But now it's time for me to go
The autumn moon lights my way
For now I smell the rain
And with it pain
And it's headed my way...
Led Zeppelin, Ramble On
October 31st, 2007
Room 211, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Kayda was still yawning as she walked back to her room from the showers, despite the wonderful plumbing of the new cottage, she still was trying to clear out her mental cobwebs as she pressed her thumb to the reader and opened the door. She didn't expect anyone to be in the room, as Chou started early, welcoming the sun rise with her Tai Chi 'class' of ad hoc followers out in front of the building.
The greeting startled her a bit and certainly helped clear the last of her sleepiness as Kayda frowned at her brother who was sitting on her bed. “How did you get in here?” she demanded, peeved a bit.
“Chou let me in while you were in the shower,” he replied as if such a thing were perfectly normal.
“Shift forms,” Kayda ordered.
“Because I have to get dressed and I don't want to do it in front of my brother!”
Danny rolled his eyes. “You know, my mind doesn't change, right? And I remember everything in both forms, right?”
“That's not the point!” Kayda told him as she opened her wardrobe and began to ruffle about for an outfit. “Phone, what is the forecast for today?”
From its charging cradle on her desk, her phone, a Gizmatic Communicator, declared, “It is currently fair and twenty five degrees in Berlin, New Hampshire. Look for clear skies today with a high of sixty degrees. Low tonight will be thirty four degrees.”
“Ugh, pants today!” she muttered and began to pull out the uniform. Checking to be sure her brother had shifted forms, which she had, Kayda asked, “What is it you need, Dani?”
“Math help,” the younger girl admitted in a frustrated tone. “Mrs Bell has us doing stuff that I think is way too advanced for our grade level and I can't wrap my head around it.” Kayda tossed her towel over her chair and began to pull on her foundational garments. Danica purposefully turned to look out the window.
“What sort of stuff?” she asked.
“Something called Game Theory,” Danica answered, watching Chou lead her Tai Chi enthusiasts through the various motions on the front court. “It's supposed to be some way of predicting outcomes, or counting cards or something, but it doesn't make any sense to me. The book is in my bag, I have it marked.”
Kayda raised an eyebrow at her sister's back, but got her blouse tucked into her pants and flipped open Dani's book bag for the text book, but something else caught her eye. “What's this?” she asked, pulled the old, soft cover book out of the bag. It was an odd size for a book, larger than a trade paper back, but smaller than a hard cover. It was quite old by the look of it, and the back was adorned with a daguerreotype photograph of three men standing around a woman of African decent who was seated in the chair, looking straight into the camera lens.
Dani turned and walked over. “Oh, that's a book Peggy loaned me to read. An old-timey dime western.”
“The Last Ride of Black Jack Kingston,” Kayda read and then turned it back over to look at the picture. Dani reached over and pointed at the man standing behind the chair with an absolutely huge mustache in a dour, dark suit.
“That's him,” she said. “Jack Kingston, US Marshall. Although my favorite character was this guy, Benjamin Two Feathers.”
Kayda stared at the photo, wishing she had a photographic memory that was as perfect as Lanie or Tansy's. “I would swear I have seen this picture before,” she said, wracking her brain and trying to remember. “Are these real people or is it a novel?”
“I know, I felt the same way,” Dani told her. “The book says it was real events, but I didn't check or anything. Kinda weird, a zombie western! Anyway, can you help me with this math?”
“Sure,” she replied. “Although I'll need you to get Mrs Bell's permission for me to tutor you.”
Danica became cross. “Why? What business is it of hers who I get help from?”
“Dani,” she replied with her hands on her hips. “Some of the teachers here can be real anal about learning on your own. You wouldn't want to put in all this work and then get failed anyway, would you?”
“No,” she admitted sullenly. “Alright, I'll talk to her. But you'll help if she's ok with it?”
Kayda smiled. “Sure. Anything for my little sister!”
Danica made a face but said nothing.
October 31st, 2007
Path between Emerson Cottage and the Crystal Hall
David turned to see his current collection of minions, the Bad Boyz, coming up the trail behind him, their 'lieutenant' Dump Truck in front. “What is it, Thatcher?” he asked wearily.
“When we hooked up with you, you promised us we'd get to beat down the fags in this school. So far, all we got is one fight and two weeks in the sewers!”
“Yeah,” chorused Thud, Matt's dimwitted yes man. David rolled his eyes.
“What did you expect?” David demanded. “The Breakfast Brawl was unexpected and sloppy, by all of us. I had no idea Loophole's whiny little brother would have a spine, let alone a temper. With all of those witnesses, and you and Matt jumping in, of course we were going to get detention!”
“You saying you don't want us to help you?” Thud demanded slowly.
“I'm saying we need to be more circumspect in our approach and be mindful of witnesses and being IDed. For example, the Halloween Ball is tonight and everyone will be in costumes...”
A malicious grin split Matt's face. Thud was a bit slower, but if Matt was smiling, chances were good a brawl was in the works. “That's more like it!” Matt agreed.
October 31st, 2007
Woods north west of Laird Hall
Maggie crept through the wood line, crouched over and her eyes intent on the ground. It was not by accident that these woods were so littered with herbs and plants useful in magical rituals. There were many that were grown in the green house by Kirby hall, but some rituals required the practitioner to harvest the plants themselves, some at special times or with special tools, and a few required them to be sourced from the wild.
