The Secret of the Forger's List (Chapter 4)
The Secret of the Forger’s List
A WHATELEY LITERARY CLUB ADVENTURE
By E. E. Nalley
Steps in front of Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Mrs. Carson watched the non-descript van come down Whateley Boulevard from behind the fashion glasses she’d started wearing to be taken seriously in her thirties. It had been an odd day, starting off at one degree above zero Fahrenheit at five when she’d risen to the forty one degrees it was now with gray skies promising rain that matched the Headmistress’ mood. It was a Saturday; most of the students were off campus, which was how she liked things when she was greeting new teachers of this particular persuasion.
The van, a dull brown Dodge whose only adornment was the Seal of the Department of Paranormal Affairs on the driver and passenger doors, the latter of which opened and revealed a large, burly black man wearing a Marine uniform who carried an M-4 rifle in a manner that suggested he was intimately familiar with its operation. “Here we go,” Carson whispered to the two men standing with her.
The Marine, a staff sergeant who was chewing on the butt of a cigar charged the rifle and cautiously opened the double doors in the back of the van. “Out,” he ordered without ceremony as he took a preparatory step backwards and levelled the rifle into the van. A mountain of a man stepped out of the vehicle to a squeak of relief from its leaf springs. He was dressed in an orange jumper that was stamped Federal Inmate across the back and wrapped up in chains fit for mooring a battleship that kept his wrists at his belt and kept his stride to an awkward hobble that only just let him mount the steps of the school. He wore the cocksure grin Mrs. Carson had made a career of wiping off the faces of villains throughout her tenure and mischief danced in his gold flecked hazel eyes.
He was good looking, in a blocky sort of way and his arms bulged in a manner that might have had some worried about the chains being up to their tasks. He made his way up the steps with some difficulty and stopped to apprise the committee that was waiting on him. “Schoolmarms sure got a lot prettier since I dropped out,” he offered in greeting.
“Mind your manners,” growled the Marine which drew a soft gesture from Mrs. Carson.
“It’s quite alright Staff Sergeant, Bardue, is it?”
“Yes ma’am,” Bardue replied. “Oscar Bardue, USMC. Do you take custody of the prisoner, or do I get to haul him off to Ft. Leavenworth?”
“That remains to be seen,” the Headmistress replied casually, drawing the first worried look from the prisoner.
“Hey, the judge said…”
“The Judge,” interrupted Carson in a voice that didn’t need volume to overpower the prisoner’s rant. “Signed off a deal with your District Attorney that depends upon my accepting you. Consider this your job interview and I suggest you impress me or Sergeant Bardue will get what he seems to want, which is your ass in his prison.” She reached out and took the clipboard that Bardue offered. “The gentleman to my left is Franklin Delarose, he’s my chief of Security and he’ll be your keeper until you earn our trust and let you off your leash a bit. To my right is Langley Paulson, the Chair of our Advanced Technologies Department and your prospective boss.”
She looked over the paperwork and detached the MID from the paperclip in the folder and held it up, its bright red boarder catching the sunlight. “Now this, this is who you are, Melvin Donner, AKA Hotrod, super villain, thief, deserter, getaway driver and convicted felon. If you fail to impress me and rapidly Mr. Donner, you’re looking at living the next thirty years of your life in a nine by nine cell. Do we understand each other?”
“Yeah, sure, sweet heart, I already went through this with the D. A. I’m here to teach the kiddies.”
Carson shook her head and slowly removed her glasses which she handed off to Langley. She took a half step down so as to more easily collect a handful of the prison jumper before she lifted the huge man over her head with one arm. “Forgive me, I forgot to introduce myself,” she replied over his startled yell of surprise. “I am Headmistress of Whateley Academy and my name is Elizabeth Carson, but of late some people know me as Lady Astarte, and you, Hotrod, are not the only paranormal on this campus. Don’t ever call me sweet heart again.”
The Detroit tough guy vanished like the morning dew under the rays of a new sun rise. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry; I ain’t looking for no trouble from Lady Astarte!”
She held him for a few moments, their eyes locked before she returned him to Terra Firma, the obvious winner of this dominance contest. “Good. Now, as I don’t care to conduct an interview with someone in a prison jumper and leg chains, Chief Delarose and Sergeant Bardue will escort you to the men’s room where you can make yourself presentable to get on my good side. If you are stupid and try to use this one last chance as an opportunity to escape you will arrive at Fort Leavenworth tired and bruised. If you are smart, this restroom will be the last anyone sees of Hotrod and Melvin Donner can plead for a job that he isn’t entirely qualified for.” She stepped back and accepted the glasses from Langley. “Sergeant Bardue, would you be so kind?”
“Yes ma’am,” the Marine replied as if he witnessed power displays like that every day.
The teacher led the way back into Schuster Hall and indicated the first restroom as she seated herself on the bench to wait. Bardue took Delarose’s nod to indicate he should precede the prisoner into the room and did so, much to the dismay of the sight that greeted his eyes. A young man wearing a JROTC uniform was standing in front of the mirror, practicing snap drawing a pistol and twirling it around his finger before returning it to its holster. The voice that bellowed out from Oscar Bardue’s toes would have made his drills back on Paris Island proud. “At ease, meat head!”
The boy snatched himself into ordered position with a speed that was impressive. “Get your sorry, diaper slick rear over here!” Bardue commanded at the same level of volume. “What is your name Cadet?”
“Sergeant, Cadet Captain Rogers reports as ordered!” the boy squeaked without making eye contact with the enraged enlisted man towering over him.
“You will properly address me as Staff Sergeant Bardue! I am not in the Army!”
“Staff Sergeant, yes Staff Sergeant!”
“Cadet Captain Rogers, what is your malfunction that you are disgracing the uniform of my beloved Marine Corps? Did your mother drop you on that pointed head of yours? Did you not eat enough Ho-hoes before you decided to embarrass the uniform of my Marine Corps by playing with your weapon in, of all places, the head? What excuses do you have for this outrage knuckle dragger?!”
“Staff Sergeant, the Cadet offers no excuse!”
“Did your Detachment Commander not post the Rules of Firearm Safety in the CQ Office?”
“Staff Sergeant, the Rules of Firearm Safety are clearly posted in the CQ Office!”
“Did you read them, knuckle head?”
“Staff Sergeant, the Cadet read and understood the Rules of Firearm Safety!”
“Then sweet shivering Shiva why did my eyes distinctly see a disgrace to the uniform of my beloved Marine Corps playing with his weapon in this head!”
“Staff Sergeant, the Cadet offers no excuse!”
“Present, arms!” Rogers, careful of his every movement removed the pistol, cleared it and held it out. Bardue snatched it away, made sure it was safe and collected a handful of the boy’s ear. “You maggot eating dog meat, were you playing with a live weapon while wearing the uniform of my Beloved Marine Corps?” he bellowed.
“Staff Sergeant, yes Staff Sergeant!”
“Cadet Captain my hairy black backside!” he announced, pulling the boy out of the room by his ear to the bemused smile of Mrs. Carson from her bench. “Now, you listen to me, Cadet Private!” he commanded in considerably less volume, but without a lick of reduction in force. “You will march your coddled backside directly to the CQ’s office and you will report in full what I have witnessed and you will turn in your Cadet Rank, do you understand me, Cadet Private?”
“Staff Sergeant, yes Staff Sergeant!”
“And you can further tell the CQ he or she can pick up your weapon from the Headmistress if and when they feel you’re able to safely to carry something other than your swinging cod. MOVE.” Roberts took off like a shot, fleeing Schuster Hall at a clip only an Exemplar can keep up for any length of time. Bardue watched him go for a moment before carefully surrendering the pistol he’d confiscated. “My apologies for stepping over myself, ma’am, there’s some things a man just can’t let pass.”
“Staff Sergeant Bardue, would you like a job?” Carson asked with a smile.
“Uncle Sam owns me for a few more years, ma’am,” he replied. “But I might come see you when I retire. This looks like it could be my kind of place.”
“Do that,” she replied with a broader smile. “The job will be waiting.”
The School House Restaurant, Dunn Hall, Whateley Academy
Like most of the student body, Elaine dreaded the breakfast she was headed to in the much smaller eating space in Dunn Hall. While The School House worked for quiet little noshes and first dates outside of weekend passes, it hadn’t been up to the challenge of providing the school three squares a day for quite some time. That was why the Crystal Hall had been built. It was obvious the kitchen staff wasn’t thrilled with the conversion either as their hearts were distinctly not in the creations they were putting out; the hot food seldom was, the cold was lukewarm and forget about special ordered anything for the duration.
As it was, as Loophole walked the paths between Whitman and Dunn Hall, there was a part of her that was calculating that her car could get her to the McDonald’s in Berlin and back on campus with thirty minutes to spare before the first period bell. It was a thought that could get her in nine different kinds of trouble, both with the school and whatever cops happened to be between the school and Berlin, but it did keep her warm as she walked and visions of Egg McMuffins danced in her head.
The School House Restaurant’s size forced the school to eat in shifts and whoever had made them didn’t seem to care who was friends with who. Kodiak’s decree about everybody getting along in the tight conditions had kept tempers from flaring so far, but it seemed to the elder Nalley it was only a matter of time before a serious fight broke out. As it was, none of the other Lit Chix ate with her schedule so she was alone when she arrived, just as Team Kimba was leaving. “Loophole!” shouted Phase as the young would be mogul caught sight of her. “I want a word with you, please.”
The courtesy was an afterthought, there was nothing but command in the statement and, as the team began to encircle the young inventress, what little bit of courtesy the word had provided vanished. Elaine’s hand itched to feel the comforting weight of the pistol that rode in the small of her back, but the rational part of her mind told her it was a false comfort; only her armor would even out a fight between her and all of Team Kimba, and that only in letting her run. So she swallowed her fear and removed her phone from its carrier on her belt as casually as she could. “What can Ah do for ya’ll, Phase?” she asked as her thumb unlocked the iPhone and hovered over the emergency button.
