Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior (Ch 2)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior
Chapter 2 - Hetkala
Monday, March 19, 2007, late afternoon
Clouds roiled in the sky, blotting out the sun and casting the landscape into darkened shadows, while the same wind that stirred the cauldron of gray overhead blew hard on the ground, scattering lifeless and dried leaves from the few trees near a small river. I braced myself against the cool breeze, turning my face to the side to avoid at least part of the chilling wind, and stepped cautiously down the path toward the banks of the river. For some reason, it seemed important that I come to this spot.
"Wakan Tanka!" I cried, but my mentor didn't appear. "Wakan Tanka!"
Cautiously, I walked along the bank of the river, my eyes peeled for anything unusual. I felt the spirit of the air moving, disturbed and angry, but the earth spirit was calm, only telling me of my own presence. Nearby, the water spirit was silent, offering not a clue as to its presence.
"Tatanka!" I called out, but the white bison didn't answer, nor did he appear.
Something disturbed the water spirit, something that I wasn't familiar with, and I turned to the river in time to see a part of the wind-rippled surface explode in a boiling frenzy. I stood, enraptured by the strange spectacle, while something began to emerge from the bubbling waters.
I backed up in horror when I saw the creature clawing its way from the deep, its black, panther-like claws tearing at the water surface, while its eyes focused intently on me. The cat-like face snarled, baring its sharp teeth. Behind the creature's head, a body slowly emerged, a sleek, wet black fur-covered body with a row of reptilian spines down its back. Behind the body, something flicked hard, disturbing the water from below, and the scaly, snake-like tail with its copper-covered daggers momentarily broke the surface as it swished powerfully back and forth, helping propel the creature through the once-peaceful water.
I began to back from the water's edge, my eyes riveted on the monstrous spectacle coming slowly through the water toward me. I knew from experience that it could move much faster than it was currently moving; it seemed to be silently stalking me, even though I was staring right at it.
The creature's eyes, never wavering from me, burned with the fire of an insane rage, while it hissed as the roiling of the river's surface stopped and the creature began to glide through the suddenly-still water, making a noise something between a low cat's growl and the hissing of a serpent.
"Wakan Tanka!" I cried again, but still my mentor didn't answer, nor did Tatanka when I summoned him. Still focusing on the Mishibijiw coming toward me, I reached for my knife, Wakan Mila, but when I came up empty-handed, I panicked and looked down. Even the sheath of my magic knife was missing from my belt.
"Tatanka!" I cried again, more desperately this time.
The Mishibijiw began to stalk gracefully up the bank of the river, still staring intently at me. My backward steps became quicker, until I turned to bolt from the scene, only to freeze at the sight confronting me.
A second Mishibijiw stood in the path I'd trod only moments before, and as I watched, horror-stricken, it split into two water panthers, who separated to either side of the patht. With the one that had come out of the water, I was neatly trapped in the center of a triangle.
"Mishibijiw," I cried as I turned around in a circle, looking at all three creatures as they slunk closer and closer, "I am not your enemy!"
"You killed our brother," the wet Mishibijiw closest to the river hissed.
"No!" I cried out, still slowly turning. "Something touched it, and made it evil and insane!"
"You killed our brother," the three cats hissed in unison.
"Tatanka! Help!" I cried again desperately, to no avail.
As the cats neared, I cast my shield spell, because I knew how quickly they could move, and I couldn't see all of them at once. The shield was just in time, as one of the tails smashed into the shield, sending me flying to bounce off the trunk of a large tree. Dazed, I looked to run, but the Mishibijiw had moved, keeping me centered in their trap. Again, a tail lashed out, and I tried to dodge it, but it was too quick, and I was dashed against an outcropping of rock. My magic shield took most of the blow, but I felt some come through to my back.
"Tatanka! Help!" I cried once more, knowing that I was powerless against three of the water panthers without help. Still, my companion spirit didn't answer, nor did he appear.
The three cats closed in on me slowly, in perfect unison. "You killed our brother!" the all hissed.
"No," I protested, trying frantically to reason with the killers. "The spawn of Unhcegila drove it insane, until it attacked me without reason!"
"It was YOU who killed our brother! And now you will pay for that transgression!" The cats continued to close on me, easily moving to cut me off when I tried to dash through a gap between two of them. I got the impression that they were toying with me like a cat plays with a mouse - and I was cast in the role of the mouse.
I bolted upright from where my head was resting on an open book, sweating heavily and looking around to reorient myself. Frantic gasping for breath slowed as reality came back to me. I was sitting at my desk in my room in Poe Cottage. I'd been studying, and had been quite exhausted. I must have fallen asleep, which meant that my experience was probably a nightmare.
But why? Why a battle with Mishibijiw, and why wouldn't my spirits help me?
I breathed a sigh of relief when I felt Ptesanwi's spirit in me, but then I panicked when I couldn't sense Tatanka's. Why was my buffalo spirit gone, and to where?
A scream in the hallway disrupted my thinking, muffled as it was by my closed door. Scrambling, I yanked the door open, just in time to see Sharisha and Vox tearing down the hall, still screaming, pursued by Tatanka.
"Beltane!" Vox screamed aloud as she ran.
I ducked back into my room, closing the door behind me, and calling to Tatanka to return. Instantly, I felt his spirit back inside me. I was curious to look in the hallway, to see what Tatanka had done, but I chickened out, returning instead to my desk to hide myself in my school work. As long as some of the girls thought it was Beltane pranking them again, I was temporarily safe from retribution or anger. Temporarily. Eventually, everyone would talk, exchange notes that it was _my_ buffalo, and then I'd be in trouble - either with my cottage-mates, or worse, with security and the administration for not controlling my manifested Tatanka. But I knew I had to ask what Tatanka had done, and why.
The breeze gently brushed my skin, and the sun's rays warmed my cheeks as I stood in the mountain meadow. "Tatanka!" I called to him.
The big white bison lumbered slowly out of the trees, shambling my way. It was almost as if he sensed that I was a little unhappy. "Yes, Wihakayda?" he asked as he approached me.
"I have a question." I sat down, gesturing for him to lie beside me. "When I woke from my nap, you were manifested. Why?"
Tatanka looked at me. "I sensed danger, and I came to the real world to protect you."
"I was having a nightmare!" I told the white bison. "It wasn't real!'
The bison lowered his head, looking ashamed. "I couldn't tell." Then he looked defiantly at me. "I couldn't take a chance, so I came to protect you."
"What did you do?"
"I chased off the Mishibijiw."
"They weren't real! It was a nightmare!" Oh crap, I was really in trouble with this - if my dreams and nightmares caused Tatanka to manifest.
"They were real to your mind," Tatanka replied. "I had my duty to protect you."
I gasped in surprise. "Those were my cottage-mates!" I buried my face in my hands. "Oh, crap! How am I going explain _this_ one? I'm gonna get in in _deep_ trouble!"
"You are awfully quiet this evening," Vasiliy noted between bites, staring at me with his lava-colored eyes.
"Long day," I acknowledged tersely. "And it's not over."
"Oh?" Adrian asked just before he shoved the last bite of a burger in his mouth.
"Yeah. I've got an evening French class for my language requirement," I groaned.
"They give you four years to get two years of language. Aren't they pushing you a little hard?" Laurie asked the obvious question.
"That's what I said, but Mrs. Hawkins wouldn't budget, and I can't get an appointment with the administration until Wednesday at the earliest," I added bitterly. "And it's three, since technically, I'm a sophomore - if I can ever get anyone to actually look at my transcripts! I swear they're trying to push me out of this place."
"Don't let the bastards win," Evvie replied, trying to encourage me.
"Yeah," Naomi added. "There are too many of us students to keep track of individually."
"Except the ones who have problems with security every single day," I countered with a scowl.
"Don't try to do everything in one day," Laurie advised, trying to keep me looking at things more positively. "How long did they give you to get caught up?"
"There you go! Use your week. Don't try to kill yourself trying to do it sooner."
"But you don't understand!" I protested, fighting fatigue and a bit of homesickness. "I'm ... I feel like an idiot in my classes. I'm so far behind, and all the other students look at me like I'm stupid when I have to ask a question over stuff they've already covered!" Words alone couldn't express my frustration. I'd been the smart one in all my classes up to that point. Now, I felt below average. It really hit at my sense of self-worth.
"You know you're not dumb," Evvie countered sharply.
"What the hell was I thinking?" I moaned softly. "I should have never come here!"
Evvie and Naomi exchanged glances. "Okay, Kayda," Evvie said in a motherly tone, "what happened?"
I knew they'd figure out something was wrong, sooner or later. "I almost got in trouble with security again. Someone used an illusion or something to make me think I was following Cascade back from electronics class, and I ended up alone and lost in the tunnels."
Evvie's and Naomi's eyes widened at her revelation. "So ... then what?"
"I managed to find a security guard at some restricted lab, and when he recognized me, he called for backup. They sent four armed guards to take me back to Kane to meet with Chief Delarose. Four!" I looked down, embarrassed by how I'd been treated like a I was a serious threat.
"Security does everything in teams of two or four. It's standard operating procedure," Laurie said to soothe my embarrassment. She knew, somehow, that the presence of four officers had made me feel like a criminal, like security viewed me as a dangerous trouble-maker where significant force might be required. Which they probably did.
"Chief Delarose read me the riot act about being alone and violating my restrictions, but after Mr. Geintz did his psychic voodoo, they realized that I was telling the truth, and they had Emily escort me back to Poe." I leaned my head into my hands, my thumbs and my interlaced fingers forming a triangle to cradle my face. "This was all a big mistake," I said again, shaking my head slowly. "Security doesn't trust me, Mrs. Carson doesn't trust me, Dr. Bellows doesn't ...." I lifted my head suddenly, my mouth agape and a completely shocked expression on my face. "Oh, crap!" I exclaimed sharply. "I missed my appointment!"
"With Dr. Bellows!" I cried, leaping to my feet, instantly despairing the consequences that I'd been warned of if I missed my appointments. "They're going to kick me out now! Oh, shit, shit, shit!" I dashed from the cafeteria, panic-stricken. Maybe, just maybe, he was still in his office, working late, and I could get my daily meeting before I got in even more trouble. Maybe. It wasn't much, but it was the only thing I could hope for.
Laurie caught up to me as I stood waiting anxiously at the elevator, staring at the closed doors and muttering oaths at them to speed up. "Kayda, what's wrong?"
"I _have_ to meet with Dr. Bellows! It's one of the conditions they set up. If I don't see him every day, they're going to kick me out!" The elevator door slowly opened as the chime sounded, unnecessarily alerting me that a car was there.
"Kayda, you're not making any sense. Who's going to kick you out, and for what?" Laurie got in the elevator with me as I frantically pushed the button for his floor, and then with equal vigor pushed the 'door close' button, as if the urgency I felt could be communicated to the controls and somehow make the elevator move faster.
I didn't answer; I'd already told Laurie too much. Instead, I just looked down, avoiding her concerned look. When the elevator stopped and the door opened, I rushed out and down the hall to Dr. Bellows' office.
As I'd feared, the door was closed and the lights were off. I tugged once at the door futilely, as if my wishing it to open would make it magically open and Dr. Bellows magically appear. I turned, my back to the door, and slowly sank down to the floor, my heart sinking with it. I started to cry, burying my face in my hands as I wept aloud. "I'm so screwed!" I muttered between sobs.
Laurie stooped down beside me, her hand resting on my shoulder in an attempt to comfort me. "It'll be okay, Kayda," she offered. "I'm sure they're used to students missing appointments."
"You don't understand," I stammered. "I'm .... I'm on a ... special ... program, kind of ... probation."
"For what? You aren't a criminal, are you? Did you do something before you came here?" Laurie's voice was suddenly tinged with a bit of doubt and fear, not knowing why I'd used the term probation.
"No," I managed to blubber. "Oh, God! I'm so screwed! They're going to move me to Hawthorne, or kick me out now!"
"Wait a sec. A few minutes ago, you were complaining that you _should_ go home. Now you're afraid they're going to kick you out? You're not making any sense."
I couldn't even laugh at the absurdity of my oxymoronic comments. I was in real deep yogurt. "I ... I don't know what I want!" I cried. "I lost everything. Everything! But Debra promised me that this place would be different, that I'd like it here. And even that's a lie! I don't have anything anymore!"
"It can't be that bad," Laurie tried to reassure me, unsuccessfully.
"When I manifested, I got driven out of my hometown. My friends, my school, my family, my home and hobbies - everything! My old friends tried to kill me! And ...." I couldn't go on, but instead started bawling into my hands and wondering if the brutal memories would ever stop so that I'd feel like a normal person.
I didn't have to. Laurie figured out what I meant in milliseconds. "Oh, Kayda!" she said as she sat beside me and clutched me to her shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
"Dr. Bellows and Louis Geintz said that I have some stress trauma thing, and when the memories of ... that night came back to me, I ... had a bad panic attack." Laurie didn't say anything, but just held me tight and let me cry. "They put me in the hospital for a while, and now, they're afraid of me not being able to handle the stress and memories. That's why Dr. Bellows put me on ... on a suicide watch," I confessed. "That's why I'm supposed to meet him every day. That's why they I have to have an escort all the time." I straightened myself and wiped at my tear-streaked face. "Now they're going to kick me out because I missed the meeting today and they don't trust me and ...."
"No, they won't, Kayda. Not for missing one appointment."
"You don't get it, do you? I've had some kind of security thing every day since I got here, and the administration and security don't like me." I let my forehead tilt forward to rest on my arms atop my knees. "All I do is piss people off." I exhaled heavily and slowly. "Go back and finish your dinner. Adrian is probably worried about you."
"I can't leave ..."
"It doesn't fucking matter anymore. Don't you get it? It doesn't fucking matter! Security will be by sooner or later. Just ... go!" I'd driven myself right back into my deep funk, and I wanted to wallow in my misery. I was convinced that the world sucked, no-one else cared, and somehow, I deserved the crap I'd had dumped on me.
"No," Laurie replied firmly. "I'm not going to go. I'm not going to let you get in trouble with security just because you've had a bad day." She stood up, grasped my arm, and tugged to pull me up. "Get up. We're going to get you cleaned up, and then we're going back to the caf so you can finish your dinner."
"But," I stammered as I grudgingly cooperated, "what will everyone think?"
"No one else will give a shit," Laurie chided me. "Everyone has his or her own problems without spending all their time worrying about you. They won't notice. Now get your head on straight, and we're going to pretend that nothing happened at all when we go back. Okay?" When I didn't answer, or even make a motion, she put her hands on my cheeks and turned me so I was looking at her eye-to-eye. "Okay?"
I nodded slowly, not sure that I believed her. "Okay."
Laurie was right; very few people noticed when I came back into Crystal Hall, even after a delay for her to help me clean up, wait for a little of the redness and puffiness in my eyes to fade, and redo my makeup. She was also right to call me on giving mixed signals. Did I really wish I hadn't come to Whateley, or did I really hope I didn't get kicked out or in more trouble? It couldn't be both, but I didn't know which it was.
Back in our room, Evvie and I talked at length about that very dichotomy, with Naomi silently cuddled with Evvie. Even that troubled me; if I was in Sioux Falls, I could be cuddled with Debra. What did I really want? To be honest, I didn't know exactly, except some sense of normalcy and stability, which, so far, Whateley had given me none of. In fact, I hadn't had any sense of normalcy since the day I manifested - how long ago was that? It seemed like a lifetime.
