Written in Blood (Part 4)
A 2nd Generation Whateley Academy Story
Written in Blood
Chicago, Il, Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
The Mutant Commission Office, more commonly known as the MCO, had quite a reputation, or several different reputations depending on who you asked. According to Humanity First and other likeminded individuals, the MCO were brave soldiers who dedicated their lives to protecting humankind from the mutant threat. On the other hand, mutants seemed to view them as jack booted thugs who wanted to make them all disappear.
Until recently, I’d never really given the MCO much thought, other than when I was reading a Darius Shepard novel that included them. However, ever since Mrs. Merchell had told me that I was a mutant, I’d done a little research online and found a lot of stories that exemplified both of those viewpoints.
Since I was now on the mutant side of things, I felt extremely nervous to be standing in front of the MCO’s Chicago Field Office, or at least the testing center building. I kept looking around, half expecting to see armored soldiers standing guard. Of course, that kind of thing would discourage mutants from coming in for testing, but my imagination didn’t care about things like logic.
Of course, I could have just gone to the Chicago Crusaders and had my testing done in their facility, since they were known to help out mutants who were wary of the MCO. But ironically, at the moment, I was probably safer going to the MCO than the heroes. After all, the Crusaders might very well recognize who I was, especially since all the glyphs on my arm were a good clue that I wasn’t an ordinary mutant. And considering my Family connections, it would be a good idea to avoid them as much as possible.
The White Lady had been a presence in Chicago for nearly a century, and it was well known among the local heroes and MCO that my grandmother hadn’t been a mutant. So far, word hadn’t really spread yet that the new White Lady was a mutant, which mean that the MCO wouldn’t be looking for me. As far as they’d be concerned, I was just another teenage girl who’d just manifested.
I was currently dressed to play up that expectation, wearing casual clothes along with a hoodie with the hood up. Marcus was with me, playing the part of my dad, though he had insisted on dressing up a bit so no one would recognize him or connect the dots. He had on a fake mustache, glasses, and a red baseball cap. I thought that if he got rid of the glasses, he could probably pretend to be Mario, but I suspected that might have been intentional.
“Don’t worry,” Marcus assured me. “No one here knows who you are, and we’ve already made arrangements to avoid trouble.”
I nodded at that, though I didn’t relax much. After all, one thing I’d learned over the last week and a half, was that trouble always came when you lowered your guard and weren’t expecting it. For all I knew, another assassin might be waiting nearby for a chance to kill me.
Marcus and I went inside, though I kept my head down so that the cameras didn’t get a good look at my face. That was one of the reasons I was wearing the hoodie with the hood up, to make it more difficult to get a good picture of me.
“We have a testing appointment with a Doctor Hascolm,” Marcus told the wary looking receptionist.
The woman looked at me and her eyes narrowed a little in suspicion, but I just tried to look innocent and worried. I didn’t have to pretend since I actually was pretty worried.
“I’ll notify him that you’re here,” the receptionist said after a few seconds.
A couple minutes later, Dr. Hascolm arrived. He was an older man, with gray hair that was heavy receded. He took one look at Marcus and me, then gave an obviously forced smile. With only a couple words, he told us to follow him into the back.
“I was told to expect you,” Dr. Hascolm told us, his eyes darting to me again. “I was also told that you require accurate testing, but with a minimum amount of records.”
“That’s right,” Marcus told him.
Dr. Hascolm nodded at that before gesturing for us to have a seat in front of his desk. “Then let us begin. To start with, all testing is to be performed under a codename, and your resulting MID will be issued under that name. Do you have a codename picked out yet?”
“Yes,” I answered.
For the last couple days, I’d given a lot of thought to what codename I wanted on my MID, and though the White Lady was the obvious choice, it was also one I didn’t feel very comfortable with. For one, that was more of an inherited title than a codename, and for another, it would be stupid to simply tell the MCO who I was. It was much smarter to keep my MID completely unconnected to my title. And of course, I also saw this as an opportunity to establish my own identity, even if it was merely on a plastic card.
“Glyph,” I stated, thinking about all the glyphs that now marked my body, physical manifestations of the spells that were bound to each other and to me. “I want my codename to be Glyph.”
“Glyph,” Dr. Hascolm mused as he typed it into the computer. A few seconds later, he announced, “That name isn’t taken. Okay, Glyph…please tell me what you know or suspect about your powers and how they work.”
I glanced to Marcus, but he remained silent, letting me speak for myself. “I was told I’m an avatar,” I carefully told Dr. Hascolm, “and that because I’m an avatar, I’m hosting a sort of spirit…”
“Avatars are not uncommon,” he assured me. “And what powers does this spirit provide you?”
I frowned at that, knowing that this was where I had to be careful since I wanted accurate testing, but didn’t want to give too much away. “I’ve been told that I can gather essence easier than most people,” I explained, “and I have a few other magical tricks it lets me do too…”
Dr. Hascolm wrote some notes down on a sheet of paper, then asked me a few questions on what these magical tricks were. I was fairly vague, and he seemed curious, but he didn’t press me.
Once Dr. Hascolm was finished with the questions, he asked me to change clothes into a testing outfit, which was a cross between a jumpsuit and spandex, and which was loaded with built in sensors to help with the testing. It was a bit uncomfortable, but it had long sleeves and helped to hide my tattoo marks, or at least all of them except the one on the back of my hand. Dr. Hascolm gave my hand a curious look, but didn’t ask about it.
The testing started with the stereotypical psychic tests, where Dr. Hascolm had me guessing at cards for a good half hour, trying to see if I could predict which cards he was going to draw or guess the ones he was staring at. Following that, and a complete lack of unusual results, he sked me to try reading Marcus’ thoughts and emotions, as well as his own, and then to try making them do something against their will.
“No indications of psychic abilities,” Dr. Hascolm mused when we were finished. He made some notes on his clipboard, then said, “Now for the next area…”
The next room we went into contained half a dozen tables, each of which seemed to be covered with machines or parts, though one of the tables had bottles of chemicals instead. I spent almost an hour in that room, going from table to table, trying the different things that Dr. Hascolm asked. I tried to figure how what I could build with the parts, as well as how to use the machines, but none of it did much good. In the end, I just felt frustrated.
After I’d gone through each of the tables, and even messed around with a small computer in the corner, Dr. Hascolm said, “No indications of gadgeteer, devisor, or technopathic abilities.”
By this point, I was starting to feel pretty bored and frustrated with the testing since I’ve tested negative on everything. However, next we began testing for something that immediately made me feel better. Magic.
“I am not qualified to accurately test your magical abilities,” Dr. Hascolm told me apologetically. “Mrs. James is a baseline magic user, and I can assure you, she is perfectly qualified to determine your magical abilities.”
I frowned at that, a little nervous at suddenly being handed off to someone else when we finally got to the part of the testing that was relevant to me. Dr. Hascolm had a good reason to cooperate and keep a few things to himself, but I had no such assurances about the elderly black woman who came in a minute later.
Mrs. James took one look at me then gave me a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry girl, I don’t bite.”
“You’re in good hands with Mrs. James,” Dr. Hascolm assured me, looking just a little nervous himself, as if afraid that this surprise addition to the testing might interfere with our agreement. Then he stepped back to watch, though he still had his clipboard in hand.
“Do you know anything about magic?” Mrs. James asked me gently.
I hesitated a moment, not sure how much I should tell her. However, I wanted to learn more about my powers, and the best way to do that was to be as honest as possible. “I’ve been getting lessons,” I finally admitted. “And I can cast a couple spells.”
Mrs. James’ eyes lit up at that. “Can you show me one of these spells?”
I nodded agreement before asking for a pen and some paper. Mrs. James looked curious at that. I carefully drew the fire rune onto the paper, taking my time and making sure that I got it right. Then I set the paper down onto a metal table and pushed just a little essence into the rune. An instant later, it caught on fire. The paper burned up in seconds.
“Interesting,” Mrs. James said carefully. She stared at me for a moment with a thoughtful expression that made me think that she suspected something. “I know of a group of women who work with that kind of magic and suspect that one of them has been teaching you.” She was silent for a few more seconds, then abruptly said, “But enough of that. Let’s get you properly tested…”
Mrs. James pulled a wooden box, about the size of a shoe box and intricately carved. It looked old. Without a word, she opened the box, revealing ten crystals and stones of different types, sitting on a velvet liner.
“Please hold this,” Mrs. James instructed as she handed me a blue crystal.
A few seconds later, she pointed to a circle that had been drawn on the floor, and which was surrounded by runes and symbols. As I looked it over, I saw some of writing translated to something that seemed to say ‘sense/detect/scan essence/magic/life’, while a couple of the symbols didn’t translate at all. I had a feeling that someone either drew those symbols wrong, or copied them from a book that had gotten them wrong, because they didn’t mean anything.
