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A Generation 2 Whateley Academy Adventure

I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore

by ElrodW and Nagrij
(with help and contributions from the usual suspects)

Part 4

 

 
Thursday, September 8, 2016- Lunchtime
Sam Everhart's Office, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy

Everhart sat quietly at her desk, her face carefully schooled to be as neutral as possible; she watched as the Japanese girl walked in and bowed formally towards her. Only then did Sam rise to return the bow. "Thank you for coming so quickly, Miss Myoujin." The older woman waved at a long secure case on the desk as she sat back down, and continued. "A courier brought this for you and Mr. Ono." She raised an eyebrow. "I am curious enough to ask why it was delivered here, and not to central receiving."

The girl, Hikaru, tilted her head and smiled. "It was suggested to me - strongly - that the courier should deliver it here. Your department has to register weapons, no?"

Sam frowned a bit as she nodded. "Yes. And log appropriate certifications from on-campus authorities that you are trained and competent in the use of said weapons."

"The package contains our blades as well as our certifications of ability. My mentor thought it would be best to deliver both to you so both registrations could be done at the same time as they were delivered."

"Logical. Although you realize that the PE department will insist on validating any certifications from an outside body. It is their responsibility to do so."

The girl frowned slightly, as if having Whateley instructors question the competence of the certifiers arranged by the Imperial household was an insult; the Imperial House hired none but the very best. "Hai," she replied after a momentary pause, during which she no doubt considered her place at Whateley compared to her place in Japan.

Hikaru tapped a code into the panel on the case, and then, surprisingly, let it take a sample of her blood. With a few mechanical clicks and whirs, the case opened like a book and the girl took out a file.

"I believe this is what you need, Admiral Everhart?" Hikaru inquired as she handed the woman a file. Sam flipped through it, her eyes stopping at several lines, causing her eyebrow to rise.

"It is." The head of security put the file aside, noting that Hikaru had two additional copies, likely for her and Ono.

"However, Mr. Ono will have to report to Security, I believe, due to ...." She trailed off, looking at the younger girl. "Your government - or mentor - has considered our requirements, so no additional paperwork will be required to register the weapons. However ..."

Hikaru realized slowly what the Admiral was getting at. "We will need to demonstrate proficiency to be allowed to carry the blades?"

"Yes. Please take a copy of your training certifications to Genevieve Beaumont in the PE department. She'll arrange testing ..."

Hikaru stiffened. "We were tested by the Imperial ...." she started to object firmly.

Admiral Everhart's glare cut off the protest. "But this isn't the Imperial House, Miss Myoujin, is it?" she countered just as firmly. As a bead of sweat trailed down the the girl's neck, her eyes refused to meet Sam's as Hikaru shook her head in agreement. Sam let a faint hint of a smile return to her features. "No matter how highly sponsored a student may be, Whateley has rules about weapons certification, and you will follow them. Understand?"

"Hai," The girl nodded, a little chastised.

"It is entirely possible, dare I even say probable, that when she reads your training certifications, Ms. Beaumont will accept them at face value and forego further testing. But that's her choice, not mine. I would suggest you call her as soon as possible to arrange a meeting with her."

"Hai." Hikaru smiled a bit crookedly. "Also, Ms. Everhart, I was told that regarding Kurenai ..." the RA was stopped by a raised hand.

"Your government sent information to me about your virtual assistant." Sam leaned back in the chair she was sitting in, scowling as she studied the girl. "I am not pleased they would not supply us with her command codes, nor am I happy that she's a full military-grade infiltration and intelligence support AI." Snapping herself forward, she looked Hikaru in the eye, a grim, determined look on her face. "This is your only warning, Miss. Myoujin. Given your government's ... insistence ... and status as a key ally, we have agreed to make an exception on our rules regarding advanced expert systems for her."

"Hai."

"We vigorously enforce the laws regarding her and her sisters, and contrary to her likely base programming, when it comes to cyber-security on this campus, the philosophy of 'If you ain't cheatin, you ain't tryin' is most definitely not allowed." Before she could finish, a communication request pinged her.

With a frown, Sam accepted the request, and a hologram of a kunoichi in a short yukata appeared on her desk. It seemed, if possible, that the AI seemed a bit hurt at the implications Sam had stated.

"Cheating only applies to the enemy, Everhart-sempai," the holographic figure explained politely. "I would never hurt my human. If I were to do as you implied, it would result in adverse consequences for her. She would not learn what she needs to learn, nor do what she needs to do. That would be counter to my purpose."

Everhart paused, nodding once and replied to the seemingly humble AI. "By now, I'm sure you're quite aware of who and what I am, Kurenai." She received a nod from the holographic image. "Keep that in mind and stick to your purpose, and we shall have no trouble."

"Hai!" With that, the popup disappeared

Sam's attention turned back to the waiting student. Leaning back, the former SEAL studied the young woman in front of her. "I'm not sure if I should envy you, or pity you, Okami, but I think I understand your Kurenai now." Hikaru's eyes flashed down to her wrist, then back to the woman in front of her, who smiled pleasantly. "Having her is like having a very good NCO, I think ... and this is the first time I've actually met a Cortana." Shrugging, Sam stood. "While I doubt she can stop me if she gets out of line, I'd rather not put it to the test if we don't have to. I know she can't stop the cyber-security consultants we have on retainer, former students of Whateley who defeated a Palm and they neutralized Dragon." Sam let that little factoid sink in to Kurenai. "At the very least, she cannot stop me from calling your cousin if she gets out of line." Pausing for a moment, she grinned. "Out of line by my standards, that is."

Hikaru gulped and nodded. Kurenai would have to toe the Admiral's line. "Thank you, Admiral, for being ..."

"No problem. Go eat. On its worst day, the food is better than Bragg at its best." Hikaru stopped for a moment at Sam's statement, then nodded once, and left.


Thursday, Sept 8, 2016 - Afternoon
Clubhouse, Lower-Level Tunnels, Whateley Academy

Brita Bauman, one of the Poe Resident Advisors, smiled to herself as she worked the combination lock for the 'clubhouse', the below-ground warren that served as the headquarters for her organization. Inside, four of the more hard-core members were already engaged in small talk, catching up on their various summer adventures. Brita looked around approvingly, and then she noticed a couple of people absent. "Where's Shana and Angela?" she demanded in a firm, commanding tone that strongly insinuated that she was in charge, which, in fact, she was.

A gorgeous, Hispanic-looking girl with lustrous, long, black, wavy hair spun at Brita's words, and a smile lit her face. "Brita!" she cried happily as she swooped in to give Brita a warm, very friendly hug. "How was your summer?"

Brita returned the hug with an unhurried kiss. "Same as always, Val," she replied casually once the pair broke their lip lock. "Having to deal with a lot of bullshit from the patriarchy."

Valentina Sanchez de Hernandez chuckled, a sweet-sounding laugh. "And how many fights?"

Brita chuckled. "You know me too well," she feigned a complaint. "Four," she replied, which caused Val's eyebrows to rise. "Okay, eleven if you count the ones where the cops didn't show up. But they deserved it!" She realized she was gathering a crowd, which was her intent. "One guy was getting a little pushy with a girl. She said 'no' several times, but he kept on, so I had to teach him a lesson." Some of the group nodded approvingly. "And then the bitch attacked me!" Brita added indignantly. "I saved her from a probable man-scum rapist, and she attacked me like it was my fault, screaming about how I was ruining her night!"

One of the other girls, a tall, lithe brunette with moderate curves, shrugged. "She could have just been playing hard-to-get," she said. "Did you consider that?"

"It sure didn't look like she was playing games to me, Trish!" Brita countered sharply. She looked around. "Anyway, we're not here to talk about my fights." She glanced at Val, who was staying close to Brita. "I suppose you showed everyone the remodeled gym?"

"Yeah," Trisha Loyola, a junior Telekinetic Brick from Whitman cottage, replied eagerly. "I love the fight ring! Whose idea was that?"

"Yeah, and how'd you get Carson to approve it?" asked Samiyyah Karimi - Sami - a nubile, swarthy-complexioned Melville girl with obvious Arabic features to go with her long, silky, dark hair, giving her a very beautifully exotic look. "Before, I mean," she added hastily, since she - like everyone - had heard about the disappearance.

"She didn't," Val replied with a chuckle. "The committee approved a somewhat more ... modest .. expansion. We didn't tell them we were going to have a much larger space excavated for the 'ring'."

"What?" Sami demanded, dumbfounded and goggling. "But ... that's an expulsion offense!"

"Was an expulsion offense," Brita smirked. "Why do you think the entrance is hidden behind the bookcase? And with Mrs. Carson gone, who's going to enforce that stupid rule?" She glanced over her shoulder at the door, ensuring it was secure, and then pulled a memory stick from her pocket. "Gather 'round, girls," she invited as she stepped briskly to the hideout's computer.

"What'cha got?" Fiona O'Callaghan, the so-far silent member of the group, asked curiously. Average height, with flame red hair that hung to the middle of her shoulder-blades in the middle but was close-cropped on the sides, and Irish green eyes, she was a walking paradox. Her figure, easily visible, was stunning, but her clothing and hair style were far from feminine. The purple streak in her hair near her forehead was an obvious sign of rebellion, too.

Brita plugged the thumb drive into the computer as it roused from its hibernation state. "Have a look."

Trish and Sami frowned. "What is this? It looks like ... a list of students?"

"Yup," Brita grinned. "One of our friends in admin got me a list of incoming girls, focusing on those who have a propensity for a good fight."

Sami physically caught Brita's hand as she scrolled, nudging the mouse so the screen backed up. "Who ... are these? An incident ... in New York City?"

The other girls' eyes widened noticeably. "The incident? The one with the FBI and MCO and Homeland Security and the Knights and most of New York City's finest?" Eurydice sounded a little awestruck.

"Yeah," Brita chuckled. "I figured that if they cause that big a shit-storm, they're perfect for recruiting."

"You got anything else on them?" Fiona asked hopefully. Girls who liked to fight really turned her on, and she liked fresh challenges.

"Our friend is getting the police reports for me," Brita replied, still grinning.

Eurydice reached down to move the mouse so a particular picture and name was centered in the screen. "Interesting," she muttered to herself, feeling a little aroused at the sweet, innocent visage in front of her, with some facts listed beside the picture. "Very interesting.


Thursday, Sept 8, 2016 - Afternoon
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy.

Hikaru stopped at the desk she had been directed to, and was greeted by the receptionist. "You may go in, Miss Myoujin. Dr. Cody will be here shortly."

"Thank you." Hikaru bowed and went into Dr. Cody's office, looking around at the pleasant decor. Plants, comfortable chairs, and a setup so that the doctor wouldn't be looking at the student or patient over a desk all indicated a personality that preferred informality and comfort over anything else. Her eyes caught a photo of a family - a smiling red-haired wife and three young children - and her eyes narrowed a bit with a sad look in them, then closed. Opening them again, she picked a chair, deducing that the big oversized chair belonged to the doctor.

Pausing for a moment, she narrowed her eyes once more, more thoroughly scrutinizing the room as she examined it for the second time. Her visual inspection was interrupted when a bear of a man walked in, pausing to study her with a professional but brief visual inspection. Something seemed off to Hikaru; the giant man didn't seem really at home in his slacks, dress shirt and lab coat, but he apparently faked it well.

Before she could respond to the appearance, he spoke up, in a deep bass. "Good afternoon. I'm Dr. Wyatt Cody." He bowed precisely, a gesture that momentarily surprised Hikaru before she regained her composure and returned the formal bow. "I'm not only your academic advisor, but I'm also your psychological counselor. Please sit." He put his own words to action, seemingly falling into the chair Hikaru had figured was his.

Hikaru decided that he wasn't one for small talk and got right to business. "I believe my schedule was already sent to you, along with the one addition ..." She was cut off by Cody raising a hand, reminding Hikaru irresistibly of a paw.

"Yep. I have your schedule request, and the addition. Defensive Driving 100?" Cody's eyebrows arched a bit, as he continued. "You're legally underage for a Japanese driver's license, I understand ... though I somehow doubt that'd be that much of an issue, considering what I've read from your file." He glanced to his side where a thick file rested on a corner of his desk nearest him.

Hikaru's eyes narrowed. "I like driving," she retorted stiffly to the psychologist.

Cody's slight smile didn't waver, and he added, "You'll need a valid license for the class, you know."

"I'll have one by the end of next week," Hikaru asserted confidently. Her tone sounded a bit more arrogant than she realized, and certainly more than the self-assured tone she'd been shooting for.

"Mmm." Dr. Cody's smile didn't waver, and noted something on a tablet he picked up. "That works, I think. Your complete schedule and assessment periods will be e-mailed to you. Now, let's move on to other ... areas of discussion." Pausing for a moment, letting his smile drop, he studied her for a long moment. "I have your complete file, Okami ... or do you prefer Samurai?"

"I ..." Hikaru stopped for a moment, visibly startled at the information that Dr. Cody apparently had read, and with an effort, she gathered herself and continued. "I see. I go by Okami now." Settling her voice, she shot him a very wary - and disapproving - look. "I'm surprised."

"You shouldn't be. How do you want to be treated in here, Okami?" Wyatt leaned back, smiling to himself at her reaction to his simple question, and then he nodded. "I can treat you as the unofficial princess Japan has you listed as ... or I can treat you as who you were before your life was upended, or a mix. It's your choice. What isn't your choice, though, is you being here at least once a week. All things considered, you've got too many things to deal with any other way."

Hikaru paused, and clearly gathered her composure back. "I'm afraid I don't understand, Doctor. I've been ..."

"Coping?" Wyatt interrupted her, shaking his head as she gaped in disbelief. "Maybe. But not healing or dealing with the situations. You know as well as I do that people need teams, Okami ... no, Samurai." Leaning forward in his chair, he clasped his hands together, staring into her eyes. "No one, and I do mean no one, can go through life alone. If you want that driving so you can have some time for yourself, you have to give me some time, so we can work as a team. That means you talk, I listen and ask questions, and we help you get through this mission called life ... or haven't you figured that part out, yet?"

