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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Charging Buffalo, Hidden Dragon

Part 2

By ElrodW

 

(with thanks to EE Nalley and Phoenix Spiritus
for contributed scenes and idea)

 

The battles were fought and the damage was done
The wars not over it's just begun
The debt that's owed will never be payed
The promised land will never be saved

The curse of curses fire on the land
Today Tatanka has made a stand
Their forefathers dreams, hopes, and vision
Through children's eyes has it been forgiven

Tatanka comes, stand and deliver
The souls of the brave live on forever
The tale of tears is a tale of courage
Tatanka comes from across the river

"Tatanka" -
Molly Hatchet

 

Friday, May 25, 2007 - Late Afternoon
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy

Franklin Delarose

A disturbance rippled through the entirety of the security offices as a boy was led in, manacled hand and feet, resisting and ranting semi-coherently about something. Chief Delarose was instantly out of his office, following the four officers who were escorting the boy to a secure holding room. Normally, misbehaving kids were held in less jail-like rooms, but since he'd been caught red-handed assaulting Pejuta, Gateway, and Bladedancer with some type of magical item, and then ranting something about paying a debt and that she - whoever she was - had to go home, security wasn't taking any chances.

"Halliwell!" Lt. Reynolds shouted out of the cell area, "What're his ratings?"

"Just a sec, Lieutenant," Halliwell yelled back. "I'm bringing up the file now."

Reynolds rolled his eyes; someone should have gotten the records as soon as they called in his name and that the squad was bringing him in. "I need that now!"

"Mike Reynolds, aka M2, aka Magic Mikey. Mage 2, Esper-1 projective," Halliwell called back from the dispatch area.

Reynolds knew exactly what to do. "Get whoever is on call from Psychic Arts - We need a psi block on him STAT!"

"I'm on it!" Halliwell called back to the holding cell.

"What have we got?" Delarose barked at the lieutenant, causing Reynolds to snap to attention. Ex-military people were like that - once trained, never forgotten.

"Security was dispatched when the cameras saw a disturbance. Our boy here," he jerked a thumb in the direction of Mikey in the cell, "attacked Pejuta, Gateway, and Bladedancer. Pejuta and Bladedancer sustained injuries from the fight before Gateway froze him with magic. Fortunately, she's uninjured."

"What was he using as a weapon?" Delarose asked, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Reynolds opened a pocket on the leg of his battle dress and pulled out a reddish-brown, metallic spike. "This," he replied. "I haven't had a chance ...."

Delarose's eyes bulged noticeably. "Who all touched that?" he demanded, color draining from his face as he interrupted the security officer.

"Me and Randall," Reynolds reported, confused and, based on his boss's reaction, getting concerned. "Why?"

Delarose grimaced. "Because that's Pejuta's missing spike - the one that's contaminated by something really, really nasty."

Reynolds paled and dropped the spike; Randall, standing in the doorway of the cell, went ashen. They both remembered only too well how Matthews had gone insane from one of Kayda's visitors.

"You two are off duty. Get yourselves over to Doyle stat and report to whoever is handling magic events. Take that thing with you, and don't let anyone else touch it." The Chief noticed the two gawking at him. "Move it!" he snapped to get them moving.

As soon as Randall and the lieutenant left, Delarose took a deep breath to calm himself and marched into the cell. He pulled up short, shocked at the appearance of the student sitting shackled on the cot. The boy's hair was mussed, and his eyes had the 'thousand yard stare' of incomprehension. His face was bruised from the struggle, and his shirt torn, but he didn't seem to notice. Instead, he sat staring nowhere and mumbling something over and over.

Delarose stood directly in front of the incoherent boy, staring down at him. "Mike? Can you tell me what happened?" He knew there was a time to be stern and harsh, and time to be gentle. Based on Mike's appearance, this was most likely a situation that called for gentle to break through the boy's mental barriers. "Mike?" he asked again.

The boy slowly looked up, and Delarose cringed at the lack of sanity in the boy's eyes. "She's going to leave now," he rambled. "She's hurt; she has to leave."

Delarose frowned. "Who? Who's going to leave?" he asked.

"I'm even now. When she leaves, I'm even!" he chortled madly.

"Who?" Delarose repeated sternly.

"Where's Amber? I need to tell her that it's all done now!" Mikey looked around frantically. "Where is she?"

"Someone went to get her," Delarose said, holding the boy's shoulders to try to keep him calm. "She'll be here in a few minutes." He glanced over his shoulder at Kretch, giving him a curt nod that Kretch understood only too well.

With a nod replying to his boss, Kretch spun on one heel and quick-marched out of the cell, leaving Breen and Halliwell, weapons at the ready, covering the boy. Out in the hall, Kretch was talking to another officer as they strode away. "Amber who?" he demanded.

"Call Mindbird," the other officer said, her voice fading as she and Kretch strode quickly to out of the holding area. "She or Thunderfox should know."

Delarose squatted down, his hands on M2's shoulders. "Mike, what did you do?"

"I had to make her leave!" the boy repeated, his eyes wild. "I told you!"

"Why?"

"Because he said so! She couldn't stay!"

"Why not?"

"Because ...," the boy looked at Delarose, his vacant stare fading for a brief moment, "... because he said she's the Ptesanwi!"

Delarose felt an icy sensation running down his spine; only a very few people knew that Kayda was the Ptesanwi, and they were trying hard to keep that secret. "Who said?"

"The old chief!" the boy exclaimed as if the answer was patently obvious. "The one my medicine man owes the favor to!"

Delarose sighed, leaning back. The boy was only semi-coherent and making no sense.

"Chief," a familiar voice called from behind him.

"What is it Foob?" Delarose asked wearily as he stood and turned to the Psychic Arts instructor.

"You better sedate him," Louis Geintz replied with certainty. "Heavily."

Delarose frowned. "Why? He's answering questions."

"He's babbling, and you know it. The best bet will be his girlfriend; I believe her name is Amber Prentice."

"Can you ...?" Delarose asked hesitantly.

"I ... I tried," the Psychic Arts instructor said, wincing. "We can't." He saw the Chief's eyebrows arch, so he answered before the Chief could speak. "He's insane," Fubar replied, "and you know it. His mind has been contaminated by that copper spike that he stole from Kayda."

"Are you sure?" Delarose was stunned. Before Fubar could answer, the Chief looked at Halliwell. "Call Doyle and get someone over here to knock him out. He's not an exemplar or regenerator, so their normal stuff should work." He looked back at Fubar and sighed. "Let's go out in the hall."

The two men stepped outside the door, but the Chief stayed in a position where he could watch the boy on the cot. M2 slipped onto his side, babbling some strange song as he stared vacantly at the opposite wall. "Okay, Foob, what do you mean by 'you can't'?"

Fubar glanced at the boy. "The spike has twisted his mind. He feels like Class X," the psychic insisted. "I know what that feels like, and that's what's affecting him. We don't dare try to touch him psychically."

A grimace affixed itself to the Chief's face. "So what do we do? ARC Black?"

"We might not have a choice, Chief," a grim-faced Fubar answered. "ARC Red can't deal with class X."

"Chief," the desk officer poked his head into the cell area, "Miss Prentice is in Room Three."

"Okay. Get two more officers in here to watch him, and let me know if anything changes." With Fubar trailing him, the Chief walked out of the holding area, pausing at the dispatcher's desk. "Get a team over to search M2's room. Tell them to be careful, but very thorough. And see if someone from the Magic Arts department is still around to help." Delarose turned to Fubar, but paused again. "And get his roommate ..."

The dispatcher looked at the records. "Sharpie."

"Get Sharpie over here for interrogation." He finally turned his attention back to the Psychic Arts instructor. "You said might, Foob. That means you think there might be something someone can do."

"Yeah, but you're not going to like it," Fubar replied, to which the Chief's eyebrows arched. "One of our students was at HPARC over Spring Break."

"Pejuta," the Chief said, his voice hollow like it came from a tomb. "She ... did something with that snake demon."

"She decontaminated the minds of two young scouts who'd encountered one of Unhcegila's spawn," Fubar reported cautiously. "And a lot of the remains of the snake-demon - including some of its hide."

Delarose shook his head slowly. "You're telling me that his only hope might be the girl he's harassed and tried to kill?" He sighed heavily. "That request is going to go over well."

Friday, May 25, 2007, Evening
Near Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy

Tansy Walcutt

"Tansy, do you have a moment?"

Tansy turned from enjoying the lovely day towards the voice that had hailed her. It had been a beautiful day, clear, sunny and finally; finally it was getting warm. The high for the day had almost gotten to ninety degrees Fahrenheit, and was still well above eighty now in the early evening. The young blonde found her club president, living up to her codename of Poise walking regally towards her, head high, hair and makeup perfect, and her dress tasteful and elegant and yet simple and effortless. Tansy didn't have to look to know the seams on Poise's stockings were straight.

It brought a momentary flash of jealousy towards the older girl, but Tansy hung a smile on her face instead and nodded. "Of course, Coleen. What can I do for you?"

"Walk with me," the older blonde replied, linking her arm with Tansy's. Coleen's smile was perfect, of course, with just a hint of self-abasement. "Actually it's something I can do for you," she admitted. "I have to say, Tansy, I'm impressed with this turnaround you've started and I want to encourage you to continue down this road you've chosen."

Walcutt rolled her eyes and made a dismissive gesture. "Considering I'm only being a little less bitchy than I had been, I must have been insufferable before!"

Poise smiled at the humor but didn't laugh. "Why you've had this epiphany is none of my business," she declared softly. "But it has been noticed. So first, an apology."

The girls turned onto the path towards the Crystal Hall. "What do you have to apologize to me for?" Tansy asked with genuine curiosity.

Poise's smile became just a touch regretful. "Let me be honest with you, Tansy. I had considered, considered very strongly I might add, passing you over as the President Pro Tem of Venus, Inc. You're a beautiful young woman, an accomplished model, and you have a keen grasp and insight of the industry, but..."

Tansy shrugged. "But I was a first-class bitch," she finished for the older girl. "I'm not too proud to admit you would have been right to do so, and honestly, you might still be right to do so. But just out of curiosity, who were you considering?"

"Fey," Coleen said softly.

Walcutt sighed, turning her face away to hide her emotions. "Well, I ... that is to say ...." She sighed again before she stopped, lightly touching Poise's elbow so the senior stopped and turned toward Tansy. "Frankly, Coleen, yes, that would hurt and it would be very insulting." She paused, looking over Poise's shoulder for a brief second as if composing her thoughts. "But we both know that Fey is an emotional basket-case, and she's not ready..."

"I know," Poise replied softly.

"A month and a half ago?" Tansy reflected sadly, acknowledging that the red-headed Sidhe would have been good for the job.

Poise nodded. "It's been very ... distressing to watch her fall apart these last few weeks." She started walking again and Tansy fell in beside her.

A part of Tansy was aware that following Poise's action like she had showed that Poise was a leader, which made her a de facto follower. That fact was annoying, but it wasn't something Tansy should let slip just then so she kept her face carefully neutral. "Losing her spirit hit her pretty hard," Tansy admitted, shuddering as she considered that she was an avatar, and she could have been in the same position as Fey. Or Kayda. The shudder turned into an iceberg running up and down her spine at the memory of how badly both girls had taken losing their spirits.

"Yes," Coleen agreed, sharing a glance with Tansy. "But that's not all. Evidently, she's involved in some kind of legal imbroglio associated with modeling, and it's affected both her work and her work ethic. I have sympathy for her, of course, but a professional doesn't let her personal life interfere with business." She shook her head sadly. "Fey has been late, she's backed out at the last minute, and her modeling performance is, frankly, mediocre - at best." She glanced at Tansy again, measuring from the junior's reaction just how much of this was a surprise. "If it hadn't been for Kayda, we would have lost the Lorelei contract. The president of Venus Inc. simply cannot overlook things like that."

Walcutt blinked in surprise. "I ... I didn't realize it had gotten that bad," she admitted, feeling sympathy for her modeling rival, but after a moment, her anger flared too brightly to be ignored. "So why is she still a member then?" Tansy demanded, not bothering to conceal the outrage in her voice.

Now it was Poise's turn to sigh. "Mrs. Carson has made it abundantly clear that no matter how much I, or my replacement, might like to, Fey cannot be turned out of Venus, Inc."

"Special privilege for the princess," snarled Tansy in somewhat justifiable outrage.

"No more so than what was given to a bully who beat a freshman boy almost to death," the senior returned icily.

The anger flowed out of Tansy just as fast as it had flowed in. "Touché," she said, her head hanging her head in shame. "What do I have to do to make amends for that?" she asked softly. "Fuck him? Will that clear the slate? Haven't I apologized enough?"

"That's the last thing you should do," Poise declared, careful to keep her voice discreet as they neared the Quad and significantly increased foot traffic. "Honestly? It would be a disservice to the boy and far too easy for you," she said with a smile to soften her words. "Being a leader means dealing with your mistakes, Tansy. As well as dealing with challenges with no easy solution. Fey is going to be one of those challenges. Mrs. Carson wants her 'fixed,' and that, Mademoiselle President, is your first concern next year."

"Nothing says the other girls will vote for me at the first meeting," Tansy cautioned the senior, but Poise only smiled.

