A Whateley Academy Tale
Quoth The Ninja, Nevermore!by Maggie Finson, Bek D Corbin, Babs Yerunkle, and Starwolf
Whateley: September 6, 2006
Having been kicked out of the sunroom, five girls and one guy squeezed into a tiny two-person bedroom. To help make room, one of the girls was standing upside down on the ceiling. Even if she hadn't been, Tennyo would have drawn a double-take. With spiky blue hair that defied gravity (even when she was right-side up), amber cat-slitted eyes, and small fangs that protruded when she smiled, the cocky girl didn't quite look human. Cute and sexy, yes. But not exactly human - even if you ignored the tail that sometimes swished behind her.
A more subtle brand of non-human came from the girl with flame-red hair sitting cross-legged on one bed. Her eyes were a little too large, a little too slanted. A common reaction was simultaneous attraction and dread. It was as if regular people had an instinctive recognition of her kind; as if they still remembered the terrible beauty and power of the elder race that had once cultivated this garden world. Looking at her, so aptly named "Fey," the eye blinked and the illusion vanished like a popping soap bubble. She was no more than a lost child, young and insecure. Even so, her beauty grabbed you around the throat and clenched.
Currently pacing the inadequate floor space was a slender young girl with a tight cap of black hair. She was alternately pulling that hair out in spikes or slamming her fist into her palm. With each slam, there was a sound like a pile driver hitting a post - a crack of displaced air as fist met palm.
"They threatened my FAMILY!" she ranted, "I'm going to hurt them so bad!" She turned sharply, stressing her painted-on jeans far past their design goals. "They'll learn not to mess with a Goodkind! I was learning how to deal with blackmailers and parasites back in second grade! You hear me? Second grade!"
Her rant was somewhat spoiled as her tiny scoopnet T-shirt once again slipped off her shoulder, exposing a bit too much of her lacy bra strap.
The child of the group said, "Well don't worry. Jinn's watching everything. We'll know as soon as they make a move, so calm down. We have hours."
From the ceiling, Tennyo asked, "Did you put Jinn into old Edgar's head?"
"No," the young Japanese girl said. "The ransom note was so clear about us slipping our answer under the bust that I thought they might have it bugged or something. But do you remember the opposite side of the foyer?"
The others shook their heads.
"Come ON! It's got a niche, too. Big book. Giant stuffed raven perched over the book. Does any of that ring a bell?"
"I was always looking at the bust," Tennyo admitted.
The slender (and flat-chested) Japanese girl glared at her better-endowed roommate. "Remember those words, Tennyo. Remember them."
"I love you too, Jade."
Down in the lobby, an autonomous cloud of mental energy was anchored to a stuffed Raven. It seemed to look through the raven's eyes, feel with the raven's taloned feet, move with wings instead of arms. Except...
"This thing is stiff as a board," Jinn thought. "Even if I *could* move a wing, it would probably snap off."
She grumbled, but kept her "eyes" on the statue opposite: the bronze head of Edgar Allen Poe.
"So," Toni asked, terrified of more hours of just waiting. "Anyone up for darts?"
"Do you WANT to ruin our walls?" "Against _you_? Are you nuts?" "Where did you find room in here for a dartboard?"
The black girl proudly held up her darts and board. The darts were little larger than toothpicks. And while the board had all the conventional fields on it, it was no larger than a half-dollar. "It's not that bad, guys. If I put it on the far wall, I sometimes miss."
The others looked at her in suspicion. "Well, I mean, they aren't bullseyes. Not exactly."
The only boy spread his large hands. "Thanks, but no thanks. You know how clumsy you sometimes feel after a growth spurt? I'm kind of feeling that way, all over."
"Don't worry, Hank," Tony reassured. "The 'big lug' style is popular right about now."
"Yeah, I wished I believed that," the tall boy said. He cast a quick glance over at the exotic Fey, sitting crossed-legged on her bed. "But sometimes I just feel so out of place."
A lonely robin called from its perch. The huge oak overhung a steep drop, overlooking a wide stretch of protected New Hampshire forest. With barely a whisper, a wiry, black-garbed figure seemed to materialize on the tree's bough. Even its head was covered in a tight black wrap - only a rectangle of grey mesh indicating where the eyes might be. Long black sleeves and tight gloves covered the arms. Looser pants tucked into short boots with padded soles. Again, all black. It was immediately apparent that a ... foreign ... element had entered the forest.
The robin spread its wings to take flight, alarmed at the unexpected intrusion. Before it could even cry out its alarm though, a disk of jagged metal sliced into it - silencing it, and killing it instantly.
The black garbed figure crouched to retrieve the shuriken, cleaning the throwing star by wiping it against the feathers of the dead bird.
"What was the point of that?" The new figure was nearly identical to the first, but something in his stance spoke of a more noble bearing. He also wore a glass medallion around his neck.
"It was good practice. And we must be as silent as the wind. Why are you even talking now?"
"Calm down, Mikoshi. We have miles to go, yet. For now we eat and rest, preparing ourselves for the task to come." The noble, medallion-bearing figure suddenly sat, cross-legged. He pulled off his hood to reveal the classically good looks of a long-suffering samurai.
"Of course. If *you* say so, Matoi." Following the sarcastic reply, he kicked the dead bird off the branch, then dropped to his knees, sitting seiza. "Oh, and you might as well tell the rest of them to come out. They aren't fooling anyone."
With a blur of motion, three more black clad figures appeared, distinctive even in their black garb. One easily out-massed the first two together. He pulled off his hood to reveal dark, suspicious eyes set into a lumpy round face. "About time," Gissha Gyudon said.
The next figure was obviously female. Her black garb accentuated her contours, rather than hiding them. Using one of the many techniques that each ninja must master, her hands flashed like speeding arrows, darting into the folds and pockets of her outfit to retrieve whatever weapon or tool the moment demanded.
"Does everyone want rice balls, or should we have the bentos? See? I made a box for each of you!"
While the others made their attacks on the bento boxes, the last figure stood alone. Sarumawashi Unagi's scrawny frame was neither heroic nor intimidating, even in his black garb. His situation was made more comical by a bulky backpack and a network of pockets sewn over his outfit, and the small silvery device his hands quickly assembled from those pockets. When he was done, he held a small hand-held unit with a rotating parabolic dish that 'ping'ed amusingly. His thoughts were a different matter, though.
*Those idiots shouldn't be allowed to sneak into a supermarket! Now, where is it?* In moments, the comical device in his hands had located the nearest sensor platform - an outlying security device of the Whateley Academy. A few rapid clicks on his hand-held and Sarumawashi had opened a "hole" for them, inserting them into the system as a "security and training exercise." He estimated the sensor network at being able to detect any living creature over 40 kilograms entering the area. He could easily think of a dozen ways to defeat it, this had the advantage of being easiest, and least likely to be messed up by his useless companions. *Once this is done,* he promised himself again, *once I have proven myself, then I go solo. Until then, may the kami grant me the strength not to slay these fools who surround me.*
Satisfied for the moment, he reached for his bento. "What --?"
"You weren't eating it!" the large Gissha said, spraying rice as he spoke. "Anyway, I got more muscle than you! I need extra fuel!"
Unagi gritted his teeth in frustration, and masterfully refrained from unleashing the deadly 'Thousand Needles of Death' technique.
As they began to droop, one-by-one the girls quietly prepared for bed.
Fey was picking through her nightwear deciding which one of her new nightgowns to wear while thinking it had been a long, but interesting day.
"Hey, Nikki!" Toni bounced into the room squeaky clean and wearing a short red satin sleeping shift. "The bathroom's free now. If you run, you could probably get there before all the hot water is gone."
