Fox Tails (Part 3)
A Whateley Academy Tale
February 15, 2007
I awoke with a gnawing emptiness inside. It wasn’t hunger, at least not a physical hunger. I was still at the Squire’s HQ building; apparently everyone had just let me sleep whatever it was in one of the spare rooms. There was sound from the main room, but it was quiet. I moved to sit on the edge of the bed while trying to assess the strange sensations churning inside me from somewhere that didn’t seem to really exist.
It was a lack of something. A void that should be full and wasn't. It was like needing the warmth of the sun after being stuck underground, needing to feel the salt air after being stuck in the middle of the Great Plains, or being desperate for a symphony after being shoved into a sensory deprivation tank. That place inside of me where I reached when blinking was void; the gnawing an echo reverberating in a cavernous pit. It demanded to be filled, and somehow I seemed to know a way to do it.
I shifted back and forth on the bed, licking my lips before getting up and slinking into the outer room. Peering around I saw Luis sitting on a chair watching a Spanish televised Soccer match drinking a soda. No one else was around other than the two of us. He peered over as I started walking towards him purposely. “Hey, Tails. Feelin’ better? Gave us all a scare there.”
“Yes, thank you,” I said as I looked straight at him. I was perhaps ten feet away now, sliding across the room. “I am a little thirsty though.”
“Want a soda? I got a few here…”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” I interrupted him as I moved onto his lap, straddling him as I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. He was surprised, speech suddenly cut off for a minute or two before we came up for air.
“Shut up,” I said as my right hand snaked down towards his belt. I shifted down, sliding off his lap as I knelt before him.
“Chicka, are you sure you want to do this?” the sound of his zipper moving silenced him for a moment. “Yeah,” I replied and kissed him again, before there wasn’t any more talking.
“Dude!” Max exclaimed at Luis as I listened from one of the side rooms. Claire had already given me a dressing down before she had to go back to work. Rather it had been more a conversation of concern about certain realities, which I was already well aware of having a wife and two daughters. IUD and condom both, thank you very much. That had been taken care of within a week or so of my change, not that I was happy about having to do it at the time. She had obviously been unhappy about it but retroactively there wasn’t very much she could do. Truth be told, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about what happened myself.
The gnawing emptiness was gone. Now I was stuffed like a good post-Thanksgiving meal. Actually, that was a bad choice of words there. I mean to say that internal void that wasn’t was now full. It felt… warm, like freshly baked bread. Damn it, no, not a bun in the oven. Ugh, the innuendos were assaulting me even in my own mind.
“I know, I know. I didn’t do it! I mean, I did but... she started it!”
“The fuck?!” Max replied, gesturing around at the HQ as a whole.
“Look, I know there was a bit of clothes scattered around, but we totally cleaned those up! I mean, nothing happened on tables or chairs or anything, and it was all totally clean.”
A low growl emerged from Max as he glared at Luis.
“Look man, I know I talk a lot a shit but I wasn’t going to do a Thing, EVER. The only reason anything happened was because she started it.”
Max brought a finger up, pointing it directly at Luis. He shook his hand in a very threatening manner. “Dude…”
“I know, man, trust me. I would Never do anything to hurt her. Besides, she’s an adult… I mean… well she IS, even if her ID says she’s 15, but even that way she’s only three years and…”
He was losing, and I felt bad. I needed to save him and go and get some air. I walked out into the main room, making a show of getting my long brown coat. “Thanks Luis, I really needed that. Don’t feel like you have to stick around on my account, you boys have fun and play nice now.” I waved over my shoulder as I turned and walked out the door. I paused just on the other side as it closed ever so lightly behind me.
“So… we cool?” Luis asked to break the silence I had left in my wake.
“Yeah… we’re cool,” Max replied.
Breathing a sigh of relief I worked my way outside. Rounding the side of the building I quickly blinked a street or two over and stood behind a dumpster. Making sure no one was around I quickly bent at the waist and proceeded to throw up all over the ground. A lot.
I felt disgusted with myself, like I was unclean or covered with a film of filth. I suddenly really understood all the references to the “Walk of Shame.” What was most disturbing was that I hadn’t felt any control or influence from Siona who was in fact strangely silent. What had happened was all me which in many ways was the worst part of all. What it meant I didn’t want to think about right at the moment.
Once I was done heaving whatever was in my stomach I decided I really needed to just take a walk. Wiping my lips on a sleeve I turned and began heading along the shoreline. I didn’t really have a destination in mind, I just needed to move. Maybe I was running from the scene of the crime, or literally trying to put it behind me somehow. I’m not a shrink; I just know I felt like I needed to go so I did.
After some time I began to realize I was heading sort of North West, since I was approaching the Freemont Bridge. It suited me as a destination much as anywhere else did so I didn’t worry about it too much. Just walking around gave me a chance to be lost in my own mind. At least that’s what I thought I was doing before I sensed… “It.”
Apparently “It” was calling to me somehow. What exactly I was sensing or how I was doing it, I had no idea. Before I knew it I was under the bridge itself, looking at the troll.
The Freemont Bridge Troll was a local sculpture built in 1990. Big, giant, waist up troll grabbing a VW Bug, with a hubcap for an eye, sculpted coming out of the ground under the bridge. It was pretty large; I mean the sculpted troll was grabbing a full sized VW Bug for crying out loud. Only now that I was standing here… something felt off. I had never felt it when I had been here before, but that was… well… Before.
Now though… this whole place felt odd. A stray thought ran into my mind; Faeries loved places that were the mergers between worlds. Crossroads, shorelines, bridges, mirrors. Places where worlds met. Could it… was it possible that perhaps the statue wasn’t Just a statue? I mean, conspiracy theories sound odd and over the top and all, but I wasn’t foolish enough to deny that things went on that ordinary folk weren’t informed of.
Could it be that the Freemont Troll really WAS a troll? Something sealed away inside of a statue or the statue built to cover up something? If I acknowledged that apparently I now hosted the spirit of a Kitsune out of myth, what other sorts of creatures from legends and myths that I had thought to be mere fantasy before actually existed? It was a realization that ballooned all sorts of out of proportion very quickly. It was almost like a second childhood was coming to a close; that the world you thought you knew was actually a lie, a fabrication meant to shield you from everything that was actually going on and now as a grown up you were expected to deal with all of these things that you hadn’t even been aware of.
And in a way, wasn’t that exactly what had happened to me? Twenty years of my life spent surrounded by lies. How much of everything had been done because it was real, and how much because it had been expedient or needed to appear that way?
It was a chilling series of thoughts that came without an answer as I stood under the bridge, face to face with a troll.
February 16, 2007
“Alright, Siona, what gives?”
The Twin-tailed Fox sighed at me from where she sat perched atop the closed toilet nearby. I was ironically actually in the shower. “I was half hoping you’d forget about it so I could figure out the best way to apologize.”
“Not very likely,” I said with a frown and grimace. I still was of very mixed opinion on what had happened. It certainly was never something I thought I would have been involved in, particularly given my new physical state of existence. That being said, I can’t say the … physical sensations … hadn’t been extremely pleasurable.
She blushed. I think. I mean, if a fox blushes what color do they turn? More red? Less red? How did I even know she was blushing? More little things that I tried to not worry about.
“I wasn’t trying to hide anything from you. Honestly I didn’t even know that would happen to you. I mean, you aren’t a full Kitsune yourself so I had no way of knowing it’d come up. I mean, it’s not like I’ve exactly done this before.”
“Siona, I’m not angry.” I was fairly certain that was true. “What happened?”
“It’s kind of an involuntary defense mechanism,” she finally said. “You had used a lot of our Quintessence throughout the last week and you finally got to the point where we’d ran out. We Kitsune… well most people can’t do this, but… ugh, this is embarrassing.”
“Embarrassing for You?!”
“Alright, fair point. People expend some of their Chi when they um… through sex. Kitsune have the ability to take that expended Chi and turn it into Quintessence directly. No, it doesn’t do anything to your desires or take over, and it doesn't harm the other person. It’s just something we can do. Your body was just trying to get more Quintessence by the quickest means possible in case we needed to defend ourselves or use our powers to survive. As I am more spirit than corporeal right you were able to make Quintessence for me, and I imagine if you were doing it for you it would be the energy you are short of.”
“So what, like some sort of animal instinct thing?”
“More or less. I honestly didn’t think you’d be able to gather Quintessence on my behalf that way. It shouldn’t be too hard to avoid in the future, we’ll just have to keep a closer eye on how much energy you’re expending and make sure we don’t get too low.”
