Late fall through to the last few weeks of winter was Raz's least favorite time of the year. It was like the entire world slowed to a crawl as the circus made its way south, performing fewer and fewer shows the closer it got to the end of the year, and then stopped dead all together when they reached the town they wintered in. Seeing the same place day after day instead of waking up in a new town every week didn't need to be a bad thing-he would be perfectly happy to stay at Whispering Rock for months without ever leaving the campground, for instance-but that required it to be a place that wasn't completely dismal. Something the town completely failed at.

It was a bleak gray place, just a little too far north to be at least warmish through most of the year, but also just a little too far south to at least get the type of snowy landscapes that got plastered all over holiday cards and could be used to build forts and have snowball fights when the weather was miserable. There wasn't anything interesting to do in it to make up for the lack of interesting scenery; it was the type of place that was called a town only by virtue of a half-mile stretch of shops and one fast food restaurant that were just barely clinging to life along the main road with a cluster of houses around them. It was the type of place where almost every citizen had to commute half-an-hour to the nearest real city to get to work. It was the type of place where their tiny circus's arrival was always the biggest event of the year, at least judging by the crowds they always drew without even giving a show.

It was also the type of place that was twenty miles from the nearest body of water that was higher than waist deep, which was the whole reason Raz's great-grandfather had chosen it as their home base. He'd strongly believed that spending more than a day or two around any lake, river, or community swimming pool bred complacency that would lead to their family not being appropriately wary around them.

Then he'd managed to drown himself in a bowl of soup after falling asleep in it face-first, but at ninety-five everyone had to agree that he'd been pretty damned good at avoiding the family curse.

The really sad thing was that even the people in the town freely admitted how much it sucked all winter long. Every year they'd have people telling them that they should really stop by in the summer some year, or stay later in the spring, or come earlier in the autumn so they could see how much nicer the area was when there were leaves on the trees, blue skies, and sunny days. They'd point out how their annual Fourth of July fireworks display won best in the county year after year, or how people came from miles around to visit the haunted house run out of one of the local farms in October. Raz didn't need to use his powers to realize that they were mostly bragging because they were embarrassed that the only interesting thing around in the winter was the circus itself.

He thought they really should just be glad that his dad let anyone in town who wanted to come watch for free as the circus practiced and came up with new routines.

Raz missed the way it had been when he was a little kid sometimes. Back then he'd actually liked the months they'd spent in town. It had been nice to get to know kids who were his own age, and exciting when everyone got together to bang out new acts to enthrall crowds around the country once spring came.

That had changed when he became a Psychonaut. He was fine during the working year; there was always a ton to do while they were on the road, and he actually got a chance to hang out and have fun in the various towns they passed through ever since his dad had stopped forcing him to practice during every spare minute of the day. But when he was forced to stay in one place day after day, month after month, he wanted to use the time to work. He wanted to go on missions, save the world, have totally awesome adventures!

But Lili's stupid father had to go and keep it from happening. It didn't matter that Raz had saved the lives of everyone at Camp Whispering Rock back when he'd only been ten. It didn't matter that he'd almost single-handedly helped Coach Oleander work through his mental issues so he could be redeemed. It didn't matter that the greatest Psychomaster in history had been the one to induct Raz into the Psychonauts, or that his very first mission as part of the team had involved saving Mr. Zanotto himself. All that mattered to him was that Raz had been ten then, was sixteen now, and he wouldn't accept any underaged agents no matter how good they were at kicking mental ass.

When he was at camp during the summer it didn't matter. He was one of Ford's secret agents, just like Sasha and Milla except even more secret since they couldn't reveal the missions he'd been on after the fact. But that was only when camp was in session, and at no other time; it would be too suspicious for him to still be hanging around when all the kids were supposed to be gone. It was even starting to get suspicious for him to be there at all when every other camper was at least a few years younger than him. Dogan was the only one from Raz's first year at Whispering Rock who still came every year; even Lili's family had decided to find another way for her to spend her summers after she turned fourteen.

If anyone ever actually asked about why he was still coming, Oleander had a laundry list of reasons already prepared to give them. Raz needed more training than most kids because he had so much power. Raz had gotten such a late start that he needed a few extra years of training to make up for it. Raz knew the campgrounds backwards and forwards, would bend over backwards to assist the counselors when they needed an extra hand around, and was such a big help with the younger campers that they were glad to have him around as long as he wanted to keep coming.

Raz would be so glad when he finally turned eighteen. Sasha and Milla had already promised to take him to pass the official Psychonauts recruitment test for his birthday so they could end the whole stupid act.

Milla was the person who was the greatest comfort to him when he got sick to death of having nobody outside of the camp and his family recognizing his contributions to the cause. She was the one who pointed out that all his years of extra training would put him way ahead of everyone else his age, who stopped bothering with any real training after a couple of years at Whispering Rock taught them enough control to avoid any psychic accidents. Most adults who joined the Psychonauts were practically forced to specialize in whichever one or two powers had interested them enough as kids to keep practicing them on their own. By the time they were old enough to join up their minds had lost the flexibility of childhood; although they could learn new abilities, could even master them with enough time and effort, it took so long to gain any real skill that most people just worked with what they already had.

Not so for Raz. He'd never stopped training, never allowed any of the skills he'd learned to stagnate. His down-time during his summers at Camp Whispering Rock were spent learning every last thing he could wring out of the counselors, and he wouldn't let himself get out of practice in any way during the seasons spent with his family. It would be too embarrassing to face Ford and the rest of the team if he couldn't hold a person's mind confused for as long or use clairvoyance to see through their eyes for as far as he could the year before just because those weren't skills that he needed to use often with the circus. They tried not to let him know just how overloaded his skill-set was getting to be compared to other members of the Psychonauts-he'd been deep enough in Sasha and Milla's minds in the past to pick up that they were worried if he knew just how far he'd shot past other psychics his age it might go to his head, even if it had reached a point where it was as much a matter of his unique education as it was of his natural ability-but he had a collection of every issue of True Psychic Tales since before he was born and it was easy to pick out who had mastered what if you specifically kept an eye out for what they used most often and with the most power behind it.

Knowing that did help, just like Milla had expected. Every time he started to feel like he couldn't wait another day, every time he did something completely awesome but didn't get any credit for it with anyone who wasn't already in on the secret, he could comfort himself by imagining the look on Zanotto's face when he saw how good Raz had gotten over the years and realized how useful he could have been on the field all that time.

But that still didn't keep him from desperately wanting to do something useful with his down-season. To do the job he'd been born to do.

Which was why, when his dream one night was suddenly interrupted by Cruller appearing and telling him, "Get up, Razputin! We need you to help-" Raz was awake and leaping out of bed before Ford even had a chance to finish his statement.