do we do now?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: We do what we always do, and have fun. At least until we can't anymore.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: And then what?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: We'll figure it out later.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Sounds fine to me!

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Alright, let's go!

NMUSpidey

Okay, so I kinda lied, there won't be so many parts to finish out the run. We've got these two here, two more, and the bonus features! So, enjoy, my many fans, as we finally find out what Marley is up to!

Toryshouse.jpg

On the road to Tory's house, and then at Tory's house... Please imagine it's nighttime. Honestly, I'm not even sure if his neighborhood still looks like this because I've made a few changes since I started this story cj more than a year and a half ago. Oh well! Enjoy!

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Don't worry, you two. We won't let you guys out of our sights for even a milisecond. For even a nanosecond! For even a-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahaha, we got it, Dan-O! Geez!

Nina was crammed into the backseat of the car with kari, Momo, and Ayumi and they had spent most of the ride as a chorus of nervous giggles. Taro drove and Dan-O kept him company in the front seat.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: There is totally like, something huge giong down at this party. This is probably like the biggest one he's had since that WinterFest one last year.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *dryly* Yeah, and everyone knows what happened there.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: It's amazing that you weren't even the big story at that one.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: We were one of them, though.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Well, Marley has a way of upstaging everyone else.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: If not for her, you'd probably be Prom Queen.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: *shrugs* There are plenty of girls like us in school.

Ayumi had begun to feel uncomfortable with being lumped in with them and decided to tactfully add the three other girls in the car with her.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Remove any one of us and it's still a tight race.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Any bets on who'd win if not for Marley?

Momo-6.jpg Momo: *proudly* Is me! Everyone think I am such great and beautiful girl!

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Hahahaha, not to mention how modest and humble you are, too!

Momo-6.jpg Momo: I do not want to remember those words. I am the best ryuugakusei in the history.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hehe, please do your best to shield us from sight tonight, Momo-chan.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: No one can see something except my glorious oppai.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *facepalm* Glorious oppai? Oh my god.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Hey! I didn't teach her that, I know that's what you're thinking! She came at me with that all by herself!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: You two are undoubtedly a match made in heaven.

Everyone fell silent as they pulled into Tory's subdivision. The street was lined with many of their peers' cars, and Taro drove slowly past them all in search of a suitable spot. They reached the house at the back of the neighborhood, cars were parked up and down the lawn on either side of the driveway, so Taro pulled the car into the vacant area at the foot of the driveway and turned it off. They could hear hiphop/dance music thumping softly in the warm night air, mingled with the sounds of revelers' voices happy in the distance. They drew a collective sigh and The Six exchanged nervous looks before exiting the old car and making their way towards the house.

The rain had ended sometime around dinnertime enveloping the island in a warm, humid mist. Everything felt damp and sticky and slick at the same time, making the party quite a sweaty affair. Walking up to the house through the mist created an atmosphere of mystery, and their anticipation (dread?) of what was in store of the night mounted.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Well, here we are, you guys.

Taro was reluctant and excited at the same time.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Remember, keep each other in sight at all times. Don't even go to the bathroom by yourself!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Okay, like, jeez, Dad. All we gotta do is make an appearance and then we'll be free to go for the night.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Yup, remember the escape plan, and keep your eyes peeled for anything out of order, that'll be our cue to leave.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Let's do this.

Dan-O and Taro, side by side, led the girls up the steps and into the crowded, noisy house.

Forester students were everywhere, laughing and talking with each other, drinking and dancing, and so many had come that the party had spilled out into the backyard. The Six wandered in and stuck together as they wound their way through the crowd, exchanging greetings and pleasantries as they went. They settled in near the back of the house near a window with a view of the backyard and the mountain that rose abruptly beyond.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: What're we supposed to be watching out for?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I don't know.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Who's something going to happen to?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Uh, I don't,uh, know? *glances at Taro apologetically* Maybe Tsukino? Is she coming?

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Well, when's it going to happen?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I... I don't know...

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: God, Nina, do you know anything?!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Shut up, Dan-O, I know more than you!

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: *exaggerated anger* Nuh uh! I can build robots! Can you build robots?!

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Wow, no wonder you guys weren't part of the in-crowd. You really are pretty nerdy.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Hahaha, and you're the one hanging out with us all the time!

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Yes, well, there's the in-crowd, and then there's friends. And now I'm quite satisfied with my choice.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Nina! Woo!

Marley, with an inebriated exuberance that was too put-on to be 100% real, came dancing through the crowd to join The Six. She put her arms around Nina's neck and, catching Nina completely by surprise, kissed her on her lips and laughed.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Hahahaha, quite the different atmosphere than the last time we partied together, huh?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ugh, Marley, you stink like a brewery!

Nina made a face and pushed her away before Marley could plant another kiss on her face. She saw the innocent expression on the small girl's red face and rolled her eyes.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I don't know what you've got planned, but-

Marley batted Nina's words out of the air with a wave of her arms.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: You are too worried, sweet little Princess Nina. I thought I already told you, you're untouchable. You don't honestly think we threw this whole party for you now, did you?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *frustrated* You did last year! Or did you think I forgot about that!?

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Don't remind me of all the reasons I wanted to kill you, Nina.

Marley's reply was made in a loud, firm voice, sober violence in her suddenly very clear eyes.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Then don't do the same to me!

There was a tense moment as Marley and Nina glared at each other. That year's peace was on the verge of being destroyed. They appeared ready to trade blows right there in the house amongst everyone when kenji materialized between them, a happy grin glowing on his face.

Kenji1.jpg Kenji: Ladies, rather than fight, why don't you come upstairs with me and we can work through your differences in a much more peaceful, intimate way?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kenji, you just won't give up, will you?

Nina stepped out of his arm and looked at him and Marley unhappily.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Hahahaha, Kenji, you've ragged on my lack of tits so much it's crazy to think that you've got a shot at what's between my legs!

Marley was all smiles once again as she slapped Kenji away playfully.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: And you guys, thanks for coming, do try to enjoy yourselves before your early departure. *walks away laughing with Kenji*

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Early departure? God, how does everyone in this school know everything?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: *under her breath* Except for us, we still have no idea what's gonna happen tonight.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Maybe is now... *anxiously, points towards the front of the house* Look!

There was a commotion coming from that direction, and they all paused to check it out. Tsukino was angrily pushing her way through the crowd. Oddly, however, was the nonchalant manner by which they seemed to be simply accepting it. Her rude shoving did not appear to ruffle any feathers or interrupt any drunk conversations. She spotted Nina and The Six and beelined straight towards them, taking care to make sure she filled Momo's vision. Momo blinked in confusion and stepped backwards to keep the angry cheer girl out of arm's reach.

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: *angrily* What the hell, [expletive]?! Where do you get off telling everyone that I've got STDs? You sure as hell don't know, you've never even made a pass at me, let alone seen me naked!

Momo-6.jpg Momo: What? I don't know what you say, I only said to Nina and Ayumi.

Momo took on a look of feigned confusion. Tsukino did not scare her after her encounter with Chrystal.

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: Nobody's talking to me, and you're the reason why!

Momo-6.jpg Momo: You are too stupid. The students are not caring for that I said. You did something to get this not talking to you thing, not me.

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: I know it was you, you bi-

Kari-5.jpg Kari: No one's talking to you?

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: Huh? No one, that's ri-

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Then we aren't, either. You want to know why, go ask Marley, she's right there in the backyard.

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: What? [expletive] Marley! I-

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: *very coldly* Tsukino, you'll get nothing more from us. We are not your friends, we don't owe you anything, and you are not intimidating at all.”

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: Argh! Everyone here is such a [expletive] [expletive] tonight! *storms off through the crowd*

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: You know, she's probably the reason this party is this big. You really should probably let the Marley thing go, Nina...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, you're probably right. We can probably go now-

Nina was at once relieved that she was most likely off the hook and embarrassed for being so suspicious and worried in the first place.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: HEY!

Tory's loud voice drew the attention of everyone in the room, and what a sight it was...

NMUSpidey

Here we go! Final five issues! Four more after this plus a special bonus features update answering questions nobody's asking to wrap up the series! Enjoy!

MPHSmurky.jpg

The rest of the week passed more or less uneventfully as rain fell seemingly nonstop on the island. Marley and her friends continued their friendly greetings with Nina and The Six (+2), continuing Nina's (and their friends') paranoia. She did not especially want to be included with them, and her time off the social radar had been wonderfully relaxing (for her and Ayumi both, really). But once again, the waters around her surged and whirled with drama, and each day was sweat out in the hopes of becoming invisible for the rest of the year. But as she waited at her locker for Ayumi to show up, she was displeased to see Tory approaching first.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Neens, what's up?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Uh, nothing, Tory. You?

Tory-3.jpg Tory: *sudden smile* Lots, actually. You and your friends, you're all coming out tonight, right? Big party at my place, you guys remember how to get their, right?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I can like, hardly forget... Do you remember what happened the last time we were invited to a party at your house? It's like, not an exciting idea to me.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Aw, Neens, I thought we were past that! I thought we were buds, we don't need to be looking over our shoulders or whatever anymore!

His manner was perfectly amiable. Nina's face went blank and she studied his face closely. It was driving her mad, this thing they were up to, and hanging little hints like that in front of her face made her feel as though she was being taunted. Despite her rising rage, she swallowed her angry retort and suppressed most of her glare and sought words that felt as secretive and conspiratorial as his.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I just don't know, Tory. If we're all friends now, we should al be honest with each other, and-

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Babe, we're all totally honest with you. If there was anything you needed to worry about, you'd've heard it by now.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Why did you ask me to prom?

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Heh, 'cuz you're smoking hot and got beautiful tits (despite their smallness)! Not as beautiful as that babe Momo you're always hanging out with, but she's one in a million.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: That's... Kind of insulting, actually...

Nina glowered at him and he laughed her off.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Hahaha, you take yourself so seriously! You're smart and all, everyone in school knows that, but damn, Neens, lighten up!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: So, if I do decide to trust you, and there's nothing going between us and you guys, then you must be using us to get at someone else...

When Tory laughed at her she stopped listening well and started thinking out loud.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: It's great you can see the world beyond yourself.

He was very smug, unaware of how ridiculous such a statement sounded coming from one of the most narcissistic students in school.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: So if not us, maybe we were pawns in the plot against Chrystal, but that doesn't quite like, make sense because of Momo... Maybe Tsukino? You guys hate her, right?

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Figure that out all on your own now? Really though, just leave it alone. Everyone knows you wanna have no part in this, you gotta have some restraint, and, what, self-control or whatever.

The irony of the conversation hit Nina in the face like a water balloon.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Pff, that's rich, coming from Mr. Self-Restraint and Self-Control himself. You're like, right though. We don't want any part of this. So why go out of your way to like, do just that?

Tory-3.jpg Tory: *shrugs* Don't know, doctor's orders. But whatever, you guys are all invited. Everyone is, baseball team, football team, the soccer dudes, the volleyballers (so your girl Erisa's going anyways, right?), even some top-rank bandos. S'weird if y'all ain't there.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Well...

Nina sighed and scanned the halls around them. Students were whirling past, laughing and shouting and making plans and talking about the week and she felt safely invisible standing in Tory's shadow amidst it all.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Alright, just don't expect us to drink with you guys or anything...

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Great, see you later.

Tory was suddenly distracted, and Nina was roughly brushed aside as Tory forearmed her out of his way to shout down the hall:

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Kenji you [homophobic slur]! Those are my sunglasses!

On autopilot, Nina grabbed a few extra books to get some more studying done that weekend. She reached in her bag and groped for car keys that were no longer there and cursed her dad for selling her car before looking up to see Ayumi walk up, a small smile on her lips.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: *with her usual dryness* It seems we're in-crowd again, whether we like it or not. An invite directly from the source to Tory's party is an invite to the in-crowd.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You already heard?!

Nina snapped back to reality as she slammed her locker shut. They continued their conversation on their way out to Ayumi's car.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I was invited, too, by Marley just now, in fact. Still a bit strange she's going despite their not being on speaking terms, but I have no desire to analyze that relationship.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: It makes me uncomfortable, Ayumi. I told you what happened last time we were there, and I really like, don't have the best history with any of them. I just... This whole thing like, freaks me out.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I'm with you, Nina. There's obviously a reason I'm hanging out with you instead of them these days. There's an awful lot of shallow garbage that goes along with running with them, a lot of doing things we have no desire to do. But since it seems we're obligated to be a part of this somehow at this point, we can go and cling to each other and be wallflowers.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: That's like, what Tory and Marley both basically said to me, you know? Just sit back and watch.

Nina's manner was dark as they paused while Ayumi unlocked the car. They tossed their bags in the back seat and got in the front and Ayumi turned it on. Pop music playing softly in the background they resumed their conversation.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: It would be really nice to just sit at home and relax, you know? Gossip with each other and play a stupid game, anything but this. I guess it has simply been too easy for us recently.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hah! Yeah, right, just what I was like, hoping for subconsciously, a social challenge! Seriously though, I guess we'll be okay if we do stick together and we don't have to stay the whole time, you know?

Nina watched quietly as tears welled up in Ayumi's eyes and was surprised at the show of unrestrained emotion in a girl she always thought was so remarkably well-composed.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: They're so stupid, Nina! I was dying, laying in a hospital bed dying, and none of them came! It was so hard to move for so long, and none of them helped! I cried every night and none of them cared! None of them!

And Ayumi put her head down in her hands and sobbed out long stored-up tears of anger and frustration and especially hurt for her so-called friends. She barely noticed Nina's hands gently pulling her over, and only began to calm down at the sound of Nina's voice in her ear.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Shh, it's okay, Ayumi. I care, we all do, me and Kana were always there to help you, you have friends in us. We won't let you down, you don't have to worry.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I'm sorry, Nina, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You know what it's like though, don't you? The way they are when you're one of them, what they did to you and Kari, I know it wasn't right, but we made fun of you guys anyways, and what Noble did, and he tried to get me, and he cheated on me the whole time, with other cheer girls, with Pamela who was supposed to be my best friend, with Bryn, and then when I ran into a bad situation, they just disappeared, and I... I-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: It's okay, Ayumi, I think that we have similar experiences makes us closer friends than we maybe though before, you know?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Yeah, I didn't even think about it before just now.

She looked at the steering wheel in shame. She sniffled and wiped her cheeks with the front of her uniform and took a deep breath to calm down, suddenly feeling warm and safe in Nina's presence.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Seriously, we've only really been close at all for like two months, but you can trust me more than you can trust any of them. It's, hehe, it's great and sad at the same time. You don't have to worry about them, just stick with me. With us, all of us. They were there for me last year like we're here for you now.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Yes, I'm with you, Nina, I'm sorry about this right now.

Ayumi managed a small smile as she began to put her usual expressionless expression back on her face.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I'm sorry about before, too, how we were to you.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hehe, like I said, it's like, totally okay! I made my peace with it a LONG time ago!

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Thanks, Nina. I feel a lot better. Let's get going, I guess we're gonna have to prepare for tonight...

NMUSpidey

MPHS2.jpg

Mt. Plains High School, home of the Foresters...

The next day, Nina had snuck away from her friends under false pretenses before school to hunt down Marley. Her texts to her non-enemy went unanswereed and she almost always saw Marley surrounded by her friends all day, so she stood at the entrance before school to peer into the rain to try to find her before anyone else did. It was too much for her to continue being in the dark, and she had resolved to get some answeres. She impatiently waited as the parking lot slowly filled with the other seniors' cars, fidgeting with her bag, bouncing on her feet, ands moother her skirt more times than was necessary. As the trickle of students turned into a traffic jam, Nina sighed and decided to give up for the morning.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: You would make a terrible spy.

Nina jumped and turned to see Marley standing behind her, looking exquisitely smug.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What? What're you...

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: ...Talking about?

Marley gave Nina her best, most friendly smile. She put her arm on Nina's shoulders and began guiding her back inside the school.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: You were just never cut out for this, for the in-crowd. It's all a bit much for you, so I want to tell you now to just let it go and enjoy the rest of the year. Leave this dirty business to me.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *pushes Marley's hand off her shoulder* I can't! You involved me when Tory asked me to prom, and then Chrystal threatens me and Kenji apologizes, and Momo starts a fight with Chrystal and Tsukino's still giving me dirty looks! It's too late, I'm part of this!

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: *still perfectly friendly* No, see, what you are is Straight Arrow Nina the Drama Princess. You've played your role to complete perfection, and now you just need to take a few steps back and let things happen around you. You are truly untouchable in this school, one of the few. No matter what anyone does to you now, your reputation is unbreakable, and there is no one here who'd lay a hand on you and your friends. So I'm telling you, just sit back and enjoy the show.

Nina blinked in confusion as Marley's current squad of best friends, JD, Kenji, Gabe, and Noa came up to greet her.

Kenji1.jpg Kenji: Marley, Nina! How's it going?!

Gabe-1.jpg Gabe: We don't see you out so much anymore. How have you been?

Nina watched them approach happily, but felt as though it was a setup and was unable to gather her senses.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm, uh... I've been... I'm fine, just hanging out with Ayumi and Kari... Where are they?

Noa-1.jpg Noa: Oh, we haven't seen them yet this morning. Anyways, you guys should all come out to Tory's this weekend. It's another pre-prom gala!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I... I'll have to think about it...

Nina cautiously looked at the overly-friendly smiles and felt as though she had wandered into the Twilight Zone. She had been friends with them in the past, and this all felt just a bit out of character for them. There was nothing concrete she could put her finger on, but it was enough to keep her off-balance.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm gonna go find them. Bye!

She turned and walked quickly away with a feeling as though she was making an escape. She risked a glance back as she rounded the corner for Dan-O's locker and saw them walking along talking happily with each other. There was a bit of shame in her heart and she slowed her pace to try to rejoin her friends more naturally.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Nina! Hey, Nina!

She looked up to see Dan-O and their friends smiling over at her. She didn't exactly know why, but the whole morning was taking on a bit of a surreal quality. She wanted to return their smiles with a joyful one of her own, but was too off her game to manage.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Nina, you look a little stressed, everything okay?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *meekly* Yeah, uh, yeah I'm like, fine, you guys.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Did you hear, Sempai? Chrystal ran out of school yesterday, and then they found her and she's not coming back!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What? Why, because of Momo?

Nina wasn't exactly surprised, but...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hm, well, probably, but she said that it's gonna be graduation time anyways, and she already passed anyways, so she doesn't need to even be here. Someone said she's moving to Arrinson...

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Arrinson? Hah! That's fitting!

Arrinson was the industrial heart of Port Matthew, and despite being just about as clean and safe as the rest of the island, the presence of heavy industry harmed its image.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: I feel a little badly, I did not want that girl to quit school, only I wanted that girl to quit fighting with us.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *starting to feel "normal"*Haha, well, you did succeed in the end! Anyways, I just had the weirdest conversation with Marley...

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Marley? Is that where you ran off to? Are you on the verge of an unhealthy obssession? Are we gonna need an intervention? Better yet, are you gonna go all Natalie Portman on her Mila Kunis like in Black Swan?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Ugh, shut up, Dan-O!

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: What? These are important questions! We, as her loving, supportive friends, need to know these things!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *with fake anger* Jeez, Dan-O, no. I just wanted to know what was going on.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: And she told you?

Ayumi's tone presupposed a negative response.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No, not at all, actually.

Nina suppressed the urge to slap the smug nod from Ayumi's shoulders and continued.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: It was like, totally weird, you guys. I told her I wanted to know and she told me I should just like, enjoy the show or something and she said I was untouchable.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Untouchable?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: That's what she said! She said you guys were, too. Also, why am I suddenly like, a “Drama Princess” instead of like, a “Drama Queen?” Tory used the same word the other day. They're totally in on this together...

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Well, “Princess” sounds more cute than “Queen,” and you are only 18, not 48.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hm, still feels like a demotion. Anyways, I'm doing weirdly, as usual. Anything up with anyone else?

Taro-5.jpg Taro: You know, you guys never go to any of our meets. We always went to 'Ris' games, but never to me and Dan-O's meets.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Yeah, but going to your meets means standing in the heat or the rain-

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Usually both.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Yeah, usually both, just to see you run for a few seconds, and it's worse if it's long distance. Plus, we can't join you to cheer and they don't make the times clear to us. It's just not a very spectator-friendly sport.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Dude, I gotta back her up on this. Plus, think about how we look versus how the volleyballers look and it'll be that much clearer. I can't say I blame them for not coming!

