Saturday, September 8, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Knock, knock!" Ayla's voice was unmistakable.
"It's kind of surprising that Ayla hasn't yet come to talk to you about another over-achieving individual study math class this term?" Chou said as if Ayla wasn't at the open door, giving me a wink.
"Maybe I should be a bitch of a teacher so he doesn't bother me for more classes," I grinned, pretending I didn't see Ayla peeking into the room.
"Nah. Then he'd probably hire you as a manager in one of his companies," Chou shot back.
"That or turn loose a battery of lawyers." I made a show of looking toward the door. "Oh, hi, Ayla!" I said with mock surprise. "I didn't hear you!"
Ayla's only response was to raise one eyebrow quizzically. "Have you got a minute?" He stepped to the side, revealing our RA standing behind him. "Lanie suggested that there are some things we might want to talk about."
My curiosity was piqued. "Oh?" I glanced at Chou, who was seriously studying. "Can we meet in Lanie's room, or one of the study rooms? I don't want to disturb my roomie," I said, and then I grinned. "If she gets upset, she might be unbearable after I beat her in sparring practice with Mr. Two Knives Tuesday."
Chou stuck her tongue out at me. "You're just mad because I outshot you Thursday!" Then she grinned. "And you'll have to wait for a chance to get even."
"What?" I was puzzled that she might know something that my tutor hadn't told me.
"Yeah," Chou said, and then she had an expression of dawning reality. "That's right - you had to run off to finger-wiggler class! Tuesdays and Thursdays, we're in Sergeant Wilson's ROTC class on military unit tactics."
My expression must have reflected how I felt - a sinking feeling of doom. Chou noticed. "At least it's not Gunny Bardue!" she added with a wicked grin.
"I don't want to be in the Grunts!" I protested.
"We're not," Chou chuckled. "We're just in the class, like Guan Yu and Ito suggested." She grinned. "Besides, it might help you with sims with the Ghost Walkers and the Nations."
"Oh, damn," I groaned. "Thanks for reminding me - between the Nations, Ghost Walkers, and Team Phoenix, I've got three sims scheduled next week!"
Chou did the mini-violin thing with a mocking grin. "My heart bleeds! We had to suffer under Gunny with sims last winter term - practically one a day, so you're not going to get any sympathy! But I'll be careful to not get too far ahead of you, since I was in team tactics last year!"
"Pbthhh!" I glanced and saw Ayla softly chuckling, knowing that he would probably say the same thing as Chou if I asked. "Since Molly is coming over, we'll get out of your hair so you can study in peace." I did the air-quotes around the word study, which earned me another raspberry from Chou. Setting my book aside, I followed Ayla and Lanie to Lanie's room.
"What's up?" I asked as I slid into a wingback chair - one of the perks of being an RA.
"Lanie told me about some of your projects," Ayla began without hesitation.
"Oh?" I shot a questioning look toward the redhead.
"Yeah," Lanie drawled. "Ah had a pretty ... humiliatin' experience with mah CO2 fire-extinguisher eggs," she recounted, blushing a little. "Ah let the school's lawyers and licensin' department make a deal, and it was ...."
Ayla nodded grimly. "It was not a good way to highlight Lanie's work."
"You won't have t' worry about that with your transfer case," Lanie explained, "because that'll never appear on the late night shopping channel, but ...."
"The school's patent and licensing departments might not have your best interest at heart," Ayla explained - needlessly after I'd heard Lanie's story.
"And you do?" I asked skeptically, one eyebrow raised. "Out of the goodness of your heart?" I watched Ayla's expression carefully - his well-schooled façade didn't show a hint of surprise or shock. "Just kidding," I added after a moment.
"In all your gadgets, you've got several that are probably patentable. The nano-mill definitely is," Lanie explained, "and so is your composite ceramic-metal matrix."
"So what do you get out of it?"
"A percentage. In exchange, my firm will do all the patent research and paperwork processing, a lot faster than the school will do, and will handle licensing - subject to your approval, of course."
He watched me as I mulled over his proposal, and after thinking a bit, I turned to Lanie. "What do you think?" I asked simply.
"Ah signed up with him," Lanie said simply, "and Ah'm happy."
"Okay," I finally said. "I'll give it a try with the transfer case."
"Okay," Ayla nodded. That started a long discussion about the things I'd tinkered with and created over the years before I came to Whateley. Lanie was astounded that I hadn't patented some of the mechanism and inventions, but I hadn't thought twice about them; once they worked and simplified chores on the farm, I moved on to the next gizmo.
"And what else do you want to talk about?" I finally asked Ayla when the tech-talk wound down. "Like what math class you want to take as independent study and are hoping I'll teach?"
"As long as I started calculus," Ayla replied immediately, "I had considered Calc 2, but I was also looking at advanced statistics - something relating to data analysis, curve fitting, and correlation calculation."
"Okay," I agreed, trying to sound reluctant, but I figured Ayla saw through that. "I've got to do work-study anyway. How about if you set up an appointment with Ms. Bell over lunch, and we'll see what we can do?"
"With all the things you've already developed," Lanie said with a smile, "Ah requested a special Engineering board for you, since you missed the spring review board."
I was surprised because I'd felt left out of the engineers, since I didn't have anything on record, but at the same time, having a special board just seemed wrong - like I needed special treatment, which made me a touch angry at Lanie. I didn't want to be in her shadow, and if she had to request a board for me, it'd seem that I couldn't do anything without her. I didn't want to be known as Lanie's apprentice.
Lanie must have read part of my expression. "Don't worry - special boards happen from time to time."
Somehow, that didn't set my mind at ease. I had the bad feeling that in the labs, some people were going to forever brand me as Lanie's flunky.
Saturday, September 8, 2007 - Before Dinner
Room 211, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
The door opening didn't disturb my studies - I was lying face down on my bed, propped up on elbows and reading the textbook for my magic class with my head toward my desk; in case I needed to reach anything, I could just reach up to the desk instead of having to get up.
"Someone looks happier than she did yesterday," Chou snickered as she and Molly came in, closing the door behind them. Molly fluffed Chou's three pillows into a little nest, and then sat down so that Chou could snuggle up with her.
"Cuddling with Elaine again?" Molly joked, and when I looked, she waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
"That'd do it," Chou chuckled. "Better than the 'cloud of doom' you've had following you for the past few days. It was so bad that a few times, I thought I'd made a mistake and wandered into Downpour's room!"
I opened my mouth to deny her charge, but the words 'I'm not that bad' just wouldn't come out. Downpour was one of the freshmen, and she seemed to be perpetually very depressed. I hoped I wasn't coming across like that. Maybe it was better to change the subject. "You never finished your story about the rest of your summer." I rolled over, propping up my pillow so I could sit. Last spring, Chou had been quiet, but now she was a lot more outgoing, more lively. Something during the summer had changed her, and I couldn't help but be curious.
Molly winced. "I wish you wouldn't keep talking about it," she complained to Chou.
"It happened," Chou said with a shrug. "Talking about it helps me deal with the whole ordeal."
"I take it that it was bad?" I asked, now curious.
"Yes." Chou's smile faded. "Last Christmas, I was invited to China by the Cultural Attaché. After talking with Mrs. Carson and a lot of other people, we decided that I should go to find out what was going on, since the pamphlet inviting me had tried to zap me with a compulsion spell. The Tao took care of that, as apparently it frowns on coercion being used on the Handmaid. If magic compulsions have enough power, they could affect me, but mostly I get the intention but the force vanishes." She sighed. "That let me play along on several occasions."
Chou scooted to the edge of the bed and walked over to the fridge. "Want something?"
"Nah," I replied.
"Molly?" When she nodded, Chou pulled out two cans of green tea. Sitting back down next to Molly, she opened it and took a drink, "So, with the help of the Whateley Administration, a three-letter agency, and the State Department, I went to China. Caitlin made a mock-up of Destiny's Wave that could talk like her but had no real oomph. I was also drilled on escape routes to various Embassies, as well as the local contact information for Hua Chu Lan and her father, since I knew from Chu Lan that Iron Dragon would have my back against the Communists."
"Sounds like you thought of everything."
Molly winced. "Nope. It ... was bad, from what she's told me."
Halfway through another sip, Chou got a slightly haunted look. "It... it was ugly. I never wanted to be a spy, but the Tao told me that this was important and necessary to help avert a larger disaster." Her features bore a grimace. "If Wu Kong hadn't come and grabbed me when he did I might not have made it out."
I gawked at her. Chou's summer must have been bad! It sounded like it may have made my summer look tame. "Are you okay?"
Chou shrugged. "Pretty much. I just feel that nuking parts of China might have caused less damage. The Communists now know who I am, and the whole thing was less than fun."
"Didn't they already know?"
"Nope. They hadn't made the connection yet. I'm not happy that the realization of who I was induced pants wetting fear in the Party leadership, but it did. They've always tried to pretend that some of the more mystical bits of Chinese Lore were just folk tales, and then I went and slapped them in the face with their error."
"Believe it or not Toni started the whole mess," Molly interjected with a wry smile.
"Toni? Like down at the other end of the hall Toni?"
"Yep. Apparently she went and spoke with Oolong, and as usual with her there was a fight. Ayla managed to get them all out of there before the government grabbed them. Anyway, when it happened things got messy."
"How so?" I couldn't help but ask.
"Well, the compulsion spell was aimed towards having me get involved in an intern program in China. When I got there, I found that some of the other paperwork had further compulsions woven in. It was all part of a plot to poach gifted Asian-Americans. The program had been going on for several years but it's over now." She looked quite relieved to be able to say the last part.
I swallowed heavily at the implications of such a thing. "It forced people to defect?" It was truly a frightening concept.
"Essentially. Once you were there, the spells and herbs in the food and drinks would weaken your spirit and they would make you believe that you really wanted to get a better feel for your cultural heritage, staying in China to connect to your roots. And the kids involved - the ones who'd already succumbed to the brainwashing - came and helped try to convince you. And I wasn't the only super there. There were a couple of recent Whateley graduates from New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, and Los Angeles who had gotten enspelled." Chou lowered her head sadly, and frowned. "I got them all out, but I had to fight those new friends and several others, as well as the Chinese Team. That was where it went ugly."
I really didn't want to ask, and no doubt it showed in my expression, but I couldn't help but be curious. "Ugly? How ugly?"
"When the Oolong event happened, the government decided to accelerate their timetable, which forced my hand to take action. I had to ... kill ... a few of the leaders, and then my fellow interns got involved fighting against me. I had to knock out most of the people, which I did with ofuda, since the process weakened their magical resistance."
"Eeep!" The thought of fighting fellow students who had been brainwashed was unpleasant. I couldn't understand how Chou kept her sanity through all of that. But it got worse as she continued with her story.
"Then I had to engage the supers who were still awake. My guardians came in and took the interns out of the country while I fought. As I knocked out the last of the others, that's when government troops and the Hero team showed."
Chou closed her eyes. "At that point the Tao flooded into me. It was a massacre."
My eyes went wide. "Massacre? That wasn't on the news!"
"Yeah. I didn't kill everyone, only about sixteen or so, but two of those were Heroes, and that wasn't fun or easy. They were bringing up APCs and more troops when Iron Dragon showed up. While he argued with the commander and the leader of the Heroes, Wu Kong got me out of there, which was a good thing; I was exhausted, because trying not to kill was harder than just letting loose. The problem was that the Tao let me know that many of them have a part to play in coming events, so I had to restrain myself. I was bleeding and massively banged up when he grabbed me. I got patched up before a very lengthy debrief. Then I finally got to go back to Boston - which was good because by that point," she glanced at Molly, a grateful expression of love in her eyes, "I really, really needed a lot of cuddling." Almost like she was having a flashback, she pulled Molly a little tighter. "Hell, I even had to be debriefed by Carson, Bardue, Everhart, and Ito. That was ... fun."