Mrs. James had me stand inside the circle while she performed some kind of spell. Or at least I assumed it was some kind of spell because she recited a bunch of strange sounding words, but I didn’t really get anything from them. What I did notice was that the circle glowed faintly and I had goosebumps. Once she was finished, I was able to get out of the circle, much to my relief.
The magical testing lasted for almost an hour before Mrs. James was satisfied and decided we were done. Dr. Hascolm and Marcus had stood back and watched without interference or comment the entire time, though the power tester did make a few notes on his clipboard.
“Glyph is definitely a magic user,” Mrs. James told Dr. Hascolm. “The girl has a real affinity for those written spells, but couldn’t perform any of the spoken ones I gave her.”
“And what rating would you assign her?” Dr. Hascolm asked curiously.
“From the amount of essence I measured the girl drawing,” Mrs. James answered with a thoughtful expression, “I’d give her a solid wizard rating of three.”
“A three?” I asked, surprised by the rating and actually disappointed. I’d thought it would be higher. I was sure that I would have measured as a five or six. After all, everyone said my grandmother had been a powerful magic user, and I had inherited her abilities. Obviously, her power came from a lot more than just how much essence she could draw.
“Don’t be greedy,” Mrs. James teased me. “Most baseline magic users would kill for that kind of advantage.” I nodded at that, remembering how impressed Tessa had been with my ability to gather essence.
Dr. Hascolm looked at his watch, then announced, “I recommend we take a break, then continue with your testing after lunch.”
“That sounds good to me,” Marcus agreed.
With that, I wasted no time in going to the changing room and stripping out of the testing suit and getting back to real clothes. Unfortunately, due to my freakish girly body, specifically the fact that my skin was white as snow, I couldn’t exactly go eat at one of the local restaurants.
“Why not?” Marcus asked me when I brought up my concerns. “No one has any idea that you’re the White Lady, and since we’re eating right next to the testing center, they shouldn’t be too surprised at having a mutant eat there.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, looking around nervously as we left the testing center. Then I caught sight of Dominic standing on the other side of the street, looking like a casual pedestrian, though he was obviously there as backup. If Dominic was there, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that we had another Loyal or two hiding out nearby as well. “I see...”
Marcus and I went to a small hot dog place that was just across the street, and we even passed Dominic while going. He gave a faint nod but made no other show of knowing us, which I took to mean that he wouldn’t be joining us for lunch.
A short time later, I was eating my dog, which had been dragged through the garden, and enjoying it immensely. Having a hot dog for lunch wasn’t very impressive, but it was the sheer normalcy of eating one that brought a smile to my face. For a brief moment, I was able to forget everything that was going on and simply appreciate the feeling of being normal again.
Suddenly, someone began leaning over my table to get a better look at my face. I was wearing my hoodie with the hood up to keep people from getting too much a look at me, but it seemed that someone didn’t take the hint.
“It’s a mutant,” exclaimed the heavyset man who was invading my personal space. He backed away, his eyes widening in what seemed to be a mixture of fear and anger. Then he yelled out, “Call the MCO…”
I just sat there for a moment, feeling stunned by this man, and the fact that a couple other people in the restaurant suddenly began gasping in backing away from me. Until now, every time someone wanted to come at me, it was because I was the new White Lady. This was the first time that people had been hostile because I was a mutant.
“Mind your own business and go away,” Marcus told the man in a cold and very dangerous voice.
“Call the MCO,” the man yelled again.
An instant later, Marcus was on his feet and standing beside the man. From the angle of his body, I was probably the only one who saw the gun that my bodyguard now had pressed into the man’s side.
“You’re going to shut up and sit down,” Marcus told the man in a quiet voice. “And you’re not going to say a single word about her. If you cross me in this, they won’t find your body…ever.”
At this point, the heavyset man looked terrified, and it was no longer of me. Without a word, I got up and left the restaurant with my lunch unfinished. Once I was outside, Marcus joined me, and we hurried back to the testing center. It was ironic that we were heading to an MCO building in order to avoid trouble.
When testing resumed, I was immediately thrown into a series of physical tests which included lifting weights, running on a treadmill, and the most insane version of dodgeball I’d ever seen. I was already sore and exhausted before they hooked me up to some machine to see if I could generate or control energy of any kind.
Eventually, the testing was completed and I was able to change back to my normal clothes before meeting up with Dr. Hascolm again in his office. He was having a discussion with Marcus, which ended the moment I stepped back into the room.
“I was just finishing up your MID,” Dr. Hascolm told me, gesturing to a machine. A few seconds later, the machine spat out a plastic card and handed it to me.
My new MID looked something like a driver’s license, with my picture on one side while the other side contained all the relevant information. On the top was my new codename Glyph, and under my power ratings, it said ‘Av-2, Wiz-3, Reg-3’. The ‘techniques’ section was blank, with no mention of my various additional abilities. There was no information for my weaknesses or backup team either. Though my MID was accurate, it only contained the basic information.
“Is that acceptable?” Dr. Hascolm asked, glancing to Marcus who nodded agreement.
“The records?” Marcus asked the doctor.
Dr. Hascolm nodded. “I only entered the most basic information into our system…the same information that you have available on your card. All test results were recorded on hardcopy.” He handed a manila folder to Marcus, who looked through the contents and nodded. “That is the only copy.”
“Good,” Marcus told him. “Then our business is finished.”
“My debt is erased?” Dr. Hascolm asked.
Marcus simply asked, “What debt?” Dr. Hascolm let out a sigh of relief. As we turned to leave, he warned the doctor, “Next time, don’t bet more than you can afford…”
“It wasn’t gambling,” Dr. Hascolm responded awkwardly. “It was my wife’s medical bills…”
Marcus paused at that and looked back at Dr. Hascolm for a few more seconds and then nodded. “Then I hope you never have need of such bills again.”
With that, Marcus and I hurried out of the building, and I let out a sigh of relief once we’d passed the doors. Marcus gave a faint nod to Dominic, who continued watching us from a distance until we reached our car and took off.
Chicago, Il, Friday, August 5th, 2016
I groaned as I climbed out of bed, not feeling the least bit enthusiastic about getting up and facing the day. As I staggered towards the bathroom, no one would have said I had the grace and poise expected of the White Lady, especially not when I absently scratched my butt. At that moment, I didn’t care. Playing the role of the White Lady was the absolute last thing I wanted to do right then.
When I reached the toilet, I fumbled for little Bryan for a moment before I suddenly remembered that he was gone. Little Bryan had been with me for my entire life, but before I could actually get to really use him for his intended purpose, he disappeared. I grimaced, feeling a vague sense of betrayal at his abandonment.
A couple minutes later, once I’d finished doing my business on the toilet, I washed my hands in the sink and carefully avoided looking into the mirror above it. I was starting to get used to seeing a stranger staring back at me every time I looked into a mirror, but I still didn’t think of that eerie looking girl as ‘me’. I wasn’t sure I ever would.
“It’s like having my grandmother’s ghost looking back,” I muttered bitterly. Of course, the girl in the mirror was much younger than my grandmother had been, but the resemblance was undeniable.
Then, I took a deep breath and braced myself for the next step of my mourning routine. A shower. It was amazing that something so ordinary and normally so relaxing, could become so awkward and uncomfortable. However, my entire body was different now, and when I was washing myself, there was no escaping that fact. There was no ignoring it or trying to put it out of my mind like I usually tried to do. So after I climbed into the shower, I washed as quickly as I could, trying to get it done and over with as soon as possible.
Afterwards, I muttered a few curses as I tried to dry my long mess of soaking wet hair. Long hair was annoying enough when it was dry, but when it was wet, it also weighed a ton. Unfortunately, when I’d brought the subject up of cutting it off to Tessa, she’d been horrified and insisted that I keep the hair since it would help to sell my new image. In spite of that, I was increasingly tempted to take some scissors and cut it all off anyway.
“Damn it,” I grumbled bitterly as I pulled out a hair dryer. “Stupid wet hair…”
I wished there was a way to dry my hair off more quickly, without having to sit there for half an hour with a hair dryer. Then an idea suddenly occurred to me. I ran my hand through my wet hair and began go grin. A moment later, I flipped one of the mental switches in my head and suddenly my eyes and all of my tattoos began to glow blue. When I glanced over to the mirror, the effect was actually quite impressive looking.
“I should have thought of this sooner,” I commented, using my newly activated command over water to push the water away from my hair and body. Suddenly, droplets of water were flung out away from me, and when I reached up to feel my hair, it was nice and dry. However, once I looked around me, I realized that in the process of drying myself, I’d accidentally sprayed the bathroom. “Ooops…” Since the magic was still active, I reached out with my power again, grabbing all the water and moving it into the shower stall where I released it. “Much better.”