I sighed and closed my eyes, letting the water run over me in the hot, steamy shower. This was definitely not something I had ever thought would be happening to me. Then again, what man does? Or woman now, I suppose. Girl. Hell, I didn’t even know what pronoun really truly described myself anymore.
“So that’s why you were staying away then.”
“I thought you needed some time. That and I wasn’t sure how to explain… I mean, I should have thought of this and I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright. Like you said, you had no way of knowing it was going to happen.” Regardless of how I felt about it (which I still wasn’t sure about) she hadn’t meant any malice. Honestly I still wasn’t sure exactly how old she was. If the old adage of a tail per hundred years was correct she was at least a hundred. Or was it at least sixty-ish because you added our ages together? In either event, what was that for a Kitsune anyway? Teenager? College aged? She didn’t strike me as an old, experienced individual. This meant that she probably really hadn’t done anything like this before. “We’ll just have to figure it out together as we go along.”
“Thank you for understanding and not being angry, I honestly am just trying to help.”
“I know. And I thank you for it.”
Suddenly she was gone and I was alone under the shower. I wasn’t sure exactly how long it had been. My skin wasn’t burnt or anything, so I wasn’t too terribly worried. Turning off the water I got out, wrapping a towel around my torso and using a second one to dry my hair. It seemed I was having to relearn just about everything about myself. I left the bathroom to go about the rest of my day.
February 18, 2007
It was a few days later that I managed to set the kitchen on fire. No, I didn’t make any errors with the stove. I’m actually relatively competent in the kitchen. I mean, I’m certainly not a chef nor do I make little portions of three bites of elf food. I do alright though, and no one has ever complained about what I make. It… well maybe I should just say what happened.
There I was, just cooking something for Claire and me to eat. In actuality all I was really doing was making ham and cheese sandwiches, buttering the outside and putting them in a Panini press for a lightly crusty yumminess, and adding bagged potato chips. Big, complicated process right? Well as Claire and I were talking about her college course work and how her classes were going, the counter behind me (which had nothing plugged in on it at all) spontaneously had several globes of blue-white flame floating above it.
Let’s just say things went downhill from there. I mean floating blue supernatural balls of fire in a kitchen; what would you think happened? So about an hour later, after adventures with water, fire extinguishers, and all sorts of kitchen disaster I was sitting in the Seattle Knights HQ having a conversation with Tome.
“Alright, so you’re telling me I have this… Essence stored up inside me. It just fills up all on its own over time, and if I boil over because there’s too much these little flamey wisp hobgoblins show up to keep me from overcharging?” I asked.
“Essentially, yes. That is a relatively accurate summation.” Tome nodded as he responded. I still liked him. His extremely scientific approach still irked me from time to time, but he was nice and very sincere.
“And why didn’t this happen before? I mean, do I have to make sure I run around fighting killer robots or risk yet another Seattle fire?” Yeah, because we really needed another Seattle Underground from a great flaming disaster in the city’s history.
“Not at all. What I can do for now is show you another basic spell that you can use to practice with each day to keep your accumulated Essence level low. Over time you should grow more proficient at managing and holding essence which should reduce the frequency of your spills. Later in your career you'll learn other ways to deal with excess Essence as well, such as storing it in objects for later use as a sort of reserve."
Hunh, I wonder if that was related to that empty feeling I felt… I quickly blushed and nodded. It was something for me to ask Siona about in the future. If I could stave off being so starved, well, at least I hoped it was just Essence or Quintessence or whatever the hell all of these finger waggling people babbled about. I really hoped I wouldn't have to worry about anything else.
"When you're more ready we can work on creating your Pearl. I imagine he is talking about the same thing, although we foxes are of course better at it." Sionna sounded a bit smug in my head as she spoke.
I thought I'd go ahead and ask him about that. “Do you think something like that may be the source of the magical Pearl in Kitsune myths that was supposed to hold part of the fox’s soul?”
“That is a very astute suggestion,” Tome said with a smile as he considered. “I can definitely see merit in the idea as a basis for the legends. Most legends are grounded in fact, after all, and we are in a way rediscovering that which has been around for millennia. It would not surprise me if a great many legends are actually based upon magical facts or practices.”
Tome smiled and nodded. “Very good. Let us begin then. Now with this spell we are going to work on creating a small bit of light. In addition to being very useful, it also forms the foundation for a great many things involving light, including illusions.”
Always another thing to learn and practice it seems.
February 19, 2007
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - What Is Eternal
Album: Beethoven’s Last Night (2000)
And here in the night as I feel the inferno
I stare in the dark thinking what is eternal
The man or the moment the act or the reason
These thoughts fill my head as I contemplate treason
Of dreams I have had and dreams I have pondered
When late in the night my mind it would wander
To things I have done and then quickly regretted
While denying vices my life had selected
And I think what I've done or have yet to begin
And the man I've become and the man that I've been
Now caught in a waltz with the eternal dancer
I'm courted by death but death isn't the answer I say
All I was meant to be
Could I suddenly just decide
Not a thought would survive
Could it be my life's worth
Ended there with my birth
If I could see someone who's been there before me
And traded his soul for a moment of glory
His penance or mercy by spirits debated
While judged on a scale that's been heavily weighted
And what have I done could there be such a sin
In this man I've become, in this man that I've been
Now calling to God from the pit's very bottom
I pray he forgives every sin I've forgotten this day
And who would've thought that my fate it would conjure
This twist in the road on which I have wandered
Each vision and dream now completely dismembered
To give one's whole life and find nothing's remembered
And what good is a life that leaves nothing behind
Not a thought or a dream that might echo in time
The years and the hours the seconds and minutes
And everything that my life has placed in it betrayed
The things I have done the places I've been
The cost of my dreams the weight of my sins
And everything that I've gathered in life
Could it be lost, could it be lost in this
Could it be lost in this night
I sat outside on Claire’s balcony, facing the starry evening over Seattle. The sounds of the late night city traffic rolled through the air, a strange melodic river of tones echoing off the buildings. A mixture of salt air and humanity assailed my nose as the tears ran openly down my face. A nearly empty bottle of mead sat beside me next to my cell phone. It had, much to my shame, been unopened when I had started drinking it.
Scattered on the kitchen table inside were the pages of some admissions packet and knowledge test, perhaps only half complete. Half, and not for lack of trying. The most difficult part to admit was that it was simply gone.
As I was putzing about the house earlier I had found it over on Claire’s desk. It had a Post-it note from Agent Bob. “Have Conner try this. I hope my boys are wrong – Bob”
Being the smart ass that I am, I was now of course obligated to try and work my way through the packet. By doing so I made the rather painful discovery that led to my current state on the balcony. I had thought that taking a test on things I already knew would be a piece of cake. I was wrong.
My knowledge and academic memories were scattered, as full of holes as a block of Swiss. Some things, like cooking, fencing or music I had complete recollection of. I could do those tasks and remember how and why with perfect clarity.
Others… I was not so lucky. I had been stumped by the math question of “9x = 27, solve for X” for pity’s sake. Algebra! Basic algebra, and it was simply gone. Apparently the US was involved in a war in 1812 too, not that I knew that any more. It seemed anything that required a fact or figure or could be looked up in a book simply didn’t exist in a place I could find it.
Siona had tried to explain about halfway down the bottle. She had been crying. I could almost feel the pain radiating off of her when she had spoke to me from where ever it was she did that from. Something about Burnout destroying my body, which wasn’t a huge surprise. I mean, I had been shot probably at least a dozen times, then add on whatever changes that Anna’s blood triggered and losing perhaps 40 per cent of my body mass. Yeah, I still understood percentages but I couldn’t do basic math.
She had fought to save every aspect of myself she had recognized. Every memory of my life was still there, events that had happened. My wedding, the birth of my children, graduating college, high school even. Apparently things she recognized as skills and art she fought for. But she could only do so much.
She had grieved in shame, begged my forgiveness for having failed. How could I not thank her for the fact that I was Alive? The fact I was even here was more than I had any right to expect.
Still, it did little to help me feel better after she had gone and I was left to contemplate the horrible reality of the situation. I mean, what did you do when everything you ever were was gone? Your identity, everything you had worked for over decades, the knowledge, skills and qualifications to be able to have a normal life. Poof.
I knew I wasn’t handling things well or even remotely appropriately. At the moment I didn’t much care. Allow me my sorrow. Give me my moment of darkness where I wonder if it’s worth waking up the next day. A human has the right to ask for that much.
The worst part was I didn’t have the love of my life, my partner, to hold and shelter me in my grief. And I wouldn’t ever have her here again.
