Let's Be Real


kendall_icon.gif seren4_icon.gif

Scene Title Let's Be Real
Synopsis What happens when two illusionists get together? Magic!
Date April 10, 2021

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island, formerly known as Welfare Island and before that Blackwell's Island, is a narrow island in the East River of New York City. It lies between the Manhattan Exclusion Zone to its west and the neighborhood of Jackson Heights to its east. The island is about two miles long, with a maximum width of 800 feet, and a total area of 147 acres. Most of the residential buildings on Roosevelt Island are rental buildings.

Tiles have been painted and turned in, and overall it was a good day. The kids are excited and loudly chattering away about what they drew to each other, and all the guests to the school are now leaving, drifting off in their own separate ways. Kendall’s clothes already had old paint stains on them to begin with, so a few more smudges here and there are barely even noticeable from this new addition. What he does have, however, is a sketchpad tucked under his arm.

The backpack he had earlier is hidden from sight again, whether due to paranoia or some other reason. Bringing his phone out, Kendall checks it for a signal. Not at the moment, rip. Sighing, he shakes his head and puts it away.

He decides to loiter outside the school proper, though, since Seren isn't the only one interested in having a conversation. Kendall's met a few people who can use illusions over the years, but this one's pretty unique.

Extricating themself from groups of kids can always be a little rough when new faces notice Baird's existence in waves. He's changed shape twice today, owing to all the different emotions surrounding him and images being wished upon him, and he's an entirely different creature now than when they arrived.

It's him who sails right through the front door without a worry, arms spread, tucked wings outfolded to assist in his soaring. A lemur with tawny feathers sprung from his underarms, Baird beats his wings and sails up high toward the chilled sun in a gesture of freedom while Seren pushes the door open to head outside in a gesture of the same.

A cloud of breath escapes them as they wind a dark red scarf around their neck and adjust the Raytech-emblemed beanie over their head. It was going to be a long walk back, but they wanted to try making at least part of it before hopping a bus. They had the time.

"Come on, Baird," they call up into the sky, aware abruptly the tether between summoner and familiar grows dangerously thin. Their grey eyes gleam silver at the edge of their irises as they wait for his descent, and they turn to note Kendall— loitering, waiting. Here, still, at any rate. In comparison to their reaction on seeing him inside, now their greeting is suitably muted. They lift their gloved hand in a gesture of hello.

"Hey," they greet, and are taken off-guard as Baird swoops down, tucks his wings, and lands on their shoulder with all his weight. They stumble from the unexpected passenger's presence, and after managing to stand upright again, clear their throat. Baird's cream and coffee ringed tail curls around their bicep. "Hi," they repeat, like the first time didn't count.

They turn only then after to regard the creature on their shoulder directly. "You gotta be more careful what with my hip, bud…" they mutter at him, but Baird is excitedly noting Kendall's presence, amber eyes widening and one blackened hand lifting in a wave.

When the other person is nearly knocked off their feet by something that by all rights shouldn't be able to do so at all, Kendall looks up, startled. "I guess my first question is, does he actually have weight, and able to knock you over like that?" he asks after a moment of staring at Baird. He looks from Baird to Seren and back to Baird and then waves to both. "I can't say that anything I've ever made has been able to affect the real world except once, and it put me in a coma for five days."

Kendall pauses, then grimaces, though mostly at himself. "Oh I guess if I don't wanna be rude I'd first ask if you need to be anywhere. You busy?" he takes the time now to approach, sticking his hands in his pockets as he looks both of them over, mostly Baird but Seren also gets an eyeballing. "Probably about half a dozen other questions too, but we can stick with those first."

The look Seren gives Kendall is something beyond sheepish and self-conscious. Ducking their head, they look off, then to Baird on their shoulder. The impossible creature hugs the side of their head comfortingly, and that's enough for them. "It's… complicated? Baird is real. What I can do, it's real." They take a test step forward and find walking is still painlessly on the menu today, and that'll do for them.

"I was heading back to Jackson Heights," they admit. "Going to Raytech's campus." Seren takes one step, then another, and so the ones go after that. They gesture for Kendall to follow with a tip of their head.

"If you don't believe, it's less real," they suppose of their ability. "But it doesn't change that everything…" Seren looks down at their hand as they pull it from their pocket, opening their palm to reveal a hovering, crystalline snowflake. They lift the slowly rotating, three-inch 'flake' with its colors hinting toward a lavender and grey-blue as it catches the light.

"Eh, not too far from where I'm staying. Not that it really matters since New York is now a lot smaller since the last time I was here." Kendall shrugs and falls in line with the other. "Raytech, huh… I saw Kaylee here, glad to see people are doing fine. The kid was a surprise, though." he hesitates like he wanted to say something else, then shakes his head. Time for a subject change even though he's the one to bring it up.

"So, pretty similar to me then. Mine also depends on whether or not people would believe it. But for me, I try and make it as real as possible. If I wanted to make something like…. Baird?" a glance at the creature, that is the name he heard before "…I would need to draw it first." Kendall pats the sketchpad he has under his arm, then tilts his head at the snowflake. He glances around, but no one's really paying attention.

Lifting his own hand up, he conjures up an identical snowflake, except this one shifts between blue and green. "Monkey see, monkey do." he laughs, grinning at Seren. "Used to be, drawing was the only way I could bring anything out. But… I had to hide it." his smile fades and closes his fist, his snowflake vanishing. "Stuff happened. But fortunately I was found by people who encouraged me and eventually I was able to break my mental blocks. Still got some though, since like I said, still need to draw." Pause. "Or maybe I just don't have a good enough imagination. How embarrassing." He snickers.

"But yeah, making things look real helps a lot with tricking others and making them believe it's there." A Yankees baseball cap appears in his hands and he flips it in his fingers, ending with it on his head. Like mushrooms after a rainstorm, signatures appear on the brim. "Limited edition, the last team to play before the world went to shit." Not that Kendall ever cared about sports but whatever.

"By the way, at the club a couple weeks ago, you actually saw me twice." Kendall adds casually with a sly grin.

Listening to it all is a lot, but Seren gently tries to interject where there's room as they head away from the school. "I used to have to draw to try and keep everything contained. I'm better at it now, but I used to daydream all the time, and the daydreams would just…"

They let out a faint laugh.

