Scald-Crow 2: Under Pressure (Part 2)
A Whateley Academy Tale
Branwen & ShadowedSin
Um ba ba be
Um ba ba be
De day da
Ee day da, that's okay
It's the terror of knowing what the world is about
Watching some good friends screaming
"Let me out!"
Pray tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people, people on streets
Pressure on people, people on streets.
Queen and David Bowie, Under Pressure
Chapter 5 - Rinse Repeat
Morning, November 15th, 2007 - Dunwich
Maeve sat before the mirror of her room in the Bed and Breakfast with stolid silence. Her eyes focused on the reflective surface glass as she uttered a single word in Old Irish, "Foilsiged!" She felt her mind clearing of all unwanted distractions as the surface of the mirror rippled. A slow smile came to her, as she held her hand aloft and thought about her sister. The mirror remained blank as she uttered the command again. Nothing appeared, and just as she considered wasting more essence on a failed fae scrying. Her eyes narrowed as she slammed her fist into the mattress and let out a loud curse.
"Sod it all," she tossed her pillow across the room at the mirror before digging into her suitcase. After finding all the parts to her military uniform she pulled it on. A pair of black dress fatigues with sections of kevra woven over vital areas. She finished tying her combat boots before pulling her hair back into a long black braid. The last bit was her gloves each fitted with a reliquary gem in each palm so she could store extra essence when in combat. She pulled out her classified Irish MMID before packing the rest of her luggage away. Staring at the MMID she let out a loud frustrated sigh.
"When dis is don, Aim gettin' drunk off me arse," she finished her look with a single silver necklace given to her by Sinead. Sorrow graced her mind as she said a small prayer while clutching the pentacle pendant. Now it was time for the drive to Whateley and likely the sarcastic comment from Agent Jimenez.
"So, what's with the Mission Impossible garb?" came the expected quip when she stepped out of her room.
"Dese ere me combat fatigues," she trilled before walking onward and ignored him as she strolled forward to the front desk of the Bed and Breakfast. They had arrived at the station the day before and arrived on time to check-in at their rooms at the Bed and Breakfast. She turned around to stare at the two-story house and was impressed by how such a cozy building held four large rooms ready for a night's stay. Already she was planning to book a few more nights at the place as she remembered the loving care the couple had put into their breakfast display.
"Do you only have two emotions? Pissed and grumpy?" Jimenez quipped again at her this time causing the raven-haired woman to glare daggers at him for a minute straight.
"Ye get da rental?" she asked and crossed her arms.
"Yeah, yeah," he rolled his eyes as he pointed to a nondescript black sedan parked along the sidewalk just outside the B&B.
"More than a few taims they added a 'damage insurance' surcharge after I left," she uttered as she adjusted her seating.
"Really?" he asked, "Why did they overcharge ye?"
"Not ev\ryone is happy ta have a mutant stay in their hotel." Maeve scooted her luggage to the other seat and motioned for him to drive. She didn't give the DPA Agent any chance for small-talk by immediately burying her nose in a small leatherbound book. The book itself was filled with a mixture of scripts composed of Younger Futhark runes and ancient Irish ogham writings. Reading through it her head was numb from having to take a step back to think in Old Irish and to parse out meanings in Old Norse. In both cases, she was able to put together her theory after buying the book just before her sister died.
Maeve had an idea what spirit her sister hosted before her death, and since Sinead refused to tell her she was going to press the issue with the new host. For a moment as she set down the book in her lap she watched the thick woods of the Miskatonic valley zip by her. Her sixth sense caught something just as they were pulling up toward the gate of the school. A large black shape hovering in the underbrush. Is that a Black Shuck?
The shape was gone in the blink of an eye as her ethereal sight into the Veil revealed nothing there. Hmmm. Maeve closed her book just as they reached the gate.
Mid-Morning, November 15th, 2007 - Doyle Hall
A wailing cry awoke me as images of the banshee caused me to snap my eyes open. I felt a cold sweat all over my body as I let loose a curse in Irish, "Go n-ithe an cat thú, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!"
"Calm, mo chroí, we are in the medical hall. You were hurt by a few bullies."
Morgan's calming brogh helped me keep the demons threatening to overwhelm me at bay.
"I daren't wake you earlier. Your ears were damaged." Immediately, I remembered a high piercing sound that had forced me to my knees. Upon remembering I covered my ears instinctually. The sound had reminded me of whenever a discordant scream or whistle literally forced my brain to shut down. A few images came back to me as my eyes darted all over the hospital bed I was laying on. Memories of a taller olive-skinned woman intervening on my behalf. My eyes widened as I gasped. ENVY!
"Fina," I whispered as I pushed off the loose sheet covering my form and let loose a confusing line in Gaelic, "Cá bhfuil mé?"
"English please," remarked Sophia from a seat right by my bed. My eyes widened as she was busily working on a laptop situation in her lap. Nearby in the doorway stood a woman in full security uniform watching the hall.
"Um," I asked and pointed at the security guard.
"You were attacked and one of your cottage mates intervened for you," Sophia said, "and they called me here to come to talk to you once you woke up. I've been doing my homework for a bit since they let me skip my morning classes."
"Thanks, Soph," I gave a lopsided smile as I then asked, "Where's Envy?"
"Miss Valocco is speaking to Hartford," said the security officer whose name tag read, 'Officer Rathore.’
"Dis one walks the ways of old, my heart, I can feel the blood of Durga in her." I felt like I had waltzed into Narnia with how almost every other person I ran into at this place had the puppet strings of myth dangled about their person. Was I truly myself or was I simply being brought into a greater play of an ancient drama.
"Your spirit can stop chatting to you and please pay attention," Officer Rathore smirked.
"How did you -"
"Most Avatars have their tells, yours is your eyes drift off and you bite your lip. It's how I can tell you're concentrating on a telepathic conversation." The woman stalked panther-like toward me and placed a hand on the end of my hospital bed
"Complex thoughts, for one who is just now seeing the board," Morgan commented. "This one is touched like you, but she is honorable. We can trust her."
"So do I have your attention now?" Officer Rathore asked.
"Yes ma’am," I replied.
"Miss...not ma’am....I'm not an old woman." The Officer chided me before saying, "I need you to give your side of the story, and then I can let you go."
A mix of confusion and dread flitted across my thoughts. I longed to be back in my room hiding away from what was becoming a far more complicated experience by the minute. First, I was bullied for bumping into some stupid bitch, and now, I was facing what can only be expulsion. Right? The girl's targeted me and Envy came to keep me from danger. Why she appeared or how was beyond me. The girl did have a far higher rating of magic skill than me or even Sophia.
I remembered the girls - three of them. Each of them from some sort of cheerleading squad, but that wasn't possible. Right?
"I remember a blonde woman, and two others and they screamed cheer-bullies," I relayed.
"Yup, those are the Whateley Martial Arts Cheerleaders," Sophia replied from the seat beside me without even batting an eye.
"Wait, the Cheerleaders aren't even official?" I asked her.
"Nope, they're a training team like the Kimbettes." Sophia finished something on her laptop and eyed the security officer carefully.
"Can we stay on topic please, ladies," Officer Rathore rubbed her temples.
"I was done with lunch and the three Cheerleaders cornered me on my way to my next class. The Blonde tried to punch me and eventually a few seconds later Miss Valocco appeared and intercepted them." The memories caused my breath to hitch, and I could feel tears filling my eyes.
"Alright, that is definitely in tune with what Miss Valocco said and what we were able to get off the security cam footage," Rathcore nodded.
"Shouldn't you write this down?" Sophia asked.
"I have an eidetic memory," Officer Rathcore replied.
"So am I free to go?" I asked eagerly.
"Yeah - sure, just try to avoid getting into trouble for at least a week." Officer Rathcore sighed.
"Thanks, miss!" I said as I got up and rushed to the bathroom to get dressed in my uniform.
"No problem," the Security Officer said before disappearing out the door leaving me alone with Sophia. The native girl let out a loud demonstrative sigh which I heard from the bathroom.
"Gráinne get out here, now!" she barked at me.
Why was everyone intent on rubbing it in my face that I was a jinx?
"Okay - geez - I'M HERE!" I sighed as I stepped out in my frumpy uniform.
"Why did you do it?" she asked me and tapped her foot.
"Nothing, I bumped into the stupid blonde's side when I was thinking and she decided to put me in my place."
"So that fucking bimbo ignored your rager tag and still attacked you?" Sophia calmed and gave me a worried look.
"Yeah...if Fina hadn't stepped in I would probably be in this room longer." I gulped. "Sophi...she was a sonokinetic...her scream hurt my ears a lot. I was crying in pain in minutes."
"Hmmm...we'll need to see if there's a way we can work around that." She clucked her tongue before noting down something on her phone.
"Why?" I asked.
"Uh you know about the combat finals right?" she asked.
"The what?" I felt my voice hike up an octave. She didn't just say combat finals? There's no way that this school had....oh god.
"You forgot that there was an X-Men angle here didn't you." She said flatly.
"Gods...they’re going to, what, make me fight in a gladiator pit?" I asked.
"Yup." She sighed.
My eyes widened as "Gods...I'm not even supergirl. I'm fucking Rogue aren't I?"
"Actually. kind of yeah. You don't even like to really touch people."
"Fuck my life."
Lunch Period, November 15th, 2007 - Crystal Hall
"Braithim rud eigin olc!" Morgan murmured in my ear as we walked alongside Sophia into Crystal Hall. A few of the kids on the ground level watched me as I entered and one laughed at how much of a "slob" I was. Fuck em! There wasn't any time to go change and I needed food! My stomach was already giving me hunger pangs.
"Ceiard?" I asked her in my mind. Morgan's ability to sniff out magical signatures and identify things was proving more useful by the day. Though the way how she phrased it to me when I asked wasn't like sniffing it out it was more like she read into them.
"Something evil is active. I've felt bits and pieces of it fleetingly. But now it's concentrated." She said as I felt her shift in my hallow eerily. Sometimes when she did it I had a serious feeling that my own body wasn't mine and I was just trapped in a sack of flesh. Humming a bit I jumped into line beside Sophia and immediately went after the stack of beef I needed for calories and protein.
"Are you going to try a salad today?" I was asked and I smiled as I eyed the lentil salad.
"Strange how I introduce you to protein and calorie-heavy veggies and you target those specifically for food."
"I'm a growing exemplar!" I teased her before asking Morgan, "Explain."
"My Domains are War, Fate, and LIfe. When things that defy what should be walk they stain the metaphysical paths of possibility." She explained, "Like how I told that idiot Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig he would be killed by a drunk Norseman!"
"The so-called Emperor of Eire, fool tried to unite everyone, but didna have my or the Dagda's blessing. He defied the Stone and so I told him he would die. Was pretty great actually."
"What the hell is banshee woman telling you now?" Sophia commented, giving me a small scowl.
"Uh...how she likes telling people they are going to die." I relayed.
"That's fucked up and what I expect from the Spirit of a Faerie." She said and waved her hand at me.
"You know she's a Faerie?" I asked her incredulously.
"First, your spirit is named Morgan and you told me about the Banshee dream. That screams fae and I read enough young adult novels to know the basics of your redhead ginger mythology." Sophia finished her plate and pointed at the Underdog table for us to get a seat.
"That seems like a lot of deduction you made about me," I said carefully as she sat down beside Shipwright and was joined by her roommate, Haruko. Wait, why was the Bad Seed sitting with us?
"Okay. First, the Banshee thing plus you're Irish. Not that hard to look up what a Banshee is and also you're allergic to stuff including Iron? Seriously? That screams Faerie! And, it's weird you aren't a Sidhe like Fey either." She waved her hand in a quick roll to illustrate the thought process.
"Tagann olc! Something creeps nearby." Morgan's words hung in my skull as I let out a sigh and met Haruko's eyes. The Steel Manifestor was using a pair of steel chopsticks to eat her food.
"Why is she here?" I asked carefully.
"I'm here to watch you Gráinne-chan," she smiled, "All senpai watch their kohai."
"I'm not your bloody junior!" I let out a low rumbling growl.
"Haru-chan don't you damn dare wake up my best friends Dandere or Envy's going to get maaaad,” Sophia smirked at me as I ignored her and Haruko's weird weeb nonsense. I was not a fucking Dandere! Wait, what the hell is a Dandere? And then I realized she mentioned Envy and a bright red blush came to my cheeks.
"I knew it! Stheno and I have been betting on when she's going to admit her crush for daring Valocco-sama," Haruko twirled a chopstick between her fingers.
"What are you three talking about?" Shipwright asked us after finishing a few quick calculations on a legal pad.
"Oh, as you know I'm Gráinne's best friend and Haruko is my roomie plus Gráinne's 'mentor' in BMA." I hated that stupid Japanese woman being called my mentor! Just because she learned karate earlier than me didn't mean my exemplar skills wouldn't help me catch up faster! Still though, a flash of memory from the fight between the Cheerleaders and a punch that put down Gem. Oh my god, I was so useless during that fight and I’m supposed to be the big scary blooded rager! Some berserk I am. The self-pity was getting thick by the moment.
"You guys are weird...is that why a Bad Seed is sitting with us?" she inquired.
"Haruko's harmless." Sophia rolled her eyes before rearranging a crystal pendant hanging around her neck. "Her dad's Yakuza and her mom's just a regular mom."
"Well no," Haruko interjected, "my mom works with Seattle's Chapter of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom."
"Wait what?" I watched Sophia shoot a quick glare to her roommate.
"Yeah...I'll tell you all later, she's not that scary, but she does have a reputation in Korea." Haruko then quieted as she dove headfirst into a massive bowl of ramen. The blur of her movements was a mixture of astonishing and horrific to me. It all stopped when something or someone walked into the Crystal Hall.
Have you ever had a sensation like a chill down your spine, but worse? I guess the proper term is someone walking over your grave. Well, that feeling compressed my chest as shadowy hands gripped my lungs and prevented me from taking a breath. I turned just in time to see a hulking figure walking toward the bad seed table.
"Oh fucking hell," Haruko said just as she stood up and I followed her gaze. Envy was speaking to her group of friends which included a girl with long snakes in place of regular hair. The figure which I'd seen and barely could watch was terrifying to behold. A smaller wimpy looking boy in the regular uniform walked beside them and the two seemed to be conversing about something.
“Hey, Envy isn’t it?”
I shot up immediately at hearing those words as the bastard said it loud enough for most of us nearby to hear it. Envy in her regular Italian dispassionate fashion emitted a loud exaggerated sigh. Seeing him speak to her something in me made me want to jump on the bastard and tear his skull off.
"No! Child! This is a demon's work!" Morgan's words and the hands of my best friend on my shoulder stopped me.
"Gráinne, calm down, I know you want to kill him right now, but he's most definitely stronger than you." My friend's words only kept my rage in check as I could feel the bleed of red over my vision increasing.
So there I was, waiting as this piece of shit talked to my crush. Let us not forget that this woman saved me with no reason other than she knew me. A flash of ghostly hands caressed my sides as I felt pressure along my buttocks and breasts. Finger's danced over my collar bone as I stood staid. The conversation was quickly going south and I could see the sweat building along the meat-wall’s brow. Each attempt he made to break that ice queen's mask he failed.
