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Wednesday night, October 31, 2000,
That Traps was too young to have proper iron boots fitted to him didn't keep the gang leader from expecting the boy to wear the next closest gear: combat boots and blacked steel greaves to go with the jacked bracers hidden by the green jackets they all wore. The extra weight would either toughen up the kid who'd been traded to the Redcap Bombers, or make sure that he was the laggard caught in case of a pursuit. Either outcome would work for Scian, not that he worried about it. No, tonight was a night for trooping the colors before ditching the kiddies and getting down to the real partying: roughing up some of the normies posing as their betters, maybe catch a dream merchant or two for a shaking down.
Word on the street was that one of the normies was still determined to move in on Bomber turf after the last couple of "warnings". Maybe the baby changeling could earn his place in the world sooner than later?
Peachtree Center Avenue NE, Five Points
Marjie Kane was having a miserable night of it. The usual mid-week traffic was tied up with chaperoning their little rugrats' trick-or-treating or escorting their balls-and-chains' to some office party or what-not. Spooks and freaks don't pay enough to cover the street tax. What she least needed to see right about now was a murdered-out Suburban slowing down to pull up to her corner.
Instead of the driver spouting some lame pickup line through an open window, someone Marjie never would have expected stepped out.
"My, my. Aren't you just the sweetest young thing? I could just eat you up!"
This can't be happening.
"Now, now, don't be that way! It will all be over before you know it."
Andrew Young International Blvd.
The woman wearing Marjie Kane's face was enjoying being out and about on a clear, cool, All Hallow's Eve. The teen didn't look half bad to start with, and being relatively clean for this time of night could only help her favorite game.
'“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly,' mused 'Marjie' as a couple of bangers wearing bombers, boots, and red gimme caps separated from their roving circle-jerk and headed her way. The runts of the litter were likely circling around, so she steeled herself for the oncoming sleaze as these two stalled for their friends to come around. She pretended not to notice them, humming a little song to herself. How did it go? 'It's all the same, only the names will change; Everyday, it seems we're wastin' away.'
"Ey, what's a pretty young thing like you doing, hanging out in a place like this? Don't you know it ain't safe out here all alone?" The Russian judge gives Bozo #1 a 3.2.
"Hm? Doesn't that go double for a couple of guys like you? I hear that 'white after dark' is a misdemeanor unless you're dressed for a convention."
"Naw, you've got us all wrong. See, it's only a problem for those who ain't working with paid protection." And now Bozo #2 barely avoids going out of bounds with that threat.
"You two being the protection I should be hiring?"
Bozo #1: "I'm sure we can work something out, for the right considerations."
"Who's going to protect y'all from me, sugar? The Great Pumpkin?"
Here comes their cavalry, baby banger and all.
"Let's just say I've brought some friends along in case your man End-Zone gets to feeling froggy."
"I . . . see. We getting this party started out on the sidewalk or what?"
"What kind of fun would that be? Y'see, my man Thistle's got a way with wheels; that must be him now."
Indeed, another ratty-looking twenty-something was pulling to the curb in a Hummer H2. This complicated things.
"Traps! You'n'Baby Seal go in the back with our lady friend. Don't try any shit I wouldn't."
"Right." "Got it."
'Oh look, they're pretending to be pros. Isn't that just sweet?'
“Sweet creature!” said the spider, “You’re witty and you’re wise!
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
Eastbound Interstate 20,
Outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia
It really was a shame about that barricade. And the H2's windshield. And Bozos #1 and #2. The coroner's report would note that both adult males bled out at the scene of the accident. Except for the kid, who'd had sense enough to brace himself, the rest were unconscious and 'Marjie' herself was feeling kind of full.
"So, kid, humor me. What's your name?"
"I'm called Traps." At that age, it better be for something that carries a possession charge.
"Not what I asked, kid. The police'll be here soon, so you might as well pony up."
"True names have power. You can call me Traps."
"Stop covering for the trash. They'll let you rot in juvie for all they care."
"Doesn't matter. Best place to get my cap blooded, and the Seneschal will have me pulled out whenever he's ready."
They've really done a number on the kid for him to be thinking they're the real thing. Let's push that button.
"Does it matter how it gets blooded? There's half a gallon at least on that concrete."
"Has to be an enemy or prey."
That is f-ed up. "Listen, if what you're saying were true, all I'd have to do to hurt these friends of yours is to tap them with this little beauty."
Old cast iron, bent into a set of knucks. Throw a punch with these on and her own strength? Good times against the finger-wagglers. She slipped one on from her purse, and lightly tagged Traps' backup guy.
The cramped space reeked of burnt hair and flesh. The juvie nearly wrecked himself trying to hide in a corner between the crumpled side panels and the back seat.
Nocnitsa keyed a number into one of the phones she kept in her purse. The good one. "Tigger? Knock-knees here. Look, I'm on a Vice case - a couple of carved-up prostitutes your department's trying to keep quiet - that just went full-on raging DPA, and I need to make a jaydee disappear." "Uh-huh." "What makes you think I crashed a Hummer on I-20?" "No. I'm not saying you're wrong..."
