A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
A Dragon Abroad
Monday 12th September
I stumbled towards the showers with mixed feelings of anticipation and dread, both considerably muted by my pre-coffee zombie state. Hey, it's not all that bad a condition - at least it means that waiting in line for a shower isn't quite as boring, mainly because I don't remember all of it. So I mumbled greetings to the other girls queuing up, and idly admired the way Laura jiggled when she dried off. I was still trying to work out if she did it deliberately to make us watch, or she simply hadn't realised she was doing it now she was a girl. I'd have bet on the first, but it was hardly something I could just ask her, was it?
I was just hanging up my robe to get in the shower when I heard a loud gasp from behind me. Turning around, I saw Poe's other Frosh dragongirl looking at me and blushing red.
"Is something the matter, Chessa?"
She shook her head, still blushing an interesting colour.
"Uh...it's just your back..."
I smiled at her. Hey, why should I bite her head off about something that was actually a good thing?
"Yeah, well when then healed me on Saturday, they cleaned up the last of the scars. So I'm a bit less of a horror show now."
She blushed even deeper - damn, any more red and I'd think it was some sort of weird power.
"You're not a horror show, Morgana!" Well, that statement got a few glances, and even a few grins, which made her even more mortified as she glanced around, looking like she wanted to sink through the tiles. So I slipped into the shower, the poor girl really didn't need any more ammo to shoot herself in the foot with, and if I got out of the way hopefully she'd recover her composure.
I hummed cheerfully to myself as I got myself clean. The back problem almost made all the stuff from Saturday worthwhile, I'd been trying to work out how to hide it today in BMA, and hadn't come up with a plan that was even a bit believable. Not having to worry about that was a relief.
This Monday was going to be a bit different from last week - I hadn't yet made up my mind if this was to be in a good or a bad way - as it was the first day of classes. And the first day of having to wear the school uniform. Meh. For some reason I didn't like having to wear a girl's uniform. It was silly, I know, I'd had no real problem dressing like a girl - well, after all, I was a girl now - but something about being forced to just felt out of place. Maybe it was the fact I was wearing a school uniform again, but this time a girls one, that was rubbing the fact of my change in my face.
I was still trying to work it all through when I finished, stepping to one side while I ran flaming hands through my hair. I got a few worried looks - I guess most of my hall-mates weren't really used to my little trick yet - before ambling off to dress. Bianca was already half dressed, so I buckled down to the important issue of getting ready to go over to the Crystal Hall for some breakfast.
I guess I wasn't the only one wondering what classes would be like - as we walked over, Laura was talking rather more rapidly than usual, while Bianca was even more Miss Silent. Still, I tried to put a good face on it, and a couple of jumbo mugs of espresso with breakfast helped, at least I'd be awake for my first classes. I wanted to do well in them - well, except for French, they could keep French - and falling asleep in front of the teacher would hardly give the right impression. Judging from the glum expressions on the faces of my friends at breakfast, most of them weren't too keen on restarting school. I wasn't sure why, I mean this wasn't just the usual boring lessons, this was stuff like superpowers and magic! Still, I didn't say anything - I knew that actually liking classes wasn't really a thing to boast about at school.
First up was Powers Theory, which apparently was counted as a Science class. I hadn't really worked out how the weird American system of class types and points worked yet, but in any case I was far more interested in what it could teach me about powers. The course books had looked interesting, but hadn't actually mentioned magic - ah well, it would probably be helpful if I got attacked again. After my experiences so far, as well as talking with my friends, Whateley was starting to look rather like a combat zone in the Middle East as well as a school. Or maybe all American schools were like this, what did I know? Mainly we covered what the course would do over the term, boring stuff like tests and homework - homework, yay, I bet they didn't have to suffer that at Xavier's Academy - but it all looked straightforward. The teacher mentioned they would be showing and doing examples as well as just talking about the theory, which sounded cool. As long as someone else was the Crash Test Dummy, of course. If I was lucky, he'd find out about my Power Testing fiasco, which would at least get me out of contention for sucker of the day.
Magic Theory I'd really been looking forward to. It seemed that Ms Grimes, who'd done my power testing, was to be the main teacher for the term. Most of the time was taken up with explaining what we'd be doing over this term, and how it tied in with the other, more practical, part of the class. She also grouped us into sets of three, which she explained as being mainly for the practical work which we'd be getting into later. Getting grouped with Bianca was good, then she added AJ as the third member. He moved over to us with a grin, and I sighed to myself. Yep, a typical teenage boy, looking forward to impressing two pretty girls. Shame he had about zero chance of getting anywhere, but hopefully he'd work that out before too long. Interestingly, Bianca seemed to know him; I'd have to ask her later what that was all about. I was in the middle of moving over to let him sit with us, when I saw what was on his shoulder.
For a moment, I thought it was a toy of some sort, but then the tiny dragon turned his head and looked at me curiously. I couldn't help it, I broke into a broad grin. "Who's your friend, AJ?"
The boy looked puzzled for a moment before he replied, maybe because I was looking at his shoulder and not at him.
"Oh...this is Smokey. Smokey, meet Morgana and Bianca." The small dragon looked at us, and gave a cute little chirp.
"Is he your familiar? Where did you get him, he's a dragon, right?"
This time it was AJ's turn to look amused as I ran on a bit at the sight of the little guy. "Well, he's not exactly a familiar, and he isn't a real dragon, he just looks like one." Smokey sniffed loudly and turned his snout up in disgust at the comment, which made me grin again. "May I...?"
I reached out, very slowly, and AJ nodded. "Sure." So I stretched a bit more, carefully scritching Smokey behind the ear. He gave a sort of growling purr and leaned into it, closing his eyes in pleasure. You had to admit it was cute, even Bianca had given over her Miss Imperturbable act and was grinning. The scene was broken by a loud and meaningful cough from Ms Grimes. "Very well, now you've all introduced yourselves, let's get on with things.
So I sat back and paid attention - thankfully the two bitches I'd run into in the store hadn't been teamed with us, I couldn't see that ending well. Mind, both of them had given me a number of condescending sneers when they thought Grimes wasn't looking, so I figured I'd have to deal with more of their aggravation. Personally I thought they were foolish, Grimes didn't strike me as the sort of teacher who wouldn't notice what her class was up to, especially in a potentially dangerous subject like magic. Still, if they wanted to dig themselves a hole and step into it, who was I to stop them? Of course, the fact that Grimes had grouped the three students who'd gotten involved in fights in New York might have been a co-incidence. Of course it could.
"You do manage to make new enemies easily, don't you?"
I gave Bianca a dirty look as we gathered up our books and left, heading for the dojo for our next class. It was pretty obvious who she was referring to.
"Those were the two twits I told you about, from the store, who seem to have some sort of issue with Magic students with GSD. Did you notice how they were sticking their noses up at the other kids with GSD as well? And I don't rate them as enemies" I stuck my own nose up a bit "they don't rate that high!"
Bianca just smirked, so I got a little petty revenge by ostentatiously checking she had her Gi and stuff. I knew she wasn't really looking forward to BMA, the look on her face when she was packing her backpack for the day had given that away.
The first two classes of the day had been interesting, but the next one promised at least to be more physical - and quite possibly more painful. Basic Martial Arts, as I had rather pointedly been aimed at by Ms Dennon. OK, I didn't really mind - I obviously needed training in fighting, and to be honest I hoped it would sort of substitute for not being able to do sports any more. Last week I'd worried a lot about my issues with changing in front of a group of girls I didn't know, but one lucky side effect of having been healed after the fake StahlFausts ambush was that the remaining marks and scars on my back had gone. As it was, I tried to ignore the display of female flesh while getting into my Gi. Which got me a smirk from Laura, who obviously realised what I was up to. For my part, I just rolled my eyes at her. I was getting a lot of practice at doing that as well. Shame you couldn't get course credit for the skill.
I'd never attended a martial arts class before, but it actually looked a lot like the ones you see on TV. Down to the old inscrutable Japanese sensei, who Ms Tolman introduced as Ito Soke, emeritus. Hmm. I watched the way he looked at us without making it obvious he was doing so, and wondered just how emeritus he actually was. I had a solid suspicion that he could probably tie any of us into knots, either singly or in a group, even without using any powers. The gentle smile he wore as he looked us all over just made me even less trustful.
I was surprised when Sensei Tolman called out Laura to spar with one of the assistants. I knew she had some training, but seeing her selected made me realise she was probably the most skilled of our class. I'd have to have a word with her later, maybe she could help me with a few tips or some training. Granted the teaching assistant won, but Laura looked pretty skilled to my eyes.
Then we got split into three groups, for evaluation. Which involved fighting, it seemed. I was a little worried, I mean we hadn't been taught anything yet, so I was hoping that whoever I was put up against was equally unskilled. Otherwise I'd be flat on the mat quite a lot. Actually I rather hoped I'd get to fight the obnoxious girl who had been making nasty comments in the changing room about the way Bianca and Laura looked. What was it with some of the kids here, did they think people with GSD looked that way because they wanted to? Like it was some sort of optional extra you ordered with your powers, like a side of fries?
