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- Some Days It Isn't Worth Chewing Through The Straps (Completed)
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Some Days It Isn't Worth Chewing Through The Straps (Completed)
That evening all the Intelligence Corps Cadets got together in the Great Pumpkin Patch to discuss the assignments they'd recieved.
Ace: "Boy, I got three cookies!"
A-Plus: "I got a pack of gum!"
Holdout: "I got a chocolate bar!"
Interface: "I got a quarter!"
Kew: "Hey, I got a package of diet gum!"
Rez: "I got a fudge bar!"
Reach: "I got a rock."
To be fair, it might have looked more like a standard clubhouse room in the Whateley tunnels than it would a pumpkin patch. That was a good thing, considering that it was yet a good six weeks before Halloween. (Closer to Halloween could be a different story, between the bio-devisors and various manifestors.) And quite possibly, all the sealed envelopes looked alike except for the name on each one. No candies nor random hand specimens of geologic origin. Inside each envelope was a short precis of seed information plus one or more specific data requests for each of three students on-campus. Accompanying that were directions for contacting their "client" if situations arose, and directions for making the final "drop".
What may have been less obvious were the stealthed RFID tags separately tagging each set of papers. At this point in their life cycle, each envelope pinged any other tagged envelopes in the set within 10m as it was opened. A simple little bit of sympathetic magic flashed an "opened" check-box on a piece of paper elsewhere on campus, erased its tracks and expired. Another set of micro-tags collected sound recordings that would be relayed onto the campus wifi under certain conditions. These were all in addition to small devices on each envelope that were meant to be found.
Of course Ace chaired the meeting - when you have an Ace, who else would you need?. "As we all already know, each envelope had a tracker attached to it, so let's start with Kew. What did you find out from those?"
"It's a simple semi-commercial design, hard to erase, and easy to mistake for a standard inventory control tag. Of course, it makes no sense to track individual consumables, so I took them back to my Workshop station for tear-down. They turned out to be similar to a design that sees commercial use, but in tracking stolen money and narcotics payments. This particular model is most commonly used by Goodkind Banking." Kew paused for the inevitable grumbling about the damned Goodkinds.
Ace thanked Kew and asked, "Aside from Phase, who else would either regularly come in contact with large payouts, or have banking connections?"
Interface had placed a wager or two on finals. "The campus bookies are one option, but they usually deal in cash or electronic payment." Hazard may be a Mastermind, but she was easier on the eyes than Booker, Boxcars, Memo, or even Risk, and knowing that he placed an occasional, perfectly legal bet with the Mastermind annoyed A-Plus to no end.
"That brings us back to financial institutions, or people who'd be studying the institutions' security measures in order to defeat them."
Rez asked, "Why would Sir Wallace let the Masterminds - hey guys, I can see where this discussion is headed - have a crack at meddling in this assignment? It makes more sense for that to be a means to verify that we did check for bugs. As far as ties to the banking industry go, I'd be surprised if any of the 'Golden Kids' didn't have banking connections." Some day she might regret not looking into what Renshaw Millard Egerton was up to when he wasn't drunk - one train wreck at a time, boys.
Interface thought back to some of the tactics that Everheart and Bardue had used in the sims, "Or, he could have set it up so he can send someone after us, to see how we handle counter-intel measures."
A-plus: "If that is the case, we don't know who is being sent to intercept us, but we'd need to find that out soon."
Ace had already thought of that, "Kew, do we still have any active listening posts on Sir Wallace's preferred offices?"
"Ace, you know that both Westmont and Hagarty have to be getting tired of sweeping their offices every time they see our faces, right?" Reach had been awake for some of the more bitter discussions of that topic.
"Out in the real world, you have to keep a close eye on who you do business with. This is just part of that training."
Kew said, "In Schuster Hall, and also the Laird Hall facilities where she trains Fey in martial arts. I've yet to get something into the Mystical Arts offices and have the equipment stay working. On the other hand, meeting with an agent there would cut down on the pool of available talent. Nex, for example, wouldn't be able to find the door to the place."
"Nex wouldn't be able to find quite a few things," Interface drawled.
"If Westmont's going to do something like that, I'd expect it tomorrow or Monday. Having a meeting with someone he normally doesn't associate with on the weekend would look suspicious. But, if he assumed we wouldn't be watching, that would be the best time for a meeting."
Kew sighed, "Keep monitoring through Monday. Yep. I got it."
Ace nodded at that, "Also, there's the matter that every one of us has been assigned three of the others. That only makes sense if the goal is to keep us chasing our own tails."
"Yeah, usually it's just She-Beast running us in circles."
Holdout sighed, "We didn't need the reminder, Randy. So, is there a possibility that whoever he calls in is getting the actual mission?" He continued, "That puts the more difficult task, counter-intelligence, on us. That might make more sense since we're the ones with training and assets, ."
"Or he could have meant for us to follow the assignments he handed out to us. Like any other teacher," Reach was getting a little irritated at the club's tendency to go tearing off on it's own chases. Rez silently made a mental note to stock up on headache medications.
Interface shrugged, "We do know each other, so it's not like we couldn't put together the backgrounds and share that out amongst ourselves. That leaves plenty of time to deal with any third-party action and still complete the assigned tasks. One thing you sophomores are going to learn real soon about the sims: unless otherwise directed every report is a group effort."
Ace decided they'd gotten as far as could be expected that night. "I say we give it until Monday, Tuesday at the latest to see if Westmont does bring someone else in. The rest of the assignment could wait, but let's prepare to pool our info next time. Any questions?"
To be fair, it did seem a reasonable plan if you routinely expected your supervisors to be screwing you over. With the information soon to be trickling in, Sir Wallace would soon have a good idea where and when best to call in his second contractor, not that he was screwing the Cadets over. The Spy Kidz themselves were passed masters at that trade.
Reach was still of the private opinion that she'd been given a rock.
Mads 'Metro' Jensen looked up from the mirror, convinced that scrying is fueled not by essence, but by sucking all the precious caffeine from the magician's limited body stores. Pretty much like debugging Java code documented in Esperanto. No one actually does that. We were just checking to see who's awake. Some people use Gjuha Shqipe instead.
"Hey, Thomas. You think this'll count towards our scrying homework?"
"I think I'll go out a limb and say no."
"Good thing I asked! Um... Why?"
"Because our homework assignment is on different alchemical traditions."
Thomas 'Valravn' Jensen risked taking a look at what his friend had managed to write down so far. He wished he hadn't.
"Pro tip: Writing 'Hakim Al-Feyez is a poopyhead' in ten different languages does not count for credit."
"Even if it's true?"
"Especially if it's true. He's the guest lecturer that assigned this homework."
"I... don't remember that."
"That was after your chair teleported 10m to the left. Without you. While you were leaning back in it instead of paying attention to class. For you, it was a mild concussion; for the rest of the class it was a Wednesday."
Breakfast, September 21, 2007, Crystal Hall
Between the late evening and early morning fog, and the high humidity the morning chill had a way of seeping into the bones if one weren't used to it. That suited Rez just fine. It encouraged more students, speedsters especially, to use the tunnels, leaving the walkway to the Crystal Hall much less crowded. That gave her time and space to plan the day ahead; the weekend ahead as long as her and Holdout's passes weren't denied. It didn't hurt that hot chocolate always tasted extra good on a cool morning.
Other things might also taste extra good on a cool morning, but having Andy for a roommate meant she couldn't expect Darren to have had much rest as she had. She wasn't always one for early-morning PDAs herself. The way some couples carried on, she prayed they'd managed to use mouthwash before showing up for breakfast. Oh well. At least she could use the time until the bee-eff dragged himself in to review her part in the Cadets' assignment. After that maybe she'd look online for the showing times of the movie he'd be taking her to see.
Based on her own notes, Rez was certain the observation targets weren't randomly assigned. For instance, not one of the people assigned her for their write-ups was on her list, and vice versa. If they went with Randy's suggestion, the odds were very good that they'd be handing Sir Wallace three copies of essentially the same seven dossiers. If she pulled that with her own parents she'd be lucky if they gave her one-third credit for an excellent set. If it were less than excellent, not even that much. She was tempted to do her own background checking anyway; she hadn't been raised to only put the minimum into her work. But what if one person put together three well-researched investigations, while the others didn't? Iterating the team through the prisoner's dilemma along those lines could get ugly. Seeing Darren looking around for her, she decided to shelve her concerns for now. On the other hand, there was no reason not to task her own search routines with the names she did have.
1140 AM, September 21, 2007, Schuster Hall
Factoring in the time required to arrive at his office from her last morning class, Sir Wallace Westmont was pleasantly surprised to hear his next independent contractor knocking at his door.
"You wanted to see me, Sir Wallace?
"Yes, Miss O'Brien, I did. Please have a seat." Westmont indicated one of the "guest" chairs in front of his desk, instead of the "uninvited/in trouble" chairs.
Alex couldn't think of anything she'd done that would rouse the ire of the British wizard (Yes, she did pay attention to who was tutoring the various Kimbettes. Not only could the knowledge ease her way onto the 'fixer' scene, but it annoyed the hell out of the Goodkind.) Given her former associations, she wouldn't bet the farm on this being a social call, either. For now, she opted to look as genuinely curious as she felt.
Westmont said,"As I understand it, you've taken an interest in the unofficial services market here at Whateley, and I believe I have a task at hand that not only are you well-suited for, but which may enhance your reputation among those elements on campus. That is, depending on how well you perform the task."
"Sir, I'm not interested in taking on anything illegal. That's a fast way for me to end up on streets where I'd rather not be found." Particularly Boston streets, but any place within a hundred miles of the Necromancer would do just horribly.
Westmont walked around his desk with a manila folder and a couple of slips of paper. Leaning against the desk, he looked down at the folder. Curiously, one slip of paper was visible to Alex. It read, 'The room is bugged. I need a White Rabbit. Are you game?' Curioser and curioser.
He said, "No. Not illegal. I do value my job here. This would be more along the lines of gathering information on some students that have come to the attention of certain staff members. As to myself and those I represent, let's just say they've gotten our attention as well."
What the hell. It could be fun, and if do pull a rabbit out of the hat, cred with the Mystical Arts Dept. is worth a pretty penny or two.
"That does sound like my sort of game. Is it open-ended, or more of a race against a deadline?"
The slip now read 'The greyhound that catches this rabbit is the loser. Still in?'
What was it, psychic paper?
'No, just a trick I picked up from Circe.'
Westmont said, "I'm afraid that this will need to be wrapped up within three weeks' time."
"Perfect! That still leaves time to shop for my Halloween Costume."
"Judging from last Halloween's events, you may want to invest in a well-armored costume."
'Not that some of the Spy Kidz don't play rough.'
"Not a problem. I can be a rough-and-tumble sort of gal at times, myself."
"Well then. I shan't keep you away from lunch any longer. Here is the target list, relevant information, how to reach your backup, etc."
'Your actual backup is Metro, a freshman in Hawthorne. Valravn can always find him if you can't. Like you, he's in Poe Cottage.'
"Very well, Sir Wallace. Thank you. I look forward to showing you what I have to offer."
"Have a good day, Miss O'Brien."
"I think I will!"
Alex had heard about the Spy Bratz (try saying that three times quickly) waylaying a disabled freshman after lunch a few weeks ago. What a class act. Not. For the time being, she could stash the docs back at her home away from homelessness in Poe until she had a chance to make a decoy copy of her own. Let them deal with Phase's contingencies for contingencies, again. On the way to the cottage, she had a feeling of being followed, but oops, none of the Secret Squirrelz had any business on that side of the campus.
It hurt her soul, it truly did, but she resolved to give Phase a (fabulous, natch) heads-up anyway. She grabbed one of Ayla's favorite noshes, and stuck a note where only Miss Perfect would find it after going into a snit-fueled inventory. Then she carefully mislaid the treat elsewhere in the fridge. Actually stealing from the hypersensitive foodie would have been low - she'd known enough kids in her old school who lived on restricted diets to know exactly how low. Annoying the foodie roomie without being a d-bag? That's just fair game.
A quick glance-and-memorize of the folder's contents was worth the price of admission. If they did take the bait, it would be criminal of her to not give the Kidz a good run of it. After that? Seekret Squirrelz versus those three matchups promised to be popcorn-and-scorecards worthy.
Not having much reason not to, and a crowd of hundreds of ravening teenagers to support the decision, Kew ('Emily Ann Quenton' back home. To the 'rents at least) grabbed a 'Devisor Special' from the Crystal Hall on the way from class down to her workspace. It's not that she was interested in hiding away from people. It was more of a matter of lunch-time being a good open time slot to get things done, or to just stare into space for a while, while organizing what needed to be done, and when, for her various projects. She could do that in the caf', in theory, but she could also just as easily be caught down-range of a food fight. She blended into a crowd more than well enough (around here anyway), no need to be bumped and jostled by people carrying food trays to remind her of that. Most of the people she knew outside the Intelligence Corps Cadets would either be down here in the Workshop tunnels, headed to or from here, or too busy to be interrupted just for social 'me' time.
It was almost sad the way that others saw the 'lack' of social interaction between herself and Rez as being some kind of girlish rivalry. Hadn't the boys, and some of the 'concerned citizens' for that matter, ever heard of this spiffy new thing called email? Not that they exchanged much email, but it was available for use if Rez ever did stop trying to elbow her out.
Kew noted that one or two of the Schuster hall recorders had logged a hefty bit of audio since she last checked. Might as well queue those up first while she checked email and started on her sandwich. In a bit of shock, she ran a quick-and-dirty comparison of the two files, trying out a correlation matrix as part of a low-pass filter. No sense losing more hearing straining over raw feeds when digital enhancement was an option.
She double-checked her transcription before sending out over the ICC comms, "Guys, Kew here. Sir Wallace just farmed out an assignment to, get this, Vamp. Any chance we can manage a physical interception before she stashes the files?"
Reach answered back, "This is Reach. I saw Vamp headed toward Poe a short while ago, while I was headed to lunch. If she's still Phase's roomie, trying to get any files out of that room's liable to be difficult."
"It's still early enough in the year that the freshmen won't have a good feel for who belongs or not. The trouble is that all the sophomores will know Vamp and Phase, whether they want to or not." Kew hoped that A-Plus' beef with Sahar wasn't transferring to Chaka and the rest of the Kimbettes. "We would still at least an image-caster, and to go in while both are in class."
Interface tagged in, "If we do have a 'caster and a voice modulator ready to go by then, I can afford to skip out on 4th period. Phase is our best shot unless someone else can mimic Vamp's Southie 'tude."
Ace concurred. Of course. He loved black bag ops more than a Dirty Harry fan should. "Kew, can you and Rez pull that off? If not, we'll need to wait until Monday. Word is that neither Phase nor Vamp is free to leave campus."
"That just means that Ayla'l have more time to help Adalie 'study' during the weekend," Reach was rather proud of helping that pairing come about, "Trouble is, if Ayla's not in, that means Vamp will be."
Kew knew for a fact that Rez was hoping to get a good start on the weekend with Holdout. Good thing facial expressions don't carry over voice comms. "There's barely half an hour left for Interface to go in. Let's not rush in?" She suggested wistfully.
Maybe, just maybe, instead of spending all her time listening to papers being shuffled, or whatever Sir Wallace does in his office, Kew would be able to get some of her own work done. Between checking the surveillance on the usual suspects, but that doesn't require real-time monitoring, so that's all good. She could even try to get some jogging in, so Hagarty the Evil would have less reason to ride her back. And the sooner that was over, the better. She didn't come to Whateley for a P.E. degree.
Ayla did find Alex's note later, but he was never ever going to admit how much it galled him that his roommate, the one from Hell should any ask, might have started filching his personal snacks after he had made it painstakingly clear, on multiple occasions, that the ex-villain-still-in-training could ask for their favorite foods to be added to Jody's resupply list. That really was not too much to ask.
He also hoped that the topic wouldn't come up before he and Adalie finished their French review, as it was Addy who had found the missing snack item and the explanatory note. The only thing worse than admitting he'd missed something that obvious to the other two, would be being pressed into recognizing in front of Addy that the irritating mutant roomie had used good sense in planning the tip-off.
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Bladedancer, Fey, and Boudacia must have chosen not to take notice of the boy lounging on a bench outside their Cottage while they worked on their Tai Chi Chuan. It could have been the antlers that tipped them off that he might be a fellow mutant. Or it could have been that he had the relative threat profile of a banana slug.
While Metro waited for Valravn to make his appearance outside the Cottage, he took a few moments for casual observations. You never know when it's going to come in handy to recognize the aura of someone in disguise. Or trying to suborn your team - which is good business; it just feels like foul play when on the receiving end. It's not like memorized astral signatures are hard to remember. Maybe he had run out of career before he ran out of memory? That's a cheerful thought.
In any case, the Intelligence Corps Cadets managed to have five psychics of one kind or another, but no magicians. Deficiency noted for review, the overlapping talents could mean that taking out one Cadet wouldn't necessarily cripple the team, in that area, but there still might be gaps in other areas that magician like him would typically handle. Detecting and bypassing wards, for example, although magical equipment or favors might substitute. That gives me an idea!
It wasn't the worst idea Mrs. Horton had heard so far, but it was only seven o'clock that particular the morning. As the conscious people available had tentatively agreed, one phase of the idea could be implemented before breakfast. She waited until Mads and Thomas were headed in the direction of food before dropping by to check on the work. She knocked on the door before opening it - she expected the same courtesy from her girls after all.
"I came by to make sure the boys hadn't snuck a prank, or worse, in. May I come in to check on things?"
The house mother didn't quite catch the panicked "Wait! Don't go ... in, yet." from down the hall before she walked into a painfully solid barrier.
Several profuse apologies, a hushed explanation or two, and some magical permissions tweaking later, Mrs. Norton was able to enter the room and see what the spell looked like from the inside. It would do what the boys said it would, although it wasn't exactly what they claimed it was.
'Yes, Bella? Oh. I see. If I recall correctly when the general topic came up, you were informed that both boys are sticklers for certain things, security being very high on the list.'
'I was also informed that they tested out as WIZ-1 mutants, the both of them.'
'How many chaos magicians does it take to light a candle?'
'"None. That's what light bulbs are for." Oh, dear. So the accidents and mishaps I've heard about?'
'Whatever essence is left over from masking his true aura and that glamor he projects, escapes to mangle probabilities around him. Like Eldritch, he never learned to hold essence but it's not in his nature to not draw it to him.'
'Yet each year the kids wonder why we don't teach Fae magic!'
'We should. Once they spend the requisite 18-20 hours of study, plus a trip to the burn ward, just to learn a simple light spell well enough to safely use it, the enthusiasm will dim.'
Kendall 'Beltane' or 'Belle' Forbes breezed her way into the Saturday lab session. Being a lab, the course instructor often [str]made[/str]let her Teaching Assistant start the sessions. "Good morning, ladies, gentlemen, and freshmen! I was happy to report to Dr. Tenent that all the lab homework assignments were turned in on time. I was less thrilled to report that one or two of the course's repeat customers chose to turn in a copy of last term's assignment. You know who you are.
Those difficulties aside, there were far too many of you who did not grasp the assignment itself: research three examples of enchantments that an average student in the class could create using the materials and time available to the class. By 'average student' we mean that if it's something that's only possible because of a special knack only one or two of you possess, you've missed the mark. I see a hand up. Yes, Mister Eccleston?"
"Isn't that a bit subjective? What if it's something that cannot be accomplished because of one or two students', *ahem*, deficiencies?" The student turned to shoot a glare at a back corner of the lab classroom.
Beltane replied, "I assure you that the staff have a fairly good idea of which students actually have such deficiencies. However, there is a modicum of subjectivity involved, and I'm sure some of you planned to take a head start. That's why, for the next two weeks, each of you will be working on an enchantment written up by one of your fellow students. Miss Baker, if you will hand the assignments out as marked? Mister Jensen? If I may have a word in private?"
The TA led the freshman magic student over to a small lounge that was private enough for a brief discussion without raising too many eyebrows.
"First things first - you're not in trouble over the assignment. What I and Doctor Tenent are curious about is the reasoning behind your three choices."
Mads 'Metro' Jensen led off with, "The ink and brush set, while time-consuming, is time well-spent, don't you think? Sure, there are good products available, but this way you know exactly what you're starting with."
Seeing the other's nod, he continued, "The enchanted origami crane uses a basic essence-harvesting spell, a reliquary spell, and a couple of the simplest animations to fold the paper, or to refold it if it is crushed. Um, we've got a couple of kids in Hawthorne who don't get to play with delicate or pretty things anymore."
"I think I can understand that. What about the last one?"
"The witch's hat. Someone had mentioned a trio of the junior high kids, and they, and it, I, um."
"Wait. How about if I get Dr. Tenent? Please? I do think she'd like to hear this too."
"Here already? huh. Before Thomas and I came here, for a short time I had a job as a stock clerk at the local Pentacles outlet. You wouldn't have heard of it, but a mid-tier occult supply retailer. Which is to say we kind of sucked. I was minding the front as best I could, dealing with one of the local college wankers trying to impress the lowly clerk and still weasel a discount. It had already been one of those days - the kind that starts with an AM funeral that I'm still not sure wasn't my fault. At least my super, Adria, was kind enough to get him off my case.
The next customers were a lady and a small girl, both dressed up as cartoon witches. Obviously, they were mother and daughter. The little girl, she was so frail. Nonetheless, they seemed to have been having a good time, but then the girl's 'witch hat' - that's just what she called it - got damaged along the way. So the two had come in see if there was an inexpensive patch kit or something. All they wanted in the world, of all left that they could have, was just one thing repaired. That's not too much to ask, is it?"
"Good afternoon, ladies! And what can I do for the two of you today?" Pleasepleaseplease don't ask for healing, or St. Jude medallions, or ...
"Hello!" the girl replied, "I'm Sarah. This is my Mommy!"
"Tiffany Williams. Pleased to meet you. Why don't you tell the," she paused long enough for the taller boy who'd walked up to point to the shorter: "Mads here's the employee. I'm just here checking him out - checking on him. Eh, you can call me Thomas."
"That's alright, Thomas. I was your age once upon a time. So, honey, could you tell Mads what it is you need?"
"My witch hat's come apart here," she pointed, "and here. And I need to have it all fixed so I can go trick or treating." The young girl practically beamed at the prospect of collecting sweets.
It was July.
And Halloween was never coming again.
Mads looked up in thought, fighting back his own memories of antiseptics and blood that he knew were nowhere around here, not today. Not today.
"Sarah, you're in luck!" Mrs. Williams wasn't looking like she was feeling any better than Mads, but he went with "We happen to be running a promotion on magical goods repairs. I'd say that calls for black silk thread, don't you?"
"Yeah! But is silk good for witch hats?"
"The very best. By ancient tradition, silk is one of the paramount fabrics used by witches, mages, and sorcerors. Even Wizards! Why don't the two of you sit here and rest a bit, while I get the materials we need."
'Thomas' leaned over to whisper, "Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?"
Mads wasn't having it. "How about you tell Mrs. Williams that her girl won't ever know the difference, while I grab a needle and the imported thread?" Thomas had the grace to blanch a whiter shade or ten of pale, "No. I think it best not to upset her." A bit louder, "Mrs. Williams, would you like some coffee? I think I know where the staff hide the good pot."
Not much later, Ms Chen, College Boy (who wasn't going to cheap out after escalating his problems to the manager) and the rest were witnesses to the Pentacles First Annual Expert Repair to Witches' Hats Promotion, in progress. Surprisingly, the tow-headed teen actually knew how to sew by hand. His partner in crime mourned the lack of a camera for the blackmail footage.
Then, somehow, the billing just wouldn't go through. "We haven't run diagnostics on the systems as frequently as we should. Oh, well. Nothing for it but to comp the price," Ms Chen explained. (By which she really meant, 'Mads Gunnison, what did you do to the system?' 'Who, me? I'm just a kid!')
As mother and daughter headed out for a final chance at trick-or-treating together at the regional hospital, Sarah turned back and tackle-hugged a very surprised clerk. "Mister Madsy? There was this pretty red-haired lady who told me you could fix my witch hat, and she was right! Thanks! She also said to tell you that she's very sorry, but you and your friend have a long trip ahead of you too."
"Oof!" She wasn't that heavy, but the boy had a younger brother, so he knew how to play the tacklehug game, "If, When, you see her again, tell her thank you for all of us."
Back in the present
"Working on the assignment, my mind kept going back to that, and wondering if there weren't more I could have done. A few electronics synced up with heart rate and respiration, maybe some enchantments to visually reflect to her mother and friends how very happy she was just to be a little kid and not surrounded by machines and tile and, and I just don't know."
The boy let his head hang down, for a long moment dwelling in that memory.
It was Beltane who gently asked, "How long?" How long have you spent in a ward, waiting and wondering how much longer?
From the doorway, Thomas spoke up. "It was almost six months before his doctors would clear him to learn how to walk again. We're still working on the rest. August was ... a setback. You were discussing Sarah?"
Mads got out a raspy, "Yeah"
Dr. Tenent stood up. "I suspect the class is ready to revolt by now. Boys, why don't you give me and Belle five to get everyone settled again?"
Thomas sat down next to Mads and put his arm around him. Sometimes it's the simplest magics that are needed. "We can do that. Thank you for hearing him out."
"That's part of what teaching is about. And Mads?"
"I would personally appreciate it if you could make one or two of those 'witch hats' for the Clinic. Halloween is a big deal for most Whateley students, but you know as well as I do that there's always someone shut in for treatment. It would mean a lot, to let them know that someone does care."