Friday morning, March 22, 2002,
It was seasonably cool for the time of year. Nonetheless, it was a good time for a new beginning. Marjie Kane had struggled for months after she'd been picked up in Atlanta: first to get clean from the meth, and then to get her weight up to something healthy. There'd been more than a couple of fights over going home, and more at home, but that was ... that was okay. It sure beat pushing up daisies, or maybe daffodils, it being spring now.
School was coming along, though whether she got caught up or not, she wasn't going to let that get to her. She'd been down that road.
... I been everywhere, still, I'm standing tall.
Wednesday afternoon, December 26, 2007,
Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina
Len choked back some of the ancient rage as he drove nowhere in particular. Ever since he'd gone back to the place that used to be home, he'd wondered how things stood between him and his family. Seven years of being afraid he was still only two steps shy of falling in with one troop or another, and seven years of hanging on to his sanity by his fingernails.
This year he knew.
Thirteen years ago his family'd gone so far as to give his younger brother his name as an even trade. They'd always said otherwise, but still seemed disappointed with what they'd gotten in return.
This year his father had actually asked why Len couldn't be more like the boy who'd traded his soul for a more advantageous Choosing at the Market and didn't look back. One of his cousins had snickered at that, thinking Len's hearing must be as duller'n'a dullahan's.
Once more he jammed an old red cap on his head, then pointed his truck east towards Asheville. As much as he'd worked getting into college, that must be where his future lay.
"The Spider and the Fly", Mary Howitt
"Dead or Alive", Richard Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi
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Early Sunday afternoon, December 23, 2007,
A faint call of "Mom! Someone's at the door!" could be heard through the front door of the Ruud family's home. One of the men in the group chuckled at the young girl's announcement, "Ya think?"
"Stop it. Children these days are expected to be wary of strangers."
"In the old days they were expected to defend the home against strangers."
"Only under their mothers' directions and orders. That goes for all of you."
The door was opened by a young teenager. The blue-streaked white hair, slender frame, pointed ears, and strong magical core were dead giveaways to this being Elle Astrid Ruud.
"H-hello? May I help you?"
The three boys looked like normal teenagers, two of them obviously being brothers. The tall, dark-haired, scruffy man in the leather jacket looked like he'd rather pee on the side of a house than enter one. The woman towered a solid half-meter over the man. She also had horns and tusks. When telling about the visit later on, Elle would credit her composure to an internship with international heroes and half a year at Whateley Academy.
"Miss Ruud, may we come in? I trust one of your parents is home too?"
"Um, yes. Please come in." She yelled back toward the kitchen, "MOM! We have company!"
The two blond boys, brothers for sure, hung back a bit to make sure the woman managed to get through the doorway without hitting her head.
She said, "Thank you. We can only stay a few minutes, but this may require an explanation."
Anna-Marie Ruud felt faint, seeing who or what her eldest had invited inside. Her mind blanked on everything she'd been told as a child about the hospitality due their ancient neighbors to the east, so she winged it. "Sara," she said to one of her daughters, "Please pour some coffee for our guests, bring it here, and start another pot." She stepped forward to introduce herself.
"I'm Anna-Marie Ruud, you've met my daughter Elle, and you?"
"Evelyn Beaulieu, these are my sons Mads and Lars Møller-Jensen, Mads' friend Thomas Jensen, and my sons' lineal half-brother Fenrir Lokkison. We didn't plan to intrude, but perhaps my older son can explain himself."
"Mrs. Ruud, Elle was signed up for a 'Secret Santa' exchange back at Whateley, but signals got crossed and the person who drew her name ran into problems. As Fen's side of the family lives in the Ironwood - Over on the other side of the border crossing? It kind of makes you all neighbors. - I was asked to handle the dropped ball at the last minute without adequate time to shop."
Thomas explained it as, "Translation: Mads got himself detained in København, so he punted."
"So, to make up for what is owed, we - that is, me, Thomas, and Fen - put together this small basket of smoked meats, which keeps everything under the spending limit." Mads handed the basket (Though he wasn't carrying one when he stepped inside?) with appropriate flourish to Elle. Elle handed it in turn to her mother.
"... which is to say that I and this one's mother," Evelyn pointed to the scruffy guy, "had to keep four greedy sets of hands out of it once it was packed, while the other two juvenile delinquents egged them on."
The look on Lars' face spoke volumes about how many times he'd been caught.
"I have three of my own, so I know how that can go. You've met Elle and Sara. Thea is hopefully still drawing. May I ask what kind of meats are in here?"
"Smoked salmon, salt-cured boar, along with reindeer pemmican and jerky."
Elle asked her classmate, "What? No bear?"
The two brothers turned pale. "No." "That would be wrong."
"How could it be worse than hunting reindeer in Sweden, where it's not legal?"
"Elle, I will explain part of that to you later."
The two mothers spent the rest of the short visit comparing notes over coffee and toast, and grilling their eldests over things which had curiously been missed in previous discussions of the school year. Soon the odd family group was gone, off to Copenhagen if Anna-Marie remembered correctly.
"Mom, what was the deal with reindeer? Everyone knows that the Sami have legal ownership in Sweden."
"They weren't exactly in Sweden. Or maybe they were, Grandmother Andersen wasn't too sure on that part herself."
"That doesn't make sense."
