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A Whateley Academy Tale

Revenge of The Alphas

By Maggie Finson, Bek D. Corbin, Starwolf, Babs Yerunkle and Dr. Bender

Melville Cottage   October 5, Thursday

Don Sebastiano gave the group seated around the secure room in Melville Cottage a long, searching examination with his lip curled in ill concealed disgust.  “We seem to have a problem here, wouldn’t you say, people?”

Hekate, sitting at his right, had not been involved in the disastrous Breakfast Brawl with the freshman from Poe cottage known as Team Kimba, so added her own coldly amused regard to the discomfort the others were feeling at that moment.  Not one of those assembled had anything to say to his question.  Which came as no surprise to him.

“First.” Raising one finger to emphasize his point, the current leader of the Alphas at Whateley Academy told the assembled group.  “Our mystique as the elite in this school took a very hard hit when you guys got your asses kicked -- IN PUBLIC -- by a bunch of freshmen.  As Alphas, we’re supposed to be the best there is here, an image that got pretty beat up in front of the Crystal Hall the other day.”

None of those assembled had anything to say about that either.  Each of them avoided pointing out that they had been involved in the fracas only because Don Sebastiano had told them to be.  They were afraid of him, and with the coolly observing Hekate seated beside him, none were about to risk raising that point during this particular meeting.

“You.” The Don gestured towards Kodiak, a senior who manifested the spirit of the grizzly bear as his power.  “Let a skinny kid, even if he was a guy, put you down in ONE move, then allowed a skinny little GIRL to deck you once you managed to get back up.”

Kodiak grimaced at that, but said nothing.  Instead he glared at the floor in front of him.

“Aries.”  The Don moved to another victim.  “Even with your incredible speed, you allowed that Tennyo to get hold of you and dangle you in the air like some useless piece of jewelry.  Then you let her throw you into one of the twins.”

The Speedster glowered, then lowered his gaze without comment as both Hamper and Damper winced in memory of that.

“You two.” He gestured at Hamper and Damper, “guessed wrong the first time you attacked, but recovered well enough until that refugee from an animé stepped in and put you down.  Still, you both allowed ONE person to take you out of the fight within seconds of each other.”

Neither of the twins ventured a comment about that.  They had run up against this Tennyo twice and ended up on the short end both times.

“Cavalier.” The Don turned his attention to one of his more surprising sycophants with a shake of his head.  “You let that jumped-up martial arts freak take you out, then allowed the shout she let out to shake your concentration.  Then there was the indignity of having that red headed magic user SAVE you when the tree you were sitting against caught fire.”

“As long as we’re on that red headed elf,” The Don turned to the dark haired girl waiting quietly behind him.  “Skybolt, you couldn’t hit her even before she kicked in with her power.  Once she did, you got knocked around like some rank amateur. “And what happened to you?”

Bluejay grinned, leaning inside a small alcove off to one side of the hall. The alcove had once held the bust of a Melville alumnus, but the porcelain statue had been smashed in a scuffle more than a year ago. The blue-haired American Indian scratched his chin absently.

“Where were you?” Sebastiano demanded.

“The king needs no jester when he provides his own entertainment,” Bluejay shrugged, “I was busy with affairs d’amour.”

The Don scowled, but left him alone.

Not one of the others had any kind of comment in response.

“Pathetic showing.” Don Sebastiano shook his head in not-so-feigned disappointment with the others. 

Not one of the people in the room had any kind of comment in response.  They had gotten their butts handed to them, and every one of them knew it.

“Further.”  Don Sebastiano glared at them.  “For the first time I’ve heard of, Alphas are going to do detention.  Unheard of until now, and another disgrace I won’t bother to beat any of you with.  You’ll do the detention, and do it with your heads up.  You all got caught, which is the one unforgivable sin an Alpha can commit.  Consider yourselves lucky I don’t put more on you than doing the detention.”

“And you.” He finally acknowledged the presence of another Alpha in the meeting with a voice dripping with scorn.  “You caused all of this with your reaching for more than you could handle.  Worse, you did nothing to help the others when they rushed to your defense.”

Tansy Walcutt, appearing very tired, and bearing bruises that she had not completely hidden if one looked closely, winced at the accusation. 

“Well?”  The Don questioned too gently as the girl silently stared at the wall.  “Do you have anything at all to say for yourself?  These others are going to do detention for your sake, after all.  Surely you have some kind of apology to give them.”

“I did what I thought would give me a boost, and help the Alphas while I did it.”  Tansy answered slowly.  “I have no regrets except that I got caught doing it and the others got dragged into that disaster in front of Crystal Hall.”

“I see.” The Don gave her a wintry smile.  “And just how do you think that makes up for this mess we find ourselves in?”

“It doesn’t, I suppose.” Tansy shot back with irritation clear in her tone of voice.  “So I won’t try and justify it to any of you.  I did what I did to gain an advantage.  It didn’t work and believe me, I am not happy about that.  But I’m not finished yet.  Not by a long shot.”

“Oh, and just what is it you think you might be able to do now?” Hekate purred, obviously enjoying the model’s discomfort and fall from her usual haughty stance.

“Oh, don’t worry yourself about that, dear.” Tansy answered with an edge to her voice.  “Given the way things have gone for all of us recently, the less any of you know, the better.  And don’t worry, I won’t drag anyone else into this one.”

“Ah, vengeance.” The Don actually smiled at that.  “We do need to discuss that.  This can not go unanswered, you all realize that, don’t you?”

The others stopped glaring at Tansy long enough to nod their agreement to that sentiment.

“Then we need to decide who we target and when it gets done.”  He went on.  “Coordinating attacks that can’t be traced back to us on all of them is going to be impossible.  So we need to narrow our choices down to around three of them for the first round, I would think.”

“Which three?” Hekate played the part of feeding him the lines he wanted since no one else would do it.

“Ah, and that is the crux of this meeting.”  The Don nodded with a grim smile.  “We can not allow this drubbing to go unanswered.  But to take direct action would get us into more trouble than we are already in.  So we do it indirectly, with hirelings and dupes.”

The others nodded, then gave Tansy expectant looks.

“Ah, I see the light dawns on all of you.” With a slow, nasty smile, The Don regarded Tansy.  “All of this is your fault.  So I’m offering you a chance to redeem yourself in our eyes.  Will you take it?”

“I’ve already said I’m working on it.” The girl snapped back, then gave a smile of apology that just about killed her to do.

“Good.  Now we’re going to decide who you target.”

“All right.” Tansy nodded.  “I’ll go with that.  But I want the little bitch that shot me.  That one is non negotiable.”

“I have no problem with that.” The Don nodded.  “In fact, according to the assessments made by Cavalier here, the little one called Jade would be one of the logical targets in a revenge strike.  She seems vulnerable providing her devisor gear is neutralized.  Consider her to be target number one.”

“Which brings us to target number two.”  The Don continued. “Their strong man, Hank, is out as a target.  He took Kodiak down with one move and spars with that damned Amazon Hippolyta for fun.  No one sane, or competent, would accept that one as a target.  The same goes for the black girl with the martial arts thing.  She may be limited, but has shown that no one is going to put one over on her easily.  And she did defeat that hairy mountain Montana in an open and very closely watched fight.”

Tansy winced at the mention of Montana, something The Don noted with interest, but filed that away in his mind for later probing.

“The redhead, their magic user is a distinct possibility for a target.”  Cavalier spoke up for the first time in the meeting.  “If taken unawares, close in, she would be helpless.  She has virtually no close in combat skills.”

“Ok, Nikki Reilly is target number two, then.” The Don turned to Tansy.  “I trust you will be able to find someone capable of stalking and taking her out?”

“I already have someone in mind.” Tansy agreed with a vicious light in her eyes.  “That little elf bitch is giving me too much competition at work, anyway.  I need to get rid of her.”

“Good.  Now on to target number three. What about this new girl, Sara? She’s the second smallest member of their team and the most inexperienced fighter from all accounts.”

“We don’t have any battle data on her,” Cavalier informed, “our assets are still working on obtaining sufficient information to create a file.”

They all turned towards the alcove as Bluejay laughed, “I’d forget about her, my liege.”

The Don glared at him, about to retort, when Hekate coughed lightly. He composed himself in a moment, “Why?”

“She eats puppies for breakfast,” the Trickster smiled, “my Pandora would have your wolves for lunch, Mon Empereur. Raven follows in her wake, for her appetite matches his. Leave her to me, I shall repay her when it is time.”

Don looked across to Hekate, who nodded imperceptibly, though she was not so sure of her decision.