"Stupid idiot," Haruko growled as she pressed her hands together and I saw the formation of a dagger in her hands.
"Not you too!" Sophia barked.
"Is that Oop?" Lexi asked us as a few other Underdogs stood and watched the scene.
"Sounds like him, even terrible names as well," came a voice farther down the lunch table.
"What in the world have Rest and that idiot gotten themselves into?!" Lexi said and I could see the unease lurking in her posture.
An upperclassman whose name I couldn't place tried to intervene. The fool's screaming and posturing grew by the moment. Pretty much every single person was watching him by now. That's when I heard a strange keening sound brush my ears and something rushed past the boy. It was on the edge of my vision and it wasn't. A shadowy something walked beside the boy before darting off.
"BLACK SHUCK! DOOM COMES!" Morgan's voice came just as the poor sad bastard's body was starting to writhe in agony. Envy was a blur tackling the poor sod just as his clothes burst into flames and the smashing of glass followed the upperclassmen's call that Oop was burning out. I was transfixed on the horror show in front of me as shards of glass scattered across the floor.
"Envy!" I screamed as I felt my friends hold me back.
"Let her do this!' Haruko snapped in my ear.
I watched just in time to see Envy toss the man's flailing body and a wall of magical energy surrounded the figure. Only a second later a flash of energy broke my line of sight as I blinked. The boy was gone, all that power had eaten him alive.
"Beware what you get when you make a deal at the Crossroads." Morgan's murmur made me realize I was sobbing in fright at what I'd just witnessed.
Just After Lunch, November 15th, 2007 - Crystal Hall
I...I didn't know burnout could make people explode. Sophia's eyes were wide with shock as she sat on the chair in the lunchroom. Her gaze was fixated on the broken window where Envy slammed the Overdog outside. A large mix of biological goo and soot was still in the now broken magical shield. Every trace of essence that bound the demonic energy spilling off the fool was twisted with taint. She'd heard from her grandfather about the "Starry Wisdom" and the works elder terrors from the deepest vacuum. Even those minute descriptions he told her in bedtime stories weren't enough to explain what her senses revealed.
The veil was torn almost in twain as shadowy forms crawled over it like carrion eaters on a corpse. A writhing mass of energy woven in the form of thick purple vines wound with tooth-shaped briars. The young shaman-in-training attempted to remember whatever it was she was seeing. The mass itself was demonic and yet it wasn't the chill disconnected death of the stars. No, this was something else. It pulsated with life and yet a false life. Much more came off it and reeked of the musk of estrus.
She was brought back to reality by the tapping of an impatient foot.
"Okay, you two," replied a member of security who was far from a sight for sore eyes, Officer Jaya Rathcore, who appeared to be equally sour to see them again.
"She's in shock, speak to me," she said while placing a hand on Gráinne's shoulder. Her best friend was indeed in shock, her eyes half-closed as she shivered. From her own short close friendship she knew the girl was strangely attuned to the emanations in the veil somehow and the sudden explosion of demonic taint was likely overwhelming her.
"We think it was Alley-Oop," she began as Rathcore was busily recording the information in a smart tablet. "That's what Gráinne's roomie, Shipwright, was able to piece together. He was here with his friend Rest, another underdog."
"Okay, we're still retrieving the security footage, but most witnesses say it was an exemplar kid. One that had more muscles than should be possible," the security guard rattled off to her.
"Yeah, it was like some great hand decided to shove extra muscle into his skin," she sighed. "I mean he looked like an overstuffed muscle sausage."
"What did he do once he came in," the officer asked.
"Well, from what we were able to hear from his tirade he was going on and on about his strength and his rights as a newly emboldened man-meat child." Sophia rubbed her temples as even remembering that little bit was driving her to new levels of disgust. It reminded her of all the jocks at home who thought just cuz she was an exemplar that she would jump in bed with them. It didn't help that Gráinne's reaction to what she saw was to shut down on the spot. Not in a full comatose state, thank gods, but she wasn't responsive.
"He was in the lunch line and started hitting on Envy," Sophia urged the conversation forward.
"We have a record of him harassing and ogling Exemplar girls," the security guard remarked.
"I'm a little surprised Envy engaged him the way she did," remarked one of the underdogs.
"I'm not," Sophia replied.
"Why?" Lexi piped up.
"I live with a Bad Seed remember," she deadpanned, "Haruko's been taking combat training for a while."
"Right, I guess, I barely know you two," Shipwright replied honestly.
"Alright - for the entire table," Sophia pointed at Gráinne, "she's my best friend from out West, and the brooding thug with the eye-patch is my roommate in Whitman."
Sophia let the Underdogs soak in her little lecture and scanned the lunchroom. The cliques of Whateley didn't make it hard to tell who the power players were and as soon as she walked into the Crystal Hall for the first time she divined most of them. The top dogs were the Alphas Council, the Academy's version of a Student Union. Training teams were just a fancy term for what they really were - the mutant version of high school cliques. For the most part Sophia sat at the Underdog table because while the Underdogs seemed to be chronically underpowered most of them were pretty chill.
Well, most of them except for the presently exploded, Alley-Oop, who had to have a fixation on Exemplar Girls. Fuck his and Rest's bullshit. Before that asshole went and made the obviously stupid deal with a devil and fried himself to death she had only been dealing with one migraine that weekend. Sophia Jameson was a small-time mutant and even if her grandfather was a shaman she herself wasn't that important compared to others on campus. That was until she decided to use the sweat lodge and learned she'd have to share the time with one Kayda Franks.
The young native girl bit her lip in frustration as she pulled apart what she knew of the Lakota girl in her head. A recent addition to Whateley just under a year ago, and one that had easily wound up connected to some of the most important people on campus. If it weren't for a criminal trial her mother wouldn't have made a stink over keeping the shamaness at arm's length.
"Stupid Underdogs, why do you always have to try to be something you aren't." The voice pulled her out of analysis and made her have to pay attention.
"Screw off Gravmax, Amy isn't here for you to pick on," a voice snapped just out of view.
"Oh great." Sophia placed a hand on Gráinne's shoulder and gripped it hard.
"I hear that hot Italian chick Envy took on the guy hitting on her," his uniform was immaculate and bled nouveau riche.
"Oh hell," Sophia let out the sarcasm and flicked a look at Nicholas Broussard, aka Gravmax.
"Nice to see you again my exotic flower," Gravmax smirked as he drew closer to the table. The idiot was attempting to show a bit of swagger in his walk and all it seemed to do was make him look constipated.
"So...first we get a Villain for a teacher earlier this year," Gravmax began, "and then I hear that a Bad Seed is beating up members of the Martial Cheerleaders, or at least that's what Yellow Queen is saying."
"What do you expect from a Bad Seed - their criminals, each and every one of them." Remarked an Underdog in slight agreement with Gravmax.
"For once one of you inferiors is actually right," Gravmax rubbed his chin before he said, "I mean Envy's mom is the Strega, a renowned slut and A-List villain. Hell, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree at all."
"Don't talk about her like that," a low voice said just after the rich bastard was done doing a little twirl with his arms up like some sort of ringmaster.
"What did you say?" he whipped back to face Sophia who was now pressing half of her face into her right hand.
"Nicholas....just walk away." The native girl tried to warn him as the once shocked redhead lifted her head to stare at the Melvillian fool.
"Don't ever -talk about- Envy like that," Gráinne said the words slowly and bared her teeth at the boy. For all his swagger Gravmax didn't blink and only smiled. He was a warper and one that had a reputation for knowing how to use it to his advantage. Sophia didn't move as her friend stood up and closed her eyes tight.
"What's the little redhead saying to me? Damn girl, you are pretty," he remarked and the fool did the one thing he shouldn't have; he reached out and traced a hand along Gráinne's face.
"Oh....Nicholas you poor dumb fucker," Sophia sighed.
What happened next occurred in a matter of seconds. Gráinne's green eyes seemed to blaze with green fire, as her entire body tensed up like a cat ready to pounce. Just as Gravmax pulled back his hand the redhead's hand lashed out and struck him squire in the solar plexus. Sophia could only watch as there was a small crunch and he was sent back two feet. She's pulling her strength? Got to be, he's not dead. The superpowered teen rose to her feet as she closed her eyes and jumped at the asshole. Her eyes widened with fixation. A loud growl erupted from Gráinne's mouth as she pulled back her hand to hit the teen again and she slowed.
"Dammit. I missed her stupid armband," Nicholas rose to his feet and jumped back as the girl swiped at him. Her focus grew more and more intense by the minute.
"NO ONE TOUCHES ME! I WILL FUCKING TEAR OUT YOU'RE THROAT!" her voice was rumbling deep in her chest as she tried to step closer. Lucky shit. He's weighing her down to stay safe. Sophia jumped back just as Gráinne whipped around to attack the upperclassman again and missed. Her downward slam of both hands hit the table and tore through the wooden frame like butter.
"Damn girl calm down," he coughed at her, still obviously recovering from the early strike.
"She's killed someone raging you idiot," Sophia called out as the Shamaness skipped out of the way of her friend’s next vector - a giant pouncing leap which almost landed squarely on Gravmax.
"You're not kidding!" he exclaimed just as Sophia said, "Gráinne calm down I'll make him say sorry."
"What hell is this bullshit," he retorted.
"I'd run, fast," Sophia chided him as the redhead slammed her foot down in frustration and the floor rumbled and creaked from the impact.
"You will die by my hand," Gráinne sang as she twirled around and her eyes darted. Gravmax was making his getaway as Sophia put herself directly in Gráinne's path.
"He's gone - sweet girl, he's gone." She stepped closer, hands held out to show she was unarmed.
"He touched me! No one touches me," Gráinne said as a tear fell down her cheek. Sophia read her friend's body language and moved to envelop her in a hug.
"I know, Gráinne, I know," Sophia herself had been groped and molested by boys in her life.
"I - can't control myself when someone gets too close," she let out a loose sob.
"And it didn't help that he was mocking your crush right?" Sophia replied.
"Yeah," the redhead blushed, "it's not fair. Little rich shit thinks he can mock me...or her. She saved me."
By now Gráinne was mumbling as the post-rage fugue settled in. Sophia scanned the room and noticed that more than a few of the other students were eying the rager in her arms wearily. Dammit. This is going to be my new normal. Sophia considered her options as she closed her eyes and let her friend sob against her chest.
Chapter 6 - Life's Strange
Mid-Morning, November 16th - Schuster Hall
Back at the Principal's Office or more correctly the "Headmistress'" office. Today was not a day I wanted to go speak to Professor Dumbledore and get lemon drops. No, I just wanted to curl up in a ball after class and breathe through my increasing stress of being in a completely new school environment. Nope, I had watched some fucking bastard explode himself, and then my crush almost die. Well, I think she almost died. Then to top it all off I went on a raging tear against a bloody upperclassmen. If I wasn't in the stupid administrative offices right outside waiting to see Mrs. Carson I would be punching the shit out of my pillow, but nope, they'd sent Officer Rathcore to come to get me again this time.
Sophia was by my side and still annoyed that I'd gotten her pulled out of class for a second time. The first, I'd been in Doyle and now this time I was the instigator. Nicholas Brousard just had to open up his fucking mouth about her. If the stupid Melvillian bastard left good enough alone. No, the shit had to touch me and set me off. Luckily the auxiliary security who got involved listened to my story and I hoped I was off scot-free. Nope, not at all would, now some asshole wanted to talk to me after I got a talking to by the Headmistress.
"Calm down lass, she'll understand. You were defending yerself an' ye were already wearin' the armband. That shite should have paid attention." Morgan said to me as I shifted in the wooden framed seats. The damn things reminded me of the chairs they had at my old Doctor's Office. Each lining the wall so prettily with padded backing and seats. Oh yes, and even that weird clinically clean scent was here as well. Miss Hartford was busily typing away on an assignment as I could see the ever-present glare of the screen in her glasses. Sophia beside me was reading something on her phone and giggled after a moment.
"Who ye textin" I drawled.
"Haruko - and a new friend, Kitty," she said in passing.
I paused as I heard the name and ran through my most recent memories. "Short Kitsune girl with two-tails?"
"Yeah, she's in my cottage. Her friend Rhys is pretty cute, but freaks out a bit much." She waved her hand to emphasize her thoughts before I considered picking up my own phone.
"Be a bit strange fer a text and fanfic reading demon such as yerself ta not be touching her gizmatic." I blushed at the reminder of the night before - two hours straight reading nothing but um, porn. It wasn't my fault that in the random scanning of the internet I found a copious amount of lesbian stories. It was also not my fault if instead of doing my homework I decided to spend forever reading a bunch of them
"Gráinne, you okay?" my best friend asked me as she noticed my slow breathing and the redness of my cheeks.
"Yeah - just was thinking." I let my voice trail off.
"Oh, you reading those smut stories again?" she smirked at me.
"No...just some Xena fanfiction," I immediately bristled at her joke.
"Calm down Rose, calm down," she sighed, "You’re not the only Exemplar who has 'throbbing hormones' in her system.
"Please -don't say it- like that," I groaned, "I just can't take reading any more of my old fantasy novels. None of them have girls like me in them."
"You mean the Viking shieldmaiden raging out in teen clothes?" Sophia snerked hard.
"No - gay women," I growled.
"Welcome to the heteronormative girlfriend. It sucks just like how white kids are the default in most stories," she shrugged.
"It sucks," I growled.
"Yes, and how do you think I feel with Native Americans being portrayed by shoe polished brown-face?" she asked with a sidelong glance.
"Shitty." I rolled my eyes, "So going to stop making fun of me?"
"Nah, you need to stop being offended. Embrace your sapphic desires just like I embrace my adorance for hard muscle and dick." The words came freely from my best friend’s mouth.
"I mean I don't hate-" I was stopped as the door to the office opened.
Just After Breakfast, November 16th, 2007 - Headmistress' Office
"You will absolutely not be taking any of my students into custody!" Mrs. Carson snapped at the Irishwoman just as Maeve completed reading out her mission to the Headmistress. She herself once again dressed in her black combat fatigues as a strange counter to the finely pressed skirt and blouse of the Headmistress. This is Miss Astarte? Maeve was focusing her baby blues on the thirty-some-year-old Exemplar woman who was now clutching the edge of her desk in annoyance. Two hours ago she'd entered and presented Mrs. Carson with a request from the Irish Government. In reply, the Headmistress had succinctly told the Irishwoman where to shove it.
Where the sun doesn't shine, of course.
"Fine." She relented and stood before feeling her own rage growing by the minute. This woman was standing in between her and the one solid link she had to find her sister's killer. If the stupid former Cape would just give up her morals maybe for a little bit Maeve could get her job done.
"I want to be able to interrogate the child," Maeve laid out on the table.
"I don't have time to let you play Bad Cop with a Rager who nearly flattened an Upperclassmen yesterday," Mrs. Carson stood up and readjusted her skirt hem.
"YOU LET MY SISTER JOIN THE FUCKING FUTURE HEROS!" Maeve's eyes were narrowed as she thundered in reply.
"Yes, I know, and she was a great hero back home. Was she not?" the Headmistress didn't bat an eye.
"It's this stupid school's fault she's dead! If she'd been in the military we'd have protected her! Or she could have just remained a civilian," she considered unleashing fire right then and there on the woman. But the knowledge that the Exemplar could utterly pulverize her kept her reactions in check.
