Elizabeth Carson looked at the phone number in her hand, chewing on her irritation. She did not want to call, or talk to Johann Richter, ever. She hated the man, and he’d caused her no end of suffering early in her career, irony was having to pull the man and his twin daughters out of their home, for their own safety, nine years ago.
She had only been at Whateley, retired, for a few years when the call came, and she moved the man and his daughters into a witness protection program when he agreed to provide all of the operational information he could on his former wife’s operations.
Now the man was begging for her assistance, again. While she despised Johann, his daughter Janine, AKA “Deimos,” was never likely to be on the list of people she was hostile to. The girl had the unfortunate distinction of being an empathic rager, who was often unable to stand against the hurricane of other peoples’ emotions. She had seemed to be making a recovery when summer vacation had started.
The Outcasts were one of the most volatile groups in Whateley Academy, but they were cut a lot of slack because of the nightmare ride they had endured in Darwin, and the three original members, of the small clique that seemed to be founded upon the principle of “Defiance of expectation”, had shown that even the monsters could be heroes. Their counseling had slowly improved, and their participation with other students had been less dependent upon them having a blessed day where they weren’t thinking about the carnage of New Year’s Eve.
Caitlin was still volatile, but she’d been through as bad, if not worse. She was as stable as she could be, given her insistence that some things could never be shared.
But Deimos had been, seemingly, recovering from her sister’s death, somewhat greatly due to the Outcasts closing ranks around her. She’d had high hopes for the Fury Twin before she’d heard the voice message.
“Lady Astarte, I know I have no right to ask you for your help after the hell I put you and your friends through, but I have no choice. It’s Janine. She’s not eating, not responding and I don’t know how to help her…” The male voice cracked slightly. “Please help, I can’t lose them both. Please.”
She hated Johann, and wouldn’t cross the street to put out a fire by pissing on him. But she didn’t hate the Fury Twins, and she had already lived with the pain of losing Shelly for over a decade.
She dialed the number from her office, refusing to give the sonofabitch a personal line.
“Ja, this is Richter.”
“Let’s get this done fast, Johann, what’s wrong with Janine?” Carson managed to school most of the contempt from her voice as she spoke to the hated bio-devisor.
“She’s stopped talking, eating. She stopped talking three days after she returned home. Evadne has been trying to get her to talk, she loves the girls, but she won’t even get out of bed, she keeps staring at Adrienne’s things. She doesn’t eat the food we bring her.”
Carson heard the tears choking the man’s voice, despite his past, where he’d openly declared the GSD to be defects that should be scoured from the population. She didn’t know what had caused him to change his tune.
“Tell me everything.”
“There is nothing much to add, she came home and simply shut down. She talked about something called a Noms, and muttered about things that made no sense. The few coherent words that anyone has coaxed out of her were Diamond, Razor, Jericho and someone named Cait but not in that order.”
“Outcasts.” Carson sighed. It would make sense that the deadly tight-knit band of GSD and crazy had been what kept Deimos going. Those kids had their issues, but they invariably pulled together when it mattered, especially when it came to comforting the lost.
“I’m sorry, what do Outcasts have to do with Janine?”
“Janine’s been friends with a group of the rowdiest and in-your-face GSDs and ragers on the campus.” Carson sighed heavily. “If I’m not missing my guess, the five of them adopted Janine and didn’t tell anyone when Adrienne passed away. They have always been rather tight with the twins. I don’t know what we could do, except perhaps bring Janine here for observation.”
“Would these Outcasts be willing to come to her?”
“Maybe. For her, likely, but as I said they are all GSD except Jericho and he’s black.”
“Evadne would not care, and for mein kinder If it would save them I would confess every crime I have committed and hand each of them a blade.” He sighed. “Janine’s shame at her body is my fault. Her sister’s death is my fault. Their desperation to ask that Jobe for help is my fault. I should have taken them and left before that madman, Dietrich, had a chance to get his hands on my daughters. Everything in their lives that has gone wrong is my fault. If they come, I will give you, and them anything you demand if it can even make my Janine smile just for a little while.”
“Stand by to pay for five warper transits. I’ll ask Eldritch to ask the others if they will come.”
“Ja, I will have the fees ready, both ways. I have a secluded estate where they won’t be scrutinized by judging eyes. Will you send a Chaperone?”
“Eldritch will be sufficient. If anyone attempts to harm your daughter or the others, she’ll slaughter them.”
“I thought she was a student.”
“She, Jericho, Diamondback and Razorback endured and survived approximately eight hours of running gun battle against Doctor Reaper’s onslaught in Darwin, and Razorback did half the work taking out Goggmagogg. They have already proven that they will fight to the death to protect their own.”
“I will make appropriate arrangements to minimize the chances that they will feel that they have to.”
“I’ll call you with arrangements if, and when, the Outcasts agree.”
“Will you tell them who I am?”
“I will leave that to you, and Janine. I doubt I need to warn you what I will do if any of them…”
“I swear on what little honor I have left, Carson. If anyone tries to harm your students they will have to get through me.”
“I’m holding you to that.”
Carson found Caitlin practicing on the Range Four, per usual. If it weren’t six years of habit, coming here, she might have believed Caitlin to be OCD. She found Caitlin practicing some of the magic effects she’d been learning.
Telekinesis was difficult for some, but hardly a brain-breaker. She’d personally worked with Caitlin on her techniques over the first weeks of summer and found the girl to be brutally ineffective at gross manipulations such as creating fire, or lifting objects. She also had zero affinity for spell slips, prayer strips, gestures, intonations or meditation.
What she turned out to be able to function with was motion. Carson had pretty much facepalmed when Caitlin was able to manipulate a revolver into firing without touching it. The better one understands something, the more effective they are at affecting it. Mages who’d been trained as electricians usually started out invoking lightning, firefighters turned out to be amazing pyro or hydromancers.
Caitlin was showing signs of martial focus. Parkour, the study of warfare and street fighting had turned out to be the way the girl could channel essence. Violent motion allowed her to manipulate the currents she touched and force them into flows that did what she wanted.
The M-240 machinegun that was Caitlin’s weapon of choice was propped and bracketed carefully to keep it from shaking and jumping around. It didn’t need it for her purposes, but Eldritch tended to take no chances with accidents.
The gun’s trigger drew back, as though pulled by a ghost, and the weapon roared downrange as Caitlin held out an arm like she was gripping a pistol grip, then jerked her index finger as the weapon fired again. This time the belt loaded was devoured, and the ammunition can jumped away as the feed tray cover popped up and a new belt snaked into the tray, the bolt racked back and the top snapped shut. Caitlin was pantomiming the actions that would reload the weapon even though her hands never touched the machinegun that she knew more intimately than she knew her current body.
Caitlin saw her and stopped, exaggerating a thumb push that matched the safety clicking on. “Hey Liz. Here to check out the inventory counts?”
Carson shook her head, ignoring the familiarity that the seeming student used. “I see that you’re better at fine manipulation than simple motions.”
Caitlin got a sour look. “Last time I tried to light a candle, the fucking room damn near exploded.”
“And trying to levitate a fist-sized rock resulted in a hobgoblin that tried to eat Williams’ leg.”
“My heart bleeds for him.”
“I’m not here about the Ranges. I’m here about Janine.”
She had Caitlin’s undivided attention. “What happened to Dimes?”
Caron cocked her head. “Dimes?”
“We came up with nicknames for our two newest. Anomaly and Deimos. Noms and Dimes.”
“Ah. Her father called me, said that she’s shutting down, not responding. She’s not eating.”
“Fuck all... that could kill her.”
“Hence why I came to you. Do you know anything that could be causing this?”
“She’s been depressed over Phobos, but she seemed to be… stable. One second Carson, I’m calling Diamond.”
“Empath. She’s been friends with the Fury Twins for longer than they were warmed up to the rest of us.” Caitlin pulled out her phone, a standard flip phone that had none of the bleeding-edge features of the new smart phones that had been coming out.
“Hello?” A familiar voice responded.
“Hey Mama Turner it’s Caitlin, I’d love to chat at you, but I need Diamond. There’s a problem with Dimes, the girl who’s sister burned out, and Sandra knows her the best.”
“I’ll go get her.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
“What’s going on with Janine?” Diamondback’s voice came on, and Caitlin clicked on the speaker so Carson could hear.
“Dimes has gone catatonic, symptoms are consistent with killing depression, in the literal sense. Carson needs more data, and since she came to me, I’m imagining she wants us to see if we can pull Dimes out of the funk.” At Carson’s nod, Caitlin spoke again. “That’s confirmed, she wants to know if we can do anything about it.”
Diamondback considered for several minutes. “I was worried this might happen. You know how Avatars who lose their spirits drop into that suicidal funk?”
“Yeah…” Caitlin already didn’t like where this was going.
