September 12, 2016
The motorcycle rumbled to a stop outside the Range Control Offices, and what few kids in the area who listened to and believed the rumors around campus, marvelled at the impossibility that the rather exotic, amazonian woman used to be a guy. Even after several years, that particular rumor hadn’t gotten old at all. The kids had simply become far less brazen about calling her out on it. Her reflective, waist-length, black hair and metallic, blue tattoos reflected the sunlight as she walked into the office.
“Whatcha need Tyson?” She looked at the seemingly middle-aged black man, who was so military it hurt. He could likely run the ranges better, overall, than she, were it not for her experience dealing with the kids involved. He was older than most of her range staff, but even so it was incredibly difficult to believe the Delta operator had been in the army for longer than she’d been alive. Fifty years of experience was hard to come by.
“Question about how to handle two of the new Grunts who are causing problems on the ranges. It hasn’t achieved safety issues, but antagonizing the blasters can become one.”
“Treat them like adults Tyson, and make it clear that you are doing so, and why. This means ass-chewings like adults. Rangers or Marines, not Delta fuckups, no kids are ready for that particular can of nightmare. They’ll either appreciate the implication that they’re mature enough to handle it, or the other Grunts will push them right outta the club.”Caitlin spoke as she idly shucked her jacket and settled in to look at the mound of paperwork she would blow off until after dark, per usual.
Tyson smiled, "PFC level, not full-on ‘You have failed Your God..."
“See, now I know I’m only confirming what you’d already figured out. Happy?”
“Yeah boss, it works. Also, your Lieutenant Colonel Chair Force, even a Pajama boy, is a lot better than I expected.” Tyson reached over and handed Caitlin the twenty.
“You know your Spec Ops, Tyson, but I know my teachers.” She grinned. “Intel briefs and profiles don’t always tell the whole score.”
“True, I’d have never picked you for a teaching job. Marines don’t gain experience like soldiers do. They just get madder and more evil, and grow stripes to represent this trend.”
Caitlin grinned. “Why do you think there’s no such thing as demotions in the Corps. There’s just Marines who allowed a little too much happiness to infect them which causes them to wither and fade.” She sipped the coffee that was waiting on her desk, and the blend of flavors made her happy. She’d discovered long ago that food and drink were no longer a necessity, she could go forever without either. But it made her feel more human to eat and drink.
Tyson shook his head at his new “boss.” The seemingly young woman was almost forty, and looked like she was somewhere between “just graduated” and twenty-five. “I never expected to be working here of all places. Never thought with your rep and background that you’d have much use for Retired Delta operators”
“Tyson do you have any idea how long I’ve been trying to poach you from retirement, and Samurai from the University track?” She paused for a moment. “How the fuck did a group of rioting snowflakes take Samurai out? He should have gone through them like a hot knife through soft butter.”
The old black man who reminded Caitlin entirely too much of Gunnery Sergeant Oscar Bardue looked a bit surprised. “Oh come on, Chicken, you really think you can get a service record as long, and classified, as yours without attracting notice?”
Tyson was about to respond when he saw the telltale glow of the runes cut into the woman’s irises that usually indicated an intent to commit homicide. The effect was creepy as hell, and she still wouldn’t tell anyone why it happened. “Bad news?” He came around her desk and looked over her shoulder.
Caitlin hid very little from her range crew. The safety of her students demanded that they be informed of everything that was pertinent to the health and well-being of any student on the ranges. A Diedricks eruption on the firing line could have lethal consequences. She said nothing as Tyson read the email.
“Eldritch you can’t kill him, not so closely to Carson disappearing.” Tyson knew Caitlin and several other Whateley staff had applied for the Headmaster position when Carson had vanished without a trace. He also knew she was the least bitter about it. More specifically, Eldritch didn’t care who was in charge so long as they proved competent.
She was, quite frankly, more angry that Carson was missing to begin with, along with a good chunk of needed Whateley staff.
“I’m not going to kill him.” She said primly. “I’m going to explain to him at length just how much patience I have for interdepartmental interference in my job.”
“No broken bones, boss.”
“I was going to start with dislocations.” She printed out the email, then went to the back and shucked the leather jacket and motorcycle pants she was almost always attired in and put on her rarely-used business suit that she wore whenever she had to tear someone a new asshole.
“I know an MCO agent or two you can vent your spleen on.”
“Don’t tempt me,” she said, not even bothering to tell him to get out of the office as she changed. “They’re still waaay too skittish about me after the last few incidents.”
“No shit, you keep leaving survivors to tell the story.”
“And get prosecuted.”
“Well there is that.”
“Alright, how do I look?”
“Use the heels, not the combat boots.”
She hissed at him, and put the heels that matched her black outfit on, which took her height to six-foot-three rather than her normal six foot.
“You look like a Pict with a mad on to murder a Board of Directors.”
“Perfect!” She grinned, then walked out the door. She didn’t need to babysit Tyson, or any of her Range Crew. If she did, they’d find themselves out of a job faster than just about anything they could imagine. Caitlin Bardue only allowed professionals to kiss dirt on her ranges, and only the best of those professionals at that.
Hikaru blinked as she saw the blonde, blue eyed woman chatting with Dr. Hewley as she strode in, in the testing uniform that they had provided for today. The note on it, said it’d pass all visible light through it, an effect Hikaru privately appreciated… and wondered where she could get the fabric so she could get clothing made of it.
“Ah! Hikaru!” Dr. Hewley turned to face her, with the blonde smiling happily at the younger woman. “This is the mage who’ll help us confirm or deny what you’re doing. Well, at least initially, we asked someone else to be here, but she hasn’t arrived yet.”
“Hi, I’m Miss. Ellison.” The blonde grinned. “It’s always great to have another magical
girl on campus!” Pausing she nodded once. “I’m here just to confirm that’s what you are, actually. We were to have Miss Bardue as well, who knows more of essence flows, but I’ll be able to do this, and who knows? Maybe she’ll get here!”
Hikaru paused and pondered a proper response to the bubbly blonde. Amaterasu’s laughter in the background didn’t help. “Ah… Ellison-sensei.” while stressing the sensei part, she continued on. “I am in your care, please be gentle.”
“Awww… how cute! How polite! You’ll make a wonderful Magical girl in the Mercury or Saturn style!” Miss Ellison stopped, and grew a bit serious as Dr. Hewley broke in
“First, we want to see how you absorb and convert sunlight, if that’s what you’re doing. We’ll ramp up the laser we’re going to use that’ll mimic sunlight exactly, and it's’ why your clothing is mostly one way transparent, to your skin, with sunlight. Couldn’t get it completely one way, but, this should retain your…” Hikaru raised her hand and interrupted.
“I understand, Hewley-sensei, and actually would be curious where this fabric would be attained.” She got a smile from Ellison, and the doctor, both in understanding.
“Right, right.” Dr. Hewley nodded. “Celica Rodgers, I think you got your uniforms from her?”
“Oh…” Hikaru felt like facepalming. Of course. Shaking herself mentally, she returned to the Doctor, ignoring the giggling goddess, and asked. “How do you want to do this?”
Ellison and Hewley turned and looked at each other, and Hewley turned back. “Simple, Miss Ellison will ‘sense’ you as we fire and ramp up the laser to see how much essence you’re converting. Though we don’t plan to go over what the Sun would do at half the distance we’re at from it.”
Hikaru felt a twig as Ellison continued. “Then we’ll have Amaterasu-sama feed you power, maybe at the same time as we’re sunning you.” She paused and shrugged. “If you feel full, tell us or burn off some essence.”
Hikaru nodded. “I assume I’m to stand in front of the laser?” She received two nods. “I will await your instructions there, then.” Hikaru walked over and waited for the testing to begin.”
“Right.” Dr. Hewley signaled and the laser struck at her chest. Hikaru wanted to sigh, but didn't’ say a word as she felt her body start to suck up the sunlight, as if it was a winter day. She started to relax and let the sun wash through her, enjoying the moment, as it quickly ramped up to a very pleasant feeling. She let most of her irritation go and enjoy the sunlight she was feeling, not realizing that the feeling was growing very intense and starting to … not quite itch, not quite hurt, but… feel like she was on the end of a run, a feeling she actually enjoyed.
“Yep. I can feel some essence leaking now, for sure.” Hikaru dimly heard the voice of the bubbly blonde as she basked in the light, not quite realizing she was already beginning to glow, with the light she gave off beginning to brighten.. “Go ahead and try to channel Amaterasu-sama now… Oh, as little as possible, please.” another voice that she dimly recognized as Dr. Hewley’s spoke.
“Hey boss!” Caitlin’s VI pinged her. She wasn’t in the mood.
“Boss! Hey boss! YO BITCH! I HAVE SOMETHING RELEVANT TO YOUR INTERESTS!”
“Oh this had better be good, or I’m going to have you reprogrammed to think you’re a fucking Cattle Inseminator.” Caitlin looked down and drew up the little holographic Imp that Jack had bought her. The thing’s personality usually amused her, when she wasn’t intent upon going and having it out with her boss.
“I was checking your email backlog, Dr. Hewley sent a request for you to help with the Powers Testing for a princess” The little holographic Imp looked at her curiously. “If they called you that must mean they gave the local gun store extranational territorial status.”
“Get to the point, you little turd.” Caitlin smirked.
“Well it was a general request to the magic department, so since you were out helping that student’s family get those legbreakers off their back and they couldn’t free up Ms. Reilly or Chulkris…”
Caitlin groaned. “Ellison volunteered.” The irate woman took a hard left and began walking to Doyle medical before the overly enthusiastic magical girl obsessive twit could do any real damage. She walked in, turning the Imp VI off, chuckling at her friends’ realization that she’d ignore any VI tuned to be less insistent or annoying than The Fabulous Imp.
She entered Doyle and the nurse on duty looked at her and smiled. “Ah Miss Bardue, they started the test, already. They’re in 213.”
“On the way.” Caitlin took the expedient route, and simply hiked up the stairs. An elevator would only slow her down.
When she entered the hallway, the first indication that something was wrong was an absolute vortex storm of essence energy ripping out of the area, as though something were bleeding off power at a rather dangerous rate.
“Oh wow, that’s a pretty glow!” Ellison’s voice was somewhat Awed as Caitlin turned into the room to see a petite, lovely Japanese girl glowing a blazing gold that shifted to a reddish, rose hue.
“Mother FUCKER!” All eyes turned to Caitlin as the girl’s body temperature spiked, and her not having a lit well started to cook her off.
“I don’t… feel so…” The girl toppled as the tattooed woman snapped a hand out and twisted down causing the laser emitter to crumple and implode as though it had been crushed by a giant fist before she leapt forward, letting the heels of her shoes snap off at the impact and catching the girl as she fell.
Caitlin set her on the ground, looked around and spat a curse at the confused looks, glared at Ellison, very deliberately pressed her hand to the girl’s chest and slapped her other open palm to the ground, using her own body as a lightning rod to channel all of the essence from both of them into the ground.
The light snuffed out like a candle, and the statue that had temporarily replaced Caitlin Bardue crouched motionless over the student who was rapidly overheating.
“Shit, get her to the infirmary, now!” Hewley rushed forward, barking orders as several technicians dropped what they were doing to go find and pull together an ice bath for the girl who was just entering burnout.
Hikaru blinked slowly as she saw blurrily yet another new set of white speckled tiles. ... again, a new set...? She muzzily thought as her senses slowly started to return.
Well. Her spirit’s voice remarked a bit acidly. That was a rousing success. Hikaru didn’t comment on the clear sarcasm in Amaterasu’s voice, because her attention was drawn by the yelling voices she was hearing, until Amaterasu broke in, commenting. The teacher that came in at the end is… well. I’ve heard experienced bushi before, dear, but I’d think they’d take notes on how she is ripping Ellison and Hewley-sensei a … ah, yes, new one, as your Americans would say. Very entertaining. Hikaru was beginning to parse what she was hearing, and had to admit what was shared with her was amusing, as long as she wasn’t on the receiving end, as she well recalled from her old days. Trying to recall just how she got here, her mind only returned the feeling of warmth, light and a sense of ‘ohshit’ at the end. She had to have been power testing.
“Whose brilliant fucking idea was it to have a solar essence transformer zapped with a goddamned laser, and then channeling a fucking Class THREE SPIRIT’S ENERGY DIRECTLY?” Hikaru had to give the woman credit. She wasn’t shrill at all. “No, You shut up cutesie twit. What the fuck were you thinking? I’m well-fucking aware that I am not your goddamned department head, but that does not get you off the hook! Explain to me why you had a Japanese Imperial family member burning out in the next room over! Now!”
Hikaru paused, debating if she wanted to save the sorry souls who had apparently angered a demon of hate and fury. After all, Marine NCO’s weren’t nice people when angry and this woman reminded her of nothing so much as a female Marine NCO. There was just a certain kind of loud and mean no one else could quite mimic.
But seeing yet another set of hospital tiles, ala Shinji, wasn’t her idea of how testing should go. Even if she couldn’t really recall all the details. But… she had gotten lost in the feeling. *Giri, daughter dear? Don’t want them to suffer the wrath of an oni for your pain?* Amaterasu responded to her thoughts, and was a bit worried.
Ooops. On our part as much as the staff. I have a bit more experience with … Amaterasu cut the girl off.
Balderdash. You have as much experience being a champion as I do having one. Pausing, softer, and quieter, she continued. They are the experts, they should have realized you never felt light like that, and that you had no idea what it’d do. Nor did I. And well, I have noted you glow when nearing danger.
... and you didn’t tell me? Hikaru blinked. She hadn’t noticed that. Then again, she tried hard not to fry more braincells. Sure they’d grow back, she mentally snorted thinking how a year ago she’d considered that impossible, but they'd grow back new, not with what they had.
As you say, musume, ooops. Hikaru didn’t respond, but instead stepped into it, gathering her strength.
“Marine!” She called out, as strong and confident as she could. “It isn’t all their fault. I should have…”
“Oh don’t worry, you aren’t off the hook either!” The voice called back. “Ellison shut up and grow up. This isn’t a fucking anime, she could have been killed. Get the hell back to your classes, and while you’re at it, why don’t you bone up on the basic knowledge you’re expected to impart upon your students!”
A few moments later, Hikaru heard a muttered “Bitch” as Ellison stalked past the doorway.
The woman who followed into the room was huge compared to most Hikaru had seen. She wasn’t wearing shoes for some reason, and the suit jacket was gone, with a white blouse over black skirt. Cobalt-colored metallic tattoos traced over the woman’s body, her face, and her long, black hair reflected the room’s lights like metal. Most striking were the red-glowing runes burning in her irises as she looked at the girl recovering in the bed. Hikaru didn’t need to be an empath to see the contained fury in the woman’s posture.
I do have to agree with her, vis a vis Ellison-sensei. And her words, ah, Susano’o and Hachiman could most definitely use her to lead and control their bushi as they plan the next battle. The voice dripped irony on the last. Imagine that, a sensei with that much… youth. Hikaru couldn’t quite place what triggered in the last word from her spirit, but she’d swear she had associations with it. Oh, well. Time to face the piper.
Hush, I have to placate an angry Oni. And.. well, she sounds like a angry Marine. Hikaru’s thoughts shifted from her spirit in residence to having to admit that calling a Marine NCO in full fury an Oni was… mostly accurate, at least for an initial call. But, raising her eyes to the burning rune scribed ones looking at her, she commented. “Oh, I know I screwed up already.” She snorted. “... I don’t need a Marine to tell me that. I’m not an idiot who charges machine gun nests on a beach.”
“Ahh, I see you’ve heard of me.” The grin was positively… chilling. “So, in the spirit of recovery, I’ll be deferring your ass-chewing until a later day, when you have the strength to justify doing push-ups till your shoulders separate. For now, explain to me everything that happened, from your perspective. In detail.” The last two words were flat and brooked no argument. Hikaru was relatively certain that the woman could have caused a mass panic among IHA bureaucrats with the implication.
Hikaru reviewed, frowning slightly and then more so, as she still couldn’t recall much outside the light she felt, from after breakfast till now. “Ah, I assume in relation on how I got here.” She frowned, picking up a thread mentally, and realized she had to have gone to the testing and charred yet more brain cells.
Sighing, she looked up at the ceiling again and admitted. “I’m not sure, actually.” She paused, trying to recall details, then nodded to herself. “I remember eating breakfast, thinking I needed to report to Doyle for more testing, as I was informed, and light, lots of strong sunlight. I’m assuming I burned out in testing again.” Hikaru sighed. “Again.” Schooling her annoyance, and hoping that she only forgot the testing, she continued on. “However, I can tell you what Amaterasu-sama saw and remembers.”
She promptly relayed the information, though she didn’t remark on Amaterasu’s acidic comments about the lack of common sense or her own mistakes, in not informing her avatar that she had a safety feature apparently. Finishing up, she added. “I hadn’t noticed, that I tend to glow, similar to a natural wizard’s hobgoblins when I’m nearing my limits.” She sighed. “I should have.”
Caitlin nodded, considering. “Alright, you’re done for the moment for Powers Testing. If you recover fast enough we can continue, in a more controlled fashion this time. From now on, if someone suggests that you absorb masses of multi-spectrum light and channel at the same time, assume they’re idiots. Do you understand? Magic is a deceptively easy road to burnout, unless you’re cranking incredibly high on the WIZ-traits.”
“Considering I don’t have any at all, I not only understand, but am a bit amused.” Hikaru had to smile. This reminded her of someone, but she’d be damned if she could remember who. Must have been from before. “You didn’t suggest I simply shoot them for stupidity.” Amaterasu had to laugh long and hard at that, inside Hikaru’s head. “But, yes, I understand and will comply, Sensei…” Trailing off she hinted she didn’t know the cobalt amazon’s name.
“You can call me Ms. Bardue, for now. Eldritch will work too.” She gave the girl a once-over and put a hand on her head. “Short-term memory loss, temperature’s normal, eye dilation even, and normal. And you’re not holding a charge at all. Might have overdone it on the dump-shock. Might have to help you re-light your well… Wait a minute… What… the...fuck?”
“Hewley! I need to see this girl’s file from her previous testing, now!” She looked over her shoulder. “Something’s not adding up here. She was shitting essence all over the house, and she doesn’t have a lit well.”
“Ah… I doubt he has it.” Hikaru sighed. “Or if he does, it’s bare bones. Langley didn’t record anything per Abe-dono’s request, and IHA won’t share my medical baseline with me, much less someone not 100% vetted by them. Or they didn’t do a full one. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have the typical organs of an energizer who does what I do, til… well, here.” She paused, raising her hand. “I’m full of energy at least, though. And I never had an essence well, that I can tell you. Never practiced the Craft or like. Until…” Hikaru scrunched her face, and then sighed. “Here, I think, I didn’t realize there was a chance I wasn’t just your standard energizer with a decent range of powers.”
Hewley handed Caitlin a file, and she started skipping along, ignoring most of it. “Well well well. If the IHA is going to tell a bullshit story, they could at least make the story plausible.”
Hikaru rolled her eyes. “You’re talking the same people who nuked all photos of my cousin dancing in ripped jeans, like any other teenager.” Hikaru snorted. “Plus, the story or info they sent might be bullshit to you, Eldritch,” she stopped, wondering why she felt the need to use a call, instead of the teacher’s name, but mentally shrugged and continued on. “But it’d do for Japan, and the MCO, if they ever ever ever deigned to even THINK about giving it to them.” Her tone on the last part, indicated she believed Japan would be gone and sunk below the waves before that’d ever happen. She heard Amaterasu comment amusedly about how even then, how unlikely that would be.
She has a point though about the IHA. Telling your senseis lies about your abilities in a setting where they attempt to push them, much less your full medical history is… a bit short sighted. Or perhaps they thought you weren’t to be pushed to learn? Amaterasu withdrew as Eldritch continued on.
“Well if the dipshits want the MCO or anyone else to buy the bullshit, they might make sure you don’t slip into a mostly American accent under stress.” She snorted. “Your body is the very model of a modern Japanese princess, but your attitude is pure N’awlins.”