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Heh, well, you put it that way...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: From the seriousness of my issues to the shallowness of the boys...

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Nina, be fair, your problems are just as shallow as ours are!

NMUSpidey

MPHS2.jpg

Mt. Plains High School, home of the Foresters...

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: Why would Tory ask you to prom but not me?

Chrystal had stormed up to Nina and kari and Ayumi at Nina's locker to hover over them like a stormcloud the following morning before school.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *sighs* You got me, Chrystal, why would he?

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: Pff, I don't know. Why do you think I asked you?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I have no idea. You should ask him like, directly if you're so concerned about it.

Nina tried to hide the anxiety she felt with Chrystal towering over her, but even with her friends standing next to her the Amazon girl made her nervous.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: *agitated* I can't find him. That's why I cornered your gimpy ass. You're too slow to escape.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Gimpy? Geez, Chrystal, you can't even like, pretend to be nice?

Kari stepped up beside Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Relax, Kari, let's not escalate this.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: Escalation with you bunch of has-beens? Whatever. Just be straight with me and I'll go.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You're better off finding him, because I have like, no idea. It's interesting to me though, that you thought I would like, be cooperative even if I knew something.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: I'd beat the cooperation outta you.

Chrystal gave Nina a hard stare, then began walking away.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: See you, Nina.

Nina glanced at Kari and Ayumi. All three of them had similarly confused, concerned looks on their faces. Even together, they had no desire to tangle with Chrystal.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *low voice* Do you like, think Marley knows what she's doing?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: She didn't just involve you, she involved like, all of us. I wish she'd've given you like, more of a hint about what she's up to than you not being like, the focus of her plot...

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: *characteristically detatched* Chrystal thinks she's the toughest, strongest girl in the school. But she's not the most dangerous. Marley is, and it's not even close. She's not even a part of any teams or clubs and is dating the most popular guy-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Was dating apparently.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Right, but even so, she's in-crowd by the force of her personality and her mind. You remember what she almost did to you and Marv, and even though she didn't achieve her main goal, she still won.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: She is absolutely up to something...

***

Momo didn't like Chrystal much at all. To her, Chrystal was big, noisy, and (worst of all) ugly. The exchange student had no idea how someone so repulsive could possible be a part of what she had learned was called the in-crowd. But worst of all was how mean she was to her friends (which really colored her impression of the big girl). She recalled the previous fall when the volleyball team was thrown into turmoil because of Chrystal and she fought with Erisa, then in the wintertime when she threatened Nina. This morning when Chrystal made her appearance at Nina's locker and tried to bully her friend again (along with Ayumi and Kari) only served to deepen the disgust and anger she felt towards the girl. Her heart thus hardened, she resolved to do something about it when Chrystal walked into class. Before the Amazon woman and her loud, obnoxious laugh could sit down, Momo was right there at her desk, smiling sweetly at her.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: *suddenly serious* Who're you? What do you want?

Momo-6.jpg Momo: *sweetly* Why do you want to start the fight with Nina? She is my friend, same is Erisa.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: *dismissively* Those two [homophobic slur]? Mongrel and her stumpy [expletive] can go [expletive] themselves for all I care. *waves Momo away* Now get lost, before-”

Momo-6.jpg Momo: *mocking gasp* But you are so ugly and fat! It is amazing that the so ugly and fat girl can be like this to the cute and nice girls! Maybe you are... jealous? Mm, yes, jealous.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: I don't know who the hell you are, but-

Momo thrust her cartoon-character chest at Chrystal.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: I'm cute, too, and I'm having the amazing oppai. Do you say you are so jealous of me, too?

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: You can't even speak English! Why would I be jealous of you?!

Momo-6.jpg Momo: You are stupid, too, I know my English score is more high than yours.

She and Chrystal were focused on each other, oblivious to the attention they were gathering.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: I don't even know who you are, you stupid bimbo! I don't give a [expletive] about what you say!

Untitled-1.jpg Girl Whose Name Momo Can't Remember: She's Momo, and she's right!

A female voice came from the crowd. Momo smiled an evil smile at Chrystal and pressed her advantage.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: You must not say the mean things to my friends!

The energy of the crowd was behind her.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: *feeling ineffectual* You better watch your back, Momo!

Untitled-1.jpg Girl Whose Name Momo Can't Remember: Or what, you'll kick all our asses?!

The female voice shouted again, this time drawing cheers.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: You are ugly, fat and stupid, Chrystal.

Momo menaced towards Chrystal, forcing her down into her seat.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Leave the others alone.

At the faceless schoolgirl's prompt, the class took up a chant of “Ugly! Fat! Stupid!” Chrystal absolutely wilted under the pressure of the chant, slumping in her chair and hiding her face behind her hands. After all the abuse she had dealt out over the years, she never imagined she'd even be on the receiving end, for she had neither the empathy nor the imagination necessary for such an undertaking. And yet, there she was, the bully being bullied.

MrTennyson.jpg Tenyson-Sensei: Hey! Hey! What is going on in here?!

Tenyson-Sensei walked in to break up the chant. He saw them gathered around Chrystal's desk, and Chrystal herself slumping as though she thought she could escape by drawing in upon herself.

MrTennyson.jpg Tenyson-Sensei: Everyone, back to your seats, sit down!

As they quietly and obediently moved to their desks, he tried to get some bearing as to what had happened.

MrTennyson.jpg Tenyson-Sensei: Anyone care to explain? Chrystal? What could you have possibly done to deserve this?

Chrystal let out a sound of disgust as she bolted upright to her feet to glare at Tenyson-Sensei.

Chrystal.jpg Chrystal: How is it that I'm automatically the bad guy?!

She angrily gathered her things and left the room in a flash, leaving her teacher and classmates in stunned silence. Momo was socially aware enough to know that Chrystal's reputation warranted Tenyson-Sensei's reaction. Even so, she felt a bit guilty for crushing the girl so thoroughly. Still, it wasn't so bad. There was that small, cute girl with the short hair sitting near the window who looked profoundly satisfied. Despite knowing she had seen that face before, Momo could not connect it to a name. At any rate, she was glad that not everyone felt bad about what had just happened.

NMUSpidey

Karishouse.jpg

Kari's house, Friday evening after school...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Do you seriously make Ayumi drive you around everywhere?

Kari laughed as Ayumi and Nina got out of Ayumi's dark gray A4 in front of Kari's house.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Where is Kana? No Kana today?

Momo looked at the unopening back door of the car in disappointment.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Nope, sorry, Momo. They've got her working like, mega hours over at Ribbie's.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: I'm not liking the working.

Momo pouted. She had grown quite fond of the girl, and went out of her way to talk to Kana at school. She loved hearing her call everyone “Sempai.” It reminded her of home.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: She doesn't like it, either. But apparently she needs the money sincer her parents cut her off.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Man, everyone's parents are getting stricter.

There had been an incident with Kyosuke in her room with the door closed three weeks prior that she was still fuming over.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I still can't believe my dad sold my car!

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: You couldn't drive it, you're moving away in a little while, and he did give you some of the money from the sale.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Jeez, Ayumi, whose side are you on, anyways?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Hehe, bite the hand that drives you much?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: *shrugs* Well, if it wasn't for Nina, I'd have no friends at all. I'm happy to drive her around. It's nice to be needed.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: That's certainly one way to look at it.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Enough about this.

Nina and Ayumi settled themselves on the lawn in front of Kari's house with their friends. It had become a Friday ritual: get together at Kari's after school, then go to either Ribbie's or Ayumi's parents' sushi restaurant for dinner with some light shenanigans following. That mid-May evening was warm and humid and the sun shone dully through the hazy sky. Occasionally Dan-O, Taro, and Kyosuke joined them, but they all had sports related activities to attend to. So, it was ladies' night.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Marley and Tory broke up or whatever, but I think they're really up to something. Did any of you hear anything about this?

Kari-5.jpgMomo-6.jpgErisa-4-1.jpg *silent stares*

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No one? Nothing?

Momo-6.jpg Momo: I have class with Tory, he was like the everyday thing, I think.

Tory was easy for Momo to remember, but she always had a hard time picturing Marley.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I haven't heard anything either, but chances are if Ayumi hasn't heard anything, none of us would have. She's our best-connected friend.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: No, not anymore. I'm with Nina and you guys all the time, I don't get the constant stream of the information I used to get. Swim Team is much different from Cheer Team.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I just don't get it. He asked me to prom with her right there watching, and was all nice and polite about it. Marley basically called me paranoid and told me not to worry about it. But she knows me! She knows I'm a drama queen and I won't be able to let it go!

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Maybe you should do something unexpected and just let it go. You said you think she wants you to make this a big deal. So you could just ignore it.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, I said that to Ayumi in the car.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: On the other hand, Nina and Marley have been on fairly good terms since the New Year, and I think it is a safe assumption that this doesn't have anything to do with Nina, or us for that matter. So, Nina plays along, maintains the good-ish relations with Marley, and nothing bad happens. I don't think this is a terribly risky path to pursue, and I really am intensely curious to find out what's going on.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: *skeptically* You really think we can trust Marley?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *suddenly unsure* She told us nothing's going on between us. Definitely, something's up, though.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I think there's still some trouble between her and Tsukino, or even Pamela, or even Bryn. I don't think that thing with Chrystal was resolved before the attack...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: But why involve me? I don't want anything to do with it!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Who better to start rumors than the school's biggest drama queen and her ex-cheerleader bff?

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: That is an excellent point. Hahaha, I changed my mind, you're already doing it now anyways, time to go with the flow!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You're like, so supportive, 'Ris, thanks.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Anything for you, Nina!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Let's keep our eyes and ears open anyways.

***

MPHS2.jpg

Mt. Plains High School, home of the Foresters...

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: You tell your skanky girlfriend to stop spreading rumors about me!

Nina, Ayumi, and Momo looked over to see Tsukino confronting Tory up the hallway a little bit. Despite the noise their voices could be heard very clearly above it all. Teachers tended to let the students sort their differences out without mediation (of course stepping in when confrontations took on a more physical atmosphere), so even though they were whom Nina's eyes sought out initially, no authority figure was present. Thus, Tsukino squared off with Tory.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Huh? Who the [expletive] are you, rollin' up on me like this? *turns to go*

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: Listen, [expletive], I know that skank Marley's been talking [expletive] about me! You better get her to shut her whore mouth!

Tory's face suddenly took on a very calm, almost smug, look. He smiled at her with mocking kindness.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: I don't know how you expect me to do that. You keep yelling at me like she's my girlfriend or something.

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: She is your girlfriend or something.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Huh? You didn't hear? We're not talking. You'd think that a popular, hot-ass cheer girl would know these things.

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: What? Of course I- What? You broke up? The top couple in school splits and I hear nothing?? WTF!!

Tory-3.jpg Tory: I even asked Nina to prom. The school's biggest drama princess, and you hear nothing?

Tsukino-2.jpg Tsukino: You're taking Nina to prom?

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Find that [expletive] out on your own, [expletive].

Tsukino was too stunned to react and let Tory saunter off triumphantly. She looked angrily off into space for a moment, then swept her eyes across the crowded hallway. She spotted Nina in the midst or an animated (but fake) conversation with Ayumi and Momo, seemingly oblivious to her confrontation with Tory, and her eyes narrowed hatefully. She stormed past them wordlessly, the hallway clearing miraculously ahead of her.

They watched her round the corner and then burst into giggles at the scene.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Seriously? Did we seriously like, just witness that?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Curiouser and curiouser. You are right, Marley is without a doubt up to something.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: I do not like that girl *meaning Tsukino*. Did Marley make Tory ask you to prom just that she is angry?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: It would be a stupid, roundabout way to go about it. All you have to do to make Tsukino mad is look at her funny.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Like this?

Momo twisted her face about in a way that resembled an oni. Ayumi didn't bother suppressing her amused giggle, but Nina (fighting her smile the whole way) sighed and rolled her eyes while Ayumi's giggles grew to laughter at each new face Momo made.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Like this? Like this?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Well, not exactly, but I'm sure that would work, too.

Ayumi gave Momo a playful shove to get her to stop making faces and her voice took on her more customary aloof tone as she turned the conversation serious once again.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: It doesn't make any sense, though. Marley's relationship with Tory had nothing to do with Tsukino. But she sounded mad about Marley spreading rumors about her. Although, she hasn't said anything that isn't true, from what we've heard...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What do you mean?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Oh, just the usual Tsukino is a liar blah blah blah. Like I said, nothing untrue, but I can see how it would wound her fragile ego.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: *uncharacteristically disgusted* That girl is always crazy, I don't know why is she so popular girl. She is even the year under us, but enters the seniors in-crowd. Is so strange, and no good I think.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I think she's like, willing to do more with the boys than me and Kari were. I don't know how you managed to stay pure while staying in the in-crowd, Ayumi.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Eh, I pretended not to notice Noble cheat on me the whole time.

It had been relatively easy for her to trade chastity for infidelity and honestly had had no problems with it as it let her remain at the school's top social rung.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: *loudly* Tsukino must have the disease from touching so many boys!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Jeez, Momo! At least this time it's totally not me getting drama all worked up!

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: You really let Marley get into your head with that, didn't you?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Everyone was thinking that anyways...

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Yes, me too. But I love you and it's a fun.

Kenji1.jpg Kenji: Llllladies.

Kenji was a tall, athletic football player who was known for his prowess with the Lady Foresters and his dashing good looks. He appeared in front of them almost out of thin air to lean against the locker and smile at them playfully.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ah! Kenji, geez! I told you like a zillion times, there is just no way I'm going to prom with you!

Kenji1.jpg Kenji: Hahahaha, Nina, Nina, Nina. I just wanted to apologize for being so pushy all last month. I guess honestly if a guy gets turned down ten or twelve times a guy should take a hint, right?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: What did you say?! Did you just apologize?!

Kenji1.jpg Kenji: Yeah, it was completely uncool, so here I am with a sincere apology.

Kenji shrugged and smiled in comfortable resignation.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Did Marley put you up to this? Did she make you do this? Where is she? What's in it for you?

Kenji1.jpg Kenji: Hahaha, you must be the single most doubt-filled girl in school! Anyways, I'm a big boy, I can handle it. I'll see you beautiful girls later!

And before any of them could react he turned and disappeared, leaving only his dashing smile imprinted on their minds.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Everyone is become crazy! This school is become upside-down!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What is Marley doing?

Nina asked rhetorically, for none of them had the slightest clue.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I think it's not just her but Tory, too. This has to be a team effort.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: I know that Marley does not like Tsukino, but the Kenji and Tory, it makes a difficult puzzle. Is so fun!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hehe, fun, right, Momo. Well, we gotta get moving Momo's gonna be late for work!

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Ah! I love my job! I cannot be late!

NMUSpidey

April turned into May with little happening. The end of the school year, usually cheerful and boistrous with the Spring Festivals and Hanami that occur had a feeling of forced happiness. Mukai-Sensei, the teacher killed by Morning Angel, was usually the MC of the Spring Festivals and well respected for his wit and amazing sense of humor. Many students were missed by their friends, and the missing teachers reminded everyone of how vulnerable they all were in this world.

As for The Six and their expanded cast of friends and enemies, Cassie (with Beau tagging along like a lost puppy) became inexplicably close friends with Chrystal, and she continued to glare at Nina but said nothing. Tsukino continued her feud with Marley and Chrystal, and Kellen and Kana became a couple. Nina spent a lot of time off the school's radar with Ayumi, helping her get ahead in her classes and enjoying the single life while seemingly all their friends were dating each other. Ayumi was a changed girl following the attack. She retained her cool aloofness, but whatever it was that made her part of the in-crowd was gone. Her Facebook page, full of notifications, went largely neglected in favor of a series of books of escalating difficulty. Ayumi's parents saw Nina and Kana as good influences on their daughter, and were quite happy with how things were turning out, especially after the horror of having to pray for her survival.

The Six had remained largely intact. Kari and Taro spent a lot of time with Dan-O and Momo, and Nina was occasionally brought along with Ayumi when the atmosphere wasn't too “double-datey”. Erisa spent time with them as well, especially when Kyosuke was at baseball practice, but on the weekends, she would usually hang out with him and his friends. Kari made it a point to hang out with just Nina once a week or so. Things had changed a lot since the attack, but not everything...

MPHS2.jpg

Mt. Plains High School, home of the Foresters...

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Nina.

Marley's monotone greeting for Nina was the same as it had been all year long as she approached her and Ayumi standing at Nina's locker in the hallway after school.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: You have been amazingly drama-free for more thana month. Strange for The Drama Princess whose new best friend is the former Cheer Team Captain.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *matching Marley's tone* Hey, Marley. You say that with a certain air of foreboding.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: *funny smile to Nina, then looks at Ayumi* Ayumi, you've been missed at the parties.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Mm, yes, well. *pauses for a moment to think of an appropriate response* I haven't much missed them myself.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: And you look all the better for it.

Marley's tone rode a fine line between sarcasm and sincerity.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Uh, thanks?

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Yes. Anyways, Nina, I hear you're still looking for a prom date. Both of you, in fact.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Well, not really anymore, but...

Nina gave Ayumi a look asking for support.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: We were thinking about sharing a ticket, actually. We can spend time with our friends and not worry about having to engage in some kind of potentially unwanted physical intimacy.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, we both had like, proper dates last year, and like everything changes after graduation anyways...

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Right. So, you'll have no problems, then.

Nina stood there for a second trying unsuccessfully to read the smaller girl's expression. She didn't notice Tory approach and was surprised by his hand resting softly on her shoulder.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Hey, Neens, you got a second?

Tory did not even acknowledging Marley standing there.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Huh? Tory? What? What is it?

Tory-3.jpg Tory: You find a prom date yet?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Huh? I was just- why?

Tory-3.jpg Tory: You wanna go with me?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You're up to something!

Nina whirled at Marley and pointed at her.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: You're in the middle of a conversation.

Marley smiled politely and gestured calmly at back at Tory. Nina's eyes narrowed and she looked back at Tory who stood there patiently. He looked remarkably innocent as he waited for her response. She glanced at Ayumi who was obviously as confused as she was and then focused on Tory.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What about Marley? She's like, your girlfriend, right? You guys are like, in love, right?

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Oh, well, we're not talking. Look, if you don't wanna go with me, you're allowed to say no, I'm a big boy, I can handle it.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *mutters* Wow, you should like, tell your friend Kenji to be a big boy, too... *gasp* Wait, did you break up? When? Just now?!

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Nina, I just want to know if you want to be my date for prom.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No, I'm sorry, Tory, we had our shot.

Nina was in complete disbelief. Her mind was racing as she sought a reason for this turn of events. It was absolutely inconceivable to her that a couple so perfectly matched as Tory and Marley would split, especially given the complete lack of any warning signs. As such, she almost completely stopped paying attention to him.

Tory-3.jpg Tory: So you'd rather go with Ayumi than with me?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'd rather go all kinds of places with her than with you...

Tory-3.jpg Tory: Well, thanks anyways, Neens. See you 'round.

Tory smiled nicely and shrugged as he turned to leave. Nina watched him leave, utterly perplexed. It took her a moment before she could collect herself enough to whirl on Marley once again.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You are up to something!

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: *smugly* You are very suspicious for a hot girl who just got invited to prom by the hottest guy in school.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What is it? What are you plotting? Am I gonna have to be like, looking over my shoulder again? I thought we were past that!

Marley laughed and tried to take a disarming, friendly tone.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Hahahah, Nina, we are past that. Remember, I suggested we be honest with each other this year. Well, I can honestly tell you that I have absolutely no quarrel with you. You can relax.

Marley smiled wider and looked at Ayumi, who had watched the entire exchange in quiet perplexity.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Funny, self-centered girl, isn't she?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Hah! Well, I believe I've used those same words to describe her myself.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ugh, et tu, Ayumi? I'm on to you, Marley! You're totally up to something!

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Hahahaha, relax, Drama Princess! *pats Nina's shoulder* See you 'round, Nina. Bye, Ayumi.

