Chapter 1: Leofric

Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Leofric pulled his backpack out of his gym locker, slinging it over his shoulder with a cheerful smile at one of his classmates (kinda tall, muscular, and answering his smile with a glower that practically said “what’re you looking at”) before making his way past and out the door. It was the end of the school day, which normally he didn’t care about much — but this school day was only the second at his new school, Addergoole. His new boarding school. New, underground boarding school.

Plus, he had PE last, which meant that he got out earlier than the other classes and could avoid the usual packed halls. Leofric had been surprised how such a tiny school — barely even a hundred students! — could get such crowded halls, but as he’d realized yesterday after classes ended, the halls were really narrow.

And right then, pretty much empty. Absently humming a certain moonlight-related anime theme to himself, he walked down the hall towards Professor Pepper’s classroom (or whatever her name was; it was something like that) just as the final bell rang.

Leofric slipped over next to the door as students started filing out of the classrooms, returning any smiles he happened to get.

“Hey.” A pale girl dressed entirely in gothic black paused next to him with a faint smile. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

“I am.” He smiled back, vaguely recognizing her from somewhere. A class, probably, but he had no idea which. “Leofric Nelson.”

“Nice to meet you, Leofric.” Her smile widened a little. “I’m Lydia, Fourth Cohort.”

“Oh, yeah, that.” Addergoole used some really weird terminology for things — not that he should be too surprised by anything down here, what with it literally being hidden underground in some kind of secret lair. Or bunker. Leofric and the other new students were called Sixth Cohort, which meant… “So it’s your third year?”

“That’s right.” Lydia nodded. “I was thinking, since you’re new, I could show you around? The layout can be really confusing at first.”

“Really?” Leofric blinked at the offer. “I’m meeting up with a couple friends right now, but—”

“Oh.” The girl — Lydia — seemed to deflate a bit. “Well, maybe some other time. Nice to meet you, Leofric.”

“Uh… yeah. Same.” He waved after her, confused by her reaction. A tour would be nice… Well, if she offered a second time, he’d take her up on it.

As the press of exiting students started to lessen, Leofric squeezed past into the room itself. Still packing up at a leisurely pace and chatting animatedly were the friends he said he was meeting — Zita and Howard, two other new students who he sat with in Lit class. He’d met Zita on the plane flying in, then the three of them had wound up sitting together and so far, they hadn’t gotten bored of him.

“Leo!” Zita waved as she spotted him in the doorway.

“Hey guys.” Leofric went over with a smile. “How’s day two of secret underground school for you two?”

“Secretive and underground.”

“Sounds about right,” Howard agreed.

“I’m liking it far,” Leofric admitted. “People are friendly.”

“Maybe a little too friendly,” the tall probably-Texan blonde muttered, eyeing something across the room. “Mind if I catch y’all later?”

Leofric glanced in the direction Howard was looking; a short dark-haired upperclassman was leaning on the desk of an even shorter girl. He couldn’t see the guy’s face, but she was looking increasingly uncomfortable.

“Later,” Zita agreed, hooking her arm through Leofric’s. “Dinner in the cafeteria.”

“Sounds good t’me.” Howard nodded, touching the brim of his hat — a white cowboy hat, to complete the image — and angled off towards the other two.

Leofric followed Zita down the hall, led along by the little Italian girl’s arm through his.

“So,” she said, releasing his arm again as they headed down a stairwell. “School secrets.”

“School…? Oh, right.” Leofric thought back quickly, picking up the conversation they’d been having in Lit class a few periods back. “There’s obviously something. What do you think the upperclassmen aren’t telling us?”

“Maybe that they really are the X-Men.” Zita looked thoughtful. “Or there’s going to be a pop quiz.”

“Nooo, not a pop quiz!” Leofric pretended to be horrified, but it was ruined by his complete failure to keep a straight face. “How about we assume it’s the X-Men thing? Quizzes aren’t as fun.”

“Okay,” Zita agreed. “So when do you think we get superpowers?”

Leofric dug through his meager knowledge of American superheroes. The mutant ones like the X-Men were born that way, but others… “Science class?” he hazarded. “Lots of superheroes get their powers from some kind of chemical accident, right?”

“Something like that.” Zita shrugged carelessly. “I’m in Biology this year.”

“Bummer,” he said sympathetically. “Maybe you’ll get yours next year? Or some other way?”

“I could get bitten by a radioactive spider.” She smiled widely. “Or maybe a zombie frog.”

“Frogger-Girl?” Leofric grinned back. “Does whatever a frog… something. Leaping over tall buildings in a single bound.”

“Catching criminals with my tongue,” Zita said cheerfully. “Gross.”

“Gross is right.” He paused, looking down a short hall into a section of rooms. “This is your stop, right? That means… my room’s this way?” Leofric pointed down the hall at another corner. “I think.”

“That’s where it was yesterday,” Zita agreed.

“You remember better than I do.” Leofric looked rueful. “It’s like a maze down here.”

“Watch out for minotaurs.” Zita smiled brightly and headed into her “pod” — what the school called groups of rooms, apparently. “And strange chemicals.”

“But then how would I get superpowers?” He grinned back, readjusting his backpack over his shoulder. “See you later?”

“Dinner, with Howard,” she reminded him, waving before disappearing into her room.

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