“I thought we were past the kind of sick practical jokes you Alpha’s delight in,” Phase snapped, crossing his arms over his breasts and setting his hips subconsciously in a very feminine pose.
“’You Alpha’s’,” Elaine repeated softly, taking a careful measure of the freshmen that surrounded her. “Forgive me, Ayla, Ah rather thought you and Ah had gotten to be friends.”
Hank noted that the red headed gadgeteer had palmed something and, having tried to stay abreast of what all the other students were capable of quickly realized just how aggressively his team had placed themselves. <(Lancer) Fey, what do you read off Loophole?>
The young sorceress caught his eye, then directed her attention at her fellow red head. <(Fey) She’s terrified. Ayla tone it down some…>
Goodkind’s face darkened. <(Phase) Shut up.> “Friends?” she demanded softly. “Do friends pull the kind of pranks you did?” A giggle ran through the other members of Team Kimba that raised the hackles on the back of Elaine’s neck.
“Ah haven’t pulled any pranks on anybody this month with the exception of Tansy,” Elaine replied evenly. “So, perhaps ya’ll can fill me in on what happened so maybe Ah can clear up whatever has ya’ll in such a tizzy.”
“So, you’re saying you didn’t send your baby brother to hit on me?” the other demanded.
Elaine blinked in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“Your baby brother, Stronghold,” growled Phase over the guffaws coming from Chaka. “He came up to me yesterday and laid on the prince charming act! He even offered me a rose!”
“Ah know who mah baby brother is, Ayla and he’s not interested in you, he’s got the hots for Mega Girl!” Elaine replied. “Ah sent him to you to find out what Megs likes and what’s more Ah warned him to be on his best behavior!”
“Oh he was very polite,” interjected Chaka. “I thought he was channeling Stalwart the way he was laying on the prose! Even after Miss Moneybags there offered to show your bro Big Alya and the Twins he didn’t even raise his voice.”
“You flashed my brother?” demanded Elaine.
“He was hitting on me!” shouted Ayla.
“He didn’t know you were alive until Ah told him about you and he wants to have kids with Mega-Girl!” the red head yelled back. “The only reason he went to you was for intel on Marty!”
Ayla took a step back in surprise. “Marty?” she demanded. “But he kept saying he wanted to take me out to dinner…”
Elaine rolled her eyes. “Ah told him you were a foodie and that you’d want payment for the info, seeing as you’re setting yourself up to take Zenith’s place as Poe’s fixer after she graduates, Ah figured you’d appreciate a meal that didn’t come from this place! But it wasn’t romantic; it was payment for services rendered. Or, evidently not rendered as the case may be!”
Goodkind was silent and his eyes drifted as the conversation replayed itself in his mind. Now, with a more critical eye his photographic memory let his re-hear the conversation with his fears and bias affecting what he heard. Finally he looked up, a contrite expression on his face. “I seem to owe you both an apology,” he admitted finally. “I guess I was letting my own issues project on what he was saying. In my defense, if he hadn’t employed such convoluted language…”
Elaine nodded. “It’s a Southern thing,” she admitted. “For what it’s worth Ah’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”
Ayla nodded softly. “I’ll send him an email on what I know about Marty. No charge for the confusion.”
“Ah let him know,” Loophole replied. “And, Ayles, in your shell-like ear,” and Elaine leaned forward and dropped her voice to a whisper so it wouldn’t carry. “You’ll note mah phone is in mah hand. Ah’d appreciate it if, in the future you wouldn’t come on quite so strong. There’s folk on this campus that don’t take kindly to being surrounded and grilled. Might save ya’ll a bit of detention in the future?”
Goodkind looked at the situation with a more critical eye and blanched. “Sorry,” she muttered and stepped aside so Elaine could enter Dunn Hall.
Loophole returned her phone to its carrier. “Think nothing of it,” she returned as she entered the building, muttering “freshmen,” under her breath.
General Instruction Classroom 106, Shuster Hall, Whateley Academy
“History is not a dry collection of dates and places of battles,” Dr. Baker intoned enthusiastically from his frantic scribbling on the black board at the head of the classroom. “Not a list of who got elected to what office in which order; history my children is a story. Not just any story, either, it’s the story; the story of who you are and where you come from and, if you’re very clever, the story of how you fit into this world!”
Joshua Baker, Ph.D. placed the chalk back into the tray and turned back to face his class. His thin frame was encased in his trademark three piece suit, the reading glasses somewhat askew from his abrupt movement that a white gloved hand casually returned to their place. In front of him, his crystal blue eyes took in a small crowd of exceptional children, freshmen mostly, making an exceptional effort to stay awake. “Mr. Tupolo, what would you say was the effect of Miss Champion on American Civil Rights?”
Mechano-Man jerked upright and forced his eyes to be more alert. “Uh, what does one have to do with the other, Dr. B?”
Baker sighed and pushed his thin grey hair back into place. “Had you been listening, Mr. Tupolo, you might have heard me inform the class that our Head Mistress was instrumental in passing the Side Kick Endangerment Act of 1964. Mr. Nalley,” he continued, watching another student jerk upright. “Perhaps you can tell us what the campaign of All American has had on you?”
“My grandmother blames him for splitting the Republican vote in ’64 with Goldwater and letting Johnson get elected,” the younger Nalley replied to a chorus of hastily suppressed chuckles from the class.
Dr. Baker smirked for a moment. “Your grandmother is a very astute woman. However as she isn’t taking this class and you are, I’d advise you to pay closer attention. All American may have cost Senator Goldwater the election, but it was his running and losing that prompted President Johnson into signing the Mutant Identification Act which paved the way to this,” he declared, removing his own MID from a pocket and brandishing it to the class. “The same scarlet letter that every one of you possess; we, my children have shaped Modern America in a way very few of you grasp. We are history; history in the making. Now, who can tell me what these two events have in common?”
Steve Nalley ducked down a bit so as to not be so conspicuous, yet still look like he was paying attention. Despite being ‘invulnerable’ the tie the school’s uniform included chafed at his neck. He’d picked Modern America and the Mutant Genesis as his history class in desperate hopes that there’d be something interesting in it. Thus far, his hopes had been cruelly dashed as this seemed as boring as every other history class he’d ever attended, despite the obvious enthusiasm the instructor had for the subject. He probably should have known better than to schedule the class after lunch.
His laptop screen, open in front of him obstinately to take notes on, blinked, and a new icon appeared, letting him know he had a new email waiting. As casually as he could, lest he be put on the spot again and humiliated in front of the class for not paying attention, he called up his email client and was mystified to find the new mail was from Ayla Goodkind and enigmatically entitled No charge.
Intrigued, he opened the mail to find a excel spreadsheet, several movie files and number of photographs. The spreadsheet was a graph broken into four columns labeled Favorites, Likes, Dislikes and Hates. Then a list ran down the side of everything from TV shows to colors, all ranked on a numeric scale from one to ten that slid across the columns. There were hyperlinks on some of the items to the various other files, evidently as source citations. “Jackpot,” Stronghold whispered.
Devisor Lab, Vehicle, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
“Dr. Clairmont said you wanted to see me, Mr. Donner?”
Melvin Donner took in the tall, shapely girl that had walked up to him, hall pass in hand. He nodded silently, one part of his mind on the hallway out side his primary office, keeping an eye on the comings and goings of the students heading to class like the other teachers were just then while holding up a hand to indicate he wanted her wait. “I did indeed, Doc,” he rumbled, pausing to give a stern look to a pair of exemplar boys whose scuffling match might escalate into something more.
Both boys suddenly remembered they had classes to get to and departed in opposite directions.
“Are you enjoying Theoretical Concepts of Supraluminal Drives?” he asked casually as he watched the two boys depart before turning back to one of his favorite students. Elaine had truly blossomed this year and he couldn’t help but smile in remembrance of the tall, awkward tomboy that had so hesitantly arrived in his shop a year and a half ago. That memory had very little to do with the shapely pin up in the too hot for teacher school uniform that was peering over the top of her glasses up at him.
“What’s not to like?” she said with a broad smile. “Dr. Clairmont is a great teacher, well not as hands on as ya’ll, but he’s got some really interesting ideas. He’s a might slow at trying practical stuff though.”
Donner contained a chuckle at her off beat sense of humor. “Given his subject matter, that doesn’t surprise me,” he said, nodding a hello at the diminutive martial arts instructor that was arriving just as the warning bell sounded. “Tatsuo-kun.”
“Melvin, Nalley-san,” Ito replied as the red head took a hesitant step further away from him. “You need not fear sudden attack from me; you have studiously avoided all of my classes this semester.”
“All the same, Ito-Sensei, some lessons you don’t get over so quick.”
“That my instruction has lingered with you is the treasure of every teacher,” he said with a slight nod. He paused, his mind a year previous before he remarked casually, “Perhaps you will take another of my classes in the spring to refine your excellent reflexes into skill.”
“Ah really am sorry about your eye, sir,” she said with as much sincerity as she could while staying out of arms reach. Donner couldn’t quite keep in a deep chuckle at that, but Ito merely smiled his serene smile.
“What happens in the training circle stays there, Nalley-san. Isn’t that right, Melvin?”
Elaine’s eyes darted between the two, picking up on the fact that something was being left unsaid as her shop teacher’s mirth quickly dried up. “Absolutely,” he affirmed.
“I image the two of you will want to talk,” Ito said after a long moment. “I will get the class started on our first practical exercises.”
“Arrigato, Ito-Sensei,” Donner rumbled over the tardy bell as he led Elaine back through the shop to his office at the back. “Have a seat,” he offered, indicating one of the over stuffed, but functional leather chairs that faced the desk. “Coffee?”
