Scald-Crow 2: Under Pressure (Part 3)
A Whateley Academy Tale
Branwen & ShadowedSin
Turned away from it all like a blind man.
Sat on a fence, but it don't work.
Keep comin' up with love, but it's so slashed and torn.
Why, why, why?
Love (love, love, love, love).<
Insanity laughs, under pressure we're cracking.
Can't we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can't we give love that one more chance?
Why can't we give love, give love, give love, give love,
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love.
'Cause love's such an old fashioned word,
And love dares you to care for the people on the
Edge of the night, and love dares you to
Change our way of caring about ourselves.
This is our last dance.
This is ourselves. This is ourselves.
-Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie
Chapter 9 - Fates Intertwined
After Breakfast, November 25th, 2007 - Whateley Campus
"Calm lil' rose."Morgan's reassuring words were only going so far as I stared at my homework for the week. A pile of it sat on my bed and I fell back onto my bed with a slump. I had a few pages of math problems due as well as studying for a history quiz. Glancing at the clock I noted it was a few hours before I was supposed to be at my next therapy session with Dr. Otto. Already, I could feel my apprehension for the meeting build as I sat back to glare at that pile of paper. How could I, a fucking exemplar, have issues with memorization?
"I said calm yiz nerves."Morgan drawled before I felt invisible hands envelop me in a hug. The feeling of my hallow grew warm as I took in a deep breath in an attempt to center myself. Lexi was across from me running more calculations before heading down to her lab for the day. We had both eaten lightly that morning since she and I both knew we had plans for the day. Opening the math book for the problems I began to run through my homework as quickly as I could. Luckily, I was able to calculate faster and keep track of numbers far better than before. Along with my strength, I'd gain a nice boost in cognition which made it easier for me to learn by doing the math by hand. The quiz itself would have to wait since it was happening in the week. After an hour I completed my math including checking over all my problems and equations at least once. Pencil scribbles filled the air of our dorm while Lexi was using graph paper to completely sketch out a few ideas for an engine of sorts.
"I'm grabbin’ a quick shower an' head out," I stated as I slipped from my bed and began to organize my papers for the week. Lexi gave a loud hmm as a confirmation before I grabbed my shower caddy and headed out. The door closed with a small thunk and I casually made my way with a large purple fluffy towel hung over my shoulder. I entered the bathroom just in time to see the line for the shower stalls. My eyes widened as yet again I was surrounded by a mix of women exemplars and others in various states of undress. I'm a dyed in the flannel lesbian, and yet my fear reaction wasn't over the tantalizing curvacious flesh. Not the first to meet my gaze was a black student named Sharisha. A girl I would best describe as a low-burn terf (trans exclusive radical feminists for you plebeians).
"What are you looking at Frosh?" came the growl across the room as I realized she was talking to me.
"Noth - nothing!" I chirped before scuttling over to a bench to get undressed. Luckily I was just in my pyjamas meaning it was an easy removal of my shirt, shorts, and underwear.
"Don't start shit again Sharisha," came a voice across the room.
"Thanks, Vox," I stated as I caught notice of the older Posie who gave me a wink.
The climate of Poe was best described as a mix of confusion, repression and a pile of mental problems rolled into one big rubberband of complexity. Everyone by now knew to give me a wide berth because even nude I wore the UV armband. I dodged out of the way of Nikki as the elfin girl exited a shower stall letting the next girl in line to enter.
"Hmmm...be careful wit that one."
"Dia dhuit Nikki," I said before I realized I had switched to Irish.
"What what?" she asked me, giving a confused look.
"Sorry...when I get a little too in the mind of Morgan...I start speaking in Gaelic," I stammered.
"Okay I guess," she said faintly as she gave me a quirk of her brow, "When did you get pointed ears?"
"Huh?" I stopped for a moment and I reached up to touch my ears. I was expected to feel the usually curved bit of cartilage making up my ears and instead, I found something quite peculiar. Let's begin by making a comparison - Nikki's ears are the classic pointed Tolkien elf style. Mine, however, was long and extended a few inches past my head and I noted that as I huff I felt them twitch. Blinking in confusion I bounded over to the sinks to get a better look. There they were and my eyes stared blankly at the long elf ears reminding me a little of those from the High Elves of World of Warcraft.
"Ah, man!" I sighed and turned around to face Nikki who seemed a little amused by my act.
"So you're a Sidhe?" she asked me curiously.
"SHE DID NOT JUST CALL US ONE OF THOSE FILTHY-"Morgan screamed in my skull and I grabbed my forehead.
"No," I began before trying to find the words as I opened my mouth and faced the mirror again. My canines and incisors were now definitely sharpened like those of a predator as well as how sharp my finger and toenails were. Considering something I dragged my nails across the surface with one hand and nodded at how durable they appeared.
"Morgan says I'm what she call's an Aes Síobhra," I replied carefully.
"A Shreeva?" Nikki said the words aloud.
"Aye, the plural is Aes Síobhraí," I enunciated the word back for her.
"Huh....weird." She shook her head before giving me a light smile, "Don't you have a shower to take?"
"Yes!" I stammered before laying out my towel and grabbing my caddy. A shower opened up as I walked in and shivered at the cool temperature, for a moment I just stared at the advanced system inside. I'm not a plumber so I won't discuss it, but after finding the right settings I let the water wash over me. My new hair was far thicker and more resilient than before. Washing it however was a bit of a chore. After a lot of badgering and tons of research into what I needed to keep it all healthy. Shampooing today I applied the cleansing stuff to clean my hair for the week. Then it was some strategic shaving ending by masking my hair and scrubbing my skin clean. If I'm gonna be a girl, I'm gonna be amazing as a girl.
I exited the shower stall with a small sigh and left it open for the next girl. Getting my towels at my bench I took a few moments to check them over. Even in the safety of Poe, I was still hyper aware of people trying to mess with me and luckily I found nothing. A quick toweling off and I was back to my dorm to get changed. Luckily my pyjamas were easy enough to shed for a pair of skinny jeans and sneakers. A black sleeveless blouse completed my attire as I made a beeline through the common room with my purse swinging against my right hip.
Today was going to be easy, all I had to do was go to therapy and hopefully have a good session. I mean, how does one have a good therapy session? Dr. Otto was the first person I could actually talk to about my problems, well, for a therapist. After therapy was coffee with Envy. A deep red blush ran up like fire along my cheeks as I swooned just the slightest. Oh goddess, how can I even describe what I was looking forward to!? Just a quiet evening at one of the small eateries on campus and chatting with Fina. Her eyes gazing deep into my own as she tells me how pretty I am! Her smile filled my vision as I once again almost collided with someone. What entered my vision can be described as a mix of standard male suit ware and something reminding me of my days at Episcopal Church.
"Whoa there," I heard the words before shaking my head as I dodged in time to skip a few steps away. Shaking my head of daydreams I slowly turned to face the man who spoke to me. My first assumption was right, the man was in a pair of dress pants and shined shoes. A nicely tailored black collared shirt finished the look. The man was slightly gaunt and definitely showing his age. One view of his countenance made me think he was at least eighty years of age. What made me hesitate was the timbre of his voice, it held a level of conviction and cadence to give me pause.
"Sorry," I replied and rubbed the back of my head.
"You must be Gráinne," he said to me as I felt my ears twitch.
"Yeah um...I'm Scald-Crow," I blinked, curious how the man knew my name, "how do you know my name?"
"Your parents listed you as having an Anglican background and as a rector of my congregation I make a point of knowing new parishioners," he smiled at me.
"Um...you are?" I asked.
"Oh my goodness I forgot to introduce myself," he chuckled, "I am Reverend Englund."
"Ah okay," I nodded as I felt a chill suddenly come over my spine. It felt like someone walking over my grave as my entire body was kissed by what can only be described as a complete drop in temperature. My ears filled with a low rumbling growl from the depths of my hallow.
"You have pointed ears like Fey. How interesting," he said aloud.
"Oh...I'm not a Sidhe," I said hurriedly.
"Oh?" he took a step closer, as I heard the words. "His hands’ ere stained with blood, an' not fram battle."Morgan's words were slicing hot as they beat back the cold and I could feel her rumbling with rage in my hallow.
"Ah, I need to be going sir," I said as I pointed in the direction of Doyle Hall," and I need to meet with Dr. Otto for therapy."
Once I said Dr. Otto's name the man's face seemed to become a little blank before turning into a frown. He took another step toward me and I found him close enough as I soon found a hand on my shoulder. The man's hand was worn from years of work and when he touched me I didn't feel the sudden desire to beat the shit out of him. Who really was this guy?
"I mean to warn you, child....you are in the orbit of one Serafina Sophia Valocco are you not?" he asked me.
How did he know that? "Dis man dresses hisself in da splendour of Saint Patrick."I heard Morgan's growl in my head. "Even loik dat pompous arse he cloaks his wards in evertin fram piety an' warse!"
"That's none of yer bizness," I drawled as I jerked my shoulder away from him and let loose a feral growl deep in my throat.
"I'll only warn you once, child," he said to me.
"Or what ye gonna do?" I challenged him.
"I only want you to be worried for your soul, Gráinne," he replied.
That's when I saw red, and I could feel the untold levels of anger filling my body as I could almost sense my defiance and Morgan's combining as one.
"Ye who use piety an' fait ta rationalize his sins know dis. Even though ye cloak yerself in light o' the Nazarene yer righteousness be profane! By the dawn of New Spring, yer plans shall fall around ye' as ye reap a Kingdom of Ash!"I growled out in a voice not my own. "I swear dis by the Olde Throne an' the Antler Crown!"
"So it is true....you are bound to one of the Fair Folk." The man shook his head as he seemed a little shaken by my words. "Child, my days are already numbered in the Father's eyes. Nothing your demon can say can change that."
"Ye foolish mortal...yer father is a priest o' da fool." These words seem to cause the man to shift as I took the pause to make a retreat. One quick glance at my phone revealed how I was already late for therapy. Reverend Englund just stared at me as I briskly made my getaway. Why was all the damn weird coming out for me? Was I a chaos magnet now?
About 2pm, November 25th, 2007 - Dr Otto's Office
"Gráinne," Dr. Otto said to gain my attention as I fidgeted with my hands. It felt a lot like my ADHD was kicking into high gear as of late. I was sitting on the couch Dr. Otto had to face his desk. The man's office, in general, was of decent size perhaps about fifteen to twenty feet square with filing cabinets ringing the area behind his desk. Each a grey or black cube locked holding the man's handwritten notes. Each and everyone was beyond antiquated to me, but I had no point in mocking a person for their love of analog notes. I myself kept a copious amount of notes for my own work and doodles filling up entire piles of notebooks at home.
"Yes!" I grunted, my eyes returned to taking in the room as I just realized I hadn't really done it before. The two cabinets were so fucking "old" looking, and what was weirder still was Dr. Otto's large personal server sitting atop a cabinet on the right. I guessed it was a server deck because it was blinking with green lights and I could make out the soft whirring of a cooling fan. A line of ethernet cable was connected to the wall and snaked its way over to the machine as well. Knowing the amount of research Dr. Otto partook in and also his connections to the Arkham Research Consortium. A folder labeled "ARC'' across the top in large letters was sitting across his desk along with two others both labeled "Arcadia" labeled across it. Whatever that was the Doctor clucked his tongue to regain my attention.
"So, you raged out and almost badly injured Nicholas Broussard," he began.
"He deserved it, he ignored my fucking armband and touched me," I snapped.
"Now Gráinne," he said, his voice carrying a far more measured formality than before as he swept the glasses from atop his nose. He held them out to clean them as he appeared to think. "You are right in that he was the one who provoked you, and he is paying for that."
"Yeah see!" I jeered.
"Gráinne I'm not here to argue with you." He put his glasses back before clearing his throat and sat arranged his notes. "Today, Gráinne, we're gonna discuss your traumas. Nothing too detailed, but we need to get an idea of what you've been through."
My immediate reaction was to stare at him and let out a loud uncomfortable chuckle. No words, just a laugh as I made a gesture like he was joking with me. Of course, once I got that silly little delusion out of my head I let out a loud snort of annoyance. Why, did I have to do this? Why couldn't I just go clean some unspeakable abomination's dump in the tunnels? I mean it could be that bad, right? More questions swirled as my teenage mind processed how I was going to do it and finally after a deep breath I spoke.