I will admit that a small part of me thought for a fraction of a second about just stepping off the balcony. I didn’t do it, nor looking back do I think I was or have ever been truly suicidal. There’s just a short thought that if you were dead you wouldn’t be hurting, you wouldn’t have a giant pile of steaming putrescence to deal with. That it would be easier if you just… weren’t.
I picked up my phone and scrolled through the contacts until I found the one I needed. Waiting a few moments I began to speak to a voice mailbox. “Agent Klein? This is… This is Catherine Fox. I tried to take that test and… I need that school. The one Anna’s at. Please give me a call when you get this tomorrow.”
I hung up and let my head lean back against the wall, tears still streaming down my face as I set the phone back down on the balcony. I’m positive Claire didn’t know I saw her turn away from looking at the sliding glass door, tears in her own eyes as she went towards the kitchen.
Ceasing to be might be easier, but it wouldn’t be right.
February 21, 2007
"What sort of mood are you in for dinner?" Claire called from her kitchen.
I looked up from where I lounged on the couch, trying to read a copy of "Math for Dummies." I looked guiltily over at the scorch marks and the evidence of the Great Kitchen Fire from a few days ago. "Maybe take out?"
Claire looked over the kitchen herself, her face grimacing slightly. "You have a point. I wonder if we should go with pizza or Asian." She was reaching for a few menus when we heard a knock from the door.
"Pizza delivery!" was called from outside.
We looked towards each other and Claire went over to the door. She opened it cautiously then gasped. "You jerk! You could have called!" She threw a punch at the figure standing in the doorway who side stepped gracefully and was let inside.
My youngest son, Will, was standing there in a set of blue overalls, a red shirt, and a red cap with the letter M on it. He even got a fake little black mustache to wear under his nose. To his credit, he did have two boxes of pizza held in his right hand. "Just for that, beloved sister of mine, you can have a hot, steaming bag of Dick's." Will produced a take out bag from behind his back with his left hand, shaking it temptingly under Claire's nose.
"Why didn't you say so?! Get in here, you!" Claire exclaimed with a giggle and smile as she took the bag with a ravenous need and ushered Will into the condo.
Dick's Drive-In. It's a thing. Go there.
Will sat the two pizzas down on the kitchen counter, looking at the burn marks with a raised eyebrow. Once both his arms were free he wrapped Claire up in a large hug. Will was tall, a hair over six foot. Whereas Max was broad of shoulder and athletic, Will was lanky with a runner's build. His skin was pale and he had a very Nordic appearance with blond hair and blue eyes. White and Nerdy wasn't that bad of a ringtone for him, to be honest, but I'd never admit to that publicly.
Will then removed his hat and fake mustache and turned to look at me. "Dad?" At my slow nod, he shook his head in slow wonder. "They really weren't kidding, were they? That's got to be.. I mean.. damn!"
"You're telling me!" I said with an eye roll as I got up and walked over to him. I stopped perhaps a foot away from him as we both looked at each other in silence for a moment.
"Aw hell," Will exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. "I was so worried," he exclaimed as we stood there. Was he, was he crying?
"I'm gonna be okay," I said as my head rested on his chest. "I'm still here, it's going to be alright." We stood for a few moments while I let the normally jovial Will get it out of his system. When he started to pull away I didn't resist it.
"Right, so... Catherine now?" he asked as he looked me over. I nodded at him. "I gotta say,this is going to take some getting used to."
"Yeah, I'm still trying to believe I'm the person in the mirror."
"Not to mention your newest nemesis," Will said. I looked at him puzzled until he finished his thought. "The top shelf," he said with a grin. There was my son back.
I chuckled and smiled at him, "Touché."
"Alright, so tell me what happened while I was gone," Will said as he sat on the couch. Claire handed him his box of pizza (ham and pineapple) and me the second box (a rather simple pepperoni) as we all gathered around the table and played catch up.
February 23, 2007
The sound of ships and gulls floated across the salty breeze that assaulted my nose as I sat on the wooden bench munching on a bag of fish and chips. I was bundled up in my almost trademark by now brown jacket and tan scarf and cowl, which helped with the chilly air. While the Puget Sound wasn't really the ocean proper, it was still a bit chilly given the time of year. In a way I felt like I had to come back down to the Piers before I left. I wasn't sure if it was saying good bye, or trying to face what had actually happened. It just felt... like something that needed to happen.
Will had been able to stay for a couple of days, joining Claire (and Max when he was free from the Squires) in telling me strange tales of this so-called "Whateley Academy" which everyone felt would be a wonderful experience for me. I had my doubts. Just because I was going through the poster child version of "most extreme mid-life crisis ever" didn't mean going back to High School was on my bucket list. Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of real options in the matter.
So I had come here to relax and say good bye to a chapter of my life. The Seattle waterfront and Pike Place Market had always been one of my favorite places. It felt so... alive here. All of the people and various shops and things, it gave a sense of who and what the city actually was. It was if the city really did have a spirit and a soul, and this was one of the places you could glimpse it.
Seattle had a long history since it's founding in 1851, had been rebuilt multiple times what with the great fire of 1889. Heck, there were still some of the original buildings in the Underground under Pioneer Square. One of the largest ports in the country in terms of shipping, vibrant music and food scene, large part of the current tech boom, the Emerald City is a wonderful place. The only problem now is one of my favorite places also had some very... troubling memories tied up to it as well.
This was now always going to be the place I had died. I closed my eyes and could feel my heart begin to race a little. It was getting harder to breathe and I could see Ferrous in my mind, raising his pistol and pointing it down at me as he...
"This seat taken?"
I shook myself out of my reverie and looked up to see the smiling face of Meliferra looking at me. I smiled back cautiously and inclined my head. "Not at all. Fish?" I asked as I offered the contents of the plain brown paper bag. There was something about the paper bag that helped the taste. That and the vinegar you pour over it. At least, the vinegar that proper folk put on their deep fried fish. If you don't you're a heathen.
She shook her head, "I've already eaten, but thank you. I must admit I didn't expect to see you as I was flying out and about."
I chuckled slightly as I ate another bite of cod. "It was tempting, but the food's better here. Quite honestly, I have absolutely no idea what to really do. I'll be heading to the same school my.. siblings go to in a few days. Some place out on the East Coast that's supposed to be geared for children in my situation. It beats sitting around being miserable for myself, but in terms of how I'm going to really handle the rest of whatever, I've got nothing."
She was refreshing to talk to. Unlike nearly everyone else in the city, she knew who I was or rather who I had used to be. She had gone through something similar herself, and I could talk to her in a way I couldn't talk to my children. I did not have to pretend to have utter confidence that I had everything under control or that it would all be fine so that they could mentally be okay. It's surprising how much of my life had in essence been "fake it 'til you make it" as a father. No matter what happened I could not panic or be seen as anything other than utterly confident that I had the situation under control; no matter what, Dad was going to make sure everything was fine and everyone was going to be okay. That sort of ingrained habit didn't go away simply because I wasn't packing heat in my boxer-briefsany more. Granted I didn't even get to wear boxer-briefs anymore, but that's a different story.
She nodded knowingly. "The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. Whateley is a good place, and they've dealt with other similar situations before in their history. It's where I went myself after much the same thing, although that was a long time ago. The faculty has changed, of course, but the school is still top notch at what they do. They have to be."
"So everyone tells me. I'll just say I'm not exactly enthused by the idea of doing it all over again. It's necessary but I don't think there are any good choices right now."
"Sometimes we just have to make the most with what we have. It wont be easy, but it could be far worse."
"This is true. I'm in a much better spot than you were after all."
"Yes and no. Yes I was all alone and you're not, but it wasn't that bad building a future for myself instead of a new life. But as my grandmother told me, do not let yesterday use too much of today. What's done is done and there's no where to go but forward."
It was nice, just getting a chance to relax and talk without having to be the grown up. We chatted for quite a while, and it did help bring my mind away from my problems, at least for now.
March 4, 2007
I stared at the somewhat luminous green feminine eyes reflected back at me from the window as the clickity-clack of The Grand Miskatonicrolled along the tracks towards Dunwich. It had been a five day trip from Seattle to Boston all in all, by Amtrak. Overnight in Boston then train again north. We had avoided airlines, as the MCO didn't really care about Greyhound or rail. "Who am I, Gamling?" I whispered softly, wrapped in my long brown coat and tan scarf and cowl.
"Well that's kind of a silly question. You are you." Siona's voice in my head broke me out of my reverie.