"That sounds good." Fey grinned tiredly while wondering if her roommate ever slowed down to a pace others had a chance of matching. Finally choosing a long, flowing white silk gown, with matching panties she padded barefoot into the hallway on her way to the bathroom and wonderfully inviting idea of hot water, and her scented soap, followed with badly needed sleep.
Rolling her violet eyes at the delicately spicy scent of the soap her mother had chosen for her, she started the water and made sure it was at just the right temperature. The first time she had taken a shower after her change the fast, hard stream that she had always liked as Nick nearly had her fainting from shock. Discovering that her skin had become so sensitive to such stuff had just about put her into hysterics. Again.
"Ahh, Just right." The warmth and force of the water were perfect, and without a lot of fiddling, fussing, and abortive forays into the steaming flow to make adjustments. Lathering up with the gel soap and gently washing still uncomfortably unfamiliar body parts, she mulled over how her life had changed so much in such a short time.
Washing her bright, flame red hair served to remind her again about the differences in her circumstances, as if being at Whateley wasn't enough. Once her hair had been rinsed, and conditioned -- something both her mother and Jessica had been insistent about to the point of nagging -- she carefully worked a comb through it to make sure all the tangles were out. With a sigh, she reached lightly for a few of the lines she always saw, shut the shower off, and simply sent the water still on her body and in her hair to the shower floor where it went down the drain.
Her introspection didn't last long, as Tennyo wandered in and started another of the showers. At least I'm not dealing with a period. Yet. She thought in relief as she stepped out of her own cubicle and gave the other a friendly smile.
"That's a handy trick to have." Tennyo had noticed her drying technique and gave her a quick grin while saying so. "Bet you never need to take an umbrella with you either, huh?"
"Only when I don't want to attract attention." Fey agreed, then gave her lithe, not entirely human reflection a rueful look with a laugh. "Ok, make that any more attention than usual."
"Know what you mean." The Asian-looking girl nodded with a shrug while patting herself dry following her own shower. "I guess we'll get used to the stares -- eventually."
"Oh, probably." Fey agreed as she applied her after-bath lotion, then powder. "But I don't think it's going to be any time soon for me. This is going to take a lot of getting used to, if you know what I mean."
"You seem to have adjusted pretty well."
"Like I have a choice?" The redhead shrugged while getting into her panties and nightgown. Seeing the expression on the other's face, she instantly went contrite. "Oh, I'm sorry. I know none of us do, and I need to quit moaning about it."
"Moan all you like." Tennyo shrugged. "I plan to, once I get the time to do it."
"Well feel free to do it at me whenever you do." Fey smiled tentatively. "I won't yell at you to stop it or anything. I'll just let you get it out of your system, then moan and groan back at you."
"Sounds good to me." The almost Blue hair on the Asian-looking girl's head had gone stubbornly back into the spiky look it had been in earlier as she let out a yawn. "But what I need now is some sleep."
"Me too." yawning herself, Fey gathered her things and waved. "Later."
"Nite, Nikki." Tennyo called back as she headed down the hall to her own room.
"Nice!" Toni complimented as Fey returned to their room.
"What?" Fey sleepily questioned.
"That nightgown." The black girl answered while indicating the flowing white silk garment her roomie was wearing. "It's beautiful!"
"Thanks." Fey answered with another yawn. "My mom got it for me. Yours is cute, too."
"Thank you." Toni beamed, then bounced towards the light switch. "Big day tomorrow, so I guess we'd better try and get some sleep, huh?"
"Umm hmmm." Fey mumbled into her pillow before letting out a soft snore.
"Sheesh." Shaking her head Toni switched off the light and moved back towards her own bed. "I didn't think anyone could manage to sound pretty while they snore."
The leader of the black-garbed figures rose up above the ridge line and peered through high-power binoculars at the campus ahead of him.
"Exactly as intelligence reported," he relayed to his companions waiting beyond the ridge line. "When we hit them, we will prove the superiority of the Yama Dojo. A disorganized rabble of western dilettantes is no match for our discipline and training. They shall learn that we do not fear to match our skills against theirs."
Sarumawashi could be heard hissing to himself.
"You have a problem with the plan?"
"Yes, *esteemed leader*." These last words plainly had to be forced out. "We are _ninja_! We do not 'match our skills!' We strike without warning, and vanish before detection."
"Still, it's so... dishonorable. This is a - how do they put it? - a 'target rich' environment. Surely, we couldn't be faulted for testing our training just a bit."
Sarumawashi hissed again.
"Very well," the leader conceded. "Do not let it be said that I ignore the advice of my inferiors." He surveyed the campus again. "There are three dorms closest to campus. Each sits atop a hill. I dislike the high visibility. Likewise, there are three dorms farthest from campus. Logically, they should be the easiest targets. I distrust them for that reason. Lastly, there is one single dorm which lies in the mid-range. Protected from campus view by an intervening hill. Located mid-way between two others. That is where they will be most over confident. That is where we must strike!"
Mikoshi sat, bored by all of this, and relieving his frustration by pitching small daggers at a mouse he had caught. With each flick of his wrist, the mouse jumped. The trick was to not end the game too soon, but to use fright to steer the mouse into position for his final strike. "Let's hit one of the dorms with girls. That way, if we run into trouble it won't be anything too tough."
"As practical as it is detestable," the leader conceded. "You have the map, Mikoshi. What does it say about the dorm I have chosen."
Retrieving his daggers and wiping the blood off, Mikoshi quickly consulted the map. "It's called 'Poe Cottage.' Says it's 'co-educational.'" He paused to pull up his face mask, so that he could spit. "Half fems. That should be easy enough."
"Hey!" the girl, Mikan, protested. Everyone else ignored her.
Jade stumbled downstairs, peering at her watch with drooping eyelids. *Midnight already? Jeez!*
Jinn had just "expired" and reappeared in her head. She figured she'd give one more "charge" and watch the bust for another hour. Of course, even if Jinn spotted something, once Jade fell asleep it wouldn't do much good. And that darned raven hadn't been much fun.
*Why isn't Ayla watching?* But the answer was obvious. The message had been sent to Ayla - if the blackmailers were keeping an eye on anyone, it would be Ayla. So someone else had to watch for her. Meaning Jade - or Jinn. *Hey, if I go into the lion, I'd have a voice, and I could run upstairs. That means I could wake myself up.* The question was - how suspicious was it to have a stuffed toy lying around in the entry? As she stumbled through the common room, she eyed the entry critically. There were still a few suitcases piled haphazardly. Smiling, she charged her toy lion and tossed it into the pile of luggage. She didn't even wait to watch the lion drift slowly downward.
In the deepest black of night, five ebon figures pressed against the side of the large barracks-like building. They spoke not a word, but signaled to each other in well-practiced command gestures. Their eyes were trained to pierce through the veil of the night's darkness.
The friendly gaslights around the building helped, too.
The largest figure detached itself from the group and seemed to melt right into the walls of the building. This was Gyudon, a brute with the mutant ability to alter his very mass - turning either as hard as stone and powerful as a golem, or as insubstantial as mist and able to pass through solid objects. He chose not to pass through the front door - suspecting alarms on an entry, but instead used the wall beside the door.
Once inside, he quickly verified the position of the bust - their target of honor. Then, with professional speed he snapped open his kit and began tracing and deactivating the security system - from the inside!
On the point of turning upstairs, Jade paused and cast one last glimpse toward the foyer.
Only to freeze in shock.