"The doctors say you've turned into one of the Irish alver. We've just entertained at least one visiting trollkjerringa and possibly a jotun; but that's the part that's hard to believe?"
"Jotun? No way!"
"Go look up the names of our visitors. You'll see."
On a train bound for Oslo
Evelyn asked herself later if she should have introduced the boys more formally, but decided that they'd put too much burden on the woman's hospitality as it was. There was always so much of a to-do over the holidays!
Elle was sure there had to be at least one Fenrir Lokkison out there who wasn't an overweight neckbeard or nerdish LARPer using a screen name they couldn't measure up to that matched their guest's description. Otherwise ... On a whim, she ran the others' names into public search engines as well as Whateley's. It turned out that Lars was attending school in Aalborg and had gotten a very strange nickname. What was a "Count of Rosenborg" anyway?
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Powers Testing Labs, Whateley Academy
"You're claiming that you have three stable forms, and you don't want to show us the third?"
"It doesn't work out well for all involved."
"Son, why don't you let the experts decide that?"
"Circe! Thank you so much for coming!"
"You did say it was urgent, Doctor." Circe looked around the lab and realized why all the doors were locked and bolted. Miss Newman looked particularly distressed. The white horse she was riding, bareback, didn't look any happier. In fact, the only breed she could recall with a more vicious set of teeth than that thing was the Schwartzwald Unicorn. "I did have to stop at the Cafeteria for these items." Circe handed Dr. Shandy a bag of warm doughnuts. The horse's ears pricked up.
"What do I do with this?"
Circe gestured for the researcher to wait until she was no longer directly between him and the horse.
"Offer him some of what's inside, to give me a chance of breaking the curse on your assistant."
Not seeing what pastries had to do with anything, he pulled one of the doughnuts out of the bag and held it out. The scent of warm vanilla and confectioner's sugar was almost irresistable. For some reason, he failed to notice the sorceress tossing three small items across the path of the stallion suddenly galloping down on him. Hillary Newman landed on top of him.
Several healing spells and a pat-down for three cold iron coffin-nails later, Dr. Shandy asked, "Do you want me to retrieve the rest of your doughnuts?" Lord knows he didn't need more himself.
The student snarled at the doctor Try it and see what happens.
"Doctor, I didn't get to be the age I have by being needlessly stupid."
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Astral space, coexisting with the former State of South Dakota
Metro - that was one of his names after all - walked into a traditional Plains campsite. He stopped at the campfire, and listened.
From inside a teepee that had been richly decorated many years and many miles back, he heard, "Some times, I wish I'd taken the choice Coyote offered me"
Metro frowned at that, but took that as an invitation to enter. An old, old Lakota medicine woman knelt on the ground beside her near-duplicate. Many tokens of the spirits she'd formed alliances and friendships with over the years adorned her dress. In her prime she must have been formidable. So must have been her opponents, if old scars on her body and soul were any true guide.
He said, "The road not traveled? Maybe. Pull a few strings here or there, and I suppose things might have turned out different."
That wasn't what the woman wanted to hear. Kayda was on her feet, her sacred dagger barely visible in her off hand. He idly wondered what she might lead with.
"I would have had a beloved wife and children! I could have stayed a man!"
"From what I've heard, you did have a beloved wife and - eventually - children. Grand-children by now, what? Not a huge difference there."
"What about my manhood?"
"What about it?" The young man shrugged at the idiocy. "You were a teen-aged farm boy with no rites of passage under his belt who could have been replaced by a common device running off C-cell batteries... Remember those?
... Don't look at me like that. I know the limited differences better than you."
Kayda slumped to the ground. It was an old story, an old wish, and she was so tired.
"I could have become a man."
Metro reached out, tipping her head up to face him. "Maybe. Maybe not. Someone might have afforded you the physical opportunity, but it would have been entirely up to you whether you reached out and took it. There are rules about that, or so I've been told."
"Coyote showed me!"
"I'm sure he showed you a. possible. future. And I know that it has been said that if you choose an outcome you damned well better be prepared to commit the actions that bring it about and accept the consequences of each one. I doubt he was unaware of that at the time."
"Are you saying he lied?"
"No. I'm saying that he chose a time and place for his offer such that either fork in the road you took would be acceptable. Because that's what I will now do, as it's all one to me." He mimed straightening his lavender silk tie and brushing lint off his midnight black suit.
"Your old road ends here, Wihakayda. Will you choose to follow a new one, perhaps after Lanie, or maybe after Debra?"
"Where are you headed?"
Metro smiled, and reached out a skeletal hand to a much younger Kayda.
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Sunday afternoon, December 2nd, 2007,
Hawthorne Cottage, Whateley Academy
Kraken's detention at Hawthorne Cottage got off to a roaring start - and if Mrs. Cantrel ever found out who rigged the toilets with a backflow geyser function, heads would roll (after she got the schematics) - when one of the Thornies decided to test whether or not he was a hydrokinetic in addition to manifesting hot and cold running water. Even the fourth basement bathroom dwellers were appalled by the mess; they're usually a tough crowd to impress.
