Let's have a warm Whateley Welcome for a nice young lady recently arrived from Kentucky. She's sure to meet interesting people while she's here! We've got the latest in classroom technologies, books, computer systems: welcome to the 21st Century.
Where is she going with that anvil?
Strike A Spark
"Take the scorn and wear the horns
It was the crest when you were born
Your father's father wore it
And your father wore it too"
—Traditional, Cornwall, "Hal-An-Tow"
Monday morning, August 27, 2007,
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Lost in thought, Abbie Elliott almost ran over one of the random freshmen that were beginning to pop up around campus. To be fair, and she did consider herself a fair person, she was one of those freshmen herself. She wasn't entirely wrong, in any case, to be worried about the courses she would be expected to take pushing out all the interesting courses she might want to take. The boy might have been easier to avoid if he weren't backing out of an office door instead of walking out like a normal person would have. Mind you, "normal" seemed in short supply at this particular prep school.
"Wope! Sorry 'bout that, luv. Doc, looks like your next scheduled appointment is up, and um... yeah!"
Watching the kid mentally shift – and grind – gears like that, Abbie could almost smell his adderall prescription in his sweat. There was something about him that seemed familiar. It wasn't just the reflexive friend-or-foe appraisal a bullied kid (She'd seen that look before on too many of her friends back home.) would have given her. She stood her ground and waited: three, two, one ...
"Whatever it was," the boy squeaked, "I am completely innocent. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!"
Might as well add 'son of a preacher' to the list of character deficits. She'd never run across one who wasn't a hellion and a half.
"I was thinking more about your future crimes."
"Well, then. I best be getting to them, shouldn't I?"
Was that a pickup line? Saints above, please let this guy not be hitting on me!
An irritated adult female called out from inside the office, "Not before you report to the Cafeteria with MY written orders, you don't!" If this was Dr. Ophelia Tenent's office, the pipsqueak had already torqued her academic advisor off. Yay.
Seeing Abbie's narrowed eyes and her mood shifting toward "irritated at Yours Truly", the freshman choked back a yawn and beat a hasty retreat. She'd still be tempted to bet real money that – just like one of the kids in the "Family Circus" Sunday paper cartoons – that guy would be getting to the Cafeteria by almost any route other than the logical one intended. Worse than some of the kids she'd babysat when they didn't want to take a nap.
Great. The nameplate by the door read "Dr. Ophelia Tenent, MD".
The same feminine voice that Abbie had heard called out again, this time with less exasperation, "If you're here for Doctor Tenent, please come in, and close the door."
Whatever the young girl had been expecting, it hadn't been a mature, curvy, long-haired blonde who wouldn't look out of place in a soap opera. She also hadn't expected to see the doctor writing notes in a medical file using a pen held and manipulated by strands of hair. That must come in handy when she needed one of the books on the top shelf. Abbie took a mental note herself that some of the titles on the books behind the desk weren't exactly mainstream medicine. She had to hand it to the doctor though, the woman picked up on the books she had been staring at before sitting down.
"I suppose you are wondering what kind of doctor I am?"
"The nameplate did say 'MD'?"
"The diploma also reads 'Tulane University', not 'Karedonia Diploma Mill'. Not many students notice that detail, but I assure you that I am a fully qualified doctor of medicine. That said, in the interest of full disclosure I am also a member of the mystical arts faculty here. I hope that isn't going to be a problem for you."
"No, no. A lot of the folks where I'm from are more of the 'live and let live' persuasion than we get credit for. There are some Bible-thumping exceptions, so I kind of get what you're getting at."
"But I was hoping to take advantage of the technical and sciences classes here, not some sort of, of ..."
"I didn't mean to make it sound that way, ma'am."
"No offense taken. Some of our students and staff call magic and psychic practices far worse things, though most of them should know better. Now, while I do advise my fair share of wizard-class mutants, I also work with some of our special needs students as well."
"I'm not a special needs student!"
Dr. Tenent smiled, "Now who's taking offense unnecessarily?"
Taken aback, Abbie said, "Sorry, ma'am."
"You see, while according to your testing results you are a bright young woman who is likely to take full advantage of her exemplar trait, you also have the capacity to host a spirit: making you what we call an 'avatar'."
"I do recall being told that."
"The trouble is, you currently don't host a spirit yet. That's not uncommon, but I must warn you that other students in your position have not fared well when they did draw a spirit to them while at Whateley. Even those that did, have found themselves having to make some major adjustments. There are other avatars who think they got a bad deal and would go to any length to trade in their spirit for another. Any. Length. Some of them are students here. There are also people willing to aid them, regardless of the consequences to anyone else involved."
That was sobering news as far as Abelyn Elliott was concerned. She decided that she'd hold off on being upset with her late Pa about that until she understood more.
"I see. At least I think I do. You'll be watching to see if I start hosting some spirit, to see where and how I came into possession?"
"Or under possession. My biggest concern has more to do with the nature and goals of the entity. Just because you have a mutant ability to host one, that doesn't mean that you'll attract a suitable, let alone a benevolent one. Does having a magician for an advisor make more sense now?"
"Yes, ma'am. Unless things change, I don't see that I'd need to take classes in magic or whatever."
"You probably won't. No matter how things turn out we need to ensure you leave here with a solid education and a reasonable mastery of whatever powers you have. I see in your file that you manifested less than a couple of weeks ago, have you had any problems adjusting?"
"No, ma'am. Since I arrived here, I've taken a bunch of tests. I don't suppose I placed out of anything boring, or have I?"
"No such luck. But the results do line up well with your transcripts." The doctor looked through the listings on her computer screen, and called up what was planned for the Fall term. The catch was always in getting the prerequisite classes lined up early and in order, even if the kids did find them 'boring'.
"We have a Spanish III class in the mornings, if you want to continue with a second year of the language."
"I'd like to do that. Some of Pa's customers were migrant workers, and they mostly spoke Spanish. Not that they couldn't speak any English, but knowing some Spanish helped when he had to explain things."
"That's a good attitude to have. That's second period. Let's see. You've an interest in metallurgy and fabrication?"
That was one way to put it. Abbie explained: "Pa did have an auto body and collision repair business, but blacksmithing's been a long-standing family tradition. Ma was a potter, at least when the business was going well to sell her work at weekend craft shows, so I'd like to think I'm good for something better than hammering out dents and putting in window tinting."
"If you want to pursue an engineering degree, you'll need a good background in Math and the physical sciences. We also want to get you formally into the Workshop. Do you have any feeling about electronics? The first-term class gets a wide range of gadgeteer and devisor talents. You'd be challenged, but not outmatched."
"I like watching TV?"
"Let's take a chance on it anyway, and sign you up for one of the self-paced math courses to back that up. If you plan on spending weekends in the shop," The girl's smile confirmed that quickly enough. "There's a Saturday morning section of Devisor shop. That's the carrot. Here's the stick. Whateley Academy has strict physical education standards. While some students, because of parental or medical decisions, can take just a regular P.E. class, everyone else is expected to take either Basic Martial Arts, or Survival."
"Survival?" That didn't sound good. It also, thanks to her parents' deaths, didn't sound optional to the young girl from Kentucky.
"Survival. It's not safe, sometimes not even here, to be found out as a mutant. The BMA class is about learning active self-defense measures, with or without powers. The Survival curriculum is more focused on blending in so those active measures aren't needed; survival, evasion, and escape otherwise."
"BMA for the 'big kids' and 'jocks', Survival for the weaker links. Is that it?"
"No. I'd even go so far as to say 'Hell, no'. It might surprise you that one of the most frightening students on campus is taking a Survival course this semester. Conversely, one of the campus Underdogs – they're a group of students with relatively weaker powers who hang out together – has been excelling in her martial arts classes and in the combat simulators."
"We take our students' survival that seriously."
"Oh. I think I'll give Survival a chance, then." Surviving beats the alternatives.
Doctor Tenent entered some information from her terminal and asked herself, "That leaves, what?" Abbie still wasn't used to seeing her gesture to the screen with a strand of hair as if it were a finger. "Hm. I'm not sure jumping straight into Physics would be better than Chemistry. You still need History or an equivalent, but options are closing up there and there ... "
Abbie had a bad feeling about where this was headed. Well, they always did say that the light at the end of the tunnel was sure to be an oncoming train.
"How about we put you into first period Chemistry, and third period American History? If things work out, taking the second semester of those courses in the Spring gets a couple of requirements out of the way for you. Winter term is handled a bit differently, but I think that you'll be pleasantly surprised that this puts you in line for some interesting classes."
"As long as they're a good kind of interesting I'm alright with that."
"Good. Now, about your scholarship and our work-study program..."
By the time they'd hammered out a schedule and a tentative job with Outdoor Maintenance, and talked about how she was coping with losing her parents, gaining powers, and the physical changes that came along for the ride, it was time for lunch. Approaching the Crystal Hall, Abbie noted with some amusement that her guess had been correct: the kid she'd nearly run into was just now arriving at the Cafeteria, kind of/sort of, maybe, as ordered. If the saints would be listening, she hoped that he wasn't in any of her classes.
Afternoon, August 29, 2007,
Freshman floor, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
To most young teens Abelyn Elliott's age, arriving a full week and change ahead of classes would be proof-positive that their parents wanted as little to do with them as possible. Abbie knew that that was anything but the case for her. She resolved to take every advantage that her parents' sacrifices and the scholarship that the school had arranged would provide. To that end she spent most of her time getting her prized Workshop bay set up as a working blacksmith's shop. No point in leaving her inheritance rusting in boxes when she had the time to spare now!
The assigned bay would have been even more prized if she could have set up above ground instead of in the equivalent of an underground mine shaft. She wasn't a dwarf! At 5'9" and pushing 200 pounds, not many people were likely to mistake her for one. The doctors at the Clinic couldn't say for sure if she would get much taller, but their best estimate was that her muscle strength would shift bone growth from favoring length and leverage to building increased density and power. In any case, she wasn't a Little Person and she didn't have any cravings to live and work underground or sing stupid songs on her way to work in the local shaft. Speaking of Disney tropes, she made a mental note to look into New Hampshire's hunting seasons and license requirements. Watch out, Bambi.
One of the returning Whitman sophomores was said to be a twitchy young girl going by the code name "Psydoe", so it didn't take much more inspiration for Abbie's mental processes to be fully diverted toward working out what sort of black power weapons she could and should work on first. That, in turn, meant more library runs, CAD software to order once she learned the specs for any computer-guided milling equipment, and so forth. It was a minor miracle that she remembered to drop off a couple of notebooks she'd unpacked back at her room, instead of leaving them sitting around in her shop.
The idea that she'd soon be having a roommate was very low on Abbie's priorities list.
To her credit, she didn't scream.
The, um, person in her room when she stopped by was... different. In profile, it was easy to tell that this person was a female of a mammalian species in that they had long, straight, jet-black hair falling down their back between two forward-sweeping multi-pronged wing-bladed bone crests attached to each side of their skull, lying mostly between a pair of bone shoulder blades projecting like jagged ossified wing stubs from their scapula. A practical black halter top and charcoal gray denim jeans lent modesty to the young woman.
Abbie's mind helpfully pointed out that at least the Boobie Fairy hadn't gone overboard in giving out her gifts, because finding a bra that fit around that anatomy was going to be a bitch.
The person turned to see the speaker, giving Abbie a chance to see their face. It was androgynous, with fuller eyebrows and a slightly more square jaw than one expected on a young woman, but more delicate cheekbones than most young men had. The silvered irises of their eyes would have been a hint at mutation, if the external skeletonry hadn't given that away.
"Hm? Oh! Hello, you must be Ab-Ellen? Sorry. English names still throw me," duly embarrassed by the failed introduction, they stepped forward and extended a hand. "I am Elve Järvinen, from Helsinki."
Abbie took the hand and gave it a firm handshake.
"Abelyn Elliott, originally from 'Lizabethtown." Seeing the usual incomprehension of where that was, screw the damn movie, "That's in Kentucky. Don't worry. Most Americans don't know where the town is either, movie or no movie. You can call me Abbie, Abelyn, or Smithy if I get to use that as a code name, just don't call me late for dinner!"
"Do Americans normally call a person 'late for dinner'?"
"It's an old joke. A pretty lame one too, I guess. So... Elve, what's your power? I assume you just might be a mutant if you're here."
"A joke. I'm sure I will understand more once my English is better. My power? That is one thing I am here to learn about. I host a spirit, but other than that?" Elve shrugged, slowly, but more elegantly than one would have expected with shards of bone projecting from her back.