"Trauma as in...I almost die kind of thing?" I asked him. I mean...trauma means a terribly bad experience, right?
"Not necessarily," he said, "it can be far more complicated than that. Trauma is the result of a distressing event that places undue duress on you."
"So...someone punching me in the face for the fun of it is trauma?" I asked remembering one incident at school. This was when I had my old useless body, and someone thought a great joke was just to wallop me in the nose. I had walked away sobbing in pain after the event.
"Do you like having things near your face?" he asked me.
"No...I'm always flinching cuz people use to ooooh." I froze as the little bit of knowledge dawned on me. When my classmates used to abuse me for fun and even suggest hitting me it just built up until that punch. Even now, if someone remotely places anything near my face I flinch without even thinking about it.
"That action is a trigger, and your flinch is your reaction." He leaned back and wrote a few notes in his legal pad before adjusting his glasses. Until now, I barely noticed that he was wearing a black and red pinstripe collared shirt.
"Okay....so...when I was younger kids would sometimes shove me if I was too slow...or they would enter my space and pretend to punch me," I rattled it off and then I said, "...then Finkbonner...groped me...and..."
"That's enough Gráinne," he said and I noticed how my breathing had increased. There weren't flashes this time, but my body was already becoming more aware of the space around me. As my eyes darted around my first thought was locating an escape route and then anything heavy enough to defend myself.
"Okay...we are going to avoid that for now," I nodded slowly as I heard him shuffling around his desk. My eyes were on the door still when he snapped his fingers to regain my attention.
"Why are you holding up....a flight or fight chart?" I asked as he presented me with a strange poster. There were letters indicating something about reaction status and a variety of colored sections forming a table. Dr. Otto's right index finger lay over a part that said "hyper aware".
"When you are experiencing a traumatic event you are here," he poked the bright red spot, "you are pinned between defense and retreat. When you are triggered you are placed back in this status which applies more stress to your mind and body."
"So...I need to learn how to control it?" I asked slowly.
"Yes - and no," he placed the chart down and let out a sigh. "Therapy isn't easy Gráinne, and part of my job is to help you build coping mechanisms so these feelings don't rule you. But also part of it is realizing one thing."
He left the words to hang in the air and his eyes locked with mine. Otto was perhaps the first man beside my father who spoke to me like an adult post-transition. Even Morgan seemed to quiet when he spoke and for a moment I decided to ponder a few things. "Dis man is wise as ol' Ogam hisself. All good warrior ken know one ting."Just as I heard Morgan voice those words it reminded me of something my mom spoke to me as a tween. She had just read the book "Boys Don't Cry"and was countering some of the 'boys will be boys' bullshit I was encountering.
"You can cry babes," she said to me years ago.
"I can cry," fell out of my mouth in a rush of words as I realized what he was trying to tell me. My therapist wanted me to come upon the realization so it would sink in even deeper.
"More than that Gráinne if someone pushes or is pushing you towards your limit you are okay to remove yourself from that situation," he told me and again let the little revelation sink in.
"But I don't want these things to rule my life," I responded.
"Gráinne, before we even discuss what was done to you a month ago, we have to work with the fact that you were the target of a long process of bullying," he stated and looked me in the eye.
"I mean you're right I was the nerdy kid. I read through the history textbook cuz it was more interesting than the stupid lecture." Yup, I was proud of myself for that one. I usually did pretty well on history quizzes too! "But, it's not like I'm special at all in the pain category. I only got targeted cuz I was a nerd, Sophia went through tons of shit because she's Native American."
"Hardship and trauma are unique to you Gráinne." He offered me a smile as I nodded along to what he was saying. "Some people use their pain to hurt others, that's the behavior you want to avoid. But if you are tired after an hour and I'm tired after four - both of our experiences -are valid-."
I stared at Dr. Otto as he told me this and I could feel myself gape a little. "He's not wrong, lass. Sickness o' da moind be painful for us all. No one parson cannae quantify its damage befar we see da results."It wasn't a breakthrough by any means, but I could feel my body slowly relaxing just by the slightest amount. All of my defenses were lowering for this small moment as I kept my eyes locked on someone who people whispered worked with Demon Gods.
"So...my pain is just as valid as....any other girls' here?" I asked.
"Yes - there isn't a competition for the most abused person Gráinne," he sighed, "one problem we do to ourselves is to compare ourselves to each other. That's impossible as no one person has the same experience -ever-."
"We bicker over who had it worse rather than helping each other," I nodded.
"Correct," he said, and folded his hands together interlocking each finger, "our session for today is now over. I do believe you have a coffee date with Miss Valocco do you not?"
HOW DID HE?! Again, I was speechless staring at this old man who was my therapist. Someone who I honestly thought reminded me a lot of Chief Aramaki from Ghost in the Shell. Before I could let any more surprise overwhelm me I gave him a quiet nod, "I um...gonna go now. See ye later doc!"
"You as well Gráinne."
Slowly rising from my seat I wobbled as I realized one of my legs had fallen asleep. The burning tingle told me I'd stupid crossed it too tightly in an attempt to ward off my right leg's love of cramping. Finally, after steadying myself for a moment I inhaled letting the air help me to center myself. Otto was smiling at me by now, and after a few more moments I decided he looked nothing like Chief Aramaki. The bastard was pure fucking Jean Luc Picard or...something Star Trek-like. I digress, the man had my respect and earned it well. Too bad, I had a damsel to woo and couldn't talk much more. I gave him a wave before disappearing out the door.
Mid-Afternoon, November 25th 2007 - Crystal Hall
I've maybe dated once in my life and previously it had been a complete disaster. A wiccan girl I'd known from middle school and a relationship ending only after a single date. This is where my inability to really "people'' as Sloan put it. When you grow up in a small school and a few of the kids above you decide to treat you as the outsider for a few years you really do end up with people problems. Toss in a teacher who followed "boys will be boys' ' there are more than enough reasons. Even now as I sat staring at myself in the mirror I was second guessing my choice of clothing and how I'd styled my hair. It all came down to just a gut feeling of how I should dress. Of how I should present myself in what could only be described as a gut feeling.
I now knew why Sophia had dragged me to Bellis Fair mall before we returned to School. A pair of low heeled black ankle boots covered my feet giving me an extra two inches in height. With my synthetics allergy it had been a lengthy and exhausting day to get it all right. First she convinced me to buy a black push up bra and black silky boyshorts. Then there was the very black mesh halter top. Staring at myself in the mirror I admired how my exemplar figure had filled out over the month I'd been at Whateley. I wasn't a D-cup and thank god, but I did have a nice bit of jiggle to my chest. What was annoying me were the tight as fuck skinny jeans enclosing my thighs and ass. A silver chained belt completed my obviously gothic look. Around my neck I wore the celtic knot necklace John bought me and a silver ring on my right index finger.
It all made me what Sophia declared as the "blood haired ginger queen of emo town.”
"Calm yer bloody tits girl!" Morgan chided me.
"You look good," Lexi said from her bed across from me and I offered her a small thanks. All of my confidence was being eroded away as I thought about who I was about to -just- go out to coffee with. I pulled on an amethyst beaded from a new age shop back in the Northwest completing my outfit.
"Thanks," I chirped at Lexi as I gave a small smile, "think I can do this?"
"Yeah, I mean, Erin was able to finally ask me so this shouldn't be that hard," she giggled.
I couldn't control the pain and worry that flashed across my face as guilt wracked me at hearing Erin's name. If I had just been a bit more controlled I wouldn't have hurt-
"Do no' fret me heart, ye be learnin 'ow ta judge yer strengt dun let it hold ye back."Morgan crooned in my mind and settled my worry.
"She's doing better by the way," Lexi piped in as she realized I was done speaking to my spirit, "she doesn't hold any ill will against you."
"I should go visit her in the common room," I murmured just as I turned and inhaled a deep breath to settle myself further.
"After your date," Lexi smiled.
"It's just coffee." My hands wrung together as good old anxiety reared her ugly face again.
"Just go!" Lexi rolled her eyes and I gave a nod before leaving out the door.
"Wish me luck!" I yelled over my shoulder as I had to pop back in to grab my purse. Bloody hell, how hard was it to forget something so crucial?! Lexi rolled her eyes again as I zipped out the door and dodged around a couple of girls coming back from downstairs. I swore I saw Downpour as I raced down the stairs causing my ankle boots to clomp loudly as I landed on the entry leading to the common room. Immediately my hypervigilance kicked in as I surveyed who was currently around. Right in the corner historically claimed by the Kimbas was currently occupied by three figures. Morgan seemed to shift in my hallow and this pushed a hunch developing in my gut.
"Hi Gráinne," Nikki said upon seeing me and I beamed in return. "Special night?"
"Yeah...I asked Fina out to coffee." I blushed and felt my cheeks almost glow red hot.
"Finally got the balls to ask Envy out huh?" I heard behind me as well as the telltale sound of footsteps.
"I spent the last hour watching her freak out over her outfit," chirped Lexi and I spun around to see her and Erin watching me.
"Hi Erin," Nikki waved from her seat as she settled back down to read a book.
"Hey Fey," the blonde said.
"So about last time at BMA," I started as my anxiety grew.
"Look - I won't say it didn't hurt and I wanted to get back at you after it," Erin said, her face turning to stone for a moment, "but I saw how you felt about it afterward."
"That and I talked her down," Lexi added.
"Sure, you did," Erin chuckled and wrapped an arm around Lexi's shoulders. The blonde was a little more relaxed than when I saw her perhaps a week ago. Maybe it was the fact we'd finally had a conversation rather than just fighting. I mean, combat might reveal who you are, but only your violent inner self. One part of you, not the entirety of your rounded self. Gods, I'm terrible at this philosophy thing.
"I..I don't want to do that again." I felt stuck on the spot, my anxiety still preventing me from leaving. Just as I spoke there was the subtle sound of a book closing and a rush of footsteps. A pair of arms came up behind me and my body was pulled against my back. I froze at the sudden contact as I felt a calming effect come washing over me and even Morgan felt quelled by whatever came. What in the world was happening and who was touching me?
"So....um....hey...did that help?" I heard Nikki's voice in my ear as I spun around to face her.
"It kinda did." My words left my mouth of their own volition before I slowly turned to face her. "How did you do that?"
"I have a glamour that makes people desire me," Nikki offered with a shrug.
"Huh," I said as I left the query open for Morgan.
"Da Áes Sídagi ere powerful mages...especially dose who be of da nobility. One of tese be glamour dat draws oters ta dem."I reflected on this fact from my spirit as I cocked an eyebrow as I kept eye contact with Nikki. The Sophomore seemed to be holding back whatever glamour existed though maybe it just calmed me. "Once ye be come in tune wit yer new fae blood ye will hav sometin similar."
"Seems all it does to me is calm me down," I stated as Nikki gave a small grin.
"I was really hoping you wouldn't fixate on me like others," she replied.
"I'm a cousin of yours remember," I smiled sheepishly, "we share biology, but our make up is still different."
"Good to learn more about the Síobhra," she said, "we'll talk more later. You have a date to get too."
"SHIT I DO!" I exclaimed.
All I heard was the laughter of the three of my fellow Posies as I took off at a run. When I blazed past the entrance to the cottage I heard a call to slow down from Mrs. Horton as I sped by the door. A quick, "SORRY MRS. HORTON!" was all I offered as I kept up my pace. As an exemplar I wasn't the fastest, but my endurance was pretty damn solid. Not even breaking a sweat I zipped across campus and for once didn't collide with anyone. Going to pat myself on the back for that one! I was about to dance out of the way of some girl with horned forelocks and before I knew it I was at Crystal Hall.
The location in particular was a small coffee cart run by the school located just inside the main hall. It was who was waiting beside the cart for me who I was after, one Serafina Valocco. Her hair was pulled back in a singular long triangular braid down behind her back with two free forelocks falling frontward past her ears. A black banded halter top crossed her chest and a pair of black leather pants across her legs. Then there was the see through black blouse over her shoulders and a pair of lace up black witch boots. I was lost in those green eyes as fiery as my own and I felt my ears perk up as I saw her. Dammit these things were going to be annoying.
"Wait till yer antler's grow in." Morgan chuffed in my mind and I felt my eyes widen.
"What?" Fina asked me as she drew closer and offered me her hand. Instantly my fingers thread into hers as I felt myself get drawn against her taller frame. My heels did give me a few inches, but she was still a little taller than me.
"Morgan says I'll grow antlers," I said.