Exquisite's ego took a quieter hit when some tattooed tramp informed her that if the showers weren't sufficiently cleaned (To her standards? As if!), she'd be starting over, from scratch, with the level of difficulty raised to 'Augean Stables'. A little taste of her power should have been sufficient to show the chippie who was who around here. Instead, she found herself in the front leaning rest position, nose-to-grate with the closest fungus-dripping drain, while Eldritch explained exactly where she'd gone ever so horribly wrong.
As if to cap off Training Day: The Detention Chronicles, Kraken walked around a corner in the first basement in time to see one of the freaks tromping into a bathroom he'd just finished cleaning, carrying a towel, a bucket, and heaven alone knows what else in a gym bag. He stared for a minute at the clumps of mud that had fallen off the guy's boots. Worse, under all the mud, the guy was wearing what looked like a Campus Security uniform. Mama Lowry's son knew a dirty trick being set up when he saw one. This was way too much to put up with!
Whoever it was walked back out of the bathroom, like he'd forgotten something, tracking more dirt down the hall. So he iced the guy up one side and down the other for good measure. Kraken intended to let him chill out long enough to send A Message, that's all.
Mr. Geintz appeared between the two. "In fairness, I will give you one word of advice: run."
Within seconds, the entire block of ice shattered. Supercooled shards of water ice chimed as they fell away to the tiled floor, taking most of the caked-on dirt with them. Looking past Geintz, Kraken saw wisdom in the teacher's advice.
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It was the greatest con that Odin ever played on the world and, as usual, Loki was right in the middle of it.
"Hela Lokisdottir, it is no secret that few among the Aesir can bear your visage, nor that it is unseemly for you to bear such a dark burden in the midst of bright Asgard."
"My liege, I"
"You haven't complained; that is true. However, I have devoted to this matter my thoughts and thus is my boon to you: that you shall be granted rulership over your own realm far removed. There, under your rule shall come all manner of folk save those chosen for Lady Freya's host-field Fólkvangr or my own mead-hall Valhalla. All Nine Realms will surrender their fallen to your care save only for those two reserves."
Hela was no fool. One couldn't be and survive alongside her siblings and parents. This was a permanent exile from not only the halls of her father's Asgard but the mountains and forests of Jotunheim. Already, the cold, dead shades of the realms that answered – for now – to the All-Father would be en route to this realm.
"This you have willed, and thus shall it be. By your leave, m'lord?"
"One other thing: the Dead shall still be allowed rebirth to their kin. We do not wish your halls to be overcrowded beyond measure any more than we would want that for our own."
"I shall leave you, Uncle, and Asgard shall not see my face until the destruction of her gods. Even endings must have their end."
Year 535 of the Roman calendar brought news, from the courts of Xibalba, of a great and deadly eruption. The following four years saw crops failing across Midgard and its peoples starved. Out of fear of Fimbulwintr's approach, nobles sacrificed gold and amber to Vanir and Æsir alike, not knowing that those worthies had placed their hopes that sacrificing one of their own by a shaft of mistletoe might grant them the return of fertile years. Like a wolf snapping at the heels of those troubles, Saxons and Jutes sailed for Brigantia's lands, lest Justinian's Plague consume them too. The prince of mischief himself soon followed, taking their Victory for his own wife. Two sons are said to have been born of there coupling, but the wise do not enquire too closely into such affairs.
Four centuries later, sensing that the Æsir and Vanir were at the twilight of their day against the bright Sun of Rome's devotion, Surtr sounded his horn. The ground rent apart at Eldgjá, releasing the Wolf. The land burned at Hallmundahraun as the Serpent writhed. The fading magics of would-be deities could not hold out. Winter came in earnest.
Once true Spring returned to the realms, a lone traveler approached Hela's realm by way of the old journey road that lead from the lands of gods and giants. His cloak was rent by blade and gray with ash. He squinted through his one good eye at the Lady who arose to meet him at her gate.
"Tell me, Uncle, what business you have here. Did you not decree that I was to be the sole ruler of these lands?"
"That I did decree, in the days when my words had power and my chest held breath. Have you no room for a weary soul to rest?"
"What of Valhalla? How goes the day in Fólkvangr?"
"Pale echoes of the places they had been, inhabited by tutelary shades reenacting their appointed parts in a passion play until even their stories die. Must I beg for hospitality at the gate of your hall?"
"No. Of course not. But know that when you leave you cannot return to what you once were."
"I have sired children amongst the mortal men of the Middle Earth. I shall depart from your care by Freya's Well as would any of them."
"Then I bid you come in, that I may give you shelter from the rain."
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"... What I've heard from my sources is that there's a forbiddance up around that elder one's school. It's going to be an unhealthy place to be, come spring."
"So? Getting entangled in that one's affairs is never healthy."
"Nevertheless, if it were up to me, I'd be telling everyone who'd listen to stay away: don't take up a newly-available hallow if at all possible, don't take up a hallow if it's headed for that area, don't make it need to go there."
"Fine. I'll clue my people in, but you know there's always some who don't get the word."
"They are welcome to sacrifice themselves, as always."
Early afternoon, Monday, August 12, 2007,
Noel Lee Jameson the Third was ready to start back to school. He'd miss the time he'd spent on the local rock walls over the summer, but school also meant schoolgirls. He hadn't spent all the money he'd raised on odd jobs like mowing or washing windows, and he had lost some weight, so yeah: schoolgirls.