"We know Freeze Frame will support you, and I think you can count on votes from Kayda and Loophole. As for the rest? You're clever. I'm sure you'll think of something." She stopped and took hold of Tansy's shoulders. "I name you my successor in Venus, Inc., Tansy," she said formally, then removed a small box from her purse and handed it to the junior. "With that, of course, comes my seat on the Alpha Council."

"But, Kodiak said ...."

"I've already spoken with him," Poise interrupted. "My decision stands, and he won't give you any trouble. Welcome back to the Alphas, Tansy."

Solange opened the box and let her eyes play over the silver, cursive capital A that was the Alpha pin. She sniffed back a tear or two, surprised that something as simple as a piece of sterling silver could mean so much. "I...Thank you, Coleen. I ... I promise, I won't let you down..."

"Tansy!"

The moment Tansy recognized the voice behind her, Tansy's tearful happiness was almost instantly replaced with the snarling annoyance of what she had begun to call Old Tansy. Don Sebastiano's voice had begun to take on the nature of nails on a chalkboard to her, but Tansy was aware enough to notice Poise merely step back to watch, her face carefully neutral. And that was also annoying, but Tansy schooled her expression and turned to face her tormentor. "What do you want now, Sebastiano?" she demanded impatiently.

The former terror of the school was a ghost of his former self, pale, hair less than perfect, clothes no longer so perfectly pressed and polished. Nor were his mental shields anywhere near their old levels, as his mind radiated his constant low level state of fear. Still, he went through the motions of trying to be his old self, smoothing his hair and jacket before hanging what he thought was a winning smile on his face. It was actually quite a pathetic performance. "Sorry to disturb the girl talk," he purred with a wink at Poise.

This caused the senior to roll her eyes in obvious disgust, but she stayed silent.

"Nothing terribly serious," the boy replied, his thoughts turning from fear to naked lust. "My parents are being difficult, some kind of financial 'thing' at home, and they said they can't afford to fly me back and forth for summer - if you can imagine! If you could just whistle up a set of round trip first class tickets for me, and a little spending money ..."

"No," Tansy replied, surprising herself with her firmness.

The Don blinked in incredulity. "Excuse me?"

"I said, 'no'," Tansy repeated, standing a bit straighter as her resolve solidified inside her. "Do you imagine me to be some walking ATM machine? You think you can stick something in me and money pops out?"

He suddenly glanced over her shoulder, and the color drained from his face as his eyes went wide and his mental shields collapsed completely. Suddenly Tansy knew that was exactly what the Don thought of her as - a whore - and he imagined himself her pimp, using her for money and sex, and soon to whore her out to others to cement his revenge fantasies.

Just like Hekate had.

Just like her own father had.

Tansy literally saw red as she was consumed with rage. Without thinking she unleashed the full force of her beauty glamor on the Don, and with his shields down she reached into his hind brain and pulled from it the sum total of every lust-filled and depraved fantasy he'd ever had. To the Don's eyes, a vision formed around Tansy, great portions of which came directly from Fey. He mentally saw Tansy's short, flirty, blonde hair flow out in a river of wavy red tresses that cascaded over her shoulders. The image that formed was mostly Fey, part Aunghadhail, and generous portions of Tansy, Poise, and other goddess of the campus; in his mind, it solidified in front of the him as the embodiment of every wet dream he had ever had.

"Worm!" snarled Tansy, flooding his brain with icy terror, rejection, self-loathing, and guilt. "You dare think, even in your most secret fantasies, to whore out me? ME?"

The Don stumbled and fell to his knees before his enraged goddess. "Pl...pl...please, Fe..Ta..."

"I am your GODDESS!" thundered Tansy in her anger. "Worship me and despair!"

"Please, forgive me, mistress!" wailed the Don. "I beg of you! Beg!"

"Forgive?" shouted Tansy. "That I should lower myself to forgive? You?! I should order you to fling yourself into a furnace! And you would obey!"

"I would!" sobbed Sebastiano. "I would, mistress, please forgive me!"

Tansy felt Poise's judgmental eyes on her, and with great force of will, she supplanted the personality her power had created for the Don's perfect woman. It was not a power she used often and it repulsed her how readily and easily she became the fantasy of the person on whom she used the power. "I will not be trapped here all summer with you underfoot," she declared haughtily. "You will have your plane tickets, if only to rid my sight of you, but nothing further!"

"Thank you, mistress!"

Old Tansy couldn't resist turning the knife; she took a step forward to present the slightly scuffed Prada pump she was wearing. "Kiss my shoe and then be gone!" A small gasp ran through the gathering crowd as the Don leaned forward from his grovel, worshipfully kissed the shoe, and then turned and scampered away. Of course, no one else had seen the goddess she had shown the Don; they had only seen Tansy command and Sebastiano obey.

"And you're worried about a vote?" Poise asked with a sardonically raised eyebrow.

Tansy finally looked over her shoulder to see what had scared him, but she saw only a clutch of students from where the trails to Emerson and Twain joined. No one looked particularly terrifying, so she shared a glance with Poise and turned back to watch the Don flee, a small smile of triumph adorning her features. "Not so much," she admitted with a chuckle.

Friday, May 25, 2007 - Early Evening
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy

"My arm ... tingles," Chou complained, cradling her blood-stained forearm in her other hand. Despite her visible need to comfort Chou, Molly stayed a few steps away, looking helpless and anguished.

"It's the taint," I answered, grimacing. "I need to ... purify your wound."

"And yours," Chou said, grim-faced.

"Yeah," I answered. "It'll take longer to affect me because of my spirit. Since the spike touched your blood, the taint will spread faster." I sighed. "But we have to wait for one of the magic arts staff, or Dr. Tenent. Between another healing on Skybolt right after class, sparring, and purifying the two security officers, I used up my essence and I'm exhausted."

"We did okay ... as a team, didn't we?" Chou asked hesitantly.

"Yeah. Say," I continued, puzzled, "I thought you had the Tao thing going for you and it made you almost indestructible! How'd you get hurt so bad?"

Chou shook her head. "I would guess that us fighting together served the Tao." She saw my puzzled expression. "If it serves the Tao for us to be a team, then the Tao will let things happen that make us work together. The Tao does what the Tao needs."

"So you getting clobbered and hurt might be part of some grand cosmic scheme?" I probably sounded a little skeptical. Truthfully, I was thinking the same. Wakan Tanka and the white beast had been nagging me about working as part of a team.

"Ophy is on her way."

I groaned inwardly at the unmistakable voice of Mrs. Carson. "Okay."

"In the meantime, start mixing up that nasty stuff, and I'll give you the essence you need," she continued. "And tell me what happened. The last I saw you two, you were dragging yourselves away from the training area like you'd gone a couple rounds with Champion."

I frowned deeply. "Yeah. Because we were tired and sore, because someone has been making Chou and I spar a lot. And then we get chewed out by Mr. Two Knives and her war-god mentor!"

"Kayda," she clucked disapprovingly.

I sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm just tired, and it seems the sparring and competitions get more and more intense every day."

"Kayda," Mrs. Carson changed the tone of her voice, "I know you must think that we're unfair because we've been pushing your training so hard, but you are doing a lot better than you're giving yourself credit for."

I looked up at her in disbelief. "Yeah, right."

"Kayda, you've had a lot of experience dealing with me, right?" she asked. I nodded slowly. "In all that time, have I ever lied to you?" She smiled when I shook my head. "You've had a lot more challenges - threats - this term than most students get in four years. You've had to train hard so you could survive them. Think of it this way - if you weren't improving, if you weren't learning, would you be here?"

I looked down, not quite sure what to think. "I guess not." Then I looked up again suddenly. "But ... everyone just criticizes everything I do! Nobody ever says I do anything right!" I let my head loll forward again, sighing heavily. "All I ever hear is criticism."

"That's not true," Mrs. Carson gently chided me. "You're getting positive feedback all the time. Your problem is that you're so competitive that you never listen to the positive feedback. The other day, Mr. Two Knives, Guan Yu, and I all had positive feedback when you sparred."

When I looked at her, she nodded slightly, a faint smile on her lips. Not quite believing her, I looked at Chou, who, to my surprise, also nodded.

"I'd bet that you focused entirely on the negative, right?" When I didn't acknowledge that comment, the Headmistress proceeded to review all the positive comments that she'd heard while she was watching us spar. The more she talked, the more stunned I was; I didn't remember a tenth of what she said she'd heard. And then she had Chou review the positive comments I'd gotten that afternoon. In the end, I hung my head in shame, because I knew they were right. There had been a lot of praise at my performance, and I hadn't heard it because I was too focused on the criticism.

"Tell me, Kayda," Mrs. Carson continued, "in your Basic Martial Arts class, how are you doing?"

"Okay, I guess," I said with a shrug.

"And how do you do with sparring?"

A frown crept across my features. "I ... I don't always spar," I replied. "Not as much as the others, and when I do, it's so Sensei Ito and Sensei Tolman can demonstrate new stuff by beating me up."

"You'll probably never hear this from Sensei Ito," she said, smiling broadly, "but Sensei Tolman informed me that with your extra training, you're ahead of the rest of the class, so much so that they're treating you like a TA. Did you consider that?" Again, I goggled at her in disbelief. "Sensei Tolman told me that you're helping teach techniques and refereeing sparring, correct?"

I nodded slowly; the gloom I felt inside was melting away, dissipating like a fog in the sunshine as fact after fact was put in front of me so I couldn't miss them. "So ... people think I’m doing okay?"

"Kayda, you're doing very well. You're tutoring in math, you're advancing very rapidly in martial arts, and your performance in your other classes is exemplary. And if that's not enough, a very experienced Chinese healer wants to trade notes with you." I goggled at that again; at this rate, my eyeballs were going to be permanently bulged out and I'd look like Marty Feldman. "I want you to meet with Dr. Bellows; I'm going to send him notes about this conversation so he can help you learn to focus on the positive, okay?"

I sighed, and then nodded. "Okay."

"Now, getting back to the business at hand, what happened?"

"We put our equipment away in Laird," I answered, starting to get herbs out of my medicine pouch, "and we were on our way toward Schuster when he jumped us."

"It was Magic Mikey that attacked you."

I nodded. "I thought so.

Mrs. Carson looked askance at me and Chou. "And neither of you felt ...."

I shook my head vigorously. "With the Mishibijiw's magic in the spike and the demon taint, the wind and earth spirits aren't reliable." I knew what her next question was going to be. "And I did have my shield spell active, but if you remember, the last time he attacked me, the spike went right through my shield, collapsing it."

Before Chou could continue the narrative, the door opened and Ms. Stone came into the room. "You don't mind if I observe, do you?"

"Not at all," I answered. Who was I to tell an instructor and Chinese medic no.

Chou continued the narrative. "His first hit got Kayda in the shoulder. Then he hit me before I could get Destiny's wave out. Kayda kicked him away from me, and Molly summoned a salamander to attack him."

"A lot of good that did!" Molly snorted.

I nodded in agreement as I continued to lay out the herbs. "One hit from the spike and the salamander shrieked and dissipated."

"He was going to hit Molly, so I had to ... distract him," Chou explained.

"Which led to your second puncture wound."

"Yeah," she admitted. "And then Kayda attacked him, and he stabbed her in the leg. By that time, I had DW out, but Molly shot him with a 'special' arrow ...." If Molly had missed, Chou and Destiny's Wave would have made short work of him.

"I'm ready," I interrupted before Mrs. Carson could analyze our combat tactics. We had fought more as a team than any time during the preceding week, but maybe that was because we faced a common threat. M2 was a lot quicker than we'd expected, which had to have been a result of the Mishibijiw and snake-demon magics. "Chou, you're going to have to undress. At least to your panties."

"Molly, scoot!" Mrs. Carson ordered, shutting the door behind the pouting girl. It wasn't like she'd never seen Chou mostly naked before.

"Okay, I'm ready," I told Mrs. Carson as Chou finished undressing and laid down on the examining table. "Just don't touch any of my blood. Or I'll have to do this to you, too!"

A hand on my shoulder, and I felt my Well refilling. "Okay, that's enough," I cut off the flow of essence before any was wasted. First, I did the decontamination brew, and judging from Chou's face, it was as bad as I'd remembered it being when I'd had to drink it. Then I painted the ritual markings on her and did the healing spell, pouring the rest of the decontamination tea onto her wounds, followed by the healing mixture.

"That's ... weird," Chou said as the potions took effect. "The tingling is gone."

"And your wounds should be healing." I did a quick scrying and detected no taint left on her. "All the evil magic is gone now."

Mrs. Carson smiled. "Get dressed and then wait outside for Dr. Tenent to do a healing on you to speed up your recovery."

As Chou dressed, I stripped, and then I grimaced. "Well, this is going to be tricky," I grumbled to myself. "Painting the ritual markings on myself...."

"If you can do the incantation," Ms. Stone jumped in, "I'll paint the ritual markings. Unless you can teach me the proper wording."

"That would take a while," I answered. I incanted over the two brews, then lay back on the table. As Ms. Stone followed my instructions on the ritual, I incanted the spells, with her pouring more of the healing brew on my shoulder after I rolled painfully to my side. "I hate this part!" I said, grimacing. Steeling myself, I gulped down the awful, bitter drink. "Yuck!" Ms. Stone then helped me with the healing spell. Satisfied that I couldn't feel any more taint, I sat up.