There was a figure like Jinn, wrapped entirely in a black bodysuit and nothing more. Only this figure was very large and very male. And it was stepping, ghostlike, *through* the walls!
Jade watched just long enough to see it run a covetous hand over the bust. Unnoticed by the intruder, a small stuffed toy moved in closer behind it. The toy turned to face her. For an instant, her eyes met a stitched, fuzzy face.
Jade and Jinn both understood. One of them to watch and follow, one to alert the others! She nodded to the toy, then moving as quietly as possible, she made her way upstairs.
"Hey! Wake up you two!" The room light came on and Jade rushed into the room. "Stuff's happening!"
"I didn't know it stayed dark in the morning here." Fey mumbled while struggling to get untangled from her sheets.
"It isn't morning!" The childlike freshman answered impatiently. "The bust! Someone is taking the bust!"
"The bust?" Fey nodded with sleep still attempting to drag her back into its at least quiet embrace.
"Poe's bust?" Toni questioned, then nodded as she bounded out of bed. "Of course it's the bust of Edgar Allen. Give us the details." She paused to pull on a long kimono-style dressing gown.
"Big guy, black body suit, hood." Jade announced as she charged out of their room. "I need to wake some of the others up. I got Jinn watching, but hurry!"
"Ninja." Toni grumbled as she pulled Fey out into the hallway. "Probably that clique here at school, and I'll bet they're looking to score some points at our expense. And I can guarantee that there's more than one of them. They're like mosquitoes, you always find a swarm of them." She grinned. "I think it's time to slap some down, before they get any dumb ideas."
"A little late for that." Fey responded grumpily, as she slowly came awake.
"Not if we can stop them and get Eddie's head back!" Toni answered gleefully. "This is a matter of honor for Poe Cottage! We can't just let them get away with stealing our namesake's bust right out from under our noses, now can we?"
"I think they came for the letter." Jade interrupted as Hank, a scowling Ayla, and a grumbling Tennyo gathered in the hallway still wearing their nightwear.
"Nah, it's just those Nin-jerk wannabes trying to prove something at our expense." Toni waved off the notion that the blackmail letter had anything to do with this. "Let's go show 'em what it means to mess with Poe Cottage!"
"Like this?" Fey indicated her own nightgown then the other's sleepwear.
"No time to get dressed now!" Toni urged them all towards the stairs, wearing a V-necked red satin shirt that only came down to mid-thigh. "We need to catch them and get that bust back!"
They thundered down the stairs, barely noticing that Ayla was actually fully dressed, even wearing a trench coat and boots.
"I put Jinn in my stuffed lion." Jade informed them as they reached the commons room on the first floor to find no one there, and the front door standing slightly open. "She must have followed them outside."
"Ok, let's split into pairs and track 'em down." Toni told them. "Jade, you with me. Hank and Fey. Ayla and Tennyo. That way we all have someone who can move fast, and someone to give them trouble from a distance once we get close enough."
Outside, the group took in the situation and headed in different directions almost at once. Hank wearing a pair of boxers and nothing else looked around. "No tracks to follow."
"They're Ninjas!" Toni called back in near exasperation. "They wouldn't leave tracks, now would they? Fey! See if you can track them with your magic while Hank flies you to wherever they are."
"I'm already checking." Fey half absently returned while examining the lines and finding five unfamiliar ones that were brighter -- which meant newer -- and pointed the direction out to Hank. "That way."
Jinn kept after them, creeping and leaping like a small animal. A small animal that could leap a dozen feet and didn't actually have to breath or touch the ground, so she could move very stealthily indeed.
But apparently not subtly enough. One more leap brought her to a tree branch overlooking the five black figures. And a second later, a thrown dagger punctured her abdomen and pinned her to the branch. It didn't hurt, of course, but it kept her from following them. She struggled to move, but there was no get a grip on the dagger with her stuffed toy arms.
"Mikoshi!" a girl's voice called, sounding irritated. "Did you just kill that poor animal?"
"Be *silent!* Besides, it was following us!"
"Oh, I'm sure!"
Jinn watched as they pulled away from her. Were they heading for Kane Hall?
When the boy grasped her waist to hoist her up, Fey felt an unfamiliar tingling and caught her breath. I am NOT getting excited and all breathless about him just grabbing me by the waist. I am not doing that. She thought with a shiver having nothing at all to do with the chill night air whipping around her as they flew in the way she had indicated.
"You smell really nice." Hank added fuel to that fire innocently enough.
"Thanks, but..." Fey's eyes got even wider as she stopped the intended retort and nearly screamed. "WATCH OUT FOR THAT TREE!"
A stomach churning swerve and dip managed to avoid that. Barely. "Uh, sorry."
"Well watch where we're going instead of watching me!" Fey retorted with a bit of embarrassment as her loose breasts jiggled, and she realized just where Hank's eyes had been.
"I can't see in the dark so well."
"Oh, right." Fey noted that he seemed to have no trouble watching her breasts and bottom even if things were kind of dark. "Head to your right now."
"Hey, isn't that the observatory at Kane Hall ahead of us?"
"Yeah." Fey pointed at five dark figures climbing the 'chimney' that supported the observatory dome. "More to the point, look at what's crawling up its walls."
"You know of anyone else who might just decide for a relaxing climb up a wall at this time of night?" She retorted.
"Around here, you never know." Hank pointed out as he peered at the lighted tower. "But there are five of them, all in black, with hoods and masks."
"Yeah, and the bottom one looks to be carrying something that's about the size of Edgar's head. So I think we can pretty well say those are our targets, right?" Fey pointed to the ground with a clearing of her throat. "Now could you please set us down so I can do something interesting to them?"
"My pleasure, lovely lady." Hank did that, gently, with a wide grin on his face. "How's that?"
"Great, thanks. Umm, you can let go of me now, you know. Since we're back on the ground and all."
Fey felt a small, okay more than small, but still ignorable twinge of loss when his strong hands did release her waist. Shaking that off, and wondering if every guy who touched her was going to cause that kind of problem she turned her attention back to the five people who had now reached the top of the tower.
Daikon had Kyuri take point in climbing the observation tower, leaving a line for the others to use while they climbed. Kyuri was the only one who wouldn't be pulling double duty later, so he was given the hardest position going up. Gyudon was carrying Mikan, who would have the hardest job later, and needed to conserve strength. Unagi would also be helping out with the escape, so he was second. And Daikon relegated the task of carrying the 30 pound plus solid bronze bust to himself.
Kyuri made good time to the top of the tower, calling on the Tiger kami that resided within him to literally claw his way up. It was small consolation, this minor concession to the power of the Tiger, considering that, except for the bird and the mouse, he hadn't got to kill anything on this mission.
Once they were all at the top, the highest point on the campus, they assumed the 'Raven Ascends the Night Sky' formation- Gyudon was the center of the mass, Unagi hopped on top of him, and Kyuri and Daikon took a firm hold of either hand. Then Gyudon jumped on Mikan's shoulders, as she used her gravity warping powers to make them all as light a goosedown. Unagi's hands swiftly began to assemble his Modular Component Harness into its Jetpack configuration. This was the slowest part of the 'Ascending Raven' technique and its most vulnerable moment. Daikon thought for a moment about working with Unagi to whittle down the time, but realized that he would only impugn the smaller man's honor to assume that he wasn't already working on the problem.
Fey watched as the ninjas scrambled into an odd formation that ended with the large one jumping on top of the one that he'd just been carrying. The one on the very top extruded some kind of pipe-ish looking wings and a couple of small fires lit at the ends of them. "They're going to try and fly off from there."
"You sure of that?"
