May 18, 2021 4:18 AM
Teddy, recent orphan*, works through new powers, a new school, and grief.
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"Mm. I kind of want to go vertical, though?" Parvati's voice is apologetic. "I haven't had airspace in a while, is the thing."

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"You go on and stretch those wing muscles, Par." Teddy considers but discards trying to convince Parvati to fly up and then race. That would involve a lot of squinting. "I just had to ask! Risk of knowing me. See you later."

One day, Teddy will have an excuse to claw her way hand-over-hand up one of these ancient brick Whateley buildings with her cool new mutant hands. But she needs the excuse of a race to do that kind of property damage, if only for her own conscience.

The sidewalk it is, for now. Sigh.

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As she makes her way to Whitman from the Crystal Hall, someone falls into step next to her. Which is weird, considering how powerful her stride is.

The figure resolves into a girl, probably East Asian but with prodigiously frizzy hair that indicates some kind of mixed ancestry. She grins, just a little bit wider than a human being should be able to, in the process revealing some very pointy teeth. "Teddy! What's up."

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That is weird. Teddy slows down to talking speed anyway.

"Hi, you person. Who sneaks up on people who carry swords. At, like, sunset." Like some kind of vampire. "How can I help you?"

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She grins ever so slightly wider. "I'm Rowan Zhu. Ragpicker, by codename. And we have something in common! Something I prefer not to talk about in broad daylight... or, well, I don't care, but you might."

She clicks her fingernails together meaningfully. They look razor-sharp. "Call it a family matter."

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(Sharp Nails Club, as if Teddy needed another extracurricular.)

"Hi, Ragpicker. Lotta manhours being spent today on predicting what Teddy might care about," Teddy says, shifting her bag around. "You'd think it would be nice." She might as well go into the sewers or wherever with Ragpicker and talk about this relative stranger's family, or the Mafia, or whatever it is she's trying to imply there. That might as well happen. "Lead the way."

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Rowan leads her over to a small shed a little ways off the path. She puts one fingernail in the padlock and turns it, releasing the lock with a click, then opens the door and flicks the lightswitch.

The inside of the shed turns out not to be full of gardening implements as Teddy might have expected. Instead, it's a landing with stairs leading down below the earth, lit brightly by fluorescents.

"Welcome to the Lair," Rowan says. "I know, I know, what a cliché! But you've got to have somewhere to be, if you want to be somebody. Can you guess, now, what we have in common?"

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"It's not Sharp Nails Club?" Sparkle sparkle. She's definitely not getting it.

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While still not getting it, Teddy heads on downstairs. Only reason she let Rowan lead the way so far was because she knew where they were going. A single set of stairs leading down is more straightforward.

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Along each wall is a row of group photos, like for a soccer team, except that the participants are mostly weird goths. As she descends, she's followed by Rowan, who laughs at the comment about her nails. "No. Though they're very fetching, aren't they. What we have in common, Teddy, is that we are both the progeny of supervillains."

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Teddy gets about four seconds of fun Gee, Dad as a supervillain? That would be funny. His fearsome powers of accounting and tweed! before the penny drops.

Mom.

Teddy wheels mid-step on the stairs, smoothly rotating like the hands of a clock.

"Explain," she says, hands loose but held stock-still at her sides. Teddy's brows are furrowed over yellow eyes, which bore straight into Rowan's. Her heart thunders.

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Rowan blinks.

Then she laughs, or maybe she cackles. It sounds like tearing metal. "You-" She wheezes. "She didn't tell you? Families! People with families! Are hilarious!"

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A boy steps out of the shadows, and there's a cold prickle all over Teddy's skin. "Don't be a dick, Rowan. And since that's going to be a challenge for you, I'll take it from here."

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"Aww, really? Can I at least stay and listen?"

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"That depends on how cool you are with being stabbed," the shadow boy says icily. "If the answer is 'not very', fuck off. If the answer is 'very', fuck off anyway."

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Rowan grins, wider than before. "Only because I like you, Leo."

And she saunters away.

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Leo, apparently, turns to Teddy.

"Sorry about Rowan. She's a colossal bitch."

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It takes three steps to get from the foot of the stairs to the new boy. Rowan might as well have vanished. The goosebumps on Teddy's shoulders don't match her expression.

"Explain. About my mother."

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"Alright, alright, don't stab the messenger. We have... sources. I specifically have sources, the rest of these chucklefucks are mostly just fucking around. My sources informed me that your mother is the villainess Rampant, known throughout North Africa and Europe for grand theft, jewel theft, cat burglary, and - is it murder, if they're mercenaries, or is it just war? Hmm. Anyway, they did not inform me that she never told you this."

