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Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend

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2 years 8 months ago #51173 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 31

Chamber of Somnus
POV: Faolan, Rose of the West

"Um, why is that bird talking?" The girl whose codename was as Mistral asked as she stared at Jane with an odd look on as much of her face as I could see through the Luchador mask, what can I say I may have never paid attention to wrestling since I considered that it was pretty much the male equivalent to soap operas, but I learned enough through osmosis during elementary school. I will admit that I didn't expect a genie to be dressed as an Egyptian-themed lady luchador but granted my experiences with the Southern Court, at least that I was aware of, had been limited to one gremlin that my sister knew from her time enthralled to Plagiat.

The dragon though I will admit fit one of the two pictures in my mind's-eye when I heard that as a half-breed she'd look like an anthropomorphic dragon, granted the other was a far more western look with maybe some armor thrown in more aesthetic- okay I was thinking of Mink from Dragon Half. Still a Chinese-dragon lady in a cheongsam, she certainly didn't care about stereotypes granted she might want to rethink her costume when she got to Whateley otherwise the teasing would never-end- as would the attempts by the Dragons and the Power Rangers to rush her into their clubs. I just hope that Jade didn't feel jealous over a perceived risk of losing Thuban to her, because I had already heard about how she and Demona were dealing with their spotty rivalry over the leader of Faction-5.

Although it was probably a good time to answer Mistral's question, "Her name is Jane and she's my familiar, also she's really a storm elemental not a normal bird."

"Um, I'll admit not to knowing what a familiar is but how can a bird be a storm elemental?" Mistral asked as she scrutinized Jane even more, "I'm a wind elemental and I heard that birds were more often associated with fire and water."

"Only among the djinn," Jane responded, "other courts have different conscious associations just as those with those elements among those courts have different ranks amongst the mindset of their people just as those of different courts have different strengths and weaknesses."

"Oh, so the bird is the brains of your outfit," the dragon lady crassly remarked as she wandered over to the sand pit began looking it over, "figures that a mermaid and a sparkly fairy wouldn't be in charge."

"We are equals you walking handbag and you should be aware that there are more to the faefolk than pixies," I glared at our representative of the Northern Court who was clearly lacking in the grace and decorum that the dragons of the orient were fabled to possess, then again such tales often reflected more on the cultures that told them than the underlying truth behind them.

"Well- well- well it looks like Tinkerbelle here needs to get taken down a peg or two." Our not so friendly dragon bared her fangs before materializing two balls of flame in her taloned-hands with a snap of her claws before stalking my direction.

Making an effort to keep my movements hidden beneath my cloak I activated my nutrient pump with my left hand and drew Sydan from her sheath with my right all the while shifting right into my rage wolf form, if this dragon girl wanted to start things with me I was going to show her that she'd bit off more than she could chew if this demi-fae as I bared my teeth.

We were about ten feet apart when all of a sudden, the room started spinning and not only did the both of us fall to the floor but so did Mistral, Jane was even leaning to one side on her perch.

"Really Randi, I don't know about her, but I really expected better behavior from you," Bea explained as she began to verbally dress me down, "you are the second oldest of us and have a lot more experience in regard to social interaction than I do but you let someone goad you into a fight, especially when she obviously has clear trust issues."

"I know Bea- I know- I need to work on my temper," I replied now that my temper had started to cool down a bit at her admonishment, for good measure I picked up and sheathed Sydan while activating the emergency pump stop on my right vambrace wincing mild pain as the iron stud nudged me transforming me back to my normal form. "It's just hard you know, all those years with Carcharoth in my head really left their mark, I'm just now starting to see how his influence shaped some of my opinions and attitudes growing up- it's really embarrassing. By the way just how did you do that?"

"Subsonic vibrations- they affected the bones in your inner ear to give you a temporary case of vertigo," Bea smiled with a touch of pride, "Sorcha wanted to look at those ear-pieces they'd been handing around campus since what happened last Halloween and found some ranges that they didn't cover then taught me how to hit them during one of her visits. She promises to help the techs in the Workshop find a way to cover them in the next version."

"Yeah, I remember you telling me that she wants to go to MIT after the issue with your uncle is squared away." I mused with a mild chuckle, "A mermaid princess who likes to tinker with electronics, truly we live in modern times."

"Yeah, she really wants to figure a way to make technology that would work for merfolk so that when the big reveal happens they can make a way for their innate tech to interface with what the rest of the world has available." Bea admitted, "Not that it puts too much pressure into what I have to accomplish in a few months."

"Okay, time out," Mistral remarked as she got in-between the dragon girl and me, "I think that everyone is wound a little tight right now and needs to relax. I know that this might seem like a bad situation, but I know for a fact that we aren't prisoners here, right now all we are is guests everyone you three arrived with are being treated well and will get to leave later to go home."

"First off, I can't go home," the dragon lady glared at Mistral, "a group of total bastards called the Merchants of Suffering want me back under there thumb and likely have my neighborhood and family being watched as we speak for any hint that they know just where I am. And second, just how do you know that we can trust this Obsidian Circle group because they just admitted that they have plans for us- so how do I know that this isn't just some gilded cage?"

POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

"Because my father is Greygus- an operative for the Obsidian Circle, moreover my grandfather is Lord Khamsin- one of the members that you saw seated around the edges of the room back there." I admitted to D'juan-jow-long (I think that's what they said her name was) as well as everyone else in the room. "Now I can't speak for all of them, but I know that my grandfather and a few others won't try anything like that with us.

"Although you didn't grow up with either your father or your grandfather," Fallen admitted before she transformed into a wolf and laid down. "I was in the room with your father when he learned about you just a few hours ago, he was so overwhelmed that he passed out on the floor."

"He did?" I asked before I pondered that tidbit of information for a moment, "then again I suppose that would make sense, after all having the fact that you had a teenage girl that you never knew about and was the Southern Maiden on top of that was probably too much for him to process at once."

"Either way considering that one of us is related to one of their members by blood shouldn't that mean that they won't try anything." Aletheia pleaded while trying to reason with D'juan, "Besides I've heard of Greygus, he may be a bad guy, but he's well known as one of the honorable black hats, I really doubt that he'd let anyone pull anything when his own flesh-and-blood is involved."

"Yeah, and Erzebet Scratch is part of the mix, from what I know of her she has a major berserker button about people harming kids," Fallen spoke out, "I have it from a reliable source that when the warlock Plagiat offed my old body against orders they killed him for it to smooth things over with Erzebet."

"What exactly do you mean by your old body?" D'juan asked, "because I have objections about working with someone who'd steal someone else's."

"Not stolen- grown," Fallen retorted with a wry smile, "Plagiat interrupted an exorcism to abduct a mutant with a strong avatar trait- namely mine, and when that failed he used a spell that cooked the old me from the inside out. Fortunately, one of the group involved in the exorcism had a spell that could grow a new body provided that it was prepared beforehand and whoever cast the spell had a lot of life essence to spare, which we did after an encounter earlier in the day involving one of Slaughterhaus's Carcasites, we set it up incase everything went sideways which it did just not in the way we were anticipating."

"Okay, while I want to actually hear the whole story I doubt that we have to time," D'juan began to give in, "but the fact is that I'm exhausted and I doubt that we really have the time when we wake up to learn anything."

"I wouldn't bet on that," I mused over just what I'd felt when we closed the door, "I think that this room works on a temporal compression spell, we have something similar back home but I'm not feeling tired."

"Fae rejuvenation magic," Fallen observed as she looked over the room in her canine form, "the same person responsible for the spell that grew my new body makes use of it during my combat training so that we can go as long as we need to while we can, along with temporal renewal they really help to get a lot out of training. Although it still takes its toll on the room we use, something tells me that this has more than djinn construction, gaean temporal manipulation and fae renewal spells involved right here."

"Yup, I definitely see the signs of merfolk enchantment imbuing techniques here, which if the theme holds then the materials involved are likely draconic in origin." Aletheia observed, "this room is something that apparently hasn't been possible since the fall of the Five-Fold Courts- especially in light of Dagon's Curse."

"So, all of this means what?" D'juan commented as she looked over the room in a far more critical light.

"What it means is that time is stretched out in here," Fallan remarked as she transformed back to normal, "it also means that we're free from listing devices since nothing can broadcast in or out, and as for recording devices. Well- Mistral, Duan-xao do you two ladies want to help me unplug any electronics in here before Jane gives us an E.M.P.?"

We helped Fallan look over the adjoining rooms, but it appeared that nothing in here was digital, even the fridge that I spotted earlier was an old-old-really old school model that was probably mechanical. "Um, it looks like everything in here works off gas, still anything that had a plug was either turned off or pulled, "I think that's everything."

Jane might have taken that as an invitation because right afterwards she took flight to the center of the room glowed blue, and after shouting, "Cover your eyes!" Caused a blinding white flash that I could see even past my arms and every hair on my neck was standing on end. "So, you can set off E.M.P., I wondered if that was something in your wheelhouse?"

"What do you think an electrical storm is?" Jane responded before flying back over to her perch. "Anyway, any recording devices in this room are now toast so feel free to relax, also I noticed that the door latches from the inside we only come out when we want."

"So just how stretched out is time in here?" D'juan asked as she looked at Fallan and me given that we were the only two with experience of being subjected to temporal compression.

"Beats me," I admitted as I shrugged my shoulders, "last time I was in one we didn't have fairy magic to patch us up as we went along."

"My teacher usually prefers to keep things to three and a half days per hour but it may be more stretched out than that," Fallan remarked as she transformed back into a wolf and padded into the couch pit that she claimed as her own, "how about we grab 40 winks and talk when everybody's awake and rested- for once time is on our side. Oh, and Aletheia, don't even think about slipping into the Dreamlands inside of one of those things Mrs. Redstag warned me that doing that is inside one of these places is super dangerous since you might not be able to wake up if you do, just stick to ordinary dreams and get some shut-eye."

"Yes ma'am," Aleatheia remarked at her friend in a glib tone. Something told me that this Dreamlands thing was something that I needed to learn about- or at least learn about in the morning. Okay what passes for morning in a room of compressed time inside of a mystical fortress that only ever stays put between twelve and one in the morning.

"I think that I'm starting to like you already Ali," D'juan remarked as she smiled on her draconic maw, "granted your company is a bit of an... acquired taste."

"FYI the company has a name, and since we know that it's just the five of us in here that name is Randi!" The shewolf all but growled out.

"Well I suppose that introductions are long overdue," Aleathea remarked as she pressed something on her outfit and changed into a swim suit whose top looked a lot more supportive than the bottom, although that soon made sense when she slipped into the water. Suddenly her skin tone changed to a more bluish hue as her legs turned into a darker blue tail with purple fins before she slid into the fountain.

I admit that I was gawking at the sight and D'juan was doing the same. Taking notice of our surprise Aleathea turned and with an impish grin commented, "You did remember that I was a mermaid right, are you really that surprised to see me turn into one?"

"No- I guess but honestly I was expecting you to look more..." I desperately tried to tip toe around the subject.

"Like Ariel," Aleathea remarked as she smiled which was a little unnerving, who knew that mermaids had so many pointed teeth. "Yeah, fantasy rarely matches reality. Real merfold have pointier teeth because our diet is more protein-centric- lots of fish and shellfish, our nails are also more claw like to help us grip like otters and seals. As for our skin tone, that's different because it matches the rest of our body. And since we're starting to deal around names mine's Beatrice, but everyone just calls me Bea for short."

"Yeah, I can see how that could help," D'juan remarked from her sand pit, "since I'm probably going to have to teach everyone how to say my codename right after breakfast- in here just call me Zhen-yu."

"Iris," I volunteered as I removed my mask, supposedly a sign of trust among luchadores, and smiled to everyone, "well night or what passes as one." Everyone replied "Night" or Good-night" in reply as I shut the privacy curtain around my bed before taking off my costume, deactivating my disguise amulet and setting it on a nightstand next to the bed. Zhen-yu was right- the day was long and exhausting, and I needed forty or fifty winks to wrap it up. Curling up under the covers- I shut my eyes wanting to get some rest before I headed back into the wide world.

POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East

I woke up underwater, although that might insight panic in most people instinct told me that there was no need to panic especially considering I can breathe perfectly fine thanks to my gills. Although there was no real room to a real length like in a pool, only down to the depths of what I estimated to be thirty feet; that was still plenty of room to maneuver. I slipped my right wrist out of the silica-nylon tether on the side of the tank and after rolling my arms to get the kinks out began to swim a series of looping laps along the depths of the basin's fountain careful not to come within six feet of the surface so that none of my exercises disturbed the others.

After my aquatic wake-up routine I took a moment to better assess my surroundings, I took not that the entire place was arranged like a cylinder with now edges except those lining the bottom, very much akin to a traveler's resting chamber that I had seen used by the Eastern Court from the records of the Hall of Echoes over the past few nights. Although I had made certain to heed Randi's advice about not traveling to the Dream Lands tonight because of the temporal compression room that we were in that didn't stop me from seeing the eerie similarities Even the wrist tethers along the side mirrored tethers of thick seaweed that merfolk used to keep secure while they were sleeping in safety to avoid bumping about the sleeping chamber and into others, this meant that either they had doom a lot of research into the ways of the eastern court-or they had help to make all of this.

'So many questions so little time,' I shrugged as I swam for the surface. It was time to get up anyway and I needed to get started with my morning physical therapy. Trying was silently as I could I emerged from the fountain's depths then carefully slid out of the water. Taking a moment to pull a towel out of Wukong's fanny pack (which decided to cooperate this time) to pat myself dry, I used Randi's gift to switch to the clothes that I was wearing yesterday. I just hoped that nobody freaked when they saw this.

Taking a sideways glance to see that Zhen-yu and Randi were still sleeping, I set some weights from my pack in the seat of the chair to act as a counter-balance then pulled myself off the floor until I was against the back of the wheelchair then I began to push myself forward using the chair to avoid falling. Every step was a struggle but if I didn't do this I'd never be able to walk on my own two feet, "no pain- no gain."

I kept up my focus, one foot in front of the other, not letting anything distract me as I made my way across the room on my trembling legs. Sweat began to drip down my face as I made my way across the room, my arms aching from holding me upright while my legs began to scream from the workout that I was giving them. But while my body wanted me to stop to lay down in that chair and take it easy I refused to give in, I could walk if I put in the effort and I refused to let my life be dictated by such constraints any more.

Some might call me odd, but they didn't understand where I was coming from, I spent years in Cytheria's shadow, centuries in the shadows of Venus and before that Aphrodite. I was tired of having my path dictated by the constraints imposed upon me by fate, and for once in my existence I could see the future in front of me like a shining brass ring hanging just out of reach. To reach that brass ring- that promise of a future that was only limited by the choices that I made, I didn't just have to walk, I had to run, to jump- I had to give it my all and I was damned determined that I wasn't going to do just that.

"I take it that the wheelchair is only a temporary thing," I froze as I heard Iris speak up from the kitchenette, obviously, I wasn't the only one up, but I couldn't tell with the privacy curtain drawn around the bed. Looking up from a bowl that she was stirring I could tell that she was drawing her own conclusions, "I don't mean to pry but was it some kind of accident?"

"No," I replied as I continued my self-imposed morning regimen, "it was fate. I'm not like Randi, I was born half mermaid, my unfertilized egg was encased inside of a pearl by my grandmother with a spell so that the first center-court being of sufficient power to touch the pearl would fertilize the egg and allow me to be born. Unfortunately, Dagon, the same monster who cursed the world against normal merfolk by plotting the assassination of my grandfather, murdered my mother, and arranged the deaths of my grandmother and uncle also sealed me in the astral shadow of a being who was being born nearby before the conditions of my hatching could be met."

"Well at least you didn't have to experience all of that," Iris chuckled while I winced.

"Actually, according to her she did," Randi explained as she scratched her ear, "she lived through two full incarnations of that being- namely the Grecian deity Aphrodite, before something moved her out of that shadow and inside a cyst in her modern mortal incarnation as Cytheria. As luck would have it the first person to touch it with their bare-hands was our Academy's Headmistress- Elizabeth Carson. Granted that thanks to a local kleptomaniac techie named Belphegor and later the Monkey King there was a real Helter-Skelter around the school for the pearl when it went missing. Up until the point that Bea hatched in the Headmistress's Office it was campus-wide pandemonium."

"Damn," Zhen-yu remarked as she just stared from her sandpit, "over two life-times looking at someone else live their life. And I thought that what happened to me was harsh."

"Yes, Zhen-yu I know details about the cult, but I didn't know about any of that until I was named as the Western Maiden and my mentor Mrs. Redstag, The Morrigan was reluctant to inform me of just what I was until after I awoke my fae heritage." Randi began to explain while apologizing to Zhen-yu in her own way for failing to rescue her. "I didn't find out until I helped a being trapped in its own misery at the heart of the Dreamlands learn the truth about itself."

"Whoa you helped one of the Great Old Ones?!?" Iris recoiled in fear, likely at the possibility of one of us betraying our mission.

"More an Elder God or Universal Aspect than a Great Old One," I began to elaborate trying to make her and to a lesser extent Zhen-yu understand, "the being in question is essentially the Gaia of the Dreamlands- it has even had avatars on Earth before. During the Sundering, a piece of it fell into our world eventually that piece stumbled upon one of the refuges of the merfolk and took the form of a mermaid, she had two children before Dagon struck and stirred up a war between them and Enki's tribe of djinn."

"And my dad and his people were the allies of those merfolk," Iris realized from what she knew of that course of events from her own family, "the pearl must have taken a lot of unorthodox magic to make, your grandmother was Tiamat, that means you're..."

"Half-mermaid and half-mutant," I replied while I heaved my way back inside my borrowed wheelchair, "the doctors at ARC verified it and they know a lot about GOOs. Plus, after all of the Elixir of Reality that I had to take during that incident last night in Boston if I did have any Old One in me I'd probably be a puddle by now."

"Plus, being anything else would have disqualified her from being one of the maidens," Zhen-yu explained coming to my defense. "The Wayfarer told me a fair deal about how the maidens were chosen. I was chosen because I'm the descendant of a dragon who sacrificed himself for the sake of destiny who also carries the blood of the Yellow Emperor."

Correct Jane observed as she spoke up, "Randi for example was chosen because she's the descendent of an illegitimate child of one of the Ancient Fae Queens and three beings created from soul fragments of a lover who died before their union was formalized, but only after the fae aspect of her being awakened in her body. Bea was chosen because she's the only blood relative of the last triton king, meaning that it can't be anyone else."

"Yeah, that's a lot more than I found out through her though, but it lines up," Zhen-yu muttered, "As for the Southern Maiden, all she told me was that she would be born into the house of a dual-element djinn who arose based on his own merits."

"My grandfather, Lord Khamsin," Mistral began to explain as she kept stirring the batter in the bowl, "I still have a lot to learn but from what I know he was common born and rose to his rank within djinn society through the royal guard under King Amun and remained loyal under the assent of Prince Horus until Osiris's coup with the aid of the Black Pharaoh. At least that's what my Uncle Dirge taught me about djinn history as we were training, he even invented an iconic weapon that is symbolic of the royal guard- the staff of was."

"There's no need to be coy, Randi deduced that Lord Khamsin was Set a long time ago." I explained as I adjusted myself in the wheelchair, "I was also in the room with your father when he found out about you, Wepwawet might have been so overwhelmed that he passed out onto the floor but as soon as he woke up he was torn between being ecstatic and apprehensive about meeting you."

Mistral turned beet red over that revelation and retreated to the kitchen, I made a note to apologize to her later, but something tells me that story about her dad would become something to laugh about in the future.

"So, Bea you were literally born a few weeks ago, and Randi you are inside of a new body that had to be grown from scratch," Zhen-yu observed as she mused over our situation, "I guess that makes me the oldest one here. Which means that I'm..."

"The second oldest here," Randi interrupted with a deadpan expression on her face, "Jane was born during WW Two, and age doesn't matter- trust is what matters and we're still too new to each other to name a leader, but when it comes time to name a leader I say- count- me- out."

Noting the perplexed expression in Zhen-yu's eyes, her face was much harder to read given my lack of familiarity with anthropomorphic Chinese dragons, so I decided to clarify matters. "She had some bad experiences trying to take the lead in various things over the year- really disenchanted her with the concept."

"I nearly got myself killed three times in the same operation, and that was after getting abducted by a coven of wannabe witches." Randi grimaced before triggering her collar to change from her costume into her casual-wear from yesterday then taking the time to remove the illusion charm from her tail as well as her beret displaying her tail and ears for all to see.

"Heh- I see that I'm not the only member of the tail club Fido," Zhen-yu remarked, "but I still don't see where you hid your wings?"

"I told you earlier Zhen-yu, not all faefolk are pixies!" Randi responded before her bark turned into a sigh, "Although admittingly I'm a bit of a mutt when it comes to my fae nature, the closest thing to what I am is a Cu-sith. Although I have a lot of other things in me such as aether hound and alp along with a lot of things that are debatable whether they are Feyfolk or not; I even have a little Sidhe in me."

"You mentioned an exorcism though," Zhen-yu inquired, "what manner of Christian devil was it?"

"Not exactly Christian, it was Carcharoth, he's the main operative to Mister Domino." Randi began to tell what I could guess was a version of her story. "They didn't know that fate would cause me to awaken as the Western Maiden yet, one being had a clue, but I doubt that you'll ever meet Greyback. No- what the Circle wanted me for was my original body was High-class Avatar host without a spirit, they just wanted me to use my body as a host for Don Astio- they didn't need me at all. From what Morrigan told me they used Carcharoth to suppress my manifestation, so I guess that it was a strange twist of fate how their actions lead to my awakening as the Western Maiden."

"Maybe- maybe not," Jane spoke up from her perch where she'd been preening her feathers, "Strange turns of fate and the Faefolk seem to go hand in hand. It was also when you bonded with the gift that Mister Domino had Carcharoth dragging around that you took your first step down being the Western Maiden. As well as so many other fortunate turns in your life."

"I just wish that Carcharoth's spirit hadn't needed to spend so much time inside of my body," Randi shuddered, "you know it wasn't until recently that I ever had a dream that I could remember, all before I was free of extra spirits and with them my Avatar-Trait that I remember was either Carcharoth fighting with Morrigan and Greyback to take control of my original body and later Morrigan training me to fight in my dreams when her spirit was trapped in my new body."

"As near as I can tell none of us had a normal run at things," I explained, "Randi and I were in the room when Wepwawet learned everything about Iris's life, with her mother being kidnapped, her being trapped in a body that was all wrong just after she was born, the clear signs of emotional abuse- at least it looks like she made some real friends along the way."

"I wish that I could say the same," Randi commented with a downcast expression on her face. "Carcharoth really did a number on me, that monster is a huge bundle of hate and mistrust, although knowing his story that part is understandable."

"You'll find the Obsidian Circle contains a lot of entities from various mythologies," I explained to Zhen-yu, "Randi's already identified Set, Loki, Hel, Hecate, Lilith and Typhon, as for Carcharoth he's the Fenris wolf."

"I might need to study some," Zhen-yu replied with as much of a sheepish expression as she could manage with a reptilian muzzle, "because other than hearing a born-again Betty at school talk about Hell and one sounding a lot like a Pacific Hurricane I don't know who any of those people are. Also, this Academy that you keep mentioning, this wouldn't happen to be where the Handmaiden of the Tao is would it?"

I held my tongue for a moment as I looked at Randi and she nodded for once knowing what I was asking, "What we mean is the Whateley Academy, it's a boarding school in the Northeast- almost all of the students as well as many of the faculty and staff there are mutants just like the four of us."

"You mean Xavier's is real!" Iris shouted from the kitchen near the breakfast nook.

"It's not Xavier's and mom along with most of the teachers dislike the comparison," I replied in a bit of a raised tone. "They don't teach everyone how to be heroes, or send out teams on missions. What Whateley does is provide a safe place where we can learn how to properly use our abilities as well as a quality education to prepare us for the real world."

"Besides Whateley tries to hold a neutral stance," Randi elaborated, "yeah, some prominent heroes have graduated from Whateley, like the third Champion, most of the Star League, as well as a good chunk of the Justice Battalion to name a few, but so have a few villains, Lord Paramount is a graduate and Gizmatic's feud with the third Champion began when they were both students at Whateley. But there are also a fair number of people who opt to just make a living with their powers in any number of fields, I even know one who operates a creamery."

"Cool," Iris commented from the kitchen, "by the way breakfast is ready!"

"I wonder what she made?" I mentioned as Randi and my stomach both reminded us that neither of us really had dinner last night- subsisting mainly on snacks that Randi carried in her bag and upscale vegetable and antipasto trays that were waiting for us when we arrived here.

"Since she was stirring batter I say waffles," Zhen-yu remarked as she began to drool a little.

"I heard sizzling in a skillet, so I'd have to go with pancakes," Randi guessed,

"So, we're supposed to believe that just because you have dog ears that you have super-human senses." Zhen-yu objected, "Besides why would you waste time on those fried mushy wads when you could have crunchy, crispy waffles."

"Probably out of consideration," Randi retorted, "most kitchens have at most a single waffle-iron when pans are common. Besides by the time that enough waffles are done for several people the first batch would start getting cold."

"Please you two, calm down," I pleaded as I rolled between them, "why don't we just see what she made and let that be it, "besides it wouldn't do for us to let her generosity turn cold and possibly soggy."

"Nana Bridges always says that wasting food is a crime," Faolan remarked.

"Sounds like your grandmother and mine would have gotten along rather well," Zhen-yu remarked.

Each of us made our way to the breakfast nook by the kitchenette, with me rolling myself along thank you very much, where Iris plating four trios of crêpes with a syrup that I could tell was judging from the smell a had lemon juice mixed in and dusting them lightly with powdered sugar, two decent-sized sausages and a tall glass of milk, as well as an empty cup.

"I found a decent selection of preserves in the cupboards," Iris explained as she displayed the results, "what you have here is a mixture of orange marmalade, strawberry and apricot crêpes with mascarpone, lemon juice infused simple-syrup, andouille sausage, and an English breakfast tea in the kettle if you want it. Oh, and just so there are no surprises that's horchata in the glasses in case anyone is lactose intolerant, I just hope no one has nut or rice allergies.

"What's horchata?" Zhen-yu asked staring at the glass not sure what to make of it.

"Usually rice milk with vanilla and cinnamon," Randi explained as she moved to sit down. "No dairy though in case that's a problem. I'm from Texas so I've had it plenty of times, pretty good especially when served very cold."

"Texas huh, figures that the Western Maiden would be a tomboyish ranch hand." Zhen-yu made another dig at Randi but from what I could see thing time she didn't fall for it.

"Nope city-girl from the North-Texas Metroplex," Randi remarked as she sat down and took a deep whiff of her plate, "Father's a librarian and mother's a plumber- how about you."

I could see that Zhen-yu was weighing matters over now that Randi didn't bite her bait. "My mother's a seamstress and my father's a tailor, we live in the Asian-District of Seattle in the same shop that our family had run ever since my great-great-grandparents immigrated during the late 1800s."

"I know the feeling, I may not be a ranch hand, but I have family who are on my mom's side- they own a small cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle that they've had since they settled there with a bunch of their fellow rail workers from the Western Pacific and the Union Pacific." Randi continued to explain with I rolled my chair up to the empty spot on the table as Zhen-yu joined Randi and Iris in the remaining-vacant chair.

At first no one touched their meals, but rather than outright aversion this was mainly due to self-imposed rituals on how to confront the meals, Randi and Iris both started by cutting the sausages diagonally with their flatware, while Zhen-yu began to cut everything into sections after pouring herself a cup of tea. While I also helped myself to the tea, I preferred to leave everything intact until I began to eat it. While I was tempted to go right for the crêpes, I knew from school that those things needed to cool a bit first to avoid the mascarpone and fruit filling being too runny, instead I focused on the sausages which had a mild heat to them but were grilled to add a decent amount of snap to the casings and a nice char to complement their smoky taste.

Once I was done with the sausages I took a sip of the tea which had cooled down just enough to avoid scorching my tongue, I took the bitter-caffeine charged beverage down to power-wash away whatever remaining cob-webs that were inside my head, although I was tempted to add some cream or sugar to the beverage there was enough sweetness in front of me. Although I was unfamiliar with the horchata beverage I took a sip to counteract the bitter of the tea; as Randi had advertised it was a cold mixture of sweet vanilla with hints of cinnamon.

After another sip of tea to cleanse the metaphorically old palate and it was time to tackle the crêpes, at first, I thought about peaking from the side to check out which crêpe had which filling but I decided that this time the surprise was another part of the meal. I carved off a piece of the first crêpe and was hit with the slight punch of sour, yeah from what I remembered Cytherea never liked marmalade due to its sour taste; fortunately, most of the sour was mixed with the delicate tang of the mascarpone to mellow it out some.

After finishing the orange marmalade crêpe off and taking another sip of tea, I tackled the next crêpe; okay this was something that I was familiar with from school strawberry preserves- granted the taste was a lot better developed coming straight from a jar rather than a tiny plastic packet like at Crystal Hall.

Now it was time for the final crêpe, although to be honest I don't think that I've ever had an apricot before, if I remember they were sort of like peaches. I cut off a piece of the last crêpe and could see that this was more tangy than sweet, moreover the fruit from the preserve had some texture to it to offer a greater contrast to the dish. Note to self, do not introduce Iris to Ayla Goodkind, I wanted to see how Iris's skills would develop after getting to Whateley and Ayla, from what I had seen, had a habit of monopolizing talent- especially culinary talent.

POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

Okay, I'll concede to the fairy that horchata stuff was good now at least I think I knew what that creamy stuff was in those jugs my friends and I spotted around the taquerias back in Seattle were. As things stood though I still didn't know if I could trust these three, Randi and Iris both had connections to this Obsidian Circle group with one being the granddaughter of a member and one admitting that she had been influenced by one of their operatives for a number of years. As for Bea, her story was just too- odd. I mean hatching from a pearl to be around the same age as three of us was just too absurd.

Maybe I was being paranoid but after my treatment by the Merchants of Suffering, paranoia was a necessary survival mechanism- even if this Obsidian Circle weren't allies of the Merchants there was nothing to say that they wouldn't seek to use my gifts in the same way- prophecy or not. Okay- granted Randi from what I heard was about as distantly related to Mister Domino as I was to the Yellow Emperor, but even she admitted that Domino's minion influenced her mind growing up.

How was I to trust any of them- for that matter why would it be a good idea for me to do so in the first place. Then again, I guess that the old saying would hold very true here, keep your friends close and your enemy's closer. Okay calling them my enemies already was a premature judgement on my part, while I wasn't one-hundred percent sure that the other maidens were my enemy I sure as the winter was freezing didn't trust any of them yet.

"One thing that I kind of don't get is how our powers are supposed to help with this whole prophecy thing," Iris pondered as she spoke up, "I mean how is the ability to see the past supposed to help fixing an ancient ship? Plus, healing, shape-shifting and pyro-what's-it's how is any of that supposed to help with what we have to do?"

"Well according to my prophecy I'm supposed to repair the broken root of Yggdrasil," Randi began to explain clearly showing that she knew a lot more than she was telling, "Fae magic depends upon the thriving essence of nature, and in the absence of a true World Tree that magic is dependent on mystic groves. According to the stories Yggdrasil is so massive that its roots stretch across realities, but the truth is that those realities are just pieces of the Earth that became... displaced by the Sundering. This means that if I heal the root of Yggdrasil that's connected to our part of Earth that it would let not only its own magic flow back into the world but also that from the other places of the Wild Lands of Faerie where it's rooted as well as strengthen the biomes of Earth to make them more resilient."

"According to what that prophecy said though the broken root is located in a place that civilized beings can't go- thus humans and even most fae can't go there. So, I'm not only going to need my shape-shifting, I'm going to have to become one spiritually with my wolf half as well as be intuitive enough in the use of magic and glamour to perform a tree-graft without the usual tools as well as avoid detection while I'm doing it."

"As for the Chalice of Selána it's supposed to be a colossal reef that distills the moon's essence to be harnessed by the Eastern Court and as a consequence keep the oceans vibrant and bountiful," Bea continued the discussion, "If the coral of the Chalice is sick or bleached I should be able to restore it and heal the coral polyps. As a consequence, the reef should also help excise radiation and chemical pollution from the oceans and seas. As well as strengthen the fragile aquatic ecosystems of the planet, and help it recover as well to where it was prior to the industrial revolution."

"How did the both of you know about where your targets are located anyway?" I asked desperate to get to the bottom of this, and hopefully put a chink in their armor that I could use to expose the truth about them. Still one thing about my current theory didn't add up- Iris the one of us with the most direct connection to the Obsidian Circle actually looked the most off about the whole thing. So was it the Circle that was the source of this information that they already had available or did it have to do with this Academy that they seemed so keen to lure us into attending.

"Yggdrasil is prominently featured in Norse Mythology, I know about it mostly because I've always been a major bookworm, although I guess it comes from being a librarian's kid who sucked at sports growing up." Randi confessed, and I could almost buy her story, but there were still details that cast doubt in my mind to her narrative. "I also wanted to learn as much as I could about the monster who made my youth hell, and Carcharoth no Fenrir and his immediate family also show up a lot in those stories as well, so I've been brushing up on my Norse mythology in my spare time. As for World Trees, their importance to fae and the Forest of Díthreabh- what I haven't learned from my teacher Morrigan in-between combat lessons Jane filled me in on that after the meeting earlier through our bond."

"As for the Chalice of Selána, I learned about it while learning about the Eastern Court in a place Greyback showed me." Bea fessed up- I'll have to grill them about who this Greyback character is- I swear that's the second or third time that one of them has brought him up. "It was really important to the culture of the Eastern Court, they considered the Chalice itself a sacred place and tasked an order of sacred maidens to attend to it, I'm really going to have to bone up on that place sooner rather than later considering how important it is to my own destined mission."

"Maybe you could take me to this place as well," I inquired waiting for her to take the bait, and either extend an invitation to meeting this Greyback or expose her fraud for what it is. "I mean I should do some studying myself about Mount Sàng hún-zhī, and this talisman that I'm supposed to repair right."

"That might not be possible," Randi came to Bea's defense in an oddly unsure manner, "wherever Greyback took Bea to learn about the Eastern Court is likely in the Dreamlands, and finding your way there without someone who has a connection to you to guide you there is really difficult. Not to mention that the Dreamlands themselves can be unbelievably dangerous to those without a proper guide- my first journey through that place nearly killed me a hundred times over and the danger of that place to your mind and soul is very real. If I were you I'd ask someone from the Jade Heavens where you might learn this information, and in case you haven't met anyone already Bea knows four princesses from each of the Jade Heaven's Four Seas and I can always ask the Bladedancer's combat instructor Guan Yu if he knows anything."