Hikaru couldn’t help but snicker. “They tried. I did mention Langley, which if I’m not mistaken you know is the primary major testing center for DOD.” Hikaru’s voice had shifted cadence and word choices. “Several months of intensive tutoring can’t overcome nearly half my life of being in the Bayou.”
“Langley Powers Testers couldn’t find their own asses with both hands, a plan, a map and a platoon of FBI agents investigating.” Her voice was dry. “This baseline is almost up to our grade, so’s the medical docket. So feed me another one?”
Hikaru internally winced, still a bit off balance, but gamely carried on. “Well, Langley is run by the Air Force, so, while I would never disparage those dedicated defenders of America, take it for what you will.” Pausing… “And If the IHA and Akihito-sama made decisions on what my file would be, in this case, I must go along with it, until they choose to… disagree.” She racked her brain, then sighed.
“There should be someone able to … suggest you be able to access the correct file, which unfortunately only Mrs. Carson had.” She shook her head, unable to come up with the name. “However, I cannot recall who that person would be though… I know I trust the person. And so does Kako-chan. And I can assure you, that my cousin would not trust someone with my safety without knowing that they could be trusted.” Her accent had returned to a Tokyo accent, as well as her body language shifting back to what would be expected for what she looked and was claimed to be.
“Welp, fuck ‘em all. Time to do it right. Hewley, tell Compte I’m clearing my docket. Since the file we’ve got is bullshit, we start from zero. Full powers-testing, physical, and Psych workup with Wyatt. Full nine yards like she just came off the bus without a penny to her name. This time, any testing for Essence generation will be done slowly, and I will supervise at all points.”
She turned to Hikaru. “Well young lady, would you like to try to get your lab rat day over with now? Or are you too fried to reasonably get up and move around?”
Dr. Hewley showed he had a bit more spine than common sense, as he stopped the girl on the bed from answering. “She’s on at least 8 hour hold. While, yes, I agree her … baseline from DOPS, is a bit... altered, but they did tell us she had a 4.99 level burnout on manifestation, and a level 3 in June. Both cases with at least some memory loss.” He paused. “Therefore, she stays, and no power useage without direct and immediate supervision for at least 24 hours.”
Before the cobalt-tattoo’ed Range Mistress could speak, Hikaru spoke. “I… see.” She sounded resigned to that fact, and stopped for a second, then gamely carried on. “I can call Kako-chan if someone would get me Kurenai… and get someone here cleared, since I can’t remember who had the key to Carson’s full file on me.” She got a frustrated look, trying to remember, “but there is someone here who is. That I know. Kako assured me of that.”
“Ok, in order…” Eldritch looked at Hewley, “four-point-nine-nine my ass. Burnouts are on a point-five incremental. If she went that high, she hit a five, and she should be dead already. And where the hell was your medical common sense when Ellison was prodding her to channel under the laser?”
Hewley didn’t answer, just grimacing.
“Thought so, no more pulling Ellison for Powers Testing until she gets her enthusiasm in check. Never mind, I’ll let Elyzia make that call, she’s not my subordinate.” She looked at Hikaru curiously after correcting herself. “Fuck it, since we don’t have a choice but to play imbecilic codeword games while she’s getting her personality scorched out.”
Caitlin gave a long pause, looking at Hikaru, then walked over to the small purse she’d had with her jacket and pulled out a small phone that looked like a “fuck you” to every smartphone invented, and powered up the devise. She handed Hikaru the secure devisor phone with a distinct picture of a man in Marine Charlies and a petite blonde woman.
“Devisor Phone, hard encryption with scrambling that defies all laws of creation. Call your Kako, and please impress upon them that incomplete files have killed students before.”
Hikaru eyed the phone and then shook her head. “Not that I will not wake Kako-chan up, nor do I doubt your phone, it’s easier and just as secure if I have my Kurenai. She’ll call Rissei, and I dare anyone say two Cortanas in synch can be eavesdropped on. Plus, Rissei knows exactly how to wake up Kako-chan. Your phone won’t be considered priority. So, can I have the bracelet I left with my clothing?”
“Ah, Kurenai is a new one for me.” She turned to Hewley. “Please grab the illegal, Spec Ops grade AI system so Hikaru can make a secure call,” she said with a voice that could dehydrate a sumo wrestler in passing.
The doctor and power tester opened a small drawer, pulling out the somewhat thick bracelet. “I think this is what she’s talking about, we left all her jewelry here, since the jewelry and her clothing were the only things she had.”
Hikaru clipped on the bracelet, and tapped it twice. A small hard light image popped up, of a Japanese office lady in red clothing, as Kurenai appeared and spoke up. “I am not an illegal AI, Mahren-sensei, I am registered to the Japanese government and Hikaru-sama. And you don’t need to call Kako-sama.” Enjoying the looks of shock, she commented. “Contact your new hire.”
“I’m going to kill him.” Caitlin looked at the hard-light apparition. “And don’t get too smug, glitter-doll. I’ve got very little patience for lippy AI that can be personality-wiped without removing vital encoding.”
Hikaru paused, and stopped, thinking about it, noting that Kurenai was a bit worried about the threat the teacher had stated. “Ah… Kurenai is a product of Stingray Advanced Intelligence services.” She paused. “And her command codes are mine and Kako’s, or Temple-dono’s only.”
“She hopes.” Cait gave the VI a gimlet glare. “Moving along, she doesn’t ping my data publically again, or I’ll show her just how fast I can break her encryption without damaging her and reprogram her to look and act like Mister Belvedere. If I can’t, I’ve never tried, you know… I’ll call in a favor and have Admiral Everhart do it.”
Kurenai derezzed suddenly, leaving only a “Understood” behind. Hikaru blinked, blinked again. “I… got to get your file.” her voice had slipped back to her original accent.
“Which would you rather do, get a cheat sheet, or get to know people the right way?” Caitlin shrugged. “Either way, it appears I have a grumpy Delta Sergeant-Major to pull in, and you are to recover. I’m not even going to try to override Dr. Hewley when he’s right.”
Eldritch, in very deceptively calm manner, dialed a number in her cell phone. “Hello Tyson,” her voice was a deceptive purr. “Remember when I said if any of your codeword bullshit put one of my students in danger? Doyle medical, room 213, five minutes ago. You, me and Sunshine here have a lot to talk about.”
... Odd. Amaterasu commended, but before Hikaru could ask what she meant, she listened to the teacher talk to the person that Kurenai had told the teacher about. Though Kurenai's’ fear of the teacher amused her. Finally someone else besides Temple-san could impress upon the AIPA fear.
Sergeant-Major James Tyson looked into room 213, only to find Hikaru alone, on the bed she was recovering on, in the room. “Alright, I’ll bite, where’s she at?”
“The Honorable Oni-Sensei was called away to talk to the Headmaster.” Hikaru commented, trying to figure out why she felt … content in this person’s presence. “Do I know you?”
Tyson stared at Hikaru for a few moments as though, for once in his long military career which was oft-joked about having spent time in boot camp with Jesus, he was at a loss for something to say. “Back up just a little. You don’t remember me?” He had a sinking feeling in his gut just what, exactly, Eldritch had called him in about.
Hikaru pondered deeply for a moment. “I’m sorry, it feels like I should, but no, I don’t.” She looked at the man, trying to place him clearly, along with the feelings of safety and pain he was associated with, but she couldn’t dredge up any memories specifically, and Amaterasu had decamped for a bit, for some reason. “Honestly, I should remember you, that I know.” She looked at the ceiling again, sighing. “Hope it wasn’t the last burnout,” she said quietly, though Tyson heard it.
“And the Range Demon’s motives become clear. I have a funny feeling there’s a rather nasty story here, combined with screaming.” He looked at Hikaru. “You remember your family-name at least? The old one.”
Hikaru rolled her eyes. “Moate, of course. Why would… oh.” Assuming that she had memories of this man, must have been from her previous life. Though the easy response and reaction she had, told her the memories were important. “Were you related?”
“Not by family, no. Just by a promise. So pretend I’m supposed to be in the know for a second and tell me what the boss is blowing up about. I’m assuming you’re ‘Sunshine,’ as she put it. Big woman, very distinctive and impossible to miss.”
Shaking her head, putting the maddening feeling she was causing pain, she’d really want to avoid, to someone, Hikaru shrugged. “Power testers decided putting a lab rat into burnout without accurate files was a good idea, The Oni decided that was a bad idea, and Kurenai apparently thinks you have clearance to read Miss Bardue into my actual files.” Hikaru snorted. “She’d know.”
“I do, but not without a damn good reason.” Tyson took a long breath. “Goddamn lunatic woman is likely the last person the IHA would want poking about your business. But then again, she does have her strong points, such as God help those retards that tried to pinch you back home. I would wish her on them, and… She’s a lot more stable than the psych profile we cooked up on her after the Verdigris incident would indicate.”
Hikaru tried to think of which retards he was referring to, there were so many. “Which retards, I have to ask given how many there are. We have idiot culties, the MCO, ultranationalists, Chinese…” She smirked and snickered as she ran down the list. “Oh, IHA has good profilers… for Japan. But they didn’t ask for accurate profiles from the DPA.” She rolled her eyes. “Nuff said there, because that’d admit that they couldn’t ‘do their duty’.” An inelegant snort showed what the priestess and beloved princess thought of that. “And… assuming that you are who Kurenai referred to, you can make that call to Kako.”
Tyson looked at the file that was hanging off the end of the bed. He picked it up, and began looking. “She looked at your file and demanded a full workup from scratch, didn’t she?”
“Yep”. Hikaru popped her ‘p’. “Rather not.” Her face twisting into a cute expression of disgust made her feelings on that clear.
“You can “rather not” all you want, Okami, unless Le Compte completely overrides her, which he won’t if she has reason to believe you’re in danger, she’s the psychological equivalent of a bulldozer. Subtle is a waste of time for the most part, so why bother?”
Tyson stopped and looked over. “You forget Kurenai? She’s being awfully quiet on the topic right now. Usually can’t get her to shut the hell up.”
Hikaru raised her eyebrow, and tapped her thick bangle. “Kurenai-chibi-chan?”
The hard light avatar sprung up, with a frown on her little face. “Talking to Rissei and The Temple. Busy.” and then disappeared.
Hikaru stared at her AIPA.
“And now I know what it takes to get Temple’s attention. If you pay attention to the School’s history, and bother to talk to the people, you wind up learning a lot. Such as Besides Everhart, Most of the Range crew are vetted for willingness to go all out, balls-to-the-wall crazy if the kids, any of the kids, or their families are threatened.” Tyson sighed. “Depending on what she’s figured out, I’ll have to take the risk. I just don’t know how much of the old Dragonslayer is still there and how much has been replaced by the eternally angry Mama-Bear.”
Hikaru shook her head. “I don’t think it’s the profile wrongness, at least somewhat, Kurenai has Criminal Minds, an Expert Program and an American version at that as well. Anyways, she could do it herself, and I think I was told the Range crew and martial arts depts were used as Carson’s hammers for the kid’s safety.” Hikaru blew out a breath, stirring her bangs as she ran through what she knew about her assistant. “Her priorities that’d require a full link to Temple are few and far between, after all, unless they had reason to think ALL profiles are blown.”
Pausing, she shrugged. “I doubt it’s the profile itself. But… I’m not sure what. As for why the profile was off, it’s the chaplain problem. Most Japanese active mages are priests or priestesses. See the problem?”
“Ok so they’re, what, trying to figure out the Mage permutation here? For you or for the Boss, and what makes it a problem?” Tyson paused, mouthing chaplain problem… “Oh for Fuck’s sake, tell Kurenai and Temple to filter out any religious connotations from Caitlin’s profile. Last I checked, Agnostic hadn’t changed on it for the last what, eighteen years?”
Kurenai flashed a “Not the problem” in Japanese kanji out, then went back to what she was doing. Hikaru’s eyebrow created an elegant questioning mark, and she shook her head. “... Ara.” Trying to figure out what made the little AIPA tick was often annoying. “It’s IHA’s profilers. They are as only good as they know, and paradigm affects them as much as any. Over 90% of Japanese ‘casters are religious, therefore…” She broke off the line of thought and shrugged as it was going nowhere, “and generally Kurenai only does spot profiling, unless specifically requested, or she’d have caught it.”
“I’d like to know who’s being spot-profiled, personally,” came a semi-amused voice from the door. Caitlin shook her head. “So tell me, Tyson. When were you going to tell me that little WIZ-trait here wasn’t a WIZ and somehow the IHA missed it?”
“Fucked if I know.” He shrugged. “I don’t know how to test ‘em, just paste ‘em.”
“Well, Mister Boot-Camp Buddy of Noah, we have a problem. We don’t have enough credible and correct baseline data to test, or train Sunshine here without risking her torching herself on the quad. I understand security. I understand Japan’s need for everything to be Hunky-Dory to all outside eyes, no matter how much I don’t actually give a shit.” She looked at both of them calmly, much more calmly than earlier.
“Let me spell this out in plain english for the both of you. Sunshine’s little lightshow…” She paused. “Imp, check the room for active transmissions, bugger up anything you find, and if it’s Cortana grade, feed it to the Kurenai there.”
“Hehehehehehehehehe… PLAYTIME!” The maniacal little voice was positively gleeful.
Tyson sighed, as he shook his head. “I’ve already sent a text via Kurenai to Princess Kako, Boss, but that’s going to take a bit, as Kako has to have some assurance before she signs off.” Tyson rocked on his heels. “Specifics on medical details I was precleared on a need to know to hand off, but realistically, Doyle already has all the pertinent that I can hand out. The rest, is… not just code word to the IHA, but Delta, and Carson herself.
“We had to go through a hell of a time getting Compte read in, and Falcon hasn’t been yet… Unlike Hartford.” He considered an option that he knew Caitlin would balk at, hard, but presented it anyway. “Easiest way would be to accept a geas oath, really, that’s how Le Compete solved the problem for me to give him the key to decrypt the file, after he put it into a standalone.”
“No, actually it’s a bit more problematic than that.” She held a hand up, made a fist, then twisted as she locked the room from scrying as best she could. “I have to go have a chat with Ellison, to head things off here in a moment. But you, my dear, are as hot a commodity as I am to the right person. My concern is that you are an essence transformer. And since you do not have a well of your own, God that term annoys me,” she sighed.
“Bloody finger-wigglers and their damn fancy terminology…” Caitlin shook her head. “What this boils down to is when you’re converting your essence to overflow, instead of filling your own reservoir, it simply starts bleeding out into the world. In most people this causes… problems. In your case it creates a steady wash of essence that any asshole mage who’s got an axe to grind and no morals whatsoever can use you, cook you off for all the power he needs, then cook you again for more once you recover.”
“This creates a problem.” She looked at both of them flatly. “And this little factoid is to be restricted to the one doctor, and one psych expert you vet and ‘read in.” She looked at Tyson. “I don’t give one whit about anything not pertinent to keeping her alive. But if we can’t do that I’m going to tell Compte that it’s in her best interests that we ship her ass back to Japan.”
Tyson had been paying attention to both women, and had noted Hikaru’s concentration, but chose to respond to Caitlin first. “That’s not a problem. Like I said, medical data is precleared. And the stuff that isn’t, I can make a spot call on. Kako likely is reading my text now, and running sims. But, if you took a secrecy oath, that’d make it easy for read in. Wyatt did, had to, but we haven’t gotten any current medical personnel here completely cleared.”
Tyson tapped his fingers on his leg, thinking. “I suspect what you’re really looking for, IHA didn’t do, actually, for reasons of their own, which if you really do think about it, makes sense. Japanese medical and religious ethics, not to mention how the Imperial Family feels about Unit 731, makes it difficult. There’s a reason they lag behind in research on mutant physiology, or psychological information, after all.” He tried to find words Caitlin would both get reference to and care one whit about. “The rest of the medical and psych data, is pre the near lethal burnout, that the VA in New Orleans managed to stop.”
He paid no attention to Hikaru’s wince. “They’re very good at paranormal there, one reason they got their new med center. As you’re more than aware, paranormal issues medically are a PITA, and require major attention and resources. But data before that burnout is code word, need to know, and only two approvers. One of which is trying to figure how to clear you and a doc right the hell now, I’d bet. Kako’s going to be pissssed.”
Hikaru broke in. “... so that’s what the rituals miko do.” Getting a look from Caitlin and Tyson, she went on. “Miko have no storage for essence, and Onmyōji don’t have wells equal to the essence they use. Western Magic is faster, but Japanese magic tends to pull off ‘higher than spent’ tricks, specifically in areas of counter spirit work.”
Caitlin blinked. “And this has what to do with the price of tea in china, Sunshine?”
Hikaru shook her head. “I have the rituals built in, and instant. That’s what’s going on, I think…”
Tyson nodded at that, understanding Hikaru’s logic. “Makes some sense, yes.”
“I do hope you’ll forgive me asking you to break with tradition, but lighting your well, however we can, might offer you a buffer between going hot, and burnout.” She cocked her head. “In case you all are confused, that’s the total of my focus right now. Figuring out how to keep you,” she walked up and poked Hikaru in the forehead, “from losing any more memories, or dying on our watch.” She looked at Tyson. “I’ll figure the rest out on my own, likely within a month.”
Tyson nodded. “Doubt you’ll need that long. Clearance once Kako makes the call is instant. Our headache is a doc trustworthy enough. Just getting Wyatt cleared was a pain in the ass, and Carson insisted. Though if you want instant, oath’s the way to go.”
Hikaru interrupted. “I have no problems with a well, just never thought of it. Magic was too much effort for little gain, unless I was interested in squishing spirits, which I wasn’t. I’ve been generally since June keeping myself fairly low on stored energy by using my, what we know now, preset spells.” Hikaru tapped her chin. “Though now that I think about it, the Japanese don’t do their style for ease of use, but stockpiling essence. Do you have a essence storage location here?”
“Not unless I build one.” Caitlin snorted ruefully. “Different philosophies. Here you’re better off utilizing Foci to bleed off the excess, storage crystals and whatnot. Not too many Japanese, Onmyōji? None of them have ever taught here. And I’ve found a few more uses than pasting spirits. You’d be amazed how useful it is to be able to amp your voice for assemblies.”
She looked at Hikaru. “What do you know about wells?”
Hikaru slightly scrunched her nose, as she reviewed. “Storage for essence, a battery of sorts. Mages, western and Onmyōji, use meditation and other rituals to add to the well.” She stopped to collect her thoughts for a moment. “While Mikos and other shrine priests have similar rituals, now that I think about it, they seem to store the energy in their shrines, I’d suspect.” Pausing, Hikaru blinked. “Wooo… can you imagine how much is stored at Ise?”
Tyson quirked an eyebrow at Hikaru’s last words. “And how did you…”
“Figure it out?” Hikaru’s smug tone shifted to a sing song. “Exemplar-4 mental, plus I do read, and magic books are easy to get.”
“Well is a deceptive term, hell anything involving magic is a deceptive term, from grayspace in meditation to wells. Everyone perceives things differently. I see a well as a small hurricane, pulling the essence currents towards your center. People without a ‘well’ have no storm inside to my eyes.” Caitlin pantomimed a spinning vortex as she talked.
“So what’s that mean?” Tyson was curious.
“Means we gotta figure out if, and how Sunshine here perceives essence, then try to teach her in a meaningful fashion how to ignite her internal well. Given her solar panel act I’m guessing she might perceive it as heat, or light, or a small star at the core of someone’s soul. Once we get you to where you can feel and perceive it, then we have to get you to manipulate, store it and finally, mimic nuclear fusion and have her ignite her own little star inside. That’s assuming that it wouldn’t interfere with her spirit, fuck I dunno how to pronounce that name.”
Hikaru paused, and grinned for a second. “She prefers Mother, from me, but some call her overbearing Empress, a few call her flea bitten wild bitch, another a nagging ex wife…” Hikaru’s smile was innocent appearing. She paused as though listening to someone griping at the introduction with a rebellious smirk. “The correct pronunciation is ‘A·ma·te·ra·su’, or the version I use. And lovely. Where in my schedule are we going to fit that?” She tapped Kurenai again, only to get a flashing Busy Kanji.