"That smells bad enough! How on earth did you convince Skybolt to drink that and let you mark her tongue?" Mrs. Carson asked. She shook her head. "Never mind. She had incentive." She patted my shoulder after I'd slipped on my uniform jacket. "I have to say, you're doing a very nice job on her. She looks like a completely different person without all that metal, and her attitude is a lot more positive."

"Two more healings should take care of the rest of the visible piercings. I'm going to take out all of her ear piercings," I added.

Mrs. Carson frowned. "She had her ears pierced when she got here."

I nodded. "I know. She told me. And I thought that if she got all of them healed, then she can choose to have her ears re-pierced the way she wants and it won't seem like a reminder."

I thought I saw a glimmer of approval on the Headmistress' face as she nodded in acknowledgement. "How are things going ... with the group?"

I glanced warily at Ms. Stone. "Pretty good, I think. Getting the piercings out is helping Sky a lot."

"And Cav?"

"It's slow," I admitted with a sigh. "Maria told me it probably would be."

"You told him?" Mrs. Carson asked simply.

"No," I replied, "I showed him ... in my dream space." I couldn't suppress a shudder at the mere thought of reliving those horrible memories, like I'd had to twice now. "I ... had to show Sky, too, because she could tell I was keeping a secret from her, and I needed her to trust me completely. We've been working through his memories in his dream-space, confronting them and showing him how he was powerless and was a victim."

"And I take it this is all helping you, too?" Mrs. Carson smiled when I nodded affirmatively.

"One last thing," the Headmistress added. "I know it probably seems like we're taking away all of your time with classes and special training, right?"

My jaw hung open in shock that she'd actually noticed. "Uh, yeah," I stammered.

"I'll set up a meeting with you and Mr. Lodgeman to plan a schedule for you. We'll set up a special topics class to cover martial arts and strategy and tactics. Since Ms. Nalley is going to be with you in my special topics class, we'll work the magic in that class since she needs it as well. With the core classes, we can ensure you have at least two free class periods for technical electives."

I was stunned almost beyond words. "Thank you," I managed to stammer, shocked that she was going to help with my academic advising.

Ms. Stone stayed after Mrs. Carson had left, keeping me for almost an hour to discuss my medicine in comparison to Chinese traditional medicine. She almost recognized the spells, but with different herbs, her spells and mine were a little different. She suggested, and Wakan Tanka later agreed, that we might want to experiment with a combination of our healings, fusing the Asian with the Native American. It was something she'd work into the special topics classes with Mr. Two Knives and Mrs. Carson.

 May 25, 2007 - Early Evening
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy

Franklin Delarose

"Chief?" One of the technicians poked his head into the 'briefing room' as they called the interrogation rooms, interrupting Delarose and Officer McGraw's discussion with Amber.

Delarose read the expression in the technician's voice. "Excuse me a moment, please." He stepped out of the room, closing the door behind himself. "Yes?"

"We did a scan of the knife from M2's room. Blood type matches Apathy. We'll have to wait a few hours for the DNA comparison to finish."

"How about size compared to the wound profile?"

The technician nodded grimly. "It's a perfect match."

"So Mikey is probably the one who killed Apathy?"

"He's number one on the suspect list right now. And we found this in his room." He held out a small charm. "It matches the one we found on the body. We caught Circe and had her give it a once over - it's the exact same magic spell."

"Any word from the psych department?"

"No. They'll get an eval of him tomorrow, but ..."

"Yeah," Delarose agreed. "He's probably clinically insane. Okay, thanks." Taking a deep breath to re-center himself and regain a neutral expression, he walked back into the room.

"Sorry about the interruption," the Chief said as he sat back down. "Now, do you remember Mike doing anything with Brad Collingsworth, Apathy?"

"Yeah," Amber said hesitantly, "I ... I think he met with him a few times."

"Do you remember when any of those meetings started? Or when he stopped meeting him?"

Amber frowned. "I think ... it was in late January? He said he found out something about Brad, and that they had some business." The brown-haired girl bit her lip as she thought more. "I'm not sure what they talked about - he never let me come along."

"I see. When did he last meet with Apathy? Do you know?"

Amber shook her head. "I'm not sure. I think it was a few weeks ago. It was just ... all of a sudden, he quit talking about Brad." A concerned scowl emerged on her features. "Why? What's going on? Has something happened to Mike?" She gasped. "You ... you think Mike killed Brad?"

The chief shot a quick glance at McGraw, and then shrugged. "We don't know. That's why we're asking questions."

"Mike would never hurt anyone! That's not who he is!" Amber protested firmly. "I want to see him!"

"Amber," the Chief said, trying to sound calm because he could tell she was getting worked up. "We don't know if Mike did anything. That's why we're talking to you."

"Is he okay? I want to see him!"

"I'm afraid you can't see him right now."

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Because he's ... heavily sedated." He nodded at her dumbfounded expression. "Have you noticed anything unusual about him lately? Any change in behavior or mood?"

Amber's scowl deepened. She could tell that they were poking for information, and she realized that the wrong answer could get Mike in serious trouble. "Not ... not really."

Delarose sighed, flinching slightly at her concern for her boyfriend, and at the same time, he knew that she was lying to protect him. "Amber, Mike attacked Kayda and Chou tonight."

"What?!?" the girl cried. "No! That can't be right! He'd never ...."

"Amber," Delarose interrupted her, "we caught him red-handed. He did attack them."

The girl was almost too stunned for words. "That can't be ...."

"Did Mike ever show you a copper spike, about eight inches long? Pointed on one end?" Delarose asked bluntly.

The girl started to deny it, but then she saw Delarose's concerned expression. He didn't seem like he was asking for information to hang Mike. "Uh, he didn't show me, but I saw it on his desk a couple of times." She frowned. "What's so special about that thing?"

"It has a very nasty demon taint on it," Delarose admitted, "which may have affected him. That's why it's important for you to tell us anything you know about his behavior, any changes you noticed. If you don't, we may not be able to help him."

Amber stared at the Chief for a few seconds, studying him. His expression seemed sincere, and he sounded like he was concerned.

"Amber, it's very important that you tell us everything you know. If you don't, we may not be able to help Mike," he repeated. "Fubar thinks that the demon taint has affected him. He thinks that Mike might be ... insane."

That was the detail that broke Amber's reluctance to talk. A torrent of information flooded from her - details that she remembered about Mike, what he said about Apathy, what he said about Kayda, his furtiveness about some of his schemes. In the end, the tear-stricken girl was escorted back to her cottage, with word to the housemother that she should be watched and given something to help her sleep, because she'd had a rough night.

It was nothing compared to the night Security and Delarose had already had, though.

Friday May 25, 2007 - Dinnertime
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy

"Good evening, Kayda," the Chief greeted me practically at the door to Kane. After the attack, I wasn't surprised that he wanted to get my statement of what had happened, but I figured he'd at least wait until I felt better.

"It hasn't been so far," I replied dryly.

"Well, then," he said, "I'm sorry I can't make it any better." He looked at how I was moving. "I take it you got healed?"

"Yeah," I nodded. "Shoulder still hurts like hell. He banged it up a little bit, and my knee, took a pretty good poke."

"I read the report. Torn rotator cuff, SLAP tear, serious gash in your leg, torn tendons and cartilage and strained ACL in your left leg? You call that banged up a little bit?" Delarose shook his head in disbelief. "And they let you out of Doyle?"

"They said I've overstayed my welcome," I answered with a shrug.

"I suppose Dr. Tenent got you all healed up?"

I winced at his guess, logical though it was. "She ... couldn't. The ... after-effects of the taint interfere with her magic. And I spent so much essence on removing the taint from Chou and myself that, well, I didn't have enough left for a healing."

"Do you have enough essence left to look at Magic Mikey?" the Chief didn't waste any time.

"Why?" I asked, frowning. "He tried to kill me - and if I understand things, several times, plus he harassed me a lot."

"Yes, I know," the Chief answered. "But we think he was ... tainted by that spike. I want to ask you to examine him to see if you can tell."

"No!" I shot back angrily. "Why should I help him? He tried to kill me!"

"Kayda ..."

"No!" I repeated.

"I can't make you," the Chief said slowly. "Mrs. Carson can't either, no matter how much she might want to. But she will ask, because it's very important that we know if he's been affected by that ... demon stuff on the spike. It's very important to the safety of the other students."

I thought briefly about the conversation I'd have with Mrs. Carson. And Ms. Grimes. And Circe. And every other instructor in Magic Arts. Those conversations wouldn't be pleasant. But .... It suddenly struck me that Wakan Tanka would have words for me, too.

"Yes, Wihakayda," my mentor said, gazing evenly across the top of her cup as she sat at the fire. "I do have something to say to you."

"You're going to tell me that I have to help him," I grumbled.

"No, Wihakayda," she answered. "I'm going to remind you that you are the Ptesanwi, the shaman of shamans. It is up to you to accept or reject the duty of a shaman to help even those who you battled."

I sighed, shaking my head. "Okay," I said grudgingly to the Chief. "I'll do it."

Mikey was nothing like what I expected. I thought he'd be more sinister - tall and dark and imposing - because I hadn't seen him in the daylight. Instead, he looked ... incredibly average. And at that point, lying on his side on the cot, he looked harmless. Marks on his arms showed that he'd been in shackles, and for an extended period of time, but at that moment, he seemed harmless.

With advice from Wakan Tanka, I incanted a spell, and then carefully touched him. The 'taste' was familiar, and quite foul. And yet, there was something else mixed in with the taint of Unhcegila - I recognized it immediately from the other spikes - it was the magic of the Mishibijiw. He'd be very fortunate if his mind wasn't completely scrambled.

"He's tainted," I reported grimly to the Chief as I left the cell.

Delarose grimaced. "Based on what his girlfriend and roommate said, that's what we were afraid of."

"And it's from the spike." I sighed. "If it hadn't been for the magic of the Mishibijiw, his mind would be totally gone. As it is ...." I shook my head; I honestly didn't know how bad he was.

"Is he going to get worse?" Delarose was clearly worried; the memory of Matthews was going to be with security for a long time.

"I don't think so. Not since he doesn't have the spike anymore."

"Okay, Kayda. Thanks for the info. You can go now. I'll get a report together for Mrs. Carson."

'

Saturday, May 26, 2007- Morning
Room 205, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

The ringing phone stirred me from my a very pleasant dream I'd been enjoying, a dream of Whateley with no threats to me, no guys or girls harassing me, no-one objecting when Debra and I walked around hand-in-hand or when we kissed in public. I knew it was a dream because Hartford, Ito, and Bardue were very polite, even ... nice!

It took a few seconds for me to wake up enough to realize it was a phone ringing - long enough that Evvie groaned and muttered something about a hammer and stopping the noise. It was already getting light outside, so it couldn't be too early; a glance at my clock said it was a little after seven, and the number on the phone was from home - where it was a bit after six.

"Hello?" I muttered softly, stumbling across the floor and grabbing my robe as I unsuccessfully fought a yawn.

"Kayda?" It was my mom. "I'm sorry to interrupt you ...."

"It's Saturday! I was sleeping in, Mom," I grumbled, awkwardly slipping on my robe as I stumbled out into the hallway so Evvie could sleep in longer. Almost immediately, my ears picked up some noise emanating from the bathroom; I smiled to myself knowing that someone had forgotten to turn on the sound cancellation system. "What's going on? Is something wrong?"

I could practically hear Mom wince on the other end of the line. "It's ... it's your brother, Kayda," she said hesitantly.

"Oh, my God! Danny? What happened? Is he okay?"

"He's okay, Kayda!" Mom interrupted my rant of concern for Danny. "He's okay. It's just that ... well, it looks like he manifested."

A flood of relief surged through me. "Oh, thank goodness. Wait," I frowned. "You said he manifested? How? What ...?"

"I better let him tell you," Mom said to me. "He said your spirit had something to do with it."

"What?!?" I cried as I slumped into a chair in the common room. "My spirit? Tatanka?"

"Danny can tell you better than me."

"Um, hi, Kayda," Danny's voice sounded on the phone. "Um, I ... I manifested. I think."

"Mom said that my spirit had something to do with this?"

"I ... I hear a spirit talking to me. In my head," Danny explained hastily. "Mom is taking me to Sioux Falls this morning, so Valer ... so Card Trick and the others can help figure out what powers I have." Yup, he still had a thing for Valerie. Poor kid!

"And what does this ...."

"She calls herself Igmu Taka."

"The cougar," I finished for him.

"Puma!" Danny shot back, almost angrily.

I chuckled. "Same thing." Something he'd said belatedly caught my attention. "Wait, you said she!"

Danny had to be cringing at that moment. I wished I could see it. "Yeah," he admitted. "She said she's always a girl. And she said that Wakan Tanka put her in me so I didn't get a really lame spirit."

"Hold on," I had to slow down his excited - or frustrated - babbling. "You said Wakan Tanka put her in you? Are you an avatar?"

"She says I am." Prompted by my questions, he ran down what he knew, and what the spirit had told him. "Am I going to turn into a girl?" he asked at the end, his voice cracking. I figured he was near tears.

