As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted (Part 3)
A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
Saturday 15th October, afternoon, Mystic Arts staff meeting room.
"So, Elyzia, you wanted to talk to us about Dragonsfyre?"
Elyzia nodded to Dr. Bellows. "I'm afraid so, Alfred. The girl has been having considerable, and growing, issues with her powers, and all the testing we've done has been inconclusive as to the cause. That's why I asked you and Bella to come in to discuss it. Some sort of psychological issue is something else we need to eliminate, and the two of you are the best people to advise us on that."
Bellows looked thoughtful as he considered the request. "Well, while I can't go into confidential details, I'll do what I can. Is there anything in particular you've been considering?"
Elyzia spread her hands open on the table. "Right now, I'm open to just about any suggestions. We've basically drawn a blank with our tests. We can tell there is something affecting her, but we haven't been able to identify or isolate it. It's very frustrating. We even got Fey and Kayda in to see if they could spot something we've missed, but nothing." She passed the two a summary of what their examinations had found so far, and waited while they read through them.
Bellows finally put the papers down, looking thoughtful. "While in a way I would like to say there was something hidden in her mind that was causing all this, my initial thought is that it isn't a mental issue. As you both know, Morgana does have issues I am helping her work through - you've both seen the report on what happened to her - but if anything I would expect the opposite to what you've discovered."
Grimes gave the doctor a long look. "Can you explain a bit more, Alfred? Without violating any confidences, of course."
Bellows thought for a moment, hands steepled in front of him as he put his thoughts together. "As you know, her experience has left Morgana with PTSD. Now, this doesn't go away quickly - indeed, it never really goes away, but we can teach the sufferer methods of coping and minimising the effects so that it has a minimal intrusion on their life. Morgana is actually coping well, given the short time she's had to recover. One of the ways she is handling it is to lean on some of her abilities, using them as a crutch to prove to herself that she isn't a helpless victim any longer. While this isn't my optimal solution, it does help her cope more or less normally and gives me time to work on better, but longer term, reconciliation of her issues."
He paused for a moment to take a sip of water. "Now, the power she leans on most is her magic and in particular her fire connection. There are a number of reasons for this, not only her experiences when she manifested, but the main thing is that they are the strength she's using to cope and live normally - well, as normal as Whatetely ever gets, of course. But because of that, her having subconscious issues that make her magic and fire go astray is the last thing I would expect, and so far I haven't uncovered any. Now granted, I haven't been looking into that possibility as deeply as I could have, but my initial feeling is that that isn't the source of her problems."
Grimes sighed. "In a way, I'd hoped you'd told me she did have psychological issues. Bella, I don't suppose there is anything you've noticed that might be pertinent?"
Bella Horton gave some serious thought to her friend's request. While she had a fair idea that some of the things Morgana had been getting up to would interest Elyzia, she didn't think it was anything affecting the topic, and Morgana already seemed to have enough problems without Elyzia getting on her case about trafficking with demons. In any case, from what she'd seen, and heard about, it had made Morgana considerably happier. She would have expected that to help her with any ongoing issues, not make them worse. She was about to say she didn't think she could help when Ophelia's phone beeped insistently. The doctor frowned down at it, just as Elyzia's phone did the same.
"What's the problem?"
Ophelia took a moment to answer as she scrolled quickly through her text.
"Well, it looks like our meeting needs to be postponed. Apparently, Morgana just had a serious burn-out, she's being taken to Doyle."
Bella Horton frowned. "Do you think it's connected with what we've been discussing?"
Ophelia shrugged as she stood up. "Honestly, I don't know. First thing is to get her stable and see what we can find out, then we can take it from there. Elyzia, I assume you got the same notification?"
Grimes nodded. "Yes, she's on my magical watch list. I'll join you in Doyle shortly."
Saturday 15th October, late afternoon, Doyle Medical Centre
Ophelia stripped the latex gloves from her hands, scowling at them as she tossed them into the disposal unit. She didn't look at all happy.
"So, how is she and what's the verdict?"
Ophelia's hair picked up her pad as she turned to Elyzia.
"I've done a full post-burnout exam on her. At the moment she seems stable, I gave her a sedative and she's sleeping. That's the good part. The bad part is, it was a burnout, and not a good one."
Grimes made a face. "They rarely are, despite student legends to the contrary."
"Yes. Anyway" - Ophelia looked down at her pad as she marshaled her thoughts - I also did a quick check of her magic, her well and essence are all over the place, but that's hardly unusual when we have a mage burn-out. But I'm suspicious. After all the testing we've been doing to see why she has a problem, suddenly she has a burn-out."
Elyzia nodded. "Too much of a co-incidence?"
The doctor nodded. "Far too much, for my piece of mind. I can't actually prove it, but my gut feeling is this is also connected in some way."
I was lying in bed feeling sorry for myself and listening to the quiet beeps of the monitor next to me, I wasn't quite plumbed into it, although the fact I was connected up to a drip of some sort wasn't exactly reassuring. I was trying to work out what had happened to me, but all I could remember was starting to test Laura's new toy when it all devolved into darkness and pain. So when the door opened and Dr. Tennant and Ms. Grimes walked in, I was glad of the interruption.
"How are you feeling, Morgana?"
I looked up at Dr. Tennant and considered trying to smile, but it was way too much hard work. "Awful. I feel like I've been run over and I hurt inside."
The doctor nodded as she took a brief, expert glance at the readouts by my bed. "To be expected." She looked at the worried expression on my face. "And before you ask, you had a burnout."
Damn. I'd heard about them, both from the cottage gossips and Hikaru, who had more personal experience. Neither had anything good to recount about them."
"How bad was it?"
"Honestly? Pretty bad, although you seem to have come through it OK." She gave me a considering look. "I need to discuss it with you. Because of the nature of your powers, and the way they are tied in with your magic, I'd like Ms. Grimes to be present. While she isn't a doctor, she will be under the medical secrecy protocols, and it would be helpful to you."
I thought about that - while Grimes wasn't exactly Ms. Cuddly Teacher, I respected her and didn't think she'd go around telling everyone what had gone on. It sounded like I needed help, and any source of it would be good right now."
"OK, Doc, go ahead."
"Ophelia, you'd better explain to her what we think happened. It may be she can add something to our understanding of why it happened in the first place."
"A good point, Elyzia." Dr. Tennant gave me a long considering look that didn't exactly reassure me. "I don't suppose you know that much about what a burnout is and why they happen?"
I shook my head. To be honest, since I'd not had one and didn't expect to have one, I hadn't bothered to find out too much. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof and all that stuff.
"Right. Well, we normally put a burnout into one of two categories, based on what we think caused them. That helps us estimate what the implications of it are."
Oh right. Implications. That was never a good thing to hear in a hospital bed.
"Now, the first type is caused due to a manifestation not being complete. Most of them happen during or very close after manifestation and are often fatal. The probability of having one reduces as your power stabilises, and while they aren't unknown later on, the occurrence is far less common. Now I don't think yours falls into that group. As far as all our earlier testing shows, your manifestation is complete and stable, in fact, it was before you even arrived here."
I mulled that over for a bit. "OK Doc, so what's the other type?"
"While we don't have a full understanding of them, they seem to be caused by your power interacting with something - normally an external event of some sort - and that stress causing it to go out of control, or change, overload, or, to be honest, do a number of weird things we can't predict." She gave me a very sharp look. "In your case, though, there doesn't seem to be an external cause. It was nothing to do with your friends PFG, and from what the range monitors show you weren't close to the power limits we recommended to you to keep to after your testing."
That was puzzling. Almost as if she was saying my burnout didn't fall into the usual types. "So what was special about mine?"
Dr. Tennant exchanged a brief glance with Grimes. "It seems to be a classic type 2 except for what caused it. We have some theories about that. If it wasn't external, it could have been something internal."
OK, colour me confused now. "I don't understand. Doc, something internal? You mean my powers?"
"We aren't sure yet, Morgana. We do have some results from all the tests we've done on you, but we need to discuss them further. In the meantime, try and get some rest - burnouts are a heavy shock to your system, and you need to recover from it."
Grimes stopped her friend once they were outside the room, leaving a rather agitated girl who obviously wasn't going to calm down and fall asleep as requested.
"So, what's the current prognosis, Ophelia?"