"Guan Yu!" I all but shouted in shock, "One of the students at your school not only knows Liu Bei's general, who became a deity after his death but also is learning to fight from him. Now I know you lot are full of it- who would be so important that Guan Yu would journey from the Jade Heavens to teach them?"

"Bladedancer is the codename that was chosen by the current Handmaiden of the Tao," Randi's crow who had been silent all this time chose now to speak up and that one sentence struck me to the core. The Handmaiden of the Tao, the studious left-hand of destiny itself and the one whose blade was made from my ancestor's heart and I was supposed to train with this summer. Not only did Randi know her of her but something told me that Randi knew her personally, to mention someone like her so...casually was terrifying.

Not only that but to know that the Handmaiden was actually a student at this Academy that Randi and Bea attended- just what kind of school was this place. I was so caught up in this revelation that I almost missed Randi's question of, "By the way just what can you do, I mean it's only fair considering that we've shared how we think our powers would work to fulfill our destinies'."

"I'm a pyrokinetic," I confessed still shaken by the reveal that this was the place that someone like the Handmaiden of the Tao thought could teach her, "I can actually control fire, cultivate heat and suspend material in that heat as long as I need to work it into something new- usually it's to make gemstones. Unfortunately, those gemstones also soak up enchantments like a sponge- that's the reason that the Merchants of Suffering kidnapped me and threatened my family. They consider me their personal enchantable gem furnace, it's also why they'll do anything to get me back under their thumb."

That was when Randi began to regard me in a way that was creepy, "Oh let me guess the fairy wants to add this dragon to her own little kingdom!"

"Nope," Randi replied in a way that was too glib and nonchalant to be anything but the truth, "I'm just seeing that you would fit right in at the Whateley Artifact Manufacturing Club. It's this trio of students at school that can make all sorts of amazing things when they pool their talents- my vambraces and one of my knives as well as Bea's bracelets are their work. Our school has a variation on an open house in a few weeks on the 13th of May for parents and perspective students who can afford to wait until the beginning of the school year to attend, you might want to use the opportunity to get to know them. Something tells me that the stuff that the four of you could make together would be amazing- maybe even legendary."

"You had better not be trying to pull one over on me." I warned Randi, glaring at her as best as I could but somehow flame-wielding anthropomorphic dragon or not she was entirely unphased.

"Their codenames are Silver, Eldrich and Seraphim, they already make some pretty amazing things right now." Randi calmly began to explain matters, "Silver can excrete raw mithril from her pours, that part was only discovered recently- the school is working with her to give her appropriate financial control over her...cast-offs ever since. Eldrich is the latest incarnation of an ancient being known as The Artificer, who is a mystic crafter, one of her previous incarnations was the one who created the Handmaiden of the Tao's sword Destiny's Wave. As for Seraphim, she's an omnipath who can channel higher-dimensional energies to do all sorts of things. If you're interested should you take the offer on Perspectives Day up, then I recommend asking the office to introduce you to them."

"I really recommend that you ask for admission," Bea spoke up now that Randi was done with her sales pitch, "given that the Syndicate, most supervillains and even various factions of the Grand Hall consider Whateley neutral ground should the Merchants of Suffering try to come after you they'll likely suffer the same fate as the Tong of the Black Madonna."

This made me more than a little nervous as I knew from chatter during my time with the Merchants that they did business with that cult, "What happened to those Witches?" I asked out of morbid curiosity.

"The Syndicate blasted their main temple in Thailand to rubble taking out their Ya-Ba labs and opium fields with it, as well as destroyed the main port for their South China Sea piracy operation in Cambodia," Jane explained the whole affair from her perch, "Lord Khamsin and Baron Impié also attacked their temple in Laos mummifying the high priestess alive while taking out most of her servants when they tried defending their mistress. A splinter group known as the Fierce Wind then moved in and took over the Tong's temples in Laos and Myanmar meaning the Tong of the Black Madonna are too busty fighting to hold on to the scraps of their empire to attempt anything for years possibly decades."

"And all of that happened because the Tong tried to attack the Handmaiden of the Tao in her sleep with black magic." Bea explained in a serious tone, "It's an unspoken rule in the Underworld, those who violate the Whateley Neutrality Agreement on either side of the law will be made to answer for it by their peers. And when those peers include the likes of Doctor Diabolik, Gizmatic, the Silver Serpent, Strega, Dominus, and the Obsidian Circle just to just name a few- you'd be asking for a real beating if you came to cause trouble."

"Especially when your place of operations is fixed like the Merchants," Randi remarked as she poured herself a cup of tea. "The last human-being to try to pull something at Whateley was Chessmaster, he's still on the run after The Syndicate put a twenty-million-dollar bounty on his head for the attack he and Deathlist's Sabretooth Squad pulled last Halloween. And the last attack on the school was pulled by a minor fae noble of the Winter Court, according to my intel she's currently being tortured by those who want her status."

"Tortured- you fairies are messed up." I recoiled as I eyed her with caution.

"Again- Winter Court, they are one of two groups to have popped up since the Sundering whose leaders stepped into the power-vacuum left by the death of the Nine Queens and since there were no legitimate heirs they're the new status-quo." Randi remarked as she rolled her eyes, "But torture or not both Winter and their Counterpart Summer are just as twisted, personally though I'm backing the Wild Court who are looking get rid of these pretenders and their warped ideals."

"At least they're not the Dark Court of the Fae," Iris commented joining the conversation, "I just had a nasty experience with one of that lot."

"Yeah, the Dark Court can be super nasty if you leave yourself vulnerable or have something they want," Randi shuddered, "they're faefolk who refuse to align themselves with anyone, mainly anti-social misfits and nobles from fallen houses of Winter or Summer. Granted the Goblin Markets can be a good place to find some goods at a fair price, although you should never visit alone, cause that place is like pearl-diving in shark-infested waters; yeah you might walk away with a nice profit but if you're not careful you'll be eaten alive by those who call those waters home."

"At least they can settle in the mortal world proper," Bea huffed, "until I rescue my uncle and the two of us break Dagon's curse then all merfolk and those with merfolk blood outside of royal lineages are doomed to slowly lose their mind and soul as they mutate into deep ones."

"And what happens if you succeed in that, do you think that the world is just going to welcome merfolk immigration from wherever the rest of your people are hiding, mutants have a hard-enough time being recognized as not being monsters- all merfolk will become is another group that is discriminated against by everyone who're afraid of something that makes them feel weak."

"Well for starters a general romantic perception that the world as a whole has about mermen and mermaids," Randi began to tick away things on her right hand, "for another they'll also be faced with the knowledge that a number of their friends and possibly even relatives are merfolk, then there's the knowledge that Bea and her Uncle stopped said friends and relatives from turning into savage-homicidal monsters- a number of whom are kept contained for study at the Arkham Research Center. There is also the fact that we can presume most currently cursed merfolk have proper citizenship in the nations that they call home, and stripping people of any legal citizenship that they may have en-mass is a potential PR nightmare. Besides when the party responsible ensuring the proliferation of carriers is revealed to be a cult trying to create what amounts to a sleeper army via a hereditary global mutagenic pathogen then these neo-merfolk become victims."

"There is also the practical application in any number of countries of having a group of citizens who can live and breathe underwater." Bea began to back up her friend's argument about merfolk, "just think of the possibilities that are opened up in marine salvage, sea rescue, maritime law, as well as extending national borders. Suddenly you have a group of citizens who can expand a nations territorial waters by building subaquatic communities, especially when we began to distribute these to neo-merfolk."

Bea pointed to that weird ring on her right hand I couldn't tell what it was made out of, but it wasn't metal, "This is a ring of yin, the originals are harvested from living stalagmites in the Cavern of Chundu in the Eastern Sea of the Jade Heavens, but the Princess Sorcha of the Golden Sea told me that the merfolk who live there have been producing caverns full for centuries thanks to a dragon's pearl."

"It was Qianbei Zunyan's," I numbly observed, "as he surrendered his still-beating heart to the Jade Emperor to be shaped into the Handmaiden of the Tao's sword, we willed for his pearl to be given to the merfolk of the Jade Heaven's four seas. He gave them his pearl on his dying wish and they use it to make tacky jewelry."

"I am sorry that you feel that my people's use of your ancestor's death has cheapened the nobility of his sacrifice," Bea apologized with such honesty that it felt like a punch to the gut. "But rings of yin aren't tacky jewelry, each exudes the purity of the environment of the Cavern of Chundu so that while wearing them you cannot be poisoned, and merfolk can survive in water no matter how polluted it is provided there is still oxygen."

"Well that might be all well and good for merfolk but I doubt that it would interest people too much," I gave Bea's ring a disinterested look, "I mean so what if it can make water safe to breath in I doubt that would matter all that much for people."

"It also works in the open air," Bea retorted with a smile, "I was helping rescue people from a burning building, thanks to this ring I didn't need breathing gear to handle the smoke and fumes."

"Plus think what those rings could do if you installed them in a water-purification plant, it might take some doing but you could probably use them to improve water-purification." Randi observed, "And countries all over the world are always on the look out to increase the amount of clean drinking water that's available for the people living there."

I hated to admit it, but I was more than a little jealous of the pair, they seemed to share the kind of comradery that I used to have with my own friends at school- something that began to drift away after I manifested and was confined to the Asian International District after my transformation for my own safety and had lost almost entirely after my kidnaping. At least thanks to Kelsey I could talk with them via snail mail but still it was nothing next to being around them in person.

"Do girls always talk like this?" Iris turned to me actually curious over if this was normal. "I mean since I was raised as a boy I kind am a little lacking in experience here."

"No, they do not," Jane interjected as she landed on Iris's shoulder, "but Randi and Beatrice are hardly normal- half-human or not. Randi spent most of her free time during her youth either at a public library or at home, so her social skills are a little...odd. As for Bea, her experiences with direct human interaction are only recent so she is learning how to put into practice what she has only observed from what she considers to be a very shallow example of a humanity."

"So, I guess that I'm the only one here who had a normal childhood," I commented as I observed the peanut gallery. "The person here who had the most normal life growing up turned out looking the freakiest- talk about irony!"

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder Zhen-yu," Randi remarked, "I'm sure you'll find somebody actually we have a girl at our school who rocks the reptile look too, she goes by the codename Kaiju, also there are plenty of people at the academy who mutated to such a point that they need special accommodations to survive- one of whom is a faculty member who teaches via psychic projection."

"Okay, I may still not agree to enroll at the loony bin that you two call a school, but I will come to your open house," I conceded the matter, "at the very least I'll have to see this place for myself."

"Maybe I can ask Laoshi Wujing if he could arrange for Wukong Sun to escort me since he has a history with your school." I laid out my proposal to only to draw a less than enthusiastic look from Randi.

"What is it," I inquired wondering just what prompted that bit of attitude, "I thought that you said the Monkey King had a history with your school."

"Yeah, he does, and not entirely a positive one," Randi deadpanned, "Aside from the fiasco around Bea's pearl there was also his infamous weeklong panty raid last fall. Apparently, he raided both girl's cottages, one of our co-ed cottages and was only stopped from raiding a second after being caught by the Handmaiden of the Tao. Don't dare to spread it around though, some students are still in the dark to avoid them foolishly trying to retaliate against the Monkey King and triggering a prank war of epic proportions."

"I wish that I could say there is no way that the Monkey King would do anything like that-" I remarked trying to contain my laughter and hoping my draconic visage wasn't broadcasting a smile too much,"- but I know better given his reputation. So now that it's established that I'll at least give your school a once over- the bigger question is just when do we decide to go home?"

"How about we put it to a vote?" Bea offered, "Who wants to put yesterday truly behind us and go home?"

Somehow it didn't surprise me that the vote was unanimous, Bea and Randi likely wanted to get back to their school and show everyone that they're okay and Iris had about a decade and a half worth of catching up to do with her father.

"Well it looks like the motion carries," Bea mused with a serene smile, "everyone please gather your things, I think that it's time that we inform our hosts that we are checking out."

After everyone took a moment to gather what little we had with us, especially given how the Whateley duo seemed to come with bags of holding, I wonder if they sold those at the campus store- note to self-inquire at campus store about bags of holding. Randi and Bea meanwhile paused to each put on a domino mask from Randi's bag, I might have gotten insulted over have not been offered one if the sentiment wasn't pointless given my reptilian appearance- Iris on the other hand may not have needed one given how she was a part of all of this through her family, although she still stopped to put on that mask she was wearing earlier for some odd reason.

Randi, Iris and I opened the doors together (with Jane perched on Bea's chair as she wheeled herself behind us) and I found to my bemusement my teacher Sha Wujing chatting with three individuals, a man in Egypt themed armor who I assumed was Iris's father, a scruffy looking man in plaid hakama pants, and a man peppered with scars and a cybernetic hand about of all things military history. "While it was true that MacArthur was a well-seasoned general I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Truman had properly restrained him from approaching the Chinese-Russian border." The man with the metal hand mentioned, "before that moment China's involvement was constrained to selling weapons and munitions- purely profiting off the Russians and North Koreans while making Stalin look like a fool to their allies."

"That went without saying," Sha Wujing spoke up, "despite Beijing and Moscow each following variations of the Communist ideology Mao considered Stalin a threat due to the fact that he sought to subordinate all of his allies under himself- something that Mao certainly would refused to do. However, given the newness of his regime on the world stage, as well as the appearance that it would give before his subordinate; there was no way that he could let such an apparent challenge go unanswered."

"Yeah, if only MacArthur had followed the original plans and let the South Korean army secure the border after they had pushed the North Korean army out of the country then there was a very real possibility that the Kim dynasty would have ended before it began with Kim Il Sung." The man who I presumed was Greygus postulated, "Then we may just have Korea rather than this cold war atavism."

"That may be however there was a good chance that Russia may have used such an opportunity to begin another proxy conflict elsewhere," Randi interrupted, "they still claim to the Northern Japanese Territories to be the Kuril Islands and Stalin could have used the issue to push for an annexation of the rest of Hokkaido by claiming the Ainu as Soviet dependents due to the groups living in Siberia- remember after all this time Russia and Japan still haven't signed a formal peace treaty due to the fact that one or the other country would have to formally relinquish control over that portion of the Japanese Archipelago."

"Very interesting insight oh maiden of the west," Sha Wujing observed, "I hope that the five of you had a good night's sleep."

"I also hope that the you enjoyed the Chamber of Somnus as it was made for you four." Greygus explained as he handed each of us what looked like a key on a golden chain, except there were four rows of unique teeth arranged in a cross. "We will arrange to create entrance thresholds for it at Whateley, as well as my own little home-away-from-home for the moment. Eventually we may create other entrances to it elsewhere for your own convenience, I swear on my essence that these are the only four keys to that room you might make others with instructions within the room; to keep the key secret just press the base opposite of the teeth. Oh, and you need not worry about any of the food inside spoiling, the cabinets and the refrigerator have stasis enchantments built into them to keep anything from spoiling- provided you close the doors properly. We will need to arrange to give you a full tour of the room's amenities, but I presume that three of you would like to return to your preferred ports of call- while I know that Iris and I would doubtlessly wish to return back home."

"Fray and I will be taking Faolan and Aletheia back to Whateley," the man with the plaid hakama pants explained, "I presume that the Headmistress will have some choice words with them about this whole affair."

"Oh goody," Randi groaned, "how much do you want to bet that we get a month's worth of detention in Hawthorne for what happened in Boston Aletheia?"

"Maybe a few days at worst Faolan," Bea observed, "most of what we were doing was assisting EMT, and Fire and Rescue Personnel. Granted that we also intervened by aiding in rescue work however there is no law preventing private citizens from aiding in rescue efforts, in fact it's usually encouraged."

"What may or may not be awaiting you when you get back is for the Headmistress and the Deputy-Headmistress to decide," the scruffy looking man commented, "Duanzaolong your laoshi is going to be escorting you back to the cave using some a temporary path to make certain that the Merchants of Suffering won't follow you back to your sanctuary. Just a warning though, this path will only open more three times on three particular dates so it won't be much help during your trek east after the Handmaiden of the Tao trains you this summer."

Wonderful it looks like they didn't want to make things too easy for me on the way back home. But at least it would help me keep the cave safe from those bastards, the cave's biggest defense was its secrecy and I was probably lucky that the Merchant's warlocks were archaically old school otherwise they might know just where the cave's entrance could be found.

"Anyway Mistral, Duanzaolong, thanks for meeting us and I hope we see you again on visiting day," Bea stated as she extended her hands to each of us, not wanting to seem too distrustful I took the offered appendage and shook it as did Iris. "I look forward to your impressions of our fine Academy."

"I will certainly keep it open for consideration." I explained as I shook the mermaid's left hand.

"I don't know if I'll apply for sure or not, I mean I just met my family for the first time ever, I don't know if I want to go to a boarding school." Iris commented, and I can't say that I didn't understand her sentiment.

"Family or not dear, you need to be around children your own age." Iris's father Greygus spoke up, "while we could tutor you back home you would likely find the experience a lonely one. Also given the sheer number of enemies that your grandfather and I have made over the years public schooling is out of the question. Besides with my work I'm sad to say I'll be away a lot as will your uncle Dirge, the only family that you would really be around at home are your grandparents and they'd both be rather busy as well given their positions."

"Besides even if you do attend I plan on calling or stopping by so often that you'll be embarrassed to be around me before you know it."

"I doubt that dad," Iris commented as she hugged her father tight, "I really doubt that. Either way I'll be seeing you three again- wait until I tell my friends that I met a mermaid, a dragon and a fairy."

"Just remember, that's faerie!" Randi replied as she and Bea were escorted down the hallways and on their way back to their academy while Sha Wujing and I did the same leaving Iris in the corridor with her father. One thing was for certain- after today I just wanted this weekend over and done with, as we walked along I pressed the key and it collapsed into a pendent which I glanced over before putting on. 'Face it Zhen-yu, your life just got a lot more interesting!'

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2 years 7 months ago #51545 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 32

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
Washington Park - South of Brynum Island
Chicago, Illinois
9:17 AM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank

"Neat helmet you got there CF," Heath McGilles observed before bending down to check the laces on his track-shoes leaving his girlfriend (jokingly dubbed the Maniac's Mom) Shelly who was nearby watching our stuff to have a view she wanted as the photography minor snapped another picture, "not par the course for parkour but I guess parents can't help but worry."

"Yeah, I know," I remarked as I examined the helmet, "the weird thing is that I don't know whose gift it was. Mom, told me that dad's gift got held up on its way stateside and she got me a new pair of high-tops and a track-suit, but once she saw it she insisted that I wear it for this stuff."

"I just hope that it doesn't throw off your balance," Chelsea Bowles remarked as she went about her pre-run stretching routine. "I mean I know free-running can be hard on the body but if something throws your balance off then that can be just as dangerous."

"I know but that's what's weird about this thing," I explained before I slapped it on, "I swear that I can barely feel this thing. Honestly not only does it almost fit me like a glove, but I can barely feel any weight to this thing, I really wish that I knew the manufacturer, but this thing doesn't seem to have any branding on it. Besides I my mom saw me examining this thing in my room last night and I have to wear it or else if you know what I mean."

"Ah the dreaded or else," Cesar Nachez snidely commented as he was doing his own...unique form of stretching- breakdancing on the grass- he had just finished his hop n' jump routine and was likely ready to break out the worm. "Usually followed by wait 'til your father gets home, and if catch with those things again you're grounded until you're thirty."

"What do you expect when your mom to do when she finds out that your little brother found your porn stash," Mike Fulton noted, "though why did she freak out over a stack of Playboys your uncle gave you?"

"Because it had a few issues of Penthouse and a Hustler in the stack," Cesar admitted in a hushed tone as the worm became the log.

"Da'am," Mike recoiled, "I'm surprised she didn't ground you then and there, course your Uncle is bound to get a lot of crap if he tries to pop in for the Fourth."

"He's not welcome back until Thanksgiving and that's only if he brings a fresh apple pie from this famous cafe in Iola," Cesar explained.

"Really?" Heath observed as he looked our way, "Iola's a postage stamp, I didn't think they were known for cafe bakeries."

"Not Iola, Illinois- Iola, Wisconsin." Cesar corrected our boss, "and since the place's stuff is scratch made he's going to have to drive up there and back down just in time for Thanksgiving dinner."

"Man Cesar, there is brutal and then there's tu madre," I whistled, "remind me never to get on your old mom's bad side."

"Tell me about it, the only reason she's giving Uncle Phillipe a way to get back on her good side is because he's familia," Cesar explained as he got up. "Otherwise you'd be dead to my family or else."

"Or else what?" Mike asked clearly out of morbid curiosity.

"Or else the person who let you in sleeps in the closet-" Cesar explained as he dusted himself off, "standing up- behind the murphy bed."

"Isn't that dangerous?" I asked slightly afraid, "I've heard people have gotten seriously hurt that way."

"Mi abuelo knew what he was doing when he put it in," Cesar retorted, "thanks to the bedposts he mounted on, he left just enough room for someone to be in there and still have room to breathe while being pinned...you know for safety's sake."

"Alright enough about CF's new gear and Cesar's familial wackiness," Heath barked out, "we can save the jibber-jabber for our cool down at the Robust Lounge, so Maniacs I hope you're nice and warmed up- cause it's time to scale some rails and punish some pavement."

'Ever the motivator Heath,' I thought to myself as I rolled my eyes. Never the less the lot of us moved into position, nobody wanted to be a slacker here we parkour is art in motion and the park was about to be our canvas.

All of us braced ourselves as if we were on the starting block of a track and field meet, even though it wasn't really a race all of us wanted to be the first to get back here for some sweet bragging rights.

"Okay Maniacs," Heath shouted from his spot, "let's bounce!"

With that the pack of us broke down the path, it was time to shine.

Washington Park - Brynum Island
9:34 AM

North of the group, VT lay in wait hiding in the bushes thanks to a freaking gilly suit of all things, "Alright- they're off VT just keep an eye out on that oreo Chandra and her helmet and then all it would take was one shot." He whispered to himself as he licked his lips. After he pulled the trigger he'd be running with a real crew and Chandra would know better than to dis her old home girls, oh well she'd have plenty of time to think that over from the shattered remains of her time as an athletic star- besides he was told to cripple her not kill her.

It was funny all those times his dad dragged him out to his company duck hunts to parade his son to his higher-ups at Goodkind International, no matter how much VT loathed how phony they were they taught him exactly what he needed today, patience and how to shoot a moving target with a rifle from cover.

Carefully VT tracked their progress as they left his view before slowly changing his position to face north-northwest as easy as it might have been to shoot Chandra before she and her group began their run there was too much of a risk if he had done so then. No matter how much of his mind was on the concept of just what rewards would be coming his way from Mister Sikes, not to mention how Natroya might view him afterwards, Darisha all but told him last night just how badly Chandra had dissed her during that traitor's own initiation.

No enough tangents, VT knew that the Maroon Maniacs' starting point was too close to the bar of land where Brynum Island connected to the rest of the park. If he shot while the Maniacs were just starting to run they'd have been far too alert and would be able to find in in an instant. No VT knew that the best time to strike was later in the run on about their tenth lap around the lake, at that point they'd be winded and far too much in the zone to think about looking for the shooter especially when one of their own was on the ground bleeding with a hole in her leg.

Also, even if one of them was near the bridge on the south side of the island, VT knew he'd have ample time to ditch the gun and gilly suit before blending in with the park-goers.

"That's one," VT whispered as he saw the Maroon Maniacs pass by his sights- taking particular note once Chandra was in the cross-hairs, "nine more and you're going down - hard!"

Washington Park - Walking Path (North-side)
9:46 AM
POV: Chandra Defrank

I kept my breathing even and my senses focused, the essence of parkour was a type of Zen: while there was a path laid out before us at the same time the path was non-existent. That was the thing when it comes to free-running the common path is only a suggestion, everything around us was a potential part of the path that we chose all that mattered was the course and the ultimate destination; even the railings, benches, tables, fountains and bike racks that others would consider an obstacle to a jog in free-running they were no obstacle- they were a challenge.

While the park was also full of people either walking, hanging out or jogging to their own rhythm, who thought little of what may be going on around them to us these people were the true obstacle- they were the x-factor that we would have to negotiate our way around in order to make our way. After all, as Heath always said: "Nothing is more unpredictable and potentially dangerous than another human being."

That was especially true when free-running, fixtures along a path to anyone with enough skills in parkour were a part of the path that you chose for yourself rather than an obstacle to be moved around. No in parkour people were the obstacle that you had to dodge, avoid or negotiate- especially given that if you accidentally pissed them off there was no telling what they would do especially given how these people were complete strangers.

Case in point, some little kid likely three or four years old just ran out onto the jogging path about ten-feet away, while the kid would have been easy to dodge with a slight correction of course- the kid's mother made things worse by charging out onto the path to 'pull her child back to safety and thus completely blocking the jogging path causing even more problems.

While the jogging path was blocked for the moment there was still a ready alternative nearby, I corrected my course right into the bench, which I used as a spring-board to both avoid the mother and her kid while not losing any momentum in the process.

While I left the pair behind I heard the mom shout something in anger directed right my way, whatever it was I didn't pay her any mind. Neither one of the pair was hurt and the crisis was averted, right now she was just scared about the might-have-beens and was taking out her frustration on the nearest target. Hopefully she'd get over it soon, the last thing that I needed in my life was to make another enemy of someone who lived in my hometown of Chi-town.

Yeah, the fact was that the Coleman sisters were enough enemies in Chicago for this lifetime and part of her dreaded that the pair might try to pull something again, granted that they hadn't done anything to her directly in months, but a quiet enemy was said to be the most dangerous kind of enemy. It was bad enough back in the past when they recruited my old friend Taikeyla Johnson into the Ally Vipers and had likely been part of the reason that my former best friend Ramona Watt stopped talking to me. Part of me really dreaded what they'd do this time, especially given how last November they'd been the likely source of an anonymous tip that Chicago PD had gotten about a purse snatcher matching my description, thank goodness that Cesar had his eye on me during the run- well that and the fact that no witnesses came forward to ID me.

'Okay forget those pains-in-the-butt Chandra,' I mentally shook myself, 'those two could do whatever the hell they wanted with their own messed up lives.'

I was here and now- they weren’t, and I was doing what I wanted chasing that runner's high. While it was true that I was running with a crew in a manner of speaking- each of the Maroon Maniacs ran at their own pace and made their own way, we were the authors of our fate and how we chose to deal with the slings and arrows that fate threw our way was our decision. On the court, back with my fellow Lady Cardinals, that was a matter of responsibility and a weight that I had to deal with for the good of the group, here running with the Maroon Maniacs that was freedom- cutting loose and living in the moment.

Don't get me wrong playing with a team was great, working together with the girls to bring out the best in each other was a feeling like no other but there were times that you just wanted to be free and soar on your own merits- as I just did when I spin-dodged a mother who was with her stroller taking her child get some fresh air.

I admit free-running was dangerous both to the runner as well as those who were around them, but that was where the balance lay- it was about choice on the most fundamental level and when it came to choices one had to be aware of the circumstances behind those choices and weigh the potential consequences. It was really Zen in a way, by moving and negotiating with your surrounding at a racing speed you learned how to process and make decisions on an almost instinctual level, no room for doubt or second guessing yourself you had to make a decision and commit to that decision then and there- I hate to admit it but it was probably what helped Candace and me when it came to making decisions about the team on the court.

Washington Park - Brynum Island
10:17 AM

VT licked his lips in anticipation, it was almost game time, Chandra had just passed his view for the ninth time meaning that it was almost time to get things on the road and when that happened he would have it made. He knew it ever since he met Darisha, this would help him find his way from out of the cracker-conformity that his parents had been forcing down his throat and open his way to being with his real brothers and sisters not another fake black like Chandra.

When it came right down to it VT was certain that she was the biggest race traitor that he had ever met, she had everything that he had ever wanted. She was a part of the real community of their people, she had lived in the reality that he had always wanted to be a part of and even had an in with a real gang- then what did she do? Chandra wound up throwing it all away and betraying her own people for the approval of some furry, mutant, freakshow in the making betraying not only her own people, but humanity all to chase some fucking silver-spoon offered to her by a family of crackers in Arlington Heights.

VT knew now at his core that no matter what Chandra had it coming, she was living in a fairy tale of lies, the Mosin-53 that Mister Sikes provided him with would shatter that traitorous princess's glass castle and force her to live with mortals once again. Sure, enough here she came, and while the crazy running that she did made her hard to predict, watching her for nine laps had shown VT where to aim. There was one spot along the path that Chandra had to jump off to keep her full momentum going for the curve east-ward, and when she put that leg down he was there to blow a hole in it. It wasn't like she'd die either her crew would call 911 at least before they ditched her, leaving the cripple to wither away in obscurity like she deserved for hurting Natroya.

Taking note of Chandra's progress down the path, and the lack of nearby collateral, VT took aim through the Mosin-53's scope to take aim at where his target would be just like his dad taught him when duck hunting. One sideways glance confirmed Chandra's progress and that was when VT began to count in a whisper as he bolted the round into the gun's barrel, "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one."

Without a moment's hesitation VT pulled the trigger sending the .30 caliber round towards a momentarily stationary Chandra Defrank.

Washington Park - North-northwest of Brynum Island
10:24 AM
POV: Chandra Defrank

I just heard the one noise that I hoped to never hear again in my lifetime, a gunshot, whatever it was far louder than a pistol or handgun and thus was a lot more powerful. A lifetime of instincts took over as I tried to dive to the ground but by then it was far too late. I felt it hit my leg and everything just stopped.

At first, I thought that it was just a mix of adrenaline and endorphins canceling out what was bound to be a crippling gunshot wound. To my surprise though I could still move the leg that had just been hit, although part of me wanted to close my eyes to avoid the sight of my mangled leg I turned to find the bullet was just...there.

Hanging in mid-air right against my leg was a slug that was far larger than the usual .45 caliber bullets that I'd see in occasionally around the neighborhood growing up. The sad fact was that on average the police were stretched too thin to thoroughly investigate every case of gang-on-gang violence in Chi Town’s West Side, which meant that if you looked you could occasionally find a fired slug embedded in a brick or mushroomed against the concrete.

No whatever this was it was too large to fit into a handgun, "HOLY CRAP, SOMEONE TRIED TO SHOOT ME WITH A FREAKING RIFLE!"

I kept staring at the bullet that was just...there right against my leg, not sticking out of it not embedded in my leg just setting against my leg as if it touched me and then stopped. That wasn't the only odd thing that I took note of- strangely enough despite the gunshot and my scream just now nobody was reacting what-so-ever. Everyone was just frozen in place- no matter the gunshot or my loud shout no one was moving even my fellow Maroon Maniacs.

Okay granted at first this pissed me off, I mean they were my friends and I could see that Mike was clearly within earshot- that was when I noticed that not only was he within earshot he was hovering in mid-air. Wondering what was up I began to walk over to him and then noticed that as I moved away from where I was the entire world seemed to gradually drain of colors, eventually when I made my way over to Mike everything was totally in black and white with shades of gray.

I examined Mike and it was clear that somehow time had stopped, well for everyone but me that is- well maybe it was more like I was just stuck between seconds. Like I'd called one big time-out on the world, but I was still allowed to move around, "Hold on if everything is stopped but me then-"

I jogged over to where the bullet that was going to blow a hole in my leg with color coming back to the world as I did so, "Must happen when I get closer to where I left time behind." I observed before turning my attention to the projectile that must have set this whole thing in motion. "Let's see just who tried to cripple me."

I looked at the bullet and did my best to eyeball where it came from, a few moments later I saw that whoever fired the damned thing had done so from the bushes on Brynum Island in the center of the Park's Lagoon. First making sure that nobody else was in the bullet's path I new that it was safe to just let it take its course and leave it for the police to use to nail this psycho after my shoes went ten rounds with his ribs.

I made my way to the bridge on the south-side of the island with the colors of the world fading into gray as I did so, as I walked along the path carefully given that I didn't know just how long this time-freeze would work I began to notice odd blurs in the air around me.

At first these blurs were odd and indistinct, but as I was walking they began to get more distinct- or at least they did be before I got to the bridge and began to make my way back north and closer to where whatever it was that caused this happened.

As I moved closer to where I thought the shooter might be color began to bleed back into the world. When I finally came to the bushes along the northwest edge of the island, the world around me was this odd tone like the pictures in my grandmother's where color wasn't as vivid but there was just this off-color tone that made everything look browner.

The bushes at the northwest part of the island just a few feet away I began to take notice of the growing knot in my stomach as I remembered one terrifying fact, whoever did this was still armed and may have far more than a rifle on them. I still had no clue when whatever did this would wear off, was the chance to learn just whoever hated me enough to try to cripple or kill me worth the risk that I might put them in a position to finish the job?

Yes- it was worth the risk! Whoever hated me enough to try to do something this horrible was bound to try to do it again if I let them have the chance, if I knew who did this I might be able to turn them into the police or at the very least stay away from them. Carefully I creeped around the bushes afraid of what I would learn, honestly my money was on a member of the Ally Vipers- while the Coleman sisters had stopped short of trying to have me hurt or killed in a way that would tie back to them I wouldn't put it past one of their crew to try something like this to earn some solo street cred while sucking up to those two.

Now in front of the bushes I finally saw them, the bastard who tried to shoot me and definitely would have succeeded in doing so had whatever it was that happened to push me outside of time not happened. Unfortunately, however it was covered in what looked like a suit made from strips of burlap, even five feet away and looking directly at them I had trouble seeing my shooter- whoever this was knew what the hell they were doing. The thought just made me even more scared- 'Was this a pro? Had I pissed off someone enough that they actually sent a real hitman to ruin my life? Also, if they were a pro was seeing their face worth the risk?'

That train of thought was even scarier, whoever this was had shot to cripple me- it would have made my life hell but I would have likely lived albeit missing a leg and confined to a wheelchair or needing a prosthetic leg but I would have been alive. On the other hand, if I saw this person's face and they learned about it, then I was a witness and a liability- that meant that I was dead as disco.

I shook my head to steel my nerves, I promised myself long ago after meeting Candance and escaping the darkness that the Coleman sisters tried to drag me down into that I wouldn't let fear rule my life. I tried to focus on my dad, the times we spent together whenever he was in-between tours of duty and came to spend time with us. He would tell me stories about all of the soldiers that he met in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fear that they experienced everyday of their service never knowing if the kid who was approaching them was a curious civilian or a suicide bomber ready to meet Allah.