Better yet, his older brother, Ernest Lee, would soon be going back to that boarding school up in New Hampshire and taking the unfair competition with him! Last year's class unit spent on human mutation didn't give exemplar effects on the opposite sex their due. Not that Lee didn't have an unfair advantage over his shorter brown-eyed and brown-haired little brother all along, but it would be good to get something of a chance.
Noel checked the time and the weather report. With a bit of luck, he could get in a couple of hours of Good and Evil Online in before a power outage or dinner, whichever came first.
Florida didn't come by its reputation as the Lightning State for no good reason. As the brutally hot land breeze met the sea breeze, both loaded with water vapor, the thunder clouds built to the sky. The hunter paid the darkening no mind beyond the shade provided. There was still prey to be found and eaten.
The hunter did mind the fat raindrops that pounded it, driving it further into the foliage in hopes of shelter. It had waited out storms before and would do so now. Even had it known what ozone was, it would only understand that it was too late to run.
Damn, that was close!
On the one hand, Noel was glad he'd logged off just in case something like this happened. One the other, there was no telling when the power company would restore power. Sometimes it took only minutes, sometimes hours.
The easiest thing to do was to take a short nap now and make the time up later. It wasn't like the game wouldn't still be running! Besides, he did feel a little bit tired from mowing the yard that morning. The next couple of yawns sealed the deal.
The hunter had no concept or even instinct to guide it. The world around it was strange, filled with glowing hiding places and prey and bigger things, and there were shadows too. It felt hunted by shadows and lights it could not recognize.
In an increasingly desperate search for hiding places and maybe food the hunter soon lost itself in a maze of things. Poking its head out into a larger open space, it saw something that looked like one of the really big not-hunter things, but glowing. It glowed but also smelled like food for its new kind. It settled into the not-food food-smelling place, away from the rain and the loud lights in the distance, and risked dozing off.
For no earthly reason, Noel dreamed about hunting massive insects. There were dragonflies big enough to fly on. There were palmetto bugs scaled up for a Paleozoic documentary about coal. The little lizard he found, trying to fit itself in a place that he'd be in therapy for years to explain, looked so out of place he almost laughed. He stuck it in a pocket and promptly forgot about it.
Noel thought he heard his name being called from somewhere, but after getting no response, his mother sent Lee back to wake his brother up. The power had been out for a whole five minutes, but that was more than enough for the teen to be out like a light after being deprived of his favorite online game. Lee saw his neat-freak little brother shivering on top of his bed, despite being wrapped up in all his sheets and bed covers. He walked across the carpeted room and instead of trying to wake Noel up, he gently pried one eye open. If the kid had been faking, that would have ended the act.
Lee couldn't make out Noel's irises at all.
He turned out the room's light and closed the door. Bright lights plus manifestation-driven migraines weren't a fun combination in his experience. He made up a list of the usual coping measures: ice (lots of it), up-to-date fire extinguisher, a gallon or two of chicken soup, ambulance and emergency room services on their parents' insurance ...
Early afternoon, Thursday, August 16, 2007,
Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, Lakeland, Florida
This time around, the Jameson family was in better shape to deal with a mutant manifestation. A lack of panic on their end translated into a much smoother hospital admission once Noel's temperature began to spike. It didn't hurt to have some of Whateley Academy's resources on their side as well. A package arrived that morning which they hoped would help Noel to communicate without relying on a small chalkboard.
Noel himself was still working his way through the early stages of grief. His hair had fallen out over the past couple of days, and there were signs that scales might replace his outer layer of skin. To keep any outer layer of skin, he'd have to make sure that he spent as much time in humid air as he could. That, or keep a barrel of aloe vera gel in his room. He would also need to spend hours under a sunlamp in addition to Vitamin D supplements. Skipping that could have consequences for his bones. On a scale of one to ten, he'd rate those problems at two stars. The kick in the teeth was that while he was unconscious, his hyoid bone had migrated to a higher position in his neck, and grown spurs to support a dewlap. Although he was getting therapy to teach him how to chew and swallow again, there was nothing to be done to restore his ability to speak.
Lee had claimed there was a guy in his year group who was also mute because of his manifestation. He called around and was able to track down one of the rejected Sign-to-Speech vocorders. It seemed that Noel was in luck because the guy – someone called Razorback – was picky about the gear he used due to a sensitivity to sound. Noel and the rest of his immediate family would still need to learn ASL, and fluency usually takes years to achieve.
Anna Jameson focused on the here and now. For one of their problems, they had a partial solution and that was better than none in her book. She put on a smile before entering Noel's room, lest anyone get the idea that she was anything but proud of her son. That smile exacted its price in the hidden pain of seeing her child in a hospital bed.
"Good afternoon, Noel! I've even brought a package for you!"
Noel wrote on his small whiteboard: "I don't even know sign yet."
"That's true, but I expect you'd get a lot of use in having it around to give you feedback on what you are learning."
"It can't hurt to try."
"Exactly. Now, how's the other therapy going?"
"Doctors say maybe tomorrow."
"That's an improvement!" Noel shrugged and started writing, but Anna said, "It doesn't have to be perfect and you know it."