"... I don't need therapy!" Hikaru shot back angrily, scowling heavily.

"I never said that you did. You're not weak." Wyatt nodded as her eyebrows rose incrementally. "Just hosting Amaterasu alone would tell me that, girl. From the rest of what I've seen in your profile and life story? Frankly, I'm amazed that you're still here. I'm man enough to admit that I'm not sure I would be functioning as well as you are." Wyatt then looked her deeply in the eyes. "But even the strongest oak breaks if the wind is too fierce, and the wind's been blowing pretty hard in your life. I've got a bit of knowledge and experience at being a windbreak, someone to listen to you without giving a damn about anything else."

Hikaru paused, carefully controlling her temper. Words kept coming to her tongue, but she bit her tongue and refrained from speaking for a long moment. Before she could speak, though, a mental voice interrupted. *Listen, daughter, listen well, and consider his offer. Everyone needs someone to listen to them, even me.* Pausing, the voice continued. *You might think I can work for that role, if you ever considered it, but ... no, you would always be judging what I say or tell you through the lens of suspicion of my goals, of what I expect of you. This man - do you think he's unbiased, a person with no agenda or expectations of you?*

Pushing away the voice and its distraction, Hikaru blew out a breath and remembered her cousin's words from early summer as well as several others. "Fine. You want me here every week, so I can have my class?"

Wyatt smiled thinly as he nodded. "Yep."

"Very well." Hikaru's tone was clipped and short, as if she was restraining some choice words. "Is there anything else?"

Wyatt leaned back, studying the tense frame in front of him. "No, not today." With that, Hikaru flashed out, causing Wyatt to blink. For a long moment, he studied the place where the girl had been.

"What do you think, Baloo? Deja vu, I think." Wyatt stroked his chin.

*Not quite the same, not quite the same, I'm sure. At least I only had to deal with one overbearing royal, who needed a paw slap on occasion.* the spirit of Kodiak rumbled back.

Wyatt nodded. "And that'll be a problem ... or maybe not. I wonder." Standing up, he pulled off and hung up his lab coat and opened a hidden closet, pulling out a pair of jeans and a polo shirt. "I'm glad that's over with. I know that with someone like her, you have to dress and act the part, but ..."

*You prefer to be honest, and open, yes, but, as you've stated, it's much better to start off establishing your reputation and authority with those who don't know you. Or those who have reason to ... suspect your profession.* The voice was amused.

"Yep." Wyatt's voice was muffled as he pulled on the Polo shirt. "It doesn't help that she's got a double dose of that programming." Shaking his head as he sat back down to pull on his boots, he thought aloud, "And ... well, she'll be a hard case. But the ones who really need me often are." Pausing, he looked at the clock and nodded. "Time to meet the next one."


Thursday, September 8, 2016 - Dinnertime
Village Park, Whateley Academy

"Hey, Laura!" called out the familiar voice that Laura was expecting to hear, prompting her to turn in her seat on the bench. Sure enough, there was Tanya approaching from the north side of the quad, though she seemed to have a few other girls in tow as well. Laura's seatmate also looked up at the lavender-haired girl's voice.

"I take it this is her?" Damon Carpenter asked curiously, before leaning in and whispering in Laura's ear. "She's kind of cute. When you said she was in Whitman, I wasn't really sure what to expect." He grinned just a bit when Laura blushed for her friend's sake, then he stood up to greet the approaching gaggle of girls.

"Hey, Sequoia, how's the weather up there?" he asked the towering redhead in the group with a mischievous grin, apparently already being familiar with her. Laura couldn't help noticing how the older girl rolled her eyes with an amused grin, as though this were a regular occurrence between the two.

"Quite nice today, Mganga," she replied with a lightheartedness that quickly set Laura somewhat more at ease. "And as usual, the view is excellent, completely unimpeded by your bad jokes." Laura couldn't help snickering at that along with Tanya and the other girl who was present, a pleasantly pretty blonde who appeared to have small horns and honest-to-God goat legs beneath her skirt, complete with cloven hooves.. Even the large cat in the odd harness that was walking next to Tanya appeared to be rather amused.

"Hi, Tanya, glad you could make it," Laura finally managed to greet her friend once she had stopped laughing. Then she noticed the curious way that the tall girl, Sequoia apparently, was looking at her, and decided it might be a good idea to start the introductions. She motioned with her arm towards her dark-skinned companion. "This is Damon, one of my floormates in Poe. He's going to the picnic too and decided he would wait with me for you to get here."

Damon gave a polite smile and nod, which in Laura's opinion should have been enough, but then he followed it up with a flourish of his arm and a deep bow at the waist. "At your service, my ladies, and it is certainly my pleasure to meet you on this fine afternoon." The fact that he said this with a reasonably fair impersonation of a British accent was just the icing on the cake, making it Sequoia's turn to snicker while the younger girls each fought to hide a blush.

"Oh, yes, you'll want to watch out for this one, girls," she said to her charges with a grin. "Damon here is enough of a charmer to give even a southern gentleman a run for his money, even if he IS from Denver." Then her eyes turned on Laura with that curious expression again before glancing down at Tanya. "And now, Tanya, how about you introduce the rest of us to your friend here?"

Tanya nodded with a delighted smile on her face. "Everyone, this is Laura. I met her in New York after our connecting flight to Berlin was canceled." She blushed just a bit as she remembered that particular event. "I...kind of ran into her and messed up the makeup she was wearing at the time, but then I tracked her down and apologized and we kind of became friends after that."

Laura gave her friend a smile at that, just to let her know she remembered the incident fondly. Though she had to admit it was kind of cute that Tanya was the one embarrassed by the story, all things considered. Tanya perked up after that with another smile of her own before motioning at her companions.

"And Laura, these are some of my friends from Whitman." She motioned at the redhead. "Sequoia is the senior RA on my floor, but she's pretty cool anyways." She grinned at that little quip before indicating both the blond girl and the cat. "And these are Toison and Shisa."

Laura couldn't help it. She looked down at the cat with a confused expression, only to see it, or rather her, roll her eyes and almost seem to let out a sigh.

"Yes. I am student," the cat replied as Laura felt her jaw drop. She couldn't help noticing that Damon was oddly silent as well. Toison just giggled at that, and for her part, Shisa merely looked amused. "Shall we con-tin-ue?" she asked slowly as she nodded in the direction they had been walking. "Am getting hungry."

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Sequoia replied before she reached out and grabbed Damon's shoulder to playfully spin him around. "Lead the way, good sir."

"Oh, of course, M'lady. Right this way!"

Laura couldn't help smiling a bit as the group started moving, with the two veterans in the lead followed by Toison and Shisa, with herself and Tanya falling back to the rear. Now if only she could get the butterflies in her stomach to settle down.

"I'm glad you're coming, too," she said to her companion as the two strolled easily away from the quad in the wake of the others, down a well-worn path in the general direction of the faculty housing complex. "I'm ... kinda nervous about a get-together with one of the teachers."

Tanya smiled warmly. "I've been around the Wardens long enough to not be intimidated. A friend told me that, since I'm getting older, I have to learn to deal with adults as peers. I would imagine that Dr. Barton is just doing a little extra - maybe to help us grow up a bit?"

Laura contemplated Tanya's words. "Maybe," she replied hesitantly. "But it's still intimidating. I... I never had anyone teach me things like that. With ... Dad ... it was always, 'yes, sir', or 'no, sir', and if he said jump, the answer was 'how high?'" She shuddered at the less-than-pleasant memories. "He ... never cut me any slack, not like my older brothers."

Tanya tried to keep a positive expression, but inside, she felt a twinge of sympathy for her friend's family situation. "I think we're here." She was looking at a few picnic tables in a clearing in the woods, with a large grill tended by the mountain of a man that was their advisor, while around him, a couple of dozen students milled about in conversation or playing Frisbee.

A taller, slender beauty sat almost regally at one of the picnic tables by the grille; her long, dark, silky hair was loose about her shoulders, and her smile seemed permanently affixed to her face. "Hi," she said warmly to the two newcomers. "You must be two of the new freshmen Jake is advising."

Laura gulped. "Yes, ma'am," she replied formally as she shook hands with the woman. "I'm Laura. Laura Samuels." She recognized her from the picture in Dr. Barton's office. "Are you Dr. Barton's wife?" she put forth hesitantly.

"And you'd be the detective Jake told me about, the one who recognized him from all his old pictures of the League," she replied with a smile, but there was something unusual, almost haunted, in her eyes. "He told me he had a new protégé who was going to be a history wiz."

"Um," Laura blushed, "I'm ... I'm a gadgeteer, and I'm not sure ... if I'm interested in history."

The woman chuckled. "We'll see about that. Jake has a track record of getting students very interested in history." She nodded slightly. "And yes, Jake is my husband. He chased me until I decided to catch him. I'm Vanessa Barton."

"Tanya Wright," Tanya added, shaking the woman's outstretched hand. "You ... you were ... Vanity Girl?" she asked almost reverently.

Mrs. Barton's eyes narrowed a bit. "Where would you get that idea?"

Tanya missed the warning signals in Vanessa's tone and eyes. "My ... my mom was with the River City Wardens," she explained, almost babbled in her enthusiasm. "After ...," there was a momentary pause, "well, after, the Wardens kind of took me in, helping my dad raise me. So I learned a lot about hero groups, like the Sioux Falls League." She shook her head. "I ... I was sad to read that the League broke up."

"It ...." Vanessa took a deep breath and sighed heavily. "After that thing got Farm Boy and Ping Pong, and almost killed the rest of us, well, Twinkletoes decided he wasn't getting any younger and quit to go chase his old flame in France. Cornflower's ... partner ... told her that she was done heroing, too. And I decided it was time to retire while I still could."

Laura saw the warning look in Mrs. Barton's eye, the pain that she couldn't mask. "So now you're at Whateley, where Dr. Barton teaches the next generation of heroes?"

Tanya interrupted. "Hey look, Laura, it looks like Vic's here too!" she said excitedly, pointing to where their mutual friend was indeed arriving along with a couple of other boys. Then she glanced back at Mrs. Barton with an apologetic look in her eye. "Uh...sorry for interrupting, I just kind of want to go over and say hi," she explained to Laura and Mrs. Barton as her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "It was nice to meet you. Maybe someday you can tell me more about the League?"

"I think Jake would have better stories than I," Vanessa said. The pain in her eyes was back for a brief moment. "So run along to meet your friend. And I'm sure that when Jake finds out you're sponsored by the Wardens, he'll want to regale you with a lot of his tall tales." She watched as Tanya strode quickly toward the group of students gathered around the grill. "Your friend wants to be a hero, doesn't she?" she asked of Laura.

"I don't know," Laura replied, sitting where Vanessa gestured. "I mean, she was the first to start helping bystanders when we fought Squidley ...."

Vanessa nodded. "I heard about that. So that was your little group?" She gazed intently into Laura's eyes. "What about you? Is heroing in your plans?"

The steely gaze of Mrs. Barton was a little disconcerting for Laura. "Oh, no, ma'am," she stammered quickly. "I ... I got caught up in things. I ... I don't want to be a hero."

"Good for you," Mrs. Barton said approvingly. "Most kids don't realize the high price heroes pay."

"Can I ask you something? Something ... your husband wouldn't tell me the other day?"

It was Vanessa's turn to be intrigued. "Ask away. I can't promise I'll give you an answer, though."

"In the picture, there are two girls who Dr. Barton said are ... very close. Who are they?"

Vanessa stared at the blue girl for a moment. "What cottage are you in?" she asked, startling Laura.

"Um, Poe," she answered, her voice tinged with confusion at the question.

Vanessa nodded knowingly. "Let's take a little walk, okay?" she suggested, but it sounded more like a command. She swung her legs and body away from the picnic table. "Can you be a dear and get me my chair?"

Laura nodded, turning to where the woman's gaze pointed, and her jaw nearly dropped. Sitting a discrete distance from the table was a powered chair. When she brought it to Vanessa, the woman levered herself gracefully, in a well-practiced maneuver, into the chair, manually lifting her legs into the foot supports. She read the stunned expression on Laura's face. "Yes, dear," she explained to the confused girl, "this is why I retired."

"But ... regen? Healing?" Laura stammered.

"Don't work," Vanessa said sadly. "It was the same ... thing ... that got Farm Boy and Ping Pong. Something demonic and they suspect mythos-tainted. Regen and healing don't work." She tried to smile. "It's hard to be a hero when you're paralyzed from mid-back down." Without another word, she directed the chair away from the table, toward a small fountain and pond a ways from the gathering. Laura followed her, not knowing what to say. The two went in silence, curiosity eating at Laura and sadness trying to overwhelm Mrs. Barton. She halted her chair and stared off across the pond, a profoundly sad expression on her pretty features. "This ... messed up a lot of our plans." She sighed heavily. "We were going to retire a year or two ago, and then ... then we'd have ...." Her voice cracked and she fought a futile battle against tears. "Some things aren't to be, I suppose," she said with a visible effort to recompose herself.

"I'm sorry that happened," Laura said, not knowing what else to say.

Mrs. Barton patted her hand affectionately. "You ... didn't know," she said. "Very few do." She pasted on a smile. "So let's talk some about you. I know, from years of being friends with Cornflower and Pejuta, that there are two reasons you'd be in Poe," Mrs. Barton said to the silent freshman girl. "The first is that you prefer girls. The second is that you had a rather ... shall we say, extreme ... change when you manifested." She smirked at the stunned expression on Laura's face. "Yes, I know the secret, but only because my two dear friends trust me, and they both know that I can keep a secret. You see, Cornflower - Debra - has the first reason. And her ... lover, Pejuta, has both."

"Um ...." Laura stammered, remembering the admonition to keep Poe's secret, and confused that Mrs. Barton knew.

"I take it you prefer girls?"