Interestingly Tolman asked us a lot of questions about our powers as well - so it looked like she hadn't been kidding about powered fighting being all part of the course. That was going to make things interesting. So then we got paired up to fight. I had to meet a girl who called herself Miss Omega. She didn't look that tough - she looked like a short nerd - but I wasn't going to let what she looked like fool me. Tanya hardly looked physically imposing, yet she was a lot stronger than I was. More promisingly, she didn't stand like someone who was used to fighting. Well, neither did I, at least not in this sort of formal setting. But I'd spent years playing rugby, it gave me a more useful attitude, as well as practice at throwing unwilling bodies around.
We bowed, as instructed, as I examined her more closely. She didn't look like an exemplar, and she was definitely nervous. Our first bout was without powers, so I figured I'd go for something simple and see if she fell for it. I moved just a little closer, and when she let her hand go forward, grabbed it fast and yanked her hard against me. She gave a little squeak of surprise, and then I basically just tossed her out of the circle. Not too hard, I didn't want to hurt her and I didn't know how resilient she was. While I was a lot weaker in this form, I was still an athletic Exemplar and she wasn't exactly a huge girl.
She got up and moved back into the circle, a more determined expression on her face.
"This time you may use your powers. DragonsFyre, as we discussed you are not to use your fire."
I nodded. "Yes Sensei."
Miss Omega's eyes went wide. "You can use fire!"
"Yeah, but don't worry, I'm not going to. This is just sparring, remember?"
She let her breath out with a firm nod, then I smiled and changed form. Judging by the look of shock on her face and the small squeak, she hadn't been expecting that, and Tolman's command of 'Hajime' caught her by surprise. What she did then surprised me too, as she floated up a foot in the air - like Tanya did, but without the purple glow. Oh damn, was she a PK supergirl then? I suspected something like that, because she now looked a lot more resolute now she was using her powers. So I slid forward again, and found out as she grabbed my wrist that yes she was a supergirl, and considerably stronger than me as well. Damn. If she'd actually known what she was doing, she would easily have tossed me out as I'd done to her earlier, but she fumbled it and I managed to skid to a stop on the mat before I was disqualified.
So I stayed out of her reach while we circled and I tried to work out what to do. I didn't think I could out-wrestle her, but maybe I could use her inexperience. So I popped my claws, very blatantly, then snarled as loudly as I could, showing my fangs as I leapt up right in her face. She didn't really have to worry - I wasn't going to try and claw her, but she didn't know that. Instead she followed her natural instincts when faced with a scary monster, shooting back away from me with a shocked expression. In a real fight, that would have been pretty sensible, but for an inexperienced fighter in a circle, she suddenly realised she'd flown backwards out of the combat zone. She scowled at me as Tolman called the match, and I gave her an apologetic grin.
She gave me another dirty look, then sighed. "I guess." Well, with luck she would treat it as something that just happened in BMA, I could really do without more girls hating me right now. Still the quick grins and thumbs up my friends gave me as I sat back down was gratifying.
Watching the rest of the bouts was interesting, especially the second phase where powers were used. It looked like most of the students had some sort of physical ability, even when it wasn't obvious. Laura was actually an exception, but given how skilled she was, I reckoned it wasn't going to be a problem for her. I did wonder if gageteers and devisors were allowed to use their toys as part of their powers, I'd have to ask Laura later. That would actually make them more tricky to fight, you'd never be quite certain what you'd be facing from day to day.
The good thing about having BMA in period three was there was more time to change and shower. The bad thing was, it had been a long time since breakfast, and I was getting hungry, especially after all the exercise. So I stripped quickly and headed for the showers, which turned out that I missed some of the byplay between Bianca and one of the other girls. I'd automatically washed my hair - well, it needed it - before realising I either had to leave it wet, or dry it. Well, setting fire to my hands and wiping them through my soaking mane did get a few exclamations. As well as at least one really worried look. I wasn't going to use my fire on anyone in class, but letting potential opponents worry about it was a different matter. So I just smiled cheerfully at the other girls, as if this was the most perfectly normal way of drying your hair imaginable. They didn't seem terribly convinced.
Bianca was a little subdued as we walked over to the Crystal Hall, she seemed to think she was a failure for not being a wonder at BMA. Despite the attempts Laura and I made to cheer her up. Girl needed to be more confident, her built-in spells were pretty powerful, she really wasn't the wimp she was trying to convince herself she was. So we kept quiet about it while we ate, especially as Tia was regaling us with the mayhem that was survival class - with Daleks, yet!
After lunch, I had French to look forward too. Yay. But at least after that it was a class I'd wanted, Calculus. I'd been looking forward to taking it before I'd manifested, and it was nice that something at least had carried over from my old life. The kids in the class were a bit intimidating, though. I seemed to be one of the only two freshmen in the class, the rest were mainly Sophs and Juniors. It wasn't so much that anyone was nasty about it, just that they obviously knew each other and I was a strange new kid. The other frosh taking the course was a female devisor who called herself Giggles. She seemed a nice kid, despite her weird choice of codename, so we sat together. At least we seemed to be interested in the course work - a group of older boys behind us kept making remarks of some sort, sadly a little too quietly for me to make out. But one of them at least did seem to be paying me rather more attention than I was comfortable with. So I lost myself in the details of what the course would involve for the term, and tried to just ignore him. When we finished up, I grabbed my stuff, nodded to Giggles and left fast - it was quite a way to my next class, and something about the way the boys had been acting had put me on edge, even though I couldn't quite figure out why.
"So, she's the one who's pants you're going to going to get into by Halloween?"
"Yep." He gave a lingering, appreciative look at the way Morgana's bottom moved as the girl slipped out the door, blissfully unaware of the guy's interest. "Definitely worth the effort."
"So aren't you going to make a move?"
He gave his grinning companion a withering look. "No wonder you don't have much luck at getting girls. You have to work these things up slowly, draw them in." He watched his friend snort in derision. "Perhaps you'd like to put a little wager on it? Say $200 I get to take her before Halloween? No cheating by telling her what I'm up to, though."
"$200? Yeah, I'll take a piece of that. I think you're just overconfident because you like redheads."
"Slowly slowly catchee monkey. And then she'll be puttee in my hands."
"Oh? I didn't think it was your hands you were so interested in using..."
"Just make sure you have the cash ready."
I met up with Bianca again outside the Magic class. She was busy looking askance at a zombie, which was carrying Penny Dreadful's books. I'd heard about Penny, she manifested zombies, the more disgusting the better. I hadn't yet found out if they were all she could manifest. At least as long as they weren't real we wouldn't have upsettingly revolting bits of decomposing bodies scattered around the corridors. Probably. Apparently that snippet of news hadn't reached Bianca, who was looking at the manifestation with the worried look of someone wondering where you got buckets of industrial-strength bleach. Or maybe a chainsaw. Penny herself was obviously trying the ultra-goth look, but at least she'd restrained herself from using enough eye shadow to look like a racoon. Just.
The class itself was, sadly, a little boring. Basically we were shown the sort of meditative exercises we were to do to control and conserve our essence, and told to practice them. A lot. Oh well, I was already doing one set of exercises for my powers, this was just a bit more of the same. At least Grimes told us we'd start on actually doing something tomorrow, which made up for all the boring stuff. More interesting was the way Bianca behaved around AJ, it was almost like he was making her twitchy, and I couldn't see any obvious reason why. I could hardly ask her in class, and I wasn't sure if it was any of my business.
Grimes asked some questions as we sat there trying to meditate - I suppose to make it a bit less easy for the students who already knew how to meditate. The trouble was, she got Bianca to answer one correctly, and a girl who'd been on-and-off looking smug - Chained Melody, I think she was called - had made a mess of it. She was glaring at Bianca, and I sighed. Great, now we had three girls who looked like they were going to spend class time sneering at us. I wondered idly how much it would take to bribe Smokey to go bite them.
Of course, this being magic class, I should have been prepared for more than just sneering. Ms Grimes had to leave for some reason, and as soon as she had gone Chained Melody stood up and started ragging on Bianca. That wasn't a big problem - Bianca was quite capable of looking after herself - but then she started to sing at us. And I started feeling weird. For some reason I found her singing fascinating, even as she carried on talking at Bianca, who for some reason wasn't affected by the song. Whatever Bianca said, something snapped me out of the state I'd fallen into, and as I worked out what she'd been trying to make Bianca do, I realised that somehow she'd been managing to control me, or at least affect me. I really don't like people doing that. So I stood up and snarled at her, quite prepared to go over there and demonstrate why trying to control me was a BAD idea, when Bianca pulled me back. She was right, of course, Chained Melody wasn't worth getting into trouble over, especially as Grimes turned up again.
It was AJ who told us what she'd been doing - apparently it was some sort of spellcasting done by singing. Weirdly, it hadn't affected my roomate at all. I was going to have to ask her about that later. In the meantime, I cast occasional dark glances at Chained Melody. She'd managed to get herself partnered with Hermione and La Mage Blanche - could you get a more pretentious names as a student? - so I could at least glare at all the girls I was annoyed with at the same time.
Last formal class for the day done, I had to get back to Poe. Not to relax, sadly, but to grab my Gi and stuff, ready for the first day of my detention. I still didn't understand why I needed it, if I was going to be a gopher, but Ms Dennon wasn't the sort of person you ignored instructions from lightly.