“As odd as it sounds.” Cavalier told them.  “The logical one for that is the person called Tennyo, Billie Wilson.  Powerful as she is, her fighting ability seems to be hinged on those powers.  Should they be negated in any way, I feel she would be helpless.”

“Agreed.” Tansy pursed her lips, thinking.  “I know someone who could do that.  And who could find some muscle to finish that refugee from a Japanese cartoon off, once her powers are shut down.”

“So, we have our three targets picked.”  The Don grinned with a pleasure that was not at all pleasant to see.  “I think none of us would be all that upset if these encounters turned out to be fatal for them, would we?”

There were some signs of protest at that, but those were quickly quelled by the group’s leader.  “Listen to me.  We have been made to look like incompetent fools in front of the entire school.  That can not go unanswered, but if we hit them ourselves, it will just make more trouble.  Tansy, you make sure that none of these attacks can be directly traced back to either you or the Alphas.  People will know who is responsible even while there is no proof for Security or the police to make use of.  We’ll regain our lost luster, and everyone will again know that it’s not a good idea to mess with the Alphas.”

“I’ll make sure.” The blonde model answered quietly.  “Two of those are PERSONAL, so I’ll be very careful not to leave tracks that can be followed.  Trust me on that.  I know how to do it.”

“I’m sure you do, dear.”  Hekate replied coolly.  “No mistakes this time, understand?”

“There won’t be.” Tansy showed the other girl a slow, lazy smile. 

“Make sure of that.” 

“No worry, I said.” Tansy waved off what Hekate was implying and gave The Don a direct stare.  “You know I can do this.”

“I have the utmost faith in your abilities, Tansy.” That one nodded without expression.  “Get it done, and you’ll have gone a long way towards making up for the blunders that got us into this.  All right?”

“Sure.”

“Then I think we’ve discussed all that needs to be talked about here.” The Don watched the tension between Hekate and Tansy with no little interest, but was careful not to let either one think he favored Tansy.  “Let’s get on with our day’s activities then, shall we?”

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Unseen by the Alphas in the next room, Alberta ‘Fireball’ Waldner pulled herself out of the cramped space next to the ventilating shaft. The ventilation shaft hadn’t allowed Alberta - or ‘Alexis’ as she insisted being called - to pick up on a lot of the nuances of the discussion, but she’d gotten the gist of it. So, the Alphas wanted some payback on the Nightgown Nutcases, eh? Well, she was cool with that. If you’re on top, you don’t let people push you around. That was basic Power-Mongering 101. And Alexis’ only problem with people with power was that they didn’t let her in on the good stuff. But then, you hadda show the people with power that you could do something for them. Alexis didn’t understand why the Alphas were keeping her at arm’s length. She was an Exemplar, which was supposed to be, like, a base requirement. She was a babe, she knew that, even if she did have to dye her naturally strawberry blonde hair flame red to go with her green eyes and Fire Manifestation powers. And POWER? She could not only create fire out of nothing, but she could shape it and animate it to whatever she wanted!

Okay, so she got a little carried away some times. She was taking medication for that.

What was she thinking about? Oh yeah! The Poe Freshmen that everyone was talking about, Team Ranma, or something. The Alphas wanted them slapped down. The Don was leaving that up to Tansy, but Tansy was on low swing in her popularity with the Alphas. Maybe she’d appreciate a little help in that direction? Like, if Alexis put a hurt on one of the Unbound Bimbos? Alexis knew that killing one of them was out of bounds, but then a nice nasty disfiguring burn was SO MUCH better than a dead body.

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Tansy sat in her room and fumed for a few minutes after returning from that meeting.  The others attending had obviously enjoyed her discomfiture, and that bitch Hekate sitting so smugly beside The Don and clearly enjoying every minute of it had just about sent her over the edge.  Not that she wanted to be all that close to Don Sebastiano just now, but that girl was insufferable!

Calming herself with an effort, Tansy was not at all used to being treated like some flunky by anyone, she went over several possibilities for getting rid of those troublesome girls who had caused this debacle and decided on what actions she would take.

Going through Thuban was out this time.  Especially following what that scaled monster on his throne of coins had done to her in their last meeting.  Besides, hiring people to do what she intended couldn’t be done either directly or through anyone at Whateley.  That part would be simple enough even if she would have to go in a roundabout path to get it done.  Experience and contacts outside would take care of obscuring her, and the Alpha’s trail in things.

Next, she considered who she wanted to have contacted.  Three names came to mind immediately and she checked their in-school addresses just to make sure she had them right.

Once that had been thought through, she steeled herself for the meetings, and mental massaging that setting her chosen hit men up for the attacks would take.  Only one of those would be even close to easy to take, and even that one -- no, especially that one, would require a lot of care not to be detected as she manipulated his mind.

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Jade admired the silver ring on her finger for another few moments before latching on to Toni with another tight hug.  “I LOVE it!  Thank you, Toni, this is the nicest gift I’ve ever been given!”

“Hey!” The black girl grinned while prying herself out of the girl’s grasp.  “You’re welcome!  I just thought you’d had such a hard time recently that you needed something nice to give you another little boost.  Besides having Jinn back, I mean.  We all -- as in the rest of the team -- wanted you to have it.”

Jade grinned almost self consciously as tears began coursing down her cheeks.  “I -- I never really got a nice gift from anyone before.  I’ll always wear this, and never forget who gave it to me.”

“Just enjoy it.”  Nikki smiled at the smaller girl and gave her a hug.  “Toni tells me its real silver with a plating of something called Moonsilver.  It’s very rare, and powerful against some kinds of spirits.  Wear it well, little sister, and all of us will be happy because you are.”

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Cyril Huntly shook his head to clear it.  Tansy Walcutt was one fine looking girl, and she had just finished giving him the best blow job he had ever dreamed of.  A girl like that deserved to be treated like a queen, he thought with no little satisfaction as the previous hour replayed in his mind.

Only there were was one girl on campus who absolutely refused to acknowledge Tansy’s position and give her the adoration the girl deserved to have.  He growled deep within his throat and thought that it was time for Nex the merciless ninja to teach the inhuman red-headed bitch what that kind of attitude deserved.

Nikki Reilly was a fairly powerful magic user.  He’d seen that during the fracas between the freshman Team Kimba, and the older Alphas.  But she was vulnerable to close attacks.  Close attacks, and deadly assaults with those had become Nex’s stock in trade, and he had already earned a lot of money using them.  This one he would do for free, and if the Elf girl didn’t survive the lesson, that was too bad.

He began to watch Nikki’s movements, working to decide when the best time to catch her alone and in the dark would come. 

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Tansy took a long shower, and brushed her teeth.  Twice.  Nex was not the kind of person she liked being around.  The boy was obviously bent towards violence and hurting people.  Once she had manipulated his relatively complex mind with her own abilities, that trait would cause him to do exactly as she wanted.

“Red, you’re dead!” She laughed to herself at the rhyme and the implications it held.

Now she would have to handle the really unpleasant one.  Bloodwolf, an avatar and real werewolf was someone who most of the students at Whateley avoided if at all possible.  But he would be the one to get that little girl, the bitch, who had shot her.

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Alex Hale, aka Bloodwolf savored the feel of the girl who had approached him on the quiet and offered herself for his pleasure.  It wasn’t often that any girl, let alone one as good looking as Tansy, approached him willingly.  She didn’t seem to mind his rough play at all, even moaning with pleasure when he intentionally bruised her.

Tansy endured the monster’s touch, and the bruising with more than a little indifference.  On the inside, anyway.  Outwardly, she was careful to moan in feigned pleasure at the right times, and keep smiling as the boy abused her.  The results would more than pay for a few bruises, and the healer she had found to restore her hair and nails would be able to fix her up anyway.

“Alex, I know of someone who would be perfect for your particular tastes in playmates.” The model purred while carefully matching the rhythms from her mind to those in his.  “A real little girl who would be really terrified of you.”

“Tell me more.” Alex nipped her neck, drawing a little blood.

“Her name is Jade Sinclair, and I’ll tell you where you can find her...” Tansy smiled while passing along the information to the boy, though his mind seethed with violence and a passion for murder that twisted even her guts.  “She is the perfect little mouthfull for someone like you.”

Ten minutes later, Bloodwolf had no memory of her telling him anything about the Sinclair girl, but was firmly set on a path that would have him stalking her.  Tansy had taken special care to give the ultra-violent fool the best time and place to find his new victim. 

“Sickening, but useful.” Tansy told herself once free of his company.  “Easy to manipulate, too.  I might just keep him around for other jobs that come up, off and on.”