Dad had even told me of the times that he had worked to help soldiers who were on the verge of breaking down to pull them away from the brink and help them find themselves again. He told me that I helped inspire him to do that for others, saying that mom and I gave him the strength to help others when they needed it.

Casting my fear aside, I reached down to the crouching figure in the bushes, to pull off the part of the suit that was obscuring their head- I was finally determined to see my attacker face-to-face and look them in the eyes even if they couldn't see me at the moment. To my surprise the moment I touched the shooter to pull the covering off his face the world snapped back into full-color and as he fell backwards I could see that time was moving again. While the bastard who tried to ruin my life had fallen into the bushes outside of my reach I had kept enough of a grip on the mess of burlap that he was using to hide his head, that was when I received the second biggest shock of my day today (third if you count the whole time-stopping thing).

"VICTOR!?!" I shouted at the fact that the little ganger-wannabe from school had not only followed me to Chicago but tried to blow a hole in my leg, "WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR DAMAGE?!? I KNOW YOU HAVE A BEEF WITH ME BUT ACTUALLY TRYING TO SHOOT ME, WHAT THE HELL DID I EVER DO TO YOU?!?"

Victor recoiled trying to put some more distance between us- failing off course thanks to the bush that he had crawled into to snipe me tangling with that burlap camo suit of his. "SHUT UP YOU FREAK!" Victor shouted at me with his eyes wild with hatred and terror, "YOU HAD THIS COMING FOR BETRAYING YOUR OWN FOR SOME CRACKER'S SCRAPS AND TO LEZ OUT WITH SOME MUTIE FREAK! GUESS THE REAL JOKE IS THAT THEY WERE NEVER YOUR PEOPLE, YOU'RE JUST ANOTHER MUTIE-FREAK LIKE YOUR LEZZIE BITCH PLAYING LIKE YOUR A PERSON!"


"THE ONLY MONSTER HERE IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME," Victor snapped with a voice dripping with venom, "BUT NOT FOR MUCH LONGER!"

That's when I heard the shot of a gun for the second time today, but this one far more familiar than before- unlike the last time this was a handgun- also unlike last time this one connected. I fell back clutching my side, it was tough through my maroon track outfit but I saw the blood, fortunately it looked like Victor's shot only grazed my side partially deflected by one of my ribs.

Unfortunately, while I was collapsing in pain from being shot along my side, Victor had gotten untangled and back on his feet. I pushed past the pain and looked up to see Victor standing over me with his gun held sideways and pointed right down at me, the earlier fear he had shown had been replaced with a look of bloodlust that I'd only seen in those foreign movies and shows that Nita likes to make us watch- where did I see a look like that...I think the title had cry in the name.

"I may not see eye to eye with my oreo of an old man on most things, but we agree on one thing-" Victor glared down at me with murder in his eyes, "the world is better off with fewer of you muties in it! I may have missed before, but I won't now, so say hello to the devil you freaking bitch!"

I couldn't look away as Victor pulled the trigger, strangely though the bang was far longer than I thought. That was when I noticed that while the world hadn't stopped it had slowed down to a crawl- I could actually see that bullet slowly leaving Victor's gun and knew that this was my golden opportunity to save my own skin.

I did my best to get back to my feet, pushing past the fire in my side as I struggled to get out of the way of the bullet's path. I could deal with Victor another day, right now I just needed to stay alive especially since whatever the hell I could do with stopping time like I had earlier was on the fritz and reduced to merely slowing down time around me.

'What the hell,' I mentally shrugged as I got up clutching my side, 'I need to get out of here while I can before I get shot again.'

Pushed past the pain I hobbled away as the bullet was halfway to where I had been, unfortunately as time wasn't really stopped Victor was still moving too. Apparently noticing that I had moved, Victor had begun to turn towards where I was with his gun following suit. Knowing that thing likely still had a few rounds left in it I decided to move as fast as I could to where Shelly was waiting with our bags and more importantly the first-aid kit.

Crossing the bridge south of the island as fast as I could, I spotted Shelly on the ground as flat as she could with her face down likely out of fear over the gunshots. Unfortunately, she also had the bag with the first-aid kit clenched tight and over her head, out of desperation to protect herself against any stray shots.

Glancing down at my still bleeding wound, and worried that Victor might be on his way to try and finish what he started I grabbed at the bag causing the world to go back to normal, or I guess it was really more like me going back to normal.

It appeared though that my attempts to take the bag met with clear resistance from a terrified Shelly, "No- go away," she began sobbing out as she kept her death grip on the bag, "leave me alone, I don't have anything you'd want!"

"Shelly, it's me Chandra!" I stated as I sat down with a stinging protest from my wounded side, "Please I need the first-aid kit, one of those shots grazed me."

"What?!?" Shelly replied in disbelief as she looked up and saw me clenching my bleeding side, that was when the fear factor faded from memory as the side of her that we knew of as the Maniac's Mom kicked into gear. Right away she forced me to lie down as she got out the first-aid kit, taking out a pair of scissors, a fishhook needle, a pair of rubber gloves, the kit's gutline, a lighter and a bottle of anti-septic Shelly got to work.

After putting on the gloves Shelly took the time to cut away the torn and bloody patch of my uniform and then washing the wound with the antiseptic, right afterwards the photography student took the needle and heated it with the lighter before pouring antiseptic on it to make sure that the needle was as clean as could be she got to work stitching my wounded side closed with an almost unnerving level to detail. Not that I was complaining, but a lot of the Maniacs had been trying to tell Shelly for years that she needed to be premed rather than a photographer, but she was adamant about staying the course.

Not that I would dare to bring this up again to the lady who was literally sewing a gunshot wound shut, especially since we didn't have any proper pain-killers in that kit more powerful than Advil...okay the real reason that I hadn't commented on anything was because I was clenching my teeth together in pain worried that Victor would hear me and come to finish me off and maybe doing the same for Shelly to make sure that nobody knew who did this. At least the fact was that the more time passed the more likely that we'd be safe, Chicago or not this was a city park, and someone was bound to call 9-1-1 after Victor fired that rifle of his.

Yeah, the police were bound to be here soon, I thought to myself as I began to drift off- everything was going to be alright...

Energy Monitoring Room - Argonne National Laboratory
Lemont, Illinois
10:56 AM

Gab Cowen came into the monitoring lab to find Dylan Hawser one of their student researchers all but glued to the monitor, "Dylan- what's going on some weird solar activity? Magnetic readings from those fracking sites outside of town? Or is it more weird readings from Lake Michigan again? Come on- give me a hint, Professor Bing is tired of me interrupting his golf game every time one of you college kids sees a blip on the equipment.

"No- nothing that normal," Dylan replied looking a little crazed with excitement, "although it does look as weird as those readings from Lake Michigan. No, I just spotted a series of exotic energy readings coming from downtown Chicago just outside of the University's main campus."

Turning to grab a few sheets from their printer (which unlike everything else in the room was clearly outdated tech) and shoved them into Gab's arms, "Look at these readings! Tell me if these look like what I think that they look like!"

Backing away from the overzealous intern, Gab took a moment to go over the print outs and became more and more astonished as he did so, "Hold the phone, these can't be real."

Gab kept looking over the print outs and grew more and more astonished by the moment, "Wait this is too consistent for a sensor error, these are actual readings of tachyon emissions, and a lot clearer than we've ever gathered before from outside a lab setting. It must be from a private research organization, tell me who owns the location that you observed these readings coming from?"

"The city of Chicago," Dylan explained as he pulled up the archive of the recordings from just a few moments prior. "Whatever it was it popped up in Washington Park, there were three big rippling flares that spread out in a ripple pattern, one to the west of the pond, one on the island in the center of the pond followed by a medium-sized one, dozens of small ones forming a path south of that island and finally another medium-sized reading to the south of the island where the small ripples terminated."

"Whatever it was that caused these tachyon ripples wasn't a stationary phenomenon it was mobile, and the pattern wasn't random the second big flare and the first mid-sized one came from within a few feet of each other and the path that the smaller ripples formed to the final mid-sized flare occurred mostly along a path conforming to geography designed for pedestrian travel, while I can't be certain without field analysis it also appeared that whatever it was that caused these readings never left the ground so whatever it was appears to be terrestrial- there's even a Doppler-shift pattern indicating directionality."

"Dial back the conjectural analysis Mulder," Gab deadpanned, "this is science not Hollywood, we don't begin forming hypothesis until after we gather the relevant data. Still now you have permission to contact Professor Bing. If you need me I'll be contacting ARC, they know more about exotic materials and phenomenon than anyone, so we'll need their expertise to verify our findings."

As Gab left the room Dylan still couldn't calm down, despite Gab Cowen's insistence to remain professional he couldn't put a lid on his excitement. Dylan knew that science or not whatever it was that was behind these readings was big, maybe even big enough to make his scientific career.

Washington Park - Brynum Island
Chicago, Illinois
10:59 AM

After firing again at the freak that Chandra had revealed herself to be while she retreated VT, saw how fast the phantasmal after-images that she left in the wake of her flight from his justified attempt at exterminating the monster that she was and then came to a realization. As much as VT hated to admit it, despite her being wounded there was no way that he'd be able to catch that freaky bitch let alone finish her off at the rate she was moving.

To make matters worse not only was VT going to have to let that mutie get away and do who know what, but the police were bound to be on their way at any moment. Sadly, VT knew that the police would not understand his actions and if he was lucky he'd be thrown into jail the moment they caught up to him, at worse though here he was a black kid in Chicago with not one but two literal smoking guns- he knew that not only did he have to retreat he also had to stash the guns so that he wouldn't get tied to the three shots that were fired in the park.

No VT wasn't stupid, he knew that the Po-Po would cap him on site if they had suspected that he was the one who fired the shots and chances are they might get someone on the force who was stupid enough to take the word of a mutie and ID him anyway- unless she didn't live that long.

Making sure wrap the rifle in garbage bag in the tote bag that he brought, making sure to push as much air out of the bag as possible first before he secured the thing with duck tape, he tossed the rifle inside the tote bag with the gilly suit and some nearby rocks for good measure. Taking the now hefty bag with him and making sure that the coast was clear, VT left the island at the center of the lagoon chucking the bag in the water as he went making sure that it was far enough into the water to properly submerge yet close enough to retrieve later. Making sure to keep his handgun with him, no way in hell he was going to stay unarmed with a wounded mutant on the loose, VT made his way east of the park and onto the University of Chicago Campus, careful to be on the lookout for what he needed a payphone.

After taking the phone off the hook with the sleeve of his hoodie and dropping 50 cents in the slot, VT dialed a number that his father made him memorize with his knuckles to avoid leaving a finger-print.

After a moment of ringing VT heard a voice on the other end, "Hello," he spoke up in his none gangsta' lingo making sure to sound as frightened and desperate as he could, "I need your help!"

Knights of Purity Chicago Operations Center
11:11 AM

Kandace Hunt took down the notes at the call center growing more and more alarmed at what she heard, shots fired in Washington Park, a mutant in a reddish-brown costume running around at high speed, whatever was going on the situation was clearly dire.

Still, no matter her emotions she had to verify things, so Kandace turned on the legal police scanner at her station to listen to police chatter over the law enforcement channel. "Possible 10-52 reported, shots fired in Washington Park, Car 41 enroot please send back-up, I repeat Possible 10-52 in Washington Park, Car 41 enroot please send back-up- 10-62- over."

"10-69 Car 41, back-up and paramedics are enroot-over. Assist paramedics but wait for back-up and CSI before investigating scene- over."

"10-69 Dispatch, over and out!"

Surer than she had been in months Kandace slammed her hand on the emergency intercom on her desk before barking into her microphone, "Warning this is not a drill, mutant sighting in Washington park, possible speedster armed and dangerous. Squad mobilize to coordinates provided in transport, this is not a drill!"

Kandace knew that whoever this dangerous mutant was they were about to get a serious reality check- courtesy of the Knights of Purity. With that done she followed her other key procedure- dialing the MCO.

Mister Sikes Office - The Rust-tic
11:14 AM

Leroy Sikes looked up from reviewing last night's iron pipeline cargo manifestos to see Darisha enter his office, "I hope this is important Darisha, the Big Man wants our shipping reports verified and torched ASAP."

"This is about that little candy-ass we sicced on Defrank," Darisha explained visibly afraid, "according to the feed from our bug something went freaky during the job and he's convinced she's a mutant. Whatever the truth is he only winged her after she found out who he was; while that wouldn't be so bad since we can cut the little SOB loose sooner rather than later, he followed up his little screw-up with an even bigger one."

"No way, Defrank is one of us the boss's lab checked that possibility out a long time ago when his seer told us she'd an asset. But as for our loose thread- let me guess," Leroy rolled his eyes in relative disinterest, "he did something stupid like firing at random trying to hit her in a crowd or shot a cop. Not that I care about either one, his only real connection to us was that he snuck into our club last night."

"No, it's much worse than that!" Darisha explained with her face twisted in fear, "Don't ask me why or how he knew it, but he called the Knights of Purity tip-line. That little idiot got those power-armor jockeys involved early- so it's not just the cops that we need to worry about!"

Leroy shot up in his chair and slammed his fists down on his desk. Visibly filled with a mixture of fear and fury Mister Sikes shot a glare at Darisha, "I need to get ready to go talk with the boss... GET OUT!"

Darisha complied, and Leroy sat back down. Turning to look at his bar the fridge opened as squeeze bottles of lemon juice and simple syrup along with the ice tray floated over to his bar. They joined the seltzer and the bottle of gin to make a Tom Collins, everything returned to its usual place as the glass floated over to his out-stretched hand.

"The fucking Knights of Purity," Leroy glowered at the memory of his first encounter with that lot, "I haven't thought about that lot since the Cloisters Raid." Remembering that dark night always made Leroy feel a number of emotions that he always wished to avoid, how he almost died before his life was really his own in the real sense of the word.

Swirling his cocktail before taking a sip, Leroy mulled matters over. "This has gotten too big for me- I need to get the Big Man involved ASAP, course he's not going to like it."

Leaning back in chair lost in the nightmares of that dark night, Leroy wondered if trying to tie up one past loose end he didn't send that group of cyber hellhounds on the trail of his operations. Leroy knew that no matter the role that he played in Mister Brea's operations in the Windy City that he was replaceable and given how Erzebet Scratch's operation was reportedly creeping into town the last thing his boss needed was weak links.

Washington Park - South of Brynum Island
11:47 AM
POV: Chandra Defrank

By the time I came to I saw the gang standing nearby looking at me in concern while a nearby paramedic examined Shelly's handiwork. "It looks like you did a good job sewing her up, but we're still going to need to take her to a hospital for observation along and a transfusion to replace what she lost- also the replacement track pants weren't really necessary."

"The pants are just our way of saying get well soon, I keep spares in my car in case anyone needs them. Now let me give you her information and emergency contact, you should be able to reach her mom no problem." Heath spoke up the look of concern visible on his face.

"You're just going to stay here?" I asked as I tried to sit up, "Nobody's going to ride with me to the hospital?"

"I'm afraid that your friends will need to stay here for police questioning after the police officers finish securing the crime scene Miss Defrank." The paramedic replied as he moved to secure me to the gurney while I heard this odd stomping. "They'll be able to visit you in the observation room at the hospital once the doctors confirm that you've stabilized."

"I'm afraid this mutant needs to come with us," the lot of us turned towards the source of the mechanically augmented voice that is when I saw the one thing that nobody in my situation ever wants to see...a full squad of the Knights of Purity, "As per the Knights of Purity Charter with the City of Chicago the suspect you are treating is to be remanded into our custody until a team from the Mutant Commission Office confirms that she is safe to be released to a civilian facility."

"Sir this is not a suspect," the paramedic argued on my behalf, "this is a gunshot victim, and mutant or not she is in need of medical treatment."

"Which she will receive in a holding cell at our Operations Facility courtesy of an MCO-certified medical professional." The power-armored thug replied, "We have no idea or her abilities or even if her bodily fluids may be considered bio-hazards, also by applying normal human treatment you may accidentally wind up killing her. The safest thing to do at the moment is to surrender her into our custody right now and you know it."

I didn't like where this was going so I did my best to push past the paramedic, especially given how this iron-booted thug commented about giving me to the MCO, I knew from Candace just what those bastards do to mutants once they get their claws into them and I didn't want to experience that hell on top of what Victor just put me through.

"Commander," one of the Knights with a rather large weapon saw me trying to run, "suspect is trying to flee, preceding to neutralize target."

The Knight fired its weapon at me and once again the world around me slowed to a crawl, as fast as I could I left the gurney as the weird projectile began to unfold into a sparking net. As hard as it was I knew that I had to run and hide, just where I hadn't decided on yet but I needed to find some way to keep safe and search for someone who could help me...the Champion if I was lucky but as I limped away from the Knights of Purity while trying not to pop my stitches I knew that I had to find someone who could help me as I left behind the slowed power-armored stormtroopers. Granted I did go back for my helmet and fresh track suit top.

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2 years 7 months ago #51914 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 33

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
Room 104 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center Recovery Ward
Round Rock, Texas
9:51 AM CDT
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness

"So you see Miss Drucker," Doctor Holluck explained as he took a look at me after glancing at my chart, "you are really lucky to be alive. I mean I don't know all that much about the advantages of mutant anatomy but whatever your power-set is being bulletproof is clearly not one of them."

Doctor Hollock continued to look me over as he glanced at the heavy bandages on chest and shoulder which thankfully hid the lack of bullet wounds. "If it wasn't for one of your house guests having trauma training you would have bled out from that wound. As is you should count yourself beyond lucky, a little lower and the bullet would have perforated your lung- someone really needs to learn to leave the heroics to the professionals."

I took a look at the corner of the room to see Myra in her Elinore guise in the corner looking our way with a pleased smirk likely unperceivable to Doctor Holluck on a psychic level while she caused him to perceive injuries and signs of recent surgery that did not exist. "I understand doc, my mom and dad are both mutants, so I've known my chances were likely more a matter of when than if, they've talked about a place for me to go down the line, but I suppose I'll be headed to witness protection."

"You'll have to talk with the agents from the FBI about that one, but we also need to wait for your family's attorney to be present after all- when it comes right down to it mutant or not you are still a minor." Doctor Holluck commented as he pulled back satisfied with the examination that he just performed yet thankfully oblivious to the fact that what he observed wasn't real.

"Thanks for understanding doc," I winced out doing my best to play the role of a patient seriously on the mend, "besides I need one there anyway. Some of the stuff that my dad worked on are covered by non-disclosure agreements, I'll need the attorney anyway to get the FBI not to press where I can't answer."

"That's an eerily mature attitude to have for a girl your age," Doctor Holluck observed as he eyed me with a degree of suspicion for someone who'd just been shot.

"My dad impressed the matter of not talking about his work on me since I was in grade-school. He even brought out some old Snafu cartoons to stress the importance," I laughed before I heard Elinore's voice in my head, You're doing it too hard for someone in your condition, wince and grab your side. Complying with my succubus senior's instructions I grabbed my side with a wince, "Damnit- whoever said that laughter is the best medicine deserves a nine-iron to the groin."

"Yes, usually heavy bouts of laughter are not recommended after major surgery." Doctor Holluck observed as he made a note on my chart, "One of our orderlies will inform you when your legal counsel arrives Miss Drucker, please press the alarm button on your remote if you need anything and please take it easy for the foreseeable future."

When Doctor Holluck finally left the room, I turned to my classmate and elder succubus sister and remarked over our link that I was gradually learning to harness, 'Are you going to be here for the interview with the FBI too, I mean you handled that doctor well enough but the FBI usually for in pairs.'

Don't be crass, the FBI aren't going to be examining your body to see how well you are 'recovering' from your 'surgery' like your doctor is, Elinore explained, at most I would just be working to make certain that they don't notice anything to show that you really aren't as injured as anyone thinks you are during their interview.

'And let me guess,' I failed to contain my sarcasm, 'the attorney who will be coming in is another sister like we are.'

No- he is most certainly not, Elinore replied in a manner to illustrating that she was growing annoyed with my assumptions on the matter. There is more to us than sisters, Reverents and Sweepers. Eric Krieger is an attorney who has worked with us for years to help keep most of our extra-legal non supernatural matters under-the-radar including alibies for our Sweepers public identities. Eric will help you avoid any mishaps that would guide the agents towards matters that are not relevant to their investigation.

'I suppose that is a good thing,' I mulled matters over in my mind, 'but what about my request- taking on Dead-Zone's training camp to show that I can handle going to Whateley and while keeping the Secret of the Sisterhood?'

That will depend upon your meeting with Erzabet Scratch herself, Elinore explained in no uncertain terms, but you need to understand existence of our Sisterhood comes with it the risk of learning and possibly revealing The most closely guarded secret of our Sisterhood, one which only our senior-most sisters, the Aces of the Sweepers, and Dead-Zone himself is privy to...the current public identity of Erzabet Scratch.

Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - New York Chapter House
New York, New York
11:04 AM EDT

Pierce Randall and Melody Stuart looked on at the door to the meeting room nervously through a surveillance crystal ball on the concierge desk, inside the room their out of town guests were conducting an extensive interview of two individuals who until recently were the newest members of The Necromancer's Children of the Night. While this fact meant little to the concierges, the interviewers made the pair very nervous.

On the other side of the conference door Erzabet Scratch, the head of a massive faction within the Grand Hall with a history of infiltrating and acquiring (or founding) chapter houses on a regional basis to expand her operations, as well as Shuffle the leader of her personal corps of operatives. While this was true and supported by the sorceress's past, it was also true that she liked to expand by advancing outwards, she never had branched out in the past to areas that would leave her an operation isolated so far outside of her territory.

"I wonder if she's interrogating them," Melody whispered to Pierce, "I mean the Obsidian Circle did hire her men to move their stuff to a new facility and Darrow used the opportunity to have someone steal from another Vault- that has got to be a pretty big loss of face for Erzabet especially given how she's the junior member of that organization."

"Unlikely, if anyone lost face on that front it's us," Pierce observed, "one of our own warehouse workers used our existing protocols to swipe an entire storeroom's worth of goods from one of our oldest (and most dangerous) clients. Besides from what I've heard through the grapevine from Boston that Scratch sent another Sweeper Squad in required nearly everything that was taken as well as the thief. I also heard that the vault's owner caught up with Darrow and the outcome wasn't pretty."

"I would think not," Melody shivered at the thought, "Lycaon's exploits back in the day were the stuff of nightmares, to think that he's back and active again- I don't want to think about what he'll do."

"Evidently something happened recently with him too, back when he called himself Lycaon he had some kind of restraint on his powers." Pierce actually shuddered at what he was going to have to admit. "That big howl that was heard a couple of months ago was him celebrating that restraint being removed- now the only restraint on the monster who now calls himself Carcharoth is his loyalty to Mister Domino."

"So, the only thing restraining that monster from putting Attila the Hun to shame is an immortal warlock who calls himself the world's greatest assassin." Melody visibly turned green from that revelation. "Suddenly becoming a minion of Scratch doesn't seem that bad."

The pair just chewed on that while Agony lead remaining five members of Shuffle's chosen face cards for this mission over to the concierge desk from the lounge where they had been slumming. "I wouldn't worry too much about our being here today or annexing the NYC Chapter." Agony explained to the pair, "We were just here to see that the transfer of the goods from the Black Vaults to our Storage Facility went off without a hitch, and from what Sureshot told us except for two items everything has been accounted for and with Carcharoth's blessing will be moved to our storage facility as well."

Agony then moved to leave- before turning back to the pair to add, "And for your information we're not interested in New York. This city has too many well-established headaches, as well as the Empire City Guard and the Amazing Three, a large Syndicate presence, numerous intelligence agencies from all corners of the globe, and every warlock with a major chip on their shoulder popping by all the damned time. No far better for us to settle for the fact that we have a firm grasp on the third, fourth and fifth largest metropolitan areas of the country with a territorial range that makes a corridor three-states wide stretching from Canada to Mexico. So, you can keep New York as much as that cult of dress-wearing Fu-Manchu wannabes can keep California- no the boss is quite happy with where we are right now...at least for the moment."

Pierce and Melody were more than a little unnerved by King-ranked sweeper's maniacal seemingly razor-toothed grin, so much so that they barely noticed the four individuals emerge from the meeting room. Eventually the quartet made their way to join the five sweepers at the front desk, with Erzebet Scratch in her seemingly-smoky and nebulous black demonic attire, Shuffle in his trademark playing card themed suit and jacket, and between the pair former unwitting members of the Children of the Night Jabberwock and Arcane-Knight.

"Hey, so I guess that I'm not the only pro joining the sweepers," Agony commented over the duo, "so what persuaded you to sign up?"

"I don't know about Sir Buckethead here," Jabberwock remarked as he pointed his thumb Arcane-Knight's way, "but I'll tell you my story if you tell me yours."

"Very well- I mean it's hardly a secret, it was about seven years ago in Zaire or as it's now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A certain government had had just gotten word of a deal being brokered between the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda and a third party to unload a shipment of blood diamonds in exchange for arms and capital." Agony began to tell the story about how his men came to become a part of the Sweepers.

"At the time this nation's army hard-pressed to deal with the child soldiers and tactics of the ALR along the border and couldn't risk their own troops being seen that far into another country. Back then my men were a mercenary company with a decent reputation in the region, and penchant for keeping our clients secret through double-blind transactions. They promised us that if we attacked the deal that in addition to our initial fee that any arms or gems that we seized in the attack were ours to keep without objection."

"At the time I didn't see a problem with this, the matter was a serious win-win for me, get payed and score a sweet bonus in the process, the job was ideal for us." Agony fumed, "It was also too good to be true- the deal was being brokered in person at a ALR controlled air strip between their own Sylvestre Mudacumura and a representative of the De Beers Diamond Cartel, with a few squads of child soldiers providing security."

"I'll be honest, the fighting that day was as brutal as it was ugly, with Mudacumura making sure to use armed children as human shields to escape the attack and flee the base. Unfortunately, those kids weren't kids anymore and didn't hesitate to shoot to kill, not that they could with the gear that we had with us, but unfortunately they were determined to fight to fight to the death and refused to follow their leader's example and flee." Agony hung his head at the thought of the whole affair, "as for the representative of the De Beers Cartel- he wasn't so lucky. The suit took seven rounds in the skirmish and bled out on the ground long before the fighting was over."

"While the attack accomplished the original objective and left us with both the diamonds and the artillery, we found out later that the operation had some nasty unforeseen consequences. The representative of De Beers who was brokering the deal was Wilhelm Lasch the nephew of Orcilla Lasch Oppenheimer- meaning that we were responsible for the death of the head of the De Beers Cartel's nephew-in-law. This made us marked men, and one of the attacks that was launched against us later nearly killed my second-in-command, no matter where we turned there was always someone after the price that Jimmy Oppenheimer put on our heads- we couldn't even unload any of the loot from that operation."

"That was when I came in," Erzebet Scratch took that moment to interrupt, "I have a very dim view on those who fan the flames of such conflicts for a source of profits, and an even dimmer view of those who seek to do business with genocidal maniacs. I offered them sanctuary, a place within the Sweepers and to help save his lieutenant. Granted that while they were being put through their paces a few assassins came into my territory to collect the bounty that Oppenheimer placed on their heads, many found their trips to be one-way eventually the De Beers board forced Oppenheimer to rescind the bounties when I threatened to leak evidence of the Congo deal to the international community, especially given how they had sworn how all of their diamonds were conflict free after getting caught pulling the same thing in Angola back in '99."

"Even though I'm free and clear being with the Sweepers has been a pretty sweet deal for me and mine," Agony took back over the conversation, "the perks are sweet, major side-jobs are allowed once you become a 10, and minor side-jobs are allowed too before that provided you clear them with a face card first. There's also a lot of extra perks that we'll explain to you once we return to our territory- after all we don't want outsiders learning too much."

As Shuffle, Scratch and Agony began to make their way to the exit, Arcane-Knight fell to his knee, with his head bowed in prostration. "Lady Scratch, I know that it is too soon to ask for a boon from you after joining your service, however I have a prior debt which must be repaid- indeed it is the very reason which I left Europe to arrive on your shores. You need understand that until I compete this duty my mind will be far from fully devoted to your service, a handicap that I fear would put others at risk."

"Very well Arcane-Knight," Erzabet Scratch spoke up to the Sweeper recruit, "where would you need to go to settle this debt."

"The Whateley Academy," Arcane-Knight explained without budging an inch, "I need have words with the super-heroine known as Tennyo!"

Room 304 - Courtyard by Marriott
Austin, TX
10:04 AM CDT

Within a simple hotel room at the Bergstrom International Airport, Facade-17 the handler of Faux-05 waited with his charge while their laptop worked through the encryptions on the data from Walter Drucker's lab computer. While his lab security according to the data from the prior Faux-05 was clearly laughable, the amount of encryption on his computer was no joke, maybe it was his confidence in this level of encryption was the reason why security on his home lab was so lax.

Facade-17 looked at his laptop which was currently running rather hot, according to their code-breaking program the encryption itself was 256 characters long and from the choices made use of the entirety of a computer's Unicode character map. While Faux-05 readied their equipment for transport back to the Grand Masquerade's hidden base in Prague, Facade-17 awaited the end results of the description- as it stood until the data was recovered and made accessible from the flash drive the job was only half complete. Even the hardware on his laptop, a special model assembled out of parts available only through either Kardonia or the Black Market was taking hours to decrypt these files.

Taking another sip of tap water, Facade-17 looked on with baited breath as digit 253 finally revealed itself to be the Hebrew letter Alef (ﬡ), three letters to go and then he could contact the Grand Masquerade's broker to arrange the handover of the data to their client. Not that Facade-17 or either Faux-05 knew who that client was, the fewer individuals who knew that scrap of information the better, one never knew when they'd run across a telepath with a high enough psi-rating to tear it out of their brains.

As a knock was heard upon the door prior to the turn of a key, digit 254's true identity as the letter Zhe of the Cyrillic Alphabet (Җ), as the door opened Faux-05 stepped inside shutting the door behind him and in a soft-tone explained, "Everything is done sir, all of the equipment is at the airport crated up for delivery to Prague across seven flight transfers using the diplomatic stamps you provided to avoid inspection. They should be there for pickup in two to four days at the Václav Havel, depending on American Air Traffic Control."

"Good the data which your predecessor procured is almost decrypted," Facade-9 explained as the second to last digit revealed itself to be a Pilcrow symbol (¶). "One more digit and we can deliver this to the brokerage division's dead drop before moving on to our next assignment. You can assist me by sanitizing the room for errant DNA trace evidence, you know our way- no trackable trace can be left behind given how they could be used seek us out."

"What about my predecessor's domicile?" Faux-05 asked out of curiosity given how the prior Faux-05 had dwelled in that apartment for months, "I have yet to sanitize his domicile."

"There is no need to do so," Facade-9 explained, "Your predecessor had already done so before he retrieved the data, and while he was attending the party at the target's residence I went over that location myself. Now help me with sanitization, I already assembled the equipment."

Taking his superior's word at the matter, Faux-05 took an odd-looking device shaped like lamp flashlight and after activating it began to sweep the room with an odd purple light which made a popping noise as it went over fabric such as carpet and furniture.

As Faux-05 began to eliminate stray skin and hair samples with the electro-static projector, Facade-9 awaited the last digit with bated breath. The final digit to be revealed in the 256-digit sequence was oddly enough the Greek letter omega (Ω), that was when something most...unexpected happened.

Suddenly the screen on the laptop turned black before a giant white omega materialized on the screen. That was when the image zoomed out to reveal the omega to be the pupil of a skull with an eye-patch on it.

"Naughty- naughty- naughty," the figure on the screen stated through the speakers on Facade-9's laptop, "you didn't really think that you'd just get away stealing from me like that. While it looks like I can't broadcast everything from this computer to our security division for some odd reason, I can still ruin your day- so kiss your hard-drive good bye!"

With that it looked like a file-shredding program had installed itself on Facade-9's laptop to begin deleting and writing over everything on the hard-drive including the operating system files. Try as he might there was nothing that Facade-9 could do to halt the process it looked like the first files that the virus hidden on the flash-drive deleted was the keyboard functionality- at least it was a minor comfort that the wi-fi functionality on the laptop had a manual connection switch that was currently turned off- otherwise the unthinkable would have happened.

"I take it this means that my inaugural mission was a failure?" Faux-05 inquired as he continued to sanitize the room with the electro-static broadcaster.

"On the contrary- your inaugural mission was to retrieve your predecessor's flash drive and deliver it here," Facade-9 observed as the virus continued its efforts to transform the laptop into a very expensive paper-weight, "what it means is that your predecessor failed in his final mission was not only a failure, but that he wasted time and resources in the process. Understand though- this is the first and only time that you shall have such fortune- from now on all successes and failures in your missions fall solely on your head."

"I understand sir," Faux-05 acknowledged his superior as he continued to sanitize the room, "I shall endeavor to learn from my predecessor's mistakes."

Room 104 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center Recovery Ward
Round Rock, Texas
10:17 AM
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness

I guess the song is true, waiting really is the hardest part. Elinore or whatever she wanted to call herself had left- meaning that it was just her in the room awaiting the arrival of both Axcel Incorporated corporate attorney Eric Krieger as well as the FBI agent who would be conducting the coming interview.

To be perfectly honest I never thought that I'd ever say that I'd be actually looking forward to being interviewed by an FBI agent, call it experience from being the child of two parents who were both secretly super-villains but until today meeting with a member of the country's main federal law enforcement agency was never on my bucket list- note to self, get to that bucket list you almost kicked it today swimming with manatees shouldn't be too much of an issue but I doubt if I'll ever find out if werewolves are vulnerable to belly-scratches.

Trying to take my mind off matters I flipped on the tv to the CNN, only to be greeted by a sight of devastation.

"-after a night of horrors unleashed by the super-criminal known as The Necromancer, the second major attack on Boston by the assailant this year, emergency crews are still working on clearing debris in the search for the victims of this latest unspeakable act of terror." the anchor narrated as shots of the devastation and public works crews could be seen clearing collapsed buildings. "While the evidence of the leader of the criminal group known as the Children of the Night being responsible for the fire-bombing last night remains a matter of speculation, reports of attacks of corpses reanimated by biohazardous chemicals known to be his work hours earlier has made him the prime suspect."