Lillian Dennon gave her two senior students and assistants a measuring look. For their part, they looked back with a certain amount of amusement - by now, they were well used to her more usual foibles. They helped stop the sessions from getting boring.
"I have a frosh attending today." That got her their attention - while the class wasn't exactly restricted, it required her approval to join, and that was hardly ever given to kids who hadn't at least passed the BMA course to give them some training. "No, she isn't a fighting prodigy. She's here doing detention."
The two of them exchanged confused glances before Drop Bear spoke up.
"Ma'am, that seems a bit, well, unusual?"
She nodded to Drop Bear. "Well, I do have a certain plan in mind. Now remember, what I'm going to tell you is confidential, I don't want it passed around. This is the girl who got into that fight with someone who looked like StahlFaust on Saturday." The two exchanged another quick look. Of course they knew about it already, Lillian thought rather cynically, if they could only get a devisor to replicate the speed of the Whateley gossip system they'd have a viable FTL communicator.
The two sudents just kept regarding her. "What, no questions yet?"
Drop Bear grunted in amusement. "We're just waiting for the other boot to drop, Ms. Dennon ma'am.
She snorted. "OK, then pay attention. This is what I want you and anyone sparring with her to do."
Monday September 12th, Afternoon, Ms Denon's Brick Class
I felt nervous as I walked up to the door. I'd already heard how bad the detention was that Dennon had given to the fake StahlFaust - even allowing for the significant amount of hyperbole tacked on to everything by the older Poe students, it sounded pretty grim. So was mine as bad? No-one had been quite sure what Dennon had in mind for me, although I had received a few considering looks, which hadn't helped my worries in the slightest.
The door was rather larger than a normal door, but that was to be expected - the class was held in one of the training areas - so I nerved myself and pushed it open. Whatever was going to happen, it wouldn't be as bad as worrying about it. To my initial look, it didn't seem too bad. It was a BIG room, and there was quite a lot of oversized gym-type kit littering the floor and walls. As well as some stuff half way UP the walls, which made me wonder a bit. Not to mention there was kit actually fastened to the ceiling!
"Ah, you must be Morgana!"
I'd say I looked over at Drop Bear, but in his bear form it was hard to miss him, well over 6 foot tall and nearly as wide. It was about as easy as missing seeing a bus.
"Yeah. I'm here for my detention."
He just grinned wider as my rather disgusted tone, showing a set of fangs that made mine look, well, tiny. "Yeah, Ms. Dennon briefed me. I'm gonna show you what to do, OK? "
I nodded, and he led me over to a pile of equipment. "As it's the first class of term, we need to get this stuff sorted out and put up what we're going to use today." He consulted a pad, tapping it delicately with a finger - it looked more like a phone than a pad in his massive hand, but I guess a normal phone was a bit small for him in this shape. "Ms. Dennon said you were a brick, so I don't think any of it will be too heavy for us."
I nodded, and breathed in as I changed. He just grinned and gave me a look. "Nice horns. OK, come on. Some of this junk we set up for today, the rest we tidy up out of the way so it's ready for other classes."
Well, it was a pretty impressive pile, it looked mainly like a lot of gym stuff on steroids, but then again this was a brick class. It still took us a while to get it all laid out to his satisfaction. Finally he nodded and turned to me again.
"Ok, you brought a Gi with you, right?"
"Er, yes." I was a little confused, Ms. Dennon had told me to bring one, but I didn't quite see why I needed it to more equipment around."
"Good, then you'd better go and change into it." He pointed at a couple of doors with male and female symbols on then. "Dennons orders."
I gave him a look, but he seemed quite serious, and in any case if it was a practical joke I couldn't see how it would work, so I just collected my bag as did as instructed. It didn't stop me from wondering the whole time just what this was leading to.
"So, just what is this class all about then?"
Drop Bear chuckled as he led me over to a wall cabinet. "Well, it probably isn't quite what you've been thinking. For a start, despite the way everyone talks about it as a brick class, it isn't really. Only about 60% of the kids who attend are bricks."
I must have looked confused, because he carried on. "It's a free-form class for bricks to learn to fight, and for non-bricks to learn how to handle a brick. There are formal classes just for bricks, but this isn't one of them."
I shook my head. "It's just weird, I thought I was just getting detention, not a crash course in violence."
Drop Bear shrugged. "Well, you aren't really. You're only here for a week, and Dennon normally restricts the class to sophs and above. There's a reason for that."
He stopped talking to pull out a set of odd looking - well, not really gloves. They had long yellow-stained 'claws' on the back, but they were obviously not hard. "These are mine." He held up one, and damn, those fake claws must have been a good 6" long. Wolverine, eat your heart out. "Dennon said you had claws. Can I see them, please?"
"Uh...OK." I let my claws slide out, and he took a good look before nodding and retrieving a second pair of gloves. Ones with much less impressive claws that he handed to me. "Here, put them on and I'll help you adjust them."
I was still frowning as he helped me get them fitted. "These are fakes, right?"
He nodded. "Yep. We put some special dye on the claws so you can see when you get a hit."
He looked at my face and smiled. "You're wondering why we use these here, when they have you use the real thing in BMA, aren't you?"
"Well, yes." The fact that I'd been turning them around in my hands and looking at them made my puzzlement rather obvious.
"See, BMA is there for a number of reasons. One is to help to teach you to fight but that's only a part of it. A big one is to make you realise when you shouldn't fight, and to run like hell because you're outmatched. Facing a real weapon tends to make that sink in faster. We don't do that here, because that isn't the point of this class. And BMA isn't quite as dangerous as it seems. You probably haven't spotted it yet, but they try and have a healer in each class - they play around with the available schedules a bit. If they can't fix that, one of the TA's has healing abilities. Now that's all fine and good, especially when you don't have any training, and when they are trying to show you how to use your special abilities."
I thought through what he'd told me. "So...everyone here - well, everyone but me - knows the basics, and how to use their powers. But I still don't see why the fakes?"
"Simple. Unless you're a psycho or a rager, you arent going to try and really hurt someone with your claws, or whatever, not in training. So you always pull back a bit and think. But with these" - he held up one hand - you can go all out, as savage as you like, and the worse you'll do is make me have to wash my clothes after."
He reached back into the cupboard, pulling out two tubes. "Here you go - red for you, to match your hair, yellow for me. Soak the claws, then we're going to do some sparring."
Putting the dye on the claws was pretty simple, as Drop Bear gestured to a guy dressed in a really fancy looking super-suit - all blue with yellow lightning flashes across it.
"Toby, can you spot for us while we try some sparring?"
The guy nodded, looking me over. "Sure, I can do that. This is the detention kid, right?" He grinned as he saw my expression. "Hey, of course we all know about you. Once the Bear has finished, I'd like to see myself what you can do." He held up one hand, and little flickers of electricity sparked between his fingers. "Don't worry, I'll keep the voltage down."
Oh joy. So after Drop Bear had beaten me up, I'd get electrocuted. Maybe doing detention in Hawthorne wasn't so bad after all...
I stripped off my Gi carefully - I was aching a bit, and could see some bruises. To be fair, the kids I'd sparred against hadn't been vicious, but they had taken the sparring seriously, and it had been really obvious they were way better than me, and weren't going easy on me. Still, it had been informative, and I'd been shown a couple of dirty tricks to try the next time I had to actually fight a brick. I thought of StahlForce, and grinned to myself.
My Gi was covered in lines of paint - mainly yellow, the Bear really knew how to use his claws, but a couple of my other sparring partners had also used dyed weapons. I'd been told it just washed out, which was good to hear. I suspected I'd be picking up a new set of marks tomorrow, but actually I didn't mind. It had actually been fun, in a physical sort of way. Maybe the next time someone like StahlForce ambushed me, I'd be able to give a better account of myself.
Tuesday 13th September, Magic Lab
I stopped chatting to Bianca as Ms. Grimes tapped on her desk. In the first couple of lessons, she'd made her rules clear; we could keep talking - quietly - while she got prepared, but the tap was a warning to be quiet and pay attention. Some of the kids still hadn't learned this, as her stony glance towards a few of them showed. I was wondering how much rope she was going to give some of the more stubborn ones, I suspected the final lesson would be interesting and instructive. And quite possible painful.
"Now you have all been shown how to begin to look after your essence, we are going to start on learning how to use it." Most of the class looked up with interest at that, the rest looking bored, as in 'oh yeah, I already know how to cast magic'. Interestingly AJ wasn't one of them, although he obviously did know what she was talking about.
"Now, there are many different ways of using your essence to cast spells and effects. Which ones each of you will eventually use most, I can't say yet - a lot of your final choice will be down to personal skills and preferences. Some of the techniques we will be teaching you are better for some results than others, and a competent mage will use what best fits their purpose at the time. Having said that, there are some which all of us use commonly because of their convenience, and I will start off with these."
She picked up a marker from her desk as she continued. "Now turn to page 42 of Basic Symbology. There you will see a number of runes. The first one is the rune for light, and we will start with this one to teach you the basics." As we did this, I saw a distinct air of 'yeah, been there, done that, got the t-shirt with the rune on it' from both my lab partners. Well, I already knew about Bianca and her glyphs, she'd taken to writing them on any convenient piece of paper she had lying around - it was starting to get like living with a monomaniacal doodler at times - but while I'd read the lesson to be prepared, I hadn't tried doing anything. Ms. Grimes warnings during my power testing had left me a bit leery about trying out too much until I had a bit of experience. Blowing up stuff should be deliberate, not accidental.
