As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted (Part 2)
A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
Sunday 9th October, 10am, outside Crystal Hall
I was sitting on one of the benches outside Crystal Hall, drinking coffee and chatting with Adam while we waited for Toison to join us. I'd been wanting to pick her brains about some stuff, and while out in the open, this was actually more private than talking about stuff after Magic Class - there were far too many pairs of inquisitive ears, some with evil intent, for my liking there.
"You know, I was quite impressed by the way your team handled the Cally stuff."
I took another sip of my drink and raised an interrogative eyebrow at Adam. "What, you expected us to toss her out just because she got shafted by her manifestation?"
"No, not really, but there are some that would have." He scowled down at the table. "Why does it matter so much what sex someone was, if it's now different?"
I managed not to cough at that. Adam's perception of such things as sex changing was a bit different from most peoples, which may have had something to do with the fact he could change sex - not to mention species - at will. "Well, most of us are sort of stuck with what we have, you know?"
"Yeah, but it's not as if she had a lot of choice, did she?" He scowled again. "Though it was a mess the way it was handled - if only she'd been honest about it when she came, it would likely have been a lot less of a problem."
I wasn't sure if I agreed with that or not. True, if Cally had been honest, she'd have ended up in Poe with both a support network and help in both concealing and adjusting to her problems. On the other hand, I could see why she'd tried to keep it a secret, although having an idiot little brother was never going to have helped with that.
"I think you have an over-optimistic view of how kids can be - particularly when they get hung up about sex." He grinned at that, which reminded me of some of the speculation I'd heard about exactly what he and Dawn got up to while, as it were, intimate. Most of which could best be described as pornographic, if not downright perverted. It had given me a bit of a shock just how open some of the girls could be about such things. And talk of the satyress...
Adam got up to give his girlfriend a quick kiss, then politely pulled out a chair for her. "I was just chatting with Morgana while I waited."
I smiled. "Actually, Dawn, before you two head off, could I ask you a few questions?"
She gave me a slightly puzzled look. "Sure, what about?"
"Well, you're a healer as well as a mage. I've been thinking about learning some healing spells, no-one in our team has any and it would be a useful thing to have."
"Hmm. It's not quite as simple as just learning a healing spell, right? There's a lot more to it if you want to do it properly."
I nodded. "Yeah, I took a look at some of the books, but I figured asking someone who can actually do it would be a help. It doesn't look like its being covered in magic class this term, and I wasn't sure how to go about it. Healing people doesn't strike me as something to experiment with on my own."
She tapped her finger on the table as she thought. "Well, to be honest I'm not really the person you should be asking. Dr. Tennant is teaching us healing stuff, you'd do better to see her and ask her. A lot will depend on if you have any natural ability that will help you. It makes it a lot easier at the start if you do."
"Yeah, I can see that. Thanks, Dawn, I'll see about getting to see her." I finished my coffee and stood up. "Now you two get along and have a good Sunday."
Adam just grinned at that, although Dawn did blush slightly, making me wonder just what they had planned for today. No, not going there, what they got up to in private was their own business, there were enough nosy kids here without me adding to them.
Sunday 9th October, 11pm, Poe Cottage, Morgana and Bianca's room
"If you wanted to meet Thulia - or at least say hello to her - we could do it this evening, Bianca?"
My roomie looked at me, seemingly not sure if she should be interested or worried. "Uh... I don't want to seem too paranoid, but is it safe?"
I grinned. I don't think Bianca really got the concept of 'too paranoid', although considering her activities before arriving at Whateley - and some after she got here - she had good reason to take precautions. "Truly, it should be safe. I asked Thulia about it last night. While you do need to be inside the protective circle I set up, she said you can put a protective amulet or whatever on you, then you can still see and hear her, but you'll be safe from anything else."
She chewed on her lip a little. "But you only have her word for that?"
I shook my head. "Not this time. I trust her, Bianca, but I can't really ask you to do that without any evidence. So I looked up what she suggested as a ward for you, and the circle, and so on, and I can't see any way of her doing anything to you. Especially as the bowl link is so low-powered, trying to do anything more than communicate would just break the link. It's designed not to be noticeable, so it's very limited on how much power you can push through it. If you're worried she might do something through me, she said I could wear one as well - it wouldn't affect us talking."
She thought about that a bit more, then nodded. "Ok, I would like to see her. As long as you give me a copy of that protection rune so I can check it out first. Although I think I'd be happier if you wore one too, just in case. " Her face broke into a rather naughty smile. "Especially as she seems to have you so enamoured of her."
I gave her a considering look. "Is that your way of telling me I talk in my sleep or something?"
She didn't answer, just gave me her best 'Miss Innocent' expression. OK, I was sure I didn't talk in my sleep. Well, fairly sure. At least not about anything too embarrassing. I hoped.
I'd arranged to call Thulia a bit earlier tonight, so Bianca could meet her. I hoped that Bianca would realise she wasn't some sort of soul-devouring threat, which would ease her mind a lot. Even though I'd promised not to forget a protective circle, her worry that Thulia might take me over and get at her wasn't an unreasonable one from her point of view. I trusted Thulia - after all, with our history, not to mention the fact she knew my true name and had blood and other samples meant the only way I could avoid her was to stay inside powerful wards for the rest of my life - but that didn't mean that Bianca had a reason to offer her that same trust. As long as it wouldn't affect our communicating, I was happy to accede to her wishes, and fortunately Thulia was OK with that. I think she was also rather curious to meet my roommate.
I made sure we were both wearing protective amulets as Bianca joined me inside the circle. I had to avoid my dragonform - if I changed, the energy would burn up my amulet - but that wouldn't be an issue, I wouldn't need to be in it for anything. Bianca watched with interest as I made the preparations. I'd explained to her earlier what I did, just so she wouldn't be startled by anything, and as I finally dripped my blood into the water-filled bowl, edged forward curiously.
"Just look into the bowl, Bianca, while I contact her. You should be able to see her too."
She nodded, peering into the bowl as I pushed a little essence into it, waiting for Thulia to appear. It only took a minute - we'd agreed a time, and she was always quick to arrive.
She smiled at me. "I'm here."Then she sorta looked past me - not exactly, the perspective of us in the bowl was a bit weird. "This is your friend?"
Bianca made a small sound of surprise. "Wow, I can see and hear you!" Thulia just smiled at that. "It's nice to meet you, Bianca. Morgana has told me about you."
Bianca looked a bit nervous at that, and I smiled. "Don't worry, nothing too bad - and nothing that would allow any sort of hold on you, OK?"
My roomie blushed, she'd obviously been thinking about that, so decided to keep quiet a bit while Thulia and I chatted. Not about anything in particular, just some of the things that had been going on. Bianca stayed fairly quiet, only speaking occasionally.
So everything was going fine, Bianca seemed, if not comfortable, at least less worried about talking with Thulia, when we heard a knock on the door. We turned to look at each other, startled. It was really late, who would visit at this time. And especially when we were, well, occupied. Then we heard the doorlock click as the door opened to show Mrs. Horton. Well, crap.
She looked at the pair of us, sitting in front of a spell-inscribed bowl, and looking both startled and guilty, and sighed audibly. "I'd ask what you think you're doing, but I suspect I could make a good guess."
I opened my mouth to speak, but instead shut it again without saying anything. It seemed the best thing to do, I was obviously in a hole and digging it deeper wasn't going to help.
She gave us both a long look and shook her head. "Close it down, please, then we need to have a talk."
Damn. Well, I did as she'd ordered, bidding Thulia a quick goodbye, and shut the spell down. For her part Mrs. Horton just shut the door and watched, not saying anything else until I'd dispelled the protective circle around us. Then she moved closer, taking a good look at the bowl itself and the inscribed cloth it was sitting on, her lips pursed thoughtfully. "I think you'd better tell me what the pair of you have been up to."
"It's not the pair of us, ma'am, it's just me. Bianca was just looking in, she'd nothing to do with this really."
She gave me a long, measuring look, then a more brief one at Bianca. "I see. Well then, sit down and tell me, everything, Morgana.
Well, half an hour later I'd gone through everything I'd been doing regarding Thulia, in considerable detail. Mrs. Horton had surprised me - I knew she was a mage after that spell she'd cast on everyone when we arrived at the cottage, but her sharp and incisive questions showed that she was a mage of considerable experience and skill. I hadn't tried lying to her. There didn't seem much point as we'd been caught red-handed, as it were, and being found out in a lie would make things worse. Finally the gentle, if thorough, inquisition ended.
"Well now. Morgana, what you've been doing is rather foolish, but I must say you do seem to have taken all sensible precautions. My main worry is the possibility of you contacting a different entity by mistake, but as you are using your blood connection the chances of that seem negligible." She paused to think. "I suppose I should confiscate your equipment and order you not to do this again, but you're a smart girl, I suspect you'd only find a different method. And the bowl itself is, as you said, only using a trickle of power. I think it may be safer to let you use this. "
I brightened up a lot. I'd been fearing she'd confiscate it and forbid me from trying to contact Thulia, and I really didn't want that.