I couldn't help but gape at her, especially about how nonchalantly she'd mentioned killing sixteen people. I hoped I never got that callous about taking a life if I ever had to. "So that ‘earthquake' that destroyed a national training area outside of Beijing - that was you?"
Chou blushed, "Yeah... that was me."
"From what I saw on the news, there had to have been millions of dollars in damage. It looked terrible."
"Well, the building needed to be erased because the only copy of some of the spells and herbs were in there. Some of the spell patterns were saved in tiled and painted walls and floors. So I had to destroy it." Chou shrugged. "That part doesn't bother me as much as the lives I had to take."
"But you're okay?"
"I'm okay. Caitlin really helped me figure this out and I fought as best I could. I just wished that I hadn't been so constrained. I would have gotten hurt less."
"But wouldn't you have killed more people?"
Chou sighed, "Yeah. I know that the Heroes and troops were innocent in this, unaware of exactly what had been going on, but man I did not need that beating."
"You seem to be taking it well." I noted, even as Chou and Molly clung together even more tightly. I gathered that Molly had a lot to do with Chou not being totally mental after her trip.
"Well, from talking with the Admin, the CIA guys, my mentors, and the Guardians, as well as Molly and Rythax, I know that there wasn't much I could do to stop it. I saved 53 Americans who had effectively been legally kidnapped and enslaved, and I put a stop to the program. I did good. When I managed to get it in perspective, I felt a lot better."
"So now what?"
"Now? I have my sophomore year and try to stay out of as much trouble as I got in."
"Yeah, like that's going to happen!" I snorted. "I don't know why, but it seems like this floor is a magnet for trouble!"
Molly nodded vigorously in agreement. "Yeah."
"I think you win the prize."
"The prize? What prize?" Chou was confused.
"The prize for the most 'interesting' summer vacation," I chuckled. "Compared to that, my summer was boring!"
Molly and Chou smiled. "But funny! I like how you tell the museum part!"
A knock on the door interrupted the conversation. "Come in," Chou and I said loudly and almost in unison.
Evvie and Naomi poked their heads in. "We're heading over to dinner so we can review Vasiliy's paper. Coming?"
I was off the bed in a fraction of a second. "Sure." I glanced at my roommate. "I'll see you later, okay?"
Saturday, September 8, 2007 - Before Dinner
Near Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Danny and I were walking towards crystal hall for lunch, him wearing a rather plain Whateley hoodie, and he seemed quite content that he was blending into the crowd and being ignored for once. I'm not sure which of us was more startled when flowers started falling on Danny and we heard the noise of someone pretended to be playing a trumpet from above us.
"Oh no," Danny whimpered, cringing at what he feared was about to happen.
"And now I'm pleased to introduce," shouted an honest-to-goodness 6-inch-tall, purple-winged fairy who flew down to land on Danny's head, flipping his hood down as she did, "the wonderfully cute and totally adorable Kitty Boy!"
Danny went fuzzy. He still didn't have control of his form when he got embarrassed, and the little fairy-girl had done a thorough job of embarrassing him. I didn't have to look around to know that we were suddenly getting a lot of stares from passers-by because of the commotion.
The whole scene was rather confusing, and I wasn't quite sure what to say or do. Instinctively, I reached for my shield charm, just in case. Rumor had it the little fairy-girl had done a number on Buster when she found him bullying a new underdog. If the adage 'size doesn't matter' ever applied, the rumors about little fairy-girl were a case in point. From the puzzled, embarrassed look on Danny's face, it didn't look like he was about to do anything other than to try to crawl into a crack in the sidewalk.
"What the he-" I started to say when a skinny girl wearing a long black dress and a disgusted expression ran up to us. She saw the fairy girl and Danny's fuzzed form, and she shook her head, momentarily closing her eyes at the spectacle.
"Teri, what the hell are you doing?" the girl demanded, seemingly unfazed by Danny's kitty-boy form but totally focused on the fairy-girl.
"Showing you the really cute kitty boy," the fairy said as if it was as plain as the wings on her back. "Everyone needs a proper introduction."
"Can you get off my head?!" Danny demanded in full cat boy mode. "See, Kayda," he complained to me with a pout, "I told you something was going to happen! This isn't funny!" The fairy seemed oblivious as she rolled around on Danny's furry head like he was a rug, while Evvie and Naomi laughed so hard they were in tears.
"Hi, Danny," the girl said apologetically. "I'm Mary. Sorry about Teri, but what can I do? She's totally bonkers." She got a mischievous smile. "For a hundred dollars and a good alibi, I'll smother her in her sleep for you."
"That's not very nice, Mary!" the fairy exclaimed.
Mary stepped forward, plucked the fairy off of Danny's head, and dropped her in her purse, closing it up. Just before the fairy girl disappeared from sight in Mary's large purse, she waved and blew a kiss at Danny, with what might pass as a 'come-hither' look for a fairy-girl. "Sorry about that, guys. My roommate can make Paris Hilton look like a genius and master of social grace sometimes, but she's mostly harmless."
"I heard that!" came a muffled cry from the purse.
Mary sighed. "It was really nice meeting you. Hopefully next time it won't be quite so humiliating." She started to turn away, but a quick impish smile appeared on her face and she lunged forward to rub Danny's still furry head. "She's right - you are a cutie," she said with a warm smile before hurrying away.
From inside the purse, we heard the tiny, fairy-girl's voice. "I told you! Didn't I tell you he was SO cute? I told you he was so cute, but you ... OOOHHH, sugar-free gum! I want some!"
Fortunately, the other girl - Mary - walked away quickly, taking the noise from our presence. Hopefully, that'd be enough that Danny could calm down and shift back to normal. I had a bad feeling, though, that Danny's trouble for the week was just starting.
Saturday, September 8, 2007 - Around Midnight
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
I chose to sit alone on top of Harney Peak in Paha Sapa - the Black Hills - because I wanted to be alone to think. Debra was at a fund-raiser for the League, so I couldn't dream-walk with her yet. I wasn't sure why the sky was cloudy, but it seemed rather ominous; at least it wasn't raining, though. Storms in dream-space usually were ominous and frequently quite severe, depending on how much the spirits wanted to get their point across.
I'd been thinking a lot about Lanie, about why her friendship was so important to me, but so far, I hadn't come up with an answer. It just was. I had friends - Evvie and Naomi and Addy and Alicia - and others, but Lanie was my best friend! The first real best friend I'd ever had. If I wasn't doing something with Lanie, I was sure to be training with Chou, or hanging with Addy and Alicia in Melville, or doing sims with my team or ....
"Are you certain she's your best friend?" a voice sounded behind me, startling me.
I was on my feet, one hand drawing a tomahawk while the other slipped my knife from its sheath, as I spun toward the intruder. "You're in my dream space!" I snarled.
The intruder, a dog-like creature, sat in his haunches, grinning. "Oh, so the dream world is now the private space of the Ptesanwi? I know a few spirits that might argue with your statement!"
"You know this is my warded space in the dream world," I argued, not sheathing my weapons. "What do you want, Coyote?"
The coyote spirit rolled his eyes at me. "Now is that any way to speak to one of the most revered of the ancient spirits of the People?"
The frown didn't leave my face. "As I said, what do you want, Coyote?" From my Grandma Little Doe's stories, Coyote was not to be trusted.
"I'm hurt, Ptesanwi," he pouted. "I come to talk to you about matters of the People, and you greet me with hostility and suspicion." He sort-of shrugged. "You were magnificent in protecting the People when they wanted to rush off foolishly to start a war," he complimented me.
I was shocked enough that my knife hand wavered. "What?"
Coyote smiled. "The foolish men would have started a war against the whites, a war they couldn't win. The results could have been devastating to the people."
"How did you ...?"
"How did I know? I saw it, Ptesanwi," Coyote said with a smile. "I pay attention to what affects the People. No doubt your parents are proud of what you did."
"Well, I ... I guess." Coyote had me confused; according to legend, he was supposed to be a trickster, but he was seriously discussing the affairs of the People with genuine concern.
"The tribes of the People noticed as well," Coyote continued to smooth-talk me. "They're paying attention to what you say - as well they should!"
I felt embarrassed by his compliments. "I'm just a high-school girl ...," I protested.
"With the spirit of Ptesanwi," Coyote interrupted "You are more important than you realize! Surely, if you were 'just a high-school girl', the elders wouldn't have had you visiting all the tribes, consulting with the tribal councils."
I felt my cheeks redden. "It's just ceremonial stuff ...."
Coyote snorted derisively. "You are too humble, Ptesanwi!" he chided me. "Your teachers know your importance. The People know your importance."
"My teachers?" My jaw dropped. "No-one has said anything ...."
"You have given your parents much to be proud of." Coyote grinned pleasantly. "The first-shaman is proud of you. Your soul-sister is proud of you."
"What?" My meek attempt to not smile at his flattery froze, my expression hardening a bit.
"Your best friend!" Coyote clarified. His head tilted slightly, his expression quizzical. "The Pict daughter! She is your best friend, right?"
"That's ... that's my business," I said, suddenly quite wary of Coyote.
"Oh. It sounds like you aren't so sure. Your friendship is okay, isn't it?" Coyote asked with a curious expression - like he knew something I didn't.
"We talked last night," I retorted, starting to feel angry. "Everything is fine!"
"Oh. So then it doesn't bother you?"
"What?" I asked with narrowed, suspicious eyes.
"The Pict daughter's friendship with the attractive blonde," Coyote rebutted nonchalantly, as if reporting the weather.
"Lanie can have more than one friend," I defended her. "Just like I do."
"Oh? Then it doesn't matter that ...." Coyote shrugged. "Oh, never mind. I'm sure you know what you're doing, and that you won't let yourself get hurt."
"What doesn't matter?" I practically demanded. I'd let his words get to me, past my wariness at his reputation. And he'd known precisely how to accomplish that.
"Nothing," Coyote said. "Your so-called soul-sister wouldn't try to make a fool of you with the blonde."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"I'm sure she already told you," Coyote replied. "It's strong of you to not let it bother you."
"What are you talking about?" I lifted my hand, still holding my ceremonial knife. "Tell me!"
"Are you sure you want to know?" Coyote's eyebrows arched. "It'd probably be better if you don't know so you don't get upset."
"Tell me!" I demanded angrily, taking a threatening step toward the animal spirit.
Coyote made a mini-production of grimacing as he drew a deep breath, then sighing heavily. "If you insist, Ptesanwi!"
The scenic vista dissolved in a disorientating swirl, like the landscape was being sucked into a huge drain overhead, until it turned into a point of light against a pitch-black background, one of thousands or millions of stars in a sky. It was quite unlike anything I'd ever experienced in my own dream-walking, and if Coyote had done that to put me off balance, it worked.
Coyote grinned at me. "This is the universe of dreams," he cryptically explained. "But you, as Ptesanwi, already know that, don't you?"
I suddenly felt weak, because I'd never seen this. "Um," I admitted softly, "I ... I've never been here."
"What?" Coyote was stunned, but he recovered quickly. "Oh, well - you'll learn soon enough." He reached a paw toward one star among the countless points of light, and pulled it into his paw like a crystal ball. Inside, I could see things of the dream moving, almost alive inside a captive little sphere. "You dream-walk with others by going directly to that person's dreams," he explained," but when you are powerful enough, you can come here, to the void among the dreams, able to touch any dream you wish." He sent the bubble back to the heaven. "Like ... this one." He gestured another star into his hand.