"Really?" Fina smiled, "you'd look quite pretty with them."
"Huh?" I blinked as I tugged her toward the coffee cart.
It was me who asked Fina out, but from the start of our meeting it was her hand who was guiding our movements. The barista at the stand took only a few moments before both our drinks were done and were in insulated cups. I followed after Fina as she walked ahead of me, our hands still entwined by the edge of our fingers. My eyes wandering over her leather encased legs as I swore I could see each muscle moving, gods they were beautiful. I was an exemplar four and yet, my muscles were far more compact and stringy, like that of a stalking cat. Fina's reminded me of a wolf, one ready to hunt in the depths of the winter wood. Please note that yeah, she's got a great bum, but I'm more of a muscles and limb girl than just that booty you know!
We found ourselves at a small round table situated at the base of the massive fountain found in Crystal Hall. Envy pulled out my chair for me as I took a seat, a small blush kissing my cheeks. Now came the very hard part about dates, actually talking. What was I supposed to say? My mind started to race again as my old friend's anxiety appeared along my neck. Tightness flourished in my chest as I found myself staring at the coffee. So, in the safety of the cup I took a sip of the hot smoldering mocha and the taste of chocolate flooded my mouth. The hint of coconut calmed me further as I settled.
"Gráinne," I heard my name and raised my gaze to peer into Fina's eyes.
"Yeah?" I replied.
"Are you okay?" she asked, in a slightly worried tone.
"A little from column a, and a little from column b," I replied slowly.
"Okay - so tell me why, Gráinne," she said again using my name.
"I just - I worked up all the courage to ask you to coffee and now I can't even pick a point of discussion. I feel like my body is going to explode with anxiety," I replied to her.
"We're talking now," Envy replied as she leaned forward with her chin nestled on her upright hands.
"Yes, but," I blinked, "okay fine! Let's play twenty questions."
"I'm game," my crush drawled.
"Okay....um fuck." I couldn't get the words to come to my tongue. "What's your mom's real name?"
"Celestina Valocco. And what is your mom's name?" she asked in return.
"Lynn Eklund-O'Callaghan," I smiled, "Mom's Swedish so she hyphenated her name."
"That's a tongue twister," Envy chuckled as she reached out and our fingers intertwined again.
"So we're holding hands at recess.....what do you want to do next?" I asked her carefully, a rather deep blush came to my face. Envy appeared to be thinking it over for a few moments as I could feel her hand tense.
"I don't really know - no one has really seen me as a person. It's either as a clone of my mother or as a pretty girl to ogle. When they aren't doing that it's the terrible daughter of the Strega." Her voice betrayed her unsteadiness and the level of self-doubt shifting beneath her controlled exterior. "I mean I'm just as bad as her am I not?"
"No, ye eren't," Morgan's accent crawled back into my speech. "Ye ere yerself!"
Fina tilted her head at me a little and for a second I was sure she was going to place her impassive mask back on. A flash of emotions waged war across her face as she lifted her drink and took a long draught from it. I sipped from mine in kind as I kept my eyes on her. Envy's countenance shifted again before she sat up and inhaled.
"What are your parents like?" she asked, her tone shifting.
"Mom is the enforcer mostly of our family. If we break the rules it's her who metes out the punishment." I watched her smile as I continued. "Dad is a laid back jokester and works his hands to the bone. He's a counselor who works with the state to help people on workers comp. Mom on the other hand is a college professor."
"They sound fun," Envy sighed and asked, "You have a sister don't you?"
"Aye," I let my voice bur, "Sloane, and she's true to her name. A little raider you don't want to piss off."
"I always wanted a sister or a bigger family," Envy chimed in as I finished, "for the longest time it was just me and....mom."
"What’s she like?" I asked.
"Mom?" she replied with an uneasy chuckle, "Mom is walking chaos and you don't really want to meet her. She shrinks people for fun, and when she's mad there tends to be a lot of destruction in her wake."
"I mean, I get it she's this big scary A-List villain and much worse. But I mean she can't be that scary..."
"It's not just that she's scary, it's more of how she's going to react when she finds out I've been asked out by you." Fina's words were filled with worry.
"What's the worst that could happen?" I asked jokingly.
"She'll wait till we're of age and ask you to join in for a threesome," Fina deadpanned.
"Oh - goddess you aren't kidding," I exclaimed loud enough to draw the attention of everyone nearby. Fina rolled her eyes and chuckled at my brash open feelings.
"What is your sister like?" she asked, I could sense her desire to change the subject.
"She's what everyone assumes every Hot Topic kid looks like, but is beyond most goth-wannabe's in style," I smiled, "she's also super protective of me. Called the mother of the guy who assaulted me something like - genetic reject."
"Are you okay talking about things related to your," she said just as I interrupted.
"No it's fine. If I talk about it in small amounts, I don't get a panic attack."
"Good. I don't want to trigger you," she replied. I watched her as she moved in her seat uneasily.
"You aren't," again I gently wreathed her hands in mine and offered a smile.
"I'm about done with my drink. Shall we go for a walk?" she asked me in that wonderful Atlantic accent.
"Sure!" I said as I gulped the rest of my mocha and stood to offer my hand. What I got instead was Fina wrapping an arm around my waist causing me to squeak. My sable headed date led the way outside through the halls of Schuster. Standing outside she turned me around to face her as she pulled me closer and I felt my eyes widen at Envy's sudden assertiveness. What was going on?
"Gráinne, are you sure you want to do this?" she asked me, that mask of uncertainty was back in place.
"No, I'm not," I replied and I feel her tense and my italian date frowned. She was assuming I meant I didn't really want to date her, but once again my bloody mouth of mine. What should I say?
"Explain yerself, bu' if she runs let har go."
I waited for a beat as she seemed to be fighting her anxiety, "I'm scared Fina, not of yer mom nor yer reputation. I'm scared cuz I've never done this befar....no one has ever made me feel dis way."
"Keep it truthful, stick ta how ye feel."
"I'm scared too Gráinne," Fina replied sheepishly. "I'm terrified that I'm just a clone of my mother and that I'll become just like her."
"You are Serafina Valocco, you aren't Celestina," I stated, "I want to date you!"
"Oh you do eh?" she asked me as her expression began to ease, "Okay...but I'm planning the next one."
"You are?" I said giving her a blank look as she giggled, "You - you wanna take me out on a date.
"Yes!" she exclaimed at me and I felt her arms enveloping me.
Chapter 10 - Steeplechase
Mid-Morning, November 26th, 2007 - Crystal Hall
The kiss was soft and made her stomach do backflips. It wasn't the first time they'd kissed, but it was the first time they dared to do it in public since she admitted to her friends more than a few days ago she was dating one Matt Walker. Most would describe Matt as a gangly boy who had a cowboy fetish. To her he just had a respect for proper ranging equipment and knew his way around animals. Perhaps it was the fact both of them had a history of riding and experienced hunting with bow and arrow. Or it could be that the Crystal Hall was serving venison stew that morning. Whatever it was, she was happy, and nothing was going to get in the way of that happiness. Even if was her roommate!
"How was that?" Matt drawled as he pulled away. A blush brushed across her cheeks as he gently drew a finger along her tanned jawline. If it weren't for the bolo tie she would have totally given him a stronger compliment when she spoke.
"Your bolo tie is so....silly," she breathed as his arm tightened around her waist.
"Well, I do believe, the fair lady is making fun of how I look," he smiled and chuckled.
"I'm not the one who carries around a lariat and wears the hat," she giggled.
"I'm an actual cowboy," he protested, jokingly, "you silver tongue demoness."
"Hey cool it cowboy, or no more smooching until I rearrange your innards," she countered.
"Aww you two are soo sweet," came the voice of a fox-eared girl sitting nearby. Fucking hell Fox! Oh my god. She couldn't stop laughing as she prepared a retort.
"Can it Fox, or I'll make your pelt into a pair of mitts," chortled Sophia.
Right at that moment Sophia was leaning against Matt with his friend Errol "Flynn" Cameron. Matt himself was a tall lean figure straight out of tales of the old west of Doc Holliday and Jesse James. His tanned complexion betrayed his family's long history of generations of Vaqueros or old Latin cattlemen dating back centuries. While not obviously native, the man had admitted to having an aunt who was half-Apache. A pale amber eyes, a clean shaved angular face, and a smile that never went away. Matt was awkwardly handsome and a charming man who made her feel wanted.
It was the six of them, the four girls from Whitman and the two boys from Emerson. Usually, she sat with Gráinne at the Underdog's table, but recent revelations had of course, changed all that. The small coffee date between a freshman Villainess to be and another Poe Girl, the rampaging she-hulk, Scald-Crow, had drawn the attention of the usual pieces of shit at school. Already, Sophia countered several insults from the more racist students at the school just for her native heritage. When she refused to join the Nations, it had alienated a few of her fellow First Nations classmates as well. Fuck em.If she hadn't been dating Matt she'd likely be cornered like Gráinne's encounter with the Cheerleaders. The attack on Gravmax only escalated the situation as she was an accomplice by proxy.
"What are you thinking about?" Matt asked her as he felt her shift against his side.
"Gráinne keeps getting into trouble, and I can even see the various cliques lumping us together," she bit her lip to focus herself.
"So?" he asked her that stupid ass grin never leaving his face.
"So...Gráinne's already a target, but even some of the local Native kids are avoiding me," she sighed.
"You did kindly tell them to shove it when you didn't show interest in Pejuta's club," he pointed out.
"I like Kayda, I am not sure at all I want to just get lumped together with all the other tribal students," she canted her head, "I already got plenty of that at home. I'm proud of my nation and every time I get thrown into the 'Native American' category people just plaster over who I am."
"Can't say I understand you, Sophia," he gave a small nod, "you stand by your friends, that includes the good and the bad."
"Dammit you're right." She shook her head and eyed Kitty, the fox was looking like she raided the hen house. "What are you thinking?"
"Oh...not much," Kitty folded her fingers together.
"How hot the Lieutenant is!" boasted Haruko.
"True as it may be, Kuno-chan, that wasn't what I was pondering," said Kitty with a hmph.
"Oh, but Saotome-kun, you will be my iinazuke!" Haruko chirped in reply.
"What are you two talking about?" Rhys asked after finishing her breakfast.
"She's trying to compare me to a sadistic martial artist," Haruko sneered.
"Well, if the shoe fits," Kitty leaned her chin on her hand and closed her eyes.
"Oka-san, is going to love you," Haruko jeered and made an obscene gesture outlining Kitty's figure.
"CHILDREN!" Sophia snapped sarcastically. Matt let out a loud guffaw as he lifted his glass of milk to take a long drink from it. The young vaquero was still working through his pile of flapjacks and sausage smothered in maple syrup.
"Hey Shampoo - Nabiki, step off already," Sophia continued, "you are both giving me a migraine."
"She started it!" they both said in sync while pointing at each other.
"So have you goodfolk thought about what you are going to do for Combat Finals?" Matt attempted to change the subject. His segue was reluctantly received by all present.
"I do!" Haruko punched her right hand into left. "I plan to beat the shit out of anyone I fight!"
"For those of us who aren't fifth dan martial artists," Kitty sang as she appeared lost in thought again.
"I plan on getting my ass whooped," Sophia stated as she let out a yawn, "All I can do right now is a basic light stealing spell."
"Nah, you'll do fine little lady," Matt said, earning him a confused glare.
"Don't push it cowboy. Ye hear?" she growled.
"Loud and clear, miss!" he gulped.
Sophia gently stood from where she sat and let out a loud cat-like yawn. Her witch-sight snapped into action as she felt a strange aura dancing across the veil. Between the fabric of the mortal coil and the rest of existence stood the divide. Grandpa Gerald called it the "Grey Sea" and her teachers called it the Veil. What was weird was she could sense a few things and then they'd be gone. A few other students in the cafeteria stopped chatting and looked around them. The feeling itself was a small tingling in the back of her neck. If she had a greater connection to the spirits as her Grandfather she'd be able to call on one of them to sniff around and get an idea if it was a threat. At the moment her connection to her people's various spirits and totems was quite 'fundamental' at best. She noticed that Catherine had ceased lazing about and her ears were pricked up on end.
"You okay darling?" Matt asked as she noticed she'd been staring off into space.
"Kinda...I swear I sensed another one of those boggarts who keep chasing Gráinne," she sat down and picked up her cup of coffee to polish it off.