"However." She smiled a little as we both jerked slightly. "Oh stop it, I'm not going to punish you. But I do insist on some restrictions. Will you agree to abide by them? "
"Er... what conditions, ma'am?"
"First, that you don't try and contact your, mm, friend without using the bowl. Second, that you keep using a personal protective charm. The ones you are wearing will stop you being controlled, and in any case I don't think that would be easy with the minimal power the bowl uses anyway. And third, you have classes and I don't want you staying up late every night talking. I want you to limit your talks to three days a week, a maximum of one hour." She gave Bianca a smile. "And that will mean less chance of you disturbing your roommate as well."
I really only gave it a moments thought. It was far more generous than I'd expected, and I agreed straight away. Bianca seemed quite relieved as well, while I'd explained she'd had nothing to do with the whole setup, guilt by association was obviously on her mind.
"You're wondering why I'm not punishing you, aren't you?"
I blushed deeply at our housemothers words. "Well... yes ma'am, I mean I'm probably breaking some rules."
"You are, but I don't think you had bad intentions. It's not like you were trying to let a demon into the school to take over people. But I do want you to promise not to try anything else without first talking to me, is that understood?"
I nodded vigorously. "Oh yes ma'am! And thank you."
"Now, it's very late, so get some sleep the pair of you."
I stood up to pack the bowl and cloth away, as she bid us goodnight. The oddest thing was her muttered comment as she left, something like 'at least they weren't keeping a demoness in the basement'. I mean, who'd do something as crazy as that? Even at Whateley!
Bianca was already getting into bed. "You know we dodged a bullet there, don't you?"
I shut the cupboard and looked at her. "Yeah, I'm surprised she was so understanding about the whole thing. I wonder why?"
"Dunno. Ask me in the morning when I've had some sleep."
As I slipped into my own bed, I did wonder just why Mrs. Horton had been so, well, understanding. Maybe this was a small thing by the standards of what kids got up to at Whateley? With that rather worrying thought still rattling around in my head, I rolled over and went to sleep.
Monday 10th October, morning, Elyzia Grimes' Office
Caitlin lounged on one of the chairs in the crowded office, looking as usual as someone who'd just strayed in to hang out for a beer rather than as a normal member of staff. Grimes ignored it, she'd got used to it a long time ago and she knew Caitlin wasn't going to change.
"So, how did your examination of our problem student go?"
Caitlin looked thoughtful for a minute - despite her deliberately casual attitude, in no small part just to annoy Elyzia, she took her obligations to students seriously.
"You've read the notes I sent?"
Elyzia nodded. "Of course. But I'd like your own words on it, to help sort out the situation."
"Yeah. Well, so far what I found agrees with the other reports - there is something the matter with the way she interacts with her fire energy and her own essence. Whether it's getting worse and how fast, I don't know - I don't have a baseline to work from." She held up a hand to forestall the question she could see Grimes was about to ask. "And I'm sorry, but I didn't recognise it. The Artificer can't help you with that, I'm afraid. But I did get the gut feeling it was something serious, but that was just my impressions on the way it messed her up."
Grimes sighed. "I must be honest, I had hoped you'd have been able to tell me more, but this whole thing is just tangled mess right now."
"So what's the next step?"
Grimes tapped her pen on her pad as she thought. "We've pretty much covered all the standard magic tests, and your unique way of seeing essence. I want to get Ophelia to do some more medical tests, looking for any possibility of body/magic interactions, and I'm going to ask fey to see if Sidhe magic can tell us anything more."
"Um. Just an idea, but I think Kayda is here later in the week to sort out some stuff. It might be a good idea to have her do a quick check for any Class X stuff, just in case."
Grimes looked concerned. "You don't think...?"
"Not really, I didn't spot anything like that, but given the nature of this particular beast, we should rule it out if possible."
"You're right. I'll make the arrangements, let's see if we can pin this down somewhere. Or at least eliminate what it isn't."
Monday 10th October, before lunch, Mazarin's Office
Mrs Horton threaded her way to the office of the Headmaster. This was made difficult by the number of students waiting outside... as much of Melville cottage as could be stuffed into the secretary's office and surrounding halls was present. A few students from other cottages were also present.
All speech stopped as Mrs. Horton swept by, only to resume in more hushed tones as she passed.
The secretary herself stood up and escorted her as soon as she entered. “You can go right in, Mrs. Horton; they are waiting for you.”
Mr. Mazarin's office resembled something closer to a hostile camp than a familiar setting. Tiff lock and Hikaru Myoujin were present standing side by side with Tia Del Bosque in an unmistakable show. The freshman RA was all but glaring, in fact. A few steps away from the three was the Melville housemother, Miss Bellamy, just far enough away to appear impartial and face neutral. Only her body language gave her away, and Mrs. Horton was willing to bet all her faculty poker night chips that the tells were intentional.
“Welcome, Mrs. Horton.” Mr. Mazarin greeted her with a smile.
“Good morning, Mr. Mazarin, Miss Bellamy, Miss Del Bosque, Miss Myoujin and Miss Lock. What brings all of you here for this meeting?”
Miss Lock moved forward. “Miss Myoujin and I were delivering a petition to the headmaster; I believe Concierge is part of your meeting.”
“I thought it best they stay.” Mr. Mazarin slid in.
A rat was smelled. “A petition regarding what, exactly?”
Miss Myoujin moved up to stand beside Miss lock, and in front of Miss Del Bosque. “A petition to keep Melville students in Melville cottage, and to refuse all further efforts by any other cottage to take a student assigned to Melville unless the student is willing to leave.”
Mrs. Horton closed her mouth with a clack. Then opened it, and closed it again. Finally she settled on “And that's what you think is happening here?”
Miss Myoujin nodded. “It already has happened. We are here to prevent it from happening again.”
“But Poe is the cottage set up specifically to deal with certain mental difficulties our students face. Poe has the best support network of both faculty and students alike.”
Mrs. Horton looked past the young RA's, to the girl in question. “I've dealt with problems like yours for decades, and all of my students have for years. Several of the students in my cottage are your friends already, and the rest are very understanding. Don't you want that?”
For a moment the girl looked torn; then her face cleared and her ears came up. “Yes, of course I do. And I won't turn down any help you're willing to give me; but I don't need to be in Poe for it. The people in Melville... they've been nice. At least, most of them.”
Miss Del Bosque took a breath, straightened up even more, and continued. “And those problems you mentioned earlier? They are well known by the student body at this point. My insanity is already known and public; any problems that come about as a result of that are ones I don't want to leave to others, and any students who come to me because of those problems, students who may not have spoken up before, well, I can do a lot of good for them, right where I'm at. I thought you deserved to hear it from me, in person: Headmaster, Mrs. Horton, I'd like to stay in Melville.”
Mrs. Horton couldn't help but ask. “Are you sure, Tia?”
She didn't even hesitate. “I'm sure Mrs. Horton. Thank you, but no thanks. I'd rather stay.”
“And on that note, I'd like to deliver my verdict; whatever the reason, and I will get some answers on how this mistake happened, it seems to have turned out to be a happy coincidence for all involved. Therefore I accept this petition, and the premise of it. Miss Del Bosque stays right where she is.”
Tiff Lock cheered, and Hikaru nodded; but Mrs. Horton kept her eyes on Tia, and caught her genuine smile.
“Alright girls, you may go. Unless you have another concern for me?”
All three students shook their heads; only Tiff Lock spoke. “No sir, that was all, at least for now.”
Mr. Mazarin turned back to Mrs. Horton. “Could you stay a bit?”
“Of course,” Mrs. Horton replied.
Tiff Lock opened the door and all but yelled: “We won!”
There were cheers, that were fortunately muted as the door shut behind them.
Mrs. Horton immediately turned back to Mr. Mazarin. “You knew this would happen.”
“I suspected,” was his prompt reply. “I had taken the liberty of checking into the situation and individuals involved a bit, and I must say that if charisma were a superpower young Tia would be another Champion. She has a way about her that draws a person in.”
Mr. Mazarin's face hardened. “That has some drawbacks however, as she draws focus best left alone. Focus from, among others, campus groups that have a sizable presence in Poe cottage. That factor combined with one of the most important factors to consider makes my choice rather clear, even if young Tia was not as well accepted in her cottage.”
Mrs. Horton raised an eyebrow. “And that concern is...?”
“Money, of course,” Mr. Mazarin answered. “Do you really think I don't know how this happened by now? The school, and people within the school, were paid well in order to see Miss Del Bosque in Melville. Money graciously given by her own sponsors, much of it without her knowledge. They expressed a desire to see her groomed as a leader and face in the public eye – and I can agree with the sentiment, considering she's already there.”
“Who?” Mrs. Horton fumed.
“Who took the money to change the paperwork?” Mr. Mazarin qualified. Mrs. Horton nodded.
Mr. Mazarin smiled, showing impeccable teeth. “I'm afraid that person is no longer with us... or indeed, with any academic institution, for the rest of their lives.”
Mrs. Horton matched Mr. Mazarin's smile. “Good.”
“Now, if there was anything else, Mrs. Horton.”
“No, Mr. Mazarin, I've taken enough of your Monday. Have a pleasant afternoon.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Horton, and you as well.”