"It is not. I'm not me anymore, and I'm not this Catherine person either. I don't know who I am, and given that I'm thirty nine years old I ought to know the answer to that," I thought back at her. I was being a bit depressive lately, but in my own defense, I'd been through a lot.
"You are you," Siona insisted again. "What does the name by which others call you matter? Just be you."
The irony is that ordinarily I'd probably agree with her. It wasn't often we were able to talk outside of a sauna; it was something I was struggling with. One more thing on the list of hardships. Claire started double checking her bags and making sure everything was in order. "We're about to arrive, you should check your things now. It'll be a mad dash to find seating while we wait for the vans." I could feel the tenuous connection I had with Siona fade at the distraction of Claire's voice. So much for that.
I looked over at her and nodded, checking my satchel and getting ready to grab my instrument cases. Thankfully for me Claire had volunteered to grab the two bags of actual things letting me carry my violin, mandolin, and keyboard myself. True to her word it was a mad dash of bodies when the train arrived at the station, but Claire's experience at having made this journey before paid off and we were able to grab some of the last seats available to relax and stretch our legs.
The two of ussat in the lounge while I played people watcher nervously. It wouldn't be the first time I was thankful for whatever glamour Tome said I had to help avoid really being noticed. A lanky brown haired boy in a flannel, jeansandboots was approaching a shorter, attractive brunettegirl nearby. "Uh, hi," he said with his hat in his hands.You could tell he was nervous, then again he was a teenager trying to talk to a pretty girl so that's to be expected."You look like you know what's going on at Whateley. Are you an upperclassman?"
The girl seemed to glare at the boy in annoyance. "Non," she said snobbishly. "I'm a freshman," she said with a thick French accent.
"Oh. Are you from Europe?"
"Oui. I am from France." I frowned in sympathy for the lad. What part of France exactly didthis little cuntapotamus come from, Bitchville?
The boy stuck out his hand. "I'm Matt. Matt Walker. I'm just starting here this term." I winced, knowing that this wasn't going to end well for him.
"Are you a freshman?"she asked rudely, pointedly ignoring the offered hand. Folks liked to criticize American manners... most of the time I'd agree with them, but this was just uncalled for.
"Yeah," the boy said with a confused expression. "I'm from Albuquerque. In New Mexico. In the southwest."
"I am quite familiar with the geography of this country.It was covered in one of my required classes last year. French schools are _quite_ thorough in world affairs and geography, unlike most Americain schools." Quite the little superiority complex that cuntapotamus had. I was beginning to think this whole school thing was a horrible idea.
"Are there any tips you could give me about Whateley?"You had to give the fellow marks for trying, he at least was attempting to still hold a civil conversation with madame ice princess. Most people would have thrown something at her by now.
"I would strongly suggest that you find an upperclassman," She suggested with all the heart of a marble statue. "That would be more 'elpful to you, I'm certain." And with that, the little bitch turned on her heels and stalked away, leaving the example of everything decent teenage boys dreaded about attempting to talk to pretty girls... alright, I might have a bit of a bias there.
Claire had also seen the exchange, as she was frowning. My eyes widened slightly as I suddenly realized she was going to...
"Mister Walker?" She waved him over when he turned to look, having replaced his hat. He inclined his head to the pair of us, "Ma'am, miss."
"I'm Claire Westbrook, and this is my younger sister Catherine Fox," Claire said, gesturing toward me with her hand. I winced inwardly as this was not exactly something I was looking forward to. It was one thing to interact with my own children, but to have to try and remember how to act like a child in front of other children? Ugh. I smiled up at the boy slightly as Claire continued. "I'm a Whateley graduate, and this is Catherine's first time here as well. I can help answer some of your questions if you'd like."
The boy seemed to breathe an audible sigh of relief. "I'd really appreciate it, ma'am. I can tell it's goiing to be a big change from what we had down in Albuquerque, especially since I grew up on a ranch. Are most folks just so..." he struggled with trying to find a word.
"Intent on acting like a heartless, frigid, bitch cunt?" I supplied helpfully.
Claire smirked a little before shaking her head, "Thankfully no. Most everyone who is at Whateley is there for a reason, just like you. Don't be afraid of being a stranger, and remember that no matter how bad you had it before, someone else here has had it as bad or worse than you. Especially those in Hawthorne, or some of the GSD cases. You'll find out about that later, but always remember that no matter what the other students look like, they're just as scared and unsure as you are."
"That's good to hear ma'am, thank you. I was pretty lucky back home. We're pretty remote and a small town so there weren't a lot of folks. Most people are off grid with alternative energy and just want to be left alone for the most part. One of my uncle invests in properties, so he was able to help my folks front some of the money for a bit then with some scholarships we all figured it'd be a better chance than any I'd getback home."
Thankfully, the shuttle vans arrived, saving me from further awkwardness. Matt noticed this as well as he tipped his hat to us both (ugh, being on the wrong side of gallant chivalry). "Thank you for your time Miss Westbrook, Miss Fox. Perhaps I'll see you around school." We waved at him as he picked up a large duffel from nearby and headed towards the waiting vans. Claire and I held back, letting most of the herd of chickens clamor for vans and head out. Eventually when the furor had died down, we leisurely got into the last van and embarked on the last leg to my new beginning.
The terrain wasn't that bad. I prefer the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula or the Cascade Mountains if I'm trying to get away, but at least it wouldn't be horrible out here. I've been spoiled really by where I'm from; a Washington State forest looks like it should sprout Ewoks. I spent most of my time quietly staring out the window while the other passengers in the van chattered gossip among themselves about who kissed who or what newspaper articles people had written about them or some such foolishness.
Eventually we arrived on campus itself. To be honest, it looked like we were driving into the scene of some supernatural horror movie with all the old architecture around. I started jokingly going over some of the rules in my head: Never explore the basement with the power out, avoid all graveyards, never split up to investigate strange noises, etc. Thankfully I didn't think most of these would come up. Once we had unpacked the van Claire looked about and smiled. Suddenly my bags and belongings started floating themselves alongside us. "It's a green flag day," she explained while pointing at some of the hanging flags around. "That means it's alright to use powers openly. Yellow days are proceed with caution, you'd want to wear your scarf and coat on those days. Red days are do not reveal anything at all costs." I quirked an eye at her, but removed my coat and scarf, letting my ears and tails out into the open. It felt... strange. I mean, khakis, tennis shoes and a t-shirt weren't really unusual, but how many creatures from legends did you see walking around on a regular basis? That's what I thought.I kept looking around waiting for the Sword of Damocles to fall.
Yeah, I wasn't kidding about the real hit and miss facts and knowledge in my head.
While most of the people heading about to and fro looked like ordinary, everyday teenagers, none of them really batted an eye in my direction more than what seemed a curious glance at the new girl. Ugh. I didn't want to be the new girl, I preferred being the old guy who was obviously visiting his kid or making a trip to the office. Still, it did beat being dead.
We arrived at Schuster Hall (which apparently held the offices, but more importantly to my long term future the cafeteria) and left my physical baggage at the door. After entering Claire made a great point of showing me what was apparently an obligatory Lord Paramount painting simply so I wouldn't have to look at it later. A couple other art museum "look here" stops and we were then sitting in an office waiting for a meeting with the Headmistress.
"Ah, Miss Westbrook, what a pleasant surprise," said an attractive blond office worker. "How are your medical studies going? I had received word that there was another one of you. This would be her then?"
"Good day, MissHartford. They're going very well, I'm a Senior now at the UW. Yes, this is my youngest sister, Catherine Fox." Claire smiled cordially and genuinely at the office worker. Apparently this was someone she knew from her time here before.
"Ah, one of the Fox bunch as opposed to another Westbrook. Hopefully you'll take after your older two siblings and be on the correct side of the administration. I do want to express my condolences about your mother and father. Please know that the faculty have been informed and if you ever need any help or someone to talk to, just let us know."
I blinked in surprise a bit, but inclined my head gratefully. Was that a hint of disappointment that I wasn't a Westbrook? "Thank you, mam. I certainly don't intend to cause any trouble."
Miss Hartford nodded back. "I'll let the Headmistress know you've arrived. Please be seated until she's ready for you." With that she went and knocked politely on the Headmistresses door, poking in her head and passing along the message before sitting back down at her own desk.
Claire whispered to me as we sat down to wait. "She's Mrs. Carson's right hand. It's best to stay on her good side, something Will and Anna never quite figured out."
It made sense to me. Office workers, secretaries, janitors, security... these are the never seen people who actually make the world go round. They were the ones you wanted to send gift baskets to just because; it paid off in the long run.