A few minutes later, an appropriately abashed magician was steered back to his lab station by his best friend after it had taken both the TA and the course instructor to chew him out. Their classmates' feeling of schadenfreude did not last long.
"Hej, Thomas. Whadja get?"
*sigh* "A set of rune tiles. Just what I've always wanted: having to decipher your handwriting in order to make a set of those things," Mads friend and lab partner groaned.
"What's wrong with runes? They can be used for casting as well as divination."
"If you have to ask the question, you don't remember some things I don't want you to remember."
"Fine. What did you get assigned?"
"A reliquary! Doesn't say anything about storage capacity, though."
"Let me see the instructions."
"I'm guessing that it will melt down before it explodes from an overcharge."
"Kind of like the thermite reaction? Cool!"
For the next couple of weeks, lab stations furthest away from Metro's would be at a premium.
After a couple of hours, redrafting layouts, checking out materials, drafting rough blanks, double- and triple- checking symbols, most of the class was either at a stopping point in construction or planning trips to the Library in hopes of catching up. Predictably, a few students would still be wrestling with their pride the following week, over one "impossible" step or another - the catch being that all they'd need to have done was to ask for help from a student in a similar situation that needed their help.
For this class, some of the arrogant little nonces would be needing access to elemental lightning or fire. One or two assignments would require access to even more exotic energies or materials that Belle surmised certain students like Voodude could access. After all, one of the hallmarks of a great prankster is a keen eye for reading others' reactions. Thus, she knew not to snoop when one of her students practically dragged another into an unused room to continue a 'discussion'.
Thomas was a bit confused by the sudden need for privacy after (as far as he could tell) over two hours of the other boy's emotional slow burn. "Mads, this has got to be the least appropriate time and place."
"Not funny, T."
"Then what is this about?" Thomas asked
"I want you to tell me what in all the various misbegotten hells is going on?"
Thomas could see flames flickering behind Mads' eyes - rarely a good sign. "With what?"
Mads stepped right into Thomas' personal space, head up, still looking straight into the other's eyes. "With the rune set. Let's start with that. I am part fucked-up Dane, after all. Is that what you resent?"
Taking it personally. Of course. Because bad things can never, ever, be anyone else's fault but yours. "I don't resent a single fucking thing about you. You can get that through your head, right now!"
"Then exactly what is it that I don't remember doing that has you so pissed off?"
"If I tell you, you'll only end up finding a way to make it happen again. To you. Don't give me that look, Mads. I know you, better than you think. Please let this go."
Mads looked away, "Don' wanna. I just know this is going to get you hurt."
It's amazing how loud an electric clock can 'tick' when you're waiting to find out whether the other person is going to calm down and make an attempt at compromise, or completely fly off the handle.
"For now. Maybe."
Thomas tilted his head down, forehead to forehead, "That's all I'm asking."
"I still don't like it."
"Come on, you can always add lunch to your list of things you don't like."
A list topped with seeing you, Mama, or Lars hurt. Including now. And it's my fault again. Why can't the people I care for let me protect them, for a change? "Might as well, then."
Long ago, and far from Whateley Academy
A pair of fraternal twins or two brothers close enough in age, one light-haired, one dark. The light-haired one hugs close, and kisses the forehead of, the other.
Boys being boys, he then mock-sternly lectures his brother, "That's a very special seidhr spell Lady Mother taught me. It will protect you from harm."
Men hvem beskytter dig, min broder? wonders the other, as he alone hears a mournful wolf's howl in the distance.
("But who protects you, my brother?")
Having missed the timing needed to beat the lunch rush, Thomas set a leisurely pace that Mads trudged along with. Trudging along giving someone else the silent treatment gets boring quickly, so it wasn't long before Metro was checking Security's local sensors as a 'sensible security precaution'. He even checked a couple of 'known or suspected wiretap or drone relay channels'. Not being in a rush to get to lunch and have other folks decide they needed to enquire as to his mood, he suggested they check out a couple of sensors that seemed dodgy. As they approached the area, Mads noticed that signal-to-noise was dropping badly. A jammer, probably directional or it would have caught everybody's attention.
"Hey, Thomas ..."
"I know the drill. I don't recall it being a 'green flag' day."
Mads tapped Thomas on the shoulder, saying "Gotcha covered, so to speak," as he cast an invisibility spell on him. Moving forward quietly, he was 'rewarded' with the opening lines for trouble.
"Look what we've found: another Poe freshie!"
"Probably one of Danny-boy's butt-buddies."
< Harassment, at least. Poe freshman is target >
Semi-adult voices, so we've probably got exemplars heading the Asshole Brigade. Not the only possibility, but best not to assume they aren't tough. Good. I'm still in the mood to burn some bullies down.
[ You need to back off on that anger. I didn't answer the summons to be killing children. ]
[ Some people need to be forcefully taught that playing with matches is dangerous. ]
[ Educational singeing doesn't bother me. IF justified. ]
"I don't know what you're talking about! All I'm trying to do is go to lunch."
Sounds like a teenager for real, so not 100% a winner on the genetic lottery.
"Aw, the little fairy's upset!"
"That's OK. He can still give kitty-boy our message from the hospital."
< Make that assault, and needing backup. Hardwyrd? >
< Looks like him. Got it. At Kane. You can drop the invisibility. >
Mads moved forward before the kid's expression gave his position away. "Hey, Hardwyrd! Long time, no see!" Pretext needed. With a codename like that? "I've been meaning to hit you up for Wednesday's electronics lecture notes."
Centurion sneered, "Must be our lucky day. Two fairies to get rid of." Lovely. He's branching out on his vendetta.
"Two? Nope. He's not fae, but I am." Mads smirked, "Don't they go over that in Powers Theory? Anyway, in the interest of keeping the peace ..."
"You'll be keeping something, brat. It won't be peace."
"Maybe once we shut you up, we will." Manifesting a blade, so that must be Switchblade.
On the other hand designating me a target just flagged the other ambushers to one of my spells.
< Centurion, Switchblade, one behind me, jammer's offside. >
Mads soothed, "Now, now, fellows. You really don't want to be threatening Security."
"Security ain't coming. Those cameras," Centurion pointed, "ain't recording nothing."
"That's not quite what I meant. I do work for Security, and I'm asking you all to stand down before there's" is about as far as the auxiliary got before he was charged from behind. Mads' throw converted Dump Truck's headlong rush into a feet-first plant into Centurion. Switchblade's slash across the boy's right side was barely stopped by his body armor. Just great, still flanked. At least it buys time for Hardwyrd to bolt, or do whatever freshman devisors do.
"... an incident. "
[ Aura? ]
[ For close-in fighting? I'm good with that. ]
Metro did his best to duck the next slash, but mis-calculated his true height. He saw stars as Switchblade's manifested knife connected with one of his antlers, and briefly stuck. His wasn't the only miscalculation. As Metro turned into the other fighter, Switch Hitter tried to use his off-hand to push against his face. By the time the boy's nervous system registered something other than adrenaline, he'd not only burned both hands, but completed a 400-volt circuit as his sweaty hand brushed the other antler. To someone like Thomas, that sort of tickles. Other folks? Well, at least he didn't scream into his opponent's ears.
No, that was Hardwyrd yelling at Metro to look out. Or maybe it was more along the lines of "OMG, he's literally on fire!"
The turn was supposed to allow Metro to use a right-hand draw to pull his backup pistol. What it really accomplished was to give time for Centurion to tackle him. Grapples can make it hard to draw weapons, even if grappling a burning man is a bad idea.
[ I've got this one. Put the others down. ]
A burst of taser shots at the still-hidden person operating the jammer managed to tag someone. A hasty stunbolt caught the Dumpster in the face.
"No, Centurion. Don't get up. Just put your hands out in front of you where I can see them. Switchblade, that goes for you too. And Hardwyrd?"
"Hands in the air, Interface. Good image inducer, but if Hardwyrd is the least bit indisposed when we check on him, you're in one hell of a lot of trouble."
Thanks to his regeneration, Centurion only had to deal with some temporary pain. His buddy was both less fireproof and less lucky. Metro made sure that more than one person in the Clinic's waiting room heard 'Switch Hitter' more often than 'Switchblade'. That, however, was his only fun: catching a knife with an antler hurt. A nurse disinfecting the cut velvet with iodine hurt something unholy.
Getting a lecture from Dr. Tenent on landing himself once more in the Clinic made his head ache in another way. Being scheduled for additional powers testing didn't alleviate that. The Chief's lecture on being a bit more pro-active on calling for backup, and by the way you need to fill out multiple incident reports for this one, made certain of an extended headache.
'I might have known to expect something like this if I had more information on the various on-campus feuds, training teams, and relationships in general, beyond the one or two staring me in the face,' Metro realized. Of course the Chief thought that was a Good Idea that he could start on, Right Now, in fact. Do not pass 'Go'. Do not get to spend extra time bugging Thomas when he's trying to study.
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"Monday, Monday, can't trust that day;
Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way.
Oh, Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be.
Oh, Monday, Monday, how could you leave and not take me?"
-- John Edmund Andrew Phillips, "Monday, Monday"
Monday Morning, September 24, 2007, Melville Cottage
As much as Geneviève 'Spark' Etincelle enjoyed most of her classes, at least those on the 'tech' track, there was little to love about waking up on a Monday morning to get ready to attend them. She reached over to silence her alarm clock as quickly as an Exemplar could without smashing it, snoozing it for another quarter hour. A few more minutes: enough for a warm snuggle in her roommate and lover's arms. A light scratching against the pillowcase as she leaned back warned her that Harley, now Harlan, would be sleeping in another room for the next day or so. How did that old British pop song go? "I hate Mondays"?
Waking up as a boy, with the fuzzy-headedness that came and went with it, left Harlan Sawyer in full agreement with the anti-Monday sentiment. Bad enough that over the weekend Ace had conned Interface into sneaking into Poe, managing to get him picked up by Security, but the overnight gender change just added insult to injury. Dammit. Even when nothing happened, he still liked cuddling up with Jenny! He figured that injuries to GPA and reputation were the next insults due the Intelligence Cadet Corps: the list obtained from Vamp and Phase's room named Chaka, Cheese, and Aquerna as the targets. It would be difficult to come up with a list of students less like the three he'd been tasked with; nor one more likely to make them all look like chumps and bullies for investigating them.
For now, nothing to do but tidy up here, then head over to the room he'd be sharing with Thiago for the next few days.
Kenya 'Rez' McAllen barely noticed one of the Spy Kidz' occasional thorns in the proverbial side, trudging out the cafeteria doors as she made her own way in. After all, it's not like he had to wade through the usual flood of rumors and hearsay, on top of classes, that she and the others had signed themselves up for. Speaking of which, she decided to wait until after the caffeine hit her bloodstream before checking her email. Thus she was awake enough to not add her opinions on the planning and execution of the op against Vamp. No one likes Monday Morning quarterbacking, and the 'I need to talk to Zenith about the upcoming Team Phoenix sim runs' excuse seemed to have worked better than she would have expected.
On the other hand, maybe she could use a set of filters to summarize threaded messages coming to her inbox? Stripping all the irrelevant noise should cut out at least half of Ace's usual contributions. After that, all she had to do was figure out how the Cadets could investigate one of the few friends she had at the school, without costing her that friendship. She hoped that Darren and Harley would back her up on the idea of not interrogating the martial artist like some kind of common criminal.
"... and that brings us to the 50-minute mark on September 24th, session 4, subject Metro. Note that staff do not appear to be developing a tolerance to the subject's entropic field effects." Turning off the recording, Dr. Hewley realized that it was close enough to noon to shoo the student away for a [str]break from him[/str] lunch break. "Metro? I think that that will be all for the physical testing today. Why don't you go ahead and get some lunch? We can pick back up at 1 o'clock down in Lab R."
"I thought magic testing was also being scheduled for today?"
"It is. We're hoping that the equipment in Lab R can identify what, if anything, other than magic can explain that feeling of unease that most people feel around you. There's also an alarming mishap rate documented in your medical records, which could be an uncontrolled warping effect."
"Not psi-based, then?", the boy asked.
Dr. Hewley replied, "Everyone in that testing section called in sick today. Some of them even put in their requests last week. Thus that may be pended for now, based on today's results."
"Retaliation against testing staff, even indirect, is frowned upon. Also, your magic testing will be carried out directly by the Mystic Arts Department. That's at 2 o'clock, sharp. You'll be meeting in Circe's office, so do be on time."
Metro smiled, "Got it. Slow roasting over an open fire by a department head."
"I wouldn't recommend repeating that in front of her. By all indications, she's the genuine article."
"No worries either way, Doc, but thanks for the warning!"
Lunch, Crystal Hall, Euro-Promotional League table
The "late" end to the powers testing (According to rumor, the researchers usually carry on through lunch) meant that Nate was already at the vents, so Metro guessed at the crowding, set a mental timer for allowable stay time, and headed up to the mezzanine level. A little bit more testing was needed to see if he could judge others' exposure limit by how fast Kismet morphed into a crabby ... person. Unknown to Mads, there were no fewer than half a dozen club members who appreciated his ability to drive Korrende Mitterand away just by existing, but most were too polite to ever say such a thing in the presence of either student.
At least there were other people he could torment in return. "Harlan, how's it going? You know, you'd look a lot cuter with a shorter haircut. Number four, off the collar, and are there ears under that mop?"
"Ha, ha. Then y'all can laugh at me when I turn back and start looking like G.I. Jane." That's right, Harlan 'Reach' Sawyer was one of the few heterosexual people Mads knew who moped about being a member of the appropriate sex for his girlfriend. Other than Ayla.
"What's got you so chipper today, anyway?" To Harlan's eye the kid looked like he'd been run through the wringer a time or two.
"Mon, dieu! They actually stopped to let you eat a meal?" Geneviève really was a sweetheart.
Metro scowled, while Valravn tried to keep from chuckling, "No, they stopped to get rid of me." He gave his 'special meals' meal-pack a dirty look, "Maybe they're trying to fatten me up for Thanksgiving?" Looking over at Charge and Phase, he spoke up a bit, "Hey, Ayla? They gave me enough to feed an extra one or two people. Wanna try some?"
Phase managed to maintain his royal cool, while still turning pale at some of the labels he recognized, "I think I shall forego that particular pleasure. As I understand it, the cafeteria intends to be tracking your consumption. Would you want them preparing even more for you for each meal?"
"Er, no. I still haven't had the heart to ask the chefs precisely which species of whale they use."
Did someone shine a green light on the table?
Valravn angled his head to observe the offending package closer, "Nope. Looks like they started using walrus. I guess we now know how John Lennon really died."
"That's nice," Metro yawned, wincing a little as his right side stretched, "Who's John Lennon?"
Thomas went for the extra point, "Aaaaand they must have upped the arsenic - there's garlic on your breath." Reach actually leaned away from Mads after that comment. Score!
"The testers 'ave not tired you out too much, 'ave they?"
"No. I put a few extra hours in on the job, and then I got caught up working on my enchantment assignment and missed out on some sleep."
"The same happens all the time to devisors like myself. Luckily, I 'ave 'Arley to look out for me when I get too much caught up in my work." Spark wasn't holding on to Reach's arm possessively, not at all.
Valravn asked, "What's the problem? I thought you had it all laid out for Saturday's lab?"
"I need to have the folding sequence on the origami worked out exactly right before mapping out which animation glyphs belong where. I want it all to happen smoothly, too. Then, I can work on the layout for essence uptake and storage."
Watching the discussion veer a little too closely into devisor-land, Reach was feeling less than sympathetic, "At least y'all don't have surveillance assignments on top of your homework, like we do."
"Heh. There is that." Mads raised an eyebrow, "Other than this Lennon dude, anyone I know, or will end up having to know?"
"That's ICC business, so I can't say. You should know that by now."
"Let me rephrase that. Sir Wallace is still advisor, right?" The other boy nodded. That much was 'public knowledge.' "Is it someone that Sir Wallace assigned you to surveil, or a group of people your group's chosen to bird-dog instead? And by 'your group', I mean Ace." The last bit was almost a snarl. Not hard to sell when one is chowing down on poisoned ground mystery meat.
"I'd still rather not discuss the individuals."
"So, Ace it is. "
"I didn't say that!"
"You sooooo wanted to, though. All the times you all go haring off to harass people for no good reason makes it a matter for Security, sooner or later. By the way, where'd Phase and Charge go? Phase'd be a good one to ask for info, from what I've heard."
Spark swallowed some water, "They left after you started talking about eating whales and John Lennon."
"I couldn't afford whatever he'd charge, anyways." Reach was starting to look a bit dejected.
"Reach, the only way to learn the 'going rate' is if you ask. For all you know, it could just be a favor or service."
Valravn interjected, "Bumping off his roommate in their sleep might put you in his good graces. As long as it doesn't come back on him."
Reach *twitched* at the mention of the roommate. So. The black bag job against Vamp was considered successful, and they're most likely acting on that without further vetting. Great. The Dickinson girls named should have at least set off some warning bells.
"Apart from that cheery prospect from the Poe Lunatic Asylum, you can still ask your friends for help, yeah?"
"I know. B'sides, it's not like Sir Wallace is following them around himself to double-check your work." Metro chuckled, "Unless he is." The smile slid back off the boy's face as he looked down at a meal portion that wasn't getting smaller by itself. Nope. Experimental tapping didn't help. "Maybe I can get this all down before testing starts back up if I walk around some. Later!"
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Monday Afternoon, September 24, 2007, Kirby Hall
Laying aside her divination tools, Circe took time to reflect on what they may have meant to convey. Given her environment, one had to discount the over-representation of trumps in the layout. Many of the students here were hoping to model themselves after heroic, villainous, or godly archetypes (certain Olympians notwithstanding). As such, the nuances that the four suits offered had far less appeal.
Then there was the student she'd agreed to evaluate. It was tempting to blame the discrepancies amidst his initial Wizard 1 rating and subsequent events on Hakim's focus on alchemy. Or perhaps a personality clash was at fault: the two got along only slightly better than Caitlin and Elyzia. At least they sniped at each other in the same gutter dialect of Arabic. As head of the department, she probably should do something about that, but it was just too entertaining to have a kid who looks that much like the older boy from "Nanny McPhee" cursing like a Cairene cabbie, with Tourette's. Besides, his allergy to orichalcum had been prominently noted in his files. A metal beloved of the Atlanteans, normally only a bane to the descendants of monsters and gods or the foulest of bindings; none of which were strangers to said Atlanteans.
Perhaps Circe had asked the wrong questions.
Near Djúra-bý, 912 CE
The young man looked up from his work at cutting a felled tree to suitable sizes. Some for kindling, some for shaping and carving, some rough-split for building, a goodly amount past that to ward off winter's chill or to cook a meal if supplies laid aside suffice. If supplies didn't suffice, then services would serve as well. Narfi Halfdan wiped the sweat from his brow out of his eyes. For all the tales he'd been told, and all the times he looked up at the heavens, the closest he'd come to divining the future from the pattern of clouds was to avoid the rain already falling down on his head!
He'd listened as ravens spoke of snows come early this season: at least the towns close to the coast might be spared some of his distant kinsmen's raids. That could also mean that Vali's services as a sell-sword might not be so highly valued. Best lay in more of the better wood for carving and other items the young man could sell instead. Their croft was small and isolated, limited to what the two men could hold and maintain. Nary a maiden nor even a still-fertile widow favored either of them with so much as a glance, killing any hope for strong sons and daughters to come along and help with the work. Work that wouldn't get done standing around and woolgathering.
Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
One of the many advantages to be had from technology was the ease by which many persons could now be contacted. One of the disadvantages was the ease by which one could now be contacted by those in dire need of being strung up by their heels. With razor wire. It almost could go without saying that the Greek sorceress had a special incantation reserved for telemarketers not comprehending that 'Do Not Call' means Do NOT Call. Dialing a rarely-used sequence of numbers, she was rewarded with:
"What has my father done this time?"
"I'm in good health as well, thank you for asking."
"Circe, you never call this number without a very good reason, or a very bad one, both of which have a bad habit of involving my father."
"Don't we all have embarrassing relatives here and there?"
"Thank you, but I must refuse the offer."
"You can't fault me for trying. So, still teaching at Sky High?"
"Actually, I am calling with regard to one of our more high-spirited students."
"In which case, could you please convey to the sociopathic twit that no, she will not be using MY name professionally?"
"I have it on very good authority that Marvel Entertainment's lawyers will be quite happy to disabuse her of the usage."
"I can well imagine. Even I receive a C&D letter every other year. One of these days, I just might invite the motherless harpies for a meeting. So, if not her, who's the miserable sod in question? If he's destined to be my guest, it's possible I'll be able to answer some of your questions or complaints."
"Perhaps. The principal question is exactly who Mads Christian Gunnison is. That's what he claims as his birth name, although he's an exact genetic match for the missing Mathias Møller, or Count Mathias af Rosenborg. There was also something on his application about a Shadowsfell March address that we haven't yet verified."
"Shadowsfell. Lovely place. I'm guessing from the names he's Danish or part-Danish?"
"Yes. So you can guess why I might be contacting you."
"Indeed. That ... sounds like quite the character. If I were to hazard a guess from your description, I'd say he's maybe a couple of inches taller than you, probably looks too young for a high school student, has an inordinate fondness for ordnance and munitions for a spell-caster, maybe needs to work on his Danish?"
"Yes, he does. For now, his Arabic is more colorfully expressive. Minimal competence in French, which is odd when considering the hints he's dropped about a cousin in Guinee."
"Of course. Oh. Here's a wild guess: he's very *ahem* attached to an air spirit. Because committing to things like pacts to elemental spirits always make perfect sense."
Circe smiled at the sarcasm, "I forgot to mention the antlers, although I've heard he insists on calling them horns."
"He was brought here to our trauma center in early August, by a Deputy Sheriff Wednesday, with a stab wound caused by a Mythos-tainted dagger. Long story short, treatment for the wound required triggering what could best be called a 'burnout', resulting in a number of physical changes. Hence, possibly, the antlers. One of his counselors blithely suggested that they may have been caused by imprinting on a parental figure. I've resolved to wait until finals week to arrange for said student to see 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' - immediately before one of their counseling sessions."
"May I say up front that that's cruel and unusual? I heartily approve. As to the rest, first, I categorically deny that I have ever worn the ridiculous headdress that I've been depicted as wearing. Second, Deputy Sheriff Wednesday? Please tell me you are joking."
"I thought it more odd than humorous myself."
"I notice that you've said nothing more about the air spirit."
"He's also enrolled as a student, and has chosen the codename 'Valravn'."
"Why am I not surprised?"
"Then you do know the students, or at least of the students?"
"I know of two souls that have been playing variations off the old alchemical marriage/sacred twin archetypes for a long, long time. In particular, the cautionary story of a certain half-Dane seidhr-worker murdered by a Úlfheðinn closer to him than a brother has been reworked and embroidered enough times that the two would act as a grounding rod for magics based on certain sagas. However, those two are NOT supposed to be on your plane."
"May there have been some meddling?"
"Knowing my father and my uncle, I wouldn't put that past either of those two conniving bastards. Pro tip: keep them far, far away from your love life."
"Hela, they cannot be any worse than the Olympians."
"Circe, how closely are you related to Pegasus? Not Bellerophon, the horse, Pegasus."
"Point taken. Is there any chance that the boys know what has been done?"
"One of them must suspect something if he's calling himself a valraven. The other? No. Not at all."
"One final question before I have to get ready for running some tests. Did Gunnison have an active faerie glamor when you've met? It's reminiscent of a Sidhe glamor, but in his case being around him for any length of time is much like walking through the aftermath of battle."
"In the old days, that might be considered an advantage."
"The world was a different place in our youth."
"Yes it was. If we're talking about the same person, in this incarnation his British ancestry takes after one or more daoine sidhe bloodlines, not too different from myrkálfar. Hence the ties to a certain Seelie Court the schmuck never should have gotten mixed up with. Again, that's yet another reason they should not be on your plane. No, what you describe is not at all normal for a nix, the Each-Uisge, even one of the Ghede."
"If we find out more, should we keep you informed?"
"Please. I do try to maintain cordial relationships with my half-sibs' families, even Sleippy's."
"I've wondered how your father managed that."
"WE'RE still at a loss to explain Mr. Seahorse. We just make sure to send the tackiest Mothers' Day cards we can find."
Near Djúra-bý, 912 CE
At first, Vali Wulfhereson only attended the Sabbath services because his hosts in town did so. There was no harm to be had in hearing their little fathers preach. Narfi didn't place much stock in the priests' tales of a murdered god reborn, but even he would not deny the possibility. As the winter drew on, he did seem more distant as Vali's trips into town more often coincided with the seventh-day celebration - the short days and heavy snows favoring him staying in town instead of returning before sunset.
There was also Æscwen to think about. She seemed to favor Vali, having heard of his prowess in battle. That the prowess came as much from Odin's gift of the wolf's fury as it did his skills seemed to have been skipped over as unimportant. However, neither she nor her family had any more interest in finding a match for his lifelong friend and companion than any others in the neighboring thorps had. After one sermon that seemed squarely aimed at Narfi - although many of those nodding and agreeing had made the trip to request a seeing or interpret other omens or dreams, some more than once! - Vali ended up drinking too much ale and sleeping with the other animals. Setting out early the next morning, his head was hurting as much as his pride. He resolved to have a discussion with Narfi about coming between him and the woman he'd come to think of as a suitable wife. While they were at it, a few words about holding on to phantom gods and demonic perversions was a long time coming as well.