"Don't worry about your English. It's probably better than half the native speakers here. The testing team says I could host a spirit but not to get my hopes up. Other than that, something about being an 'exemplar' is supposed to make me stronger than most. The biggest thing for me is that being called a 'gadgeteer' lets me keep my equipment in one place down in the Workshop."
"Workshop? The guide earlier said something about that, but also said that we would be introduced to that part of the school later."
"Just as well. It's easy to get lost down there. Need any help unpacking?"
"No," Elve replied, "Thank you. It is a pleasant change from the way things were, before I manifested."
Just then, the faltering conversation was interrupted by one of the older Whitmaniacs, "Alva!"
"Good enough. As I said, c'mon, we're headed to — Hi, Abbie! Decide to come up topside for air? Anyways we're all headed to the Crystal Hall for dinner in five. Gotta go!"
"She did not call you 'late for dinner'. That is close to correct, yes?"
"Some days, I reckon you have to take what you can get."
"This must be one of them."
"We should go with this group. Some of the girls living here aren't much fun to be around."
"Fun was not the word I was thinking of."
Tuesday morning, September 4, 2007,
Abbie had felt relieved on finding out that her roommate didn't mind that she was in the habit of waking up at the crack of dawn. Although the Finn tended to be barely awake when she gathered her toiletries to head to the showers, she was much more lively afterwards. That was a good thing, because the bone crests or spurs projecting from her head and back made washing, drying, and combing her beautiful hair a challenge. However, if they could both get to the showers and back early enough, they could help each other out.
Helping out. That had been another thing Abbie had learned about Elve - the girl's fierce need for independence. It had taken a couple of arguments before the other girl finally broke down and explained that before she had manifested she had been severely handicapped and almost a prisoner in a slowly failing body. Between the arguments, and before they'd hashed out some rules for living together, Abbie had one of her few 'back flashes' (as she called the hated visions; they never were pleasant) to her roommate's earlier life. That had... helped. Learning in turn about Abelyn's late parents gave the other girl good reason to back off a bit.
First-day back-to-school jitters had woken most of the other freshman girls earlier than usual and the two ended up in the middle of it. Throw in a few dozen cases of synchronizing periods and various degrees of self- and other- directed misery, and Abbie was almost ready to hope that her first class would be all-male.
It likely wasn't. But enough of the boys in the class were sure to be exemplars that she didn't expect she'd mind checking out the scenery. Enough of the girls were sure to be 'exemplar beauties' that Abbie wouldn't even be in the running for any of the boys' attention. She could still look! For a girl away from home for the first time, and barely fourteen, that was more than enough for now.
The teacher walked in just before the bell rang. So far, so normal.
"Good morning, class. Everyone, find a seat. I see that we still have some seats open in the back. Let's give the stragglers a moment, so I'll start by reminding you all that this is Chemistry I, not 'bomb-building for dummies' nor is it 'drugz are us'. Anyone expecting something more exciting than a basic science class is in the wrong place."
Not five minutes later, Abbie found herself stuck sitting next to the kid who'd nearly run into her at her, their?, advisor's office. What had happened to that initial shred of normalcy? At least he'd had the grace to blush apologetically when she reminded him of it. For now, she resolved to make the best of a bad deal, and ignore how often he played with or chewed on or dropped his pen, not in that order. At this rate, maybe he'd Darwin Award his way out of the class, by way of the lab section, before she had to take matters in her own hands. He already smelled of gun oil, smoke, and cordite, (God alone knows how) so Abbie was betting on Darwin winning out.
Of course the teacher made them lab partners. Couldn't Murphy, Finagle, or the Perversity of the Universe possibly have taken one morning off?
Spanish went well. She could look forward to being challenged by the pace and difficulty, if the syllabus was anything to go by.
Abbie's third period class was American History. After boomtown chemistry and a moderately advanced Spanish class, that was sure to be the most boring class on her schedule for someone born to do and to make things. The night before, she'd compared notes with a couple of the older girls in Whitman; they had given her their condolences about being stuck with her teacher. The State of New Hampshire required two semesters of American and/or New Hampshire history, so she couldn't just ask for a different class.
As expected, the history class didn't start well. As in chemistry, there was a holdup getting students to sit near – guess who? – but Mr. Williams was more of an ass about it. Abbie ended up sitting in front of the Jensen kid and a Middle Eastern student. She figured that this would last as long as it took for the boy to blow himself up by failing to pay attention in Chem lab.
Abbie was surprised that instead of fidgeting all period, the dipstick talked throughout the entire period. He'd claimed he could translate for the Arab girl. Whether the expected disaster struck first, or the poor girl received poor grades as a result of bad translations, Abbie still hoped this could be a temporary irritation.
Lunch was excellent. There was plenty of good food to go around even with the entire student body (and all the "big eaters") now on-campus. The only setback was that the less-desirable ground floor tables were clearly seen as the proper place for the students who didn't count as the school's Beautiful People. Some of them were a bit rude about it. However, it seemed that quite a few people she recognized from the Workshop and Whitman Cottage ate and hung out on the ground floor, so it wasn't as if she or her roommate were at a loss for folks to hang out with. What was that line from one of Pa's favorite movies? 'No matter where you go, there you are'?
Abbie's fourth period class was Freshman English. Remembering that two of the three morning classes had placed her next to a disruptive kid she wasn't sure she wanted to know, she made sure to arrive early enough to grab a seat closer to the front. This time her efforts were rewarded by a cute guy setting his books down at the seat next to her. By the end of the class Abbie hadn't caught the guy scoping her body out even once. To his credit, he did seem like a nice guy, so he probably fell into one of two ill-fated romance categories: "dating someone else already" or "gay". Still, the scenery was nice... If he didn't get all weird about her roommie's looks, it might be nice to have him over to help her and Elve study some time.
Kristian Holm was uncomfortably aware that more than one person was liking what they saw. He just didn't understand why some were also projecting disappointment in his direction. He knew he'd showered and used deodorant. His trousers were zipped (getting used to zippers there, with certain changes now in place, had been mildly traumatic!) It wasn't as if he were flashing a sign that read former girl here! If this was the normal experience for empaths, his morning Esper class was going to be at least as critical to maintaining his sanity as the teacher had hinted in the opening remarks.
Electronics, like chemistry, promised more 'follow the electrons' as a basic concept. The syllabus read like it had been pulled from a college class, but the class projects looked like they could be fun once she had a decent grasp of the concepts. It didn't hurt at all that most of the boys noticed that she was one of the few girls in the class.
Her sixth period class was enlightening, starting with the official reasons that handcuffs and other restraints were required equipment according to the syllabus. What was literally frustrating was that that Kristian Holm kid was in the same class and managed to look even cuter in athletic gear. Abbie was beginning to see why even the 'normal-looking' Whitman girls walked around with miserable attitudes. So many unfairly good-looking guys, and the playing field was so unfairly tilted toward the girls with super-model looks in Dickinson, Melville, and Poe Cottages. Some day she'd be amused to learn that a large portion of the outrageously good-looking guys on campus were just as intimidated, but would rather take a vow of chastity than admit it. On the other hand, whether Kristian was gay or not, this might be a fun class for group study if she could arrange it. Not that the prototype designs for fetters that the techie side of her brain was conjuring up had anything to do with that.
Luckily for her, the folks in the Survival class did not have to worry about having some freshman nearly setting the place on fire, as had happened in one of the martial arts classes!
Wednesday morning, September 5, 2007,
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
The Jensen kid showed up for Chemistry with a mild concussion from his BMA class the previous day. The teacher waved that off as something that could be expected from Sensei Ito's classes, but Abbie wasn't so sure about that. If only she could ask someone to switch lab partners without being overheard or having to make a scene!
She did ask someone at lunch to explain exactly what the white 'UV' band meant. That led to the sad conclusion that that no one in their right mind was going to volunteer to partner with an 'Ultra-Violent' student in a chemistry class.
Thursday morning, September 6, 2007,
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Mr. Williams looked a bit too happy that Jensen had an excused absence. Elisa looked so lost that Abbie volunteered to start taping the history classes for her. If it just happened that she also taped some of the 'translations' the poor girl was getting, so much the better. If they were good, she could stop worrying about the unreliable freshman. If not, maybe Mr. Williams was right to not want the boy around.
It turned out that Thursday was traditionally 'uniform day' for JROTC units at civilian schools, and Whateley wasn't an exception. While the Jensen kid had looked okay in his JROTC uniform, Mr. Kristian Holm looked very nice. Resigned to not having much of a chance, Abbie settled for quiet appreciation. It would be another three weeks before she noticed that both boys wore the same red and white flag on their sleeve.
Friday morning, September 7, 2007,
So far for this, the first week of classes, the routine that Abelyn and Elve had settled into, waking up early to avoid the rush for the showers and sinks, had worked well. This morning it turned against them by giving them more time to worry about the day ahead.
Elve was in no rush to face her own round of powers testing today. Over the past week she'd heard several powers testing horror stories. Her advisor had tried to reassure her, but he still couldn't deny that the researchers would be overly interested in her, given her chronic illness before her manifestation. Compensating mutation or not, she was not confident enough in her new self to risk hearing the words: "I'm sorry, but there's nothing we can do." again. The voice in her head was harsh and grating, but familiar.
We have been through this before, no? If there is a chance to correct this problem, should we not risk hearing them out?
Yes. But what would I have to give up? Your kind are not the only ones who can give nothing over for free. I can't bear to go back to how I was!
Neither of us can. Neither of us will. My prison was sturdy, yet here we are: proof that the world changes.
It's just that...
Abbie had concrete worries of her own. Even though she was slowly getting used to being seated next to Metro, she still didn't like being around that particular Thornie. Boy howdy, was that ever an appropriate term for someone who made you feel like someone was walking over your grave just by being there. Or, someone who had a habit of looking through you instead of at you, as if they were being evaluating your threat potential.
Maybe it was simply a matter of being assigned for a chemistry lab partner someone who managed to click, drop, bite, or reassemble a ballpoint pen twenty times in less than an hour. She'd counted, by the way, should anyone ask in the wake of the impending disaster she imagined. She'd even that nightmare of working with the guy in her shop again. They'd just be getting ready to pour, and then boom!
After that first period class, Abbie headed to her Spanish class in a daze. Her chemistry class had had its first lab of the semester, and she was still alive! Kane Hall was still standing! For another day, maybe.
She'd also found out that the wet-lab classes at Whateley featured incinerators for gloves and dust masks. Abbie hadn't really worried about what she would do with her gloves after using them - throw them in the trash, most likely. Her weirdo lab partner, on the other hand, had brought in his own gloves and a resealable package for collecting them for later disposal. There was something insanely paranoid said about how easy it was to collect DNA from used gloves and that some of the uses that the material could be put to were something she'd wanted to forget hearing about.
Apparently, other mystic arts kids had had the same reservations, as had Security and the Workshop. Oh, right. Bio-devisors. Ick. The guy was still weird, but maybe not wrongly paranoid. That didn't give him a free pass to be a complete jerk about personal protection equipment and safety procedures. Abbie interpreted the contradiction as representing the sort of person who would carefully and correctly concoct explosives or neurotoxins when the teacher wasn't looking.
"See? It's all easy if you follow the procedures as outlined. Once you have all that down solid, then you can improvise when needed!"
She was going to die in a fireball, right here, in this lab. Just not today.
After classes, Friday, September 7, 2007, Whateley Academy
Elve was relieved to finally have the testing over with. The researchers had been far too interested in her physical changes to care much about how poorly they explained their theories. They were also far too insensitive about how much it HURT when a basketball is shot into living bone tissue! Then the bastards went to lunch and forgot to make sure she got something to eat.
Pain and annoyances aside, you have to admit that some of it was interesting.
We knew I could be fast, and that I risk overheating if I overdo it. But flight? I did not expect that that was a possibility!
One step at a time, remember? Just like your doctors' torture therapy.
Of course, but I can still look forward to the challenge.
We both can.
That's a deal. And it's physical therapy.
They could have fooled me.
"So, Elve, what did they find?" Abbie was happy to still be alive, but she hoped her roommate would have good news of her own.
"Hm. Avatar three, but we knew that. Also, Warper three-tee-bee? I can move very quickly and with practice perhaps fly. What else? My perception of time and distance changes along with my speed, so I shall have to be careful with what I do. They also say that the bone growths allow my body to shed some of the excess heat. Too fast for too long, and I still overheat."
"That sounds like more tests later."
"True. As long as they skip the, what did the others call it?, 'dodgeball from hell', that would be good."
Friday evening, September 7, 2007,
Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Going over the history lesson tapes with Tira was more disturbing than Abbie had counted on. For one thing, the Syrian girl had fur all over and huge buck teeth. She also tended to squeak more than laugh. And she was laughing a lot.
