Absinthe 2: The Absinthe of Malice (Part 3)
A Whateley Academy Story
Absinthe 2: The Absinthe of Malice
Monday late morning, Oct 29th, 2007
Crystal Hall was busy, just like it always was during the lunch rush. I was sitting at my usual table, eating with my normal lunch crew, which consisted of Dana, Jinx, and Collin. Fixx and Porcelain were sitting with us today, as they frequently did, when they weren’t with the Underdogs. And today, Cindy and Lina had both joined us as well.
I carefully watched the people walking past as I ate, feeling a little uncomfortable as I did so. There was one boy with nice muscles who made me feel sort of warm and gooey as I watched him. Another boy had a butt that drew my eyes to it, just as much as a nice pair of breasts used to. I let out a faint sigh, then turned my attention back to the table, and Collin. He was definitely a cutie, and it still felt wrong to think that.
This morning, I’d had my second appointment with Dr. Bellows, and this time we’d talked a lot about how I was starting to like boys. I’d acknowledged this fact, but that didn’t mean I liked it. After growing up as a guy and liking girls, it still felt wrong to me. Dr. Bellows hadn’t made any judgments either way, though he had suggested that I actually pay more attention to boys and try to determine what it was that I found attractive.
Understanding your own interests is a part of learning to understand yourself,” he’d told me.
I looked around the table, noticing that Lina and Cindy were having a hard time not holding hands or giving each other ‘goo goo’ eyes. After I’d accidentally hurt Lina’s feelings and Cindy had gone to comfort her, it seemed that they’d become something of a couple. I felt happy for both of them, though I couldn’t help but feeling a faint stirring of jealousy as well, even though I no longer found either of them sexually attractive.
Cindy was showing off with her powers, revealing a beautiful glass figurine in her hand that looked like an eagle in flight. I couldn’t help but being impressed, as well as thinking it was a shame that anything she manifested tended to vanish just moments after losing contact with her. Because of that, she could create that beautiful art, but as soon as she set it down or tried to give it away, it would disappear.
That’s incredible,” Lina told her while I nodded agreement.
Porcelain was watching as well, though her expression was unreadable through her porcelain face and she wasn’t saying anything. However, I imagined that she was probably jealous since they were both manifestors but Lina had much more control over her power.
That is pretty cool,” Fixx said with an easy grin. Then again, Fixx was always quick to smile.
Porcelain looked at Fixx for a moment, then she held out her hand. To my surprise, the white porcelain of her palm actually began to melt and flow, forming a porcelain figurine that looked like a bear with a salmon in its mouth. Then without a word, she set the figurine down on the table in front of her, as if to say, ‘see, mine doesn’t vanish’.
That’s great,” Fixx exclaimed, giving Porcelain an even broader grin. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
You never asked,” she pointed out, earning a chuckle from Fixx and a smirk from Jinx.
Dana just grunted and took a bite out of her hamburger, her fourth one. She was in a bad mood and I didn’t blame her one bit. She’d woken up this morning by slapping her alarm clock and accidentally breaking it. Then a few seconds later, she’d let out a long and loud stream of profanities due to waking up in a puddle of blood. She’d started her period in the middle of the night, and it had left quite a mess for her to clean up this morning. Jinx and I were both tip-toeing around her today, though at least Dana was handling it better than I had.
I looked at Collin again, noticing that he was a little quieter than usual. I shifted to my mage sight and looked at his aura, seeing that he was somewhat depressed. “Are you all right?” I asked him after a moment.
Yeah,” Collin responded with a grin, his mood lightening a bit. “Just thinking about my situation.”
Your situation?” Jinx asked curiously.
Collin shrugged at that, looking a little self-conscious. “At my old school, I was always fairly popular…even before I manifested as an exemplar.”
I remember,” I said, earning a curious look from Collin. I gulped and quickly added, “I mean, I remember Adam mentioning that.”
Collin was athletic, good looking, and he was usually a pretty outgoing and friendly person. He’d definitely been one of the most popular people at our old school, and that very popularity had protected him once rumors began going around about him being a mutant. If it had been one of the unpopular kids, they probably would have been bullied because of it. And of course, Collin had been especially popular with all the girls. I frowned, suddenly feeling jealous, though I tried to push that emotion away. Just because I had green eyes, that didn’t mean I had to be a jealous bitch.
I know this sounds completely vain and narcissistic,” Collin explained, “but back there, I was probably the most athletic and best looking guy in school.”
You are an exemplar,” Fixx pointed out with a shrug.
A big fish in a small pond,” I said in sudden understanding. “And now, you’re a small fish in a big pond…”
Pretty much,” Collin agreed with a sigh. “Here, I’m not really anything special. I guess it’s just a blow to my ego.”
What brought that on?” Fixx asked him.
This morning, I got an email from my old buddy Mike,” Collin answered. “He was talking about how he’s started dating Suzie Quentin…”
The most popular girl in our grade,” I explained for the benefit of everyone else.
Collin turned bright red and gave me a quick glance, protesting, “It’s not about Suzie or anything like that… Mike was just telling me about some of the things that have been going on back home and it just made me realize that I can’t get involved in that kind of stuff around here.”
I wish that was the biggest problem I had,” Dana commented with a snort while the rest of us nodded agreement. That just made Collin look even more embarrassed, and I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty since I was the one who’d asked.
That reminds me,” Collin said, giving me a curious look. “Mike mentioned that Adam hasn’t come back to school. Did your brother drop out or something?”
That question caused me to freeze while Dana and Jinx quickly gave me a worried look. Lina and Cindy both knew that I used to be a guy, but they didn’t know what my old name was so didn’t seem to catch the reference. However, they obviously noticed my reaction and suddenly had worried looks as well.
Did you hear that Humanity First jumped Gwen yesterday?” Dana blurted out.
What?” Collin gasped in surprise, giving me a worried look and appearing to completely forget about the previous line of conversation. “Here at Whateley? How is that possible?”
I was in Berlin,” I answered awkward, giving him a wry smile and adding, “For my job.”
Oh,” Collin responded in understanding.
What happened?” Fixx asked, looking shocked.
A group of six guys in ski masks jumped me,” I explained with a grimace.
Then I had to tell them the story, leaving out the fact that I’d just come out of the MCO field office, but giving a good description of the actual fight. They all started laughing when I described how I’d used the illusions to make a couple of them look like me, so they ended up getting shot by their own friends.
Serves them right,” Cindy said with a look of satisfaction. She absently formed a glass dagger in her hand and made a gesture as if cutting off an organ that was very important to any guy. “I would have given them a bit more.”
Hell yeah,” Lina added with a smirk. “Fucking assholes…”
Porcelain stared straight at me and said, “You fought six baselines, leaving at least one dead, and the MCO did not come to capture you?”
The MCO was there,” I admitted, deciding not to mention that it had been an MCO agent who’d been leading those assholes. Grace had her own plan for how to deal with Whells, and I’d agreed to keep quiet until then. “She came and helped me, then called the police and made sure they were all taken into custody. Well, all except the one who got away.”
Hard to believe the MCO would ever help a mutant,” Cindy said while several of the others nodded agreement.
I turned to Dana and said, “That reminds me… About what I asked you…”
I don’t want to talk to the MCO,” Dana responded almost in a pout. “No way, no how…”
But if this is the same woman who helped Gwen…” Jinx pointed out.
And it can help keep that Owens guy in jail,” I added.
Dana scowled at that, then exclaimed, “How dare you confuse me with reason.” She shook her head before saying, “All right. But it has to be here at Whateley…and YOU have to be there.”
Me?” I asked in surprise.
Or no deal,” she stated firmly.
I thought about it for a moment before nodding, “Fine. I’ll call Grace tonight and let her know you agreed…and your conditions.”
So,” Fixx asked, giving me a curious look. “You’re acting like some kind of go between for the MCO?”
I just let out a sigh. “Something like that.”
When we were done eating, we all split up to go to classes, and as usual, Dana, Collin and I started for martial arts together. It wasn’t until we were leaving Crystal Hall that I noticed the ambush that was set up ahead of us. Before I had a chance to do anything, Peeper and Greasy started towards us.
Ladies,” Peeper announced with a lecherous smirk and far too much attention on my chest.
Assholes,” Dana responded, trying to go around them though Peeper stopped right in our path.
Go away,” Collin told the pest.
For the record,” Peeper continued, as though not even noticing Collin. “What kind of bikinis do you girls like to wear? Slinky little things with thongs?” He held up his microphone and added, “The listeners want to know.”
Dana snarled, a flash of anger passing over her face. After the day she was already having, this was NOT a good time to mess with her. Unfortunately, Peeper didn’t seem to know when to back off.
This was only the second time that I’d run into this pervert in person, but I’d been assured that nearly every girl on campus hated him. Since he’d made sure to ambush us when Jinx wasn’t present to destroy his equipment, I decided to take matters into my own hands and began casting a quick spell.
You really do have a thing for bikinis, don’t you?” I commented while every student nearby suddenly burst out laughing.
Girls look great in them,” Peeper started, then paused when he realized that everyone was pointing at him and laughing, including his sidekick Greasy. He finally looked down and gasped in horror as he realized that he was now standing there wearing nothing but a bikini, or at least that was what the illusion made it seem like. He let out a loud squeal and then ran off, much to my relief.
That was entertaining,” Collin commented with a broad grin. “Remind me not to piss you off.”
You know she will,” Dana pointed out with a smirk.
A short time later, we were in martial arts and I found myself sparring against Cerberus, a boy who could split himself into three separate bodies, each of which had a different power. For all intents and purposes, I was fighting three opponents at once, three opponents who could coordinate their movements with uncanny precision.
One of Cerberus’ bodies was pretty strong, about the equivalent of an exemplar three or four. Another one of his bodies could actually breathe fire, or at least spit out bursts of flame like some kind of miniature flame thrower. The third body didn’t seem any stronger than normal, but it was tough and fairly hard to injure.
I’d already dumped all my stored glamour on Cerberus, hitting two of his bodies with it. Unfortunately, he seemed pretty good at staying focused and ignoring whatever it was he was seeing. I’d thrown some illusions on him, trying to trick him into attacking his own bodies, but that hadn’t worked either. He could sense where his bodies were in relation to each other. And I’d even called up several illusions of myself, but he was able to attack all three of them at once.
While I was dealing with two of his bodies, he came up and grabbed me from behind with his third. Doug had given me plenty of practice on what to do in this situation, so I elbowed him in the stomach and squirmed loose, though it didn’t work nearly as well as it normally did. Cerberus had grabbed me with the body that was difficult to injure, so he wasn’t nearly as sensitive in his soft spots as what I was used to. Still, I wasn’t completely helpless. I had another stored spell that I’d been waiting for an opportunity to use.
A moment later, I slipped right out of Cerberus’ grip with ease, much to his surprise. “I’ve got you,” he exclaimed, grabbing hold of my arm, but he still couldn’t hold onto me.
I owe this one to a mutant named Slippery,” I said, knowing that the spell would only last for half a minute. But during that time, I had a skin tight force field that made me extremely difficult to grab hold of.
Originally, I’d been looking around for some kind of spell that would give me a real defense instead of just diversion, and Vulpine had tried teaching me a low level force field spell that she knew. Unfortunately, I had a hard time with that spell, but after a little inspiration from the mutant Slippery, who’d given me such a hard time back in Seattle, I’d modified the spell a little. Instead of protecting me from direct damage, it merely made it difficult for anything to really touch me. This was the first time I’d really had a chance to test it out.
This spell had given me a small opportunity, but I still needed to make use of it. I tried to remember everything I knew about Cerberus, including what I’d read in his MID. Apparently, he was actually some kind of manifestor, who could create up to two copies of himself at the same time, and a PK, which had different effects on each body. His powers weren’t especially powerful, but he was good at making full use of them.
His only real weakness was that he could only keep the extra bodies out for about fifteen minutes at a time, so if I was able to drag this fight out long enough I’d be able to wear him out. Unfortunately, this spell wouldn’t last long enough for that.
Cerberus breathed out a burst of fire, which my slippery field wouldn’t protect me against, so I dodged to the side and kicked him in the back of the leg, enough to make him drop forward. Then I grabbed his head and turned it so he hit his tough body with the flame instead, setting his own gi on fire. Then while he was distracted by that, I punched his strong body in the solar plexus and then the face. It was then that my slippery field wore off, but I continued to kick his fire breathing body in the leg, then jumped back.