With that, I released hold of the power and it faded away, though it would have completely run out soon anyway. All five of my permanent elemental spells had a very limited duration, and wouldn’t last more than thirty seconds at most. They’d fade even more quickly if I used up the energy, and then I’d have to wait a couple hours for them to recharge before I could use them again. Because of that, they were more useful as emergency backup spells than as a first line of defense, at least according to Tessa.
“And it’s good for drying off,” I mused to myself, feeling rather smug at discovering such a practical use for the magic. I couldn’t wait to tell Tessa… Then I paused, realizing that Tessa would probably chew me out for wasting essence on something as simple as drying my hair. Or if nothing else, she’d give me a guilt trip about how none of the Hands had enough essence to spend that frivolously. “I’d better not tell her…”
A short time later, I was fully dressed, though I hesitated a moment before reaching for the MID that I’d been given. Technically, I only needed to have one of these when I was going through an airport, but I’d been told that the MCO might harass and even arrest any mutant who was caught without having their MID on them. I scowled at that, definitely not like the idea of having to carry an ID around just to walk down the street, but I didn’t want to risk going without it either.
For a moment, I just stared at my MID, specifically at the power ratings. Considering the fact that all power ratings could potentially go as high as a 7, mine weren’t really all that impressive. In fact, my only real mutant ability seemed to be that I was an avatar, and the only thing that being avatar did for me, was let me become the White Lady in the first place. Basically, my mutant power let me do what Paige, Nicolette or Aunt Clarice could have done on their own. That was actually quite depressing, as if I didn’t have enough to be depressed about as it was.
Of course, while Dr. Hascolm had been testing me, I’d taken the opportunity to ask him a few questions. According to him, there was a possibility that I did have other mutant abilities, but they could have been suppressed or overshadowed by the powers my ‘spirit’ gave me. Basically, it all came down to the fact that if I was a low level magic user or a low level regenerator, I’d probably never know because the ‘spirit’ I was hosting was also giving me those abilities.
“Not that it makes any different,” I muttered with a sigh.
With a shake of my head, I finally left my bedroom, going straight to the living room where I found Tony waiting, sitting down and positioned so he could look out the front window. I wasn’t at all surprised to see Tony here since he’d begun working as one of my bodyguards yesterday. He was still limping a little from his injuries, but he’d recovered enough that he wanted to go back to work, and Marcus had given him the go ahead.
I liked Tony and Dominic, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled that they were spending so much time in the house with me. Neither of them knew who I really was, so as long as they were around, I had to keep up my White Lady persona, at least to some degree. It was frustrating, making me feel even more trapped by my new role, but I didn’t complain because I understood the necessity. After all, it was better than being dead.
“Good morning, my Lady,” Tony greeted me politely. Dominic had been around me enough to realize that I wasn’t comfortable with that kind of formality, but Tony was still feeling me out and didn’t want to be rude.
“Good morning,” I responded with a faint nod of my head before going into the kitchen.
I was pleasantly surprised to find my breakfast waiting, though admittedly, it probably wasn’t the kind of breakfast my mom would have approved of. There were some chocolate croissants, which had obviously come from a bakery or restaurant. Fortunately, there was some fresh fruit and yogurt as well, though the pastries were definitely the star of the meal.
Once I was finished eating, I tried to decide how to keep myself occupied until Tessa arrived for our lessons. My first though was that I could watch TV, and I doubted that Tony would complain if I put on North by Northwest or the Treasure of Sierra Madre. And of course, I also had the Clive Cussler book that Marcus had brought me yesterday, and I was looking forward to starting that. But after some consideration, I remembered my encounter with Overstrike and my decision to become stronger.
A minute later, I was down in the basement, retrieving my book that Lenore had given me from where I’d left it on the desk. The book was my most prized possession, answering many of the questions I had and giving me a LOT of valuable information. I hadn’t wanted to risk anything happening to it, so I was storing it in the most secure place I could think of, a magical safe room that was covered from wall to wall with protective spells.
“Let’s see,” I mused as I opened the book to the section on primal runes and found a new one that I wanted to learn. As I reached for a notebook and pen so I could practice the rune, I smiled wryly to myself and mused, “I never would have guessed that learning magic would be so repetitious and boring…”
I carefully drew the rune about a dozen times, until I saw that I finally had it right. Only then did I focus my will and pushed essence into the symbol, which immediately began to glow with an eerie white light. According to the notes in the book, the rune should continue glowing like that until it ran out of essence, being my very own magical night light.
“Not very practical,” I said aloud, remembering Tessa’s frequent warnings about wasting essence on things you could do without magic. However, it was another interesting spell to add to my repertoire, and if nothing else, it might come in useful if I ever found myself in the dark without a flashlight.
I spent another half hour practicing with the rune until I realized that Tessa had come into the basement and was watching me. “Good morning,” she greeted me. “I’m pleased to see that you’re taking such initiative.” She came over and stared at the rune I’d been working on. “Ah yes, a light spell… I was taught that one during my apprenticeship, though I haven’t had much call to use it since.”
I nodded at that, then admitted, “I figured that if I accidentally screwed this one up, I couldn’t really hurt anything.”
“True,” Tessa greed pleasantly. “But it seems that you possess the perfect ability to prevent that sort of thing from happening.”
After this, Tessa had me practice some exercises that were designed to develop my focus and discipline, so that I could learn how to avoid leaking essence. And as she kept telling me, the less essence I leaked, the more I could store and have available for when I really needed it. So far, I haven’t had any issues with running low on essence, but I figured that she knew what she was talking about.
In spite of the fact that I was learning how to control magic, these exercises were still boring. My thoughts soon began to wander, which probably only proved that I needed to work on my focus and discipline. I’ve been spending all this time learning how to use magic and the abilities that my family legacy gave me, but I’d barely done any research on avatars. I was an avatar, but I didn’t really understand how the power worked, nor did I know anyone who could teach me.
“Focus,” Tessa stated when she noticed my attention wandering. “If you had a hole in your pocket that you were constantly losing change from, you would patch the hole. This is the same thing…”
“Actually,” I responded wryly. “I’d probably put my money in a different pocket…”
Tessa stared at me for a moment, then chuckled. “Actually, there are many magic users who do just that. They are not disciplined enough to hold their essence, so they store the essence in external objects…such as amulets.”
“Then why aren’t we doing that?” I asked curiously.
“I will teach you that eventually,” Tessa promised. “But for now, you need to master the basics.”
“It does sound like it might be easier,” I muttered in complaint.
Tessa gave me an amused look. “Your grandmother made use of that technique, though certainly not because of any lack of discipline on her part. She created a large pool of stored essence where she made regular deposits. This pool supplies the essence that fuels the enchantments on the Loyal, and we Hand draw upon it to fulfil our duties.” She rolled up her sleeve, letting me see the runes and symbols that she had tattooed on her arm. The marks actually looked similar to the ones that Marcus had on his chest, though they were definitely different. “This is what links me to the pool and allows me to draw essence from it.”
I stared at Tessa for a moment, putting together the pieces and realizing that I was probably expected to provide essence to this pool as well once I was a little stronger. After all, Tessa had told me that my grandmother was the one who provided them with the essence they needed to perform their Family duties, and that this was one of the reasons why the White Lady was so important to the Family.
“This reminds me,” Tessa said, her expression turning serious. “You have been invited to a dinner party.” She held out a fancy looking invitation card. “It seems that some of the other influential members of the Family would like to meet you…and feel you out.”
I looked at the invitation and felt a little worried. “I thought you said I should be mysterious and keep them guessing…”
“True,” Tessa agreed with a frown. “But unfortunately, if you turned down the invitation, you risk alienating some of the very people you need to support you. However, this is also an opportunity to begin winning them over. I believe that this dinner may very well be important to your long term success.”
I groaned at that, knowing full well that if I went to this dinner, then I’d have to be in my White Lady persona the entire time. That was bound to be uncomfortable and more than a little embarrassing, especially when I dealt with people I knew from my previous life. Unfortunately, I had to take Tessa’s advice, because I had almost no idea of what I was doing.
“Then, what do we do?” I asked her in resignation.
Tessa gave me a reassuring smile as she answered, “This afternoon, we will work on formal dinner etiquette. But for now, I think it’s time to introduce you to some simple wards and protection spells.” She looked rather proud as she answered, “This is the majority of what the Hands do.”
With that, Tess pulled a piece of chalk out of a desk drawer, then walked across the room to a spot where there was a large clear area on the floor. She bent down and began drawing something, pausing long enough to gesture for me to move closer. I glanced at the permanent runes that marked the walls and floor of the room, then went to go learn how to make them.