“Cream and sugar and lots of both, please,” she replied as she smoothed out her skirt and took in the office. His office had always been something of a contradiction. There were photos of past students and Gearheads from their time in school, usually next to some framed newspaper clipping of where they were now. On the wall were promotional posters from the Big Three and the major parts suppliers, but there were very few personal effects in this deeply personal space.
“Elaine,” he started while presenting her mug of steaming java. Like many things in the office the porcelain had been stained with engine grease from dirty hands using it so many times that the stains had become permanent, even though the cup was probably sterile it was so clean. She found it probably added to the flavor of what was likely the best coffee on the campus. “I know that this will be a little awkward as I’m your student advisor, but I’d like for us to have this talk as friends; not as teacher and student, but Mel and Doc, ok?”
“Sure thing, Mr. Donner,” she said around a sip of the hot beverage that immediately brought a frown to his face and he shook his head as he settled into the chair next to her.
“No, Doc, not Mr. Anything. For once, I want you to put those Southern Manners on hold, ok?”
“Ah’ll try,” she replied with a sheepish grin. It was odd that he hadn’t sat behind his desk. While they’d always had an easy kind of friendship, due mostly to his relaxed teaching style, this was somewhat out of character. Still there was nothing for it but to swallow years of manners training and try to find out what was at the heart of this odd conversation. “So, why am Ah here, Mel?”
He smiled and pointed across the office at the picture of last year’s Gearhead club. “What a difference a year makes, eh?”
“Ah’m sure Ah don’t know what you mean,” she replied, not wanting to be reminded of her disastrous freshman year.
He snorted his derision around a gulp of coffee. “Come on, Doc, you know exactly what I mean. This has been a great year for you. You’ve become quite a king maker, and you’ve caught a number of people’s eyes. You’ve truly blossomed and that I had a hand in it is what every teacher hopes for.”
“Well, a lot of things have happened,” she admitted softly. “But Ah was always happiest in here last year. You don’t know how relieved Ah was when Ah found out you were assigned as mah Student Advisor.”
“You weren’t assigned to me,” he told her with a wink at her curious look. “I picked you. Oh, Ms. Merenis wanted you, but I convinced Langley you and I were a better fit.”
“You picked me?”
He smiled a private smile. “Being a student’s advisor is a big deal, Doc. We’re not just here to help guide your career path and your scholastic endeavors. We’re really kind of the other half of a surrogate parent. Your house mother is there for the emotional and the day to day side of things. The advisor’s role is to be the wisdom, the foresight and, in a few notable occasions, the ambition to show you just how much the world has to offer and how to get it. That’s far too big a role for some over worked guidance councillor to deal with twice a semester. So, here at the Big W we teachers take on the role, picking the students we think we have the best chance of bonding with, the ones we can really reach.”
After a long moment Elaine remembered to close her mouth. “Why isn’t that in the hand book?”
“You don’t think we’d advertise that, do you? Can you imagine what, say, Falcon would have to say if his precious daughter had drawn an ex-super villain as her advisor?”
“Neutrality only goes so far,” she snorted in derision as she took a long sip of coffee and realized that her favorite teacher wasn’t saying anything. “Mr. Donner, what are you telling me? That you…?”
“Once upon a time,” he admitted with a rueful shake of his head. “I arrived here in a prison jump suit and,” he turned and pointed at an engine hoist in the corner draped in the heavy chains that attached the swing arm to the motor being pulled. “Those chains,” he admitted with a sigh. “I keep them there because I don’t want to forget just how close I came to throwing my life away.” He polished off his coffee and collected her mug for a refill. “That and they’re actually fairly high quality and who am I to let something go to waste?”
“You’re serious,” she whispered.
“Do I have to show you my MID?” he asked as he poured the coffee. “I went by Hotrod back then. I was a bank robber, a get away driver, and a thug if the occasion arose and the price was right. It’s all in the school’s database, go look for your self.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
He poured a generous dollop of milk into her cup before returning the carton to the mini-fridge the coffee pot sat on. “Because I want you to take what I’m about to tell you to heart. That I’m not some ancient adult talking out of his ass while blowing smoke up yours.” He stirred the hot liquid slowly until it took on the color of molten caramel. “I have first hand experience with what we’re going to talk about, experience I want you to take advantage of and maybe not make some of the mistakes I did.”
“Mr. Donner, Ah have no intention of leaving this school and running around in mah underwear either fighting or causing crimes.”
He smiled as he returned and presented her with her cup. “It’s Mel,” he scolded her softly. “And what makes you think I want to talk about vocations? Doc, you have a very bright future ahead of you. I have no doubt someday there’ll be a clipping next to your picture on my wall talking about how you brought us to Mars, or broke the speed of light, or some other amazement that was regulated to bad sci-fi in my day.”
She took a sip and frowned while shaking her head. “Then, what are we talking about?”
Melvin smiled a crooked smile. “What would you like to talk about?” Her movement’s slowed to a near stop as her eyes began to twitch back and forth in the tell-tale way that let him know she was using her powers to try and figure out what was going on. He’d expected this, it was, and he’d learned long ago, her first reaction to a problem, which was why he’d explained the system to her to give her a basis to start from.
“You and Mrs. Savage were talking about me,” she said softly.
“Of course,” he replied before taking another sip of the coffee. “As I said, we’re two halves of a surrogate parent. She tells me about how you’re doing in Whitman and what’s going on in your life just now and I fill her in on your triumphs and your failures academically. We talk a couple of times a week.”
“If this isn’t about mah schooling, or career, then…” she paused and her eyes snapped to his with laser like focus. “There’s no point in telling me about your past unless it figures into the conversation.” Her features hardened into an angry frown. “Which can only mean this must be about Kodiak.”
“Head of the class,” he said lifting his mug in toast. “You’ve been holding a torch for him for a while now. I suppose I can see the attraction, big, rugged bad boy like that. Of course, bad boys are that way for a reason.”
“Mr. Donn…Mel, Ah appreciate your concern but Ah have no desire to discuss mah personal life with you.”
“Well,” the teacher said shaking his head slowly. “This will make for an awkward hour.”
“An hour?” she protested.
He took a long sip of coffee. “Who knows, we may be at this all day.”
“You can’t…!” she started but his askance look cut off that line of protest. “Oh, right, Section Two, Regulation Twenty Seven.”
“’The Student Advisor shall exercise broad discretion as concerning counselling of the students assigned to them and as such a hall pass from the SA shall excuse any tardy or absence without penalty to the student,’” he quoted with a grin. “You’re not the only one with a copy of the Student Handbook and a photographic memory, Doc.”
She angrily crossed her arms under her ample bosom and said nothing. For a moment, her teacher had to remind himself firmly of her age and his role in her life before he began again. “We’re not stupid, Doc. All of a sudden when you get back from Thanksgiving you decide to go on the pill. Then of course there’s your huge blow up with Kody in the Crystal Hall two weeks ago. Which, I note you’ve since patched up seeing as the two of you went into Berlin last Saturday.”
“You’ve been spying on me!” she declared, aghast.
“Doc, you had that fight in front of the entire school,” he reminded her. “It couldn’t have been more public if you’d broadcast it on WARS.”
“And is mah medical file broadcast too?”
Melvin bit back an urge to shout at her to shut up and listen and sighed to keep his own temper firmly on its leash. “Elaine, a girl only has one reason to go on the pill at this school. It’s because she’s thinking about becoming sexually active.”
She reared back as if the teacher had struck her and actually began to stutter. “Ah…Ah…Ah wouldn’t think of such a thing! Ah’d get expelled…!”
“Oh come on, Elaine!” he snapped as he shot to his feet. Some of the coffee sloshed out of the cup and burned his hand. He bit back a fusillade of profanity as he went over to the kitchenette he’d set up in his office for a paper towel. “We were all teenagers once. We all know this and that is going on at this school.”
“But, the rulebook…”
“It’s not always about rules, girl!” he told her sharply. He sighed and finished cleaning the remnants of his accident off his cup. “Yes, Doc, you’re right, both the Headmistress, your tour guide your freshman year and the Student Handbook say that having sex on the campus is an expulsion offense. Now, do you honestly think that stopped even one couple from doing what comes naturally?”
“No,” she admitted sullenly.
“And how many of those do you think got expelled?”
“You’ve made your point,” she growled. “If what they really wanted to say was be discreet and don’t get caught why the hell didn’t they say so?”
He turned from throwing away the paper towel and put his hands on his hips. “Tell me I don’t actually have to explain that to a girl whose documented IQ is 206?” She frowned again and looked away. Melvin shook his own head and wondered how else he could put his foot in his mouth during this conversation. He was getting angry with himself because he knew how important this was and that anger was clouding his better judgment.
Donner forced himself to be conscious of his breathing and employed some of the techniques that Tatsuo had taught him. Once more in control he topped off his coffee and rejoined her. “Why am Ah here?” she asked softly. “Why are we having this conversation?”
“Doc, I’m not here to fill your ear with a load of crap about rules, or making wise choices or wasting your potential or any of that crap. You got on the pill; that tells me you’re trying to be responsible. Now, let me clue you in on something about bad boys. Most bad boys aren’t a project, honey; they’re not fixer-uppers. They won’t fall for the right girl and mystically be cured of their faults while keeping that cool edginess. And, sadly, most of them need a cop with a gun and the threat of a jail sentence hanging over their heads to wake up and figure out which way the world spins. I know because I was one and that’s what it took. More to the point, Trish and I would rather chew ground glass than see you hurt.”
“You think Ah’m trying to change Kody?” she asked quietly.
“I can only go by what I see,” he replied. “And, I must say, you’ve done wonders. But even if he wants to change, you’re picking a long, tough road.”