“This is worse. Caitlin, for all intents and purposes, Phobos and Deimos were two halves of the same person in a lot of respects.” She stopped for a moment as Caitlin stayed silent to allow Diamond to explain while Liz Carson moved in close to hear more.
“Phobos and Deimos were always linked, their powers connected them so they always felt each others’ emotions perfectly. They were always in sync, which was why when one popped a gasket, no matter where the other one was, she would pop too, then if it went on long enough they’d merge into Fury.”
“Keep going, Sandra.”
“Thing is, they didn’t have to go berserk to merge into Fury. But the emotions of other people made them go ballistic, like it interfered with their ability to think when joined, causing their consciousness to separate and paining them.”
“Does anyone else know about this?”
“No, I found out because they found part of the tunnels where they were far enough away from people that they could just join and be a part of each other. Whole. I found out by accident, but because I’m an empath I could feel their emotions and just ride that wave of contentment. When it was just us, I almost knew what it felt like to be the third head of Fury. I could be around them without making them berserk, or tearing reality apart.”
“Holy fuck…” Caitlin looked at Carson. “Did anyone have any clue that the two of them were that tightly bound?”
“No, no one else knew. Caitlin, as much as the pair of them hated being Fury around the rest of the kids on campus, when they were one, they shared thoughts, and felt like they were a whole person, rather than like someone who’d been cut in half and given two personalities by a cruel God, unable to re-link their soul into the whole it was meant to be. Deimos feels like she’s been cut in half, in the most literal fashion we can imagine, like she’s half a person waiting for the other half to rejoin.”
“Yeah. She was improving around us because she had five people, whom she could feel, emotionally supporting and caring for her without reservation. When we were near her, even you with your razor-edged emotional state, she could tell that we cared about her, would help and support her. She almost felt like she could be whole again when we were with her. When we weren’t she said she just would start crying. It’s why I moved into Dimes’ room with her and Jack loaned us the music box.”
“Music Box?” Carson mouthed.
Caitlin shook her head. “No one’s business but mine and Jack’s,” she said quietly.
Carson frowned but she didn’t push.
“Hey Sandra, can you ask Joe and Monica if they’ll be willing to go see if we can’t pull Dimes out of her funk?”
“They’re already here. Noms exact words are ‘I’m going, or someone’s getting bulldozed.’ Joe’s just nodding at me.”
“Alright, I’m in. I’ll ping Jack.”
“We’re packing now. I’ll fill in Mama Turner completely so we can get Joe to go.”
“I’m sending a warper transporter to collect you all.” Carson pulled out her own phone.
“Hanging up Sandra. Need to make another call.”
Caitlin immediately dialled an international number, praying someone would wake up. After about a minute of dialing, and redialing, she heard a click and heard the enraged, animal shriek of an angry raptor with a sense of hearing that could pick out a human heartbeat from almost a football field away.
“Shut up, for a second, carnosaur. Dimes is in trouble. You listening.”
An inquisitive, worried chirp came across the phone as Caitlin heard Debra Carlyle in the background asking Jack what was wrong.
“Dimes is dropping out on us buddy, she’s shutting off and going silent. We need to help her. Can you get out to help? Carson’s got a line on a warper to get you there. Calm your momma down and ask her.”
Carson was talking on her phone as she heard a click when Jack set the phone down to sign at his mother. A few minutes passed, then the phone came up. “Jack can come, Caitlin. I’ve got him packing his things.”
“Ok, gotta hang up and make arrangements.” Caitlin closed her phone and broke down the machinegun, properly stowing the weapon in the armory. The process was shockingly fast despite her being alone to do it.
“Caitlin, if you do this, be careful of Deimos’ father. He’s incredibly dangerous and a recovering Anti-GSD advocate.”
“Not a problem, he can get the fuck over it.”
“Let’s get on it Carson, I’m gonna pack some tools and a sidearm. Let’s not fuck around, I’ll roll first and make sure that daddums will behave with the others.”
Carson nodded. “Arranged. Pinpoint will be here in thirty minutes.”
Johann saw the portal erupt as the warper and a rather stunning young woman stepped through a hundred yards from his front door. He walked to the front door and opened the door and stepped out to greet the Amazon with the long, black, metallic hair.
She was huge, at about six foot tall, she dwarfed his entire family, and was dressed in street fighter chic. Black jeans along with the white wife-beater and fingerless gloves showing off the cobalt-colored, metal tattoos finished the image of a girl who thought she was tough shit. She dropped her bag in the front yard and marched to the front door, and Johann took note of the ivory-handled sidearm at her hip and revised his initial expectation of Janine’s visiting friends. The blood-red rager band on her arm matched his daughter’s.
He was expecting nothing more than powerful, monstrous children. He’d dealt with killers and soldiers long enough to note that the girl’s posture, body language and scanning gaze that took in everything, were indicators that Janine’s first friend to arrive was not only used to violence, but excelled at it.
She looked him dead in the eye, and he saw the rune-cut metal irises in her sockets as the grim young woman completely skipped the pleasantries. “Where is she?”
Evadne, a middle-aged blonde woman who’d managed to preserve her good looks and body partly due to being unable to bear children, did a double-take as she came out and saw Caitlin, then heard the quiet demand as she stepped out beside her husband. “This way.” While she was utterly shocked by the lack of decorum, she was relieved that someone had come to help as a second portal opened up, and a massive, mottled velociraptor stepped through and stalked forward like he owned the place, silently. He also wore a blood-red rager band.
Deimos felt like she was paralyzed, the piercing realization that her sister, her other half would not be coming home, to help her feel like a whole person, killed any urge to move, save to stave off the feeling of a limb going completely numb from lying on it wrong.
Three eyes stared at an empty bed across the room, the mix of stuffed animals lining the bed was an odd, empty mirror of her own. She didn’t feel hungry, didn’t really mark the passage of time, as she stared into the space that had been occupied by someone who was vibrant and alive, who made her feel vibrant and alive. She would never share the feeling of being whole again. Half of her life had been ripped away by an uncaring…
She twitched and writhed as a twisted knot of nightmare fury, worry and fear slashed through her consciousness, cutting through the feeling of soul-crushing sorrow. Heavy footfalls came up the stairs, and she dared not believe the heavy stomping and emotional sledgehammer were familiar as a huge, female form stepped in front of her, then simply hoisted her out of bed, cradling her as she let out a ragged breath, seeing a face that was impossible, forcing her to feel something other than loss as Eldritch carried her away from the oubliette that reminded her so much of Adrienne.
“Come on Dimes, We’re here for you.”
She whimpered and snapped all four arms around the girl like she was a lifeline, hardly able to believe that the reprieve had come from the friends who stayed with her the whole time after her sister, soul mate, had died.
“Razorback, grab some clothing, and another set of her underthings. Let’s get her outside, get her to the others.” An odd chirp followed as Janine opened the eye on her forehead and saw the speedball of rage dart into her room. As Caitlin stumped down the stairs, she could feel Evadne’s worry and her father’s guilt as quiet shadows against the two Outcasts.
She felt the Washington breeze on her skin as Caitlin blithely walked outside and she felt three more familiar, guttering sparks of emotion flare into being as Sandra, Monica and Joe dove on her. The conflicting, worried emotions of her friends overwhelmed her senses as she finally let out a wracking sob and began to cry. Then the bottomless pits of her reptilian friends’ hunger crept in and her body remembered that she hadn’t eaten in a very long time, a dangerous situation for any mutant, especially warpers like her.
Deimos ignored it, instead clinging to Caitlin like she was trying to merge with her, to become something whole.
“Diamond, Noms, take her in and get her cleaned up. We’ll go see about getting her some food.” Joe’s voice eventually cut through the haze.
She found herself stripped, enduring a hot shower as her friends forced her, and helped her scour five days of not getting out of bed from her body while Caitlin and Razorback tore everything she had out of the room she had once shared with Adrienne, without her knowledge.
“If you don’t start eating, I’ma force-feed you.” Monica’s voice was steel as she pressed the hunk of bread into Janine’s hand. She knew full well that the statement was a fact, not a threat. She tentatively tore a chunk of the bread with her teeth and fangs, chewing slowly until the pure hunger of her body took over, and she shredded the full half-table of food that her friends had cooked and set out for her.
“That’s not my room,” Janine said weakly.
“It is now,” Diamondback slithered up behind her. “I know you, Janine. We’re not going to let you wake up every morning and stare at an empty bed.” She pointed to the mixed mess of cots and loose sleeping bags. “We’ll be here with you for as long as you need.”
She was relaxing, leaning with the six-armed Outcast against Razorback’s flopped out form, using him as an odd, spined body pillow while they watched the TV. She wasn’t paying attention to the movie, or the time. She was paying attention to the five people around her, relaxing just a bit in the moments of lucidity that were piercing the depression more often over the course of the days her friends had been there.