"It was because of Whateley your sister didn't get herself killed!" Mrs. Carson spat in return, "I've had it up to here with your bullshit Maguire! I understand you are in pain, but you don't get to project that onto those around you. Either cool your fucking desire for revenge or I will personally throw you off my campus! DO YOU HEAR ME!"
The Irishwoman wrapped her arms tightly around her chest before sitting down long enough. A day, an entire day they'd made her wait here and now she was 'this close' to getting the lead and this fucking veteran sat in her way. There was no way to measure the chill of her eyes as they were set in a mix of frustration and silent agony. All she wanted was closure and every step of the way to hunting for her sister's killer she was being sent two steps back. Fingers curled like claws against her arms as she let her nails dig in.
"FIne.....speak your peace." She settled further before leveling those cold blue eyes once again.
"A lot has happened this past year which has presented ongoing pressure against the school. You are already aware that we had a student accused of murder last Spring?" Carson asked nonchalantly.
"Aye, what of it?" Maeve hissed.
"Did you know we have a great old one or at least a larval entity living on our grounds?" the veteran hero inquired.
"I know that as soon as I stepped here that something akin to Faerie magic is in play. Something tied to the Starry Wisdom and the ancient rivals of the Good Neighbors." Maeve's words were typical as her Draoi witch-sense was bleeding with nonsensical aetheric lines shifting along the veil. There was something sitting just on the edge of her sight watching her and Carson speak. Bloody Faeries!
"Last time I met a Faerie Witch was during World War 2," Mrs. Carson murmured, "a woman by the name of-"
"She called herself Shamrock...some still think she was a probability warper." Maeve uncrossed her hands and she sighed, "We think she was an early avatar hosting the Emerald Soul."
"Is that what you Irish are calling the spirit inhabiting my student?" Carson countered.
"Aye," she brushed her lip and continued, "Yes - an' I take it, Sinead, never toldja what was in her?"
"There was never a reason to - she had a non-sentient elemental sonic spirit," Carson replied.
"Has the girl toldja who's in her hallow?" Maeve asked.
"Only that the spirit's name is Morgan, we have our theories," Carson replied guardedly.
"It's the Morrigan, the Sovereign of Hosts, She Who Rages." The Headmistress’s eyes widened only the slightest as the war mage relayed her own hypothesis.
"A Faerie has not been active on the Whateley campus for two hundred years. Why are you so sure that one of the Gentry would even be here?" more of that guarded tone. Maeve grit her lip and her lips narrowed into a thin line. This fucking bitch is hiding something plus she feels off as well.
"Let's be more specific, a Dead Star stole the names of the Faerie and thus warped their magics. Whereas the related Mother's Get just hack commonalities across the planes and adjust their will to what they desire." Maeve said.
"Thanks for the magical lesson Mave, but I do believe I have more knowledge of the Great Old Ones than you do," Mrs. Carson says, "I do have a top researcher of ARC on staff plus my own personal experience with the Strange Geometries."
"Not all of us prescribe to that tinted nonsense Lovecraft wrote. I have a copy of the Book of Kellith," Maeve replied, "And I know Faeric formulae when I see 'em."
"Why have neither me nor any of my colleagues known of this?" she asked. She knows what I'm talking about. No way ARC doesn't know about the Rules of Faerie.
"I think you do and you are obviously lyin!" the Irishwoman drawled. Her eyes widened as she leaned forward in her seat and placed her hands on the edge of the Headmistress' desk.
"Quite an accusation, Second Lieutenant, are you here to ask permission or to strong-arm you're way in?" Mrs. Carson crossed her arms and inhaled slowly. Maeve sat down promptly and leaned back into her chair.
"I need ta find who kilt Sinead an' drag them kickin' and screamin' back to the darkest hole in all of Eire,' ' Maeve said slowly, her voice holding a breaking emotional cadence.
The Headmistress of the Whateley Academy rubbed both her temples before closing her eyes. Maeve searched the woman's features biting her lower lip as her desire for vengeance cooled for the moment. Whatever thin amount of patience the Second Lieutenant possessed she was finally realizing her military credential's meant little on the Academy's campus.
"Look, Maeve, I get it. I've lost family myself and that pain never goes away," Mrs. Carson sighed demonstratively, "and you can't let that fixation for closure take over your life."
"I getcha," Maeve drawled after a moment of silence, "I'll play noice wit yer students."
"All I can ask for," Mrs. Carson nodded before standing up and opening the door to her office.
Mid-morning, November 16th, 2007 - Headmistress' Office
So there I was, standing haughty before the Headmistress. My head held high, and my eyes lit with the flame of defiance. The very poets were ready to sing from my lips as I unleashed the vox populi of my defense! The minute rush of adrenaline and likely the internal rager in me gave me one blinding instant of defiance. That all but died just as the door closed and that loud forlorn THUNK of it shutting tight caused me to lose all my bluster. It ran from my lungs like the fleeing of deer before the wolves. This was not the friendly and yet foreboding realm of Headmaster Dumbledore. Nor was there a wheelchair-bound telepath back behind the desk ready to train me for the upcoming future. No, it was another blonde, another tall Exemplar Blonde who held all my life and future in her hands.
Fuck my life.
"Miss Ni Callaghan," Mrs. Carson was the first to speak. Her words instantly captured my attention as my head snapped hard to meet her gaze. Mrs. Carson could best be described as a statuesque woman with a classic 1950s beauty as was painted on the side of a WW2 Bomber. An utter bombshell who only kept my attention on her as the one thing popping in my mind was me fangirling over Lady Astarte standing in front of me.
"Yes um...miss I mean, Lady Astarte," I stuttered before Sophia glanced at me.
"I'm not Lady Astarte here Miss Ni Callaghan, I am Mrs. Carson," she corrected me without batting an eye.
"Sorry, Headmistress, I just, I have comics and Manga including you and Crown Justice." I murmured as the woman's eyes flicked over me and toward the other person present in the room sides Sophia and myself. She hadn't introduced herself at all, but by her solid black combat fatigues I guess she was some sort of black ops soldier. I mean who the hell walks around in black combat dress on a normal day? Soldiers of COBRA or maybe even HYDRA, not normal people.
"Ah, Ogun, good to see he's still inspiring a new generation," the Headmistress smiled before placing two file folders on her desk. Each flopped with an almost resonant sound causing me to stiffen as I felt the enclosing worry of expulsion coming for me.
"Shall we cover the basics, students?" The Headmistress took a seat and indicated for us to sit in the two chairs provided before her desk. As soon as we did she adjusted a pair of glasses to her face and opened one of the files.
"Sophia Jameson, formerly Sophia Langley-Jameson. Granddaughter of Northwestern indigenous Hero RavenWing and daughter of infamous Speedster, Swiftwing. It's always good to see legacies come to our school and so far you have conducted yourself magnificently on campus for your first week." I watched as Mrs. Carson closed the file and moved to what I could only guess was mine.
"Gráinne Roisin Ni Callaghan, or simply Gráinne O'Callaghan, formerly known as Padraig O'Callaghan," she began and raised her gaze to meet mine. "You were a B-rated student at your previous High School and were nearly expelled for violence against another student."
The woman in the black fatigues shifted where she stood. I watched her from where I sat and as soon as she noticed me I jolted and went back to listening.
"If it hadn't been for Mister Jameson you would have been taken and disappeared by the MCO," she said and I slumped in my seat. Why was she going over this in front of me? Was it to make a point? I knew I was a screw-up and had anger issues. Nearly killing Esoteric and ripping apart Gravmax on the same day was not something to toot my horn about.
"Stop bein’ such a Debbie downer lass, she's tryin' ta get ye the undarstand 'ow much shat yer in." I considered arguing with my spirit, but I already noticed Sophia shaking her head.
"Sorry Headmistress, she does this, her spirit is very talkative," I heard my best friend say as I blushed bright red.
"She is not the first student to get lost in an inner monologue nor will she be the last," Mrs. Carson said with a small chuckle.
"Can we move it along please," a throaty frustrated voice spoke from the corner of the room.
"Miss Maguire, -I- will decide when it is -your- turn to speak," Mrs. Carson growled before returning to her overview.
My right leg started to shake as I planted it firmly on the ground trying to control it. Anxiety disorder did that to me, placing me in a highly over aware state and making every little twitch worse each time around. For the first time since coming to school, I began the breathing exercises taught to me by Dr. Otto. Both Mrs. Carson and Sophia were waiting for something. After breath number four I felt my heart stop pounding in my ear.
"Gráinne," Mrs. Carson addressed me gently, "many students here have had experience at the hand of the MCO or worse. You are not the first student to overreact to a simple joke or even use too much strength in a combat spar."
"Yessum," I replied, "I'm so sorry I attacked Gravmax...he touched me and all I could do was..."
"Mister Broussard has been given detention for a week for triggering a marked rager," she began and folded her fingers together, "I believe a week assisting in cleaning the campus grounds would suffice."
Mrs. Carson closed the folder and placed both folders to the side. I let out a loud demonstrative sigh as I hoped that now I was about to receive my comeuppance.
"Miss Ni Callaghan, I have assigned an extra hour of therapy and we are seeking a personal tutor to help you with your anger," she told me. Trying my best to not roll my eyes in a proper teenage manner was not easy.
"Is there anything else you need to talk to us about?" I inquired.
"A lot actually," she motioned to the woman waiting in the corner.
"She's familiar...I know har." Morgan's voice rang in my skull.
"Allo," the word came out as the woman stalked into my field of view like a stalking pantheress. The first thing I noticed about her was the midnight black hair and her cold cobalt eyes. They burned with an intensity I could only call 'vengeance'. Her body was muscular from what I could make out from years of exercise most likely The raven head's body wasn't that of exemplar, no she worked for her body. Every move bled with years of training as she came to stand beside the Headmistress' desk.
"This is Second Lieutenant Maeve Maguire of the Irish Defense Forces," Mrs. Carson said, "and I will be observing her as she asks you a few questions."
"My turn?" Maeve asked in front of me and shot a glance at Mrs. Carson who gave a clearly controlled nod before the woman began.
"What do ye wan ta know?" I asked as my accent dripped with Morgan's taint.
"See dat dere be a sign," the woman leaned toward me in my chair causing me to instinctively move back. "No bloody yank stars tahkin' laik she's fram the wes' o Eire so easily."
"Me spiri' is Irish," I said fighting the shift on my tongue, "she calls harself Morgan."
"Hmmm, ye see lass," she knelt down by me just after I gave away the name of my Spirit. "Dat dere's da rub, me sister Sinead, she called har spiri' Morgan as well."
"Shite...Sinead's lil sister...she was a hellion." Morgan commented. "I barely remember much, bu' she wen' ta military camp cuz she refused ta attend Whateley."
"Ah, aye dere tis," she drawled coldly, "dat vacant look Song Spirit use ta get. Except, Morgan didna talk ta har, just show her scenes evry now an' den."
"Yer - yer sister was Song Spirit? THE SONG SPIRIT!" I gushed for a moment.
"Dat's the one," she said with a smile dripping with calculation. "She was murdered. Har heart crushed jus' a few weeks ago."
I wasn't sure how to respond to Maeve's statement at all. A loss of words stole my tongue as I tried to fight my silenced voice. What do I do now? I shifted where I sat and my leg started to shake even more. My eyes closed hard and I tried to breathe through the stress building in my chest. It increased with each beat of my heart as I could hear the rush of blood in my ears. I was not going to give in to the rage. This woman was the sister of a host of my spirit, just like me we were kin in a way, I guess.
"She may be kin lass, bu' by kith'n'kin I dun hafta ta laik har," Morgan's burr was far more throaty now. A feral growl rumbled in the background as she said each syllable. The Raven of the Centre had come and was ready to meet Maeve.
"Morgan remembers bits an' pieces from Sinead's death," I began as images immediately came to mind without a single command. A cavalcade of motion and imagery attacked my sight. First, a dark room smelling of disinfectant and the slow beeping of medical equipment. My body was covered in a thin paper made gown. I could even feel the cool air outside my regulation blankets. What was this, what was I seeing?! I exhaled loudly as I opened my eyes and let my view fall upon the wall.
That's when I noticed the strange shadow lacking a person and or thing in the room. It was very faint, just at the point where my view of what lay behind the right of the desk disappeared. Every single hair on the back of my neck went rigid as fear crawled down my spine. The shadow seemed to walk along the desk before disappearing from view.
"The emotion...is drawing them."
"Wha do ye remembar lass?" the Irishwoman asked me.
"Uh," I once again unsure what to say, "A hospital room. I'm alone - it's night."
I closed my eyes in time to feel the scenery of the room fall away like a wave crashing over the rocks. It passes through me and instantly I'm back in the hospital. I'm frozen in time though as cold constriction like freezing water surrounds my limbs. Even my breathing becomes labored. Immediately, I scan the room painfully slow battling my frozen neck muscles all the way. Just as I'm about to finish my scan I hear it, a silent malignant voice.
"Tick-tock." I shiver as the feminine voice spits out the words dripping with malevolent joy. Each and every sound coated in corruptive malice as much as the deadly twisted magicks used to bring her there. Morgan shifts in my skin giving me that utterly terrifying dissociative feeling I get. How to put it? When my spirit moves in my hallow it feels like every two-inch layer of my meat sack is covering something else - something alien. I shook as the disconnection continued while I tried to glean any details I could. The words, "Tick-tock" repeated as Morgan drew upon the fragments of memory she had left.
"Tick-tock, rider's run out the clock." The words drew my attention to movement just outside of my field of vision, or so I thought. Again, I fought the freezing of my muscles as the air around me felt viscous and fluid-like. Fighting it used up so much of my energy I finally saw it or at least part of it. A humanoid form standing in the reflection of the mirror, just at the foot of the bed.
"Ah, a new rider, tick-tock, little girl." How could the voice know I was there?! Narrowing my eyes I tried to make out what was in the window. A body wearing a victorian era dress was barely visible in the nighttime glare of the window. Distinctive white petticoats held up the dark grey and black dress. The body moved, and as I noticed the lack of a head I gasped out loud.
"DULLAHAN!" I tried to pull away from the image as the body came to face me and started to get closer. It stepped perfectly like any person would and leaned against the foot of my bed.
"Tick-tock little girl. I WILL FIND YOU!" the words came as a shattering shriek to my ears. Outside of my dream I grasped my ears and tried to push back at the sound.
"Gráinne, come back!" I heard Mrs. Carson's voice like I was underwater. It was garbled and I could only make out the barest hint of what she meant.
"Stupid, foolish, little girls make pretty little graves," the headless woman drew closer, "And must have coin ta pay the ferryman's toll!"
She was now kneeling on the bed and as she did something strange happened. The horrific image of the headless woman shifted and flashed as one might see in a movie. I could describe it as two images blitzed against each other and all of a sudden I saw her, the black-haired girl from the mirror. Whatever was left of the headless victorian wench was replaced by a short almost bulimically thin woman. Her hair fell down across her face in stringy dirty locks. Her eyes were hidden by a dark greasy unwashed hoodie.
