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- Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
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Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Ruth's Home Office - Morrison Family Home
Arlington Heights, Illinois
2:52 PM CDT
Leticia Soto was doing her best to comfort Trudie Defrank as Ruth Morrison worked away at her laptop from the other side of her desk. "Are there any other people that you know of that could call to serve as a witness to Chandra's character, when it comes to these cases more is better as far back as you can go.
"Why does it seem like you're trying to prove that my baby isn't some kind of criminal?" Trudie did her best to avoid sobbing, "She was shot while exercising in the park- she was the victim here."
"I know that, and the police know that, but the problem is the media." Ruth did her best to explain, "The Knights of Purity love to paint themselves as the good guys protecting the public from dangerous and unstable mutants, and they have the Goodkind News Network supporting them full on since their CEOs are brothers. The thing that Chandra really has to worry about not only right now, but later on is her public image. Gertrude like it or not mutants have a target on their backs, and the same people who used to (and still do) give minority groups so much hate see mutants as a safer target."
"How could beings with powers be considered a safe target?" Leticia asked somewhat confused on the matter.
"Because most of the time when mutants or most powered people defend themselves, their powers can be used against them legally." Ruth elaborated, "Short of defending themselves from an attack with a lethal weapon, when anyone with powers uses them offensively in any way against another person it's felony assault. While there is some leeway when it comes to legally authorized heroes when operating in their jurisdiction, or if the other party is a known criminal; an offensive use of powers by an individual without legal authority is a criminal act warranting prosecution."
"But wouldn't she be able to defend herself if those armored brutos attack her?" Leticia asked again, trying to grasp at another straw to give her co-worker hope.
"Unfortunately, the Knights of Purity have legal jurisdiction to operate in the Greater Chicago area due to a blanket contract with the Chicago City Council and the cities directly outside of Chicago to apprehend any powered suspects with necessary force." Ruth explained as she rolled her eyes, "If they get the go ahead from the local state attorney or receive a report of Chandra attacking another person they will have cart-blanche to capture her. As is the Knights of Purity are already in trouble for trying to take Chandra into custody from the paramedics, but their legal department have likely already thought of a work around for that incident."
"So, what can we do?" Trudie Defrank sniffed as she was once again losing her composure, "My daughter already has the odds stacked against her, a black girl from a poor neighborhood, involved in a shooting- even without powers that's a recipe for disaster."
"Fortunately, the Police and CSI were already on the scene examining the real crime," Ruth stated as she laid down the facts, "from all accounts this was an incident with a weapon fired from the bushes. The means that this wasn't a crime of opportunity but was premeditated assault; also, mutant or not the distance involved likely means that a rifle was used and after the Beltway Sniper Incidents, any action that could be construed as sniping means that it is a federal case. Also, after the Werewolf of Six Flags incident resulted in The People of Texas v. the Mutant Commission Office earlier this year the following verdict was reached: In all incidents involving powered individuals when a federal law enforcement agency can claim jurisdiction, all private security companies regardless of local jurisdiction must cede authority to the federal agency in charge."
"So, when Candace told me to have us contact the DPA..." Trudie's eyes lit up as she put two-and-two together.
"She was letting us know how to cut the Knights and the MCO off at the knees," Ruth smiled, "although from what I learned when I called the DPA earlier, after I explained that I was your family attorney, they explained that they already have an agent on the scene working with a mobile lab and some blood samples that they took from Chandra earlier while she was being treated. They promised that they'll let us know of any findings as soon as they receive word from their agent."
"So, my baby's chances are looking better already," Trudie perked up even more with this revelation.
"Even more so if the police rule this a sniper attack," Mrs. Morrison continued, "as I said earlier after the Beltway shootings it was ruled that all sniper attacks fall under federal jurisdiction. Meaning any attack made with a rifle, from a concealed position at a distance in excess of fifty feet is federal jurisdiction. The moment that happens the all state and municipal authority must cede jurisdiction to the FBI and all resources involved become subject to federal authority, that includes the Knights of Purity."
"So those monsters won't be hunting down my baby?" Trudie looked at Ruth Morrison with hope anew in her eyes, "You'll do everything you can to keep that from happening?!?"
"Trudie," Ruth spoke as she closed her laptop and circled around her desk to clasp Gertrude's hands. "I think of everyone that has ever lived in this house as a part of my extended family, it's time that Herbert Goodkind's local toady Quentine Ramos gets a taste of Chandra's Aunt Ruth."
Washington Park - Brynum Island
Chicago Police Officer Jace Rendon all but glared at the two CSI personnel who were nearby working the bushes over for evidence, "I don't see why I have to be trudging through this pond in Hip Waders, don't we have a dive team for this?"
"Jace, our dive team is for situations that actually involve diving, like looking for bodies in Lake Michigan not stomping around a park pond looking for evidence." Detective Cade Acker replied as he took another sip from his coffee on the shore making sure to keep an eye out to ward curious on-lookers away from the crime scene.
"What even makes you think that there is a gun in here?" Jace inquired as he continued to work over the pond with a metal detector, "Wouldn't the suspect of taken it with him?"
"The slug that we found to the west of the pond was a 5.56mm and in pretty good shape since it hit the dirt instead of the concrete." Monica Vollpato the senior CSI on the scene explained, "However the wound that the victim suffered from judging by the photographs was a smaller caliber; a 9mm judging by the two casings that we found near what looks like the suspect's blind. SInce that the victim confronted her attacker over here, the suspect must have decided to flee the park before anyone arrived."
"Given that the suspect would have to flee the scene in a hurry they would have had no time to properly breakdown and conceal a rifle, judging by the fact that they also had a handgun meant that they felt they could abandon the rifle and still remain armed. Plus, chances are he or she would have come back to retrieve the rifle later, that meant that they would have hid it close but out of sight and the water under the bridge is a good bet."
"Okay, and I get that the polls with the orange flags are to make where I find it down here but just what is this weird pole?"
"That's a snake pole," Rylan Hite the junior CSI on the case explained as he poured plaster into the footprints, "Herpetologists use those in pairs to handle poisonous snakes."
"Speaking of that shouldn't I be worried about Water Moccasins or anything?"
"Not this far north," Monica reassured the man, "besides there's only four species of snakes found in the Greater Chicago Area and none of them are poisonous. Those things are just good at picking up things from a distance with a little heft to them, plus they're sold in pairs, so we have two incase another team needs one."
"So, Monica," Detective Acker spoke up, "any early insights on our shooter?"
"Well for one this act was clearly premeditated; the suspect chose a sight with a good but concealed vantage point." Monica began to explain as she worked over the available evidence, "Not to mention I've found strips of fabric in the bushes, the suspect was wearing a gilly suit or at least the top of one. He's also likely a hunter, he knew how to shoot a rifle at a moving target, not to mention keeping a handgun when you already have a rifle is standard for hunters incase an animal wanders in too close."
"Not to mention that he planned a wounding shot, or at least one with the rifle." Rylan elaborated, "Judging from the disturbances over here where he was shooting from compared to the angle of impact, with the victim's height factored in he was likely aiming for the victim's legs first. Then when the victim got close enough to surprise and confront the suspect, he dropped the rifle and went for a pistol- basic fight or flight instinct here."
Mindlessly poking around finally Officer Rendon felt something, using his flashlight to see if he could make out an outline underwater he felt that he hit pay dirt. After planting the two flags at opposite ends of the object and lifted producing a black tote bag's shoulder strap- followed by the rest of the bag. "I think I found it, let me bring it over so that you two can look."
"Put it on the shore at least ten feet from the bridge please," Monica ordered the officer, "we don't want to contaminate the area near the foot bridge, it's likely the way the victim and the suspect left the island."
"Yes sir- ma'am," Officer Rendon remarked as he complied.
Soon enough Monica carefully opened the bag to find underneath a soggy mass of burlap, an object with a very telling shape stuffed inside a garbage bag and bound with duck tape. "Judging by the weight and outline this is an assault rifle- I need to wait until we get back to the lab to open this Christmas present to identify the model and manufacturer, but something tells me that we have at least enough to get the FBI involved."
"Understood," Detective Acker acknowledged the scientist, "I'll call dispatch to let the Captain know to inform the Feds while and tell dispatch to pass the warning around that we have a potential sniper in the wind."
"Put in a call to the University of Chicago's Campus Precinct too," Monica explained, "I can already tell you that the suspect fled East, if we're lucky one of the campus security cams might have caught someone running away faster than normal and help us ID other potential witnesses."
"Yeah, I know, but that must be why they pay you kids the big bucks." Acker chuckled as he began making his way back to his squad car.
"Nope, it's to get their hooks into us while we're desperate to pay off those student loans." Rylan remarked as he peeled out the first shoe impression.
Watt Family Apartment
Sutton Apartments - Apartment 307
Ramona looked on at her old friend's slumbering form, as soon as Chandra emerged from the shower she parked it on the couch and was out like a light.
"All these years D-Caf and you still haven't changed where it counted." Ramona shook her head at the sight, "You never borrow the bed when someone offers it but no matter what wherever you crash you're out like a light in no time at all."
As she put away the first-aid kit, Ramona couldn't help but notice the injuries that Chandra had. "Okay she, mentioned the Knights of Purity- I guess that she must be a mutant now. But if she is I doubt that she'd be lucky enough to get away so well held together, and those bandages- that was some serious work, I wonder what happened?"
"Hard to believe that it's really been almost three years since we talked," Ramona spoke to her sleeping friend, "three years since I've really talked to anyone in a way that meant anything. "Most of our group fell on the other side of the district lines and went to another school, well except for Taikeyla Johnson- she joined the Ally Vipers so fast your head would have spun. Hell, these days she's little more than Natroya's little toady, not that surprising though if you think about it."
"I mean if you looked hard enough Taikeyla was always looking for someone to latch on to who she thought would take her places, you always had talent- heck I should know I've been keeping up with your games. Taikeyla probably saw that in you as something to latch on to, then the Coleman's came along, and she saw a tastier target, sad that we never saw that about her earlier, but we were just wanting to have fun in our absentee dad's club."
"Then again all of us were different on that front: your dad spent most of his time deployed in the military, mine is nowhere to be found (not that surprising though mom's friends always said it was a wild bachelorette party), but Taikeyla well- like mother like daughter. Still- I mean I can't blame your mom for taking the opportunity that she did, a better life in a good neighborhood at a good school; not many women around here could say that they achieved that without staining their soul in the process."
"I mean don't get me wrong, my mom is doing good honest work at her accounting firm but it's still going to be some time before we can afford to leave." Ramona deflated as she slid against the wall of the apartment. "You know part of me hated your friend Candace for taking you away, or- well- at least it used to, now I suppose that it's just a stew of jealousy and regret."
Ramona looked over at her friend's sleeping body and laughed, "Maybe when you wake up I'll actually feel brave enough to tell you all of this to your face."
Looking over at her sleeping former friend, whose status she hoped would drop the former part in the near future Ramona came to a decision. She went to the coat closet and pulled out their old polaroid camera, "well since you're here anyway I suppose that now's as good a time as any to add another entry."
Careful to cover the flash on the camera lest it woke up her Chandra, Ramona took the photo that the camera spat out and after waiting a few moments for the picture to develop looked at the image to determine that it was indeed a keeper. After that the young woman crept to the cramped room that she called her own, pulled an album and jar of paste from the corner near where the murphy bed folded down.
Taking the paste, she added the picture on to a blank page, just opposite a short article from the Chicago Tribune about the Illinois Middle School Ladies Basketball Semi-Finals game between South Arlington Heights and Woodrow Wilson. "Keep aiming for those stars Chandra- for all of us!" Ramona whispered as she looked out the door in the direction of the living room. "Don't let the Coleman Sisters win!"
Director's Office - MCO Regional Building HQ
Wes Anderson, the regional director of the Mutant Commission Office looked at two prominent fixtures of his office: A large bottle of generic antacid and his minibar. "Which one will I need today?" He said to himself with a defeated sigh.
"Sir," the Jenny Roads their front receptionist repeated over the intercom, "Did you hear me? I said that Wing Nut from the Windy City Guardians and Agent Philip Donovan from the Department of Paranormal Affairs are here to see you."
"I heard you the first time Jenny," Director Anderson replied as he depressed the answer button on his desk, "I was just pondering which bottle I would be needing the Hair of the Dog or the Milk of Magnesia, but never mind I'll decide after the fact. Send the both of them in!"
A few moments later Wing Nut in his aviator's gear and Agent Donovan in his suit entered the room to see the office's resident occupant in a sorry state. "Have a seat gentleman, I assume that whatever you have to tell me that I'll need something to treat an early ulcer."
"Sorry about this Wes but a giant load appears to have landed right in your lap," Wing Nut explained as he took one of the offered chairs opposite the beleaguered director, "and whatever it is it looks like it's only the first sign of a nasty storm headed this way."
"Director Anderson," the man in the suit offered his hand to the harried man, "I don't believe that we've met, Agent Donovan with the DPA's new regional office."
"No, but the way things have been going around here lately I knew that I'd be receiving a visit from someone in your office sooner or later." Wes Anderson deflated with a sigh.
"Wes- what's wrong?" Wing Nut asked out of concern, "I mean I know that the MCO has a reputation with the mutant community, but I know you, ever since you took over this office everything's been strictly on the up and up. What do you mean that you knew that you'd be expecting a visit from the DPA?"
"Ever since what happened last winter in Philadelphia came to light as well as the incidents in New York with the Angel of Hell's Kitchen, and Dallas with the Werewolf of Six Flags, not to mention the news about the misconduct at the New Hampshire field office the higher-ups at Corporate have been circling the wagons." Director Anderson confessed, "They know that the Government has begun to take notice and finally give the DPA the funding that they need, the time of the old MCO is dying out and soon we're going to be competing with the TSA for jobs."
"Wes we're here because the Knights of Purity tried to take a kid who was on her way to protective custody," Wing Nut explained clearly hoping for a satisfactory explanation, "They were acting like they were going to bring her here for treatment and then when the kid tried to run from the ambulance where she was being treated they tried to use force to apprehend her. Just what is going on?"
"What is going on is that corporate in their infinite wisdom has decided that their best bet for the MCO to survive in the capacity that they have been operating in within the States is to investigate "Contracted Synergy" with another security firm that operates with existing contracts at the state and municipal level and doesn't have our current PR problem." Wes stated as he grabbed the bottle of antacid took off the lid and took a swig. With his face screwed in disgust he continued, "To that end in certain overlapping markets we have a division that is operating in concert with said private security firm with a special office that walls outside my jurisdiction."
"In other words- effective two weeks ago I'm the Regional Director in name only, all I have these days is power over our people at the airports. Meanwhile corporate has a new boy that got transferred in- John Giggliata who is determined to do what he can to give me a coronary." The man screwed the top back on the liquid antacid bottle, "Officially he's in charge of our new Corporate Liaison Division- meaning he's corporates little toady sent here to suck up to the Knights of Purity and see that they kick work our way when they feel like it. Meanwhile since I'm the regional director I have to be here to act as a damned meat-shield whenever crap like this happens."
"So just show us to this Mister Giggliata," Agent Donovan explained, "we need to work this matter out with him while our supervising agent will be handling matters at with the State's Attorney's Office."
"Unfortunately, I can't do that," Director Anderson looked up with pain in his eyes, "you see I am still legally responsible for everything that goes on in this building. Even if Giggliata and his part of the company operates outside of my length of the corporate food-chain I'm still responsible for what goes on in his division as it is in my building. In other words, it's all one big Catch-22 situation, legally I'm already responsible for whatever he does, meaning that if I try to do the right thing and give him to you then corporate will paint me like I'm throwing the little prick under the bus. The moment that happens I'll get thrown to the wolves anyway and everything here will be up in the air until the head office names my successor, and with the company being what it is right now I don't even want to know the kind of person they'll pick to fill my seat if that happens. Meanwhile your missing mutant kid will still up a creek without a paddle, so you must understand right now my hands are tied."
"Yeah about that..." Wing Nut grimaced at how he was likely about to give the poor man a coronary.
Office of Richard Devine - Cook County State's Attorney
"Ma'am I insist that you contact Richard Devine immediately," Agent Albert Jorgen further pressed his case before the secretary. "This is literally a matter of life and death."
"Sir, I'm afraid that Richard Devine is out of the office and won't be back until Monday." Delilah Humphrey explained to the DPA agent. While Assistant State Attorney Ivan Crocker is available, he is in a meeting right now with one of the city's security contractors discussing a matter of some importance and I am afraid that you will have to wait."
"If that security asset is a representative from the Knights of Purity in regard to the Powered Individual from Washington Park this afternoon then I am afraid that it is my business," Agent Jorgen stated as he held out his bag and ID card proclaiming him an agent of the Department of Paranormal Affairs. "I have been working with the Chicago Police Department's Crime Scene Investigation unit and thus am a part of this case, now you are going to let me into that office or I will submit a report with State Attorney General Lisa Madigan requesting a formal audit in regard to this case!"
Delilah Humphrey took the promise seriously as she pressed the button on the intercom on her desk, "Sir, I'm sorry for disturbing your meeting when you told me not to, but I have an Agent Jorgen here from the DPA, he says it regards the Washington Park incident."
"Send him in Miss Humphrey," Ivan Crocker sighed over the intercom, "All of this is way above my paygrade anyway."
Sure enough once Agent Jorgen entered Assistant State's Attorney Ivan Crocker's office he saw Quentine Ramos, the regional head of the Knights of Purity had already made himself at home. "Agent Jorgen I presume, I have been looking for the opportunity to make the acquaintance of the DPA's local division. I assume that we'll be working together a lot in the future."
"Then you can stop by telling your men to stand down," Agent Jorgen explained as he locked eyes with Ramos. "The incident in Washington Park shows a gross level of overreach by your organization that sparked an incident."
"Now sir," Quentine Ramos spoke up from his seat, "while I do recognize the DPA's authority regarding the prosecution of preternaturals on a federal level, the Knights of Purity have a contract with the city of Chicago and all counties within the Greater Chicago Area. It is our job, when deployed, to apprehend uncontrolled and dangerous elements of society; while it is unfortunate, that includes newly awoken mutants."
"I know how children can be irresponsible, but ignorance of the law is no excuse for ignorance of the law, and the public use of powers against a civilian. We have a taped phone call of an individual who claims that a certain speedster assaulted him on the Lower West Side, that was all the evidence that was needed for the police to call on our company."
Agent Jorgen steeled himself, now was not the time to back down. "One, the assault in question never would have happened if your employees didn't try to apprehend a suspect who was already in protective custody. Two, a spent 5.56mm cartridge and corresponding round were recovered from the crime scene. Pursuant to the rulings of 2002, all rifle attacks from a concealed location are ceded to federal jurisdiction. Three, at present claim of attack is just that a claim to be settled in a court of law. Four, the Knights of Purity on the scene were badgering a paramedic to hand a patient over to the MCO a company that has no legal authority what-so-ever beyond assisting the TSA. Fifth, the MCO only has a tenuous jurisdiction when it comes to mutants, and I have the individual's MGC test here!"
"Come now you and I both know those tests are of questionable accuracy when it comes to showing the activation state of a mutant gene complex's activity within the first day or so," Mister Ramos responded, "hardly enough to make us cede authority."
"Except in the case where there is a lack of the Mutant Gene Complex's presence," Agent Jorgen threw open the report and presented it to Ivan Crocker, "whatever the source of this child's powers it isn't from being a mutant. As per regulations you are required to update your team in the field of this development."
"I am afraid that is quite impossible Agent Jogen," Ivan Crocker explained as he looked over the report and grew paler every moment that he read it, "you see communications are up to the field commanders not our regional office. Once they go out into the field they can turn external communications off with a flip of the switch, and procedure dictates that such oversite is up to the field commander. Unfortunately, Commander Holden Baxter hates to be interrupted mid-operation, so he leaves the external communications receiver on his transport off while his team is deployed out in the field. While it is true that we can monitor them at the office on during operations, we cannot contact them directly."
"Then I am going to need access to your company's transponder," Agent Jorgen stated growing more impatient by the moment."
"Unfortunately, as the Knights of Purity are a privately-owned security firm I am afraid that pursuant to our national charter I cannot grant anyone outside of the company access to our communications." Mister Crocker explained, "Now if you were to return with a legally signed warrant then I could grant you access, otherwise there is nothing that I can do in this situation- the law is clear on this matter and our company policy reflects that."
Clearly knowing that there was no way that he'd get anywhere with the corporate shill in front of him, Agent Jorgen got up and left the room saying, "Very well, I will keep what you said in mind."
Now out the door Agent Jorgen calmly walked out the County State's Attorney's Office before pulling out his cellphone and placed a call to the Illinois State Attorney's Office and from the look of it this was only the first call of many calls that he planned to make.
VT saw his safe zone in sight- The Rust-tic, he knew that finally he would be a real brother- accepted by his people. He knew that the days of oreos like that mutie bitch Chandra calling him a poser were history- just like her, may she rot in hell when her time came- hopefully soon. He had pulled off his job- he knew that he was finally home- not some brick stone over in Arlington Heights with two brown-nosing sell-outs but here in the concrete and rust this was where he belonged this was reality.
He had been making his way across town for hours going by bus towards the old steel industrial district to here- his safe harbor. Despite the fact that he had succeeded in shooting that mutie bitch Chandra, he knew that chances where he was in danger. He had been hunting enough with his stupid old man to know the difference between the hit of a kill shot and a wounding one, right now Chandra was hurt but because she was a mutant freak there was still a chance that she would hide fearing the Knights would finish the job and she was the only one who could ID him.
Although the problem was if the Po-Po caught her instead for the Knights or the MCO; there was a chance that those pigs would be more interested in whoever shot her than locking up another mutant, and that oreo freak would rat on him in a New York Minute. That meant that VT needed a place to lay low until he learned what was what, and since his 'rents place or to the crib of one of his old homies would be the first places for the pigs to go sniffing around, that meant that he needed another place to lay low- and without leaving Chicago that place was the Rust-Tic.
Yeah, this was a place that he belonged this was a place with his people- he had earned this, and his brothers and sisters would finally accept him as one of their own- not some spoon-fed oreo from mansion-land. He came up to the door and saw a bodyguard who must have had two feet and a hundred pounds on him- a man who looked like he could kick VT's ass without breaking a sweat give him a look of 'Just try something you little punk!'
"It's Sunday runt, we're closed," the guard grunted, "come back tomorrow night if you want in- now beat it before I kick you to the curb."
"Easy bro," VT threw his hands in the way as if that would ward against the bouncer's threats, "I'm here to see Mister Sikes, with news on a job. I'll give you my piece and everything just let him know that VT's back."
With an eye-roll the slab of beef decided to humor the wannabe-gangsta hit the intercom. "Hey Tony, anybody know if the boss knows anything about sending some half-pint on a milk run."
"Yeah Blake," Tony replied over the box, "the boss sent the short stack to give that baller who dissed the Coleman's a high-caliber message. I'll let the boss know, send him to the bar for a virgin and tell Slim to give him the house rate."
"Understood," Blake stated as he turned to regard VT, "you heard the man, I let you in you wait at the bar until the boss sends for you. I don't care if you need to take a leak you stay at the bar, so I suggest you use one of the Port-a-Johns before you go in because if the boss finds out you moved from the bar once I let you in you'll wish that I kicked you to the curb!"
"Chill Blake," VT explained as he threw up his hands again, "I get the jist- I want this too bad to piss of the man upstairs."
"We'll see whether you make him pissed off or not," Blake snorted, "and its Sir to you shrimp. Nobody calls me by name less they earn that, and you ain't earned that right."
"Chill then sir I get the jist, go inside to the bar and wait for the boss to ask. By the way- here's my piece and my blade!" Sure, enough VT clicked the safety on his P30S, ejected the clip and handed both to Blake along with a folded butterfly knife. "There you know I belong and I'm sticking to the rules following the boss's orders, no need to pop a blood vessel on my account."
Once he went in Blake grit his teeth and muttered, "Oh if only the boss let me I'd pop a lot more than that you little piss-ant poser." He snarled as his hands began to spark with electricity leaving scorched trails down the railing, a fact not lost on Blake, "Crap I did it again, better paint this over before anybody notices."
With that Blake took out a paint bucket and a brush that he kept hidden in the guard station and after popping the top on the bucket went to work painting over the damage his outburst did to the safety railing.
Inside VT did as Leroy ordered to find that the bar tender was waiting for him with a drink that was clearly mixed, "Whoa, let me guess men with an in don't have to wait till 21!" VT remarked as he grabbed the glass.
"Nope, this is a club not a rave." The bartender stated as he glowered at VT." You're under age, and it ain't even five- so don't get too full of yourself that's a Roy Rogers. Now drop the street posing or I'll switch you to Shirley Temples when the rest of the crew starts getting here."
"Well I won't be here for long!" VT exclaimed before he took a swig of his mocktail, "I just did the boss a major solid, so I'll be upstairs getting my in before you know it."
"Don't bet on it silver spoon," Tony the bartender explained, "the boss ain't here yet- just left instructions with me to get you inside and off the streets before he gets back. He's meeting with some big fish right now, so you'll just have to keep it on ice until he gets back."
"Big fish but I thought that the boss-" VT spoke up as his eyes-widened.
"The Boss is only part of the scene," Tony explained as he continued to glare at VT, "did you think that Chi-Town was just carved up into turfs. There are bigger players that everyone has to answer to- if they want to do more than just snatch wallets and rob corner stores. You want to do big things in this city, hell in any city, you got to answer to the big fish- that's were Mister Sikes is right now, trying to see that we don't get swallowed."
Ballistics Lab - Chicago Police Headquarters
"Good afternoon," Elliot Kleiber replied without looking up from looking through his microscope as he heard the door open followed by footsteps, "if this is about the McMartin Bodega shooting I am comparing the bullet from the scene with the suspects gun now...nope not a match. Don't get me wrong it's likely an Smith & Wesson, I recognize the boring style, but it doesn't match the suspect's SW-1911 even if the ammos from the same batch."
"While that's good and all Elliot," Monica Vollpato stated, "I have a rush job for you. We already went over it for particulates and are negative on the fingerprints, still we have a spent casing, and a slug we found along a sight line from a bush the subject used as a shooting blind. We already contacted the FBI given that we have evidence of a possible sniper who is still armed with what we wager is a handgun."
"Mosin 3-Line Type 53," Elliot grit his teeth at the sight, "Good luck tracing one of these, hell chances are it's an after-factory reassembly. Still these things are more likely to show up in third world warzones, what is one of these doing in the Windy City?"
"Probably escalation," Monica guessed, "the number of powered individuals grows every year and now that military grade assault rifles are legal we're bound to see more criminals upping their game. Still if you sign off on it I'll give you the bullet that we recovered to compare with your test fire."
"Alright," Elliot explained as he signed off on the envelope, "I'll do my best!"
"Good in the meantime I need to wait for the FBI to get here to turn over some DNA evidence," Monica stated as she looked over the paperwork, "and here's your slug."
"Wait!" Elliot shook himself in disbelief, "you don't have fingerprints but you have dna?"
"The suspect hid the riffle in a couple of lawn garbage bags that he tied up and together with duck tape." Monica elaborated to her colleague, "Just because he isn't in the interview room with a detective doesn't mean that he isn't giving us any lip."
Mister Brea' Place
Leroy Sikes was visibly nervous as he entered the old HUD Apartment Building that served as the nexus of the crime lord who claimed half of Chicago as his territory, with Darisha being his only companion. On the surface the building looked run down the type of place only frequented by squatters and junkies, but while the hallways of the first and second floor were like that, the rest of the building was in use for a variety of enterprises from distributing half of the hard narcotics in the Second City to processing fenced goods for shipment to Canada for resale on the open market.
Following Mister Shade's usual instructions Leroy and Darisha made their way past the victims of urban decay who were familiar enough about how things worked to either leave them alone or had acquaintances who knew to hold them back. Soon enough the pair came to a utility stairway door, hidden behind a metal door with a peephole installed.
After a knock by Leroy a couple of moments later the door opened to a man who lacked two things a sense of humor and a neck. " Mister Brea is downstairs, and he isn't happy!"
The pair made their way past the doorman and after making their way to the bottom of the stairs, Leroy was reminded that smuggling and drugs were only one small part of the picture.
Those were of course only the more vanilla of Mister Brea's activities, he was also connected to the global Black Market and peddled in many more exotic items such as weapons, devices, and even experimental substances. Even Mister Brea's rivals couldn't boast the man's connections, at least not before recently. A month ago, the old guard of the local chapter of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom had been eliminated, and while ordinarily such a matter was of no consequence to Mister Brea's organization- the new power figure of the Chicago Chapter House made her move with the power of Erzebet Scratch behind her.
While the word was that Scratch rarely meddled in the matters of local criminals unless they had a past in the matters of the arcane, Mister Brea's had conducted business through the Grand Hall with a third party for years, a business that was quite lucrative. Since that party operated in the mystic area of influence though, that rewarding connection, sealed by a contract had become a liability- a liability that Mister Brea was desperate to deal with. This unfortunately meant that bad news wasn't something that Mister Brea wanted to deal with right now.
"Sikes, I understand that you sent someone to deal with a problem that I warned you to take care of a while ago." Leroy and Darisha looked on at the man occupying a chair made out of basalt, a man who for all intents and purposes looked to me made out of molten asphalt.
"Yeah it was just like your lady told us, some wannabe from the burbs came in trying to play street, ignorant of the rules snuck a piece into my club, and sure enough he was just what was needed to deal with Defranks." Leroy explained to the malformed Mr. Brea, "He also knew Defranks personally and had enough of a beef with her for my ladies to guide him into doing the deed."
"Unfortunately, he was too late in his attempt," a gravelly voice spoke up that was also clearly female. Soon the source of the voice became visible, from the waist-up it looked like a short gaunt, wizened, crone who had stringy white-hair that did nothing to hide her furled brow. The woman had eyes that were black with yellow irises, and short-pointy teeth like the pins of thumbtacks and all of it was terrifying to everyone who saw her for the first time. "Her powers awoke and allowed her to escape the first shot, however the child did wound the girl soon after with a handgun although not as severely as was needed."
"Dammit Sikes, with Scratch's people taking over the mystic scene sooner or later their going to see my connection with that cult and once they do the only thing that I can use to protect myself is that girl's powers." Mister Brea slammed his right fist again the side of his throne as his body began to heat up and smoke.
"It is just as I foretold," the woman stated as she shut her eyes as her furled brow opened to reveal a massive eye, "You would have three chances to bring the one who can walk outside of time under your control. You had the first chance years ago to control her with fear by leading her into a life of crime, unfortunately your escort's sister chose a target who was destined to never be caught unless by choice. This second attempt was meant to let us rule her with despair, she is at the cusp of claiming a championship were she to let her team down due to her hobby then that would give the Coleman sisters a shot at controlling her."
"Neither of which you boy's succeeded in doing so," the woman stated in a condescending tone. The woman explained as she waddled into view with the rest of her body below the waist appearing to be like that of an old and oversized, molted swan with her human half emerging from the neck. You failed to control her with fear before she became a teenager, you failed to make her give into despair before her powers awoke- that means that before she begins to learn how to control her power we must fill her to the brim with guilt."
"And what do you see that taking Grae-clops?" Mister Brea inquired as the smoke from his tar-filled body began to cool.
"Three lives must end before the child tastes control of her abilities," Grae-clops began to explain to those gathered, "for the moment she realizes how to control her powers is the moment that any control you may exert on her is lost. Moreover, when that happens the chance of the dark lady's gaze falling on you becomes not a matter of if but a matter of when."
"And do you know which three lives must be taken and how?" Mister Brea inquired without losing an ounce of composure.
Grae-clops responded with a smile showing her needlesque fangs to all, "Yes..."
Watt Family Apartment
Sutton Apartments - Apartment 307
POV: Chandra Defranks
I woke up to find Ramona had dozed off in the corner, she actually looked peaceful far different from what I remembered of the sleepovers we used to have with Taikeyla. She always used to tell me about nightmares that she used to have of a gloomy foreboding beach with and eerie pale fog beneath a dark sunless sky. That used to hear a voiceless call from the water reaching out trying to lure her into the unnaturally calm abyss and every time she gave in she only made it a few feet out before something pulled her under. The as she lay submerged- struggling in vain to reach the surface she opened her eyes to see pale glowing lights staring at her telling her to come with them.
I had to admit that if I had nightmares like that I'd be afraid of the water too, but apparently Ramona was just too exhausted to really dream or else hadn't been napping long enough to really start dreaming yet. Still that nap was just what I needed to get my head back on straight, now though it was time to start preparing whatever I needed to do next. That was the real issue, while I think that I was getting a handle on the rules and limits I had whenever I stopped time, I still didn't know how to do it whenever I wasn't in danger...no danger wasn't the issue.
It wasn't danger that triggered these time stops it was me feeling like I was, I really doubt that crazy bum in the ally where I had nodded off earlier was really a threat- I had just felt like he was. Did this mean that it wasn't me being in danger that stopped time around me just me wanting to avoid danger? That made sense, when Victor winged me I was in very real danger, but I was too angry at him for trying to cripple me to see it thus letting him shoot me with his handgun. Maybe this meant that I had something that let me know when there was danger, but I had just chosen to ignore it- I had chosen to fight rather than run.
Come to think of it stopping time wasn't what I was doing either it was like I was outside of it somehow, and every time I was that meant that I was going somewhere. That made a type of sense too, the further I traveled whenever I stopped time it was like I was leaving time and the world behind and going someplace else- someplace with its own weird animals...well except for that squirrel it was the first thing besides myself that I saw in that place moving. Well the acorn-muncher aside there was still the fact that when I was outside of time I stayed their unless I touched someone like I did Victor or exposed part of my body.
Okay so if I touched something alive it would yank me back into the world even if my body was covered, but if I touched something that wasn't alive then I could move it like I did when I moved away from that homeless man, when I threw that apple at the mugger, or when I snagged those slices of deep dish that were being thrown away. Also, when I moved something and then let it go then it would travel a little bit before freezing again, like it was falling back into the real world. Still why did showing a bit of skin move time from frozen to slow...wait a moment- air isn't empty.
I remembered back to science class, there's all kinds of stuff in the air and some of it is technically alive, stuff like germs, pollen, spores- all kinds of stuff that's too small to be seen. And the stuff in the air, while it was probably not enough to yank me all the way back into the real world, might be enough to cause me to flicker instead of snapping all the way back.
Although right now, my life boiled down to three real questions: Could I control this power? Had Victor actually gotten wrapped up with the Coleman sisters? And how did I get back home with the Knights of Purity on my tail? "Ugh- too many questions not enough facts!" I threw up my hands in momentary defeat as I went to the kitchen for some water, fortunately Miss Watt still kept her cabinets the same, come to think of it so were their glasses, can't believe they still had the one with the chip on the rim.
After filling my glass from the tap, I downed a glass then went for a refill when there was a familiar knock at the door. I remembered that pattern, that was the one Ramona, Taikeyla and I had decided on to let each other know it was really us at our door and that it was safe to let us in back when we were too short to look through the peephole. Now on the other hand I was more than tall enough to see out to the hallway.
I looked through and the girl on the other side sure looked like Taikeyla Johnson, however it had been a few years. The earlier knocking had turned to banging, "Ramona open up, this is serious! Those Power Armor jockeys are canvasing the whole Westside looking for D-caf, I can't reach Natroya and I need someone to work out a game plan to feed through the white line before one of the local crews sets those tin cans off!"
I went over and shook Ramona awake, "Ramona- wake up," I said as she began to stir, "I really think that you need to hear this!"
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Faolan & Quickvix's Room - Poe Cottage
Whateley Academy, New Hampshire
1:52 PM EDT
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
Candace had scarcely been gone for a few minutes when I heard someone knocking on our door, "Candace I know that you're mad at me but remember it's your room too you don't need my permission to come inside."
"Actually, I do," a voice that was far different from that of the passionate redhead who left me all kinds of confused, but a familiar voice non-the-less.
"Oh, hello Chou," I sighed in relief wishing to postpone any more teenage drama between my roommate and I for the time being, "I assume that this is what I was telling everyone in the lobby."
"Yes Randi," Chou replied from the other side of the door, "is it alright if I come inside for a little while to discuss it with you?"
"You might as well Chou," I remarked, "this has a lot more to do with you than me, I'm just the messenger here though- so keep that in mind."
Heeding my invitation, the Handmaiden of the Tao entered the room to find me waiting at my desk and Jane sitting on her perch. "Before we start exactly how much do you know about my past and my role."
"Just what I hear around Poe and the school, you were some kid who bought a weird-looking sword and chest at a gun and knife show that let you turn into the Handmaiden of the Tao until you put it back in the chest. Not long after that a Buddhist hell lord whose rivalry came with your title showed up, burned your house down, stole the chest and kidnapped your dad demanding the sword as ransom. Sometime after that you came here to train probably until you know enough to free your dad and get the chest back, and spank said demon in the process hard enough that he'd think twice before trying that again. That much is available around campus, though since you're in Poe and were a part of the Kimba's I imagine that the old you used to be a guy too."
"So, people around campus know about the chest?" Chou looked at me somewhat mystified.
"The smart ones do, the people as thick as Nex or in denial about magic like the science types think it's just some product of ancient tech like a power gem that they can swipe and use for themselves or else study to reverse-engineer and mass-produce. I mean Nex thought that he could steal Destiny's Wave to use for himself, even Counterpoint wasn't that dense. As for the study and mass-produce part, when Ms Carson when I went down to the Power Rangers Club House during the Pearl Incident I saw a stack of Belphegor's plans that they took by mistake when they raided his lab, he was planning to try to steal and analyze your sword somewhere down the line."
"Honestly nothing surprises me when it comes to that kleptomaniac," Chou sighed as she went to sit down in Candace's chair, "did you know that he tried to steal and tried to take apart Jade's spinner to see how it worked?"
"Let me get this straight," I shook my head as I tried to wrap it around the ridiculousness there, "he stole a devise to reverse-engineer- shouldn't someone on the technology track like he is know better than that?"
"We are talking about Belphegor but let us get back to the matter at hand," Chou paused as we opted to shelve the small-talk for another time, "You were right about the debt to the dragon's line, I conversed with the spirit of Destiny's Wave and he informed me of the history behind the blade's material. Now maybe you can inform me about what you know about the matter and how this relates to my summer plans in Colorado with Billie and Jade."
