From their vantage point, Hexcellent could just make out several people floating in the air, some in costumes and others wearing practical outfits designed for work. She and Owen were a ways off from the ravine with its secret base, the talk of Brewster as countless brave reporters tried to sneak close enough for a scoop only to be found and turned away. The official story on what had been found there was minimal, though that didn’t stop all manner of rumor from swirling about.
“Alright, show me what you’ve got.” Owen stood near her, eyes never wavering as he waited for the demonstration to begin.
“Can I have a minute? My stomach is still fucking churning from that trip.” Hexcellent had been surprised to discover that Owen’s version of a ‘ride’ was him running through town at top speed while she clung to his back for dear life. Though he’d kept a careful grip on her legs at all times, it hadn’t made the journey any less terrifying. Or nauseating, for that matter.
“No one gives you time in the field. You have to be able to work under all sorts of conditions,” Owen told her.
Hexcellent let out a few choice swears under her breath, but she also closed her eyes to focus. This was harder than her usual summons, the ones that sat so close to the top of her mind, bound to the milestones in her life that had shaped who she was. For this one, she had to go deeper, past the woman she’d become to the child she’d started out as. In a lot of ways, it was like distilling everything about her down to the purest, most innocent form. That was where her true guardian dwelled.
A pop filled the air, and next to Hexcellent stood a three-foot tall rabbit on its hind legs, wearing a colorful suit of armor. It looked from her to Owen several times, then leaned it’s head against the summoner’s leg in a nuzzling motion.
“Damn, that is beyond adorable.” Owen shook his head, he couldn’t even imagine how many of these things would be on the shelves come next Christmas, to say nothing of the more intimidating versions still showing up on news reports. “Not quite as potent, though.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not really all that scared right now, am I?” Hexcellent countered. “I talked to some of those DVA guys and the Heroes who debriefed me, the running theory is that he came out so strong because I was fuckall terrified. No threat means he’s the old-fashioned fluffy version.”
“That’s what I’d heard too,” Owen said. Determining a Super’s abilities was often a game of elimination, keep creating and discarding theories until one finally seemed to fit. In Hexcellent’s case, they’d had very little to go on and an inversely large motivation to understand what made her summon tick. An adaptive rabbit that could grow twenty-stories tall when the need arose wasn’t the sort of power they’d want to let run loose without knowing how it worked.
“Kind of too bad, when you think about it.” Owen sat down in the grass, watching the floating Supers in the distance as they ensured none of the workers in the ravine were disturbed. “With the PEERS gig, the fluffy guy won’t have too many chances to really flex his stuff. Only so much call for an unstoppable bunny in rescue work.”
“Never know, the little bastard might find his time to shine.” Hexcellent rubbed Hopcules between the ears as she also took a seat on the ground. It was nice, out here away from the city’s center, she could almost forget about all the destruction and work that awaited them back in Brewster. “And even if he doesn’t, at least we got one hell of a chance to live the dream. Thanks for that, by the way. I never thought I’d actually get to play Hero, but because of you I did. Even if it was just for an hour, that time meant more to me than I ever realized it would.”
“Glad to hear that,” Owen said. “Because if you’re up to the challenge, you might be able to have that experience again.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled forth the last of his documents and handed it to Hexcellent, who unfolded the page and began slowly reading.
Owen was silent as she soaked in the words; something like this might take a few minutes to wrap her head around. That was why he’d taken her out here, where the world was more peaceful. That, and in case Hopcules had come out in his big form once more.
“I don’t understand,” Hexcellent finally said. “I mean, I know this is an acceptance letter, but… I didn’t even apply.”
“The dean of Sizemore and I are on good terms,” Owen explained. “We sat down and had a long talk about you. About your past, about you cleaning yourself up and giving back to the community, about who you were under the make-up. Dean Jackson is a hard man with some patience issues, but he’s also the type who believes people can change. With my recommendation, he agreed to accept you into next year’s freshman HCP class. That’s why I gave Topsy the folder on Eli, as a potential replacement. The spot in Sizemore is yours, if you want it.”
The paper in her hands was shaking, and wordlessly Hopcules wrapped his furry arms around Hexcellent’s torso. “You’re serious? This… this is real? I can be a Hero?”
“That’s up to you,” Owen said. “Getting in to the HCP is a lot easier than staying there, and few Supers ever reach graduation. Make no mistake, you’ll have to prove that you belong there every day, or you’ll be cast out like so many before you. But, if you can do the near-impossible, then yes, Hexcellent. You can be a Hero one day. This time, for real.”
She was hugging him before he even noticed her move, tears running across his shirt where Hexcellent’s face was pressed into his shoulder. For once, this was a costume cleaning that he wouldn’t complain about.
“Titan… thank you so much. There’s no way I can really do this though, is there? I’m already past college age, and my face is all over the place in advertisements. Even I know Heroes have to keep their identity secret.”
Gently, noting the wary eyes of Hopcules, Owen rested his hand on top of her ink-black hair. “You only have to keep it secret as a student, after that it’s a choice. As for your age, lots of people do college later in life. Hell, if anything it makes you less likely to be suspected of being in the HCP. As for the face, as long as you cut back on the make-up, switch hair-dyes, and cover the tattoos I think you’ll be unrecognizable. No one is going to hunt that hard for a corpie that left her team.”
“Except that I summoned a giant rabbit that half the town is talking about,” Hexcellent reminded him.
“About that, you may have noticed that the rabbit is all they’re talking about. No one got a good picture of the woman riding its shoulder, and the DVA is holding back that information pending your acceptance. So far as the world is concerned, Hexcellent was just the goth PEERS that summoned demons, the only people who know the truth are Mordent, who are too smart to break a DVA gag order, other Heroes, and your teammates. If you want, we can let the news out. You’ll probably be the most popular PEERS in the country overnight. Or, the DVA can designate the situation as classified, and you become a nobody freshman in the HCP next fall and tackle the PEERS past if you make graduation. It’s all up to you, Hexcellent.”
“Hannah.” Slowly, she lifted her head from his shoulder, though the tears were still falling freely. Her dark make-up was streaked and smudged, already fading to show the woman who dwelled underneath. “Can’t very well go by my old corpie name at school, now can I?”
“No, I suppose not.” Owen leaned forward a bit, meeting the glassy-eyed stare of her guardian rabbit. “You and the others are going to need to take care of her from this point on. She’ll be plenty scared more than once working through the Hero Certification Program.”
Hopcules nodded, and though it might have been Owen’s imagination, he thought he saw the barest traces of claws peeking out from Hopcules’s fuzzy fingers.