Now I was on the horns of a dilemma. After all the years of his bratty behavior toward me, I had a perfect situation to tease him, and rather brutally. But then again, he was my brother, and Mom was listening in. On the other hand, I began to catalog all the things he'd done to me .... Tempting as it was, I figured teasing could wait. "I don't know. Hang on a second."

I sipped the tea quickly, almost burning my tongue, and then sighed at Wakan Tanka. "What did you do to Danny?" I asked bluntly.

"He ... how do you say it? ... manifested. He is what you call an avatar, with a hallow, and he would attract a spirit."

"So you put a spirit in him?"

Wakan Tanka nodded, not in the slightest bit concerned or ashamed. "He would attract a spirit anyway, so I gave him one worthy of one of your blood-line."

"Igmu Taka." She nodded. "And ... Danny said it's a female spirit?"

"Yes," my spirit mentor answered.

"Is she going to change him? Into a girl, I mean?"

Wakan Tanka shrugged. "That's up to her. He may get some changes anyway."

"Why?" I demanded.

"Because his hallow is a little too small for her spirit." I goggled at my mentor. "It is nothing to worry about, Wihakayda. You can use the ritual to expand his hallow."

"Uh, are you guys on speakerphone?" I asked nervously.

"Yes," Mom answered. "We're all here."

"Are you sitting down?" I winced, giving them a moment to be seated. In the background, I heard a whimper of distress from Danny, guessing the worst. "Wakan Tanka confirmed that she put a spirit in Danny when she realized he was an avatar. And yes, it's Igmu Taka, and yes, she's a female spirit."

"Okay....." Mom sounded uncertain.

"She said his hallow is a little too small for her spirit," I continued. "What I learned in Avatars class," I quickly added before they'd ask the inevitable, "is when the Hallow is too small, the spirit might reshape the body to create more room for itself. We have a kid in class who's got a boar spirit, and since his hallow was too small, it was kind of ... reshaping him."

"She promised me she wasn't going to change me!" he cried out in distress.

"What can you do about that?" Mom asked. "You can do something, can't you? You have to fix this for Danny."

Ouch. "Well, maybe," I began, and then I explained both the ritual and the risks, including what had happened to Lanie. I omitted how much trouble I'd gotten in. "Look, when they check him in Sioux Falls," I added to try to calm them down, "they'll know more. And when I get a chance, I'll dream walk with Wakan Tanka and Danny to see what's going on, okay?"

"I guess," Danny said plaintively. He obviously wasn't reassured by what I'd told him.

"And me and your father," Mom demanded. When I didn't say anything, she pressed the issue. "You'll include us, too, right?"

There went my plans to torment my brother some more. "Yeah," I said reluctantly. "Have you had any changes?" I asked.

"My eyes are maybe getting a little cat-like," Danny said hesitantly, "and I can see a lot better in the dark."

"And you purr, too," Mom added, no doubt embarrassing the poor boy.

"Okay. I've got to get showered, get breakfast, and then get to my Saturday class. I'll call later this afternoon." I pondered a minute, and then because I couldn't help myself, I added, with a wicked grin, "And Danny? Don't worry. You'll quickly get used to being a girl. Gotta run. Bye." I hung up the phone quickly before anyone could say anything, smirking at the panic I had to have caused the brat. It wasn't like he hadn't earned some payback, after all. Smiling, humming to myself, I strolled back to my room to get ready for the day. Yup, I was going to have a lot of fun teasing Danny with this!

Saturday, May 26, 2007 - Morning
Room 308, Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy

Tansy Walcutt

"Tansy?"

The soft knock on the door had been followed by a softer voice through it, but was sufficient to pull Tansy from CIA recruitment brochure she had been reading. "Come in," she called, returning the pamphlet to Sahar's desk and hung a welcoming smile on her face when she recognized her visitor. "Prue! Come in, please. Need to borrow something?"

Prudence 'Chemtrail' Tavori shook her head, midnight black ponytail flipping back and forth behind her head as she held out a FedEx envelope. "No, this came for you and I signed for it. I hope you don't mind ...."

"Not at all!" Walcutt replied as she took the cardboard mailer and ripped it open. "In fact, I appreciate the favor." In the envelope she found the tickets to Venezuela she was expecting she gave them a quick check to make sure they were exactly as specified, and with a small, cruel smile put them aside. Looking back up at Prue, Tansy couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Body-wise, they were practically identical - tall, lean and curvy, but above the shoulders .... Poor dear, she thought to herself. Such wonderfully perfect olive skin, but that over bite! And that nose! Well, between them, you almost don't notice the Neanderthal eyebrows ....

"Are...are you going to the big end of term social Kodiak is planning, Tansy?" she asked hesitantly. "You must have all the boys asking you ...."

Hope springs eternal, thought Tansy to herself. "No, dear," she replied with a rueful shake of her head. "I'm swearing off parties for a bit." A thought occurred to her and she asked incredulously, "No one has asked you?"

Prue shrugged and looked away. "Oh, you know how it is in the shop - you're so busy trying to prove you know what you're doing that all the boys get intimidated by you ...."

Tansy smiled as she pulled out her chair from her desk and waved the other girl into it. "Someone caught your eye?" she asked with a knowing look. Tavori's olive skin darkened with a blush. "Ah, who is he?"

Prue's gold flecked brown eyes looked away, bashful and dreamy. "Oh, he doesn't know I'm alive," she admitted wistfully. "He's in my advanced chemistry and polymers class. He's so smart and kind and his eyes ...." Prue saw Tansy smirking at her and gave a self-deprecating little laugh. "He'd never ask me, though - he's a freshman and I'm a sophomore."

"Didn't you tell me you'd skipped a grade once?"

"Fifth."

"So, you and this boy are the same age, right?"

Prue shrugged. "He wouldn't notice me, I'm nothing special ...."

"Didn't you have a number of lingerie shots last year when you joined Venus, Inc?" Tansy queried.

"Oh, sure," Prue replied nonchalantly. "Uh, Maidenform and J. C. Penny, but none of them showed my head. They were all body work ...."

Tansy reached up and pulled her scrunchie from her hair, freeing her pony tail to fall around her shoulders. "Dear, no one notices the windows without the right curtains." Tansy put a hand under Prue's chin and forced Prue to look her in the eye. "Did you sleep through Ms. Esiel's eye look lecture?" she asked in a weary tone. "Why don't you tame these brows?"

"Pluck?" she asked, fearfully. "It hurts, and daddy said I had Italian eyebrows and I just had to live with them ...."

"Dear, the cosmetics industry is a multi-hundred billion dollar industry because a real woman won't just give up and live with it!" She stood and went over to her vanity the far side of her wardrobe to get her tweezers. Drastic action was called for. "We will just have to make you noticeable! Who is the boy anyway? What's his name?"

"Adam," she whispered softly.

Tansy stopped and turned, astounded. "Lambert?" she demanded. "Greasy?"

"I know you don't like him..."

"No!" Tansy interrupted quickly. "I neither like, nor dislike him. And I owe him a very large apology for earlier this year ..." There is a God and He loves me! She beamed with the pleasure of a perfect plan dropped into her lap. Now was the time to pull out all the stops. "Come here, Prue, and have a seat. We're going to make you a star!"

Saturday, May 26, 2007- Morning
Sioux Falls League Headquarters, South Dakota

June Franks

Wish List and Vanity Girl sat on one side of the conference room's table, while June and Danny sat on the other, mom resting her hand reassuringly on her son's. "We'll start with a little psychic scan," Vanity Girl explained. "It's painless, and it should help us find out more about the spirit in you, okay?" Both of the women were dressed casually and not in their superhero costumes, and even in jeans, the two were stunningly beautiful.

"Okay," Danny replied nervously.

Wish List smiled pleasantly at him. "There's a very strict code of ethics for psychics," she assured him. "It's like doctor-patient confidentiality; nothing I find will be disclosed unless you choose to disclose it. That's my sacred promise to you, okay?" Danny nodded, glancing worriedly at his mother.

"Okay, now just relax. This won't hurt. You might feel like someone is looking over your shoulder, but that's normal. Are you ready?" Danny nodded, gulping uneasily.

As Wish List slowly eased into his mind, Danny tensed a moment, and then he visibly relaxed, his worried expression vanishing. A few minutes later, his eyes fluttered open, and he nervously looked around the room.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" Wish List asked, smiling pleasantly.

"No," Danny replied, "but ...." He was suddenly uneasy again; Wish List had touched on some ... very personal ... memories.

"Word of honor," the girl reassured him, smiling.

"Did you find out anything?" June asked anxiously.

Wish List nodded, biting her lip for a moment as she considered how to explain things. "I could feel his spirit." She grimaced slightly, which caused mother and son to exchanged worried glances. "Your spirit is most definitely female. There is some ... dissonance ... between host and spirit because of that."

Danny's brow wrinkled with worry. "You mean she's going to ... turn me into a girl?"

Vanity Girl shrugged uncertainly. "We don't know. Dr. Winkler said that he sees signs that your auditory canal is a little higher than expected, and your eyes are developing a tapetum lucidum, the reflective layer behind the retina that enhances night vision and gives the 'eye shine' to animals. It's a typical cat adaptation. And your hyoid bone in your throat appears to be de-ossifying, which is to say, softening at least partially into cartilage - like great cats like a cougar, ...."

"Puma!" Danny snapped, unhappy at the cougar reference, given the connotation of modern vocabulary.

"Mountain lion," Vanity Girl said, shooting Wish List a wry smile. "So yes, you are changing. But, and this is the important thing for you to remember, nobody knows how much you'll change."

"Kayda said ...." Danny began before stopping.

"Go on," Wish List urged him past his reluctance. Or fear.

"She said that ... if my spirit is too large for my hallow, then ... it'll change me so ... it ...." He was distracted when Valery Hinson - Card Trick - walked into the room, joining the group.

Rowrrrr! Danny's spirit suddenly purred seductively. No wonder you think such naughty thoughts about her. She's cute!

"I don't ...." Danny abruptly halted his response to the spirit, realizing from the stares that all the women in the room were staring at him based on his sudden outburst. "Um," he muttered, blushing, "it's ... my spirit was ... talking to me," he finished, shrinking down in his chair and looking away from everyone else.

Maybe if you go sit in her lap, she'll pet us!

"Shut up!" Danny hissed, then glanced around again. He felt so humiliated that he wanted to crawl through a crack in the floor. "Kayda said she can fix the hallow thing," he muttered, "can't she?"

"Danny," Debra said from the doorway where she stood, "Kayda got in very serious trouble doing that, because it's very dangerous. And the girl she helped spent three days in a coma." She shook her head sadly. "Tampering with a person's hallow is not safe. There's a very good reason that she's prohibited from doing that again at Whateley without proper supervision, and that'll still take a lot of luck."

"So I'm stuck? I'm going to change no matter what?" Danny was almost in tears. He buried his face in his hands, sobbing, so Debra, in deference to her girlfriend, rushed to his side and wrapped him in a comforting embrace, while Card Trick hugged him from the other side.

"I didn't say that, Danny," Debra said soothingly. "It might happen, and it might not." She absently began to massage his neck and shoulders, much as she did to help soothe Kayda. Within seconds, she unexpectedly felt him relax, and then a trembling vibration coursed through his body with a throaty but soft rumbling sound.

"Ooh, he's purring!" Card Trick squealed with delight as she wrapped herself tighter around him and began to pet his head and neck, too. "That's so adorable!"

Danny didn't know whether to cry or not. While it was true that he had a bad crush on Valerie, and having her hold him close was one of his fondest wishes, she was stroking his neck and head like he was a pet cat, and he was purring in response! And she found it cute!

I like her, the spirit said happily, her voice contented and yet still sexy. Can we keep her?

Sat, May 26-2007 - Lunchtime
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

"What is this, boot day?" I asked in astonishment as Team Kimba paraded into the dining hall, all wearing their boots - except Ayla; he was wearing his snake-hide high-heeled Doc Martens. Ros had her boots on. I glanced over at the Ghost-Walkers table, and Anna and Evvie and Alicia and Addy were wearing their boots. Further ahead in line, even Lanie had on the snakey-hide boots. And of course, Jade carried her special snake-hide 'Hello Kitty' purse.

"Who forgot to send Kayda the memo?" Toni asked with a smirk. "You get yo'self back to yo' room, 'hear, and get dem boots on. You can't be stylin' with us without 'em!"

She didn't see, or maybe she did and was pretending not to, but behind her in line, Scott was giving her the once-over, and who could blame him? It was finally warm enough to wear shorts and Toni was making the most of the opportunity to display her figure, with a tight, low-cut Tee showing her bare midriff and tight shorts clinging to her light they were sprayed on. She was screaming 'sexy' louder than if she'd have actually spoken.

"I should have put them on after class," I admitted sheepishly, "but I was on the phone with my family."

"Problems?" Ayla could have sounded like his interest was just a feigned social nicety, and perhaps there was a time when he would have sounded like that, but time and Team Kimba had mellowed him some and smoothed out his snobbish edges. He really did care.

I shrugged. "My brother manifested this last week, and I was on the phone with Debra and Mom. Everyone is worried about him."

"Oh?"

"Apparently, he's an avatar and he got a spirit," I said nonchalantly. "In fact," I lowered my voice, "a spirit I know personally kind of placed it there, because she was afraid he'd get something lame otherwise."

"What spirit did he get?"

"A cougar."