The bubble expanded in his hands until the image inside was clear - Lanie horseback riding, though not well, and a second rider came up beside her, dressed in nice formal riding attire, and so obviously comfortable in the saddle that she seemed one with the horse. I knew who the rider was - her blonde hair and curvy figure couldn't really be hidden by her outfit.
After I watched the scene unfold for a few moments, Coyote released that bubble and pulled down another - Tansy and Lanie in Baby Girl driving home - and enjoying some joke or amusing anecdote. I shrugged it off. So Coyote brought a third - the two girls having a picnic on an island. Then a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth - a long chain of dream-space bubbles, all of Tansy and Lanie doing things together - and quite obviously having a good time.
"Why are you showing me this?" I asked somewhat unhappily.
"I thought you'd like to see your friend enjoying the summer," Coyote said, an innocent expression on his dog-like face, but a twinkle in his eye that was mischievous, or even slightly malevolent. "Their dreams of what they'd done, what they wish to do."
I stared into the bubble in his hand, and my eyes widened. It was Lanie, on her sailboat which rested at anchor in some lake, wearing cutoffs and a bikini bra, wind blowing through cascades of wavy red hair. I couldn't help but smile at the vision of cuwe ki, my soul-sister.
Then Tansy came into view, wearing a stunning one-piece swimsuit that looked like it was held on only by the force of imagination. She filled out the top well, and with her golden tan, she looked somewhat like a goddess. I wasn't surprised, given the theme of what Coyote was showing me, to see Tansy in Lanie's dream-space. Yes, Lanie had told me Tansy was a friend, but ... something about the scene bothered me. I stood transfixed, curious about the scene I was seeing, but unable to look away.
The two girls sat in the cockpit beside each other, clinking beer bottles together in silent toast, and then Tansy set her drink down in a holder, turning herself toward Lanie as her hand slipped behind Lanie's neck and freed her bikini top, the other hand ready to slip between the falling cloth to cup one of Lanie's generous breasts.
At the same time, the two faces turned toward one another, and as my stomach churned painfully, Tansy and Lanie met in a kiss - and not a small friendly peck, but a kiss every bit as sensuous and meaningful as what Lanie and I had exchanged at the hot tub party.
"Take it away!" I cried to Coyote, my eyes leaking tears as I watched Lanie and Tansy eagerly kissing but unable to look away. "No! Take it away!"
"Your cuwe is very creative, isn't she?" Coyote said, his voice somewhere between admiration and mockery. Looking at me with a leer, he finally shrugged and tossed the dream fragment back into the heavens.
"It's ... it's just a dream," I protested, wiping at my cheeks. "They're all just dreams! It's ... it ... doesn't mean anything, except that Tansy has vivid dreams!"
"Oh?" Coyote reached up and took another dream from the star-studded void. "This one I know is the Pict Daughter's dream-space. The sphere glowed, highlighting a scene in a rustic log cabin, with a fireplace glowing in the background. A large, familiar young man lay back on a bearskin rug with two girls in a display that was unmistakable and enthusiastic.
"It's just dreams!" I protested again, weaker this time.
"It's also memories," the spirit reminded me with a somewhat sinister one. He released the bubble, and then snatched another. This one had my eyes nearly bugging out - it was an all-too-familiar artificial grotto, dimly lit in hues of blue and green, with three pools set in the floor. Two figures lay intertwined atop a cushion of black robes, squealing with delight as they had sex. I couldn't see the faces, but I knew from their figures and their hair precisely who it was. "This is a memory! Not a dream!" Coyote mocked. "You know the place, don't you?"
My gaze riveted on the passion of Lanie and Tansy as they had sex, I slowly sank to my knees, my heart shattering at seeing how much Tansy had come to mean to Lanie - which meant that ... Tansy had taken my place as Lanie's best friend. She had pushed me aside.
"Friends lie to you," Coyote said as he stared down at me. "Friends humiliate you. Friends betray your trust and your love!" He lowered the bubble directly in front of me, knowing I couldn't look away.
"You are the Ptesanwi! You have a great role among the People," he chided me. "It is time for you to put away childish things, to turn away from false friends. It is time for you to be the Ptesanwi, for you to work for the People!"
My head tilted forward into my upstretched hands as my tears flowed freely and I sobbed in my anguish and heartache. I felt betrayed at finding how easily Lanie got into a sexual relationship with Tansy, how easily she'd forgotten about me, forgotten about our special time together, even though she swore she was my soul-sister. All I felt was the intense agony of friendship and trust shattered by lies.
Room 803, Melville Cottage - Midnight
The spirit stirred the big, burly Alaskan boy from his slumber. "Why did you wake me?" the boy snapped angrily.
"Something's wrong!" the bear growled at him.
"What?" Wyatt shook his head lightly to dissipate the mental fog of being half-asleep still.
"Smell it, then tell me!"
Wyatt scowled. "Just tell me!"
"You should recognize him. The trickster. Coyote."
"What?" The big senior's frown deepened. "What's he doing here?" He shook his head. "I know what he's doing, Baloo - you don't have to answer that!" he snapped angrily. "Where is he?"
"He's in the realm of dreams," the Kodiak answered. "The world between, the place that touches all, yet touches none!"
"Enough with your riddles! Where is he? Who is he messing with?"
"Where he is makes it hard to see who he interacts with," the bear replied. "He is everywhere and nowhere, the 'between space' that is nothing, but can touch all dreams and memories. He could touch the dreams of any."
"Lanie?" Wyatt's frown deepened to an angry, frightening glare. "If he messes with Lanie, I'll tear him apart!"
The bear took a deep breath and let it out. "Coyote is one of the first spirits, born when the world was born. He and Sun-Stealer are two of the oldest, wisest, and most powerful spirits. It would be a challenge for you to defeat him without assistance if he is messing with your redhead!"
"How do I find him?" Wyatt demanded, growing visibly frustrated by his inability to do anything about the trickster.
"Sit, and we will go to the dream world. We will visit the dream-spaces of those near to us, to see if the Coyote is with any of them." A wry chuckle sounded from the massive ursine spirit. "Be comfortable - this may take a while."
Sunday, September 9 - Pre-Dawn
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
Debra curled up behind me in 'our' tipi; I'd been so devastated by what Coyote had shown me that I went right past Wakan Tanka and Tatanka, going instead into our private abode, a place where the two had promised to never intrude without my permission, which was not forthcoming given how upset I was.
"Kayda, honey?" Debra asked as she knelt down beside me. I was lying on a buffalo skin, curled up in a fetal position and bawling my eyes out. "Kayda?" she asked again. When I didn't respond, she lay down behind me, spooning and holding me close to try to give me some comfort. "What's wrong?"
I barely noticed her cuddling and holding me, and I know I didn't reply; all I did was cry for a long, long time.
"Kayda, what's wrong?" Debra persisted after I was mostly cried out.
"Lanie ... Lanie ... lied to me," I sobbed. "She ... calls me soul-sister, while she ... she spent the whole summer doing stuff with Tansy!"
"Wait," Debra interrupted. "If I remember, Tansy was at summer school, and Lanie was home ...."
"They were meeting in Lanie's dream-space," I answered, fighting tears. "She ... she never wanted to meet me in her dream space! She's ... she's been too busy doing stuff with Tansy! Too busy fucking Tansy."
"I don't understand," Debra said cautiously. "You've got me ...."
"I thought she was my friend!" I wailed. "But she doesn't want to do stuff with me! She'd rather ... rather spend her time ... with Tansy!"
"But ... she knows you spend your dream-time with me, honey," Debra countered, clutching me tightly.
"She ... she didn't have sex ... with me willingly," I cried out in my distress. "She wouldn't have! But ... she screws Tansy - a lot!"
"But ...." Debra sounded quite confused.
"She ... she claimed to be my best friend," I continued. "But ... she's always hanging out with Tansy! She ... she forgets about plans we have and does stuff with Tansy!"
"Kayda, I'm sure there's a reason ...."
"She lied to me! She and Tansy probably laugh at how naïve and gullible I was!" I was crying again, although I didn't know where the tears were coming from. "I trusted her! I thought she was my best friend! But ... that was a lie, too!"
"Kayda, I knew Lanie before you did. If she said you're her soul-sister, her best friend ...." Debra was trying to calm me down, to get me to think rationally.
It was a wasted effort. "I bet they've told everyone else, too! Look at that sap Kayda! She's so gullible!"
Debra rolled me over and clutched me tightly. "I'm sure it's all some kind of misunderstanding," she said soothingly.
"I'm ... I'm going to transfer ... to another cottage!" I spat. "So she won't get to humiliate me every day!'
"Kayda, with your classes, you're still going to see her on campus a lot."
"Then ... then I'll ... I'll quit!" I sobbed. "I'll come home! It's not so bad at home now - since ... since they got ... put in jail!"
"Kayda, don't do anything rash! It's got to be a misunderstanding!" Debra was practically pleading with me.
I pulled back from her, my mouth dropping open in shock. "You're ... you're taking her side!" I cried.
Debra hesitated, stunned, a shocked expression on her face that I could even ask such a question. I think that was the point when she really realized how depressed I was, how badly Lanie's actions had hurt me. "That's not true, and you know it!" Debra exclaimed.
Unfortunately, by the time Debra got over her shock, I flipped over, turning my back on my girlfriend. "Maybe ... maybe you don't want me, either!" I bawled. "Maybe I ... I should ... I'll go to the reservation! At least they want me!" The seeds of doubt that Coyote planted had sprouted, but I didn't see that. I was too busy hurting and feeling betrayed. Debra spent the rest of the night trying to comfort me, trying to get through my severe depression, to talk some sense into me. Unfortunately, I wasn't listening.
Sunday, September 9, 2007 - Before Dawn
The March of Dreams - Dreamspace of Elaine Nalley
Wyatt paused at the wooden door in the wooden cabin to listen, shaking his head in wonder at the snowy, Alpine setting. The moonlit setting was picture-perfect - a small cabin in a snow-covered clearing with dark shadowy cones of evergreens thrusting up into the sky, with some light spilling from a porch light on the cabin, tinting the nearby surroundings with a faint yellow glow that fell off rapidly with distance from the light. Though the snow was cold, it didn't bother the huge Alaskan; he was used to far colder weather, and besides, since it was Lanie's dream-space, he knew she wouldn't let the temperature drop to arctic levels, as her Atlanta roots were as unhappy with cold as he was with heat and humidity.
From the noise, he was certain that Lanie would be found inside. He rapped the knuckles of his meaty hand gently against the door, and even a light tap from the enormous young man produced a knocking sound that seemed more like the boom of a kettle-drum than the gentle rap that one might expect. "Lanie?" he announced loudly to remove uncertainty.
"Come in, Wyatt" two girls' voices came from within, slightly out of sync and harmony, but pleasant nonetheless.
Kodiak stepped inside, closing the door behind him, because he knew that Lanie wasn't fond of cold and snow.
On the inside, the building was as stereotypical a mountain retreat as the picture-perfect outdoor scene suggested - a stereotypical little cabin, wooden and somewhat rustic, with a fire roaring in the fireplace. A tiny kitchen sat opposite the fireplace, and in one corner was a large hot-tub, which was at that time occupied by a pretty redhead and a gorgeous blonde, with ceramic mugs of some beverage resting on a ledge that surrounded the tub. From their bare shoulders, Wyatt guessed that the two were most likely naked.