That night, few were able to rest a full night for the howling of wolves in the valley upland
Only two days later, Vali brought a pack of his belongings and other goods into town. He confessed his sins to the priest whose sermon on personal purity of body and soul had opened his eyes to the multitude of sins the former Úlfheðinn had grown accustomed to. By springtime Wealh was wed to Æscwen. In time, they removed themselves to an abandoned farmstead which they and their children would repair, maintain, and extend.
No mention of the seidhr-worker said to have lived in the area, though there was a story told by a woodsman from a neighboring town, of coming upon the weathered corpse of a man who had been bound to a crude altar of stone. Bound by his own entrails by the look of it, dried and weather-burnt until the bloody horror resembled rusted iron bands. He and his sons gave the poor bastard as good a burial as they could, knowing he'd died a violent and unclean death.
Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
At the knock on her office door, the chair of Whateley Academy's Mystic Arts Department called out "Come in, Ayla."
Ayla walked in to the office that was becoming a fixture of her education. "Didaskaleh, I was given to understand there is some task which you wanted me to observe or take part in?"
Circe motioned Ayla to a seat near her desk.
"As my apprentice, yes. You will be observing powers evaluation testing of one of your freshman classmates. I will expect you to provide your own conclusions when we meet again next Sunday. The student is expected to be here at 2 PM."
"Is there anything I need to know about the student ahead of time?"
Circe's eyes danced in amusement, "Only that the initial powers testing assessment seems to have been in error, and that his identity is in doubt. It is possible that the student is much further away from home than his citizenship suggests. There exists evidence for and against both the assessment and the student's origin."
"That sounds like one or more illusions, if not delusions, are in play."
"Be wary of such distinctions, Miss Goodkind. There can be instances - aside from the infamous 'Big Lie' - in which not only may objective reality be less compelling than 'mere' illusions or delusions, but also less true." Circe stopped to think about which direction to take the lesson at hand, "At our next session I shall have a list of popular works that you may find interesting in that regard."
"I look forward to it."
Norþworþig, Candlemas, 926 CE
To Wealh and Æscwen as they lit the evening's candles, it seemed as if they'd prayed three days non-stop for little Ælfred's fever to break. Or if, heaven forbid, it weren't Heaven's will that he live, then a measure of ease in his passing. A stray morbid thought nosed its way into the anguished father's mind. It was almost as if he could hear Narfi mentioning that many illnesses, like spells, get three chances to run their course. He would have known if there were a ready cure, or failing that - and my how that man hated to fail at that - would have known the old songs to comfort the dying and their loved ones. At those unwelcome memories the aging warrior broke down and prayed that anyone who'd yet listen to a sinner such as him take pity on the child and not visit his sire's sins upon an innocent.
The grieving family scarce took note of the distant barking of hounds scenting a prey that had gone to ground, nor later of the sound of iron-shod hooves coming up the road toward the little farmhold. They did hear voices raised in argument just outside their door, but given the uncertain state of affairs with first Æthelflæd of Mercia and now Æthelstan of Wessex contending for control, the wisest course for action was to stay as they were and not venture out into the cold, still night. Instead, they kept to their vigil. The argument ceased without progressing to the cries of battle, although it would be an agonizing wait before the horse and hounds could be heard riding off.
In the morning, they found Ælfred sleeping quietly. His forehead was cooler to the touch, though it would be a while yet before full health could return. His parents thanked Providence for the miracle.
Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Promptly at 2 PM, a knock on the office door announced the latest (but not late!) arrival. The student was neatly attired in the Whateley Academy uniform save for detailing that hinted at Cecilia Rogers' expertise. Military-styled sandy-blond hair, clunky glasses, hazel-green eyes, roughly Ayla's own height and weight, along with the marked-down apparent age that went with the size - the only thing truly remarkable about his appearance was that his skin tone looked healthier than Phase remembered from the occasional lunch or evening meal.
"Ma'am? Mads Jensen. Codename, Metro? I'm here for powers testing, but ... am I intruding on something else?"
"As a portion of the testing will be recorded, yes, code names are appropriate. I believe you already know my apprentice, Phase?"
"Yes, ma'am. I do."
"Good," Circe replied. "You can set your books down at the conference table. I need to get a couple more items before we start testing, but I'll be back shortly."
"No problem, ma'am, I needed to speak with Phase for a moment, myself."
The boy finished walking over to the conference table to set down his backpack as the mystic stepped out.
"So. Phase. I did want to apologize for making you and Charge so uncomfortable at lunch."
"Do those prepared meals actually contain whale meat?"
"It's by-catch, mostly from the few species that aren't endangered, but given the reasons the meat failed the original inspection, I don't give them much hope."
"Failed inspection?" Holy crow! "And you still eat it?"
The other shrugged, "Bioamplification of mercury and other metals. Better availability for me, less drek handled by the staff nutritionists, safer for everyone else."
The following couple of hours were eye-opening. Phase had had only had limited interaction with Metro at mealtimes, and that only with Valravn present. Flying solo, the boy's enthusiasms seemed muted until Ayla realized that he was no longer covering for Valravn's difficulties with 'reading the atmosphere'. The obverse side of that coin was that no one was around to cover for his sparse knowledge of current events or popular culture, neither of which should be needed for magical powers testing. As a result, it didn't seem that Mads was withdrawing into a shell, rather that he was approaching the testing as a professional going through a routine skills review.
As during previous testing with crystals enchanted to measure Essence draw, repeating the initial wizard rating was underwhelming. Perhaps the fact that Metro had a different approach to magic than most of Phase's classmates and teachers had something to do with it? He seemed to have a 'different approach' to most other things. On to alternate evaluation methods which Phase was there to learn about.
Circe managed to burn a lot of trust by inviting Metro into a charged Fool's Circle. He walked into it all right.
"Bud you thaid I coul' go in!" sniffed the aggrieved magician after he bounced face-first off the boundary.
"Phase, could you go for more facial tissues? I suspect Valravn will have forgotten to stop for them on his way here."
"Certainly. Is there any chance I could get an explanation of that code name - does he know what one of those things is?"
Metro's eye flashed, and near him so too did one of the testing crystals, "'e's nod a thingk!"
Phase's apology to the outraged magician was interrupted by a taller, dark-haired, and clearly more upset boy walking in to the office.
"Goddammit M-," he choked on the personal name as if he knew of the recording, then spat out "Metro. HOW did you manage to hurt yourself this time?"
Metro accusingly pointed to Circe, "She tol' me to walk in! 'ow wuz I do know?"
"We. Have. Been. Over. This. In class. Repeatedly."
"Dithn't look like one ug doze. Got tissue or toileth paper?"
"Circe, may I take Mister Crash-n-burn here to get cleaned up?"
"That may be for the best."
"I know him from Poe, but as I said we haven't talked much. I think it's not difficult to see why."
The essence monitors finally flickered to life after Metro cast a healing spell on his bruised face. Encouraged, Circe brought out another series of monitoring crystals keyed to a variety of magics before trying again with the Circle, to see what change might result from cutting the magician off magically from the local universe.
"Close the circle after he's in." Thomas had suggested. The crystal dimmed in response and the boy soon complained of headache. The circle safely held the junior mage until he gave the situation a sigh of frustration and "told it that I was the caster."
"Phase, remember what I said earlier regarding illusions?" Phase nodded.
Circe then asked. "Metro, how long would you be able to mask your seeming to imitate me?"
"Longer than I could hold the physical illusion, were that needed. That comes at a risk of breaking my links to the foci I use. Another danger of extended masking: depending on the forward observer used, a targeted ritual casting aimed at you during that time could end up blowing up in my face. Just about every practitioner I know of opts to appear mundane or maybe a low-powered version of themselves. Thomas?"
"It is considered to be 'borrowing trouble' at best. I'd expect Coyote or some other Trickster to choose to do something like that."
"Could Metro fool you with the technique?"
"No. I always know him."
"Which makes one of us."
"I'm telling your therapist you said that. Again."
"Anyone else in the market for a barely-used boyfriend?"
"You mispronounced 'much-abused'"
Metro's training was sufficiently Hermetic for Circe to guide him through simple examples of conjuration and summoning. The process was slowed by Metro deciding to 'clarify' some aspects for Thomas. An arched eyebrow directed at him suggested that Phase's own mentor expected him to be following those discussions. Nothing grossly suggested that the initial WIZ-1 rating was anything more than generous until Circe gave their subject free rein to demonstrate transfiguration and illusion.
Phase quickly came to deeply regret stating that he could spare his school uniform.
He should have known to run when Metro asked if he could incorporate nearby materials should he run out.
It was, perhaps, an Omen of Bad Things To Come when Ayla's magic perception was flooded with a myriad shades of reds and oranges, sparked here and there with yellow. So this is what it's like to be in a Chaote's gunsights. The magic 'tasted' odd compared to Fey's. There was the same 'otherness', but in almost every measure the opposite to being in the presence of Aunghadhail, Daughter of the Burning Oak - even more 'human' in some way.
That would have been one hell of a lot more comforting if it didn't also frame the unholily gleeful expression on the young magician's face, when he should have been (just maybe?) concentrating on his work.
Yes, 'unholily' is a word, thank you, Diz.
The next thing Ayla's stunned and horrified mind registered was appearing to now be dressed in a variation of one of Helena Bonham Carter's dresses from the role of Anne Boleyn in Henry VIII. The chemise, petticoat, and kirtle managed to lift his breasts without creating the 'boobs on a plate' look popular with so many Ren Fair reenactors. His rather expensive utility belt somehow ended strapped just over a farthingale made of synthetics instead of steel, hidden by stiffened edging on the over-gown. The lined oversleeves also provided concealed holdout pockets. A disturbingly many concealed pockets. Somewhere, there was a pomander, and maybe a scented locket. Ayla could smell them both.
For a moment, even Circe seemed at a loss for words. Finally, she conjured a three-way mirror so Phase could survey the damage done. Ho-ly crow. Twenty-four of them. Baked in a late Renaissance pie. A very hawt Ren pie.
"Were I to examine the kirtle, would the concealed plates overlap?" Not exactly the question one would expect from the ageless sorceress.
"Of course!" The next ten solid minutes were taken up with discussion of the finer points of historical armoring techniques as applied to feminine dress along with varying options for padding or support, along with the challenges of incorporating modern materials to blunt the effects of contemporary ballistics. All that would have been quite interesting. The fact remained that Ayla, a young mutant who desperately wished to regain his male form, was currently encased in a dress that would have left Merchant Ivory fans drooling. Meanwhile it was dawning on him that he'd agreed to let a literal Merchant of Death magically do whatever amused him to the clothing next to Ayla's body.
Finally, Circe looked over to the others watching the scene and asked, "Does everyone think my apprentice has seen enough?" Seeing enough affirmation, "Metro, if you would?"
The gown and under-dresses didn't even morph. They disappeared in an instant, pomander and all. The uniform had still been radically altered to the point that it would pass as business wear under a casual viewing. Closer inspection would reveal light battle armor of a design Phase was certain was not in production. Moving to get a closer look in the mirror, the young businessman could swear he felt movement consistent with bellows joints and detailed articulation. Given the number of gadgeteers and devisors running around loose on campus, who'd dismantle first and ask permission later, leaving the testing session in the gown was beginning to look like the safer option.
"What just happened?"
Circe explained, "That was a multi-sensory illusion, not manifested ectoplasm, masking an extended transmutation spell. The entire point of the talk about armoring was to see if Metro could maintain the necessary concentration while I worked at defeating the illusion. Phase and Valravn, I suspect that you two could perceive the spellwork, but had difficulty determining what was real and what wasn't."
"Speaking of ectoplasm, I'd recommend that you refrain from doing anything to encourage Thorn and Metro to team up against you."
The testing series wrapped up with divination. Even in light of earlier discussions Phase was still confused when Circe brought out a pendulum and a series of maps, "to find the person associated with this". "This" being a small object left wrapped in silk. Most of the maps were quickly discarded. The remainder soon were sorted into two sets.
Metro said, "Before we continue, I have a few questions about this. Does the item belong to A person, or more than one?"
Circe gave the question some thought.
"One person. Not a joint ownership, if that's what you mean," she said.
"Okay. We have a problem that may not be appropriate to record."
"What sort of problem?"
"This is probably from a murder investigation, so I am hoping that we aren't tampering with evidence." Metro searched Circe's aura for her reaction and did not like what he saw.
"On what basis would you conclude that?"
"If the divination hasn't gone completely off the rails then the owner is currently in more than one location. That suggests dismemberment."
"Couldn't someone be masking their signature to appear to be the owner?"
"Yes. Although for long-term impersonation, I think I'd want the original dead."
"If they're that identical they should be locked down in the same psych ward."
Circe frowned, "Let us narrow down the locations further if we can."
"Final question: this isn't part of the formal testing, is it?"
"No. It is not."
Several more minutes passed as Metro attempted to narrow his mental focus as closely to the tenuous link between the concealed object and its distant owner. Two more maps were set aside from one pile before he penciled a circle similar to the pendulum bob's circling above the map sheet. He wrote down some notes beside the circle before switching to the other remaining set. This time three more maps were set aside before he completely lost track of the mystical trace. Another circle drawn.
When the boy looked wearily up from his work, his eyes were bloodshot and there was a bruise beginning to show on the side of his face. Phase took a wary glance at Valravn, who'd stayed completely quiet through the divination work. He was just in time to see the other boy open his eyes and nod back at him. It was hardly a motion, but Ayla was sure that Thomas didn't need to be told that Metro'd somehow hurt himself during this working.
"How far?" Mads asked.
"How far away are the two sites? I suppose I should ask how far off the final error circles are from your own divination as well."
"The closest site is at perhaps an order of magnitude less certainty, although I have a theory as to why that would end up so," Circe responded while jotting down notes of her own. "The other describes a much more precise location than I obtained earlier. The person there is unlikely to be moving."
"Is it precise enough to organize a search?" Phase asked.
"There are a couple of superhero groups in the general area that we could contact," Circe said.
"People we could be leading into trouble without more legwork on our end." The look on Circe's face read 'Remember that I'm the teacher here', but Metro pressed on. "This has to be a cold case or no one would be resorting to divination. Likewise, there must be additional complications to the incident, or the local metas would have already performed the scrying."
"Why would you want to take part in the search? Don't you have enough work to do here at school?"
"In addition to my work-study shift, yes. However, in forensic work like this, the more you hand off tasks to others the muddier the trail. We're looking for a male victim, pre-teen, definitely dead, maybe buried. One could say that I might have an obligation in such matters. Based on your earlier reaction, it must be Mathias Møller we'll be looking for."
"I should warn you that you won't be given permission to take days off for the search. How then do you propose to carry it out?"
Metro looked over at Valravn, as if asking a question. "First, establish jump points so we don't have to spend an inordinate time on astral travel. Second, recon the area to see how best to set up a search grid. If we're lucky I might be able to triangulate a better position at that step. Third, more recon."
Circe followed up with, "If there is a trap or other surprise waiting for you there, what will you do then?"
"Dial 9-1-1, call for backup, GTFO." The boy shrugged, "It could be anything, or nothing. If leaving the area won't make things worse, that's often the best way to proceed. It wouldn't hurt to have the contact info for the local metas and police."
"And hospitals, Mads. Don't forget that."
"I'd rather avoid that, but that should be part of any incident response prep."
Deoraby, Feast of All Souls, 951 CE
Earlier in the day, Old Man Wealh (Sometimes 'Vali' when his mind wandered through his youth) had received the sacraments of Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and the Viaticum. As it had been a quarter of a century earlier, the small farmhouse held all the man's treasures in life, his small family. This time it was little Ælfred, a father now himself, praying by the light of a candle for intercession or an easy passing. Sadly, even if the old man revived, he'd not last the winter. Toward midnight he heard, as his father once had, the sound of iron-shod hooves approach and then stop by the door. Once again, there was an argument. Ælfred quieted his son, left those outside take note.
Instead, he heard a reedy whisper from the bed, "I remember one night, praying that you not be taken before your time. There was a rider that stopped outside the door that night as well. I never knew what that was about."
"Hush, father. Conserve your strength if you can," Ælfred urged. "If you please, I can tell you of the dream I had that night?"
"Yes, please do."
The boy had heard the commotion outside, but he saw his parents were busy at prayer. He quietly walked over to the door to see who was outside, perhaps come to visit. What he saw was strange indeed. Outside the door was a nobleman - he had to be of noble birth, all arrayed in the finest silver-buckled tack and harness, a cloak of purest black around his shoulders - riding a fine jet-black steed. Gathered at the feet of the horse were a number of dark hounds. Had not the moon been so full he'd surely have never seen them at all. More curious was the nobleman's headdress, a brimless cap as some soldiers wore, adorned with a stag's full attire.
At the very threshold of the door stood another man, one shoulder against the door-post, his foot braced against the door so it could open only a crack. None could have gotten in or out the house save they go through that man. In the bright moonlight, the boy could clearly see the man's dirty blond hair, thin build, and clothing of an outdated Danish cut, though he could only see so much from the man's back. Although Ælfred could not make out the men's words for the strange language they used, from the back and forth verbal parry and riposte he deemed that they'd been haggling over something. He could not say for sure that the nobleman had left empty-handed. When he had left, the man slumped down as if exhausted and directed him to head back to his bed, not even having two obols between the lot of them to pay his passage.
Seeing his father had fallen back into sleep, and hearing no more noises at the door, Ælfred gathered up his young son to make ready his bedding. That tended to, and prayers said, he too fell asleep.
In the early morning hours, Ælfred was woken by a soft knocking at the door. This time he opened the door. Before him was a near-twin to the man who'd argued with the fey nobleman years before. Shorter, much younger, and dressed in black wool, white linen, lavender silk, and the most outlandish of hats.
"Well, Ælfred, won't you invite me in? It's cold outside, colder nights to come."
"Who are you?"
"Uh-uh. A boon for a boon."
"An' you have no ill will towards this house and those it shelters, I bid you welcome."
"Thank you. I am called Mads Gunnison - among other things. Some of them even suited for young ears that should be sleeping at this hour."
Ælfred groaned at the poorly-suppressed giggle from the pallet of straw.
"You're different from what I remember."
"Oh yes. That was a different me. The one killed by a wolf he'd trusted with his very life and soul, all for the sake of a shiny bright god who'd been killed by someone else. Poor vengeance, and no justice to be had."
Ælfred had heard much of what his father had had to confess. Frankly, he was now afraid of what one of those 'other things' this spectre had been called might be. A frowning spectre that now seemed to be able to see into his soul.
"He told you." There. Matter of fact. His father had killed many, in defense or in service. One time, long ago, it had been murder.
"I'm not sure how I should feel about that."
"He's done penance! He has. Surely ..."
"... but I've never been able to forgive myself. It's why I've always been so strict about finding some other way."
The spectre gestured that Ælfred should bide. He then walked over to the old man.
The old man asked, "Narfi? Is that you, or some demon wearing his face and come to take me to where I belong?"
"Narfi was a long time ago for me. England's quite a different sight in my time."
"Then who? Why?"
"Why? Because this is the time you say goodbye to this life. He, I, we couldn't bear to see your death. So, I've been called to step in. Who? Someone who knows a bit about bad life decisions."
Ælfred asked, hoping for some measure of pity or compassion, "What happens now - to him, and us?"
"I'm not sure. I have an obligation to Maman Bridgitte to conduct your father to his appointed destination, but I won't remember it after. I guess you'll just have to take care of your family and raise them up properly. Edmund, do you want to say goodbye to your grandfather?"
"That will have to do, I guess. Vali? Argh. What did people wear a thousand years ago? Here." The outlandish spectre held out his hand to the dying patriarch. As their hands touched, Wealh's clothing was changed to something a nobleman might wear. The spectre smirked, "Betcha Narf couldn't do that!"
"No. I don't recall that he could."
"C'mon, your coach is ready AND we don't have a k-round aimed at our heads. Trust me, that's a good thing." As he left the way he came, the spectre bowed to Ælfred and Edmund, "Thank you for your hospitality. A blessing on your house, for as much good as can come of that.
Oh, yeah. Your father isn't headed for one of the bad places, or at least he wasn't in one when we do meet."
Closing the door behind him, and thanking the Great Spirit for clean air, Mads nearly collided with his charge. Said charge was staring in shock at a taller, and much, much younger version of himself.
"Goddammit, Mads. What the Hel are you doing here? Is that who I think it is?"
"I'm not stepping out on you, if that's where this is going."
"You can't BE here!"
"Then how are you here, Thomas?" Mads stage-whispered to Wealh-nee-Vali, "He's really called Song of the Thunderbird, but most folks find 'Thomas' less of a mouthful. Don't worry. There won't be a quiz."
"Look, you can chew me out inside the coach. He's got places to be before the Devil doubles back."
Later that Monday Afternoon, September 24, 2007, Schuster Hall
In retrospect, perhaps the earlier portion of the day had been too quiet - budget meetings and other routine headaches aside - leaving this afternoon as the karmic payback in Elizabeth Carson's disfavor. Mrs. Carson rubbed her temples, sure of an oncoming headache.
"Circe, are we certain that this location is good and that the search will require a mage? Specifically that one?""
"Based on the answers I got in response to my questions, I believe there is at least some cause to suspect caution is needed. Metro does have some experience in contested retrievals."
"I know. His former colleagues were happy to provide examples. Still ..." Mrs. Carson let the implied question hand in the air.
Circe, followed up on that, "It is extremely unusual that a family would disappear leaving nothing behind that could be used as a sympathetic link. Whoever was responsible or aiding them knew how magic and some esper skills could be used to trace their whereabouts. A separate acquaintance of the family has stated that she would expect certain parties to have interfered. Furthermore, I've reason to trust Admiral Everheart's assessment that Mr. Jensen has an appallingly good instinct for lethal complications."
"Could you explain to me how is it that we now have a lead?" There has to be a reason to veto the entire insanity of this.
"Mads Jensen himself." Circe seemed a little too pleased.
Mrs. Carson took the bait, "Go on."
"Because of events this weekend, he was scheduled for more powers testing today. I took the liberty of combining a few drops of his blood with a commercial thumb drive, and let him try to use that as a sympathetic link for divination. As you know, asking a precog or diviner to divine a location via something of their own is like asking a centipede for a description of how it walks. In this case, we know that Mads Gunnison and Mathias Moller are nearly identical genetically, with a very high probability of linking magics. Logically, blood would call to blood."
"Did you test your own hypothesis to see if it worked for you?"
Circe continued, "Yes. As expected, I found that someone matching the blood sample was at this school. My pendulum scrying also turned up an area somewhere in southern Illinois. Mathias' parents lived in Chicago but he attended a private day school in St. Louis by living with one of his cousins there. Mads claims to have been born in Chicago, but his parents - and I use that term loosely - resided in Detroit. It should be noted that the school he says he attended in Pennsylvania does not enroll K-6 students."
"What then did we gain by tricking our own student into scrying himself? Using a pendulum and maps, he should have seen that he was zeroing in on his own position."
"Of course we had the maps facing down. The local hit could be charitably stated to place him somewhere between Montreal and Boston. Again, he was self-scrying and the school's wards would not have worked in his favor."
"Thank heaven for small mercies," the school's headmistress replied.
"The other is in a wooded section of Gurgens Park, north of the Sangamon River."
Mrs. Carson said, "I'm familiar with the area. It would take forever to find one, or even three bodies, in a wooded area like that except by accident. That means the local authorities and resources aren't going to be very interested in what could still be a wild goose chase. Very well. While I'm sure to regret this, I'll agree to this so long as it doesn't interfere with their work. Anything there that's waited this long can wait a bit longer."
Monday, September 24, 2007 - After Classes
the Quad, Whateley Academy
If Ceilidh 'Siofra' McKenzie needed any more proof that Mondays were designed for grumpy grownups, today would be it. Not only had Dr. Tenent asked if she could come by the Medical Center on a Monday because a "nice young lady friend of the school's headmistress is hurting all over" - that wasn't bad, just unusual - but they'd sent a boy to escort her. Like she was a little baby who couldn't find her way there on her own! And! He was wearing a UV band too. It was different colors from hers, but it still meant "ultra-violent".
Mads 'Metro' Jensen was almost of a mind to agree with the obvious 'Why him?' sentiment. If they really wanted to avoid triggering a phobic rager, they could at least let him put his UV band in his pocket. Then again, he wasn't sure that that wasn't one of the few things keeping Ceilidh's babysitter, 'Lifeline', from going rager on him when he showed up. Almost by instinct he looked up. Great. Just frakking great. Speaking of going rager ...
"Dispatch, Shortstop. On the Quad, en route Doyle with Siofra, picking up hostile inbound, visual ID Iron Star, over."
"Roger, Shortstop. Dispatch will guarding channel 43 for the next ten or so."
"Roger. Kicking 43. Shortstop out."
Figures. Boys just love to play 'Cops and Robbers'! Ceilidh wondered which one Iron Dork thought he was supposed to be.
"Well, well, well. What do we have here? Siofra, or whatever you're calling yourself, Princess. Don't you know you're supposed to have a proper escort on-campus? Not one of the school's more notorious perverts, and an ultra-violent one at that!"
Siofra's escort spoke calmly, "Just a moment, Ceilidh. Okay? Iron Star. To my knowledge, there are no court orders requiring me to stay a set distance away from minors. So, there's no reason I cannot escort Siofra on-campus."
Putting it that way made the boy with her sound like a Robber. That was fine as long as he didn't try to steal her tiara or purse.