"As you know from Nikki there were four courts peripheral to Atlantis long before the modern age, one of those courts being the Western Court whom Nikki's departed benefactor Aunghadheil oversaw as the paramount of the Nine Sidhe Queens." I began to explain as I laid down the history that I knew. "You also know that Bea Carson and I play a part in the future of those courts as the Eastern and Western Maidens however there are also Maidens who represent the Northern and Southern Courts; after we were saved from the Necromancer last night Bea and I were...escorted by the Obsidian Circle with Mister Redstag to meet them. The Southern Maiden's manifestation yesterday was apparently a sign that the meeting needed to happen but what you need to know is about the Northern Maiden."
"Yes," Chou shook her head in disbelief as she glanced down at her currently sheathed sword, "I still can't believe that anyone would voluntarily offer their heart and sacrifice their life just to make a sword!"
"As I understand it Zunyan Quianbei had painted himself into a corner Chou, he had sworn to the Jade Emperor himself that he would provide The Smith with a material worthy enough for the Handmaiden of the Tao's sword of office." I laid down the facts as I knew them, "He also interrupted a meeting between the Jade Emperor and Lao Tze to make his promise, his failure would mean the banishment of his entire house at best and execution of his immediate family at worse. As is his sacrifice led to your sword being forged and paved the way for the birth of the Northern Maiden."
"Speaking of her, just what do you know about this girl?" Chou enquired obviously cautious given what was being asked of her."
"Chou I just met her last night and our group only had a few hours to talk with each other before we went home." I did my best to explain the events of last night, or was it early morning? "From what I know she calls herself Duanzaolong and was actually the first of us to manifest, she grew up in Seattle's Asian district and is the only child of a tailor and a seamstress. She told me that she was dusting the store room at the local Buddhist Temple when a rat spooked her leading break one of Zunyan's bone urns leaving her covered in his ash's. Not long after that her body slowly Cronanberged into an egg and she hatched out of it as an anthropomorphic Chinese dragon."
"Then shouldn't she be at Whateley already?" Chou asked before her eyes widened, "don't tell me that the Chinese Government visited her with one of their enchanted scrolls of honor like they tried to use to enslave me!"
"No, what happened to her wasn't nearly that nice and formal." I sighed, "A cult that worships the Demon Lord of Blood-stained Gold kidnapped her and kept her enslaved in their stronghold somewhere in under San Francisco. Apparently, part of being the Northern Maiden is the power to turn scrap with the right composition into enchantable gemstones, they had her locked in a hole somewhere cranking out sapphires and the like for months before a spellcaster called the Wayfarer freed her."
Chou's eyes drifted to her sword which she partially unsheathed, not to attack more to hear it clearer in however it was that she talked to the spirit inside of it.
Now you must know how everyone else feels when we have a conversation over our link, Jane queued in letting me know that I must have been broadcasting my thoughts a little loudly.
"The Wayfarer is not a being to be taken lightly Randi," Chou looked worried, "like I am to the Tao, The Wayfarer is a being in service to a higher power but far more connected to it. From what I know each Wayfarer serves as a host to an artifact known as the Staff of Undertone, the moment each host takes up the staff their past is erased from reality and the prior host ceases to exist altogether. While it seems that each Wayfarer has some autonomy in how they carry out their task they still carry it out to the desired result and using a good deal of power as they do so."
"So, their staff, let me guess it's an extremely powerful sorcerer's staff." I wagered with what I had come to learn about magic.
"The Staff of Undertone allows the Wayfarer access to every spell ever cast upon the world where they are at present as well as the complete knowledge of their effects and consequences." Chou explained in a way that was more chilling by the moment, "Prior Handmaiden's have run into conflict with prior Wayfarers before, two made the mistake of considering the Wayfarer to be an enemy, one survived yet had to retire from her injuries, for the other... the Wayfarer's look of disappointment was the last thing she ever saw."
Then Chou grabbed my algebra notebook from my desk, turned to an empty page and with a blur of her right-hand whipped up a sketch, a highly detailed one, "This is the Staff of Undertone, whatever you do never get into a fight the one who wields it!"
That the Handmaiden of the Tao was speaking to me in such a frightened tone was all that I needed to know about the gravity of the situation.
Fatigue & Aletheia's Room - Dickinson Cottage
2:08 PM EDT
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
Making sure to that my answers worked the same forwards as backwards I put down my answer in my notebook satisfied that the calculations matched the arc on the parabola for the last question and scratching off another chapter of my self-tests before my exam to test out of Trigonometry. 'Really even Vicky would have known this stuff back when she was Aphrodite, I mean how many catapults did she see Hephaestus work on back in the day, granted she was paying more attention to his back then anything else both of us still picked up on what he was doing.'
I briefly looked up when I when I heard a short knock I paused a moment to listen for details, a trick that Sorcha has been teaching me, not hearing any signs of nervousness or stress which would be signs of trouble I gave a brief, "Please come in."
I saw the door open to see that it was Heartbreaker, "Well- well- so the delinquent princess returns. I hope you enjoyed your little escapade because I just heard from the grapevine that they threw the whole Encyclopedia set at you for yesterday."
"What can I say," I sighed in defeat, "I knew that there'd be consequences to my actions, but I just couldn't stand by and let people suffer. It's just not in my nature, besides the look on that mother's face when she knew that her daughter was safe was worth a being in detention for the rest of the semester."
"Good to know," Eve snickered, "you know, I've met plenty of people that would use family connections like you have to try and dodge punishment or get special favors. Granted getting a member of Venus Inc to tag along on a shopping trip like you did had me a little suspicious about you but doing it because you wanted help to pick out birthday presents for another person- I have to admit Bea you're alright in my book."
"Thanks Eve," I giggled, "just don't let it get around, I'm sure the last thing mom wants is to know that I'm gaining the approval of a students who have Super-Villain listed as a potential career then she really will give me a year's worth of detention."
"Speaking of that just where did you and Faolan wander off to? Eve looked concern, "From what I heard the two of you stopped to take a breather while Boudicca took that girl to the paramedics, just what happened?"
"What happened was getting the two of us alone and off our guard was what the Necromancer wanted," I huffed at the truth, "All of that destruction, all of that pain, all of that death, it was all so he could kill Faolan and myself."
"So, he was involved," Eve observed with a touch of fear in her voice, not all that surprising as I understood the incident that sparked the animosity between the Children of the Night and Team Kimba in the first place happened when Eve's group The Masterminds stumbled over a heist the Necromancer's crew was pulling off. "How did you get away? I mean no offence but there was no way the both of you could take on the Children of the Night, and to be honest from what I've heard Faolan might be a fairy-type spellcaster but she's nowhere close to Fey."
"Who is, for all her boasting even Majestic falls short in that respect even after her current slump." Not that anyone wanted to admit that said slump was due to the Aunghadheil joining her late Sister-Queens in the hereafter. "It was just the Necromancer and his group wasn't the only ones at play, apparently one of his mole's in New York looted the private storeroom at the Grand Hall there belonging to Mister Domino's chief agent Carcharoth."
"You mean that monster who ate those two fairies a month ago and broke every bone in Counterpoint's body!" Eve all but fell backwards at that piece of news, "That psychopath was in Boston!"
"Him, Greygus, the Erinyes, and a few others." I confessed not wanting to soil the rapport that I was building, "Faolan may not have been strong enough to stop the Necromancer but she was holding him off well enough that he was caught off guard when Carcharoth disarmed him."
"What the Necromancer's a spellcaster," Eve looked at me confused, "why would he need a weapo- wait when you say that monster disarmed him you don't mean?!?"
"One chop with the nastiest battle axe I've ever see- even in fiction." I explained as I mimicked what happened by feigning a karate chop with my right hand on my left arm. "After that the Circle showed up to escort Randi and I to meet two more girls and hear some things."
"Whoa don't get me wrong, I don't ever want to be within five feet of someone like Carcharoth but are you saying that you actually met Greygus?!?" Eve looked at me like she was starstruck, "I mean the Greygus!"
"Him and Miseo looked after our group most of the time that we were there along with some friends Mister Redstag showed up with to make sure there was no funny business."
"Not that there would be with Greygus involved," Eve proclaimed, "I am so jealous, to think that I was this close to meeting one of my idols."
"Probably best that you didn't there were a lot of nasty black hats there last night. However, you still might have the chance," I smiled, "one of the girls that Randi and I met was his daughter, from what I gather she'll be a student here next year and will probably be coming here during Perspective Student's Day."
"I need to talk to Phase about getting an eight by ten glossy of him ASAP," Eve all but ran for my door, "I owe you big time for this Bea!"
As she shut the door I couldn't help but wonder if that was really a good thing, I mean I didn't want to be an enabler.
Hidden Cave - Hesperus Peak
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
12:11 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North
With lunch taken care of- courtesy of Bajie Zhu's cooking, make all the jokes that you want about a stout man with the head of a pig but the cleaner of the heavenly alters knew about how to whip up one heck of a lunch spread mainly by repurposing and deconstructing leftovers.
Even as much as I lay back in all my scaly glory digesting my share of the lunch spread, been a while since I actually had chow fun let alone anywhere the noodles weren't overcooked and the chef knew how to properly balance the garlic and ginger with the chili, there was still things to be done.
Lunch aside once everyone ate Bajie Zhu, Wukong Sun and Shenyan Hong each departed the cave for elsewhere leaving Wujing Sha, Kelsey and I to our lonesome...and the dishes. "Okay- I get that it is common courtesy that the chef need not worry with the dishes and Shenyan is long overdue his freedom but Wukong Sun could have at least stuck around and helped out with the dishes!"
"Actually, as I he is running late for an appointment- several in fact." Sha explained as he dried the plate in his hands. "His persona of Kelly Windkloppel needed to put in some face-time in Durango to make it so that people don't suspect her for what happened last night, granted that will only be one of Wukong's copies. His real self is heading out to the Pacific Islands like he does every year, to help Maui organize their annual surfing competition, monster bash and, annual luau that they have with Susanno-o."
"Did you say monster bash?" I looked at my gruff teacher wondering if he meant what he said.
"Yes, the three of them take a break between surfing to beat up on monsters in the Pacific both to keep the populations under control as well as to keep them from drifting into mortal areas." the divine attendant elaborated, "They shall be busy for days- if they remember any of it considering that Susanno-o usually brings a few casks of Orochi-Grade Junmai Daiginjo-shu sake. Zhu meanwhile is heading back to his alter-cleaning duties, there are only so many alter-cleaners and many alters to go around."
"So, I assume that it will be back to training for us before dinner?" I half-heartedly smiled somewhat wanting to return to routine for a little while- to get a taste of what I counted as normalcy.
"In a matter of speaking," Sha Wujing motioned for me to follow him to another part of the caves. As I followed he inquired, "I remember you telling me that you enjoyed artistry, that you found it a rewarding pursuit."
"Yeah- sculpting, not that I can anymore." I looked at my clawed reptilian hands with a sigh as we approached something covered with a tarp, "I just burn too hot these days, my hands dry the clay out so much that I might as well be cooking it as I work it."
"That is why it might be best for you to change mediums," my teacher explained as he through the tarp off to reveal a block of basalt. "There is no way that you can dry out lava rock, in fact I think that you will find it suits you quite well."
"Listen I appreciate the sentiment- I mean it I do," I turned to the arate, "but just because they are both called sculpting doesn't mean they are the same. I mean what do I know about guiding a chisel."
"I think that you misunderstand," the Sha smiled something that I found to be a little unnerving despite knowing that there was no malice to be found in his expression. "Do you see a hammer or chisel, this is another faucet of your training."
"So, what am I supposed to do scratch and chisel away at rock with my own claws?" I inquired growing more than a little annoyed at what was going on between us.
"Using your hands yes but to sculpt in the manner that you are used to doing so," Sha went down to sit nearby ready to observe.
"And how am I supposed to do that this is rock not clay," I fumed as steam came out of my nostrils, "if I tried doing that with how strong I am I'd just break the thing."
"Not with your strength...your power," Sha Wujing elaborated, "You are part fucanglung a volcano dragon, the same heat that melts rock you can reach using your power- you just have to learn how to do so."
"And I can do that?" I asked astonished as I switched between staring at the block of stone and Sha Wujing.
"By training with your powers," my teacher elaborated, "this training is to refine your use of your abilities, training in how to defend yourself is important however you need to gain better mastery of your abilities. Meanwhile you will also be returning to an old subject in which you found a good deal of joy- sculpting with your hands."
"I certainly hope you're right," I said pausing a moment to look at my hands. "I really hope that you're right."
Following his instructions, I snapped my claws to provide a spark and let the fire build, this time not in a giant ball like I did when I smelted gemstones but in two flames that I tried to let spill over the palms of my hands.
"Now if I may make a suggestion pull the flame as tightly against your hands as possible." Sha Wujing observed as I tried to follow his instructions, "just remember you are only trying to condense the fire not...extinguish it."
Sha's instructions faltered as the flames turned into plumes of smoke, "Oops," I laughed in embarrassment, "oh well if at first you don't succeed."
"Indeed, my young pupil," Sha Wujing smiled at me warmly, "this is a skill that is for you alone to master."
"Yeah," I remarked, "and if I do it'll help me sculpt again."
"No child," Sha Wujing shook his head as he continued to smile, "if you succeeded it will help you to become yourself."
Squash Room - Scarlet Sands Resort
Las Vegas, Nevada
11:47 AM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South
As our game went I dove to return the ball that my father had bounded off the wall, only to miss and skid across the bamboo paneled floor. "How do you get used to this game I mean- we're playing against a wall!"
"We're playing against each-other my dear," dad explained as he helped me up, "this is just a way to get used to things. After all you are learning how to be yourself, being a young lady and being a djinni, both are likely a lot to get used to and having a little fun while you're doing it is one of the best ways that you can do so."
"Yeah...fun," I rolled my eyes, "going from an awkward teenage boy to an awkward teenage girl with a pony-head. Then while I'm getting used to that my father trumps me in a game that I've never played before- okay so this is a little fun."
"What can I say, this game requires balance, grace and co-ordination." Dad explained as he retrieved the ball, "Besides it's also good practice for your reflexes- that and mom has taken up tennis, so this is good practice for when I'm away and she asks to play a singles match with you."
"To be perfectly honest I've always been more of a person for physical contact sports," I begrudgingly admitted as I returned to the line. "You already know that I was boxing in the Silver Gloves, but I was also planning on joining the wrestling team once we got to high school."
"Then I suggest that you may want to talk with Gararai," dad stated as he gave the ball a couple of practice bounces, "She studied the Greco-Roman style to try to join the royal guard. She still practices so with shabti sparing partners, but I would imagine that she'd be more thrilled to have a student to practice with."
"Is she the lady with an antelope's head and the lady's secret service attire?" I asked hoping I knew the right djinn.
"Bongo, not antelope but yes," dad answered as he began the next volley which I hit when it returned, "just don't be afraid when you ask her- she's not as scary as she lets on while she's working."
"I'll take your word on that front," I replied while returning his volley and trying to keep an eye on the ball as well as my foot work. "If she didn't look like a grazer I would be afraid that she'd bite me."
"You might also try asking her for a little help with your aerokinesis," dad commented as he kept up the pressure without going too overboard, "she is an air-elemental ask well."
"Really?" I inquired while I tried to keep up with the rhythm of the game, "I would have thought that she was an earth-elemental."
"Nope-" dad retorted as he kept setting the pace, "keep this in mind, creatures of the ground who are swift and graceful are air-elementals, creatures who are rugged or are just as much a part of the landscape as the ground are earth-elementals such as myself."
"Water elementals are creatures who live their lives around the river and oasis such as crocodiles, hippos and waterfowl, and fire elementals are either power-predators or birds of prey." I finished as I remember the lecture that uncle Anubis gave during my combat session with him last night."
"Correct, bro might be a bit of a stick in the mud but he's an excellent teacher," dad continued until he heard the tinkling of a bell which distracted him as a finally missed a volley.
"Whoa dad do you have something against bells?" I asked as I went to retrieve the ball and flipping the number on the score marker for about the fourth time since we started.
"Nope that bells a reminder that it's time for high tea," dad explained as he used his powers to dust us off, "it's one of the changes that mom instituted for here on the weekend. Brunch instead of Breakfast and High Tea instead of Lunch at the Scarlet Sands resort on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, its actually catching on with our normal guests- especially the after-church crowd. Finger sandwiches, scones and tea cakes traditionally followed with truffles, dad put his foot down though and added light salad and soup shooters to the affair in between the sweets."
"Well I suppose you need something to cleanse the palate in between courses of sugar and starch," I thought the matter over and something clicked, "hey dad do you think grandma and grandpa would mind if I helped out in the kitchen. Something, just as something to keep busy since I'm pretty much going to be under house arrest."
"You aren't going to be under house arrest my dear," dad explained as he stored our gear in a tote bag, "you can leave and go anywhere in the city, just as long as you take a few bodyguards with you. Just because that horrible woman is out of the picture doesn't mean that the people who hired her would pass up the chance to try and do something."
"Okay," I relented as I followed dad in the direction of the locker rooms, "just as long as I don't get cabin fever around here before I transfer to my new school. By the way dad, just why are you waiting for the fall?"
"Well the most important reason is that you just came back to us, I want to give you a little more time with your grandparents and myself when I'm in town," dad explained as we headed to the locker rooms, "not that I won't be seeing you during the school year, I plan on dropping by whenever I'm in the region or returning from abroad."
"And what's the other reason?" I asked as we walked along the corridors of the resort's member-only exercise facilities, "we hope to have this mess with the Cult of the Black Pharaoh taken care of by then and that includes rescuing your mother and Miranda Salazar."
"I can't believe that you won't be able to help me with that," I shook my head in disbelief.
"I know but the fact is that the Cult were bound to have djinn in mind when they built their lair, but don't worry you are going to have warriors just as capable as ourselves to aid you- ones who would have no issues with traps made with djinn in mind- Morrigan is lending us a few squads of her elite warriors and hunters."
"Faolan told me that the fae included creatures like ogres, giants and trolls does that mean they're going to send those after the cult?" I inquired as we stood outside the locker rooms, "Maybe but I doubt it- she's probably hand-picking her people for infiltration and stealth, not that surprising though- Morrigan was always an expert in covert-ops."
3:04 PM EDT
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
I stared at my books and laptop and knew that this next few weeks were going to be torture. To be honest there was nothing else that I needed to do today, I had just finished two days' worth of course work in the last few hours and because I was confined to Dickinson when not on school business or serving my detention I couldn't go anywhere.
"I need to pick Randi's brain about so more reading options," I sighed to myself, "otherwise I'm going to go bonkers fast."
With nothing else on my plate, I opted to go the one place where I wouldn't feel confined. I wheeled myself over to bed and tucked myself in for a nap, "I wonder what Greyback will say when I tell him everything that happened?"
Hall of Echoes
Celephaïs, Ooth-Nargai, The Dreamlands
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
I opened my eyes to find myself back in the room of the Hall of Echoes that I had been sharing with Greyback for the last several nights.
"Welcome back child," the fae sage greeted me, "I trust that your excursion to Boston was eventful if you chose to not come here for the evening."
"Well it was equal parts insane and informative," I groaned, "The Necromancer and his goons almost burned down half the city to find Randi and me, and that was after unleashing a bonified horde of mythos-made zombies. Apparently, the Esoteric Order of Dagon made him one hell of an offer because the lengths that he went through are bound to toss him onto the FBI's top ten list."
"I trust that was not all that happened?" the ancient soul hinted at trying to draw more information out of me.
"Yeah, right afterwards the Obsidian Circle disarmed him and escorted Randi and me to meet the other maidens, that was when we found out the scope of what we're in for and why we're all half-breeds."
"Because the four of you need your feet in both the world of man as well as your respective Courts for you to be able to repair the conduits between your Courts wayward lands and the Earth to reestablish the mana flows." Greyback elaborated, "I remember I was there when the being whom Queen Tiamat is the avatar of relayed the original prophecy."
"Wait you knew!" I shouted at my guide and someone whose friendship I was beginning to put into question, "You knew about all of this the whole time and you did nothing! -said nothing! -why?!?"
"Because none of you were ready for that information yet," Greyback stated with as even a stare as his canine visage could muster, "the destiny that the four of you will have to rise to meet is as dangerous as it is necessary. As is all of you still are not ready for the full details of what lay ahead, most of you haven't even grasped the full scope of your individual trials this summer."
"Of course, I know the scope of my trial this summer, I liberate and heal my uncle Qingu and together the two of us break Dagon's curse. What more is there to this?" I asked wanted to jab the old faerie until he spilled- well- something.
"Child it will take a lot more than the verbal prodding of an adolescent to get me to reveal information before its time," the lupine sage sighed as he shook his head. "As it stands all that you are ready for is the knowledge that no matter how ready you think you are for what lay ahead you have yet to fully grasp the true gravity of the matter, everything is still too impersonal for you."
"Too impersonal, a psychotic warlock left a major city in shambles and unleashed a horde of the undead before trying to blast me with dark magic, affecting the lives of thousands maybe even millions." I all but fumed at the sad reality of what Randi and I had just survived, "I still don't know how many people lost their lives from what happened, how many families will suffer from yesterday's events, and you say this is too impersonal for me. I had to use my powers to knit a young girl's liver back together after she had been skewered on a piece of rebar, all because the followers of a warped merman who sold out his own people for power don't want me derailing their gravy train of suffering."
I stalked up to the sage and glared at me right in the eye, "After everything that I just went through how can this not be personal?"
"Meet one of those who you are saving from Dagon's Curse and you will realize the full weight of what you seek to liberate." Greyback stated as he turned back to the orbs in our private study room, "ask Randi when you awaken, she will know what to do."
"I guess that it's a good thing that I know her phone number then," I remarked, "because mom kind of had to bring her foot down over how much danger I put everyone in yesterday. Not only do I need a bodyguard anytime I'm one school grounds, but I have detention duty for the rest of the school year."
"That might be for the best child," the old wolf laughed, "a little tough love can only do you good, and you may learn a thing or two, besides you might make a few new friends while you atone for your transgressions."
"Trust you to see a positive in anything huh," I grumbled as I made my way back over to my own orbs.
"When you're as old as I am child you have to do what you can to focus on the positive." Greyback remarked as he began to take in his own research, just before I began to engross myself more in the culture of the Eastern Court.
Main Fountain - Caesar's Palace Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
2:47 PM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South
Walt, dad and I stood by the main fountain at Caesar's Palace all of us waiting on the Neon Lights to show up and take Walt to a secure location to get everything that happened straightened out with the federal government. Trust reality to throw an even larger monkey wrench in our situation than we previously thought, as it turned out the zodiac gemstones that accidently made its way to our group were stolen by Professor Id from Area 51 of all places and were on their way to us when the courier acting as a go-between mistook me (at least the old me) for the Syndicate agent who was supposed to receive the stolen goods.
That and the reason that dad was technically a super-villain were the reasons that the two of us were dressed in outfits that screamed TOURIST, dad was in a pair of khaki shorts, and an open red Hawaiian shirt with tennis shoes, and an honest to god Duran-Duran 'Hungry like the Wolf' t-shirt with a pair of ray-band sunglasses. Meanwhile I was standing right next to him with a Smashing Pumpkins shirt and blue-jeans with a pair of visor shades periodically looking over a map while Walt was on a nearby bench in his usual clothes (albeit long-sleeved) with a ballcap pulled over his face acting the part of a bored teenager.
"They're about to arrive," dad stated under his breath as he nodded his head in the direction of a man who was built like a semi, "that's a US Marine out of uniform, keep an eye out more and more will begin pouring in before the meeting."
Dad's assessment was spot on, as we waited I could gradually see it happen gradually more and more men and women who I could see were either police or military, not by their uniforms but by their mannerisms began to trickle into the area around the fountain gradually displacing locals and actual tourists who probably felt increasingly unnerved by the brewing situation.
Eventually the hidden military and police moved to the side as I saw a man who screamed high-ranking officer come forward flanked by Wannag'e and Ser Argent of the Neon Lights (Nevada's main super-hero team).
"Greygus, what is the meaning of this," Ser Argent stated in a voice that I could tell was speaker altered, "you said that you were bringing the zodiac gems to return them- what are these children doing here?"
"The issue is the newest gauntlets for the gems appear to have been designed by Professor Id to meld to their wearer's skin." dad sighed, "some kids got the tote bag meant for a Syndicate agent and so a Slyde courier slipped them the gauntlets by mistake."
"Let me guess they both put one on," the military officer whose name I didn't know spoke up, "That's just peachy- we were in the middle of analyzing those things and if what you're saying is true those two have them stuck on them now."
"Actually, only the boy does, he used them to defend my daughter when she got caught in the squabble when Miss Bliss sent two of her thugs to retrieve them." dad continued, "So suffice it to say I owe the young man a great deal for his act of heroism and wish to see that he is kept safe from any within the government who may want to harm him to retrieve their property."
"I'm army not CIA, I don't torture people, especially not American citizens." The army officer stated, "provided you're telling the truth."
With my dad's word in doubt Ser Argent and Wannag'e stepped around the man, with the masked man whose trench coat was made with a Native American motif while his partner the man who was dressed like a titanium mech knight, scanned Walt's now exposed arms with a sweeping blue-light from his visor.
"He's telling the truth sir," Ser Argent stated, "the only way to get those off without amputation would require the use of acid and an extensive use of skin-grafts."
"Crap," the army officer swore, "I'm sorry about this son but those power gems are too dangerous to be kept in the open like this, we're going to have to put you into protective custody to make sure those things don't fall into the wrong hands."
"I am afraid that I cannot allow that general," dad stated as armed members of our Household began to materialize garbed in outfits that implied their chosen profession as super-villain. "We did not help liberate this boy from Miss Bliss only to see him lose his freedom all over again."
"You willing to go to war over this Greygus," the military officer stated as he glared at dad, "because that is exactly what you will be doing if you attack us."
"Actually, all I am doing is asking my compatriots to show themselves to state our serious intent on this matter." Dad explained as he sat down, "to that end I propose an alternative solution- instead of this young man being in military custody for the rest of his life see about training him alongside the Neon Lights at least until the new school year begins while putting his family into the Witness Protection Program."
"I seriously doubt that four months of training will be enough to prepare him for a lifetime as a target," Wannag'e stated, "but given that you mentioned the school year I presume that you mean to send him to Whateley in the fall."
"They have been training countless heroes for decades as well as every Champion since their third one," dad continued, "four years of training there should be more than enough time to prepare the young man for whatever life will throw at him."
"We'll give him the school year to try and give his all," the army officer explained, "afterwards if he doesn't make the grade then he goes under guard until we can find a way to remove those vambraces."
"I accept your terms general," dad extended his hand while the rest of our people vanished, soon after the military officer met his handshake and I knew that if I was ever going to help Walt stay free then I'd have to see to it that he thrived at Whateley when we both started. I almost had to laugh at the irony, back when I was Paul I had needed Walt to watch my back now that I was Iris it was time for me to return the favor.
Hidden Cave - Hesperus Peak
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
4:21 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North
I laid gasping for breath as I looked at the pillar of basalt that Sha Wujing had given me to work with, if only I could get my powers to work as he claimed that he could. No matter what I did though the flame was either too loose to reach the level of concentrated heat that I needed for this to work or I drew it so tightly to my hands that if extinguished. "Ugh, come on how do I do this what is the secret?"
"Unfortunately, this is a skill that you will have to learn how to perform on your own." The immortal explained as he offered to help me up, an offer that I refused as I got on my own two feet myself. "Just as this is a skill unique to yourself, this is also a skill that you will need to master in your own unique fashion."
"Maybe I should have asked Shengyan if he had any pointers before he left," I observed as I reflected on the possibility of learning from the man who even as a child was a true master of fire. "He was supposed to be such a master of fire that even the waters of the four celestial seas could not extinguish them."
"Child you are not ready to handle sage fire yet," the divine attendant explained as his voice turned stern, "it could be years until you are ready to handle such power, that Hong Shengyan was able to master such power at such an early age was only a testament to his natural abilities. Besides this is your journey, what worked for another may not work for you."
"Isn't there anything that you can tell me about how to do this?" I asked wanting to really get started on sculpting again even if I was molding molten rock instead of clay.
"Just one," Sha Wujing began as he moved towards the exit to this part of the cavern, "this exercise is about more than finding control over your powers.
"What else is it about?" I asked as I got up to join him.
"You should be able to answer that question for yourself when you begin to shape this rock like clay," my teacher began to break open another proverbial fortune cookie. "Now how about we practice shape shifting again, I understand that you have mastered the equivalent of your human form."
"Yeah it helped me a lot in Durango yesterday," I admitted as we moved to a larger chamber deeper into the mountain. "It made me feel like I used to, before I became the Northern Maiden."
"That is another question for you to ponder child," my teacher explained as he moved to sit lotus-style, "did the incident in the store house with the rat and your ancestor's ashes make you the Northern Maiden or did it simply reveal what was already there?"
"Well what is the answer there?" I inquired wanting to learn the answer.
"That is for you to decide child, were you a flower seed caught in the winds of fate that made you what you are, or did you ride those currents like a bird arriving at a destination that you did not realize you were heading for at the time."
I had to admit it Sha Wujing was a great teacher, making you think about things even if they were matters that you never wanted to consider.
"And on that note, let us see you trying to become a bird," my immortal teacher stated as he plotted the course for today's lesson, "after all a set of wings can be useful from time to time."
Poe Cottage - Whateley Academy
Dunwich, New Hampshire
7:38 PM EDT
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
I slumped to my desk back from dinner at Crystal Hall, thankfully my fellow denizens of Poe had run interference for me and explained what had happened after Bea and I had vanished during last night's rescue efforts. This lead to a barrage of questions though about WHY the Obsidian Circle was interested in the two of us. Captain Bravo with his team of Great Lakes Avengers wannabes proclaimed that they would prevent me from exercising my nefarious schemes on the Headmistress's daughter while the Masterminds made their interests in recruiting me known, something that Phase helped shut down soon after.
What was surprising was that Pendragon had come over to me,
POV: Randi Bridges
Glad that Team Bravo had opted to scram after Steve, Jamal, Kerry and Baird told him to back off, a sentiment that Ayla did to Stopwatch with a silent glare when he tried to press me for information about the Obsidian Circle. Now it was Pendragon's turn, "Arthur, please stop, I don't have any big connections to the Grand Hall I just want to eat dinner before getting ready for classes Monday."
"That's not what I'm here about Miss Bridges," Pendragon said as he took one of the few empty chair and say to my side (yet not at the table itself). "This is about what happened yesterday in Boston, I read the reports about the hospital and the buildings, as well as the airport and what happened inside from Boudicca. In all that was some very fine work Faolan, I think that you might have some real potential."
"Whoa," Steve Nalley goggled at what was happening, "are you recruiting Randi for the FSA?!?"
"Not yet Mister Nalley," Arthur shook his head at Steve's question, "I am here to tell Randi that I think that she has the potential to be an actual pro-hero one day. "I see the mindset and the heart there as well as some good instincts, I would consider you look into adjusting your schedule though next year if you would wish to pursue that occupation."
"I don't know Art," I stated hesitantly, "I mean I have a lot on my plate as is, training to go all in pro one day though... I don't know."
"You don't have to commit to this at this moment Randi, this is just a suggestion to see if you may be interested one day." Arthur stated as he got up and, "This is the number of the FSA's advisor he can help you if you want a little guidance on potential electives down the line."
POV: Randi Bridges
I still had the number in my desk for later but for right now I was content, that was when I heard my phone ring. I knew that it was an internal call, unlike the phone is the lobby, phones in student rooms required special permission to open up the line to external phone-calls which made sense to avoid the wrong type of people finding out about Whateley. Most students just opted to get cell phones to avoid the paperwork since the campus towers had an encryption on them that made calls routed through them almost impossible to trace.
"Hello Poe Cottage, this is Randi Bridges speaking," I stated as I picked up the phone. "Who may I ask is calling?"
"Hello Randi, this is Bea," I heard my fellow maiden speak through the receiver, "I was just talking with Greyback and he told me there was something that you may be able to help me with."
"Sure Bea, as long as it has nothing to do with your detention," I nervously chuckled, "the school kind of frowns on that thing."
"No, not that Randi." Bea groaned now that she wasn't in front of the adults and let the full weight of her punishment take hold it was obviously starting to hit her that even if she was finally walking unassisted she would still be restricted in her movements until she left for her mission in Iraq this summer. "Greyback says that I am still too distant from what I'm doing this summer, and since I can't meet Qingu until I free him from Tiamat's protection spell he said that you would know."
"I think that he means you need to meet someone with Innsmouth syndrome," I began to guess what my old protector intended, "preferably someone who is still asymptomatic because the moment they start to go Deep One they begin their new mindset begins to infect them and eat away at their soul until they become instinct driven monsters under control of Dagon and his cult's high priests."
"Randi- I know that much but can you help me with meeting one of them who won't try to tear me limb from limb?" Bea asked wanting me to cut the small talk.
"Yeah Bea- I can arrange that," I began to explain the situation, "my brother's girlfriend fits the bill there, I'll email them and explain the situation- to be honest Vanessa has always been scared ever since she found out. Then again I had Carcharoth inside me trying to take over and I saw what happened when he took the driver's wheel- talk about one video with a hard R-rating for violence."
"Yes, I still can't believe that you were able to stay sane after having a monster like that inside you for so long," Bea remarked.
"Yeah, I needed a lot of therapy over the years and with Jane's insistence I'm going to start seeing Doctor Bellows soon," I sighed as I conceded that my partner had a point, "Hard to believe that one of the few benefits of having that monster inside of me was that I could identify people with Innsmouth Syndrome by just being in close proximity to them."
"Really, that is one ability that could come in real handy in the future," Bea piqued up- but even I could tell that she had misinterpreted the situation.
"I'm sorry Bea but that talent was due to Carcharoth," I sighed, "he hates a lot of things at various levels, but he especially hates those who are connected to the Mythos, I used to hate Vanessa and it took me some time to overcome that aversion to her as well as Carcharoth's influence."
"At least his hate helped keep you safe growing up," Bea explained trying to put a positive spin on the matter.
"Bea, I lived over two-hundred miles from the coast, people with Innsmouth Syndrome usually prefer seaside cities and towns on instinct, Vanessa lives in my hometown because of her father and step-mother." I further elaborated on the situation, "she only knows about her affliction because her mother took steps to keep her safe once she turned. Besides I was a real loner as a kid I mean, I mean when Carcharoth entered the picture I began to push people away; I even got into a nasty fight with my best friend from elementary school because I just- snapped- at- him..."
That was when I began to put two and two together, the first time that I felt the same about someone that I did for Vanessa- my former best friend Joel West. Up until second grade the two of us were inseparable then I began to have nightmares, I can't even remember if I had dreams before then because Greyback and Morrigan had found me years earlier, but that was beside the point once the Carcharoth- once Fenrir was inside of me I hated him with a passion. His mother complained about the fight so much to the principal that I had to transfer to another elementary school.
Now I realized the hate that I had then was the same that I had for Vanessa, tears began to flow as I not only realized that Carcharoth had ruining my life in yet another way, but an old friend of mine was in danger and he would never believe me if I tried to warn him.
"Randi-" Bea called out over the receiver, "Randi, please answer me, what's wrong?"
"What's wrong Bea is that I realized that Vanessa wasn't the only person that I ever knew with Innsmouth Syndrome," I began to sob as the realization left me feeling numb. "Joel West, my best-friend from back at the beginning of elementary school must have it too, because Carcharoth fed me the same hate for him that I had for Vanessa and because of the fight that hate started there is no way that I can warn him about what is about to happen."
"Actually Randi," Bea mused, "I wouldn't lose hope if I were you. There could still be one way that you could warn him, and I may know how."
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Watt Family Apartment
Sutton Apartments - Apartment 307
POV: Chandra Defranks
I looked over at Ramona who I had now to wake up, feeling more than a little betrayed at the evidence of what was outside. "Ramona, please explain why Taikeyla is outside saying that she needs you to get in contact with her gang?"
"She's here because I was designated a White Line," Ramona whispered with a touch of anger on her face, anger that I could tell was not directed at me. "It all boils down to the Coleman sister's threats and the leverage that gave them. You see there is no way that you can know this since it isn't exactly common knowledge, but every once in a while, the local crews need neutral parties who they feel they can use to arrange meetings or spread the word between the gangs when there is a problem."
"With the adult crews usually, this is a store run by a person who used to be a banger that earned enough respect among the other gangs to be trusted, all while remaining clean in the eyes of the law for going straight. For teenagers though- it's a bit nastier, when a person who isn't a hood but a gang has enough dirt on that they can trust not to go to the police and is outside their territory they use us as White Lines, all this means is that the other crews in the area leave my mom and me alone because they can use me as an asset, it doesn't mean that I'm safe from Natroya and Darisha- those two can cut me loose at any time and once that happens it's open season on my mom and me."
"But the other gangs trust you?" I asked somewhat mistrustful of the whole weird arrangement that Ramona was ties up into all this.
"They trust me not to lie to other gangs or rat them out to the police," Ramona slumped "but that's all- and the moment that the local gang loses faith in me I'd be dead before I got to the bus stop."
"But if you call the Coleman sister's bluff on your mother, won't they do the same thing?" I asked somewhat concerned about the matter.
"Nope, the only danger I'd be in is from the Ally Vipers," Ramona flashed me a devious smile, "creating a White Line is some major street cred but losing your grip on one turns you into a joke in the eyes of the other gangs. If I flip- no when I flip on Natroya- it will be like chumming the waters in their territory, but for now please just let me play my role. Just hide in my room, if Natroya was behind your shooting then I don't want Taikeyla to know that you're here."
For the time being I did as Ramona asked, and hid in her room, fortunately the walls of this place were always pretty thin, and the only insulation was between the apartments not the individual rooms. Granted that also meant that I needed to stay as quiet as a mouse to avoid letting Taikeyla know that I was here.
"Taikeyla this had better be a major emergency," I heard Romana say after she opened the door but from the lack of the full creak the chain was still on, "you know that a White Line is only for real emergencies, plus you are outside of Alley Viper territory, you know this is the Gator's turf they catch you around here without a good reason then not even Natroya will be able to pull your fat out of the fire."
