T.H.A.N.O.S. and the Infinity Folds
T.H.A.N.O.S. and the Infinity Folds
By SuperFolders Noah and Cammy
Stuff Gets Weird
By Amias Hill
Wheeler has been quiet for a while. That’s sometimes a good thing! Sometimes, it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a bad thing in this case.
As the leader of my sophomore JROTC, I try to make sure that I know about everything going on. And, really, there wasn’t much going on as far as I could tell. It can be frustrating when school goes normally. After all, we’re here to stop the villains, right?
Me and Novagami always went on our daily patrol at the end of the school day. Just to make sure that nothing is going wrong. People greeted me, gave me high-fives, all that stuff.
Dane, my best friend, waved to me at the end of the hallway. “I’m gonna head home, Amias. See you tomorrow!”
“Bye Dane! Tell Charli hi for me,” I told him. He nodded and left.
My patrol lasted about fifteen minutes. When it was done, I walked out the front door and headed down the sidewalk.
Novagami was still in my pocket. I’ve updated him since I’d made him; better helmet, brighter colors, just stuff like that. He looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself. I’d even inspired a few of the other JROTC members to make their own Nova Corps members.
A few people stayed inside the school for all of the extracurricular stuff, but as far as I was concerned my patrol was over. I walked outside and turned towards home.
Just as I was stepping onto the sidewalk outside of the school, someone slammed his shoulder into me from behind.
“Hey, man, watch it!” I said, annoyed. Whoever it was, they were wearing a shiny hoodie and I wasn’t able to get a look at their face. The figure fast-walked away pretty quickly. “Yeah, that’s right. Don’t mess with a Nova,” I shouted after them.
I turned back towards my house but a folded piece of paper crinkled under my foot. If there’s something I hate worse than bullies, it’s litter. The person in the hoodie had probably dropped it without even realizing it. I seethed, quietly, and picked it up.
That’s when I realized it had my name on it.
In big bold handwriting on the folded half said ‘To Amias Hill, Novagami Prime.’ Obviously, that made me curious. It reminded me a lot of the time when I found a paper related to the mysterious group, T.H.A.N.O.S., and whatever it was they were planning. Could this be another piece of that puzzle?
I unfolded it and this is what it said:
“Thank you, Novagami Prime, for opening this letter. T.H.A.N.O.S. is coming. O feels that the time to act is now. I’ve been a part of the group, but I realize now that they’re the bad guys. The heroes need to act now. Gather them together in the garage of the one called Mars Sera. Don’t start until the person wearing a silver hoodie shows up.
Holy crap. T.H.A.N.O.S. is attacking? Now?
I knew I needed to do what the letter said.
I decided to make some calls.
By Dover MacLeash
I received the call after my post-school Student Body Government meeting.
I must say that talking to Seyla and dealing with Student Body Government meetings were becoming a haven for me from some of the other issues in my current situation. But it is not necessary to delve into that.
All this is to say that facing my nemesis Seyla Solstice, the unenthusiastic Chris Burwell, and my old Malekith-wielding enemy Callie Westridge was not as heavy a task as it had been several months ago.
“So, the major topic of discussion today is the feasibility of the Save the Trees event,” Seyla started, her tone professional. Her pink hair was fading back into its original blonde color. “As far as I am aware, we are all in favor of the weekend event?”
Callie, Chris, and I all nodded. Putting my past battles with Seyla aside, we had agreed on a lot of Student Body Government issues. Especially in the past weeks. I was rather tired of verbal disagreements.
Most of her ideas as president were not bad, and I was trying to be reasonable with her. If nothing else, I knew a connection between us could be the difference when the whole T.H.A.N.O.S. situation came to fruition.
Seyla had told myself and Andrew Gardner at a restaurant several months back that T.H.A.N.O.S. was moving in the shadows, preparing to strike. As I sat at the meeting, little did I know that the time had come. The days of Malekith felt so long ago.
“Excuse me, Seyla, but to confirm: the event will be outdoors?” Callie asked, glancing at her binder. Since her time as Malekith, Callie was seemingly less tired. She seemed to be more on top of her AP courses. As much trouble as Callie had caused us, I must say that I was happy for her. She only had done those actions to get help with the stress she had been under.
“Yes, the event will be outdoors,” Seyla said smoothly. “As it is an event between both Kirby and Wheeler, I thought it would be fitting to have it by the path that connects the schools. Harrison Herring at Kirby has agreed to assist in this event as much as possible. And, I believe our theatre department has access to materials that would make the event successful.” Chris snorted, and Seyla turned her witheringly sweet gaze to him. “Yes, Burwell?”
His eyes widened, not an uncommon reaction to a glare from Seyla. “Oh, um, nothing, Ms. Solstice. Just… with the school feud and all, do you expect anyone to come to this thing?”
Seyla smiled politely. “I am sure that past events, such as the Halloween Dance put on by Kirby’s Student Body Government and Wheeler’s Reduce Plastic Art Festival have provided evidence to the contrary. And, with the funding from your department, I am sure we can put together an elaborate advertising plan in the next week so that we have an audience for this weekend.”
“Cool,” Chris said, leaning himself back into his seat slowly.
I raised my hand. “Will we need a permit for this event?”
“Good question, Dover,” Seyla said, her expression softening slightly. “Yes; I sent the application. We should hear back any day now. We should be able to get it, especially since this is a community-service event.”
“And the set-up?” Callie asked.
“Page 4 of the proposal,” Seyla noted. “Any further questions?”
There were none.
“Meeting adjourned,” Seyla concluded, standing up. I grabbed my backpack, slung it around my shoulders, and went out into the empty hallways.
Student Body Government took time after the school day, by which time all other students had left the premises. As my hall monitor friend Adrian would put it, the hallways were “All clear”.
Seyla caught up with me. “Hey, Dover.”
“Hello, Seyla,” I said. “Can I help you?”
“No, I just wanted to say thank you for helping me put the proposal together,” Seyla said. Her sentence was enunciated and not very sentimental, but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
“Of course,” I nodded. “It was a good idea.” My phone started ringing.
“Yeah. And thanks,” she said as we exited through the school doors. She glanced down at my ringing phone and departed to the right with a small wave. “See you tomorrow.”
“Goodbye,” I said, admittedly in slight shock that I had just had a somewhat-friendly conversation with Seyla. A good day.
Then I answered the phone.
By Clark Largent
Gotta admit, I was kind of sad tonight.
After moving down and hanging out with us for several months, my uncle Ricky was moving away. The news had been a surprise to everyone, and the preparations had been hastily arranged. Ricky was leaving tomorrow for a place upstate.
I didn’t want to see him go, because Ricky had become a constant over the past few months. It felt weird that he wouldn’t be around as much.
Just to mark the occasion, Mom had set up a quick going-away meal. The dining room table was set with all of the best food Mom could make; tacos, mole, and the best tamales you could ever want. It was a small party: just me, my younger brother Cal, my mom, and Uncle Ricky. But, for what it was, it was really nice.
“So, what’s the town you’re moving to, again?” Cal asked, chomping on tortilla chips.
Ricky smiled. “It’s not like I’ve told you a hundred times, already,” he said, laughing. “It’s a college town called Cortland. It’s a bit bigger than Madison, so I think my music store could make some good money up there.”
“Rick-Rolled’s second store is going to be really appreciated up there, I’m sure,” Mom replied. “Especially with all of those college students.”
“That’s what I’m hoping!” Ricky said.
We talked and laughed for a long time. The dining room felt really warm and happy. At least, more so than I could remember in a long time. Usually, it was just me or my girlfriend Emily making fun of each other or one of Cal’s weird friends blaring ‘All-Star.’ It was a real family enjoying a real meal, and I loved that.
However, after what felt like way too little time, Ricky pushed his chair back. “The food was absolutely delicious, Maria. Mama would be proud.” He stood up and stretched. “Ah, I’ve got to go. The contractors want me to sign for the office space tonight. Can’t be late.”
We all stood up next to him. Mom was tearing up, saying how great it was to have him around. Cal hugged him as tight as he usually hugged people. I did too, obviously.
“I’m gonna miss you, Ricky,” I said, patting him on the shoulder.
“Come up anytime you like,” Ricky replied, grinning. “I could always use some help with the store.”
“If I help, can I get a guitar for free?” Cal asked.
“Heck no. I run a business, not a charity.” Ricky smirked, then headed for the door. “I can’t thank you enough for taking me back in. This has really been the best time I’ve had in my life.”
Mom hugged him tightly. “All you had to do was ask.”
After just a few more hugs and farewells, Ricky climbed into his car and drove off.
Not a second after we closed the door, my phone rang.
It was a number I didn’t recognize, but the caller ID at least read ‘Madison, NY’. Briefly considering that Dove might have forgotten how to use his phone again, I answered.
“Who is this and why do I care?” I said as a greeting. Rude, maybe, but efficient.
“Is this Clark A. Largent?” a kid’s voice asked. Judging by the tone and consistent voice cracks, I judged him to be about Cal’s age; a freshman. “Or, better yet, Iron Fold?”
I rolled my eyes. “If someone calls me asking about my puppet, I usually have a hard time caring.”
“Well, you should,” the voice replied, dryly. “You’re a hero, right? You might care that I’ve just found a clue about the biggest villains.”
“What?” I asked, confused.
“T.H.A.N.O.S., man. They’re ready.” There was a pause, I assume meant for dramatic effect. “Meet at Mars Sera’s garage as soon as you can. We’ll need you.” The caller hung up, leaving me alone.
T.H.A.N.O.S. That was a name I hadn’t heard in awhile. All I knew was that they were some super secret group, presumably against both of Madison’s schools; Kirby High School and Wheeler Academy. Whatever they were ‘ready’ for probably wasn’t good.
“Yo, Cal!” I shouted. Cal had already gone upstairs to drown his sorrows in Fortnite, probably.
“What?” Cal shouted back. “I’m in the middle of a game!”
“Hero stuff, man!” I replied, annoyed. “We might need you.”
“Oh, really?” I heard some rustling, a door being slammed, another opened, and lastly feet pounding down the stairs. Cal landed on the bottom step, proudly displaying his puppet, Spider-Fold, in one hand. In the other was my puppet, the Endo-Sym Iron Fold, in gleaming white and electric blue.
“Thought you might need this,” he said, proudly. He handed it to me and placed Spider-Fold on his finger. “So, what’s up?”
I shrugged. “Trouble, most likely.”
The War Council
By Tilly Waterson
Okay, the title might be a little melodramatic, but this was a dramatic occasion. It needed to be big.
Never had such a huge group met in Mars’ garage. It was kind of amazing. Every one of the ‘leaders’ of Kirby and Wheeler were here; Clark, Andy, Dove and Ally representing the OrigAvengers; Cal representing his ever-growing team of Spider-people, along with Ezra Cronin; Duncan Anderson and Amias Hill as Wheeler heroes; and a group of kids I hadn’t met before. A few of them were helping themselves to Mars’ newly-installed mini-fridge. I wondered what had brought them here, aside from the snacks. And, obviously, Mars was in the corner, next to Ally, quietly following along.
I was there, not because I was an origami-wielder (though I really wanted to be) but because I was considered the overseer of all of these people. After F.O.L.D., the organization that was originally in charge of the origami heroes, collapsed, I became the default cataloger/chronicler/stenographer of everything going on at Kirby High School and Wheeler Academy. It was a fun position, honestly. It’s kind of strange, though; I can’t fold origami for the life of me.
Everyone was kind of standing around, confused. Nobody, aside from Amias, who’d called the meeting, really knew what was happening.
“Um, are these awkward meet-ups normal for origami-wielders?” Duncan Anderson asked. “I’ve never really been to one before, so…”
“There’s usually not this many people here,” Clark snapped. “I’m feeling claustrophobic. I don’t even know who you are.”
Duncan advanced. “I’m Doctorigami Strange. You know, Doctor Strange?”
“Why have I never heard of you?”
“I do my job quietly. Unlike some people.”
“Wow, okay. At least I do my jobs…loud…dangit,” Clark muttered.
A girl I hadn’t met with red hair and a fairly skeptical expression crossed her arms. “All I’ve been told is that there’s a bad guy or something. I didn’t even know we’d been around long enough to be invited.”
“Don’t get her wrong, we’re totally happy to be invited,” another new guy standing near her added. He seemed to be actively trying to put some space between the two of them. I didn’t even know their names but I knew exactly what was going on; I’d felt the same thing with Trent.
“To be honest, I felt like more Wheeler guys needed to be here,” Amias said. “Also, you did have an adventure or something, so it seemed fitting.”
“Ah, so we don’t have to be here,” the girl said.
“Who are you guys, anyway?” I asked. Usually I have everyone who has a puppet documented, but I didn’t recognize any of them.
“We’re the Foldians of the Galaxy!” the guy exclaimed, triumphantly.
Well, that made sense. “I figured the Guardians would show up at some point. I’m surprised it took this long.”
The girl introduced them. “I’m Cat.” She hesitated for a moment. “Um, He’s Noah, and the guys currently raiding your mini-fridge are Peter, Paul, Kurt and my brother Cole.”
“Sup,” one of them said, but they were all chugging Dr. Pepper so I didn’t see who’d said it.
“You all have to pay for that, you know,” Mars piped up from the corner.
Suddenly, someone put their fingers to their mouth and whistled. Everyone put their hands to their ears reflexively, and turned towards the source; the pretty much universally accepted leader of the origami heroes, Andrew Gardner.
“Let’s try to focus, everyone!” Andy said, taking charge. “This meeting is about what we can all agree might be the biggest threat the school has faced; T.H.A.N.O.S. We know very little about who this group is and what they want, and so I believe that it’s important to give our full attention to any new information we get.” Andy turned towards Amias Hill, who seemed in awe of Andy’s abilities as a leader. And really, who wouldn’t be?
“As Amias here was the one to call the meeting, I think it makes sense for him to explain why he did.” Andy gave control of the floor to Amias, who stepped forward confidently.
“Hey, everyone,” Amias started. “You’re all probably wondering why you’re here.”
“That is exactly what we were just complaining about,” Ezra Cronin said.
“Shut up,” Cal said, elbowing him.
Amias kept on. “This morning, as I was finishing my patrol, because, as you know, I’m a member of the JROTC…”
“Good grief…” Clark muttered.
“…Someone bumped me and gave me a note, telling me that T.H.A.N.O.S. was ready to act and that I should gather the heroes of Kirby and Wheeler. So, I did. But, I’m not sure I see the person I’m looking for…” Amias stood on his tiptoes, looking around the room. “Does anyone here have a silver hoodie?”
“Are you looking for a silver hoodie?” Peter Prawley said, still chugging Dr. Pepper. “Me and Paul have found a ton of hoodies in the Lost and Found. We’d be able to hook you up.”
“No- wait, you stole them from the Lost and-” For a brief moment, Amias looked like he wanted to arrest Peter and Paul then and there. “No, no, is anyone currently wearing a silver hoodie?”
“He is,” Mars said, from the back of the room, pointing at someone who had just walked into the garage. “What’s up, Adrian?”
This is the moment when everyone in the garage had a collective moment of surprise.
“Hello,” Adrian said, quietly. “Your parents let me in, Mars, by the way.”
“Cool beans,” Mars replied.
Dove, who had been quiet up to that point, walked up to his friend. “Adrian, what are you doing here?”
Adrian put his hands in his pockets. “This is going to sound really terrible, but…” He took a deep breath. “I’m…the A. In T.H.A.N.O.S.”
That…was surprising. Adrian! I never knew him very well, but Dove always spoke of him so highly. To have one of the most well-respected members of both schools turn out to be a member of T.H.A.N.O.S….that didn’t bode well.
“Adrian?” Dove asked, looking at his friend with shock and horror. “H-how…?”
“Oh, so Adrian is A? I was thinking it was Andy,” Ezra muttered.
“Or Ally,” the kid Kurt said.
“Ezra, Kurt, shut up,” Cat, the Foldian girl, ordered.
Adrian shuffled his feet, nervously. “I just…I don’t really know. T.H.A.N.O.S. came to me and asked me if I wanted to stop the war. They told me I would be able to help out a lot as the hall monitor. It sounded like a really sweet deal to me.”
“Oh, so destroying the schools sounds like a fun time?” Clark interrogated, accusingly.
“Suspicious that you’re just leaving now,” Duncan Anderson added, rubbing his chin.
“That’s exactly why I’m leaving!” Adrian insisted. “I know they’re the bad guys now. That’s why I needed to leave.”
“They’re named, ‘Thanos’, bro,” Noah complained. “How would you not know they’re the bad guys?”
Andy looked him up and down, considering. “Can we trust you, Adrian?”
“Andy!” I said, surprised at him.
Andy stood by what he said. “It’s important to know if he’s trustworthy.” Andy turned to Dove, differing to him. It was an admirable trait, being so willing to share the leadership. “Dove, you know him the best out of all of us. Do you think we can listen to him?”
Dove put his hand on Adrian’s shoulder. “Look, everyone, what he did does not matter now. This is T.H.A.N.O.S. we are talking about, which means Adrian came forward with this at great risk to himself. Adrian, can you tell us anything about T.H.A.N.O.S.? Who else is in it?”
Adrian gritted his teeth. “I don’t exactly know.”
Pretty much everyone in the room groaned. There went the most useful piece of information we could have.
“Then why are you here, if you don’t know anything?” Up until that point, Clark had been sitting on a box, mostly uninvolved. Now, however, he stood up and walked over to Adrian, pointing an accusing finger the whole time. “You can’t just blow the whistle on a group like T.H.A.N.O.S. and not know anything. Dove could be wrong about you. You could be trying to trick us, mess us up, be the goose in the wild…chase. You know what I mean.”
“Clark, stand down!” Andy ordered. Clark obliged, lowering his finger. “Adrian. You can prove your change of heart right now by telling us all you know. Why did you call this meeting?”
“It’s because I know they’re ready,” Adrian said, gaining some confidence. The room quieted as he began talking. “Okay, so, the whole point of T.H.A.N.O.S. is to end the war between the schools, right? That’s what I thought it was at first. Simple as that. But then I learned that the real plan was to close down one of the schools so that either Kirby or Wheeler was the only school left standing. T.H.A.N.O.S. thinks that that’s the only way to end the war for good; to make sure one of the sides literally can’t keep fighting.”
“Seyla mentioned this,” Dove said, nodding to Andy.
“Wait, Seyla Solstice is a part of the group?” Adrian replied, in disbelief. “Huh.”
“Wait, how do you not know who the members are if you’re in the group?” I asked. That was the part that didn’t make sense.
“The point of the group is anonymity, so no one can accidentally give away anyone else. The only thing I know about the members of the group is that they’re all probably in places of influence, and that O seems to call all the shots. They were the one who recruited me.”
“Well, if you don’t know anything about beyond their initials, how do you know they’re ‘ready’?” Duncan inquired. He and Clark seemed to be the most skeptical of the group.
Adrian nodded. “I was able to investigate the events surrounding both schools a bit, and it probably has to do with something important to Wheeler that was recently found. Found by the Foldians, in fact.”
“Oh, you mean the Will?” Cat Grant asked. “That’s what started this whole thing?”
“What will?” Andy asked.
“Only the will belonging to the most important origami master Madison, New York has ever seen in the history of ever,” Noah Buckets said. “Mr. Itaru Yang.” I think he struck a pose after that. Cat facepalmed.
“We went on a big journey of self-discovery together to find the Will of Mr. Yang together,” Peter Prawley explained, proudly. “And we did, so, you’re welcome.”
“You mean Mr. Toshiro Yang, like, the teacher that started the origami in Madison in the first place?” I asked, dumbfounded. “All the way back in the forties?”
“His first name was Toshiro?” Paul Prawley asked.
“I wouldn’t be so happy that you found the Will,” Adrian said, ignoring Paul. “With the Will was a special blueprint of Kirby and Wheeler that showed off every structural piece of info in both schools. The only problem is…it was ripped in half.”
“So, if T.H.A.N.O.S. wants to know the best way to destroy the schools…” Andy started.
Clark finished. “…They’d have to have the rest of the blueprint. So, that’s what they’re after?”
Adrian shrugged. “It’s the best I could figure. The only problem is, I don’t know of anywhere the other half of the blueprint would be.”
Suddenly, I had a thought. A very important thought. I knew exactly where the other half of the map would be. And I had it sitting on the desk in my own bedroom.
“The Black Box,” I said, quietly.
By Kurt Blum
“The Black Box?” I asked.
Tilly looked over at me. “Yes. Trent gave it to me back in the days of F.O.L.D. It’s a puzzle box.”
Standing next to me, Cole raised his hand. “A what box?”
“A puzzle box,” Tilly explained. “You manipulate it like a safe to open it. He didn’t tell me what was inside it, just that it was important and to keep it safe. Ever since F.O.L.D. collapsed, I’ve been trying to figure it out. Only… I haven’t. I’ve tried, but I just haven’t had the time. But I bet the other half of the blueprint is inside. I’ll show you.”
“Now?” Clark asked.
“No,” Tilly said disappointedly. “It’s at my house. I’ll, um, bring it tomorrow.”
There was an awkward pause.
“Meeting adjourned?” suggested Cat.
Andy nodded. “Meeting adjourned.”
Well, that was ding-a-ling-in’ crazy. I knew Adrian pretty well, you know, so I feel like I should have picked up on that T.H.A.N.O.S. stuff immediately. I’m usually pretty in-tune with everything. I’m like the Sherlock Holmes of the Foldians. Yeah.
Anyway, after the meeting, a number of things happened. Some people stayed and talked. Others left immediately.
“See you tomorrow, Kurt,” Cole said, clapping me briefly on the shoulder.
“Yeah, see ya.” Since the Foldians had come together, I’d started to break through to Cole. I think he now saw me as a wise younger brother.
I looked over at Ally—recently, she hadn’t been hanging out with Dove and I so much. Wasn’t sure what that was about. I wanted to talk to her, but she was talking to someone over the phone.
“Yeah, so we’re still on for dinner tonight? Okay. Yeah. See you then. Me too.”
I looked around for other people I knew. Mars was in a corner, sewing a blanket or something. No thanks.
Instead, I went for my legendary friend and crime-fighting partner, Dove MacLeash. Mars had just handed him some sort of origami puppet. Not sure what it was; I saw a flash of gold. I made my way over, passing Andy and Clark on the way. They were arguing about something again, like an old married couple.
“Like it or not, you’re a leader, too, Clark,” Andy was saying. “You can’t get upset every time something comes up. Give Adrian a chance.”
“Whatever, Gardner. If you wanna trust Adrian, that’s your choice. Might be a stupid one, but it’s yours.”
I kept moving, finally reaching Dove. I, Paper Ray Bill, could read him like a book. That’s what makes us a dynamic duo. Anyway, he’d been pretty quiet recently, and something was definitely tugging at him.
“Hey hey, Dove,” I said, stepping up next to him. “What’s up?”
“Oh, hi, Kurt,” Dove said. He was looking over to Ally, who had hung up the phone. “I am, uh, going to head out. Have a good night, okay?” He left. Great. I looked around for anyone else I knew well enough to talk to.
I realized Ally had hung up the phone, so I thought about heading her way, but no need—Ally walked up to me. “Hey, Kurt. Have you seen Dove?”
“Yeah, he just walked out.” I pointed down the driveway, where Dove was trudging along.
“Thanks.” She pushed past me to the garage opening.
“Wha- Ally,” I called. People kept walking out on me. That was annoying. I followed Ally to the garage opening.
She jogged over to Dove, and I lingered at the edge of the garage. That’s right. I was chill. I’ve been working on not following people all the time. I did that with Dove at first. I’ve gotten to the point now where it’s more of a loose follow.
“Hey, Dove!” Ally hollered.
Dove turned around. For some reason, I thought I saw a pained look in his eyes. It vanished quickly and turned to surprise. “Ally? What is up?”
“Look, I just wanted to say… I’m sorry. I’m sorry about the fight.”
There was a long pause. I was confused. When had Dove and Ally been in a fight?
“It is okay, Ally. I am sorry, too,” Dove said. “For everything.”
Ally nodded. “Friends?”
“That would be good.”
“Good,” Ally said finally. The driveway filled with light as a car pulled up next to them on the street. “Oh, that’s Gar,” Ally said. “I gotta go.”
Dove nodded. “Bye.”
Well, that was weird.
By Ally Weber
Yeah, I’m with Gar now. He’s super considerate and a really kind boyfriend.
A few weeks ago, as soon as he had found out, Andy found a moment and pulled me aside. “Ally, what happened?” asked Andy. “After our last conversation, I was under the impression you were going to tell Dove how you felt.”
His words had the sting of truth, but I stood my ground. “Yeah. That was true then. I went to talk to Dove and…” I dropped my gaze, unhappy with how that had gone. “He was still upset over the fight. I never got the chance to apologize, much less tell him how I felt. And, after that happened…well, somehow, me and Gar started talking, and we decided to try a date or two. He’s super sweet and I really like what’s happened.”
“I’m fine with you avoiding me over this whole thing. But you can’t just give up on Dove like that.”
“I want to help you as much as I can,” Andy said, sighing. “I couldn’t very well do that when you spend the last two weeks dodging my greetings and ignoring my texts.”
“Andy, look… I’m sorry. I knew you would react this way. But I’m really happy with Gar. I promise.”
Andy nodded and crossed his arms. “Like I said, I’m fine with all of that. As long as you don’t hurt someone or, more importantly, yourself, during this whole thing. You and Gar seem good for each other, and that’s all that matters.”
So that was that. I wish Dove the best. I really do. We just… never quite lined up. It’s okay. I’m happy we’ve made our peace now.
The Post-Meeting Meeting
By Clark Largent
“So, how often does this thing happen?” I asked. I was sitting in the booth seat at Wendy’s, with Dove and Andy on either side of me. Andy had invited (dragged) me with him, and I didn’t have anything better to do.
“We’ve been meeting every month since Seyla got elected,” Andy explained, nodding to Dove. “We keep each other updated on going-ons at the other school.”
“Gotcha,” I said, sitting back. “So… why am I here?”
“Well, T.H.A.N.O.S. just started their attack,” Andy said. “And I wanted to finish talking to you about—”
“Andy,” I interrupted, sensing where he was going. “I don’t trust Adrian. Big deal. Let’s move on.”
Andy sighed. “It is a big deal, because Adrian could be a valuable asset against T.H.A.N.O.S. We have to learn to trust him. That’s why I wanted you to talk to Dove. He’s known Adrian longer than either of us.”