Nina and Ayumi watched her go wordlessly. After she disappeared around the corner, the pair exchanged baffled expressions. As they started walking out to Ayumi's car, they began analyzing what had just occurred.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What was that? Did that seriously like, just happen?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I agree, they are up to something, but I'm not sure it has much to do with you. You have to remember, we really are off most people's radars at this point.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: But you saw what just happened! Unless you know something. You know something, don't you!

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Hahaha, Nina, Marley was right, you do have to relax. I know only what you know. No one's feeding me gossip anymore besides Kana, and she spends all her time with Kellen these days. I saw only what you saw.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You think we're okay?

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: I think we can probably trust what Marley's up to something that has little to do with us.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: So we're but pawns in a larger scheme.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: So it seems...

NMUSpidey

MPHS2.jpg

Mt. Plains High School, home of the Foresters, later that week...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You know, Kana, I'm not sure that was the best advice to give Freddie at lunch the other day...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *confused* What? What do you mean? He's a nice guy, I just don't think he should let his girlfriend use him as a punching bag, Sempai.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh, I agree with you. It's just that Cassie accused me of being a friend-stealer, and Tsukino did the same, and now if Freddie takes your advice and dumps his girlfriend...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: It's gonna be because he's decided he had enough. Remember, I told him to use his nuts. I don't think he's gonna find them and use them soon, but when he does, it'll be late enough that ti won't be connected to my advice and you won't be implicated. Don't worry so much, Sempai.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: How can you be so sure?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *shrugs* I was a cheer girl. Gossip and social life is like 80% of what we live for. I may have quit the team, but that doesn't mean I've lost my mind!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahaha, I would never accuse you of that!

They started moving down the hall together, Kana weighed down slightly by Nina's bag, Nina still hobbled by crutches. They had planned to visit Ayumi in the hospital together. Kana's mom would be waiting in front of the school for them.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Did Ayumi tell you when she's getting out?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *sadly* No, she said they're taking it day by day. My mom said her parents expected it to be soon, though. She said they couldn't believe you got out so quickly.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, well, there wasn't much of a reason for them to keep me there, but Ayumi's had all kinds of problems.

Despite having her senses dazed in the impact, Nina had miraculously not suffered another concussion, and she refused to be hospitalized for a broken ankle and broken ribs-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I know how to take care of those!

Ayumi, however, had been in and out of surgery for her knees, had her movement restricted by her broken bones (ribs, legs) and torn tendons and ligaments, and had a few slight complications with her concussion that necessitated her long stay at Mt. Plains General Hospital.

They walked out of the high school and made their way to the front parking lot where they could see Kana's mom's BMW X3 sitting in the warm, humid air. Despite the sunny, pleasant start to the week, the weather had turned into what Nina's dad always called many shades of awful, and often brought about unfair comparisons to the “perfect” seasonal weather of his hometown, however idealized his memories may be.

Kana helped Nina situate herself in the back seat of the small SUV and climbed into the front seat to properly greet her mother. Kana got much of her good looks and bubble personality from her mom. She was a stylish, slim woman a bit younger than Nina's parents who dressed up to match her German car. Nina felt Kana's parents made her own look even more horrifyingly uncool than she felt anyways, but growing up with Kari and her parents, she knew she wasn't alone.

KanasMom.jpg Kana's Mom: Nina-chan, I can't believe they let you out like that!

Kana's mom watched the two girls struggle to get Nina comfortable in the mirror. Nina forced a bright smile to mask her aches.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Uh, I'm okay, Mrs. Inaba. It's been almost three weeks, I'm doing like, way better.

KanasMom.jpg Kana's Mom: That's good to hear. I hope Kana hasn't been a bother to you and your friends.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh no, Mrs. Inaba, Kana's been a really great friend, me and Ayumi are like, really lucky!

KanasMom.jpg Kana's Mom: *timidly pulling out into traffic* That's good. Anyways, I was talking to Tomomi today, there might be some good news waiting for you when we get to the hospital.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Oo! Good news! Finally they're letting her out!

KanasMom.jpg Kana's Mom: Well, I don't know about that, but I'll let you two talk to her to find out...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yay! She is getting out!

KanasMom.jpg Kana's Mom: Hahaha, all I know is that she is through the worst of it.

Kana's Mom was unable to temper their enthusiasm. The rest of the 15 minute drive was spent in wild speculation between the two young friends as to what the good news could be, if it wasn't Ayumi's release. It was the happiest drive they'd had to that point, the prior three beinga bit more subdued.

MPGH.jpg

Kana had made it a regular part of her routine to visit Ayumi, and Nina enjoyed their company and made it a point to visit when she had the time. Usually, Kana walked with Nina to Ayumi's room with her mom close behind. This time, she ran off ahead without them, forgetting Nina's injuries in her hasty excitement.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: So you're getting out soon?!

Kana burst into Ayumi's room, unable to contain herself.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: What? How did you find out?

Ayumi looked up from her book in surprise, unprepared for her friend's appearance.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Your mom told my mom you got some good news today.

Kana bounced over to stand beside the bed.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Cheer girls know everything so fast.

Nina was amazed as she hobbled slowly into the room. Ayumi waved happily from her bed.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Oh, hi, Nina! It's so strange, people who are supposed to be my best friends don't even find time to visit once, if at all, but a girl I barely knew before visits me four times!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Well, you'll have to trust that I know how you feel about the whole stuck-in-the-hospital thing. We're friends though. I'd've visited you more, but-

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Nina, hahahaha, you're beat up like me, it would honestly be understandable if you didn't come.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm well enough to be there for my friends.

Nina smiled proudly, earning appreciation from Kana and Ayumi.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Hehe, I guess this means it's official, we're out of the in-crowd.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I'm not even sitting with the cheer team anymore at lunch. They're all nice to me, though, but it's just more comfortable with Nina and Kellen and Freddie.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I... guess I could take that as a a compliment.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hahaha, aw, you should definitely take it good, Sempai.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: *wry smile* Yes, you have been quoted talking about the in-crowd and all their stupid crap before.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hehe, I guess so.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Besides, especially after what happened, how can most of the in-crowd's nonsense be anything but stupid crap?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: So, when are you getting out?

Kana impatiently returned them to the original topic.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Hahaha, wow, Kana. It looks like Saturday I'll be discharged, assuming, of course, there are no further complications.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Yay! Two more nights! Do you have anything you wanna do? We should celebrate!

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Well, the thing I need to do is take it easy. I imagine Nina is under similar orders, despite appearing as though she is not following them.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *indignantly* What? Whatever, I follow Dr. Cowherd's advice to a “T”.

DrCowherd.jpg Dr. Cowherd: Which doesn't explain why you're hobbling around on crutches when you should be stationary on a chair or bed.

Dr. Cowherd's familiar voice made Nina flinch a bit. She deftly covered the pain it induced and turned to smile at him.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *with forced happiness* Hi, Dr. Cowherd! I had no idea you were taking care of my friend!

DrCowherd.jpg Dr. Cowherd: That's the way we like it, doctor-patient priviledge and all, right?

He smiled at the girls, checked the machines next to Ayumi's bed as they gazed at him intently. He tactfully ignored them, pausing at the door to simply say:

DrCowherd.jpg Dr. Cowherd: Ladies.

They didn't see his amused smile or him shaking his head at their eruption of giggles as he left.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *enviously* You two are so lucky, having that guy as your doctor! I get checked out by Nurse Piper, and you guys get rich, handsome Dr. Perfecthair.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: *still watching the doorway* I'd trade horrible physical trauma for Nurse Piper any day.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hehe, well, if you put it that way...

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: Absolutely. So Nina, please tell me you'll be kind enough to help me get caught up in my classes next week.

Ayumi's tone presupposed Nina's acceptance of her request.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh, totally. With Erisa and Kyosuke going out now my social calendar is like, totally clear.

Whatever feelings of jealousy she may have been feeling before were completely erased by the attack.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Well, we should all hang out on Saturday. We thought of something fun to do last time we were all hanging out. I'm sure we can think of something interesting again.

Ayumi-2_zpsefaa1c12.jpg Ayumi: It might be best if you came to my house. I'm not sure how mobile I'll be before that.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Alright!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Good!

Ayumi was released from the hospital and returned to school with little fanfare. Her old friends in the in-crowd were not unfriendly, but she was not embraced by them the way Kana and Nina had welcomed her back with pizza and laughter.

NMUSpidey

This entry is a lot shorter and a lot more text-heavy than I remember. Sorry about that, guys! Honestly, not much happens, but it does follow the plot, such as it is. I really should have just included it as an extra section of the last update. Oh well.

MPHS2.jpg

Kari sat in class and smiled to herself. Nina always had something going on, and she found no shortage of interesting happenings over the course of their friendship. There Nina was this morning, boldly facing down a girl who had already proven herself to outmatch Nina physically, and despite her obvious physical inferiority, refused to back down.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Too many comic books for that girl, truly. You'd think she was a boy, acting as though her honor as in constant need of defending. That attitude's gotten her into some trouble, hasn't it? I can't believe she got herself caught up in cheer-team business with that rude junior girl, Tsuki-something, getting all mad. Honestly, though, Kana's been a pretty good friend, sticking by her and Ayumi like that...

Kari sighed and looked out the window. That day had begun so sunny and pleasant, but clouds had quickly filled in the sky and kept the air humid and thick. As was usual for this time of year, tehrew was the promise of rain in the wair. A rumble of distant thunder drew everyone's anxious eyes to the windows, and when it was followed by the dull flash of lightning and eventually another low rumble of thunder, everyone in the class released breath no one was conscious of holding. There was a nervous murmur that ran through the class and everyone looked at Billford-sensei to continue their lesson.

Her face, however, had gone white as a sheet, her eyes wide with fear as she gazed fixedly out the window. One of her closest friends had been Mukai-Sensei, and it had been a terrible shock to see him killed in such a way. Hearing about little Clarissa taking her own life frayed her nerves further. She had hoped that returning to work would help, but th injured students, the empty desks in the staff room...

Swanson.jpg Swanson: Billford-Sensei? Sensei, are you alright?

She blinked and turned back to the class, her face lined with the stresses of someone quite a bit older than her thirty-some-odd years. She forced a smile back on her face and nodded to the class.

BillfordSensei.jpg Billford-Sensei: Yes, of course, Mr. Swanson.

She was immensely proud of how her voice didn't waiver when she spoke. She decided to ignore the skepticism on her students' faces and continue where she left off.

BillfordSensei.jpg Billford-Sensei: Anyways...

She paused and stared at the papers on her desk, suddenly completely lost. The moment she felt as though profound sadness would cause tears to overflow fro her eyes, a student popped up to save her.

Suzy.jpg Suzy: *small voice* Sensei, I think Haru just had an accident.

Haru, a boy about 5'8” with a small face and slight features framed by usually carefully sculpted black hair, shifted uncomfortably on his seat as Billford-Sensei strode towards him. The wet, squishing sound his pants made alerted the classroom to the contents of his bladder being pooled in his chair. There was a general leaning away from him by the surrounding students, and as the liquid fear dripped onto the floor, a pair of girls Kari knew and didn't like started giggling.

BillfordSensei.jpg Billford-Sensei: QUIET. IF I hear ANY gossip about this, if this boy suffers AT ALL at ANY of your hands, I will quite literally drag you by your hair to in-school and serve up a punishment so unbelievably harsh that you'll still be serving in your last year of college.

Her voice, while strong and steady, sounded nonetheless on the verge of hysterics. The students stared at her with a mix of fear and obediance. There were no further ripples from the class as she pulled Haru to his feet and began issuing orders.

BillfordSensei.jpg Billford-Sensei: Suzy, go to the office and get Ben or Harriet to come down here to clean up. Kari, finish reading through the rest of the new syllabus, there are notes on my desk to help explain. Come on, Haru, you can wear your gym uniform the rest of the day...

Billford-Sensei and Haru disappeared out the door after Suzy had run off, and everyone turned to Kari to finish carrying out her orders. Kari smirked at them and rose to her feet, unconsciously tugging the bottom of her shirt as thorugh to straighten it. She walked heavily to the front of the silent classroom, shoulders slumped under the burden of their silence.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Does anyone remember where we were?

Her question was half to herself as she stared at the papers lying on Billford-Sensei's desk. They were a jumbled mess that Kari was unable to sort out at her first glance. Thunder rumbled again, a bit louder this time, and the class reacted with nervous laughter. An uneasy silence followed, and all of Kari's classmates looked to her hoping that she would rescue them from the weight of it. And then, finally, Kari smiled.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: You know, I was totally not paying attention to this at all.

Her admission earned a smattering of laughs.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: But it does look like it'll be easier until graduation, we don't have to do the big report...

Kari's voice trailed off and she sighed, leaning heavily on the desk.

There was some commotion at the back of the room as Suzy hobbled back in with Ben, one of the school's two full-time cleaning staff members. He was an older man, an American veteran who had fought years before in lands far, far away. He smiled sadly and went about cleaning up the mess, a mess not even close to being the worst he'd ever seen, and Suzy went back to her seat.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Well, anyways, it should get easier from here on out.

Kari's words held a bit of extra meaning for the class, and the tension drained from the room to be washed away by the rain that had begun to fall.

NMUSpidey

MPHS2.jpg

Mt. Plains High School, home of the Foresters, lunchtime. Just imagine that the gym to the left of the school is half destroyed. :D

Kellen.jpg Kellen: *pitifully* I'm sorry, Nina. If I had known she was gonna do stuff like this, I'd've, I don't know, I'd've...

Nina tried to smile back despite hating his always-sorry reaction.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kellen, don't worry about it. It's like I've been telling you, it's not your fault about what crazy does. It's like, working out nicely anyways. I'm not sitting here by myself anymore, and I'm not forced to sit with Tory and them out of obligation. Trust me, it's better this way.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: Yeah...

Kellen still looked unhappy, and he stole a quick glance at Kana before giving Freddie a look that said he hoped his friend would pick up the coversation.

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: Apparently this morning, she had some kind of a fight with Anne and Beau. She even pushed Anne over. I don't think they're gonna be friends anymore. I can't believe Beau's over there sitting with her now.

The four exchanged looks in an effort to avoid getting caught looking over at Cassie. There was another moment of glum silence before Kana broke it, hoping to lighten the mood.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: So like, apparently Tsukino's spreading rumors about Cassie and Chrystal hanging out. She said that they're not as cute as you and Erisa were, but they look like a happy couple.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: She did not say that! You lie! You're a liar!

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hehehe, you know I wish I could make that up, but it's totally true, Sempai. Might be why there's no one dumping milk on your head right now.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *sheepishly* I'm trying to like, keep a low profile.

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: Is it really true you went out with that volleyball player?

Freddie's eyes sparkling with wonder behind his glasses.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *sighs, rolls eyes* I don't know if I'd've called it 'going out,' but...

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: *oblivious to Nina's reaction* Man, that is so hot, that volleyball player is so hot.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: It wasn't like that, Freddie. She's one of my closest friends. It wasn't like that.

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: Wow... And Kellen, don't you even dare even think about saying anything about what I just said in front of Anne.

He lived in mortal fear of his girlfriend, and was constantly walking on eggshells around her. She seemed to have a hair trigger and the smallest perceived slights had the potential to turn into a major fight. So Freddie was rightfully scared of her hearing about this particuar conversation.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: *big smile* Wow, Freddie, I don't know how you two haven't broken up by now, all the arguments you've had. Don't worry though, I won't tell.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Wow, is she that scary?

Kellen.jpg Kellen: Heh heh. Like you wouldn't believe.

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: *defensively* She's nice to me sometimes.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hahahaha, sometimes?? Look, I'm gonna give you some advice, some like, super-secret insider information. Dump her and make zero effort to contact her, even if you get lonely or feel bad. If she loves you and values your friendship, she'll eventually go after you, which is a win if you can somehow manage to use your nuts and keep standing up for yourself around her. If she never comes back then you're still better off because you're no longer being abused by a [expletive] and dumping that kind of a girl should be a confidence booster to get yourself a better girlfriend if, as with before, you can find and use your nuts.

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: Dump her? Dump Anne? Right now? After what happened this morning?

Freddie's mind was full of the white-hot heat of fear at the thought.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hahahaha, no, not now! Do it, I don't know, do if the next time she picks a fight, oo oo, I know! Be like, “You're mad about such a tiny little thing like this? I can't keep being yelled at over little things like this! I'm not gonna feel bad about something so insignificant!” And then just turn and walk away, don't look back and don't sulk, be like a cowboy walking off into the sunset, oh, that's a sexy image!”

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hehehe, jeez, Kana, if I didn't know any better I'd think you're totally, like, getting off on this!

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hahaha, shut up, Nina, keep your gross imagination to yourself! Look at Freddie, do you think he deserves to be abused by that girl? If it's who I think it is, she's not even close to being hot enough to act like that. Freddie, if you take any advice of mine at all, just take this: girls don't wanna be with guys they can't respect, who we can push around and make do whatever we want. Well, maybe some girls do, but they're [expletive] and you don't wanna have anything to do with them anyways! Now, that doesn't mean you can become like, an abusive jerk yourself, because that's not cool, either, but, you know...

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: So you think Anne abuses me?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *grave nod*

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: *at Kellen* Do you think so, too?

Kellen.jpg Kellen: Dude, she picks on all of us, I just figured it was her thing. But thinking about what Kana just said, I think she might have a point.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Just remember, boys, this is not a license to go off acting like popped-collar, frosty-haired jerks!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hehe, honestly, could you see either of these two acting like that?

Nina giggled with her, then watched in surprise as Kana's eyes linger *ever* so slightly on Kellen before looking back at Nina and responding.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Honestly, besides Tory or Kenji, I don't think there's anyone who can pull that look off.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: But- *touches high, stiff collar of uniform jacket innocently* All our collars are always popped.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hahaha, I wasn't talking about your gakuran!

Freddie and Kellen shrugged at each other in feigned confusion and earned another giggle from Kana. Nina smiled at them warmly, and they finished their lunch inside a little bubble of pleasantness in the tense atmosphere of the unusually quiet lunchroom.

NMUSpidey

MPHS2.jpg

School resumed two weeks after the battle with a strange, almost surreal atmosphere. Many students tried to act normal, but it was difficult to ignore the crutches and arms in slings and missing teachers and classmates. So there was a pensive, hushed quality to the day as everyone went about their business.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *quietly* Did you hear? Clarissa, she killed herself.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Clarissa?

Kari looked to Nina for clarification. Nina shrugged in return.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kana, I'm not entirely sure this is the type of gossip we should be engaging in.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I'm sorry, Sempai. *looks down in shame, nervously straightens the pleats of her skirt* It's just that she's not the only one, and they have doctors visiting to help us and the teachers.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Wait, I still don't know who Clarissa is.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Well, you know that boy Kei who Morning Angel killed?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *shuddering* Yeah, I was right there

Kana-1.jpg Kana: His girlfriend, she saw it happen right there, too. Two other students, a junior boy and a freshman boy, they couldn't handle it, either, and now there are some doctors, and I heard we are all gonna be interviewed one by one to make sure no one else does that, too.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Geez, Kana, how do you find this out?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *shrugs* I was a cheer girl. I just hear stuff, you know?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Was a cheer girl? So you and Ayumi really are quitting the team?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Yeah, Ayumi-Sempai can't cheer anymore, what with what happened, so we're gonna swim instead. After the whole Tsukino thing, the cheer team was kinda a strange place to be, so me and Ayumi-Sempai, we both thought it would be better to leave that bit of drama behind.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Wasn't Tsukino suspended from the team?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Yeah, but, well... You know Tsukino...

There was a brief lull in the conversation. Nina's face took on a guarded expression as Cassie and Beau walked by. Cassie shot a dirty look at Nina and her friends and then glowered at the far end of the hallway. Nina, Kari, and Kana all glanced at their backs and then exchanged uneasy looks before speaking again.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: They really don't like you, do they, Sempai?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hehe, well, to be fair I don't like them much, either. I really just wish we could just move past that, it just stinks to have that to deal with on top of like, everything else.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I wonder if they would still be like this is we were still in the in-crowd.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I don't think it would matter, really. I mean, Chrystal's reputation as a fighter didn't seem to stop Cassie, so I don't think it would really matter.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: And honestly, Kari, do you want to go back to that lifestyle? I know I don't, no way.