"I caught the Company's eye for it. More than once. This twee thing not even shoulder height with the world yet, just… living their truth, sharing it with others. Things nearly didn't end well for me; they told me to keep it secret or there'd be no choice. To try and control the shape it all took, I used paper." They look to Baird at their side as he shifts, clawed lemur feet scurrying down their back as the creature shifts the nature of his hang to peek over their shoulder rather than perch on it.

Then both of their eyes turn back to the hovering snowflake, which explodes into dozens of other flakes of rainbow the more appropriately sized— and floating in an all-too-slow flurry around them both while they walk. "I had all kinds of friends who came and went. Baird is my best friend, though, and he's stayed the longest."

The hat is glanced to with an appreciative half-grin. "I hurt myself if I make anything that's … not how I see it in my imagination. Mundane things are hard. I stressed my ability to its limit last year when I had someone think of—"

How sudden Seren stumbles in the conversation nearly merits checking they're physically well. But after a moment they pick up with a certain forced air to their brightness, "the thing that made them most happy, it was a person. Nearly broke me." They trail off into a near-mumble as they admit, "Kind of… did, in a way."

But then Kendall mentions the club and they answer by merely lifting their brow and looking to him. "Mm?"

Kendall's nothing if not enthusiastic about meeting another person with a similar power. And he's fully appreciative of the snow burst, holding his hand out to catch a few. "Eh. My parents kicked me out in the middle of winter without a jacket because I caught Evo flu. Think they were hoping I'd die and their problem would fix itself. Almost did. Lucky I knew a few people by then." Kendall grimaces and shakes his head, dismissing that, watching the snow flakes.

"Well after a bit I started being able to use props, especially, heh… nerdy ones. Like, comic books, video games, pop culture references." He pulls the hat off. "Like, for instance, I read a book where a character had a Yankees cap that was a gift from a goddess that let her turn invisible." Hat back on, and just like he just mentioned, he vanishes from sight. Hat off again, and he reappears, only for the hat to disappear instead, and he drops his hand to his side.

"I know what you mean about hurting yourself though. People around me must've really been wishing my illusions were real at the time, because suddenly one of them was and it made me pass out for five days. And, uh…" Kendall hesitates, looking away. "I had this sort of vision of a future where someone I… cared about, died and so I made an illusion of her all the time, but was apparently killing me to do it. So it looks like we do seem to share a lot of things in common, just on opposite sides of the spectrum, as it were."

When Seren mentions friends, Kendall looks over at Baird again. "So Baird is a… different person? Separate from you?" he sounds surprised at that. "And you've had others? Huh. That's interesting." Who even knows what's possible?

"And, yeah… I was that old homeless dude wandering around, just in case I saw any old friends. I was still new to town, and I think I like dramatic reveals a bit too much. Joke's on me though, I didn't see anyone so I got bored and decided to go say hi to you instead." Pause. "Sorry about that by the way."

Hearing what nearly happened to Kendall many winters ago, no matter how long it was, brings Seren's feet to a still, their silver-ringed eyes widening. They can only gape in silence, the pastel rainbow flecks of snow Kendall catches on his hand shifting from cool to crisp, vanishing suddenly like grey ash rather than anything that would melt.

The rest of the flakes disappear with an invisible, sensationless breeze outward that appears to affect only them.

"That's awful," is as much as Seren manages to say before Kendall moves on, and their footsteps resume to follow while heading southward.

Their head and their mood lifts when attention is shifted back to Baird, though, whose light brown rings have turned a coffee color. "Oh, yeah, we've had loads of friends come and visit over the years. Saying 'bye is always the hardest part, but we've gotten used to that as much as we can. Things can't last forever."

After the creature on their shoulder tugs at the side of their beanie, making a tiny chiitter of noise, Seren's nose wrinkles before they grin. "Except Baird, that's true. He's a different thing every day!" They reach over their shoulder for him, pulling him forward into their arms. The winged lemur lets out a distinctive purr like a cat, amber eyes squinted. "Ready?" They've hardly asked before throwing both arms into the air, sending the small creature flying up before his wings open to break his fall and assist him with swooping in the air carelessly above them.

Seren's grin grows absent while they think back to that night. "You know— so much happened I barely remember that? I did…" They chuckle self-consciously. "A lot of drugs that night, right after I saw you-you. I'd half thought I misremembered seeing you, to be honest."

"Yeah. It was awful. But you know what? It let me meet a whole bunch of great people. If I hadn't gotten found out, who knows what would've happened? I could have repressed it and never used it at all, and I'm pretty sure I would be miserable right now." Or worse.

When Seren mentions not remembering what happened at the club, Kendall laughs. "Why am I not surprised." The news that there were drugs at an illegal club, who woulda thunk it? "Good thing I left before that happened. Had a friend who wasn't feeling good."

When Baird is flung upwards, Kendall shades his eyes and watches him fly off with a broad grin. "Must be nice to have someone with you all the time." he adds a trifle wistfully, looking back down. "Could've used a friend a few times, but I think that nightmare vision I had kinda killed that from happening."

He looks back up again to Baird, nodding. "Yeah, it's always hard to say goodbye, but worse when you don't get a chance. No one and nothing stays forever. All you can do is move on." He thinks for a moment, then opens up his sketchpad, drawing a winged cat. He grins over at Seren as it appears in midair, though a nice, natural calico with bronze wings. He waves his hand and it flies up to go chase after Baird.

"Good thing?" Seren teases. "The party really started after that. Fairy lights came out and danced with us, and it felt like we were in a whole other world. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We had almost the entire cast of Through The Looking Glass there at one point…"

They sigh while Kendall draws. "Probably not something to make a habit of. But it was… relaxing in ways I couldn't have even anticipated. A good trip. I needed it, after how everything went at Xpress last year."

The finishing of Kendall's creation could not come at a more auspicious time to drag them from their thoughts, their eyes lighting up when the 2D image flies right off the page and transforms. "Oh, wow," Seren breathes, looking up with a laugh. They cup a hand around their mouth, calling up, "Show off your best face, Baird!"