Waving him to the side Fey started checking out the lines on and around the tower, then wove a tightly meshed net above the group. Meanwhile, the ninjas atop the tower had finished their strange human pyramid and looked nearly ready. The large one in the center held each of the others, while the small one on the top fiddled with the tube-lattice and rocket assembly. A moment later, three rockets lit with a bright but quiet flame, and the strange structure began to rise from the top of the tower.
"See for yourself. Now keep quiet a second, I need to concentrate."
"They're all hanging on to one another... Sorry, I know, you need to concentrate." Hank stared at the ungainly arrangement, temporarily forgetting that he himself could fly.
Jade stiffened in Toni's arms. "Jinn is back with me. The ninjas! They're climbing the tower on Kane Hall!"
"Okay, kicking the afterburners!" Even though she was carrying the smaller girl, Toni sprinted forward, going from a 'crusing speed' of roughly 35 MPH to nearly 50 MPH.
When Toni and Jade burst into the Quad, they could just see the cluster of ninjas as they started to rise up. "Shit!" Toni muttered. No way to get to them. Except---
Toni let Jade down, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She drew energy up from deep in the Earth and let it form in a ball of power inside her lungs. She took another deep breath and filled the air in her lungs with the power that she'd drawn up from the Earth. Then she opened her eyes, spotted the flying group of ninjas and fixed them squarely with her gaze. Aiming her ki at the ninjas she let out a windows rattling, ear-shattering 'KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII- AI!'
The sound of the 'kiai' shout resounded through the campus, set off numerous car alarms and woke up several sleeping members of the faculty. The force of the kiai shout hit the ninjas squarely in the middle of their mass. Gyudon reacted as he always did when he was attacked unawares - he reflexively went desolid. Unfortunately for the rest of the ninjas, if he wasn't solid, he couldn't carry them. Daikon and Kyuri immediate slipped from his intangible hands.
Nor was Gyudon the only one affected. The secondary force of the kiai shout completely shattered both Mikan and Unagi's concentration. Mikan was startled and let her gravity powers lapse. Looking down, she was suddenly all too aware of the fact that she was a good hundred feet above the ground, falling fast.
Unagi *almost* lost control of his MCH Jetpack when the balances of stress that he'd been carrying suddenly changed. He watched dispassionately as the other members of his team fell silently to the ground. Like the cold professional he was, Unagi quickly reviewed his options- truly, the Way of the Ninja is to seize any and all advantages in order to ensure victory. Or, in this case, to minimize utter defeat. If he dropped and tried to assist his teammates, the odds of their successfully completing the mission were paltry, going on ridiculous. The chances of their being captured were significant. If he allowed himself to be captured, he would also allow the Amerikajin to capture the Modular Component Harness, and its Variable Interface technology. The senseis had made it clear that they regarded it as his Giri to safeguard the Variable Interface technology at all costs. Clearly, his foremost priority was to escape with the MCH. Of course, the fact that Daikon, Kyuri, Gyudon and Mikan would all be disgraced by allowing themselves to be captured, thus relieving him of the onerous burden of picking up the slack for that pack of incompetents, never entered Unagi's mind.
Unagi immediately began calculating contingency plans. Daikon and Kyuri could be trusted to keep silent, but the same could not be said of Gyudon or Mikan. Perhaps he would be part of the team sent to silence them. He smiled to himself. Such is the Way of the Ninja.
Fey and Hank's eardrums were almost shattered by the piercing cry.
Ears weren't the only thing that shattered. Fey's concentration went flying away as the impact on her own powers stunned her for a moment. The net she had so carefully woven overhead glowed bright blue for an instant, collapsed, then condensed into scores of small objects which rained down on the ninjas below.
"Wow." Hank observed almost nonchalantly. "They all managed to land on their feet. But one of them sank into the ground when he landed."
"Great." Massaging her still-throbbing temples, Fey finally noticed the small objects moving around the observatory tower. "Oops."
"What do you mean 'Oops'? I don't like it when you say things in that tone of voice." Hank looked at her warily. "Whatever you did brought them down, right?"
"Not exactly," Fey began to hear sharp clicking sounds in the distance and her expression grew even more worried. "I really meant Oops!"
"Umm, say," the boy questioned with just a tinge of uncertainty in his voice. "What are all those little things swarming the ninjas?"
"You mean those teeth with little feet?"
Fey winced as she saw the walking dentures began biting ankles, feet, and started crawling all over the unfortunate ninjas frantically dancing and striking out at their strange assailants. A half-dozen sets of teeth had even rained down on the skinny ninja who was still aloft. They began to swarm over his backpack and lattice, biting and chewing at the bits of exposed wiring.
"Like the squirrels you told us about at your old school?"
"You know." Hank let out a sigh. "I really think I'm going to learn to hate it whenever I hear you say 'Oops' in the future.
"Tell me about it." The redhead snorted.
Unagi was again busy adjusting his infinitely versatile Modular Component Harness. One more component snapped into place, and the reaction units would achieve full power, to rocket him free. He was gleefully consigning two of his comrades to disgrace and the others to death, when he felt something on the struts of his jetpack. Something that was definitely not a standard component of the MCH.
Unagi looked up in alarm to see what appeared to be American joke 'Chattering Teeth' swarming over his jetpack, gnawing at the wires and delicate control cables. Before Unagi could completely wrap his head around this absurdity, several of the 'teeth' bit into the power leads from the jetpack, sending a furious backlash of energy through the MCH. The fact that the teeth were also vaporized seemed small compensation, as Unagi felt himself suddenly drop.
A squad of security guards, rushing to the scene in answer to the flood of alarms and frantic phone calls, stopped short as the night was filled with a deafening shout and then a flare of violet light.
At the base of the observatory tower, a company of black-garbed ninjas were wildly beating at their clothes. They appeared to be using martial arts to fight off a small army of chattering teeth joke toys, and their clothing was showing the rips and tears inflicted by those not-so-innocent toys.
Franklin Delarose, Chief of night security at Whateley, simply sighed and settled back to monitor the show. Were these ninjas one of the weird campus clubs? A group of outside intruders? Hollywood extras caught in the wrong place at the wrong time? He'd seen it all. In the meantime, he'd learned to settle back and let the chaos settle out, before trying to wade into an unknown situation. And the other side in the conflict certainly *did* seem to be Whateley students. A handful of negligee-clad early-adolescent girls was unlikely to be wandering the wilds of New Hampshire alone.
Delarose reached for his hip flask (actually a thermos that he regularly topped off with black coffee) and sat back to watch. Predictably enough, one of the new recruits jostled his elbow (figuratively speaking).
"Hey Chief, you want us to step in and stop this?"
"Not just yet, boys. Fools rush in, and all that. Best to survey the situation first. Let's call this your first big exercise. What do you see out there?"
The new recruits (with some pointed questions) quickly identified the probable students, also spotting the boxers-clad boy that Frank had missed. No one had any guesses about the ninjas until Tom (the second most senior man) pointed out, "Look at that big ninja. What's he holding? Looks kind of like a stone head."
"Good call, Tom," Frank agreed. "Lesson one, boys. No property damage, no one getting hurt? Then it's often wise to stand back a bit and let these things sort themselves out. Besides, those girls seem to have it well in hand."
"Are those thing *dentures*?"
"Damned Magic Users," Tom swore. "The teeth, or whatever they are, are starting to scatter. Those things are going to be all over campus."
"Lesson two. You get to do things here that you won't find in any other job in the world." He smiled as he pocketed his flask. "It's time to take out the teeth, boys."