Eyebrows raised. "That doesn't sound too bad," Fey said hesitantly. I knew she was reading my aura - it was almost automatic for her - and wondered why I was amused.

"In some bands of Lakota," I continued, grinning from ear to ear, "the mountain lion is considered the embodiment of grace and sexiness. Female grace and sexiness," I added, unable to not smirk. I read the shocked expressions around me. "Yeah, it's a female spirit!" I said in a hushed tone.

"Is he ... going to change?" Fey asked quietly, shocked and echoing the sentiments of the girls around us. At least this amusing little tale was breaking through her despondency - if only momentarily.

I shrugged again. "He's already got a couple of minor things, so I don't know how much more he'll change," I replied, and then grinned again. "But until we know, I'm going to have a hell of a lot of fun teasing him! Like I did this morning!"

"You're bad!" Toni clucked, but I wasn't sure if it was disapproval or not.

"Yeah, I know. But he was such a brat growing up that I couldn't resist a little payback!" I started to laugh. "I really teased him about the fact that Valerie - one of the Sioux Falls League he was really crushing on over spring break - was cuddling him because - get this - he was purring and she thought it was so adorable!"

"He was probably dying of embarrassment," Billie remarked sympathetically.

"So ... he's a kitty-boy?" Jade asked, eyes wide with the same excitement as her voice. "Is he coming here?" She was practically bouncing up and down with anticipation. "He's got to come out here! Do you have a picture? I bet he'll be so kyooot! The girls will love him! He can join Wondercute!"

"Say, Toni," I tried to turn the focus away from Danny, because if he did come out here, I didn't want him stuck around Wondercute. He may have been annoying, but he hadn't done anything to merit that kind of revenge. "When we were sparring, my mentor and Chou suggested that you could help me make some katas that would help me with my weapons."

Toni grinned. "Chou already mentioned it. I've got a few ideas, so if you let me borrow your weapons for a bit, I'll get you some kick-ass routines, and you can start learning tomorrow morning during Tai Chi time."

"That's like five-thirty?" I groaned. "I hate waking up that early, especially on a weekend!"

"Do you want to get better with your hacky-choppy toys?" Toni asked, giving me a sly grin.

"Yeah." She got right to the point.

"See you at five-thirty."

Saturday, May 26, 2007 - Lunchtime
Doyle Medical Complex, Whateley Academy.

Headmistress Carson

The headmistress gave one more glance to the boy strapped to the hospital bed, babbling to himself and mostly ignorant of the people around him. When someone spoke to him, he'd answer - sometimes - and occasionally made sense, but that was as all.

"What do you think?" Mrs. Carson asked the little huddle of her staff.

Dr. Bellows shook his head slowly. "Mr. Geintz and I concur, based on interviewing him, his girlfriend, and his roommate, that he's insane."

"If he is," Chief Delarose spoke up, "then we'll need outside expertise to confirm this. Otherwise, insane or not, he'll be facing a Murder-1 charge. There's no doubt he did it; we got a DNA match on his knife, he has a matching charm, hell, he even admitted it while we were talking to him."

"But?"

"But that admission won't hold in court because he didn't have an attorney present and he's not rational enough to understand his rights," the Chief said unhappily.

Liz Carson rubbed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, wishing she could massage away the difficulties of this issue. "How could one girl cause us so much trouble?" she said, mostly to herself.

"It's not Kayda's fault," Delarose countered, defending the girl.

"I know, Franklin," Liz admitted wearily. "Some of the kids seem to invite trouble, and she's unlucky enough to be one of them." She looked up at Dr. Bellows. "Alfred, what are our options?"

"Assuming he is insane, then our first priority has to be getting professional assessment recognized by the DPA and New Hampshire to confirm a diagnosis."

"And you're going to have to get agreement on jurisdiction. It could be the DPA, the BIA, or the State of New Hampshire," the Chief added.

"Okay. I'll get on the phone with the DPA and the Attorney General." She had a grim expression. "He may have killed a student, but if he's insane or demon-influenced, he should get treatment, not a death sentence."

"Then what?" Dr. Bellows asked the obvious question.

"Then we're going to have to persuade Kayda to try to heal him."

"After everything he's done?" Chief Delarose shook his head. "I'm glad that's your problem and not mine."

Saturday, May 26, 2007 - Afternoon
Room 210 Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy

"Open the door and windows, minion! That crap stinks!" shouted Peeper.

Adam sighed with the grace of patience earned from long suffering as he put his soldering iron onto its holder and set down the spool of solder. "Okay, John," he said as he pulled his window open and then trudged across the room to open the door. It wasn't lost on him that Peeper was closer to the door and could have opened it himself.

There, he was startled by Mr. Filbert who was about to knock. "Oh, Adam, just who I was looking for," the house parent declared with a smile. "You have a guest."

"Me?" Lambert asked quizzically, but Mr. Filbert was already striding down the hallway toward the staircase.

"Stronghold! Put that down!" he commanded, glaring into one room, and then over his shoulder, he called back to Greasy, "You don't want to keep them waiting."

Thoroughly confused now, Adam trotted to and down the stairs. As he descended toward the common foyer he saw the normal comings and goings, guys from upstairs, talking with Whitman girls, nothing out of the usual there. His eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion at the sight of a pair of A list hotties from Dickinson - a blonde and a brunette. It wasn't all that surprising to see good-looking girls in Whitman, as there were a couple of fairly studly guys among the upperclassmen ... but wait. The two girls were exemplar babes, that was certain; why would they be here and not over at Melville? Drawn in spite of himself, Adam started walking over when the blonde looked up and turned, her blue eyes locking onto his green ones, and he very nearly pissed himself in fear.

Tansy Walcutt!

Greasy had had nightmares about Tansy for weeks after the vicious beating she had administered to him; once he had even wet his bed waking from a nightmare about it. Adam froze like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car, paralyzed with fright.

"Are you alright?" The touch on his arm startled him from the paralysis that had seized him. Adam was startled to realize he'd probably blanked out for several seconds - probably from fear - as it was Tansy's hand on his arm though he had no memory of the girls coming to him or him walking toward them. But suddenly, before the panic could really take hold, Adam felt relaxed and just a trifle confused. What did he have to be afraid of? Of course a pair of beautiful women had come to see him; he was a brilliant inventor after all, wasn't he? A scholar, a gentleman, and a prime catch for any woman.

Adam's spine straightened while he smiled an easy smile and dipped his head in a slight bow. "Perfectly alright, Miss Walcutt," he assured her, the words flowing off his tongue with an easy grace he never felt before but was strangely comfortable to him. "Forgive me, but with the sun radiant through the window making you both shine like stars, I was momentarily struck speechless by your beauty." Somewhere in his mind, it seemed odd that he was waxing poetic to these exemplars when he was usually tongue-tied around pretty girls, but that thought slid away to join his fears.

The brunette giggled and had trouble making eye contact, but Tansy was all smiles. "Such a flatterer," she declared, her tone make it obvious that she approved of his flattery. "Adam, I've been meaning to apologize about our little disagreement winter term. I was having a terrible day, which Peeper was making worse, and I took it out on you. I'm very sorry and I hope you won't hold it against me."

Lambert shook his head and dismissed her concern with a gallant gesture. "Making days worse is what Peeper does best," he assured her. "Please don't let our little misunderstanding trouble you." Greasy could remember precisely what had happened, but he couldn't for the life of him recall why he would stand up for Peeper and why he wasn't angry at Tansy. Though it didn't excuse what happened, he was also certain of the sincerity of her apology. And what kind of a cad would hold a grudge against a lovely young lady? Surely, he thought, the gentlemanly thing to do was to forgive and let bygones be bygones.

Tansy's smile was radiant. "That's very kind of you," she assured him, and in her voice there was a warmth and genuineness that told Adam that she really, sincerely was appreciate that he could be so forgiving.

"Think nothing of it," he declared. "I couldn't rest well knowing it troubled your thoughts for another moment."

Tansy made a gesture towards the brunette. "Well I don't want to take up too much of your time, but as you know, Kodiak is planning an end of term social, and I know it must be difficult for a young man of your talents to decide which lucky girl will be blessed with your company to the event. In that vein may I introduce Prudence Tavori, a friend of mine? Would you believe that no one has asked her yet?"

Adam turned the brunette who he now realized he knew as Chemtrail, and just as quickly he realized he didn't know her at all. How could any man overlook this Venus? He was at once awestruck that this delicate flower of feminine perfection could possibly not have dozens of suitors eager for her company, and yet at the same time was flooded with a tidal wave of manly confidence that the only man on this campus worthy to be in the same room and breathe the same air as this goddess was himself.

He took her delicate, perfect hand in his, dropped his lips to kiss the back of it, and told her with as much gallant smoothness as he could muster, "Adam Winfred Lambert, your humble servant."

Prue's cheeks darkened with a blush as she fought desperately not to giggle with excitement.

"And I would be honored if I could have the pleasure of your company for the social," he continued with unnatural grace and confidence.

Sunday, May 27-2007 - Just After Midnight
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

"Wait here," I said to Debra, pausing to give her a very prolonged, heartfelt kiss. She practically melted in my arms, and I in hers. "I've got to go get Danny."

"And your parents," Debra cautioned me, practically purring from the kiss. I felt the same way, tingling from head to toes as I scrambled to my feet. While Debra enjoyed another cup of tea with Wakan Tanka, I walked over the hill away from the camp, reaching out with my mind.

Mom's dream-space was easy to find; I'd dream walked with her a few times. Likewise, I found Dad, and I escorted the two of them into camp. "I've got to find Danny," I told them as they sat down. Mom immediately began chatting with Debra like mother and daughter, and Dad was even talking some; they really made her feel like part of the family, which she practically was, considering how bonded we were.

"Wakan Tanka," I asked, "can you come with me, please?" She rose and joined me, and together we walked back out of the camp. That earned a wary, eyebrow-raised look from Mom, but Debra distracted her by refilling her tea-cup before she could say anything.

As soon as we were out of camp, Wakan Tanka lightly touched my arm. "Why do you wish to talk to me, Wihakayda?"

I hesitated. "I don't know," I finally replied. "I feel like ... like ...," I shook my head, frustrated and confused. "I don't know."

"Is it possible, Wihakayda," my mentor asked, a wise and knowing tone that suggested she understood precisely what I was feeling, even if I didn't, "you are upset by your brother also being an avatar? That it makes you feel less special?"

I gawked at her for a moment as her words sank in, and then I looked ahead again. "Maybe." After another second, I looked down, feeling my cheeks warm. "Yeah, I suppose so." We walked in silence for ten or fifteen yards. "He was always the special one, Mom's baby, and ... and I never felt like I was special in their eyes. Until I manifested." Slowly, I shook my head, still hanging my head. "I feel like ... like it's him in the spotlight once more."

Wakan Tanka chuckled softly, but it was a gentle sound, not a mocking one. "You have your Debra, your tegila. You will never be second in her eyes, will you?"

"No," I replied. "But ... it's still not fair! He's getting all the attention, just like he always does."

She stopped and put her hand on my arm, halting me and gently turning me toward her. "Wihakayda," she said reprovingly, "you are a shaman. You must think of helping others first. Danny, your brother, is confused. He needs help. Can you think of him first, knowing that Debra will never stop giving you attention?"

I nodded slowly, knowing she was right. Danny did need help and guidance; he was confused and scared by the whole experience, and more-so because the spirit was female and he seemed terrified of changing like I had. "I'll help him."

It took a bit of searching to find Danny's dream-space; I'd never dream-walked with him before so it wasn't familiar, and Wakan Tanka refused to help me, smugly insisting that I was a shaman-in-training and had to learn to do these things on my own.

"This is so neat!" Danny said enthusiastically as we walked between the tepees; he was looking around almost in awe. "Am I going to get one of these - my own cool dream-space?" He was hardly being quiet, which was okay; I didn't want to surprise Mom and Dad.

"It depends on your spirit and you learning how," I replied with a shrug. "I am a shaman, you know, so my dream-space is a little special.

Behind us, Wakan Tanka walked beside Wihinape, chatting away with the cat spirit in Lakota, but I wasn't paying attention because I was too busy answering Danny's incessant stream of questions. Wihinape was a large, powerful-looking mountain lion that walked with an almost unnatural feline grace. Mom and Dad had heard us coming - no surprise given how loud Danny was - and had risen to greet him, but they both started when they saw the big cat walking in behind us. Mom's goggled at the cat and took a half-step behind Dad, and Dad was a little nervous as well, absently groping his hip for the pistol he always carried.

Wakan Tanka, the cat spirit, and I stopped, while Danny was tugged behind Dad, wrapped protectively in Mom's arms.

"Mom!" he protested, "I'm not a little kid!"

"But ... the cougar ...!" Mom stammered, still frightened.

"This is my spirit," Danny informed them. "She's ... not going to eat you or anything."

The large, tawny cat stepped forward toward our parents, and then her form flowed gracefully into an upright woman, albeit a woman with cat ears and a tail. "The boy and I are joined, spirit and host. I will not harm him, so you need not fear me." Her sultry, contralto voice oozed sex-appeal, and she moved with a feminine grace that was arousing just to watch.

She was also buck-naked, and seemed not to care one iota, if she even noticed.