"Quit snarling Ray-ray, everyone in the Viper's now you have no teeth," Taikeyla shot back at Ramona in a way that I never heard her talk with anyone for as long as I knew her. "You will open up now and let me use the phone or Darisha will see to it that you and your old lady will be living on the streets inside of a month. After all what good is a bean-counter who nobody trusts to look at their jars."
"Dammit- fine make your call and go," Ramona replied as she opened the door.
"Careful Ray-ray," Taikeyla remarked as I heard her enter the apartment, "you're not as important as you think, we have enough dirt on others that if we need another White Line we can make one in a snap. Remember, your ours until we say so and then you're nothing!"
Ramona stayed silent until I started to hear Taikeyla talk again, "T-Rez this is Taikeyla with the Alley Vipers, the Knights are turning over rocks in the Westside, spread the word- no mutes with crews need to be out unless they hate breathing and everyone else needs to stay quiet and keep their heads down."
I heard Taikeyla pause obviously listening to this T-Rez on the other side, "Course I'm sure, these jack boots ain't cops, 'sides you think anyone downtown would to shits if they cap a few of us before they find their mark. You use your line to give the 'cudas, the Skulls and the Gators the 411, I'll key in the Semis, the Screaming Eagles, and the Erasers."
True to her word Taikeyla made three more phone calls to the other gangs and used the same tone and force with each of them, whoever Taikeyla was when I knew her in grade school she was clearly someone who was well known among the movers and shakers in the gang scene.
With her last phone call made Taikeyla spoke up again in the same threatening tone to Ramona, "Now Ray-ray I don't know what made you think you could grow a spine all the sudden but remember, D-caf ain't here no more to watch your back and she never will be. That Uncle Tom is who the Knights are looking for and when they find her she'll be taking a dirt nap in no time. Remember Natroya is the real power here and I'm her second, you dare to give me lip again and we'll tear yours off!"
Once the apartment door slammed shut I continued to wait in Ramona's bedroom until she told me, "Okay Chandra, you can come out now."
"Talk about a change," I observed as I stared at the now closed and bolted door, "Taikeyla was never like that when I knew her."
"It's like I told you Chanda," Ramona stated as seriously as she could, "Taikeyla is the kind of person who looks for a gravy-train, back in elementary school it was your talent to athletics the drew her to us, and even back then she was always a little...cool towards me. But once Natroya came along that was when Taikeyla became more interested in the power that comes with fear and she loves it a lot. Natroya couldn't have found a better toadie, we were just too innocent to see Taikeyla for the kind of person she really was under her facade."
"Still this means that the Knights of Purity are tearing about the West Side looking for me- I can't stay here I'll only be putting you in danger." I tried to explain the risks, but something told me that Ramona wasn't going to buy my argument.
"No way in hell," Ramona shot back, I hated being right on times like this, "I shoved you away once out of fear when you needed for me to have your back and it haunted me ever since. I'm I here for you and I will do everything that I can to see that those over-inflated rent-a-cops don't get their metal mitts on you."
"And how do you plan on doing that?" I asked seriously trying to get Ramona to realize how insane this situation was becoming.
"First off, I'm going to let the Gator's know that Taikeyla was in the neighborhood to use my White Line instead of the one in the Ally Viper's territory and then tender my resignation as a White Line operator." Ramona stated as she gave me something that I rarely saw from her, and only in those times that I knew I had tamed those namely fears that I knew festered inside of her- a wicked grin of that wry wit that I knew was buried deep down inside of her.
"Welcome back Ramona," I smiled at my oldest friend, "it's good to see the real you after all this time."
"Not as good as it feels to be the real me again after all this time," Ramona smiled back, "but as good as it feels kicking those three out of my life feels- there is still a real problem."
"I know- I heard," I reminded myself as I steeled my nerves, "the Knights of Purity know that I'm in the Westside and are looking for me, and I don't want to bring their trouble to your doorstep."
"You won't Chandra," Ramona explained as she squeezed my shoulder, "they don't know that you're here, nobody does, and I won't tell anyone anything."
Morrison Family Home
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Ruth Morrison sat in the living room with Trudie Defranks who was doing what she could to see if there was some sign of her daughter on the news, but to little surprise there was nothing about Chandra on the news beyond the report of a shooter at large with only one injury. Not too surprising there wasn't a peep about the Knights of Purity attempting to take the victim into custody on suspicion of being a mutant. Not that this was too surprising, Herbert Goodkind the CEO of the Knights of Purity Security Company was the younger brother of Bruce Goodkind who among other things in was the CEO of GNN and had an injunction against any news agencies other than his own to cover his brothers company.
As slimy as this was it was a legal maneuver and kept the Knights from getting any negative publicity on television, though newspapers, radio and on the internet, they were fair game. While the DPAs call that the Knights actions were now bordering on Extra-legal, as well as the news that whatever Chandra was it wasn't a mutant- meant precious little. The fact of the matter it was still one child of an ethnic minority with a history of being counted as casualties among panicky or openly bigoted individuals touting their second amendment rights as cart-blanche to take the lives of suspected criminals. It made Ruth so sick to her stomach that she had to switch her focus from criminal law to civil and corporate law to avoid the possibility of her one day getting disbarred over assaulting a plaintiff.
The decidedly dark turns that her thought was taking her especially given light of her own childhood made the buzzer on her doorbell sounding a welcome change of pace. Walking over to the intercom Ruth cued the speaker, "Hello Morrison residence, this is Ruth Morrison speaking."
"Hello Mrs. Morrison, my name is Marcy Anslinger I represent a group of citizens who are concerned about the presence of a dangerous individual in their community."
A dark look crossed over Ruth's face, she had been anticipating this moment ever since Chandra's teammates called and explained what happened at the park. As she began to head out the door Trudie asked numbly, "Mrs. Morrison- who was at the door?"
"A toady from Humanity First claiming to represent the community's interests concerning someone dangerous in the neighborhood," Ruth explained before switching to a softer tone to console the worrying mother, "I'll take care of this- and please remember Trudie... please- call me Ruth."
Now with the closed door to her family's home behind her, Ruth Morrison set out to the woman who was dressed in the manner more befitting a local aspiring politician than an actual member of the local home-owner's association. Not willing to betray what she had in store for her own potential victim Ruth never let her own guise as a professional attorney slip as she slowly made her way to their front gate, savoring every moment of anticipation for the massacre to come.
Once she reached the front gate the woman that she presumed was Marcy Anslinger was down there waiting for her, "Mrs. Morrison, once again I am Marcy Anslinger, I am here representing the community interest group-"
"I know perfectly well who you are here with Ms. Anslinger," Ruth stated never once letting her mask of professionalism drop, "I have been waiting all afternoon for the local chapter of Humanity-First to come knocking on my door."
"Ah good, then you are well aware of the dangerous mutant that you let into your home as well as the danger that she poses-" Ms. Anslinger began her sales pitch only to be interrupted by Ruth Morrison.
"Because I knew that soon after the Knights of Purity tried to take my poor Trudie's daughter away from the paramedics whom the Chicago Police had placed in their care for transport to protective custody that one of the special-interest groups beholden to the Goodkind family would darken my door step to try and educating me about the better interests of my own family."
"Ma'am I don't see why you are so upset," Ms. Anslinger backed up trying to play the victim card, "this mutant isn't even your daughter- I have it on good authority that she is only the child of your housekeeper. Why go to such lengths for the help?"
The moment that those last two words left Ms. Anslinger's mouth Ruth's eyes narrowed and her nostrils briefly flared, "The Help- THE HELP! Let me tell you right now Miss Anslinger- everyone who lives or has ever lived under this roof I consider FAMILY. Just because they work in this house does not make them any less a part of this household, and when they leave to advance their careers I still consider them to be family. Just because we are not related by blood does not mean that I consider her to be any less important to me than my own son."
"Mrs. Morrison, while such an attitude should be commendable you should be aware of the danger that you are putting those around you in," Ms. Anslinger once again tried to regain her moral ground as she pushed her card through the gate and into Ruth's hands, "as a woman of your education and upbringing-"
"Until the age of six I was a member of the Foster Care System, my father was a leader of the Chicago Construction Union who died in an industrial accident when I was four and I was taken away from my mother because she was ruled as being mentally unfit while grieving for the loss of her husband." Ruth began as she looked at the woman like she was vermin, "My foster family the Appleton's kept me in attic with an old mattress and moth-eaten blankets only letting me clean myself up when the welfare officer showed up to check on me, that lasted two years before the next-door neighbor noticed the lights in the attic and called the police."
Ruth continued to unload as she glared at the woman, "They were prosecuted for welfare fraud and child neglect and were sentenced to five years in prison, after that I lived in the Our Lady of Graceful Charity Orphanage with my second real family until I was thirteen when my third family the Sedgwick's adopted me, they encouraged my interest in law and offered to pay for me to go to law school not that I needed to with my scholarships. I graduated and then married afterwards- so let me tell you this I know what good people are, I know who I consider family, I worked hard to get where I am in life and I will be damned if I let some busybody from a group that is tied financially tied to those tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center tell me who belongs under my roof and in this neighborhood."
"Not to mention that you have given me all that I need to have your group formally investigated," Ruth smiled as she help up a rolling handheld tape recorder, "the information about Chandra Defranks is part of an ongoing police investigation and not available to the general public, so there is no legal way that you could have known about her or have obtained her address as both have yet to be released to the press. This shows that Humanity-First obtained confidential documents without going through proper legal channels, which in itself is a potential crime."
"To be frank Ms. Anslinger- you will be hearing from my law firm in the very near future," Ruth Morrison stated while waving Marcy Ansligner's card as she hit stop on the recorder.
"You can't do that," Ms. Anslinger said as her face turned flushed, "there is no way that I will agree to that tape as evidence in court."
"That legal precedent only involves private conversations, we are outside and on private property of which I am co-owner," Ruth continued smiling, "that gives me the control over the submission of all surveillance taken on my property outside of that governed by Attorney-Client privilege. Now I suggest that you leave- after all the Fifth Amendment is very specific about self-incrimination. Oh, and just so that you are aware the Department of Paranormal Affairs contacted us earlier to inform us that they are investigating this case, and as they are a branch of the Justice Department this is currently a federal matter."
Recognizing that Ruth meant business and that this was an attorney who had prepared for this encounter with repercussions that would be far-reaching, Marcy Anslinger got into her nearby car and left as fast as she could.
When she returned to the house, she saw Gertrude Defranks waiting for her through tearful eyes, "I heard everything over the intercom- what you said-"
"I meant every word of it Trudie," Ruth smiled as she hugged the woman, "everyone in this house is a part of this family, even if you work for me that does not make you and Chandra any less a part of it. Oh, and don't let Chandra know- but that computer of her's just has his old tower, he and his friends build PCs and before he gave that one to her he upgraded it to the same standards as his current model- well provided it came from a store I doubt that she needs a liquid-cooled mad-science project like what he turned his into."
"I won't Ruth," Trudie smiled as she wiped away her tears, "I don't want her to start taking too many things for granted, but at least her home is safe for her to come back to."
"Yes, now she just needs to come back home." Ruth stated in apprehension knowing that the next few hours could change her family for years to come for better or worse.
VT had been waiting for hours at the bar in The Rust-tic carefully nursing the mocktails that the bartender provided, not out of respect that he was getting free drinks, but because he had been told not to move. At least the television behind the bar provided a little entertainment, granted VT wondered why they had it tuned into the news channel of all things, but at least it was something. Too bad it was tuned into MSNBC instead of GNN, those granola-crunching bleeding-hearts were doing some fluff-piece about the chaos in Boston last night, and actually had the nerve to be praising a bunch of freaks who popped out of the wood work pretending to be heroes by saving people from the bombs that they probably planted in the first place.
"Na, who the hell cares about that crap anymore," VT remarked as he tipped his Rob Roy to the screen, "let sell-outs like my 'rents worry about that crap. Yeah, soon as Mister Sikes gets back I'm gonna' be a made man 'round my real peeps, not just another poser like T-Slam and my old homies. No sir, from now on I'm gonna' be a real brother."
"Don't count your chickens too soon kid," Tony explained while he got back to taking stock of his booze for tomorrow, "boss doesn't take kindly to scrubs who can't follow orders, as is you're on thin ice."
"Mister Sikes said to shoot her and I shot her," VT defended himself, "I shot at her leg, but the freak used her mutant crap and before I could do jack she had me pinned against a bush, that's when I shot her."
"The Boss told you to plug her leg and word's out that you shot her in the side." Tony fumed at VT and the teens dismissive attitude, "When the boss gives an order he expects it to be followed like he gives it- not to use it as a request. He tells me he wants a gin and tonic with London Dry Gin I give him a gin and tonic with London Dry Gin, he tells a scrub like you to pump a round into some bitch's leg you pump a round into that bitch's leg- not her side- her leg."
"Now Tony- chill, is that any way to treat a new brother in our crew who drew blood of the bitch who dissed Natroya," Mister Sikes entered the building with Darisha at his side both acting as a symbol of the man's authority as well as his influence. "So, he slipped up on the first go, that still doesn't mean he can't complete the job in round two."
"But I shot her," VT defended himself from Mister Sikes, "I know that it didn't go to plan when she went all mutant freaky, but I still shot her- she's going to be an easy target for anybody who wants her and now that she's a mutant everyone will turn on her like that!" VT snapped his fingers for added emphasis.
"VT it isn't as simple as that, true the Knights of Purity have a strong presence in this town after their triumph at The Cloisters those many years ago, but after what happened in Manhattan and Cincinnati their luster has become tarnished. Moreover, they acted on bad intel and tried to seize Chandra from protective custody forcing her to go on the run and costing the police access to their only eye-witness to the shooter." Mister Sikes explained as he began to fill VT in.
"Also, mutant fear in Chicago isn't as high as you may think, this is the hometown of The Champion after all, worst still if Chandra saw who shot her then you could serve as the link back to us." VT did everything short of glare at VT, "That means that you need to make certain that Chandra can't ID you or at least discredit her to the point that no one will believe her."
"As much as I'd love to finish that Oreo bitch, what can I do?" VT defended himself, "I mean I don't know how she did it but right before that bullet hit her she was gone and right next to me before I could blink. I try to get her again and I'm toast, if I didn't have my own piece on me she'd have killed me after she got over the shock; next time I try if she finds me I'm dead."
"Poor VT, you didn't think that we'd send you to finish the job without the right tools to see it through," Mister Sikes smiled as he pulled a hypo-injector with a test tube full of a greenish brown fluid. "We handle more than guns son; today's arm's race has all kinds of goodies for those who want to take the risks and I guarantee that no matter what Chandra tries to do to you you'll be more than ready." Mister Sikes finished his pitch as he handed the vial over to VT.
"Just what is this goo?" VT looked at the contents of the test tube with a warry eye as the common sense that he had been ignoring for the last few days was finally loud enough to be heard. "How will whatever this gunk is help me stop her?"
"It's called Nightmare Fuel, a little temporary mutation agent from the Black Market," Leroy Sikes explained, "just toss this back and for the next ten minutes you'll be more than a match for anything a freshman mutie like Chandra can throw at you. Just remember you'll only have ten minutes and once that's up you'll crash like an Amtrak train, one of Natroya's sisters will be there to get you out and take care of any loose-lips."
"Nice to know that I'll have back-up," VT laughed before Mister Sikes grabbed him by the collar.
"Listen here new meat, I'm giving you this shot because I'm being generous," Mister Sikes stated as he glared at VT with his nostrils flaring in anger, "this is your last shot understand, take care of this and you're in, blow it and you'll exploring the bottom of Lake Michigan with all the other liabilities of the made men of Chicago."
"Now understand, Darisha will drop you off with in Ally Viper territory, you meet your escort, she takes you near where Chandra's likely to be laying low you start wrecking her old hood and then wreck her when she shows up. After that we leave Chandra holding the bag when the Knights arrive and finish her off like they always do to newbie muties. Understand, you smash, you stomp Chandra, you leave her for the Knights to cap that's it; you play this just like I tell you and it won't even make the front page of the Tribune, you blow it and you'll just be another fugitive that nobody ever finds. AM I CLEAR?!?"
"Y-yes sir Mister Sikes," VT shrunk in his seat, his eyes wide in fear only now realizing just the magnitude of what he had gotten into now with no way out other than going through with it. "I'll flatten her like a take-and-bake pizza and leave her for the Knights to roast for messing up the kitchen."
"Good boy," Mister Sikes said as he smoothed out VT's collar, "remember, follow what I said to the letter. Now finish your drink and take care of your business, I have to go set things up with your contact while Darisha takes you over to the West Side."
"Got it boss," VT stated as he tossed back his mocktail and headed for the men's room while Mister Sikes ascended the stairs to his office.
Once inside of his office Mister Sikes dialed up Natroya the current head of the Alley Vipers. "Hey boss, I assume the wannabe screwed up because the Knights are combing the Westside for Defranks, so what's your plan?"
"Not my plan, Mister Brea's plan," Leroy Sikes explained as he reclined in his chair. "I'm gonna need you to get you sister Taikeyla on the horn, it's time that we put her to some use. According to Mister Brea's seer she has a role to play in readying Defranks for him to use her like he wants."
"I still don't get why that stuck up bitch is important, it's not like she's a mutant we've known that much for a while and speedsters aren't that rare, why does Mister Brea need her?"
"I don't know what she is and neither of us need to know," Mister Sikes replied, "Mister Brea wants her and his freaky psychic says that she'll help keep him safe."
"Yeah but why put so much stock in a precog?" Natroya asked, "Their powers aren't the most reliable, and prophecies are only good if nothing changes because of them."
"I know that Natroya but she's good enough," Leroy fumed at Darisha's sisters questions, "She predicted that Defranks would gain powers without becoming a mutant, get her mom a great job in the burbs, and that Scratch would come into town. That's three for three, she warned that this was the last chance to sway her, afterwards she'll get a hold of her powers and after that not only will she be out of our grasp, but Mister Brea will be on Scratch's radar. Remember we need Mister Brea's connections for our side businesses, and we still don't know how to get an in with Scratch or even if we can."
"Understood boss, I'll let Taikeyla know-"
"And when you do be sure to tell her about Defranks helmet," Mister Sikes told Natroya before she could hang up, "remember she needs to get it off Defranks before she uses its powers."
"Understood Mister Sikes, I'll make sure that Taikeyla knows about Defranks's helmet."
As Natroya hung up, Leroy Sikes leaned back in his chair, he knew that there was only one thing that he could do right now- play the waiting game. Whatever happened now it was out of his hands, all that he could do right now was wait. Or at least that was all there was to do on the Defranks Situation and Mister Brea's wants and needs, still that witch's visions or not Leroy hadn't survived and thrived as long as he had in the world without weighing his options and if Mister Brea's future (as well as his own if he kept his horse hitched to that cart) all hinged on the outcome of tonight then maybe it was time to check on the new player in town.
Leroy booted up his terminal and once it was active began to look into the corners of the Dark Web for a commodity more valuable than gold...information. After all, if Erzebet Scratch was interested in Chicago it was time to learn about how he could live with the new big fish in the pond without being swallowed, who knows maybe she would appreciate his club as it was without being more concerned with its potential expediting arms on smuggled in from across the border and through the Iron Pipeline.
DPA Agent Philip Donovan looked on in contentment as the researchers for the Argonne National Laboratory poured over their instruments, it was fortunate that after he was done with his fruitless visit to the MCO's Chicago Branch Office that the Chicago PD called him to inform him of the individuals who were trying to gain access to their Brynum Island crime scene. As it turned out they were also witnesses to Chandra Defranks odd ability as she actually set off their sensors at the Exotic Energy lab, around the same time as the shooting occurred as well as a few times afterwards.
This meant that unlike the Knights of Purity, the DPA actually had a way to track down and locate the poor girl before the Knights and return her to protective custody before the Knights used their old excuse that they were forced to resort to lethal force to defend themselves from a dangerous and hostile mutant of which Miss Defranks was neither a mutant nor actively hostile. As it turned out the attack that led the Assistant State's Attorney to invoking the Knights Charter happened in an alley near where the Chicago PD claimed was a favorite spot for muggers, meaning that it was very likely that the anonymous source who the girl assaulted was likely a would-be robber who chose the wrong target.
"Professor Bing," Gab Cowen spoke up from his instruments, "it's faint and a little decayed but I've picked up the tachyon trail heading into the Austin neighborhood although I'm having trouble pinpointing, our active sensors are too far outside the target zone and it's difficult to triangulate the readings."
"Why are you having trouble finding the source?" Agent Donovan inquired, "You seem to have these sensors all over Illinois, why is this an issue?"
"The issue is that denizens of this part of town kept vandalizing our sensors for copper and electrical components, so we stopped bothering to put them up." Professor Jack Bing explained, "Besides they were set up in the first place to monitor beta and alpha ray decay from the Manhattan Project Nuclear Labs that were in operation in the city during the 40s, they aren't set up to monitor for tachyon emissions we are just following energy spikes that register as unknown and having to use that data to sort out tachyon emissions from other sources. It takes time, to do the math; please keep in mind our department isn't the most highly funded at Argonne, most of what we use is obsolete equipment that the other departments are about to auction off."
"All right just keep in mind that there is a life at stake here," Agent Donovan stressed the importance of the matter, "My office just got the support that we've been needing for years and we have all eyes on us to produce results. Besides shouldn't the City of Chicago be interested in monitoring this background radiation, I mean it could be a cancer risk."
"Sir it's been sixty years since those labs were active," Dylan Hawser spoke up as he continued to pour over the instrument readings, "whatever radiation there is below ground right now is comparable to what frequent flyers are subjected to at the airports. Besides they don't want to throw people into a panic while attracting personal injury lawyers interested in the fat chunk they'd get from representing a class action settlement against a major city and the United States Military. As far as the city of Chicago are concerned the fewer people know about the real reason those sensors were put in place the better."
"Can you at least let me know how much you have it narrowed down to at the moment," Agent Donovan pleaded of the researchers, "as is all that we have to go on are police scanner reports of people complaining about the Knights of Purity combing nearby neighborhoods looking for our witness."
"So far I have it narrowed down to the Austin Neighborhood," Gab Cowen explained as he kept working away at the data on his PC, "that alone is over a thousand city blocks. Shouldn't you inquire with the police about this person's known associates?"
"This person is a minor with no criminal record, who moved away to Arlington Heights two years ago." Agent Donovan explained, "the only people that would know who her associates might be are her old elementary school teachers, and that information is unavailable until someone with the Chicago School's records department comes back in tomorrow. As the DPA doesn't have the manpower that the Knights of Purity have to conduct a grid search that means that all we have are people like you."
"Well if it makes you feel any better we just narrowed the search area for the last tachyon burst by 75%," Professor Bing stated as he looked over his own calculations. "The person that you're looking for last used their powers in the Northwestern area of Central Austin, that's only a few hundred city blocks and we're working to narrow that even further. While we're talking though provided you are able to place this enhanced individual back in protective custody would you allow us to assist in monitoring their power's assessment?"
"I'll try to clear it with my superiors in Washington, but why would you want to do that?" Agent Donovan inquired wanting a clear explanation of the professor's interest in an enhanced minor.
"Because this individual is providing us with more data in one day concerning tachyon behavior than our organization has been able to obtain in a decade." Agent Bing did his best to explain while suppressing his glee, "I don't want to conduct any direct experiments mind you, just set up some equipment during their powers testing. I can even keep the individuals name anonymous if they want, the important thing is that this data could advance the field of energy and particle physics ahead by decades- even before the Hadron Collider in Geneva gets switched on."
"I'll see what I can do, just keep in mind the final decision is up to the individual's parents," Agent Donovan emphasized, "We are talking about a minor after all."
Northwest Central Austin Neighborhood
VT say in silence as Darisha drove him from the Rustic all the way to that mutie bitch Defranks old neighborhood. Mister Sikes seemed to think that since the MCO would be keeping an eye on the bus and train lines that Chandra would be trying to hole up in her old neighborhood. As if they'd let a traitor and a freak like her into their homes, but then again, he knew that her grandmother still lived in this part of town and if there was anyone who would be gullible to take a dangerous mutant into their home it was a grandmother.
As if there would be anyone else in her old life that would dare to let her back in after she turned her back first on her people and now on her former species. That was right he should have finished the damned job at the park, he knew that she was just another mutant freak now and a danger to normal to everyone not just her old people but everybody even those crackers who acted like the world belonged to them and nobody else.
He patted the vial in his pocket and the hypodermic injector that it was attached he still couldn't believe that he was going to do it, take a detour through freak town just to take that bitch out. Who was he kidding he was willing to snipe her and that was before he knew that she was a mutie, no sometimes it takes a monster to kill a monster, who cares if he needed to be King Kong to fight Godzilla.
Eventually the car came to a screeching halt, "Get out and go down the ally, my sister's home girl Taikeyla will take you to Defranks's old neighborhood. Just remember that stuff makes it hard to think, so before you shoot up just remember- smash Chandra Defranks. Chant it like a mantra before you hulk-out or whatever just make sure that it's on your mind before you take the Nightmare Fuel to give yourself a target!"
"Got it," VT replied as he got out of the car, "I won't let Mister Sikes down twice!"
"Good because you won't get another chance," Darisha glared at the gansta wannabe as she unfolded a butterfly knife like it was an art form, "you blow this chance and if Defranks doesn't turn you into road kill then you'll find out what we do to those who cross Mister Sikes-" taking a moment to lick the blade before ending with- "am I clear homie?"
"As crystal sister," VT gulped as he set down the alley his eyes staying peeled for Taikeyla, before long a bum whose attire and look in his eye screamed strung-out-junkie lunged out from behind a dumpster.
"Gimmy all your money," he tried to shout however it was obvious that crack took this guy's pipes a long time ago along with his mind. Suddenly VT was dimly aware that he had left his knife and gun back at the Rust-tic, all that he had left on him was the one thing that he needed to complete the assignment, the Nightmare Fuel. That was when he briefly thought about tricking the junkie into taking it, but he knew there would be no guarantee that he would go after Defranks- as well as not kill him too.
Slowly VT backed away as the junkie erratically followed only to fall after VT heard the sound of a meaty thud. As the junkie hit the pavement, VT saw a sweet honey his own age standing behind the fallen bum holding a claw hammer, "I assume you're VT, I'm Taikeyla just follow me and pay attention I'll tell you where to shoot-up where its guaranteed to attract Chandra's attention. Now hurry the other gutter-rats will be here any minute to pick this shit clean."
VT followed Taikeyla down the alleys knowing that while the streets might have called out to him, she was a native who knew them inside and out. Soon enough they after crossing streets and going in and out of alleys the came to another alley exit onto a street and stopped, "Okay Chandra's granny lives on this street, smash it up and she'll show up sooner or later- so will the Knights."
"You sure she just won't stay hid," VT asked his new companion, "She is a mutie after all, she my just let the bat twist in the wind."
"Listen homie, I used to be in Chandra's crew before Natroya and Darisha made me a better offer, so I know her inside and out!" Taikeyla shot back, "She'll show no matter what she is- now you know your orders?"
"Yeah, 'Smash Chandra Defranks!'" VT began to repeat over and over to himself as he got the hypo with the Nightmare Fuel out preparing to inject himself in the neck. Not even noticing that Taikeyla was adding in 'Get helmet' as he was doing so until he hit the trigger when he briefly turned as drug entered his body, "Helmet?" was the only word that he was able to get out before the pain and muscle spasms started causing him to jerk back around.
Every moment was one of pain and his muscles tightened and bulged in a horrific manner. He was in agony as his bones grew longer to provide the growing muscles more surface to anchor onto. His eyes bulged and grew while his jaw widened to give room for more canines and fangs. VT's fingers and toe-nails actually lengthed and gnarled giving more of an appearance of claws as he thrashed on the ground tearing off his clothes in the process and shedding his $200-dollar Jordan high-tops. His skin actually seemed to change pigment as the rising heat of his body made his normal mahogany hue more like that of cedar.
In the end VT was transformed into a grotesque 12-foot-tall man beast, soon the monster that Victor turned into got up snarling over and over in a gruff voice, "Smash Defranks, take helmet!" As he proceeded to break walls and tear up cars and street signs Taikeyla looked on with a wicked smile, soon Chandra I'll take that helmet Mister Sikes thinks makes you special then we'll see who's the real deal while that sucker pounds you into street pizza."
Knights of Purity Mobile Command
Second Chicago Unit Commander Holden Baxter was fuming, not only had this mutant escaped what should have been a routine capture and detainment but she had been dodging their pursuit all enough to flee to the other side of the city and go to ground. Moreover, there were DPA agents in the mix that were likely working to shut down his operation, trying to steal his glory for bringing in this mutant.
Holden would be damned to hell if he would let some paper pusher in a three-piece suit steal his thunder, after all he was part of the team that took out the mutant conclave at the Cloisters one of the operations that not only landed them a long-term contract with the City of Chicago but put the Knights of Purity on the map as an organization that would do what it took to stop the spread of mutant filth that festered in the corners of America. Thankfully he took the precautions to go communications dark before that MIB could pull them from the field, now all they had to do was neutralize the target before he showed up and the company would have the solid win that it had been needing for the last several months.
"Amos how goes the surveillance of the target's most likely point of refuge?" Holden asked their unit's shortstop as she continued to monitor the feeds.
"No sign of her yet sir," Madison Amos replied as she kept up the surveillance, "the thermal imaging only show the old lady and a few cats in the apartment and the kinetic sensor we put on the door frame hasn't registered anyone coming in above baseline normal velocity."
"So much for a hunt, this is more like a fishing trip and just as exciting," Gavin Jansen the unit's Catcher fumed as he spun in his chair.
"Can that talk Jansen," Commander Baxter glared at the man, "we are in this because you missed the target. If you had coordinated with Stone and Worrell like you were supposed to, we would have wrapped up this operation hours ago. As is we are dangerously close to turning this into another Cincinnati situation, and you know what that cost those members of the organization."
That threat silenced Jansen's backtalk immediately, he didn't want to prove to be a liability like the pitcher on that team, who brought the wrath of the Justice Department down for using a sonic device in a public area as well as allowed the theft of dangerous mutant artifacts from Humanity-First's museum. "Understood sir! The target won't get away twice."
"See to it that she doesn't," Holden Baxter stated as he continued to glare at the man, "a unit is only as strong as its weakest member, and there are plenty of hungry young recruits who would jump at the chance to have your assignment."
"Sir, I am receiving reports on the police band of a monster trashing buildings and property just a few blocks from the target area," Madison Amos explained as she redirected one of her surveillance drones to spot a large bestial man breaking cars and buildings by using a torn up stop sign as an improvised sledge, "from the looks of it we have a rager-brick in the area permission to engage?"
"Permission momentarily denied, where there's one freak throwing a fit more are bound to come out of the woodwork, including our target." Leaving his team to look on as the humanoid monster destroyed the street. "Besides the city is always looking for an excuse to conduct urban renewal in this area."
Watt Family Apartment
Sutton Apartments - Apartment 307
POV: Chandra Defranks
Ramona had gotten off the phone with the last of the other local gangs an hour ago, oddly enough this Fo-Real from the Barracuda seemed to have guessed that I was hiding with Ramona, and without receiving confirmation that I was in the room thanked me for netting him a cool grand for my win yesterday and giving him an excuse to laugh at the Coleman sister's expense.
Not wanting to admit anything, Ramona and I instead decided to catch up on old times filling us in on each other's lives over the last two years. "Nice to see that Natroya and Taikeyla lording over you these last few years didn't hurt your grades any miss honor role." I commented ribbing my old friend on her constant straight 'A' average.
"Also helps me net a little pocket money," Ramona explained, "A few notes to clarify complicated areas in the reading assignments, or methods to memorize math formulas so that they don't have to sneak a formula sheet into a test has earned me a lot of gratitude that I plan to use to help insulate my mom and I from the Coleman's backlash now that I'm out from under their thumbs."
"Couldn't have happened to two people who were more deserving," I explained as we clinked our glasses of sweet tea together before the phone rang again.
Ramona got up to answer it and immediately turned as flush as a sister could, "Thanks for letting me know T-Rez, stay safe."
Ramona numbly hung up the phone as I walked over to her, "Ramona- what's wrong?"
"Some monster is tearing up the neighborhood near your grandmother's place," Ramona explained, "it's breaking in and out of buildings and tearing up the street. I'll be at your grandmother's apartment building soon."
I got up and began to take off my borrowed clothes and put my somewhat cleaned tracksuit back on, "Chandra what are you doing, if you go out the Knights will-"
"They'll have to catch me and so will this monster." I explained as I grabbed my helmet and put it on, "Now I'm sorry to ask but I need you to do me a couple of favors."
"Sure Chandra," Ramona replied as she began to return to normal, "whatever you need me to do I'll help, it's the least that I could do for you giving me the push that I need to free myself."
"First off I'm going to need you to get Granny Mertle to safety, just tell her that her Chandy-girl sent you and she'll know that I sent you." I explained giving my grandmother's embarrassing nickname for me and eliciting a snort from Ramona in the process.
"Alright, Chandy-girl," Ramona did her best to suppress the smile on her face. "What else?"
I steeled myself, "I think that I need danger to use my powers, I need you to throw something heavy at me." I could already see Ramona about to argue her way out of this, but I interrupted her, "No arguing Ramona, I need you to do this, Granny Mertle's life may be in danger!"
Ramona closed her mouth and grabbed an antique iron that they used as a door stop, picked it up and threw it at me as hard as she could. Sure enough, time began to slow down to a crawl until the iron weight was about a foot away from me and stopped. Satisfied that my powers were working again, I took the iron out of the air and set it back on the ground, not wanting to damage their walls besides I had time.
I made my way out the door and back down the stairs making sure to weave past anyone who might be out in the hall, soon enough I was down stairs and saw the super's room. Knowing that I'd need some way to fight while keeping my distance I entered the building super's office, returning the keys that I borrowed earlier while borrowing the metal bat that the old man used to bust up ice for roof parties during the Fourth of July.
"Alright whoever you are," I said to nobody in particular, "D-Caf is coming to show that you picked with the wrong girl's hometown!" Taking time to pop my glove and reset my pace before I left the building for my first real fight, I wonder if this was how Candance feels these days?
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In Front of the Sutton Apartment Building
7:31 PM CDT?
POV: D-Caf aka Chandra DeFrank
Two things became apparent, one I was starting to wonder if my choice in codename was really wise. I mean while it was true the only people who knew me by that nickname were folks that knew my old nickname were people that I was close to back then that included that opportunistic back-stabber Taikeyla. I fumed as I got out on the street and reset myself again, the matter of names was a moot point there was a monster that was in the middle of tearing up my grandma's neighborhood.
Granted that at this point the only thing that was moving was me and whatever those things I saw when I went too far without resetting my pedometer, something that thanks to the Ramona and the building I now knew worked in a full three-dimensions. While I would have to reset myself a few times on the trip there still wouldn't be too much time that would really go by between now and when I faced down whatever the hell was doing this.
Crap that was the real problem- just how would I deal with this, according to Ramona's contact whatever this was could tear street signs out of concrete and bust through walls. From what I knew through Candance that would likely mean not only strong but also tough- and as useful as stopping time was it didn't do much in a straight up fight. Okay so I could still move things without snapping back into normal time and had a metal bat with me, I would still stand little chance in a real fight. No if I was to stand I chance I would have to fight whatever this was with brains and strategy because brute force was not an option- I mean I was still on the mend from getting shot.
As I continued to make my way towards Granny Mertle's house I took the time to examine my surroundings, and by examine, I mean scrutinize. I literally had all the time that I needed right now, and I'd be a damned fool if I didn't use it to my full advantage. Whoever I was on my way to
As I went along I took the time to note every pothole, uneven patch of concrete, low-hanging light or sign, anything that I could use to my advantage in the pending conflict. I hate to admit it, but I took the time to get to know my old neighborhood better now than I ever did when we still lived in the area, granted the westside of Chicago is no place to go exploring even in broad daylight. While most of the gangs and criminals tended to avoid the little kids- out of fear that it might provoke the locals into striking back...hard there were still dangers such as the druggies, sickos and non-local creeps who just didn't care who they victimized. Something I noted as I wandered into the alleys to scope them out and took note of the vagrants living in cardboard boxes, who may or may not be right in the head anymore.
Okay granted I knew one of them from the old neighborhood, who I recognized as I walked by him two-blocks away from my grandma's- an old Vietnam Veteran that everyone called Sargent Sherman. The man left his family years ago seeking help with the VA for his PTSD, unfortunately what little help they gave him was little more than a psychiatric band-aide and he wound up on the streets unable to hold onto a job. He usually sold recyclables that he rummaged out of the dumpsters or pan handled for money, I wanted to tell him to run but if I did there was no telling if I'd be able to stop time in time to help deal with the monster. Besides dressed the way I was I might risk triggering one of the poor man's episodes, at least Ramona seemed to have bleached the blood stains out of the white parts of my outfit and mending my suit while I was out.
Turning my head in shame I continued to take note of the environment as well as taking the time to maneuver around people who were fleeing from whoever this was, I was so close that I could begin to make this attacker out from the distance although it wasn't easy. As is all that I could make out of my potential opponent was that he was tall and big and wielding a stop sign like a one-handed axe. Granted I was a little muddy on the details of what was going on considering that everything that I saw was currently sepia-toned like an antique photograph in 3-D. Wanting to see more of what lay ahead I snapped my wristband a moment early, and almost wished that I hadn't as I looked at something that looked like it jumped out of a monster movie.
This behemoth reminded me of a monster that I saw from a bad horror movie that my team watched during a sleep-over Rawhead Rex, I mean his eyes were budging out, it's malformed mouth almost looked like a protruding muzzle of fangs, making the brute's nose look stubby and snout-like in comparison. Although it's nails were like claws and the and the brute who was in the process of tearing apart my grandmother's neighborhood was both about seven-feet tall and more ripped then a Russian body-builder on horse steroids from his ripped and tattered clothing I noticed that what-ever he was- who-ever he was he clearly didn't start out as a seven-foot muscle-bound monster.
All this evidence helped me come to one unfortunate fact this being was transformed, meaning that he was either a recent manifested like myself or this was a freaking Hulk-type rager. I all but frowned at the thought this was likely one of those unfortunates who Humanity-First liked to use as the poster-child for the dangers of mutants. This might be someone who was just transformed and freaking out not noticing what was going on and that turned blind panic into a rage-fueled one man wrecking crew.