Laura blushed again, looking down in embarrassment. "Yeah," she admitted softly. "And ...."

"Ah, I see. So you're like Pejuta, then." Vanessa Barton clutched Laura's hand, startling the blue girl. "I would guess that when you saw the picture, you could see their mutual attraction, and that they adore each other and love each other very, very much? And perhaps you wondered ... if maybe someday you'd find someone like that, and if the world would let you have a relationship like theirs?"

Laura winced, nodding. "Um, yeah," she admitted sheepishly. In a way, she was grateful that Vanessa seemed to recognize and understand, and hearing about the older woman's two friends was reassuring.

Vanessa laughed softly and pleasantly. "The world isn't fair," she said, "but if you have courage, you can succeed." She squeezed Laura's hand. "The two of them spend most of their time in New York City, modeling of all things. Some parts of the city are less ... hostile ... to gay people. It's not much, but it's a start." She held the girl's hands tightly. "Chase your dreams, dear. Chase them with everything you have, before they fly out of reach. If that means you have to be brave to deal with other people's - or society's - prejudices, then pray for the strength, but don't wait too long. Or your dream might be out of your reach."

"No, ma'am," Laura said cautiously.

Vanessa smiled and gestured to a large rock by the pond. "Sit, if you'd like." For some reason, she really liked this blue-skinned girl. "Maybe I can answer some of your many questions about Whateley, and what you might experience here."


Thursday, September 8, 2016 - Dinnertime
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

Tia sat at the table, shooting furtive glances around with blood shot eyes, ears sweeping back and forth quickly. It was clear something was bothering her. Hikaru arrived just behind her, slamming her tray down almost angrily while scanning too.

Bianca's eyes narrowed for a moment. "What happened to you?"

Tia almost seemed to shrink into herself at the question. "Nothing; I'll tell you later, when we're all here. It's something that could matter to all of you."

Erica overheard Tia's comment as she walked to the table. "Well that doesn't sound ominous at all." She set her tray down carefully before sitting down, making sure not to spill any of the piled food, then looked around with a puzzled look. "No Morgana?"

Bianca shook her head. "Haven't seen her since this morning. She wasn't at lunch either, and it's not like her to miss a meal. Haven't seen Tanya or Laura, either.

Bailey's fork stopped, nearly at her mouth. "I don't know about Tanya, but Laura went to some get-together picnic thing her advisor is doing. A cookout in a park by the teachers' residences."

Erica perked up. "A cookout? As in grilled hamburgers?" She was nearly drooling at the thought.

"You and Morgana might like that," Bianca deadpanned, "but I doubt they've could cook enough for the two of you!"

That comment did bring a few grins - the amount that Morgana ate was unusually large for a mage, enough that explaining that yes, she was a mage, not an energizer, had already raised more than a few eyebrows. Along with at least one comment of 'Geez, first assume a spherical mage...'

"Didn't she have power testing this morning?" Vic asked between bites.

Erica frowned a bit deeper at Vic's comment. "Yeah, but that was this morning, wasn't it? Isn't in only supposed to last half a day at most?"

Bianca nodded as she applied herself to her meal. "That's what I heard. Maybe she had to do something after?" She turned toward Hikaru, who was quietly eating and not contributing much to the conversation. "Didn't you have power testing today, too?"

The Japanese girl sighed. "I had more testing this morning," she said, her voice conveying only the slightest hint that she hadn't found the experience enjoyable. "And this afternoon I met with my advisor - finally."

"And?" Vic prodded, curious enough to try to get her talking.

"It was power testing," Hikaru deadpanned. "What else is there to say?"

Erica focused on the girl, trying to read her. "Only the parts that you're not talking about."

Hikaru flinched - barely, a small enough reaction that almost no-one caught the crack in her façade, except Erica, who'd been looking directly at her. "C'mon, spill it. What happened?"

"I was assigned to the classes I desired, including defensive driving."

"No, we mean in power testing!" Vic insisted.

"Oh, that," Hikaru paused to take a bite. "They're basically confirming what the Japanese testing experts already knew and working to assess whether there was any damage from my burnouts. The experts insist that I undergo more testing starting Monday."

"Burnouts? As in, plural?" Erica stammered, goggling at Hikaru.

"Yes, two burnouts. As a result, I will be spending much of this term in testing to determine if I have any residual effects from the ... events." Hikaru returned to eating.

"Eew," Bianca said, wrinkling her nose. "That's gotta suck."

"Maybe Morgana's being tested early for the same reason?" Vic speculated.

"Where is she, anyway?" Erica asked,

"I guess...oh, wait, there she is now." Cally waved to attract Morgana's attention, just in case. The tall girl changed her course to their table, ignoring the curious looks as she slid a piled-high tray in front of her and sat down with a sigh.

"Bad day?"

Morgana nodded as she stabbed a huge helping of meat with her fork. "You have no idea..."

Bianca looked at the tray, then at Morgana. Even for the redhead this was a massive amount of food. "Trying to make Tanya go hungry?"

Morgana took a moment to reply as she swallowed. "I've been in power testing all day, and they didn't feed me. Muppets." The ferocity with which she was attacking her meal made the others wait before trying to get more information. While Morgana normally devoured her meals like a wolf, it was a polite, mannered wolf. This time it was more like a horde of locusts descending on a field. Finally she'd devoured enough to take the edge off her appetite, and gave the group an apologetic smile.

"I'm sorry, guys - not only didn't they feed me, but doing tests and stuff all day made me really hungry."

"What was power testing like?" Bailey asked curiously.

Morgana shrugged, finishing swallowing a burger. "They had all my tests from London, but they were adamant that they had to repeat them all!" she began. "Starting with an extremely intense - and embarrassing - physical!"

Bailey and Bianca gulped nervously, which - from the smirk - looked like the reaction Morgana was trying to elicit.

"Testing isn't really that bad, most of the time.' Tia interjected. "Sure the constant blood tests can suck, but the aside from the pelvic exam it's really no big deal. Morgana is just trying to psych you out."

"Everything is under code-name, by the way, and supposedly protected by all the regulations about doctor-patient confidentiality and so forth," Morgana added, to which Vic and Bianca sighed with relief. "And that included a pelvic exam," Morgana added. If possible, Bianca paled even more than her normal chalk-white skin.

"They took blood samples," Morgana held up her arm, which was dotted with a lot more punctures than would have seemed normal for a physical, "and they did a lot of scans." She wrinkled her nose disgustedly. "Which required one of those open-backed, too-small, drafty-ass gowns!" She took a big bite of mac and cheese.

"Go on!" Erica and Bianca urged.

Morgana continued to attack her food, eating as though she hadn't been fed in a week. Finally, she spoke, her mouth still half-full of the pasty yellowish-orange foodstuff. After swallowing, she washed it down with a big gulp of water. "And they had to test me for regeneration."

"Um, how do they do that?" Bailey obviously hadn't experienced such a test, based on the nervous tone in her voice.

"Simple. They make an incision and then time how fast it heals - if it does." From the twinkle in her eyes, it was clear that she was enjoying telling the tale in a way that made the others progressively more nervous. "Oh, don't worry. It's not that big an incision. Not more than a couple inches long."

Erica slapped Morgana's arm, shaking her head. "You're bad." She looked reassuringly at Bailey. "It's only a small cut, and they use anesthesia, right?"

"That doesn't sound too different from what I did," Bianca commented.

"Then there was a power testing suit that was a latex fetishist's dream! Skin tight, left nothing to the imagination, kind of slick, and covered in sensors - ugh!" Morgana shuddered visibly. "Like a full-body latex glove."

"And I bet you rocked that suit, didn't you?" Erica teased her.

"As if!" Morgana took another gulp of her drink and then gulped another large bite of food. "And then they repeated all of that with me in my dragon form! Because there are physical changes when I shift." She held up her left arm to show the dots of the second set of samples and tests.

"They were actually ecstatic that they had to do all their tests twice! Half their equipment - and they had a lot of it - looked like something you'd see in a bad sci-fi movie about alien abductions and body probes!"

"What'd they find out?" Vic prodded for results. He seemed to be overly-fascinated by power testing - perhaps because he was going to have to undergo his own tests.

Morgana shrugged. "Mostly, they said things were pretty consistent with the tests back home. In normal form, I'm somewhere between an Exemplar-2 and a 3. In dragon form, they said I have some energizer traits - which I could have told them - like a low-level energizer superman. So I'm an energizer, not a faux-energizer like the testers at home thought."

"What's that mean?"

"It's a side effect of the magic I got bound to me," Morgana replied, a brief shudder coursing up her spine as she frowned, but she controlled her emotions almost immediately. "They didn't have the facilities to test it back home, and those boffins in the power labs were like kids on Christmas - with me as their lab rat."

"From the way you said it," Erica observed cautiously, "I'm going to guess that there's a story there?"

Morgana sighed. "That's one way to put it." She shook her head. "I told them I couldn't control my dragons-fire! But would they listen to me? Nooooo! Nobody ever listens to me!"

"So tell us," Bianca prompted.

"They told me the suit I had was heat-resistant suit, so it wouldn't be affected, then put me in a special lab, and had me manifest my dragons' fire."

"And I take it things didn't go so well?"

"That's an understatement," Morgana snorted. "I told them when I thought it was getting out of control, but they insisted that I push it a bit. And I lost control." She flushed a little red.

"And?" Cally, like the others, wanted to hear the good bits.

"And it incinerated their fancy suit and all the sensors, and it nearly overloaded their force fields," Morgana spat. "I told them!"

Morgana looked around, shaking her head as her friends finally succumbed to an attack of hilarity at the relating of her incinerating her clothing. "Geez, you'd think I lost my outfit all the time."

Cally stopped giggling long enough to start counting off on her fingers. "Well, let's see. There was today, and then your clothing got pretty trashed when we fought Squiddly. Any other times you want to tell us about?

Morgana put her best long-suffering look on. "Well, I did burn all my clothes off when I got rescued."

"Three times! In how long?"

Morgana glared at Cally, who obviously wasn't going to give this up. "Two weeks. Happy now?"

Erica nodded, making a grand gesture in Morgana's direction. "Assembled mutants all, I give you - Costume Malfunction Girl!"

Morgana glared at her for a moment. "At least they let me take a shower and get dressed before the magic tests." She noticed that Bianca perked up attentively at the mention of the magic tests. "She had me do the tests, and then again in my dragon form."

"So just tell us, already," Cally giggled, "what went wrong this time?"

"Ms. Grimes had me push magic into a special ball," Morgana explained sheepishly, "and when I did it in my dragons form, it kind of," she winced, "broke."

"So you're breaking all their testing equipment and costumes?"

"Ms. Grimes said I'm not supposed to do any magic in my dragon form until I learn to control it better," Morgana explained. "She's lining me up for more detailed tests."

"That sounds ... interesting," Vic noted cautiously.

"Yeah, goody," Morgana said, disgust in her voice. "I get to play lab rat again." Morgana looked around curiously as she finally finished her dessert.

"So where are Laura and Tanya this evening?"

"I think they're at some sort of social meet with one of their instructors."

"I'll be back in a sec," Morgana said, glancing at her empty plate. "Gotta recharge after all that testing."

Erica stood at the same time. "I'll come with you." She smiled. "I don't think I got enough dessert!"

As the two girls walked toward the stairs, an older girl intercepted them. "Excuse me - you're DragonsFyre, aren't you?"

Morgana turned to look at the girl who'd walked up to them. While she didn't consider herself short, she had to look up at her six-foot height. Not just tall, the girl was built, well solidly.

"Yeah, that's me. What can I do for you?"

"I was hoping to have a quick word." the girl looked at Erica. "Ah, and you would be Eisenmadel? Perhaps you would be interested as well."

Erica looked puzzled as she nodded. "That's me, yes."

"Ah, good. My name is Brita Baumann, but I also go by StahlFaust, I'm a member of the Amazons. We were wondering if you might be interested to finding out a bit more about our group."

Morgana and Erica exchanged quick glances, before Morgana, looking a little confused, faced the girl again. "Amazons? Uh, I don't think I've heard of you, I'm sorry."

"That's quite all right. We're always on the lookout for girls who aren't afraid to fight to help look after other girls. I heard that the two of you did just that in New York." She missed the look on Tia's face, as well as the girl's muttered comment of "I knew it would cause trouble..."

Erica was frowning slightly. <If the group is named after the mythical Amazons, it sounds a bit, well, militant?>

StahlFaust smiled, replying in the same language. "<Ah yes, I heard you were German, too. But perhaps we should keep to English out of courtesy.> she carried on. "As you asked, yes, we are militant where necessary. That's why we thought of you, sometimes it is necessary to fight to protect ourselves and other girls who can't look after themselves. We train hard so that, if necessary, we can fight hard."

Morgana looked thoughtful. "That's very kind of you, but we only just got here. I mean, everything here is still new."

"Oh, I understand. But I'm in Poe too, I'm sure we can have a quiet chat at some point. Indeed" - she smiled at Erica - "we will have a table this weekend after the school picnic; why not look us up and we'll be happy to answer any questions you have. Until then..."

The two girls watched her leave before either spoke.

"Doesn't it seem a bit soon to be rushed by a group like that?" Erica asked, curious about the encounter.

Morgana nodded. "From what I understand, it does seem a bit early. And I'd like to know how she's already found out about New York. It isn't exactly public knowledge yet."

"I wonder why she was only interested in the two of us?"

Morgana shrugged. "Well, she said they were called the Amazons. That rather implies fighting, doesn't it? And the two of us and Tanya were the three who went hand-to-hand against Squiddly."

Without further interruption, the two girls refilled their plates and rejoined their friends at the table, just in time to hear Bianca discussing some kind of altercation. "And security came down hard on Tanya this morning for fighting. Or is it different when it's an official group?"

Morgana look at Bianca curiously. "Hang on, what trouble did Tanya get into? And who was she fighting?"

"Oh, that's right, you were still in Power Testing."