The three of them sighed, and then the bell rang to signal the looming start of the day.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Well, let's try to have a good day, okay?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Alright, we can do this.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Okay you two, let's go.

***

Cassie.jpg Cassie: I hate you, Beau, get away from me.

Beau-1.jpg Beau: All I said was-

Beau tried reasoning with her again, but she waved him off and turned away from him.

Beau-1.jpg Beau: God, Cassie, I'm just trying to help!

CassiesFriend-1.jpg Anne: Help her what?

Their friend Anne appeared next to Cassie's desk and eyed the couple curiously.

Beau-1.jpg Beau: Hey, Anne...

Beau addressed her glumly, but Cassie ignored her.

CassiesFriend-1.jpg Anne: Cassie, what's wrong?

Anne leaned over and tried to catch her eyes, but to no avail.

CassiesFriend-1.jpg Anne: Beau, what did you say to her?

Beau-1.jpg Beau: All I said was that it didn't look for sure that Nina's faking it and she flipped out!

CassiesFriend-1.jpg Anne: Nina again...

Anne sighed. She looked at Cassie again and thought about how bitter and angry her friend had been, especially since the figt nearly two months before. She had alienated or pushed away almost everyone she had been friends with through almost all of high school, the latest being Kellen, Jun, Suzy, and Anne's boyfriend Freddie. Beau and Anne were just about the only ones left who still stood by her.

CassiesFriend-1.jpg Anne: Cassie, I'm not gonna say this anymore, only this one time and I'll let it go: You really need to cnosider letting this go. We're all gradu-

Cassie.jpg Cassie: Anne, if you are gonna side with Beau and the rest of the pathetic losers in this godforsaken school, you can just [expletive] off, too. There are other people out there who aren't backstabbing [expletive]. I'll spend my time with them.

With that Cassie looked away from her two friends with an air of finality.

CassiesFriend-1.jpg Anne: Cassie, come on-

Anne put her hand on Cassie's shoulder, but Cassie slapped it away and leapt to her feet.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: Get away from me!

She shoved Anne as hard as she could, sending the girl sprawling backwards. Anne sat up on her elbows and looked at Cassie (who was already sitting) in shock. Beau helped pull her to her feet and they wordlessly sat in their seats behind the angry redhead...

***

Nina had completely tuned out her teacher as she sat in her Eastern History class. As the day progressed she found it easier and easier to ignore the slowly-waning pain of her still quite broken body. But she was two weeks into her healing and what had once been agony had been replaced by dull, ever-present aches. This was not what was occupying her mind, though.

Just before class, Cassie had confronted her in the hallway concerning the validity of her injuries. She found it odd that somebody would call into doubt the seriousness of someone's injuries in light of what had happened. She smiled to herself as the thought that even Marley hadn't done that floated through her mind. She replayed the scene in her mind once more, and wondered if their impasse would ever end...

Cassie.jpg Cassie: Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Huh?

Nina looked over to see Cassie impatiently, angrily (of course) approach her. Kari and Taro had not quite caught up to her yet, so she was alone.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: I think you're faking, and I'm not the only one.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What? You aren't serious, are you?

Nina hobbled back a step to gain herself some space.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: I want proof.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina! What's going on?

Kari ran the last few steps to back up her friend against Cassie.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: She's never going it alone again!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kari? Here, hold this.

Nina gingerly balanced herself on one crutch and handed the other to her confused friend. She pulled her shirt out of her skirt and hiked up the side to show Cassie the bold red slashes her broken ribs still left on the sides of her body.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: See, Cassie? That's a legitimate injury. Why do you even care? You already proved you can beat me up, just leave me alone.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: See, I know you're a manipulative, scheming little [expletive], and I-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Then fine, don't believe your own eyes. *carefully tucks shirt back in* I'm leaving the island for school in like, three months. I don't see why this even matters, you're never going to see me again in your entire life. This whole thing is stupid and it doesn't make any sense at all.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: It does matter, and you've been stealing friends all year long with your little plots, it's time someone stood up to you!

Cassie could barely contain the hatred she felt towards Nina, and was on the verge of shouting when she finished her sentence.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Look, I-

Nina gritted her teeth as she shifted around on her crutches in an effort to look more dignified in front of Cassie, but Kari stopped her, stepping between the girls and shooting a glare at Cassie.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Just forget about us, Cassie, get over it and move on. *turns towards Nina* C'mon, Nina, let's not waste anymore time on this.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: Hey, stop! This isn't over!

Cassie started after them, but was stoppedin her tracks by Taro. He had been holding back, not really interested in being involved in a girls' fight unless he absolutely had to.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: It is. Good bye.

Taro turned away from her, leaving her stunned staring at their backs as they disappeared into the crowded hallway.

So, sitting in class afterwards, Nina simply could not figure out how such a thing could happen. What did a person's life have to be like fo them to turn out that way? How much longer was she going to have to watch out for Cassie? The new rumor was the friendship between her and Chrystal blossoming in the wake of their battle two weeks prior. Did that mean that Nina would have to watch out for her, too? And why was everyone in class staring at her?

Iyono-Sensei.jpg Iyono-Sensei: Miss Stark.

Iyono-Sensei's tone made it apparent that this was not the first time her name had been called.

Iyono-Sensei.jpg Iyono-Sensei: Miss Stark?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ah-um.

Nina jerked to attention and suppressed the pain that accompanied such an action.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm sorry, yes, Iyono-Sensei?

Iyono-Sensei.jpg Iyono-Sensei: Miss Stark, do you need to see Nurse Piper? You don't look especially... healthy. We have some people in the offices to help this week, too.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No, I'm sorry, Iyono-Sensei. I'll do better, I feel fine, really.

She glanced around the class and her face burned red in embarrassment at the looks on her classmates' faces. Some were piteous, others were concerned, a few studiously avoided looking at her, but the ones who bothered her the most were the ones who stared at her out of morbid curiosity.

Iyono-Sensei.jpg Iyono-Sensei: Okay, Miss Stark, please try to follow along a bit better.

Iyono-Sensei smiled a smile intended to put Nina's mind at ease. Nina smiled meekly in return and made one more nervous glance around the room before sinking back in her seat to sheepishly take notes.

NMUSpidey

DefendersHQ.jpg

In the Defenders' HQ...

Carlos.jpg Carlos: So basically, we just need to know if you're on island or off island.

The Defenders' legal VP said with a friendly smile to finish his lengthy description of the legal issues facing them given their situation. Many countries Port Matthew had relations with required documentation of super-powered beings, but in cases such as Kari's where there was a desire to remain a civilian for the time being, there were loopholes the Defenders' lawyers were happy to exploit.

Karis%20dad_zps4c22d530.jpg Kari's Dad: You won't need her address or anything?

Carlos.jpg Carlos: No, Professor Wilson. This is a very delicate business we're in, so delicate, in fact, that we receive state funding to kelp keep us in the black.* As such, we need to keep paperwork and on-site digital information at the absolute minimum. Occasionally, this puts us at a military disadvantage, but it protects more or less defenseless civilians, so we accept that.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: You're not upset that we won't join?

Fearless.jpg Fearless: While in time we believe you could become a great asset to us, especially if we can teach you to control your ability, you are also just a teenage girl who doesn't play sports and who doesn't have a military background. You need to make your own choices in life. Something this important and this dangerous cannot be forced upon someone who is unwilling or unable to devote themselves completely to it. We are committed to defending PMers' freedom, and if we don't protect it amongst ourselves, what does that say to everyone else?

Drsomething.jpg Dr. Brooks: Of course, should you change your mind we will do our best to find you a place with us.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Hehe, well, I suppose I'll keep it in mind.

Carlos.jpg Carlos: Now Kari, whenever you renew your passport, ID cards, change your name, or get married, you must come here to file your paperwork. This is very important. Your personal information will have a special status and cannot be processed normally. Your friend's parents have the same status. Your parents, however, will not be subect to the same requirements. I would also advise you to keep the secret of your abilities to yourself. I would advise against establishing permanent residency off-island, as many nations would require full disclosure of super-powered beings living within their borders.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: So I can't travel abroad or go sightseeing?

Carlos.jpg Carlos: Friendly countries do not require travel visas, so you would not have to reveal yourself. Living off-island, however, even as a student, would require public disclosure of your gift.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Okay...

Drsomething.jpg Dr. Brooks: Thank you for allowing us to run our assessments today, Kari.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Yes, it is a shame we can't add you to our roster today, Kari. But we understand the circumstances. Good luck with school.

Kari and her parents exchanged good byes with the Defenders' leader and officials and were led away to meet Nina.

***

Nina took a moment to take in her surroundings, marveling at where she was.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: This is totally amazing. They're going to give me the food they eat, too! It's like I'm a Defender, too!

Eikyou motioned at a chair near the window looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows at East Bank.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Nina, please sit here. I'll be back in a moment with something to eat.

Nina smiled and nodded and then lowered herself painfully into the chair. She closed her eyes and sighed, then took a glance at East Bank. She closed her eyes once again, surprised at how good it felt to rest them. She laid her head back gently, deciding to take a momentary rest before the refreshments arrived. Consciousness quickly faded, though, and she was soon floating weightlessly in the void...

Victory.jpg Victory: So that's Professor Stark's daughter?

Victory stood with Pierce behind Eikyou who was setting a tray down on the small table in front of where Nina had fallen asleep.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Yes, it was her school that was attacked, and her friend talking with Fearless and Carlos right now.

The three of them looked at her for a moment, all painfully aware that that was not the face of a peaceful sleep.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: *sits on couch* She's hurt worse than she lets on. She's gotta be pretty tough, huh?

Victory.jpg Victory: *sits next to Pierce* I think she knows something about Hoshi-Hime, too. She was pretty agitated after this girl seemed to recognize her.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: They dated the same boy.

After the funny looks from her teammates she felt it necessary to defend herself.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: They're teenage girls, and when Kari, the blonde girl, is near me I can hear EVERYTHING.

Victory.jpg Victory: Should we wake her up?

Victory leaned forward to analyze the pained expression on Nina's face.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: She needs rest. I'll wake her in a few minutes.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Why did Professor Stark even let her come out here in the first place if she's injured this badly?

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: I do not think that anyone but Nina and maybe her doctors know. Any other girl her age would probably still be in the hospital right now, but she is certainly tough.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: She was in that accident last year, right?

Victory.jpg Victory: You remember that??

Pierce.jpg Pierce: *overly defensive* I'm a sensitive [expletive], Legs, I remember these things.

Victory.jpg Victory: Right, I am sure it had nothing to do with Professor Stark being rushed out of our meeting and his presentation being canceled.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: *shrugs* Coincidence.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Now try to be nice, I am going to try to wake her.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: *mumbles* Yeah, Legs, try to be nice.

Victory.jpg Victory: *mumbles back* I think she was talking to you.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: This is what I'm talking about, you getting all accusatory towards me, a perfect gentleman-

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Both of you, hush!

Eikyou shot them a glare and they both quieted down, although still maintained dirty looks at each other. Eikyou rolled her eyes and looked over at Nina. She concentrated for a moment and suddenly Nina woke with a start, blinking at the light pouring in through the window.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *CAREFULLY leans forward* Oh, wow! I love mugi-cha! And Chex Mix!

Pierce.jpg Pierce: It's like we have the power to read your mind.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh!

Nina's pain prevented her from jumping up in surprise, but she pulled herself back slightly as Pierce and Victory stepped towards her.

Victory.jpg Victory: I'm Victory and this is Pierce.

Victory extended her hand towards Nina. Nina braced herself to stand up, but felt Pierce's hands on her shoulders and heard his warm laughter.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Hahaha! No need to stand up for us!

He waited for a moment for Nina to shake Victory's hand then took his turn.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm, uh, Nina.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: *casually* That was a pretty awesome battle at your school the other day, wasn't it?

Victory.jpg Victory: Shut up, Pierce, you weren't even there!

Pierce.jpg Pierce: I was there in spirit.

His reply was mumbled around the mouthful of Chex Mix he had tossed into his mouth.

Victory.jpg Victory: You were lounging on some beach in Thailand on some ridiculous “bodyguard” duty for Juri!

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Hey, running security for that traveling circus is grueling work!

Victory.jpg Victory: Yeah, I'll bet it's so difficult to sit on a chair drinking muay thais all day long!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Are- uh...

Nina suddenly faltered as the three heroes' attention suddenlly fell upon her.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: *kind smile* Go ahead. We don't bite.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Hard.

Pierce grinned the sound of disgust that came from Victory.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *quietly* Are they, uh, like, uh, always like this?

Pierce roared with laughter at the question and Victory launched into her well-rehearsed favorite speech with which she always used to scold Pierce.

Victory.jpg Victory: See?! This is the kind of impression you make, Pierce! Aren't you embarrassed? Even a little? You act like such a child that even children are surprised and disappointed! You should be ashamed of yourself, Pierce! *crosses her arms, looks away*

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Everyday, Nina.

Eikyou was delighted to see a real smile lighting up the girl's face.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: She has that speech memorized perfectly.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: She, um, she said you were doing security for Juri's tour, right Mr. Pierce?

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Hah! Yeah, you can just call me Pierce. But yeah, I do that when PM VIPs go off-island. Makes the process smoother and more official when we're involved.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: So you know her? What's she like?

Nina was suddenly excited. Erisa had teased her for it, but she couldn't help liking the cheesy pop idol's “music.” Pierce decided to give his answer some real thought (for once).

Pierce.jpg Pierce: She's nice enough, I guess. She's pretty professional and she sings well enough. She doesn't joke around a whole lot, doesn't really attend any after-parties, doesn't drink, doesn't smoke. She puts her fans above everything else and it really makes my job tough because we have to watch all the fans all the time.

Victory.jpg Victory: You mean, you have your people watching everything.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: You're coming with me next month, Legs. Then we can fix that image of me you have in your head!

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: So Nina, tell me why you haven't told anyone how badly you're hurt.

Eikyou was quiet as Pierce and Victory continued their customary verbal sparring.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm not hurt that badly.

Nina avoided Eikyou's eyes and fidgeted with her shirt.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Nina, I know you can handle it, there's nobody who would say otherwise. Especially given your experiences over the last year. That doesn't mean it gives you license to block everyone else out and do it all on your own.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *sighs* I know, I know my friends and family care.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Besides, look who you're talking to. We've all been battered and beaten to within inches of our lives. No shame in telling us your injuries.

Victory.jpg Victory: It's very brave of you to try and protect your friend, too.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What, Kari? I just wanted to-

Nina looked confused. Kari was the one with the powers, after all. She just felt as though she was along for the ride.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: No, in the gym. We're veterans, we see it all.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh, you mean, Ayumi?

Nina was surprised anyone could see anything in the chaos of the gym that day.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: In battle, we have to see everything. So we notice things. Anyways, the original question remains as yet unanswered.

Nina looked at each of them. She saw concern on Victory's face, empathy on Eikyou's, and (predictably) amusement on Pierce's. She sighed and thought for a moment how to answer.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I already went through the whole terrible injury thing last year. I don't need people to worry about me like that. Everybody thinks I'm a drama queen anyways, and I don't wanna add to that reputation anymore.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Pff, all girls are drama queens.

Pierce laughed. At a look from Eikyou he leaned forward very seriously and said:

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Continue.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: So, okay, we're all like, drama queens, but whatever.

Nina sighed and looked at East Bank again and thought about last summer, compared it to this week.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I lost someone I loved very deeply last summer. That hurt like, way worse than any of my injuries. I didn't lose anyone this time, it's just physical pain, and that'll like, go away. It did last year.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: I was right, you are one tough chick.

Pierce smiled at her, earning a bright one from her in return.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: You'd make a kick-ass Defender.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *big smile* Oo, you think so?

Nina's eyes sparkled with happiness.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Stop thinking about Titus' armor, Nina.

Victory.jpg Victory: *sighs* You should be glad to have your teenage years free from all this chaos and nonsense, though. There's something to be said for normalcy, or at least what passes for it.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I don't know, I think I'd be totally willing to trade into it.

Nina's imagination was alight with the possibilities of powers.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: *half to herself* Everyone wants what everyone else has.

Her face went blank for a moment, and she looked over to Nina as she stood.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: The meeting is over, Nina. We will go now and meet them in the lobby.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh, already?

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Sorry, Nina. Fearless' orders.

Victory.jpg Victory: It was fun, Miss Stark.

Victory and Pierce helped her to her feet and settled her on her crutches.

Pierce.jpg Pierce: Definitely. Tell your dad we said hello and to try to keep his next speech or presentation down around like two to three minutes or so- OW!

Victory had clubbed him across the back of his head.

Victory.jpg Victory: That was incredibly rude, Pierce!

Pierce.jpg Pierce: So was that, Miss Manners!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Uh, it was like, nice to meet you, too.

Nina looked up at them timidly as they eyed each other hatefully over her head.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: This way please.

Eikyou swept Nina towards the exit and they could hear the pair continue their argument behind them. They stepped into the elevator and waited for the doors to close before speaking again.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *mumbles without thinking about it* They should just like, sleep together and like, get it over with.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: You think so, too, eh?

Eikyou surprised Nina with her comment.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh no, I said that out loud, didn't I?!

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Hahaha, do not worry, Nina. Titus and Cosmette have a running bet about it. It is just part of the team's dynamic. I can tell your group has had plenty of that go on as well.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, I suppose...

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Now from here on, are you going to be alright?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Of course I am, I get better every day.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Not just your body, but your stress as well.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah...

Nina didn't want to think about how difficult the past year had been and considered her weekend with Kana and Ayumi instead. It wasn't in her nature to be mopey and depressed all the time. She knew, however, that she would have to make a conscious effort to stay optimistic for a while, given her recent luck.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Well, if you need it, have your father schedule an appointment with me and I can help you. Defenders take care of their own.

Nina smiled happily at Eikyou as she stepped off the elevator and the doors closed, removing Eikyou from sight. The answer to Nina's question felt beamed directly into her ears.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Fearless ordered me to keep distance between me and your friend. I'll see you again someday! Gambatte!

Nina found her way back to the lobby and allowed herself to be carefully placed in the back of Kari's dad's Alfa Romeo sedan to re-join her family and their friends for home-made pizza dinner.

NMUSpidey

The Sensational Six #141

TheCliffsOverview.jpg

In a secure facility deep beneath the Defenders' HQ in The Cliffs...

Fearless.jpg Fearless: *into their heads* Turn it off, Eikyou, I don't need to know the thoughts of a pair of high school girls.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Uh...

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.jpg Fearless: *from the booth again* Okay, thank you, Eikyou. Go ahead.

Eikyou.jpg 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.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: So?

Kari looked at Eikyou expectantly.

Eikyou.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: But, I'm not any different from anyone else. Doctors have never said anything, and my life has been pretty much normal.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: You cannot access your power.

Eikyou leaned forward and looked at Kari as if she could see beneath her skin.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Maybe with training you could... really though, I suppose it is appropriate to say that you yourself are powerless.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: See? I'm not a super hero or anything-

Eikyou.jpg 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-7.jpg Nina: *mumbles* Or be abused.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Exactly.

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-7.jpg 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-5.jpg 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-7.jpg 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.jpg 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.jpg 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-7.jpg Nina: So you need to make sure she won't go crazy.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Something like that...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I'm not going to go crazy.

Eikyou.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: Nina, why do you look like that?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Look like what? Why do you look like that?

Nina sniffled slightly in her retort and cowered under Eikyou's gaze.

Eikyou.jpg 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-5.jpg 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.jpg Eikyou: *to no one in particular* So far so good.

Kari-5.jpg 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.jpg 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-7.jpg Nina: *quietly, hiding behind Kari* She spends more time with Taro, though. Wouldn't he have been a better choice?

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: How soon you forget.

Eikyou looked at Nina's small, wounded image and terrified her yet again.

Eikyou.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: Won't it need to be recorded somehow?

Eikyou.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: Okay, um, thank you?

Kari shrugged. She looked to Nina for support, but her friend appeared completely terrified.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: It's okay, Nina, just relax, nothing bad will happen to you.

Nina sniffled and nodded, but glanced fearfully at Eikyou.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *whispers* But she's so scary...

