October 30th, 2007
A Forgotten Lab, Whateley Academy Tunnel System
Nimbus sat back and stretched as he over looked his handiwork. It had not been easy to find a way for a mechanical device to pull an avatar spirit from a host in a manner that sorcery could use. It was the fruit of decades of hard work, but now it was finally ready for testing. Soon, so very soon, it would be time, time for all the masks to fall away and put away all pretense. Then, the real work could begin.
He turned and looked at the young woman on the other side of the device, frowning at the subject table and its restraints.
This, of course, was merely a prototype for testing. Once refined, he would have no need of tables and restraints, after all, the entire purpose of the device was to speed up his collection of spirits, not slow it down. The girl was a college student with a particularly weak avatar spirit his rented henchmen from The Syndicate had kidnapped for him.
A few drops of his special concoction into her drink he had provided had rendered her compliant enough to bring back here to his laboratory under the school. Now, combined with sorcery he could torment her mind, knowing that the thrall spell held her absolutely obedient, even as her mind would lurch and scream in horror, completely helpless.
He had abused her for weeks, in every way a man could abuse a woman; breaking her spirit had only added to the pleasures of defiling her. He smiled, watching her eat the meager meal he had brought her, processed chemicals masquerading as food for these mutants and no one thought twice about why someone would buy food and take it to a lab.
No one ever considered someone might have a hostage down here.
“Susan, come here,” he commanded. She immediately left the so called 'meal' ready to eat and walked over.
“How may I please you, master?” she asked softly.
“I am going to give you a command. When I release you, you will be able to speak your own thoughts, but you will not shout, or call for help and you will be just as obedient as you are now. Do you understand?”
“Good. Now, come over here.” He lead the girl to his soul chest and stood before it, relishing the feeling of power it gave him. “You have no idea what this is, do you?”
“No, master.” The girl looked at the thing she hated most in the room, a tall, black mirror, horribly, infinitely black, whose surface swirled and crawled with monstrous, deformed faces in grimaces of horrific agony. Nimbus smiled.
“Of course you don't,” he told the girl. “You are just an ignorant little girl and it pleases me to watch the fear in your eyes. This magnificent creation of mine will rip that useless little blue bird spirit from your body and put it here,” he declared, pointing at the mirror. There it will stay until I have stolen every avatar spirit on this campus and compress them all into a single, all powerful Force. The Nimbus Force, which only I will control! I will become a god!” He cupped her chin relished the fear the spell didn't hide in her eyes. “In a moment, I'm going to test this machine on you, I have no idea what this is going to do to you, and I don't care if this kills you or not. If you do live, I have a deal with the people who kidnapped you to find someone who always needs young subjects for their experiments to dispose of you. If it does kill you, well then, I will summon a demon to inhabit your body to serve me. Perhaps, I will even be bored enough to send it to find your parents and murder them. I release you to speak your mind.”
Immediately the tears began to flow down Susan's face as she was at last given some freedom from her mind prison. “Please...” she stammered.
“What?” Nimbus leered at her. “Spare you? Do you think I have any mercy for a miserable little wretch like you? No, not only am I not going to spare you, I'm going enjoy listening to your screams as I test my device. Now, get up on the table and lie still.” The tears became a torrent as Susan tried desperately to will herself to flee, but stayed, calmly climbing onto the table, sobbing even as her body refused to obey her commands and she began to participate in her own murder.
Don't say words you're gonna regret
Don't let the fire rush to your head
I've heard the accusation before
And I ain't gonna take any more
The Alan Parsons Project, Eye in the Sky
October 30th, 2007
The National Museum of American History, The Smithsonian Complex, Washington, DC
As world class museums go, there were few that could rival the Smithsonian Complex. Oh, the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London were both top notch installations, but a young America had decided long ago that bigger would be better. America's attic, as the complex was colloquially known, housed the largest and perhaps the most singular group of collections in the world, which any of the staff will proudly explain just by asking. There were magical artifacts rumored to be Atlantean, space craft, historic tablets, curiosities and donated items from the world over, all categorized, as much as possible, and put on display within the limits of space of the facility.
Still, no matter how prestigious the facility, it was the last place that Tansy expected to find herself when she had settled into the sim couch and closed her eyes. Her perfect memory from a trip taken while attending Westchester Montessori allowed her to realize she was on the third floor of the Museum, just outside the The Price of Freedom: Americans at War exhibit. She was dressed in her fighting uniform, as she had expected from the vague briefing Ms Hartford have given the Tres Amigas although the setting was certainly a surprise. “What in the world?” demanded the deep, gruff voice of Elaine in her bear form. Tansy turned to find her in the slightly altered Wicked costume, stretched tight over her titanic, yet hyper feminine physique. It was such a dark red it blended into her fur, only by its smoothness showing what was covered and what was free flowing fur. The gigantic bear avatar turned to look at Tansy, only her unnaturally green eyes giving a clue as to who she really was. “Where are we?”
“The Smithsonian,” Tansy replied quietly, clicking open the retention straps on the holsters of her pistols. “Museum of American History.”
“Not a word, you two,” Kayda growled as she stepped out of the shadows. She was wearing the new costume Tansy had helped her make, swapping the mini-dress and beads for a tunic and pants. While the outfit was made to look like buckskin, it was actually Kevra with Cemakote and leather accents.
It was also skin tight.
With the thigh high boots she had made from the hide of the demon she had defeated and the skin tight nature of the Kevra, the effect was more like a porn star playing up being Native American as the young girl's body was on display. The outfit was completed by a headdress made of a skinned Coyote that obscured her face, with her green eyes peering out of the holes in the pelt's head for them. “Not one word,” she repeated, obviously feeling self conscious about the outfit.
From beside her, Tansy heard Lanie chuckle and rubbed her muzzle's chin. “Ah need to get you a motorcycle!”
Kayda cocked her head to one side in confusion, unconsciously making a very humorous pose with the animal skin on her head. “Why?” she demanded. “I mean, I could use some transportation, but...”
Tansy couldn't keep in a snicker as she heard her lover's thoughts. “Right, an Indian motorcycle...”
“Oh I love...” started Kayda, then stopped and scowled. “Oh, haha, very funny!”