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“This Billie Wilson is nothing without her powers.” She told the scrawny kid with a slow, nasty grin.  “Even you could take her out once those have been suppressed.  And I’ll pay you a thousand dollars to do it for me.”

“Why?” Delwin Florian, also known as Negator questioned simply.

“Because I want to try something against her.”  Tansy shrugged.  “You can shut her power off, and someone I’ll have with you will work her over a little.  It’s simple, quick, and will make you an easy grand.  So, are you interested?”

“Sure.” Negator nodded.  “I’m always interested in making money.”

“Half now.” Tansy counted out the bills and handed them to him while carefully making him think that taking on this Tennyo was actually his own idea.  “Half once you’ve done it.”

“Fine.” the boy answered.  “Consider it done.”

“I do.”  Tansy smiled cheerfully as she passed along the details of when, where, and with whom.  While planting the idea in his mind that all she was asking was if he could damp the target’s powers down, and was paying him for giving her another few nights of uninterrupted sleep, as she had when she held that demon spirit the Sinclair girl claimed was her sister.

“Perfect!” humming a happy little tune as the last of her plans meshed and began turn with the others, the model allowed herself to feel the triumph she knew would be hers once the three freshmen girls had been taken care of.

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The secrets to a good ambush, Fireball told herself, was to make sure that your target was alone and not suspecting anything, and to make backup plans, in case something goes wrong. And Fireball would know- she’d had more than her share of bad luck in that line.

She’d heard the Alphas’ plans and knew who The Don had decided that Tansy would have hit. Tansy would take care of those three, but now Alexis had to figure out who she would put the hurt on. So, of the three that were left, there was the superstrong flying guy, the karate chick who took out Montana, and the punker chick who seemed to be packing more in her panties than she ought to.

The superstrong flying guy? Even if she could get to him, Alexis figured that she wouldn’t be able to hurt him.

The karate chick? Too fast, too unpredictable, too likely to have some kind of ‘Ancient Chinese Secret’ up her sleeve.

That left the punker freak. And why not? Alexis had heard Tansy bad-mouthing ‘Ayla’ or ‘Trevor’ or something, and everyone knew that Tansy hated fags with a passion. So, Tansy would be particularly grateful if Alexis got rid of the Ayla freak. Briefly, Alexis wondered if ‘Ayla’ was Russian for faggot, or something.

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Nikki was returning to Poe Cottage from a late modeling assignment with the nagging feeling that someone was following her.  That wasn’t so unusual with her looks and body -- something she was still getting used to -- and that idiot Stalwart so intent on gaining her ‘favor’ that he was nearly stalking her.

But Tansy Walcutt had been wearing a really smug expression whenever she looked in the redhead’s direction and thought Nikki wasn’t paying attention.  That was an attitude that didn’t fit at all with the trouble the lead model had found herself in recently, and Nikki caught a flash of gleefully nasty anticipation from the girl whenever Tansy was watching her.

All of which combined with the uneasy feeling of being watched to equate into trouble on the way.  Probably big trouble, too.  Tansy Walcutt was not one to even allow small slights go unanswered, and her ego had taken a few rather nasty hits lately, mostly courtesy of Team Kimba.  Plus the information a now-free Jinn had given them about the girl’s unpleasant activities along with the knowledge that the spoiled little rich bitch already considered Nikki to be major competition in the modeling group and the situation wasn’t all that pleasant to think about.

“I’d better talk this over with the rest of the team.” Nikki told herself while repressing a shiver as the flesh along her neck and scalp crawled yet again.  “And get myself back to Poe in a hurry.  This is just too creepy.

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Cyril Huntley, or Nex, had wrapped his psychic invisibility around his already black-clad form to follow the elven beauty from Crystal Hall where she had been doing a late shoot.  Nex was already an accomplished artist where stealth and recon were concerned and had no doubts the girl was completely unaware of his presence.

Of all the members of the often disparaged Ninja Clique at Whateley, Nex was the one no one really teased about being a ‘sneak up on someone in the dark’ wannabe.  He was already well known for having NO sense of humor about things like that, or much of anything else for that matter.  There was also the fact that people who made fun of him seemed to get involved in accidents of one kind or another.  No one had been able to prove he was responsible for those, and Nex wasn’t about to go around bragging up the things he had done.  He knew what he had done and so did his victims. 

His current target had really done nothing at all to him, personally, but after studying her as he did with all his potential victims Nex was sure that she would be big trouble if not taken care of early on.  An empath and magic user of unknown strength (unclassifiable according to the records he had managed to steal copies of) the redhead had already made more trouble for some friends of his, one in particular, than could be tolerated.

Not that he held any illusions that Tansy Walcutt would ever become more than just an interesting roll in the sheets. But if he was able to do something that would benefit the beautiful blonde model, her family wealth and connections would help him a lot once he’d graduated and was setting up for life in the real world.   Tansy had hinted as much when they had last gotten together, and would know who was responsible if the stuck-up, inhuman redhead was to suffer another of those unfortunate accidents.

I almost feel sorry for you Red, he thought with building excitement as the moment of her downfall neared.  Almost.  But you know how it is.  Business is business, after all.

Now was the time.  His target was beginning to get a little jumpy, and it showed in the way her large violet eyes peered into the darkness seeking something that she’d never find until it was too late.  Savoring her uneasiness, Nex moved in for what he anticipated to be a very pleasurable bit of business.

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The problem with detention was that it left Jade with no time for her job.  So when Saturday finally rolled around, she shifted her afternoon detention duty to the evening instead, running from 7:30 to 10 PM.  That let her get in a full day of work, while still meeting the terms of her detention.  Of course, it only left a half-hour to get back to Poe before lights out, but it wasn’t a long walk.  Perhaps 600 yards.  Still, it was dark out, and with the cloud cover there was no moonlight.  Jade wasn’t worried, though.  Not only was Jinn following overhead as Shroud, invisibly black against the night sky, but she also had Jann active and charging the gizmos that Bunny had made her.

Her mind was preoccupied with thoughts of attack and defense.  Plans and contingencies.  Ito sensei didn’t cover these situations as much as Nakamura sensei had.  Her original teacher had drilled them endlessly on dangerous situation and planning for contingencies.  She thought that Ito sensei was probably trying to drill them with the basics, before moving to more distracting issues.

Neither she nor Jann noticed the huge animal that watched from afar.  It watched with a patient animal cunning, almost instinctively keeping its emotions blank and dull, blending with the background.  As for the animal (for that’s what it seemed to be), it kept a careful eye on the barely visible black shape in the sky.  Its senses were keen enough to see the night sky, and pick out the even blacker silhouette of the cloak.  The beast hid from the flying shape, slipping carefully from tree to tree, moving ever closer.  Stalking its prey.

For now, Jade was pretty happy with what she’d done for Jinn.  Harry Wolfe looked fierce, but he was really just a big softie.  And he did such great work!  The Sledge had been easy enough, but the “Terminator arms” were works of art!  The radius and ulna, the finger bones, they all looked so accurate!  And what sort of alloy was he using to get black metal?  She still needed to come up with a snazzy design and cool name for the spikes – maybe “Shadow Spears” or some such thing.  And what about the bear trap?  Harry claimed it was actually for wolves and coyotes.  She’d been half joking, but he’d come through for her.

What really bothered her was her.  Bunny’s inventive mind had already come through with two gizmos for her.  In less than a week!  But it wasn’t enough to let her hold her own in the big leagues, she knew that.  Well, the first step was for her to get used to keeping two spirits going at once.  The problem was, it really drained her.  Her powers were growing, but the price was that she usually felt tired and sluggish.

There was something at the corner of her eye.  She sighed.  It was stupid for her to be jumping at shadows when Jinn and Jann could see in the dark.  Still…  She reached into her pocket and withdrew a pink plastic Hello Kitty makeup compact.  At least, that’s what it looked like.  A pink plastic hockey puck with Hello Kitty’s face on the top.

“Kitty Compact: scan area.”

A trail of LED lights chased around the circumference once.  “Working!” came the rough robotic voice from the device.  A small jet of flame came from the underside and then the back, as the plastic compact lifted into the air on its tiny rocket.  It shot forward toward the trees.

[Any trouble?] came Jinn’s voice over the earpiece radio.  [I don’t see anything – wait, ahead of you!]

Thirty feet ahead of her, two large boys had just stepped out from behind trees.  They were completely blocking the path.

And as everyone’s attention focused on the threat in front, the hairy creature behind the tree prepared to spring.