"You and your friend certainly do attract a weird bunch," Errol finally spoke up, "It was pretty crazy last year. Not only did someone kill Heyoka we had a trial against Kayda."
"The good times just keep rolling," Matt said with a little bit of serious grit under his breath.
"I saw something as well," Kitty muttered, "something watching us from across the veil."
"Things have gotten weird again since Halloween," Flynn added with a frown.
"What happened at Halloween?" Sophia asked quizzically.
Flynn shared a stony expression and a glance between himself and Matt. The two boys moved in their seats and one instantly lost interest in the entire conversation.
"Someone poisoned Murphy," Rhys said in a small voice. "The year before...so many people died cuz a group of villains attacked the school."
"My mother warned me about that," Sophia answered and she watched Rhys wring her hands together in her lap. "This place is almost as neglient as fucking Hogwarts with students and outside threats."
"Hogwarts had a manipulative old man playing proxy war with children," Kitty commented and gave a small cant of her head.
"No we just have student murders and whatever Sara Waite is," Sophia sighed, rolling her eyes. "Next thing you'll tell me the Legion of Doom is on the payroll and President Snow from Hunger Games is in Security."
"Yes - Yes and yes, bingo we have a winner!" Kitty smirked.
"You're kidding me!" Sophia exclaimed.
"You haven't met Bardue - have you?" Matt chuckled.
"No I haven't-'' Sophia began before there was a loud crash at one side of the cafeteria instantly drawing her eyes. A flash of red hair and white hair was all that revealed the two forms as a slim androgynous form vaulted over a lunch table and landed just over it. Sophia was able to make out the albino skin and color hair of Vamp. The albino was grinning widely dressed in the standard Whately uniform and landed perfectly from the jump. Behind her leapt the wild springing maned best friend of hers. Dammit Gráinne, now what are you getting into.Her eyes tried to make out what Vamp was waving at her best friend, but all she heard was the strangled growl from the redhead's throat as she launched herself at the albino."GIVE IT BACK!"
Mid-Morning, November 26th, 2007 - Crystal Hall
One moment I was holding my phone fawning over a selfie of myself and Envy. Both of our faces squished together our green eyes shining with mirth. It made the memory of our date all more real. I had to admit, my hair looked good yesterday and even as I gazed longingly at the picture I only had a cursory sense of the movement around me. At the time I was in the cafeteria a little aways from where Sophia and her friends from Whitman and Dickinson sat. My lunch consisting of a large plate of meat was about halfway consumed with me ripping into my third roast beef sandwich before devouring a sixteen ounce steak. Savoring the food here was one thing I did every three bites as my body was still changing. My ears had grown longer over the last night, and I could feel the density of my muscles increasing.
It's hard to describe how to even tell what I mean by that. I am not getting stronger, but I can feel myself getting more durable. Morgan says it's my link to War, and how I will need to be able to weather serious wounds. A scary realization, and one I really don't want to figure out. Maybe this is why they only "thought" I was an Exemplar 4 back in Washington. Perhaps my body was so alien to some of them I was at a loss at how to describe it. Now, let's get to the meat and potatoes of this little train of thought. Earlier that morning some asshole had thrown iron filaments in my path and as soon as they touched my skin I shrieked in pain. The little bits of metal didn't even cut me, they just clung to me like some lazy magnet and fell off leaving my skin horrible red.
Several moments my entire right side was numb. The same kind of uncomfortable numbness I got when I crossed my legs for too long. The old pins and needles feeling that burned when I moved. This led to me of course having to be led to the cafeteria by one very angry crush of mine. We weren't even supposed to see each other, but as soon as Envy saw me nearly fall over and hit the ground she caught me. From there she led me to the cafeteria and to where I was currently plowing through a fourth sandwich she left me on a plate not long ago. I was feeling far better and the redness of my skin was getting far better and I was busily keeping my eyes on my gizmatic.
"Aww, look at that," I heard a light Southie accent behind me.
"Not now Vamp," I sighed, giving the albino a side-eyed glare.
"Talk about rude," I heard the mischievous chuckle, "you sure like staring at yourself and Valocco."
"Bite me Vamp," I growled.
"Mom ever toldja to watch that dirty mouth of yours?" they asked me.
"Bloody, hell ye feckin CUNT SOD OFF!"
"Vamp, back off," I heard the words as cold gentle hands encircled my waist, "Darling, breathe."
Fina's words brought a chill to my fire of my rage. I could already feel myself calming down and Morgan awakening in my Hollow. It was so damn weird, Envy's very presence easily calmed me faster than even Sophia or my mom. That's when in a singular fluid motion a hand grasped my phone and proceeded to rip it out of my hands. Anger immediately exploded from my gut and into my very being as I surged out of Envy's arms.
"FUCKING HELL! VAMP GIVE ME THAT BACK!" erupted from my mouth.
"TIME TO PLAY HARD TO GET, CALLAGHAN!" Vamp exclaimed before bounding over the table and landing gingerly on the other side. What came next I can only describe as something straight out of a Monty Python skit. Vamp was quite fast and even running at my fastest I was built for endurance and not speed.
"SERPENTINE, VAMP! SERPENTINE!" someone in the cafeteria cried as I crashed full boar through a table. The next I tossed aside with a flick of my wrist and I barely noticed it skidding into another table as I tore after that brat! I was so happy my bloody shoes gave me enough purchase for when I doubled back after the little shit on the second lap I was able to lunge at her. Well, I believe...Vamp goes by her. I mean...to my knowledge they were intersex. Right? My lunge, sadly, missed and I careened into a wall as the annoying laugh of someone else was heard.
"Awww, look at these two," Vamp stopped in front of a group of girls and held up my phone while jabbing a finger at it. I was able to make out an image of me smooshing my head against Envy's both of us were smiling. Vamp swiped her hand over the screen to one of me kissing Fina's cheek as she blushed bright red. "Aren't they so kyuuuute?"
"OH MY GAWD! Eeewww don't show me gay stuff," one of the girls cried. I ran straight for Vamp and just as my right hand was so close to snagging her they did a little pirouette and I collided with one of the girls. Who, in fact, turned out to be Yellow Queen. Of all the people to run into, it was that fucking bint I had to run into. The girl immediately gave me a shove sending me backward flat on my ass. "I thought I told you to never touch me again frosh!"
"You aren't my type," I deadpanned.
"Then why do your stupid lesbo hands keep touching me!" Queen growled.
"She's got you there, Gráinne!" Vamp chirped with a toothy grin. A loud click was heard from the phone and it dawned on me; Vamp just took a picture of me touching Yellow Queen. A deep red blush came to my face as I was at a loss for words.
"Give me back my bloody phone!" I barked as I backed up and vaulted over the table. This move resulted in the entire Martial Cheerleader Squad to scream and duck. Another click and I let out a choked growl and prepared myself before landing and nearly tripping flat on my face.
"That bitch just flashed me!" one of them screeched.
"Thanks for staring at my boyshorts perv!" I shot back as whipped around my eyes wildly searching for my quarry.
"YOU’RE THE PERV!" all four of them yelled in unison from across the table. They were leaning and even pushing theirs together in a whiney quartet.
"That's your girlfriend Serafina? She's so graceful," I heard someone from the bad seed's table. Upon hearing Envy's full first name I stood up and rubbed my jaw where I'd hit the wall. My green eyes searched for hers and I saw her appearing a little frustrated at my antics. But, my anger was too righteous for the moment. Maybe Morgan would be the voice of reason in this situation.
"She is quite good at chasing after what she wants," Envy flashed a smile before walking toward me where I stood. Both of my eyes were focused directly on Vamp.
"Hey, look the Dark Princess has a girlfriend," joked a teen who'd been eying Envy. It was so fast I barely saw it as a white pale-skinned thigh swept under the asshole causing him to fall on his back, a loud audible 'oof' came from his mouth. "Oopsie me, must have tripped on a straight fry or something."
"Soooo," Vamp drawled as I rushed and pounced toward her only to miss her by a mile. Another click, and another damn picture. This time they were smiling at me and I could almost see her next quip.
"Please just give me back my phone," I pleaded with her. Vamp instead tossed it in the air and my eyes snapped to the phone as they glided past me and caught the phone.
My jaw dropped as Vamp asked, "Soo you wear jack o'lantern boyshorts?"
"N....nooo?" I asked and searched my brain for some help from Morgan.
"CATCH TAT LIL TWAT AN' I'LL HEX HER ENTIRE BLOODLINE FER SEVEN GENERATIONS!"She roared in my skull.
"WE HAV BEEN INSULTED! BY THE SPEAR OF SOVEREIGNS I SEEK HAR BLOOD!"My eyes closed as I shook my head once more and I rubbed my head as I felt myself breaking out in a cold sweat.
"Dammit Vamp, please!" dashed after Vamp who was running toward the entrance to Crystal Hall. Envy wasn't far behind me as well as Sophia. My eyes were centered on Vamp's stupid white head as she dodged around the chairs of the Schuster entry Hall. I pushed one out of the way a little this time as Vamp easily vaulted over it.
"That all you got Callaghan?" Vamp snickered as they froze and waved my phone before I heard, "You and Valocco make such a cute couple. Is this a kiss for the presses?"
"That's enough Vamp, just hand over the phone," Fina prodded from beside me as I felt her arm wrap around my waist and gave me a firm squeeze.
"Naaah," Vamp drawled, "She didn't even catch me. What a chump!"
"Pwease just give meeee back mmyyyy phone!" I whined loudly at her and Vamp's current grin grew ten times bigger. The Albino sauntered toward me, tossing the phone between their hands before holding it out for me. I snatched it out of her hands and began to swipe through all the pictures she'd taken of me. First, was a crystal clear image of me charging right toward her. A mixture of surprise and frustration sketched across my features. I blanched at seeing it and swiped to another picture, one of me missing her and almost striking a table.
"I hope you enjoy your photoshoot," they smiled.
"Uh Vamp," I said and held up my hand to prevent them from leaving. One swipe and then another revealed one thing after another, vamps pale skinned thumb blocking me from most of the picture. A giggle trilled from my mouth as I held the screen out for her.
"RATS!" Vamp sighed while giving a small stomp of their foot and shake of their fists.
"Better luck next time?" I asked aloud feeling like I just walked into a Wacky Racers or Where are you Scooby Doo? episode. Vamp even crossed their arms in that stereotypical annoyed look that villains did before they started to monologue. Sophia took my phone and started to swipe through the pictures and gave me a confused look. Vamp by now was making their retreat with a loud "Ciao!" over their shoulder.
"How did she take so many pictures?" Sophia asked me.
"I...don't know. She's creepy good at snapping action pictures..." I sighed.
"At least she stuck her thumb out in the panty shot," Fina smiled.
"Yeah as if she meant to do it," Sophia replied.
"A good opponent, she will make good quarry fer da future,"Morgan seemed fixated on my chase.
"Darling, aren't you late for powers testing?" Fina commented. I spun around to face her as I felt my body go rigid and my eyes shot to the clock on the wall just outside Crystal Hall. Yup, I was about five minutes late, and was definitely screwed.
Mid-Morning, November 26th, 2007 - Whately Campus
"Gomen Ne sunao ja nakute, yume no naka nara ieru," The words flitted from her lips as eloquently as any idol. Hell, she'd make a perfect one in her father's home country. Her perfectly blood-red lips and large eyes, plus classical hostess features or so her pervy friends use to say. She was a taller girl maybe about 1.75 meters tall or what most in the States would call 5'9", and as she smiled to flash her perfect white teeth she belted out the next line. "Shikou kairo wa Sho-To sunzen, ima sugu aitai yo!"
"Do you seriously have to belt that like a damn weeb?" her friend, Aurora, asked beside her. Letting out a loud chuffing giggle, Haruko inclined her head and flashed those eerily white teeth of hers again. Upon closing her lips she ran her tongue over the less than obvious sharp incisors and canines few really ever noticed. There was also the way her long black hair almost seemed to at times to have an ethereal violet tint as well.
"But Stheno, that wouldn't be fun at all," she cooed. Feigning a frown, Haruko leaned against the wall where the two stood not long after Haruko made her exit from where her roomie and her quarry sat. Watching Gráinne chase around Vamp was hilarious. She crossed a black legging covered leg and dangled her left foot just slightly above the ground. Ignoring everything else about her most would assume that Haruko was just another second generation Japanese-Canadian. Another face from Vancouver and western Canada and one easily lost in a sea of multi-racial faces. Her idol looks usually made more than a few people assume she had no brain in that pretty head of hers, but that all ended when she manifested. "If you haven't noticed already, Aurora, I'm weird - I. Am. A. Weirdooo."