Monday 10th October, late evening, Morgana and Bianca's room.
I looked up from my homework as Bianca finally wandered in. 9pm was late for her, especially as she didn't usually go out in the evening.
"Been busy? Library?"
She shook her head as she slipped her bag off and placed it carefully at the foot of her bed. Me, I just tended to toss mine down, but Bianca tried to do everything precisely.
"No, I was setting up stuff in my new lab."
I watched as she stretched the kinks out of her back. "How's it going?"
"Oh, pretty well, I'm putting up some shelves and so on to hold stuff, it was basically empty." She looked at me thoughtfully for a moment. "I should tell you where it is."
I met her gaze. "Ah. Just in case...?"
She nodded, finishing the sentence. "In case something happens, yes, I think someone should know where it is. And I trust you."
I did blush a little at that. While we had grown to trust each other a lot as we'd been rooming, it wasn't something either of us had put into words until now.
"Thanks. I'll keep it a secret unless, well, something happens."
"So, just storage space? Isn't that a bit, well, bare?"
She looked up from her pad. "Well, I think I'll get a decent chair, it would be nice to read or relax in private. Er, not that I mind you, but."
"But sometimes it's nice just to be alone, Yeah, I understand."
She looked thoughtful. "I should get another safe too, to keep the important stuff in, just in case."
"Tell you what, get the safe and I'll carry it down for you - a decent one will be pretty heavy - and you can show me where it is at the same time?"
"Oh, that's a good idea. I was rather wondering how I could get something like that down without anyone noticing, wheeling a trolley around is a bit obvious."
"Hey, no problem. Although you could carry it yourself if you worked out more."
That got me a pillow in the face. OK, I probably deserved that.
Tuesday 11th October, 8am, Doyle Medical Centre.
I walked into Doyle and smiled rather nervously at the receptionist.
"I'm here for a check-up? Morgana Jones."
She looked at her monitor and nodded. "So you are." She pointed at one of the doors. "Go through, put your clothes and stuff in the closet and put on the medical gown, then take the far door."
Oh yay, another hour of freezing my ass off in their skimpy paper gowns. Unbounded joy was mine. Not to mention I'd been told not to eat before my examination, and I probably wouldn't get a chance to get something before lunch. I tried not to sigh too obviously in front of her before I went and did as instructed. The other door in the changing room led into one of the examination rooms, where Dr Tennant was waiting for me.
"Hello again Morgana." She smiled at my less than enthusiastic look and reply. "Don't worry, nothing invasive today apart from a blood sample." She handed me a vial and a cup, then pointed to the toilet. "Let's do this first, OK?"
I nodded and did as I'd been told. This was one of the times being a girl was a pain, it had been so much easier when I could fill the vial standing up. When I'd done, the doc put it in a tray and made me sit while she prodded and poked my arm before taking what I felt was an unreasonably large blood sample. None of those small disposable vials for the Whateley medics, it seemed - size was obviously everything.
"Good, that's all done. Now I need to take some scans, so lie down on the table and relax. It's going to take about 10 minutes."
I wriggled reluctantly onto the table - the main issue I had with these scans was the table was cold, and with the way these silly gowns rode up my ass didn't appreciate that, and closed my eyes and tried to relax. It was a silly request really, how could anyone relax when a humming and bleeping ring slid around you? It took longer than the one I'd had last time, though. For some reason it slowly redid the scans over my head and then again over my lower abdomen.
I thought Dr Tennant had finished once she'd done the scans, but after making me wait for a couple of minutes, she instructed me to lie down on a couch. I looked up at her with suspicion.
"This isn't going to be another one of those pelvic examinations, is it?"
She smiled reassuringly. "No, Morgana, nothing like that. I want to supplement the normal scans with a few additional magic ones, given the unusual nature of your physiology."
I nodded and laid back as she started to examine me, She didn't use any circles this time, instead used a couple of pendulums and some sort of mirror - that I couldn't see without any attempt being so obvious it wasn't worth trying - as she made notes. The odd bit wasn't really the way she was moving the pendulums over me, it was the way she was holding her pen and the mirror with her hair. Like the scans, she was concentrating mainly on my head and abdomen again.
"Ok, all done."
I slipped sideways and onto my feet, trying to stop that damned hospital gown from riding up again. "Doc, can I ask a question?"
Dr Tennant looked at me as she put her equipment away. "Sure."
"Well, why have the scans been concentrating on my head and abdomen? Have you spotted something wrong there?"
"Oh no, Morgana. Just that with what's been going on with you, those areas are of the most interest, so we gave them some additional coverage, that's all."
"Uh, OK, Doc, thanks. Is that everything?"
The doctor took her pad (in hand, this time) and gave me a calculating look. "Not quite, I have a few questions for you. They are rather personal, but important, so please reply honestly. Don't worry, the answers are confidential medical information, so they won't get out."
Well, that was reassuring, given that security at Whateley seemed about as bulletproof as wet kleenex, but she seemed serious about it. "Ok, doc, shoot."
"Now, first of all, are you a virgin?"
I just stared at her, mouth half open. "Uh...wha?"
She kept her face professionally straight, thankfully. "I mean, have you had sex with a man? Or a woman?"
I must have been blushing a bright crimson, I could actually feel the warmth of my cheeks. "N...no! I mean, not with either!"
Her questions went downhill from there. I mean, she was my doctor and all, but the sort of questions she asked, and their explicit bluntness, shocked me. Was this the sort of things girls had to talk to their doctor about? Finally, thankfully, she seemed satisfied.
" Can I go now, or do you need to do anything else?"
She shook her head. "No, we're all done with you, you can run along and dress. If we need to do any more tests, we'll text you an appointment."
Ophelia Tennant shut the door to her office before sitting down behind her desk. Her visitor was already seated and waiting.
"Well, Elyzia, I did a full set of tests on DragonsFyre as you suggested. Both medical and some additional magic ones."
"Anything that would explain what we've been looking for?"
Ophelia thought for a moment. "This is all classed as medical confidential, remember." Her companion nodded and made a 'go on' gesture.
"Well. Medically, she seems normal - well, assuming her earlier results were normal for her, of course. There were some differences in her bloodwork, and some of the results were at the edge of the normal range I'd expect. Basically I'd say they indicated stress, but that is hardly unheard of for students. It might mean nothing. However I spent some time exploring a few possibilities, with some interesting results."
Elyzia raised an eyebrow. "Interesting in a dangerous way, or just interesting?"
"Oh, just interesting. I think. I couldn't spot anything at all in the brain scans that would indicate any anomalous behaviour. I did spot some magical oddities, that seem to correspond to her horns, which were fascinating. It seems her horns have a definite tie in to her power in some way, they aren't just ornamental. Remember when we did her power testing, there was a difference in the essence flows in her different forms? At the time I thought it was just the form shift, but it looks like there's more to it than that."
Elyzia looked thoughtful. "Anything we need to worry about?"
"Hmmm. I don't think so, not yet anyway. It's intriguing, but we have more pressing problems. Now as to the second matter we discussed. She's not pregnant. A pity, in a way, it would explain the sort of issues she having much more easily. In fact, it's been almost 4 months since her change, and she still hasn't had a period. Well, judging by the detail scans, it doesn't look like she's going to start having them any time soon."
Her friend looked puzzled. "I thought she'd completed her change, is she still transitioning then?"
"No, she's finished. I checked for that, again, still transitioning might have been responsible for her problems. The oddities seem to be normal - for her. Her hormone levels are odd - we noticed that on her initial tests, but we are used to those, especially for recently changed students, and just made a note to check on them later. It isn't like I've seen in a number of cases, where they seem to be mimicking a contraceptive pill naturally, hers is more complex." She paused for a moment to look through her notes. "It's not completely unknown, there are similar results in the databases, but it's rare. She's a viable, post-pubescent female, everywhere except in her reproductive system. There, it's as if her system is stable in a non-menstrual state. I'm not sure what exactly is causing it, but for her it seems a normal condition."
Elyzia took a minute to scan the notes. "So she doesn't menstruate, and presumably doesn't get PMS either? Lucky girl."
Ophelia gave a wry smile. "Well, it certainly makes her life easier. But we'll have to keep an eye on her - at the moment, she can't get pregnant, but if things change she could get caught out in assuming she can't. But there are other oddities as well." She passed a set of images to Elyzia, who frowned as she tried to work out what she was supposed to be looking at.
"OK, am I missing something?"
Ophelia smiled. "Well, in a way. As you know, the main reason I did the extra abdominal scans was to make sure she wasn't pregnant. The sort of issues she's been displaying have been seen in pregnant mages, as the pregnancy interferes with their well. She was adamant she wasn't, and she did point out that the cult that was holding her had been quite insistent that she was to remain a virgin."
She pointed at a particular image. "As you can see, she doesn't have a hymen. But... as far as I can tell from the detail scans, she's never had a hymen. Now again, this isn't completely unheard of, even in normal human subjects, but the condition is rare, and she doesn't even have the vestigial structures."
Elyzia gave her friend a close look. "OK, I have two questions. First, do you have a theory about all this, and second does it have any connection with the problems she's been having?"