"Why don't you join us?" Tansy sang out like a siren luring him to the hot group bath.
Wyatt grimaced, steeling his resolve against the lust he felt toward the two naked girls. "I'd love to," he said, shifting his stance awkwardly, "but I'm kind of busy right now."
"Busy?" Lanie asked, her curiosity piqued. "Doing what? And why in my dreamspace?"
"Kodiak warned me that Coyote is nearby, in someone's dream space."
Both girls puzzled at the name, but Grizzly and Mustang instantly manifested in the dream world; between the large grizzly bear spirit and the somewhat laid-back but large half-horse, half-human mustang spirit, the small cabin suddenly felt considerably more crowded. "Coyote?" Grizzly asked, her lips curled in anger at the mere mention of the ancient spirit's name. "Are you sure?" Mustang, too, frowned heavily.
"Yeah. Kodiak is positive."
"What's he doing here?" Grizzly demanded. "He better not mess with my host!"
"Wait a sec," Lanie protested, confused. "Ah know Ah've heard the name Coyote before, but Ah can't recall who it is or what it does."
Grizzly turned to the redhead. "Coyote is the trickster spirit, one of the ancient spirits."
"He is very powerful and very cunning," Mustang added, a warning expression on his face.
"He is not to be trusted at all," Wyatt added with a grimace. "If he's here, you can bet he's messing with someone. The problem is, according to Baloo, he's probably in the in-between, the void that isn't really anywhere, but which touches all dream spaces."
"Ah haven't seen anything unusual," Lanie replied with a frown, which turned into a giggle when Tansy flexed so her generous breasts rose above the water. "Nothing that Ah didn't expect, anyway."
"You might not," Grizzly cautioned her host. "Like a shaman, Coyote can subtly influence dreams."
Kodiak manifested, further crowding the small cabin with his massive presence. "I would have sensed that," he growled. "More likely, he's gone into someone's dream space."
Tansy's mouth dropped open and she goggled. "Kayda!" she suggested.
Lanie shook her head vehemently. "No," she said with conviction. "Kayda and Ah had a long talk Friday night, and we cleared up our ... misunderstandings."
Grizzly frowned at her red-headed host. "If Coyote is trying to teach someone a lesson, if others around that person are lucky, they'll survive the experience."
Lanie frowned deeply, as did Tansy. Wyatt, however, just nodded grimly. "Ah don't understand," Lanie quizzed the spirits. "Why is that?"
Kodiak frowned. "If Coyote wishes to teach someone at Whateley a lesson, the entire school could easily be swept up as collateral damage. And the object of the lesson might or might not survive the lesson."
Sunday, September 9 - Early Morning
Room 211, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Hey, sleepyhead!" Chou called at me when she returned from her morning shower. "Get up! You're going to miss breakfast!"
"I'm not hungry," I mumbled morosely, curled up under my blanket, my back to Chou and the world.
"Kayda, are you okay?" my roomie asked out of concern. "You sound ... really bummed."
I didn't answer; I just lay in my bed feeling sorry for myself and reflecting on how big a chump I'd been with Lanie and Tansy. In hindsight, it was clear that Tansy was trying to supplant me as Lanie's best friend, starting with the combat final. She'd been prepared for that, like she was waiting for a moment to be a hero for Lanie and thus push me aside. It had to have been planned; otherwise, why would she have had a combat suit and gear with her?
"Kayda, do I need to get Mrs. Horton?" Chou asked.
"I'm okay," I muttered. "Go meet Molly and Dorjee for breakfast."
Chou sat down on the edge of my bed. "I'm not leaving until you tell me what's going on," she said determinedly. "Friends support each other."
"Friends aren't supposed to lie and betray each other!" I sniffled.
"What's going on?" Chou asked insistently. "The past few days, you've been an emotional rollercoaster!"
"It's ... it's nothing," I tried to get her to drop the subject.
"Is it Elaine? Or Tansy?" Chou asked. Ever the observant one, it hadn't taken her much to figure out the sources of my problems. "You were pretty happy last night. What happened?"
"Lanie and I talked yesterday, because I felt like she was pushing me away, that she'd rather be friends with Tansy," I finally confessed. "I thought we had it figured out, but a spirit visited me in dream space last night," I finally confessed. "He showed me that Lanie has been lying to me!" I managed to stammer, barely holding back a new bout of tears.
"Your relationship with Elaine always was ... complicated," my roommate agreed. "But ... was the spirit being honest?"
"He showed me ... some of their ... her ... dreams," I said softly.
"Everyone has interesting dreams," Chou admitted with a smile. "It doesn't mean that she ...."
"But she did act on them!" I shot back angrily. "Coyote ... he showed me some of their memories, too, which showed me exactly how much Lanie has been lying to me about being my best friend!"
"What?" I asked, eyes wide. "What do you mean, why?"
"Why would a spirit do that?" she blurted out.
I turned and goggled at her for a few seconds as my mind raced. "Um, because ... because I'm the Ptesanwi," I said cautiously, "and ... and the Native American spirits ... don't like to see any of the People embarrassed?"
"Um," she hesitated, and from that and her tone of voice, I could tell she was a little uneasy at where the conversation was leading, "maybe you should, you know, give Elaine a chance to explain."
"No!" I barked back at her. "Every time I turn around, she has to explain another reason that she's hurt or humiliated me! I'm done!"
"What does Walkie Talkie say about it?"
"Um ...." It was my turn to hesitate. "She, um, wants me to be the Ptesanwi. She doesn't, um, talk about stuff like that," I stumbled through an excuse.
"Which means you haven't talked to her," Chou retorted. "Right?" When I didn't respond, she continued. "Or was she the spirit that told you?"
"It doesn't matter," I muttered dejectedly. "I'm supposed to be the Ptesanwi. I have to focus on that. For the good of the People." I clammed up.
"Kayda, you really need to talk to Elaine about this." Seeing my body stiffen, she continued, "If you won't talk with her, and you're not going to talk me, maybe you should talk to Mrs. Horton? Dr. Bellows? You should talk to someone!"
After trying for several more minutes to get me to talk more, Chou left me alone with my depressed thoughts. But that lasted only a few moments.
"Kayda?" a voice - Lanie's voice - sounded through the door as she knocked. "Kayda?" she called again. I lay still, doing my best to ignore the persistent knocking and calling out to me, until eventually it was quiet again.
About fifteen minutes after Lanie had left me alone, another knock sounded on the door. "Kayda?" It was Mrs. Horton. "Kayda, I know you're in there!" When I hadn't answered another couple of knocks, Mrs. Horton let herself in. "Kayda, are you okay?" she asked in her best motherly tone as she sat down on the bed next to me.
"I hate her!" I practically screamed. "I hate her! I don't want to ever see her again!"
"Who?" She sounded like she already knew the answer.
"She lied to me!" I was practically screaming. "She said she was my best friend! She said she cared about me, that I was special! And then ... she ... she did ... stuff ... with someone else! She never remembers me! She never dream-walks with me, but ... she does ... with someone else! And ... and ..." I found myself scooped up in her arms, wrapped in a warm, caring embrace. "She ... she ... she only ...," I hesitated, "because of ... the lust demon!" I sobbed. "But ... but others - she doesn't need that! She ... she didn't really want me!"
Mrs. Horton just let me cry, holding me and letting me vent my feelings.
"I ... I ... I'm going to quit Gearheads, because I don't want her and Tansy mocking me and playing me for a fool and humiliating me all the time! And ... and Venus Inc.!" I cried.
"Kayda, you can't run away from your problems," Mrs. Horton said soothingly. "You can't avoid her."
"Yes I can!" I shot back, scrambling for solutions out of pure desperation and anguish. "I ... I'm going home! I ... I don't want to be here anymore! I wanna go home!"
"I'm going home! I hate it here! I hate being around lying sluts who only want to humiliate me!" I fairly screamed in a combination of rage and anguish. And exhaustion.
My housemother noticed the fatigue in my eyes and my voice. "Kayda, did you get any sleep last night? Or the night before?" Mrs. Horton asked cautiously after I'd cried for a while longer.
"I ...." I paused, thinking. "I ... I don't know. Maybe a little," I finally replied softly.
Mrs. Horton nodded, then pulled out her phone and dialed a number. "Can you come down to 211 please?" Moments later, Rosalyn knocked on the door jamb and came in.
"Can you help me watch Kayda for a while?" she asked Ros. "She's very tired, and some things have her very upset."
"Sure," Ros answered in a chipper voice.
"I'm going to run down to my apartment and get something for her to eat," Mrs. Horton explained to Ros. "Chou said she didn't go to breakfast, so she must be starving."
After she left, Ros sat on the edge of my bed, rubbing my shoulders. "I knew I'd eventually get alone with you in your room," she tried to joke. Her attempt at humor fell flat; I wasn't in any kind of mood for joking or flirting, although in retrospect, the fact that she was still interested in me should have put to lie my feelings that nobody wanted me. I was too tired and upset, though, to notice.
Mrs. Horton came back in a few minutes with a hot breakfast, and despite my melancholy mood, I was hungry, so I let the persuade me to eat a little. When Chou came back, Mrs. Horton left to tend to her other duties, leaving me in Chou and Ros' company. Eventually, I calmed down enough that I got back to very unenthusiastically writing some of the many papers which I'd been assigned. I was still hurting inside, but at least I was distracted.
Sunday, September 9, 2007 - Early Afternoon
House Parents Apartment, Poe cottage, Whateley Academy
"You wanted to see me, Mrs. Horton?"
The somewhat heavyset woman beckoned the young redhead inside. "Yes, yes dear. Please close the door after you, there is a good girl." Elaine shut the door as she was instructed even more curious and when she arrived. The house mother had her rosewood box with silver accoutrements that held her 'working gear' as she called it. Inside the box was a wand, chalice, and dagger, all of the finest silver, which she normally had out only once a semester to place and renew the Guardian spell on the various members of the cottage to keep them from accidentally betraying its secret.
She opened the lid of the box, closed her eyes, and mouthed something in a language not normally spoken, before she removed a black silk ribbon headband with a silver crescent moon as its headpiece. With the headband in place, the house-mother smiled at her new resident assistant and came around the room to stand in front of her. "Elaine, I'm going to ask a favor of you."
"Oh, sure..." Elaine started, but the house mother immediately vigorously shook her head.
Mrs. Horton gestured that she should be followed. She picked up her working tool case and led the way down the hall to the back bedroom that the house parent's apartment now possessed. One of the bedrooms was, of course, hers; the second, the guest bedroom; but this third she had arranged as a working room. Permanently etched in poured silver was a formal casting circle, more accurately referred to as a fool's circle. Mrs. Horton laid the case on the small altar at the foot of the circle and turned to look at her student more solemnly. "Child, the favor I'm going to ask of you requires me to break my word to another sorcerer, which is not without repercussion for me, but it also requires you stepping into the circle. You know how dangerous what I have just asked you is."
Elaine licked her suddenly-dry lips with an equally dry tongue. "Who is the sorcerer you have to break your word to?" she asked.
Mrs. Horton shook her head. "That would prejudice your answer," she replied.
"What is it you want to do?"
"I know that in the spirit world your form is very different. That the spirits refer to you as Pict Daughter. There is a reason for this. Have you ever wondered what it was?"
Elaine began to feel very uneasy and shrugged nervously. "My first ancestress was a Pict archer, a banshee, from what I've been able to understand. Is that wrong?"
