Status: This is for NaNo. As such, it will be unedited for the time being.

The Power of Illusions

Chapter Two

The next day, John woke up very refreshed, happy he got to sleep in an extra hour. It was still 9 in the morning, but hey. It was better than waking up at 8 AM every day. Sage really liked everyone to be on the same schedule as much as possible, so it was a facility-wide rule. Everyone was up at 8 and in bed by 10 at the latest. Or at least in their rooms making minimal noise.

The young man stretched and scratched his stomach as he yawned widely. Shortly after he awoke, there was a knock at his door.

“Hey, man. You up?” It was Dave. John walked over to the door and unlocked it, signaling to his friend that he could come in.

“Yeah. God that extra hour was nice. What about you? Did you sleep in?” he asked as he moved across the room to his closet, pulling out his stretchy jeans and a blue t-shirt with a windy symbol on it. Dave was dressed in a pair of stretchy black pants and a red t-shirt with a gear on it. He was fascinated with Time and had the most accurate internal clock John had ever seen. It was a pity that Time control wasn’t actually a thing. Dave would totally have it if it were.

“Seriously? You have to ask that? While I enjoy my beauty sleep just as much as anyone else, I woke up at the usual time. You know I like using my extra hours to throw down some sick beats or write another few panels for Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff,” the blond retorted, sitting down on his friend’s bed as said friend took to changing out of his boxers and sleep shirt. John felt more than comfortable enough to change in front of the other. The two had become fast friends ever since Dave was brought in when the two were 10. Dave came with his older brother Dirk, who had electrokinesis. They were discovered in Houston, Texas. It had been the middle of a particularly snowy winter for Texas, and Dave had made an entire parking lot melt just by standing there and wishing it were hotter. Just a couple months prior, Dirk had caused an electricity storm just because he was frustrated by losing against their oldest brother in a sword fight. They’d been on the roof of their apartment complex at the time, so the neighbors saw that the electricity came from Dirk, himself. As a result, the two had been shunned and relentlessly mocked at school and in public. It got bad enough that their oldest brother (who also doubled as their guardian seeing as they’d lost their parents very young) looked up S.B.U.R.B. (he had a surprising number of contacts in the underground) and asked them to take the two somewhere safe, somewhere they wouldn’t have to go through that. He knew he couldn’t follow, seeing as he didn’t have strange powers, but he knew it was for the best. The boys didn’t really care too much, seeing as their brother was more than a little abusive in his method of raising them. I mean, who honestly taught 10-12 year old boys how to fight with katanas?

As John changed, Dave eyed his best friend from behind the shades given to him for his 13th birthday by said friend. The black-haired man had such a nice body: a decent amount of muscle, trim waist, broad shoulders, shapely legs, and not to mention his ass. It was strong, but squishy looking. Dave secretly delighted in taking in his friend’s visage. The blond had been struggling with his sexuality for a while. He found himself attracted to a number of his friends, and he kept telling himself it was due to the close quarters and the lack of outer socialization. But he kept coming back to the same three people. One of them was John. He’d never tell the other, but it was what it was.

“You’re still working on that shitty webcomic of yours? Seriously? How does that even have any views?” John asked, finally dressed and putting on his shoes.

“My comic is comedic gold, man. Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff is totally the next big thing. Plus, I have a shitton of viewers, mind you. It’s like, some sort of occult following. These people recognize true comedy and irony at its most basic sense. And I’m positive none of them are going to look at normal objects like stairs the same way ever again. That’s what I’m going for, John. Letting people know the truth of the world through disturbing comedy that is purely ironic in its presentation.”

“Dave? You totally just rambled and I have no idea what it was you just said, to be honest with you,” John stated, going over to his mirror to tame the black nest that was his hair. It didn’t really work too well, what with a couple cowlicks sticking up, but the man just shrugged and put his glasses on, deeming himself presentable. His stomach rumbled at that moment. “Anyway, I’m hungry. Let’s go get breakfast. I’m sure the girls are there, too.” With that, he strode out of his room, leaving Dave to trail behind him, hands in his pockets.