"Abbie, please tell me you'll keep recording this until they make him stop. I haven't had this good a laugh in far too long."
"But Tira, is he putting Elisa on, or what?"
"Oh. There is a lot of 'or what' going on. I'd heard that Williams is over-patriotic, but this? I am glad I haven't had the misfortune." Abbie raised her eyebrow in question. "No. The facts are correct. They don't hire idiots for teachers here. But" Tira squeaked a bit more in merriment.
"But the Jensen boy is giving a, um, colorful translation. I cannot say he learned the language from nice people. The content remains factual, but the sarcasm is strong in this one."
"So, will you? Keep taping, I mean?"
"I don't see why not."
"Thank you! You won't regret it."
Sunday evening, September 9, 2007,
Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
March of Dreams, on the near borders of Nightmare
The day was turning into one of those hazy late-summer weekend days that always got her Pa more restless than usual. Ma'd packed a picnic lunch, as even though their beat-up Corolla still got decent mileage, it didn't hurt to save money on the remainder of the trip: out of town, away, away, away. Abbie was in the back seat with the cooler holding the food and the iced-down drinks. It'd be nice if they didn't have to rely on "four-sixty A/C", but so far it was only warm enough to relax the girl. The way she'd been having headaches lately, she was glad for the relaxing. She was also glad that Ma had packed some ice packs as well - just in case.
No sense in tying her Paul down with work at the shop if the child just as easily might not come down with another of those migraines (which didn't always last too long). Ava knew why her husband had that pressing need to see as much of the world as he could. Best not to dwell on that too much, in case there does come another way. She looked back at their little girl, soon to become a woman, and resolved to keep secret the reasons behind a restlessness that wasn't just part of her wild-eyed Southern boy's charm.
Once they were out on an unfamiliar stretch of road, Abbie became more interested in the scenery outside the open windows. Occasionally, the smell of wild roses or ripening corn edged their way into the car past the roadway's gasoline and diesel. Between one road-cut hill and the next, there might be planted bottom-lands well below the road grade, or woods, or what-have-you. Looking out the driver's side back window, the girl noticed that some guy was slowly pacing them in his over-powered, over-priced, lift-kit pick-up. Or rather he had been, before swerving to the right and cutting off the aging Toyota. T he tractor-trailer behind them didn't even honk its horns at them before the truck's grill smashed into the back...
Monday, September 10, 2007,
Doyle Medical Center
"... That's about when Elve had to pull me out of my bed to try and wake me up." Abelyn Elliott stared down at the very interesting monochrome industrial carpet the office had been furnished with. It was far better than the images that came back to her from after the car rolled down the embankment. They may not be enough for the legal system to deal with, but some day a license plate and a face may be enough for her to deal with.
"I haven't had that dream since my parents died! Why now, when it's far too late to do anything about it? I thought that maybe... I thought things were getting better."
Dr. Bellows continued his note-taking, giving the girl emotional room to say more, but this last clearly wasn't a rhetorical question. "That's a good question, Abbie. You say you've also had this same dream before your parents' accident?"
"Yes. Some of the details would change, like the final playout weren't set. Otherwise, yes."
"Have you had other dreams like this which seemed to reflect later events?"
"Um... Promise this is confidential?"
"I won't promise to keep silent about things which may result in your harm, or in other students' harm. However, it does not sound as if these dreams qualify as that."
"It's just that my Pa and my Ma made me promise to keep these things to myself. Make note of them when they seem extra-real, but to be very careful about acting on them. They don't always come true you know."
"I see." The doctor paused for effect before going on, "While there are precognitives with a very good record for accuracy, usually it's just as your parents told you. It doesn't hurt to take note of whatever you can recall, but I wouldn't recommend placing too much weight on what you think you've seen or heard. How often have you had what seemed to be glimpses of the past?"
"One, maybe, but none others that I can recall off-hand."
"Well then, let's treat this instance as a regular dream or nightmare. You're still grieving for your parents after all."
"Every day. But I try to keep going, as that's what they would've wanted."
"That's a good attitude to have, but don't lose sight of what you want out of life. Please remember that we - your teachers, your house parents, myself included - are always available if you find things becoming too much to handle. Aside from the start of classes, are there any new stresses? Early problems with your classes or classmates, perhaps?"
"Nooooo..." Which, in teen-speak, meant "Definitely yes."
"Of course, even when there are no problems, there may be things that have piqued your interest, correct?"
Abbie hid a small smile. "There are a lot of very good-looking guys going to school here, but easily as many girls that much better-looking than I am."
"I'd dare say you might be selling yourself short, but any good examples?"
"Well... There's this one guy who's in a couple of my classes, sits next to me in English. He's got a German or Swedish accent, I guess? But he sounds adorable when he does speak up."
Dr. Bellows smiled. At least the poor girl hadn't emotionally shut down over her losses on top of everything else.
"Christian Home? I think. Not sure how he spells it. But he's totally different from the guy they have me sitting with in Chemistry and American History. Not that the other guy's bad-looking, just that it's hard for anyone to be around him."
This was no longer going in a comfortable direction, but the doctor had to ask.
"Have you asked about moving to a different seat?"
"Doctor, don't get me wrong, please, but half the class – well, half of both classes, anyway – they want nothing to do with the guy. Aside from him being one of the really sick ones who has to wear a warning badge..."
*ahem* "Really sick ones?"
"Isn't that what 'ultra-violent' means? The worst of the bullies and others who are too dangerous to be around?"
"I'm afraid you may come to find that the most dangerous bullies never openly break the school's code of conduct. There are some students who come to us only knowing how to act out violently, and some are emotionally changed by their mutation and have to learn to keep from losing themselves in a violent outburst. The armbands are meant to serve as a warning to other students not to provoke the wearer. I'd prefer that such measures weren't needed, but it's the best system we've been able to work out so those students can still get an education while they get the help needed to cope with their problems."
"That still doesn't sound like they're safe to be around, but you're the doctor." Abbie went on, "What's odd is how this guy has a white band. I don't think I've seen anyone else with one."
"There are a couple of student that I know of, one of whom went missing last year."
"But what does it mean, and why so few? All I was told was not to f-, er, bother with him."
"Officially, it's for students who keep ending up in fights that they didn't start."
"We're only a week into the school year. How many fights could one kid possibly get into? Have you seen this guy?"
Doctor Bellows tried not to sigh. He'd had more than one opportunity to see that particular patient.
"Unofficially, it's been used mostly for students who we have reason to believe will end a fight they get pulled into by ending the aggressor. The trouble is that lethal force, even in self-defense, tends to be just as dangerous to others in the vicinity. Guilty, innocent, bystander, far too often it doesn't matter."
"So, no firing off a cap gun behind him?" Abbie joked weakly.
"Please don't even joke about something like that. It is entirely too easy for a small prank to turn into a super-powered confrontation or an incident in which many people could be injured. I can't stress enough the need for keeping a level head around here."
Abbie groaned at her doctor's admonishment. "I already got that lecture from the boy I still think is going to manage to blow the building up."
The doctor shook his head slowly. Given Abbie's wry sense of humor, that patient probably now has the same impression of her. Best to shift back to the earlier topic.
"Is it possible that the anxiety you've felt about your lab partner might have contributed to that dream of your parents' deaths coming back to you?"
"... maybe. It just feels like there was something more that I'm missing."
If the girl turns out to be a precog, there may be more missing. Bellow noted this in his session notes.
"I'll admit that whether or not foul play was involved in your parents' deaths, you may not be entirely clear of danger from the same people. This dream then could be a reminder from your subconscious mind of that. Are you following me so far?"
"Yeah. It makes sense that someone who hates my family that much might want a chance at me. That's one of the reasons I'm here."
"Good. Let me run this by you: How about you continue to keep a record, but include all the dreams you can recall each morning. Also, if you have any waking dreams, visions, or odd experiences of the sort write those down as well. When you come in for our appointments, bring your notebook with you to go over for discussion."
"I can do that. Too bad I won't get extra credit for English doing that."
"It's still a good practice, and one that might carry over into your English homework."
"I'll have to think about that."
"While you do, keep in mind that it may give you and the powers testing team a better understanding of your abilities. The more we know, the better we can help you develop them further. Well then, are there any other issues that have come up in the past week? ..."
Wednesday afternoon, September 12, 2007,
Fabricators' Row, Workshop, Whateley Academy
In spite of her grief, some mislabeled shipping containers, and schoolwork, Abbie had finally gotten her bay into the rough shape of a working forge. Designing around the air-handlers, high temperature-rated exhausts, and anechoic panels while leaving room for expansion had been a challenge. However, this was exactly this sort of challenge that she had had hopes for when her parents had taken her up east to visit a boarding school with 'advanced technology facilities'.
"I'm sorry. Whoever told you about Whateley Academy should have also told you that our admissions policy is quite exclusive. Your daughter's grades..."
Ava tried to remain hopeful, "Mrs. Carson, if it's only a matter of grades I assure you that Abelyn's grades can and will improve here!"
"That may be so, but while an excellent academic record would help her qualify and maintain a scholarship, there are none that I am aware of that she would qualify for. To be blunt, our tuition fees are very expensive, much more than a body shop owner and an artisan potter could expect to afford."
Paul tried another approach, "We've sold just about everything we had, except for what's rightfully coming to Abelyn. Some books, her tools, some personal belongings. We—" The broad-shouldered man's cell phone rang. Discourteous as it must be, he saw the number and said, "Mrs. Carson, I beg your pardon, but I must needs take this call."
"By all means," the school headmistress granted. As hard as this interview was – on her as well as the distressed parents – she could afford to be graceful.
Ava heard only Paul's side of the exchange, "What happened? Is she? Oh. Oh, god."
He turned to answer his wife, "M-Miss Lucy was just found. Jimmie says they burned her out." The person on the other end of the line had more to say, "What's that? You already did? No. That's fine. It's all right, we'll make arrangements before heading home. Good bye, Jimmie. 'n may God rest all our souls."
"Ava, Jimmie went ahead and shipped Abelyn's belongings up here before checking on Miss Lucy. Mrs. Carson, I realize I shouldn't ask this of you and your school, but could Abelyn stay until the end of the week? We need to tend to Miss Lucy's burial and Abelyn, well, they'll be wanting her signature on the deliveries and all... "
Mrs. Carson's compassion warred with her conscience. The tipping point, meager as it was, was that the couple had to have known something about the school for them to have come here. There'd be no mistaking the addresses on whatever was coming: for some that would be tantamount to waving a red flag in front of the H1 bull. For the safety of her students, she took a chance.
"One week, and that's all. We're not a hotel, but until the bulk of our students return from their summer break we're not crowded either. Mr. and Mrs. Elliott, I keep getting the impression that you don't understand that even if your daughter were to manifest as a mutant, there no reason to believe that she would be a danger to herself or others."
"We do understand that. These days, it don't take much to be branded a mutant or worse in some folks' eyes. They're the dangerous ones, if you were to ask me."
"Paul." Ava interrupted him before his frayed nerves could snap. "Mrs. Carson. Paul and I, we cannot thank you enough for doing this for us, but please remember we do thank you."
Abbie had been left outside in a waiting area while her parents plead their case with the school's Headmistress, but she'd been told enough to know to worry. Two days later she'd learned that her parents had died in an auto accident, and that the State Highway Patrol wasn't optimistic about finding the vehicle responsible. The next day she woke up with a raging fever as the emotional stress kicked her mutation into high gear.
Wednesday evening, September 12, 2007,
Fabricators' Row, Workshop, Whateley Academy
Once the last of her family's library had been put away safe in locked cabinets, Abbie pulled out her sketchbook from her backpack. She leafed through the pages to a simple project that lent itself to being the first from her shop. She laid out the tools and materials she knew she'd need to start, then double-checked that those needed for later steps were where she needed them to be.
Thrice around the forge, thrice about the anvil, and third around her work table the young woman walked while reciting a set of 'psalms' she'd been taught practically from the cradle. They were old prayers, and were hardly much older now than they'd been when her forefathers arrived in North America. Indeed, they were hardly half their age when their own forefathers first pulled up stakes and removed themselves to the north of Albion to avoid Rome and her strange, squabbling deities. Whether the prayers were needed at this late date hardly mattered: this was a solemn family tradition and Abbie performed it with intent, even to the three drops of her own blood on the same anvil before which she hoped to see her own children baptized, just as their mother and grandfather before them.
The roar of air-fed coals soon filled the shop, alternating with the ageless music of hammer, wrought metal, and anvil. Abelyn Marie Elliott was home.