"So what did I miss?"

"Have you heard about the girl from Whitman? The ultra-violent one?"

Morgana wrinkled her brow and thought for a moment. "Raton - or something like that?"

"I think Tanya said her name is Ratel," Erica corrected her. "Anyway, she asked if she could spar with Tanya. Tanya said yes, and Ratel attacked her right then and there!"

"Tanya thought she was talking about later," Bianca added to clarify.

"Anyway, security took them in, and Tanya got detention," Erica finished. "Chores in Whitman, I gather."

"That doesn't sound too bad," Morgana speculated idly.

"From what Mom told me," Bailey chimed in, "the worst thing is to get detention in Hawthorne." She saw the eyebrows raise. "Those kids are out of control or dangerous, and some of the toilets require hazardous waste suits to clean!"

"Eeep!" "Yuck!" "Gross!"

"Yeah," Bailey concurred. "It's a good reason to not get detention." She looked up suddenly as shadows passed over her plate on the table.

Two girls, strangers to the table's occupants, halted by one end of the table, coincidentally enough next to Kenshin.

"Yes?" Hikaru answered before anyone else could speak.

"We went through formal processes to reserve this table," Bianca butted in sharply, obviously tired of upperclassmen - and these newcomers were obviously upperclassmen - making the same snide comments or trying to tell them they were sitting in the wrong spot.

The elfin-girl glanced at the cat-girl and smiled, amused. "Frankly," she said, "we couldn't care less about the table. We have our own - on the top level." Her eyes lifted momentarily toward the top tier of Crystal Hall.

"Oh. Then what?" Cally said carefully. It hadn't taken long for the group to learn to be careful to not antagonize other students.

"We saw you exercising earlier," the elfin girl said to Kenshin. "Oh, where are my manners? I'm Alvery Rosseau, and this is Tina Richardson. We're with the modeling club, Venus Inc., and we wanted to see if you might be interested in our club."

Kenshin frowned, and then looked toward Hikaru, who had a most amused smile on her face. "Ah, not sure I understand. Modeling club?" The boy shook his head. "Not model. Ronin."

Alvery and Tina exchanged unreadable looks, and then turned back to the puzzled boy. "We want to ask you if you'd like to help ...."

"Ah," Kenshin's eyes lit up, and he nodded. "You seek help ... with danger?" He seemed quite eager at the prospect of being a rescuing hero.

Most of the girls laughed aloud or gawked in disbelief at what was transpiring, Bailey even spewing her mouthful of soft-drink, at his naïve view, further confusing the boy.

<Taka!> Hikaru barked in Japanese, her face a strange mixture of amusement and concern. <You have direction - you are not to involve yourself in fights!>

The fire in the boy's eyes died, and a disappointed frown formed. <Hai!> he replied, clearly unhappy. He turned back to the girls. "Sorry. Japan government say I ... not fight. Cannot ... help."

"Fight?" Alvary's goggled at the boy, and then she struggled to control her laughter, a battle which Tina was losing. "We're not talking about fighting," she fought to not giggle. "We want your help modeling!"

Taka stared at the two girls, dumbfounded. "Me ... model?"

Hikaru shook her head. <They don't want you to fight! They think you could be a model with their club. They are asking you if you're interested in being a model!> she smirked, nearly giggling herself.

"Ah," Taka finally said. "But ... not model. Student. Ronin."

"You could be a model," Alvery turned on the charm. "You have the looks and the physique to be a very good male model."

"And we always need male models," Tina practically purred. "You'd be perfect for some of our photo shoots."

"It can pay quite well, too," Alvery added before anyone else could object. "Won't you think about it?" Her voice was smooth as honey as she turned on her considerable feminine wiles.

Taka thought a moment. "I ... will think," he said. "Much hard training ... take time. Number one job."

"We'll have a booth set up on Saturday," Tina replied in a sultry voice. "And you can ask for us any time; any of us girls would be happy to tell you more about the club."

"Ah ... you say girls." Taka thought. "How many boys ... in club?"

Alvery and Tina flinched. "Um," Tina said, biting her lower lip, "just one. And he's a photographer, not a model."

"Ah." It was almost possible to watch the gears of his mind turning. "I ... will think."

"That's all we ask," Alvery said, elbowing Tina in the ribs before she could say something that dissuaded the boy. "You can ask anyone about us," she said, and then she produced a business card from some recess in her dress. "And here's my phone number."

"I hope we'll be seeing you around," Tina said, winking at the boy as she and Alvery turned from the table.

When the Venus Inc. girls were several steps away, the looks of disbelief slowly dropped from the girls at the table, and they started laughing aloud, gawking at the naïve Japanese boy.

"Why ... laugh?" Taka asked the group, baffled by their reaction.

"The club - Venus Inc. - is named after a Roman goddess," Bianca chortled.

When Taka looked at Lapin for some type of confirmation, she nodded. "Venus is the Roman goddess of beauty, love, sex, and fertility. I would imagine the club is named for her because the membership is mostly girls. Even the name would drive American boys away from joining!"

Bianca hadn't forgotten Tia's predicament.

"Alright, so Tia, spill. What had you so upset earlier?"

Tia took a deep breath, open fear visible on her face. "Well I guess enough of you are present. I can always text or call later, I guess. The thing is, the long story short is, the devisor who shot me, made me a bunny girl... she's here at Whateley. Her name is Jamie Howe, and she's crazy."

The faces around the table were shocked, to say the least. Tia's ears folded around her head as the shouts of "What?!?" and "No way!" erupted from the others present.

Tia waited until those died down and continued. "She's here as some sort of pilot program to help troubled mutants, or something.


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Early Morning
Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy

"Hey!" an urgent, whispered voice penetrated into the foggy sleep of the girl in her bed. Kim Hashida - Perfume - slowly recognized the voice of her roommate Cassie. "C'mon, get up!"

Kim's brain was slow to engage. She glanced at her clock. "It's five-thirty!" she protested.

"I know," Cassie replied. "C'mon, get up!"

"What for?"

Cassie started physically tugging her roommate from under the covers. "You know that guy I was talking about? The really good looking Japanese guy?" Cassie said urgently.

"Yeah. So?"

"He's out exercising!" Cassie sounded like an eager toddler. "Lisa just called; she got a call from Alvery saying he's out doing some martial arts exercises."

"So?"

"Without his shirt on!" Cassie added. In an instant, Kim's eyes were wide open as she scrambled for her robe and slippers.

His skin glistening from the first rays of the rising sun refracting from his sweaty body, Kenshin slowly went through his kata, his shinai moving as gracefully as his body through the familiar motions of the training routine. He noted the shadows moving among the trees, people coming in ones and twos and threes, but since they didn't approach, he didn't worry. Morning was a time for exercise, not socializing.

Around him, a semi-circle of girls, most in robes and slippers, was congregating, but he paid them no mind. No sooner was he done with one routine than he paused, and then launched immediately into the next routine in his increasingly difficult sequence. This one was faster, less like tai chi but not full-speed.

The boy went through routine after routine, slow, fast, and full-speed, his body glistening with sweat, muscles rippling as the katas exercised his various muscle groups, although based on his well-toned, fit, trim body, he didn't need the exercise. After a couple of katas, he swapped from his shinai to his naginata, then a bo staff, then a nagamaki; his routines were varied, as befit each of the different weapons he used, and as everyone who'd taken basic martial arts knew, though they looked easy, the routines were demanding of muscle tone and coordination.

"Mornin', Kelly," a voice called from above.

Kelly Mishkin, walking on the empty sidewalk, was startled at the noise; he spun at the sound of his name, hands coming up as his stance changed to a ready position because of the unexpected interruption. Puzzled, he looked up as it sank into his brain that the noise had come from over his head.

A somewhat skinny boy in shorts and a T-shirt, with talons where his feet should have been, arrested his forward momentum with large, broad, white wings and sank gracefully to the ground a few feet from Kelly. Almost immediately after landing, his wings seemed to shimmer and waver and then disappear, while his taloned birds-feet shifted to a more normal human configuration.

"Oh, hey, Mark," Kelly said when he recognized the intruder. "I didn't hear you coming."

"Whispering death," Mark Simmons chuckled. "You know snow owls move silently!"

"Only in flight," Kelly laughed. "Been out for your morning flight?"

"Yup. Wanted to get in a few flights before the demo on Sunday. Thani said she was going to fly rings around me, and well, you know - I can't let that stand!" Mark replied with a pleasant smile. "I see you got out before someone tagged you."

Kelly nodded. "Nah. I started the day in that other body, and when I went down for coffee, I bumped into some British guy who started leering at me, and, well, I get to be male today." He chuckled. "Scared the shit out of him! It'll probably put him off hitting up girls for a while! So what's new?"

Mark jerked his head over toward Twain cottage. "I flew over one of the freshman newbies out doing some katas."

"Hmm. A prospect?" Kelly mused.

"Yeah. And get this - there are a lot of girls out watching him!"

"Well, let's go!" Kelly said. "I've had my change for the day, so I might as well enjoy it!"

"I always thought you looked better in skirts!" Mark said as he fell in beside his friend, waggling his eyebrows.

"You're such a horn-dog that you can't see past my tits!" Kelly snorted. "When I've got them, anyway!" In the distance, they could see small clusters of girls in the dim morning light, they altered course to the ragged ring.

"Rose said to remind you that the offer is still open," Mark added softly. "She's willing to share."

"Hmmph!" Kelly snorted derisively. "So you can occasionally have a three-way with two hot girls? I don't think so. And I know she's not a lesbian, so tell her no thanks. You'd eventually get jealous of me when I'm in guy form." He shook his head sadly. "It's a nice gesture, but ... it wouldn't work."

"Well, she thinks it might, but ...." The boys nudged into the circle, watching a new kid going through katas with and without weapons. "He's good," Kelly finally said softly. "I think we should try to recruit him for our combat team."

"He's just a freshie," Mark protested weakly.

"He's going to be on a team sooner or later," Kelly countered, "and we're short now since Silverblade didn't come back."

"Damn," Cassie muttered to Alvery, standing in awe with a cluster of members of Venus Inc., mouthed, "he's graceful!"

"He's gorgeous!" one of the many girls nearby who'd heard Cassie corrected her.

There were small clusters of two and three and four girls in a rough circle around Kenshin, all raptly watching him as he went through a very slow, very graceful set of exercises.

"He looks like a faggot," a guy behind one cluster snorted, looking disdainfully at Kenshin as the boy and a friend walked briskly toward a running course. He wasn't expecting all the girls who heard him to spin, glaring angrily at him, looking like they were ready to claw his eyes out. Flinching from the display of animosity, he quickened his step, his buddy right beside him. Once they were safely out of range, he felt a little bit of relief. "Well, he probably is!" he snarled to his friend.

"Yeah," the other boy said. "Yesterday, he was wearing a freakin' fag shirt!"

The homophobic complaints were lost on the girls who'd turned back to watch Kenshin, dreamy expressions on their faces as the boy went through the last bit of his morning exercise routine and began to pick up his gear. There was a sigh of disappointment when he pulled a shirt on after toweling some of the sweat from his glistening torso.


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy

A blue-haired head poked meekly into the large martial arts exercise room - bigger than a high-school gymnasium, in fact - and Laura looked around cautiously. There were three people in the room, two in gis and the third in a skin-tight black bodysuit; it took a moment to recognize Hikaru since she wasn't dressed in her typical fashionable dress of reds, whites, and golds, and the gi hid her figure. The woman in the bodysuit, obviously an instructor, wore an air of authority like a cloak. Tall, dark-skinned, with frizzy short hair, she was quite curvy. She was watching, while the other woman, a willowy blonde with an angular face, sparred with Hikaru using Kendo swords.

The black woman noticed Laura, and she gestured for the girl to come into the room. Eyes darting back and forth between the two women fighting and the black woman, Laura crept into the room, feeling a little out-of-place in her slightly-oversized gi that the girl felt fit like a potato sack.

"I'm here for martial arts testing," Laura whispered when she got beside the woman. "I'm supposed to report to Sensei Tolman."

Amanda Tolman smiled even as she sized up the meek, small girl. "I'm Ms. Tolman, the department head. And you are ...?"

"Laura. Laura Samuels, Sensei" the girl answered meekly, still watching the swordplay in the fighting circle. The woman, obviously a master with the weapon, lunged and swung at Hikaru, who, surprisingly to Laura, deftly blocked each attack with seemingly no effort, her motions economical yet graceful, and she counterattacked after each block, which were blocked - mostly - by the woman.

"It's always fun to watch two sword-masters, isn't it?" Ms. Tolman said to Laura, as if amused at how her attention was riveted on the sparring women.

"She's ... she's really good!" Laura mouthed softly.

"Ms. Beaumont, or Miss Myoujin?" Ms. Tolman asked with a smile.

"I was talking about Hikaru, mostly," Laura whispered back. "But Ms. Beaumont is really good, too!" As she watched, Hikaru blocked a furious combination attack, and then retaliated, her kendo sword moving like lightning and then, with extreme finesse, gently touching Ms. Beaumont. The two backed off, and then Ms. Beaumont feinted, drawing Hikaru into a blocking move, and after a vigorous exchange, Ms. Beaumont did two quick touches on Hikaru's leg and arm.

The two went back and forth, until finally Ms. Beaumont took a few steps back. "Yame," she called out, and Hikaru lowered her kendo sword.

"Well, Genevieve?" Ms. Tolman asked of her fellow teacher.

Ms. Beaumont bowed to Hikaru. "Thank you for the workout," she said in a slight French accent before she straightened and turned to Ms. Tolman. "She's good. She could almost hold her own against me, and I wasn't holding back."

"Your recommendation?"

"I think the certifications from Japan are accurate, so I think she's capable of carrying a sword. But that depends ...."