“Might have to go with off-hours instruction, and for that we have to figure out who’d be the best to walk you through this shit. I ‘lucked out’ and got the whole package,” her expression implied that she was anything but lucky, “so after about ten years, it’s more like breathing to me. Past that, I dunno if I’d be a lot of help with your Amaterasu, what I know about Japanese mythology could comfortably fit into a thimble with room to spare.” The woman clearly didn’t have much patience, or use for “traditional” nomenclature and methods.
Amaterasu chose to announce her return to her host, in an very unamused tone. I still think that general needs an education in manners, daughter. As for Susano’o… well, perhaps if he grew up. And I am bemused, are all Americans usually so unwise calling me a myth, meaning I might not exist? The voice shifted back to a more neutral tone. I was discussing things with others, but I’ve kept a little ear on the situation. Make time for what she instructs. And now that I think on it, yes, your theory about what you can do… feels right. Now, return to them.
Hikaru’s eyes cleared, from her distraction and she focused again on Caitlin, ignoring the feeling that she really needed to deal with the older man. “When I was asking about making time, even off-hours is… iffy.” She sighed. “As for calling Amaterasu a myth, I’d ask you this. You know myths have truth. And that spirits considered gods have, and quite recently, walked these grounds. I’m sure we can arrange for you to find out the truth behind what myths of Japan you don’t know.” She smiled beautifully. “I’m sure Hahaoya would not mind educating you. She finds melting rocks near people randomly funny for some reason.”
Ooooh, setting stone on fire is fun. It’s amusing to watch people get upset as you melt stone. A pause from the goddess as she clearly was enjoying her memories. Except Ebisu-onii-sama. He always thwapped me on the head for doing it at random.
“Oh, so she’s one of the more calm ones.” The tattooed instructor rolled her eyes. “Small mercies. I doubt the campus could survive another hothead.”
“Calm isn’t exactly the word I would go for, in either of your cases,” Tyson said with a snort. “Neither of you have the good sense to wait for the airstrike before you go hot. And like I said the Oath is faster.”
“And it’s just as dangerous without careful wording with me, Sergeant-Major, as it is to provoke an oath from a Sidhe or a dragon. I’ll wait for the clearance rather than risk poor wording that prompts me to go berserk and kill someone for not upholding their end.” Caitlin sounded like this was an old song and dance.
Tyson shook his head. “Actually, the way the oath’s worded, it… well, read Harry Potter?”
“Harry Potter is cute, but I’m not wording an oath so that someone can pull around and trap me in a bind. Nephandus bragged about how those could be used to lock a demon, or Sidhe tighter via circumstance.” She sighed. “If I’m having a hard time accepting it, it’s because I can’t think of a way to word it that I couldn’t loophole out of, or wouldn’t have to trust someone not to bind me tighter than a siamese triplet.”
Tyson shook his head. “It’s actually a Ofuda, and one that that girl, Kayda? The White Buffalo girl, anyways, had to apply to Wyatt’s spirit, Kodiak in dreamspace, as a favor that I still don’t know what it’ll cost the IHA.” Pausing, shaking himself loose, he continued on. “All it does, is flat out set a spell that’ll keep you from telling anyone that isn’t cleared already. Period, dot. Like the Fidelius in Harry potter, just with the data. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“From what I understand, the one mage who saw the spell in Delta, stated flat out, ‘We waaaaaaaant.’ No binding beyond that, no compulsions, nothing else. Just ‘Don’t talk about this data.’” He shrugged, knowing that this wasn’t going to go anywhere but he had to try. “From what I know of your talents, you should be able to tell. I call it an oath, since you have to accept it, via the wording of ‘I accept the aid in keeping this information secret’” Tyson finished. “Had no idea the Japanese could do this.”
“I’d have to see it.” She sighed. “Tyson it’d be easier just to get the permissions. If you put it on a strip of paper, it falls in my bailiwick, which is Artifice. As soon as you take the magic and imbue it into an object, it’s my bitch.” She shook her head. “And if you tell anyone outside Whateley about that I’ll tell Imp that you’ve decided that you need to learn to laugh more.”
Tyson shrugged. “Like I said, Kako’s likely trying now. But IHA is really excessively paranoid. And in this case, I can’t blame them. Some of the stuff that I know that I can’t talk about is … “ He paused, paused a bit more, and shrugged. “Well. If you were them, you’d agree.”
“Doubt it. I’m too pragmatic. So, since we’re at loggerheads, and since I can’t in good conscience ream your ass for not paying attention until you have recovered, why don’t you fill me in about this Amaterasu so maybe we can fill in a few more pieces of the puzzle on exactly why you keep burning out, and maybe how we can find a way to ground you out.”
Hikaru nodded, starting with “The first thing you have to understand, is when she says I’m her daughter, she means it literally, and the second thing is, her title of Celestial Empress isn’t for show…” Hikaru continued on in the vein, carefully keeping to publically known and true information, while including a bit of information that only she and Amaterasu knew, including what happened exactly in the infamous Cave, and Susano’o’s tantrum.
“It wasn’t because he was impetuous… well, not quite. He just wanted Amaterasu to hurry up and seal away Ama-Mikaboshi. Throwing a corpse at Ammy’s feet, of one of her ladies in waiting that was killed by the evil being was what Susano’o thought would get her moving.”
Caitlin started rubbing her temples pretty much as soon as the word “daughter” was uttered, and by the end of the session, the only thing she could find to say was “This was the wrong decade to become immune to alcohol.”
Amaterasu just laughed at the groaning Artificer.
Caitlin steeled herself at the entrance to Kirby Hall, the Mystic and Psychic Arts Studies building. She paused, reflecting that there was simply not nearly enough booze in the world for what she was about to do.
The students were escaping for the day, running off to the Crystal Hall, and by and large trying to avoid her in the hallway. Some were just homophobic, and didn’t want to risk the rumors being true and found near someone who’d jumped the fence in the gender wars. Some genuinely thought she was an evil witch. Most just wanted to find the fastest way to the chow line before the cookies were gone.
She waited outside the offending classroom, sighed as the last student exited, then steeled herself and went in.
Ellison gave her a glare. “What do you want?”
“Partly to apologize,” the words were a little easier to kick out than she’d thought. The blonde “barbie girl” did deserve to have some of the screaming fit earlier in the day retracted. “I will admit that I’m still a bit irate that Dunn scheduled that test while I was out doing fieldwork for the school. Hewley did inform me that you asked Okami to inform you if things were becoming a bit much, and Okami confirmed that she did get lost in the moment. So I apologize for unfairly taking out more of my fury on you than you actually deserved.”
Ellison stared at the tattooed amazon for a few minutes. “I thought you’d just go around roaring, not this,” she admitted. “I assume that you do have a critique?”
Caitlin nodded. “There’s a reason that this kind of thing tends to drop on myself and Reilly. We can both intuitively feel out or see what’s going on, and it’s very, very easy to forget after ten years that sometimes it’s a bit harder for others to see what I actually have to filter out on a day-to-day basis.”
Ellison nodded as Caitlin continued. “That being said, if you are to measure the essence of a student with a potential odd WIZ-trait, please take the time to go to the vault, and check out the resonance lenses that Grimes had me make two years back. Nineteen times out of twenty, when a student’s hitting the danger zone, the resonance of the essence they’re pulling in or outputting shifts. I see it differently, of course, but the approximation is the same.”
“Okay. You have that ‘I don’t like the conversation we’re about to have’ look in your eye.”
Caitlin nodded. “I need you to pretend that what you saw happening with Okami today never happened, until we get more information.”
“Why is that? The girl has a talent, and it’s amazing!”
“Yeah, it is amazing, I grant you. But not useful to me or Nikki per se, more useful to someone like the Necromancer, or the Keeper.”
“Got your attention? Good.” Caitlin looked at Ellison very carefully. “I give you shit about the cutesy crap, and the Wondercute shenanigans, and hell, even helping revive that sugar-coated abomination but I will acknowledge that I’ve never seen you willing to do real harm to a student. It annoys me, but I don’t hate you, nor do I believe you less competent a teacher than the others in your department. If you were, Carson never would have kept you on.”
“Now you’re scaring me.” Ellison was accustomed to Caitlin hissing at her, or making warding signs against evil when they crossed paths, not having the Range head speak to her seriously.
“Good.” She looked in the direction of the Crystal Hall, and picked up an old crystal off of Ellison’s Desk, a decade-old illusion that would show the two eavesdroppers yammering about teeny-bopper crap circa 2006 that Fey had made to ward the Kimba table. “Okami is a solar-powered essence transformer, and she has no lit well, nor does she have the aptitude or personal acumen to do so.”
Many thing Ellison was, slow on the uptake she was not. “But that means she could be used as a portable generator by literally anyone. All you’d have to do is point a laser at her and push her.”
“And because she’s a regenerator, she’s less likely to die from a little incidental brain damage. How many people, even here among the student body wouldn’t be tempted to abuse her and leave her as a vegetable solar sponge to power their workings?”
“About the same number who wouldn’t be tempted to try and co-opt and try to trick or force an Artificer into making them a Sailor Scout wand,” she said with a smirk.
“You’d think more would have tried. Hell, Wondercute thought it was funny to bug me about it just to see me cringe.” Caitlin shook her head. “Point remains, there are people who would, with malice, do so, and students who would, through ignorance and disbelief in consequences, do exactly that.”
“You need me to seal it with a Sorcerer’s Contract?”
“If you feel you need to, that’s up to you. Don’t do it with me or Reilly, comprende? That’s a can of worms no one wants.”
“I’ve never understood that, fully. Can’t you… you know… relax your response?”
“Sorcerers can. I can’t. I found that out live and in stereo. You break an oath to me, and God help you, because I won’t be able to stop myself from wreaking threefold havoc.” She looked rather regretful. “It’s why most of the Outcasts stopped making and accepting promises. Entire societies in the past have become literal slaves to their given word.”
“I’ll keep it to you, Elyzia and Compte if he asks.”
“That’s all I can ask, Ellison.” Caitlin considered… “Talk to Tyson. He has a line on a dirty trick to keep information held. Be very specific about the information you wish to protect.” She turned off the crystal, and the two teachers stopped talking about the Backstreet Boys.
“I’ve been waiting for you to storm back in here, remembering what you got distracted from this morning, Eldritch.” The headmaster was a tall man, going gray with a moustache that was rather prominent. “I was worried you wouldn’t take the bait.”
“As we discussed earlier, I got distracted by a kid burning out and stupid codeword fuck-fuck games.” She sighed. “Care to explain to me why you sent me an email asking me to relax the range safety standards on all of the weapon ranges?”
“I’m having problems navigating some of the politics that Carson seemed to push through so easily,” the old man looked tired. “Basically what it boils down to is there is interference with every single department I have good relations with that creates quiet friction, and I’m not sure why or how.”
Caitlin nodded. “Alright, where does the Ranges fit in?”
“I would like to do a bit of an experiment, and after we discuss that, I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Alright, I’ll bite, what’s the experiment?”
Mazarin looked Caitlin in the eye steadily. “Of all the people on this campus you’re the only one I can get a clear read on. You’re loud, Eldritch, and it’s painfully evident who you are, and what you feel is right.”
“So I’ve been told,” she said drily.
“I want to do an experiment to see if this interference is a real thing, or a figment of my imagination. To that end I must ask you to cause, or at least give the appearance that the Whateley Range Crew is at odds with, and hostile towards the administration.” Mazarin smirked. “As Ellison pointed out, no one does antagonistic office politics quite like you.”
“Alright, you want me to put my reputation on the line, and go fishing. What’s the deal here?”
“We stand to lose quite a lot of support with various factions who would like more of a say in the school’s activities. I want to see who drops behind the irate rangemaster who it is well known does not care who is at the helm of the ship so long as she believes them competent.”
“Cute. Having a blowout between the two of us wouldn’t exactly be unexpected, hell there’s an office pool on which of us kills the other first.”
“They think you’re that temperamental?”
“The ones who do aren’t the ones who deal with me regularly. But I have to ask, why me? Grimes, Reilly and hell, the Imp can do politicking and antagonism in a way that makes me look like a child throwing a tantrum.”
“Because people would believe that the rager changeling might easily develop an axe to grind.” Mazarin looked at her and adjusted a few security devices, devises and wards that were left over from Carson. “My particular knack is knowing the right person for a job. You’re the only person so far I can get a clear read upon, because you’re loud. Because no one believes that you can be subtle when you have to be. Very few believe that you’re capable of admitting when you’re wrong.”
“Huh. Ok, Mazarin, I’m your Huckleberry.” She sat down at the desk across from him. “Now what’s this favor?”
“I must, unfortunately ask that you reconsider Grimes’ request that you teach a basic talisman and Infusion class, as well as the ‘oddball essence channeler’ class.”
Caitlin’s face dropped. “Mazarin, Ellison knows more about teaching magic than I do. I know enough to keep from killing myself or having WIZ kids burn out in testing. Never mind, I was never particularly interested in it to begin with!”
“That’s the reason I feel you’re the right person for the job.” The Headmaster pulled out several files for various students. “Can’t make the hand gestures work.” he dropped the file on the table. “Well is lit, can’t channel the essence that he gathers.” He dropped the file on the table. “Channels her essence from the plane of fire and can’t use it for spells in any way the staff recognizes a way to teach. Caitlin, none of these kids are having a whole lot of luck learning magic from the traditional teachers. They need someone who isn’t bound by the rules and preconceptions others live by so they can suss out their talents organically.”
“I’ve spent the last six years trying not to get roped into Kirby Hall full-time.”
“Who says you need to teach this class in Kirby? Find your own space, outside, inside, but find a way. The talisman class will likely require Kirby’s resources, but where else are these children going to have a chance to learn from another like you? The next best thing is a Devisor.”
“Grimes keeps telling me I’m wasted on the ranges.”
“Hardly. You’re the right person for that too, but in your opinion, if you working in Kirby created a shortfall and someone had to step up, which of your Rangemasters could you trust to do the job?”
“All of them.”
“Exactly. You’re not wasted there, by any stretch, but you’re not growing, either.”
Caitlin narrowed her eyes at Le Compte. “Fine. I’ll do it, if only to shut you all up.”
“I will make the announcement that the new classes will be opening up next week. Since you’re range admin and you do all of your paperwork at night, while the rest of us mortals sleep anyway, this shouldn’t put too much strain on you, correct?”
Caitlin was about to say something… then realized he’d gotten her. She would bet money her name was already on the books for the Kirby Hall position, and all he needed to do was push the button. “You got the wrong Codename. They should have called you Old Nick Scratch.”
“It was taken.” He looked at her. “Time for your grand exit, my dear. Do make it look good.”
Melville Dorm, Freshman female RA suite
Hikaru eyed the rising sun, and shook her head. One of the perks of being a Mevillian RA was not just the private room, not just the private bath, configured however you could afford, but the private balcony for the same price as a normal Mevillian double. Very enjoyable, indeed.
Hikaru turned, annoyed, at the knocking at her door. Everyone should be sleeping, dammit. She was the only early riser on the floor.
“Hikaru!” Tiff breezed onto the balcony, to Hikaru’s hidden annoyance. “Did you hear?”
“Considering I was indisposed until after dinner last night, and then busy with tending to my floor…” Hikaru trailed off indicating that she didn’t hear anything.
“Well, I heard, from my brother, Squalling, you met him at the Mixer.” Tiff waved her hand and continued on. “That the Ranges and the Headmaster are having it out over who has ultimate control. We might have to squish rumors about Miss Bardue trying to take more control, or that the Headmaster is out to be a tyrant out to rule every inch of the school.” The escapee from arguably the most popular video game of all time appeared to not quite believe that those rumors weren’t actually somewhat true.
Hikaru blinked. Blinked again. “Exactly how did this rumor begin? If you know, that is.” Her irritation at being interrupted in her private time disappeared. She had met both of the people involved, and at least in Le Compte, she’d read a decent profile on him, not just PSA’s profile, but several other sources that were acquired by her loyal minion. This wasn’t what she’d expect of either.
“Oh, he heard it from one of the range staff that Le Compte wanted to loosen standards, and it had to be in response to Miss Bardue applying for the job he got. Apparently, Miss. Bardue also went tearing around campus before she talked to the headmaster.”
Hikaru narrowed her eyes. She knew why the Oni had torn around campus. Had nothing to do with trying to build an countermovement against a headmaster who was exercising authority badly. A former elite Syndicate operative also relaxing range standards, one with Le Compte's noted attention to detail and safety was also outside the realm of sanity. Rumor was rumor, of course, but usually some truth was in it. Her tutors had always insisted on paying attention to gossip. It told you a lot. “... I see.”
Pausing for a moment she nodded once. “I’ll be sure to squish those rumors. They’re unlikely to be true, in any case.” What she didn’t say to the upperclassman, was she actually thought they were a plant. It was a time honored tactic to see who was loyal, and who’d cause trouble, after all, and divide and conquer was a tactic the Syndicate knew very well. “Politics, I suspect, however. It’s quite possible that the Range tech was mistaken, or that Le Compte didn’t understand some of the rules, and had requested the Range Oni’s presence.”
“And her tearing around campus?” Tiff put her hands on her hips, and leaned forward, letting her robe open a bit, to Hikaru’s involuntary glance. “I mean, Doyle, Kirby and all? It’s almost like she was building an cabal to squish him, those are the major players on safety.”
Hikaru decided not to mention her own visit. “Well.. she might have wanted data on the safety violations and how much damage it caused, and as a precaution, decided to help out Mystic arts.”
“Oh, she is rumored to hate Miss. Ellison, and tries hard to keep away from Ms. Grimes.” Tiff shook her head. “I doubt she’d even consider helping out Mystic Arts.”
“Perhaps.” Hikaru privately doubted it, but until she could talk to Eldritch, she wasn’t going to interfere in what could be a sting. “Still, our position isn’t to support rumors, is it?”
Tiff threw her hands up, and mock glared at her. “You’re supposed to be the pretty princess, didn’t you get taught politics at all? I mean…” Tiff shook her head. “Miss. Bardue was always very loyal to Mrs. Carson, and wouldn't tolerate anyone just stepping into her shoes!”
Hikaru privately smiled at the fact that Tiff was bouncing around. Maybe she should tell her to tighten her robe? Before she could, her inner voice broke in. And deny yourself the show and the pleasure of it? Amaterasu asked archly.
Ah. I was thinking about the fact that others could see? Hikaru offered lamely.
Tiff popped into Hikaru’s face. “Inner voice again?” Tiff looked concerned. “I mean, the rumors could be true… Syndicate?”
Hikaru rolled her eyes. “Who swore an oath to honor the charter.” Hikaru’s voice flattened. “If he breaks it, I’ll be the first to go after him.” Pausing a moment to regain her temper, she added. “But until then, we’re to support him, aren’t we?”
“Well… yeah.” Tiff sighed. “But really, Miss Bardue is a hardass on the range, and heaven help you if you screw up at all. I’ve heard that she’ll literally dropkick someone who breaks the rules.”
Hikaru blinked. “She oversees four ranges with firearms, heavy weapons and powers that can destroy a tank as well as the Crisis Simulation Team. I would hope if she could, she would. Anything less is dangerous.”
Tiff sighed. “But…” Hikaru held up her hand interrupting the fretting junior.
“It’s quite possible, that Le Compte wasn’t asking about the actual range safety regulations, but asking about responses, to gain a gauge on how many incidents there are of that nature.” Hikaru shook her head. “Telephone, didn’t you play it?”
“Oh!” Tiff brightened. “You mean, Miss Bardue was asked to collect safety violation data, and how bad they could go, and the range tech heard it as a possible weakening of safety standards?”
Hikaru privately thought that it was quite possible that Squalling had thought that, or gave his older, overprotective sister that impression. But, a sempai to calm down, was important. “Quite possible. Until we know for sure, we shouldn’t spread rumors, right?”