Part of what bothered me was that I really missed my family, and I desperately longed to be with Debra. In the preceding three weeks, the only time I'd felt anything approaching any sense of self-worth had been when I was with her. I desperately missed her warm, accepting, loving hugs. Past the emotions, though, I knew that it would be dangerous for me to go home to my family, so I needed to feel welcome here at the special school for mutants. And so far, Whateley had let me down on that count. The school had between five and six times as many students as my old school, so I felt a bit overwhelmed. There were some nice people I'd met and friendships were starting to form, but I still felt like I was an outsider. Never in my life had I lagged in classes; in fact, most of my life, my work was done a week or two ahead! At Whateley, though, at that moment, I felt like I was over my head, with both the class load and being so far behind. Lots of kids had awesome powers, so I felt like an underdog. I was a changeling, so I felt out-of-place with girls who'd been born as girls. I felt like I didn't belong anywhere.
The part that Evvie couldn't understand, though, was how I felt about the classes, because she was from a large city with well-funded schools and a broad diversity of offered courses. When I'd looked through the non-public website for information about Whateley, I found a veritable smorgasbord of very interesting classes, like advanced micro-machining, genetics, and dozens of other subjects that my old school would _never_ have had the resources to offer. It was like putting a gourmet spread in front of a hungry man, and then telling him he could only have bread and water. All of those fun classes had prerequisites, which I couldn't take because I was locked into a stupid schedule with classes I didn't need. The jewel of new knowledge was just beyond my fingertips, and it hurt to feel like the wonderful opportunities were being kept from me.
I had to interrupt my 'therapy session' with Evvie, Naomi, and Laurie to run to French class, and when that was over, it was late enough, and I was emotionally exhausted enough, that I decided to get ready for bed. As I was brushing my teeth, I could see two girls in the shower, using the 'special feature'. One of them finished about the time I was done at the sink, and she practically oozed out of the shower, her eyes distant and unfocused, her legs a little wobbly, and she was grinning broadly. "Hi, Kayda," she greeted me, almost purring, a silly, contented smile stuck on her face.
For a moment, I wondered if using that 'special feature' would help me relax from my self-induced stress, but then I caught myself entertaining those thoughts, and I banished them from my head with extreme prejudice, terrified of what I realized I was thinking. Using _that_ feature would be admitting that I was sexually, completely a girl.
Then I thought of Debra, of some of the things we'd done while cuddling in my dream-world. Was that so different? I'd masturbated as a guy, but not as a girl. I'd had sex as a guy, too, but never in the real-world as a girl. I strolled to my room, absently thinking of the way I'd felt, at least in dream space, when Debra and I had been together, and comparing it to what I'd seen in the showers moments ago. Would it be so different, I asked myself. Would it be so awful?
I realized that I had to do _something_ to relax, because I was getting overstressed. Laurie could see it, Evvie could see it, Naomi could see it - probably even people I didn't know could see how wound up I was.
Shit. What should I do? I figured that using the shower would be a great release, but I was terrified of doing anything that would reek of me admitting that I was a girl, fully, sexually, and completely. I was afraid that I might like it too much, or that I'd forget what I had been. I wasn't sure, despite what Wakan Tanka thought about me accepting being a girl. Parts of the change were okay, but the unknown parts were still extremely intimidating and frightening.
"You look like you're still pretty tense," Evvie noted as I put my toiletries up. "Why don't you go take a shower? I find that a nice warm ... shower ... really helps my troubles melt away."
Fate? It didn't seem to be coincidental that there were so many nudges toward doing something that I'd avoided like the plague. "Uh, no," I begged off. "I'm tired."
Evvie shook her head with a little smile. "Then why do I get the feeling that you're highly embarrassed? Unless ...." She goggled at me. "You _were_ thinking of taking a shower!"
"No, I wasn't!" I protested strongly.
"Yeah, right. If you weren't, then why are you blushing?"
"Please leave me alone." I suddenly felt like crying again, humiliated at being caught thinking of using the Hydroflux.
Evvie sensed my distress, and instead of continuing her teasing, she leaped up and hugged me. "I'm sorry. I just ... can't imagine what it's like for you. If you'd have been born a girl, you would have tried already. I didn't mean to embarrass you."
"Evvie, I'm scared," I confessed softly as she continued to hug me.
"That ... that ... I don't know _what_ I am anymore. I'm afraid of trying."
Evvie pushed me down on my bed and sat beside me. "Have you and Debra ... you know?"
I shook my head. "No. Age difference. If we got caught, she could go to prison since I'm not sixteen yet." I thought a moment. "But once I turn sixteen, we could, since she's less than three years older than me ...."
"How about in your dreams?" I didn't have to answer; she read my blush. "Do you want to, when you turn sixteen?" I nodded hesitantly. "Okay, what if you think of it as learning what makes a girl feel really, really good, so you can surprise her when it's time?"
I pulled back a bit and stared at her. "But ...."
"But if you're not ready to try, then don't let me push you. Don't let _anyone_ push you. You'll do it when _you're_ ready, not when someone tells you that you should. Okay?"
I just nodded, not trusting myself to answer, because the subject was more embarrassing than I felt ready to deal with at that moment.
"Now, put on your robe and go take a nice warm _regular_ shower. Let the shower massage some of the tension out of your shoulders and neck. You've had a pretty tough day, so loosen up a bit before you go to bed. You'll sleep better."
I let her guide me up, into my robe, and back into the bathroom. The shower stalls were all empty, so I hung up my robe and turned the water on. I had to admit that Evvie was right; the massage shower-head felt good as the pulsating jets of warm water kneaded the knots and stress right out of my back and shoulders. And since it was evening, I didn't have to rush to take a shower, but could relax and enjoy the water massage.
Evvie grinned at me when I wobbled into our room and collapsed on my bed, because my legs didn't seem to want to hold me up. "Good shower?" she asked with a hint of mischief in her voice.
I nodded weakly, my cheeks flushed. "Yeah."
"Did you enjoy ... _it_?" Evvie asked, grinning.
She knew. My pink cheeks turned scarlet, and I chose not to answer her.
"Next time," Evvie continued, smirking, "remember to turn on the sound cancellation system."
My eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets, as my cheeks turned redder than boiled lobsters. "Uh," I stammered, "I ... uh ... didn't ...."
Evvie chuckled. "You were so pre-occupied - and enjoying it - that you probably didn't see or hear Fey go in the bathroom to turn the system on, did you?"
"Er, no," I admitted sheepishly. "I ... I didn't mean to!" I suddenly said, defensively. "I ... I just ... got curious. And what you said, er, about surprising Debra because I would know what to do ..." I turned my blushing face away from my roommate, feeling totally ashamed at what I'd done and the knowledge that others on the floor knew as well, because I'd made too much noise.
"Hey," Evvie said, moving to my bed and stroking my cheek gently. "There's nothing to be ashamed of. It's part of female sexuality."
"But ... it's not part of me! Or at least, it wasn't! It's not supposed to be like this," I said softly. I was way too relaxed to start crying again, even though I was so confused. Why had I done what I'd done? I was plenty relaxed from the warm massage on my shoulders and back. Why had I gone the extra mile and tried out the full features of the Hydroflux hardware?
Evvie smiled. "You've got a lot of adjusting to do. This is one part of the lessons of being a girl." The smile grew. "One of the more pleasant lessons."
Debra pulled me so close it felt like she wanted us to share the same physical space. "That was ..." She exhaled softly, a purr of contentment and a sigh of pure pleasure escaping her perfect, kissable lips. "That was wonderful!" She kissed me passionately and furiously. "God!" she mouthed when she finished the kiss, "when did you learn to do that?"
I kissed her. "I ... picked up a trick or two."
"Or seven!" she giggled. She rolled over, snuggling into my lap and my chest, my boobs pressed against her back, as she purred more.
I pulled her close to me, letting my arm drape over her body so my hand could caress her wonderful breasts, while my lips attacked her neck and earlobes. "Something I picked up this evening in Poe."
I felt her body stiffen. "Did you ... you know?" she asked hesitantly, and in her words, tone, and body posture, she inadvertently told me that she was jealous.
I wondered for a second or two, and then I realized what she was asking. "No, it wasn't with someone else," I reassured her. "The girls' bathroom on the second floor of Poe has a couple of ... hardware upgrades that you'd have to experience to believe."
Debra settled back into my, her body relaxing again. "So it wasn't someone else?"
"There's no one else for me but you," I assured her, resuming kissing her neck. We cuddled for a while, until I heard her soft, rhythmic breathing as she slept. I was content to hold her close. As much as I'd done for her, she'd done for me. It was ... different this time. While we'd been intimate before - at least in the dream-world, it had never been like this. Instead, things seemed to have been derived from my memories, and the only sexual experiences I'd had were as a guy. Had my mind shaped my expectations based on that? It seemed likely, since now that I'd had several orgasms using the Hydroflux, relishing in the differences from the old, male me, that my dream-world experience with Debra was much more like what I'd done in the shower, and what I did to her was guided by my real-world experience with the Hydroflux.
I woke from my sleep-within-the-dream, startled by something. Sitting up gently, so as to not awaken Debra, I touched the earth spirit and the sky spirit. There was someone coming toward the camp, someone who made barely a ripple in the spirits, but still enough that I had been disturbed. I slipped gently from under the buffalo-skin blanket and pulled on my buckskin dress.
From the hill, a figure descended slowly toward the camp, walking almost regally, her steps in almost perfect harmony with the nature surrounding her. The gentle night-time breeze rustled her long hair, which I knew without having seen her was bright red in color. The woman saw me watching her, but she continued until she was at the edge of the camp.
"Greetings, Aunghadhail," I said to the Sidhe queen as she paused, waiting to be invited into the encampment.
"Greetings, Ptesanwi," she replied. "Or is it just you tonight, Kayda?"
The figure of Wakan Tanka sidled up beside me. "We are here, Queen." I felt her pull herself into me, until we were joined as Ptesanwi.
"May I enter your camp?"
"Why have you come?" we asked. She had violated many of our traditions and laws to join our dream-world without invitation. It was an incredibly rude display of power and arrogance.
"I was curious," she replied. "Your appearance here among the People is a surprise."
"And yours isn't, Queen whose race went extinct countless millennia ago?"
"We are not enemies," Aunghadhail said cautiously, repeating the words we'd spoken to her only days before.
"But you are more out of place than we are," we countered. We could see that she was becoming impatient standing outside the camp. "Come. Join me at the fire circle." With that invitation, she was allowed to penetrate the last ward of our dream-world, the last defensive line that prevented outside intrusion without invitation.
Together, we sat by the fire. As she watched, I brewed up an herbal tea, and then offered her a cup. Together, we silently drank the pleasant blend of flavors in a greeting and peace ritual, even though I was suspicious at her intrusion.
"You have never been invited to our dream-space. Why did you come, and how were you able to get into our private space?" We were confused; there were many layers of protection for a shaman, and more for Ptesanwi, to protect our private dream-space from those who might use it to harm us. Once we had invited someone in, they could return, unless we took action to block their further incursions, which was how Mr. Lodgeman had dream-walked with me in the hospital - he'd been invited in once before in Sioux Falls. I shuddered to think what would have happened to me if he hadn't been able to get in to my dream-world while I was in Doyle. I might still be there, trussed up and sedated.
"I was drawn to your dream-world as the girl Nikki slept. I ... sensed you in your dream world."
"Why have you come?" we repeated.
"The era of the white buffalo calf has not ended. It is not your time to return. Why have you come?" Aunghadhail sounded suspicious, and cautious.
"I could ask the same of you."
"As my soul drifted, I saw the coming of the black buffalo calf. I saw the coming of the yellow and red buffalo calves. Each age was at its completion when you came to your people before. Now, you come early, before the age is completed."
"Our people need us," we said simply. "Beyond that is not for us to know, and if we knew, it is not ours to discuss."
Aunghadhail glared at us for a moment, but then she sat back and glanced skyward. "It is peaceful and pristine here," she observed, changing the subject. "It is not like that in the real world. Nature is not in balance as it once was."
"Walk with us," we said, standing suddenly. Together, we walked up the hill, until we could see the land stretching out before us, the wide-open prairies stretching beyond the river which lay just beyond the village. "Nature must be balanced," we said simply, as if stating an obvious truth.
"Are you here to balance it? Do you think this is the time of Ptesanwi?"
"This is the time for Kayda, and we are here to help her."
"To help her do what?" the Sidhe queen demanded.
"To save the People from dangers, if necessary, in order to prepare for the eventual fulfillment of the prophecy. To bring peace and prosperity to the People when the time is right."
Aunghadhail wasn't satisfied. "It is not the time of the prophecy."
"You are not our time-keeper, Queen of the West, Daughter of the Burning Oak. We come when _we_ determine it is time. And just as you are curious as to why we are here now, we wonder why _you_ are here. Why have the Sidhe returned?"
"I will find out why you are here now. Do you not realize that, together, we can more easily restore balance?"
"Do you share the same view of balance in the world as the Handmaiden? Do you intend to ask her to help with your balance? Or just us?"
Aunghadhail started when she realized that we knew of the Handmaiden of the Tao. "She serves a force greater than the universe. She does not share the Sidhe view of the world. You know that. My view of the balance is good for both of us."
"Not if balance means restoring the Five Courts, and relegating the People to a servile role, as you once believed was the People's proper place." We looked at the sky. "It is late. You should return to your own dream world." The suggestion that she leave our dream space was hardly subtle.
Aunghadhail nodded, and then with regal airs, strode down the other side of the hill, away from our camp.
"And do not seek to come unbidden into our dream-world again, Sidhe," I called after her. "You, of all, should know the consequences of such an act."
The Sidhe queen paused, turning back to us. "We shall respect the privacy of your dream-world, Ptesanwi. We expect that you will do the same for us."
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota
JJ screeched to a halt in the school's parking lot, driving his mom's car. He scrambled out, running toward the school building, knowing he was late for the early morning team get-together in the locker room. And then he stopped. Scott was also pulling off the main street into the parking lot, and he was driving his family's old pickup, not his sports car.
The two fell in side-by-side, striding angrily into the school building, their annoyed glares frightening the wimpy kids from their path even more than usual. With an angry shove that banged the locker door hard against the inside wall, the two burly boys stormed into the locker room.
Several of the guys looked at the late arrivals, and from the expressions on their faces, they didn't seem surprised that Scott and JJ were late.
Coach handed out the day's schedule, including the times he expected the team to be in the gym working out instead of sitting in study hall. Each day, he emphasized something different and usually unexpected, knowing that keeping the boys fit and on their toes was a formula for a winning team. Coach was more than a little obsessive about that.
As he started to leave, he paused. "One more thing. The Mitchell chapter of H1 has agreed to perform screening for the mutant genes when we do our monthly drug tests next week, and once a year after that. They'll draw a little blood and take a cheek swab. You won't need additional permission slips, because your parents already gave us consent for routine substance screening and physical testing when you turned in your paperwork and physical forms."
"Too bad we didn't do that at the end of the summer," Scott snorted. "Might have kept 'it' off the football team!" Unspoken was the fact that if they had detected the meta-gene complex in Brandon, he might not have taken the starting position from Scott the past fall season.
"We'll get a screening annually now. The focus of the test will be on those sixteen and under, because they told us that late mutant manifestations are very, very rare. That's all, boys." He turned and walked into the coaches' cage, closing the door behind himself.
The boys began to file out, but a subtle gesture from Scott kept eight other boys back. Once everyone else was gone, he glanced around. "Anyone else having some weird shit happen?"