With incredibly false innocence, Lanie demanded, “You don't want to be known as the Squaw riding the Chief?”
“Oh, you are so gonna get yours, you southern fried tramp!” Kayda hissed with much put on outrage, but Lanie merely struck a pose with her considerable figure.
“Every night, sugar!” she purred. Changing tone, she added, “Honestly, it does bring out every one of your best features...”
Is anyone thinking about the mission? Ms Hartford's voice demanded in their ears. Or should I just fail all three of you now? Muttering apologies, the girls crept slowly deeper into the museum, readying weapons as they did so. Kayda had her bow and arrows and Lanie was strapping those evil looking hand claws to her hands such that Tansy felt down right pedestrian drawing a pistol and being sure it was off safe.
The girls were getting used to working with each other now, even with the odd dynamics of the new code names Ms Hartford had given them for their work with The Committee. Of course, Tansy had long been used to being Dague, though her friends had had several back and forth arguments about their new code names. Ms. Hartford had originally planned to have Lanie take up calling herself Grizzly and to remain in her bear form to both protect the Wicked identity as well as obscure herself, but Lanie's spirit had not been pleased with that. Additionally, Lanie had pointed out using her spirits name might give away too much information, so the two had compromised on She-Bear.
Ironically, it was Kayda who had put up the biggest fuss.
“I will not!” she had shouted at the Assistant Headmistress when she had proposed her new codename at the briefing from the weekend from hell she had run them through. Three straight days in the sim except for eating and using the restroom. Ms Hartford had merely crossed her arms over her breasts and frowned at the petulant student.
“I am not going to argue this with you, Miss Franks!” she had shot back. “I will not allow any possibility of your identity being back tracked to you! You are the one with this fetish for Native Americanism, and since you refuse to change your theming, you can either embrace my suggestion or change your look! Those are your options and that is final!”
Kayda had mimicked the administrators posture and dug in her heels. “You don't know what you're asking!”
“On the contrary! I know exactly what I'm asking and, frankly, we can use the good will! So! Which is it? New costume or stay with the codename I've assigned you?”
“Do you have any idea the living hell he can make for me...?” Ms Hartford leaned down and got nose to nose with her recalcitrant student.
“Do you have any idea the living hell I can make for you?” she demanded. “I am not doing this for jollies or to prove how big of a bitch I can be. Which, by the way, you don't ever want to find out, Ms Franks! I am doing this for your protection from people who have no compunctions whatsoever with killing you! After spending weeks making you wish you were dead!”
“No 'buts' Miss Franks! One or the other, choose!”
Had Kayda realized just how cute she was when she pouted, it probably would have added to her annoyance. “Fine! But when he gets wind of it and gets angry...!”
Ms Hartford rolled her eyes. “Why should he be angry?” she demanded. “I would think he find the entire situation either amusing or, as it is intended, flattering. Quite honestly either way is a bonus for us! Now, go get your uniform on and into the lab so they can scan and render it for the simulator. Don't forget to inform them of all of your hold outs and abilities you want access to in the sim...Coyote.”
Kayda had stomped off to the scanning lab in a fit of temper.
Now, in an illusion of the nation's greatest treasure trove, she had a wicked looking hunting arrow nocked and ready to fly, obviously still sore over the manipulation she had undergone. Tansy and Lanie shared a glance and wisely decided they had ribbed their friend enough for this particular mission. “Isn't the museum closed?” whispered Lanie as much as her muzzle would allow, remembering that the sim had informed her the local time when it had launched.
“They closed at six,” Tansy whispered back, creeping forward thanks to the infrared lenses and emitter Lanie had built into her mask for her. When Kayda held out her arm, all three girls froze. Just around the corner were a pair of oddly dressed individuals one crouched in front of a display. The exhibit was three standing male manikins wearing what looked like old west clothing and a forth that was a woman who was sitting in a chair the others were standing around.
The two living dummies were a man in a mostly white body stocking, who, honestly had the build for it, rugged chest and a six pack that showed through the fabric, with ash blonde hair. It was mostly white because the stocking was festooned with a cacophony of colors splattered over it like the unholy love child of Jackson Pollock and Joseph Turner. He was standing next to a raven headed woman who was wearing a set of medieval armor from the Boris Vallejo collection, more designed to titilate than protect. Like her hair, the 'armor' was black and kept what little modesty she would claim as she knelt by the display and was trying to cut through the plexiglass that was protecting the maniquins. “Hurry up,” the man hissed.
“I only make this look easy!” the woman snarled back. “Now shut up before...”
“You get caught?” Tansy demanded loudly. “Too late...”
The pair scrambled around, the woman unsheathing a massive sword. “Did you kids get lost from your school tour?” she purred, lazily twirling the sword in her hand.
“Oh, such witty repartee!” drawled Elaine, her voice dripping sarcasm.
“You think so?” asked the man with a smile that belonged on a toothpaste commercial. “Of course you do! You are about to have the privilidge of being beaten by Knight and Daze!”
“Oh, I am gonna barf!” groaned Kayda. She snap drew the arrow and let it fly but Daze was gone in a wink of an eye, the arrow bouncing off the plexiglass of the display he had been standing infront of. In a twinkling he was beside her and was reaching for her quiver, but Kayda vanished.
“You can resist my Dazzle Uniform!” he declared as he waved his arms around trying to find her, too fast to follow. “I'm imp...oof!” He grabed his groin and fell to his knees, his eyes crossed.
“Keep your hands to yourself!” declared Kayda as she reappeared, mid-swing of a haymaker that connected solidly to Daze's jaw.
Lanie looked over at Tansy and asked, “Would you like to beat her up, or shall Ah?”
“I'm right here!” Knight snarled, leaping forward and sweeping down her sword at Tansy's head. The steel of the sword rang as Lanie's claws parried it, trapping it between them.
Walcutt's voice was cold. “Oh, you want to play rough?” she demanded as the pistol came up and thrumed. A bubble of electromagnetic force struck the woman right on the button of her nose which launched her backwards, several feet until she staggered back onto her ass, blood fountaining from her flattened nose.