As she searched through the underbrush, from habit she patted her neck to be certain the necklace still hung there. For all the research it had required, it was a simple enough charm to enchant onto the plain, brass disk on a stainless steel chain. Now when she thought about how she would free her best friend from the grip of the spirit that possessed her, she would not receive an unrequested visit from a certain professor and psychic. The disk did not shield her thoughts from him, for that would arouse instant suspicion, but instead 'broadcast' for lack of a better word, a constant drone of inane and random 'chatter' as would be appropriate from a teenage girl; boys, jewelry and fashion, mostly. And so the thoughts she wished to remain private were 'shouted over' for a lack of better analogy and kept private. It was like trying to eavesdrop on a conversation, four tables over, in the middle of a techno-rave club.
Finally, she found the distinctive clutch of leaves she wanted, low to the ground. A trowel from her knapsack helped her dig around the large, brown root ball. Finally it was clear enough. She set the trowel aside and drew her athame from the bag as she took a hold of the leaves right where they met the root ball. She focused her hatred for the spirit that held her friend yet also concentrated on the sadness of the loss, then plunged the silvered blade into the root and yanked it from the ground in a single motion.
The human shaped root ball of the Mandrake plant writhed as if in death throes around the blade and what could have been a mouth opened on what looked terribly like a face, but no sound emerged. “Free my friend, as I free you,” Maggie whispered to the writhing plant. Finally it went still and a black sap oozed from the root where the athame pierced it.
Maggie laid the plant down and carefully collected the sap, being extra cautious she did not touch it with her bare skin. She removed the blade and cleaned it, then returned it to the knapsack as she took out a little clay jar and gently stuffed the root inside. “By my hatred, so mote it be,” she whispered.
That accomplished, she put the jar in the sack and stood with a smile on her face. “Soon, Lanie,” she promised. “You'll be free soon.”
October 31st, 2007
Greetings, intrepid listeners, I am Thuban, your host and you have ventured into The Dragon's Den on 105.7 FM, the Whateley Academy Radio Station, it is eight minutes from noon. Before we get started on the national news, some local housekeeping. The ongoing drama over former W.A.R.S. Personalities, Peeper and Greasy continue to cause ripples here on campus. Rumor has it the two nearly came to blows this morning in a bathroom setting reminiscent of the Shawshank Redemption, witnesses claim that Class Loser Peeper actually attempted to apologize to Greasy for his general lack of basic human kindness. Greasy, however, continues on his path to basic humanity, spurning the attempt and, if rumors are to be believed, nearly struck his former...well, they weren't friends, but you get the idea.
Next on everyone's agenda is the All Hallows Ball this evening and worry if this year will see a repeat of last year's disastrous function. Alpha Couple Stormwolf and Heartbreaker promise a party for the history books and no repeats of previous years...unhappy endings, shall we say? Only time will tell.
Now, onto the National stage...
October 31st, 2007
Room 308, Dickinson Cottage
Pru 'Chemtrail' Tavori ambled into her room to offload the morning's books. It was always a mad house at the Crystal Hall come lunch, so she had gotten into the habit of coming to her cottage first, to swap out AM for PM school books and just unwind before heading to lunch to face the rest of the day. Seeing a box on her bed immediately perked her up and she was glad she did so. Leaving her backpack on her desk she came over to the white box on her bed. The lid had a logo she didn't recognize and taped over it by the bill of lading was a hand written note.
Now even more curious, she picked it up and read, Thanks for being such a good friend, T. Pru fetched a letter opener from her desk and opened the box, gasping as she did so. Inside was a fabulous, gold Lamé dress, carefully nestled in tissue paper. Gently pulling it out, Pru realized it was the fabulous sleeveless gown and cape that Elizabeth Taylor had worn as Cleopatra in the movie, or at least a perfectly made replica of it. There was even a black, dreadlocks wig that matched the film as well as an envelope stuffed full of jewelry that completed the out fit. “How?” Pru asked herself as she held the magnificent dress up to her chest and whirled around imagining how it would look on her.
“How did she...?” Pru paused, remembering an off-hand conversation the girls had had on a set, waiting for a shoot to start last year. She remembered how she had gone on and on about how Cleopatra was her favorite movie and how absolutely beautiful Liz Taylor had been in it. “And Tansy is an exemplar with a perfect memory!” she told the mirror. “This is awesome! Wait till Adam sees me!”
October 31st, 2007
Houseparent's Apartment, Twain Cottage
Adam looked at the cheap plastic sword he had bought from the school's book store and winced. He knew how much Pru was looking forward to the costume ball tonight and he had really wanted to do something special for her dream of going as Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, but it looked like cheap plastic and a bed sheet was the best he was going to be able to do.
He didn't understand it. He was an accomplished gadgeteer, he could do fine work and manipulation. He could even read and follow directions, but for whatever reason, sewing remained a complete mystery to him. The Roman Centurian pattern he'd gotten from a pack for a Christmas pageant was a complete mess and if anyone saw him in it, he would be the laughing stock of the ball, and doubtlessly Pru would be humiliated.
Before a black, self-loathing rage could overtake him, however, Mr Filbert's voice stormed into his thoughts, scattering them. “Lambert? Come over here, son.”
Adam looked up, seeing the House Father by his apartment, a rather large box standing beside him. “Yes, sir?”
“This came for you, son, sign here,” the House Father replied, indicating the box and thrusting a clipboard at him. Perplexed, Adam signed for the box and wheeled it on the hand truck over to the stairs, dreading trying to wrestle the truck up three flights. Whatever was in the box was heavy.
“Let me help ya with that, Adam,” came the welcome voice of Stronghold as he walked in with his girlfriend, Marty on his arm. Before Adam could protest, Stephen had picked up the box, one armed and was floating up the stairs with it. Lambert gave the hand truck back to Mr Filbert and trotted up the stairs to find Stephen and Marty waiting by his door. “What did you order?” he asked with a smile. “It's probably heavy.”