Even the boy's sigh was silent. "Any word on school?"
"I think we can rule out a local education."
"Hormonal super-powered bullies"
"I know, but Lee says the martial arts program is top-notch. Maybe powers testing will turn up something else that's helpful. Anyway, now that we have this gadget, we might as well practice"
Tuesday Afternoon, August 28, 2007,
Whateley Academy, New Hampshire
Noel and Lee flew up to Boston from Orlando. If ever there were an airport that had seen everything, it would be Orlando International Airport. There was also a taste of irony in flying from MCO.
The train route from Boston to Dunwich, NH, was called the Miskatonic Express. Perhaps that was yet another way to drive home the point that this was a long way from home. To Noel, riding it felt like they were going back in time. That suspicion came close to being confirmed by the Norman Rockwell buildings and homes that made up most of the small town. Another leg of the journey, this time on a bug, brought them past the gargoyle-attended gates of Whateley Academy.
Lee got off the bus well before Noel, when it stopped to let off passengers and luggage intended for Emerson Cottage. Lee had explained the cottage system, among other things before they left, so Noel wasn't surprised that not a single student with noticeable GSD was let off at Emerson, before continuing on to Twain Cottage. This would be, God willing, his home away from home for the next four years. Soon he was caught up in the confusing whirl of planned activities: check-in, room assignments, campus tour, and food.
Noel temporarily ended up with a single room under the working assumption that there were sure to be one or two freshmen straggling in before the week was out. That worked for him: he had plenty of room to mount his sunlamps to the wall and get everything else squared away.
Wednesday morning, August 29, 2007,
Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy
At Mr. Filbert's recommendation, Noel had gotten up and showered early. By all accounts, he'd want a decent breakfast before an early powers testing appointment. There didn't seem to be many people up and about when he showered, so he wasn't expecting one of the older students to knock on his face instead of the door when he stepped out.
That is, he assumed the four hundred pounds of muscled saurian was one of the older students.
Noel motioned for his visitor to wait a sec so he could grab his whiteboard. "Can I help you?"
The other person hissed something like a stifled laugh and started gesturing. Sign language!
"You must be Razorback?"
Jack nodded his head.
"Still learning basics."
Jack reached out for the board. "My friends know sign. We could teach?"
A light at the end of the tunnel!
"That would be great."
"Get schedule done. Look us up. Outcast Corner."
"I'll be sure to do that"
Jack waved, turned, and bounded out the door. An odd duck, for sure, but that was what he had been told to expect of Whateley and Twain.
Thursday morning, August 30, 2007,
Powers Testing Labs, Whateley Academy
Powers Testing was a mad scientist's cross between a military intake physical and "American Gladiators", with a side of "Candid Camera" for good measure. On the bright side, he'd come up with a code name that contrasted against his brother's. On the other, Noel should never have told them that rock climbing was one of his hobbies because they found an insane set of problems set up in one of the gyms.
That was where he got most of his bruises. On an otherwise simple bouldering route, he went to swing his right leg to catch the hold, and some impulse made him pull his leg in and under him instead as if he'd get better purchase that way. The trouble was that he'd committed to the move. Down, he went. Hard.
A couple more courses went well, and then he lost it traversing an underhang.
Getting smashed by a cannon-propelled basketball while he was on a stationary bike did little to improve his mood. No danger sense? No duh.
Late Thursday afternoon, August 30, 2007,
Administration, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Ms. Hastings went over Noel's updated records, pausing here and there along the way for a noncommittal "okay" or "oh", now and then.
"Did the doctors in charge of testing explain the results and their conclusions?"
Noel wrote out, "No, ma'am."
"So much for pleasant surprises, then. From what I gather, you manifested as an Avatar Two and Paragon One. The latter is one of the esper traits. Sometime next week I'd like the staff at Doyle Medical Center to look you over more thoroughly. The researchers here think they found evidence for normal development of an avatar trait, but your records and appearance are more appropriate to a moderate form of Spirit Hallow Mismatch Deformity. Had you been trying to free similar climbing routes out in the real world, you'd be in a hospital or a morgue.
There's been a very recent upswing in non-aware avatar spirits. As an Avatar Two, that may be where the problem's starting for you. The spirit does not understand what you need, but it cannot help but react. The esper paragon trait they believe they've found is weak, but it could be developed, as it's good for keeping people alive. Do you understand what I'm telling you? "
His whiteboard was getting a workout.
"I think so.
Avatar = work together or get hurt.
Paragon trait = Do right thing, sometimes."
"That's the gist of it. I see that you're requesting Basic Martial Arts. Might I ask why?"
"My brother recommended it."
"Then I won't have to explain Combat Finals. Good. I recommend holding off on math so you can pick up Esper I. You're getting Mr. Williams' American History class out of the way?"
Noel nodded. He'd heard some horror stories.
"Very well. English ... yes. It's a four-credit requirement here. You don't want to get behind on that. Powers Theory and Lab. Did your brother discuss this as well?"
"He said it was a good idea. "
"I don't see Avatars I on your request. Based on what you've told me, I think you may need it. Do you think you can wake up early on Saturdays to knock that requirement out?"
"I can do my best."