“Yub brok mah nose!” she screamed as she scrambled back onto her stilleto boot heels. Tansy went to fire again, but a breeze blew by and suddenly her force pistols were missing their battery packs. And she quickly found the spare carriers were empty as well.
“Naughty, naughty!” Daze taunted from the window he was flinging the packs out of. “That's not according to the Marquis of Queensbury Rules!”
“Tansy!” shouted Elaine, which saved the Blonde's life in the sim. She was just able to side step the sword being thrust at her navel. Dropping the pistols, she grabbed Knights wrist closest to her, with the sword in hand, and with her other fist, drove it down sharply into Knight's elbow as she pulled the wrist up. There was the wet, popping sound of cartilage tearing, quickly masked by the woman's scream of pain as Tansy forced her ruined elbow to bend and raised the arm over her head. The sword fell to the floor with a deafening clatter as Tansy brought up her foot and kicked into the back of the villain's knee, collapsing it.
Unfortunately, this caused her to fall forward, right as Elaine was sweeping her claws up from her own attempt to disarm Knight, but now Knight's unprotected abdomen was where the sword had been. The claws raked open her belly, but before things could get more gruesome, Knight and Daze froze in midair, looks of horror and horrific agony on their faces.
For a moment, the girls stared at each other in confusion, then the clicking of a set of Prada heels heralded the arrival of Ms Hartford into the simulation. The Assistant Headmistress casually walked up to the girls, her face stony and unreadable. She gave each a withering glance and crossed her arms. “Three exemplars, three perfect memories,” she declared with considerable disgust. “Was anyone listening to the briefing I gave? Coyote, did I order you or the rest of your team to stop anyone you found?”
Kayda sighed and looked at the floor. “No...uh...Hindmost.”
“Dague, what was your team ordered to do here?”
“Investigate the alarm, patrol the building and report,” Tansy replied sullenly.
“She-Bear, what have I told you about taking these simulations seriously?”
“Ah am taking it seriously!” Lanie not quite shouted. “Ah didn't do anything Ah wouldn't have...”
With a sudden lurch and wet plop, Knight's intestines spilled out and she fell over, sobbing and gurgling inarticulately as she drowned in her own blood, then froze again. Kayda wheeled around and threw up, then vanished, indicating she had actually thrown up in the pod. The horrific scene faded away and Lanie found herself back in Arena 99. She quickly scrambled out of her pod and would have gone to help her soul sister, but Ms Hartford caught her arm.
The Assistant Headmistress was remarkably and unexpectedly strong. “Let the techs help her,” Hartford commanded, spinning the red head around to face her. “Are you telling me you are capable of what I just witnessed?”
Elaine's face flushed. “Look, what happened in the sim was an accident, she just fell where...anyway, yes, if someone were to try and kill Tansy or Kayda Ah will gut them like trout!”
Hartford's face was a mask of suppressed fury. “This is no longer a request. From here you will report to Dr Geintz in Hawthorne and set up a schedule of counseling sessions to deal with your anger issues and your inability to scale your attacks properly.”
“Yes ma'am,” the red head sullenly submitted.
“If this were a real situation, you would be looking at homicide charges, Miss Nalley!” The grip on Elaine's arm crossed the line from 'firm' to 'painful'. “Do you understand how close you are to throwing your life away?”
Lanie was able, with Grizzly's help to snatch her arm from the older woman's grasp. “Ah get it!” she snapped. “Ah said Ah would go to Fubar!” Lanie felt herself encircled by Tansy's arms and immediately between her lover's power and her spirit she was soothed and calm. “Ah'm sorry...” she whispered.
“It's ok,” Tansy assured her. Looking up, she asked, “Ms Hartford, may I go with Elaine to these sessions?”
“That's up to Dr Geintz,” Amelia replied in a softer tone, “but I will recommend that to him. In the mean time, Tansy, I need you get into your armor and report to Sensei Ito.”
“Oh joy,” the blonde muttered, meaning exactly the opposite. The two girls shared a glance, then went over to an obviously shaken Kayda. They enveloped her in a hug, then the three of them ambled towards the showers. Amelia watched them go for a moment, then took out her cell phone and dial. “Hello, I hope I'm not intruding. I'd like to ask a favor in return for a solid...”
October 30th, 2007
Basement, Hawthorne Cottage
The water in Fubar's tank was clear and there was no scum floating on the surface as Lanie followed the catwalk down and over the tank to the little living area that had been set up on the far side of it. There was a series of book cases, filled top to bottom with works on a dizzying array of subjects, art, philosophy, science, even one that was just fiction.
In front of them were a pair of comfortable looking wing back chairs in scarlet leather with a coffee table between them. And even though Dr. Geintz didn't need it for himself, he kept a stocked little kitchen to be a good host to the few guests he received. Elaine noticed there was already a silver tea service laid out, waiting for her. In the opposite chair, the dapper gentleman that was the projection of Louis Geintz sat in the other chair wearing a dark red velvet smoking jacket, a matching fez and he was just putting down a book as Elaine finished coming down the stairs. “Good evening, Miss Nalley,” the projection said with a warm smile. “Won't you join me?”
“Ms Hartford said Ah had to come see you,” Elaine replied as she walked over, her sneakers squeaking as she found a little damp spot on the tile by accident. “Ah'm not disturbing you, am Ah?”
“Not at all,” Louis assured her, obviously dashing her hopes. With a grin, he added, “I was just catching up on my Spinoza. Won't you have a cup of tea?”
“Thank you, sir,” the girl replied as she sank into the chair and picked up the pot. By force of habit, she looked for his cup to fill it first, and blushed to remember he was just a projection and poured her own cup.
“Thank you,” Louis told her softly.
“Does Spinoza offer any wisdom for mah plight?”
Geintz chuckled as he sat back down and crossed his legs. “I don't know I would employ the word plight to describe your situation, Miss Nalley, but if pressed, I would offer up Spinoza's observation of, 'I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.'”
Elaine dropped a pair of sugar cubes into her tea and stirred it quietly. “Am Ah really as far gone as Ms Hartford thinks Ah am, Dr Geintz?”