“What I was trying to get at, John, was that people like the shit I write. I don’t know why, but they do, and it’s the shit. Not to mention, Bro reads it and comments every so often, so I know he’s doing ok. Not that I really care or anything. He was a shit guardian,” Dave continued to ramble. John raised an eyebrow at his friend before a look of comprehension crossed his face.

“You had a dream about Bro again, didn’t you? That’s why you chose to work on Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, right?” Every time the younger Strider had any sort of dream, nostalgic, nightmare, or some sort of a strange dream, about his former guardian, he would work on the webcomic he started writing because of Bro. It was really his only connection to the outside world since most of them weren’t allowed to go out without good reason. It was to keep them safe, and they understood that, but sometimes it got really boring, really fast.

“...yeah. Like, I don’t miss him, but it’s been weird having Dirk be my only immediate family. Don’t get me wrong, Rose and Roxy are cool, but it is weird. I mean, sure, I’ve been without him for ten years now, but I don’t know.” John gave him a small smile and put his hand on the thin shoulder, giving it a small squeeze.

“You miss him, dude. It’s ok to. I miss my dad a lot. He’s always the one I call when we have our free days. There’s no shame in missing someone.”

“But he was abusive, John. Surely that’s a reason to not miss him.” The two kept walking to the dining room. John floating lazily next to his best friend.

“He’s still family, Dave He raised you most of your life, however shitty job he did. It’s normal to miss him. He was significant. I’m sure Rose will tell you the same thing,” he said, trying to comfort Dave, knowing he was stressed about the revelation despite not showing it.

“Do NOT, for the love of all that is holy, bring up that shit to Rose. She will over evaluate the fuck out of all of that. You know how she gets,” Dave pointed out, appreciating the gesture of comfort from John. The other just laughed as they approached the dining room.

“That’s true. That’s why you talk to me about this stuff, right? Cuz I won’t do that?” He smiled brightly, and Dave couldn’t help but feel his heart flutter at the sight of it.

“Duh. You are literally one of the chillest dudes I’ve ever had the fortune of meeting. Except when you get all defensive about Nic Cage and Matt McConah-whatever-the-fuck-his-name-is. They suck and that’s that,” the blond stated, knowing it would get John’s mind off their previous conversation.

“What?! Dave! Nic Cage is amazing and Matthew McConaughey is one of the best actors ever!” John shouted as they entered the dining room, spotting the girls already seated at the table with a nice spread of breakfast foods in front of them.

“Are you two seriously arguing over that again?” Jade asked, laughing at the boys as they sat down. John reached across her for the bowl of scrambled eggs followed by grabbing for the bacon as he answered.

“Of course! Dave insulted the best actors known to man. How could I not retaliate in such a way?” he asked, grabbing for a couple pieces of toast and buttering them as well. Dave also filled his plate with food, choosing a cereal instead of toast.

“They suck, John. They are worse than Ben Stiller, and that’s saying a lot.”

“Those shades you’re wearing were Ben Stiller’s. You know that, right? You remember the letter of authenticity that came in the package? So how can you seriously say that Ben Stiller sucks, first off and that Nic Cage and Matthew McConaughey are terrible, too? God, your taste in movies is shit, Dave!” John complained after pointing his fork at Dave for emphasis. He turned back to his meal while the blond shrugged.

“You know that movie these shades are from sucked harder than Sweet Bro fell down the stairs in my most recent update. I.E. the update from this morning. It was epic. And ironically funny. But stupid all at the same time. It’s like-”

“Dave! No rants this early in the morning! Please?” whined Jade. While she was bright eyed and bushy tailed from getting an extra hour’s sleep, she did NOT want to deal with the metaphorical shit that was about to spew forth from the mouth of the seated Strider. Rose raised an eyebrow at her cousin and smirked at him being shut down so quickly.