Chicago, Il, Sunday late afternoon, August 7th, 2016
I sat in the back of the car, taking slow and steady breaths as I tried to calm myself and prepare for what was to come. We’d arrived at the dinner party a minute ago, but I had yet to actually leave the car. I didn’t want to go into the party. I dreaded it. The last time I’d gone to a party, it had been a complete and utter disaster that had cost my family their lives while destroying mine entirely. I still had frequent nightmares about it.
“Are you ready?” Marcus asked me patiently.
I hesitated a moment before responding, “Yes.”
With that, Dominic, who had been driving, climbed out of the car and opened the door for us to get out. After climbing out of the car, I paused for a minute to adjust my clothes my clothes, except for the bra since it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to adjust that in public. I smoothed out my white slacks, then tugged on the white jacket I was wearing over the white blouse. In this kind of situation, my grandmother would have worn some kind of elegant and expensive dress, but in spite of everything I’d inherited from her, her fashion sense wasn’t one of them.
Once I was done with my clothes, I slowly looked around, trying to hide my nervousness and apprehension. I saw that Tony was already here, as were a couple other guards. However, that just reminded me of the guards at the last part, and how little good they’d been. Normal baselines, and even the enhanced Loyal, were of limited use against someone with the right powers.
In spite of my nerves, I started towards the door, keeping my expression calm and neutral. I half expected to see Lenore perched above the door, offering me support with her mere presence. However, there was no sign of the bird. What I did see though, were runes carved around the doorframe, indicating that protective wards had been put in place. Of course, that didn’t really make me feel any more secure because my grandmother’s house had been warded far more heavily.
“My Lady,” Tony greeted me from beside the door. Then with an expression of fierce determination, he promised, “There won’t be a repeat.” He didn’t need to specify what there wouldn’t be a repeat of.
I nodded at that, as though I had perfect confidence in the ability of the guards to protect me. “Thank you, Tony,” I told him while silently reminding myself, “Poise and confidence…”
Almost as soon as I stepped into the house, I was met by Maddy Belle, who was officially hosting the party. According to Tessa, Maddy had organized the party at the request of some high ranking Family members who wanted to learn more about the new White Lady, but who hadn’t felt comfortable coming to me directly.
“I’m happy you made it,” Maddy told me with a smile.
“Thank you,” I told her politely, careful to keep a pleasant expression in spite of the fact that I really just wanted to run out of the place as quickly as possible. I knew that I was being a bit paranoid, but I couldn’t help but feeling like I’d walked into some kind of trap. I kept expecting the Messenger to burst through the doors again at any moment. And I’d only just arrived, which meant that this was going to be a long night. “Thank you for inviting me.”
Maddy nodded at that, then told Marcus, “And I’m glad that you came too…”
“You know me,” Marcus responded from beside me with a chuckle. “I never turn down free food.”
“I’m afraid that my husband is away on business,” Maddy told me as we went to the sitting room, “but let me introduce you to the other guests…”
I quickly noticed Alice and Tanya, two of the Hands and the only other people present whom I’d officially met before. Of course, I knew who most of the other guests were, even though I had to pretend that this was the first time we ever met. Then again, before a couple weeks ago, most of them probably didn’t know who I was and wouldn’t have paid any attention to me if they had.
One of the guests was Malcolm Prentiss, an old man with thick glasses and thin hair. Malcolm was a Family lawyer, and he had also been my grandmother’s personal lawyer. After I was introduced to him, he quietly told me, “When you have the time available, I would like to meet with you…in an official capacity. I have some paperwork that I need you to sign, regarding your inheritance and the transfer of certain funds and properties…”
Marcus leaned over and added, “Tessa has been working with Malcolm, to take care of all the legalities.” He looked at Malcolm and told him, “We’ll take care of that within the next day or two.”
Malcolm nodded at that. “There are some other things we’ll need to discuss as well, such as arranging a power of attorney until you’re of legal age.” Then he paused to give me a gentle smile. “But business can wait until then.”
I nodded at that, then went and politely talked with a couple other people while Marcus remained close, playing up his role as my regent, keeping the conversations from going anywhere that could be problematic. I wished that Tessa was there as well since this was her kind of situation, much more than it was Marcus’, but unfortunately, she had other business that she needed to take care of.
A short time later, we all sat down for dinner, where everyone was immediately served a glass of wine. There was a brief hesitation before giving me a glass, obviously because I was still underage. Several people at the table watched me curiously, wanting to see how I’d react. I just smiled politely and accepted it, taking a small sip and nodding my appreciation. This was hardly the first time that I’d ever had wine.
Both of my parents had been big wine drinkers, with each of them having a glass every night with dinner and usually another one afterwards. While growing up, I’d often been given sips from their glasses, and on my thirteenth birthday, I’d been given a full glass for dinner, for the first time. Ever since, I’d been allowed a single glass of wine during big dinners and special events, which considering my family, was fairly often. I didn’t really care for the taste, and I certainly couldn’t be called an expert by anyone, but I wasn’t a wine virgin either.
“What do you think of the vintage?” Alice asked me with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Those were more calculating and thoughtful.
Tessa had warned me that this would happen, that the other guests would ask innocent seeming questions as they subtly probed me, attempting to figure me out. I’d come to the party expecting to be tested this way, knowing that the entire dinner had been set up just so they could learn as much about me as possible. Whatever conclusions they came to tonight, could have a large impact on our future relationships.
“It’s nice,” I answered with a faint smile, feeling extremely nervous from all this attention being directed at me, but knowing that I didn’t dare show it. I had to project poise and confidence, no matter what I really felt. “But I’m afraid that I’m still developing my palate.” There were a few nods from around the table at that, as well as looks of approval over my answer.
Dinner began to come out a minute later, starting with a salad and then moving on to the main course, which consisted of roast duck, ratatouille, and some creamy mashed potatoes. While we ate, conversation continued around the table, though I remained as quiet as possible. However, since most of these people had come to feel me out, they kept asking me questions and attempted to draw me into conversations. I did the best I could to be polite, without giving away too much. And fortunately, Marcus was sitting right beside me, running interference whenever the attention became too much.
When dessert came out, Tanya exclaimed, “I love chocolate mousse… It’s one of my favorites…”
“Mine too,” Maddy responded with a smug look. “This one has a little cognac mixed in…”
“Clarice was rather fond of mousse as well,” someone commented sadly.
The reminder of Aunt Clarice’s death, and by extension, everyone else’s, was enough to instantly turn the mood somber. For the next minute, we ate dessert in near silence, though Maddy decided to take care of that. She began telling a story about something her husband did, which was stupid yet hilarious. Before long, everyone was talking and laughing again. Everyone but me.
When dinner and all the conversation afterwards was finally over, I was relieved to say goodbye and take my leave. As we left the house, I gave Tony a brief nod of acknowledgement, then climbed into the car. Once the door was closed, I let out a long sigh of relief, collapsing from emotional exhaustion.
“Back home,” I told Dominic unnecessarily. The word ‘home’ kind of stuck in my throat a little and I felt a renewed surge of depression over the thought that I’d never be able to go home again. The safe house was comfortable and secure, but it wasn’t home.
After pulling out of the driveway, we had barely made our way down the street when I noticed something coming towards us from the corner of my eye. I snapped around and stared out the window, just in time to the other car, a moment before it slammed into the driver’s side of ours. I let out a girlie shriek as our car smashed into another car that was parked alongside the road and came to a dead halt.
“Shit,” Marcus exclaimed furiously. “Not again.”
My eyes went to Dominic, who was in the driver’s seat, right where the other car had slammed into us. The door had been smashed in and Dominic was leaned over, grunting in pain and barely moving.
I remained where I was for a moment, feeling stunned, confused, and terrified. Someone was attacking me again, and this time, I didn’t even have an armored car to slow them down.
“Not again,” I whispered, quietly praying to any god who would listen. “Please not again…” Unfortunately, I’d already seen that God had a sadistic sense of humor, so I didn’t count on much help.
“Stay down,” Marcus ordered as he held up a small machine gun and climbed out the door. However, he had barely made it out of the car when he suddenly went flying back in a spray of blood.
‘MARCUS!” I cried out in shock and horror.
I was breathing hard, on the verge of hyperventilating. However, I was somehow able to make myself move, and desperately scrambled out the other door as quickly as I could. But an instant later, I saw him standing there, just outside the car. He was a tall and thin man, in his late fifties or early sixties, and he wore a very old fashioned suit. In his right hand, he casually held a sword cane that was dripping blood from the blade.
“The Messenger,” I gasped, my voice shaking along with the rest of my body. I started in horror at the man who’d murdered my family, and who had obviously come to kill me as well.