"You fucking goober," Stheno chuckled.
More than a year since her once porcelain skin was now covered in what could only be described as shining steel tattoos. Their style and art was reminiscent of those often seen on the older Yakuza toughs who usually appeared in Vancouver's crime reports. But to her father's men and to her cousins she was just flashing a personally earned Irezumi, one that gave her the ability to manifest a variety of steel weapons and objects from her skin. Perhaps if she had been the daughter of anyone but the infamous Steel Devil she would have been less than obvious about her abilities. But like any member of the Fujiwara-uji, and especially the daughter of the Oyabun or Godfather, she possessed her father's tenacity and his ironclad stubbornness.
So now as she watched Catherine Fox glide across the room and follow after her roomie, Sophia Jameson, Haruko kept watch of Kitty carefully though with her eye patch in place many would wonder how she was doing so. A moment later her eyes darted from side to side as she noted a lack of any curious onlookers. Gently, she pushed up the eye patch to reveal an open violet glowing eye beneath.
"Are you seriously pulling a senpai stalker move?" Aurora asked her.
"Who's the weeb now?" she chuckled with a yawn. The eye itself was feral in nature with a violet sclera and yellow pupil. After a moment she smiled before pulling her eyepatch back over it.
"I'm not the one who intentionally doesn't mention her arcane abilities to others," Aurora stated, "and uses the one skill to track people for shits and giggles."
"It's on my MID that I'm a Wiz 1, not my fault it barely registers since all I have is aural witch sight thanks to mom," she shot back.
"Has anyone else figured out your mom is Kumiho yet?" Aurora asked as she watched her friend give a quick stretch, Haruko's arms thrusting out and her back arching.
"Nope, everyone's already on thin ice cuz Oba-san is a fucking Steel Clad Demon," she dismissed.
"The Bad Seeds welcomed you with open arms," Aurora commented.
"Yeah, and I joined to make fun of Jessie and to give Sofia a hard time," she chuckled.
"How the hell do you know Scapegrace and Envy again?" the snake haired girl asked.
"Mom and Strega are old...um I guess bedmates?" she shrugged.
"Are you serious?" Aurora asked with a bright blush.
"I mean, it's not like Envy isn't open about it. Her mom is a bit like mine. They love us, but by grace of all the gods, they are way too fucking much,." The woman darted in the direction of her quarry.
Mid-Morning, November 26th, 2007 - Whateley Campus
Why am I always chasing after her?The question was one that became more evident the longer and longer Sophia was on the Whateley Campus. Sure, she had her own friends and social circles outside of Gráinne and even her roommate. But something about everything around her kept driving her to follow after and keep an eye on the bouncing ginger. It wasn't the fact she appeared to be a Blood Elf from World of Warcraft or perhaps her strange banshee queen spirit. At times all she could do was feel herself being tugged along by Gráinne, and now Fina. Maybe it was a thing about being a girl in Poe, or maybe it was something to do with whatever she swore was just hiding on the horizon of their futures.
Often her grandfather would talk about the conflux of time and how at times things all appeared to lead to points in time. When he and his teammates founded the Whatcom Alliance it was just after a disagreement with the Seattle Knights. At the same time there was an issue facing the Lummi Nation and Whatcom County. So at the apex of the shifting statuses and various political factions he'd done his best to navigate the waters of time. Now, she was sure she was starting a similar journey. One which would see her name etched in the passage of history and one that somehow involved her new traveling companion.
Not even a month in and already she knew things were not as they seemed with Catherine Fox. Maybe it was the universal cultural trend of foxes being tricksters, or it was the woman's tricksy nature. Haruko might have a hard-on for the girl but Sophia was still on the fence when it came to Kitty. Yeah, Matt was an awesome boyfriend and he did vouch for her, but she'd learned a long time ago to judge people independent of whatever others said about them. Her friends had easily abandoned her when she'd manifested and even a few members of her tribal neighbors had ditched her because of her mutant status. It was only her mother's connections and good name which kept the worst at bay. Plus, her rather large defensive family who didn't take shit from anyone.
Came with the territory of carrying a mantle like hers as did everyone of the Jameson Legacy.
"Okay, ginger girl, god there are so many of you here," she huffed. "I know why I'm following my best friend, and Elvira , there. But I'm not sure why you're coming along."
Kitty considered the brunette's words for a moment or two before she let out a small sigh, "Mind we skip the pink mafia hints and speak plainly?"
Sophia herself came to stop as she gave a once over of the girl beside her. Another red head who dragged chaos in her wake, and seemed to build friends up at a rate a celebrity pop singer could only muster. "Fine - fine. Speak"
"Alright, " she rubbed the back of her neck, "First, one is, look...you seem nice and well I'm inclined to like you with Matt being your boyfriend. Them though." She pointed at the slowly disappearing figures of the raven and red haired girls ahead of them. "There's something...off...with them and I am not entirely sure what it is yet."
"Gráinne and her fucking ginger-pale bullshit," Sophia sighed.
"Hey, language young lady!" Kitty joked.
"Who are you my dad?"
"No, just that by being a li' selective about where you drop the f-bomb adds a lot more fucking effect to it. Besides, not all gingers are up to supernatural bullshit." She winked over at Sophia who raised an eyebrow. "Look. I'm an Avatar, I know what it's like to share head space and body with spirit."
"Yeah, so you automatically know what' it's like?" Sophia snapped back fast.
"Uh - no, but spirits aren't always the most forthcoming. What is it not talking about? I mean, I'm not implying Graine is up to no good, but there are just -too- many questions."
"You forgot reason two, dork," Sophia said as she nodded in agreement.
"Well I guess not trusting her spirit would be reason three. Siona hasn't lied to me that I know of, but she definitely shades what she says."
"Agreed again," she noticed they'd lost sight of the two lover girls and let out a loud sigh out of her mouth. "Gráinne's spirit is pretty damn cryptic. She describes it as playing an Anime RPG game and getting a lore dump every few hours of story time."
"Must be hell trying to go to the bathroom between all the cutscenes..."
Sophia closed her mouth and placed a hand over it as she attempted to null a guffaw. That's when she noticed something strange a bit further down the hallway. A certain asian woman was leaning against the wall and speaking to the snake-haired girl, Stheno. What is Haruko doing here? I mean she usually hangs out with us, but she showed no interest earlier.
"Check your six Kitty, looks like we have a stalker," she nodded toward the girl about thirty yards behind them.
Catherine subtly followed Sophia's gaze behind her for just a moment, and appeared thoughtful. "Lose 'em or keep goin'?"
"I mean she's the one stalking you," Sophia sighed as both of their quarry were gone by now.
Catherine reached out to grab Sophia's hand.
"Hold On." And there was a pulse of energy around her, Sophia saw it through her witch-sight as a strange bending of reality and in a blink of an eye they were atop a roof nearby.
"Oh gods that was fucking apparating," she dry heaved, "Let me know when you do that."
"You're welcome." Catherine said flatly.
Chapter 11- A Bloody Revelation
Late Morning, November 26th, 2007 - The Labs
There were times she wondered why she followed after Envy and let the ravenhead get her caught up in her bullshit. Haruko was a good friend and was a fellow Bad Seed, and yet that didn't mean she had to involve herself on the current level she was. A quick little reflection on the variety of subjects she'd experienced in the past year alone. First, she'd been nearly expelled from her hoity-toity boarding school on Vancouver Island, and now she was here. It helped her mom and Envy's knew each other to the point of being former bed-friends. A quick roll of her eyes made it so she was finally aware of where she was. Both her and Stheno were now fully in the tunnels as they were making their way to a lab specified under Doyle.
"Why we here again?" Stheno asked her.
"Fina said something about a new teacher, and her wanting access to a magical testing location," she explained. Before Vamp had her fun, she was speaking to Envy about her new girlfriend's updated powers testing.
"Gráinne has zero magical talent," Stheno cocked her head as the two came to rest just in front of the lab. A woman in black military fatigues was standing outside and smoking a cigarette in plain sight.
"Oh tat so?" commented the woman, and another black-haired woman noted Haruko.
"Yeah...oh...aren't you miss Maguire?" Stheno asked in response.
"Aye," the woman dropped her cigarette and stepped on it, "I'm the new Military and Combat Magic lecturer."
"We have a military magic class?" Haruko asked and she felt her face widen into a smile. Mom and dad are going to find this fun.
"Ye 'av one now, will be accessible come wintar quartar,'' the woman said before pulling the door she was leaning against. Haruko watched as the door itself was covered in a series of strange glowing runes, each appeared to pulsate with power.
"What's up with that?" she asked as her and Stheno slipped in after the new teacher.
"Dose be chaos invocations, dey confuse any Fae who might sense Gráinne's resonance," the woman replied.
The inside room itself was wall to wall filled with machinery. A low whir sounded from a laptop sitting on a small table in the middle of the room. Cool dark cement met their feet as they were shuffled against a nearby wall as Haruko realized who was in the room. At the table sat Dr. Otto, a recent addition to the Academy's roster of psychiatric professionals as well as Mrs. Carson herself. A few scientists from the rest of the Doyle staff were also present, easily identified by their Hollywood Issue Scientists white coats. Haruko reached along her cheek and placed a long sliver of metal in her mouth to flick between her teeth as she watched. The Headmistress was whispering in conversation with Dr. Otto as Envy was speaking to Gráinne.
"Sooooo what's going on?" Haruko finally broke the silence. This is too easy, time to poke the nest. I am -that- bored.
"Ah, Miss Fujiwara Serafina informed us you would be allowed to join," Mrs. Carson answered.
"Headmistress...my last name is Yi-Fujiwara," she corrected carefully.
"I wasn't aware your mother had finally hyphenated the name," the Headmistress stated.
"She did, Oto-san bought a new yacht," she replied with a giggle.
"As to be expected from one of the richest Oyabun on the West Coast," remarked Miss Maguire.
"Hey, you said his position right! Everyone always messes up and calls him a Godfather," she laughed louder, "you know how hard it is to find a Gaijin who doesn't fetishize or is ignorant as fuck about my family?"
"MISS YI-FUJIWARA, LANGUAGE!" snapped the Headmistress.
"Gomen Nasai!" she replied and gave a small bow leaving the Headmistress a little off kilter. Not since she'd ever met the Bad Seed did Haruko perform anything remotely formal when it came to her apologies. Haruko slowly shuffled over to stand beside Envy who was currently watching her girlfriend. This finally drew Haruko's gaze through the glass to the room on the other side.
Late Morning, November 26th, 2007 - The Labs
Which fucking lab did they go to?Sophia was busily trying to make heads or tails of where their two friends had gone. Both she and Kitty were alone atop the roof of a nearby building. Carefully, she drew in a breath as she decided to try a small spell her grandfather emailed to her. The actual regents weren't hard, a salmon scale as she uttered the words in Straits Salish While her hand wrapped around the regents in a small hold-out in her blazer. At the last few words, her eyes snapped open and she could feel it. A flow of scent and subtle changes of heat in the air. It required her a few moments to pick the proper before she waved to Kitty.
"I need you to blink us down, I kind of know where they went."
"Oh sure, puke on the roof and now she wants to blink again," Catherine said with a slight chuckle. "Where to?"
"Tone it Fox, or I'll let Claire know you’re trying to sneak beers," she glowered.
"Ask around for Guinness one time... fine, fine..." Catherine took Sophia's hand and blinked down to the ground. A sudden shift in movement and a powerful jolt nearly knocked her on her face as she landed.
"At least that eagle girl from Hawthorne wasn't up there," she grimaced before standing and brushing herself off.
"Don't threaten my beer again," Kitty groused under her breath only to meet Sophia's eyes.
"You know that Haruko sneaks Sake in our room? Her dad sends it to her as some sort of Yakuza ritual thing. Go ask her for booze if you want it so bad," she sighed.
"Rrreaaaly?" she asked with a curious purr, "I have been trying to get Sake for a blessing. Among other things."
"If you want to deal with her serial killer mom you can even date her if you want," Sophia stretched before starting off and heading toward a tunnel entrance.
Her comment left Kitty spluttering and blinking. "Wait.....WHAT?"