Ito called an end to our match, without either of us being a clear winner. I was breathing hard and feeling sore because Cerberus had gotten in more than a couple good hits. He looked a little rough as well, so I felt a bit of satisfaction.
All three of Cerberus’ bodies glowed for a second, then two of them vanished. He nodded to me and said, “Good match.”
Thank you,” I told him. “You too.”
Absinthe and Centurion,” Ito stated, gesturing to me and the large boy. “You two will attempt to force each other out of the circle. No powers are allowed.”
I nodded at that and stepped into the circle with Centurion, definitely familiar with this particular exercise since Ito liked using it a lot. We would spar until one of us submitted, was defeated, or was knocked out of the circle. After that, or if we took too long, Ito would probably tell us to do it again but using our powers. What made me nervous wasn’t the exercise, but who my opponent was. Centurion had been trying to get me into a fight since my first day in class, and I’d been able to avoid that until now.
Centurion watched me with a smirk that said, ‘I’ve got you right where I want you now’. Then he said, “If you run away this time, I win.”
Only if I run outside of the circle,” I pointed out. Of course, Centurion was bigger and stronger than me, but I was pretty confident that without using our powers, I could take him.
Centurion and I began our match, with him being more cautious of me than he’d been on my first day of class. By now, he’d seen what I could do against most of the other students in class so he knew not to underestimate me. That actually annoyed me though because I liked being underestimated. It made my opponents get careless and sloppy.
Centurion didn’t hold back long before he began coming at me aggressively, so I played defense, backing away and avoiding his attacks as much as possible. At the moment, I wanted to protect myself until I found an opening to exploit. It didn’t take long before I found one, then I dodged to the side and kicked at the back of his knee as hard as I could so I could knock him to the ground. But to my surprise, he didn’t go down. An instant later, I realized why. His body was shimmering. He was using his powers.
Normally, I took a great deal of pride in being able to distract people, and in the fact that I was quite good at it. However, this time I was the one caught by surprise and I hesitated a moment too long. Centurion swung his arm at me, and I just barely had enough time to try blocking it, though there was a massive burst of pain and I was suddenly flying through the air. I flew well past the circle and hit the ground hard.
GWEN,” Collin yelled out, suddenly rushing towards me.
At the same time, Dana was hovering in the air, standing inside a golden force field bubble and glaring at Centurion with a pissed off look. I was sure that she was about to cut loose on him, if it wasn’t for Tolman and Ito suddenly ordering her and Centurion to both stand down.
You were instructed not to use your powers,” Ito told Centurion, his voice and mannerisms calm, though he was obviously not happy. Centurion was much bigger and stronger than Ito, but the little old man somehow seemed far larger and more intimidating. Even Centurion took half a step back. “Come. We will have words about following instructions in the future.”
Everyone on the mats,” Tolman called out to the class, then came over to me.
Are you okay?” Collin asked, looking more than a little worried.
I winced in pain, then said, “I think he broke my arm…”
We need to get you to medical,” Tolman told me as she bent over to look at my arm. “I’m guessing you have multiple fractures.”
I have a healing spell,” Vulpine exclaimed, coming over.
Vulpine sat down beside me, being careful not to sit on any of her three tails. Then she pulled out a piece of paper from her pouch and revealed that it had strange symbols painted all over it. I recognized her spells, but I didn’t know what language they were written in, or even if that was a real language. A moment later, her piece of paper burst into flame and vanished and my arm suddenly didn’t hurt quite as much.
I’m afraid my healing spell isn’t very powerful,” she told me apologetically.
As I said,” Tolman stated, giving Vulpine a faint nod. “You need to get to Doyle so a doctor can look at that.”
Collin helped me to my feet, being very careful not to touch my injured arm. I winced with every movement, then glared across the room at Centurion, who was taken out the back door by Ito. I would have been tempted to send a faerie to spy on the conversation, but I suspected that Ito would have noticed.
I’ll help her,” Collin volunteered and Tolman nodded agreement.
That bastard,” Dana muttered angrily as she came over to check on me. “Are you okay?”
I’ll live,” I assured her. “Vulpine definitely helped with the pain.”
A minute later, Collin and I left class as he walked me to Doyle Hall which was the small hospital on Whateley. Before long, I was being looked at by Dr. Tenent, a woman who was also some kind of magical healer as well as a medical doctor.
Dr. Tenent finished examining my arm and told me, “Multiple fractures. This certainly isn’t the worst injury I’ve seen come out of that class.”
I guess that explains why we had to have a liability waiver to take it,” Collin muttered. I just nodded at that, remembering that there had been a clear warning that students not only could get injured during class, but that at some point they most likely would.
That class can get rough,” Dr. Tenent agreed. “But I know that what you learn there might very well save your life someday.”
I didn’t argue with her, knowing that she was completely right. The class definitely could get pretty brutal, but I’d had several instances of people trying to kill me for real. If it hadn’t been for what I’d learned from Doug, I would have been killed for sure. I didn’t blame the class for this, I blamed Centurion.
Sure, I was annoyed that he’d used his powers when he was specifically not supposed to, but I could understand that. What pissed me off was that he’d intentionally gone out of his way to hurt me. He’d just used that sparring session as an opportunity to do so.
Dr. Tenent used a healing spell on my arm, one more powerful than what Vulpine had used. My arm definitely felt better, though it was still a bit tender. However, instead of hitting me with another healing spell, Dr. Tenent wrapped my arm up in bandages.
It will finish healing up over the next day or so,” she told me in a professional tone. “Sometimes, the healing is more effective if you speed up the natural healing process instead of trying to force everything at once.”
I’ll have to see if I can learn a healing spell or two,” I admitted, wondering why I hadn’t even thought about that until now. But of course, until now, my focus had been on how to avoid getting hurt, not on what to do after I failed.
Collin should have just dropped me off at Doyle and then gone back to class, but instead, he stayed with me until I was done. I appreciated that, though I couldn’t help but feeling just a little guilty about feeling that way. My new emotions were still confusing the hell out of me, even with Dr. Bellows trying to help me straighten them out.
When Collin and I finally left, I was still thinking about Centurion and the way he’d intentionally hurt me. On my first day in class, I’d hurt his pride, and then every time I managed to slip away from him after that, I’d hurt his pride again. For him, this had definitely been personal, but until now, I hadn’t really thought of Centurion as being any different than Collin or the other people who used to mess with me. I didn’t take it personally, and as long as I was able to avoid them, I almost thought of it as a game. But now, Centurion had made this personal for me as well.
Are you okay?” Collin asked me, giving me a worried look.
I’m just mad,” I told him with a grimace. “I should have expected something like that…”
You’ve been avoiding that jerk for a couple weeks,” he pointed out sympathetically. “And he’s been getting pretty frustrated at that…”
Running away doesn’t seem to be working,” I agreed, shaking my head at that. “It looks like I’m going to have to find another way of dealing with him.”
Then to my surprise, Collin put his arm around me and gave me a hug. “I’ve got your back,” he told me. “I won’t let that asshole touch you again.”
Thank you,” I responded, blushing at being so close to him. I stared up into Collin’s eyes, feeling all warm and excited all of a sudden.
Gwen,” he said after a moment, looking a little nervous. “Can I…can I kiss you?”
I gulped nervously at that, and though I intended to say, “No,” what came out instead was, “Yes…”
Collin didn’t hesitate, almost as though afraid that I’d change my mind if he did. He bent forward and kissed me on my lips and I found myself kissing him back excitedly. My entire body tingled with excitement, and for the first time since my change, I really felt turned on.
When we pulled apart, all I could say was, “Wow.”
Yeah,” Collin agreed, giving me a very appreciative look. “Wow. I’ve been wanting to do that since the first time I saw you.”
I blushed at that, feeling giddy and excited as I stared at Collin, definitely wanting to do that again. All thoughts of Centurion and my injury were chased from my mind, replaced by ones of me and Collin together.
On an impulse, I grabbed Collin in a hug, then gave him another quick kiss before we continued back to class. My heart raced as we walked together, and though a part of me was confused by what I was feeling, the rest of me was enjoying it too much to care.
The rest of the school day passed in a blur, and once it was over, I took my time walking back to Poe. I felt a little like I was in a daze, wondering if this was what it felt like to be tripping on my glamour. If so, then it was no wonder why Ripple was always chasing after my faeries.
When I returned to Poe, I found Cindy and Lina in the hallway, with Lina on the floor and cursing while Cindy helped her back to her feet. Rose was further down the hallway, definitely not looking happy either.
What’s going on?” I asked, looking around but not seeing any sign of what might have happened.
We just had a fucking white buffalo run down the hallway,” Lina exclaimed with a scowl. “Damn near ran me over…”
My eyes widened at that, then I let out a sigh. “Let me guess. Beltane.”
Not this time,” Cindy told me wryly.
Kayda,” Lina said, glaring down the hall with a look of annoyance.
I don’t know what that was all about,” Cindy said. “From what I know about her, she isn’t the kind of person to cause trouble for no reason.”
I nodded at that, having met Kayda briefly, but I didn’t really know her at all. She lived in the sophomore wing and didn’t really hang out much with the freshmen much.
I shook my head, knowing that I shouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens here at Whateley, especially not here in Poe. The other residents had already set a pretty high bar for weirdness, which I’ve heard has included such things as ninja attacks and a demon living in the basement. With that kind of reputation, a white buffalo running through the hallway hardly seemed surprising at all.
With that, I returned to my room to change into my normal wear clothes, though the entire time, I kept thinking about how I’d kissed Collin. I was alternately freaking out over it and looking forward to seeing him again at dinner.
Dana came in and changed clothes, but she didn’t stay long. “Gotta go,” she quickly told me before rushing back out the door. “I’ve got to go to work peeling potatoes…”
At least I only have to work one or two days a month,” I mused, thankful that I didn’t need to work as often as Dana.
A short time later, there was a knock on my door. When I opened the door, I found Shawn standing there.
Mrs. Horton asked me to come get you,” Shawn told me. “You’ve got a visitor out front.”
A visitor?” I asked, my heart jumping a little in excitement. “Is it Collin?”
Shawn shook his head. “No, it’s that Eldritch girl.”
Eldritch?” I repeated in surprise, wondering why Caitlin would be here asking for me.
I went to the front door where I found Caitlin talking with Mrs. Horton. When Caitlin saw me, she stared at me with that odd look she had nearly every time I’d seen into her. Fortunately, her expression was a bit grim, but it didn’t seem hostile.
Hey,” I greeted her, wondering if this was about the Parkour Hooligans.
Hey yourself,” she responded with a faintly amused look. “You’re probably wondering why I’m here.”
A bit,” I admitted.
Caitlin nodded at that, then said, “Let’s talk.”
We went inside and were almost immediately met with the sight of Hardwyrd and one of the other boys kissing each other in the hallway. I quickly looked at Caitlin, afraid that they may have just blown Poe’s secret, but Caitlin didn’t seem the least bit surprised.
Relax,” she said, “I know about Poe, and I don't care about alternative lifestyles.” She spoke as though it wasn't worth talking about.
Once we were by ourselves, Caitlin stopped and stared at me with that odd look again. Other than the odd stare, she appeared to be completely calm, but when I looked at her aura, it was very bright and kind of messed up. I quickly looked away from it.
Then Caitlin said, “I told you before that you reminded me of someone I met a long time ago.”
I remember,” I responded, my thoughts going back to the dream I’d had with the Artificer in it. I stared at Caitlin and gulped.
In fact,” Caitlin told me carefully, “you look exactly like her.” She stared at me again and admitted, “I’d forgotten all about this until I saw you, but now I can’t get the memories out of my head. I don’t know how to describe it, other than that it was a very dark time for me, and I was lost in ways you couldn’t imagine. The girl you look like, she tried to help me at a time when no one else would even consider it. At the time, I couldn’t appreciate what she tried doing for me. But now…” She paused at that, her aura flashing so brightly that I had to look away again. “Now I can appreciate it…and do.”
My God,” I whispered, feeling shaken as I realized what she was talking about. She was talking about my dream.
I don’t remember her name,” Caitlin told me quietly. “I’m not sure I ever knew it. But I feel like I owe her a debt for what she tried to do, and it’s far too late to pay her back. My instincts are screaming, that if I want to repay the debt, I should repay it to you, not only because you look like her, but because you reminded me that there was at least one light shining in that dark nightmare.”
Caitlin,” I started, not sure what to say.