My sympathy began to grow for this unfortunate soul as I inspected him more and more, while resetting myself behind him; just because I was sorry for him didn't mean that I was going to risk losing the element of surprise, something that I was going to desperately need should my current assessment be wrong. My vision now in color once more I began to take in the mutated possible-berserker, I needed more information before I chose to either work out a plan to fight this thing or else try to calm him down.
First off, I took a closer look at this person's hair, I know it might seem silly, but hair is made out of dead cells, a mutation might make it grow out or fall out but otherwise the evidence of what it looked like was still there. Fortunately, the mutation didn't affect the hair itself beyond the size of the head, it was black, bushy and cut into a fade-top that looked oddly familiar.
"Nah- it couldn't be!" I shook my head in denial as I continued to examine the individual, his skin was the color that you'd see on dirty-red bricks, a reddish-brown. So, there was a chance that this may be a local, plenty of fellow African-American's live on the westside and the chance of a local brother manifesting into a mutant was growing by the year.
That was when I looked down and noticed them, those shoes the beast was wearing- granted that they were torn as whoever this was burst through his sneakers when his feet grew but they were way too familiar to me. I remember that pair of hi-tops all too well, three months ago Victor was bragging about them to his crew while break-dancing just outside of the lunchroom- shortly before the lot of them got detention for bringing duck tape to school to strap down the broken-up cardboard boxes for their wannabe-gangsta dance pad.
Part of me didn't want to believe this, the punk who gave me so much grief about being a race traitor and shot me to pay me back for embarrassing the Coleman sisters was now a hulking brute tearing apart my Grandmother's neighborhood. Part of me didn't want to believe the absurdity of what was right in front of me, but the facts remained and were incontrovertible. While I might have wanted to deny it, there was no way those shoes would be in this neighborhood, I knew that those things cost a few hundred dollars, and if someone who lived around here had a pair of kicks that expensive- they would have sold them not wore them.
That still brought about another key point, Victor's father worked for Goodkind International a company with an anti-mutant stance that was so infamous that everyone knew they conducted genetic screenings of their staff's immediate family. Long before Victor hit his rebellious gangsta phase, he was a Goodkind Golden Boy touting the company line about the dangers of mutants, even going so far as passing out Humanity First pamphlets.
Wednesday November 9th, 2005
South Middle School - Lunch Room
Arlington Heights, Illinois
12:19 PM CST
POV: Chandra DeFrank
Everyone in the team were stoked Candace had come up with some solid strategies for the season and we were about to put them to the test against the Carl Sandburg Lady Tigers this weekend. Considering that we came in Fourth at state last season chances were good that we'd have a solid run at the state championship this year.
"Now remember no matter how good our new plays are for this year we shouldn't use all of them so early in the season," Candace explained now that most of us were done eating lunch. "To that end we are going to begin the season using Monica's playbook and gradually phase out her plays and last year's plays with our new ones for the season. I'll explain which parts of those strategies we'll be using for the game during practice."
"Whatever you say Captain," Deb smiled, "after all Monica picked you for a reason and we trust her judgement."
"Nice to know that I have your support Deb," Candace returned Deb's compliment, "However I would rather earn it than just have it given unconditionally."
"Don't worry Candace," Nita spoke up as she looked at our captain, "there will be plenty of time to prove that you've got what it takes this season."
"Everyone," suddenly a voice cut through the lunchroom, someone had actually gone onto the stage and turned on the sound equipment. I looked up and saw that it was one of the kids in my US History class- Vernon...Hector...oh wait Victor- Victor Sandos. He was well a bit odd, the kid always came to class in a uniform, despite the fact that our school didn't have a uniform just a dress code.
"Every year more and more mutants are show to be hiding among us, and every year they show even more how dangerous they are- from self-appointed dictators like Gizmatic and Lord Paramount to sociopathic criminals like Mimeo, cold-blooded killers such as the Savage Six, and even complete monsters like Man-Bot and Maelstrom."
"We're not even safe in our own schools, recently two students at a private school in New York City were proven not only to be mutants but also the children of the super-criminal Doctor Diabolic." Victor continued to spout out his message while one of the lunch monitors went to get the principal. "This growing threat to all of us needs to be exposed- to that end Goodkind Industries has pioneered a simple process to detect the presence of these threats, all that it takes is a cotton swab of the mouth and in a week, they will reveal the presence of the Mutant Gene within the tested."
"With your support we can make the PTA implement these tests to see these hidden threats, and to show all of you proof I took the test a month ago and am proud to say that I am completely human. Remember its around our age when they get their powers, and the sooner we know about those who may be hiding among us the sooner we can-"
"Victor Sandos," the lunch monitor had returned with Coach Hand- figures everyone knew that he ate lunch in his office in the gym. "This is an unauthorized presentation and use of school equipment, you need to come with me to see the Principal young man."
"I'm just telling my classmates how we can keep the school safe!" Victor vocally defended himself, "Students and their parents deserve to know of potential threats in the school- threats to their lives."
"Well I'm certain that the principal will be very interested in hearing about your proposal," Coach Hand stated in a serious tone, "and you should have plenty of time to plan your pitch to the PTA because you are looking at least three days suspension for this stunt. Now report to the principal's office at once and that might be all that you are in for."
"You cannot silence the truth," Victor defended himself, "we deserve to know who is a threat hiding among us."
"Well you'll have plenty of time to think about that because I am going to recommend a solid week for your refusal to co-operate."
"The truth cannot be silenced!" Victor shouted to the entire cafeteria as Coach Hand marched onto the stage to drag Mister Sandos to the Principal's Office.
Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
Chicago, Illinois - Westside
7:31 PM CDT?
POV: D-Caf aka Chandra DeFrank
While that phase was sickening the one thing of it that never went away was his hate of mutants, even using the fact that Candace manifested as an excuse for mutants trying to undermine our people. He even boasted that he'd had his DNA tested and proclaimed that he was one-hundred percent Mutant Gene Complex free. Still his Golden Boy phase did highlight one thing, even if this was Victor, he wasn't a mutant and I knew for a fact that there were things that could turn Victor into a beast like this around- GNN liked to focus on one variety whenever they took shots at Kardonia's slave workforce.
While I doubt a big name like Gizmatic would give a crap about what happened in a westside Chicago neighborhood, the gun that Victor had on him while he tried to punctuate my weekly Parkour run with a bullet wound was way too heavy for him to be able to get on his own. Chances were good that whatever turned Victor into...this was from the same place as that rifle and that meant the Black Market.
"Damn to Coleman Sisters must be more connected than I thought to get their hands on this grade of mutagen." I mused as I began to case Victor's hulked out body, although the Hulk was a hell of a lot easier on the eyes then whatever Victor was now. "Damn, whatever you're on must be nasty you look like you fell out of the ugly tree and hit every damned branch on your way to the ground."
Looking him over for a moment, I took out the bat- too a few practice swings before striking him in the back with the bat...
"OW- WHAT THE HELL?!?" I shouted in a mix of surprise and pain as the recoil of striking the wanna-be gangsta turned hulking brute reverberated up my arm causing me to fall backwards and drop the bat in surprise. "Damn- the stuff you shot up with must have been industrial grade, gaah!"
My arms stung from the swing but thankfully the bat wasn't banged up too much from my botched attack, not to mention I was still in this time between seconds so I had the time to figure out how to work with this. One thing was for sure though whatever kind of mutant I was now didn't include super-strength or healing because my arms still kind of stung.
"Come on Chandra, you're not a thug- think- how do you deal with someone this beefy?" I asked myself as I looked over the monster that Victor has turned himself into, "Okay he's still ugly as sin but that's not much good for me to know, what else?"
I continued to look Victor over- his head looked kind of weird, whatever he used may have affected his brain...physically. The back end was larger while the front was slopped comparatively, from what I knew from science class the front part of the brain was all about higher thought while the back half had more to do with muscle movement, coordination and the like. He might be the same right now or he might be working through a case of cave man, I wasn't sure at the moment plus there were still other factors to consider.
I looked down south and noticed the bulge in his ripped jeans, "Damn Victor, I knew there's no way that your packed something like that normally- at your actual size you'd be walking around bow-legged." That got me thinking something else, the principal always made coaches walk kids in the athletics programs through the dangers of juicing. Given that the talk was unisex and mandatory that meant he had to go over the dangers of steroids to girls, going over the effects of artificial testosterone and their effects on a man's junk. Whatever was in Victor's system caused his to swell that meant that his body way likely being pumped full of testosterone and probably androgen, a quick look at his neck's bulging veins along with the look on his face meant that he was likely on an adrenaline-soaked rage fest.
This meant that reasoning with Victor right now was probably out of the question, provided he understood human speech at the moment; no- he was likely lashing out in a borderline-animalistic rage-fest at the moment. Come to think of it those giant nads would make a much softer target...no- last resort only I wasn't going to let what Victor had done to me drag me down to his level, I was better than that my mother and grandmother and even in the few times that he had come home from duty my father had taught me better than that.
Let me see, wait now that I think about it as big and ripped as we were at the moment his body looked like it was still put together the same way as a normal person. Yes, I looked Victor over again and I saw that as freaky as he was everything on him was put together exactly as it would be on a human being, that mean that even as bulky as he was everything on him should move the same, every joint and every muscle. That meant that he had the same vulnerabilities as an ordinary person, I just had to hit a lot harder than normal- fortunately I had the right tool for the job and knew where around here I could find more tools to work with.
I picked the metal bat back up and looked at Victor again, "You know I might say that this will hurt me a lot more than it does you, but my momma didn't raise me to be a liar!"
Before I struck this time, I decided to experiment, I already knew that if I touched someone physically I would drop back into normal time once more, but what if I used something like a bat to manipulate another person. I had just struck Victor with it, and while it taught me that right now that he was rather sturdy in the beefy places, it also showed me that I could use the bat to touch them. For the moment I knew that I didn't need force I needed leverage, to that end I set the bat down, I could always go back for it- time was literally on my side.
Taking a moment to reorient myself, I remembered the nearby buildings and what I knew about them, "Okay that's Mister André's building and I know that he likes to keep the outside clean, now if I remember right he leaves his hose right over...here."
"I hope that Mister André doesn't mind me borrowing his garden hose," I mused for a moment before looking at the devastation that Victor's rampage had already made on the block, "something tells me that he'll forgive me since this will likely save his building- and most of the neighborhood, although it is nice to know that he's still living around here."
Taking the hose from its hiding place in the shrubs I came back over to Victor, who had slightly moved as I had reset myself a few times since leaving him. Carefully I wove the hose in-between his legs and around the left leg looping back to where I had begun, then used the bat to raise the hose up to Victor's knees while slightly reducing the slack to keep it in place. Before I knew it, I was ready, keeping the hose as taunt as I could I got a little distance with Victor in front of me before tying the ends of it around the bat.
Once that was done I began to turn the bat like a crank lever, it took what seemed like forever and once the hose began to pull on Victor's legs like I wanted it got difficult, but I kept it up. Eventually, even though with my arms starting to cry uncle, my efforts paid off his left leg began to pull in front of his right while his right leg began to bend at the knee. The going was slow but eventually Victor was down on his right knee which was pressing down on his left leg, satisfied that phase one was going alright I figured that it was time to begin phase two.
Untying the hose from the bat I tried to work the hose out from between his legs, unfortunately his right leg put a kink in that plan. "Okay so I can't use this hose on his arms too...or can I?"
Using the still free ends of the hose along with the bat to help me manipulate the hose some to try to use Victor's legs to restrain his arms. Unfortunately, this was not easy, for one Victor in his altered state was a lot taller than I was even with the bat and standing on my tip toes it was still hard to reach especially since his arms were half-raised and very close to his chest.
I had to be very careful because the moment I touched him time would unfreeze, and I was so close to him at the moment that even if I was in danger I don't know that my ability to separate myself from the flow of time would save me as time slowed itself to a crawl before stopping instead of happening instantaneously. Even with the rifle bullet that Victor shot at me earlier time was slowing to a crawl the moment I heard that shot, otherwise I wouldn't have had time to turn and look before the round had torn a chunk out of my leg.
It took some doing but I looped the ends of the hose over Victor's arms, fortunately the hose had enough length. Now it was time to put the revised step two into motion, I tied the end of the of the hose that the guided around Victor's right arm to the bat and walked around behind him. Leaving the bat there again I went back to grab the other end, although it had a lot more length then the right I tied it to the bat with the length from Victor and began to turn the bat again.
It took a while, although time was still only a matter of my perspective right now, but his arms were now pulled back with to Victor's chest with a narrow gap visible through them and as a bonus the street sign that he had been using as a weapon was pulled tight across his chest and he was pulled slightly towards the sky. Not wanting to avoid taking advantage of the situation I untied the hose from the bat again and began to carefully use it to tie him up using the sign as an anchor. This part was both slow going and nerve-wracking I had to be careful as I could one slip would start time again with me in physical contact with a partially restrained hulking rage-beast.
As I wrapped the final length of hose and tied my final knot (really wishing that I had stopped to raid the local used book store for a boy scout knot-tying manual) I was shaking from the adrenaline rush and dripping with sweat. Now finally out of hose I sat down and took in my work, even bound and tied up the mutated Victor was almost as tall as I was standing and at closer to eye level he was even more frightening. I tried to slowly breath and steady my nerves like I was taking a free-thrown but the adrenaline wouldn't stop surging through my veins as my heart continued to pound like crazy in my chest. "Calm down, you restrained him and moreover even if it wasn't enough time is still stopped- everything is fine- you can breathe. Okay granted that the Knights of Purity are still looking for me but here's hoping those power-suit wearing glory hounds will be happy with a man-beast who caused a few million in property damage as a consolation prize."
While I was ruminating over my choices I must have been pretty oblivious because I turned my head and noticed an oddly familiar face, that weird squirrel from earlier. Somehow that rodent from the park the only thing other than me that moved in this weird place between time had tracked me down and was just well...studying me. I had to admit that the little thing wasn't a threat but the whole situation was just...creepy.
"Well little guy I hate to say it both other than a conversation and entertainment I don't have anything to offer you," I explained to the park rodent, "so you're probably better off finding some oak tree to crawl around." Regardless of my words the squirrel just kept on studying me, I honestly didn't know what to make of the whole thing- just why was it here and why did it come to find me? The mystery on top of everything else that had happened to me today was just so...random.
Suddenly the squirrel finally made up its mind and ran across my legs, a moment that caused two things- me to fall backwards- and the two of us to fall back into the normal flow of time. As my bushy-tailed assailant scurried off the weird moment was cut short with by a murderous scream-
I turned my head to see Victor in his bulky mutated form foaming like a rabid dog as he gnashed his teeth like a horse chomping at the bit. I guess that it was true as frightening as he was stopped he was too much like a wax dummy in a haunted house, now though he was freaking terrifying. Victor began to thrash about on the ground straining against both the garden hose and the stop sign, "On second thought I should have just borrowed one of the apartment's firehouses instead of a garden hose, that would have held him a lot better."
As the stop sign's post began to strain I began to look around for something- anything that could stop Victor until somebody arrived to do something, but even the baseball bat that I borrowed would do little against this angry monster once he snapped his bonds. Come to think of it from his angry scream at me earlier, I could tell that one thing about Victor hadn't changed, he still hated my guts. Crap that means one thing that I'd hate to consider being...human bait.
"Crap," I muttered under my breath as I looked and saw that Victor was and now bent the pole from that stop sign's post and was well on his way to snapping it clean in two. "Double crap."
As mad as he was at me I knew that I had to guarantee that the mutated punk followed me, "Hey Victor, your dancing sucks and you have all the rhythm of Barry Manalo you little wanna-be poser!" As mad as Victor was before that seemed to put him over the edge, I didn't know how much time had passed since everything went back to normal for me, but I really doubted Ramona had the time to get my Grandmother Mertle to safety, hell I doubted that she had even made it to this block yet. I knew that if anything I needed to keep Victor occupied so that they, and who knows how many others, the time that they needed to get to safety.
"Freeze mutant!" I heard from down the street in an all too familiar metallic voice, "By the power granted to us by the state of Illinois you and your accomplice are now under arrest, attempt to resist and we are authorized to use force."
Sure enough, the Knights of Purity were now here after I had stopped the rampaging monster, and now that they were they had the nerve to accuse a raging behemoth after my head of being like a partner in crime.
"Are you assholes kidding me," I threw up my hands in sheer disbelief as I inched back towards a nearby ally, "first you show up to kidnap me from an ambulance after I got shot while jogging in a public park, then you fire at me, and now that I stop this monster from wrecking my old neighborhood not only do you show up to arrest me- you actually accuse me of working with him."
"A likely story, we already have one reported case of assault from someone matching your description and powerset a mile from here a few hours ago." One of those armored goons said now that they had what looked like a net cannon trained on me, "More likely some vigilante stopped him, and you showed up to free your partner. Now surrender peacefully, you can give your deposition to the Mutant Commission Office from custody."
"So here we go from threatening to shoot me in the street for standing up to a mugger or turning me over to the MCO who are going to kill me anyway," I shot back, "With choices like that is it any wonder that you have such a bad reputation outside of news media owned by your boss's brother."
"Your story aside we have the authority of the State of Illinois to take you into custody by any means necessary," another power armor jock stated, one who I could tell was in charge of this dog and pony show. "Now this is your final warning, surrender or we will have no choice but to use force."
That was the moment that Victor picked to finally break his bonds with a ferociously howling, "CHAANDRAAA!" I knew that the next thing that was on his agenda was either to maul me like a wild animal, pummel me into paste, or just tear my head clean off my body. Fortunately, there was a Knight of Purity member standing nearby with a net cannon, unfortunately it looked like the net that it was loaded with was meant for me meaning that Victor was already working his way out of the net. This meant that more of the members of the Knights of Purity were needed to restrain him than they thought and those that weren't had their eyes off me.
"Psst- Chandra," I turned back towards the ally to see Ramona peeking out from behind the dumpster trying to quietly get my attention and not that of the Knights, "get over here quick while they're dealing with gruesome."
Slowly and as quietly as I could I sneaked over to the ally to join Ramona, feeling a mix of guilt and smug-satisfaction about Victor was being man handled and detained by one of the groups that he had been literally singing the praises of just a few years ago. As he struggled both to get free of the first net a larger power suit piled on top of him while another shocked him with a long pole as the one with the net launcher reloaded- hopefully with a much stronger net this time around.
"Warrel if Jansen fails everything is up to you." One of the Knights who I couldn't see was barking orders to another one of his men.
"Roger sir," the man who I presumed was named Warrel replied as he took aim at Victor with something that began to glow.
Mister Brea's Place
"Three lives must end before the child tastes control of her abilities," Grae-clops began to explain to those gathered, "for the moment she realizes how to control her powers is the moment that any control you may exert on her is lost. Moreover, when that happens the chance of the dark lady's gaze falling on you becomes not a matter of if but a matter of when."
"And do you know which three lives must be taken and how?" Mister Brea inquired without losing an ounce of composure.
Grae-clops responded with a smile showing her needlesque fangs to all, "Yes- For the girl's power to be yours the life of her peer turned enemy must be taken by those who pursue her..."
Chicago - Westside
POV: D-Caf aka Chandra DeFrank
As I walked backwards into the ally I looked on in horror, as much as I hated Victor's attitude and everything that he'd done I didn't want him to get killed. Granted I wouldn't mind him spending a few years in Juvie for shooting me, but I didn't want him to die. But no matter what my wants and desires were in the matter the moment I stuck my neck out of the ally that I had just creeped into there was a team of highly armed and highly trained mutant hunters ready to kill me just as ready as they were to kill Victor.
I swallowed the splash of vomit that had just crept back up my throat at the thought of running away but even if I did stop time again I doubted that I could restrain Victor again with two Knights in the way. "Damnit," I whispered as I grit my teeth, "I don't like this one bit."
As Ramona and I continued to retreat into the back-alleys I had this gnawing feeling in my gut, it wasn't just leaving Victor to his fate. I didn't know just what it was but there was something else that I felt that was wrong, but for the life of me I just couldn't put my finger on just what it was that felt...off.
That feeling continued until I heard a sharp crack and Ramona fell to the ground clutching her left leg. As I turned to help her I saw Taikeyla Johnson holding an all too familiar 9mm with a silencer, "Hello Ramona, I see that you found Chandra, very well done. Oh, sorry for the new pencil-holder but I had to see that the rat who thought that she could throw me to the wolves didn't slink off into the sewers with her bestie."
"Taikeyla, what the hell is wrong with you?" I looked up at girl I once thought was my friend who turned her back on me the moment a better deal came along, "She was your friend and you shot her?!?"
"She's a loose end DeFrank," Taikeyla replied with a cold and narrow tone to her voice, "A new world is on the horizons, every day there are more and more people with real power or talent and every day I nobodies like me get left in the dust. Well here I have the chance to get my hands on some real power, something that will help me earn a little clout with the Colemans and the real players in town."
"Taikeyla I don't know what's going on in your head, but you're nuts." I explained with my hands on the ground not wanting to provoke another person with a gun this close to me for the second time in one day. "I'm a mutant, whatever I can do it's built in, I can't just hand it over!"
"That's where you're wrong Chandra," Taikeyla replied with a smile, "you're not a mutant. We have a line on a precog, Darisha had a line on a precog and they us that in a few years you'd get your hands on something that would really open you up to power."
I thought about it but the only thing that I had now that I didn't before today was just one thing, "My helmet."
"Yup, now hand it over DeFrank," Taikeyla motioned from behind her gun, "or the next place that Ramona gets plugged won't be her ass."
I complied as I took off my helmet and handed it over to her, which she took with the hand that didn't have the gun trained on Ramona who was still in shock from the bullet wound. "I assume that you also had something to do with Victor back there."
"That punk followed orders like a show dog," Taikeyla smiled as she slapped the helmet on her head, "not that it was hard- that little silver spoon is so eager to prove he's a brother that we barely had to do anything to coerce him. Plus, he'll turn back to normal soon, that is if he survives the Knights and the withdrawal."
"All of this for power," I glared at her, "it really is all about you getting ahead isn't it."
"It's a nasty world for those without power DeFrank," Taikeyla continued to smile, "and soon that will be you. If you survive the Knights finding you covered in blood over a dead body. Now excuse me while I take your power before ending this show."
With that Taikeyla retracted the visor and closed the mouth-piece fully prepared to kill Ramona as soon as she got the reward for all her back-stabbing. What I didn't expect was Taikeyla to let out a blood-curdling scream, "What the hell monsters are everywhere, what did you do you bitch, no get away get away from me you freaks!"
Taikeyla then began to fire her gun at random throughout the ally before turning to aim back at Ramona who was still crying on the ground in agony, "You bitch, you're going to pay for crossing Taikeyla Johnson!"
"NOOOO!," I got up and screamed as Taikeyla in the grip of a crazed fury took aim at Ramona and fired.
Mister Brea's Place
Grae-clops continued through her needle-like teeth, "the life of an estranged friend who proved true must end by that of an estranged friend turned traitor..."
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Room 104 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center Recovery Ward
Round Rock, Texas
7:51 PM CDT
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness
Bored, bored, bored- gah this is so frustrating, I had to resist throwing my arms up in frustration at having to play the invalid. Being turned into a demi-succubae, while not part of my intended career choices had done me a large favor in healing all of the injuries that I suffered from being shot through my left lung and as well as the added bonus of not choking to death on my own blood. However there was a major downside; as far as everyone outside the small circle of those even inside the Midwestern Grand Hall Conglomerate controlled by Erzebet Scratch the number of those who even knew about The Sisterhood of whom I was a junior member was very small, hell before my transformation I had a mental block put into place that kept me from discussing it outside of anyone that I knew was part of the group who knew.
Now though I was not only a demi-succubae but a mutant demi-succubae, granted I knew given that I had the gene and both of my parents were dominant careers the chances of me manifesting were so high that I was actually looking forward to it about as much as most girls my age looked forward to their Sweet Sixteen. Crap there was another milestone of my youth that I was going to miss out on, not only would I have to lose touch with my best friends Erika Malveaux and Mallory Trombly, but I would have to lose touch with being Joan Drucker.
Granted I knew a long time ago that wasn't my real name just one that corresponded to my parents legal alias's no it was neither from the moment that I entered into protective custody with Axcel Incorporated with cooperation from the Witness Protection Program I was going to be Madeline Jacobs and by witness protection I mean one of the most brutal boot camps on the face of the Earth run by a soldier whose reputation made many with memories of their stay have flashbacks that nearly induced PTSD. Okay maybe I was slightly exaggerating, both of my parents were graduates of Dead-Zone's Training Camp as were most of the members of Shuffle's Sweepers, but from what I had heard that it was so brutal that many experienced and hardened mercenaries had to say Uncle afterwards either opting to work their way up the ranks the old-fashioned way or else leave for greener pastures elsewhere.
Keeping in mind that these were adults with several years on me, some of whom had worked as mercenaries for years on some of the nastiest corners of the world that they found Dead-Zone's camp too intense really was enough to make the sanest person nervous. Granted sanity or not I didn't have much of a choice in the matter, I was a member of The Sisterhood and wanted the chance to live my own life trying to learn how to be a Super-Hero rather than a Super-Villain. This meant that I had to go through with this trial to show Erzebet Scratch and the other elders of The Sisterhood that I not only had the willpower to keep my demonic nature hidden, but that I could do so under the most extreme situations for a sizable length of time.
I had to admit that my situation was far from ideal, but I was willing to work with it, granted that my dreams of being a super-hero had hit yet another snag. I knew that I'd likely have two stigmas to overcome being both a mutant (which was only a problem in the eyes of bigots) and the daughter of two super-villains (which meant that I'd be watched like a hawk. With both of those stigmas weighing me down now on top of that being partially demonic, I had a lot further to climb to reach my goals than I originally thought but at least it beat being dead which given where that gunshot actually hit I would have been in a couple of minutes had I not taken Elinore's offer.
'I still can't believe the damned MCO tried to take custody of me when I was listed as recovering from surgery,' I thought to myself, 'I mean I know that some of them are total a-holes catering to the Goodkind family or Humanity-First but I know that most of them are just doing their job, of course those who are mainly do so at the airports and at least they try to at least make themselves look more professional than the damned TSA.'
"Tom Petty you were right after all," I chuckled as I looked at the humming florescent lights overhead, "the waiting really is the hardest part."
Granted that this had nothing to do about trying to find love or that special someone, not that would really mean much to me at the moment- from what I knew Succubae like Elinore and Demi-Succubae like her grand-daughter and myself couldn't have kids of our own. Guess that means that the only way that I'd develop stretch-marks would be if I had a love affair with Hagen-Daus. No, the only waiting that was up to me at the moment was getting out of this place and leaving my old life behind me, even if I made it through the meat-grinder that lay in front of me what I had waiting for me was...
That made me wonder even more, four years of living a lie, four years of answering to a name that I had just heard a few hours ago, four years of pretending to only be a mutant while looking for friends and future colleagues at a school halfway across the country. Who am I kidding I wanted that- I wanted to try my luck with the Future Superheroes of America, I wanted to try to be what my parents never had the opportunity to be, I wanted to shine and inspire and help.
Helping how ironic that it was that and being a hero, which was what got me into this hospital bed as well as my current status as a hell-fiend. Not that I regretted what happened, the first time that I used my powers- that I awakened as a mutant it was to help one of my classmates fix a broken soundboard for the party, and I liked the feeling that it gave me to do so. It was like all the times that I worked with my dad on projects down in what he called his Face Lab, his lab for Axcel Incorporated, it was a good feeling doing something to help others knowing that it would be something that would in turn benefit people who just wanted to live their lives. Not only was it the first time that I used my powers, but it was also the when I was given a hint on why I wanted to use them, I wanted to use my powers to help to make people feel alive- to make them feel safe- I liked doing things like that.
Granted I had only a short time being just a mutant before I was shot, and my life changed again, Mallory one of my best friends had been seized by Joel Gibson at gun point after he had stolen data from my dad's booby-trapped dummy PC in our basement. He was using her as a hostage to escape with what he thought were stolen Axcel technical secrets, that was when I acted- I wasn't thinking I just acted I had to save my friend- I knew in my gut that if I let Joel take Mallory away that would be the last time that I saw her alive. I used my mom's combat training and one of my dad's shock gloves to attack Joel and save Mallory, while I saved one of my oldest and dearest friends it cost me my life when Joel or whoever he really was perforated my left lung, shot one of the arteries leading away from my heart, and left a third in my L4 vertebrae that would have left me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life if the other two wounds didn't kill me first.
That was when Elinore saved my life and made me what I am now, speaking of Hagen-Daus though I couldn't help but wonder about the strange young woman who visited me while it should have been impossible given the mystic and psychic perception-fields that they left on my room to hide the fact that I wasn't in surgery downstairs. Granted I doubt that I could ever forget that odd moment both with the way that the woman carried herself, as well as the odd confection that we both shared I was going to have to look that brand up after I got out of the training camp, that ice cream was borderline narcotic.
Granted that Kelsey woman was... well way too real, I mean I was just starting to open up to the supernatural given my new state of being. I couldn't help it the more that I think about that moment- the more that I think about her the more that it was like I was in the room with a force of nature. I tried to open my perception- open my mind as I looked where she sat and it was like I could feel something beyond ancient had been right in front of me, something that was not just a part of this world but a part of reality itself that was how real that she was and it was odd because I could only feel the echo of that encounter within me not in the room not anywhere else- there was more of a presence from the FBI agents that were here to talk to me about Joel than Kelsey. She left no sense of her being here because it was like she was as much a part of this world as the chair that she was sitting in when she talked to be, just who was Kelsey and what is the Wayfarer- this hand of destiny that she claims to be.
Dead-Zone's Training Camp
Pecos County, Texas
6:57 PM PDT
Zeke Manfried fumed as he kept up his currently humiliating task, mucking out the camp's latrines. No, this place couldn't have toilets with a septic tank like most places in hick America- no, Dead-Zone was old school military and that meant f*cking latrines. It was bad enough that he had been knocked down to a two and ordered to report to Dead-Zone's training camp, but this was beneath a man of his abilities. Just because his fight with the Plainswalker spilled over into an amusement park and he threw a Carcasite generator at a kid he had his status as a solo operative stripped, his equipment confiscated and stored and had to play whipping boy for a whole year before he'd be able to attend the camp proper and work at rebuilding his shattered reputation in the Sweepers.
"This sucks why can't any of the newbies do this?" Zeke all but growled from his place in the mire, "I mean if Dead-Zone wants to make this like boot camp shouldn't it be them?"
"He does but he has the cadets on other tasks," Corporal Reverent explained as she glared down at the necromantic devisor, "He has them working in squads either restoring the areas around the training camp to hide our presence or inspecting our surveillance equipment. If we get found out, we have to relocate everything and start over from scratch somewhere else and there aren't too many places that we can do that in this part of the country."
"And why are we putting in so much damned effort when he isn't even here," Zeke growled as he tried to pop out of the hole that he was in beneath the outhouse, "He left yesterday and hasn't come back yet so why are we busting our humps?"
"He was attending an auction in Vegas as Dustbowl's security, and after that he went to our storage facility to inspect it for the arrival of the goods that Mistress Scratch will be securing for some of the members of the Obsidian Circle." Corporal Reverent explained, "I hear that he will be here just before sun-up, in plenty of time to great the new recruits that Shuffle liberated from under the thumb of Charles Darrow."
That little tidbit shocked Zeke to his core, "Whoa, you mean that Shuffle actually managed to wrangle two of the Children of the Night away from The Necromancer?!? I thought that his men were hardcore loyalists or that he had so much dirt on them that they'd never get away alive."
"It's not impossible," Corporal Reverent explained, "one of them- Vamp snuck away and struck a deal with the Boston DA, I hear that she's at Whateley now."
"Good," Zeke smiled at the thought, "even I know that this life's not for everybody and Darrow's not the kind to give people much of a choice."
"Not even if they are in our line of work either," Corporal Reverent explained, "all that I know is that these two have records and are pros, evidently Darrow had something on them that Shuffle and Sureshot were able to do something about, so they signed up in gratitude one even looks like he might stick around after his slate with the Boss Lady is clean."
"So, they're coming here to fast track their way to face card status," Zeke chuckled over the fumes of the hole that he was working in, "I hope that they realize this isn't a cake walk. Hell, I have over a year of piss work before I even earn the right to go through basic again, I don't understand why the boss lady was so pissed off at me anyway- it was Plainswalker who started that fight in the first place."
"But you took it into a public amusement park and threw one of your Carcasite Generators at a child." Corporal Reverent explained for what she felt was the hundredth time. "You know Scratch's rules as well as the rest of us, if you have to high tail it from a fight do it away from bystander heavy areas. Hell, you could have taken the fight to the Ranger's Ballpark or Hurricane Harbor both of those barely have anyone there during the off-season and thrown your damned devise at a janitor or a rent-a-cop but no- you picked an open Amusement Park and tried to tag a toddler. This wasn't a rookie mistake either- with how long you've been active you should have known better, as is you are lucky that Carcharoth owes the success of his assignment with Mister Domino to your screw-up otherwise she'd have taken your key and tossed you into the Checkered Room to join Atonoz's swing band for all eternity."
"Instead I'm sitting in a boot camp for super-villains wadding through crap," Zeke remarked, "yeah I feel so lucky!"
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - North Texas Chapter House
8:19 PM CDT
Lilian DuPree looked on in horror as she and Greg Paulson were each guided to a set of stocks by more of the same undead abominations as the one that had kept watch over their cell for the last several hours. Four of them had guided them into the room with their wrists bound behind their backs through the use of collars attached to long poles.
The entire experience was both humiliating and terrifying, granted this was the first time that Lilian had been on the receiving end of such treatment but not the first time that she had observed it, she had seen something similar being utilized by her prior employers on the brat's mother about a decade and a half ago- she never thought that she'd ever sympathize with that genie bitch but here she was and if Greg had been telling the truth this would actually end much- much worse for her than that thing was going through now.
At present there were only three individuals in the room, that weird zombie in denial, the woman who took Lilian captive for Erzebet Scratch and oddly enough a young woman in a power suit holding a large bag. Lilian had given up trying to get a word out of any of them or even trying to bribe them after ten minutes, the woman in the power-suit actually rolled her eyes at the offer while her abductor actually laughed at the five-million plus that she had stashed in her Swiss Bank Accounts from prior jobs. She had to admit that whatever else she was, Scratch commanded loyalty, not fear DuPree knew the difference.
Eventually after what seemed like forever two figures entered the room, one a lanky giant of a figure whose sallow skin on his hands spoke more of a corpse and whose head was covered by a black sack. The noose whose rope was coiled around his right arm told everyone present that this was The Hangman.
The other figure somehow seemed even less human, its costume was either composed of wisps of smoke or else carefully layers black fabric to create that effect. It moved with such a grace that it was impossible to tell if it was walking or floating, all that either could see of that figure's face was a pair of crimson eyes dimly glowing from beneath the shadow of its hood.
"Erzebet Scratch I presume," Greg Paulson spoke up, "I know that it would be bad form to ask but are you going to kill me or torture me for information, because if it is the later I will save you the trouble and tell you anything you want. No deals, no pleading for my life, just don't give me to The Hangman."
"Bargaining with a realization that your life is already forfeit," Erzebet Scratch mused as she took in Greg's offer, "I will tell you Gregory, that little embarrassment you caused me in New York caused me to lose some face with the Obsidian Circle. Granted our rapid response and retrieval of most of your goods as well as giving the Circle a chance to trounce your employer while I gained two skilled recruits in the process does much to balm those wounds. I will generously offer you one of two choices, but first there is the matter of our other guest- with whom I will neither be so generous or merciful."
Erzebet motioned to The Hangman, who let his noose dangle about a foot off of the ground as the pair approached the stocks that secured Lilian DuPree in place as the terror grew on her face with each passing moment, "Wait, you were saying about wanting to impress The Circle, I know where the Cult of the Black Pharaoh is holding both of those genies, I might have just done a drop of this time but last time I was there in their temple. I can lead you right there!"
"Poor Miss DuPree," Erzebet shook her horned head from beneath her smoky robes addressing her in a chiding tone, "typical DeVille Academy graduate response too- do anything for money, slit any throat, throw anyone under the bus all to save your own conniving hide. If you knew anything about me then you would know what I do to anyone who tortures and victimizes children like you have, besides I don't need to make a deal to tell me anything, because soon you will tell me everything!"
With a wave of her hand the stocks flew open letting Lilian free, her restraints gone the fight or flight instinct told Miss DuPree to run, she made it three steps before Erzebet stated, "Mister Jones, if you would be so kind."
Fast as the strike of a western diamondback rattlesnake, Hezekiah Jones's noose found its way around Lilian DuPree's neck, then as it tightened a flash of light emanated from her mouth and eyes before she slumped to the floor.
Calmly the woman who had been waiting in the room with the prisoners alongside Rot and Reverent came over to Lilian's fallen body and went to work. Attaching some odd device to the now soulless corpse's back and another over her mouth, after a moment the now deceased body appeared to be breathing. "Lilian DuPree's body is currently resuscitated Mother, the wards in the room remain intact so the vessel remains empty."
"Thank you, Gale, my dear," Erzebet replied in a pleasant tone, clearly please at the woman's form of address. "Rot, she is all yours, no rush but our other guest still needs to be seen to tonight."
"Yez Daam Scradge," Rot replied as he shuffled forward, held out one of his decomposing arms and let a worm fall off, soon the odd-looking crawler slimed its way towards Lilian's face where it burrowed up her left nostril. A couple of moments after the worm disappeared entirely up the nose of the deceased woman the body began to thrash about, as if bidden by some unseen force, then equally as odd Lilian stood up. Taking a moment, the now reanimated body of Lilian DuPree seemed to be examining her body as if for the first time, before too long she got up on her feet turned towards Erzebet Scratch and smiled.
"Thank you for the body Madam Scratch, it's nice of you to give us one that is only dead in the spiritual sense they always last longer," Lilian DuPree stated in her usual voice and tone. "Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for all of the other vessels that you give us, it's just that well- this me is in great shape but you can count on me."