We sat for several minutes before Miss Hartford's phone rang. She answered it, "Yes, mam," stood and gestured for us to go into the foreboding office. "The Headmistress will see you now," she said as we entered the lionesses den.
As the door was shut behind us, my attention was fixated upon Headmistress Elizabeth Carson. She stood behind her desk with the regal authority befitting a Norse warrior-queen. Her demeanor made it quite plain that we existed in this space with her permission and should we wish to continue to exist it would be solely upon her say so. Thankfully this was a point I had zero intention of arguing.
Claire and I both curtsied slightly as we approached the desk. I had a slight tug inside my... self that seemed to indicate even Siona was on edge. Mrs. Carson gestured towards a pair of chairs which were on our side of it, "Please be seated." She herself sat after we had ourselves, and she smiled genuinely across the wide desk. "Miss Westbrook, it is good to see you again, though I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances. How go your medical studies?"
"They're going very well. I'm still on schedule with the U.W., even while working with the Seattle Squires program. This winter and last year put in a few hiccups, but I was able to put in some extra work to make up for any lost time."
"That's excellent to hear. It's refreshing to hear about some of our Alumni doing well in the lives they've chosen for themselves. Many of us come to Whateley due to circumstances outside of our choice or control, as you yourself know and your... sister... is finding out."
I quirked an eyebrow slightly at the Headmistress's choice of inflection. She smiled slightly at me and continued. "We have dealt with a great many unique situations at Whateley Academy; while yours would not be the most unusual it certainly poses its own unique set of complications."
I winced and nodded slightly. I could certainly see how there would be some logistical hurdles given everything that had been going on, although I still wasn't sure entirely what Agent Klein had relayed of my situation, or exactly what the Headmistress knew of what was really happening.
"I would like to ask you a single question, Miss Fox, before deciding exactly how we will proceed here." She paused pointedly and continued after I nodded. "Why should I allow you to attend my school?"
I blinked in surprise, paused, then closed my mouth and considered for a moment. There was really no choice but complete honesty, particularly since Mrs Carson could very well know everything that was happening. Still the choice of wording was very important. How do you describe, really describe, the situation that I was in and why I so desperately needed help? I mean, I wasn't actively being hunted, I had food and shelter, why was I really trying to accomplish?
"Because I have nowhere else to go," I finally said softly. Claire and Mrs. Carson both looked at me in puzzlement as I looked up sadly. "Everything is gone, all that I worked for and knew... I don't even know who I am anymore. I need someplace to be so I can start over, where I'm not a burden or holding back someone else's life while I try to find mine again."
The Headmistress nodded slightly. "I believe we can offer you that place. Please keep in mind all of the various requirements and rules of the school will apply. In your case, you will need to see a Counselor at least once a week beginning later today." She must have noticed my look of confusion as she smiled slightly when she continued. "It's mandatory for students in your position to receive counseling. Periods of great trauma, such as physical transition or changes, or extreme emotional grief like the loss of a parent, sibling or spouse necessitate speaking with trained medical staff for the best adjustment and healing. All of these sessions are strictly confidential, of course."
How much did she know? I nodded cautiously, "I'll do whatever the requirements are without any fuss, ma'am. Please don't be offended when I say that it's my goal to spend the smallest amount of time possible inside of your office until I graduate."
She smiled what appeared to be a genuine smile as she gestured me out. "A notable goal, though keep in mind that we as faculty are here to ensure every student's success. This includes extra help should it be required. Your sister should be waiting for you outside to show you to Whitman Hall where you'll reside while you're here. Having the two of you in the same building should be helpful to you both with the trying last few years you've had, not to mention that Whitman Hall is equipped to handle most cases of GSD, such as the changes you have experienced. I have a few things to speak with Miss Westbrook here about as a returning Alumni if you don't mind, she should be able to meet you for dinner before leaving."
I nodded and got up to leave the office. The Headmistress had one last comment for me as I reached the door.
"Oh, and Miss Fox? Please keep in mind that any...inappropriate relationships with other students will be Quite frowned upon. I trust that you will not try to take unfair advantage of your position in any way."
I blinked for a moment before a look of disgust briefly came over my face. "That won't be a problem, mam. They're children."
She smiled at me as we looked at each other, the unspoken words saying volumes across the room. I curtsied briefly again before heading out towards the steps and my luggage. I still wasn't sure exactly how well I had come across in that meeting, but there was no longer any doubt about how much Elizabeth Carson knew.
I met back up with Anna outside Schuster. Rather I should say that when I exited the door Anna practically flew into me, wrapping me up with a gigantic hug. "I am so sorry!" she said while I tried to keep breathing and standing from the impact of a flying body, one which was now technically bigger than me.
"Shh, it's alright, Anna. I'm here and I'm alive. There is nothing to be sorry about." I held onto her as best I could, waiting for the moment to pass while she regained control over herself. Anna had always been headstrong, but she had a lot of heart and emotion which she kept inside. She was a bit unpredictable at times, but if you pay attention long enough you can catch a few of her quirks.
After she had calmed down, we began the arduous process of lugging my luggage to Whitman cottage. Honestly a lot of this was showing me yet-another-old-building-named-after-a-dead-guy. Don't get me wrong, the buildings were quite beautiful, and the scenery was very nice. Granted all the trees were wrong, but I'm kind of picky like that. I simply prefer a forest of conifers as opposed to leafy trees. Thankfully green was still a predominant color, otherwise I'd probably go mad.
"So the Headmistress seems quite a character," I offered as we trekked along.
"You do NOT want to cross Mrs. Carson," Anna confirmed with what seemed the voice of experience.
"I take it you've had some... colorful adventures?" I asked with a gentle tone. While we may be posing as sisters now, there's still a lot I knew she'd never really be able to tell me. Like everything else now, our relationship was complicated.
"Well, Whateley is certainly a bit unpredictable. On any given day there's explosions, killer robots, ninja attacks, I mean, it's entirely populated by mutants and what nots! Mrs. Carson keeps a firm hand on things, and she does NOT take rule breaking lightly. Miss Hardass...er, Hartford is just as bad. Detentions are very creative."
I frowned, but honestly I shouldn't be surprised. Anna was always a bit headstrong, so naturally if she got it in her mind that something was worth doing, she'd do it and damn the consequences. I'd much rather she kept herself out of trouble, but push her too hard and she'd dig in her heels. Natural consequences had always worked best with her, letting her make her own mess and figure out not to do that again. There was a certain pain in parenting strong willed intelligent children; you wanted them to explore and make their own decisions, but you also wanted to prevent any harm from ever happening to them. Sometimes you had to decide that what they were doing wasn't going to be fatal, so you had to watch them walk right into a trap of their own making.
"I'll keep that in mind. I hope never to have to..."
"Well well, if it isn't Whoopi. Get back from visiting your parents over break? How was the graveyard?" A smarmy male voice interrupted my commentary and caused me to glance over. A blond haired, athletic boy was leaning against a tree, flanked by a pair of goombas. He was fairly built, and at any other school would obviously be part of the football in-crowd. Really he was just missing the Letterman's Jacket and a trophy Cheerleader, otherwise he had the irritating jock Quarterback King of the School thing going.
First Goomba was a hand over six foot, and the face of a moron with an IQ smaller than his shoe size on the body of a gorilla. I should clarify, this being Whateley, that he looked completely normal. Normal being a regular human with the face of your average idiot who obviously was kept around because he had size and intimidation. If he was anything other than a complete morlock I'd be surprised. Short crew cut hair, fairly prominent brow, way too much time in a weight room and probably used dude and bro entirely too much.
Second Goomba really looked like a complete hanger on. He wasn't built like the other two, and seemed a bit full of himself. Black hair in a pretty standard cut, relatively clean and wearing high quality name brand clothing everywhere. He smacked of money, just enough to lead to a sense of entitlement without actual ability to back it up. He most likely thought he was important, but being as we were now in a school where a ton of gold was just laying around, I really wasn't too certain we were dealing with the upper crust here.
"Buzz off, Victor," Anna shot back snarkily.
"Not without at least meeting your friend here." Smarmy gave me his best wink and a grin, which probably worked on most girls. Thankfully I wasn't most girls. "I'm Victor Scott, but you can call me Haymaker. I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot about me soon enough. What's your name, beautiful?"
"Not interested," I said with a polite smile. "I've already heard enough about you to know you aren't worth my time."
"Don't believe all the things you're hearing from Whoopi here. I've heard plenty of things about her that'd make you drop her like a rock. You sure you don't want me to give you the real tour?"
"Oh blow it out your ass, Victor. No one is interested in..." Anna started to say before Victor cut her off.