“I don’t know, Jade. Perhaps we could allow him to continue his inevitable tirade and then evaluate and parse exactly what he means by it through the action of bringing up painfully accurate assumptions about his character and his past. Would that make you happy, Dave?” The sarcasm and teasing tone laced her voice elegantly, causing Dave to actually pause in his eating and stare at her through his shade.

“You would absolutely love that, wouldn’t you, Rose? You’ve been dying to psychoanalyze me like some sort of Oedipan or Freudian or whatever subject recently, haven’t you? And you’re pissed that I’m not giving you anything to work with, is that right?”

“Quite the opposite, dear cousin. You’re giving me more than enough to work with. I shall fill up an entire journal detailing this exact conversation and the Freudian connotations of it hereafter we have finished and just before we have training. It is a tedious process, but someone has to do it, right?” She smiled at her cousin before turning back to the last of her meal.

“Aaaaaand you officially lost me with that talk, Rose. You can psychoanalyze him some other time. How did you two sleep?” John butted in before Dave could retort, wanting to see if either of the other two had actually slept in the extra hour like he did and like Dave didn’t.

“I slept as well as any other night, John. Thank you for asking. I was, however, up at the normal time this morning. It was a very nice hour filled with reading from my Grimorie for the Zoologically Dubious.” Rose took a sip of her orange juice, surprisingly not even leaving a trace of her usual black lipstick on the glass. John and Dave could never figure out how she, Kanaya, or Roxy ever managed to do that. It was witchcraft. It had to be.

“I slept in! It was sooooo nice! I feel much more rested, not that last night took a lot out of me. It was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I wonder how that guy is doing,” Jade answered after Rose, bringing up their mission from the previous night. John shrugged and swallowed his mouthful of food.

“I have no idea. You know we don’t usually see the people we bring in for several weeks after they get here. I have no idea what they do to rehabilitate them, but obviously it works. It just takes a while, I guess.” Jade nodded. She was always interested in the methods of the facility’s inner workings. She was a scientist through and through and wanted to know things she wasn’t allowed to access yet. Rolanda, while deeming her more than smart enough to handle the situations, deemed her too young to deal with them right then. When she was older, Jade would be allowed in the lab with the Lalonde matriarch. Rolanda had promised her several years ago.

“I just hope it’s humane what they’re doing. I get that these are the bad guys, but not all of them are super bad. They’re just misguided.” Green eyes sparkled in her conviction of her belief. Jade truly believed in the good in everyone unless specifically proven otherwise. That didn’t mean, however, that she was a doormat to be walked over. Her and Karkat had quite a few rows when he first came in. His gruff personality and lack of asking for help pissed her off, and she wouldn’t take it. She gave back as good as she got, putting Karkat in his place more than one time over the last few years.

“I’m sure it is, Jade. My mother wouldn’t do anything that lacked morality and humanity. She may be a frigid bitch a good majority of the time, mocking me with her love of wizards and the like, but she has her heart in the right place most of the time. She’s a scientist and will do whatever it takes to get the results she wants… within reason. And she always toes the line, but never will she cross it. You have my word on that.” Rose had to reassure Jade every time that her mother was humane in her methods. It never grew tiring, however. Seeing the relieved look on her friend’s face was more than worth the repetitive explanation. Jade offered her a smile and finished off the last of her milk.

“Alright! I trust you, Rose. I’m going to go feed Bec before heading to the training room. I’ll see all of you there!” With that, Jade rose from the table to head to the back of the facility where her dog resided. He was a beautiful white german shepherd by the name of Bequerel, but she called him Bec for short. When she was brought in, her and Jake absolutely refused to be transported without one of their family dogs. Their grandfather kept Bec’s sister, Halley, while they took the other. Jade made it a point every morning to take him out for a short walk and feed him. She also spent time with him during her free time, too. He reminded her of Jake and her grandpa, and that helped her cope. When Jake had disappeared, that was the only time Bec was allowed around the facility. She had to have him near to her at all times or she’d go into a panic attack.

John, Dave, and Rose waved at her, Rose standing next.