"You're still a f-"
*ahem* "Language, Mr. Hastings."
Wow! Where did Scary Mr. Delarose come from?
Bobby recovered quickly, "Sorry, Chief, but this 'student' here should have a proper escort, not one of those -"
"Iron Star. I would recommend not completing that sentence with what you undoubtedly have in mind in front of a young lady like Miss McKenzie."
Chief is still Scary, but at least he recognizes her for who she is! Bobby's still a poopyhead, so that makes the one the Cop instead of the Robert, right?
"But she's! And he's!"
"Not interested in girls that way?"
"Jensen. No helping."
"Iron Star, don't you have somewhere else to be? Metro. Perhaps the same also applies."
"Right, Chief. Getting right on that. By your leave?"
A few less annoying minutes later,
"Shortstop and Siofra signing out."
What was that word for a really new cop? Oh, yes.
Rookie boy fiddled with his collar a bit before going into the Clinic. Some kids do that when they really don't like being in a hospital. Dr. Tenent was there to escort them to the patient's room.
"Miss Fields was rescued this weekend from, eh, somewhere off-plane. We've been able to bind a spirit to her hallow and purify most of the toxins that she'd accumulated, but the time dilation effects and other damage were severe. Siofra, after Metro here tries his healing spell, we'd like him to look for where Donna's still hurt to guide you in your healing. Just like I said over the telephone. Remember?"
"Sure thing!" That wasn't exactly what she'd said, but boys are boys. I.e., stupid.
The two students followed her into the room as the doctor introduced them. "Donna? I've brought in Mads and Ceilidh. Don't let looks deceive you with these two."
"Ceilidh. That's a pretty name. What a lovely dress, too!"
She seemed nice, and they talked about dresses and important stuff, while the boy did whatever he did. Mostly staring. So like a boy.
To Mads, the 'spirit' felt like Mrs. Carson's, just far smaller. Judging from the pain Miss Fields was still in, along with her general exhaustion, it must have been quite busy to feel that diminished. The liver and kidneys seemed to have taken a hell of a hit, and her bone marrow and lungs were under some strain. Hm. Dr. Tenent probably wants him to demonstrate whether he learned anything in class about gathering and transferring essence too.
So, when the Rookie finished staring at Donna, he seemed to be a bit dazed - like some patients do when they're on a lot of medications. Even if he did start to ramble a bit, he was polite when he told Ceilidh about where he thought Donna was still sick. All through it he asked Donna how she felt and even asked Ceilidh how she felt. Going by his and the doctor's smiles, she'd done a very good job. It didn't hurt that Donna acted like a nice lady, and not like some of the jerks they got in. The boy looked really surprised when she healed him with that same "all over" healing Donna had needed (Dr. Tenent had guessed right, that he'd need it) but he did stop holding onto the bed rail so hard his knuckles were white.
Later that evening, outside Dickinson Cottage:
Maggie Finson was having a Monday kind of night, too. "Runic, I swear to -"
Leanna cut Maggie off, right there. "Uh uh. I hear that's something mages aren't supposed to do."
"Just hear me out. That thrice-damned freshman took your sister to the Bistro for ice cream and hot fudge topping AND extra sprinkles, then dumped her back on me just in time for the sugar to kick in! Every one of the little monsters wanted ice cream after that!"
"How did you manage to torque off one of the froshes?"
"I don't know!"
Meanwhile, back at
Liz Carson's voice still sounded tired over the telephone, "Ophelia, please tell me you have good news."
Might as well start with that, "Miss Fields' condition is considerably improved. Siofra really came through for us with just some minor guidance from Metro. I just wish ... ah, never mind." 'Great going, Opie,' she chided herself.
Suspicion replaced exhaustion. "You just wish what?"
"... that he'd be here next semester, so I could arrange for him to back up his spellcasting with more medical training!"
"I see. How long?"
"At this rate, a month, two if we're lucky.
"Circe has made something of a breakthrough regarding the missing boy tied up in all this. If there is a curse and the situation is that bad, I don't see any other choices but to let him spring what could be a trap."
Ophelia thought about the known possibilities, weighed against her patient's 'luck', "I should be dead set against that," the doctor said, but finally, "Try to give us a bit more of a head's up on this plan."
Liz agreed. "You'll get it once we know more."
Tuesday morning 4 AM, September 25, 2007, Hawthorne Cottage common room
Every night for the year before coming to Whateley, he has watched him. At first in anger, then caution, nowadays he isn't sure. But he's learned the signs that have led to the other becoming lost in his own head, buried in some pit of memory-brewed horror. But this night, for some unknown reason the other slipped away completely. His hearts still beat a dull syncopated tattoo. Yet this wasn't the slack motionlessness of deep sleep, but a palpable absence. And for the first time in a long time, the spirit that had once styled itself as Thunderbird's Song knew fear.
He'd even dove down to follow what he could of their mutual connection, recklessly vacating his own body. For a few brief minutes he imagined that perhaps they were back in Africa on the midnight road to Guinee. But no, he found himself meeting an older version of himself at the door of some historical recreation. It had to be, as time travel was something that simply did not happen. The other he'd been in search of was dressed in his Petro livery, conveying that other him to a funeral carriage - a role he'd not be suited for until after his own death. Struck mute by the stark reminder that everybody dies, he didn't hear yet another make his appearance. Unlike the others, this one looked well-suited for burial: cut, bitten, gutted, and worst of all the very image of the one he'd been searching for, maybe not even a decade older.
Looking down the road the carriage had disappeared upon, the spectre mused, "I thought it had hurt when you, rather he, killed me. I had had no intention to get in the way of having a wife and a family, you know, but in the wolf-rage Odin put in him he couldn't hear me. Now, tonight he follows his love to whatever reward they have, and it just hurt too much to watch him go. To walk out of my death as well as my life one last time."
"So you asked for intercession."
He woke abruptly from a troubled doze and more troubling dream, prompted in part by his charge shifting in a lighter sleep. It could have been comical under other circumstance, but however the other had managed to get one arm around his back and with other hand grabbed onto his shirt with a death-grip, he saw the gesture for what it was, a cry from the heart: "Please don't leave me."
Thomas spent some of the sleep-deprived early morning hours thinking up some sarcastic remark about whatever Mads had done to trigger one of his worse nightmares. He even rehearsed a couple of variants depending on how much the other boy remembered. Once or twice he went back over hypothetical arguments over it all before breaking down and asking who would ever listen that Mads not remember how that other person had died. As usual, when Mads did wake up, blinking eyes still filled with confusion and disbelief that anyone would waste their time on him, what came out was a quiet "Go back to sleep. I'm here. Try to get some rest."
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Runnin', hidin', losin', cryin', nothing left to save
But my life"
Tuesday, September 25, 2007, Lunch, Crystal Hall, Euro-Promotional League table
"Did Nate beat you to the vented seating today, or did he literally beat you?"
Thomas was painfully aware that Mads looked like hell today; neither one really needed Kristian to point it out. However it was proof that precogs don't get everything right.
"Had trouble sleeping last night, on top of work." Metro replied, sitting down with his lunch tray. For a moment he pondered the double coffee he'd gotten, looking as if he were unsure whether to drink it or inhale it. One huge improvement over the previous day was the cafeteria's attempt to make the food he was being served look like food instead of backpacking or army rations. The poison labels were still good for clearing a space next to him at just about any table. "So, yup, Nate and Killer were already seated."
Rorsmand nodded, "I'm sorry to hear that. Any time you want to talk about whatever's bothering you, you know I'm willing to listen. Right?"
"Right. Kris, I prefer to forget nightmares if I can. Usually works out better." Maybe the coffee was a drinkable substance? Metro eyed it carefully while opening the meal tray. Not that it should move, but days like today it could move. "Anyway, as of yesterday the researchers are going with Wizard 3, and maybe hand-waving 'electric organ discharge' under 'minor GSD'."
Thomas said, "I really don't know why they were making such a fuss about that. You're maxing out at what, 400 volts or so? I just thought my fingers were ticklish." Mads' face flushed a deep magenta from neckline to past his hairline, signaling that 'ticklish' might not be the correct word for his end of the exchange. Fortunately, the discussion moved on to other topics.
Before everyone bussed their plates and headed off to their next classes, Mads made a point to ask Phase if he knew of any upperclassmen that might be available to chaperon himself and Thomas for part or most of the weekend. Among the other traits being looked for were not minding a fair bit of walking and maybe a little bit of digging around, and being able to do what they're told and keep quiet about whatever is found.
"I am a junior this year," interjected Kismet, "and I'm wondering who among the upperclassmen would be willing to take marching orders from a freshman?"
There was no humor in Metro's thin-lipped smile, "Korrende - only those that wish to survive to graduation if something goes wrong."
Phase coolly asked, "I presume this has to do with what was under discussion previously?"
"I'll send you a list of people who might fit the bill. Convincing any one of them would be up to you."
"Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you."
To Reach's ear, this exchange had all the earmarks of a potentially illicit operation. The fact that it wasn't being pitched as a joke, and the serious looks on the faces of the likely principals further clarified that this wasn't a local trip to the movies. Maybe Phase really wasn't 100% on the up-and-up? The rest of the ICC members might not be interested, and it may be nothing to be interested in. Something just told Harlan that - win, place, or show - he wouldn't want to be betting that ticket.
Thursday afternoon, September 27, 2007, JROTC drill field
Cadet 1st Lt. Agustin 'Telluride' Garcia Rodriguez, or 'just Gus', was convinced that he must have forgotten something terribly important in the confessional in a past life and having Cadet Overkonstabel Mads 'Metro' Jensen assigned to him was his ongoing penance. He'd been warned by a couple of classmates that one of his 'ROTC buddies' was looking for a weekend chaperon. Two of them, actually, but they'd even enlisted a third to help outflank him.
"Let me get this one straight. You want a chaperon to go with you some place unspecified, to do something unspecified, and on top of it you expect to be in charge of the show?"
"Welllll, Sir," Metro drawled, "We could just go and do the thing, but at least two teachers and my boss think that would be a horrible idea. Oh, and Holm here says he knows it's a bad idea, but his precognition isn't helping much beyond that."
Rodriguez decided then and there that if the gomer in front of him tried 'puppy-dog eyes', someone would be doing push-ups until his face fell off. "Your boss? What is your work-study assignment anyway? I've rarely seen you near the ROTC facilities outside of drill period." Call one bluff at a time.
"I thought you knew? Chief Delarose. Auxiliary Security Officer. I'm more often at Kane Hall than anywhere else," Jensen replied. It seemed that mentioning The Chief didn't have quite the same effect on the JROTC officer as it would one of the campus troublemakers. Oh, well.
"And the teachers?" Rodriguez wasn't certain he'd take Imp's judgment. For one thing, she was an art teacher. However, if she was in fact a retired criminal, then a bad idea in her book might be a very, very bad idea.
"Circe," The hell? "and Gunny Bardue."
Rodriguez reflexively scanned the three cadets' surface thoughts (The Psychic Arts Department had a posting of students to not ever scan except in dire emergency. No one paid much attention to it, but the walking, talking, PITA in front of him was listed as receiving weekly counseling from ARC Red.) All three freshman were deadly serious and telling the truth. Damn. "What did Gunny have to say?"
"We mostly went over exfil options," the cadet shrugged, "Everything else is just SOP modified for terrain and objective."
Rodriguez did not at all like the sudden differences of opinion as to what each cadet considered 'SOP'. "Let's consider for a moment that I agree. At what point do you propose to let me in on the plan, especially the exfiltration options?"
(The other) Jensen replied, "We'd be holding a pre-op mission review in one of the study rooms at Poe Cottage, say Saturday at 1200 hours. I'd like to be en-route by 1300. Please note that en-route, if I call for an abort, we do so, no questions asked."
No pressure. None at all. Just because the three cadets in front of him weren't the only people listening in on the conversation, that wasn't an additional cause to worry about the cadets in his charge. Not at all.
Gus just knew he was to regret this.
"Thank you, Sir" Jensen dug into a pocket to hand his officer a slip of paper which read: "That's just Reach on surveillance. They're nosy by nature."
Saturday afternoon, September 29, 2007, Poe Cottage
Gus Rodriguez was just signing in to the Visitors guest book when he noticed one or two people headed his way with focused intent.
"Can I help you?" asked the first to arrive, a middle-aged matronly woman who could only be the territorial house mother, Mrs. Horton.
"Yes. I'm here to meet with Cadet Jensen and ... Cadet Jensen." The boy wasn't entirely sure he was imagining the temperature drops at the mention of the two names. "I'm Gus Rodriguez, code name Telluride, by the way."
"May I ask why you'd want to meet those two, here?"
The tow-headed boy walking up to them said, "It's not at all what you're thinking Mrs. Horton!" His eyebrows scrunched down a bit, "Probably much worse, but while Gus is cute in a clean-cut, Boys Scout kind of way, he's not interested ..."
"Jensen, I am not a Boy Scout!" came the indignant response, while the house mother nearly choked.
"Neither am I! Good thing, ennit? Once you've checked in, the study room is over this way." The boy glared at Mrs. Horton at the end of the check-in mention."
' Bella, Mads is Out and Gus is a telepath.'
' Louis, that is no excuse!'
' In fact,' the psychic voice chuckled, 'Poor Gus is now wondering just how insane Thomas must be to put up with Mads, when Risk and Flux are both rooming in Poe and are probably available. '
Gus did look a little pale, and he was getting checked out, "Nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Horton. I apologize for Jensen, he's not normally so ... "
Bella took a little pity on the young man, "Forthright?" He nodded frantically. "It's my understanding that the noisier he is, the lower the danger."
"Oi! I'm still right here, you know!"
"I'll take that under consideration, Ma'am."
After that exchange, Gus was even more confused as to what to expect. The cadet who usually walked around with an arrogant "this isn't my real rank" attitude had been replaced by an overly-cheeky teen. Walking into the study room itself was another shock. The lone table was covered with maps and annotated printouts. Once they were inside, Mads hooked up a set of transducers to the walls and door. A muffled 'thump, thump, thrrrrrr-ump' noise reminded him of some dance clubs ... acoustic countermeasures?
"I have to apologize for the late start. I had to finish a project for class this morning, so not all of Thursday's sitcon is accounted for. Here's a copy of the op plan as of early Thursday evening when we talked. Did you pack an overnight? Good."
The vast majority of the plan seemed to hinge on Metro's and Valravn's divination skills and not so much on a chaperon. There had been an astral recon Thursday night, but it had been hampered by limited time on-station and the fact that dormant spells and beings might not show up. Saturday afternoon then, would be taken up by travel and a North-South traverse along a railroad and power line right-of-way between Gurgens Park and Carpenter Park.
"What's up with these areas marked as 'Areas of Concern'?"
"We didn't find any records of major Havana Hopewell Culture burials in this area, but the Sangamon River does meander. So, we have some areas that are or have been active - hell, it could just be hippies with drums for all we know at this point - but no idea why. How well do you perceive astral beings and spirits?"
"Guys, I'm an exemplar and a telepath. If you need someone who can handle something as rare as those skills, that's not me."
Metro smiled unpleasantly, "That's why if Thomas or I tell you to run, you do not ask why, you bloody well run for your life."
"Do you really think you can handle some thing that scares a Wiz-3 into running and is only visible astrally?"
"Good man. That's the solid thinking we need."
The second day would start with a long east-west traverse, marking pendulum swing directions as they go. The afternoon was reserved for a tentative approach to the most likely site(s), special attention to be paid to various booby traps. One of those possibles was annotated in Gunny Bardue's handwriting as "sick". Gus flipped ahead to the objectives, then back to the note. He agreed with the assessment, and recognized it as an old tactic used in irregular warfare. But wait, there was more. Grave desecration was one of the nicer points.
"You expect me to do what? While he (pointing to Mads) does what with WHAT?"
Valravn snarked, "I think he gets it."
"And YOU are okay with all this?" According to unit scuttlebutt their relationship wasn't at all like that.
Thomas closed his eyes for a moment. "No. I am not okay with it. First off, you or some bystander may be attacked, killed, and/or worse. Second, there is a risk that Mads will end up in a location or situation that favors an attacker. Once you're clear, I will be following him."
"Most of these places exist only in myth. How do you expect to find him?"
"I always know exactly where Mads is. I don't always approve, but I do know."
Metro and Valravn had actually put together a thorough briefing. Sadly, that meant that there weren't any new developments to scrub what sounded suspiciously like a suicide mission for one or both freshmen. Even transportation had been handled by reserving a car at the local airport. That left only the question of getting to said airport before sundown. "We're going to try to not get you lost along the way." was not the most comforting answer. Nor was the admonition to follow exactly in Valravn's footsteps if he ever wanted to see home again. Not when the first leg of the trip appeared to involve walking into the Grove. By the third turn took the hikers into a parking garage instead of the Grove, Mama Garcia's boy was convinced the two had not been kidding. An hour later, they were in line to rent a car at the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.
Saturday evening, September 29, 2007, Springfield, Illinois
After spending most of a day with Metro and Valravn, Telluride had come to a number of important conclusions:
* It was true that animals of all kinds and sizes do not like Metro. At all. Even mosquitoes veered away.
* Let the kid who speaks Japanese order at the Japanese restaurant. In Kansai-ben. Then let the owner explain "Osaka no Baka" once he's out of earshot.
* Anything said to the one might as well have been said to the other.
* Wherever Metro learned to drive, with one hand on the wheel and the other on his holster, is one place that no sane person ever needs to go.
Gus was very much relieved that Metro had lived up to one of the implications of his code name, and chosen a nice Bed & Breakfast in nearby Sherman, Illinois. He was far less relieved when one of the owners greeted the boy and asked how much he was enjoying going to school in St. Louis. Had it been four years already? What with the Springfield Slasher making the news after that ... Anyway, he'd hardly changed! Thomas was white as a sheet. Mads dodged the question saying he was now boarded in New Hampshire, but he and a couple of friends had managed to take advantage of a free weekend for hiking and sightseeing.
Away from the front desk, Gus' conscience prodded him to object to the cost of the room when the person paying for it announced he just might sleep in the tub.
"The bath includes a jacuzzi. Low-chlorine, aerated water is worth the upgrade price for medical reasons. That the owners don't exactly support H1 also justifies bringing my business here. But ... if you need help keeping the bed warm, I'm up for that too!"
0630 Sunday morning, September 30, 2007, Springfield, Illinois
Telluride's new revelations:
* Illusions are great things, until they drop, while certain persons are without a shirt.
* Some people should be more thoroughly encouraged to sleep behind heavy psi shielding.
* Like most couples, the loudmouth has no idea just how X-rated the quiet one's dreams really are.
To be fair, Gus' roommates - he'd insisted on one room the better to keep an eye on the other two - were no worse about loud or x-rated (in any gender combination) dreams than the other boys he lived with in Emerson Cottage. But one of the reasons he was no longer a Boy Scout was that his Scoutmaster was a combat veteran. That made campouts something the emerging telepath dreaded, even though being out in the sparsely-populated Colorado wilderness was something he still enjoyed. Whoever they really were, both of Gus' charges had seen, and been severely injured, in combat.
They were also nowhere to be seen, or heard.
Gus had managed to calm down, shower, and was shaving when he heard low voices outside in the room. That was all the warning he got before Thomas marched Mads into the bathroom, "You. Shower. Now. I'll get the windows open before Gus passes out."
"Oh, waah. Baby," was the unasked-for reply. Seriously. The Thornie was excused from PT for reasons, plural, and pleural from the gargly rasp in Mads' voice. As to ventilation, it's not that the boy stunk worse than anyone else in from a jog, it's that the bathroom was now filled with the scent of a predator with a side-helping of a promise of death. The senior cadet could not imagine what it would be like for some of the Avatars to share close quarters with the guy. Gus got a bit of a shock from the faucet as he finished shaving.
"Sorry!" came a voice from the shower, nearly echoed by a "Dammit, Mads!" from the other room.
"I said I'm sorry."
Two years plus in Emerson, and showering after martial arts with some of the light GSD students wasn't good preparation for seeing all of Metro's gill slits reflected in the mirror, visibly irritated from the earlier run. Torn velvet on the boy's antlers was also cringe-worthy. The similarity to sunburn left Telluride feeling sympathy itching. It was Metro who winced at that. Oh. Aura reading. Right.
Mads announced "Shower's free" as he left, rubbing his hair dry. It would probably look a bit nicer left tousled and spiky.
"How do you know I wasn't headed for the shower after I shaved?"
"Hmph. Y'r hair's damp."
"And shouldn't you be shaving?"
"Nope. No body or facial hair, just a sideburn trim. Oh, you might want to finish up soon. The Canuck treats the showers like a bird bath."
Somehow the three managed to get ready for the day without mishap or scandalizing the community. Telluride was acutely conscious that what looked like a shirt and trousers meant for camping or hiking was covering for some high-end close-fit body armor instead of base layers. Metro mistook his gaze for sticker envy and said, "Gus, it's as expensive as it looks, but you never ever cut corners on safety gear, armor, or weapons."
"I know that. I'm just feeling less convinced that letting you play bait with that little armor is the right thing to do."
Metro smiled, "One of these days, Foob's going to have to teach you how to see through illusions."
Valravn shook his head at that. "You need to take that Powers Theory course. Not only does that illusion affect how everything around perceives you, but the mental imagery you have to hold onto in your surface thoughts makes it worse for Esper talents. Gus isn't even noticing that he doesn't see your antlers."
"So! Who's hungry? I'd like to get some grub down before setting out on fieldwork."
Gus felt a hand clap onto his shoulder, as Thomas spoke, "Don't think too hard on that. He'd do it just to see you turn green."
1130 Sunday morning, September 30, 2007, Gurgens Park, Springfield, Illinois
A second north-to-south-to north line of readings narrowed the field down to the Murphy's Law choice of search areas. A wooded area of near-interlocking oxbow sloughs and muck in the northwestern part of the park. Limited direct access and miserable conditions would keep most fitness enthusiasts and trail bikers away, while providing an optimal setup for anti-personnel measures. Stagnant water all around was no boon to most honest spellcasting, either.
Telluride favored the northern approach, as that would be the most likely walk-in route for anyone intending to bury something out there. Metro favored the southern approach as the least expected, and wettest. Valravn broke the tie in the older student's favor by pointing out that the unknown party would have been setting any traps behind them. If they came up from the south and had to make a break for it over land, they'd be running straight into any trip wires, setting surprises off on the person right behind them.
Two hours later, they'd covered a third of a mile. With the help of a "guidance spirit", as Metro called it, they'd also flagged half a dozen foot traps and other delightful surprises. Now the three boys were faced with what appeared to be a baited pit trap that had had one hell of a magical "lure" cast on it.
"Now that we're sure to be on the clock, let's go over a couple of things one more time. Do we have the transponder set so the location can be found by authorities?"
"Check. Plus coordinates."
"Telluride, you know the route we took coming in and can exit avoiding the obstacles?"
"You and Valravn both have contact info and locations for police, the St.Louis and Chicago teams, and emergency response?"
"Here's the information you'll need to pick up a flight out of Springfield. You're already booked for this evening, but if you cannot make the flight for any reason, here are the numbers to call. Only one of them is Whateley, per se."
"Valravn, remember that you're handling overwatch on Telluride. No surviving witnesses to open a formal investigation means we've wasted our shot."
"Let's see. We have some buried metal along the sides of the pit, let's look for monofilament leading to munitions. Hey, if your marks don't want to fall in, sometimes you have to push. Swamp muck and spikes. Yuck."
Telluride reminded himself to have as pointed a discussion as possible with certain instructors on just who or what the school has enrolled here. It wasn't just afternoon heat making his palms sweat inside the gloves the boy had insisted on. If he didn't know what Metro was looking for with magnifier and whisk brush, he'd make a joke about playing Indiana Jones. Or CSI. The cold, dead look in the boy's eyes reminded the junior of Everheart briefing the sim teams after one of the more brutal scenarios. 100 percent professional, but a profession that came with a body count. The bastard was even wearing a UV band. When did that start?
"Okay, boys and ghouls, we know the pit is warded so we need photography as soon as I spring the door and the Prize Patrol lets us know what we've won. Valravn, make ready to brace the door open with those limbs. Telluride, activate the ghost-walking charm on my mark - get that evidence - and then run. In case I forgot to mention it, it's been nice knowing both of you. A little epoxy on the hinges ... and showtime!"
Neither Valravn nor Telluride were entirely ready to see what had probably been a twelve-year old boy - judging by the short dirty blond hair visible - naked, bound, gagged, and partly impaled on the spikes, nor the practice claymore rigged as if it would blow if the boy struggled at all to get free. The swamp seemed to loom up around them as something born of unclean water and fouler deeds awoke.
Looking up at the victim's twin, they heard him look over his shoulder and say, "Guys. I said run. Don't. Look. back."
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"Living this life has its problems
so I think that I'll give it a break.
Oh, I'm going back to the family
`cos I've had about all I can take."
-- Ian Anderson, "Back To The Family"
midnight, September 30, 2007, Sherman, Illinois
Between the fieldwork, the crime scene investigation, and the astral overwatch on Telluride's flight back east, Valravn was exhausted. If he'd even had a question about how bad he looked, all he needed do was see the look in faces of the B & B owners.
Shauna had heard something through the grapevine, one of her nephews being a police office. "Those poor people! Four years and no one had ever thought to look for them?"
"The police said that some of the extended family had hired private investigators, but the case went cold until now. I, um, I hate to ask this of you, but," Thomas let the statement trail off. He didn't have his other half's gift for unmitigated bovine manure.