“I dunno,” Adam replied as he took out his ring of keys and opened the door. “I...I didn't order anything!” Steve brought the box in and set it out of the way by Adam's bed.
“See ya!” the redhead declared as he and Marty left.
“Thanks!” Adam called after him, staring at the box for a minute. He checked the bill of Lading, where it said it came from a place called Museum Replicas Limited, in Conyers, Georgia of all places. He took out his Swiss army knife and opened the box. Inside, nestled in protective padding was a treasure trove of items, on top of which was a sheet of paper that simply read,
I know that nothing I can say or do will ever truly make up to you what I did last year. You have my eternal sorrow and most humble apology for it. That said, I have heard how much the ball tonight means to you and Pru. I hope this will go a little ways to making amends.
Frowning in confusion, Adam reached in and lifted up the largest and heaviest of the wrapped bundles and opened it. Inside, shining out at him was a gleaming set of plate armor, sculpted to resemble a man's heavily muscled torso in polished silver. In addition there was filigree work over the muscles and in the chest, a roaring lion's head, all in gold, or what looked like gold, anyway. “What the...?” he whispered, then quickly emptied the box.
Within a few moments, laid out on his bed, was a complete set of Roman Officer's armor, including it's scarlet knee tunic, sandals and even a cape. There was a gladius as well and this was not a simple costume you might rent made of plastic. This was something that would stand up to motion picture close ups! The armor was all metal, with leather straps and backings; even the gladius was a real sword.
Smiling, Adam whispered, “Thanks, Tansy.”
October 31st, 2007
Powers Testing Lab, Lab (E) Doyle Medical Center Tunnels
Tansy had purposefully kept her lunch light in preparation for what she was about to face. Being classified four years ago had been an arduous chore, especially trying to mask how well she was doing against people who were trained to be observant. She had been pleased she had kept her avatar trait a complete secret, and her exemplar rating so low. As she made her way to the testing lab, half way between Schuster Hall and Doyle Medical Center, underground, she contemplated again seeking to deceive the classifiers, despite the Imp's warning not to.
She had never been particularly satisfied about how secure these records were or who had access to them. While her father had gone out of his way to induce paranoia in her, there were plenty of things he had been right about. Telegraphing your abilities and weaknesses to a potential enemy was certainly one of them.
Having arrived at Dr Hewley's office, as instructed, the somewhat rotund scientist had informed her to go the Lab E, which was a bit strange, to her line of thinking. More so that he did not follow, or give an indication he intended to be present. Indeed, he seemed quite engrossed in his game of solitaire. Now even more perplexed, Tansy turned and made her way to the Doyle Medical Center Tunnels and the somewhat large Lab E.
Lab E or (Exemplar) was a combination gym, obstacle course and gameshow stage. There were memory puzzles, spacial awareness puzzles, a Nautilus machine that could measure just about any way a human could lift or move weight. There was a track about the diameter of a basketball court, and finally an obstacle course like something out of American Superhuman Challenge, the TV Sports Entertainment Show.
She was surprised to find none of the normal powers crew waiting on her, but instead, Ms Hartford, Sensei Ito and Ms Imp. “Come in, Tansy,” Ms Hartford greeted. “Have a seat. Not what you were expecting?”
Tansy sank into the indicated chair and shook her head. “Actually, no, Ms Hartford, not at all,” she admitted.
“Your ability at guile and dissembling continues to impress us,” Ito told her with what strangely sounded like pride. “However, to make the most of the opportunities before you, we need a complete understanding of what you are capable of.” He smiled that evil smile of his. “We cannot push you past your limits if we do not know what they are.”
Ms Imp looked up from her tablet which was displaying Tansy's MID she noticed. “You actually convinced an MCO classifier you were an exemplar one with that body?” the Imp demanded. “Blondie, I am impressed!”
Walcutt smiled to herself, remembering how the nasty little man who had come from the Berlin MCO office to issue the MIDs her freshman year just couldn't keep his hands to himself. Of course, every time he found an excuse to touch her hand, arm or knee it had made it a little easier to establish a mental link to dominate him through. Old Tansy noted the self satisfied smirk on New Tansy's face from the mental cage she was kept in and demanded shouldn't she be ashamed?
No, I'm good, New Tansy thought to herself. Fuck the MCO.
“Don't let your ego out grow the box you keep it in,” Ms Hartford cautioned her with a knowing look like she had read Tansy's mind and knew exactly what she was thinking. “Now, for these tests, you need have no fear of the results finding their way into your file. This is for our reference,” she continued, with a gesture at herself and her companions. “So, having said that, I want to see you give this your all. Understand, Dague?”
“Yes, Hindmost.” Hartford smiled, and Tansy wondered if she was just getting used to it, or if it was not as odd looking on her face any more.
“Good girl,” she declared and opened the door into the testing area. “Come along, my protege, and let's see what you've got.” Amelia led the way over the weight bench first and indicated Tansy should lie down on the bench press bench. “Should I start with pounds or tons?” she asked archly.
Tansy sighed and made herself as comfortable on the bench as she could. “Pounds,” she protested. “I'm not...” Hartford only shrugged and tapped at the control of the machine. It didn't use traditional weight stacks, but a single metal plate mounted to hydraulic rams whose resistance could be scaled from pounds of resistance to tons. Taking a hold of the hand grips, she centered herself and pushed upwards.
“Don't lock your elbows,” Ito cautioned as the bar was easily pushed to the top by Tansy.