"Like what?" one of the guys asked.
"I had to drive in my mom's car today," JJ complained. "My car 's plug wires were all cut."
Scott's eyes narrowed. "And someone drained the oil from my car. If I catch the mother-fucker that did that, I'm going to cut his balls off. They might have ruined my engine!" He glanced around. "Anyone else?"
The boys went around, and each of them had something, from a cut radiator hose that had drained the engine coolant, to all tires flattened from the air being let out. At least, they hoped that the perp had only let the air out and not slashed the tires.
Scott angrily pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and held it up for the others to see. "Did anyone get one of these?"
The note read simply, "Confess or else."
A couple of the guys nodded slowly.
Scott glowered at the news. "My folks called Sheriff Larson this morning." He looked around, scowling, wondering if he should bring up the other event. Finally, he decided that he might as well, since the guys were all in this together. "Friday morning, I found a small bowl with calf nuts on my dresser, with a similar note. And an animal ... dick ... in my car. There were almost no signs of a break-in - not even tracks in the fucking snow! Did any of you guys have something similar happen?"
Jaws dropped at the news Scott had told, but the others all shook their heads 'no'. Scott seemed to have been singled out for the first event.
"Do you notice a pattern here?" JJ asked hesitantly.
"Of course there's a fucking pattern here," Scott growled. "We all know it." He saw nervous glances exchanged among the boys. "But we've got our story, and Doc is backing us one hundred percent. Plus dad called the MCO in Sioux Falls. We've got to stick together on this, guys. It's one pansy mutant's word against ours, and we ran the shit out of town. So nobody has anything to go on. We stick together, agreed?"
Several boys nodded, one or two nervously, as they all echoed, "Agreed."
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
I was drying from my shower, doing a little better to not be bothered by Ayla this morning, who was at the mirror brushing and flossing his teeth, but in an obviously slow way that gave him plenty of time to ogle us girls. At least it was obvious to me, because I'd been a guy, and if I'd have been in his position in that bathroom, I'd have been doing the exact same thing. The way the other girls acted - shaving themselves, talking while nude, and so on - I suspected that they'd become inured to Ayla's presence. My pulse raced, and my breathing was rapid and shallow - both indications of stress and anxiety, but so far, I'd been able to control my reactions.
As I wrapped my towel around my body, Nikki stormed into the bathroom, right toward me. "What did you do last night?" she practically screamed at me.
"What?" I was confused. Was she talking about my shower, in which case she obviously knew - as did most of the girls on the floor, apparently, given the looks I'd gotten so far that morning. According to Evvie, Nikki had been the one who'd turned on the noise cancellation system, after all.
"What did you do to me last night? Why were you intruding in my dreams?" Nikki demanded angrily. "Aunghadhail says she was with you in dreams last night, and I felt it! You have no right to rummage around in my head like that!"
The light-bulb went on. "Oh," I said as I gathered my thoughts. "First of all, Aunghadhail came into _my_ dream space, not the other way around." I answered sternly, fighting anger that she dared to accuse me of the serious infraction that _she_ and _Aunghadhail_ had done to me.
Nikki started at my statement, the fiery anger in her eyes winking out, and her jaw hung open for a moment or two. "But ... why would she ...?"
"Ask her, not me! I don't know why she intruded, but she very rudely entered my dream-world _uninvited_!" I was as upset as Wakan Tanka that the Sidhe queen had come so easily into what should have been a protected dream-world.
"What?" Nikki was stunned at what I told her. We were loud enough that other girls, and Ayla, were watching us, concerned at the heated exchange.
"You heard me. _She_ intruded on _my_ dream space, without being invited! She _demanded_ to know why my spirit had come, even though it's none of her damned business. Or yours!" I felt angered at Aunghadhail's presumptuous, arrogant attitude, and that anger was on display.
Nikki's expression changed almost instantly to remorse. "Oh," she said tersely. "I didn't know that she'd done that," she said softly, looking a bit embarrassed.
"Well, she did," I said firmly, still feeling testy. "It's very rude to enter someone's dream-world, and in doing so, she tore up my protective wards. She could have lowered the barriers and allowed Unhcegila, or some other evil spirit, to attack me, or Debra, because of her recklessness." I'd had enough, and turned away from her, expressing my anger in my expression, words, and posture. She hadn't even apologized, not even a cursory 'I'm sorry'.
After I dried and brushed my hair and brushed my teeth, I glanced around as I was leaving. Nikki was out of the shower, and she was looking at me strangely, as if she didn't know whether to be offended at what had gotten Aunghadhail's panties in a bunch, or to be apologetic for Aunghadhail having violated my dream-world. I expected at least some kind of apology. Nikki had no idea of the danger that Aunghadhail could have placed me or Debra in, and I resented the hell out of it.
Dressing was easy - all I had to do was put on a clean uniform. In many ways, that made life simpler than it had been when Mom, Debra, Wish List, and Vanity Girl had all fussed over outfits I'd picked out, finding fault with my choices for color combos, shirt styles with pants styles, and so on. Because I liked the look, I went with a French braid again, and with a bit of makeup, I was ready to get some breakfast.
While Vasiliy, Laurie, Adrian, Evvie, and Naomi were quite chatty, I was rather subdued. They noticed, and attempts to draw me into conversations were wasted effort. I had some sucky classes to deal with that morning, and I really, really wasn't looking forward to them. Besides, I felt like I was in a cell waiting for the old padre and the executioner to escort me on the 'long walk' to my doom, being in serious trouble for missing an appointment with Dr. Bellows. The axe could fall at any time, and the longer it went without word from administration or security, the more tense I got. I was glad when breakfast was over, because the atmosphere around our table had gotten rather oppressive, with everyone noticing my mood, and trying to avoid subjects which they knew, or suspected, were sensitive.
Rosslyn met me in the caf to escort me to my first class, and, after a quick glance to see if anyone was looking, she licked her lips seductively at me, and then made a kissing motion. As I tried to get my eyeballs back in their sockets and restart my stunned and embarrassed heart, she laughed at my shocked reaction. "Let's get you to class before I do something neither of us will regret, even though you'll claim to!" she whispered seductively.
I just shook my head at how blatant she was. Blatant and rather playful - _if_ she wasn't serious, which I wasn't sure of. "Still not interested," I said, forcing a smile.
"And you're so fun to tease," Rosslyn shot right back with a wicked grin.
"What's it going to take to get you to quit?" I pleaded.
"Agree to come to our hot tub party," she answered without pausing.
"Uh, I don't think so."
"I can keep this up until you crack! Ve haf vays of makink you bathe!" she added in a fake, bad, Hollywood German villain voice. Coming from her quite delicate and beautiful face in her sultry contralto, though, it lost its impact. Even that silly, supposedly-threatening phrase sounded sexy and seductive.
I just sighed and shook my head. "How come I'm your project girl for this term? Aren't there other girls you can pick on?"
Rosslyn laughed aloud at that, drawing attention to the two of us. "Yes, but none of them are quite as ... interesting ... as you." She gave me a sultry pouty look. "And you just can't resist my charms, can you?"
"Yes, I can," I replied, my voice shaking. Truth be told, after the previous evening, I was a little curious, even while my heart and mind reminded me repeatedly that I was Debra's girl. Fortunately, Rosslyn's teasing - or attempted seduction, whichever it was - ended when we got to the classroom building. "I can get upstairs from here, and I'm not alone, so you can get back to whatever it was you were doing."
Rosslyn hunched her shoulders forward, grinning gleefully, and rubbed her hands together. "Good! I can return to plotting how to get you to the hot tub party. Bwah, hah, hah, hah!"
I shook my head, chuckling. "You don't have a good 'mad scientist' laugh. So how can you plot and scheme, if you can't even do a decent 'evil genius'?" I joined the throng streaming into the building, chuckling to myself. Rosslyn's teasing did shock me by her bluntness, but she made me laugh, at least for a moment, even if the not-so-subtle undertones of her joking made me nervous or uncomfortable. Then I remembered why I was in this building, in this class, and my mood darkened once more.
I walked into the classroom for Algebra I, already feeling angry at the whole situation. The students filing in looked at me with a mixture of expressions, from lust (which I was beginning to recognize only too well), to amusement, to hostility - the latter mostly from girls who might have felt competitive in the looks department. Debra and the SFL ladies had warned me that girls could get very catty over appearances and envy, and I was certain I saw some of that on display.
Eventually, everyone was seated, or so it seemed, so I took a seat, which, as usual, was in the front center of the room. Shaking my head and sighing, I slid behind the desk, plopping my backpack on the floor beside me, and, having been warned by Debra, put my foot through an arm-strap so no smart-ass TK could move my books or backpack.
The instructor walked in and quickly scanned the room, focusing on the new item, which was a new student sitting in the front row. Me. The schedule said that she was Ms. Roberta Bell, and from what I'd looked up briefly the night before, she taught some of the heavyweight math classes, but nothing in the same league as what I was doing for independent study. Or rather, what I was _trying_ to do, if I ever found the time.
"Are you Kayda Franks?" she asked. Ms. Bell looked to be in her late forties, and she wore somewhat unattractive glasses, and those seemed to fit her overall look, because her brown hair was not well-styled, and her clothes seemed a little frumpy and unkempt on her slightly overweight body, like the dress and grooming habits of the stereotypical absent-minded professor.
"Yes, ma'am," I answered, which drew a few snickers. Probably because some of these kids had never heard proper manners, and expected a mindless, 'yeah' or 'uh huh'.
"You're a little behind, and since math builds upon prior lessons, you will need to get caught up as quickly as you can." I started to object, but she didn't give me time. "Okay, today's lecture is in chapter 2, section 3 of your books if you want to highlight or follow along." She waited a moment while students opened their books, and then she turned to the board. She turned back to me, however, with a frown. "Miss Franks, are you going to follow along in your book?"
I shook my head. "No." It was the safest thing to say without being an ass or getting in trouble.
"At least you'll want to take notes," she admonished me.
I shook my head again. "Don't need to."
"That's a good attitude to ensure that you fail the course," Ms. Bell cautioned, sounding less than pleased with my attitude. "Very well. If you insist." She turned to the board and began to lecture, pausing occasionally to ask questions to see if the students were getting it. I had taken out a notebook, and was busily writing down what I understood about Wakan Tanka's magic, in preparation for my Intro to Magic Arts class.
"Miss Franks?" Ms. Bell interrupted me, "can you explain the associative and commutative properties, and why they're important?"
I started at the interruption, and glanced up at the board. "Yes." I turned back to my note-taking.
"What I meant was, if it's not too much of an inconvenience for you, would you do so for the class' edification?" She sounded pissed this time.
"The commutative properties of addition and multiplication essentially say that order is not important, ergo, that any ordering of coefficients and variables within a set of operations that are purely additive or purely multiplicative does not make a difference in the outcome, unlike multiplication with matrix operations in linear algebra, where order _is_ important. By using the commutative property in multiplication, it is possible to rearrange numeric coefficients and variables to find similar terms, thus allowing ...."
Ms. Bell cut me off, scowling. "That's a lot more detailed than we need at this point in the class." I could tell her curiosity had been stirred, but she was also quite angry with me for my earlier callous attitude. "I take it you've been exposed to algebra before?"
"You could say that," I answered in a snarky voice. "In fourth grade. I've been doing college-level independent study math courses the past two and a half years, and getting college credit for them. I'm way past second semester differential equations and into graduate-level courses."
I heard a few kids smirking and scoffing at my comment, so I turned around and glared at one who was openly laughing. "Like _you_ know how to calculate second-order residual equations for a non-uniform finite difference multigrid in the solution of discretized integro-differential equations in three dimensions, such as would apply to an aerodynamics problem using the Navier-Stokes equations?" I snapped at him, daring him to challenge my mathematical knowledge. From the expression on his face, and those around him, he had no idea what I'd said, let alone how to contest my knowledge. Satisfied, with a hint of smugness to my scowl, I turned back to the front of the room, still looking disgusted.
Ms. Bell was looking at me with a completely different expression on her face, one that looked like amazement. "What are you doing in algebra?"
"My class advisor refuses to deal with sanity or reason," I snapped back, and saw her startled expression. "I mean, she didn't even look at my transcripts." The displeasure in my voice was unmistakable. It earned a glare from Ms. Bell.
"I need you to stay after class a moment to discuss your proper math placement."
"Sure, since I'm in no rush to go to the PE class they put me in." After Aunghadhail intruding rudely in my dream world, plus the snarky attitude from Nikki in the bathroom, I wasn't in a mood to put up with any crap.
Ms. Bell had had enough of my attitude. "See me after class." She turned back to her lecture notes and resumed instructing those less schooled in math than me, although every once in a while, she glanced my direction, frowning or otherwise expressing her distaste for my less-than-chipper attitude.
If I'd have paid attention, I'd have found the lecture boring as sin. As it was, I managed some reading for my magic arts class, and made quite a few notes on what I knew of my magic, how it worked, and what spells I could do. Before I knew it, the bell rang. Like the others, I put my books into my backpack, but unlike most, I went to the desk instead of toward the door. Ms. Bell had been quite insistent, and since she was already quite irritated with me, I didn't really want to further annoy her. Actually, that wasn't quite the truth. In all honesty, the only reason I cared even a tiny bit was that she sounded, at least for a brief moment, like she might recognize that I had no reason to stay in Algebra I.
One of the other students already had her attention, so I stood, tapping my foot impatiently on the floor, looking periodically at my watch. After five minutes had passed, I rolled my eyes, and sighing, walked out of the classroom. I didn't have time to waste, because I had to meet my escort.
Unfortunately, possibly because of the delay caused by Ms. Bell, no-one was waiting outside of the classroom. Crap. With a skyward eye-roll, as if to say, "why me?" I decided to deal with the issue myself. I couldn't stand here, where I'd be alone and unescorted once the other students were in their second-period classes, nor could I walk to my own second period class unescorted. It was a catch-22 situation; I was going to be violating my escort rule one way or the other. Ah, screw it, I decided. If I was going to get in trouble, it wasn't going to be hanging out in the hallway outside of classrooms. I might as well at least get a few moments of outdoor air on my way to the gym.
I got into class without incident, mostly. Zenith spotted me entering the gym by myself, and she none-too-politely reminded me that I was breaking the rules, asked what would have happened if security had caught me alone, and tried to make me promise to _not_ do that again. Maybe it was because of my pissy mood, but I angrily shot right back - yelling a little more than I should have - that there wasn't an escort outside of my algebra classroom, and that I was going to get in trouble for being alone one way or the other. That got her to climb down a bit from her high holy tree, and she was forced to admit that I _had_ been left in a sticky situation. Still, I could have called someone. Sure - like I had everyone's cell phone numbers memorized. She really wasn't happy with my unpleasant attitude, even though I knew she was trying to help me. If she ever called in all the favors I'd racked up in my first five days, I was going to owe her grandpa's car. And my paychecks for a couple of years. And my first-born. I started at that - where in the hell had that thought come from?
Everyone else in class was wearing martial arts clothes, which I'd been told nothing about, and there had been nothing on my class schedule indicating that I needed such clothes. If I'd have known, I could have picked them up at the bookstore the day before. To further confuse me, all of them were sitting in a funky way along the edge of the mat. Shit. I didn't know what to do.
Instead of trying to imitate what looked like a very uncomfortable position, I just stood against the wall, waiting for who-knows-what, while students kept glancing my way, murmuring and whispering among themselves - obviously about me.