"Well, then. I've got Basic Martial Arts, Esper I, American History I, in the mornings. After lunch, it's English 101, Powers Theory, Powers Lab. We'll round out the week with Saturday morning Avatars I.
Normally, I'd want to move on to discussing work-study positions available. However, not being able to speak makes almost anything we'd want you to try a non-starter. I think I should slot you in for the first period Evening Introduction to American Sign Language that's running short on students. It's a tough schedule, but I have confidence that you can pull through. "
"I hope so."
"I know so. Welcome to Whateley, Mr. Jameson."
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Tuesday, September 6, 2016,
The Quad, Whateley Academy
Clarissa Logan sits under the dense dark canopy of an ancient oak tree, accompanied only by her faithful "ex-boyfriend". The gloom is perfectly suited to her complection and its shadows hide whether she is sketching something, or working on her magic theory homework from all the Shiny Happy People. No one wants to get involved in either one. She is interrupted by *someone examining her zombie*?
"Dear me. This is good work for a beginner. The physics is off on the jaw, but that can be fixed... "
The woman's asymmetrical cornrows are swept to the side with a natural elegance and shine that frames her chestnut-toned face and sets itself off from a flat black stretch tee. The woman's (also black) pouch-loaded duty belt, tactical cargo pants and boots complete a professional outfit that is equal parts Combat Final and Stage Crew. Penny's heart sinks at how gaudy her school uniform suddenly feels to her.
"Oh! Sorry. I'm Ellen Peters. I saw an teaching position in stage management posted for the Theater Department here and jumped at the chance. And you are?"
Something about the name sounds like maybe she should know it, but Penny sets that aside. "Penny, as in Penny Dreadful."
"Does that make you a good Penny or a Bad Penny?"
"I plan on always turning up, whether they want me to or not."
"You already heard about Whitman?"
"Back before you girls got the good showers. I'm an alum myself."
As two plus two dawns as four in the freshman's eyes, Ellen says, "Come on, let's hijack your advisor and get you set up for some fun classes. You know you want to!" She might be three months pregnant and a shoo-in for an Obie this year, but Goria isn't ready to slow down yet. There'd be time enough for rest in the grave.
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Early afternoon, Saturday, February 14, 2009,
Lost Puppy Patrol Table, Crystal Hall
Thomas Jensen looked beyond the hall's transparent dome at the wintry weather outside. He still hadn't figured out why Mads Møller-Jensen had spent so much of the mealtime looking outside from the other side of the table. He'd been picking at his food all meal, trying to figure the best time for what he had to say. Someone was sure to take it wrong - so what else was new? Maybe Mads was coming down with something the paranoid hadn't been vaccinated for?
Thomas finally spoke up, looking directly at his counterpart, "Since last VD Day went so well, I decided to get you something special."
"Huh? But I... It's not ready yet! Wait. Why are ambushing me in front of everyone?"
Gods. He had a plan in mind.
Abbie Elliott looked over from her seat and said, "Should we be updating our insurance policies? With you two I'm never sure."
"Look. I'm innocent!"
This time, Kris choked on his drink. He rushed to the men's room, presumably to get presentable.
"Right. Anyway, here." Thomas handed over a (It was wrapped at least?) box.
"Should we wait until Kris gets his shirt clean?"
"He'll hate you both for making him miss it."
Ten minutes later, Kris was back, pretending his shirt wasn't stained at all and the curiosity wasn't killing him.
"Woah." Mads pulled out a set of lock picks. Some didn't even look like they were meant for a lock.
Thomas explained, "Kris told me about you having issues leaving the hospital that time." If looks could kill... "I asked Imp to vette the set. She said it would make a wonderful gift for someone she knows, so it can't be too bad."
"Thank you. Aaaaaaaand on that note, I do have a couple of things to take care of." Mads got up, patted Thomas on the shoulder, and said to the rest of the team at the table, "Team Tactics review tomorrow!"
Abbie watched her fellow sophomore make his retreat. "That was a jerk-ass response. Next time, Ex-Lax chocolates."
"Wouldn't get past a detox spell. I think I'll head back over to Poe. Weather like this doesn't last long."
Thomas wasn't joking. He liked rough weather. Thunderstorms were best, but he got along well with most blizzards. This one felt like it was out of season, but at this school there was no telling what might be "in season". Once back inside he shook the clinging snow off his jacket. A card fell out of one of the pockets.
"Success Pond. 3PM. Bring skates. I've got the rest covered."
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"There were once creatures that, I suppose, one might call humans. Designed by the High Sidhe, they were nothing if not useful: they could till the earth or fight and die en masse under harsh conditions without posing a threat to the great lords in their Courts. Earth-born, they naturally generated essence that fed the great dragon lines. Even those culled could be put to use: the blood could be transmuted into bloodsteel, skin cured into parchment or finer leathers tanned with crushed brain, flesh and offal fed to hellhounds, bone ground to fertilizer, fats rendered into carrier oils for arcane potions and perfumes.
Do not pretend to be shocked. A race as proud and long-lived as the Sidhe could hardly afford to care for a barnyard species that lived only three or four score years, assuming they survived to adulthood. Come to think of it, that part hasn't changed. Do you name your chickens and involve yourself in their short lives? Of course you don't. Your dog? The cat that adopted you? That is different.