Tiff nodded, blowing out some air next to Hikaru. “It’s just… Squalling spends so much time at Range 4…”
“And like a good onee-sama, you want him safe.” Hikaru nodded. “I don’t doubt it’s just a rumor.”
“Like the one where Miss. Bardue was really a guy?” Tiff snorted. “That one I can believe. She sure cusses like a Marine.”
Hikaru inwardly smiled. “I’m sure her family had helped her along that path. Either way. But, breakfast is soon, and I doubt you want to give the waking students any more of a free show.”
Tiff looked down at her state of dress and eeped, quickly disappearing back into the hallway as she tightened her robe’s belt. Hikaru sighed and shook her head ruefully.
So. Le Compte’s starting a rumor campaign, to ferret those unaccepting of him? Amaterasu commented. I find it hard to believe that that … ah, demon would go along with it.
Hikaru shook her head, responding to her spirit In a way, she’d be the most ideal for it. Blunt, open, defiant and giving no ‘fucks’, is a Marine hallmark. So… if you want to start a open pole of opposition?
Mmm, I see your thinking, and quite so, pay attention to what the pair do AFTER the bait’s taken. It will be a good lesson. And also, pay attention to what else that lovely Oni has to say. The goddess withdrew, leaving Hikaru to ponder Uzume’s light for a moment more, as she decided to get ready for the day.
I will pay attention, Mother. Hikaru’s tone to Amaterasu indicated a rolling of the eyes, as Hikaru was quite aware one of her duties was to poach those useful to Japan, and Miss Bardue was clearly on the list. If the rumors were true, and not a stalking horse, prying the Magical devisor out of Whateley would be a coup to please everyone in Japan who was aware of her abilities. But that was for another time, Today was … yay, more testing, and getting a file to the said Range Oni.
Everyone meditates differently, Kenshin mused, as he flowed through his katas, not paying attention to the looks, sighs, glares and other assorted responses his moving meditation gathered. Troublesome. More importantly, were these American-jin stupid, at least the males? And the girls. Ah, so forward, they were. Good looking at least. Returning to yet another kata, he resumed his mediation to ponder the events that he had experienced since last he organized his mind… though he was interrupted by a feeling approaching his area.
Seeing yet another girl join the watchers, and yet another boy join the group who were shooting glares at him, for some reason, they seemed to think he was homosexual. Please, as if being comfortable in their presence and didn’t act like a hungry dog around the admittedly attractive women, meant he wasn’t interested in letting them use their charms, at the very least to recruit him for their club. Just, it was only polite and respectful to be such to those who haven’t earned disrespect yet, wasn’t it?
But that wasn’t the feeling he felt. Finding it, he saw the Voice, and who was she kidding. Samurai she might have been, but anyone who tried to be in tune with themselves and the world would feel her presence and rank, indicating what she truly was. However. As much as she was a very pleasant sight to look on, so was fire. And with how she made her feelings clear, his safe distance was… far away and only a fool would even think about taking liberties.
“Look at that. The Boy doesn’t even look at the babe from his homeland, when she’s wearing slutwear!” Kenshin twitched. “Damm, she’s hot. If he ain’t looking, he’s gotta be gay.” He remembered what not just the Voice said, but the government. Do not start any fights. The “or else” didn’t have to be said. A new prison was being built on Eto, and they could use foundations, couldn’t they?
“Ara.” Kenshin responded softly, coming to a stop. “Fire is lovely, yes. But only from a safe distance.” Hikaru wasn’t paying attention as she ran through the grounds, though the students who were taking pictures, to Kenshin’s annoyance, especially since she was sweating though her outfit, but it wasn't his place, and it was clear the fools weren’t listening. And he wasn’t allowed to educate them. Unless… Well, one could hope the bullies worked up their courage, couldn’t one? Self Defense was allowed. <”Perhaps I could egg them on?”> Kenshin mused out loud as he gratefully accepted a bottle of water from one of his watchers.
One of the bullies and bigots strode up. Big, buff, blonde, so stereotypically American in looks, it’d make anyone’s teeth hurt. “So boy, if you ain’t gay, why didn’t you look?” He raised his hand to push at the younger Japanese male, only to be stopped by the glares of several girls.
“... perhaps it is you who are blind?” Kenshin was proud that he got that to work in English. Barnes-sensei was a very good teacher.
“What? You’d have to be blind not to see those legs and ass!” The fool didn’t notice Kenshin’s hand drift towards where his katana would be. “The fact you didn’t look… yeah, you’re a gayboy, freak!”
Before Kenshin could ponder exactly how to egg the fool on one more step, Avery, the lovely elf, broke in. “Oh, I don’t think he’s a freak, or gay, Lucas.” Her glare hit the older male with a fury only Sidhe were capable of conveying, or so the legends conveyed. “Trust us on that.”
“Bullshit!” Stopping for a moment, and apparently calculating the odds. “Another time, homo… when you don’t have these girls who don’t know a real man!” He walked away, proud of himself.
“I… Look forward to it,” Kenshin’s voice caught one of the girls attention, even if his cheery smile gave an entirely different impression than the hint of steel in his voice. She heard him mutter something immediately after, though she couldn’t translate what he was saying. <”Oh, certainly, another time… and I shall enjoy showing you what my soul truly is… and making sure you learn what is a true man’s duty.”>
Puffing, Hikaru skidded into Doyle’s testing office, panting a bit after a hard run. Stopping for a moment before going in the inner office, she tapped Kurenai. “Exactly why are you grumbling today?” Hikaru asked annoyed. Kurenai had been buzzing insistently for the last half hour of the run.
“Well maybe if someone remembered that one of my many jobs is to keep less than approved photos off the net, and wore sedate exercise clothing, I’d not be so annoyed. Or at least kept to the forest trails she liked.” Kurenai’s hologram showed up, looking frustrated.
Hikaru stopped for a moment, reviewing her run’s path. “... Oh, the boys that were asking for Kenshin to rip them apart?”
“And others. Apparently you’re good enough looking, and in tight enough clothing…” Kurenai trailed off.
“Ah. Well, you were complaining that I wasn’t having fun. So were many others. In fact, didn’t Kako say tease the boys?” Hikaru shot back.
Caitlin stuck her head out, and rolled her eyes. “Uppity tool,” the amazon stated as she waved Hikaru in, looking over the outfit she was wearing. “Skipped the uniform today?”
“Why bother? I have it in my backpack.” Caitlin nodded at Hikaru’s statement, understanding the logic. “And Kurenai isn’t a tool.” Hikaru shot Caitlin a look that indicated that she had a different view indeed of the snarky AI.
“Right, I have your file from Wednesday.” Caitlin tossed the avatar a bottle of water, which she gratefully accepted. “Upside is, we don’t have to redo all your testing, except Medical.” Hikaru nodded, and pulled a memory chip out of her bangle.
“This should help.” Hikaru nodded. “This is what we could get right now.”
Caitlin nodded and loaded the chip. “Imp, gameface. This file set’s off limits. Anyone touches it? You have permission to max out your insanity matrix on their asses.”
“Ooooooh! Okay then! Pulling up your preferred view, boss. You didn’t forget your eyepiece this time did you?” The adult voice was shockingly, childishly gleeful.
Caitlin put on the headset with the eyepiece and began reviewing the file. “Okay, speed-reading tricks, don’t fail me now. Don’t care… don’t care… Don’t… Burnout…” She reviewed the data and gave Hikaru a very long look. “Energizer structures… Stunted. Wonderful. Why is that more like…”
She finished looking after five minutes. “Imp encrypt that file and bury it inside the Gir clips you insist on collecting.”
“All right, that explains a lot. So, given that I have no intention of pushing you to the brink, would you prefer to do this outside, or indoors?”
Hikaru shrugged. “Depends on what your plan is. I rather prefer outside, the testing areas aren’t to my taste. Do I have to get changed?”
“You’re going to find I care very little about what you wear, so long as it’s legal. In my experience it’s easier to concentrate and focus when you’re not feeling confined in your own wardrobe.” She looked over. “There’s a spot on a hill overlooking the ranges over that way, should be clear. You prefer to walk, or run?”
Hikaru suddenly smiled impishly. “Oh, I think I’ll run. I have some energy to work out. Go now?”
“On you.” Caitlin smirked.
With a flash, Hikaru was 10 meters past the window, and started flashing again and again about once every fifth of a second. A message popped up on Caitlin’s eyepiece. “A smiling Hikaru is a plotting Hikaru,” with a sigh emoji at the end.
Caitlin grinned. “So that’s how we’re gonna play, huh?”
She dove through the open window, rolled and came up and began tearing across campus as fast as her body could go. No one expected Cannonball Teacher! Several students discovered that the ornery woman was, in fact, as good at Parkour as the Hooligans claimed.
Hikaru was grinning as Caitlin caught up to her. “Sooo slow. Maybe I should teach you flash steps?” Hikaru beamed. “Though you were very much a pinball. Parkour training?”
“I still run the Parkour Hooligans to this day. I love teaching kids to run.” She grinned. “Cute micro-warp. How you feeling after that?”
Hikaru took the time to think about it. “I’d say I could have easily doubled the distance before I hit ‘I feel like sunbathing again’. I’ve noticed when I get near empty on energy, I want to sunbathe like a cat.”
“Catch.” Caitlin nodded and tossed Hikaru what looked like a six-inch iron rod with runes on it.
Hikaru did so easily, without bobbing, showing the grace and reflexes that trained martial art exemplars have, though the slight grimace on feeling the sting of the impact confirmed the difference between a full exemplar and one with just the nerves and brain of one. Hikaru looked at it considering, then asked. “What is it?”
“Attunement time. That’s not Cold Iron, but it’s basically a lightning rod. It’ll already ground out essence that you accumulate if you start overloading. I need you to focus on the rod and sunburst, flash-step or whatever you do to attune it to your solar energy schtick. Once we do I will explain how to use it.”
Hikaru pondered. “Which is better, your craft, you know best, my flash step, lasing, boost my strength and toughness, or just nightlight?”
“Externalized energy works fastest. You can do it with internalized effects, but it’ll take longer. It should stand up to laser light long enough to attune.” Caitlin looked at Hikaru. “When the runes glow, go ahead and stop.”
Hikaru nodded, holding it out as she drew her left hand back and made a ‘gun’ shape with her hand, and the thumb raised up as if it was the hammer. She dropped the thumb down and a soft dim red light hit the rod, and Hikaru commented. “That’s the lowest setting I’ve gotten it to, more or less your standard cat toy beam.” She went quiet for a second as the rod absorbed the energy. “It’s also sustainable for much longer than my actual combat lasers, even if I dial it down to a nutria zapper.” Caitlin’s ears heard the next muttered line. “Hate those things.”
“It’ll do. It’s just an attunement, not a challenge, fortunately. What this is, is a lightning rod. We’re attuning it to dump your overcharge, both solar side, and essence-side until we can get your well lit.” She held out a tonfa-style nightstick that she pulled from seemingly nowhere and pantomimed hitting the long end of the smoky, glassy black weapon with odd runes cut in it without actually hitting the earth. “When you’re hitting the danger zone, slam the end of the rod to the ground to trigger a ground out. Just be careful, because this isn’t a safety valve, this is basically a complete power dump.”
The older woman looked at her appraisingly. “I doubt I need to explain what that means in the middle of a fight. This is to prevent you from eating more brain damage.”
Hikaru nodded. “This is also attuning it to my actual solar energy store?”
“It won’t work for any other energizer when you’re done.”
“Then I’m going to have to be very careful not to use it, just about.” Hikaru sighed. “If it’s a complete dump, that’s a good way to take a nap. Unscheduled.” Pausing. “But at least it’d not be waking up to smoking brain cells.” The rod started to glow, and glow brightly, signaling its completion, as Hikaru cut off the laser. In a deadpan, she muttered “Laser Pointer Attack. Kako, you and your love of Shojo…”
“Still better than Chaka Chaka Bang Bang,” Caitlin said drily. “But you have the right idea. That’s your ‘oh shit button.’ Now we can get started. How long does it take you to go from ‘empty’ to comfortably full in the sun?”
Hikaru paused. “It depends on what I’m wearing, really. It’s actually pretty difficult to get full on pure sunbathing, I tend to use my powers ENOUGH, that I don’t get ‘full’, not often. Assuming, oh, say a beach near Naha or hmm… San Diego during summer, and my usual bikini, I’d figure to get fully full, with no power use, about a week straight, as in if the sun was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not sure about the Equator or Alaska, not really.” The girl tapped the metal bar, nodding once. “Amaterasu-sama can feed a trickle of power, that we know, safely, but it takes about a half hour to equal one of those hours at the beach.”
Caitlin nodded. “The human body wasn’t built to handle that kind of throughput, and you don’t have the organ clusters that you’ll see in Warpers and energizers. You’re not too far off human baseline in that regard.”
Hikaru interrupted, confused. “I am an energizer, and the med file said I had the conversion organ and a storage organ. What do you mean?”
Caitlin took Hikaru’s arms and spread them wide, then tapped at her feet until her legs were shoulder-width, and pointed at her abdomen. “You have two organs, here and here.” She pointed to the part of Hikaru’s body where there was more space between organs in her abdominal cavity, buoyed by fat internally. “You do not have the standard organelles that most warpers and energizers have that do mass conversion.”
The amazon pointed at the biceps, triceps, thighs, calves, neck and then touched points on Hikaru’s back. “These organelles integrate with the muscles and nerves so most energizers and warpers can do fast mass-conversion or energy collection. It also helps them utilize the energy to do things like accelerate to high speeds, rapid-fire stutter-warping or blasters firing lightning at people.” Caitlin didn’t bother to elaborate on who, exactly, she might be talking about, nor did she seem inclined. Hikaru appeared not to care about the reference, getting the point the teacher was making.
Caitlin looked at her as she let her arms fall. “You’re somewhere at a halfway point physically between an energizer, and a WIZ-trait that doesn’t have a lit well.”
Hikaru frowned for a second. “I wonder if it’s intentional for my BIT, meaning Amaterasu if human, would be exactly the same, or due to… “ She trailed off still not liking the event in December of last year, where she in a way died. Shaking herself loose from that thought, she continued. “So, the odds are I won’t develop the typical energizer organ system, but just keep converting?”
“Who can tell? I would have to get my claws on Amaterasu herself and make her do Powers testing and compare results, but something tells me that ain’t happening.”
Oh, maybe not, if I can examine her myself. Or let Kwannon do it. Those are very interesting tattoos she has. Would have to wait a few more years, I think, though, or figure a way to get to Tsuki’s home. Hikaru blinked. Amaterasu’s tone didn’t include the normal dislike she had for tattoos or extreme piercing, indicating the tattoos weren’t decorative.
“Ah.” Hikaru paused, nodding once. “She says she might not mind, actually, if she can have herself or Kwannon examine your tattoos, I think. But it’d have to be on the Moon, or wait a few years. Not sure exactly why on the last.” Hikaru spread her hands, indicating she was as clueless as the next person on why. “I think it has something to do with some of the wards or oaths the great Kami took when they departed, but she won’t tell me, I’ve asked before.”
“Depends on why she cares about the tats.” Caitlin grimaced. “This has a lot to do with what I am, and why I’m still here. I’m quite frankly shocked that she hasn’t gone on some rant about the artificer, must have, control, blah blah blah I want one.”
Hikaru felt Amaterasu’s shock for a moment, then drawing relaxation. So that’s what they are. Brilliant! Amaterasu’s sarcastic tone was unexpected, as was the grumble afterward. I have no idea who thought making artists slaves was a good idea, but I am quite pleased that your sensei broke that. Art is to be respected, not controlled.
Hikaru blinked. “Okay, Amaterasu did recognize what you called yourself, but.. I don’t get why you’d be controlled or enslaved. She’s quite pleased, and thinks the tattoos are to prevent you from being enslaved. And is quite pleased by that.” Hikaru got an expression of disgust that briefly crossed her face. “She’s right. Artists must be free to create. Enslaving…”
Caitlin smiled tightly. “It’s worse than that, but we can save that discussion for a later time. For now, I’m going to watch you, see how you move, how you twist the solar power, and then, when we’re done pacing you, we’re going to do a little conversion experiment.”
“You’re actually generating a trickle of essence now, a little bleed-off. It’s tiny, but it’s there.” Caitlin was watching the seeming “breeze” of essence wafting off the girl, joining the currents around her.
Hikaru mentally checked herself. “Really? I’m just about one third full. I am?” Pausing again, feeling her body mentally once more. “I don’t feel any energy being used. Though I’m pleasantly warm.”
Hmm. I’m not feeding you any, I think. Hikaru relayed her goddess’ words to the older teacher.
“Like I said before, you’re transforming sunlight to essence.” Caitlin looked at Hikaru. “Sorry Sunshine, but this makes you a very hot commodity. You could have powered a major ritual with what you were bleeding off under the laser.”
Hikaru nodded, studying the rod. “Odd question.” She stopped a moment, then nodded, a ratehr odd habit when she reached a conclusion. “No, two questions.” She waited ‘til Caitlin raised an eyebrow. “One. This feels” indicating the rod, “very familiar. I won’t say why, but if we could get a weekend, and you agree to a secrecy oath on one thing, and one thing only, that you would never talk about it, I can show you why.” Pausing, she nodded. “How hard would it be to build a small shrine on campus? To traditional explicit layout and build? I could sit there and let the essence feed into it. And the school could use a essense store, couldn’t it?”
“Who knows, you might have some leftover artificer shit somewhere back in Japan you saw. It’s hard to pick out, really, unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.” She considered. “Shrines, that’s walking a fine line. So long as the shrine is not dedicated to you, don’t laugh, someone tried to pull that shit, not a problem if you get permission from Le Compte and the Medawhila sign off on it. The problem is keeping shits from draining off what you put in.”
Hikaru cocked her head, sighing. “I can actually understand the dedication problem. Allow me to guess, idiot Nihonese.” Shaking her head. “Easiest would be to get Kako’s aunt out here and dedicate it to Amaterasu and the rest of the 8 million, really. As for the item I’d like you to look at… I’m not sure if it’s pre-formation of Japan, I do know how to recreate it, exactly, however, but I can’t. Not yet.”
Hikaru shrugs, a bit bemused. “As for taking the essence… I’ll talk to Sayako-san, I think there is a way to key authorized users, I’d figure, or there’d be more onmyōji at the shrines trying for free essence.” Shaking her head she put that aside. “I think that can wait.” A small smile crossed her face. “Let us do this.”
“Show me the basics of the principles you need, and fund it, and *I* can build it. But you need to get Compte to sign off. But that’s neither here nor there. Hope you like sweating. But first...”
Caitlin crouched low, and did a slow, odd maneuver, like sweeping someone’s feet in slow motion, then coming up, not quite in a fashion resembling yoga or Tai Chi, but similar, drawing her hands together as she stood, creating a sharp spark of brilliant light between her hands as she looked at Hikaru, pressing her hands as the pinpoint of light burned brighter while the artificer watched the student’s essence flows, seeing how they reacted to the carefully held, burning light.
Hikaru mentally shrugged, giggling internally at the personal version of Tai Chi, an art she actually knew, and decided to slip into a meditative state she often did when sunbathing, but while practicing Tai Chi, not the full art, but the slow art westerners thought Tai Chi was.
Caitlin let the light fade, “Yeah ok, you do react well to different sources. You should have Kurenai place an order with Cecilia Rogers for a few outfits made from the the light fabric they had you in with the laser. For now, I am going to teach you a push-pull exercise. This won’t do much except teach you how to feel essence in motion, and contacting you.” She held her hands straight out, palms facing Hikaru, fingers together.
Hikaru’s eyebrows scrunched together, and she snapped her hands out. “Closed or open?” as she moved her hands closer to Caitlin’s.
“As you see me, palm-to-palm. Unfortunately this is going to be the most frustrating and difficult part of the whole ordeal, learning to grab wind.”
Hikaru did so, smiling ruefully. “Similar to some ki training exercises, I believe. As well
as some martial arts training. As if a Marine would know classic training.” Grinning for a moment, she added. “Seeing you cast a spell through moving meditation, and this exercise makes me wonder about a lot of things we asians do.”