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: You have had bad luck recently.

Eikyou approached Nina, who backed away fearfully.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Let me help you.

Kari-5.jpg 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.jpg Eikyou: I helped you feel better.

Eikyou knelt in front of Nina. Her mask withdrew from her face and she smiled kindly.

Eikyou.jpg 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-7.jpg 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-7.jpg Nina: *trying to appear brave* Where are we?

Eikyou.jpg 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-7.jpg Nina: Was that Renna?

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Leave her to her own memories, Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm sorry...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: It's okay.

To all their surprise, however, almost every door in the hallway seemed to open at once.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Oh my god!

Eikyou.jpg 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.jpg Eikyou: Trust me, we all have memories like these.

At once, all the doors closed and Eikyou smiled at Kari.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: What happened? I feel so... dull...

Eikyou.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: Thanks, Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You're welcome, Kari.

Eikyou.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: What exactly are we looking for?

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: It is difficult to explain. It is different for everyone.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Um, what's different?

Nina managed to conquer her fear enough to ask Eikyou (who still righteously terrified her).

Eikyou.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: I haven't exactly lived a traumatic life...

Eikyou.jpg 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.jpg Eikyou: May I?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *hesitantly* I don't want to see what's behind this door...

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: I must see them.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I don't want to remember them.

Kari began shaking and backed away.

Nina-7.jpg 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-7.jpg 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.jpg Eikyou: You are a healthy enough girl.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Enough?

Kari looked totally calm, her face free of tears and the red puffiness that followed crying.

Eikyou.jpg 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.jpg Eikyou: She will be fine, Dr. Brooks, Fearless. I certify that we have ntohing to worry about at this time.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Is that it? Are the assessments done?

Drsomething.jpg 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.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: Thank you, Eikyou.

Kari stopped at Nina's chair and helped her get situated on her crutches.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I'll see you soon, okay, Nina?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah.

Nina did her best to avoid looking hurt.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Are you okay? You want my mom or dad to stay with you?

Nina-7.jpg 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-5.jpg Kari: Is she upset about you being here?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I avoided her this morning, but your parents teased me about her the whole way here this morning.

Kari-5.jpg 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.jpg Eikyou: *friendly smile* Nina, would you like to see our clubhouse?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Clubhouse?

Eikyou.jpg 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...

NMUSpidey

The Sensational Six #140

Boutiques.jpg

Deep beneath Defenders' HQ...

Kari sat at a plain metal table on a surprisingly comfortable chair in an underground chamber that felt as if it extended into forever in every direction. Across from her sat Titus, the mask of his armor lifted up to reveal the handsome, narrow face of a man not much older than herself. He was peering at a hand-held device that must not have been giving him the results he expected, given the look of consternation on his face. He sighed and looked to his left (Kari's right) and waved it at Nina who immediately grinned and trembled in excitement at being included in their testing of Kari. His mask whirred and clicked shut and he looked at the pair of girls before standing up and walking towards the area where the exit would be.

Titus.jpg Titus: I can tell there's something there, but it doesn't seem to register electronically.

The eternal space around them faded and four shiny metal walls appeared, giving the still quite large room definite dimensions.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: *booming overhead* Victory. You and your little friends are up.

Hoshi%20Hime_zps25e834ad.jpg Hoshi-Hime: Little? We're all taller than this blonde schoolgirl you're all so concerned with!

The leader of the Cosmic Princesses, Hoshi-Hime, led her two companions plus Victory in, pointedly ignoring Titus who was on his way out. Nina watched them walk by, thrilled to have a chance to see Port Matthew's newest heroes up close.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Is it Serena? I'll bet it's Serena!

Hoshi-Hime felt Nina's eyes on her and glanced over, intending to merely look down her nose to cow the short, dark-haired girl into humility, but their eyes met and their faces lit up in recognition of each other.

Hoshi%20Hime_zps25e834ad.jpg Hoshi-Hime: Can you get this wide-eyed schoolgirl outta here? She's creeping me out!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hey-

Nina cut herself off (aided by her physical pain) and gritted her teeth in silence.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Hoshi-Hime, you are here as a guest of the Defenders. As such, you must afford other guests the same courtesies afforded you.

Hoshi%20Hime_zps25e834ad.jpg Hoshi-Hime: *nods sullenly*

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Miss Stark, please be seated.

A plush, comfortable looking chair materialized from the floor behind her, and she slowly, carefully lowered herself into it. From there she watched the proceedings curiously.

As Hoshi-Hime and the two as-yet unidentified girls in matching uniforms approached Kari, they appeared to glow ever brighter with each step. Upon reaching the table, they were positively shimmering in the middle of the room, causing Kari and Nina to squint against the shine.

Hoshi%20Hime_zps25e834ad.jpg Hoshi-Hime: Wow... Nebula, do you feel that?

Nebula_zps51956209.jpg Nebula: *studies Kari very closely through a blue eye shield, nods absentmindedly*

Fusion_zps9782e0d4.jpg Fusion: Hoshi, I feel like if she's standing next to me I could vaporize everything.

Flames licked the air around her, dancing with her long, black hair and short, red skirt. She walked to within a step of Kari and leaned over to take a closer look at her face, but Kari jerked away as if bitten.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *jumping out of chair away from Fusion* Hot! You're too hot!

Nebula_zps51956209.jpg Nebula: Fusion, it's fine, she's just a high school girl, you don't need to get that close to her.

The blue shield vanished from her face. She brushed a lock of her short hair from her face and made a motion sending cool blue energy between Kari and Fusion, and Kari cautiously took her seat.

Nebula_zps51956209.jpg Nebula: I don't think we're prepared to handle this kind of power.

Victory.jpg Victory: *to her similarly-garbed companions* Hoshi-Hime, I think this is what Eikyou was talking about. *at the booth overhead* Fearless, are you getting any readings on this?

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Hm...

Fearless could be heard in a muffled conversation with someone else in the booth, but no one could make out any words. There were a few moments of silence as the four super girls stood separate from Kari and Nina awkwardly, and then Fearless spoke again.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Okay, Hoshi-Hime, get your people out of there. Thank you for your time. Victory, please come up here.

Victory.jpg Victory: Yes, sir.

Victory quickly began moving, but stopped at the sound of Hoshi-Hime's irritated voice.

Hoshi%20Hime_zps25e834ad.jpg Hoshi-Hime: What? That's it? We powered up just to be paraded in front of these two schoolgirls for five minutes?!

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Hoshi-Hime, I will remind you of your position here this last time.

Fearless' voice had an air of finality to it and again, Hoshi-Hime slumped and nodded in resignation.

Hoshi%20Hime_zps25e834ad.jpg Hoshi-Hime: I'm supposed to be leader, this is supposed to be my team. *looks at Nina, eyes narrowed, as she walks out* You keep quiet, schoolgirl.

Nina nodded earnestly and mimed locking her lips closed. Hoshi-Hime rolled her eyes and followed her teammates out, complaining the whole way. Nina looked at Kari who laughed and rolled her eyes at the scene.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Okay, two more tests, then afterwards we'll need to talk to you and your parents. Professor Stark's daughter will have to wait elsewhere at that time, I'm afraid.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina, will you be okay by yourself?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Huh? Me? Yes, don't worry! We're in Defenders' HQ!

Cosmette walked in and before she took more than two steps past the doorway she stopped in surprise.

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: Whoa... I only felt a little bit of it when I flew past her on Monday, but the power surge is just, well, it's sensational...

Drsomething.jpg Dr. Brooks: Any inklings as to its origins?

This voice sounded as though its owner were an older British man.

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: It feels... I'm not sure how to say this...

Cosmette walked to the table and picked it up, balled it up as though it were paper and tossed it to the floor where it landed with a loud, heavy clang in front of Kari who was not bothering to hide the shock she felt.

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: Tank.

An M1A1 battle tank materialized a few meters away from the girls, and she smiled at Nina and said:

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: You're definitely going to love this.

She pointed her palms at the tank, and beams of golden cosmic power tore through the air and reduced the tank to thin air, not even a shred remaining afterwards.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Wow!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Oh my god!

Kari had recoiled in fear and stared at the smoking, charred metal carcass with wide eyes.

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: You need anything else, Fearless?

Fearless.jpg Fearless: How do you feel?

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: Like I could handle the Hulk. And Superman. At the same time.

Drsomething.jpg Dr. Brooks: And the girl? What do your senses tell you of her?

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: Hm... *studies Kari for a moment* I think her power is cosmic. Somewhere, somehow along the line, there was some kind of... cosmic coincidence or event... Maybe it happened to her parents and she got their gift...

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Thank you, Cosmette. Please meet Titus on the roof and then proceed as usual to Mt. Plains.

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: Yes, Fearless. Thank you.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Okay, here is your final test.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Haha, you keep saying test, but I haven't had to do anything.

Drsomething.jpg Dr. Brooks: Yes, you raise a good point. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say experiment. Or better yet, assessment. Yes, assessment. We'll go with that.

There was a moment of silence, and then a burst of thoughts between their ears as Eikyou entered the room. The final assessment was about to start...

NMUSpidey

The Sensational Six #139

DefendersHQ.jpg

Meanwhile, at JR East Headqu- wait, that's not right. Let's try again: Meanwhile, at a secure facility operated by The Best Defense (Defenders' official name, can't be stealing a copyright now, can I?) in the posh Cliffs area of Port Matthew...

Kari moaned and carefully opened her eyes. She didn't recognize the room she was in, nor could she figure it out by her surroundings. It had the feeling of at once an expensive hotel room and a hospital room. She glanced around again, a bit more closely this time, and saw someone she knew slumped awkwardly in the chair next to her bed.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina!

Nina woke with a start and blinked when she saw Kari awake.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Huh?! Oh Kari! You're awake, finally! *looks around, suddenly confused* Wait, where are your parents?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: What? How would I know? *looks around again* Where am I?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh my god, Kari, you're not gonna believe this...

Nina leaned forward (wincing slightly) and readied to share a secret.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You're in the Defenders' Headquarters! They think you have some kinda powers. I've been waiting with your parents for you to come around. My dad had to call in some major favors for me to be here, your parents, too. They should be here, somewhere...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Defenders' Headquarters? How- uh, how long have I been out?

Kari felt sore all over, and it was difficult to move, but she could tell there were no casts or braces, so no broken bones.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Maybe...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh, um, how long? Uh...

Nina's face took on an unsure look and she glanced cautiously at the door.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *angrily* Nina, just spit it out already!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *softly, looking down* Four days. I wasn't supposed to tell you.

Kari followed her friend's eyes down to her feet and was surprised to see her right foot encased in a metal and plastic boot. Crutches were propped up next to her chair, and unless she had gained twenty pounds in four days she must have been wearing some kind of chest support.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Four days? It's Thursday? Nina, what happened to you? Are you alright? You have to take care of yourself!

Kari was starting to piece together what must have been happening since the attack at their school.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, they wanted to do some tests, but... I don't know... I'm totally jealous. Also, I'm not gonna lie to you, you're my oldest friend!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Uh, okay. What about you, though? You look awful!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Me? Oh! Haha, I look like I got hit by a truck again, don't I? When Titus crashed, something in his armor exploded which caused everyone to be thrown around. I broke my ankle and a buncha ribs (all the ones that didn't break last year hahah!) and just about every part of my body is bruised. I look like a paint-by-numbers sunset!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Heh, well, I'm glad to see you're taking it well. What about the others? What about Taro?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: They're all okay. Taro had surgery yesterday, but it went fine. Erisa will spend most of the summer rehabbing and strengthening her legs or something for volleyball. Dan-O and Momo are fine, just bruised, well, Momo dislocated her shoulder, but probably won't have a sling after a few more days or something, I can't really remember what she said. I was with Ayumi. She's not doing as well...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: That's terrible...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, I'm gonna go see her again, me and Kana.

Weak, weary smiles were traded between them, and as they sighed and leaned back, the door opened and Kari's parents entered the room. Kari's dad, Travis Wilson, was a professor at PMU and taught history with Nina's dad (although his specialty was the Roman Empire instead of the Far East). Kari more closely resembled her mom Laurie, a pretty, still-mostly-blonde woman who held a position as a part-time researcher at Howards International. Nina was as much a part of the Wilsons as Kari was a part of the Starks.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: *relieved* Oh! You're awake! They told us not to worry, but when your daughter isn't waking up...

Karis%20dad_zps4c22d530.jpg Kari's Dad: How do you feel?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I hurt a bit, but I feel fine.

Kari then glanced at Nina who was looking down again, a dark expression on her face.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Better than Nina, by the looks of it!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Huh? *looks up, puts on strained smile* I'm like, fine!

Karis%20dad_zps4c22d530.jpg Kari's Dad: Nina, why don't you let me take you home? You've slept in that chair for almost as long as Kari's been here! I know your mom and dad want to take care of you, too.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm okay, really, I'm fine. I'm healing.

Nina shifted carefully in her chair.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: *sternly* Well, now that Kari's awake and you got to talk to her, it's time to take care of yourself. Kari'll be fine with us, and you can come back tomorrow when you've had some more rest.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: But they're going to do tests! Kari's gonna be a superhero! She needs my moral support!

She let out a labored breath and braced herself with her arms in her chair.

Karis%20dad_zps4c22d530.jpg Kari's Dad: Hahaha, Nina, it doesn't work that way. They're not even sure it's her. Besides, just having some kind of special ability doesn't automatically allow you to join the team. Background checks, full psyche evaluations, power limit testing, training, and that's not even close to being everything. And first, Kari has to decide what she wants on her own.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh my god, Kari!

Nina was on her feet (well, foot anyways), and immediately cringed in pain, regretting her decision to bolt upright.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ooooow, wait...

Kari's dad quickly moved to support the girl, and then reached for her crutches.

Karis%20dad_zps4c22d530.jpg Kari's Dad: Alright Nina, let's go. You need your rest, too.

Nina opened her mouth to protest, but the only sound to escape was a painful moan. Her eyes glassed over with tears and she did her best to avoid crying.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: *delicately* Go on, Nina. You can come back tomorrow or the day after. Kari is in good hands.

Nina proudly kept her tears in check and nodded forlornly. She accepted the crutches from Kari's dad and he started leading her out of the room.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina! I'll make sure you're here before they do their tests.

She felt better when Nina smiled through her pain and looked at her parents and said,

Kari-5.jpg Kari: It'll be nice to have the moral support.

Karis%20dad_zps4c22d530.jpg Kari's Dad: Hahahah, I'll be back again after I get Nina home. I'll talk to Ririko and Charles about tomorrow and we'll make sure she's here. Bye you two!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Bye Kari, Laurie, and thank you.

Nina leaned on one crutch and waved.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Bye Nina, see you tomorrow!

Once they were gone, Kari sighed and looked at her mom.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: It was bad, wasn't it? At the school, I mean.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Yes. *looks away, hesitates* I won't lie to you, it was bad. I don't think the island has had an attack like that in years. At your school, 16 students and Connor-Sensei and Mukai-Sensei were killed.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I saw Morning Angel kill Mukai-Sensei right in front of my eyes. Me and Dan-O and Momo, we were all right there. She was a hero...

Kari felt more tired than frightened or shocked, but still couldn't stop a few stray tears from streaking slowly down her cheeks.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina, she looks like she got hurt pretty bad again, too.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Yes, but she seems to know how to handle it, we're all worrying about you right now.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I... I'll be fine, I think. I want Nina to be fine, too. What are they doing about classes?

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Titus and Cosmette have been helping the construction crews all week. It's closed through next week to make sure the buildings are safe. There's going to be a memorial service for the, um, for the...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: The dead?

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: The victims. It's on Saturday.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I don't think I want to go...

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: That's fine, no one will make you go.

Her mom smiled and patted her knee. They exchanged sad smiles and sighed.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: How long was Nina here?

She found it inexplicably difficult to focus on one subject for more than a few moments.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Oh, since, uh, yesterday morning. It took Charles that long to get her the security clearance. She spent Monday night in the hospital, and when she found out she couldn't see you she cried most of Tuesday. She did visit another girl, she told us, but I don't remember meeting her.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Ah, Ayumi the cheer team captain.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Taro was asking about you, too.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Oh, I wish he was here...

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Charles couldn't get him cleared, but you'll be out of here soon enough. He had surgery yesterday.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: That's what Nina said. Why? Is he okay?

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: He broke his nose, so they needed to fix something inside, but I'm not entirely sure what. Remi knows more about it than I do.

Remi was Taro's mom, and she worked as a nurse in the West Mt. Plains Clinic.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *smiles* I'd still love him even with a broken nose.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Hahaha, he's a good boy, we would, too. We like him so much better than that other boy from last year.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Haha, let's not talk about him!

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Alright, but I will say that you are lucky to have Nina with you all the time. You two have taken very good care of each other.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Yeah, it's thanks to her that I met Taro. That seems like forever ago...

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Yes, thanks to her, definitely.

Kari's mom was happy the conversation turned to something lighter than the attack.

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: *reaches for call button* Well, we are supposed to let them know when you wake up, so let's call them and see what they have in store for you.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Once Nina gets back. I wasn't lying to her, Mom!

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Lie to Nina? I wouldn't dream of it! Plus, Riri would have a fit!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Hahaha, she so totally would!

Karis%20mom_zps4e687eac.jpg Kari's Mom: Now, let's talk with them, at least.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Okay.

NMUSpidey

The Sensational Six #138

AttackMPHS.jpg

Kari, Dan-O, and Momo huddled together with a group of their classmates across the street from the school. The battle continued to rage over the gym, although now that they were removed from the middle of it, it had taken on a rather abstract quality and they watched in wonder as colorful blasts of light tore through the smoke.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I hope I never have to go through this again...

Kari glanced around their still chaotic surroundings, mulling over what being called “special” meant.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Yeah, this was definitely the most pants-crappingly scary thing I've every experienced...

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Pants-crap?

Momo still shook like a leaf (and favored her injured shoulder) but was slowly regaining control over her senses.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Yeah, uh, when... Uh, when people are scared they poop in their pants.

Dan-O was trying to match up the ridiculousness of having to explain that with the incredible danger they were still in the presence of.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Crap can mean poop.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Really? I don't think Japanese poop in our pants when we are scared...

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: How's your shoulder?

He found himself suddenly, inexplicably uncomfortable with the conversation.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: *coldly* I don't want to think about the shoulder.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: You should see the EMTs.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Yes, EMTs...

Suddenly, there was a massive explosion, and everyone found themselves in the unfortunately now-familiar position of lying in pain on the ground. Golden light poured from the monster, obliterating the smoke. A second, less-powerful explosion rocked the earth and a familiar, if long since gone figure slammed into the ground near the group of people with whom Kari and Dan-O and Momo stood.

Mukai-Sensei.jpg Mukai-Sensei: Morning Angel! She's one of the old Defenders!

He ran towards her followed by two students to help the golden-haired, angel-winged ex-Defender to her feet.

Mukai-Sensei.jpg Mukai-Sensei: She saved us! You saved us, Morning An-

The crowd of evacuees gasped in horror at the sight of a beloved former Defender reaching up and vaporizing the teacher for seemingly no reason.

MorningAngel.jpg Morning Angel: I hate that name. The power...

She looked at her forearms and they pulsed with horrible golden power.

MorningAngel.jpg Morning Angel: I've never felt so powerful...

She scanned the crowd once again and aimed her hands at the two underclassmen who had followed Mukai-Sensei and vaporized them as well.

Girl in Crowd (sorry, no face for her, poor lass): Kei-kun!

MorningAngel.jpg Morning Angel: I am so powerful!

She prepared to launch herself into the crowd to continue her massacre.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: So are we.

Fearless' voice sounded in their heads and Cosmette slammed savagely into Morning Angel, knocking her as far from the students as her momentum could manage. Gaining the upper hand, she began pummeling the former Defender with her tiny, shiny metal fists. The rest of the Defenders rushed to help, Titus, Victory, and three girls dressed similarly to Victory piled on Morning Angel with Cosmette while Fearless stood back to guard the students.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Be careful of her hands. Those golden blasts of hers are obviously lethal. Eikyou, do something about that blonde girl. I can hear EVERYTHING again.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: *defensively* It's that girl! I can't help it!