Amanda Tolman nodded and turned her gaze to Hikaru. "I'll sign off my part of the authorization," she told the Japanese girl. "You still need one of the counselors and someone from the powers testing team to sign off, but as far as the PE Department is concerned, you're qualified." She lifted a clipboard, took a pen that had been clipped to it, and signed a paper, handing it to the Japanese girl. "Here you go."

Hikaru bowed formally to Ms. Tolman. "Thank you, Sensei."

"Genevieve, if you want to stick around, I need to do an assessment of Miss Samuels here for basic martial arts skills." Ms. Tolman made it more than clear that Hikaru was dismissed.

"May I stay and observe?" Hikaru asked. "I have observed Laura in action ... in the New York incident, Sensei."

One of Ms. Tolman's eyebrows arched. "Oh? Interesting." She thought a moment. "It's entirely up to Ms. Samuels if she wishes you to observe her evaluation."

Laura glanced at Hikaru nervously; was there a motive behind the Japanese girl's request? Had she done something to annoy the girl in a way that she'd contribute detrimental commentary? If she said no, would that anger or annoy Hikaru? She just didn't know. "I suppose, Sensei" she said reluctantly after thinking for a couple of long seconds.

"First," Sensei Tolman began as she pointed to a sparring circle, "what is your background in martial arts?"

"Mom had me enrolled in karate since I was nine." She blushed lavender. "I ... she wanted me to be able to defend myself ... mostly against my older brothers."

"Interesting. Did your dojo teach any weapons?"

"Kama, sai, and bo, Sensei," Laura replied with a snap in her voice.

Ms. Tolman smiled. The girl might have been uncomfortable on the sideline observing, but she was perfectly comfortable and confident in the sparring ring. It was a good sign. "Let's start with you showing me some of your katas."

Laura bowed, and then stepped into the center of the ring. With three sets of eyes watching her, she went through three katas, the first two of which were very precise and crisp, but the third was a little sloppy at points.

"Okay, good. Genevieve?" Sensei Tolman asked. In response, the French woman went to the ring. "Ready?" When both nodded, she started the fight "Hajime!"

Genevieve attacked in a flurry of kicks and strikes, and Laura managed to block most of them, but she was swept from her feet a couple of times, rolling back to her feet neatly each time. At first, her counter-blows were precise, but as the sparring went on and she began to tire, her blows suffered in strength, accuracy, and speed.

"Yame!" Ms. Tolman called. She nodded toward the girl. "How about weapons?" She retrieved a pair of bo staffs and tossed one to each of the two combatants.

Following sparring with the bo staffs, Ms. Beaumont exercised Laura's knowledge of sais and kamas, including using them against different weapons. By the time the half-hour workout was done, Laura was quite sweaty, and she had a number of aches and bruises.

"Well?" Sensei Tolman directed at the other two.

"She's got good coordination, but her form is a little ragged."

Hikaru nodded. "Her katas are very crisp, but her fighting form is weak in spots."

"In weapons," Beaumont continued, "she's pretty good with the bo staff, but not with kamas or sai, and she needs practice with mixed weapons.

"Basic?" Tolman asked simply.

Beaumont nodded, looking at Laura. "If your weapons skills were a little better, I'd recommend that you skip directly to Advanced Martial Arts, but right now, that'd be a mistake."

Laura nodded mutely, her gaze sinking as she felt profound disappointment at being rated still a beginner. She'd worked very hard in Karate to advance, and now it seemed for naught. The corners of her eyes moistened with her emotions, and she struggled to keep from weeping.

"You might consider her as a TA, though, at least for the first few weeks," Beaumont added unexpectedly. "She has the basics down pat, and she could be a real help teaching basic kicks, punches, blocks, and forms to the inexperienced students."

"That's something to consider," Sensei Tolman said. Laura looked up, surprised and still fighting tears, and saw a firm nod and a reassuring smile on the Sensei's face. "Basic Martial Arts is about a lot more than just Karate. We do grappling, fighting against powers, and some weapons," she explained. "Especially fighting against various powers, you need a lot more work. And it's multiple schools of fighting, not just Karate."

Hikaru walked with Laura back toward Schuster Hall. "You aren't bad," she said to the still sad blue girl. "But your weapons are a little rough."

Laura didn't deign to look at Hikaru; she was slowly starting to dislike the arrogant Japanese girl. "Yeah, well that's not your problem, is it? I mean, with your sword and all. They're probably starting you in advanced martial arts."

Hikaru laughed, enough that Laura looked up at her, startled. "I'm not in a formal martial arts class this term," the Japanese girl explained. Responding to the stare of disbelief, she continued, "I ... lost a good amount of skill in my burnouts. I don't have the coordination or muscle memory I used to have. They said it will take a considerable amount of work to assess exactly what I can and cannot do. So no, I'm not starting in advanced class."

"Oh."

"Look at it this way - you're starting out the class way ahead of the others. So for at least part of the term," Hikaru continued with a smile, "this should be a relatively easy class for you."

Laura's eyebrows arched. "Hmm," she muttered half to herself. "I hadn't thought of that."


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Late Morning
Office Building, New York City

The tall, shapely, brunette strolled casually into the accountant's outer office, nodding to acknowledge the receptionist.

"Good morning, Miss Kelly," Ms. Halifax said in greeting. "I'll let him know that you're here."

"Okay." There was no attempt at idle chatter; Jennifer Kelly was a consummate professional, and she wasn't about to let her professionalism slip even for a little small-talk. Wordlessly, she sat down - exquisitely gracefully, her back to a wall so she could see the entrance door and the door to Mr. Granier's office without having to turn her head. There was a quiet, almost deadly calm about Miss Kelly, like she was waiting for trouble.

She wasn't surprised when the door opened and the small, wiry, slightly-balding man emerged. "Ah, Miss Kelly!" he said, his voice echoing like it came from a tomb, so it wasn't discernable if he was delighted or angered. "Come in."

Jennifer Kelly followed Mr. Granier into his office. Once the door was closed, he spun to face her, his face intense and almost frightening. "Do you have them?" he demanded.

Jennifer wasn't intimidated in the slightest. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't," she replied calmly.

"Did anyone ask ...?"

"Any questions?" Jennifer chuckled, but there was a warning behind her laugh. She looked and sounded dangerous, which was probably why she was so successful as a gem courier and buyer. "They know better than to ask questions. Especially with something like this."

"Show me!"

Jennifer slipped a packet out of her pocket, unfolding a cloth and holding her hand forth to Mr. Granier. "Satisfied?"

"They're the right size, color, and cut for the Tears." He held up one of the oddly-cut, large sapphires to the light, scrutinizing it. The four blue gemstones were cut to look like teardrops; hence the name Tears of Poseidon. "But they could be fakes."

Without taking her stern gaze from Granier, Jennifer slipped a small velvet bag from her purse. From that she took an odd pink stone on a string and held it up to the Tear in Granier's hand. The stone began to glow brightly as it neared the Tear until it was too dazzling to look directly at. "You don't think I'd acquire the goods without making sure they aren't fake, do you?"

"I'll do my own checks, thank you," Granier replied curtly, dropping the teardrop back into the cloth in Jen's hand and snatching the entire collection of gemstones, including the cloth, from her.

"I assume you'll see to my check," Jen said simply. To her, the job was over once the gems were delivered, and when he took them from her, the delivery was complete.

"Of course. Now go back to your more ... mundane deliveries," Granier said, dismissing her with a thoroughly pompous and condescending attitude.

"You know how to get ahold of me next time you need a delivery." Without waiting for the odd little man to reply, she turned and walked out of his office, her gait graceful and dignified almost as if to snub the demeaning way Granier had addressed her.

One would not have noticed a difference between how Jen walked into the office and how she walked out; she was alert, almost cat-like, with coiled reflexes waiting for trouble. While she was damned curvy and attractive, with her dark hair in a short, sassy, and fashionable style, and attired in a fashionable jacket, blouse, and skirt, she had an edge about her that made one think immediately of a secret agent. She looked dangerous to anyone who knew what to look for.

As Jennifer strolled down the sidewalk toward Greenwich Village, people who did take note of her moved a bit to the side so they didn't confront her, whereas people who didn't get out of the way quickly enough felt as if they'd bounced off a wall, and looked up into a withering glare. All in all, delivering magical gems to a rather flaky man, then staring down pedestrian on the sidewalk was a normal day for Miss Jennifer Kelly.


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Afternoon
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy

Morgana looked at the office door for a long moment, then steeled herself and knocked.

"Come in, please."

Well, at least he sounds friendly, she thought. Still nervous, she entered the room where an average-looking man stood to meet her.

"Hello, Morgana. I'm Dr. Bellows, I'm going to be your psychiatrist for your counselling sessions." He hesitated a moment. "One of my talents is a small amount of Empathy, which operates by touch. It's a big help in counseling, but only if the patient allows me to physically touch, like a handshake." Morgana grimaced, and he noticed. "Your file says that counseling is required as a condition of you being at Whateley. It's your choice, though, but I think it would be very helpful."

Morgana thought briefly, gulping nervously, and then reached out her hand. As his fingers closed around hers, his eyes opened wide and he started obviously, before letting go.

Bellows took a deep breath, then gestured to her to take a seat. "I see," he said, keeping a professional mask despite the disturbing images he'd seen.

Morgana cringed while she also blushed deeply. "So you did see ...."

He nodded as her sentence trailed off. "A little of what you went through, yes."

The girl gave him a searching glance. He looked sympathetic - of course, in his job he probably had to - but she got the feeling it wasn't just a professional act. "Well, I guess I'd have to tell you all about it anyway."

"If I'm going to help you, yes. It's necessary to establish the circumstances behind your trauma so we can work on them," he paused for a moment, "and not just what was done to you. We have to deal with the other issues as well, such as your change and your sexuality."

"Yeah, I figured I'd have to talk about it all." The look on her face made it clear she wasn't exactly enthused about the prospect. "They told me I had PTSD, and I guess they were right." This time she looked off as if remembering something nasty.

Bellows looked at her closely. "Nightmares, or actual physical episodes?"

"Nightmares so far, Doc. Although I've had a few, well, shocks, while awake, when things reminded me. But nothing serious."

"That's actually good, Morgana. I understand how the nightmares can be bad, but they're easier for us to deal with than major episodes while you're awake. Now why don't you tell me about it, in your own words, and then we can plan how to take things forward."

"OK, Doc. It started like this ...."

It took half an hour for the girl to go through her story; Bellows had needed to encourage her a few times to get her to talk through the parts where she started to freeze up as she went through them. It confirmed what he'd seen when he had touched her - nasty, but the worst was over. He was a bit more concerned about some of the issues connected with her new powers - they would be an ongoing concern, and some of her issues were wound in with her trauma. That would take some careful unravelling to sort out satisfactorily.

"Now, there's one more thing I'd like to know about. This fight you had in New York. Why did you get involved?"

Morgana blushed slightly at the mention of the near-fiasco. "At the beginning, it just looked like a robbery, and I figured it was best to not interfere. But then they started hurting people, and Tanya took off ..."

"So you think Tanya started your fight?"

Morgana shrugged. "Not really. She was just the first of us to react. She was doing the right thing - protecting the innocent bystanders."

"You don't think it would have been better to wait for the police?"

The girl snorted. "They didn't exactly arrive quickly! But no, people were getting hurt, we could do something, so we did." She shook her head and sighed. "It's what you do when someone's in trouble - you help them."

"So, with great power comes great responsibility?"

"It's not that, Doc. Well, in a way it is, but helping is what you should do, powers or not. Look at Tia and Cally, they don't have any fighting abilities, but they were there helping people."

"Do you want to be a hero?"

Morgana looked down at her hands as she thought through her answer. "I'm not sure. Maybe not, if you mean a cape-wearing hero. But ...."

Bellows nodded encouragingly as she slowly continued.

"I don't want anyone to have to go through what I did"- her fingers twisted together unconsciously, hard enough to make her knuckles pale - "not ever. If I can do anything to stop people like the scum who kidnapped me, I will. I have powers now, I'm not helpless any more. I don't know if that means being a hero, I don't think it does. But I don't know if I want to make that my life's purpose, not yet. I still have a lot to learn about my power, and how it works."

"That's probably a sensible idea. Give it time, and come to terms with your new abilities first before deciding what to do with the rest of your life." Bellows didn't mention the look on her face when she'd mentioned her kidnappers. Despite her words, he suspected she was more interested in the idea of becoming something they would fear than she wanted to say right now.

"Well, I'm afraid our time is up for today. I want to make a regular appointment once a week for this term, then we can see how things go." He fiddled with his tablet computer. "Will Friday at 6pm work with your schedule?"

"Sure, Doc. I won't say I look forward to it, but under the circumstances ...."

Bellows smiled as he got up. "Don't worry. I'm here to help you. And if anything happens and you need to see me urgently, I'm available at any time for that sort of emergency."

The girl looked soberly at him. "I hope it won't come to that."

"So do I, but it's important for you to know that there is help at hand if you need it. You don't have to work through things alone anymore."

After the girl had slipped out, Bellows sat in thought for a minute before starting to jot down his notes on his latest patient.

'While Ms. Jones has been through a highly unpleasant and painful situation, so far she seems to be coping with it as well as can be expected at this stage. Having closure on the people responsible has obviously helped her deal with her PTSD. It will be necessary to work through the individual elements of her traumas to help her work through them. At present, she's presenting a facade to cover her emotions, and this will need to be slowly removed to allow her to come fully to terms with it.'

'Her anxiety issues over her power may be a bit more complicated - Note to self, contact Ms. Grimes to coordinate over how she approaches some of these in her magic classes - especially her worries about controlling her power. Hopefully gaining control during her classes will help in this respect, but reinforcement may be needed.'

'She seems to have come to terms with her unwanted sex change, at least for the moment, although there are obvious issues to be dealt with. Having a support group in similar circumstances in Poe should help with this.'

He thought for a moment, then added a little more.

'Despite the fracas in New York, there are no obvious signs of lack of control that would lead to classing her as particularly dangerous, despite the effect she had on the Power Testing lab. We will, however, need to follow her progress and watch for other incidents, as she does show signs of having a temper. By itself, this is not an issue, but with her powers, she will need to learn better control of it.'