But goddess I could still see the flicker of her contempt from within the shadow covering her upper face. The woman's lips were chapped and cracked from misuse. Her teeth were stained with coffee and cigarette smoke. It was utterly atrocious to me and even as I felt myself shrinking away from her she drew closer. The woman's lips formed into a tight purse line as her jaw seethed as she tried to control herself.
"YE CANNA "AV HAR!" came a roaring growl in the depths of my mind.
"I will rider, I will! Yer time is up Child of the White Oak, I hav' yer name an' hars. I will come for ye, an' ye will pay the toll to the Banshee's wail!" The words were harsh, and I could feel the hatred bleeding from every word. I tried to back up against the headboard of the bed. There was nowhere for me to go. I screamed in fright as the girl crawled closed and suddenly a knife was in one of her hands. A cruel-looking thing with a triangular blade that seemed to shimmer like quicksilver.
"Not yet, Dullahan," I heard the words outside my dream and felt as if my body was being jerked back hard. It was similar to the feeling I got just after a roller-coaster finished its course and the breaks were suddenly engaged. That hard pull against my body yanked me out of my dream and back into the waking world. I was surrounded by Sophia on my right, Mrs. Carson appeared worried at her desk, and on my left was Maeve Maguire. My body was covered in cold sweat and I could feel fear like chilled water in my veins. My skin felt wrong, all of my body felt wrong.
"Tick-tock lil girl. I'm comin fer ye!" the voice whispered at the edge of my ears. Only Maeve seemed to react to it as her face hardened into a frustrated scowl.
"Dammit..." the Irishwoman muttered under her breath.
"I believe it is time for lunch," Mrs Carson said, "Sophia, Gráinne, you are both free to leave for lunch."
A slow pain now was all I could muster. Sophia helped me out of my chair and I barely found my footing on shaky feet. Everything felt wrong-sick. It was like someone stomped on my grave with waffle-soled boots. Entire bits of my body were a patchwork of numbness or light burning pain. I needed rest, and just one nod from Sophia told me she was going to escort me to the lunch line so I could hopefully recover a little from my ordeal.
Lunch Period, November 16th, 2007 - Crystal Hall
"Miss Maguire," Mrs. Carson called from the desk, "A word."
So close and now, she had to pay the piper. Maeve felt every single muscle in her body go rigid. Tension fell over her as she about-faced to meet the raging glare of Lady Astarte. Maeve's eyes widened at the glare, and it took all of her strength right there and then not to smirk. I went beyond what she wanted me to. So this is what Sinead meant by not pissing off the Headmistress. She was battle-hardened, blooded on Provisional Republican soldiers and dark witches from across Europe. The ring upon her finger began to send small chills across her hand. A warning, something was watching them.
"Aye?" was all she said sardonically.
"If you want to remain on my campus you will not overstep, again," the Headmistress delivered each word with sharp precision.
"Aye," she replied, dropping to a full attention stance.
"Good, we will speak to her again tomorrow," Mrs. Carson stated.
"Aye, m'am." Maeve retained her rigid posture for a few moments before getting the small nod letting her know she could leave.
"And Second Lieutenant," she froze as Mrs. Carson said with all the strength of Lady Astarte. "We'll find the murderer, just trust me."
"Aye," she croaked as she left the room and entered the primary office. I was supposed to be on my own, no one else, at all!. Now, I have to dance to her tune. Or I'll never learn why Sinead was killed. Her mind lingered on that thought for just a bit longer. The Dullahan wanted the rider, but why the Emerald Soul. She couldn't fathom the direct answer as she tried to remember all on the dossier. Four or so hosts dating back to the first, Moira.
"Where can I fin' a bi' o' food round here?" she asked the Assistant Headmistress.
"There's a large offering of food in either the student lunch hall, or the faculty lounge," the woman replied. Maeve scanned the other blonde carefully and finally let the name sink in, 'Miss Hartford.'
"Tank ye, Assistant Headmistress," she smiled as the cold rage burned in both. The muscles used to create a knowing smirk flinched into place long enough before she turned on her right heel. Long direct strides saw her zip past a row of students who all froze upon seeing the black-clad woman. Her fatigues of course would easily draw the attention of anyone she walked past. Then there was the six-foot-tall woman covered in distinct cobalt tattoos all across her pale skin. Maeve stopped and glanced as the woman met her gaze.
"Irish Black Ops?" the woman asked.
"Aye," she replied and crossed her arms.
"Huh, nice to see one of you crazy bitches here," the woman replied nonchalantly. Cold fiery blue met quicksilver and a single note of respect passed between them.
"Good ta be 'ere," Maeve smirked before watching the woman walk past her.
Hmmm, so that's the Artificer, note to self - give wide berth. One thing she hadn't recognized right away was the pulse of essence seemingly emanating from the girl. She closed her eyes and opened her right as she uttered the words, "Sight of Odin". The entire mess hall was covered in latent aetheric echoes. Imprints from where the dark magic had stained the veil between that of the mirror.
"No matter how much ye try, ye canna scrub away all the stains," her teacher had taught her. A smile curled her lips as she dodged around another student eagerly running to meet his friends at a nearby table. The woman stopped in the flood of people giving time to scan the entire Crystal Hall. Each level appeared to be taken by different ranks of students. Her mind began to catalog the glimpses of aetheric patterns and assess possible threats. The whisper of several avatars seen as light auras across where they once were was noted. However, not a bit of faerie presence, no foundlings, good.
She closed her right eye as the spell ended and felt the exchange of essence required to fuel it. A small chill entered her right eye as she was stopped, or more prudently, she stopped. Her regular witch sense felt a strong aetheric signature just in time for her to almost collide with a student. This one in particular drew the woman's attention as a head of red vulpine hair entered her vision. What was far more interesting was the two fox ears atop the student’s head.
"Excuse me," she said in apology.
"No, no, it's okay I don't mind being run over by a woman in uniform," the fox girl replied. She tilted her head as she examined me.
"Out of state, I assume?" the girl asked.
"Ou' o' nation mar like," she murmured as she realized just how close those vulpine ears were. They were just nearly under her chin to the point of them being close to flush. Without a sign of blush, she skipped back and eyed the redhead for a moment. Short, really short, maybe just under a meter and a quarter. Just as she moved back she got a shot of the girl's rather bountiful valley of cleavage, and she closed her eyes.
Blood feckin' exemplar women. The Irish woman noted the redhead regarding her and she seemed to ask, "So, You are?"
"Nunya business," she snarked as she noted the large serving of corn beef not far away. A bit of the salty beef would settle her nerves along with the bit of the pure lingering in a flask hidden on her person. Now just to get around the girl and she would be free for a lil-
"Oh, mature, I get it," the girl retorted.
"I do not duel words wit' children," Maeve's blue eyes narrowed as she considered casting the Sight of Odin, something was off by this girl.
"I am not exactly a child," the redhead replied with an arched brow. The girl crossed her arms underneath her breasts doing nothing to hide that valley of plenty.
"No, ye eren't," she said. Maeve considered right there to scan the girl to find out the source of her GSD. There was something off about her, but a glance along the veil showed no faerie essence. Just the skittering of small spirits lingering near staining in the veil.
"So who are you G.I. Jane?" The question came with a minor insult.
"Military lesbian, ye?" Maeve shrugged. She held her ground as she continued to regard the lass.
"Sexuality," the girl gave a wry smile, "isn't exactly part of the label.
"Wha ye wan wit the G.I. Jane references. Tad old fer ye isn't it?" the Irishwoman inquired. This appeared to annoy the girl.
"Physical age has little to do with maturity," she quipped, "or education, or other experiences."
"Nah," she shrugged and curled her lip, "I seem ta hav' struck a nerve. Whatcha hidin' short stack?"
"Nunya - business," fox-ears said with a grin as she winked.
"Good response dere lass," Maeve stepped around her and gave one last glance before adding, "Is mise Méabh Nic Uidhir."
The girl inclined her head in return and the smile did not leave her lips. "Catherine Fox. It's been a pleasure making your acquaintance Miss."
The Irishwoman turned at hearing the name Fox, a name popping up from her memory about a woman from a long time ago. A certain woman by the name of Jennifer Fox.
"So yer the younges' o' da Lady Briar's batch eh?" she asked, her eyes narrowing.
The girl, Catherine, inhaled softly before pressing her lips together before giving a nod, "Yes...last year was...trying."
"If ye wan ta ever tahk bout it. Iam on campus fer a few days - just ask ta see Glass Witch." She said before turning around and making a beeline for the food.
Chapter 7 - Sweat It Out
Early Morning, November 17th, 2007 - Within a Mile of Holbrook Hall
Colder than a witch's teat or was it a warlock's cock? Was the first thought to come to mind when Sophia stepped out into the frigid New England fall Sunday morning. If it wasn't for her experience living in Northern Washington she would have forgotten to wear leggings that morning. Luckily her mom warned her about the uptick in cool weather and to pack for it when she first arrived. Now, she had no regret in leaving some of her best shoes behind and sent a small prayer for her mother's foresight.
There were also the thick-soled galoshes she wore as she carried her purse with a few items of sage and a small bundle of sweetgrass. Her long black hair was braided with pieces of fabric sent by her mother each of whom her grandfather had purified. A small token fitted then with small gems acting as reserves to store her essence. Even a minor wizard would use reliquaries if they could and so hiding them in her hair made sense. Just as she walked under several large old-growth trees she frowned at the lack of conifers on campus.
Kitty Fox had given her the location and after a lengthy discussion on Captain Planet between her and Haruko she was ready for a long hour or two of silence. I swear to god that stupid demon girl has some kind of creepy crush on Kitsune. The nickname for the fox-eared girl had been dropped on her ceremonially by Haruko. This included mentions of Inari and other gods before a long string of jokes in both Japanese and South Korean.
Just as she was through the copse of trees she noticed a blonde head watching her from against an oak. It was a tall slender slightly androgynous girl she'd seen before in Powers Theory. A quick search of her memory only revealed the fact the girl was Swedish and on the edge of the orbit of the Beret Mafia. A moment later she glanced back at the oak and the girl was gone.
I think her name means Hex or something in Swedish. The very idea stayed with her as she took in the sight of the curved tented structure making up the sweat lodge. Just outside she considered stripping down her birthday suit before sloughing off her outer clothes till as she was wearing a simple one-piece purple bathing suit underneath. As she stepped out of her clothes she opened the flap and set them down folded up near the entrance. A loud stream of steam hissed as the other occupant of the lodge watched her enter.
"Oh," she said as she took in the quiet gaze of one Kayda Franks. She knew who Kayda was from in between a few sources including her mother and her best friend Gráinne. Another Posie, Kayda was for a better word a former jinx of sorts. By all accounts, the girl had survived ordeal after ordeal and come out smelling almost like roses. Her ties to certain other figures on campus were what made Sophia carefully introduce herself, "I'm Sophia Jameson."
She offered her shortened name and avoided reminding herself of her father's recent cold shoulder. I need to play nice around her and just do the sweat. Don't get started on any of my soapbox issues and not annoy the Shamaness. Kayda appeared to regard her before saying a word, and she noticed a similarity to how the girl and her best friend sized people up. I can only wonder what she's undergone.
"Kayda Franks," the other girl offered as she hesitated before loosening up her posture.
"You're Lakota, right?" Sophia inquired.
"Yeah, from my mom's side, Sicangu Lakota Oyate," a sudden hesitation drew Sophia's eyes. The girl paused for just a second as her voice choked up, a brief-expression of loss and pain over her face. "My - my grandmother," again the girl appeared haunted. She's digging up her ghosts...damn...I misjudged her terribly. Sophia offered a hand just as Kayda appeared to compose herself. "My grandmother, Grey Skies, grew up on the Rosebud Reservation."
"Mom and dad are both Lummi Nation, we're a co-Salish people," she said carefully and reached out to offer the bundle of sweetgrass to burn on the hot stones. Kayda received the bundle with a small nod before placing them quickly and gently upon the fire.
"Co-Salish?" she asked.
"Oh we're the longhouse totem people white people like to abuse in Peter Pan," she quipped.
"Right," she asked as a slightly distant look reached her eyes.
"Who are you talking to?" Sophia asked, "My best friend does the same thing when her spirit speaks to her."
"Yeah, my spirit, the White Buffalo," Kayda replied.
"Some girls in Whitman said you could even summon small Buffalo," Sophia smiled.
"I can, his name is Tatanka," she said carefully before the form of a Blue Heeler-sized albino bovid appeared beside her.
"Greetings, Daughter of the Salmon People," replied the small buffalo solemnly.
"Hello, Spirit of the Buffalo," the Lummi girl replied, "My grandfather, Gerald "RavenWing" Jameson heard that Kayda is a great healer."
"Wahikayda is indeed a healer," the Bison intoned, "what ails your friend?"
"She was attacked at her school, and nearly...assaulted. She jumps at every shadow and wakes up screaming," Sophia said remembering their trip to Whateley by train. Long nights where she heard her friend whining about banshees and other terrors out of myth. Sophia wasn't sure though if they were real or not. Her past experiences after her grandfather lit her well did show some strange things to her magical senses.
"Oh my god," Kayda covered her mouth in horror. Oh dammit. I forgot...those allegations in her hometown.
"I am so sorry to bring this to you," she said sheepishly, "But my friend snapped yesterday and nearly ripped an upperclassman apart."
"What happened?" Kayda asked through a half-choked sob.
"Some jock caught her in the boy’s bathroom and almost made her suck him off," Sophia coughed as she felt rage and sorrow pooling in her gut. "The other guys stopped her from getting away and almost had her for....yeah...she then throws one into a locker."
"Such acts are the most horrendous for all peoples," Sophia heard Tatanka say.
"I agree," Sophia said with a growl, "I try my best to help Gráinne, but there is only so much I or my family can do."
"...I might be able to help her, " Kayda spoke up after looking at her lap for a moment. The heat of the steam was remembered as both girls sighed in the heat. "I will need to speak to a few people though, beforehand."
"Makes sense," Sophia said weighing her options. Should I bother to ask or not? The young Shamaness fidgeted with her thumbs for a second as she realized that her timer had gone off. A full hour had passed already? That was strange, she felt a little light-headed as she picked up her clothes and glanced at Kayda. "Thanks for considering it."
"Thanks, for um," again Kayda held her response for a pregnant pause, "for being so polite."
"I get what it means to be suddenly looking at a legacy," Sophia said as she shimmied into her leggings, skirt and blouse. Her hair was a mess from being tossed about, "Mine isn't as big as yours, but if you wanna talk my door is open."
Just After Lunch, November 17th, 2007 - Schuster Hall
The Irishwoman eschewed her usual black fatigues as she walked into the Whateley grounds in a black blouse, and tight pencil skirt. Her three-inch heels gave her graceful legs a nice arc as she walked past the entrance of Crystal Hall. Held in one hand was a once full platter. Having eaten her fill, Maeve did a secondary scan of the room using the Sight of Odin. The spell this time numbed her entire right side after usage and revealed nothing.
"To increase a sense you must dull another," was a rule of faerie magic of scrying taught to her years ago. But, the simple loss of essence mattered little to her. Her mouth tasting like rubber was far more annoying.
"Howdy Stranger," quipped a certain fox-eared nuisance behind her.