"But we should have known those darn kids were skipping school on daddy's credit card. Must've slipped out before dawn. Left a window open while they were at it, too." Roger complained as though he'd been stiffed a deposit, "Give Liz Carson our regards, will you?"
"Will do, sir." Thomas grabbed his pack and headed out. Halfway to the street, he turned right at a turn in the sidewalk that wasn't there, and so, neither was he.
oh-frag-me-sideways-thirty, October 1, 2007, Office of the Headmistress, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Elizabeth Carson looked down on a steadily-thickening file atop her desk, massaged the bridge of her nose, and sincerely wished that coffee would do her some physical good at this hour. Even in a blue flannel shirt and jeans, she still cut an impressive figure. Not that the student parked in front of her desk was in a condition to appreciate that, or take much comfort from the informality. Instead, Agustin 'Telluride' Garcia-Rodriguez had been intercepted by Whateley Security deboarding his flight into Logan International Airport, and all but dragged back to the school. At best, the boy was exhausted, distraught, and more than a bit shell-shocked, but he also wasn't disappeared 'for questioning'. He idly wondered if the two students NOT present had known a train ticket wouldn't ever be needed?
"Mister Garcia-Rodriguez, let me assure you that when I agreed to this trip, this is not the outcome I had in mind. I trust that the same applies to you as well?"
"Ma'am! Let me assure you that I had NO intention of seeing either cadet come to harm. Not on my watch!" Having had no rest in the past 24 hours and instead finding himself at the center of a multi-agency murder investigation in conjunction with the disappearance of two foreign nationals, one of whom turned out to be a material witness in a military friendly fire incident under investigation, was placing more stress on him than the seventeen-year-old had expected when he signed up for this.
Gus was also fairly certain that if he did manage to eat anything sometime today, it would come right back up. Occasionally he could still see that kid ...
"... as I understand it, one of them made a pass at you only two days ago. That night you spent the evening with both boys, in the same bedroom, a rather expensive room paid for by one of them - who just happens to be the first to go missing," Chief Delarose remarked, standing behind the boy.
Mrs. Carson pressed, "From where I sit that looks suspicious, at least. You should be aware that sex-"
That was one straw too many.
"Ma'am, I will have you know that I do not give a DAMN about where you sit or how suspicious it looks. And if YOU ever gave a damn, you'd be out there LOOKING for Mads and Thomas RIGHT THE, mrmph!"
The next thing Gus realized was that he was face down on the Headmistress' desk, in an arm bar maintained by Lady Astarte and staring down the business end of the Security Chief's sidearm.
This was only getting worse and worse by the minute. They'd even called in the head of Psychic Arts department on him.
"He's back now, Elizabeth, and deserves an explanation."
"Mister Garcia-Rodriguez, Gus, if I let go of you do I have your word that you will sit down in that chair, and listen to what we have to say?"
Lacking a sword to fall on, expulsion almost felt the easier choice at this point, but "Yes, ma'am."
"Gus, I do apologize but this was necessary to allow Louis a reason," "An excuse" "Perhaps, to bend the Code of Ethics on your behalf."
Mr. Geintz stepped in, "Yes. I understand that Metro had informed you that he had enemies?"
"Yes, he did. But there was no one else around at the site!" Gus was sure of that, wasn't he? Or was he too wrapped up in the search?
"No other persons that we know of, no. Before your flight arrived in Boston we received some bad news regarding the investigation. This is now the second Mythos-related incident related to him in the past few months. Pushing your buttons like this was the fastest way to get past your mental defenses to search for secondary injury to you from this one. As you know from your classes, an experienced telepath is vulnerable to hiding such things from themselves until things deteriorate."
"His last words were 'Run. Don't look back'" Madre de Dios. He just left that kid behind. Kids if you count ... no!
"He's back again." Mr. Geintz sounded very worried.
Now it was the Chief's turn to deal with the survivor's guilt, "Son, you were at the top of a very short list who could be trusted to let Jensen run this operation his way, and do exactly what was asked of you."
That reminded Gus. "What was 'his way', Sir? Half the time, he's a goofy kid who really needs to clear the air with his best friend; the rest he could be mistaken for, I don't know ... spec ops?"
The Chief's hesitation suggested that maybe Gus didn't want that question answered, after all.
"A bit ... darker than that," the former operative answered, "But there's no rule that says he cannot be both, is there? Do we need to emphasize that that part of this conversation does not leave this office, and the very real risk to you if it does?"
"Good. I know of more than one agency that will be happy to hear that."
Translation: 'Congratulations, your education and employment options just became that much more specialized.'
"What happens now?"
Mrs. Carson finally smiled, a faint smile at that, "To you, you mean? You'll receive a pass for today's classes, so you can clean up and talk to a counselor later today. As planned." That seemed to have surprised the teen, then again, this one wasn't one of her habitual troublemakers. "When I ask a subject-matter expert their opinion, I do account for that in planning. Every person in this room, plus Louis, has benefited from counseling: I recommend you make use of it as a resource. I cannot make you not worry about Metro and Valravn - welcome to the club - while they are *ahem* currently 'dealing with sensitive issues touching on their visas' Very diplomatic, very sensitive, couldn't make the flight back, and you don't want to know how much that's very much like those two."
A mild evening in late August, 2003, northbound U.S. Interstate 55 from Springfield, Illinois
As his rented car sped north into the early hours of morning, its driver reveled in his small part of the organization's master plan. He'd long known it was the nature of history that in order for destined events to occur, all actors must take their allotted places. If they failed to do so, then it fell to those with a clearer vision to take corrective measures. In this instance, two entities had abandoned their designated receptacles in this world and taken up residence in some other realm. That could not be tolerated.
To counter such foolishness, a trap was designed. Once set, acting through Similarity it would inevitably draw one of the two to it while preventing unwanted discovery. Once sprung, a minor servant constructed from pruned branches of its bloodline - waste not, want not - would capture the spirit for delivery. If needed, it could take the place of the spirit's abandoned receptacle that now baited the trap. It even provided energy to the servant! The second spirit required by classical lore, lacking remaining receptacles of its own, would have no choice but inhabit a container chosen to be suited for its task.
Perhaps when he reached Chicago, his team leader might allow him time to release some of the building tension he felt. The intimacy required by the ritual that created the servant had set nerves afire that he wasn't sure could be found in his disused medical texts. Rearranging bone and sinews, and the sewing of flesh and skin had awakened in him a clarity of focus that he feared he might never feel again. To then prepare the bait for use: that had been pleasure of such intensity as to induce him to claim virginity prior to these acts.
In his severely dissociated state, the man (for such he had been, and it was only foul luck that he'd been one of the candidate receptacles for that second spirit) likely never even noticed the captive bolt stunner being meticulously placed to his third eye chakra. The double-bagged contents of the rented car's trunk compartment joined the driver and other choice leftovers for rendering. Waste not, want not.
Late September 27, 2007, Office of the Headmistress, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Mrs. Carson, I realize the school has rules regarding underclassmen leaving campus. And, I know that poison ivy and sunburn should be the greatest risks pertaining to a routine survey of empty woodland ..."
"I'm hearing an objection to the school's policy - a very well-justified policy at that - about to be raised, aren't I?"
"I ... It's just,"
Even at this late hour, long after drill, the headmistress noted that her student was still in his JROTC uniform as he stood up in agitated frustration and walked to the window at the back of her office. The moon should be full that night, but the overcast skies left the campus view darkened save for an occasional flash of late-season lightning.
"How do you do it?"
That was an odd turn. "Do what?"
"How do you justify to yourself exposing innocents to these lines of work, knowing it may NOT be a one-time walk in the park, but maybe a one-way trip?"
Elizabeth nodded at the student's 'ultra-violent' armband, "You cannot be wearing that armband and suggest to me that you have never killed or gotten someone killed."
"In cold blood even, and I do not wish to discuss that. I think it underscores my point." The last statement was barely a broken whisper.
"There you have it."
"You've lost me, ma'am."
"In some ways, we're both lost. Wait, let me finish. Every year, I and everyone else on staff do everything in our power - including things you would and do object to - to prepare each student for the very real dangers they may face. Every year, some of those students and staff die along the way. Can you understand then, why I may never fully forgive Frank for hiring you? Every year, I'm notified of alumni who didn't need to die just for being who or what they are. Each one an innocent who I could not save. Would you like to know their names? Because I can name every one of them, picture their faces, remember the faces of their grieving loved ones."
Elizabeth Carson could see from her student's stricken expression that he couldn't do the same.
"To forestall the foreseeable and avoidable dangers and developing bad habits, I give out a lot of detentions. For the rest," she tapped on the plan the two had been working on, "If a situation cannot be avoided, I bust my ass to ensure that my students have the best preparations and support I can provide. Haven't you once already waltzed into my office to call me out on one of those?"
"I was hoping for levity, ma'am."
"Is that what it was, Major?"
At least he had the grace to look embarrassed.
Elizabeth continued, "Is Telluride the best fit for this plan?"
"He's a good man and has a bright future ahead of him. This ... I'm having trouble dealing with what we could find. Just the immediate fallout - he's going to need help afterward."
"Mads, that's my job, and this is not, by far, my first rodeo. You want my trust; you're going to have to trust me, and yourself. Oh, yes. One other thing."
"When your English placement testing is redone, and it will be: no sandbagging. I expect your writing to be commensurate with what you've demonstrated on this assignment. Now, get out of my office and get some rest."
Location? That, is an excellent question!
Consciousness returned slowly to the young man. First to creep in was his old friend Pain, assuring him that he was, indeed, still alive. Judging by the weight on his back - so much for just rolling over - and the moss against his face, he must have tripped somewhere at the end of his run. Most of the gear he'd brought translated well enough to the less technologically-oriented Shadow Lands. His armor and clothing were already beginning to adapt to the local metaphor. He'd worn and be-spelled the components a bit much over the past weeks, so that was his own fault. He still had a few choice words to spare as he verbally reconfigured the menus from a near-incomprehensible dialect of Icelandic to Or'zet. Nishnaabemwin would have been more comfortable to use, but this place was too far removed from the Summer Lands.
Nothing burst into fire, although a couple of words might have glowed a bit blue, so he was probably not on or in Middle Earth. Nonetheless, where he did find himself was more than dark, humid, heavily-forested, and chilled enough for his tastes. Wet 0-5 degree weather could easily promote hypothermia in the unwary. To something like the tupilaq set on his trail, it would be quite lovely. He resisted the urge to hum "Springtime for Hitler".
Depending on relative time ratios, his partner could be right behind him (How long had he been unconscious?) or it could be days until backup arrived. It all depended on the route one took. Probably days, hopefully not months. Winter was soon to arrive in these lands. Snow would be deep and game animals scarce. Brushing himself off, and straightening his kepi, he chose to travel north cross-slope in hope that the forest may check his pursuit more than his own travel. He watched for a break in the tree canopy or a rush of moving water that might accompany a steep drop in the darkness. Now and then he also checked for spells such as may hide a trap or otherwise waylay a traveler.
Leagues behind him, an eight-limbed nemesis sought the lost young man. That mockery of life had been constructed to feast on his life-blood and imprison his spirit. The dark bindings that held it together could not bear even the shortest and darkest of days. So it must perchance secure a hiding-place to safekeep those bindings from the sun. No matter. It sensed its prey already hemmed in between mountain snowfields, the oncoming winter snows, and itself. Time favors the patient hunter.
Through one might not yet notice, and the other not care, strangers did not go entirely unnoticed in these lands. Messengers made their rounds. Courses of actions were considered. Even a wager or two were staked.
Late Haustmánuður, Jernskog
Another young man appeared in the forest, in similar manner to the one who'd passed this way ten days before. Taller, of darker hair and sky-filled eyes, one of those who'd rather over-fly the forest boughs or run a hunter's course over roots, rocks, and dead-falls. Seeing that human senses would be too dull for his purpose, he packed his clothes away, muttered an imprecation on behalf of his spine's health, and allowed his human form to fall away.
Nose closer to the ground, he soon crossed his pack-mate's spoor. Recrossing the path he'd soon take, he barked out a call no cub need to hear repeated. Similar, too similar to the other's, but where the one had been healthy - this, whatever it was, was not healthy at all. Even the old Root-Gnawer might turn aside in disgust. Worse still, the one was surely tracking the other.
As custom demanded, the midnight-furred dire wolf announced his presence and intent to hunt. To the north he'd go, and woe betide those who'd impede him.
Three days' tracking led the hunter past whatever foulness prowled a picket line around a settled clearing - held back by healthy wards beyond those the wolf's pack-mate was able to cast. Old memories stirred behind the wolf's lapis eyes. Sensing no immediate danger, he clothed himself in human form and clothing. He dearly hoped the mistress of the manor could provide healing to soothe an abused and aching back.
"Heil og sæl!”
Looking up into laughing green eyes for a precious few moments before their owner buried his head in the other's neck and tickled his nose with flaxen hair, Thomas Jensen briefly forgot how much more his back would be hurting from the flying tackle. He settled for a low growl that only encouraged the other. Encouraged him quite a bit. How much daylight did they have left?
Gormánuður, a point overlooking the river Gjöll
A cloaked figure stands still, looking into the abyss at his feet. He listens now to the icy blade-filled water far below. Behind him, a statuesque female stands apart in private observations of her own. He winces at the long-delayed splash.
"Ayep. That's gonna leave a mark."
"Was it necessary to conjure an anvil marked with runes and sigils spelling out 'Acme Anvil Corp'?"
The woman sighed, "The false bridge was a nice touch, but next time? Use a bigger anvil."
"So, now we wait?"
"Is it not enough that we've prayed the entire nine days to get to this point, little wolf? He'll return from the river with the tupilaq unwoven and the govi filled or he won't. We only need be on the other side to hail the victor."
"Of this round."
"Then what? Crossing the monster's paths as I have prevents returning to school until Ormamánuður."
"After we've pried the fish from your mate's mouth and paid due respect in my daughter's hall, we should be back to my home in time for Ýlir. I could use some help around the farmstead; the two of you both have things to learn - skills I've taught your ancestors."
Autumn, 1241, On the Occasion of a Death
It's whispered beside the watch-fires in certain mead-halls that in payment for certain poetic embellishments the Foreigner allowed Snorri Sturluson the afterlife of his ancestors. Misfortunate isn't it, that he died on his knees in his home's basement?
Nine days his faithless spirit walked; he arrived at the amazon's gold-thatched bridge.
Nine nights his heart quailed; he was close serenaded by the moon-hunter's songs.
Should not a law-speaker and skald be honored from gate-post to door-post?
Two princes a vanguard against mishap; to a high seat he was silent brought.
Three nights the welcome-feast "Hunger" was set before them, "Famine" brought forth to carve it.
Three days each guest was served from the abundance. The honored guest called for his stirrup.
"Do you like not the company provided to you?" The grave-witch asked,
"Have they spoken aught ill against you?"
"Nay, Lokisdottir, they have not.
Does not the younger not sit here mute, whilst the elder crouches moon-struck?"
"Do you like not the company provided to you?" The shining lord asked,
"Have the servers not fed you well?"
"Nay, Hildolfarson, they have.
Yet I ken neither plate nor cup shared out between the two at my sides."
"Do you like not the company provided to you?" Nanna grief-bearer asked.
"Have you not heard tell of Sigyn's son, throated and gutted in Grimm's honor?
Have you not heard tell of Hel's father's son, blooded in Aes' frenzy?"
"Nay, Nepsdóttir, I have.
For my Master doth remember such iniquities unto the seventh generation."
Wolfen tongue beside him then gave voice to human speaking.
"Have a care, doom-speaker, that Danu not remember your own seventy and sevenfold,
That War-Wolf and Battle-Crow accept wergild for Mercian and Dane,
When the bastard comes calling on Har Megiddo plain."
Nine days the spirit walks, Huginn talks,
Nine nights a heart beats double, Muninn dreams,
Washed in rivers of blood, all forgetting
Old doom and passed wyrd, such as only the dead must know.
Thursday afternoon, October 4, 2007, JROTC drill field
Was it only a week ago that Cadet 1st Lt. Rodriguez had been looking forward to the day his platoon was no longer plagued by Metro's and Valravn's presence? This week, even during drill he found himself wondering where they were and how they were faring. Out in the Real World of deployments and patrols it must be ten times worse, wondering when the hammer would fall.
But, this being Whateley Academy, he found himself scanning his platoon's surface thoughts. Telepathy was good for that.
"Maybe the Canucklehead finally caught a clue! Nah. Complete closet case."
"God, I hope they ARE getting laid, anything to calm down that hyper kid."
"Y'know, 'assume the position' sounds a whole lot dirtier when The Madman screws up and has to do it."
"Lieutenant Rodriguez! Sir, do you know where Cadets Jensen and Jensen are, by any chance?" There it was, one of the questions Gus least wanted to hear after four days and counting of "We hope, but we don't know yet."
"Holm, if I knew for certain - other than a complete diplomatic snafu way above my paygrade, I'd tell you."
Rorsmand's eyes narrowed, "No, sir. I think you have an idea, but you've no intention of telling me."
"If that were the case, what else would you have me do?" Gus returned the freshman's stare, "After all, I'm not Jensen's handler."
That was an implication Kristian hadn't expected, "I have no idea what you're talking about! He's a friend of mine, and I'm concerned about him. Sir."
"Then I'm sure that once Frick and Frack decide to show back up you'll be one of the first to know. Drill's over. Dismissed."
"Yes, sir." The cadet saluted, turned on his heel before he could lose any more of his temper, and walked away.
Thursday evening, October 4, 2007, Euro-Promotional League table, Crystal Hall
Halfway through the meal, Reach noticed that the conversation had been dragging more than usual. Maybe she was just feeling extra-grumpy because Imp had Ace, and by extension, the whole ICC, committing time and resources to a wild goose chase this past week. Or maybe it was just disappointment that after all the work she'd put into getting Spark to eat a decent meal at the caf', an extra helping of Kismet's attitude was turning out to be two helpings too much. Usually, just having Metro at the table would have driven her away by now. Speaking of which ...
"Hey, Kristian, you seen your compadre around? I haven't seen hide nor hair of him or Valravn since that trip they had last weekend."
"Clearly they must have misjudged their choice of chaperon. Perhaps they are - what is that expression? - 'thumbing their way back' as we speak," Introducing Belgian foot to oversize mouth in 3, 2, 1, "If they'd have asked me, I would have been happy to keep them out of trouble."
"Det tvivler jeg helt på." Kristian dumped his tableware and napkin onto the serving tray and stood up. "Excuse me." It didn't take much empathy to see that the boy was walking away pissed.
Reach also thought she saw Phase look as if he'd remembered something distasteful. "I think that I'm finished with my meal as well. If you would all pardon me? Adalie, maybe we could study together later?"
"Mais, bien sûr, Ayla" And whatever the deal was, either Charge wasn't privy to it or she wasn't about to let on. Hard to tell with her sometimes.
Sketchier and sketchier.
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"So you find me hard to handle, well I'm easier to hold
So you like my spurs that jingle and I never leave you cold
So I might steal your diamonds I'll bring you back some gold
I'm no angel ... "
-- Tony Colton, Phil Palmer, "I'm No Angel"
Morning, Friday, October 5, 2007, Dunwich
New England. In it's own way like Old England, but worse in the way there were so many places that set his hackles on edge. Too many things that should have died aeons ago simply lie buried in the shallow crust of the planet until someday Mama Gaea forgets and cracks open a continent the wrong way. Or some idiot Sidhe does for her. Again. Were it up to him, the cubs would never be coming back here, but it wasn't. That didn't mean a lone wolf like him couldn't tend to a few things here and there.
It was in that wonderful pre-coffee mood that he loped over to a local diner after a night spent sleeping on a hotel mattress that substituted river rocks, plural, for the proverbial pea.
"Deputy Wednesday, how good of you to drop by this morning! Will you be having the usual?" called out the waitress covering the diner's counter seating.
'Why don't you just ask the man to haul me in for questioning. Sweetie,' growled the man to himself, settling for, "My coffee, and a menu?"
"Be right with you."
'Right. That's what you said ten minutes ago before calling in a hot tip.'
"Morning, young man. I see you've met Iris. Let's you and me get a booth over there. I'm sure we have lots to talk about," the deputy's gallows-heavy hand on his shoulder didn't leave much room for objection.
"Might as well. One seat's as good as another." He got up to follow the deputy, his eyes though tracked the rest of the morning crowd.
Once everyone in the county knew the stranger was safely seated with The Law, "What the hell are you doing here? I've half a mind to lock you up and throw away the key!"
"Hel's just fine, thanks for asking." Asshole
"You know what I mean. There's things in these hills that would slurp you up, and not leave a trace to ever be found. Not that I care, but some folks might get a bit cranky."
"Thought he was doing the bicoastal thing."
"His stock's up from 'that lying, cheating souvabitch', what happened?"
"The Bobbsey Twins checked in with Sis."
"You had better be joking about that," the deputy glared at the man with his good eye. "I had to run the one up to Doyle Trauma Center myself, not even three months ago. Those two should be safe at school. For now, anyway," a bit louder, "Thanks, Mabel!"
"You're welcome. You should've seen how Iris was making that poor boy here wait like some dog for his breakfast," and Mabel was off to the next table with a (delayed) check.
The 'poor boy' mused, "Maybe the curse wasn't active yet. That would make it a two-party attack."
"Curse? Explain. I should have been able to pick up on that."
"Maybe. Short story, he left school-"
"Yeah, well. He set off something nasty in Illinois, and had to lure it to someplace nastier, with himself as bait."
"Don't know. Gotta know."
"How did you find out?"
"Sis yelled for and at me soon as Mom and little bro fished him out of the river, reeking of arsenic and old magics. I've seen vultures turn their beaks at healthier-looking roadkill."
Time to chow down while World's Worst Uncle digested that.
"So you're nosing around here to find the culprits? I'll tell you again, this area is better than it was, but it isn't safe. The school, it's warded against most intruders."
"Good thing, I'm blood kin isn't it?"
"I see this going south in a hurry."
"Don't worry, I'm here to pick up homework, sniff around a bit, that's all."
"Be sure that is all you do. Try not to spook the weres too much while you're at it. They've had it bad lately."
"White man bad, or?"
"Little bird tells me someone's being a right Bastard to them."
"... Thanks for the heads-up. Don't know if the cubs are ready for that, but then, who is?"
The stranger finished his own meal after the Deputy left, then swore a few minutes later when he realized he'd been stuck with the bill.
Morning, Friday, October 5, 2007, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Harley Sawyer wasn't entirely incorrect that perhaps the Beret Mafia's - to be fair, several of them (Ginny NOT included!) considered freshman Mads Jensen more of a club mascot than a member - token Danish magician had been overstaying his intended welcome somewhere. If not, there would have to be some record at Security to account for the absence, or perhaps some note left with Admin. Also, if he really was being detained along with Thomas Jensen, that would be two foreign nationals that someone should be raising a stink over.
The problem was that the Intelligence Cadet Corps had exhausted nearly every last bit of goodwill with both Security and Admin they'd ever built up. Asking one of the students with work-study assigned to Admin would be the next logical line of inquiry (and the last with regard to Security - thanks Ace!), except people avoided that James Bourne kid even more than Nate avoided Mads. Maybe Rez or Ginny knew someone with an "in" that ... wasn't named Jadis Diabolik. That thought, though viable, didn't do wonders for Harley's breakfast appetite.
later that morning, Friday, October 5, 2007, Whateley Academy
Most of the Mystical and Psychic Arts departments' staff noticed the visitor the moment he crossed the campus wards. The supernal hunger, blood-lust, and rage he embodied cast a slavering four-legged shadow on the ground though he walked on two. Those two legs carried him past the upright pillars supporting the front gates, directly to Kane Hall. The day shift security officer barely remembered to note the lithe, sable-haired, arctic blue-eyed man's description as they arranged a Visitor's Pass. No matter: the visitor simply wasn't one to be forgotten. He, however, took note of which personnel alerted and which failed to. He memorized the faces and scents of those who carried a certain familiar scent to them, and which ones ones did not.
The visitor's next stop was Schuster Hall, to arrange for lessons to be completed by two students who'd be unavoidably detained into the following week. His relationship to the two? It's complicated. Cousins, perhaps. Of course he'd be happy to wait, or better yet, to tour the campus and maybe learn about the students' friends and teachers? He'd heard so much about Whateley after all.
The staff assigned one of the students' friends for escort. The guide dutifully pointed out various historical or entertaining sights, even a litter of Ratatoskr's children scurrying about snapping at an Imp's ankles. Though it clearly pained the student guide to do so, he also pointed out a handful of ne'er-do-wells that had made the 'to look up' list. These would be enough for the games the visitor had in mind.
Morning, Saturday, October 6, 2007, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
"Who in their right mind would allow a challenge match in Arena 77 between - and I quote - Bloodwolf's Pack - unquote - and someone calling himself Bigby Woolfe? For that matter, why wasn't I warned about it last night?" The security chief's lone cup of coffee was calling out to its brethren to join it in the crusade against his stomach. "I suppose I should swing by Doyle Medical and see how the poor guy is doing."
"I called over there about 15 minutes ago. Killstench and Maggot have been released to go back to their cottage. Bloodwolf should be fully recovered today, tomorrow at the latest."
"What about their opponent?"
"For reason known only to themselves, the Spy Kidz decided to follow him after the evening fight."
"Mrs. Carson has already sent Mr. 'Woolfe' packing, so we're hoping that Bloodwolf can help track them. They're kind of lost."