“I’m heading to the training room now to meet up with Kanaya. I believe we are supposed to work with her, Karkat, and Nepeta today. I will meet you in there as well. Enjoy your breakfast, but remember to hurry. We are due in there in five minutes, boys,” she reminded them with a small smile, walking (damn near gliding) out of the room.

“How the hell does she do that?” asked Dave, polishing off his Frosted Flakes and downing his glass of apple juice.

“Do what?” John asked, mouthful of food seeing as he’d helped himself to seconds and trying to down it in time.

“Fucking glide around like that. Like, I get it coming from you because aerokinesis and shit, but you are clumsy as fuck when not flying or floating. She doesn’t have that and can just… walk like she’s not even really walking. How?” Dave questioned once more, leaning back in his chair and waiting for John to finish. The latter only answered once he finally downed the last of his bacon and his glass of orange juice.

“I have no idea. She’s really weird like that. Always has been. Ok! I’m done. Let’s get to the training room. I’m looking forward to today!” John stood and made his way to the door, Dave pushing up and following close behind.

“Why? So we can be emotionally and physically controlled?” The black-haired man laughed and clapped his friend on the shoulder lightly.

“It’s not going to be that bad, Dave. Not to mention, they have to practice somehow, right? How can they really practice without doing it on people? Karkat and Nepeta are really strong, you know,” John stated as they turned the corner, spotting the open door to the training room.

“You know they always make me do weird shit, John. I don’t like it but can’t say anything without blowing my passive facade,” Dave countered, knowing they were going to be a hair late due to his internal clock.

“Oh, screw that. They don’t make you do anything too weird,” said John, chuckling a little as they entered the training room, their instructor glaring at them. “Oh shit… we’re late, aren’t we?”

“I could have told you that, John. But you chose to walk at a leisurely pace, so I left it up to you,” Dave tried to play it off that he was following someone else instead of choosing on his own to walk slowly. Their instructor grunted.

“Whatever, Strider. Get in line, you two. Today, we’ll be working on your teamwork. You six have never been in a big team altogether, right? Share your abilities once more and we’ll figure out how you’d all work together now that you’re much stronger than you were as children,” he instructed, laying out the plans for the day. As far as training went in the facility, most training was done individually. At least once a week, groups of six would be put together and would come up with ways to play off one another’s powers in case they were chosen for a mission. All of them had been working pairs or threes every week, but larger groups were varied due to the lack of need for them.

The instructor, known as Mark, nodded to the girls on the end, indicating them to go first. Rose stepped forward.

“Hydrokinesis,” she stated and summoned the moisture from the air, manipulating it in patterns around herself. Rose then formed droplets of it and used them as miniature bullets, shooting them at the dummies across the room. She made a whip out of the water, using it to slice one of the other dummies. She continued showing off her power for another couple minutes, demonstrating all she could do so the people in the room had an idea of what she was capable of.

“Very good, Lalonde,” stated Mark. He turned to the next in line, Kanaya. She stepped forward and took a deep breath.

“My ability is forcefields. I am solely a defensive member as I cannot use them for anything else that I have been able to accomplish or figure out,” she said before creating a clear forcefield right in front of her. It was clear, but an inch thick. Mark helped her to test it by using a myriad of weapons on it: knives, swords, guns, his own hyrdokinesis, whips, chains, etc. It was impenetrable. It kept its form, however, it did appear to cause Kanaya some strain the longer it was up. There was sweat forming on her brow the more he attacked her forcefield. After a few minutes of demonstration, Kanaya finally let it drop and heaved a breath before returning to her normal, perfect posture. She made her way back to the line, Nepeta stepping forward.