"Now pay close attention." She turned to her whiteboard, as she slowly and deliberately drew the first rune on the page, one marked as 'light'. "Now, the first part of casting magic with written runes is to delineate the rune itself, by yourself. This ties in your will and the meaning of the rune to the written symbol. Don't worry yet about how that all ties together - we will be covering that in the theory class. But it's why you can't just photocopy the symbols and expect them to work." She paused to turn around and watch us again.
"Now, this is the first part of the spell. The second is to put some of your essence into the symbol, to give it the power it needs. To start with, we will put in the essence so the spell is cast immediately." She turned back to the rune she'd drawn. "Now all of you have lit wells and can use your essence, so putting some into a symbol shouldn't be a problem. What will take practice is learning how much to put in to get the desired effect. Too much is just as bad as too little, and learning what is the right amount will require practice. The simple runes, which we will be teaching you first, can't handle too much power, but you also need to practice how much to use to get the required output. A light spell may need to be faint or bright, depending on the circumstances."
OK, I was beginning to get the message. Practice, practice and yet more practice. Judging by the look on the faces of some of the class, they weren't too happy with the idea and the work involved.
Grimes looked at the rune on the board for a moment, and then it flared with white light, glowing bright against the background. Nice. I turned slightly to exchange a look with Bianca, who was looking thoughtful as she eyed our teacher.
"She's very good." she whispered at me.
"I thought you could do this already, I've seen you do a light glyph?"
"Yeah, but she has so much fine control, it makes me feel clumsy."
Damn. If my roomie, who could already easily cast what I thought to be an impressive number of written glyphs already, thought that, I had a lot of work in front of me.
I thought we'd get to try the spell right away, but instead we were set to copy the rune onto paper until it looked like it was right. My first couple of efforts weren't too good, then Bianca leaned over. "Try thinking of it all in your mind first, sort of feel it, then draw it. It's not just a series of lines on paper."
I gave her a quick smile of thanks, and tried her suggesting. The first time didn't work, but my second attempt was much better, and this time the rune looked like it should. Grimes kept walking around, commenting and making suggestions to some of us. Not all, she just nodded at Bianca and AJ, who obviously had this down pat, as well as to some of the other kids. After about 15 minutes she'd obviously decided that was enough practice.
"Now I want you to redraw the rune, and this time when that's done, to put a small amount of essence into it. Not too much, I want a light, not something that will blind everyone within 50 feet!"
So I tried again. Not too successfully, as it turned out. My first attempt just didn't work, I pushed some essence at it and it just sort of fizzled away. I felt a small pang of jealously at my partners, both of whom had been perfect on the first shot. So I tried harder, and the second time was rewarded with a rune that glowed when I'd finished. OK, I admit to being stupidly pleased with myself at that, but it was the first actual spell I'd cast. The feeling didn't last too long, as Grimes kept us practising, and I found out I was only getting it to work about one in five attempts. I clearly had a long way to go.
Grimes finally brought things to a halt, we were almost out of time. "Now one thing you have learned, although you may not have realised it, is the huge advantage a Wiz class mutant has over a normal mage. You all have the essence to keep practicing small spells like this, they don't have that luxury. Your homework is to keep practicing this rune - we are going to be learning a number each week, until you have built up a useful base. I won't tell you not to practice putting essence in" - she looked around, noting a handful of embarrassed looks - "since some of you will anyway. However there will be some runes that aren't suitable to practice in your dorm rooms. I will specify these as we come onto them, and you will be able to practice them in the lab areas."
Hmm, I was pretty sure some of the glyphs Bianca had already been using would fall into that group, and I wondered how much she'd obey that rule? Dorm life might be about to get more exciting.
Tuesday 13th September, Poe Cottage
I was just putting my mat down on the floor when Bianca returned from the bathroom. She took a look at it, and grinned.
"Getting soft in your old age?"
"Hey, it's cold on the floor!" Granted, I was only wearing the t-shirt I slept in, so putting my bare ass down on the floor was a self-inflicted wound, as it were, but it was more comfortable to meditate in. Actually I'd have preferred to meditate naked - somehow that felt more natural - but I didn't want to embarrass Bianca. So I just watched as she shook her head in mock-sadness and settled into bed.
"Don't snore too loud while you meditate, Bianca."
This rewarded me with the adult and lady-like response of her sticking her tongue out at me.
"Oh, when I'm done I'm going to practice those runes for a bit. That won't disturb you, will it? I'll turn the light right down."
"No, that will be fine. Just don't set off a light rune in my face."
With that, she settled down in bed. To be fair, she seemed to be OK meditating that way, at least her breathing seemed to show she didn't fall asleep for a while. I preferred not to, I found I started off meditating lying down, then woke up to the alarm, which wasn't terribly effective. And I had more exercises that she did, she only had to do the essence ones. So I settled into a lotus position - with a bit more wincing than usual, thanks to the aches and bruises courtesy of Ms Dennon and her enthusiastic helpers - and closed my eyes and started to time my breathing.
I finally relaxed and opened my eyes. The only light was the reading lamp on my desk, which I'd turned right down, but it was more than enough for me. Bianca was breathing deeply, and I was pretty sure she was asleep, so I stood up as quietly as I could and slipped over to my desk. Sitting, I looked at the light rune I was going to practice, and couldn't help give Bianca a quick, envious look. She'd explained to me how she didn't have to actually put essence into her glyphs to know they were correct, but I was going to have to practice mine the old-fashioned way. Both she and AJ were well ahead of me in the actual practice of magic, and I was determined to catch up - I wasn't going to just sit there while they did all sorts of fun things I hadn't mastered yet.
Over an hour later, I stopped for a moment to yawn. Well, it was after midnight. I'd been working hard, and my success rate was now noticeably better than during class. Which was good, I reckoned another few sessions and I'd have this rune down. Of course, the book had a hundred or so listed, so it was barely a start, but it was progress. I looked down at my latest effort, then frowned a little as something caught my attention. I could swear there was a very faint line of purple along the lines of the rune. But I hadn't put any essence into it yet. Frowning more deeply, I turned to the next page in my notebook, and slowly drew the rune again, this time looking closely at what I was doing. There was a definite very faint line of purple following my pen. So something magic WAS happening. That was so weird. Looking at the two drawings, they both had it, although the first one was hardly visible, in fact I wasn't sure if I was imagining it. It seemed to fade fast.
A little experimentation showed me that whatever I was seeing, it was quite different from Bianca's talent at spotting a correctly-drawn symbol. All the runes I drew had that same faint colour of magic as I drew them, but around half worked and half didn't. I wanted to experiment more, but a quick glance at the clock showed me it was already after 1am, and I really needed to get some sleep. So I turned the light off - the glowing digits on the alarm clock gave me more than ample illumination to slip into bed - and decided to ask Ms Grimes in the next lesson.
Wednesday 14th September, Magic Lab
So we started off with showing how well we'd all remembered the light rune. To a number of long-suffering sighs from the kids who'd shown yesterday that they already knew this basic stuff. After my practice last night I was getting it right about 40% of the time now, which seemed to satisfy Ms Grimes. Of course Bianca was still getting all of hers correct, but I wasn't trying to compete with her. More using her as a challenge.
Having done the boring bit, Grimes moved on to showing us a water rune. This was a bit more interesting, as after she'd drawn it on the board, she didn't power it up, but instead showed us one she'd done earlier on a slip of paper. "Now, I could just empower this on the paper, but if I did I'd just get a soggy piece of paper..."she paused for a moment at the ripple of amusement. "So, I take this glass here, and slip the paper into it, like so." She held the glass up, and cast essence into it - leaving the paper as wet as promised, but the glass half full of water. "Now come and collect a glass and some slips, and practice. Don't use too much essence, or you'll overfill the glass."
Well, we did, and as I suspected she'd expected, there was at least one fountain of water, causing everyone near it to back off and look daggers at the blushing girl who'd caused it.
"As you can see, this is a good way of practicing the amount of essence you need to put into the rune. While all runes require a different amount for the desired effect, you only get to learn how to manipulate the correct amount by practice."
Bianca was looking thoughtful. I knew that actually writing her glyphs was pretty easy, and she did practice a lot - being able to tell if it was correct without actually putting essence in and setting it off let her draw whenever she had free time - but I wondered if the art of using the right amount of essence was part of the deal, of if she had to train herself in that. I'd ask her later.
The only real problem with our practice was Smokey. After the first successes with filling the glasses, he decided that it was really great of us to provide him with a drink, and the sight of him crouching next to a glass, snout dipped in as he lapped up water, made us giggle too much to continue for a while. It got us glares from our usual group of unfriends, and Grimes actually came over to see what was going on. She'd looked at Smokey, who looked up at her with an expression of total draconic innocence on his snout - yeah, as if! - then shook her head slowly and walked off.