“Hey boss,” another man commented from a short distance away. I hadn’t even noticed that he was there until he spoke. “It looks like she knows who you are…”
The Messenger stared at me with a grim expression. “Then mademoiselle, you must surely know that I am here to deliver a message. I assure you, there is nothing personal to my actions. I am merely the messenger…”
“Nothing personal?” I demanded, rage bubbling up enough to burn through my fear. “NOTHING PERSONAL?”
I clenched my fists so tightly that my nails dug into my palms deep enough to tear through the flesh and draw blood, though I barely noticed that. I didn’t give any conscious thought to what I was doing, as my terror, fury, and desperation had all taken over. An instant later, my eyes and all the glyphs on my body began to glow reddish orange.
I screamed a howl of rage as I unleashed all the stored power in one burst, sending a massive wave of intense flames directly at the Messenger. The fire spread out in front of me, burning and charring the ground so that the asphalt on the street began to melt. The man who’d come with the Messenger was on the very outskirts of the flames, and his arm burst into flame, causing him to scramble back and desperately try to put it out.
After mere seconds, the flames that had been formed by my power faded away, the energy that fueled them having been completely used up. I felt a surge of excitement, of triumph that I’d done it…that I’d fought back against the messenger. However, that excitement vanished a moment later and I felt a surge of fear. The Messenger still stood exactly where he’d been when I unleashed my power, and he seemed not only untouched by the flames, but completely unconcerned by them as well.
“No,” I squeaked out, suddenly remembering that my grandmother had done the exact same thing against the Messenger, and it hadn’t harmed him then either. My eyes widened in renewed terror.
“Your magic has no effect on me,” the Messenger stated. “Your remaining time would have been more effectively spent confessing your sins to God and asking forgiveness.”
“So, you’re going to kill me too,” I said defiantly, wanting to run though knowing it wouldn’t do any good. I’d seen how fast the Messenger could move, and there was no way I could outrun that.
“I accepted a contract to kill the White Lady and all of her heirs,” the Messenger responded in an almost casual tone. “I completed that contact, though I paid a very steep price for doing so. Or at least, I had thought the contract complete until you appeared.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” I responded sarcastically.
The Messenger casually took a piece of tissue from his pocket and used it to wipe the blood off his blade, though his eyes never left me. “Admittedly,” he commented, “it was embarrassing to have a new White Lady declare herself almost immediately after I told my employer that the contract was complete. And I find this even more unfortunate due to the fact that my daughter was killed in the process.”
“Hey boss,” other man called out. “I hear sirens, so you should probably finish up so we can go.”
The Messenger nodded to the other man, then told me, “I am a professional, so I refuse to take these setbacks personally. After all, I myself do not want you dead. I have no personal issue with you, one way or another. I am merely the messenger who delivers the will of another.”
I just glared at the Messenger, wishing that I could think of something witty and clever to say in response. If this had been an action movie, or even a Darius Shepard book, I’d have a great one-liner ready. But instead, I just turned and ran.
An instant later, the Messenger was standing in front of me with his sword against my throat. I froze, my whole body shaking in fear. This was it. I was about to die, just like everyone else.
“Fortunately for you,” the Messenger told me in a calm and even voice, “you have a brief respite. You see, mademoiselle, it would serve my professional reputation poorly if I were to kill you, only to have yet another White Lady appear. Because of that, we are going to have a nice long discussion concerning any other heirs who might potentially inherit your power once you are gone.”
“BOSS,” the other man called out again. “We’ve got to go.”
The Messenger nodded to him, then told me, “If you cause me any difficulties, I will not hesitate to kill you instantly. If you cooperate, then you continue to breathe for a little longer.” And with that, he kept his blade close to my throat and directed me towards a waiting van.
Chicago, Il, Sunday evening, August 7th, 2016
I sat in the back of a van, a prisoner, surrounded by people who wanted to kill me. The Messenger crouched down beside me, keeping the blade of his sword cane close to my throat, ready to slice through it at a moment’s notice. He’d already made it perfectly clear that he was going to kill me when he was done, though I was in absolutely no hurry to speed that up.
In the passenger seat of the van sat one of the Messenger’s men, the one whose arm I’d burned when I’d unleashed the power of my built in fire spell. He’d removed his jacket before the flames had done too much damage, but he obviously held a grudge. He kept glaring back at me, making sure that I saw the gun he was holding.
Though I’d never met the driver before, I was pretty sure that he wanted me dead as well. After all, he seemed to be hitting every single pothole in the road, and each one made me bounce a little. Considering the fact that I had a sword to my throat, he might as well have been shooting at me.
I sat as still as I could, biting my lip and trying hard not to show how scared I was. The man who’d murdered my family in front of me had a sword to my throat, and he was going to kill me next. I felt a little resigned, almost relieved in a twisted kind of way. Somehow, I’d survived when everyone else had died, and it seemed that fate had finally caught up to me.
“When my employer heard that there was a new White Lady,” the Messenger commented in a casual tone, almost as though he was discussing the weather, “he thought you were an impostor…that the Family was bluffing about having a new leader.”
“And that’s why you came after me?” I asked quietly. “To prove whether or not I was real?”
“No,” the Messenger responded with a faint shake of his head. “My employer used Overstrike to confirm that. Afterwards, he contacted me to complete the work I’d been contracted for.”
For a moment, I just stared at the Messenger, absorbing what he told me. Then I cautiously asked, “Who is your employer? Who hired you to kill my family…?” My voice shook as I spoke, though I was trying hard to keep it steady. Tears threatened to come, though they held back…barely.
The Messenger frowned slightly. “Telling you who my client is wouldn’t be very professional.”
I gulped at that, knowing that this was probably my only chance to find out for sure. I wanted…I NEEDED to know who ordered the hit on my family. The Messenger and his daughter had murdered my parents, my sister, my grandmother, and everyone else, but I needed to know who ordered it.
“How…how can you deliver a message properly,” I asked carefully, “if you don’t even say who it’s from?”
The Messenger smiled faintly at that, as though amused by my question. “Very well,” he responded after several seconds. “Since you won’t be telling anyone, I see no harm. As you said, it is only appropriate that you know who sent the message.” He paused for a moment before stating, “The originator is Scorn.”
“Scorn,” I said flatly. That answer wasn’t the least bit surprising. The Messenger didn’t even need to tell me why Scorn had ordered the hit, since I’d already known he and his organization were trying to move in on the Family’s business. However, suspecting Scorn and having confirmation that he’d ordered the hit were two different things. “Thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome, mademoiselle,” the Messenger responded.
When we reached our destination, the Messenger gestured for me to exit the van, though he kept close enough that he could kill me in an instant. From the way the other two men were following with their guns ready, even if I was somehow able to slip away from the Messenger, I wouldn’t avoid them.
We were led inside an old abandoned building, something that looked like it might once have been factory. The floors were old concrete, the walls were cinderblock, and some of the doors we passed were thick and made of metal. I shuddered as I looked around, knowing exactly why the Messenger had picked this place. If I screamed, no one would possibly be able to hear me.
“Now then,” the Messenger finally announced. “I have questions that I need you to answer. You know what those questions are, and if you cooperate and answer them right now, this will go much more easily for you. “
I lifted my chin, trying to look brave though I was terrified. Still, this was about the only defiance I could muster at the moment, or at least the only kind that wouldn’t get me killed instantly. “If I tell you, you’ll let me go?”
“I doubt you would be foolish enough to believe that promise,” the Messenger told me, sounding almost apologetic. “You know I have no choice but to kill you. It isn’t personal, just a message that must be delivered. However, if you cooperate, I will make it as quick and painless as possible, and I will even arrange for the Family to find your body so you can be buried properly.”
I bit my lip at that, trying to keep myself from shaking. If I’d been a bit more brave, I might have spat in his face or responded with some kind of sarcastic comment like, “That’s mighty generous of you.” However, I remained silent, not trusting myself to say anything.
Just then, the Messenger’s cell phone began to ring. He answered the phone, though kept his blade ready and his attention on me. After listening for a moment to whoever had called, he announced, “It seems that we will have to delay our questioning for a little longer.”
Again, this would have been the perfect time for Darius Shepard to make another sarcastic comment, but I couldn’t think of a good response. Instead, I just glared at the Messenger, trying to decide if I should spit on him or not. But without warning, he suddenly slashed out with his sword, slicing at my thigh. I screamed in pain, but before the sound even began leaving my throat, he stabbed me through my other thigh as well. I collapsed to the ground, screaming.
“This should keep her from attempting anything until I’m ready,” the Messenger commented, casually using some tissues to wipe the blood off his blade. Then as he sheathed his sword back into the cane, he gestured to room beside us and told his men, “Lock her in there until I am ready to deal with her. And keep a close watch on her. She may be young and injured, but she is still the White Lady.”