The doctor looked at her pad, shaking her head. "Well, for the time being, let's get her to rest overnight and see how she feels in the morning." The doctor tapped a few controls on her pad. "There, that's a sedative added to her drip, otherwise I suspect she'll stay away and worry all night."
"So now it's just us who get to worry."
Ophelia smiled at her companion. "Well, no-one ever said life at Whateley would be boring, did they?"
"Granted, that wasn't even in the fine print." Elyzia turned to contemplate the closed door. "In the morning, I'll get a group together. We need to go over everything, and I want Morgana present as well, Maybe we'll spot something we missed so far. Apart from that, I'm out of ideas for the present."
Sunday 16th October, 10 am, Magic Department meeting room
I looked around at the assembled group of teachers facing me and tried not to look too nervous. I didn't think I was succeeding very well. After a suspiciously long and peaceful nights' sleep - given how agitated I'd been when Dr. Tennant and Ms. Grimes had left, I suspected I'd been drugged - I felt better physically, if not mentally. Bianca had dropped by after breakfast to give me some clothes, as my last set had, so I'd been told, suffered yet another complete costume malfunction. I'd had to ask her to repower the wards on Cally and Erica's room sometime today - fortunately, I'd described to her what I'd set up when I was planning them, and the girls knew where I'd put the spell slips. So they wouldn't suddenly be vulnerable due to me letting them down.
At least getting dressed had made me feel a bit more normal, I was starting to connect hospital gowns with Bad Things. What was a bit more worrying was they wouldn't let me leave after I'd changed, the staff at Doyle refused to let me out of their sight until Dr. Bellows came to collect me. I'd tried to get some information out of him as we went over to the Magic department, but the trouble with trying to do that with a psychiatrist is that they are far too good at evading or redirecting questions. So all I learned was that we were going to a meeting where my problem would be discussed and that maybe I could contribute to a solution. I had grave doubts about that - after all, if after all the different tests they'd done Grimes was still in the dark, how could I help? Well, at least maybe I'd learn more about what was going on with me.
I was a bit surprised to see so many people there, and all of them looking at me. Ms. Grimes and Dr. Tennant surely would have been enough, but there was also Dr. Bellows, Mrs. Horton, Caitlin and the Sidhe woman Fey. The sheer numbers made me start to worry about how serious this really was.
Ms. Grimes looked at me with an unhappy expression. "Morgana, we have managed to confirm that there is definitely something inside you, that seems to be connected to your magic and is probably the cause of your problems. Fey and I suspect it's something that was done to you, but there is a major issue with identifying it. Whatever is causing it, its connection is so intertwined with you that we can't separate it out."
The Sidhe woman nodded. "What we really need is a clean scan of you, then we could subtract that and isolate whatever it is that was done to you. But even the scans we got from London after they rescued you, weren't clean. Whatever it is, it was inside you by then, and those are the earliest scans we have. So we're stuck. We are assuming it was something done by the cult while they had you captive, but your statements don't mention anything. Can you think of anything they did that might explain this?"
I thought hard, then regretfully shook my head. "I don't recall them doing anything magical to me after Thulia left. But I wasn't conscious all the time, so I guess they could have done something when I was out of it.
The redhead looked frustrated. "I wish you could have remembered something that would have given us a clue. As it is, we're back to trying to find a clean scan of you, which we don't have."
I tried to make sense of all that. "Uh, so what you want to do, it's sorta like subtracting part of a digital photo to see what's left?"
Fey nodded. "That's a pretty fair analogy. The problem is that whatever it is, it's too closely interwoven with your power and your magic for us to identify it, but if we could subtract a clean scan of you, it would give us a much better chance at identifying it.
Well, that seemed reasonable, but why couldn't they just use - oh. Right. "Uh, ma'am? There is such a set of scans."
Both Grime and Fey sat up straight, Grimes fixing me with a piercing look. "What are you talking about, Morgana? What scans?"
"Ma'am, before and after I manifested, Thulia did a complete set of scans of all sorts on me. Physical, Magical, and probably all sorts of things I don't know about. I'm not an expert, obviously, and I couldn't understand her methods, but judging by the tools she was using, they were more complicated that the ones you used on me, so I guess they'd have given at least as detailed a result? Couldn't you use those?"
"Use a set of data provided by a demoness?" Grimes gave Fey a very odd look, one I couldn't interpret. "They might not be the most reliable."
Fey gave a small smile at me. "It's an interesting idea, Morgana" - this time she gave Grimes the odd look, I wished I know what that was all about - "and it might work, but the problem is Thulia presumably has these, and we can't contact her. We don't have her true name or identity with which to call her."
Oh. This looked like we'd reached the point at which Grimes yelled at me. A lot. I cast a quick look at Mrs. Horton, who just gave me a small smile and nodded. Oh well, here's where I get a month of detention.
"Ma'am? Uh... I do know how to contact Thulia. In fact, I've been in contact with her since I was rescued." Well, that provided the level of consternation I'd been expecting. Grimes just looked at me, then turned to face Mrs. Horton, who was just sitting there with a half-smile. She examined the older woman for a moment, then gave a resigned sigh. "OK, Bella, just what haven't you told me this time?"
Well, there was an interesting conversation between Mrs. Horton and Ms. Grimes. Luckily for me, and probably my future presence at Whateley, Mrs. Horton handled all of the probing questions with casual aplomb. I still wondered why she seemed relatively unconcerned about what I'd been up to, but right now I was just glad she was on my side. The outcome was, Mrs. Horton left to collect the bowl and the rest of my gear, while Grimes quite blatantly changed the subject to discuss things connected with me that didn't involve demons.
Mrs. Horton tapped on the door, before opening it. Bianca looked up, surprised, from where she'd been curled up reading a book. "Uh... is there a problem, ma'am?" Then the girl suddenly looked worried. "It's not Morgana, is it?"
Mrs. Horton smiled reassuringly. "It's OK, dear, Morgana is fine at the moment. But I've come here to collect some things, maybe you can show me where Morgana keeps them?"
Bianca put her book down absently. "What things, ma'am?"
""Oh, a bowl, a cloth, and a few other things. I'm sure you remember, I caught the pair of you using them on Sunday."
Bianca's odd skin colour didn't allow her to blush normally, but to Bella Horton's expert eye she was trying her best. "Don't worry, dear, you aren't in trouble over it. But we need them, it's connected with Morgana's problem." This time she could almost see the wheels turning in Bianca's head.
"Yes, ma'am, I know where Morgana keeps them." The girl got up, still looking worried, and tugged a lockbox from out of one of the cupboards. "It's all wrapped up in here. There were some notes that came with the bowl as well, they're in the box too."
Mrs. Horton smiled and took the box. "Thank you, Bianca, you've been most helpful." She could see that the girl was doing her best not to look like she was bursting with questions about what was going on - for a moment she admired Bianca's appearance of unconcern, one day the girl would make a masterful poker player. "Now I need to ask you a favour, Bianca. Please don't talk about any of this until Morgana returns, it's all rather complicated and this place is enough of a hotbed of speculation without adding to it, don't you think?" She knew she'd got it right when the girl looked offended at the idea she'd talk, before she smiled once more. "Now I'll leave you to your book."
Bianca looked at the closed door and frowned. OK, first her roommate has a burnout - which, while they didn't happen all the time, were hardly unknown at Whateley, but then Mrs. Horton collects the gear she used to talk with her demon girlfriend. This was starting to get beyond odd and well into conspiracy territory. Part of her wished she could talk it over with Erica, that girl had a good head on her for suspicious activities and some useful training, but she understood Mrs. Horton's request. She'd keep Morgana's secret safe, and hope it all went well. And made a note to get the whole story out of Morgana, with thumbscrews if necessary,because she was getting a feeling it would be a fascinating tale to tell.
As soon as Hrs, Horton had arrived with my bowl and accessories, Ms. Grimes was all over it. The rest of us waited patiently while she poked and examined everything, making a number of 'hmm' and 'ah' noises over it before she finally surfaced back to the reality of the rest of us.
"Well, Bella, I agree, it's nicely done and as you said Morgana does seem to have taken all the correct measures for security and safety." She cast me a look that all but said 'and we'll talk a lot more about this later on'. I did just about manage a weak smile in response, which at least was more respectable then falling to my knees and begging for mercy, which I had to admit I was rather tempted to do. "As it stands, it's set up to display inside the bowl, but that's going to make it difficult for us all to talk, so I'll add a few modifications."