"That will remain to be seen Rot," Erzebet stated, "remember this, you still have fragments of her personality affecting your behavior, and it will take us time to trust someone like that completely."
"Understood, it's probably for the best that I put myself through Dead-Zone's Camp anyway." The new Lilian DuPree explained, "being in good shape with a good skill set is one thing but the old me wasn't exactly a team player."
"It's good to see that you remember that Rot, now I suggest that the two of you get going," Erzebet Scratch explained to the pair of reanimated bodies, "I expect a complete report of everything the new you know about the Cult of the Black Pharaoh's operations in Illinois on my desk by tomorrow afternoon."
"Understood ma'am," the new Lilian replied.
"Aye wahl sea too id Daam Scradge." Rot replied as the pair left the room.
Erzebet then turned to The Hangman and stated, "Hezekiah you are likewise dismissed, return to your crypt promptly and no detours."
"Yeah- yeah you demon," The Hangman replied in a voice like sandpaper, "I know the drill by now you slave-driver." As the undead behemoth likewise stomped out of the room leaving Greg Paulson alone with just Erzebet Scratch and the mysterious woman known as Gale.
"Now there is just the matter of you Mister Paulson," Erzebet Scratch stated as she looked over the remaining prisoner, "as I mentioned earlier you are being given a choice, a chance at a possible future within my organization in your next life, or a certain eternity playing backup in the swing band of our demon guard Atonoz." A door with a checkerboard motif appeared to the side through which a demon in a zoot suit could be seen playing a large piano accompanied by a band of tiny demons holding brass instruments and woodwinds before closing again.
"Possible- next life, what do you mean?" Greg asked in confusion when as if bid by some unspoken command Gale changed shape, her business attire faded away to reveal nubile curves whose modesty was only hidden by bands of fur. Atop Gale's head and from her back emerged two pairs of immature bat-like wings and from the small of her back emerged a thin-tail with only a tiny hint of a spade upon it. The three signs combined together with what little Greg Paulson knew of the occult to mean one thing, "Succubus."
"Demi-succubus actually," Gale explained, "I have yet to take the soul that would nurture my full-ascension into the sisterhood."
"This doesn't make sense succubae eat souls," Greg voiced his objections, "how would I have a chance to serve in my next life if I won't have a next life?"
"While it is true that my children must consume a soul to fuel their transformation into a full-fledged succubus, they do not in fact eat that soul." Erzebet Scratch explained as both pairs of her own batwings as well as her tail became visible, "That soul becomes a part of them, nurturing their own mystic abilities as the succubus carrying that soul in turn cares for and nurtures their ward."
"Wait nurture- next life- you mean!?!" Greg's jaw dropped as he put two and two together.
"Correct, the difference between the demi-succubae and the succubae of our breed is that succubae are expecting." Gale explained as she tenderly kissed Greg on the forehead, "We are asking you if you would like to take the chance at being reborn as my child, your craftiness and tenacity are certainly qualities that would serve you well in your next life if properly tempered."
"And how long will this take?" Greg inquired wanting to learn more before taking the plunge.
"The exact date is unknown," Erzebet sighed, "there is a prophecy in place the details of which are unimportant. However, if it comes to pass then all of our sisterhood will transform into our next state of being and all succubae of our sisterhood will give birth to our first generation of daughters."
"So just to recap my choices are to risk my soul being reincarnated as this woman's daughter or perform swing jazz for eternity as some demon's servant?" Greg Paulson sounded out the options.
"Correct, and this option remains on the table only until Gale leaves the room," Erzebet Scratch elaborated, "after that I shall turn you over to Atonoz, I understand that he is wanting a new trombone player, the last conscript was mediocre and was sent to train at Atonoz's estate in Asmodi for the next few hundred years. I understand that must rehearse with a demon that mimics his instrument every time he messes up, fails to care for the thing or angers it his practice instrument devours him and must reform from the resulting waste. I hope for your sake should you join the band that you are up to your new leader's expectations."
"There's no need," Greg screwed his face at the mental images now running through his head, "I'll risk the possibility of rebirth, it beats an eternity of jazz music."
With another wave of her hand Erzebet dismissed the stocks as Greg Paulson gently descended to the ground, supported only by Gale's hands. "I hope to see you again before too long." Gale explained as she tenderly kissed Greg Paulson on the lips, causing his entire body to turn ashen as his soul and essence flowed out from his body and into Gale's whose body likewise changed causing her wings and tail to grow as the velvet fur of her body shed while turning to leather. It was intense but soon Gale came to her feet.
"How does it feel to be an expectant mother my child?" Erzebet Scratch explained as she dismissed her costume taking the form of her succubus self.
"Empowering Mother," Gale explained, "my magic and powers feel like nothing else, I can't wait to see how my aerokinetic abilities are now."
"Take your time child," Erzebet patted Gale on the shoulder before ending in an affectionate squeeze, "we still have some time until we plan to expand into Wisconsin."
"I can also feel him or well her." Gale tenderly placed her hands just under her navel, "she's just a cell now but I can still feel her."
"Good," Erzebet replied, "because remember from now on you don't just fight for the future of the sisterhood or yourself, you also need to look out for her future as well. With that in mind you will also be fast-tracked to manage our new corporate interests in mentorship to manage our new agricultural chemical manufacturing plant in Fitchburg. I understand that you are from up north, granted from Illinois not Wisconsin, still you will be spending some time in Chicago managing the contracts for the new plant as well as supervising the expansion of the existing Milwaukee Chapter House up to our standards."
"I will mother," Gale steeled herself as she walked out the door transforming in her own costume as Gale the wind witch, "I will make all of us proud." Leaving the room and Erzebet Scratch behind who was now in her own costume, smiling behind her mask with pride for the woman who had just walked out the door.
Room 104 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center Recovery Ward
Round Rock, Texas
8:47 PM CDT
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness
I laid back in my hospital bed, still bored out of my skull all because of the fact that I was having to play an invalid until the sisterhood's delusion that the Hospital staff were under allowed my physician to release me to return home. I all but fumed at the indignity of it all, here I was fit as a fiddle and I had to lay back and play a gunshot victim until I was finally discharged. I wanted to scream, to make matters worse I could barely watch anything, ESPN was stuck with talking heads at this time of night, the normal networks were on their Sunday programing, of which I was not a fan.
I mean I had a choice between Seth MacFarlane's version of adult comedy, Desperate Housewives (reality TV- BLECH!), Deal or No Deal (another yawn of a game show), and Cold Case (the red-headed stepchild of the CSI franchise), to make matters worse the News channel was GNN which I refused to watch out of risk that I've break the TV after listening to some Tony Snow or Rush Limbaugh clone espousing the virtues of the administration, the treat of mutant supervillains and the evils of liberals (who these days just seemed like the second side of the same coin).
I wish they'd give me something to read, I mean I'd even take the operating manual of their CAT-scan machine, although I would actually be interested- people have no idea how hard it is to find the manuals for modern medical equipment unless you really know someone. Who am I kidding at this point I'd take a Time-Life home repair manual, granted they tended to gloss over all the fun stuff. I rolled my eyes as I remembered the time I borrowed one from the city library, I mean how hard is it to explain the internal combustion engine on a riding mower. Most folks would be thrilled to know how to tweak them for improved performance but no- I was only about how to fix, troubleshoot, and perform cursory repairs.
I remember I was ten when dad let me take apart our lawn mower, walking me through the mechanics as we went in our garage on his day off. Granted he pretty much had two after I dismantled the vacuum cleaner without permission when I was nine and spent two-weeks grounded at home until I not only put it back together but had to also write a paper explaining the mechanics that every component performed to his satisfaction.
Leave it to dad to figure out how to turn a punishment into something that was actually a little fun. Granted I kind of preferred dad's lessons and lectures to mom's, don't get me wrong I loved her but I preferred working on engines or soldering circuit-boards to learning how to escape a reverse-joint lock on my right-arm or spending time at a firing range. Wait why am I thinking about my parents all of a sudden?
"It's your newly emerging powers as a demi-succubae," Myra Haddix the succubus responsible for saving my life when she wasn't busy pretending to be her own grand-daughter Ellinore Jaffee explained. "Part what comes with your new status are an array of mystic and psychic abilities, including an empathic connection to those who are close to you. Your parents just arrived at Austin–Bergstrom International an hour ago and are on their way to see you right now, if you work on nurturing those powers you should be able to check in on them whenever you want."
'Honestly I don't plan on practicing with these powers,' I tried to focus my thoughts, 'I plan on using them as little as possible. Becoming a demi-succubus may have saved my life but I don't want that to be who I am. I have my own abilities, those are what I want to use that is who I want to be, I have my own plans and being an active member of the High Mother's Sisterhood or whatever, you want to call it is not on that list.'
The pause that elicited made me worry, had I just pissed off a powerful magic-user who had connections to an entire cabal of powerful magic-users and highly trained mercenaries (including my parents)?
"Stop with the fear and gloom kiddo," Myra all but sniffed over the link she had made with me, "I was just a little choked up with pride is all. I mean you're so young as both a sister and all together and you already have a goal in mind, any mother would be proud and as you dame I certainly am today."
'Dame?' I thought more than a little puzzled at Myra's choice of words.
"You know how vampires in fiction call the one who turned them their sire," Myra elaborated, "It's the same principal, I'm your dame just as Kampé is mine and High Mother Erzebet is hers. Just one of the many things that you need to be taught about the new you- I'm sorry we don't have a book or a pamphlet, but we can't afford the risk of someone who can't be trusted to learn about us let alone all of the ins and outs about how we work."
'I am serious though,' I stood firm over our link, 'I'm a techie at heart, just because I accept that magic exists and give it a healthy amount of respect doesn't mean that I want to learn about how to use it. In fact, if the big concern to the Sisterhood is about a one of them operating outside the organization then it's probably for the best that I use my powers as little as possible.'
"Another good idea already child," Myra all but beamed over our link, "But it's probably good to learn a little about your abilities, you need to know enough about them to keep them under wraps. Know enough to keep them hidden after all, you don't want to risk accidental spikes of telepathic and empathic abilities let alone the trouble that a random mana flare could cause."
'I get your point, learn enough to keep a lid on the abilities, especially the shape-shifting- I don't even know what the new me looks like.' I paused for a moment, 'I mean, I vaguely remember that you had two sets of wings and a tail.'
"Yes but yours should be far more immature," Myra elaborated sheepishly almost like she was about to give me The Talk, "Oh and don't be shocked by the fur, demi-succubae like yourself have a few stripes of short velvety fur on your bodies. The fur acts as a focus to help you maintain human form and blend in without revealing your nature, so whatever you do avoid trying to shave or wax it off."
The succubus known as Gale around the Grand Hall in her super-villain guise slumped back into her apartment, to say today had been eventful was an understatement. She had simultaneously ascended to becoming a complete succubus in the Sisterhood, been fast-tracked to run Axcel's new chemical plant in Wisconsin whose ground breaking was less than a month away as well as ear marked to run the Milwaukee Chapter of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom once they finished the acquisition of the existing organization for what it was.
For a moment she looked in bemusement at her wine rack, something that she was going to have to mothball for the foreseeable future given her new status of a mother with an indeterminant due date. "I guess that I'll get to test out the old saying that wine grows better with age." Gale mused aloud as she took everything into perspective.
Remembering Mother Erzebet's suggestion of looking up old acquaintances Gale looked at one of the photos that she had hanging around her apartment, an old kodak print that had been taken at her childhood home at the Our Lady of Graceful Charity's Chicago Chapter. A smile crossed her face as she recalled those happy days of youth, with that orphanage being an oasis after the dark days of her father's suicide following his being laid-off when a faulty acetylene torch exploded in his hand with the burns leaving him in pain for months. Come to find out that one of the friends that she made there Ruth Patrelli's late father was the man who raised objections about the quality of that equipment prior to his fatal accident.
Granted what Ruth didn't know was that the owner of the construction firm that had been receiving flak from Ruth's father Joe Patrelli for the new equipment was the brother-in-law of a board member of their new supplier- one who promised his in-law a nice kickback for a no-bid contract for some obviously substandard equipment. She also knew that Julio Ramos the owner of said firm was living pretty after years of such deals in Coconut Grove down in Miami and was debating placing a hungry alligator in his swimming pool masked by an imperceptibility charm just in time for his morning dip.
"Who am I kidding, I don't want some animal to be put down just to settle the score of some greedy bastard from a decade ago," Gale or as her real name went Abby Pustejovsky get and graded a sports drink from her fridge, "I want that bastard to die destitute in prison, too bad his brother-in-law went out easy with a heart attack not from suffering from his misdeeds; although if there is a Hell that condemns and punishes the greedy because I hope that he's down there right now suffering."
"Maybe I should call Ruth tomorrow to give her the good news, or well- half of the good news," Abby admitted to herself as she set her drink down on the kitchen counter, "after all not everyone in at the orphanage became part of The Family but at least she found one with the Sedgewick's."
Room 104 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center Recovery Ward
Round Rock, Texas
9:17 PM CDT
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness
This was beginning to get weird, I could actually feel my parents getting closer to where I was, I could be headed down the hallway right now. Okay I'll admit this succubus power could actually be super-useful but even I could see how it could be annoying- not to self-learn the mute feature on this one. While part of me wanted to fling myself at my parents I knew that one of the hospital staff would be accompanying them, and I was still having to be a good little demi-succubus and play the part of a gunshot victim recovering from serious surgery.
I continued to wait until mom, flung open the door- bolted over to me- and all but smothered me in a hug that I had been wanting all day long. "My baby, I'm sorry that it took so long to get back from New York, we tried everything that we could to get back as fast as we could but there was just so much that we had to take care of before we could leave, and you had to go through all of this alone and-"
"Alice please," dad worked with the doctor to pry mom off of me, "Joan just went through some major surgery, I understand how you feel but you don't want her to pop any of those sutures. Just because she's awake and stable doesn't mean that she is ready for you to go ubermom."
"But- but- my baby!" Mom pleaded, and I could tell that this wasn't really an act.
"Please, Alice be strong for Joan." Dad stated as he looked mom right in the eyes.
"All right Walter," Mom eventually deflated, "I'll try."
"Doctor, I know that it's late and that the hospital has a rule about visiting hours, but would you mind if we stay for a while." Dad asked the orderly, "I think some time together would do all of us a little good."
"I think that can be arranged," the doctor chuckled at the sight of my parent's embarrassing display, "I'll send the nurse on staff to fetch some linens and pillows for you in case you plan on spending the night."
"Alright," Dad replied, "just be sure to tell them to knock, since part of this was an attempt at the theft of my work I may be discussing some confidential matters that you and other hospital staff aren't legally authorized to hear."
"I understand sir," the orderly said as he made his way out of the room, "feel free to lock the door if you would feel more comfortable."
As the orderly left dad followed his advice locked the door and then went about setting up his sonic nullifiers on the door, walls, windows, ceiling and floor. Pausing to check his work and satisfied dad hit the switch on his watch activating the devices, "Okay we are free to talk, and the room is free electronic surveillance beyond your vital monitor equipment, which is rigged to unlock the door and cue a blue light in the hallway should you flatline."
"I doubt that would happen," I stated as I stood while taking care not to disconnect my cardio-monitor. "As long as I'm careful with the equipment and keep up my acting I should be fine until they let me come home. I hope that everything went alright in New York."
"Our mine sweeper drone demonstration went off without a hitch," Dad smiled, "we have a dozen orders from the Pentagon and several from NATO, SEATO and the UN currently being examined by legal. If everything goes according to projections we should have the world landmine free by 2021. Not to mention all the farm land that should free up without the threat of folks getting blown to kingdom come while plowing fields."
"By the way how are my Tomba's bots prototype going at the testing range?" I asked honestly curious about if my side-project to dad's own was coming along.
"I'm sorry dear," dad deflated, "There was a filter issue, on the field so your shrapnel sweepers need a little more fine-tuning before their ready for their debut. I also need a chance to sit you down with legal to go over the patent applications."
"Probably for the best that you didn't I sighed, I might want to release them under my new identity." I looked at the both of them, "I assume that you both got the news about what really happened right?"
"Yes," Mom, bowed her head and wept, "I can't believe that my daughter had to join the sisterhood to survive, I mean I'm happy for you I was just hoping to be a grandmother someday."
"You know you are still pretty young," I smiled, "and honestly I wouldn't mind no longer being an only child. It would have been fun to have a little brother or sister to embarrass the hell out of when growing up, of course even if you did I wouldn't be around too much."
"I know," Dad deflated with a sigh, "I heard that your new official residence is going to be in a company safehouse out of state for protective custody, not to mention the new name I can't believe that Erzebet won't let you take my last name."
"Come on dear," Mom gave a sad laugh, "could you blame them, Jacobs is a very common name. Plus, could you imagine how she'd get harassed at Whateley with Gompers as a last name, you remember growing up."
"If she gets to Whateley," Dad shook his head, "honestly dear I don't know what you were thinking Dead-Zone's camp is hard enough on adults with years of training and a better handle on their powers. There have even been recruits who tried to take their own lives over how grueling it was, a couple even succeeded."
"I know dad, but as things stand for me Whateley is my best chance to live a life like I want," I explained as best that I could, "and the only way that will happen is if Dead-Zone gives the okay. I know that this wouldn't be easy, but I know that if I want to live my life by my rules I'm going to have to give it my all."
"I know dear," Mom replied as she hugged me again, "just remember we'll always be there for you when you need us, even if we can't be there physically."
"I know but there is something that you can do for me," I explained, "since I won't exactly be able to come around once I start living my new life, I know about the Orphanage that Axcel runs, find some kid there who really needs it and spoil them rotten for me."
"I'm sure that can be arranged my little code monkey," Dad smiled as he ruffled my hair, "just know that you might get a visit from us as we really are, your mother knows a kid at Whateley who's in a similar situation to herself. They're kind of pen pals now, or well the real her- the girl doesn't show any inclination towards wanting to be a black hat though."
"Maybe I'll look her up after I clear this summer hurdle," I mused to which my dad gave me a serious look.
"Joan Dead-Zone's camp is no hurdle," Dad stated as serious as I had ever seen him, "it's a Seal Grade obstacle course the length of a marathon, go in expecting hell itself, because I promise you that Dead-Zone will deliver on those expectations and then some."
I looked on in shock, for a moment I wondered just what I had agreed to then I remembered why I had agreed to do it. "Dad the best thing that I can do is give this uphill battle my all, I will make you proud both proud of me!"
"Joan, we have always been proud of you," Mom, squeezed my shoulder, "and I will continue to be so as you become the woman inside that I always knew you'd be."
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Chicago - Westside Alley
POV: D-Caf aka Chandra Defrank
"RAMONA!" I shouted at the top of my lungs watching in horror as Taikeyla pulled the trigger with her handgun aimed right at Ramona's chest, my heart seized, and time seemed to stretch on as I ran towards the projectile. Even though I knew that I was unable to stop time unless I was wearing a full suit and my helmet, which seemed to have driven the girl who once claimed to have been my friend further off her rocker than old Ecket Jenkins, I couldn't help it I needed to save Ramona- I had to save one of my oldest and dearest friends.
That was when I noticed how far I had gone and how everything was moving, they say that at times like this a moment can stretch on forever but for me it seemed like it was doing just that. I couldn't believe my luck, somehow, I had done it I was using my power without actually being in danger myself, granted this time was only slowed and not stopped it still gave me a chance to stop this- one that I would not waste.
Given that Ramona was on the ground- dealing with a bullet wound there was no way that I could move her out of the bullet's path, that meant that the only thing that I could affect at this point was the bullet itself. As the bullet slowly spun down its lethal path, I thought about grabbing the bullet and then remembered the bottle from that alley with the mugger, chances were if I touched the damned thing it would just speed up and kill my friend the moment that I did so.
Come on Chandra- think- what can you use to stop or steer the bullet off course. My first thought turned to the bat that I was using earlier but that just broke when mutant Victor got loose of the garden hose. As the bullet continued its deadly journey I went looking around, only seeing the dumpster that Taikeyla hid behind to ambush us I threw open the lid and looked inside to see salvation and laying amongst the bags of refuse were two phone books- the West Chicago Yellow Pages and the West Chicago White Pages.
"I hope that old myth holds true," I said out of desperation as I positioned the books along the slug's path over Ramona's chest and prayed to the big guy and as many angels that were listening that this worked. My adrenaline rush must have made my hands shake because my elbow slipped and as I touched Ramona the world sped up as the bullet hit. The bullet hit the phone books and though I felt the impact I could still feel Ramona breathing beneath me as I looked down in relief to see her looking up in gratitude that I had saved her again from the Coleman sister's efforts, the real danger remained though.
I looked up slowly at Taikeyla who opened the mouth and visor on my helmet, before putting it on she just looked crazed with power, now though she just looked nuts. "It was you, it was always you, why did you have to be special, why couldn't you be like the rest of us." Taikeyla let out a laugh, not one of crazed mania or villainous triumph, but one that was too pitiful for words, "I guess that it was too much to hope that I could be special too, you can only ride along for so long."
I watched in horror once more as she brought the handgun to her throat and not wanting to watch even someone like her die I shut my eyes as I heard the pop. Shortly before the I heard her hit the ground and her firearm hit the concrete of the alley. I continued to keep my eyes shut until I heard a voice ask, "Are you two honeys all right? I was taking cover a block over when I heard the shooting and found Natroya's little toady about to waste you two, then herself fortunately my little friend stopped her before she pulled the trigger."
I looked on as he held out what looked suspiciously like a police issue stun gun, "Isn't that a cop's shocker?"
"Yeah," the man explained, "they go a lot less ballistic when their stun gun's go missing than they do when their firearms pull a Houdini. Now I'll get Miss Watt's arms you get her legs we need to get out of, we need to get out of here before we get caught in the crossfire of that mess out on the street!"
"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me who you are and why you're here!" I stood firm as I bent over to tend to Ramona's wounds, "My friend's hurt and the last thing that I'm going to do is take her somewhere with a strange guy who I know nothing about."
"My handle's Fo-Real, I'm with the 'cuda's, I was grabbing some Italian Beefs at Rosio's for me and my sister while we hunkered down until the Tin Men moved on then I heard the carnage while Gus was dishing us up and came to see what was going on. Next thing I know I heard started hearing pops and came to see Ramona on the ground and Taikeyla about to plug you both. By the way here you need somethin’ to use as gauze," Fo-Real stated before taking off his beanie pulling out a butterfly knife and cut it in half before handing me the pieces.
"Actually, she was about to off herself." I replied with having used the ski- cloth to help soak up the blood, I wish that I had some alcohol to disinfect it though, before making my way over to the incapacitated Taikeyla and taking my helmet back from her. "I believe this belongs to me you little opportunistic leech."
After I removed my helmet from her prone body, I did look down at her my old false friend with her eyes wide in terror over everything that she'd seen. Part of me wondered what she saw that freaked her out so much then I remembered what I saw myself when I traveled too far in-between moments of time, maybe without my power she saw whatever I did just without the filter. Those spheres and pyramids that I saw I never did stray so far in-between moments of time as to see what they really looked like beyond vague geometric shapes, maybe Taikeyla saw the whole enchilada without easing into it like I did- that would be bound to freak anybody out because I never ventured too far since worried that I would find myself part of that place's food chain.
With this in mind maybe it was time for a little mercy- and some payback for all of the suffering that she had helped the Coleman sisters inflict on Ramona and me over the years. "I do have something for you though," I said right before I socked her in the side of the jaw as hard as I could. "Alright Fo-Real lets, get Ramona someplace that we can get her looked at."
"There's a full first-aid kit over at Rosio's," Fo-Real explain as he took Ramona's shoulders, "it's also neutral ground, since nobody wants to mess up a place that so many of us go to grab a bite."
"I know," I smiled as I put my helmet back on, "my dad used to sneak me over there every time that he was back stateside. They still have that giardiniera that they use green and red bell peppers to balance out the celery."
"Course I said that we were going to Rosio's," Fo-Real explained, "you actually are Chandra Defrank right, girl whose team is in the state finals?"
"Yup," I explained as I carefully took Ramona's legs, "are you alright?"
"Much as I can be after getting shot," Ramona gritted out as she shook from the pain of her wound, "I knew Taikeyla was a bitch, but she took it to a whole other level."
"Got that right," Fo-Real huffed those Alley Vipers picked their handle well, "nothing but a bunch of snakes. Now let's get you patched up, no way I'm gonna' let a sister with the grit to tell them off sit hurting in a back alley!"
The two of us accepted his words about this but before we left and after I put my helmet back on I took the opportunity to kick Taikeyla's gun out of the alley and towards the street where from the sound of things the mutated Victor was still duking it out with the Knights of Purification. I may not like that groups of tin-plated jackboots, but I did trust that they'd see to it that a firearm that they found at the scene of a battle would make its way to the police evidence locker.
With that taken care of I glared at Taikeyla one final time at Fo-Real and I carried Ramona out the other side of the alley and down the street both as quickly and as carefully as we could towards Rosio's. Even with the sun set and the street lights up nobody was crazy enough to exit their apartments and were likely huddled together in the basements and laundry rooms waiting for the all clear to sound. Not that I blamed them most Chicago basements were built tough enough to bear the weight of a collapsed building a feature common in structures built after the Great Chicago Fire.
As we were about halfway to Rosio's I looked at Fo-Real and stated, "I suppose that this means I am going to owe you something, since you know who I am though you might as well know that I'm not rich or anything so don't expect any expensive favors."
"I was going to ask for a signed picture of your team for my sis, she's a big fan of yours," Fo-Real smirked, "but for that bit of lip I'm going to insist that you throw in a few pointers to her on her game. She's trying to be the next girl from the hood to make it big on the courts- wants to see if she can make the team too."
I all but laughed at just what he wanted, "I think that's do-able, never thought that I'd wind up a local role model though."
"Don't sell yourself short," Ramona gritted out sweat dripping from her as she toughed it out, "the *gaah* reason that the Coleman's hate you so much is that you give kids round here hope that they can make it too, that's they can be something without being a gang banger- no offence."
"Non-taken," Fo-Real remarked, "I don't just tag territory, who do you think did that spread behind Rosio's?"
"Come on," Ramona groaned, "The artist to that signed his name, Arthur F. Robertson, you expect to make us believe-"
"The F stands for Fonzarelli, mom was a fan of "Happy Days"," Fo-Real groaned, "she named me after The Fonz."
"Oh, you have got to be making that up," I shot back, "I refuse to believe that any mother around here would-"
"She also named my sis Joanie," Fo-Real stated which stopped my rebuke dead in my tracks, "not that I mind being named after the cool guy an old hit show but my sister kind of objects to being named after a character with the nickname Shortcake."
"Tell me about it," Ramona groaned half in pain, "my mom was a Beverly Cleary fan, I'm just lucky she didn't name me Beazus."
"I still don't get why you're being so chummy with a gang-banger?" I stated as I tried to avoid snarling.
"You've been away for a couple of years, so you probably don't know some of the things that those of us who stay in the hood do Chandra," Ramona explained, "Not all of the local gangs are like the Alley Vipers, the fact is that if there's a territory in a rougher part of town then a gang will try to claim it."
"Not to mention on this side of town the police are really slow to respond," Fo-Real stated, "if they do at all- same for the paramedics, firemen still do though- course a lot of the brigades and companies around here are staffed by locals. That means if you want to keep a block safe you have to make it territory of a gang that actually give a damn about their turf. We may call ourselves a gang but we're more neighborhood watch thugs then the like, a lot of the mom and pop places like us too because we make the neighborhood too scary for the chains and mega-franchises to move in and put them out of business."
"And I suppose those places around here are only too happy to pay you for your services," I stated as I glared at Fo-Real.
"Employee discount, we can take home leftovers if we want and we leave our money for said purchases at a spot that the owner picks out, so we can keep up the act." Fo-Real explained in a hushed tone, "we also try to scare away the tourists, this neighborhood is dangerous enough without some outta-towner's homicide stirring up shit around here."
"Plus, just because the Barracudas and a few others work like this doesn't mean that we all do." Fo-Real continued in a hushed tone, "The Erasers are just as bad as the Alley Vipers and the Skulls are the worst of the lot- word is that group's actually cartel muscle to protect the dealers. Plus, there are always muggers, tweekers and junkies of every stripe.
"And I suppose that your gang just does this out of the goodness of their heart." I deadpanned.
"I'm not that nice," Fo-Real jabbed back, "Dead tourists mean, bad press, bad press means the suits downtown get nervous, and nervous suits means fuzz chomping at the bit to crack down on the area. On the other hand, crap happens to the folks who live around here and nobody gives a shit, most of the cops who get this beat don't even bother getting out of their cars if they see trouble."
"I know that it sucks but for most of them we're not worth the paperwork or their time, and a lot of the ones who would care are too afraid of getting shot themselves." Fo-Real all but bit back his frustration, "The EMTs don't come here either, since their afraid of their ambulances getting looted and striped while they answer a call. Fact is Defrank you were lucky to get out of here those who don't get a ticket out of here are stuck here, part of the reason I want you to give my baby sis some advice on her game; she gets good enough by High School she might get a free-ride to college and a ticket out of here."
We were within sight of Rosio's when a white van with a logo of red, green and blue bars that interlocked like a triangle and the name Argonne National Laboratories pulled over alongside us. Almost immediately a man in a black suit got out and I had flashbacks towards my fear of the MCO after I ran from the Knights whose battle was still going on not too far away the next street over concealed from us by the brownstones that surrounded us.
Unfortunately, while part of me wanted to bolt, Ramona's condition and the fact meant that if I let go of her it would hurt her even worse than she already was, that on top of the fact that by the time I set her legs down and got far away enough to use my powers the agent would have likely opened fire. Even if Fo-Real was armed his position was even worse off- if he dropped Ramona the trauma would have sent her into shock and he'd likely have been dropped himself before he could get a shot off.
"Pardon me but by your outfit I would assume that you are Chandra Defrank," the suit explained as he stepped out of the van that looked packed full of way too much scientific equipment for my taste (what was it for mobile autopsies, "my name is Agent Philip Donovan, I'm with the Department of Paranormal Affairs. Pardon me for being so bold but I understand that you are overdue for your appointment at the public hospital, and from the look of it your friend needs some treatment as well."
"You mean you're not the MCO?" I asked honestly hoping that there was some silver lining in this situation.
"No," Agent Donovan stated as he pulled out his badge and let us look it over rather than just flashing the thing like some spook in a movie, "unlike the MCO I actually work for the federal government. I'm here to help provide security for you while everyone gets this incident straightened out, although from the size of your group I'm afraid that we're going to need to find some place more secure to stay while we wait for another ride."
"We were headed to Rosio's down the street," Fo-Real spoke up, "since you're a fed he should let us hunker down in the stock room, sides my sister's waiting for me."
"Understood young man," Agent Donovan accepted Fo-Real's suggestion before turning to whoever was still in the van, "take this young lady to the nearest emergency room, she's been shot!"
"Rush Oaks the closest with a real trauma unit," Fo-Real chimed in, "most of the rest are just Urgent Care and pill pushers."
"Got it," two men inside who looked less like spooks and more like legitimate scientists, with picture ID lanyards and everything, "we'll tell them to send the invoice to the DPA." One of them said as he took Ramona's shoulders from Fo-real.
"After all of this is over I should be able to forward this bill to Goodkind International for the Knights precipitating this whole affair." Agent Donovan replied as the two scientists loaded Ramona up into the truck, "call me when she's admitted to the ER."
"Understood Agent Donovan," the scientist replied as he laid Ramona down in the bed of the van, "we'll be there soon."
After the van shut its door and sped on its way Agent Donovan looked at us, as if there was something vital on his mind, "By the way this Rosio's wouldn't happen to sell anything to eat would it? Pardon me for asking but I didn't have anything for lunch but a stale back of Doritos from their snack box."
"Sure, as long as you don't mind Chicago-style Italian sandwiches," I remarked, I just hope that the Knights don't kill Victor before I have the chance to scream at his stupid ass for starting all of this."
"Are you saying that you know the person who shot you in Washington Park?" Agent Donovan inquired as we continued to make our way to Rosio's, pulling out a notepad and bald-point pen ready to take notes.
"Yeah, but let's wait until we sit down and eat," I pointed out, "I don't want to risk the Knights spotting me again."
"They had better think twice, if they attack you they attack me, and if they attack a government agent then that is it for the Knights of Purity." Agent Donovan explained.
"Really and since when would some blue-blood's private army care about the law?" Fo-Real asked making a point as we made our way up the intersection with Rosio's in site three streets down.
"Since the Patriot Act," Agent Donovan explained as he firmly affixed a copy of his government ID lapel, "plus after what the MCO pulled in Texas and New England over the last few months the Department of Homeland Security is looking for enough leverage to establish a tighter leash over Private Security Companies."
"What happened in Texas and New England?" I asked wanting to know wondering if it might have anything to do with what happened to Candace and her old friends from Pennsylvania.
"They were caught using advanced interrogation methods on a kid who had been placed under their care, the fact that he died soon after and was a Federal Witness made matters even worse." Agent Donovan explained, "As for New England that matter is confidential, and your friend may not be cleared."
"Then what about the Texas mess," Fo-Real pointed out, "what made you squawk about that?"
"It resulted in a wrongful death suit and court cases are public record," Agent Donovan stated as we crossed the street right to Rosio's Convenience Store and Deli- I really hoped that Pablo still double-dipped the Italian Beef on request.
The fact that a 9mm semi-automatic slid on to the street was of little concern to its current occupants. Granted one of the occupants only had a singular concern, "METAL MEN, KILL CHANDRAA!" VT all but roared as he shook his way free of the capture net that was currently shocking him.
Gavin Jansen looked on in a mixture of fear and disbelief as the berserk slab of meat that was the closest that he'd seen to a bonafide Hulk in a while, as the brute worked his way free of the electro-capture net. Hayden Worrell who had his blaster trained on the beast opened fire as soon as the beast got free of the net sending it hurtling three blocks down the street with a blast of concussive energy. As Gavin was busy reloading his net-launcher, Audry Stone and Adam Navarro readied themselves for a stagger and batter maneuver.
Before the raging mutate that VT had become could gather his bearings Audry struck with a series of high-speed strikes to the inside joints of this legs. This attack caused the brute to stagger which left him off his balance when Adam bum-rushed him knocking him to the ground. While this action was fast enough to leave VT on his back it not fast enough to avoid a glancing blow from the altered brute's right foot the left a noticeable dent in the leg of Adam's armor. Minor damage aside, rather than immediately capitalize on this coordinated effort; the pair instead fell back, this allowed their Pitcher Hayden to pin VT again with another blast of energy with this being the prelude to a series of blasts that pressed the brute into the asphalt.
"Alright," Holden Baxter, the team's leader stated over the com-line, "Jansen has reloaded, on the count of five cease fire to capture secondary target, Amos you are ordered to reestablish sight on the primary target and maintain sight until the rest of the team can re-engage. Understand, the primary target's full abilities are unknown, you are not to engage again until full back-up arrives."
"Understood commander," Madison Amos, the team's Short-Stop, replied over the com's as she engaged her suit's flight-pack taking to the roof-tops to her surprise it didn't take her long to reestablish a view on their primary target, especially since she was helping someone a male carry what looked like an injured girl down the street.
"Site-line reestablished on primary target," Madison explained over the radio, "however two civilians are in the area- one male and one female who appears to be wounded, primary target appears to be assisting. Target has yet to notice, permission to utilize our drop-ship's surveillance-drones and slave them to my video-feed to maintain surveillance at a distance."
"Permission granted," Commander Baxter replied over their coms, "deploying drones, also from here on out I'll be commanding from the field. I'll join you with the rest of the team once the secondary target has been secured and their power-cells are recharged."
"Roger commander," Madison replied as she tagged the incoming surveillance drones and with a few commands to her suit's on-board computer she was receiving video from the group over-head from both up the street as well as overhead.
Meanwhile the rest of the rest of the group continued to keep their opponent pinned with Hayden's energy blasts as Holden began to count over the com-line while Jansen took aim at his target, Five!
The group waited with baited breath as Hayden began another concussive blast, praying that the kinetic blast was enough as he had been ordered to swap it in from the suit's usual plasma cannon as they needed the target alive. "Four!"
Suddenly Hayden began to see the target convulse in between his shots as if there was some outside force beginning to act upon it, still he had his orders and kept up the heat. "Three!"
Without warning the target's body began to contract as if it was shrinking, since this was a live capture mission Hayden recalibrated the intensity between shots to lessen the force of the blasts. While Holden noticed this, he knew that his team was changing strategy to adjust mid-combat and continued the count, "Two!"
VT's body continued to contract amid the lessening impact of Hayden's kinetic blasts, he was almost half-way back to normal. "One!"
Hayden ceased fire as Jansen's proverbial finger's tensed on the trigger of his net launcher, however their target had not only contracted to human proportions, but he actually looked like he was emaciated, surprisingly the commander's next command wasn't fire, Restrain target! I repeat cease fire and restrain target!
"Commander?" Jansen responded almost mystified by the panicked shift in the commander's tone, "Can you copy that last order?"
"I said cease fire and restrain the secondary target soldier," Commander Baxter replied over the com-line, "This isn't a mutant or even a true enhanced individual, the secondary target's behavior and abilities are consistent with a black-market substance known as Nightmare Fuel. We need to retrain the subject and ready him for interrogation."
"Do you think the primary target has black market connections commander?" Jansen inquired wondering if their current operation may have brought them in over their heads.
"Negative," Commander Baxter drew from his experience as well as his observations so far, "if the target had any she would be using them to hide or get out of the city, not out on the street where we could find her. This could mean that a third party is trying to find and recruit the target, or at the least take custody of her. Amos, what are your observations on the target's companions?"
"Two teenagers, African-American, they look like locals but the one who was shot judging by her attire is at least lower-middle class." Madison Amos presented her analysis of what she observed through the lens of the surveillance drones, "The boy looks to be closer to high school age, I'm seeing a color motif on his outfit so he might be affiliated with a local street gang."
"While that might be a possibility the chances of a street gang having ties to the black market are slim," Commander Baxter observed while touching down, "Since this is where the suspect ran the chances are that she has a connection to this community, she was probably trying to hide with old acquaintances, the girl who was hurt might have been an accomplice."
"Commander Baxter," Madison called out over the com-line, "A van has just pulled up alongside the primary object and her accomplices and a man has gotten out."