This class, I'd brought my kit ready for Dennon's 'Hurt me, I'm a brick' class later on. I wanted to talk with Grimes, and I wouldn't have time to go collect it. So I waited patiently while a couple of kids talked to her, then quietly explained what I'd felt last night. She listened without commenting (which I was grateful for, I wasn't sure if I was just being stupid).
"No, Morgana, you weren't imagining it. The act of drawing the rune yourself is to connect the symbol with your will and intent, as well as the idea of the effect it will have. This does involve a very small amount of essence - nothing that will do anything, but it's there. As we saw in your power testing, you already have the ability to see magic, although I didn't expect it to be quite so sensitive. Every successful mage learns to sense magic, although the fact that you don't see in colour is an issue that could be a nuisance later on."
She must have seen my confused expression, because she continued. "Mages who learn to see magic normally do so in colours which indicate something about the magic. While your talent is very sensitive, it may well stop you ever doing that."
Well, that sorta sucked. Oh well, at least I had what I had.
Thursday 15th September - The Nimue Club, an old and exclusive private club in London
Magister Olrun politely gestured his companion to a chair, then waited while the waiter offered them both brandy. He'd been observing his potential agent during the meal, of course, as he was sure he also had been subtly examined, but by custom all the conversation had been small talk, nothing business. Besides, given the quality of the clubs Chef, anything else would have been in terribly bad taste.
So he settled in his wing chair, gently twirling his brandy snifter in one hand as he eyed the young man, True, he was only in his twenties, but his well-cut suit and general demeanour gave a reassuringly professional look.
"So, Nephandus, I assume you went through the information we sent your organisation?"
Nephandus nodded. He felt slightly amused at the idea he and his father would NOT have gone through the package in order to extract the maximum information - not just what was said, but what was implied. After all, if you chose to employ them - and they were anything but cheap - surely an eye to detail was to be expected.
"Indeed. Given the nature of the data and the possibilities involved, my father and I went through it ourselves."
"Ah, good." He took a moment to look around, then put a crystal on the low table between them, It glowed a pale green, and after a moment he nodded. "Now we can get down to business."
Nephandus stroked his short beard as he gave the mage a thoughtful look. "Very well. We have, as I said, gone through the prospective operation carefully. It is of interest, although there are a number of issues we will need clarification of before we can decide to proceed."
Olrun gestured expansively with his free hand. "Of course, I will answer any questions I can. As I am sure you already appreciate, I don't have full information - after all, if we did we wouldn't need to employ you."
Nephandus hid his smile. He already had some suspicions confirmed - the mage had used the term 'we' without thinking, rather than 'I', which of course had always been a suspicion. So a little more questioning might well offer some additional information on this man, even if it wouldn't actually give him more data on the actual operation.
"Now, let me just go through in brief, in case there is additional information that wasn't in the paperwork. You wish us to investigate an operation conducted by the Order of the Red Ba'al, which apparently got the attention of AEGIS, and was, shall we say, summarily halted?"
Olrun took a small sip of his brandy. "Yes. I realise that makes it both difficult and dangerous to investigate, and we are of course prepared to compensate you accordingly."
Ah yes, Nephandus thought, indeed you will. While they were confident that they could extract the needed intelligence from AEGIS, they harboured no illusions about the organisations competence. A careful investigation would be expensive. "Indeed. Now you didn't give us any information on the actual device you think was involved, only that it was expected to be a direct link to one of the magic Planes, capable of drawing energy from it. A useful capability if proved correct."
Olrun shrugged. "We felt it best to be honest, to give you the best chance of success. We are fairly certain such a project was undertaken, and the fact that AEGIS closed it down with, shall we say, extreme prejudice makes us think that it was at least partially successful. It is our hope that a working device, or at least the plans for one, were successfully made, and that you can recover them for us. While we don't have any details, there is reason to believe a demon was involved in the process, which led us to consider your organisation for the work."
Nephandus eyed him. Of course, if the Order had actually succeeded in making a working device, it would be very valuable - more so if it could be replicated. It was also quite possible that the project had been raided before any success, or that it simply hadn't worked. Time to hedge his bets.
"Given the incomplete nature of your data, my father and I feel it best to break the contract into two sections. First, to find out what the Order were building, and if a working device, or the plans for it, exist. If they do, we presume they will be held in a very secure location." He paused to take a sip of his drink, rolling the aged brandy around on his tongue. "That part, we can quote a price for. The second part, actually retrieving it, we cannot give a meaningful quotation for until we know what is involved, and where it is kept. After all, there is a big difference between recovering plans and, say, a 1-ton piece of equipment."
He reached into the pocket of his suit, and slid an envelope forward. "This is our requirements for the first part of the operation. After we have finished - and I must point out, we may find there is nothing there to recover - we will make a decision on the possibilities - and the cost - of subsequent arrangements."
Olrun took the envelope, opening it, the heavy paper it contained unfolding with an expensive crackle. He turned somewhat paler as he read the cost quoted, but... good help was expensive, and having it done for them was a necessary safety precaution in case AEGIS found out.
Nephandus continued. "As you will have noted, the details of how to deposit the money in the appropriate offshore bank are included. 50% of the fee is an upfront, non-returnable deposit to cover our costs. The final 50% will be payable on delivery of what we have found, even if that proves only that the project did not succeed. "
Olrun slipped the paper back into the cream-coloured envelope, and sighed inwardly. He knew there were going to be major arguments - probably, since they involved mages, involving screaming - at the cost, especially with the caveat that nothing might be discovered, but the possible reward was such that it would be worth it.
"I will present this tonight, and you will be informed within three days. Will that be acceptable?"
Nephandus stood up, finishing the last of his drink with a smile. "Perfectly. I look forward to doing business with you."
Olrun watched the young man saunter away with a dyspeptic look. He hoped he was as competent as he was arrogant, messing with things AEGIS wanted to keep secret was never easy or safe. But if it all went wrong, better they get caught than his own organisation.
Thursday afternoon, Whateley Quad
I was worried. So worried I'd automatically changed to my Dragonform even though I knew I'd have to change back soon for Magic Lab. Right now, I felt that was the least of my worries. I'd just been told that my roomate was the leader of a magical mafia cult. There was a steady stream of students busily changing classes, but despite the bright sunlight I felt freezing cold, the idea that Bianca, who I'd trusted, could be involved with a cult... it made me feel sick.
Maybe I'd been lied to. It wouldn't have been the first time, that 'Stahlfaust' fight fiasco had made that very clear. Someone could just be messing with my head. But if they were, someone was going to spend some time in hospital, and damn the detention. Still, I could see Bianca coming my way - not surprising, we were both going to the same class - so I determined to ask her myself.
She looked nervous the moment I confronted her, which made me suspect something was up - even if it wasn't what I'd been told. She admitted a few things, but I had to pretty much grab her and put it bluntly - was she involved with a cult? I didn't realise how tight I'd been wound over that until she quite emphatically told me no. Since she'd actually admitted to being a supervillain, that actually rang true. Besides, the Whateley administration had known her real origin, as well as mine. I couldn't believe they'd put me in the same room as a Cultist. Bianca was really agitated, it seems someone, she didn't know who, had outed her to the whole school. Damn, that had to suck. I finally had to lead her to class, while I tried to calm down enough to change back to a form I could safely cast spells in. Whateley got more weird by the day, who'd have thought I had a Mafia Princess as my roomie?
Thursday Late Afternoon, Whateley Teachers Lounge
Elyzia Grimes sighed as she sat down opposite her friend, carefully placing her tea on the table between them.
Vanessa smiled. "Bad day?"
Elyzia paused to take a sip of her tea, then shook her head. "Not really, just the usual start of term stuff with the frosh mages."
"So, has anyone blown up the lab yet?"
"Not yet, Vanessa. Give them time, it's only the first week. I've only just got them started on the basics. And that's the usual mishmash."
Vanessa nodded. "At least we haven't got any Wiz-7's messing everyone else up."
"Thankfully. " Elyzia took a longer sip of her tea, settling back into her chair. "Still we have the usual mess. Legacy students who've been taught magic, some of them reasonably well, some not so much. The ones who got taught a few quick and dirty spells after they manifested, with no idea how they really work or fit into any known system. And of course the handful who have a natural talent for a few spells, and want to use them for everything."
Vanessa grinned. "Sounds like a normal start to the term so far. Have you started them on the basic stuff?"
"Yes, they've all been shown the essence conserving exercises. Some of them already look like they aren't going to bother much, of course. I started them on some simple cantrips, with any luck it will hold off the ones who want to copy the legacy students until I have a better idea which ones are going to be a problem."
"Well, it would be unusual if they didn't want to do magic, after all."
Elyzia gave a long-suffering sigh. "I know, it wouldn't be so bad except they see some of the class doing magic already - even if we've told them not too, it's like herding cats - and at least giving them something harmless to practice distracts their attention, as well as showing me which ones are putting the effort in. And having them use up their essence on a light cantrip does reduce the number of hobgoblins we get popping up."
Vanessa chuckled. "Oh, that reminds me." She dug in the pocket of her wheelchair, pulling out a packet of papers. "Here's the marked homework for this week."
"Oh, thank you again for marking it for me, Vanessa. It's a big help."
"Any time, Elyzia. I know how frantic the start of term gets. However..."
Elyzia gave her friend a suspicious look as she smiled. "However?"
