Intruding Elements
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    After a short warm up under the professor’s demand, Anna bounced on her soles and clapped her hands. “Alright, so what should I do?”

    “I don’t really know.” A spectacled Mr. Robert replied. “I don’t have pre-planned tests for that kind of thing, I just know I want to have a general ballpark for your new abilities. Hmm…” His gaze circled around the room, before settling on a twisted metal pipe, in the box of destroyed remains of the portal. Taking it, he tossed it in her direction. “How about you straighten that thing for starters?”

    Anna looked at it for a moment, took note of its girth and make. Well, she had seen people manage to bend metal like this, but they were specifically trained bodybuilders, not meek girls with noodle arms. Still, it didn’t hurt to try. She took one end in each hand, then pulled in the direction opposite the bend, her hands shaking in effort and a groan escaping her mouth… And to her greatest surprise, she did eventually see the pipe straighten slowly under the pressure. She looked at it, amazed at her own feat of strength. It was nothing superhuman, but it definitely wasn’t an act that fit her current carrure.

    Mr. Robert shared the shocked feeling with an astonished look of his own. “That is definitely special.”

    “Yeah…” Anna absentmindedly replied. “Think if I actually exercised it’d get even stronger?”

    He fiddled with a dial on the side of his visor for a moment while intently looking at her, then shook his head to the negative. “Not to any discernible degree. This isn’t just a plain boost in power, it’s more akin to a reorganizing of your muscles into a more feline-human hybrid disposition. You’d be surprised at how much strength a tiger can pack relative to its size, for example.” He paused for a moment. “Point is, strength building exercises would only up this by a fraction of where you’re already at.”

    “...To be honest... I wouldn’t have exercised even if it could’ve impacted it anyway.” Admitted Anna, looking away and biting at a claw. “Apparent muscles, it’s just… Not me.”

    “We all have desires for what we want to look like. Nothing wrong with wanting some things but not others.” The professor said, leaning down on a chair. “Take me for example, when I was your age I wanted to grow a beard. Now as to whether I’m here yet…” He continued, running his palm over the few odd hairs on his chin. “Could your Qelhatat offer me a lion’s mane, maybe?”

    Anna stifled a laugh and shook her head, before stopping for a moment and actually thinking about it. “I guess I’ll need to ask her…” She then added “If I survive tonight.” in a meeker tone.

    “Hmm.” Mr. Robert straightened himself, then changed the topic. “How high can you jump? Think you can reach the ceiling?” He asked, pointing up.

    She looked up and evaluated the height. The ceiling was about in par with the one in the corridor, which made it significantly higher as this room was one floor lower. Still, looking at the lamp hanging up there, it seemed  like she could give it a shot, and even a bad fall afterwards wouldn’t be too awful. 

    She nodded, took a breath and tensed her legs, then pushed as fast as she could to bounce up… Only to find herself in a direct collision course with the ceiling. Quick reflexes saved her as her hands took the brunt of the shock, but she then found her claws having instinctively dug into the concrete, leaving her to dangle there for a moment.

    “Huh… Little help?” She tentatively asked, before feeling her claws slip and gravity taking hold of her once more.

    The professor grunted as he ran to come catch her, then once more as she fell into his arms. “Woah there! Are you okay, kid?”

    Anna glanced up at her savior, eyes affluter, and… Felt nothing. Beyond the normal gratitude that is. And she was thankful for that - in some ways, this was confirmation that she wasn’t randomly falling in love with anyone even mildly kind to her, and that her feelings for Sam and Lucie were something else. ...Uh, the fact she even needed that confirmation sounded to her ears like unresolved anxiety. “Oh gosh... Thank you professor.” She replied as she hopped out of his grasp.

    He replied with a simple nod, crossing his arms. “No problem. I should’ve thought a bit longer before making that test, don’t want you to get hurt. Means we’re not gonna check whether you always land on your feet either.” He sighed. “I really underestimated how high up you were gonna be able to jump… I gave the ceiling as a point of reference, didn’t think you were gonna reach it, even less so effortlessly.”

    “Tiger muscles, eh…” Anna muttered, scratching the back of her head and looking away.

    “Yes. Tiger muscles is a fine way to summarize it.” He replied.

    Their gazes suddenly jerked to the door as they heard something rattle inside its lock. Mr. Robert quickly gestured Anna to hide.

 

    It was a peculiarly recognizable set of heels Anna heard clacking down the stairs. The vice principal appeared at their end, directing herself in a straight line towards the professor with barely restrained anger, fists curled and arms swinging with controlled restraint. “Where are you been for these past three days, skipping your classes!? Did you really think we wouldn’t hear of it!? An entire class of loitering seniors isn’t something we would miss!” She screamed, spittle jumping out of her glossed lips. “I hope for your sake you have an explanation for this!”

    Mr. Robert immediately jumped on the defensive, his hands doing a little appeasing handwave as he took a step back, hoping for the vice principal not to turn her head towards Anna, who took the moment to retreat in the shadows against the staircase. “Well, as you know, I’ve been working on some improvements for the boiler, but… There was an accident and I had to focus on it, lest it blew up, you see.”

    Her gaze hardened, piercing through the professor’s aloof demeanor. “Do not take me for a fool, Morgan. We’ve given you the privilege to use this room as you wish, and we can take it away if you continue to shirk your duties. Am I clear?” She pivoted on her feet before he had any time to respond, and her head stopped as she caught the silhouette of a teen hidden underneath the stairs. “Now what in the blazes...!?”

 

    Anna immediately hightailed it, jumping straight up and slipping over the stair’s ramp, hurtling out of the scene with her heart beating out of her chest. “Get back here this instant!” She heard behind her as she slammed the door and continued her escape, ears and tail carefully concealed by her hoodie.

    It didn’t take long to lose her pursuer and hide in the toilets. She waited in silence for a few minutes, her heart pounding. She quickly realized she’d left her bag and phone in the lab, though… That was really bad. After making sure the coast was clear, she left her hiding place and directed herself to the front gate of the school so she could loiter for an hour or so, just to let some time pass before going back to fetch her stuff without risking a new encounter with the vice principal too much.

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