With that, the Messenger turned and walked away, talking on his cell phone. The two men grabbed my arms and pulled me into the room, with one of them keeping his gun pointed at my head just so that I didn’t take this as an opportunity to try something. Seconds later, I was unceremoniously dropped into the middle of the floor, with a heavy metal door locking me inside.
I curled up on the hard floor, holding my injured thighs and crying in fear and pain. I was going to die. The Messenger was going to murder me, just like he’d murdered Mom, Dad, and Paige. Images of their bloody deaths flashed through my mind, filling me with renewed grief. Soon, I was going to join them, just as I should have done that night a couple weeks ago.
This continued for several minutes, until the tears started to dry up and a new thought began to form. I didn’t want to die. In spite of how twisted my entire life had become, I wasn’t ready to just lay down and die. I wasn’t ready to give up and let the Messenger take me without a fight.
As I thought of the Messenger and what he’d done, my anger began bubbling up again. I grimaced in determination, knowing that I couldn’t just let him get away with what he’d done. I couldn’t let Scorn get away with it.
“They’re going to pay,” I promised myself as I slowly sat up. “But first…”
I looked around the small room I was in, noting the concrete floors and cinderblock walls. It looked like it had probably been some kind of storage room. My eyes went to the closed metal door, which was presumably, locked. Of course, even if the door had been open, it wouldn’t have done me much good, not with my legs injured.
That thought brought the realization that my legs weren’t hurting quite as bad. In fact, the bleeding had already stopped. I was confused by that for a moment, until I remembered the healing magic that was permanently bound to me. I was already healing.
My legs were healing, but they still hurt. I pulled myself towards the door and checked it, just to make sure. As I’d expected, the door was firmly locked. However, that didn’t deter me. I knew a rune that might get me through the door…if I had something to write it with.
I muttered a few quiet profanities, silently promising myself that if I got out of this, I was never going go anywhere without a marker and some chalk. Unfortunately, that didn’t do me any good at the moment. I looked around the small room, desperate for something I could use to draw a rune with. After several seconds, my eyes settled on the puddle of blood that I’d left.
“Blood,” I whispered, suddenly realizing that it was perfect. I could draw the rune in my own blood. After all, that was what my grandmother had used for her final spell. A moment later, I remembered a detail from my book and began to grin. “Perfect.”
With that, I went to work, using my own blood to draw a symbol on the door. I took my time, being careful to get it perfect, because I couldn’t afford to screw it up, not now. And when I was finished, I drew a different rune on the floor, right in front of the door.
“Please work,” I prayed to any god who was listening. Then I took a deep breath and pushed essence into each of the runes.
I stared at the door, watching expectantly as the magic began to work. At first, rust spots began to form around the symbol I’d drawn, but it quickly spread over the entire door. With every passing second, the metal rusted further and further until the door practically disintegrated right before my eyes.
I almost felt giddy with excitement at the fact that it had worked, but of course, I’d had a little help. According to my book, drawing a rune with your own blood had a very special benefit. Specifically, when I used my own blood, it created a link between myself and the rune, which allowed me to transfer my essence and will into it much more directly and efficiently. This not only made the spell more energy efficient, but also gave me more bang for my buck.
For a moment, I just stared at the ruins of the door, though I quickly remembered that there were still armed gunmen to worry about. Instead of rushing out the door, I scrambled back to the far end of the room, just an instant before one of the gunmen came rushing through the now open doorway. It was the same man whose arm I’d charred earlier. As soon as his foot came down onto the other rune I’d drawn, the magic was released in a large fireball. He screamed as he was engulfed in flames and staggered back.
I glanced to the floor, where there was now a black and scorched spot where the rune had previously been. That had worked even better than I’d hoped. However, it also reminded me that there were several other runes in my book, which could be weaponized the same way. In fact, one of them had even been described as exploding like a land mine.
“I’m definitely learning that one next,” I promised myself. If I survived this and ever ended up in this kind of situation again, I was going to be prepared.
My legs still hurt, but they’d recovered enough that I could stand and even walk again. I staggered out of the room, wincing with each step but not daring to slow down. I had to get out of there as fast as I possibly could.
The burning man was on the floor a short distance away, doing the ‘stop drop and roll’ routine while the van driver was using his jacket to try beating out the flames. But the moment he saw me emerge from the room, he dropped his jacket and reached for his gun.
“You,” the van driver exclaimed.
Before the word had left his lips, I’d already flipped the mental switch that unleashed the power from one of my stored spells. An instant later, my eyes and glyphs all burned with a silvery white glow. I could feel the air surrounding me, now under my control.
The van driver didn’t say anything as he opened fire, shooting right at me. I’d expected that and had willed the air to harden, creating a bubble around me of unmoving air. The bullets hit the hardened air as though it was a wall…or force field, though he continued to shoot until he emptied his clip.
“You can’t keep that up forever,” he snarled as he began to reload his gun.
“No, I can’t,” I admitted, feeling that I’d already used up about half the energy I had available for that power. I released the rest of it all at once, creating a powerful burst of wind that sent him flying back into a wall. “Now I’m out of gas.”
I continued staggering towards the exit as quickly as my aching legs would allow me. My heart was racing from the excitement and relief. I’d done it. I’d gotten out of the room and past those two armed guards. Now, I was almost out of the building and free.
I had nearly reached the exit when I heard a ‘tap tap’ sound that made me pause to listen more closely. A moment later, I saw the source of the sound, the Messenger was walking towards me, with his tip of his cane hitting the ground with each step.
“It seems I may have underestimated you,” the Messenger commented, stopping to stare at me with a grim expression. “I had thought that as a novice, you would be little trouble.” He shook his head almost sadly at that. “A pity. I had intended to question you, but now, I cannot afford the risk of you escaping. I shall simply have to deal with any further successors when they appear.” And with that, he made a show of slowly and dramatically pulling the sword from his cane.
I was terrified at the sight of the Messenger, but still furious as well. I glared at him as defiantly as I could while desperately trying to think of what I could do. He was immune to magic, so even if I’d had time to draw a bunch of spells on the floor like I had earlier, he’d walk right through them without a problem. Only three of my built in spells were charged, and only one of those might be useful.
“But I only need one,” I quietly reminded myself, flipping the mental switch to unleash the power.
My eyes and tattoos immediately began to glow green, and without even looking at my palm, I knew that the symbol which appeared there translated to ‘earth’. I immediately bent over and put the palm of my right hand against the concrete floor, and an instant later, the glowing rune on my palm appeared on the floor in front of me, about ten times the size it was on my palm. Then I unleased all the stored power in one burst.
The concrete floor and cinderblock wall nearby all shattered, and suddenly the ground itself began to move. The shattered remains of the concrete floor rose up and rippled away from me, like a wave in the ocean. The Messenger was fast, but even he couldn’t do much when the ground beneath his him suddenly began to move, throwing him back.
My power caused some serious damage to the floor and walls, and a single glance was enough to tell me that the building had just lost some serious structural integrity. However, I didn’t care about that at the moment. I didn’t even wait to see how well the Messenger was doing, but instead, turned and hurried towards the exit as quickly as I could.
Suddenly, a large chunk of concrete flew past my head and smashed into a distant wall. I snapped around, just in time to see the Messenger throwing another chunk of the shattered floor, revealing that he was not only fast, but a long stronger than he looked. Fortunately for me, his aim wasn’t very good.
The Messenger stared at me for a moment, then he took advantage of the fact that neither I or the floor were moving. He moved almost faster than I could really follow, and a second later, he was standing in front of me again. There was a sudden burst of pain in my side, and I gasped in surprise to realize that he’d impaled me with his blade.
“You are resourceful,” the Messenger commented in a casual tone, sounding almost as though he approved. However, he also kept his sword where it was, going right through my body. It hurt like hell, and it took everything I had to keep from screaming. “Again, I bear you no personal enmity or ill will. I am simply delivering a message from Scorn.”
The Messenger pulled his sword out of my side, obviously intending to use it to finish me off with his next attack. I glared at the Messenger, looking him right in the eyes as I grimaced in pain. The assassin was completely immune to magic, but I was out of magic tricks to use anyway. But then, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d been focusing so much on magic lately, I forgot that I had other tools available.
“You’re going to die,” I promised the Messenger, still keeping my eyes locked on his. I winced in agony, wanting to just drop to the ground and curl up in a ball, but that wasn’t a possibility. As hard as it was, I had to keep focused as I carefully reached my hand back behind me.
“Eventually,” the Messenger responded with a faint smile, seeming almost amused by my threat. “Everyone dies eventually.”
“No,” I responded grimly. “Now.”