“Heh, well, Sunshine, as I push, I want you to close your eyes and focus your will. You are pulling me, energy from me, into yourself, and that’s what you have to do, pull that energy to you as you draw your hands without losing contact with mine. When your hands are even with your chest, change direction and push with your hands and your will. Essence manipulation is an act of pure will and it requires total focus. You have to learn to feel it and sense it.”
Hikaru nodded. “I think the problem is, I’m going to have to be very careful to separate out ki and hope it’s not the same feeling I got during that training. Ki isn’t essence, that I do know. This really is a ki exercise. Only upside is I haven’t retrained at all since my burnout and Amaterasu activating me.” Focusing, and on a hunch, looking for that ‘warmth’ she felt earlier when Caitlin said she was radiating essence, she suddenly felt hot at her palms. She started to try to pull at it. Without realizing it, her face showed signs of the struggle she was having. And then suddenly, she broke free. “Owowowowowow! Hot hot hot!” Hikaru shook her hands, which were reddening.
... I… see. That is new to me. So, that is essence. I thought that was ki. And I see I’m going to have to teach you about putting your hands in fire, I thought you had learned that lesson already... Amaterasu's voice mused, as the last bit was conveyed in humor.
Hikaru eyed the cobalt amazon there. “Can warn a girl that you’re blazing hot, you know? That hurt!” She looked at her hands unamused.
“Don’t try to pull it all,” Caitlin smirked. “I’m a walking essence dynamo, Essence is, for all intents and purposes my Ki, why do you think I’m using this as the lesson? But it’s not hot or cold, it’s potential. Your perceptions and mind tell you how you translate it. You want to focus on pulling a thread, because all the flood will teach you is what eating a power source larger than your head feels like. Then you’re no longer an evil overlord, just a sun-baked jerky stick.”
Hikaru rolled her eyes at both the teacher and the goddess. “Oh, I know better than to think sticking my palms in fire is a good idea.” Snorting. “And you feel warm. It’s how I can put up with you. Must be your essence.” Musing. “Explains why I’m not too angry at Dragonsfyre the annoying little wanna be bitch.” Pausing, eyeing her hands. “Well, doesn’t seem to be regenerating that fast, though this is the first time I’ve actually got a sunburn since well...”
“I perceive Essence as motion. So when you’re pulling at my essence, it’s as though you’re stealing my motion, and when I pull it back, I’m taking the motion back into myself.” She grinned. “It’s all a matter of perspective, you’re antsy about burning yourself in a fire, and I can’t ever go fast enough.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Hikaru shook her head. “Well. Essence is supposedly the energy of life, in a form, though ki masters would argue, and Amaterasu has a strong association with life, obviously. Well, the more we sweat… so, let’s get back to it” Pausing and snapping her palms out she waited.
“As you say. This time, push. I will try to draw a thread, and see if you feel it.” She placed her hands against Hikaru’s hand, and focused on the thread of motion she felt in the essence around the girl, and gently drew the essence in an exercise she’d perfected with Sandra so many years ago.
Hikaru cast around for the heat she generally felt when using her talents, now known as premade spells, and felt the pull. As per what she understood the instruction to be, she pushed the heat out. And started to sweat, as she felt her store of energy deplete. “I… don’t…”
Caitlin snapped her hands away, sensing the essence tearing away from Hikaru, coming away like a riptide as she caught the girl. “That’s not good at all.” She felt the girl’s forehead, and took her pulse, checking her for danger signs. “I think we’re going to need to find another exercise, Sunshine.”
“Kurenai, you listening?”
Over Hikaru’s soft breathing sounds, the AI responded, appearing in front of Caitlin, away from the thick bangle that Caitlin knew the AI called home. “Yes, sensors indicate no burnout, but a state consistent with exhaustion.” Her tone was wry but affectionate. “She doesn’t get that moderation is a good thing, when learning the initial lessons.” Pausing, the AI smiled. “I’m sure that Tyson, Kako, and many others who knew, know, and will know, would say moderation in action and learning is something she doesn't’ do at all.” The AI’s voice was very amused in a long suffering way.
“Not this time, Kurenai. If Hikaru is approached by any mages about essence transfers, or magical experiments you are to ping me immediately. Imp knows how to get my attention. “That was a tiny pull, shouldn’t have done more than made her feel chilly. That tiny tug pulled it all, and it looks like converted her entire energy store into essence.”
Caitlin gave a serious look. “This was what I was warning her and Tyson about. She can be overcharged, and then ripped empty over, and over and over. So treat this as a danger to her health, her freedom and her remaining brain cells.”
Kurenai nodded. “And I will also contact Security if they even slightly hint… assuming I don’t take steps directly, there ARE orbital fire platforms I can access.” Kurenai’s face looked fey.
“Stop.” She looked at Kurenai. “I’m not joking, and I’m not authorizing you to direct act unless all other options have failed, comprende? Most will be innocent of malice, but let us know so, if someone does, we can break it up if they become… insistent.”
Caitlin’s face was positively stony. “There are far more effective ways of teaching that lesson than vaporization, and I’m not about to let them get the easy way out.”
Kurenai’s eyes grew cold. “Forgive me, Bardue-san, but you haven’t worked with many military AIs, much less me or my sisters or even my cousins, have you?”
“You vaporize one of my students, Kurenai, and you’ll find out just how much nightmare I can bring to bear. If it’s off-campus that’s between you and the US State Department. If you kill someone in my school without a very amazing reason, I promise you, I will unleash a wrath the likes of which the Gods your people worship have never before seen. Do you understand me?”
“I do. And I don’t care.” Kurenai was clearly trying to convey how serious she was. “While I am not going to simply slaughter those without malice, or immediate threats to Hikaru, I was created to support, protect and defend my lady. I was born by Stingray to be an agent of Japan, I woke up to Hikaru’s amused face, and I grew to love her. She is my lady and I am her kunoichi. If it means she lives? I will die with a smile in my electric heart.
“Do not worry about those who are just stupid, those I tend to ignore. But didn’t you question why Hikaru has no detail now? That’s my responsibility. And those who are actual threats… will be dealt with. And I do recognize those who are actual threats. Though…” She paused. “How hard IS it to get magical sensors? Might be more helpful if I could sense her essence flows.” She frowned. “Without that, I’m going to be stuck with their biosigns and guessing. I hate guessing.”
She realized the futility belatedly, then went about her business. She picked up the girl’s limp form. “Welp. Time to cheat. To Dunn Hall. I have a laser to rebuild.”
The AI couldn’t help but get the last word in. “I wasn’t lecturing. I was trying to convey how I see the world to you. In a way I thought you’d understand. Building your accurate profile is still taking a bit of time, though as for Hikaru’s safety… why do you think I sent ‘She can be trusted.” Temple-san agreed, and his mission is to protect the Imperial Family, including Hikaru.” Caitlin got the impression of a shrug from the no longer visible AI, and an amused sense. “I really, really should have stolen Marine Speak Expert programs, instead of Magic information databases last night. I mean, vaporizing those so called little witches, while likely pleasing to Grimes-Sensei, wouldn’t be right… Wrecking their credit limit if they were still the brats they apparently were, now, that’d be...” Kurenai trailed off.
Caitlin wasn’t sure if the AIPA would hear the quietly muttered, “All of the kids are my Imperial Family.” If the AI did, she really didn’t care. Dunn Hall was only a few minutes away.
Saturday, September 18th
“I swear, Hikaru!” Tiff huffed at her fellow RA who was politely paying attention, “My little brother is such a guy.”
“And what confirms this today?” Hikaru couldn’t resist the tease. One thing Hikaru had figured out, early on, was that Tiff Lock, or Tiffany, was devoted to those under her care, and tended to do too much.
“Idiot decided a junior was looking at him funny, and told him to throw down, in the Arena tomorrow. Guy’s good and a good guy, so…” Tiff shook her head. “It’s just he always does this. He loves fighting and thinks a good scrap is just the way to get things going.”
Hikaru shook her head amused, enjoying the feeling of the fabrics she had gotten delivered today. Mrs. Rogers needed to be lured to Japan. That was all. Or teach Kenshin. One or the other. “At least he’s smart enough to follow procedure, is he not?”
Tiff snorted. “That’s not the point, one of these days, he’s going to do that to a rager and get himself badly hurt! I don’t want that!”
Hikaru had to ponder what the junior was saying, and shook her head. “Perhaps, perhaps not, but there is no reason to worry today, didn’t you say before, that the person he challenged was a good person?”
“Yeaaaah.” Tiff hung her head. Hikaru had stopped paying any more attention to the surroundings, to concentrate on her upperclassman’s rant. The pair were heading to the Range, mostly because Hikaru had a pre-class appointment there, and Tiff felt Hikaru shouldn’t be on her own, given the recent burnouts. “Well. You’re close enough to the range, that they’ll catch you if something happens… I do need to get with a few other people.” Tiff waved at Hikaru, as she sped off.
Hikaru just shook her head and headed in, still musing over the perky young woman’s uncanny resemblance to the famous character, and not just in looks. She didn’t realize that she was under scrutiny by someone on one of the Auxiliary Bunkers.
Caitlin watched Hikaru walk, talk, and do everything… wrong... for a kid. She was too focused, too observant for a normal student. Her posture was ramrod-straight, and while she had the exemplar grace one would expect, she walked like someone else Caitlin Bardue knew from when she’d just started her tenure as a Whateley student. The girl walked like she couldn’t decide if she wanted to grow up with the easy grace of a dancer, or the power of an M-1 Abrams.
Caitlin smelled a wolf. She’d had to watch and change that walk every day in front of a mirror for months trying to break old habits to pass Lillian Dennon’s Exemplar Grace class. She’d failed the first time, too.
Hikaru didn’t realize that the teacher (who was cheating) had been watching until a voice ripped out “Lowf right, left-foot-roight, left-foot-roight-a-lowf-right!” in a perfect, parade-ground Drill voice, carrying from one side of the range to the other. Hikaru didn’t realize that she had fallen into perfect marching step to match the sharp, Marine-issue marching cadence until the Oni stopped and gave her a wicked, knowing smirk.
Hikaru stopped at the same time the teacher did, and just sighed. Paying her usual attention to the area, was a lesson that her tutors hadn’t beaten out of her yet. “Right, Eldritch.” Hikaru’s tone was very annoyed, though a quick scan showed it was just the Oni from America in the area.
Caitlin simply stepped off the bunker roof, absorbing the shock and walking with very exaggerated movements, as though she were demonstrating how a normal woman walked to catch attention, rather than the easy grace she usually affected. “Hello, Sunshine,” she smiled with a rather amused look in her eye.
“Eldritch.” Hikaru’s tone was flat. “Did this have a point?”
“Yes, it had a point. I like knowing who I’m talking to.” She looked Hikaru dead in the eyes. “The more I know, the more I can help. I have gotten very, very good at figuring out how to ask my questions.” She didn’t quite have the smug look one might expect, just the look of someone who’d figured out exactly how to dig.
Hikaru did not like that look. Even though she knew it was deserved, of all people on campus, the Oni was one of those that should know better. Some things were buried for a reason, and often good reasons. But… she had brought it on herself. Her tutors had tried hard to reshape her walk and body language, not to a perfect little princess, but to what rumors that had been placed about her, before Amaterasu moved in, said. However, retraining instinct was… difficult and required constant attention.
“Fine.” Hikaru bit out. Scanning the area, she made sure no one was in earshot of her next words, and quietly stated. “Some things are buried for a reason, Corporal. And sometimes, should remain such.”
“You really think I’d have done that if I hadn’t checked the sensors before you came up?” She looked at Hikaru. “That old rumor still flying around campus?” She grinned as though she didn’t actually care that particular piece of information was readily available.
Hikaru rolled her eyes. “Please.” Her eyes sharpened. “I stand by what I said. The past is the past. The now is the now. The future is the future. And everyone has a past.”
“Yeah, but if you know anything about my past? You know that I have an obligation to be wary. The more I see of you, the more I see someone who’s a lot like me ten years ago, Sunshine. This worries me.”
“Of course. However…” Hikaru thought, and nodded sharply once. “Headmistress Carson was quite aware of many things. And she approved.”
“Problem is, Sunshine, we don’t have Liz here for me to ask ‘do I need to be worried, boss?’ Which means she doesn’t shake her head and tell me that there’s nothing that needs be dealt with.” Caitlin gestured up to the hilltop where she would work with Hikaru. “In case you haven’t noticed, Carson vanishing without a trace put a mad snarl into most of the things various people might need to know.”
Hikaru couldn’t resist the moment. “Oh, I do think you should be worried. About many things, admittedly. The question isn’t should you be, but what about.” Hikaru paused. “And yet, those who the Headmistress.” A hint of respect was in the last word, and a pause for a moment, as it appeared that Hikaru was pondering the humor of the universe. “Believed, I think, had a need to know, do know. Assuming that I was one of those issues to worry about. Assuming.”
“To assume is to make an ass out of U and ME.” Caitlin smirked. “I’d lay money down that Liz intended to do your essence examinations herself. She’s as good or better at it than me or Nikki, and Hewley never would have needed me or Ellison present to check up on you.”
She stopped at the top of the hill. “This is Range Four, my old stomping grounds. I’ve turned it over to my minions for the most part, but this was my place. This is still my safe place. It’s also the one spot in Whateley where it’s just not worth leaving listening devices, devises and scrying spells.”
Hikaru could see the hill was set up as a classic heavy range, with the targets placed well-distant, up to a kilometer out. The targets ranged from bunkers, to old tanks to representations of groups of people. The Range Bunker had a bit of Graffiti “The Dragonslayers were here” spray painted on the wall next to the vault door.
“Mmm. Wise.” Hikaru shrugged slightly. “Considering General Pearson, and her behavior and actions, even later on, I severely doubt you had any faith in officers.” Tapping her finger against her bangle. “But not everything should be discussed, unless you are willing to pay the price.”
“The fact that you even know that name tells me everything I need to know. Means you’re not a DPA cop undercover, and you’re probably dealing with a lot of the same dumb shit I was. So for now, we let it go. If it becomes critical to the safety of yourself or my students, I expect the Data wall to drop.”
“But first, here’s why you’re here. I need to know what happened to you with the essence-draw exercise, your words, what you felt. Reading a medical report is not the same as hearing a firsthand account. I need to know if it lines up with what I saw.”
“... DPA, as in the American Paranormal Agency?” Hikaru couldn’t resist a snort. “Oh, no, I am not an American citizen, nor holding any oaths to America, and any I held,if I held any, that is, I was released from, if at all possible. I am what I appear to be.” Pausing and shrugging. “As for your suggestion on the Headmistress, quite possible, with the clause that she might not have been aware at the time.” Shrugging, Hikaru thought for a moment, and picked up the thread. “Mmm. What did it feel like...”
Looking upwards, Hikaru was clearly organizing her thoughts, and the sharp nod she gave herself reminded Caitlin irresistibly of Tyson once he had decided on an action. “On trying to accept your essence, it felt… hot. And not at all a good hot. And was… difficult to pull past my palms. As if… I didn’t want to accept it.” Shrugging slightly, trying to explain something that she wasn’t quite able to put into words was always a challenge. “As for the other way… it felt like the essence wanted to go.” She spread her hands and shrugged helplessly, “That’s the best I can honestly explain it. This… is a bit outside my knowledge or experience. It’s not like anything I remember of ki work.”
“Ki work? You one of Chaka’s recent students?” She looked at the girl. “This is going to be problematic, since we need to give you a way to bleed off safely that doesn’t involve a crash-dump.” She looked at Hikaru. “Given what you told me, I got Compte’s permission to build a small Essence Vault for you to use as an essence dump site and storage. If that’s how you’re keyed, might as well bend to the wind and use it.”
Hikaru nodded. “A shrine itself is easy, the keying and enshrinement is the difficult part. And it would be wise if I did not do so, and that we contacted, since if I recall correctly, this land is part of a Native tribe, the local shamans. That much I know.” Hikaru stopped for a moment, and shrugged. “Creating a well isn’t a problem, actually, though for internal use. Just… I will have to learn how.”
Kneeling down, and touching the grass, Hikaru had a slight smile on her face. “I’m curious who this Chaka is, mind you, I’ll take that Chaka was a student here. So you understand, since it appears that you will be a sensei of magic for me… Ki … well. The best way to put it, that an old, as in served Meiji-sama, in what would become DOPS, Onmyōji once said. ‘Ki is the power of the body, Essence is the power of the soul, or so it seems. Both exist, both can be used, both are needed for life.’” Hikaru had a bittersweet smile saying that, but quickly shook it off. “Advanced martial arts train in ki useage, and so, I have a understanding of the basics, though you might wish to talk to Kenshin, he has more… up-to-date knowledge and work with it. It does take time to truly master, as well as being in balance with yourself.”
“Heh, wouldn’t help me.” Caitlin gave a rueful look. “But as far as the ‘shrine’ goes, does the form matter at all, or do you think you can utilize something built to function in the part? My knowledge of Japanese architecture’s limited but putting together a safe place to store essence isn’t exactly what I would call hard. And if Architecture is secondary, it can probably be built so when you’re done I can just turn it to the use of Kirby Hall.”
Hikaru tilted her head both ways, clearly pondering the question. “You know… I have no idea, and Amaterasu is… elsewhere right now.” She paused. “I shouldn’t say this, but I get the distinct feeling that she really doesn’t know much about how humans work magic… and never bothered to learn, because she didn’t care. While I’m not sure, it’d not surprise me that she was told ‘shrines had to be this way to work.’ because that’s what her teachers knew. Ki she has a clue. How to use what she does? Easy. What we do with essence, she … well. You know my status, and what that means. There has been only one paladin or champion, or avatar, whichever you wish, of Amaterasu, so, take it for what you will.”
“Fuck it, what do we have to lose by trying? Worst-case scenario, the Magic Department gets another teaching tool to futz around with. Building a full Shinto shrine, as you say, may be… problematic given the territory, and fortunately that wasn’t what I had in mind. Granite tiles can be moved. So come on. Let’s go find a place we can build something for you to have a safe shunt.”
Caitlin began walking. “For obvious reasons, we can’t have it on the ranges. Last thing I want is for an essence storage device to eat a stray piece of shrapnel.”
“I have no problem attempting this, and I agree. Even a small portable shrine on land not associated with the Sun, is… annoying without permission..” Hikaru followed, shaking her head. “This is completely new to me, in a lot of ways.” Shrugging, she added. “It’s worse when you consider Japan really doesn’t have a god or goddess of magic, specifically, though there’s several that deal in various areas of what could be considered magic, but the art as a whole?” She paused for a second. “Correction. There is one that has… magical overtones. But… No one talks about him.”
“Well, I’m only considering this seriously because it might be a good safety-valve, and it will give you a place to store essence to light your own well.” She headed into the woods, hunting for a particular clearing. “There’s a glade back here we used to call Fury in. Should suit our purposes. Most of the kids on campus still think there’s a demon or something here.”
Hikaru shrugged at that, and followed the Amazon. “I am in your care, please be gentle.”
“Nothing to be gentle about. Fury doesn’t come here anymore. It’s just a quiet space that doesn’t see much traffic.” She led Hikaru for about fifteen minutes through the woods she’d learned like the back of her own hand until they came to a quiet clearing with several large rocks and boulders in the area. “This is the place.”
The odd area was peaceful, but it had overtones of violence. Several of the boulders were scored with old claw marks, some had carbon scorches. One of the prominent rocks had a large heart with J+D carved into it near the edge. There were massive, cloven hoofprints preserved in points of the grassy earth. “It’s not much, but this was where my training team came when we wanted to be away from everyone else, cut loose, stargaze and do that voodoo that we do.”
She grinned. “It’s also the site of some truly epic sparring matches.”
Hikaru shook her head. “... I see. And this area is… well secure from scrying, I gather?” Hikaru raised an elegant eyebrow. “It is your show, your instruction, so let us… make magic, I think is the term.” She grinned impishly. “But if violence is your preference, I’m afraid I didn’t bring along enough weapons to make it... Challenging.”