She turned back and leveled a calculating gaze at him over the top of her glasses. “What if Ah just am using the campus Casanova for the one thing he’s good at?” Her frank statement rattled Melvin, it was a tone he’d never heard her use before. He was thankful had had a strong poker face so he was certain she hadn’t seen how off guard her casually evil remark had caught him.
“You are many things, my dear,” he told her with a smile. “And you have many, many talents, but I don’t think Bitch Queen is one of them.”
She sighed and shook her head. “You got anything stronger in that fridge than milk? Ah find Ah could use an aperitif just now.”
“Bit early in that day for that isn’t it?” he chided her. “Not to mention a bit early in your life?”
“Ah am a deep south red neck,” she told him proudly. “Ah pinched mah first beer from mah dad when Ah was twelve.”
He thought it over for a long moment before he stood and turned the blinds so that the other students outside couldn’t see into the office on his way to the refrigerator.
Administrative Offices, Shuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Mrs. Carstairs typed diligently at her desk, one eye drawn to the clock on the wall as the final tardy bell rang. In mere moments she would be frantically busy and, even as she readied herself for the onslaught, the intercom buzzed. “Administration,” she greeted, one hand already calling up the spread sheet she was building as the intercom told her which building and class was calling.
“Good afternoon Mrs. Carstairs,” came the voice of Randal Marley from the speaker. “I have one absentee for you, Renae Greist.”
“Thank you, Mr. Marley,” she replied as she closed the circuit and frowned at her spread sheet. As she entered the name for the fourth time, the student’s name went red, demanding further action from her. She called up the daily email from Doyle Medical for the students who had reported for sick call and didn’t find Renae’s name on it. Her hand danced over the intercom and completed a circuit.
“Doyle Medical Center, ER, this is Nurse McCoy.”
“Sally, it’s Debbie over in administration. Has Renae Greist been admitted today?”
“Let me check, Debbie,” the Nurse replied over the sounds of tapping on a keyboard. “No, I don’t show her being admitted, Debbie. And we don’t have anybody in the ER right now.”
“Thanks Sally.” Carstairs fingers continued their dance on the old intercom system, completing a new connection.
“Security, Officer Grimes.”
“Brad, it’s Debbie,” she greeted. “I have a four period absent student who hasn’t been admitted to Doyle.”
“Ah, and what is the name of our truancy?” he replied with a chuckle.
Security Headquarters, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Bradley Grimes frowned as the voice on the intercom gave him the name of a truant student. He quickly called up his program which told him what his memory already suspected. “She’s not one of our frequent flyers,” he told her as his thumb print gave him access to a much more secure computer. Every student ID had an RFID tag that was imbedded into it. Throughout the campus was a network of passive RFID receivers. They were, of course, next to every cash register on the campus when a student wanted to buy something it was deducted from their account with the Register’s Office.
This kept the amount of cash theft on the campus small as most of the kids never carried currency unless they were on their way off the campus. Unknown to the students, however, the RFID receivers were in far more places than just the cash registers. Every doorway into or out of a Hall or Cottage had one, as well as every entrance or exit from the extensive tunnel system, and every registered classroom or lab within it. It went without saying they also covered every sensitive vault or area on the campus like the ranges, main gate and every other fence post in the surrounding fence. While it wasn’t perfect, when needed Security had a pretty good idea where everybody on the campus was.
After several tense moments of inputting passwords and pin codes from a device on his key ring that randomly generated a number every time he had to access this system, Bradley found that Renae’s ID had entered her dorm room at 9:28 the previous evening and hadn’t left. “Debbie, I’ve got her ID in her dorm. One sec while I call over Whitman.” He muted the intercom and picked up the phone and quickly dialed the extension of the phone in the Cottage Mother’s residence.
“Trish? It’s Brad Grimes in security. Is Renae Greist in her room?”
“Let me look, but I’m sure I saw her leave with a group of others this morning in the tunnels headed for breakfast.” The line was quiet for several minutes as the Security Officer imagined the shapely form of the most attractive of the House Parents going upstairs and knocking on a door.
The monitor he was still logged into showed an override event as Mrs. Savage’s ID opened the door. “She’s not here, Brad,” her voice told him. “But she can’t mean to go far, her purse is here.”
“Thanks Trish, I’ll get back to you,” he told her as he pegged the release button and quickly dialed another extension.
“Security, Delarose,” a gruff voice greeted.
“Chief, it’s Brad. I have a potential kidnap security breech.”
“Renae Greist. Four periods absent, confirmed not in Doyle, ID and purse still in dorm room.”
“Put out a BOLO to the active platoons and go to alert one.”
“Roger that, Chief,” he replied as the wheels on his chair got him over to the radio base station. “All units, all units, go to alert one, I say again, go to alert one. Be on the look out for truant student, Greist, Renae, MID uploaded to your hand helds. Student may be in need of assistance. Stand by for further instructions.”
Security Chief’s Office, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Louis? As many times as he’d done it, Delarose never got used to the idea of thinking to get someone’s attention. No sooner had he thought the name, a slightly transparent man in a magnificent suit appeared in his office, a warm smile of greeting across his swarthy Latino face.
“Franklin,” the apparition greeted. “What can I do for you this fine afternoon?”
The Chief of Security frowned. “Why do you ask questions to which you already know the answer?”
“For the same reasons I don’t complete people’s sentences for them. It’s rude,” he replied evenly. “People don’t like the idea that their deepest thoughts and secrets might not be as secure in their minds as they think they should be. However, we have a much bigger problem. I cannot sense Miss Greist anywhere on the campus. Nor did I pick up anyone who might have taken her. The only non-faculty on the campus today was Edger Tomlin, our normal delivery driver from Better Brands with our normal Wednesday food delivery.”
“People don’t just disappear, Louis,” Franklin declared.
“True. I’ll get with Miss Grimes and see if we can’t combine our efforts. We know no one came on campus and shortly I’ll know if she left.”
Delarose nodded as the apparition faded and he steeled himself for making his least favorite kind of phone call. “Liz?” he greeted as the line connected. “It’s Franklin. We’ve got a Code One.”
General Classroom 206, Shuster Hall, Whateley Academy
“What I want each of you to take away from this,” Mr. Lord was saying as Elaine handed out the bound study guide he’d prepared for the back half of the class. “Is that what we’re reading in The Prince is, for the most part, a job application. Machiavelli is applying for the job of chief council to Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici, a member of one the ancient ruling families of Machiavelli’s native Florence. Machiavelli had grown up after the Medicis had been expelled from Florence, but Lorenzo and the rest of the Medicis had wormed their way back into Florence right as Nick is being banished.”
The teacher hitched a buttock onto the corner of his desk and began to gesture with his copy of the treatise. “So, you’ve been banished, in exile, and the one thing your really good at is being a bureaucrat in a medieval society. Nick wants back in so bad he uses this to show the people who threw him out just what a wily old son of a gun he is and how much better off they’ll be with him on their side. This is the lens you need to read this book through.”
The bell rang, as always interrupting a professional teacher right as they’re warming up to their subject. “Ok, tomorrow!” Lord exclaimed over the bustle of students collecting their things. “Tomorrow we’re going to be looking at the political climate Nick grew up in. Make sure you’ve read up to the notes on page one of the handout and come ready to debate morality!”
Elaine was among the last of the students leaving the classroom as she returned the teacher’s smile of thanks for her work. A vibration in her purse alerted her to an incoming phone call. She struggled with digging the phone of her rather sizable leather bag as she joined the crush of students in the halls making their way from class to class. “Your nickel,” she greeted as she threaded her way through the throng.
“Miss, I’ve intercepted an alert through out the school’s system.”
“What sort of alert, Carmen?”
“Miss Greist is missing,” the computer replied without emotion. “She hasn’t been to any of her classes and her ID is still in her room from this morning. Security has been alerted and is treating her disappearance as a possible kidnapping of a student.”
“Text the others to meet me in the club house,” she instructed. “And start doing everything you can to try and track her movements.”
“Already in progress, Miss,” Carmen said with what might have been mistaken as a resigned sigh. “Might one inquire as to how you intent to get a leave from class during an alert?”
“Ah have mah ways,” the red head purred as she stepped up her pace to the labs. Any further complaints from the machine were cut off as Elaine returned the phone to her purse and needlessly ran through out the tunnels to pick up her heart rate and raise her temperature. Far enough from the class that she wouldn’t be inadvertently seen building a basis for a lie she slowed to a walk that was further reduced to pained limp as she covered the last few dozen yards to the class.
Mr. Paulson was in the hallway, keeping an eye on the comings and goings of the students and a single look brought him over quickly with concern on his face. “Miss Nalley, are you alright?”
“Ah’m sorry Mr. Paulson,” she began, making a bit of a show of taking the arm he offered for support. “This month has just been really hard on me.”
“Your temperature is elevated,” he remarked, needlessly laying a hand on her forehead. “You’re almost running a fever and you’re sweating. Are you coming down with something?”
“Nothing but the same thing every other woman on the planet has to deal with,” she said with a grimace and a hand over her stomach. Comprehension lit behind the teacher’s eyes.
“Oh, I see. Do you need to go to Doyle Medical?” Elaine shook her head.
“No, it’s not that bad, but if ya’ll wouldn’t mind Ah’d like a hall pass to go back to mah dorm and lay down for a bit.”
“Certainly,” the teacher acquiesced, as he quickly made his way to his desk and tapped out the hall pass. “I hope you’ll be feeling better tomorrow.”
“Yes sir,” she replied while keeping a grin off her face. “Ah’m sure Ah will be.”
Corridors outside Miss Grime’s Office, Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Franklin Delarose had to trot to keep up with the pace Mrs. Carson was setting as she made her way to Miss Grimes’ Office. It was one of the heroine’s quirks that when she wore her flowing costume she tended to walk with more purpose and authority. Normally she was more aware of the strides her remarkably long legs could take and paced herself according to who was walking with her. But just now, one of her kids was in danger and nothing and no one would stand in the way of her keeping them all safe. “Do we know how this happened?” she demanded over her shoulder as she smoothed out the layer of spirit gum on her domino mask and got it settled on her brow.