The ninjas were pulling themselves together from the combined shock of Toni's Kiai shout and the fall. But Toni had absolutely no intention of letting them find the dropped bust and getting away into the darkness. She shucked her long pale gray kimono dressing gown and did a high arcing leap with a flip to a spot in front of where the ninjas were standing and assumed a stance. When she was absolutely sure that the ninjas were looking at her, she grinned insolently and did the 'come and get it' gesture that is in almost every Kung Fu movie ever shot.
One of the ninjas - Toni could only tell them apart because this one was wearing some kind of medallion - stepped forward, standing tall, his shoulders square. "Stand back, girl! You face the supreme pinnacle of the Yama Dojo, sent here to ensure your humiliation and defeat! We will -" He stopped abruptly as the girl ninja cuffed him on the side of the head.
"Baka! [Translation: You idiot!]" she hissed. "We're ninjas! We don't stop to explain ourselves!"
The larger man hissed back at her, then turned to face Toni. "I regret that you shall have to suffer, for witnessing my shame." He assumed a stance. "Prepare for your immanent defeat!" He lashed forward with a spear hand aimed for her throat.
Toni spun to the side, almost crying out in joy. A martial arts duel! How could she possibly get so lucky? Focusing her ki, she sped up, matching him move-for-move. With a huge grin on her face, she began to move a little faster.
Fey watched her roommate. Seeing the slim black girl dancing around the much larger man, Fey's concern wasn't so much that Toni would get hurt, instead she wondered whether Toni would let out another one of those insane yells. For the moment, that didn't seem to be much of a danger. Reassured, Fey decided to take another chance with her magic. She reached out to grip the lines of wind and gravity she could see. Pulling on them and redirecting them allowed her to levitate.
A wind sprang up from nowhere whipping wildly against her white silk nightgown, and the eldritch-looking girl rose into the air like a force of nature.
Matoi Daikon's frustration had definitely peaked. He was their leader! But somehow, unpredictable disasters kept striking. The sonic weapon used against them moments after they took flight, the teeth (his mind shied away from the insanity of that incident). And now, this small black girl was dancing around his most focused strikes! She had dodged that kick with a *backflip*! Did she think this was some preposterous MOVIE? And now, his punch, she did a forward roll over it! Was she trying to make him look the fool?
It was too much to bear.
Knowing that this was overkill, he nevertheless vowed to impress upon these stupid gaijin exactly who they had dared to oppose.
"You leave me no choice." He spoke in low, deadly tones. "Your continued annoyance has forced me to use the ultimate strike against you. Cringe in terror as you witness a technique whose legend is passed on in hushed whispers."
As he spoke, his hands began to move in the intricate pattern required to build and focus his chi. A pattern that gathered his own energies, while simultaneously entrancing his enemy and preparing them to accept the blow. And indeed, the Amerikajin's eyes were riveted on his hands, helplessly focused on his intricate movements.
"This technique is over one thousand years old, passed in secret from master to pupil and used only in deepest need to eliminate all who stand in our way," the pattern fulfilled, he yelled the final words to stun his foe for the brief moment necessary to strike, "COILING VIPER FANG STRIKE!"
Index and middle finger bound together into a deadly-hard "fang", Daikon struck directly for the nerve nexus on the girl's collarbone, the joining of chi flows and acupuncture meridians that controlled her muscles. She would be frozen, as stiff as stone itself -
It took a moment for Daikon to register that he had not actually touched the girl's shoulder. The impact he had felt had been *her* hand slicing across in a block. He was so stunned that it took a moment to realize that his fingers were dislocated, perhaps broken.
"Whoa! Too cool! Okay, okay, let's see if I've got it!"
What was she doing? Daikon watched in puzzlement as the girl's hands wove in an intricate dance. Wait! Wasn't that the --?
"Something something STRIKE!" Her fingers lashed out to jab just under his shoulder. Daikon felt himself grow stiff. He was wide awake, but it was impossible to move! Helplessly, he toppled over.
"Oh, a paralyzing nerve strike! Kewl! Thanks! I've been trying to figure that out forever!"
Life at Whateley taught many lessons not on the official curriculum. Chief among these was, of course, "don't forget to duck." Slightly lower on the unofficial list came "don't miss the show," (it was just after, "don't be seen near massive property damage" and just before the rather inaccurate "if they're already an enemy, there's no harm in REALLY pissing them off"). Because of this, a crowd of curious students began to gather, shortly after the car alarms went off.
"Who are these kids?" one of the upperclassmen asked.
Another older boy shrugged. "Must be freshmen." He gave a sudden cheer as Daikon froze and toppled over. "Hey, the chick with the moves ain't half bad!"
"I recognize the guys in black - they're that stupid ninja clique."
"Hey!" came an aggravated voice from the back. "We aren't stupid!" He suddenly found the eyes of the crowd on him. "Uh, I mean, I'm sure those guys aren't any of *our* ninjas. They must be imports."
There was a combination of grumbling and muttering at this until the crowd noticed a figure rising into the air - a white-clad apparition with flame red hair. Although the evening air was still and calm, the figure seemed to be rising under the influence of a powerful wind.
"Hey, that floating chick is hot!"
Not only was the girl clad only in a sheer silk nightgown, but the buffeting winds were showing off her figure in embarrassingly stark detail.
"Have to look her up later on."
"Good luck, I think she's a magic user," another told him. "She's the one who brought the bad guys down out of the air, I'm sure of it."
"Won't hurt to try."
"Like I said."
With their leader frozen at Toni's feet in a statue-stiff pose, three of the remaining ninjas converged on the slim black girl.
"Heh, I'll take you all on!" But it was obvious that the challenge was more bravado than genuine confidence.
The girl bodily rushed Toni who did a leap-frog hop over her, only to face the oversized mass of Gissha Gyudon, who tried to grapple her in a bear hug. Obviously, the ninjas had trained for team maneuvers. Toni rolled back, dropping onto her back and thrusting her legs into Gissha's gut to power-flip the large man onto his smaller comrade.
Totally wrapped up in the fight, Toni didn't realize that her acrobatic style of combat made for an overly revealing display, when combined with a sheer nightshirt that only came to mid-thigh in the best of circumstances. Nor did she realize the high contrast afforded by her cream-white panties, against chocolate-dark skin. All she knew was that she would occasionally hear cheers from a distant crowd as she'd flip away from a strike or give a high kick. But as she somersaulted forward to quickly regain her feet, the style of combat suddenly changed.
The cruel figure of Mikoshi Kyuri stepped forward, withdrawing something from a sheath on his back. As he faced her, he held a long and deadly ninjato in his hands. It was clearly razor sharp. Mikoshi called upon the Tiger kami. The Tiger spirit responded - not that it really had a choice - and he became quicker and stronger. The ninjto glowed with the subdued feline might of the great cat. Mikoshi slid forward in a graceful motion the proclaimed him an expert with his chosen weapon.
"If you look for honor or mercy from a ninja," he told her, in a deadly flat calm, "you will find only death."
Tennyo and Ayla had the advantage that both could fly, although Ayla tended to float rather than speedily flying as Tennyo could do. They'd tried having Tennyo hold her hand to pull her, but when Ayla was intangible enough to float she simply passed through solid matter. So the compromise had been for Tennyo to hold the solid Ayla, then fly up high enough to get a good view overhead.
Unfortunately, they'd headed off in the exact wrong direction. Fortunately, a loud shout had fixed their directional problems. And while they were making good headway, they were still a ways away, even as they saw a deadly ninja draw a crackling sword and advance on Toni.
"Can I drop you?" Tennyo asked in a frenzy.