The fox-eared redhead sped after Sophia as the Native was already climbing down the stairs from the small manhole cover entranced near the main path. Before even starting down another tunnel the girl repeated the spell from earlier and felt the essence drain along her periphery senses. Sophia didn't bother to acknowledge the click of Kitty's ballet shoes as the other teen was sporting a pair of somewhat expensive sneakers for her school day.
"You didn't know?" she blinked and walked backwards for a few seconds as she thought.
"Know that the girl crushing on me has a mass-murdering mother, NO I DID NOT!"
"Calm down freckles," she sighed, "Kumiho is a member of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom in Seattle. She's only killed about forty people, in her documented two hundred years of life." She even added a dismissive wave to the girl as she turned around to continue on to the lab.
Catherine rolled her eyes and grumbled. "Just fucking peachy..."
"Sokay, she has a thing for furries anyway."
"I am not a... ok, guess that applies..." Catherine sighed, shaking her head.
"I am a mistress of the art of escalation," Sophia chided her friend, "you make one joke, I pummel you till you know when NOT to say something."
"Just wait until I tell Matt that you don't have a Caganer for the holidays"
"Sigh," she said and pulled out her phone. The glow and tapping of her fingers began to grow as a few loud pings followed soon after. "Hey Kitty. Why does my mom never remember you? When she was a partner with your mom?"
Catherine opened her mouth for a moment before closing it. "Goooood question... I'm not sure. I guess I just didn't stick out much before manifesting, so um.. mom wouldn't have had to talk about me a lot."
"My mom says you sound like your dad....a lot." She waved her hand nonchalantly as she let the threat settle in.
"Yeah... I've been told I take after him a lot," Catherine sighed.
"So you say," she replied with a roll of her eyes. The door opened revealing the tall lean form of Second Lieutenant Maguire. Cold blue eyes swept over her form and the woman's lips formed into a disapproving frown jumping from her to Kitty.
"Can um...we come in?" Sophia asked, her voice stuttering ever so slightly.
"Fine," she said and turned around and let the two of them sneak past her. Sophia walked over to stand next to Envy as Kitty glided to lean at the back near Haruko. The Headmistress was speaking with Doctor Otto as she noticed no sign of Gráinne. It took her a moment for her to notice the small clear window perhaps two feet wide looking further into what she assumed was the rest of the lab. A large white room, maybe about twenty feet square with a fairly high tech looking treadmill, some weights and a few more things. What really caught her attention though was the strange static feeling buzzing in the room. Energy, no essence, crackled around her as her ears popped not long after she entered.
"Be careful you four," Dr. Otto turned to address them all, "Miss Maguire has placed a pretty powerful ward around this room to prevent any supernatural trace leaking out of it.
"Um....why?" Haruko asked carefully.
"Someone is trying to kill Gráinne...more specifically her spirit, Morgan," Mrs. Carson addressed them.
"We didn't have a high rated Faerie Witch on staff before," Mrs. Carson replied.
"Wait what?" she asked and stared at Maeve who was mumbling something under her breath. Sophia attempted to make out the words, but the Irishwoman turned away at the last second seemingly noticing her audience. Dammit. Did the Headmistress just say that nutcase is our new teacher?
"So… you’re testing her powers....again?" Sophia jumped into the conversation.
"Whateley always does it's own tests, often multiple times," Catherine added.
"Great...guess I'm next," Sophia chuckled.
"Maybe," Kitty suggested, before she received a playful slap from Sophia.
"Have the tests started?" Sophia asked.
"Not yet, they’re calibrating everything to take Gráinne's new biology into account," Dr. Otto informed everyone.
"New biology? You mean her ears?" Sophia's head snapped up to watch the man. Dr. Otto appeared to barely register the look of the young students within the room.
"Not just her ears, her allergy to Iron, and something more," Dr. Otto said and drew his glance toward Maeve, a firm curious expression on his face.
"I'll explain it as we test har, it's easier tat way." Maeve uncrossed her arms and gave a loud sigh.
Noon, November 26th, 2007 - The Labs
When they first told me I was going to be receiving an updated powers testing, I didn't expect to find myself in a bunker at least thirty feet under the school. Also, there was not a word said to me I would be in some strange crazy mad scientist lab that deep underground. The room was maybe twenty or twenty-five foot square. The walls were white as freshly fallen snow, and hummed with energy. I could almost see it as small motes of light swirling in a rough wall just within the confines of the room itself. Right at the moment I was standing and undressed down to my sports bra. They let me keep my leggings on, but still, I wasn't in the mood to be showing off my body just now.
There was one added bonus though. One little peep through the mirror splitting the testing room from the observation room just beyond it. Leaning against the window was my girlfriend, or the girl I was dating. Fuck, I should ask her to be my girlfriend after this.
"Stay focused, mo chroí. Tis time to show them, what a daughter of Danu can do!" I gave a small nod as I walked toward the treadmill and stood atop it. The machine was reinforced I figured after giving it a once over. They wanted me to go all out, but I wasn't sure what they were testing with the treadmill they already didn't know from previously. I wasn't surprised at all to see Dr. Hewley here today, I waited as he seemed to be fixing a few things on a tablet. After about a minute he walked over and gave me a smile.
"So we're going to be doing a few simple tests to make sure your Exemplar rating is accurate," he tapped the tablet and the machine came to life. "First, we need to affirm your top running and jogging speed."
This again. I gave the man a little nod before I felt the treadmill awaken and begin to move slowly beneath me. The monster gained speed exponentially as I noticed the sprinting speed jump from one two ten; to twenty and finally pace out at thirty miles an hour. It wasn't that fast, but as I sprint I could feel my body wanting to go faster and I nodded to the good doctor to increase the speed.
"Our blood sings mo chara anam!" It was exhilarating to be able to run nearly forty-seven miles an hour and I was even more happy as I topped out at ten minutes for my endurance. However, as that mark passed I felt my body immediately demand for a slower pace and Dr. Hewely noticed my increased breathing. Immediately, the machine began to taper down as I finally slowed to a steady job of twenty-four miles an hour. Not the fastest, but it was steady enough that I felt I could maintain for a while. I waved to everyone in the observation room, and flexed a little for Envy. My girlfriend-to-be, gave a fairly bright blush to her cheeks as I continued with the current speed for more than half an hour.
"Well, your top speed I think is easily anywhere from forty-seven to maybe even over fifty if you get some more conditioning," Dr. Hewely commented.
"Nice, I'm not a speedster, but I can run like Cap when I need to!" I cheered as I was allowed to step off the machine.
"We've noted your muscle mass appears to be quite dense," he commented as he asked me to hold my hand out. An assistant dressed in full medical PPE came over and told me of the next test, a quick check of my regeneration. Now the PPE made more sense than my initial thoughts. If I knew I could heal a gunshot in three days, but if I was any remotely higher my blood would be a pretty dangerous biohazard. A quick slice across my hand with a scalpel went a little deep and I winced as it appeared to almost grate along the muscle of my palm. Within a second the bleeding ceased and the would easily appeared to be healing to a closed scab within seconds. The deeper part of the cut throbbed for close to a minute before the pain dulled.
"Hmmm...your muscles are almost...iron like in their density," Dr. Hewely hummed before he said, "Gráinne, would you be okay if I test a theory?"
"What do you want to do?" I asked as I rubbed my hand with the other.
"You said you're highly allergic to iron, does your spirit have any idea on the purity of it and how it affects your healing?" he inquired.
Morgan let out a low uncertain rumble in the depths of my mind. She shifted in my hollow unsurely before I felt her ready to speak. "Cold Iron from the stars will kill us. Forged from the earth will poison us. Steel will confuse us. And, Iron of the earth burns us."
I relayed Morgan's words as I asked, "All of this is going to be encrypted right?"
"Yes," Dr. Otto stated, "Only certain agencies will be able to access it with your permission."
A loud sigh came to me as I waited for Dr. Hewley to do his test. A sharpened iron file was held out and in a quick movement the assistant drew it across my arm and I let out a scream in agony. My skin smoked as if lit aflame, and I could feel the edge of the Iron slice through my skin and then almost to my bone like I was made of butter. On instinct I let out a loud high pitched scream and drew back with a snarl. The pitch of my voice seemed to daze everyone present for just a second as I heard the door to the lab opening and slamming shut.
"Gearrfaidh mé amach do chroí!" I screamed in gaelic, "daonnaí amadeach!"
"Ye will do no such ting, fae-child." I felt a bit of folded steel against my neck as fear overcame me. I sighed as I realized miss Maguire had a knife against my neck and was humming something under her breath.
"MISS MAGUIRE REMOVE YOUR WEAPON FROM MY STUDENT!" roared Mrs. Carson over the PA from the observation room.
"Not till this Summer Child, gives me har word she won' kill anyone present," she said, "you will won' ye Lil' Rose?"
That nickname, how the hell did she know my nickname? My eyes flashed as I could feel fear digging into my skin and my body quaked. This mortal was a threat to me, and she had a steel blessed blade near my neck. The thing oozed with protective wards and spellwork, and made my skin crawl.
"MISS Maguire," the Headmistress growled again.
"HOW DARE YOU TOUCH ME FOUL WITCH!" I screamed at her as my rage and something in my brain made me want to reach out for something. But, as the desire to grasp for whatever magic I should have failed, the fear grew worse. How was I this weak? I was a daughter of the silver bough, and my ancestors had slain entire villages of such witches for their insubordination!
"Nah, ye havna lass....coool yerself." Morgan's words drew me back to reality. This time I truly felt the steel metal against my neck and I felt a swirl of vertigo.
"Oh me goddess wha' da hell, jus happened?" I gasped as I closed my eyes last and shut them tighter still to make them stop spinning.
"Ye were disassociating," Maeve let me go and sheathed her knife, "Foundlins ere often plagued by visions o' grandeur an' powar."
"And wha does dat hafta do wit me threatenin to cut out hearts?" I inquired.
"Bes described as yer fae side gettin stronger, sa ye stop tinkin loik a human." Maeve took a step back and remained inside of the room. I could tell she wasn't going to speak more on the subject. Dr. Hewley stepped in as I faltered and redirected me to the next test. A series of heavily modified weight lifting machines waited nearby the treadmill. What came next was one of the more specific amount of tests I've done in a while. Each machine possessed numerous modifications from heavy steel reinforcements to what I could only guess was Devisor created sensors. I won't bother going over it all, but what it told me was that they wanted to see the limit of my strength and that wasn't helping with a few other problems.
"From what we've seen your mutation appears almost entirely centered on physical strength," Dr. Hewley said annotating aloud. He directed me toward a machine fitted with a barbell. This is where my complete lack of weight training class became obvious. I grasped the long steel bar in both hands and weighted as I was directed to do a weighted squat. After a minute of pure fidgeting I felt ghostly hands trace around my own and I swore Morgan was directing my actions. My feet were planted in a middling stance, and the assistants entered a set of parameters in the machine. A loud grinding sound roared from the machine as I heard various robotic parts shifting the weights around as necessary.
"We'll start with five hundred pounds, it should be easy for you," The words were all the direction I needed as I fell down into a squat feeling the muscles in my legs take the weight with little trouble. Coming back up was far easier, and as I finished I repeated this motion more than a few times. The last I saw the amount was well past a thousand pounds and after lifting and holding the weight for a full minute I was done. Hewley was busily noting away on his tablet while his assistant directed me through a few more machines.
Machine number two was apparently one to measure the amount of force I could put in a punch. How to describe this thing? The machine itself looked perfectly scientific if pulling a contraption out of an "Ultimate Warrior'' martial arts television special was your ideal of perfect. A flat circle target which was fitted with a black padded material. I guessed it was kevra or maybe another fabric capable of taking a beating. But, let's be honest, I only know as much as I read or people inform me. The circle was then attached to a weighed-down square frame bolted to the floor. Just above the machine was a blank digital readout and what I guessed was a reset button.
"Alright, Miss Ní Callaghan, I just need you to punch the target as hard as you can." The instructions were, as I guess, easy and to the point. Yes, I loved it when these tests at least gave me clear guidelines. Sitting in front of the machine I was at a loss on how to proceed. Punch this thing as hard as I could? What about when I was in a rage or when I wasn't? Let's face it, I'm a mini-hulk in a pretty redheaded veneer. So I made a quick and definitely stupid decision. They creeped into my skull and along my spine as clammy, cold, grasping hands. The memories flashed as I pushed harder and as my eyes began to bleed red I felt a hand pushing my head toward someone's waist. A burst of tears hit me as I felt my hand snap out and strike the machine with all my might.