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It had been a fairly normal day so far. The only real change had been that Hexette in flight class had asked if she might be able to join in the ballroom dance class. She’d heard Tennyo talking about it and although the girl wouldn’t have thought she was so shy, she finally told her she wanted to learn but was afraid to try it unless she knew someone there. Tennyo promised her that she would like it and that she knew a guy in the class who would be glad to help out if asked. She was sure that Harry would help and he was both good enough and new enough at it to not make Hexette feel bad or clumsy.

Tennyo was headed back from the library. Miss Henderson had been a little out of sorts, but she had been doing a good enough job that Miss Henderson pretty much left her alone and took it out on some boys who made the mistake of being rowdy in the wrong place at the wrong time. She might not have a battle axe behind her desk. But after she was finished chewing you out, you might wish she did and had used that instead.

Work was over at last and it was time to see if some homework could be finished before lights out. One of the things about the Whateley campus is that the trails to and from the buildings can give you a sense of being in a park. Except when there are a lot of students moving between classes, there are times when you can be alone and comfortable.

The paths were dark now and the lights had come on. The path was empty at this time except for two boys heading her way.  One was very stocky and about 5 feet 8 inches tall. The other was thin and about five four. There wasn’t anything about them to draw any more attention than that. Until they stopped in front of Tennyo and blocked the path. The big one spoke first.

“Hey girl! Del here wants to talk to you!”

“No names you idiot! You want her and her friends after us?”

“Don’t worry, she won’t be telling anyone about this. Now do your thing before someone comes by.”

“I didn’t sign on for this kind of deal.”

“Do it you idiot! Before she gets away!”

Tennyo had already figured that she didn’t want to stick around. She was in enough trouble, and didn’t need anything like this going on her record now. She was already about ten feet up and moving back when she fell back to earth.

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Nikki felt the surge of triumphant, cruel pleasure from the darkness just before a black gloved hand went over her mouth and a strong arm wrapped around her waist to yank her into the nearby foliage.  Too late to do anything but try and wrench herself free, she nearly managed with a backwards kick and twist of her body. 

“Nice try, red.” A soft, coldly amused voice told her as her attacker shifted so her kick hit empty air and his grip on her face and waist tightened to the point of being painful.  “But both of us know you aren’t any good with close-in fighting.  Make it easy on yourself and give up now.”

Nikki began seeing stars as the air was squeezed out of her lungs and she found breathing nearly impossible with the hand clamped over her mouth and nose like a strangling vise.  Panic threatened to overwhelm her as she frantically tried to free herself with more twisting and thrashing.  Finally, she sank her teeth into the hand that tightened over her mouth during the struggles and was rewarded with the warm, salty taste of blood. 

“Bitch!” Her mouth was free, and she pulled in huge gulps of air as the arm around her waist tightened even more and her attacker cursed.  “This could have been easy, you’d just have gone to sleep and never felt what I’m going to do to mess you up so bad no one will ever look at you without flinching again.  Now I’m going to make you hurt.”

She gasped as the guy’s hand punched one of her breasts, and opened her mouth to scream for help.  Before that could be accomplished, a hard punch to the side of her head tumbled the girl deeper into the shrubbery and he was standing over her.

“Wanna play rough?” The black clad and masked figure dispassionately regarded both her and the damage she had managed to do to his hand. “That’s fine.  I like rough.  I don’t think you’ll enjoy it much though.”

A kick to the ribs that was so fast she didn’t see it coming drove the breath from her again.  She felt ribs crack under that impact, and fought the blackness that was threatening to close in on her consciousness as her attacker landed even more kicks and punches with bruising, bone breaking force.

She couldn’t concentrate enough to draw on her own powers, and had never felt so helpless in her short life.  A life that was in very real danger of never getting any longer.  Something within her raged at the idea as a familiar internal voice screamed.  Stand up and fight the ill-visaged bastard, girl!  Or at least get some distance between the two of you!”

Nikki tried, actually managing to reach her knees and begin pushing her pain-wracked body off the ground when yet another kick connected with her partially exposed stomach, sending her flying to land with a thump on her back with an explosive gasp of pain and expelled air.

Cruel pleasure, bloodlust, and lust for something else Nikki didn’t want to feel at all poured from the dark figure as he advanced on her again, hands at ready for the attack she knew would bring more agony and maybe even death.  All she could do was lie there and wait for it to come.

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Ayla looked at the note and shook her head. ‘I have information about Tansy Walcutt that you really need to know. I’m willing to sell this information to you for $1,000. I’d prefer it if we kept this between ourselves. Meet me at the cafeteria loading dock at 10 PM.’ The idiot note had, ‘I’m planning an ambush, please show up and get wasted’ written all over it.

Even knowing that it was a trap, Ayla didn’t feel very threatened. The person who wrote the note was obviously an idiot. Ayla was positive that she could handle anything that the note-writer threw at her. And, if she couldn’t, she could simply Phase out and walk through a wall or something to get away.

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[Look out!]

Jinn’s warning came at the same time Jade saw the motion from the corner of her eye.  She twisted and dodged, but her exhaustion slowed her reflexes.  She took the edge of the strike and it practically knocked her unconscious.  Her head and stomach both lurched sickeningly, and as she blinked, she realized that if she hadn’t dodged the main force of the blow, it might have snapped her neck.

As her head cleared, she realized she was being held in the air.  There was a hairy hand around each of her arms, holding her aloft.  She couldn’t see her attacker, but she could feel his hot breath on the back of her neck.

Ahead of her, Shroud settled to the ground, in cloak form, no hint of humanity showing in that dark hood or black billowing cape.

And behind Shroud, the two large figures approached.  She saw that they were both at least six feet tall.  She didn’t need spirit vision to see the crazed lust on their face.  But it wasn’t a sexual lust.  They both had splashes of blood on them.  And one held the dead and bloody carcass of a small bobcat.

“Say hello to my wolfpack,” Jade’s captor said, from behind her.  “We’ve already blooded ourselves.  Now it’s time for the real fun.”

Jade was proud of the voicebox that Bunny had rigged for Shroud.  The voice was more than creepy.  It was positively haunted:  “Let the girl go, or I promise you’ll regret it.”

As the voice spoke, a silvery pale face formed in the hood, as white as bone.  It was Shroud’s face, the lips moving as if over-enunciating each word.

Jade struggled, but in this hold her arms were helpless.  She kicked back with her feet, landing a solid thump, but it didn’t budge her captor.

“The name’s Bloodwolf.  I hold the spirit of the werewolf, little girl.  Even if you could harm me, I heal faster than you’d believe!”  There was a snort that parted the hair in the back of her head.  “Hear that, black spirit?  I hope so, ‘cause you’re what I came for.  Word is, you’re nothing but a loose spirit.  Whatever avatar grabs you, sucks you up.  That’s what I’m here for.  That, and a little blood sport.  So you come forward and hand yourself over, or I play ‘make a wish’ with the little girl here.”

Jade’s mind raced.  This guy had to have been talking to Tansy!  Tansy had sucked up Jade by stretching a glove away, and reaching through the “spirit film.”  No one else knew about that, not the details.  Well, no one except the girls, and Mongoose, and he’s the one who’d proven that the “film” only existed between disconnected pieces.

Which meant that the werewolf jerk probably couldn’t hurt Shroud – if she was careful.

But Jade had to get free first.  She looked at the two linebackers blocking her escape route.  Perhaps one last attempt at reason?

“That was a good scare guys, but it’s time to let me go now, okay?  That way, we can all have a laugh.  Nobody hurt, nobody gets in trouble, right?”

Linebacker One sniggered sickly.  “We won’t get in trouble.  It was this bobcat that dragged you off into the woods and killed you.  Before he was killed by that spirit.”

Linebacker Two joined in the amusement.  “Yeah, before she suffered a freak supernatural accident and vanished away.”

Time for the final calculations before it hit the fan.  Should she scream?  Nikki or Toni might hear – their room faced this way.  But she’d need three seconds for a good scream, and she wouldn’t get it.  And help wouldn’t arrive soon enough.  No, she made her plan.

“Kitty compact,” she ordered, “attack!”

And as she said the last word, she slammed her head backwards as hard as possible.  She knew that a dog’s most sensitive anatomy was its muzzle, particularly across the top where the delicate nasal passages ran.  From the whole werewolf story and the hairy hands around her arm, and especially from the way his breath kept steaming up the back of her head, she was guessing he had a wolf’s muzzle.

She hit hard and true.  It obviously hurt him a lot worse than it hurt her.  He started to drop her, then pressed down hard.  She was standing, but her knees almost buckled.  He had one furred, clawed hand on her shoulder and another lunged for her neck, ready to rip her throat open.