"Uh, ma'am? You aren't going to damage it, are you?"
She shook her head at my nervous comment. "No, Morgana. I'm just going to add a few things to make it easier for all of us to see and hear her."
I gave her a rather dubious look, but it wasn't as if I could do anything about it.
"Now, let's take this and go down to my workroom, I have everything I need there."
It was the first time I'd seen a real mages workroom - I didn't think Caitlin's really counted, it was sort of, well, Caitlin, rather than a mages work area. I was impressed, I hadn't seen anything this fancy since I'd been in Thulia's lab. There were a number of inscribed circles, triangles and a few other geometric constructs set into the floor, obviously as permanent features. Quite a few of the items sitting on the shelves were obviously magical as well - some of them so much so they actually glowed purple-ish to my sight. Grimes gestured us all to wait to one side while she dug various items out of drawers and a storage unit, the most prominent being a large freestanding mirror in an old-fashioned wooden mounting. Setting this and my gear up inside one of the large protective circles, she used a marker to scribe some spell patterns on the floor, between the bowl and the mirror. It was sort of obvious what she was doing (even if I only recognised a few of the symbols and patterns she was marking) before she ushered us into the circle.
"Now, as soon as I give you all a protective ward - just in case - I want you to contact Thulia, Morgana. We should all be able to see her in the mirror rather than just in the bowl, and she should be able to see and hear all of us. Morgana, Mrs. Horton has described the ritual you use, so please go ahead."
Right, while being watched closely by Grimes, Caitlin and Mrs. Horton. Grimes, in particular, looking like someone who wasn't going to miss anything, no matter how small. No pressure, then. So I put on the amulet Grimes was holding out to me and very carefully started my preparations. I set everything up, then gave Grimes a questioning look before actually stabbing myself and dripping my blood into the bowl. She just nodded, so I guess so far I was passing her scrutiny, as I turned back to the bowl and carefully cut my finger, letting three crimson drops drip one by one into the water. This time, while the droplets streamed through the liquid as before, there was deliberate movement as they moved to align themselves with the mirror. I glanced up at it for a moment, and the glass had gone sort of cloudy, with an impression of depth that I'd never seen in a mirror before. But then, I wasn't exactly an expert with magic mirrors. So I ignored it and concentrated on Thulia.
This time it took longer than I was used to, but then usually we'd arranged on a time, so she'd be ready for my call. I suppose she was doing something because it took a few minutes before I felt her presence. I'd almost started to wonder if no-one would answer, it wasn't as if the bowl came with an answer phone system. Just as well, being forced to tell Grimes that the answer was 'all our lines are busy, but your call is important to us, please try later' would have been terminally embarrassing.
"Morgana?" I looked up at the mirror. I didn't know what Grimes had done, but I could see Thulia clearly in it. Better than with just the bowl, really, while the bowl did show me more than just her head the perspective was always odd. It was obviously a bit different from her side as well, as she looked around before looking back at me with a puzzled expression. "Are you in trouble?"
I did give Grimes a quick glance at that, but she just stood there without any particular expression.
"Well, not exactly. Well, yes, but it's not because of contacting you, it's because of what happened to me yesterday."
She frowned, giving me a surprisingly piercing look that reminded me of Grimes for a moment before her eyes flicked around the other spectators. "Perhaps you should introduce me to your friends, and then tell me exactly what's been going on."
Well, it wasn't a quick recital - I did try and keep things in chronological order, but it was hard, and it was necessary for the others to add in details and explanations, some of which I hadn't known about myself. In fact, the act of explaining it all, in detail, was leaving me with a cold feeling inside. Each new fact or happening seemed to be digging a deeper and deeper hole for me to end up in. For her part, Thulia responded with questions and requests to go into yet more details. Finally, it was all over, as she gave me a long look, so long I started to get really worried.
"You were right to contact me, from what you've said there is something very wrong. I tested Morgana in considerable depth before I was forced to leave her, and there was nothing in my results to indicate this sort of problem. While I expected her to take some time to integrate and learn to use her power, that should have gone smoothly, and the exercises you described should indeed have helped that process. From what you've shown me, I agree with you that the only logical explanation is that there is something affecting Morgana that shouldn't be present."
"We had hoped you could provide us with a set of examination data from right after Morgana changed so we could isolate whatever it is."
Thulia nodded absently to Grimes, obviously distracted by something she was thinking about. "I do have such a set - in fact, a number of quite comprehensive ones. However there is the problem that your systems and tools are not compatible with mine, we can't just combine the two. However, that isn't an insurmountable obstacle. I can easily do a full scan of Morgana, and use my earlier results to isolate this new factor."
This time it was Mrs. Horton who looked uncomfortable. "Can you do that here?"
Thulia shook her head. "Not without taking a considerable time to set up the required preparations, which from what you've said - and what Morgana has already experienced - we don't have. The obvious solution is for me to examine Morgana in my workroom."
Well, that caused more than a few eyebrows to rise, in fact, it caused considerable consternation, which took Ms. Grimes a few minutes to settle. Finally, she turned to Thulia again. "I'm sure you can understand that I have some reservations about letting one of my students to travel to your domain, even if she has been there before." While she was keeping her words - and tone of voice - calm, it wasn't helped by the quite audible mutter of 'we don't know what she'll do when she gets hold of her' from Caitlin.
Thulia looked troubled. "Mistress Grimes, I swear I mean no harm to Morgana. It's not like she hasn't spent time in my workroom before, after all."
Grimes turned to me with a troubled look. "Morgana, I need you to think carefully on this. I understand how you feel about Thulia, but once you are away from here I can't help you if needed."
I thought about that. I was certain they were worrying far too much, presumably because they didn't know, or trust, Thulia. But how to put it in a way that would convince them? I finally looked around the assembled teachers, addressing Ms. Grimes.
"Ma'am, I guess you've probably all seen my records, what happened to me after I was abducted?" No-one said anything, so I assumed agreement and carried on."The thing is, if Thulia wanted to harm or control me, she could, She has my true name, blood, and other samples, and unless I spend the rest of my life locked in a warded room, she can get at me. That isn't a life, and rather than do that, I trust her not to abuse me." I took a deep breath before continuing, this was going to be hard."But the main reason is her. When I was captured, I was held prisoner, tortured mentally and physically. I was treated by the cult and their minions like an animal - no, worse, as an object." I looked over at Thulia and smiled. "The only one who treated me like a person, who was kind to me, was Thulia. So yes, I trust her now, with my life."
Well, that sort of stopped the conversation. It also made Thulia turn the deepest shade of red, I didn't realise how cute she'd look when blushing like that.
Finally, Caitlin cleared her throat. "Elyzia, I think I have a solution." She turned to Thulia. "Ok, let me come with you two, as an escort for Morgana, and just to make sure there isn't any funny stuff going on."
Thulia blinked, then looked at her. "I don't have any objections. As long as you don't interfere with my tests, I'm not trying to hide what I'm doing."
Caitlin grinned at Grimes. "See, solved, simple, right?" Grimes just gave her a look and rolled her eyes.
"When will you summon me?"
Grimes thought for a moment before replying to Thulia. "I think an hour, if that works? Best done soon."
"Very well then, I'll get prepared here." She made a gesture, and the mirror shimmered for a moment before it went back to being a simple mirror. I looked over the setup. "Uh, shall I pack everything up, ma'am?"
"Yes, Morgana. Please leave it here, we may need to use it again."
I hoped that meant that, and not that it was going to stay here permanently and not where I could use it. Still, I wasn't dumb enough to ask that, I just got up and packed up as instructed.
Crystal Hall, Sunday, Lunch
Tanya gave a quick look around the table as she set her tray down. "Still no Morgana?"
Most of the team looked questioningly at Bianca, rather assuming she'd know something. Bianca gave the put-upon look of someone who really didn't want to be classed as a fount of all knowledge. "I really don't know much more than the rest of you. They held her in Doyle overnight, and I took her some clothes and stuff this morning. I only got to see her for a couple of minutes. She looked a bit stressed, but the nurse told me she was doing OK - whatever OK means to them, of course." She didn't mention the fact that she'd been pretty certain Morgana was keeping quiet about something, and that 'a bit stressed' was rather like suggesting that the Atlantic Ocean was a trifle damp.