Catching sight of the winged cat heading their way, Baird's jaw drops— any noise accompanying it too far to be heard, surely— and he drops several feet in a somersaulting tumble through the air. As he unfurl again, the whites to his coat are more pure than before, the browns shifted. He bears an eagle's yellowed beak to match his golden catseyes, no longer a lemur at all. A miniature gryphon unfolds from that somersault, ringed tail a mere nub shadowed over by a tuft of coffee-spotted feathers, four paws and body distinctly lynx. Wispy ears flick back and forth with interest as he drops in height further before spreading eagle wings from his back to soar in a curious circle in an attempt to chase the other flying cat right back.

"God," Seren says, hand dropping to their chest. "He's never had anybody to play with like that before." Not like this, anyway. Real birds, maybe. Real cats, maybe. But this?

They let out an incredulous laugh.

It comes at a good time for Kendall too because he has no idea what Xpress is about or why it was bad; he didn't hear much news on his way back to New York. "Well I'm glad I can contribute, then. A griffin, huh? That's so cool." The winged cat circles around Baird, making that chirring sound cats do when they see a bird, going into a dive to bat at Baird's stub tail, sans claws.

"I guess it could be a lot of fun to make a friend for Baird now and then, maybe it'll help me work on things. Practice my imagination, maybe." A small swarm of brightly colored butterflies surround the two on the ground, flitting around them. "Heh well now that you mention it, it would've been worth it just to see. Not sure I'd like to see what happens when I try taking anything though, think I'll stick with alcohol now and then." Boooring. "Guess it still boils down to me trying to stay a bit more, uh, subtle with my illusions."

Seren continues to look up toward the playful winged creatures while proceeding at a slower pace, half a smile of wonder still fixed into place for them. When the butterflies flit their way around the two of them on the ground, they're not entirely certain at first that the phenomenon isn't caused by them. It takes lifting their hand from their chest, shifting their focus to elicit a reaction from one to realize it's not something their emotions with this moment have brought into view.

"Yeah," they agree a little sheepishly to the comment around the experience. "Probably like, a once-in-a-lifetime sort of…" An awkward chuckle follows before they taper off, realizing perhaps talking openly about taking drugs isn't really great conversational material, even with someone who was at the same party they were at.

Baird tumbles to the side in a barrel motion to attempt to evade the swat in his direction, completely and carelessly defying the laws of physics.

A dozen-odd feet below, Seren clears their throat. "Subtle is an art form," they concede. "There's still times I can't really control what comes into being around me, and it's never… subtle, really, when that happens. I kept it together during the Raytech expo at the World's Fair really well or that would have been worst possible moment number one, but I, uh…" One eye squints as they allow themself that small of a wince. "Once during a company meeting, flowers started growing right on the conference table? And everyone acted really chill about it, even when they started growing on them, too."

They look back to Kendall while they progress forward, like to gauge whether this is a shared struggle or not. "I tried a little too hard to think chill thoughts, and my mind just started… wandering, you know?"

"Pff. Is it embarrassing story hour now? How about, as a 17 year old kid, sneaking into a date auction while disguised as someone else, and spending all your money on a girl, only for the illusion to start to fail after one drink. And then going on another date with a different person who bought you instead, with a similar result. Thankfully my tolerance is a lot higher now."

Rather than see what Seren's expression is after divulging that little story, Kendall also stares upwards at the two creatures like they're utterly fascinating… which isn't a lie. The cat makes a disgruntled sound of disappointment when she misses tagging Baird, circling back around and meowing. After Baird dodges, she also does a barrel roll, briefly transforming into the Arwing as she does so, but quickly returns to cat when Kendall sighs, looking back down to Seren.

"And then, I've had a few times where it just popped out too, after I broke my block of having to draw it first. It kinda had two layers, the second one was I could use props to make illusions, stuff like using the One Ring to turn invisible or using YuGiOh cards to summon monsters. The problem was, sometimes things happened from verbal references unintentionally, like the one time I was so embarrassed I made the floor open up and swallow me." Kendall winces at that, and not entirely out of chagrin. "Like, do a barrel roll." He gestures up for example. Don't think he didn't see that, cat.

The butterflies around them turn into tiny X-wing fighters, and Kendall looks pleased with himself.

Seren grins in sympathy. "Ah," they remark knowingly. "More parallels than we thought." They say without saying that they've shared some similar experiences. "The… totems you used, though, the um—" No, they didn't mean that word. "The uh, symbols, I guess? The cards, the ring… that's interesting."

They turn over their palm, a golden band appearing in it. That part's easy. Nothing special happens, though, and Seren doesn't press it further. They close their hand around the ring again. "Anything I do, I don't really give it space to be harmful if that's in its nature. The last thing I want is to make anyone scared, potentially, and I mean— things have rules to them, whether they're wild animals or cursed objects."

Rules, they say, as Baird seems to not care about any of them. He turns his head when the other creature calls after him, the sound of a bike bell sounding from him as he slows up, becomes a larger thing— a gryphon with broad enough shoulders to stand on rather than a shoulder-sitting-sized teacup creature. He drifts underneath the flying cat above him, to provide a perch for better sniffs.

The bridge across to Jackson Heights nears in the distance. Seren cants their head while they think. "When I was a kid, I used to do a bunch of small things— things meant to fly under the radar when I was supposed to keep my ability a secret. Things like changing my outfit. There was once a whole week in middle school I wore the exact same outfit but imagined it looked different every day, like my dream clothes." They tent their shoulders in a shrug. "I tried not to let other people… see. The Company wouldn't have liked that."

"But my best human friend, Axel, he never told a soul. He helped me try to… get a better handle on subtlety. He'd help distract others when I couldn't control it, if nothing else." Seren smiles faintly for a moment at that fond memory.

"I always called them triggers." Kendall shrugs, looking around the area. "Doesn't really matter, so long as it worked, huh?" Up in the air, the winged cat takes the offering, landing on Baird's back and giving him a good sniff, then rubs her cheek along his head as she clings tight to hold on, without claws.