And with that, I pulled the trigger of the small gun that Dominic had given me, the one that had been holstered on the back of my belt, where it had been hidden beneath my jacket. The Messenger had been so certain I was no threat that he hadn’t even thought to search me for weapons. I had the barrel pressed right into the Messenger’s gut and I continued shooting, even as he staggered back with a look of complete shock and disbelief on his face.
“So…you have some bite after all,” the Messenger gasped out, clearly in pain. “Well played…” He dropped his sword to the floor, then followed it a moment later.
For a moment, I just stood there, staring down at his body with a strange sense of grim satisfaction. I’d done it. Not only had I survived the Messenger, but by some miracle, I’d actually won. The man who’d murdered my family, who destroyed my life, and who’d haunted so many of my nightmares, was dead by my hand.
They say that getting revenge doesn’t really bring you satisfaction, but they were wrong. At that moment, I felt as though at least a little of the weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My own personal boogeyman was dead. I didn’t know if his death would bring my family any peace, but I was sure that it would at least bring a small amount to me.
I took a deep breath, wincing at the agony in my guts. But in spite of that, I felt surprisingly good. I felt…strong. For perhaps the first time in my life, I no longer felt weak and helpless. I felt strong enough to take care of myself, and maybe even protect others as well. At that moment, I knew that I might actually be able to BE the White Lady.
Unfortunately, with the adrenaline facing, my legs chose that moment to surrender and I collapsed to the ground, grabbing at my aching side and really wishing that I healed a lot faster. I wasn’t sure how long I remained on the floor before I felt well enough to really move again.
My side still hurt where the sword had run me through, but I wasn’t bleeding anymore. That meant I needed to focus on how to get out of here and back where it was safe. I looked at the Messenger’s body, then crawled over to it and took the cell phone from his pocket. Now I just needed to call Tessa.
When Tony and the other guards arrived a short time later, they found me there waiting for them, standing under my own power. No matter how much it hurt, I wasn’t about to let them come in and find the White Lady curled up on the floor. After all, that wouldn’t have been very good for my reputation. However, when they saw the Messenger’s body, there were a few words of approval, and I could tell that my reputation had just improved a great deal.
“Now, what should we do with him?” Tony mused as he kicked the Messenger’s body.
I glared at the Messenger for several more seconds, remembering everything that he’d done to me and the Family. Finally, I suggested, “Maybe he can send a message for us…”
Chicago, Il, Wednesday August 10th, 2016
I was comfortably resting in Uncle Andre’s sitting room, reading over a new book that I’d just started yesterday. It was a spy story, set in Europe during the cold war, and told from the perspective of a Russian agent. I’d never heard of the book or author before, but that wasn’t much of a surprise. It was written in Russian and had never been published in the US.
As I read the book, I tried to distract myself from the fact that the Family leadership was gathered in the next room, discussing what to do about the Scorn situation. Though the Messenger told me that Scorn was the one who’d hired him, the assassin was now dead so there was no evidence except for my word. The Family leadership seemed to believe me, which was no surprise since I just confirmed what they’d already suspected, but that wouldn’t be enough for the Family’s business associates.
Of course, both of the Messenger’s men were there when he’d told me that it was Scorn who’d hired him, but I wasn’t sure if they were in any position to answer questions. Though they had both been alive when the guards came for me, I had been very careful to avoid asking about what happened to them afterwards. There were some things I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
Eventually, the door opened, which signaled that the meeting had come to an end. Marcus came out first, moving very slowly and leaning on a cane. He’d survived the Messenger’s attack, but he’d taken some serious damage which had required a couple dozen stitches. The fact that he was moving at all was a testament to the stamina and healing power of the Loyal.
That same power was benefitting Dominic, who’d survived being t-boned by the Messenger’s vehicular assault. He had a couple broken bones, and the doctor was keeping him in bed for the time being, but he was healing pretty quickly as well. In two weeks, he’d be as good as new.
I remained in my seat as everyone else began pouring out of the room behind Marcus. I made a show of putting my bookmark into the book and closing it, then I slowly stood up, not wanting to seem too worried or eager.
“My Lady,” Robert said. “Good job with the Messenger.” He stared at me for a moment, then gave me a faint nod of approval before he started for the door.
Martina frowned slightly. “If the Messenger was still alive, we’d be able to prove that Scorn was the one who sent him…”
“Quit complaining,” Maddy told the other woman with a chuckle. “I for one am glad that the Messenger is dead, and it’s only appropriate that our new Lady was the one to take him down. Killing the man who murdered her predecessor can only help her build a reputation, and it will show that the Family isn’t helpless.”
“I still say we should take this to Scorn,” Debora stated grimly.
“But you know our allies wouldn’t support it,” Tessa added as she came into the sitting room, the last of the Family leaders to come through the door. “And if we go to war without their support, we leave ourselves open. As I said in the meeting, we have to be more subtle with our retaliation.”
“I’ll get some of my people on it immediately,” Maddy said in an almost cheerful tone. “We’ll find the perfect opportunity to hurt him, but for now, the message we sent him is a good start.”
“Yes, it is,” Debora agreed.
Martina, however, scowled and shook her head faintly. “I fear we may have given away our hand before we are ready. But what’s done is done.”
Maddy nodded at that, then turned to me. “My Lady. I’m afraid that I must be going. My husband is due to be arriving at the airport in a couple hours, and I want to be there when he lands.”
“It was nice seeing you again,” I told Maddy before she turned to leave.
Martina merely nodded towards me and said, “Farewell, for now. And be careful. Scorn may very well target you again.”
“Thank you,” I responded politely, then gestured to Tony, who had been staying close but mostly out of sight. After Marcus had become my regent, Dominic had taken over as my primary bodyguard, and now that Dominic was injured, Tony had stepped into the role. “I have Tony watching my back, so I’m not too concerned.” Tony puffed up a little at that.
Uncle Andre had sat in on the meeting too, though he no longer had an official position in it. He slowly sat down in a chair, watching me with a sad expression.
“The Family suffered a great loss,” Uncle Andre said with a deep sigh. “But my personal loss was even greater. That man killed my mother...my brother…my sister…and far too many others. He stole the lives of my relatives, even those who were just children…” His voice choked at that. He stared at me as he added, “I am glad that you killed their
murderer, though I deeply regret that you were forced to do so.”
I nodded faintly at that, choking up and not daring to say anything for fear that my voice would give me away. As it was, I was trying as hard as I could to keep from crying. Uncle Andre wasn’t the only one who’d lost a lot of family members during that massacre, and this reminder brought about another surge of painful memories.
“I wish I’d done more to him,” I said quietly, knowing that the Messenger had deserved far worse than what I’d done to him.
Marcus nodded at that, giving me a sad look. “Unfortunately, Scorn is still out there, and he’s still a threat.” He shook his head and let out a sigh. “I just wish I could have seen his face when he received our message.”
“At least we know he did receive it,” Tessa said with a sigh. “He immediately pulled some of his people back and shifted to a defensive position. If nothing else, he’s concerned about further retaliation and should be hesitant to try anything else for awhile.”
“It was a hell of a message,” Tony commented with a smirk.
“Definitely,” Debora agreed with a faint smirk of her own as she pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “But it got the point across.”
“And what message is this?” Uncle Andre asked curiously.
Tony burst out laughing. “We just sent the bastard a little warning.”
Marcus chuckled, though it wasn’t a nice one. “And we thought it was appropriate to have the Messenger deliver it.”
“Or at least his head,” Debora added, blowing a stream of smoke off to the side. Uncle Andre gave her a dirty look but didn’t say anything.
“We sent him the Messenger’s head,” Marcus explained, earning a look of surprise from Uncle Andre, then a chuckle.
“I think my mother would approve,” Uncle Andre responded after a moment of consideration.
I just stood there, not saying a word, though I felt a sense of satisfaction when I imagined Scorn receiving that package. However, I also felt a bit guilty. After all, that gruesome message had been my idea, even though I hadn’t been serious when I suggested it.
When Tony and the other guards had arrived after my fight with the Messenger, my bodyguard had mused aloud about what we should do with the body. I’d been in a pretty grim mood and responded, “Maybe he can deliver a message for us…” I didn’t have the authority to give any orders, at least not yet, but Tony had loved the idea and so had Marcus.
The others told Uncle Andre a little more about that particular message, though I tried to avoid listening in as much as I could. One of the reasons that I’d always planned to avoid joining the Family, was so that I wouldn’t get involved in this criminal business. But now, here I was, not only a figurehead for the Family, but also coming up with ideas for how to threaten our rivals. I felt nauseous just thinking about it.