Mrs. Horton shook her head. "No, it's not wrong. But it isn't complete either. There are some souls that are so strong they passed from body to body, life to life, adding to their memories, adding to what they are. They gain new names, but their souls are not truly cleansed from life to life. You are such a soul, and the Pict banshee you present in the astral space is an echo of who and what you really are."
Elaine's eyes narrowed and she stepped forward towards the house parent, her temper on its shortest leash. "Mrs. Carson told me that when she made Wicked she basically made me drunk, without affecting my balance or control, but that's a lie, wasn't it? Wicked is that Pict banshee in my dreams, isn't she?" The house parent looked away, startled by the insight of her student. Elaine raised her voice for the first time and shouted, "Isn't she?!"
Mrs. Horton steeled herself and stepped into the young girl's anger with a fierce determination of her own. "Do you love Kayda?" She demanded.
Elaine blinked, startled at the turn the conversation and taken. "What does Kayda have to do with...?"
Mrs. Horton doubled down the fierceness in her voice. "Do you love Kayda?" she demanded again.
"Ah ... Ah don't understand! She's ... she's mah friend, mah mitaka ki." The redhead thought a moment. "Ah love her like a sister, if that's what you mean. Why?"
"Because Kayda is demanding to go home, to leave the school for good ...," Mrs. Horton explained with a carefully neutral expression.
"What?!?" Lanie's mouth dropped open in total shock.
Mrs. Horton nodded. "She wants to leave because she thinks you don't love her, that you betrayed her."
"How can Ah betray her?" Elaine demanded. "She seems to be avoiding me, and Ah respected her relationship with Deborah..."
"That is why she thinks you betrayed her!" Mrs. Horton replied grimly. "She thinks the only reason you were intimate with her was the lust essence from Sara, that otherwise you wouldn't have been attracted to her all! She sees you doing things with Tansy all the time, somehow she is certain that you and Tansy have been intimate, and she thinks you're avoiding her, that you've replaced her as a friend. Based on that, she thinks that all your talk about being Kayda's soul-sister is a lie." She sighed heavily as she considered the self-doubt issues she always saw in her teenage charges; despite her powerful spirits and male origin, deep down, Kayda was no different than any other teenage girl. "She's got some severe self-confidence issues that make her believe no-one really wants her. She's so despondent that she's convinced herself that the only reason Debra is with her is that she accidentally bound the two of them together during a healing ritual."
Elaine stood in puzzled for several minutes before she asked the older woman, "but Ah don't see what good Wicked could do...?"
Mrs. Horton smiled. "Leave that to me," she assured her student. "Are you willing to let me try?"
Elaine sighed. "Ah reserve the right of payment for this favor," she declared. Mrs. Horton nodded, accepting the bargaining. "Mrs. Carson would call me a damn fool to step into that circle without an ironclad sorcerer's contract."
"She'd be right, too," Mrs. Horton agreed. Elaine sighed again and stepped into the circle. Mrs. Horton nodded and returned to the altar. With great ceremony she stripped herself nude, then redressed herself in a simple white linen robe and a black over-robe, using a length of cord as a belt. From the case she produced a wand, and then stepped to the circle. In a flowing, guttural language she chanted, pointing the wand at what felt like Elaine's very heart and soul. Finally she moved the wand and instantly Elaine felt somewhat diminished as a part of her left her physical body and came into being at one of the other points of the circle. As she watched, the Pict banshee materialized, seemingly out of the ether, looking around her and realizing the magic circle she was contained within. She took note of Elaine and it was apparent she didn’t think much of what she saw, turning instead to Mrs. Horton.
She knelt to one knee and bowed to Mrs. Horton. Then in the same language Elaine suddenly understood, the Pict warrior looked up and declared, "Mistress of ash and oak, priestess of mistletoe and holly, why do you summon me?"
"You are summoned to do my bidding in the realm of dreams. I will order, you will comply, and you will speak the words I put in your mouth." Mrs. Horton replied.
"I am Laneth," the banshee replied. "Daughter of Joan, chieftain's wife of Morlock, I am banshee in my own right, and I am no one's slave, not even a mistress of ash and oak."
"Who you were is gone and dust; your bones lie in the hills," Mrs. Horton replied. "But your blood flows in this girls veins, and from her I have summoned you. And you will obey, or you will taste your oblivion as you should have centuries ago."
The Pict warrior glared at the housemother for a long few seconds before she rose to her feet and crossed her arms over her bosom. "What would you have me do?"
Sunday, September 9, 2007 - Afternoon
The Fixers' Patio, back quad near the Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
I opened the door and stepped, blinking, into the suddenly bright sunlight. It took me a moment to get my bearings which allowed my aching legs a moment or two of recovery. Unfortunately, this only allowed me to realize that I had in fact been the victim of what had to have been a hazing ritual. Having come from the board of the Loyal Engineering Order of Whateley Academy that Lanie had set up for me, I'd been told what they swore was the shortest route out of the tunnels.
I'd been climbing for nearly half an hour in the stairway which must've contained four or five hundred steps, until I came to a doorway to the outside world. What was worse was the door I had just exited was built into the wall of Laird Hall. I had entered the tunnels in Kane Hall on the other side of the campus.
Ha ha, very funny. Not.
I hadn't wanted to go to the special review board because she had set it up, but Bunny and Delta Spike practically dragged me down into the tunnels. It had been a grueling experience - the group somehow knew minute details of my inventions and pending patents that I hadn't told anyone - except Lanie. She had to have been the one to have revealed my work to them. And the board had been brutal - from judgmental, snobby upperclassmen to arrogant SOBs like Jobe, and a couple of members like Eruption who were seriously anti-gay and who used the opportunity to harass and insult me. If Lanie expected me to thank her for putting me into that meat-grinder, she was seriously deluded.
With no other options, I began to trudge uphill towards Hundred Year Oak and the Crystal Hall. According to the plaque next to the massive tree, it had been planted by Noah Whateley himself at the founding of the school in 1896. That would make the massive tree actually a hundred and eleven years old this year but that didn't roll off the tongue nearly as nicely. I passed by the tree, my mind on last spring, remembering when Tansy had hidden me from Mindbird.
It seems so odd even now; from everything I had heard it was completely out of character for her. Even though she had been nothing but a good friend to me and Lanie, I couldn't help wondering what her angle was. Because everyone said she must have one.
I finally arrived at the fixers' patio, which on a fine afternoon like this was doing booming business. What surprised me was in the back corner I saw Danny sharing a table and having an animated conversation with, of all people, Tansy Walcutt. My emotions were in a jumble, having just been hazed by the other engineers which had to have been done with Lanie's permission because otherwise she would've warned me! But now I found the girl everyone said was playing me making time with my brother!
Tansy looked up and saw me. She actually smiled. Smiled! As if to say, That's right, I'm taking all your friends! It was too much. Even though I could see she was beckoning me over, I stared for a moment fighting hot, bitter tears before I turned and fled, and as I ran, I couldn't help but glance over my shoulder at my brother, who was staring at Tansy with a look of absolute adoration. My own brother!
Sunday, September 9, 2007 - Before Dinner
Life sucked sometimes, and somehow I'd been getting more than my share of 'suck' lately for some reason. It was almost like an odds-mangler was messing with my life - everything seemed to be falling apart at once. I shook my head and corrected myself. It was everything relating to my so-called best friend that was falling apart.
I hope Lanie got a laugh out of that review board - it was the last laugh she was ever going to get at my expense if I had anything to say about it. Soul-sister? My ass! I was just another chump for girls like her to toy with, to have fun at my expense, to humiliate.
Had she arranged for the board to be stacked with people who were going to verbally attack me for being a lesbian? Or filled the room with self-aggrandizing, self-important assholes who she also prompted to pick my work apart like vultures attacking a carcass? Had she enjoyed sitting on the sidelines, smirking and chuckling as I was humiliated? I hadn't seen her there, but no doubt she was, sitting in the back where she could watch and be amused while I continued to think she was my best friend.
Was Lanie the one who arranged the prank to get me lost in the tunnels? Maybe they were all making book on how long it'd take me to realize I'd been punked? Thanks to being on the magic and tech tracks, I hadn't been able to spend as much time in the tunnels as I otherwise would have, so I was a perfect sucker for their gag. For her gag!
And the worst - she'd made a total fool out of me with all the 'soul sister, special connection' bullshit - and I'd bought it! That pissed me off the worst, that I'd been so gullible as to believe the lying cunt! No doubt she and Tansy and Wyatt laid around after their mini-orgies and laughed at how easily I'd fallen for Lanie's false platitudes! Lying, fucking slut! What we had was special? Bullshit! I was just another notch in her bedpost, a girl she could seduce and toy with and then throw away like yesterday's newspaper!
And she hadn't even really wanted me! She said so herself - that she 'would have been able to control herself' if not for the demon serum! That was another lie - at the time, she had been unattached, and I would have been an easy conquest - if she'd have wanted! But she didn't; she passed me by with a lot of flirting and a kiss - all to add to my embarrassment. And then she hopped into bed with Tansy without a second thought, no doubt because Tansy was prettier and curvier than I was!
The longer I sat, hidden and protected by my shield and ghost-walking spell, the more depressed I got. It was not shaping up to be a good year at all.
In the midst of my session of self-pity, my phone range. I was tempted to ignore it, but for some reason, I took it out. "Hello?" I asked hesitantly, trying not to cry as I spoke.
"Kayda? Hi! I wanted to see how you're doing with the new school term!" Mom said in a happy, chipper voice.
That was the final straw. "Mom!" I began to bawl, "I wanna come home!'
Sunday, September 9, 2007 - After Dinner
Path between Kane Hall and Dickinson College
Solange turned at the sound of her name being called to see Prudence Tavori trotting down the path after her. She allowed the younger girl to catch up with a smile of welcome. "Hi, Pru! How was your summer?"
The olive complexioned girl blushed causing her skin to darken. "Oh, it started wonderfully!" she told the older girl with a sly smile. "Adam called me almost every day!"
"That's wonderful," Tansy replied, and surprisingly even to herself she felt genuinely happy for the other girl, but that feeling was not to last as Prudence quickly became morose. "Isn't it?"
"We're... we're great friends," Prudence said finally. "And I thought after last year when Adam took me to the dance .... But ... He just kind of stopped, like all he wants to be is friends. I need your help to make him realize I want to be more than friends!"
Tansy nodded sagely and laid a consoling hand on the other girls shoulder. "Not to worry ...," she started, but her phone began to vibrate in her pocket. She took it out to find a text that instantly had her worried about much more than schoolgirl crushes.
What is going on with Elaine
and Kayda? Recall how important
this is! ACT ASAP Hindmost
"Whoa! I'm sorry, Pru, but I have an emergency. Would you do me a favor and take my books to my room? I'll get with you this evening and we'll plan how to make Adam step things up to the next level. Promise!"
Prudence immediately took Tansy's books and smiled. "Sure, Tansy. Thanks!"
Tansy turned with a wave of thanks and immediately started back up the path at a brisk walk. As her stride ate distance, she turned her thoughts inward to communicate with her spirit.
Mustang? Where is Kayda?
If the Ptesanwi does not wish to be found ....
Tansy frowned and began to extend her mental her awareness out to its limits. Save the drama for your mama, she thought of the spirit angrily. You're my spirit - I need you on my side ...!
It's not a question of sides, the spirit angrily told her. For what it's worth I am on your side, but attempting to find the Ptesanwi against her will is a fool's errand! She can ghost walk, she can block ....