“Two hundred pounds,” noted Hartford. “Alright, let's see...” she adjusted the control and Tansy felt it becoming heavier. It sank a bit and she redoubled her efforts to raise it. “Push, Tansy,” Amelia ordered.
“I...am...!” she grunted.
“Five hundred,” Amelia's voice called. Tansy squirmed on the bench, gritting her teeth even as the bar began to slowly descend. Dimly, she heard Dr Hartford call out a number, but she was pushing for all she was worth.
Let me help you, Mustang whispered in her ear. And sensing her reluctance, he added, they did say that wanted to know your full ability.Tansy acquiesced and felt her spirit's power flow into her body. The bar, which was half way down, slowly rose upwards. For a while she was able to hold it up, conscious of not locking her elbows, then the downward pressure increased and slowly, inexorably, the bar began to descend. Finally the weight was just too much and the handles slipped out of her hands. The U Shaped bar crashed down safely avoiding her on the bench as it was designed to do.
Panting, and drenched in sweat she sat up and accepted the towel Ito handed to her and mopped her face and hair. “What was that?” demanded Ms Hartford.
Still out of breath, Tansy looked up at her and demanded, “What as what?”
“You started to struggle at eight hundred and the bar began to lower at one thousand four, making you just barely an exemplar four. Then suddenly you doubled down and pushed it back up. You didn't struggle again until fifteen pounds over three tons. You lost your grip at...” she consulted the read out on the display. “Six thousand, one hundred and twelve pounds! Explain that!”
“Not exactly, Hartford-sensei,” Ito declared softly. “You were watching the read out, I was watching Walcutt-san. She easily pushed the bar up at two hundred pounds, but struggled first before you announced five hundred. I think Walcutt-san is so concerned about concealing her abilities, she has made a mental door, or threshold if you will, that things must need to be done before puts in her full strength. This is likely why Lambert-san survived his encounter with her last year.”
“I'm not a killer,” Tansy protested softly.
“Perhaps not deliberately,” Ito conceded. “That said, I have no explanation for the sudden power past one thousand pounds.”
“Miss Walcutt?” Hartford invited. Tansy said nothing for a long moment, fighting with herself. “I'm waiting...?” The assistant headmistress prompted.
“Mu...Mustang...helped me...” she whispered, desperately afraid she was making a terrible mistake.
Hartford blinked in confusion and then her eyes went wide in shock. “You have a spirit?” she shouted. “For how long? When did this happen...?”
“I...” she started, then trailed off, trying to find the words to admit her power that would not get Kayda in trouble. As she furiously thrashed around in her mind, still fighting the gnawing feeling she was making a mistake the minutes slipped by.
“Answer me!” Hartford thundered, causing Tansy to flinch.
Reflexively, she stammered, “Kayda, she...”
When Tansy trailed off again, Hartford's face flushed with suppressed anger. “I might have known!” she declared, walking over to her purse and removing her hand held radio that the faculty used. “Mrs Shugendo?”
There was a brief pause and then the unit chirped. “Yes, Dr Hartford?”
“Have security pull Kayda Franks from whatever class she is in now and escort her directly to Powers Testing Lab E.”
“Right away, Dr Hartford.”
“Ms Hartford,” Tansy started, then went quiet at the glare she received.
October 31st, 2007
Devisor Lab (Vehicle) Kane Hall Tunnels
“No,” corrected Lanie as she looked over the shoulder of one of the freshmen. “This one goes there, that one goes there, got it?” She shook her head at some of the strange mistakes these kids could make and caught herself thinking of freshmen as 'kids'. She was wandering around the shop, having been left in charge as Mr Donner had left to retrieve Bonnie, the Ford Flathead V8 he had acquired last year from the paint room.
Over the summer, the students who couldn't or didn't get a vacation had lovingly restored the body, sanding it down to bare metal, repairing the rust damage from its years of sitting in a barn and stripping off the chrome pieces to be sent out to a special facility to be re-chromed as the process and chemicals used were under heavy government regulation.
Work in the shop came to a halt as the roll up door opened and Mr. Donner wheeled Bonnie back into the shop. She was just a rolling chassis, body mounted on the frame with wheels and none of her other systems yet, but the glossy black paint shined under the lights and the gear heads admired the deep, liquid gloss that had been achieved.
As Lanie watched the car be eased back into her bay, an idea occurred to her. Digging out her phone, she fired off a quick text and then returned to her rounds helping the new students.
October 31st, 2007
Ladies Rest Room, Broadway Tunnel
Robin McGraw stared at her reflection in the mirror while clutching the sink in front of her and forced herself to take deep, slow breaths. The face that looked out at her was a cute oval with doe-like brown eyes and rambunctious curly brown hair that she kept short to stay within regulations. If it grew out even long enough to pony tail she would never be able to tame it. She stared at the perfect, porcelain complexion, without a hint of the scars that had disfigured her for months, while her knuckles went white from clutching the sink as she fought against the panic attack. For months, she had hated mirrors; before she was well enough for Headmistress Carson to work her magic to give Robin her face back.
All summer and through the first part of the semester she had felt joy at being healed that was slowly turning to dread as October finally had come around. The nightmares had started on the tenth, reliving the attack, feeling the red hot metal fragments burning into her skin, into her face. The closer the anniversary became, the stronger the dread and the anxiety had become. Now she was in a restroom, panting, staring at herself so as to reassure herself she was healed as she hyperventilated and tried not to throw up.
“Bravo three, Central.” It was Lieutenant Forsyth's voice, from the microphone speaker clipped to her shirt's shoulder epaulet, snapping her attention away from her panic. She took several deep breaths and surprised herself at how calm and professional her voice sounded.