As Seren shares the bit about wearing the same outfit, Kendall laughs, grinning over at them. "Well I hope you at least changed your underwear. That's one way to save on a water bill for laundry, at least." he pauses, looking shifty. "Can't really say anything, though. Clothes shopping was a bit difficult in the dead zone, so at times I had to either steal new ones when I could or… make do, so that came in handy. Fortunately I could cover up smell too, but I learned how to wash clothes without technology. Not being able to smell it doesn't remove the eye watering reaction." Eyeroll. "Did end up getting hooked up in places here and there though so I made it through well enough."

The mention of the friend draws a startled look from the older guy, and he squints faintly at them. "Best friend named Axel, huh. Well, that's… that's good you had someone there." he looks like he's really wanting to say something else. He really, really does.

"Er, anyway. I was pretty much able to hide what I could do by just…. not drawing. Or if I did draw, I would leave bits out and not 'complete' it. Basically I was tricking my power into not coming out. It helped that my school kept getting blown up so I didn't have as many opportunities for it to come out. And then…." Kendall shrugs uncomfortably. "I was found out anyway so it didn't matter anymore. Would've been nice to have a friend like you did, but… I never really had any growing up. Too much of the 'quiet kid in the corner everyone ignored', coupled with 'nerd' and being in the top ten percent in all my classes so that totally meant I wasn't cool enough to hang out with."

With Kendall's compliment regarding their friend, Seren's smile flashes again just a moment longer before they look down. "One good friend really can make a difference," they admit, delicately dancing around the topic of their own loneliness. "Keep you from feeling…"

Mm. Not quite a thought they care to finish, it seems. They lift their eyes back to the sky again to keep a careful eye on the flying felines above.

"At least you found friends in the end. Fellows, if nothing else," Seren remarks. "The, um— my coworkers from Raytech, they all seemed to be taken with you. Appreciated you. Were glad you turned out okay with everything that…" One hand lifts in a vague gesture as they find themself uncertain how to address the civil war verbally.

They've found it to be a difficult topic even still for many people, despite being ended for six… seven years, now.

Suddenly, they perk up, asking, "What's your favorite thing you like to do with it? With your ability?" They turn to look at Kendall earnestly, silver-limned eyes bright.

"Oh, definitely. After I found people who were ok with me being who and what I was, I had plenty of friends." Kendall is quick to reassure, belatedly realizing he dragged the conversation down. "I even found myself with a girlfriend, haha… ha…" suddenly looking nervous, especially when Seren brings up Raytech, Kendall looks up as well.

"Yeah, I've reconnected with a bunch of them too, wasn't expecting to get mobbed like that today." There's another nervous laugh, but then Seren THANKFULLY changes the subject.

Bringing his gaze back down, he grins over at the other. "Well once I stopped getting hung up over it, I pretty much liked doing whatever I wanted with it. To be honest…" Kendall grins sheepishly, "I like making other people happy. Sometimes I'd do stuff to surprise them, or scare them in a way that makes them laugh later. I think I should've been some sort of magician at Vegas." His grin freezes a bit and he shakes his head. "When Vegas existed." Enough of that. "But yeah, I like having fun with it and having others share in it too. Same for you, or you like using it other ways?"

The smile that comes to Seren's face once the conversation shifts to what Kendall likes in his ability is one they try to suppress, but it finds its way present in them anyway. For a while, they say nothing, trying to let him get his whole thought out without interrupting. At first, they can only shake their head, unable to put words to it while they walk.

"Same for me, I think. In at least why I like to use my ability. The world can be a terrible place, but I don't see it that way. And being able to help others see something lighter, something better than just mundane, gray— painful— it just…" They trail off, eyes narrowing thoughtfully for a moment. "If you were going to have an ability at all, why not use it to make the world a better place, right?"

The sensitive nature of it— the fragile if firmly-held belief of theirs makes it impossible for them to look Kendall in the eye while they say as much. But they still grin as they add, "For me, I always wondered what it would be like to design for Disney. Most magical place on Earth, right? It'd have been a dream come true to help with something like that."

They both know that Florida doesn't look the same now as it did a decade ago, same as with Vegas.

"It took me a while to get used to being able to use it freely— to not have to worry about being locked away and my family and friends made to forget about me if I used my ability in public. To not have to worry they'd do that or take Baird away." Their voice softens, but not with sadness. "It felt surreal, like a trick when the news broke from the US President about himself. I thought to myself there was no way that was happening— that the great big secret was out."

With a twist of wry to their voice, they nod up at the soaring creatures overhead. "Look at us now, though. Aren't we something?"

"To be honest, it still feels strange using it out in public like this." A gesture upwards, and Kendall darts a quick glance around. "Even walking out here like this, I feel like I should be hiding myself in some way." A hand goes towards his pocket, but he shrugs and flicks his hand instead, causing the little X-wings to disappear. The cat stays, though.

"I personally knew people who were attacked and locked up for their abilities. I avoided the forced registration before the war using mine to trick people into thinking I wasn't Evolved. A fake ID was nothing, and I even faked the test for a few people. Easy enough to make it turn blue instead of red." Legality aside, Kendall coughs lightly. "Fortunately there's no need for that now. I'm registered legitimately now and no one's come to arrest me yet."

"And absolutely, it's one of the best things in the world, being able to use it to make the world a brighter place. Hell, let's make an Expressive theme park!" Kendall snickers. "We could put on shows, I bet a hydrokinetic could make a killer wave pool with waves you could actually surf on, and imagine what Expressive fireworks would be like!"

Kendall checks his enthusiasm, however, and sighs. "Well we'd also probably have to avoid the idea of us putting ourselves on display like circus freaks though. And as great as that sounds, there's still groups out there that would find that a very tasty target. But… one day, maybe!"

Baird goes sailing above, wings spread to buffet him upward on a silent, invisible wind so he can coast and keep an eye out ahead. He stays up that direction until the conversation about potentially being locked away lasts a little too long for his liking, descending until he lands on the ground behind Seren and Kendall as they walk.

"I'm glad you were able to use your ability to help others— help keep them safe. You had a unique opportunity to do that, and you didn't shy from it, it sounds like," they note gently while they proceed forward. The shift to the topic of an Evolved-powered theme park does make them smile some.