“We don’t actually know that something has happened yet, ma’am,” Franklin replied from his effort at keeping up. “Louis is with Elyzia now and they’re preparing a seek spell to try and boost Louis’s range as well.”
“And none of the wards went off?”
“As far as we know, Miss Greist is still on the campus some where,” the Security Chief declared after the most cursory of knocks on the door of their destination and opened it. Eliza Grimes was drawing out a complicated looking diagram on the floor of her workspace to the annoyance of her Student Assistant, Tansy Walcutt who was holding a large container of pulverized rock salt the instructor was using to create the diagram.
The ghostly image of Louis Geintz was floating in the lotus position in a corner out of the way, index fingers to his temples and eyes closed in the classic look of a mentalist pushing his powers to their limits. Lady Astarte’s cornflower blue eyes took in all this from behind her mask and immediately took charge. “How are we doing, Elyzia?”
“Nearly there,” the other replied from her sprinkling. “Of course it would help if I had something important to the girl.”
“We went by her dorm,” Astarte declared reaching behind her and producing a pillow from somewhere. “Her roommate tells me she sleeps with a teddy bear, but it was missing. She did bring this pillow from home though.”
“It’ll do,” Grimes assured her and carefully placed the pillow in the center of the diagram. “You can go Tansy,” she ordered, dusting off her hands and taking the container from the much put upon student.
As Miss Grimes was taking the container back to her storage cabinet, Walcutt surveyed the scene and made a decision. “Is…is there anything else I can do to help?”
“No, Tansy,” Lady Astarte told her evenly with a piercing gaze. “But thank you for asking.”
“Yes ma’am,” the student replied and made her exit. Elisabeth watched her go for a moment before turning to her Mystic Arts teacher.
“How is she doing?”
“I’d rather have an SA who wasn’t on a punishment detail, but I think I can salvage her,” the teacher said after a long moment. “Actually, I rather thought she’d made some progress coming out of her selfish shell just now. Perhaps your stint of In School Suspension woke her up.”
“I hope so,” the Head Mistress said mostly to herself. “Back to the business at hand, Elyzia, what do you need from me?”
“If you can focus some essence through the north sigil and balance it for me, that would be a great help,” she said as she carefully entered the diagram without disturbing it and sat down, taking the pillow into her lap. “Now,” she breathed as she got comfortable. “Let’s get started.”
Lit Chix Club House, Tunnels below Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
“Ah hate this,” growled Elaine from her pacing with the other member’s of her club that weren’t mages. Foxfire and Lifeline sat in a circle the two had drawn in the center of the clubhouse in a space the other’s had cleared for them. They were both chanting softly in a language that wasn’t spoken anywhere on earth by normal people, a small teddy bear clasped between them. “It seems like half the time of this mumbo jumbo is just spent sitting around waiting.”
“We know,” drawled Simon from the chair she was sprawled across, her extraordinarily long legs akimbo across the arm rests. “But as your vaunted science hasn’t supplied us with Renae’s whereabouts, this is what we’re left with.”
“Nothing from the Web Street Irregulars?” asked Dee softly in an attempt to keep the conversation civil as she fretted with her fingers. Arachne shook her head.
“Trudy saw her enter the tunnel this morning, but none of them have seen her leave,” she said. “You have to remember they don’t think in terms of now, or later, or earlier.”
“You name the spiders?” asked Babs going even paler than normal for a moment.
Simone grinned a feral smile. “What makes you think they don’t name themselves?”
“TMI,” muttered Elaine from her pacing.
“What are we going to do if somebody took Renae?” asked Murphy softly from amusing herself by flicking a deck of cards one at a time into an over turned hat some distance away.
“We get her back,” announced Babs firmly.
“And we hurt whoever took her,” declared Elaine and Simone at the same time. The two looked at each other for a moment, somewhat shocked at being on the same side, before a sly grin broke out on each of their faces and they bumped fists in agreement.
“Quiet,” ordered Stella as she stood abruptly and her form shifted into her wolf form. “Becky is trying to communicate with us.” A hush fell over the girls as the wolf padded close to the circle and cocked her head to one side as if listening hard. “The teachers are trying a seek spell of their own and that may let them sense ours,” Lupine told the others. “But that’s not the point, there’s something draining some of the essence of the spell very close to us. Elaine, Becky says she needs every sensing toy you’ve got to try and track them down and stop interfering with the spell.”
“Draining essence?” demanded Elaine as she fetched the helmet to the armor she was already wearing. “Three guesses who that could be, huh?”
“Does my answer have to be in the form of a question?” demanded Murphy as she stood and picked up her hockey stick from beside the door. “Which direction is the drain coming from, Stella?”
“Down the hall,” the wolf said pointing with her nose. “That way.”
The redhead jerked her long hair into a bun and pulled the helmet on, latching it into place as her long legs took her quickly down the hall, a small crowd of her friends behind her. “Vision to enhanced mode,” she ordered. The walls around her went translucent as Carmen obeyed her command. Ahead, she saw an odd sight of three skeletons crouched around a glowing sphere of energy as the dense calcium of the girls bones reflected the scanner beams her helmet was radiating best. “Ah thought so,” she announced as she flung the closet door open, startling the Three Little Witches within. “Caught ya!”
All three scrambled to their feet at the sudden intrusion. As they did so, Clover’s foot got tangled up in a mop long since abandoned in the closet and this cost her her balance. “Don’t hurt us..!” she started as she tumbled backwards into Bethany and both girls fell through the somewhat rotten wood the back of the closet was lined with.
To Loophole it looked like the two had fallen out of existence through a black void of nothingness. “What the hell?” she demanded as she reached in and took a firm hand on Palantir’s arm and gently extracted the girl from the closet.
“It was all Bethany’s fault,” squeaked Irene.
“We don’t care whose fault it was right now,” Arachne told the young girl as she took her from Elaine to let the power armored girl enter the closet. “One of our friends is missing and you’re interfering with us looking for her! How would you feel if Bethany or Estelle was missing and someone kept you from looking for them?”
“Where’d the other two go?” demanded Murphy of Elaine as the inventress watched her hand vanish into the void only to come back out again.
“There’s some kind of general dampening field across this hole Clover and Abra made,” Elaine replied. “They fell into it and Ah can’t see past it. Simone, can you attach a line to mah back?”
“Simplicity itself,” the goth girl announced as she let her spirit come up to the fore front. Six new eyes appeared on her face as she reached out and attached a line of spider silk to one of the D rings on the back of the armor. “You sure you want to do this, Loop?”
“Nope, but Ah gotta,” the emotionless faceplate replied. “Got a good grip?” Simon touched the far wall several times to anchor herself to it and nodded. “Here goes,” Loophole declared as she vanished behind the void of impossible darkness. After a long moment Elaine’s head reappeared through the void. “Go get Becky and Mags!” she ordered. “Ah found Renae and it’s…whoops!” she was cut off as her head was suddenly snatched back behind the void.
“Get the others!” snarled Simone as she produced a pair of stilettos from somewhere and dove into the void.
Office of Elyzia Grimes, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Eliza Grimes and Elisabeth Carson sailed through the various planes of existence, their astral forms transparent as they followed a tenuous line of possession from object to owner. Their efforts were hampered by the other magical goings on and the various wards that were cast all over the school to keep prying eyes away and discourage the casually curious. Around the pair of sorceresses, reality bent and shifted in ways that would have cost the sanity of lesser willed individuals.
The trail looped and once more the pair found themselves hovering invisibly over the campus in our own ‘reality’ once more. “This is becoming pointless,” growled Carson in frustration. “We’ll never find her at this rate.”
“Even in the multi-verse wherever she is,” Grimes told her friend in encouragement, “She hasn’t crossed the boundary wards. We’ll…look!” she exclaimed, pointing. The pair’s astral sight followed the tendril below ground into the tunnel system. There it became entwined with another line of possession that was far more spiritually charged. They made out a pair of bright lights of active mages in the process of shutting down a spell whose harmonics were interfering with their own. The two tendrils moved a few dozen feet closer to a bright knot of spiritual energy that shown like a beacon then moved past it to wink out of this plan of existence.
“Those damned kids,” swore Carson and she and Grimes returned to their bodies. In a flash the pair were on their feet and striding toward the closest entrance to the tunnel system. “Louis, collect up Banded-Aides, Jericho and Ophelia and get them over to the tunnel between Dunn Hall and Whitman Cottage with everything they need to treat trauma.”
“On my way,” the mental projection acknowledged as he faded from sight.
“Franklin, have your security people stand down and assure anyone who’s worried the situation is under control,” she ordered as she flew down the steps.
“What about you, Headmistress?” he shouted after her.
“We’ll be fine, see to my orders!”
“Yes ma’am,” the chief grumbled as he turned and headed back to the elevators mumbling curses about never being allowed to actually do his job.
Clubhouse of F. O. E. in the Tunnels between Dunn Hall and Whitman Cottage
“Rebecca, Maggie, come quick!” shouted Dee as she skidded into the club house. Even in her excited state she remembered the cautions the two mages had given when they’d begun their ritual and Dee was careful not to cross the line of the ritual area.
Never the less, a casting of this magnitude wasn’t something that a mage could casually drop. Both girls were groggy and disoriented as they wearily got to their feet and tried to shake off the strain to their systems. “What…what’s going on?” demanded Foxfire as her eyes darted between the frantic freshman and her fox familiar that was hissing and growling at the doorway.