“I think Ms Hartford is very right to be concerned,” the psychic countered. “Temper and power are the very worst of combinations, Miss Nalley. When we are capable of so much, we must be on our guard more so than the common man in our actions.”
“'With great power comes great responsibility?'” she asked woodenly and took a sip of the tea.
“Certainly it should, but rarely does,” Louis replied. “I do not think you would purposefully give in to cruelty or spite, but you do have a temper, and 'I didn't mean to' is not an affirmative defense in court.”
“May Ah ask you something, sir?”
Lanie sighed and looked the projection in the eye. “Can...can you actually see through this...um...projection you use?”
The swarthy face split into a smile. “Yes, I can and feel as well. I'm so affectatious that I have all of this for show,” he said with a vague gesture at the books. Shaking his head ruefully he added, “I likely would have gone mad if I could not escape that glass prison and get to experience at least some aspects of life. But, my shortcomings are not what we are here to discuss.”
Elaine sighed and looked down at the table. “No, sir.”
His voice softened considerably. “Miss Nalley, it is not your fault that you have a temper, it is just an aspect of yourself, like your powers, you must learn to control and harness for productive ends. I would like to help you do that.”
“Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est,” the red head whispered.
Louis cocked his head to one side. “'Knowledge itself is power,'” he translated. “That is an excellent way to look at this. Are you a fan of Sir Francis Bacon, Miss Nalley?” The young girl shrugged.
“Ah fancy mahself an engineer and a scientist, so it would be foolish of me not to study the man who all but invented the Scientific Method. That, and mah mother is a Latin teacher so if anybody anywhere said anything in Latin, Ah got to hear about it.” Geintz shared a chuckle with the young lady.
“Parents are known for that sort of thing.”
Changing tracks, Elaine looked up and said, “Tansy said she would like to come with me to mah sessions with you.”
Dr Geintz nodded thoughtfully. “I think that might be advantageous, at least to start. Then we'll see how things go. And there is no sense on starting until after the Halloween ball, so why don't you come see me after class on Friday? The three of us can have a conversation about where we are and where we would like to see these sessions go.”
October 30th, 2007
Room 211, Poe Cottage
Kayda let herself into her room, still tasting bile faintly in her mouth. She looked up to greet Chou, but the martial artist was not there. Putting her books down she sat down on her bed and rubbed her face with her hands. There were times the realism in the sims, and her memory, were too good and the memory of the horrific death of Knight gnawed at her the way none of the sims ever had before.
She thought, trying with her mind to understand why she had thrown up, why suddenly what she had seen had bothered her so much. She had been raised on a farm! She had helped her father slaughter the winter pigs and chickens. She had participated in the buffalo hunts in the sims that had been far too realistic for several of the Nations members.
Kayda ran her hands through her hair, absently pulling out the braids and letting her hair hang freely around her head. It wasn't the first time she had encountered blood and gore, what had happened to her that she had completely lost her stomach?
You fight against your nature.
Kayda blinked and found herself sitting on a log at the fire circle outside the Lakota encampment that was her Dream Space. Across from her, Wakan Takan was just pouring a cup of tea into a wooden cup to hand across to her. She accepted the tea and took a sip, feeling it flow throughout her body and wash away the lingering sickness she had felt. With a sigh, she looked up at her spirit and asked, “What do you mean, Wakan Tanka? My nature?”
The spirit looked at her with her dark eyes piercing and powerful. “You are a Shaman, Wihakayda,” the spirit woman replied blithely, as though it was something everyone should understand. “You have no place in the war party. Your hand will always find the handle of the tomahawk uncomfortable. You dance the ritual that ensures the hunt, you chant the magic that heals the sick, you beat the drum that call The People to Council Tent to pass the peace pipe and sheath their knives.” The intense gaze turned away, back to the gourd. “Your feet do not walk the War Path.”
“I'm not a pacifist!” Kayda protested. “I won't stand by and let people hurt my friends when I can stop it.”
“Use your mouth to stop it,” the Ptesanwi ordered her. “Not your fist! Wisdom is your club, words your arrows and knowledge is the strength of a shaman. And you are not just a shaman, Wihakayda, you are the shaman, first among equals at the fire circle, it is your voice that others must heed.”
“I...” the girl stammered, expecting to be interrupted by her spirit, but the Ptesanwi merely gazed at her over the top of her own cup as she drank her tea. “You don't understand,” she started again. “Lanie and Tansy and I have a chance, a real chance to make a difference with The Committee! It's not like I want to ignore our past,” she said with a gesture at the teepees in the distance, “but we also have to have a future! The stars can be that future!”
Reality shimmered until the idyllic village was replaced by the trash strewn squalor of one of the worse parts of the reservation Little Doe had lived on. The Ptesanwi's lovely features twisted and draped themselves with scorn. “Oh yes, what a marvelous future has been bestowed on us by the Great White Father.”
“Would you rather stay here, or move on to something better?” demanded Kayda, with her hands on her hips. “And how much of this is our fault? Did the Great White Father dump all of this trash on the ground or did we do that? Does the Cavalry still keep us here or can we go out and attend schools and learn skills and trades? We point one finger at the white man for our ills but four others point back at us! No matter how much we may hate it, the past we lived, that life we lived is gone and it cannot come back! We can sit in this filth or we can get up and make something of ourselves!” The Ptesanwi smiled as she looked at her host and once more they were in the idyllic village.
Caressing her cheek, the Ptesanwi beamed at Kayda. “That is the way of the shaman! While we cannot forget the past, we cannot return to it either,” she said sadly, but with pride. Her smile turned a bit sad as she brought up her other hand and held Kayda's face. “I had hoped that by joining with you, not the child of yours and the Pict Daughter, that some of the belligerence and stubbornness of her blood could be avoided, but now I see the real source of that fire.”
Kayda felt her cheeks blush as she was reminded of what she had given up. “A kid by Lanie and me would have been too much for anybody to handle,” she laughed.
“Perhaps,” the spirit allowed. “Perhaps not. In any event, Wihikayda, You have free will. And like all, you must find your role and path. I cannot tell you how you should live.” She pointed with her finger. “But I cannot shield you from the consequences of fighting your true purpose. I can, and will, tell you how those who came before you walked the path of the Shaman, but if playing hero helps you learn, then so be it.” She sat back and raised both hands in surrender. “On your own head.”