I didn't have to wait long. Two instructors came out - a small, older Oriental man, and a tall, lithe African-American woman, both in martial arts outfits - and they almost instantly looked at me quite suspiciously.
The older man looked directly at me, with an inscrutable gaze that left me wondering about what he was thinking. "You are new?" he asked me pointedly.
"Yes," I answered simply.
"Come to the center of the mat," he ordered.
I didn't want to be the center of attention in a class _again_, but Ito was making in unavoidable. I slowly trudged to the mat, facing Ito and the tall woman.
"I was informed by the administration that you would be in class on Friday," Ito said. "It's nice that you decided to join us today." There were titters and chuckles among the students at his attempted feeble joke, which pissed me off. "Why are you not in a gi? The class registration and schedule very specifically call out that a white gi is required for this class."
"I've ... had nonstop issues ever since I got here, and I haven't had a chance to get one."
"You had four days between your arrival on campus and today in which to get a gi." He didn't want to listen to any excuses.
My lower lip was trembling as I fought to control my growing sense of frustration and anger. 'Remember what Maka said. Remember what Maka said,' I repeated in my head, over and over, trying to focus on being respectful instead of losing my temper. "It's not my fault that someone else has caused me a litany of problems since I arrived - problems that wiped out three class days and my whole damned weekend." I tried not to scowl at him. "I don't want this class anyway. And FYI, my class schedule has _nothing_ on it about a gi, or whatever it's called. Would you care to see?"
"That would be something you must take up with your advisor or the administration," the taller black woman said, her face impassive, but her tone of voice conveying that she wasn't happy at my excuse or lack of desire to be in the class. Behind me, I could hear more soft murmuring among the students.
"Further," Ito continued, ignoring what I'd said, "you need to be seated in seiza before Sensei Tolman or I enter the gym, understood?"
I nodded. "Yes." I was fighting back my anger at their total lack of understanding or sympathy, and their stupid little games I was having to endure.
"You will address us as Ito Soke," he nodded his head, "and Sensei Tolman." She nodded also, just so I'd be clear as to which was which. "Is that clear?"
This was more bullshit than the football coach made us endure in two-a-day practices months ago. "Yes." I saw his eyes narrow. "Yes, Ito Soke," I corrected myself.
Sensei Tolman decided to speak. "You _will_ have a gi for class tomorrow, understood?"
That broke the dam on my temper. "Precisely when, if you don't mind me asking, am I supposed to have time to go buy a gi?" I demanded, overwhelmed by frustration at my class schedule. "My advisor scheduled me for nine classes this term, and I don't _have_ any free time to go to the bookstore during its normal operating hours to buy a gi." My voice was rising in pitch and volume as my anger at the stupid situation grew. To hell with what Maka told me; I was being treated like I was a kindergartener, and I didn't like it one little bit.
"Since you are new, do you have any experience in martial arts?" Tolman asked, completely oblivious to what I'd just said.
I shook my head. "None. Zero, Zip, Zilch. Nada. I don't know a damned thing about it." Ito and Tolman glared at me for how I answered. "No, sensei," I corrected myself again.
"Very well. We will need to evaluate your abilities before you begin training." Ito said. "For today, sit at the edge of the mat, as the other students now sit, and observe." He effectively dismissed me. "Advanced students, to the right with me. Beginning students, to the left with Sensei Tolman."
I watched, my frustration simmering, as the rest of the students split into the two groups and left me completely out. It was like third grade all over again. I heard murmurs, and I _knew_ the other students, who'd been at this for weeks already, found my situation amusing and were getting a big laugh at my expense. I sure as hell didn't find it in the slightest bit funny; once more, I felt humiliated.
For almost twenty minutes I sat in that stupid, painful position they'd made me sit in, watching the other students interacting with the instructors, while I could have as well been invisible or not even present. The beginning group was working on katas of basic kicks and hits, interspersed with practice in falling in various ways. It was boring as hell. And annoying.
After twenty minutes, I was fuming like a volcano about to erupt. This was a complete and total waste of my time, and excluding me as they had was emotionally painful. Finally, I'd had enough, and I scrambled to my feet and stalked toward the door. "To hell with this stupid fucking class!" I muttered angrily under my breath. A few of the nearer students must have heard, because there were gasps of shock that I'd dared to comport myself and speak as I had in front of the instructors.
Sensei Tolman noticed me. "Class isn't over. Where are you going?"
I lost my temper, and any control I might have had. For a brief moment, I had a vision of Hoka, the badger, who is an extremely fierce fighter when pushed. "Leaving this worthless class," I snapped back at her, "because sitting in a corner isn't doing a _damned thing_ for me."
"Sit down," she commanded me.
"This is a total fucking waste of my time. I don't want this class anyway. What's next? Making me fight someone experienced so I can get the crap kicked out of me and be humiliated?" I snarled back in response, loudly enough that some on the _other_ group across the gym heard me. I knew that I was going to get in serious trouble for both my attitude and language, and I didnt really care. "I don't have a gi, because I started late, and I don't have time to get one, but you demand that I somehow do the impossible! I don't know shit about martial arts, so you push me aside. I've got better things to do than sitting around watching others learn while I'm totally excluded." I stomped toward the door.
"Get back to your position," Tolman commanded again, more sternly than the first time.
I heard a collective gasp of shock from Tolman's students. "What?"
"No. You act like it's my fault that I was late, instead of the adults who run this stupid fucking place and are screwing up my life," I snarled.
"You may be frustrated," Sensei Tolman said, "but that's no excuse for your poor attitude, and it's certainly no excuse for your language."
"IDFM!" I hissed at her, loudly enough that I think Ito heard. I turned and stomped out the door, fuming and determined to do whatever necessary to get out of that stupid class.
To my surprise, Sensei Tolman followed me out, lightly grasping my elbow just outside the gym doors as she repeated, "Get back to class." I yanked my elbow free, but she clasped my shoulder more firmly, and painfully. "Uh, Miss ...?" she said, and paused because she didn't know my name.
"I'm leaving your stupid course, so IDFM!" I snapped back at her.
"What's your name?" Sensei Tolman asked as she used her size and leverage to spin me around to face her.
"What do you care? What does anyone around this fucking place care? You would have known if you'd have asked at the start of class, but treating me like a person was apparently too much bother! Every teacher and administrator I've met has done nothing but try to screw me over! To make my life miserable, or to denigrate or demean me!" Beyond her, in the gym, I could see many students from her group staring at us, with confused looks of 'what the hell just happened here-" on their faces. I thought, for a moment, that Sensei Tolman had the same look, but then I convinced myself that I was just imagining it.
Tolman frowned deeply. "Watch your language, young lady," she warned. "Now, what's your name?"
"I have an appointment with my class advisor," I replied angrily, refusing to answer her question.
"What is your name?" Tolman asked again insistently, holding my shoulder so firmly that trying to squirm away hurt a lot.
"Why don't you check your class roster?" I snapped at her, which seemed to startle her, like she hadn't thought of it. I glared at her for several long seconds. "Kayda. Kayda Franks."
"Kayda, since we were informed that you would be in class on Friday, your absence led us to the conclusion that your schedule had been changed, and that you wouldn't be in our class."
"And _that's_ an excuse for humiliating me by treating me like a nobody?" I demanded angrily.
"We plan out our class several days in advance, so when you weren't in class Friday, it was assumed that you weren't enrolled. Your presence threw off the scheduled activities we had planned for today. I apologize if you were embarrassed or felt excluded. Neither Ito Soke nor I had any intention of either of those things."
"So you don't have time in your precious fucking schedule to treat me as a human being and ask a simple thing like my name at the start of class?" I grumbled. "I've got to go find my advisor."
"No, you need to return to class," Sensei Tolman countered.
"So I can sit and waste even more of my time?" I practically screamed. I had no doubt but that students in the gym could hear me - not that I cared. "Or didn't you think that, because they enrolled me for _nine fucking classes_ that I could afford the time to sit and do nothing? And you want me to go back? Haven't you humiliated me enough for one day?"
"Your task for today is to observe and learn," Tolman offered. "Now, I apologized, so ...."
"You weren't the only one who embarrassed me," I snarled. "Ito Soke made some wisecracks at my expense and he was downright rude, and he obviously didn't have time to even ask what had happened. He should apologize, too - not that it'll matter once I talk to my advisor. Now if you're through with your lecture, you can go ahead and get back to students that you _care_ about teaching! I'm going to do something useful, like get my schedule changed to get out of this bullshit class, and then, thanks to Security and Mrs. Carson, I have to have my daily meeting with Dr. Bellows. Thanks for nothing!" With that, I turned and stomped out of the gym, fuming at the painful and deliberate exclusion and the humiliation.
Behind me, I'm sure Sensei Tolman didn't waste any time wondering what had happened. She had a class to teach, so worrying about me, or how my schedule had been screwed up, or how she and Ito had embarrassed me, probably didn't rate a second's worth of thought. To them, I was just another student who they could use as punching bags, or demean, or exclude from participating in front of the others. Like I was going to stand for that!
Fortunately for me, security wasn't watching as I stormed back to Schuster Hall. Inside, I went directly to Mrs. Hawkins' office. One way or another, even if I had to go to Carson, I was going to get this schedule shit straightened out. Administrative staff, teachers, and other students eased away from me as I walked past, clearly reading my irate expression and correctly interpreting that I had zero patience left. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hawkins wasn't in her office, and according to the schedule on her door, wasn't planning to return until about mid-way through my third-period class.
I wondered whether to wait, and miss part of my magic arts class, or to go back to Poe until third period. On the one hand, magic arts had been the least awful class so far. On the other, that was before Nikki and Aunghadhail had violated my privacy and my dream-space. And Nikki hadn't even offered a simple apology, let alone a meaningful one, which told me that she didn't realize just how serious her intrusion was. How was I supposed to deal with a class TA who acted like that? My mood, which had started to recover from the humiliation in martial arts, started sinking fast again.
"Kayda," I heard a familiar voice calling from behind me.
I spun, and my heart sank when I confirmed that the voice belonged to Dr. Bellows, who was walking down the hall carrying his coffee cup. I was so screwed. "I'm sorry I missed my appointment yesterday, Dr. Bellows," I apologized quickly. "Everything got so messed up, and someone tried to trick me, and I got lost in the tunnels after my special class, and then I had to talk to security, and by the time all that was done, I'd completely forgotten, until we were at dinner, but by then you'd gone home."
"Why aren't you in class right now?" he asked. "Do you have a free period?"
I hung my head. "No. Not officially," I admitted. "But ... I ... I need to meet with Mrs. Hawkins to get some things straightened out on my schedule. And ... I'm sorry I missed yesterday's appointment. I ... got tricked coming ...."
"Louis gave me a briefing."
I looked up, and he seemed to be a little sympathetic. "In all the stuff that was happening, I forgot."
"We'll just consider Louis' checkup yesterday to be your daily appointment, okay?" He _did_ have a look of sympathy on his face. "Now, if you're free, why don't we have a little talk, and I can try to find out what's going on with your classes that has you so upset."
I felt bad as I explained my side of the situation, starting with English the day before. The class sucked, and then I had the incident with the illusion of Cascade. Then the nightmare, and I forgot about the appointment. I somehow neglected to mention my shower relaxation, but I did talk about the dream-walk being interrupted by Aunghadhail, and how Fey had been so pissy toward me in the morning, as if it had been my fault. Then Algebra I, and the missing escort because the teacher wanted to waste my time waiting to talk to her, which kept me in the classroom until it was too late, and finally the shit-storm in martial arts.
Dr. Bellows nodded, his teeth clenched on his unlit pipe. "That would explain why I got an e-mail from Miss Seever, and from Ms. Bell. Both of them reported that you had an extremely poor attitude."
"Do you blame me? I've got stuck with repeating math and English classes that I don't need, kept out of a class everyone thinks I _do_ need, and they loaded me up with nine classes this term! It's like someone is trying to make my life so miserable that I leave, or put on conditions so impossible that I can't meet them and then I'll get kicked out!"
"And why did Amanda Tolman just call me?"
Without thinking, I snorted in disgust at his mention of her. "Yeah, right!"
"Oh? Why don't you think she'd call me about you?"
"Because neither she nor Ito gave a shit about me in class!" I retorted, falling into that peculiar emotional state between anger and despair. "They were too busy humiliating me, and making me feel totally left out, so the others were ...." I stopped suddenly, not willing to accuse the other students of laughing at me, at least not to Dr. Bellows - even though I knew that they had been.
"Kayda," Dr. Bellows said calmly, "people with PTSD, who are coping with very traumatic events from their past, often feel a bit paranoid. It's a normal fear-based reaction."
"Yeah? So what you're saying is that I'm being paranoid, is that it?"
"I wouldn't use _that_ word," Dr. Bellows countered calmly, to try to still my intense emotions. "I'm saying you're probably over-reacting to coincidental events ...."
"They didn't even bother to ask my name!" I snapped back. "And I got chewed out for not having a gi, when nothing on my class schedule said I needed one. And then they pushed me to sit on the side like I didn't belong."
Dr. Bellows frowned as he scribbled some notes. "That's not what Sensei Tolman told me. Are you sure your feelings aren't skewing facts a little bit?"
"Last night, I looked on-line at typical classes for freshmen and sophomores, broken out by power class. And then I ran the numbers in my head. This is so improbable as to rule out a bizarre set of coincidences."
Dr. Bellows frowned. "What you're trying to say is ...."
"Someone's trying to fuck with me," I retorted angrily. "I don't know who, but these things can't be dismissed with a wave of the hands. At least not by someone who understands probability and statistics."
"Okay, I think I'll need to look into something. First, though, let's talk about you, and about how you're doing."
I shook my head slowly. "I don't know," I said with a heavy sigh. "Last night, when I was caught alone, I was so afraid of being expelled, but then I was wishing that I'd never come here. I'm ... I'm confused."
Dr. Bellows actually laughed. "It's progress for you to be afraid of being expelled. It means that you're finding things here that are meaningful to you."
"Yeah? Like what? Repeating classes I've already had? Being humiliated in martial arts class that I don't even want?"
"It doesn't sound to me like you're trying very hard."
"It's not worth it. Algebra is so ... beneath my knowledge level! I was working on college-level classes - for credit! And Mrs. Hawkins wouldn't even listen to me. I'm a sophomore, but Mrs. Hawkins and the teachers are treating me like I'm a freshman." I closed my eyes, my teeth clenched, nostrils flared, and breathing heavily out of frustration, but I slowly began to push that down, to calm myself. It wasn't Dr. Bellows' fault, I reminded myself. "Mr. Lodgeman said I definitely need Intro to Avatars because I have two spirits, and Ms. Grimes agrees, because my spirits are integral to my magic. But Mrs. Hawkins wouldn't listen. I'm guessing she didn't even _look_ at my transcript." Another deep, calming breath; I was getting too wired again.
"And martial arts? With your history, I would have thought that you'd be eager to learn to defend yourself."
"Why? The mutant-haters outnumber us by at least fifty-to-one. You know how I did when it was only six high-school kids the first time. What's the point?" I shook my head. "To the rest of the world, I'm just another worthless mutant who lost everything and got the crap kicked out of me to boot."
"Wihakayda, you are _not_ worthless!"
"But Wakan Tanka," I protested, "it feels like I'm completely unimportant. No-one is paying attention to what _I_ need. They're treating me like I _am_ worthless."