After a few minutes, the conversation changed again, and Tessa stared at me with a grim expression. “Bianca,” she said carefully, “there are some things we need to discuss…”
I definitely didn’t like the look of her expression or the tone of her voice. They were about the same as when she’d told me that I would actually have to act the part of the White Lady and play the role in order to improve my odds of surviving. Whatever she wanted to talk about now, it was obviously going to be something I wouldn’t like.
“The Messenger is out of the picture,” Marcus stated grimly, “but Scorn is still around, and the chances are that sooner or later, he’ll make another move against you. We can increase your security and keep enough pressure on him that he’s too busy to do much scheming, but short of declaring open war on him…”
“Our options are limited,” Tessa added with a sour expression. “When you took out the Messenger, you helped to establish your position, but you also drew more attention to yourself, attention that could be dangerous for you.”
I looked back and forth between Marcus and Tessa, trying to figure out what they were leading up to. Then I glanced to Debora and Tony, neither of which knew the full story about my past. I frowned as I asked, “What do you mean?”
“You are still young and inexperienced,” Tessa explained carefully. “You need to build your strength and fully master your powers. If any of our enemies realizes how inexperienced you are, it will encourage them to act before you are ready. It would encourage Scorn to act more decisively.”
“And that’s the last thing we want,” Marcus added.
“I wanted to take the fight to Scorn while he was off balance,” Debora commented, taking a long drag from her cigarette. “But I was outvoted. Instead, we’re going to keep that bastard distracted and give you a chance to train. The Family needs you at full strength.”
“I’ve been training,” I responded, looking at Tessa and feeling a little confused. Tessa had been teaching me magic, and I’d been studying the book to learn even more from that
Tessa looked a bit chagrinned as she admitted me, “I can teach you a great deal about magic, but certainly not everything you’ll need to know. As the White Lady, you will be expected to know far more than a mere Hand.”
“And we still have the other problem,” Marcus told me with a scowl. “I don’t know how else to say this, but as long as you’re in Chicago, you’re in danger. Scorn has already sent people after you twice, and I doubt he’s given up.”
“So, we discussed these issues,” Tessa continued, looking just a little guilty as she glanced to Marcus and then Debora. “And we came up with a solution.”
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously and asked, “What solution?”
“According to Debora,” Tessa explained, glancing to the other woman. “There’s a boarding school that would be perfect for our purposes.”
“A boarding school?” I blurted out in surprise.
“There’s a boarding school for mutants,” Debora explained, pausing to take a drag from her cigarette. “Apparently, they have a world class magic training program, they teach combat and tactics, which you’ll need to learn, and there is no way in Hell that Scorn can touch you there.”
“A boarding school for mutant?” I repeated, stunned by the idea that something like that could even exist. How come I’d never heard of it? Wouldn’t something like that be in the news?
“You want to send her off to some school?” Uncle Andre asked, almost sounding offended. “How in the world can we protect her if she’s off at some boarding school?”
“This boarding school has some of the best security in the world,” Debora answered, fixing her good eye on Uncle Andre. “Some friends told me about the place, and I did a little research before recommending it. Apparently, it’s strictly neutral ground, with some very dangerous players enforcing this…including the Syndicate.”
“The Syndicate?” I repeated in surprise. The Syndicate was a very dangerous and powerful organization, and one that the Family sometimes did business with. I never would have expected them to be involved in a boarding school.
Debora nodded at that, snubbing her cigarette out before she continued. “It seems that a lot of players see the school as a potential recruiting pool, as well as a place to send their own kids, so they all have a vested interest in keeping it safe. Everyone involved keeps the existence of the school fairly hush hush, but they make sure people know not to mess with the place. If anyone tries, they not only cross the Syndicate, but also the government and a bunch of heroes. This school is one of the few things that all sides seem to agree on.”
“That sounds…impressive,” Uncle Andre admitted, almost grudgingly.
“From what I hear,” Debora added, now looking at me, “the school is damn expensive, but well worth the cost. Like I said, they’ve got great security, so we won’t have to worry about assassination attempts while you’re there, and they can help you get stronger.”
“I don’t know much about mutants,” Marcus admitted as he slowly sat down in a chair, looking pained from his still healing injuries. “But if this school is even half what Debora says, then it should be the perfect place for you.” He shrugged at that, or at least tried to since it quickly turned into a wince. “Of course, it’s up to you.”
“I honestly believe that this school is your best option,” Tessa told me with a serious expression. “At this school, you’d be anonymous…just another student. No one there needs to know anything about you being the White Lady. Our enemies won’t know where you are, and you’ll be completely out of their reach. This will give you the opportunity to train in peace, without the added pressures that come from your position.”
I stared at Tessa, reading between the lines and understanding what she hadn’t actually said as well. If I went to this school, not only would I be out of Scorn’s reach, but I’d be away from the Family as well. This meant that I wouldn’t have to constantly present the appropriate image so that the Family would see me as strong and capable. I’d still be stuck as a girl, as a freaky looking girl, but I wouldn’t have to play the role of the White Lady…at least not all the time. In fact, it would give me a chance to get used to what I’d become, and perhaps even discover who I was now that I was no longer Bryan.
Uncle Andre leaned forward onto his cane and stared at Debora for a moment before nodding faintly, apparently deciding to trust her judgment about the school. “If this school is everything you say,” he said carefully, “then I’m all for it.” His eyes shifted over to me. “I’ve already lost too many family members, and I don’t want to risk losing you too. Besides, this boarding school will have to be a lot less confining than being stuck hiding out in a safe house.”
While they continued to discuss this school, my attention turned to what they’d already said about it, and how they were all encouraging me to go. It seemed strange that a meeting about how to deal with Scorn had somehow turned into a conversation about how to deal with me. If it had just been Debora suggesting this, I would have suspected that this was just a way for the Family leadership to get me out of the way for awhile. However, I trusted Tessa, and especially Marcus. Before all this happened, Marcus was the only person who’d ever seemed to care about me, which was why I’d picked him as my regent. If he thought that this was a good idea, then it was because he really did think it was the best thing for me.
I had to admit, it sounded like there really were a lot of good things about this boarding school. For one, I’d be safe from Scorn and his assassins, and I wouldn’t be stuck hiding in the safe house anymore. I’d be able to go back to school and continue my education, which I’d thought was no longer an option because of the way I looked. I’d be able to continue learning magic, and I’d be able to learn more about being a mutant and how my avatar power worked.
But of all the reasons they’d given me to attend this school, the most appealing one was that I’d be able to escape the Family’s constant attention and expectations. I’d be virtually anonymous…just one student among a few hundred. If I went to this school, no one would know who I really was. No one would know about Bryan, or even about the White Lady. For once, I’d have a chance to discover who Bianca was in peace.
Of course, I was a practical person and couldn’t help but considering the negatives of the situation as well. For one, I’d be on my own, without much Family support. I’d be in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by people I didn’t know or trust, relying on strangers to protect me instead of the Loyal. I hadn’t realized until that moment, that getting away from the Family could be so dangerous…and frightening.
I was still considering the positives and negatives when a loud ‘caw’ made me jump. My attention was immediately drawn to the corner of the room, where Lenore was perched, watching me intently. I was a bit surprised to see her since I’d noticed her sitting there until now.
“Lenore, old girl,” Uncle Andre greeted the bird. “What are you doing here?” I noticed that he hadn’t asked how she’d gotten into the house. From what I’d seen, Grandmother’s familiar went where she wanted, and she didn’t have any problem getting around locked doors. She responded by giving another caw, ruffling her feathers, then she continued to stare at me.
I felt chills run down my spine as I stared back at the bird, wondering if she was here to add her two cents to the conversation. Or maybe, she was here as some kind of omen. Ravens were often considered to be omens of bad luck, but Lenore was a white raven. Did that mean she was an omen of good luck? Considering the fact that she’d been present when my family had been murdered, I doubted that very much. Still, I was sure that Lenore had come for a reason.
“Do you think I should go to this school too?” I asked Lenore. I wasn’t too surprised when she nodded agreement, then let out a quiet ‘caw’, which sounded like an acknowledgement. I let out a sigh and wryly asked Marcus, “How can I argue with that?”
“Lenore is no ordinary bird,” Uncle Andre reminded me. He stared at Lenore, perhaps wondering what her reasons were.
I nodded at that and let out a long sigh, knowing that Uncle Andre was right. Lenore was definitely not an ordinary bird. If my grandmother’s familiar, and the three people I trusted most, all recommended that I go to this school, how could ignore that?
“All right,” I said, standing up straight and trying to show the poise and confidence required of the White Lady. “What is the name of this school I’m going to be attending?”
Lenore let out another ‘caw’, which somehow sounded pleased, while Marcus and Tessa both seemed to relax a little. Debora casually pulled out another cigarette and fixed me with her good eye before answering, “Whateley Academy.”