“Central, Bravo three, go ahead.”
“Bravo three respond, Devisor Lab Vehicle, code three, detain and escort student Franks, Kayda, to Powers Testing Lab Echo direct, say again, direct, release to Alpha Hotel Mike. How copy, over?”
Robin took another breath, straightened her spine and left the restroom with a purposeful stride, swallowing her fear with as much professionalism as she could muster. “Central, Bravo three, responding code three Franks, Kayda to Alpha Hotel Mike Papa Tango Lima Echo direct, clear.”
“Central clear, fourteen twenty two.”
Robin looked down at the little computer strapped on her arm to see a picture of the girl and her MID info had been sent. Oh yes, she remembered, that poor girl who had been framed last year. Poor thing, she thought to herself. Wonder who you've ticked off now.
In short order she arrived at the vehicle bay, the hulking teacher, Mr Donner coming over as soon as he saw her. “Hello, Robin, right?”
McGraw smiled. “Yes, that's right Mr. Donner. I need to collect Kayda Franks, please.”
“Surely,” the big man replied and raised his considerable voice. “Kayda? You're needed.” Robin watched a girl wearing a mechanics coverall come out from under an old station wagon that was up on a hydraulic lift come over, wiping her hands clean on a rag from her back pocket. “You need to go with Officer...McGraw...here. Alright? If you're not back by period end, I'll send your books with Lanie.”
“Yes sir,” Kayda replied before turning her attention to Robin. “Is everything alright?”
Robin shrugged as she led the way down Broadway in the direction of Doyle Medical. “Dunno, Kayda, I'm just the messenger.”
“Oh, can I go...?”
McGraw gently laid a hand on her shoulder to keep her on course and at the pace she was setting. “Sorry, hun, I'm told to bring you direct and they aren't allowing delay.” Robin watched the girl fret as she all but had to trot to stay abreast of her and felt a pang of sympathy. The Franks girl was clearly confused, and worry lines wrinkled her forehead. “Don't panic,” she advised, drawing her intense green eyes up at her. “If you were in trouble, they would have told me to handcuff you, which they didn't. If it was some trouble with some one close or family, they wouldn't have sent me; Mrs Shugendo would have come for you. I'm sure you're fine.”
Franks smiled, obviously relieved and finished the walk noticeably calmer. They finished the walk in companionable silence, when finally arriving at the lab, curiosity blossomed on her face as Robin opened the door. “Ms Hartford? I have Kayda Franks...”
Ms Hartford immediately turned from her conversation and walked over, obviously irate. “Thank you, Robin, you may go.”
Kayda slowly entered the lab as the guard left, taking in everything, including the practical waves of displeasure from Ms Hartford. With her, sitting on the bench of the weight machine in an Academy black and yellow work out leotard was Tansy who looked miserable and gave a weak little wave of greeting. With them was Sensei Ito and another adult Kayda didn't recognize. “Um, hello?” she started, but wilted under the Assistant Headmistress' gaze.
“Miss Franks, what were you instructed, by Headmistress Carson, last year about binding spirits to other students?” demanded Hartford.
Kayda blinked in surprise. “What? Um, it's prohibited. But what...”
“Then perhaps,” interrupted Amelia, “You can explain how Miss Walcutt suddenly has a Native American Spirit bound to her?”
“What?" Kayda's surprise at the accusation was complete. "I didn't bind Mustang to Tansy!” Kayda's protest only seemed to make Ms Hartford more angry.
“So you claim!” she declared hotly, “but you obviously know about it ergo you were involved! Am I mistaken?” Ito stepped forward calmly, neatly supplanting the Assistant Headmistress without seeming to.
“Franks-san, what role, if any, did you play in Walcutt-san acquiring the Spirit Mustang?” he asked calmly.
“I...um...I introduced them, Sensei, in Dream Space, but that's all I did!” she protested. “Tansy was already an avatar and she and Mustang bargained before they merged. I had nothing to do with Tansy having a hallow or binding Mustang to her. Nothing beyond just introducing them, I swear!”
“Oh, so she just magically...!” started Amelia, but she was interrupted by the sharp voice of Tansy behind her.
“Ms Hartford!” The Assistant Headmistress turned as Tansy stood and walked over, not exactly defiant, nor cowed, but determined. “Ms Hartford, what Kayda is saying is the truth. I've always been an avatar. It was the first of my abilities to manifest, and the one I kept most secret.”
“Explain,” Amelia ordered.
Tansy sighed and nodded. “Five years ago,” she declared, her eyes darting at Kayda as though she was admitting something she was ashamed of and didn't want her friend to think less of her. “I was at my...parents...summer home, on Maui. Fa...Mister Walcutt had just discovered that Jadis Daibliku was actually Jadis Diabolik, the daughter of the infamous Dr Diabolik. She was staying with us that summer, I had been trying to teach her to ride...” Her eyes filled with tears. “Some....some stupid reporter had seen her and remembered her from one of the news stories earlier that year.”
“From the District Attorney...Timbrook was the name?” Amelia asked. Tansy nodded. “Your father hadn't seen...?”
Tansy shrugged. “He thought it was just some flash in the pan nobody bucking for his fifteen minutes of fame.” Tansy hugged herself, obviously miserable. “He hadn't associated the news story with my friend. That...muckraker shoved a camera in Da...Mr. Walcutt's face and called him a mutant lover!” She sniffed, bravely holding back her tears. “Daddy flew into a rage. He...He threw Jadis out, made one of the housekeepers take her to the airport and put her on a plane to New York and...and he forbade me from seeing her again. My best friend!”