Wakan Tanka poured me a cup of tea, but I pushed it away. "You are here like everyone else, placed by the Great Spirit for a reason, even though the reason might not be obvious to you. Nothing the Great Spirit does is worthless. _You_ are not worthless."
"No? So why is all this crap going on?"
"When a boy comes of age, is he simply called a warrior, and given a place of importance in the tribe?"
I puzzled for a moment at the change of direction in the conversation. "No," I answered, recalling Grandmother Little-Doe's stories. "He has to earn his place as a warrior, to prove he is worthy."
"And are the trials easy?"
I saw where she was going with this, and I didn't like it, but I had to answer, if for nothing other than courtesy. "No. They are difficult."
"Are your challenges any less difficult? Are they, perhaps, more difficult because of the role you have, which is greater than that of any warrior or chief?"
I sighed, knowing that she was speaking the truth, even though I didn't want to hear it. Slowly, I reached out and took the tea from her.
"You will be tested, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka told me as she put her arm around my shoulder. "Know this - if you were not capable of passing the tests, Tatanka and Ptesanwi would not have come to you. We are here to help you with your challenges."
"Kayda?" I felt a touch on my shoulder. "Kayda, are you okay?"
I focused my eyes from the nothingness they'd been staring at while I'd been in dream-space. Dr. Bellows was leaning over, touching my shoulder, shaking lightly to see if I was responsive. Obviously, I'd zoned out again while I was being chewed out by Wakan Tanka. Okay, she hadn't chewed me out, but had 'advised' me in the rather _insistent_ way that Mom and Dad used to.
"Sorry," I said to him quickly. "My ... spirit advisor decided to have a little ... talk with me."
"Oh, so you have your own built-in counselor?" Dr. Bellows asked with raised eyebrows. "I suppose that makes me redundant, then," he added with a chuckle. "I want to see you again this afternoon, after your electronics class." He saw me start. "Don't worry about what happened yesterday. I'll arrange with Mrs. Horton to meet you, and we can talk as we walk back from the lab. That should take a little pressure off of your hectic schedule. If you need to talk more after the rest of your classes, that is."
"Okay," I said tentatively, not knowing what else to say.
"Next, I'm going to have a talk with Charlie Lodgeman when he gets back from Pennsylvania ...."
"What's he doing there?" I asked.
"He's helping research some Native American spirits and see if they're connected to some of the strange things that have been happening around the country." Dr. Bellows replied. "As I was saying, when he gets back, I'll talk to him to see if he'll take over as your academic counselor. Occasionally, we encounter a few ... glitches ... in schedules, and ..."
"You call some of this stuff just 'glitches'?" I asked, dumbfounded by how he could use such an innocuous term to describe the crap that I'd been going through.
"It's being polite, and not attributing to conspiracy that which can be explained by ... other things."
"Like stupidity? Or malice?" I asked bluntly.
"I wasn't going to say it," Dr. Bellows chuckled. "Let's talk about how you're adjusting."
Panic gripped my throat. "To ... being a girl?" I asked, terrified that he'd find out what I'd done the previous evening.
"That, or how you're adjusting to being a mutant, or how you're adjusting to life at Whateley - besides the teachers and classes you dislike so." He wasn't very specific, but I couldn't help thinking that I'd given him a clue about things that I really wanted to keep secret.
"And we'll leave you enough time that you can run by the bookstore to purchase a gi for martial arts."
I frowned, pursing my lips tightly together. "No," I answered sternly. "I don't need one, because as soon as my classes get straightened out, I won't need it."
"Kayda," Dr. Bellows said in a gently reproving way, "you've been in several fights, both in the real world and in the astral world. You have no skill in fighting, and it showed in those battles. Frankly, you got your butt kicked but were lucky enough to survive. You _need_ to learn how to defend yourself. After what you've been through, I would think that you'd _want_ to take martial arts, if only as a confidence booster."
With that as an opening, we talked more about my adjustment to Whateley, and to my classes. Dr. Bellows wanted me to take some anti-depressants, because he was certain that I was depressed, but with my powers, it wouldn't do any good. That's when I made the mistake of mentioning the healing tea that Wakan Tanka taught me how to make, and how it seemed to calm me. For telling him that, I got direction to review the tea with Ms. Grimes in my next class, and if she thought it okay, then I was to have at least three cups of the tea each day, with each meal, to try to keep my anxiety level down. He ended the meeting a bit early, so that, with an escort from the administration offices, I could go to the bookstore to purchase a gi.
I was so not looking forward to Magical Arts, primarily because Nikki was the TA, and I was still very pissed about what Aunghadhail had done the night before. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. She had _no right_ to intrude on my dream-world and to threaten the safety of me and Debra. And after the confrontation in the shower, when I'd told Nikki what had happened, she seemed to act like it was no big deal.
When I walked in, I felt the tension build in my shoulders. Remembering the arrangement of students from the day before, I found a seat that had been unoccupied but which was not near Tansy or Mugwump. Given that Ayla was part of Team Kimba with Nikki, I avoided him as well, and I tried to avoid his friends, which left only one or two desks in the room. I took the one closer to the back of the room.
Ms. Grimes walked in, with Nikki right behind her, and Nikki began to glance around. Her scan stopped on me, and I saw her eyes narrow a bit, and then a bit more when my expression turned to a grimace of displeasure, or possibly even a sneer.
Class started with Nikki handing back the quizzes from the day before, the ones that had been caused by titters of laughter and derision when I didn't know any of the types of magic. From a few nasty glances directed my way, some of the students were less than happy with their scores, and probably blamed me for them getting the quiz in the first place. Great - another reason for students to dislike me. Nikki eyed me warily as she handed me my quiz; I knew that she was an empath, and could probably sense my anger, which only grew when she didn't seem to recognize that I had every right to be upset.
We were partway through the lecture when I was unfortunate enough to draw the attention of Ms. Grimes. The topic was the fields and spheres of magic, which from the descriptions, sounded like they were the same thing. Ms. Grimes, however, insisted they were not. By ill fortune, she chose to remember my comment about my healing spells while she was talking about the enchantment sphere of magic.
"Kayda, could you demonstrate one of your healing ... potions, so we can see what it is and how it works, as an exercise for the class to judge what sphere and field it is?" Ms. Grimes asked.
I'd been trying to hide to avoid being called upon, but now I had no choice. "Um," I stammered, "I'm not very good at it," I protested weakly. "Someone else would probably be better for a demonstration." I glanced, and saw Nikki staring at me, which made me uneasy. Was I on her 'enemies' list? Did she no longer trust me and Wakan Tanka? I had no idea, except that a powerful mage was apparently unhappy with me.
"Nonsense," Ms. Grimes retorted. "Mr. Lodgeman told me about your healing tea, and I feel that it would be a perfect demonstration."
"Um," I was stalling and groping for excuses to not have to perform, "I don't have a suitable container with me. If the container is metal, the spell will get all wonky." I hoped I'd saved myself from a public display.
"Nikki," Ms. Grimes said, "get one of the wooden bowls for Ms. Franks. How large?"
"Uh, a cup or two should do." Drat. My scheme was foiled. I should have figured it was a long-shot. "I need it about half-full of cold water."
Nikki nodded, and while she went to a supply shelf to get a bowl, I reluctantly stood and trudged to the front desk and took my medicine bag off my belt.
"Please explain as you proceed with the spell," Ms. Grimes directed as she hovered behind me, watching over my shoulder. Since water was a very common component of many spells, the room had a sink, so Nikki had the cup of water on the desk beside me by the time I laid out all the herbs I'd need.
"It'd be better if someone had a mild ailment, like a headache, or upset stomach, or a minor cut or scrape. But I can do the spell without that." I paused, feeling like I was performing, and I didn't like the feeling.
"Wakan Tanka, I need you to check my incantation." I recited what I thought the spell was.
"Very good, Wihakayda. But you didn't need to check with me. You've done that often enough. Why did you come to the dream world?" she asked.
"I'm ... I'm nervous. I don't like doing this, and I feel like I was put on the spot."
"And yet, you had no trouble with a far more difficult spell in front of your mom, Mr. Lodgeman, the doctor, and three other members when you were helping Debra."
"That was different," I protested.
"No, Wihakayda, it was no different. Now, though, you have time to think of what you are doing, but with Debra, you were too concerned about her to worry about the others."
"But ... I don't want to do this in front of ... _her_! I ... I have to hide my magic. Wicitaglegla, right?"
"I understand your nervousness, Wihakayda. But you must do as your instructor says. She is your teacher. Go ahead, Wihakayda. You can do this."
Ms. Grimes was looking strangely at me when I snapped back to the real world. "Is ... everything okay?" she asked.
I nodded. "I was consulting ... my spirit," I lied, "to make sure I remembered the incantation properly." I put the bowl on the desktop, and then I began to incant, my voice trembling from nervousness, as I crushed and added the various herbs at the appropriate times. I could feel the magic coursing through me, through the herbs, and into the cup, and when I finished the incantation, there was a small flash from the cup, which was now steaming lightly. I took a deep breath, and glanced up nervously at Ms. Grimes.
"Very good, Kayda," she said, nodding, before turning to the class, which had gathered around the desk. "Can anyone name the sphere that this magic falls under? Tansy?"
"It was invocation," the pretty but unpleasant blonde answered with conviction.
"Class? Is Tansy correct?"
"Uh, yeah." "I guess so." "Yeah."
One voice said firmly, "No. It's enchantment." Everyone - except Tansy - turned to look at Alya, who had a semi-smug expression on his face.
Ms. Grimes smiled. "Correct, Ayla. It's an enchantment of the herbal mixture. What field is this spell?"
"Uh, healing?" Irene said uncertainly.
"Correct, Irene. Kayda's spell enchanted the brew, most probably with some nature-based magic thrown in through the herbs, into a healing potion, or tea." She lifted the cup and sniffed it lightly, then drew in a deep breath. "And it's got a wonderful aroma, with a bit of a natural mint scent." She dipped her finger into the bowl and placed it on her tongue. "It's quite a good tea, too." She saw Ayla reaching to do the same. "No, Ayla, you may not use your refined palate to identify the ingredients," she said, slapping at his hand, which caused a chuckle through most of the room - except Mugwump and Tansy, as expected.
"May I?" Ms. Grimes asked, lifting the cup. When I nodded slightly, she took a sip of the tea. "Mmm," she purred. "And I can feel its magic infusing into me. It's quite ... relaxing and calming." She smiled. "You _must_ teach me how to make that tea. Okay, class, the demonstration is over."
Slowly, the students went back to their seats, and after I cleaned up my medicine pouch, I did as well, taking the cup of brew back to my desk with me, while Nikki continued to stare at me. I felt a slight shudder of discomfort; had I somehow made an enemy of her when Aunghadhail had intruded in my dream walk? Was she as suspicious of me as Aunghadhail was? Or was she angry at me because I'd dared to call her out on what Aunghadhail had done?
After class, Ayla was waiting for Nikki in the classroom, so I stepped outside the building into the fresh air. I was very nervous about Nikki and Ayla after their icy attitudes in class, but I still needed one of them to 'escort' me back to Poe or to lunch. When they hadn't come out after four or five minutes, I started glancing around. First, I put up my protective shield spell, just in case someone else wanted to hurl a slush-ball at me. Then I scanned the crowd. I saw Irene looking at me steadily, like a fox studies a hare before attacking it.
"Hi, Irene," I offered, smiling. "How did you like class today?"
She looked at me strangely. "Where do you get your essence?" she asked bluntly.
I shrugged. "I don't know. I think my spirit gathers it for me, because I'm not aware that I'm doing anything to collect it. Are you going to the cafeteria?"
"Maybe," she replied. "Why?"
I shrugged, and tried to put on a smile. "I ... just don't like to walk alone, and since we're in the same class ...."
Irene had a knowing look in her eyes. "Is it because you don't want to get in trouble?"
"Maybe," I replied, trying to grin, but knowing that even this junior-high girl knew of my troubles with security and my restrictions. Damn, but my reputation had spread fast, and it wasn't a good one. "Or maybe I just want to talk about class and magic and stuff."
"I'll walk with you," she said, a wicked grin spreading on her face, "if you give me some essence."
"I need to get some essence to light my own," she said. "So I'll walk with you if you give me some."
I was getting a feeling that giving this little girl some essence would be equivalent to giving a four-year-old a hammer - nothing good could come of it. "I don't know how to gather it, let alone to give you any. It just ... happens."
About that time, Ayla and Nikki emerged from the building, and they looked around until they spotted me. Nikki still had the decidedly-neutral expression on her face, and it was making me very nervous.
"Okay, Irene, I'll tell you what. Walk with me, and I'll teach you how to make my healing potion," I offered quickly.
Irene followed my glance, and even she figured out that there was something going on. "And one more spell?" she negotiated. "Like the thing you have around you now?"
I felt like I was being had by this junior high con artist. "Okay," I replied quickly when I saw Nikki and Ayla coming toward me. "But it might not work for you until you gather your own essence."
"Maybe your tea will give me some! Let's go," she said eagerly, and with me at her side, half-skipped, half-walked toward Schuster so we could eat.
As we walked, I tried to explain to her how my magic worked, and she seemed a little frustrated that I'd had to learn about the herbs and plants before I could start to learn even the simplest spells. I got the impression that she was looking for a 'quick fix' to get magic ability and power, and unfortunately for her, I didn't have that to give her. That may have been a blessing for the rest of the campus, though.
Both Nikki and Ayla looked suspiciously at me when they walked into the caf, and I was already in line to check out. I don't think they expected me to find someone to 'escort' me from Kirby to the Crystal Hall, and I suspected - strongly - that they wanted to talk to me about something. Given the previous evening, the morning confrontation, and probably the rumors about me in martial arts, I doubted there would be much good to say if we _did_ talk. Instead, I headed to where Evvie and the group usually sat. They paused and looked at me, and they exchanged words, making me worry that they intended to come to talk to me, but then they ascended to their 'royal thrones', as if they were so much better.
I was starting to see Nikki and Ayla as snobs of the same order as some of the other 'exclusive' groups, only it had taken longer for them to show their true colors. Aunghadhail thought she was entitled to invade my privacy, to the point of violating every social norm I'd grown up with or had learned from Wakan Tanka - and Nikki didn't even acknowledge that it had been a highly personal invasion of my privacy, let alone really apologize. And Ayla? Ayla was apparently nothing more than a typical rich snob who'd settled in with his own private groupies. I figured that Ayla was the mover behind the whole Team Kimba thing, assembling a group of high-powered freshmen to give him clout, just like uber-rich like the Goodkinds always did.
By the time Evvie and Naomi, the inseparable pair, showed up, I was fuming and nearly ready to explode with anger. The tea in my magic arts class hadn't helped much, which puzzled me greatly. It was supposed to be infused with magic, but it didn't seem to have been. I _needed_ something to calm me down before I exploded with anger.
I sat by the fire circle, even though it was daylight. "Wakan Tanka," I asked, "why didn't the magic in the healing spell help calm me?"
Wakan Tanka smiled. "It should be clear to you if you would only think. How does the magic get into the brew? If you know that, then you have your answer."
"Um," I stammered. "When I do the incantation, um, it ...." I wrinkled my brow. "I ... I don't know," I confessed.
"Wihakayda, are you not paying attention?" Wakan Tanka chastised me.
"Yes," I replied, but I didn't sound certain.
"Do you mix the herbs and plants and then chant the magic?"
"Uh, no," I answered slowly. Suddenly, it became clear. "When I chant over the ingredients, am I binding magic to each of them?"