Ophelia sniffed. "Of course I have a theory." She rummaged through the girls thick file, before smiling in success and pointing out a particular page to her friend. "Here. She mentions that she was told that Thulia, the entity who seems responsible for her CTA, designed her material body. Now please don't ask me how, I have no idea, but... if I was designing my body, there are a number of inconvenient things I'd change, and I could certainly see this being one of them."
Elyzia read the page again, before looking thoughtful. "Was she being told the truth? We have no evidence to back it up, except this, and it's a very circular argument."
"I really don't know, Elyzia. It would explain why, if not what, but at the moment I can't see any way of testing the theory, unless you can arrange a medical consultation with this Thulia. All we can really do is keep testing her over time and see if anything changes."
"And the second problem?"
"I'm afraid I simply have no idea. Whatever is going on, it doesn't seem to have a physical connection. Magically... well, she'd a pretty unique case, and yes, I agree with Caitlin, there is something there that doesn't look right, but whatever it is it's so tightly bound I have no idea what's causing it. I was actually hoping she was pregnant; it would have been a much simpler explanation. The only thing I can think of is a better scan, maybe that would show us what's going on. Do you think we can get Fey to do one for us? Maybe Sidhe magic will show something I missed."
Elyzia nodded. "I've already asked her, and Caitlin suggested we get Kayda to check for Class X, just in case. I'll get on to London to get the initial scans they did on her, maybe we can spot a difference with a longer timebase to work with."
"Well, we need to do something, judging by her experiences this thing is getting worse."
Elyzia looked at the fat file and looked unhappy. "There's one other thing we need to check. I'll see if Kayda is free this week, I think we make need to eliminate the possibility it's a ClassX effect, just in case." She held up a hand at the expression on Ophelia's face. "No, actually I don't think it's that, but I want to make sure. There are too many unknowns in this case for me to be happy about it."
Tuesday 11th October, 0200 (local time), somewhere over Turkmenistan
Two helicopters flew steadily over the barren terrain, the darkness only broken by the occasional faint light of human habitation. They were currently flying east, parallel to a mountainous ridge to the south of them as they closed on their destination. While on the outside they looked like a pair of old Soviet helicopters - an old Mi-24 Hind attack craft leading a nearly as old Mi-17 Hip - that was just what they had started out life as. By the time they had been updated, modified and basically rebuilt, the only resemblance was external. Which was as the operators wanted - these helicopters were a common site in many parts of the world, and certainly in these parts. One less thing to worry anyone who might catch a glimpse of them. Not terribly likely, given the sparse population in the area, but with a 2/3 moon casting a pale light over the semi-desert beneath, it was an added precaution. The mercenary team who were flying the machines were great believers in taking precautions, it let them become old, rich mercenaries.
"Are we there yet?"
Bobby Cholrane cast a jaundiced eye at his rather oversized comrade. "No, we bloody aren't, Jimmy."
Jimmy looked out of the window, as if there was actually something interesting to see rather than more emptiness. "Turkmenistan? Looks more like bloody ArseEndOfNowhereStan to me."
"And did anyone ask you two comedians what it should be called?"
The two men looked up at the unamused figure of Sergeant Kolchin. The ex-Spetsnaz non-com wore his usual poker face, as he continued. "Time to stop chatting and make sure all your gear is OK, we should be entering the target zone in 10 minutes."
The two men nodded, as they ran over their personal gear and weapons. It wasn't so much the order of their Sergeant as the fact their own lives were at stake if they'd missed something, and that meant a lot more to them than just attracting the ire of Sgt. Kolchin, dangerous as that could be.
As they started to curve south around the mountains, the helicopters activated their stealth systems. For the leading attack craft, this meant it becoming much more difficult to see, as the smart paint did its best to mimic an empty space in the air, and its electronic systems did the same. While the only emissions they'd monitored on the way in were low power and a long way away, they expected to be monitored as they closed the target base. Even the noise of the craft was reduced drastically, just in case. Meanwhile the troop carrier did it's best to look like an official government craft. The documents supplied by their patron had also given details of the government contacts the people operating the 'officially non-existent' base had, and the intention was to look like a visit by their sponsors. While it was an unlikely time of the night for an official visit, every delay caused by misdirection like this was worthwhile.
The troop carrier took the lead, allowing the attack craft to hide behind its ostentatious approach. As it did, the crew made sure their scanning systems were warmed up and ready. When the carrier landed, they would remain above, hopefully undetected, and provide real-time intel and overwatch cover for the ground force.
Major Smith examined the small complex of buildings through the surveillance scope. It was a miserable looking huddle of what could (if put kindly) be called buildings. It was equally unimpressive in the infra-red and microwave spectra, the only unusual feature being a satellite uplink antenna. Even that wasn't unheard of out here, being nestled in a valley in the shadow of the mountains as it was, it was the only logical method of communicating easily with the outside world. He smiled to himself - one point of failure was always convenient for his attack team, and the briefing had been explicit. No witnesses, no survivors, and no report of what had happened here; at least until the extraction team was safely hidden in another country.
Satisfied there were no signs of any action from the base, he slipped on his helmet and activated the head up displays and comms, before turning to his tech team.
"Let's see what we have to work with."
A few second later his display lit up with images of the base - the buildings semi-transparent, red dots indicating where the sensors had placed people. There were also some fuzzier dots in the basement level, but all but a few were in the ground level buildings. In fact, the bulk of them were in a few rooms in one building, at this time of night most likely men asleep. Which was, of course, why they'd chosen this time of night to pay them a visit.
The troop carrier landed with a thump that barely disturbed the veterans inside. They wasted no time in disembarking, the first team heading towards the nearest building at a trot. According to the covering craft's sensors, this was the entrance to the base, and also conveniently housed the security. The only signs of life were a couple of floodlights illuminating the ground in front of the building, and the first of their men were already being lit up by them before the door opened. The sniper waiting near the helicopter sniffed in derision as a man appeared, helpfully silhouetted in the light of the room. A careful squeeze on the trigger and the round from the silenced rifle hit him in the heart, making him collapse just outside the doorway. The sound of a second man obviously asking him what the hell was going on lasted just long enough for the lead team to jump over the prone body and kill the second of the security squad.
"All clear. Now get in and take out the rest of them on this level."
They didn't worry about being heard, the encrypted comms system they were using wasn't going to be cracked by these fools, and the only people who might have noticed the radio traffic were currently leaking blood all over the floor of the security room. The men split into teams with the efficiency of long practice, the two largest squads heading for the two barracks rooms, while the rest started to spread out through the compound, aiming for the targets that overwatch was displaying on their HUD's.
Bobby eyed the closed door in front of him. While he couldn't see through it, the data feed from the helicopter was marking two hostiles on his head-up display. According to the legend, this was a kitchen area, so he was betting on a couple of men having a drink or eating, neither operation likely to have them at a peak of attention. He considered a standard grenade for a second, then decided on a stunner, it would give him easy shots at a couple of men.
"I have this Jimmy."
Switching the dial on the launcher under his weapon, he gave a final check no other hostiles were close, then kicked the door in. It only took a split second for him to see two men, sitting drinking at a table, before he launched two flash-bangs next to them. Both men had only turned to look at him in surprise as they went off, causing them both to scream as they were stunned by the explosion of light and noise, lacking the protection Bobby's combat gear gave him. Two shots from his heavy weapon had both on the floor, not moving and spraying blood everywhere. Bobby was a professional, and took a couple of steps into the room, a head shot making sure both men were dead. He looked at his display again, then keyed his comms.
"Two in room B-12, both dead."
"Copy that. Move to D-4, meet up there."
Bobby gave another quick check. No more live enemies between him and his destination, so he walked quickly through the base, only disturbed by a distant explosion as someone else decided to use his grenades. By the time he reached D-4, which he noted was the door down to a basement area where their intel had surmised the two captives they were after were being held, there were no more active hostiles on his display. Waiting for them was Sgt. Kolchin. Looked like everything was going smoothly then, which was always to be appreciated. It wasn't as if the people here had been more than jumped-up terrorists, but even they could get lucky sometimes.
"Four heat signatures down there. Two of them could be our targets, so be careful not to toss anything deadly around in there."
"OK sarge. Flash-bangs?"
The sergeant nodded. "The plan shows stairs then a large room at the bottom. So don't use your weapon, we'll get down fast and then throw them, I don't want them bouncing around in there. Change your grenade load to stunners, we can always sort them out later."
A minute later they were ready. Kolchin gestured with his weapon and Jimmy's size 14 boot smashed the door open, nearly taking it off its hinges, as the sergeant rushed down the steps behind it. Bobby was right behind him, getting ready to toss his grenades as soon as he saw some targets, banking on the sudden appearance of a man in high-tech body armour enough to stop anyone reacting usefully before he could act. Mind, judging by the competence of the hostiles he'd seen so far, they could have waltzed in with an elephant and a marching band and they'd still be staring at them rather than doing a anything useful. He saw one swarthy man start to turn before the first of the tossed grenades went off, making him scream in shock, and then Bobby shot him, the stunner projectile stabbing the man in the chest as it unloaded its tazer load into him. He collapsed to the floor, twitching violently. Bobby looked around for more targets, but a second body writing on the floor showed there was no need.