“You DIE for that, bitch!”

Virtually a classic in any martial arts class was “mugger grabs you from behind; knife at your throat.”  This was the same.  As the claw lunged for her throat, both of Jade’s arms flashed up to grab his arm.  Jade barely noticed Bloodwolf’s scream of pain as she used the perfect timing of long practice.  She pulled and dropped, pulling him forward and off balance.  Then, in the instant he toppled, she straightened with all the power in her legs.  Compared to her attacker, she was tiny and weak.  But she attacked his weakness (balance) and used her greatest strength (the power of her legs).  Bloodwolf flipped, spinning overhead to slam hard against the ground.  Jade had one moment to smile.  It was a perfect example of moving off the line, and the throw had been delightfully circular.

She also knew that he’d be up and after her a second later.  She sprinted, aiming for the gap between the linebackers.

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Tennyo was able to tuck and roll out of the fall and end up on her feet facing them. The bigger one advanced on her, popping his knuckles.

“Not so fast little girl. It’s time we finished up this little job. Your not so hot without your powers. Beg nicely and we might let you live.”

She kept backing up, shifting on her feet as if trying to get a feel for the ground. She started to bounce a little as she got her center of gravity settled. At that point she stopped backing up and set herself in a defensive stance. She almost seemed to be moving still though as the shadows seemed to start gathering around her. There seemed to be a slight greenish blue glow to her eyes also. Her voice was closer to a growl than might be expected from a girl her size.

“I don’t know what kind of deal your trying to pull off here you two. But I’ll give you two seconds to do something else or I’m not going to be responsible for what happens to you.”

“Hah! Tough talk for someone without powers.”

The big guy grabbed at her. Tennyo moved out of his way, it was obvious that she couldn’t fly. Some movements of her hands showed that she had tried and failed to form an energy bolt or sword. When he tried again she gave him a quick kick to the knee to slow him down.

To her surprise, he seemed to not be affected by the kick, except that he seemed faster when he tried to grab her again. A few more strikes and he was moving much faster and still didn’t show much effect of the strikes that had hit him. In fact, he wasn’t even trying to dodge them. Tennyo decided to dodge him a bit and try to figure out what was going on. Several more dodges and he seemed to be slowing down some. She tried an experiment. Dodging his next grab, she ducked in and delivered a punch to his short ribs.

“Ooff! Hey! That hurt a little. Your gonna pay for that you little witch!”

Tennyo had to move fast to avoid his next few attacks. Then he started to slow down again. It wasn’t like he was getting tired either.

“Well, it seems you like this hitting thing too much. I think we’ll have to do this another way.”

Tennyo started dodging and tripping him up as she moved around him. The shadows seemed to be getting darker around her too.

“Hold still you little tramp! Del! Your supposed to be slowing her down. What are you doing? She’s as fast as lightning and stronger than a bull! Some of those hits really hurt!”

Del was sweating and replied in a whiney voice that just made you want to swat him.

“I AM! I don’t understand. Her powers should be damped. She should only be at normal human strength and abilities now.!”

“Got news for you two little twerps. Fact is, I’M NOT HUMAN!”

With that statement, she broke off from the big guy, Leaped over him, and landed past Del, She turned and grabbed him by the shoulders, then looked into his eyes. Her eyes took on a greener tinge and Del began struggling and screaming hysterically. The shadows darkened around her even more.

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At the time this happened, several seemingly unrelated things occurred.

The Reverend Englund sensed a disturbance that sent him running from the desk where he was preparing the next days class schedule for his Comparative Religions Class, desperately calling Security to find if there was something going on.

Miss Henderson and several students in the school suddenly felt a terrible chill in their bones and a depression like feeling that would haunt them for the rest of the evening and bring them renewed nightmares for several days to come.

Two other beings, far away from any place known to man, sensed something that they hadn’t expected to ever feel again. It was only for a moment, but that moment was enough to gain their attention and start a series of events that wouldn’t see fruition until much later.

A girl called Sara felt a strange pull in the recesses of her being and a chill ran through her body.

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“HOLD VILLAIN!”  The shout managed to pull Nikki out of the darkness she had started to embrace as a glittering armored form interposed itself between her and the source of her pain.  She had a moment to realize her rescuer was none other than the annoying Stalwart before her attacker gave a chilling laugh.

“Stay out of this you clanking idiot.” The ninja warned.  “I’ve no reason to hurt you here.  Be smart and don’t give me one.”

“Nay!”  Stalwart brandished a pretty impressive power sword that hummed as it activated while holding his shield over the still prone Nikki.  “What sort of cowardly knave would I be to stand aside and allow you to ravish my own Lady!  You need a good thrashing, cur!”

“You talk too much.” Nex answered as he launched into a flurry of motion that easily knocked the other’s shield flying into the bushes, and deflected a sweeping attack from the humming, and now glowing, blade that would have removed an arm had it connected. 

Nikki managed to rise shakily to her feet during that exchange of blows, but was still unsteady and halfway dazed.  You have power child.  Use it!  This knight is no match for the black one.  Do not waste what the good fellow has given you.

Nikki’s head began clearing, mostly from the pain her abused stomach, ribs, and head were frantically sending messages about to her brain.  The internal voice she usually chose to ignore ranted at her to DO something other than wait for the fight between her protector and the vicious black-clothed ninja to finish and face a repeat of the nasty spot she had been in.

Stalwart’s sword went whirling into the distance and Nikki saw the same hand she had bitten earlier take on an unhealthy glow as her attacker moved to strike Stalwart himself.  She rapidly gathered in lines and tapped into them for strength, and again totally by accident, healing as the ninja literally shredded her savior’s armor with his bare hands.  She saw blood flowing from those rents in the armor, and in a rage, brought her own power up to help the boy who had more than likely quite literally saved her life moments before.

They were right in the middle of Whateley’s rose garden, with climbing vines filled with the fragrant blooms, and thorns.  As Stalwart collapsed from the blindingly rapid attacks an idea of how to end this mess began forming in her mind.

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Jade sprinted, but the pair of linebackers blocked her path.  BIG linebackers.  The gap between them vanished as the reached to intercept her.  Until one of them crumpled.  Behind him hovered the blinking lights and pink plastic disk of Jade’s Hello Kitty makeup compact.

“Killstench?” Linebacker Two asked, in disbelief.  “I don’t know what you did to him, you little rug rat, but you’re going down hard.  The name’s Maggot.  My touch is like acid.  It dissolves flesh like salt on a slug!”

“Thanks for the warning.”  Jade closed her eyes hard, while pressing the activation detent on her moonsilver ring.  An instant later, the barrettes in her hair erupted with brilliant strobes of lights that left the mind reeling, the stomach revolting, and balance uncertain.

As Maggot staggered forward, Jade closed with him in the sliding step that’s so common to Aikido moves.  Atemi wasn’t her favorite style but sometimes you had no choice.  She started a hop-kick to the crotch with her left foot, a sokuso-sokei kick, but it was just a feint.  As Maggot hunched forward, reaching to protect himself, her momentum swung the true power into her other leg.  It arced around and up, going fully vertical.  A perfect sokutei kick as her heel connected with his chin.

Her only real question was whether she’d killed him.  A kick like that, full force to the skull, can easily become lethal.

“Kitty compact: sedate.”

The obedient device extended a needle and rocketed in to jab the unconscious attacker.

Behind her, Bloodwolf had risen to his feet, only to face the empty billowing cloak of Shroud.  Shroud spoke in her hauntingly empty voice.  “Surrender now, or I’ll hurt you.  You may not recover.”

The werewolf stood fully exposed now.  Except for the jeans he wore, he was the classic image of a movie monster – a canine head and muzzle and the pointed ears of a half-man/half-wolf.  A fur-covered body and hands that had sharp claws.  Even a wolf’s tail that waved behind him.

“Human or spirit,” he half-growled the words, “you’re dead meat now!”

And with that, he lashed forward directly at Shroud’s face.  Had she been human, his claws would have torn her face off.  Had she been the naive spirit of two weeks ago, he might have had an opportunity to grab at her naked and unprotected spirit, absorbing it as Tansy had.

But she’d learned a lot since then.  Her spirit was protected so long as it was inside an object – no matter how complex the shape might be.  The only danger lay in stretching her form between two objects.

Further, she had learned to take human form, but to switch to object form when needed.  This was definitely a time when she needed to be an object.