"Gráinne?" I heard Envy's voice over the PA.
"I'm good, I'm good," I stepped back while raising my hands.
"Okay, just stay calm darling, I'm here," she told me.
"Thanks...." I replied. Dammit, I was going to need it.
Noon, November 26th, 2007 - The Labs
A few minutes earlier…
"Cold Iron from the stars will kill us. Forged from the earth will poison us. Steel will confuse us. And, Iron of the earth burns us."
I listened to Gráinne quote the spirit inside her, my eyes narrowing as I remembered the red welts on her pale skin. I set aside my anger as ice filled my veins, mentally ticking off the steps I’d need to track the perpetrator of that ‘prank’ down. It was no effort to keep my face impassive as I inwardly considered the difficulty of obtaining white phosphorus to suitably punish the miscreant.
Distracted, I didn’t realize what was about to happen until the iron file was almost against her wrist. “WHAT! Hewley, have you lost your damn mind! STOP!” I shouted but it was too late. I watched as my girlfriend’s arm was opened like the simple iron file was a blow torch. Maguire was moving into the room before Gráinne started screaming and I was simply in shock.
"Gearrfaidh mé amach do chroí! Daonnaí amadeach!"
"Ye will do no such ting, fae-child."
I wanted to do something as Maguire drew a blade on my girlfriend but Carson put herself between me and the door, taking control. "MISS MAGUIRE REMOVE YOUR WEAPON FROM MY STUDENT!"
"Not till this Summer Child, gives me har word she won' kill anyone present. You will won' ye Lil' Rose?"
Carson continued to shout through the PA system but my attention was fully on Gráinne as I stood frozen. I felt a tug in my gut as Gráinne’s will reached inside herself for a space so profoundly absent that I felt like I was being pulled into it. It was Gráinne who reached for that power, but it was also not Gráinne. It was an instinct older than her or even Morgan, written into her blood and soul.
Feeling Otto’s hand on my shoulder, I blinked, breaking off my witch’s sight. Turning to look at him, I felt cold, detached and distant. “Seraphina, are you all right?” he asked, his voice and expression brimming over with concern as if he was worried I wouldn’t be able to read the emotion. Hearing my name, I felt warmth slip back into my fingers and toes. “Yes, doctor,” I said, holding my forehead as I felt a headache coming on, “I think I went too deep into the sight.”
"Bes described as yer fae side gettin stronger, sa ye stop tinkin loik a human,” Maeve said as she moved away from Gráinne but stood at the ready.
Looking at Gráinne again, I felt hungry. She was beautiful, athletic like a great cat, majestic in her rage. I wanted to serve her a warm, still-beating heart on a mithril platter. I imagined the sound of those sharp fangs ripping through flesh as I watched blood drip from her lips and felt heat rising in my loins. I knew my shields were strong, but it was likely that Otto could read my body language, so I tried to keep my cool mask on.
I watched coolly as Gráinne squared off against the strength testing machine. I shoved all my emotions away as she chose to tear her mental wounds open to give her single punch everything she had. Reaching for the PA button, I forced my voice to be calm. “Gráinne?”
"I'm good, I'm good," she answered a bit too quickly to be fully reassuring.
"Okay, just stay calm darling, I'm here," I told her.
"Thanks...." I whispered just loud enough for me to hear.
Turning off the PA, I looked to Carson. “This isn’t testing, it’s torture,” I muttered.
Carson didn’t even blink. “I wish it weren’t necessary.”
As I watched the testing continue, feeling colder and colder inside, I had an epiphany. Whateley is a chaotic mess where students are pitted against students and outside interests constantly manipulate the campus to violent consequences. Why? Ethically, even empowered children shouldn’t be placed in the kind of danger we were in on a daily basis. Conclusion, other interests manipulated the campus to incite violence. The most likely candidates to be interested in keeping the mutants fighting amongst themselves were Humanity First, the MCO and majority baseline human governments.
That wasn’t my epiphany, that was the basis for it. The epiphany came that the reason for such torturous testing, why both the capes and villains went along with the competition was information. Information about the next generation, our strengths, our weaknesses, so that if we ever got out of control or went rogue they could kill us.
Gráinne was something new, and even Carson needed to know how to kill her or beings like her.
I felt sick but I let the rising cold in my heart take that emotion away from me too. I needed to be calm and in control. For Gráinne.
Chapter 12 - So Much Pressure
The Witching Hour, November 27th, 2007 - Beyond The Looking Glass
Fina remembered her oldest and darkest memory, or at least a nightmare from when she was a child. She could never quite explain it, but it always began with her in her old room back in the city. Celestina Valocco had spared no expense in her child's room, but no matter how hard she tried to love it the entire place just felt off somehow. In her dream she would be in her bed when suddenly the light outside the door would flicker on. She was clear in her memories of this particular detail as it reminded her of a horror movie she'd once watched when she was ten. The light would flicker on hazily and then something large and heavy would thump by causing her to shake with sudden fear.
The things feet were barely made out as her eyes would hyperfocus on that slim line of light under the door. Something clawed, with the briefest hint of talons as it stalked by. Without warning another thump would erupt against her door as the thing suddenly attempted to enter. Then without a word it would bang again before scrambling and moving the locked door knob furiously over and over again. Just at the door shook for a third time she would slip out of her covers and under her bed. This part was one of the other clear details, the bed was clear of anything. No dust or dirt, and no items at all. And it always was enough space for her to squeeze her small body into and she would always army crawl to the middle of it.
That's when the door itself would bang open, and the large thing would thud into the room. Its feet now evident in slim green scaled form, long webbed feet flapping on the ground. Its breathing was the worst part, it sounded like it was choking and gasping to maintain itself. The very life breath was almost entirely alien to the thing. Then, when she felt safe the thing would walk around her bed and back, twice, always twice. Each footfall becoming more and more despondent the more it appeared to look. Above her the covers of her bed were scattered about her room one after another just as the thing let out a low irritated growl.
Yes, this was the dream she always remembered, and one that always brought a sense of unease to her body. It was like her entire frame was wrong, and felt completely ill-fitting over her bones. A sense of horror born of years of self-harm, and confusion about how no matter how hard she tried to put it on her tongue she could never put it to words. Right then as the thing waited, it would thud over to the open door and let out a growl, "I know you’re in here Princess.....we'll find you. Someday."
It was always Princess, never Prince, and this was well before her sudden transition earlier that year. The dream itself was her oldest nightmare, one that seemed part of who she was. A rotting little piece of herself never to be forgotten, ignored, or ever misplaced. The voice was gravely and sounded like rocks grinding together in a mudslide. Or the silent cracking of ice as it's about to give away. The massive feet disappeared and the shadow only lingered in the light of the door for a little while longer. It was this way every single time and it never changed.
Not until tonight.
She slowly crept out from under the bed which mysteriously fit her older frame. Staring at the door she could only begin to wonder what dreamcast monsters were just beyond the border. Carefully, Fina felt her entire body shake as her dream form was filled with a sudden wracking of terror. Her skin turned pure white and took on the texture of rubber. The girl's long black hair began to feel waxy and fake, and bits and pieces of it started to fall out. As the process continued she gasped out as pain lanced up her side. Clutching her chest the girl turned away from the bed and stared into the silver-backed full-length mirror behind her. What she saw would make the nightmare far worse than before.
Instead of a room the mirror revealed the depths of what she could only assume were the ocean. The fluttering and quaking surface above only broken by the minute grey light of a stormy day. Fina drew closer, the slowly growing sense of how truly fake her body was acting as she was driven to look at herself even more. What she saw made her shiver in fear even more than before.
What stared back at her was a body, a body with waxed skin and dark hair floating around her head. An overwhelming smell of brine and the harsh chill of the sea washed over her body. Winds whipped out of the ethereal mirror causing Fina's body to shake with the chill. As the smell of rotting kelp reached her nose she could feel bile rising in her throat. The pounding of a heart fills her ears as the body drifts listlessly before her. Drops of thick smelly brine began to bleed from the edge of the mirror through the enamel of the frame. "From The Depths The Sleeper Awakes..." A feminine voice rumbled from the dark of the waters as more and more of the oozing oil-like brine began to leak around the mirror.
The body seemed to drift closer and closer to the mirror. Fina can now make out the bits of kelp and seaweed tangled in her hair. How her mouth is open and a long threading worm is coiled on a gaping rotting hole in her jaw. The worms filaments flare out as its massive pincer mandibles chew off bits of dead whitened flesh. The girl's throat moves as the worm readjusts itself undulating against what remains. Fina can see the thing's body just under the skin, moving like a bloated vein.
"Queen Of Ice And Black Waters."
The body is right before the mirror now, she can make out fish and even small shrimp tearing away at the drowned girl. Her features are so familiar, but she can't make heads or tails of who she was seeing. For the first few moments of seeing that corpse, Fina swore it was her own. But no, whoever that was wasn't her, and yet, the body still felt dreadfully familiar.
"A puppet without its strings is no puppet at all." The voice continued on, and the front of the mirror thunked as the body leaned into the glass. Another loud thunk as the mirror heaved against the pressure as the body shivered to life. Fina took a step back, her eyes glued to the mirror as the decaying body grasped at the front and she heard the audible thunk of something on the other side of a glass walled aquarium. The brine was now slowly being replaced by what she fathomed was rotting fish oil. Bits and pieces of decaying matter. The worm in the creature's mouth dove back into the hole where it hid, revealing the dark maw of the girl's torn throat.
"FIIIIINAAAA!" the thing let out an ear pounding groan shaking the mirror. A crack and frost started flashing into existence. One loud punch from the corpse-girl created a spider web of cracks from the central impact point. Fina stepped back, her bare foot feeling the slick ground from the mess of fish oil, guts and brine. Her eyes focused on that point further as the cracks expanded and laced outward. Another punch, and the creature let out a scream sending much of the fish, eating away at its eyes, away. Except it only had a singular eye, with the other socket completely empty. Just another gaping hole of matter covered in small crabs and shrimp who didn't give two fucks that their food was suddenly moving on its own.
"WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME!" the scream caused the glass of the mirror to roll as glass shattered from the mirror. More and more of the thick brine oozed from the opening as a pale rotting hand pressed outward from it. The slick across its hand sloughed from it like amniotic fluid. Her eyes widened as a bit of skin was flensed off revealing the gangrenous dead muscle beneath.
"I didn't do anything." Fina gasped.
"YOUR MOTHER DID THIS TO ME!" The voice filling her ears was so familiar and yet so alien. What did mother do now? It was always things connected with the sea. Even the creature who came for her earlier, had a weird sea salt smell about him. She fell down as another hand punched through. More and more of the brine oozed to the ground as the glass broke away and the head of it started to push forward. "I WILL NOT BE YOUR PUPPET FOREVER!"
How could dead vocal cords work? There was no logic in the dream realm, the girl was able to pull herself from the hole in the mirror and more of her skin was flayed off of her chin and left arm. Now a loud wet smack landed on the floor as the girl's wet white dress clung to her body. "Fiiiiiiiiinaa." It croaked again and as it started to slowly come to its feet she heard something deeper and located beyond the girl.
"-HWA?! MIN CWĒN!-"
A feminine roar thundered in the background and in her skull. "IC ĒÞIEĒÞIĠE EÞ, MIN MÓDORCILD!"The voice overpowered every thought, instinct, and any ounce of brain power she had. It reached into her soul and yanked hard to hold her attention as something pounded at the mirror and she noticed the corpse-girl was righting herself. Long seaweed encrusted hair finished the Draugen's appearance as she twisted her head around and focused her one good dull eye on Fina.
"She wants you Fina, and SHE WILL HAVE YOU!" screamed the dead voice of the nameless girl. Spittle flew from weeping sores on her lips and the worm reached out and took another bit of greying flesh. Fina attempted to take a step back when she found herself rooted on the spot. It was then as she tried to raise a foot she realized her feet were somehow stuck to the oily residue now flooding her floor.
"You were stolen from her, FINA! You were stolen from them all! Your mother took you away, and now you DARE LOVE THE BLOOD OF HER SON'S KILLERS!" more nonsense from the flesh thing. It was getting closer still. The raven head tried to scream; to wake herself up, and now as she found herself froze on the spot. More and more the air around her grew chill and just as she tried to move, the dead thing reached for her face.