The other two men in the room were strapped to steel chairs. Making it rather likely that they were the captives they'd been sent here to acquire. Both of them were staring at the team, and obviously trying to get over the overload to their eyes and ears caused by the concussion grenades. Kolchin had grabbed the more active of the men on the floor, yanking him up by the hair as he showed him the combat knife a few inches from his eyes, shouting something at him in the local language. Bobby shoved the other man face down, slipping cuffs on him, just in case he recovered and tried anything stupid, before turning to watch the sergeants interrogation with some interest. The man he was yelling at went cross-eyed trying to focus on the blade of the knife inches from his eyes, then started to gabble.
"Ok, he claims these are the two guys we came here for. Check them against the ID we have."
Bobby brought the two photo's they'd been given onto his HUD, comparing them with the men in the chairs, who'd finally recovered and were staring at them with stunned expressions.
"They match the pics, sarge. Well, apart from the damage."
Kolchin nodded, as he slid behind the men and started to release them. Both men had obviously been beaten badly, and sported some nasty-looking cuts, but nothing too serious.
"Can you both walk? We need to get you out of here."
The taller of the two captives nodded as he stood up with a barely-repressed groan. "To get out of here? Hell yes, we'll crawl if we have to."
Kolchin nodded, then with a sudden movement slid his knife up under his prisoner's throat and twisted it, moving clear of the spray of blood that resulted. Taking his cue from him, Bobby put a round into the back of the prone man's skull. The two ex-captives looked slightly stunned at the casual violence, but not terribly upset. Given the way they'd obviously been treated, Bobby wasn't exactly surprised.
"Sarge, there are a couple of cameras on the wall."
"I saw them. It's not as if there's anyone monitoring them any more. But we don't want any records of us."
Bobbt nodded and got on the comms. "Anyone in the security room?"
"Yeah, what's the problem?"
"We have the target, there are cameras here. Are they sending a feed to the security system?"
"Just a moment. OK, wave or something."
Bobby grinned and made an ostentatious wave to the nearest camera.
"Yeah, got your charming self in glorious technicolor. OK, bring the targets out with you, I'll arrange to deal with the records here."
As they made it out of the complex, Bobby took a quick glance back. A couple of the buildings were burning, and one seemed to be missing most of its roof. The rest of the team was trotting back towards the transport helicopter, except for a group of three who stopped and paused half way. Bobby helped the two captives into the helicopter, watching as the final group made sure the security room wouldn't contain any revealing records of their operation. First the blue flash that indicated an EMP mine, followed by a much more spectacular set of explosions that turned the building into a heap of blazing rubble.
"Ok, everyone get strapped in, we're off."
The two captives were looking around with interest as the team medic made sure they were strapped in, taking a quick look over them. Then he handed them each a couple of pills. "Here, take these, it looks like you need them."
As he strapped himself in, Bobby saw the men start to slump down. Yeah, sleeping pills, the less they knew about who'd actually rescued them the better. The helicopter lurched slightly as it took off, swinging clear of the buildings, as the stealthed attack helicopter swooped in, unloading its rockets across the compound. More explosions and fire followed, as they created as much damage as possible. With any luck, this would all be written off as a raid by an enemy of the group running the base - a typical piece of local political opposition, Bobby thought cynically.
"Sitrep. Seargeant. What's the status of the package?"
Sgt. Kolchin looked at the two sleeping men, then raised an interrogative eyebrow at the medic. "Major wants a report on these two." The man nodded and keyed his own communicator.
"Major, they are both sleeping peacefully. Both battered and beaten up, nothing serious. I'm going to patch up a few cuts while we're in the air, once we land we can either let them wake or keep them locked down, your call sir."
"Keep them drugged up - it will be easier if we deliver them that way. When we land, get prepared to deliver two sick men on an airlift, I'll see to all the paperwork."
Wednesday 12th October, 10am (local time), Baku
Nephandus looked up from the documents he was reading as he heard a tap on his door.
The door half opened to show his personal assistant. "Major Smith is here to report, sir."
Nephandus nodded and stood. "Please show him in." He waited until the door closed behind the mercenary, then smiled. "Judging by your demeanour, Major, I take it the operation was a success?"
"It was, Sir. Both men extracted as per your instructions."
Nephandus gestured to the man to sit. "That's good, my client will be pleased. Any losses, problems?"
The Major shook his head. "No problems, a couple of men with minor injuries, they'll be fine in a couple of weeks. The two men we extracted were quite badly beaten by their captors, but nothing that some medical attention and a few weeks rest won't fix. Of course they don't know who we are, or why they were rescued, mainly because we haven't let them wake up. Currently they are getting some treatment, but I assume you want them back in London?"
"You assume correctly, Major. Let my assistant know when they will be ready to fly, and I will arrange transportation. "
"My medic suggests we transport them as two sick or injured men, he can keep them unconscious until we deliver them. That way they won't know anything about us, or you unless you want them to. Will that be satisfactory?"
Nephandus considered the options for a moment, then nodded. "That will be fine, I'll make arrangements for receiving them in London. Anything else?"
"Not really, Sir. As planned, we didn't leave much in the way of evidence - it seems the base suffered a series of accidental explosions, causing significant damage, which will hamper any examination - it wasn't as if the base was what you might call structurally sound to start off with. Also as requested" - the Major smiled coldly - "there were no survivors. Of course, eliminating them will probably cause a certain degree of anxiety in certain government circles, but on the other hand the less corrupt member will likely be pleased."
Nephandus nodded and handed the Major an envelope. "As promised, the down payment for mission expenses is in your companies account in Karedonia. Details are here. The rest will be paid once we have the men safely in London. There are also details of what to do with the equipment, I expect it to be out of here in a few days. Apart from the men accompanying our two new guests, the rest of your team will fly back on various commercial flights over the next few days. Any questions?"
The Major took a quick look through the paperwork and shook his head. "No, it all seems as arranged Sir. I'll contact you when we are all back in London and finalise the rest of the business. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to start dismantling everything and sterilising any evidence we might have left here."
Wednesday 12th October, Magic Theory class, morning
Our group had actually arrived a few minutes early for class, and as Bianca and I sat down, AJ turned to us.
"I wonder if you can help me with something?" he saw Bianca's expression, and continued hurriedly. "It's personal, I just hoped you two girls could help me with some advice about a girl."
He'd said girl, and my thoughts went back to White Snake. It was sort of ironic, here we were, probably the two least likely girls on campus to have any useful insight regarding girls, and people kept asking us! I shared a quick glance with Bianca, who by the look on her face was thinking along the same lines. "I guess we can try, right, Bianca?"
She just gave a small non-committal shrug, but that seemed accepting enough for AJ to continue.
"You see, there is this girl I'm interested in. She's, well, a smoking hawt chick, but I need to find a way to get to know her without it looking like I'm a stalker, y'know?"
"Ah...OK. Are you in any classes together? Or clubs?" He shook his head to both Bianca's questions, and we exchanged another look of the 'we don't really know, do we?' kind.
Well. AJ was a nice boy, and I was happy to try to help. If it all went wrong, well, it happens.
"Is she doing anything you could help her with? That might allow you to get to know her a bit."
AJ gave that some thought. "Well... I think she's interested in joining the Spy Kids. Maybe I could help her with something to do with that?"
I nodded, ignoring Bianca's somewhat constipated look at the idea of the Spy Kids "Yeah, that might work. Find out a bit about what she's doing about that, offer some help, but try not to do it all for her. Then take it from there."
AJ grinned. "Thanks, I'll try that!"
Well, hopefully our advice wouldn't screw things up completely for him, I'd feel guilty if it did. It was obviously bothering Bianca a bit as well, so as we were still waiting for Grimes to get ready - for some reason she was fiddling with a large box on her desk - she decided to change the subject.
"So what's this I hear about Smokey dive-bombing things near the quad?"
AJ sighed and looked at his dragon. For his part, Smokey just lay there on the desk, emitting a general air of smug and looking anything but guilty. "He's been attacking something - I have no idea what, you can't see what he's aiming at, it's as if whatever it is, it's invisible."
Oh. That did tweak a rather unfortunate memory. "Er... AJ? Where exactly was he doing this?"
He thought about it for a moment. "On the grassy area between the benches and that cluster of bushes, why?"
Bianca snickered. Yeah, she'd made the connection already. "He's hunting bunny wabbits!"
AJ glanced at her and looked even more confused. "Bunnies? Hang on, are you talking about the invisible bunnies? But that's just a story, isn't it?"
I blushed quite deeply. "Er... well, no they aren't. And we know because I sort of accidentally blew one up last week."
It was a good job that Grimes called us to attention at that point, I could see from his expression he was about to go into the business of the bunnies - and my explosive event with them - in a lot more detail. Certainly a lot more detail than I was comfortable with. As it was, Smokey gave a small *snerk* noise as he blew a little puff of smoke out of his snout. Yeah, he knew what he'd been playing with all right.