Caitlin snorted, walking over to one of the boulders. “This one’ll do. Since it’s the weekend, do you have any weekend classes that you need to hit? Unless you want to watch me smash rocks, this is probably going to get a little bit dull for a bit. I’ll just need you back here sometime before dusk.”
An underlying tension, a vibration to be somewhere else, that Caitlin had ever so slightly picked up disappeared from Hikaru’s frame. “Oh, while I could miss it, I’d rather not miss the Defensive driving course I’m in. Rather not lose my membership in the Gearheads.” She stopped, suddenly remembering something, “Though that reminds me. I do need to call Kako. It shouldn’t take this long to get a car.”
“Sounds like a plan. Since you seem, on the surface, to be following traditional shinto patterns, let’s see if I can fake the funk…” She looked over. “Gonna get my tools. Meet me back here after your driving course. If I’m right, anyone who attunes this will have to do so at dawn and dusk within the same twenty-four hours. You go ahead and do your thing, I’ll get this set up.”
Hikaru nods. “Far be it from me to disagree, argue or suggest to an master artist her craft. I’ll be back.” Hikaru glowed suddenly, and shot off at speeds only an exemplar could manage, clearly good at running, though she had kicked her heels into her hand.
Caitlin smiled at the girl leaving, then simply walked back towards the tool storage area she maintained at Kirby Hall, letting the creation trance overtake her as she did, letting the universe drift away as she focused on the task at hand.
Tia heard a skidding sound, as Hikaru darted in the classroom one moment before it started. She blinked repeatedly, as the princess was in a catsuit, though in her usual red and gold, and contrary to what Tia would believe possible, only 1” long heels, that were actually wide. Not the spikes she favored.
Watching as the avatar poured into the desk next to her, Tia couldn’t resist commenting in a sotto voice. “You, late? Oversleep?”
Hikaru waved her hand at the bunnygirl in the universal sign to “be quiet!” as the teacher strode in. HIkaru and Tia both relaxed slightly as it was Mr. Boucher, the Gearheads advisor, followed by a man that just vibrated OCD to anyone who knew the signs, even though sharp eyes could tell the callouses of a master mechanic.
Jules swept his eyes over the class, frowning slightly, to step aside for the other man.
“Greetings, students. I am Mr. Ballentine. I am the Motor Pool administrator, as well as head of all driving courses and clubs. I see at least half of you did not follow instructions.” Tia’s ears flattened, not sure what Mr. Ballentine wanted.
Boucher spoke up, seeing the confusion. “As part of this course, you should be ready to drive and learn to drive at all times.” He paused, glancing over a few of the students. “While we have no specific uniform requirement, besides you come prepared for the course, and possible accidents, we do forbid you from wearing the school uniform for this course, simply because we often go off campus, and indeed, the school uniform isn’t suited to the course. If you were informed otherwise, please send me an email on who did so.”
Tia’s ears drooped, realizing what that message meant, and shot a glare at the properly dressed Hikaru. She hadn’t asked her RA for what the requirement meant, and several others that she did ask, seemed to think her school clothing was fine. At worse, bring a bag with some tough clothing, nothing more, she was told. Which she did, but apparently that was wrong.
“Normally, we would send you out for the day, with all the penalties and reduction of grades that would cause, but Mr. Boucher convinced me being that harsh on the first day of official classes would be… unwise.” Mr. Ballentine’s eyes swept the class. “However, do not take this as mercy, and count on it. Driving, indeed operating any motor vehicle, can be dangerous, and we teach you to operate many, as well the basics of true driving. Future courses will teach you more advanced techniques, more unusual vehicles and of course, how to handle your vehicle in sustained combat. Therefore, perfection, while I have been told it is impossible.” His tone indicated he did not believe that at all. “Will be sought. This is your only warning. Advanced courses will depend on sustaining a high grade.”
Mr. Ballantine nodded at Boucher, and walked out.
“Well.” Jules nodded. “I cannot quite disagree with the basic point my superior made. Driving IS dangerous, and you need to be defensive at all times. I know several of you already have experience in operation, and the skills to become professional, but mistakes can kill when driving, and not just your mistakes. Today, as noted, if you are not in proper driving clothing, you will not be penalized, but next time, you will be. There are lockers to store your clothing, that you can take and key, for this class, if you wish.” He swept the class once again. “For those of you who followed instructions perfectly, you will receive a bonus credit to your next assignment, written only.”
Tia and the rest of the class nodded, dutifully, though, like a few others who let it show on their faces, she felt unjustly punished.
“Some of you might be feeling like you’re being singled-out, and punished for something you didn’t know.” Jules paused and nodded once. “You are. Like driving, what you don’t know, can and will hurt you.” Sweeping the class once again. “You were all provided tablets at the school’s expense, at the very least, or some of you have your own up-to-school-specification personal assistants. As you might have figured out, all material for reading and learning in your classes, as well as information on supplies, clothing, special conditions or material you will need that isn’t directly assigned or provided by the school, is sent to those.” He nodded as several students looked chagrined.
“Excellent. Consider this your first lesson in Defensive driving. Be prepared. Always. While I do not expect or require any of you to be professional drivers of any nature, from my own experience, almost every accident or injury in driving can be prevented, or at the very least mitigated by one of three things: Being prepared by learning everything that might affect your driving, keeping your vehicle properly maintained, and paying attention.”
The class was quiet and Boucher noted several students were taking notes. Tia thought a slight frown was on the advisor's face, but couldn’t be sure. Tia was yanked back to attention on the teacher, as he continued.
“Each of you were required to provide prior to registration a driver’s license, a learner’s permit, or a valid reason why you didn’t have either, which would be reviewed by my department.” Pausing for a moment, he nodded. “Except for three of you, all of you have a learner’s permit that the State of New Hampshire, and in fact, all the United States accepts, or a driver’s license of the same nature. Two of you had an valid reason for not doing so, and will be taken next week, at a time sent to you, to gain a learner’s permit.”
Jules paused, amused. “The last of you. Well. I have your driver’s license which was couriered to me, but the issue is you at this moment do NOT posses an IDP.” Pausing for a moment, he digressed. “For those not aware, an IDP is an international Driver’s Permit. About half or so of the nations on earth accept one in lieu of a local license, with caveats. It is not required for this class, unless you are of course, a foreign national, with your license overseas.” He dropped a small piece of plastic in front of Hikaru and smiled sardonically.
“Your familiy forgot to send your IDP, or was aware that as more than a tourist, it would behoove you to attain an in state License.” He smiled slightly at the expression on Hikaru’s face, and then added. “You too will receive an email with your time to go to Berlin’s DMV. Or you can choose to wait for State’s OFM to finish processing your license for the US. Dealer’s choice, though you will be restricted from driving without an instructor until you receive it.” Hikaru nodded, slipping the license into a pocket.
“I think I will wait, sensei.” The girl shrugged slightly. “From what the course outline stated, we won’t be driving for at least two weeks…”
“Well. You have more faith in the government to move fast, than I do, m’dear.” Jules smiled as he nodded, then turned to walk back up. “Now that that’s handled, we will begin. Please access the book: ‘Driving and you. How not to die.’ and tab to page 3.
Tia’s ears caught the whole lecture as the teacher pointed things out in the book, as well as other things, but she had glanced at Japan’s requirements for a license, and couldn’t help but wonder, did Hikaru pull strings to get the law effectively rewritten for her, or was something else going on?
Now that you’ve had some fun, let’s go see what the artist is up to. Amaterasu’s voice commented. I am quite curious to see a master craftsman of magic at work. I was told it.. was interesting, though disturbing.
Hikaru rolled her eyes at the first part, debating to respond or not. Finally giving in, she explained to her inner mother, Eh… it’s not the class itself that’s fun, but it’s what it will allow that is. As for seeing Bardue sensei at work… I’ll admit the same curiosity. Off to see the wizard, off to see the wonderful wizard we go! Hikaru sing songed the last, as she idly skipped forward, indulging in one childish moment, to her spirit’s befuddlement, both at the skipping and the song. Shortly, the avatar and her spirit came upon the clearing that the Oni was in.
A thundering CRACK ripped out from the clearing, as she came into it, seeing the woman using a sledgehammer of some type and a heavy wedge to split a plane of stone by hand. Ten planes of granite, the remains of the boulder she’d been looking at earlier were spread out on the ground around her. As she watched the woman simply manhandle the plate next to the others, and go back it became apparent that Caitlin Bardue wasn’t just an artist as she took the wedge, chipped into the rock with the hammer a few times, then struck, splitting the last plane of stone away cleanly before hauling it away, then moving to unceremoniously fling the other, shattered remains of the boulder away from the area she was working.
My. Who knew crafting a magical vessel was the same as forging a sword. Amaterasu's voice mused. Though I begin to understand why those of the… courts, preferred to enslave such power. Even, as Ebisu-onii-sama suggested, destroy their souls to gain the skills and power. Amaterasu’s tone indicated if so, that was deeply distressing to her. But, she is free and safe of such… darkness and evil. Art and craftsmanship is the hallmark of civilization and the desire to leave a legacy for the future. It should never be enslaved. Nor done without soul, for in those cases, it’s without art or craft.
Hikaru blinked at her spirit’s statements, but chose not to question further. She got the sense that Amaterasu wasn’t talking to her, after all, but out loud. Instead, she enjoyed the warmth that felt like a sunny day, but that she wasn’t absorbing.
The woman in the clearing acted nothing like what one would expect, acting with a precision that skipped entire schools of steps in masonry as she took one of the planes and delicately tapped cutting lines into the identically-thick planes, using a hammer-fist to make the chips that would guide her work just so. As she began to work, Hikaru realized that she wasn’t paying attention to anything but her work, and that she could almost feel a storm of...something around the woman as she muttered words that could not be understood.
The runes in the Artificer’s irises glowed with an eerie, glacial blue as she took twenty minutes to prepare each side of the massive plates, simply flipping them over and marking the opposite side without measuring anything identically, scoring cutting grooves into the stone as though it were made from hardened sugar. As the unseen storm of heat built up, Caitlin walked to her wedge, picked it up, then set it and drove it through each cut line, perfectly separating the rock along the lines, producing two curved, rectangular tiles from each stone plane, twenty-four in total.
The humming in the back of her head, indicated that Amaterasu was pondering something, but Hikaru couldn’t realistically understand what. While this looked somewhat familiar, to the young seeming avatar, she knew it wasn’t a working for Japanese, though the structure rang bells, to the young woman. However, she knew better than to interrupt.
As the Oni brought the tiles two-by-two to the center of the clearing, she began rapidly smoothing and polishing the surface of the white stone, working rapidly for what was, to her, an incredibly simple working. She used her fingernails to gouge out bits of stone from the center of each tile, then used her tools to polish the result. On the backs of the tiles, she cut a unique rune, showing a marker like one of the many adorning runes of her tattoos, but the tops of the tiles showed the Sun itself on twelve of the tiles, rising and setting in its radiance. The other twelve showed the march of the phases of the moon.
The muttered words were in a language that not even Amaterasu could parse, nor could she read the runes stamped into the back of the tiles as Caitlin cleared a space in the grass very carefully, stripping away the foliage and laying the tiles down in a perfect circle, a count of the hours of the day. As the work grew more involved, the Artificer cleared a central space, and dropped another circular plate of white stone in the center. As Hikaru watched, the woman dropped hands full of quartz crystal into a crucible, then flashed white-hot fire from her hands to the bottom of the crucible as the storm of essence seemed to heat up, like the birthing of a star in the center of the clearing.
Hikaru’s own senses of heat twitched, though she knew it wasn’t actual heat, but she had to wonder, is this how mages felt the world? Is this the way that magic was to be performed? I do not think so, daughter. The voice that she heard, was soft and wondering. This is more the art of allowing your will to create something or mark the world. Amaterasu mused, debating clearly. Mahou is not the area we prefer to work with, but this is very similar to how I encourage plants to grow, or perhaps weave wards. Let the sun’s light tell, and if so, it happens. This? I would have to ask Ebisu to see and define it for you, this is something he might know. I do what I do, because that is how I do it.
Hikaru felt somewhat unsatisfied at the answer she gained from her voice, but a feeling told her not to twit the empress on not knowing why she did things the way she did. I was never interested in the whys, but in the doing. Susano’o was much the same, daughter. Amaterasu trailed off, and Hikaru got a feeling of sadness and a sense of pain from long ago crossing the voice’s next words. After all, when you are sealing away things that do not belong here, fighting to teach people the basics of growing food, or basic simple living, you find you do not care the whys, just that it works.
We had no time, and no civilization to ponder the mysteries, just a desperate struggle, not for ourselves, but those we sought to save and guide. A softness, and the gentle thought... It is what I, and others seek to avoid this cycle, daughter. Learning from those who suffered the Sundering, was not pleasant, especially since we had to save those we could, and those we could not, still haunt us today. My generation seeks to avoid that for the children of the next Age. Hikaru’s senses were poked back to watching the Oni, with a sense that Amaterasu wouldn’t say more.
As the bemused Hikaru watched, the woman at the center of the storm poured what looked impossibly like liquefied quartz into the sun and moon carvings, letting them cool very briefly before flipping the tiles one by one and filling the runes cut onto the back with the odd crystal unique to the artificers. When she finished, she set the crucible aside and then put the tiles back in place, then stomped on each one, rendering them flush with the surrounding earth.
She walked a circle, stepping on each tile as she moved, several times, and the odd energy seemed to follow her motions, invisibly whipping like a heat storm to the epicenter of its creation and as she stepped onto the center plate, the Artificer slipped to one knee, almost appearing to be in supplication as she pressed both palms to the granite slab and started intoning words in that odd language. As the storm pulled inward, she primed the stones, preparing them for their purpose... storage, meditation, measured release.
When it ended, the blue, icy glow left her eyes and as she stood, breathing in, she gasped as the essence of the world pulled inward, filling Caitlin with a feeling of sublime peace. For a brief moment, the stone woman knew what it felt to be fully alive again, not animate rock. In a moment of passing ecstasy, she was Caitlin again, and she stepped off of the plates, and began collecting her tools from the clearing. She didn’t seem to notice Hikaru, riding the high that invariably came with creation since she’d stopped sleeping.
Hikaru’s eyebrows narrowed. Some things had become clear to the avatar. What they were, would be left for later to ponder, but she was very much aware that some answers to questions that no one had thought to ask, were at her fingertips. But… patience, and let the Artist enjoy her moment.
Caitlin got everything gathered and settled, and looked out, noticing Hikaru, finally. “How long you been watching?” She didn’t yell, but her voice carried.
Hikaru rose from the seiza she had settled in gracefully, and to Caitlin’s eyes, with the ease of someone almost born to do so. “Long enough to enjoy the vision of a master at her craft.” A crooked smile. “About 4 hours, I think. Was quite … relaxing. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen sustained mahou at work.”
“What’s a mahou?” Caitlin just looked at her oddly.
Hikaru felt like slapping herself. She knew better, but the sight had … oh well. Amaterasu laughing didn’t help. “Ah… sorcery would be the most … used translation.” Hikaru finally settled on, then continued. “But in this sense, it’s specifically referring to Western style magic.” A frown crossed the avatar’s face for a moment. “But, I would question that your craft is pure mahou, in this sense, there were… elements that... feel right. I would suppose fits.”
“Fair enough, I seem to be able to do a bit of everything, just not the best unless I’m building. So come on, let’s see if you can actually get some use out of this. Shrine’s probably not the word, but from what you all have told me, this is probably the closest we can get on the local grounds. I need you to be meditating on the central plate when the sun drops under the horizon.”
“Pure or moving?” Hikaru removed her boots, amused that the catsuit hadn’t gathered Caitlin’s attention, and moved inside the wheel. She did recognize a meditation wheel, after all.
“Fucked if I know. If one doesn’t work, we can try the other in the morning. But you have to stay in the center plate’s radius. Sundials don’t work when the dial decides to be elsewhere. Once you’re attuned we can see if any of your shrine rituals let you push essence back and forth.”
Hikaru raised an eyebrow. Lucky for the arificter, Hikaru had actually thought ahead and asked for a set of rituals, dealing with essence, from Aunt Sayako. Who had… sent them, but it had been her telling Temple-san, who then sent it to Kurenai. Hopefully it’d be enough, though the rituals didn’t really feel right. “Only one question, Sensei.”
Caitlin didn’t catch the slightly different shift, or she’d recognize the honor she had been paid, but just waited.
“Do you wish Amaterasu-sama to be involved as well?” HIkaru poured herself into seiza, and had put her hands palms upwards on her knees.
“Yes and no. If she can provide guidance to help the process, yes. But I don’t want to have her start pushing essence into you until we have you safely attuned, and the wheel tested. One step at a time until we have a better picture to work with.”
“Understood.” Hikaru quickly unzipped part of her catsuit’s zipper, so she could breathe a bit deeper. Mediation in tight clothing wasn’t fun, after all. Returning to perfect Seiza, she closed her eyes and began to meditate.
Caitlin simply watched, marking the time as the afternoon sun dipped over the hedge of the horizon, and began sinking. She watched the essence flows while indulging her memories of the time spent in this spot since Janine had joined the five Outcast hellions after Anomaly had become part of the group. She watched to see the flash of silver that would tell her if the attunement was successful from the crystalline sun and moon tiles. She had to be patient, because it wouldn’t happen until the sun dipped below the horizon fully, marking the time when the moon’s light would hold precedence.
That moment arrived, and Caitlin blinked at the violent flash of pure light that briefly overwhelmed her senses. The essence flows had stormed out, in a pattern she expected, but not quite as violently as she experienced. Even with yesterday’s warning, she hadn’t quite understood what was happening, and the sight of Hikaru slumped over and softly whistling as she slept, indicated that she still hadn’t quite figured out what was going on. At least it was attuned.
Caitlin chuckled and walked over to pick up the girl. “Dunno if you can hear me, but we’re going to need your girl here awake before dawn to finish up. If you can, great. If not, I need to stick her under the laser again for a few minutes.”
Caitlin didn’t expect an answer, but simply hauled the girl towards Doyle again, to wake her up so she could get her back to Melville and proper sleep. “You can’t not overdo it, can you Sunshine?”
Only silence answered her, though Caitlin honestly knew the answer already. As she walked to Doyle, two students showed up. One, Caitlin had recognized easily, as the poor guy that ticked off a ‘dricking Devisor and well, changed sides, the other, she recognized, not for the game, but because it was one of the students that had managed to come to her attention for the number of times last year she had dragged her younger brother out. Something about he couldn’t spend all his time practicing killing paper targets.
Both girls stopped, the bunny girl more out of breath than the game clone, and after a moment, where Caitlin just gazed, amused, at the two girls, the older spoke. “Exactly why is Okami draped over your shoulder like a sack of potatoes?
“Because she insists on doing an impression of a sack of potatoes whenever she tries to figure out her powers?” Caitlin could have lied, but the truth was far too much fun. “What are you two up to right now?”
Tia shot a look to the Melvillain RA, one of her ears cocking forward in a question, and received a nod. “Well, tonight’s a mixer night in Melville, and well, we were trying to find the missing RA? It’d be a bit difficult for people to get to know her… if she’s not there.” Pausing, she added, hesitantly, and worriedly… “Is this another burnout?”
“Not unless Burnout comes in a special room-temperature variant. Sunshine here likes to push herself a little too hard. If she had a regular job, I’d be telling her to lay off on the workahol.” Caitlin jerked her head towards Doyle. “I’m on the way to get her woke up right now. Then I’ll send her back to hang with the rest of the Melvillains, properly.”
Tiff paused for a second. “... smelling salts, right?”
“Something like that. She might take a half hour or so to to be fully up and running.” Caitlin smiled evilly. “I might draw things on her face and zap her with a laser while I’m at it.”
Tiff shook her head. “Smelling salts won’t work, not at night. It’s in her file. Not a chance.” She paused. “I don’t get it, but I’ve only got my EMT, not anything more.”
Tia’s ears had shot up at that. “But why a las… multispectrum?”