Lastly, she had finally learned what Ito sensei had been trying to teach her, by refusing to teach her.  She had no ki.  She had no body.  She might fight in imitation of a person, but she would be, at best, a pale imitation of her physical self.  For a real fight she needed to learn her own style – something completely unique to her situation.  Something that Ito sensei could not teach her.  And since he couldn’t, he refused to lead her farther down the wrong path, by instructing her on how a human body moves.

Jinn-the-object, Jinn when she acted as the black cloak, had no need of a head or face.  For a moment she had held up a talcum powder target – a lure.  And he’d fallen for it completely.  She dropped contact with the million particles of talcum powder.  They puffed aside as Bloodwolf half-clawed, half-punched her “face.”  His hand reached through her face and brushed against the trigger plate of a genuine bear trap (a “smooth jawed wolf trap”, Harry had insisted).  It was set in place like some obscene vertical mouth, and it snapped shut across his wrist with a force strong enough to break bone.

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Tennyo was ignoring the big guy. Instead, she was trying to hold the smaller, screaming boy even closer. The shadows seemed to be starting to move from her hands to his arms were she held him.

“Get out of my way you little pipsqueek!”

Suddenly, Del was torn from her grasp. Tennyo looked up to see Del hanging by one arm from one of the big guy’s hands. The big guy then tossed Del away. The arm broke with a loud snap as he did it. Del landed about twenty feet away.

Tennyo growled and her eyes flashed green blue, “That was MINE!”

“Got you now you little..... urk!”

She had grabbed him in a vise-like grip. The shadows seemed to be flowing around his head where she had grabbed him. His spastic attempts to free himself from her grip were not succeeding. Then his screams started.

About that time, the shadows started to fade and her eyes took on a more familiar crimson hue. Startled by his screams, she let him go.

He was staggering backwards with a look of pure terror on his face. Tennyo backed off in confusion. She was now floating about a foot off the ground and the shadows had faded away completely.

“MONSTER!! Get away from me!”

The big guy took one last terrified look at her and ran away as if all the hounds of Hell were after him.

She looked around in confusion, trying to find what had scared him so badly. All she could see was the crumpled form of the guy that big one had called Del. Going over to him, she began checking him over like she had been taught in Scouts. He was unconscious and wouldn’t wake up if she yelled at him or shook him the little bit that she felt safe doing with his injuries.

His right arm was obviously broken. Other than that he didn’t seem to have any serious wounds that she could find. He did appear to be in some form of shock.

 Tennyo looked around and saw one of those security emergency phones on a nearby light pole. She flew over to that, opened the box, and lifted the phone. There was a ring on the other end and a man answered immediately.

“Security. How can we help you?”

“My name is Billie Wilson and I have an injured person here who I think is a student. He has a broken arm and possibly some other wounds that I couldn’t determine under the circumstances.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m on the path that goes from Dunn Hall to Poe Cottage. I’m not sure exactly where on the trail.”

“Is he close to you now?”

“Yeah, about forty feet or so.”

“Okay. We have a fix on your phone. We’ll have someone there momentarily. Don’t go anywhere.”

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

She waited by the phone and soon several security men came rushing from the direction of Administration.

Two men moved up and covered her while the others set up an overwatch and one of them checked the prone figure of Del.

That one pulled a walkie talkie and started to speak into it. Not long after that an EMT showed up and started to treat him. Soon after that a security SUV showed up and the kid was put on a stretcher and driven away towards the hospital.

Tennyo just stood there until Chief Delarose showed up and relieved the two who were watching her. He then started to ask her some questions.

“Okay Billie. Did you do this?”

“No. It was the big guy with him.”

“The big guy?”

“Yeah, about five feet eight and really stocky. Dark complexion and short black hair. Took off running that way.” She pointed in the direction that she’d seen him run.

“Why’d he run?”

“I think he was scared of me.”

“Why was he scared?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t do anything to him.”

He scratched his head.

“I think you’re telling me the truth Billie. I’m just not certain that it’s ALL the truth. Care to add anything?”

“No.”

He smiled a little smile. “Good. We’ll need to go to the station so you can file a report. Okay?”

“Okay. Is Del going to be alright?”

“How do you know his name?”

“The big guy called him that. Before he hurt him. I was just wondering if he was going to be okay.”

“His name is Delwin Florian and he’s been in trouble before. His code name is Negator and he can stop most attackers cold with his ability to negate most powers and even some life forces. He seems to be in some kind of shock and he has some bruises and the broken arm. We think he’ll be okay.”

“Good. I hate to see people get hurt. Especially if I don’t know them.”

“Can you tell me more about the guy who did this to him?”

“I’ll try.”

They continued to discuss what had happened all the way back to security where she filed a report for him.

While she was doing that, Reverend Englund showed up and started to question the Chief. He gave Tennyo the strangest looks while he was there and insisted that they find the big guy immediately and that he needed to question him and Del as soon as possible.

Tennyo left before he was through bothering the Chief.

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Bloodwolf howled, literally howled in pain as he stumbled back.  What had happened to his hand?  Something was biting him!  He staggered back until he suddenly found a tree at his back.

The black cloak billowed forward, pursuing him.  It closed with him, almost suffocatingly close.  There was some sort of whirring noise…

CLANG!

A cry of pure agony rent the night.  Bloodwolf looked down in disbelief.  There was a railroad spike!  An honest-to-God, inch-wide, foot-long railroad spike had been hammered through his gut!  He was pinned to the tree like a pig on a stick!

The cloak moved.

CLANG!

He felt his left shoulder blade shatter.  This second spike hadn’t pinned him to wood, it had been deflected as it shattered his shoulder blade.  That was small consolation, since his left arm was now completely useless.

Something black, like a skeleton’s arm but cold as ice grabbed hold of his right arm.  He tried to wrench free, but the pain was too intense –

CLANG!

His right arm was pinned to the tree.  The spike had passed cleanly between the bones of his forearm.

“Stop it!  Mother of God, STOP IT!”  He was crying like he never had.  Never once in his life.

CLANG!

His thigh was pinned to the tree.

“I think that’s probably enough, Shroud.”  It was the little girl.  “Can you come up with something creative for those two?”

As the hell-cloak billowed off, the girl walked up to him.  “It’s real lucky that you heal so fast.  I mean, that probably woulda killed someone who didn’t heal up.  But it looks like those spikes are just steel, not silver or anything.”

He would have cursed at her, but his cries were giving way to gasps of agony.  Both his gut and his shoulder flamed in pain every time he took a breath.

The girl was looking at something with a thoughtful expression.  He noticed a silver ring on her finger, as she said, “You let go way too easily when I flipped you.  And you screamed, too, didn’t you?  I wonder…”

She pressed her hand against his leg and he cried out again as the hot coal was shoved into his flesh.

“Hey, Shroud, can you move that log for me to stand on?”

The cloak billowed again, and a log was dragged forward to the base of the tree.  Balancing on it, the little girl could reach up to his chest.  He noticed that she’d slipped the silver ring onto the end of her index finger.  The ring seemed to glow with a malevolent silvery sheen, a blinding white glow that pierced through his eyes.  She moved her hand forward and touched his chest.

“AAAAAAAAAAA!”

She was searing patterns into his flesh with a flaming coal.

“I’ll talk!  I’ll tell you whatever you want to know!  You want to know who sent me?  I’ll tell you!  Just – Dear God – stop it!”

“Oh, I know who sent you,” she said, as she continued her hellish torture.  “It was Tansy Walcutt, wasn’t it?  Did she pay for it?  Naw, too easily traced.  Let’s see, she probably slept with you, so she could get into your mind while your defenses were weak.  You probably thought she was, like, the most fabulous ever?  As if.  That’s just her power working.  Or maybe she didn’t even bother to sleep with you, just talked to you all quiet and intimate.

“Whatever, once your defenses were down, she used her telepathy to give you some sort of hypnotic suggestion.  That way, she gets her revenge, and if you get caught she doesn’t have to take a fall.  Pretty slick, really.  There’s no way anyone can prove anything, so she’ll get off scott free.  But I’m getting kind of tired of this, so I think it’s time to send her a little message.”

She gave a satisfied sound, “There!” and hopped off the log.

“I was going to write ‘Tansy really fucked me,’ which is true enough, but I’m not supposed to use language like that.”  She frowned at him in a little girl way.

For some reason, Bloodwolf found the child’s expression completely and utterly demonic.  As the ebon cloak drifted in behind her, he suddenly understood – Whateley doesn’t just train humans, it trains mages and wizards and … other things.  Tansy had told him the cloak was a spirit.  She hadn’t told him what kind of spirit it was.  As he looked at it hovering there behind its diminutive master, he realized that this wasn’t a little girl at all.  She was a creature from Hell.  He had captured the spirit of a werewolf and thought himself the toughest beast around.  Now he realized that some spirits didn’t need to make their host look tougher.  He realized that the most horrible spirits would hide within a shell that seems innocent.  But what kind of spirit  --?