Deimos watched Monica and Caitlin go at it in the front yard, marvelling at the raw force the two girls laid out against each other. Anomaly’s control over her four additional limbs was uncanny, as though she had been born with them. Caitlin was fast, and aggressive to the point where most people were terrified of tackling her. The two girls were moving at half-speed, and still looked like professional martial artists tearing each other up in the movies. Caitlin’s frustration trying to get past all six of the hands Monica used to block her was matched by her opponent’s frustration at not being able to pin down the bouncing fury ball, even when she tried to pin her with gravity.
Jack and Joe were pummelling each other, and practicing the Aikido maneuvers Tolman and Ito drilled into the students relentlessly. It was amazing to watch Jericho, a boy who had been a chunky mess when she’d met him, go toe to toe with the massive raptor. The two boys weren’t exactly going at it to hurt each other, but they weren’t pulling punches either.
Joe had suggested practicing while they were all together. Darwin still haunted her friends, and Caitlin had popped open Jack’s music box on the two nights the nightmares had been particularly bad. They showed little outward sign of the trauma anymore. But she could feel it creeping around the edges as her friends tried to be strong in the face of their own nightmare.
Diamond was behind her, waiting for one of her friends to wear out and need a break, brushing out the hair, on her head, that had become too matted. The knots were out, and even though she had a massive coil of Diamond-serpent flopped over her lap, she didn’t mind the weight. The closeness and physical contact with the girl who could perfectly sync emotions with her was a deep comfort, beyond almost anything else, eclipsed only by the emotions of all five of the friends who had dropped their lives to come help her.
She felt more alive. She felt more like Janine Richter than she felt like the dying half of a mutilated woman.
The pain was still there, the pain of Adrienne’s death was in all of them. But it was something they shared, that her parents shared. It was not something that she felt overwhelmed by with her friends to help her carry the burden.
She frowned, then almost had to contort to reach over the massive coil of snake in her lap to reach the rock that had been steadily hurting, jammed in the gap of one of her cloven hooves as she unceremoniously tore it out and tossed it.
Sandra smiled and continued brushing Janine’s hair as the girl finally showed some sign of self-awareness and physical discomfort.
“Astarte, anything you ask that is in my power to give is yours.”
“I take it that Janine is reacting then?”
“I did not think it possible. She doesn’t react to me or Evadne much at all, yet. But her friends came, and within hours, she was eating. She talks, she’s moving without someone having to pick her up.”
Liz let out a silent prayer of thanks. “Let the outcasts do their thing, Johann. Your daughter is an Empath, and apparently was so tightly connected to her sister that she probably feels very, very alone without someone to hammer into her that she is alive, and she is not alone.”
“How can we do this?”
“I’m not sure many people could. From what Diamondback told of the secret she was keeping for the twins, there’s not a lot too many people could do.”
“Why these Outcasts, then?”
“They only see Janine, not the GSD. To them, so far as I can tell, Janine’s GSD is simply part of what makes her who she is, much like having red hair, or blue eyes.”
“I wish I could understand the mindset.” The rueful voice on the other line sounded like he hated the fact that he could not. “I have to fight, every day, the urge to tinker and try to restore my beautiful girl to the way she should be, even though I know the GSD is exemplar based. Probably expressed through the girls’ fear of becoming like the monsters as children.”
“They didn’t become monsters, Johann. They were still your girls, frightened and confused. Each one bound herself too tightly to the other because they genuinely thought that only their twin could really understand.”
“The snake girl, Sandra? She was saying something about that. It hurt to hear, but I remember her speaking of it to the others.”
“She’s a receptive Empath just like your daughters, Johann, she just can’t force everyone around her to feel what she does. Sandra made friends with them almost from day one because of shared trauma.”
“Her sister, Monica, said that her parents tried to kill her. A year ago I would have considered that a mercy. Now, if she had been, my daughter would probably be dying from depression right now. Not eating would kill her rapidly.”
“Do you love your daughter, Johann?”
“How can I not? Even with the monstrous changes, she is still my excited little Janine. I watched that light die when she changed, then heard her desperation when the GSD became worse. She thought I would not love them after what happened. Even I thought I would not. But she’s still my daughter, that will never change. I don’t want that to change. I mourned the loss of her confident spirit, not her body. And it happened because I taught her to hate herself. Now her best hope is friends I taught her as a child to disdain as defective.”
Carson breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps Johann Richter wasn’t as unsalvageable as she feared.
Janine grinned as her lower-left hand missed Monica’s as they practiced the “slap-hands” game that they had learned as children. It was a complex clapping pattern that required the two girls to clap each other’s hands at many points. They were doing it, normal, with their upper arms, but they had reversed the motions for their lower arms.
Anomaly’s uncanny limb control meant she could interpose any hand into any part of the movements at any time. She had no off-hands, whereas Deimos had three offhands.
They had completed the complex work three times, and over the last four days, Noms had helped her learn to coordinate her hands better. The two girls went at it again, this time ramping up the speed a little while the others watched quietly, careful to keep their minds on the here-and-now rather than tragedies long past. Both of them sang the ridiculous song as their hands clapped back and forth to the tempo of the beat.
Miss Mary had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell
Miss Mary went to Heaven, the steamboat went to
Hello operator, please give me number Nine
And if you disconnect me, I’ll kick you from
Behind the frigerator, there lies a piece of glass
Miss Mary sat upon it and broke her little
Ask me no more questions, I’ll tell you no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom, a zipping up their
Flies are in the city, the bees are in the park
Miss Mary and her boyfriend are kissing in the D-A-R-K
Dark, Dark, Dark!
As the clapping game came to a close Noms grinned at Dimes and hugged her, a comforting gesture that reminded her of the good times at Whateley with her sister, bittersweet now, rather than agonizing.
“You’re getting better at this.”
Janine grinned, showing her fangs. “One of these days I’ll get to where I can fully keep up with you.”
“Keep trying to do stuff with your other hands. The more you use them, the less they’ll be in the way, and the more used to them you will get.”
“Okay, but you and Sandra promised me you’d teach me how to do the dancing you were learning.”
“Sandra’s better at it. But mostly the bellydancing thing is all in how you move your hips. Come on, let’s go grab her. We can practice and make the boys play a steady tune, and maybe we can get Crazy over there to join us.”
“Think Caitlin will actually try to learn?” Janine looked at the Cobalt-tattooed artificer.
“What’s it hurt to ask?”
“You have a point.”
Janine walked over and asked Caitlin if she would join them, and to her surprise, the temperamental tattooed one nodded and the three girls had fun embarrassing Caitlin getting her to wiggle her butt in front of the wolf-whistling boys.
Evadne watched the five Outcasts practicing their particular martial arts on a stone hill in the yard. The five of them were practicing at full power, with the dark-skinned boy decked in his odd, ambulance armor. The five children were terrifying for what they could do, but when they interacted with each other, and Janine, they were just another batch of rambunxious children in their teens who got a bad hand and chose to own it.
They were torturous to watch with Janine, cracking through the pained, depressed shell the girl, she’d come to call her daughter, had lived in. She and Johann had tried everything to pull their daughter out of her funk for over a week, and then to watch these children, whom she’d become closer to than her family, was agonizing.
She wondered when she had lost her little girl.
She almost jumped out of her skin when an impossibly strong girl wrapped two pairs of arms around her mother, and hugged her as tightly as she dared from behind. A cheek pressed to hers as Janine pulled her mother close.
“I’m sorry for making you worry about me, Momma.”
The blonde woman let out a wracking sob as her daughter fully acknowledged her, finally.
“I don’t understand.” Evadne was genuinely confused. The Outcasts were occupying the furniture of the living room while mother and daughter talked.
“I don’t either, Momma, I don’t know how to explain it. I wasn’t ignoring you. I couldn’t really see you, in here.” She tapped her head. “You know I’m an empath, I feel emotions, but it’s very, very hard to feel you and Papa.”
Janine was reaching for words she had never needed to articulate at any juncture of her life, and she was fumbling for them. “I know why I started waking up with Caitlin, she’s too intense, painful in some ways. I can’t not feel her, and my other friends here are like bright sparks in a dark room.”
Janine’s mother looked to be at her wit’s end when Caitlin stood up, and knelt on the floor. “I actually know what she’s trying to say Evadne. Come on, both of you. Deimos on my left, Evadne on the right.” She looked at the pair. “I need you both to calm down, purge the worry for just a moment, and trust me.”
The pair matched Caitlin, kneeling so their knees were almost touching hers. Both noted the antsy looks Deimos gave Cait, almost like she was a shiny, distracting thing.
Caitlin chuckled. “Like she said, I’m loud. I need you, Evadne, to close your eyes, and hold out a hand.” When the woman did, Caitlin nodded to Deimos. “Janine, take her hand.”
When her daughter gripped her hand, Evadne Richter held on tight.