Nepeta Leijon was a small, black girl with natural hair that stuck up every which way and went to her shoulders. Usually, she kept it under a blue hat that resembled a cat’s face, having a deep love for any and all things feline. She had piercing green eyes that could see right through a person despite looking utterly adorable. Nepeta always appeared to be the one that wouldn’t harm a fly or any other living thing, but she was a huntress. She’d been found living alone in the woods near a town in Minnesota. People had been muttering for years about an entity in the local woods that would manipulate hunters into turning away from their prey, said hunters coming back not knowing exactly what happened or why they felt the way they did. Their emotions were screwy for several weeks afterward. Most of them even found themselves having more compassion for the animals that they hunted, turning away from the sport completely. Their families were very confused and concerned with the abrupt change in behavior. As the stories reached the ears of traveling S.B.U.R.B. agents, they decided to check things out, finding Nepeta living in a cave in the side of a cliff. At first, she attempted manipulating their emotions. Unfortunately for her, one of them had the power to deaden emotions, leaving her with nothing to work with. They explained who they were, and the very small girl told them her mother had been killed by her father a few years prior. Nepeta, being only 7 at the time, had no idea of her power and, when confronted by her father threatening to take her own life, she manipulated his emotions into anxiety and fear, such as she was feeling. It overwhelmed him, seeing as she had no control over how much she induced, and he ended up killing himself. Nepeta, terrified of what would happen if she were found by the police, ran from the scene, blood splattering her clothing from the blood exiting her father when he shot himself in the head, She went into the nearby woods. There, she was found by a large female cougar. Even more terrified she’d be eaten, somehow her emotional manipulation could extend ever so slightly to animals. The hungry puma, instead of hunting her, laid next to her, purring in comfort. From that point on, the big cat had been a mother figure to her until hunters killed her several months prior to Nepeta being found. From there, the men reiterated that she had unique powers and that they could help her if she would come with them. The young girl agreed and came to the facility at, what they found out later, 11 years old. Back to the present, Nepeta gave a beaming smile, showing off very sharp canines, sharper than normal, and turned to her companions.

“Emotional manipulation. May I use one of you for demonstration? Mark doesn’t like it when I manipulate his emotions,” she pouted at the very end, giving their instructor big eyes and an adorable little frown. John stepped forward.

“I volunteer! Hee hee. It always feels really weird when you do that to me, but you haven’t in a long time, so here’s your opportunity!” He thrust his chest out, acting like the valiant volunteer, sacrificing himself for the greater good. Nepeta laughed and stood in front of him, staring at him with her intense gaze. He locked eyes with her, smile still present until it dropped. It became a frown in a split second, his brow furrowing in anger. He felt his body get tense as he found himself particularly furious with the tiny girl in front of him. As soon as he moved forward to attack, he stopped. An overwhelming sadness wracked his body as tears sprung in his eyes, cascading down his face. Before he could grieve over nothing too much, once more, his emotions flipped. All of a sudden, he dropped to his knees laughing so hard, he almost couldn’t breathe. Everything was just so funny! His instructor, his best friend, the breakfast he’d had, everything! Just as he was starting to feel a little light-headed from the laughter, he stopped. A frown took his face again as his eyes widened. His pulse raced, and a million scenarios for the way the day would play out filtered through his mind, most of them ending badly. He grew sweaty and panicky as the anxiety started overtaking him.

All the while, Nepeta stood in front of him, smiling widely. Finally, she let him go and returned him to his normal attitude. He took a deep breath while his heart rate returned to normal, not liking feeling that anxious.

“Wow, Nepeta. You’ve gotten a hell of a lot faster at that. I remember when it used to take you a minute or so to really get someone going in the emotion you were forcing on them,” he said, pulse returning to normal as he stepped back into line. She grinned like a cheshire cat.

“I know! I’ve been working purr-etty hard at it during my individual training. I’ve even gotten to the point that those that can deaden emotions, I can actually scratch the surface of manipulating. I’m really close to being able to turn on their emotions full force and control them that way!” she bragged, stepping back into line as everyone looked at the small girl in shock.

“Really?! Goddamn, Nepeta. That’s incredible,” stated Karkat, actually impressed with that amount of control and enforcement. Nepeta blushed at Karkat’s praise. She’d had a crush on the young man since he’d first gotten to the facility. Hearing anything positive about herself from him always did that to her. Mark, however, spoiled the mood by clearing his throat.