"Of course!" Tansy exclaimed as the answer hit her like a thunderclap. She altered her course slightly and came to a stop next to the statue of Noah Whateley. The bronze likeness of the educator had his back to Schuster Hall and was looking perpetually off to the east, mostly in the direction of Kirby Hall. It could be argued that the statue was the emotional center of the school, which is exactly what Tansy needed.
What are you doing? Mustang asked in a puzzled tone of voice.
Watch and learn, Tansy thought smugly at the spirit, and she sat down on the dais the statue stood on and centered herself. After a deep calming breath, Tansy opened herself to the emotional ebb and flow of the campus. She pictured herself floating in an ocean letting her awareness wash out and away from her in all directions. She became aware of all the classrooms in the various halls that lined the quad. There were the usual emotions - anxiety, desperate attempts to focus, frustration, amazement as the echoes of the students learning clung to the walls of the buildings like paint.
Her awareness washed over Melville, closest of the cottages, and suddenly she was aware of crushes, infatuations, intense loneliness, isolation, lust - the lust burned brightly like a candle in the ocean - and still her awareness expanded. The feeling from Melville became more intense as the other cottages entered her awareness - Dickinson, Twain, Emerson and Whitman, all glowing brightly with similar emotions.
Then came Hawthorne and its intense feelings - rage, despair, death wish - the cottage burned brightest of all in the ocean of emotions, until at last, near Poe, Tansy found what she was looking for. On the hill overlooking Poe, there was a hole in the sea, a blank space of nothing that stood out as brightly as a lighthouse. Color me impressed, Mustang complemented.
Walcutt smirked to herself as she stood and briskly made her way to the hill. She didn't bother disguise her approach - there was no point - but she kept her awareness of the emotions up so that she could focus on the void in the sea. Coming to a stop a few feet away from that empty emotional hole, she put her hands on her hips and asked of the otherwise empty hilltop, "Do you want to tell me what's wrong?"
Her sharp hearing picked up the sounds of muffled breathing of someone who had been crying and was trying to hold their breath coming out of the void. She sighed and tried to relax her posture. "It's no use pretending," she said softly. "I know you're there, Kayda. Talk to me. Tell me what's wrong?"
The void took a step or two off to one side. Tansy purposefully turned her face in that direction. "Don't run. You can't outrun me and you can't hide from me."
Kayda's voice, thick with emotion, cried out raw and ragged from the void, "I have nothing to say to you, you filthy whore!"
Tansy flinched at the accusation, and in a split-second decision, as much as she hated it, realized that anger would be the easiest path. She let her temper off its leash and snarled, "Who do you think you're talking to?!"
"The whore that made a slut of my best friend!" Kayda screamed. "Did you think I wouldn't find out? That the spirits wouldn't tell me how you seduced my soul-sister! I saw you! Last night, I saw you - in dream space!"
"You're a fine one to talk!" Tansy shouted, her skin flushed scarlet at the thought of being observed doing what she had been doing. "What business is it of yours who I fuck?"
"She's my soul-sister!" The void of nothingness began to shimmer and the ghostly image of Kayda began to take form as she lost her concentration on keeping up the spell. "What we have is - was - special! That you turned it into a cheap porno ...!"
Tansy made a show of rolling her eyes. "Oh, because you got off on her tongue and then found somebody else means she has to be a nun the rest of her life? Grow up, you pathetic, sniveling little bitch!" The invisibility spell failed and Kayda snapped into focus, her eyes red with tears, but her face a twisted mask of rage.
"I should've believed everyone who told me what manipulative bitch you were!" Kayda shouted. The sharp barb of the words pricked Tansy deep in her soul. "But I never thought you'd make my sister as big of a whore as you are!"
Solange's hand snapped out of its own accord and slapped Kayda sharply across the face, snapping her head to the side with enough force to split her lip and send blood flying. Coldly, she growled, "Don't you ever, ever use that word about Lanie again!"
Kayda reached up and wiped the blood from her mouth, her eyes narrowing into slits. With one hand, she grabbed the charm of invulnerability she wore while her other one snatched the tomahawk from her belt. "Is that how you want to play?" she growled. "Fine! Let's go, bitch!"
Tansy started at the girl's reaction, and for a moment considered how to play the situation; in milliseconds, she knew precisely how to get through to the Lakota girl. She hoped. She reached up and pulled her collar open to expose her neck. "You want to kill me? Here you go, take your best shot. That's just sure to make Lanie's week! For extra points, be sure to tell her all the names we called each other, her only friends, before you killed me!"
"She's not my friend! Friends don't lie and humiliate and hurt each other!" Kayda screamed irrationally, her mind clouded by hurt and anger.
"She is your friend! Right now, you're the one hurting her! But maybe you're too busy feeling sorry for yourself to see what you're doing to her?"
Kayda's jaw dropped open, and then the tomahawk wavered for a moment and slipped from Kayda's fingers to sink blade-first in the loam of the soil. A pair of tears escaped her eyes and flowed down each side of her cheeks. "It's ... it's happening ... Again!" she wailed, the lone tears turning into a stream trickling down both sides of her face.
"What?" Tansy demanded, totally baffled by Kayda's sudden emotional breakdown. "What's happening?" But her only answer was the young Lakota girl sinking down to her knees and beginning to sob hysterically. Tansy realized there was only one thing she could do. She held her arms out and unleashed her glamour completely on Kayda. The power whirled around her like a maelstrom, unable to penetrate the mental shields her spirit gave her, but drinking up the emotions that were flowing off the Lakota girl like a dam that had been breached. Tansy could almost feel her glamour projecting psychically, an image forming around her that all but strong psychics would feel was real. She sensed the image change and she knew without a mirror that, to Kayda, her likeness had shifted to that of Debra Matson.
Through her emotion and tears only a small part of Kayda wondered where Deb had come from; the rest was only overjoyed she was there. "Deb!" she wailed flinging herself into the taller girls arms. "Deb! It's happening again! I'm ... I'm all alone! Again!"
"You're not alone," the vision of Debra replied. "I'm here for you. Let me in..."
Kayda turned her face up, tears running from her eyes as she reached out. Their lips met in a deep, passionate embrace, and skin to skin, Tansy slipped past Kayda's shambled mental defenses and dove deeply into her mind.
Sunday, September 9, 2007 - Early Evening
HPARC, South Dakota
Ernst Schmidt bolted from his office to the facility's control room when the alarm klaxons sounded, frowning with concern. In the control room, there was barely-controlled panic as the systems displayed numerous red indicators on the lowest level of the containment facility.
"Status!" Ernst demanded immediately, his voice calm despite the sudden stress he felt inside. The alarms already indicated to him the highest threat level that anyone currently in the facility - save himself - had experienced, and he knew that he had to display icy calmness so his staff didn't panic.
"Psychic disturbances and seismic activity alarms in unit B-fourteen of the seven thousand foot level," one of the techs read off the monitors.
"Unhcegila!" Ernst's stress level rose by an order of magnitude.
"Yes, sir," the tech confirmed after glancing at the monitor.
Ernst grabbed a phone from the tech's console, frantically dialing a number from memory. "Dammit, Hazel, pick up!" he swore softly to himself after the other end rang for the sixth time.
"I've got a location on the seismic activity - it's below the unit fourteen B-14 chamber itself - triangulating to between two hundred fifty to and three hundred meters away from the chamber itself - and it's moved from the first readings."
"And the psychic energy?" Ernst asked, still holding the phone to his ear. "Hold on." He focused on the phone. "Hazel? Ernst."
"I presume there's a good reason for you to call me on Sunday?" the old Lakota woman said gruffly. "And what's all the noise in the background?"
"All that 'background noise' is the alarms," he said in frustration, before holding his hand over the mouthpiece. "We know there's an alarm. Can you shut that damned thing off?"
"Sorry - it's a bit hectic here. In a nutshell, we've got seismic and psychic activity moving toward Unhcegila's chamber," Ernst reported to Hazel after he uncovered the mouthpiece.
"Damn!" the woman swore. "Can you reinforce his chamber?"
"We've got a level 3 force-field on the whole chamber right now."
"I'll bet it's one of Unce's sons tunneling to free him." The woman's voice was deathly somber. "Why didn't you pick it up sooner?"
"The monitors aren't that sensitive - we de-tuned them on purpose so we weren't getting a dozen or more false alarms every shift."
"You're going to have to reinforce the wards, the psychic shields, and the structural shield. And that's only going to slow down the son."
Ernst grimaced. "What do you recommend? Dig down and kill the son?"
Hazel took a deep breath. "That's the last thing you want to do. If you kill him, that'll mean there are no more spawn, which means he'll be able to create another brood."
"But ... if he creates another brood in the chamber with him ...?" Ernst started to ask.
"No-one knows if he spawns with him, or if they spawn off somewhere else. Do you want to take a chance of having three more of those things show up outside of the containment unit?" Hazel demanded.
"So ... what then?"
"Get ARC's best projective psychic down here to shield the chamber, then get a big-ass cryo unit and freeze Unhcegila."
"What?" Ernst was confused.
"And then you're going to have to move him to a significantly more reinforced chamber."
"That's ... pretty risky," Ernst whistled under his breath.
Hazel let out a big sigh. "If you don't try, he's going to get out."
"I was afraid you were going to say that." Ernst drew a deep breath and then slowly exhaled to steady himself. "You just confirmed what I was thinking." He thought a moment. "Do you know how fast junior can tunnel through solid granite?"
"Nope," Hazel replied simply. "Anyone who might know that would have been killed by the spawn before they could report it. But I'd estimate he's going to dig through at least twenty yards a day. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more."
"Which means we don't have much time."
"Nope. I'm going to the library to see if there's anything at all about how to shield him or his spawn. I'll let you know."
"Okay." Ernst hung up the phone. After closing his eyes for a moment to center himself, he turned from the phone. "Conners!"
Ernst's aide, who had followed his boss to the control room when the alarms sounded, practically broke his back snapping to attention, a habit he'd picked up in the military. "Yes, boss?"
"Get Sharples in here. Tell him, whatever he's doing, drop it and get with Hazel on new wards for chamber ...." He lost himself in thought a moment. "Call Hanson from facilities. I want the new chamber insulated as a full cryo containment cell. Below LN temp."
"Probably one of the new chambers, like Echo twenty-five. Big enough for the snake demon and insulation, but not too big," Conners reported dutifully. His degree, obtained after military service, was in mechanical engineering, so knew a lot about the facilities and had anticipated his boss' request.
"Okay. Work it with him. Get a cryo chiller, too - as cold as you can get. If we could get him to liquid helium temp, a lot of people will rest easier."
"That'll be damned tough at the seven-thousand foot level!" Conners winced. "I'll have Sharples factor in a force-field generator in the power and space requirements."
"Good thinking. And call ARC and DARPA - I want their best mage and psychic here inside of twelve hours to start working on wards and shields for the new chamber. Send the Sky Arrow if they can't find a warper."
The alarm cut off suddenly, flooding the room with welcome silence. "Okay, move it. According to Hazel, we're racing the clock on this bad-boy, and we don't have a lot of time."
Sunday, September 9, 2007
The Mind Space of Tansy Penelope Walcutt
The first thing Tansy became aware of in the darkness of the mindscape was herself. Even though she had control of the reality, she allowed Kayda's mind to shape her so she could see how the other girl saw her, because every revelation was a vital piece of information. At first she thought she would manifest in the combat uniform Ms. Rogers had made for her, but even before the armor clothing appeared fully, it radically shifted on her frame. The functional, sturdy combat boots became five inch platform thigh-high boots out of some kind of fetish magazine. The armored pants metamorphosed into a bikini bottom with the utility belt ludicrously buckled over it, accessorized by her top becoming not much more than a bra, and opera gloves covered from her fingertips to her elbows. The outfit - what little of it there was - was all black leather.