"Wha ye wan brat?" the woman responded. She dodged out of the way of a green-haired aelf girl before turning to face Catherine Fox directly. Immediately, Maeve noted the young woman's characteristic arched brow, and her arms crossed beneath her breast.
"Oh - a few things really." The girl's right ear flicked as she rubbed her nose and sauntered toward the witch. "I'd say a million dollars and a nice beach in Hawaii. Maybe some rum to take that edge off." She came to rest closer a few feet away from the Irishwoman.
"Rum. Aren't ye a tad young ta feck over yer brain short stack?" Maeve chuckled as her blue eyes seemed a little harder than before. Her eyes ignored the sway in the redhead's hips as she met her eyes. "Ye seem far too comfy wit drink than a girl yer age should be."
"You know how many Exemplars are here? How many cooky alchemists." Cathrine rolled her eyes in kind before adding wryly, "Been to the Caribbean a few times - out in Nassau and even a trip or two to Grand Bahama." She paused a slightly distant look as her lips quivered. "Well, before I came here."
"What ye hidin?" Maeve crossed her arms as she held out her hand and muttered a spell in Irish. She felt a strange pinging in her ring finger before snorting, "Before wha? Ye just holdin' me up or ye lookin' ta hit on me again lil' lass."
"Before losing - both of my parents." The girl said choking up a little, "Before I manifested. Let's just say last year was rough." Kitty seemed to quiet down after she replied leaving Maeve momentarily speechless.
"Sorry ta hear dat," she replied a tad flabbergasted, "Someone kilt me sister. So I know wha' it means ta lose family."
These kids are all full of secrets. She watched as Catherine gave a nod and shrugged, a smile was soon plastered on her face. "Welp, we're still here, aren't we? So - that's something, right, I mean." There was yet another pause. "Think it might be the last two years were rough, but it was rough."
"Yeah, I've seen yer mother's records," Maeve said simply, eyes narrowing just the slightest. "Of carse, I also look inta yer father's unfortunate deat."
Catherine's face flinched a little and her voice ran as she seemed to backpedal, "No, that's alright thanks for the shoulder. Welp I was there and Overlord lost -case closed.-"
"Still 'ere when ye wan ta tahk," Maeve drawled as she watched the girl make a hasty retreat. The Second Lieutenant shook her head as she made her way to the Administrative offices. Walking into the Secretary pool brought her back from a few of her deeper thoughts. She ran through what she'd prepared that morning, a simple spell to bring what she knew was hiding in the girl out. The Emerald Soul - She Who Rages - that was what she told Mrs. Carson.
The problem was that Sinead had never confirmed all her theories, nor was there much about the previous hosts. She had a solid idea of who the spirit was, but placing her in the greater mythology of what the Irish Department of Paranormal Investigation possessed. Maeve considered calling in a few favors at the Directorate, at least one high ranking section head owed her a favor or three.
Not worth calling on my coins just yet. She let her thoughts linger on the cloak and dagger she planned. Once again dancing around the limits set by Mrs. Carson. I'm no match for Lady Astarte, but at least I know how to push the limits. She had personal reasons for being there and even with the previous offer of talking she didn't quite trust the Headmistress. There was too much stink of Syndicate at the school and as a military mage she saw the organization as one of many factions she disliked interacting with.
"The Headmistress is waiting for you, Second Lieutenant," Miss Hartford spoke up from in front of her screen with the glare of dictation passing across her glasses rapidly.
"Tank ye," Maeve said as she walked in and took a seat to the left of the Headmistress' desk and crossed her legs. Gráinne was curled up in the large chair by Sophia Jameson both girls watched the Irish soldier with faint worry in their eyes. Maeve breathed slowly to center herself and prepare for the next round of questioning.
"Shall we begin from where we left off?" Mrs. Carson suggested with a slightly saccharine laced warning glare to the Irishwoman.
"Aye," Maeve replied begrudgingly.
"Gráinne, describe us what you saw again if you can," Mrs. Carson was careful to not trigger the girl. Maeve's cold blue eyes were focused on as the girl started to speak.
"A woman wearing a black hoodie. Long stringy hair, and an accent like the Lieutenant's," Maeve listened to the girl.
"How did yer spirit react," Maeve cut in receiving an annoyed look from Mrs. Carson who pressed her lips together and mouthed 'watch it' to the Irishwoman.
"She said, that 'ye cannae 'av har', the woman...she knew it was me and not...Sinead." The girl's holding something back. The Irish operative clenched her hands into fists as she considered making her move. She'd brought her purse with her that day, and inside was a small piece of Hawthorn wood and a candle.
"Mrs. Carson," the Irishwoman drawled, "If I may, I can use a spell wit will brin da lass' spirit inta da corporeal realm."
The Headmistress appeared to consider it and spoke, "Such a spell would require considerable investiture. Are sure you wish to do something so extreme?"
"Aye," Maeve nodded, "Bettar ta tahk ta da spirit, dan make da lass speak fer har."
Maeve watched as the Headmistress turned now to speak to the girl, "Gráinne, Miss Maguire believes she can summon your spirit here physically so we can all speak to her. Would that be okay with you?"
"Will it hur' me or Morgan?" she asked and Maeve nodded inwardly. She's hidden behind green eyes for years. Time ta meet She Who Rages.
"Itwill hur' me mar dan yer spirit, lass," Maeve replied before waiting for a reply. Just have to wait. I'm sure the damn Headmistress is gonna murder me after this. She considered just placing the candle on the Headmistress' desk and beginning the spell. Throw all caution to the wind and get what she wanted done. But, not today, not after the last haranguing she got from Carson. Today, I play nice.
Just remember the spell.
"Fine." Carson let out the word through grit teeth and Maeve knew she was sitting on shaky ground. One misstep would result in her ass being tossed out of the campus grounds. But, she had to speak to the spirit. for years she'd heard Sinead mention the mysterious Morgan.
"Ghair ḿ ar Mionn Iarainn agus geallaim go sollúnta ar an fuil mo shinsir! D'ainmnigh mé tu; sí na mire agus iníon darach bianne agus banríon catha agus sleá na bhflatha!" Her voice rose above the rest as she removed a votive candle and lit it with light from her back pocket. As soon as the wick alit with flame the flame itself turned the color of blood. She began to repeat the phrase again just after placing the candle on Mrs. Carson's desk.
"I CALL YOU, MORGAN!" she said aloud in English. A sudden compression of air snapped as every single ear in the room popped from the change in pressure. Maeve closed her eyes just as her ears popped and suddenly there was a towering presence behind her. Every fiber of her being was sapped of energy it felt like as she wobbled. Just as she was about to faint a sun-kissed arm caught her.
"I gotcha," a soothing soprano said. Maeve blinked as the arm released her and she turned to face the literal faerie in the room.
In-person Morgan was seven feet and easily towered over every single person in the room. From her head fell a long blood-red mane of hair carefully plaited to keep it corralled and out of her eyes. The faerie's eyes were perhaps the most vivid green Maeve ever witnessed. Even more, each eye glowed faintly with a silent flicker flame of emerald energy. A long oval faced with high cheekbones watched her as a wry smile fell upon kissable blood-red lips just beneath a hawkish nose. The faerie's body was clothed in a long brigandine coat fitted over padded armor.
The small studded bits of metal impressed into the leather shined a strange ethereal blue-sheen in the light of the candle. Morgan shifted as a pair of studded leather boots announced her movement. Atop the woman's back was a long clocha, a traditional cloak pinned with a silver pin.
"Holy shit, MY TALLEST!" Gráinne smiled.
"FOINE! Ye can use dat one," the faerie warrior roar in reply and discomfort. Fiery green eyes turned to face Maeve as the woman spoke again. "Ye brought me wit grea' cost ta yerself mage. Yiz decision be foolish at best!"
"You are the Emerald Soul?" Maeve asked carefully.
"AYE! Bonded to Song Spirit before Scald-Crow an' wit Blackthorn durin' da Second Great war!" Whenever she spoke she revealed sharp snow-white teeth.
"Blackthorn?" Mrs. Carson inquired as she seemed to remember something.
"Aye, tis me pleasure ta see ye fully once 'gain Elizabet,' ' Morgan gave a small bow.
"I didna ken ye could watch us all," Maeve asked sarcastically.
"Only Moira an' Gráinne 'ave me full awareness," the Faerie retorted, "I gifted me powers in different ways ta da avatars who held my substance."
"Sinead was song and strengt',' ' Maeve stated.
"Aye, ta be in me full powar fer so long drains me," she continued, "or it requires a deep bondin' wit a Draoi blooded child. A propar foundling."
"Makes sense why I sense faerie aether bleedin' fram har," Maeve replied and cold blue eyes moved to watch Gráinne's slightly shocked expression.
"A wha?" the teenager asked.
"Yer not jus' a child wit faerie blood Gráinne, yer fram a royal line, which means I was able ta bond myself full intah yer being,"
"So...I'm faerie royalty?" the girl-child asked. Maeve rolled her eyes as she crossed her arms.
"Da greates' realms o' faerie are da Princes," Maeve stated.
"Da Princes rule fer da oldes' worlds o' magick," Morgan responded crossing her arms and giving a nod.
Mrs. Carson was watching the conversation with her face set in consideration. The tall blonde slowly sat down in her seat and steepled her fingers while placing her elbows on the desk.
"What threat are you bringing to my school, Morgan," Elizabeth Carson asked.
"Much," the Faerie replied grimly, "da monster who hunts Gráinne an' meself is bound ta a power almost as dangerous as Mad Mabd harself."
"The power you speak of, are they one of the Nine Sidhe Queens?" Elizabeth asked carefully.
In response, Morgan's eyes burst with emerald flame and her mouth tightened. "Never compare me or any Prince o' Faerie ta dose misbegotten usurpers! Dey wan' our great tree!
"Ye 'ave a world tree in Faerie?" Maeve inquired carefully, "why no' brin' a cuttin' 'ere an' rebuildin' a place o' essence."
"A cuttin' o' da Blessed Trees would' die in dis world fer it's lack of magick an' fer terrible mortal mages who would grind dear wood fer its magick," she replied.
"so who is hunting you and threatens MY School!" barked Carson to draw the mage's and Faerie's attention. Gráinne paled at hearing the risen voice of the Headmistress leaving Sophia the only one completely unflinching.
"Da Dullahan is a woman, Bess Monaghan, a mercenary sorceress fer hire specializin' in hexes,'' Maeve offered and she gave a shake of her head to Morgan. "She's likely werkin' for an extremist Republican cell, da True Fenians if Gráinne remains on campus. I can assist yer magic users in warding mirror's an' surfaces to prevent har fram werkin past yer original defense."
"And what do you want in exchange for this service?" Carson growled.
"I wan' closure, dis lass has da one solid lead I 'ave ta da woman who kilt me sister," she snarled.
"Miss Maguire, I believe I have already warned you. No matter what I will not let Gráinne or any of her friends be used for bait so you can complete your revenge!" Carson slammed her hand down hard enough on the desk to get the woman's attention. Morgan let out a guffaw at the paling of the raven hair's face and rubbed her eye. "I mus' leave, if ye wish ta speak ta me, Gráinne can relay me response. I can already feel da las' of the essence allowin' me ta manifest. Farewell."
The tall framed woman disappeared as suddenly as she appeared. An emptiness of unknown quiet arrived in its wake and Maeve wondered if this was what her ancestors felt when their "gods" left them. The raven-haired woman canted an eyebrow toward young Gráinne who was quietly talking to herself in whispers. Mrs. Carson, on the other hand, was busily writing in a notebook. Silent scratching of paper on the pad was the only sound in the room for a heartbeat or more. Maeve rested a hand at her jawline to fathom what could lay in front of her.
"Graine, Sophia, you both may go. Miss Horton will be discussing with you the detention I've assigned specifically for the two of you," Carson's voice was carefully controlled, “even if you were provoked attacking another student is unacceptable”
A rumbling disquiet though threatened to explode from the woman. Gráinne and Sophia both slowly rose to their feet and left with simple goodbyes. The door left a loud thunk as it closed leaving only the two individuals of Maeve and one angry Headmistress alone. Rage seemed to simmer around the woman like a sidewalk boiling in the glaring light of the sun.
"I will give you -one-...last...chance...before I call your supervisors and use whatever favors I have to destroy you. Did you really think I was going to let you break that poor girl AGAIN?" The ferocity in which the woman deliver the words surprised Maeve. As an Irishwoman, the Second Lieutenant was a simple one with the Irish stereotype of the sharp-tongued girl. She'd even kissed the blarney stone on a dare from her sister years ago. Perhaps her life as a bullshit artist was finally calling in the debts for all her bad behavior.
"I 'av wha I need," Maeve replied shortly.
"Oh, you do?" Carson snarled, "remember this Maeve. Your sister knew what she was getting into when she joined the Fianna. Just as I knew what I got into when I became Headmistress of -this- Academy."
Maeve herself could feel the desire to leave, not because she was scared or remotely intimidated by Lady Astarte. I'm not an idiot. Thickheaded, and stubborn, but this is checkmate to the Headmistress. The mage considered what options lay in front of her and like a grand mistress chess player she thought three moves ahead. I can go straight for Bess and end this. There was still a problem left, Bess Monaghan was just a mercenary. The Average Man appearing....why would Wolftone kill my sister to go after her spirit. Rider only meant one thing to her, someone wanted the Faerie extinguished. Her opponent was hiding in the shadows playing farther than she could see.
A faint smirk came to the woman's face as she finished thinking and bit the inside of her cheek. She remembered the third lesson taught to her by her teacher, "Beware what you find at the crossroads, and never take a deal from who you find."
"Understood headmistress," Maeve enunciated before she left the room.
Late Evening, November 19th, 2007 - A Hotel In Boston
"Dark King, Scion of Dead Stars.
I invoke your word sight!
The bloody light of Aldebaran!
Cut through the Veil of Night!"
The spell tore from her throat and covered her skin in a thick miasma of woe and dread. Disquiet lingered as the words left her lips. An ethereal knife gently drew across her neck just deep enough to draw a thin line of blood. I should've known better than to use a probability Hex to moderate the Balance. She dry heaved at the feeling and reached up to wince at the small cut along her throat. The essence was pulled out of her body at a rapid rate. A recently polished mirror stood in front of her as she repeated the incantation one more time.
She was alone in a small motel just on the outskirts of Northern Boston. A single bed in a room smelling of mold was her only consolation for the evening. Tracking her target after the stupid teen left Washington State had been a pain in the ass. Not because she was terrible at locating a faerish signature off the girl, no it was the other pursuer, one Mave Maguire. If her earlier spell hadn't been thwarted the bloody Second Lieutenant would be dead.
Her eyes focused on the mirror as she shifted in the long black cardigan and black carpenter jeans. The knife dropped lower and pressed against her side and danced across her ribs. Its wielder speaking sweet nothings filled with false promise. Ghost hands gripped her shoulders as weight pulled down on her. Each and every time she used the spell she was forced to invoke Syndarien's Tithe. A terrible price for all who used the magic of the Dark King would pay the toll.
"Why did I 'ave ta be a Caillech!" she muttered as the surface of the mirror began to fog over with frost. The air around it dropped several degrees causing the hex-witch to shiver. Druídech and Seidr were like that, both facets of magic always required a cost. Just as the tithe made her wretch yet again there was a loud pounding tap against the mirror. The thump was similar to someone knocking on a window.