“I wouldn’t do this, normally,” she continued.  “But you killed that bobcat.  And I think you hurt it before you killed it.  I don’t like it when other people hurt the animals!  If you do it again, I’ll be very upset!”

And he had his answer.  His terrifying answer.  She was one of the greater lords of the pit – a demon with a name, a Lord of Hell that was well used to receiving animal sacrifices.  A fiend driven into a jealous rage when the sacrifice was made, but not in its name.

“Ew, let’s get out of here before security arrives!  Kitty compact: return.”

And then the demon was gone.  Bloodwolf looked to each side.  Maggot and Killstench were unconscious, cocooned and suspended upside-down.  They dangled from branches like flies in a spider’s web, except that this web was shreds of their own clothing.  The bloody body of the bobcat was laid at his feet like a reverse offering.  And in the distance, he could hear the tread of approaching feet.

Probably security.

He couldn’t wait for them to save him.

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Without a glance for Stalwart, now face down and unmoving, Nex moved to finish what he had started with the red head.  “Two for one is all right with me.  I take you and your fool of a boyfriend into the deal.  At least you’ll go out together tonight.”

“I doubt that.” Nikki gave him a slow, very nasty little smile as he belatedly realized that she was showing no signs of the injuries he had already inflicted on her.  As a slowly rising breeze stirred her flame red tresses, Nex realized that his advantage was gone and he needed to get in close enough to put the girl out before she raised whatever it was she intended to use on him.

“I don’t think so this time.” She told him as his leap met with a hard wall of air that had solidified right in front of her.  “And just as a point of information, Stalwart is NOT my boyfriend.”

She punctuated the ‘not’ with a slam from the invisible shield he had run into that hurled Nex back into a group of rose bushes with enough force to knock the wind out of him for a change while thoroughly entangling him in the thorny vines.

“You stay right there, now.” The redhead commanded and Nex swore he could actually feel the rose bushes moving to tangle him even more.  “I’m not even close to being finished with you yet.”

“My hero.” Nikki shrugged and let her mouth shape itself into a smile of gratitude.  “Even if you are a pain most of the time.  Let’s see what I can do to fix you up.”

Nex took that opportunity to try and wriggle free of the rose bushes and she gave some of her attention to having them entwine him even more.  The sounds of ripping cloth and small gasps of pain as the thorny branches tightened their grip on her former tormentor widened her smile.

Stalwart was beginning to come around, and the blood running from his wounds had slowed to a trickle.  Nikki used her powers to examine the damage to both him and his armor then began reknitting each while telling him.  “Sorry I can’t fix the electronics in that stuff for you.  I’ve never been real good with that kind of thing, you know.  But I can at least put it back together for you.”

Once that was finished, at least as well as she could manage it, she pulled his face towards her own and planted a firm kiss on his mouth.  “Thanks.  But how did you manage to be here in time to help me?”

“Uh, I was following you.”  The boy admitted with a blush.

“Again?”

“Yea, my lovely, delicate lady.”  Lapsing back into his somewhat fractured jargon, the boy nodded slowly.  “It was mete that I give you what protection I may, as I did.”

“I see.”  Nikki let out a sigh while half maliciously sending an impulse that tightened the grasp of the rose bushes on her one time tormentor to draw another gasp of pain from him.  “Don’t you ever give up?”

“No true knight would so much as dream of giving up on a quest to win his lady’s favor.”  The boy answered with surprise that she would even think such a thing of him.  “I will seek you to the ends of the Earth, My Lady, and ultimately win your so elusive favor at last.”

“Well, why don’t you go get your sword and shield now.” Nikki shook her head while wondering just how she managed to get involved with such weirdoes.  Even if this one was beginning to be a bit on the endearing side.  “I’m not ready for a boyfriend just yet.  But thanks for the offer, and for saving my tail there.”

He gave her a wounded puppy dog look at that, but brightened considerably when she kissed him again -- carefully on the cheek that time.  “I shall win your favor, Lady, and eventually your love.”

“I don’t suppose telling you just to go away would do me any good here, would it?” She questioned with a laugh.

“Nay, Lady.  I would go, but still watch and yearn from afar...”

“Right.”  interrupting what threatened to be a very long, and rather sappy soliloquy on his honorable intentions towards her, Nikki waved into the distance.  “Go get your sword and shield now, ok?  I have some things to take care of over there.”

“Cur!” Stalwart growled as he saw Nex still struggling with the bushes.  “I’ll lesson that one on the mistake he made in attacking you.”

“No, I can take care of that myself.”  Nikki answered thoughtfully.  “But I really do appreciate the sentiment.  I have him under control now.”

“Aye, milady.”  Stalwart went to retrieve his weapon and shield, then stubbornly remained at her side.  “But I’ll not be leaving you alone with the cowardly dog all the same.”

“Whatever.”  The redhead shook her head, then admonished.  “Just don’t interfere with what I’m doing, ok?”

“Methinks that one would prefer a thrashing.”  Stalwart pointed out with a shudder of his own.

“Oh, I’m sure he would.”  Nikki grimly eyed the struggling Nex with a glint in her violet eyes that had the would be assassin holding very still as she approached him.  “But I’m not going to be that nice to him.  He doesn’t deserve it.”

“Pray don’t harm a helpless adversary.”

“HARM him?” Nikki was nearly indignant.  “The asshole just about broke every rib I have and was gloating about it.  But physical pain isn’t what I’m planning on here.”

“I pray thee it is so.”

“Stalwart.”

“Yes, milady?”

“Just shut up, will you?”

“As you wish my Lady.”

“You’re still nothing without your magic.” her captive spat out.  “I’ve shown that.”

“Yes you have, and I thank you for pointing that weakness out to me so forcefully.” Nikki calmly answered with a smile that made him squirm again.  “But that can and will change.  Now I have some questions you’re going to answer.”

“You won’t get anything from me that I don’t want to give you.” Nex gave her a neutral look that faded into one of distress as the rose bushes dug their thorns more deeply into his flesh.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you’ll be very happy to answer me.” Nikki shrugged.  “Unless you really like the idea of becoming a more or less permanent part of the rose garden here.”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

“Try me, bozo.” Nikki glared at him.  “You’ve already used up any leeway, or mercy, I might have given you.  Now just who are you?”

“Nex.”

“Nex.”  Pursing her lips thoughtfully, Nikki tilted her head.  “You’re a student here at Whateley?”

“Yes.”

“See, we’re making progress here already.  Why did you attack me?  Think very carefully before answering this one.  I’m not showing any of the damage you did to me, but I can still feel how it was, and how much you enjoyed doing it while you were beating on me .  A wrong answer on this one will HURT.”

“I won’t tell you.”

“Ok.”  Turning to Stalwart she smiled almost cheerfully.  “Why don’t you just kind of give him a few good whacks with the flat of your sword here?”

“His ridiculously antiquated sense of honor won’t let him do that.”  Nex actually grinned at the hesitation the other boy showed at the request.  “Stipid Bi.. OWWW!”

“Keep a civil tongue in your head when addressing my lady, cur.” Stalwart grinned almost nastily after giving Nex a solid blow to the rump with the flat of his blade.  “Ere I forget mine own honor in justified anger at the low sort you so surely are.”

Nikki smiled her thanks to Stalwart, who appeared almost eagerly ready to administer more nicely placed incentives to Nex’s person before returning her attention to her captive.  “Told you a wrong answer would hurt, didn’t I?  I’m pretty sure that Stalwart and I could keep this up all night long, Nex.  And don’t worry about being interrupted, either.  I’ve set up a sound and sight deadening shield around us here.”

“There is something else you should know here, as well.”  Nikki told him as her voice became cold and her face took on a cruelly inhuman cast while her eyes went from their usually soft violet to gemstone hard.  “Know that I am Aunghadhail, Daughter of The Burning Oak, Queen and Bulwark of The West in the fabled Five Fold Court.  I was one of the Nine Queens who stood with our peers against invaders the likes of which would destroy your pitiful little mind to see.  You are as nothing to me, little MAN.  You are less than an annoyance.  Do not make yourself a true annoyance, I can assure you that dealing with me is no small matter.  You would regret it.  For eternity.”

Stalwart gave a truly inhuman looking Nikki, who wore a haughty, arrogant expression that clearly told anyone with sense that this being cared very little about mere human niceties, and quietly, almost hesitantly, questioned.  “Lady?  What is this?”