Dove had been sitting quietly, watching us talk. We looked over to him, and he coughed. “Yes,” he said. “You can trust Adrian. He is a good person, I promise. He helped me fight Jude. He helped me fight Malekith.”
“Why would he fight Seyla?” I pointed out. “I mean, she’s the spirit of T.H.A.N.O.S. condensed into one person.”
“He did not know,” Dove said, spreading his hands. “Remember, Adrian and Seyla each told us the group is anonymous. So, Adrian did not know Seyla was part of T.H.A.N.O.S. at the time. No one did, until she told us at this very table.”
“So, Adrian just helped you out of the goodness of his heart?” Andy clarified.
“Woah, woah,” I intervened. “T.H.A.N.O.S. has been around since Jude, right? He was part of T.H.A.N.O.S. back then, too.”
“Yes,” Dove conceded, brushing his floppy hair out of his face. “Adrian has been part of T.H.A.N.O.S. However, I am sure that he is a good person. I know him. He stood by me at times where I was down. T.H.A.N.O.S. would not do that. Besides, he called the meeting tonight. We can trust him,” he finished simply.
Andy glanced over at me like, Good enough for me.
I exhaled. “Fine.”
Andy smiled. “Great. So, what’s going on at Wheeler, Dove?”
“We are organizing a Save the Trees event,” Dove said. “Basically, it will…” And on and on. It wasn’t that exciting. It reminded me of the Student Government meetings that Emily brought me on when I planned the Halloween Ball. Lots of boring stuff.
It was nice to hear some ideas Dove and Andy had about going forward.
“I was thinking that since we have so many people, maybe we can divide into teams,” Andy said.
“Teams?” I asked. “Like, one for each letter.”
Andy’s brow furrowed up. “I mean, I’m not sure we know where to start for each letter. Plus, we already know two: Seyla and Adrian.”
“We could divide the teams based on our leads,” I offered.
“I like that,” Dove agreed.
“The question is, what leads do we have?” I asked.
Andy frowned. “Good question. Dove, you could talk to Seyla, right?”
“Well… yes.” He looked like he had just been forced to choose between tickets to a Mr. Good Clean Fun Show and a game of chess with Nard.
“Why the hesitation?” I asked.
“It is just that Seyla and I are actually getting along,” Dove said. “I…”
“Dude,” I said. “Seyla: bad. Pretty, but bad.”
“Okay,” Dove said unhappily. “I will see if I can find out anything from her. I just am not looking forward to an argument with her.”
“I know,” Dove interjected. “I… I just have a lot on my mind right now.”
“Oh,” I said. He did look pretty down—and that’s coming from someone who had comforted him after he broke up with Shelby.
“Is everything okay, Dove?” Andy asked.
“Ah, I got a call from my parents the other day. I mean, they do call me as often as they can with international obstacles, but this time was different.”
“How so?” Andy prodded.
“You know how I am part of a transfer program from Iceland? We are coming near the end of the year, and I need to decide whether to return.”
“Okay,” I said. I wasn’t really seeing the problem.
“I think I might choose to go home for next year.”
“Oh.” There was a long pause, then I added, “Like, permanently?”
“I do not know. Maybe.”
Andy had been studying Dove carefully. “If you don’t mind me asking, why?”
Dove glanced at me, like he was conscious that I was there. I put up my hands. “Hey, I can leave if you want.”
“No, no. It is fine. Just please keep this between us.”
“You both have been very good friends. It has nothing to do with you. However, I feel like I have lost my purpose. Once T.H.A.N.O.S. is defeated, I feel that there will be little for me here. Even though I know he is my friend, things are sort of weird with Adrian now. Kurt seems to have found a new home with the Foldians. And Ally…” he paused. “Ally is with Gar. If she was not, I might, well…
“But she is. We talked tonight, and we want to be friends. It just hurts very much. I do not know why, but it feels hard to do things. Simple things. I just… I might be able to deal with it better if I return home to Iceland. A fresh start. I have not decided yet. So… I am sorry if I was hesitant to talk to Selya. I will do all that I can to fight T.H.A.N.O.S. I just am thinking about many things.”
There was a long silence.
“Dove,” I said. “I’m so sorry.” I meant it. He was heartbroken.
“It is fine,” he said. “I mean, Gar is a great person. I am just sorry that I waited. I should have told her how I felt. Everything felt possible then. I missed my chance.”
Andy hadn’t said anything. “Are you going to be okay?” he asked with concern. “With T.H.A.N.O.S. and everything? It’s not going to be easy.”
“Also, no pressure, but we kinda need you,” I said. “The only other people at Wheeler are a bunch of crazy Foldians.”
Dove chuckled sadly. “Yes. I will be fine. I have had my heart broken before. Somehow, this one hurts more, but at least I am more prepared now. More importantly, nobody threatens my school and my friends. Let’s fight T.H.A.N.O.S.”
“That is the first time I’ve ever heard you use a contraction in a sentence,” I noted.
“Not a bad time to start.”
The Principal’s Office
By Andrew Gardner
Trying to rest after those meetings was pretty much impossible; knowing that there’s a group of psycho kids ready to close down your school tends to dominate your thoughts. Throughout the whole night, I replayed everything that had happened, from Amias calling the meeting, to Adrian’s defection, to the Black Box…it all seemed absolutely crazy. But, I guess this was my life now.
And to think, this all started because of origami puppets. Weird, right?
Just to distract myself, I headed to school earlier than usual. Usually I walk to school with Tilly, but she’d already texted me and told me to head up without her, since she was still writing down the details from the meeting last night.
I had a weird feeling as I walked in the doors. Knowing that some of the kids inside may be the ones orchestrating it’s downfall felt kind of strange, especially since I was supposed to stop them. As far as I knew, the kids in Kirby were normal…ish. The origami was weird, sure, but especially kids like Clark just wanted to be high schoolers. It was kind of surreal to think that real villains were here.
Even that was a stretch; I knew that Seyla Solstice, at least, wasn’t pure evil. She was just an opportunist who loved her position of leadership. Looking around the hall, seeing kids talking, laughing, enjoying themselves, I had the thought; maybe all of the other members were like that. Maybe we could even dissuade them from their plan of destroying the school, and everything would go away just like that.
I had a feeling that thought was grossly optimistic.
Someone cleared their throat behind me. I turned and found Harrison Osgood Herring, the Student Body President of Kirby, standing behind me.
“Good morning, Mr. Gardner,” Harrison greeted, in his usual business-like demeanor. Keeping in mind the fact that he was just a grade ahead of me, he took the whole ‘President’ thing way too seriously. Maybe he was practicing for when he inevitably ran for an actual public office.
“Morning, Harrison,” I replied, shaking his hand. “How are you?”
“I’m doing just great, thank you,” he said, smiling. Like clockwork, he changed his face into a more somber expression. “I’ve come to tell you that Principal Ainsley would like to speak with you. I think it’s a big deal.”
“Really? What’s it about?”
Harrison gave a small smile. “I don’t think I’m allowed to tell the ‘civilians’ like you all,” he chuckled. “It’s best you go see Ainsley.”
“Well, okay then,” I said. Immediately, I nodded goodbye to Harrison and made my way down the halls to Ainsley’s office.
Why did Ainsley want to talk with me? That made me even more nervous about what was going on than I already was. Sure, I’d had a one-on-one conversation with the principal before. He treated me like an equal, which I really appreciated. And, he’d helped to give me a confidence boost when I needed to set the school at ease. Maybe he wanted to follow up on that.
Or, the more likely idea: he knew about T.H.A.N.O.S. If that was the case, he probably wanted to hear my thoughts as the leader of the OrigAvengers. If I’m being honest, I still didn’t really have any thoughts. All of the information was so new. I was afraid I wouldn’t be much help.
I stood in front of Ainsley’s door for probably a bit too long and knocked.
“Come in,” Ainsley’s kind voice said. He really is a great guy.
I opened the door to Ainsley’s colorful office and stepped inside. Ainsley was standing by his desk, studying the framed Spider-Man comic book he had on the wall. It was the same one from last time; #185, Spider-Man’s Graduation. I don’t think I’d ever read it.
“It’s nice to see you again, Andy,” the principal said. “Do you know why I have this issue framed?”
“You like Spider-Man?” I asked, sitting down in one of the comfy chairs facing the disk. “It has to do with school?”
“You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” Ainsley replied. “Actually, Peter Parker doesn’t even graduate in this issue. Because he was Spider-Man so much, he was missing a credit he needed. He graduates in an entirely different story.”
“That…must have been really annoying for him,” I commented, not entirely sure where he was going with this. Did he call me in for a comic book lesson? Because, if so, I wasn’t going to protest.
“It probably was, and if I’m being honest, I would have let him graduate anyway,” Ainsley said, smirking. “That principal was a jerk. And, Peter just saw this as more proof that Spider-Man was ruining his life.” He moved back to his seat behind his desk and sat down. “But I take a different outlook. Peter Parker was doing something incredibly important; he was saving people, and that meant doing so while neglecting his education.”
“Is that…good?” I asked, still confused.
“In my humble position as a leader of education, I say yes. There are far more important things in life than school. We put so much importance on it for all of you, but in the grand scheme of things, life goes on. Obviously, please, do your homework. But I think it’s important to remember that.”
I know I’ve already said I was confused, but nothing’s changed. I had no idea what he was getting at. “I still don’t follow, sir.”
“Things will be changing soon, Andy, that will put things into perspective. I can’t say much about it at this moment, but I’ve spoken with your teachers, and yes, Harrison, about everything.” Ainsley looked me right in the eye, suddenly very serious. “When all of this happens, I’m hoping I can count on you, Andy.”
“Sir, count on me for what?” I asked, slowly.
“I’m counting on you to do what you’ve always done; be a leader.” Ainsley gave me a smile.
I leaned forward. “Sir, is this about T.H.A.N.O.S.?”
Ainsley chuckled. “No, no, it’s not about T.H.A.N.O.S. I’m sure you all can handle them.” He stood up, crossed the office and opened the door for me. “I’m sure it’s about time for you to get to your classes. I’m sorry for keeping you this long.”
“I still don’t think I understand,” I said, standing. “When do you need me to do all this?”
The principal smiled. “You’ll know, Andy. You’ll know.”
I left the office even more nervous than I was when I entered. Not only was Principal Ainsley counting on me to take care of T.H.A.N.O.S., he was also relying on me for some wholly unknown problem coming. How was I supposed to do all this?
I breathed deeply, staying calm. All I could do was focus on the here and now. And hope that I would be able to do everything this school needed me to do.
“—and that will be due next Monday.” The bell rang. “Remember to collect all personal items! Last time we had two students left a backpack and a phone,” Ms. Makovsky yelled as everyone shuffled out of class.
I lingered, slowly putting away my Geometry textbook and notes. To my luck, the person I wanted to talk to was taking a moment, too. Jasmine Verninski was re-reading some of her final notes from the class.
I waited. Ms. Makovsky eyed us briefly and, to my relief, exited the room.
I donned my backpack and made my way over. “Hey, Jasmine,” I said.
Jasmine looked up with surprise. “Ally, hi!”
“I just had a quick question.”
“Sure, sure. What is it?”
“Uh… look, it’s about T.H.A.N.O.S.,” I said nervously, unsure about how she would react.
She flipped her hair out of her face. “What about them?” she asked casually, but I noticed her fumble her textbook as she put it away.
“You were a double agent,” I recalled. “You were a F.O.L.D. agent, but you also wrote down notes for H and placed them around the school when I was starting out as the Unshreddible Hulk. I’m sorry to ask you this completely out of the blue, but did you… find out anything about H?”
Jasmine shrugged. “Not really, actually. They always communicated in ways that conserved their anonymity.”
“Notes and, well… texts, once we got to that stage.”
“Is there anything you can tell me about them?”
Jasmine looked at me sympathetically. “Ally… I wish I had something to give to you, but I have a new phone. All the notes are gone. All I can really say is that I remember they were much more straightforward when I was talking to them. They didn’t speak in riddles, like how they did in the notes.”
“Okay,” I said, kind of disappointed but not surprised. I didn’t expect Jasmine to have any information. It had been a long time ago. “Thanks, Jasmine.”
“No problem.” As I walked away, she suddenly called my name. I turned to see Jasmine, her face filled with regret. “Ally… I really am sorry. For all of it.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s okay.”
“You can take them,” she said. “You’ll do it. T.H.A.N.O.S. is going down.”
She giggled. “Wheels.”
The Goddess of Wheeler Academy
As heroes of Wheeler Academy, it is our duty to take the initiative to fight crime.
Excuse me, handsome boy, do you mean like T.H.A.N.O.S.? you might ask.
Of course, I respond. T.H.A.N.O.S. is the big problem. The final battle. The big shebang. So, it’s up to people like us to fix things before they get out of hand. Especially when the true leaders (Dove) are counting on it.
I was palling around with my boy (Dove) that morning (as best friends do) when he told me something rather interesting. We had been standing outside of Dove’s Geometry class, which had been delayed an extra five minutes because the teacher had been late out of a meeting with the principal.
“So, where do we start?” I was asking him. “Who’s the first target? Who do we take down?”
“Kurt, we do not need to take anyone down,” Dove replied. “We just need to stop T.H.A.N.O.S. and their plan. As for who… I am not sure.” He looked troubled. Dove looked troubled a lot recently. He seemed down. But nothing a little Paper Ray Bill action couldn’t solve.
“Well, where do we start for a completely secret society with no known members?” I asked. Notice me pressing for justice under the constraints of time.
“That is not completely true,” Dove said, still troubled. “We know Seyla is S. I will talk to her after class today.” He looked like he was not looking forward to it.
“You don’t look like you’re looking forward to it,” I noted, speaking my thoughts.
“I mean… I have been trying to be friendly. Get any information. She is not a terrible person, after all. She just has terribly misplaced priorities. But I know if I ask her about all of this, our relationship will be back to square one.”
“I remember square one,” I said, thinking back to the election. “That wasn’t fun.”
Dove’s phone buzzed. He looked down at it and sighed. “It is Tilly. Something went wrong this morning and she needs help.” The Geometry class door opened. “Okay, I will see you later, Kurt.”
I left that conversation with a plan. If Dove was going to talk to Seyla after classes and ruin whatever relationship he had built with her, I wasn’t going to let him. I texted my Foldians squad: Pete, Paul, and Cole. (Cat would never have approved of this mission. Noah was too noble. Besides, they’d been weird around each other ever since our first mission.)
KURT: How do you guys feel about skipping third period for the sake of justice?
PETE: I mean, we were gonna skip third period anyway.
PAUL: For different purposes.
PETE: Not important.
COLE: What kind of justice are you blabbering about?
KURT: T.H.A.N.O.S. We’re going straight to the source.
PETE: Like how Anakin blew up the droid ship?
KURT: Exactly like how Anakin blew up the droid ship.
KURT (again): Meet me outside Biology right at third period, and we’ll be
able to save the school!
COLE: Should I tell Cat? You know…the leader?
KURT: Let’s keep it between us. They’ll thank us later.
We were off! The four of us, off to save both schools. Don’t tell anybody I said this, but in that moment I felt that the Foldians of the Galaxy were totally unstoppable. Nothing would stand in our way on the path to victory!
Pete, Paul and Cole let me take the lead, which made sense. Let’s face it, I’d been a hero longer than they had, so I definitely knew what I was doing.
We were skipping third period, of course, but Seyla Solstice, being the Straight A student that she was, would never skip a class. Even if I begged her to do it for a business meeting, which I’ve done before. It never works.
Thankfully, I had a plan.
The reason I specifically chose third period is because that’s a class that I share with Seyla: Algebra with Mrs. Fine. I knew where she’d be. Class-wise, and seat-wise. Seyla sat at the desk closest to the door. It made escaping her fan club easier.
“She’s right on the other side,” I told the Prawley brothers.
“Are you sure this isn’t going to completely fail?” Cole asked.
“Easy,” I told him. “The Prawley brothers are pros at this stuff.”
“We got this,” Pete said.
“No problem,” Paul agreed. They had fashioned a paper onto a string. The paper read, ‘Your grandma has died, the body is right over here, love you sweetie-pie – Trent.’
In one smooth motion, Pete tossed the envelope under the door.
For a moment, silence. Then…
“Excuse me, Mrs. Fine? I need to use the bathroom.”
The door opened, and Seyla came out.
“Trent, what is—”
Paper Ray Bill in one hand, I bowed to Seyla. “Pleased to see you again, Ms. President.”
“Your grandma isn’t dead, by the way,” Paul said.
“Imagine that,” she replied, glancing down at the paper on a string.
Pete followed her gaze. “Just a trick from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, note-style.”
“Great movie,” Paul added.
“I’ve seen it,” Seyla said.
It was weird to think about, but Seyla was actually younger than me. I mean, not by much, but I was a sophomore and she was a freshman. Somehow, though, Seyla seemed way older. Her confidence, her ability to take control of a situation; it was all very impressive. She didn’t even seem surprised to see me all that much.
“Anyway, hi,” Pete waved. “I like your hair.”
“Good to see you again, Kurt,” Seyla started, acting fairly casual given what just happened. “Has MacNealy showed up again recently?”
I shook my head. “Nope, Surturigami has been vanquished for good.”
“Who’s MacNealy?” Pete asked me in a whisper.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, shrugging him off. “We’re not here for pleasantries, however, Seyla. There’s…suspicions, going around.”
Seyla’s face didn’t change at all. “That’s not good. Suspicions about what?”
“Villains,” Paul said, mysteriously.
“You use Helagami, right?” I asked, trying to sound business-like.
Seyla rolled her eyes. “I am Hela, yes.”
“Hela…fine,” Pete said.
Seyla blinked and ignored him. “What are you getting at, Foldians?” she asked.
“Only that, there’s rumors going around about you being a member of T.H.A.N.O.S., or whatever,” I said, nonchalantly. I mean, she’d basically told Dove she was S. But I was being polite, people. And politeness is in politics. Same prefix. Anyway, I knew we could probably get her so flustered that she’d reveal some information.
Cole interrupted. “What Kurt means is, we just want to know-”
“Did Dove send you?”
I tried to strike an intimidating pose. “You could say that, yes.”
Something about Seyla’s face fell, but it was only for a moment. “You want me to spill the beans on anything, right?” Seyla finished, crossing her arms. Her icy gaze was like staring into the sun.
“That would be nice, thank you,” Pete replied.
Seyla shook her head. “Sorry, boys, but you’re not getting anything out of me. Dove already knows that I’m involved with T.H.A.N.O.S. That’s no secret.”
“Yes, but you didn’t tell him that you were the leader of the whole group!” I said, pointing down at her with determination. “You’re the Student Body President, so you have control. You’ve already proved you’re willing to do less than moral things, and your puppet is the Goddess of Death! Thanos, Death, I’m sure you know where those two things intersect.”
“About halfway?” Pete noted.
Paul ignored his brother. “How could you?” he said, shaking his head.
“Please tell us we’re at least close in our guess,” Cole asked. He needed to realize that pleading didn’t help anybody. It made us look weak.
Seyla slowly turned, staring us all down one by one. I felt the need to back down quickly.
“I don’t know what you four think you’re doing here, but I think you’ve overstayed your welcome. T.H.A.N.O.S. is none of your business. If you all are smart, you should stay out of it.”
“I voted for you,” Paul said. Pete slapped his arm.
I tried to stare right back at her. “Is that a threat, Seyla?”
“Only if you take it as one,” she shot back, increasing the power of her icy gaze. “Now, shouldn’t the four of you be in class?”
“Shouldn’t you?” Cole quietly snipped back.
Seyla walked towards the door of her classroom. Before she turned it, she looked at us all again. “Don’t ever pull me out of class again. Please and thank you.”
We left the Algebra class feeling just a bit discouraged. It was impossible to get information out of the carefully-honed steel trap that was Seyla Solstice. I have to say, Seyla would make a great US President. She’d never give up a single foreign secret. I’d vote for her. You know, if she wasn’t a villain.
“That could have gone a bit better,” Paul murmured. “I don’t think she likes us.”
“‘Could have gone better’?” Cole repeated, sharply. “She was this close to deporting us.”
Pete nodded, solemnly. “I don’t know what that means but I agree.”
“Kurt!” someone shouted at us.
Cat and Noah were storming down the hallway toward us, dragging a seemingly reluctant Dove behind them. I waved, acting as normal as possible. “Good afternoon. How are you three doing?”
“Doing good, because we didn’t just interrogate the Student Body President,” Cat snarled, crossing her arms. She tapped her foot. The way she’d taken to the leadership role was kind of scary. She reminded me of my mother.
“How’d you know that’s what we were doing?” Pete asked.
“For one, you’re standing in front of Seyla’s class,” Cat said, pointing at the room behind us. “Second, I asked Dove if he knew where you all were. He mentioned your conversation this morning, and it didn’t take Einstein to put two and two together.”
“You’re all idiots,” Noah said. “Every single one of you. Why didn’t you let me know you were doing this? I could’ve helped.”
Cat glared. I don’t know who exactly she was glaring at. It could have been everyone. “No, Noah, they shouldn’t have gone even if they did have you. This was stupid!”
Noah nodded and backed up, slightly abashed. “Fair point.”
Dove, behind the two of them but way taller than both of them, stepped forward. He looked disappointed. I did not like that look. “Did you get any useful information from her?”
Cole shook his head. “She basically told us to go to Niflheim.”
“That’s to be expected,” Dove said, bowing his head. “You all may have set us back in the knowledge department.” He turned to Cat. “Does your team usually act like this?”
“Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to stop them yet,” Cat sighed. “I hope this doesn’t hurt things.”
“It can not hurt things more than they have already been hurt,” Dove said, looking even more disappointed. “I did not get a chance to tell you what Tilly told me, but…things are looking grim.”
“What can we do?” I asked.
Dove turned his disappointed gaze to me. “Nothing, Kurt. Just wait. I… need to talk to Tilly about this. And now Seyla, too.” He trudged off.
Cat glared at us. “This isn’t good, Kurt. You set everyone back. This isn’t the last you’ve heard from us.”
“Woah, Cat, we were just trying to help,” Cole said.
Noah shook his head. “Next time, get our help. Cat and I are part of this team for a reason.”
After recounting all that had happened at the meeting the previous night, I set aside the files I had jotted down. It had been a lot. Over time, I’d become pretty efficient at recounting meeting details, but if I didn’t move quickly, I would probably be late for my first class.
Tossing them in my desk drawer, I traded the files with another article in it: the Black Box. Gosh, that thing was annoying. I had been trying to get it open ever since F.O.L.D. collapsed. It still had a chip on one of its corners from when I had tried to smash it open. I had generally been afraid to damage it in case whatever was inside was valuable or fragile. If it was true that there was a paper blueprint inside… we might be able to use force to open it.
But not yet. I had promised to bring it to everyone at Kirby. We would open it together. I tucked it under my arm and went off to Kirby.
I was running short on time for my first class to the point that there weren’t too many people milling about the halls. Except…
“Cal?” I asked. Clark’s brother jogged up to me, a mix of confusion and excitement.
“Tilly! There you are. I’ve been waiting, like, all morning for you. I’m gonna be late for class.”
“Yeah, well, me too,” I muttered, still speed-walking to my next class. “I’ll talk to you with everyone at the cafe later, okay?”
“Please, Tilly,” he pleaded. “It’s really quick.”
I stopped, frustrated. “Fine. What’s up?”
He exhaled. “Thank you.” He saw the Black Box tucked under my arm. “Woah, is that it? Is that the box?”
I gritted my teeth. “Cal,” I said. “Quickly.”
“Right! So, when I play Fortnite with my friends, we send one of us out first to attract the fire—”
I waved at him to speed up.
“Um, so, I was wondering, could me and the Spider-Team be the first people to try to track down T.H.A.N.O.S.? We’ve come a long way and I feel ready to lead—”
“Cal,” I interrupted. “Why are you asking me about this? I’m not the leader of the OrigAvengers. I don’t even have a puppet.”
“I dunno… I mean, I’ve kinda always felt like you radiate leadership qual—”
“Look, bud, that’s sweet, but you have to talk to Clark or Andy, okay?” I said, starting to walk again. The hallways were practically empty at this point except for, like, one person ahead of Cal and I.
“No way! Clark would never say yes. And I haven’t seen Andy today.”
“He came in earl—oof!” I stumbled as someone ran into me. The Black Box fell out from underneath my arm. Immediately, the figure picked it up and ran down the hallway.
“No! The Black Box!” Cal yelled.
“Wha—hey!” I shouted at the figure sprinting away from us. They were wearing an enormously thick coat, scarf, and sunglasses. Despite their heavy clothing, it didn’t seem to slow them down. I didn’t get a good look at their face.
Scrambling to our feet, Cal and I ran after them until they disappeared around a corner. When we made it around, they were nowhere to be seen.
I said something rather impolite.
“Still want my team’s help?” Cal panted. “Because I know who that was. We’ve dealt with that person before. That wasn’t T.H.A.N.O.S.” He looked at me. “That was Chameleon.”
The Response Team
“You’re actually kidding,” I groaned, staring at Cal and Tilly. “Chameleon?”
It was lunch in the cafeteria, and Emily and I had found a quiet corner. With all of these new OrigAvengers, it was hard to find a place to breathe. For a second, I thought I might just be able to enjoy lunch with my girlfriend. Good grief.
“With the Black Box, T.H.A.N.O.S. has both of the blueprints of Kirby and Wheeler,” Tilly said with worry. “We need to stop them ASAP.”
“Hold up,” I replied. “Does this mean Chameleon is a member of T.H.A.N.O.S.?” I glanced over at Emily.
She shook her head. “No way, babe. He’s not really the supervillain type. I hired him to get you to be Iron Fold again, remember?” Emily had previously hired Chameleon to get me to take up the Iron Fold gig again, essentially playing the role of a supervillain mastermind herself. I mean, it had worked… but that was beside the point. “Honestly, I’m surprised he’s even still around.”
“Well, why is Chameleon doing T.H.A.N.O.S.’s dirty work?” I asked, looking back at Tilly.
She shrugged. “I mean, you and Cal thwarted his plans. A few times, even. You’re not exactly on his nice list. This might be his way of getting back at you, you know?”
“Fair enough,” I conceded. “So… um, what do we do? Seeing Chameleon again was not on my Stopping T.H.A.N.O.S. Bucket List. He was a jerk.”