Titus.jpg Titus: *breathlessly* I thought that if we knocked her out of that black cloud she'd be back to normal! What the hell is this, Hoshi-Hime?

Hoshi%20Hime_zps25e834ad.jpg Hoshi-Hime: How was I supposed to know she was evil?? Your files said she was a good guy!

Fearless.jpg Fearless: *regretfully* She was, but we didn't part on good terms...

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: You could say that...

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou:You, come with me.

Eikyou somehow appeared at Kari's should and before anyone even registered it they had vanished.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: What's going on? What's special about me?

Kari was scared, she had never seen death so close in her entire life, and now she was being whisked away to god knows where with a ninja telepath.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou:I need you to try what I'm going to try...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: What are we going to try?

Eikyou smiled and then closed her eyes when they appeared within a few yards of the fight, hidden and safe behind cover, of course. Kari watched anxiously, then felt her head fill with fuzz. Slowly, the sensation built to a roar and before too long she was in pain. The pain mounted quickly, dropping her to her knees, her hands on her head, and then to the ground, curled up in immense pain, unable to scream over the intense, deafening, excruciating roar between her ears. The pain and the roar continued to intensify and she felt as though her body was going to give up, explode into a million million pieces, something she would have welcomed if only to end her suffering.

And then it stopped. She relaxed her body with some difficulty and opened her eyes. Eikyou laid next to her, unconscious. The Defenders stood nearby, looking down at what must have been Morning Angel with an air of sadness about them. The students and teachers had been rushed further away by the Power Unit, and Kari felt alone in that horrible moment. She slowly sank back to the ground and in her exhaustion, embraced the blackness of sleep...

NMUSpidey

The Sensational Six #137

AttackMPHS.jpg

Dan-O, Kari, and Momo exchanged uneasy looks at their position against the folded up bleachers. They were far from any exit, and when the roof was peeled back they were petrified, frozen to that spot.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: What's gonna happen to us? Are we gonna die? Is this it?

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: *failing at confidence* We won't die. The Defenders will save us. They always save us...

Momo-6.jpg Momo: 死にたくないわ~... [shinitakunaiwa.../I don't wanna die...]

Momo closed her eyes and whimpered into Kari's and Dan-O's chests. This is how they were cowering together when Titus hit the floor and the shockwave bounced them off the bleachers.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: I wish I couldn't feel anything... Dan-O? Momo? Are you guys okay?

Before they could answer, their eyes were drawn towards the center of the gym where the monster was reaching not for Titus, but for-

Kari-5.jpg Kari: That's Nina!

She ignored her pain and leaped to her feet and started running towards Nina. She was stopped before she took more than a few steps by an arm across her chest and a stern voice that felt pumped directly into her brain.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: Those two will be fine. Stay with your friends, you need each other to get to safety.

Kari looked over to see Eikyou holding her back.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Her lips didn't move...

Kari thought in wonder. She heard (or perhaps more accurately felt) Fearless issue his orders. Kari wanted to protest against Eikyou, but was immediately calmed when she saw Cosmette swoop Nina and another girl to safety.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: You have powerful feelings for her. She is lucky to have such a friend. Now, get back to those two...

Eikyou gently nudged Kari back towards Dan-O and Momo who were watching remarkably passively, and she staggered back as the ground danced beneath her again.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina will be fine. Dan-O, Momo, are you alright?

Kari winced in pain as she knelt next to her friends and had a pang of worry about Taro.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: I think so, yeah.

Dan-O gritted his teeth and stood up with considerable effort.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: 肩が。。。ウァァ~。。。イッテ~。。。 [Kata ga... uwaa... itteh.../My shoulder, urgh, it hurts...]

Momo had tears of pain pouring down her cheeks and clutched her right arm with her left.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: 動ける? 行ける? [ugokeru? Ikeru?/ Can you move? Can you go?]

Momo-6.jpg Momo: 死にたくない~! [shinitakunai!/ I don't wanna die!]

Kari put herself right in Momo's face and used her hands to force the scared girl to look at her.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: We have to move, Momo. We have to get out of here.

The monster roared and energy rocked the gym around them. The walls creaked and moaned from the strain of battle, and lighting fixtures and electronics were falling from the still-intact portion of the roof to a now-abandoned portion of the gym floor. There were few other people left in the gym.

Titus.jpg Titus: [blasphemy]...

The three could hear Titus growl, and a few feet away from them the wall exploded outwards giving them a clear exit out.

Titus.jpg Titus: Get out, little kids!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Little kids?!

Kari looked around the gloomy gym for Titus but he was nowhere to be found.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Come on you two, let's go! What a jerk!

Titus.jpg Titus: If I'm a jerk, then you guys are complete idiots for staying in the middle of a war zone with no powers or protection!

Titus' retort seemed beamed directly into Kari's brain, as well as Dan-O's and Momo's.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Hey! That's no-

Fearless' crystal clear voice suddenly boomed in Kari's (everyone's, really) ears.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Stop thinking at those students and get outside to help with evac! Eikyou, I know your limitations, but can you please try to tone it down a bit more? All I can hear is that blonde girl shouting in my head!

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: It's not me...

Eikyou's voice sounded (felt?) embarrassed and reluctant.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: She's special, I think...

Kari's shock at the words stopped her in her tracks just outside the hole in the gym wall and she whirled around back towards the gym.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Special!? What do you mean, special?! *waits a moment for a response* Hey! What do you mean?! Hey!

But there was no answer but another rumble.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: *grabs Kari's arm* Kari! Come on, we gotta go!

Momo-6.jpg Momo: The wall, Kari! The wall!

Kari looked up and saw how the wall was leaning, as if it were ready to crumble, and she turned to her friends to go, stumbling over the rubble towards the green, green grass next to the parking lot.

Kari-5.jpgDan-O-3.jpgMomo-6.jpg Where are Nina, Taro, and Erisa?

***

Erisa laid trapped under the weight of the school's gymnastics mats that fell on her when Titus hit the ground. The impact knocked her sideways, and before she could pick herself up off the ground, the supports overhead gave way and she was trapped.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: *angrily* They left me behind!

She could feel and wiggle her toes beneath the weight of the mats, but when she tried to pull free there was only pain. No one was near her. It was dark. The ground continued to rumble and she could faintly hear Fearless' orders being issued to his teammates. Erisa couldn't reach the top mat to push them off one by one, and any amount of straining or bracing for leverage shot pain throughout her body. She could push through pain, as evidenced by her play after twisting her ankle in their Championship match. She had secretly spent most of the next week icing it. But this was different. This was beyond the physical capabilities of her body and after one more unsuccessful push, she flopped down and cried.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: I'm stuck here... I'm going to die here alone... No one knows where I am...

Eikyou's voice felt pumped directly into her mind.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: We know. Please calm down. Your friends are looking for you.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Wh-what?

Erisa wiped the tears from her eyes and embraced the pleasant tranquility that wrapped itself around her like a warm blanket.

Titus.jpg Titus: Here.

Erisa saw Titus descend gracefully from above and in one smooth, effortless motion fling the mats away from the small volleyball player.

Titus.jpg Titus: Can you walk?

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: I...

Erisa moved one leg just fine, but upon attempting to bend her right knee cried out in pain.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Argh! No!

Titus nodded and silently, carefully, lifted her in his powerful metal arms. He arced into the air and she heard him curse and fire some kind of blast, and then there was an argument with a voice that sounded surprisingly familiar.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: What? Was that Kari? What did she mean, “special?”

Titus.jpg Titus: Let's worry about that if we survive today, champ.

Erisa somehow knew he was smiling behind that mask.

Titus.jpg Titus: Sounds like the girl's name is Kari Wilson. You get that, Eikyou?

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: That and more. That girl's thoughts were so loud we're lucky can maintain our links at all.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Drop the girl off with her friends and stay out there to help with the evac. I think we're nearly done in here. Looks like Victory's friends are here. Let's hope they don't screw this up.

Titus.jpg Titus: I understand.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Do you know where my friends are?

They raced by the smoke monster and began descending toward the lawn.

Titus.jpg Titus: You'll be reunited soon enough. Ambulances from all over are being routed here so you and your classmates will be taken care of. Stay here. You are defended.

Again, Erisa felt his smile and then looked down upon hearing yet another familiar voice.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Erisa! Titus saved you?!

Nina wanted desperately to jump up and hug Erisa and shake Titus' hand but was in far too much pain. So instead she beamed up at them and waved.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Nina, I'm so happy to see you!

Erisa felt tears fill her eyes at the memory of being trapped as Titus set her down with surprising gentleness next to Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Me too!

Titus.jpg Titus: You two take care of each other.

Titus looked at them, then blasted quickly away back in the general direction of the school in the most showy way the armor could manage. Then, they saw Taro smiling weakly as he hobbled up through the thin crowd.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Somehow I knew if I followed the super-heroes I'd find Nina! Is that Ayumi?

Ayumi groaned again and stirred at the sound her fer name where she laid next to Nina, and Erisa noticed her for the first time.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Uua~... Mom? Noble?

Ayumi's voice was little more than a whisper and her eyes stayed closed.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ayumi, it's Nina! It's me!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Nina... She's not a cheer girl. She is a straight arrow nerd...

Nina looked at Ayumi with a blank face, obviously perturbed.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Well, you are.

Ayumi's eyes fluttered open and she squinted at Nina in confusion.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Nina? Where am I? We were just... I can't remember...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: We're outside, near the gym-

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: The gym? The gym? But... *closes eyes, winces in pain* It hurts, Nina, everything hurts...

And her eyes stayed closed.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *panicking* Ayumi! Open your eyes! You have to stay with us!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Ooooo...

Ayumi moaned but kept her eyes clenched shut.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ayumi! Ayumi!

Nina's voice was ragged as she and her friends watched Ayumi anxiously. After a tense moment, she opened her eyes a little and released an uneven breath.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: イッテ~。。。[itteh/It hurts...]

She hissed through clenched teeth, looking helplessly up at Nina and Erisa and Taro. Just then the red and yellow cylinder lit up and an ambulance pulled up near them on the grass.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Oh thank god, the ambulance.

Taro stood up to greet the EMTs.

AmbulanceDriver3.jpg EMT #3: Immobile? Unconscious?

Taro-5.jpg Taro: The three girls here, they can't move. I'm alright, I guess, but them...

AmbulanceDriver3.jpg EMT #3: Okay, there are an awful lot of wounded here, so we have to double and triple up. We don't want to inure you worse, so let's do our best to cooperate.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yes, ma'am.

Nina was thankful they were about to be removed from the horrible danger...

NMUSpidey

The Sensational Six #136

*NOTE: If I had been able to upload the EMTs' pictures tonight, they would be a pair of actors from a now-canceled NBC show from a couple years ago, but Photobucket kept giving me an error, so I couldn't, so you just get names. Sorry! If I can upload them later, this will be rectified, but for now it doesn't especially take away from the story anyways, so here we go! And yes, this is really, seriously happening!

AttackMPHS.jpg

Nina was dazed as she tried to pick herself up from the floor. There were students scattered across the gym ahead of her, having been knocked down same as Nina from the crash. Her body throbbed with terrible, sharp, but (worst of all) familiar pain all over as she tried to rise to her hands and knees to take a better look at how her surroundings had changed. She saw Ayumi next to her, lying lifelessly on her back. A whooshing sound made her look back to see Titus rising from the source of the crash to re-engage the monster.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Must have been him hitting the ground...

Nina watched him rise and had a passing thought about how strange it seemed that the monster didn't appear to care. It ignored the armored Defender in favor of reaching down with a smoky, black limb towards her and-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ayumi!

Nina blocked out the pain and threw herself over her new friend and tried to wake her up.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ayumi? Come on, get up...

Nina closed her eyes tightly and cringed atop the cheer girl and waited fearfully for their fate.

Instead, she felt the atmosphere change around her and felt her body fill with that strange, warm calmness from before the crash. She opened her eyes and saw Fearless standing over them, his glowing, green shield protecting them from the very agitated-looking monster overhead.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: Titus, disengage, our primary objective right now is the safety of the students and teachers. Cosmette, see to these girls here, Victory, where are your friends?

Nina could hear Fearless' orders fill her head with crystal clearness and wondered in amazement how he could make his voice do that. She watched him fire a green energy bolt at the monster and almost instantly the shiny, metal-skinned Cosmette was next to her. She was amazed at the small size of the most powerful Defender, appearing to be no more than 14 years old or so.

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: You and your friend look injured.

She gathered the pair in her arms. She was incredibly strong, but was very careful not to injure them further.

Cosmette.jpg Cosmette: Let's get you to a safer place.

Satisfied with her grip, she took flight and they were quickly being settled on the grass outside the building. Cosmette smiled at them and Nina thought she said something about taking care of someone, but it was so faint she couldn't quite catch it.

Outside, there were people everywhere. Students were running away from the gym. Teachers (at least the ones who hadn't given in to panic as well) were trying to corral them and keep track of who was accounted for. The Power Unit was on scene assisting with the evacuation, along with medics and normal emergency workers. And on top of it all, on a warm overcast March afternoon, a giant cloud of black smoke was leaning over the Mt. Plains High School gym in a battle that was continuing to upset the ground.

The panic that had threatened to overwhelm Nina earlier had faded as the smoke monster appeared preoccupied with whatever was still in the gym, and she began to feel her physical pain more accutely. Her head ached. Her ankle felt like hamburger. She felt the pain from last summer in her ribs-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: AGAIN??

-and every muscle in her body screamed for rest. She ignored it and looked at Ayumi and tears sprang into her eyes.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh no... Ayumi...

She put her ear close to Ayumi's mouth and pressed her fingers against her neck to feel for a pulse.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh thank god, she's alive...

Nina looked down at Ayumi and knew she needed more help than she was able to give. She turned her attention towards the crowds around her and tried to attract the attention of the EMTs running between the students and the ambulances that were beginning to line up. Two medics spotted her and Ayumi and began running over to help them.

AmbulanceDriver1.jpg EMT #1: Pretty girl, are you okay?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No, but my friend is hurt a lot worse! She was knocked out in the explosion, Cosmette flew us out, she hasn't woken up...

AmbulanceDriver2.jpg EMT#2: Hm...

The EMTs set about Ayumi first, shining their little flashlight in her eyes, setting her arms and legs more naturally to prepare for a gurney as well as check carefully for broken bones, and Ayumi started to come around, a small moan signaling her slowly returning consciousness. Satisfied with that, the EMTs took a better look at Nina and one of them gasped in surprise.

AmbulanceDriver1.jpg EMT #1: You're the girl from the accident last year!

AmbulanceDriver2.jpg EMT#2: Oh wow, she is!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Huh? Who are these guys? What are they talking about?

AmbulanceDriver1.jpg EMT #1: You don't remember?

AmbulanceDriver2.jpg EMT#2: If she had a concussion, she probably doesn't remember anything at all.

AmbulanceDriver1.jpg EMT #1: That's true.

They quickly finished a short exam of Nina and stood to go.

AmbulanceDriver1.jpg EMT #1: You two stay here. The unconscious and immobile are prioritized. This marker- *hands Nina a small red and yellow cylinder, about the size of an average shoe* -will make you two next in line for a ride to MPGH. Be patient, and when she comes around keep her talking.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Okay, thank you!

Nina watched them run off to attend to more wounded and wondered about her friends...

***

Taro found himself alone in the terrified surge of students running for an exit- ANY exit- when that incredible calmness came over him. At once, the majority of the people around him in the gym fell into orderly (if somewhat urgent and fast-moving) lines. Taro glanced behind him and spotted Nina and Ayumi walking slowly in a bubble of bliss amongst the repressed fear of their classmates and teachers. Not wanting to stop the flow, he resolved to wait against the wall next to one of the exits for his friend to join him.

He had his back to the action and thus did not notice Titus crash to the ground. The shockwave from the impact belly flopped him limply into the wall. The next thing he knew he was staring at the sky, only it wasn't the sky, it was that giant, black smoke monster.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: I'll bet Nina's loving every second of this...

He pulled his now aching body upright. His head throbbed with the movement and he tasted blood from his nose trickling to his mouth. He staggered to the wall and leaned against it and tried to shake the cobwebs from his brain. The calmness that had inexplicably overtaken him was pierced by a lance of horror and his heart skipped a beat. The monster was reaching down, right for his friend!

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Nina!

Just as he moved to rush towards her, Fearless appeared to tower over her, bathing the gym in that weird green light of his shield. He “heard” Fearless' commands clear as a mountain spring-

Taro-5.jpg Taro: How does he do that??

-and he saw Cosmette swoop Nina and Ayumi to safety. He decided to follow them and, his knee not quite cooperating, staggered and limped out to find them.

Outside, people were everywhere. He followed the flow of increasingly frightened students away from the building, feelings his own heartbeat speed up in fear. He looked around and saw much of what Nina had seen: EMTs rushing around, teachers trying to organize the students, the Power Unit attempting to take charge of the situation and protect everyone while the Defenders faced off with the roaring and groaning smoke monster in a battle that yet rocked the earth beneath them.

He couldn't find his friends, however. The chaos kept churning around him, making it difficult to get his bearings straight.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Where is everyone?

NMUSpidey

The Sensational Six #135

MPHS2.jpg

That same day after school, The Six had gathered around Kari's locker for a change at Nina's request.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I don't wanna be the center of the school!

And yet, commotion followed them anyways, in the form of an angry shouting match a few yards away. Cassie and Chrystal had squared off and a ring of student gawkers gathered around to see how they would end up sorting out their differences.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Is there nowhere I can go to escape this?

Nina was hoping against hope they didn't move any closer than they were.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: What, did you have something to do with this?

Kari knew full well what Nina had planned with Ayumi and Kana.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *guiltily* No, not directly.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: I think it was more Marley than Nina here.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I didn't think it would work this fast.

The Six watched as Ozawa-Sensei, Tennyson-Sensei, and Connor-Sensei went running past.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Interesting how Marley roped herself into this, too. You have a way of bringing people together, don't you?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Haha, I guess I do, don't I?

Nina laughed in embarrassment, then thought about the remark.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I guess with Marv's help, I brought us together, we kind of helped Marley and Tory get together, and we almost hooked up with those kids from East Bank last summer. And now, there's Marley and Ayumi working together...

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: I told you this morning, everything in this school revolves around you!

The crowd was dispersed and Cassie and Chrystal were led in opposite directions away from the site of their dispute. And that's when they heard the unmistakable rumble of super-powered trouble. It seemed so faint at first, like a distant spring thunderstorm, and the students assumed that, as always, the Defenders would handle it. Whatever it was. Then the ground trembled. It shook just enough to make everyone stop and exchange nervous laughter. The moment it seemed like things were normal and they could continue their afternoon, the earth rocked violently beneath them, knocking everyone into the walls, into each other, and onto the ground. The lights flickered and died and there were frightened screams and a few groans of pain.

The Six looked at each other huddled together on the hallway floor pressed against the wall. There was fear in their wide eyes, and with the next rumble they cringed and held each other more tightly. The ground rocked cruelly once more, and then the teachers' strong voices could be heard above the other commotion.

MrTennyson.jpg Tennyson-Sensei: Move to the gym! Get to the gym!

Tennyson-Sensei's voice was the loudest, and they all looked over to see him helping their classmates to their feet and sending them stumbling painfully to the gym.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Let's go.

They clung together and started running as fast as they could for the gym and what they assumed would be safety. Nina brought up the rear, clinging to Momo's shirt when she glanced over and spotted a familiar face lying next to the wall, ignored by the other running students.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Suzuko!

Nina let go of Momo's shirt and stopped running to help her classmate and knelt down next to her.

Suzy.jpg Suzy: Huh? Agh! Nina?

Suzy looked at her in surprise and winced in pain as the ground rumbled once again.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Are you okay? Can you move?

Suzy was clutching her leg above her knee in obvious pain and her face was red from a freshly delivered blow. Nina guessed she could help her to the gym when Tenyson-Sensei appeared next to her.

MrTennyson.jpg Tennyson-Sensei: Miss Stark, you need to get to the gym. Miss Inaba, I'll get you there myself. Come here-

Suzy.jpg Suzy: Argh! No! It hurts!