"They went into the woods and and down the dell. Except for Reach, he called in from the M. T. A."
"How did he end up Boston?"
"Are we even sure he's in a Boston on this plane of existence? No. On second thought, don't answer that, just send someone out to get him."
late enough to skip morning chores, early enough to still sit for the mid-day meal, Deep in the Iron Wood, Jötunheimr
The giant black dire wolf shifted to a more human form as he entered the manor, "Okey-dokey. Gather 'round, boys. Thomas, the maths and 'Powers Theory' homework is yours. Mads, the chemistry, history, and costuming is yours. But first, what exactly is the point of having a class in costuming?"
Mads thought about it, "Mostly practical stuff: how to use and camouflage armoring materials (Mostly modern but I think Mrs. Ryan appreciates traditional tech just as much), how color symbology works (like unit and rank designators), how to use drape, cut, and pattern to draw or lose attention. She doesn't go into it too much, but it's been good practice for reconstructing clothing and uniforms from descriptions and limited photography as well. Hej, if you want to fit in with a pack, you have to know their markings."
"So, you use it for some of your illusions?"
"That, and although you can't dispel reality, it's fun to watch the gomers try."
"Some apples don't fall far from the tree, do they?"
Thomas piped up, "I could have told you that, Fen."
"Right. JROTC: just a little reading there. Basic Martial Arts: I talked to your instructors, so when you two aren't earning your keep and learning useful magic from Mom, your asses belong to me. Magical Theory and Lab projects: Mom should go over that with you, so you don't get into bad habits. Also, you need to learn how to securely stash your gear in interplanar space, for when you're four-legged. Ballroom dance: Odh knows you both could stand to learn more human pack behaviors. Thomas, do you interact with anybody you aren't made to?"
"I do have some friends!" Thomas defended himself, defensively, "Poe's a lot more clique-ish for the girls this year, and only a couple of guys in my class."
The lady of the house chimed in, "Son, that doesn't sound like much homework."
"The myrkalfr here has gotten his timeline badly dilated with respect to ours, about a day to the month. They'll have been gone less than a fortnight," was Fenris' nonchalant reply.
"They've got dance classes? The school can't be too uncivilized then."
"No, Ma, the facilities are pretty well set up, and the place is surrounded by woodlands. As long as the rugrats here" "Hey!" "Oy!" "Watch out for some of the nastier lairs, don't set things free that shouldn't be, and don't piss on the Weres' territory marks, they should be fine."
"Weres? I never heard tell of Old One-Eye had inspired any Ulfhednar among the Skræingjar in Vinland."
"Nah, and he didn't. But Wolf, Bear, Puma, and some others look after Garrand's descendants, according to what I've heard here and there."
"Anyway, I was thinking it wouldn't hurt to introduce the boys to the rest of the Wolf Clan in these parts. Social dancing requires proper clothing, so we're going to need more trade goods than a couple of furs if the cubs aren't going to be an embarrassment. We've got wood a-plenty for carving; not for wasting. Maybe they can be taught a respectable trade yet?"
"That would be a first in this family, on all sides," huffed the old wolf.
"Do I need to get a newspaper?"
"Nope! I shall await the onslaught of respectability from a suitable distance."
Before dawn, Wednesday, October 10th, 2007, Whateley Academy
A deer sprung off into the brush, startled, as two hikers walked nearly into it. This part of the woodlands between the Whateley Academy campus proper, and the communal entity known as The Grove was possessed of a certain thinning between and among worlds, so while it was monitored by multiple means it was also a decent route for sneaking in and out of campus. The front gates and a couple of other landmarks might be more reliable way-posts, but Thomas 'Valravn' Jensen preferred this approach. Since he was leading the way, his partner's own skills at this type of travel being highly suspect, this was the route they took.
"Aaaaand we've got wifi and the secured login. I should ping the uvie tracker as a ... nope, Paige is awake and playing," said partner rambled, "So we're as here as here for us may be."
"Got the time?" Thomas looked down to set his watch.
"Oh-fuck-this thirty-seven on ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... mark! Wednesday, October 10th, so we missed First Nations' Genocide Day," Mads' sarcasm slipped into fully-intended snarl in referring to a particular holiday. "Sam's asleep but Hive's contacted Security for an intercept."
"There's no one else with us, and both of our student badges should be pinging on the board."
"They don't know that we're actually just us. This time of morning, especially around Sector Tango, IR and UV get a little wonky."
"Which Platoon is up?"
"Third, but any scheduled traffic should have finished, and I know this path isn't an approved lane."
"Let's go meet them then."
'Louis!, should we stay, or should we go? Or did we?'
'No. I'm awake as usual, Thomas. Mads' unusual relative, yours too? Oh, dear. Told Mrs. Carson when to expect you two - before he was shown the door.'
'He did seem pleased with himself. That should be Security - gotta go!'
Fubar in his tank spent a few idle moments speculating on how one would manage a family tree while accounting for the various lives a soul may inhabit before deciding that Circe's department could deal with those hyperdimensional headaches, and went back to pondering his next several chess moves.
Correction. Sam Everheart was asleep. Two missing students, both of whom worked campus security in one capacity or another, showing up nine days behind schedule? Oh, hells to the yes, the retired Rear Admiral was waking up. That her apartment was in Kane Hall made for a short commute. Not that she had needed to rush. Someone had missed some check-in step, and the Shortstop had dug his heels in like a mule.
"Exactly how can you be sure that we are who you think we are? Hm? I can think of half a dozen ways to impersonate someone like me, off the top of my head," new guy, meet Metro, the office paranoid. Bets all around.
"Jensen. Stand. Down. Leave the rules-mongering to the people who are actually ON the duty roster for today, and not Missing In Action since the 30th. Just don't even start. If you think you have a way to spoof Hive, Cyberkitty, and Fubar," Sam did not at all like the slight smirk that just appeared on the student's face.
Fubar's mental voice sounded in Sam's head, 'I'm somewhat worried about that myself. Not easy, or sane, but he might be right.'
"I see that we are going to have to have a long discussion about that. Sergeant, have someone take as much of their statements as possible before Admin and Medical hear they're back. Don't touch their gear; we do know they've both been off-plane, so what's safe for them may not be safe for anyone else. And Jensen?"
"Would you care to explain how it is that you are wearing a uniform that hasn't seen service since World War One?"
The boy looked down in mild surprise, "That, is an excellent question. I had meant to burn these clothes, but then I was kind of hoping they might change back to what I'd been wearing in Illinois once the bound essence started interacting with local space."
Judging by the expressions shared amongst the on-duty officers, no one was going to touch anything belonging to that kid except with a lead-shielded forklift. By remote control. Some of the new officers hadn't yet seen the range of insane weirdness the magical arts kids could cook up, but were fairly sure that they didn't want to find out quite yet. The rest had seen enough to know they didn't want to know more - especially as that last statement sounded way too much like an "oops".
Doyle Medical Center
Those betting on Medical pulling rank on Admin raked in a small amount of profit. Copious sample vials were set out to be filled with blood or other fluids, as no medical stone was to be left unturned. That bit of vampirism was just the prelude to a multitude of scans. Neither boy was left certain he'd want to know how and why the extensive examinations had come to be justified as standard procedure, let alone meet whatever could be left of the survivors. Eventually, though, they got down to the bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. The doctor pretended not to notice the white-knuckled grip the patient had on his friend's hand.
The blood tests came back normal, or as normal as they could be with Metro's altered circulatory system. Only after that was confirmed, and the pair hustled off to lunch, was his doctor informed just how long the two had been away from campus and out of reach of medical treatment.
lunch, Crystal Hall
Metro was planning on taking advantage of a day off the 'special meals' line, when he felt rather than heard the cafeteria getting quiet around him. He turned around to find himself face to face with Bloodwolf.
"About time you two turned back up. What the hell happened?"
"Short story? Someone sent a fetch after me on top of the curse. Met some friends of the family. Had to take the long way back." Now it was the short magician's turn to the feral side, "Meanwhile, I heard you lost a bet."
From behind his alpha, Maggot complained, "Lost a bet? He was in the clinic most of a day!"
Metro looked Bloodwolf in the eye, "A bet. You're good for your side?"
The werewolf snarled, "I don't welch out on bets. Special Topics - Martial Arts, already registered. What do you know about it?"
The magician growled back, his tenor speaking voice intentionally not carrying, "Fen said you were pretty good, for a cub. And that my two-legged scrawny ass better be signed up for the same class." His sideways grin was less a challenge and more of an 'I know something you don't know' message.
Up close, the cheeky bastard actually smelled a bit like?
Big B. Woolfe. 'Fen', as in short for That big, bad, wolf. Someone has an ego, and the chops to back it up.
That explained a couple of things. There was also a thing he didn't smell of. What the hell was that kid thinking?
"You're off the chemo."
"I survived. The curse didn't. Someday I'll find out who I need to end for that. Want in? Might get dirty."
Security got two surprises that lunch period. The first, happiest surprise was that Bloodwolf and Metro did not throw down in the middle of the cafeteria. No one was even maimed or killed getting in their way. The second, less happy, surprise was that a certain Dane hadn't checked his email and was caught completely off-guard at seeing his friends back at school without either one even bothering to let anyone know what was going on, or why they'd be out of contact. The second was that Rorsmand had a flash of insight along the lines of 'just keep walking, they'll explain later'. And so, he didn't punch out the self-centered idiot who had dropped out of sight for over a thrice-damned week without warning anyone. Precognition can be quite handy for avoiding things one isn't ready to learn about.
Afternoon, still Wednesday, October 10th, 2007, Office of the Headmistress, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Elizabeth Carson took her time looking over the files she had stacked on her desk. Thomas 'Valravn' Jensen had arrived first and was patiently waiting outside. Her other appointed 'guest' was not there yet. She was beginning to wonder if Metro wouldn't be needing protective custody, until Dr. Ophelia Tenent arrived not quite dragging said student by the scruff of his neck. Valravn followed them in and quietly closed the door.
"My apologies, Liz, but does anyone else present need a reminder that neither 'lack of symptoms', nor even 'remission' are synonyms for 'recovered'? Clearly someone hasn't."
Imaginary crickets chirped as the two boys did their best imitations of "embarrassed" and "contrite".
The key word was 'imitation' as Mads Jensen didn't have a contrite bone in his body, no matter how many times they'd been reset or replaced.
Mrs. Carson picked up the deceased conversation, "Mister Jensen, from the brief reports I have, I assume that not everything went according to plan. Did we get answers to any of the questions we had going in?"
"Ma'am. I honestly think we got more questions than answers. I've had nine months to think things over and I still cannot say I know for sure whether I am or am supposed to be Mathias Møller, deceased these past four years, in Mads Gunnison's body, Mads Gunnison the original, both or neither. If Fubar was around maybe he could shed some light on it."
"Yes, I am around, for the moment," Fubar appeared in one of his tweedier suits, "Hm. A split spirit attempting to be born into two concurrent incarnations might explain some of Metro's mental trauma. I expect it also would allow one part to be used by adversaries against the other as a sympathetic link if it failed to work as a decoy. However, in my opinion that should not have resulted in both Mathias Møller and Mads Gunnison being genetically identical, unless -maybe - the spirit was unaware of the split. That may also have provided an end-run around the Academy's wards and safeguards, but we'll need to look into that side of the matter without making too many assumptions. Please excuse me, but I'm also teaching a class while trying to stay available."
"Of course, thank you Louis," Mrs. Carson said, thumbing through a folder as a reminder. "Based on what the investigation found, along with other documents we had obtained, there are records supporting the two boys as independent persons until roughly four years ago, when Møller was murdered and Gunnison was abducted and nearly killed. Between then and August of this year is more certain. Certainly more colorful."
Dr. Tenent asked, "Which one is my patient here?"
"Unless Mads has retrieved memories of living in Illinois and Missouri between 1991 and 2003, " The boy shook his head, slightly ill at the implication that part of him was forever dead. "He is who he's been saying he is. Møller's extended family sees him as representing a cadet branch of Oldenburg, one not in the line of succession, but that view will likely prevail as the legal decision. London and Copenhagen are working on a cover story that will also account for Dr. Beaulieu and Lars Gunnison if we can retrieve them. Given the circumstances, all parties will need to be adaptable."
Mrs. Carson continued, "Gentlemen, that still doesn't quite explain the unwelcome visitor who picked up your homework assignments Friday. Nor the stack of birch bark that I had to confiscate from certain academic researchers. What convinced you to think that your instructors would be fluent in whichever dialect of Old Norse this is, let alone be able to read it, inscribed as it is using the Younger Futhark?"
"Mrs. Carson, Aunt Aang decided that more work should be done, given the opportunity, so we were tasked with rewriting everything in the local dialect. As to the birch bark, the price was right?" Thomas barely avoided face-palming at Mads pleading poverty.
"I suspected as much." The headmistress pulled out a thin folder from her stack, "You can give this to Mr. Williams when next you see him in American History class. He received the translations by mistake."
'No mistake, Roland deserved it.'
'Liz, that's not nice. Accurate, maybe appropriate, but not nice.'
She handed over the true copy to Metro, "Maybe you'd care to enlighten us what did happen with the - I believe you called it a tupilaq in earlier reports - that managed to leave you stranded for nine days our time?"
Nine days, or maybe nine months, relatively speaking, before now
Have you ever had that feeling of not getting enough air? You know your heart's beating, pounding even, you're not bleeding, and it sure looks like your lungs are pulling something in and pushing something out as you gasp for air, but there's still that growing static noise in your ears and darkness surrounding everything you look at, and your muscles feel sapped of strength? Honestly, nothing would feel better than a nice nap. Maybe in one of the snow drifts alongside the road, muddy with sporadic traffic, and a bit treacherous as one rock or another rolls out from under a foot.
Just like in the stories, so easy to stop and give in.
Nearly the only thing that keeps this early winter traveler going is the prospect of something worse behind him, sniffing out the young man's footsteps from among any and all others. It, unfortunately, doesn't get tired. Two of the traveler's allies are following close behind it, badgering it into stopping and defending itself before it can gain too much ground, or force it to take a longer or more dangerous route. Little did the hunter's opponents realize that it could just pull more life force down the blood connections between it and its quarry. As long as it has that connection, it can take its time weakening the two-legged movable feast ahead of it. Had it been granted more intellect, perhaps it would also savor the irony that under the terms of the curse used once chase has been given, the prey is not allowed to die completely except to the hunter's bite.
Traditionally, a tupilaq would be made of natural bones, hide, and teeth. But this one, no, it was made from the flesh and blood of its twin's parents. Also tradition would have the construct being given a measure of its maker's life energy by sexual congress performed either with the whole beast or its constituent parts. Both parts of the ritual, construction and animation, are performed in secrecy by the dark of the night, when a shaman desires the death of another living person.
The coroner's reports on body parts remaining half-buried on the scene would conclude that all three victims were assaulted before death, and two post-mortem, along with other indications of ritual desecration. Based on recommendations from HPARC and DPA experts, all remains were incinerated and the ashed stored in a secure but undisclosed location.
As with any magic, the tupilaq can be undone. Its master may decide to openly confess their act to the tribe, cleansing the corruption from the land and sea by bringing its origin to light. Or, if its master has been even more foolish, a stronger shaman may turn the tupilaq back on its creator. In this case, the target surmised that the creator may have been summarily dealt with, preventing this option. However, Inuit tradition does not speak in great detail of what may be done in darkness when the shaman or would-be shaman has been lost to ancient insanities and evils. However, these things were known or learned about the monster that had dared chase human prey into the Iron Wood.
Mads Jensen was not completely without tricks of his own, but his being a conventional madness, there were still Rules that had to be followed. Three celebrants ate together, mourned together, and recited prayers for three of the dead, repeated for nine days, threes and nines being important in the North and to the Dead. If the Rite of Reclamation were to be permitted early in the chosen place, then there would be a hope for the imprisoned souls' relief. A small hope it was, but aren't the living judged by how they honor (or fail to honor) their dead and dying? And so, a nine days' walk down an ancient road was planned: into a realm where winter reigned eternal, and winter did its best to seep into the young man's dying bones and thinning blood.
At the last bridge to be crossed on this ancient road, he'd informed the gatekeeper that he would be going down to the river below. She laughed and called him a fool for that, but she pointed out the narrow footpath that switched and switched back again until one reached the river bank, and there, a ford that predated even the road and the bridge.
Arriving at that place, the young man stepped out into the ice-bladed waters. Though they had the power and right of their way, the river waters instead asked what business a fool mortal might have in this place, what excuse he could give that he not be dashed upon the rocks and left to wander with the forsaken and the damned on the shores of Nástrǫnd? The young magician gave the river a Name from out of Dreams and Time, one known to the waters. Knowing that Name, the waters also knew that they'd yet taste a measure of death.
The eight-limbed (not eight-legged, for half of the limbs were mis-jointed arms, two displaying matching wedding bands) monstrosity did not take long to arrive at the bridge, guarded against trespass by a giantess, by old agreements, and by older concessions. It disregarded the northern Amazon's threats for it could sense its prey far below. Nothing else could matter. Down it went, tumbling against rock and stone, its own pain having no meaning to it save as something to inflict on the soul it was doomed to capture.
Mads imagined he could still see the likenesses of a man and woman who could have stood in for his own parents in another time, had some things turned out different. Here though, what he could do is chant prayers alien to the Realm and face the killer unarmed.
"Dlo kwala manyan, nan peyi sa maman pa konn petit li,
Nan peyi sa, fre pa konn se li, dlo kwala manyan."
He backed up slowly, luring the tupilaq into venturing out into the river carrying its cargo of ice, knives, and primeval venom. The fetch shuddered back from the stream, sensing an unknown danger.
"Si koko te gen dan li tap manje mayi griye,
Se paske li pa gen dan ki fe l manje zozo kale!"
He then used a dirty bit of conjure permitted to those that haunt wilderness ponds and rivers. Such as he, lifetimes ago. A white horse took his place in the waters, beautifully gaunt from exhaustion and illness. No threat at all, and it still smelled like prey.
"Zozo, tone! A la yon bagay ingra, (repeat)
Koko malad kouche, zozo pa bouyi te ba l bwe,
Koko malad kouche, zozo pa vini we l."
This time the construct leaped to prevent the prey's escape.
And so it landed on the water horse's back, a willing rider, for that was the Rule even here.
The horse dove into a dark pool just upstream of the ford, the would-be hunter stuck tight to its hide.
The river Gjöll's waters rose up over the both.
Consciousness came slowly, as if it needed permission to intrude. The need for urination was much less tentative about its arrival. In fact, said arrival almost ended up an immediate one as the boy opened his eyes to a blue-eyed, black-furred dire wolf on the bed with him. It growled lowly as it moved to put a large paw (that went well with large bared teeth) on his chest.
Stay there. Obviously.
No problem, Mads could be good with that, except, "I really need to pee."
Wolves really aren't supposed to roll their eyes like a teen-aged human, but it must have gotten some of the message because several pounds' weight were removed from his chest as it hopped off the bed. Mads should have expected it to easily take human form.
"Privy's down the hall, if you can make it there."
"Won't know until I try."
Half-carried between Fenris and Thomas, he did make it to the privy.
After an unnecessarily thorough and rough scrubbing, punctuated with variations of "What the blue blazes were you thinking?", they dumped him back into bed wearing a clean change of bedclothes. There was some discussion of whether he really was in that much need of a bath, which he lost. Shoving the nightshirt he'd been wearing into his face was just cruel and unusual. Mads was later informed that what he'd had on had been burned. Outside. Downwind. Of Hel.
Yes, that Hel. What, did anyone think Gjöll ran past Disney World?
The Lady of the realm judged that the two souls that had been removed from the construct would need to stay. The jar that had been used to catch them was then set in a secure location until such time as they'd healed enough to consider their next lives. They'd suffered more than enough through no fault of their own.
"'Mads', this time out, or is it 'Mathias'? Even here I'm not sure what I remember."
"Your name is what you make of it in your current life. Bear in mind that, whether you remember it or not, this is the second time someone has tried to use you for a set of fetters in less than a century. Also remember that you have a brother back in Detroit, which means Thomas can be bypassed if they get to him."
Thomas joined in, "That shouldn't be easy. Just getting us to physically to Whateley involved using a gate that should not have opened."
"But someone had a key to that gate, and they rigged the game so you'd end up in their reach. Think on that, rest up, and make ready for whatever comes next. Now, give your Big Sis a hug before you lot head back north. I can't make it for Yule, so this visit will have to do."
A Mother's Day, The Iron Wood
"A witch dwells to the east of Midgard, in the forest called Ironwood: in that wood dwell the troll-women, who are known as Ironwood-Women [Iárnvidjur]. The old witch bears many giants for sons, and all in the shape of wolves; and from this source are these wolves sprung."
All in all, it had been a good feasting, if a bit heavy on the meat. And fish - never forget the fish! But it had been years on years since she'd had children around, to surprise, pain, delight, and annoy her by turns. A pity that her daughter could not celebrate the blót - always too busy, she was - no thanks or praise to old Shifty-Eyed in this hall! After the meal and a couple of hours of inappropriate tall tales and other stories, the boys had ended up in a puppy pile in front of the fire. Her sister-wife's children's children wore their two-legged forms, while her own boys wore their birthright fur or scales. She smiled at the recollection of poor Jorm trying to figure out where to nudge in to soak up the most warmth without roasting. Little Mads was still spiking fevers, the medicines that had saved him before now being paid for in full as they worked their way back out, but tonight the runes said would be one of the good ones.
So the woman sat in her rocking chair, weaving with needle and yarn, and savoring the last of the night's mead. In the morning, the young would take their leave, whether for chores or work or a distant destiny. But for now, they were where they belonged - safe, sound, and under a mother's watchful eye. Woe betide any spirit, wight, or demon - aye, or petty god as well - who'd have it different.
The Iron Wood
'Aunt Aang' knew that Thomas remembered maybe too much for the two of them, and Mads, well, perhaps thought was the wrong word for the strange ways his broken mind worked. However, it was Mads' turn to crow 'I told you so!' to Thomas when it turned out that he had a talent for whittling and carving. And in turn, he was curiously reticent when asked how. All he'd admit to was that it was 'another time, in another country, and besides the wench is dead.'
He in turn, rearranged the herb garden, and did his best to tend the crops and animals. No one gainsaid him his breaks to 'cool off' or 'wash away the sweat' (especially the latter) in a local stream. Instead, even she got in the habit of checking how far over the line he was pushing himself, silently agreeing with his distant doctor that he'd need to stick close to water until his lungs could meet his body's needs. The work was good for him. What child of Gaea didn't need to touch the earth from time to time?
So they passed the spring, chores by day, lessons by night. Language, lore, craft, necessary things. The head of a neighboring holding sent a daughter over to 'keep her out of trouble', it being obvious that the two lads weren't entirely interested but not entirely bad company either. To everyone's delight, Thomas had a fine voice for singing and Mads took to the hardingfele like he was born to it. To everyone's amusement, they did their best to learn the local dances, for which their height was somewhat ill-suited except to accompany the youngest and shortest of maidens.
To think that all was peaceful in the house would be a mistake: Jorm and Fen decided it would be a fine jest to gift the house a set of pipes. On realizing what the two rascals had done, old woman chased their misbegotten hides across several counties and a border or two to boot. Meteorologists claimed a freak, rapid-moving cold front spawned the howling winds, laughing thunder, and driving rain. Some of the old folk knew better, and smiled to think that their neighbors off to the east hadn't completely become set in their ways.
The Iron Wood
"Well, now. You boys got everything? Everything that wasn't nailed down, I'd imagine, given the size of the packs!"
"Na, na. We didn't have room for the roof slates and kitchen table!"
"Listen, you! You may have gotten free the one time, but assume you'll always be lucky. Be smart instead."
"And you! Keep an eye out for the both of you, or soon enough you'll both be in trouble, again."
"Not by oath, but I plan to."
"Good. You just might survive to come back again."
The boys who half-crowded and well nigh eaten the woman out of house and home gave her each a hug before setting out. No promises to break, no regrets to take. Around another corner and they'd be seeing the last of the Midsummer fires. A few leagues further and they'd be outward bound for certain, through forgotten lanes behind the worlds' shadows. They'd be a little late getting back to school, but isn't that the tradition?
Afternoon, still Wednesday, October 10th, 2007, Office of the Headmistress, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Well, now. That was one tall tale from a short mischief-maker!
'Liz, he's telling what he believes is the truth. Not the whole truth, just the pertinent parts, as he sees them.'
'Louis, that's worse. It's bad enough with the Olympians running amok ... '
Fubar's voice tickled in the Headmistress' mind as he laughed, 'Remember which mischief-maker you're dealing with!'
Out loud, Mrs. Carson said, "Mads. Do you seriously believe that the Norse goddess of Death is your sister?"
"No. However, that would be an immense improvement over my biological sister."
Thomas' scowl suggested he had an even lower opinion of the person in question, as Mads continued, "Technically, Hel is the ruler of Hel, but she's a Jotun, or half-Jotun/half-Æsir depending on how you look at it, and Odin's the literal grave god that sends Valkyries out to arrange honorable deaths in battle."
Liz could make out a difference of opinion between the two on the latter entity, but "That is not what I meant."
"Mrs. Carson, what little I do know is that the Norse and Celts," the boy pointed a thumb at himself, "generally incarnate as members of the same family lineages over and over. They may change roles and relationships, but that bond of kinship is extremely important. Right?"
"Still not what I meant."