“Now I want you to perceive your daughter, without your eyes, try to get a good picture of her without visualizing her. Just touch, scent and hearing.”
“I… I can’t.”
“That’s because you need all of your senses to fully perceive someone, even your daughter, right?”
She nodded slightly.
“Empaths and Psychics have six senses, and in order for someone to feel fully real, they have to be able to sense with all six. You have a strong visual presence, scent, touch, and I’m not going to speculate about taste…”
She paused as the rest of the Outcasts, and the two next to her groaned and laughed.
“Oh look, the senses of humor are still alive and well.” Caitlin pressed the two hands back together that had come apart at her quip. “Most empaths, like Janine, can get a stronger sense of you when you are in physical contact. It’s the difference between a whisper and a roar.”
As Caitlin pulled her hand away, Deimos felt the razor-edged emotions of the Artificer dial down and felt her mother’s worry, hope, confusion and love loudly, clearly, even though the woman had spent many years schooling her emotions to not get too intense.
“Now, I’m guessing that you, like so many other people who have Empathic children, are very good at suppressing your emotions, and do it out of habit. Hell I do it all the time, which is why I usually only give Sandra and Janine here a headache. Lightweights, both of them.”
Two middle fingers popped up at Caitlin, one from each girl as Evadne chuckled.
“Now, you’re lucky. We can show you what Janine feels.” She looked at the suddenly incredulous mother.
“How is that possible?”
“Because Janine is what we call a projective empath.” She looked at the four-armed GSD girl. “Janine, I’m going to tell you to do exactly what the Psychic teachers tell you not to do. I want you to look at your mother, focus on how you feel about her, and push.”
Without the physical contact, the emotional wave was intense, hitting each Outcast with a train of Deimos’ Love, admiration, adoration and affection for her mother. They would later deny that tears were involved at all.
Evadne’s reaction was more visceral, profound as she felt a connection to her daughter that she had never felt before. The feeling of intimate closeness wasn’t sensual, but she suddenly discovered what it was like to be her daughter, feeling the emotions of the world around her.
Two hands clapped over their clasped hands, and the love was drowned out by cold-iron determination as Deimos was shocked into Caitlin’s mind-state by the hammer of the painfully intense Artificer’s mood. It hurt, it was painful, but both Deimos, and through her, Evadne would share that iron-hard feeling of will and determination.
“This is what your daughter feels from me. This is how she knows that I am real. What you are feeling right now is me, and my emotions, my mind, my intensity. My need for you to understand. Your need to suppress your emotions blinds your daughter to your existence. Without that emotional context, you feel like a husk, with maybe a spark of life, to any empath. Do you understand me?”
As Caitlin pulled her hands away and the two separated their hands, Evadne and Deimos’ eyes went wide as comprehension truly dawned. “If you want to be real to your daughter, you need to loosen the leash on your emotions, or you need to take the effort to take her hand so she can feel you with that sixth sense and truly realize that you are there with her.”
There were a few moments of silence before Caitlin found herself in a hug by both Deimos and her mother, voices whispering “Thank you” in her ears.
“Now does anyone else regret that we’re not recording this? That’s textbook learning for school.” Jericho chuckled.
“I was thinking that we needed video evidence that Caitlin actually has a soul,” Monica deadpanned. She grinned when a single middle finger, with a cobalt daggerpoint on the third knuckle, was raised in her direction.
Deimos was frantic. She’d woken up that morning to find that she, and all of her friends, were locked out of all the bathrooms on the estate, and the house keys were missing! She and Diamondback were desperately shifting back and forth while Caitlin worked a set of lockpicks, and after an eternity, the door clicked open and the two girls shot into the bathroom to find blessed relief from their murderous bladders.
Jericho and Anomaly came back, looking irate. Both the blind devisor and the six-armed Poesie were wearing a single shoe. Monica had all three pairs of her arms crossed over her chest and torso, looking irate.
“Where’d you learn to pick locks?” Monica looked in askance at Caitlin.
“I’ve spent way too much time at Whateley to not have picked up a few tricks,” Caitlin snorted.
“That reminds me, we should probably figure out who flipped all of the paintings and photo frames in the house.”
Caitlin went to go grab her boots… and only found the right one. She stumped back out, taking stock, and looked right at Jericho. “Where’s the Dinosaur?”
“I haven’t seen…” Jericho groaned. “Oh God he’s going to drive everyone nuts.”
It was too late as the girls came out of the bathroom, Johann and Evadne came up, limping with one shoe each.
“Were we robbed?” Johann asked his daughter.
“Prank?” Janine looked over at Jericho.
“Prank.” He confirmed. “Let’s find butthead before he does something else.”
As one, the Outcasts and Deimos’ family searched the house only to find Razor down in the basement with an absolute pile of shoes. Not only was he painted blue from head to toe, with black spots, but he was also yammering at the intruders into his new lair.
Deimos laughed a bit, as Razor looked absurd, and his treasure hoard was silly. “What are you doing you great galoot?”
Razor growled and stumped right up to her and clicked a small recorder, then horribly lip-synced the line from her favorite movie…
“Ohana... means... family…” came Stitch’s voice, and abruptly the blue paint made sense. “Family… means…”
“Nobody gets left behind.” Deimos said, smiling wide at Razor as she hugged him.
Deimos let out a cry, and a laugh, as Razorback’s joke gave her the bittersweet release to laugh and remember the sister she’d lost.
Johann and Evadne simply stood there, not quite getting it, until Jericho made the connection with the flipped paintings and photos and locked bathrooms.
His destructive programming is taking effect. He will be irresistibly drawn to large cities, where he will back up sewers, reverse street signs, and steal everyone's left shoe.” Joe intoned in a bad Russian accent, while his friends shook their heads and groaned.
Johann looked at the blue-painted Stitch-raptor and shook his head, muttering “I’m going back to bed.”
“He did what?” Carson had to laugh, the thought of Jack Carlyle, the Ultraviolent Detention King, pranking people had an absurd amount of appeal.
“I was expecting something different when you said they were rowdy ragers.”
“They’re children, first and foremost, Johann.”
“I’m seeing that. Janine told me that Razorback, Jack, was the most violent student on campus last year. But here, he’s nothing more than a joking smartass.”
“She speaks truth.”
“Joe changed.” Carson said simply, then went on to elaborate. “Jack has been desperately trying to keep his temper under control. It still goes off, and horrifically, on occasion but Jack hates losing control. When Joe came to Whateley, he was a rather overweight boy who was, to all appearances, blind. His demented sense of humor prompted the house parent, Gerald Filbert, to take a chance and put someone relatively normal in with Jack.
“The two of them got on like gasoline and fire,” she said a bit ruefully. “Now that Jack’s losing his temper less, we have to deal with him pranking people more. I’d say it’s a good trade-off, though.”
“I am beginning to see why you always maintained that I was wrong. Jack reminds me of Hendrick, his humor is almost identical.”
“The Outcasts are good kids. When you ignore their appearance, you find some of the sharpest minds in Whateley, and some of the most… robust senses of humor.”
“I am seeing that. How is it they aren’t depressed about their appearances?”
“You would have to ask them. Sandra has grown into her confidence, as has Monica. Jack stopped caring what others thought of his appearance before he came to Whateley. He was a feral child for two years, living in the Outback, alone. Eldritch… I can’t even really explain her, she’s probably the most stoic and genuinely “no fucks given” about anyone else’s opinions unless she feels it matters.”
“I don’t get the impression she trusts me.”
“She knows you are a known anti-GSD advocate. Her response to that was basically ‘that’s nice, he can get the fuck over it.’ ”
Johann actually laughed on the other end of the line. “Yes I can see her doing that, very easily.”
“How is Janine doing?”
“She is talking to her mother now, your Outcasts taught Evadne how to make Janine see her even when she is depressed and alone in her own mind. I never realized that Empaths would have such a sociopathic response to anyone they cannot sense well.”
“Not all of them do, Johann. But the stronger the empathic talent, the less people who suppress their emotions seem real to them when they are fighting against their own emotional highs and lows. When they are stable, they can interact normally. From what Joe said when he called, Janine was feeling so low it took Caitlin’s particular brand of familiar insanity to immediately jar her.”
“She strikes me as one who suppresses her emotions though.”
“She can’t. Caitlin doesn’t suppress. She contains. She bottles up her fury and anguish and burns it into pure determination. What she can’t use she compartmentalizes and fuels her fury with when she decides to do something. But she doesn’t smother her emotions.”
“She is the most likely to do someone harm.”
“Yes she is. But unlike most of the maniacs like her, Caitlin has rules she enforces on herself, codes of behavior. Rather like Jack and your daughter try to enforce rules on themselves to keep from losing their calm and ripping into everything around them.”
“Which one leads? I cannot tell if it is Joseph, or Caitlin.”