Both Dad and Danny were staring at her very shapely body, her flat, toned abdomen, lovely rounded hips, long tawny hair that spilled down from her shoulders in front and back to partially hide her firm, generous breasts. In short, she looked like everything a woman would envy - except maybe the triangular cat ears high on the sides of her head.

"I'm going to enjoy being joined with you." She licked her lips seductively as she wrapped her arms around Danny's shoulders, leaning her head against his and all but wrapped her legs around him. Even from where I stood, I could hear the purring coursing through her.

Danny's eyes betrayed mixed emotions - having a naked ultra-sexy cat-woman rubbing all over him was more than slightly arousing, but the thought that he might be changed by that spirit to looking somewhat like her was disturbing. Dad shifted uncomfortably to take pressure off ... vital parts, while Mom sort-of glared at the cat-spirit practically dry-humping her son.

"What's she saying?" Dad gulped, trying to focus his concentration on the cat-woman's race and not her nude body.

Of course! I'd forgotten the languages spell on Dad. Mom spoke Lakota, so I just had to take care of Danny and Dad. Incanting, I touched his forehead, and then turned to Danny, who flinched, drawing back a little.

"Oh, he won't need that, sweetie," the cat-woman purred at me, taking the time to deliberately look up and down my body and licking her lips. "I let him understand the tongues of all the different People!"

Debra noticed her gaze and rose from her seat, practically stomping to my side and wrapping her arms possessively around me and glaring at the cat-woman. "I'm the soul-mate of the Ptesanwi!" she declared angrily, marking her territory so the sultry woman would keep her hands off.

"I see." She eyed Dad hungrily, then looked at Mom. "I suppose this one is yours?"

Mom glared at the cat-spirit as well, putting her arm around Dad's waist. "What do you want with my son?" she demanded.

"Let us sit and talk," Wakan Tanka said with a bemused expression. "The boy has many questions, as do his parents."

"You may call me Wihinape," the woman purred Mom, Dad, and me, while still nibbling on and practically licking Danny's ear and causing him to squirm uncomfortably.

We all sat, and Debra and Wakan Tanka passed out cups of tea. "I understand from Kayda that you had something to do with slut-kitty there being bound to my son," Dad growled at Wakan Tanka once she'd sat down again.

"My name is Wihinape!" the cougar-woman protested, a sexy pout on her face. "Not slut-kitty!"

"What do you want with him?" Mom demanded.

Wihinape shrugged, and she made even that simple act an exercise in sex-appeal. "To have a host to walk the earth again. To give him my powers in exchange for a little of his core essence."

"It is the same as all avatar spirits," I explained quickly before Mom and Dad got the wrong idea. "Humans with a hallow have a kind of spiritual energy that feeds the spirit. It's a symbiotic relationship - the spirit gets sustaining psychic energy, while the host gets physical power from the spirit."

"Okay," Mom acknowledged, still frowning at the overly amorous and unashamedly woman who had twisted herself onto Danny's lap and was hanging all over him, "but why did you give him this ... this ... slut?"

"Hey! I'm not a slut!" Wihinape protested indignantly.

"Would you rather he had the spirit of a garden slug, or perhaps a moth?" Wakan Tanka asked, scowling at Mom and totally ignoring Wihinape. Mom gawked at that, too stunned to answer. "Or would you rather that I left his hallow empty so that an evil spirit, an enemy of the People, could dwell in him?"

Mom, Dad, and Danny all gulped, wide-eyed, as they contemplated what Wakan Tanka had said, that Danny could have had something really nasty or undesirable in his hallow.

"I didn't think so, either," my mentor finished. "So I gave him a spirit that would not be dangerous to any of you. Besides, the sister of Ptesanwi should have a noble spirit, worthy of the family. So I selected the spirit of the mountain lion."

"But what if she ... changes him?" Dad asked, also astonished at Wakan Tanka's logic.

"I said I wouldn't," Wihinape replied angrily. "Probably not." She purred as Danny found himself absently running his fingers through her hair. "Not much. Maybe not." She stretched luxuriously, a most feline move for the woman that was ultra-sexy in her nudity. "I might have to, though - it is pretty tight in his hallow!"

Danny's eyes widened at that, and though he was shocked, something about the cat-woman's purring kept him rubbing her head. "I don't want to change!" he wailed.

"Don't worry, Danny," I said, winking at Debra. "We'll all help you adjust." Dad's mouth dropped, and Mom glared at me. "I know you'll have a ball shopping when you visit Sioux Falls - we'll make it a girls' day and get you some really nice, pretty outfits ...."

"And a girl has to have at least one set of naughty underwear!" Debra chimed in.

"And a little black dress!" I added without interrupting.

"And heels!"

"Kayda!" Dad said sternly to me, giving me his patented 'Dad glare of disapproval' at how I was teasing Danny.

"Oh," I added, ignoring Dad, "while we're in France this summer, we'll make sure we pick up a few nice outfits for you, too!"

Danny's lower lip trembled as he visibly fought off tears, while Wihinape cuddled and purred and Mom stared in disbelief at Debra and I, both of us giggling madly at how we were making poor Danny suffer. I was going to get a serious talking-to about it, but I had to do it while I had a chance. But it was worth it.

I did get chewed out by Mom and Dad for teasing Danny. And by Wakan Tanka. I expected my little brother to relish in the fact that I was in trouble, but he was so upset at what Wihinape might do to him that he didn't even gloat a little bit. We talked a long time, me and Wakan Tanka trying to answer their questions. When we were finished, it was pretty much agreed that the best thing for Danny would be for him to come to Whateley next fall.

Great. Now I'd have my little brother - or little sister if Wihinape changed him - underfoot. I'd have to talk to my soul-sister, because she had her pesky little brother on campus too. She might know some coping strategies.

Sunday, May 27-2007 - Very Early Morning
Outside Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy.

"Oh, shut up!" I grumbled at the alarm clock, which of course did no good, but the slap I gave it managed to stop its noise - hopefully before it woke up Evvie.

No such luck. "What time is it?" she groaned, sounding at most half-awake.

"Too early!" I muttered back, letting my head flop back on my nice soft pillow, fully intending to go back to sleep and ignore the reason I'd set my alarm so early anyway.

That, too, was not to be. Moments later, a rapid knock sounded insistently on the door. With my eyes mostly shut, grumbling softly, I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled to the door, cursing loudly when I stubbed my toe on a bedpost. "Damn!"

"Just get out of here and go exercise so I can get back to sleep!" Evvie snapped at me.

Hopping on one foot, trying to rub my now-sore toes, I unlocked the door and pulled it open a crack. "Oh, no!" I moaned.

"I figured you might have a hard time getting up," Toni said, looking bright-eyed bouncing on the balls of her feet. "So I figured I'd make sure you were awake."

"Tell me this is a bad dream!" I muttered.

"No," Evvie replied from under her covers, "you said you were going to exercise. So go! Let me get back to sleep!"

"Come on, sleepyhead!" Toni bubbled energetically.

Trying to keep my eyes open, I grabbed the exercise outfit I'd laid out the night before and then stumbled into the hallway with Toni. "Stop bouncing!"

"It's hard to be still at this refreshing time of the morning!" Toni countered.

"You're sick. You know that, don't you?"

"You're almost as bad as Nikki," Toni replied with a grin. "Now come on."

Half walking, half pushed, I changed in the bathroom, and then, dumping my nightie back in my room and grabbing my weapons, I was half-dragged by a bouncy-ball on speed down the stairs and outside.

We were at a high-enough elevation that the night air still had a serious nip to it, and I was instantly awake. "Damn, this is too cold!"

"Invigorating," Toni countered. "The word you're looking for is invigorating!"

We met a group of Tai Chi enthusiasts - far more than I thought would be insane enough to get up at insanely-early on a Sunday morning - and went to a flat, grassy area behind Poe. Chou was already outside, and she smiled at me in acknowledgement.

"Chou will lead the others in their normal routine," Toni said, tugging me off to one side as the group started to limber up and stretch. Toni did the same, but she was stretching in ways that looked anatomically impossible. I found myself gawking at how incredibly flexible she was. "You better stretch," she chided me, "or you'll regret it later."

After we were warmed up, Toni held out her hands. "Let me have your weapons," she ordered. I gave her the tomahawks, and she backed away and felt their balance and heft. "Watch me; I'll do the kata I came up with at normal speed, and then at slow speed. Then we'll walk you through it so you learn."

The way she wielded the weapons looked like normal speed - for Addy! She was a blur of motion, and it struck me that if Mr. Two Knives was to spar with her, he'd get his ass handed to him, despite years of experience and training. Toni was that natural with martial arts.

"Okay, did you catch that?" she asked when she was done.

"No," I shot back. "I'm not a speedster."

"Well," she admitted with a wry smile, "it might have been a tiny bit fast."

"Ya think?"

She walked through it slower, and I still missed a lot. I felt like I was asking her to practically stand still the third time. Then she walked me through the exercise.

"This feels ... weird," I muttered halfway through. "Like ... it's supposed to be this way, but not the way Mr. Two Knives is teaching me."

"Yeah, I suppose not." She grinned. "I went through it with Mr. Two Knives yesterday. He said I was doing it all wrong, but when I beat him sparring, he had me demonstrate it to him again." She laughed, her grin broadening. "I bet he's probably doing this routine at his apartment."

After another three run-throughs, I had the routine down and felt good - until Toni spoke up. "Okay, tomorrow we'll work on part two."

"Part ... two?" My eyes had to be bulging from their sockets.

"Yeah. There are four parts to the tomahawk kata, and ...," she frowned. "We need a cool name for it. Tomahawk kata got no zip!" She shook her head. "Anyway, then we'll work on the knife and tomahawk kata."

"How many parts to that one, four also?"

"No, that's more complicated. That one has five parts."

"I better film this so I can remember it all, then," I said with a heavy sigh. "Some of us aren't ki-queens!" I put on a look that said I was lost in thought. "I wonder if Naomi has a super-slo-mo camera I can borrow ...."

"I know you've got exemplar memory, so you don't have an excuse to forget it!" Toni shot right back, still grinning. I had a feeling that she looked at this as a challenge.

"What weapons is this based on?" I asked as together we walked back toward Poe.

"Kama and sai," Toni answered.

"Damn," I feigned grumbling. Chou was only a step or so ahead of us and no doubt overheard everything we were saying. "Chou was right. She's never going to let me hear the end of it!"

Chou tried to suppress her chuckle at my comment, but she failed, and she turned to try to glare at me, but she failed miserably in that feigned endeavor. "Darned right I won't." Breaking out in giggles, she gave me a quick hug.

As I hugged her back, I felt a stab of pain in my shoulder and knee, enough that she noticed. "Are you okay, Kayda?"

I shrugged off her concerns - and my own. "Yeah. Probably overdid things a little practicing. Toni's katas aren't exactly natural positions for a normal human being!" I shot her a look - narrowed-eyes, but grinning playfully.

"Isn't that the same side you got hurt the other night - when we were attacked?" Chou expressed a concern that had gone through my mind.

"Probably just a coincidence." I'd considered that and discounted it. I would have felt any residual contamination, after all, and that would have been the only way to interfere with my healing. I glanced, and both Toni and Chou looked like they weren't exactly convinced.

Monday, May 28, 2007 - Noon
School Grounds, Whateley Academy

"I really don't want to eat in the cafeteria today," Laurie said, sighing.

"I know," Alicia groaned, standing in line with the rest of us waiting for the serving line to move a little bit - slower than usual since all us students were eating in a trickle rather than a swarm. "It's too nice a day to eat inside."

"Why don't we eat outside then?" Adrian chimed in, giving the first hint of enthusiasm about our meal.

"It's Memorial Day," Alicia retorted. "We're supposed to have a big barbeque, with ribs and chicken and potato salad!" She looked around at the rest of us. "At least that's what mah folks always did."

Vasiliy, Addy, and Chat Bleu - who was becoming a fixture at Vasiliy's side - gawked at Alicia. "Do not understand," Vasiliy said, laying his Russian accent on thick. If he was trying to impress us, it was a wasted effort. If he was trying to impress Chat Bleu, he needn't have bothered because she'd already become enchanted with him, or so it seemed.

"Memorial Day is a holiday to honor all the members of the armed forces who gave their lives in service," I said solemnly. Though it might be passé to some kids my age, respect for servicemen and women - and especially those who died in service - was something my town took seriously.

"Ah," Vasiliy said, eyes opening in understanding. "Is like Victory Day. May Ninth is day we celebrate victory of Red Army over Nazi Germany and honor all veterans."

Addy nodded. "In France, we 'onor the war veterans on Armistice Day - November Eleventh."

I couldn't help but chuckle. "From what I remember, our Veteran's Day used to be called Armistice Day, but it was changed to honor all veterans, not just the dead."

Naomi shuddered. "Can we talk about something besides war and dead veterans?" she asked. "It's kind of ... depressing."

"Why don't we have a ... an Armistice Victory Veterans Memorial Day picnic?" Evvie chimed in, her face lighting up. "We'll get our food in to-go bags ..."

"Except Vasiliy, who'll get a cart," Chat Bleu giggled.

I couldn't help but laugh as I picked up on where Evvie was going. "And we can hike to the lake and have a picnic!" I completed the thought. "That sounds like a lot of fun!"

"Better than sitting in the caf," Adrian agreed. "Or the fixer's patio."