The student continued, "Right. Now, to the extent that you can believe in deities, as opposed to powerful spirits that might appear to be like gods thanks to PR, let's assume that Loki's Æsir blood-brother got busy with a good half-dozen or so European royal lines. Does that make their descendants demigods? To the nth generation? Hardly. One past life that I do know something about, Narfi Halfdan, was literally a bastard in that sense. But it's not my fault - not our fault - that our names from that time got penciled into the blanks written into a bad ghost story."
He didn't know it yet, but Mads won a small amount of credit with Dr. Tenent for having reading ahead in the Magical Theory texts. If only the answers to the exercises weren't inscribed in Old Norse on birch bark. Maybe the freshman girl from Norway, Elle Ruud, could read them?
"How does that fit in with your 'cousin', another distant relative who for some reason claims you?" Thomas asked, leading the witness.
A suddenly, suspiciously, mute witness.
Thomas prompted again, "Mads. Who. Was. Narfi's mother? I know that Vali never met her. Other than his father, did anyone meet her?"
"Breguswith? Er, something like that. One day she said she had to leave, and that he had to stay to tend to the farmstead. He never saw her again that I know of. So Vali never met her. Just like Narfi never met that priest that so influenced Vali."
That, as far as Thomas was concerned, was a disconcerting thought. If that was stage-managed too, then what else may have been?
Mads went on, "So, maybe generations back, Brigantia or someone/something with that use-name might have had something to do with the maternal line. To a point, that also lines up with the limited lore about Sigyn. Yay. All I know is that the family kept up some of the wise ways for a few generations. How that all happened, I don't know." He broke from the mini-rant, "There are secrets only the Dead know."
Mrs. Carson interrupted before things could get even more awkward, "Considering all that, do you claim divine ancestry?"
Ophelia's eye roll was not helpful.
"I claim that it's just as likely for me and for Thomas as it is for millions of other Europeans, depending on your definition of 'deity'. That said, I'd rather NOT have my blood and guts rendered into bloodsteel cable! Because that's where that line of thought seems destined to take us."
Dr. Tenent had been observing the by-play, but not all of it made the same sense to her as it did to two very tired students. "That story, about Loki being bound to three rocks in a cave. It could be a mangled description of binding something else. Something, I hate to say it, that may need to be bound."
The weary Dane stopped what might have been a flippant remark, and seemed for a moment to be listening to something or someone.
"Where would you turn, Healer, to find the giants who danced the Western Sea into being to bind them? What would come of them breaking free again? Would the painted ones of the northwest isles praise you to see their lands washed away yet again?"
He shook his head for a moment, and looked around, "Sorry, what? No. I don't think so."
Mrs. Carson said, "It is possible. Unlike the Classical myths, most Northern myths that have come down to us weren't committed to writing until after the Christian conversion of Scandinavia. Let's say that the story of Cain and Abel becomes retold as Vali and Narfi, losing critical details, but it continues to be told.
"Don't look at me like that, I do have a degree in English, including literary analysis. However, given certain 20th c. events which I am personally familiar with, and the people refusing to let the Fourth Reich die, we must also consider the possibility that whoever is responsible for murdering the Møllers may have something more Wagnerian in mind. They are still out there, and may know that Mads escaped the trap.
"Nonetheless, do I have to spell out to you two that the prohibitions on religious spaces dedicated to a student or student's spirit is not going to be waived for you two? You haven't given me a straight answer yet."
Thomas spoke, "Mrs. Carson, please believe me when I say that we fully understand that belief in those old stories as they stand can be enough to empower certain spirits and even impose defining characteristics. Furthermore, that there may be sufficient power to summon and invoke by name even the most minor characters. The only thing that's different for us, unlike thousands or millions of other people with similar ancestry according to some legend or another, is that someone thinks they can use me and my boyfriend as spellcasting material."
Mrs. Carson shook her head, "Boys, that doesn't quite explain a very well-known wolf spirit walking directly onto these grounds posing as a student's family member. Were it a spiritual kinship, he would only have come if called properly from inside the school's wards." Seeing gears start to turn in the junior mages' minds, she admonished, "That does not mean that you should call him to you; I want to see even less of him on these grounds than I care to see or hear of Coyote." Mrs. Carson did not look happy even mentioning the old scoundrel, "Is that understood?"
Mads gulped, nodded, and then cheerfully pointed out, "That's OK. It's the Horned One that's my primary mentor."
Why pal around with one lone wolf when you can hang with the whole Wild Hunt?
Before her friend's blood pressure could climb much higher, Dr. Tenent added, "We also need to consider that he two of you have just managed to spend about nine months in Jötunheimr - or the experiential equivalent - a trip that a seidhr-worker would not even consider risking via astral projection for nine hours without very good reason. That is bound to have had effects you may not yet be aware of yet."
Oh, no. Elizabeth Carson recognized that look from years of teaching other impulsive teenagers.
"Mads. Thomas. You clearly left a location or two out of that story earlier. Explain. Consider me already briefed on your property investment."
"Umm ... could I get a pass on that?"
So, now the maniac can read the atmosphere? Thomas gritted his teeth, "You seemed proud enough of the idea at the time."
"I also had run out of certain meds at the time."
"Boys, we can keep you right here, until Hell freezes over if we have to." In fact, to Elizabeth's eye, Ophelia looked like she might well make good on that threat.
Mrs. Carson was paying attention to the students' body language. They *twitched* at precisely the wrong word.
"Hel. Mads, I'm not surprised. But you, Thomas? What were you thinking? Or were you?"
"He didn't go right in, just to the river. Or, rather, into the river, at first," that sounded lame even to Thomas' own ears. On the other hand, no matter how subtle the eldritch beastie, being dunked into a river of knives will seriously cramp its style. Mads was clearly still damned proud of that.
The doctor was mentally calculating what submerging himself in glacial outflow could have done to her patient, along with the cost/benefit ratio - expressed in medicinal alcohol - of strapping him down to a hospital bed, again, for the next four years.
"Does that mean that although you went as far down the World Tree as Niflheim, you didn't actually enter Hel?"
"Not until we fished him out of the pool under the bridge."
"I don't remember that," complained the knucklehead in question.
"Maybe because you were laid up unconscious for nine days afterward?"
"Oh. Yeah. That could do it. By the way, did Hel have time to connect with her mother? I only recall paying our respects before leaving."
'Dear god.' The Headmistress made a mental note to ask the Mystical Arts Department Head to keep these two loose cannons as far away from the topics of theurgy and necromancy as is possible, humanly or otherwise. Assuming Ophelia doesn't enter the advisement notes first. Or strangle them. Maybe Imp could use the student advisory practice next semester?
"Boys. I want a concise, but complete, description of what you've been doing for the last several months of subjective time, in English, due next Friday. Double-spaced. No word-count games. Understood?"
Two heads nodded.
The headmistress suddenly realized, 'Oh, no. Here it comes. There's more.'
"Does that mean that Maman Bridgitte is UNinvited for All Souls' Day?"
"Get out of my office."
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Afternoon, Wednesday, October 10th, 2007, south side of campus, Whateley Academy
Finally! They'd been released from the interviews and interrogations for now, and most of the belongings they'd had on them at the start of the day had been returned. Most. And not without protest. With Mads off to Hawthorne Cottage, Thomas had some time to think on his own before grabbing some dinner and going to their Dance class. After that, he'd need to be getting uniforms ready for the next couple of days, the JROTC and Whateley uniforms, respectively. But for now, what? After nine months' subjective time, he'd gotten used to living on a farmstead well-isolated from others by ancient boreal forest. By way of comparison, the school grounds now felt more crowded, the students more loud and pushy, than he remembered. Compared to other places the two had been, the school was itself isolated and roomy, but those places were long ago.
Through their link, he caught a hint of concern echoing back his own melancholy, but that was largely dwarfed by the accepting welcome Mads was receiving. It was probably much more low-key than the boy was seeing it. Another matter of contrast. Maybe their therapist was right, that they both needed to make more effort to connect with other students? Then again, they lived in very different residence halls. Both of them had been refurbished, but Hawthorne was more extended than rebuilt, keeping more of its oddly organic, reclusive character. That sort of fit the Inmates, when he thought about it - each one having been dealt hands from a deck stacked against them, each one all too aware how much worse things might have been, or will be. Poe Cottage instead had come barely short of demolition and reconstruction, making everything bright and new, almost sterile. That the better fixtures all just happened to be allocated to the girls' (born or becoming) wings, while the boys' wings took in the overflows and rejects. That made it sort of fit that Murphy and Anomaly, with their GSD taking them out of the conventional 'pretty' range, had been shoved in with the boys while Lancer stayed with his friends.
Maybe he'd personally been an ass to Murphy and Monica in not reaching out more? They were only in Room 228. Any closer and he'd be sleeping with them. Would 'Aunt Aang' have given them a space to keep warm but left them to fend for themselves? Thomas was certain the answer to that was 'No', though she wasn't fond of people. Oh well. Here he was at the door - time to think happy thoughts for the empaths, and stow his gear. He just wished it felt more like home.
"May I help you?" the statuesque redhead asked him, quietly flipping the cottage status lights to 'Outsider On-board'.
"Thanks, but I think I know where I'm going."
"That may be, but ah'd appreciate it if you'd sign in here first."
"I ... haven't had to do that before?"
"That's been the policy since Ah've been here at Whateley. I don't know how or why you've slipped through the cracks, but you still do need to sign in. As an RA, I do have to insist. Meanwhile, I can call up to see if whoever you're here to see is around?" Lanie was trying to be polite and helpful, but this wasn't what Thomas was expecting. Then again, she probably had her own interests to keep track of, and none of them were him.
"Gary Jefferson, Room 227."
"You can't be too close a friend o' his, seein' as how he's in 223 with Jeff. Now if you were hopin' to rummage around, you need to know that what was left when he moved across the hall is all boxed up and down in storage until Admin tells Mrs. Horton where to send it. Ain't nothin' ta pick over," Lanie paused to listen for one of the two to pick up.
"Jeff? Lanie. Is Gary in, by any chance? No? When would you expect him to be back? Thanks." Lanie relayed the bad news, "Gary's not in. You could try coming back after the evening class period. Just remember to sign in next time."
"Thank you. Maybe I will."
< Mads, you free? >
< Yes ... What's wrong? Something's wrong isn't it? >
< I need some place. I don't know. Maybe until tomorrow. Then I should just leave. >
< T. Come straight here. I've got plenty of room for your pack and it'll be secure. We'll work things out from there. Got it? You haven't been attacked, or followed? You sure you're alright? >
< Just feeling a bit down. >
< Any bit's a bit too much down. >
Thomas was headed off at the cottage door by a worried Dane, "Who do I have to shoot, repeatedly?" The frightening part was that he was dead serious about planning ballistic maintenance and recalibration.
"Mads, you're not going to be shooting nobody," Mrs. Cantrell scolded, "If we let you do that, Lord knows we'd have to let Caitlin work through her list too. Thomas, you get yourself inside before that boy decides on committing some other mayhem."
Watching their body language as the two walked in, she continued, "We knew something was wrong. Out with it."
Thomas opted for short and simple, "I, um, I went back to Poe to put my gear away, but as I was signing in I found out that my belongings were now in storage. Looks like I'll have to wait for tomorrow to find a new place to stay."
"Huh. And tomorrow's uniform day, so you'll need your uniforms at least," Metro pointed out, "Mrs. Cantrell, there's room enough in my room to fit a cot at least. If that would be okay?"
"Child, we do have rooms not in use, and Valravn's powers are electrical. That's no good for water pumps. Any items that have to be secured, you can hold onto. Do explain the indicator lights before Thomas has to use the shower. Maybe you'll remember better, too. Thomas, please don't get too spread out. Brian? Could you get Jimmy or Caitlin to show Thomas around and check him into 214 for now?"
Metro said, "While everyone's getting that straight, I'll,"
"I hope you're not planning anything on the wrong side of ethical," the house mother warned.
"*ahem* I am still assigned to Security"
"That's ... right. But you're out of uniform."
"I can fix that."
"See that you do, before you go giving even more people the wrong ideas."
Thomas was partly unpacked in a temporary room, had been shown around, and been introduced to the Thornies and a Poesie he hadn't met, there was a knock at the door.
"Uniforms and sundry items from Room 227, as requested. You'll need to check these boxes for anything missing before signing for them," a properly-uniformed Security Auxiliary informed him. In response to the questioning look aimed at him, "Security does need to know if anything walked off. Signing for the invoiced belongings is procedure."
With the additional task of inventory, Valravn and Metro were nearly late to catch dinner. In fact, Thomas was set to guarding Mads' tray while he checked the paperwork in at Kane Hall.
That was one of the many things about the magician that still surprised the former spirit: the guy could improvise around rules with the worst of them, and the Creator knows the boy had little respect for laws, but on the safety and security of others he was very aware of procedures, and meticulous in observing them. It hurt a bit to remember that the boy had barely survived having his own safety and security compromised, and likely would never fully heal from that.
Ballroom Dance class
"Mads! Thomas! Good to finally have you two back. I believe there was some homework to be done?"
One worried student spoke up, "Ma'am? There was homework assigned? Somehow I missed that. Can I still make it up?"
Cecilia Rogers explained, "No. This had to do with what they were up to while they were away from campus."
Mads handed the instructor a couple of CDs, "I let Thomas pick many of the takes, and then we composed what we could with the equipment on-hand. These are pulled straight from the master using standard camera angles."
"What, no birch bark?"
The boy smiled, "Too many frames to draw, unless you'd have settled for the storyboards."
"No. I would not have. Charlie, could you start going over the files while I start the class?"
"I'd be happy to."
Miss Rogers asked, "Boys, what's in the suit bags?"
"Ehhhmm. Fen did say that we'd be idiots to think you wouldn't want proof the files aren't faked."
"He or she would be right about that. After class, I would like to see what you learned."
Miss Rogers and Mr. Lodgeman swapped back and forth between observing the homework and conducting class. But otherwise it was business as usual, trying to match steps to the music without stepping on or colliding with one's partner or other couples. At the end:
"Thomas, Mads, would you go put on the outfits you brought? Your friend Fen was right, I do want to see you actually do some of what was filmed. Class, we'll see the rest of you Friday."
Most of the students left, having their own homework, studying, or 'studying' to catch up on. A handful did stick around just to see what the delinquents had learned. There were a couple of appreciative murmurs when Metro and Valravn came back out. Both were wearing what would simply be called festival clothes, with inconsistencies that would drive a historical purist to distraction, but clearly hand-tailored if not handmade for the two of them. In other words, flattering and expensive.
Thomas felt a bit smug regarding what was sure to come, knowing that the halling or lausdans wasn't quite what the spectators would be expecting from a ballroom dance class. He hoped that Mads was up for it after the long day they'd had: recovery had taken much out of him, and he'd been a good sport regarding some of the more disastrous out-takes that had been recorded. Nonetheless, hard work paid off and the guy landed his attempted hallingkasts on his feet.
Afterwards, Charlie Lodgeman did have a couple of pointed questions to ask, as the other people in the videos were ... taller than one would expect, and their clothing old-fashioned in an unfamiliar way.
"Where, exactly, was this filmed? The setting looks more like the 19th century than most 19th century recreations."
"I'm not sure I could give you the exact location ... Have you heard of the Ironwood?"
"Yes." If it was the place mentioned in some old stories, it wasn't a place that freshmen needed to be visiting. "Are you certain you know what that place-name refers to, and the dangers of those woods?"
"Yes. Some of them, I do. The hall shown is down the valley eastward from where we stayed."
"Do you expect me to believe that Elizabeth Carson, of all people, allowed you two to make that trip?"
"We started out on a trip that she authorized, yes."
"Then you won't have any problems if I ask her about it myself?"
"I'd rather we turn in our report to her first - it's due next Friday - but not really."
"Let's stop here and get something! If they have sorbet, I can claim that as a fruit serving, yeah?" For someone who wasn't an obligate carnivore, Mads made an awfully convincing impression.
Some yahoo piped up, "The only fruits here are those two. Look at 'em! Haw!"
Metro said, more to himself than out loud, "Plus ça change ..."
Thomas privately agreed with him, although changing back to more contemporary clothing would have been a good idea. 20/20 hindsight.
A voice from behind them in line added, "... plus c'est la même chose. Bonsoir, monsieurs." A voice that sounded familiar, at that, "I hope you aren't planning to wear that for Inspection tomorrow." The speaker had clearly stopped by to treat his date, a rather lovely junior, to some ice cream before headed back to their cottages.
Mads recovered first, "Hoping to avoid that, Sir."
"Even if I have to remind him," Thomas added. "Repeatedly."
Gus 'Telluride' Rodriguez, started the introductions, "Marie, these are two of the freshman cadets in my platoon. Mads Jensen, Metro, and Thomas Jensen, Valravn. They've been unavoidably detained for the past week or so. Gentlemen, Marie Caron, Silver Shields."
"Pleased to meet you."
"Enchanté! Yes, we ended taking a scenic route back that left us tied up at the border."
"Canadian or American side?"
Mads replied, "To be fair, everyone may have been a little at fault." Diplomatic but evasive.
Marie asked, "If I may ask, why are you wearing - Norwegian, right? - folk costumes?"
Same yahoo, "Because he's a faggot! That's why."
Mads made a point to visibly count to three before smiling, "We were demonstrating a folk dance, having missed so many days of our ballroom dance class." Having reached the order counter, "Orange sorbet with hot fudge sauce."
"Cause he's a fudge packer!"
"One does wonder at their interest. Thomas?" "Chocolate milkshake."
Gus and Marie placed their orders. When they were ready, Mads and Gus paid, accompanied by more unwelcome comments.
"How do you two put up with it?"
"Perhaps because it's less painful than the paperwork involved in a fight, wouldn't you agree, Jensen?" The security chief had walked up without either couple noticing. One of the nearby tables was now suddenly much more subdued.
"Yes, Chief, I would."
"Glad to hear that, Mister Jensen. Well then, good night Miss Caron, gentlemen. By the way, Metro, I'm looking forward to that report you have due on Friday. Perhaps Mister Rodriguez can help with collating some of the research."
"Thanks for the tip, Sir."
Once the four sat down, "Alright, spill. How does the Chief of Security know two incoming freshmen, and a junior who has a near perfect conduct record?"
Thomas reached over and tapped a plastic band on Mads' shirtsleeve.
"Oh! I did not see that. That part makes sense."
"Telluride was an off-campus chaperon for a recent trip. His name would have been on the paperwork as it went through Security's admin channels."
Marie would have to settle for a noncommittal shrug from Thomas, "I suppose."
Interpreting the flagging interest as a cue that Marie would like more alone time with Gus, Thomas slurped up the last of the milkshake, "Looks like it's time to go! Come on, you can help with the ironing or something."
The two couples parted company.
'Marie' turned to Gus, "Does it help to know they're back?"
"Yes, but I could have done without the bullshit. Who do those guys - no, I know who they think they are. They're the same sort that call me 'wetback' behind my back because they don't have the courage to risk saying that to my face. Damn them. I'll bet they're looking to ambush my cadets in the dark, as we sit here." Telluride risked a look out toward Melville and Hawthorne, but they'd all gone too far off."
"Do you think they can't handle that?" A Cheshire grin suggested she'd bet otherwise.
"Am I worried over nothing?"
"No. Bullies tend to stay bullies until someone's boot finally grabs their attention. As to the other reason to worry, I'm afraid we're no closer to finding out who's behind it all. That said, you really should ask Ms Caron out. You both might be pleasantly surprised."
"Right up the point we re-make introductions." That wouldn't be awkward, not at all.
"In Metro's line of business, it's par for the course. Ah. I 'see' the two groups have run across each other. Have a good evening, Gus." With that, Louis Geintz' projection disappeared.
Between Crystal Hall and Hawthorne Cottage
< Oh, joy. Three IR paints ahead, with nothing good in mind. Crunch and Strongarm I know from UV check-in. Faded paint's Centurion. Take the garment bags? >
< I'd rather not, but it makes sense. Wait until we're closer unless you want to spook them when I drop out. >
< Keep an eye out for an overwatch. Heh, heh. Knives-of-Winter has a suggestion for some fun. Go high and wide to give him room. On my mark ... go. >
Sadly, the ambushers didn't even twitch as Thomas switched to his avian form and took off, the wind carrying the clothes aloft with him. Per the plan he stayed wide of the expected combat zone, but kept the ambushers in view. This time they might not have had IR capability, but next time could be different. He might trust his partner to know his own business, but trusting others to follow his plans never worked out. Lightning, on the other hand, often worked just fine. That put him in a good position to observe whatever it was that amused both Knives-of-Winter and Metro.
Later, he'd be hard-pressed to say which bully screamed louder, Strongarm the exemplar without a TK or PK shield to protect himself, or Centurion the internal energizer who did not need his body's energy stores sapped, as a flood of near-freezing water landed on them. A PK brick, Crunch was somewhat less vulnerable to the attack, until the water began seeping past the PK field to his skin and the core body heat started leaking out.
The three didn't even notice the dire wolf silently run past, almost at home in the cold. Once the magician was clear, Knives-of-Winter let the liquid avalanche dissipate and tidied up any traces of his passing. Most of them that is - there may have been some residual freezing rain after that, to the extent the local spirits were amused. Discouraged, wet, and hypothermic, the bullies trudged back to their rooms.
Fubar was, of course, at the front door entrance, "Welcome back. I see you two managed to stay dry, unlike some others I could name." Seeing the wolf start to set a decidedly canine stance, he hurriedly threw a TK shield up in time to stop the incoming spray. "Correction. One of you bothered to stay dry."
Mads was still smirking mischievously as he returned to his two-legged form, "Staying dry is overrated," he rasped.
"You may want to clean up and head straight to bed," the house parent and fellow inmate recommended, "voluntarily or otherwise."
Thomas caught the 'or else', "Excuse me? How many times have you had to be forcefully reminded to mind your health?" he grated.
"Not too often?" Nope, no one buying that one.
"Thomas, we do have experience with people who get too wrapped up in a game or a project, or who are trying to convince everyone else they're Just Fine."
"If you say so." Thomas capped it with a dirty look at the not-guilty-enough party.
"One more thing, gentleman. That stunt with the ice water could have been lethal in colder weather."
"Meh. With the high humidity tonight, 10 degrees isn't too bad. I've gone fishing in much worse. They also have to pass Doyle Clinic and the still-populated parts of the campus to get to their cottage. I've got a watcher on 'em to see that they do go back to the barn."
The twinned mental images of happily hunting fish in a polluted Lake Erie and sometimes staying out overnight, versus those December nights on the street or in an unheated squat when he needed to stay close enough to his school to attend it, might have been intended to reassure the psychic teacher that he knew where the line between miserable and desperate was. That the boy also remembered he and his foster mother treating too many cold injuries from the same sort of weather at her clinic to forget that line, was no comfort to the psychic, It hinted darkly that the boy also knew how to step over the line and perhaps make it look like an accident.
Thursday morning, October 11th, 2007, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Metro's first day back in classes was not his greatest, not by a long-shot.
"Whatever. We're so glad you could make time for American History in your busy schedule."
At least the rest of the class was amused.
Elisa whispered, "I think that Mr. Williams is unhappy with your absence."
"Indeed I am. Or rather I would be upset with only that, if some joker had turned his homework in as requested. No, let me guess. You have a good explaination for this?" Williams held put some oddly-colored, rolled-up materials.
"Right." Mads dug into his pack to pull out a matching set. "There was some sort of mix-up and you were given part of my Riksmål homework instead." He handed it over and took the other documents before the teacher could recover.
"This is the same damned ... oh, this is in English. What happened, Jensen, run out of Sears catalog?"
That reference totally passed over the boy's head, a ballistic launch to low orbit.
"Er, no, sir. Our host didn't have access to rag or pulp paper at the time, and min bror was asked to leave campus before buying any. Luckily, birch bark was available."
Mads winced, "That's not exactly how his mother put it."
"Let me guess, you also did your homework by firelight because there was no electricity on the rez." Mr. Williams hadn't made a bad extrapolation from the cover story, but ...
"Lamplight, sir. However, irrelevant as it may be, the reservation where my mother was born does indeed have electricity except for the most remote locations."
Translation: Do NOT drag the Uvie's Mama into this.
Other translations during class were more of the English to Arabic kind, but the boy could tell the Syrian girl was getting better.
"Eliza! A moment?"
< "I do need to apologize for staying away for longer than intended. I failed to consider the possibility as I should have." >
< "I recorded the class discussion, and Semiramis was kind enough to help me out with the translations. You might know her as Sahar." >
"Thomas. Know anyone named Sahar or Semiramis? Name rings a bell for some reason."
"Zenith's girlfriend. I've heard some catty comments, but she seems okay. Why?"
"She's been helping Eliza cope with the language issues. Needed to know who to thank."
"Drek. One of us should have remembered that. I'll put a word in if you can't. Idjit."
"Love you too "
< "Is something wrong? You stopped and were staring at nothing for a moment." >
< "Nothing is wrong, I was just asking a very good friend something." >
< "So you are indeed possessed?" >
< "No. We share a mental link. I fell out of the habit of using it." >
"Hey, look what we have here. The raghead girl, and - I didn't even recognize the faggot in his jammies!" Centurion stomped up, his heterosexual life partner in tow, "But one thing you'd better learn when prancing around in front of your betters,"
"Is that this is the uniform, based on M/01 Desertspotcamo and authorized for use by Danish JROTC cadets here at Whateley, while you are wearing civilian gear. If you have a personal problem with that, I would recommend that you take it up with Gunnery Sargeant Bardue. Now, if you'll excuse us, Eliza and I are headed to lunch."