"Boston, a city already reeling from the destruction of the Massachusetts State Ultra-Max Holding Facility known as Roxbury-C last month, lay in morning at the dozens of souls who lost their lives in last night's attack. However, at this dark time new lights of hope began to emerge, as victims who lost so much in the terror of last night were saved from losing that which was most precious by a number of new super-heroes- who rendered aid either by assisting in rescue efforts or working to assist medical personnel stretched to their limits. These masked men and women, many of whom have yet to be properly identified by their chosen personas as requests for identification confirmation by City of Boston are still being processed by the Department of Paranormal Affairs."

"Meanwhile the small city of Durango nestled in the mountains of Colorado also suffered their own assault last night." Video changed to a reporter in front of what looked like a college building. "What began as an unofficial weekend gathering by students at the Animas Building of Fort Lewis College turned to tragedy as a group of armored mercenaries later identified by the FBI Database as the Masterson Brothers blew down a wall and held a number of student's hostage- their reason a mutant who was hiding among them."

The picture cut to a reporter holding a microphone to a young man, "You were taking cover-charges at the door when the target of the mercenaries came in, did you notice anything odd about her?"

"At first all that I noticed was the fact that she was too young to really be in college, so I was worried that she might try to flash a fake ID to get in and hit the punch bowl, but she owned up to the fact that she was underage and accepted a band to let the students watching the bar know not to let her near anything hard. That happens all the time though since students from the local high school come to our parties on the weekend since most can't afford to take a trip to Denver." The guy explained clearly still a little rattled by last night, "There was also the fact that she signed her name in Chinese but I've seen that happen a couple of times so it wasn't that out there."

"As for the mutant in question, although her identity has yet to be confirmed what is known is that she was inside the building using some manner of concealment that is still unknown," the reporter voicing over the report explained, "Although the mutant in question linked to this attack is unknown, what is known is that there were follow-up attacks throughout Durango throughout the night, the Masterson Brothers continued their hunt for their quarry into the streets of Durango. As there are signs throughout the city of fire and structural damage to roads and tarmacs fortunately aside from some injuries at the college there have been no reports of any fatalities."

"This just in we have a breaking bulletin related to the attack in Durango, the composite sketch that the La Plata County sheriff office has released of the mutant who appears to be the target of last night's attacks has been identified from the FBI's missing persons database. We go to Sean Callebs at the La Plata County sheriff station for more."

The scene changed to show the reporter outside from a street view of the station, "Thank you Michael," Sean Callebs stated as he made certain to stay in frame. "As you know police have just matched a sketch of the mutant present at the Animas Hall attack and have stated that there is a match to an FBI missing person's case."

"The individual in question has been identified as the Dragon of Seattle, a Seattle high school freshmen of Chinese-American descent who transformed last October into a humanoid Chinese dragon after a horrific sequence of events which according to nurses transcripts in the missing person's file stated as something out of a horror movie." the reporter explained as a sketch of the dragon girl was shown in a side-frame, "A month after the young lady in question was confined to her home due to concerns for her safety in public, police arrived to the scene of a violent break-in where the girl's injured parents explained that she was abducted by an unknown group of assailants who held them at knife-point to ensure coerce her into surrendering to them."

"At present the full story of if or how the Dragon of Seattle escaped these kidnappers, where she has been for these past five-months, and how she came to be in a small college town in southern Colorado remains a mystery at this time. Sean Callebs CNN Affiliate Colorado."

From what my parents told me Boston was a favorite weekend destination for students from Whateley, most of those mysterious masked super-heroes who popped up last night were likely students who decided to step-up and do their civic responsibility. From what I remember they also explained that kind of life-risking behavior was also heavily frowned upon during the school year.

Not wanting to watch more news I started channel-surfing to kill time until Mister Krieger got here, figures here I was a neophyte demi-devil and I was anxiously awaiting the presence of an even darker infernal presence...a corporate attorney. Speaking of religious matters, I always forgot how content-lite things were on Sunday morning plus this hospital's cable plan appeared to be limited to the three national networks, FOX, CNN, ESPN, GNN (ugh), TCN and NICK.

Not wanting to subject myself to Spongebob Squarepants, the Sunday Morning pundits, I flicked it to TCN finding to my surprise they were playing Footloose "pass." Out of options I flicked it over to ESPN, to my surprise they were going over inspection interviews of Formula-1 Racing Crews, okay this was actually interesting.

I started zoning in while the pit chief being interviewed was explaining about the various grades and densities of tires and how weather and track temperature factored into the best choices that a crew could make when it came to choose the tires for a race. As it turned out I was zoning in too much because I heard some impatient banging on the door to the room, "Sorry- please come in!" I called out while hitting the mute button on the remote.

A man with salt-pepper hair in a charcoal-gray three-piece suit and carrying a leather briefcase, before he said one word I stated, "Mister Krieger I presume, I was told to expect you- I presume that it's almost time for the Federalés to come and rake me over the coals before the MCO show up to disappear me to some black-site in a third-world to play operation on my insides."

"Nice to see that you are in a good mood after your ordeal Miss Drucker," Mister Krieger remarked, as he sat down on a nearby table, "I was worried that you would have been far more rattled after your traumatic experience."

"Mister Krieger with all due respect I'm the daughter of two mutants, even if scientists say that the complex is exclusive to the twenty-third chromosome I figure that chances were still good at me rolling that dice." I signed wanting to vent what I actually could, "plus given how many violence prone splinter-groups there are to Humanity-First like Burning Sword I figure that chances were good that I'd take a bullet eventually- though it is happening right outside my own home was something that I'd never expect."

"I wish that I could say that your suspicions are unfounded, but sadly statistics say something else." Mister Krieger stated as he opened up his briefcase, "Also the Mutant Commission Office did try to take custody of you while you were under the knife, fortunately they were held up by a staunchly professional nurse until the FBI's arrival."

"Yeah they really don't like to admit the fact that they're just an international security firm with a limited charter here in the states instead of an actual government organization with any real power." I laughed making sure to wince as I did for good measure. "Gaah, who ever said laughter is the best medicine can taste my reeboks."

"Duly noted," Mister Krieger dryly responded, "now that spiel is out of the way I have to discuss some things with you about what you can and cannot tell the FBI about due to them being projects that your father is still working on and are currently in development."


11:02 AM

Mister Krieger and I waited in the recovery room for the FBI agents in charge of the case, understandably I was anxious to get this over with every minute longer that this took made me worry more if these men would begin to see past any one of the many layers of facade which I was having to maintain, how my parents in their birth names were both wanted by the FBI themselves for countless criminal activities, how I wasn't really recovering from extensive surgery also given how the X-Rays that were now on file for me were doctored to match the medical reports that the doctors wrote under the influence of mind control, mind control courtesy of a devil from the bizarre extended family that I'd found myself adopted into when I agreed to let Elinore save my life.

Fortunately, the FBI agent assigned to this case chose now to open the door, granted only one of the pair of G-Men entered the room while the other remained outside clearly to serve as a guard and eavesdropper deterrent. "Hello Miss Drucker, I'm Marcus Todd with the FBI," Agent Todd stated as he gave me his hand reaching out to my seemingly injured arm as if to test me, I reached out with my clearly uninjured hand to shake his on the back of the hand rather than the palm, "I apologize for keeping you waiting for so long after insisting on conducting this interview after you woke up."

"No, I understand," I replied letting the stress of the recent changes in my life leak into my voice- there are many kinds of tired, but Agent Todd would likely interpret it according to his own expectations. "My mom's in company security, I know that you need to address and gather as many facts and as much evidence as you can to find Joel."

"Actually, my first questions are about Mister Gibson," the G-Man explained as he sat down in one of the only vacant chairs in the small room. "I realize that given how less than twelve hours ago he used one of your acquaintances as a hostage and shooting you can be traumatic to think of, but I need you to tell me as much as you can about Joel Gibson. You see Mister Gibson appears to be connected to something that the FBI and Interpol have been looking into over the last several years, and what happened to Mister Gibson a few hours ago confirmed our suspicions. That is why I need to know everything that you know about Joel Gibson, no matter how useless it might seem."

"I'm sorry but the fact of the matter is I don't really know too much about Joel," I answered with absolute sincerity. "I was in the same homeroom class as him and have been since he transferred in back in November- that's about it. I mean we didn't really know each other, I don't think that anyone really did. He ate lunch alone, never really talked to anyone outside of class, had no extra-curriculars, he was just one of those kids who was just...there in the background."

"If that was true why did you invite him to your house for this party?" The G-Man inquired still curious as to why he was in my house.

"Elinore Jaffe invited him, she invited our whole grade-level at school- it's kind of her thing." I did my best to explain something that must have sounding insane to those who were from outside our nuthouse, "You see she throws a party invites everyone, they have fun and then help clean up- granted that she doesn't always do it at her home but she's so in the loop that she knows when anyone's parents will be out of town or away for most of the day- then that person's house becomes party central."

"And people just allow that to happen?" Agent Marcus Todd asked clearly ignorant of Round Rock's local hierarchy.

"The Brown-Jaffe's are one of the oldest and wealthiest families in town, they own major stakes in most of the major banks and the local construction firm and have been on the town council ever since Round Rock incorporated." I explained laying things out to the government agent as best as I could without being too condescending. "Besides if your house is chosen to host one of her bashes and it goes well than your place on the social ladder goes up, if it doesn't then nothing happens, but if you refuse then everyone at school starts ostracizing you for being no fun what-so-ever."

"So typical middle school drama then," Agent Todd clued in to what I was saying. "That still doesn't explain how Joel Gibson knew about your father's workshop or what he may have been after, and why did he go there instead of your father's office?"

"Well he might have learned about the workshop from one of the kids managing the sound equipment," I made my best guess, "I had to use my dad's workshop earlier when some of the sound equipment shorted out and I used the tools and equipment down there to repair it- that was also when I manifested, but I guess becoming a mutant comes part and parcel with getting shot at. As for the office it may be because Nicole Snyder, an Axcel Incorporated intern who was keeping an eye on us for my parents, was up there working on a term paper."

"Very well that explains how he may have learned of your father's workshop, likely Joel Gibson was just using the party to gain access to your home. However, there is still the matter of learning just what he may have been after," the G-Man got to the crux of the matter, making me glad that there was an attorney of company retainer present.

"You must understand Agent Todd sir there are a number of matters that while my client may be privileged to know that she is under a non-disclosure agreement not to reveal. She may discuss her father's role in the company, as well as any items that he worked on that have been revealed to the public through company press releases, however that is to the extent concerning what she is able to reveal today."

Agent Todd signed, "I understand, I didn't expect to collect any privileged information anyway given that I don't have a warrant and I doubt that the argument that you're interfering with a federal investigation would pass court scrutiny."

"As long as we're clear on that detail my dad is one of the chief engineers for Axcel Incorporated's robotics division, he was instrumental in developing
their Star Marshall power armor line." I explained wishing I could also talk about the landmine clearing drone, dad was really proud of that one but probably not as much as I was given that the remote detonation darts that it used were a design that the two of us worked on together.

"I believe that will be everything Miss Drucker," Agent Todd explained as he collected his things and turned off the tape recorder that he thought that he had kept hidden in his briefcase. "I will contact you through Mister Krieger's law firm to arrange any future meetings. I hope that you stay on the mend and out of trouble- the last thing that I want to learn is that a witness in a case like this might undermine the investigation."

As the G-Man left the room the weight of his parting words pressed down on me, especially given my next appointment.

12:17 PM

The moment that I had been dreading since I woke back up was now fast approaching, Elinore and Nicole were both in the room as I awaited the arrival of the matriarch of the sisterhood of succubae of which I was now a member...Erzebet Scratch. No doubt the mother to a unique breed of succubus, the true owner of Axcel Enterprises, the paramount client of Shuffle's Sweepers, and the master of every chapterhouse of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom from the Rockies to the Mississippi and from the borders of Mexico to those of Canada was thrilled to hear how not only did her latest scion not want to be a part of the family business but was also looking to cut a deal so that she could seek her own fate.

'Yeah- I can only imagine how happy she was to hear my proposal,' I all but rolled my eyes at the situation. 'Yeah, face facts Joan, you are so totally boned. I mean in what world did you think that a mystic mafiaso who has the fate of thousands, possibly millions of people subject to her whims would ever see fit to accept a proposal this crazy from the kid of two of her subordinates.'

Oh I wouldn't say that you are completely out of hope, A strange voice explained despite the fact that neather Elinore or Nichole had spoken a word, not that it sounded like either of them.

I looked around to look for the source of the voice but found nothing, I wouldn't wear yourself out kid, Elinore spoke aloud yet still remained silent, do'oh of course succubae had mind powers it's telepathy. Correct maybe mother can give you a gold star-

As if by invitation Erzabet Scratch herself materialized in the room in all her enigmatic, cloaked presence. Do not be so quick to reward her by child, the super-villainess stated, She is still but a neophyte and has far too much to learn, but from what I hear the child is a very quick study.

'So is that good or bad?' I thought to myself hoping that she'd pick up on my message.

We shall see child- we shall see, the succubus grand matron observed, As Kampe no doubt explained to you- your situation itself is without precedent within our sisterhood. While I have had little issue sending children off to Whateley in the past, even those who expressed a desire not to join my organization after the graduated. The real issue here unfortunately though is not your dreams for the future but the reality of your present; never before has a member of our sisterhood attended Whateley, the risk of discovery alone is staggering especially given the presence of Reverend Darren Englund at the institution.

'I take it that the good Reverend is more than just another man of the cloth,' I observed despite the obvious connotation.

He's a ninety-year-old Episcopalian Priest with a long career of dealing with the supernatural, Erzabet Scratch explained with what I wagered was a sour-taste in her mouth. And by deal with I mean on a permanently, the man has never met a perceived threat that he hasn't directly or indirectly tried to neutralize. Should your status as a demi-succubus be made apparent to him while you are attending the school at Whateley he will do everything within his power to end your existence, and to make matters worse he has his own team of apprentices who are just as blindly driven as he is to eliminate the supernatural.

In other words should he or one of his ilk deduce your nature then not only will they see you utterly destroyed, they shall seek out the origin of your status ensuring that all of the sisterhood will face a threat from a network of Reverend Englund's current and former minions who will stop at nothing to see us wiped from the face of the earth- not that they would succeed but it would still cast too much attention on the Sisterhood. Erzebet Scratch stated in as dire a tone as she could which said a great deal for the reality of this threat, Now regardless of the risk that it should pose I am not so heartless that I would intentionally crush a child's dreams without offering her a chance.

'And my offer to go to Dead-Zone's Training Camp had nothing to do with it?' I asked wondering how that tidbit weighed in my favor.

That is what gave me the idea for this proposal, Erzabet all but purred in my mind, Dead-Zone's training camp is brutal, many several years your senior have come through his regimen clinging to sanity by the atoms on the tips of their finger nails- it will not be easy to do take this course even as you are now...especially given how I am going to make matters even more difficult.

'I'm almost afraid to ask what you have planned for me,' I swallowed after doing my best to alleviate my suddenly dry mouth.

Good a little apprehension is a valuable survival tool, it keeps you from getting to full of yourself and making a foolish mistake. the progenitor of my sisterhood explained, The hitch for this agreement is that you must keep who you are secret from all there, not only your status as a succubus but your current identity as well. I am aware that the name you go by is a public alias to comply with the identity of your parent's own aliases and not your true name which could expose your nature in the wrong hands. You will be attending Dead-Zone's Training Camp under a new operating alias, an identity that you will continue under from now on to separate yourself from the old you once Axcel formally relocates you for your protection.

'So, you are stripping me of the name my parents gave me along with my identity,' I retorted more than a little angry at the sisterhood's matriarch.

I asked your mother for the her second choice for your name before you were born, which you will be taking along with her actual maiden name, Erzabet retorted in an oddly understanding tone. You are going to be Madeline Jacobs, the daughter of Gremlin and Atropos unless the FBI calls on you in which case you will resume being Joan Drucker.

Before the Training Camp begins next month, you will learn how to alter your appearance, and mask your new demonic nature. Should you keep up this ruse while keeping your nature secret throughout the camp then I will agree to let you attend Whateley as you wish, however should you fail you will remain at the camp for a full year to become a proper member of the Sweepers.

I screwed my face in thought as I considered her offer, but I knew that whether I liked it or not this was my only chance, 'Very well, I agree.'

Good to know Madeline, the sorceress observed, I shall let your parents know.

As she faded from sight part of me wondered if I truly bit off more than I could chew. 'So, she can teleport?' I asked the two sisters of my currently extended family.

Nope, psychic projection, she's not even in this state at the moment. Nichole replied in the same method as Erzabet Scratch had earlier, Members of our sisterhood can do it whenever we focus on each other provided that one of us isn't actively blocking it, the same thing goes for reading one another's thoughts. Face it kid form-changing and mystic-cloaking aren't the only skills that you have to work on, we also really need to work on your psychic defenses right now anyone of us with enough power and experience need by can peek past even your surface thoughts; I'm not that skilled yet and I can actually perceive your stray thoughts.

Nicole is right, I can even peer into your short-term memory right now should I so choose. Elinore remarked as she shook her head in embarrassment, I guess that it's a good thing that my current identity is in the same grade as you because I have a lot to teach you.

'Well, I still have some time before I need to report to Dead-Zone's Camp; I might as well get started learning about what Madeline Jacobs can do.'

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2 years 6 months ago #52698 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Park 34

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
The Dark Path
9:58 AM EDT
POV: Faolan, Rose of the West

I walked behind Aletheia as with Fray and Yaegarsman guiding our group as we made our way towards what the Obsidian Circle insisted was a temporary exit they had setup to use for this one occasion. To my left was the enigmatic Hedgewitch who if she was to be believed was my many times great-grandmother by her husband Yaegarsman with only Jane between us as she was perched on my shoulder and Dagda guarding the rear.

"I still find it difficult to swallow," I spoke up, "I mean I'm the descendent of deities from two pantheons, three if you count Greyback since he was venerated by the Pawnee. It's just a lot to take in you know- what's next a connection to the Olympians, although that would probably suck since I know most of their reincarnations...about half of whom are people that I wish that I had never met."

"Actually, you do have a connection to the Olympians that predates the foundation of Rome through one of Zeus’s analog incarnations," Hedgewitch all but spat as if the fact disgusted her, "fortunately though it isn't a blood tie."

"Good- not long after we met that sleaze tried to charm his way into my pants." I all but gagged at that particular memory, "Fortunately while it was after Morrigan had departed for her own body I was wearing my mask at the time under a concealment spell, so all that sleaze got out of me was a tongue lashing. Just what is their connection anyway?"

"Morrigan likely told you about her daughter Lupa who came to serve the Roman incarnation of the Olympians," Hedgewitch's head bobbed in shame, "what you clearly don't know is that while Morrigan was her mother her father was a persona of Zeus."

"What?!? Come on there is no way that could be true!" I asked mystified by that chunk of information, "Morrigan despises Zeus, he's the kind of person who makes her sick to her stomach there's no way that she'd..."

I paused as I remembered what I knew about Zeus from ancient Greek mythology from the stories of Denae, Metis and Alcmene then I came to a horrific realization, "She calls him the self-aggrandizing god of date-rape, that was wasn't just her speaking about his character antidotally was it- Jupiter violated her didn't he?"

Aletheia stopped wheeling herself down the pathway before wheeling to face me as she spoke up, "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you, I thought that you knew. The deeds that I witnessed while imprisoned in Cytherea's shadow were beyond appalling, and I wish that I could say that was the worst of them that the Olympians visited upon the people of Europe."

"It was Tinia not Jupiter, the persona of Jupiter didn't exist yet. She was hunting at night in a now cleared forest whose name has been lost to the ages in the southern Italian region of Puglia when he took notice of her," Hedgewitch began to weave what I could tell was a dark tale, "despite the fact that Morrigan never assumed the form of a fae since the fall of the Five-Fold Court he could see her for what she was and there were always two things that drew Tinia's lust when it came to women of any race- beauty and power, and Morrigan has always both of those in spades."

"However, Morrigan despite being in the form of a she-wolf was as astute as ever and always a true judge of character, she not only refused his advances but when Tinia tried to force himself upon her she assumed her full Sidhe form and she countered his assault with ancient Sidhe sorcery until she left him trying to have his way with an illusion weaved around a bramble bush while she left for a new home further to the north. Tinia however was never one to give up on his intended conquests so easily, however this time he was determined to be subtle; he cast himself into a cloud and triggered a downpour while Morrigan was tackling a dear and as the rain showered down Lupa was given to Morrigan just as Zeus gave Perseus to Denae."

"Morrigan was furious after she learned this and determined that Tinia would never have a hand in influencing her child, so she migrated again this time to a forest where she was certain that her assailant would not follow, as it laid on the border between the territory of the Etruscan Pantheon and the Teutonic Pantheon certain that Tinia wouldn't risk starting a conflict with another group of deities. So, she dwelled there confident that she could raise Lupa in peace, unfortunately the child was naturally curious about her father and in time Tinia learned this."

"One sunny day when a fish jumping in a stream created a rainbow Tinia had Iris inform Lupa of him, this lead to a quarrel between Morrigan and Lupa that created an emotional rift that never healed between them." Hedgewitch sighed as it was clear this dark tale was coming to an end.

"After their fight Lupa made her way south to a cave on Palantine Hill where she eventually found and fostered Romulus and Remus," Fray spoke up drawing all eyes to him, "Morrigan on the other hand ventured further north into the Black Forest where in time she was accepted into the Teutonic Pantheon as a shield maiden, back when I was Tiwaz eventually her exploits and wisdom inspired Woten to create the Valkinor when he became Odin who replaced his crows. Just do us all a favor and never let Morrigan know that we told you that story, the fact that she was never able to reconcile with Lupa is one of Morrigan's greatest regrets."

"Don't worry," I grit my teeth, "there's no way that I'd ever bring that up. And I already despise Imperious, all that you've done add another layer to the disgust I already feel for him."

La Sfida Grigia
10:26 AM
Jefferson, New Hampshire
POV: Aletheia, Rose of the East

After Faolan learned another dark story about her family's past considering that she had Morrigan's blood in her veins the rest of the trip down the dark path from Fortuna Noctis was in total silence. Surprisingly we emerged from the stone hallway into what appeared to be a comfortably decorated hunting lodge. The real surprise though came when Dagda left the path. I pirouetted my chair as best that I could to see the path that we had come down turned regressed rearranged until it was a normal fireplace that looked completely at home in the lodge.

"So, this is Scratch's little retreat for when she and her's decide to pay Whateley a visit," Dagda looked around as he surveyed his surroundings, "I have to admit that she has good taste- posh with the intend of being comfortable without venturing into the area of obnoxious at the same time as being rustic enough to match the same atmosphere as the rest of the region. I have to say that I approve of her choices, makes me wonder if I can get the number of her decorator to design a summer home for me and the misses."

"You'd have to get in line behind us sir," Hedgewitch spoke up as she examined the lodge, "we've been meaning to renovate our own place for months and we just cannot find a decorator who doesn't want to emulate Aspen or Swiss ski-lodges."

"If you wait a few moments I will locate our designer's business card," an elderly man made his presence known as I turned my chair towards the source of the voice to see a well-dressed man in his fifties with brown-eyes and salt-pepper hair. "My name is Theodore, I am the caretaker of La Sfida Grigia it my duty to see to the needs of our guests. May I offer our guests anything while they enjoy our hospitality?"

"I am sorry Theodore, but we will not be staying," Fray explained to the steward, "we are expected at Whateley promptly as the Headmistress doubtlessly wishes for these students to return for a talk."

I saw Faolan grimace and try to make herself as small as she could, granted that I had never received detention (something Cytherea had always managed to charm her way out of) before however from what I have heard around school is that the experience can be exceedingly unpleasant.

"Very well sir," Theodore stated, "I will bring around the car momentarily, please be patient and I will have your group at the Whateley Academy within the hour."

The six of us waited in silence after Theodore left the room, nobody wanting to take advantage of the amenities or even say a word. Somebody had to break the silence and noticing Faolan's increasingly dour expression that someone was me. "So, any idea how much trouble we're going to be in when we get back to Whateley?"

"Not a clue how much what happened in Boston will fall in your lap Aletheia," Faolan stated, "I'm likely looking forward to a week or two of detention for what went on though, knowing my luck though I'll be stuck on janitorial duty in Hawthorne or worse working with Generator on sewer patrol."

"Geez kid, given what I heard about how you tackled those burning buildings yesterday I would have thought that a little dirt and grime wouldn't phase you what-so-ever." Jaegarsman chuckled at the situation, "I mean how did you learn how to do that anyway?"

"When I was learning the ins and outs of my new body I did all sorts of crazy things to get it in top shape as I could, and the local heroes back home were more than happy to assist." Faolan replied likely recounting her own rehabilitation following gaining her current body, "Maverick took me through some police and federal agent training courses to help me get my body in shape, and afterwards Pero del Fuego offered to put me through volunteer fireman training. I accepted his offer, and if it wasn't for my age and educational status I'd be registered as a volunteer in good standing back home."

"The fact that you were actually trained might actually get some time shaved off your punishment," Dagda remarked showing the fact that he was currently a provisional academy teacher, "not off the hook mind you; you are still in trouble for putting yourself in harm's way and disobeying the orders of a member of a Campus Security Officer by abandoning your post, but it might get your punishment lessened either by its degree or duration."

"See Faolan, it shouldn't be that bad." I stated as I wheeled over and squeezed her left arm in support, unwittingly causing her to tense up. "Now me on the other hand, I'm really going to be in the dog house over this one. I mean given my family situation, the fact that I was the one who called off the planned evacuation while offering the assistance of my fellow students, which put everyone in danger and didn't have any formal training on top of all that; I'm probably going to be in detention until I graduate. Although it was still worth it to hear see the look on that mother's face after we saved her daughter from that rebar."

"Yeah," Faolan smiled, "some of what we did yesterday is going to be hard to top for a long time, but I honestly hope that we're never going to have to go through something like that again for a good long time. I mean that wasn't a super-villain attack, the Necromancer turned Boston into a bonafied war zone. I know that he's a super-villain and everything, but this even trumps the attack his group made during Phase's birthday party. At least he should be keeping a low profile for a while, what Carcharoth did to him is bound to put him out of commission for a while."

"Maybe- maybe not Charles Darrow has been at this for a while and has access to extraterrestrial technology," Fray elaborated, "from the files that there are on him his suit contains signs of Martian and Mi-Go technology and that is just what is recognized by the intel that Homeland Security has gathered, he may have technology to reattach his arms at his disposal.

"He had better hope so," Jaegarsman remarked with a smirk, "because Vrede's secondary back blade curses wounds to be immune to magic. Surt was always a vindictive SOB and he put a lot of forethought into that battle axe."

As the front door opened Theodore stepped back inside, "The car is around front and warmed-up we are ready to leave whenever you wish to return to the Whateley Academy."

"Well- what kind of teacher would I be if I let a pair of students avoid their punishment," Dagda explained as he began a procession towards the front door and our way back home.

I suppose that was another odd thing about me as opposed to everyone else I knew from school, for them Whateley was a refuge- a place to make friends, learn and grow, to become the person that they were meant to be before the stepped out into the world to forge their own path. For me Whateley was something different, the Academy for me wasn't simply some transitory place to come to learn about myself as a mutant or to learn the ins and outs of using my powers and abilities while learning skills and trades to compliment them.

No for me Whateley was something far different and right now, despite the fact that I was likely returning to an earful from mom followed by a firm but hopefully fair punishment for yesterday one thing was clear above all else...I was going home after one crazy trip out of town. I rolled my chair out the door with Faolan, Jane and Fray bringing up the rear to see our ride back, a running black limousine with a handicap ramp lowered leading into the interior.

"Gee and I thought that I was going to miss out on this part of the high school experience," Faolan remarked in a quiet voice, "I guess that I can cross a limo ride with a good-looking lady off my bucket list."

"I appreciate the flattery Faolan but you're not my type," I respond as I nudged her in the ribs with my hand.

"I know I consider you too much of a friend to want to risk dating anyway," Faolan remarked, "but that doesn't make my statement any less true."

I smiled as I rolled up the ramp and into the cab under my own power, it was time to bring this adventure to an end.

In Front of Shuster Hall
11:42 AM
Whateley Academy, New Hampshire
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West

I hated to admit it but Scratch's little home away from home was in a nice spot, I guess that even super-villains knew how to make the little things count for something. The trip back to Whateley was also short we made it about halfway through Hedgewitch's custom playlist of Journey before we came within sight of the nightgaunts that served as the gargoyles guarding the perimeter of the school grounds.

While the trip was short though the two of us still had time to change back to our casual clothes, no use for secret identities right now because I knew for a fact that Scratch already knew who I was and given who Bea's related to Scratch probably knows who she was too. By the time we finally rolled up in front of Shuster Hall we saw Headmistress Carson, Deputy Headmistress Hartford, Morrigan and Chief Delarose all waiting for us on the steps of the administration building.

'Oh boy here it comes, Randi,' I thought to myself, 'time to face the music.'

Calm down, Jane did her best to console me, whatever your punishment is we will face it together.

'Thanks Jane,' I replied over our link as I walked over to the Headmistress ready to face the music and I part of me knew that the best way to do this was with dignity, "Headmistress, I am ready to receive whatever punishment you determine is best."

To my surprise this elicited a smile from Morrigan, and a smug look from Hartford, "Punishment can come later for you three, first I need to see all of you in my conference room three, I am afraid that my office is a little too small for such a group."

"Three?" Beatrice asked curios about her mother's remarks.

"Jane is the most mature of you and given that she is a sapient mystic creature who is in part Miss Bridge's advisor she is certainly not off the hook for what happened in Boston."

"Like my partner I will abide by your decision Headmistress Carson," Jane explained, "however when you render your decision regarding my punishment please keep in mind that unlike my mother, I am unable to take a humanoid form."

"I am already aware of that," Miss Carson replied in a dryly, "now as I was saying everyone is to join me in Conference Room Three immediately."

Taking the Headmistress's orders for gospel I took the rear handles of Bea's wheelchair, much to my mermaid compatriot's vocal annoyance, as the three of us made for the elevator to take us to the second floor where the offices and conference rooms. As the elevator arrived something told me that this was more than just the Headmistress laying down the law and knowing that Morrigan was just as much a part of the Grey Barrow as Fray was something told me that she had learned of our destinies around the same time as we did and really wasn't happy.

'Not that I can blame her, Morrigan had likely informed her that her youngest kid is a part of some ancient prophecy to save the world on top of learning that she's already destined to break an Old One's Curse that dates back to the dawn of the modern age of man.' I thought aloud as we reached the second floor, 'Of course a mama bear like her is going to be a little freaked.'

Then we must do what we can to annul Headmistress Carson's fears. Jane replied as we made our way to conference room three, with Bea wheeling herself along as she gave me the stink-eye for pushing her chair for her earlier.

"Randi please do me a favor...never do that again!" Bea glared my way, "I can wheel my own chair thank you very much and soon enough I'll be walking on my own. So, I know that you thought that you were helping but just don't."

"Fair enough Bea," I recoiled noting that Bea definitely inherited her mother's grit, "I just really didn't want to keep your mother waiting."

"Alright," Bea acquiesced to my point, "just see to it that this never happens again unless I ask for it- am I clear?"

"Crystal ma'am," I squeaked out as the wolf part of me told me to make myself as small as I could while my tail went between my legs.

Taking from her cue that manners were not on the menu, I let Bea open the door to the conference room and go through first then followed and shut the door behind me. As I looked at the table I could see everyone from downstairs along with a woman that I had never seen before who was clearly a sidhe. I looked over the table layout and I could see only one empty seat, granted there was also an empty space right next to it- both of them directly across from the Headmistress Carson, Deputy-Headmistress Hartford and Chief Delarose.

"Please have a seat," Headmistress Carson insisted in a tone that was so even and devoid of emotion that part of me wished that she was actively threatening us. Some part of me wanted to transform, roll over and show my belly then and there, but I knew that doing that would not only accomplish nothing- I would likely make matters twenty-times worse.

Unfazed by the atmosphere of the room Bea calmly wheeled over to the empty spot at the table, while I numbly followed to the only vacant seat in the room. 'Yep, face facts Jane...we're boned.'

Conference Room 3 - Shuster Hall
11:51 AM
POV: Bea Carson

While I was still a little miffed at Randi from earlier, that matter could wait from what I saw around me mom looked more serious than that time that she had tried to give me The Talk. Granted that I dodged that experience due the fact that I had spent centuries watching the exploits of a sociopathic love goddess from her shadow as she worked her way through every page of the Olympian answer to the Karma Sutra as she was writing the damned thing. Note to self, stop by Greece after the trip from Iraq and make sure that thing is turned over to ARK and locked away with their other Eldrich Texts.

Talk about ironic when an actual juvenile GOO based on the emotion of lust wrote a book on sex that was more mature and respectable on the subject than a love goddess of a human civilization- if I was a worse person I'd let Cytheria know just how much Carmilla p0wned her at her own supposed area of expertise.

But that was neither here nor there, right now what mattered was what happened inside of this room, "Miss Bridges, Miss Carson, Jane Badbsdottir I presume the three of you know why you are here." Chief Delarose spoke up obviously leading the proceeding today given how trust in Hartford had waned recently and my mother could hardly be objective at the moment given my involvement in everything.

"I would presume that this would have to do with my hijacking the student security auxiliaries' evacuation plan to get students to help out emergency services during the crisis, and a later judgement on my part to volunteer those of us with either the training or abilities to assist in rescue efforts that put a great many in harm's way." I explained, "Then yes I am fully aware of my actions, and while they may seem reckless and irresponsible I stand by my decision, as for Randi without her quick thinking regarding the elixir and Dagda's cauldron the death toll would have been far higher."

"I studied earlier incidents that had taken place in Boston to learn of potential dangers and The Necromancer's zombies work through the use of a prionic chemical toxin with mythos elements that can infect and turn people into more zombies after they die." Randi took my cue to speak up, "Using the Atlantean elixir of reality was a necessity to avoid an outbreak and making use of Mister Redstag's cauldron to assist both the police as well as emergency services with the evacuees was the necessary- I also tried to keep everything above the boards and by the book from what I knew about assisting in treating evacuees and helping the police neutralize the zombie hordes."

"Fortunately for you three Miss Carson calling off the evacuation appears to be the right call," Amelia Hartford explained, as she activated an overhead projector that shown against the wall behind her. "This morning a tip was received about tampering at North Boston Train Station which was our main evacuation plan. As it turned out a wide variety of white-phosphorus explosives and anti-personal devices were discover rigged to a modified MCO genetic scanner that was hidden in the door frame, once the sensor had detected both fae and merfolk pass through that gate in a set time frame then they would have detonated on the platform and killed or wounded almost every student there."