Caitlin held out a cloth wrapped bundle and then pulled the cloth back, revealing a dagger inside of a leather sheath. Without a word, she removed the blade from the sheath so I could get a better look. It had a metal ring for a pommel and the shape reminded me a great deal of one of those kunai daggers that a ninja wannabe student in my martial arts class used. However, the metal was all silvery and seemed to have a strange life to it. I didn’t know what this dagger was made of, but it definitely wasn’t steel.
I made this for you,” Caitlin stated, looking me straight in the eyes. I was startled to notice that her eyes actually had a ring of rune symbols carved into the steel irises.
It’s…beautiful,” I said, not sure what else I could say about the weapon. It was just a dagger, but I instinctively knew that it was more than it appeared. When I looked at it with my mage sight, I could see magic was woven all through the thing.
Instead of giving me the dagger, Caitlin said, “To bind it to you, you must give it a name.”
Ever since I’d manifested, I’d been making jokes about how I’d turned into an elf from Lord of the Rings. Because of that, my first impulse was to name the thing Sting, after the blade from those books and movies. However, I quickly discounted that, realizing it would be doing a real disservice to this thing. After all, the dagger in Caitlin’s hands was the real thing, not some piece of fiction.
After a moment, I said, “Needle.” It seemed kind of silly once I said it aloud, but it still felt right to me.
Caitlin nodded at that, then told me, “Sometimes, naming something gives you power over it.” Then she took my hand and in a quick motion, sliced the blade across my palm, making a small cut that instantly brought forth some blood. I gasped, but she held my hand firm so I couldn’t pull it away. She placed the flat of the blade against the blood, then held it up again so that I could see the blood vanishing, as though being absorbed into the metal. Only then did she put the hilt into my hand to give it to me. “Needle is now yours. It has a few features, which I’ll let you discover on your own.”
I stared at Caitlin for a moment, then at the dagger…at Needle. I could somehow feel the dagger, and when I shifted to my mage sight, I actually saw glowing threads connecting me to it. Needle was now magically connected to me.
While I was continuing to stare at my new dagger, Caitlin turned and began to walk away. “Thank you,” I blurted out, feeling stunned and almost overwhelmed by this gift. Then on an impulse, I added, “Ashtea.”
Caitlin stopped, then turned back to me with a look of surprise. Between the speech she’d just given me and her reaction to the name, there was no doubt in my mind. Somehow, Caitlin was actually the Artificer from my dream.
I don’t just look like the Sidhe who helped you,” I told Caitlin self-consciously. “She was my ancestor. Apparently, I’m her spiritual heir or something, so I inherited her looks, her powers…and some of her memories.” I gulped with my mouth suddenly feeling dry. “I had a dream about you…about playing music for you while you made the queen’s armor. But until now, I’d thought it was just a coincidence, that you just looked like her…”
Caitlin just stared at me for several long seconds before saying, “So I’m not the only one who inherited memories…” She nodded at that and then smiled, radiating a sense of satisfaction that caught me by surprise. “I’ll see you for our run on Saturday. And you can expect me to run your ass off.” And with that, she turned and walked away.
I watched Caitlin leave Poe, then I turned my attention back to the odd blade I was holding in my hand. I stared at Needle again, both with my regular vision and with my mage sight. I licked my lips, knowing without a doubt that I’d just been given a very special gift.
Wednesday afternoon, Oct 31st, 2007
It was Halloween, and nearly everyone in Poe seemed to be running around, trying to get their costumes ready in time for the party. It was fun to watch the chaos and excitement, though honestly, things have been so crazy lately, that I nearly forgot Halloween was coming up.
Well,” Dana exclaimed as she came up to me with a grin. “What do you think?”
She gestured down at herself, and I saw that she was wearing slacks and a nice shirt with a name tag on it. I gave her a blank look.
Um…are you supposed to be a banker or something?” I asked.
Dana rolled her eyes. “You poor heathen. Being from Seattle, the heart of all things coffee, I would have thought that YOU of all people would recognize a barista when you saw one.”
With that, Dana pointed to a generic coffee cup logo that was sown onto her shirt. Then, she picked up a coffee cup and held it out with a proud expression.
You just want an excuse to walk around with a cup of coffee,” I responded with a smirk.
Nothing wrong with that,” Dana grinned.
I rolled my eyes over my roommates obsession with coffee, then pointed out, “You know, if you’d gone as a waitress instead, you could have walked around with a whole pot of coffee…”
Dana’s eyes widened at that. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Caffeine poisoning,” I told her with a grin. “Too much of it rots your brains.”
Nonsense,” Dana protested in mock horror. “Coffee is the lifeblood of a truly enlightened soul.”
That’s just the caffeine rot talking,” I said, sticking my tongue out at her.
Blasphemer,” Dana cried out, before we both burst out laughing. Once we stopped, she asked, “So, where’s your costume?”
With a sigh, I admitted, “I don’t have one. I mean, with everything that’s been going on lately, I wasn’t thinking about Halloween or a costume…”
Well,” Dana mused, giving me a thoughtful look. “You could always make an illusion costume.”
That’s what I was thinking,” I replied with a faint smile. “The problem is, keeping an illusion up for any length of time takes a lot of concentration, and a good bit of essence.”
But that isn’t going to stop you, is it?” Dana asked me with a knowing grin. “So, what are you going to go as?”
I shrugged and admitted, “I don’t know yet. I’m thinking, maybe putting on a Starfleet uniform and going as a Vulcan.”
That would be cool,” Dana said. Then her eyes wide and she grinned. “You should make your pixies into Tinkerbell. That would be awesome…”
After glancing to one of my pixies, which was flittering around overhead, I grinned back. “You might have a point.” Then, I burst out laughing as I decided what costume I was going to wear. “This is gonna be fun.”
But just as I was considering the illusion I’d have to make, Cindy came walking down the hallway, with a flowing blue ball gown and glass slippers. As soon as I saw that Cindy, which was short for Cinderella, was actually dressed up as Cinderella, I burst out laughing.
Great costume,” I told Cindy.
Thanks,” she responded with a grin. “Alyss just made this dress for me. Isn’t it awesome?”
Definitely,” I agreed. “And I like the glass slippers.”
Cindy grinned at that. “Now, if I could only find some mice…”
A few seconds later, Downpour, Lina, and Breakdown came out into the hallway, and all of them were dressed up. Downpour was dressed as a mime, while Breakdown looked like a steampunk adventurer. Lina, on the other hand, was wearing some kind of skimpy genie costume, which included a lamp that she was carrying in her hand.
See,” Dana elbowed me. “Even Downpour is in costume, so you have no excuse…”
You don’t have a costume?” Breakdown asked in surprise. “You should go talk to Alyss. She’s making costumes for anyone who needs one.”
That would be easier than using illusion for half the night,” I admitted.
A minute later, I went in search of Alyss, and found her holding court in the main common room, while a bunch of Poesies were gathered around her. Her audience ranged from freshmen to seniors.
Look,” Alyss was telling one older boy. “I can make you a costume, but not the props for it.”
But I can’t be Batman without a utility belt,” he complained.
Then you should have thought of that before,” Alyss pointed out. “This is what happens when you wait till the last minute…”
Fine,” the boy grumbled. “But can I still get the costume?”
Alyss looked the boy over, having to look up quite a bit because the size difference. Then, she reached out to touch him, and suddenly a Batman costume appeared on him. I immediately recognized the blue and grey costume from Adam West TV series, rather than a more modern version of it. And the cowl seemed to be made from some kind of fabric, rather than whatever it had been on the TV. I guess that was because of Alyss’ limitations.
Next,” the tiny girl called out, only to have Hardwyrd step up. She let out an exasperated sigh. “I already told you, I can’t make Stormtrooper armor or weapons…”
I know,” Hardwyrd told her a little awkwardly. “But I found a prototype lightsaber I’d been working on a month ago, and figured it would be a great prop…if I had Jedi robes…”
Alyss nodded. “That I can do for you…”
I stood in line as I waited my turn, though I enjoyed the opportunity to see what everyone else was getting. There were a couple girls with sexy or fancy dresses, a mummy, and one boy in a clown outfit. After only about ten minutes, it was my turn.
If you don’t mind,” I told Alyss, feeling a little like I was taking advantage of her. “There’s something I have in mind…”
Sure, what is it?” Alyss asked. Once I told her, she grinned. “Oh yeah, I can do that…”
With that, Alyss reached out to touch me, and new clothes suddenly appeared on top of what I was already wearing, creating the perfect costume. I looked myself over, as much as I could without a mirror, and grinned.
Thanks,” I told her. “This looks perfect. Then, I looked at Alyss, who was still wearing one of her normal gothic Lolita dresses. “Are you going to wear a costume too?”
Alyss gave me a wry smile. “For me, every day is Halloween.” Then, she turned her attention to the next person in line, though I noticed that she hadn’t really answered me.
Since I now had my costume ready, I returned to my bedroom so I could make a few adjustments, such as tying my hair back into a pony tail. This had the benefit of making my pointed ears all the more noticeable.
And this thing will make a great prop,” I mused, putting the dagger that Caitlin had given me onto my belt, where it was nice and visible.
I’d just finished doing this, when the bedroom door opened and Dana came in, followed close behind by Jinx, who was dressed as a vampire. Jinx had on a pretty nice costume, with enough props, that it was obvious that this wasn’t just an outfit that she’d thrown together at the last minute.
What do you think?” I asked, posing with my hands on my hips.
You’re an elf,” Jinx exclaimed.
You’re Link,” Dana said at the same time. “From those Zelda games…”
I looked down at my green outfit and scowled. “I’m Peter Pan…” Then I gestured to the pixie overhead. “And that’s my Tinkerbell.”
Cool,” Dana said. “But I thought Peter Pan was supposed to be…you know…a boy.”
Jinx laughed at that. “Actually, I heard that in the play, Peter was almost always played by a woman.”
Have you ever seen that old movie with Mary Martin?” I asked. Then I quickly explained. “It’s one of those ones my mom always insisted I watch growing up, saying it was a classic.”
Well, I think your costume looks great,” Jinx told me. “Especially since you actually have your own Tinkerbell to go with it.”
Then I guess we’re all ready for the party,” Dana announced with a grin.
A few minutes later, the three of us left Poe and started towards the Quad, where most of the campus seemed to be gathering. On the way, I noticed a lot of security people wandering around, and all of them seemed to be pretty heavily armed, as though making a show of force.
I probably would have questioned why there was so much security, but earlier today, someone had told me about last Halloween. From what I heard, a year ago today, Whateley had actually been attacked by a bunch of heavily armed soldiers, and people had died as a result. It looks like security wasn’t taking any chances of a repeat.
When we arrived, the party was only just getting started. However, someone still called a halt to it for a minute of silence for those who were lost last year. I didn’t know any of those who’d died, and had only heard about it today, so I had a hard time relating to it. However, it was obvious that some people took it personally, like Slapdash, who had a grim look on his face, and a particularly dark aura.
As soon as the minute of silence was over, Dana elbowed me in the side and laughed. “Look at that…”
I looked to where she was pointing, and saw two familiar figures walking towards us. Fixx was dressed up in some kind of brown animal costume. A werewolf. No, I realized a moment later, upon seeing the plastic ‘anvil’ with the word ‘ACME’ written across the front, which he was holding. He was dressed as a very specific coyote.
However, as amusing as Fixx’s costume was, my attention was primarily reserved for Collin, who was dressed as a pirate. I suddenly wondered if he’d like my costume, and if I should have chosen something other than Peter Pan.
Oh my God,” Dana burst out laughing. “I think we just found your Captain Hook.”
At Dana’s comment, I noticed that Collin did indeed have a hook as part of his costume, along with an eyepatch. “Nice costume,” I told Collin.
Thanks,” he responded, looking me over. “Peter Pan?”
I grinned at that, then elbowed Dana. “See, you’re the only one who thinks I look like Link.”
The pixie kind of makes it,” Collin said with a grin, pointing to the pixie that was sitting on my shoulder like a parrot.
Fixx nodded at that, then looked at Dana and grinned. “I’ll take a caramel mocha, no whip.”
Dana grinned at that, then elbowed me. “See. He could tell I’m a barista.”
Have any of you seen Porcelain?” Fixx asked, looking around.
Not yet,” I told him. “But she’s not a real social sort, so she might not come to the party.”
Why not?” Dana asked with a grin. “I mean, she could make an awesome porcelain doll.”
Then why don’t we go find her?” Jinx suggested. “We’ll drag her out here and make her have fun for once.”