“Loophole, Arachne and Murphy found Renae and the Three Little Witches,” Dee stammered. “They were the ones draining off your spell from down the hall. But when Loophole caught them two of them fell back through the wall into something else and now Elaine’s caught behind it and she’s calling for help and then Simone just rushed in after her and Joanne and Stella sent me to get you because they’re having trouble holding Palantir and…”
“Too many ‘ands’, dear,” Maggie told her with a warm pat on the shoulder as she staggered by. “Come on Beckie, time to go save the day,” she declared as she made her way out the door, using the tunnel wall for support.
“Yippee ki-ay,” growled the raven haired sorceress as she staggered past her snarling familiar. A few dozen yards down the tunnel was a very upset Irene who was in a tug of war with Murphy.
“My friends are in there!” she squealed at the slightly larger girl with the rainbow colored hair.
“What are mine, chopped tuna?” Murphy yelled back. “You’re not…” was a far as she got before Irene reared back and landed a solid kick to the older girl’s shin. “Son of a…” yelped Joanne as she crumpled to the floor, loosing her grip on Palantir in the process. The little red head summoned one of her magical spheres and hopped on only to vanish into the closet. Murphy angrily grabbed her hockey stick and struggled to her feet. “Oh it’s on, little kid or no, I’m gonna…”
“Hold it!” shouted Maggie as she arrived, Rebecca hard on her heels. “We have no idea where that goes,” she said, examining the swirling vortex of magic the hole in the wall had revealed. “Or if we can get back…”
“Elaine and the others are already in there,” snapped Murphy as she made sure of her glasses. “I’m going after them.”
“We all are, together,” interjected Rebecca. “Stella, Dee said that Elaine came back through for re-enforcements?”
The wolf girl nodded. “For a second, and just her head, then something pulled her back.”
“Then we can get back,” Rebecca declared with far more confidence than she felt. “Everybody hold hands,” she ordered and when that was accomplished stepped forward through the doorway.
Rebecca stepped out of the swirling vortex of energy into the middle of an M. C. Escher painting. A dozen or so chunks of earth and rock floated in a swirling, ruddy nothingness that were linked by rope bridges. The center and by far the largest of these rock islands a font of pure blue-white quintessence surged up into the heavens. It was this that lit the non-Euclidean space through which flew the black and white armored form of Loophole. She was being chased by a gaseous mass of what to Rebecca’s eyes seemed to be pure magic.
“My God in heaven,” whispered Maggie from beside Rebecca.
Perhaps a hundred yards away was Irene, running along one of the rope bridges that looked like it was only still standing from force of habit. “Irene!” shouted Murphy who promptly vanished.
“Wait!” shouted a frustrated Rebecca over her own terror. She appeared on the bridge in front of the seventh grader who skidded to a stop several feet away. Frantic, Rebecca turned back to her clutch of friends. “This is a Class Two Pocket Dimension. Newtonian physics only apply to your own line of sight. If you get into the far edge of the nothingness they may change to where there isn’t air, or gravity or electricity doesn’t flow.”
“That’s bad,” muttered Dee fretfully.
“No electricity, no nervous system,” agreed Maggie.
“If you get out of sight of this rock you may never find your way back to it and this is the only way back to our universe!” Rebecca finished. “Stella, you and Dee round up the other two witches and get them out of here!”
“What are you going to do?” demanded the she wolf.
Rebecca pointed over her shoulder. “That font is what’s probably holding this place together. If Maggie and I can master it we’ll have direct control over the laws of this universe.”
“No!” thundered the cloud of magic in a voice that had a choral quality to it. Without warning it changed direction and dove across the bridge where Irene was slowly backing away from a vengeful Murphy. Once it passed, the little witch was gone. Loophole quickly gave chase as it swam back to the center island, but she dared not fire for fear of injuring the hopefully captured girl. However, just as she was about to cross it’s boundary she struck an energy field and was hurled away towards the void.
Murphy vanished from the bridge, appeared just in front of the tumbling armor and then both girls vanished to land in a tumble of bodies a few feet from their friends. “You need a diet,” groaned the Alaskan as both girls helped each other to their feet.
“Hush Anorexic Barbie,” Elaine retorted as she turned to Rebecca. “Whatever that thing is it has Renae, Simone and the other little pests on the big rock,” she told her, holding out her hand over which floated a three dimensional hologram of the central island. “When Simone came through it immediately grabbed her and put her here. Then it spat out the two witches and Ah saw an energy discharge into both of them.”
“Where’s Renae?” asked Stella as she shifted to her human form for a better look.
Loophole pointed to the tiny font in the palm of her hand. “She’s here, but Ah don’t think she can move.”
“Why didn’t it take you?” asked Rebecca quietly. “Why wait for Simone?”
The armored girl shrugged. “Ah dunno. It tried, but Ah don’t think it could reach me through mah structural integrity field.”
“Oh, call it force field and lay off the cheesy star trek techno-babble,” snapped Murphy.
Rebecca shook her head. “No, I think it wanted Simone for a very specific reason.”
“Ah don’t know, whenever Ah get close to the island it chases me off.”
“It’s not attacking us now,” observed Maggie.
“It wants us for something,” Rebecca said mostly to herself. “Let’s go find out what.”
“What if these bridges give way?” demanded Babs. “I knew we should have done some simulator time so we could work as a team.”
“I have a flight spell,” replied Rebecca. “I gave it to you, Maggie, you remember it?” The blonde nodded. “Stella, you jump onto Loophole and you don’t let go. Murphy, you get Dee back to the door rock via teleport and Maggie and I will worry about Babs.”
“Hop on,” Elaine said to Stella. “There’s no way Ah’m trusting those things with mah weight.”
“If you’d lay off the cheese Danishes,” chided her roommate as she spoke a word of power under her breath and floated up off the rock. “However the point is well made. Rebecca?” she invited.
The brunette rolled her eyes behind her glasses. “Oh, fine, so I’m not a tactical genius,” she swore as she followed suite and began to float. Murphy, who was dancing from foot to foot in excitement, merely reached out and touched Dee and the two were on the island whose bridge connected to the largest one in a pair of hops.
“I think this place agrees with her,” chuckled Babs as she put her arms around Rebecca and Maggie and the Literary Club took off.
Ward 224, Doyle Medical Complex, Whateley Academy
The Don sat in his bed, his thoughts a crazed jumble as his mind ran circles, trying to assimilate what he had learned. Ringo’s device, still connected to his phone flashed the information that caused his current state of confusion. Sebastiano had been so smug, so certain when the hesitant little geek had brought in his creation. At the time it seemed the answer to every one of his problems. Even if he didn’t have access to Hekate’s money any longer, Tansy was nearly as rich and the nerd had been bought for a pitiful sum.
The waiting had been the worst of it; waiting for Senior X to call. Until now his counter measures had made certain that the Don had no idea how to contact the Mythos Sorcerer that Hekate had called Master. The Don’s mind had been a whirl of possibilities once Ringo had shown his little toy could unscramble the best encryptions or trace blocking. It had correctly identified the Syndicate Base he had arranged as a test, even broken through the layers of encryption on Tansy’s secure phone from her father, supposedly beyond what anyone without special clearance from the Yankee government could own. Now that Senior X had finally called and The Don knew who he was, he couldn’t help but be impressed with the amount of misdirection involved, the layers and layers of Identity he had assumed.
And no one knew who he was, hiding right under Carson and the rest of the smug teachers; under their very noses! That he, with all his powers would assume the guise of a student was brilliant, Sebastiano had to admit. But, as he read the display a final time The Don couldn’t help but give voice to the part of his mind that was still denying the reality of the situation he now faced. “He’s not even a mage,” The Don chuckled, awed at the level of subterfuge.
Now the fun would really begin.
Clubhouse of F. O. E. in the Tunnels between Dunn Hall and Whitman Cottage
The Lit Chix arrived at the end of the final bridge of the big island to a strange plateau. In the precise center of the island was a glowing magical sigil from which flowed the magical energy of an entire universe. The barrier that had kept Elaine from entering seemed gone and the girls were able to step onto the rock to examine this strange battle ground. In the magic floated Renae, her eyes closed and her form obscured by the transparent form of another girl with flowing blonde hair that was looking at them.
On the far side of the island was a set of equipment that looked like it was on loan from a B-list Sci-Fi movie set, complete with an examination table with restraints. However, between the Lit Chix and everything else, just outside the sigil that contained the font were Bethany, Irene and Estelle, their magical lights burning brightly within them.
“You,” announced Irene.
“Will,” continued Bethany.
“Release us,” finished Estelle.
Rebecca took in the unconscious form of Simone near by who hung on a pair of stone pillars like a sacrifice, then back to the Three Little Witches. “From where I stand you are the ones holding our friends prisoner,” she said softly.
“We regret involving you and your friends,” Bethany replied with what sounded like genuine concern, although none of the three girls were speaking in their normal voices.
“Our need was great and time was growing short,” interjected Estelle.
“Your friend the Avatar has not been harmed,” Irene said. “You may go to her and see for yourselves.”
“Doc, Maggie,” whispered Rebecca.
“On it,” the two room mates chorused as they broke off from the group and trotted over to Simone.
“Who am I speaking with?” asked Rebecca as she casually slipped her hands into her school blazer.
“We are The Secret,” the witches declared as one. “We have been captive in this pace, feeding on the energy and the psychic pain of the girls from Whitman and Dickenson. You will release us.”
“Who was it that imprisoned you?”
“They did it to themselves,” the figure that engulfed Renae replied. “They are the fragments of memory about this place and what we were doing here from my friends.”
“We are more than that!” exploded the possessed witches as Doc and Maggie helped a groggy Simone get back to the others. “That may have been our genesis, but we are more than stripped memories! We are alive and we want our lives back!”
For the moment Rebecca chose to ignore the witches and turned back to the spirit in the font. “So, if that’s what they are, who or what are you?”
“She’s my daughter,” announced a voice behind the girls.