"In other words, if you had fallen for his trap and fought the zombies he would have attacked and tried to kill the three of you," Chief Delarose explained, "and if you had followed the school procedures the explosives would have triggered on the platform and killed or wounded everyone so that the Children of the Night would have easily picked off the survivors without much of a fight. The scope of this attack was beyond diabolical, the Necromancer is clearly a far more serious threat now then he has been at any time in the past."

"But just because I made the right call in doing what I did doesn't make any excuse for the fact that I did it or put anyone in danger in the process." Randi explained, "Also even though I passed the volunteer firefighter training with Pero del Fuego when I was getting a handle on my new body doesn't mean that I made the right call going into those burning buildings, and even put Bea in danger. The fact is that I know that I took unnecessary risks and am prepared to take receive my overdue punishment."

"We will keep that in mind Miss Bridges," Amelia Hartford smirked in satisfaction, "there still remains the matter of you Miss Carson. Unlike Miss Bridges you have no specialized training in emergency treatment, and had no business assisting in the rescue at the airport. Not to mention that it was your decision that put so many of your fellow students in danger, the fact that you are the Headmistress's daughter makes this situation even worse. You should be setting a good example for your fellow students here on campus not instigating something so...reckless."

"That brings us to the unfortunate part of this meeting," Mom explained as she broke her earlier silence, "rendering your punishments. Beatrice, as Amelia explained it is up to you to set a good explain for the rest of the student body. As for you Miss Bridges as you admit that while you did make the right call with assisting the doctors and police there was still danger involved, even more so with assisting the fire and rescue operations after the explosions around Boston. To that end you and Jane both will be receiving three weeks detention assisting the campus ground's crew, not only does this serve as your punishment but Mrs. Redstag assures me that it will be most educational to you as well. Furthermore, until further notice you are banned from travel to Boston for any reason until further notice, and this also means that any excursions there between semesters will result in further punishment upon your return."

"She is likely correct in this scenario Headmistress," Randi replied in a professional tone, "and thank you for your leniency in not sending me to serve detention in Hawthorne. As for Boston, no offence Headmistress but I think that if I'm allowed off campus for the immediate future I'll be sticking to Dunwich, Berlin and if I need to go to a big city- Portland, in my mind Boston is one Pandora's Box that I want to avoid opening again."

While that comment did elicit a few chuckles from the room, mom wasn't yet done handing out punishments and part of me could tell that she saved the worst for last. Nope, this mermaid was really in the tartar sauce right now and I could feel it looming over me like the Sword of Damocles- yes that really happened, the big twelve even had a bet how long Damocles would remain on Dionysius's throne...the winner was Artemis.

"Now as Miss Hartford explained, what happened in Boston was unacceptable and the amount of danger that you put not only yourself but your fellow students in was unacceptable." Mom continued as I knew that now I was really going to get it, "As my daughter, as well as the only mermaid to be born on earth proper since the Stone Age, you have a responsibility to so many people to set a good example for them to follow. Moreover, as you are my daughter I cannot be as lenient towards you as I have been towards Miss Bridges, the punishment that you will be facing is far harsher."

"Beatrice Margaret Carson, you will be serving detention for the rest of the current semester," Mom in full Headmistress mode effectively put her foot down, "and to that end you are to follow a schedule that has been decided for you by the school administration until the semester ends."

Now it was Miss Hartford's turn to speak once more, "Beatrice Margaret Carson, your schedule which is to begin Monday morning is to work as follows: Every morning immediately after Breakfast a campus security officer is to escort you to the campus security office where you will receive your afternoon detention assignment for that day. The security officer is then to escort you to the Beck Library when you are to study and complete your assignments for the course credits that you claim from your auditing them through Victoria Godwin. After this study period a security officer will escort you to Shuster Hall to turn in any completed assignments to their respective instructors, and then escort you to Crystal Hall for Lunch."

"After Lunch you are to be escorted to your supervisor for that afternoon's detention, where you are to receive your instructions for that day's duties. You are to follow those instructions as gospel, and if on the off chance that you finish your assigned tasks early you are to remain with your supervisor until your escort arrives to take you to Dinner." Amelia continued as she handed out my sentence with almost machine-like efficiency, "After Dinner you are to be escorted to the Doyle Medical Center to continue your Physical Therapy until campus security arrives to escort you back to Dickinson Hall. This is to be your mandatory schedule until further notice, if there are any further reports of incident on campus from you your detention will be extended past finals until after Spring Graduation. Furthermore, until further notice you are forbidden to travel further away from school unescorted than Dunwich or the Mediwihla Reservation until further notice. Also, while you need not be escorted by security while inside of a campus building until you receive word from Campus Administration you are bared from the Campus Tunnels, this means that the biometric scanners on the elevators will not take you below ground floor in any building with tunnel access."

"I understand Deputy-Headmistress Hartford," I replied as professional as I could, all the while not wanting to bring up my urgent Summer trip to Camp Alpha in Iraq.

"Now that- that is out of the way Chief Delarose, Miss Hartford, I am sorry to ask this, but I will the two of you to leave the room now," Miss Carson explained, "I am afraid that the rest of this meeting has nothing to do with Whateley itself and is restricted to family and guests that have been cleared for that information."

"Oh and Amelia," Morrigan spoke up, "you had best deactivate all electronics in this room, Badb and her children will be setting up an electro-static barrier while I will be casting anti-surveillance enchantments. So, I would hate for any sensitive equipment that you in here, no doubt for meeting use to be damaged by accident."

While Chief Delarose left without incident, Amelia paused and looked back holding up three fingers, before popping back in a few moments later with a remote that she pointed inside the room and clicked before turning off the lights and exiting the door.

"Everything's unplugged boss," Badb popped up with a couple of crows on her tiny shoulders that Jane flew over to join. "Alright girls, let's show our stuff." Suddenly Jane and her small murder glowed, and this wave swept over the room that made Randi jump as it looked like her hair briefly stood up.

This was followed by Morrigan, Hedgewitch and the Sidhe woman chanting in some language that I didn't recognize...what, just because I learned most tongues from around the Mediterranean during the Bronze and Iron Age didn't meant that I knew every language in Europe- plus given that we were dealing with two sidhe and one demi-vanir chances are this was some predated the modern age of man.

As soon as the trio finished a layer of runes glowed on the walls and drawn windows around us, before the enchantresses returned to their seats.

"Now before we begin, Randi I need to know one important piece of information," Mom stated as she looked at the Western Maiden with a glare that looked more like that of a lioness preparing to pounce than the headmistress of the school, "before all of this happened were you aware of this prophecy that you and my daughter were wrapped up in? Were you aware of the danger that the two of you faced?"

"I was aware that there was a prophecy," Randi sighed in confession, "when I helped the being who Bea's grandmother is an avatar of realize the truth about her existence as the living incarnation of the Dreamlands, not long after her aforementioned grandmother Queen Tiamat appeared and gave me a prophecy. As near as I can tell that prophecy only described who the Four Maidens were, that we would be lead to someone who traveled across many lives who would give us each something to use to reforge the link between Earth and the remaining lands of the other Four Courts of Atlantis."

"That was all?" Mother inquired as she glared at Randi with a hostile expression to which Randi was only halfway aware given her difficulty reading expressions.

"I assure you Headmistress Carson that Randi is telling you the truth as she recalls it," Jane explained, "I also may not have been there when that prophecy was relayed but I can assure you that my partner is not trying to deceive you."

"The real dirt behind our destinies Bea and I learned together just a few hours ago alongside the other two maidens," Randi continued, "by the way the Northern maiden is that Dragon of Seattle who went missing last year and the Southern Maiden is get this- Greygus's daughter."

That tidbit of information actually took both mom and Morrigan by surprise, "Greygus has a daughter, and one who's been around all this time- and someone who nobody's known about whatsoever." Mom observed, "Maybe it's not that surprising considering that he's been all over the world for years, but I never took him for the love them and leave them type."

"He wasn't," I explained relaying what Iris told me this morning, "her mother was a waitress in Mexico City that Greygus had been seeing, she was kidnapped by the Cult of the Black Pharaoh before she could let him know she was expecting then sent the kid stateside to be watched by a mercenary."

"Why would the Cult of the Black Pharaoh single her out like that?" Mom inquired, "is there something that I'm missing?"

"She was likely being raised to use as fuel in a lineage curse," Morrigan was all but red with fury, "Greygus is Lord Khamsin's son and Lord Khamsin has been a sworn enemy of the Cult of the Black Pharaoh for centuries. All the spell requires is the right preparations and the death of a family's youngest child, right now that's Greygus's daughter."

"It gets worse," Randi explained, "Lord Khamsin's wife and Greygus's mother is the older sister of the Principality of the Blazing Disc's reigning Dhamsin Ifrit. Knowing mythos spellcaster's they could probably modify the curse and use it to wipe out most of the nobility in the Principality and a fair number of their enemies in the process, after that they'll probably creep in and try to take over just like they did to the Mesopian Refuge. And if you want to know what Mythos infected djinn are like...well let's just say there is a good reason that the followers of Mohammad say the Devil is a djinn instead of a fallen angel."

"Thank goodness the last time the Black Pharaoh seized power in that Principality that Ma'at sealed the Aten in a ward of protection before she was enthralled too, one that only a member of the Northern Court could lift- I hear that they asked old Draig Goch to do the deed." The sidhe woman sighed, "The problem is that the next time the Black Pharaoh will be expecting Ma'at to seal the Aten again and move a pawn or two into place to prevent that from happening again."

"Pardon me but who are you?" I asked curious about the answer and hoping that she was a member of the Wild Court.

"Sorry, but I didn't have the chance to introduce myself to you two earlier," the sidhe woman spoke up, "I am Lady Thasarimil, former handmaiden of the Silent Willow and issue of Queen Venraniel by her consort Armeluien the Deft."

"Hold the phone," I said in shock, "you're the daughter of one of the late Queens, that means that you're a royal heir. If that's the case, why didn't the fae flock to you after the Sundering?"

"Faerie succession isn't that simple Bea," Randi turned to me, "unless a royal consort completes trials of worth set by three of the other queens and after completing them is recognized in a ceremony by all Nine Queen and the High King. From what Morrigan told me, that although Armeluien successfully completed the trials, during the ceremony he took a poisoned bolt by a follower of a certain toad-like GOO. Unfortunately, this means that Lady Thasarimil wasn't born a legitimate heir and likely became a Lady-in-Waiting much like the first Queen of the Winter Court."

"Only a minute and a half longer and I would be calling Aunghadheil's chosen heir my sister queen," Lady Thasarimil seemed to deflate with a heavy sigh, "afterwards Queen Venraniel salvaged what was left my father's soul before it was tainted by mythos poison and created Morrigan, Greyback and Loki. Meanwhile my father's sword brother Tordrais lead their warband is a campaign of decimation against that cult, later while morning Armeluien together with Queen Venraniel one thing led to another followed by the birth of my half-sister Lady Ulelesse who is Randi's ancestor."

"So, Miss Bridges is the descendent of both Morrigan and one of the same Sidhe Queens that Nichole Riley once hosted," Mom remarked, "that sounds like a bit of a stretch."

"Randi and her brother aren't the only ones," Vali took the opportunity to speak up, "in this generation those with the blood of Morrigan, Loki, Greyback and Lady Ulelesse have been born all over either by happenstance or intervention of the Obsidian Circle itself. The super-villain Fissure for example is the descendent of Lady Ulelesse and Greyback, while the private investigator known as Bluetick is the descendent of Morrigan and Loki. Also, kid don't get a big head by all the major beings that you're related to, other than your awakened fae-heritage you're so distantly related to them that it doesn't even matter."

"Just as long that that means that I don't inherit any of their enemies as well, " Randi remarked, "I already have Fenris pissed at me- the last thing I want is to add Surt, Balor and who knows how many others to that list."

"My grandfather and his associates knew that the time of the prophecy of the Four Maidens was coming so they were out to boost the odds of the circumstances behind the western maiden's birth as well as create decoys to confuse the cults of the Great Old Ones." Auda began to explain, "so they tracked down those with two opposite lines and used invitro-fertilization as well as mystically aided surrogate implantation. Randi, I hate to tell you this, but your adopted sister Heather is one of those born because of that program."

Randi sagged in her chair at this news but then gave a chuckle, "You know part of me is disgusted that they did this, but on the other hand if they didn't my sister wouldn't exist- plus this means that despite the fact that she's adopted we're actually related. It also explains that vision I saw in Macha's mirror, it showed that if I refused my destiny she would have been inflicted with it."

"To be fair the circumstances for the manifestation of the Western Maiden were the most complicated," Lady Thasarimil explained, "a child born of the blood of Queen Venranial and the three fragments of my father General Armeluien with all bloodlines manifesting evenly in one generation in a world of seven billion people, those are very long odds. The Norther Maiden simply had to be the descendent of the dragon Zunyan who bathed in her ancestor's ashes, there are dozens alive from his bloodline and his ashes fill a little over a hundred urns. There are actually two young ladies who have fulfilled this requirement, one here and one in Hong Kong and there may be more in the future given how eager the Chinese government seems to be towards acquiring mutants and super-powered individuals."

"As for me, my awakening was only a matter of time, once I was extracted from Cytheria and her shadow my birth was inevitable." I chimed in, "As was that of the Southern Maiden, given how there are three potential fathers, one of whom has been roaming about since antiquity."

"What matters though is what you two and your destinies require," Mom spoke up, "each of you traveling to a dangerous location and repairing a mystic artifact all alone facing who knows what manner of danger- and why does it have to be you?"

"Magic's Law of Similarity," Randi explained, "it's all explained as part of the basics- things represent like things. In the case of these artifacts they each represent a connection between a peripheral court and the center court, this means that each need someone who represents this same type of connection to restore them and their connection. They also require someone of royal lineage because otherwise they would risk being overwhelmed by the power that they'd be working with, however they cannot be proper heirs due to the fact that as such that would overwhelm the human part of their lineage needed to anchor them to the Earth to bridge the gap between worlds."

"Besides they will not exactly be alone," Tyr began to elaborate, "in the case of Beatrice she may bring others of royal lineage to help protect her while she heals the Chalice her six-future sisters-in-law would easily fit the bill there. In Randi's case there are two allies who live near that root of the world tree, Nidhogg and Ratotoskr she can also find others before hand to help her that might meet before she has to undertake that trail."

"From what I heard the Northern Maiden has already made four powerful allies to help her when she challenges the mountain," I commented remembering how Zhen-yu described her adventure in Colorado yesterday. "And like the Southern Maiden would have any problem in a desert."

"The Desert of Eloache Belhanach is not a real desert," Tyr interrupted, "it's the remains of the first civilization to ever exist on the planet, a city that had faded into myth before Ancient Atlantis was founded and laid abandoned even during the days of the Yithian's City of Pnakostus, some say that the destruction of the city and the extermination of its inhabitants was the first act of the Elder Thing's after their arrival in the Middle Ordovician period. All we actually know is that the city existed everything else was lost a long time ago, who called the city home, the culture and even the name- everything about that city remains a mystery."

"And as powerful as djinn are there is one thing they are vulnerable to and that's ruins," Badb explained as she and her children sent out another static wave. "None of the Southern Court can help her there so she's going to need to recruit her help from elsewhere."

"Meanwhile does anyone have any further information about potential threats at these locations," Mom looked around the room openly soliciting answers, "I for one don't want my youngest daughter to go in blind."

"I'll stop by grandmother Tiamat as soon as I'm done with my time in Celephaïs with Greyback in the Dreamlands," I volunteered, "granted while Randi is on good terms with her, chances are she would be more willing to offer up free information to her granddaughter."

"Very well dear, but the moment you find out anything about any of these locations and I mean anything you are to tell me about it." Mom stated as she laid down the law. "And that goes double for you Miss Bridges."

"Understood Headmistress," Randi nodded in confirmation, "but just so that you know none of us is likely going to be taking this trip until we're adults with a lot more training and experience under our belts."

"At least you know that much Miss Bridges," mother sighed, "go on- enjoy the rest of your weekend, but remember your detentions begin tomorrow. Oh, and Miss Bridges given that you won't be available to work at Beck for three weeks during your normal hours Ms. Henderson will be expecting you during the zero hour period to shelve overnight returns, remember serving detention doesn't go towards your tuition. As for you Beatrice Margarete Carson, I expect to see you in my office later."

Outside Poe Cottage
12:52 PM
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West

I hung my head as I made my way back to Poe with Jane on my shoulder, this was the worst trouble that I'd ever been in school-wise; even my prior incarnation while being influenced by my apocalyptic, rage-monster of an uncle had never gotten me three weeks of detention. Okay to be fair it did get me tortured by a mutant-hating zealot, killed and turned into a girl but never three weeks detention.

'Okay in hindsight three weeks detention isn't that bad."

I would think not, Jane observed, besides if you ask the ground crew nicely they might teach you all that you need to know about tree grafting.

'Not that I have anything to graft with,' I admitted to myself, 'until I meet this Ancient Traveler I don't even have the tool that I need for this quest.'

Neither do the others, Jane observed, besides it may be best that you don't have this important tool at the moment, right now Beatrice, Iris, Zhen-yu and yourself are all targets not having the tools that you need for your destiny just yet may not be a bad thing.

"If you say so Jane," I spoke aloud as I moved to open the front door, "if you say so."

To my surprise I walked into the front door to find myself face-to-face with every Freshman from Poe, all clamoring at once bombarding me with questions and damned if I could understand any of it. "Hold on everyone, just hold- on one at at time, I can't understand anyone when you're al like this!"

Ayla took the moment to take charge, "Randi, what the hell happened, we barely got anything from Candace since she wasn't with you at the airport when whatever it was happened. Saladin wasn't with you once you got to the airport, and Boudicca hasn't told us anything. What the hell happened?"

"Someone contracted the Children of the Night to assassinate me and Aletheia." I explained, "All of that chaos yesterday was just to get us out in the open and alone to finish us off. Unfortunately, it appeared the Obsidian Circle and a number of their operatives were in town because the Order found someone stupid enough to boost the contents of Carcharoth's Storage Room at the New York Chapter House from back when he was Lycaon while a bunch of the other members were having their stuff moved to a facility that must be in Erzabet Scratch's territory."

"Shut the front door!" Alex shouted at everything going on, "Darrows a psycho but he's not stupid, there's no way that he'd ever be suicidal to steal from a monster like that."

"Carcharoth is pretty new coming back on the scene," I explained to the former unwilling member of the Children of the Night, "moreover a bunch of the Grand Hall may not even believe that he's really Lycaon or that the rest of the Obsidian Circle are still alive."

"I don't see why not considering how old they are," Nikki took that as a que to speak up, "the real question is what happened to you and Aletheia after you and Beatrice split up?"

"What happened was we were attacked by the Necromancer," I explained causing everyone to recoil in shock, "Bea, Jane and I held him off at first, but he had us outclassed, that's when Carcharoth showed up attacked the Necromancer, taking the fight out of him in a single strike. Soon after we found out why the rest of the Children of the Night didn't show up to help- some of the Obsidian Circle had neutralized them."

"Hold the phone, the Obsidian Circle are major bad guys from way back," Vox inquired curious as I was about all of this, "why would they show up to save you?"

"Evidently the Bea and I are of interest to the Obsidian Circle and they want to keep us alive as free agents after having a chat, before we left though Mister Redstag showed up with some friends in tow to keep us safe. After that Circle took our group to a room in their headquarters to await the arrival of two more half-breed mutants to warn us collectively about something in our future."

"Just what the world needs even more half-human weird bitches like you!" Sharisha all but spat.

"Careful what you say Sharisha, one of those bitches has some nasty family connections and will likely be here next semester," I shot back as sick of her toxic attitude as ever, "as for the other one, just look up the Chinese Dragon of Seattle on the internet from last October and November, there should be some information."

"Found her," Bunny chimed in before whistling, "whoa looks like Kaiju won't be the only case of reptilian hotness around campus soon."

"Yeah, and one of us needs to spend some time training her this summer," I explained while walking over to Bladedancer, "Chou I know that you are planning on spending the Summer with Billie and Jade in Colorado, I'm sorry for saying this but that dragon-girl will be needing your help."

"Come on- after all of that's happened this semester Chou's earned some R&R! What reason could there be for Chou to interrupt her Summer Vacation?" Toni nonchalantly remarked.

"If Randi is referring to what I think, then it's a matter that I need to settle as the Handmaiden of the Tao." Chou answered in a grim tone, "the debt that is owned is one that cannot be denied, I must heed that summons it is a debt sealed in blood. Such a matter cannot be ignored, it is after all a matter of balance."

That silenced the room, taking advantage of the reprieve, I made my way over to the stairs while explaining, "now if you don't mind want to spend the rest of my weekend relaxing, because starting tomorrow I'm going to be working with the campus ground's crew for two weeks."

I made my way back to my room only to hear muffled weeping on the other side of the door, I opened the lock only to find Candance lying curled up naked on the pile of blankets that I slept on in my wolf form in the middle of the floor and crying her eyes out.

"Candace-" I ran over to her as Jane took off my shoulder to fly the rest of that short distance on her own, "what's wrong?!?"

Candace looked up and I could see that she was equal parts distraught and exhausted, "Randi- that is really you right?"

"Of course, it's me Candace," I replied before adding, "who would honestly want to pose as this hot mess."

No sooner than that happened did Candace launch into a flying-tackle that knocked me two the ground, "Where were you? Do you know how much everyone was worried? Do you know how much I was worried? Why did you abandon me?" Candace sobbed as he began to weakly pound on me.

"Candace, I didn't abandon you," I did my best to explain to the upset redhead, "Bea and I were taken by the Obsidian Circle, we couldn't come home right away until they released us but fortunately we had Mister Redstag and some of Morrigan's friends to keep us safe."

"And why didn't you call?!?" Candace looked at me with a hurt expression, "You couldn't call me to let me know that you were okay?!?"

"I'm sorry for worrying you Candace but as it turns out a location hopping magic fortress has awful cellphone reception and I didn't want to use a phone from the Circle because I'm afraid that they'd learn about our relationship and try to go after you or your family to make me work for them." I sighed as I sat up struggling to look Candace in the eye. "Morrigan has some wild fae and some of Jane's older sisters looking after my parents and grandparents, and my brother's an auxiliary for the Dallas Defenders so their safe I know that you're worried, but I didn't want to put you in danger, I couldn't stand the thought that I did that. That's why the only calls Bea and I made were to Mrs. Selkirk, Mrs. Horton and Ms Hartford."

That was when she hugged me as tight as she could obviously not be wanting to let go out of fear that I'd disappear on her again, causing me to stiffen up both due to the fact that I had a problem with physical intimacy and due to the fact that a hot and naked red-headed fox girl was hugging me rather tightly.

Outside Dickinson Cottage
1:14 PM
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East

I made my way up the trail to Dickinson hill all on my own, something tells me that after I learn how to walk that my upper-body strength is going to be ridiculous. 'Maybe I should take a martial-arts course after all instead of survival for my PE credit.'

Granted I was certainly capable of using my wheelchair like a walker but considering how much that I was in the dog house with academy administration, and mom in particular I didn't want to push my luck at the moment. Well that and making it from one side of a room to another was one thing, making my way up a hill without having something to properly weight-down my chair to keep it from popping-a-wheelie was something altogether different not to mention potentially very painful.

Once I crested the hill I noted how oddly silent Dickinson was, granted to most the outside of a building didn't usually seem noisy but merfolk have stereophonic hearing, helps out big time in the water. When went up the ramp and entered the Dickinson Common Room I could see a few of my fellow cottage mates waiting for me namely Gloriana, Heartbreaker, the Arlington Trio and my roommate Fatigue.

"I hope that you are happy now that all of that was over," Gloriana stated as she began to chew me out, "do you know how many students you put at risk last night."

"Apparently a lot less than if we had followed through with the evacuation," I responded for-armed with what I had learned from the meeting, "the Children of the Night booby-trapped the train platform- I just found out that he had rigged our evacuation point with an armory's worth of anti-personnel traps and incendiaries that were set to go off a minute after Faolan and I set foot on the terminal. Not all of us are invulnerable and the incendiary that the Necromancer chose to use was White-Phosphorus, had that gone off whoever the anti-personnel mines hadn't killed would have died one of the most horrible deaths possible for conventional means."

"Still I hope that you didn't get off too light from all of this," Heartbreaker huffed from her spot leaning against the wall, "I was partially responsible for your safety- do you know what your mother would have done to me if I'd gotten you hurt."

"Eve they threw the book at me," I confessed as I leaned forward in my wheelchair, "when I'm not studying or in physical therapy I'm going to be serving alternating detention for the rest of the semester, moreover any mobility gains that I make between now and finals are going to be factored into the punishments that I am going to receive."

"So, in other words when you finally start walking they'll switch you over from lighter duties to the more manual labor focused tasks." Fatigue observed from the takeaway.

"Moreover, the entire time I will be under security detail," I began to spill the details of my punishment, "from now until after finals I am not to roll one wheel or step one foot outside of any building on campus without a security escort. I'm also not allowed to use the tunnels and security escort or not the only places that I can visit off campus are the Reservation or Dunwich, so until classes let out for summer I'm effectively under house arrest."

"Geez, so much for the headmistress's daughter getting it easy," Meradee grimaced, "detention from now until the middle of June- nobody's going to say that moms playing favorites here."

"Tell me about it," Sherrie goggled, "and I thought a week of roof maintenance was harsh."

"At least you can use the agility of a spider monkey to keep you safe," Heather deflated, "I got stuck cleaning the restrooms and showers of the girls and co-ed cottages for a week and a half. I just hope that they don't make me clean the boy's showers over at Poe or Melville, that would be too embarrassing."

Children of the Night's Hideout - Darrow's Lair
Boston, Massachusetts
1:27 PM

"Dammit you lay about," verbally spat at Hekate, "that is the twentieth curse removal enchantment that you failed at. Why your master thinks so highly of an over-inflated witch like you is beyond me."

"Much is beyond you Darrow," Hekate glared at her 'gracious' host, "such as whoever laid the curse on the weapon that severed your arms. As loath as I am to admit it, Carcharoth's boasting may have been the truth; if a Class Two or Three Entity is responsible for the curse on that axe then I doubt there is anything that you or I could do to reattach your arms. The fact of the matter is that if we are to reattach your arms then it looks like we'll have to come up with a solution beyond that of magic or thaumaturgy."

"No there is no way this Carcharoth is really Lycaon," Darrow slammed his stumps on the table, "he was laid low years- no decades ago and there is no way his master Mister Domino is alive either Daren Englund himself cut off that man's head."

"And as we know there is no way those who live in the dark circles that we move in would ever fake their own death." Kallysta remarked drawing a glare from Darrow that promised a horrible fate if she dared to continue. "Well true or not I cannot reattach your arms with magic."

Darrow glared at Hekate in silence for what seemed like an hour as she continued pouring over her earlier research aware of the total futility when the phone (a direct line into the room from the rest of their Hideout) rang.

"If you can't make yourself useful in reattaching my arms the least that you can do is answer the blasted phone." The Necromancer stated as he glared at Kallysta as if he was trying to literally glare daggers at her.

Begrudgingly following his command, the former Queen of the Alpha clique answered the phone, "Hekate here, sorry but your boss has his hand's full."

While she was listening to whoever it was on the other end of the phone, Charles Darrow looked at a nearby bronze vase as if contemplating how best to throw it at his unwanted guest without the use of his hands. Before he could figure anything out though Kallysta hung up before turning to face him, "Lady Darke said to tell you that there's some weird robot that showed up at the entrance- something about him being hired to be here on your behalf."

Charles Darrow looked at his severed limbs, both arms being kept alive by a pair of shliga, alien symbiotic biotechnology that adapted to ensure the health and well-being of their hosts. As long as the shliga remained attached his arms would remain viable for reattachment, provided there wasn't too much nerve damage in the area to reattach them.

Carefully leaving his lair, and not disturbing the wards- no matter how tempted he was to see how the curse of three would affect a witch who sacrificed the lives of children to enslave others, Darrow made his way through the secret tunnel through the hidden areas of Boston to where the Children of the Night operated out of. "Very well Lady Darke, let us see our visitor."

"Greetings Charles Darrow," the oddly designed robot stated as he stood up, "I am STICHES, a party that is interested in your continued operations has hired me to reattach your severed limbs. Payment has already been rendered and I have the necessary medical supplies in a van outside, now whenever you are ready please retrieve your arms so that we may begin the procedure."

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2 years 6 months ago #52699 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 34 Notes

Surgical. Technology. Integrated. Computational. Heuristic. Enabled. Sythezoid. An android surgeon with an advanced and adaptive artificial intelligence created by an unknown party, STICHES acts as a black market mercenary doctor, who performs beyond bleeding edge medical procedures for either money, advanced medical technology, or information. Of note that STICHES as a synthezoid has no sense of empathy towards organic life, has no Hippocratic Oath programed into him, and is only concerned about the health and well being of its current patient, but no one else. This means that not only will STICHES kill if he is threatened (or inconvenienced) but also that he wouldn't hesitate to go to any length to satisfy the terms of his contract including killing other people for...necessary parts.
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2 years 6 months ago #53028 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 35

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
The Dark Path
7:59 AM MDT
POV: Duanzaolong, Rose of the North

I walked along the path with Hai-er Hong and the Three Great Disciples forming a phalanx to guard me as the Obsidian Circle member known as Madam Eventide lead the way. The silence was so thick that you'd need a hot knife to have any hope in cutting it, the fact was that despite not being directly affiliated with the Merchants, the Circle was still connected to them and responsible for creating the umbrella organization that the Merchants of Suffering used as a foundation to set up shop here in the United States in the first place.

"Just so that you know after we arrive at your sanctuary we'll be moving the exit point of this tunnel to the cellar of the Medawahila Tribe's lodge," Madam Eventide took it upon herself to break the ice, "however don't get any ideas about abusing the tunnel, it will only activate three time once I drop you off. It will open up on your end the morning of Whateley's Prospective Students Day, once in the early evening of that same day at the Medawahila lodge's end, and once on that end as well to provide the Handmaiden of the Tao with a direct and hidden route to come and meet you for your training."

"Wait, why not just have it open at my end and let me go right to this Medawahila place once summer starts?" I asked curious about why my short-cut to my ultimate destination was going to go bye-bye just when it would become really useful.

"Because the Handmaiden of the Tao needs to teach you how to harness and attune your qi in a place that is aligned with the Northern Court," Sha Wujing elaborated on the particulars, "a hidden cavern on a mountain in a broad range is an ideal place to do so especially given how the mountain is considered a sacred place by the cultures who called the area home. The Medawahila's reservation on the other hand is a place of old forests and nature, thus while it is also a place of power it is attuned to the Western Court, plus the number of Mythos sites nearby would make the manner of training that you would need to properly harness your power difficult- if not dangerous."

"Forgive me if I'm not that clued in on the concept, but Mythos this- Great Old Ones that- just what is all of this about?" I shouted losing my patience with the matter at hand. "Why is everyone tossing around these terms like I should know just what they mean? I mean Faolan, Mistral and Aletheia seem clued in on the concept but just what are these things? Are they like demons?"

"The Great Old Ones are beings far worse than any demon," Madam Eventide began to explain, "they are creatures so alien that for most mortal minds that experience them go insane either out of sheer terror or just the inability to comprehend just what they are seeing."

"Oh, come on," I huffed, "people can understand a lot, there is no way that anything could really be that alien!"

Madam Eventide responded by conjuring a black sphere just inches away from my face, I just stared into its depths as a leaped back. No matter what I could feel that sphere just pulling on me, it was like looking at something that wasn't there.

"I thought that you needed me alive!" I shouted at the sorceress before I turned to my companions in disbelief, "And I thought that you were trying to keep me safe- I mean what the hell!?!"

"That wasn't an attack kid," Wukong Sun began to but a gut as she clutched her sides, "that was an illusion spell, it would have done jack squat other than freak you out and maybe make you need to change your underwear."

"Like hell!" I shouted back in fury, "I mean it's like a black hole or something, it's so dark I can't even look at it!"

"Exactly," Madam Eventide explained as she directed the black illusionary sphere to fly around the corridor, "this is an illusion of a sphere of the color supreme matte black. Normal matte black is a color so dark that the human mind, cannot comprehend just what it is seeing, this sphere is even blacker than that so even with the eyes of a dragon your mind still cannot process just what this is, so you are instinctively afraid of it."

With a wave of her hand Madam Eventide dismissed her illusion, "the Great Old Ones are much the same way, they are beings so alien to our reality compared to what most mortal beings are accustomed to that their minds have trouble comprehending just what they are seeing. When added to the natural fear of the unknown and the instinctual reaction to the perception of the threat that they pose means that the sight of a Great Old One almost always drives the human mind off the deep-end as they try and fail to understand just what they are seeing."

"That combined with the fact that most Old Ones tend to view mortal beings of this reality as insects, either as subject of mild curiosity, annoyance or disgust and in their own manner react accordingly." Sha Wujing elaborated, "Devils and deities seek to make deals or obtain worshipers, the great old one's true motives are frequently so alien that we have little true point of reference- although many have worshippers come to them they are more likely to wind up playthings or twisted soulless creatures for their effort."

"Wait so these things are super-demons who exist apart from our world and I'm supposed to fight them!" I all but shouted in shock, "How am I supposed to do that training from the Handmaiden of the Tao or not?"

"Not directly I can tell you that much," Sun Wukong interrupted, "while it is possible to ward them off, or even hurt them if you know how, actually killing one is likely going to be something that you'll never be able to put on your resume."

"Unfortunately, such an act is beyond the Circle as well," Madam Eventide huffed, "granted we still have a great many fun ways to thwart them usually by destroying their avatars or proxies. After all there is nothing more satisfying than severing one of their anchors or destroying their cults. Moreover, if you can't kill them you can always undo centuries or millennia of their vile machinations, and the blow that you and your fellow maidens will inflict should you rise to meet your destinies' will harm them in a way no others have been able to since the time of the Five-Fold Court's inception."

"So, I know that fixing these things will help the courts that we're now a part of but how will that help anything else, okay at least not with my mission." I huffed in jealousy for Randi and Bea, "I know that Faolan and Aletheia's will help the world beyond their courts, by fixing the tree Faolan explained that Nature will become heartier and able to grow and heal at a faster. Alethiea also told me that with that reef healed the oceans will get cleaner and it will boost marine fertility to help ecosystems recover. The real question though is how some esoteric antique will help the world beyond the Northern Court?"

"The Talisman of Hengxing when working properly will ensure the use of and flow of energy across the world is more efficient," Sha Wujing stated, "And I do not simply refer to power as it relates to the world's energy production and grid, power and efficiency within the bodies of living creatures as well as the use of magic and abilities will also gain a boon should the Talisman be properly repaired."