"WHY HAVE YOU CALLED!?" said an eerie voice from the mirror. Every surface in the room began to fog over instantly as a ghostly breath could be heard sighing across her small dwelling.
"Did da Average Man inform ye o' da complications?" she asked the thing in the mirror. Shapes and shadows shifted in the reflection as a singular burning eye appeared. Straight out of the tales of the Fomori. Bess Monaghan flinched as the eye widened, its sclera were blacker than ink and seemed to pulsate around a singular gold pupil.
"Aye," the voice quieted itself as the rough shape of a person appeared on the other side. A forest green beret covered the figures face as long chocolate waves of hair streaked with sunkissed highlights. The face was youthful and androgynous in appearance with the lower half below the eyes covered by a solid forest green mask.
"Maguire 'as followed da new foundlin' intah the Academy grounds," Bess replied. She spoke the words quickly as she wished this encounter would end quickly.
"...Medawhila...WHATELEY!" the figure snapped. The golden eye blazing harder and seemed to glow with hatred. "Ye swore ye coulda kill the Emerald Soul. Da last loose strin' in our plans fer EIRE!"
"Aye, Cap'n Tone, I ken!" she raised a hand in an attempt to placate the figure.
"Yer gonta need some help den?" Wolftone asked the androgyne's eye narrowed as it scowled at Bess.
"Da place bleeds wit' protective wards an' I ain goin' in dere without some help," she said crossing her arms. As a mercenary, she did what she was paid to do, yet her contracts did stipulate a few protections. Bess didn't risk her life much for her work if it would only result in her death. Having no living family or any loved one she always had to look out for number one.
"Can't call up yer mistress den?" the eye focused on her as an empty socket of another came fully into view.
"I - I see no reason ta awaken Nimue fer dis!" she protested.
"It's har plan ta end da Soul...I only wan wha is owed." The voice chuckled. "Beidh Lia Fáil agam agus rialóidh mé na hÉirinn ar fad!"
"Amadán tú! Ná munín bantiarna na cairn." She coughed in return, her Irish flowed off her lips in the throaty accent of Donegal.
"Call me a fool? YE BLOODY CUNT!" roared Wolftone, "IF TWEREN'T FER ME YE BE A SLAVE TA HAR!"
"Aye," she gulped and gave a shake of her head. "Yiz deal save me life."
"Goo' ta ken ye didna ferget," drawled the terrorist leader.
"So....bou' dose wards......" she asked.
"I be burnin' trough cash ta provide yer reliquary habit." Tone sighed and rolled their eye. "Ow many mar do ye nee'?"
"One - an' I nee' some notes. I cannae break da wards..." She realized perhaps she'd perhaps have omitted that fact.
"SA WHY YE CALLIN' ME IN DA FARST PLACE!?" screeched Tone.
"I nee' ta make a scry call ta a fren' on inside," she asked quietly.
"...FOINE!" the head of the True Fenians snapped.
"Uh....really?" Bess asked carefully.
"Aye," Tone heaved a sigh before pressing a black-gloved hand to their forehead. "Ye get dis don Bess an' yer arse is back hair payin' fer all dis extra asset shite!"
Bess' eyes widened as She felt a shiver go through their body. Heat grasped her cheeks as a bright red blush came to her pale face. I'll keel over from having my blood in me face! Tone's words were always like that, sweet caramel laced with an addictive undercoating. A friend she'd had since she and Sinead were tots in Primary School. Schooling her feature's she inhaled and let out a demonstrative sigh.
"Anytin else ta say?" they asked, their mask slipping down to reveal a crooked roman nose.
"Nae," Bess murmured. She held her breath for a beat before biting the inside of her cheek.
"Ye owe sa much Bess. Ow' much of yer soul is left?" Wolftone asked carefully.
Pay the piper, or y'all never get yer name back. It was the most crucial rule she lived by ever since learning she was a Draoi. Just as the image of Wolftone began to fade from the mirror leaving her completely alone in her moldy motel room. How the hell did my life become this?
Chapter 8 - Paradigm Shift
After Midnight, November 20th, 2007 - Just Beyond the Hedge
The moors tonight in my dreams were especially quiet compared to before. Kitted in a long-sleeved dress and a pair of soft boots I lifted my skirts above the wet grass and blushed at my bare thighs. This time I saw the stone ring before I saw her, each and every stone a different shape from small rounded boulders to tall oblong sentinels. As I came closer I could taste the pulse of energy emitting from the ring like the smell of freshly fallen rain. The tallest stone was sitting in the circle precisely at the epicenter of whatever invisible energy was locked inside. The grass around the ring was sheared short almost like that of a football field. Every few seconds the grass at my feet would shudder and wave as if a breeze was running through it.
"Da Ring be growin' stronger each day," a voice said from beside me and I didn't even startle this time as a friendly hand landed on my shoulder. Morgan appeared beside me in all her tall glory. Her eyes appeared far fierier than before and seemed to exude a small burning green blaze of flame. Long crimson hair braided in long plaits fell over her shoulders.
"Sa wha' does dis mean ten?" I ask as my own accent mimic's her.
"Dis Ring represens my beatin heart of power. Da closer we get, da stronger I become." She said the words with a small smile before gesturing to me to follow her to a small campfire near the tallest of the circling sentinel stones.
"Sa...wha' ye said back dere ta Carson an' da Lieutenant." I began before she placed a bowl of steaming soup in my lap and I lifted it to my lips. Broth exploding with savory flavor and even more filled my mouth.
"Tat we ere bondin' deeper dan oters?" she asked me with a smile.
"Yeah!" I smirked and continued, "Ye says Aim fram som kind o' royal blood or sometin?"
"Aye....yiz...be a daughtar o' mine." She said carefully before taking a seat beside me. We were both sitting on a long clean-shaven log sunk slightly into the ground. Her long heavy mail clinked as she dwarfed me even when sitting.
"Wai' so yer some kin' of an ancestor?" I asked.
"Yes, me heart, da line of da Summer Queen beats in yer blood."
"Da whaaa?" I let the stressed syllable hang as my jaw gapes in the slightest and what I receive is an expression mixing annoyance and amusement. Morgan reaches across towards the empty fire and a kettle materializes before my eyes. It's a dream so I think we can just magic up a pot of stew when needed! She drinks from a bowl after ladling some of the brown savory liquid into what I can only assume is carven wood.
"In da Iron Age, me ex-Husband's priests would drink dis heavy steamin' broth o' beef infused wit sacred herbs." She stared at the bowl and glanced at me as she spoke. Our conversations have morphed over time. When I first met Morgan she was near oblivion and I was in emotional agony. Our collective experiences were lent to a mash-up of abuse, loss, and a desire to never let others control our lives again. Even now, as she speaks to me I can hear the unspoken emotion in her voice as her tone fluctuates just in the slightest. I've noticed my hearing's gotten a tad more precise over the last few weeks.
"Wha ye holdin back dis taim?" I drawled.
"Dun push me, lass," she sighed, setting down her bowl before pressing a fist to her chin.
"Wha are ye Morgan?" I ask a question I've asked her time and time again.
"I be Eriu nic Ernmas, Daughter o' the Silver Bough, Raven Spear o' Kings" She gave me her epithets in succession.
"Ye are also har, -the-Morrigan." I sipped the last of my bowl and set it aside.
"Aye...da ol' term fer me people would be da Aes Síobhra. Cousin o’ the Aes Sidhe"
"Wait...ye made a big deal bout Aunghadhail, an' already hinted tat yer differen' dan har!" I exclaimed, and I was right, you know.
"Da Aelf Queen's didna loik me grandmam much....carse she made a terrible mistake an' accordin ta oters were still payin fer it," she said.
"....Less exposition...more explanation!" I barked at her and I received a burning glare in response.
"Every faerie beats wit tread o' the Wychin' Tree sewn by da Wyrd...." she sighed and continued, "Our treads are what make us fae. Its wha binds us ta Faerie an' ta the hallows of dis world. By Urd's Own we survive an' dem Aelves know tat."
"So...every faerie has a fate...a thread singin' in 'em," I nod, getting a bit of what she is saying.
"Aye, tis our name tat makes us who we ere," Morgan said, and all I could do was smile. For some reason, this random dream discussion was making me think of a weird little National Geographic article I read once on string theory. As a very young teenager, I can't even begin to explain how I see scientific theory. When the discovery channel explained it a while back I got it. It's all about possibilities, split timelines that can result in different outcomes. Strings thus vibrate to create the very fabric of the universe.
"Sa 'ow ye any differen dan a Sidhe?" I asked.
"Bot' me an' dem hav da elf ears," she pulls back her hair to reveal a set of ears ending in a sharp point. Strangely, they reminded me more like a cat's ear as they seem to be slightly movable.
"Me folk have sharper teeth' an' claws," she smiled at me as she described her appearance and flexed her hand. The claws were more like that of a dog than say a cat. Long sharpened hard blackened nails. Mine are still clear but are definitely thicker than they used to be.
"Okay, so yer like the Kagonesti fram DragonLance," I smirk as I quote one of my favorite novel series, "And Nikki is a fucking High Elf."
"Bout right," she replied.
"Okay, are all Faeries the same ting?" I continue.
"Nah, bein fae is a type of spirit. We are a division fram what was befar. Me folk...we call ourselves Tuath Dé, Danu's Clan," she answers, "Dere ere alsa da Tŷ Llŷr, the tribe of Llyr an' da Vaettir, da Northern Tribe."
"Complex world-building shit," I cackle as she eyes me like I'm a tad touched.
"Why call da Sidhe Aelves den?" I ask.
"Cuz...dey be tricky shites, ta dem mortals loik ye are just....animals." She gives me a loose shrug as I sit down beside her and let today's biology lesson sink in. I mean, it's not like I wasn't surprised I got a lore dump from her this time. The more I learn about my spirit and the more I realize how little I knew about the cosmology of my own world. The more I understand about myself the more I'm less likely to get caught off guard. As I sit here reflecting on my most recent discourse all I can consider is what lays in front of me. I'm bound to a proverbial War Goddess and an entity that has a fairly deadly grudge included. This doesn't include batteries, but years of baggage and a few well-timed death threats.
I just had to choose her deal and she did warn me more than once about what lay in waiting in the shadows. Perhaps, if I wasn't such a magnet for bad luck such as exploding students I wouldn't be so salty about it all. I mean, my number one crush right now was one Seraphina Sophia Valocco, Envy. Every time I saw her my heart fluttered and I felt sick to my stomach. It didn't help that Morgan seemed to flip flop on if she approved or disapproved of the girl.
"Sa...the Unseleighe an' Seleighe ere a ting?" I asked, just one more question since I could feel the dreamscape beginning to wane.
"Aye, an' dat is all I 'have the energy to say. We need ta prepare for...who an' wha stalks our future." She said gravely. I turned my gaze back to watch her as she stood up and bit her knuckle. My terrifying snarky warrior goddess was worried and something was definitely eating at her. My soup was long complete as I just watched her and let her find her bearings. This entire night had been filled with exposition and me interrogating her. By all accounts, I'd demanded a traumatic history from a war veteran. Even as I considered it I could feel her worry through our bond and I thought about just jumping up to hug her.
"Ye need taim ta think?" I asked her she turned to look down at me and offered a slight nod. "The Lieutenant seems fixated on you and me for some reason."
"Sinead's little sister was always...tenacious ta slay da leas'" she chortled.
"A real Prince Zuko type," I snorted before eying her, "and I guess tat makes ye Avatar Roku."
"I be -not- an ol' dead man." She ruffled my hair and gave a small growling laugh.
"Yeah, bu' now yer not sa somber," I quipped, "I can tell yer shoulder's ere heavy wit wha'ever be on yer moind."
"Yes...we need ta learn mar bout dis Dullahan, an' why she was hoired ta hunt us." The words reminded me we'd been talking about heavy negative subjects all night.
"Sa what ye need me ta do?" I ventured.
"We need me spear...Cadabolg. It's suffused wit me mantle an' would be a fine weapon ta fight wit," she commented.
"Okay, now all dis broodin' makes sense," I offered another laugh, "Yer bout ta ask me ta burgle fram a Dragon wit some Dwarves roight?"
"Sometin loik tat," she shook her hand before placing a hand on my shoulder. "Since we met lass, I've done me best ta regain me strengt an' formulate a plan ta protec us."
"Okies," I nodded. So this is where my life was now, a series of chess moves to prepare for whoever was on my trail. I wasn't a trapped animal luckily, with how well protected the campus was I doubt a lone mage could cause that much damage. Then again, there were all those stories from what happened at Halloween last year. Plus, Morgan has sensed some seriously twisted traces in some places. How to describe it? I strained my senses whenever we walked across campus and I found myself driven to avoid whatever trace I found. Now, I was on a fucking quest for a magical spear. Yeah, welp, how am I supposed to even begin to unpack that?
Morgan's hand hadn't moved at all since she told me of Cadabolg, and I didn't meet her gaze at all. I'd already asked myself more than a few questions today and so I was at a loss. Staring at my hands I opened and closed them tight three times. Even going as far as counting under my breath.
"Ye wit me?" she asked.
"Yeah, jus' taken in da new life choices I'm experiencin an' facin," I drawled to her and gave her a hooded look.
"Sleep on it lass...we need ta gather a few mar fer what yer bout ta face," she said and released her grip on my shoulder. I shrugged it off and raised my eyes to watch the stones around me. The tallest one was shaped roughly like a pointed spear and was draped in moss. The grass at its base was meticulously trimmed and a small ring of white flowers grew around it. A fairy ring around a stone ring, how quaint. Somewhere in my head, I felt a strong burst of resolve as felt that pulsating energy shuddered through the air around me. Morgan was gone, but her growing strength did at least give me a good start. Whatever come may, she and I would do what lay ahead of us, together.
Early Morning, November 20th, 2007 - Faculty Meeting Room
If there was one thing Maeve hated in this world, it was being treated like a child. Stupid feckin. LADY ASTARTE! She chilled her anger as best she could, but it was like tossing ice on a red hot iron. A few deep breaths later she was as calm as possible. Alone in the waiting room outside the faculty conference room, she was left to her own devices. In fact, Carson had purposely called her late so she couldn't speak to the faculty. The woman was far too smart for her own good, and Maeve was well aware of disadvantage in life experience. However, she did have a few tricks up her sleeve.
Wearing her black fatigues that day she was able to smuggle in a small round mirror in her right back pocket. Palming it she inhaled slowly to let her mind be clear.
"Clear of mind reaps better results." Maeve waited to the count of ten before she closed her eyes. All of her focus must be on one point or she'd end up projecting sending out a beacon of her location deep into the Hedge.
"Beyond the Looking Glass..." she muttered under her breath, "reveal to me what lays just over the Hedge."
The glass in her hand shimmered for a second as the surface appeared to ripple like water. Essence poured from her hand into the mirror as the reflection in the mirror shifted from her to showing the room just beyond the one where she waited. A large conference table was easily in view with Mrs. Carson in a carefully tailored suit standing at its head. To her right sat the Assistant Headmistress, Ms. Hartford, and to the right sat a man by his description she assumed was Chief Frank Delarose. The rest present included Sir Wallace, the so-called Briton, and two women.