The figure possessing Renae seemed on the verge of tears as she reached out of the font that she was trapped in. “Mom?”
The girls turned to find the Headmistress walking up the final few feet of the rope bridge, Miss Grimes hard on her heels. “Lady Astarte,” whispered Babs as she and the other Lit Chix gave way before her.
“The Grimes,” hissed Bethany, drawing an irate glance from the teacher.
“Have we been introduced?” she demanded as she produced a wand from about her person and with a sharp gesture knocked the Secret from the three children it was possessing. The Three Little Witches crumpled like puppets whose strings had been cut as the swirling magic was knocked out of them. The wand whipped in broad arches and spirals that the knot of magic was forced to follow until a gemstone worked its way out of the rock and flew into the teacher’s hand. A sharp gesture pulled the magic into the gem until it was all trapped and the gem glowed slightly. “Amateurs,” the teacher declared in disgust.
The Headmistress, however, had continued forward, drawn like a moth to a flame to the edge of the magical diagram. “Shelly?” she asked softly.
The vision in the font reached out fruitlessly. “Mom, I’m so sorry. We never met for this to happen!” Mrs. Carson took a long moment to collect herself then turned on the clutch of her students with a fire in her eyes that put the fear of God into all of them.
“You lot have exactly five seconds to explain to me what, the hell, is going on here!”
Maggie looked at the others before hesitantly stepping forward. “We don’t know all the details, Ma’am, but what we think happened…”
“I’m not interested in your theories, Miss Vincent!”
“Mom!” shouted Shelly from her prison. “It’s not their fault! It’s mine, mine and Peter and Lindsey and Tom’s fault. We were trying to cure GSD.”
“They were cured and they did this to you?” Carson demanded in a tone that promised mayhem to her former students, wherever they were. “Was killing you the price they paid to be pretty?”
“Liz,” cautioned Miss Grimes. “Getting angry isn’t going to help us figure out what’s happened.”
“They did it,” announced Elaine from the equipment on the far side of the island. “Mrs. Carson, this equipment, if Ah understand it right, it re-writes the interface between the Over Pattern and the subject’s BIT.”
“How?” The Headmistress demanded as she crossed around the diagram. “You understand this?”
“Some,” admitted Elaine. “The rest…”
“What about the rest?”
“Mrs. Carson, Ah’m not a mage…” The Headmistress glared at her until her student shook her head and began again. “Ah believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who for the salvation of man took Man’s Nature by being born of the Virgin Mary. That He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and buried and rose again the third day to ascend to Heaven. That, ma’am, is the limit of mah mystical knowledge.”
“But not ours,” interjected Rebecca and Maggie as the came forward. Maggie continued, “This machine must have been powered by some intersection of sorcery and science. That’s why Elaine can’t puzzle it all out. She knows science and technology, but her ability to believe stops with her religion! Tom, Peter and Lindsey were cured because they had GSD which meant they had a BIT!”
“But Shelly didn’t…doesn’t…” stammered the Headmistress at loss for words.
“Exactly!” enthused Rebecca. “It didn’t work on Shelly for two reasons, one she wasn’t an exemplar so she didn’t have a BIT to begin with and, more to the point she didn’t have GSD, she had MATD.”
“What?” asked Shelly.
“MATD,” continued Rebecca. “Manifestation Augmented Tissue Deformity. Your skin didn’t turn to stone, you summoned stone from some nearby dimension and it clung to your skin. The real you was always underneath!”
“We didn’t discover the difference until after you died,” Carson admitted to the spirit of her daughter.
“We can fix this,” whispered Maggie as a profound realization struck her. “Miss Grimes, we can fix this! Remember how you told me my resurrection spell would never work unless I had the ritual prepared at the exact moment of death because the soul instantly departs a corpse into the multiverse?”
Grimes frowned at her student. “Maggie, this is hardly the time…”
“No,” interrupted Mrs. Carson, with a desperate hope in her eyes, “let her finish, Eliza. Miss Vincent, you have my complete attention. What exactly are you proposing?”
“We have Shelly’s soul!” the healer exclaimed with a gesture to the spirit trapped in the font. “And the school has any number of bio devisors who could recreate her body! Look at what Jobe did with Belphoebe!”
“We’d need a sample of her DNA,” mused Babs.
“Ah’m guessing all these rock hard hairs are hers?” asked Elaine as she held up several strings of rock from the exam table. “These look like they have follicles.”
“Once we have a body it’s a fairly simple matter to return the Soul to it,” finished Maggie.
“How do we get her out of…that…?” demanded Mrs. Carson.
“We’ll use a Koschei Chest,” interjected Miss Grimes.
“A what?” asked Dee.
“Koschei the Undying,” supplied Simone while holding her head. “He was the basis for the legend of the lich. Koschei was a tyrant Tzar who split off his soul and sealed it in a chest that was buried on an island far out to sea. While the soul was in the chest, no one could kill him.”
“Whatever we’re gonna do, Ah suggest we be about it,” said Elaine with a consultation of her tricorder. “This space is eight percent smaller than when we got here.”
“Capturing the Secret must have destabilized this pocket dimension,” Grimes declared. “Maggie, Rebecca, how close are your casting kits?”
“Next door,” the two mages declared.
“Run and go get them. We don’t have a moment to waste,” the Teacher instructed. “Miss Nalley, you and your friends get my youngest students to Doyle Medical Center. Being possessed is stressful on any system. They’ll need to be monitored over night. And Liz,” she told the Headmistress with a smile. “You don’t worry. We’ve got plenty of time.”
Pathways outside Dunn Hall, Whateley Academy
Steve had practically broken the land speed record getting over to Dunn Hall. His closest class to Marty’s had him in Kane next door. The spread sheet Ayla had given him told him when Marty got out of the Spanish class she’d been in last period she’d be on her way to her home economics class in Shuster Hall. If she followed the most direct route she’d be coming out the door he had spent so much energy to arrive at any minute.
The doors burst open revealing a throng of students bantering back and forth, completely unfazed by the New Hampshire winter. Steve was tempted to levitate upwards to get a better view, but a quick glance at the flag pole showed the school’s colors bordered in red. With Dunn Hall on Whateley Boulevard, in plain sight of the front of Schuster Hall, there’s no way he’d get away with it. More to the point, his ears picked up the rumble of a tractor trailer that was currently plodding up the only dual lane road on the campus on its way to the Crystal Hall’s loading docks.
“Steve!” announced a voice with all the beauty of a chorus of angels. “What are you doing over here?”
Stronghold turned to take in the object of his over active imagination of late. Even the school uniform couldn’t conceal beauty of her magnitude and the smile she wore warmed up a January day into spring time. “I, uh, I got you something,” he managed, presenting her with the single flower in a small pot full of soil.
“Carnation, they’re my favorite!” she said with a smile as she took the offered gift and inhaled the delicate aroma. “How did you know?”
The Southern boy smiled a private smile as he fell in step with her. “I faced down a dragon,” he told her in a conspiratorial tone. “And it’s army of goblins.”
“That’s heroic,” she admitted as she took the arm he offered. “And it’s still alive! You’re quite the renaissance adventurer.”
“Mah momma always told me the worst way to impress a girl was to give her something you killed for her,” he said with a boyish grin and letting a hint of his accent show. “Of course, I think she was talking about the time dad brought home a deer carcass and expected her to clean it.”
“I think your mom might be on to something,” Marty decided with another sniff of her flower. “So, what has you so worried about impressing me?”
“I figure if I impressed you it would increase my chances of you saying yes when I ask you out to dinner Saturday night. Catch and Release comes out Friday if you think you’d like to take in a movie?”
“Never lead a first date with a romantic comedy,” she told him with a wink. “Smokin’ Aces comes out Friday too, and I’d rather see some explosions. Pick me up at three?” Stephen found his voice didn’t want to work so with all his strength he forced his head to nod. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “See ya then, tiger.”
Lit Chix Club House, Tunnels below Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
“Ok, I’m confused,” announced Murphy as the girls filed into their club house. “Was that Mrs. Carson thanking us, or chewing us out?”
“A little of both, I think,” Maggie said with a sigh as she settled into her favorite chair and reached for her copy of Terry Goodkind’s Phantom from the table beside it. “And with good reason when you stop and think about it,” she added. “I mean, none of us really knew what we were getting into in all this.”
“You can say we should have gone to the teachers all you want,” Elaine growled, “they wouldn’t have believed us until The Secret took Renae, and then it was too late. We save the day and Ah still owe Mr. Paulson a three page essay for cutting his class. What, the hell, was The Secret anyway?”
“Just a Class Two entity,” replied Maggie. “A semi-persistent knot of magic that had formed a hallow in the jar the Amigos hid their memories in. That was the core ‘bit’ and, over the years, it fed on all that teen angst passing through that tunnel until it became kind of self aware.”
“I have a headache,” complained Renae.
“Coffee’s brewing,” called Murphy from the kitchenette.
“Ok, I feel better now,” she said with a smile. “What I want to know is what’s going to happen with Shelly.”
“Absolutely not!” ordered Rebecca. “Family is sacrosanct in this school!”
“It would be a gross violation of Mrs. Carson’s personal files to find out anyway,” added Babs in a terribly offhand matter.
“A practically unforgivable breach of trust,” agreed Elaine.
Simone crossed her arms and scowled at the group’s resident techies. “You didn’t?”
“What?” asked Babs with a false innocence that wouldn’t fool a newborn. “Breech the security of the Schuster Hall network?”
“Hack our way into Mrs. Carson’s personal PC in her very office?” added Nalley.
“While she was working on it?” exalted Babs as she produced a sheaf of papers from her lab coat. “It seems the body the Devisor teachers are growing for Shelly is coming along nicely and once Mags helps them put Shelly’s soul back into her new body she’ll be on her way to ARC at least until next semester.”