She was certain her bust was larger too, but lacking a tape measure couldn't be sure.
Subtle, she thought to herself with a generous dollop of irony. It was obvious at Kayda was intimidated by her beauty, but she didn't realize it was so sexualized. Normally when she joined the mind of a girl who was intimidated by her beauty, Tansy found her mental image becoming more plain. Maybe it's a lesbian thing, she thought to herself.
The darkness began to brighten into a gray fog. On the wind there was the sound of male exertion, bodies striking other bodies, grunts and groans of effort, multiple shouts and expletives punctuated by the sharp blast of a whistle. Despite the fog it was fortunately quite warm as she walked towards the sound of the voices.
The ground became distinct next, a grassy field that immediately gave the platform boots difficulty. Her hand found the chain-link fence and a sidewalk that followed it which she was grateful for. Beyond the fence she could see a football field where vague, shadowy figures were engaged in a practice or scrimmage. The sidewalk at last found a set of metal bleachers on which sat a single figure watching the practice. He was a good-looking young man - tall, muscular, and clean-cut, wearing a letterman's jacket in school colors she didn't recognize.
The young man looked over at her and started, obviously surprised. "Tansy?" he demanded.
Tansy felt her form shimmer again from superheroic slut to sexy schoolgirl. At least, she thought, more was covered this way. She walked up to bleachers and sat a conversational distance from the young man. "Have we met?"
The youth needlessly adjusted the ball cap he was wearing that was emblazoned with an advertisement for a feed company Tansy had never heard of. "Yes, ma'am, er, well... No, ma'am. We haven't met. Not exactly. I'm ... I'm Brandon. Brandon Franks."
Walcutt took the hand he offered and shook it politely. "Are you one of Kayda's brothers?"
Reality suddenly whirled and shifted. Tansy found herself in an alley behind a large building. In front of her on the ground, beaten into a bloody mass, was Brandon looking up at her with one eye in a face covered in blood and horrific bruises; the other eye was swollen shut. "I ... I ... am Kayda," he managed painfully, averting his eyes with humiliation at the admission he'd made, at the secret he'd betrayed.
Instinctively Tansy interposed her will on the mind space, wrenching it back to the football field while dressing herself in more functional and modest jeans, shirt, and jacket. Although as a concession she did wear her Prada wedge heeled boots.
The young man took the ball cap off his head again and hung his head in shame. "Sorry, I guess she never told you. I can't say as I blame her for being ashamed of me. I'm ... I'm ashamed of me, too."
Carefully, Tansy reached out and took the young man's chin to force him to look her in the eye. "What is going on here?" she demanded. "What do you mean, you're Kayda?" With the skin of her astral hand touching the young man, she realized there was a familiarity about him as if he were the core of the mental signature she'd noticed in Kayda.
The young man stared at her with sad, hazel eyes. "I ... I am Kayda," he managed. "I ... I was born ... Brandon. This ... this was me - before. When I manifested, I ... I turned ... turned into Kayda."
Like a vault door being unlocked and opened, suddenly all of Kayda's emotional issues made perfect sense. Tansy knew why she was a lesbian, knew the hidden shame that always been at the core of her conscience, and knew why the gang rape had been so intensely devastating. "Oh, Brandon, I'm so sorry ...!"
Overhead the sky darkened as storm clouds rolled in ominously; thunder and lightning crashed through the skies and the voice boomed through the sudden, intense wind, "Get away from him!">
Tansy's form shimmered again and she was clad in the armored clothing Ms. Rogers had made for her. It was not the hyper- sexualized bikini she'd arrived in, but was in fact the armor clothing with all of its holdouts and hidden surprises.
With an effort, she exerted her will on the mindspace, pushing away the thunder and the football field, leaving only herself, Brandon, and the surprised Kayda in buckskin, feathers, and war-paint. "You have no power here," Tansy told the girl in a soft but stern voice.
"You're wrong!" Kayda screamed and with a gesture opened a chasm in the blackness. Literal hellfire roared up from the opening as Tansy quickly grabbed Brandon and rolled back away from the flaming gorge. By feel, her hand scrambled across her belt to find a small force field generator that she hurriedly worked from its carrier.
"Let me talk to her," Brandon pleaded. "She's always ashamed when someone finds out about me..."
Safe in the force field for a moment, Tansy quickly called to her memory everything she'd learned about mind spaces and those suffering with multiple personality disorder. To her knowledge, no one ever manifested two such complete personalities as she felt in this space. "If you understand that you are Kayda, why is she over there?"
Brandon shrugged as he looked amazed at chasm and the wall of fire flowing up out of it. "I .... They said that I'm 'two spirits,' both male and female ..." he stammered. A blast of magic struck the force field and washed harmlessly off it. "It's ... a Native American thing."
"I need you to concentrate, Brandon," Tansy told him. He was staring, terrified at the flames, so she reached out and took his face in her hands and gently forced him to look at her. "I'll protect you. She can't hurt you ..."
Tansy smiled her most reassuring smile. "She can't hurt you," she promised. "Now, show me where this started, try to remember ..."
Brandon snorted in derision. "Like I could ever forget," he muttered as the blackness swirled and changed. Tansy found herself with Brandon in a classroom. The room itself was sharply defined, indicating the memory was strong, but the other children in the room were vague and indistinct. The teacher at the blackboard was crisp and sharp, but the calendar was blurry and the clock had no hands on its face, which indicated this was a generic memory of the time, not a specific one.
One child sat by himself, sharply in focus, in a back corner. The ghostly shadows of the other students ignored him and the teacher only gave him pitying glances every now and then. "This was you?" Tansy asked softly.
"Third grade," he barely whispered. He sighed and forced his hands deeper into the pockets of the letterman jacket. "I wasn't born here," he said in a brusque, matter-of-fact tone. "We just moved here couple weeks ago when my mom inherited my Grandpa's farm - just outside of town."
Instantly, Tansy understood and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You were the outsider," she observed.
Brandon nodded and shrugged his indifference even though the expression on his face was one of pain. "We got here late in the school year on top of it," he added looking into her eyes. "All the friends are made, all the groups established ...! They were them, and I ... I was me. All alone."
"It couldn't have been all bad ..." Tansy started, but the young man shook his head.
"You don't understand small towns," Brandon said bitterly. Instantly there was a whirlwind of half solidified images, snippets of painful memory standing out in sharp relief to the more fuzzy recollections of happy memories. Being picked last for teams, being pranked by all the popular girls, many instances of schoolyard bullies - some quite brutal, but interspersed among all the bad memories were recollections of working on his dad's farm, and he was quickly growing up to be a strong, tall lad. In eighth grade, things began to change - he made the JV football team, and it looked like his star was rising - finally.
The memories faltered again; Tansy saw Brandon looking down at his feet, his lips pursed into a sad frown, as if he hated some of the memories and felt embarrassed by them.
"Then came Kim," he said morosely. In the darkness a girl solidified. She was cute in a girl-next-door kind of way, lean but not scrawny, with the promise of a bust-line beginning to fill out her shirt. But it was her eyes that gave her away; cold brown eyes that would've been at home in the face of Connie Goodkind.
"What happened?" Tansy asked softly.
Instantly the field changed again and they stood in the student auditorium. Brandon was in his boxers on the stage and Kim had just snatched open the curtain, revealing most of the seventh, eight, and freshmen classes in the seats laughing hysterically at the young man. Tansy relived the humiliation of Montana and felt her cheeks burned with shame. Brandon laughed a hollow laugh. "You would think something like this would have destroyed my reputation, but this was Thursday. Friday we played Wolsey."
The auditorium returned to the bleachers and Tansy found herself sitting next to Brandon, looking on the field. There was no fog now, but the bright lights of a football field under a black, star-studded sky; everything was in sharp relief as this memory burned brightly in the young man's mind.
"Wait, aren't there supposed to be more players ...." Tansy said hesitantly. She wasn't a big sports fan, but even she knew that football teams seemed to have more boys than were on the field.
"Small school. We played nine-man football, like most of the smaller schools around the eastern half of the state. And we played both offense and defense," Brandon explained. "Even though I was a freshman, I was playing because the starter - Scott ..." Brandon ground his teeth angrily at the name, "had a bad knee injury in the first half."
On the field, the visiting team was leading by seven points, and was setting up for a field goal. There were only eight seconds on the clock and it was the 4th quarter. Brandon offered some of his popcorn which Tansy accepted as he continued the narrative. "Wolsey was one of our rivals," the young man said. "This was our homecoming game they were going to spoil, and they weren't just satisfied with beating us. They wanted to humiliate us and make it hurt."
"How so?" Tansy asked.
Brandon gestured at the field. As the ball was snapped, the formation of the visiting team changed suddenly. The holder had received the football, but he stood up suddenly as men rushed into the end zone. "They weren't satisfied with just beating us, they were going to go for another touchdown instead of just running out the clock. The rest of the guys were blitzing, trying to block the kick, but I saw it coming."
The holder threw the ball, but out of nowhere one of the defenders, number 57, dashed between him and in front of the receiver the holder had thrown the ball to. The young man wearing number 57 tipped, and then caught the deflected football in a juggling catch and tore off down the field. The placekicker tried to tackle him, but the boy stiff-armed him and continued running. All around them, the fans were on their feet screaming like maniacs as the boy ran all the way to the opposing end zone and scored. Tansy looked over at Brandon who was grinning from ear to ear.
"Broke my ring finger when I stiff-armed the placekicker," he said around his grin. "Didn't even notice until I handed the ball to the official. Coach taped it up during a timeout. Then I went back in the game and, with a little razzle-dazzle play, I caught a screen pass for a two-point conversion and we won. I became friends with Rich, the lineman who blocked for me on the two-point conversion, and things seem to be going right for a while."
The mind space shifted once more, quick, vague flashes of parties, meeting a pair of older girls - the blonde pursuing Rich, her chestnut-haired friend with an impressive bosom for her age rather reluctantly flirting with Brandon. Finally, the vision stabilized into a wide grassy field that was on top of a small hill at the end of a dirt fire road overlooking a reservoir. There were several cars parked facing the lake, but Tansy doubt it very much that anyone was enjoying the view. Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "Aren't you a little young for Lovers' Lane?"
Brandon blushed and became sheepish. "Well, Rich wasn't exactly what you'd call a scholar. He had been held back so many times, he could drive to school when he was a freshman ." A grin spread over his face. "Actually, a lot of us drove then on 'farm hardship' permits. And ... you have to understand. In these kinds of rural small towns, the jocks kind of rule. So ... yeah. I got a bit of attention after the game and at the homecoming dance Saturday night. And after - because I was the football hero." They stopped walking by a pedestrian sedan of some domestic make and model that was thoroughly uninteresting to Tansy. The car was bouncing up and down on its springs and all the glass was fogged up. "Her name was Kristi," Brandon said softly.
"First time?" Tansy asked in a quiet voice.
Brandon blushed and nodded. "Rich and I double dated to the Halloween dance. I wasn't going to go, but ... Rich kind of ... persuaded Bethany to find a date for me, which ended up being her best friend Kristi." The boy sighed and shook his head. "We went out for a while, even though she ... really wasn't interested in me. It's just - she was seen with the 'hero' of the homecoming game, and Bethany kind of forced the issue. The moment Bethany broke up with Rich, Kristi dumped me. Not long after that, Julie and I - we kind of started hanging out because, well," he shrugged, a sad expression on his face, "we were both kind of broken. Neither of us were ... exactly prime catches. Not too long after that, we started dating and then we were going steady .... Until..."