"There's a way to do things tastefully, I think. Have normal experiences, made more magical by occasional Evolved intervention. There's plenty that's enjoyable to a theme park… but a dash of magic can make it so much better. That's what I think would work best." They close their eyes for a moment, head lifting to the sun to bask in it. They take one step, then another, and walking over a slight elevation disturbance between two joined ridges of bridge they stumble, reaching for the railing to keep themself from going down.

Behind them, Baird's moved quickly to Seren's side, headbutting their leg to help keep them upright with whatever power he can lend. Seren's silver-limned eyes look back at him after opening, and they let out a sighed smile. "Still just as accident-prone as ever," they reassure their familiar, patting a hand on his head.

They rotate their leg to stretch their hip now that they've paused, leaning onto the railing a moment longer before settling their weight again. "I think we're a long way off, though, from something Evolved-focused," they admit in a tempered voice, not just because of the healed injury which seems aggravated in this moment. "What happened in October proves that any time we get together to do something in groups in public…"

Seren shakes their head and with a hand still on Baird's head, begins to walk again, eyes firmly on the reality before them this time. Save for a glance down to Kendall's summoned creature still along Baird's back.

"Absolutely." Kendall smiles, a little proudly. "I did my part to keep people safe a year or two before the war started. My best trick was smuggling people out of safe houses by making them invisible. It was scary, especially when there were people with guns, but a lot of people didn't get hurt thanks to that. I was glad I could help. I did what I could since then too."

When Seren stumbles though, Kendall halts and reaches out a hand. "You ok?" he asks, concerned. Even as they regain their balance, Kendall keeps his hand out if needed.

"Well, that's true. And don't want to overwork anyone. But I've learned a few mundane tricks as well, half of a magic show is making people look where you want them to while you do something else, and you don't need illusions for that. It's called misdirection." he nods sagely. "Learned that from a con artist years ago." That's something to be proud of, apparently. "A mundane illusionist would train and practice for years to do what we'd be able to do in an instant though. Kinda cheating, if you think about it. Ah well."

When Baird lands near them, the cat relaxes more, breadloafing herself on his back and looking up at Seren with a very smug cat smile. Baird had been defeated, apparently. Kendall snickers. "I'm not as good at making imaginary real friends as you are, but it looks like she's sassing you. Gotta wonder, though. Considering how we both seem to do it, is it a joint effort, or keeping things separate?"

Seren regards Kendall's offered hand with a small shake of their head. "I'm fine, I promise," they assume. "Sometimes I just have to work through some stiffness. I, um… was at Xpress, right where all the bombs went off. I almost didn't make it, had to have surgeries." Quickly, they qualify, "I'm doing way better than I was six months ago."

Baird nudges his head up into their hand, providing support during that touch to a distressing topic. "Though, uh— if you're ever on my right side and I can't hear you, try stepping back to my left."

Outing the side of the sidewalk they've taken up was a purposeful decision hadn't been an intention of theirs, but here they were.

It's easier to focus on the cats, though, and they lift their hand to let the unfamiliar cat sniff, should she like. The silver shine in their eyes has a white glimmer in it. "As for the four of us, maybe we're just feeding off each other. Amplifying each other. Either way, it's nice."

"Gotcha." Kendall let's his hand drop and doesn't comment further, instead looking to the other two. Now that they're back on the ground, the cat sniffs Seren's hand, then jumps off and rubs against Baird and then Seren's uninjured side. There's just the sensation of something soft, no actual force. And then, just as if she hadn't just jumped off his back, she looks back at Baird and hunkers down, tail twitching as she does the little butt-wiggle that precedes a tackle. Better watch out, Baird.

"That would be best if we were somehow able to share the load, as it were. The more people there are, the harder it is to do anything. I get nosebleeds and really bad headaches when I try to do too much, and in extreme situations I've even passed out. Though that hasn't happened in years." He adds the last bit with some haste. "Learning limits is important." a brow is quirked over towards the other. "How about you? Ever tried making a few at once, or is Baird your main focus?" Kendall has a guess since Baird was so happy to see the cat show up.

"Oh, we've got lots of friends," Seren remarks as Baird pauses to look back at the cat, one paw lifted to bat playfully at it. They let out a quiet chuckle, the silver in their grey eyes flecking more white. "They come and they go. They've got their own lives and all, but they'll visit us sometimes. My favorite thing I used to do a lot, though, was—"

They blink, and the railing on either side of them while they cross the bridge abruptly turns gold in a sudden ripple that expands out from Seren's being. The straightened bars bend into whimsical shapes, looking like an object out of fantasy. The tall frame of the bridge turns into a curved wooden structure rather than angular metal shapes.

The subversion of reality goes and goes, and they blink rapidly, trying to make it stop. The road beside them flickers, asphalt peppering with veins of red and orange like lava readying to break free from the black— before settling. Once that's done, they let out a sigh of relief.

The rest of it doesn't stand to get anyone hurt, after all.

"I'd tell stories, and they'd become real. Castles, swordfighting…" One hand lifts, the weight of a velvet-hilted shortsword appearing in it. "Magic…" And up goes the other, motes of swirling purple and blue light dancing around their hand as their pace slows. The bridge's transformation, brought to a blurry halt about twenty feet away in either direction, moves with them. "Making the world a little more fantastic is my favorite thing to do," they admit, seeming wholly comfortable in their display. They rotate their wrist to flourish the blade, slinging the light that catches on its edges off into the air off the bridge's side before lobbing the motes of magic after it. One catches the other, and they both explode together in a glimmering display of fireworks.

Baird hunches down to paw at the cat before bounding ahead in a mischievous scamper to catch up to the other two, all while Seren goes on, "Baird's always with me, though. Two peas in a pod. Gotta make up for all the lost time when you had to hide under my bed from my parents, right buddy?" His head lifts so he can warble a birdsong agreement.

As the world changes around them, Kendall grins broadly as he looks around. Now that’s what he’s talking about! Despite the twinge of worry that people will see, he moves to go rest his hand on the now shiny rail, and a filigree pattern etches its way through it, turning it into a delicate, hollow lace as far as the eye can see. “This is so awesome. I’ve always wanted to do stuff like this but I would need this for it.” he pats his sketchbook, still wedged under his arm. As Seren goes further, Kendall laughs and his backpack appears just long enough for him to stash the sketchbook away. Then Kendall holds out his own hand, and a sword also appears, though perhaps not as fancy.