Cal raised his hand. “We’ll take care of it.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
Cal cleared his throat. “Clark, uh, me and the Spider-verse will take care of Chameleon. We’re re—”
“Why are you deepening your voice?” I interrupted.
Cal’s face turned red as his puppet. “Please, Clark,” he pleaded.
I looked at Tilly. She shrugged.
Cal lit up. “Thank you! I can’t wait to tell Lacey, and Colt, and Emmet, and Aiden, and Takuy—”
“Woah,” Tilly interjected. “Two comrades, max. Let’s not make a big deal of this. I feel pretty guilty about this as it is.”
He settled down a bit at that but still looked thrilled. “Okay.”
“Alright. You owe me one, Cal.” I smirked at him. “Have fun. And you don’t have to come to me for stuff like this. Tilly’s in charge, here.”
“No, I’m not,” Tilly said awkwardly. I glanced at Emily. Okay, yeah, as cringy as it sounds, Emily had helped me find a sense of leadership within myself. Or at least, something in me resembling leadership. I hoped Tilly found it, too.
“Go save the world,” I told Cal.
Telling the Squad
I met the Spider-verse gang after school. Everyone had wanted me to tell them in-person whether we had gotten the mission.
And we had! Well, kinda. Tilly said I could only bring two people. So, that wasn’t gonna be great. I knew that as soon as I met everyone outside.
“Hey guys, it’s Cal!” Takuya yelled.
“How’d it go?” asked Claire.
They all looked so hopeful. And, I mean, we have a large team. So it wasn’t going to be easy to tell Lacey, Colt, Claire, Aiden, Takuya, Brandon, Ezra, Owen, Diego, Emmet, Andrew, and the newly joined James McLongway that they couldn’t all be on the mission.
“My boy!” Ezra said excitedly. “Did you get us the mission?”
I took a deep breath. “Um… yes!”
They erupted into cheers.
“Kinda!” I added. The cheering stopped.
“‘Kinda’?” Colt asked. “What do you mean, ‘kinda’?”
I squeezed my eyes tight. “Tilly said I can only take two of you. Stealth reasons.” Some of the gang erupted into protests.
“I’m sorry, guys,” I said, sadly.
Lacey jumped up next to me. “Hey, no, this is okay. We still got the mission, right? So who’s going?”
“You and Aiden,” I said suddenly. It was my gut reaction. Everyone was silent for a moment, and then the protests started again.
“Aiden’s, like, super…not intimidating!”
“This isn’t fair!”
“I’m stealthier than either of them!”
Unable to face them, I turned and walked. Aiden and Lacey followed me.
“Are you sure about this, dude?” Aiden asked.
“Yeah, Cal,” Lacey said. “This divides up the team.”
“It’s either this or nothing,” I said. “Aiden’s been investigating some of the members, and you’re my second-in-command. I had no choice.”
They still seemed disappointed but nodded with understanding.
I smiled. “Come on. Let’s get T.H.A.N.O.S.”
I got a call almost immediately after school today. To be completely honest, I don’t get calls that much. I almost never got them before I started dating Gar. So, when my phone rang, I just assumed it was him. We did have a date that night, after all.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Hi Ally,” the caller responded. “It’s, ah, Dove.”
“Oh… hi,” I said. We hadn’t talked since last night on Mars’s driveway, and I wasn’t sure what to say. “What’s up?”
“Well, I wanted to see how you were, with T.H.A.N.O.S. running loose and all.”
“Oh, thanks. I’m doing alright. Andy told me that Tilly… well, you’ll probably hear about it later. We’re just not really sure what to do with everything.”
“She texted me about the Box,” Dove replied. “It is not easy, that is for sure, but we do already know Seyla and Adrian are part of T.H.A.N.O.S. That leaves just four more letters, correct?”
“T, H, N, and O,” I counted. “But how do we even begin to track something like that down?”
Dove was silent for a moment. Then… “You know, when I went to see Desiree…”
“Dove, we’ve been over this. We’re both sorry. Let’s just—”
“It is not that,” Dove intervened.
I stopped. “Oh. What, then?”
“When I was there, Desiree Dawson was conducting an investigation into other possible members of T.H.A.N.O.S. You should check with her.”
I felt lighter. Finally, a sense of direction. “Desiree. Okay. I’ll check it out. Um… would you be willing to come along to help?”
I heard Dove sigh. “I would. I was even planning on it, but unfortunately, Kurt created some chaotic mayhem with Seyla and I need to deal with it.”
“Gotcha. Anything else?”
“Bring Andy, if you can. I believe he is good friends with her. If nothing else, tell her I asked.”
“I will.” I paused with excitement. “Thank you, Dove!”
“Well, uh, I should go,” I said. “I’m going to see a movie with Gar again tonight.”
“Oh. Oh yes, of course. What movie?”
“Cowboy Snails. I think Tevon Riley’s in it.”
“I know, right?” I said.
“If you get the chance, I think Mache is playing, too. I am definitely interested in watching that film.”
“Yes! That film looks amazing,” I agreed. “If I get the chance after our movie, I’ll hop over across the hall and have a peek. Let you know if it’s any good.”
“An honorable service. Appreciate it.”
“Have a good night, Weber.”
“You too, MacLeash.”
It’s pretty amazing how a single conversation can make you feel better. Dove actually sounded normal, and I hope I did too.
More than that, though, we now had a lead. I needed to talk to Andy as soon as possible. And I knew just where to meet him.
I don’t really know why Kirby has a playground. As far as I know, it’s been a high school as long as it’s existed, and yet it still has a playground. Maybe teenagers in the forties really liked playgrounds!
Whatever the case, the playground did turn out to be a very convenient meeting place when Mar’s garage wasn’t open. That’s where we were Tuesday night. Ally had texted Andy about the lead, so he’d gathered everybody he thought would be the most useful.
“Is everybody here accounted for?” he asked, looking at a list on his phone.
Everybody responded ‘here’, which I doubt was much help to him. He rolled his eyes. “Okay, I’ll just assume that we’re all here.” In total, our impromptu group consisted of Andy, Ally, Jessica, Jesse, Clark, Tilly, Emily and Robby as well as a kid who I recognized just by his personality; he’d been talked about a lot.
Ezra Cronin, who had been hanging upside down from the monkey bars, jumped down and saluted Andy. He had been the guy who wielded OrigVenom, but from what I understood his puppet had…died? I don’t really know. “I am honored that you asked me to come specifically, sir. I will do all that I can to uphold the name of OrigAvenger.”
Andy tentatively nodded. “Uh, yeah, of course, Ezra. You work on the newspaper, so I thought you’d be a good choice.”
“I told you he thought we’d be a good choice,” he murmured, before climbing back on to the monkey bars. “No, I don’t care that you get motion sick…” He stopped. “Oh, sorry, force of habit.”
Andy turned aside, after looking at Ezra confused. “Anyway. Like Ezra, you all specifically are who I thought would be helpful in this investigation.”
“I’m honored, Red,” Jesse replied, absentmindedly playing with his girlfriend Jessica’s hair. “We won’t let you down.”
“Dove mentioned that Desiree knows something about T.H.A.N.O.S., so I think it’s a priority that we talk to her.”
“She doesn’t seem like the type that’ll just let you waltz in unannounced,” Clark said, laying on the slide.
“She isn’t,” Emily added. “She doesn’t even let the Student Council talk to her without an appointment, whatever that means.” She smirked. “She must have a soft spot for you, Andy.”
Girls always liked Andy, and he still hadn’t seemed to notice that fact. His face turned the color of his hair and he cleared his throat. “Uh, well, that’s why I was planning on leading the group to go talk to her.”
“Group?” Robby asked. “I thought you called us here because you wanted all of us to come with you.”
“Well, sort of. I wanted you all to come because of what you know about Desiree. For instance, Robby, you were one of the higher ranking F.O.L.D. agents, so you probably shared a lot of stuff with her.”
“So, who is your first team?” Clark asked.
Andy had already discussed it with me, but he acted like he was putting some extra thought into it. Maybe so it seemed more casual, I guess. “I think…I’d like Ally with me, since Dove personally asked her to look into it.” Ally nodded.
“Ezra, too, because he can give us even more credibility.” Ezra, still upside-down, fist-pumped the air. Andy smiled. “I think that’s all of us.”
“I can come too,” Jessica offered. “No offense, but you guys need to know how to have serious conversations in serious situations. I can do that.”
Andy shrugged. “Fine by me.” He looked at everyone else around him. “We also could use a second team checking information. Desiree knows a lot, but she’s not omniscient. Maybe there’s some forgotten info we could use at F.O.L.D. headquarters.”
“Speaking of, F.O.L.D. headquarters has been unguarded lately. Guillermo has been the only person checking in on it,” Tilly noted, concerned. “Would anyone be willing to take over check-ups?”
“I’ll do it,” I volunteered.
“Me too,” Jesse said, standing up. Everyone looked at him. “What? I miss the headquarters. Have some good memories from F.O.L.D.”
“I’ll talk to Cassidy, too,” I added. “She’d probably like the change of pace.”
“Alright, that settles that,” Andy resumed.
Clark stood up and yawned. “You’re still gonna need people to actually look for the info, right?”
Andy nodded. “Who’d you have in mind?”
Clark rolled his eyes. “Probably myself. Tilly, though, is the most important one, though. She practically lived there before F.O.L.D. got wrecked.”
“I’ll go with Clark,” Emily added. “Make sure he doesn’t doze off in the middle of his work.” Emily grabbed Clark’s hand.
Clark smiled. “In that case, you’re coming too, Rob.”
“What?” Rob asked. He’d been staring off into space since Andy started talking. “Oh, yeah, sure.”
Andy looked around at the now-fully-formed mini-teams and smiled. “Okay, that all sounds great. You know your jobs, guys. For now, OrigAvengers, disassemble.”
“He called me an OrigAvenger!” Ezra shouted, enthusiastically.
“You’re off the case,” I said.
In front of me, Kurt looked crestfallen. “What?” he cried. “T.H.A.N.O.S. is our ultimate mission!”
Sitting by him, the Prawley brothers and Cole looked just as confused.
“Who in the world made this decision?” Pete said. “We decide what we want to do as a team, not you and Noah.”
Noah’s habit of defending me kicked in. He stepped forward and pointed a finger at Pete. “Okay, first off, you didn’t let us decide as a team when you talked to Seyla. Second, this one’s not even our choice. We talked to Dove and he thinks you all need to cool down for a bit. He wants you to hang out with Duncan Anderson and stay low until this all blows over.”
“Duncan? He’s babysitting us?” Cole said. “Good grief.”
Kurt looked furious. “This is an outrage.”
Paul was the only one who hadn’t said anything yet. “So… what are you and Noah going to do?” he asked carefully.
“We’re looking into any potential members of T.H.A.N.O.S. at Wheeler,” I answered. “Dove thinks that their headquarters may be located here. He’s not sure, but it’s a start. Most of the OrigAvengers are at Kirby. It makes sense that T.H.A.N.O.S. would be on the other side.”
“So, what? You and Noah are going to solve all of this? Awl by yosewlf?” Cole asked, baby-talk-style.
I glared at him. Even though he’d gotten better at the whole jerk thing, he still had his nastier moments. The whole ‘you and Noah’ thing was still a very sore subject, ever since I’d rejected him. I wanted us to just be friends and go back to how things used to be between us, but I could tell Noah was still hurt. Maybe working together would make us friends again.
As expected, Noah flinched and stepped back. “No. Amias and Adrian are going to help us,” he said, choosing his words.
Kurt snorted. “You’re trusting Adrian?”
“Dove trusts him,” I said. That sobered Kurt up.
“But… Noah, Cat, you guys can’t do this,” Kurt said. “We’re a team.”
“Yeah, we’re really sorry,” Paul added. “We didn’t know it would hurt the mission this badly.”
“Teams break up,” I said. “One Direction. Queen. Heck, Doc Donovan and the original Foldians.”
Noah rolled his eyes. “Next time, get our opinion before you jeopardize a potential source in an investigation.”
“I’m not sorry,” Cole announced.
“Big whoop,” Noah snipped back, raising his eyebrows. As for what had stayed the same, Noah and Cole still couldn’t stand each other.
My brother spread his arms dramatically. “I’m not sorry we talked to a student and tried to help out with the mission. Trust me, if anyone could have gotten information from Seyla, it was us. Nobody’s getting anything out of her. She’s like a frozen, unopened jar of salsa. Impossible to open, spicy with revenge.”
“That is the dumbest analogy I have ever heard,” I said.
“Better than that One Direction schtick you just pulled,” Cole fumed.
Noah half-heartedly elbowed me. “Let’s not,” he said. “C’mon, this is only temporary. We’ll regroup after T.H.A.N.O.S. is defeated.”
I slapped his arm away and focused on Cole. “Just as a suggestion, if you’re upset over being ‘babysitted’, don’t make baby noises,” I added.
Cole glared at me. “Whatever.”
“Guys, stop!” Noah intervened. “I’m tired of you fighting each other all of the time.”
“Then stop getting involved,” Cole barked.
Cole looked a bit taken aback at that. Noah was usually the mediator between us, not the person to flare up.
I have to admit, as annoying as my brother was, it didn’t feel good kicking out half the team. I glanced at Noah. He still looked slightly annoyed at my bickering with Cole, but he gave me a nod. We had orders, and stopping T.H.A.N.O.S. was priority number one. Even if it meant temporarily breaking up the team.
“We’ll see you guys at the end of this,” I said to Kurt, Cole, and the Prawley brothers. “For now, lay low and get to know Duncan. He’s a nice guy.”
By Aiden Mitchells
It didn’t take us long to find Chameleon.
It should have. In fact, before we found him, I was discussing that very subject.
“How do we even begin to track down this Chameleon dude?” I asked. I was sitting with Lacey and Cal on break during gym in the bleachers as the rest of the students played basketball. I had a ball cap on to block out the now-bright April sun.
Cal frowned, his brow drenched in sweat. “Not sure,” he panted. “I mean, it’s not like we actually know who he is, thanks to—”
“His excessive clothing fashion style,” Lacey finished. It was true. I hadn’t seen Chameleon much, but when I had, he was always covered in a minimum of four layers of clothing and three thick scarves.
“In the spring, too,” I noted. “He’s really something.”
The bell rang. The three of us exited into the halls. I paused. “Hey, guys, I’m gonna get some water.” I broke off from Cal and Lacey and walked to the water fountain. They continued on.
I got a drink and turned around to follow my partners, before someone came up behind me and karate chopped me in the neck.
“Ow!” I shouted. It didn’t hurt all that much, but it was so surprising that I fell over. “What the—”
The guy who karate-chopped me stooped down and grabbed the ball cap off my head. He put it on immediately (on top of two other hats) and ran down the hall after Cal and Lacey, cackling.
“Chameleon,” I muttered, rubbing the back of my neck. I stood up, got another drink of water, and slowly walked down the hallway after my attacker. If I knew Chameleon at all, I knew that he’d be dumb enough to try and impersonate me.
Chameleon had found Lacey and Cal pretty quickly, thanks to the fact that they stopped to wait for me outside the hall. I felt almost sad for Chameleon, whose sneak attack had clearly not worked.
“Guys, it’s me, Aiden,” Chameleon said, raising his voice a few pitches higher in a bad imitation of my own. “‘It’s a leap of faith,’ right?”
“Is the fact that Aiden has a Miles puppet all you know about him?” Lacey asked.
“Yes- I mean, that’s all I know about myself.”
“I’ll be taking that,” I muttered as I snatched my ball cap off of Chameleon’s head.
Cal unslung three scarves in one smooth, professional move. His jaw dropped. “Jameson?”
Sure enough, Jameson Tanner stood transfixed, entombed in the Chameleon’s clothes. “Uh- n- no, I’m Lance Home. Alaster Chalm?” He hung his head in shame. “Fine. I give up. I’m Jameson.”
“You’re the Chameleon?” Lacey asked, her face locked in surprise. Of all of the people we had expected to be behind Chameleon, I think it was pretty safe to say that none of us predicted Jameson Tanner, goon, to be behind the scarf and sunglasses. Honestly, it didn’t look like he did, either.
“Where’s the Black Box?” Cal asked, cracking his knuckles to look intimidating.
“I’ll never tell you,” Jameson hissed. “I don’t speak for nothing.”
“How about a dollar?” Lacey asked.
“I’ll throw in a Scooby Snack,” I added. “I brought some for lunch.” Cal looked at me skeptically. “What? They’re good.”
Jameson finally broke down. “Ugh, fine. I don’t have it. I gave it away.”
“Who do you work for?” Cal asked. “T.H.A.N.O.S.?”
“What, you don’t think I’m capable of being an evil mastermind? Well, shame on you. I am T.H.A.N.O.S.!” Jameson declared. “I am T! The T stands for Tanner.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Lacey said flatly.
Jameson hung his head. “No, it doesn’t.” He slid down the wall into a slumped position.
“It’s Trent, isn’t it?” I asked.
Cal and Lacey looked at me, surprised. “I thought we’d just decided he broke Clark’s robot?” Cal asked.
I shrugged. “What? It makes sense. Position of power, ‘T’ name…heck, he even got rid of F.O.L.D., who would have probably been a big obstacle. And I’ve been investigating him lately. With how suspicious he’s been acting, it has to be him.”
“Makes sense,” Lacey relented.
Jameson sighed. “Don’t tell him I broke. He threatened me pretty harshly to keep this locked up tight. He was already really upset when H sent me after the Box. You don’t want to mess with T.H.A.N.O.S. Get out while you still can.” With that, the big lug lifted himself up. “Now, where’s my dollar and my Scooby Snack?”
Lacey pulled a dollar out of her wallet and handed it to him. “I’ll give you the Snack at lunch,” I said.
“Great. Can I have those back?” He pointed the scarves Cal still had thrown across his shoulder. “They’re cashmere.” Cal handed them to him. Jameson wrapped the scarves around his neck and cackled again. “Now no one will know who the Chameleon is, again!”
He scampered down the hallway, probably to make some more general mischief. “He’s not right in the head,” I sighed. I turned to Cal. “You should probably call your brother about this, Cal. I’m sure he’d like to know that we’ve found another letter.”
Enemy of the Enemy
I did not tell anyone else about what I was planning on doing, but I had a plan for where to get some knowledge about our enemies. Since the bridge to Seyla had been burned, it was time for indirect sources.
If I wanted to know about our enemies, I would need to talk to my oldest enemy; Judah Decassius.
Ever since his failed attempt to hijack the grades of Kirby High School last year, Jude had suffered an extended stay in juvenile detention. However, he had recently been let out on good behavior, and from what I had heard, Jude was now homeschooled and living in town with his parents. I decided to pay him a visit.
Now that we have established the why, let me detail how it went. I must say that he was rather surprised when I knocked on his door.
“Dove?” he asked, his voice strangely calm. I had definitely never heard him this relaxed since I had known him. “Wha… how did you find my address?”
“I am not at liberty, nor am I interested in sharing that information,” I shared, shuddering. I am not going to get into how I found the house of Mr. Decassius; I am certainly not reliving that story. “Can I come in, old friend? It is of utmost importance.”
“Uh, yeah, sure, my dude,” Jude said, stepping aside and letting me into his house.
“You have a nice home,” I commented. The entrance had immediately opened up into a living room with several comfortable articles of furniture around a low wooden table. Serene artwork filled the walls, all depicting beautiful forests and rivers. This was not at all like what I had expected the home of Mr. Decassius to be like.
“Thanks. I’ve only been here since I moved a couple years ago, but it’s home.” He led me over to the chairs and motioned me to a seat. “Mom, Dad, I’ve got a friend over!” he called down a hallway branching off the living room.
“That’s nice dear,” his mother replied.
He turned back to me. “Um, can I get you anything?”
“Oh, I am fine, thank you.”
“Alright.” He took a seat and sat back, scooping up some homework on the table. “Sorry about the mess. Homeschooling is no joke, I’ll tell ya. So… what do you need, man? It’s been awhile.”
“It has indeed,” I nodded. I had seen Jude briefly while he was in juvenile detention, but even then he had been as sarcastic and devil-may-care as he always had been. Now, though, there was a marked difference. An improvement? “I apologize for the intrusion, but I needed to ask you a few questions about your time at Kirby.”
I paused. “Ah, are you, ah, okay? You seem very…”
“At ease?” Jude smiled. “I was upset with you for a while. No doubt. Heard about the new presidential race at Wheeler. Tough times. But juvenile detention really taught me the value of being at peace. I feel like… a piece of wood, drifting down a river. The flow, man. It’s good.”
I decided to move on right past that. “Ah, so I had a question about T.H.A.N.O.S. When you were… you know…”
“Power hungry and crazy,” Jude finished. “Yes, go on.”
“Did you ever hear anything about T.H.A.N.O.S.? I used to think you might be part of the group, but… they do not feel like your style.”
Judah leaned back in his chair, chuckling slightly. “Oh, yeah, they’re definitely not. All the sneaking around, codenames…even back then, that wasn’t me.”
“But do you know anything about them?”
“Not much, but they did try to ‘recruit’ me back in my power hungry and crazy faze. Guess they saw potential. But, you know, ‘J’ and ‘D’ don’t go into ‘Thanos’. They were really desperate though; they even asked me for my middle name.”
“What is your middle name?” I asked, curious.
“‘Mendel’,” Jude replied. “So that’s three strikes and they’re out. The naming scheme must have been a real deal-breaker. Never heard from them again.”
“So the members of T.H.A.N.O.S. can use last and middle names in addition to first? And they are likely to adhere to those rules?”
“Who knows?” Jude paused, and looked me up and down, as if studying me. “This T.H.A.N.O.S. business isn’t the only thing on your mind, now is it, Dove?”
“I—” I paused. “No, no it is not. I am… thinking about things. How did you know that?”
“Body language and your tone,” Jude commented. “Reminds me of when I frightened Shelby away from you for a time. You were rather scared. I do humbly apologize for that, by the way. But it is not Shelby now, is it Dove?” He raised his eyebrows. “Is it a different girl altogether?”
I stood up. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Decassius. I think I had better get going.”
He stood up too. “Of course. Take care, man.” He shook my hand.
I left the house of Mr. Decassius, more questions than answers.
After our meeting last night, Clark had all of the people on his team – me, Emily and Robby – meet him in what used to be F.O.L.D.’s headquarters. Really, it was just the unused school basement, which now had a thin layer of dust over everything. F.O.L.D. headquarters had many untouched file cabinets with in-depth data on pretty much every student currently attending the school, so anything in them might be helpful in our search for T.H.A.N.O.S. Laura and Jesse, and by proxy Cassidy and Guillermo, had helpfully agreed to guard the basement in case any suspicious characters tried to access the files.
You would think Clark would have had us meet before school started, but as Clark Largent is Clark Largent he waited until he was wide awake after second period. If it takes him that long to wake up, it’s no wonder he’s always carrying around a cup of coffee.
Me and Robby had come to the basement pretty early. We said good morning to the current guards, who were Jesse and Guillermo.
“Why don’t you just use the pen file I gave you?” Guillermo asked. “It has the names of everybody, right?”
“They would be helpful, but these written files have a…personal touch,” I explained. “Handwritten notes and things like that.”
“Ah, I see,” Guillermo nodded. “Good luck, fellow heroes.”
Robby and I nodded and headed downstairs. He and I had been members of F.O.L.D. for a long time before it fell, so I think we could share some of that nostalgia.
“This is the table where I was first sworn in,” Robby mused, wiping some dust off of the table in question. “And that’s the table where I kept my computer. And that’s the table-”
“I get it, there’s a lot of tables,” I laughed. “I have memories here too, you know.”
“What was the name of that agent who sat over there?”
“Right, right. Wasn’t she expelled?”
“Yeah, something about drugs,” I said. Looking around, I did have a lot of memories…but a lot of them had been soured by Trenton Adam’s betrayal.
Trent was the Director of F.O.L.D. I was his second-in-command. He’d seemed like a really nice guy. Kind of goofy, but nice. I really liked him.
But then I- we, learned that he’d been secretly dating Seyla Solstice. That fact destroyed F.O.L.D., because all of Kirby’s students didn’t think they could trust him or anyone involved with F.O.L.D. anymore. They’d felt betrayed.
Most importantly, I felt betrayed. I might have been reading into things, but Trent really seemed to like me. I thought we could have been, you know, a thing. But if he was already dating someone else…
The door to the basement was flung open, and Clark was standing at the top of the stairs with Emily behind him. “Hop to it, guys. No more lollygagging.”
“You’re the one who’s been lollygagging,” Robby replied, immediately. “Me and Tilly have been down here forever.”
“Ten minutes is not forever, Robby,” I corrected him.
“That was at least… thirteen minutes.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Also not forever.”
Clark looked around the room. “Place looks charming. I take it Laura and Jesse’s team haven’t cleaned the place up?”
“At least they’re guarding the files,” I said, peering over the masses of file drawers. “A lot of these date back to before the Initiative.”
“Did the universe even function properly back then?” Emily asked, sarcastically.
“A world without origami ain’t a world I’m living in,” Clark said, sliding into a chair after he’d brushed the dust off. He hadn’t been sitting for two seconds before his phone rang.
“For the love of-” Clark answered his phone, annoyed. “Cal, I just sat down- Oh, really? Huh. That’s…huh. I’ll tell them. Later.”
Clark stood up and clapped his hands. “So! Change of plans. I gotta go talk to Andy.”
“Why? What’s up?” Robby asked.
“Defying all expectations, Cal and his friends found some useful information. You might want to sit down for this one.” Clark looked around at all of the dust-covered chairs. “On second thought, stay standing.”
“Tell us, Clark,” Emily asked, calmly.
Clark sighed. “Fine, just keeping things exciting. Trent’s ‘T’. He’s a T.H.A.N.O.S. dude. Also, he’s the one that ordered the destruction of Dummy. He’s a jerk.” Before waiting to see any of our reactions, he jumped back up the stairs and headed outside, presumably to tell Andy all of this.
Even if the chairs were dusty, I did sit down. Trent wasn’t just a bad guy. He was a bad guy, as in, an actual villain. No wonder he was dating Seyla! They’d probably met in their super secret T.H.A.N.O.S. meetings and hit it off immediately. It should’ve made me feel better that I was justified in really disliking him, but I just felt worse. I mean, I’d liked the guy. How could I not have seen that he was evil?
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw Emily smiling down at me. She brushed the dust off the chair next to me and sat down. “Big news,” she said, simply.
“No kidding,” I replied. “How I have… I worked right next to him!”