Kayda found herself standing in her own room once more, looking at herself in the mirror the two girls shared on the back of the dorm room door. Her hair was of an intermediate length, longer than Tansy's just off her shoulder's style, not quite as long as Elaine's middle of her back 'long haired Southern Girl' style. It was a little wild and curvy from being loosed from the braids and set off her dusky skin in a most appealing way.
Suddenly, the door opened and a surprised Chou was looking at her. “Sorry,” the other girl said, cocking her head to one side. “New hair cut? It looks good!”
Kayda ran her hands through her hair and smirked. “New way of looking at things,” she replied. “Come on, let's grab some dinner.”
October 30th, 2007
Room 210 Poe Cottage
Elaine looked into her mirror, seeing how the fur and patchwork armor looked against her body. Wearing her ancestress' clothing, somehow either magically created or transported through time to her was always an interesting feeling. It was actually far better made than she had expected on close detail. It was obviously stitched by hand, but the thread was remarkably fine and regular, nearly machine-like in its regularity. With her arms bare and through the chain mail, she could see the tattoos her experiences had bequeathed on her.
“Does it surprise you the barbarian Banshee can be skillful in things other than killing?” Elaine blinked and she stood in the stone dwelling her soul had once called home; the house Laneth's husband Domnall had built for her. Her mirror was still present, somewhat out of place as she turned and took in her older self, sitting in one of a pair of chairs that faced the fireplace that was burning merrily. Laneth held her daughter in her arms and had the green kirtle dress around her elbow to free her breast for the infant to suck. “I wore this dress far more than those leathers.”
Elaine came over and sat in the chair next to her, intrigued. Laneth was ten years older than she and looked it, there were already lines around her eyes and mouth, the toll of the hard life she lived. “No, it doesn't surprise me,” she told the Pict woman. “Ah don't really know you well enough to be surprised by you. That is a lovely dress, though.”
Laneth smiled as she caressed her child. “My mother made it for me. A present for me my sixteenth birthday to be courted in.”
“What is that like, Laneth?”
The Banshee frowned. “What? Nursing? You'll know soon enough.” She smiled and gently separated the infant from her to hold her up and pat her back. After a moment the baby gave a mighty burp and then snuggled into the hollow of her mother's arm as she made herself decent once more. “Greedy little thing!” she chided the baby with a smile. “She sucks so fast I have to burp her. Ah well, she comes by it honestly.”
“Ah hope you understand that Ah'm wearing this in honor of you,” the younger girl said. “Halloween is supposed to be about remembering our ancestors, after all.”
The warrior gave her the gimlet eye. “I am surprised you Americans remember anything that came before you! That to you All Hallows was an excuse to wear funny clothes, dabble in cheap pranks and reduce nameless horrors to humors to spook children?”
“They're not that bad,” Grizzly declared in her Amazon form from the small table behind them. She took a drink of mead from the tankard and shook her finger at Laneth. “And you would know cheap pranks all too well, wouldn't you, Laneth?”
The Pict grinned as she sat back down and propped her chin in her hand. “Guilty before the Law!” she admitted and shook her head. “Well, it is fun to play the stern mother. She looked wistfully at the infant and back at her descendant. “Imagining the road not traveled. At some point, my girl, you will have to decide if you want to be a warrior, as I was, or a mother.”
“What makes you think Ah can't be both?” demanded Elaine. Laneth accepted a tankard of mead from Grizzly and gave her descendant a hard look.
“The sword through my belly that killed me,” she declared flatly. “There is always someone better than you, my girl. Remember that.” She took a draught of the mead and licked her lips, allowing her expression to soften. “Still, it does no harm for you to wear it and remember me. I am touched, truly, Elaine.”
Grizzly smiled and gave a half bow. “Laneth, would you excuse Lanie and I? I need to speak with her for a bit?” The air shimmered and the two were suddenly on an island in the middle of a lake in Georgia. Elaine frowned up at her spirit.
“Why did you do that, Grizzly?” she demanded. “That was rude!”
The human Amazon melted away into the huge brown bear that enveloped her host in a massive hug. “Because I am worried about you!” the spirit declared. “Laneth daughter of Joan is dead, my love, and has been for over a thousand years!”
“But she...Ah...it was mah soul in that life...”
“And that life is over, child,” Grizzly scolded her. She pressed the end of her muzzle against Elaine's forehead in a wet nosed kiss of the human in her arms and her dark eyes were watery and sad. “Yet you keep calling her up, like you are keeping her separate from you. A different person in your body, that isn't healthy.”
“You told me it would do me good to remember her life.”
“There is a fine line between remembering and reliving, dear heart,” Grizzly replied. The she bear sighed and as gently as a mother caressed the young girl's cheek with her massive paw. “Lanie, multiple personality disorder is a very real thing. I am being concerned how 'real' Laneth feels to you.”
Lanie grinned and gently touched the nose of her spirit. “Said the voice in mah head!”
The muzzle split into what should have been a terrifying 'grin' of fangs that somehow only conveyed humor and affection. “I am a real and distinct entity from you,” she corrected. “We share your body, and some of you will exist in me until the end of time as I in you, but I am not a figment of your imagination, nor memories your soul should have washed away and didn't.” She stuck out her tongue and gently licked her host's forehead. “I care about you, Lanie and I am worried. This could be a sign of worse mental problems you might have down the road, this...predilection...you seem to have to compartmentalizing yourself. Who knows where it could lead?”
Lanie settled against the soft, warm fur of her spirit, feeling comfortable and loved. “Ah'll be careful,” she promised.
There was more Grizzly wanted to say, more that she felt perhaps needed to be said, but then just didn't seem to be the right time. She draped a protective arm around her host and the pair drifted off to sleep.