Uncharacteristically, Amelia's face softened and she rubbed her protege's shoulder in condolence and encouragement. “I...I don't know that Daddy had anything to do with it or not, but the reporter died in a car crash the next night. And the story never aired about Daddy...” She sniffed and shook her head. “I was so angry, at him, at the reporter, even poor Mrs Sutter and all she did was take Jads to the airport. I...I ran out of the house and onto the grounds. I...I don't know what I was thinking, I was just angry.
“The estate backed up to Iao Valley State Park. It didn't take me long to get lost in the jungle. When I stopped running I was at this spot some of the groundskeepers kept talking about, this 'special place' with a waterfall that fell into a pool.” She sniffed and took the tissue the adult Kayda didn't recognize gave her. “It was a hallow, I see that now. There was a spirit there, a...a nature spirit of some kind. I felt this new feeling, like getting a whole new sense and I drew it into me; I thought now I would be strong enough to stand up to daddy and save Jadis...”
“That doesn't sound like a very powerful spirit,” the stranger said. “If you could just pull it out of its hallow...”
Tansy tried to force a smile, but the result was ghastly. “It wasn't, Ms. Imp. It, oh God I am such filth!” Tansy's legs gave out as she began to sob. Ito deftly caught her as if he knew she would collapse and expected it, gently lowering her to the bench of the weight machine.
“Tansy, we all make mistakes,” Amelia tried to console her. “You...”
“You don't understand!” she shouted. “I let this beautiful thing into me and it was just trying to console me, to give me serenity. That's what it was, some kind of serene spirit. And it gave me the power to call animals to me. I needed to be strong, to fight my father! And all I got was little furry animals like I was some kind of blonde Snow White!”
“Tansy,” started Ms Hartford again, but the young blonde was on the edge of hysterics.
“I killed it!”she screamed. “It was so worthless! And I got so angry and I just did somethinglike I ripped it apart!” The confession cost Tansy the last of her composure and she wept. Tatsuo pulled her onto his shoulder and comforted her, a sight that nearly destroyed Kayda's mind as she watched her friend sob.
“Did she...?” asked Ms Imp. “I mean, I thought you couldn't kill a spirit...?”
“You can't,” Kayda told her. “It sounds like she cast it out of herself and probably forced it to have to reform. Nasty shock, but the spirit is fine. Tansy, on the other hand...”
“It is most illuminating,” murmured Ito from his comforting. “But this does not explain how she came to host Mustang.”
Kayda blushed and looked at her hands. “Um, well, last summer, the three of us were on a road trip to go home. And we stopped because Tansy said she didn't know what love felt like...”
The Imp crossed her arms and smirked. “Am I old enough for this conversation?” she demanded.
The blush threatened to light Kayda's hair on fire. “Not like that!” she insisted. “Tansy had...had forgotten what love, the emotion, felt like. She had been without love for so long. So, uh, Lanie and I with Grizzly and Tatanka dream walked with her, to help her remember. And, the next day she asked me if I could...introduce...her to a spirit who could help her. So...uh, we dream walked again, and I introduced her to Mustang.”
“Just like that?” demanded Hartford. “I see caution is still a lesson the three of you have yet to learn.”
“This was before we were taught that,” Kayda told her. “But that's all I did, Ms Hartford, I swear. They talked and came to a bargain on their own and if Tansy wasn't an avatar, Mustang couldn't have bonded with her. I didn't help at all!”
Hartford considered that for a long moment, then turned back to her protege and gently laid a hand on her shoulder. “Tansy, are these the only times you've pulled a spirit into you? Mustang and that nature spirit?”
“Yes,” Kayda answered for her friend, but was instantly contradicted by Tansy.
“No,” she admitted.
“I...I was the one who...I absorbed Jade, er, Jinn into my hallow last year.” She blew her nose. “But I did release her.”
“You released a spirit you had bonded with?” demanded Hartford.
“Yes,” Tansy replied, not seeing the incredulous look on her mentor's face. “And, Lanie and I were...communing...telepathically, and I...um, I accidentally pulled Grizzly out of her.”
“What?!” Hartford and Ito demanded in stereo.
“Just for a moment,” Tansy reiterated quickly. “I...I've never felt so stuffed, and it was a little hard to separate her from Mustang, but I got her back into Lanie, no harm done.”
Tansy was drying her eyes from her emotional moment and didn't see the worried, incredulous glances Amelia Hartford and Tatsuo Ito shared, as they both took in a deep breath, trying to process what she had said.
But Kayda did.
At last, Amelia mastered herself and sighed. “Tansy, you, Elaine and Kayda are excused from class for the rest of the day.” She turned and locked eyes with Kayda. “Take her to get Miss Nalley and then the two of you are to help Tansy come to grips with all of this. Be there for her and stay out of trouble, am I understood?”
“You may go.”
October 31st, 2007
Headmistress's Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Liz Carson was daydreaming, laying on her couch, halfheartedly going over the school's budget on her tablet while Benny Goodman's Orchestra drifted from the speaker on her coffee table that her iPod was plugged into. Her stocking clad foot kept the time, bouncing up and down minus the Prada heels that sat next to the sofa, awaiting their mistress' need. She felt young and desperately wanted to chew on the tablet's stylus the way she had developed the habit for pencils in her youth. Fortunately her iron will kept her from doing so, no matter how young she felt.
Completely rebuilding Poe over the summer, despite the not so anonymous donor footing the bill for the complete job, had shown issues with the building that likely affected the other 'historic' cottages. She had arranged for some discreet testing and, as she had feared, it looked like these problems were endemic to all those cottages. That meant four major building projects; even if she could find the money in the budget, the amount of disruption over the summer would be staggering.