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Lunch
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

As Tanya carried her tray covered in five empty plates toward the dirty-dishes conveyor, another girl, red-haired in a rebellious rock-star punk cut with a purple streak, also carrying a tray, slid behind her in line. "Sometimes, I get tired of having to eat so much," she said casually.

Tanya turned, startled, and warily eyed the new girl. "Um, yeah," she replied noncommittally. "It kind of takes the fun out of eating."

"Yeah. Let me guess," the girl continued in a friendly tone, "you're an energizer?"

Tanya shrugged, debating how much information about herself she should give. "PK brick," she finally replied, "but it's the same thing, at least for me."

"Yeah," the newcomer said with a smile. "I'm a high-level exemplar, but I go through calories like bricks and energizers, too." She waited until Tanya had put her tray down and she did likewise. "I'm Fiona," she introduced herself, extending her hand toward the lavender-haired girl. "Fiona O'Callaghan."

"Tanya Wright," Tanya replied, shaking hands with the punk-looking butch girl.

"Wright .... Wright ...," Fiona got a puzzled look, sort-of staring into space for a second, and then her face brightened. "Oh, yes! I heard your name in a conversation about fighting."

"Oh?" Tanya was back to being wary; it wasn't every day that someone recognized a person for a record of fighting.

"Yeah. A few of my friends were talking last night, and your name came up associated with some big supervillain fight in New York City."

Tanya winced visibly. "It wasn't that big a deal!"

"Rescuing bystanders and taking on a villain and a bunch of henchmen? That sounds like a big deal!" Fiona countered with a smile. "And rumor has it that you got into a sparring match with that crazy honey-badger girl yesterday on the quad!" She smiled at the stunned look on Tanya's face. "It sounds like you like to fight."

"Um, not really," Tanya defended hesitantly. "It's just, well, things happened, and someone had to protect some innocent bystanders, and ... well ...." She broke off, wrinkling her nose as she struggled to explain herself. "And Ratel attacked me yesterday! I didn't start it!"

Fiona smiled warmly. "Doesn't matter why," she said simply. "Just that you aren't afraid of a fight. Just like me and my friends."

"Your ... friends?" Tanya spoke softly, puzzled.

The red-haired girl nodded, still smiling. "I'm vice-president of a group of girls called the Amazons. We all like to fight, and we made a little social fight club so we could train together and practice without worrying about boys," she wrinkled her nose in disgust at the word, "using training as an excuse to paw us and stuff!"

Tanya winced at that thought; the Wardens had never acted inappropriately toward the girl they treated like a 'kid sister', but she knew she'd have to deal with boys at Whateley and wasn't looking forward to some of their shenanigans. But this ... an all-girls training club?

Fiona noticed Tanya's reaction; it was exactly what she'd been counting on. "Yeah. So we have our own training area and equipment. Sometime when you're not busy, maybe I can show you our clubhouse and training room?"

"I guess that'd be okay ...."

"What about now?" Fiona asked eagerly. "Are you doing anything? I think several of the girls were going down right after lunch, so you'd have a chance to meet some of them!"

The girl's enthusiasm for her club was catching; Tanya found herself wanting to see the club and meet them, and she wasn't planning anything for the afternoon. "Sure, I'm free right now," she found herself answering.

"Great!" Fiona enthused.

"I'm going to run up quickly to let my friends know, and then I'll meet you at the doors, okay?" When the redhead nodded, Tanya walked quickly upstairs.

"Hey, guys," she greeted the ones assembled at the team's table.

"You're not eating another helping?" Vic asked in mock astonishment. "Quick! Someone call Doyle! We have a student who's ill!"

"Very funny!" Tanya clucked at him as the others chuckled. "If you're done mocking me, I was invited to check out a group called the Amazons."

"Amazons?" Taka asked, puzzled. "What Internet book company ... have to do with Whateley?"

Most of the girls rolled their eyes. "Not that Amazon!" Tia corrected him semi-sarcastically. "Amazons are mythical female warriors. Kind of brutal and battle-loving. Like Valkyries and stuff."

<They are like Onna bugeisha. Nakano Takeko,> Hikaru explained to the confused boy. <Usually they are depicted as larger and stronger than normal women, quite beautiful, and quite deadly.>

Taka nodded, a look of understanding on his face. "Ah. I understand."

Laura chuckled. "Go, have fun playing with your ... Amazon Warrior Princess Female Fight Club! You can use the practice for the next time Ratel challenges you!"

Tanya immediately stuck her tongue out at the blue girl in response to the good-natured taunting. "I'll see you guys later this afternoon, okay?"

"Sure." As she strolled casually back to the escalator, Erica glanced around. "You know," she said, "I think it might be a pretty good idea to check them out! Oma and Opa really want me to train hard in fighting, and a club like that might help."

"What?" Morgana asked, coming late to the table with a tray of food and Cally at her side. "What are you guys talking about?"

"Amazons," Laura answered simply. "A group of girls who call themselves Amazons have a girls-only fight club. One of them talked to Tanya ...."

"I wondered where she was," Cally interjected. "I figured she was in line getting fourths or fifths."

"Oh, them," Morgana replied, digging into her food as if the discussion of the Amazons was old news. Around her, jaws hung agape that she was nonplussed by their chat topic.

"You've heard of them?" Laura asked, astonished.

"Yeah. One of them - her code name is StahlFaust or something like that - lives in Poe. She talked to a couple of us about them yesterday," Morgana answered between bites. She was surprised at first that others hadn't recognized the group from the name, but then she remembered that not all the girls had been there the day before when Brita had talked to her and Erica.

"And you didn't tell us?" Tia complained.

"They're a fight club, not a run away club," Morgana shot back teasingly. "I didn't think you and Cally would care!"

Bianca frowned, shaking her head slightly. "I don't know," she said cautiously. "This ... feels wrong - like there's something more we don't know." She glanced around the table. "You know the myths, don't you? An exclusively female society, not even permitting males in their lands, only having sex once a year to reproduce ..."

"Sounds okay to me," Jimmy interjected with a chuckle.

Bianca scowled at him. "... and then killing or exiling any male children?" She shook her head. "Sounds like a bunch of man-hating lesbian fighters."

"So? It's worth checking them out," Laura countered. "We don't know ...."

Bianca nodded in agreement. "No, we don't know. I think it would be prudent for us to find out, don't you?"


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Early Afternoon
Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy

"Are you sure about this?" Melody Sheridon asked as the small gaggle of girls from Venus Inc. walked into the main lobby of Twain Cottage. Around them, guys stopped, jaws hit the floor, and eyeballs nearly bugged out of sockets at the presence of the campus beauties in their domain.

"Yes, I'm sure," Alvery said confidently. "I found out he's in Twain, on Shawn's wing, so I had a little chat with him. Taka has his power testing this afternoon at two-thirty."

"What if he's already left?" Lisa Derflin couldn't help but be a little pessimistic.

In response, Alvery pulled out her cell phone. "Shawn said he'd text me if Taka left the wing." Stowing the phone, she continued. "He's there."

"Okay, I'll buy that," Melody admitted. "What did that favor cost you?"

"Movie date on Sunday evening," Alvery replied.

"But ... you were going to go with him anyway, weren't you? "Meredith Tapia posed, a trifle confused.

Alvery smiled pleasantly. "Yes, but he didn't know that."

"And precisely how, may I ask, do you propose to explain this little coincidence without him thinking we're stalking him or something else creepy?" Cassie asked skeptically.

"Already covered," Alvery said smugly. "You all wait in the lobby, while I go up to talk to Shawn about our date. When he goes to remind Taka about his power testing, I'll be with him, and can offer to help him find his way to the testing labs."

"That sounds reasonable," Meredith said, "but what about the rest of us being here?"

"Simple," Alvery replied immediately. "We were over at Holbrook talking to the event coordinator about a proposed fall fashion show on parents' day."

"He's not gonna buy that," Millicent Mileu said skeptically.

"Yes, he will," Alvery countered. "He doesn't know our show schedules, and I did talk to the Dean about a possible fashion show, so if he asks, we're covered. If not, no biggie." Eschewing the elevators, she took the stairs up to the second floor and strode confidently and sexily to room 220, Shawn 'Padilla's room, knocking on the door and ignoring the boys who were gawking at her.

"Just a sec," came a call from the other side of the door. A moment later it opened, revealing Shawn, one of the Resident Advisors of Twain who was better known to the student body as Shaggy. Fairly average though a bit tall and lanky, he was a decent-looking kid, but nowhere near the same class as several of the exemplar boys. With ice-blue eyes and the mop of unkempt dusty brown hair that earned him his codename, he looked like nothing could faze him. "Hey, Alv. What's up?"

"Just stopped by," Alvery replied, wrapping her arms round him and pulling him to a kiss. "So what's up?"

Shawn chuckled, not relaxing the embrace he was sharing with Alvery. "Your boy is still in his room, just like I said."

"Thanks. You're a sweetie," Alvery crooned.

Shawn chuckled again, leading Alvery out into the hallway. "I know. That's why you love me."

"Is that what it is?" the girl chuckled. "Here I thought it was something mental and I needed to go to Doyle!"

Shawn smirked as he knocked on a door two down from his. "Taka!" he called out.

The door opened and the Japanese boy, clad in gi pants with a hachimaki tied about his forehead, shirtless and sweating, looked out, immediately bowing toward Alvery. "Kon'nichiwa," he said formally.

"Uh, hi," Alvery replied, a little stunned by the boy's formal manners. She forced herself not to leer at the shirtless boy's muscles and beautiful face.

"I figured I should remind you when it was time for you to go to testing," Shawn said simply. "It may take you extra time since you're not familiar with the tunnels." He saw the boy looking at Alvery and a possessive instinct kicked in. "Taka, this is my girlfriend Alvery."

"Met, we have," Taka replied simply, acknowledging the existing relationship. "You ... lucky to have ... lovely flower as girlfriend," he continued to Shawn.

"You're going to power testing?" Alvery asked, doing a very good job of acting surprised. "If you're worried about getting lost, the girls and I were on the way back from an errand, and we could show you where the labs are."

Taka thought a moment, and then he nodded. "Arigato gozaimashita. That ... is helpful."

"Think nothing of it," Alvery said with her most charming smile.

Shawn had to fight conflicting emotions; he knew that when Alvery turned on the charm, boys would be helpless - unless, of course, they were gay. Even then it wasn't a sure thing that they could resist. On the other hand, she was turning the charm on Taka, who he had to admit was a decent-looking guy with the exotic-foreigner thing going for him.

"Excuse please," Taka continued. "I ... change."

"Actually," Shawn answered smoothly, "you might as well go in your gi. It'll be easier for you and the testers."

Nodding, Taka took a couple of steps and retrieved his top. Wrapping it around himself and tying his belt, he slipped his feet into sandals. Following Alvery, he descended the stairs, pausing, like most guys, to look at the gaggle of girls seated in the entrance lobby of the cottage.

"Girls, we're going to escort Mr. Ono ...." Alvery began.

"Taka, please," the boy corrected her. "I told ... in America, Mr. Ono ... too formal. Schoolmate you are, not sensei."

"Taka," Alvery corrected herself. "Since we were over this way, we're going to help Taka find the power testing labs so he doesn't get lost, okay?" She turned to Taka and gave him another of her patented charming smiles. "Would you like to enjoy the sunshine, or take the tunnels?"

Taka bowed to the girls in the foyer of the testing lab. "Thank you," he said stiffly. "Most helpful."

"You're welcome," Cassie replied with a smile.

Alvery was busy applying her charm to the work-study student at the reception desk. "About how long will the testing take?" she purred.

The guy shifted uncomfortably, trying to ease the pressure in his pants at the unfamiliar attention of the Venus Inc. beauty. "Um, it's usually about an hour." He gulped nervously at how his voice squeaked, knowing he was coming across to these beauties as a nerd. "Since he got tested in Japan, that is," he finished his thought.

The door from the lab opened suddenly, and a lab-coat-clad woman came out, pausing to stare at Taka, a smile creeping across her face. "Mr. Ono? If you would follow me, we'll get started with the testing."

Taka nodded, then turned and bowed to Alvery and the girls again. "Thank you." He turned and followed the smiling technician, who kept turning her head to look at the boy, into the lab.

No sooner had the inner door shut than the Venus Inc. girls turned, and flashing a smile toward the boy at the desk, walked gracefully out of the lab reception area.

The boy watched them walk away, shaking his head. "He's gotta be gay," he muttered to himself. "He looks so damned gay! They're wasting their time!"

Taka's eyes widened in surprise when he came out of the lab area and spotted the Venus Inc. girls sitting in chairs, waiting for him. "Hello," he said simply, his eyes wary.

"Hi!" Cassie said brightly. "How was your testing?"

"Testing ... is testing," Taka replied evenly. "You ... still here?"

Meredith giggled. "Oh, heavens no! We were in our clubhouse, and we decided maybe we should take a coffee break."

"One thing led to another, and, well, here we are!" Alvery said with her warm smile. "We were heading to the coffee shop, and then I started wondering if you were having fun in your power testing, like we all did, and that got us thinking that you'd probably be a little tired and pretty thirsty after that workout, so ... would you like to join us for something refreshing to drink?"

"Would be ... good," Taka replied evenly.

"Oh, good," Cassie replied, relieved. She stepped briskly to one side of the boy and clutched his left arm, while Meredith did the same to his right arm. "Let's go! Do you like coffee?" she asked, continuing before he could answer, "because Devisor Donuts over in Melville has fabulous Frappuccino, and their espresso is really good, but I like the caramel macchiato."

"Not ... coffee," Taka said, being led by the two girls with a small cluster around him. "Prefer tea."

"Oh, I should have guessed that," Meredith chimed in. "I don't know if they have good Japanese teas, though. And I know they don't do anything formal - just tea in a cup, unlike what I've heard about Japanese tea ceremonies. I always wanted to do one of those, but ...."