Monday morning, September 17, 2007,
Abbie was surprised to see that her lab partner had gotten to class ahead of her; she'd come in earlier than usual herself. However, much of the surprise was that he was sitting rather awkwardly on his stool and there was a pair of crutches leaning against the bench next to him.
She couldn't resist commenting. "Aren't those crutches a 'slip and trip' hazard where you've put them?"
"Hm? Oh, right. Yeah, the trouble with this place is that little or no thought about accessibility ever went into most of the buildings. Gods forbid a Thornie should get to class in one piece."
"It can't be that bad."
"Ever tried going down a flight of stairs, with a crowd, on crutches? I mean other than the fast and bouncy way."
"I can't say I have."
"I don't recommend it, to you. To others? 'I have a little list'" Mads' half-smile didn't entirely reach his eyes.
"I gather you've got a friend or two in Hawthorne who've had a hard time of it?"
"I sure hope so. That's where I'm staying this year."
Abbie'd walked right into that.
"Right. I knew that. My bad. So how did you hurt yourself?" Abbie motioned to the crutches.
"Slipped on a wet tile in the ground-floor head. Saturday night, I think." Mads followed this limited information with a 'what can you do?' shrug. "Kind of late."
"Huh. I heard that one of the freshman girls over in Dickenson got hurt Saturday as well."
"Sorry to hear that. I hope everything turned out right?"
"She's damned lucky t'be alive. Flew right into a tree in the dark." Mads flinched at that. Abbie was glad neither one of them had been there. It had to have been a gruesome sight. "Way I hear it, if one of the Security guys hadn't known a bit of healing, Gladys wouldn't be alive. They had to cut her off the tree to get her to Doyle."
Mads was looking whatever color passed for turning green in the face. Lavender? Ew. "Yeah. That's pretty bad when you think about it like that." He swallowed.
"But they brought in some healers, got her all patched up. She might even be back in class tomorrow."
"Good to hear." As if sensing Abbie's discomfort, the boy flashed a polite smile and went back to the notes he seemed to be revising. Abbie pulled out her sketchbook and reference photos for the stilettos she was working on. No point in putting work into a good blade only to finish it with a POS handle.
A few more students drifted in, obviously tech track folks who'd have grabbed a quick breakfast on their way up from their labs. Devisor fugue was one of the reasons Monday tests weren't encouraged in certain departments: less chance of having half the class needing to schedule make-up tests after they got lost in their projects. Elve had laughed about the warning she'd gotten from Pythia regarding techies and their (non-existent) self-care abilities. Even though they had been talking about Abelyn, her Finnish accent took some of the sting from the criticism.
Hyperfocus wasn't strictly for the devisors and Ritalin kids. Abbie had no idea how long she'd been smelling cordite, fog, and damp earth from just over her shoulder.
"Planning on shanking someone?" *beat* "Can I help?"
"No," Abbie drawled, as if a Fifth Amendment plea might depend on it. "Just a personal project I'm working on." She tapped on a couple of pictures, "This is where I'm at now, so I want to get a jump on prettying up the handles."
"Ah. Not doing something stupid like boot knives, I hope."
"People forget that the ankle is a real live joint; the kind you don't wanna smoke. So they end up going for a blade that's too long and a grip that's too short. Besides, police and security are trained to look for stuff like that."
"Yep. On vambraces too. Mind if I borrow this?"
Seeing that he'd already picked up her sketchbook, "Go right ahead." 'I'll kill you later. Jerk.' was closer to what she was really thinking.
Mads managed to start sketching a rough bust before their teacher arrived and started the class. Instead of doodling all over his own paper, the jerk occasionally made marks in the sketchbook.
At the end of the class, he handed the book back to its owner. "Just some ideas. If you want to, we can go over this a bit tomorrow morning."
Abbie muttered something non-committal and left the classroom, but it was hard to return the guy's welcome when she got to their history class. His smile fell and turned bittersweet sad as if he knew he'd upset her but didn't understand how he had. Boys.
Abbie had to wait until the lunch break before she had time to open up her precious sketchbook to survey the damage. T he drawings were by no means the work of a trained draftsman, and the handwriting was awful, but good enough to get the point across. That point being that a longer hair style and some sleight-of-hand with scabbards might allow the spindly knives to be disguised as hair sticks. The girl had rarely paid much attention to her hair except to keep it clean, untangled, and braided to keep it clear of machinery. The idea of pinning it up with decorative cutlery might actually work.
Monday afternoon, September 17, 2007,
Abbie wanted to do well in English. After all, it was her native language, so why should she have to get by with lower grades than she was getting in Spanish? Except for English, she was getting respectable grades. They could be much better. Once their survival class let out, she screwed up her courage and asked Kristian if he'd be open to studying with her and Elve some time this week?
To Kristian, the American girl was still a confusing bundle of emotions. Beautiful in an old-fashioned healthy way, she was not convinced that she had much beauty. Kristian would have bet money that if they hadn't been in the same class the girl never would have asked him to anything. He would have, but considered the few people who'd cover that bet. No, that was a horrible idea and another reason not to get involved in gambling.
It didn't hurt Abbie's case that Kristian was currently more than slightly self-conscious that the 'Emilie Kirsten' part of her brain was digging his own scent of 'clean healthy male, recently exercised', while the rest appreciated the reality of 'A girl! ohmygod! Talking to me for real!' He'd also noticed that she had height, weight, muscle, and reach on her side. So, yes, of course the roommate and potential witness could study with them in the library and he'd be on his best behavior!
Later comments by certain parties on whether his Survival class adequately covered 'studying with exemplar babes' were duly noted and ignored. Except for the "clean clothes, fresh shower and shave, and a subtle cologne" advice — that was a keeper. If only it hadn't come from the sociopath he was supposed to be teaching Danish culture to, and looking out for?
Tuesday morning, September 18, 2007,
This morning, her lab partner greeted Abbie with a more guarded expression than she usually saw from him.
"Feeling better today?" he asked.
"Yes. Thanks for asking," was the equally guarded reply.
"...didn't know my sketchbook had personal stuff in it. I got that. But it does." Apparently. "Can we just pick up where we left off and call it done with?"
"If you say so. Questions, comments, logistically impossible suggestions?"
"I was wondering how many women you know that have tusks."
Mads shrugged, "You'd be surprised. Is that a problem?"
"No. Just wondering." Thanks. Now I'm having to try very hard to ignore what could be a creepy fetish. "The parts here in Cyrillic need a bit more explanation. Russian?"
"Da. Posmotrim... I was uncertain if the dimensions here would allow for a little 'ignore me' enchantment could be worked into the scabbard design. And here, I was thinking that you could go with a rawhide wrap that plugged a longer, wider tube that enclosed the entire dagger."
"Er... In theory that could work, but in practice, maybe not."
"Yeah. Yuki's were ceramic spikes in a lacquered wooden holder, like a sword cane? Easier to get past checkpoints. But if the outer part were worked in cloisonné, the expectation from the start would be that the scanners would read metal."
"So this Yuki person. How'd that work for her?"
"No complaints when we flew into Osaka, and the Customs agents at the Osaka airport? They were a bit squirrelly. Matter of fact, the guy behind me ended up with a full cavity search. Is that what you meant, or did you mean how'd they work work?"
"Um. The latter."
"I honestly don't know. She used her katana or bare fists on most jobs."
"I'll think about the ideas, but no guarantees. I do like the idea about chisel points."
"Fair 'nough. Oh, yeah, and that's a note to myself to ask if there are any Workshoppers who would take on two blades, fee-for-service. T and I have an assignment that calls for designing our own athemés. It doesn't have to be us personally making them, just document what was done and why, and turn in the final product for inspection."
"Mads, I've been trained as a blacksmith from the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Believe me when I warn you that if you only want to pay enough to cover a Pakistani pig-sticker, put in an order on the net and see what you get. If you want quality work it's going to cost you."
The boy shrugged like she'd just told him that water tended to be wet. "Of course. I'll have to get back with the other half to put together the specs and order components. If you can't take the job, would you be willing to shop it out, say for ten percent broker's fee?"
"We'll see about that when you've got the job requirements together." Abbie nodded toward the front of the class, "Looks like it's time for class."
"I could use some class!"
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves."
Late afternoon Assembly, Thursday, September 20, 2007,
Arena 99 Stands, Whateley Academy
"I've had a few ... unusual requests, five this week alone," Mrs. Carson began bluntly. "Now while Whateley respects your freedom of religion, no-one, and I repeat, NO-ONE, is going to build any form of shrine, temple, altar, or any other worship or adoration space devoted to any other student or student's spirit, NO MATTER WHOSE SPIRIT THAT STUDENT MIGHT CARRY!"
The discussion inside Elve Järvinen's head went a bit differently.
Translation: Be good Christians, or else!
Depending on which spirits are on the secret forbidden list, shouldn't some pagans still be allowed to keep their personal altars?
I recall this happening before. The local priest draws up the list of forbidden subjects of worship which just happened to match all the likely subjects whose land or wife they wanted. Then the leg-breakers go out to look for violations.
Mrs. Carson scanned the audience, stopping specifically so she could glare at some students seated behind the Whitman and Twain Cottage rows. "Anyone who makes a request to erect such a worship space will be severely punished. Any avatar who requests or otherwise gives approval to devotees will be even more severely punished or expelled. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"
See, even an innocent request made out of ignorance – you've been told how many times in class to keep the identity of your avatar spirit secret from others? – is now cause for severe punishment.
It does look like the punishable list is being made up from the requests, doesn't it?
As I said, the fix is in. That Dillon Chapel is staying open even though one girl is said to be able to channel angels.
Now you just sound jealous!
Mrs. Carson turned and stormed off the stage, visibly fuming.
Not jealous of Astarte. I wonder if the old temple dancing bitch is still knocking boots these days?
I thought you didn't remember much of the old days?
I pay attention to what we hear and what you know already. What I know for sure is that letting others make an altar or shrine to us is a trap for one or both of us. I know why some might want it, but it can't turn out good in this age. Some might, but most humans don't need to be led around by the hand.
Elve got up with the rest of her cottage and year group, to head back out. Abbie interpreted her roommate's silence as taking time to discuss matters with her spirit. That was only reasonable, given the topic and the heavy-handed way it was put across.
A trap. How so?
At first, it provides a practically free conduit to either boost powers or fill up an energy reserve for the avatar, filtered through the spirit of course.
But there's no such thing as a free lunch.
Exactly. Once you're hooked on that juice, it's harder to let go of than all those painkillers you used to be on.
Ugh. The first dose is always the best.
You got it. So, the spirit pimping paybacks in miracles or boons grows in power within, around, and behind the host. No two ways about it, because that's the one that the worshipers care about. Not the host. Not ever the host.
Does it ever go wrong?
I think that's how I got shoved into an old ax head and buried. Maybe you should take a magic course or two, if the avatar courses here stay dumbed down? Think about it: people, being people, are sure to screw up once in a while and hook their prayer machinery up to the wrong something or someone. Maybe their veneration turns some poor slob into a miracle-working saint. Maybe their sacrifices powers up a new devil or opens a door for a bitty demon to become a real menace.
Where would I fit in in that?
Somewhere between collateral damage and designated victim. Either way, the host or the growing spirit becomes a prison or a coffin for the other. Afterwards, piss the wrong shaman or priest or whatever off, and everyone left over gets stuck in some random object and buried forever and a day.
Say things go off-kilter and someone hooks up an altar or story or what-have-you to us. Can't you or I just refuse?
I don't know. I really don't, and I think that should scare both of us.
It still sounds like some of the wannabes calling themselves Olympians want that big ticket to happen for them.
Yeah. That means they'll back-stab anybody for a little extra juice. Or build some poor fool up to the tipping point that they become the hero or monster they've been told they are, just so the god-botherers have a tastier snack later.
So we keep our heads down?
As best and as long as we're able. Neither one of us wants to be chained back down like we were.
By the time her internal discussion ended, Elve was already back in their room, with Abbie patiently waiting for an answer. Something about...
"... dinner? Yes! I am feeling hungry now that I think about it."
"What did your rider think about the assembly? You've been out of it ever since." Abbie sounded concerned.
"He doesn't have a problem with it."
"Oh? Mrs. Carson made it sound like half the spirits and entities on campus want a personal shrine built, and spare no expense on the marble!"
"That's all a kind of magic: the kind that is never ever free. Please, if you do have a chance to acquire an avatar spirit and it wants that sort of – what is the word? – devotion? Run from it!"
"That sounds kind of ominous. That much of a bad sign?"
"It is, Abbie. From what I've been told, it really, really is. Now. Let's get some food before breaking the books for English!"
"That's 'cracking the books', but close enough for government work."