She shuddered to think what would happen if even one of the buildings wasn't finished on time.
As she weighed trying to tackle a project that major or risking putting them off and only tackling one or two at a time there was a knock at her door. Frowning, she paused the iPod and called, “Yes?”
The door opened enough for Amelia to stick her head around. “Liz, are you busy?”
Gesturing for her assistant to join her, Carson sat up on the sofa and put the tablet down on the coffee table as she reached for her shoes. “What can I help you with, Amelia?”
The blonde let herself into the office and locked the door, which was uncharacteristic of her and a little alarm began to sound in the back of Liz's mind. “I'm sorry to interrupt your think session,” Hartford told her as she entered the office proper and sat down in one of the chairs that was on the other side of the coffee table from the couch. “I need to ask you some personal questions and, if what I think is true, we have a problem.”
“What kind of a problem?” Carson asked as she got her heel comfortable in the shoe and began to redo the strap around her ankle.
“How did you create the Astarte Force?” Hartford asked without preamble.
Bad problems, Liz thought to herself. “If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me that...” she trailed off, feeling the concern Hartford was struggling to control. “I thought for years it was because Harry broke up the Champion Force and gave some to me and Ted.” She sighed and reached for the other heel to pull it on. “But then I actually carried the rest of the Champion Force for a while and that was the hardest thing I've ever done,” she admitted ruefully.
“Why?” asked Amelia. “You already had some...?”
“That's what I thought,” Carson replied. “You're not an avatar yourself, so this might not make sense to you, but the Champion Force and what I have come to call the Astarte Force fought each other.”
Hartford blinked in surprise. “What?”
Liz nodded as she stood and fetched a spare mug and the coffee pot from the little rolling table she kept it on, pouring Amelia a cup and warming her own. “Oh yes,” she continued. “Like a cat and a dog in a burlap sack; and I got to be the burlap sack. The Astarte Force had long since...molded is the best word I can think of, to me. It had become separate, and more powerful than it had been. And it very much refused to be a part of the Champion Force again!”
“How did it get more powerful?”
“Once I convinced Wayne that I just wanted to go be a schoolmarm, that he was 'worthy' enough to take it and I was finally free of it, I set about trying to find that out,” she said thoughtfully as she took a welcome sip of coffee and sighed. “Now, I'll have you know that the Powers Theory folks tell me I'm off my rocker with this theory, that being an avatar doesn't work this way, so take this with a grain of salt.”
Amelia smiled as she stirred the sugar into her coffee. “So noted.”
Elizabeth's gaze became a bit unfocused as she sent her attention inward and struggled for the words to convey her theory. “Amelia, I think that, somehow, I don't know how, but that somehow I have the ability to not just host more than one spirit, but to...compress...them together.” She saw Amelia lean forward and took that as an acknowledgment to continue. “I think that I took that little piece of the Champion Force and I attracted other, low powered spirits or spiritual energy. So low powered I don't even notice I'm doing it. I think it started when I lit my essence well and by storing essence I somehow began to 'feed' that Force, making it stronger. And that, when I took the Champion Force into me, the Astarte Force tried to absorb it and it fought back.”
Amelia considered that for a long moment, then asked, “But Dr Hewley and the others...?”
Liz made a dismissive gesture. “Really, Mrs Carson, that is not how the avatar trait works!” she replied in a dead pan imitation of Dr Quintain's flat, nasal monotone. “Of course, I wouldn't expect a Masters Degree Holder in English to understand such complicated processes or theories, but as I explain in my book Beyond Shiva: A Detailed Study of the Avatar Trait, I discovered...”
“Tell me you hit him!” Amelia demanded, rolling her eyes. “Doctor Carson!”
“Oh, I was sorely tempted,” Elizabeth admitted. “But, hero, you know. What can you do?”
“Live a little,” Amelia advised her.
“Don't tempt me!” Liz declared and took a sip of her coffee. “So, why are you interested in this trip down memory lane?”
“Liz, you gave up the Champion Force, you gave some of the Astarte Force to Donna Fiedler, but I've never seen or heard of you suffering from spirit deprivation shock.” Carson rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
“Strange, now that you mention it, I only felt relief in giving the Champion Force to Wayne. And the hard part with Donna was wrestling a piece loose. The Force did not want to give it up. Why are you asking this, Amelia?”
“Liz...I think Tansy can do the same thing.”
The coffee cup was set down sharply. “Tansy Walcutt is an avatar?” she demanded.
Amelia nodded. “We were re-testing her because that lie she was an Exemplar One was wearing a bit thin.”
“She has a spirit?” the Headmistress demanded.
Hartford nodded. “Mustang, and not just any horse spirit; Sukawakan, the Lakota spirit of the Wild Mustang.” Carson's eyes narrowed and her cheeks flushed.
“Kayda,” she hissed, all but making an obscenity of the name, but Hartford was quick to discourage her.
“Not guilty,” Amelia corrected her boss quickly. “She introduced Miss Walcutt to the spirit, in this dream realm you mystic types are so fond of, but that's all. Tansy had the hallow all on her own, and if our conjecture is true, it's a big one.”
“I swear I am going to kidnap you and drag you on a vision quest one of these long weekends,” Carson threatened.
“And when that white hat on your head stops glowing like a Clorox commercial, I might be worried,” Hartford snapped back, but there was no venom in either woman's remark and both were smiling. Quickly, Amelia recounted the story Tansy had told her of her adventures with spirits, both in her youth and more recently.