Suzy cried out in pain as Tennyson-Sensei tried to lift her beneath her arms and knees. He stopped immediately and glanced at Nina who hadn't yet moved.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'll help, Tenyson-Sensei.

Nina said firmly and positioned herself opposite Suzy from him.

MrTennyson.jpg Tennyson-Sensei: Fine. We have to move fast. Miss Inaba, this will hurt for a moment, but we'll lay you down in the gym.

Suzy nodded and let them put her arms around their shoulders. Bearing her weight, they stood up, expecting Suzy to cry out out, but she didn't. They hurriedly followed the thinning crowd of students, but they weren't the last ones to make it to the gym. Some other teachers were helping injured students and teachers, and some students were straggling. Others were helping guide the students, and some of the more athletic types were recruited to go find and help the less mobile students get to safety.

They arrived at the large gym to find it more than half-full. It was a designated emergency building and was thus built like a fortress (or a prison, if you're cynical). It was equipped with emergency generators to power a number of large projectors and offered Internet access via satellite for those times when the land lines were unavailable. It was well-lit and the teachers were attempting to organize it by class.

Honda-Sensei.jpg Honda-Sensei: Injuries are over there in the film room. Nina-chan, please find your first hour teacher and report to him or her.

Honda-Sensei stood by the door and was helping direct traffic.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Okay, Honda-Sensei.

Nina and Tenyson-Sensei hurried Suzy into the makeshift ER and helped her lie comfortably on the mats that were sitting in her beds.

NursePiper.jpg Nurse Piper: Oh, no! Another injury!

Nurse Piper, one of the school nurses, staggered over as the ground quaked again and took a look at Suzy.

NursePiper.jpg Nurse Piper: Knee? And your face? Did somebody punch you?

She looked at Tenyson-Sensei and they looked at Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Huh? Me?! I didn't hit her! I was trying to help her!

MrTennyson.jpg Tennyson-Sensei: Hahaha, no, Miss Stark! Did you see anything?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No, I was only there for a second before you came to help. Was she punched? Either way, that looks so painful...

Suzy.jpg Suzy: *meekly* I, uh... I fell. I guess if someone hit me, it was an accident.

She glanced away and winced in pain again as Nina and Tenyson-Sensei rose to leave.

NursePiper.jpg Nurse Piper: There are paramedics and some ER staff on their way from MPGH. We should be fine.

MrTennyson.jpg Tennyson-Sensei: Okay, Nurse Piper. Don't hesitate to ask us for help. Miss Stark, the seniors are at the far end of the gym. Do you need anything else?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Um, no, Tenyson-Sensei. Thank you.

Nina looked at the amazingly calm teacher nervously, and then turned and ran across the gym to find Takei-Sensei, her economics teacher.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I wish I had more classes with my friends...

Takei-Sensei.jpg Takei-Sensei: Miss Stark! Miss Stark, have you seen Johnny Carens, Madison Taylor, Kaera Mochizuki, or Bobby Cullens?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No, I'm sorry Takei-Sensei.

Explosions rumbled dully in the distance in rapid succession and the ground trembled accordingly.

Takei-Sensei.jpg Takei-Sensei: Okay, please sit with your classmates, and try to keep calm.

Takei-Sensei gestured at the students sitting in rows matching their seats in class. Nina took her place at the front of one of the rows and glanced around at her classmates. Her one friend in the class, a pretty brown-haired girl named Michelle Andrews, had to be moved across the room to prevent them from giggling together throughout class. Their eyes sought each other out and they exchanged anxious smiles which were quickly replaced by open terror as the earth leaped below them once again like a wild bronco.

There was more screaming, and when the ground was stable once again, crying could be heard from a smattering of terrified students around the gym. Besides them, no one needed to be told to quiet down. Nina groaned and rubbed the hip upon which she had landed and looked up at the screen overhead to try and get an idea of what was going on out there.

Attack1.jpg

There was a camera pointed towards the Botanical Gardens (probably from the Andis Center, the blue skyscraper at the bottom of the image) and Mt. Plains beyond. Smoke billowed from a number of locations.

Attack1lasers.jpg

Whenever there was a flash on screen, she heard and felt the corresponding explosion.

Attack2.jpg

There was some new movement, however. A great, dark mass of smoke seemed to swirl together at some distance from the camera. It filled her with wonder as everything seemed to go quiet around them. There was no explosion that could have caused the smoke to move like that, and it seemed to move independent from any source, becoming smaller as it moved off into the distance.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: It's moving away, it's becoming quiet... We're gonna be safe! Everything's gonna be alright!

But Nina had read the perspective wrong. It was moving away, indeed. Away from the camera. It was heading towards Mt. Plains, however, and as the gym shuddered noisily, everyone, even the injured and the criers, fell into a terrible silence. The ground rumbled, a bit more strongly this time, with another explosion and then the gym shuddered again before the interior was filled with a stomach-churning groan as the strength of the metal in the walls and the ceiling was tested to its limits. A few cracks and loud pops made everyone inside hold their breath as a corner of the gym's roof was pulled up and separated from the walls. Shapeless blackness filled the place where the day's overcast sky should have been, and burning red eyes filled everyone below with a sense of terror none of them had ever felt before. It spoke.

SmokeMonster.jpg Children...

And the screaming began. Teachers tried to rally everyone to their feet and everyone tried to be the first one through the exit. It would not have mattered. The terrifying black thing peeled the top of the gym off as though it was the top of a pudding cup and made to do something to the panicked souls down below.

Titus.jpg Titus: It's a school! We have to save those kids!

They could all somehow “hear” Titus shouting.

Nina's initial assumption had been partially right: it did indeed appear to be composed of smoke as Fearless, Cosmette, Eikyou, and Victory passed through his body with no resistance whatsoever. They positioned themselves strategically around the gym with Eikyou near the middle and began their efforts to move the students and teachers away from being fish in a barrel. Nina moved towards one of the exits, suddenly, inexplicably overcome with a warm, beautiful serenity that made her so happy and relaxed. She noticed Taro and Ayumi (who must have had the same class) and stopped to wave at them. Taro did not seem to notice, but Ayumi returned Nina's happy smile with one of her own. Some other students seemed to mill about as well, oblivious to the terrible danger overhead. Nina and Ayumi found themselves walking contentedly together, leisurely making their way towards one of the exits, wrapped in their warm, safe bliss. They were sealed off from the chaos around them, and they both had the same thought.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Everything is so fine! What were we so worried about??

A shout from Fearless snapped Nina out of her peaceful bubble.

Fearless.jpg Fearless: It's too strong, Eikyou! It's too strong! Dial it back!

Eikyou's strained voice felt more like it was beamed directly into Nina's skull than shouted across the room.

Eikyou.jpg Eikyou: There's something wrong here! I can't control it! If I dial it back, you'll have chaos again! It's this or a riot!

Nina stopped again, no, froze and looked up at the black monster made of smoke. Its attention was somewhere else, almost appeared as though it was blowing away in a strong gust of wind. But a lightning fast movement changed that, and Ayumi and Nina were knocked off their feet by something quite heavy smashing into the floor nearby, and blackness filled her vision...

NMUSpidey

The Sensational Six #134

Here it is, the last issue before THE EVENT, and as Part II of The Battle for Mt. Plains approaches its close, a new battle of hitherto unseen scale will erupt, leaving no one untouched. After this, it is THE EVENT. Just pay more attention to the words, we all know I stink at making images ;) !

MPHS2.jpg

Hey look, a new picture of MPHS, home of the Foresters! That's their gym to the left with the fancy red brick walkways.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahahaha, geez, Dan-O! I'm not gonna go out with every one of your running teammates just to find a prom date!

Nina laughed at Dan-O the following Monday morning at school.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: They don't mind, Nina. I mean sure, you'd look like a gigantic whore, but-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahaha! Shut up!

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Nina.

Nina and Dan-O looked over to see Marley emerge from the crowd of students in the hallway. With no expression on her face, Nina and Dan-O were both interested in seeing what she had to say.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Marley? What do you want? How did I manage to ask that without sounding suspicious? I'm amazing!

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: *glances at Dan-O cautiously* I heard Kyosuke Matsuba had a date with Erisa.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *pretending to be like Ayumi* Yeah, she had a good time.

Marley glanced at Dan-O again and hesitated on her next question.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Hahaha! You'd think that the most popular girl in school wouldn't give two [expletive] about me, but here you are acting like you think I'm a Cold War spy!

Nina smiled at him, strangely enjoying how nervous he made Marley act.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Shut up, Dan-O! Marley, whatever you say now would end up being exaggerated later on when I'd tell him, so go ahead and say what you want.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Well, I was just curious, but... I mean, not that I care, but...

Marley paused and looked at the confused expressions on their faces and suddenly became agitated.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: You know what? Forget it. It's not important anyways.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Marley, wait. I'm find with it. Me and Erisa weren't what everyone imagined we were. We're fine.

Nina smiled and waited for Marley's response.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Yeah, and now Nina's looking for a date for the prom, so if you know any nice guys.

Dan-O knew full well he shouldn't say anything about that to Marley. Nina whirled on Dan-O and swatted his shoulder.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Dan-O! Shut up!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Nina?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Sempai!

Nina, Dan-O, and Marley all looked over to see Ayumi and Kana approaching them. Marley gave Nina a sarcastic (but warm) smile.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Never a dull moment for you, is it, Drama Queen? Ayumi. Kana.

She and the two cheer girls regarded each other with cold respect.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Marley. How're things?

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Surprisingly good.

Marley gave Ayumi a funny little smile, then glanced at Nina and mischief flashed in her eyes.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Nina was just asking about a date for prom, so if you know anyone...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *facepalm* Argh! I was not! Geez, Dan-O! You and your big mouth!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: I'll ask around.

Ayumi smiled at Nina and suppressed a laugh at the look of amusement on Marley's face.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Great, she's so excited about it.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *smugly* Nina is so lucky to be surrounded by such helpful people.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Wow, Nina! With all this help we'll find you a date for prom in no time!

Dan-O was also hugely enjoying the show.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I hate all of you so very, very much.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Well, so as amusing as this is, we do have a reason for stopping by your locker. It seems to be very lucky to see you here as well, Marley.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Me?

The amusement on Marley's face was replaced by shock, given her recent dealings with Pamela.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Yes. Considering the negativity of your dealings with Chrystal, we've recently come across some information that may be of some value to you.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: *doubtfully* Is that so?

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Yes. It seems that there is a certain red-haired girl in the school walking around telling people she thinks Chrystal is a brainless thug. I believe it sounds like she's looking for a fight.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: So? I don't care what they say about each other.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: No? Well, just keep it in mind in case it becomes valuable to you later. You're a clever girl, I'm sure you could think of interesting uses for it.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Thanks then, I suppose...

Marley and Ayumi looked at each other with that cold respect once again, then a smile blossomed on Marley's face.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Interesting. Maybe we'll talk again later.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Perhaps.

Marley looked at Nina and, still smiling, shook her head.

Untitled-1.jpg Marley: Always something going on around you, Drama Queen. Be seeing you.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: See you, Marley.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: *loudly* Bye, Marley! Don't forget Nina's prom date!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *dirty look at Dan-O*

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: What?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Are you really looking for a prom date, Sempai?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Not really, but if it happens, that's fine.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: At any rate, Nina, I'll keep my ears open, just in case. I think I understand your feelings on the matter.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You'd be the only one, Ayumi.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Aw, that's not fair, we care about you, too. We know it's important, but it's spring now! We gotta get you having fun! You mope too much!

Kana-1.jpg Kana: He does have a point, Sempai.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Anyways, class is gonna start soon. You wanna hang out again, give me a call.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh, uh, sure.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: See you round.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Bye, Sempai!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Bye!

They watched the two cheer girls disappear down the hall and then looked at each other.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: You are like, the center of this school. Is there no one you don't talk to? Is there no business you aren't a part of?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *sighs, rolls eyes* Ugh, I wish. After patching things up with Marley and getting caught up in cheer girl business, it's hard to ignore. Plus, you know, I am a huge drama queen, so maybe it just can't be helped.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Aw, you're really not that bad. Besides, think of how exciting you make all our lives!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Haha, wow, Dan-O. You certainly have a way of looking at things. I guess I should say thank you for helping me out with the whole date thing. You know I'm not gonna do it myself, even though I really probably should.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: There'll be someone out there who'll dance with you but won't expect a girlfriend from it.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I hope so.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Yeah, I'm sure. Anyways, there's the bell. Let's get to class!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Okay!

NMUSpidey

Ribbies.jpg

The next day at Ribbie's, Nina met up with her friends for lunch in what seemed like the first time in a long time. The Six were most interested in Erisa...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *sing-song voice* Did you guys have fuuuuuuun?

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Yeah, we had a good time, I guess.

She shrugged and unconsciously glanced at Nina in a bit of discomfort.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Aw, Erisa, don't worry about me like that. We all really want to know if you had a good time!

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Well... *looks at Nina again, sighs* We did have fun. We had a couple of hamburgers and then we went to the Sports and Games Park and did a buncha sports and stuff. Kyosuke is really a fun guy.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Haha, just like a mushroom!

The Six groaned in unison, Nina and Taro adding facepalms to their reactions.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Hehe, anyways, that is really great to hear, Erisa. I've known Kyosuke for a long time, he's pretty cool.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Yeah, I know. I'm thinking that after how last night went he's gonna be my boyfriend. *one more careful glance at Nina*

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahaha, geez, 'Ris! Relax!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Well, Nina, why don't you tell us about your night?

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Yeah, Nina. I do wanna hear more about 'Ris here so I can get better ideas to make fun of her later, but you like, totally disappeared on us last night!

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Dan-O...

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: What? You'd think this wouldn't be a surprise anymore!

Taro-5.jpg Taro: We'll all enjoy it later on, Dan-O. Nina's got the floor now.

Taro cut Erisa off before she could fire off whatever angry retort she had lined up. Erisa sighed and attention turned back to Nina for her Friday night story.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Thanks, Taro. Anyways, you guys, you can't tell anyone this-

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: What? Look who you're talking to!

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Yeah, we don't really talk to anyone else...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Well, okay, so here goes. Uhm, I was hanging out with Ayumi and Kana last night.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: *surprised* Ayumi? The cheer team captain?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: The same.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: And Kana again? You've been hanging out with the cheer girls a lot huh?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Um, well, like, a little I guess. They're nice, so I don't think it's a big deal...

Taro-5.jpg Taro: Are you gonna get back in with the in-crowd?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Back in? Hehe, that would imply I was in it before!

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: You and Kari did go out with Tory and Brad. It's not like you're a stranger to them.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: That's true, but it's only thanks to the power of pretty girl. You see how long that lasted. I love you guys anyways. Other than Ayumi and Kana, most of the in-crowd's not all that cool, you know?

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: *more skeptically than intended* So why'd you hang out with Ayumi and Kana last night, anyways?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kana called me up and asked me to hang out with her.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Hahaha, that girl thinks you are a goddess!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: What? She's sweet and she calls me “Sempai.” I like her.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Hahaha, “Sempai!” Is so cute!

Momo laughed. She liked Kana, too.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: So anyways, here's the secret part... We went into the woods behind Kellen's house and spied on him and his friends!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Kellen? Why? I thought you two were friends?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh, he told us to. See, we saw Cassie parked in front of my house and thought that maybe she's plotting her revenge. Turns out she only got lost trying to go to Kellen's. She hates everyone.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: *mock shock* Even us?!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Especially us. Apparently, we're supposed to use our semi-popularity (whatever, I guess) to protect all that kids that get picked on. I think she sees herself as some kinda hero or martyr or something.

Taro-5.jpg Taro: But if you're friends with Kellen, doesn't that kinda mean you're okay with whoever in the school?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I don't really care. After all we've been through this year, doesn't it seem like none of this is worth dealing with head on? So Kana had this idea to solve two of our problems at once.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Oo, a sneaky plan! It's always surprising (and more than a little hilarious) to see you being devious and underhanded!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahaha, whatever, Dan-O! Anyways, Cassie and Tsukino hate us (and probably Chrystal, too), and since they're the kinds of people who will easily hate each other, we think that by telling the right people, they'll focus on each other. We wouldn't even have to lie because the truth is so much better anyways.

Dan-O-3.jpg Dan-O: Let's you and him fight. Beautiful.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: This is all very irritating to put up with, so I really hope this works because it feels like it's been so long since I haven't had like, major drama to put up with in my life. I'm pretty tired, you guys.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Aw, you're doing great, Nina. We think you're doing a great job holding yourself together, don't we you guys?

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Totally, Erisa's right, Nina. It's not an easy thing to have to deal with everything the last year, and you're doing like, awesome!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh come on. I've been whiny and annoying since last summer. I'm just ready to have a little good luck now, you know?

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: If any of us deserve it, it's you.

Momo-6.jpg Momo: I'm sure there's some good news out there that you can hear.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm hoping...

Kari-5.jpg Kari: So why don't you come to the prom with us?

To Kari, this was quickly becoming a major point of contention with Nina, and she was determined to see her friend go and enjoy herself at their senior prom.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: We all know you wanna go. I don't think it would be hard for you of all people to get a date.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kari, I don't know...

Taro-5.jpg Taro: I bet Kenji'd go with you.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Kenji? Ugh, then I'd be fighting to keep his various body parts off me the whole night.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: *mutters sarcastically* Bet Kana would go with you.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahahaha, I do NOT want my date calling me “Sempai” all night!

Momo-6.jpg Momo: Hahaha! Is SO cute, though!

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Kellen? There's no way he'd turn you down.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No, there's no way that could work out. I know this, Kari.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Well, okay, if you say so...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: So anyways, I just don't know about going to the prom.

Kari-5.jpg Kari: Nina, we've got some time until the prom anyways. More than two months, you know? There'll be no problem finding you a date in that time.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: If you say so. I guess I'll think about it. But if it's like a month later and I don't have a date or I'm just not into it, please just let me be, okay?

The Six glanced at each other in concern for their friend.

Erisa-4-1.jpg Erisa: Okay, Nina. We're all on your side.

NMUSpidey

Kellensneighborhood.jpg

Three car doors slammed solidly shut and three girls sat panting heavily after feeling the woods behind Kellen's house at a sprint. They took a few seconds to try to catch their breath before anyone spoke.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: That was... close...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, I totally thought we were caught when Jun was looking for us right then.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Seriously! Then there was Cassie shouting about us spying on her! It's like she knew we were there!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: I think it would be nice to finish our evening in a more comfortable location.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Agreed. Everywhere is pretty much closed though, so whose house shall we go to?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Sempai's house and my house are really close to each other. Then you won't have to drive anyone home when you go.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *turns car on* Or we could all just stay overnight. My parents won't mind at all.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: In that case, I nominate my house. I have the extra bed in my room since Etsuko left for college. My brother won't bother us, I think.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No one's at my house, except for my parents, but unless you wanna sleep in my bed with me, you're on the floor.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: So it's either privacy or comfort. I'm sure I can make myself comfortable at Nina's, especially since there will be no little boys trying to spy on us. I think I've had my fill of espionage for the night...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Okay, Nina's house it is.

There was a bit of relief in her voice at knowing they wouldn't have to tiptoe around her irritating little brother. Ayumi stopped at her house and quickly grabbed an overnight bag and pillow (so quickly, in fact, that Nina suspected it was already prepared), and by midnight, the girls were quietly walking into Nina's house.

NinasHousenight.jpg

NinasDad-2.jpg Nina's Dad: Oh hello, Nina.

Her dad waved to them from the living room, the Playstation controller still in his hand.

NinasDad-2.jpg Nina's Dad: And you've brought sacrifices!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *facepalm* Dad!

NinasDad-2.jpg Nina's Dad: Guests! I meant guests.

He flashed a big smile at them and returned to his game.

NinasMom-3.jpg Nina's Mom: Oh, Kana-chan, you're growing up so quickly!

Nina's mom smiled at them as she leaned over the couch to see who it was.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *shyly* Hi Professor Stark.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Mom, Dad, this is Ayumi. Ayumi, this is my mom and dad.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *bows* Nice to meet you.

NinasDad-2.jpg Nina's Dad: *completely disinterestedly* Pleasure, I'm sure.

Nina's Dad was not really paying attention anymore. Nina's mom shot an ignored sharp look at her husband.