"I wasn't talking to you, so shut the fuck up about not your business, little strumpet!"
"Anything that concerns our family is our business," I growled lightly at him.
"Your family? Fuck, you're related? That's a shame, what with you being so hot and all. Guess I'll have to decide if I want to make an exception for you then."
"Oh shut up already, Victor. Don't you need to go home and cry to Bobo?" Anna rolled her eyes and snapped over at him.
Victor actually looked surprised at that, which made me curious. Apparently the Goombas were surprised as well, as they both looked at him in confusion. "Bobo?" asked Second Goomba.
"Can it, Beau. Little bitch is just making up shit. Come on, let's get out of here before more of her shit starts stinking. This isn't over, and one day the only Requiem will be the one at your funeral, Fox!"
"Oh, tear!" Anna called back wiping an imaginary tear away from her eye as the boys turned and left. She scoffed in their general direction and looked over at me. "Just your normal losers. No idea what crawled up their butt today."
"Bobo?" I asked her.
"Bobo is Victor's stuffed teddy from when he was an infant. He still keeps him in his room under his pillow. Doesn't tell anyone that he still takes him out when he's feeling too depressed and homesick."
"So how do you know about this then?"
"His dead grandmother told me. She's the one that gave him Bobo in the first place, but she's really not happy with how he's been acting. Come on, we're almost to Whitman."
Ah, right. Talks to ghosts. Should have remembered that. Still, there was obviously something deeper going on, as Victor seemed to be holding some earlier grudge. I really didn't have all the pieces and it was fairly obvious that Anna wasn't wanting to tell me. There's a lot that children don't want to tell their parents, so I'd just have to keep my eyes and ears open and put the pieces together myself.
Arriving at Whitman Cottage had us met at the door by a tall, shapely blond woman. She saw Anna and I walk up and came out to meet us, arms out raised to gather us both into hugs.
"Oh you poor dears, I was wondering when you'd arrive. I heard all about it, and if either of you need Anything, just be sure to ask. I'm Mrs. Savage, I'm the House Mother of Whitman. You must be Catherine Fox, though it looks like that'll actually be pretty easy for us all to remember." She smiled at me as she spoke, and was actually a fairly likable lady.
"Thank you, ma'am, though I don't expect to be much trouble," I replied politely.
"It's no trouble at all. I can't imagine what the last year has been like for you both, so never hesitate to ask. Now I'm sure your sister has given you most of the tour already, and you'll have plenty of time to check in on her while you're here. I went ahead and roomed you with one of the singles; I think you two should get along well. Anna, go ahead and head on up to your room. Catherine, you and your new roommate have an appointment with the counselors as soon as you'resettled. You'll be able to meet Anna and Claire for dinner afterwards."
Anna gave me a hug and left me to fend for myself with my bags, though Mrs. Savage actually helped with the larger suitcase, letting me handle my more delicate instruments myself. We headed upstairs and she took me down one of the long hallways of the second floor. We stopped at a far dusty corner, to a door that was almost forgotten and easily overlooked.
"You'll be in here. I think you'll be the right fit for Miss Rhys. She's been a tricky one to find a roommate for, but I think you'll and Persephone will get along well. Don't forget to head along for your meeting with the counselors as soon as you're able, and then head off to dinner. Welcome to Whitman." She gave me another hug and then headed off downstairs.
She seemed nice and sincere, though I imagine she was also one not to be crossed. You didn't get to be a House Mother of a school like this without having a bit of backbone, I should expect. Still, no time like the present to find out why my new roommate was so hard to place. Squaring my shoulders, I opened the door with one hand.
The room itself was populated by art. I saw a canvas on an easel, several finished works on the outside wall, a few pots of paint, some chalk, pencils, a bit of what I could only assume was a modern sculpture. One wall (the inside wall with the clear bed) was still clear, but obviously productivity had been encroaching upon The Neutral Zone (not that I really cared, to be honest.). Standing in front of her bed was a brunette, with her shoulder length hair tied in a pony-tail and further held out of her face with a red headband made from a wrapped bandanna. She was wearing a plain white t-shirt with various paint stains on it, and a pair of blue jean overalls with several paint brushes in various pockets. Her head turned up to look at me and what used to be a pleasant expression fell into The Pit of Despair as her eyes widened with absolute terror.
"But I don't WANT to go to Poe!" she wailed before her entire body stiffened and trembled, then fell into a ball on her bed. She kept repeating the line as a sort of mantra as she rocked back and forth "I don't want to go, I don't want to go, I don't want to go..."
Well, that went well.
I quickly tossed my clothing suitcase into the room and shut the door. Setting my instruments down on what was obviously going to be my bed, I went and sat down next to the girl whom I assumed was Persephone. The closer I got to her, I began to feel what could only be described as a heavy tide of ... emotional weight. It radiated out from her, and I had a mental image of Siona standing in front of me and shielding me from the flow as she parted it much like my own personal Moses.
I couldn't help it; the fatherly part of my being was torn between wanting to help the crying young woman in front of me and wanting to destroy the thing that made her break down and cry. I settled for sitting down on the bed, wrapping my arms around her and gently pulling her into me. "It's alright, no one is going to make you go anywhere. It's alright."
"It's not alright! Everyone is going to know and then I'll have to go to Poe because Poe is for all the crazy people and they're going to know I'm crazy because I can't hide it anymore because you're here and now everyone will know and they'll make me go to Poe!"
"I won't tell anyone, I promise. It'll be okay, you won't have to go anywhere. It'll be alright."
I lost track of time as I tried to help her calm down, but then again it didn't matter. It needed to be done.
"So you go by Rhys?" I asked her as we walked along gentle pathways towards Doyle. It kind of figured that my dorm would be one of the furthest away from the place I would be required to have regular sessions at. I wasn't looking forward to this whole counseling thing, but if I was required to go I'd go. I just didn't expect to get a lot out of it. After all, it's not like they could undo anything.
"Wouldn't you if your name was Persephone? I swear if I ever, ever see another pomegranate I think I'll explode."
"I can see how that would get a little old," I replied with a grimace. "And you're an Empath. My oldest sister is a psychic too, she kind of got the whole package though."
"I just deal with emotions." Rhys looked sad for a moment before a sincere apology came out. "I'm sorry for kind of blasting you earlier, that happens sometimes when I get too panicked or stressed out. I've been working on it but it's kind of hard because class makes me especially nervous."
"Why would a class of people all trying to learn something when no one there knows what they're doing make you nervous?" I asked puzzled. I mean, it seemed like it'd be really ideal in my way of thinking.
"Because they might find out I'm crazy."
"But you're not crazy."
"Oh yes I am." Rhys nodded quite sincerely. "Anxiety and panic attacks. I've done a lot of reading on the internet and it all matches right up. It happened ever since I manifested, so I'm not sure if it's part of being a mutant for me or if I would have had it anyway. I've always been too afraid to go ask the counselors about it."
I must have looked like I got hit in the face with a shovel trying to figure that one out, but thankfully Rhys continued to explain.
"They're strangers, and I can't go admitting that I might be crazy to a stranger because then they'll know that I'm crazy and be all judging about it. Then everyone else on campus will know that I'm crazy too and they'll get all judgmental, and then I won't be able to go anywhere. I won't be able to go home because the town already knows I'm a mutant and is all judgmental so then I'd just have to stay in my room forever and die of starvation since I wouldn't be able to show my face in the cafeteria, so I just haven't talked to anyone about it and have been keeping it to myself."
"How long have you had this?" I asked as I really honestly tried to wrap my head around the problem.
"All year so far. Most of the time I'm fine, I just go to class and keep my head down so that no one will notice. Empathy classes are hard though because we deal with other people's minds and feelings so I spend most of the time worrying that they'll find out so I'm not making a lot of progress compared to everyone else since I spend a lot of the time shielding myself."
"That's..." I was about to say crazy but managed to catch myself at the last minute. "... unfortunate," I lamely finished. "Well at least now you have a reason to be talking to a counselor that no one will look bad at you for. I mean, I'm the one with all the dead parents. They'll just think you're being an awesome roommate helping me go and being supportive for me." Well, theoretical dead parents. Dead spouse and dead self would be a bit harder to explain. Thankfully Siona seemed to help keep most people out of my head which would help a lot with keeping a secret around a psychic.
"You can't tell anyone," she said as she looked at me.
"I already promised," I replied. "I promised that I won't tell anyone about your anxiety unless you tell me I can, and I always keep my word." I didn't add that I was beginning to suspect that I had to keep my word, mostly because I didn't want to add any guilt to whatever pile of things she was already dealing with. Rhys was a very nice girl, and I saw a lot of brightness and creativity bubbling up in her. I just didn't understand or really be able to relate to having to shut all of that away forever.