“Let’s move on then, shall we? Karkat, you’re next.” With that, the gruff man stepped forward.

“Blood manipulation. Mark? You wanna volunteer?” Karkat asked, rolling his head and shoulders and taking a strong stance. Mark nodded and kept his body tense. Karkat’s eyes glowed red as they hyper-focused on the coursing of the other man’s blood. Picking out the hemoglobin in the cells rushing through the veins, Karkat took control of them. In his vision, the hemoglobin stopped in its tracks before he commanded it to move a certain way. Seeing as it was a component of carrying information through the body, Mark began moving in a way he normally wouldn’t. Karkat held up his hands, twirling a finger around and making the other man spin in a circle. All the while, Mark was trying to fight it but could do nothing more than let his body move against his will. Karkat had the man attack the dummies and do cartwheels and even had him raise his arms in a way akin to how he normally would to summon his water. Having the control over the hemoglobin that he did, Karkat was able to force the man to summon the water from his own body by moving him in the manner that would naturally do so. It was almost as if Mark were a puppet that Karkat was controlling. The marked difference was that the instructor was completely aware of the entire process and could do nothing about it. With a true puppet master, even the brain would be controlled, so the victim would be entirely unaware of the process.

After a few minutes of demonstration, the glow in Karkat’s eyes faded as he relinquished his control of the instructor, allowing him to take his own body back. The man sighed as he could control his own body again and nodded to Karkat, who stepped back into line. Next up was John.

“I have aerokinesis!” he exclaimed, floating already in his excitement to show off his powers.

“We already know, you asshole. You show it off every fucking chance you get. Mark, do we really have to let this asshat demonstrate his powers? Every single one of us already knows what he can do. He brags about it all the time and shows off even more. Especially when he’s learned something new. It gets demonstrated at dinner that night. Can we just skip John and move on to the asshole we all know and love, Dave? Sorry, I meant hate. We all hate him. He is a massive co-”

“We get the point, Karkat, but no. Everyone has to demonstrate. That’s the purpose of today. Even if you may think you know what the others can do, you still need to see it in action today in order to better figure out how to work together. And yes, Karkat, work together. That means helping one another get shit accomplished,” Mark chided, turning back to John. “Go on, John.” The blue-eyed man nodded as his perpetual smile actually dropped in concentration.

Wind whipped around the room as he called on it. Everyone’s hair tossed around them, including John’s. His eyes became an even clearer blue than normal as the wind obeyed his every command. He slowed it, sped it up, specifically directed it in certain areas. He showed off his speed with it, darting around the room. Then, he began showing the very beginnings of his attempts to create a cyclone. In order to do it, he had to fly in circles rapidly in order to create the vortex. Eventually, he started blurring with how fast he was going, and the very beginning of a cyclone started forming. However, John had to stop as he couldn’t keep up going that fast for that long and settled back down on the ground, heaving for breath.

“That’s -huff- about the best -huff- that I can do for right now. The wind is a really tricky thing. -huff huff- I can also -huff-” Before he continued, he held up a finger and regulated his breathing quickly so that he could speak normally. “I can also sap the air from any given area, effectively suffocating someone. I chose not to do that here because I’m sure no one would volunteer to be suffocated, am I right?” he laughed. Everyone in the room made various indications that he was indeed right as he stepped back in line. Dave took that moment to move forward. Mark gave him a nod, letting him know that he could do his demonstration.

“Pyrokinesis,” was all he said before literally setting himself on fire. The flames licked his body without doing any damage. He shifted them from one side of his body to the other, targeting certain limbs, giving himself funny fire hairdos, and then directing the flames to a dummy. Everyone watched as it quickly turned to ash, Dave increasing the temperature of the flames to turn them blue. He then extinguished the flames and took to adjusting the temperature in the room. First, he made it excruciatingly hot, then cooled it right down by sapping all the heat and holding it within his own body. From there, he walked over to another dummy and touched it, watching as it burned right in the spot he touched from his body alone. He played around with the temperature more and did a few more flame tricks that everyone had seen millions of times before stepping back into line.