“That’s because outside of sims and actual combat, none of them care who leads. Inside sims and combat, Caitlin knows the tactics, but Joseph is their leader.”
“He is close to all of them?”
“Johann, without Joe, I’m fairly certain that Outcast Corner would never have existed.”
“What of Sandra and Monica? They have strong personalities.”
“And it took both of them almost a semester, or a year depending on which one we’re talking about, to stop being shy and trying to fade out of sight. Monica and Sandra are growing their confidence because the others throw them out into situations where they could excel. Make no mistake, there’s very little the two of them are not capable of.”
“You speak of all of them like a proud mother.”
“In a way. I am always proud to see a child here at Whateley become more than they think they can be, or more than anyone else tells them they can be. Even the ones whom I desperately want to take to task and spank sometimes.”
Johann laughed at that one. “At a school such as yours, a daily occurrence i would imagine.”
“You have no idea.”
“You said these children were in Darwin. What happened to them? I would look up their escapades myself, but…”
“You wouldn’t find much. Besides a few loose traffic cameras that were directly tapped for news purposes, most of the footage involving them is buried in archives, or in the heads of the witnesses. There was a History channel special where they are called out multiple times, but their names are never given.”
“Janine says they have nightmares, that they are in counseling for trauma.”
“They rounded up several hundred civilians and led them to one of the old Bomb Shelters left over from the time before when Darwin was blown down almost completely. They fought to protect those people for eight hours, and they couldn’t save everyone. That haunts them, the people they couldn’t save, that they watched murdered by the numbers.”
Carson paused as she let Johann digest. “Joseph is the one who feels the most guilt. He’s a devisor who wants to save lives. He’s one of the very rare ones who is also gadgeteer-talented, so he builds medical devises, then pares them back to real science. Joe’s the kid who hates our battle simulations because he wants to save lives, not end them. He also feels guilty because he gave Caitlin the order to join Diabolik’s assault on Reaper himself, knowing fully that he was not likely to see her again.”
“Good God Carson there are things children, no matter whose children, should never have to do.”
“Because Jericho sent Eldritch, Reaper’s attack failed.” Carson said. “To Caitlin, that’s both the beginning and end of it. But Jericho still feels that he ordered her to her death.”
“These children would fight to the death for my Janine, wouldn’t they?”
“They would, they are also the ones who had the highest success rate stopping Fury without causing the twins lasting injury.”
“I am beginning to see why Janine trusts them so deeply.”
“You can trust them, Johann. Even without certain… personal issues that two of them carry, if an Outcast gives their word, even without any external enforcement they will move mountains to keep it.”
“Thank you for listening to me Astarte, I know I do not deserve to have you as my confessor but talking to you is helping me to see things that I was blind to.
The door to the office cracked open, and a plaid golf cap with a ludicrous puffball on top led Gunny Bardue in his asinine golfing attire.
“I need to go, Johann, My range staff have arrived for our weekly meeting. Godspeed.”
“Godspeed to you as well.”
She hung up. “Jericho aren’t you back in school a bit early?”
“Ha.” Gunny gave her a gimlet eye. “We’re going to need Caitlin back soon. I pushed back the ordnance and weapon replacement delivery ten days, so we wouldn’t have to tap turd platoon.”
“We might have to put Delarose himself on this one, Gunny.”
“Oh, he’s gonna love that. How’s Deimos doing?”
“Recovering, but it’s still touch-and-go. She’s depressed, and finally grieving, but the Outcasts are keeping her from her emotional Death-Spiral. They’re also breaking a Nazi over their collective knee.”
“You have my undivided attention. This I have to hear.” Gunny perked up and grinned.
“Johann Richter.” Carson said. “Former Nazi agent, circa World War 2, and for damn near thirty years he was Wulfin the Purifier’s top Bio-Devisor.”
“That’s the asshole you pulled out to Witless Protection that you had me and Smythe pull overwatch on?”
Carson nodded. “He defected to protect his daughters from his erstwhile wife.”
“Son. Of. A. Bitch.” Bardue’s eyes went wide. “You mean the Fury Twins were…”
“The twin daughters of Wulfin the Purifier, yes.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I know what you’ll do to anyone who tries to do something to one of our students and staff, regardless of family or past history.”
“That reminds me, Williams just saw the name you wanted to put on the docket for the Art History teacher and blew his fucking lid. Wilson ‘bout clocked him in the teacher’s lounge.”
“Oh?” Carson looked less shocked that Williams might have a problem, that was, to a degree, expected given the background check she’d had done. “I would have expected that response from Mahren, not Wilson. And how the hell did he find out that I was fielding the Imp as a prospect? I haven’t made the job offer!”
“In order: Williams used the words, ‘GSD freak villain’, and fucked if I know how he found out.”
Carson cringed. Wilson was a fast-track case in the Army until his baby sister had come up GSD and been forced to become a villainess, then an inmate at a juvenile mutant corrections facility, in order to be able to have shelter and be fed. The girl would be turning Twenty-Three this year having been released the year before he’d quit the army.
Wilson’s career had been stalled because of it and because he was now acting as her guardian while she hid out in the Village, doing odd jobs for the staff. As a result, he tended to have nasty responses to those who picked on the GSD within his line of sight. It was a little-known fact amongst the student body that Erik Mahren was actually the nicest of the range hands, to the rest of the staff, when provoked.
“Yeah, Liz, this one’s going to be a problem.”
“I think I’m going to channel Caitlin today and say he can get the fuck over it.”
Bardue grinned. “I’ll keep an eye out for Dimes. If Purifier caught wind that she had a GSD baby girl, I doubt even Whateley neutrality would stop that bitch from trying to murder the girl.”
“Fortunately, it appears that we don’t have the same worry from her father.” Carson looked at him. “Johann’s horrified by Janine’s appearance, but he can’t let go of the fact that one of his daughters has died and the other one is still his daughter.”
“Never thought I’d see the day when one of those shitasses grew a conscience.”
“The Outcasts are breaking his worldview, apparently.” Carson chuckled. “He even seemed impressed by Jericho.”
“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Ok Carson, fun’s fun, but we need to get these plans worked out. We actually do need Caitlin. Oh and… The last six resumes that Smythe and Delarose are willing to put up with are in this packet. Background checks are already complete.”
Carson looked at the first three dockets, eyes widened, and she turned and glared bullets at Bardue.
“Don’t you look at me in that tone of voice, Liz. Since you didn’t get off your ass and go a-hirin’ me and Delarose picked for you.”
“Oscar I can’t have these men turned loose on…” She stopped at the finger held up.
“We sang this tune once before. One of them turned out to be a goddamned amazing instructor for the kids. We want to see what the rest of them can do. Besides, it’s your own fault for not getting on this immediately after Halloween.”
Carson looked like she had just gnawed on something foul. She did not like being pushed into a corner, even when she had no one to blame but herself.
Janine and Sandra were sitting facing each other across the small fire, holding an athame blade between them.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Janine asked.
“You and Adrienne have been like the sisters I never had growing up,” Sandra smirked.
“Who speaks my name without fear in her voice?” The six-armed twin of Diamondback said as she stalked into the clearing.
“And what the shit are you two doing without the rest of us?” Jericho looked genuinely irritated. “We’d like more warning than Caitlin spotting someone pulling the currents that she sees.”
“Shit.” Diamondback lost her grip on the essence she was channeling for both of them, and it all slipped away. “Now I have to start over!”
Caitlin and Noms unceremoniously grabbed the pair and dragged them back far enough away from the fire for everyone to join them in a circle. As the Outcasts settled in, Jack shrieked and yammered at both like a scolding grandmother.
“Yes mom,” Deimos rolled her eyes at Jack as he grinned at the pair.
“Ok, fun’s fun, but you need to tell us what you two are doing, Sis.” Monica settled in beside her serpentine sister. “We came to make sure you weren’t going to try and use magic to give Dimes permanent prozac effect or something.”
“Ew, fuck no, that would be dumber than anything.” Diamondback re-coiled herself and glared at everyone. “Not that it’s anyone’s business,” she grumped.
“Damn skippy it’s our business.” Caitlin spoke quietly but firmly. “You two are part of the family we choose, whether any of us admit it or not. We want to be here for Dimes as well.”
“Close your jaw, sis, you’ll catch flies.” Joe pushed Deimos’ jaw closed gently.
“So. Explain, please.” Monica poked her sister. Hard.
“Ow. Okay, okay. We were going to do a blood-brother rite, something to bind to each other so Janine can always feel me, and I can feel her. That way we can always know that someone is there with us, more for her since I have you, Noms.”
“Why didn’t you two ask us?” Jericho asked.
“It’s very… personal, and we weren’t sure we wanted to drag you guys into it. Plus it requires people to cut their hands and share blood.” Diamondback explained, calmly. “Caitlin’s blood is toxic to living things until she slams it into one of the artifacts she punches out, and Razorback’s a regenerator. I don’t know how to do it without blood-mingling.”