Just After The Witching Hour, November 27th, 2007 - Beyond The Looking Glass
Everything snapped into focus all at once, and for the first few seconds I wasn't sure where I was. Usually when I appeared in my dreamscape on the borderland of Faerie I was near the Stone Rings. At least nine massive stones circling a large central one covered in carven criss-cross writing. A spiral sat at the center of the writing and there was where I could feel the beating heart of Morgan's power. Instead, I found myself in a deep forest surrounded by trees that blacked out the light above me. The smell of pine and fir trees surrounded me and cedar as well. Living in the Pacific Northwest the scent was near and dear to my heart as it signalled the strength of the forest around me.
Forests in New Hampshire were too different to me compared to my home. The massive trees that made their home surrounding Whateley were rarely conifers and most of them shed their leaves in winter. No, I was in an alpine forest, a place gracing the edge of some great mountain I didn't know the name of. After slowly rotating around, I saw the mountain in the background, it's tall pointed peak glimpsing out among a path behind me. Snow capped the great cwm, and I smiled as even more nostalgia hit me. I was a child of the forest, the mountain and the sea. Without a real sense of connection to the land, I always felt an underlying anxiety wherever I went. Even at Whateley there were days I just wanted to run home because everything was so fucking small in comparison.
Now that I had a sense of where I was or at least an idea I took in my dream form. My body felt taller than before, and I could feel the muscle move beneath my clothing as I stretched. My ears now easily passed the back of my head and easily twitched at small noises. The amount of noise around me was overwhelming at first. A squirrel was just above me chirping to another. Behind me a doe and her young fawn were slowly making their way to rest. And just beyond my view of the path someone or some people were talking.
I breathed out slowly, back in the alien-scape of Faerie and I once again just drank in the sights. To prevent a panic attack from the sensory overload I focused on what I was wearing since it changed every time I came here. This time I was wearing a brigandine, a coat of leather over a quilted undershirt and then fitted with metal studs. The length of the thing went over my legs, and I felt a tight wide belt holding it in place. A pair of trews, or tartan breeches covered my legs and my feet were encased in thick leather boots. A pair of silver mithril pauldrons were on each shoulder as I smelled the wolf pelt trim attached to my back. Reading game of Thrones I would have screamed, "QUEEN IN THE NORTH" and I actually did under my breath.
My blood red hair was fastened into a series of braids and plaited so it fell in a tripart length along my back. What threw me for a moment was the strange cool metal I felt on my brow as I let the dream senses come to me one at a time. Smell was one sense I knew was far sharper than before. I made out the scent of roasting meat several hundred paces in front of me as my ears focused on the muffled conversation. I planted my feet and took off at a run as my body became alive. Lights were slowly rising along the pathway as I sprinted past. Jumping over a large root breaking the path I watched a ball of light fly past my face. Will-O-Wisps, the faelights that tricked fools into the mists to never be seen again. Now, they lit the way in the half-dark of the forest, and finally as I crested the hill something caught my attention.
The light peeking through the branches of the evergreens was starting to wane as I felt the forest around me shift. Animals once awake were starting to bed down for the night as I kept my pace. Just over the top of the hill I noticed a stone ring built among the trees and centered around something I couldn't quite make out. I had to walk down sideways foot over foot to keep myself from falling as the hill steepened the path. At the center of the ring was a fire, and something else. It was hard to describe until I was at the base of the hill and could finally make it out. A massive pile of stones all fit together cleanly and neatly without a single hint of mortar. They were built in a tall dome of rock with a single piece of metal jammed into the top. What really caught my attention though was the fact the metal was only part of something more.
It was a spear, a bloody fucking spear shoved into the stone so deep that only the edge of the long six inch bladed head was peeking out from the top. Beside the stone pile was a roaring fire burning around a tall pile of stacked logs. What was far more strange about the fire was the fact it's flame was shifting from various shades of red and blue as I finally stood beside one of the stones. Now that I was finally beside the ring another fact downed on me. The stones themselves weren't just another set of sarsen stones was something else indeed. Around inside of the stone I caught sight of an arm rest and it dawned on me, they were chairs - fucking thrones! I drew closer as I felt a hand grasp my arm and I nearly jumped before I realized it's owner.
"Morgan?" I asked incredulously as I noticed the tall red haired woman was seated on the stone with her back straight against it. The figure in the stone chair turned to face me and regarded me with deep green emerald eyes. She looked like Morgan, but she was far taller, and towered over me even as she sat. From the woman's brow grew a pair of antlers which curved elegantly in three parts back over her cascading coppery red locks.
"Who ye be child?" the woman asked tilted her head and regarded me curiously. Was this Morgan's mother or one of her sisters? I was frozen on the spot completely at a loss at how to reply.
"I'm...." I tried to speak before the woman gave a smile and returned to facing forward. "I'm....Gráinne Rosin..."
"Me heart," I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and spun around to see Morgan standing beside me. Now finally, I had someone who could explain where the hell I was.
"Where are we?" I asked as Morgan's eyes drifted toward the woman who gave only a hint of recognizing her.
"We ere be at the Thrones o' the Nine," she spoke carefully and I saw the other nine seats. All were tall sarsens jutting from the earth like great teeth of a long dead giant. Above each seat on its stone back was a carven rune, a series of lines formulating a complicated glyph. The fire beside the cairn burned bright as I felt a sense of reverence towards the tomb these nine thrones were built around.
"Okay Tolkien mind giving me more than a minute descrip'shun?" I drawled to her.
"Hah," she chuckled, "The Nine gather...me powers are strong enough to draw us there...sa ye canna see who rules Faerie."
Seriously, I was being pulled into dreamland to witness the Nine Princes of Elfland? Let's be honest, this was an exposition dump of the highest proportions.
"Bite back dat snark o' yers me heart, ye need ta know who seeks to kill us, an' who can support us," she rolled her eyes. The tall redhead was dressed in one of her celtic dresses this time around. A red one with long gold embroidered sleeves depicting running wolves along the edges.
"But, it's soooo fun!" I chirped as the woman at the throne cast a glance at me.
"Ye should listen ta har lil' one," the Princess spoke as Morgan blushed bright red, "Unless ye dun wish ta sit here someday."
"Wot?" I squawked at the question as Morgan crossed her arms and looked away from the Princess.
"So smart, an' yet ye still canna just be straight wit' em beloved?" the woman asked with a sigh to Morgan.
"I - I...." my spirit seemed at a loss for words.
"A stór," the woman said, "Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?"
"I be fine, mo bhantiarna," she replied. Slowly, the tall woman rose to her feet and turned to face us both. There was a family resemblance between the two, at least distantly. My knowledge of the mythological House of Danu was a bit short.
"Gráinne, this be my kin, Áine daughter of Boann, she is my step-daughter," she explained. The Fae woman's skin was metallic and sparkled like scales as she offered me a light smile.
"Still avoiding da?" she asked slowly.
"Yer da is an arse," Morgan sighed as the Princess chortled loudly before asking, "and who is this foundling with you?"
"She's Nemain's kin," my spirit muttered just loud enough for me to hear. Wait...I was related to Nemain to Fodla? Was that my connection to the royal bloodline Morgan was speaking about. Before I could say or do a thing a loud horn call burst into the air around us. The fire beside the great cairn began to roar and rise higher and higher as it danced wickedly in the dying light of the dusk. Morgan's long black tipped talons nearly sheared into my skin as she grasped my hand and pulled me directly from the circle. The horn burst out once more as I was about to get Morgan to release me just in time as I heard a loud thunder of feet nearing us. Whatever it was, the damn sound reminded me of a marching army from a Lord of the Rings film.
"WHO CALLS THE NINE?" sounded a voice on the opposite side of the cairn, I leaned around just in time to catch sight of another tall figure. None of these bloody fae were short at all, I was the shortest one there. The figure was wearing a suit of shining plate armor banded in a traditional roman style. A vertical crest ran along a helmet made of bronze and an open faceplate only with a nose guard. Their hauberk was kitted cloth under armour and they lacked proper leg armor other than a studded leather. I could make out small details in the short blur of time as the figure barked the demand again. Like us all, a pair of long pointed ears poked out from beneath a portion of the helm as well as sharpened talons on their fingers.
"Only five of us are here, cease your wailing," replied a masculine voice opposite where we stood. Suddenly, an explosion of smoke consumed a throne just within sight as the emblem on the back glowed to life. As the smoke dissipated a tall figure leaned back and regarded us. His eyes black except for a pair of bright golden glowing pupils. His entire body was dressed in a long cotton kilt which was snuggly over his waist and just below his knees. The man's chest lay bare revealing a sculpted muscular chest and his umber skin shifted as leonine muscle moved beneath it.
"Badru, Duke of the Unending Night, Keeper of the Sealed Gates," the centurion-clad figure announced his titles..
"Ah, so it is only you and I here Princess of the Silver Bough?" the man asked. His eyes scanned those present until they settled on me, and I could tell as our eyes met that he was surprised to see me. His angular eyes widened just by a fraction and his nostrils flared. The man's lips parted revealing sharpened teeth as he smiled at me.
"Ah....and who is that?" he added and pointed a bejeweled ring covered hand at me.
"I am....." I said carefully as I shot a glance to Morgan who was still outside of the man's vision. She winced as I started to reply and mouthed to me, 'Don't give your name!' and all I could do was nod in confusion.
"Um....I am Scald-Crow," I replied, I mean he couldn't do much with my hero name right?
"A child of the House of Don here in our midst and one of Nemain's lot by that hair and eyes," he chuckled, a sound that reminded me of a rumbling leopard right before it pounced for the kill.
"She is MINE, son of the Yellow-King," Morgan stated as she stepped out from the shadow of her step-daughter's throne.
"Eriu daughter of Ermas," the man leaned his head into his hand and lounged in his throne, "Not since an age has the Emerald Soul come to Cairn of the Sleeper."
"Who is he fucking Treebeard?" I asked, getting a quick glare from Morgan.
"You would best describe me as Sauron little Foundling," he stated and all propriety of mirth left his voice, "I may not rule the Unseleigh. But I am the Lord of the Dusken Ring, and nightmare is my realm."
"Where is Llyr and Lady Penarddun? Where are the King and Queen of Winter?" Morgan barked.
"The King sleeps and the Queen-Regnant rules in his stead, as you already know," he replied lazily.
"Where is your father then?" she countered.
"He dotes on my sister, beloved and her daughter, Keket," he said slowly.
"I have a niece?" Lady Áine smiled returning to the conversation.
"Yes," Badru replied, "A half-breed."
"Oh, who did your sister mate with then?" Áine asked. I watched the two of them with curiosity mixed with horror. Did that guy get called the son of the Yellow-King, as in .....The KING IN YELLOW? I mean I wasn't at all well versed in anything related to Lovecraft, but I was sure that was - oh never mind. Faerie made no fucking sense. The two were now talking a bit more as Morgan settled her hand on my shoulder as she was wont to do. Carefully, she drew me away from the throne of Áine and toward the Great Cairn itself. I eyed the pile of stone and the spear jutting from the top of it.
"Where is the Wyching Tree?" I asked quietly as Morgan leaned forward and pressed a hand atop a stone nearest her. The entire pile reverberated with a pulsating power like the Stone Rings in my dreams before.
"A root o' da tree lies beneat' us," Morgan said and drew my hand to the stone she had just touched. I felt the cool blue stone under my hand and I drew my eyes upward toward the spear.
"Why ere we 'ere Morgan?" I asked her.
"Ta see what we need ta face the trials ta come," Morgan replied and let out a demonstrative sigh.
"A quest, reallly? Yer givin' me a quest like feckin Gandalf in a feckin' dream?" I asked, my voice laced with sarcasm.
"Aye," she countered and kept her glowing eyes on the spear, "We're 'ere ta see dat spear, fer we need it's twin."
I scoffed before I shot a glance back up toward the spear. The thing was at least seven feet long and crafted from a shining metal which easily caught the twilight of the sky above. The spear's head was at least a foot long if not longer, and was shaped like a sword and didn't have a dent or nick in it from what I could tell.
"A weapon crafted from bloodsteel, an' etched using the acid of a lindwyrm," she smiled, "Twas the handy work o' someone far older dan this cairn."
"Wooo I get it, we're after fucking Excaliber," I rolled my eyes.
"Wrong, we're after Claidheamh Soluis," she snapped, "an' wit it...I'll regain me strengt."