"Good to have you all here, finally, on such short notice," said Elizabeth Carson.
The first of the two women gave a small nod and sat upright as the meeting began. Her hair was the color of newly forged steel, and her eyes held a quality of knowledge few could muster. She set her mouth in a careful smirk as the sun from a nearby window revealed the olive tanned skinned typical of the Aegean Isles. Circe, so she really is here. Beside sat an aged woman covered in a carpet of moss, vines, and flowering plants. A joyful spring aura emanated from her as she sat sipping tea waiting for the meeting to begin. And Earthmother, of course, they called in a nature mage to speak on Faeries. How bloody quaint.
"We are still dealing with the Alley-Oop incident and Sara's rescue," Chief Delarose began, "I'm beginning to think Winter 2007 will be far worse than last spring."
"So far no one has been accused of murder," Earthmother chuckled.
"Ever the glass half-full aren't you Amanda," Circe smiled.
"I've called you all here because of a minor revelation regard one of our more recent problem children," Miss Hartford began as she pushed up her glasses along the bridge of her nose. "You are all aware we have the daughter of Celestina Valocco, the Strega."
"Yes, Seraphina is quite the powerful magic user," added Earth Mother.
"Especially tied to the balance as well," Circe nodded.
"This isn't about her though," Mrs. Carson spoke up, "we're here today about two people."
"One Gráinne Róisín Ní Ceallacháin," Chief Delarose piped up. "Already a Rager and she's been cited in two incidents within her first week. One including being targeted by Yellow Queen's thugs as well as nearly beating Nicholas Broussard to death."
"Just to be clear he did provoke her," Miss Hartford sighed, "I mean, it's not like we've ignored Nicholas' fixation with some of the Poe Girls. His history with Roulette proves he's going to eventually reap what he sows."
"Why is it always the redheads that cause the problems," Mrs. Carson murmured underneath encircled fingers.
"You already sent out a memo about the girl recently Elizabeth so why are we here talking about Gráinne?" Circe inquired.
"Have you noticed anything odd about her or those around her, CIrce?" Carson countered.
"Yes...her entire body beats with a mix of rage, revenge and agony. It's like her spirit is recovering from some sort of extreme trauma," Circe relayed. "Plus...she stinks of Sidhe or at least something like them."
"Oh, her spirit is a Noble Faerie," Earth Mother chuckled, "A very old one at that."
"You're kidding...." Circe gave a side long glance, "The last recorded member of the Gentry was-"
"Blackthorn in World War Two," Carson spoke up, "it's the same spirit. The one they call "She Who Rages" in Europe."
Maeve grit her teeth as Carson began to regurgitate the information from the day before. What was even more fascinating was the fact she failed to mention that Morgan herself had been present during the discussion.
"Oh...damn...Song Spirit," Earthmother spoke up, "Sinead Maguire, I thought I felt something similar to her when Gráinne first attended one of my lectures."
"Sinead was indeed the previous host, " Mrs. Carson sighed, "and she was murdered by a Faerie Mage hired by Irish Terrorists."
"And you know this how?" Chief Delarose asked as he himself appeared to be out of the loop.
"Her sister,a member of the Irish Defense Forces, and an agent of the Department for Paranormal Investigation," Carson stated.
"So that explains the Second Lieutenant everyone's been talking about," Chief Delarose nodded, "I've had one of my newbies watching, Officer Rathcore."
"You sent a single security guard to watch a trained Anti-Terrorist Agent?" Earth Mother inquired.
"Rathcore is former Canadian Special Forces, she came here after an incident up north," Delarose replied.
"I believe the Second Lieutenant is about ready to join us," Carson said after turning to face the window the Faerie Witch was scrying from. "You know it's rude to eavesdrop Maeve."
She froze on the spot as her little spy spell was easily revealed. Dammit, I had to be impatient and use the simplest form of the spell. She stood as the door opened and Miss Hartford gave an impassioned glance her way. The Irishwoman remained in an 'at rest' stance until the woman gestured for her to enter. The dampened sound of her military issue boots clomping in gave no rise out of anyone inside.
"Glad to have you with us, Second Lieutenant," said Chief Delarose as Maeve took a seat across from him. Miss Carson motioned for the meeting to continue.
"Cute little spell," Earth Mother chuckled, "I didn't know you could listen through mirror reflections."
"Ye can, bu' I'll be half-blind fer the res' o' da day." Her words were strained as the concentration required for the spell left her dazed.
"Sir Wallace, you have yet to speak and as a noted expert on the Sidhe and "Fairies" you are one of the best sources on the matter," Earth Mother inquired while the rest turned their attention to the British Agent. He gave a nod to show his affirmation and the man set aside the cup of tea he was drinking.
"You have all met the infamous "Queen Yet To Come" and are well aware of some of our more 'interesting' visitors from last year," he said pushing his tea cup aside on its saucer.
"Lore on the Fivefold isn't exactly hard to come by," Circe said.
"No, but we aren't dealing with the Fivefold or even the Sidhe," Sir Wallace stated, "cousins maybe. Their nobility are incredibly tribal, and have stolen human children before."
"Aye, an' a noble only respons' ta overwhelming force," Maeve affirmed. "We 'av veteran's in da Special Forces who faced a rogue Fae once."
"Which means we need to add extra protections to prevent further Eldritch abominations," Carson agreed.
"Doesn't sound too dangerous," Delarose replied, "No more dangerous than whatever the Mythos foolery has sent us."
Maeve's eyes widened as she said, "Mythos corrupts whatever it touches. It drive's people mad. Da fae dun do dat, yer pet demoness, Sara absorb's souls ta live? Da fae take yer very self, all of it. Dey take it, and rip it out leavin' a loose husk. An' dat's the light bullocks!"
"Okay I'm sorry!" the Chief said and raised a hand to silence the woman. It had the exact opposite effect.
"Fae steal children an' infuse deir own blood intah. Imagine an entire race o' crazed bio-devisor's dat fucks witcha all cuz dey're board!" she snapped, "AND THAT'S DEIR LESSER NOBILITY!"
"MISS MAGUIRE!" rumbled Mrs. Carson.
"Apologies," the raven head said.
"Lesser Faerie's are a lot like typical spirits," nodded Earth Mother, "They require natural hallows or an energy source to survive in our world. But, even the weakest of em can easily kill someone if you get them angry."
"I can help ye create wards ta make it harder fer them ta spy on ye," Maeve stated.
"Okay," Mrs. Carson replied as everyone else at the table fell silent.
Chief Delarose rolled his eyes and rubbed his forehead before saying, "I believe I need to take my leave to begin all the wonderful paperwork I'm about to do."
"Wha's happenin?" Maeve asked.
"You wish to be here dear, it means you will need to pull your weight on campus," Circe said before standing and exiting the room as Chief Delarose did the same. The Irishwoman was surprised and only a little perplexed. Suddenly, they wanted her on campus, and for what? She had planned to wait around just outside the campus so she could take down the Dullahan as soon as she appeared. But now, what was she supposed to do?
"Wha does tat mean, zactly?" she asked.
Late Morning, November 23rd, 2007 - Doyle Hall
She was there again, floating in the dark place. Time and space melted and warped around her, crowds of stretched memories squeezing through the stream of her consciousness. Cold pierced her heart, and when she looked down she could see the splinter of darkness protruding from her core, the wound weeping shadow instead of blood.
Falling into a memory, she felt her mother tucking her into bed, warm fingers stroking her cheek. “And the moral of the story is,” she whispered as I fell asleep, “that the darkness was inside her all along.”
The memory scattered, leaving her alone in the void again but it had given her an idea. Concentrating, she searched for a particular memory, diving into the darker parts of the void, delving deep.
Alley-Oop was screaming, his incandescent form barely visible through the tinted forcefield that was absorbing his burnout. She kept adding layers and layers of protection around him, shrinking the inner ones as they lost cohesion under the onslaught. All that power had to go somewhere, there was too much to disperse back into the ether, so she diverted it into the world. Wind whirled around them as she energized the air, grass shrivelled and burned, the earth rumbled menacingly. She even ground some of it out through her own soul, desperately trying to control it before the explosion…
She felt her soul crack. Her eyes widened as a sensation of indescribable cold cut through her bones. The hungry cold lashed out through her body, drawing the world in as Oop reached critical mass and burst through the shields.
Time stopped. She was trapped in that moment, watching the moment she lost consciousness. Stepping outside of her body, her spirit wandered around the scene. Black tendrils leapt from her chest, gorging on Oop’s energy like lampreys around a carcass. The air glittered as ice crystals formed around her body, only to turn to steam as the heat from the explosion vaporized them, only to turn to ice again as they came close to the tendrils. Even light seemed to be drawn into her body, distorting and darkening the scene.
Something about the scene was horribly familiar but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
“Mom!” she heard a boy’s voice calling from somewhere in the distance.
As she searched for the voice, the shadow from her body moved, turning the memory inside out until the scene changed.
“Mom!” Fino called out on his hands and knees. I watched the boy I’d been reaching out for the door, feeling pity. I remembered how it had burned.
Blinking, the scene wasn’t how I remembered it. There was ice forming in the carpet and on his clothes, fibres snapping from the flash freeze.
Mom kicked the door down, splintering wood, a look of horror on her face as she entered. “Fino! Fino!”
I expected the memory to pause, but it didn’t. I watched in horror next to my mother as a shadow ripped its way from Fino’s hollow shell. My hollow shell.
“Mom!” the shadow called out in an eerie, feminine, cry. “Mom, what’s happening? What’s happening to me? Mom!”
Suddenly calm as ice, my mother took a step forward, her Strega outfit forming around her body. With a slash of a hand, she uttered a word that made the memory shudder and tear, bubbling like burning filmstock. The yawning, curling, portal opened beneath me and sucked me in.
I was being stuffed into a body that looked eerily like my mother, or maybe her younger sister. It was my body and my form was flowing into her mouth, I could feel myself seeping through the cracks in her teeth. Tiny tendrils sought out other entrances, slipping ethereally through her pupils, crawling down tear ducts, penetrating the nose and ears.
“Relax, darling,” Mom whispered into my new ear, “you won’t remember this.”
She was right, I didn’t remember it at all. I was clueless when the Bloodline captured Daphne and I. I raced through the memories of my incarceration on the flying fortress skipping over my shattered memories of the aftermath until I found a coherent fragment of consciousness.
I was floating again, this time in fluid. I could breathe in and out but it took more effort and my chest hurt. Outside the tube was a blur of light as two shadows argued. I could barely see but their words were crystal clear.
“If I am what you say I am…”
“No,” mother’s voice cut through Daphne’s protests. “There are too many variables for the Bloodline’s stupid faux serums to work reliably! Do you have any idea how many of the failed breeding girls I found in their protein vats? You’re lucky not to be sludge!”
“She saved me from becoming a fucking incubator for their bullshit experiments! DO IT FOR HER!”
My real eyes slowly opened as the shock kicked me out of my lucid dreaming state. I was strapped to a hospital bed, looking at two blurs having a conversation, my eyes refusing to adjust. The two conversations blurred together but I could tell I was on the edge of consciousness.
“Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve seen her?” Mom asked.
“It’s only been a month or two, Celes…”
“Not her,” Mom cut Dr. Otto off. “HER.”
There was a short pause. “She’s not the person you knew,” Otto said with a doctor’s controlled patience.
“I knew her inside and out before she was even born,” Mom hissed. “Donna’s right, you don’t understand, even with your wards and precautions you’re still too close to him.”
“I know, I’m doing everything I can. What about your daughter?”
“Well, apparently, I’ve done all I can. So all I can do is sit back, watch and promise to kill you if you screw up.”
He laughed. “Come on, Celeste, we both know you can do way better than just killing me. I promise, she’ll…” He paused. Both of them turned to look at me. “She’s awake.”
A moment later I wasn’t.
“No!” I lurched upright, clutching my breastbone where I was sure an icy spike was jutting out of me. Looking down, my heart racing, I saw nothing but a pristine hospital gown. I was freezing cold, so I hugged myself and tried to breathe through my palpitations.
“Well, that was dramatic,” Haruko commented from where she was leaning against a bench.
Stheno put her book down. “What do you expect, she’s been unconscious!” She leant forward and smiled. “Glad to have you back with us, even if you scared us half to death.”
Once I calmed down a little, I managed to gasp. “Where’s Mom?”
“Strega? She’s not here,” Haruko answered, shrugging. “Dr. Otto’s been checking on you. He had to go take care of something else for a bit.”
“Something wrong?” Stheno asked, getting up to stand by my bed. “You’re sweating bad.”
“Nightmares,” I answered. “Why isn’t my Mom here? If she knew I was in trouble, she’d be here.”
“She was here,” Dr. Otto answered as the automatic door opened and he stepped into the room with a purpose. It hissed shut behind him as he walked over to the bed, gently guided Stheno out of the way, then began to take Fina’s temperature and pulse. “The Headmistress has forbidden her from interfering with your schooling. Allowances were made and she’s staying on school grounds but she’s forbidden to have contact with you. You know your mother and the Headmistress have history, don’t you?”
I snorted. “I believe the word ‘nemesis’ comes up a lot.”
“You’re cold but your pulse is returning to normal,” he noted. “Try to keep warm. Did something happen?”
“Bad dreams,” I answered, not sure if what I’d seen was real or just my fevered imagination.
He frowned. “Girls, can you give us a minute please. Patient confidentiality, you know.”
They nodded and walked out, promising to wait outside. Once the door was closed, Otto turned back to me. “May I ask what the dreams were about?”
“I barely remember,” I lied.
He walked over to a tap and poured me a glass of water, placing it on the table next to the bed. “Please try.”
Instead, I stared at the glass of water. “Why did you pour me that?”
“You looked thirsty,” he answered.
I looked myself over. “How long have I been here?”
“Then why aren’t I on a catheter?”
“You were,” he lied smoothly, “we took you off today when your brain activity changed and called your friends to come visit.”
We glared at each other for a long moment. “You’re a good liar,” I complimented him. “So are you,” he returned it, “but I thought we had trust.”
I cocked my head to one side. “It’s not like you to push,” I observed, “you usually wait until I’m ready to tell you, doctor. This is bad practice.”
“We don’t have the luxury of patience right now, Fina,” he said, smiling. “While you were asleep, we found and recovered Sara Waite. She disappeared before you came to Whateley…”
“I’ve read her file.”
“Right, you’re your mother’s daughter after all. Oop forced her to make him into an Exemplar using mythos magic, that’s why he burned out. You were closest to the fallout, so if you’re experiencing side effects they could be important.”
“How do you tell the difference between mythos influence and garden variety trauma?” I asked, leaning back into the pillows.
He smirked. “You don’t until you start growing tentacles.”
I blinked, shocked. “Sir, are you all right?”
“I’m fantastic,” he answered, a manic glint in his eye. “I know we’ve played nice so far, Fina, but when it comes to mythos taint the gloves come off. Your mother will kill me if anything happens to you on my watch, so tell me about your dreams.”
I had to gulp because my mouth was dry. Otto had an intensity about him that he hadn’t possessed before. “Cold,” I admitted to him. “I dreamt about something cold eating me from the inside out. I saw flashes of memories or hallucinations about my manifestation, things I couldn’t know or remember.”