"So are they keeping her in Doyle?"
Bianca shrugged at Cally's question. "I have no idea, I assume so but they really wouldn't tell me much. All I found out was that they were going to talk to Morgana about what's been happening to her, but they were really secretive about it all."
Bianca had no intention of telling everyone about Mrs. Horton's visit to recover Morgana's bowl and tools from their room. Not only had she promised to keep quiet, but it wasn't her right to reveal that sort of secret. Morgana had been really good about keeping her own actions safe, she was going to return the favour. Although when Morgana finally came back, she was going to pin her down and demand an explanation. She pushed the thought that maybe her roommate wouldn't come back right down and out of the way, she wasn't going to think like that.
"But it was a burnout, right?"
Bianca nodded to Erica. "Yes, they told me that much, and that it was why they were keeping her." Her eyes turned to Hikaru, calmly eating her food while the discussion has been going on. The Japanese girl saw the eyes looking at her, and stopped for a moment.
"So it was a burnout, they happen to people."
There was a brief silence from the rest of the team as they took in that rather blunt statement. Except for Bianca, who was giving Hikaru her best scowl. However, it seemed Hikaru wasn't going to elaborate further, as she calmly resumed her meal.
Laura gave a deep sigh and poked her food disconsolately. "I still feel guilty. I know they checked my PFG out, and they told me it was nothing to do with that, but still..."
She stopped talking, a miserable look still plastered across her face. Vic took it on himself to try and cheer her up a little.
"Look, Laura, like you said it wasn't your fault. In fact, it might have been a good thing." The blue girl gave him a surprised look as he continued. "As it went down, Morgana was somewhere she could get help right away, and the faster they get a burnout victim to Doyle, the better. If she hadn't been testing your gear, it might have happened to her some other time when she was on her own or something, and things could have been a lot worse for her."
Laura nodded slightly at that, but her body language indicated she still wasn't convinced.
Bianca cast a sideways look at her blue friend. She was probably going to keep blaming herself until Morgana returned, even though everyone had assured her it wasn't her fault. Which reminded her.
"Erica, will you and Cally be around today?"
Erica gave her roommate a look and shrugged. "I guess we could be, why?"
"Your wards need renewing. Since she can't do it herself, Morgana asked me to do it for you. So if we can fix a time, I'll pop over and set them up again."
Erica nodded. "Sure, won't be a problem, just let us know when's a good time and we'll be there."
"Fine. It will be straightforward, Morgana showed me the setup she was going to use when she designed them, so we'll soon have you protected again."
Sunday 16th October, afternoon, Magic Department
Apparently, Ms. Grimes didn't have a portal in her private workroom - or at least, not one she was prepared to admit to. So once it had been decided that I'd go visit Thulia to get examined, we trooped down a few levels to where they did all that sort of work. I was beginning to realise that while the Magic department didn't spread out as far over the subterranean part of the campus as the Devisors did, they seemed to compensate by going deep. The weirdest thing was the final stretch of the corridor which lead to a rather formidable, and obviously locked, door. The whole space felt odd, and things like the angles of the walls and ceiling seemed to fit an Esher drawing rather than a simple corridor. Well, I guess there were all sorts of things down here they wanted to limit access to, I supposed this was part of it. Certainly, the door itself resembled a bank vault more than anything else, and Grimes used both her tech passkey, her magical ID and a handprint just to get past it.
The interior was equally as impressive - a very large open space, with quite a few permanent spell patterns on the floor, and in some cases on the walls. I craned my head around curiously as I tried to make some sense of the complexity all around me. Not with any real success, it was obviously way more advanced than the stuff we'd covered in class, as Grimes led us over to a spell circle. Standing in the middle of it was a large slab of stone well over 2 metres across, inscribed with its own circles and spell constructs. She bade us wait while she prepared a portal, and so we did the usual stand around and wait while trying not to look too bored until she finally instructed me to join her in the circle.
I stood and looked at the solid wall in front of me. Inscribed on it was a very complex set of circles and symbols, a few of which I recognised from my use of Thulia's message bowl, but while a few of the rest were recognisable, of themselves, I didn't understand the context. While Grimes had been adding more symbols in some of the bare spots, Mrs. Horton had quietly explained what it was; this was one of the portals they used regularly, and while a lot of the spellcraft was permanent, the part related to the destination and a few other things weren't, and that was what Grimes was completing right now. So I had just watched and worried, trying to concentrate on what Grimes was doing to distract me from worrying even more. Not being helped in the slightest by Caitlin standing a few yards away and glowering at the wall as if it had personally offended her.
"There, now we just need you to do your part, Morgana." Grimes motioned to me to come close, and I licked my suddenly-dry lips and did as instructed. She pointed at a number of the symbols she'd drawn - seven of them, it looked like. "Now normally I'd use specific symbols here, depending on where the portal is to be opened to. But this time, we're doing it a bit differently."
I wasn't sure how much of her instructions were due to her ingrained habit of teaching students or was just to reassure me with its familiarity, but the sound of her lecture voice did calm me down. "I need you to place a spot of your blood at these seven places - she pointed at them with her finger, as I made sure I had it all memorised."These will specify Thulia as the destination, rather than just a physical location. This way your blood connection will satisfy the connection requirements, while keeping the anonymity Thulia has requested. Is that all clear?"
"I think so, ma'am. Does it matter which order I do it in?"
"It's not vital, but we normally do this sort of thing anticlockwise, for traditional reasons."
OK, I could manage that. I was already in my dragonform - I wasn't going to cast any magic, and with all the tension it felt more comfortable to me this way - and carefully stabbed a finger with one of my claws, before carefully dabbing a spot of blood at each of the spots Grimes had defined. She watched me closely, then nodded approvingly as I finished. "Good, that's all done. Now we just have to power it up." She gave a quick look around at her audience. "Everyone back behind the outer circle on the floor, please."
She waited until we'd all shuffled a few feet back before drawing a crystal wand from inside her robe. I wasn't sure what crystal she was using, that it was a dark purple colour was about all I could be sure of. She faced the circle, chanting slowly in what I thought was Latin as she gestured with the wand. I could see lines of magic energy connecting the wand to the circle, as the circle and its symbols brightened and started to glow themselves. It reminded me a little of the spell I used with Thulia's bowl, but a lot more complex and, from the intensity of the glow, a lot more powerful.
I held my breath as I waited for something to happen. The pattern, as well as the symbols, were pulsing, the light actually visible to my normal sight, not just my mage sight. For a second I thought it was actually rotating, mandala-like, but then realised it was just an optical illusion caused by the pulsing light. What wasn't an illusion was the way the centre was not only glowing but seemed to be moving backward, even though nothing was actually moving. The weird perspective vanished abruptly as the centre space stabilised into a slightly sparkling blue glow, though which I could see the figure of Thulia standing there. For the first time in this procedure, I smiled.
Walking through the portal, Thulia stopped short of the circle confining the portal and made a polite bow to Grimes. She wasn't wearing her usual casual dress - this time, she was wearing a more formal looking robe. I'd only seen her wearing one like it before when she'd been meeting with the cult before they made her leave me. In fact, she cut a very impressive figure. The robe itself was some sort of black material that somehow managed to look sparkly at the same time, not to mention being slit high up the side to reveal an impressively contoured leg and thigh. Not to mention the six-foot staff she carried casually in one hand, which looked like it was made of some of that deep red crystal she used a lot in her equipment, delicate patterns in gold inscribed on its surface. That and the way her hair glowed in a soft fire-fall down her back made her look far more the experienced mage than the casually-dressed girl I was more familiar with. I wanted so much to run up and hug her hard but restrained myself, but under the circumstances I settled for a whispered 'wow' at her appearance. She'd obviously taken an effort to project the image of competence, I mustn't screw it up.
"Greetings, Lady Grimes." She looked around, her face breaking into a smile as she saw me. "So, shall we get down to business?"
"Certainly, Thulia. But I'm not a lady, I'm just a teacher here."