“Lord, give me strength,” prayed Rebecca as she rubbed her temples. “You all might think this is terribly funny, but I for one think it’s damned strange that our clubhouse happened to be next door to where our Headmistress’s kid gets herself, well, whatever it was that happened to her and we stumble into all this twelve years later! Doesn’t anybody else find that just a tad convenient?”
“Whatever can go wrong will,” Murphy declared around her first sip of coffee.
“Great,” Foxfire complained. “The next two and a half years promise to be so interesting.”
Arena 99, underneath Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Wyatt cautiously stuck his head into the open space of the arena. The workers had only just finished the repairs on the structure, and, to his knowledge it had yet to be used. An email, purportedly from Elaine had brought him here, after curfew, but just because it had the right reply to information and seemed to be in her somewhat over-formal style of writing didn’t mean that it had come from her. There were plenty of folks who could be nursing grudges against the Alpha Male and he was smart enough to know it.
A few dozen feet from the door a single column of light fell on a magnificent four poster bed like something off the cover of a romance novel. The bed was dressed in scarlet satin and a night stand next to it held an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne. Things certainly looked like a number of his fantasies might be coming true, but still Kodiak was cautious and sniffed at the air, but he only caught the smell of the ice melting in the silver bucket and faint odor of dry cleaning chemicals on the sheets and pillow cases. “Elaine?”
“Hello Wyatt,” boomed Elaine’s voice from the arena’s speaker system. “Don’t bother answering, this is a recording. Come in and have some champagne, Ah like to think Ah’ve prepared well for tonight, but, Ah wanted to set a few things straight first. Ah hope you’ll forgive me a bit of melodrama.”
Cody chuckled to himself and relaxed a slight bit as he walked over to the bottle to find it already open and breathing. Pouring himself a drink in one of the two flutes on the night stand, he asked himself, “Are you even here?”
“Yes, Ah’m here,” the recording continued. “Not terribly far away, either,” the speakers informed him as he looked about, unable to pick up her scent. “Not that you’ll be able to smell or see me. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the champagne, don’t. There’s nothing in it, even if somebody could concoct something that might affect your metabolism.”
The big senior only shook his head at this and took a sip, nodding at its quality. “Ah have to admit Ah’ve dreamed about this, about you and me for a long time. Some of them, well, it would be hard for anybody to be able to live up to them, and some had me waking up in tears, or shaking in terror. You see, Cody, Ah feel for you a whole lot more than Ah should. Ah spent a long time thinking about two decisions. The first was what Ah would wear tonight that might give us the best chances of turning those dreams into a reality.”
“Well,” drawled Wyatt in lecherous anticipation, “this is getting good.”
“The problem, Cody, was that, well, to put it politely my dear, you have what we down south call a reputation. And it ain’t a good one, old son. If only half the rumors about you are God’s Truth you’ve loved and left about half the girls in this school. If this bedroom ballroom piece were yours it’d have so many notches on it the poor thing would have collapsed by now.”
“Now, wait a minute, Elaine…” he called out to the darkness in frustration.
“No use trying to convince me, Wyatt, this is a recording, remember? See, mah mind’s made up. Ah want you in the worst kind of way, you Alaskan rogue, but, Ah will not be another notch on that bed post of yours. This leads me to mah second decision, because Ah know you only respect folk that have stood up to you. Folks that pushed back when you pushed and fought to make it stick; you’ll respect them. Well sir, Ah don’t know what is going to happen at the end of this night, but Ah can tell you this, you will respect me come the morning. So, the second decision decided what the first would be.”
A long moment of silence drew out before the hackles began to rise on the back of Kodiak’s neck. “Elaine?” he asked softly.
“Turn around,” her voice ordered, slightly muffled with a somewhat electronic quality. He turned to find her covered head to toe in that wonderful armor of hers. It certainly showed off her figure as it clung to every curve, but he would have preferred that she not be wearing that macabre helmet. She was striding forward, his eyes captivated by the way her hips went one direction and the rest of her went the other. “So, it comes down to this big man,” she said as she stepped fully into the light. “If the only way you’ll respect me is if Ah kick your ass, then so be it.”
He smiled and raised a hand to reassure her, but she’d already balled a fist and swung. The blow fell like a freight train, snapping his head around and pulling the rest of his body after. “You,” she shouted as he turned just in time for her lovely boot clad foot to crash into his teeth. “Will,” punctuated the roundhouse into his kidney that launched face first only his stomach. “Respect me!”
His training allowed him to catch her foot as it nearly delivered the sucker kick to his side and his strength let him convert her motion into a throw that sent her out of the light. He got to his feet as the Kodiak within roared with out rage and challenge and wiped the trickle of blood from the cut inside his mouth away with the back of his hand. “You want to play rough, little girl?” he growled as his form went molten and the Kodiak was freed from his cage. “That’s just fine, I could use a challenge!” the beast roared that echoed throughout the arena.
A beam of energy lanced out of the darkness and scorched off the remnants of Kody’s shirt before his exemplar reflexes launched him at the source of the attack. Elaine hadn’t counted on the glow from the beam’s emitter being something he could hone in on and he caught hold of her hand and snatched her around to face him. The stern defiance he’d intended never got past his lips as her helmet kept coming and crashed into the space between his nose and his front teeth. Wyatt staggered backwards, the dark room spinning and the crack of the polymer of the helmet breaking under his face ringing in his ears.
The blow had had far more behind it than an exemplar three should be able to push, and the rational part of his mind fought to recover his senses and categorize this new information. A slight hum of her flight through the air gave him warning of her attack and he rolled out of the way while striking out from instinct. His knuckles felt the connection of the slick force field that incased the armor and watched her tumble in and out column of light in the center of the room. “This is crazy!” he shouted at her departing form.
“It sucks being on the receiving end of a bully, don’t it?” she shot back, a gasping quality to her voice that told him he’d knocked the wind from her.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Elaine! If you keep pushing like this something could happen!”
The hackles warned him of her kick only moments before it landed. He rolled, taking it on his shoulder instead of the back of his head where she’d been aiming. As he cleared the strike, his own leg swept out and knocked her foot out from under her. In a flash he was on her, pinning her down which un-caged a wild cat of kicks and punches from every limb that was free. Growling with rage, he got hold of both her hands, and used one of his to pin her to the floor.
The helmet was cracked and one of the lenses had shattered, revealing her gold flecked emerald eye that was nearly as enraged as he was as she struggled under him. With his free hand he popped open the latches and snatched it off her head, scarlet hair cascading loose as he did so. “You crazy bitch!” he snarled at her. “I was an ultra-violent my first year here! If you push me too hard I could kill you!”
Her knee somehow got between his legs and crashed into his groin with sufficient force to cartwheel him over her. She snapped up to her feet and came set, the fight far from out of her. “You could break mah heart too, and if you do, you’ll already know what’s coming!”
He faked a shot at her kidney that closed her guard and let his leg sweep again deprive her of her footing. Once more he was pinning her down, this time careful that every limb was accounted for. The snarling man-bear watched her struggle for a moment, her hands pinned beside her head before it melted away and only Wyatt Cody was left, looking down on her. “I will never hurt you,” he told her softly.
With out either of them willing it, their lips met quenching one fire, and igniting another in its place.
Dear Diary, 28January, 2007
I am now a woman in every sense of the word and I must admit I find myself somewhat at a loss to explain my feelings for my new status. Last night with Kody was a singular experience. I will likely have bruises for several days, but I must admit that waking up safe in his arms was a very pleasant experience.
It nearly made up for the morning’s awkwardness. I had attended the biology classes so, of course, I knew the mechanics of things, but I must admit I hadn’t been prepared for how…messy…intercourse is. Still, it was nothing a hot shower couldn’t fix.
I know, I know, you are dying to know the messy details. I’m just not sure how much of this I want to write down. On the one hand, in my later years I’m all but positive I’d like to be able to look back through you, diary, and remember how I felt about things. On the other hand, you’ll recall that our dear baby brother has found you twice and the absolute last thing I need is to have my most inner thoughts be conversation fodder with either him or our parents.
So, I’m not sure how much I should write here. The greatest thoughts on my mind are not the past, but the future. I’m still very worried that Kody’s pursuit of me was for another notch on his heavily scored bed post. Will he treat me differently now? Will he even still be interested? Only time will tell, and if my worst fears are proven true I must remind myself I knew what I was getting into.
Or, rather what was …no, that’s too crass a joke even for me. So, listen up future self. If you’re sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, don’t. You knew full well what a Casanova Kody was, you knew his reputation and what’s more you heard from your enemies the one true statement to pass their lips.
Maggie told you, Becky told you, even Flicker and Fade told you and what’s more you told you. You picked Kody because he was something of a cad. You wanted to taste that bad boy mindset and you wanted an easy out if things weren’t to your cup of tea. What’s more, you didn’t want to fumble around with somebody who didn’t know what they were doing. You didn’t want some five minute fumble in the back seat of a car.
Now, be honest, future self, no matter how much you might be feeling betrayed, wasn’t it worth that one perfect night you had; to give your virginity to a man, sure and confident of who he was, what he was doing and why, rather than a fumbling embarrassment with a boy who was just as terrified as you were? I know you remember last night, future self, how full of passion that night was, how surprised you were that Kody had a tender side, that all that primal strength could be controlled.
Don’t you sit there feeling sorry for yourself!
You got far more than you paid for! Now, if he’s left you, remember how awestruck he was with our body, remember the quiet conversation you shared with him, both of you naked and guileless as you talked about the future. Remember what he said he wanted? Nobody lies that well, so you know how to claim him if you want him so bad.
But, most of all, remember what his avatar spirit told you when he was asleep. ‘The only right to life and love is in those with the boldness to go and claim it.’ You want him so badly?
Then go claim him!