Emily nodded. “Sometimes you see what you want to see. Sometimes, even the people you consider to be your best friends turn out to be someone you should have been avoiding all along. You just have to be better than them.”
I sighed. “You don’t get it, Emily. I helped him. When they broke Dummy? He actually told me he was going to do it, and I didn’t do anything to stop him. If he’s a villain, doesn’t that make me no better than a goon?”
I’d never told any of my friends about that. It felt strange to remember. It had been just last year, but it felt so long ago. I was way younger, and I wanted to impress F.O.L.D. and Trent in any way I could. Keeping my mouth shut seemed like a good way to do it. I was worried if I did ever tell them that Clark’s entire origin as Iron Fold was built around a lie, they’d want to get rid of me.
However, Emily didn’t seem to mind. “Believe me when I say that Clark hasn’t thought about Dummy in a long time. He’s moved on from that. He’s a totally different person than he was last year. A better one, in my entirely objective opinion,” she said, laughing. “Even if Trent was bad back then, he still created a hero. And by extension, you did too. Clark wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. None of us would.”
“I still helped destroy his…uh, Lego robot.” I laughed. “It does sound kind of stupid when you think about.”
Emily put her hand on mine. “Tilly, don’t sell yourself short. You’ve made mistakes, sure, but who hasn’t? You’re better than Trent. You’ve surpassed him in pretty much everything.”
“Yeah, sure…” What she said was really nice, but how could she be right?
At that moment, Clark ran back down the stairs, suddenly way more energetic than he had been. “Alright, guys. Let’s look for some crap.”
I’ll admit, I was kinda bummed. Being babysat by someone after our totally failed interrogation was not exactly where I would’ve liked to be at the moment. However, I, and my team of intrepid protectors, were not about to let a little something like a chaperone bring us down. No matter what, we’d find a way to help Dove and the OrigAvengers. We would redeem ourselves.
I just didn’t exactly know how to do that.
Duncan was actually pretty nice, all things considered. He wasn’t standing over our shoulder the whole time, and he mostly had his earbuds in, listening to some fantasy book or whatever. I think he might’ve felt a bit offended that Dove had sidelined him, but it could have been a lot worse. At least he was stuck with us!
As far as babysitting went, he mostly checked on our positions after our classes and made sure we weren’t sneaking off to go talk to Seyla or something like that. I don’t know why he’d think we’d violate Dove’s trust again, but here we were.
“This idiot…thinks I can’t go to my own class by myself…” Cole muttered to me, during English (we shared a class). There was a few minutes before Mr. Branagh came in. Cole was angrily muttering while writing down some notes. “I’d love to be able to move on my own again. Just so you know, Kurt, I blame you for this.”
I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. We’re gonna fix this, anyway.”
“And just how are we gonna do that with Duncan on our heels?” Cole asked, skeptically.
“We’re going to get Duncan to work with us. Dove can’t get mad at us if Duncan’s the one who gets the job done.”
Cole glared. “You realize that Dove isn’t the only one mad at us, right?”
Cole put his pen down, frustrated. “Cat’s mad at me. We were getting along pretty well, too. Turns out the Foldians have been good for someone. But now that you made me tag along with you to go mess with Seyla Solstice, she’s been giving me the cold shoulder…and I don’t like it.” He growled. “If you tell anyone I told you that I will stab you with this pen.”
“That’s the third time you’ve threatened me with a pen this week.”
“And it won’t be the last, Dollar Bill.”
I chortled. “Dollar Bill, huh? Very clever.”
Cole put his face down on the desk. “Just shut up.”
“So, what do you want us to do, o powerful Doctorigami Strange?” Pete asked Duncan during our first free period. He’d taken the very first opportunity to attach a ‘Kick me’ sign to Duncan’s back. Duncan hadn’t noticed. It was very funny.
This free period was the first time we’d all been together with Duncan. I obviously wanted to show him how great of a team we were, and Peter and Paul were just trying to lighten the mood. Cole was even grumpier than usual.
“Why are you even here?” Cole snapped as Duncan led us down the hall. “What do you get out of looking after us?”
Duncan smirked. “Bargaining chips later, Cole,” he said, casually. “I’ve been a hero for just as long as Clark Largent or Dove MacLeash, but I’ve been so quiet about my work that nobody even knew I existed aside from the JROTC Novas. I have to prove myself to the other heroes. Babysitting you four is the perfect way to do it; a job nobody wants to do, but someone has to take one for the team.”
I stared at him. “You mean…you don’t actually want to be here with us?”
Duncan turned to look back at me. “Of course not. Why would I want to? You’re four kids (yes, I know we’re the same age, but you act two years younger) who take things too seriously, or not seriously at all. Who would willingly follow you around if they didn’t have something to gain?” He turned back around and walked down the hallway, beckoning for us to follow. “Oh, and by the way, Pete; I know about the ‘Kick me’ sign. I’ll kick you if you do what it says.”
Cole was laughing to himself quietly. Pete rounded on him. “What the heck are you laughing about? He hates us as much as Dove does.”
“Eh,” Cole shrugged, still chuckling. “At least he’s honest about it.” He followed Duncan down the hall.
Paul nodded and wheeled himself down the hallway too. “Where are you leading us, Mr. Doctor?”
“My base, Paul,” Duncan called behind himself. “I doubt you’ve ever been there. It’s called a library.”
As for me and Pete, we didn’t move immediately. I was still trying to wrap my mind around this. Duncan claimed he’d been a hero for as long as my mentor, but he wasn’t acting like one. A hero is supposed to do everything for selfless reasons, but Duncan seemed to think it was a way to get respect. That wasn’t right at all.
“That guy needs a sense of humor,” Pete muttered, reaching into his backpack and pulling out Socket Raccoon. The sock puppet turned to face me. “Can I call him some really bad cuss words?”
I waved the puppet off. “No, no. A hero can’t cuss.”
“Have you seen a Guardians movie?”
“Shush,” I said, shushing him. Suddenly, a thought came to me. “What if this is a test, too? A test within a test!”
“Please explain,” Pete said, stroking his chin with Socket.
“Dove’s known Duncan since he came to Wheeler. What if he knows that Duncan doesn’t have the best ideals? What if he’s trying to use us to show him how real heroes do things?”
“You know that’s not it, dude. Maybe Duncan’s just a jerk.”
“That’s stupid. Dove wouldn’t put us with someone who didn’t like us on purpose, right?”
Pete put Socket Raccoon on my shoulder. “I’m gonna be completely serious with you right now, man. I think Dove asked the first guy he found. Duncan doesn’t want to be here, we don’t want to be here, no one wants to be here. The sooner you accept that the more Duncan won’t want to murder us.” He held Socket up. “Stop making excuses and taking [CENSORED] responsibility, idiot.” Pete put Socket back in his bag and nonchalantly followed the other three down the hall.
Was that what I was doing? Just making excuses? It didn’t feel like I was. Pete was just wrong.
Hearing from Clark that Trent was the T in T.H.A.N.O.S. was definitely a blow, but I couldn’t feel how much of a blow it was. I didn’t exactly know how to react to the fact that my former boss was a member of the group actively trying to destroy our school. I figured I’d process it later. For now, we had a job to do.
My team was on our way to visit Desiree at the Kirby King offices: the school newspaper classroom. Ally was my right-hand man on the mission, and she had a notebook with her to write down anything we learned. Jessica walked next to us, carrying her ever present hydroflask…come to think of it, I don’t think I’d ever actually seen her drink from it.
“Why do we have to go now?” Jessica wondered aloud. I’m not sure she was actually asking anyone. She could have just been complaining. “Couldn’t we wait until after school? I have a Physics test in fifteen minutes.”
“This was the only time Ezra could get Desiree to talk with us,” I explained. “She’s really busy with Seyla’s big tree-planting event.”
“I’m not sure I’ve ever met Desiree,” Ally said. “I know Dove’s talked to her before…” she paused before continuing. “But I’ve never actually been in the newspaper office myself.”
“She’s…interesting,” I said. “She has a bit of an ego, but I don’t really blame her. She might actually be a genius when it comes to reading people and investigating them.”
“Can’t wait to meet her!” Ally replied, enthusiastically.
“Oh, believe me, you can wait,” Jessica added.
Before anything else could be said, we were at the news office. The door was branded with big, Times New Roman font letters: The Kirby King. I was about to knock when the door swung open.
Sure enough, it was Ezra Cronin, the last member of our team.
“Hey, squad,” he said nervously. “Welcome to the Kirby King. Desiree’s office is back there—” he gestured behind him “—and she has been locked up in it every hour she hasn’t had classes. Pretty sure she sleeps in there. Anyway, let’s do it. Chop, chop.” He held the door for us.
Raising her eyebrows at me comically, Ally stepped in. Jessica and I followed her.
The Kirby King was an interesting place. It had been a while since I had been here during the fall of F.O.L.D. with Tilly and Laura. Without furniture, it would’ve been just a long, wide hall with an office at the end. There was an empty reception desk at the front, followed by rows of cubicle-style stations for the writing team on either side of the hall. Each cubicle was decked out with a desk, laptop, mini lamp, and stacks of notes.
To my surprise, the writing team looked surreal. They were all dressed up with hats and sunglasses as they worked.
“Um, Ezra?” Ally asked. “Why are they all dressed like that?”
“Oh, that? It’s some kinda sick prank on me,” he said distastefully. “Diego probably started it. I bet it’s because on our reporting trip to Montauk beach during the visit to the New York Post, I forgot a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen and got really sunburnt. In winter, no less! And none of them gave me sunscreen.” He raised his voice. “SO, IT WASN’T ENOUGH TO LEAVE ME HERE TO ASSIST DESIREE WHILE YOU ALL WORKED ON THE BIG PROJECT. INSTEAD OF BEING OUTSIDE WORKING ON THE SAVE THE TREES STORY, THEY ALL DECIDED TO STAY IN AND MAKE FUN OF ME INSTEAD OF BEING PRODUCTIVE. ISN’T THAT ACCURATE?”
The writing team ignored him and continued to work.
“I’m sorry, Ezra,” Ally said, comforting him. “That really sucks. Can we see Desiree?”
“What?” he said distractedly. “Oh, yeah. Follow me.”
He led us down the aisle, holding his head high and not looking at the rest of the writers. I had to admit, I was having trouble doing so myself. The whole student staff looked like a crowd fresh off of a Caribbean cruise.
“We’re actually working on a new story. Basically, who we all think T.H.A.N.O.S. is. Sure, we’ve got Adrian and Seyla, but that still leaves four.” He lowered his voice. “For my money, the last four are Noah Brickowski as N, Oliver Wendell as O, Harrison as H, and Tilly as T.”
I looked at him skeptically. “But we found T, though. It’s Trent.”
“Dangit,” he muttered. “I owe Austin ten bucks now…”
When we reached Desiree’s office, we found it flanked by a tall, muscular bodyguard. It would have been more intimidating had he not also been wearing a ridiculously large hat and bright yellow sunglasses.
“Hi, buddy. We need to talk to Desiree,” Ezra said.
“No can do, pal.”
“Why not? I’m a member of the writing staff, same as you.”
The guy shook his head. “Desiree’s not taking visitors.”
“Can’t you just let us in for a little bit?” Jessica asked.
“She was very explicit in her instructions, Ms. Smith-Holt,” the guy said. “Nobody is allowed in or out.”
“You sound familiar,” Ally said. “Were you in my Social Studies class last year?”
“With Mr. Rainey?” he asked. “No.”
“Listen, son,” I said, stepping forward. “This is really important. It has to do with her current case.”
“That’s enough,” he frowned. “Now!”
Suddenly, the writing room roared to life behind us. We turned around to find the writing team, un-disguised, standing up with cries of challenge. If Desiree heard, nothing happened. The door didn’t open.
I was surprised to find that I recognized most of the ‘reporters’ on staff. They were all villains that my friends or I had fought over the past year. There were a few members of the Summer Camp Six; the Kraven guy, Johnathan, Asher and his origami Vulture, and Ian the Sandpaper-man. There was also a girl I hadn’t met before, with a grayish puppet I didn’t recognize. Ezra filled me in later that it was a puppet based on Ghost from Ant-Man, and her name was Jennifer.
“This is not my writing team!” Ezra cried, looking around.
Behind us, the guard took off his sunglasses (but kept the hat).
“John Yeargensberg,” Jessica glowered. “I thought you were an Agent of F.O.L.D.”
“F.O.L.D. never used me to my full potential,” he said. “I prefer to be more than just the muscle. Turns out, freelancing gives you that power. Now die, just like the organization that left me behind.” He had his own puppet attached to his shirt pocket. This one I did recognize: Crossbones, from the Civil War comic, skull mask and all. No wonder he seemed a bit edgy.
“Woah,” I said, “We don’t need to get into any of this. If we have to, we will. But we can settle this peacefully. What do you want?”
John didn’t respond, stuck in a glaring contest with Jessica.
“Let’s pummel ‘em, Crossfold,” Asher yelled. “I’m ready to go.” He lunged at Ezra, who instinctively held up his hand to block him. Johnathan, Ian and Jennifer and picked their targets too, with Ian and his sandpaper puppet (don’t ask me how he accomplished this) rushing straight at me. However, just before any blows landed, John seemed to back down.
“Fine,” he said. “We just want to talk. Everyone, back away.”
All of the villains groaned. Johnathan and Asher looked particularly upset, reluctantly lowering their fists.
“Ten seconds ago, you told us to ‘die’,” Ally said.
“Enough! Let me have my moment,” John said. “Let’s continue this conversation in the torture chambers.”
“Conference room,” Ezra translated for us.
Ally glanced at me worriedly. I nodded to John. “Lead the way.”
John Yeargensberg led us down an offshoot hall to the conference room. There were no windows and it was essential the size of a large closet with a table in the middle. He flipped a switch, and some lights flickered to life.
“In here,” he grumbled, holding the door open for us. “Far side of the table.”
Ezra, Ally, Jessica, and I made our way into the room, taking seats on the far side of the table. John came in, and the rest of the villains lingered by the doorway.
“So…” Ally started. “What’s up?”
“‘What’s up?’” John said, almost spitting the words out. I hadn’t known him when he was a F.O.L.D. agent, but I was counting my blessings because of it. He seemed like a really nasty guy. “Do you all not get the gravity of the situation you’re currently trying to meddle in?”
“Do you?” Jessica asked, taking a big swig from her hydroflask. If disinterested had a picture in the dictionary, it would be of Jessica.
“More than you all,” John replied.
“Then why are you helping T.H.A.N.O.S.?” I asked. “It’s obvious that Desiree didn’t station you there, so you must be working for them.”
John groaned, and his eyes narrowed. “You think I want either of the schools to close? Of course not. Just like you heroes, I have some great memories at Kirby, and I have some good friends at Wheeler. Either of the schools closing would be bad for me. But I’m actually trying to help because I think they’re right. No matter how much you think you’ve done to end the war, there’s still fighting going on under your noses. Without a big shock, it’ll keep going indefinitely.
“You want things to stay the same, to the point where you’re fine with the conflict continuing as long as you can stop it before people get hurt. Don’t you see the problem? You gotta cut out the roots or the weed just keeps growing.”
“So you’re helping T.H.A.N.O.S. for the wrong reasons,” Ezra said. “That’s pathetic. Get a L. I. F. E.”
Ally waved at him to hush. “What about your partners out there?” she asked. She was writing down all of this in her notebook, making sure she understood exactly what John was saying. “Do they feel the same way?”
“Oh, they’re just here for revenge against you guys. The OrigAvengers. You may not have impacted them all individually, but it’s people like you that have. In all of this, you’ve left a lot of people behind. Just like me. So now we’re going to do the same.” He stood up and walked slowly to the door, joining his comrades.
Ally realized what was happening a second before all of us. “Stop!” she yelled, springing to her feet.
I felt my eyes widen. “John—”
In one smooth motion, John Yeargensberg slipped out the door, closed it, and locked it with a loud CLICK. I could hear him and his comrades laughing outside and walking away.
I looked at Ally, Ezra, and Jessica. They all looked as petrified as I felt.
We were trapped.
“So… hi, again,” I started. Across the table, Kev yawned.
Sitting next to him, Gar gave a little wave. “It’s been a bit, hasn’t it?”
“Ah, yes, it has,” I said. I had not seen Gar in a while as part of the OrigAvengers team. As much as I enjoyed the new team after the Artron phase that Kev had, I was having some difficulty keeping in touch with everyone. I had heard a lot about Gar, of course, but that was hardly the same.
“So… how’ve you been, Dove?” Gar asked.
“Good, good. I have been doing my regular school routine. You know, class, homework.”
“Nice. You’re in Student Body Government, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered, impressed that he remembered. “We have an impromptu meeting in about twenty minutes.”
“Oh, sorry, we don’t want to hold you up,” Gar said. Kev yawned.
Gar elbowed him. “Hm? Oh, definitely,” Kev said.
“You alright, Kev? You look tired,” Gar noted.
“Cassidy invited me over for a movie night. I got back late.”
“You are not inconveniencing me,” I intervened. “Please, I am happy to discuss our plans to save the schools. They have been a true home for me.”
Kev looked at me strangely. “Why did you say that like you’re dying?”
I was tempted to tell him the truth, but the less people who knew that I was considering heading back to Iceland, the better. I swallowed. “Nothing.”
There was a moment of silence. “So…” Gar said, breaking the ice. “What can we do to do our part in stopping T.H.A.N.O.S.?”
“Well, just keep our eyes open for suspicious activity. If their actions were going to be apparent at any point, it would most likely be now.”
“Isn’t that person you work with in T.H.A.N.O.S.?” Kev asked. “Seyla? Do you think you could ask her about this?”
“I am not sure,” I said slowly. “She and I have gotten along well enough, but that is professionally. I fear that she will not discuss T.H.A.N.O.S. And she has a reputation. She is quite popular.”
“There’s drawbacks to popularity. Trust me, that’s what Cassidy would tell you,” Kev said. “She’s human. Maybe she’ll help.”
“And my girlfriend would tell you that people tend to come around with time,” Gar added.
My shirt suddenly felt slightly tight around my neck. “That does sound like Ally.” I took a deep breath. “I agree, but there is an additional complication,” I said wearily. “Kur—I mean, the Foldians team went to her already. If she was not before, she is definitely closed off to our inquiries.”
“Well, has she been doing anything suspicious?” Kev asked.
“No, not necessarily,” I said. “She has started a Save the Trees event between the two schools.”
“An inter-school event? Sounds pretty suspicious to me, Dove,” Gar said.
I stood up with a sudden burst of anger. I cannot describe why. “I am tired of everybody only caring about Seyla because she is part of T.H.A.N.O.S.! Nef, we were almost friends before this calamity happened.”
Gar and Kev looked at me surprisedly. “We’re not saying that,” Kev said. “It’s just, well, she’s been the only member of T.H.A.N.O.S. that we’ve known of for so long.”
“It’s a good place to start,” Gar agreed.
I exhaled. “I am sorry. I just miss when things were simpler. You are right. We should look into the Save the Trees event.”
“It’s okay, Dove. I understand,” Gar said. “We can check out the event tomorrow. We’ll be in and out. You’re right, too. No need to obsess over it. Let’s just… check it out and move on. Piece of cake.”
“I beg your pardon,” I said. “But I do not think that they serve cake at the event.”
“Oh, no, it’s an expression. Like, easy as pie.”
“I do not understand,” I said with confusion. “Why is pie easy?” Many American phrases are still strange to me.
“It—honestly, nevermind,” Gar concluded. “So… see you guys there? Tomorrow morning before school?”
“No,” Kev said flatly. “I’m sleeping in. How’s around 5:30 in the afternoon?”
Gar glanced at me. “Works for me.”
“Okay,” I said. “See you then.”
“It looks like the Save the Trees preparations are coming together smoothly,” Seyla said, folding her binder. “We have already planted over a third of our tree sapling stocks. Well done, everyone.”
Callie and I clapped, and Chris joined in with two slow claps. Seyla smiled slightly, but she quickly wiped it away.
“With that, I believe our meeting can conclude,” Seyla said. “See you on Saturday for the real show.”
Callie and Chris dispersed. I hung around for a moment while Seyla went through her Student Government files.
“What is it, Dover?” she asked, without looking up.
I tried to find the words. “Ah, Seyla, I understand that some friends of mine took the time to ask you about your role in T.H.A.N.O.S. I just wanted to apologize for their behavior. Over time, I have—”
“Dover, you are wasting your breath,” Seyla said, glancing up with a piercing look. “We both know very well that we are on opposite sides of the spectrum here. Let’s not get confused now. Is that clear?”
I hesitated, then said firmly, “No. It is not. I believe that we are both stronger than whatever is going on here.”
Seyla laughed—an alarming sound that I had not heard since the days of Malekith. “Oh, Dover, I know why you’re here. You want information from me. I have respected you, and I’ve even bent in the past because I thought you understood. But we are not friends. And the friends you do have say something about you.” Her expression hardened. “And you know what those friends did? They showed how you really feel.”
“Seyla…” I started. “That is not—”
“Well, I know what this means now,” Seyla interrupted. “We are not professionally compatible.”
“So, that is what you intend to do?” I challenged. “Remove me from the council? The teachers know I do my job well. Even as the president, you do not have the power to remove me during the school year.”
“I don’t need the power,” Seyla said with a sweet smile. She glanced toward the ground slightly. I followed her gaze to see her open backpack, with files inside. One of them had a tape recorder. It was brief, but I thought I saw one word: Artron. Seyla quickly zipped it shut and donned the bag. “It’s refreshing to know how people truly feel, isn’t it?” Seyla asked.
“You… you cannot…”
“In fact, it’d be nice if everyone knew, instead of having to find out by themselves. See you at Save the Trees, Dover.”
She pushed past me, leaving me in silent horror with what just happened.
Save the Trees!
Dove told us about the supposed importance of the Save the Trees event. That really disappointed me, too; I’m a fan of environmentalism, and I was in full support of Seyla started a tree-planting event like this. Why did it have to be connected to an evil plot?
“Why did Dove send us here?” Noah complained as we walked onto the lawn. The event was taking place along the path connecting Wheeler and Kirby, and it was buzzing with kids going to and fro. The shop-class students of both schools were currently putting the finishing touches on a simple wooden stage parallel to the path, and some kids were on their hands and knees planting tiny little saplings. I’d even planted a few myself a few days ago, but there were so many now I had no idea where mine even were. “There’s nothing but kids and trees.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s a chance to help regrow a lot of trees that were cut down when the schools were first built. I, for one, think it’s a noble gesture.”
“But it’s just trees!” Noah said. “Trees make more trees. They don’t need our help to do it!”
“Not if we cut them all down! You don’t-”
“You’re Cat and Noah, right?” someone cut me off, coming down the path behind us. “Sorry, am I interrupting something?”
Noah opened his mouth to speak, but he closed it immediately. “Uh, no,” he said. “Not at all.”
I turned and saw Adrian, the former T.H.A.N.O.S. guy, walking with his hands in his pockets. Since he was one of the main hall monitors of Wheeler, I recognized him pretty immediately. I’d just never personally spoken to him before. “Yes, that’s us! Cat Grant and Noah Buckets,” I replied, introducing ourselves.
“Adrian Collins, but you both already knew that,” he said, sheepishly. “I wanted to try and help find who we’re looking for. You know, the least I could do, after… uh, anyway, I asked Dove and he sent me down here to help you guys!”
“Well, we’d love the help, because I have absolutely no idea where to start,” Noah said. “Did you learn any sick tricks for blending into the shadows when you were Agent A or whatever?”
Adrian blushed really badly, and I elbowed Noah. “What Noah means is, would you happen to know any clues?”
“I’m not really sure…” He looked up, and evidently saw someone he recognized behind us and waved. “Hey, Amias!”
Once again, we turned around and found another guy walking up to us, this time looking very official, with a nametag and a pair of sunglasses. I think he was going for a ‘Secret Service’ look.
“What’s up, Adrian?” he said. By reading the nametag, I saw that his name was Amias Hill, and that he was a member of the JROTC. “What brings you here?”
“T.H.A.N.O.S. stuff,” Adrian replied. “Yourself?”
Amias gestured to his nametag. “I’m security. Gotta make sure nobody gets hurt, and nothing gets sabotaged. That type of thing.” Amias glanced at me. “Ah, and two Foldians with you, too?”
“You don’t have to sound so disappointed,” I muttered, crossing my arms.
“Your team has cost the JROTC a bunch of problems. The Prawley boys and Kurt Blum are like monkeys with ADHD and caffeine.”
Noah chuckled. “Yeah, they are.”
“Anyway, you guys mind if I tag along?”
I looked to both Adrian and Amias, and shrugged. “Welcome to the team, boys. So, where to?”
“How about over there?” Noah said, pointing towards the stage. Around the stage were several different kids hammering down planks and sawing boards…and Seyla Solstice. She was talking with Harrison, the Kirby Student Body President, probably discussing plans for the presentation on Saturday afternoon. “We could talk to her.”
“Yeah, now we don’t have a bunch of children to ruin it for us,” I growled.
“What?” Amias and Adrian asked.
“Ignore her,” Noah replied.
I led the three boys over to the stage. Seyla and Harrison were chatting like old friends, not a care in the world. I wondered if Harrison knew he was talking to one of the orchestrators of the school’s supposed downfall. I found it strange, too, that even in the warm April sun, Harrison still wore dress pants and a vest.
“We’ll have two microphones in front, one on the Wheeler side and one on Kirby, and we’ll both be up there for the speeches,” I overheard Harrison say. “I think they’ll like such a show of unity.”
“I like that idea,” Seyla agreed. I saw her eyes briefly flash toward us, but she pointedly ignored us approaching. “It’s very in-theme.”
Harrison was actually the one who acknowledged us first. “Oh, hello there. Are you four enjoying the progress? So far, this whole initiative has been a total success.” He talked so much like a politician that it was hard to remember that he was only in the grade above me.
“Everything looks beautiful,” I complimented. I meant it. Seeing all of these budding trees felt really nice. “I hope you don’t mind, but we just wanted to talk to Seyla here for a moment.”
Harrison smiled. “I don’t mind at all. I would like to stick around, though; there’s still things we need to discuss.”
I reflexively glanced back at Noah. He shrugged, which probably meant He is the Student Body President.
“Of course,” I replied.
Seyla, finally forced to notice us, gave us a smile that very few people would notice was fake. “How can I help?”