He shrugs. "But mothers can be like that."

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Teddy's mother was a dilettante, if an unassuming one. She smoked expensive tobacco on enclosed verandas and didn't say very much. She watched old black-and-white recordings of theater performances, and drank. She gave Teddy chores, and criticized her. She did not perform multiple felonies, or single ones. She didn't have powers. But then, she never left the country, either. She never saw, or mentioned, any of Teddy's family on her side. She never talked about life before she married any way but vaguely. And she never said goodbye, either.

Teddy's been doing a very effective job, these few months, of not-thinking about her mom being 'missing'. It was really working! But circumstances have clearly changed. It's really truly so stupid how believable this news is. She should be laughing, telling this random kid that if he wants to pretend to be a spy he should get better material, but it fits too neatly. It's not about evidence (she hasn't seen any) or trust (although she guesses she could throw Leo pretty far); it's something about her relationship with her mother, and how this feels like her. Teddy's glaring at Leo but it feels more like her mother's glaring at her, from an old armchair she favored back home. An invisible smirk, like Figure it out yet, Dorothy? from its tea-brown upholstered seat.

Her mother could be like that. Like this. Which is the only thing Leo's said so far that he didn't clearly pick up from someone else.

"Okay." Teddy says. Her stance has shifted, at some point; she's less in Leo's face now. She's standing sideways, arms loose, the right side of her body kinda pointed at him, which is only threatening if you've, say, been in a particular kind of sword fight. "Okay. If you can stop begging the question of whether I'm going to stab somebody for just a sec, we can talk. You can give me the third or fourth pitch I've gotten today for a fun and exclusive social club. I can give you the time of day. You can explain everything you know in detail, and give me your sources. It'll be fun."

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"Sure thing. We're the Bad Seeds, and we're not a supervillain club. I know it kind of seems like it, with the name, and with me and Rowan skulking around, but it's - more of a support group than anything. If you're an aspiring villain you can certainly find friends here, but we won't turn you away if you aren't. Honestly, I'm not trying very hard to convince you to join, because I have now met you and it's pretty obvious you don't want to, at least not yet. But if you reconsider, we're here. As to my sources..."

He doesn't move, but his shadow does, boiling up off the floor to stand next to him. It's freaky, and freakier still when the shadow whispers Hello.

"Tezcatlipoca. My familiar, an unbound shadow. I gave him my birth name and brought him forth from the formless void, and he tells me secrets. Secrets specifically - sometimes forgotten or forbidden knowledge counts, but usually there has to be an active effort to keep the information from the outside world. So, I could find out that your mother was a supervillain, but I couldn't have found out that she never told you about it, because that's - not a secret, it's just something I happened not to know."

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Okay, parental trauma is parental trauma but talking shadows are still cool. And Leo has shown a surprising amount of boundary-respect given the trajectory Teddy was predicting.

"Wish my birth name had been Tezcatlipoca. I could even keep the same initials." It's a cool power, too. Even if it does ineluctably invade privacy. "Nice to meet you? You too, Leo. Sorry if I got intense there, due to circumstances. It sounds like a neat club. I'm still getting used to the Swiss neutrality towards villain behavior around here but the Bad Seeds do actually sound the least like an evil cult out of the clubs I've met so far."

Victoriatus is never quiet, but he is currently sort of keeping his voice down: Binding the unbound. Feeding a lie to the truth. Discoveries from the shade. He sounds like he might faint. I find paradoxes so draining.

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"Okay, that's hilarious but I need you to know that my birth name was not Tezcatlipoca. I don't know what it actually was, but it was probably something like Elena or Evita or something like that. And thanks. Given the selection you've seen so far I can't say I'm shocked. The Alphas are definitely an evil cult, and the Golden Kids are rich, which is basically the same thing."

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Teddy mulls for a few moments on why, exactly, this boy would be listing girl names.

"So Mr. Shadow here is Tezcatlipoca..."

"Which, hm."

"Wait, so... Trans!"

She goes for the high-five. Teddy guesses that Leo doesn't know she's rich, which would make sense since it isn't a secret. Which sets Teddy to wondering if she could, say, strategically tell someone about a secret piece of information just to keep Leo from learning it? In case she ever needs to do that. But then, doing that actually sounds like it would be pretty secretive behavior... hmm... (Teddy gets most of her good thinking done during the gap between the setup of a high-five and its payoff.)

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"Trans!" He high-fives her gamely. "Hmm... anything else you wanted to go over while you're here?"

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