Evvie glanced out to the side of Crystal Hall. "Yeah, it looks like everyone wants to sit outside today.

Addy suddenly perked up. "I'm going to talk to Chef Peter," she said, then she zipped off - walking slowly for her but running for everyone else - toward the kitchens. I looked at Evvie and shrugged; I had no idea what she was up to.

Her intent became apparent a few minutes later when she waved us all over to the doors back into the kitchen area. Not knowing what else to do, we all walked over, and were surprised - and delighted - to find a basket of picnic supplies and a few somewhat large carry-boxes that were normally used to keep food warm for transporting it to catered events.

"Go get some food," Addy said with a grin. "We 'ave a picnic to go to!" She read my questioning gaze. "Chef Peter said if I ever needed a favor to ask 'im. So I asked."

We loaded up as much food as we thought we'd need - potato salad, hot dogs, hamburgers and all the fixings, all the food we'd all traditionally had at picnics. Sadly, though, there were no good barbequed ribs or brisket, and both Laurie and Alicia let us know that it just wasn't going to be a proper picnic. With the muscle we had, carrying the boxes to the lake wasn't difficult, and by noon, we had cloths spread out on the grass under a spreading shade tree, the sky clear blue overhead.

Eventually, we got around to our summer plans. Everyone knew that Addy, Alicia, and I were going on a whirlwind three-homes tour. I glanced at Laurie and saw her smiling faintly, glancing at Adrian.

"Okay," I said to her, smiling. "Spill it. What are you planning?"

"Um," Laurie tried to stammer her way out of telling us, "nothing. I'm just going home to Houston."

"And?" Evvie asked, one eyebrow cocked. "What else?"

"Nothing," Laurie repeated, but we could tell she was hiding something.

"You're taking Adrian home to meet the folks!" Naomi guessed, which after her behavior was a good guess.

"It's not like that!" Laurie protested, looking rather embarrassed which confirmed Naomi's supposition. "His parents are back in the UK, so ...."

"A likely story!" I laughed before turning to Adrian. "If one of her folks starts saying 'welcome to the family'," I giggled, "run!"

Adrian shook his head. "You guys are bad! It's not like we're engaged or anything."

"Be careful," Evvie chuckled. "Her daddy might have a shotgun, and then you'll be proposing real quick!"

"I've got a summer job helping around the offices in the Windy City Guardians," Evvie said proudly. "And so does Naomi."

My eyebrows lifted at that. "This wouldn't be because your brother pulled some strings, would it?" Evvie looked a bit embarrassed. "And weren't you going home to Montana?" I said to Naomi.

"Hmmphhh," Naomi snorted. "You know what there is to do in Montana? Nothing! But Chicago - jazz clubs, lake Michigan ... that'll be a fun summer!"

'And Evvie is there, too,' I thought to myself, giving Evvie a covert wink which made her flush slightly. Of course she wanted to spend the summer with her girlfriend!

"Oh, I almost forgot!" Addy interjected suddenly. "I was talking with Ayla last night ...."

"A little pillow talk?" Laurie chuckled. It was well-known around school that Ayla considered himself a boy, and that he was still equipped like a boy, and thus spending time with Addy had romantic and sexual overtones.

Addy blushed a little - she and Ayla did spend a lot of time together, and no doubt there was some hanky-panky going on. "It is not like that!" she denied vehemently, but in my mind, I kept hearing the line, 'methinks the lady doth protest too much.'

"Ayla 'as to go to France to work on the deals with Vera and with papa, so 'e is traveling with us! Since Ayla only travels First class, 'e upgraded all our tickets!"

"No wonder you're so happy about the trip!" Alicia giggled, waggling her eyebrows.

Addy responded in a very mature, dignified fashion - she stuck her tongue out at her room-mate.

It was just that kind of a picnic, where we talked about our summer plans and kidded each other and enjoyed the weather. It was one of the most fantastic days' I'd had at Whateley.

Monday, May 28, 2007 - Evening
Outside Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

"You're moving like you're in pain," Toni observed as we strode from the grassy area she'd been instructing me in another part of the kata she'd created.

"I told you," I shot back with a smile, ignoring the ache in my shoulder and leg, "those positions you put yourself in are not natural!'

"But they shouldn't hurt you like that," She countered. "Mr. Two Knives hasn't mentioned anything about stiffness or pain."

I chuckled derisively. "He's a former marine. He wouldn't complain if you nailed his foot to a floor!"

Toni wasn't convinced. "Isn't that the side you were attacked the other night?"

I didn't even have to think. "Yeah, but I did a healing and fixed it."

"Maybe you should go to Doyle and get it looked at." Hearing that suggestion from Toni startled me. If she thought it was bad enough to have it looked at, it was probably bad.

"Nah," I replied. "It's just a little strain from those weird movements you put in the kata."

Toni eyed me warily. "Okay," she said slowly, hinting in her tone that she didn't believe me. But since I was being stubborn, she decided to drop it. "By the way," she changed the subject, "you need a name for your fancy workout."

"Why?" I was genuinely puzzled.

"Because every kata has a name. Tai Chi has names for the various parts. Every kata in the martial arts class has a name." Even in the fading evening light, I could see her broad grin as I stared at her in surprise. "You want to be cool, you gotta name the kata."

"I don't think so," I replied.

"Hmmm, let's see," Toni mused aloud. "You're Lakota, right?"

"Yeah?" I wasn't sure where she was going, but I was reasonably certain I wasn't going to like it.

"And you've got Tonka Trucka." I could see the smile creeping across her face, worrying me. "How about 'Tonka Trucka Kata'?" she asked. "Or 'Tonka Truckata?"

I groaned my disapproval. "I don't think so."

"I don't think you get to decide," Toni clucked at me. "It's the master who names the katas, and in this case, that's me."

"Oh, God, please, spare me!"

"Or ... Lakota kata?"

"That's dumb!" I tried to change the subject. "After a workout like that, maybe we should round up the gang and go have a nice soak in the hot tub?"

"That's an idea," she perked up. "It'd be good for Nikki, especially if Bugs is free. And Rip?" A cheery laugh erupted. "Although the last time she was in the hot tub, she almost got banned!"

We walked into the cottage through the back door, but I had to know. "Why?" I had a feeling that it was something that one had to be there to really appreciate.

"She, um, kind of made a mini-waterspout," Toni giggled. "In the pool with Beltane and some of the older girls."

"Yeah, that'd do it."

"So, where were we?" She thought a moment or two. "Lakata?"

I groaned at that one. "You make it sound French or something!" I protested.

"Tomakata?"

"That's almost as bad!"

"I like it! It's the tomakata!" Toni said triumphantly.

I shook my head. "Now I suppose you're going to tell everyone. Sheesh, I'm going to be teased mercilessly whenever someone finds out I'm doing a tomakata!" I grasped her arm lightly, turning her toward me. "Why couldn't you have called it the White Buffalo kata or something?"

"Let's get the gang together for a hot tub party," Toni ignored my input and went to another subject. She looked up at a status board by the stairs, the cottage's 'special' stoplight board to let everyone know whether they had to be careful with their displays of affection and such. The secret most cottage residents knew, but no-one else, was that there was a little marker that slid back and forth on the bottom of the board, revealing either a small pink bead or a small blue bead, indicating which gender was using the hot tub, if any. If the bead was centered and showing both beads, as it was at that moment, the hot tub was open. The bead position was also magically linked to the access controls for the hot tub grotto, thus ensuring that when the girls had it reserved, boys couldn't get in and vice-versa.

"Great!" Toni sang cheerfully. "Reserve it for us while I go start rounding up the troops!" Before I could protest, she was halfway up the stairs, actually doing cartwheels and backflips to climb them.

"Who gave her sugar today?" I said to myself, shaking my head. She was so energetic at times that she was tiring to just watch. I moved the slider to cover up the baby-blue marker, and then trudged up the stairs myself, wincing a couple of times as my knee throbbed. Those katas were going to take a long time to get used to.

Over the next forty minutes or so, girls trudged in twos and threes out the back, disappearing into the woods behind Poe to the underground grotto. Eventually, most of the girls were there, save for some like Marty, who was probably with Steve, and Lily, who we knew was with Hank.

Bugs was doing a good job with her continued 'comfort-therapy' for Nikki; I hadn't seen such a contented, peaceful look on the redhead's face in a long time as she cuddled with the blonde devisor. Rip was making waves in all three of the pools - literally - until she was threatened with expulsion, at which time Toni decided to distract her.

When Ros came down the ladder and shed her robe, I smiled. "Over here," I called to her, indicating an empty spot beside me. Several of the girls turned to stare at me in shock because they knew Ros had been hunting me and I'd been unhappy about the unwanted attention. But Ros and I had come to an understanding after I learned what she'd been doing. We talked some, with her trying to not be obvious staring at me and me doing the same with her.

For a brief moment, I considered the last time I'd been in the hot-tub with Ros, and I felt strangely warm thinking about the birthday kisses I'd received from her and Lanie. No doubt I was broadcasting my emotions, because Fey and Evvie both perked up and stared at me, somewhat in disbelief. Of course, that made my cheeks burn with embarrassment, which only deepened when Evvie winked at me. I wondered how many other girls were receptive empaths or telepaths, but I dared not look around to see who else was gawking at me.

I glanced to the side and saw Ros sitting, looking relaxed, but her eyes still reflected her loneliness. I glanced again at Fey, who simply shrugged. "Aw, what the hell?" I muttered to no-one in particular before turning, taking Ros' face between my hands, and kissing her, long and passionately, ignoring the murmurs and whistles and catcalls among the girls.

When I finished and drew back, almost breathless, Ros stared at me, her expression a mixture of confusion and delight. "What ... what's that for?" she asked timidly.

"I don't think I thanked you enough for what you did for me," I replied with a smile. "But mostly, I heard your birthday is in July and I won't get to give you a birthday kiss then."

"Birthday girl?" Some of the girls knew what that meant, and they queued up to also give Ros sisterly birthday wishes, which led to the discovery of another summer-birthday girl and more kissing. Neither Fey nor Bugs participated in the well-wishing; based on how they were sitting and cuddling, I really hadn't expected them to. Still, it would have been a lot of fun if it had been Fey's birthday. She was so gorgeous and shapely that I couldn't help occasionally entertaining a momentary thought of her, and I suspected nearly every other girl in Poe did the same.

I was walking back to Poe a few steps behind Ros, who was walking alone. I did a couple of quick steps and got to her side, somewhat starting her. "Um ...," she started hesitantly.

"Shhh." I placed my finger across her lips to silence her. "We'll talk once we're in the cottage. Maybe the second floor study room?" She nodded, so we walked in silence the rest of the way. But no sooner had we entered the common room than she threw herself around me, clinging to me like a drowning man to a life ring.

"Thank you," she finally stammered, and I could tell she was speaking through tears, although I didn't know the source of them.

"For what?"

"Nobody ...," she started, backing up so we were looking eye-to-eye, "nobody ever remembered my birthday. Since it's in the summer, it kind of gets overlooked."

I leaned my forehead against hers, still looking her in the eyes. "Ros, I want you to do something for me."

"What?" she asked hesitantly, her eyes wide.

"I want you to be happy. I want you to find someone or something that puts a smile on your face, and enjoy life." She nodded slightly at that. "Promise?" I asked insistently.

For a few seconds, she stared at me wonderingly. "I promise," she finally said softly.

"Good," I hugged her tight again. I really, really hoped she'd listen; she'd been way too quiet and reclusive since that one morning in Mrs. Horton's apartment. I worried about her, and as her former lover, I knew Debra did too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - Morning
Arena 99, Whateley Academy

"So this is combat finals?" I was with my friends in the stands at Arena 99, looking through the force-field into a simulated city-scape. Lining the top of the force-field were several very large displays showing views that were hidden from the audience's direct view; no doubt they were also used for close-ups and replays of significant events. The stands were pretty full - the juniors and seniors were doing their finals that week, so those not in class were often at the arena. And the freshmen and sophomores had nothing else to do but watch others in the hope of finding a winning strategy and hopefully seeing people they'd rather not fight in the arena with someone else.

"Yup," Adrian replied first. "This term it's a hostage rescue."

"Oh? What's that? How do you make a competition out of that?"

Naomi shrugged. "Based on all the combat finals I've been in, if you rescue the hostage, you get the win. If your opponent does, they win."

"Hmmmph!" I snorted derisively. "Sounds like a contest for the right to challenge the champion. Why don't they just team up?"

Evvie laughed. "You weren't here last fall. Loophole tried that with Sizzle."

I didn't like the sound of that laugh. "What happened?"

"Gunny wasn't very happy. He turned the simulation on the pair of them. He got pretty nasty," Adrian reported.

I couldn't help but wince; I'd been on the receiving end of Gunny's sadistic streak. "Ouch!"

"Loophole had her revenge," Evvie laughed. "She actually manifested because of the stress, and it just amped up her gadgeteer power. She figured out how to crash the whole simulator. Hard. It took a long time to get everything back on-line." Evvie shook her head, still chuckling. "Mrs. Carson was really, really pissed."

My eyes must have been bulging at that - for two reasons. First, I couldn't imagine Gunny being thrilled with someone crashing his precious simulator systems at all, let alone for days. Second, I knew that the spirit binding I'd done had cost Lanie that very system power. If she got in a similar situation in this combat final, she didn't have her power to help her. Despite all her protestations to the contrary, I still felt very guilty about that.