“We’d just like to apologise for how our teammates acted,” I said, trying to sound as nice as possible. “I definitely get it if they offended you at all. Two of them are idiots, one’s just naive and the one’s a jerk.”
“I just don’t like being painted as a soulless villainess. I’m sure you understand.” She sounded so cold, it made me step back up. How did Dove see any good in her?
“We really need to know anything that we don’t know about…you know,” Noah said, raising his eyebrows like the most non-subtle signal ever.
Seyla’s eyes narrowed. “So I’m a member of T.H.A.N.O.S. That doesn’t mean I know anything.”
Instantly, Harrison’s eyes bugged out of his head. “Oh my gosh- you can’t- how…you’re a member of T.H.A.N.O.S.?” Seyla glared at him, but he just kept talking. “I’ve been talking to T.H.A.N.O.S. the whole time? How is that possible? I trust you with my life, and then… you think you know a person…” Harrison put his hand over his heart and turned to the four of us. “I’m sorry, but I need to go process this.” And he walked over, still musing to himself.
Seyla grimaced and facepalmed. “Thank you very much for that. There goes my partner on this incredibly important project, which has nothing to do with T.H.A.N.O.S. I’m going to go see if I can go smooth things over enough to keep working. Thanks a lot.” She stormed off, following Harrison.
I rounded on Noah. “What the heck was that?”
“What do you mean?” he said, defensively.
“This!” I said, and I mimicked his incredibly obvious eyebrow movement.
“I didn’t do that!”
“Yes you did! You did this,” I did the eyebrow thing again, “And totally ruined the second interrogation chance we’ve had with Seyla. Now she hates us just as much as she hates Kurt and the others!”
“Well, you were getting nowhere with your good cop routine. What, did you think just by batting your beautiful eyelashes, Seyla would do anything you wanted?”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying. “Batting my beaut- I was easing her in! Making her comfortable so she wouldn’t run off! Oh, wait, that’s exactly what she did when you started talking.”
Noah looked aghast, and I didn’t even know what aghast looked like on a person. “Beating around the bush is never the right option! The direct approach is the best!”
“Oh, like when you told me you were in love with me right in the middle of one of mine and Cole’s fights? Is that what ‘direct’ means to you?”
There was a pause. Noah just stared at me. Adrian and Amias looked completely out of their depth, but I didn’t mind. I wasn’t done.
“Maybe the reason you tipped her off like that is because you’re on her side. Don’t think I never noticed that ‘Noah’ starts with the letter ‘N’. You might be like Adrian; a sleeper agent trying to make us trip up!” I finished, and took a moment to catch my breath.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know where all of this anger was coming from. Did I actually think Noah was N? In the moment, I don’t know, but now I know it was really stupid. No matter what our feelings about each other are at the time, Noah and I had been friends for years. I trusted him…most of the time.
Now was not one of those times.
Noah stood there, trying to think of some retort, or something else to add. “Yeah, well- I don’t…” He stopped, and put his head down.
I was still too heated up to care about anything like that. I was ready to kick him while he was down when Adrian stepped in front.
“I think you should stop now, Cat,” he said, quietly.
“You totally wrecked him…” Amias said, next to Adrian. I was pleased to hear that he was impressed.
“Well, what if he is in T.H.A.N.O.S.? Are you just gonna let him stand there?”
“He’s not T.H.A.N.O.S.!” Adrian shouted.
“Oh yeah? How do you know?”
He threw his hands in the air, exasperated. “Because I was in T.H.A.N.O.S.!” He put his hands down and looked me straight in the eye. “You don’t know what that does to a person. I had to lie to my friends everyday, about how I was helping ‘save the school’ and whatever. I had to keep lying, just so nobody would find out that I was working for either one of the school’s downfalls. It was rough, okay? And it can mess you up. And I can tell who’s been messed up by it.
“Like sure, yeah, this is all just stupid high school stuff, with weird finger puppets and things that hardly ever make since, but it still matters to me. Deep down, I care about it and I don’t want to see it go. So that’s how I know that Noah isn’t N, Cat. He just wants to help. Is he doing it the wrong way? Maybe. But he’s on our side.”
Adrian stepped aside, but Noah had already walked away and was a wide distance from us. I even saw him rub his nose with his sleeve. Did I say such mean things that I made him cry?
“Noah!” I called, but it was useless. He was already going back up the path to the school.
I realized, in that moment, I’d completely destroyed the Foldians; I’d forced Kurt and the others to work apart from us, and now I’d sent my best friend away because I was angry. Our group hadn’t been together long, sure, but I still liked it. Somehow I’d get us back together again.
“Well, that was rough…” Amias murmured. He looked around, trying to seem disinterested. “Oh, hey, it looks like someone shot themselves with a nail gun…I should probably go check on that…” He walked away as casually as possible.
Adrian looked at me again. “I know you didn’t mean it.”
Now, I was almost blinking back tears. But they weren’t sad tears; they were angry tears, because I was angry. Angry at myself. “I’ll fix it. Somehow.”
Were in a bad spot. If OrigVenom was still with me, he would be making fun of me right now.
This was my first time working with the actual, true-to-life OrigAvengers, and thankfully I didn’t have my stupid puppet to ruin things. Suddenly, I stood up, and remembered something someone had sent into the Kirby King from Wheeler awhile ago. “Guys! I know exactly what to do!”
Jessica, the mean one, I’d found, raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah, the Adam Papercut guy submitted a guide for being stuck in a closet,” I explained, looking around the floor.
“Who’s Adam Papercut?” Ally asked, confused.
“So, does anyone see a rat? We could cook it with our phone flashlights.”
Andy suddenly stood up. “Oh, duh! We have our phones!”
Ally facepalmed. “Of course.” She took out her phone and started dialing, when suddenly…
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
“Who is that?” I whispered to Ally. The sound had come from outside the room. Someone was knocking.
We kept quiet.
“Dare I even ask if you all stuck in there?” The person outside fiddled around with the lock, and POP! the door came open to reveal Desiree Dawson, looking annoyed with a hint of amusement.
“Desiree!” I said with relief. “How’d you know we were in here?”
“You honestly don’t think I heard all of that, Cronin? It was like a rocket launch. Hard to miss. Hello, Andrew. Allison, Jessica.”
“Why didn’t you come out?” I asked Desiree pointedly. “We were surrounded!”
“How could I have helped? Better to wait for them to leave. Anyway, I’m here, and if T.H.A.N.O.S. hired a bunch of goons to prevent you from telling me whatever you need to tell me, I figured it must be pretty important. What is it?”
“It’s sort of the opposite, actually,” Ally said. “Ezra said you could help us with the case. I mean, it was Dove’s idea, but…”
“Desiree,” Andy intervened. “T.H.A.N.O.S. has been a really complicated issue for us. Do you have any information on who is in it?”
Desiree sighed. “This is a big case. So, please, don’t, you know, let the public know what I’ve got. And before you ask, I don’t know all of them. But I have some suspicions. You let me have my fun with the T.H.A.N.O.S. article series, and I’ll tell you what I know. Deal, Andrew?”
Jessica leaned forward. “Andy, are you sure you really trust her? She’s a reporter for the Kirby King. They don’t always get their facts right.”
Desiree didn’t even glance at Jessica. “Do you trust me, Andrew?”
“Then that’s all that matters. Ready?”
He nodded again.
“Seyla Solstice, Student Body President of Wheeler Academy.”
“Trenton Adams, Director of F.O.L.D.”
Desiree looked impressed. “That’s S and T, of course. I’m not totally sure about N or O, but what about…H?”
“What do you mean, H?” Jessica said.
“I mean, of course, that I have a very strong suspicion about the identity of H.
Ally set aside her notebook. “Who is it?” she asked, leaning forward.
Desiree cleared her throat, importantly. “Harrison Osgood Herring, Student Body President of Kirby High School.”
“The library,” Duncan announced simply.
I nodded. “Impressive. So this is where you do that hero-y… Doctor-y… stuff? I like the shelves. And, uh, the books on them.”
Duncan raised his eyebrows at me. “Have you ever been in here before?”
“No. It’s very nice,” I said.
Duncan rolled his eyes and went back to talking to the group.
Pete elbowed me. “Don’t bother trying to get on Duncan’s good side,” he whispered. “He’s got one job, and that means he’s not going to let us hunt down T.H.A.N.O.S.”
“Fine. So, how do we escape?” I asked.
“Dude, that’s not going to work either. Just relax.”
Relax? The fight for justice does not relax.
Still, as much as I disliked it, Pete had a point. There wasn’t much we could do, I guess.
Duncan had apparently moved on from talking about the library and was having a sidebar conversation with a woman who appeared to be an employee.
“Thanks, Ms. Jamie,” he said, backing up. “Okay, kiddos, Naph will be here soon. Don’t try any—”
“Who’s ‘Naph’?” I asked.
“Short for Naphtali. He’s an old friend. I usually hang out with him here.”
“Nerd,” Pete commented.
“If I hear one more smart remark out of you, Prawley, I’m throwing into the piano over there,” Duncan grunted, gesturing to a large piano in the corner.
“Has anyone ever tried taping the books to the shelves?” Paul asked. “And, when someone goes to take a book, it’s stuck?”
Duncan sighed. “Just stay out of trouble, okay?”
“I’ll try to keep them alive, Mr. Duncan Anderson, sir,” Cole said, saluting. I think he was being sarcastic.
Duncan didn’t seem to mind, though. I think he liked Cole the most out of all of us. He didn’t say any goodbyes however. He just walked out of the library.
“He’s growing on me,” Cole said. He grabbed a random book from a shelf, walked over to an easy chair and plopped down. I don’t know if he even knew what he was reading, but I think he was trying to ignore us.
“I have never been in a room with this many books,” Pete said. “It feels so…comfy.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to open one every now and then,” Paul replied.
“Wow, okay,” Pete scoffed. In retaliation he shoved Paul’s wheelchair. I could tell he put more force into the shove than he intended, because Paul went rolling, on a direct collision course with the piano.
Suddenly, someone jumped out from behind one of the bookshelves and grabbed Paul’s wheelchair before it slammed into the giant instrument.
“Woah, careful there,” the someone said. “Duncan said you guys were nuts! Glad to see he wasn’t just being mean.”
“Thank you for letting me not hit the piano, Mr,” Paul said, gratefully. “I’ve done it way too many times.”
“We don’t even own a piano,” Pete said, snickering.
“I’m guessing you’re Naphtali?” I asked.
The guy nodded. He had tanned skin and long, black hair. He looked like a young Winter Soldier. “Pleased to meet you all.”
“How long do we have to stay in here?” Cole asked. “I’ve got a test in fifteen minutes.”
Naphtali strode across the room and walked behind the librarian’s counter and began writing something down in a little book. “Duncan just wanted you all to stay in here when he wasn’t available, because he didn’t want to follow you all around all the time. It’s like a house arrest.”
“Fair,” Cole muttered, then went back to reading.
Well, if I couldn’t get Duncan on our good side, maybe Naph would listen. I followed him to the counter. His little book was thick and the pages looked like they were covered in notes. Whatever he was writing down, he was very invested in the process. “Whatcha got there?” I asked him.
Naphtali closed the book suddenly and put it on the counter. “Nothing much. It’s just my diary. I write down whatever comes to mind. It really compliments my work in the library, too.” He stepped out from behind the counter, and held up a puppet. “See, Duncan is Doctorigami Strange. But I’m Wongami. I’m the guy who stays in the library, researching stuff, cataloging stuff…”
“My gosh, your job is boring,” Pete said, acting like he was yawning. He wasn’t wrong. I couldn’t imagine being stuck with all of these books all day.
Naphtali just shook his head. “Dude, my job is fun. See, I want to become an author. So, being surrounded by all of these books, and all of this pure knowledge will help me in that goal.”
He began walking down one of the aisles, and gestured for me to follow him. I did. What? I didn’t have anything better to do. Plus, I think he trusted me.
“I’m a librarian-in-training,” he explained. “I do a lot of stamping. If someone checks out a book, I stamp it and make sure it’s in the system.” He pulled a book down from the shelf: The Da Vinci Code. I’d heard of it, but never read it. I didn’t want to know about a Ninja Turtle’s super secret code or whatever.
Naphtali opened the book and showed me the stamp, near the beginning. “That was me. My first one, in fact. It was exciting.”
I nodded, politely. Holy crap, this guy loved books. I guess we all have our things. I like justice and being a hero. Naph likes books.
Naph pushed the book into my hands. “You can check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it.” He stepped out of the aisle and back to the counter. “I’m always looking for an opportunity to write my own story, you know? Be a part of something greater.”
“You mean like T.H.A.N.O.S.?”
“What?” Naphtali said, whipping his head around.
Cole was leaning on the piano, holding Naph’s diary. Pete and Paul were next to him, looking giddy.
“Why do you have my diary?” Naph shouted, jumping out from behind the counter. “That’s stealing!”
“No, it’s not,” Cole said, tossing him the diary. “There. Keep it.”
“Why did you guys have his diary?” I asked. “That’s an invasion of privacy.”
Pete shrugged. “It was right there on the counter, just waiting to be grabbed. Anyway, Cole, tell ‘em.”
At that moment, Duncan walked back into the library. “Nothing’s burned down, so that’s more than I was expecting,” he mused. “Hey Naph, what’s up?”
“Your merry band of sidekicks stole my diary,” Naph grumbled.
Duncan rolled his eyes. “Give Naph his diary, or I’ll get you all sent to detention.”
Cole shrugged. “We already did. See? He’s holding it.”
Sure enough, Naphtali was still holding the diary in his hands. Duncan looked confused. “Okay, so, if you have your diary, what’s the issue?”
“Your best friend is ‘N’ trouble,” Paul said, smirking.
“Yeah, he’s ‘N’ hot water,” Pete added.
“We’re totally ‘N’ding him.”
“Are those supposed to be puns?” Duncan asked, even more confused. He turned to me. “You, small one. You seem to be the leader of these idiots. What are they trying to tell me?”
“I actually have no idea,” I said, truthfully. I had no idea what they were getting at.
“Naphtali’s N, and we have the screenshots to prove it,” Cole explained. He held out his phone. On the screen were various pictures of diary entries…all detailing T.H.A.N.O.S. meetings. There were transcribed discussions, times of things, and even a paper that looked to have something ripped out of it. Was Cole telling the truth?
Well heck, I mean, of course he was. Naphtali was a member of T.H.A.N.O.S., standing right there! We’d caught him!
“Let’s grab him!” I shouted.
“Shh!” Ms. Jamie said from an adjacent room.
“Sorry!” I whispered. Me and Pete started to bolt toward Naph, but Duncan stepped in the way. He looked over at Naphtali with a disappointed frown. “Come on, man. Seriously?”
“You can’t…I don’t…”
“Can I see your diary?”
Naphtali looked hesitant for a moment, but then he handed it over. Duncan skimmed through it for a moment before closing it, angrily. “Dude.”
“What?” he asked, innocently.
Naphtali threw his hands up, exasperated. “Yeah, I am! What do you want me to say? They let me be a part of a story! A cool one, too! I’m part of a group that wants to fix things at these schools, and they’re letting me be the one who writes everything down. It’s kinda fun!”
“So you wanted to destroy the schools because it was fun?” Duncan asked.
“No, not really,” Naph relented. “I was just in too deep to quit, once O started ranting about ‘the end’ and everything.”
“So O’s the leader?” I asked.
“It seems like it. He’s the one who’s always yelling at me when I write something wrong, or make it late to the Skype meetings.”
“You guys meet over Skype?” Cole asked.
“Well, we did,” Naph said, sheepishly. “But then we transferred to Discord. It’s way easier.”
“Oh, well, that makes total sense,” Cole replied.
“If you guys had meetings on Skype, you would have to talk, right?” Paul asked.
“We just texted. We keep our anonymity that way.”
There was an awkward pause. “So, I guess you’re going to report me now,” Naph sighed.
Cole frowned. “Yeah, what do we do now?”
“Tell everyone else,” Duncan said bitterly. “Now everyone’s going to be watching you to make sure you don’t do anything. Plus, if something does happen, I guess we know who’s responsible.”
“Save it, man. I need to process this.” He started to walk out, then turned back to look at me. “By the way, you’re free to go. Nice job.”
Kev (me): Alright… Gar, say some things about where we are.
Gar: Into the mic?
Gar: Um… [pause] Why do I—?
Kev: Dove wants me to document, and I really don’t want to write an entire description. Audio’s my thing. Now say some stuff.
Gar [laughing]: Okay. Sure man. It’s, um, The Save the Trees event in that field between Wheeler and Kirb—
Kev: Descriptive, man.
Gar: Alright. Uh… the fields are lush, flowers swaying with—
Kev: Nevermind, that’s worse. Go back.
Gar [sighing]: We’re at the Save the Trees event to scope out the area for anything suspicious. Apparently Dove thinks something is gonna happen here. There’s many rows of fold-up chairs, lined on the outside by trees that everyone’s potted throughout the week. The chairs are all facing a makeshift stage, put up by the Wheeler Student Body Government just for this event. A few students are helping organize things. Um… it’s a windy day. The sky is blu—
Kev: That’s fine.
“So this is it,” I said, ending the recording on tape. I glanced at Gar. “Doesn’t look that suspicious.”
He shrugged. “Apparently Seyla has a specialty for behind-the-scenes villainy.”
Apparently. I mean, I trusted Dove with stuff like this. He has always been honest with me and helped me a lot with feelings and stuff. So, if he said Seyla was going to pull some kinda villainous thing and read F.O.L.D. case file secrets to a live audience, I believed him.
“Did he say when he’d be here?” I asked Gar.
He squinted, looking ahead. “I think that’s him.”
Sure enough, Dove strode up to us. “Hello Kev,” he greeted. “Hi again, Gar.”
“Hey Dove,” Gar asked. “How’re you doing?”
“Hm? Good, yes.”
There was an awkward pause. “So…” Gar said. “I heard Seyla’s going to do some villainy here.”
“I think so, yes,” Dove nodded. “I am sorry, I know it is not much to go on. But it was very strange, and I think we should familiarize ourselves with the area in case we need to stop it. Thank you both for coming.”
“Of course, man,” Gar said modestly. I gave Dove a thumbs up.
Dove shrugged. “I know it is not the most exciting thing you could be doing today.”
“It’s cool,” Gar said. “We’ll have fun. I invited a friend to join us later, too. Who said investigations couldn’t be a good time?”
Dove smiled. “Okay. So, where do you two want to start?”
“Maybe the stage,” I said. “You said Seyla wants to reveal F.O.L.D. secrets to the audience. A stage is a good place to do that.”
“Makes sense,” Gar said. We started down the hill toward the stage.
“All of my worst encounters with my enemies have been on stages,” Dove shuddered. “If this situation goes the wrong way, I will take you both to the Wendy’s for some consolation frosties.”
Gar looked surprised. “You mean it?”
Gar smiled. “Thanks, Dove. You’re a good dude.”
Dove suddenly turned very quiet, and we walked down toward the stage in silence, passing some of the students setting up the event. Seyla was in the distance, directing the crew or something. I hoped she didn’t see us.
Just before we reached the stage, Dove stopped. “Kev, I need to talk to you for a moment.”
“Yeah?” I asked, surprised. “What’s up?”
“Everything okay?” Gar asked.
“Yes, I just need to talk to Kev about something. I will be right there.”
Gar nodded, confused but polite. “Alright. See ya there.” He continued to the stage.
I turned to Dove. “What’s up?”
“I need to talk to you about those F.O.L.D. files that I am suspicious about. The files that I believe Seyla is going to show everyone.”
“I have a bad feeling that I know which files they are.”
“Seyla hinted at it. And she wants me off the Student Body Government Council. So, it is most likely going to be personal to me.”
“Okay,” I said, still not fully understanding. “What’s it about?”
Dove took a deep breath. “Do you remember what I told you when we were in your maze during Artron? About Miss Lashay?”
“Yeah,” I said. I owed Dove big time for that. What he had said had made my relationship with Cassidy possible. “You told me to treat Cassidy like a person. With love. And care. And how you knew it was hard. Because… you had your heart broken, too.”
Dove nodded. “Well, Sey—”
“But that wasn’t all,” I interrupted, remembering. “You said… you said that you were falling in love again.”
Dove paused. The silence was thick. “Yes.”
“That’s the file Seyla has,” I realized. “She’s threatening to reveal that you love someone. Does she know who?”
“She… knows me well,” Dove said slowly. “I fear that she may know the truth.”
“Who is it, Dove?”
“Kev! Dove!” Gar was back, and he had someone with him. “Stage looks as normal as you would expect. Also, my friend arrived!”
“What’s up?” Ally greeted cheerily, arm-in-arm with Gar. Funny, I had never seen them together before. They always went out on their dates.
“Hello, Ally!” Dove greeted, taking a step back—our conversation was over.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hey, Kev! It’s good to see you. So, I bring news from the battle in Kirby.”
“Do tell,” Gar said.
“We’ve found out who H is,” Ally said. Everyone instantly quieted down.
“What?” I asked.
“Who is it? Gar added.
“Harrison Osgood Herring,” Ally said. “Kirby’s Student Body President. You were right, Dove. We found it out from Desiree.”
“Happy to be of help,” Dove mumbled, apparently taken aback by the news. “Are you sure it is Harrison? Seyla became Student Body President at Wheeler to protect the school from closing under the T.H.A.N.O.S. plan. If Harrison is part of T.H.A.N.O.S., that message loses its weight.”
“She couldn’t have gone after a higher position,” I pointed out. “If she really liked Wheeler, the best she could do to protect it would be president. Which she is.”
“Yeah, Desiree seemed pretty sure,” Ally noted.
“Well done,” Gar said, smiling at her and planting a quick kiss on her head. “I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks,” Ally grinned. “How’s your case going?”
“Alright,” Gar said. “I mean, we’re not top detectives like you.”
“Not even close,” I agreed.
“Good thing I’m here,” Ally laughed. “You clearly need me.”
“Desperately,” Gar smiled.
“I am going to go sit down,” Dove said abruptly. “That bench over there looks nice. Excuse me.” He strode off toward the closest bench.
“Is he okay?” Gar asked, raising his eyebrows. Ally looked concerned.
“I’ll check on him,” I offered.
“Okay.” With that, I left Ally and Gar together and made my way to Dove.
He was sitting on a bench in the shade, staring down at his hands.
“Mind if I sit down?” I asked.
He didn’t say anything.
I sat down next to him. “You okay?”
Dove looked up at me and smiled sadly. “Yes. I will be fine.”
I nodded. We sat still for a moment.
“I did not realize how much it would hurt,” Dove said. “It hurts even more than Shelby. So much more.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Yeah. It does. It’s okay.” Back in the open field, Ally and Gar walked together, smiling and talking.
“They look happy,” Dove commented.
“Yeah, they do.”
We sat still for a while longer.
“I am glad,” Dove said finally. “I am glad to see my friends happy together.”
Another pause. “There is something else,” Dove said. “I am going home.”
Ally and Gar walked up to us.
“Hey. How’re you doing, MacLeash?” Ally asked, breaking free from Gar and sitting down on his other side. “Everything alright?”
“Everything is alright,” Dove said, forcing a smile in spite of himself. “Nothing like a day with friends.”
“Of course, vinur,” Ally said. “Um… hey, so, I had a thought. Conspiracy theory. If Harrison’s H, that means that he was the person who left me all of those riddles back when I was originally becoming the Unshreddible Hulk. Weird, right?”
“You told me about that,” Dove said, lighting up. “He left you lots of notes and clues all over Kirby, correct?”
“Romantic,” Gar commented, leaning against the nearest tree.
“I mean, it was that girl, Jasmine Verninski, who placed them all over the school. But yeah… I guess Harrison wrote the notes,” Ally said.
“Wait…” Dove said slowly.
“What?” Ally asked. Her eyes lit up excitedly. “Oh, you have a good idea. I can see it in your eyes. What is it, MacLeash?”
“Well, Miss Weber,” Dove said in a pompous accent, like he was a professor. “I have a method that we can use to check if it was Harrison. Were the notes he left you handwritten?”
“Yes. I’m intrigued.”
“Compare his handwriting from his Student Body Government notes to the notes he left you in your first days as the Unshreddible Hulk,” Dove explained. “If it matches up…”
“He’s H!” Ally exclaimed. “Dove, that’s brilliant! Thank you!”
“It is nothing,” Dove said humbly.
I glanced at Gar, who seemed to share my amusement at watching their conversation. I thought I saw a slight but sad smile on his face.
“Well, I’ll have to check that out,” Ally said, standing up. “Emily Madison works at the Kirby Student Body Government; I could get a copy of Harrison’s notes from her. And I think Tilly gave me the H notes to keep. They might be in my drawer back home. I’ll check tonight.”
“After dinner?” Gar asked, walking over.
“Of course, babe,” Ally said, kissing him.
“Speaking of, we should probably go,” Gar said to Dove and I, checking the time.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. It was getting late.
“I’ll check with an old friend, Jasmine Verninski, about this event. She and the Public Speaking Club are doing a little bit at the start of the event.”
“Thank you all again for coming out today,” Dove said brightly. “I think we are prepared for any battle that must be waged this weekend.”
I clapped him on the back. “Let’s hope so.”
He gave me a half-hug. It was one-armed, but it still felt warm somehow. “Thank you, Kev.”
After school, Clark had surprised me.
“Hey, babe, do you wanna go for a picnic tonight?” he’d asked me. He wasn’t the kind of person to randomly spring dates on a person. He liked to act aloof and stoic whenever he asked me out, but usually I could tell that he put a lot of thought and care into whatever he asked. This invitation was weirdly casual.
But, a picnic sounded great. So, of course, I said yes!
Around six, Clark picked me up from my house and drove us to Madison Park. It was just a bit chilly, but the sky was a beautiful blue and everything was so green and vibrant that I didn’t mind. Springtime is my favorite season.
Clark, holding a small cooler, led me down the walking path until we came to a small incline. A little hill was just off the path, and that’s where we chose to set up.
I sat down on the cool grass. The sun was shining through the trees, just starting to go down behind the horizon. I didn’t think about it often, but Madison, New York was a beautiful little town. My great-grandparents had made a great choice when they moved here.
Clark opened the cooler and fished around for a minute. “Do you want a ham sandwich or turkey?”
“Turkey is fine,” I said, smiling. “So, what’s with the picnic?”