Wakan Tanka smiled at me, placing her hand on my shoulder gently. "Yes, Wihakayda, you almost have it. Each of the ingredients has some natural magic in it. You add to that magic when you incant over that ingredient, and that releases its potential into the potion. After all of the ingredients are in, the potion is a mix of natural magics and your own, and the final incantation binds them together."
"So ... the magic at the end is how the beverage gains its power?" I thought a moment. "If the magic is bound at once, at the end of the incantation, then ... the magic would be released in the same way?"
Wakan Tanka looked like a proud parent. "Very good, Wihakayda. Since the magic releases in the same way it was bound, it flows instantly into the first person who partakes of the draught. After that, there is little or no magic left."
"I need to mix up some tea," I grumbled to Evvie. "I made some in magic class, but I didn't get the magic from it."
Evvie and Naomi shook their heads. "I don't get how that magic works," Evvie muttered.
"And it's weird watching you zone out like that," Naomi added.
"Sorry," I apologized, trying hard to not let my frustration spill out to my friends. Wow! That was a weird thought - friends. I suddenly realized that while I'd been moping around, I'd made some friends here. I sighed and shook my head, smiling at the irony of the situation.
"What?" Evvie asked. Laurie, too, who was sitting down with her tray, was had a puzzled look on her face.
"I just realized that while I've been busy being frustrated with the teachers, administrators, advisors, and bullies, I was so busy feeling sorry for myself that I didn't even realize that I was making new friends," I answered slowly. I looked around the group. "If we are friends, I mean." There were still doubts, after all I'd been through, that something good could really be happening to me.
"Of course we're friends," Evvie said, putting her hand atop mine from across the table. Naomi, too grasped my hand, and Laurie leaned to one side and wrapped an arm around my shoulder.
"Unless you do something really bad," Naomi added with a straight face, which made me gasp in surprise. "In which case," she continued after a dramatic pause, "we'll be friends who keep reminding you how you screwed up!" She couldn't keep from giggling at her last line.
Adrian and Vasiliy chose that moment to arrive, and they gave each other a wary glance when they saw us having a 'girls' moment. The slight burning I felt on my face confirmed to me, as if I'd had any doubt, that I was slowly adjusting to being, and thinking like, a girl. Memories of seeing Julie having 'girl moments' with her friends and the way it made me feel awkward and unsure of what to do, just like Adrian and Vasiliy were at that moment, confirmed the subtle changes that had occurred in me.
I made another batch of herbal tea, and when she saw me mixing it, Laurie asked what it was for. I explained its healing and calming properties - the tranquility effect was really a form of mental healing - and of course she asked if she could try a cup. Which led to Evvie and Naomi wanting to try some as well. Which inevitably led to a small group congregating around us wondering what in the heck I was doing. Great job disguising my talent, I told myself disgustedly.
I made and enchanted four cups of the beverage, and then told others that no, I wasn't going to be making tea for everybody, and could we please eat in peace. Politely, I hoped. Some of the students, especially the girls, milled about despite my plea, whining and begging me to make just one more cup so they could try, especially after they saw the rather blissful looks on Evvie's, Naomi's and Laurie's faces. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but then the small cluster parted like the Red Sea.
In the middle of the crevasse of girls was Mindbird, in her lilac-colored armored bodysuit, her helmet tucked under her arm in a NASCAR driver pose, and she was looking impassively at me. Like a gunfighter in an old spaghetti western, she deliberately stepped into the mini-aisle formed by the now-curious girls, striding slowly and deliberately toward me, stopping about three feet from me. The only things missing were spurs and a gun belt low around her hips. "Kayda," she greeted me simply.
"Dale," I replied, working to keep my voice calm even though I was nervous because I had no idea why Mindbird had come to talk to me. Was I in trouble for something else now, too?
"Interesting little group," she said in an amused voice, looking around at the eclectic group, mostly lower-powered, non-A-list girls and a few guys, who'd moments before been begging me for my enchanted tea. "Problems?"
I shook my head. "I was just having some tea, and they all got a little interested."
"Is there something special that I should know about?" she asked suspiciously.
I chuckled at her suspicion that I might be giving out something illicit. "It's herbal tea with a little Lakota enchantment, so it has healing and calming power. Would you like to try some?"
Mindbird looked at me like I'd just offered her some crack. "Uh, I don't think so," she said warily.
"Just smell it," Evvie suggested, holding up her ceramic cup. "It smells heavenly."
I almost laughed as I watched Dale take a tentative sniff, and then after her eyes popped wide open, take another, longer sniff. "Wow! That smells really good." Evvie and Naomi grinned with an 'I told you so' look.
"I get the feeling that this isn't a social call," I commented, "so what's up?"
Dale glanced around, scowling, and the small gaggle scattered from around our table. Once she was satisfied that casual listeners wouldn't overhear, she turned back toward me. "I figured I'd walk with you to your next class and we could talk."
"Is that because you have something to talk about, or because you're trying to deter something you've heard might happen?" I asked bluntly.
"There's chatter that someone is planning to mess with you," Dale admitted.
"TNT?" Evvie asked the obvious. She looked worried for my safety, which was touching, asking about those who'd already caused me problems.
Dale shook her head. "Probably not. They're being closely watched, and not just because of you. They've bullied a lot of kids, and security is tired of their antics. They actually got split up in cottages, and if they get caught doing anything as a group, their punishment is really increased. I doubt it's them."
"Then who?" Laurie asked the obvious question.
"Security doesn't know." She looked directly at me. "Do you want an escort to classes?"
"Just great," I sighed. "So you're worried about protecting me, but you don't know from what? That sounds like your presence will make me _so_ much safer."
Dale stared at me for a few moments, and then, shaking her head, she walked off, leaving all of us puzzled as to what her warning meant.
I used English period to work on catch-up for Power Theory, which annoyed Ms. Seever to no small end. Good. I didn't like her much, because she treated me like I was a freshman who'd never taken an English class before, whereas I'd had Mrs. Zimmer in my old school, and she was a very tough teacher. She was an old-school grammar fanatic, and she loved making us read and critically review older, classic literature, like "The Scarlet Letter" and "Last of the Mohicans." Compared to Mrs. Zimmer, Ms. Seever was a pussy-cat, except that she disliked me.
Power Theory was the usual tiresome exercise in staying awake, if one tried to follow the lecture, but since I'd abandon listening to his monotonous, droning voice in favor of reading the material, which I could read much faster than Dr. Quintain could talk, I got four more days' worth of lecture digested, to the point that it was the class in which I was closest to being caught up. Of course, that wasn't counting Algebra I and English I.
Power Lab was frustrating as well, because we were discussing powers that weren't applicable to me, and from a look at the course syllabus, it wasn't _going_ to cover anything about avatars. I needed the avatar course. And my lab partner was being quite stuck-up toward me. I got quite bored, which made Charge even more upset because I wasn't helping her. I spent most of that period wishing that my classes were a little more pertinent, engaging, and exciting.
That turned out to be the wrong wish to make, because it was filled by someone from the practical joke department. Not that my classes got more exciting. Far from it. Time crawled almost as fast as molasses would flow back home. Uphill. In early February. In other words, time dilation occurred, and seconds became like hours. No, the excitement came as Delta Spike was to meet with me to escort me to the electronics lab. Since spring was springing after a cold winter, everyone had cabin fever and wanted to be outside. Like them, I was waiting outside, sitting on a bench next to a walkway, and soaking up my share of the sun's warm rays.
I started to stand as soon as I saw my escort approaching, turning to walk to meet her so we could go back inside and down into the tunnels. It was that slight fortuitous turn of my body that saved me.
The whoosh of a speedster zipping by barely registered before I was slammed forward, spinning, by something extremely hard smacking into my left shoulder, between the shoulder blade and my spine. I didn't have time to cry out, only to pitch forward and whack my head on the hard bricks of the walkway milliseconds before everything went black.
Doyle Medical Complex
Damn, I had a headache. My eyelids pried open slowly, and the light caused my head to pound as the stimulus flooded through my optic nerves into my brain, making me wince in pain. That motion, in turn, hurt my left shoulder, making me nearly black out again as a redness of intense agony danced into my vision, blotting out the dim view of the room I was in. As the repeated stabbing into my shoulder slowly faded back to painful throbbing, I slowly pried my eyes open a tiny slit. The bright lights of the room caused my head to pound again, but I was ready for it, and I let the drumbeat ease before trying to make sense of my surroundings.
I was lying on my right side so there was no direct pressure on my left shoulder, on a bed in a mostly-white room. It was obvious that I was in Doyle again, and I groaned. What had happened? I remembered standing, and hearing the distinct sound of a speedster, but nobody had gone tearing past me. And something had hit me - hard. It didn't make sense to me
"Good, you're awake," Dr. Tenent's familiar voice sang out to me.
"What ... happened?" I mumbled softly.
"I was hoping you could tell me," Dr. Tenent replied. "You were hit in your upper back by a large piece of ice, between the left scapula and your upper spine, causing several fractures."
"Not again," I groaned. "I don't remember anything. Not much."
Dr. Tenent moved to my feet, and began to touch them. "Can you feel this?" She proceeded to check my feet, ankles, and lower legs, and then she had me move my toes, feet, and legs. "The good news is that it looks like you have no nerve damage. I've healed your bones, but you'll have to take it easy for a bit, and you're going to have a whopper of a headache from your concussion."
"I ... kind of remember hitting my head on the walkway."
Dr. Tenent nodded. "The scans don't show any fractures or internal hemorrhaging, so once your headache goes away, you'll be as good as new."
"What happened this time, Kayda?" I recognized the chief's voice, but he'd entered the room behind me, and when I instinctively twisted toward the sound, I nearly passed out with pain again.
"I wish I knew," I said as soon as my body quit punishing me for moving.
"What can you tell me?"
"Don't you guys have it on camera?" I asked sarcastically.
I could almost feel the disgusted look and head-shake on Delarose's part. "I wish. There's nothing on the security footage, and nobody saw anyone. And what's worse, you were hit with a large ice-ball, so the evidence has all melted."
"Crap." I fought the natural impulse to shake my head in disgust, because I knew such a move would be greeted with pain. "I thought I heard something like a speedster running," I reported, "but I didn't see anyone moving around me. And then I got hit with whatever it was, I fell, and I got knocked out." I snorted with disgust. "And I'm missing the one class of the day I was looking forward to!"
The chief moved to where I could see him, pulling out a small box and flipping a switch. A green LED illuminated atop the device. "Doc, tell her please."
I saw Caduceus wince. "If you hadn't been standing and turning, the impact would have hit the base of your skull, or your cervical spine. It would have killed you or left you paralyzed below the neck."
I goggled at that revelation, and I saw Chief Delarose nod grimly. "Kayda, Foob, Mrs. Carson, and I are worried that someone, or something, doesn't want you here. Do you know of anyone who'd want to harm you?"
"No," I said after thinking a moment. "Except for the assholes in my home who tried to kill me."
"They can't get here. Anyone else? Or any _thing_ else?"
I nodded without having to think. "There's the snake-demon spirit that attacked me in the dream-world."
The chief shook his head. "Fubar checked into that. That was an astral-world attack, and he doesn't see how it could be tied to what happened on campus with the wards around campus to keep that sort of thing out."
"And the Mishibijiw that attacked me - in the real world."
Again, the chief shook his head. "Mrs. Carson had the mystical arts department check. Nothing has gotten through the wards." He took a very deep breath and slowly exhaled. 'I'll be honest, Kayda. This has us concerned, and rather confused. A couple of the incidents with you were psychically induced. Cagliostro and TNT had been influenced by someone to do what they did to you. It may be that this one was, too. The difference is that the first incidents seemed to be harassing, like someone was trying to get you to leave Whateley. We can't tell, because of the lack of evidence, whether someone miscalculated with the ice-ball or had ill intent. And those two attacks you suffered while en-route to Whateley were clearly intended to be fatal."
I nodded, taking in his news. "Okay, so what are you going to do?" I asked after a few awkward moments.
"For one thing, you're still officially on watch," Delarose replied quickly. "Fubar and Dr. Bellows think you don't need full-time suicide watch, but keeping you there gives us an excuse to monitor and try to protect you."
"I can't say that I like it, but it makes sense." I glanced, with pain, at Caduceus. "Can you do something to heal this so I can go to what's left of my electronics class?" Delarose groaned in disbelief, while Caduceus just rolled her eyes at my request.
Caduceus may have been the greatest healer on campus, but I still hurt like hell, and was moving slowly with the two security officers who led me to the electronics classroom. I felt a little conspicuous as I walked in. All the other students - all male - turned to stare at me, and I felt butterflies in my stomach. It was as if I was an alien from another planet instead of a girl who shared a class. They eyed me distrustfully, as if I would succeed by convincing them to help out with a couple of wiggles and bats of the eyelashes, but at the same time, I could tell that they were attracted to me. Nerds didn't date pretty girls. Nerds didn't even get to associate with pretty girls. And like it or not, that's what I was, so I had to deal with a room full of potentially worshipful nerds.
I carefully made my way to the teacher's desk and explained what had happened and why I was late, and then went to my desk and began to work on a lab project. Before too long, I felt like someone was watching me; one of the guys had wandered to my lab station and was watching me with interest. I looked up, scowling, only to have my expression soften when I recognized Delwin from the bookstore. "Hi," I said simply.
I thought he was going to have a heart attack. A pretty girl initiates a conversation with a bona fide nerd? Not something that happens every day. "Uh, hi. Kayda, right?"
I knew that he remembered my name. Guys always remembered girls' names - and their approximate dimensions. I winced inwardly at that thought. "Yeah. And you're Delwin." Gak - from the look on his face, he'd never had a girl remember his name, and he looked about ready to pass out from nerves. "From the bookstore."
"Yeah," he replied, his voice quavering. "That's my work-study job." He hemmed and hawed for a bit. "Um, do you, um, you know, need any help, um, on your lab?" he managed to stammer. I didn't have to look to tell that he was blushing furiously and shaking with fear of being rejected.
"Thanks, but I've got this one handled. It's really pretty simple." I saw him visibly deflate. "But I may need some help on other ones, because I still have a lot of catching up to do."
I lowered my voice some. "Just to let you know, I'm not going on any dates, and I'm not looking for any kind of relationship. Period and stop. But I _do_ like having friends. Deal?"
Relief flooded Delwin's face because I'd been careful to let him know clearly where he stood, without hurting his feelings or embarrassing him aloud in front of his fellow students. "Deal." I thought he'd faint when I shook his hand.
I glanced around surreptitiously as he walked back to his work area. All the other male students were looking at him like he'd just walked on water or won a billion-dollar lottery, all because he hadn't been publicly embarrassed by a pretty girl. I smiled, but I also shuddered on the inside. I'd just handled that the way I'd always respected girls for handling those types of situations - by being nice and letting him know politely that I wasn't interested in a relationship or dating, but I wasn't going to treat him like human garbage, either. I had no idea how much of a girl I was becoming, but the thought worried me.
After class, I had to wait around for an escort, which, again, seemed to be late. Or someone had forgotten. I sighed heavily; I so didn't need more problems or complications.
"Um, is everything okay?" Delwin had just finished putting away components from his lab project.
The sigh told him everything without my having to speak, but I did anyway. "No. My ... escort ... isn't here."
"If you need, I can walk with you back to your cottage." He saw my reaction, and quickly added, "Just as friends. Just as a favor, with no expectation of anything in return. I promise I won't mention dates or anything like that."