"He might be related to the attack Amos," Commander Baxter observed as his team listened in while securing the now helpless VT, "Give me a description of any branding on the van, catch the license plate, make model and VIN if you can as well as any details of the van's occupants."
"Understood commander, the vehicle is a full-sized White 2002 Chevrolet Astro Cargo Van, I have a snapshot of the plates however I cannot get the VIN from this distance." Madison relayed over the line while Commander Baxter finally arrived on the scene of the fight to allow his fellow Knights to recharge their packs off of the portable generator in his suit. "A man in a suit just got out and appears to be talking with the primary target, he is pulling out a badge- I cannot make out the name but I am trying to increase resolution enough so that I can get the logo on the badge."
"While you do that do you see any branding on the van?" Commander Baxter coaxed his subordinate, "even if it is a cover it could be valuable intel."
"Argonne National Laboratories sir, two people from inside the van just appeared they seem to be loading the injured bystander into the van sir, they are wearing casual wear and have visible ID tags with the same logo as the van. I also see scientific equipment inside the van and am detecting a portable power-cell and what appears to be energy monitoring equipment inside. The van just drove off and the suit remained behind sir," Madison continued before she paused and stated, "Hold on, sir the resolution of my shot of the man's badge just increased enough for me to ID the organizational logo, he's with the Department of Paranormal Affairs sir!"
"Change of plans, everyone gather any stray equipment, we need to collect and deliver our prisoner into police custody, Amos continue to monitor the target but do not contact or engage, she's with a Federal Agent now." Commander Baxter almost fumed what he had hoped to be another feather in his cap instead turned out to be damage control, all that he could do right now was avoid sparking a government incident.
Rosio's Restaurant and Convenience Store
POV: Chandra Defrank
"Don't worry mom," I responded over the phone, "I'm fine, I'm with an DPA agent and waiting for the paramedics to meet me over at Rosio's, they're just going to look at me to make sure that the stiches Shelly gave me held and didn't get infected. After that all I need to do is make a statement to the police explaining what happened today and then I'll ask them to drop me off at Granny's place. I'm sorry that I won't be coming home, and I know tomorrow's a school day, but Agent Donovan told me that the people over at Argonne Labs."
"After everything why won't they just let you come home?" mom cried out over the phone, "Haven't you been through enough already today?"
Knowing that there was nothing that I could do to handle this situation I handed the courtesy phone over to Agent Donovan who was standing nearby, "I am sorry for the situation Mrs. Defrank and understand your frustration, however I think that your daughter deserves some rest after this ordeal in a familiar setting. We also need to run a few tests to see if we could better understand your daughter's new abilities and see if they might affect her health. Tomorrow I'll be escorting her over to Argonne National Lab over in Lincoln and we also sent for a team from the Arkham Research Center to monitor the test and help them create a file on your daughter."
"I understand your worries Mrs. Defrank but traveling at night will be too dangerous if someone decides to come after her. I'll contact the Police and have them provide a couple of officers to guard the building in the meantime please get some rest your daughter is in good hands." Agent Donovan stated before he handed the phone back to me.
"I'll be alright mom, Granny Defrank has a nice and secure room remember," I explained trying to help calm her down, "tell everyone that I'm fine and please call the school and explain things because I doubt that I'll be able to make it in tomorrow morning."
"I will but I still want you back home as soon as possible," mom stated over the phone.
"I will be and do me a favor, please try and save a few pieces of cake, something tells me that Ramona will need some cheering up after all of this, she was hurt a lot worse than I was."
"Just get to your Grandmother Mertle's safely," mom ordered over the phone.
"I will mom, and I love you too." I explained as I hung up the phone I found a grade-schooler looking at me clutching a pen and a spiral notebook. "Joanie, I presume?"
The girl almost squeaked when I talked to her, before telling the girl, "Just so you know I promised your brother that I'd get the rest of the team to autograph a picture of us however...hey Stan do you still have that polaroid?"
"Yup," Stan Rosio the owner of the restaurant explained as he took out the item in question, "but you know the drill, one for you- one for me. Especially since I'm staying open late, usally by now I lock up, flip the chairs and but on Bob Seger while I start cleaning."
"You clean to Bob Seger?" Agent Donovan responded an eyebrow raised in disbelief.
"I will never get too old to mop to "Old Time Rock and Roll" "Until it Shines"," Stan proudly proclaimed eliciting a groan from me since Granny Mertle has that album.
"Honestly Mister Rosio, any more puns like that and I'll have to cite your excessive cruelty to minors to the police when I give my statements tomorrow," I threatened the man.
"Hey like I care," Stan laughed, "the feds already have it out for me as is!"
"The IRS on you for not reporting your profits from the tip jar," Fo-Real guessed as he got to work with the camera.
"Nope the EPA is on me about my meatball marineras," Stan all but barked as he laughed, "they say I raised the neighborhood's CO2 and methane emissions by half a point after I put them on the menu!"
"Anyway, we're burn'en oil and it's close to my sis's bed time so," Fo-Real took aim with the camera and made his demand, "say chedda'!"
"Cheese!" I replied as I saw the flash. Soon Stan took the first photo from Fo-Real as the member of the Barracudas took a second picture and then set the camera down as the two both began fanning their pictures while Stan readied a fine-point sharpie. I can't believe I actually warranted a place on the wall granted recent additions paled in comparison to Stan's grandfather Giuseppe's days that included actual signed eight-by-ten glossies, including Roman Pucinski, Richard J. Daley, Thomas Fitzgerald, Orson Welles, and Muddy Waters.
While the contributions since those days when this area was a little nicer, were just taped up polaroid pictures they were no less iconic with Oprah Windfrey, Senator Barack Obama, Robin Williams, Eddie Vedder, John Hayden, band photos of The Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Do or Die, as well as three of the Champions and several team shots of the Bulls. "Are you sure that I've earned a place on the wall," I asked Stan out of concern, "after what happened to me I'm going to have to withdraw from the athletics program."
"You are one of the few neighborhood kids to lead a team to State," Stan stated, "not city local but neighborhood local, you earned your spot, and something tells me that you may replace that pic with something even better one day."
"I'll try to live up to your expectations Mister Rosio," I replied as I signed his and Joansie's pictures now that they had developed.
"See that you do," Stan replied as we taped up the photo, "and what do I keep telling you when your father brought you in?"
"That regulars can call you Stan," I smiled somehow feeling that Stan's prediction may hold some weight.
Toxicology Lab - Rush Oaks Park Hospital
Lloyd Macdonald took another swig from his coffee, as crappy as the stuff was from the vending machine it beat the risk of the pot- people from pathology kept taking it down there and nobody wanted to use it but them until the thing was sterilized. It also didn't help that they had gotten a rush on samples from the Police Department, in-between the usual business that went down on this side of town and whatever else there was from the emergency room or urgent care facility he was swamped.
Thank goodness that because of the fight that the Knights of Purity had on this side of town that Axcel Incorporated had send people over to help with processing the samples. Although Lloyd hated to admit it but the fact that their equipment for analyzing blood and fluid samples was faster than anything their hospital could afford was working wonders on their case log.
"How goes the backlog Mister Chavez?" He asked of the Axcel researcher
"Seven cases of Strep Throat, one confirmed case of West Nile, three Staph infections, and one patient tested positive for TB you might want to notify their school to send his class in for exams in case of an outbreak." Enrique Chavez replied as he pated the case files that he had been processing for the hospital.
"What about the gunshot victim in surgery, or the super-villain in intensive care." Lloyd inquired, "the kid was shot in an alley she might have picked something up, and the super-villain may need to be sedated."
"Hold the horses on the super-villain, Knight of Purity commander who dropped him off was correct with his prognosis. The kid had a mutagenic drug collectively known in his system, he's no threat to anyone now and should be unconscious for about a day due to the strain on his system but you're going to need to decide on an intravenous pain-killer to put him on for after he wakes up because he will be in a tremendous amount of pain from the strain the drug put on his body as well as the withdrawal."
"Are you certain, you are talking about something like morpheein," Doctor Macdonald retorted, "that is nothing to take likely."
"Neither is a heart aneurism or a stroke," Enrique Chavez explained, "this is how much pain he's going to be in and soon. As much as I hate to say it rehabilitating the boy from opioid addiction will be a lot less dangerous than wagering that he can deal with five days of sheer agony of Nightmare Fuel withdrawal and survive."
"And what about the girl?" Doctor Macdonald asked out of expediency. "They are getting a bullet out of her leg and they need to know if she has any medication allergies or caught any infections from the alley."
"I have the allergy test results, she has a problem with ragweed but that's it," Mister Chavez urged caution, "however the machine also found something weird in her blood sample and is having to check with our database to find a match and I'm still sending the data. We can't do anything right now but wait, I mean why does your hospital still use a 56K modem for internet communication."
"Because the last company to promise to invest in our hospital and upgrade our equipment was Enron." Doctor Macdonald fumed, "how about getting some more of the backlog done while your fancy machine waits for our slow connection."
Thirty-seven samples, three cups of coffee and forty-two minutes later the file finally got through at one-hundred percent to Axcel's servers across town, "Finally," Enrique Chavez through up his hands in victory, "any longer and it would have been faster for me to drive it across town."
"Yeah now we just have to wait for your end to send back the-" Doctor Macdonald's comment was interrupted when the terminal cataloged an incoming reply. "Okay, I'll admit it your machines are fast."
Curious about what the hold-up was about Doctor Macdonald opened the file, "What in the world is Innsmouth Syndrome?"
The ashen look of mouth-gaping shock on the face of Enrique Chavez told him a lot but raised more questions in his mind than they answered. Something told him that he really needed to Irish up his next coffee because he was certain that he was not going to like the answer that Mister Chavez gave to his question.
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A black market mutagenic narcotic that can enhance a baseline human to Exemplar 4 to 6 strength and durability levels depending on the purity of the dose. When injected intravenously it mutates the victim increasing their size and strength ten to twenty-fold depending on both the subject and the dose's purity. The mutagenic effects of Nightmare Fuel can last up to an hour and while under the influence the higher-thought processes of the individual are suppressed while their sensitivity to is dulled pain and aggression is increased.
Once the effect of the narcotic is up the user goes into an initial state of withdrawal that leaves them catatonic for 36 to 72 hours, afterwards the secondary withdrawal kicks in leaving them in extreme pain requiring the periodic administration of schedule one painkillers to deal with to avoid the risk of heart-attack or stroke. Once the pain subsides usually after a week the victim must go through intensive physical rehabilitation to regain motor function while being monitored for signs of drug use due to the possibility of addiction from either the narcotic itself or the subsequent painkillers.
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Iris's Suite - Scarlet Sands Resort
Las Vegas, Nevada
6:37 PM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South
It was odd as the day was slipping away, and now that I was no longer concerned with meeting warriors whose destiny I shared or saving my best friend from being auctioned off to super-villains I was just starting to come to terms with how my life had literally changed over the course of a single weekend. When I had snuck away from home earlier Saturday morning to hang out with the members of my boxing team I had never imagined the way that trip would come to change the course of my life.
Over the course of that very day I had come to learn the reason why I had always felt uncomfortable in my own skin, it wasn't really my skin and the life that I had lived was a lie. The fact that I was a kidnaped girl crammed into a shell of a boy and taught that the emotionally abusive woman who raised me was my mother, when in fact she was the person who likely kidnapped my real mother and was still working for the cult who held her prisoner, it just made me want to- to- I don't want to think about it because it would probably lead me to being a worse person than that cold-blooded mercenary.
There was also the fact that I would barely see my friends from now on, until the Cult of the Black Pharaoh was taken care of and my mother was saved along with my future Aunt and that child's mother I was going to be rather restricted in my movements. As it was my time in Boulder City was over- Paul Ledoux's life was in the past a chapter in a book that may as well have been the prequel to the life of Iris Seguin. No more classes with Walt at Elton and Madeline Garrett Middle School, on the other hand no getting pushed around by Jeff Pruett, not that he could or would now anyway.
"Not that he would try that now," I went over to the vanity area that was installed in my new private vanity, man this degree of luxury is going to take some getting used to. "Yeah, knowing that jerk if I ever showed up at school looking like I do now that chauvinist would try to alpha-male his was into my panties. Course now I'm stronger than he would ever hope to be."
Yeah apparently I didn't have it yesterday because I didn't soak up any sunshine after I busted out of the old me, but djinn are super-strong, so much so that most of the stories about people in old Arabia about lamps and metal vessels were actually about us getting enslaved and forced to work for them, mainly as cheap labor to build cities and palaces on the cheap.
My mind started to shift, when it came right down to it I wasn't the only person that was having to deal with confinement right now. Walt for example had some super-villain's idea of a power-up or at the very least a payday fused to his arms. He was going to have to stay in government custody while they trained him in how to use his powers.
Come to think of it the other Maidens were also pretty limited in their movements right now, although in between the four of us Zhen-yu probably had it the worst out of all of us. She was literally having to live in a cave for the next few months because a cult wanted to use her powers to pad their pockets. And while Bea and Randi were both at a school with a lot of other kids their own age, from what they told me the Whateley Academy was in a very underdeveloped part of Presidential Mountains of New Hampshire.
"Who am I kidding," I looked at my face in the mirror before clutching my house amulet and with a simple chant of "Ha-tep" allowed my equine visage to show through, "I'm just being kept safe at home with my family from a cult of demon worshiping psychos, what is a little cabin fever compared to being with a family that actually loves me."
Soon a lady with the head of some breed of antelope entered my chamber, a djinni who I now recognized as one of our House's staff, "Greetings Dame Ophios, I am Zesiro," the djinn explained as she bowed in reverence. "Forgive me for disturbing you however I have been instructed to inform you that the evening meal shall soon be served in the main dining hall."
"Hello Zesiro," I gave a minor bow of my head as I tried to copy what I had seen Grandmother Nephthys do before she greeted one of the staff before, "is it time to gather for dinner?"
"The time is almost upon us Lady Ain," Zesiro responded with a much deeper and more elaborate bow to my own as well as using my title within our House, "however I also come to really a message from Mistress Nephthys. During dinner a series of announcements will be made concerning your future within the House of the Shimmering Oasis and the Principality of the Blazing Disc as a whole. If I may be so bold could I present, you with a little advice."
"Considering that you've lived in djinn society your entire life Zesiro, well-" I sheepishly admitted, "I'll choose to listen to your experience."
"Very well Lady Ain- I would suggest you steel yourself to contain your surprise, within a House-Wide Meal decorum is important, while it will be only nobility present your immediate family as well as those servants of the House." Zesiro explained with her head bowed so as not to make eye-contact. "Consider these House-Wide Meals as practice for the times that you will need to attend functions before the Royal Court aboard the Mandjet, the Palatial Solar Barge before Prince Horus."
"I can't promise too much but I'll still try as hard as I can," I told Zesiro meaning every word of it.
"I am certain that you will do fine Dame Ophios," Zesiro stated as she rose from her bow, "now let me help you prepare for the meal, "and see if I can aide you in taming those wild locks."
As I turned I could see Zesiro coming towards me in the vanity mirror with comb and brush in hand and knew that she meant every word. "Please be gentle," I squeaked out trying to hide a smile.
"That all depends upon yourself Dame Ophios," Zesiro stated before she struck and with a blur of her hands styled my hair.
Hidden Cave - Hesperus Peak
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
7:52 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North
I stood before the slab of basalt, once again with my claws clenched into fists and sheathed in fire, determined just as I had the last few dozen times before that this would be the time, I would keep it together long enough to make my mark on the stone and once that happened it would only be a matter of time before I could begin to sculpt again. The idea had me almost giddy, I had already shown a long time ago that I could mold metal and gems using my powers but this- this would be a return to form for me. When it came down to it sculpting in stone was much the same manner of art as sculpting in clay, you worked and used tools to craft the end result.
While I was perfectly capable of sculpting with metal it just seemed so impersonal and lacking the warmth of stone or clay. Metal while the artform was called sculpture was cast into a mold, if the artist or whoever wanted too that same mold could be used to crank out copies long after the artist passed on- to me that seemed to pervert the meaning of art. Art to me was the living expression of the artist's very being, all of their hopes, dreams, desires a part of their essence was distilled and shaped by them for those who came after to see if they could divine the artist's soul from that piece- that was what art was to me.
Determined to finally do this with my claws still the center of their own blaze, I uncurled my claws with my hands poised in a shoudao form (what American pop-culture ignorantly calls a karate chop stance). With my arms in view at elbow's length I began to will the flickering flames on my hands to draw in tighter, willing it to draw closer to my scales as while still breathing. The effort to do this was excruciating, if I could sweat anymore I bet that it would be dripping down my face from the effort, but while I couldn't sweat anymore I could still feel the strain as my hands shook from the effort.
I had finally succeeded to draw the fires down to three inches in height when they flickered and died. "DAMNIT!" I fell to the ground on my knees and began to punch the stone that was beneath me in frustration, no matter how hard I tried the fire still extinguished before I could draw it in close enough.
"Perhaps it is time that you take a break," Kelsey explained as she walked in with a large bowl full of what smelled like a nice beef stew, "I understand that you want to rush to this but you've had a big day and pushed yourself to limits you never knew and past them- so now you have a new goal, however you shouldn't expect to cross that finish line after seeing it. You need to rest too, even for a little- while you might have had a night's sleep between now and then it was not restful enough, you need to have time to decompress."
"No!" I snarled back, "I won't stay idle, I spent too long being ground under the heels of that damned cult. I lost half a year of my damned life, I lost my home, time with my family, time with my friends I refuse to just sit on my tail when I know that the others are going to be blazing ahead of me!"
"True young Randi is ahead of you in learning about how to use her powers, however as one of her powers is magic it will also take her far longer to learn spells and the many nuances of spell-casting as well as time to find her limits as well as how to test them. As for her shape-shifting she is limited in the scope of what she can do with it and how it works, or so I have been told by those loyal to her mentor. As for Beatrice Sha Wujing has informed me through what his old friend Sun Wukong has observed that Beatrice is still learning the nuances of her healing abilities and has still yet to test them to their full limit. As for her powers as a mermaid she is still working to master the power of her voice and has yet to take instruction into the art of spell-singing. As for Iris she is just beginning her own journey, and she has yet to experience the rite of passage for the djinn that will allow her access to the full scope of her abilities." Kelsey floored me by how much she knew not just of the other's real names but also with where they were in their own training, she only looked a few years older than I was but after meeting the now grow-up Red Boy I was reminded just how appearances could be deceiving.
"Remember Zhen-yu don't focus on where your peers are in their own training," Kelsey stated before placing her hand on my shoulder, "You are yourself not your peers, their destinies might align with yours however they have their own motivations, obstacles and abilities. Each of the other maidens have their own trials and tribulations, also unlike yourself they cannot work at their own pace each currently has outside responsibilities that they will have to adhere to in order to move forward. At present you have training with Sha Wujing and are catching up with your education through myself however until you choose to enroll at Whateley this is all done at your own pace, you might have deadlines to meet however you must remember that most of the goals that you have to meet you do according to your own schedule."
"It's not just that," I huffed as I looked at Kelsey while trying to hide my astonishment at how much she knew. "don't get me wrong I liked to dance and party as much as any Seattle girl, but I miss sculpting. That feeling of molding the wet clay in my hands guiding it to become what I wanted what I saw in the possibilities for it was one of my passions. Right now though I run so hot that if I try to work with clay I wind up baking it in the process, its impossible to mold clay while its baking and since Sha Wujing told me that if I work well enough with my powers that I can do that with rock, that I can be a sculptor again I need to try and do it Besides its one way that I can really feel like me again without risking the Cult of the Bloodstained Gold sending more mercenaries to capture me again."
"They track you through your qi, using the gemstones that you created while they had you enthralled," Kelsey continued. "There are ways to mask your qi if you wish to learn them, moreover if you do so by next weekend I promise to take you to blow off some steam in Denver instead of Durango. Then we find out if any of the mercenaries who would accept the Cult of Bloodstained Gold's contract are willing to risk running into Heaven's Thunder and Denver Gold."
"And those are?" I enquired wanting a little more meat to this morsel of information.
"Super-hero Teams who operate out of Denver," Kelsey explained as we made our way to our dinning nook, "you also likely wouldn't have to worry about more Doshi and Jiangshi, the White Witch is not an opponent to be taken lightly and for all of their greed the Cult of Blood-stained Gold is well aware of this fact."
"So, there are things that they are scared of," I observed under my breath.
"Yes, a great many things in fact, this mountain itself is between the territory of two individuals who they fear and for good reason, and both of whom you met early this morning." Kelsey continued as she began to dish up dinner without missing a beat.
"Would they happen to be members of the Obsidian Circle?" I asked while washing the dust and grime from my claws and scales. "You said they have reason to be afraid of strong magic users, and that group looked pretty powerful to me."
"Yes- Lord Khamsin, Iris's grandfather claims most of the state of Nevada as his territory although for the most part he is content to stay out of the affairs of others in return for his cut for running an operation within his dominion- something which the Cult of Blood-stained Gold had neglected to do." Kelsey began to explain, "The other is Erzebet Scratch whose men you fought beside last night led by Papa Houma. Here domain is sizable, and she counts the Cult of Blood-stained Gold among her long list of enemies. This isn't the first time that she has sent a bloody-reminder to them to stay away from her territory and it likely will not be the last."
"So, you're saying that this Erzebet Scratch woman could be an ally when I make my way east after my training is over with- right?" I asked hoping that Kelsey would throw me a bone- something to make my life easier.
"Unfortunately, the enemy of my enemy is only my enemy's enemy, nothing more and nothing less." Kelsey stated that shut that door in my face, "Helping you might have been in Erzebet's interests yesterday; however, I would not count on this being anything more than a one-time incident. If you incur too many favors from her and her servants she may seek to have you join them, and while it wouldn't be slavery like your time in San Francisco- it would still be binding yourself to the will of another, and I would suggest that you wait until you are much older before making that kind of a commitment."
My mouth went dry at Kelsey's observations, I had hoped so hard for my freedom and thanks to my nativity I was almost about to do something crazy that would have thrown everything away. "I'm going to need to think about a few things." I stated as I sat down at our make-shift dining table.
"That would be a good idea," Kelsey replied as she came over with a pot of beef stew, "Meanwhile as for your focus training, don't start with both of your palms, start with one fingertip and start from there. Remember this is training for your abilities, don't expect to do it all at once."
"I'll try," I muttered out under my breath as I focused on the steam wafting off of the stew. Meanwhile I was thankful of how much being half-fucanglong had broadened my palette, I was still waiting to see how much my tolerance to spice had increased, I used to be a real featherweight back when I was human.
Scarlet Sands Resort - Dining Hall
Las Vegas, Nevada
7:00 PM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South
Following Zesiro's advice I made certain to follow the rhythm of the hallway as everyone made their way towards the dining table after using a long trough like basin to clean my hands toughly. The area was setup so that the moment you placed your hands a spell, removed dirt and debris from them to let with it collected in the trough to be incinerated the moment the user stepped away. The dining room itself held several a short-legged version of a dining tables and rather than chairs each seat was a circular cushion with the hieroglyph for the name of the intended occupant's embroidered on the seat. From what I knew the central table was that reserved for the head of the household and their family and guests. Each of us made moved clockwise around the table as a group until everyone was at their designated seat.
As we moved around the table I took note of the hieroglyphs on the cushions the only ones bare of embroidery were two spots on the House side of the table, although that was due to the cushions being turned facedown symbolic of those members being considered abroad at the moment, as well as those on the guest side baring the one at that head of the table. My name among the Southern Court was Ain Ophios and from what dad told me Ain means "eye" in the old tongue and "merciful" in the modern tongue to that end I stood before the seat with a simple eye hieroglyph embroidered on it, thankfully avoiding the faux-paus of sitting on the seat at the head of the table with Eye of Horus on it, a seat that is always reserved should the Damshin Ifrit King chose to grace a House with his presence.
The only one who ever say at the opposite head of the table was the current head of the House which in this case was my grandmother Nephthys, from what Zesiro told me the spouse of the current head of the House (my grandfather Set) sat at the right of the Head of the House while the eldest child in residence (my father Wepwawet) sat to their left. Being the eldest child of the eldest child in residence my place was two seats down the row from my father with the seat in-between us reserved for my still captive mother. Likewise, a spot next to grandpa was empty, a spot reserved for an honored concubine of the house the pregnant and likewise kidnapped Miranda Salazar, whom if we were lucky we'd rescue alongside my mother.
While there were a great many staff and servants of the House in the dining hall, those who were not serving the meal sat at separate tables bracketing the hall. From what I know dining and kitchen staff ate in a special room to the side of the kitchen and were exempt from dining protocol as thanks for their hard work. The other half of the main dining table was reserved for guests which at present was occupied by Bes and Tawaret, had Uncle Anubis not gone home to his own house this would be where he would be seated as well. The only utensils at the table were a dining fork, a salad fork, a table spoon, a tea spoon, and a folded cloth all in the spot for use with the right hand. There was no plate yet only another cloth to place it on, now that everyone was seated, grandmother Nephthys spoke, "May the light of the sun shine its blessings upon all at dawn."
Everyone replied back- myself included, "May the light of the sun shine its blessings upon all at dawn." With that the staff began to serve the first course the hors d'oeuvre in this case some slices of pita with hummus smeared across the top, I noticed everyone eating with the right-hand with the left remaining below the table and followed suit. Glasses were also filled by the staff with what seemed like white wine however I knew that I would be getting juice instead (okay it later turned out to be sparkling cider pear to be more specific).
Soon the hors d'oeuvre was over, and bowls of soup were brought out, from what I could see it was a soup made of lentils and seasoning. Everyone at carefully and gently I could not hear a single sound of slurping and everyone also tried to avoid clinking the bowl with their spoons although towards the end of the course that became impossible.
Next the now empty bowls were cleared away to be replaced with a small plate with a few slices of roasted fish served on crushed toasted wheat. While the plates were small I knew that this was likely to stretch out the meal as well as to leave room for both the main course and desert at the end of the meal. It took one bite to let me know that this was catfish, so I could see that meal itself wasn't entirely mired in tradition, and the chefs were able to bring the whole world's pantry into the kitchen just with their own traditional twists.
Soon another small plate was brought out and many of the waitstaff also refiled glasses with a darker wine (or in my case a cocktail of ginger-ale and cranberry juice), the dish itself was something like hamburger steak however it had been grilled, and not baked. Also, there were a number of spices mixed into the meat; it was obvious that I might want to spend some time in the kitchen before I left for school, the chefs here were bound to have a lot that they could teach me.
The main course from what I could see was a dish of stewed lamb with potatoes and cauliflower, the smell alone was making my mouth water. Also, unlike the prior courses this was closer to a western sized serving of food, everyone myself included began to spear pieces of the meal with their forks while trying to coat the morsels in as much of the sauce as possible before bringing their intended bite unto its destination. The lamb itself was moist and tender on the inside while springy enough on the outside to make it to from bowl to mouth, yes, I would indeed be trying to learn all that I could from the House chefs these next few months.
Soon the plates were taken away to be replaced with a small bowl of cooked carrot strips and green beans, as I ate I tried to identify the spices in my head but the only one that I knew for certain was cardamom. While it might be odd for some to serve a salad so late in the meal, something told me that it was as much to clear the palate from the main course as it was for ruffage to help with the meal itself.
I was indeed right on the money when it came to desert which was a generous bowl of bread-pudding that was made with a type of bread that I was unfamiliar with, although given the budget that I had to make dinner with that was probably most kinds. The pudding itself was fluffy yet chewy, spiced to accentuate the other ingredients rather than mask or overpower them, and filled with gold and black raisins and a fair amount of liquor appeared to have gone in prior to baking.
Once the plates, dishes and silverware were cleared away, grandmother Nephthys cleared her throat and stood with all eyes on her. "Tonight, we have much to celebrate but also much to discuss regarding the future. As you all know recently we learned that not only had my youngest child fathered a daughter by an intended suiter but both she and the child had been taken by our sworn enemies- the Cult of the Black Pharaoh. We know this not only because the daughter in question had made her way back to us, but also due to her warden being apprehended by my husband's ally Erzebet Scratch who has begun to draw the truth from her prisoner's mind using methods that are her own."
"While the news that my eldest's intended is the Cult of the Black Pharaoh's captive is distressing, it was made even worse in that this same warden who kept a child of our house from her family for so many years also assaulted Tawaret and abducted one of our own house- a servant who was with noble child." This revelation was obviously not common news around the house because a number of those in the room were shocked at the news- some even screaming in anguish or anger.
"However not all news this day has been grim, for the maidens of the Four Peripheral Courts of Atlantis have been found and awakened, the four who will restore the mana flows of the days of old and frustrate or break the Great Old Ones and their servants are among us and learning the ways of their powers and abilities. Of those the youngest and last to awaken, the Maiden of our own Southern Court as was foretold by Bishop Brimstone of the Obsidian Circle was a child of our house. While at first we thought this would mean the lady would be the child that Set had sown into that of our missing servant in truth it was the same daughter who had returned to us- the firstborn child of Wepwawet." Grandmother Nephthys turned to me with open arms and proclaimed, "Rise daughter of my eldest son, rise and present yourself to the House of the Shimmering Oasis."
I got back up to my feet and soon grandmother Nephthys motioned me to come over to her, I could tell that this was important, so I did as I was bid to do so. As soon as I got over to her, Grandmother placed her hands on my shoulders and proclaimed, "I present to those of the House of the Shimmering Oasis, Ain Ophios Southern Maiden of the Five-Fold Court of Atlantis and prophesized hope of all Djinn and Daemons."
As the room swelled with applause I felt numb as tears fell down my equine-face; for the first time in my life I could honestly say that I was home.
Hidden Cave - Hesperus Peak
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
8:38 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North
With dinner taken care of and the dishes done I went back down to my new studio to reflect on what Kelsey said, "I hate to admit it, but she has a point, I guess that all of us have our own issues with our powers. Come to think of its Bea's probably so new to land that she's still learning how to walk, and I still don't know a lot about them either."
I fumed as I looked at the block of basalt, my new canvas once I figured out how to paint with it. Once again, I snapped my claws to make a spark that I kindled into a flame, but this time rather than work with it like I had been I just looked at the ball of fire. It was funny really how much I took my power for granted, here I could nurture the tiniest spark into a roaring inferno if I wanted to but despite being able to control it to the point of being able to mold aluminum scrap into gemstones I still had a problem with keeping it from getting too close.
It was ridiculous really, I was half-fucanglong I could bathe in geysers, swim in molten rock or ride tubes of an erupting volcano if the stories were true, and here I was bound by the primal fears of my past self as a human being. I was a pyrokinetic, heat-proof half-dragon and I was actually afraid of fire. "Yeah I admit it," I bit out as I looked at the rock, "I'm actually still afraid of fire, course it's ironic that thanks to that bastard with the whip back in San Fran that I have a problem with the cold too."
I actually laughed at the absurdity of it all I was afraid of fire and ice, but while one hurt me the other was a source of power and strength. I looked deep into the ball of fire floating above my hand, remembering Kelsey's advice I took the fire and moved it from my palm to the tip of my index claw. Okay so I know that I was supposed to work with the pads of my hands but maybe I needed some experience condensing and keeping the flame to a single point. Staring into the fire and focusing my will it began to shrink, but not as a point of extinguishing instead I wanted to condense the fire down.
Crooking my claw, I stared at the flame that I had compressed down to a bright-blue marble. I focused this time to both let the fire compress more as well as spread across a confined area. I emptied my mind as I just focused on the flame, it flattened and spread, soon the blue-heat was coating my claw like a nail-polish. I just focused and watched as the fire stayed in place, I wonder if I look like I'm cross-eyed right n...
That train of thought died as the fire flashed leaving only a puff of smoke and a bit of soot behind to mark its grave. While it was gone, and I had no telling how long that I had done this for I had still done it. All that I knew was that with a little practice I wouldn't have to even this about it and before long I'd be able to do this without focusing.
I looked back at the block of stone, "I know that you should really wait until you complete a work of art before you sign your name, but I need the practice before I can do the sculpting anyway. Besides I claw should make for a good stylus- the only question is how long I can really hold it for... I guess that I should see if Kelsey has a stopwatch that I can borrow." I observed before going to look for her.
Iris's Suite - Scarlet Sands Resort
Las Vegas, Nevada
8:47 PM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South
After the brief ceremony and the ensuing festivities were over with I returned to my room, exhausted from the stress and excitement of the last few days yet at the same time elated- the amount of booze in that bread pudding might have something to do with it as well but that was just speculation on my part.
Still it was time to clean up and get ready for bed, and as I made my way to the dressing area to disrobe and catch a shower I heard a knock at the door. Curious who it was at this late hour I looked at the hallway through the peephole to find Zesiro standing there, cautious I opened the door with the chain-bar still in use. "Zesiro pardon me for being rude but it is late, and I was about to turn in for the night."
"I ask that you forgive my rudeness Dame Ophios," Zesiro explained as she knelt on the other side of the doorway, "however I have a message from Lady Nephthys that is meant for you alone. I was informed that I was to hand deliver a sealed scroll to you and wait for your reply inside your chambers."
Once I unlatched the door Zesiro entered and took to her knees, bowed her head and presented of all things a genuine papyrus scroll. As I took it I saw that it was sealed with a wax impression of grandmother's hieroglyph, a little piece of trivia that dad told me during training if anyone but her tried to bring something with a djinn's own seal within their house or one related to them either by loyalty or familial bond and it wasn't applied by the djinn in question the wax would have melted away the moment the scroll was within the house. I politely took the scroll and after breaking the wax seal began to read the scroll aloud.
"I Lady Nephthys,
Proclaim that henceforth Zesiro is to be your personal servant both within the House as well as while abroad. She is to serve you both as handmaiden, protector and confidant for as long as you have need of her. She is to assist you as your tutor in the ways of our Kingdom, serve as your attendant in war, consul in times of crisis and steward of your chambers wherever you may be, as well as confidant when you have need of a sympathetic ear. This is my proclamation as the reining lady of the House of the Shimmering Oasis!"
Wait a moment, "You mean that when I travel to Whateley to start school?" I began to ask without finishing the sentence on purpose.
"I presume that you mean to inquire if I will be with you when you travel to the Whateley Academy in New Hampshire to start schooling in your Freshmen Year while your fellow maidens Faolan and Aletheia will be starting their Sophomore Year and Duanzaolong will be returning to her studies as a fellow Freshmen?" Zesiro replied without once looking up, "Then the answer is correct, to seal my pact with you milady I present to you this ring, as a symbol of my loyalty as well as to ensure that none may use any means mundane or arcane to force me to betray you."
Zesiro then produced a ring from the inner pocket of her vest as she bowed even closer to the ground while she presented me with a small but elaborate gold ring with a small single round sapphire set deeply inside the ring. "I don't know how I feel about this Zesiro," that was an understatement, I really had mixed feelings about this, especially given the life that I had just been liberated from, "from the relatively little that I know about the djinn you are effectively binding yourself to be as my personal slave."
"I am well aware of this Dame Ophios, however given the enemies of our Kingdom as well as of our House itself it is an unfortunate precaution. Just know this you are a Dame, no a Mistress who I am choosing to serve willingly. Lady Nephthys did not assign me by decree, she inquired who among us would be willing to serve you and of those who volunteer I was chosen. I wish to have a hand at guiding a future member of our House as she travels to her destiny as well as beyond, however to make certain that the vile being who once enslaved our Kingdom does not enslave me again I bind myself into your service."
"I am well aware of the contradiction however at the moment it is only through this manner of servitude to our Master's and Mistresses that djinn can ensure that we do not become weapons pointed against our will at those who we loyally serve." Zesiro then looked up at me with desperate eyes and pleaded, "Please take my ring Mistress Ain, I don't want to be made to betray the soul of my people again now that I am free to serve my heart. All that I ask of you is that as my mistress you show me that my loyalty to our people is never perverted like that again."
I reached for the ring with my hands at first trembling and then I remembered of the perversion that cult my foster mother served and how they twisted my own life and then I could understand where Zesiro was coming from, so I firmly took the ring and placed it on the ring-finger of my right hand. "Zesiro, I am going to give you my first command and this command will be the most important because it will overrule any command that I give you from here on out," I explained trying to be as serious as I could about this.
"I hereby order you from here on out to apply your own freewill and discretion, yours and no one else's, in relation to any orders or requests that I give from here on out." I took a breath before I continued, "This means that if I ever step over the line you have my permission to tell me so, if you have any advice to offer me feel free to do so without any repercussions from me, just be careful to do so out of earshot of the others I don't want you to get in trouble for doing what I asked."
"My lady," Zesiro looked up at me with eyes of genuine gratitude, and I should know I've have been seeing those eyes in the mirror a lot lately. "I cannot thank you enough for this, because of the charms, seals and signs woven into that ring the both of us are protected from the dark spells of the Black Pharaoh. The sapphire itself also serves to act as my servant's quarters, which with your permission I can furnish and alter as you see fit."
"And I see fit to allow you to furnish your home to your liking and comfort, however if you need anything that we would have to order or have made, please run it by me first." I back-peddled a bit eliciting a look of curiosity from Zesiro, "I still have no clue what my allowance is going to be, and I'd like not to blow it all at once."
"I see that I will still have a lot to teach you about the ways of djinn," Zesiro tried to stifle a laugh, "those who have to fortune to dwell in a gemstone relating to their natural element can alter the perceived interior as much as we are allowed, so do not worry Lady Ain, my redecorating won't put so much as a dent in your coffers."
"Speaking of that for my next order, when there are no other members of the court around please call me Ain or Iris whichever you prefer," I insisted, "save the formalities for when we're in public."
"Are you certain that is wise," Zesiro boggled a bit at my latest request, "I mean the habitual lack of propriety might lead to a lapse in judgement..."
"You are a few centuries old, even by djinn standards you are an adult," I replied back trying to counter her doubts. "I trust that you'd show the needed amount of discretion to make sure to slip Lady in front of my djinn name when we're in public together."
"I shall endeavor to live up to your expectations Iris!" Zesiro bowed with poise, flourish and a smile.
"And I shall likewise endeavor to prove to be a mistress who proves herself worthy of this honor!" I copied her bow while hamming it up as much as I could. Sure, enough this began to fill the room with laughter, first with a snicker and then when it continued to a full-on side-splitting laughter- the two of us had to take a moment because I had to begin getting ready for bed.