"What? Oh, of course!" Ayla quickly figured it out. "I can float down on my own."
Dropping the other girl from two hundred feet up, Tennyo angled into a dive. She still hadn't practiced this, and she was afraid every time she tried that she was inching that much closer to burnout. But the situation below her was grim. Slapping her hands together, Tennyo focused that special energy into existence between her palms. Drawing her hands dramatically apart, the energy stretched into a line, then a rod which glowed electric blue. And brandishing it like a sword, Tennyo plunged out of the sky wielding a three-foot-long rod of pure energy.
Ayla was still angry over the threat to her family. She'd seen the glances from the other girls, as they wondered why she'd bothered to take time to dress (particularly in the cap and trenchcoat). She hadn't felt like admitting that she'd never UNdressed that evening. She'd been waiting all night to give someone a serious pounding. And even if these were the wrong targets, they would serve well enough for stress relief.
Standing upright in mid-air, she descended as if she were inside an invisible elevator. The immediate threats seemed to be the loon with a sword, and the really big guy sneaking up behind Toni. Ayla pulled off her cap and flicked at the largest ninja, to gain his attention.
"Hey ugly," she called. "Think you can handle little ol' me?"
She pulled off her bone-white trench coat, displaying her deceptively thin figure.
"And that, boys and girls, is what we call an entrance," one of the upperclassmen stated, with a certain degree of satisfaction.
"Which? The screaming nose-dive, or the arrogant float down?"
"Ew, make me sick," said a girl from one side, as the floating figure removed her trench coat. "That girl is practically anorexic. Do they think that boys like that look?"
The boys in question weren't answering. They were wondering how anyone could wear jeans *that* tight, or a top *that* small. "Too bad *she's* not in a nightgown," one said.
"Yeah, but the dive-bomber is."
Heads turned to watch. "Oooo!"
Toni was burning ki like mad, moving faster and faster to keep ahead of her three assailants. Block the girl at her side, spin, kick the sword away, jump and roll to avoid the grapple. And then it happened. Suddenly she was moving faster than she herself could follow. Legs flashing, arms flailing, body spinning, like a dervish that had suddenly gone completely berserk, or perhaps a top that had suddenly broken down. With a double-kick, back-flip, side-twist under-spin, she landed flat on her back. Still twitching, helpless and uncontrollable, she muttered, "Awww, Man! I hate it when that happens."
Her powers now firmly under control, the hovering angel that was Fey descended back toward Hank.
"I think Toni just lost her Ki! I need you to throw me to a spot behind them, then get in there and help her!"
"Throw you?" The boy questioned almost incredulously.
"I can't move fast enough to get there in time!" She thumped him on the shoulder. "Now get a grip on me and throw!"
Facing her, Hank gripped her firmly around the rib cage. It wasn't his fault that his thumbs circled so nicely under her breasts, was it?
Fey thumped him again, this time on the head. "My waist you idiot! Grab me by the waist and throw me!"
Finally arriving at the scene, Jade could tell that Toni was in desperate need of help. She pulled out the gloves (she *always* carried a pair of gloves), but then spotted something to add to the package. A white leather trench coat and cap! She recognized them as Ayla's (it's hard to forget a white leather trench coat). The clothes were pretty close to the combat zone, but surely she could sneak in for one quick touch!
Gloves clutched firmly in one hand, she crept forward as quietly as she could, until she could touch both coat and cap, charging them with the gloves. But it was too close. A human sized figure shot toward her like a rocket!
Jade had practiced Aikido for years, but only as a normal human student. Still, it was that training that saved her now. Countless years of "meeting the mat", endless hours of rolling to distribute the impact. It saved her, but it didn't stop her from screaming like a little girl as a body slammed past her.
Gissha was tired of this stupid black jumping girl. He wanted something he could HIT. And now, this slip of a girl came floating down toward him, taunting him. Was she going to just stand there? Alright then. He'd show them just how hard he could hit.
The girl had no way of knowing that he had mutant abilities that made him a literal superhuman. Summoning his will, Gissha increased his density a hundredfold. Like this, he could lift small cars. Preparing himself, he strode toward the descending girl, then launched a lightning strike directly into her face! A blow like that would affect her exactly the same way a sledge hammer affects a watermelon!
Ayla was really looking forward to giving this clown his comeuppance. As she reached the ground, she suddenly increased her density a hundredfold. This ninja idiot had no way of knowing that punching her would be like punching into a granite boulder! She didn't even bother to dodge.
A moment later, as she hurled backward and shook her head to clear it, she decided that next time, maybe she *would* dodge.
She barely noticed as she clipped a small figure, or as the scream rang out.
Gissha laughed, long and hard. Maybe he hadn't splatted the idiot girl, but she wouldn't be getting up from that one! And she'd screamed like a little girl, right before her head had exploded against that brick building.
But then things went sour. The girl was dead, obviously, her head crushed against the wall of a large building. But her discarded hat and coat - they were suddenly stirring as if filled by her vengeful spirit.
It was his greatest fear. That one day, someone he killed would not go easily into the dark shadows of the afterlife. That instead, they would linger to pursue him, their killer. There was no way to defend yourself against the angry dead!
The pale white coat rose into the air, filled by some invisible spirit. Disembodied gloves slowly inflated, setting a cap firmly in place atop a non-existent head. It had no eyes, so it was impossible to tell where the spirit was glaring, but it began to move directly toward HIM! The lower edge of the coat rippled and billowed in the wind of its unholy motion. The arms stretched toward him, reaching to pull him down into the grave with it. It approached ever closer with its hideous, haunting embrace!
"Y-y-yureeeeeiiiiiiii!" [Translation; 'G-g-Ghoooooost!] Gissha screamed like a little girl, and fled as fast as he could.
Mikoshi raised his sword high. The young black girl had shown some good moves, but she was helpless now. That's exactly how he loved them. Unfortunately, before he could perform the finishing move, a blazing comet plunged out of the sky to block his blow.
"Oh no you don't!" the girl yelled. "Try fighting someone who can fight back, you slug!"
In the heat of battle and the glow of her strange sword, she almost looked like the devil-woman Ryoko, from the Tenchi Muyo! TV series. But Mikoshi wasn't going to let curiosity cloud his blood-lust. Whipping his sword back, he swung and gave a full strength overhand strike against the flying girl!
As his ninjato met the glowing blue rod of energy, the two swords locked for a moment. The Tiger spirit warred for a moment with the pure unearthly energy of the devil-girl's powersword, which put too much strain on the cheap, mass produced ninjato. The sword shattered, exploding in a shower of sparks. The blast flung him a dozen feet backwards.
"Hah!" The girl bellowed at him. "That's for picking on a defenseless victim!"
"We're ninjas!" he hissed back, in reply to her idiocy. "That's what we do!"
"Then get a real job!" She raised her sword and came at him again.
Mikoshi considered the many qualities of a good ninja. Sacrificing your life for no reason was not high on the list. He ran as if his life depended on it.
Concealed within the blackest pool of shadow, Sarumawashi Unagi worked feverishly to reroute the power leads on his Modular Component Harness. The teeth had done damage, yes, but given time he could fix it. Fix it and escape. There was no longer any question of rescuing his foolish comrades. They had been met with overwhelming force. It had obviously been an ambush. When he learned who had leaked their plans, that traitor would pay with their life.
But for now, he must fix his harness. Flying was no longer an option, since the enemy controlled the skies. But with energy to power his cycle-shoes, he could effect an escape on the ground far faster than they could pursue. Only three more connections and he would be ready...