"Correct," Madam Eventide nodded in affirmation behind her unusual mask, "with the four Paramount artifacts of the Five-Fold Court Working in concert the Earth and in turn the drifting land of the Four Peripheral Courts will be strengthened manifold. Once that happens the Obsidian Circle will continue ridding this world of the Dark Old Ones and their minions until we are free of them."

"Speaking of freedom, if I may ask of Hong Hai-er?" I turned to Hai-er Hong hoping that my reptilian complexion made me immune from blushing, "how exactly did the Merchants manage to capture someone as powerful as a disciple of Guanshiyin...let alone one who had the powers of sage hood since they were a youth?"

"Actually, as much as my uncle likes to tease me with referring to me as Hong Hai-er these days I am known as Hóng Shèngyàn ever since I was elevated from being an acolyte of Guanshiyin to the station of a proper sage. Although if you would wish to exclude title from the matter I am simply Shèngyàn," the immortal once known colloquially as Red Boy explained, "As for how those wretched demon worshipers captured me it was during the San Francisco-Oakland Earthquake, Guanshiyin sent me to answer prayers to help as well as ensure that unlike the Great San Francisco Earthquake a century ago that the loss of life was kept to a minimum."

"I did what I could to keep the death toll as low as possible, however even with my skill the ordeal was draining." Shengyan bowed his head in what appeared to be shame, "What I was unaware of was how, even while remaining in an ethereal state as I went about my work, there were those who could perceive me other than those of faith."

"Oh, the Merchants have faith alright," I let my loathing drip into my voice, "faith in wealth, faith in power and faith in a demon who represents both. Granted that a few of those of the Abramic Faiths might have seen you as well, but they were more likely to perceive you as an angel."

"Be that as it may these Merchants as you call them seized upon my moment of weakness and took me prisoner." Shengyan explained, "they held me along with dozens of other beings who they have captured in heavily warded cells. It was as if they were building an army."

"Nope, waging war themselves is not the MO of the Merchants. They are more about profiting off the depravities of others not taking advantage of their own merchandise unless they are after something that will bring in more profits." Bajie Zhu interrupted, "The rods that they were using to control you had ten times the range of any that I've ever seen. More than likely they've been working on boosting the range as much as possible, if they can make one of those rods cover a city from just the peripheral radius then they have a marketable weapon. Still even for the purpose of bringing the Northern Maiden back under their thumb last night was excessive for them, it smells like opportunism."

"When the Wayfarer rescued me the Merchant's High Priest tried to stop us," I explained as I smiled at the memory of that moment, "she turned him into a pile of gold dust and bones. There might be a struggle for his position among the Merchants right now."

"Gold dust and bones are the fate of any High Priest of the Merchants who loses the support of their patron demon, the Wayfarer likely triggered a spell that was already in place." Bajie retorted, "they add the dust to their wealth and use the remains for a bone oracle to determine the next High Priest. What happened was likely one of the new Priest's rivals jockeying for power to make him look bad in the eyes of their boss."

"How do you know all this stuff?" I asked the pig-faced warrior all but fearing the answer.

"These ears of mine are sensitive," Bajie flicked one of the floppy protrusions on the side of his head, "when I'm cleaning the alters sometimes I can't help but hear things. Honestly it seems like alters can be worse places for gossip than water coolers, then again it might just be confession- it must take the newer members of the Merchants a while to gain the who cold detached view of humanity."

"We are here," Madam Eventide stated as a gate opened at the end of the tunnel, on the other side I recognized my cavernous sanctuary and Kelsey who was kicking back reading what looked like a copy of the local newspaper.

"Hello Maiden of the North," Kelsey stated with a smile, not a snide condescending smile but a genuine smile. "I trust that your sojourn to the nearby town was exactly what you needed."

"Are you nuts?!?" I cried out as crossed the threshold of the mystic tunnel back to the cave, "I was attacked by gun touting mercenaries, had the Merchants send a swarm of jiangshi for me and then send a trio of supremely powerful supernatural beings my way, before getting scooped up by a cabal of warlocks, read some freaky prophecy and tossed into some weird room with three others and a talking bird who were all in the same boat, and you say that my daytrip was exactly what I needed!"

"Exactly," Kelsey replied in affirmation, "you have needed this cave until now as a place of healing to find yourself again after the horror that you suffered at the hands of the Merchants. While you may still consider this cave a home for the time being, after all the effort that you went about to liberate yourself, the exit will make no effort to conceal itself from you- so that you can come and go as you please."

"Give me a break, with everything that I just went through- if you think that I'm stepping out of here anytime soon you're bonkers." I shouted at Kelsey.

"I think that I'll just leave," Madam Eventide stated with a sad-looking ceramic mask on her face that had replaced her earlier cheerful looking one. "I hope to see you on Parents & Perspectives Day at Whateley, maybe I'll introduce you to my daughter."

"Before you go I have a question," Shengyan spoke up, "I doubt that the mystic tunnel that brought us here was truly that long, why did it seem to last as long as it did?"

"The Dark Paths are exactly as long as one needs it to be," Madam Eventide confessed as a comedic mask concealed her face...which I never saw her swap out, "that is the thing about tunnels they are always good for leading someone where they need to be- both literally and metaphorically."

As the tunnel sealed up with the Sorceress still inside, the causeway collapsed and molded itself into a statue of Lao Tsu which rested against a vacant wall with no sign of the tunnel that was there only moments ago. The statue likely selected to highlight what now lay on the other side of the Dark Path that it would form, as well as the individual who was destined to be the last to use it, the Handmaiden of the Tao- a girl my own age who if the Western Maiden was to be believed went by the moniker of Bladedancer.

"Truly the magics that the Obsidian Circle wield are...disconcerting." Sha Wujing stated as he inspected the statue of the philosopher who first perceived of the existence of the Tao and delivered its philosophy to mankind. "A fortress whose location is even less permanent than that of Onigashima and which can form paths to anywhere in the mortal world. As well as possesses a room that bends the very laws of time- these are powers that no one should take lightly."

"Actually, the room is supposed to belong to me and the other three maidens," I explained as I dangled the key that I was given, "they said that they'll be moving the entrance to the place from Fortuna Noctis to the Whateley Academy over the summer. I assume that it's supposed to be some kind of reward for once we pass the trials that we have to face this summer."

"Yes- I heard," Shengyan observed, "meeting the Handmaiden of the Tao is not a prospect that a great many relish to do- just keep in mind that she is here to serve the Tao by training you and pay no mind to the stories about her visits to others in the past."

"Yeah," Wukong Sun commented with a grin on her face, "and I should know! I've hung out with her and her friends plenty of times- such a shame that she had to distance herself from most of them after that incident in Boston."

"But that just happened last night," I observed curious how something like that could happen so fast- especially since when it was happening Wukong was in Durango with me...oh right she's technically a Buddha."

"Actually, this happened months ago," Wukong explained, "back then the Western Maiden was in Texas getting ready to travel to Whateley herself and the Eastern Maiden was still trapped inside her host's astral shadow. Granted the same culprit was involved then too- that was when the Necromancer coordinated two break-ins in Boston, and a break-out at the Roxbury-C Supermax Prison."

"The same guy planned all of that- in in a few months- what the hell!" I goggled at that piece of information. "Why would anyone go to Boston after something like that?"

"It's the closest major city to Whateley," Wukong elaborated on what was going on, "and the students appreciate the chance to experience the real world every once in a while, after being cooped up in a private boarding school for weeks on end that they rarely have the opportunity to see outside of during the school week. Granted after yesterday student excursions to Boston are bound to be a thing of memory for the foreseeable future, I guess that for the time being the Academy's students are going to have to settle for Portland, Maine."

"Not so bad a trade if you ask me," Bajie grunted, "all that it'll mean if losing out on a chance to catch a Celtics game in person while trading clam chowder for lobster rolls."

"It is bound to be far more than simply that my old friend," Sha Wujing stated, "now with Lady Kelsey's permission of course, I suggest that we take the opportunity afforded us by this brief calm to center ourselves. Meanwhile my pupil, please take the day off, you need to see to your own state of mind; last night was certainly chaotic and you will have the time needed to weigh what you have learned."

"Well far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth," I shrugged grateful for the day of rest, though something tells me that the next few days are going to be double the usual amount.

The Dark Path
6:01 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

As I walked down the conjured path with dad and grandpa back to the Las Vegas Chapter House, I kept taking glances at my father. I mean I couldn't help it- I'd known him for less than a day in person, while our heart-to-heart conversation from when we'd met for the first time was everything that I'd ever hoped for it was only a meeting.

"What a crazy day huh," I commented trying to break the ice, "I mean, show of hands who woke up this morning and expected...this."

"Maybe Bishop Brimstone but that's likely to be it," grandfather observed, "oh and Mistral my dear, you will be glad to know that your friend is awake- granted he's been eating his way through our breakfast buffet so I hope that he is nowhere close to the Cruise Limit."

"We're training right now for our regional practice camp," I explained, "if he and the others do gain a little pudge then coach and the others will work it out of them in the gym before Memorial Day."

"Sounds like a man after my own heart," grandpa mused as we neared our destination, "maybe I should meet this man who began your combat training."

"Grandpa- don't you dare do anything to him!" I spun on my heels as I shouted at him. "He was never anything but supportive to all of us!"

"Now what makes you think that I'm going to do anything negative to the man," grandpa huffed, "as a fellow trainer of warriors I was just going to have a talk to the man who began your training. Besides the only thing that I was going to do to him was insure that information regarding you couldn't be extracted from him, your friends will be getting the same treatment."

"Grandfather- we just rescued my friend-" I protested trying to sway his mind while doing my best to avoid using names something dad warned me about, "there is no need to do anything to him or any of my other friends."

"We're not going to hurt them my dear, just before a couple of old spells stretching back to the Middle Kingdom," Grandpa Set began to explain, "The first is a spell that prevents the tongue from speaking out against what occurs in a Noble House...such as ours, this spell has no consequences beyond making someone unable to bear witness about what goes on inside a household with outsiders."

"Yeah, my brother's followers created a variant for use in funerary rites," dad explained.

"The other creates a shabti decoy of their head," grandpa continued, "it makes it so whoever tries to read their minds my magic or power will instead read the mind of a bust sculpted in their likeness from enchanted clay. This will make them immune from telepathic probes and mind control, surely such a boon would warrant the spell to against serving as a witness against our house."

"Don't worry mi petite caballo, I guarantee that it won't harm them one bit, all you need to do is have fun with your friends for the rest of the weekend-" Dad did his best to reassure me, "because starting tomorrow is djinni cram school."

"Wait- what?" I stared, "what about my old school?"

"Mistral- until your presentation as a member of the Principality of the Burning Disc you are in real danger in the outside world from anyone who learns that you are half-djinn." Grandfather explained in a firm tone, "Besides the Order of the Black Pharaoh will try to regain you if the can and kill you if they cannot, that and you have a lot to learn prior to your presentation."

"It's sort of like the djinni version of a Bat-mitzvah," dad interrupted, "except don't expect to be hosted around in an elevated chair- we save that for weddings."

"Uggh, can you please stop hamming it up son," grandpa stated, "we're almost back home and I don't want the regulars at the Vegas Chapter House to endure a barrage of puns."

"You'd think that they were used to it by now," dad mumbled.

"Just because they're used to it doesn't mean they should be forced to endure it," grandfather glared as the end of the tunnel appeared.

As we left the tunnel for what looked like the inside of an Elk's Lodge (Steve invited us when his grandfather was having an award banquet in his honor for organizing the fundraiser to renovate the local VA Hospital- it was kind of a big deal two years ago in Boulder City) as imagined by a Harry Potter fanboy.

"Lord Khamsin, Greygus welcome back so soon," a woman from the counter called out, "and who is this lovely young lady? I mean it, I don't believe that we had the chance to meet when you rushed through here early this morning."

"Alexis this is my daughter Mistral," Greygus explained as he placed his hand on my shoulder, "Lord Khamsin was bringing her to an important meeting that she had to attend."

"I called it Alexis-" a man shouted from the nearby lounge where he was playing chess with a man who looked like a middle aged LARPer, "I win the pool, so I'll be collecting the pot on my way out!"

"I know Shadow Douser there's no reason to rub it in," Alexis huffed before muttering, "I was so sure that she was Lord Khamsin's assistants kid who'd been magically aged to her teens."

"That sounds absurd," I remarked as I stared at the woman through my helm.

"Young lady this is the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom- we deal in the absurd on a regular basis." Alexis deadpanned, "Erzebet Scratch rules over a dozen chapter houses like a mystic mafia boss, there is a warlock at the New York Chapter House who is undergoing a Benjamin Button scenario from the neck down, the San Francisco Chapter House is run by a cult of demon worshiping Chinese Black Marketers, and the lifespans of most who accept this job usually measures in a decade after their hired- my guess was only middle of the road on the absurdity scale."

"If I was a pettier man I would do something horrible for addressing my top operative's daughter in such a manner," grandpa spoke up making the woman blanche in terror. "However, Greygus and no doubt Mistral would object to that- more-so given the fact that she must soon become used to this world. However, none-the-less you must be punished for such a tone; so, consider that a sacrifice of one of your sick days."

"Thank you for your merciful generosity sire," Alexis responded as she physically prostrated herself before us.

"Yes- yes- deference while ego-boosting is also a waste of time," grandfather remarked as he shook his head in embarrassment. "Besides count yourself lucky just how few people want your job."

As we walked deeper into the Vegas Chapter House something told me that grandfather wasn't kidding on either comment, I guess that it just goes to show the person you are around your family and the person that you are around others can be completely different. Then again in a place full of spell-casters and warlocks grandfather likely couldn't dare to show his softer side, dad on the other hand certainly had that luxury. I could tell that the people around here not only respected him but actually liked him, from what Randi and Bea told me about how he organized the rescue that saved them from the Children of the Night, part of me wondered just how many people here likewise owed dad their lives.

Detention Wing
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - North Texas Chapter House
8:17 AM CDT

Lilian DuPree alias Melanie Ledoux sat in her cell fuming, she had almost left the country for a lifetime of luxury in Vienna. Instead she was grabbed at the O'Hara airport by Erzebet Scratch's soulless goons forced through a portal through a dimension with a demon playing bad jazz inside, forced through another portal and then tossed inside of a cell and for what- hell she had barely heard of Erzebet Scratch before let alone given the with reason to sic her muscle on her.

Not to mention the janitor outside her cell that was annoyingly whistling for the last seven minutes and failing at it, "Will you stop that- there is no reason for this torture or for me to be here at all. I have never made a move against Erzebet Scratch before, so why am I here?"

"Akshuly, you hab," the pathetic whistling stopped as whoever was going it answered in a deep but slurred voice. "Yu halpt strak at the Ofsadayun Cirkal, ond Modder Skrats ez awnd paart of the Cirkal. You keft Greyguz dodder hoztag fa yers, so Lawd Kalmsin levd yawr fad tp Modder Shrats."

"So, you Grand Hall types stab each other in the back all the damned time," Lilian shouted at the mush-mouthed man. "Why would she care about the kid of someone who doesn't even work for her?"

"Iv yu noh anayting aboud Erzabed Shrats yu woodend eben azg thad quashton," the figure slured out, "Yu worgd wit samwon tu huld hiz ked hoztage awnd psycologigly aubused tha ked for yers, I dond invee yawr chansays."

"What would a retard like you know anyway?!?" Lilian barked out.

"Ahm nod a retawd," the figure state as he opened the slot on the doorway giving Lilian a glimpse of a member of the undead, "mie tong guzd dozend wawg ride."

That sight shut Lilian up instantly, whoever this Erzebet Scratch was she was clearly a very skilled necromancer how else could she craft a zombie who might be able to pass as a slow human. Not to mention if what the zombie said was true she had just stepped in the worse mess possible, "I knew I should have booked it to Chile instead of Austria but no I wanted to live it up in Europe, at least I still have one bargaining chip. Without me there's no way that they'll find that brat's mother or the prego genie I bagged."

That comment for some reason drew a bout of off-sounding laughter from her undead warden. Had Lilian DuPree understood more about magic and about Erzebet Scratch in general she'd have known about the minor confession spells woven into the cell walls- as well as the microphones to pick up every last word that came out of the mouths of her prisoners. If anything, the wait was to give the spell time to soak into their occupant, and even if that failed there were other ways that eventually she'd come to learn along with how Scratch dealt with such... transgressors.

Scarlet Sands Resort
Las Vegas, Nevada
7:42 AM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South

Eventually grandfather's Cadillac pulled up to the gate, while the valet took grandpa's keys and parked the car the three of us entered the resort although truth be told my stomach was doing cartwheels. "This is going to be so awkward," I huffed, "I mean Danny took it well enough, but we've only known each other for a couple of years, Walt and I go back...well since we were three."

"I mean how well is he going to take all...this." I motioned to my physique while at the same time not trying to motion to my chest- considering I was talking to my dad and grandfather, neither of whom was human.

"One of two ways as I see it, either he'll help his best friend learn to be who she really is, or he'll find himself unable to deal with it for the moment and leave to give himself time to think."

"Then after that?" I asked dad desperate for answers.

"Best not to think too far ahead my little flower," dad explained as he rustled my hair, "just remember that how Walt handles this is all up to him."

"The issue isn't only what he thinks about how you have changed my dear, there is also the matter of the Zodiac Gemstones, because of Professor Id the only way that they can be removed is with harmful surgery meaning he's going to have to learn to live with them- more-so given that they are power gems so he's going to spend the rest of his life as a target."

"Are you sure that he was telling the truth?" I asked hoping that for Walt's sake that there was a sliver of hope that it wouldn't be true.

"Unfortunately, the chances that Professor Id was lying are between slim and none," grandpa sighed in frustration, "most people lie to avoid the consequences of their actions or because they don't want to disappoint other people. Professor Id is the type of person who doesn't care about how much he hurts other people and looks at the consequences of his own actions with a perverse glee. For him the idea of a power gem user who'll need to guard their source of power with their lives would be hilarious."

"Actually, I have an idea brewing that may help your friend," dad remarked, "however I think that it would be for the best if we asked your friend on his thoughts."

As we stepped inside I deactivated my outfit which collapsed into a scarab broach that I removed from my house amulet, "Um grandpa," I turned to Set, "what am I supposed to do with this? Should I keep it in a purse or something?"

"Actually, it has another function my dear," grandpa pressed the scarab's eyes making the body split in two to reveal a series of pegs. With the opened scarab in hand grandpa walked behind me, gathered my long hair in a ponytail in his empty hand, press what I assumed to be the scarab against in and then with another click circled back around in front of me.

"So, it's armor and a barrette?" I arched my eyebrows in disbelief, "Any particular reason for this?"

"It's practical, ensures that you're unlikely to have the scarab not on your person when you need it, and most important of all my dear..." Grandpa paused mid explanation, "you just look better with your hair up. It was your grandmother's idea, she said your hair highlights your neck and cheekbones this way and I try not to argue with her."

"Speaking of mom, where is she?" Dad inquired, "I thought that she'd be here to greet us when we got back home."

"Likely she's occupied entertaining Iris's friends," Grandpa Set stated as he guided us to the area of the resort normally hidden from mortal eyes, "Your friend Walter was abducted and held against his will by a Dark Court Sidhe, he is likely to be rather on edge and Nephrys always has a way with making guests feel welcome and at ease."

"So, grandma has some sort of empathic abilities?" I asked wanting to learn as much about my family as I could.

"No just an empathic personality," grandpa explained, "after all while I symbolize the desert, she symbolizes the oasis- something that welcomes all travelers after times of great trial and arduous journeys."

"Good- as long as Walt calms down and listens," I sigh in relief, "the last thing that I want is to freak him out- he's probably so rattled by what happened."

"...but Paul just stood there and took it no matter what that punk said about him, Paul wouldn't let that jerk phase him as he tried out the half-pipe." I could hear Walt recounting the story to Grandma Nephrys and Uncle Anubis about the time that I tried to practice skateboarding at the park using some hand-me-down padding and one of Walt's skateboards.

"Go on Walter," grandma all but begged for the next part.

"What happened was I lost my balance halfway up the other side of the half-pipe, bonged my head (thankfully I was wearing a helmet), slide down the half-pipe and had the skateboard land just north of the old breadbasket. I was walking funny for a week and had Miss Ledeaux yelling at me the entire time about how I could have gotten hurt doing something so stupid, granted now that I know the truth about her I know that she didn't do it out of concern for my health and well-being."

"You wouldn't have to worry about that monster in woman's clothing anymore," Uncle Anubis explained, "Lilian DuPree alias Melanie Ledeaux was caught by Erzebet Scratch's people in a layover in Chicago on her way to Vienna with a small fortune in Euro's, they'll find out where that cult she works for is keeping your mother as well as their newest prisoner."

"Then they couldn't rescue Miranda?" Grandfather asked in desperation.

"I am sorry dear but no," Grandmother shook her head with heartbreak in her voice, "the blessed one who was to honor our family with new life will have to wait on her rescue for another day. Those Erzebet Scratch sent were prepared to take our grandchild's jailor captive, not to take on someone who was likely a warlock in the cult of the Black Pharaoh; if they had tried they would have risked letting DuPree escape. At least with her in custody we have a shot at learning just where Miranda Salazar and Angela Seguin are being held."

"More than a shot," dad shuddered, "Erzebet has ways of getting information out of people no matter what, and while I don't agree with her tactics I won't argue with how effect they are at getting accurate information."

"But while we are discussing that Iris my dear, don't you think that you and your friends should take time and enjoy the rest of your weekend," Uncle Anubis elaborated, "your friend Daniel informed everyone's parents about the situation and they are alright with it provided we drop everyone off in front of Cesar's Palace by three to go home otherwise they threatened to call in the Neon Lights." Uncle Anubis continued while giving the name of Nevada's resident superhero team.

"I'm going to call them to be there anyway," Dad explained as he made his way back to the door, "circumstances warrant them to be involved and I have enough positive clout with them to invoke a Code White."

"What's a Code White?" I asked wondering just what my dad had planned.

"Walter, you might want to come over here, because this matter concerns who specifically." Dad called out to my best friend as he motioned for him to come over.

Reluctantly Walt complied, although once he walked over to us he looked me over and blushed before briefly averting his gaze to glare at dad. "Sir just because you helped save me doesn't mean that I really owe you or Lord Khamsin anything so I'm not going to become a supervillain or anything, so you can quit trying to butter me up."

"Walter- I am not trying to recruit you to our organization, but at the same time there are things that you need to be made aware of." Dad began to explain, "Last night we learned that Professor Id designed those bracers to bond with the skin of their wearer on a cellular level, since this is just the sort of thing that Id would do there is no way to remove those gauntlets safely that wouldn't require reconstructive surgery afterwards in the form of skin grafts for your forearms."

"Now we don't feel that you owe us anything for your rescue, you protected my daughter for years and provided her with some much-needed emotional stability. Moreover, you are in your current predicament because you tried to save her life, if I tried to claim that you owed us anything I would be an even worse monster than the witch who kept her prisoner all these years. At the same time, you need to understand that the gemstones in those gauntlets while powerful also put your life in danger, items of power like those things can be used by anyone given enough time and training- this means that having those things on your arms make you a target."

"The fact is that you need training on how to control those gemstones to their fullest, as well as how to defend yourself against those who would try to take them. To that end I am calling a Code White, this involves a meeting between a super-hero team, a government authority, a super-villain, and all involved parties at a neutral location with the understanding that no fighting will be done, and all parties will be allowed to leave afterwards without being followed. As I mentioned you need training, and I am going to propose that it be done in as secure a location as there is to handle that sort of thing."

"So, what- you mean to tell them to have me train at the headquarters of the Neon Lights, Area 51- someplace like that?!?" Walt all but huffed up over the matter.

"I think that he means the Whateley Academy," I guessed at what my dad was getting at, "it's a boarding school on the other side of the country for mutants and paranormals that operates on a neutrality principal, since The Champion and Gizmatic both went there, and the children of super-heroes and super-villains go there too it's supposed to be safe. Besides anyone who attacks it will wind up being targeted from both sides of the law in retaliation should they try anything."

"So, Xavier's is real huh," Walt chuckled, "and you learned about it in a day- how? You just met your real family Paula, how did they come to trust you so fast?"

"Actually, my name is Iris and I met some girls who are already students there," I explained before something Walt just asked made me wonder, "come to think of it dad just why did everyone come to trust me so fast?"

"Your uncle likely performed a heart gaze, it's based on the scale of the heart test, it allows the caster to take a look at your soul to determine the kind of person you are deep down, free of any deceptions or facades." Dad elaborated, "If he followed his habits he did it while you were still unconscious, and the genealogical analyzer was warming up. The fact of the matter is that while we freed our people from the Black Pharaoh there were those who served him willingly, so whenever an unknown djinn comes into one of our Houses we must be cautious."

"Hold the phone," Walt interrupted, "djinn- my cousin mentioned that while going on about his D&D campaign, that's another word for genie so everyone here is..."

"Djinn or in my case a half-genie, the pair I met from the school are half-mermaid and half-faerie respectively." I answered my old friend, "It has something to do with a prophecy, the last one of the four of us was half-Chinese dragon, evidently I was the last of us to wake up."

"Wait if the dragon is awake then why isn't she at this Whateley place too?" Walt asked clearly getting even more confused.

"She's undergoing a form of therapy." I explained without going into too much detail. "It's a long story, but let's just say that the two of you can compare notes about crappy experiences with the criminal underworld."

Throne of Sanguine Opulence
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - San Francisco Chapter House
Old San Francisco, California
8:14 AM PDT

Ten feet away from the Throne of Sanguine Opulence, the literal seat of the Xue-jin Mushi's power and had been since the Zhaoshang de Youhuan were founded back during the Song Dynasty, Qian Khai knelt prone while his master pondered his offering and thus his fate. "Now Khai Qian, I sent you to that wretched xiao's den for the twelve zodiac gemstones with specific instructions to obtain them for our order, instructions that warned you of your fate should you have failed."

Although Qian Khai could not see the actions of the Xue-jin Mushi from his current position, Qian could all but imagine the new priest of blood-soaked gold holding the scroll that comprised the Taiping Yaoshu like a baton while examining it with his off-hand. "However rather than bring the gemstones you bring me a grimoire of our homeland; a mystic tome that has been lost since the death of Zhang Jue in 2881 in the Year of the Wood-Rat."

"The xiao's ownership of the gemstones was disputed by a sorcerer who called himself Lord Khamsin, he claimed that they were in the possession of one of his House who was attacked while the gemstones were retrieved." Qian Khai began to plead, "He offered to have the ownership of the gemstones decided by a bout of pugilism between the xiao and the injured party after the auction concluded, meaning that even if I won the gemstones in the auction there was a chance that I would have been forced to take Lord Khamsin's substitute, a collection of mystic scrolls from Ancient Egypt. After weighing the matter and knowing how foolish it would be to gamble with the Xue-jin Mushi's precious treasury, I chose to go with the Taiping Yaoshu instead a prize which these foolish barbarians did not even know what it was."

"Fortunately for you Qian Khai this time your questionable judgement netted us an unexpected windfall," the Xue-jin Mushi could almost be seen chewing on the matter of what to do in his mind. "You are also extra fortunate that good news is in short supply today."

The Xue-jin Mushi must have motioned for his attending eunuch to strike the gong since it rang and the doors to the chamber opened. "You my raise your head Khai Qian, if only to see an example of the price of ill-advised ambition."

Qian Khai did as he was ordered and turned to see Kao Tak-keung being led in at the length of two three-meter poles attached to the collar around his neck, judging by the expression of the man's face there was no part of him left with his body being reduced to that of a shell.

"Evidently the Yaoshi daishi along with the Qianbao de shouhu zhe and our third most experienced daoshi, three of his most promising apprentices, and five of our drivers thought that they could recover Yao Zhiyi on their own. This morning Tak-keung Kao returned in his present state with one of our missing semi-trucks, the heads of his fellow conspirators, and a note from Erzebet Scratch warning us to never come that near her territory again." The Xue-jin Mushi stated, "their venture cost us seven valuable servants, two-dozen jiang-shi and three irreplaceable treasures of our menagerie. To that end I have decided to reward you with a new position- from this day forth you Khai Qian shall be our new Yaoshi daishi."

"Oh, I am not worthy of such an honor great and venerable Xue-jin Mushi," Qian Khai responded. "I will endeavor to improve upon the work of my foolish predecessor."

"See that you do Khai Qian," the Xue-jin Mushi glared downward at him, "I am already filling three vacant offices today, a fourth would not be that difficult for me to fill with a warm body before its occupant grows cold."

"I understand your grace," Qiuan Khai returned to his earlier position prostrating on the floor, "at your leave I will go forth to learn the responsibilities of my new vocation and prove your judgement is infallible."

"Then begone from my sight sycophant," the Xue-jin Mushi shouted, "and know that the price of cleaning your spot off the floors of my chambers will be coming out of your next allotment."

"At once your grace," Qian Khai did as he was bid and exited the chamber trembling with both excitement at his newfound promotion as well as terror of both his near death and just what his new position entailed.

Meanwhile back inside the throne room the Xue-jin Mushi looked at the scroll in his hand and smiled like a shark, "Oh the profitable chaos you will cause for us, the great master will indeed be most pleased."

Hidden Cave - Hesperus Peak
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
9:41 AM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

Now that I finally had time to relax in the first place that I had called home since I was taken from Seattle I though back to all that I'd learned last night. There was apparently a lot more to this school that the Handmaiden of the Tao was to take me too than I first though, while part of me was warry about leaving the cave via a mystic path conjured by a cabal of warlocks and fallen deities, I knew that I needed to check this Whateley Academy place out for myself.

I also thought back to my meeting with the other maidens, while Bea seemed nice enough it was obvious that she had a lot to learn about how to interact with other people- I mean this girl brought a new meaning to the word sheltered. As for Randi, something told me that girl had a few secrets that she was keeping from us and given what we were going to be going up against that could be dangerous- after what I'd been through how could I trust someone who wasn't willing to trust me in turn. As for Iris- well I honestly didn't have anything against her, hell the girl had suffered her whole life being forced to unwillingly live a lie by someone who was way too much like the Merchants in my eyes, if only her family wasn't a part of that cabal of warlocks then I could see us being true friends at school- as is that was iffy.

"I know that look," Wukong Sun stated as she sidled on next to the stone bench where I'd been sitting still wearing her Kelly the monkey girl form, "lost in thought about the future and what you plan to do when the time comes. Man, if I had a yuan for every time I made that face before we came back with the sutras, then I'd have my own mountain of money as high as the mountain I used to rule."

"Then how would you deal with it," I asked with a huff, "I have to fix something that's been broken longer than my family name has existed and face who knows what in order to do it, and even before that I have to train with the left-hand of destiny herself before making a dangerous trek to the other side of the country while the Merchants throw Buddha only knows what at me. Tell me, how am I supposed to deal with this?"

"One step at a time Zhen-yu, one step at a time." Wukong Sun replied before stretching. "Fortunately, once you leave the Mountain States for the Midwest the Merchants won't be able to come after you directly, that is Erzebet Scratch's territory and she hates the Merchants with a passion. It won't stop mercenaries under contract like the Masterson Brothers from coming after you, but at least you shouldn't have to deal with anymore mystic or supernatural threats like last night."

"Too bad I can't depend on any of the others on my way to Whateley though," I muttered, "by the way just where is this school and the Medawahila Reservation exactly? I mean I heard that the school was in New England but where exactly is it?"

"New Hampshire- in the White Mountain just outside the town of Dunwitch," Wukong Sun explained, "besides you won't be coming back alone. Bladedancer will help you part of the way, and maybe Blizzard Wizard and Permafrost can help you out some too, by then you should be able to fix Ymir's Tear, so you may be able to get them to escort you part of the way. Something else might be able to pop up to help you too."

"What about you four?" I asked pointing out my laoshi, Bajie Zhu and Shengyan.

"Sorry kid but this Journey to the East is the second part of your trial, from the time you leave the Mountains to the time you arrive at the Medawahila Reservation none of the Members of the Northern Court or those tied to the Jade Heavens will be able to assist you. I'm sorry but that is what has been foretold, none related to the Court which they represent can assist one of the Cardinal Maidens until their trial is complete unless they are required by destiny itself. "

"Just consider yourself lucky that all you have to do once the Handmaiden of the Tao unlocks your ancestral qi is travel to the Medawahila Reservation. The Western Maiden is going to have to fully embrace both sides of her wolf spirit, the Eastern Maiden will have to save her uncle and help him break Dagon's Curse, and the Southern Maiden is going to have to rescue her mother as well as two others from a stronghold of the Cult of the Black Pharaoh whose location is still a mystery- comparatively speaking yours might be the easiest trial of them all."

"Oh, way to jinx it monkey girl," I threw up my hands in exasperation, "now there's no telling what I'm going to come across!"

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2 years 6 months ago #53029 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 35 Notes

Rot Translations:

"Akshuly, you hab. Yu halpt strak at the Ofsadayun Cirkal, ond Modder Skrats ez awnd paart of the Cirkal. You keft Greyguz dodder hoztag fa yers, so Lawd Kalmsin levd yawr fad tp Modder Shrats."

"Actually, you have. You helped strike at the Obsidian Circle, and Mother Scratch is a part of the Circle. You kept Greygus's daughter hostage for years, so Lord Khamsin left your fate to Mother Scratch."

"Iv yu noh anayting aboud Erzabed Shrats yu woodend eben azg thad quashton. Yu worgd wit samwon tu huld hiz ked hoztage awnd psycologigly aubused tha ked for yers, I dond invee yawr chansays."

"If you know anything about Erzebet Scratch you wouldn't even ask that question. You worked with someone to hold his kid hostage and psychologically abused the kid for years, I don't envy your chances."

"Ahm nod a retawd," the figure state as he opened the slot on the doorway giving Lilian a glimpse of a member of the undead, "mie tong guzd dozend wawg ride."

"I'm not a retard, my tongue just doesn't work right."

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2 years 5 months ago #53332 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 36

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
Outside Freedom Temple Church
Chicago, Illinois
11:56 AM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank

I had to stop in my dash for freedom, despite the fact that the Knights of Purity were after me I was still recovering from the fact that little gangster wannabe Victor actually shot me. As things go I was relying way too much on adrenaline to substitute as a painkiller, and I knew that deep down the moment I calmed down I was going to be in agony- if I didn't go into shock from the pain alone.