"Now for the next week or two we are going to be covering a different topic in class."
Well, that brought the usual mix of attentive interest and 'yeah, probably know it already' looks from the class, as Grimes continued.
"Up till now, we have been concentrating on teaching you spells you cast using your own essence, usually instantly. While some of the spells you have learnt don't respond until activated, or until an external event triggers them, you still have to empower them at the point of casting. As some of you may have noted, especially when casting them in quick succession during practice, you can run low on essence."
She paused for a moment to put a few items on the desk in front of her - a pendant, what looked like a classic magic wand, and a mirror.
"These are example of some of the tools we will be looking at during the year. While just about anything can be made into a magic item, and tasked to pretty much any purpose, they tend to fall into a number of functional groupings. For example, this pendant" - she held up a remarkably mundane silvery-looking piece of jewellery - "is a common form for a protective spell. Would someone like to explain why this is a common form for holding such a spell?"
She waited a moment, and as usual we all sat there hoping she'd select someone else. "White Snake?"
"Er... if it's for personal protection, ma'am, it's easier to handle if it's on you all the time?"
Grimes nodded. "Pretty much, yes. Obviously a protective spell needs to be available to you all the time, as you never know when it will be available. The simplest way is to make it an item that can be worn easily. Now this mirror" - she held it up, just in case none of us could recognise a mirror when we saw it - "is normally either held, or placed on a surface like a wall to use. Since you are unlikely to be using it all the time, it doesn't have to be small or able to be worn easily. Finally we have tools like the wand, which are held to be used, as are the athames you have already made."
OK, that all seemed pretty clear, I was wondering what she was going to teach us to make. Not for long, as she carried on briskly.
"While there are conventions for the form items take, these are only conventions - you can create a tool in any form you wish - but the classic forms are normally the most practical and easiest to use. While I could, for example, make an earring to cast lightning bolts, it would be more difficult to aim than, say, a wand."
She paused in her lecture to point at a box containing slender wooden cylinders sitting on her bench.
"Now we will be starting by teaching you how to make and use a wand, using one of these blanks. As you will find when you do your homework, there are different correspondences for different materials, but we will start with Ash as we are going to make a more general-purpose wand."
She paused for a moment to give a stern look to the usual suspects, no doubt to stop them immediately whining about 'why do have to make a wand when I already have one'.
"Ma'am? What about the defensive items you mentioned? When we will be learning about them?"
"A good question, Flowergirl. We won't be teaching you about them until Spring Term." She forestalled the girls reply with a raised hand. "There's a good reason for this. In order to make them effective and efficient, they tend to be more complex, take longer to make, and normally require more expensive materials. Since making them now would involve a lot of failure and waste, we won't cover them until you have more training and experience. Wands are relatively quick and easy, and as they are often used in specialised tasks, all mages tend to have a collection of them for various uses."
So we all went up and sorted through the box, looking for one we liked. Most of them had been crafted to give a 'handgrip' at one end, but these were different sizes and only a few of them felt comfortable to me. There were also some that looked more, well, traditional, less crafted and more like a shaped piece of natural wood, but I settled for one of the crafted ones - after all, it was just to practice making one. Grimes waited patiently while we all made our decisions, then got us all to settle down again.
"Now, if you look at the blank you've selected, you will see they come with a premade hole in both ends." She held one up herself to demonstrate. "One is what we will call the working end, the end you use to point with, the other is in the part you hold. These are there to hold crystals, which type depends on the function of the wand."
"Ma'am, do they both have to be the same sort of crystal?"
"No, Toison, they don't. In fact, as you learn more about wands, especially specialised ones, you will find the type of crystal will differ, and indeed more than two can be incorporated. However as we will be starting off with a general design, one intended to store some essence and help you in directing your spell more easily and efficiently, we will use a plain quartz crystal in both places. You can get these later from the store, take your blank and make sure you get ones that fit. Don't forget glue as well. Any more questions?"
She waited a moment, but I guess everyone was too busy taking it all in. "Very well, then we will start discussing the various options for designing a wand, and how you calculate and work them out for yourself."
Wednesday 12th October, 6pm, Private magic workshop
I had just finished marking the last of the mystic symbols on my new wand with a sharpie when Bianca walked in.
"Still here?" Then she looked at what I was working on and frowned. "Surely you haven't worked out your wand already!"
I grinned, and showed her the wooden shaft. "Neat, isn't it?"
Her eyes narrowed as she tried to read the symbols along the wand, then blinked and looked at me in confusion. "But they don't mean anything! It's just a random group of symbols."
I nodded as I walked over to bench with the extractor fan. "Yep. Now I just have to burn them in."
My roomie watched with a seriously perplexed look on her face as I let one of my claws glow red hot and started to etch the symbol into the wood, a somewhat-pleasant aroma of woodsmoke curling around my hand before the fan sucked it away. She stood it for about a minute (I'd had a bet with myself of 30 seconds, but obviously she'd been working on her patience).
"OK, it's a fake isn't it Morgana?"
"Oh yes, very much a fake." I held up the half-finished wand "I picked this up in the store at lunchtime, I wanted to get it done as soon as possible. Just have to finish etching it, then give it a dye job and paint the symbols so it looks cool."
She gave me a look, then glanced at the wand again. "OK, I know your being mysterious just for the sake of it, but WHY are you making a fake?"
I ginned widely. "Well, you see, I have a use for it. Not sure exactly when I'll need it, but probably in the next week or so."
Then I told her about just what I intended to use it for. By the time I was finished, she was grinning even wider than I was.
"I love it. You're a very evil dragon, Morgana!"
"I know, I know, I do try!"
Thursday 13th October, evening, Crystal Hall
"So they dragged you off for testing again?"
I nodded to Erica as I finished another mouthful of steak so I could answer her.
"Yeah, two new people this time. Any more of this and I'll grow a white fur coat and whiskers to look like a proper lab rat!"
She just snickered at that. "They'd never manage to keep you in cheese, with your appetite! So who were they?"
"Well, they weren't staff, though apparently they both have connections with the school. They were a bit different though."
"Oh, how so?"
"Well, the first woman was an American Indian" I blushed slightly. "Sorry, Native North American, right? Her name was Kayda, and she was testing me to see if there was anything Class X about me."
Laura brightened up on hearing the name. "Kayda? That's the woman who was in the picture in Dr. Barton's office!"
I thoughtfully chewed another mouthful. "Really? I guess that's how the school knows her then."
"Yeah, but she didn't find anything, did she?" Bianca sounded more than a bit worried, but then we'd been warned a lot more about Class X stuff - and to have NOTHING to do with it - in magic class than the rest of our friends.
"Nope, nothing at all, completely clean. I wonder how she got to be able to test for it, though?"
All that got me was the typical bunch of shrugs and 'dunnos' from everyone - everyone except Laura, that is. She had the slightly shifty look of someone who knows something but didn't want to tell, so I made a mental note to ask her this evening. Maybe she knew something she didn't want to talk about in public?
"Now the other woman was something a bit different."
Erica looked at the expression on my face. "A bit different?"
"Yeah." I thought about how to describe the woman called Fey without trying to make it sound too much like a soft porn movie. That wasn't easy. "Her name was Fey, and she was Sidhe. Apparently Grimes had asked her to check me out in case Sidhe magic would spot something the usual tests hadn't. She was...well, hot."
"Hot? How hot?"
"Laura, she was testing me!"
"Yeah, so even then you thought she was hot?"
My little blue friend wasn't going to let it go, it seemed.
"Let's just say she made most of Venus look like bow-wows and leave it at that, OK?"
I didn't really want to go into the way just being with her had made me feel. She'd told me it was due to a glamour she couldn't quite suppress, but that hadn't made the feelings any less. Fortunately she'd kept everything on a purely professional level, I guess she was used to dealing with it."
I finished the last bite of my steak, wondering if I should go get a refill. Maybe not, I didn't want to appear greedy.
"Anyway, she made a lot of notes and said she'd be talking to Grimes, so I still didn't learn anything. I bet they just want an excuse to test me more."
Friday 14th October, BMA
Vic sighed with resignation as Tolman called him out again. He was pretty convinced he was called out more than average, possibly because she thought he needed the practice. Which was, he admitted to himself, true enough, but which didn't make getting beaten by pretty much everyone any less humiliating.
"Tidestriker and Mouse, first round with no powers."
Vic kept a careful eye on the girl as they both stepped into the ring. He'd watched her fight before, and while she wasn't an exemplar, she was quite a bit faster than he was. And probably more skilled. Still, at least this wouldn't be an impossible fight.
As he slapped the mat, Mouse kneeling over him with his arm in a painful lock, he suspected he should have revised his thoughts. Not impossible so much as embarrassing. Still, it had taken Mouse a couple of minutes to take him down, so it was only mildly embarrassing rather than a terminal event.
"Next fight you may both use your powers."
Vic took a moment to collect his water container while Mouse just watched him. Her power wasn't really offensive, but it did make her terribly difficult to catch. But he had an idea he'd wanted a chance to try, so what the hell, he'd go for it. Undoing the top on the flask, he slid it behind his belt. That was close enough for him to manipulate the contents, and he didn't want the distraction of holding it.