"Looks like we have at least one Harry Potter fangirl in this year's class."
"Oh, wonderful. There are times I'd like to KILL that author. Slowly and painfully."
"She's taken the codename Hermione too."
Grimes closed her eyes, trying not to groan aloud. "I'll make a note to attempt to disabuse her of the way things really work."
Vanessa nodded. "Anything else I can do to help?"
"Not just yet, dear, but thank you for the offer. However I think I may need a bit more of your time than usual in a few weeks."
Elyzia shook her head. "Not really, but we have a couple of kids with quite odd power sets this year, once we have the froshes run through testing, we'll need to get them back in, and I'm going to have to spend some time in the Labs."
"Shouldn't be a problem, as long as you let me know so I can work it around my schedule."
"Of course, I will, and thanks again."
Friday 15th, Afternoon, Magic Lab
The first part of today's lessons had been boring. Basically it had been Ms Grimes running us through what we'd done this week. At least she didn't set us a pop quiz.Then it got more interesting. She'd set up a row of suspended bars - mainly metallic, but there were a few others in the mix. I'd cast a look at Bianca, to see if she knew what they were for, but she'd just shrugged slightly.
"Now, I want you to come up one by one and hold your palm under each of these in turn."
Ok, she was waiting for one of the class to bite. In this case it was White Snake.
"Uh, what's this all for, ma'am?"
Grimes smiled. Given the way she looked, that was still something I hadn't quite got use to accepting as normal. "We are moving on next week, and the practical classes will include using an athame. Now, I suspect some of you already have one, either your own or a legacy tool?"
About a third of the class hesitantly raised their hands as she continued. "Now, I don't need you to come down this time. For the rest, this is to give an idea of what is likely to serve you best as an initial tool. It's easier to learn with a material you have an affinity for, that why I've set up a range of options."
So I watched as people walked down and did as instructed. Mainly the suspended stuff did nothing, sometimes it swung in a circle gently, and occasionally it swung a lot. Grimes made notes each time they actually moved. My own test was interesting. A couple of them moved, but the one that went nuts was apparently iron. Grimes gave me a long look at that, I wasn't sure why, but just waved me on.
"Now the next thing you have to go is to buy an athame. This will serve you for your initial work. Later on, we will go into making your ritual tools - a tool you've made yourself is more powerful and better attuned to you - but to start off the basics a purchased one will do fine. You can get them at the shop, just tell the person in the magic section what you need. Bring them with you on Monday, and I will run you through a basic attunement ritual for them."
I looked at my friends. AJ was smirking slightly - well, he'd been one of the kids to say he already had an athame - but Bianca was looking thoughtful.
"What did you get?"
She looked thoughtful. "The strongest one was iron, so I guess I'm looking for a steel knife."
"Me too. The iron went a bit nuts when I tried it. I wonder why she gave me that odd look, though?"
AJ grinned. "It's your ears."
My hand went involuntarily to touch the tip of one of my ears protectively. "What's so special about my ears?"
He carried on, still smirking. "Well, most of the kids with pointy ears are Sidhe, or relatives. They hate cold iron, in fact a lot of them get burned at the touch. Didn't you see how Red avoided it like it was dangerous? To him, it was."
I gave him a flat look. "I'm not Sidhe. Pointy ears of not. Anyway, dragons are cool with iron."
He didn't say anything more, but Smokey did give me a nod as if you say 'yeah, we gotta stick together!"
Grimes broke off the conversations - well, most of the kids had been discussing what they seemed to be going to use - with a tap on her desk. "One other thing. On Monday, I will be showing you the personal lab areas you will be using for the next year or two. So make sure you bring a sterile lancet with you, you'll need it." Well, that caused another hum of conversation.
AJ shrugged. "Most likely she'll want to lock the rooms to each group. You wouldn't want someone just wandering in when you were in the middle of something, and when we get to more complicated rituals it will take more than a class period, so we'll need to leave stuff around."
"I guess." Well, yeah, it made sense, although I still hadn't got used to the idea of using blood so much. Since the pack of supplies we'd picked up for the first term included a large packet of sterile lancets, I suspected I was going to have to get used to it. Since Bianca had already shown she was more than happy to use her own blood in stuff - well, it was OK for her, she regenerated fast - it looked like I was the only one of us who was going to have to learn to love this. Yay, more holes in my delicate little epidermis.
Friday afternoon, Dr. Bellows office.
Alfred Bellows looked consideringly at the two women sitting opposite him, and steepled his fingers in front of him.
"So, Lillian, would I be right in assuming your plan is going well so far?"
Lillian Dennon nodded. "So far, Alfred. I've had some of my students put her under pressure for the last few days, and the good news is that I see no reason why she should have to be moved to Hawthorne. In fact, given what happened to her, she seems to be holding up very well. However..."
Caitlin snorted quietly at Lillian's final words. There was always a however in these situations. For his part, Alfred just looked thoughtful before asking the obvious question.
"Well, since you have Caitlin with you, I assume you have something else in mind for her final day?"
"Yes, Alfred." Lillian paused for a moment to collect her arguments. She wasn't sure if Bellows would accept all of them. "As I said, she is standing up well to the normal pressure of a fight, even though she's outclassed or outmuscled, or both. A situation deliberately designed to frustrate her, but while she's shown signs of anger and such, it's all been within what I'd expect from any student I put in that position. She's only shown signs of resorting to her fire twice, and both times she held it back. And both times were quite intense pressure, so I'm quite happy with the way she held it all together and restrained herself. But there is one final test I want to apply, and that's why I asked Caitlin to help."
Bellows glanced at Caitlin, who was just sitting semi-slumped in her chair and looking faintly bored. Which wasn't fooling the psychiatrist for a moment. "You want to check her against a shock-prod, don't you."
It wasn't a question, and Lillian just nodded. "That's why Caitlin. If anything is likely to set her off, this will, and Caitlin is as fireproof as anyone else we have around here. From her power tests, she shouldn't be able to hurt her even if she does go full-on."
Bellows mulled that over. It was what he had been expecting, but there were a few issues that he needed to sort out. While Lillian had seen the restricted file on the girl that London had supplied, he wasn't able to reveal some of the things that were confidential between him and his patient.
"In principle, I understand, but I'd like the details. There are some things I need to make sure won't hurt her or make her issues worse."
Lillian nodded, and turned to her companion. "If you could explain what you have planned, Caitlin?"
"Sure." Caitlin stretched a bit and looked more alert."To start with, more of the same. I'm going to spar with her, and she's going to keep losing - badly. I want to see how she copes with someone she really doesn't have a chance against. I'm going to pull my blows, of course, but she's still going to know she's been in a hopeless fight. If that doesn't make her try and immolate me, that's great - but even if she does, the worst she can do is trash my clothing, so not worried about making her overreact.
Now, assuming the first part goes OK, I'm going to try her against a shock stick. I can make my combat baton do a lightning thing, and we'll see what she does when she gets threatened by a shock weapon. Again, if she does flame out she can't hurt me, and my baton is indestructible, so the worst she can so is set fire to the mat. And we have fire extinguishers for that."
Alfred rubbed his chin as he went through all that. "Caitlin, this baton of yours. She can't melt it?"
Caitling shook her head with a smirk. "Not a chance, I made it myself."
"I see. Then I must ask you to change that, or I can't allow you to try this on her." He raised a hand as Lillian started to protest. "No, in general it's a sensible test. The problem is, attacking her with a shock weapon she can't damage."
Caitlin sat back in her chair with a nod - he wasn't surprised she'd realised what he was getting at right away, given her own history. "Now while I can't go into confidential patient information, it's obvious that a shock baton is a trigger for her. The normal reaction of someone in that situation is an extreme flight or fight reaction, and so far the evidence suggests she will react to fight first. Now if she does, and she destroys the weapon, then we can see what she does after. Hopefully she can control herself and back down. But if she cannot damage it, either she will try anything to destroy it - and quite possibly hurt herself in the process, she won't have any self control at that point - or she'll go into an uncontrolled flight mode, again quite possibly hurting herself or even going catatonic to escape the situation. Neither of which I can allow to be done to her just for a test."
Lillian looked thoughtful as she went through that. "So do you have a suggestion?"
Bellows nodded. "The simple thing is for Caitlin to use a normal shock baton rather than her wonder stick." He ignored Caitlin's snort of his cavalier dismissal of her weapon as he carried on. "If she melts that, no real harm done, and handling the threat to her will be a positive reinforcement to her rather than a negative one."
Lillian turned to Caitlin with a questioning expression, waiting for her input.
"Sure, Doc, I can do that. Melting a prod I'm holding isn't going to hurt, we just need to make sure it doesn't set fire to anything important."
"Then I agree to your tests, Lillian. Two things more, though. I'd like a copy of the video record so I can examine her reactions myself afterwards, and make sure you have a suitable sedative to hand. If she does react badly, sedating her and bringing me in is the best way to handle it."
Friday Brick class
I came back out of the changing room, retying my Gi. It didn't need to be re-tied, I was just nervous. This afternoon, only Ms Dennon and a woman I didn't know were in the room. The woman had odd skin and was covered in weird, blue tattoos, which from what Tanya had mentioned about her Parcour meant this was Ms Bardue. No other students. Somehow this wasn't reassuring.