I think Clark ignored the question at first. He handed me my sandwich, grabbed his own, and sat down next to me. I rested my head on his shoulder. It was nice.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t go to Ricky’s going-away party,” I said. “I’ll miss him a lot.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Clark said, chewing slowly. “It was a nice party.” He swallowed. “He’s moving up to a college town called Cortland. He said I can come and work with him whenever I want.”
I lifted my head from Clark’s shoulder. I was surprised; I’d heard of Cortland before. “Clark, Cortland’s where I went to school before Kirby!”
“Really?” Clark said, raising his eyebrows.
“Claremont High,” I explained. “It was a nice school, but very…elite. I’m glad to be going to Kirby now. Everyone is much more down-to-earth.”
“Claremont,” Clark repeated, like he was tasting the word. Then he smirked. “Yeah, because making origami superheroes is so normal.”
He was making a joke, I knew, but I just shrugged. “You’d be surprised.”
Clark reached into the cooler and pulled out two bottles of water. He gave one to me and opened his own. “So…what do you think about all this weird crap going on?”
I laughed to myself. I knew that everything surrounding T.H.A.N.O.S. was weighing on Clark’s mind, even if he’d never admit it. “I think we’ll be able to win. We’ve got three out of the six figured out already. The others will be revealed soon, I’m sure.”
“Three? I thought we just had Adrian and Seyla.”
I forgot that Clark wasn’t around when we’d found out what Cal knew. I held his hand. “Trent. He’s the ‘T’ guy. Chameleon told Cal about it.”
Instead of being incredibly surprised or angry, Clark sighed. “Huh. That sucks.”
“Apparently, Trent was the one who ordered your robot to be destroyed last year. He’s the one that caused this.”
Clark grimaced, like he’d been slapped in the face. “Not Dummy…”
I rubbed his hand. “I don’t think you can blame Trent, though. Everything you’ve done since then has been all you. No matter if you think so or not, all of these new heroes that have sprung up at Kirby and Wheeler are all because of you. Trent couldn’t plan that if he’d wanted to.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Clark laughed. “Wow, I haven’t thought about Dummy for months now. That’s weird.”
“I’m glad you don’t seem totally torn up about it.”
He shook his head. “Of course not. I’m glad Dummy was smashed. Because of it…I mean, I like my brother more, for one. And I’ve done some good. And I got some new best friends out of it.” He paused. “Don’t tell Cal or Andy I said that.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” I said, smiling. I put my head back on his shoulder. “I think Tilly needs to hear that, though. She was really torn up about it this morning.”
“I’ll talk to her about it.” He looked at the sunset. The glare of the sun reflected off of his glasses, making it look like his eyes were glowing. “You know, I really am happy about everything. It might not seem like it, but I am. But, I’m mostly just happy that we’re together.”
“What a coincidence,” I replied. “I am too.”
The Importance of Keeping a Diary
Gar parked curbside by my house to drop me off.
“Thanks for driving,” I said, kissing him goodnight.
He gave a nod and a small smile. “No problem.”
I had my hand on the door handle, but I stopped. I turned back to Gar. “Hey, is everything okay? You were a little quiet tonight.”
“What? Oh, no, it’s… it’s nothing,” he said quietly.
“Gar,” I said. He didn’t meet my eyes.
“It’s late, I should—”
He sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Okay,” I said. “Well, if you change your mind, I’ll be here.”
I kissed him on the cheek. “Goodnight.” I stepped out of the car. I was about to the door when…
“Ally,” Gar said, avoiding my gaze and looking emptily straight ahead. “Do you love me?”
“What?” I asked, surprised.
He turned to face me. “Do you love me?”
“I…” I started. “Yeah. Yes. Of course.”
“Are you sure about that?” he asked me. I was having trouble reading his expression. It looked serious and sad at once.
“Gar, what’s up?” I asked. “Why are you asking me this?”
“Because I do love you. And I’m not… it feels like… just think about it, okay?”
“Okay. I will,” I said, taken aback but giving him a smile. I shut the car door and went inside.
My room had changed a lot. The pictures all over my room had been filled with my memories with the OrigAvengers and were covering a lot of my old posters. My room felt like a culmination of my time at Kirby, a new layer on the wall.
And I was counting on that culmination to confirm a key piece of the T.H.A.N.O.S. puzzle. Emily Madison, the resourceful person she was, had emailed me some of Harrison’s Student Body Government notes. Now, somewhere, deep within my drawers, the H notes were lying around.
I opened up my desk drawers and started shuffling through everything. Receipts from dates with Gar, one of Mars’s prototype sketches for the Reduce Plastic Art Festival at Wheeler, tickets from the football game during Kev’s Artron phase, Mars’s essay application to Wheeler Student Body President, a printout of an F grade from Jude’s OrigAvenger battle, and… my expulsion notice from Wheeler (which I promptly discarded). Nothing from my time battling H, except…
My old diary. I picked up the dusty book. The last time I had used this book was when Artron was threatening the school. And I had started using it when I came to Kirby. If the H notes were anywhere, they were in here.
I opened it up, flipping through the pages. No H notes, but…
What’s up, Diary,
Today, I met my first friend at Kirby. Her name’s Jasmine. She seems really nice.
Everything had seemed so simple then. Back then, the biggest fear I had was fitting in at Kirby. Look how that turned out.
Today, we fought off Jude Decassius, that dude who messed with everyone’s grades. I helped Dove lug him to the police, though there wasn’t much to do. That Dove guy is strong. But super sweet, too. Anyway, Jude’s gone and we celebrated with chocolate chip pancakes.
I smiled. Being a part of the OrigAvengers was the first time I felt like I was part of a team.
There was a Post-Jude picture attached. The six of us looked so young. Andy was far skinnier than he was today, but he held his head high with a big smile. Clark looked annoyed and amused all at once. Jesse and Jessica looked happy together—they had just set their first date. Dove stood next to me at the far right with a shy smile.
Today was the Under the Sea dance. I wasn’t that comfortable. Dancing scares me. At least I wasn’t the only one. Dove was doing this shuffling move along the wall. It made me laugh, so that’s one good thing from tonight.
“The Dove Shuffle,” I remembered, giggling.
Today, Mars, Dove, and I met at Mars’s garage. It’s basically the first time anyone else has been to Mars’s garage. Dove is trying to protect the school from this whole Malekith thing. Hopefully we can figure it out, I hate to see Dove stressed. (Even though he was stressed, he still asked me about my day. He’s sweet.)
I missed those days. Mars, Dove, Kurt, Adrian, and I. After Adrian’s reveal, that whole talking-to-Seyla thing that Kurt had, and, well… everything with Dove, I wondered if the five of us would ever be together again. And suddenly, it hurt.
I tried to help Dove attach Stormbreaker to Thorigami. Two of my fingers are now glued together. His reaction made it totally worth it.
That night, I had told Dove about how I had lost my dad. I still had not told anyone about that. Not even Gar, now that I thought about it.
Seyla became Student Body President today. Dove seemed down, so I tried to help him look on the bright side. I mean, Seyla’s just one person. I told him that it would be okay. Hopefully he feels better soon.
I smiled. After that, Kurt had reenacted his entire performance as the Mad Hatter in a British accent for us.
You would not believe what Dove did today. It was the Halloween Dance, and he showed up as a mummy so that nobody would recognize him. But hey, I did. I mean, I’d know Dove anywhere.
We danced and hung out and it was basically the best party ever.
Not to mention after the party. Dove and I played the world’s longest game of poker. I won and Dove gave me 1 Króna, the Icelandic Currency.
“Tonight’s been a lot of fun,” I had said. “I mean, I clearly crushed you at poker.”
“Of course,” he replied, grinning.
“I should go professional. Play for money.”
“Here,” he said, placing the Icelandic coin in my hand. “Consider that payment for not becoming a professional poker player.”
“Aw, Dove, you don’t have to—”
“Do not worry,” he said timidly. “I think that one Króna is worth something like ten cents in U.S. dollars.”
“Well, in that case…” I laughed. “Thank you.”
We stopped Artron. I’m not sure how, I’m not sure why, but Dove said something that got Kev to stop. He also taught me some Icelandic. Good day.
And that was the day a lot of things changed. The OrigAvengers became so much bigger. It was a good change, but it felt like so long ago. I still remembered that feeling as I walked with my friends under the trees on the path between Kirby and Wheeler.
Dove is the nicest person I have ever met. I told him that today, and he said I was the nicest person he’d ever met. Then we hung out at the local Sven’s and listened to music on a pair of my old headphones. They’re tattered and break up every 15 seconds. Dove didn’t seem to mind.
I feel so happy.
I set down the diary. I stared at the last entry in silence.
My mind felt remarkably clear. Clearer than it had been in so long. Part of me felt nostalgic for the memories I had read about, but a larger part of me felt excited to be alive. Life felt… big. Like an adventure.
I know this will sound cheesy, but for the first time, I realized I’m in control of where I explore. I don’t know what I will find. But I know where to go.
There was a reason all of these memories were so special.
I stood up. I needed to make a call.
After the Chameleon, we really didn’t have a lot to do. I considered our work to be finished. Pretty soon, Clark would be able to catch Trent, get the Black Box back and everything would be sunshine and rainbows again!
During lunch I went to go sit with the Spider-Verse crew. They always tend to sit together in the cafeteria, and usually take up a whole table. It’s probably annoying for some people.
“Hey guys,” I said, moving to sit down next to Diego. Suddenly, he slammed his hand down onto the chair. I stopped. “Um…could you move your hand?”
“When you include us in your schemes, [CENSORED],” Colt sneered.
“Oh come on, guys, really?” I asked, exasperated. “It was one mission!”
“I thought we were partners, dude,” Ezra said, avoiding eye contact.
“Ezra, you still got to help, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but it’s the spirit of the thing.”
Emmett and Colt were both glaring at me. Claire was pointedly ignoring me. Andrew and Takuya carried on a conversation with each that I wasn’t allowed to listen to, I guess. I was being shunned by my own team.
Lacey and Aiden walked up behind me with their own trays. “It’s no use. They’ve been like this all day,” Lacey said.
James McLongway looked up from his bowl of mac and cheese. “You can sit by me if you want. I’m fine with it.”
I shrugged. “Oh, okay.” I went to set down, but then I heard a commotion.
Across the cafeteria, a huge guy was leading a few of the Summer Camp Six and some girl out of the doors. They were going so fast that they knocked over people’s chairs and spilled their trays.
“That can’t be good,” I said.
“Hey, those were the guys that were at Kirby King’s office yesterday!” Ezra shouted. “You think that has to do with something?”
“Almost definitely,” I said. “We have to tell Clark.”
“Dibs!” Colt, Emmett and Diego all leaped out of theirs and ran out the door, following the bad guys. I guess they were a bit restless after all.
Higher, Further, Faster
Back again in the abandoned headquarters. Whoop-dee-doo.
This time, it was just me, Tilly and Robby. Emily had to spend her free time checking on the preparations for the Save the Trees event with Harrison, because she was, in fact, the Vice President on the Student Council. I was, frankly, kind of jealous of her getting to leave.
Jesse, Cassidy and Guillermo were outside, standing guard. As boring as sifting through hundreds of papers for any indication of T.H.A.N.O.S. plans was, standing outside the door, making sure nobody bothered us was probably even more boring. I appreciated their sacrifice.
Honestly, we were getting nowhere. There was nothing in the papers that referenced T.H.A.N.O.S. at all. Trent, or Seyla, or whoever had covered their tracks fairly well. I didn’t want to totally give up, though; Tilly needed the encouragement.
This whole thing was really getting to her. Robby had tried to joke around with her, but she’d barely paid him any attention. All she did was read through the papers and open the pen drives, doing everything she could to help us out. But, anytime she got to another dead end, she’d groan loudly and slam the paper down onto the table. There was a haphazard stack all around her.
“Are we sure she’s alright?” Robby whispered to me. “She looks like she needs a break.”
“Have you met her?” I asked, sarcastically. “Tilly never stops anything.”
“I’m worried about her, though,” Robby muttered. “That Trent knowledge kind of wrecked her.”
“Once she finds something, she’ll be good again,” I said, halfheartedly.
“I think you need to say something to her, at least,” Robby said. “I think that might help her.”
“Maybe,” I replied, but Cassidy burst into the room and skipped down the stairs.
“Guys, we’ve got a problem incoming,” she said, out of breath. “Cal’s spider-dudes called and told us that we’ve got some villains coming. I think they’re trying to stop you from researching.”
“Do those guys literally have anything better to do than stop us from reading?” I asked. The whole concept of villains still somehow seemed even dumber than heroes, but hey, I knew how determined some of them could be.
“Do you think you guys can keep them occupied?” Robby asked.
“We’ll give you all the time you need,” Cassidy nodded, and she ran back up the stairs.
Robby turned to Tilly, reading papers at the table. “Do you have anything?” he asked, as kindly as he could.
“No! I don’t!” Tilly exploded. Robby stepped back, a bit freaked out. Tilly sighed. “Sorry. Give me a few more minutes. There’s gotta be something here.” She picked up a student profile and read. “Hey, this guy has an O in his name. He could be O!”
“Tilly, it says he went to school here in 1986,” Robby pointed out. “I kinda doubt he’d be T.H.A.N.O.S.”
“Right.” She moaned, and her head sank down onto the table, defeated.
I hated to see her like this. We’d have to figure something out, and quickly.
“Clark!” Jesse shouted through the door to us. “If you’re gonna make a move, you better hurry. They’re here!”
There were several bumps and thuds, and a distinct ‘oof’ from Jesse. “We’ll keep ‘em occupied as you find some- ow, hey! No pinching!”
I looked at Tilly. She was still sitting at the table with her head in her hands, trying to figure out the next course of action. Papers were strewn all around her. Robby, from across the room, caught my eye. “I’ll, um, go help them out. You two stay here.” He nodded at me, then sprinted up the stairs and out the door to join the fight.
I cracked my knuckles. It was pep-talk time.
“We should probably get to work,” I commented, casually, ignoring the fact that a brawl was breaking out upstairs. “Ainsley might not appreciate a fight like that.”
“I can’t do it!” Tilly said, still hiding her face. “We’ve been working down here every chance we get and we still can’t find anything! Nothing on the pen drives. Nothing in the paper files. Nothing!”
“Maybe we’re just not looking-”
“Not looking hard enough, Clark?”
“That is what I was going to say, yes.”
Tilly groaned. “You have, though, Clark! You’ve been doing everything you can to be a hero, ever since you became Iron Fold!”
“Yes it is! All of those heroes out there are heroes because of your example. And meanwhile, I’ve done nothing except crush on a villain and help him get the most important piece of the puzzle because I was too stupid to hang onto it!”
I sat down at the table across from Tilly. I took a sheet from in front of her that she’d looked over. It was a note from Trent about (written in haiku, of course) about successfully tricking me into joining the OrigAvengers. I would have been really angry about learning that, but I just wasn’t. Emily’s talk with me had helped me keep everything in perspective, and now I was just mildly amused.
Holding the note in one hand, I grabbed the rest of the papers that surrounded Tilly and tossed them to the floor.
“Hey!” Tilly said, indignantly, finally looking up. “We need those!”
“You just said there’s nothing in them. I think we’re fine.”
I folded Trent’s note and ripped a sizable chunk out of it. Tilly opened her mouth to protest again, but closed it. I smirked.
“These papers are only good for scraps. I’ll admit, I think the headquarters is a bit of a dead end. Besides, Jesse isn’t great at conflict resolution. We’re gonna need to go out there and help them. And even beside that, it’s hard to fold origami when it’s this big and unwieldy.”
Tilly looked confused. “What are you talking about?”
I handed her the paper, now much more manageable. “Tilly Waterson, Director of F.O.L.D., get off your butt and stand up tall.”
“You’re way too important to think you’ve not done anything.” I sat up straight, and in my most militaristic voice, I started. “Who was the person that gave me paper to make the first puppet in years?”
Tilly glared at me. “It was Trent.”
I stammered. Yep, I’d forgotten about that. Off to a great start! “Oh. Well, ah, the paper was on your clipboard.”
Tilly put her head back down. “Please be quiet.”
I ignored her. She needed to hear this. “Who was the person that led the team to save Jessica from Wheeler Academy?”
“Wow, I’d almost forgotten about that,” Tilly murmured. “I guess I did.”
“Yes, you did!” I smiled. “Who got the text that saved us from Jude?”
“I did,” Tilly replied. She lifted her head up, with a very small smile on her lips. Maybe this was working.
“Who helped Andy nearly end the war?”
“Who worked tirelessly to get the Black Box open, even though it got stolen by no fault of your own?”
She actually giggled this time. “I did, I guess.”
I stood up, dramatically, letting my voice crescendo. “And who has single-handedly kept F.O.L.D. afloat since February, even though nobody even cared that it was still around?”
Tilly slowly got to her feet. “I did!”
“You’re darn right you did,” I said. I put Iron Fold on my finger. “Tilly, you’ve been the rock that’s kept all the heroes together. Without you, I doubt any of us here at Kirby would even care about being heroes. And if you think that you’re a failure being of that idiot Trent, you’re an even bigger idiot, because you’re not an idiot!” Dangit, I was doing so well.
“That last part doesn’t really make sense but I get the gist,” she said, laughing.
“You are Tilly frickin’ Waterson, Director of F.O.L.D., and, if you’ll accept it,” I held out the paper for her to take, “OrigAvenger. I can’t think of anyone who deserves the role more than you do.”
She looked at the paper, smiled, and grabbed it. “I accept.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “I know exactly who I should make.”
“I had a bit of an idea, too,” I said, taking three markers out of my pocket: blue, red, and yellow.
Tilly took the markers and began folding. It finally looked like she’d gotten the over-excited light back into her eyes from when we’d first met.
Tilly Waterson finally realized that she was a hero, and I was ridiculously happy about that fact.
Off to the Races
Of all the brawls I’d gotten into since donning an origami puppet, this was one of the most ridiculous.
What was so ridiculous about the whole thing? Well, I’ll tell you: THE BAD GUYS WERE ACTUALLY FIGHTING US. Like, nearing the end of the day on a Friday afternoon, so I get that people are antsy for the weekend to start. But that taking that out on us with actual punches seems a bit excessive.
We’d been warned about these guys by a couple of the spider-people (I still refuse to acknowledge most of them) and so we’d been ready. Technically, we’d been warned about them by Andy and Jessica, but the spiders were just relaying the message. Technically technically, they’d warned about even more, but we were too preoccupied to care.
In short, we were outmatched. It was us, the OrigAvengers, me, Cassidy, Guillermo and Robby against five meat-heads: Jonathan, Ian and Asher from the Summer Camp Six, Jennifer the Ghost lady and John Yeargensberg, who, last I’d seen, was pummeling somebody when we rescued Jessica. It was surprising to see him with the bad guys, but I didn’t mind, because I’d always wanted to punch him.
Speaking of which, I did punch him. Right in the face.
“What the heck, Rodriguez?” he spluttered, feeling his nose for blood. There wasn’t any; if I’d wanted to give him a nose bleed, I would’ve. John growled. “Just move out of the way.”
“Why? Just so you can steal anything in there?” I asked. “Not gonna happen, dumbbutt.”
“My butt is at least smarter than your head,” John sneered. He grabbed my shirt collar and shoved me against the wall. I hit the ground hard. Okay, yes, I did kind of forget that John is at least three times as big as me. Adrenaline is a heckuva drug.
“Why isn’t the principal stopping this?” Cassidy asked aloud to nobody in particular, while ducking under Johnathan Zeck.
“He’s out overseeing the preparations,” Guillermo replied, elbowing Ian in the gut. “I saw him this morning.”
Robby hit the ground next to me; he’d been kicked down by Jennifer.
“Aren’t you going to hit back?” I asked him.
“I don’t think I’m allowed to,” Robby groaned as he sat back up. “Defense is the best offense, in this case.”
“Dude, she’s in the wrestling class,” I replied.
“Out of my way,” Cassidy said, stepping in front of Robby and throwing a punch toward Jennifer.
“That works,” Robby mused. He traded opponents with Cassidy and moved towards Johnathan.
John picked me up by the back of my shirt, then threw me backwards again. Okay, laugh all you want, but I haven’t been in the best shape lately. Me and Jessica have been going out to dinner a lot.
I did stand up and kneed John in the gut. He stumbled a bit. Then, he started chortling. It’s never a good thing when the bad guys start chortling. Laughing’s fine and even a chuckle can be acceptable, but full on chortling is just a bad, bad sign.
“You guys are pathetic. F.O.L.D. fell and you got sloppy.”
He came at me again, and this time, I didn’t have much of a defense. I tried to dodge his left hand and instead ended up lunging toward him, which put us into a kinda awkward hug. Another word for it would be tackle, but I didn’t have any momentum. With two swift steps, John pushed me up against the wall.
“Dude, you need some deodorant. Uh, help?” I called out, twisting my head to see everyone else. Unfortunately, Guillermo and Robby were in similarly uncomfortable situations. Cassidy was holding off Jennifer, but when she saw the situation, she slowly put down her fists.
“Ian,” John said, concentrating on holding me back. (Hey, I am known for being excellent at squirming.) “Check the headquarters.”
“Kinda holding back this kid right now, John,” he said. Guillermo grunted.
“I’ll take him,” Jennifer said. She pulled Guillermo from Ian and pushed him toward Cassidy. Apparently, Cassidy was convinced the two of them couldn’t take Jennifer, because she held Guillermo back. It didn’t help that Asher stepped up next to Cassidy, too.
“Fine,” Ian said. “What am I looking for?”
“I don’t know, dude,” John said, gritting his teeth. “Whatever they were going through before we got here. Hurry up.”
“Sheesh, okay,” Ian groaned. “Alfredo never yells at us like that, by the way,” he added.
“Alfredo is named after a piece of Italian food. Move.”
Ian exhaled dramatically and walked to the headquarters with no small amount of swagger.
I’m sure he was expecting to just open the door, get in there, rough up Tilly and Clark a bit and make off with whatever piece of info they needed from headquarters. Heck, it’s what I expected. As far as I knew, Tilly was still reading and Clark was being Clark.
That is not what happened.
Ian hadn’t even got his hand around the doorknob before the door was flung open. It hit Ian right in the forehead and he dropped down to the ground with a bright red lump on his forehead.
I looked up at the door frame (no easy task, what with the unbreakable bear hug John had me in) and I gasped.
Clark was at the top of the stairs, grinning the biggest grin I’d ever seen him make. He had Iron Fold in his pocket (I imagined Iron Fold was grinning too). And right next to him, with her head held high and a Captain Marvel puppet displayed proudly on her finger, was Tilly.
She looked positively scary.
“Tilly Waterson?” John sneered. “What the heck do you have on your finger?”
“Captain Mar-fold, of course,” Tilly replied.
In one swift movement, she’d put her puppet into her pocket and leaped forward, kicking John in the most painful spot. John immediately let go of me and I dropped forward. I looked at Tilly in awe as she spun around. She was like a completely different person, compared to the one I’d seen just a few minutes ago.
“Did you give her some of your espresso?” I asked Clark as he ran up to me.
“I gave her something better than espresso: confidence!” he said, proudly.
“That is the dumbest thing you have ever said to me.”
Cassidy, Robby and Guillermo were now free. With the addition of Clark and Tilly, we now outnumbered the bad guys, and I think they realized that.
“Where’s Trent hiding?” Tilly demanded.
Asher, who was closest to her, backed up immediately. “I have no idea! Ask John! He’s the guy that got us all here!”
John was still hunched over in pain. He didn’t look like he’d be unhunching soon.
“Where’s Trent?” Tilly asked again, looking straight at John. “Since none of you guys have it, he probably has the Black Box, right? Tell me the truth. Don’t think I won’t do it again.”
John groaned. “Ugh…you were much nicer when we worked together…”
“And you just punched my friends. I think we’re even.”
Our former ally finally stood up straight. “Fine. I’ll tell you. But you’re not gonna like what you find. I know you two were…close.”
I winced, and instinctively looked to Tilly. Trent was always a sore subject around her. But now, she barely reacted. She just stood on her tiptoes, trying to look as intimidating as possible, and glared at John. “I think I can take it.”
Asher and Johnathan were both winding up for the next round of attacks. “John, why the heck are you talking to them? We’re supposed to be kicking their butts!” Asher lunged at Clark but Clark just clocked him on the nose.
John sighed. “We were supposed to keep Tilly inside. We failed anyway. Stand down.” He looked at all of us. “Trent’s at the Save the Trees stage with Harrison. They’re putting things together. They’re also waiting for you.”
Clark stepped up. “Wait, Harrison? Why is Trent with Harrison.”
I suddenly remembered the other important pieces of information the spider guys had told us. “Oh, yeah, Harrison is H.”
“WHAT?” Tilly and Clark shouted, simultaneously.
“That means we need to get to the preparations!” Guillermo said, walking forward.
I’d already got my phone out and was texting Jessica. “Okay, her crew will meet us there. Cassidy, yell at Kev.”
“Got it!” Cassidy said, pulling out her own phone.
“Let’s get that son of a-” Clark started, before Tilly thwacked him on the back of the head.
Clark’s phone rang, suddenly. He answered it immediately. “Who is this and why- oh, hey Andy. Ainsley? What does he want? Fine.” He hung up and put the phone back into his pocket. “Okay, change of plans. You guys go on ahead.” He turned and ran down the hallway, headed for the principal’s office.
“What was that about?” Guillermo asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Tilly said. “Let’s go!”
And the five of us bolted down the hallway, headed straight for the Save the Trees stage.
The Final Confrontation
‘meet @ the StT place thingy. H and T r there. See u there babe’
I got the text from Jesse about the meetup. I told Andy and the rest of our team, and we were now on our way.
I wasn’t looking forward to this. Not at all, actually. Confronting Harrison…I couldn’t see this ending well. If Harrison had really been planning all of this from the beginning, I didn’t know how the OrigAvengers could possibly win. I wanted to think that everything would work out in the way it should, but I didn’t think that would happen without someone I cared about getting hurt.
Heading outside, I noted how pretty it was outside. Our town was pretty small and there was still so much…nature, I guess, surrounding us. It almost made me feel peaceful. Almost.
Andy had stepped aside; he’d gotten a request over the loudspeaker from Ainsely to meet him in his office. With a single nod, he’d let Ally take the reins and he was gone.
“Now?” I had called after him. “Seriously?”
“It’s the principal!” he replied. “Don’t have much of a choice!”
We pushed on, following the path connecting Wheeler and Kirby.
“You think this is it?” Ezra asked Ally. “You think we can stop them here?”