"So you're an Avatar?" Rhys asked to help nudge the conversation away from things uncomfortable as we walked. It was useful that apparently me having seen her break down let her decide she could just talk to me. I imagine her empathy helped a bit as well.
"Yes. I've got some Wiz rating and some minor Exemplar I think too. I didn't get a real technical examination yet."
I felt like that description just on its own was a disservice to Tome. “I did get tested by one of the local Teams, but I'm sure there's some parts that a real professional powers tester will figure out more. Tome did a good job, but he's a wizard and psychic, not a full time expert on Powers.”
She nodded at that and I felt a little better inside. Tome had done the best he could, and it wasn't that he had done badly. I just had read and been told by my children powers testing was a very complicated subject, enough of one that even the experts disagreed on much of it.
She seemed to nod and accept that fairly readily, which was a comfort. We were about halfway to Doyle Medical Center now, and passing a small copse of trees when I heard a catcall of a whistle accompanied by a “Hey there, foxy lady.” How original, I simply swooned from the individuality and creativity. I mean, obviously such mastery of the English language had to have come from a real keeper. All snarkiness aside, Rhys and I did both pause to look.
It was Smarmy, again. Tall, blonde, well muscled, still dressed smartly in a button up shirt complete with the sweater hung rather uselessly over his shoulders. It was the very stereotypical well to do jock that at most any traditional school would have warranted “most popular” or “Prom King.” Color me unimpressed. Still.
He was accompanied by his two cronies, of course. I'm not sure what led me to instantly put them into that category, perhaps it was the Shakespearean wit previously displayed by this lord-ling poser, or perhaps it was the way Rhys was cringing and looking like she would rather be Anywhere else. I took the opportunity to get a second look at them since they were obviously going to be a persistent annoyance. Second Goomba (Beau I think his name was) was a little more slender with short dark hair slicked with gel and a rather prominent nose. I got the impression of a criminal underworld meat puppet trying to clean up from him, but he had a slight wariness to the way he moved and acted that showed a glimmer of intelligence and imagination to him. First Goomba was a rather large simple looking, larger, Germanic fellow that could have played “Villain Number Three” on any World War II film, complete with the half stupid look and buzz cut hair.
“Here I was expecting to have words with little miss recluse, when I find she found brought the newest looker for me. Since you're new, I wanted to introduce myself properly. I'm willing to overlook who you have the misfortune of being related to, as you didn't choose that after all. I'm Victor Scott, oldest son of the Boston Scotts. I'm known as Haymaker. These are my friends Mikey and Beau.”
“Catherine Fox, and I am The Bear Currently Known as Not Amused.”
They looked blankly at me; obviously despite having a bear named Bobo, Victor was not a fan of the Muppets. His stock was rapidly plummeting even further.
“I'm feeling charitable and giving you a chance to get on my good side. You're going to need some friends in the school, Catherine. Orphan charity cases don't do so well on their own.”
“I'll be fine, thanks. Come on, Rhys, let's go.” We turned and attempted to continue along our way.
“Hey I wasn't done talking to you, don't you dare turn your commoner back on me,” Victor said with a low growl. He reached out and grabbed me by one shoulder and spun me around again to face him.
Rhys stopped, looking like she was torn between running and falling down in a crying heap. “Why can't you just leave us alone?” she asked plaintively.
“Shut up, you simpering hermit!” Victor snarled at her, shoving her. He didn't seem to mean to hurt her, but due to the difference in size Rhys stumbled backwards, tripping over a tree root and falling to her knees on the ground.
“Leave her alone!” I growled as I lunged at him. I really didn't have any idea what I was going to do to him, but ironically it didn't end up mattering. Haymaker just sort of looked at me and I was thrown to the ground without having been touched. I think I bounced when I hit the ground and rolled a bit, I'm not really sure.
So at this point Rhys was on her knees near a tree, I was half dazed laying on the ground, Victor was looming over us both, flanked by his two cronies. Which is why the pair of cowboy boots that appeared next to my face were really out of place.
“Now I may be new here, but one thing I don't need to be taught is how you're supposed to treat a lady. Looks like that might be a class you need to repeat.” I'd heard that voice before, recently even. I looked up to see a brown haired boy wearing a Whately uniform with a cowboy hat offering me his hands to help me up. “Need a hand, Miss Fox?” asked Matt Walker.
I took his offered hands as I got up, “Thank you.” Looking at him a little more closely (admittedly now that I was paying attention) I could see that he was tanned from working outdoors. That or perhaps a bit of native or latino mixed in.
I could see Rhys being helped up by a lanky dark haired boy with glasses. She was still obviously in a state, but she hadn't ran away or fallen apart yet. The lanky lad was staying between her and Haymaker's crowd, and he was speaking to her softly.
“Stay behind me,” Matt said softly as he stepped between me and Haymaker. While I was not exactly a distressed damsel, I do have to admit I wasn't looking forward to being tossed around again. “You both okay over there, Flynn?” he called to the other lad without taking his eyes off Haymaker and his crew.
“Yeah, we're good,” the lad called Flynn replied. He seemed to be shimmering now ever so slightly, which if I remembered right from what my kids had told me meant he was a PK. I guess it worked for Clark Kent, though at least he didn't need a phone booth.
Matt stepped forward carefully a step at a time. He suddenly paused mid-stride, then shifted about six inches to his left and stopped. “I suggest you leave the ladies alone,” he called out. “I really don't want to have to bloody somebody up on my first day.”
“I don't think you know who you're dealing with, noob. Let me show you!” Haymaker sneered at Matt. Matt brought his arms up in front of his face as some sort of shock wave flew towards us. I ducked behind him and instead of being tossed through the air, Matt slid backwards about an inch and the wave passed us by. I will admit, I was impressed. He had even managed to keep his hat on.
As this was happening Mikey rushed up and took a swing at Flynn. You would expect that to end badly for the lanky nerd (I'm sorry, that's what he looked like!) but surprisingly, Flynn caught the punch. I mean literally put his hand up and caught it. They were both straining, but neither were going anywhere.
“I know exactly who I'm dealing with; a petty bully. I don't like bullies,” Matt replied grimly as he shifted from a blocking to a fighting stance. “Now piss off.”
Haymaker scowled. “Come on, we're leaving. They're not worth our time,” he said to his crew. Mikey humphed and lowered his flexed arm, while Beau seemed to slink off with the other two.
Now that the situation had de-escalated, I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding. “Thank you,” I said lamely to Matt.
He inclined his head, lifting his hat slightly. “Not a problem, Miss Fox.”
“Kitty or Cat, well... short for Catherine.”
“Alright then, Kitty. Would you ladies like an escort the rest of your way? No sense in letting idiots ruin your day any more than they already have.”
I looked over at Rhys, who still seemed kind of out of it. Flynn seemed to be treating her with a great deal of care though, so I nodded at Matt. “Yes please, thank you very much.”
“Not a problem.”
Now escorted, we continued to Doyle.
I sat in Dr. Markham's office, as we politely looked at each other over her desk. Upon seeing her “the doctor is in” bank I was obligated to plunk a nickel in the bank as I sat down, which earned a smile at least. Hey, if I was going to have to be here every week it was in my best interest to be on at least neutral terms.
“So, Miss Fox, how do you prefer to be called?” Dr. Markham asked.
I blinked for a moment as I tried to process the question. “Beg your pardon?”
She chuckled slightly. “To speed things up let me make a few statements up front. As you probably know, I am completely bound by doctor-patient confidentiality. In the interest of being your primary counselor I have read your file and have all knowledge of your actual history.”
“I've been going by Cat or Kitty... short for Catherine but also for Kitsune.”
“An answer, but you didn't really answer the question,” she said with a slight smile.
“I don't really know the answer to your question,” I said truthfully. “As an example, I realized a few weeks ago that technically I'm my own grandpa. How messed up is that? Who am I really? Whatever I prefer it really doesn't make much of a difference because Conner died. I'm Catherine now whether I want to be or not.” I crossed my arms and slunk in the chair grumpily.
Dr. Markham scribbled down some notes as she listened.
I sighed and closed my eyes a moment. “I'm sorry, I am not trying to take it out on you,” I offered. “I'm really not good at this whole talking thing.”
“That's alright. There will be plenty of time for practice. Would it help if I asked questions?”
“How does finding out you and your family are mutants make you feel?”