"Ah, good afternoon Morgana."
I licked my dry lips before replying. "Good afternoon, Ms Dennon."
Lillian nodded. "And this is Caitlin Bardue, who will be helping me."
I nodded politely to Ms Bardue. So this time it looked like I was going to get beaten up by the experts. It wasn't as if I hadn't worked out what Ms Dennon was up to, she wanted to see if I'd go postal on an opponent and burn them to a crisp. Which I'd managed not to do so far, thankfully, although a couple of really annoying students had tempted me terribly.
Caitlin eyed me thoughtfully as we walked over to the mat. I was a bit surprised, she wasn't wearing a Gi or a supersuit like the students I'd been fighting all week, she was just wearing casual clothes - jeans, boots and a shirt. When she saw me looking at her she just grinned. It wasn't a reassuring sort of grin.
I faced off across the mat, bowing to show I was ready. My opponent just nodded, a wide grin on her face. I tried to calm my breathing, as Ms Dennon signalled for us to begin. Which wasn't in the way I'd got used to. Normally there was at least a few seconds - and often longer - as we eyed up each other. But Caitlin didn't wait a second, instead she bounded into action, leaping right past me, striking with a smoky-black, glassy baton with odd runes on it which had suddenly appeared in her hand, and then carrying on moving. I managed to dodge as she slid past me, but by the time I'd worked out where she should be, she wasn't there any longer, bouncing around like a jackrabbit with a caffeine overdose. I kept on spinning, only to get a hard rap on the shoulder.
I didn't seem to matter that I was faster than her, she was so obviously anticipating me she was either not where I was trying to hit, or was somewhere else hitting me instead. Tanya had told me how good she was at bounding around at Parkour, but what she had described was a pale shadow of what Caitlin could actually do. I tried to get myself a little space and time by leaping up high onto the wall - the one which didn't have stuff attached to it, I hoped that would make it more difficult for her, hanging on with my claws. All the bitch did was to bounce off a few things, including the ceiling, then nail me on the elbow as she shot past me. Numbing my arm and making me let go to fall ungracefully onto the mat.
Ok, I'd worked out from the start that Caitlin was good - otherwise why would Dennon have brought her along - but this was getting downright embarrassing. So kept circling while she smirked and bounced around a bit more, while I tried to work out some sort of strategy which might help. Since she was obviously predicting what I was planning, the obvious counter was just to do stuff without really planning. With luck, I might get a lucky shot in. It wasn't like I could do any worse. At least only Ms Dennon was watching me demonstrate how rubbish I was.
The next part of the session got a bit frantic. I'd stopped worrying if a move was going to get me hit, I was just trying anything and everything I could to get a blow in. Any blow, I wasn't worried if it would be effective, I just wanted to get a little self-respect out of this. The odd thing was the expression on Caitlin's face, or rather the lack of one. She wasn't angry, or happy, just seemed terribly focussed, as if she'd done this all so many times before it didn't require much thought. Of course, attacking randomly and wildly was getting me hit quite a bit, and even though it was obvious the blows were pulled, some of them hurt quite a lot. I had no idea what that rod was she was using, but it was tough - at one point, I'd got a good hard slash across it with my claws, and they just skittered off with no effect whatsoever.
But the tactic did pay off. After one spectacularly daft attack, I actually got close enough for one claw to scrape down her arm, ripping her shirt and leaving a shallow gouge in her arm. Seeing that would have made me freeze - I hadn't realised my claws could actually cut her - if I hadn't been hammered down hard by a blow that would likely have broken my neck if it hadn't been controlled. As it was, I only got up to my knees, looking at her arm.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."
Caitlin just bounced back and waved her hand. "Don't apologise in a fight, come on like you mean it!"
I nodded and managed to get up again. It wasn't easy, I was a bit battered and at some point I'd managed to strain my calf, I wasn't sure how. I rubbed my sleeve across my face - I was dripping with sweat, even if Caitlin showed no sign of her exertions, and got into position again. This time she didn't start to move. Instead she looked at me, slipping her rod away, then bringing out a more shiny one from behind her back. It lengthened out with a flick of her wrist, and I shivered a bit as I looked at it. She just smiled at me and the tip of the rod sparked with electricity.
I froze. Seriously froze, I couldn't move as my vision tunnelled down to not much more than that stick. I didn't even think about what I was doing as the sleeve of my Gi smoked as my hand caught fire, white flames covering it as she moved closer, that prod coming towards me. I screamed - at least, I think I did - as I grabbed it, the only thing on my mind being to destroy it before it touched me, the metal shaft glowing yellow as it sagged in my flame, and then she dropped it, the glowing metal hissing as it brought smoke and a few flames from the mat.
I stood there, glaring at Caitlin as I tried not to hurl myself on her. The prod had gone now, it was dead, I couldn't attack a teacher. I tried to calm myself, the deep heaving breaths I was taking weren't helping, as I finally felt the flames withdraw from my hand, and I fell to my knees. I wanted to be sick, I'd lost it again, this time to a teacher. They were going to send me to Hawthorne, I just knew it.
The next thing I realised was that Caitlin was kneeling next to me, an arm around me supporting me.
"It's OK, kid, no harm done. Just take it easy, let yourself calm down."
I blinked away tears as I looked at her. No harm done? "But your hand, I melted the prod..."
She smiled, showing me her completely undamaged palm. "You aren't the only fireproof one around here kid. That's one of the reasons Lillian asked me to help."
I nodded, as I let her help me to my feet. Ms. Dennon was eyeing me, but to my relief she didn't seem upset, just thoughtful.
"How are you feeling now, Morgana?"
I straightened up and licked my lips. "I think I'm OK now, ma'am. I'm so sorry, I really didn't mean to do that."
She just nodded. "Don't worry about it right now." She eyed me. "I think you need to get showered and changed. Run along, we'll talk when you get back."
I nodded and turned away to the changing rooms. I knew I'd blown it, I just hoped Ms Dennon would get it over with fast and not string me along.
Lillian waited until the door to the showers closed on the girl before turning to her friend.
"So, Caitlin, what do you think?"
Caitlin poked the cooling half-melted lump that had once been a perfectly good security shock prod, and grinned. "Overall? The first session went better than I expected. She realised pretty fast that she didn't have a hope, and from then on I was mainly trying not to hurt her as she tried some rather stupid moves."
Lillian nodded. "I noticed that." She pointed to the small slash on Caitlin's arm. "I didn't actually expect any of them to work, but she kept at it even when she only got slammed for trying."
"Yeah, she seems to have heard about the best swordsman in France thing. I didn't expect her to get quite so reckless so fast, to be honest, and those claws of hers are more impressive than I thought. Mind you, we really need to tell her NOT to try those moves in a real fight, she'd be dead twenty times over if she did."
Lillian chuckled. "Well, even pulling your blows she'll have a few bruises. I've always found that a good way of impressing on kids what's a bad idea. But I was pretty certain she'd be OK with that part, it's the second part I'm really interested in."
Caitlin looked thoughtful as she went over what had happened in her mind. "I think Bellows was right to make me use a real prod. I saw her face when I pulled it out. It's definitely a serious trigger for her. I've seen that look more times that I care to remember. Grabbing the prod and melting it like it was a poisonous snake was perfectly reasonable, and frankly, under the same circumstances I'd have been a lot more violent."
She paused for a moment in recollection, and Lillian kept silent before the tattooed woman continued.
"I did wonder if she'd carry on and attack me as well, but she managed to keep in under control. Just under control, yes, and it obviously took a lot of effort on her part, but under the circumstances it was well done. I really don't think she's going to be a problem unless someone goes for her with a prod, and if they do, well it serves them right!"
Lillian gave her friend a severe look. "That isn't really a suitable remark for a teacher, you know."
Caitlin just grinned broadly. "Good thing I'm only a department head, then, isn't it?"
Lillian just shook her head in resignation. "Ok, formal conclusion, Caitlin?"
"She's no more dangerous than a typical frosh. She'll respond when attacked, but she's not a rager of even anything vaguely close, and she has her temper about as much under control as any teenager. She has friends in Poe, they'll help her get over what happened to her. As to the prod thing - well, I'm sure Bellows will be working on it, but those things take time."
"I agree. I will put a note in her security file, no shock prods to be used in any circumstances, and a copy in the training file - I don't want anyone trying something creative and setting her off by mistake."
"Yeah, while there are a few yahoos in Security I wouldn't mind finding out the hard way, it wouldn't be fair on the girl." She stopped speaking as the girl in question stepped back in from the shower area, a worried expression on her face.
"Ma'am, Ms. Bardue?"
Lillian smiled and gestured to her to come in, as Caitlin snorted. "Call me Caitlin, kid, only people I'm mad at have to call me Ms. Bardue!"
Morgana looked a bit confused, obviously trying to work out from their faces what her fate was going to be. Caitlin gestured to her to come over. "Tell her, Lillian, it's not fair to keep her worrying."
Lillian chuckled. "Morgana, no need to panic. Yes, you melted that baton, but that was what we were expecting. The important thing is that you didn't lose control completely, and pulled yourself back together after."
"Then I don't have to go to Hawthorne, ma'am?"