Ally looked forward. I couldn’t tell if she was confident or just prepared for anything. “I don’t know, man. But we’ll certainly do our best.”
“If this is what he wants, why are we going straight for him?” I asked. “Isn’t that just playing into his hand?”
“Doesn’t matter. Even if we are…” Ally paused. “It’s what we do.”
I wasn’t getting anywhere with her. We were going, whether I liked it or not.
The stage was coming together nicely. Members of the carpentry class were setting up a curtain – it seemed a bit much for the event – and chairs had been lined up in front of the stage. Newly-planted saplings were everywhere, now…and in the center of it, standing atop the stage, was Harrison.
Every other member we knew about was standing around the area, too; Harrison had called them all together. Seyla was directing construction; Trent was lounging in one of the chairs, the Black Box in his hand; the librarian guy from Wheeler, Naphtali, was reading on the grass; even Adrian was there, because he’d come with all of the Wheeler heroes, even though Dove and Gar were weirdly absent. And now, here was H. This was the confrontation he wanted. All the heroes coming to meet T.H.A.N.O.S.
A wave of feedback erupted around the now sizable crowd of OrigAvengers, Foldians, and T.H.A.N.O.S. members. Our group consisted of Tilly, Ally, Laura, Jesse, Cassidy, Guillermo, Ezra, Robby, Kurt, Cat, Noah, Cole, the Prawley brothers, and Amias. It was impressive, but we were missing Clark, Andy, Dove, Kev, Gar, and Duncan. Nevertheless the group’s volume was considerable. I instinctively covered my ears. Everyone around me did the same. A few of the kids doing construction on the stage winced.
Harrison, on the stage, was tapping a microphone. The feedback subsided. “Oh, my apologies. That has a bit of a kick.
“Hello, everyone. It’s great to see you today,” he greeted, almost beaming. His hair was slicked back, and he was wearing some dress pants and a casual vest. He looked like an old-timey mobster. “I’m sure you’ve all come here for the very same business, so why don’t we simply get back to brass tacks. You’ve all come here for T.H.A.N.O.S., I’m sure. Well, I intend to give you what you’ve asked for.”
Harrison chuckled. He really seemed to be having fun. “We’ve let you all chase your tails in circles for long enough. It’s time for the curtains to be pulled back, so to speak.” He looked behind him, but the curtains were still being fitted to the stage. He shrugged. “Metaphorically, of course.”
Tilly, who’d come to the stage with Jesse’s group, walked forward until she was just under the stage. “Give it up, Harrison. We’ve found nearly everyone of your teammates. We just need to find O and get the Black Box back from that guy,” she jabbed a finger right at the relaxed Trent, who sat up suddenly, “and everything will be set right. There’s nothing else for you to surprise us with.”
I could feel it; that exact statement of confidence was what Harrison was waiting for. Initially, he acted like he was taken aback for the first time in his life. “Good grief, really? Five out of six of us? That’s really not bad. I expected you to get…at most, three? Seyla, what do you think?”
Seyla turned away from her job directing construction and walked up to Harrison. She looked annoyed. “I thought you said you’d get straight to the point.”
“I’m a politician, Ms. Solstice; getting to the point isn’t a phrase I’m familiar with.” Harrison, still holding the microphone, jumped off the stage and next to Trent. “Let’s take care of the most inconsequential thing first,” he said.
“Here you go,” Trent said, handing Harrison the Black Box. “Everything is unlocked, so it should come open pretty easily.”
“Thank you, my kind sir.” Harrison held the Black Box up for everyone to see.
“Don’t you dare open that!” Adrian shouted.
“We’ll deal with you later, traitor,” Harrison shot back. “And come on, we’ve already opened it. Not that what’s inside matters much, of course.”
“What do you mean?” Ally asked.
“You all put far too much stock into a simple misdirection.” Harrison twisted the Box and the top came off. Inside were a bunch of papers. Everyone automatically stepped closer to get a better look. “What you’ll find is that we don’t need any of these.” He pulled every piece of paper out in order. First, the second half of the school blueprint. “The idea that we wanted to destroy either one of the schools is hilarious. That’s a crime. We’re just high schoolers. So, the blueprint is useless.” Next, a black-and-white picture. “Oh, isn’t that sweet; Mr. Yang and his wife. It’s cute, but we don’t need it.” Finally, a sheet of paper. “And this is just a call to unity from someone who obviously didn’t understand the schools he was helping. Mr. Yang wanted us all to get along, but I know, and I hope you know, that we’ll never get to true unity the way things are going.
“So, as you can see, the Black Box is useless. You’ve exhausted yourselves looking for something I made sure Trent planted with you, Ms. Waterson.” He screwed the top back on and handed the completed Box back to Trent.
“Well, that’s one thing out of the way.”
“Wait a second, the Black Box didn’t matter at all?” Kurt blurted out. “Then what was the point of trying to find it?”
“There wasn’t any point,” Trent gloated, standing up. He still had his eyepatch on, but it was now over his right eye, instead of the usual left. “We needed you all to be distracted from our real plan. And it’s complete, now. You all just couldn’t see that.”
“Exactly,” Harrison confirmed. “I would actually like to give a round of applause to Trenton Adams, here. He has consistently been the most useful member of the team, and I think he should be commended.
“Who else could have brought together the greatest scapegoat in you, the OrigAvengers? Who’s been playing both sides, stoking the fires of both Kirby and Wheeler? And who could have so totally destroyed F.O.L.D.?” Harrison slapped Trent in the back. “And pretending to date Seyla just so everything would crumble? That was really something.”
“Thanks, Harrison,” Trent said slowly, glancing at Seyla uncomfortably. “Just doing whatever I need to.”
I looked over to Seyla, shocked. She was sitting on the edge of the stage, her eyes bloodshot as she stared out into space. I waited for her to look at Trent, for her to give him the piercing stare she had mastered, but nothing happened.
Even if Seyla was on what might be the wrong side, everyone around her felt terrible. Seyla herself, who always stayed completely stoic, letting no emotion out beyond what was necessary, cracked. It might have been the light, but for a moment I was sure that I saw a tear.
Nobody wanted to say anything for awhile. The silence made it clear that everyone agreed, even the remaining members of T.H.A.N.O.S., that this was the first evil thing they’d done. Naphtali looked uncomfortable, and Adrian had his fists clenched.
“Does this mean she’s single?” I heard one of the Foldians whisper.
Everyone felt bad except, of course, Harrison and Trent. They were both very at home in this created chaos. I knew that Harrison was going to say something else, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Ally beat him to the punch.
“You seem to have a lot of control over what’s going on, H,” Ally sneered. “I’m starting to think that O doesn’t even exist, and you’re controlling everything yourself.”
Jesse had walked up next to me and was now holding my hand. That made everything so much worse.
Harrison just cackled. “Thanks for reminding me, Ally; I believe there’s just one more thing to set straight,” Harrison gloated, climbing back onto the stage so he’d be able to look down on all of us. “I wasn’t lying when I said you’d found five out of six members of T.H.A.N.O.S. You just…mislabelled one of them. I am not H.”
He let that sink in. I could feel it coming.
“That honor would go to someone else…someone who is actually here with us, conveniently.”
I braced myself. Jesse’s hand squeezed mine.
“Would Jessica Smith-Holt please come forward?”
Jesse’s hand let go of mine.
“You’re…” he spluttered. I looked at him, mouthed ‘I’m sorry’ and walked up to Harrison.
“This is the true H, everybody,” Harrison announced, presenting me like a poodle at a dog show. “She has been a great help, especially this past week; she’s been the one leading the goons to wherever you guys happen to be hiding. That’s how they know where to meet you all. It’s all down to Jessica.”
I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t resist looking around at the crowd. It was exactly like I expected; people just looked shocked, offended and betrayed. Ally and Jesse were the worst. I’d been their teammate from the beginning, and now they saw that I’d been working for the other side. Their faces told me everything I needed to know. My heart sank.
And I had been with T.H.A.N.O.S. Longer than I’d been an OrigAvenger. When I was stuck in Wheeler on that one stupid F.O.L.D. mission, Harrison had asked me to join him. It seemed like the best option at the time; no more fighting, no more stupid F.O.L.D. missions. I’d just be able to go to high school without worrying about this war.
After everything I’d seen T.H.A.N.O.S. (well, mostly Harrison) do, I knew I was on the wrong side. But, I’d still helped them, because I trusted that O and S, the two leaders, would somehow work things out. Now I knew that S didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things; it was only O.
“So…if you’re not H…” Cat, from the Foldians, asked.
“That just leaves O,” Harrison confirmed. “My name is Harrison Osgood Herring, and it’s a pleasure to meet you all.”
He had the attention of everyone around, and nobody would be able to take it from him. He looked drunk with power. “Tomorrow, I’ll be making an announcement about the success of our campaign at the Save the Trees rally. I won’t give you all of the specifics, but it’ll be about the war, and how you all are making things worse. You can’t do anything about it.
“If you interrupt me, you’ll be proving my point and you’ll be pariahs, the people to blame for everything going wrong. See? The perfect scapegoat. If you don’t, you’ll have to listen to what I have to say. It’s a win-win for me and lose-lose for you.”
He took one last pause. He closed his eyes, and smiled. “Everything that’s happened this past year has been on a chessboard, and I’m the only player. If you don’t mind, I’ll spoil the speech tomorrow; thanks to myself and my five comrades, T.H.A.N.O.S. wins.”
With that, he put the microphone back on its stand and strode off the stage and headed back to Kirby. Trent followed. They left most of us standing around on the grass, confused. As for myself, Adrian and Naphtali, three members of T.H.A.N.O.S., we had no idea where to go from here. We’d helped Harrison get to the top, and now he controlled everything. The worst part was, our friends knew about it now.
Jesse wouldn’t look at me.
It was the day after all of the reveals, the day of the actual Save the Trees rally and we were trapped. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s the chapter title, but come on; Harrison really did have us trapped. How could we possibly strike back at all? He had us in a chokehold, and all we could do was watch.
And, if you’re wondering, of course we had to watch. We’d come this far. We’d failed, maybe, but all of the OrigAvengers and the Foldians wanted to see it through.
Parents and un-involved students had already started to show up for the event. Neither Seyla or Harrison had taken the stage yet, so we all had time to stew in our own self-loathing before anything major happened.
I…was still avoiding Noah. Or he was avoiding me, I couldn’t tell. All I knew was we definitely weren’t walking together.
I couldn’t bring myself to apologize. I kept thinking that if Noah hadn’t been so accusatory to Seyla, some of this might be avoided. Maybe Seyla would start to trust us a bit more, and tell us anything she knew. Obviously, Trent and Harrison didn’t care about her at all, so that would have given us leverage.
Then I remembered that we didn’t know anything about that, so how could Noah have known that he’d be screwing up our lead? He was just trying to do what he thought was best.
It didn’t matter. We’d still lost, or were in the process of losing, the entire battle.
I was with my mom and Cole. I was interested in environmentalism, but my mom was a huge supporter of it. It didn’t surprise me that she’d come to this event. Cole could care less.
“You all must have at least a hundred saplings planted all around here,” she told me, as she looked around at all of the plants. “This is incredible!”
“Definitely incredibly,” I responded, half-heartedly.
“Trees. Lots of trees.” Cole had his hands in his pockets and refused to look up from the grass.
“I don’t suppose you planted any of them, did you, Cole?” Mom asked, accusingly.
“Actually, I did,” Cole muttered. “Cat made me plant one on Monday.”
“You thought it looked like fun,” I shot back. “I didn’t make you.”
“You threatened to tell Mom if I didn’t!”
“Yeah, like she’d care at all!”
“I would, actually,” Mom replied, not really listening. She was used to us fighting all the time, so it didn’t really phase her. “I’ll go sit down, actually. You can sit whenever you want!”
I scoffed. “Great, look at that. You scared Mom away.”
Cole looked up slowly. I expected a retort, but there wasn’t one. He just looked sad. “Cat…I want to apologize.”
I wasn’t expecting that. “For what? Making Mom sit down?”
“No, no. I want to apologize for letting Kurt mess things up earlier this week. I’m the oldest one there, and I should be the one in charge. Instead, I just let Kurt and Pete and Paul walk all over me so they could get what they wanted. So, on behalf of the four of us, I’m sorry.”
“Oh.” Kurt’s antics had nearly completely slipped my mind with everything going on. “That’s…fine. I understand.”
“I just want things to go back to normal. When we’d fight about stupid stuff, and not fight about potentially ruining our stupid team.”
“Our team really is stupid, isn’t it,” I said, laughing. “I’m glad that the OrigAvengers seem to at least have some things together. We’re completely out of our league.”
“One of them was a member of T.H.A.N.O.S. I think they’ve got their own kind of dysfunctional.”
I felt better, actually. I hadn’t even really noticed that I had a real problem to resolve with Cole until he’d apologized.
“Hey, Cole…I think it’s time we get the team back together.”
Cole went off to grab Kurt and the Prawleys, while I tried to find Noah.
It wasn’t hard to find him. He was talking with Adrian and Amias, under one of the trees in front of the stage. The three of them had actually become fast friends. Space dudes like space dudes, I guess.
When Adrian and Amias saw me, they excused themselves. Maybe they were worried I would blow up again. That was the last thing I wanted to do.
Noah glanced back and winced. So he was avoiding me. I didn’t blame him, but still, ouch.
“Hey, Catherine,” he said. “Uh…what’s up?”
Again, ouch. Nobody called me Catherine. “That’s not making things any better, you know. Avoiding me and not calling me by my actual name.”
“Who says I’m making things better?”
“I certainly don’t,” I said. “But I want to.”
He looked confused. I thought it would be good to explain. “Blame Cole, actually. He wanted to apologize for a dumb fight we had, so I wanted to apologize to you for a not-dumb fight we had.
“I shouldn’t have exploded at you. I know that you were just trying to help. After yesterday, I realize now that, even if we’d done everything absolutely perfectly, Harrison would have found a way to spin it his favor. There was no way we could have won, and because of that, I’m really, really, really sorry.
“You’re my best friend. And I want to stay best friends. I understand if you don’t want to be friends after what I said, but I thought I’d give it a chance.”
I couldn’t read Noah’s face. I couldn’t tell if he was happy that I was apologizing, annoyed that I’d interrupted my conversation, or just plain angry with me. It might’ve been a mixture of all of them. “I accept the apology. I’m sorry for screwing up, too.”
“Anybody would have. I screwed up worse.”
He smiled. “Yeah, maybe.”
“So, do you wanna come back? To the team?”
Noah froze, and there was a very, very long uncomfortable pause. Just when I thought Noah might’ve gone into a coma, he shook his head. “No. I won’t.”
“What?” I asked.
“I can’t. You guys are better off without me. I haven’t really done anything to help the team. And, I’ll admit…I’m really only there because of you.
“I’m taking a break. I don’t want to be a part of the team anymore. I accept your apology, and I really do want to be friends again, but I just can’t be a Foldian anymore.” He held out his hand. “I’ll see you later, Cath.”
I couldn’t really do anything except shake his hand. “Oh. Um. Okay.” He started to walk away, probably to find Adrian and Amias again. “By the way…I like Cath. That’s not a bad second nickname.”
Noah laughed. “Not many people can say they have a second nickname, huh?” And, he left.
Right then, Cole walked up, with Kurt and the Prawleys behind him. “I’ve got these idiots. Did you find Noah?”
I sighed. “No, actually. He’s…out.”
“‘Out’?” Kurt asked. “What do you mean, ‘out’?”
“He’s breaking up with the team,” I explained, sadly.
“Like One Direction…” Cole murmured.
“Well, hey,” Peter said. “We’ve still got five of us. That’s enough for a team, right?”
I nodded. “It definitely is.”
“See anything?” Kev asked me nervously.
Save the Trees was here. We were sitting at the outer edge of the rows of chairs that had been set up, each of them facing the stage. The Public Speaking Club was starting off the event with some speeches about the importance of ecological conservation. The crowd was rustling in their seats, which often happened in a convergence between the two schools. Since it was just preliminary speeches at the moment, a large number of people were to the sides, planting trees. I must say that my attention was limited, as I was rather nervous after the previous events yesterday.
Nef. The Black Box had meant nothing to the well-being of our schools. Jessica was a part of the T.H.A.N.O.S. organization. Trent had fooled us all. Harrison had us exactly in the position that he had desired. That was, to put it simply, very bad.
“Dove?” Kev asked, prodding me gently with his event pamphlet. “Do you see anything?”
“Where is Gar?” I asked, looking around slightly annoyed. “He should have arrived by now.”
“Ally needed to talk to him about something,” Kev explained. “He’s probably just running late. C’mon, let’s do something while we wait.” When he said “do something”, my emotions came crashing down.
“We cannot do anything, Kev,” I said helplessly, sinking my head into my hands. “This was my last goal before I went home. Harrison deceived us all. Whatever he has planned is much worse, and we are too late to stop it now. All we can do is sit here in these fold-up chairs and watch. I failed. I failed, just like with Malekith, just like with Ally—”
“Dove,” Kev said. I looked up at this to see his expression matched his tone: calm. “I need you to listen to me very carefully. You didn’t fail. We didn’t even fail. I mean, yeah, we were chasing around the wrong things, but at least we were chasing them!
“And you didn’t fail. You are an incredibly good person, Dove. You turned me around when nobody else could. When I was down, you helped me. It’s my turn to help you,” Kev said. I listened to him. Kev did not speak up often. He continued, “Look, whatever happens, we’re going down with a fight. That’s what matters. So, let’s take this one step at a time. Think. Why are we here?”
“The tape recording,” I remembered. “Seyla is going to find a way to play it tonight. She had her backpack earlier, but…” I looked to the front of the stage, where Seyla and Harrison were talking to each other. They were probably discussing their evil plans. “She does not have it now.”
“Okay. Let’s find it.” Kev stood up and offered me his hand.
I took it. “Thank you, Kev.”
He nodded. “Now, where would Seyla keep her backpack?”
I tried to concentrate. “Usually, she keeps it at her feet by her chair at Student Body Government meetings. Which means… oh, for the love of Òlafur,” I realized. “If she is going to play the recording, she would want to have it easily accessible. I will check behind the stage.”
“Okay. I’ll see if I can find Gar,” Kev said. He patted me on the back. “It isn’t over yet. We can do this.”
Kev gave a nod in return. “Good luck.”
I started down toward the stage, pushing my way past the people who were planting trees. I stayed on the far side of the line of trees to try not to draw attention, finally settling behind a thick spruce sapling close to the stage. Nobody was down this far, and it was quiet.
I had a very good view of the back of the stage. It was a platform with stairs on either side, which were hidden by some makeshift curtains. Two drawn-back curtains hid the stairs, and one large curtain was set up behind the stage as a backdrop. I scanned, but there was no backpack. I was tempted to find Kev, but something kept me there.
The Public Speaking Club was exiting the stage. I took a deep breath. According to Kev’s pamphlet, Seyla had an opening event speech up next.
Sure enough, Seyla Solstice came around the curtain, moving toward the staircase up to the stage. Knowing her well, I could tell she was still upset over Trent, but she carried herself in a way that it was hard to tell. For a moment, I thought I saw her penetrating eyes lock on my hiding spot. Then, the moment was over.
Suddenly, I noticed she was carrying a black box. The tape! I realized. I had to move quickly. I ran out from my hiding spot and started running toward the stairs that Seyla was now scaling.
If she got onto that stage, I was—to put it the American way—toast.
As far as I was aware, Seyla had not noticed me. Her gaze was straight ahead and she had just reached the top of the stairs. I reached the edge of the stairs. I was about to run onto stage after her when…
I froze in my spot. It could not be her. “Ally?”
I turned to see Ally Weber, standing behind the stage, hidden from the audience by the backdrop curtain… looking disheveled. She must have ran after me when she saw me going after Seyla.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, stepping away from the stairs and toward her. “And what are you holding?”
“I just… thought I should stop you.” She held up Seyla’s backpack. “I took the tape out. Threw it in the trash.”
“Oh.” I was having difficulty talking. “Thanks.”
We were silent for a moment. Neither of us broke the gaze.
“I broke up with Gar.”
I tried to say something, but nothing distinct came out.
Ally looked down. “I just…”
There was another moment of silence. I could hear Seyla making her speech indistinctly behind us on the other side of the backdrop curtain. There were some faint cheers.
Ally looked up. “Every time I saw you, I felt like I could do anything. I really miss that feeling. I miss being with you. I miss hanging out, I miss your hair, I miss learning Icelandic, I miss dancing to AC/DC… I miss you. You’re the kindest, most supportive person I have ever met.”
With great effort, I strung together a sentence. “And you are the most incredible, beautiful, amazing person I have ever met.” I could feel a tear forming. “And I should have told you that a long time ago. I should not have waited. I wasted so much time because I was afraid. Ally, I am so—”
Ally stepped toward me. “Shh,” she whispered, wiping my tear away. She smiled. “I love you, Dove.”
“I love you too, Ally Weber.”
After that, I do not think I heard a single thing Seyla said on stage. Iceland could wait. And I am pretty sure that it was the best kiss the Nine Realms had ever seen.
Harrison had us in a stranglehold and there was nothing we could do about it. If we went up on stage after him, we’d be proving him right. If we did nothing, he had the power to effectively brainwash all of the parents and students present just by saying some nice things. How could we have been so stupid?
Well, I knew one reason. And he kept glancing at me out of one stupid little eye.
I stormed (yes, stormed) up to Trenton Adams where he was leaning against the stage, tossing the Black Box up and down. The actual rally was starting in only about five minutes, so I had to make this quick.
“Hey, Tilly,” he said, grinning. “Long time no see.”
“I’m not here for small talk,” I said. “Give me the Box.”
He raised his one visible eyebrow. “Really? You heard Harrison yesterday. It’s useless.”
“Why do you still have it, then?”
“It’s sentimental,” he smiled. “I actually found it in the Kirby library a few years ago, cracked it open and read everything. That was before Harrison even thought of T.H.A.N.O.S., actually. Once he asked me about joining, I actually showed him this. It’s been a misdirection for years.”
“You’re sociopaths,” I stated.
“You gave it to me, remember? You wanted me to look after it.”
“So? It doesn’t matter.”
“And it was stolen from me, so technically it’s still mine.”
I punched him as hard as I could in the face. He stumbled, dropping the Box on the grass.
“What the heck, Tilly?” he spluttered, surprised. “I thought we were friends!”
“If you still think so, you’re crazier than I thought. That first punch was for me.” Before he could react, I punched him again. This time, he actually fell onto the grass. His eyepatch had fallen off, so I could see both of his eyes darting around in bewilderment. “And that second one was for Seyla.”
He didn’t look like he knew how to respond, so instead he looked for any subject change. “What’s that in your pocket?”
I glanced down, and sticking out of my pants pocket was my newly-created puppet. “That’s my hero, Trent. Captain Mar-fold.”
Without waiting for a response, I picked up the Box, and walked away, ignoring Trent’s cursing behind me.
Opening the Box was actually pretty easy; I remembered how Harrison had opened it last night, so I was able to crack it open almost immediately. There was the blueprint, the picture, and, most importantly, the note.
“Hey, Andy!” I called.
Andy was sitting next to Laura with the rest of the audience, waiting for the rally to start. He looked up and waved to me. “Hey, Tilly!”
I walked down the aisle and sat down on Andy’s other side and handed him the speech. “I think you might like this. It’s Mr. Yang’s note. Or, I guess, his Will for the Schools.”
“Oh, I heard about this,” he said, looking it over.
“Trent gave you the Box?” Laura asked.
“You could say that,” I replied.
At that moment, Harrison and Seyla walked on stage, waving to the people in the audience. Suddenly, everything came back to me. The sense of accomplishment I had after taking the Box kind of evaporated. T.H.A.N.O.S.’s top members, right there! Ugh, it made me sick.
I noticed, though, that Seyla looked even more uncomfortable than she had already. She kept glancing back and forth between Harrison, Trent (who was now seated in the audience, rubbing his jaw) and even Dove, who was sitting a few seats away next to Ally, as if she couldn’t stand to look at any of them. It was the most nervous I’d ever seen her, and I didn’t know it was even possible for her to be nervous.
The two Student Body Presidents stepped up to their respective microphones, Seyla on the right, nearest Wheeler, and Harrison on the left, nearest Kirby. There was some feedback as the mics turned on, and Seyla began talking.
“Thank you all for coming this afternoon,” she said, her voice as smooth as it ever was. “The ‘Save the Trees’ project has been a resounding success so far, and you should all be proud of the work the students of both schools have done.”
She made a sweeping gesture behind her, displaying all of the saplings that had been planted over the past week. “Kirby and Wheeler have together planted nearly thirty-five trees since Monday afternoon, and we’re planning on planting even more in the coming weeks. Before long, this path will be blooming with new life. Isn’t that amazing?”
Seyla got a wave of enthusiastic applause in response. When it ended, she continued. “This is only the latest in a series of cooperative projects between Wheeler Academy and Kirby High School. I hope that, going forward, our schools will be able to put aside the problems of the past and truly embrace each other in partnership.”
There was more applause, but this time Harrison cut it off. “That would be fantastic, Ms. Solstice…but I have some bad news.” He turned to the audience and put on his best mournful face. Everyone was immediately focused on Harrison Osgood Herring and whatever he had to say. “That partnership might not come about the way you’re expecting.”
There was just the smallest hint of a glare on Seyla’s face. “What do you mean, Harrison?”
Harrison shook his head. “I’ve been given permission to share with you all something that came as a complete shock to me.” He took a deep breath, savoring the anticipation. “Kirby High School is closing down, effective in a week.”
Kirby can’t close. It’s our school. It’s my school. It’s a fun school, too! Not everything is great, obviously, but there’s no way it’s closing. Harrison’s just lying, right?
“Due to dramatically declining test scores over the past several years, including the entire school seemingly failing standardized tests last year, the state has pulled funding for the school. That’s the sad truth.”
All around me, people were reacting in different ways. Gasps, shouting words that didn’t really mean anything, asking each other if Harrison was lying. As for myself, I could feel tears starting to come. Somehow I knew that Harrison was telling the truth. He’d won.
“There were other issues to consider, like the outdated electrical equipment and a wave of particularly nasty food poisoning. The state found it to be in the best interests of the faculty and students to close the doors.”