"I am so glad I am not participating in your government's work."
Evening meal, Thursday, September 20, 2007,
Elve looked from the serving lines back to her roommate. "Abbie, we need to study hard before next week's English test, and Kristian probably needs to, so why not ask him? You know you want to!"
"I do, and Lord knows I could use the help, but the boy's in Emerson, and you've heard about how the Dickinson girls get when they think one of us Whitmaniacs is poaching on their territory — as they see it anyway."
"Boys still like to imagine that such things are their decision to make, even if they're wrong half the time. Just give him a minute or two to sit down and start eating. Then go up to him and ask."
"Give him a minute to sit down — you've been watching?"
"It is a nice view."
"You are incorrigible!"
"That is why I am encouraging you now."
Euro-Promotional League table
"Mads, I didn't see you in assembly earlier. How much detention has that cost you this time?"
"Why does everyone think I'm incapable of keeping out of trouble?"
"Maybe they've met you?"
"Thanks, T. You are going to pay for that one. For the record, Cadet Holm, I was in my assigned cell, as the attendance record will attest."
"Why didn't you change out to civvies when you had the chance?"
The delinquent Thornie shrugged.
"Habit, I guess."
"Translation: the thought didn't even cross his mind."
Mads Jensen stoically rolled his eyes at Thomas' implication that mind-crossing thoughts were a rare event for him, and palmed some of his tormentors' fries.
"Hej! Stop that!"
The banter died off as a rather pretty brunette approached the overly-male end of the table, apparently of her own free will. In many cases, the Exemplar trait tended to manifest by magnifying features considered highly desirable by the popular culture of the moment — what the terminally crass might call "smokin' hawt". In this young woman's case, it added a healthy strength to muscle and bones, adorned by a small but promising bust, and wide hips meant as much for supporting children as for anchoring lower body strength. She didn't waste much time on make-up, but luckily for her the natural look worked.
Of course, the poor girl had no idea that some of the appraising (and hate-you envious) looks were aimed at her instead of some cover-girl beauty behind her.
One thing she had noticed was that two of her classmates were sitting in their JROTC uniforms at the near end of the 'Beret Mafia' table. Having sat to the left of Cadet Holm, she'd seen the Danish flag sewn on his left sleeve. Having sat to Cadet Jensen's right, she'd never noticed the self-same Dannebrog (She'd had to look the flag up!) on his uniform. Well, that did explain the odd way he pronounced his last name, didn't it? Abbie hoped like hell the two boys weren't a "package deal".
"umm... Christian? I don't know if you remember me from class?"
"I should. Abelyn Elliott..."
Damn, that accent made my plain old name sound sexy!
"... Right? You're in the same English and Survival classes as I."
Rorsmand clearly had no idea where this was going. Therefore it was up to Metro to come to the rescue! "You're in my English and Survival classes, Kris."
"No, we're — shut it, Mads."
Odd that he pronounces it "Mass"
Rorsmand turned back to the more important conversation. "Please excuse my idiot countryman. What were you saying about our classes?"
"Well, my roommate and I are planning on spending some time studyin' for English an' all at the library, and we were wondering if"
"The answer's 'yes'."
Kristian turned back to the boy across the table from him. "What the hell? No one's asked you!"
Mads regarded the girl, whose hopes seemed to be rapidly going down with the ship. "What Kris means to say is that he would love to meet up with you for studying. The Library is an appropriate and customary place for such things. At what time?"
"I, we, wouldn't want to rush him, you, is seven okay?"
"Seven would be perfect. He'll be there."
"For søren! Mads, Det rager ikke dig!" Kristian reminded himself to take a breath to calm down. This was going badly, wasn't it? "But seven would be a good time, yes."
"Thanks! Studying alone just gets so boring, y'know?"
"I do, but it serves a purpose. Was there something else?" Kristian was at a bit of a loss as to how a guy closes these conversations with a girl. That gave one of the drop-dead beauties at the table an opening.
"Abelyn? Can I ask where you're from? The accent sounds familiar."
"'liz'bethtown, Kentucky. You've probably,"
"That's just a ways southwest of mah ol' stompin' grounds. I'm Harley Sawyer, from Louisville. Pleased ta meetcha!" the raven-haired girl indicated herself as she nailed the local "Looahvuhl" pronunciation, then pointed to the petite, exotic beauty next to her, "and this is my girlfriend Jenny, Geneviève Etincelle. Our code names are Reach and Spark."
Abbie and Jenny exchanged their "pleased to meet you"s, confident that neither was interested in poaching the other's love interest.
"'ave you settled on a code name, yet?" Spark asked. Harley was still too much of a boy in his head to trust a conversation to.
"I'm thinking of using 'Smithy', since that's what I'm most interested in."
"Un moment, you are the new girl setting up along Fabricator 'Ell?" The freshman suddenly was much more interesting to the French devisor.
"No others I've seen, so I guess so. I've finally got my shop to where I can get some real work done."
"Taking care of the important things first, good. I've been working mostly with nanostructured materials myself, but I'd love to see your setup some time."
"If I'm not in class or having to study, that's where I'll be. Just drop on by."
"Bien sûr. It looks like our young Kristian Holm has almost recovered his composure. Juste à temps!"
Abbie's eyes widened in shock, "Oh my goodness! My apologies. I didn't mean to talk over you! Oh, dear."
"That is all right. Seven at the library, then? Uden visse personer?" Kristian shot a dirty look across the table at his earlier "helper".
"Dit tab. Jeg fik topkarakterer i engelskklasse." Whatever that meant, Mads sounded more impressed with himself than his friend.
"Um. I guess I'll see you then!"
Abbie beat a hasty retreat to where Elve was still sitting.
"How did it go?"
"We're on for seven, in the library."
"See? That wasn't so hard!"
"Says you! I think I may have interrupted something between him and his boyfriend."
"Why do you think that?"
"He was sitting with that guy in my Chemistry and History classes I've been telling you about, who's mentioned having a boyfriend once or twice, and they're both Danish."
"Would it have been better if both were Swedish? Not all cute Scandinavian guys are homosexual, you know. Well, maybe the Swedes... but not all of them."
"I do know that. I still think there's something I'm missing."
Rorsmand was annoyed at his possibly, maybe, but generally irritating either way, friend. "I cannot believe you went and stuck your nose in where it doesn't belong!"
"After a while, you come to expect it," was Valravn's off-hand remark.
Metro rubbed his nose on a sleeve. "You've never complained about my nose before! Did I get it?"
"That wasn't what I meant."
"You'll have to show me some time, then, yeah?"
"What is it with you two?"
Almost on cue, Valravn and Metro stopped the banter to turn and focus on Rorsmand.
"Kris, we're nearly three weeks into the term, and even Thomas has gotten to know more people than you have."
"The difference being that you actually like people for all the waste of oxygen most of them are." Thomas Jensen was misanthropic on his good days.
"That makes it our job to boot you out of your comfort zone for your own good. So. You will go to the library tonight, and talk about whatever you're covering in class, and make small talk, and get chewed out for laughing too loud, and be the not half bad-looking teen-aged guy you are."
"Well, maybe pretty good, for a human that is."
"How is it that you two are lecturing me on how to be a well-adjusted teen?"
"I don't recall adjustments being part of the package, though I have been known to make house calls!"
Rorsmand growled back, a bit too loudly, "I don't need adjustments to my package!"
Reach almost choked on her drink.
Evening, Thursday, September 20, 2007,
Abbie was pleasantly surprised to see Kristian walking towards the table she and Elve had staked out. It was in one of the less-desirable, more-visible open areas, but the upperclassmen tended to hog the more private and quiet areas and they did want their classmate to find them.
Kristian, for his own part, was doing his best to be exercising his empathic reception ability while carrying out routine activities. If called on it, he could justify it as being one of his class assignments, but the truth was that he had been getting mixed signals from Abelyn every time he'd seen her. It was confusing, and he didn't like being confused or left in the dark very much.
"Kristian! You made it!"
desire, insecurity, gladness
"I did agree to be here, didn't I? I just wasn't sure where in the library you would be."
"I wasn't sure earlier that I wasn't intruding on anything."
muted fear, worry
"No, no. Mads was just being ... Mads."
familiarity, irritation, expectation
"Ah. Anyway, thanks for showing up to help out and all. You've met Elve?"
warmth, sharp fear
The girl still sitting at the table looked up and smiled, "Hyvää iltaa."
humor, joy, interest
"It's a good thing we're studying English and not Finnish, isn't it?"
interest, desire, exhilaration
Kristian was already already one tired and confused empath.
"Oh! I am sorry. I don't know any Finnish."
"It is like Danish, not many people see a reason to learn it. Come, take a seat, or is it 'grab a seat'?" She looked over to her roommate.
"Either one. I think 'take' is preferred to 'grab' or 'haul yourself up'"
Kristian was certain that no matter how he phrased it, the admission that just maybe either Jensen was right for once would be turned against him. Even so, he was glad of the little shove that got him out of the rut he was building around himself, glad to have a socially acceptable way to avoid his roommate. He was also pleased to see Abelyn, or Abbie, step out as well.
The next hour or so was consumed by the dreaded rituals of Anglophone education that are codified as learning the English language's parts of speech. The only consistent rule appeared to be that there were such things as a 'part of speech' and that rules applied, except when different rules applied, and that none of this was to exclude exceptions to those rules.
Seriously. How is it that 'affect' is not only a verb but a completely unrelated noun? Maybe that's what comes of teaching Romanized Britons a Germanic language before introducing them to French?
"Isn't that so adorable! The freshies are learning their ABCs!"
One of the many things about Leevi's life that Elve had left behind and did not miss for one single minute of it was the patronizing crap that some of the able-bodied and better-looking students would spew when out of earshot of the teachers.
Tearing down a target's sense of self-worth. As feeble first attempts go, not bad.
Should I be impressed?
Not really. Let's see who breaks first. Your serve.
Elve said, "That was hours ago! With a bit more work we will have our colors down before you Bright Girls even get to that chapter."
"Watch it, freak. You don't know who you're disrespecting here!"
That didn't take long to devolve at all. Sad, isn't it? The mentally handicapped running loose like this?
"Do you need help to introduce yourselves? Which house mommy do we need to call?"
Kristian made a production of yawning, as if bored or tired – anything but the feeling of humiliation one of the two girls was projecting – "Should we care? When my baby sister starts getting cranky, it doesn't matter who has to take her to bed as long as someone responsible takes care of it." More anger to the left. Good to know which one is the projector, and which the muscle.
"I'll have you know that we, my protegé Drama and I, are fer better than you Whitman losers. That being so," The projected emotion came on stronger, but that was playing to Rorsmand's own powers and both Abelyn and Leevi had been badgered by experts for their age group. "You should apologize!"
A chainsaw-rough voice cut across whatever the rest of the ultimatum would have been. "But first, Sweetheart, you two should leave this library. Dontcha think?"
For a moment, the girls considered turning on the library assistant. Before they could commit to something irrevocable they recognized the blue hair, glowing yellow eyes, and pointed chin of the school's sole 'Section 33', and made a graceless retreat.
Once the girls were out of eyesight and most of the eyewitnesses studiously eye-not-witnessing, Billie shook her head and told the group, "You should leave soon, before they decide to set up an ambush between here and your cottages. If you have any books you need to check out, I'll help you take care of that."
Kristian sighed, and started placing a call while the others gathered up their books. This studying had been going well!
"Hej, Mads? Listen, I'm here in the
... oh. You are. Where?
You're ... not kidding.
Of course you did.
Meet you there."
The boy shoved his free hand into a pocket to avoid the urge to face-palm.
"It's been recommended, by my Unsolicited Overwatch Team, that we take the tunnel system."
Tennyo looked back and smiled a fanged smile, "My roommate, Generator, does the same thing sometimes when she thinks I need someone to look out for me." She paused thoughtfully. "Okay, she does it a lot of the time, but she truly means well. If your friends are anything like mine, I'd recommend you get used to it."
Abbie figured out who Kristian was just talking to. "Is she also on the UV list, by any chance?"
"Kinda, sorta. Some days she wears a Pacifist band, other days the Rager band. What about your friend?"
"That's the 'Do not lead into temptation, for he knows the road better than thee' one, right? Better him than me, bud. One of the Thornies has that one, I think."
"That's Metro all right."
"That the kid who's stuck sleeping in a water tank even though he's almost drowned a couple of times?"
Kristian nodded, and made a mental note to take up the ever-so-minor issue of no one bothering to mention almost drowning at a later date. Billie took the seething silence behind her as a 'yes'. Once she was back behind the check-out counter, she continued with the dropped part of the conversation.