“A side of me I don’t often show.”  Nikki lost the appearance of terrible grandeur and gave him a small grin. 

“Pray, never turn that face on me.”  He asked more quietly that he’d ever spoken in her presence before.

“I won’t.”  She assured him.  “You just saved my life, and that’s a debt that even Aunghadhail won’t forget.”

“Thank you, Lady.”  Stalwart nodded, disguising his relief very poorly, then sniffed and wrinkled his nose.  “Do you smell something, Milady?”

“Yes.”  Her answer was coldly amused as she gave her captive a long, slow looking over.  “I believe our ‘friend’ here has shit his pants.”

“I can’t blame him.”  Stalwart muttered.  “Again I ask most humbly that you never turn that face on me.”

“Never on my friends.”  Nikki quietly assured him then turned back to Nex and her expression hardened into her previous one.   “Now, out with the answers I have asked you for.  I show you a great deal of forbearance here, but my companion also has cause to relish doing you harm.”

“All right, all right!”  Nex gave in and almost eagerly answered without the incentive of the other boy raising his sword and giving it a tentative wave in his direction.  “I did it for Tansy.”

“Tansy Walcutt?”  Nikki questioned with a very nasty little gleam in her eyes.  “Did that bitch hire you to get me?”

“Nothing like that.” Nex answered with an internal promise to make both of these people PAY for bringing him to such a low.  “Think about it.  Her family is filthy rich, and has connections like you wouldn’t believe.  I’ve got to think about my future, you know.  Having Tansy’s gratitude for getting rid of you would be a real boost once I get out in the world.”

“I wouldn’t count too much on her gratitude.” Nikki shrugged.  “Tansy Walcutt isn’t one who likes to recall past favors done for her, from all I’ve heard.  And trust me, I’ve heard a LOT about her recently.  She’ll turn on you in a hot second if she thinks it will get her something she wants.”

“She’ll remember this.”

“Sure she will.”  Nikki nodded.  “As yet another disaster.  This one laid squarely at your door, Nex.  People like Tansy Walcutt don’t reward failure, do they?”

“I won’t fail again.”

“Arrogant, aren’t you?” Nikki frowned while reaching to weave a particular kind of spell, making it more or less permanent, on him.  “Let me tell you something here and now, Nex.  Tansy may be bad news, but I’m no small matter to have on your case either.  I’m definitely not someone you would like to have hunting you, believe me.  I’m on my guard now against you, and anyone like you.  So don’t even THINK about getting back at me, my friends, or anything connected with me.  Understand?”

She had the thorns dig in more to punctuate that last word while a wind stirred the leaves around him when none had been blowing a moment before.  Her hair waved with a near life of it’s own as a corona of crackling power glimmered around her.  “I’m waiting for an answer.”

“I understand, you red headed b...” Nex stopped his intended curse as Stalwart frowned and raised his sword again.  “I understand.  Just let me go and we’ll forget about this whole thing.  I won’t try to hurt you or your friends again.  My word on that.”

“Break that and I’ll really make you regret it.”  Nikki seemed satisfied, and the thorns began to loosen their grip on Nex.  “You know I can do that, now, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good, now get out of here.” Nikki gave a negligent wave of her hand and the rosebushes released him.  “Next time you see dear Tansy, tell her hello for me, would you?”

Nex gingerly extracted himself from the rose bushes, giving both Nikki and Stalwart a very wide berth, then flitting silently through the shadows to get away from them.

“Umm, my lady?”  Stalwart questioned while watching the failed assassin moving away.

“Yeah?”

“Methinks that despicable rogue may have trouble sneaking at all the way he doth shine in the dark.”

“Oh that.”  Nikki chuckled.  “You noticed?”

“Verily, my lovely, and inventive Lady.  Verily.”

“Good.  Now lets see how well he can sneak around to hurt people.”

“May I escort you home, now my Lady?”

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to convince you not to, now am I?”

“Nay.  My honor demands it.”

“Well far be it from me to wound your honor tonight.” Nikki sighed while thinking that NOW she’d NEVER get rid of him.  Offering her arm, which he took with almost comical gentleness she finished with. “All right, take me home.  I need a long hot shower.”

linebreak shadow

Security looked at the scene in confusion.  They’d been alerted quickly enough when the screams echoed out, but this wasn’t what they’d expected.  Killstench and Maggot both had fairly thick files, as did Bloodwolf.  They hadn’t expected to see the first two swinging in unconscious nudity, nor to see the werewolf stapled to the tree.  This was the sort of cruelty they expected from him, not done to him.

Sergeant Harris grimaced as he tried to figure out how to get Bloodwolf down.

“Where are those paramedics?”

“Sorry, Sarge.  It’s been a bad night for the ultra-violents.   And since this call came in second…”

Harris rubbed his head.  “Any clue who did all these…?  I’m not even sure if they were attacks or self-defense or what.”

Breen came back from his examination.  “It’s a bobcat, Sir.  Recently killed, probably from the hills.  We’re collecting samples of the white powder, but it sure doesn’t seem to be coke or any other drug.  So far our best clue is the message on his chest.”

Wilkinson nodded.  “Yeah, Bloodwolf doesn’t seem the type to burn the message ‘I attack little girls’ onto his own chest.”

Harris nodded, glancing toward the nearby Poe cottage.  “Is he talking yet?”

“No, Sir.  Something spooked him real bad.”

“Well, see if you can trace down whoever alerted the reporters.”  Another flash went off in the background, as the kids from the paper snapped one more picture of the scene.

Harris sighed.  “Yeah.  Look for any clues you can get.  Ultra-violents getting beaten to a pulp, and they’re the ones asking to be saved?  What next?”

If he’d been standing a bit higher on the hill, he would have seen down into the central campus itself.  Where a black-clad ninja was stealthily darting from cover to cover, invisibly making his way back to Emerson Cottage.  Totally unaware of the glow he emitted, or how it negated that stealthy, hard learned ability, even from this distance.

“At least tonight can’t get any weirder,” Harris concluded.

linebreak shadow

Ayla looked around the loading dock area. It was deserted, desolate and isolated. Man, they should have put up signs saying, ‘No Ambushes Between The Hours Of 4 And 10 AM’.

Then Ayla spotted something lying in the middle of the grease soaked blacktop. A box, wrapped in gold foil, with a big blue bow. Oh well, might as well get it over with.

There was a note: ‘Eat Me’. Wonderful, somebody thinks that they’re being clever. And, sure enough, inside the box was a large lollipop, tied up with a bow that had ‘sucker’ printed on it.

“A sucker for a sucker!” The voice came from the cafeteria roof. Ayla followed the voice to a figure standing on the edge. The figure burst into flames and dropped from the roof to the ground, extinguishing just before she hit the ground. “And you’re a sucker if you think that you can get away with dissing the Alphas!”

“You mean- the Alphas set this up?” Ayla asked.

“Sure ‘Nuff!” Fireball gloated back.

“Man, am I relieved! I heard that the Alphas were slick! If this is the best that they can do, then I have NO worries!”

Fireball screwed up her face in anger. “Hey, listen up freako, I’m plenty slick! I was slick enough to maneuver you out onto a surface that’s coated with grease. If I ignite that grease and you try to go desolid and pass through it, the fire will burn you inside and out. If you go super-dense, my manifested fire will still burn you and you’ll choke on the smoke.”

Then Fireball manifested two fireballs, one in each hand. From those, two lines of fire shot out, and encircled Ayla. Lines of fire reached out from the circle and formed a domed cage over her.

“Well, Freako? How’s THAT for slick?”

Ayla folded her arms across her chest. “Oh, admit it! Tansy came up with this entire plan for you!”

“No she did NOT! She doesn’t even know that I’m doing this!”

Ayla cocked an eyebrow at Fireball. “And exactly what information did you have about Tansy to sell?”

“What? How dense ARE you, Weirdo? I just said that to get you out here!”

“So, you don’t have an information to sell me.”

“What are you talking about?”

Ayla heaved a sigh. “Just making sure. Well, I don’t need to be hanging around here anymore.”

“Yeah? Let’s see you get out of THIS!” Fireball started to shrink the cage.

“Before we do this, there’s just one thing that I’d like to say to you.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“You’re a fucking idiot.” With that, Ayla calmly walked through Fireball.

Every neuron in Fireball’s body went off at once. She didn’t even have enough body control to scream. She just gave out an *eep!* and crumpled in a heap.

Ayla looked down at the girl lying at her feet. “Tsk! Talk about a complete waste of a good evening!”

END