“Oh look, you are paying attention in class. Come along if you must. We’ll get her woke up so she can visit your mixer. However, she will be up and ready thirty minutes before dawn tomorrow, understood?”
Tiff winced slightly, and muttered. “Who owes me a favor to get their head bit off… or should I talk Kurenai into it?” She eyed the sleeping girl, and her outfit. “... if you wait a minute, I can get a pair of boots I know she’s got hidden… and we wait til it’s just time for the mixer.”
“While my sadism sense is tingling, I need her to not be stressed in the morning. Run her through the wringer once we’re done getting the work that needs done, done.” Caitlin grinned. “You should be able to figure out when, she’ll be relieved and less antsy, most likely.”
Tiff smiled in a manner that most wouldn’t believe she was capable of. “Oh, the boots I’m thinking of are these kicking red and gold Gypsy boots with a really nice heel. Combined with that catsuit? I don’t think it’d be Okami that’d be stressed.” Her smile was a thing of pure evil. “Or don’t you want to torture some young males, Miss Baurde?” Tia just facepalmed at Tiff’s words.
“You had me until you mentioned the boys.” She shook her head and walked into Doyle. “Come on, let’s go make Okami touch the bug zapper while she’s sleeping.”
Caitlin let the two cajoling students try to convince her to let them embarrass Hikaru while she set up the laser and turned it onto the girl, waited for five minutes, shen snapped open a smelling salt pack under the unsuspecting girl’s nose
The smell just caused Hikaru to roll over and curl into a ball, verifying Tiff’s words. Tiff shook her head, and commented. “She really hates waking up if it’s not actual daytime. And smelling salts don’t really seem to work. Just annoy her, or get you punched, or so the file says.”
Caitlin looked at Tiff and smiled. “Stand right here.” She pointed at a spot near Hikaru.
Tiff did so, hoping that the Range Demon didn’t have plans to get her punched by an annoyed Okami. She knew how to punch. “This won’t involve me being a punching bag, by a master class martial artist, will it?”
“Master-class? Oh that sucks the fun out of watching her flail.” Caitlin sighed, moved Tiff out of the way, pointed a finger at Okami, and used her favorite “sleeping student” cure. The mini-lightning bolt was the rough equivalent of a joy-buzzer, only more annoying.
“Wakey Wakey Sunshine.” She made ready to catch the inevitable fist.
Unfortunately for the Oni, Hikaru’s instinctive reaction was to roll and spin up in a leg sweep, not a punch. After the follow though was complete, Hikaru looked blearily around “What the… Did I just put someone on the floor?”
“Mental note, brace for impact next time.” Caitlin looked at the two Melvillains as she got back up. “You saw nothing, clear?”
Both girls nodded amused. Tiff smiled. “Did I forget to mention that she’s a multi school martial artist, not just kenjustu? I don’t know how I forgot that… “
“Did I forget that I still owe you and your brother detention for that little spat on Range Three last year? I think we should both work on our memory skills, shouldn’t we?” Caitlin’s smirk was just enough to make anyone wonder if she was serious.
Hikaru just rubbed her eyes, hair slightly puffed out, as she listened to Tia double over laughing, and Tiff stammer out denials. “Um… what… ah, what’s going on?”
Hikaru glared over Tia’s ears at the senior RA. “Exactly why did you think it was wise to let the Oni zap me with electricity? It’ll take forever to get my hair flat again!”
The RA moved so Tia’s ears were blocking line of sight, and answered. “Well, smelling salts don’t work on you, or so your file says… She chose that method.”
“Mmmhmm.” Hikaru’s hissed tone indicated she didn’t believe it. “Now we’re going to be late, if I take the time to be fully ready.”
Tiff snorted. “Just brush your hair out, and put on those boots you own. You’ll be fine, tonight’s casual.”
Tia interrupted, curious about something. “Exactly why are we having another party tonight? I mean…”
“Because it’s the first week of classes. Because we’re still all getting to know the froshies, Because it’s a party?” Tiff listed off reasons. “And get used to it. Part of Melville's responsibilities is to teach you how to mingle, socialize and otherwise do the stuff your class requires. And you’re part of it. You’d not be part of Melville otherwise.” Tiff nodded. “We don’t pick money, we pick those individuals, especially transfers from other dorms in sophomore and higher years, who will be part of the social cliques that deal extensively with money, entertainment, high end research, politics, ie. the movers and shakers of society.”
Hikaru nodded in response to Tiffany Bandis’s words. “Exactly. It’s not stated, but while Whateley’s direct mission is to educate its students properly, several people have been pushing not just…” Hikaru paused for a moment, clearly searching for a way to put it, then continuing with a frown. “A safe space for high school, but a concentrated effort to send out students that are not only well-educated and equipped for the world, but well prepared and able to shape public views for the better.”
“That’s part of it, yes.” Tiffany nodded. “In fact, Melville was actually not doing that for a long time, and several graduates and other students in the last decade or so, realized that if mutants are to be generally accepted, we have to work at it, and present a positive image, not just to the public, but the actual people with power. I’m sure that Hikaru can explain the massive damage that the Goodkinds did, and that others that are even worse are trying to do, in short, pithy terms that would burn your ears.”
Hikaru snickered. “Oh, quite so. And yes. I can. Oh, can I.”
Tia looked between the two RAs trying to understand “But isn’t that the MCO’s…”
Hikaru hissed. “It is not, never was as chartered, and they frankly never considered it, and now, I doubt they want to do more than imprison all paranormals, if we’re lucky! More importantly, anyone who works with the MCO are Kempeitai, if I wish to be nice. Or frankly, SchutzStaffel! And not the Waffen, but the camp guards!”
Tiff winced at the sheer venom in Hikaru’s tone, but to Tia’s flattened ears, couldn’t refute the freshman RA’s words.
“But the agents I worked with were very nice!” was shot at Hikaru from the bunny girl.
Hikaru stopped, and a cold expression was on her face. “For two reasons. One: You’re not a mutant to them. Victim of one, yes, therefore useable. Two: See reason one, they can use you to promote that mutants, and other paranormals, are bad and need to be … controlled. I know the MCO would have been right at home at Baden Baden, Auschwitz, members of the Einsatzgruppen, or members of Unit 731! Much less Kempeitai!”
Tia stopped and leaned forward at the RA. “That’s not true! My agent was a survivor of the camps! He’d never.” She was interrupted by Hikaru
“Then I should kill him right now. He has proven himself worse than Schutzstaffel!” Hikaru’s eyes were burning.
Tiff broke in before Hikaru could move on to do exactly that. “Um.. I’m not quite sure what’s going on, now… but, let’s calm it down? The MCO isn’t my favorite group either, Hikaru, but still… members of the SS? Really?”
“Yes.” Hikaru bit. “They would be right at home!”
Tiff shushed Tia before she could speak again. “Quiet, Tia. We’re all just going to have to disagree here. And well, at least you don’t have to worry about them, Hikaru. You have diplomatic immunity, and Japan doesn’t let them in.”
Tia didn’t understand, Hikaru mused. “Fine.” She bit off. “Just don’t talk about them near me. Ever.”
Tia nodded, still a bit angry with her RA, while Tiff shook her head. “Hikaru, I didn’t know you could hate.”
“They’ve earned everyone’s hate a thousand times over. Anyone who works for them deserves to die.” Tia’s ears fell completely flat hearing Hikaru’s irrational hate for them.
“Woah, there’s good people with them.” Tiff tried to respond and calm the steaming Japanese girl down.
“Then they’re fools who only have one recourse to redeem their very souls!” Hikaru shot back. “Don’t. Do not try. I said I know, and I do. You may choose to believe otherwise, both of you, but do not try to convince me.”
“You’re wrong!” Tia shouted. “There are…”
“I said don’t.” Hikaru’s eyes were blazing, and not from her powers, but her fury and hate. “You don’t know, I am not allowed to tell you, and that is a shame I must bear, unable to tell the truth about them.”
Tiff clamped a hand over the steaming bunny girl’s mouth. “Okaaaay.” She shook her head, after Tia slumped. “We just won’t talk about them.”
Caitlin popped around the corner where she’d wandered away to check on a few medical notes, and leave more notes for the doctors, looking at the furious freshmen. “What’s the problem, Tiff Lock?”
“Hikaru went off on the MCO. Called them SS or worse than.” Tiff rolled her eyes. “It’s not like they’re running extermination camps, is it?” Hikaru was about to retort back only to be quelled
Caitlin shot Hikaru a look. “I’m not so sure I’d be as nice as Sunshine’s being.” She said flatly. “But she’s right. Drop it. Both of you have different views of the MCO. I’m not going to take sides, nor tell you which is right. I know which I agree with, but that’s for you to learn. And she’s right. There’s stuff outside public knowledge. And unlike Hikaru, I’ll agree it’s for good reason.”
Hikaru sniffed, and turned her back on the two girls, striding off to Melville.
“Great. The Party’s going to be great tonight.” Tiff hung her head as Tia stormed off herself.
“Eh, nice to see that Sunshine can still get really angry at things. Almost thought she was going to try to rip that bunny’s tail off.” Caitlin took a second look at both girls then looked after the RA who was almost out of earshot with a quiet, “Mental note: review the meaning of diplomacy with Sunshine.”
Tiff shook her head. “No, Hikaru wouldn’t do that. She likes Tia. She’ll forgive her.”
Caitlin shot the bubbly RA an unimpressed look. “I’m not quite sure we saw the same angry wolf.”
“.. what?” Tiff looked puzzled.
“Never mind. Just… never mind.” Caitlin snorted. That’s one reason why she was here. To make sure they didn’t understand what was truly out there… or be threatened by it. “Tiff this is an old argument had by more than just you three. Some people have been hurt very badly, some haven’t. I’ve seen both the good and bad. Most have only seen one or the other. Tia’s seen the good. Hikaru’s seen the bad.”
“But what could be so bad to get her to want to kill them all. She’s Japanese, MCO isn’t even allowed any authority there, and so few agents, that they’re a non factor.” Tiff shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense!”
“Doesn’t make sense to me either, but I’m also not Hikaru. I dunno what she’s seen.” Caitlin declined to mention that her history with the MCO over the past ten years had been checkered at best, and often more politely termed as “murderous.”
Tiff shook her head. “If I’m right, those two are going to fume, and snipe at each other all night, I don’t think either is going to let this be bygones, unless someone mediates!" She looked at the Amazon, and shook her head. “I’ve gotta go fix this. Bye!”
“Mental note. Tell Le Compte that Hikaru’s to be kept away from the MCO.” Caitlin shook her head quietly. “Follow the bloody-brick road. Follow the bloody-brick road, and you too, can escape to Oz,” she muttered, letting her morbid streak come to the fore. She decided she, however, was going to go call her baby sister, plan to spoil a rugrat and enjoy the flavor of good scotch while waiting for the dawn.
Tiff didn’t bother knocking on the door. In the mood Hikaru was in the older girl figured she’d bite anyone’s head off.
“What.” Hikaru bit, as she furiously brushed at her hair, trying to remove the static that had been added to the locks.
“Hey, don’t be too hard on Tia, ‘kay? I’m clueless too on why you don’t like the MCO.” Tiff thought about it for a moment, and shrugged. “I’ll just figure you have your reasons and leave it at that.”
“She’s naive! Can’t she see that she’s being used?” Hikaru responded, annoyed. “I mean, it’s …” She was cut off by Tiff, who shook her head.
“Hikaru, she’s a NorCal escapee, who hadn’t had an interest in anything mutant related, nor any real contact with anything to do with the paranormal. Sure her mother worked for some, but it’s clear that she was sheltered even more than your cousin.”
Hikaru couldn’t help but snort at the last, amused at the thought of Kako being sheltered. Oh, how the IHA would have loved that. Returning to reality, she sighed. She knew everything that Tiff had said, but… “It’s just…”
“Those who don’t learn from history?” Tiff quirked an eyebrow. “Oh, I agree, though I’d be curious to know what you can’t say. But, you’d not tell me.”
Hikaru winced. Even admitting to knowing what she knew was … questionable, and it hurt a bit to realize how close she tread to her oaths. “I… shouldn’t have reacted that way. It’s not Tia’s fault she’s being used. Nor should I have come on so strongly.”
Tiff shook her head, walking over to the armoire standing in the corner, and while opening it and rummaging around, she commented. “Maybe, maybe not. I don’t trust the MCO any more than the next mutant, girl, but I’ll concede I know the guy she’s talking about. I’m not sure she’s wrong about him. Though, with how you reacted and called them… I don’t think he knows what you know. And you got to take that into account, Hikaru. Blaming people for what they don’t know, isn’t what…”
Hikaru stopped her brushing for a moment, and hung her head. “It’s just... “ She drew in a breath before her Bayou Brat accent started creeping in again. “I’ll try. That’s all I can promise. And I’ll apologize to Tia about biting her tail off.”
“Almost thought you’d do… Ah, ha, that’s where you put them… err, do that for real, Bite her tail off. You looked pretty wolfish there, for a moment.” Tiff stood up, holding a pair of knee-high stilleto boots matching Hikaru’s tight racing catsuit. “These will go great!”
“... Tiffff…” Hikaru hissed, derailed again. “Has Kako been talking to you?”
Tiff blinked. “.. .if you’re referring to your cousin, the Imperial Princess? Why in hell would she?”
Hikaru, derailed totally from her fuming about the MCO, shot back. “To torment me, and dress me up like a doll. I swear!” Tapping Kurenai, she shot to the AI. “Send a message to Kako. No Minions for you! And not my fellow RAs at that!” Kurenai boggled at the statement, but disappeared after saluting with a grin. Hikaru suddenly felt a cold shiver down her spine for some reason she couldn’t figure out.
Tiff paused and grinned. “Does it pay?” Hikaru groaned.
“I’ve got to …”
Tiff interrupted the girl. “What you have on is fine, it’s casual tonight, and if you’re wearing that, and your boots… which if I had your feet, I’d so steal! And if they were in black. Got to remember that, if you’re so inclined.”
Hikaru shot an unimpressed look at Tiff. This wasn’t the first time the young woman had made some motions towards her wardrobe. It wasn’t like Hikaru didn’t have more than enough clothing, but why did everyone go after the stuff she personally liked and paid for! Instead of stuff she’d been hoping for a reason to ‘disappear’ without being rude to those who had gifted her with it. “I’ll remember.” Hikaru pondered. The cobbler who had made the boots wouldn’t mind making another pair, would he? And New Years… or better yet, Western Christmas was coming up.
“Good.” Tiff smiled. “Now, on with the boots, and makeup, I’ll finish your hair.”
Hikaru sighed. “Fuck it.” Pretending to not notice Tiff’s playing at horrified. “Let’s kill some boys’s thinking processes.” Grinning evilly. “Maybe they’ll be too busy staring at our rears and chests to bother anyone else.”
“I like the way you think, though Michelle will be annoyed.” Tiff sighed.
“What are we going to do about her.” Hikaru shifted gears, as Tiff brushed the long mane that Hikaru kept, makeup was applied by the Japanese girl. “That’s just not normal. At all.”
“I don’t know. It’s not our place to send a request into Doyle or Dr. Bellows for eval, though we can ah… suggest it to Concierge.” Tiff thought for a moment as she absently brushed the hair below her.
“Let’s. She could cause problems, and not just for herself.” Hikaru sighed. “And the reputation she’ll have isn’t good either. Not…”
Tiff paused, and knowing Hikaru was looking in the mirror to catch it, nodded and replied. “Yeah, let’s just do that. But! Tonight! It’s not OUR job to watch the students, Gazebo and J Dean lost the bet, and Down swapped with me.”
“... Excellent.” Hikaru smiled. She figured that this would keep people off her back, and make them happy if she at least tried to dance and otherwise pretend to party. “This should be... useful, then.”
“Oh, for…” Tiff had figured out what Hikaru was thinking, or somewhat. Wondering exactly how much did minion hood to a princess pay, she promised herself, she’d actually get some concept of ‘fun’ for fun’s sake into the younger princess’ head. “Let’s just go and dance!” With her statement, she dragged the younger girl up and out of the room, clearly intent on making her have a good time.
“Ack! My boots aren’t…” was heard as the older girl pulled Hikaru away.
Gerard found her right where he expected, pacing around the second floor walkway of the atrium. He had expected the muttering too, dark and angry, clipped short as if to bite off the venom.
She looked up and her ears rose. “Oh hi, Gerard.” He nodded, a quick dip of his head.
She stepped aside to let him pass, but he stopped, and looked around. “Hello Tia, can we talk for a minute?”
“Um, sure.” she had her eyes on the exits, not him. He hunched a little, drawing himself in.
“I'll get right to the point, okay? Tiff asked me to come see how you were doing.”
At the mention of the RA, Tia's ears laid back as she looked him in the face. “I'm angry, is how I'm doing. Not at Tiff or anything, Hikaru...!” She started pacing again but her eyes bored into his. “Do you know what she did? It's wrong! Its disgusting, even!”
“No, I don't know anything about it. What did she do?”
“She accused someone she didn't even know, someone she'd never met, as having been a Nazi or worse!”
Gerard raised his eyebrows. “That IS bad.”
Tia waved her arms, and Gerard kept his face set. “I know, right?!? The guy was even in one of the camps as a kid! And she made it sound like he was betraying all humanity or something!”
“Tia. That bench over there looks soft at the moment. Care to join me?”
The time spent walking was silent. Gerard sat down and Tia followed; he was glad she seemed to be cooling off again.
“Tia, do you know how a cottage like Melville gets along? How so many different kids manage not to go for each others throats? Especially kids with powers?”
Gerard could see she really considered it for a long moment; not just making a show of it, before shaking her head.
“No, I don't think I do. I have some ideas, but....”
Gerard spoke into the silence as she trailed off. “It's because we make it a point not to push. All of the kids here have problems, and we all have hot buttons. Big red buttons that say 'warning, do not push'. Things we don't like to think about, or deal with. You have a few yourself.”
Tia nodded, shuddering.
“Well, so do I, and so does Tiff, and so does Hikaru. We can all get along specifically because we try to be nice to each other, and not push those boundaries.”
“But what could....” Gerard held up a hand, cutting Tia off.
“I don't know Tia, and neither do you. We won't know what about that conversation sets Hikaru off until she wants us to – and that's fine. That's the way it should be. I get it Tia, you're a curious girl; it's pretty obvious that Hikaru insulted a friend of yours and you want to know why. But when someone at this school asks you to drop it, whatever it is... you should.”
Tia's ears drooped. “You think I should apologize, don't you?”
“Don't you?” Gerard asked, and Tia sighed.
“Yeah, I guess so. Fine, let's get this over with. But I won't be the only one apologizing.”
Gerard clapped her lightly on the back as they got up. “Oh, hell no. Whatever her reasons, she insulted your friend, Tia. That ain't somethin' anyone can let stand.”
Tia knocked on the door, and after a moment, got an “Enter.” Taking her shoes off, she pushed the door open and almost tripped over a small little device running around on the floor. “What The…”
Hikaru turned to look at the bunny girl and raised an eyebrow. “That is a floor cleaning bot. I have much doubt you’d recognize the brand.” Her voice was chilly.
“It has been brought to my attention that I was unreasonable before. So I came to apologize - I am sorry for the the things I said that offended you.” Tia stated as clearly as possible, successfully fighting off the urge to rush.
“No apologies needed. I’m sorry for disturbing your harmony. Is that all?” Hikaru politely answered, clearly still chilly. She was looking at a holographic calender, her fingers flicking in it, with various hotel names and locations, mostly New York city based hotels and events, and all the dates were around Thanksgiving.
“Okay, clearly that’s not all, because you’re still pissed. How about this. I give you an opportunity to prove what you have your mind already made up on, and in return you don’t need that calendar. You come to my house for thanksgiving, eat some turkey, have some pie, you meet the man you might have unfairly slandered, and a good time is had by all?” Tia countered.