October 31st, (Just Barely) 2007
100 Year Oak, the back quad behind Schuster Hall
Tansy crouched in the tree that had played such a prominent part in her reformation, feeling the life of it vibrating down to the Earth to its roots and up through its leaves to the sky. Below her, security teams buzzed like hornets from an upset hive, their flashlights sweeping to and fro as they searched for her without realizing it. Feeling secure she was hidden, Tansy took a moment to get a pair of Ketoprofen tablets from the medical compartment of her belt and popped them in her mouth. Most of the major muscles in her body hurt from the grueling workout she had just undergone with Ito-Sensei, who had not needed the special molecularly locked coating of her combat armor to be ungrabbable. He slipped out of her holds as though he was coated in grease, usually with a parting shot to a nerve cluster that would blossom into white hot agony.
Then, after keeping her well after curfew, had slyly informed her he would not be giving her a pass and if she was caught on the way to her cottage he would double the detention. Which wasn't in itself so bad, kids sneaked around this campus all the time. Then, with that my shit doesn't stink grin of his he had reached up and tripped the fire alarm.
Tansy had had to scramble to stay one step ahead of security, going up to the roof of Laird Hall instead of heading to the tunnels. That was a rookie mistake, security used those tunnels a lot as well. On the roof, she had used the monopole lifter Lanie had built for her, reveling in the freedom of flight, until most of third platoon had spilled out of the Crystal Hall, flashlights waving around like London during The Blitz.
Now why was an entire platoon of security just happening to be in the Crystal Hall at this hour? She thought to herself with considerable rancor. She looked over the rise Schuster Hall sat on and could just make out the roof of Dickinson Cottage from here. This was obviously a trap, so now that it was sprung, how to best avoid the teeth? She took a moment to gather her thoughts and let the medicine sooth the ache in her muscles. Ito had been encouraging her to use every trick at her disposal and the battery for the monopole was better than half discharged. It might get her to Dickinson, but then again, it might not.
“Well, this is a fine kettle of fish,” she murmured to herself as she considered her options. Looking down at the security guards frantically looking for her and doubtlessly promised large rewards for finding her as motivation, Tansy noted one of the guards messing with his phone and got an idea. “Two can play this unknown assistance game,” she muttered to herself as she dug out her own phone. Quickly typing in, 'Are you still awake?' she sent the text message and waited for a few breathless moments.
[Yes, what do you need, ma'am?] popped up on the screen. Tansy smiled and made a mental note that some new jewelry would find its way to the mailbox of Jill Harris.
'A distraction,' she typed back quickly. Then a quick description of what she had in mind. Tansy had taken a liking to the hardened vet and the two of them had actually had a few outings together, discreetly arranged off campus of course. Her intuition about Jill was confirmed when her only reply to the plan was a smiley face emoji.
Specifically a 'laughing devil' smiley face emoji.
By the time the Ketoprofen had taken most of the ache from her muscles, a tremendous fireball rose up from the little shed behind Melville Cottage that the groundskeepers used to store fuel oil mixtures for their tools. Bellow her, she saw the guards, despite their challenged ethics immediately turn to the explosion and start to run towards it.
One or two shouted about it being a diversion, but the others demanded if they wanted to get fired for ignoring a real emergency? With much bitching about the loss of a 'sweet bonus' the platoon ran towards the now completely engulfed shack. Her phone vibrated in its case as Tansy took off, now free and clear. Touching the Bluetooth receiver in her ear, Tansy was relieved to hear, “I've been telling Mr. Miyamoto for weeks that shack was a fire hazard.”
“You ok?” Tansy asked as already her right wrist was buzzing, the warning that the battery for the monopole was approaching critical.
Jill laughed dismissively. “I could run rings around the chumps in payola platoon. Are you safe, ma'am?”
“I will be, no worries,” Tansy assured her as she directed her flight over to Melville Cottage and its roof. “I appreciate the short notice, Miss Harris.”
“My pleasure, Miss Walcutt.” Tansy alighted on the roof right as the battery went into fail safe mode, announcing the end of her flying for the night. Which was fine, she had other plans, in any event. Walking confidently towards the door to the stairwell access, the young blonde got the surprise of her young life.
“That was impressive, Miss Walcutt,” declared someone that seemed to materialize out of the darkness next to the stairwell door. “Tell me, how did you manage to make the gardening shed explode?” Just keeping in a squeal of surprise, Tansy somersaulted backwards, landing in a fighting crouch with a pistol in her hand. To find the air where the adult had been empty. “Boo!” whispered someone in her ear. She spun in surprise when someone tried to grab her wrist, but the hand slid off the artistry of Cecilia Rogers. “What the...?”
Tansy took the opportunity to slide down the roof, away from whoever was dogging her and drew her second pistol. Except the roof was empty. Looking around, not willing to risk a flashlight, she could see no one until a face dropped into her line of vision, inches from her own nose, from above her on the AC condenser unit she was up against. “Stop!” The voice commanded and Tansy could finally focus on the face as she had no where she could instinctively roll to. “I am a teacher, Walcutt!”
Finally she could focus on the face and blink in astonishment. “Ms. Imp?!”
The demonic looking woman let go of however she was clinging to the condenser and flipped down to stand in front of Tansy, giving a mocking theatrical bow. “None other!” She gave a pointed glance at the pistols and back to Tansy, causing her to blush and return them to their holsters.
“I repeat, Tansy, how did you make the shed explode and what is this cat suit made out of?” She reached over and tried to take Tansy's hand, but hers just slid off the coating, so the young blonde raised her arm to be inspected.
“It's some kind of molecularly locked fabric Cecelia Rogers made, so it's almost frictionless. You'd have to ask her for the details. As far as the shed, I didn't do anything to the shed, Ms. Imp...” she started, causing the teacher to look up from her inspection of the sleeve, disbelief draped across her features.
“Blondie, I have been in the bad girl business longer than you've been alive, and certainly long enough to know that nothing that convenient ever happens by coincidence.”
Tansy finally got her mental footing and reclaimed her arm from the teacher's curious study. “And you're just up here for a breath of fresh air?”
The Imp snorted and rolled her demonic eyes. “Of course not, I'm waiting here for you!”
“Me?” Tansy demanded, then cocked her hip to put a hand on it. “Oh, I get it, you and Payola Platoon were part of some test Devil-Sensei dreamed up for me tonight?”