"Until you manifested?"
Brandon nodded silently again, breathing deeply and lost in thoughts; from his sullen expression, they were probably rather morose ones. "Don't you see? I'm just the weird-looking, geeky, math-nerd kid! I'm not ... I've never been ... one of the popular kids, or someone that anyone wanted to be friends with, or date, or anything! Everybody leaves me! I'm always alone! I lost all my friends, I lost my manhood even! Then you took...!" Tears started leaking onto his cheeks. "I ... I thought Lanie was my best friend, but ... but ...." The boy looked at his feet and shook his head sadly. "Why should that be any different than before? Why would she want to be my best friend?"
As the young man was lamenting, the mind space became unstable and flowed into an infinite blackness. In the darkness, lit by cones of brilliant light, stood three statues. On the first and largest of the pedestals was a likeness of Cornflower. But it was nothing like the model that Tansy knew, the statue wore a diaphanous down, one hand held delicately up as a bird alighted on the finger - like something out of a Grecian Temple of a goddess.
Next to it, on a pedestal almost as high was a statue of Elaine. Like Cornflower, the Loophole statue was larger-than-life, holding a wrench and smiling radiantly and reaching out as an offering of herself. The third was much closer to something realistic; the pedestal was not quite so high, and the statue wore regular contemporary clothing, but they were still a bit of idolization about her, was an attractive young woman. The mysterious, Julie, Tansy supposed. Someone has issues, she thought to herself.
Glass houses, and stones, whispered the voice of Mustang as if from a great distance.
"If you idolize Lanie so much, why are you avoiding her ...?" Tansy trailed off as more tears rolled down Brandon's cheek.
"How ... how can I spend time with her?" Brandon stammered. "How can I? With all the time she's spending with you! You took away my best friend! My ... my soul-sister!" Brandon turned away from her, trying to wipe his cheeks as if he could keep Tansy from seeing him weeping. "Why would she want to spend time with me? Why would she be any different than all the others?"
"If Lanie didn't care, if she wasn't your friend," Tansy said somewhat sternly, "then why would she talk about you all the time? Why would she be so hurt by you avoiding her?"
Brandon's shoulders visibly stiffened. "What?" he asked, surprised at Tansy's words.
"You heard me," Tansy's voice was stern, rebuking. "Your avoiding her hurts her!"
"But ...." Brandon's voice quavered as confusion overtook him. "It sure doesn't seem like it when she forgets plans we made, or ..."
Tansy turned Brandon's face toward her. "I know you're an exemplar, so even if you don't have a photographic memory, I know you remember being in the same room with Lanie when her best friend swore a blood oath to kill her spirit, and screamed that she never wanted anything to do with her again! And if you weren't so busy feeling sorry for yourself, you would have noticed that Lanie has been ostracized from her circle of friends! That you and I and Wyatt seem to be the only friends she has on this campus right now!" Her voice became quite stern. "If you weren't so wrapped up in your own drama, you might give a god damn what the girl you call your soul-sister is going through! Yes, I'm spending a lot of time with Lanie, because you won't, and I'm the only other friend she has! And she ...."
The mask of righteousness indignation broke and Tansy's eyes filled with tears. She blinked and two escaped to run down her cheeks. "She is the only friend, the only real friend, I've ever had!" Tansy finally managed to say, her voice cracking with emotion. "So yes, I'm being the best friend I can to her."
Walcutt gathered Brandon into her arms and kissed the top of his head as he began to sob. With a mental shrug at breaking so many commandments of the Psychic Canon of Ethics Tansy radiated soothing emotion into the young man - feelings of love, friendship, and confidence that things were not going to change. She had never been so deeply embedded into another's mind, and the sudden realization of the horrific damage she could do was a sobering thought. She steeled herself to do only what was in Kayda's best interest, and said to him, "I'm not taking her away," she promised earnestly. "She's fixing me, the same way she fixed Kodiak. You both taught me what love was! I would never repay such kindness with betrayal."
She noted that Brandon was shorter suddenly, and when the face lifted from her breast, his complexion was darker and his features a strange blending of his and Kayda's. The person in her arm was androgynous, with neither Kayda's beauty nor Brandon's youthful vigor, but was dressed in one of Kayda's buckskin dresses, shapeless and unflattering. "But ... You and Lanie ...."
Tansy nodded accepting the accusation and being responsible for it. "Yes, we have ... explored ...," she managed, her skin blushing fiercely in embarrassment. "But that doesn't mean Lanie isn't just as much your friend and your sister as she ever was. She needs you! She needs your friendship, your love, your affection! I guess ... we're all three kind of alike. We all need each other right now!"
Brandon looked at her, questioning her statement.
"By no means do I deserve a pedestal in here, but I am your friend too. If," she added, her voice quavering uneasily, "if you'll have me as a friend. I give you my word - neither of us is going to abandon you. I am not taking your soul-sister away from you. I promise."
She blinked, and they were on a hilltop, Kayda's lovely face slowly pulling away from hers, breathless from the kiss they had shared, and sitting next to them was a massive white buffalo. Kayda licked her lips, her eyes still moist with tears. "Do you promise?"
Walcutt smiled and held up her hand, final finger extended. "Pinky swear," she affirmed. Kayda curled her pinky around Tansy's and the two girls giggled.
Finally! huffed the buffalo.
Sunday, September 9 - Late Night
Dream Space of Elaine Ethel Nalley
On the island in a Lake made by man damning a river, Elaine sat with her ancestress, somewhat at a loss for words. In the bright sunlight she can see now that the girl was actually a young woman; twenty-seven or twenty-eight, and under the tattoos that covered her body there were scars. Either pockmarked holes of some horrific weapon that had pierced her skin, or jagged trails of knives, swords, or other near misses that left their mark on her. Her green eyes were hard behind the pale blue masking of woad that traveled across her face from temple to temple. She sat with her knees against her chin, staring at Picket's Revenge, before she sighed heavily and turned to face Elaine directly. "Stop staring at me," she commanded in a voice with a thick Gaelic accent that seemed to speak English.
"If our positions were reversed," Elaine asked softly, "could you stop staring at me?"
The banshee frowned. "Our positions are exactly equal," she observed angrily. "But I don't stare in horror at the weak, sniveling little cù a leigeil my blood has become!"
Surprisingly calmly, Elaine asked, "you think because Ah'm not a warrior Ah'm a coward?"
The banshee's faced twisted in rage. "I don't give a shit what your trade is," she snarled. "I think you're a coward because you are a coward, regardless of how you earn your bread, if you earn it at all! I think you stare at me because for the first time in your life you've seen courage and now you have to live the rest of your life knowing you will never measure up to me!"
Elaine shot to her feet and stood over the other girl, her hands clenched in rage. "You don't know me!" She hissed in anger. "Why, Ah have invented weapons you couldn't begin to understand! Ah could kill you with a thought!"
The banshee allowed an ironic smile to cross her face as she leaned back on her elbows and spat deliberately into the lake. "Oh, really? So, a fierce dragon hides under the skin of a dainty, little flower? Who would've known? Look at this place! You don't know what hardship is! You've grown up in a palace, been given wondrous toys like that boat, but you need me to come settle your love problems for you!" The banshee stood and looked her descendent in the eye. "I bore one child in my life, a daughter you must be descended from, and I stuck my dagger in her father's ear while telling him I loved him as he raped me and sired her on me. Look me in the eye and tell me you could live a day of my life!"
Elaine balled a fist and swung, catching the banshee off guard as the blow connected with her chin and knocked the warrior down. Behind her, Grizzly stood on her back feet and roared a challenge. "Ah'm not such a fool to think Ah could have lived your life, but don't you dare think that because Ah was lucky to be born to parents who loved me and were well-off that Ah'm not a match for you!"
The banshee smiled and wiped the blood from her split lip with the back of her hand and spat again into the lake. "Good!" She exclaimed, genuinely pleased at being struck. "I had begun to worry my blood had been watered down by the English bastard whose ear I sheathed my knife in! Never let someone else tell you who and what you are, my daughter, or you give them power over you!"
Elaine took a step back, confused by the banshee's sudden change in disposition. "You ... You like me?">
The Pict curled up on her back and flipped up to her feet, grinning under the woad and the tattoos. "Oh, you're a piece of work that needs mending, that's no lie, but you've spirit and that's always a good foundation. You are a part of me after all, so you can't be too far gone."
From around the tree that wasn't large enough to have hidden her approach, Mrs. Horton arrived, dressed in her druidess robes, her wand clutched in her hand. She noted the blood on the banshee's face and her student's fist. "Is everything all right?"
"My daughter is not a coward," the banshee replied. "Things couldn't be better."
Again the house parent looked between the two and finally shrugged. "Follow me," she ordered.
Sunday, September 9 - Late Night
Near Kayda's Village, Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
From a small hill that overlooked the encampment of the idealized Lakota tribe that made up Kayda's dream space, three invaders lay on their stomachs watching. "You couldn't keep a cow out of this place," the banshee whispered in disgust. "Which tent is hers?"
"Just because there are no walls," Lanie replied, "doesn't mean it isn't defended." She pointed silently to defenders that kept a silent watch. A clutch in the center at the fire, a double handful by the paddock where the horses were lined, and another handful that wandered the perimeter.
The banshee's surprisingly white teeth flashed in the night. "That just makes it fun!" She replied.
"Remember what I told you...!" Mrs. Horton ordered as she pointed out the correct teepee. The banshee nodded and with surprising softness placed her hand on Elaine's cheek.
"Mo nighean a 'fuireach fada agus ann an sìth," she said, then rose and with the stealth a cat would envy made her way down the hill. Twice she paused and arrows flew from her bow delivering silent death to defenders. When she arrived at the teepee, she wailed a high keening cry that echoed throughout the Valley, startling everyone. "Debra, daughter of Mattson, come forth and face your challenger!"
Monday, September 10 - Pre-Dawn
Kayda's Village, Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
Bleary-eyed, Debra and I emerged from our tipi into the middle of bedlam as warriors rushed to gather weapons, women and children screamed in fear, and confused, we found ourselves facing a familiar girl. "Lanie?" I asked in confusion.
"Elaine," Debra started, but the banshee strode forward and backhanded the blonde sharply across the mouth.
"Debra, daughter of Mattson, you are challenged for the ownership of the woman Kayda, of the clan Franks. Defend your claim, or surrender the woman to me!"
"Elaine! What are you doing?" I shouted as Debra rubbed her mouth where she'd been struck. "I thought we ... Tansy and I ... we got this ...."
The banshee didn't take her eyes off the blonde she had challenged. "You wanted me to love you?" she interrupted angrily. "You wanted to be fought for and be prized? Your wish is granted! Now answer my challenge, you yellow-haired whore, or surrender what's mine!"
Monday, September 10 - Pre-Dawn
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
From a hilltop on the far side of where it Elaine and Mrs. Horton crouched, a doglike creature chuckled to itself and lay down on its belly, eyes intent on the scene below. "Experience is always the best teacher," Coyote said softly to himself. An ear twitched, reacting to a metaphysical occurrence more than to a sound, coyote barked and growled in response.
"No, no," Coyote growled. "If you can cheat and return early, Wakan Tanka, then you open the door for others to cheat as well! The Ptesanwi will solve this on her own, without your interference!" Confident he had blocked the angry approach of the spirit, Coyote returned his attention to the drama unfolding below.