“Care to duel, knave?” smiiirk. He holds the sword in both hands, a stance no doubt copied from one of dozens of movies he’s watched before, or perhaps a video game he’s played.

As Baird goes charging off, the cat leaps forward, pouncing him, and without planning on it, the cat lands on Baird with perhaps more oomph than expected, and she play bites at the griffin’s neck as she rabbit kicks his side. Kendall blinks over there in surprise, then shrugs lightly and looks back over at Seren to see if they accept his challenge. There’s the difference between their abilities. Nothing the cat would do is intended to hurt Seren’s friend; he won’t let her.

This time, a ring of fire surrounds the two in a perfect circle, a faint shimmer of magic suggesting a barrier above the flames. Now THAT is definitely from a video game. “Nowhere to run now!” guess Kendall decided to play the villain. The flames seem to radiate heat, but touching them would not cause pain.

The moment that Kendall makes appear a sword of his own, Seren's brow ticks upward. Oh. The tip of their sword falls, arm coming back down to their side. But the fire appears, a shimmer around it. The reference goes mostly over their head, but they understand well enough by Kendall's warning. Their head bobbles back and forth, uncertain about the turn of events.

When the cat pounces to Baird's back, their attention is entirely taken away from the moment, sword dispersing from their hand in a flash of flower petals where once there was metal. "Hey, hey," they caution the cat, reaching to pick her up. "Easy now." Seren scoops under the cat's front legs to hoist her up and pull her to their chest. "It'd be one thing if we were somewhere with lots of space, not… the better part of the way on a bridge back to Jackson Heights."

They laugh a little at their own expense, shooting an apologetic look to Kendall. After all, he's the one with the magic fire barrier.

"Yeah, you're right… got carried away." Kendall sighs and the fire vanishes. "Raincheck for some other time. I've always wanted to be in a video game." he does manage to look embarrassed by this, and his own sword disappears.

The cat is picked up with a little mrr of surprise, blinking up at Seren with big green eyes. Kendall also lifts his brows up at that, looking over.

"But yeah, aha.. middle of the street probably not the best spot. Might not be as many cars nowadays but they still exist." And Kendall doesn't want to cause an accident or anything.

"So you can make her realish too?" he asks, gesturing to the cat who is now purring.

"Why not?" Seren answers with a sheepish half-grin, delineating their uncertainty about who is providing what in this situation. They look thoughtful for a moment before a blink later, the bridge and the path under their feet returns to its real state. If they were lending their ability to the cat… they'd need to pace themself. And also, preferably, not have something they've done end up in the Safe Zone Siren.

As strong as their belief in themself was, it wasn't unshakeable, after all.

"But hey, if there's any person who could get away with making like you're in a video game…" they suggest lightly, continuing their path forward. Baird sneezes before beginning to pad the ground beside his summoner, keeping up with their pace. "I have to say, that's one thing I've never really thought of. Bringing things from games and such to life. I didn't really…" They gently start to shake their head, trying not to speak down on it. "That's awesome that you do, though. That you have all these sources you're able to draw from."

Seren lifts their head to look to the end of the bridge, to the skyline ahead as much as what lies down the shoreline around Jackson down into Elmhurst.

"Aha… funny you should mention that." Kendall looks incredibly shifty all of the sudden, looking off as if the now normal looking bridge is utterly fascinating. "I, uh, I've been doing that for years."

There's an awkward grimace at that admission, and he runs the back of his head sheepishly. "Always where no one could see. I mean, I'd never need to buy a VR headset but it's still embarrassing to admit. I've done it with DnD sessions too, so now I guess I can also admit that I'm officially uncool in an admittedly cool way."

After a moment where he's no longer writhing in internal mortification over stuff he did in the past, he tilts his head back over to Seren. "I think it's cooler that you can just… make stuff. I mean, sure, I can use what I've seen, but it's referencing other stuff. Yours is all unique."

"Sometimes, yeah," Seren allows in an admittedly quiet voice of their own, stroking the back of the purring cat. "But I mean, all inspiration comes from somewhere." Their eyes flicker back to Kendall. "We're just pulling from different books."

With a look down at Baird afterward, they grin and then go back to minding their steps carefully. "The night I met my partner, I was super self-conscious. Baird was supposed to look natural and he started curling leaves at the ears like a… like a Leafeon, I think they're called." They might not game, but they're not culturally blind to it. "I was horrified, but she took it all in stride. She really loves him, no matter what he looks like."

Again, their mind starts to wander, something sad gradually fading into their expression. "She's… she's great like that." It takes them a moment to realize and blink back to the moment. "A-anyway, my point is, just because something might be derivative doesn't mean it isn't yours, if you add a bit of you to it."

"Like starship butterflies!" Seren laughs.

When Seren starts going all misty eyed over someone, Kendall tries hard to repress a smile. Aww, isn't that cute.

"Yeah, well. Video games have visuals, I took the easy way out." A pokeball appears in his hand and he brings out the aforementioned Leafeon. "Books, though, yeah. If it's a good enough visual description, easy enough too." The Leafeon bounds around them in a circle, then disappears in a flurry of leaves.

"But that's great that you found someone who's ok with you being you, if they weren't that would be a major red flag. Not… that I'm a good person for relationship advice." Cough. "At any rate, yeah, embellishing what's already there is easy enough. I have a ton of media I can pull from, books, comics, video games, movies, and best of all, the internet." He pulls his phone out and scowls at it, however. "…when it's available." Sulk. "Wonder if a technopath could just, like… always be connected, that'd be a cool power."

Seren wrinkles their nose when Kendall disparages himself, intending on saying something, but perhaps the way they're captivated by the tiny fantastic creature that comes to life in his palm speaks better than that could. They lose track of what they were saying, hand pausing in petting the cat in their arms.

"The internet," they finally say; knowingly, sympathetically. "Someone out there must. But that's some power— to reach satellites? Or even a fraction that far, to just— connect to something even terrestrially distant…" Seren shakes their head. "That must feel incredible."

The new growth of rebuilt Jackson Heights rises to greet them, Roosevelt Island left behind. Baird lets out a huffed sigh. They were that much closer to home now.