"Ah, my apologies. Mistress Grimes, then?" Her innocent-sounding statement was followed by a quite obvious *snerk* from Caitlin before Grimes gave her companion a withering look. Not that that discommoded Caitlin in the slightest.
"As we discussed, Caitlin will go with Morgana to keep an eye on her." The 'in case' wasn't uttered out loud, but her tone of voice certainly managed to convey the message.
Thulia looked over at Caitlin as she gave one of her trademarked evil grins, and her eyes widened in surprise, obviously looking at the weird tattoos clearly visible on Caitlin. "You... you're an Artificer, aren't you!"
Caitlin nodded, casually buffing her nails on her sleeve. "Yep. Do you have a problem with that, girl?"
Thulia managed to stop staring, just looking confused. "Why should I have a problem with that? I never expected to see one, though, I thought you had all vanished from the Earth."
"Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated, kid. But we'd better get back to the business in hand, right?"
Thulia shook her head as if to clear her thoughts of the distraction of coming across a real live - well, sort of - artificer. "Yes, you're quite right. I need to examine Morgana as soon as possible."
The odd sensation of stepping through a portal to Thulia's workroom reminded me of my time in the Cabal's dungeon. In an oddly reassuring way, as my time with her had been the only time in that vile place I'd actually found pleasurable.
"Hey, kid! Welcome back."
I looked at the scaled, green imp grinning at me with a seriously large set of teeth, then jumped forward to give him a massive hug. I could just see behind me where Caitlin was raising her eyebrows at that. "Bruce!! How've you been?"
He hugged me back before letting me go. "Pretty good." Then he sobered up a lot. "Not so good for you, though, right?"
"Yeah, things have got a bit complicated, y'know?" I looked around. "The layout's changed."
Bruce nodded, gesturing at the room with a sort of proprietorial air. "Yea, well Thulia needed to set it up to test you again, and she's always changing stuff around."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Thulia smiled as she saw Brunce and I chatting. "I hate to break up your reunion, but I need you naked for the tests." She pointed at one of the circles, one where both the perimeter and the symbols were glowing a bright red.
Caitlin looked on without comment as I undressed - it was hardly an issue, both Thulia and Bruce had seen me naked plenty of times, after all, and at least her lab was a pleasant temperature - and walked over as instructed. She took a position behind one of her crystal screens. "Just stand in the middle, it's all the same as before."
I nodded and did as I was told, noting her computer crystals starting their familiar glow as I stood there. Now I just got to be bored and occasionally move as Thulia instructed, I knew the drill.
Thulia finally made a complex gesture that made most of her circles and spell patterns fade to black or a dark red that wasn't glowing anymore.
"Are we done?"
She looked at me and nodded. "Yes, I have all the data I need, now I need to correlate it with the scans I did of you when you manifested."
I tried not to show how worried I was by the expression on her face, or rather the lack of one. While I didn't have nearly the experience I wanted to have with how her moods made her look, so far she'd not done much to hide her feelings. The fact that she was doing so now made me feel she was hiding something and given the circumstances that wasn't a good sign.
"It's going to take me an hour or two to compare the scans and calculations. You may as well go back with Ms. Bardue, and I'll join you when I'm done." She cast a somewhat ironic glance at Caitlin. "I don't think your minder is terribly happy being here anyway."
For her part, Caitlin just snorted. "Sure, what could be an issue with hanging around a demon's lair while she casts weird spells on one of my students? Come on, Morgana, I'm sure they want to talk to you back home anyway."
I sighed, nodded and stepped out of the circle I'd been standing in. I really wished Caitlin wouldn't refer to Thulia as a demon in that tone of voice; it made her seen evil, which she wasn't. At least, I was certain she wasn't. So I picked up my clothes and dressed quickly."You don't need me for anything for a bit, Thulia?"
She shook her head; she was already busy working with one of her ruby data screens. "No, you go along, I'll follow once I have everything done. Just let me power up the portal for you." All she seemed to do was make a few gestures - OK, I could see a complex, writhing tangle of essence following her fingers, so it wasn't really that easy - and the air irised open in a circle of fire leading to Whateley. I gave Thulia a final look as we walked through, but she just waved in an abstracted manner. Oh well, what she was doing was really important - at least to me. But I had hoped for a hug.
Bruce waited until the portal had flickered into a point of fire and vanished before casting a cynical glance at his mistress. "A couple of hours?" He gestured to the computing slabs which were flickering crimson. "I'd have thought more like a few minutes. What's going on?"
Thulia poked her pad a few more times and then showed Bruce the result. "I wish they'd been wrong, but they aren't. Morgana has a parasite, and it's a particularly nasty one. I don't think they realise how bad it is."
Bruce looked at the screen, read it and winced. "So it is a psychofágos?
She nodded. "Yes, a hellspawned soul eater." She looked at the screen again and shivered. "A powerful one, I don't know how she's still alive. Those bastards must have put it in her after I left."
Bruce sighed. "I bet they thought it would be a way of taking her out if they couldn't control her. It's the sort of imbecilic idea they'd think was clever."
Thulia nodded as she walked over to one of the more complex consoles. "The idiots. When that thing goes, with all the power it has stored up it's likely to take a serious chunk of the landscape with it, and that would have included them."
Bruce shrugged. "What did you expect, these were the morons who decided to use someone pulled in off the street to be a power link for them, rather than one of their own who at least might have been co-operative."
Thulia snorted as she moved to a crimson crystalline slab, stroking the corner and causing it to display a set of glyphs."
"So what are we going to do about it?"
Thulia started to manipulate the symbols in front of her. "First I want to consult someone with more knowledge of hellspawn than me." The screen above her console shimmered in crimson fractal patterns, then cleared to show an older woman. "Grandmother, I need to talk with you. Right now, it's very urgent."
Thulia only had to make a few gestures with her staff to open this particular portal, she and her grandmother visited each other frequently. Despite the situation she found herself in, she smiled in recognition as the tall woman walked out through the fiery annulus that defined the gateway. As usual, Tanau wore a dress that, while looking like it should have been decorous, in fact tended to have a seriously incapacitating effect on any male seeing her voluptuous body contained in it. Her hair, unbound as usual, fell to her hips in thick waves of vibrant purple, as she drew her granddaughter into a hug. Then put her hands on her shoulders as she examined her.
"So, what is this problem you need an old woman's help with? You look very troubled."
Thulis nodded miserably. "It's Morgana. That cult? They inserted a psychofágos in her before we could rescue her.
Tanau's raised her eyebrows. "And she's still alive? I think you'd better tell me all you know, a psychofágos is not something to meddle with casually, especially if it has had time to establish itself in its victim."
Thulia gave a deep sigh and gestured to Tanau to seat herself. This was going to take a while to explain.
Once Thulia had finished with her explanations, Tanau sat there deep in thought for a couple of minutes, which did nothing at all to reassure Thulia. Finally, she stirred.
"Very well. You intend to attempt to separate them, of course?"
"Of course I do! I can't just let it kill her!"
Tanau's gaze was surprisingly piercing, and Thulia felt herself flushing rather more than she cared to admit."
"Very well. Yes, there are a number of ways of doing that, but some of them we are too late to use. From what you've told me, she is in the final stages. So just severing the connection would cause far too much damage, even if it didn't kill her outright. We have to be a bit more subtle."
Thulia looked at her hopefully. "But it's possible, right?"
"Oh yes, it's possible. It's not easy by any means, and it will need all her strength and willpower, as well as all the help you can give her, but it can be done."
"Whatever it takes, grandmother."
"Hmm. Very well, you'll need to bring her here and the actual rituals are quite complicated - while time is of the essence, you'll need a day to prepare. I suggest you go and arrange to get her here tomorrow with her teachers. While you are doing that, I'll start noting down what you'll need to do."
Thulia stood gracefully - then ruined the effect by hugging her grandmother hard. "I'll go now, I need to tell them of what I've found out anyway."
Tanua looked on with slightly concealed amusement as Thulia summoned her staff, walking quickly over to the portal to Whateley. So young, so full of energy and enthusiasm, even in these circumstances. She just hoped it wouldn't be misplaced.
I felt the eruption of essence in the centre of the spell diagram even before I saw the delicate swirl of fire that preceded Thulia's portal opening again. Judging by the way some of the other people at the table had straightened up, I wasn't the only one. Thulia stepped through the space, holding one of her ruby pads in one hand and looking grim. My heart sank; that really wasn't a good sign. She looked around at the assembly, as Ms. Grimes gestured to a seat for her. She sat down, not making eye contact with me, and despite myself, I shivered in fear of what news she had.