Sounds good to me,” Dana said with a grin. “And if we need to, we can go find Alyss and ask her to make Porcelain a costume too.”
Maybe we can talk her into being Wendy,” Collin cold me with a chuckle.
Maybe,” I agreed. And with that, we all started walking towards Whitman to see if we could find Porcelain.
Thursday late morning, Nov 1st, 2007
English class was over, much to my relief. The teacher wasn’t nearly as boring as Dr. Quintain was during Powers Theory, but the subject itself wasn’t as interesting either so the two classes tended to end up evenly boring. And of course, the best part about English being over was that it was now time for lunch.
I was on my way to Crystal Hall to meet up with my friends for lunch when I spotted Porcelain, who was being harassed by another student. The boy was tall, muscular, built almost like a stereotypical thug from a cartoon, with his upper body being a little too large in proportion to his lower body. I’d seen him around and vaguely remembered his name as being Unstoppable, which seemed pretty presumptuous to me. I also seemed to remember that he was a high level exemplar, about a level five or even a six.
Go away,” Porcelain told him as she tried to walk past him, though Unstoppable blocked her path again.
Come on,” Unstoppable taunted her. “My sister always wanted a porcelain doll. I think you’d make a great dolly for her…”
I told you to leave me alone,” Porcelain said in her usual muffled voice, sounding more annoyed by Unstoppable than afraid of him.
I snarled, growing angry at the sight of my friend being bullied like this. I was about to come to her rescue with an illusion to lead Unstoppable away, when Fixx came rushing in before me. Fixx was always cheerful and in a good mood, but this time he was actually pissed.
Leave her the fuck alone,” Fixx demanded angrily, glaring up at the larger and much more powerful boy.
Damn,” I muttered in surprise. I didn’t know Fixx had it in him. This was brave. Stupid…but brave.
Unstoppable absently backhanded Porcelain and knocked her to the ground, obviously doing it for the sole purpose of antagonizing Fixx more. She scrambled back to her feet, revealing that her entire face was shattered. I felt a surge of anger at the sight of that, even as her face sealed back up and returned to normal. From the look on Fixx’s face, I wasn’t the only one this pissed off.
You need a hand?” I asked Fixx grimly, knowing that I couldn’t let my friends face this bastard alone. And I certainly wasn’t going to just walk away after what he’d done to Porcelain.
I’ve got this,” Fixx responded, not taking his eyes off Unstoppable. And with that, he reached into the leather satchel that he always wore over his shoulder and pulled out a plastic bottle. With a quick move, he flung the liquid contents onto the ground between him and Unstoppable.
Pretty cocky, for an Underdog,” Unstoppable said with a laugh.
I clenched my fists, knowing that I had to do something to keep Unstoppable occupied until security could arrive. My hand actually itched to grab Needle, just in case I needed more than a mere distraction. Needle was currently in its sheath, strapped to my belt sideways at my back where it would be hidden from view by my uniform jacket and easy to grab if needed. However, something told me to hold back and trust Fixx
Unstoppable took several steps towards Fixx, then as he stepped into whatever it was that Fixx had spread on the ground, his feet shot out from under him and he fell onto his butt. He tried getting back up, only to slip and fall again. All I could do was watch in surprise as he fumbling around, and then I burst out laughing.
Baby oil,” Fixx said almost pleasantly. “With the slipperiness enhanced.”
It probably would have been a good idea to use this opportunity to get away, but none of us could resist staying to watch. But then, Unstoppable finally got back to his feet, though he seemed just a little unstable, as though he was standing on a sheet of ice.
Rotten little bastard,” Unstoppable snarled, obviously embarrassed and angry.
Go away and leave us alone,” Fixx warned him. However, Unstoppable made a lunge for Fixx, only to have Fixx spray something in his face. Unstoppable grabbed at his eyes and started screaming in pain while Fixx casually stated, “Pepper spray. Also enhanced.”
Unstoppable was still screaming and obviously couldn’t see anything as he backed away, only to hit the slippery spot and fall down again. Without a word, Fixx reached into his satchel again, this time pulling out a roll of duct tape.
Duct tape?” I asked in surprise.
Duct tape is like the force,” Fixx answered with a false cheerfulness. “It has a light side, a dark side, and it binds the universe together.”
With that, Fixx proceeded to tape Unstoppable’s wrists and ankles together, then he stood back with a look of satisfaction. My first thought was that there was no way something like duct tape would be able to hold someone as strong as Unstoppable, but when the bully gathered his senses enough to realize what was going on, it was too late. Unstoppable struggled against the duct tape but it held him tight.
Enhanced,” I said in realization. Fixx just nodded. I stared at him for a moment, realizing that I’d seriously underestimated what he could do, as had everyone else. He might not be a high level warper, but he certainly found an interesting way to use what he did have.
You know,” Fixx told Unstoppable with a cheerful smile. “You really don’t live up to your name very well…”
And after being so thoroughly beaten by an Underdog,” Porcelain pointed out with a muffled note of amusement. “He is likely to be quite the laughingstock.”
Fixx nodded at that, then asked Porcelain, “Are you okay?”
I am fine,” she answered, her uniform being a bit mussed but otherwise looking unharmed. “Thank you for your assistance.”
Anytime,” Fixx responded cheerfully.
I watched them for a moment, thinking that it was obvious that Fixx really liked her. Porcelain’s entire body was covered with that porcelain shell so we didn’t even know what she really looked like, and she tended to be fairly quiet and reserved. She didn’t have a lot of other male attention because of this, so I hoped that she liked Fixx back and that they were able to make things work.
Two of Whateley’s security people arrived then, though both men just stared at Unstoppable and burst out laughing. “We’ve got the whole thing on video,” one of them admitted to us. “This was the funniest thing I’ve seen since the last time Bloodwolf ran away from Generator with his tail between his legs…”
Wasn’t she wearing some kind of pink Hello Kitty outfit that time?” the other security guy asked.
Yeah,” the first responded with a chuckle. “It was adorable.” Then the two men continued laughing for another minute before they turned their attention back to Unstoppable and commented, “You know, I’m thinking that your new name is Stoppable.”
The duct tape will wear off after about fifteen minutes,” Fixx told them. “Or at least the enhanced effects will.”
We talked to the security guys for a few more minutes before they let us go so we could continue towards lunch. We left them there with Unstoppable, still chuckling at the defeated and now quite humiliated bully.
When we got our food and sat down at our usual table, Dana asked, “What took you guys so long?”
That just made me start laughing all over again, and it took me a couple minutes before I could stop laughing enough to tell the story. Once I had, Dana, Jinx, and Collin were nearly rolling on the floor as well.
After we’d all settled down, Dana gave me an almost evil grin and asked, “So, when are you going to use that spell you were working on last night?”
As soon as I get an opportunity,” I told her, absently rubbing my arm where Centurion had broken it three days ago. It was fully healed and as good as new, but that wasn’t the point. I’d given Centurion every chance to get over his grudge, but now he’d gone too far and had made it personal. This time, I wasn’t going to just run away from him.
What have you two got up your sleeves?” Collin asked, giving me a suspicious look.
I just gave him my best innocent look before I burst into giggles. Then I turned my attention to my faeries, half a dozen of which were currently in existence with three of them assigned with special tasks. One of them was keeping an eye on Peeper, who was harassing some girls on the other side of the cafeteria. A second faerie was assigned the job of leading Ripple as far away from me as possible, and if Ripple happened to catch that faerie, he’d only be in for an unpleasant surprise rather than a nice hallucination. The third faerie was watching Centurion, who was eating lunch at a table with Slingshot, Switchblade, and a couple other friends.
Well,” I finally said, looking around at my friends. “You know I have a talent for illusions…”
I think we’ve noticed that,” Collin pointed out wryly.
Well,” I explained with a grin. “Illusions are all about manipulating people’s senses. Most of the time, I’m messing with someone’s sense of sight…making them see things that aren’t there. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with some of the other senses, like making people hear voices that aren’t really there…”
I paused to let that sink in while I thought about the fact that I’d actually learned that spell from one of my dreams. It had been one of those dreams where my dream-self had been leading enemy soldiers into traps, confusing them with false orders from their superiors and generally causing all kinds of confusion. Afterwards, when I realized that I could create illusionary sounds, I’d decided to see what other senses I could mess with. Fortunately, the spell book that Mrs. Lauriant had given me provided several examples to work from.
Now imagine if I could make someone feel something that wasn’t really there,” I continued to explain. “I could make you feel a feather tickling you, even though there wasn’t any feather.”
Oooh, that sounds kinky,” Dana commented with a smirk, only to have Jinx start blushing.
That sounds…interesting,” Collin said, obviously trying to keep his expression calm though I could see similar wheels turning in his head.
I just grinned at that. “You know what it’s like when you have an itch you can’t scratch?” Everyone at the table nodded at that. “Well, I made a spell that does something like that. Originally, I was trying to make it so that it would feel like you’ve got bugs crawling over your skin, but it didn’t quite work out that way…or at least I don’t think it did. I haven’t had a chance to test it yet.”
And when are you going to do that?” Collin asked.
Right now,” I answered sweetly.
With that, I unleased the spell that I had stored inside of one of my faeries, the faerie that was watching Centurion. I hit him with the spell, then had my faerie stay back and watch. It only took a few seconds before Centurion began scratching at his arm, and he continued scratching, first one spot and then another.
I don’t get it,” Jinx said, looking around but not seeing any sign of my casting a spell. I just took a bite of my food, knowing that Centurion would have a hard time enjoying the rest of his lunch. In fact, the next few hours were bound to be extremely frustrating for him, much to my delight.
She hit Centurion with it,” Dana explained with a smug look.
That should be…interesting,” Porcelain commented.
Fixx sat there with a thoughtful look on his face, then mused, “I wonder where I could get some itching powder…” With the way his enchantment power worked, I had a feeling that this could get pretty nasty for anyone he tried it on. I wondered if I’d be able to buy some off him.
Trixie might have some,” Jinx suggested. “She always seems to have that kind of thing.”
When we’d finished eating lunch, we all started for our separate classes. “Dana and I have an appointment,” I told Collin, feeling daring as I gave him a kiss. “And keep an eye on Centurion in class. It should be fun.”
I’m looking forward to it,” Collin told me with a chuckle.
As Dana and I left Crystal Hall, I saw Centurion leaving with his friends. He was scratching at himself furiously, looking extremely uncomfortable. Dana and I looked to each other, then both burst out laughing before we continued on our way.
A short time later, Dana and I arrived at Kane Hall, the Whateley security building. Security had insisted that if the MCO was coming on campus to question a student, the meeting was going to be held where they’d be able to make sure nothing happened. All in all, I thought it was probably a pretty reasonable precaution, especially considering the hostility between most of the students and many in the MCO.
Grace was already there, dressed in her professional suit and holding a briefcase. She might have looked a little strict and intimidating if it wasn’t for the way she smiled when she saw me.
You must be Sphere,” she told Dana, holding out her hand, much to Dana’s obvious surprise. “I’m Grace Winslow, and I appreciate your agreeing to answer some of my questions.”
Dana hesitantly shook her hand, which I found kind of funny. Grace was a normal baseline human while Dana was an exemplar with more than a small amount of power. “Um…hi,” Dana said awkwardly. Then she asked, “How did you know I was here?”
At Whateley?” Grace asked. When Dana nodded, she explained, “After I’d convinced the Liberty League that we were trying to ensure Agent Owens was fully prosecuted for his actions, Twist told me that I might find you here.”
And you really are planning on prosecuting that guy?” Dana asked suspiciously.
Absolutely,” Grace assured her. “Not only were his actions reprehensible, but they make the entire MCO look bad. We have more than enough image problems to contend with as it is.”
Dana seemed to relax at that and we went into an office that the security people had set aside for this meeting. I took a seat off to the side, close to Dana so she’d feel like I was supporting her, but also out of the way enough that I was making it clear that I wasn’t part of the actual interview. Once we were settled, Grace pulled several folders from her briefcase as well as a voice recorder so she could record the interview.
This is an interview,” Grace assured Dana gently. “Not an interrogation. Now Sphere, please tell me in your own words, how you first encountered Agent Owens.”
Dana hesitated at that, obviously uncomfortable with the subject since the first time she’d encountered him, she’d still been a boy. She gulped, “I’m not…”
Grace let out a faint sigh, then reached over and turned the recorder off before saying, “To make this easier on you, I am already aware that your real name is David Michaels.”
WHAT?” Dana gasped in horror while I was stunned by that as well. Then she glared and me and demanded, “You told her?”