"Now while this isn't a command while I am in the shower I suggest that you take the time to come up with some early suggestions for your ring," I explained as I looked over the object currently on my right hand. "Nothing too fancy just yet, just something so that you can rest comfortably as well for the evening before I begin to help you make the interior of that gemstone a real home, please feel free to use the rooms complimentary pen and stationary."
"I shall do so at once Iris," Zesiro replied with a bow as she began to lock up for me. I really hope that I wasn't going to regret doing this, part of me still really felt guilty for becoming the mistress of another member of my own race... Okay one of the races I was a part of with my only being half-djinn. Still if I was I was going to treat Zesiro as an employee not a slave, I refused to be that kind of a person.
Hidden Cave - Hesperus Peak
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
9:53 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North
"Time!" Kelsey replied as she looked down at the box of sand that I had been practicing writing with my claw as practice for signing the stone, currently I was trying to write name in hanzi however by the time that I was on the third character I would run out of time. This sucked, at first, I wanted to sign chosen codename of Duanzaolong but by the time I got to the third character I ran out of time and instead of writing smithing dragon I had just written forge. Now that I had switched to my proper name of Zhen-yu Chen it just looked like I had written vibrating display.
Driven to get this done I raked the sand to start over when Kelsey grabbed the tool in the middle of the job, "I know that you are determined once more to finish in one day however you have made significant progress. As is it is late, and you still have your academic tutoring as well as lessons with Sha Wujing tomorrow, it would not be far to him if you show up exhausted."
"I know that," I fumed, "it's just so frustrating to be so close to reaching a milestone and to keep tripping at the end."
"Well to be fair Duanzaolong is a very busy code name," Kelsey explained as she knelt to look at me on an equal level, "should you chose to attend Whateley with the others it will likely become a source of frustration for you as there is a good chance that others with mess up your codename. That is why I would like you to consider this as an alternative."
Kelsey then wrote furnace dragon in the sand, which only took two characters and would make my codename Lulong. "Just something to consider." She explained, as she got up."
"I'll think about it," I begrudgingly admitted as I stared at her handiwork, adding in after she got out of the room, "damn, that is some nice calligraphy for just using a finger."
"Thank you for the compliment," Kelsey then popped right back in, "by the way use this when you sleep tonight." Kelsey tossed me something odd that I looked over in my claw.
"It's a gift from Sun Wukong, all of the maidens got one," Kelsey explained as I looked over the short-carved stick. "Just put it in one of your ears when you go to sleep, the result should be most interesting."
While part of me regarded the earplug with suspicion, it would be rude to consider a gift from one who had attained Buddhahood as a threat. "Alright, but if anything, weird happens you will have an earful of your own from me tomorrow!" I shot back before stomping off to my personal chamber.
Once I got back to my makeshift bed, I stared at the ceiling and had to admit that Kelsey had a point about my name, that and the fact that Lulong just seemed to roll of the tongue. Making sure to slide the plug into my ear I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep... only to find myself someplace surreal.
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North.
I was soon aware that I was at one space of a large, glowing, elaborate directional mandala with four demarcated spaces. I took one look around and I noticed that the three other points were occupied as well. Right in front of me I saw a crude, clay sculpture, while to my left I saw a huge pearl and to my right a giant cocoon. Everything else around myself and the objects occupying the other spaces just looked like it was made of starlight and seemed to go on forever.
"For mercy's sake- What is going on now?!?" I shouted to the universe wanting an answer, something that I was going to receive before I knew it.
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POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
I don't know why but one moment I was dreaming of moving through a giant ethereal forest in my costume at speeds that would make with skill that would make the Parkour Hooligans green with envy and enough finesse to make Spider-Man applaud. The next thing I knew I was on a giant, glowing array more than a little disoriented over the whole thing.
After a moment I took stock of my surroundings as well as those who were with me: To my right I saw a crude, baked, clay figure that looked like someone tried to make a horse-headed statue with like a vaguely resembling a canopic jar but with the same skill that I had when I took art back in sixth grade. To my left I saw a giant red egg that I began to hear a very familiar stream of ranting from, that was helping me put two and two together. What sealed the deal of what the figures where was the sight of a very familiar giant pearl that I had seen in person a couple of months ago, "Bea are you okay, it's me Randi!"
"Randi, is that you in that cocoon?" Bea asked more than a little scared from within the same pearl that she hatched from- one that I knew all too well was currently set on the end of her scepter.
"Really!?! I'm in a cocoon again?" I asked now that everything was falling into place. "Then I assume that the angry-sounding girl in the red egg is Zhen-yu and the clay statue is Iris."
"Wait a freaking moment," the voice that I thought was Iris called out, "you mean that I ballooned into an egg that the new me had to hatch from and all that you had to do was spin a freaking cocoon to become a fairy...How is that fair?"
"I didn't spin a cocoon, I prepared a backup with the help of two old fae incase things went sideways kicking Mister Domino's errand-boy out of my soul space." I barked back at the apparently unhatched dragon, "spoiler alert it didn't, they had a warlock standing by who roasted the old me alive from the inside out and I had to use the backup to grow a new body using magic. You may have felt like you were dying Zhen-yu, but I died for real and if my corpse wasn't snatched from the morgue then I could have gone to my own funeral- albeit a closed-casket service."
"Please no fighting you two," the girl who I presumed was Iris called out from inside the statue, "I think that we can all agree that we had a plenty sucky time of it prior to our transformations."
"Speak for yourself," Zhen-yu barked out again, "my life was fine, things didn't start sucking until I began transforming and then right afterwards. At least the three of you have all sunshine and roses now!"
"Zhen-yu weren't you paying attention last night?" Bea asked with the disappointment obvious in her voice, "A cult might want you to be their slave again, but another cult wants me dead, meanwhile another cult wants the same for Iris's entire family and are holding her mother hostage."
"And while I have my own issues right now Zhen-yu and I'm taking steps to deal with them," I explained trying to reign my temper back in before noticing a familiar shape in the starscape around us- someone or rather something that I hadn't seen the Fehde against Fenris and Plagiat. "Besides I just figured out where we are, ladies welcome to the Astral Plain."
"You mean to tell me that the Astral Plain isn't just some Western New Age Bullshit?!?" Zhen-yu cried out, "It's actually real! And how would you know where we are?!?"
"The astral plain is a spiritual realm that acts like an ocean connecting the spirit spaces of all conscious creatures," I explained giving the wrote definition before changing to something that those who haven't taken a Magic Course would understand, "Think it like a spiritual internet and every conscious being is a user with their own terminal and homepage only most people don't know how to use the equipment correctly or don't want to learn. As for how I know this during the exorcism everyone involved got sucked into a fehde, a mystic duel fought on the astral plain, it just took me a few minutes because this is someplace else in the astral plain and not my personal soul space."
"So, does this mean that we have to fight each other?" Iris asked with trepidation in her voice, "Because I was really wanting to make some new friends, especially at since my family wants to send me to your school."
"Don't worry young djinn," a voice that was all too familiar to me called out granted that we hadn't spoken much since the big get together at The City of Lost Dreams. "This is just a place of common ground that the four of you can share, a safe place that you can use to keep in touch away from the prying ears, eyes and sensory appendages of those who would want to do you harm."
"Elder Greyback," Bea called out, "but I thought that you couldn't leave the Dreamlands, and you are back inside that room at-"
"Uh-uh-uh young Beatrice," Greyback chided my friend as he materialized, "I told you not to tell Randi about that place just yet, she is not at the place in her personal development that I would trust her there anyway."
"Besides he can come to the Astral Plains all that he wants," I explained, "he just can't come back to any of the physical worlds anymore since Plagiat's attack severed his connection to the material world."
"My descendent is correct, I can travel to many places however the physical realms are now no longer my domain." Greyback heaved out a brief sigh, "And I so wanted to see the coronation of Queen Aunghadheil's chosen successor, but fate rarely cooperates with your desires. Still at least I can be here to aid the Four Maidens when the need arises with my council should they have need of it."
"Wait a moment," Zhen-yu interrupted all perplexed, "Randi just how many weird magic folks are in your family?"
"Randi is the descendent of the three beings of born of what remained of the soul of General Armeluien the Deft who served under Queen Venraniel of the Silent Willow during the final days of the Five Fold Court as well as Lady Ulelesse the child that his sword-brother Tordrais the Mournful sired with Queen Venraniel upon returning from a yearlong campaign of revenge upon the Cult whose followers were responsible for the death of his commander and closest friend." Greyback explained, "The three beings in question are me, Morrigan Redstag and Loki Silvertongue, granted there are other's in her lineage just as you have those in your own lineage should you choose to look Miss Chen."
"Yeah I know," Zhen-yu droned out, "I'm the descendent of the fucanglong whose heart became the blade of the Handmaiden of the Tao. I mean I wouldn't be surprised that there are plenty of people with the same lineage."
"True, however you are also a descendent of the Yellow Emperor and have a number of Taoist Sages in your ancestry as well." Greyback stated something that seemed to stun Zhen-yu into silence. "As for Iris and Beatrice you both know about your heritage among the courts given that it is closer to your own generation and Beatrice yours holds few surprises."
"Yeah, I pretty much know all that I need to know about my family history," Beatrice commented in a wistful tone, "mom's late aunt was big into genealogy and wrote up a full history of the family that mom keeps in her campus apartment. And I know all about my other mother's family from my grandmother, especially all about Thalatté, Uncle Qingu and Grandfather Apsu from her as well as their lineage."
"True there is also much to be said about the lineage of Iris- that is on her mother's side," Greyback teased trying to catch the interest of the young genie.
"Wait- just what can you tell me about my mother?!?" Iris called out in desperation, who could blame her though with her mother being a captive of the same cult who were responsible for most of the suffering that she'd experienced over the course of her very short life.
"Little that you could not find out yourself on a trip to her family in Oaxaca after the two of you reunite," Greyback almost immediately stonewalled the young djinni, "I will tell you though that your grandfather moved there after meeting your grandmother, and his family lived in Mexico City for a very long time."
"Let me guess," I interrupted, "her grandfather's family lived in Mexico City before it even was Mexico City- am I correct?"
"Yes, and thank you for spoiling much of the surprise for your college." Greyback glared my way. "There is much to be said about the wonder of discovery when it comes to one's roots."
"That may be Greyback, but I think that Iris with all that has happened to her deserves an avenue that she can use to discover a little more about her heritage ahead of time to prepare for meeting her mother." I retorted gaining a look of respect from my ancestor in the process as I focused on Iris- not that she could see me do so. "That and the librarian in me can't help but want to assist a possible friend in learning more about herself. You might also see about learning Spanish."
*"I know little Spanish," Iris replied in Spanish albeit a it could use some work. *"I fan of movie of The Saint."
"You need a little work, and if you were saying that you were a fan of El Santo you want to use admirado not aventado," I tried to explain as supportive as I could, "The kind of fan that you described yourself as is found on a desk or attached to the ceiling."
"So, you know how to speak Spanish," Zhen-yu observed before realizing, "wait how did we all understand what Iris was saying?"
"This is the astral plain Zhen-yu, thought means more here than it does on a material plain," I explained to the dragon-half, "someone could speak fluent Diné here and everyone would understand exactly what they meant right down to the tenses and connotations."
"So, we'd understand Navajo?" Iris asked before pausing, "Oh so that's what you mean by connotation."
"Yep," I quipped, "so no cursing in foreign languages here because we'd all understand what you're saying."
"Okay so no swearing in Mandarin or Cantonese," Zhen-yu droned before mischievously adding, "I'll just say all of my obscenities in plain English just like I should, that way then you'll know all of the nuances."
"Just so that you know the ear plugs that you wore before going to bed were just to attune the four of you to this place," Greyback continued, "you no longer need them to come here and from here on out their magic will be exhausted, still I recommend burning them for good measure. You never know if someone else might have the means to reactivate the spell and use it to spy on you four here."
"So how do we get here again if we can't use the earplugs?" Iris inquired with a question that I kicked myself for not asking sooner.
"Just think of it before you close your eyes child," Greyback explained, "and when you want to leave just will it as well, at most a second will have passed in between this and when you wake back up, plenty of time to fall back to sleep and get as much as you need for the day ahead."
"But won't that depend on all of us to do that if we want to communicate?" Bea brought up an excellent point, "How can we be sure that we'll meet here?"
"Just think of the one that you want to reach and if they are sleeping they will get the message in their dreams," Greyback elaborated, "however do keep in mind that they could just as well chose to ignore it and continue on with their dreams, you cannot force someone to come here against their will after all- this is intended to be a place where the Four Maidens of the Peripheral Courts can meet as equals after all."
"Um, does anyone have anything that they want to talk about because I have somewhere to be in the Dreamlands." Bea interjected without being rude.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Iris concurred, "I wonder what I'm going to be dreaming about now that I'm living with my real family?"
"I know what you mean," I sighed wistfully, "Dreams are something that too many people take for granted, I'm glad that I finally get to have them."
Not wanting to explain that little tidbit I will myself to wake up.
Monday April 23rd, 2007
Randi and Candace's Room - Poe Cottage
Dunwitch, New Hampshire
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
12:41 AM EDT
Sure enough I woke up in my own bed back at Whateley and from what my alarm clock said on my desk, it was still in the middle of the night. I wonder if I can get back to that dream? Was the only though on my mind as I shut my eyes once more.
Hall of Echoes
Celephaïs, Ooth-Nargai, The Dreamlands
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
While Randi's departure was more than a tad rude it was understandable given what I knew about her history. And I for one was more than eager to get back to my studies on the culture of the Ancient Eastern Court. While a night in the Dreamlands can equal the perception of a full year going by I still had a lot to learn about my people.
"I still don't understand why you don't want Randi to learn about this place," I looked right at Greyback concerned about the secret that he was having me keep from one of my best friends. "I mean you know how much she loves to learn why not let her come here?"
"Because Randi loves to learn far too much, if I were to bring her here as she is now there is a chance that she would never leave." Greyback sighed, "The girl is an entertainment junkie, and craves knowledge and information, there is also a chance that if she comes here she might ask for something that she is not yet ready to see that might either wind up shattering her mind or corrupting her being in the process. Remember all knowledge is stored in the Hall of Echoes that includes Forbidden Grimoires, Mythos Texts and even books that have yet to be written; I do not want to present my descendent with that manner of temptation before I can trust her to handle it."
"Fine so I won't tell her about the Hall of Echoes for now," I gave into the elder Fae's logic, "but you do realize that I can't keep secrets like this from her forever eventually I will need to tell her about this- it may even be necessary when it comes time to confront her destiny."
"I am well aware of that but for now Randi just isn't ready for this place," Greyback reiterated his point, "and for now I would trust you to keep it a secret, when I feel that she is ready I will take her here myself. In the meantime, what do you think about the society of your ancestors in the Eastern Court."
"I think that it is more than a little odd," I admitted when I thought of a few things that I had learned over the course of this week-long study session. "The fact that only men of nobility were expected to marry was more than a little odd, especially though there were less men they weren't rare."
"I know thinking about today one might expect the harem situation to arise but more often than not outside of Royal and Nobel Houses, households among the Eastern Court were just mermaids who had chosen one another and help raise their children together." I repeated what I had learned about mermaid society, "wait a moment- does that mean that those mermaids who went with my other mom to the Mediterranean Sea were..."
"Yes- they were likely in an intimate relationship with her," Greyback replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "I know how uncomfortable modern humans are about discussing sex- especially in a society that was guided by the puritanical beliefs such as has emerged in the United States following the Temperance Movement that influenced most of their culture. Ergo you might want to ask for edited orbs when you wish to learn more about Thaletté, mermaid culture tended to be very liberal with dalliances."
"I suspect that you pre-edited most of my material already Greyback," I deadpanned, "I doubt that I'm going to find the Mermaid version of the Kama Sutra in here."
"And how would you know about that particular text?" Greyback asked as he looked right at me, "I knew that you are in a hurry to learn how to walk but I doubt that is the reason to do so."
"I also spent the last several years looking through the eyes of the reborn Aphrodite," I groaned, "she read the thing to see if there was anything that she didn't already know. She learned very little and even created a personal addendum, although I don't know how many people could attempt to perform some of them without being double or even triple-jointed and even then, they are bound to dislocate something in the process."
"I pity the youth who catches your eye then," Greyback chuckled, "they may not be able to live up to your lofty expectations."
"You mean the expectations that I saw from the shadow of the Olympian Goddess of Bed-hopping." I huffed, "For a supposed Goddess of Love Aphrodite knew precious little on the subject, she cheated on her husband Hephaestus for decades with Ares before he learned about it becoming the secret joke of Olympus in the process. Then despite knowing of her infidelity none of the Olympians would take him at his word and sully the reputation of Hera's Golden Boy until Hephaestus booby-trapped his bed and dragged it with Aphrodite and Ares in mid-act tied to it with cables."
"What was the point of that little story besides another amount of vitriol towards your former prison in the shadow of Victoria Donovan?" Greyback inquired curious to where I was going with this.
"The point is that I don't want what she had affairs and flings and empty passion," I all but spat, "I watched on at the trail of broken-hearted men and women that she left behind in her wake and the tragedies that she caused to fuel her shallow vanities. I want to meet someone that makes me feel whole, I know that Mister or Misses Right may never come along but I want to actually a relationship not have a series of meaningless flings."
Even in his canine form I swear that I could see a smile on Greyback's muzzle. That was when he did something that I swear I had never seen him do, shift to his sidhe form, surprisingly Greyback wasn't what one would expect from looking at a sidhe although he had the ears that I had long seen on Morrigan while she made her way around campus on Green Flag days I never imagined seeing a Sidhe who looked... old.
He looked more Native American than European, dressed in tanned deer hide, that was sewn with wolf-patterns and the feather of some bird I didn't know in his white-hair that was drawn in braids. He walked over to me, placed his hand on my shoulder and smiled, "It is good to see that one so young has acquired the wisdom that people have gone their entire lives without realizing. Just don't let your mother know right away, it takes too much of the surprise out of being a parent if they can't worry about their daughter's taste in boyfriends." Greyback spoke with a laugh. "That is enough quizzing you studies for now, you still have a lot of history to learn if you are going to help serve your people."
Randi and Candace's Room - Poe Cottage
Dunwitch, New Hampshire
5:15 AM EDT
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
My alarm rang, and I reluctantly peeled myself out of bed to answer it, this was going to be my brutal routine for the next three weeks and my only blessed savior (besides Jane prodding me to keep me from rolling over and falling back to sleep) was going to be a cold shower and coffee. As it turned out my training with Morrigan in the evening counted as part of my combat credit, so I was going to have to make up my time working at the Beck Library before breakfast with an extra shift on Sunday to make up the five hours that I would be missing during the week.
I remember an adage the Clerks back home always told me when it came to working in the library, "It's not that I work four hours a day, it's that I have four hours a day to get my work done in." Considering that I'd have an hour and a half to get my work crammed into instead of two hours and a fifteen minutes, then after classes I would have to report for work with the grounds crew at least this way I should get a little knowledge in when it came to tree surgery, something that would help out big time when it came time for me to heal Yggdrasil's severed root.
Carefully I made my way out of the room without waking up Candace, there was no reason for two of us to have to put up with such hellish hours after all, I also decided to give Jane a few more minutes worth of shut-eye as I grabbed my morning kit and made my way to the showers. Not surprising there was no one in line to use the showers and I didn't hear a single faucet spraying once I got inside. Making my way to one of the more modest-sized stalls, I got undressed and let a spray of only lukewarm water help me wake-up a little more.
Once I was done shampooing and conditioning my hair and tail, I let another spray rinse the soap and conditioner off before getting back to my morning routine. After taming my mane and tail as well as taking care of my basic daily hygiene (got to take care of these pearly whites after all), I made my way back to my room to find that my roommates were still asleep, while Candace still had some time till she usually bolted out of bed, I needed Jane to come with me.
Gently I nudged her perch, calling out 'Jane, wake up! I know that it's early, but you have detention too!' Over our link.
"I am awake Randi," Jane replied more than a little groggy from the early awakening, "Let us get started on our first day of detention service." Taking the time to stretch her wings and preen while I got dressed, first in my school uniform that I immediately stored in my collar and then in my work 'uniform', which included casual shoes due to the amount of bending over that I needed to do as well as slacks. I know that skirts are part of the academy's school uniform, but I wish that they exception that they let Ayla use was more widely available.
Jane took her place on my shoulder as I grabbed my purse of holding as the ladies around Poe jokingly called it and fished out two things, a two-pack of peanut butter granola bars and a bottle of cold coffee that I had set aside after Jane retrieved it from the campus store yesterday which I had already thanked her for I made my way down the stairs and out of Poe. As I made my way out the door I broke the first bar in half and gave it to Jane who took off towards Beck, I made my way North down the path towards Shuster satisfied that other than the students taking Flight certification classes and Campus Security I was alone walking along after dark.
Even in the even that anyone tried anything my nose and hearing would help me know that they were coming even before they jumped me and in the even anyone did my costume and armory were just a tap of my collar away. Sure enough, the early bout of paranoia was unfounded as I made my way to the Quad and then with a short jaunt Eastward to Beck where Jane and my boss Miss Henderson waited for me.
"This is your second detention since arriving here at Whateley Miss Bridges," Miss Henderson glared down her glasses at me, "I had hoped that it wasn't a mistake hiring another girl from Poe, and while your work has been exemplary do not think that it gives you any leeway with me in regard to working while serving out your detention. I expect you to be here before we open every morning to perform your duties and despite your schedule being unusual these next few weeks you are still expected to work here your full fifteen hours a week, this means that I will expect you to work the next three Sundays to make up for the hours that you will be missing during the week."
"Yes Miss Henderson," I replied trying to be as formal as I could without risking her wrath from it being taken for being condescending, "I will endeavor to see to it that as many holds as possible are pulled and returns are shelved so as not to create more work for Miss Wilson." I replied genuinely not wanting to make things harder for Billie, from what I knew she had things hard enough given how many people treated her like a walking doomsday machine and this was coming from someone who used to be an unwilling host for one of the four monsters of Ragnarok- and I had found out that with the exception of Surtr I was related to all of them.
I followed Miss Henderson into the library when Jane and I went into our usual routine, she looked at the lists on the terminal and I hunted down the item in the stacks as she relayed it over our link. I know it seemed like a wasted use of a mystic ability however the library did have a printing budget and it saved on paper not to mention gave the shredder a rest since we'd have to shred such lists per patron confidentiality. Although the records weren't truly confidential given the incidents of previous years including Hekate's Blood Magic, Bloodworm's summoning of Gothmog, and that half-baked coven of goths who unleashed the Morrigna on the school, not to mention the events of prior years the administration DID keep records of who checked out what items while they were enrolled.
Doing it this way also meant that there was less of a risk that I'd learn who was requesting the items I was looking for which was just as well because I don't want to know why the Kama Sutra was such a was such a hot commodity, you'd think that students who were planning on their first time wouldn't just stick to The Joy of Sex, Sara Waite's Little Purple Book, or even Nana Ogg's Cookbook or the large number of Cliff's Notes of Literary Classics (why not just breakdown and read the original). Trying to get those thoughts out of my mind I just focused on my work, my own method of finding zen, besides the day was just getting started, I still had classes, my first day of detention and training with Morrigan.
Mable and Bea's Room - Dickinson Cottage
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
As our alarm went off, I got out of bed alone it seemed that for one Blinky opted to spend the night with Mirabel. While it was good that it seemed, grandmother was seeing fit to give me a little more space it was always a pleasant feeling to wake-up in the morning with that inquisitive little purr box- never mind the fact that Ultharian Cats can be dangerous to an insane degree if anyone gave them an actual reason to go all out.
For once I decided to forgo my usual exercise routine and instead opted to obey the doctors, there was no need to risk getting anyone at the school even angrier with me at the moment. While there was no need for me to get an early lead since I was under secure escort for the time being and was forbidden to leave any building on school grounds without on there was no need to be in too much of a hurry.
There was also the fact that I needed to get in touch with someone concerning Randi's old friend, it was really odd considering how far that she lived inland that she'd have encountered more than one person with non-symptomatic Innsmouth Syndrome but considering the lives that we Cardinal Maidens seemed to have led it shouldn't be too odd.
I looked over the room and I was alone, Mable had probably woken up before I did and was already in line for Hydroflux's little miracle machines. Using my chair, I wheeled myself down the hallways towards the line to the showers, and once again girls in line offered to let me cut to use the handicap stall. "Come on, I want to wait my turn like everybody else."
"Come on Bea what's your problem?" Linsey Fellows asked somewhat perturbed, "we have a Handicap Shower Stall for a reason beyond giving some girls more room."
"Or giving the boys some dirty thoughts if they know it exists," Kerry Ellison stated as she rolled her eyes as she drew the eyes of everyone in line, "when you have a brother you learn these things."
"Really Bea is there any reason to go through this every morning?" Molly Harrington asked seriously wanting to know, I mean even if you wait in line you'll still have to wait in the washroom if someone's using that stall."
"Because the wheelchair is temporary, and I don't want to hold anyone else up." I stuck to my guns with my usual excuse, "besides I can't leave the Cottage anyway until my escort from Campus Security gets here."
"So, the rumor's real," Barbara Sheldon was taken aback by the revelation, "you actually got detention for the rest of the semester?!? But I mean you're Headmistress Carson's daughter!"
"And because I'm the Headmistress's daughter I need to set a good example for the other students." I laid down the explanation as cut and dry as I could, "We aren't supposed to take unnecessary risks while we're at school, and because of my insistence a lot of students took plenty helping out the fire department with building evacuations."
"No good deed goes unpunished huh," Linsey rolled her eyes at that bit of logic, "I heard Faolan over in Poe got off pretty light for someone who was going into burning buildings. I heard that she only got in trouble for what happened at the airport and going AWOL with you afterwards."
"Randi took and passed a volunteer fireman's certification course in her hometown while she was getting used to her powers and changed body." Kerry shrugged, "So she actually had the proper training to navigate a burning building and use the Boston Fire Department's equipment to help the Boston FD out without getting in their way or making things worse."
"Whoa, Bridges is a firewoman?" Barbara googled, "considering how crazy some of them have to be there's no wonder she's in Poe. Still that does mean that she'll be serving detention on parent's day...talk about harsh."
"No what's harsh is that they usually have an exhibition match in Area 99 on Parent's Day in the Spring," Tansy Walcutt smirked as she walked by our group, "they always have such a problem finding volunteers for it since most student's want to wait until the Combat Final's to showcase their new toys and skills so they usually pick students who are serving detention at the time."
Whoa, you mean that Bea's going to have to fight too?!?" Linsey looked at me out of concern.
"Not likely," Tansey stated as she gave me a look over, "even Itou isn't sadistic enough to send someone who can't walk into a match in Area 99."
"What about Belphegor or Techno-Devil?" Barbara asked out of skepticism, "They both had combat finals and they are in hoverchairs.
"Belphegor can walk just fine- he's just too lazy to want to," Tansey rolled her eyes in disgust, "As for Mal Diobolik, he doesn't have a hoverchair he has a carefully disguised tank. Oh, and Miss Carson do be a dear and let Miss Bridges know this tidbit, consider it repayment for helping free me from that horse-bottomed dominatrix Macha and getting back to normal."
As Tansy walked away a lot of the girls in line were stunned at what had just happened, "Did Tansy Walcutt just do someone a favor without expecting anything in return?" Mabel asked with her mouth a gap in shock as she was leaving the showers.
"Well to be fair Randi did save her modeling career," Kerry observed, "there's not much work out there for a girl who's the female horse-version of a satyr. Not to mention if what happened to Y'vonne Atterberry is any clue she would have been effected mentally too." Leaving us with that information as she entered the bathroom.
"Too bad that I can only heal people's bodies and not their minds," I lamented out loud.
"Hey, don't beat yourself up, Y'vonne got hurt doing something dangerous and stupid not to mention she assaulted another student to do it," Mable explained, "and what she unleashed also put a lot of other students in danger too. All things considered she's lucky that all that happened was she went bonkers, she could have just as easily gotten killed doing what she did."
"It still doesn't make me feel any better," I frumped in my chair, "I can't help it, I'm a healer everyone I can't help just weighs on me."
"Well you should be helping plenty of people out," Barbara grinned, "they'll probably have you serving in Hawthorne before too long."
"Don't be ridiculous Sheldon," Linsey retorted as Pern snorted on her shoulder, "she's still getting the hang of walking, they need someone who can move on their own two feet over there."
"I don't see what all of the fuss is about helping out over at Hawthorne," I explained as I looked at everyone, "all that I've heard is that it's a little gross and kind of unpredictable, but it's not like they're violent or intentionally dangerous. They just have issues and some of them can't control their powers too well, most of them just need the right person to help them and they'll be able to be themselves everywhere. I mean from what I heard Doctor Heavy is just in there for observation after Chaka helped her fix the problem with her powers."
"Yeah I can get where you're coming from," Linsey replied and Pern nodded in affirmation, "Jobe's been obsessed lately with making organs that could handle Puppet's circulation system, can you imagine what she could make if she pulls that off."
"A digestive tract that can actually draw nutrition from the cafeteria food in an American Public High School," Mable remarked as she began to walk off.
"Come on Criswell," Barbara shot back as my roommate was on her way back to our room to get dressed. "Jobe might be a devisor but he can't turn scrapple into pork tenderloin."
Just then Sherrie Nicolosi made her way out the door," looked at us and then stated, "Just so you four know the shower stalls are all empty now, it's just folks primping in the vanity mirror right now."
After showering both my human form as well as scrubbing my tail and fins of my mermaid form, then completing my morning routine of hygiene, hair and makeup routine I went back to my room. I still had one thing to do before campus security escorted me to breakfast, I promised Randi to look into it after all and someone was bound to answer now that it was morning.
I got on the phone and dialed the campus extension to ARC, one of the few outside phone numbers that students could use without needing special permission, after a moment I got someone to pick up. "Hello this is the Arkham Research Consortium, Ted speaking how may I direct your call?"
"This is Beatrice Carson from over at Whateley, I'm calling because one of my fellow students expressed concern that one of her old friends has Innsmouth Syndrome." I admitted to Ted on the other end of the line.
"This is a very serious matter ma'am, but how could they tell Innsmouth Syndrome is usually either asymptomatic or minorly psychosomatic until physical signs start to show and by then it has already begun to effect the victim's mind."
"She used to be possessed by an entity that was both able to sense those effected by the condition and made her openly hostile to them." I explained without naming names, "The time that she became possessed by the entity is also the time that she displayed this hostility towards her old friend."
"And can you give me the name and address of this person?"
"Joel West from Arlington in Texas, here's his address." I replied relaying the information that I had received from Randi.
"Just so that you are aware ma'am this service is only pro-bono if the individual tested reads positive," Ted explained the stipulations over the phone, "If not I will need to know who to send the bill for three-hundred dollars for both the test and related expenses to."
"If that happens have the bill made out to the Bridges family and send the letter to this address." I then relayed their current home in Tricoma to Ted.
"Thank you I will inform our field representative in Austin as soon as their office opens for the day and they should have someone at the West family's home by the end of the day."
I hung up the phone satisfied with the way things were going, now all there was to do was head to breakfast and then learn what my punishment was going to be today, I looked down at my wheelchair and smirked as I realized that for once the thing that I was desperate to get out of was going to be a blessing in disguise.
POV: Randi Bridges, Rose of the West
I took my breakfast, a little on the heavy side today as I opted for a bowl of oatmeal and a bowl of fruit and yogurt today, but something told me that I was going to need it.
"Well looks like the Fraulein is going to be facing her punishment today," Konrad grinned at my misfortune, though for once I didn't care, "guess you're not so squeaky clean after all."
"Come up with some new material already Konrad," I smirked at his barb, "I've had detention here before, and like last time I wouldn't have done a damned thing differently."
"Still are you really okay Randi," Erze asked with concern in her eyes, "you've been through a lot over the last few days, and it's okay to talk about it."
"I know Erze, that's why today I'm going to see if I can schedule some regular appointments with Doctor Bellows," I explained while I added a little honey to my oatmeal. "I guess that just thought that I could tough it out, but it's just been one crisis after another and something tells me that I have even more in store for my future."
"So, what you're saying is that you just need professional help," Joanne looked like she was suppressing a laugh, "good god you are a Poe girl, careful everyone the crazy might spread. Which caused a number of my friends to recoil in mock horror as I snorted at the absurdity.
"Thanks guys," I kept laughing, "I needed that, besides the detention isn't that bad I just have to help out the ground's crew for a few weeks- at least Aquerna's a nice person."
"It might not only be that Randi," Kerry grimaced, "I heard through the grapevine that there's usually a series of combat demonstrations in Arena 99 during Parent's Day in the spring and if they can't get enough students to volunteer then they volunteer the students who are serving detention."
"Guano," I muttered as I felt shell-shocked, I was nervous enough about getting ready for the combat finals after those evaluation matches that I had last week and now I had the chance of an actual fight in Arena 99 to look forward to before that- it doesn't rain it squalls.
Shuster Hall Foyer
POV: Bea Carson, Rose of the East
As lunch was over I just sat in the lobby Shuster, the brakes on my chair just waiting from what I was told my first round of detention today would be before my independent study period at Beck. To be honest I welcomed the change to the usual monotony while self-study might seem ideal to some people I liked being around other people. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I had in effect audited every class that Cytherea ever took I was having to take placement tests that were a variant of the usual course tests to prove that I actually knew the material myself.
While the placement tests in more varied subjects tied to actual theory like math and the sciences were easy for the teachers to come up with material for me to observe the liberal arts professors hated doing this. The History teachers at Whateley seemed to hate changing their lesson plans to come up with new tests and the English and Literature teachers disliked that I was bombarding them with papers that they had to take their own time to grade; this wasn't seeming to earn me any favoritism from them and I was worried that they might take it out on me next year when I started class properly.
Granted next semester was also supposed to be when my half-sister Shelly would finally be ready to pick up and start her life again, I wonder how she'd take having another sister just out of the blue I suppose that I'd find out in a few days when she was due out of the cloning tank. I wonder though which one of us will be the older sister and the younger sister, I mean my consciousness goes back to Cyprus during the height of the Minoan Empire but I'm only a few months old and strictly speaking my body is roughly the developmental age of a sixteen-year-old- gaah I should have asked mom this one yesterday it's a major headache.
Soon a woman who was six and a half feet of muscle, with a pair of man-stoppers on her chest, packed inside a security uniform stepped inside and walked up to me, the name on her nametag said Gentle but I knew quite well who this was, "Hello Anu, I see they assigned you to me in the morning."
"I am just who they assigned to you in the morning," Anu the warrior fae and former apprentice of Morrigan stated, although I was glad that she didn't have her axes on her. "Now Beatrice Margaret Carson I am to escort you to where you will be serving the morning portion of your detention until your supervisor lets you know otherwise."
Not wanting to argue with a woman who the Gaels called 'gentle' in the same way the Greeks called the Erinyes 'kindly' I wheeled behind Anu grateful that she didn't decide to push me but not wanting the push me there, so I wasn't going to push the issue any in my own right. Surprisingly we came over to Beck, I turned to Anu, "Um, I think that you might have your schedule mixed up. I'm not supposed to be coming here until after my morning detention for self-study."
"Actually, Miss Carson Officer Gentle was right to escort you here," Miss Henderson explained as she stepped out of the building, "For your first week's detention you will be serving them according to your usual routine schedule." She paused while she looked up from her clipboard, "That means for the morning detention you are helping me until Eleven then I release you for self-study for the rest of the morning. In the afternoon before you have physical therapy in Doyle you are to serve detention there."
"So, what am I supposed to be doing here?" I asked wondering just what I could do, "I doubt that I can put too many books away while in a wheel chair."
"I am running tentative weeding reports right now," Miss Henderson looked at me, "I have other students who are serving at separate times pulling books with low circulation numbers or else are ten years old. You are to inspect the books for condition, damage, identifying markings or Whateley-grade shenanigans. You are to follow the procedure sheet that I give you and not deviate from it, I want the books to be separated; items that are in appropriate condition are to be boxed up for re-sale, items that are damage beyond repair are to be cut from their binding with the pages sent of recycling and the covers disposed of, items that are contaminated in any aspect are to be sent for disposal- that ranges from common mold to mystic-contamination. Am I being clear?"
"Yes Miss Henderson," I replied already feeling that this was going to be mind-numbing.
"Good then follow me, I will be showing you to your workspace." I followed Miss Henderson into the building and into a tiny room with circulation equipment and a thin lair of dust. "Your first task is to clean this workspace and read over the list of procedures on the desk, I will be along with your first cart of work and I expect to see the signs of progress when I get back."
Once she was gone and the door was shut I took a look at the cleaning tools that she had left me..."At least she gave me a swiffer with a telescoping handle and not a short feather duster."
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Mertle Defrank's Apartment
7:15 AM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank
I peeled myself out of bed as the bell on the old alarm caused it to dance across the desk, both of which were out of reach, Granny Mertle's old remedy for sleepyheads make sure that they can't hit the snooze button until they got on their feet and had trudged a few steps out of the embrace of the sheets and comforters. While I wanted to sleep for a week after the chaotic events of yesterday, I still needed to see a doctor and give a statement about what had happened in the park to the police, I wonder if either could give me a note to use as an excused absence from school.
Okay they might also want to talk to me about the commotion on the Westside yesterday, I really hoped that I got the news about Ramona once she was okayed for visitors. As for Ramona there was still the matter of the back-stabbing bitch who shot her- I had no idea of what had happened to Taikeyla, I doubt that the Knights of Purity had any interest in her and she probably ditched any evidence that tied her to what had happened to Victor. Still as long as her gun was in plain sight at least she'd be headed to juvie for shooting Ramona, I didn't see her wearing gloves and they had the gun and bullets, so she was going behind bars for assault and weapon's possession- that is provided the police could find her.
I gathered the clothes that Granny Mertle had pulled out for me, I guess that I was grateful of the fact that I visited her so often- I still had a few outfits around her in case of emergency. Speaking of outfits though my tracksuit was toast- damnit I skimmed and saved for weeks to buy it too. Looks like I was going to have to save up all over again if I wanted a replacement, might as well since it really went with the helmet.