Caitlin considered. “I know how.” She pondered, then nodded her head. “We can do it.”
“Seriously? How? And are you sure? This is… very… personal. You have to be willing to reveal your worst, and offer yourself to all of the other participants, and they have to be willing to accept you as you are, good and evil, all of it, without reservation.”
“That’s not a blood-circle I’m familiar with.” Monica said. “That’s more like an adoption than a warrior’s oath.”
“That’s what it is.” Diamond shook her head. “I’m not proposing anyone bind their wills and lives to mine. I’m adopting the girl who was one of my sisters, in everything outside the Outcasts, until I got you back, Monica.”
“And you didn’t invite me?”
“I didn’t think about it?” Diamond responded weakly.
“I’m gonna smack you.” Joe said grumpily. Razorback shrieked and nodded.
“Four to two against you two monkeys doing this alone it sounds like.” Caitlin smirked. “I won’t stop you, but I wish to join you.”
Deimos’ three eyes went a bit wide.
“I won’t stop you, but I wish to join you.” Joe echoed the response. “Dimes is kinda like the baby sister we never had.”
Razorback shrieked, scratched the ground and nodded.
Anomaly hugged her sister, putting her forehead to her twin’s. “I won’t stop you. I wish to join you.”
Deimos had tears in her eyes as the six-armed gravity brick walked over and guided Deimos between herself and her sister. As the kids shifted, Caitlin looked at Diamond. “We need a few of your essence crystal batteries. We’re gonna burn them out.”
Diamondback nodded. “How many?”
“Six. One for each. I channel to you, you channel to the others. We’ll need to collect the essence from each of us.”
“That’ll take a while.”
“We have time,” Jericho said. “Since sharing blood is a bad idea, what do we have to lose by doing it Caitlin’s way?”
“Deimos? This is for you. You want these rowdies in your life?” Sandra smirked, knowing full well that the Fury Twin was deeply touched by the gesture from the others.
The three-eyed, horned, multi-limbed girl wiped her eyes and smiled. “Yes.” The single word carried her emotions to the others.
Diamond handed each a small crystal. “I’m going to hand each of you a crystal. I need you to focus on it. Cait can charge hers, but I need you to simply concentrate on the crystal, imagining it full of light. Don’t get distracted, even when I push a bit of essence into you.”
Diamond handed Cait a crystal, and she simply glanced at it for a second, then set it on the ground in front of her. “Showoff.”
The artificer shrugged. Diamondback could see a bloody history of violence written into the resonance of the crystal at Caitlin’s feet. She could also see the burning light of the Artificer’s intent and heart that offset the darkness.
Anomaly, surprisingly, was done in seconds, and when Monica handed the crystal to her sister, the essence seemed to have perceivable weight, as though it had substance, or might erupt and pulse out waves of pure force around her.
Razorback’s took an hour, and Caitlin had to channel essence to Sandra a few times before the furious boy handed a crystal filled to the brim with musical savagery, to Diamond’s senses.
Jericho only took thirty minutes, and the essence he provided had overtones of protection, and healing with a touch of a leader’s determination.
Deimos’ essence was all emotion, with a twinge of bittersweet sorrow, as the Outcasts all wished that Phobos could be there to join them.
Diamondback’s was life and sorrow, pain and renewal, dual-natured but in harmony with itself. She set the last Crystal in front of Caitlin, as the girl walked away towards the house to retrieve her tools, and the last ingredients she would need to help Sandra guide the group.
When she came back, she carried a jar of ink with her, and what looked like a small tattoo needle. She sat down, rather unceremoniously dumped the six crystals in the ink, and let the essence seep into the mixture while the children jawed at each other, and told bullshit stories over the fire.
“Alright, here we go.” Caitlin took each of her friends’ right hands and drew a wheel on the center of the back of each with meticulous detail without actually piercing anyone’s skin. Two circles atop each other with a repeating series of runes, running between, which not even Sandra could identify. Inside the wheel, the six spokes were arms, hands grasping the wrist to the right, two arms opposite each other, covered in stylized scales, were recognizable as Sandra and Jack.
Caitlin held her arm out, and Janine held out her marked hand as they scooted over the fire. Caitlin grabbed her wrist over the fire. The others caught on rapidly as Jack took Caitlin’s wrist, Joe took his, Monica took Joe’s arm, Diamondback took Monica’s arm and Janine completed the wheel by taking Sandra’s wrist.
“I’ll bring the riptide, Sandra, tap it as we need it.” She held her left hand out, then snapped her fist shut and pulled the essence of the world into a vortex around them as she dropped her arm to her side. Because of Deimos’ empathic talents she could vividly feel each of the Outcasts, and they each other when the emotions rose to a high as Diamondback and Caitlin felt the eruption of power around them. She filtered and soon the emotions of the group leveled to a trance-like calm as she focused on Diamondback’s intonations, and the Outcasts all truly joined in a mystic circle for the first time in their lives.
“This is where we must share who we are, who we really are. With each other. Each person in this circle is pledging that all here are family, Blood-Sisters,” she nodded at Deimos and the other two young women, “and Blood-Brothers.” She nodded at the two boys. “For this to work, we have to hear who the others are, what they are, what they bring, and each must give themselves, all that they are, to the rest.”
The Outcasts nodded.
“My given name is Sandra ‘Diamondback’ Carter. I was born Ryan Carter…” She continued onward even as Deimos’ eyes went wide, startled, but she did not release her grip. “...I am a member of the Wiccan traditions. I bring myself, my knowledge, my will, both of my selves and I offer all that I am to you, my brothers and sisters that I choose.”
“My given name is Monica ‘Anomaly’ Carter…” Sandra’s twin caught on, and picked up the next part without hesitation, as though every instinct she had knew what had to happen. “...I was born Matthew Carter, Twin brother of Ryan Carter. I am a member of the Wiccan traditions. I bring myself, my will, my knowledge and my power and I offer all that I am to you, my brothers and sisters that I choose.”
“My name is Joseph ‘Jericho’ Turner, and I chose my codename so that the people who would abuse me could learn nothing of who I am. I am agnostic. I bring myself, my will, my knowledge, and my shield and I offer all that I am to you, my brothers and sisters that I choose.”
Razorback shrieked loud and cut his words into the earth one by one, wiping away each for the next as he made his promise. I am Jack ‘Razorback’ Carlyle. I was born Erin Carlyle, and I accept who I am without apology or regret. I am a rager, I am a killer, and I would rather save lives than take them. I bring myself, my fury, my control, my defiance of fate and I offer all that I am to you, my brothers and sisters that I choose.
Caitlin looked at Deimos’ incredulous looks at the confessions of her friends, and noted that the girl’s grip had not wavered, if anything, it had tightened, as though each admission had strengthened her resolve to make her own.
“My given name is Caitlin ‘Eldritch’ Bardue, and I am a Dragonslayer…” She saw Deimos’ eyes snap open as five pairs of eyes locked onto her, and a cold wash of fear came forward as Caitlin tightened her grip on the girl’s wrist, and Deimos tightened on Diamond, desperately. “... my birth name was Erik Andrew ‘Hijacker’ Mahren, and I was a teacher at Whateley Academy until I manifested. I killed Connor Edwards in Darwin on Rager’s Night. I have too many sins to confess. I bring myself, my will, my determination, my peace with death, my knowledge and my experience. I offer all that I am to you, my brothers and sisters that I choose.”
Deimos had lost her ability to shield, staring openly at Caitlin as, slowly, she realized that in the face of the woman confessing to be an evil that mutants were afraid of meant that if the Outcasts could accept her, there was literally nothing they could hear from her that would drive them from the circle.
“My given name is Janine ‘Deimos’ Richter. I was born Greta Jager.” She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, looking the killer to her left in the eye, feeling the determination and iron-hard control that might allow Caitlin to kill, but without the pure malice she would have expected. “I was born to a woman who was evil. Wulfin the Purifier birthed me and Adrienne, and my father believes that I do not know.” It was her turn to have five pairs of incredulous eyes pinned to her, only to feel the grip on her wrist tighten, and she did the same with Diamondback.
Deimos let out a shuddering sigh as she continued. “Evadne is my mother now, but I do not know who I am, my identity was entwined with Adrienne.” She almost spiralled off, rambling in her confession. “I feel broken and lost, grateful to my friends who have led me back from the brink. I have little, my love, my strength, my empathy, and Fury. I offer all that I am to you, my brothers and sisters I choose.”
“I accept.” Caitlin snapped out, not even hesitating. She’d met and taught supervillain children before. Janine Richter was no different from Thrasher.
Razorback shrieked his acceptance, and slammed his fist into the earth as he challenged the world to try and get between himself and the others in his own way.