“Very good. Now that everyone knows what everyone else is capable of, let’s begin, shall we? Based on the powers demonstrated, who can work the best together? Be the most effective in conjunction with one another?” their instructor questioned, pacing in front of them. John raised his hand.

“Dave and Rose would work excellently together, as they already have, with a fire-water combination. Since Dave can control heat, that makes Rose able to control ice as well as fire,” he answered, proud of his response.

“Very good, John. However, there are more pairings to include in this. What is another one?” This time, Kanaya answered.

“Karkat and Nepeta would work equally well together with their manipulation of the human body. Together, they could equate to a puppet master with Nepeta controlling the emotions of the person and Karkat controlling their body,” she stated, looking down the line at both of them, giving her cousin a look that told him to try arguing with her. He just glared and crossed his arms. Even though he wanted to argue for arguments’ sake, her explanation was right. Him and Nepeta working together would have one hell of an effect on someone. The two had never had to be on a team together, so this would be one of the extremely rare times they would play off one another’s powers.

“Exactly my thoughts, Kanaya. Well done. You were right when you stated that you were purely a defense at this point in time, so there isn’t one specific person you can work well with here. And John’s powers aren’t entirely versatile enough to work with any other element unless Rose and Dave worked together to create a mist.” Mark stopped in front of the 6 young adults in the room, eyeing each of them. “Now. I will give you several scenarios. You must come up with the best method of overcoming the obstacle I have presented you with. This will take concentration, strategy, and a perfect utilization of resources available to you. First scenario: Hydrokinetic power wielder. He’s harming civilians with his water and appears to be able to form it into a myriad of weapons. What’s your best method of approaching him?” The students all stayed quiet for a moment as they evaluated the situation in their heads. Rose spoke up first.

“Personally, I would go out first to fight water with water in an effort to distract him from his current activities. From there, I would probably have Dave come in with his heat control and do the mist technique that you mentioned prior. John could then manipulate it to a certain area and take away his sight. From there, Karkat and Nepeta could move in to stop him in his tracks and have him willingly follow us. Kanaya would act as back-up in the event that any part of that plan backfired or faltered and protect us all with her force fields,” she explained. Mark considered her words and hmm’d.

“Not bad, but what would you do in the event that he was able to make it out of the mist and attack you all?”

“As stated at the end, that’s where Kanaya comes in with her force fields,” said Rose. “However, after that point, it would depend on what sort of attacks he would make on us. Would he be attacking with the water weapons or would he try a new approach?” she countered.

“Give me what you would do for either,” stated Mark. Rose nodded and considered for a moment before continuing.

“In the case of him using his weapons of water again, I would suggest Kanaya taking the forefront if they are more on the hand-held variety. That way she could keep him occupied long enough for us to surround him, Karkat and Nepeta once more working together to get him to willingly come with us. If he uses the water in a more long distance manner, I would take the forefront and counter his attacks with my own. Dave could help me use ice against the hyrdokinesis while John could use his own long distance attacks with the wind to aid in disabling him. The second part of this could also work for if he uses a different approach,” the blonde explained, completely sure of herself and her strategy. “Regardless, the overall goal we are going for is to distract him long enough for Karkat and Nepeta to move in to control him. We have to hold him off until those two can make their move.”

“Not too bad, Rose. Your analytical mind proves itself time and again. You made sure you had several methods of approaching any given situation in regards to that specific user and utilized everyone in a manner they could be useful in. I commend you on your plan. Saving Karkat and Nepeta as the key players was a smart thing to do seeing as they can’t necessarily do attacks or defend themselves with their powers.” Rose nodded to the instructor who put his arms behind his back. “Now, let’s see how you fare in that exact situation, shall we?” Mark grinned and summoned water, forming it into a sword and attacked. The group was forced to split up in order to avoid any injured. They leapt into action and began the practical application of the plan put forth by Rose.