"Probably for the best that I can't upload my brain to the internet. I'd never leave." Kendall laughs. "Plus, considering some of the stuff you can find there, uh… I'd like to keep what little innocence I have left, thanks." he keeps his phone out for the moment, then looks back over at Baird since his cat is too busy being cute for Seren this time.

"Yeah, I bet. Lots of cool abilities out there nowadays. But hey, we're pretty cool too right?" he grins at the other, then glances back at Baird again, noticing the sigh. Kendall tilts his head, and a husky shows up near the griffin, only seemingly made out of silver and obsidian, with sapphire eyes. "Sadly…" he snaps a picture of the two of them with his phone, and checks the picture. "…nothing I can do shows up." Does Baird? "Oh sorry… should've asked first."

The approach to Jackson Heights isn't commented on, since Williamsburg is nearby anyway. The gleaming husky barks and wags his tail, rose quartz tongue lolling out. The cat makes a disgruntled noise and Kendall snickers.

The tufts of feathery ears lift up on Baird's head, his focus on the metallic and mineral dog that appears beside him. They're a whole menagerie now, this group of people. He looks surprised, and that expression is what's captured on the camera, even if he seems to be looking at nothing.

"S'all right. There's plenty of people who take pictures of him. He's too pretty not to." Seren grins as Baird turns his head their way to huff haughtily, leading them to enthuse, "It's true! Not a single bad look."

Their imaginary friend quirks his head a little harder at them, something unspoken passing between them. Seren lets out a laugh. "Okay, you're right, except the once."

The cat in their arms has its ears scritched before they slowly let it down to the ground. "We are pretty cool," they agree belatedly. "Wouldn't have us any other way."

Kendall is quiet as he looks at the picture of Baird alone on his phone, smiling a little sadly. "Yeah, you're lucky that Baird is so photogenic. The fact that mine don't even show up makes my first career choice a bust. Originally I wanted to join the film industry, can you imagine being able to make special effects for movies? Costumes, creatures, settings?" He reaches over to pat the dog's head, and looks over at Baird consideringly. "Possible for you though, if that ever interested you."

Once the cat is back on the ground, she stretches and extends her wings, closing them with a soft snap and turns to stare at Baird and the dog.

"Being able to fool technology would've been super helpful for…" Kendall trails off and shakes his head quickly, stashing away his phone. "Things." is added after a moment. Yay for vagueness.

Doing something with media isn't a thing Seren had ever considered before, and it takes them a moment to figure out what they feel about the idea. Baird seems just as pensive before bounding forward ahead of the group and spreading his wings to take off again.

He shrinks after taking flight, smalling up to gangly-kitten-size again in short order.

"I don't think anything I do is consistent enough to ever be useful like that," Seren admits quietly. "What I do, when I try to force something instead of just letting things kind of… happen… everything can get sort of…"

They wobble their head a moment, not qualifying that with words. The strain it puts on their ability is hard to describe. "Things just kind of happen as my mind goes from one thing to the next. Focus too hard on trying to make something happen, and it's just frustrating for everybody involved, more often than not."

"Oh yeah. I guess spontaneity doesn't work well with a script. In this case, having a good imagination would be a detriment." A light shrug, and Kendall looks up at Baird when he shrinks and takes off. "Ah well, guess neither of us were destined to be celebrities, unless it was one whose entire purpose is to show The Magical Adventures of Baird. Call it an unreality show." Snicker.

There's a brief moment of silence from Kendall as they walk along while he thinks of something or other. "So what's Raytech like, anyway?" Well that's random. "It's possible I might end up working with you guys." Hks gaze goes to the beanie Seren is wearing. "Dunno yet though. Things are a little busy and I haven't had the chance to talk with people, like my boss and your boss."

An involuntary burst of laughter comes from Seren while they watch Baird. "An unreality show," they murmur, biting back a grin. The kitten-gryphon overhead begins to streamer tiny bits of sparkles from his wingtips overhead.

They content themself with that. They could make good TV after all, maybe. Didn't have to fit in a single box. Silver linings, perhaps?

Kendall's question pulls them out of their own thoughts, brow lifting. "What's Raytech like?" The echo is more curious this time. "I mean, Raytech is pretty varied in what they do… I've been lucky enough to work on some cross-functional projects, but my focus is on architecture. Most of the fun science stuff is out of my wheelhouse," they admit with a grin. "Sometimes I'll get asked to help submit sketches for a concept unrelated to that— like the Mantises— but that's not what I got hired for."

Seren remarks with a bit of wry humor, "But I imagine you don't mean miss Valerie when you say 'my boss', though." They clasp their hands behind their back while they walk. "Do you work for some kind of tech provider? A consultant group?"

When his comment makes Seren laugh, Kendall grins in reaction, pleased. That was pretty clever, wasn't it. Ahem.

The cat, meanwhile, goes on alert at the sparklers from Baird and leaps up into the air to chase them. Shiny + sparkly = a good time!

"Architecture? I had a different idea of what goes on at Raytech, I guess." Who even knows what kind of things Kendall came up with. "And oh, uh, actually I work for SESA. But I'm friends with Robyn and she told me she liases… liaisons? Lias-something, with you guys." There's a slightly puzzled frown as he tries to figure out the correct way to verb that word, and shrugs it off. "She suggested I take over for her while she's off on her mission, though I'm just a trainee so I don't think it's quite that simple."

And now the name dropping. Hearing Valerie's name brings a slight grimace to his expression. "You work with Valerie, huh. How's she doing, anyway… I haven't seen her in years." And here comes the guilt. Kendall sighs and stares down at the ground as they walk now.

Seren's brow lifts when Kendall describes his profession. "SESA, wow," they remark. "Wait… Robyn's leaving?" That's surprise, maybe even disappointment. They've not seen her for a while now. "Well, I hope she's doing okay, that everything goes well and she comes back…"

They truly have no idea.

When the topic circles back to Valerie, they cheerfully are just as oblivious there. "Miss Valerie? I think she's doing good. We don't get to see each other too often with her work in Detroit lately, but we keep up." They look to Kendall with a beaming smile. "She did the designs for the Jackson Heights Campus originally— all the accessible architecture is her handiwork. I'm really glad I get to work with someone like her, and that she took the chance on me."