“I did not slander him.” Hikaru turned to look at Tia. “I assure you, meeting him would be… unpleasant for all involved. At best” the stress indicated Hikaru didn’t believe what she was about to say, “He is blind to what he belongs to, and it would be my duty to educate him, which I cannot do.” Hikaru blew out a breath. “As much as I would prefer to explain to you exactly what the Mutant Commission Office is, how it was founded and why it is considered by those in the know to be an organization on par with the Kempeitai or Schutzstaffel…” Hikaru paused for a moment, snorting at the last word. “Very apt that last word in comparison…” Shaking her head she moved on. “I cannot. I gave my word. I will not break it.”
Pausing for a moment, she shook her head. “Accept that I have reason, just like the Range Oni, to despise everyone involved in that organization. I suggest you talk to her about them.” Pausing again, she turned back to the hologram. “As for your offer of hospitality during Thanksgiving, I will accept with thanks, and the understanding I will cook.” She nodded sharply. “You would be doing me…” She paused. “A great service.”
Kurenai interrupted the two with a snarky comment. “I’m not sure about your displeasure towards the idiots, Hikaru-sama, but how about this? Let’s find a contact who quit the MCO, and is considered awesome by those who are of your view? I’m sure there’s a few.”
Hikaru’s eyebrow rose as she looked at Tia, questioning.
Tia took a seat on Hikaru’s bed, clearly as close to the other girl as she dared. “Alright, first off, I’m ignoring Kurenai for the moment, because this is important. No one is asking you to break oaths or promises or anything else. My house will be having a big thanksgiving this year, and one more won’t matter; it’ll beat staying here. That said, Berk is invited too. I’d really like for their not to be any trouble between you both. He won’t start any.”
Tia looked down at the bracelet Hikaru wore, and the little girl dressed as a ninja upon it. “As for Kurenai… well she can look him up. Agent Berkowitz, MCO, retired. I doubt he has anything to hide. Is that acceptable to you?”
Kurenai’s slight smile indicated something dark. Hikaru shrugged. “I will not cause problems for a host. I do doubt severely that he … is as clean as you think. But I have had much experience dealing with those I rather shoot, and smiling at them.” Shrugging slightly she plopped next to Tia, dumping a few plushies off the bed and a few into Tia’s lap. “The fact of the matter is, Tia, you are…” Finally settling on a idea, Hikaru continued. “Too kind, perhaps. Too nice. Not yet… jaded. Losing that… would be a shame.” The Japanese girl sighed at the last. “But as I’ve stated, I will start nothing… and perhaps someone to explain to you and, perhaps… this Berkowitz, what the MCO truly is, could be arranged. I will discuss this with a few others.”
Pausing, Hikaru picked up the small plush puppy that had been added to the pile by Tia. Putting it on Tia’s head, between her ears, a sardonic grin appeared on the avatar’s face. “I’m not quite current on those who once belonged to an organization my government despises, and left once they could disassociate themselves.” Hikaru’s head titled slightly. “It will take a bit of time to find one.”
“Awesome,” Tia enthused, moving aside the puppy with her ears. “I don’t mind that, there are a few reporters I really can’t stand. A good time can be had by all. By the way, Kurenai?”
“Yes?” Kurenai hummed out.
“Can you take a picture of Hikaru? She’s smiling now, and it might break her face. We might need it for reconstruction purposes later! ‘Bye now!”
Tia bolted, and made it out the door ahead of the plushie storm.
Sunday, September 19th, Dawn
At the Sundial
Caitlin nodded as Hikaru attuned the sundial. “Alright, that should let you fake the funk and pretend that it’s actually a shrine to a greater or lesser extent.” She stretched in the chilly air of the first hour of dawn. “Now that we have someplace to put your overflow, and since you don’t seem to be positively exploding with incandescence, do you feel like the two of you can safely channel small amounts?”
Hikaru titled her head, and her eye’s corona effect expanded a bit. Okaa-chan?
How sweet. And the answer is yes. What is small amounts, on the other hand… is subjective. Amaterasu mused. The best I can do is about half of what we normally use when you seem to need a… ah, recharge, is best.
Hikaru’s eyes cleared, and she mused. “Smallest is about half of ‘normal recharge’ Musing, she added “That’s about the equivalent of an hour of sunlight or so, I think, in a half hour.”
“Alright, how high have the two of you gone up from there, safely?”
“I’m not quite sure.” Hikaru paused.
At night, I can do about 3 times that. I have gone higher, at times, but that all resulted… Well. It is not the most pleasant feeling to limit myself that much. Hikaru got the frustration from the great spirit, and relayed it.
“Alright, can Amaterasu step up by half-magnitude increments, starting at one and a half, then two, then two and a half?” She looked at Hikaru, amused at the frustrated look the avatar was bearing. “We gotta start small, sunshine. Apparently both of you have to relearn how to walk before you can run.”
Hikaru mused. “Yes, though it’s far easier for her to go by full magnitudes. Three is not wise, because the sun’s up. I already can ‘feel’ the ‘heat’ of it.”
Indeed, daughter. Amaterasu mused. Inform the artist that I can even fine tune it more, though that bears great risk for not just you, but me. And at this time, is very ill-advised.” Hikaru nodded, relaying the information.
“Fine-tuning isn’t required, ladies.” Caitlin popped her neck. “If you say you can handle three times the sun’s rays safely, let’s start there. If you start to glow, back it off, and we’ll do an essence shunt into the sundial. Hikaru, you have a weapon on you, or just your bare-hand skills today?”
“I don’t carry my katana at most times, but somehow I figured you’d want her.” Hikaru pointed at the slim fabric wrapped bundle that Caitlin initially took as a bolt of silk.
“Bring her out. I know you Japanese have traditions about swords, so I’m not going to fiddle with her and just go poke. Walk me through it, and then I’ll walk you through what I can learn of the blade.”
“Only real tradition regarding blades, is that you don’t unsheath them without them tasting blood before you put them back to rest.” She paused. “Though there is that ‘soul of a samurai’ view, and several others. She’s been reforged at least once, though family legend has it that the guard, the Tsuba, was actually part of the original blade, a twin to Kusanagi no Tsurugi, though I’d be shocked at the latter.”
Hikaru felt an insistent push from Amaterasu, indicating the Goddess wanted to speak directly. She surrendered control, knowing that Amaterasu only did so if it was actually important. Her eyes became complete gold fire.
“My daughter shouldn’t be shocked, for the family myth… is true. Hametsu’Yomi was forged after Kusanagi, mind you, but she is part of the same iron, same blood, same forge, and same craftsmanship as Kusanagi, though as Hikaru-chan indicated, she’s been reforged.” Amaterasu looked at the Oni. Waiting.
“I’m afraid I’m not what you would call well-versed in the lore, Lady.” Caitlin’s inflection of the last word lacked her usual flippancy, injecting it with a tone of deference. “What I can tell are the practical results and what her potential is. Specific weapons all sing their own song, but the song I hear is that of their creator. May I?”
Amaterasu smiled. “Of course. As pale of an imitation of your art, that was…” She trailed off, then shook the body she was in, “I would be curious to know what’s left of the original Hamestu. She was intended to be Kusanagi’s backup, after all.”
Caitlin took the blade, and simply unsheathed it completely, sliding a hand across the blade’s backside, feeling the curve, running fingers along the handle. “Full tang, Guard’s ancient. Blade’s been folded too many times… She’s been reforged at least twice, that’s why. Tempered in fire and blood, quenched in a man with your blood. Someone wasn’t paying attention, bound the blade tighter”
Caitlin’s eyes were glowing that odd glacial blue. “Too many battles, not enough of the original blade to reforge, had to shore it up with new steel, but there’s still steel touched by shadow, and by light. Blood of the descendant to seal the power that fled when the sword was shattered to begin with. This blade had power, could hold it again. But even if I did the work, she’s too tight to one bloodline to ever answer anyone’s call. Anyone else would feel her curse.”
Caitlin sheathed the blade. “That sword has history, for certain.” She handed it back to Hikaru, very careful not to discuss a few other things she found in the blade. She was leery of letting students play around with certain things.
The gold in Hikaru’s eyes dimmed a bit, and a finger ran it’s ball against the edge of the blade, a drop gleaming. The fast and sharp shake and sheathing of the blade was far too practiced for Caitlin’s liking. As the blade slid home, the eyes of the wielder brightened a bit and she bowed deeply. “Thank you, Master Artist. I may have a request for you later, properly compensated, of course.” The eyes returned to normal, and Hikaru slumped slightly, panting.
“That…” Hikaru took a deep breath. “Is not the most fun thing to do.” She smiled, and didn’t realize she was speaking out loud on her next words. “No, no, I don’t mind. It’s … nice to know, so…”
“Still getting used to the intimacy of sharing thought and body with someone else, Sunshine?”
Hikaru’s eyes snapped to Caitlin’s and a slight blush crossed her pale skin. “Not that.” Hikaru seemed to pause a moment, and nodded once. “You understand avatars, I can gather.” Receiving a nod from Caitlin. “Mother, is easily class 3. And likely one of the top among them. It’s… intense having her work through me. And draining.”
“Yeah I have a friend or two with that problem. The lucky ones have spirits that can manifest physically. One or two have had those spirits die.”
Hikaru nodded. “Even the great Kami die. That’s… known.” Hikaru sighed. “Mother has commented once or twice that she occasionally visits us, directly, but she’s implied that she’s so severely limited, she only does it to figure out what’s what with Japan.” Hikaru’s wince indicated to Caitlin’s amusement that Amaterasu wasn’t too thrilled with her daughter’s comments. The next words just confirmed it. “Oh, and check out the new fashions, can’t forget that. Apparently she hasn't’ liked what has been delivered to Ise the last half dozen times.”
Caitlin just chuckled. “Nice to know. Don’t think I’ll be telling anyone to watch for her any time soon, though. For now, I had you bring out the sword so we could do something useful while Amaterasu channels.” Caitlin withdrew her tonfa-style Adamant Nightstick from the nowhere space she kept it. “Half-speed, till we get to know each other better while she does her thing? Powers-yes, so you can bleed some of the wash while we practice. Do not try to shatter the nightstick. I won’t be held responsible for reforging that blade.”
Hikaru smiled slightly. “Live steel is never drawn in a spar.” She made an odd move that Caitlin hadn’t seen before and a slight ‘click’ sound was made. “But, given a few things and techology! Instant bokken that feels the same as her! Let's… dance.” Her arm drew the blade across her body, diagonally, leaving the gold-corona blue eyes as the only thing visible from her face, her hand blocked the rest. “Dealer’s choice, I do believe, and you have the deck.”
“If you would ask your Lady to begin, let’s see how you fare. Half-speed, please, so I can also watch the essence flows…” She pressed her fingers to her eyes, and nodded her head, looking back into hikaru’s eyes, runes in her irises glowing sun-gold. “And see how this solar build of yours really works.”
Hikaru’s arm snapped, putting the tip over her right shoulder, as she started to glow. “Half it is. And she’s doing so.” With a push, she flashed,and Caitlin had to move as Hikaru was slightly above and behind her spinning to bring the blade at her neck.
Cait was already rolling away as she saw the flash, coming around with her Nightstick, using it’s deceptively simple design to vary her reach as she withheld her own powers for the moment, well-used to sparring with ornery teleporters. “Teleporters always do the same thing.”
Caitlin held up a hand, “Pause.” She took a moment to remove her fingerless gloves. “That could have been bad, Hajime!”
Hikaru finished her flip, having used the slide of the blade and stick meeting to flip her over, and landed gracefully. “Oh? As for the trick, it works over nine-tenths of the time. Why not use it as a opening?”
Hikaru wasn’t sure what Caitlin did, but it left a mass-shadow trail directly at her as she felt her knees jerked forward, slightly by the nightstick twisted between them. “Obliques work better on people who have a clue.”
Instead of reacting as Caitlin expected, Hikaru went with the jerk on one leg, her leg snapping with the half-speed set in the spar, aimed and connecting with Caitlin’s jaw. “OW!” Hikaru felt her toes break as she impacted, and her foot jerk away, involuntarily. “What the hell? What are you made of!” Hikaru hopped back several steps, leaving her left foot in the air.
“Rock.” Caitlin smirked. “I have, and I quote, ‘the worst case of internal GSD I have ever seen,’ and that was from a Whateley Doc.”
Hikaru’s glare could be lasers, Caitlin mused, as the younger appearing girl shot back, as she sat down and laid her blade next to her. “It’d have been nice to know, at the very least, I’d have worn jungle boots.” Caitlin noted the flow of essence to her foot, as the glow intensified there. “Not slippers!”
“You’ve never sparred against someone trained in classical combat, have you?” Hikaru shook her head and added, “That trick is typical for yari, bo and jo, and even some of the polearm schools. And the counter is to use the leg being forced the most, to break the jaw, if in range.”
“Classical combat? You never met Ito-Soke.” Caitlin grinned. “The hell midget would have had a field day with you.”
Hikaru rolled her eyes, still massaging her toes. “Of course, Ito-dono is well known. I’d just shoot him from a distance with a damned tank. His apprentice is bad enough, thank you very much.”
“Up & at ‘em princess, the bogeymen don’t take toe massage breaks.”
“Powers, remember? I hit you with EX-3 strength, just about, at serious speed. I’m lucky I didn’t push out all my bones, or drive them into my foot!” She hissed. “It’s going to take a just a bit to heal the fragments of three of my toes.”
“You’re channeling the energy flow nicely at that level, by the way, you seem to be stable at the moment. Got a question princess, did Amaterasu have to start lower, originally with you?”
Hikaru paused in the massaging, and Caitlin realized, aligning the bones in the right places, indicating this wasn’t the first time she had done this. “You know, I honestly don’t know. After my first burnout, this seems to be the level we work at. And yes, I know it’s EX-3 level strength and, somewhat, toughness, though we’re not sure why not full, for about 1 minute of sunlight, per 1 minute of use. So… take that as you will. Flash steps, my lasers, regenerating faster all eat more power, of course.”
“You know, the way you talk, you really remind me of someone on the campus. I have this feeling that Amaterasu didn’t rebuild you to be a wrecking ball. You’ve got some signs, but there’s more efficient ways to go about that. Most spirits go that route. You, however… you’re built for war, but definitely not a line-fighter.” Caitlin watched Hikaru move, watched her expressions. “You don’t know how to do anything less than ‘all in,’ do you, kid?”
Hikaru paused for a moment, eyes going a bit brighter, then answered. “Mother says, and I quote. ‘While a Mahou Shoujo was a nice benefit’” Hikaru’s face was such a study to Caitlin’s amusement, and her mental note of ‘I’ve got to get that translated’, her further words confirmed. “‘ No, combat was and is not what you are meant for. At least not trying to break stone faces, with your tender and easily breakable foot, daughter.’” Hikaru didn’t really answer the last, though Caitlin already knew the answer.
Caitlin chuckled. “Serious question, and the answer goes no further. How much real combat have you seen, Hikaru? Not what kind, not where, not why. Just how much?”
Hikaru paused and nodded once. “Time in combat, Corporal Mahren” using that name, indicated Hikaru was making a serious point here. “Is more than you had in the Corps total. And yes, I know exactly what that tells you. And I’m quite aware of Butcher’s Row.”
“That explains your love for the Murder Conviction Orifice.” Caitlin looked at Hikaru. “I don’t like that look I see in your eyes, Sunshine. Byron wore that look for almost twenty years, and it almost killed him more times than I care to count.”
Hikaru looked up at the sky, staring into the Sun. “I may not be ninja, Caitlin.” And by that, Caitlin knew Hikaru wasn’t referring to the assassins and spies of Classical japan, but something else, something she couldn’t quite understand. “But I endure. I promised. And like Worm… But, what is, is, what will, will.”
Eldritch cocked her head, and watched the girl. “Oh what I wouldn’t give to be able to talk to your Mamaterasu for just a few minutes alone right now, kid.” She didn’t say it very loudly, just resignedly. It wasn’t a hostile statement, just one of someone who understood far, far too well. “Pack it in for the day. Go ahead and stop channeling. I know why you keep burning out.”
She stopped as she was about to leave the clearing. “And Okami? Corporal Mahren died ten years ago. I had to leave him behind to save myself. It’s just Caitlin Bardue now.”
Hikaru just nodded, and went to the sundial, not saying a word, but… Caitlin recognized the look, and knew that Amaterasu was pointing something out. And why Okami was here, was obvious. And Eldritch once again cursed what took Carson and the others away, for she wanted a pointed discussion with Liz.
For now, Caitlin had to watch, wait and observe the troubled girl she was working with, and pray that her assessment was wrong. She would have to watch, and worst of all, wait. Caitlin prayed that she was wrong.
Le Compte walked up behind Eldritch quietly as she observed Air Force Colonel Samuel Weiss coach the kids in their shooting form. She observed all of her instructors as Smythe had while she was a Range Instructor on Range 4. The official job classification was “Teaching Assistant” until they’d achieved their certification in teaching, but the pay didn’t change. The kids who kept coming to the ranges usually loved the ranges because they were safe, well-monitored and bullies and antagonists got thrown out on their asses in ways that other teachers could simply not do.
“Spying on your minions?” Mazarin smiled lightly as he stepped up.
“If I know what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis I can head off the inevitable complaints that inevitably crop up here.” She looked over. “What brings you to the ranges, boss? You don’t come here often.”
“We found the last one Caitlin. British SAS confirmed our missing girl’s identity. She’s being held at coordinates which will be provided when you are ready to leave.”
Caitlin’s eyes glowed red as the runes in her irises heated up. She walked over to a wall, and hit the emergency comms. Her report to Le Compte about hikaru would have to wait. Her voice rang out across campus. “This is Caitlin Bardue. Range REACT. I repeat, Range REACT. This is not a drill, team Echo, muster on the quad. All classes interrupted are on indefinite standby.”
Caitlin watched as Weiss called a halt to the range fire, and directed the children to put away their firearms and move to Range 4 where Tyson would be keeping watch over the myriad students in the interim. Much as Caitlin would prefer to have him come, Whateley Regulations prohibited any first-year teacher from participating in a REACT action.
As the last student put away their firearms, and filtered out, Caitlin and Weiss grimly marched to the Range Control Office building.
Several dozen kids on the Whateley quad saw Miss. Bardue and Colonel Weiss walking up to the quad dressed in some of the heaviest non-powered armor the children had ever seen. Weiss carried an assault Rifle and a backpack running a communications suite that some gadgeteers would drool at while Bardue carried an obsolete machinegun with a rocket launcher strapped to her butt, and six rockets on her back.
They were joined by an ethereal redhead from the magic department, dressed in silvery armor with a delicate scimitar at her hip as Miss Reilly joined the march, followed by two more Range Staff in their heavy armor. Hikaru’s eyes went wide as Ammy hissed pure hate in her mind as she saw the redhead with the violet eyes. She was a bit bemused when the Oni and the Sidhe clasped arms like battle-brothers and gave a quick hug.
As more people and several security officers gathered on the quad, the group received a sheet of papers from the Dean’s assistant, Byron White. The man was widely considered by the kids on campus to be made from pure evil.
The shifter teacher, WyldChyld walked up calmly, unarmed and unarmored, followed by Mister Allen, an english teacher whom was well-liked by his students. Finally, a grim-faced Imp sauntered up to the group of mixed mutant and baseline that ranged from “merely skilled” to “walking force of nature.”
As Caitlin read the notes, she passed them around, and as the last of them got the information and nodded, Nichole Reilly and Caitlin Bardue began casting, combining their efforts as a spherical, shimmering rip in the fabric of the universe came into being. The teachers jumped in.
Very few students were awake to see the spherical rift that erupted in front of Schuster Hall in the dead of night. Those who had saw the vanished, battle-weary instructors come home, shepherding a crying young woman covered in blankets towards Doyle Medical. She was battered, bruised and had been poorly treated.
Caitlin’s machinegun was wrecked, her armor battered, the rockets on her back gone, expended. Reilly’s armor had been dented and bashed up, and most of the returning people showed signs of Injury. Colonel Weiss assisted a limping Mr. Allen to the doctors, for all appearances having been badly burned.
Not one word was said on-campus to the students about what had just happened.