The training session continued in much the same manner until lunchtime hit around 12:30. The group finished their last practical run, heaving and sweating in exertion.

“Very good, all. Lunchtime. You’ve all done exceptionally well today. Take an hour and a half break for lunch and to recuperate. Once 2:00 hits, make sure you are ready for your individual sessions. Dismissed,” Mark stated, walking out of the training room toward the dining room. The young adults all heaved a sigh of relief at the break they were allowed before following suit.

“Goooood. That session was rough. Man, I never realized just how many of our plans could backfire,” John complained, rubbing some of the bruises and small cuts he’d gotten from Mark’s water attacks.

“John, keep in mind that a majority of the plans that backfired were yours and Karkat’s. You have no one to blame but yourself for even thinking you could use air against fire in the manner that you did. That was a completely asinine idea,” Rose said as they walked into the dining room, greeted by the delicious smell of lunch and the sounds of chatter.

“Hey, most of my ideas actually fucking worked, thank you very fucking much. John’s the idiot of the group. How the hell- no. WHY the hell is he the quasi-leader of any team sent out?” Karkat bit as he sat down and started filling his plate. The table was full of other adults, most of them older than the six that had just walked in. All the young adults had different training schedules throughout the day, so they didn’t always manage to make it to lunch together.

“Be-claws, Karkitty. In a pinch, John can really save the day with his ideas. It’s when he has time to really think about them that he o-furr-thinks them,” said Nepeta, feline puns lacing her words. It was a habit she’d taken up when trying to make friends. At first, she’d been entirely unapproachable, but John weaseled his way in and got her to open up more by introducing her to cat-related puns. She used them to, at first, make herself appear more approachable and to make friends. Then, after a time using them, grew to absolutely adore them and adopted using them all the time.

“Sure. Whatever,” Karkat scoffed, digging into his food and proceeding to ignore them all.

“I will agree with you on that one, Nep. John can make some kick-ass plans on the fly when he needs to. Last night was all him, wasn’t it, Rose?” Dave asked, looking at his cousin.

“He did come up with the plan quite quickly and was able to adjust it as needed based on how the user reacted to his initial ideas. And to be completely honest with you, John, in training just now, you did have some pretty sweet saves when any of our plans backfired,” Rose said, a small smile gracing her lips. Kanaya sipped at her vegetable juice and nodded her head.

“I find that I must agree with Rose. You are extremely gifted with your quick thinking in the face of a crisis, no matter how controlled or not it is,” she added once Rose had finished. John blushed a light red.

“Awwww shucks, guys! Thanks. But I’m not as good at coming up with initial plans as all of you are.” Before anyone could continue on with their conversation a loud exclamation of ‘WHAT?!’ came from the middle of the table. All six looked over to see one of the adults (an electricity manipulator) with his jaw dropped in disbelief.

“All four of them came back in critical condition? What the hell! This is the third team already today. And the first team had fatalities,” he stated, a worried expression taking his face. The young adults looked at each other in confusion and concern and kept listening.

“Yeah. Whatever users are out there, they’re strong as hell. I’ve heard the next team to be sent out is progressing into Code 2 territory. It’s bad, Damen. The users out there are doing a lot of damage not only to the city, but to the civilians as well as our users. The first team sent out… only one of them lived. Terry and Jillian? Both are dead, Damen,” a woman with jet black hair said, shaking her head.

“Both of them…?” Damen was in disbelief. Terry and Jillian had been two of the best adult users in the facility. Even John and company knew that. And they were dead? What the hell kind of users were out there?

“Yeah, both of them. And every other user that’s come back from the other two teams has been majorly injured.” The adults started muttering amongst themselves about the situation, wondering what the hell was going on and who’d be sent out next.

At that moment, Sage walked into the room, a grim look on his hardened face.

“John, Dave, Rose, Karkat, and Kanaya. Come with me. You’re all needed for a mission.”