"I've finished analyzing the scans of Morgana." As she spoke, she was tapping her pad, as a set of holographic displays shimmered into pseudo-solidity above the table. "You were right to be worried. The cult inserted a psychofágos into Morgana, probably sometime soon after I was forced to leave. It's been active - and growing - ever since."
While a couple of the people around the table obviously recognised what she was talking about - Ms. Grimes had visibly winced - there were others who's faces showed they were still confused.
"Let me explain. A psychofágos is commonly termed a soul-eater, it's a nasty little piece of hellspawn, and its purpose is to drain power from its victim - hence the name - until they die. I assume they put it in Morgana in case they couldn't control her. It would have been fairly quiescent at first - until Morgana was freed, she was using very little magic, which is its preferential source of sustenance - but once she started to draw significantly on the Fire Plane energy, it would have siphoned off more and more of it."
Dr. Tennant looked perturbed. "I can follow it draining energy, but if it's taking it from her external source, why is it draining her?"
Thulia looked even grimmer. "The big problem is Morgana's tie. With a human mage, they basically get drained and wither away, it takes a few weeks. But with the energy available to her, it's been building up its power without actually stealing from her personal resources - at least, not directly. But what's happened is that after this time it's sucked enough energy to make itself very powerful. As a result, the rate of draw is increasing, and as you've noticed, it's interfering with the way Morgana draws and processes energy as it starts to pull essence out of her well. That's why you've seen the odd effects of her using magic in her energised state. It's already powerful enough it's causing damage to her, and in a short while the damage will be so great as to kill her. Even without causing her further burnouts, its power will distort and damage her well and energy channels until they can no longer support themselves. However, based on what has already happened, the more likely course of events is further burnouts, each one more severe until one kills her."
I looked at her in stunned silence as she reached out and took my hand. "I'm so sorry, Morgana. I never meant for any of this to happen to you in this way."
I couldn't speak to answer her, I just bit my lip as I tried to process what she'd just told us all. Surviving the cult, escaping the cult, all; for nothing as they finally got their sick, twisted revenge on me.
Ms. Grimes tapped loudly on the table to get everyone's attention before she looked around the group. "Very well, people, I want solutions. I'm not having one of my students die because we didn't try and save her. Thulia, how much time do we have before the damage to Morgana is beyond repair, or she dies?"
Thulia looked down at her pad, tapping it. "It's not entirely certain - this isn't exactly a normal situation, you understand - but I would estimate we have about a couple of weeks before it kills her. The damage to her nervous and magic system will get rapidly worse as that period continues, the growth of the thing isn't linear. I'd estimate we have about five to seven days before the damage gets so great that it's incurable, even if we get rid of the parasite. Further burnouts are possible, indeed likely, but I cannot really estimate the chances of one. And there is one other problem. When she dies, the psychofágos will release most of its energy. Normally this isn't a huge issue." She looked at me and then away again. "In Morgana's case, the discharge will be quite powerful."
Caitlin stirred. "And what do you mean by powerful?"
Thulia tapped her pad a few more times. "I can only estimate it, but my initial calculations would make it about 30 kilotons in human terms."
There was a brief, stunned silence from around the table.
Ms. Grimes looked around the table again, her expression stern. "Very well, we need a solution, and we need it fast. Caitlin, you're our artificer. Can you create something to fix this?"
Caitlin looked somewhat between unhappy and seriously put-upon. "I've never made anything to do that before. Could I design something? Sure, with help. But it isn't going to happen in five days."
"She's going to die otherwise, Caitlin."
Caitlin looked back at Grimes, her expression angry. "You think I don't realise that? Anything I could whip up in the time...well, it would be like operating on a cancer patient using a claw hammer!" Dr. Tennant wasn't the only one to wince visibly at that.
Grimes turned to the stunning redhead sitting next to her. "Fey? Do you have anything?"
The Sidhe woman looked thoughtful for some moments, then reluctantly shook her head. "I haven't had to deal with one of them before. I don't have a spell that I wouldn't have to devise, and like Caitlin that would take too long for something of the precision required."
No-one else offered any ideas either. I'd hoped that with all the talent there that someone would have been able to offer a way to fix me, but it was looking like I'd run out of time. Despite my attempt to put a stoic face on it all, I could feel a tear slowly trickle down my cheek. It just wasn't FAIR.
Despite my tears, I turned to look at Thulia, as did everyone else. That hadn't just been a statement, it was a lead-weighted, steel-bound utterance that left no room for denial. She waited a moment while we all stared at her before continuing in a voice like iron.
"I will not let Morgana die, and especially not by this thing that foul cult put in her. I am not personally familiar with this sort of entity, but I have consulted with someone who is. It is possible to remove it. Not entirely safely - there is risk, and there may be some damage - but it's the best chance Morgana has to live." She reached out and took my hand. "You dying is NOT an option!"
For the first time, I saw the imperturbable Ms. Grimes look dumbfounded. Even so, it only took moments for her to recover.
"Thulia...I mean, how do you know?"
Thulia gave her a steely look. "As I said, I'm not an expert in hellspawn. I prefer to leave them to rot where they belong. However my grandmother is far more familiar with them, and she informs me a separation can be done. Of course" her expression was ruthless as she continued, "it will involve the destruction of the psychofágos, but that hardly worries me. Good riddance to it."
For the first time, I actually had hope. If Thulia said she could handle it, I felt sure she could. The only weird thing was that she had a grandmother who was an expert on hellspawn, that was an unexpected twist. I never realised she had a grandmother.
"There is one issue which we need to discuss before I can commence."
I looked at her in confusion, as she gave me an odd look, before addressing Grimes again. "There is the matter of payment for my service."
For her part, Ms. Grimes didn't seem discommoded, she just nodded. Seeing my confused and upset expression, she patted my hand.
"Morgana, Thulia is bound by certain constraints on what she can do on this plane. I assume she cannot do a service, no matter how well-intentioned, without asking for payment."
Thulia looked at me and nodded. "I'm sorry, Morgana, I have no choice in this. I could justify testing you again as that could be construed as part of my earlier work, but this would be stretching the rules rather too far." Then she smiled slightly. "Although I do have the right to decide what I wish as an appropriate payment."
Ms. Grimes tapped her fingers on the tabletop. "Morgana is a student here, she is in our care. Any payment will be made by the school on her behalf."
Thulia gave her a long look, then nodded sharply.
"Very well. Then this is the payment I require." She looked at me again, then back at Grimes. "I want - I believe you call them visitation rights - with Morgana while she is here at Whateley."
I did my best not to let my mouth fall open at that while the rest of the table burst into exclamations and arguments. All except for Mrs. Horton, who was sitting there with a small smile while she watched the general consternation. It took a few minutes before order was restored, by which point Ms. Grimes had emerged, by some no-doubt arcane means I didn't understand, as the spokeswoman.
"While your request is, I must admit, not what I was expecting, it might be possible. However we cannot just allow you free run of the school, we have a duty of care to our other students as well. Would you be prepared to accept conditions on your visits?"
Thulia looked thoughtful. "As long as they are mutually acceptable, in principle, yes. It depends of course on what your conditions are."
Grimes nodded. "Would you give us a short time to talk about it, please. We'll try not to take too long. Morgana, maybe you could take Thulia out to the lobby and wait for us there?"
Judging by the different expressions I could see on the staff, I really wished I could hear the arguments, it looked like they would be well worth kibitzing. Which was probably why they wanted me outside, of course. So Thulia and I got up and went out to the small lobby outside the conference room.
Actually, I wasn't sure what to say to Thulia about this. The earlier revelations were still trying to work their way through my brain, and I was rather overwhelmed by it all. It wasn't until Thulia sat down next to me and took my hand that I realised I was trembling uncontrollably.
"I mean it, Morgana. Whatever happens, I'm not going to let you die."
I shivered. "But what if they won't agree..." She put her finger against my lips to silence my stammering objections and shook her head. "Doesn't matter, I meant what I said. It will be easier with their help, but that's all."
I gave her a pleading look. "But what about the rules you mentioned?"