I looked at him. Damn, but he seemed so innocent and friendly. "Okay, if you promise that this is just two classmates."
"Sure. We can talk about class or stuff."
I turned to the instructor. "If someone shows up looking for me, can you let them know that I'm on my way back to Poe?"
We set off down the tunnels, and true to his word, Delwin didn't talk about anything but being a gadgeteer, and how cool electronics class was, and what he was learning in the mechanical classes. Like most gadgeteers, he was a definite underdog, having only PK hovering as an additional power.
Everything was fine, until, when we were getting out of the elevator, we both tried to go through the doorway at the same time, and I got squeezed against him. I felt a surge of panic - a guy was pushing on me, and ....
The door that I thought I'd locked flung open, and rough hands grabbed at me, yanking me violently from behind the steering wheel. I felt a blow in my ribs as a fist struck me, and another one hit my cheek.
"Hey, it's true! Brandon turned into a mutie-chick! Whoa, baby - them're some nice hooters!" The guy, his voice full of the same lust I'd always heard in the locker-room discussions of sex, yanked my jacket open, and his rough hands pawed at my breasts.
Another fist slammed into my back, sending pain shooting from my kidneys up my spine, while I screamed, fighting the hands holding me while others groped my body, yanking at my pants and tearing at my shirt, even as a blow on my side broke a rib with an audible crack.
"Let's have some fun with her before we get rid of her," one of the guys laughed as he thrust his hand into my crotch.
"No!" I screamed. "Don't touch me!" I tried to push away the hands groping me, but I was held firm, and the guys laughed at my screams. "No!"
Slowly, I realized that someone was talking to me. "It's okay, Kayda," the voice said. I looked fearfully toward the sound, and saw a blonde girl beside me, her voice calm and soothing and her face compassionate. "You're okay, Kayda. You're safe." It took a moment for the flash of panic to subside and for me to recognize reality, and for me to feel her arm around me, holding me tightly, reassuringly, talking soothingly like a mother to a frightened child.
I looked at her, at the calmness and sympathy in her eyes. "What ... happened?" I asked hesitantly. I glanced around, and realized that I was wedged into a corner of the elevator, with Mindbird crouched beside me. Two security officers stood watching us, one inside the elevator and one visible through the open door towering over Delwin menacingly.
"Do you remember anything?" Dale asked me softly.
I felt wetness on my cheeks, and I wiped at them. "Uh, no. I was getting out of the elevator, and Delwin was too, and ... and ... we kind of squeezed together, and ... and then I don't remember."
Dale nodded knowingly. "May I?" she asked, and I instantly knew what she was talking about. I nodded, and I felt her presence in my mind for a moment, and then it was thrust out. She scowled at me. "Can you turn off your buffalo, please?"
"Uh, yeah," I said, embarrassed. Tears were still seeping down my cheeks from whatever had happened, and as I wiped at them, I slipped into dream-space and told Tatanka to let Dale in. "Okay," I told her when I was ready. "And he's a bison, not a buffalo."
Dale was practiced with her telepathy, obviously, because her presence didn't feel intrusive. After a few moments, I felt her slip back out of my mind. "Delwin's story corresponds to Kayda's memories. He didn't do anything improper, but when they accidentally bumped together in the elevator door, it triggered Kayda's PTSD. And he _did_ call security, and then watched her to make sure she was safe until we arrived."
I managed to look at Delwin, at the confused look on his face. "I'm ... I'm sorry," I apologized. "I didn't mean ...." I looked down at my still-trembling hands. "I'm a mess."
"You'll be okay," Delwin replied to me. I looked up, and saw a sad smile on his face. I was stunned - after what had just happened, with me freaking out in the elevator, he still smiled at me.
"Let's take you up to see Dr. Bellows," Dale suggested. She helped me to my feet, and then glanced at the security guys. "I think we can handle this."
"We have to file a report," one of the security goons protested.
"And I'm a security auxiliary, and I'll file a report after I get Kayda to Dr. Bellows office, or to her cottage," Dale scolded them gently. She put her arm around my shoulder, supporting me in a reassuring way, and guided me down the tunnel toward Schuster, toward Dr. Bellows' office and some professional help. As often as I was there, I figured I should just find an unused office and move a cot there.
I was still trembling inside when I got back to Poe; Mrs. Horton had assigned a couple of girls from the third floor to come to Dr. Bellows' office to get me. As we walked into Poe's main entrance, Nikki and Toni were leaving the cottage, and there was another nerve-wracking moment. I tried to force a smile toward the two, or at least Toni. "Hi, Toni," I said in a trembling voice. I tried to say the same to Nikki, but the words stuck in my throat when I saw the suspicious look she was giving me.
"Hey, Kayda," Toni replied in a friendly voice, even though her gaze was darting back and forth between me and Nikki. "Rough day?"
"Uh, yeah," I answered, shaking a bit at the flashback of the flashback. "I guess. How did you know?"
Toni smiled wryly. "Girl, your ki lines are totally messed up.
"Uh, yeah," I muttered. "Whatever that means."
Toni laughed, but Nikki continued to eye me warily. I wondered if she was upset about the dream-walking that Aunghadhail had done, or if the Sidhe queen had told her something about me that had her on edge. The tension between us was palpable, and I had no idea why, when only a couple of days earlier, it seemed that Wakan Tanka and Aunghadhail were at peace. If the two were in conflict, then living in the same cottage as Nikki could become difficult.
At the foot of the stairs, JJ came dashing up, an apologetic look on her face. "Ohmygod,Kayda,I'msosorryIforgotwhattimeitwasandIforgotthatIhadtogetyouandwhenIgottoyourclassroom,youweregoneandtheteacherwasgoneandIwasworriedthatsomethingbadhadhappenedtoyoulikeyesterdaysoIwenttosecuritybuttheyhadn'theardanythingandsotheylookedatalltheircamerasandsawyouwalkingwiththatboypassingMelvillesoIknewyouwereokay,butI'msorry,I'msorry.Iwon'teverletyoudownagain.Canyouforgiveme?Ididn'tmeantoleaveyoualone." She managed to cram a week's worth of feeling distraught into a few seconds. Being blonde fit JJ to a T.
I put my hand on her arm. "I'm okay, JJ," I said firmly. "Everything worked out, so there wasn't any harm done, okay? Don't worry about it."
"OkayKaydaI'msosorryandIwon'tletithappenagain.You'rebeingsoniceafterIletyoudownandIpromiseIwon'tforgetagain." This coming from the girl who routinely forgot her towel in the morning showers, and who, in a logical argument, would forget what she'd said only seconds before and contradict herself. She dashed up the stairs before I could get another word in - not that I had any more to say. Or that she would have had patience to listen to.
French class was a pain, because of the different grammatical rules from English and Lakota. I'd heard that knowing one foreign language made it easier to master another one by exercising the linguistic centers of the brain, but this wasn't proving true. If anything, the nature of the Lakota language made French grammatical rules seem even more difficult, even though my improved memory made the vocabulary memorization incredibly easy. It was frustrating in class to know the words, and to give an oral answer with a strange mixture of Lakota, English, and French word ordering. A lot of others found it quite amusing, and my displeasure of their laughter caused some rather colorful phrases - in Lakota, of course, since no-one could understand exactly what choice words I was spewing in my frustration. The teacher must have suspected something, because she kept frowning at me when I _did_ slip into Lakota. She suggested - strongly - that I find someone who was fluent in French to practice with - assuming of course, that I ever had any time with my insane class load.
Dinner went well - at least as well as could be expected given that dozens of girls, and several of the Dylans, had heard of my tea through the ancient miracle of the gossip network, and consequently, they all wanted to try my elixir. It got to the point that Mindbird and Stormwolf had to intervene and tell everyone that I would NOT be making tea for anyone else during meals, and that, if necessary, they'd get that edict from the administration.
Mindbird was also concerned that my tea had something in it that was akin to drugs, and that's why people felt so relaxed and refreshed after drinking it. I tried to explain that Mrs. Grimes had tested it and found it perfectly acceptable, but between her and Stormwolf, they insisted - strongly - that I not make any more tea until the magic arts and medical people had okayed it. That set me off, and I gave them both a lecture about impinging on my ritual tea was a direct impingement on my practicing traditional Lakota spirit medicine, which was thus restricting my religious practices.
That argument put Stormwolf in a quandary , because he was torn between two sets of conflicting rules. On the one hand, my freedom to practice Lakota religion, and thus partake of the ritual healing tea, could not be infringed upon unless that practice involved a prohibited substance, like peyote. Absent such proof, my tea was permissible. But he, and anyone else in security or the administration, had the right to ask for testing of the substances to ensure there was nothing banned in the tea, and the prudent thing to do was to have my tea tested.
On the flip side, as a Native American himself, Stormwolf knew that the practice of _his_ native religion was something special and not to be intruded or infringed upon, and I was accorded the same consideration. It was almost fun watching him squirm with his moral and ethical dilemma.
Mindbird, though, knew immediately what I was doing, because I'm sure I was broadcasting my thoughts and emotions loud and clear. She frowned, and gave a small headshake 'no' to let me know that she _did_ know that I was just playing mind-games with Stormwolf, that she didn't approve, and that I should behave myself. I relented and agreed to give a sample of my tea to the medical complex to ensure there was nothing contraband in the mixture of plants and herbs, and to get a written statement from Ms. Grimes that the magic in the tea was harmless, and then I could serve tea to others in the caf. In exchange, they wouldn't infringe on my drinking the tea, unless medical reported some forbidden substance in the ingredients.
After that little bit of excitement, I was much quieter during dinner - being nearly killed by a high-velocity block of ice tends to do that to a person, and then the two Wild Pack members took away the happiness of being at the center of at least a little attention. The others in my group, however, were their usual boisterous, energetic selves. I felt quite subdued, and didn't really participate in the conversation, except for the perfunctory 'yeah', 'uh huh', or 'nah'.
I shouldn't have been surprised that they noticed, but I was, because I was so lost in reflecting on a really lousy day. It had actually seemed about four or five days long because there had been so much go wrong. At that rate, it'd feel like a thousand years to survive to graduation!
"Wihakayda, what are you thinking?" Wakan Tanka asked as she handed me a cup of the herbal tea I was becoming accustomed to sharing with her whenever I visited the dream-world.
I took a sip and felt the warmth and peace permeate my body and soul. "Mmm," I purred. "This is just what I needed."
"Is it?" Wakan Tanka asked with a sly grin. "Or do you need something else?"
I frowned, taking another sip. "I don't understand."
As I pondered Wakan Tanka's words, Tatanka ambled into the camp and stood beside me, surprising me since he'd usually lie down beside me. "I suppose you have some lesson for me?"
Tatanka nodded. "Come." He turned and walked to the edge of the village, waiting for me to follow him.
I glanced at Wakan Tanka, who merely nodded to me, so I stood and followed the white buffalo. As we exited the camp, the prairie landscape vanished, and we were in a high mountain meadow, resplendent in it summer finery. "What's your lecture for the day?"
Tatanka glanced at me, smiling smugly. "Not mine, but the lesson of Hehaka, the elk spirit."
I sighed, rolling my eyes. Great I was about to be lectured on my behavior by another freakin' animal. "Why do you keep dragging me to meet these spirits?" I demanded, walking quickly to keep up with the shaggy white bison. "I thought you and Wakan Tanka said you wouldn't drag me here against my will."
"And we haven't," Tatanka replied immediately. "You come to us because you need an answer, or some advice - even if you don't realize that you do."
"What?" I was astounded at that revelation. "I come here to get a lecture - of my own free will?"
"You have some unspoken, unrecognized question, so you come to us for answers," Tatanka replied. We followed a stream around a bend, and there, standing majestically in profile, his head turned alertly to us, was the largest, most magnificent elk I'd ever seen. "Greetings, Hehaka," Tatanka called.
The elk nodded his head, almost bowing to Tatanka. "Greetings, White Tatanka." He stared carefully at me. "Is this the one you spoke of?"
"Yes," Tatanka answered. "She has listened and observed many lessons, but she is stubborn, past the perseverance of Hoka to the point of foolishness. She knows the lesson of Pispiza, but she acts as if she's alone. She has observed the pack behavior of Sugmanitu Hota, but thinks that she can be strong without her pack."
I glowered at the white traitor. "I'm not like that," I replied tersely.
"No?" Hehaka asked, staring directly at me as he walked almost regally to face me. "Why, then, do you sit with your community, but refuse to interact with them?"
"I ...." I couldn't answer. He was right.
"You and I are alike in a way," Hehaka said with a sad smile. "I, too, need solitude occasionally, but I feel a strong need always to be with my kind, to have companionship."
"But ...." Once again, I was confused by how much he seemed to know. "How is it that you think you know me?"
Hehaka smiled. "I could say that I have seen, but that would be a lie. I have heard from Ceda, who has clear sight and sees what you call the 'big picture'. He has watched you and noted your behavior, as Tatanka directed him, and has told me."
I turned to Tatanka, frowning angrily. "So you have the animal spirits spying on me now?"
Tatanka merely shrugged. "There are parts of your spirit that I don't understand, Wihakayda," he said simply. "So I use what I can to watch, and to learn, and to see what animal spirits you follow so I can better help when you have a question."
I opened my mouth to reply, to rebuke him for spying on me, but I couldn't. He _was_ part of me now, like Ptesanwi was, and he was doing what I had agreed, which was to allow them to be help me.
"In another way, too, we are alike, Wihakayda," Hehaka said to me. "You are, in some ways, passionate. It is good to have passion, but you must control that passion so it doesn't rule you, but serves you."
I thought a few moments. "Let's say that you're correct, that I _do_ feel a need for companionship and community. How do I do that?"
Hehaka smiled. "When I am done being solitary and need companionship, I do not wait for the herd to come to me. I must go to the herd. In the same way, you must seek your own kind for companionship and friendship rather than waiting in solitude for them to seek you. They are many, and you are one."
"So what you're saying is that I can't expect them to always come to me? The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one." I hoped I was accurate with my quote. It _had_ been a while since I'd seen that movie.
Hehaka nodded. "You understand, at least in your mind. Now you need to move the lesson to your heart, Wihakayda, so it's a natural part of you. Do not be afraid of your need for solitude and quiet, but seek the community when you feel the need to be with them."
I drifted back to the real world, where I realized that I was holding my cup of herbal brew halfway to my lips, and was frozen, with the others staring at me.
"Gone to visit the skunk spirit again?" Naomi asked with a knowing grin when I blinked and set my cup down.
"No," I answered. "I was visiting a different spirit. Hehaka, the elk spirit."
Laurie shook her head. "It sounds like you have a menagerie in your head. A whole zoo-full of teachers."
I started at her comment, but then I smiled. "Yeah, I guess I do. Now if only I'd listen to them instead of being stubborn," I added with a chuckle.
The rest of the dinner conversation centered on the various animal spirits I'd met, with a game of trying to identify what student was most like a particular animal spirit. Dinner was a lot more pleasant than I'd expected; after the day I'd had, I really had felt rather mopey and down, but my friends put a smile on my face. Sure I still disliked - intently - Ito Soke and Sensei Tolman, algebra, and English sucked, and sure, someone had tried to kill me with an ice projectile, but the evening was ending on an upbeat note.
Evvie and Naomi left a bit early to go to the library, so Laurie and Adrian walked with me back to Poe, even though it was in the wrong direction from their own cottages. I understood why - they'd have some time for a peaceful walk together after dropping me off. I envied them; I would have really liked to walk together with Debra, arm in arm. For now, I'd have to be satisfied spending time with her in dream-walks.