His eyes narrowed a moment before he relaxed, sitting on the chair next to her bed and smiling again. “Well, it’s not as bad as I was dreading. This cold feeling started when you were manipulating the energy of Alley-Oop’s burnout?”
“Yes, I was bleeding the energy out through every medium I could think of and I broke through to… Something. I don’t understand what happened. I need to talk to my mother.”
“She signed a formal binding magical agreement with Headmistress Carson,” he groaned, “she can’t unless the Headmistress nullifies it, which she refuses to do. You’ll have to wait for Parent’s Day unless I can get her to talk to me. Until then, I’d say it’s possible that your mutant abilities have been misdiagnosed, I’ll consult the magic department and organize some specialized tests. Until then, rest, I’ll send your friends back in.”
I interrupted him before he could leave. “So, wait, this isn’t mythos taint?”
The door opened automatically in front of him but he paused to grin at her. “No, it’s not mythos taint, you don’t have to worry about that. From the residual aura I’ve seen, something that feeds off of magical energy was attracted to Oop’s burnout. Its feeding probably saved you and the quad, though it also damaged your aura. We’ll know more as soon as we get those tests done.”
He nodded to the girls on his way out, letting them come back in. “What did he say?” Stheno asked once the door was closed again.
“That something helped me divert Oop’s burnout and damaged my aura in the process,” I murmured. “It’s plausible, but I don’t know. I would have seen or felt the presence of a spirit of that magnitude. Other people would have seen it too and there’d be traces of where it went.”
“Well, hopefully they find something,” Haruko muttered darkly. “I don’t trust Dr. Otto. There’s something really familiar about him that I can’t quite place. And he’s in league with the Headmistress and your mother AND he’s running his own agenda with this Sara Waite character, a fucking demon princess! I’m telling you, Envy, watch your back.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” I told her, “my mother drilled that into me my whole life. I’m more worried about Scald-Crow.”
Stheno giggled. “You’ve really got it bad for her, huh?”
I glared at her. “She’s already in a fragile state and now she’s seen someone explode in front of her! Tell her I want to talk, for me, please?”
Haruko growled, then sighed. “All right, as a favour to a bad seed. Come on, Stheno, let’s let the infatuated princess sleep.”
Stheno waved goodbye on her way out while Haruko stalked out of the room muttering something about not being anyone’s errand girl. I laid back in my bed and closed my eyes, feeling the splinter of ice in my heart.
Just After Dinner, November 24th, 2007 - Poe Cottage
"You can either mope or you can go talk to her," Sophia told me from my bed. The young Rowdy had been dragged here by myself and Lexi after we learned during dinner that Envy was finally out of Doyle. It was a week since the "Overdog" incident everyone was calling it or the "Oopsplosion" by the Underdogs. Since then a lot of things had happened. Thanksgiving had luckily been anti-climatic for both me and Sophia. We caught a train out of Boston under the eyes of a tall african DPA Agent by the name of Fanouz and met our parents at the Seattle Train Station. If anything having a nice quiet jovial dinner on Lummi was the best, and after hearing about my first month my mom was unsure if I should return.
"A kid exploded, and you were attacked by Cheerleaders?" she had exclaimed at me. I shook my head remembering the mixture of frustration and more flashing across her face at the time. I think it's the antics of my classmates that are keeping me sane. Let's see, there's Gwen, the cute Sidhe girl who seems to always exist in a cloud of green haired pixies. Morgan said she's some kind of "genetic resurrection" or weird like that. Well, I haven't mentioned her before, but she has been at the Underdog tables on and off, and is the only "Aelf" my spirit can apparently stomach. All in a day news had spread of two new training teams, one named Shenanigans ran by one of the Imp's fan club and another by Absinthe and her boyfriend.
Back to the present, and I'm still wondering what Sophia said to Miss Horton to let her in on Poe's secret. I mean it's not like my friend is an idiot, just because she isn't LGBT doesn't mean she isn't sympathetic. The girl has had her share of bullshit and racism tossed her way so if there's anyone I can trust it's my best friend. I mean it, right? And, I think by being away for a few days we missed the rest of whatever was happening at school over the break. Returning Saturday afternoon both of us were lucky to not look completely frumpled as we walked back into Crystal Hall to our now usual spot at the Underdog Table. A few new additions also joined us including Sophia's roommate.
"I'm not ready," I deflected her statement as she was pressing me to ask Fina out. Yes, I, the great Scald-Crow, future hero of the ages is going to sweep the fair Seraphina Sofia Valocco off her feet! "Stop kiddin yerself lass, ye ere scared an' tat's foine." Morgan's words caused me to pause as I reassured myself.
"Then just knock on her door," Haruko pointed out from the hallway. How in the world the Bad Seed was in on the infamous Poe Secret was beyond me. All she told us as we walked in was that she "almost was" in Poe.
"Yer messin wit me eren't ye?" I asked cautiously.
"Naw...I do it all the time, Gráinne-chan," she chuckled as the girl stood up and yawned.
"How did you get in here anyway?" I asked.
"I'm sapiosexual," Haruko replied, causing both me and Sophia to eye her questioningly.
"Means, I'm attracted to skill and intelligence," she shook her head with a smile, "I could have been in Poe with Aurora, but I prefer being a Rowdy."
Haruko gently sat down beside Lexi on Shipwright's bed and undid her eyepatch. The skin underneath the patch was unmarred and appeared fine. I leaned in a little curious what in the world she was hiding. That's when her patched eye snapped open revealing a pale purple sclera ringed around a glowing purple puil. Haruko's eye was unfocused for a second after its reveal, but she easily seemed to adapt to having the patch off.
"What's up wit yer eye?" I asked and earned a slap to the back of my head from Sophia, "Hey!"
"Rude ass hoe!" she scolded me as Haruko chuckled.
"My mother is Kumiho, she's a Foxwife, think Korean Kitsune, only scarier," the asian woman smiled.
"Sa, wha does that hav ta do wit yer GSD?" I asked her.
"This?" she jabbed a thumb at her eye, "Nah, this isn't a GSD. I was born with this, it's a Foxwife's eye."
"Cooool." I leaned in to get a look before she poked me right between the eyes. "Hey!"
"Rude to stare," Haruko chuffed as she turned her gaze right to Sophia.
"So - Matt asked me out," Sophia said as if the two had been practicing for the announcement.
"Wait, so Haruko's not your secret Yakuza lover?" I heard Lexi quip from beside the Bad Seed.
"Nope, Kitty's roommate Persephone started dating Errol," she smiled before saying, "one thing led to another and Matt asked me out."
"Wai...which one's Matt an' which one's Errol?" I asked carefully.
"Geeze Gráinne, your not good at remembering names are you?" Sophia scoffed.
"HEY! I remember all the names from people in Wind Waker!" I countered.
"This is real life Gráinne, not a fucking Zelda game," Sophia replied while pinching the bridge of her nose.
"Yer just mad I can beat it faster than you," I smiled at her.
"Fuck that you damn weeb, I can kick your ass at speed runs anytime I want!" she growled.
"You are both terrible newbs," Haruko smiled, "It's all about Fallout 3."
"What?" I asked, confused.
"Kami..." the girl sighed before pointing directly at me, "Envy is protective of you, Anime logic says that means she likes you."
"Well...I mean we are friends," I started.
"Friends! YOU BERSERKED on someone," Sophia exclaimed.
"Plus, you can't keep your eyes off her thighs," Lexi added.
"Stop ganging up on me," I whined.
"NO!" they all chorused with laughter at me.
Our conversation devolved from there. We were all done with dinner, and all I could do at this point is wait for the evening to reach a point for us all to file out and go to sleep. I stared at my hands as I heard Sophia begin to attempt to get her roomie to leave with her. My eyes glanced at the time on my gizmatic and I blanched at seeing it was nearly 8:30. Didn't Miss Horton do a bed check with the RAs? For a moment I decide to just scan my phone as I sit there as Sophia steps over and gives me a hug.
"What are you looking at?" Sophia inquired.
"Oh," I hand over the phone and show a picture of me and my sister, a selfie I took before leaving. It's hard to describe, but Sloan being about a head shorter than me rests against my taller body and is giving her classic standing bitch face. Me, I'm smiling like an idiot flashing my pearly whites.
"You two are so damn dorky," she said to me before offering me a bone crushing hug.
"Go talk to her," she offered as I gave a small nod. "Seriously Gráinne, she told you she was gay, and in the same boat as you. Plus, she's gotten your back more than a few times.
Another nod, and I let out a loud demonstrative sigh. The angina threatening to build in my chest explodes and ended my sigh with a huff.
"Foine," my reply comes out hoarse as I fight back confusing emotions. I'd been here for less than a month and I already had a soul crushing crush on the daughter of an A-List Villain. Yeah, the Strega, a woman who had taken entire cities hostage to find her daughter. Not even Haruko's dad, a Yakuza Oyabun, was nearly as dangerous as the mom whose daughter I wanted to ask out to coffee. I make Fina cry. I end up inside out and dying in agony. This was more pain than waiting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I still was smarting over Snape killing Dumbledore.
"I'm leaving, Lexi will tell me if you bitched out," Sophia chided me as Haruko leaned against her friend, a shining steel bodken over her shoulder.
"Dammit Haru-chan!" Sophia growled, "What did I tell you about arming yourself at random?"
"Don't do it, and I don't care?" the Bad Seed chirped as she began to lead her friend out.
"She be right, me heart, yiz chance ta experience new tings is nae sometin ye should giv up." Morgan encouraged me with bold words, and her telepathic voice rang with compassionate ardor.
"K," I spat out the word and hugged myself tightly. Sophia offered me a smile as she walked out the door and I followed after her. Second Floor hallway was almost completely abandoned minus a few doors open for girls heading for late night bathroom visits and I was sure I saw our RA's open as well. Not wanting to confront anyone at the moment I glided down the hall till I came to rest a few doors down. A door opened not far away from me and a girl I'd seen sitting with Haruko a few times stepped out and stretched before her eyes met mine. The best way to describe her was from her hair down she appeared to be an average slightly tanned latina or a girl of italian descent. A pair of slitted yellow eyes followed my moments as the pile of diamondback colored snakes making up her hair all turned to face me.
"Hey Gráinne," Stheno waved to me. I'd only met her in passing, but she was a nice kid. From what I knew a friend of Envy's and one of the few girls almost sent to Hawthorne for sometimes her "snakes" bit those threatening her.
"Hey Aurora," I said as she passed me and quirked an eyebrow.
"Gonna finally ask her out?" she turned around and said to my back.
"Does everyone know about us?" I sighed and asked.
"Duh, if we didn't have Kimba in this place you'd be one of the biggest subjects," she laughed and crossed her arms, "hell Fina talks about you enough as is."
"She does?" I whirled around.
"Yeah, well, for her." She rubbed her forehead and added, "Just, be patient with her. I've only known Fina since we both met at the start of School, but she's been through a lot."
"I..read about Paris and she mentioned her mother." I shot a glance to the door and then brought my eyes back to meet Aurora's gaze.
"Good. I hate to say it, but from what I've gathered....there's something off between you two. I can't really explain it, but it's almost like fate's wrapping its talons around you both," the snake-haired girl said.
"Huh," I replied and watched as she offered me a smile before making a quick exit.
“Da wyrd does seem ta follow ye bot.” Morgan commented. “Bound by the Wyching tree, and the "Way".”
"The Way?" I whispered aloud curiously.
"Some call it the Tao, I be boun ta Fate as par’ of me Pact-Domain."
"Thanks for being cryptic again, Obiwan," I sighed.
"Yer welcome Anakin, now go ge' Padme."
"She's not really Padme...." I blushed.
"She believes in aggressive diplomacy, she's Padme."
I shook my head in reaction to my spirit's new fixation with Star Wars. The door loomed in front of me. Finding my foot I planted my feet to start the build of my confidence. Drawing up upon all of my anxiety I shifted my shoulders so my head was held high and let it roll off my back. Water off a duck's back, I've heard. Once that was done, I inhaled and breathed out slow. I was going to get a handle on this and I was not going to run away. Not a word was said in the hallway around me as I glanced to my right and then down toward the RA's room. Her door was closed and I smiled, good no interference.
My right palm came to rest against the door as I thought about what I was going to say. I mean, this was a quick "would you go out to coffee with me", kind of situation. Of course, fear threatened to grasp my legs and yank me back into my room like it had all week. This wasn't the first time nor was it going to be the last. Envy was the girl who had shown me around school on my first day here, and then abruptly left me waiting in front of my door. From that day I'd easily found her presence to be soothing to my rage and a balm to my sorrow. Call me a cheesy poet, but that Italian lass inspired me to think and to improve myself.
I drew back my hand and made a fist and held it an inch away from the door. More thoughts dripped from the recesses of my subconscious making me question what I was about to do. For a moment I again thought about walking back and waiting another night. Logically, I could fight through all my anxiety to ask one question. If I could stand up to Gravmax and others I could do this!
KNOCK - KNOCK. My right hand struck the surface of Fina's door loud enough to result in the sound of movement reaching my ears. I let it echo around me as there were some hushed voices as the door opened. Immediately, I heard Evanescence playing in the background as a black haired head popped her face out. It was Fina, and I could tell her ordeal from Doyle was still straining her. Her face lit up for a moment and then she schooled her features. I stared into her eyes and a goofy smile came over my face.
"Hey." My words refused to go beyond a basic greeting.
"Hey," she showed her strain in her voice.
"Did I wake you?" I asked finally.
"No." Fina licked her lips and kept her features in a solemn expression, but I could tell something was hiding in the depths of her eyes.
"So um...youbeensoamazingtomesinceIcamehere," my words came out in a rush.
"Scald - one word at a time," she held her hand up to warn me to slow down.
"Yessum," I took a deep breath and asked, "Serafina Sophia Valocco...would you like to grab a coffee sometime?"
"Hmmm let me think about it," she closed the door as my fear jumped ten fold. It wasn't a slam, but it was a definitive close of the door.
"She's playing coy ye fool!"
"I...I know that!" I muttered.
"Shar ye did there lass. Shar ye did."
The creaking of the door opening signalled Envy stepping out in a pair of black pajama shorts and a silken tank top. The shorts were covered in small cute skulls covered in black ribbons, and the shirt had a large strange entity dubbed as "Cathulu" on it. It was a cat with a squid face...cute and yet -very- disturbing, it was perfect for her.
"Okay." She said and crossed her arms behind her back and looked at me like a cat who ate the canary.
"Okay...is um," I tried to get the words out. "Is tomorrow okay? Maybe round 3ish?"
"Sure...just meet me here and we'll walk there," she replied before offering me a smile and closing the door behind her.
I stood there in complete silence staring at her door before I silently slipped my gizmatic phone from my back pocket. My fingers flew over the screen as I typed out a quick text to Sophia.
Gráinne: I DID IT I ASKED HER TO COFFEE! SO SUCK IT!
Sophia: Congratulations SuperGirl, you got the girl.
After receiving her text I did a little jump in the air and turned to skip back to my room. I had therapy and a coffee date to look forward to. Fuck all the shit that's happened so far, I was going to have at least one awesome day at Whateley Academy.
To Be Continued