No,” I responded, just as surprised that Grace knew her original name as she was. “I didn’t…”
Twist,” Dana said, looking worried and angry.
Gwen didn’t tell me and neither did Twist,” Grace said. “Though I am surprised that both of them seemed to have known.” She gave me a curious look and I just met her eyes without looking away. After a moment, she turned back to Dana. “It wasn’t difficult to figure out once I began investigating. David Michaels was reported as manifesting as a mutant and being last seen in the presence of Pinball. Later on, Sphere appeared with Pinball while David appears to have vanished completely.”
Oh shit,” Dana said, starting to glow with a faint golden light, as though she was about to use her powers.
Da…Sphere,” I said, trying to protect her new name. “Calm down.”
I have no intention of sharing this information,” Grace told her firmly. “My investigation is on Agent Owens, not you. However, I need you to be completely honest if this is going to be of any use.”
It took another minute for Dana to calm down, then she began telling Grace about how she’d met Pinball, manifested, and then ran into Agent Owens. Dana told her quite a bit about Owens, but was much more reserved when talking about her own abilities, and especially about Pinball. To my relief, Grace didn’t take this as an opportunity to investigate Pinball as well and kept the questions focused on Owens.
When Grace was finished with all her questions, she told Dana, “Thank you for answering my questions. This could be useful, and I think we have enough evidence against Owens and his people that we won’t need to bring in the incidents that occurred before your physical changes.”
While Grace had Dana fill out some paperwork and an official statement that could be taken to court, I mused, “You know, it’s too bad you can’t do this kind of thing every time someone like Owens pulls something… I bet it would make things a lot better if mutants actually had a place to report this kind of abuse.”
Grace gave me a thoughtful look and said, “You might be right.”
After we were all finished, Dana and Grace shook hands and then Dana let out an obvious sigh of relief. She still looked just a little nervous, as though she couldn’t quite believe she was lucky enough to have an MCO agent who was actually willing to listen to her side. If anyone was able to convince Dana that not all MCO agents were bad, it was Grace.
That wasn’t as bad as I thought,” Dana told me, giving me a weak grin. “I mean, there wasn’t a single taser or cattle prod involved.”
You two seem to know each other pretty well,” Grace commented, giving me an amused look, though there was a definite question in her eyes. “You’ve only been here at Whateley for a few weeks…”
We’re roommates,” Dana told her, making me wince slightly at that revelation.
Really?” Grace asked, giving me another curious look. “And here I was, under the impression that you were just acquaintances.”
Dana gave me a look that said ‘oops’ while I just shrugged. “Well, I’ve got to go,” Dana said. “I don’t want to miss any more class.” Then she looked at me and added, “See you later.”
So, you two are roommates,” Grace said once Dana was gone. I didn’t know if she felt hurt or insulted at all about the fact that I didn’t trust her with that bit of information. However, she didn’t accuse me of anything and merely commented, “It seems like quite a coincidence that two people who went through a gender change would end up rooming together…”
We noticed that too,” I said carefully, not wanting to give away the secret of Poe. In spite of keeping a few things from Grace, I did trust her, but some secrets weren’t mine to share. “One of our neighbors is a probability manipulator and she’s always having weird coincidences happen around her. We think that might be why.”
Grace nodded at that, seeming to accept the explanation. Then she smiled at me and said, “Thank you for your help with this. I have a feeling that she wouldn’t have agreed to the interview if you hadn’t talked her into it.”
I did have to nag her a bit,” I admitted, then grinned at Grace. “But she knew I wouldn’t do anything to screw her over.”
Grace and I talked for another minute, then she took off to return to Berlin. I let out a sigh, thankful that everything had worked out fine, then I started for my next class as well.
Sunday morning, Nov 4th, 2007
Sunday morning breakfast was a calm affair, at least compared to weekday mornings when Crystal Hall was a lot busier. Dana sat beside me with two plates of food, one of which was loaded up with a huge pile of scrambled eggs while the other one contained bacon, sausage, and a couple muffins. When I looked at my own plate, it seemed almost empty in comparison.
I absently poked at my sausage, which just didn’t seem all that appealing anymore. In fact, ever since I’d come to Whateley, I’d found a lot of the meat products that they had on the menu weren’t very good. It was annoying, but not worth complaining about. As I finished my meal, I left half my sausage uneaten on my plate.
Oh yeah,” Dana exclaimed, looking at me and Jinx. “Did I tell you guys that Ron Weasley got his patronus?”
Okay,” I responded slowly, giving her a curious look. “I didn’t know you were such a Harry Potter fan.”
Dana laughed at that, then gave me a grin in response. “Actually, I’m talking about Jackie’s brother. He’s got red hair and freckles, so I’ve been calling him Ron Weasley. It kind of annoys him.”
I wonder why,” Jinx said with a roll of her eyes.
Well, he calls me Mini-me, so it all works out,” Dana continued cheerfully. “Anyway, he’s a low level avatar, but since he’d never bonded with a spirit, no one had any idea that he was even a mutant, not even him.”
Jinx nodded at that, then said, “From your comment about him getting a patronus, I’m guessing he found a spirit…”
Yep,” Dana answered with a snicker. “A goldfish.”
A goldfish?” I asked in surprise. “You mean, he’s an avatar of a goldfish spirit?” I couldn’t help but snickering at that too.
Dana just smirked. “Actually, he told me in his email that it’s a low level water elemental that he sees as a goldfish. According to him, it isn’t very powerful. Mostly, it just lets him sense when there’s water nearby and gives him the power to purify water. Not exactly Champion level powers.”
I thought about it for a moment, then pointed out, “Actually, I think that depends on where you are. I mean, there are places where having the ability to find water and purify it would be a lot more valuable than being able to juggle cars.”
Maybe,” Dana agreed with a shrug. “But you can bet your behind that Jackie is going to have fun teasing him about this one.” I had a feeling that Jackie wasn’t going to be the only one teasing him about his powers. Dana was having a little too much fun with that knowledge herself.
I’ve got some news from home too,” I said, telling Jinx this more than Dana since my roommate had been there when I got the email. “Apparently, my dad got a promotion.”
Before I’d come to Whateley, my dad had been chasing after a mutant criminal called Slippery, and thanks to Collin and myself, Dad had not only caught Slippery, but also an entire mutant gang. Since this gang had been about to move into the ‘terrorist’ arena with a planned bomb attack against the local MCO field office, this had given Dad some nice brownie points within the organization. As a reward, they’d even given him his own choice of assignments.
He’s transferred over to internal affairs,” I told Jinx with a grin. I looked to Dana and added, “He’s going to be supervising the case against Owens, and he’s starting an official investigation on the attack against me last week.”
Wow,” Jinx said, looking impressed. “I didn’t think the MCO did the whole internal affairs thing…”
I’m not really all that surprised,” I told her and Dana. “My dad is all about rules and procedures, so now his job is making sure that other people are following them. I think this must be like a dream job for him.”
And I’m sure the fact that he gets to go after the guy who tried killing his daughter has nothing to do with that,” Dana added with a faint smirk.
Yeah, but I have no doubt that he’ll follow the rules while doing it,” I responded with a broad grin of my own. But as I’d learned, Dad was very good at finding the rules that supported what he wanted to do anyway. It was almost enough to make me reconsider my views on following rules. Almost.
We continued talking about my dad’s new job for a little longer, then Jinx asked me, “Are you coming with us when we go to Dunwich today?”
Not today,” I responded with a sigh, actually regretting that I wouldn’t be able to go with them. “I’ve already got a couple other commitments.”
After we were all finished, Dana and Jinx went to catch the bus to Dunwich while I went to Schuster Hall to meet up with the Hooligans. Yesterday, Caitlin and Slapdash had both gotten caught up in some kind of combat simulator thing which had taken all morning, so the Hooligans had rescheduled for today. When I arrived at the meeting spot, the two of them were caught up in some kind of discussion about firearms, comparing muzzle velocity and bullet calibers.
When Caitlin noticed me, she paused from the conversation to look at me. It wasn’t the odd looks that she had been giving me before, but one that was a bit more friendly. “So,” she asked curiously. “Have you figured out Needle’s features?”
Oh yeah,” I responded with a grin. “Needle is awesome. Thanks.”
What’s this?” Slapdash asked curiously.
I gave her a holdout a few days ago,” Caitlin explained. “A blade.”
I nodded at that, thinking that it was a better holdout than I ever could have hoped for. Holdout was a term that was used around Whateley to refer to any weapons or tools that you keep with you for a fight, usually so you have something to use besides just your powers. Since my powers weren’t very good for offense, I’d been giving serious thought about finding some holdouts for myself. Needle definitely helped fill my offensive weak spot.
Have you thought about using a firearm?” Slapdash asked me with interest. “Most magic users don’t seem to think about using a gun…”
I’ve thought about it,” I told him, which seemed to surprise him just a little. “Before I manifested, my dad used to take me out shooting once or twice a month. I’d like to practice on the range here, but I didn’t know where to get started…”
Caitlin suddenly seemed extremely interested and immediately began telling me about the rules and procedures for the Whateley ranges, as well as about how I could sign up for a firearm safety course. Slapdash nodded in full agreement and kept adding his own comments while everyone else began rolling their eyes.
We came here to run,” Zenith said, giving me an amused look. “I think I’m not the only one who’d like to get to that before lunch.”
Remind me after the run,” Caitlin told me. “I’ll help get you set up for the ranges.”
With that, we began our run, though the weather didn’t cooperate and quickly turned wet and nasty. We all not only got soaked, but it made the ground a lot slipperier and more dangerous. However, Zenith didn’t cut the run short. Instead, she seemed to take it as an excuse to challenge us all a little more.
I hate running in the rain,” Thrasher complained. “It’s a little different though when I’m boarding…”
Quit complaining and just run,” Zenith teased him, almost seeming to enjoy herself, or at least the fact that she wasn’t having any problems. Then again, she was an exemplar, which meant that physically this wasn’t much of a challenge for her. Then she called over to me, “How are you holding up, Gwen?”
I’m fine,” I responded with a grin. “I’m from Seattle. Back home, this is considered a nice day.” That earned a few chuckles.
Once we were finished with our run, everyone immediately scattered back to their dorms. It wasn’t until I was halfway back to Poe that I remembered that I’d wanted to talk to Caitlin more about the shooting ranges. It looked like that would have to wait until later though. At the moment, I could hear the hot showers calling my name.
I took my time showering, enjoying the hot water, and then I changed into some dry clothes. I looked out the window at the weather and let out a sigh, wishing I didn’t have to go out there again. Unfortunately, I’d promised to meet Mrs. Lauriant at her tree this afternoon for some more lessons.
Why couldn’t she just use a bonsai tree instead?” I muttered. “Or at least learn to use Skype so we could do this from my room.”
I still had plenty of time to kill, and unfortunately, almost everyone else already had other plans. Half the floor had taken off to Dunwich for the day, which meant that I was mostly by myself. However, I did have a few things I wanted to do and now was the perfect opportunity to take care of at least one of them. With that, I grabbed Needle and went to the basement.
The basement of Poe Cottage was pretty large, especially I’d been told, after the recent remodel, and a sizeable portion of it had been dedicated to storing luggage and belongings for the various residents. There were some items stored there which made me scratch my head, such as a couple mannequins sitting in the corner. There was even a sign on one wall which said ‘Lovecraft Room’, but there was no door there. However, that did remind me of the stories I’d heard about a demon who supposedly lived down here part time, with a door to her room which would come and go.
I wasn’t interested in any of the luggage or stored items, nor even in the weight benches and exercise equipment that were also set up down here. My interests were in one area where someone had set some targets up against the wall in order to create their own practice range. This clearly wasn’t intended for anything like firearms, and the half dozen shuriken embedded in both the wall and targets gave a pretty good idea of what it had been used for. This was what I was interested in.
After Caitlin had given me Needle, several girls on my floor had told me about this practice range being set up down here. I’d come down here both Friday and yesterday in order to test out Needle and get a better idea of what it could do, and so far, I was definitely impressed.
With that, I drew Needle from its sheath, then just admired the blade for a moment. It was ridiculously light, perfectly balanced, and made of a silver metal that wasn’t quite like anything I’d ever seen. All in all, I was still in awe of the fact that Caitlin had given this to me.