As I made my way down the hallway in my spare pjs I found Agent Jorgen with a cup of coffee facing down a difficult battle of his own...trying to say no to Granny Mertle when she was in hostess mode, "Ma'am while I appreciate your hospitality as a government agent I can't impose in such a way to the member of the public."
"Now listen here Mister Jorgen and listen good," Granny Mertle stating having her spatula at the agent, "no one spends a night under my roof to head out hungry in the morning and needing to hit some greasy spoon on their way to wherever they're going! I'm making breakfast for my granddaughter anyway and I might as well make a little extra for the man who gave her a good turn."
"Some things will never change," I whispered to myself as I went into the bathroom and went through my morning routine, I may not be going to school today, but I wanted to get as much done as possible to go see Ramona during public visiting hours. With my shower and as much primping as I actually cared to do, what can I say I'm a tomboy plus makeup doesn't really hold up to athletics.
After getting dressed I went to the dining nook to find that Agent Jorgen had capitulated to Granny Mertle's guest breakfast- buckwheat pancakes and mixed grill scrambled eggs.
"It's about time you lazy bones," Granny Mertle smirked at me, "When you and your mom lived here it used to be that you'd be out of bed and in the kitchen while still in your jimjams."
"Granny," I recoiled in embarrassment, "we've got a guest here there's no way I'd be doing that. Besides I still need to talk with the police about everything that happened yesterday and see Ramona- not to mention have the doctors check me out and make sure that I'm okay. I may have just been grazed but I was still shot, and only had first-aid and a paramedic look after me on top of everything else."
"Actually, there is one other thing that you need to do today," Agent Jorgen stated after swallowing a hedge of his wheat cakes. "The men who were with me yesterday and drove your friend to the emergency room were a field team with Argonne National Laboratory over in Lemont. They are going to have to have a look at you concerning your abilities."
"Hold off one moment," Granny Mertle all but teleported over to Agent Jorgen to glare at him in the eyes, "while I appreciate you helping out my granddaughter and her friend there is no way that I'm letting some spook disappear my only grandchild into some MK-Ultra bullcrap."
"First off ma'am the Department of Paranormal Affairs is not the MCO we do not disappear anyone, we investigate events that fall outside the ordinary as well as issue and maintain records concerning mutants, metahumans, super-scientists, artificial beings, mystic practitioners, etc." Agent Jorgen replied as he did something that I had never seen anyone do before... stand up to Granny Mertle's scrutiny. "We will also need Miss DeFrank's mother present as we need a legal guardian present during all testing relating to a minor, unless her father can attend the tests."
"Dad's at Camp Alpha in Iraq serving with the army," I spoke up as I dished myself up some breakfast. "Now what can you tell me about these tests."
"You see Miss DeFrank when you used these new abilities of yours, they set off some sensors at Argonne Labs that monitored for exotic particles, that is why they are interested in you. I am also going to be there with a consultant from the Arkham Research Consortium who works out of our field office to gauge your abilities from Argonne's results. This is going to be so that I can submit a report to my superior's in Washington as well as issue your granddaughter a MID card or since your dad is actively serving in the Military an MMID. Then there is the matter of seeing if it would be safe for you to return to public school or if there would be a need for an alternative form of education."
"You mean like that school where they send mutants, the one that the Champion went to?" I asked recalling the tidbits that Candace had sent me over the last few weeks.
"So, you already know about that place?" Agent Jorgen seemed to muse, "While it is somewhat of a more open secret, it isn't exactly common knowledge. Might I ask how you came by this information?"
"My friend Candace goes there now," I admitted not wanting to get someone who was protecting me from both the MCO and the Knights of Purity angry with me, "she told me a little, but not much- she wouldn't even give me the name of the place."
"Good, that information is supposed to be limited access," Agent Jorgen explained as he worked on his wheat cake, "although depending on the testing today it might be your future alma-mater- provided your mother approves of our recommendation."
"So, you'd stick my granddaughter in some place God-knows where because you think she'd be a threat to public safety?!?" Granny Mertle's hackles rose as the Gran-mama Bear awoke once again.
"We don't stick anyone there unless it is for their own health and safety," Agent Jorgen stated still unphased by my grandmother, "although the weight of how much we recommend her enrollment might depend on how her testing today goes. Sometimes we recommend students more for their safety then that of others around them, there are some gifted students whose talents and abilities make them a target for those of less than lawful occupations. Last year there was a poor girl in Seattle who could discovered that she could smolt scrap aluminum into sapphire, a few weeks later she was abducted out of her own home."
"Good lord," Granny Mertle shook in shock, "tell me that you found the girl."
"I'm sorry ma'am," Agent Jorgen deflated, "but that case is still ongoing."
This thought was sobering especially with what I remembered of Taikeyla's words last night, there was someone out there who wanted me for my abilities. They were willing to threaten Ramona's family through blackmail, coerce Victor into shooting me and then turning himself into a monster. If they were willing to go to those lengths was my family really going to be safe?
Room 104 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center Recovery Ward
Round Rock, Texas
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness
Another day in the hospital recovering from a wound that I don't have and another day waiting for my release so that I could disappear from this room. Granted part of me wondered how I was going to make it to Dead Zone's training camp while in Federal Protective Custody. Who am I kidding knowing Mother Scratch she had all of this planned out a while ago, after all there was no way that she'd risk having one of her family of succubae in protective custody and risk the entire organization's secret being uncovered.
Fortunately, unlike Sunday there was actually some decent TV on that and the fact that dad dropped off some of my favorite engineering texts, oh all the possibilities now that I was a gadgeteer. It wasn't that I ever had an issue with wiring or thinks of things before but how should I explain it, in layman's terms it was like before I was working off of an old antique Windows 3.1 terminal that you'd find in a garage sale and trying to run complicating design and drafting programs off of them at a speed and processing speed that was so slow that it would take hours for them to properly render. Now though I was working off of a top of the line custom built rig based around a self-designed Linux-kernel Operating System, I could operate so fast when I wanted too that it was scary and sometimes things fit together in my mind as soon as I thought of them.
Granted that it was still too early in the morning to go over engineering textbooks without coffee which the nurse on duty would not let me have, although it was nice that my classmates started sending over flowers and get-well cards- or at least those that weren't H1 and trying to get me looked up because they feared my mutant cooties. Most of the news was dedicated to the clean-up focused around the attack and bombings in Boston last Saturday, honestly it was terrible these Children of the Night had no tact or decorum as villains- unleashing a swarm of contagious zombies and setting off fire-bombs including one at an international airport of all places- that wasn't super-villainy that was just an out and out terrorist attack.
Okay granted my view on super-villains was a bit skewed, but I grew up around members of the Sweepers- pros relied on teamwork and dedication to get where they are with leaders who lead from the front with their men's respect instead of having them obey out of fear. Granted this worked on the flip-side of the coin too, there were teams like the Justice Battalion and SPECTRUM that worked through respect, comradery and friendship. On the other had there were groups that just flocked to a leader either because they had money or status and relied on that to hold their group together- the prior incarnation of the Dallas Defenders or the Gator Patrol were proof to how flawed that way of thinking was in terms of groupwork.
It took Longhorn going to jail as a fraud to start the Dallas Defenders up again, and I hoped that they learned the lessons of their prior incarnation's failure. As for Florida's former super-team...well Gator ate half of them during the infamous Gator Incident and as he was the reason for of the team it fell apart leaving the Miami's team of mostly Cuban defectors the Santeríans to take in the survivors and do their best to safe guard most of the state and the Florida government granting special dispensation to the Atlanta Guardians to work across state lines if there was ever trouble in the panhandle.
On the upside of the newsfeed the students were going back to Virginia Tech after that mass-shooting there last week, just goes to show not all of the dangerous and crazy people out there had powers. A couple of car bombs in Bagdad went off during an unsuccessful attack on a police station, I would say that the fact that it was unsuccessful was good news but unfortunately twelve people still died and almost a hundred were sent to the hospital according to the news anchor.
Honestly after the rollercoaster that my life had gone through over the last few days it was a comfort to know that I wasn't the only one getting the short end of the stick lately. My chain of thought was suddenly interrupted when Mother Scratch herself appeared in the room or rather her mental projection over the link of the sisterhood. 'Come to see how your newest niece is doing Mother Erzebet.' I commented somewhat bored over the theatrics.
"Actually it is time that Madeline Jacobs make her debut," Erzebet stated as she regarded me with an expression that seemed almost morose. "It is also time for you to meet the individual who will be succeeding you in your identity as Joan Drucker, this will be the person who will be taking your place under federal witness protection while you will live your life under your new identity at Dead-Zone's Training camp as well as with luck permitting at Whateley."
'I don't care how brutal the camp will be, if taking it means that I will be able to live my life how I want then so be it,' I steeled myself while keeping up my facade of being bedridden. 'My parents already warned me that the camp itself is like a slice of hell but I'm willing to go through it if it means that I can achieve my own dreams. I so what if my parents are what they are that doesn't mean that I have to follow the same path, I just refuse to pigeon-hole myself and follow some path like it's just fate- I am myself and I'll make my own choices.'
"I can't say I agree with your decision and the risk that you are taking with the rest of the family," Erzebet sighed as she regarded me, "however I admire your resolve and will abide by my promise. Besi..."
Erzebet Scratch stopped mid-word as my parents walked in for once my mom was so silent it was like she was numb, once they were in, they shut the door to the room and dad applied his sonic barrier generator to it was well as the walls and windows to ensure that no-one could listen in on anything that went on in the room. After pulling out and checking a device that I recognized as his bug-sniffer, he stated, "we're secure. Nobody is watching or listening in on us and there are no recording devices in the room, so we are free to do what- what-" dad paused when he began to sob, "what needs to be done. I don't want to say good-bye to my little girl so soon!"
"Dad I'm not dying," I groaned as I got out of bed and went over to hug him. "I'm just going to be recognized as the daughter of your original selves instead of your public aliases. Besides I understand that my new given name was on your short-list before I was born anyway."
"It still doesn't make this any easier for us," mom cried out as her legs went out from under her, "we are losing a part of you and you can never come home again. It'll almost be like you died for real."
"This is the world that we live in Naomi," dad explained calling mom by her real name as he bent down to comfort her as he deactivated his disguise to reveal his short, goblinesque true form and hugged her, "Besides we raised our child as best we could and here she is about to give her all for her dreams, as parents I think this makes us pretty great don't you?"
"I know," mom tried to steady herself before deactivating her own disguise to show a woman who looked my age, "but it still feels too early to let our Cathy leave the nest."
That all but shook me to my core, I hadn't been called by my birth name in so long that I had all but forgotten it. It was nuts- I had been born Cathy Gompers, grew up Joan Drucker, and was at the cusp of becoming Madeline Jacobs- then soon enough I'd choose a codename for the world to know me as hopefully as a hero and maybe one day meet a man who would let me take his own family name. Talk about living la-vida loca, I was going through identities like crazy.
"I have your proxy," dad pulled out some weird kind of pendent, "the boys in the lab worked all night with the DNA sample we took from the clothes you were wearing at the party. Dad made a pulling motion and then a copy of me likewise wearing a hospital gown stepped out of the pendent, but I could tell that she looked...empty. "Right now, she has your DNA as well as your power-set before you became what you are now all that she needs are your memories and I understand that one of The Sisterhood is with you now, so she'll walk you through it."
"I will do far more than simply 'walk you through it'," Mother Erzebet explained, "With my help we will make certain that the new Joan Drucker gains the memories that she needs to tell the truth without compromising either the sisterhood or your new identity. At the same time, I will also help you change your default appearance so that you won't simply look like Joan Drucker's twin, after all we can't have you compromising yourself; Madeline Jacobs must be as unique as any other person."
"She says that she'll help me do that and more," I relayed the jist of the message, "By the way before we get started, did you bring something other than this hospital gown for me to wear? The draft in the back of this thing is embarrassing, and I don't want a light breeze to turn me into a flasher!"
Mom laughed amidst her sobbing as she handed me a duffle bag, "I went shopping to get you some new clothes to replace those that you lost while in New York. Granted that I did it as the real me, so I was able to get something that should fit you since we're still the same sizes."
"Can I still say that it's weird that my mom can raid my closet and sneak into events for teens," I called out from the restroom in the hospital.
"Hey, it's not all fun and games," mom shot back, "I'm in my mid-thirties and without my disguise charm I get carded or kicked out of everywhere I go!"
Now dressed and ready to go I went and following Mother Erzebet's instructions put my hands to the side of my clone and moved to press my forehead to hers, before I stopped to ask, "Wait what about a soul, I know that she'll have my mind, but did you help craft a soul for her as well."
"Kampé took a bit of your mother and I," dad explained as he looked at the two of us me and my doppelganger, "and blended them together using your own soul as an example to cultivate the one now within her body. She told us that your memories should complete her and after a few weeks at home to nurture her she should be as normal as you are."
"Or as normal as I was," I stated before telling Mother Erzebet over our link, 'I am ready!' before pressing my forehead to that of the new Joan Drucker.
In a moment I saw my life once again flash before my eyes only this time it was because the life was being transferred to my clone, to put it in perspective I was the media center and my double was the audience. Eventually though I began to notice little discrepancies every time that I had an encounter with Rot or one of the sisterhood or learned of either that information was edited out, as well as the knowledge of the Sweepers and the Grand Hall, everything that I knew of the of the workings of both organizations wasn't going into the new me; this meant that not she would she fail to realize the connection between Axcel and Erzebet Scratch, but also that between our parents and their supervillain alter-egos- then again I suppose that was for the best. Eventually it came time for the shot that changed my life that was when I noticed that the course of events began to follow both the official narrative as well as what the surgeons and hospital staff remembered.
As soon as the memories caught up to an edited for outside eyes version of safe from prying eyes the new Joan Drucker collapsed, carefully checking to make sure that she was only asleep I put the new me in the hospital bed and tucked her in. "Well I guess that she'll be ready to take over my life."
"Joan..." Mom asked in a worried tone, "what happened to you? Why do you look so... different?"
Wondering what she meant I raced to the bathroom and looked in the mirror to see what she meant, and saw a stranger staring back at me, while my eyes remain the same shade of hazel that they've always been my dishwater blonde hair was now a bluish-white. It was the same length and style that I've always had it was just bluish-white now, I took a look at my face as well and there were clear but slight differences too. The slight bump in my nose was gone and was a little narrower than it had been, my earlobes were also attached now instead of dangling. The differences seemed small, but they were enough so that people wouldn't say that Joan and I were the same person.
Wait a moment why was I thinking that I mean I know that the new Joan was supposed to be taking my place but deep down I was Madeline Jacobs. What the hell why was I thinking of myself as my new identity I mean I know that I was supposed to be considered that in public, but I had been Madeline- gaah why was I still thinking like that?
"Just a minor adjustment to your thought processes my dear," Mother Scratch said as she appeared looking over my shoulder in the mirror, "Just something to help you stay in character, I took the liberty of putting in a few tweaks when we were giving the new you her memories, purely cosmetic and there to help you keep your story straight. Your motivations and everything are still there I also put in a verbal filter to keep you from exposing your former life, now get ready it is time to say goodbye for now."
As she disappeared again, I couldn't help but admit that Mother Erzebet had a point, there are some things that we do every day by instinct and I couldn't risk calling out to someone that the new me had never met. Begrudgingly going along with her gift, I exited the room to see my parents with their disguises still down, "Just something Mother Erzebet did to help with my new identity, she also hinted that it was time for you to smuggle me out."
"Actually, I'll be doing that," I was more than a little startled when a Reverent appeared through the floor, "I was instructed to take you to your rendezvous point while Agents Gremlin and Atropos wait for Joan Drucker to wake up, please say your good-byes now you won't be seeing each other for a little bit."
Taking her suggestion at heart, I all but flew into my parent's arms as we hugged each other like we were trying to fuse together, but such a thing never happened. I took the pendent that dad had used to bring Joan Drucker into the room and made my way back to Reverent handing her the piece of jewelry as I turned to my parents one final time with tearful eyes just to say, "Good bye mom and dad!" before everything went white.
Test Room 7- Argonne National Laboratories
POV: Chandra Defrank
"Are you sure that you have to do that to her," I could hear my mom call out from the other side of the glass observation room, "I mean those things look painful and why is she wearing that?"
"Mrs. Defrank, those are just sensor nodes, all that they do are monitor your daughter and record the resulting information," Professor Jack Bing explained trying to get my mother who was still in worry mode to calm down, either way was fine by me because I was hoping to avoid the angry scolding mother snap-back from that when it came. "Most of them are sensors for electro-encephalogram and electro-cardiogram data, as well as energy-field sensors, and atmospheric sensors. Basically, this will help us better narrow down and define your daughter's abilities given that we know from genetic-marker testing that she does not have one of the known variants of Mutant-Gene Complexes in her DNA."
"What does it matter if you know how my daughter does what she does?" Mom cried, "hasn't she gone through enough?"
"Unfortunately, Mrs. Defrank enhanced individuals required to be registered with the government as a matter of national security," Agent Jorgen continued to explain, "Also there are some manners of empowerment that are reversable, and if it is one of those types then it would be possible for her to go back to her ordinary life with no consequences."
"And if it isn't one of the reversable kinds?" Mom asked in a tone that carried a rare threat that I haven't heard all that often but when she did you better be careful of what you said to her.
Then we categorize her power-set to classify her abilities while informing both of you about any special considerations that you might have to take in the future." Agent Jorgen continued to explain while carefully observing the doctors, "We'll also create a file on her with the DPA and considering that her father is an active serviceman give her an MMID."
"I thought that those were only for Mutants?" I asked somewhat confused on the matter.
"While the M in MID does currently stand for Mutant, there is a long-standing practice of issuing them to individuals who are enhanced in other capacities." Agent Jorgen huffed, "Also now that the DPA is being granted an expanded role after several incidents of over-reach and questionable activities by the Mutant Commission Office, we are currently working on changes to amend the MID system to be a Metahuman Identification Document rather than a Mutant Identification Document in the US at least. Just one of many small changes that we are planning on now that the federal government decided to step in and stop giving state-by-state carte-blanch to a private security company on US Soil to pretend that they are a federal agency."
"Some real hostility you got their sir," Gab Cowen remarked as he set about calibrating the equipment alongside Professor Bing, "I mean everyone online has heard the rumors, but the internet is all about blowing things way out of proportion."
"Maybe one day we'll know for sure," Agent Jorgen fumed, "their CEO is an old Cold War spook, he made sure that his people are very good at destroying documentation. Are we ready to begin Doctor Bing?"
"Of course," the Doc replied, "for starters we'll get a physical baseline using an standard army fitness exam as a baseline, an allergy test, followed by a CAT scan to check for physiological abnormalities, a non-invasive EEG to test for neurological abnormalities, a spectrograph, and after that we should get a better understanding of what type of power category Chandra falls into then we'd need to test her abilities more directly to better define them in her file. Also if we find out that she's a dynamorph then we can extract the force bundle giving her powers and if it's a power-gem scenario then we can locate and remove it from her person, however if she is an origin or something else then I'm afraid that she'll have to learn to live with it for the rest of her life."
"You know that I can hear everything that the four of you are saying right?" I called out to the booth, "I mean you do have the intercoms on right now."
"We know Miss Defrank," Professor Bing explained, "and you have been perfectly cooperative in this but right now we've been busy consoling your mother- you'd be surprised how often it is that we adults are the ones that need reassuring."
Taking his word for it, after all they did help to save me from the Knights of Purity, I went through with the first round of tests. The physical was honestly more than a little exhausting mainly due to the fact that they weren't testing me to see that I was in shape but in their own words to determine my physical thresholds. Their tests showed that I was well-above average for a girl my age and build, but still within the range of baseline human apart from the early signs of a minor astigmatism in my right-eye meaning that I might need a trip to the optometrist down the line. The allergy test showed nothing unusual apart from the fact that I had a mild allergy to soy as well as pollen from something called the Arizona Cyprus. The EKG was also normal, they also made sure to tell my mother that I hadn't been around any smokers lately- so that was one less thing for her to worry about... which was weird since some of the hangers on of the Maroon Maniacs were smokers.
The CAT scan and the EEG though were where the scientists started to get interested, although they waited long after I got the glue from the sensors out of my hair before moving on to testing my powers- or well at this point power. "Just relax Miss Defrank, remember what it felt like to use your ability yesterday," a kid whose badge read Gab Cowen and looked like he was only about ten years older than me at most. "Now just remember to take your time to figure this out, you are the one to set the pace here I just need you to engage your power, tap your hip to activate the audio-player and follow the instructions that the audio-player instructs you to perform.
It took a few tries but eventually I was able to pull myself out of time again, although the instructions sounded like I was playing with a Bop-It as I followed the instructions am moved about the lab with their sensors taking readings as I went as the one's on the lab's suit helped them gather data from within the in-between place that I go when I do what I do, this ended soon when I followed the final instruction to give Gab a high-five pulling me back into normal time. "That was good," Gab explained as he still had his hand up, "now we are going to need you to do the same thing only this time without your helmet."
This time it only took me two tries to step out of time although this time everything around me was just in slow-motion around the room both with and without my helmet as usual everything looked like it was slightly off in the color department and a little fuzzy like a video from an old out of focus camcorder. I even heard what sounded like people speaking super-slow, but the test was still over fast with another high-five to Gab. "Alright that should be it Miss Defrank feel free to wait with your mom in the conference room, someone will be by later to give you a full explanation of the results. Just go that way though the decontamination room."
I looked as at the direction that Gab pointed in and asked, "Decontamination from what?"
"The tests this is just so that we can collect any exotic particulates that you might have collected from you using your abilities." Gab explained, "Just more for us to look at, your mom also brought you a change of clothes from home. We will also be returning your helmet as soon as we are through examining it as well in case it might have anything to do with your abilities."
"Alright, I suppose that makes sense," I begrudgingly conceded to their point especially after remembering Taikeyla's reaction after she put my helmet on yesterday. I put my lab clothes in a designated bin and went through the decontamination shower in no time; after putting on my familiar old Monday morning school attire, I raced down to the conference room to hug my mom.
"Oh, you are in so much trouble when you get home," Mom hugged me so tight that I was worried my stiches would give.
"Hey, I tried to do everything that I could to stay safe," I objected if those power-armor jockeys had just let the paramedics take me to the hospital the city wouldn't have to come up with an excuse not to repair the damage that was done to the Westside right now."
"Alright, I will give you that much," Mom conceded to my point, "but you could have at least called to let us know that you were safe."
"I was worried that the MCO would have tapped our landline," I explained my logic, "from what Candace told me about them I wouldn't have put it past them and I wasn't going to risk stopping to make a phone call in the open with the Knights of Purity after me."
Knowing that there was no way to break our stalemate over what happened yesterday, the two of us sat in silence before a trio including Agent Jorgen came to sit with us at the table, this was clearly to go over the results of the tests. Along with Agent Jorgen at the table there was also Professor Bing and a doctor whose nametag read Tina Klerkse facing us, Agent Jorgen was the first to speak while examining the result and from the look on his face it wasn't the best news. "Mrs. Defrank I will be blunt, from the evidence so far your daughter appeared to have experienced an origin-event, she either came into contact with something exotic or experienced some unknown phenomenon that has resulted in your daughter's ability. From what we still don't know, and we are examining everything that she had on her yesterday during the first known event for a possible physical catalyst."
Doctor Klerkse sighed, "While it appears that your daughter is within normal human standards, from what we observed during our tests some things just seem a little too perfect. Chandra's respiration is more efficient, there are minor changes to her circulatory system, her liver and pancreas show changes as well although they are changes that have been observed elsewhere by evolutionary biologists, there are even signs that her still-developing wisdom teeth are being reabsorbed by the jaw. That doesn't even account for the CAT scans of her brain and the EEG readings, my colleges at the University of Chicago's neuroscience program have explained that it looks like your neurons are firing at a higher-rate and the portions of your brain related to analysis and observation appear to have changed as well, to be frank you seem to be able to observe your surroundings with a greater speed than should be considered normal."
"So, then I'm human, just a little improved," I observed trying to take what he meant into consideration.
"Yes," Doctor Klerkse continued, "and it appears that your body is still adjusting so what we observed now may be out of date by this time next year. Honestly, we can only work with what is in front of us right now, and anything else is only guess work and conjecture."
"As for your daughter's abilities Misses Defrank, she has the ability to step in between the third and fourth dimensions, with her degree of interaction only relating to the amount of exposure to a sufficient amount of biological material." Professor Bing began to explain, "Basically if Chandra is wearing her helmet and a full-body suit then she will have the ability to completely make her way from third-dimensional space into fourth-dimensional space, this makes it appear that she teleports when she either intentionally or unintentionally re-enters third-dimensional space."
"On the other hand, if she doesn't have a filter or her helmet then she is only able to partially phase into fourth-dimensional space making her appear to have the powers of a speedster. In either case though if she makes physical contact with any biomass of significant size then she will be immediately snapped back into our dimension, and the end result of either use of her power is the emission of tachyon particles created from the interaction between the dimensions."
"So, there's no way that my baby can go back to normal?!?" Mom asked with panic clearly making its way into her mind.
"Misses Defrank your daughter can live as normal a life as she wants to however given the nature or her abilities some members of the intelligence community such as Homeland Security would label her a security concern," Agent Jorgen explained as he slowly shook his head clearly indicating that this wasn't the first time that he had to have a talk like this with a parent. "However, there are options, there is a school in New England that focuses on helping empowered individuals learn to manage their abilities as well as learn about both their legal implications as well as satisfying the concerns of the intelligence community."
Agent Jorgen explained as he handed us a pamphlet for some place called the Whateley Academy, "While most of the students and faculty are classified as mutant, they do accept students such as your daughter if they choose to enroll."
"And if your daughter agrees to help us with our research here at Argonne in between semesters then we would be more than glad to cover her tuition," Professor Bing added to the pitch, "although I would recommend waiting until she completes her school year; there is still bound to be some paperwork involved."
"Mom, I am pretty sure that this is the place that Candace is going to school at," I said after looking the pamphlet over as well as remembering Agent Jorgen's hinting on the matter earlier, "according to her the classes are top rate and there are students who go from there straight to the Ivy Leagues or top Tech Schools, and a lot of them on scholarships."
"I don't know," mom said chewing the mater over, "I would still need to take a better look at it to see how I feel."
"If it would make you feel better, they have an open house day in a couple of weeks, in the meantime your daughter will have to wear a monitoring anklet." Anticipating our objections Agent Jorgen continued to explain, "This will just be to help keep track of her, we'll also provide her with an emergency bracelet to call police or rescue if she gets into trouble; all of this is more for her safety then anyone else's, after all someone did try to kill her less than twenty-four hours ago."
"Well mom?" I asked while looking at her.
"We'll go to the Open House and I'll think about it," mom admitted so at least there was something.
Arlington High School
Joel West was trudging his way along the first floor of the school building with an escort on his way to the principal's office, thankfully they had chosen to send a Hall Monitor to retrieve him from Home Room rather than calling him over the PA. "What is all of this about anyway?"
"Mister West I don't know, I was just told to escort you there from Home Room." Dirk Antema stated as he walked alongside me up the stairs and towards the front of the building. Once he was inside Dirk went back to his rounds and Joel was told to report to Principal Adam's Office rather than waiting to be called, after walking in the door Joel saw his mother, Principal James Adams and a man in a lab-coat. "Have a seat Mister West." He heard principal Adams state and on instinct Joel followed the man's command.
"Now Mister West first off you are not in trouble. You are here because a former student of ours recognized that you had signs of a particular genetic disorder and arranged to have you tested to be certain."
"Hello Mister West, my name is Fredrik Jokinen and I'm with the Arkham Research Consortium," the man extended his hand which Joel took, "Our organization is one of the top authorities on this disorder and we do this test for free thanks to a government stipend."
"Just what is this disorder," Janice West threw herself in-between her son and the man, "because if you think that I will let you do anything to by son-"
"Misses West-" Fredrik Jokinen replied before being corrected by Janice West with the proclamation of- "That's Miss West!"
"Very well Miss West it is better off that you don't know too much if your son doesn't have the disorder to avoid too much stress on both of your parts. All that I need is swab of the inside of your son's mouth for the test and you should get the results in two weeks," Fredrik Jokinen explained, "if they are negative we will inform you with a phone and if the result is positive then we'll send you all of the related literature as well as help put your son in touch with a support group if he wants to look into it."
"Very well but I want a copy of the paperwork that explains the purposes of the sample in writing," Janice stated to which Mister Jokinen produced a folder containing three-multicolored sheets on carbon-copy paper. After everything was signed Mister Jokinen got his sample and Joel was sent back to class while the three remaining parties each took one of the sheets with them. As Fredrik Jokinen left the school, Joel settled back into his class in homeroom none wiser about what was unfolding concerning his future as he concentrated on his Algebra homework.
Dead-Zone's Training Camp
Pecos County, Texas
POV: Madeline Jacobs, Rose of Darkness
I walked lock step into a line with others who had one purpose of being here, to attend a camp run by one of the most brutal taskmasters in the business of training those on the wrong side of the law...Dead-Zone. I looked at him and I was quaking in fear six-foot, seven and over two-hundred pounds of world-weary, battle-scared former United States Force Recon Commando was staring all of us down and sizing us up. Even the man next to me who was in full power armor seemed intimidated by the man in front of us, every story that my parents told me about this man failed to prepare me for the fact that he scared the ever-loving crap out of all of us.
"FIRST OFF I AM DEAD-ZONE, YOU WILL ADDRESS ME AS MASTER CHIEF FROM NOW UNTIL YOU EITHER LEAVE WITH MY APPROVAL OR MY BOOT UP YOUR ASS." Dead-Zone began to bark at everyone and everyone could tell that this old war dogs bark was worse than his bite. "NOW I KNOW THAT SOME OF YOU MAY HAVE BEEN SEMI-SUCCESSFUL MERCS OR SOLO-OPPERATORS BEFORE YOU PRANCED THROUGH MY GATE BUT AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED NO MATTER WHOSE ASS YOU USED TO SPANK OR WHO USED TO SPANK YOUR ASS AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED ALL OF YOU ARE LANDFILL UNTIL I SAY OTHERWISE!"
He looked up and down the line before zeroing in on me in particular, "Well- well- well looks like they're throwing the babies out with the bathwater, I KNOW WHO YOU ARE SCRUB AND I HOPE THAT YOU DON'T EXPECT ME TO GO EASY ON YOU JUST BECAUSE YOUR MAMA TRAINED UNDER ME, DO YOU?"
"SIR, NO MASTER-CHIEF SIR!" I replied back while standing as straight and still as I could, "SHE TOLD ME TO EXPECT YOU TO WHIP ME LIKE A CHEAP GIMP AT AN S&M CONVENTION, MASTER-CHIEF SIR!"
"Good I see that at least one of you were taught respect and to expect what you'll be in for," Dead-Zone smiled like a shark at us, "NOW KNOW THIS BACK ON NOVEMBER 17TH, 1950 THE DEVIL HIMSELF SENT ME UP HERE TO MAKE THE LIVES OF EVERYONE WHO WALKED THROUGH THAT GATE'S LIFE A LIVING HELL. NOW FOR THE RULES: RULE 1, NO POWERS UNLESS I ALLOW IT OR ORDER YOU TO USE THEM. RULE 2, YOU WILL ONLY USE THE EQUIPMENT THAT YOU ARE PROVIDED WITH. RULE 3, NO USE OF YOUR NAME OR CODE-NAME WHILE YOU ARE HERE, YOU WILL BE ASSIGNED CALLSIGNS SHORTLY AND WHILE HERE I EXPECT YOU TO REFER TO EVERY CADET BY THEIR CALLSIGNS. RULE 4, NO ONE LEAVES THE CAMP UNLESS I ORDER THEM TO OR GRANT THEM PERMISSION. RULE 5, YOU WILL FOLLOW YOUR ASSIGNED SCHEDULE AND ALL ORDERS GIVEN TO YOU BY STAFF. RULE 6, ANYONE WITH THE NUMBER TWO ON THEIR UNIFORM ARE TO BE IGNORED, WHILE YOU ARE LANDFILL, THEY ARE HAZMAT UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE. NOW YOU ARE TO ENTER THAT STORM SHED SINGLE-FILE YOU WILL FOLLOW THE YELLOW LINE AND RECEIVE YOUR CALLSIGN, ALL ELSE WILL BE REVEALED AND NO TALKING UNTIL YOU ARE AT THE END OF THE YELLOW LINE... NOW MOVE IT- MOVE IT- MOVE IT!!!"
Although there were only five of us, we went in formation following Dead-Zone's instruction to guide us down to the storm cellar which lead to a concealed stairway that took us down what had to be two-full stories. At this point we came to a door that opened to a hall that lead us back in the same direction as the stairway and ended in a freight elevator. To the right of the yellow line and before the elevator was a bar that was built into the wall at the bar's desk was a Reverent in the same style of military garb as Dead-Zone although she had corporal patches on her jacket and a Joker with 10's in the corners of the card's design. In front of her were five laminated index-cards placed face down.
"You will address me as Corporal Reverant. I will call the number in line that you are closest to the elevator, when I wall that number you are to step forward you are to take the face-down card that I point to and take possession of your duffle bag while I take your personal belongings for secure storage. Under the index-card is also a luggage tag with the written name of your callsign, you are to also hand that to me to attach to your own bag guard your laminated card well otherwise whoever has it after camp concludes will gain possession of your own possessions." Corporal Reverent explained, "The bag will contain your requisition hygiene and toiletry supplies for one week, if you run out of anything you can either trade with your fellow cadets or requisition more supplies from me in exchange for choosing to complete one Rank-2 assignment around the base in addition to your own training and assignments."
"Fair warning you do not want a Rank-2 assignment assigned to you other than by choice, each Rank-2 assignment counts as a strike and you have three strikes allowed for each week. If you are caught using any name but what you are assigned you will be given a strike, if you need to requisition due to failure to ration that is also a strike, so is failure to follow orders. Anyone who accumulates three strikes in a week will be demoted to Rank-2 for the extension of the Camp and need to wait until the next session to try again, three-strikes one-week am I clear!"
"Ma'am yes ma'am!" All of us replied in unison.
"Number 4," Corporal Reverent called choosing a girl who was just a few years older than me to be the first as she stepped forward, I recognized her, that was Regina 'Nightfox' Larrimore the daughter of pro-thief Nightwolf's. I heard that she escaped from Juvie in New Hampshire a while back and was on the run, evidently she decided to run to the Sweepers, it figures from what I heard she got busted following a boss who left her high and dry when his plan to takeover Whateley went belly up. After she turned over her card Corporal Reverent announced, "Welcome to Hell Cadet Geranium, here's your things and know we will be watching you!"
"Number 5," The next person announced was her fellow toady Morty Irving aka Latchkey evidently the pair were deciding to go for the Sweepers, I hope that they knew they were in for a steep climb because given their reputations it was going to be a steep climb to earn anyone's trust. "Aw- I see that you have something in common with your cohort Cadet Columbine. Here are your things go wait by the elevator, and no funny business."
"Number 2," The next up was the guy in power armor, who for some reason they were letting him keep, maybe it was a Tony Stark or Iron-Horse scenario and it double as a life-support system. "Welcome Cadet Gladiolus, I hope that you will show us your all." To my surprise Cadet Gladiolus gave Corporal Reverant a proper salute before taking his bags.
"Number 3," Now it was my turn I went and turned over one of the two remaining cards which I wondered if Corporal Reverent had chosen codenames for a reason, surprisingly I recognized the flower, "Welcome Cadet Magnolia, I hope that you do your parents proud and live up to Dame Scratch's faith in you." I followed Cadet Gladiolus's example and replied with a proper salute.
The last of us Number 1 was soon named Cadet Larkspur, and with duffels slung over our shoulders we entered the freight elevator which descended what seemed like two more floors until it opened up to what appeared to be a mix of a doctor's office and a barber shop, with someone setting up some mechanical equipment for Cadet Gladiolus. The barbershop suddenly made sense, Dead-Zone taught with military discipline, looks like I was going to be sporting a crew-cut for a while.
Okay it looks like I was wrong, although the on-site barbers did trim everyone's hair short the order was to keep it tidy since we were going to be working up a sweat. Sadly, nobody told that to Cadet Columbine because he got the fade crew cut that he asked for while Cadet Larkspur just asked for the barber to trim his existing short-tapered style down so that he could manage it for a couple of weeks. Armed with this knowledge Cadet Geranium asked for a bob while I went with a haircut that I was well familiar with from elementary school, a pixie-cut...what I always looked cute in it and somehow the new me pulled it off a lot better than the old me. The haircut was followed by a full physical, or in Cadet Gladiolus's case deactivating his weapon systems and removing any emergency armaments that he had.
After the physical all of us were now in our uniforms, olive-green uniforms with a Joker mark bracketed by two 3s, the emblem in the Sweepers for former Independent operators or untrained personnel and were ordered to take another elevator to the barracks. This was the first test because the elevator had no numbers and all the labels were in braille, thank you mom for teaching me.
After I pressed the correct button the elevator opened up into a commons area shaped like a pentagon with each of the walls color-coded and the one with the elevator being black in the middle of the room a man with a Joker-6 rank waiting for us. "At ease cadets, I am Corporal Weathers, I will be in charge of issuing your assignments each day and handing out your briefings. Now if you look at your name card you will notice that each has a color background that is your barracks assignment, all men are either assigned to Red or Orange Barracks while all women are assigned to Green and Blue, you are to take the bunk that has your callsign. Now you have your orders, you are to settle and have everything organized by the time you are called for dinner. One word of warning, we have inspections every morning before meal call, every failed inspection after your third day here counts as a strike. I suggest that everyone go settle in and remember if you get caught messing with any of your fellow Cadets belongings it is an immediate demotion to Rank-2. Now you are all dismissed!"
I took off for the Blue Barracks glad that Cadet Geranium was in Green, sure enough I found my bunk right above one for a Cadet Bluebell who I assume was still involved in training with the rest of the Barracks. After using the foot locker that was also labeled Cadet Magnolia and making use of the biometric lock that looked like it had yet to be imprinted. I stored my gears as neatly as I could and got to organizing, another thing that mom warned me about was that Dead-Zone practiced group punishment for infractions although only the offender got the punishment that mattered and there was no way that I was going to build up resentment with women who were going to be at least five years older than me.
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