"Screw the rules. There are always loopholes. And if there aren't, I'll make some."
I was still trembling, I hadn't felt like this since I'd gotten away from the cult. So she gathered me in her arms and just held me. Right then I really needed that.
I don't know how long it had taken the staff to work out an arrangement, time wasn't really working properly for me just then, so the door opening to reveal Ms. Grimes was a bit of a shock. Her face didn't reveal anything, as she ushered us back into the conference room.
Ms. Grimes looked at us both and cleared her throat.
"Thulia, you aren't the first demoness we have had around Whateley. So we are somewhat familiar with some of the issues it causes. We've discussed your requirement, and we have some conditions. If they are acceptable, I believe we can come to an agreement."
Thulia nodded and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. "Detail them, please."
"Very well. First, Morgana has lessons and work to do. So we cannot allow you unrestricted access any more than we would a human visitor. We think a visit of up to one day every two weeks would be a reasonable amount of time without affecting her work. Morgana will make sure this doesn't interfere with her studies.
Second, we do have a problem with the use of demonic abilities at the school." She held up a hand as Thulia looked at her and raised one delicate flame-coloured eyebrow. "I'm using demon here as a generic term." Thulia's half-smile was her only response.
"While the students are often quite physically powerful, they don't have defences against a dem - sorry, an extraplanar entities - special abilities." She gestured at Caitlin, who was sitting there with a shit-eating grin on her face. "Our Artificer has agreed to fashion a pendant that will restrict you to the abilities of your human body so long as you are at the school.
Thirdly, we insist that you only enter and leave via a specific summoning circle or portal here. So we can monitor your presence. We will amend it so you can only leave the circle while wearing the limiting pendant.
Fourth, while you are visiting, we need a way of making sure you are not too disruptive. With normal visitors, they are constrained in their actions by the fact their children are here. In your case that isn't the case, so we will ask you to swear, while on the school grounds, to follow the same rules that Morgana does as one of our students. While we cannot enforce these off the grounds, we would ask you to at least consider keeping them in order to protect Morgana and the other students we have here.
Finally, while I understand you have some familiarity with Earth, we would like to keep a closer eye on you at first. So initially, we will insist on a chaperone, for everyone's safety. Caitlin has agreed to do that role" - Grimes speech was interrupted for a second by a quite rude snort from said Caitlin - "but if things prove satisfactory, that condition will be withdrawn."
Wow, that was a lot. At least they hadn't actually suggested they keep Thulia cuffed and pulling a ball and chain around with her while she was here. Not quite. I gave a quick look at her to see how she was taking them, but for her part, Thulia was just looking thoughtful.
"While I would obviously prefer no restrictions" - she gave me a quick smile - "I can understand your reasons.
Once per two weeks is less that I had hoped, but as Morgana does I too have studies and duties. So I can live with that. As to restricting my abilities", she gave Grimes a measuring look "this amulet will allow me the use of my physical powers, yes? After all, many of the students here are quite dangerous."
The innocent way she said that made at least one of the staff cough loudly before she continued. "You cannot quite limit my abilities to the purely physical, like Morgana I have a link to the Fire Plane. But keeping that intact, I would basically have the same abilities as Morgana, but fully controlled. Would that be acceptable?"
Grimes gave a quick look around, then nodded. "Yes, I believe so. Do you have any other issues?"
"Just one. I understand why you want me to only use a specific entry, but I am reluctant to give out my true name so anyone can use it. May I suggest the summoning is done by Morgana? She can use her blood in place of my name, our connection allows that, and in any case, as I'm coming to see her, having her summon me only makes sense."
Grimes thought that through, then nodded. "That is a reasonable consideration, as long as Morgana agrees to only summon you with a member of staff present. Morgana, will you agree to such a binding, to only summon Thulia to Whateley with permission and as I direct?"
I gulped a bit - well, being made responsible for summoning Thulia was a little daunting, I'd only been learning magic for a matter of weeks - then nodded firmly.
"I will agree to that binding, ma'am."
Sunday 16th October, late afternoon (Earth reckoning), Thulia's workroom.
Tanau made a small gesture to Bruce as he stood looking over Thulia's work area. He gave her a quick glance, then checked to see that Thulia was concentrating on her preparations before slipping away to join her. The girl had thrown herself into the preparations as soon as she had returned from Earth.
"Is something the matter?"
Tanau took a long look at what Thulia was doing, then sighed unhappily. "You know very well there is. Or rather, that something could go very wrong with this."
Bruce nodded reluctantly. "I know what she intends to do is dangerous. But telling her not to do it isn't going to work."
Tanau absently wound strands of purple hair around her finger as she thought. "I realise that. She's my granddaughter, I know how stubborn she is. But she could be risking her life."
"It won't go that far, surely? She said it was safe."
Tanau snorted. "As usual, she's a bit economical with the fact of what might happen if it goes wrong, or if it turns out harder than she expects. Safe? Well, for Thulia's values of safe, probably."
Bruce thought about that, then about the experiment with Morgana that had started this whole mess, and sighed. "I don't see what I can do about the situation, she's not going to call it off."
Tanua looked over at Thulia again, her eyes obviously not focussed on what the girl was doing. "I know that as well as you. But I won't see her die because of this." She turned to face Bruce directly. "If it all goes well, all fine and good. But if it doesn't - and she's at risk - I want you to abort it and pull her out."
Bruce winced visibly. "If I do that, it will probably kill Morgana, or at best leave the parasite intact inside her. Which means the same thing."
"Yes, I know." She held up her hand, forestalling Bruce's reply. "I don't hate Morgana - she has made Thulia happy. I bear her no ill will, and I would be happy if she survived this. But my granddaughter is more important to me, if it's a choice between them, then to me, there is no choice. Besides, if the operation comes to that, Morgana would likely be doomed already."
Bruce looked over at Thulia again. Immersed in her complex preparations, she hadn't noticed the two of them talking. "If I do that... she'll never forgive me, you know."
Tanau nodded and placed her hand gently on his shoulder. "I know. If it comes to that, you have my word on sanctuary with me, as long as you need it."
Bruce snorted. "If it comes to that, I'm definitely gonna need it. Probably forever. I just hope it doesn't. The kid's had some bad breaks, and they are mainly our fault. Abandoning her to save Thulia... OK, I understand why, but while I'll do it if it has to be done, I don't like it."
Tanau frowned. "I don't need you to like it, I just need you to be prepared to do it."
Bruce looked over at Thulia, still working hard on her preparations. He'd never seen her give quite so precise, almost obsessive, care to what she was doing. He sighed quietly to himself as he gave Tanau a sideways look.
"She's getting in deep with Morgana, you know."
Tanau's lip twitched in an almost-smile. "Yes, I can see she is. You object to it?"
Bruce squirmed uncomfortably. "Not my place to say, Lady."
Tanau managed a snort that managed to be both derisory and ladylike. "And just when has that ever stopped you in the past?"
"Erm, yes, well..." then his voice took on a more serious tone." How did you find it, Lady?"
Tanau looked at him for a moment, then looked away, her eyes fixed on something distant as she almost whispered. "Wonderful, terrible. Pleasure, pain. Exciting, frustrating. Timeless and yet no time at all. Always different." She turned back to Bruce, her eyes dark. "And no, before you ask, I do not regret one moment."
Bruce met her eyes for one long, uncomfortable moment, then looked away.
Sunday 16th October, late afternoon, Doyle.
"Doc, is there a reason I have to stay in Doyle overnight? I mean, I feel fine." I tried giving her my best pleading look, but sadly Dr. Tennant was quite immune to it.
"Yes, Morgana, I'm afraid you do. While you seem stable, after what we've learned it's possible you could have another burnout event without much, if any, warning. In which case, you'd be here and we can take care of you right away."
I still looked a bit mutinous, as she continued. "And remember, the room here is fireproof. You don't want to have an incendiary-style burnout in your room, do you?"
Oh, right. No, I really wouldn't - while I might be fireproof, Bianca certainly wasn't. "I guess you're right, Doc, it's just that being here is..."
She grinned. "Boring, right? Trust me, being here and bored is better than being here and having all sorts of excitement."
She looked down at her phone as it beeped, eyes flicking across whatever the message there was. "And talking of not being bored, there's a visitor here to see you."