Then with a grin, I threw Needle across the basement and right into the dead center of the target. As I’d found out previously, Needle always hit exactly where I wanted it to, though I wasn’t stupid enough to think that it was because I was some kind of natural with throwing knives. Somehow, Needle actually seemed to sense my intentions and responded to them. I’d thrown it over and over again and hit my target every time. This was obviously one of the features that Caitlin had been talking about, though there were a couple other ones as well.
I felt along the magical thread that connected me to Needle, somewhat similar to the way I was bound to each of my faeries, then I gave a mental tug. A moment later, Needle came loose from the target and flew right back into my outstretched hand.
A boomerang knife,” I said, throwing it at another target and then pulling it back to my hand in the same way.
Through trial and error, I’d found that I couldn’t just throw Needle and then have it flying around the room by remote control. If I threw it at least close to where I intended, it would take care of aiming itself, and I could pull it right back to my hand so I could do it again. Those tricks alone made it a pretty interesting weapon.
I’d never done any knife throwing before I’d been given Needle, though I did vaguely remember throwing one in one of my dreams. However, thanks to Needle’s special features, I didn’t need to really practice throwing it…not that it would do much good. What I did need to practice, was knife fighting…which I had done before.
At least once a month, Doug would teach a class on how to deal with an opponent who had a knife, and during that time we’d take turns being the aggressor with the knife. Because of that, Doug would also teach us how to actually use the knife as well, pointing out that they were common weapons that were easily obtained from a kitchen or even your disarmed attacker. In fact, knives were the only weapon that he taught us to use, though admittedly, he was also fond of weapons of opportunity such as car keys, rocks, or glass bottles.
I practiced some of the knife fighting moves that Doug had taught me, knowing that I knew enough to use one effectively, but that I was far from being an expert. Still, Needle was quite a dangerous weapon and I wanted to make sure that I had a decent handle on how to use it before I brought it into martial arts class. That was why I spent the next hour, trying out the different things I could do with Needle and practicing some moves that I hoped would help me in a fight.
After I finished with my practice, I threw Needle one more time at the target, then willed it to return before I left the basement. I slipped Needle back into its sheath, then went upstairs. I was going back to my room when I heard noise from the common room, which surprised me a little since I thought just about everyone had gone into town. After a moment, I went to check it out, finding Breakdown there along with Phase. I wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about, though Phase did say ‘investment opportunity’ before they realized I was there and stopped talking.
Hey, Gwen,” Breakdown greeted me. “I heard you were having more fun with your new toy.”
Oh yeah,” I agreed with a grin. “It’s pretty awesome.”
I’ve heard about your new weapon,” Phase said, giving me a curious look. “May I see it?”
I hesitated a moment, then pulled Needle out of the sheath to give her a look. She looked it over for a moment and her eyes widened slightly in surprise. “This is mithril…”
What’s mithril?” Nikki asked as she came into the room, giving Phase a questioning look.
Phase gestured to Needle, which was still held in my hand. “Absinthe’s new dagger.”
Nikki stared at Needle for a moment, looking just a little startled. Then she asked, “Where in the world did you get a mithril knife?”
I hesitated again, still feeling a little nervous around Nikki, though I didn’t feel the need to run away this time. “It was a gift,” I finally said. Then on an impulse, and perhaps partly to get a little ‘I told you so’ for my long dead ancestor, I added, “From the Artificer.”
Nikki looked a little surprised and her aura flashed. However, Nikki took a breath and looked calm as she asked, “Eldritch made that for you?”
She probably acquired the mithril from Silver,” Phase commented thoughtfully.
Caitlin seems to think she owed me one,” I explained grimly, seeing Nikki wince slightly at that. Her aura flashed again and I took a nervous step back.
Do you have any idea how valuable that is?” Nikki asked me, still looking a bit surprised.
The material value of the mithril alone is potentially in the millions, if it’s not an alloy or coating,” Phase said thoughtfully. “But admittedly, I haven’t done any recent research on the current market value…”
I meant magically valuable,” Nikki said with a note of exasperation.
I just stared at Needle, stunned to realize that I was carrying around something that was worth far more than everything my parents owned combined. Of course, there was still no way I’d ever consider selling it. I hadn’t owned Needle long, but before this, it had already become my prized possession. It was like a part of me now. Now, I had an even greater appreciation for Caitlin’s gift than before.
With that, I carefully put Needle back into its sheath, then slipped away while Phase and Nikki were discussing financial versus magical value. After making a quick stop back at my room to grab a poncho, I left Poe again. It wasn’t until I was already on my way that I realized I’d forgotten to put on a dress, but I wasn’t about to turn around.
Mrs. Lauriant’s tree was in the same out of the way place where I’d planted it, looking almost like any other tree. I carefully reached out to touch it, then sent a pulse of magic through it. If Mrs. Lauriant was in position and ready, she’d sense the pulse and would be able to respond. A moment later, the bark began to shimmer and change form, letting me know that she was indeed ready.
As soon as the tree finished changing shape to look like Mrs. Lauriant, she looked at me and said, “Hello Gwendolynn.”
Hello,” I responded miserably.
Why aren’t you dressed appropriately?” she immediately asked with a note of disapproval.
The weather,” I explained as I huddled beneath the poncho. “It didn’t seem practical to walk out here in a dress.”
Mrs. Lauriant snorted at that, as though that shouldn’t have been a concern. “Next time, I expect to see you dressed like a young lady.”
Yes ma’am,” I responded.
Now where were we?” Mrs. Lauriant mused.
Yesterday, we’d talked about the advances I’ve made with my illusion spells and about how I could expand on them further. However, Mrs. Lauriant seemed to have run out at about the end of our lessons.
After I reminded her where we’d left off, Mrs. Lauriant frowned slightly. “I fear illusion spells have never been my strength and you’ve already exceeded my abilities in that area. So instead of trying to teach you more illusion, I will focus on expanding your general knowledge and teaching you what arboreal magics you are able to learn.”
That sounds good to me,” I told her, curious about learning the kind of arboreal magic she performed. However, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as her. After all, my own talents seemed pretty strongly directed towards illusion. Still, the more I knew about the rules of magic and how it all worked, the better I’d be at improving my illusions.
I’m glad you approve,” she responded wryly.
I was hoping I could learn some kind of healing spell,” I told her, remembering the way Centurion had injured me. “And maybe some kind of offense.”
Mrs. Lauriant’s wooden face smiled faintly at that. “Those are both reasonable requests, so let’s get to work.”
Our lesson lasted for over two hours, which were quite wet and miserable. My poncho could only do so much to keep me dry and I didn’t know any spells to protect me from the rain, at least not yet. By the time we finished, I decided that I’d have to either learn a spell like that or invest in a tarp.
When Mrs. Lauriant and I were finished, her image faded back into the tree until it once again looked like it had before. I let out a sigh, then started back to Poe, eager to take a third shower for today so I could get cleaned up and warm…again. I mentally noted, that if I hurried, I’d probably even be able to make it to Crystal Hall before lunch was over.
Then maybe I can find Collin,” I mused, looking forward to that. I wasn’t really sure what we’d do, but homework would definitely be a good excuse.
As soon as I got to Poe, I dropped my poncho off in my room and began to strip out of my soggy clothes. I dropped them off into the pile of other soggy clothes from my earlier run, then threw on a robe just long enough to get me to the showers and back. As I started for the showers, I just chuckled, wondering if I could talk Mrs. Horton into putting lockers in with the showers since it might be easier just to keep some of my stuff there.
I went down the hall to the showers, and as I stepped through the door, I heard the water running. It looked like I wasn’t the only one with this idea. However, a moment later, I realized that the shower wasn’t occurring in one of the stalls…it was occurring over half the room. There was a thin layer of storm clouds along the ceiling, which were pouring rain all over everything.
What the…?” I started, though I already realized the source of this odd indoor weather. “Downpour…”
It took me a moment to spot Downpour, curled up in the corner and sobbing. I immediately winced in sympathy, remembering when I’d been curled up on the floor in here freaking out. Without hesitating, I hurried to Downpour’s side, nearly slipping on the wet floor and getting my robe soaked through.
Are you okay…?” I started, only to freeze when I saw the knife in her hand. She was holding the blade up against her own wrist, as though she wanted to cut but couldn’t quite bring herself to do so. I gulped in fear, not wanting to make any more sudden movements that might make her cut. “Downpour…?”
Downpour didn’t answer me, nor did she even look up at me. I slowly moved closer, and when I was right beside her, I reached for the knife. She didn’t resist as I took it from her hand and tossed it aside. Then I grabbed hold of her, wishing that I could do something more than this.
I’m so tired,” Downpour whispered as she cried. “I just want it to end…”
I hugged Downpour, wishing that I knew what to say to make this better for her…that I could do something to help her. Instead, all I could do was hold her while she cried, remembering quite well what it had been like when I’d been here. If it hadn’t been for all those other girls coming to help me… My own tears began to form as well.
As I’d learned first-hand, the ‘Downpour protocols’ as they were referred to around the freshmen wing, referred to when someone was having an emotional breakdown and needed help. As I tried to comfort Downpour, I realized just how bad her situation had to be if they’d actually named the thing after her. She needed help, a lot more than I could give. And since I didn’t dare leave her alone right now, I sent my faeries out to get help.
Everything is going to be all right,” I told her, hoping that I wasn’t lying. “You’re going to get better…”
Why does it hurt so much?” Downpour demanded as she cried on my shoulder. “Why won’t it ever end?”
My heart ached at those words. Cindy had told me that Downpour used to be on medication that helped with her issues, but that ever since she’d manifested, those medications just didn’t work for her anymore. It made her situation all the more tragic.
Seconds later, Breakdown burst into the showers, following behind one of my faeries. “What’s going on?” Then she saw Downpour and gasped, immediately rushing to her side.
Nikki and Mrs. Horton both came in after that and rushed to help as well. I got up and backed away from Downpour as Mrs. Horton and Breakdown took over trying to comfort her. Nikki did the same thing that she’d previously done with me and Downpour instantly went into a daze, her indoor rain turning off in the process. Then Nikki cast a quick spell and we were all suddenly dry again. And though I absently though that I’d like to learn that spell, most of my attention remained focused on Downpour and what I could do to help her.
Monday early afternoon, Nov 5th, 2007
I sat on the mat in my martial arts class, watching as several sparring matches went on at the same time. I looked over to where Vulpine was going at it with Shawn, which was an interesting match. Shawn might not look threatening, but his telekinesis could take you out without his ever having to get near you. And to top it off, even without his powers, he was pretty good at fighting.
Then I turned my attention to the match where Centurion was facing off against Cerberus. I scowled in annoyance, silently cheering on Cerberus, who I hoped was able to win. I REALLY didn’t like Centurion, or how cocky and smug he’d been since he’d broken my arm last week. Ever since then, Centurion had definitely given me a lot of attitude, but he had backed off and no longer seemed to think he had to prove anything against me. However, now I was the one with a grudge.
Last week, I’d tested an itching spell on Centurion, and though it had been a lot of fun, it had worn off quite a bit sooner than I’d hoped. However, that was just my first attempt, and though Centurion didn’t know it, he’d now been designated as my guinea pig. I’ve already tried a more powerful itching spell on him, and today during lunch, I’d begun testing a spell to manipulate another sense…smell.
Dude, you reek,” Cerberus exclaimed from all three of his bodies at the same time, giving Centurion a look of disgust. “Did you shit your pants or something?”
It was all I could do not to laugh too openly. Cerberus certainly hadn’t been the first person to notice the nasty smell around Centurion, nor would he be the last. I wasn’t sure how long this illusion would last, but hopefully it would be long enough to earn him the nickname of Stinky. Unlike with vision, the illusion of a smell was no different than the smell itself.
Shut up,” Centurion demanded angrily. “It’s not me.”
With that, Centurion grabbed one of Cerberus’ bodies and threw it right into the other two. In moments, the fight was over with Centurion being the clear winner. Then he returned to his spot on the mat with an angry glare.
Absinthe and Rapier,” Ito announced.
I took my position on the mat and watched my opponent nervously. Rapier was a lean boy with metal bracers around each of his wrists. As soon as he was in place, the metal bracer on his right wrist began to melt and flow into his hand, then it stretched out until it reformed into a long and thin sword…a rapier. A moment later, the bracer on his other wrist melted and flowed into his left hand, forming into the type of dagger that was known as a main gauche. Rapier gave me a cocky grin, obviously remembering how he’d beaten me during our last match.
I just smiled faintly, then reached behind my back and pulled Needle out from where it was hidden beneath my gi. This time, I wasn’t unarmed and actually had a weapon of my own. In fact, this was actually the first day that I’d felt comfortable enough using Needle that I’d brought it to class.