Lillian eyed the girl. "Did I ever say anything to make you think that was what I was going to recommend?"
The girl blushed deeply. "Uh, no ma'am. But people talk..."
Lillian snorted. "If that was what I had in mind, I'd have told you. Now, we have a good idea of where you stand, and I'll pass it on to Dr Bellows for his consideration. Just keep working on that control, and you'll be fine. Now I believe you have an appointment with Dr Bellows to get to?"
Morgana nodded. "Yes, ma'am. And thank you."
"One last thing, Morgana. These classes are run by me. As you know, I don't accept froshes or in fact older students unless they show me they can benefit from them. However, once you've passed BMA and got your basic skills sorted - come and see me again."
Morgana's face split in a big grin. "Oh yes, ma'am. I will!" Then she scurried out quickly, headed for Bellows office.
"You know, Lillian, she seemed remarkably happy at your offer to let her come be beat up more in the future."
Lillian grinned as she started to put stuff away. "She has the right attitude for a fighter. If that's what she decides to be, I think she'll do well. She needs work, and to be shown how to use her temper rather than let it control her, but there is potential in her"
Caitlin yanked the still-hot metal from the mat, trying to decide where to toss it. "You think she might decide to be something else?"
"Well, she is a mage..." Lillian smirked as she saw the reaction on her friends face."
"She's a wizard?" Caitlin shook her head. "Damn, those Brits are breeding their mages tough nowadays. How come she didn't use magic, did you tell her not to?"
"Apparently she didn't get one of the Wiz packages that comes with spells, she'd going to have to learn it the hard way. Mind, once she does... well, I don't get to train many close-combat mages, so I'm going to keep an eye on her."
Friday evening, Poe cottage
I was limping quite obviously by the time we got back to the cottage after dinner, and Bianca was giving me worried glances when she thought I wasn't looking.
"Are you sure you're OK?"
I shrugged. "Yeah, pretty much. I just got a bit banged up, and I think I pulled a muscle in my calf or something."
She game me her Dubious Bianca Look (patent pending), but didn't actually say anything. It was pretty obvious she thought I was making light of things - well, I was to an extent - but I didn't want to complain. I just needed to stop walking on that leg, and maybe dig out some of the tiger balm I'd stocked up on after Monday.
"I think I need a really hot bath, that will help."
Bianca nodded. "Why not use the Hot Tubs downstairs?"
"Hmm, that's a pretty good idea actually. I've been meaning to try them, they looked pretty cool but I haven't had the time." Then I gave her a worried look. "Will you be OK on your own?"
She nodded firmly. "Of course I will. I want to get my homework done, that way I have the weekend free."
I gave her a long look, but she seemed to be OK - for the moment, anyway. "OK, then I'll grab my things and see you later."
I lay back in the steaming water with a heartfelt sigh. I hadn't realised how many aches and bruises I had until I slipped into the tub and felt its heat start to work on them. I wriggled, then slid even deeper until only my head was resting on the side of the tub. It had been a very busy week.
I was happily dozing while idly watching the curling patterns the steam made as it rose out of the water, when I was interrupted by a soft voice.
"Mind if I join you?"
Well, it was a girl's voice, which was probably a good thing under the circumstances. I eased my head around, trying to see who it was without disturbing my position too much. "Oh, Hi, Vixen! Uh, sure, it's a big tub."
Vixen walked over to the tub - OK, if I was honest she didn't just walk, she slinked - as she slipped her robe off and set it down next to the tub. As she slipped into the tub opposite me it was easy to see why she had such a reputation. Hell, she even managed to make getting into a hot tub look sexy.
"I hope it isn't too hot for you?"
She grinned and slipped lower into the water, quite obviously looking me over. "Mmmm, yes, pretty hot."
I tried to look unconcerned and not to blush. "I was talking about the water!"
She remained completely unfazed. "Oh, right. It's fine, I like things steamy."
"Yeah, so I've heard." Despite my comment, I couldn't help but grin back at her. "And you're a fine one to talk."
She leaned her head back against the edge of the tub and chuckled. "I do try. But I also remember you're under age."
I wondered if the heat from the tub was hiding my blush, knowing my luck it was having no effect at all. She reached out and patted me on the shoulder. "Don't worry. Besides, you're a changeling, things are probably still confused for you."
I nodded in thanks. "They are a bit. Well, a lot really. Sometimes I envy Laura, she made the transition so easily."
"Ah, it varies a lot. Gossip has it your change wasn't exactly your own choice" - she raised an eyebrow in my direction, and I nodded - "and it's really not surprising you still find things confusing."
"Yeah. What with that and all the other stuff like powers, it's a lot to handle all at once.
She slid a bit deeper into the hot water. "You'll manage, it just takes a bit of time. You might find it helps if you come to some of the social things, get used to being a girl around girls, you know?"
"Social things? I've been a bit busy this week, what with detention and all."
"Ah yes, our dear friend Stahlforce." From the tone of her voice, she wasn't exactly enamoured of my current enemy.
"Uh...I don't suppose you know why she's so anti-changelings, do you?" I figured that any intelligence on that would be useful.
"It's not so much changelings as she hates men. And no, I don't know why, she's never said. So you just get lumped in with them because you used to have a dick."
I sighed deeply. "And I suppose the fact that none of us exactly had a choice registers with her?"
"Nope. From personal experience, nothing registers with her that will disrupt her cosy little worldview. I'd suggest staying out of her way until she finds a new target."
I mulled that one over. "I guess... as long as she doesn't try anything with my friends."
"Well, if she tries anything with your roomie, we'd better hope she doesn't end up in concrete booties."
"Hey! Bianca isn't a villain! She would do something like that!"
"Relax, relax! I didn't think she would, she seems nice enough. And none of us can help our families, can we?"
"No, I guess not. It's just that some people have been talking about her like she was the second coming of the Necromancer or something."
She eyed me closely. "You're more generous to StahlForce that I would have been."
I looked at her in confusion as she continued. "I'd have definitely gone for the concrete booties idea myself if she'd ambushed me."
"So, are you coming to the film night next week?"
I looked blank at the sudden change of subject until I remembered she'd mentioned social things earlier. "I dunno..."
She smiled slowly. "We usually go in pairs. And if you'd like someone..." she raised a hand "no funny stuff, just someone to go with, well I'm free."
It's really difficult to find somewhere to hide shyly when you're sharing a hot tub with someone. Especially when you're both naked. "Uh..." OK, when it came down to it, she was a really attrractive girl - not just her looks, her personality - and I couldn't hide forever.
"Well...thanks. Can I think about it?"
"Sure you can. As long as you say yes."
I knocked lightly on Laura's door. I'd noticed Bailey leave earlier, so I hoped she was alone - at least I couldn't hear the boinging of bedsprings, which was a good sign. I was still in my robe - it wasn't worth dressing, I was still a bit damp and I needed to do my homework before bedtime - and it had made me hesitate a moment before knocking. I was being silly, Laura had always behaved perfectly properly to me. Anyway, I wasn't hiding anything she hadn't seen multiple times in the showers. Or more accurately, anything she hadn't ogled in the showers.
"Hi Laura." My friend was sitting poking at some electronics on her desk, alternating between looking at the open technical manual next to them, and scowling at the components.
"Hey, Morgana, what's up?"
"Oh, well, I was hoping you had a few minutes free?"
She grinned and swivelled her seat around. "Sure, what's it about?"
I took a moment to work out how to phrase it. "Well, I need something technical made for me. I wasn't sure if was in your area of expertise, but maybe if it isn't, you can point me at someone else in the Workshop?"
She looked at me thoughtfully, so I quickly continued "I can pay for it..."
"Mmmm, so what is it you need so badly?"
"I need some form of sound protection - earplugs. Remember what the fake StahlForce did to me with that sonic gun?" Laura winced slightly before nodding. "Also, there's a girl in class who's a sort of magic siren" - I gave her a quick explanation (thanks to my pumping of AJ brains) - "so while it won't stop her completely, earplugs will help a lot in resisting her. But since I don't know when I'd need them, they should be active so I can just keep them in."
Laura had been nodding thoughtfully while I went through the details, her eyes a little unfocussed in what I recognised as the Devisor Stare.
"There's one other thing - I need them to be as heat resistant as possible, I don't want them melting every time I use my powers."
"That's more challenging" she broke into a grin. "I was beginning to think you just wanted something simple. Earplugs are a pretty good idea, I may make a pair for myself."
"Uh...how much do you think they'll cost?" It was a bit embarrassing to ask, but while I wasn't poor, I wasn't rich like Tia either. And I knew Laura wasn't exactly swimming in money.
She looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Hmm, not sure yet, I'll have to make a costing of the materials. Making them heat resistant will mean using something more exotic, I'm afraid."
"I'll need to pay you for the work as well."
She shook her head firmly."No you don't, you're a friend."
I dithered. I knew how little cash she had, but I didn't want her to feel insulted. then I had an idea.
"Tell you what - why not make two pairs, one for me, and one for yourself, and I'll pay for the cost of making them both?"
She smiled. "That's an idea - OK, I'll let you know when I have a design, and you can see if it would be too expensive."
"Thanks, Laura, I owe you." She just grinned, so I gave her a hug.
To be continued in 'Like a Candle in the Wind'