As we walked, I started feeling nervous, and recalling what Mindbird had said at lunch, I quickly and silently cast my shield spell around the three of us. Maybe I was being a bit paranoid, but someone _had_ been paying way too much attention to me, and not in a good way.
About halfway between Melville and Poe, a large glob of slush splattered on my shield, startling the three of us as the sloppy, wet snow slid off my shield to the ground. Another attack? I sighed; Mindbird and the Wild Pack had been correct in their threat assessment; someone was trying to prank me.
"Should we call security?" Laurie asked nervously.
I shrugged. "No need. They're probably on their way here already."
I wasn't off by far. Mindbird walked toward us very deliberately, and a moment later, Stormwolf joined her, holding another student by the arm, quite probably the slush-ball thrower.
"Let's go to security," Mindbird directed.
I shook my head. "For a slush-ball, which my shield stopped?"
"It could have been an ice projectile, like earlier today," Stormwolf countered. "This has to be reported, because there's a pattern of harassing you with dangerous attacks."
"Can we just drop it?" I pleaded. "It's not worth any fuss."
"Since you weren't hit," Mindbird said, "you don't have to go to Kane to file a report, but Chief Delarose would really like it." She looked at the perp. "And we don't have a choice with him," she added. "Standing orders; anyone pranking you has to be checked."
"I'd rather just drop it," I said, discounting her peculiar choice of words.
"Are you sure you don't want to file anything on this?"
I snorted derisively. "And have the whole school know that I can't take a failed slush-ball attack without crying to security? Like _that_ would help me socially!"
The rest of the trip to Poe was anti-climactic, with no further incidents, but I felt like a third wheel. I could tell that Adrian and Laurie really wanted to hold hands, or hold each other closer as they walked, but were embarrassed to do so in my presence. And the looks they were exchanging reminded me of the way Julie and I used to glance at each other, suggestive of an urgent need to perform a durability check on her lipstick. I bid them a hasty 'good night' at Poe, so they could more closely study each other as they walked back toward their respective cottages. Actually, I expected that Adrian would walk Laurie back to one of the little sitting areas in the main quad for some extended, um, conversation, before finishing walking her to Whitman, and then, since it was a green-flag day, he'd fly over to Emerson to arrive just before curfew. The little side-trip to Poe - and the security delay - had cost them a few minutes of making-out time, but neither objected, even in their body language to me. That really was touching; I had friends. Real friends. I was choked up when I watched them walk away, Laurie pausing to wave at me, because it hit me quite dramatically that I was developing a sense of my own community, my own circle of friends, just as Tatanka, Pispiza, and Hehaka had been telling me.
Evvie wasn't in our room - I suspected she was either in the library, or in Naomi's room - so I had peace and quiet to study my French. It was difficult to keep the grammatical rules straight between my native English, Lakota, and the new French. More than a few Lakota curses sounded loudly as I struggled to keep the genders straight. More than anything, it was the differences in noun cases, matching the adjective endings, and the order of the words. I dreaded getting to verbs. I remember thinking that the rules in English were bad, but variations based on whether the noun was first, second, or third person, and if it was singular or plural were tricky. It wasn't difficult to memorize the rules; after all, I had an exemplar memory. But it took practice to string things together properly, and my practice sucked. It was just like math - knowing the theory and the rules didn't help unless one practiced applying them.
"Shit!" I cried in frustration - in Lakota - after my latest attempt, in over half an hour of trying to successfully complete the exercises in the book, was as full of errors as my first ones had been. "Why do I have to do this crap now?" My evening was rapidly vanishing, and I was making little progress in catching up with French. If I hadn't had French, I could have been catching up in my other classes.
A disturbance in the hall caught my attention, although at my frustration level, the noise of a butterfly flitting by would have distracted me from the torture that was French. Figuring that taking a break for a couple of minutes would help recharge my brain, I followed the noise down the hall into the common room. I'd been informed that one area of the room was known as Kimba Korner, since the Kimbas hung out there frequently to study. They'd even hung some hammocks and rearranged the furniture so the group had a cozy study space. Originally, it had been a multi-purpose common area with a TV, but now, everyone used the third-floor common area for TV viewing, and the second floor for studying.
Hank was sitting with his girlfriend Wallflower, Jade sprawled in a hammock, while Jinn floated with their roommate Billy Wilson, or Tennyo. Rip, Bunny, and Verdant from our floor were also there, as were a few girls from the third floor. The subject, not surprisingly, wasn't homework.
"It was huge!" Diamante, one of the third-floor girls exclaimed. "I didn't think she could manifest anything that big!"
"Yeah," another third-floor girl agreed. "It almost trampled me. Even my PK shove didn't seem to faze it. It had to be one of Beltane's practical jokes."
"Well, she's gone too far this time!" Verdant declared. "I think we need to report this to Mrs. Horton. That thing was running around like it _wanted_ to trample us!"
I winced; I'd seen a couple of Beltane's pranks, and had heard of many more. "What did she do this time?" I asked, trying to sound innocent.
Diamante scowled. "It was that huge white buffalo she had running around the halls, trying to trample everyone yesterday. Haven't you heard about it?"
I positively cringed. "Um, no," I replied cautiously. "I haven't heard anything about Beltane and a buffalo."
Jinn stared directly at me, and I felt like she was seeing my emotions. "What is it, Kayda?" she asked after a moment.
"Uh, what is what?"
"Why are you feeling guilty and embarrassed?" Jinn pressed. All of the girls were staring at me intently.
"Um," I stammered, cringing more. "That wasn't Beltane's manifestation," I said softly.
Diamante frowned. "How do you know?"
I was caught. I sighed; better to get it out now instead of trying to hide the truth which would eventually come out. "Um, because it's _my_ manifestation," I admitted.
I nodded. "One of my spirits is Tatanka, the white buffalo, and, well, I can manifest him." I saw their looks. "But yesterday, somehow he manifested while I was napping and had a nightmare," I added quickly. "I didn't mean for him to chase anyone around."
"You ... manifest a white buffalo ... when you have nightmares?" Verdant asked carefully. "So, when you have bad dreams, that ... thing is going to chase us all over the place?"
"Thunderstorms and PMS all over again," Hank groaned.
"Can I see?" Jade asked excitedly, hopping down from the hammock. "Please?" She was looking at me with Big Sad Puppy Dog Eyes, a gaze that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention because it was so devastating as to be irresistible.
The other girls were looking at me fearfully, afraid that I _would_ manifest the white buffalo, which would then chase them around some more.
I thought for a few moments, and then nodded to Jade. A moment later, Tatanka appeared, St. Bernard sized. "This is my buffalo spirit, Tatanka," I introduced him cautiously.
"But ... yesterday, the thing was ginormous!" Bunny declared. "Not like this!"
Jade dashed up and sat on a chair next to Tatanka. "He's so .... kyooot!" she bubbled enthusiastically. "Can I pet him?"
There must have been something about Jade, because Tatanka nuzzled up to her like an overgrown puppy dog, letting her scratch under his chin and behind his ears.
"Isn't he adorable, Bunny? We _have_ to get Kayda on Wondercute! With Lindsay's dragon, and Rythax, he'd be _perfect!"
Bunny scurried over to Tatanka, her eyes beaming at the idea of whatever Wondercute was. But that same idea produced expressions of horror on Hank's and Billie's faces, and looks of utter disbelief from the other girls.
I wasn't sure I liked the sound of something called Wondercute. "Um, I'm ... not really into ... cute," I stammered, hoping to put off the two suddenly-gushing admirers of Tatanka who seemed to want to draft me into something that, judging by the expressions, was disconcerting to the rest of the Poesies. When I declined, the look I saw flit across Billie's face was one of profound relief, which made me wonder exactly what sort of trap I'd just dodged. What kind of monstrosity was Wondercute if it induced that much apprehension?
Black Hills, SD
One man was allowed within two-hundred yards of a very heavily-modified C-130 Hercules transport plane, parked at the end of the Clyde-Ice airfield near Spearfish, South Dakota. The entire airstrip was closed, with military aircraft flying interference to keep all traffic clear, and the perimeter of the small public airfield was guarded by a special unit from the nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base. What was not known to the airmen providing security was that the aircraft was remotely piloted; there were no aircrew aboard. Further, the aircraft was heavily laden with a special explosive device for termination of the flight, or of the aircraft and surrounding area if need be. The officers from Ellsworth had protested the use of their men for a mission so classified that their orders were to simply, 'Cooperate and do whatever you're told.' Such orders didn't usually sit well with O-6 and above officers, but since the orders came directly from the SecDef himself, they saluted like good soldiers, even when the orders said to outfit the security unit for full nuclear conditions.
One curious part of the 'cooperation' was to facilitate two snipers' nests which had good visibility to the runway; each of the two positions was occupied by non-military snipers with .50 caliber Barrett rifles, and each sniper had his rifle trained on the one man approaching the plane. Behind each sniper, a second person in each two-man team crouched, but not in the usual support position. Instead, each had a pistol trained on the sniper's head, and around their necks, the two had electronic devices to initiate detonation of the aircraft's ultra-low yield nuclear device. If it came to it, the airport, the security teams, and some of the surrounding area were sacrificial to protect against what the aircraft carried.
The man approaching the aircraft paused and made some strange, mystical motions, and then resumed approaching the plane. He paused, and the plane's cargo ramp was lowered by remote control from wherever operated the plane. After a deep breath, steeling himself, the man walked into the plane.
Several tense minutes later, a small wheeled transporter trundled down the ramp onto the tarmac, followed by the man with a remote-control unit. Atop the remote-controlled vehicle were two boxy objects. One was coffin-sized and shaped, with mystical writing on the outside of the crate-like box, while the other was significantly larger, and also covered in runes. Also atop the transport was a man lying on his side. He was trussed up in a straitjacket, with shackles on his legs and a hood over his head. Occasionally, his body thrashed a bit, but restrained as it was, the man couldn't move far or fall from the transport.
For fifteen long minutes, the snipers observed, their fingers on their triggers and their scopes trained on the man by the plane, who, for his part, did nothing except watch the trussed-up figure. Finally, a truck slowly rolled down the tarmac, stopping and then backing up to near the plane. A ramp unfolded from the back of the truck, exposing an inside that was, like the plane and the boxes, heavily covered with the mystical figures and etchings. Slowly, carefully, the man piloted the transport up into the truck, and after a few minutes inside, he exited and closed the ramp.
A strange caravan drove from the airport - an SUV with darkened windows, a military armored vehicle, the truck, two more armored vehicles, and another SUV. Overhead, four helicopter gunships kept watch, while even higher, two fighter jets and a heavy bomber flew cover, the bomber with orders to drop its thermonuclear warhead on the convoy without question, if so ordered. A short jaunt east on a strangely silent and closed Interstate highway, followed by a slow, cautious drive down highway 85, through Deadwood and into Lead, to the Homestake Gold Mine complex, and into a non-descript warehouse.
At the base of an enormous elevator, the strange man with the rune-marked clothing piloted the transport into a large corridor. Three new figures, also in rune-marked clothing unfastened the passenger from the transport, and half-dragged, half-carried the man in the strait-jacket down another corridor, while the first man continued to pilot the transport into a second elevator, and down to the lowest level of the Homestake Paranormal Activity Research Complex.
An hour later, Dr. Ernst Schmidt peeled off the last layer of magically-protected clothing, revealing sweat-soaked clothing. He wiped at his brow, trying to keep a little of the sweat from his hair from dripping down his face in what he knew was a losing battle. He looked at the five others in the observation gallery, their faces plastered against the glass window.
"Glad I'm okay, too," he chuckled sarcastically to the group.
One man and an aged Native American woman turned, smiling. "You, we can see every day," Dr. Hazel Two Bears replied, "but _this_! This we don't see every day."
Dr. Schmidt was relieved that his potential doomsday mission had been successful, but there was still something of concern to him. "Del," he started, "How's Roger?"
Del Flannery glanced quickly and nervously at Hazel, and then he winced, shaking his head slowly. Words weren't necessary.
"Let's go to my office," Ernst said suddenly, breaking the gloom. He led the other two out of the viewing gallery and to an elevator, where they silently ascended from the seven-thousand foot Level Ten to the five-thousand foot Level Seven facility. Inside an expansive office, complete with a fake view of an outside spring vista, Del and Hazel flopped heavily into arm chairs, while Ernst opened a cabinet. "I don't know about you, but after _that_, I need a drink. Scotch?"
"Only if it's the good stuff," Hazel said with a slight smile.
Ernst poured three small glasses of the amber beverage, and then joined them in a comfortable armchair, where he took a long, slow sip. "Well, that's over." He took another sip, his head lolled back and staring at the ceiling.
"It was a pretty long four hours," Del agreed.
"You weren't sitting on a nuclear warhead, watching a crate with Class X remains in it," Ernst corrected him, snapping a bit from his frayed nerve. He saw the grimace of contrition from Del and Hazel, and Ernst realized how frazzled he was. "Sorry. You didn't deserve that." He looked at Del. "Well?"
"It's a Mishibijiw, alright," Del replied. "But ... something's not right."
"How so?" Ernst' curiosity was stirred.
"Even _our_ legends and lore tell of People encountering Mishibijiw while traveling, and all accounts are of peaceful meetings. There are no tales of people going mad from seeing or touching a Mishibijiw, or of the Mishibijiw attacking others," Hazel said as she swished her scotch around in her glass, staring absently at it. "With the tribes of the Great Lakes and Northeast, the legends are the same. Mishibijiw is at times very beneficial."
"Not a Class X entity, then?"
"Then why did the finder go insane? And Roger ,,,?"
Hazel shook her head. "It's almost as if this one was corrupted by something that _is_ Class X," she replied slowly. "Something turned it into a dangerous entity."
Ernst sighed. He hated mysteries. "What can you tell me about it? Any ideas of what killed it?"
"I can't tell for certain without a full autopsy, and there's no way in hell I'm going to touch that thing!" Del said emphatically. "But from what we've seen with the robot, it looks like it has a couple of serious gashes in its hindquarters, and some kind of wound in its chest. And here's the curious thing - it has blood on its claws, probably from whatever it was fighting."
"So - something fought, and killed, a Mishibijiw that was somehow a Class X entity? And that something is still around, somewhere?" Ernst sounded suddenly very nervous.
Hazel and Del nodded in unison. "And it gets worse." Del watched as Ernst's eyes opened wider. "A Mishibijiw is supposed to have copper spikes on its tail. Copper infused with magical power. This one, though, has none."
"Maybe it's a youngster," Ernst speculated.
Del shook his head. "No. Something removed the copper spikes. Probably the same thing that killed it."
"You're just a bucket-load of fun today, aren't you?" Ernst asked sarcastically before he finished his scotch. He closed his eyes for a moment, visualizing himself somewhere - anywhere - but in this forsaken place of the damned. "Okay, Hazel," he said, opening his eyes again, "do we know anyone who's from that area? Preferably a shaman, who can tell us more about the Mishibijiw and anything mystical about where it was found?"
"Yeah, and you let him go back east yesterday, to check with the Iroquois shamans about any recent activity with that thing's siblings."
Ernst's eyes opened wide. "You mean ... Charlie Lodgeman? Totem?"
"Yup. He's a powerful shaman," Hazel stated, "and he's Iroquois."
"Get him here. I don't care what it takes. Get him here as quickly as you can. If possible, I want him here first thing in the morning, even if you have to use a warper or the SkyArrow."