Rapier’s eyes went to Needle and he grinned. Then in a bad Australian accent, he exclaimed, “You call that a knife?” He held up his own blade and added, “THIS is a knife.”
Nope,” I responded cheerfully. With that, I reached out along the link I had to Needle and flipped the magical switch that I’d found built into it. A moment later, the hilt suddenly lengthened in both directions. I set the pommel on Needle’s base against the floor, looked at the blade, which was now eye level, then proudly stated, “I call this a spear.”
When Caitlin had made Needle, she’d built in several special features which made it much more than a mere dagger. It could hit whatever I aimed for, return to my hand, and perhaps most interesting, it could lengthen in order to transform into a spear. And in spear form, with the pommel being a ring, it actually resembled a giant needle. It seemed that I’d named Needle even more appropriately than I’d known at the time.
That’s new,” Rapier commented with an eager look in his eyes.
As soon as the match began, Rapier darted forth, moving with surprising speed and agility, especially since I knew his physical abilities weren’t part of his powers. His power was simply the ability to reform steel into different shapes just by touching it. In that way, he was able to keep a small arsenal of weapons hidden on his body in the form of bracelets and such. Rapier lunged at me with his sword and I knocked the blade aside with Needle. He attacked again, just a little faster, and I blocked that one as well. It was clear that he was holding back, testing how well I was able to use Needle. And unfortunately, the answer was not that well.
Doug had taught me how to fight with a knife, but not with a spear. This was actually the first time in my life that I’d ever even used one in a fight, but I didn’t really have much choice. I needed the reach advantage it gave me when dealing with Rapier. But even though I’d never actually fought with a spear, I had used one in a number of my dreams and I’d gotten an idea of what to do from there. Between that and the practicing I’d done in Poe’s basement, I could probably be considered pretty good…for a first timer.
Not too bad,” Rapier mused, proving that I might have the reach advantage, but he had had two weapons as well as more skill. “But not good enough.”
Before I realized it, Rapier smacked the back of my hand with the flat of his blade, making me drop Needle, which he kicked as it fell so that it was knocked well away from me. I muttered a curse and jumped back, having to dodge his weapons without one of my own. I knew that if I’d been using my usual tactics and had made him start hallucinating, I probably would have kept him off balance enough so that he wouldn’t have been able to do that.
With that, I shifted gears, releasing a burst of light to bind him and then several illusionary copies of myself. Then as he began slashing his blades around to keep me back until he recovered his vision, I hit him from behind with a glamour laden faerie.
I hate it when you do that,” Rapier exclaimed, recovering enough that he lunged at one of my illusions, immediately slashing out with his main gauche at the same time so as to hit my second illusion.
Rapier was momentarily distracted, so I made my move. I lunged at him from the side, hitting his elbow so as to force his main body further away from me, while simultaneously kicking his shin so he’d lose balance. While I was doing that, I made a mental tug towards Needle, which had returned to dagger form just seconds after leaving my hands. In a moment, Needle flew back into my hand, so just as I knocked Rapier to the ground, I was able to put a dagger to his throat.
You win this time,” Rapier said cheerfully. After he got back to his feet, he gave an exaggerated bow with a sweep of his sword, in what I thought was supposed to be a swashbuckler type move. “Till next time, my lady.”
As Rapier returned to his seat, Ito told me, “You will need to master that weapon if you intend to use it.”
I nodded at that, knowing that he was completely correct. Then I gave a self-conscious smile as I admitted, “And I got distracted by Needle and forgot to use anything else.”
Ito gave a faint nod, which I thought was of approval though it was hard to tell. “We will work on that.”
When I returned to my seat, Collin grinned at me and asked, “Where in the world did you get a knife turn turns into a spear?”
It was a present,” I told him, being careful to avoid telling him too much. Last night, while we were dealing with the fallout of Downpour’s freak out, Nikki had warned me against telling people that Caitlin had made Needle. She’d said that if the wrong people found out about what Caitlin could really do, it would put Caitlin in danger, and I definitely didn’t want that.
Collin nodded, then leaned over, and in a conspiratorial voice, told me, “If you were a guy, I’d think you were compensating for something.” That just made me burst out laughing, earning a warning glare from Ito and Tolman.
When the sparring sessions were over a few minutes later, Ito and Tolman began separating us to practice forms. To my surprise, Ito pulled me aside and showed me a few basic moves for a spear, then had me practice those for the rest of the class. I had a feeling that I’d have to do a lot of my spear practice on my own time, but Ito was definitely helping me with the basics.
After class ended a short time later, I rushed through the showers and then stuck around just long enough to watch as Centurion came out of the locker room, obviously having just showered, and still having people commenting on his stink. I grinned at that and then hurried to my next class, making a mental note to keep using that spell.
I’d barely made it to my next class when the teacher, Mrs. Abernathy said, “Absinthe, I just received a message from Mrs. Carson. You need to go to her office immediately.”
What?” I gasped in both surprise and confusion. Mrs. Carson was the headmistress of the school, and I couldn’t think of a single thing that I’d done, or at least had been caught at, that would demand I get sent to the principal’s office. I suddenly felt pretty worried and hesitantly asked, “What’s this about?”
I don’t know,” Mrs. Abernathy responded with a shrug, as though she didn’t particularly care. “But you should probably go and find out.”
Gee, thanks,” I muttered as I turned and walked right back out of the classroom. “That was so helpful…” Then I let out a nervous sigh, hoping that this wasn’t about the fact that I’d been using Centurion as a guinea pig for my spells.
I hurried to Schuster Hall, and then into the office waiting room where I found myself staring at a strict looking blonde woman who sat at a desk. The name plate on the desk said, ‘Amelia Hartford’, which made me even more nervous. Several of the girls from Poe had warned me about Ms. Hartford, who they called Hardass. Apparently, she had a reputation as being a cast iron bitch who had no problems making your life miserable if you so much as even thought about crossing her.
Absinthe,” Ms. Hartford said, giving me a flat look. She gestured to a closed door and said, “Mrs. Carson is expecting you. Don’t keep her waiting.”
I nodded at that, then nervously opened the door and stepped inside. Mrs. Carson was an attractive blonde woman who looked as though she was probably only in her thirties, though I’d heard rumors that she was quite a bit older than that. She was currently sitting behind her desk and looked up when I came in.
Absinthe,” she greeted me. “Please sit down.”
I sat down in the chair in front of her desk, feeling more than a little worried. I still had no real idea what this was about.
Do you know why I called you here?” she asked me. When I shook my head, she said, “Last week, you facilitated a meeting between a Whateley student and an agent of the MCO.”
I gulped at that, then protested, “All I did was ask Dana if she wanted to fill out a statement…”
Mrs. Carson gave me a faint smile and assured me, “You aren’t in trouble, but that is what we were just discussing.”
I wondered what she meant by that, then she reached over and pushed a button on her desk phone. A moment later, a familiar voice said, “Hello Gwen,” from the speakerphone on her desk.
Dad?” I blurted out in surprise.
Agent Winslow told me about the interview last week,” Dad said, being formal in how he referred to Grace so I knew that this wasn’t a social call. “She said that she wouldn’t have been able to get Sphere’s statement if you hadn’t acted as an intermediary. I wanted you to know that I’m proud of you.”
For a brief moment, I wondered if this was some kind of joke, or if someone was impersonating my dad for some reason. For a long time, I’d been so sure that he was completely ashamed of me, that hearing something like that still caught me by surprise. However, I had to admit that it was nice to hear.
Your father and I were discussing an issue we have,” Mrs. Carson told me with a serious look. “We thought you might be able to help solve it by acting as an intermediary again.”
What?” I asked, already tired of being surprised.
Mrs. Carson explained, “A Whateley student was home for a family emergency when he appears to have witnessed an attack by a mutant supremacist. More than three dozen people were killed during the attack, and the student seems to have been spared simply because the killer has a strict rule against harming mutants.”
Of course, the MCO is investigating the incident,” Dad said over the speaker phone. “The investigation is outside of my jurisdiction, but I’ve learned that two agents are being dispatched to Whateley to interview the witness. What concerns me is that that there are…unconfirmed accusations against these agents that makes their methods…suspect. Because of that, I called Whateley security as a precaution and they transferred me to Mrs. Carson.”
So you don’t trust them,” I said, not at all surprised. There were a lot of people in the MCO like that, and they give the good ones a bad name. I knew that Dad took that kind of thing pretty personally. “I know the MCO doesn’t have any legal authority here, so you could just tell them no.” I looked at Mrs. Carson as I said that last bit.
Mrs. Carson smiled faintly at that, but it was Dad who explained, “Mrs. Carson cooperates with the MCO, and though she could easily refuse to allow these agents access to the witness, there would be consequences.”
I thought about that for a moment, then nodded in understanding. “Politics.”
I didn’t understand all the politics involved, but I thought I knew enough. Whateley was neutral ground and the MCO had no legal authority here, but by cooperating with them willingly, Mrs. Carson was showing that Whateley was willing to work with the system. If she refused to let the MCO interview that witness, then the MCO and people in positions of authority might take that as a sign that Whateley somehow supported the terrorist instead.
Does…does the student even want to make a statement?” I asked, remembering how Grace didn’t even bother to set up an interview until Dana had agreed.
Yes, he has agreed to the interview,” Mrs. Carson explained, almost seeming to be humoring me by answering my questions. “Had he refused, the investigators would have been denied access to him. Now, our concern is protecting a student from potentially overzealous investigators without antagonizing them. Your father suggested that you might smooth this meeting much the way you did that last one.”
Unless I have evidence of wrongdoing,” Dad explained, “these agents are outside of my jurisdiction and I can’t interfere. However, as an MCO employee who is assigned to the local office, you do have an opening to get involved. And as you are an intern rather than an active agent, you can do so in such a way that you don’t infringe on their jurisdiction or step on their toes. This is a delicate situation so that is important.”
I sat there in my chair, squirming uncomfortably as I felt like I was being watched with two sets of eyes. Mrs. Carson was definitely watching me, and though Dad wasn’t physically present in the room, I still felt like he was watching me as well. After several long seconds, I said, “Okay… What do I have to do?”
Good,” Dad said, his voice sounding completely professional, though I thought I could hear a note of approval in it. “Mostly, what we need from you is to just be present for the interview. Your presence alone should be a moderating influence on the agents. Of course, there is a little more to it than that, but I’ll email you a file to look at…”
I spent the next half hour talking to Dad and Mrs. Carson, listening to what they wanted me to do. For the most part, Dad had been right when he said I just had to be there. My main job was to just act as a witness so the agents didn’t try anything questionable. And since I was an MCO employee, I could actually sit in on the interview without openly antagonizing them where someone from Whateley security couldn’t.
When we were done, I said goodbye to Dad and promised to call Mom, then Mrs. Carson excused me to return to class. I hurried back to class, knowing that I’d be arriving just in time to get the class summary and the homework assignment. I absently wondered if I could get away with taking my time and skipping that class entirely, but I knew that I’d end up stuck with the homework anyway. At least this way, I’d get some of the class lesson to help with it.
After the surprise of getting pulled into Mrs. Carson’s office, the rest of the day was boringly normal in comparison. Before I’d realized it, classes were over for the day and I was free to meet up with Collin so we could ‘study’ together until dinner. We actually did study, though a little kissing was involved as well.
Collin and I walked to Crystal Hall together, and I found myself glancing at him and blushing as I thought about how we’d been kissing. I still found it hard to believe that I actually liked kissing a boy, especially one who used to try beating me up. However, I couldn’t deny the fact that when we kissed, I got all warm and gooey inside. It made me feel so…girly. I was still a little confused by these emotions, and afterwards I’d feel guilty for feeling this way, but I knew that it wouldn’t stop me from kissing Collin again. Whether I liked it or not, I was really starting to get into the whole girl thing.
Oh look, meatloaf,” Collin exclaimed with exaggerated excitement as he began gathering food for his plate. “I so love meatloaf…”
Oh yeah,” I responded with more than a little sarcasm. “Mystery meatloaf is my favorite.”
Mystery meatloaf,” Collin mused with a chuckle. “That’s what we used to call it in my old school too.”
I nodded absently at that, then looked at another dish and commented, “Oooh, semi-edible food substitute.”
Collin snickered at the use of another joke that had often gone around our old school cafeteria. However, in spite of the joking, I had to admit that the food here was actually much better than at our old school. Dana told me that instead of the traditional lunch ladies, Whateley actually had real chefs working in the kitchen.