"Meredith, you're babbling," Alvery said, her voice a touch stern, just enough to gently rebuke the bubbly-happy girl beside Taka.

They passed a couple of older boys in the main tunnel to Melville who sneered at the boy. "You're wasting your time, girls," one of them snarked. "He's gotta be so gay ...."

"Yeah," the other chimed in. "Is he a new Venus guy?" he laughed in the direction of Taka.

"Shut your yap, asshole!" Alvery snapped at the pair, one hand in her purse for a holdout.

"Or what? You're going to defend your pretty-boy?" the first guy challenged her.

Alvery started to pull out a spell sheet, but she found Taka's hand on her forearm. "No. Would be my fight. Not yours."

"Oh? You gonna fight, pretty boy?" the second guy taunted. He was of average build, maybe an inch taller than Taka, but at Whateley, that accounted for nothing, since powers more than evened out physical differences.

"Ronin ... fight only for cause," Taka said evenly. "You words ... not make cause."

The first guy drew himself up and puffed out his chest. "Scaredy-cat little gay boy!" he stepped directly at Taka, towering over him by five or so inches, and poked him in the chest with a big, meaty finger. "I don't like your kind, pansy!" he snarled. "You better watch yourself."

To the shock of the girls, Taka stood his ground, staring up at the older boy without any sign of fear. "Ronin not fear fight. Only dishonor."

The boys stared at each other, the taller upperclassman sneering, and Taka standing stone-faced and calm. Finally, the upperclassman turned. "C'mon, Ed," he said to his partner. "This fag isn't worth our time and trouble."

"You better not cross us, you fucking queer," the second boy, Ed, said angrily. "We don't like your kind around here." The two stormed off, glaring over their shoulders at the assemblage of VI girls and Taka.

"You should have cleaned their clocks," Cassie said angrily, scowling at the two.

Taka shook his head. "Have orders. No fight if possible."

The group continued on their interrupted journey. After a bit, Meredith turned toward Taka, still walking. "You aren't, are you?" She read the puzzlement in his face. "Gay, I mean."

"Gay? What gay mean?"

"Homosexual," Cassie explained.

Taka shook his head, blushing a bit. "No. Not ... gay. Like girls ... very much!"

The girls around him broke out in grins at that little piece of news. Alvery sighed to herself; she could see these girls all getting into a serious rivalry for Taka's attention. After all, he was gorgeous! And if she wasn't going steady with Shawn ....


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Afternoon
Fox Hall, Whateley Academy

Laura held up the top in front of her, looking down and trying to figure how it would look on her and wondering if it was worth walking to the fitting rooms to check.

"That color isn't you," a voice said to one side.

Laura spun, startled by the intruder and angry at herself for getting distracted. "What?" she asked as she took in the long-haired Hispanic girl. "Oh, hi, Val," she said, stilling her heart. "You startled me."

Valentina laughed, a dulcet sound of mirth. "That was obvious. You were so absorbed in that top."

"Yeah. I can't really tell ...."

"Nope. Not your color," Val said firmly. "With your skin tone, you really shouldn't wear anything blue - it'll clash with your hair, or if it's pastel, it'll blend with your skin."

"Yeah, I kind of figured that," Laura acknowledged. "But this top is really pretty! I love the lace and embroidery!"

"Yeah, it's cute." She took it from Laura. "So cute, in fact, that I think I'll get it for myself."

Laura pouted. "Then what'll I wear? Rags?"

Val chuckled. "Try this," she said, grabbing a shirt from the other side of the rack which had similar style but was rose-colored. She held it up in front of Laura. "Hmmmm," she said, thinking. "Much better."

Laura took the top and dashed to the fitting room, emerging a minute later. "Yeah, that works." She shrugged, a shy smile on her face. "I'm not used to color coordinating," she offered as an excuse. "Not since I manifested."

Val laughed. "I bet makeup is a bitch to coordinate."

"Yeah, that's an understatement," Laura giggled.

"You want a little help shopping?" Val offered. "I'm not busy, and if you're having a little trouble with colors ...."

"I'd hate to put you to any trouble!"

Val's smile turned a little naughty and predatory. "It's no trouble," she said, "if it'll help me seduce the new girl!" She waggled her eyebrows and giggled, unable to control her mirth.

Laura gulped, and then when Val started laughing, she chuckled too. "What makes you think I'm your type? Or that you're mine?"

Val smiled innocently. "I just wanted to see if I could make you blush. It worked, too!"

"You're bad!"

Val waggled her eyebrows again. "Not now, but I can be!"

Almost an hour later, after trying what seemed to be every outfit in the bookstore, Laura checked out with a couple of new tops.

As the two walked back toward Schuster, Val smiled and started to speak, but cut off her half-spoken thought. It got Laura's attention. "What?" she asked.

Val stopped, putting her arm on Laura's so the blue girl halted also and turned to her. "I think you're very attractive," Val said boldly, staring into Laura's widening eyes. "You're fun, you're cute."

Laura gulped. "Um ...." She wasn't sure how to answer Val's blatant come-on.

Val chuckled at Laura's unease. "I ... have a kind of sixth sense about things, you see," she explained with a smile. "I'm very certain you don't like boys." She saw Laura's eyebrows shoot up. "Do you?"

"Um ..."

"I could tell. Oh, don't worry," Val said lightly. "Neither do I."

Now Laura really wondered why Val wasn't in Poe, given her just-admitted lesbianism. "Um ...."

"You enjoy a little playful flirting, I bet," Val continued. "Don't you?"

Laura blushed again, feeling her cheeks warm. "Uh, I ... I guess." Val was confusing her; the girl was pleasant and very attractive.

"So do I," the Hispanic girl said in return. "You don't have to worry. I'm really not planning on seducing you." She watched Laura's expression. "Yet!" she added with a pleasant laugh. "But we need to stick together, girls like you and me," she said, her tone a little more serious. "There's a group of girls I'm in where we help each other and protect each other." She smiled. "And we all enjoy a good fight now and again."

"The Amazons?" Laura asked, a little puzzled by the thought of petite, cute Val being a hard-core fighter. She hadn't noticed that Val had continued past Schuster toward Poe with her, even though the Hispanic girl had said she was going to one of the girls' dorms - in the opposite direction.

"Yeah. We heard you and your friends had a little fight, and we wondered if you'd be interested."

"But ...," Laura stammered, "I'm ... a gadgeteer, not a fighter."

"We always need holdouts, too," Val retorted, "and even gadgeteers and devisors should know how to defend themselves."

"Don't I know it!" Laura blurted out, thinking of the bullying from her older brothers.

"Besides, fighting generally makes me really ... hot!" she added the last word in a sultry, breathy tone, not disguising her intent in the slightest.

The girls stopped outside Poe. "You didn't have to walk all the way here with me," Laura said, a little embarrassed at the attention she had gotten from Val.

"I didn't have anything else to do," Val smiled. "And like I said, you're cute and fun to talk to. But seriously, think about it. Sometime, I'd like to take you down to our clubhouse and introduce you."

Laura nodded. "I will," she said before turning into her cottage. She was confused by Val's flirting, and wanted to escape before she said or did something wrong. As she walked in, StahlFaust, Brita Baumann, walked out, and when Brita saw Val outside, her countenance darkened, a serious scowl forming as she glared jealously at Laura.


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Afternoon
Behind Holbrook Arena, Whateley Academy

"Are you sure we can go out here?" Bailey asked nervously as she and Laura walked down a service road behind Holbrook Arena.

"Yeah, it's okay," Laura reassured her nervous roommate. "Besides, aren't you the one who had a mom and aunt go to school here?"

"Well, yeah," Bailey said, stopping beside a trail that led away from the road. "But ...."

"Did they tell you of any areas that are off limits?" Laura persisted.

"Well," Bailey replied, "there's a place called the Grove - it's supposed to be really, really dangerous, and they put wards around it I think. And of course The Village is off limits."

"Let's see where this goes," Laura said easily, taking Bailey's elbow and guiding her onto the trail.

"We shouldn't," Bailey protested. "Somewhere outside the school fence is an Indian tribe," she continued to explain, "but I don't think we can get outside the fence."

"Hmm," Laura said, peeking through trees lining the path. It looked like there was a clearing ahead, and wisps of smoke rose into the sky. "Is there a fire or something?"

"Maybe we should call security," Bailey urged, though she let Laura lead her onward.

It was a clearing in the woods; in the center was a ring of stones with some kind of meat on a pole across a small fire. To one side was a small dome-shaped structure covered with what looked like animal skins, and opposite that were two rather large tepees. Behind the tepees was a long building that looked like an Iroquois longhouse.

"I thought you said the Indian tribe was off campus!" Laura hissed to Bailey, being quiet in case the camp was occupied.

As the two considered what they should do, a girl poked her head out of the dome and spied them. "Hello!" She emerged in a most non-Native-American bathrobe. "Hey, aren't you from Poe?" She was looking directly at Laura.

"Um, yeah," Laura said cautiously.

The girl beamed. "I'm Vixen, your neighbor upstairs! So, are you girls here to check out The Nations?"

"The ... Nations?" both asked, a little perplexed.

Vixen smiled. "It's our Native American heritage club. We practice our ancestor's culture, learn Native American history and lore, and generally have fun."

"Um, no," Laura said hesitantly, "I'm not Native American."

"Me, neither," Bailey added quickly.

"Oh, too bad," Vixen replied. "We're having a back-to-school get-together, so ...."

Laura understood only too clearly. "We were just exploring a bit, and we've got to get back for dinner."

"Even if you're not a member of a tribe," Vixen continued, "you can participate in our club, but not as a voting member. That's reserved for registered tribal members. And you can get history credit for some of our activities."

"Really?" It had piqued Laura's interest in history.

"Yeah. Look us up tomorrow; we'll have a table on the quad for the meet-and-greet and picnic."

"I will," Laura replied. "Well, it's nice to meet you. We'll get going so you can get back to what you're doing." With Bailey at her side, she turned back toward the main part of campus.

At the service road, the two girls turned back the way they'd come. Coming over a little hillock, they spied something that hadn't been in the road twenty minutes earlier.

"What is that?" Laura asked nervously.

"It looks like ... a person?" Bailey cringed. "Is it ...?"

Laura ran forward, her curiosity overcoming her nerves. She bent over the body, which was clearly a student lying curled up on the road.

"Is he ...?"

Laura leaned closer; she shook her head when she saw the boy's chest moving rhythmically. "No," she said. "He's breathing."

"Did he get run over?" Bailey asked, looking at him. "It doesn't look like he's hurt."

"No," Laura confirmed. She touched the boy's shoulder lightly. "Hey!" she said insistently, shaking him. There was no response. "Hey!" she said louder.

"Should we wake him?" Bailey asked nervously.

"Well, we can't let him stay here," Laura countered. "With all the service trucks and stuff, he'll get run over!"

"So what do we do?"

"Do you know the number for security?" Laura asked, pulling out her cell phone. She glanced at the display. "Never mind - we've got wi-fi!" She started tapping on the device.

"Out here?"

"Here we go!" Laura said triumphantly. She pressed an icon and held the phone up to her ear. "Hello?" she said as soon as the other end of the call was answered.

"Whateley Security. How can I help you?" the bored security dispatcher replied.

"Um, my roommate and I were hiking - behind Holbrook, I think - and we found a boy asleep or unconscious on the road."

"Say again?"

"We were hiking on a service road and we found a boy on the road. He's kind of curled up, but he's unconscious or something because he doesn't wake up when I speak or shake his shoulder."

"Do not move him! I'm sending a team and a car from Doyle. Just stay there and make sure nothing on the path runs him over, okay?"

Less than five minutes later, accompanied by a lot of noise and flashing lights, a golf cart from Doyle and a security car screeched up to the scene. The medics checked the boy over, and then loaded him into the club car. A woman in a doctor's coat came over to where a security officer was questioning Laura and Bailey.

"It's Dasypod again, Sergeant," the doctor said simply. "Just like we figured."

"Again?" The security sergeant shook his head, sighing heavily. "That's twice today."

"Don't forget three times yesterday," the doctor reminded him. "I guess you guys can go. We've got this."

"You need to do something about him," the sergeant said curtly. "One of these times, he's going to get run over during his nappy time!" He turned, and gesturing to his partner, walked back to the security vehicle.

"Is he, um, okay?" Laura asked, as concerned as she was curious.

"Yeah, he'll be fine," the woman answered. "I'm Dr. Tenent, one of the friendly Doyle medical staff."

"Laura Samuels," the blue girl said, shaking hands with the doctor. "What's wrong with him?"

Dr. Tenent chuckled. "He's an avatar with an ... unusual ... spirit. That spirit likes to curl up on the road and nap - just like they do down south." She chuckled. "We'll take care of him." She turned back toward the medical club car, but paused to look over her shoulder at the two girls. "Thanks for helping out."

As the club car sped away, Laura turned to her roommate. "Why do I get the feeling that we've only just begun to see weird stuff like this?"

Bailey chuckled. "From what Mom told me, I think you may be right." She took her roommate's arm. "C'mon. Let's get back to Poe - where it's relatively sane."

"You know, that's a scary thought," Laura mused as they started back toward their cottage.

"What?"

"That Poe is sane," Laura chuckled.


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Laura slipped into what she was already thinking of as the 'special' showers with an anticipatory smile on her face. Humming happily to herself, she hung her robe up as she thought about what settings she'd use. Walking naked over to the first cubicle, she looked thoughtfully at the controls, then bent over to adjust them, remembering to concentrate on setting them and not to wander off into devisor land. So she missed the sound of the door opening again.

"Oh! I'm sorry, Laura, I didn't realize you were here."

Laura turned and smiled. "It's OK, Morgana, they're here for all of us after all."

The redhead blushed slightly. "Well, yeah. It's just that I didn't mean to disturb you."