Desperate from some reprieve from the pursuit I ducked in-between the Church's Dumpster and Recycling Collection Bin, breathing through my mouth to avoid the smell, thankfully it was Sunday and the good father like others in this part of the Windy City installed padlocks on the dumpsters to discourage both illegal dumping and vagrants from taking up residence inside. This meant that the trash from Wednesday Vespers had already been collected and anything from today's service had yet to be dumped, although that would change soon a little while after church services let out as the junior deacons came to dump out bags of discarded Eucharist cups, service programs, host wafer boxes and whatever else they collected from the sanctuary after service.

While it would have been a great idea for me to hide in the crowd of church goers leaving the building, I would have stood out in the crowd dressed as I was. Part of me cursed myself for grabbing my helmet and not my bag in my panicked run from the Knights. This not only meant that I lacked street clothes to conceal my rather conspicuous Maroon Maniacs gym suit, but that they also had my purse with my home address and ID inside meaning just hoping a bus back to Arlington Heights wasn't an option and neither was hoofing it over to the Westside to hideout at Granny Mertle's apartment.

I briefly looked at the church and considered charging in and demanding sanctuary, but the fact of the matter was that this was not a Catholic Church and they lacked the political clout necessary to do such a thing. Briefly shelving the idea of swinging back Northeast towards the University of Chicago Campus to do so at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, but decided against it, being in the center of a major university campus during semester on a weekend afternoon with finals approaching the area was bound to be packed with students and the chances of one having a cellphone to alert the MCO was good. Besides I wasn't catholic and after the incident in Hell's Kitchen last year the bishop may not be as ready to stick his neck out for me and if that was the case Saint Columbanus sixteen blocks to the southwest was also a no-go.

Rapidly running out of viable alternatives as well as adrenaline something that the pain in my left side confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt. Quickly running out of options I thought back to everyone I knew on the Westside, everyone who turned their backs on me out of either admiration or fear of the Coleman sisters. While I quickly ruled out those who admired and joined the Ally Vipers, that left those who likely shunned me out of fear over the pair- more specifically my ex-best friend Ramona Watts.

Ramona- given our personalities we shouldn't have gravitated towards each other like we did, but I guess that it came from the two of us having absent fathers, with my dad in the military and her's having dropped off the map to avoid paying child support. For years the two of us were thick as thieves, watching each other's backs through thick and thin.

At least that was how it was until April of Fifth Grade, all year everyone around us began to think of Middle School and out of fear abandoned their hopes and pledges to stay on the straight and narrow out of fear that if they didn't join one of the local gangs they'd be the victim of one. Around this time of every boy and girl at school scrambling to find a crew to latch onto the Coleman sisters began to eyeball me for membership in the Ally Vipers, fortunately while everyone else abandoned me, Ramona still had my back.

Although the Coleman sisters did their best to get her to leave me isolated and ripe for picking Ramona did her best to hold out in the face of their intimidation, but there always seemed to be this streak of fear to her. I never understood what it was, and I don't think that Ramona did either, it was just something that she could never explain or define, and every time she tried she'd just scratch her neck unconsciously.

Evidently the Coleman sisters' harassment got to be too much and three years ago to this day rather than Ramona meeting me out our lockers, I found a note inside from her letting me know that she could no longer be around me. It hurt like she had taken a knife to twist inside my guts that rather than tell me off in person, she'd break up our friendship with a slip of loose leaf telling me that I needed to stay away and that she no longer felt safe around me. Even after all these years that moment of betrayal hurt like nothing I'd ever experienced but right now such moments were in the past because the only lifeline in Chicago that I could think of that the Knights of Purity and the MCO wouldn't was Ramona Watts.

My new goal in mind I set out for my old neighborhood in Austin on the West Side, hoping that my estranged former friend would at least offer a port in the storm, because with the Knights of Purity after me my future was bleak. Noticing a bird that was flying by in slow motion, I smiled knowing that whatever power awakened within me was still working.

The moment when I had my helmet closed was when something weird happened, when I put my helmet back on the bird stopped, just like what happened between the first time Victor tried to shoot me and when I grabbed him. Knowing that time had stopped rather than slowed I looked myself over for anything that was different between now and when Victor shot me, I know that it couldn't have been the pain from the bullet wound, despite Shelly's handiwork in patching me up was now edging into my awareness.

The helmet also wasn't the answer to the question since I had still been wearing it when Victor shot me, and everything went slow-motion rather than full on stop like the first time, then the helmet was not the answer here. Taking a moment to inspect myself I saw that Shelly didn't just patch the hole Victor shot in me but also the hole in my suit- that girl's OCD was something else she never left a job part done.

Wait a minute, my suit did that have something to do with this? I looked down at my gym suit, heck it was nothing special, anyone could buy one this size at the campus store for thirty bucks, granted the University of Chicago seal and the Maroon Maniacs logo on the back where things unique to our group. Wait a moment, I shifted back into normal time the first time when I touched Victor, but I wasn't touching anything afterwards...or was I that was when I remembered Health class. According to my teacher air was never empty, it always had stuff in it alive or not, stuff like pollen, mold, bacteria, all kinds of things. That must be it my suit had worded like a filter keeping whatever was in the air from touching me directly so with the tears patched everything was standing still again.

Confident that I was safe I began to make my way Austin on foot, although I knew that this was going to suck. I mean I know that right now time was frozen, but this was a fifteen mile walk and I had just finished a parkour run, "Well it's not like I'm going to need to worry about traffic, streetlights or the Knights of Purification along the way." Stepping out from behind the dumpster and making sure to check my landmarks I got going towards the apartment where Ramona and her mom lived.

As I went I once again noticed that the colors around me began to fade first to sepia tone until I got up to Garfield Boulevard when everything turned as black and white as a tv program from the 1950s. The black and white world wasn't the only thing that I noticed about how the world around me had changed every once in a while, I saw things in the air, at first, they appeared to be blurred shapes but as I walked, and more color began to leech away from the world I could see them more clearly.

The first things that I noticed clearly were triangular-pyramids fliting through the air by seeming to change the surface area on their base end through a manner of expanding and contracting and slowing or turning by widening and holding certain surfaces. These pyramids were a muddy-mossy color and about the size of a milk crate and moved at a rate a little faster than that of a bird.

Every once in a while, these pyramids who stop near a person and point what I assumed was their head near them and feed off this blurry substance that had been partially obscuring them. Whatever these weird pyramids did seemed to make the people less blurry- as if they were cementing them into the world as they worked.

Soon as I walked, and everything got even paler I spotted another creature of this in between world... a sphere. At first from a distance it looked like a giant multi-colored sphere grayish, black sphere, and about as tall and wide as a dresser. Whatever this sphere was it moved in a way to looked like a part of it was pulled back, and then when that part sprung forwards again the rest of the body would follow through with it along the path of the sphere's intended momentum.

The spheres seemed to just cruise along until I saw that one of them noticed something that it apparently desired, it only took me a moment (or what now passed as one) to see what was the target of the sphere's interest and thus grant me a greater degree of insight into this hidden world that lay in between the ticks of a second hand. Seeming to zero in on one of the pyramids after it had finished feeding on the blurs around one of the currently motionless pedestrians, the sphere pulled it's far end back much further than before and as soon as the pyramid was clear of its food source launched at high speed opening a quad-hatch like mouth along the front of its body and in one swift motion swallowed the pyramid and slammed its mouth shut.

Once it was at rest once again the sphere seemed to squish and stretch, almost as if it was chewing up the pyramid inside it with its entire body before coming to rest once more hopefully sated. Yeah wherever this weird place was in-between moments was it was clear that this place wasn't empty it had an entire ecosystem at work, and I didn't want to find out if these spheres were willing to see if I was on the menu or if there was some larger predator out here that did see me as part of its possible diet.

Taking a moment to duck into a nearby ally, I peeled back part of the cuff of my left sleeve, exposing a piece of my skin and suddenly the world snapped back into color again. Taking a moment to replace roll my sleeve back down, I exited the ally on the other side to see that the world was still paused. That was when I settled into a routine along my journey to my old neighborhood on the Westside of Chicago, I'd walk until color faded from the world and then I'd duck out of sight and expose part of me to the open air occasionally seeing a person or animal moving in slow motion as I did.

After what seemed like two hours (as near as time mattered when it wasn't moving) of my long trek, I stopped to take a break and catch my breath, making sure to do my reset reality routine right before I sat down on some collapsed cardboard boxes in the alley behind a coffeehouse in Bridgeport. I only meant to stop for a moment, but I was exhausted and in that hidden spot I couldn't help dozing off.

Washington Park - South of Brynum Island
12:01 PM

Gavin Jansen the Catcher of Knights of Purity Chicago Team 2 cursed himself for his failure, while their Field Commander and Shortstop Madison Amos was handling the paramedics of the scene to turn over the mutant for detainment. Here he was in a suit designed to catch fleeing mutants and this freak dodged him like he was nothing. At least Amos's attempts at handling the paramedic were still not going over well at all.

"Why didn't you have the suspect sedated," Amos glared at the paramedic, "you do know that you just aided and abetted in the escape of a potential danger to the entire city!?!"

"I was treating a gunshot victim, and I already did a GSR test while she was unconscious for the CSI's. The victim's hands were clean, meanwhile while you are spinning your wheels about someone who may or may not be a mutant there is a suspect in the area who is still armed and dangerous, not to mention has already shot one person." The paramedic on the scene responded as she stood her ground, "Now as I see it you power-armor jockeys have two options, you can go around on your wild goose chase or you can stick around and explain to the REAL police officers why you chased off their only suspect once they are done processing the scene over on Brynum Island."

"This is Audry Stone I have lost sight of the mutant- over." Their Runner explained over the com-unit, "I thought that I saw her a few blocks south of your location when she vanished, did anyone tag her with a tracer? -over."

"Negative," the Commanding Officer Holden Baxter explained over the coms from their drop ship, "Amos didn't get close enough and she was too fast for Jansen's launcher. -over."

"In all fairness sir I think that what we see of her might be an after-image," Jansen explained over the coms, "we still have no idea of this speedster's capabilities, and if she can dodge one of my trackers and outrun a Runner we might be dealing with a speed force-type. -over."

"Whoa, are you saying she might be a speedster/warper combo," Adam Navarro their Batter observed over the coms, "I always thought that those were super-rare."

"There is no room for conjecture and speculation in this operation," Baxter all but shouted over the coms lecturing us all in one go, "We will find that mutant, after the incidents in New York and Cincinnati the CEO is breathing down our necks, we can't afford to have a black mark against us in Chicago, after LA this is our biggest contract. Remember this must be done by the book we bring the suspect in and hand them over to the MCO, just like always. Now everyone, return to the drop ship, it's time to refit and recharge the suits while we go over our new intel."

"Roger I'll be by as soon as I confiscate samples from the paramedics." Amos explained.

"Wait, Madison don't." Audry called out over the coms.

"Stone you were ordered to return to the drop ship," Baxter stated from his command post, "Your suit's telemetry shows that you are not in motion, you will explain yourself at once!"

"A car with some suits just pulled up on the southern part of the park and none of them are our local liaisons with the MCO," Audry explained, "I think a local with the DPA is here."

"The DPA- I thought that red tape kept them from moving so fast!" Jansen stated as he saw the agent approaching from the south.

"Apparently their office got a budget boost after the MCO crackdowns recently, they also received some financial support from Axcel Incorporated, Gabriella Guzman, Amos Messing, and a whole slew of others," Baxter explained over the radio, "they may be a lot slower to respond than the MCO in most situations but considering how big a city Chicago is they probably have an agent on call."

"Ma'am I'm Agent Albert Jorgen with the Department of Paranormal Affairs, I was alerted by some concerned researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory about a disturbance in the area." Shooting a glare at Madison, Agent Jorgen continued, "judging by the presence of you lot I assume that a powered individual is involved."

"A mutant already fled the scene and we were about to pursue," Amos stated, "as soon as we secure bio samples that this individual refuses to surrender to see if the suspect in question might pose any additional risks to the community or have any possible needs that must be considered."

"Really, because according to the report that I was sent by the police department the child who you are referring to as a suspect is a middle-school student and a shooting victim, not to mention a potential witness in an active police investigation. Moreover, there is no direct evidence that the individual in question is actually a mutant, and given how the individual is neither suspect of any criminal activity or a confirmed threat to the community you are operating outside the bounds of your charter with the City of Chicago as well as coming dangerously close to exceeding the jurisdiction of your company's charter with the Department of Homeland Security."

"Now sir," Amos replied as she did her best working with the coaching that our corporate attorneys gave all of us for these situation, "we were only responding to an active situation to detain a powered individual as is allowed by our contract with the city of Chicago."

"That only pertains to situations when you are called on by the Chicago Police Department or City Hall, which my office will be contacting shortly. In the meantime, the status of this individual as a mutant will be determined soon, Axcel Incorporated is sending a mobile lab with a portable DNA-sequencer as we speak, we should have any news on if the victim possess an active Mutant Gene Complex within the hour." Agent Jorgan stood firm, "In the meantime unless you receive word from city hall you are to stand down, unless of course you would like me to obtain a subpoena for your armor to make certain that it's sonic blaster is operating within legal parameters; the law is very specific about the legal range for sonic weaponry after that incident in Cincinnati last year."

"Team stand down and return to drop ship to await further orders," Commander Baxter stated over the coms, "I'll call legal to see what they can do about fast-tracking a mobilization order from city hall, damned bureaucrats."

"Confirmed and returning to base," Amos responded over the coms, "we'll be back once the paperwork is ready, but be aware Agent Jorgen- once we do any further interference from your office will result in legal action against your agency."

"I don't respond well to threats Miss Amos, and your company isn't the only one cleared by the Department of Homeland Security to respond in these matters anymore," Jorgen removed his sunglasses to glare at Amos through her visor, "and my report about today will be filed with both the City of Chicago as well as the Department of Homeland Security with my recommendations for future actions. As is we are already reviewing your company's track record using data provided from Independent Sources, considering your relationship with the Mutant Commission Office- it is only prudent."

"Understood," Amos respond as she left for the retrieval cables dangling from their arriving dropship, somewhat bitter from the encounter. While bellow Agent Jorgen looked on with a smug sense of satisfaction over how his office was finally being given the financing and resources to do their job rather than outsourcing to private security companies with potentially questionable motives.

"Now that- that mess is taken care of- Miss Girard," Agent Jorgen stated as he stared at Brooke Girard's nametag, "I am going to need you to take a blood sample from any fabric that you have while it's still wet and have it ready for analysis as soon as the mobile lab arrives, as one of the CSI will be assisting a warrant will be unnecessary, the more facts that we have in this case the better your patient's chances are of avoiding any unfortunate circumstances."

"Understood sir," Brooke Girard complied with the agent taking out a cotton swab and working the bandages that she had removed from the girl earlier, "also these weren't applied by me, the young lady here is pre-med so I'm going to need a moment to take a DNA an elimination sample from her in case there are any transferred epithelial cells."

"I will and my department thanks you both for of your cooperation," Agent Jorgen stated as he stood back and let the EMT do her job.

Ally Behind Jackalope Coffee and Tea House
1:24 PM
POV: Chandra Defrank

I woke up to the sound of a broken bottle hitting the wall right behind me, I looked up to see a vagrant who clearly looked pissed. "Whater-you do'in in my spot, this is my spot get out'ta here." The man said pulling another empty glass bottle from what looked like a used paper grocery bag.

"Alright," I said as I slowly rose to my feet making sure to keep my hands visible and with the palms open in the universal symbol of I'm not armed so chill out, "I said as I collected myself there's no need for violence just let me..."

Clearly my attempt to back away without agitating him didn't work, "Aw-hell yer one of them aliens!" The vagrant showed as he broke the end of the liquor bottle that he was holding against the wall, "The Cong didn't take me alive and neither will some bug-eyed gray!"

As he charged me I tried to dodge out of the way of his slash with the broken glass bottle to disarm him when the cardboard box I was standing on slipped causing me to fall back into the pile where I accidentally fell asleep. Fortunately, this accidental fall also meant the self-proclaimed Vietnam vet missed me and only hit air, unfortunately I was now flat on my back with the feeling that I nearly popped my stitches when he changed his slash into a move to club me.

Once again, I was in danger and once again the world slowed to a stop, this time about four inches away from me getting hit by a broken vodka bottle. Carefully I crab-walked along the collapsed cardboard boxes carpeting the area until there was no danger of me getting cut or touching the man in case that is what snapped me back into the normal world- especially since I didn't want to agitate the man even more than he already was.

Making sure to avoid the man I exited the ally and took a moment to reorient myself, all the while thankful that for some reason the visor on my helmet hadn't gotten fogged up, as I once again set out towards the Austin neighborhood and the apartment where Ramona Watts lived with her mom. As I went once more the color began to fade from the world around me, although I was tempted to go back to my old routine part of me decided that I had enough distance between me and the Knights of Purity at the park to play with my powers a little.

For my first test I moved to return to the ally that I just walked out of, and to my surprise as I did so more and more color began to return to the world around me. "I was right back at the park, the further away I get from where I stop time the more I travel into that weird place where I was before, that's good to know. It also looks like stopping time is a reaction to danger, I guess that explains it, maybe I was also too close and too pissed off at Victor when I was yelling at him for it to work."

Satisfied by the first bit of information that I had about my powers, I decided to conduct at least one test before I resumed my trek. Returning over to as close as I could to where I had left time behind, I looked for something heavy which I found in the form of a loose chunk of concrete. Lifting it up at arm's length as best as I could, "Alright- here goes something," with that I let the piece of broken pavement fall- it made it about a foot maybe a foot and a half before it slowed to a stop like everything else in the world.

"So, I can interact with objects like this, just not living creatures- I guess that's interesting." Carefully I got the piece of concrete back in my grip again as I set out to create a distraction so that the homeless man who attacked me would look away, so he hopefully wouldn't notice how I'd just vanished before his eyes. I positioned the chunk of concrete about a little over a foot above the ground and let go, once again the chunk fell slowing as it did so until it hit the concrete, I was worried for a moment before all I heard was a click which meant that most of the noise would happened once time started again hopefully creating the distraction that I wanted.

That was enough experiments for the moment, satisfied I set out for real this time back towards the old neighborhood making sure to follow my old routine of ducking out of sight every once in a while, to expose a little skin before I went too far into that other world while switching from stop to slow-motion as I did. Granted that now I made sure to pop partway into the normal world every occasionally for a swig from a public water fountain, granted that it felt like it took forever.

I know that it was risky, but I felt that I had moved far away enough from the park for nobody to be looking for me. I guess that it also didn't hurt that despite what I was wearing being a little unusual to the casual observer all it was is a University of Chicago track suit, something that you could buy at just about any sporting goods or athletic store in the city, plus plenty of people go out and get exercise on Sunday afternoon- helmet notwithstanding. That and having to walk in slow motion by trying to match the same speed that I saw everyone else moving at, at least until I was out of sight so that hopefully I didn't stand out.

Granted that also because it was the afternoon and because I was starving, but without my billfold I opted to do something a little scummy. I slipped into Gino's East and after some creative gymnastics made my way to the back where they were taking leftover slices of deep dish that I presume were on their way to the trash, wrapped them in a paper towel that I stole from above the wash station and with my gray territory lunch in hand made my way a few blocks west sat down in an out of the way corner of the Chicago Common and chowed down.

While I did draw the occasional odd look from a few pedestrians, after all a person in a tracksuit eating deep dish was a little out of the ordinary, but the occasional: "Good afternoon!" or "Great weather today isn't it!" is usually enough to make the onlookers lose interest as they went about their own days, one hard lesson that I learned from my youth was the guiltier you looked- the more suspicious people became of you. On the other hand, if you are acting like there was nothing wrong, like you were just another person going about their day- they would just ignore you and go back to doing what they were doing. With my cheap as free lunch down which I swore to myself that I'd pay the folks at Gino's back later, despite the fact that I wasn't technically stealing food as it was on its way to the trash anyway; I got up and continued my journey but this time going a few blocks without my helmet on before ducking into an ally.

That was when I came to a realization, I didn't exactly know how to use my powers, all four times that I had just my powers I was in danger; granted the power to stop time was great but not if I needed to be in danger for it to work. I had to take a moment to thing, the first two time that I had used my powers were also the first and third times that Victor had shot at me first with a rifle and the second time after with a pistol after he had already wounded me with a glancing shot. The third time was after a member of the Knights of Purity tried to shoot something at me, and most recently when a vagrant attacked me with a broken glass bottle. Not one of those times had I used my ability without the presence of an outside factor, crap does this meant that it only worked when I was in danger or was there a way to control this problem?

"Hey, you that's a real nice suit, *C-LICK* you must have some nice green to go with it!" I spun on my heel to see that I was being mugged with by someone with a Baretta 96.

"I wish that I could go along with that, but really does it look like I have some place to keep cash on this thing," I replied hoping that the guy would give up once he saw that I didn't have anything that he wouldn't need to see a fence to unload.

"Too bad for you," the man stated as he took aim, "because if the situation is bad on me then it's worse on you, 'sides a body don't need a helmet or shoes." That was when we opened fire and for me time once again slowed to a stop.

"I really hope that I can find some way to do this without almost getting shot," I sighed as I backhanded the bullet to the ally floor, especially since I didn't want to risk a stray bullet hurt someone just walking by on the sidewalk. Although part of me walked to do something about the mugger- at least for now that was out of my hand; especially since I was trying to keep a low profile for the moment. Oh, what the hell, I grabbed a broken piece of metal from the ally that looked heavy enough and began to drop and reposition it over and over. Hopefully the noise would startle the mugger enough to turn around and ignore the fact that his victim disappeared into thin air, but just to be safe I also threw what looked like it had been a half-eaten apple at the back of his head.

With my distraction made, I left the alley behind me and continued my long trek to my old neighborhood in the Westside, not knowing just how Ramona or her mother would react to seeing me again, especially a me who had powers and was now on the run because of this fact. I pushed that to the back of my mind for the moment as I continued both my journey as well as my routine of bring on moments when I switch to slow-motion from stop for a to keep from going too far into that place outside of time.

For the most part it was smooth hiking toward my destination while maintaining my routine to pop briefly into slow motion to keep from going into the bizarre world outside of time. Once again, I kept up this routine until I finished crossing Douglass Park, that was when I began to have a feeling that I was being followed. I did my best to ignore those feelings and just keep pushing on towards my end goal, until it finally came time to cut across Garfield Park when I just felt like enough was enough.

After ducking behind some bushes to reset my odometer for lack of a better term, I decide to have a look around to see just what was following me. It was in this moment with the world fading into black and white that I saw a single point of tan and brown, somehow here outside the flow of time I was being followed and thus creeped out by a common squirrel.

Part of me wondered if I was just seeing things with the blood-loss from being shot, and the exhaustion from the ten miles that I had been walking while constantly phasing between what had to be two realities. Wanting to find out about the reality of the squirrel I reset my presence in the dimension once again by exposing my right wrist, only to see that the rodent was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief only to see something out of the corner of my eye- the squirrel was there on a park tree about a foot from my face staring at me.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I screamed as I jumped back out of shock, but the squirrel remained on that branch just looking at me with its twitchy little nose thinking who knew what given that it's brain was the size of my thumb at best. Taking a moment to calm down and glad that I didn't pop my stitches out when I jumped, I took a moment to look at the squirrel which was just that a common squirrel, the kind that you might see every once in a while, and was just...there doing squirrel things but here he was the only thing moving in the world besides me and although I couldn't tell for sure he was likely just as curious about me at the moment.

I pondered it for a moment but decided that whatever brought this squirrel to where it was in this gap between world that I could somehow use to travel outside the flow of time itself ultimately didn't really matter, I still had to reach Ramona's and hope that I could lay low there until I could reach out to someone for help- maybe Candace and her friends from their mysterious school. That's right, they probably reached out to rescue mutants trapped in this type of situation all the time, so they'd find someone to help save me from the Knights of Purity and the MCO.

As I thought and walked along I saw that the squirrel was following me as I went, probably because even though most animals were instinctively afraid of people I was the only thing in this place outside of time that it was familiar. I pretty much smiled at that fact, something my grandma Mertle taught me a long time ago, when it came to anything facing the unknown whatever was a familiar point of reference became a symbol of safety. I guess grandma's words of wisdom rang as true for animals as they did for people, plus for all I know this squirrel was used to being around people so who was I to judge.

"Well fuzz-butt," I called out to the rodent as we went, "I guess that we're in this together for now." If the squirrel actually understood me or not I didn't know as it just continued to regard me with a sense of animal curiosity while it followed me pausing every once in a while, for a mouthful of water from whatever available source there was while I continued to expose my wrist to avoid slipping to far into this parallel world I was currently using to travel.

After what seemed like forever, a matter that my body was more than willing to scream at me in confirmation. My feet, calves, knees, ankles, back, well my damned near everything was screaming at me to stop; I hate to say it, but I needed to do some endurance training and build up some stamina. The point of the matter was though I began to see landmarks that were familiar to me, the corner deli where everyone used to go for day old bread, the brownstone where Ecket Jenkins would always shake his cane at the delinquents roaming the streets, and that fire-hydrant with the dent in it where Leroy Pitts tried to open it to make a sprinkler for everyone to run through when we were all eight- all memories of the memories of the old neighborhood.

Now that I was here I followed my old instincts to when I used to come over to Ramona's after school because mom had a cleaning job to do from her company and didn't want me to be home alone. I proceeded to go to the office where the Watt's stashed their extra key to their apartment and went up to their place on the third floor. Opening the door carefully I went inside to find that it was far more depressing than I remembered, the whole place looked like it could use a little TLC, not that surprising Ramona's mother was a pro-bono accountant.

My surprise was so evident that I didn't even notice when I bumped into Ramona, ending my little jaunt through whatever dimension that was and returning to the normal flow of time. Naturally this act plus the subsequent appearance of an intruder in odd attire freaked Ramona out, "Wha-who are you? Are you what's been watching me? Or are you with the Rust Tic crew- I keep telling you I did what you asked, now leave me in peace and stay out of my head!"

"Mona," I said calling out my out my old nickname for her, "I'm not with anyone like that."

To further emphasize my point I removed my helmet, revealing to her just who was inside her place. "It's me D-Caf," I explained referring to my old nickname (a long boring story that that was totally not important in anyway what-so-ever so don't ask), "and I'm not here to start anything. Some nasty people are after me and I need someplace to mend that they likely won't think to look, besides you kind of owe me after leaving me open to the mercy of the Coleman sisters."

"Chandra, you don't get it, you can't stay here- they'll know," Ramona blurted out as she tried to shove me over to the door.

"Wait- who'll know," I stated somewhat confused at the whole exchange and my former friend's paranoia which was worse than it's ever been before.

"The Coleman sisters, they made it so that I had no choice but to push you away," Ramona blurted out in sheer frustration.

"What?" I all but shouted in disbelief, "How could they have done that, they were only part of a small gang whose territory wasn't even in the area where your apartment building is, even if they tried to start something there are three other gangs nearby who would have had them for breakfast."

"Not the Ally Vipers- the Coleman Sisters," Ramona stated in a hushed voice, "Darisha is a mutant and Natroya manifested too after you moved away."

"Yeah right," I scoffed at the concept until I considered what I had learned of mutants from Candace, "come to think of it that may explain why I agreed to that stupid gang initiation in the first place. But considering how normal they look they can't be too powerful. Wait a minute, they first showed up in the neighborhood after the Cloisters Raid, crap so they were folks made it past the Knights... then why are they still around if people know about them?"

"They are psychics, they use their power to make people trust them enough to tell them their deepest, darkest secrets and secure information- then from that moment on they have enough on you to make you do whatever they want or else they use that to destroy your life." Ramona explained growing more and more panicked as she talked scratching her neck as she was prone to do, "Darisha used her powers on my mom to get her to spill confidential information about her clients that if they leaked it would have caused her to lose her certification, it would have ruined her and put us out on the street inside a year- I had no choice but to do what they wanted."

"It probably also didn't hurt that she was probably magnifying your fear and anxiety as she was talking to you to make you do what they wanted without questioning anything," I observed stunning her with that bit of information, "Besides there are laws in place that protect people who have been psychically influenced as long as they undergo a screening, in fact they make any evidence that is obtained using such methods inadmissible in court- my mom's current employer is an attorney and I've been asking about laws relating to mutants ever since my friend Candace manifested."

I placed my hand on Ramona's shoulder and gave it a light squeeze, "So just remember this, the Coleman sisters only real hold on you is the power that you give them. You know that they are mutants who use their powers to influence other people, that makes you more dangerous to them then they are to you. Although I'd just keep that bit of information as an ace-in-the-hole; if they influence other people like you say then they're empaths, not telepaths they won't be able to find out that you know about this until you use it on them. This would also rule out them being psychic- that only applies to mutants whose powers of the mind are more- varied."

This information struck Ramona like a bolt of lightning, and suddenly her fear began to evaporate, "Ugh, I can't believe it, all this time- all this time they were bluffing, and I fell for it. I let those assholes play me like a harmonica," that was when she hugged me for the first time in forever and said, "Thanks Chandra, you always knew what to say to make me feel better, I missed that."

"Anytime," I admitted while my fatigue was catching up with me, "meanwhile I need a bit of a safe harbor myself, I think I might have become a mutant earlier today and I need a place to hide from the Knights and recuperate."

"What?" Ramona stated as she was visibly shaken once again, "but why are they after you? And how do you know that they won't come to look for you here?"

"Few people outside our old neighborhood even know about how were friends, and those who do know about how we fell apart before middle school." I explained answering her second question, "As for the why...well that's a bit of a long story, I won't mind telling you later but if you don't mind I just walked from one end of Chicago to the other and I really need a shower and a nap."

Ramona accidentally took a sniff and then recoiled, "Yeah, that kind of a hike would do it, feel free to use the good stuff, somehow I don't think that mom would mind too much."

"Thanks Ramona," I smiled, "it's nice to know that some friendships aren't beyond fixing."

I left the room, somehow feeling that we would work our differences out. "Oh, and can you please get the first-aid kit out I'm probably going to need to change out a few bandages."

Knights of Purity Chicago Mobile Operations Center 2
University of Chicago Athletics Field
2:28 PM

Commander Holden Baxter had his ear to the phone and every minute he heard what Kadence Hunt said it made him smile wider and wider, he knew that the city was currently under negotiations to allow a similar service to their own to operate in Chicago given how they were under similar negotiation with the state government. This meant that if what happened this morning went reflected negatively on them it would affect those negotiations and in turn negatively affect the company who would blame him.

Fortunately, one of their secretaries from HQ just informed him of a police call of an assault that took place a few miles from Washington Park by a female whose description matched their female speedster, which their liaison with the Chicago PD relayed to them. Try as that bastard from the DPA might to protect this mutie, assault with powers trumped the charge of public use of powers for self-defense- Baxter knew that he had all the excuse that he needed as it invoked the emergency clause in their contract with the Greater Chicago area.

"Put your equipment back on, anti-speedster loadout," Baxter barked out over the com lines, "our runaway just attacked someone in the Heart of Chicago. We have been granted permission to pursue and detain." As Baxter turned off the com line he knew that this was going to be the best notch in his belt since the Cloister's Raid back when he was a Shortstop.

Energy Monitoring Room - Argonne National Laboratory
Lemont, Illinois
2:35 PM

Professor Jack Bing looked over the findings of his graduate intern Gab Cowen and student research assistant Dylan Hauser had ben cataloging and was growing more thrilled by the moment. "I can't believe that I actually lived to see the day, proper tachyon emissions and here in our own backyard."

"Not only that but the cause of them is mobile," Dylan explained pulling out the map charts of the events, "whatever caused the event began along a trail in Chicago's Washington Park, jumped over to Brynum Island, continued south along existing paths, then disappeared for a couple of hours. After reappearing the source exited the park and then began making periodic lesser ripples like the two southward motion events along walkable paths heading northwest by disappearing and reappearing a few city blocks at a time and almost always in side alleys, after this the cause disappeared somewhere in the Westside of Chicago."

"Whatever the cause of this matter is not only is it mobile it is intelligent, it is clearly reappearing out of public view." Gab stated as he looked over the maps, "it is clearly learning and knows to avoid public observation. "Do you think that this could be a powered individual, like a mutant or a dynamorph?"

"I doubt it," Professor Bing explained as he looked over the map, "when mutant teleporters use their powers like this the emissions are always characterized by dark matter emission not tachyon particles emissions, whatever this is skimming along a dimensional barrier like that of spacetime; although I wouldn't put it past a mutant devisor to try something like this I doubt that one would be so foolish to try an experiment of this sort in a major city with a contract with the Knights of Purity. No, I think that this might be something that hasn't been cataloged yet."

"In any case I'm going to need to do some fieldwork," the Professor explained as he got out of his chair, "Mister Cowen I am going to trust you to monitor things here at the lab, Mister Hauser I'm afraid that I'm going to need you with me in the field."

"Roger sir, I'll pack up the van," Dylan stated as he left the room.

"I'll do my best looking after things here sir," Gab promised before adding, "but all the same be careful out there, we still have no I'd what is causing these readings."

"Don't worry Mister Cowen, we're just going to be doing a little research in the field," Professor Bing explained, "we'll be alright."

Axcel Incorporated Mobile Lab - South Entrance of Washington Park
Chicago, Illinois
2:41 PM

Agent Albert Jorgen waited patiently outside of the mobile lab that Axcel Incorporated had sent over. Inside the lab two of Axcel's biochemical engineers were assisting one of the CSI forensics team in analyzing the samples taken from the park, mainly blood-samples of Chandra Defrank that were taken from the girl's clothing by the EMT.

It had already been well over an hour since they had begun, and someone with the police department had already informed him that the Knights of Purity had been mobilized under and assault claim that seemed dubious at best. This meant that the team inside was literally working while a life was on the line, given the Knights of Purity's reputation with mutant suspects, not to mention working relationship with the equally suspect Mutant Commission Office. While this meant that what was going on inside the lab itself was now even more vital, Agent Jorgen neglected to inform anyone in the lab about this development fearing that it would cause them to rush and risk tainting their work.

Finally, Investigator Liam Griffin stepped out of the lab with the findings from the samples the paramedic had obtained, "Well Investigator Griffin, what were the findings?" Agent Jorgen stated maintaining his professional ethic.

"Well I can't say for certain exactly what Chandra Defrank is however our analysis of her twenty-second chromosome clearly shows that she is not a mutant."

"And you are willing to testify to that before a judge?" Agent Jorgen inquired further.