Over millennia, some few escaped their masters and fled into the wilds and wastelands. The Center Court continued to contemplate its collective navel and cared not whether they lived or died. If they should lose the holds the West had over them, they cared even less. There is a lesson in this regarding how allies are to be treated.
Like the Beasts of the Center, the Dragons of the North found these humans tasty. Suspiciously tasty for obligate omnivores that curiously couldn't survive without dietary ascorbic acid and were crippled without sufficient sunlight. They also just happened to be able to transmit their diseases to the avian species that were much more closely related to the Lords of the Air.
Yes. There's a lesson or two in how to treat your rivals.
Consider that those aligned with Air, even the most unworldly, can be as practical in some matters as they are inveterate tinkerers in others. With these new self-replicating toys, the Sidhe might as well as shipped them a box of Happy Fun Balls wrapped in bubblewrap, styrofoam peanuts, and glitter, and labeled it "Danger! Plague Rats". Worse, the Court finally had somewhat programmable ground troops that could be taught things. Troops that could be taught to feed themselves on and protect herds of large grazing herbivores. Give a giant enough rope...
Did you know that the jinn of the air are the closest of all elemental races to the human race, lacking only the soul and sometimes not even that? Yes, humans can function without one, but that ten percent of sociopathic humans mirrors the ten percent of soul-blessed jinn. It is suspected that some of the tinkering was, shall we say, intimate; the human drive for variety in sexual experimentation is only matched by that of dragons. There are some Terrestrial planes in which they've managed to cross themselves back with ancestral species. Their aspect of Gaia must have been stoned when She brought them back.
What can one say about the humans of those days and the Southern Court? The naked apes already had access to fire to make basic pottery and tools with, just as they needed wood or stone for shelter, air and water for survival. Some of the escapees drifted into Southern lands and adapted as best they could, but it was always a case of being "so close and yet so far apart". For two to be together, one must permanently change, thus the other has to make it worth their while. What the Southern Court's descendants have learned of manifesting mortal wishes into shared reality is the subject of both dreams and nightmares. The borders between their Realms and the Terrestrial shift like sand dunes and are easily crossed.
What about the East? What about them and their relationships do you truly desire to learn? The Lords of the Seas and the Daughters of the Wells certainly had less to fear from the air-breathing swamp-apes than even the weakest Dragon. The same could not be said of two-legged land-dwellers: Lorelei, Scylla, Charybdis, Leviathan, Kracken, Rheintöchter, nixies, nymphs, kelpies, brook horses, grindylow, fossegrim, sirens, undines, rusalki, kappas, suiko, mishibizhiw; the list goes on. The Sidhe in the West had finally made something the East wanted, and water is all about desire. What they were granted was the Great Forge made for the North. Desire and Wisdom are rarely partnered; 'Father' Dagon and 'Mother" Hydra took advantage of that before the World was broken.
All that time that Gaia was thought to be asleep, she was dreaming and not unaware.
Her humans would have the endurance and adaptability of Water. For better or worse, Her Sea's Call cannot be denied. To soothe their new wanderlust, they would learn to swim and to sail. Now, Dagon and Hydra's children must depend on Gaia's for mere reproduction. They would sing and make music, and it's now the undine and fossegrim who might gain a soul from their unions. Water always wins.
Her humans would retain the mortality of Fire and the spark of creation "borrowed" from the Djinn. They would be drawn to beauty like moths to a candle's flame. They would dance to wooden drums around their fires fueled by ax-felled trees. Human-smelted and -worked iron is now nearly as lethal as cold iron to a Certain Race and their kind. Fire is the original two-edged sword.
Her humans would be, to be fair, based on certain Northern tribes. For better and worse, they'd bear the most insatiable needs: to learn what Was and Was Never; to examine, tamper with, and control what Is and what Could Be; and to imagine and dream what Will Be and Must Never Be. Like Air, they would never all completely find rest.
Gaia's Humanity would be taught by Her children, knowing that it would hurt.
Wolf's Father agreed to teach them, then turned Wolf, Dog, Fox, and Coyote loose to play with Man while he left to go hunting or something. To his mind, the little pack would be just fine.
Bast would officially claim they all must have been dropped on their heads (repeatedly in one or two Cases she could name) to have turned out so wrong, but it's so cute to see puppies and kittens playing together.
Horse was intrigued by the one land animal that could, sometimes, keep up. Some needed to be kicked in the head once or ten times, and he was happy to oblige. It would be Man that returned Mustang to his ancestral home.
Raven considers them all idiots, but he's pulled some bone-headed pranks in the past himself.
Now, it would be the returning fey folk that would learn what the weight of disregard feels like. Man would pack-bond with nearly anyone or anything (Some blame Dragon, others Dog and Coyote), but even the fey changelings raised by humans as human children could only live a lonely and short mortal life. Many of the swapped human children would lose... something, and become fully of the fey, or they would pine away for something that couldn't be named or bespelled by their eldritch parents."
-- excerpt from "I Brought You Into This World, I Can Take You Back Out Of It: An Erisian Cosmology with a Side Order of Applesauce", written by Do I Look That Stupid?, published by Sacred Chao Press under the Paladin's Pentangle imprint. Gabba gabba hey.
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