"I think part of it was because she's enamored with Baird," Seren admits with faux-wryness— joking entirely— "but I'm glad she saw the merits in me, too. Raytech in general has been just…" A breath escapes them abruptly, blinking rapidly. "They've been super supportive, have never tried to put me in a box or tell me that professional needs handled a certain way… it's, um…" They force another smile, this one more sheepish. "Miss Valerie and Richard have really looked out for me."

They scrub a hand to their cheek as they add in a mutter, "Especially after what happened on the Detroit trip last year…" But they just sigh at that.

“Well some sort of mission, not sure how long she’ll be gone, she wouldn’t say. Something super secret, it seems. One of these days I’ll get to go do stuff too. But I’m pretty sure this’ll just be a temporary thing.”

And no, no they don’t.

When Seren latches on to the subject of Valerie, Kendall falls silent, listening to Seren talk in what seems to be a reversal from how it’s gone so far. “Heh… I think I see why she liked you, she’s always been like that.” He's still looking down at the ground as they walk along, and the calico comes flying down away from Baird to perch on his shoulder, turning to stare over at Seren.

Upon the mention of Detroit, however, Kendall blinks and looks up, then over at Seren. “Heard about that on the news, I was further south than that, but geez. Bad shit. You were there? You’re either really lucky, or really unlucky, depending on how you think of it.” Kendall won’t comment beyond that since it seems like it might not be a pleasant subject.

"A… little bit of both," Seren admits, lifting their eyes to Baird who continues to glide, leaving waves of quickly-dispersing sparkles behind him. "We were safe, in Raytech Tower. Then, um, when everything broke, we saw on TV people just outside the building."

"It was second nature— I went to tell people to take cover. I left the shelter. I left the building. Miss Valerie chased after me once she realized I was gone, just appeared right beside me when I came up to the plaza." Eyes half-lidding, they admit, "It… it was complicated. I thought they were performers. It turned out to be a hostage situation. One thing after another happened, and…"

Seren falls quiet for a moment before looking off to the side. "People were getting hurt, so I— tricked the person doing the hurting. Made them believe they had what they needed, and it was long enough others were able to take them down— stopped the abyss from opening in the sky."

"You tell me— lucky or unlucky." Their hands shove deep into the pockets of their jacket. The troubled look they wear gives away that their own feelings on the matter or complicated. "It was the first time I'd ever made what someone else wanted real. But I was panicked. That girl, Claire, she didn't deserve what was happening to her. So I…"

They trail off with a pained hum. "I don't know."

"Hmmmm." Kendall lets out a sharp exhalation as he thinks it over after hearing Seren's story. "You're right, that does sound complicated. Bad luck for you, great luck for everyone you saved." A bright grin is sent in the other's direction. "You're a hero, from the sound of it!"

The word hero is accompanied by jazz hands and sparklers everywhere, along with a phantom cheering crowd.

"Sounds like you did your best and came out on top!" Of course, Kendall doesn't know the particulars, but it doesn't make his declaration any less genuine. "That's exactly what I'm talking about! Using these powers we've ended up with to save the world. It may not be the whole world, but you never know what you can do until you try!"

Oh goody, Kendall is fired up again.

It's with confusion that Seren looks back up. A confused laugh leaves them. Wait, what? A big damn—?

The addition of the sound effects drives home Kendall's point quite well.

They don't want to kid themselves that what they did saved the world or anything, but even for how tense and upsetting everything went, maybe they really should stop trying to deny that everything at least came out net positive in that confrontation. As self-doubt threatens that thought, Baird comes soaring from above to land with a thump against Seren's chest, like his tiny kitten form can bat the negative feeling away and take roost instead. In essence, he succeeds— his summoner draws their arms around him to hold him to themself and allow his wings to fold and nestle against him.

"You're right," Seren admits. "It's better to try than have done nothing at all. I should be proud of what I did do… no matter if it's making someone smile, or…"

They laugh sheepishly. "Whatever that was." They look down at Baird, silver-limned eyes meeting his warm amber ones.

"Hopefully you get things worked out with SESA," Seren segues lightly, petting the gryphon's head. "I'm sure you'd have a good time out at Raytech."

“See, Baird agrees with me.” Kendall gestures to the creature. “I don’t know whatever ‘that’ was but it sounds like you made a huge difference. Own up to it and accept everyone’s gratitude, whether they thank you personally or not. I’m not exactly sure what went down but from what you’ve said, there could’ve been a lot more people who would have lost loved ones if you hadn’t. You kept more people safe that would’ve otherwise died.”

And that is all Kendall has to say on the subject, it’s up to Seren whether or not to believe him on it.

“Well as for SESA, I can’t say I’ve had much to do with it yet. No explosions or excitement.” What Kendall was expecting, who knows. “Regardless, I’ve got a lot to learn.” Pause. “Including going back to school.” Now that Kendall does NOT sound enthusiastic about.

Seren continues to stride forward until they hit a crosswalk they need to pause for finally, the menagerie forced to wait their turn before moving forward again. Baird climbs up onto their shoulder eventually, the shape of him seeming just as likely to shift again— and his coat already has, sparkling at the tips of his fur, colors warming.

"School's not all bad," they commiserate to Kendall. "You need new people. Get challenged with new ideas, new opportunities…" Seren smiles as they look to him. "If you play your cards right."

Slipping their hands back into their coat, they let out a sigh and look to the road yet ahead of them. "Well, I'm off back to campus for now. This has been enough excitement for me for one day. Maybe we'll see each other again? Sooner rather than later, if your work thing works out?"

“Yeah, that’s true. At least I’m not being forced into it. Though I got a lot of catching up to do, I never graduated high school due to erm… extenuating circumstances that are a bit more unusual than just a war starting but whichever.” Kendall shrugs and glances about. “Yeah, sure.” he flicks his hand and a card appears with some numbers on it. “Here’s my cell phone if you ever wanna get in touch again.” the numbers will stay correct so long as Seren associates them with Kendall, though bets are off if Seren imagines it to anything else. “Anyway seeya!” then Kendall turns and goes off towards Williamsburg.

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