Chapter 87

                The jester turned from one room, her eyes ready to scan the dance area for the umpteenth time, when she found her vision suddenly blocked by four bodies. Though they were dressed as turtle-like creatures with different colored masks and presumably some training in ninjitsu, the outfits didn’t fool her for a minute. She knew what this group was even as they formed a small half-circle around her and began to steer her outside: these were HCP seniors. Masks or not, there was something about the seniors, more than just the trained musculature. It was a confidence, a certainty they moved with, like they’d fought their way through so much that they were prepared for anything. She deeply, desperately wanted to move like that one day, which was probably why she’d done something as batshit crazy as crash the party.

                No one made a scene as they slipped outside into the brisk October night. If anything, it looked like a group of friends heading out to get some fresh air. Had the jester struggled she might have bought herself a little time, but she didn’t even know what these people’s powers were. The only bits of information she had to work with were that they were more trained than her, she’d invaded their turf, and judging by the coordinated costumes they were a group used to working as a team. None of that boded well if she made more waves, so she went along peacefully, not so much as speaking until they were out the door and some ways out from the ruckus of the party.

                “In all my years here, I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff, but a freshman crashing a senior party, that is a new one,” said the girl with dyed-purple hair wearing a red mask. “Thomas, Will, either of you seen this shit?”

                A tan man wearing the blue mask and a lean guy wearing the purple both shook their heads to the negative. “Can’t say we have, Violet,” the one in blue replied.

                “I’ll be honest: in a way I respect it,” Violet told her. “I’ve always considered myself to have a big swinging pair, metaphorically at least, and I don’t think I ever would have worked up the nerve to try a stunt like this when I was a freshman. Our seniors were too damn scary; they barely even seemed human in those crisp white uniforms, all but radiating power. And that’s what takes this from cute to annoying, party-crasher. Because for you to do something like this either means we aren’t properly intimidating enough, or you’re just so cocky you pushed past it. So why don’t you go ahead and tell me, which is it? Do we seem like pushovers, or are you too arrogant for your own good?”

                “I’m not arrogant,” the jester said, forcing herself to speak above a mumble. “I’m… desperate. The only reason I came tonight is that I need to talk to someone, one of the seniors. In the halls, it’s just too chaotic and impossible to catch him, and when I went to his job he was always surrounded by people so I didn’t think I’d be able to bring it up. You know the worst part about this? I went to all the trouble of crashing your party, even got caught doing it, and I don’t think he even showed up tonight.”

                “Who exactly are you looking for?” The one in blue, she was pretty sure he’d been called Thomas, was using a softer voice. That action earned him a dirty look from Violet, but if he noticed he pointedly chose to ignore it.

                “Roy. I need to talk to Roy Daniels.”

                “Oh shit, is this a pregnancy thing?” This came from the woman wearing the orange mask, who true to form had brought her beer along with her even as they left the party.

                “What?” The jester nearly screeched, only pulling herself back at the last moment. “No, no I’ve… I’ve never even met… why wouldn’t I just… it’s not about pregnancy,” she said, finally regaining a bit of control. “It’s about training. I need Roy’s help, or I’m not sure I’ll make it to Christmas.”

                Strangely enough, that answer seemed to put the group at ease. The menacing aura dissipated, and she began to wonder if that’s all it had ever been, just an act designed to put a little fear in her as payback for crashing their event. Perhaps they were less inclined toward retribution when the reasoning was something they, as people who had climb their way through three years of endless trials and effort, could relate to.

                “Why do you need Roy?” Violet asked, still holding on to a bit more animosity than the rest of the group.

                “Look, it’s kind of an embarrassing situation, and I’d rather not explain twice. If you’re going to beat me up in the parking lot, let’s just get that done. I’ll heal up and catch Roy another time.”

                To her surprise, that got a laugh out of Violet, and with it the last of her faux-wickedness seemed to dissolve into the air. “I like this one! She’s got moxie.”

                “What’s moxie?” The jester asked.

                “It’s what old people call guts,” the woman in the orange mask replied.

                “And she’s got it,” Violet reiterated. “Don’t worry kid; we’re not going to beat you up or anything stupid like that. We just wanted to spook you, give you a bit of the same fear that our seniors put into us when we crossed a line. But it seems like you didn’t pull this stunt just for kicks, so we might be willing to let it slide. In fact, I’ll even let you in on a secret: Roy isn’t at the party yet, but he will be here. Probably within the hour, if I’ve got the timetables right. You want to come back in and wait for him?”

                “I… yes, very much so.” The jester began to move forward, but Violet threw out an arm to stop her, and wordlessly the four drew in closer to bar her path. It was a movement so fluid and natural she wasn’t sure if the group even realized they’d done it, they were just that accustomed to responding to each other’s signals.

                “Two things, frosh. One: we’re going to need a name. Sorry, but there’s a lot of you freshman right now so it’s hard to keep track. And two: you can save the long version for when Roy gets here, but if pregnancy is off the table then at least give us a snapshot of why you’ve been stalking our classmate.”

                “Stalking isn’t really… my name is Ashley. Ashley Beck,” she said, deciding it was best to move forward rather than defend her previous actions. “And I need to talk to Roy because the rumors all say he’s indestructible, which makes him the only person who might be able to help me train.”