"Good morning," Gunny's voice boomed through the PA system. "Welcome to the combat finals for Spring, 2007. This year, the theme is hostage rescue; you will have some variation of that theme in your individual finals. The hostage takers may be armed. They may kill the hostage or they may flee at the first sign of trouble; you don't know which. There may be few or many henchmen. The hostage taker may or may not be super-powered. Your goal is simple: to rescue the hostage and deliver him or her to law enforcement. How you achieve the rescue is entirely up to you. If, however, you in any way damage the simulator systems, you will fail immediately, and you will be called to a disciplinary hearing where you may attempt to justify your continued presence at Whateley Academy."

"Told you," Evvie chuckled.

"Due to heavy student betting on the outcomes of these finals, which by the way is strongly discouraged as noted in the student handbook," Gunny continued in his gruff voice, "this term, we will be identifying the contestants by number until they are in the arena, at which time their MIDs will be displayed. Each of you was given a random number by your academic advisor or house-parent; that number is your identifier. As with all combat finals, from the time you are called, you have twenty minutes to report to the check-in, regardless of your location on campus."

"Even if you're eating? Or ...?" I asked.

"No matter what you're doing, you have to report," Adrian confirmed with a grim nod, "or you fail."

I leaned close to Evvie, who was next to Naomi and whispered, "I guess that means no 'nooners' for you two since you might get called at any time." Evvie frowned, while Naomi stuck her tongue out at me.

"How long do the matches last?" I was quiet curious.

Laurie shrugged. "It all depends. Figure around three-hundred twenty or thirty freshmen and sophomores when you leave out the NCs ...."

"NCs?"

"Non-Combatants. The ones who won't - or can't - fight. Some of the Thornies, some for religious reasons," Naomi explained for me.

"I should have done that."

Evvie laughed. "Too late now. Besides, with your experience, do you really think the administration would let you out of a combat final?"

The PA interrupted further teasing of me. "Students four-twenty-six and one-seventeen report to the arena. Students four-twenty-six and one-seventeen, report to the arena."

A few of the kids pawed in their wallets or purses for their ID note to check, while two rose and walked toward the arena entrance. As soon as everyone realized that Hippy and Belphegor were going to fight, many students swarmed down the stairs and under the stands - most likely to the bookies to make their bets. Others had their cell phones out and were frantically typing; where there was money to be wagered, the bookies would find a way, and it looked like cell phone apps were a very popular way.

Hippy was glaring at Belphegor, who looked more than a little nervous floating in his chair, various gadgets and devises attached to the contraption.

"Anyway, as I was saying, in five days, they have to get a hundred-fifty or so combats. They average about a half hour between them."

"A half-hour combat?" I was more than a little scared at the prospect.

"Eight to ten minutes usually. Sometimes more, but more often less. It all depends on who's fighting," Adrian continued his explanation. "Then it takes fifteen to twenty minutes to clean up the mess from one simulation and get ready for the next."

Because they didn't have to reset the sim, it only took a couple of minutes for Sergeant Wilson to brief the two, and then after donning their costumes or masks, they entered the arena, with Belphegor floating around nervously while Hippy glared at him and growled. I'm glad I wasn't fighting her; since Sara Waite had disappeared, Hippy had been extra surly, trying to goad anyone she thought was tough into a serious fight, spending a lot of time in security and detention, and getting a lot of counseling. More than a few of us wondered if maybe she didn't have a death wish. In fact, all of Sara's 'Pack' were taking her disappearance hard; Paige Donner wasn't being let out at all because almost anything tripped her blood rage. Feral and Gypsy were morose - moping and dejected. And Jet - part of the J-team that seemed to be bound to Sara somehow, was spending all her time searching anywhere and everywhere on campus in an attempt to find Sara.

When the horn sounded to start the sim, Hippy stomped toward Belphegor, who turned his chair and fled. Following that display of manly courage, the big Amazonian girl stalked around the arena, looking carefully around herself, scrutinizing all the people. It was easy to tell when she found the hostage-holder's location.

From the monitors, we could see that the hostage and villain - there was a collective gasp in the crowd when many of the students recognized that the villain was Titan - were on the third or fourth floor of what appeared to be a new and still vacant building adjacent to a construction site. She took a few moments to look at the people around her; I think she noticed the construction workers who seemed to be focused on the building and not the construction work - obviously muscle.

With an angry roar, Hippy charged right into the muscle closest to the target building, bashing him into the building so hard that it was unlikely that he was going to be any further threat; instantly, the other hired goons began to run toward her, drawing weapons and shooting, but as she was a high-level exemplar, the bullets had no effect. She charged into the core of the building, to the elevator shafts, which perplexed us, until she alternated decking the hired help and ripping open the elevator doors and ripping the cables apart. Within thirty seconds, she had killed all the ground-level henchmen and disabled all the elevators, leaving the stairwell as the only access to higher building levels. She dashed up the stairs, snarling angrily and no doubt taking her out anger and frustration at Sara's disappearance on the simulation.

While she was demolishing the elevators and racing up the stairs, Belphegor turned up the anti-grav on his chair and darted up the side of the building, pausing to look in the windows. Having found something, he paused, backing away from the window a little bit, waiting.

Hippy burst through the door onto the third floor - which was mostly empty, devoid of partitions and furniture - and right into a very large man. Snarling, she threw herself at him, knocking him over before turning to Titan. Screaming in rage, she charged at him, and to her total surprise, he easily took her charge and then grappled with her.

Belphegor was satisfied - the unoccupied people were the large henchman and the hostage; he pressed a button and a ray shot out from his chair, shattering the mostly-unbreakable glass and then his chair darted through the opening. Ahead of him, the stooge struggled to regain his feet after being run over, watching Hippy and the brick fight. At the sound the glass shattering, he turned suddenly to the new disturbance. Instantly, he drew a pistol and started swinging the barrel toward the hostage, who looked to be a prominent businessman or politician - it really didn't matter.

We all dreaded the shot that would end the scenario, but before the henchman could react, Belphegor pressed another button, and some kind of energy ray shot out from another of his devises; the goon and the hostage froze, while in the background, Hippy had barely noticed as she continued to take her anger out on Titan. The anti-grav chair sped to the brick, ramming him and sending him flying away from the hostage.

"Hey!" Hippy roared, having finally noticed Belphegor, "get the fuck out of here!" In her moment of distraction, Titan slammed into Hippy again, knocking her into and through one of the building's windows. Despite her rage, she couldn't help but scream as she plummeted three stories toward the ground. The scream became an ear-splitting screech of extreme pain, startling everyone, while back in the building, Belphy pulled the still-inert hostage onto the back of his chair and sped back toward the window and escape.

We all sat, stunned beyond belief, eyes riveted on the simulation. Hippy was a high-level exemplar and level 6 regenerator - she couldn't be injured, at least not seriously. Or so we thought.

By dumb luck, she'd fallen onto a concrete pier under construction, and more specifically, on the re-bar sticking up from the concrete. Two of the bars impaled her, one through her neck and the other through her chest. The horn sounded immediately to end the simulation even as medics swarmed into the arena toward Hippy.

Around me, more than one student hurled their breakfast at the gruesome sight, while I leaped to my feet, already fumbling at my medicine pouch as I ran three-at-a-time down the stairs toward the portal through the force field. I got to the scene so fast that the medics had just begun evaluating her condition - Banned Aids was first there, with Jericho and his medical scanner right behind him.

"It's through the left ventricle!" Jericho practically screamed. "We have to leave it in or she'll bleed out before the heart muscle can regenerate!"

"Her body is trying to regenerate!" Banned Aids countered, panicking. "And if we move her much, the one in her neck is going to crush the medulla and spinal cord!" He looked up at Jericho. "Can you stop her regeneration?"

Jericho shook his head, his expression grim. "I got nothing."

Dr. Guitterez, working with the two boys, looked at me. "Can you do anything?"

I started to shake my head, but then I had a sudden thought. "Maybe ... the unpurified spike - it interfered with Chou's and my healing!"

"Do it!" Dr. Guitterez ordered me.

"I don't have it with me!" I cried. "It's in Kirby!"

Dr. Guitterez looked at Banned Aids and Jericho. "Can you guys keep her stable long enough to get over to Doyle?"

Both Jericho and Banned Aids winced as they looked at her. "Maybe," Jericho said uneasily.

"Get the bars cut off and transport her with them in." The doctor looked at Banned Aids. "Try to stop her regeneration!"

I'd never heard so much doubt and fear in Kelly's voice; normally, he was the epitome of calm. "I ... I don't know how!" he sounded like he was almost in tears. "I don't know if I can."

"You have to try it! Try to use your power in reverse to suppress her natural healing. Jericho, watch her vitals!" She didn't even look up at me. "Get your spike and meet us in Doyle! STAT!"

I didn't wait, but dashed as fast as I could out of the arena, while behind me, the team was working carefully to cut the re-bars from the concrete to free Hippy, doing their best to not disturb her injuries.

I stumbled, weary, to my seat, plopping heavily down beside Evvie. All of my friends - and indeed many students around me - were staring intently at me. I knew the question on everyone's mind. "She's going to be okay." A collective sigh sounded from all in earshot, and a wave of low conversation rippled outward.

"What happened?" Laurie asked.

"Exemplar-6s are almost bulletproof," I replied. "Almost. Her body falling that far impacted harder than a .50 BMG round. One of the re-bars penetrated her heart. If they'd have taken out the bar, she would have bled out before she could regenerate, and if they let the regeneration happen around the bar, it could have cause bad complications. And the other crushed several vertebrae and almost severed her spine."

"What did you do? Couldn't Banned Aids and Jericho and Dr. Tenent handle it?"

I shook my head. "We had to turn off her regeneration until they could get her on a heart machine and surgically repair her heart." I shook my head, sighing heavily. "I ... I deliberately ... contaminated her with the last spike."

"You what?!?" Evvie and Laurie and Naomi screamed all at once.

"I had to stop her regeneration. That was the only way I knew to stop it." I looked at my hand and saw I was shaking. "She's in surgery now," I said, "the old-fashioned kind - at least until they get her heart repaired enough to let her regen take over. Kelly is wiped - it turns out he can use his power to slow healing, but it totally drained him."

"What about you?" Evvie asked, concerned with how tired I looked, which if it was anything like how I felt, had to be bad.

"I ... had to do a couple of spells to slow her bleeding, once they started to take out the re-bar pieces. And I'll have to go back later to purify her to remove the contamination." I looked down, to where the crew was starting to reset the simulator. Notably, the concrete and re-bar construction set pieces were gone. "What did I miss?"

"Ayla fought Tissy," Adrian reported.

"And you missed Generator's final!" Laurie chuckled. "You have got to watch the replays later. It's abso-freakin-lutely hilarious!" It must have been - by the time she finished saying even that simple descriptive sentence, she was nearly in tears from laughing.

"Little girl is insane!" Vasiliy chimed in, shaking his head in disbelief while simultaneously laughing. "Would not want to fight her. Understand why she has UV armband."

"What did she do?" I was more than curious.

"She ...," Evvie started, "she ... and that Kitty Compact of hers ...." Evvie could barely speak, she was giggling so hard. "It flew right ...." I was afraid she wasn't going to be able to breathe through her laughing. "You should have seen the look ...."

"I have so got to get a tape of that!" Naomi chimed in, leaning on Evvie as she, too, was rocked with laughter.

"Yeah!" Evvie agreed, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes and gasping for breath. "I can't wait to see the looks on the faces of the Windy City Guardians when we show that!"

Damn - it must have been good if just thinking about it had them laughing so hard they could hardly speak. I really wasn't bothered by missing it, though, because Hippy had needed my help.

End of Part 2

Comments   

+3 # Domoviye 2015-12-22 04:26
Greasy's got a girlfriend!
What will Peeper do now that his minion is going to be busier?
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+2 # NeoMagus 2015-12-25 08:39
My concern with that is that we've never seen Greasy interested in girls at all, quite the opposite in fact. I'm worried about just how much Tansy messed with his head without him knowing. That's MAJOR psychic ethics violation right there.
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+1 # Domoviye 2015-12-27 23:57
That is a problem. Well lets see Elrod and EE throw Greasy to the angst machine if that's what's called for. It's time Kayda gets some company. ;-)
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0 # Isodecan 2015-12-29 19:05
Looks like Generator will get the Noodle Incident everyone takes about for this set of finals. Cool story, but it did raise some real ethical flags in a couple places. Still, people are people, and although they can change that does take time, its nice to show that.
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0 # DieselDriver 2016-02-15 11:18
Tansy might even think she's doing him a favor and it really could be a favor, but she doesn't understand that the method taints the end results yet. The end does not justify the means. She needs to learn that before she can be fully on the side of Light.
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0 # DieselDriver 2016-02-15 11:16
That is really not fair, hinting at Jade's final but not telling. Jade is my favorite character and knowing what she's done before sets a pretty high bar for the craziness but hey, you guys are good, you can top it...can't you?
Oh and I expect Kayda will get called next, what with their apparent intent to make her learn how to fight while exhausted and concerned about other things. Just like they did with Mule and Fey.
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