I gave her a puzzled look. They'd already said I couldn't see my friends, just in case, so who else would be visiting me?
There was a knock on the door, as a nurse opened it to look in. "Doctor, she's here." She stood aside to let a young woman walk in.
I stood, mouth open and no doubt looking stupid as my older sister walked in. Then I was hugging her hard. "Oh god, Ceri! How did you get here?"
Ceri grinned. "Steady, kid, not so tight - I may need my spleen some day! And as to how I got here, they have these things called aircraft now. I flew into Boston and the school arranged for a warper to meet me and teleport me here."
I blushed and let her go. "It's so good to see you! I thought I would have to wait until parent's day."
She gave the doc a look, then looked back at me. "Well, Ms. Grimes did tell me about what was going on with you. So I thought I should be here for you."
Ah. "So did she tell you about what happened to me? And what we are going to do tomorrow?"
"Yes." She looked at Dr. Tennant. "Would it be OK for us to talk alone for a bit? I promise to try and not get her too excited."
"Of course it would. I'll leave you in peace, though I will be back, Morgana has to take some medication later on."
So we sat down and talked. Mainly about home, what had been going on, who had been doing what. Mundane stuff, I know, and of course we'd talked about some of it by phone, but it was different in person. I didn't realise just how much I'd missed my big sister. By sort of mutual consent we didn't talk much about Whateley, burying myself in simple family stuff stopped me having to think too much about what was happening with me. It did allow me to corner my sister about some personal stuff she'd been a bit reticent about on the phone.
"So, you have a new boyfriend?"
She grinned. "Yeah, and its two months now and I still have him."
I pretended to look astonished. "Gee, did you finally build a mind-control widget then?"
She responded in an adult manner befitting a big sister, she gave me the finger. I just grinned. "So how did you meet him, you haven't really told me much about him?"
"Well, ironically, it was due to you."
"Me? I wasn't even in the same country - in fact, I wasn't even on the same continent!"
"Yea, go on, plead innocence. Well, after they'd shipped you off here, I had to go back to AEGIS in London a few times to sort stuff out - you wouldn't believe the amount of paperwork you escaped doing. He works there, he's one of the techs looking after the computer systems and databases, that sort of stuff. "
"I guess he doesn't mind that you're a mutant, then - mm, you have told him, right, sis?"
She looked offended. Then giggled. My, maybe she was serious, Ceri wasn't exactly a giggler. "Sure, he's pretty cool about it. In fact, he's going to help set me up with a part-time job there. I've been thinking about what I'll do next summer after I graduate, and AEGIS is always after good tech people."
Well, Ceri had never been terribly good at people stuff, come to that neither had I - but being in Poe had given me a lot more practice at talking to and, come to that, interrogating girls than I'd had before. So I managed to worm quite a bit of information out of her before there was a knock on the door - Dr. Tennant was back.
"It's time for your medication, Morgana."
I blinked, then looked over at the clock. Wow, we'd been talking for over two hours and I hadn't even noticed.
Ceri smiled and patted me on the shoulder. "Yes, you must. Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere, I'll be here for you tomorrow."
The Doctor nodded. "You'd better get into bed, Morgana. One of these pills is to put you to sleep. "She raised a hand, forestalling my objection. "Yes, I'm sure you don't want that, but you need to rest. And Thulia advised us that keeping you relaxed and hopefully asleep would reduce the chance of anything happening with your parasite overnight. So be a good girl and take them."
Oh well, if Thulia said it was a good idea it probably was. So I took the handful of pretty coloured tablets she handed to me and gulped them all down.
"I will see you in the morning, Ceri, right?"
She gave me a big hug. "Of course I will, kid, don't worry. We'll get you all sorted out and better."
I nodded. I didn't want to say anything about that, I knew that really this was all a risk, but as Thulia had pointed out, it was the only game in town. So once they left I slipped into bed. Those pills must have been strong because I don't remember much before falling asleep.
Sunday 16th October, early evening, Flying Blue Squirrel pub, The Village
Vanessa had wondered why her friend had texted her to meet at the pub until she saw the large gin and tonic sitting in front of Elyzia. From the look of it, a large amount of gin and not an awful lot of tonic. So she wheeled herself over and settled herself opposite.
Elyzia took a sip of her drink and nodded. "Yes. And it's not over yet." She glanced over at Vanessa. "Major problems with one of my students, I'm afraid."
Vanessa looked curious. "Which one?"
"Morgana Jones. Not her fault, exactly, but things have got very messy and dangerous, and I need to help sort it all out over the next couple of days. That's why I wanted to see if you were free to take my classes tomorrow, and probably Tuesday as well."
Vanessa took out her pad and tapped it a few times. "Hmm, I should be able to. Morgana... isn't she the dragongirl with the horns?"
Elyzia blinked. "You know her?"
Vanessa nodded. "She came over with Laura - the Poe girl who's been cleaning and helping look after the kids - one Sunday, to escort her. She seemed a nice enough girl, what trouble has she got into?"
Elyzia sighed, and took a large sip of her drink again. "Well, it's not exactly her fault, though she's been getting into stuff she shouldn't, but the real problem is issues with her powers. That needs to be sorted out right away, hence my absence from classes."
Vanessa gave Elyzia a close look. She'd known her long enough to know when she was concealing stuff, but if it was a student issue some of it might be confidential. In which case discussing it in the pub wasn't really a good idea, but she'd make sure to get the real facts out in private.
"You know I'll be happy to help, Elyzia."
"Thanks, Vanessa." She dug out her pad. "Let me send you the class details..."
Monday 17th October, afternoon, Magic Department
I gave a quick look around at the watchers as I tried to distract myself from the airplane-sized butterflies currently amusing themselves doing acrobatics in my stomach. Despite the pills the doc had given me, I hadn't slept at all well last night. I had vague and incomplete memories of bad dreams, most of which involved me running from something nasty that vanished every time I tried to look at it. I didn't know if it was just bad dreams or actually something to do with the parasite inside me, and I didn't really want to know. But it wasn't helping me relax in the slightest. I'd assumed I'd have to help Grimes open the portal again, but apparently Thulia didn't want me using any essence if at all possible, so she was handling it. I didn't know why she was creating a new portal rather than just repowering the original one, but I guess she had her reasons. At least Caitlin didn't seem too uptight about it, which I took as a good sign.
Grimes and Mrs. Horton looked calm, my sister a lot less so, but then she wasn't as used to watching people tear holes in reality in front of her as the two mages were. Thulia ignored us all, her hands moving in graceful arcane gestures as she drew a circle of glowing symbols in the air. They just sat there smugly with no apparent means of support as she finished off her preparations by drawing complex circles to enclose the symbols. When all this was over I was determined to ask her if this was all a necessary part of it, or if she was just doing it like that to impress us all.
Finally, she made a grand gesture with her staff, and the structure of the portal glowed crimson, a ring of fire surrounding an opening which seemed to stretch off into the distance while still just sitting there.
I waited beside Caitlin while Thulia opened the portal, feeling a shiver of apprehension run through me. Caitlin had obviously noticed it, as she placed her hand on my shoulder. Even that innocent gesture made me jerk, I was so wound up.
"Don't worry, kid, this will work out. So far she seems to know what she's doing."
Yeah, so far. What was worrying me was what came next. While I had faith in Thulia's abilities, she had been honest with me and warned me this procedure would be dangerous. I wasn't really sure how she defined dangerous. To be honest, I didn't really want to know, she might just tell me. But in any case, it wasn't like I had any choice. Maybe that was why I was so nervous, I'd always hated being at the mercy of events, and my time with the cult had only made those feelings stronger. So I just stood there as Thulia made a final graceful gesture and a pinpoint of fire spread into a circle that opened to show the way to her home. A week ago, I'd have been filled with pleasurable anticipation at the idea of visiting her, this time - not so much.
"All done, are you both ready?"
I nodded rather jerkily, then followed her as she stepped into the opening. Thulia didn't waste any time, dismissing the portal as soon as she'd led us through.
"You aren't keeping it open?"
She shook her head. "Wastes far too much power, and if anything does go wrong nothing will bleed through it. That's why I cast a new portal." Oh yeah, I'd forgotten one possibility was for me to explode. Yay me.
To Be Concluded...