"Guys, I'm just a sophomore and I had my share of problems last year, but take it from me: no matter how scary or different they are, don't take your friends for granted. Ever. My friends and I had to learn that the hard way. I think sometimes we're still learning that. Here you go Miss Elliott. These are due back Thursday, the eleventh. Take care."
Whateley Tunnels, near Kirby Library
The atmosphere in the underground tunnel leading from the library was beyond oppressive. One could easily imagine bodies pushed to the side along blood-stained and flesh-splattered walls, partly obscured by smoke, wet grass, stale garlic, damp earth. If it weren't for daily exposure to Metro's glamour – something called in Kristian's Esper class uncontrolled projective empathy – Kristian was certain he'd have run away from there in abject terror. Instead he attempted introductions.
"Errr, Abbie, I take it you know Mads Jensen, code-named 'Metro'. The other half of this stalking team is Thomas Jensen, code-named 'Valravn'. Mads, Thomas, this is Elve Järvinen..."
Kristian cringed inside as he saw the look both boys gave the young women – did they really have to astrally examine everyone they met? – before Mads stepped up to the Finnish girl. As disturbing as the bone plates projecting from her body might be, had anyone asked them, Mads or Thomas would have pointed out that Elve was a strikingly beautiful young woman, and only more so when she smiled.
"Enchanté de faire votre connaissance," Mads said, taking the girl's hand delicately in his before correctly placing a chaste kiss.
The Danish empath was completely flummoxed at the feelings of amused regard from both Elve and Mads. Thomas seemed to be enjoying the evident discomfort both Kris and Abbie felt at the PDA.
"What were you two doing in the library?"
"Stud-y-ing," was the sing-songed that's-not-really-an-answer from Mads.
"You just happened to be studying right then and there?"
"Nope," Mads answered. "You asked earlier if we were free around 2030. I just put two and two together."
Thomas nodded. "It's not our fault you three were too busy with conjunctions and adverbs to see us walk in. I'm more of a preposition kind of guy, myself, though it's sometimes hard to keep track of the depending claws."
"So! Ladies, would you be so kind as to allow us to escort you to your domicile?"
"But, of course we would, wouldn't we Miss Elliott roommate-of-mine?"
"Right! Got it. Yes, we would. Lead on, good gentlemen!"
End of third period, Friday, September 28, 2007,
"Abbie! Hold up a minute?"
"Yes, Mads, what is it?"
"You're headed to lunch now, right?"
"Wrong. I'm dropping off these books at my locker, then heading back to Whitman to grab my homework for this afternoon."
"Walk with you?"
"It's a free country. By the way, I still haven't found anyone willing to touch those MA projects, but Mrs. Choudhari is willing to let me bring in some equipment that might make Val's blade possible. If that works out, maybe the second can be done. Those are big if's."
"Just as well, that one needs to be front-loaded to fit in with the waxing moon."
"OR we could have switched the order and taken advantage of the waning moon for the other. Don't look at me in that tone of voice. I'm capable of doing my own research as well."
"Er, yeah, about that."
Here it comes, Abbie thought to herself. And it was such an interesting project too.
"I'd like to pay the remainder of Valravn's up-front. Y'see, we need to take a short trip to the wilds of Illinois this weekend."
"The same Illinois as in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois? You have a strange idea of 'wilds' if that part of the Midwest qualifies for you."
"You might be surprised. Anyway, um, it's been my experience that travel plans can get horribly derailed at the last minute."
If the boy had worn taps he couldn't be tap-dancing around the subject any clearer.
"Gee, Metro, my parents had the same experience not too long ago. Hey, maybe that's why my grandparents are still wrangling over custody."
"No! I mean no, it's not like that, not exactly."
Abby stopped and turned to face the boy.
"Have either of you two jerks bothered to tell any of your friends you don't plan to come back?"
"You're tying up any loose ends that stand to be left hanging when whatever you're trying to pull blows up in your goddamned faces!"
"Look. Abby. It's just a possibility, as with any trip..."
"And 'as with any trip' you're just going to leave Kristian in the dark, wondering what the hell happened to you?"
"He cannot go with us. Uh-uh. No way. Out of the question."
"Because it's too damned risky for a civilian, that's why. Thomas knows what's going on as well as I do. Probably better, because he's good at thinking sideways like that. But Kris is staying HERE where it's SAFE. Safe-ish. Mostly safe, all things considered. Maybe a rigged contest drawing? Darwin's out of the way, and it can't be too bad this time of year"
This wasn't garden-variety class ditching. He was leaving.
Abelyn Elliott was uncomfortably aware that a fourteen-years-old mage, who just happened to have the qualifications to work with Whateley Security, had just used the C-word and wasn't being ironic about it at all. A series of images poured forth from wherever her family came by them. Interleaved with those filled with fire, smoke, ice, and too much blood, were some with Mads in various uniforms. Abelyn Elliott had thought her lab partner was mad, bad, and literally dangerous to know, but her inherited ability left little room for doubt.
She quietly asked, "If he's a civilian, what does that make you?"
Mads Jensen just stood there, he hung and slowly shook his head, not daring to look his classmate in the eye. "Someone who's never been worth his friendship or even your regard."
"Are you even going to try to come back?"
"By hook or by crook, just... not at Thomas' expense. He's unhappy enough without adding to it."
"But you will make an honest effort?"
"What parts of 'hook' and 'crook' weren't clear?" At least the lopsided grin was back.
"I'll hold you to that. By the way, how do you expect to keep this conversation private from the others?"
"First off, I'm trusting that you know as well as I do how much it could hurt Kris to find out that way."
"Second..." Metro reached up to grab at something out of the air. When he opened his hand back up, there was a miniature drone in its palm. "White-noise generator. Never leave your safehouse without one."
"You, what? Wait a minute. Why does a wizard need drones and sleight of hand?"
"In reverse order: to be able to return this to its owner..."
This time, it was Abbie's ID in his hand! She quickly grabbed it out of his hand and checked to see what else was obviously missing.
"Also, you're not the only rated gadget-basher in this conversation."
"I hope the airline loses your damned luggage!"
Fourth period English Class, Monday, October 01, 2007,
Abbie had had a bad feeling about the day when she showed up for Chemistry, and her annoying lab partner was nowhere to be found. When he missed American History as well, she taped the lecture for Elisa. With any luck, the Syrian girl wouldn't realize that her usual translator was likely to miss one or more or all of his classes. She, in turn, was surprised that Mr. Williams even mentioned that Metro had an excused absence until he and his 'best friend' could clear up some passport issues with the Canadian government.
The most troubling part about that was that she knew from Rorsmand that Valravn was a Canadian citizen, and that the 'field trip' was supposed to be to Illinois. Last time she'd checked, Illinois was a State, not a Province.
Neither she nor Elve were surprised to see that Kristian was nearly beside himself with worry by early afternoon.
"I should have known that sociopathic røvhul would let Mads get them into trouble! For helvede! I can't even reach Rodriguez to ask what happened. He was supposed to be watching out for them."
"So it's not just Metro and Valravn missing?"
"I heard that Telluride was hauled in by Security sometime in the early morning, but that is not like him at all!"
"Class! I'm sure that the latest gossip about a couple of students being detained over the weekend is quite engrossing, but let's spend this hour working on our English skills. You never know when being able to clearly express yourself may be needed when dealing with officials."
Sixth period Survival Class, Friday, October 05, 2007,
"Erm... Rorsmand? Are you okay, son? The confidence course isn't your enemy." Mr. Anderson looked back a couple of stations. "Maybe Aegis' enemy, *ouch* (that's got to hurt) but not yours." This week had obviously been rough on the guy. He called Smithy out to tend to her friend so he could concentrate on the class. Kristian was wound up to the point of open verbalization before she got to him.
"Enemy? ME? Noooo. I've just spent the last few hours escorting quote: Mads Jensen's half-brother :UNquote, around campus. Even introducing said person to certain of Mads' friends, for lack of a better term. I'm not sure which one I want to see bleed more: Bloodwolf or Mr. Lokisson. How did he even know about Bloodwolf?"
So this is what Kris is like when he's really pissed off. Good to know, Abbie guessed. Wait a minute.
"You introduced a visitor, in other words someone's family, to Bloodwolf? Have you lost your mind, Kris?"
"No. I should be so lucky. Those two deserve each other. Lokisson's as much of a rabid wolf as the other. Hell. It's easier to deal with Bloodwolf, come to think of it."
"Lockie-son? Wolf? Kristian Emil Holm, I may be a backwoods redneck daughter of a blacksmith, but I do know how to read! 'Loki' plus 'Wolf' equals someone who has a reason to think he's the worst of the big bad wolves. And you introduced a werewolf avatar to this person?"
"The fight's going to be in Arena 77, if you're interested."
"At this point, I'm more interested in seeing you get some quality time with a headshrinker. I don't know what Metro and company are up to, but you! You should know better."
"They're 'unavoidably detained' until Mads is healthy enough to travel."
"What? Oh. Damn. I'm sorry. How bad?"
"Even mister I'm-too-macho-for-my-leather-jacket is worried sick. Between that and the emotional show he's putting on, I have too much of a headache to deal with all of it."
"That settles it. You stay here while I talk to Mr. Anderson. Then we are going to Doyle."
"Don't want to."
"I don't recall leaving that up to you, Mister Holm."
Lunch, Wednesday, October 10, 2007,
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Rorsmand looked up from his meal to see a certain tow-headed student walk up to one of the serving lines.
He growled "Dit svin" more than he actually spoke the words. He would have gotten up to put more action to those words, but between the Exemplar-3 on one side, and the Avatar-3/Warper-3 on the other, he wasn't going anywhere. What was the point of becoming a guy just to be surrounded by girls who are physically stronger?
Abbie spoke first. "Kris, we know you're upset. The pipsqueak even owes me a couple of commissions that I've had to put off other things for. But this ain't the time, and it sure ain't the place for you to go assaulting someone who's still part of Security."
"I'm still going to have a long discussion with the two of them about their complete disregard of their friends. Assuming they even understand the fucking concept."
Elve winced. "You definitely need to wait before doing that. Plus, if what you told Abbie last week is true, I think his doctors will want to get their shots in first."
"How would you know about his doctors?"
Elve smiled, "Let's just say I wasn't always this picture of perfect health." At Kris' wide-eyed look, justified given the implication, she added, "I can laugh at it now, but for a long time my doctors visits were such unfortunate occasions that I kept my friends away because I did not want to make myself a strain on them."
"I, er, I don't know what to say to that." Kristian looked unhappy as the Finnish girl's words sunk in and he picked up concern from the werewolf boy now in line with his friend.
"Then don't say. Ask. But let the answers come in their own time. Be prepared for some of them to be things you don't want to hear."
Earlier in the Fall 2007 Term, 6th Period Magical Theory Class,
Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Unfortunately for her peace of mind, Ophelia 'Caduceus' Tenent, MD, was once again called out from class for a medical emergency as a result of 6th Period Basic Martial Arts. This wasn't to say that the Class of 2011 was unusually rambunctious or accident-prone, compared to the Kimba Class of 2010, but if this was going to be a habit with Ito and Tolman's afternoon classes, the department would need to start taking that into consideration when planning staff assignments. The overworked healer had barely stepped out when someone from the back of the classroom asked:
"Just for the record, could we go over again which materials we are allowed to use in constructing our athamés and other tools later in the course?"
When in doubt, see if the assistant gives an answer that's easier to work from.
Hoping to tamp down on the isolated laughter, Kendall "Belle" Forbes began answer the question. "As with anything else regarding this curriculum, starting your research now will prove of benefit later. Had you read it before today's class, this week's assigned reading would have told you about the most commonly-used metals, wood, and gems. As to which materials are specifically allowed? Anything your little heart... ehm."
Suddenly taking note of exactly which student had asked the question, and the mischievous intent with which he was looking over to his upset lab partner, Belle quickly amended, "... Anything within reason and within the school's code of magical ethics – regardless of how alien either concept may be to you lot – that your blackened little hearts desire. Amidst the Campus Store, the Workshop, and other suppliers with access to the campus, I dare say we've never had a student not find a way to obtain what they've needed, except as limited by their finances and the threat of legal prosecution."
"Prosecution?" another student anxiously asked.
"You didn't think we'd countenance outright theft, did you?" Don't be stupid about going about it if you go that route, y'git.
Back to the first student, who asked: "So that would include fullerene-reinforced glasses or plastics, yes?"
"Certainly. As the assignment is intended to help you each develop your own personally-meaningful set of tools, you should bear in mind that such materials might only be well-suited to someone who's also a devisor or some other extreme technophile." Several students took note of that.