NinasMom-3.jpg Nina's Mom: We are both happy to meet you. Are you staying overnight?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Is that okay?

Nina already knew it wouldn't be a problem.

NinasMom-3.jpg Nina's Mom: Yes, it's fine. Don't stay up too late. There are some drinks in the fridge.

Her mom smiled and returned her attention to her laptop and the three girls filed up to Nina's room. Safely behind the closed door, they began analyzing what they had seen.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Our reputations aren't especially flattering. What do I do that people think I'm such a [expletive]?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm kinda the outsider here, so I'll respectfully submit my assessment.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: You're not that much of an outsider, Sempai.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Thanks, Kana, but I totally am, what with the whole studying thing and not being a cheer girl thing and all! Anyways, look at this from their point of view: you're captain of the cheer team, you rarely associate with anyone outside of the in-crowd, and you dated the impressively cute golf team captain, Noble, and you drive an expensive German car. Anything you do, regardless of what it is, is going to be seen as conceited or [expletive] or both.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Do you think I'm a [expletive]?

Ayumi looked directly into Nina's eyes.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: You've been cool to me all night, so not really, no, no I don't.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: But you did before...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I didn't know you before.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Ah, you really did!

Ayumi looked devastated.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ayumi, we barely even said more than two words to each other before tonight, how am I supposed to judge whether or not you really are a $%&^! or not without having a conversation at least first?

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: So you didn't think so?

Ayumi perked back up. She seemed to be showing a wider range of emotions as the night went on.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahaha, geez, Ayumi! No, relax! What does it matter anyways? You can't make everyone like you, it's not even reasonable to think so.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: You heard them though, Nina. They thought I was a [expletive] and they thought you were a saint.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Saint? I'm not sure that's what I heard. I get it though, I mean, with everything that's happened around me, that I'm a drama queen. I'll have to try to avoid that in college next year... But Cassie hates my guts. You heard her say she still wants to beat me up. And she like, totally, completely scares the crap outta me...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I think she scares pretty much everyone. I don't really care all that much about status at school, I mean, you guys saw how I handled the Tsukino situation-

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Yeah, and she still remarkably has friends in high places. You still have to be careful...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Ugh, I know. But does that mean we have to have our reputations destroyed?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I don't think it does, but my dad always says 'deserves' got nothing to do with it. Besides, this really isn't anything new. There's always been drama at Mt. Plains. I don't think there's anything we can do about that.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: It's any high school, really. I have friends at Schulman High and Wayne High, and they're always complaining about the gossiping and rumor-spreading and such stuff. Drama and fighting and all that are everywhere, and worse in some places.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Do you really think Tsukino's gonna try and get me back?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: She did try to get people to believe you like to be peed on. But that ended up a fiasco, so I don't know if people will believe any rumors she spreads.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Mari still didn't have to be such a [expletive] about it.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *wearily* She apologized, let it go. It's always an unpleasant surprise when one of our girls steps out of line like this...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I'm sorry, Ayumi. I hope I wasn't stepping on your toes or causing too much trouble with that at lunch the other day. I just wasn't gonna sit there and let Mari treat Kana that way.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: No, no. I'm too socially savvy to be petty about that sort of thing, although Pamela wasn't pleased about it. Kana wasn't in the wrong anyways, and I think that Tsukino is going to always cause trouble to whomever she meets.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Wouldn't it be great if we could get her and Cassie to hate each other? I mean, maybe then Cassie's attention is off of Nina and Tsukino's is off of me.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Hm, the idea does have merit...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahaha, it so totally does! I doubt we'd even have to lie about it, just make sure enough of the right people know what the two of them are saying about each other!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *coolly once again* There's a kind of elegant beauty to it. Maybe we should try to spy on Tsukino, too.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: She's grounded though, too, isn't she?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Yeah. Even though she was suspended from the team, she managed to weasel her way into being invited.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: That girl is trouble, as bad as Marley.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Marley...

Nina thought a bit about how much their relationship had changed compared to the year before.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: She's not anything like she was last year...

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: That's because you're a saint and everyone loves you. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree, though. Marley is the most dangerous person in school. You had to have heard about her little feud with Chrystal, and the disagreements she's been having with Pamela. She has no fear and she's too smart to get caught on the wrong side of anything.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh, I know about the Chrystal thing all too well. But I've talked to Marley, she's different, somehow...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Yeah, that's right! Marley tried to rope you into her Chrystal thing, too!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Well, I do know about what happened at that party last year, and your fight in the summer. I guess it's possible she's not quite like that anymore. Maybe she learned her lesson from you.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: I could only hope...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: What really happened at that WinterFest party last year? We all heard rumors, of course, you know how the cheer team is...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh wow, it feels like so long ago, and with everything else piling on top of that I don't think I've spent any time thinking about it at all. Especially after last summer.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: If it's too hard, we can be perfectly happy with our gossip.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Heh, I guess I'm okay. I'm still not sure why Marley hated me all last year, and I'm really like super-glad it's not like that anymore. She and Tory tried to break me and Marv up before WinterFest. It didn't work, so they tried again at the party. They put something stronger than just beer in my drink, and then Marley dragged Marv into the bedroom I was in looking like she was trying to score with him when Tory tried to take advantage of me.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *a rare expression of shock* They put something in your drink?!

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Why didn't you call the cops?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hold on, we'll get to that. So Marv told Tory to let me go and Tory threatened to have his friends beat the crap out of him, and then Erisa showed up, knocked Marley out, distracted Tory, and Marv knocked him out. We put them in bed together, thus creating that legend, and left the party with our friends as fast as we could.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: So you didn't actually give it up to Marv at the party?

That had been the other big rumor: Straight Arrow Nina getting dirty with Marv and his similarly pure image.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *softly* No, not at WinterFest...

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *quietly* I'm sorry, Nina. You didn't have to tell us if it hurts. Seriously.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: No, it's okay, honestly. *sudden smile* Really, it's better if you guys know the truth. Also, yeah, it still hurts a bit about Marv and the accident. I've gotten so much better. He was my first real love, though. So he's still special to me.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hehe, I wouldn't tell that to any guy I date if I were you, Sempai.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Why not? What if it's the right guy?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Well, you know how boys can get...

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Ah, boys. They can be so much fun and so much trouble at the same time...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Hehe, and you know they think the same thing about us!

NMUSpidey

Kellensneighborhood.jpg

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Sempai, are you sure this is the right neighborhood?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yes, I'm sure. Stop being such a ninny. We're gonna have to go through the woods to get near his house, though.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: The woods?

Kana had been reluctant to follow their plan since she was informed of it in Ayumi's Audi on the way to the subdivision. She had been whining and dragging her feet since getting out of the car.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: You need to get on board with our plan, Kana, or you can go back to the car and pout.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I'm sorry, Sempai. I'll be better. It's just that it's dark in the woods, and I can't see where we'll be going...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: And you're scared.

Nina gave her a smile and followed Nina down a well-worn path between two houses spaced quite far apart from each other.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I'm not scared!

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Scared of thunderstorms, scared of the woods, scared of the dark...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I'm not scared!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Shut up, you two! Are we almost there?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, yes...

Nina nodded and gave Kana a slight smile. Their feet fell softly on the spring ground. Faint moonlight trickled through the budding trees overhead to ever-so-dimly light their way through the small forest between two neighborhoods. Lights from houses twinkled in the darkness as well, and the girls pressed forward step by step to their goal.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *GASP!*

Kana jumped at Nina's back and gripped her t-shirt tightly in her hands.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *annoyed* Kana, what is it?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *shamefully* N-nothing... I thought something touched me. *releases Nina's t-shirt*

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Kana, if you keep making noise I'm gonna send you back to the car by yourself! Now pull yourself together and let's keep going.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Okay...

Kana looked down where her feet, not visible in the darkness, should be and then bowed.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I'm sorry, Sempai. I'll be better.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Good to hear. You ready to keep moving, Nina?

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh yeah, sure. Of course.

Nina was a bit surprised to see Ayumi so in command and engaged after how aloof and above-it-all she had mostly appeared up to that point. They continued their short trek through the gloomy woods. The path was amazingly clear: many neighborhood kids ran or rode their bikes through almost daily. Nina half expected to run into someone right then, but they reached their destination without meeting another soul.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: There it is...

Nina pointed through a narrow path that ended at a small backyard. A light inside the back of the house was lit and the three girls could see the occasional flash of movement in it. The yard was clean and free of any obstructions save some lawn furniture, but worst of all there was no fence to shield them from nosy neighbors.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: We will have to run if we're gonna make it to that window without being seen...

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I thought this was supposed to be safe and easy! I thought we'd be able to get here and back without traipsing through the woods in the dark! I thou-

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Shh! Something's happening!

Nina shut Kana up harshly, and from their spot in some shadows near the edge of the woods they all focused on the commotion coming from inside the house.

Untitled.jpg ?: I don't wanna stay inside! It's too nice out!

Kellen.jpg Kellen: But, I don't know you guys, there's always a chance of rain around here, and I don't know if we have enough chairs.

Ayumi and Nina looked at each other and shared the same thought:

Ayumi-0.jpgNina-7.jpg That bumbling idiot is gonna screw this whole thing up!

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: Whatever, Kel, I ain't staying in here anymore.

A flood light was switched on and the backyard was lit up like Hachi-no-Su Field (home of PM's SLB team). Nina, Ayumi, and Kana covered their eyes against the shine and scrambled backwards for better cover. Trying to control their breathing, they parted some leaves in the underbrush to see what had happened. Freddie, Kellen's thin, bespectacled friend was the owner of the first voice and he was making himself at home on a lawn chair on the patio. Cassie was unceremoniously elbowing her way past Kellen who was doing his best to block the doorway (without being obvious about it) as he glanced around his yard nervously.

Beau-1.jpg Beau: Dude, you are acting mega weird.

Nina saw Beau muscle Kellen out of the way with his considerable bulk. Two more students, an Asian guy and an Asian girl (both of whom Ayumi and Nina recognized as Jun and Suzy, a pair of students somewhere in the middle rungs of MPHS' social ladder) followed Beau out.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *whispers* I don't think anybody saw us, Sempai...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *whispers* If you wanna keep it that way, shut up!

Kana opened her mouth to retort, but wisely reconsidered and stuck her tongue out instead. The three concealed girls shifted carefully in their hiding spot behind some bushes, crouching low near the ground. They could hear Kellen and his friends laughing about something they didn't hear but were happy for the noise to cover their movement as they situated themselves more comfortably. Satisfied, they once again turned their attention back to the backyard ahead of them.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: -you get lost every time you come to my house?

Cassie.jpg Cassie: *scornfully* All these subdivisions look the same. You're lucky I come here at all.

Suzy.jpg Suzy: Did you guys hear about Paul and Ryan?

Cassie.jpg Cassie: They finally get together?

Jun.jpg Jun: You would think two drama queens like that would be able to drag it out well into the summer.

Beau-1.jpg Beau: Nothing stops true love. Even between drama club [homophobic slur].

Cassie.jpg Cassie: *backhands Beau's chest* Shut up, Beau. They're really nice guys, they deserve some happiness. They've been picked on long enough.

Jun.jpg Jun: Wow, you're becoming quite the People's Champion, aren't you Cass?

Cassie.jpg Cassie: Whatever Jun. Look at the people on top of the school: Tory, JD, and Kenji do whatever they want to whoever they want and they're dicks about it, too. Tory's little whore Marley is a self-important skank who only wants attention, Chrystal is a thug, and Nina and her worthless friends are too good to give any kind of a $%&^! about what's happening outside their closed little clique. I don't even wanna get started on the cheer team [expletive] and their [expletive] queens Ayumi and Pamela.

Jun.jpg Jun: Man, Cassie. Are you still bitter about the Nina thing? We can't go more than a day without hearing you rag on her.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: [expletive] that stupid little girl. I'd lay her out again and bash her brains out and she knows it now.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: *whispers* She has quite the distaste for you, Sempai.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *whispers* For all of us.

The three girls exchanged uneasy glances and resumed their surveillance.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: -should just let it go. We're gonna all be graduated soon anyways. Honestly, we'd all be better off not worrying about that kind of pettiness all the time.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: *sighs* I don't know why we even bother letting you hang out with us, Kellen. You always choose her side over ours. She'll never go out with you, let alone open her legs for you.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: It's not about that. Of all of us, I'm pretty much the only one here who's actually talked to her out of class, and I can say that she's definitely not as bad as you think she is.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: She's just using you to make me look bad to all my friends. It's sad you can't see that...

Suzy.jpg Suzy: Actually, I think I'm gonna have to back Kellen up on this.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: Thank you, Suzy.

Suzy.jpg Suzy: No problem. She was my lab partner last year in chemistry, and my friend Tasha sits next to her in English and Japanese. Neither of us have found any reason to hate her, or to think that she's a schemer. Drama queen, however, she definitely is.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: You guys don't know! She could be out here right now, listening in the woods! *stands up, walks to trees* She could be having a big laugh with her stupid, brainless friends, she could-

Suzy.jpg Suzy: Cassie, you just said yourself that her and her friends are a closed off little clique living oblivious to the rest of us.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: Shut up, Suzuko. *suddenly towering over Suzy threateningly* You keep defending her, same as Kellen. If you two are such close, personal friends of hers, then you should try hanging out with her instead of losers like us.

Suzy.jpg Suzy: Cassie, relax, I thought you were my friend.

Suzy's hands went up as if to protect herself. Something in Cassie's manner made Suzy seriously afraid of being punched.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: No, I thought you were my friend.

She jerked towards Suzy who flinched and fell backwards off her chair. Cassie gave a terrible laugh and addressed the lot of them.

Cassie.jpg Cassie: Hahah! Some friends you are! You're all afraid of me!

Jun.jpg Jun: No, Cassie, we-

Cassie.jpg Cassie: Shut up, Jun. *pats Beau's chest* C'mon, Beau. We're outta here.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: Cassie, wait.

Kellen stood up and tried to catch her, but Beau thumped him on the chest, stopping him in his tracks.

Beau-1.jpg Beau: See you 'round, you buncha losers.

Kellen sat back down and looked at his three remaining friends and they sighed simultaneously.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: Do you think we could've handled this better?

Jun.jpg Jun: I don't know, Kel. Ever since Nina yelled at her in class back when school started she's been like this.

Suzy.jpg Suzy: It's sad to say, but I don't think she's our friend anymore.

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: Yeah man. She hates the popular kids more than she likes us.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: I can't believe it. I mean, we've been friends for years and years, since elementary school-

Jun.jpg Jun: Almost.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: Right, almost. But she's just so different this year...

Suzy.jpg Suzy: I know what you mean. She's always been strong and opinionated. But now it's like, she's violent, too. I really do think she'd hit me...

Jun.jpg Jun: Heh heh, while none of us wanna see you get hurt, a catfight is pretty awesome.

Suzy.jpg Suzy: Whatever Jun. A catfight implies both sides can fight, but between me and her, she'd kick my ass so bad...

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: You ARE afraid of her, aren't you Suzy?

Suzy.jpg Suzy: Like any of you aren't! Everyone knows what she did to Nina, and that could have been a lot worse. A LOT worse. Chrystal's probably the only girl in school who could take her.

Jun.jpg Jun: That'd be an epic fight.

Freddie-1.jpg Freddie: Truly. I'd rather see that than see her pound away on Nina or Suzy or even Ayumi or Pamela or any of their stupid cheer team [expletive].

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *whispers to Ayumi* Are you a [expletive]?

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: I didn't really think so before now, but... *shrugs, looks at Kana* Am I a [expletive], Kana?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: You're Sempai and cheer team captain to me. I don't care about anything else.

Suddenly all three of them whipped their heads back towards the house at the sound of Kellen's voice.

Kellen.jpg Kellen: -bly the wind or some small animal or someth-

Jun.jpg Jun: Hello!? Someone out there?!

Jun was standing at the edge of the woods, peering into the darkness mere feet away from the three spies. They held their breath and froze in their hiding spot beneath the underbrush, and their hearts stopped each time his eyes swept over their heads. Jun took another step and moved a branch out of his way and tried to see further into the darkness.

Jun.jpg Jun: Hello!

Kellen.jpg Kellen: *guiding Jun back to the patio* Jun, come on, I have neighbors.

Jun.jpg Jun: Uh, okay man. *looks back at woods one more time* Just, I coulda sworn!

Kellen.jpg Kellen: Come on, let's go inside for a minute and get something to drink.

They rejoined Suzy and Freddie (who were looking on curiously the whole time). Kellen herded them inside and, before closing the door, took one last look at the woods behind his house...

NMUSpidey

NinasHousenight.jpg

Nina's neighborhood, only driving down the street from Nina's house at Kana's...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh my god, is that Cassie?

Nina leaned forward between the seats and peered out the windshield at the tall, red-haired girl fumbling with her keys in front of Nina's house.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Cassie?

Ayumi kept her speed down as they passed the car and Nina's house on the way to Kana's.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: The girl who slapped Nina last month. Her and some band geeks were heard talking about revenge when she got out of in-school.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *flops backwards into seat, disgusted voice* Ugh, revenge? Do you think that's why she's in our neighborhood? She's gonna do something tonight?

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Could be...

Kana glanced back to see Cassie open her phone as she got into her car.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: It's a good thing you had to stop by home first. We can catch her in the act!

Kana-1.jpg Kana: I had to. I need a baseball hat if I'm gonna be seen with the geek Sempai.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Aw, am I really that embarrassing?

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Honestly, you could wear a toga and I wouldn't care.

Ayumi was distracted. Her eyes were on Cassie's light blue Toyota Corolla as she pulled her Audi into Kana's driveway.

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Okay, I'll be right back!

Kana hopped out of the car and disappeared into her house.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *softly* We should follow her...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *softly, too* You think so?

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: The girl wanted to beat you senseless and now we catch her parked in front of your house late on a Friday night. She is up to no good. We should follow her and find out what.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: It's probably a coincidence. Besides, my friends and I can handle it. You guys don't have to get yourselves in trouble over me...

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: *excitedly, for the first time that night* Are you kidding? Spying on this girl will be a lot more fun than going to the Boardwalk even if there really is nothing going on with her. You have to be back by midnight anyways...

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yeah, kinda stinks. I'm sure I could get an extension.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Do it. We're spying on that girl- aw, she's leaving!

Ayumi wore her disappointment on her sleeve as the old compact car turned around and pulled out onto the main road.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hold on. *puts phone to ear, pauses* Hi Dad. Yeah... Oh, uh... Anyways, can I stay out later tonight? Oh wow, thanks! I will. Love you guys, bye!

She then busied herself with a text message and addressed Ayumi at the same time.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Okay, I'm okay to stay out till whenever (but not all night) and I'll bet she's going to Kellen's house, or he at least knows where she is.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Oo, good call.

Ayumi looked at Nina in the backseat to see her hit the send button and smile.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Okay, he'll text back soon. So how come you don't wanna go to the boardwalk and get hit on by good-looking guys?

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Hm? Uh, well, I'm just not interested in boys.

Ayumi's composure faltered for a second as the question caught her off-guard.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Oh. You like girls?

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Huh? No, uh... I mean, I was with Noble until almost Christmas last year, and two other boyfriends right in a row before that.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Ah yeah, I remember hearing you guys broke up...

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Yeah. I'm a virgin (unbelievable to some of my teammates, but whatever), and guys are still a bit rough right now. Besides, I want to be free and avoid boyfriend-related drama right now.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *sighs* Yeah, I can totally relate...

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: So, I don't feel like clubbing or being put in a position where I have to deal with all that. So, I'm glad you came along.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Hahaha, I thought for a second you were gonna hit on me!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: You're a funny, self-centered girl, Nina.

Ayumi's eyes showed a friendly, sarcastic smile at Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Heh, maybe I shou- Oh!

Nina's phone rang and she checked the message.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Yup, Kellen says a bunch of them are hanging out at his house and he's got the windows open if we wanna spy on them and that we should park like a block away.

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: Wow, good call, Nina.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: Finally, here's Kana!

Kana-1.jpg Kana: Sorry guys.

Nina-7.jpg Nina: *sarcastically* Took you long enough!

Ayumi-0.jpg Ayumi: It's not important. Our plans have changed. Tonight, we are spies...