Elizabeth considered this for a long moment, then her eyes met Amelia's. “If you're right about this,” she almost whispered, “then you cannot breathe a word of this to The Committee. I think she might be able to make Forces. If they found out...”
“Imp and Ito were there too,” Amelia told her.
“Imp isn't involved with The Syndicate,” Carson declared assuredly. “And I don't think Ito would...”
“Especially not after...”
“Just the same,” Carson said finally. “I'll have a talk with him.” She picked up her phone from the table and began to dial. “I mean it, Amelia. Not one word.”
“My lips are sealed, Liz.”
“Go make sure she knows to keep it discreet,” Carson ordered. “Her, Nalley and Franks.”
October 31st, 2007
Office of Elyzia Grimes, Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Elyzia let herself into her office with a sigh of relief. The school day was over, Gerald had volunteered to oversee the Samhain Rituals for the handful of students who would be casting over the mystically significant event, which meant it was her turn to be one of the chaperones for the costume ball most of the students would be attending. She rolled her eyes at the thought of wearing that much make up and climbing into that clingy Morticia Adams dress. For a moment, she had considered going as Queen Hippolyta, since Carolyn Jones the actress that she had a passing resemblance to had played both characters, but decided most of the kids would only barely know who Linda Carter was.
She sat at her desk, a little melancholy and determined to put off that stupid dress for as long as possible, when the warning of her teacher pecked at the back of her mind.
Opening her desk drawer on a lark, she withdrew the hand carved wooden box and removed the silk drawstring bag that contained her tarot deck. She put the deck on the center of her desk and returned the box to its drawer, then closed her eyes and emptied her mind of thoughts of the day so as to be open on the possibilities of the future. A thought charged circle she had carved around her desk and the sacred space was cleansed and ready for magic.
“Open my eyes to your wisdom, Teacher,” she whispered as she lifted the bag and gently removed the cards. They were familiar in her hands as she shuffled them and laid out the spread for the evening. The Fool, Temperance reversed, The Lovers, all in the places she expected them.
To her immense relief, the cards seemed content to speak only of a evening of revelry and over-indulgence. Yet, her worries refused to go away. She picked up the cards and reshuffled them, trying to find the source of her unease. Again she folded the deck to the question she had been asking since Raven had warned her of the pending Doom.
Immediately The Magician, covered by The Devil appeared, the mysterious master who had taught Hekate unspeakable evil and doubtlessly practiced it himself. Again The Tower warned of the possibility of failure so complete and bitter that hope seemed lost. But a new card entered the reading. Elyzia paused as she overturned the card.
For a moment she considered the Seven of Wands, with its depiction of a warrior, standing astride the world, turning back the other wands that attacked him. He stood in opposition to The Magician and The Sun shined over him.
Ms. Grimes stared at the cards on her desk and considered.
She had asked this of the cards many times before, and this was the first time the reading had changed. Gone was the pale horse and rider of Death and in his place now were these figures of hope. But the five of cups, with three of its cups over turned and empty warned that this was not set; not yet the future but a future.
She picked up the cards and shuffled them again, to see what they could tell her of this warrior.
October 31st, 2007
Student Alchemical Lab, Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Maggie's ID card opened the lab for her, because she had waged a very successful campaign against Doctor Al-Feyez to be his student assistant this term she had unsupervised access to the lab. At her work station, she took out the components she had secretly been gathering, then opened the lid of the small crucible that had been running since this morning.
The escaping gasses reeked, but were quickly pulled away by the fume hood the crucible sat in. The sap, along with several other items had been reduced down to a white, crystalline powder on the bottom of the cauldron. These, she scraped loose with a rod of denatured adamantium which would not affect the magical properties of either the powder or contaminate the crucible. She held up the tube that held the crystals, smiling as the light caught within them.
Carefully placing the tube in a rack to hold it, she got out a mortar and pestle, a cutting board and the little clay jar. From it, she withdrew the mandrake root and cut off a piece, then returned it to the jar. With her Athame, she finely minced the cutting, then scraped it into the mortar.
Wishing silently she could wear some kind of protective clothing that would not spoil the magic she sighed and once more picked up the test tube and carefully added the powder to the mortar. Now was the most dangerous part of the spell, if she was careless...
Maggie took a moment to center herself then picked up the mortar and gently added the pestle to it. She focued her hatred and began to chant. “Blood for blood, life for life,” she incanted, trying by sheer will alone to pour out her anger into vessel in her hands. After the first refrain, she picked up the pestle and in time to her chanting gently ground the two elements together.
Twenty slow minutes slid by with only chanting and grinding. Then the white crystals and the gray powder of mandrake had combined and now only a sulfurous yellow dust remained in the mortar. Keeping her focus, she gently tapped the bits of powder on the pestle back into the mortar, then with her foot, pressed the lever to open the contaminated chute and dropped the pestle into it. With extreme care, she emptied the mortar onto a sheet of traditional lamb skin parchment which immediately turned black at the touch of the chemical.
The mortar empty, she dropped it into the chute as well where it would fall into a furnace kept hot enough to melt titanium. The ceramics of her mortar and pestle would melt into glass, then be consumed into atoms safely.
She picked up the parchment and used it to pour the powder gently into a little wooden vial with a stopper she then firmly closed. The parchment then also went down the chute. A candle's wax sealed the stopper and at last she could breathe a sigh of relief as she held the vial of poison between her finger and thumb.
With a grin of triumph, she laughed and quoted to herself, “Iocaine, I'd bet my life on it!”
Maggie carefully cleaned up her space, putting it back to rights as if nothing had happened and secreted the vial in her bag with the jar. She had to hurry to get into her costume. It was party time...