Shakatu Mikan was the only one who saw that their fight had taken a terrible toll - injuring a child. Abandoning her position above the helplessly twitching black girl, she moved toward the injured child. As she approached, her heart grew even heavier. Sprawled in a boneless heap was a young Japanese girl, in a long Hello Kitty nightgown.
"Oh, no!" she cried, rushing forward.
But the girl abruptly sat up, rubbing her head. "Owww! What hit me?"
Almost instinctively, Mikan's arms had gone around the child, cradling her to her bosom the way she someday hoped to comfort her own children. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just surprised is all." The girl suddenly stiffened in her arms. "Hey, you're one of them ninjas! We don't have to fight now, do we?"
"I -" She knew her instructors would tell her to take the child hostage, holding a knife to the child's throat to bargain for her team's freedom. Her stupid, violent, obsessed team who had ruined any chance she had to be a normal girl. She looked up, at the debacle unfolding before her. "I don't think we'll need to fight."
"Good," the child said. "Cause I don't like hurting people."
"Neither do I," Mikan truthfully admitted. It brought tears to her eyes, but at least her shame was concealed behind her hood. "Neither do I."
Ayla pulled her head out of the wall. A brick façade might as well be made of Styrofoam, compared against her ultra-dense form. She rubbed at growing bruise on her jaw. *Okay, that was stupid.*
Her eyes roved over the plaza in front of her. Jade was being hugged by the ninja-girl. She'd have to get that story later. Toni was lying flat on her back, still twitching spasmodically, but there was no one around her. Tennyo and a sword ninja were having some sort of sword-fight - wait, now the ninja was fleeing at high speed. Good choice. Another ninja was still stuck like a statue, lying on the ground. And the big one, the one she owed a re-match, was fleeing from - her overcoat and cap, flying after him?
Ayla shook her head before realizing. *Must be Jinn.*
She stood, then began to sprint toward the big ninja, increasing her mass and strength as she moved. *Damn, my jaw hurts!* She decided to consider it the first big lesson she'd learned at Whateley, even if it hadn't come from a classroom: Don't forget to duck.
Hank heaved, with all his considerable might, copping one last feel of Fey's butt as he did so.
Fey, held aloft by magically altered gravity and a powerful though localized wind, soared cleanly over the top of the battle. With her crimson hair and almost luminescent eyes, not to mention her fluttering white gown, she looked like an avenging angel.
*Perfect!* she thought. *I should just be able to cut them off!*
Then her hand reached back to her behind. *Did he...?*
"I'll get you for that!" she yelled.
Hank grinned. He'd never appreciated it before, but there was a definite pleasure to appreciating a fine female form. And Fey was as fine as they came. As for trouble, well, he'd face that when he had to.
In the meantime, he metaphorically rolled up his sleeves and gave a shout of pure joy as he FINALLY got his chance to join the fray. He hoped they'd saved something for him...
Gissha had a dilemma. The ghost was chasing him, clearly intent on dragging him down into the underworld. His instincts had always told him to become insubstantial when there was danger nearby. In his ghostly form, no object could touch him, nothing could injure him. But becoming as insubstantial as a ghost - would that make it even easier for the ghost to grab him, and drag him away?
Consequently, he almost seemed to flicker as he fled - looking slightly transparent one moment, then solid and rock-hard the next.
He fled at random, not caring where he went so long as it was away from the terrifying haunt behind him. Then he spotted salvation. His one remaining teammate: scrawny little Sarumawashi. The kid was skinny, but smart. He ought to be able to think of a way out of this.
The sound of the wind alerted him. Coming up from behind was something that could only be an angel. An angel of vengeance, beautiful and terrible, with her holy robe fluttering in the wind as she rocketed in pursuit after him. Suddenly her face ignited in wrath.
"I'll get you for that!" she yelled at him.
Gissha screamed again, and lumbered forward faster than anything his size ought to go. Utterly terrified, he clenched his eyes firmly shut and turned intangible.
*Done!* With a smirk of satisfaction, Unagi snapped shut the last connection on his MCH and activated the cycle-shoes. Wheels extended downward from each foot, and he felt the power capacitors surging to handle the new load. He was seconds away from freedom!
Hearing a terrified scream, he looked up. That huge idiot Gissha was lumbering straight toward him! And he had that indefinable quality of almost-transparency which indicated that Gissha had turned intangible - a state that allowed him to pass through nearly any matter, but tended to disrupt electronics.
"Stop, you fat idiot!"
Before he could blink, before he could move, before the cycle-shoes could speed him away, Gissha had passed through him like a fat fog. A second later, Unagi's body was covered with sparks and he had to dance to keep himself from catching on fire.
"You stupid idiot!"
He felt like crying.
Fey passed over the last of the combatants and managed to slow herself to land in a small copse of trees just north of the quadrant. Looking around at what she had to work with, the elfin redhead grinned to herself while rubbing her small hands together in anticipation.
"Perfect! Now if the others will just run those black pajama jerks in the right direction."
She reached for the lines of power around her and began to weave.
Gissha ran, eyes clenched closed, passing intangibly through everything in his way.
Behind him came Mikoshi, pursued by a flying demon-girl who wielded a glowing blue energy sword. Mikoshi had always been turned on by frightened, cowering girls. He had discovered that madly grinning demon-girls were *not* a turn-on, no matter how cute they might have otherwise been.
Last of all came Unagi, still emitting the occasional spark from his backpack. He was desperate to fine some, any, avenue for escape. At the moment, Gissha's headlong run into the woods seems like the best option.
Although Gissha could pass through trees, walls, and other bits of conventional matter, he was stymied by a semi-solid wall of invisible eldritch energy. To call his full-speed collision with said wall a 'surprise' would be far too polite. He had no clue what had happened until his nose had been completely flattened by the encounter. Having virtually no mass (at the moment) Gissha rebounded artistically, to land with a solid thump on his backside.
Mikoshi had just enough warning to roll with the blow. His more considerable mass struck the barrier, causing it to flicker briefly into revealing a gigantic glowing green fractal pattern, like a psychedelic cross between a spider's web and the branching filaments of a fern. Mikoshi avoided a broken nose, but still rebounded to land hard on his back.
Unagi had the most warning of all and had briefly seen the location of their invisible wall. Having actually paid attention during their training, he treated the force field like a conventional wall, running up against it and exploiting the surface to rapidly reverse his orientation -
- just in time to run into a flying, sword wielding Tennyo, a floating white trench coat, a tall man in boxers who looked *far* too confident and... a small skinny girl who ran with a "thud thud thud" sound that shook the ground and left six-inch-deep footprints in the ground.
Fortunately the skinny girl ran right past him. She launched herself on the hapless Gissha, who was slowly rising to his feet.
"Well hello, big boy," the skinny girl taunted.
Although Gissha was still intangible, this proved to be no impediment to the skinny girl. Leading off with a hearty shin kick, she sent the now-blubbering Gissha face-first into (and through) the ground. The skinny girl laughed uproariously, kicking the large goon repeatedly in the butt, driving him deeper and deeper into the ground. Then she planted herself firmly atop his protruding buttocks, and sat down as if she were queen of the world.
Unagi looked left, at the maniacal demon-girl and ghostly coat. He looked right at the boxer-clad bruiser who was rubbing his hands together in glee and chanting, "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!"
With no options left, Unagi spat out, "You will learn NOTHING from me," and triggered the self-defense mechanism on his precious Modular Component Harness. Which... unfortunately exploded in a shower of sparks, accomplishing nothing.
"Was that an attack?" the boy asked in confusion.
"He won't get another one!"