As soon as Tolman ordered them to start, Vic was in motion, moving towards his opponent as his power pulled the water from his bottle into his hand. She looked at him warily, then slipped slideways as she started to shrink. He tossed the water ball, deliberately aiming away from her, then as she ignored the obvious mis-shot guided it right over her. By now she was only about 6" tall - Vic had seen her do that before, usually just before she shot up to full height to attack her opponent, but kept the water-ball wrapped around her, using the pressure to stop her breathing. Mouse hadn't encountered this tactic before, and as she grew Vic's pressure forced water into her mouth and nose, causing her to choke. He didn't expect that to last long, Mouse was good at using her elusiveness to evade attacks while she overcame any temporary problem, but Vic had been ready for that, as he slid forward and got her into an arm-lock. Held like that, she couldn't shrink without doing her shoulder a serious injury, so in a few seconds she acknowledged her submission, still coughing.
The third bout Vic tried the other tactic he'd been working on. Since his usual opponents were full size, he'd actually been practicing this one, as Mouse eyed him warily and decided not to shrink right away, obviously worried he'd repeat his tactic. This time he spun a ball of water in her direction, but as it closed with her moving figure, he split it into two parts. This was the hard part, he could barely manage to keep the two balls in the air, but fortunately he only needed fine control over one, as he spread it over Mouse's face and nose, again cutting off her breathing. The other ball splashed down onto the mat as he concentrated on that one - Mouse was coming after him, obviously trying to win the fight by taking him out before lack of oxygen stopped her, but Vic was happy to run around the circle and evade her. Finally she stopped, and signalled her surrender. Vic grinned as he pulled the water away from her, using it to pull the rest of the water out of the mat and back into his flask.
"Third match and win to Tidestriker."
Mouse gave him a dirty look as he walked back to his friends, most of whom were grinning and giving him thumbs-up signs. Wow, he'd actually won that fight! Maybe he wasn't quite so useless in BMA as he'd been thinking.
I'd been wondering how long it would be before I faced Crysis in BMA again. To be honest, I hadn't expected it to be quite so soon - Tolman's schedule of rotating combatants was rather undecipherable - so I was glad I'd made my little holdout in time for this. So as she called us out I slipped it out of my carry bag and into the sleeve I'd sewn into my Gi to hold it. Crysis wasn't entirely stupid, he kept his eye on me as I did. It was the first time I'd made use of a holdout - it was usually the devisors and gageteers who did that, but that was OK - I wanted him to see it.
"First contest, no powers."
That was as expected, it was rare for us to start any other way. So I kept my eye on him as he moved up to me. He had finally learnt that it was stupid to close an exemplar and try and hit them before they were ready, but while he had learnt something from the classes, he still wasn't terribly expert. And I had a strength and speed advantage even without going dragon.
It did take a minute or so of sparring to take him down, but finally I had him down on the floor under me, his arm pulled up painfully behind him. In fact, considerably more painfully than necessary to immobilise him, I wanted the extra pain to make him mad, losing his temper would hopefully help my cunning plan. He certainly looked daggers at me as Tolman called the first bout in my favour and we got up, moving to opposite sides of the combat circle again.
"Second combat, you may use powers."
This time Tolman paused for a moment before starting - this again was as I had been expecting, it was her normal approach and gave the contestants time to get ready. Normally I'd have gone dragon already, but this time I didn't. I just gave Crysis a sweet smile and slipped my wand out of my sleeve pocket and into my hand. I could see from the way his eyes narrowed he'd seen it - well, it wasn't as if I was trying to hide anything. All I did was let it 'hide' behind my hand, which as it was longer than my fingers didn't work at all well.
As soon as she spoke I jumped to one side - I'd seen from watching his bouts that a sudden move seemed to slow his TK grip, as if he had to concentrate for a moment on what he was moving - bringing my wand up to point at him as I started to make some gestures with my right hand. I had to start casting immediately, as I didn't know how long it would take him to take the wand, and once it was gone he was free to use his TK on me as usual. I hoped he'd assume it was part of me pointing the wand at him. If he even noticed, his attention was, as I'd hoped, fixed on the wand.
A second later, I felt the wand being yanked from my hand. I did try and hold onto it - just letting it go would have seemed odd - and with a smirk he made it fly up into the air, then his power rammed it back down, snapping the slender wooden pole in two. Which, if it hadn't been a prop, would have annoyed me considerably - making a working wand did take a fair bit of time and effort. As it was, he'd just gifted me the time I wanted for my real attack.
The spell pattern I'd been casting in front of me complete, I poured essence into it. I'd practised this in our lab, and the spell flared like a set of flashbulbs on steroids, right in his face. Even through my closed eyelids, and behind the effect, it was bright. He gave a yell of pain and surprise - not only him, although I'd tried to stand so there were no students watching from behind him, a couple were caught in the glare, yelping as they were temporarily blinded by the light.
I didn't wait, while I was pretty sure that all he could see for some moments was the painful after-image of the light spell, I slid forward as fast as I could and kicked him hard in the chest. He didn't even try and parry me, too busy shaking his head as if somehow that would restore his sight. While he was a big strong boy, he was no exemplar, and even in my human form I was as strong as a weightlifter. An Olympic class weightlifter. The heel of my foot caught him square with a very satisfying thump, and he hurtled backwards out of the fighting circle to collapse on the floor, curled up and clutching his chest. I admit, I had kicked him a lot harder than needed just to push him out and win the fight. After the way he'd acted to Bianca, and to me - not to mention some of the other students he'd 'accidentally' used too much force on in his fights, I wanted to teach him a lesson. Maybe he'd actually pay attention to it, though I didn't have too much confidence in that.
Tolman called the match, then walked over to see how my opponent was faring. Judging by the way he was holding himself, not too well. Fortunately for him Tolman was expert at assessing injuries - it only took her a minute to decide he hadn't any serious injuries, and ordered him to go to the side and rest. Well, I wasn't trying to kill the guy, just hurt and humiliate him. She also gave me a very considering look, which I pretended not to notice.
"Bout to Dragonsfyre - as Crysis is too badly hurt to continue, we will carry on with the next bout."
So I collected the pieces of wood that had once been a perfectly good fake wand, and went to kneel down next to my friends. And to a number of barely-concealed grins. Not just from my friends either - Crysis hadn't exactly gone out of his way to endear himself to others in this class.
"Dragonsfyre, a word."
I'd been about to go and get changed and showered when Tolman called me back.
She waited until the dojo was clear of students, then gave me a calculating look. "An interesting tactic today, with that fake wand."
Ah, I wondered if she'd spotted that. I suspected she would have, I was just curious about how she'd done it.
"What gave that away, Sensei? It did fool Crysis."
She nodded. "You weren't worried enough about him taking and breaking it, and you should have made more of an effort to keep control of it. Although it was a good first attempt."
"Thank you, sensei. Unfortunately I can't see it working that way again, now people have seen the trick."
"Yes, however there are a few other possibilities. If you wish we can talk about them another time."
I grinned and bowed politely. "Thank you, Sensei, I would be very grateful for your advice."
"And Dragonsfyre? Try not to hit so hard, remember he isn't an exemplar. Now run along and get changed."
Hmm. Actually I was pretty certain she knew I'd deliberately kicked him a lot harder than I had to, but she didn't seem terribly concerned. Mind, Tolman had always been one of the 'if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger' school of teaching.
Saturday 15th October, afternoon, The Ranges
We made quite a group as we ambled down the campus towards the range area. Laura was still rather gushing about her prototype PFG - well, it was her first one, and I understood it was a sort of rite of passage among the lab-coat crew to build your first working PFG. Mind, it had started out with Laura inviting me to witness the event (after she'd spent some time explaining how it worked and what it was supposed to do), then Bianca had mentioned she was interested, it had spread to Erica, Tia and Bailey, and finally Vic. Basically everyone who'd been at lunch. Well, none of us had actually seen a PFG in operation, and I suspected that one or two of the group were interested in watching because they were thinking of getting one. While the idea was interesting - you can never have too much protection - I didn't think I could afford one, even if Laura gave me a discount, whereas magic shields, once I had the bugs out, would be far more affordable. And wouldn't require constant tweaking by a devisor.
When we got to Range 7, Caitlin Bardue was waiting for us.
"I have the range booked for a PFG test, ma'am."
Caitlin nodded. "Yeah, you're on my list. You aren't qualified yet to use it, so I'm here to show you how it works and to make sure you don't blow yourself up." She gave the rest of our happy crew a quick once-over. "Kibitzers, or your own cheering section?"
Laura blushed a rather deeper blue at the sardonic tone in the range instructor's voice. "My friends would like to watch and see how my PFG works, if that's OK?"
Caitlin turned to press her ID against the door. "Sure, it's fine. Most of them will end up using this range at some time or other, so they may as well see what's involved - and what the safety procedures are."
Ushering us all in, Caitlin followed us and waited as we all took a look around. Unlike my roommate, I hadn't been to one of the ranges before, so I really hadn't any idea of what it would be like. The left side of the rather large room contained a pretty impressive control console, with what looked like arrangements for shields of some sort between it and the rest of the test area. There was also a bright red line between it and what looked like a number of sets of tracks crossing the floor.