The Imp's face grinned a sly grin. “She can be taught!” The teacher admitted as she gave the girl a long, appraising glance. “Hartford asked that I give you some coaching on your escape and evasion tactics, and I wanted to see what you could do first. And for a solid from one of the best hackers in the world, why not?”
Tansy frowned. “I passed all the E and E classes I took!”
“Yes,” Imp allowed. “I read your transcript. At the time, you were also pretending to be an exemplar one but we both know that isn't so, is it? I don't know how you managed to get the shed to explode, but that's not really a secret I need to pry out of you. I will just warn you not to try it again and we'll let the matter pass, but I insist on knowing what you are capable of physically to know where you can be pushed.”
“I don't suppose a few grand will buy me out of this, will it?”
“If I wanted your money, do you think you could keep it from me?” the Imp asked with another grin.
“I have no doubt you could break into any bank or home I own,” Tansy replied. “Of course, the bank is FDIC guaranteed and everything I own is insured for at least three times what it is really worth, so that won't exactly hurt me.”
The demonic yellow eyes narrowed. “Is that a challenge, Blondie?”
“Oh, no ma'am!” Walcutt quickly stated. Not even she was foolish enough to make a personal enemy of The Imp!
“Good,” the teacher purred. “I never like making examples out of students to start with. So, later on this morning, you and I are going to pay a little visit to Dr. Hewley and we're going to discover what your real exemplar rating is.”
Tansy sighed. “Yes ma'am.”
“And Blondie, don't make the mistake of trying to fool me. Being lied to makes me angry. Miss Walcutt, don't make me angry; you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.”
Walcutt blinked in confusion. “You...turn into a six and half foot tall green rage monster? You don't look like Bill Bixby...”
The teacher's face split into a very warm grin. “Well, Blondie, I think you and I are going to get along famously! Report to Dr Hewley's office after lunch.”
“Yes, ma'am. Am...am I going to get detention?”
“For what?” the teacher asked as she began to fade away into the shadows. Suddenly alone, Tansy shook her head at the odd turns her life was taken and opened the door to the stairwell and descended a floor to the penthouse level. No sense trying to sneak around campus with a building on fire, and she knew just the place to lay low for a bit...
October 31st, 2007
3rd Floor Rest Room, Twain Cottage
Adam Lambert grinned into the mirror as he brushed his teeth, feeling pretty good about things. The top of his head had gone from 'peach fuzz' to 'crew cut' with a months worth of growth and the stain of his secretions was nearly out of his skin. He wasn't pasty white, but he didn't look like he had been wearing black face any more either. Things were definitely looking up!
His bank account had a nice infusion of cash now that the patent for his 'Grease Skin' had been leased by Johnson and Johnson. He was told that it was a godsend to burn victims and being proud of helping his fellow man was doing wonders for his self confidence.
Having a girlfriend who was as pretty as Prue didn't hurt either!
Adam spit into the sink and cleaned the left over foam and toothpaste from his brush. Yes, he decided as he rinsed with mouth wash, wincing at the burning sensation, things are going pretty good. It was, of course, at that moment he caught sight of Peeper in the mirror. He was wearing those midnight black 'sun glasses' Tansy had paid for, that he was telling everyone blocked his power, but nobody really believed him.
Once bitten and five or six times shy.
Spitting out the mouthwash, Adam desperately grabbed his things, trying to avoid what was coming, but not quickly enough. “Adam?”
“Fuck off, John,” he growled, shoving toiletries into his bag. “I have nothing to say to you.”
“Can you listen?”
Adam wheeled on the other boy, one hand reflexively clinched into a fist as he stared at his own reflection in the black lenses. “Why, John?” he demanded between clinched teeth. “Why should I?”
“Be...because I'm trying to apologize...” Martin started, but Adam waved him off.
“Fine, apology accepted, happy?” he demanded, pushing by the other boy. He intended to get quickly back to his room, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
“Woah, kinda harsh, weren't ya?”
Lambert turned to take in the pupil-less eyes of Jericho staring at him from under his short dreadlocks. Surprisingly, the boy was wearing a comfortably looking white terry clothe bathrobe that had a hotel logo on the breast pocket with a plaid towel over one shoulder. Tasteless, but easily the least offensive thing Adam had ever seen the other boy wearing. “What if I was, Joe?” he demanded. “You think he doesn't deserve worse for what he did to me?”
Jericho's expression didn't change. “No, brother, I think you can do better when somebody is trying to apologize. I mean, if you're just going to be a dick, why bother not hanging around with Peeper, right?”
Adam frowned, but couldn't argue the bigger boy's logic. “That hurts, Joe.”
The terry cloth shrugged. “The truth does, brother. The truth does,” he said as he went by, working his cane back and forth in front of him to his room. Adam watched him depart for a moment, then sighed and turned back into the bathroom to find John sitting on the bench, waiting for one of the showers to be free.
Steeling himself to keep his expression neutral, Adam walked over to his former friend. “What do you need to say to me, John?” he asked as gently as he could.
October 31st, 2007
Headmistress's Office, Schuster Hall
“You asked to see me, Doctor Carson?”
Elizabeth Carson didn't turn from the window she was looking out at over the Fixer's Patio and the Crystal Hall. No one was lingering on the patio, it was too early and most of the kids were at breakfast. But it was lovely morning with the sunlight glinting on the crystal of the geodesic dome and the skies were brilliantly clear and blue. Despite the cold start, it was supposed to get up to sixty degrees today, but that did not warm the Headmistress' voice in the slightest. “I did, Reverend. Please come in and have a seat. May I get you something?”
“I think it might be best if I face this particular interview without coffee to spill. I can imagine I know what this summons entails,” the Priest replied as his cassock rustled slightly crossing the room to sink into one of the chairs facing the desk.
“Anniversaries do tend to stand out in our memories,” Carson agreed as she turned finally arms crossed over her breasts to fix her gaze on the Reverend. “I am a firm believer in second chances, Reverend, as you know. Perhaps it is a flaw in my character.”
“I would hardly call forgiveness a character flaw, Doctor Carson.”
“Perhaps,” she admitted, walking over to her desk and sinking into the chair behind it. “But when forgiveness is abused as a means by the wicked to do additional harm, well, that is usually used as a justification for all manner of unspeakable actions. Wouldn't you agree, Reverend?”