Unagi's head snapped back, looking *behind* him, behind the invisible force field. A creature like some half-kami fox spirit was there, with inhuman luminescent eyes.
"Hi there!" the thing said, in an incongruously cheerful voice. It gestured, and the plants at Unagi's feet suddenly erupted out of the ground to twine around his feet and legs. "Sorry I wasn't able to welcome you before, but I hope you enjoy your visit to Whateley Academy!"
It stepped forward from the shadows, suddenly appearing to be almost human, a slight feminine figure in a long white nightgown. It - she gave a radiant smile. "My name is Fey, and I'll be your greeter and guide while you're visiting us."
Unagi looked around with utter depression. The three of them were firmly bound by the entwined roots. The skinny girl still sat atop Gissha, buried in the ground. Mikoshi was standing, but the flying demon girl held a glowing sword at his neck and looked positively hungry for a chance to run him through. And he himself was being monitored by a floating trench coat. And the boy in boxers was looking more and more frustrated with his late entry to the combat. He was currently squeezing a rock in frustration - no, correct that - he was currently *crushing* a small rock in frustration.
Unagi sighed. Why was it necessary that the dishonor fall upon him?
Franklin Delarose nodded to the members of the security force that had returned from teeth clean-up. "That's our cue," he told them. "Boys, you'll learn to love it when it works out like this. A free show, we make the collar, and we don't even have to work up a sweat."
Just then, one of the rookies came running around the corner, a set of teeth chattering away at his back pocket. "Get 'em off me! Get 'em off me! Get 'em off me!"
Frank sighed. "Give him time. He'll learn."
A figure watched from the shadows. In her hands was the response to her blackmail demands. It had once been concealed under the bust. She had retrieved it outside Poe Cottage, after the thundering hoards had passed by.
*I don't even want to know what went wrong,* she decided. *It would just give me a headache.*
Perhaps the blackmail plan was a bust (so to speak) and should simply be abandoned. It was no matter. She smiled cruelly to herself. She had time and resources. Trevor - or Ayla as she now called herself - would be dealt with. One way or another.
In the bright light of day, the six of them stood beaming, peering into the trophy case. Chief of Security (evening) Franklin Delarose was explaining how the incident has closed out.
"The medallion on their leader was clue enough, but we got them to admit to it as well. Well, a couple of them came clean. That Sauruman-sushi guy wouldn't say a thing. Funny that. He was the scrawniest of the lot, but we couldn't crack him.
"Anyhow, we've got a couple of rival schools, sort of. One of 'em is the Yama Dojo. 'Yama' is one of those double meanings that the Japanese love so much - 'Yama' normally means 'mountain', but in certain circumstances, it also means 'devil'. Sort of a harkening back to the good old days of assassins, secret police, and the jolly fun of Dr. Fu Manchu. This was a sort of graduation exercise for these guys - steal a bust from one of the cottages. Now that you foiled their crack squad, they might bear a bit of a grudge, so I'd advise you to keep a head's up, alright?"
There was a collective series of gulps as the girls (and one guy) suddenly looked at each other in alarm. All except Toni, whose face lit up and rubbed her hands together in gleeful expectation. *Rematch!*
Hank held up a hand. "If the medallion positively identifies 'em, why would these ninjas be carrying it?"
"Well, normally ninja squads are so similar in physique that in their stealth blacks, it's almost impossible to tell them apart- even to each other. The leader wears the medallion so that the other members of the team instantly know who the leader is, while not being too obvious to other people. The medallion is made out of glass, and if the leader is captured or killed, it's supposed to be crushed. But, since he was paralyzed, and the others were busy----
"Anyhows, instead of them picking up a bust and displaying or ransoming it back for considerable status, we got this medallion, which gives all the status to us. We'll eventually let 'em have all their other stuff back, swords and masks and students and stuff. Well, not the gadgets we took off the skinny kid. It was something called a 'Modular Component Harness'. Some of the seniors - deviser kids - got one look at it and started talking about a 'Variable Interface' or something. Got 'em real excited. So we'll give that back too, *eventually* but we're taking our time about it. We'll be taking the gizmos apart and putting them back together, piece by piece, before we return it. And the medallion we're keeing for good, as a trophy."
Toni raised her hand. "Aren't they just going to try to steal it back?"
Officer Delarose chuckled. "This looks like a normal trophy case, but everything you see there is actually an optically projected image. It's done with mirrors and stuff. The genuine articles are down in a vault. And if these yahoos can't even steal a bust from your front lobby, I don't think we need to worry about our vault."
He raised his camera. "So everyone get into position."
As the girls (and guy) clustered around the trophy case, Chief Delarose snapped a picture.
"The paper wanted me to ask if you'd picked a team name."
"Uh..." Fey began, thinking it was a little silly.
"Team KIMBA!" Toni cried. "We all agreed! The toy lion here represents Jade, of course. Good thing we got her stitched up after that dagger she took."
Chief Delarose peered at the battered toy with skepticism. Well, he'd heard stranger.
"And the lion is kind of me, because of the ki kiai I used. It's like a roar, see?"
"And Kimba (the cartoon one) is, of course, an anime character, so that gets Tennyo. Sorry girl, I know that still bugs you. And Kimba lives in a harmonious talking animal kingdom, sort of like faerie, so we get Fey -"
"Don't bring me into this!"
"And Kimba - I guess we're going to have to get a real toy now - is white. Ghostly, sort of, like Phase here, right Ayla?"
"And lastly, Kimba is a boy, like Hank, but our Kimba has a - well, that is, the spirit... oh, never mind."
"Thanks," Hank said.
They all group-hugged in front of the trophy case while Toni held up the toy, and the Chief snapped one more picture.
"That's the LAST time we talk to the paper!" Ayla hollered, shaking the school paper.
"Let me see!" Jade squealed. She snatched the paper and quickly ruffled through it.
"Page three, bottom."
"Oh, right. 'Baddies grab bust, babes bounce back.' Uh, that makes it sound -"
"Oh, it gets better," Ayla muttered.
Jade continued reading, holding the paper away from the eager Toni and Fey. Tennyo floated up overhead and read over Jade's shoulder.
"Let's see... car alarms... historical ninja problems... HEY! Why is everyone so down on Hello Kitty? Oh, here's something." She quoted, "'Have you seen these babes?' Well, obviously he isn't talking about me."
"Keep reading!" Toni prodded.
"Oh yeah. 'Have you seen these babes? If you ask me, they can fight in their nightgowns whenever they want!'"
"What!" Fey yelled. "It was an emergency! We didn't have time to change!"
"Uh huh. It goes on. It says that bystanders were competing to name the new and nubile team." She looked up. "Guys, am I nubile?"
"Right. 'While the girls themselves -'"
"What am I?" Hank muttered. "Chopped liver?"
"'While the girls themselves chose the inexplicable name 'Team Kimba,' bystanders had already provided several superior suggestions for the 'budding' young team.' They've got that in quotes. 'Budding.' What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means I'm gonna kill me an editor," Ayla growled.
"'Suggestions include the 'Bedtime Angels,' 'Negligee Nightforce,' and our personal favorite, the 'Unbound Beauties.' This last suggestion receives our full ... support.' What the heck is *that* supposed to mean?"
"Ayla?" Fey asked, quietly.
"Want some help, when you go to kill that editor?"
"Count me in, too," Toni promised.
Hank smirked and proved that he fully adapted to the psychology of the typical male, who speaks before thinking. "They might have seen them," he said, "but only I got to *hold* them."
As the girls descended on him in their wrath, he last audible words were, "Oops. Did I say that out loud?"