Centurion turned a lovely shade of red at the civilian comment, fading a bit at the dreaded Marine's name, "No I won't excuse you, you little pervert!"
"Let it go," Switchblade tried to quietly but emphatically persuade his friend, having seen three well-known Twain residents saunter up.
"What's the matter with you all of a sudden?"
"Maybe he noticed that the 'pervert' is in the company of a real girl, not that Poesie you keep chasing, and one of the pretties at that?" Bloodwolf managed to snarl and leer at the same time. Metro's lack of a "I'm with Security" response told the werewolf avatar that he wouldn't be interfering. That fact was not lost on Killstench or Maggot either.
"Just like you freaks to stick together. C'mon," Centurion motioned his friend away to take the most open and public route to the Crystal Hall, having counted no less than four UV bands in attendance.
"Awww. He looked so ready for another shower!" Metro mock-whined.
Bloodwolf turned, "So that WAS you, last night, wasn't it?" His toothy smirk was more evil than the earlier snarl. "Word is, that a shifter sent some Emerson jerks packing last night. Somehow a cold rain kept following them all the way back to their front door. Lots of folks in Twain were glad to hear about that - the pretties've been getting off too lightly."
Metro schooled his expression to 'neutral, bordering on lock-and-load', "I hadn't heard they'd branched out into going after GSD students too."
"Just remember to leave some fight in them for us!"
"I'm sure that something can be arranged."
Bloodwolf nodded to that and led his pack on to lunch. Such a small delay, and Nate was probably already ensconced under the air vents.
< "If I may ask, what did the demon mean?" >
< "He is not nice, but he is not a demon, either. He did remind me to leave them alive, so that others may help the bullies mend their ways." >
< "Would you truly have killed them?" >
A new voice chimed in, < "That's why he wears a different UV band. Security knows that if presented with a sufficient threat, Metro can and will defend himself and others with lethal force." >
< "Sahar, yes? Thank you for helping Eliza out! And yes, you are correct about the UV designation." >
< "You're welcome. You may want to hurry up, Valravn is waiting for you on the second platform." >
"Until next time, then, dear ladies!" With that Metro strode off in the direction of food, and some friends and a boyfriend to annoy.
Afternoon, Thursday, October 11th, 2007, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Among the usual complaints today, there were a few clear indications that Jensen & Jensen were once again running loose on-campus.
The complaints from three bullies that their intended victims didn't play fair would be priceless if the Headmistress didn't have to hear variations on that same theme every other day. Having had to vet one op plan put together by Metro, she would place money on the boy not understanding the concept of 'fair play'.
Bella Horton's complaint about items being stolen from a storage room in the Poe basement was more of a problem. In the first place, why were Valravn's belongings boxed up and placed into storage when he was expected to only be gone a day or two past the weekend? In the second place, yes, Security did have the authority to retrieve those items for him. Finally, where was the student expected to spend his first night back on-campus - on a park bench? Perhaps in ICU, as three young louts had planned the night before?
Louis had chuckled at the park bench comment before privately informing her that a cot had been moved to Metro's room, just in case.
It was finally resolved that Room 227 would go back to storing current students, just as soon as everything that had drifted into the room instead of storage could be claimed by the owners. After all, Bella's girls shouldn't have to worry about boys going through luggage they may have left in the Boyz Town room.
When Roland Williams' complaint about Jensen's homework rolled in, it felt satisfying to point out to the history teacher that the United States of America did not, in fact, have an official language. But if it had, at one point that language would have been Old Norse.
Later that afternoon, it was Whateley Trustee Charlie Lodgeman's turn to call on Mrs. Carson, this time regarding the irresponsibility of allowing two students to travel off-campus unaccompanied.
"Elizabeth, have you seen this video? It shows two students"
"Let me guess, Metro and Valravn. What have they done now?"
"Apparently, they've managed to attend a dance or two in Jötunheimr. Metro even claimed to have had permission from you to make the trip."
"What, exactly, did he say?"
"'We started out on a trip that she authorized'."
"That is literally true. Let's see what you have. According to Cecilia, some of it should be hilarious."
After reviewing the video clips, Totem asked, "What are you looking for that I'm not seeing?"
"Missing coordinates and timestamps. They weren't edited out, so by the time these scenes were recorded, Metro's equipment had been without GPS signals for some time. Judging by the seasonal changes in clothing, he had a long recovery before these recordings."
"I didn't know he was even ill."
"According to his doctor he had three weeks at best. Circe had obtained information linking him, and possibly his illness, to a suspicious disappearance in lllinois. He, Valravn, and Telluride were sent to investigate. Things happened. For various reasons, they were delayed until Valravn could manage the travel." Mrs. Carson sighed, "It only gets better."
"Do I want to know, or should I know?"
"Maybe not, and probably so. Let's just say that some borders in this world serve multiple purposes."
"Then how do we discourage them from wandering off to places like this? Were they any other students, you'd be coming down on them like a ton of bricks."
"Were they any other students, wouldn't you be asking to mentor them, as you have Diamondback?"
"It's not at all the same. For one thing, Sandra's not looking to visit realms that are commonly associated with the Third Reich!"
"I'd guess that Metro's more of a neofeudalist at heart than Nazi. Let's look at the situation from another angle. You're already teaching one shaman who's becoming frustrated over a lack of offensive spells, right?"
"Yes, Kayda. But, Liz, do you understand just how dark shamanic attacks can be?"
"I do, as do these students. However, if left to his own devices, I'm guessing Mads will attempt to teach himself seidhr to bolster his limited healing skills. With regard to learning conventional spells, neither one is having any less trouble than Kayda is. Perhaps by helping them you can find a way to aid her?"
"Why do I get the feeling I'm being railroaded here?" If he listened hard enough, Lodgeman could imagine hearing the steam engine's whistle.
"Charlie, if you weren't interested at all, you would never have come in here with a complaint."
Totem had to admit that the headmistress had a point, "All I can say is that I'll give it a shot."
"That's all I ask."
Somewhat later, after reviewing what was left of the day's pending problems, Mrs. Carson's assistant asked, "Well, did Totem go for it, or not?"
Liz Carson opened a desk drawer and pulled out a crisp twenty-dollar bill, "I have to admit, Amelia, that I didn't think he would. I have a feeling that this will add real fuel to that ongoing 'feud'"
Amelia Hartford accepted the bill, "It still serves its purpose." She smiled, "What can I say? I look forward to watching him suffer some of the heartburn instead of you and Ophelia."
Friday afternoon, October 12th, 2007, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Looking back on the past three weeks, Sir Wallace Westmont was more certain than ever that the Imp would make a better choice of Faculty Advisor than he and Suzannah Hagarty. For one thing, they still had a full plate teaching Nikki Reilly and some of the other students in need of their skill sets. For another, neither of them had quite the knack for engaging the imaginations of the school's would-be spies and provocateurs. The assignment he'd laid out for the Intelligence Cadet Corps had demonstrated that in spades. Instead of completing what would have been an eye-opener to any professional working group, they'd back-burnered the profiling jobs so they could add a new target - a teacher, no less - to their ongoing list of improper activities.
Imp's review of the same made for an entertaining story when shared over a few beers. However, the fact remained that they'd latched onto the first plausible excuse they came across - without checking to see what internecine feud they might have gotten themselves into. Wallace's friends in Interpol had shared too many horror stories, over much stronger drinks than beer, of deep cover operatives making that very mistake regarding rival 'families' as it were. Sometimes the bodies were even recoverable afterward.
Vamp's critique was caustic, but didn't stray far from the mark at any point. She was entirely correct to declare that anyone with two brain cells left to rub together would have double-checked against a known supervillain pulling a switch. Rez had shown some initiative in collecting public information about Chaka, but clearly was uncomfortable spying on a friend. Reach had put together some useful information about Aquerna. However, she didn't show any signs of recognizing that the Underdog would make a terrific investigator herself. Two positive results were to be obtained from this part of the overall operation. First, by not pursuing the decoys - albeit to concentrate on the Imp and the suspected double-agent - they'd unknowingly avoided a couple of traps left for them. Second, the alarm ward placed on Chaka and Fey's dorm room gave Nikki something interesting to study.
The profile dossiers the Cadets themselves turned in were clearly the result of open collusion. There were barely enough differences to rule out plagiarism. The good news was that they did work together on that. The bad news was that if they'd individually been assigned a more sparse, less obvious, selection, the similarities among reports would outed them as compromised or even doubled field agents.
By Westmont's accounting born of bitter experience, were this "Real Life" each one of the Intelligence Cadet Corps members would be dead two or three times over.
The folder left at one of the dead drop locations set up with Metro was a surprise: students these days preferred electronic communications and data disks. Also, he'd gone missing under questionable circumstances for half of the time allotted him. Having double the subjects, the freshman could be excused if the data were more limited. Just, one could hope, not as limited as what the subjects were willing to admit about themselves. Barely one page in, the English mage was beginning to understand Everheart's recommendation to stock up on liquor. Another page in, and he was glad that he hadn't yet followed that advice. How the HELL did that child obtain enough data to project A-Plus', Reach's, Rez's, and Kew's menstrual cycles for the current and following three months? And WHY? This wasn't a kill order being shopped out to a mid-level contract mage! But if it had ...
Providing the document on paper in order to circumvent electronic discovery had been a good idea after all.
One encrypted call and a discrete meeting to discuss matters further gave Sir Wallace a rough idea of the price that a set of write-ups like that would run. Low six figures and the life of the rat bastard who'd compiled them.
One bottle of scotch later, and the documents were sufficiently redacted and transcribed. A wee bit of fire took care of the remainder. A dose or two of paracetamol would do for the hangover.
Friday afternoon, October 12th, 2007, Hawthorne Cottage, Whateley Academy
Ember was a little disappointed that she'd have to wait until Mads could find something fireproof and flexible enough to fold into a crisp shape. But India was so happy with a butterfly that could fly for a short while, and Mads promised, so maybe that would be okay for now. Plus, she could tell that whatever Shifty wanted would be just as difficult when it came time to add fangs and claws.
Only Miranda hung back until the others went off in search of cookies, "Um, Mads?"
"You didn't have many toys when you were a little kid, did you?" Louis might be upset, but this felt important. Plus, the boy was loud when he slept sometimes.
'That may be, but we should try to block other people's dreams out. Otherwise we lose track of which ones are ours.'
'I know. He's still loud.'
"If Louis is through butting in," Mads' eyes had that sad/funny thing going, "No, I didn't. But sometimes, giving them to kids who'll enjoy them is just as good."
"Okay. If you say so."
"I do say so. Now, why don't you check on Amy's cookies? Yeah?"
'It was a nice gesture.'
'Healing, one gesture at a time? I can live with that.'
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Weekend, October 13th to 14th, 2007, Whateley Academy
The original plan for the day was to clean up the vacated Poe room, tape up or cover what shouldn't receive paint, and then to render the walls in something other than institutional off-white. Once the paint dried, some tasteful sigils and similar decorations would be painted or inked around entrance/egress points and so forth. At least, that was the plan until Thomas caught Mads regarding a wet paintbrush with just a bit too much enthusiasm. He later estimated that sending the other boy off to research ... something, anything, so long as it was sufficiently far away from a wet paintbrush, had saved him a good three to eight hours in cleanup and repainting.
By Sunday afternoon, Thomas had had time to wash everything that had been boxed up with his dirty laundry, uniforms to be sent off for dry cleaning and pressing, for a very expensive Cecilia Rogers suit to be "found" and sent out for dry cleaning and alteration removal, and above all to be informed how thankful he should be that a room could be found on such short notice for him in Poe, along with all the help he was being given to move in. This time it was Mads who caught Thomas regarding voodoo dolls at the campus store with enthusiastic intent.
Reviewing his account transactions Sunday evening, Mads was please to see what the 'going rate' turned out to be for the dossiers he'd compiled. While probably not the best effort he'd turned in, it did surpass what the client's personnel had turned in, and the money was still good ... considering all the likely discounts against it. Land rents were up, but those amounts had likely been bolstered by the amount of fresh fish he'd arranged to have delivered to the Inn. Once satisfied with the accounts, he entered the necessary data to transfer half to Thomas' accounts. He made a mental note to find someone to impress upon the elemental the importance of fiscal independence (including, by definition, differential documentation, shelters, and what the terminally naive might consider 'laundering').
Tying up the loose ends remaining from the Spy Kidz eval almost (kind of [sorta, maybe]) made up for being put on office duty for the next two weeks.
"... until we get a release from Doyle Medical that isn't phrased 'over yours and his dead bodies'," the Chief had explained, "Take the time to become familiar with the routine parts of the job. For example, Security not only has to respond to the expected threats, but also to the various feuds between one clique or another. That means that reports aren't tagged only by participant. Once you have powers and weapons involved, it's even more critical to keep the tracking and filing straight."
That hadn't sounded too bad.
"Also, you and Valravn will be filling in where needed in the sims, instead of hitting up our duty platoons for Red Team operators. Knowing Sam and Gunny Bardue, they will sneak you into filling in against other shortfalls - so the faster you become acquainted with the Who's Who and Bad Boy lists, the better it'll be for the both of you."
That didn't sound so good.
Mads reflected briefly on whether he'd need to thank Thomas for insisting he read through the Powers Theory texts for something other than non-narcotic sleep induction. Nah. Let's see how well it sunk in, first.
Monday afternoon, October 15th, 2007, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Without much in the way of preamble, Sir Wallace handed over two folders for Harley 'Reach' Sawyer to read. The first folder, compiled from the efforts the other Spy Kidz had put in, held almost no surprises. To Reach's eye, it seemed reasonably complete even when compared to what Imp had pulled together a couple of weeks earlier.
With Reach reading through the second folder, the club advisor found he could quite accurately estimate her progress based on her facial expressions. Most of them were of the unamused kind, as it dawned on the student that Imp's and the ICC's background files were closer to background thumbnail sketches.
"Good God! About the only thing missing from the write-up is my"
Westmont observed, "If you were in the market for a cock ring, 51 mm is roughly 2 inches. In case you were wondering."
Harley's blush was just short of either apoplectic or luminous. A discrete online search of the unfamiliar term after this discussion was sure to have an equally photo-worthy outcome.
She choked out, "You said that this is the redacted version?"
Reach read further, paling at the point that the dossier went from details to evaluations.
"Who came up with this?"
"Do I need to reiterate that I will not be divulging my sources?"
"Some of this? I can't even begin to count how many laws and regulations had to have been broken along the way!"
"Aside from preventing retaliation, that would be another good reason to keep my sources to myself. Even the appearance of such improprieties would require that I be able to back up any official allegations I make via data collected through strictly legal means - something the ICC has rarely carried out unless coerced into doing so. Confidentiality and verifiability are no small part of the game that you and the rest of your friends are playing at."
Harley looked back at Sir Wallace in pained bewilderment.
"Reach ... Harley. Like Miss Hagarty and myself, Imp is willing to help teach you and the rest of the Cadets, the technical skills you lack. The interpretive skills and background knowledge needed to make those skills useful instead of an incriminating liability are things you'll each have to pursue on your own ... unless you want to follow her into a career of art theft?"
"I certainly do not!"
"Very well. I cannot say I'd blame you. I would blame you for any lives you cost your agency or team because you were ill-prepared for an operation, or based your plans on faulty intel. The evaluation and recommendations you've been given are not easy, but as far as I can tell, they are solid recommendations."
"It's hard to swallow that we're this far from being any good."
"That is not what the file says. Read it. Think on it. Then destroy it."
"I don't need to be told twice that I don't want anyone else knowing this much about me!"
"There are ways to work on that as well. Anything else you would care to discuss?"
"No, sir. Just ... do I really remind people of Ross Geller when I'm in a poor mood?"
"My apologies, but I don't think I'm in a position to give an appropriate answer to that question."
Evening, Crystal Hall
"Harley, what happened? You look as if your best friend died."
"Close enough, Jenn. My combat final grade's going to be taking a small dive, because we - and by 'we', I mean me and the other Intelligence Corps Cadets," Reach chose to ignore the 'Secret Squirrels' comment from the next table over, " - completely blew a project assigned us by Sir Wallace. Ten points off the top."
Metro butted in, "How bad could it have gone? It's not like you personally threatened a faculty member's job, right?"
"Who the hell told you about that fiasco?" That struck a nerve!
"It's one of the ICC's listed feuds that Security has to keep an eye on. Some of us do visit Kane Hall now and then."
"That's not very funny."
"You don't see me laughing, do you?" To his limited credit, Mads wasn't, "So, what was the outcome of that secret project Westmont and Hagarty assigned your crew?"
"Turns out that we were being tasked with an internal review. If we'd each followed directions, each Cadet would have been collecting data on three peers while three others observed them doing it."
"What did Ace have you all doing instead? Don't give me that look! You yourself said as much a few weeks ago."
Reach groaned, "Yeah. Tangling with Imp, who led us on a wild goose chase."
"Was that really Imp's fault? What did she do that gave you probable cause to 'investigate' her?"
"She's a thief!"
"Really? Got proof of that? Not hearsay, but proof that will stand up in court?"
"Now you're even beginning to sound like Chief Delarose, or Mrs. Carson."
"Both of them have decades more experience with investigations than you or I do," remarked Mads.
Thomas choked down a french fry to say, "Surprised to hear you admit that."
"It's true enough."
"Then maybe you could stop being such an ass and use those assets while they're around."
"Hmph. I'll have you know that Mrs. Carson's signature on that travel pass wasn't forged!"
"So the two of you say," joked Rorsmand.
Harley wasn't depressed enough to let the topic of Frick and Frack's Week-and-a-Half Adventure Time slide. "That reminds me. Where did the two of you end up, and how is it y'all aren't on Detention?"
Metro started to go with "Ancient Chinese Se-" but ended up rubbing the back of his head "Ow!" and glaring at Valravn.
"Even Chinese secrets need to be kept, no?"
"Not that hard, no!"
Valravn disregarded the complaint, "Promises, promises," adding, "We both have reports to be turned in by the end of the week, TO Mrs. Carson, both grammar and spelling count. No arbitrary page limit. What gets said or done afterwards is up to her."
Harley shook her head, "I think I'd rather live with the ten-point hit."
Metro disagreed, "That's fine, if your goal's just a grade don't take chances. Mine's survival, and that's all about making chances."
"Don't you mean 'all about taking chances', sport?"
"No. In my li-, In my experience, the only chances you can count on are the ones you make."
Evening sim run
Gunny Bardue's mook briefing was intended to be brief and simple, as both students were very, very familiar with VR. "Gentlemen, you'll be standing guard at Goodkind Banking of Detroit. Rumor has it that a team of paranormals may be planning to hit this branch within the next few, so you're undercover to minimize the risks and try for the collar if you can. Questions?"
Metro asked, "Freqs and ERTs for the P.D. and security corps while I pull down local maps? And could someone cc: us on the uniform details? Normally, I'd pull this in advance to duplicate or code."
Valravn explained, "Uniform fetishes aside, one of the damned few things his team usually got right are props and IDs."
"That's right, and a couple of burner IDs to fit the mask requirement, but I figure the simulators can handle name badges."
The sergeant listened to incoming on his comms before confirming, "Admiral Everheart tells me that Metro here can link up with Hive, so we'll use that for your C&C."
"Got it. Cross-patching visuals from building security to Tac. That should be one of the first systems compromised - like a canary in a coal mine."
Barely five minutes later, a Goodkind Security armored car pulled up to the bank to make a delivery.
< Heads up. Chokepoint on our doorstep. >
Metro signaled to the shift supervisor that he'd go out for the delivery. Valravn would hold back, in the lobby.
"Yeah. Dominguez, you and Reilly out front for the delivery. Keep an eye out."
"Sure thing, boss." "Right"
Something small, bipedal, and very much alive was weaving its way through the now slow-moving traffic going past the bank. A confirmation snapshot from one of the overhead cameras showed something like an animated Barbie (tm) doll.
[Metro @all: Showtime! Minimum one paranormal vectoring in to GB delivery. Sending visuals. ]
[Hive @Metro: Sizemax confirmed. Size warper. ETA 5 mikes]
< Civilians? >
< On it! >
Inside, Valravn announced, "The bank is now under attack. Move AWAY from the windows, and take cover!"
An energy blast from Dynamaxx took down the guard in front of the car, as he and Donner moved in from that side. Sizemax started growing to her max height to distract attention from Kismet's teleport and Cerebrex and Lemure coming in from the other. Pam took just enough extra time on the way up to launch a couple of strikes at Metro, which he in turn barely managed to dodge.
That was about the time that things started to turn ugly.
Cerebrex could have nailed Metro with a haymaker as he flew by, but instead got a face full of neural chaos, leaving him no clear idea of up, down, right, left, or wall. As the caster turned, the sight-line and area of the spell's effect followed his attention ... right into the shiny plate glass windows. Dynamaxx avoided the disturbance, but Donner was not so lucky.
Not that Metro was much more lucky, as Lemure dived into him from behind, taking control of his body. She soon found out that the guard shot left-handed, and worse, his handgun had safed itself. Oh, well. She signaled to Sizemax to knock out the guard she was occupying.
Porting into the bank lobby, Kismet noted that most of the patrons had hit the deck, leaving open lanes of fire. Taking a chance on the guard her ESP told her was the Blue Team member, she bound him up with her energy shackles first.
"Ladies and gentlemen. This is a bank robbery. Cooperate, and no one gets hurt."
The clock was still ticking on the police response, so Valravn bided his time.
Outside, things were about to get more tense, as Lemure's power could animate or lock up a person's body, but not their mind.
[ Can you fill the giant's lungs up with water, and my own as well? ]
[ I can ]
[ Please do ]
Sizemax couldn't see the spirit shift to the astral before materializing in her hair. She felt some sweat pour down her face, icy cold water hit her throat from the inside, and suddenly she was drowning. Running on instinct and matching horror, Lemure moved herself and the magician whose body she was borrowing out of the struggling giant's way.
Seeing thirty-five feet of teammate about to fall onto occupied vehicles decided Dynamaxx's next course of action: first, see to it that no one was crushed under her; second, find a way to keep her alive once she shrunk down.
Next to realize that even density warpers need air was Lemure, who left Metro as soon as she felt an icy stream of water down his/their throat.
[ I only need the size changer unconscious, but could you keep up the engulfment on me while I re-channel? ]
[ Yes. I had hoped that was the case. YOU need to avoid pollution more. ]
[ I'll try? ]
[ Good enough. For now. ]
The Paul Bunyan-sized emergency outside cost the indoor side of the operation all its momentum. For the moment Kismet now had two guards shackled, but that wasn't all of them and she was coming up short on backup. Clearly her team need her to bail them out again. Her mystic flame attack should be good for pushing the defenders back so she could tend to her teammates ... until the flame wall guttered out and wouldn't return. A moment of confusion and retries was all Valravn needed. Lightning cracked across the lobby. As she fell, so did her shackles.
Outside again, Metro was feeling damned proud of himself for the counterspelling. He was also feeling rather bruised from trading blows with Lemure. She couldn't safely re-enter him if she wanted to breathe, but that didn't mean she couldn't beat the hell out of the guy until Donner and Cerebrex recovered. On the other hand, thanks to whatever freaky thing was happening with her dance partner, her uniform was soaked and she was standing in water. Just her luck, the other Blue Team goon had to be an electrical energizer.
If she surrendered, she wondered, would it be too much to ask to have herself locked up far, far away from the rest of her teammates?
What the hell. Of course the maniac with water pouring out through his uniform would also pack electrics. How could anyone have missed that bright idea?
“Hello Lemure,” the computer voice said. “Welcome back. It is Monday, October 15th, 2007. It is now 9:18 PM.”
Once the sim ended, with the captures of the remaining team members, the Vindicators found themselves in an increasingly tense briefing room, waiting on the Blue Team to show up. It was bad enough to lose, but to be ignored afterward? Insulting.
Five minutes late, a muffled thwump at the door signalled someone's arrival. That was followed by a young woman, maybe? Blue-green hair wasn't that unusual, but the blue-green, blue and green, transparent everything else was. She spoke.
"Pardon my intrusion, but is this the correct briefing room for the," she turned her head as if to catch someone speaking to her, "Goodkind Banking heist?"
Gunny Bardue kept the growl in his voice to its minimum, "Yes, Miss. It is. I presume you have two of our personnel with you?"
"The Counts Shadowsfall? Yes. My apologies, but I believe I may be somewhat responsible for Mads' ... current indisposition. I doubt that he's used to breathing pure elemental water, although it may help with the respiratory damage he still suffers from. Shall I? Oh!"
"Pardon us, Orelei. Shtill unsteady on m'feet, bu' iz not your fault. No. Hey, T. You tell her she done brilliantly, yeah? And thank you kind lady for yer help." Mads looked, and sounded, just a wee bit on the far side of schnockered.
The Undine said, "I think I may need to take the other arm if we're to get him seated."
"That would be a great help. There's maybe a bit of essence backlash hitting him as well."
Whether that was the problem or not, both the water spirit and Valravn avoided the St. Elmo's Fire limning the antlers of the boy they were supporting.
"It is no problem. This way I can also examine that one child's health. Having her dive response triggered under circumstance like that can be traumatic. Ah! There she is!"
Great. Beaten by a water fairie and two freshmen, one of whom was practically drunk - having drunk? - the other? Simone wondered if it would help matters to bring new blood into the team.
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