Good. Maybe this little batch of monsters could be taught.
"Er, yeah, I was thinking about folks might who want to get things past airport security and Customs agents as well."
"For instance, exotic biologic materials?"
"Mister Jensen, that's between you and your import agent. However, for an example, very few people should need genuine ivory or rhinoceros horn. Even then, a cursory search through reference materials should turn up some outstanding replacements. For the less diligent, perhaps not."
"What about, let's see ... mercury, plutonium, arsenic ..."
Caduceus walked back in to the classroom in time to catch the dire turn the discussion was taking.
"Mister Jensen. I'd remind you that you need to survive long enough to present your work for the course credit. The risks to said survival are NOT limited to those risks posed by life choices that your doctor strongly recommends you consider very carefully. Do I make myself clear?"
Jensen's voice jumped about a third of an octave, "Quite clear, Ma'am." This was accompanied by a few nervous laughs, as the other new wizards-in-training were reminded that sanity was a scarce virtue within their chosen field.
"I am very glad to hear that. Perhaps we won't have to ask for a review of your missing shot records after all."
After that curiously specific observation, the entire Magical Theory class was exceptionally well-behaved for the remainder of the class. Some were still smarting after the 'Buttons Incident' with Admin.
Early October 2007,
Fabricator Row, Workshop, Whateley Academy
On completing her inspection of the newly provisioned inert gas enclosure and scavenging system for the work bay assigned to Smithy, Professor Choudhari noticed some ceramics shelved nearby. She asked, "Miss Elliott, what is the pottery for?"
"Small-batch smelting and remelting crucibles. I need something non-ferrous for a couple of projects, and my lab budget is starting to get too stretched to be guessing at which high-temperature ceramics to use."
"Better to have such things on-hand instead of running around looking for them at the last moment. Good. They can be used later as spares but I'd recommend using a graver to mark very clearly what they've been used for in previous runs. Now, shouldn't there be, oh I don't know, wiring for the furnace somewhere about?"
"I was told that that's to be installed later. Facilities says they'll get it in when they get the time, along with additional ventilation. Maybe."
"I suspect that they have been presented more challenges this term than they've been allocated manpower. You are undertaking contractor certifications as part of your individual study, am I correct?" Abelyn nodded. "Then this can be used as an object lesson in scheduling, in which seemingly simple details can derail a larger project beyond its obvious scope. I confess I myself am still having a problem visualizing how such a furnace is going to be needed and work for your upcoming two projects."
"They're coming from the Mystical Arts program, exotic materials and all. Worse, some of the materials for the second project may be more reactive than I'd expected. I thought I had the vapor pressure problems resolved but not for any reaction products."
"And now it is that I almost wish I couldn't visualize how such could be necessary. You do know your entire bay will need magical warding, correct?"
"I'll add that to my to-do list."
October 3, 2007,
Kirby Library, Whateley Academy
Smithy had placed orders for the materials that, barring last-minute changes, were needed for the two athamés. Without her clients available to be asked, she was left wondering if there was anything else she should be worrying about. Like, suppose the iron ore that was supposed to be shipped in from Greenland arrived as one large block instead of something reasonable? Metro's Danish was good enough to have gotten it right? Okay. Note to self: Have Kris re-read the order and be prepared to beg access to a ball mill. And a tip for the excess country rock if it came to that. One of the many principles that her Pa had made an effort to drill into her head was that even improvisation required preparation for the many things that could happen along the way. If a body still happens to be bored or have 'nothing to do', then surely there's something tomorrow or next week to get ready for that you might have forgot about.
Having little that she could do in the meantime after taking care of the orders surely meant that there was something out of place. There was also that odd-feeling itch that Abbie couldn't physically scratch pointing her back to the growing folder of requisitions. Perhaps there was more to the choices made – and to the missing young men making those choices – than they'd let on. That wasn't unlikely at all, as little as any of the mystic arts students seemed to trust each other.
Between taking care of her own studies and "being there" for an ever-more-frustrated Rorsmand, the blacksmith turned to the books she'd inherited from her father and his fathers' fathers. In the past, when pages or entire quartos of the older volumes had needed replacing she'd always be coming across some passage here and there that hinted at there being something more to be found than bare facts of ore and fire, hard work and skill . Now, with proof of such possibilities all around her at school, she dug into the old receipts, ledgers, notes, and even occasionally bad love poems with more enthusiasm.
Looking back over the past couple of nights' readings, Abelyn wondered if there wasn't often a method to the madness behind some of the odd alchemical choices behind certain rare (and lucrative) commissions. What if the tool at-hand told as much about the magical worker as the blacksmith's told about him? She resolved to practice some of the same paranoia her friends did. Her back got itchy in a bad way around some of the megalomaniacs and flakes in the Mysty Arts program as it was. She didn't need to go giving them an imagined reason to take her out for a dirt nap. That didn't mean she was right about magical tools, yet, so she downloaded the Intro to Mystical Principles/Magical Theory/etc. syllabuses and reading lists. If she knew what Metro and Valravn had decided on, and could determine what sources they'd been working from to get this point, she just might learn something.
"Know enough to be afraid" --Transylvania Polygnostic University motto.
Abbie would have to find a nice way to thank Geneviève for loaning her the "Girl Genius" trade paperbacks. Mads was soooo getting a nize hat like Dimo's if he survives his 'trip'! Come to think of it, Abbie figured that down the road she could still pull the "helpless female at the auto shop" act around the magic types when it suited her, but first she wanted to know when she was being bullshitted about the technical details. That could be worth the price of admission, so long as one forgot that the first taste of such knowledge was always 'free'.
Starting with Thomas' project, the bulk composition of the billet for the blade and tang could result in a carbon steel that could be problematic for the alleged fae on campus. Maybe. It was clear as mud what made some of the pointy-eared, emo-pale kids 'fae', while others dricked out at the idea. From what some of the other girls had said after trying to get Spider calmed down, if even the normal guys walked into walls when a girl's or a boy's around, she could be a She. Yay. All Abbie needed to do was find a normal guy around here to use for testing! It wasn't much clearer how any of that translated to the mythical thing called 'cold iron'. Just as well though: for a dagger, steel and bronze would be common choices, pewter for the cheap letter-openers, while silver, mithril, and gold would be reserved to those with money to throw at their problems. Thinking about what little she'd come to know about the quietest of the three boys complicating her life at the moment, she couldn't think of anything other than steel or black iron for Valravn.
The inlay materials selected for the hilt were strange. Or, rather, it was the combination that was strange, because the materials were fairly innocuous. Stranger still was a reference book written by Aleister Crowley, someone who she only knew about from an old Ozzy Osbourne song. Between the two, it looked like Abbie had hit pay dirt. A little research on the Ordo Templi Orientis and the repeated emphasis that those Victorian pervs placed on 'Magickal Will' suggested that she was dealing with hermetic magicians of a sort. Whatever those were. Maybe that was the term for 'magician most likely to blow up your chemistry lab with you in it while somehow causing an international incident'? It was Table L that finally started to give away clues: the 'powers' of noscere and tacere fit Thomas' personality to a tee. That gave her two "lines" being used for correspondences, '11' and '32bis', but magic always works in threes, right?
The self-contradictory mess gave Abbie enough of a headache to justify taking a library break to go find out what a damned valraven was supposed to be. Whatever it really was, it was not a valkyrie, that was for damned sure. More like the devil in the deal. Or, a crappy excuse for when a girl had to go 'visit relatives' for a few months only to come back thinner and alone. Digging back into the other book, she realized that while the obvious birthstone in the settings was for Capricorn, that wasn't the goat that they meant.
The next morning saw the young woman staring at cards she'd pulled from a deck of tarot. Where Valravn's project favored air and earth, and discipline and bondage, Metro's would favor fire and water, and rebirth and death. Divination, astral travel, and nature spirits versus illusions, scrying, and spirit-calling. Like hell those two boys were in Canada!
"By hook or by crook", huh? What have those two gotten themselves into?, she wondered.
Is it already too late for the rest of us to crawl out of that pit the two were digging?
Sunday afternoon, October 14, 2007,
Workshop, Whateley Academy
When all was said, done, and accounted for, Abelyn 'Smithy' Elliott was skating very close to the edge of her credit with the entire Workshop, not just Professor Choudhari. She'd readily admit that Mads' hefty pre-payment kept the monetary side of the bookkeeping balanced, but up to this point she'd had to hit the books hard to back up the sales pitches she needed to schedule the equipment and favors needed to make this project happen. The betting was running neck-and-neck between the whole deal amounted to "baffling them with horse manure" and it being a matter of "letting one's mouth write checks one's talent couldn't cover". "Going to happen" was down to 10-to-1 odds with the bookies.
As such, Smithy wasn't highly impressed when her clients – who'd had the ill manners to drop off the face of the earth for over a week already – pleaded problems with housing for a delayed start. She was also somewhat relieved, because it would be yet another week before the modified induction furnace would be wired in.
At least one of the schmucks was willing to meet for a planning session. Was willing.
"Ow! Gawd! Argh!"
The unlucky schmuck who'd walked up to Smithy's work bay was now staggering away from it, bent over and holding his face in pain.
"Nod aggen!" he wailed. Sniffing instead of whining would have been a bad idea at that moment.
Murmurs arose from the other work areas, as the few people who weren't hyperconcentrating on their work stopped to gawk.
"Jeez, what'd she do, deck him?"
"If we assume that that dark stuff's blood on his shirt, for certain values of the term 'blood', it sure looks like it."
As soon as the smith could put her work down safely, she went over to the stricken youth. By now he was sitting in the passageway, looking like someone had kicked his puppy or his face.
"Metro, what just happened?"
"Summon mus'ev wardid yer shopf."
"Yes. I was told I needed to have that done, you and Valravn were away, so I asked one of the teachers to do it."
"Dr. Al-Feyez. He said it was critical for the traditional work I was doing that no unaccounted-for effects be allowed to interfere." Abelyn paused to remember the wording, but it was of little use. "The rest of what he said sounded like English but I've no clue what it meant."
"Dazziz Hakhim awrighd."
"You mean it didn't work? How could that happen? I thought I was being very careful in following each step."
Metro placed a hand on the girl's arm to stop her. He held the other up, one finger up like he was ticking off the items of a list. Blood continued to run from his nose.
(1) "Divverent tradizhens. Fooz cirkels log me out."
He put up another finger then pointed the mimed pistol to himself.
Did the sawed-off bastard mean to claim what that sounded like?
"Underfolk? As in 'Under-the-Goddamned-Barrows-That-Aren't-Supposed-to-EVER-be-Bothered Folk'?"
Careful not to sniffle or otherwise disturb swollen tissue, Mads pulled his hands away to point to the distinctly non-human purple fluid darkening to a jet black. "Ah, Shkrew it." He dropped his usual illusory seeming, revealing small horns (antlers actually, but let's humor the boy's vanity), pointed canines, and very badly bruised pale skin, making him look even more dejected by the additional bluish cast of his blood. He let his shoulders slump.
Abelyn had seen similar looks on boys (and girls) back home after one too many cruel jokes or manufactured accidents. Kids who never could quite figure out why them, or if they could figure that part out, how to tell the world that they had feelings too. To be honest with herself, she felt the same way too sometimes.
Three fingers up in a bad imitation of a Boy Scout pledge. (3) "Affayez izza djerk."
She could have turned away, and she wouldn't have been the first, but she held out her hand to help him up instead.
"Come on. Let's get you patched up, and then we'll see about taking down some wards."
Besides, Dr. Al-Feyez had been a bit of a jerk, come to think of it.
Somewhat later, after the hazmat spill was cleaned up
"Let me get this straight. Wanting Valravn's athamé completed on a full moon makes sense. From what I've read and heard, nearly all magicians shoot for those times of the year. But that's put me in a bind, because I'm competing for help at the same time folks are working on other MA projects, not to mention everyone in the 'Shop is going nuts getting ready for Halloween."
Looking over at her suddenly clueless audience, Abbie added, "You do know what Halloween is, right?"
"Of course I do! All Hallow's Eve is when the boundaries between the planes are thinnest, which means I have to be extra careful to have Wyrd Mantis Essence and insecticide grenades on hand. Well, that, and the usual gear for hitting a club or two."
"Which would be?"
"For the last couple of holidays, an armored vest or jacket, groin protection, steel-toed boots, an updated map of gang territories, handgun, holdout, press pass if I'm covering a show, backup recording equipment, basic medkit, IDs, drones, et cetera. Like I said, usual stuff."
"That's... " The Headache's back. "Whatever. How about before that?"