"Ok, now listen up. And pay attention, otherwise you'll be out of here fast." Caitlin waited until she had our attention before continuing. "Now, first things first. My ranges stay safe because I make sure all you kids follow the safety rules, ALL the time. No exceptions. Mr Heavy Weapon is NOT your friend. So first, all of you tap your id on that blue panel on the console."
We sort of looked at each other, shrugged, and did as we were told.
"Good. Now the room knows you are here, and will track you until you leave. If anyone tries something supremely stupid like trying to wander into a fire zone, across that red line, it will shut the weapons down. The system will only work if you stay behind the console and its shields."
She waited until we all acknowledged our understanding before continuing. "Now, this range is a bit different from the others, in that it's here to test defensive items rather than the weapon itself. So we have a set of different weapons - kinetic as well as energy based, and they can be calibrated either to a specific performance, or to mimic a lot of the typical weapons you could run into such as those used by police or military. Now first, we need to set up a target to mount the PFG on."
She turned to Laura. "As it's your gizmo, I assume you'll be the first one using it. Are you an exemplar or brick, or just a devisor?"
Laura blushed slightly. "I'm just an Ex-1, ma'am."
"Ok, then we'll use a type 1 dummy. Type 1's are as tough as a normal human, and it will work for you too. "She turned and tapped a few buttons on the console, and a door opened in the far wall. A female-shaped dummy slid out along one of the tracks in the floor, coming to rest in the middle of the room. "OK, now go and put the PFG on it. Do you have it set up for remote readout and control?"
Laura nodded as she dug tech stuff out of her backpack. "Yes to both, ma'am." She put some sort of control unit down, then looked at Caitlin for permission to go and fit the PFG to the dummy."
Caitlin grinned. "You're learning. Go and set it up, then I'll show you all how we test it."
A few minutes later Laura was back with us, as Caitlin slipped a key into the console. "Just in case, you can't activate the weapons with this being unlocked. So don't unlock it until you know you don't need to go out there." She turned the key, and a set of transparent barriers rose up between us and the test area. "We also have a force field, but that won't activate until we start the test."
"Dunno how accurate it will be, it's not blue!"
I gave a grinning Erica a small nudge at her whisper. "Now, be nice!"
Fortunately Laura didn't seem to have heard us, being busy with setting up her system.
"All done ma'am. I'd like to test it against low-energy kinetic impact first, if that's OK?"
"Sure kid. Now come over here and watch what I do."
Caitlin played with the controls a bit more, and a panel slid open to reveal a rather weird looking gun. "We set this railgun up for low velocity and light bullets - it's what you'd expect from a pistol round."
Laura nodded, then bit her lip, then nodded at Caitlin's enquiring eyebrow. The gun gave a sort of whining noise as it shot out a single round, which hit the pfg field protecting the dummy. There was a small flash as the field swallowed the kinetic energy of the bullet, which fell to the ground in front of it, followed by a small cheer from the rest of us and a relieved grin from it's creator.
"How's it holding up, kid?"
Laura examined her readouts. "It looks good so far, can we try it again with some more shots?"
So the testing carried on, first a number of shots, then some heavier rounds. The PFG stopped them all, though Laura looked a bit concerned at the power reserves, and some of the heavier shots looked like they were close to penetrating the field. She had to go out and replace the battery pack before Caitlin started on testing an energy weapon. This time it was some sort of lightning gun, which gave a most impressive crackle as it shot a bolt of electricity at the dummy. For an instant we could all actually see the protective field outlined in tiny sparks, as it absorbed the electric charge and grounded it.
"I wonder how it copes against a fire attack?"
Laura gave me a look at my not quite so innocent statement. "Want to try it out, Morgana?"
I thought about that, then turned to Caitlin. "Could we try it against me? Laura needs protection against more than just guns?"
"Sure kid, just let me shut down all the weapons." She was doing that already, the guns sliding back behind protective panels as she took her key out. "There. We'll keep the shields up, though, just in case your attack splashes a bit."
I grinned and nodded, moving out into the target area as I eyed the dummy. "Is the battery OK, Laura?"
"Uh..yeah, it should be. Try starting out easy, then if it holds up you can go at it a bit harder."
I nodded, concentrating as fire blossomed around my hands, then pressed them against the field. It was a weird feeling, sort of a soft rubbery feel as my fire slid over the field itself, making it brighten as it took the strain. I glanced over to Laura, who nodded, so I put more effort into it, flame turning more yellow as the area of the field affected grew. It was an odd feeling, watching it just suck up my fire, and I wondered if I could try just a bit harder.
"Shall I up it again, Laura?"
"Sure, but be ready to stop if I yell, this is taking a lot of power."
I turned my attention to the testing again, this time pushing my fire harder. This shouldn't have been a problem, I was well under the levels that had caused me to lose control in my testing, but this time the result was different. As I felt the fire intensify, I could feel my control over it slipping. This time it was more like something had grabbed it and was using it without me having any say in the matter. I cursed and tried to stop, but all that happened was that the fire started to flare and flicker, turning more white, then a touch of blue.
"Morgana, stop! You're overloading the field!"
Well, I did my best to do as Laura said, but all I could do was stagger back away from the dummy to try and protect her prized PFG, my fire flaring and sputtering, getting brighter and larger as I tried to control it - and failed. I barely noticed the hum of a forcefield spooling up to protect the watchers, as I fell to my knees. This wasn't like the last time I'd tried too much fire, then it had felt good, until I fell over. This hurt, and I was shaking as it just kept going, not realising that my clothes were already ash on the floor, the metal flooring already glowing and starting to melt, as I screamed and collapsed as the flames blossomed around me.
"Morgana!" Bianca tried to move forward as I fell over, but Caitlin grabbed her and pulled her back.
"No! Stay where you are, none of you are fireproof!" Caitlin herself considered intervening, but the protective force field had already trapped her behind the console, and overriding it would have risked the rest of the kids. All she could do was watch as Morgana collapsed, shuddering and moaning until she finally lost consciousness, the fire giving a final flare that half-blinded the watchers before flickering out, leaving her body lying curled up naked on the glowing metal floor. Caitlin gave a quick look at the instrumentation, as the force field shut off, its work done. The rest of the kids were staring at their friend, as if not believing what had happened. Unfortunately what had happened was something Caitlin was all too familiar with.
"One of you call Doyle, tell them Dragonsfyre has just had a burnout at Range 7, and tell them we need to be picked up urgently." She looked at the group. "And all of you stay where you are, she might flare up again."
As soon as Erica was talking urgently on her phone, Caitlin slipped around the barrier to examine the prone body. While it wasn't likely she'd flare up, you could never be certain about a burnout, and at least she was fireproof. She laid a hand on the girl's skin, feeling it cold and clammy. Not a good sign in a fire manifestor. She hoped that the cart from Doyle would be here soon, this didn't look good at all.
Stepping back, she looked at Erica.
"They are on the way, ma'am. Uh..what happened?"
Caitlin looked at the worried kids. "A burnout." She could see from the looks on their faces that they had an idea what that meant. "A bad one, by the looks of it."
Laura was looking agitated. "Ma'am, it wasn't my PFG, was it? I mean, she's never done this before."
Caitlin considered that for a moment, but even given the weird way devices sometime functioned, it seemed unlikely. When the girl had flared up, she'd seen something - the same odd eddy she'd noticed when she'd tested her, but more powerful and seeming to feed on the fire and take it over. That worried her.
"It's unlikely it was your PFG, but when they've collected Dragonsfyre I want you to take it to the lab and have your supervisor check it over, just in case. Tell him to call Doyle once he's done."
Laura seemed almost in tears at the possibility her devise had been the thing that had hurt her friend, as Caitlin patted her on the shoulder. "I really don't think it was anything to do with you, but we always have to check everything, just in case." She would have consoled the girl a bit more, but the door was opened by a security officer.
"Ma'am, we have an urgent pickup for Doyle?"
Caitling nodded. "The girl on the floor. I'll need a blanket, a fireproof one."
The officer looked at the naked girl, and at the heat-discoloured floor, and nodded. "Yes Ma'am. Dr. Tennant is waiting for her, we'll take her straight there."
"OK, you kids get out of here, I need to lock this place up once she'd on her way."
Bianca looked worried. "Ma'am? Can we go with her?"
"Not yet. Burnouts are bad, and she and her powers may be unstable. But one of you can wait at Doyle - no, not all of you, we don't need a mob - and I'll arrange for the Doctors to let you know what her results are."
There was a bit of non-verbal discussion between the girls, then Bianca pushed forward. "I'll go, ma'am."
Caitlin ushered them out, locking the range door behind her. They'd need to do some work on the floor before it was ready for use again, and she watched as the security cart headed for Doyle at its best speed. She was headed there herself, Ophelia would need a description of what had happened, and she was kicking herself she hadn't spotted anything when she'd been testing the girl. Of course, no-one else had either, but that wasn't the point, if she'd been more alert maybe she wouldn't have burned out like that.
To Be Continued