Almost as if thinking about my roommate had summoned her, I saw Dana coming out of the kitchen with a hairnet on her head and a tray of food in her hands. She put the food down in the lunch line, then nodded towards me before ducking back into the kitchen. I just shook my head, glad that I didn’t have to do a job like this. Then again, as I’d discovered earlier today, my job did require some overtime.
Collin and I were the first ones to reach our usual table, though we just barely sat down when Jinx arrived. “Hey,” she greeted us with a broad grin, taking her seat and chuckling.
What are you so happy about?” I asked her curiously.
Do you know Trixie?” she asked me cheerfully. When I shook my head, she explained, “Trixie is a freshman gadgeteer who specializes in practical jokes and tricks. She’s in my survival class, and sometimes she can be really funny, but today she tried testing out a cream pie cannon in class… Well, she had a bit of bad luck…” Jinx snickered at that. “And it blew up in her face. It was hilarious.”
I’d imagine,’ I responded with a laugh of my own.
Collin nodded, then said, “Some of these devisors… Where in the world do you come up with something like a cream pie cannon…outside of a cartoon?”
Just imagine if Jade got hold of that thing,” I thought aloud, suddenly having images of something like that being used as the latest escalation in the war between Jade and Beltane. I shuddered at the idea, as did Jinx.
With any luck,” Jinx told me, “Jade won’t even find out about it.” Then we both laughed. “But it’s too bad Dana has to work. I wanted to tell her about this too…”
Just then, Dana asked, “Tell me about what?” She sat down at the table with a tray full of food.
I thought you were working,” I commented curiously.
Dana just shrugged at that. “Chef Marcel told me to take a break for dinner. I’ll go back in the kitchen when I’m done eating.”
That was lucky,” Collin commented wryly, looking to Jinx, who just had a smug look on her face.
Jinx was in the middle of retelling the story about Trixie and the cream pie cannon, with more details, when Lina came over and joined us. “I’m not sticking around too long,” Lina warned us. “As soon as I’m done, I’m grabbing a couple ‘to go’ boxes for Downpour and Cindy.” Then she hesitated a moment, glancing at Collin before adding, “Downpour didn’t feel like going out so Cindy stayed behind to keep her company.” Dana, Jinx, and I all nodded in understanding.
Downpour had really been in bad shape yesterday, and though she was a little better today, she was still under the weather…both figuratively and literally. Nearly all the freshman girls had been taking turns staying with her so that she wouldn’t be alone, and I’d even taken my own turn last night. I frowned as I thought about the girl, really feeling sorry for her. I just wished there was something I could do to make her feel better.
Butterflies,” I said, suddenly remembering the way Downpour had thanked me for making her hallucinate about butterflies. When everyone gave me a blank look, I explained, “I was just thinking about making some illusions to cheer up Downpour.”
Great idea,” Jinx told me in approval. “And maybe we can get Danica to play cat for her too.”
Oh yeah,” Dana suddenly exclaimed, pausing to take a big bite of meatloaf. “I got an email from my dad. Apparently, my sister Becky got suspended from school…for beating up the class bully.” She was grinning proudly as she said that.
You can’t really fault her for that one,” Lina said, smirking faintly. “I mean, you should always get a free pass if you’re beating up a bully.”
She did the first time she did it,” Dana admitted with a chuckle. “Apparently, this time she made him start crying…”
It sounds like your sister is quite a character,” Collin told her with an amused look.
Dana nodded enthusiastically. “Oh yeah, she’s a character all right.” Then she paused, her expression turning sad, as it often did when talking about her sister. However, that only lasted for a few seconds before she smiled again. “Did I ever tell you about last Easter when she dyed a bunch of uncooked eggs and put them in the bowl with the regular Easter eggs? I go to crack open an egg by smacking it on my forehead, and the next thing I know, I’ve got egg dripping down my face. What a brat…”
We were all laughing at that point, especially as we imagined Dana with egg dripping down her face. “And I always thought my little brother was a pain,” Lina said with a shake of her head. “I once caught him trying to put Nair in my shampoo. Good thing he’s incompetent or I’d really be in trouble.”
Yeah,” I agreed. “I’d imagine that kind of thing would really keep you on your toes though…”
Siblings are always like that,” Lina said with a shrug. “You know what it’s like…”
Not really,” I admitted with a shrug. “I’m an only child.”
Then you missed out on all sorts of free entertainment,” Dana told me with a broad grin. “Did I tell you about the time Becky…”
By the time Dana was finished with her latest story, we were all laughing, or at least everyone was but Collin. He was just sitting there, poking at his food with a thoughtful look on his face and being strangely quiet. He didn’t respond to the rest of the conversation, though he did give me an odd look.
When we were finished eating, we all got up to leave. Dana let out a long sigh and said, “I guess I’d better get back to work. Those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves.” Then she paused, giving me a hopeful look before asking, “Gwen, can you…?”
I could make them LOOK clean,” I responded with a roll of my eyes. “But it wouldn’t last long.”
That’s all right,” Dana told me with a shrug. “They’ve got an awesome dishwasher back there that was made by some devisor. You wouldn’t believe what that thing can do.”
After that, Dana went back to the kitchen while Lina went to grab a couple ‘to go’ boxes for Downpour and Cindy. I began walking out of Crystal Hall with Collin and Jinx, when Collin said, “Gwen…we need to talk.” I was a little surprised by how serious he looked.
I’ll see you later,” Jinx told me before she hurried off towards Poe.
I watched Collin for a moment, then urged him to continue, “Okay.”
Collin just stared at me for several seconds more, then he quickly looked around to make sure no one was close. Finally, he looked me in the eyes and demanded, “Who are you?”
What?” I gasped in surprise.
You keep saying things that you shouldn’t know,” Collin accused me, looking angry. “Things from my old school, like who Suzie Quentin is…or jokes we told in the cafeteria. I thought that maybe Adam told you about our school, but while we were eating, you said you’re an only child.”
Collin,” I started, definitely not liking the way this conversation was going. I looked at his aura and confirmed that he was definitely hurt and angry, and it was directed at ME.
Then it suddenly made sense,” Collin exclaimed, glaring at me with a look that made me take an instinctive step backwards. “You’re not Adam’s sister. You ARE Adam…”
Those words hit me like a physical blow and I winced as I heard them. My first impulse was to lie, to insist that he was wrong, but I already knew it was too late for that. He knew. I’d gotten so comfortable around him that I’d completely let down my guard. Now he knew and there was no taking that back.
I WAS Adam,” I admitted quietly, feeling ashamed at having him know.
Collin blinked in surprise, obviously not having expected me to actually admit it once I’d been caught. “You lied to me,” he spat out, looking as though I’d just betrayed him. “You told me you were Adam’s sister…”
No,” I responded quietly, not able meet his eyes. “You assumed I was Adam’s sister…and I was too embarrassed to correct you.”
It was all a lie, wasn’t it?” Collin demanded with a hurt look. “Just like everything else you do…it was all an illusion. Just a trick to mess with me…”
No,” I protested, horrified by the accusation.
I instinctively tried to back away from Collin, only to find that my feet wouldn’t move. He’d locked me in place with his powers, right when my every instinct screamed at me to run away. I felt a surge of rising panic which triggered a flash of memory from one of my dreams where I’d felt the same way. For a brief moment, I almost saw a corrupted bear monster leaping at me again and I responded by letting out a scream and a burst of magic. Dozens of faeries burst into existence around me as a surge of glamour slammed into Collin, causing him to release his power. An instant later, I was running away from him as fast as I could.
Tears poured down my cheeks as I ran, desperate to get away from Collin. I didn’t even know where I was going, only that I didn’t want to deal with anyone at all. Almost on automatic, I started running for the one place where I knew I’d have privacy, the large grove of trees on the edge of campus where students were strictly forbidden from going. As I got near, someone in a security uniform yelled at me to stop, but I ignored him and ran into the forested area.
When I stopped running and just collapsed to the ground, I was breathing hard and sobbing like a baby. I felt so ashamed and humiliated, it was like the thing from the showers all over again. And this time, there were no Poe girls around to call a Downpour protocol and intervene. This time, I could just cry myself out.
I had no idea how long I just sat on the ground crying before I finally stopped. I wiped my tears away, feeling like an idiot. “I can’t believe it,” I muttered bitterly. “First I turn into an elf girl, now I turn into a drama queen.” I shuddered at that, feeling disgusted with myself. I’d always hated those kinds of girls, the drama queens who had to exaggerate every little thing and make it all about them.
Now that I’d calmed down, I looked around and realized that I wasn’t really alone. There were currently several dozen of my faeries scattered about near me, and though I didn’t see anyone else, I could feel a presence watching me. I shifted over to my mage sight and let out a gasp. There were ley lines and magic everywhere, infusing all the trees and plants that surrounded me. This whole place was alive in more than just the normal way plants were.
Mrs. Lauriant would love this,” I whispered in awe.
There was definitely some kind of force here, one that was aware of my presence and was watching me. Fortunately, it didn’t feel hostile, merely curious. In fact, it almost felt…welcoming.
It’s because I’m Sidhe,” I whispered in understanding. Whatever this place was, it seemed somewhat fond of the Sidhe.
Then I realized that there was more than just this singular alien presence that surrounded me. There were smaller, more individual ones as well. With that, a faerie came and hovered in the air in front of me, surprising me since it had blue hair and light blue skin. There was another one with dark violet hair and a mischievious look on her face. These faeries…weren’t mine. And when I looked at them with my mage sight, I gasped at what I saw. They weren’t hobgoblins at all…or even fakes like what Jade had created to prank me with. They were real. These were real pixies.
Hello,” I said, feeling nervous and a little overwhelmed.
As I looked around, I saw several more pixies, seven of them in total. The others were nearby, hidden by invisibility and illusion, but once I thought to look, I could still see them. They realized that they’d been seen and dropped their disguises and came out, revealing themselves to me. One by one, they flew over to look at my own faeries, checking them out with obvious curiosity.
I’m Gwen,” I said quietly, hoping I didn’t scare them. “My faeries…my pixies aren’t real ones. Not like you…” Of course, it was obvious that they’d already figured that out, though they still seemed both curious and amused. In fact, I was sure it was all my faeries which had made them curious enough to reveal themselves in the first place.
One pixie had green hair and brown skin that was the color of tree bark. She flew to me and stared at my hair for a moment, then touched her own hair which was a few shades darker. After a moment, she spoke, in a language that I didn’t know, but which I’d heard in several of my dreams. And even though I didn’t know this language, I could still understand it when she said, “Greetings big sister.”
Then she and the other pixies giggled and darted around, appearing to play a game of tag with my faeries. I grinned at that, letting myself get distracted by the game and sending my own faeries after them. We played this strange game for about ten minutes, which the pixies seemed to be having a great deal of fun with.
But then, a familiar voice called out, “Absinthe…” I froze and looked in the direction I could hear Nikki calling from. “Gwen…”
Over here,” I responded with a sigh.
With that, all the pixies suddenly flew off and vanished into the trees. I felt a little disappointed at that, but it seemed that they didn’t want Nikki to see them.
Seconds later, Nikki came into view, looking relieved when she saw me. “Security said you ran into the grove,” she told me, her expression turning into one of annoyance. “Don’t you know students have come in here and never come back out? Security knows I have an understanding with the grove, so they asked me to come find you…” Then she paused to stare at me before adding, “It seems you have a bit of an understanding with it as well.”
I just shrugged at that, trying to act nonchalant as I commented, “It seemed like a good place to get some privacy.”
Are you okay?” Nikki abruptly asked, reminding me that she was an empath and could feel emotions. “Security said you seemed pretty…upset.”
Upset,” I muttered bitterly.
Upset was an understatement. I’d just lost my boyfriend… Then I paused to gulp, shaking at the realization that I’d just thought of Collin as my boyfriend. I shook my head, cursing the fact that whatever I’d had with Collin was over. And not only that, I’d blown my secret. In fact, I might very well have blown the secret of Poe at the same time. But in spite of all that, I couldn’t help but remembering that I’d just discovered there were real pixies living just off campus. Even with everything that was going wrong, I still thought that was pretty amazing.
How are you feeling?” Nikki asked me carefully, probably remembering my last freakout and wondering if she was going to have to sedate me again.
“Confused,” I told her honestly as I started walking out of the grove and back towards Poe. “Very confused.”
To Be Continued