“I accept.” Joe gave a hard look. The sins of the mother were not the sins of her child.
“We accept.” The twins spoke simultaneously.
“I accept.” Deimos almost started crying when the drawn tattoo-wheels burned with the essence channeled by Eldritch and Diamondback, searing ink to flesh, changing color to stand out sharply against their skin as Caitlin’s flared to cobalt blue and became a part of the complex tattoo network she had bound herself with. Razorback’s black scales and Jericho’s dark skin burned and the pure-white symbol seared itself in their hands so all could see clearly. Diamondback’s green scales sported a blood-red wheel. Anomaly and Deimos’ inked wheels seared black into their skin as the world itself seemed to sanctify their covenant.
The very air went still as for a split instant everyone felt a presence that noticed them. Caitlin and Monica both felt the presence like a living thing, something each knew instinctively, something that knew both of them. To Monica, the presence seemed amused, approving, motherly. To Caitlin, it felt dubious, admonishing, judging, then accepting. Diamond saw the Astral shift as the world around the Richter Estate came alive as though the Dream pulsing around Uluru had migrated to their location for an instant.
You choose your siblings well, daughter. Take my blessing, and a gift. Only Sandra heard it, and she wasn’t even sure she did as the normal balance of the Astral asserted itself. But whatever the hell had made its presence known for a brief moment had blessed this ritual, in what way Sandra could not perceive, but it had.
The six Outcasts loosened their grips as one, then pulled their hands away from the fire. Everyone was… calm. The brief flashes of fear, the iron-hard will, the trance, rage, bottled fury and unease fled for a few blessed moments as the Outcasts all stared into their own demons, then came back to their senses, almost as though waking from a long sleep.
Deimos shook her head, then shook it again. She looked at her hand, with the wheel, and realized what she felt in the back of her head, even with them here, she could feel each of the Outcasts as they were, who they were, without filters. She felt them as she and Adrienne had felt each other.
The Outcasts were confused, not used to having awareness of each other rattling around in their skulls, or the wistful wish that they could have shared what Adrienne and Janine had from the back of their skulls.
For a moment, the tattoos burned, and the image on their hands shifted. A seventh arm and hand joined the images , seeming to split from the hand representing Deimos, between hers and Caitlin’s. Caitlin stood, as did Deimos, and the universe seemed to contract to a pinpoint as the world between the two rushed inward as the pair clapped hands by pure instinct and both of them focused their power, their essence into a single point between them, mingling, mixing… becoming one... For a terrifying instant, they were gone, then the world pulsed outward, and Fury stood, in all of her terrifying glory.
The eight-armed monstrosity didn’t scream as she was birthed back into the world, while all the Outcasts remaining were able to do was stare as the two horned heads, Midnight on the right, Scarlet on the left stared out into the world through six emerald eyes under pointed horns jutting from her foreheads. She stood on massive hooves, digitigrade legs showing clean skin marked from faces to ankles in the metallic, cobalt-blue tattoos borne by Eldritch.
“Oh fuck.” Joe went pale as the massive nine-foot-tall, eight-armed, clawed killer beast dropped to her knees and snatched the four Outcasts from their feet and pulled them into a massive hug as the monster poured out her love, for her unsuspecting sibling, rather than rage. The world did not break as the monstrous reality-warper gestalt creature, for the first time in anyone’s memory, spoke.
“We are alive. We are all here.” The twin voices sounded like Phobos and Deimos, with the steel edge of Caitlin’s voice heard behind. “We are whole.”
The Outcasts stood, frozen, unsure of what to do as the unexpected Seventh voice in their circle made herself known.
The Outcasts had been bemused, and startled, shaken. The revelation that Diamondback had sensed something, a blessing, told them that something had tampered with their circle. It had done so with not only impunity, but had brought back the most destructively violent creature known to them. Both Caitlin and Deimos had deferred speaking, once Fury had split, for several days, but neither was as rattled as the other four.
“You ready to talk about what happened, yet?” Monica was concerned, but not accusing as she caught Caitlin alone.
Caitlin looked up at her. “I don’t know what to say. I’ve never felt like that, that intimately connected to anyone in my life, ever. I don’t have words that actually can encompass that feeling.”
“What can you say? Dimes looked shaken.”
“Fury’s always been a gestalt of Phobos and Deimos. When I was in there, I was Fury. She...We...I don’t know how to say this. Fury’s consciousness has always been an unbroken consciousness, where both halves experience everything equally. Fury’s consciousness hasn’t changed, she just wasn’t crazy.”
“But that means…”
“Either Fury is her own person, wholly separate that merely needs two people who are linked to exist, or Adrienne’s consciousness isn’t completely gone, and she’s still part of Janine.” Caitlin shrugged. “I can’t tell. I was an equal partner in there. My thoughts were her thoughts, her thoughts, mine. I had a say, I was not a subordinate to her. I was fully awake and aware. I felt alive and whole.”
“I still feel alive and whole.”
Monica blinked. “You realize you two made Diamond shit herself.”
“Eh, that comes out at the back of her tail, it’s not like anyone would have noticed unless they study snakes.”
“Unless her sister helpfully tattled on her.”
“Monica, you’re evil, you know that?”
“Yeah, but I’m more worried about what it was that poked at us. Diamond’s about at her wits’ end trying to figure out if we somehow accidentally invoked something that has latched itself onto us.”
“I have a theory. I don’t like the theory.” Caitlin looked at the girl who looked so very similar to a piece of statuary she’d smashed to destroy the Forge. “Does the name Terra-Kashaly, Thirdborn, mean anything to you?”
“It’s familiar, I don’t know why. It’s also the second time I’ve heard it.”
“What is the second time you’ve heard what?” Diamondback slithered into the room with a yawn, having just woke up.
“That spirit your sister ate back in January was one of the Four Sisters.”
Diamondback stopped, freezing in place, looking over. “Five-Fold Court shit?”
“Yeah, Nikki’s Center Court she told us about.”
“What’s the Center Court?” Monica looked at the pair.
“Fucked if we know. No one’s been able to give more than descriptive adjectives about it, even Nikki.” Diamondback looked at her sister as though through new eyes.
“Fucking Sidhe…” Monica grumped, still more than a little bitter about Kalrys.
“But back to the topic at hand. I was telling Monica about Fury, but she just gives more questions than answers. I don’t think we can afford to have that happen anywhere on campus.”
“No shit?” Diamondback nodded. “Besides the panic, will she still go crazy when other people's’ emotions hit her?”
“You four were there, and all of you about pissed yourselves.”
“Not a great qualifier. We’re connected to her somehow.”
“We weren’t that far from the house. The twins’ parents were close enough for her to feel. They were both asleep, but we could feel them having dreams.”
“Fury couldn’t handle Momma and Papa.” Deimos said as she stepped into the room.
“How long were you eavesdropping?”
“Long enough. We should go wake the boys. I think I know what happened.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Call Fury. Not with you, Caitlin.”
“We should probably bring the “Rager-be-Good sticks just in case.” Caitlin was worried.
“Probably a good idea.”
Evadne stepped into the room, giving everyone a look. “What did you do that called Fury?”
“Holy God, how the hell am I missing all of the eavesdroppers? Have I completely lost my ability to spot shit?”
Evadne looked at Caitlin with the gimlet eye. “This is my house. I know how to not be heard when I need to.”
“May as well show her.” Deimos looked at Caitlin. “We need to know if Fury’s stable enough to be around others.”
It took an hour to get the boys to come out of their slumber, and become mobile. Jericho had to get coffee in order to become even slightly functional, but after a while Evadne stood on the porch as the Six Outcasts stood in a circle with Deimos in the center. She was watching from at least a hundred yards away, a safe distance if the nightmare blew her lid.
“I need someone, not Caitlin this time.” Deimos held out her tattooed hand.
“Fuck it. Let’s see what’s up.” Jericho stepped forward, grabbing Deimos’ hand. “Always wondered what the hell you were going through.”
Deimos snorted, and laughed. “I’m going to make the point between us. Focus on the point and try to focus on joining the point.”
As Deimos focused, a pinpoint of compressed space formed, and the now-familiar sphere of distorted space wrapped around them as the other four Outcasts stepped away. It took Jericho a moment to feel out the connection he now shared with Deimos, when he did, he focused on mimicking, matching the feeling… and the world imploded.
Fury erupted into existence, twin faces shrieking to the heavens as Jericho’s nerd humor exploded from the twin voices howling “POWER OVERWHELMING!”
The massive creature dropped to her knee. Again, she looked different, the dark, chocolate skin stood out against everything else that was as it should be as two trios of featureless, white eyes looked at the Outcasts ready for a fight in case she came back crazed. She remembered her fights with them, as she remembered the peaceful times with Diamondback, simply existing quietly in a back corner of the tunnels at the Academy.