Laura laughed. "Silly, of course you didn't. Oh, and I already turned the sound cancelling on so you don't need to set it up."

Morgana smiled her thanks as she slowly undid her robe. "Please, you go on, I didn't mean to spoil your...uh..."

"Fun?"

"Yeah, I guess that's a good way of putting it."

Laura stepped into the first shower cubicle, then turned back. "You know, I can always do your back if you need help?" The innocent-sounding words were accompanied by what she hoped was a roguish wiggle of her eyebrows.

Morgana paused for a moment. "Ah...thanks for the offer, but I think I can manage on my own."

"OK, but it's your loss." With that, Laura finally slipped into the shower with the wiggle of a rather shapely blue bottom and turned the water on.

Morgana just smiled and shook her head as she hung her robe up. One of these days someone was going to take Laura's flirting seriously, and she was rather curious about what the end result of that would be. Judging by the occasional sigh already coming from the shower, Laura was already busy, so she headed for one of the other shower stalls. She still wasn't quite certain about playing like this with someone else in the room, but none of the real freshman girls seemed to worry too much. It wasn't that she minded exactly, she just worried a bit that it wasn't the way a girl was supposed to act, and anything that might give away the fact that she was a changeling worried her.

Being partially lost in thought hadn't stopped her from getting her own shower ready, and she blushed slightly as she heard a preliminary whimper from the next cubicle. Knowing what a sexy girl - and Laura was certainly sexy despite her exotic coloring - was doing so close to her was making her have a reaction she wasn't really familiar with yet. With a determined twist of her wrist she turned on her own shower. It didn't stop her thinking, but it started to distract her almost immediately. Very soon she was lost in her own feelings - quite different from the ones she'd been used to, but very pleasurable nonetheless - so much so she barely registered a whimpering moan from close by.

Laura panted for a minute, unaware of how much time had passed, and she really didn't care, head resting against the shower wall as she recovered. She didn't know who'd arranged for these showers, but she had already decided that they were the Best Cottage Accessory Ever. Her legs were still a bit shaky as she turned the water off and opened the glass door to retrieve her towel. Judging by the low moans and occasional gasp from the neighboring stall, Morgana wouldn't be finished for a little bit, but for some reason, she decided to wait while she dried off. It was more fun chatting while one dried. As she started to pat the moisture off her skin, a particularly loud moan made her glance involuntarily at Morgana's stall. The glass door was lightly frosted, and Morgana, oblivious to the fact that someone might be watching her, was quite obviously enjoying the full range of the Hydroflux experience. She wondered if she should say something, or if it would be more polite just to pretend she didn't notice, when she saw the girl's eyes. While Morgana's eyes were an unusual color even for a mutant, they didn't usually glow, Or if they did, she'd never mentioned it. So Laura stood, towel hanging forgotten in one hand as Morgana finished with a number of surprisingly loud and obviously very happy moans.

Morgana finally felt strong enough to step out of the shower. The first time she'd used one, she'd almost fallen over. Pushing her soaking hair back over her shoulders - she loved the look of her long hair, now if only she could do something about the way it handled when wet - she stopped in surprise as she saw Laura gawking at her with an odd expression on her face.

"Is something the matter, Laura?" She couldn't help but wonder if she'd made so much noise that she'd accidentally upset the blue girl.

Laura shook her head. "Well, no - I mean maybe, oh I don't know!"

Morgana continued to give her a very puzzled look, as the blue girl continued. "It was your eyes!"

"My eyes? What about my eyes?" Morgana looked at the mirror, but her eyes looked pretty normal to her - as long as one considered gold eyes with radial flecks of scarlet normal.

"When you were using the shower, I couldn't help seeing them. First they glowed, then when you orgasmed, they sort of flared like there was a fire behind them!" Laura grinned. "Several times, in fact," she added with a giggle.

Morgana just looked at her friend. "They did?" She looked more closely in the mirror, but her eyes still looked boringly non-luminous. "I didn't know..."

Laura blushed slightly. "Uh...you haven't, well, done anything in the dark?"

Morgana gave her friend a lopsided smile. Wow, Laura was finally embarrassed; that took some doing! "Laura, I was held prisoner for almost all the time after I manifested. This" - she waved at the showers behind them -"is the first chance I've had to see what it's like as a girl."

"Oh, I see." Despite her earlier surprise, Laura had obviously regained her composure quickly. "If that happens every time, it's going to make faking it hard, isn't it?"

Morgana looked at her for a moment before she realized her mouth was hanging open, and closed it with an almost audible snap. "Uh...I guess..." In self-defense, she grabbed her towel and started to dry herself. Thankfully Laura didn't take that particular line of conversation any further.

Having got her skin dry, Morgana eyed her long mane of soaking hair thoughtfully. "Laura, you're the gadgeteer. Is that detector in the ceiling heat or smoke?"

Laura paused from the act of wrapping her own hair in a towel to look up at the small square of plastic. "Smoke, I think. Why?"

The redhead grinned. "I want to try a new way of drying my hair, it takes ages otherwise." She put her towel aside, as with a small waft of warm air she changed to her Dragonform. Laura watched curiously as she took a moment to compose herself. "Now..."

Laura gave a small squeak as flames surrounded the horned girls hands and lower arms, and she casually stroked the flaming members through her tumbled mass of hair, to the accompaniment of a hissing noise and a burst of steam. It took her less than a minute to dry her locks, and she stood there grinning with the feeling of accomplishment as the flames faded and dyed. Laura was still staring at her in fascination before finally speaking again.

"That was so cool! And way faster than a drier!"

"Yeah, I thought it was worth a try, I was just a bit worried it might have set the alarm off." Grabbing her robe, she slipped into it, tossing her hair back behind her.


Friday, September 9, 2016 - Before Dinner
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

It was purely coincidental that Brita Bauman decided to talk to Gayle Barker on the lesbian wing of Poe's second floor; Gayle's older sister Heather had been a mentor of sorts to Brita when Brita had been a naïve, young freshman, and the two had had a brief fling. Heather had gotten Brita into the Amazons, and Brita wanted to return the favor, helping Gayle if she could. Prior to graduation the previous spring, Heather had asked Brita if she could kind of watch out for Gayle, who had just manifested and was a PK brick.

As she walked back to the central hall, Brita was somewhat surprised when one of the girls on her 'recruit list', Morgana, came with some friends, including the blue girl and another girl who was chalk-white, to the elevator.

"Hi, Brita!" Morgana said cheerfully when she saw the German girl.

Brita returned a smile. "Guten Abend, Morgana," she replied warmly, but behind the façade, her mind was racing. She knew that Gayle was on the lesbian wing for a very good reason. But Morgana and her friends had come from a different wing.

"Going to dinner?" Morgana practically invited her to join them.

"Ach, no," Brita replied, an uneasy thought gnawing at her. "I need to talk to Annette."

"Oh. Well, we'll see you later, I guess." Morgana replied, waving a tiny bit as the group of girls stepped into the elevator.

Brita's eyes narrowed, and she spun, marching back toward the wing where she'd been talking to Gayle. A rap on the door of room 230 was quickly answered.

"Oh, hey, Brita," Annette Carpenter, resident advisor for the lesbian wing, said. "I was just heading for dinner. What can I do for you?"

Brita's nose wrinkled as she though. "Those girls, the blue-haired girl, the redhead, and the white girl - who's their RA?"

Annette glanced toward the wing from which Morgana and her friends had emerged. "Oh them? If they're on this floor, they're Krystal's charges."

"Krystal?" Brita found her fist and jaw clenching at that name. "So they're ...?"

Annette chuckled. "Yeah, we got a big batch of changelings this year! Mrs. H said it only happened once before, and she's hopeful this batch isn't as full of problems as the last one."

Brita didn't have to think to recall the tales she'd heard, which were spoken nearly every time someone got in trouble with security or the administration. "That would be Team Kimba, right? The ones who everyone says were quite insane?"

Annette laughed. "Yeah. They did a lot to help cement the cottage's cover story. Why?"

"Oh, no reason," Brita replied quickly. "Just curious." She made a show of looking at her watch. "Oh, I've got to run; I'm supposed to meet Val in a couple of minutes. See you later." Without waiting for a reply, she turned and marched quickly to the stairway, where she danced two-steps-at-a-time down to the ground floor.

Walking very quickly, Brita bypassed Schuster and Crystal Hall, instead continuing along the path until she came to Dickinson Cottage. Rather than enter, she sat at one of the small café-type tables, shaded by a large umbrella from the late-afternoon sun. As the students migrated toward the dining hall, Brita watched, acknowledging those upperclassmen she knew, and studying the freshmen Dickinson girls, some of whom would be possible recruits. She knew that was futile; a slender, meek little girl could be a very powerful PK brick, but she played it anyway, admitting to herself that she was also enjoying studying the bodies of the new class. They were young, she knew - too young, but still, for a lesbian like Brita, the female form was to be admired and appreciated.

"Hey, Brita," a voice called from behind her.

Brita spun, caught by surprise. "Hey, Val," she replied, leaping to her feet to wrap the newcomer in an enthusiastic hug. It wasn't what she really wanted to do, but it'd have to suffice - until later, anyway.

Val returned the embrace, then looked where Brita had been staring. "Yeah, there are some very shapely ones this term," she said with a naughty grin. unconsciously licking her lips seductively. "Some very shapely ones."

"It's okay to look," Brita said, her eyes narrowed a tiny bit and her lips slightly downturned. "But don't touch."

Val chuckled and kissed her finger, then planted that finger against Brita's lips. "You're jealous!"

"Of those scrawny, small-breasted, plain girls? Don't be ridiculous!" Brita denied vigorously, though her lie was totally transparent. "Let's go to dinner. I have something to tell you."

"Oh?" Val followed Brita, catching up to the determined stride of the German girl.

Brita glanced around to ensure there were no listening ears. "We need to scratch Morgana from our possible-recruit list," she whispered harshly.

"Why?" Val was puzzled. "She's a known fighter."

"She's one of them!" Brita spat in disgust. During the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, she'd discovered with the help of a friend that her mutation slowly broke down spells which were placed on her, so she was now free of the restrictive spell Mrs. Horton had placed on her and she was able to warn her fellow Amazons. She hadn't told Mrs. Horton about the spell, nor had she told anyone in the powers or magic department of that peculiar ability.

"How do you know?" Val questioned. Such information was not in the file they'd bribed someone in the IT department to give them.

"She's on the wing with Flower and the other fake girls!" Brita retorted, her words dripping with venom. "So are the white-skinned girl, and the blue girl you've been flirting with!"

"Are you sure?"

"Ja! All of them are verdammt changelings, fälschen Mädchen!"

Val knew Brita was upset because she was slipping into German. "Interesting."

"So stay away from that blue one! You know their type - they're nothing but trouble!"

Val nodded, but inwardly, she smiled. So - Laura was a changeling? Val had never had a changeling, and Laura was quite cute. Brita had unknowingly given Val a challenge.

(to be continued)

Comments   

+1 # Starfox Howl 2016-06-28 02:35
Sounds like the AMAZON club is going to be a big factor at WA. Sounds like they are well on their way of being the 'man hater's club' of the campus.
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-1 # ABC 2016-06-28 04:41
This is so confusing. Your narrative is torn and tattered by this fragmented and shotgun approach. I'm confused and giving up. Maybe I'll try again some other time. I really do want to read your works. I appreciate the work you have put in. I wish you folks well, but I believe you need to give more consideration your reader's experience. If I were to focus on a single word, it would be *continuity*.
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-1 # brudin 2016-06-28 15:17
Could you make the rate button in the bottom?
because i forgot to got back to the top eacg time to rete a story. :cry:
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0 # Rei 2016-06-29 01:47
Love how the school year is starting to come together. Keep up the good work. :D

One suggestion for edit. Vic can't be at the cookout and Crystal Hall at the same time on Sept 8th, can he?

Since I am not a registered user, please delete this comment before posting. I don't want to have a criticism showing in the comments. I really do love the Whateley Universe and wish I had the writing skills to add to it.
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0 # ShockHawk 2016-06-29 07:03
A lot going on with a lot of different characters... Definitely feels like a confrontation is brewing with the Amazons though for sure... The one confusing point for me is the scene in crystal hall after the picnic scene where Laura and Tanya are both absent because they are at the picnic, but somehow Vic is there even though Tanya sees him at said picnic... (That's sounds really wordy to me but not sure how else to say it at 0200 hours, lol)
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+1 # elrodw 2016-06-29 13:04
We had revisions coming from multiple authors, and multiple last-minute changes, and a couple of continuity errors slipped past edit. Just to demonstrate, in the final review and edit phase, we had almost 100 hits by the author/edit team before it was released. That's a huge number of chances of screwing up.
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0 # Observer 2016-06-29 10:11
Honestly, I appreciate the effort put into this, and the story in general keeps my interest, but it feels very much like a teen soap opera and lacking in much substance.
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+2 # Kristin Darken 2016-06-30 00:57
When you say... lacking in substance... what specifically do you mean? To me, it seems there are a number of things going on that could be considered substance but maybe your expectation is something specific.
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0 # Observer 2016-07-05 12:34
It is quite hard to put into words what I feel. If I had to make an analogy, this feels like "Star Wars: TFA", lots of things happening, but not really much significant getting done compared to any single part of the original trilogy. Maybe it is just because there is an incredible amount of talking going on.

I do agree that "substance" is quite subjective, and I apologise for my original non-specific comment.
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0 # alisa28 2016-07-03 00:35
Hadno problem following..In fact I've been fascinated by the
event and anxious to read the other authors contributions
to this years class....Multi Kimba's!! ;-)
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0 # AbiDrew 2016-07-09 23:02
Quoting Starfox Howl:
Sounds like the AMAZON club is going to be a big factor at WA. Sounds like they are well on their way of being the 'man hater's club' of the campus.


One actually wonders if a certain someone from Poe during first gen actually established this club and they've ALWAYS been this...
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