“Oh, you mean how does finding out I've been lied to for over a decade by all manner of individuals feel? That suddenly I have to rewrite all of my own history in my head and just be okay because things were done 'for my protection' or 'for my own good' as opposed to simply letting me decide if I want to take the risk myself? It makes me feel just peachy.”
Dr. Markham sighed, setting down her tablet for a moment before getting up to her fridge and getting a couple of sodas. This was obviously going to be an interesting session.
March 5, 2007
I stepped through the door into my room, letting the door close behind me. Rhys looked over from where she was working on what appeared to be a collection of.. rocks maybe.. attached to.. um.. some cardboard looking wooden... thing. Art, right? “So, guess who's power testing got pretty much the same exact results as last time?”
“You mean nothing changed since you had it done in Seattle?”
“I know, right? But no, apparently it's just a case of quadruple checking, only with even more instruments, gizmos, computers, and read-o-meters. So I'm still just an Avatar, with some Exemplar and a Wizard. Dose of ESP for good measure. Nothing really awe inspiring besides a big dose of alphabet soup.”
“Well I think you're awesome.”
“Yeah, well, don't say that too quickly. You haven't seen my schedule,” I grimaced as I held out the piece of paper, knowing she would ask for it if I didn't.
Rhys read it over, her face frowning in confusion. “Remedial math?”
“Apparently it's a thing. Yay me?” Remedial math and basic history. Apparently when Siona had picked and chose what I forgot, I had well, lost most of my academia. I'd rather be alive, but.. I had lost a lot. I also got a couple of Magic Theory and Practice courses. I mean, it made sense thinking back to the great kitchen fire incident. Probably a good idea to get a handle on that as quickly as possible.
She frowned as she handed the sheet back to me.
“Hey, it'll be okay. No where to go but up, right? Anyway, I'm off to the range. Apparently if I want to have my zapper gun back I need to take some basic gun safety.. thing. I'll let you know how it goes.”
She nodded, “G'luck!”
I grinned and slipped back out the door.
I sat in the back of the group of students in the range, as I listened to Sergeant Johnny Bravo talk about basic weapons safety and use. I'm being harsh, he didn't seem like a bad sort to be honest. Most anyone who actually taught weapons use of any variety had good reason to be very serious and want people to follow the bloody rules. It was just that he was too damned pretty. I mean, hair and teeth that put together just couldn't be natural!
I was just trying to go relatively unnoticed. I mean, hey, new girl on campus. Running around drawing attention to yourself really wasn't the best way to make a good first impression. I also was dutifully paying attention. A lot of the things he was saying seemed familiar for some reason, almost like I had learned or been taught them before but they were more fuzzy. They were part of the weird memories, which as far as I could tell were things tied to a useful skill so they weren't quite forgotten. I couldn't place where or when I might have been told them before, so in essence I was learning them all over again.
I was beginning to think I might be okay and today would go alright, when it happened. The gunshots began.
I didn't consciously realize that my breathing was increasing, or that my sight was growing dim. All I knew was that I heard gunshots in my ears and suddenly I was gasping for breath and my chest hurt. I certainly didn't notice the instructor looking my way as his mouth moved without words coming out. I definitely didn't intend for anything to happen. Which is why me clasping my hands over my ears and poofing rapidly out of the range was completely an involuntary reflex.
In a way I wasn't piloting my own body at that point, not really. Neither was Siona. I was stuck back on the Seattle docks, hearing gunshots into my male chest as I fell backwards and Ferrous loomed over me. I also didn't know how far or how many times I had blinked through space.
Eventually when I 'came to' I was sitting, underneath a tree by the edge of a treeline. I could see campus buildings off in the distance, so I wasn't totally lost. I was starting to get the ability to breath and think again, but all I could do was hold my head in my hands and cry.
A while later as I managed to finally contain my sniffles and dry my eyes a bit I felt my stomach began to rumble. Picking myself up, I began the long walk back towards campus and the cafeteria.
The Crystal Hall itself really was a beautiful building. It reminded me of something that would be on Star Trek somewhere. That was probably the point really, I mean dream big, right? It would be my first solo dining venture; yesterday Claire, Anna and I had had a family meal away from the main cafeteria, sort of a last hurrah before everything started. I had gone through High School before though, so how bad could it be?
Turns out, pretty bad.
I had remembered that the floor rating system was a giant popularity contest, so I naturally assumed I would be on the ground floor. What I didn't factor in was apparently I warranted the basement.
“Hey, it's that new orphan girl.”
“Who, little orphan Annie?”
“No, that's her sister.”
“I heard she ran away crying from the range today.”
Gossip everywhere. Alternating looks of contempt or pity depending on whoever saw me. I wanted to just pour into the floor and melt away. I didn't even try looking for a table, I just took my tray of food and sat over on the floor by the wall. I knew the food was tasty, I had eaten it yesterday. At the moment though, I might as well have been eating ash.
I felt guilty breaking into my own room. Alright, that sounds bad. I wasn't really breaking in, I was blinking in via my window because I didn't want to face anyone walking through the hallway. It was a cop out but I didn't care. I just wanted to grab my mandolin and try to find the music group that I had seen on a flier. I didn't want to face people at the moment.
Having grabbed my mandolin, I slunk off across campus. I actually was starting to work myself up into a better mood. Music was always an escape, a place to go where what was going on around me didn't matter any more. You didn't have to be yourself, you were just the song.
I had just about turned around mood wise, when I opened the door to the room and was suddenly blasted with a feeling of pure, unadulterated wrong-ness. Something that made every hair on the back of my neck rise and every fiber of my being ready to destroy it.
“RUN!!” Siona screamed at me with a worry and insistence I had never heard from her before. I turned and ran. A combination of sprinting and blinking, flying across campus to I don't even know where. Eventually I ducked into some room in one of the buildings that I happened to find myself in and I curled up in a ball against the wall and cried.
Music had always been my solace, and now that was something that was taken from me too. I also didn't quite understand why I had been crying so much lately. Everything just seemed to be hitting me a lot harder or something I guess.
I didn't know who or what that presence had been, and to be honest, I was afraid to get close enough again to find out. I sat with my eyes closed for a good long while before reaching out to Siona. “What was that?” I asked after taking my moment.
“Part of what real Kitsune have always done is fight evil spirits. Kitsune are protectors, but also teachers and guides. That... was a very powerful spirit.”
“But it was here, surely they wouldn't let something so horrible here if it had a chance of...”
“Killing everyone here? I would like to think there is a reason, but I feel safer with us not in the vicinity of something that powerful.”
I had to admit, whatever that presence was it had made me want to destroy it out of sheer wrongness. But something that powerful... I would be swatted like a mosquito.
“You're not wrong.”
I eventually dried my eyes and looked around. I apparently had managed to hide myself in a Salle d'Armes. Many of the walls were lined with floor to ceiling mirrors, there were some pells over on one edge of the room. Multiple racks of practice swords were opposite the pells. I could at least breathe and feel something familiar in this place.
Leaving my mandolin against the edge of the room, I went over to the racks of practice blades, picking up a hand-and-a-half sword that was about the right length for my new shorter frame. My day had sucked, everything was falling apart, life was horrid, time to beat something with a stick.
I was starting to lose track of time. Sometimes it was just pleasure to be able to let your brain detach and float; to just let your body move and to not have to think. Suddenly, something happened that brought be back to reality.
“Halte!” a female voice called throughout the room.
I froze. Years of practice meant that when someone shouts halt, you bloody well halt. They don't mean finish your action then gradually come to a stop, they mean stop right now. They also mean don't move, so I didn't even so much as turn my head.
Eventually into my field of vision came a willowy blond woman with a long angular face. She didn't broadcast whatever she was thinking. Instead, she seemed to be studying my form, looking at the stance of my legs and arms, how I was standing.
“It is clear you have been taught before. You also are shorter now, and perhaps a little more... blessed, correct?” She smiled slightly as her head indicated my chest.
I could feel my cheeks blush slightly. “Oui, Maître d'Armes.”
She smiled slightly, “Mrs. Beaumont will do.”
“Yes, Mrs. Beaumont.”
“Your brother sent me a letter saying you would be attending Whateley, Miss Fox, and asked me to keep an eye out for you. We will have to do some unlearning of habits that worked for you before. I believe you know what that means?”
I sighed in slight dread of what obviously would be coming. “Yes, Mrs. Beaumont. Footwork.”
“Indeed.” She gestured towards the center of the Salle, and I took up position across from her.
"A vos guardes. Prête. Marchez. Marchez. Marchez. Rompez."
Time to start over from the basics.
To Be Continued