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the blood samples that were collected from Chandra Defrank have no sign what-so-ever of the Mutant Gene Complex. Now were the complex present we would only be able to judge with a fifteen percent margin of error whether or not the complex was active, however without the complex's presence in the body we can testify before a judge that Chandra Defrank is not a mutant."

"That is one question out of the way," Agent Jorgen observed, "you file this information with your superiors at the police department in charge of the case, I need to call my own superiors, and the State Attorney's Office before Miss Defrank becomes a statistic."

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2 years 5 months ago #53725 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 37

Scarlet Sands Resort
Las Vegas, Nevada
8:54 AM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South

Since our talk earlier Walt had been keeping his distance and it was kind of starting to get to me, while I understood that he had just endured a traumatic experience part of me couldn't help but feel offended. I know that it was a little selfish of me, but Walt had been my best friend as far back as I can remember, he was the one who got me into boxing and introduced me to Steve and Danny not to mention supported me when I made my decision to come-out-of-the-closet...

Come to think of it, the truth about who I really was changed that experience in a big way, I wondered how Walt was taking something that I was only beginning to come to terms with- the fact that I wasn't a gay boy but a straight girl all along. He might actually be a little sore about that considering the amount of flack that he took around school from the guys for being friends with 'that fag Paul Ledoux', all of that torment was meaningless since technically Paul was actually a lie that I had been forced to live by that witch and her cult.

Okay enough of this it was time to see what all of this was about, "Walt- I need to know why you're avoiding me," I explained as I walked over to him where he was talking with Danny, "I mean I understand how weird this all is, this is having powers feeling that nothing is going to be normal again."

"Do you, you don't have people targeting you!" Walt blurted out before Danny elbowed him in the ribs.

"Actually, I do, the reason my mother and another woman named Miranda Salazar are being held against their will is because someone wanted to use them to hurt the rest of our family." I stated trying to keep my cool considering all of the emotions that have been stirring up inside of me today, "It's the reason that I was raised by Dupree instead of my parents."

"Actually, Walt's just deflecting," Danny all but laughed, "the real reason that he's been avoiding you is that he has a thing for hot señoritas remember. The fact that his oldest bro now is one who he's likely going to be going to some boarding school with on the other side of the country is bound to be confusing the hell out of him."

"Okay- okay I admit it, I have a thing for Hispanic girls," Walt explained as he threw up his hands in defeat, "I mean I've been trying to ask Angela Garcia out since she and her boyfriend broke up, but no dice there."

"And there's not going to be any," Steve explained as he made his way over to us, "she and Juan Escavar from the football team have been on-again-off-again ever since they started dating. Besides they just got back together three days ago, the news must not have made it to your part of the grapevine yet."

Walt was clearly crushed by this bit of news and I let him cry on my shoulder, just like old times- the fact that I was now technically his type was beyond him at the moment and I wasn't going to press matters. Now was the time to be a friend, as for being a girlfriend...well I'd just wait and see where the future took me on this matter.

"So, Paul or I guess that it's Iris now," Steve said trying to tip-toe around the issue, "I heard that you're technically a genie, "so does that mean you're going to need a belly dancing outfit and a lamp."

That comment silenced the room, poor Steve had no idea the faux-paus he just committed. "Child- the matter of sealing djinn metal vessels such as lamps is no laughing matter." Grandma injected herself into the conversation before any of my male relative could voice their displeasure and given that she (not my grandfather) was the head of our House, no one was willing to argue. "What you speak of is essentially indentured servitude at best- bound slavery at worst, originally it was used to force rogue djinn to repay the debt that their mischief created to mankind. However, the technique eventually made its way into less moral hands; hands that used the power of The Seal to enslave the innocent as well as the guilty, all in an effort to gain wealth and power at the expense of another."

"There was one thing that Disney got right about its genie, it was that he was enslaved to the owner of his lamp and force to serve again his will." Grandmother Nephrys shook her head at the culture, "Because of the actions of the worst of humanity who had our power at their beck and call, many of our kind were compelled to commit such horrible deeds that the followers of Mohammad consider that the devil himself is one of our kind."

"But if you want to see a genie belly dancing in one of those outfits," Bes came up to us interrupting, "I can arrange for that to happen.

A resounding cry of, "NO!" erupted from every mouth in the room except Matt, Steve and Walt.

"Remember Brainstain, grandpa banned you from the costume closet," I stated as I glared at the tiny djinn, "as is you're lucky he let you take that showgirl outfit off before he burned it."

"Showgirl outfit?!?" Walt all but goggled as he looked at the short djinn, "What the heck happened while I was kidnapped?"

"What happed was that I saved your backside kid," Brainstain proclaimed as he puffed his chest out with pride, "without me someone would be cutting your arms off to get at those gemstones."

"Remember those two thugs that kidnapped you, one of them stayed behind to take care of the witnesses, I explained trying to put the right emphasis on the matter, "I had him on the ropes and when my uncle showed up knocked him out and brought all of us here to safety. Well it wasn't so safe for that thug, since he wouldn't talk grandpa let Brainstain here interrogate him in a way that might be considered as much a war crime as what we did to those soldiers in Iraq."

"You mean the water-boarding!?!" Walt recoiled as he looked at Bes in fear.

"No, I mean Desert Storm," I corrected him, "when they stuck the POWs in a room and forced them to watch Barney the Dinosaur. Although Brainstain here did something that I wouldn't wish on anyone- well maybe those monsters who are keeping my mother hostage."

"Yeah," Walt commented as he tried to avoid looking at me, "I mean it must be overwhelming finding out that the woman who you thought was your mother was a monster holding you hostage, and finding out that not only are you really a girl but half-genie- I don't know how you're handling all of...this so well."

I sagged with a sigh, "To be perfectly honest with how crazy the last several hours have been the reality is probably still settling, actually if I wasn't so focused on rescuing you from that Auction then I'd probably be either in a therapy session or the fetal position in the coat room."

That elicited a chuckle from Walt which turned contagious and soon the two of us were sharing a laugh just like old times like after watching a bad movie at his house or after a practice bout at the gym. "Nice to know that you're still you in there Pa- I mean Iris." Walt sheepishly corrected himself.

"I know-" I groaned, "I'm still getting used to it, but I suppose new life, new name is how it goes in this life."

"Speaking about your old life- whatever happened to your evil mother?" Walt inquired in a way that made me almost see the air-quotes.

"The last I heard was that men working for one of grandpa's acquaintances caught her in Chicago with a bag full of Euros and a one-way ticket for Prague." I explained, "That Miranda Salazar lady I mentioned, evidently she kidnapped her because she’s pregnant with a demi-djinni. She turned Miranda over to the same people holding my mother for a small fortune and planned on skipping the country, considering the kind of people my grandfather calls colleagues I don't think that I'll ever have to worry about her again."

Hidden Cave - Hesperus Peak
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
10:23 AM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

In spite of Kelsey's promise that I was now free to come and go at my leisure, part of was worried over how the Merchants had found me- my work. According to Wukong Sun every gemstone that I ever made resonated with my chi, it was how the Jiang-shi were given my scent to hunt me down- it was how the Merchants had known I'd left the safety of the Cave and it- come to think of it I don't know how the Masterson Brothers had tracked me down, but something told me that it wasn't my chi.

Now those power-armored rednecks didn't strike me as the spiritual types, no they probably had a technological solution on how to track me down. They also struck me as the stubborn types, this meant that despite the assurances that I had over the Merchants not crossing into the Territory of that Erzebet Scratch woman from the Obsidian Circle, that probably didn't apply to any to the Masterson Brothers or any of the mercenaries that they sent to bring me back to their headquarters in Old San Francisco.

"Worried about the trip huh," I looked up to see Bajie Zhu looked over from my favorite lounging spot. "It's okay, long treks across hostile territory with people gunning for your traveling group are kind of something that I have a good deal of experience with!"

"Easy for you to say," I shot back at the pig-headed member of Xuanzhang's bodyguards, "you weren't the one being targeted."

"Actually, in a way I was," the heavenly alter-cleaner admitted with a sigh, "while it was true that every demon and their dog either wanted to stop our pilgrimage or eat Xuanzhang- sometimes both, I was the one who got us into trouble the most. When it wasn't Xuanzhang's naivety or Wukong's temper getting us into trouble, it was my stomach, or second brain causing us to walk right into a trap or an ambush."

"The truth was that those books gloss over a lot of the traps that I fell for, or even problems that I caused." Bajie begrudgingly admitted, "Such as the time I wandered off because of a lady that I saw in a teahouse who turned out to be Xiaoqing the Green Snake Maiden. That time I kind of borrowed a scroll that she had in her possession, that turned out to be a scroll of Taoist exercises that were given to her by Bai Suzhen (Lady White Snake)."

"I was trying to use it as an excuse to get a date out of her, and she took it as an affront and attacked our group to retrieve the scroll. That turned into an affair where Yu Long saved us with him and Xiaoqing locking each other in their coils until she was ready to talk. Once the truth of what I had done was revealed Xiaoqing ended sharing tea and pleasantries with the others while I was upside-down and tied to a post facing away from the festivities, I was red in the face for a couple of days for more than one reason after that."

"Wait! I thought that the snakes were the villains in the original version of the Tale of the White Snake Lady?!?" I asked somewhat confused.

"Nope, the later version was actually the correct one," Bajie explained. "A lot of Confucist scholars didn't want people to be warry of traveling monks while being accepting of animals seeking enlightenment- so they turned a tale of romance and adventure into a horror story, fortunately later scholars restored the true soul of the story. But that incident with the Green Snake Maiden was only one of many that got us in unnecessary trouble along the way. In fact, that book also ignored the many contributions Yu Long made to our group beyond being Xuanzhang's mount."

"Maybe you should write that down then," I observed, "a little humility from giving others their overdue credit would surely do well for your karma."

"Nah- that ship sailed a long time ago," Bajie waved off my suggestion, "besides people hate it when others come along and mess with a classic story in this day and age."

"Doesn't seem to stop Disney," I remarked with a smirk across my reptilian face.

"Yeah and look at the blowback they got over Mulan and Aladdin," Bajie retorted with a snort, "granted I liked how they tried to follow the original story where she returned home after the war, instead of that stupid rewrite where they inserted historical figures who weren't even alive during that time period; granted there was no reason to shoe-horn in the romance. Or the reveal of her gender at the army camp considering the fact of her gender didn't come to light until long after her time of service."

"Yeah, not to mention all of the fumbling when it came to Chinese culture," I stated with an eyeroll, "considering all the professors who study Chinese culture in California alone you would think that they'd ask just one to come and consult for the movie during development."

"Don't need to talk to me about the sins of Hollywood in relation to Asian culture," Bajie grunted, "Cecil B. DeMille's Genghis Khan wasn't just tragic for being downwind of the Los Alamos Nuclear Tests, it was a cinematic disaster too- talk about as sour note for John Wayne to go into the sunset."

"Huh- so let me get this straight Bajie Zhu is into Westerns?!?" I all but goggled at that piece of information.

"What can I say, I have a thing for flawed heroes whose code doesn't exactly mesh with what society considers...proper." The worldlier of the pilgrim's explained, "Don't get me wrong, tradition, loyalty, duty, all of these things have their place, but taken to extremes those can be a prison to those who follow them. An honor code of though, that can take many forms and what one calls honor another may argue against however it can still hold true. Keep this in mind when it comes time for you to strike out on your own journey kid, what the code you live by and how you live by it can determine a lot as you travel to where you need to be."

"I'll keep that in mind," I explained as I drifted away from the pig-headed immortal, trying to keep his words in mind while at the same time filing them away for another day. While there was no doubt in my mind how my eastward road trip was going to be dangerous, the real hurdles lay before then: my visit to the Whateley Academy, and my training with the infamous Handmaiden of the Tao- whom some knew as the bloody right-hand of destiny. Just what would I be in for when I communed with that woman's sword, a sword forged from the heart of Zunyan Qianbei the dragon whose ashes transformed me into the Northern Maiden? Not to mention what could happen if the Tao judged me unworthy of my destiny?

"Don't be too worried about the Handmaiden of the Tao's judgement Maiden of the North," Shenyan Hong stated as he approached my favorite alcove of this level of the caverns, "she only ends life when the Tao calls her to or if there is no other choice, as long as you stay the course of your destiny then you have nothing to worry about from her- especially given how your duty is to restore part of the balance to the world that was uncentered so long ago."

"Okay, but what can you tell me about this Mountain where I'm supposed to go?" I asked wanting to know about my big mission no matter how far it was in the future, plus unlike the other three maidens it wasn't like I had ample access to a member of the Jade Heaves for information, "I mean forewarned is forearmed...right?!?"

"Most details about Mount Sanghunzhi should remain for after your training with the Handmaiden of the Tao." The Red Sage stated, "However I can tell you that this task will take several days as the Mountain itself drifts between this life and the next-"

"Meaning that should I remain on the mountain when it does I'll receive a one-way ticket to Wheel of Samsara." I interrupted guessing the warning which he was about to convey.

"No, should you remain on the mountain after daybreak the ground beneath your feet will turn ethereal and should you lack the means of flight then you will fall to your death upon the rocks roughly 1200 meters below." Shenyan corrected my assumption with a far more mundane yet far more gruesome fate, "This mean that you will either have to ascend and descend the mountains winding crags in the dark before sunrise or learn some method of flight, I would suggest talking with your distant ancestors and relatives among the Tianlong to learn cloud-walking."

Figures I get the hard part, the mermaid just has to deep dive to some reef, the fairy has to find a pond in some forest and the genie has to trek into a desert, but what do I get stuck with? I get stuck with walking up a mountain in the dark that pulls a Houdini once the sun comes up- this blows, it figures that the dragon would get stuck doing the heavy lifting for this prophecy.

Detention Wing
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - North Texas Chapter House
12:07 PM CDT

Lilian Dupree looked up for the first time in hours as she heard the doors to the wing open again, part of her hoped that it wasn't her escort meant to drag her before Erzebet Scratch for the witch to decide her fate which was bound to be nasty (especially given that the woman was clearly a necromancer). To her relief the people walking around outside the windowless door of her cell weren't interested in her at the moment, it sounded like they were guiding someone- forcefully.

Soon enough Lilian's suspicions were confirmed when she heard another heavy door just like the one in front of her open, and another person (a man from the sound of the grunt when he hit the floor after he) was shoved inside. "He-yar youh con keef thee auzor wan camfunny wahl youh wad foor Erzabed Shrats to retawn." The undead abomination slurred out, "Hoff fan!"

Soon enough the reanimated cadaver exited the door leaving Lilian Dupree alone with whoever else ticked off the Obsidian Circle and happened to encounter Erzebet Scratch and her thugs.

"Great as if being alone waiting for whatever that mafia-style sorceress wasn't enough, I have company." The newest name on the Obsidian Circle's list remarked, "So who's there and what did you do to wind up on worse-than-death-row?"

"Worse than death?" Lilian all but shuddered at the thought despite knowing how it was likely the truth, "You mean that she's going to turn us into undead servants like that...thing!"

"Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha," the stranger across the hall laughed until he was gasping for breath, "you must not be from outside those who practice the craft such as the members of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom. Greg Paulson, I was called, granted I was a lowly servant of the Grand Hall's New York House, but while I lacked the talent for true magic I wasn't without ability. Part of what got me here was taking advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime and stealing the contents of an entire vault belonging from one of the Obsidian Circle's lieutenants while the contents of other vaults were being inventoried and readied for shipment."

"An item within that vault was wanted by a client of a member of importance from another House and I obliged, especially when I was promised a tidy sum for everything else in that vault." Greg explained, "What I didn't count on was that not only was my victim alive after his rather public death over a decade and a half ago, but also the fact that he had a mole working in the other House. By the time I was done unpacking the mole had woven a spell over the other workers in the warehouse I was unloading in to turn the other workers into her master's servants and I was forced to repack just about all of my ill-gotten gains, surrender any mystic artifacts that I had on me, and throw myself on the non-existent mercy of the Obsidian Circle."

"Now before I explain what could be worse than death and what was so funny," the former employee of the New York Chapter House's Storage Annex explained, "I want to hear what got you thrown in here."

"I'm a mercenary who was under contract with some Black Magic Cult named the Order of the Black Pharaoh," Lilian Dupree confessed, "I spent almost sixteen years of my life keeping watch over the kid of some other merc named Greygus that they stuffed inside a shell to make her look like a boy. I had the brat brow beaten for years, never would have even dared to speak up to me, and then after it's shell gets cracked the queef runs off to Vegas gets the shell broken to pieces only months away from my big payday."

"So naturally the Order gets me on the horn, demands a replacement for the kid if I want to get paid. So, I scoop up some other knock-up bitch on their radar, have her shipped in an aircraft container on a flight with me to Chicago." Lilian all but spat, "I delivered the goods got my payday, including the youth that I wasted watching that disobedient brat, then I get scooped up by these bitches who can swim through walls and thrown in a cell with no idea where I am- now is that good enough for you to clue me in or do you want to listen to me pretend to do myself."

"While that might lighten the mood, I doubt that it would help," Greg admitted, "in all it sounds like you're actually even more screwed then I am. I only stole from The Circle, and except for two items they got everything back and a nice bug-out bag too; while I don't think that I'll get off light- hell they'll probably kill me just to make a point."

"Now you on the other hand, actually worked with their enemies, kidnapped the daughter of the right hand of one of the Founders of both The Circle and The Grand Hall, stole years of the girl's life with her father that they can never get back, kidnapped another woman and child who likely are related to The Circle as well, and after all of that decided to flee into the territory of a sorceress who has a known soft-spot for children." Greg laughed, "You want to know what's worse than death? Well likely after using every means at her disposal to rip every scrap of information that you have on the Order of the Black Pharaoh out of your mind, Erzebet Scratch will give you to an undead abomination under her control known as The Hangman."

"You mean that sack of puss watching the jail cells," Lilian inquired, "she's gonna have that thing to us into zombies too?"

"No- I don't know what that thing is but Scratch must have some skills to create a zombie that cognizant." Greg observed, "No- The Hangman is an undead abomination from back in the old west, he's called that because his noose (which he has full control over) can absorb the soul of anyone that he kills with it. Once that rope strangles you, your soul will be sucked inside to wait your turn in line after all of his previous victims, and once your turn comes that rope will bleed the essence from your soul for a full year until there's nothing left and everything that ever made you- you dissipates into nothingness."

"That's what's worse than death, nothing, no heaven, no hell, no purgatory, no limbo, just pure oblivion. I mean I'm likely going to die soon but there'll probably be something waiting for me somewhere, you on the other hand Miss Dupree, all you have waiting for you is a world of pain, followed by death, then a long period of dread, until finally there is nothing left." Greg stated, "So are you glad that I told you what you're in for Miss Dupree?"

Lilian Dupree had no words for Greg Paulson's ears, she had no words for anyone at the moment. No, at present Lilian Dupree was white as a sheet, as her ears strained to hear the ticking of a nearby clock- a clock that seemed to be ticking down her last moments left on Earth.

Faolan & Quickvix's Room - Poe Cottage
Whateley Academy - Dunwich, New Hampshire
1:37 PM EDT
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West

After a good twenty minutes of hug and cry therapy Candace had finally relented and let me go, "Okay," she sniffed, "I forgive you for abandoning me the way you did. But know this Randi Bridges, don't think that getting kidnapped will let you off the hook with me, you promised me a date and I plan to collect."

"That collection's going to have to wait," I sheepishly admitted while still trying to overcome the fact that the fox girl had neglected to put on a stitch of clothing since I got back, but at least she wasn't glomped on to me anymore. "I have three weeks of detention to complete with the school ground's crew, also when we do cash that token in how about just a quiet afternoon in Berlin, I want to avoid any big cities in New England for a while."

"Fair enough," Candance managed to chuckle past her lingering tears, "besides there is talk that after today, that even after they rebuild all student's will be barred from traveling to Boston without special permission."

"Just as well," I shuddered, "after yesterday, I think I'm going to need to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bellows; something tells me after some of what I saw while going though those burning buildings I'm really going to need therapy."

"You should have been seeing him already Randi," Jane took this moment to enter into the conversation, "with all that you've gone through since manifesting you really need someone to help you process everything. Your old repress and deal-with-it strategy really doesn't work after all that you've been through. As your familiar I know that while the incident with that mirror did help some, you really need a professional opinion to help you work through your issues."

"What are you Jane- my life coach?" I asked with sarcasm bleeding into my voice.

"Among other things yes," Jane retorted, "it's a familiar's duty to assist their contractor even if they are not aware that when they need help. This includes ensuring that they take care of themselves, console them in times of need and when they know that the moment is right to give them a much-needed reality check. You have been through more physical and emotional trauma over the last few months than many have in their lifetime, Randi it is time that you get professional help; while I realize that this is difficult for you something tells me that it will help you make some much needed breakthroughs and make you an even stronger person for it."

"Fine," I threw up my hands in defeat, "I'll make an appointment with Doctor Bellows, heck if I make enough of a fuss they might count it as detention time."

"There you go," Candace laughed again as the signs of her earlier crying fits were leaving her eyes. "Finally seeing the positive side of things."

"Don't push it red swiffer," I remarked with a sly grin on my face, "I happen to enjoy my slightly negative outlook, it helps me keep my edge."

Unless you're around Heather, Jane quipped, then Miss Grim and Negative turns into a dorky older sister.

'Hey, I was the younger kid for years,' I argued over our bond, 'it's past time that I spread the cheese to a younger member of my clan. Although who would have thought that Heather and I are actually related like that; I mean her circumstances are just surreal.'

Well to be fair the Obsidian Circle was trying to push the prophecy of the Four Maidens into fruition, and given the specific circumstances required for the Western Maiden they probably felt that the more candidates there were the more likely that one would be chosen by destiny.

"Let me guess," Candace stated as she paused from putting her clothes back on, "you two are talking over your master and familiar link again. Do you two know how rude that is, holding a conversation in front of someone else in secret."

"To be fair Miss Reynard some aspects of that conversation are confidential," Jane defended me, "I think that unless you two actually are an item that Randi might need to keep somethings secret from you, especially matters of prophecy."

"I agree with Jane on this one Candace," I admitted backing Jane up on this matter, "this prophecy business got Bea and I targeted by The Necromancer, in this case probably the less you know the safer you are."

"Fine I'll concede this matter just this once on one condition," Candace gave me a mischievous look and a slasher's smile, "during our date I expect some show of intimacy, hand-holding at minimum and if you decide to shirk I want a kiss when we get back to Poe afterwards. Although if you're lucky you might get one anyway- of the French variety."

I seized up as my imagination and hormones went into overdrive concerning that sentence, I didn't even move when Candace left the room- despite Jane pecking me to get me to rejoin the world. "She got me good, didn't she?"

"Randi at your age you are a cauldron of hormones," Jane stated as she moved from my head to her usual perch on my shoulder, "more-so given that you have only been female for roughly three and a half months. Face, it my young charge, until you learn to master yourself anyone you find attractive will be able to mess with you; fortunately, so far you haven't fallen for anyone who would seek to use you for anything you would regret. Also, if that happens you have me to shock some sense into you."

"Don't you mean knock some sense into me?" I inquired as I raised an eyebrow in confusion.

"No," and to emphasize her point Jane arced a bolt of static that caught me on the backside and made the fur on my tail stand on end.

"Very funny Jane," I scowled as I got out my brush to try and get my tail back to normal, "very funny!"

Bladedancer & Crimson Comet's Room - Poe Cottage
1:40 PM

Chou sat down in seiza with Destiny's Wave cradled in her arms, she stared at the sword's blade, an enigma that when she acquired it she thought was crafted from jade. Half a year had gone by since then and Chou's life had changed profoundly as well; she had lost the chest meant to house the blade for the Handmaiden of the Tao to the Demon Lord of the Hell of Fiery Immersion, she had lost her father and family home to the same fiend, she had to start over entirely with a new life and a new gender, and she had to take lives in the name of the greater good.

While sometimes did not weigh on her as much as others, she still remembered Andy McWilliams the innocent man that she was forced to kill. Granted that act had saved his family from falling apart due to the getting the winning lottery ticket that he was otherwise fated to lose, that was when she began to accept that as the Handmaiden she was a force of nature- of destiny and was to act to satisfy the balance. It was that act that made her the target of fear, hate and greed of many both at Whateley and around the world: Her fellow student Silver Serpent and her father Iron Dragon both feared her, the Tong of the Black Madonna considered her very existence a threat and tried to kill her, another student Nex tried to kill her for her sword, the Chinese government tried to enslave her to serve them, and many people and groups that she had never even met considered her to be anything from mythical boogieman to a walking nuclear weapon.

While she had grown to come to accept her role and what it entailed she was also still learning how to bear the weight of her office, and now here was another burden. A girl who she had to train due to the debt that her office owed to her ancestors, although knowing the cause of that debt Chou wondered if training the girl would be enough considering that her ancestor, a dragon worthy of becoming a Tianlong had surrended his heart for the sake of the Tao. Here in her hands she held a sword possessed by a Taoist sage and forged from a dragon's heart by the hand of the Artificer.

Chou had known what Destiny's Wave was forged from for a while now, but she had always considered it a done affair, just another piece of ancient history from the long line of the Handmaidens who came before her. Evidentially though this history was far from settled, in fact it was one area that the Tao had been unable to balance almost since the days of the first Handmaiden, and it was going to be her burden to see it through- by training the heir of the dragon whose heart she wielded. While Chou knew that she was no slouch in the martial-arts department, having some skill even before she became the Handmaiden and more training afterwards- she was hardly in the position in her own training to consider taking on and training her own student.

"I need more information about this," the Handmaiden of the Tao paused for a moment to consider her options, "I need to talk with Faolan to learn what else she knows, or at least Becca if she's aware of this- ugh why isn't the Monkey King around when he'd be useful?"

Fatigue & Aletheia's Room - Dickinson Cottage
1:46 PM
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East

Tired of my chair, and recognizing that I was effectively under house arrest without a security escort, I resumed my earlier forbidden practice of using my chair as a walker. I know that the matter was excruciating with my legs screaming at me to lay down and take it easy has the tried to bow under my weight, but I continued on- I was the master of my body not my legs- me!

I guess that I was fortunate that Mable had to leave for her shift at Doyle, because I didn't want to hear her trying to bring logic into the situation of telling me to take it easy. I know that Mable's heart was in the right place, and to a certain extent she was right at telling me to do so, but I needed to do this- I needed to be able to stand on my own two feet. I made another lap, as my legs cried for mercy beneath the rest of my weight, but I refused to listen to them.

I had spent millennia a prisoner looking on at the world that I longed to interact with and while I could interact with that world to an extent, I had just traded my prison in the shadow of Cytherea for the prison of a wheel chair. Fortunately, unlike that existence this time my liberation was possible, and that liberation wouldn't come from a magic word or divine intervention, no this time my liberation would come through my own determination- my own effort- my own blood, sweat and tears. I made one more lap, this time back to my bed before finally giving my legs the respite they desired.

As I fell with my back to the mattress and Mable's bunk above me I breathed heavily, as my legs burned and ached from the exertion. The exercise I had put my legs through was painful but as the old adage went- no pain, no gain; as hard as it was I determined to put myself through as much as possible to achieve my current goal. I looked at the marvel of modern engineering before me that scoffed at gravity as it hovered upright off the ground, "I swear it, before summer I will escape you. I mean it, I will experience the world as everyone else does- on my own two feet."

"You know it's not alive," I heard an all too familiar voice as I turned to look at Mirabel's familiar Blinky, "why do you keep talking to it?"

Somewhat used to the fact that the cat could enter and leave rooms without having a door opened for it, as well as the fact that he could talk, I explained as best as I could, "Just giving voice to my frustrations Blinky, how was everyone in the Dreamlands last night?"

"The Queen was scared about what happened," Blinky explained, "she was worried that she was going to lose all of her family."

"Well she's not going to have anything to worry about for a while," I sighed as I used my arms to scoot me back into a sitting position, "until Summer rolls around I'm grounded. No leaving campus, no moving between buildings without a security escort, and no going into the tunnels. Mom is doing everything she can to make sure that nobody takes another shot at me for the rest of the school year."

"Mommas just want to keep their young safe," Blinky explained as he hopped on top of the bed and rubbed against my aching legs.

"Only the good moms Blinky," I chuckled as I scratching the Ultharian-kitten's back causing it the arch as he began to purr, "only the good ones. I should know I have two, one that did everything possible to keep me safe, and one who still will do what it takes no matter how much I would argue against otherwise."

Taking a moment to think about the immediate future, I pulled the envelop for my duty list from my purse regarding my first list of detention assignments. After opening the thing, I saw something that I had only heard in hushed tones mentioned around campus, but it was clearly warranted in my case- Hawthorne Cottage. Although it wasn't this week's assignment, which was Light Duty in the Beck Library, two weeks from tomorrow I was going to be serving detention in Hawthorne Cottage.

Hawthorne, I knew as the residence for students with either special needs or powers that made them a danger to others, such as a gravity manipulator with no control over her powers (who the word was Chaka had managed to cure her problem with ki-manipulation of a blocked chakra meridian), or a ice energizer whose powers were stuck in the on position and needed to be kept in a humidity-free environment to avoid the room frosting over like an old freezer.

"Well I was wanting mom and others to stop treating me like a porcelain doll," I remarked with a slight grin on my face. "It looks like I'll have the chance to show what I can do in a few weeks."

"Good you're happy again," Blinky all but sang as he walked right through my door without leaving a trace.

"I just hope that I can handle this, "I remarked as I wondered about where things would go once I showed up at Hawthorne. Oh well, I still had two weeks until I found that out.

Common Room - Poe Cottage
1:50 PM

Somewhat a little miffed at her roommate and recent date, Quickvix trudged down the stairs and into the first-floor lobby. While it was true Candace could have run down and have been out the door in a solid second, but she wanted to emphasize her displeasure at Randi for the entire cabin to notice. The fact that it was a yellow flag day had nothing to do with her decision, but it was fortunate that she did so because Mrs. Horton spoke-up before she could leave, "Miss Reynard, I have a message from a woman in your hometown named Gertrude Defrank, she said to call her back immediately she sounded upset."

Curious back why her best friend's mom would call her on a Sunday, especially since they didn't get her gift yet, Candace went for the courtesy phone and dialed the number for the Morrisons, after a few minutes she heard Gertrude Defrank answer the phone-

"This is the Morrison residence," Candace heard her friend's mother answer the phone, by the sound of her voice the woman was clearly upset. "I'm sorry but can you call back later, there is a family crisis going on right now."

"Actually Mrs. Defrank this is Candace Reynard," Candace responded concerned, "You called me earlier, is there anything wrong?"

"Candace?!? Thank God!" Gertrude Defrank exclaimed, "It's horrible, we just found out from one of the members of your jogging group that Chandra manifested before getting shot at that Park in Chicago where you two used to run. To make matters worse the Knights of Purity showed up and tried to take her into custody to turn her over to the MCO, and now she's on the run in Chicago with the Knights of Purity after her!"

The phone almost slipped from Candace's grip as she turned pale, her best friend was currently facing one of the worst scenarios possible for a mutant- being hunted by the Knights of Purity which was a possible death sentence given their track record for terminating mutant suspects.

Taking a moment to steel herself- Candace knew that she had to remain strong for her friend's sake. "Mrs. Defrank- I hate to say it like this, but you need to calm down, for Chandra's sake."

"Calm down!" Gertrude snapped at Candace through the receiver, "My baby is out there being hunted like a wild animal by a bunch of bigots in in armored suits and you tell me to calm down! I thought that you were her friend!?!"

"Mrs. Defrank I am her friend and I've lived this situation, while you have every right to be upset I can tell you that the last thing Chandra needs is for you to lose your cool." Candace did her best to calm her friend's mother down over the phone, "Chandra needs you to be strong for her and there are things that you can do to help, first Chandra told me that Mrs. Morrison offers her services pro-bono to her employees and their families, it's time to use that employee perk."

"What good is an attorney going to do?" Gertrude sniffed out, "My baby needs help!"

"And this will help her," Candace explained, "despite how they like to portray themselves to the public the Knights of Purity and the Mutant Commission Office are private security companies, not Police or Government Agencies. This means that the more negative PR that Mrs. Morrison can help you stir up the better Chandra's chances are of being taken alive. You said that she was shot right, was anybody treating her injuries before the Knights of Purity showed up?"

"O-One of her jogging buddies stitched her up before the ambulance got there," Mrs. Defrank sniffled out as she tried to calm down, "they were getting ready to take her to the hospital before the Knights showed up."

"That's good, if the paramedics were there that means that the police were there too, they always make sure to secure the area when there is a possibility of an active shooter in the area." Chandra explained trying to walk Gertrude through what she knew of emergency procedure, "That means that the Knights were trying to seize someone from protective custody, already you have cause to make the DA force the Knights to stand down. Now the next part is also important, I'm going to give you the number for the Department of Preternatural Affairs, unlike the MCO this is a government agency."

Candace read the number from the card in her billfold for the Illinois DPA branch office, something that she made sure to keep on her person in case the MCO tried to disappear her at an airport using the old We need to ask you a few questions trick, after hearing Mrs. Defrank confirm the number she continued, "You and Mrs. Morrison need to ask to speak to the agent in charge of the case or if there isn't one the Supervisor in Charge, this will let you gain a handle on the situation and help guide the press narrative. It'll also help you keep the MCO out of it, and speaking of those jokers if they show before the DPA does insist that Mrs. Morrison be present whenever they try to talk with you and let her read any documents they try to force into your hands."

"And this will keep my baby safe?" Mrs. Defrank inquired reaching for a thread of hope.

"It'll be her best shot," Candace reassured her, "and also try and reach the Windy City Guardians. Chandra is bound to be running for her life and might be a little paranoid, having a cape show up might help persuade her to surrender back into protective custody."

"Al-alright," Mrs. Defrank responded, "I will and thank you Candace, Chandra is blessed to have a friend like you."

After hanging up the phone, Candace collapsed to the floor emotionally exhausted. "Well done Miss Reynard," Candace turned to see Housemother Bella Horton looking at her in approval, "That was a very responsible thing that you just did, I wish more students were like you."

"Does it always make you feel like you are going to throw up afterwards," Candace inquired of the woman.

"Maybe the first few times," Mrs. Horton explained, "after that you become used to the stress. Just remember, sometimes it's more important to put the fires out rather than run into them."

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2 years 5 months ago #53726 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 37 Notes

Rot Translations:

"He-yar youh con keef thee auzor wan camfunny wahl youh wad foor Erzabed Shrats to retawn."
"Here you can keep the other company while you wait for Erzebet Scratch to return."

"Hoff fan
"Have fun"

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