I noticed that Seyla seemed just as blindsided by the news as we were. She was trying to brush it off, but she wasn’t doing a good job of it. “That’s…uh…terrible news, Harrison. I never would have expected-”
“Yes, you would have, Ms. Solstice,” Harrison said quietly, suddenly turning to face her. “Wasn’t that the whole reason you helped me?” He turned back to face the crowd. “It isn’t all bad. This means that the war that’s lasted nearly eighty years is finally at an end!”
Everyone in attendance had felt the effects of the war and knew that it’s final closure was, objectively, a good thing. But, at the cost of the whole school?
“As you all will probably agree, a big part of that war was because of people putting far too much stock into superhero origami. Maybe this will give people a chance to step back and think if it was really worth it to destroy their school just for a fun craft blown way out of proportion.
“But, Marvel Comics characters seem to be the only way to get through to people anymore. That’s why I started a group I liked to call T.H.A.N.O.S. An acronym, you see, based on one of the more infamous Marvel villains. With myself, a few other influential young people, T.H.A.N.O.S. aimed to stop the war once and for all, by any means necessary. Ms. Solstice, here, was my second-in-command. My other partners are all here as well.”
Seyla looked extremely uncomfortable now. Was she having second thoughts? Harrison continued on. “Now, there were other factors, of course. I’m sure you all know about the OrigAvengers. Some of you parents may have been a part of them when you were younger. But they only made things worse. I don’t blame them, of course; they were just doing what they thought was best, which was impossible with us in control.
“We set in motion the events that culminated in this closing. We didn’t know exactly which school would be closing, but by the end of our plan, one half of this war would be nothing but a memory. So, please remember that it was T.H.A.N.O.S. that officially ended-”
Harrison blinked, obviously not expecting to be interrupted. “What?”
“I said not quite, idiot,” an annoyed voice responded.
I turned my head and saw Clark coming down the path, sipping a coffee and looking completely annoyed with everyone. What was he doing?
He walked onto the stage, standing next to Harrison. “This is guy is totally-”
“We can’t hear you!” someone in the crowd shouted.
“Who is that guy?” someone else said.
I don’t think many people noticed it, but Seyla nondescriptly handed Clark her microphone. Clark made a small nod, and she walked off the stage. She sat down on the very back row of the audience and maybe started crying.
Clark tapped the microphone and a burst of feedback responded. The crowd all covered their ears. “Oh, sorry about that. I guess it’s on.”
He stepped forward, with a mic in his right hand and coffee in the other. “My name’s Clark Largent. I’m the guy who has an Iron Man puppet. I call him Iron Fold. He’s cool.” Clark set the coffee down and pulled Iron Fold out of his pocket. “This is him. Guess what? It’s not T.H.A.N.O.S.’s fault. It’s not even the OrigAvengers fault. It’s actually this guy’s fault Kirby is closing.”
“What are you talking about?”
Clark put Iron Fold on his finger and waggled it at Harrison. “This is the part where I would say a snappy Iron Man quote, but I’m really not good at those. Pretend I’m doing it to you.”
Harrison looked flabbergasted. (Yes! I finally used flabbergasted in context!) The crowd looked confused. Emily was sitting a couple seats to the right of me and had her head in her hands. Robby was giving Clark a thumbs up, and Cal looked ready to jump up there and join him. But, I knew that Clark wasn’t the kind of person to make a fool of himself without a reason. But what was the reason?
“Harrison here would like you to think that Kirby’s closure comes from some godlike plan to close the school that’s come together in more mind-blowing ways than anyone could have ever predicted. He’s wrong.” Clark took a big swig of coffee and continued. “If anything, T.H.A.N.O.S. are the good guys here. They alerted us to the issues and tried to put a stop to them. We didn’t listen, and look where we are now.
“Even then, ‘we’ really means ‘I’. Kirby’s closure is my fault.”
What was he talking about? Clark was a hero. A reluctant hero, sure, but a hero nonetheless. How could he say it was his fault?
“I was the first hero of this new age of origami superheroes. The very first guy to publicly do hero things with a paper puppet. It’s stupid, yes. But then people started doing it over and over because of my example. Without me, none of this would have even been a problem.
“I was the first hero. I put the OrigAvengers together. I gave my own brother permission to beat people up. And then, when I should have stepped in, like when a weird team of villains ruined the school play Or when that Knull dude started an evil club. Or when a kid nearly blew up the pool. Or when that science guy spiked the lunches with green food coloring… you get the idea; there’s a lot of weird crap going on around here.
He cleared his throat. “Without me, we’d still have the science group, a school play, and no puppets. Sure, the war would still be going on, but it was my friends that helped stop it. Not me.
“So, in your consideration of this issue, keep in mind that Clark Largent, the Iron Fold, is the idiot that got us into this mess, and the great, philanthropic work of T.H.A.N.O.S. that got us out.” Clark still had Iron Fold on his finger. He looked at it for a moment, solemnly. And then…
He ripped it in half.
“This origami stuff got way out of hand. From now on, I’m just Clark. No more Iron Fold.” He put the ripped halves of Iron Fold into his pocket and gave a half smile. He looked out into the audience and stared right at Andy. “Before we go, I think Mr. Andrew Gardner has a few things to say. Um…thank you for your time.”
Then Clark gave the microphone back to Seyla, and passing an awe-filled Seyla and a fuming Harrison, walked off the stage.
End of the Line
I still don’t totally know what had happened, and I’d been planning this all night. All I knew was, something pushed me to do what I did, so I did it. What was going to happen? Who knows.
I went and sat down next to Emily, Robby and Cal. As soon as I sat down, Emily kissed me on the cheek.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said.
“Even if you don’t think so, you’re amazing,” Emily said, beaming. Robby gave me a thumbs up. Cal was still pretending like he hadn’t seen Emily kiss me, but he did give me a little grin.
Andrew Gardner made his way onto the stage, striding up the stairs and growing taller with each step. He had that expression he always got right before he did something leader-y. Seyla, hesitating for a moment, handed him her microphone.
“What are you- this isn’t allowed!” Harrison shouted. “This is supposed to be a school event, not a pep rally! Principal Ainsley…” Harrison looked to Principal Ainsley in the audience, but Alden Ainsley simply looked coldly back.
“Clark Largent and Andy Gardner have my full permission to proceed,” Ainsley called up to the stage. “Carry on, Mr. Gardner.”
Harrison looked back and forth from Ainsley to Andy, trying to find some retort that would put him back into control, but I think he finally accepted the fact that he was done for the day. He placed his microphone back into the stand, and mustering all the dignity he could, walked off the stage.
“Thank you, sir,” Andy said. In his hands was a folded up piece of paper. He looked it over. “I don’t totally know if I’m supposed to say my own things, but, uh…” He unfolded the paper, and evidently prepared to read it. “I think this works.”
He cleared his throat. “You all probably know that the war between Kirby and Wheeler has been going for a long time. I guess, technically, Wheeler’s going to be the winner, since Kirby’s closing. Congrats, Wheelerians.” He smiled a bit. People in the crowd politely laughed. The Prawley boys cheered.
“That’s not really the point, though, is it? This paper is a note to Kirby and Wheeler from Mr. Itaru Yang. He was a teacher at both schools back when they were first founded. A freelance art teacher, actually. He was even the principal here at Kirby for a long time. He’s kind of the reason we’re all doing the origami stuff.
“In this note is Mr. Yang’s…‘Will’, I guess, for both schools. He didn’t want us to be fighting. He wanted us to be getting along. Now’s as good as time as ever to see what he has to say. So, this, uh, is the note.”
‘To the students of Kirby High School and Wheeler Academy,
By the time this is found, I believe I will be gone and happily settled with my beloved Jennifer. I would love to come back to these schools someday, but I do not believe that I will ever get the chance. I apologize for that.
I know that tensions are high between both of you, because of a practical joke that spiraled far out of control. I wish I could resolve these issues, but I do not know a quick fix to this problem. I do not know if there is a quick fix. This might take time.
This is why I am writing this. I know that at some point in the future, something will have to give. I do not know what that may be, but I do know that it could be for the best of everyone.
You, students of Kirby High School and Wheeler Academy, are brothers and sisters, connected by much more than a dirt road and finger puppets. You are the bright future of Madison, NY and you must all realize that.
A fascination with heroes runs deep within your veins, and that is no accident. These schools sprung out of a time where heroes were lauded, celebrated. A love of heroes has never left you, and I believe that is something special.
To truly fulfill the role of heroes, you must work together, put aside all differences, and support one another. I may be an old man with old-fashioned beliefs, but that is what a hero must always do.
Please, humor these musings of a former friend of your schools, and put these ideas into practice. Unify, and you will be stronger together. It is truly the way to become heroes.
With my deepest love,
Andy held the note in his hand. He smiled. “I think that’s exactly what we all need to hear.
“I don’t know if you all know this, but I’m the leader of the OrigAvengers. This is a team of students from both schools that have, for the past year, worked together to make both places safer. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve screwed up. But we’ve just gotten stronger.
“I don’t know what will happen going forward. But I know that, no matter what, I will always be honored to be leading a group full of amazing, talented, and fantastic people. And I will always be proud of the team of OrigAvengers that has assembled.
“Thank you for listening.”
As soon as he finished, I stood up and applauded. It was slow, but everyone joined in eventually; Emily and Robby, next to me; Cal leading the Spiders, and Ezra and his friend Chris, in whistles; Dove and Ally holding hands and cheering; the Foldians clapping; Duncan politely nodding; even the members of T.H.A.N.O.S. I could see, like Adrian, Naphtali, Jessica, and even Seyla seemed to be joining in. Harrison was clapping from the sidelines, but I figured it was just for appearances.
I had no idea what was going to happen going forward. Maybe the OrigAvengers would stay together. Maybe we’d split apart. With our school closing, anything was possible. I figured I wasn’t the most popular guy around, now, either. But, I had hope that Andy’s speech would inspire people. Inspire them to be better. Inspire a bunch of Wheelerians to accept the lowly Kirbians in their hallowed halls.
I had hope that, no matter what, we’d all be alright.
After the Speech
After that, a large portion of the rest of the event was spent talking with each other. Even as the crowd emptied out, the team stayed behind. Ally and I walked around, holding hands and joking around. I could not be happier.
We found Adrian laughing and talking with Noah and Amias.
“Hello, Adrian,” I greeted.
“Hey, Dove,” he said. For a moment, he seemed worried.
I buried him in a hug.
We gently stepped back. He smiled. “Thanks.” I left him to continue talking with Noah and Amias.
“This feels surreal,” Ally said. “I can’t believe Kirby is closing.”
“I feel like it should be sad,” I agreed. “But, I do not feel sad at all.”
“I know, right?”
I turned to her with concern. “With Kirby closed, you do not have a school, though. Are you going to be okay?”
Ally looked on, smiling. “Yeah. I talked to Principal Villanueva. She says that Wheeler would be happy to take me back in, if I’m willing.”
“Are you?” I asked in awe.
“Of course,” Ally laughed.
I smiled. “Welcome back to Wheeler. I cannot believe I get to spend the next year with you!”
“So you’re staying, huh?” We turned to see Kev, standing behind us, hands in his pockets, with a hint of a gleeful expression.
“Yes,” I answered him.
“Staying?” Ally inquired.
“I will tell you later. Let us just say I was thinking of taking a long skiing trip.”
Ally giggled. “Alright. Hey, I’ll be right back, I gotta say hi to Jasmine.” So she went.
“Did you find Gar?” I asked Kev. He nodded and pointed off to the edge of the field, where Gar was sitting under a sapling.
I made my way over.
When Gar saw me coming, he stood up. “Hey.”
“Hello,” I said. I paused. “Are you alright?”
He was silent for a moment, then he nodded a bit. “Yeah.”
“You are a good friend,” I told him. “And from what I can tell, you were not a bad boyfriend, either. I hope that we can still—”
“Of course, man,” Gar said. “It’s tough, but… I’ll get over it. You guys are clearly meant for each other. I see how happy you make her. It’s all good.” He shook my hand.
I thanked him and turned back to the event, where Ally was waiting.
I was hanging out with Aiden and Lacey, post-event style. Man, it had been crazy. Harrison had stormed off somewhere, which was fine by me. As the crowd boiled down to mainly just the OrigAvengers, I quickly realized that I needed to talk to someone. That is… lots of someones.
Lacey and Aiden followed my gaze and immediately agreed.
“Hey, guys,” I greeted. The Spider-Verse was wide. Colt, Claire, Takuya, Brandon, Owen, Diego, Emmet, and Andrew had not been happy about me not being able to take them with us to fight T.H.A.N.O.S. on the low-profile mission to get the Black Box. In the end, it hadn’t mattered.
“Bro, we’re still not talking to you,” Colt said. “We could have done something.”
“Yeah, we’re a team,” Takuya added.
“You’re right,” I said, which seemed to surprise them.
“What?” Owen said.
“We are?” Emmet asked confusedly.
“Yeah,” Lacey chimed in. “We should have taken you guys with us.”
“Totally,” Aiden agreed.
“From now on, we fight as a team, or we don’t fight at all,” I said. “Deal?”
“Deal!” they cheered. I wasn’t sure when the next mission would be, or where it would be, or which of us would be there for it. Still, in that moment, it felt good to be part of the Spider-Verse.
A New Normal
We won. T.H.A.N.O.S., that is.
Kirby set the closing date for a week after Harrison’s impromptu announcement. We didn’t even get the chance to finish the semester. Apparently Principal Ainsley and Principal Villanueva helped put together a plan for all students to be transfer to Wheeler for the last two weeks of the semester. Then… the future was uncertain. For me, for the OrigAvengers, for all Kirbians. Some people were planning on transferring to Wheeler. I heard Mr. Rainey was going out for the Social Studies job. Others were moving on and declined the invitation to go to Wheeler. Desiree Dawson, head of the Kirby King, turned down a job at the Wheeler newspaper and decided to pursue stories elsewhere.
People were, understandably, upset. Kirby was home to a lot of people, myself included, and sure, it hurt to see it go. That was always going to be how it was. But, I hate to say it, but…I stand by what happened.
Not everything. Not the lying. Not the two-faced deals. Not Harrison and Trent playing everyone just for their own benefit. But, the spirit of T.H.A.N.O.S.’s mission, to end the war of Kirby and Wheeler by any means necessary, was working.
For the very first time any of us could remember, students from both schools were getting along. Wheeler was, almost surprisingly, helping Kirby students as much as they could to get settled. Kirby students in turn accepted the help and wanted to make this new school home. It was kind of beautiful.
Sure, you could attribute that to Andy’s speech at the end of the rally, but he wouldn’t have made that speech if T.H.A.N.O.S. hadn’t paved the way. Everything we did went to our plan and was working in our favor.
But, by our, I mean the group. Individually…things weren’t as good as they could be.
Jesse and I broke up. There’s not much else to say about that, other than I kind of expected it. I couldn’t lie to him for so long about so many things and not face some consequences. It doesn’t make it hurt any less. I might make fun of him…a lot…but I still really care for him.
Harrison has lost all credibility as the Student Body President, but he doesn’t mind at all. He’s a Senior. He planned all of this to coincide with his Senior year so that he could graduate and avoid most of the repercussions. Looking back, I guess he was a bit of an evil genius.
One way the OrigAvengers got back at him, actually, was with the finger puppets themselves; after the rally was done, Dove went up to Harrison with something.
“What’s this?” he asked, skeptically.
“It’s a puppet. I think you deserve it, after all you’ve done,” Dove explained. “It fits your personality very well.”
Of course, it was an origami Thanos.
Harrison didn’t like it, but he took it. I think it was out of spite.
As for the other half of the malicious duo, I didn’t really know where Trent was or what he was doing. I’m pretty sure he’s a senior too, so I think he’s just laying low until graduation.
Seyla Solstice was still around, working on the Student Body Government with Dove. Part of the reason she had taken the job was to ensure that Wheeler stayed open. She hoped that if she did enough, the board system would close Kirby instead of Wheeler. I guess that worked out. She even threw a small Welcome to Wheeler event on the day of the merge. If what Trent did was still bothering her, it wasn’t slowing her down. Most people really liked her, too. I’m sure she’ll stay the President going forward.
Out of everyone, Naphtali was the least affected. His job was mostly just transcribing meetings and laying out clues, so he had the least stake in the operation. He’s still in the library, writing stories and stamping books. Duncan’s forgiven him and they work as well as they ever did together.
As for the heroes…each and every one was taking it differently. The Foldians had taken a blow, with Noah breaking off of the team, but for the most part they seemed normal. The Spiders were losing some members in the move too, like Takuya, Andrew, Brandon, Colt, Diego and Emmett. Cal was still as enthusiastic as ever, though.
As for the OrigAvengers…they actually weren’t hurt too bad. Some of the members are leaving, but you don’t need to hear all about that now. I could tell none of them quite trusted me. I didn’t blame them.
Nothing would be the same, that’s for sure. Wheeler High School just got a lot bigger, and smaller, at the same time. Only time would tell how things went.
But I still think, in the grand scheme of things, T.H.A.N.O.S. did nothing wrong.
TW: OrigAvengers Log; tape number, zero-seven-eleven-eighteen; date, May third, two-thousand-and…
HE: Do you still have to do that at this point?
TW: This is the last time I will need to do this. Hush.
HE: Yes, ma’am.
TW: Herein this recording lies confirmation of the decision to decommission the Initiative for an undetermined amount of time. We would like to note that members will still be active if they deem necessary, however, due to the neutralization of the threat the Initiative was set to respond to, we are now officially decommissioned. Conducted under the authority of [TW].
At this time, we are now safe to recognize our members by full name and position instead of acronym. If we can just go around the table… go ahead, [AG].
AG: Andrew Gardner, Captain Americut.
AW: Ally Weber, Unshreddible Hulk.
DM: Dove MacLeash, Thorigami.
MB: Jessica Smith-Holt, Mockingbird.
EC: Ezra Cronin.
GV: Guillermo Valenzuela, Namorigami.
CG: Cat Grant, Gamorigami.
PP1 & PP2: Pete and Paul Prawley, Socket and Groot.
KB: Kurt Blum, Paper Ray Bill.
CL3: Cassidy Lashay, Scarlet Witch.
KT: Kev Tenney, OriVision.
GG: Garfield Graham, Black Pen-ther.
LR: Laura Rushman, Black Widow.
HE: Jesse Rodriguez, Hawkpleats.
AH: Amias Hill, Novagami.
AC: Adrian Collins, Heimdollar.
NB: Noah Buckets, Star-Fold.
DA: Duncan Anderson, Doctorigami Strange.
CL2: Cal Largent, Spider-Fold, representing the Spider-Verse.
RB: Robby Boone, Cardboard Machine.
CL: Clark Largent, Iron Fold.
TW: Tilly Waterson, Captain Mar-Fold. With that, I conclude this meeting.
On the final day at Kirby, Clark and I stayed behind as Tilly closed up the doors to the F.O.L.D. headquarters.
“So, uh, what happens to them now?” Clark asked curiously. “Do we need to move all of the F.O.L.D. files out?”
“No, I don’t think we will,” Tilly said. “A year ago, I would’ve been loading up every file and storing them in my garage, but F.O.L.D. is done. It’s been over for a while. I think it’s best that they rest here.”
“Are you sure?” I asked in spite of myself. Tilly had devoted so much of her time to poring over every one of those files.
She looked at me, her head held high. “Yep,” she said confidently, locking the doors. She held up the key. “I’ve had the only copy of this for a while. I’ll probably bury it somewhere or something.”
“Alright,” I conceded. Tilly looked happy to be locking up. If F.O.L.D. ever had a leader, it wasn’t Trent. It was Tilly. It was her choice. Good on her.
Clark, Tilly, and I stood in a circle for a moment.
“Alright… I guess I’ll see you both around,” Clark said.
“We’ll stay in touch,” I promised.
“You’d better,” Tilly laughed. She pulled us both into a group hug. “Don’t tell anyone, but out of everyone I’ve helped, you two are my favorites.”
“Wow, I’m honored,” Clark choked out, strangled by Tilly’s tendency to give bear hugs.
“See you later!” she said. She turned and strode down the halls of Kirby for probably the last time, whistling the Avengers theme.
Clark looked at the door to F.O.L.D. headquarters. “Gonna miss this place, Andy.”
“I think we all are, man.” I clapped his shoulder. “But we’ve outgrown Kirby. It’s time to, I don’t know, stretch our legs, try something new.”
“I love how you say ‘outgrown’ when we’re all moving to a significantly smaller space.”
“You know what I mean.”
He smiled. “Yeah, I do.” He followed Tilly down the hall. I could have sworn I heard him say, “OrigAvengers, disassemble.”
A Text Conversation Between The Original Six People Who Used To Be The OrigAvengers
Compiled by Clark
Clark: uh, do you guys wanna go get some brunch
Jessica: You’re kidding?
Jesse: i like brunch
Jessica: You would.
Jesse: you wouldn’t
Jessica: That’s the whole point.
Dove: I think that sounds very nice, Clark.
Andy: I’d appreciate the break.
Ally: Let’s do it.
Jessica: If you’re all fine with me coming, I will.
Clark: i included you in the group message, didn’t i
Clark: meet at the waffle house on saturday at brunchy times
Chocolate chip pancakes can cover a world of hurt.
Just six people, kids, really, sitting around a table, at the Waffle House, not really knowing what to talk about. That’s what we were. Aside from the decommission, all of us hadn’t been together since the closing. To be honest, I think some of us had been avoiding the others. It was just a bit awkward, to say the least.
Jessica and Jesse were noticeably sitting a good difference away from each other, but at least they were noticing each other’s existence. Small victories, people. By contrast, Ally was leaning on Dove’s shoulder, yawning. Andy just looked ready to fall asleep. For the first time in our entire heroic career, I was the most energetic person at this table. You have to know how weird that is for me.
I wasn’t feeling totally happy, though. Beyond Kirby closing, there was still something else pressing on my mind. Still, I wanted to show everyone else that it wasn’t all terrible. Just mostly terrible.
“How’s everyone enjoying the wonderful world of Wheeler?” I asked. I took a slow gulp of coffee, giving someone else a chance to say something. Again, being the initiator of conversations was not in character for me.
“It’s…different,” Jesse murmured. “It’s way too…orderly.”
“It’s like you actually have a schedule now,” Andy said. “You can’t say that’s a bad thing.” Andy was transferring to homeschooling from now on. I’d given him as many updates as I could about the school and how it went, and he tried to act as interested as he could. I could tell he liked how much slower everything was in his own home, though.
Ally sat up from Dove’s shoulder and shrugged. “I mean, it’s prettier than Kirby. I don’t remember it looking that nice when I went.”
“There has been renovations since you left,” Dove explained. “We are very proud of it.” He smiled.
Jesse rolled his eyes. “Glad you like your school. But this…”
“This isn’t my school,” Jessica finished. “It wasn’t the first time, and I don’t think it ever will be. It won’t have the chance to be.”
Andy leaned forward. “What do you mean by that?”
Jessica sighed. “My dad’s gotten a work opportunity over in LA. We were going to move at the end of the semester, but now that he doesn’t have to worry about my school stuff, we’ll be moving in just a couple weeks.”
“You’re kidding!” Jesse groaned. “You’re moving to LA?”
“My grandma lives down there and she needs family to stay with her. We’re the only ones that can, so we’re moving at the end of the month.”
“So, that means…” Jessica started, eyes drooping in disappointment.
“…we’re stuck with each other,” Jesse finished.
“Dangit,” they muttered simultaneously.
Dove chuckled. “That is a coinkydink.”
“Please never say that again,” I said. “It doesn’t sound natural.”
Now I was bummed. Hearing about how Jessieca was moving reminded me of the worst thing about all of this: Emily was moving. Not far away, but far enough. She was moving back to her old school upstate, to Claremont in Cortland, while I was stuck down here at Wheeler. With Emily, Andy and Jessieca leaving, who else was going to say goodbye?
“It’s weird,” I said, after a moment.
“What is?” Dove asked.
“I think this is the last time we’re going to be together.”
Jessica huffed. “Now you get emotional.”
“Shut up, Rodriguez. My point is, I’m not sure what the past year-and-however-much would have been like without you guys. So… thanks for making it incredibly weird.”
“It’s okay, Clark, you can tell us you love us,” Jesse said, making kissing noises. Jessica elbowed him. So, even closer to normal.
“I think we can tell,” Ally said, beaming.
“Okay, fine,” I scoffed. “I love you guys. Happy?”
“Extremely,” Jesse said.
“You have helped me grow so much,” Dove added. “I also love you all.”
“Seconded,” Ally said, raising her hand. Dove high fived it.
“I will miss all of you,” Jessica confessed. “Obviously not Jesse.”
“I’m sorry I have a grandma…” Jesse grunted. “But, yeah, what she said.”
Andy finally looked up from the table. He still looked sleepy, but he had a glint in his eye. I don’t really know what a glint looks like, but Andy had it. Surprisingly, it looked a bit like the pancake he hadn’t touched. That is to say, full of life, potential and sweetness.
“I’m never gonna forget anything of this, you know,” Andy said. “It’s been weird, crazy, and unbelievable at times. But…this is gonna stick with me. You all are going to stick with me, and I hope you know that. I think, in one way or another, we’ll be with each other until the end of the line.”
There was a lot of truth to that.
I checked my watch. It was 6 AM. The sun would be rising in a few minutes.
Feels poetic, doesn’t it?
This has been a really crazy adventure, and we have quite a few people to thank for making it that way.
We want to specifically thank JC and CJ. When Noah pitched this idea to them, they were 100% on board from the get-go. Without them, none of this would have been able to happen. (Plus, a shoutout to our alum advisor and go-to meme person, Jawa. And the man who took things to a whole new level, OrigamiLuke100.)
Thank you to every SuperFolder who read our stories, wrote their own stories, and contributed to the MOU community: Jar Jar Pleats, Hades, GeneralDwarf, Guillermo, origami_master53, SF_THRAWN, Mega, SLS, YodaForce, CrimsonDawn, Lord Toademort, KyloBear, Potato Dabber, kidloki108, dutchrocks, and anyone else we missed. (If we missed you, let us know in the comments!)
Finally, I’d like to personally thank Noah. He has worked so hard to keep track of every character, write compelling and amazing stories, edit every story that the SFs sent in, talk to the SuperFolders, and streamline a story that had a lot of contibutors. I’m just grateful to have been along for the journey. Noah’s an impeccably nice guy, a great leader, an incredible writer, and an even better friend. I’m lucky to have been able to work with him on the MOU.
We can’t wait to see where you all take it in Fold 4. Keep writing. Treat each other well.