Mads shrugged. "Most years I was at a boarding school and trick-or-treating doesn't earn you many merits at a military academy. Where I lived afterwards, ehm, paying protection and tolls wasn't something to get excited about. What about you?"
At least he'd given her a plausible version of his cover story without pegging her bullshit meter.
"My parents and I always watched 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown', nearly every year I can remember. Ma always tried to spring for the better store-bought candies for the neighbor kids. Wrapped y'know, cause people are extra worried about tampering, and Heaven forbid you should put out something with peanuts in it! I'm getting a little old to get dressed up in costume to go out." Abbie smiled, "Isn't that ironic with us being here?"
"Nope. Costumes and disguises are a serious business."
"Mads, that would be 'costumes and disguises are serious business'."
"That's what I said!"
How did the kid avoid hearing the 'serious business' meme for several years running?
"Anyway. I'd've thought Detroit was cold enough by October that bugs wouldn't be a problem."
Mads shrugged again. That must be another I can't go into details tell for him. "Not for me."
"That's good to know, I guess. In any case, word is that Halloween at Whateley is supposed to be a chance for everyone to 'strut their stuff'. Even more so for us Workshop folks, since we all already have a bad rep for being geeks. It's kind of important for the kids from Twain, Whitman, and Hawthorn to have one night when being different is okay."
"Pfft. It's always okay, except around stupid people."
"Is that why you go to so much trouble to hide your GSD?"
"Fine! I would prefer horns instead of antlers. Is that what you wanted to hear? It's not my fault that the velvet looks a little goofy while they're growing, and then when it dies off, it gets bloody and itchy. Still! I'll have you know that there are folks who'd pay good money for a fine pair of horns and extended canines."
"I don't think I've seen you even once without a high-collared long-sleeved shirt."
"And you won't. I've had nightmares about something getting caught in my gills. Totalmente no bueno for this changeling kid."
"You should try approaching Halloween as a fun time, not a time to worry about getting the shit kicked out of you."
"Abbie? That didn't scan at all. Remind me to take you to a good show some time."
"We'll see. Maybe." Never. "But before that, we've got these two projects to finish. I'm behind in getting set up for the first one, and trying for completing the second on the new moon means we'll be working back-to-back on those in addition to my assigned projects."
"Can't you get credit for this work? It's still materials processing and forming."
"You mean smelting and forging, and the answer is 'Maybe-ish'. So let's start with something simple: who told you I could forge damascened steel?"
"Rorsmand said he could see you being the best choice for the projects."
"This must have been before you asked me, since he damn sure ain't talking to you now. Can't imagine why."
"I'm hoping to get past that."
"Good luck. Now, exactly what did he say?"
"Er... he thought you were the best hope of not leaving a crater in the side of a hill?"
"And he said this without looking at the insane materials lists you two came up with?"
"I didn't want him worrying too much about those things."
"God give me strength! Stop. Stonewalling. Me. Let's go over this again, starting with why on earth you would want Thomas to have a theoretically cold-worked steel athamé? Shouldn't that be dangerous to you?"
"Ummmm... not really. One of the Tuatha dé Dannan was Brigid after all. Er, poetry, forge-fire, blacksmithing, et cetera? Broken old iron can be distracting as all get-out, when it's got that 'used to be a human artifact until it no longer was' thing going on. Then again, I was practically raised by an arms manufacturer, so that could just be a screw loose up here," as Mads knocked on the side of his head.
Abbie glared at the misplaced humor.
"Meaning it's more than that but you won't tell me."
"Can't tell what I don't know. But if you hum a few bars, I'm really good at faking it!"
"Fine. What about your project? That looks to be even more of a nightmare."
"Well, yeah. Thomas' should end up keyed very specifically to him and elementally to earth and air, which is going to be awesome, as an athamé is not only used for general magic but it's the tool tied to the element of air."
"I knew that part already."
"How? Half my class acts like they still haven't figured that out!"
"You're not the only one with an ancestral inheritance. So I read up on what you wonder-workers used to have made for this task or that."
The magician stared at the smith.
"That's ... um ... you have that ... in those books?" Mads pointed to Abbie's well-cared-for books.
Smithy nodded before looking over at them herself.
"Periodically, we have to recopy a manuscript that wears out, but some of the volumes haven't been touched in a long time. There's also this thing called a 'library', you should try reading something from it from time to time."
"I know what a library is!"
She turned back to her classmate, "Look. Some of what you want incorporated is going to be dangerous to work with. That means I have a need to know about what we're doing so we don't accidentally take shortcuts."
"It's never a good idea to take shortcuts on dedicated instruments or safety gear." The boy braced himself as if he were a military instructor, "If there is EVER a time when screw-ups like yew lot find it a matter of life or death as to whether you follow my instructions TO the fecking LETTER, make yerselves useful to the REST of yer mates and choose yer own fecking DEATH." The nasal intonation, curious accent, and self-satisfied smirk were dead give-aways to that having been a specific instructor and the lesson having been committed to memory. He'd look adorable in a shako hat, as long as he didn't open his mouth around people.
"Again, I won't be putting up with much more of this 'letting the people around you know only when you cannot duck out of the need to know' attitude when MY health and safety are on the line too! It's my shop, my rules rule."
Metro added, "Come to think of it, extra warding on your bookshelf wouldn't be a bad idea."
"Don't even think about locking me out of it, either."
"Once we have that taken care of, I want you AND Valravn AND Rorsmand here for safety briefings or it's all a no-go. Cleaning up one bloody nose was bad enough. Having to shut down in the middle of work to rush someone to the clinic for burns or other injuries thanks to preventable foolishness ain't happening. Got that?"
"You do know that I can hurt you, right?"
Tuesday evening, October 16, 2007,
Workshop, Whateley Academy
To his credit, Kristian 'Rorsmand' Holm was suitably impressed by the workshop even though he hardly recognized one thing in ten aside from the books in the glass-covered bookcase. Something about those seemed important enough that he found himself double-checking that the shelves were indeed locked up. There was also something comfortable about the way that Abbie just belonged there.
Of course, nothing good lasts. Kris was annoyed that his so-called friends (who'd just run off and left him behind for a trip to god-knows-where that now they wouldn't talk about) turned up while he was still there. He couldn't ditch them easily: there was only the one entrance to the work bay that wasn't alarmed.
"I must say that I have enjoyed the tour of your work space, but I must be going now."
"That's too bad, but you are still staying for the safety briefing. Sit. Here."
Now Kristian realized why there had been three chairs scattered through the space. For søren!
"Valravn. Front and center. Metro, you sit over there. The three of you boys have been thick as thieves up until recently, and I ain't having to deal with any more drama what with one of you dropping in once you've settled differences and then getting himself hurt because he didn't know a tong from a thong. You can do that on your own time and your own dime."
"What about Elve?"
"We went over the new gear yesterday, including the institutionalized paranoiac measures. Nice try but you'll have to do better going forward."
Rorsmand felt entirely justified in calling up Elve afterward to verify that she knew what the Insane Duo had asked her roommate to work with.
Once the distraught boy finally paused for breath – and surely there were better outlets for that kind of breath control? – Elve asked, "Are you referring to the chosen power supply in place of mains power?"
"Yes! There is no way that the current and voltages they are planning can be controlled!"
"Oh, I do think they can. In fact I plan to stop by while Abbie is working to see that in progress, as what I imagined would look at-home in a Frankenstein movie laboratory. What are those towers called?"
"Van de Graaff generators. I find myself less assured than I was before."
"Then, Kristian, I would advise that you stop by from time to time to ensure that everything proceeds as it should."
The next day Rorsmand began worrying if it were a contagious sort of madness, when Smithy proudly displayed the jacob's ladders that were being incorporated to the circuitry in lieu of a more standard spark gap.
First full-power burn, Friday evening, October 19, 2007,
Workshop, Whateley Academy
Once the equipment was checked out from load back to source with multimeter and with a temporary power supply jury-rigged from a bank of batteries, Smithy finally gave the go-ahead for Metro to summon a spirit he claimed was willing to work with him and Valravn. She was certain the boys were hiding something regarding that too, but she wasn't sharing out all her resources either.
The spirit looked as if it were the embodiment of summer lightning itself. Or, rather, herself. Abbie wasn't sure how she was getting a feminine vibe from the entity, but maybe that was normal? She'd have to hit the library again to find out. Such a hardship. However, once she and Valravn assured themselves they were ready and started to do whatever it was?
"Oh. My. God. That is beautiful."
That is, if "beautiful" was a sufficient word for the auroral ribbons coursing through the noble gas filled enclosure. Soon the ribbons arranged themselves into a diaphanous helix wrapping itself around the test crucible, and the scrap iron picked out for testing began to glow.
Thank you my dear, for being so kind. After my discussions with the Thunderbird's kin here, I've been keen to see for myself how this will work out.'
"If I might ask?"
Please do. If I can and may give you an answer, I shall do my best to do so.
"If you're providing the power, and working with me and Thomas here, why does Mads need to be here too?"
She smiled. Thomas? Oh! I know him as Song of the Thunderbird Amidst Rain, but the shorter name does fit the form he's chosen to use, doesn't it?
As to the reason? Part of the cost of my summoning is that the other provides me with the mana I need to fuel the abilities I will be using. Thomas will need his own in order to shape the currents together with me. You of course as the Smith will be busy enough directing us to the correct temperatures and coordinating the rest. It is my understanding that we will be doing this for multiple hours over multiple days; that allows all of us to rest or adjust schedules to circumstance. Does my explanation help?
"He couldn't just summon you once and have you stay at the task, assuming I could work straight through?"
Some could. Some do. Few succeed. Baby steps for now, I think. Perhaps next time we can incorporate more of what we are learning.
Why not, as long as it's interesting?
If one has never seen two air spirits working their talents at the top of their respective games, weaving coils of plasma through a blend of noble gasses as the working temperatures are manipulated: picture a lightning bolt dancing an elegant dance with a living aurora, to a music born from excited ions and light, timed to a faint steel metronome.
One night while watching Abelyn at work, in her element, Kristian Holm came to the beginnings of a conclusion that maybe it wasn't a trick of the lighting that made her as beautiful as she was.
For his own interests, Metro did his best to ensure that the smith was grounded in such a way that she wasn't in danger of electrocution nor in danger of frying from induced eddy currents. He'd already decided that he could probably dodge the thrown hammer when Abelyn found out how much the R&D spark suit he'd bought for her use at this stage in their work would normally cost. Spark was getting the most amazing data from her telemetry, so it was worth the money and the risk. At least, from what he could decipher from the Devisor dialect of rapid-fire French that Geneviève used to explain her research, the experience in quick-charging high-density electrical storage was proving useful. Also, if perhaps it ever turned out that a lightning-tossing jerk like Imperious wore himself out trying to fry Reach it was no skin off her or Metro's noses.
That wasn't the only research with which Metro indulged his interests, but 'Keeping the Contractor Alive and Well' as a subtask of 'Making Needed Gear' was a high priority among them. There were occasions when Smithy wasn't sure if the guy's off-the-wall questions were for his own education, suspiciously coincidental cues to take a break, or sneaky probes into her personal history timed for a moment of her weakness or his boredom.
If Metro noticed an odd taste to his coffee after a particularly out-of-bounds question or two, he never acted as if he minded. He just happened to locate the 'use as needed' Adderall prescription bottle in a file drawer that inexplicably happened to be locked.
Abelyn herself was pleased with how quickly the team of four progressed from milled ore to a workable billet, and from there to the actual forging. Between the fast, even heating and her new-found exemplar strength, the complicated process of folding, welding, carburizing, and reheating the metal progressed like a dream. In fact, she felt she was working the metal with more finesse than she'd done in the past. Too soon it was time to turn the ground and polished blade over to Valravn for his finish work.
Thursday evening, October 25, 2007,
near Whateley Academy
Thomas Jensen had turned to his fellow air-born spirits for help finding an isolated, non-tainted, and most importantly, isolated part of the Medawihla Reservation to perform the blade's consecration. The spell itself was simple enough to perform anywhere, but it was still a personal magic. At his request, Abbie promised that she wouldn't tell Mads or Kris until they didn't have a chance of catching up until he was finished.
It was well after curfew when he arrived at the moonlit clearing he'd chosen, one which had been struck so many times by lightning that trees, and all but a few herbs, refused to grow. He set out a plain brass bowl, put into it lumps of charcoal, and lit them for incense burning with a hot spark of essence. He began to chant... Abbie stirred in her sleep, imagined that she heard a deep and distant roll of thunder. The next morning she was the least surprised to hear about Mads dragging Thomas, kicking and complaining, to sick call.
End of Part One, If I Had A Hammer