The old preacher sighed and sat back in his chair. “History would certainly agree with you, Doctor.”
“I do not regret speaking on your behalf to the other trustees. I was and am encouraged by the new leaf you have turned, both with your emotional restraint and I'm told even your sermons have become somewhat sedate.” A ghost of a smile pulled at the old man's thin lips.
“I was recently reminded of the forgiving nature of Our Lord and aspired, like the Prodigal Son before me to make the most of my forgiveness and aspire to the diligent attention to duty that should have characterized my time.”
“That's very wise.”
The smile became ironic. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” he quoted mirthlessly.
“Are you afraid of me, Reverend?”
“Should I be, Doctor Carson?”
The temperature in the office cooled noticeably by the Headmistress' gaze. “Absolutely, Reverend,” she whispered. “Because while I believed that you had seen the error of your actions last year, and that you intended to correct the faults of your character that led you to make such a horrendous mistake, I must admit that my judgment has failed me from time to time. I am, only human, after all and I can be deceived.”
“Madam,” he retorted. “The Master of Deceit himself would find you an insurmountable challenge!”
Her eyes narrowed making her face even more stony and unreadable. After a long moment, she declared, “I dislike making threats, Reverend. I find they are generally either empty posturing or the desperate attempt of the over matched at mind games. That said, my own sense of fair play demands that I give warning to those who are in danger of provoking my wrath.”
“There is a reason for its placement on the list as a Deadly Sin, Doctor...”
“Don't quote philosophy to me, Reverend,” she ordered quietly. “This is your warning. And as I respect you as a person, as one of the founders of this school and one of its oldest serving Trustees I give you this warning which I might not have otherwise. If there is a repeat of what happened last year, Reverend, or if I found out that you had anything to do with Sara Waite's disappearance, understand that there is nowhere on this Earth you will be able to hide from me.”
“I had nothing to do with...”
A single raised hand cut off his protestation. “I am not accusing you,” she said evenly. “I am warning. If you have anything like last year planned, speak now, Reverend, while it can be stopped, and your life spared.” The priest twitched at her casual tone even as she stood, placed her fists on her desk and leaned forward, the glasses she didn't need hanging by her neck from their chain below her. “Because if something does happen, Reverend, mark my words, I will survive it. I will hunt you down. And I will kill you. Do you understand me?”
His mouth dry, the Reverend pushed his dry tongue over dry lips. “Perfectly, Doctor Carson.”
“Is there anything you wish to tell me, Reverend Englund?”
There were several answers that leapt to Darren Englund's lips, some witty, some acerbic, one even a throw back to his youth, but he mastered them and himself, realizing her statements for what they were, an actual warning, rather than the posturing of some. He sighed and shook his head.
“Mrs Carson, last year I allowed an obsession to cloud my judgment. I will shed no crocodile tears that Miss Waite has taken leave of us, by whatever means. I maintain that she was and is a threat to everyone on these grounds. But, those concerns in no way justify what I allowed myself to do. That said, I assure you, I have learned a very bitter lesson about where my loyalties should and now do lie and I swear to you, by the God we both serve, that they are with this school. I have no knowledge of any impending threat to this school, nor will I ever again take part in such plans and if I did have knowledge of such a threat I would make you aware of it as soon as my hand could reach my phone. You need have no fear of designs from me.”
“Then I look forward to my apology, Reverend.”
He stood, heavily, his head bowed. “It is I that continue to owe you an apology, Doctor Carson and I will redouble my efforts to tender it through trustworthy actions.”
Mrs Carson stood up off her desk and her features softened. “They are already, sir.”
October 31st, 2007
John H. Sununu Youth Services Center, Concord, New Hampshire
“Rutherford, on your feet, approach the door.”
The guard's voice was hard, one of many ex-armed forces types that were hired to work as guards at the the state's largest Juvie detention center. Ed 'Quickdraw' Rutherford stood and walked over to the cell door. “What's going on?”
“Turn around,” the guard ordered. Quickdraw did as he was told. Some of the guards here could be 'firm' in the physical sense and bruises were winked at, right up to, the rumors went, broken bones. A set of shackles were fitted around his ankles, hobbling him, then a waist belt and hand cuffs locked to it to keep his arms at his sides were added. The door was opened and the guard took a firm grip of his shoulder. “You're being transferred to FCI Berlin.”
Ed blanched. “What? No, that can't be! That's an adult prison! My plea deal...”
The guard backhanded him with sufficient force to split his lip. “Close your yap,” he commanded. “Whine to your lawyer, he's getting paid for it.” Ed's mind moved in circles at rates only speedsters manage. He was marched through the facility with some of the other boys pointing at laughing, some of this was ignored, others with guards near them suffered correction. This couldn't be right. His plea deal specified he would be in Juvenile centers until he was eighteen and then a mental facility for the rest of the ten year sentence he had managed to negotiate. He barely noticed when he was shuffled into a prison van and it began to travel.
It didn't make any kind of sense! His lawyer...
Ed was snapped back to reality when the van lurched to one side. He suddenly realized he had no idea how long he had been trying to figure out what was happening as the van was struck hard, knocked off its wheels and onto its side. Quickdraw was tumbled around inside and rattled like a top. There was shouting, then gun fire, then a terrible kind of quiet. Then a pair of single gunshots.
Suddenly, with a squeal of wrenching metal, the back doors were ripped off the wreck of the van. Blinking into the sunlight, Ed beheld a sinister looking man, dressed rather like a wizard, robe like flowing coat and a completely black stocking over his head, under the hat. Behind him were a half dozen men in paramilitary gear with machine guns. “Who...who are you?” Ed asked hesitantly.
“Nimbus, your new employer,” the man in black replied. “And I'm going to help you get revenge on Darren Haskins and everyone else at Whateley, Quickdraw. Or, you can stay here, be transferred to an adult prison and take the fall for those two dead guards. Your choice.”
A hateful grin spread across Ed's face as he got to his feet and hobbled to the door. “I'm your boy, boss.”
It was impossible to tell behind that mask, but Ed got the feeling this 'Nimbus' was smiling.