“We are not crazy.” The twin voices spoke as Fury braced four fists into the ground beside the knee she’d taken. “Well, less crazy than usual, we suppose.”
“Oh thank God.” Anomaly breathed.
“You’re taking the traits of whoever helps become you.”
The twin heads nodded. “We are the Fury Twins. We are Jericho. We are whole… We are… Calm. We are not accustomed to calm.”
“You think you’re up to testing someone not in the circle, Fury?” Caitlin asked cautiously.
“She is already here. We sensed her coming. Kommen sie hier, Mutti. We will not hurt you.” The twin voices were calm, and Fury looked at her mother with odd eyes, but she could see properly, not forced to use Jericho’s odd vision, nor able.
Evadne was already almost at the group when she heard Fury speak to her. She could see the features imprinted by Jericho in the merge, but the faces, the expressions. She recognized the combined consciousness of her daughters in the twin faces. Fury’s posture, manner of speaking, and tone was a combination of Adrienne and Janine.
“Adrienne?” Her voice choked as she got close enough to put her hand on the red-haired side’s cheek.
“We are Fury, Mutti. We will not leave you again.” She kissed her mother on each cheek, then drew back, then reality pulled, and Janine appeared in front of Jericho, hands gripped in each other’s. Jericho’s eyes were wide, as he fully comprehended exactly what the connection between the Fury Twins had been.
“No one gets to know about Fury, unless they absolutely have to.” Jericho’s voice was clear, certain. “She’s not a weapon, no one gets to pull leverage to use her. She’s not a Simulator wild card, and she’s not a vehicle to whup a deserving ass. She’s one of us, and she’s no one’s business.”
None of the Outcasts would have argued with the point even if his voice very clearly did not leave any room, whatsoever, to argue.
Caitlin walked through Pinpoint’s portal, stepping onto campus, immediately stalking towards Schuster Hall. She’d gotten the very polite request, from Carson, that she return to help with the ordnance transfer and said her good-byes to her friends. Johann Richter paid for Debra and Adam Carlyle, and Nathan Turner, with Zach, to be with their sons and brothers after Evadne told him about what the Outcasts had done for Janine, so she would never feel alone. Kiernan Carlyle and Mama Turner couldn’t get time away from work to join them.
Even a thousand miles away, Caitlin could feel the bittersweet presence of Janine at the back of her consciousness, along with the others. Not the same way the two empathic Outcasts felt the others, but the awareness was enough. Neither she, nor Janine, nor any of the others would feel alone so long as any of the others still drew breath.
Fury was entirely dependent upon Deimos, none of the others could manifest her, no matter what they experimented with. It was hardly surprising, and even though Evadne was willing, she was unable to join her daughter in the link to share in that closeness that came from being a part of the most destructive rager Caitlin had ever seen in her life. Diamondback hadn’t been lying. What the other five Outcasts didn’t have was the feeling of need to be that close to someone that Deimos had. But there wasn’t much reason to refuse their Blood-Sister that comfort.
Each had taken a turn, joining with Deimos, so they could each feel that connection. Each time, Fury had taken on the traits of her brother or sister, but her personality only changed by small degrees. She might pick up a terrible joke, an urge to prank, a rapt fascination with magic, but her core personality was always the same, and none of the Outcasts felt trapped, like a subordinate, as though Fury was them as much as she was other. She had no desire to do anything her siblings were disinclined to do anyway.
Caitlin shook her head at the thought of her newest “Sister.” She should have been more disturbed, but she wasn’t.
“Sup Hartford?” Caitlin nodded to the Queen-Bitch of Admin.
“Caitlin.” Hartford barely acknowledged her.
“I don’t have a gift of appreciation for your help with the DFAs, but I acknowledge the help, and a marker.” Caitlin very carefully did not speak any details.
Hartford looked slightly surprised.
“What? I can learn how to do business around here.”
Hartford smirked. “I’ll settle for you not killing Englund until after Carson is done with him.” She took her glasses off when the comment didn’t even earn a snarl and looked at Caitlin. “The DFAs were a freebie. That’s not something I would ever call a marker on.”
“Even so, I intend to be here long-term, I want my job back when the time comes, and I’m not attached to the Marine Corps in any official capacity anymore, so I don’t need to snub the way things are.”
“Then don’t kill Englund when he comes out of Carson’s office in a few minutes.”
Caitlin considered, realizing she wasn’t reacting the way she should. As she tossed her thoughts over in her head, she realized she still hated the man with a passion that bordered on the holy. She loved Whateley, and the Outcasts, and the staff she’d been a part of more than she hated him. She could wait until he had no place here anymore, so she wouldn’t jeopardize hers.
“Done. Englund lives, for now.” She turned to the door as it opened, and smiled beatifically. “Hello shitlord, Amelia just saved your life. Run.”
Englund started, then realized that Caitlin wasn’t joking and left in a hurry.
Amelia Hartford gave Caitlin an appraising look. “Debt collected. Until next time, dear.”
Caitlin nodded, then walked into Carson’s office without ceremony, shutting the door and looking at her former and, God willing, future boss. “Deimos is stable. She’s going to be able to move past Adrienne’s death.”
“I heard,” she chewed on her words. “Johann Richter’s been calling me almost every day, talking to me about the effect you and the others have been having on Janine. He did choke on a few points though, and told me that I shouldn’t ask too deeply what the five of you did with her.”
She looked at Caitlin’s hand, then stepped around her desk, taking the hand in her own. “You formed a Blood-Brother circle?” Her eyes were incredulous. “Caitlin do you have any idea how dangerous that is?”
“Drop it, Carson.” Caitlin’s voice was steel. “The only thing you need to know is this was a declaration of family, not an oath of loyalty, or a warrior circle. That’s it, the rest is no one’s business but ours.”
“The safety of all my student, including yours is my business, dammit.”
“Then give me detention, Liz. I’ll put up with that. I’m a student, even though we know what a fucking farce that is. But that’s where my patience, cooperation and understanding end. I am not a child, I only play one on TV. This is a family matter. Ours, not yours. Butt out. And don’t even think of dragging the others in here to interrogate them.”
Carson blinked, then stared at Caitlin as though for the first time. “Dammit, Caitlin do you have any idea how dangerous what you’re doing is?”
“I have two supernaturals who will detonate like a goddamned nuclear warhead if someone breaks a pact, I am one, Noms is the other.” Caitlin looked at Carson. “Yes I pay attention in ‘Basic Mystic I Suck’ class. This was not an oath-pact, Carson. This was a declaration of adoption of siblings. Will it affect all of us? Yes. Do we know exactly how we will be affected? Not a clue. But all six of us walked in, both eyes open, knowing that there could be consequences that might affect us profoundly. This wasn’t something we decided on a lark.”
“There’s seven hands in that circle.” She looked at Caitlin. “Who is it?”
“That’s one of the things that you’re gonna have to suck up not knowing. Leave the seventh alone. She is none of your, or anyone else’s, business.”
“Will she endanger my school?”
Caitlin considered very carefully. “That question I will answer. She is far less likely to be a danger to the school now than before. She never had any malice towards the students or staff, so no. There shouldn’t be any danger so long as no one seeks out and provokes her. If that changes and someone seeks and tries to provoke her, you will be informed immediately, most likely.”
“I suppose in this case that’s the best I’m going to get. Were it almost anyone else...” She gave Caitlin a hard look. “I don’t like unknowns, Miss Bardue.”
“Fuck, welcome to my world. The cookies are in the corner and the security blanket is a bit moth-eaten. The cabinet with all the fucks to be given is up against the wall, and the clues are hidden in the dark closet that hides all of the unknowns I live with every day.”
Carson snorted. “When will you ever stop being a smartass?”
“When it stops being funny. Now what’s going on with the ordnance drop?”
The woman picked up the phone. Her shaking hands praying that it would be the police with news. Praying it would not be, for fear the news would kill her.
“Hello?” she asked nervously.
“Guten… I apologize, good day, ma’am. Would I be speaking to Kaylan Carter?”
“My name is Johann Richter. I am calling because I have been referred to you in reference to your twin boys, Ryan and Matthew. This is not a ransom request, nor blackmail, nor threat. I wish to help you find your children.”
“Oh god, can you help me find my boys?” She almost collapsed as the voice lent a lifeline to her desperation.
“I hope so ma’am. If you wish, I will come to you. At no point should you feel obligated to pay or provide service of any sort for my help.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because I made a promise to someone, that I would do anything they demanded, in exchange for assisting me in finding my daughter. I wish to pay this kindness forward, and they asked that I help you find your children, as I found my little Janine.”
“I’ll take any help I can… I want my twins back…” Kaylan began crying, and Johann listened to the woman as Carson had listened to him.
“My daughter is with me now, listening. I asked her to help me so that she, too, can learn to lead the lost to their loved ones.”