Wellspring of Sorrows
The Play’s The Thingby E. E. Nalley
Wednesday November 22, 2006
Roland Atley was not a man accustomed to being kept waiting.
He sat in a spacious outer office whose furnishing would have put most CEO’s inner offices to shame and fumed over his predicament. The richly grained and scrupulously comfortable leather sofa he sat on did little to alleviate his mood. Nor did the beauty of what appeared to be an original Monet that hung next to the office door that stood shut. A contradiction worked behind a magnificent oak desk on a state of the art computer; somehow his erstwhile host had managed to hire an efficient secretary who was also as beautiful as her surroundings.
To be summoned like a lackey, fumed Atley to himself. Who does he think he is?
Roland forced himself to breathe deeply and get his temper under control. He’d heard the stories that floated around the Beltway about this particular individual. The last person to lose his temper around him supposedly was JFK and, so the story goes, everyone knows how that turned out. Still, Atley reminded himself, keeping the constituents happy was one of the things Under Secretaries were supposed to be about.
A soft tone from the desk brought Atley from his musings. The secretary smiled at him, a full smile at least that reached her remarkably blue eyes. “Mr. Atley, Mr. Tywyswyr will see you now.” Roland nodded his thanks as he stood and straightened his suit. As he approached the large double doors, the left opened with a soft hum of machinery.
Roland wasn’t prepared for the size of the office he entered, nor, despite the briefing, for the size of the individual who occupied it.
The desk did not face the door, but rather the wall to its left which was filled, floor to ceiling with expensive looking large screen televisions, not a single one of which was set to the same channel as another. Roland had no idea there were so many news channels on cable. About a third were set to international news and events, another third to domestic and all of the usual suspects were playing the final third seemed to be exclusively set to financial analysis. There was one screen playing a running ticker of every stock market currently open. The sound was not loud, but an angry buzz just above the threshold of hearing that Roland was certain would drive someone mad before long.
The desk itself was even more impressive for the paragon of craftsmanship his secretary was using; easily four times the size and it wrapped around it’s user in a U shape that kept the keyboards of the two computers and laptop within easy reach. But all of this paled in comparison to snakelike body that made itself comfortable on a pile of cushions behind the desk, triangular head intent on the screens before him.
Roland had seen the pictures of Tywyswyr, the dragon; self styled guardian angel of the United States. Had heard recordings of the creatures, deep terrifying voice and had even read over the furtive file the Secret Service had compiled on the creature that had been ‘helping’ the United States since the first Continental Congress. But to see him in the scaly, scarlet flesh was almost more than his mind could bear.
“Won’t you come in, Secretary Atley?” The very room seemed to vibrate in resonance to the sound that had worked its way up from the tip of the spaded tail that lazily moved off time to its owner’s breathing. “I appreciate your coming on such short notice.”
Atley tried to lighten the tone a bit as he settled into the Queen Anne chair the dragon had idly gestured at. “What would someone as old as you call short?” he tried, annoyed slightly at how suddenly his voice had risen in pitch.
Tywyswyr never took his eyes from the screens as he chuckled softly. “I find that my human colleagues and I have a very different concept of time. May I have Susan bring you something; coffee perhaps? I’m afraid it’s a bit early for anything stronger.”
Roland winced and convinced himself the dragon had no way of knowing of his friendship with Bill W. “I’m fine, thank you. Perhaps we could come to the point?”
“Mr. Atley,” chided the dragon softly, “as important as you may feel being Undersecretary of Mutant and Paranormal Affairs is, I very much doubt it will place you above reproach should I have my secretary connect me with President Bush and inform him in no uncertain terms how displeased I am with your service. We shall come to the point at my pleasure, after the far too often ignored pleasantries of polite society have been observed. Now, may I get you anything?”
The bureaucrat swallowed softly. “No, thank you.”
“Pity.” Tywyswyr daintily pressed a button on his desk. “Sell Martin Pharmaceuticals, all shares, hold for further instructions.” Roland couldn’t quite make out the acknowledgement, but was fairly certain it wasn’t English. “I trust your ride over from Connecticut Avenue was pleasant?”
“As can be expected this time of day, thank you,” Atley responded, schooling himself to keep his tone civil and blasé. “We’re rather proud of the improvements we’ve been able to make to the building since we took it over.”
“I’m a great fan of art deco,” the dragon replied. “Though I do find some of your choices clash with the neo-classical and Georgian school architecture of the remainder of the capital buildings. Some might believe this to be a statement of the government that mutants and other paranormals are a new problem. I trust that is not the case of your department?”
“Based upon the research I’ve been given, mutation is a very old phenomenon indeed, though scholarly works are somewhat lacking. I’m not a researcher myself, I focus on governing and containing the problems associated with Mutants and other Supers.”
“Mr. Truman felt the same way,” the dragon said softly, his voice somewhat far away. “It was a mistake then and it’s a mistake now. You may apply all the labelsyou like, Mr. Atley; we’re still talking about people. Buy Martin Pharmaceuticals to threshold level four and hold; option to all sellers or speculation.”
Roland squirmed a bit in the chair and tried to come to grips with the strange meeting he found himself in. “I can’t help but think I’m taking up your obviously valuable time,” he started.
“Don’t,” Tywyswyr replied in his offhand way. “I’m just trifling today. Not much motion on the markets.” He allowed a long pause to settle before continuing. “I note that there’s quite a bit of paranormal activity in the news of late. This ongoing situation in Hell’s Kitchen, and, of course, last month’s attack on Whateley Academy. I find this very unsettling. I trust your office is taking steps to reign in our local chapters of the MCO?”
“You’ll understand if I can’t comment on current investigations,” Atley decided was the most neutral reply he could make. “You may rest assured that my office will take whatever steps are necessary.”
“You should be careful of that phrase. It’s gotten more people than you would care to know in a great deal of trouble.”
“Mr. Tie…Tyw…forgive me, how do you pronounce your name?”
“Tie-WIS-weyr,” the dragon supplied. “It’s Welsh for Guardian. I rather found it ironic.” For a terrifying moment the creature made a sound more like a growl than anything else, before Roland realized the dragon was laughing. “The name my mother gave me is even more difficult to pronounce. If it will help to put you at ease, Mr. Atley, you may call me Ty.”
“I wouldn’t dream of being so familiar.”
The wedge shaped head dipped slightly in acknowledgement. “As you like. Perhaps it is time for us to come to the point of this meeting.” He pressed the button again and one of the screens filled with information the Secretary was sure the creature didn’t need to refresh his memory. “Roland Atley, forty three, separated, estranged wife Sharon thirty eight and daughter Marie seventeen. You graduated, College of William and Mary 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, fifteenth in class and member, National Honors Society. High School, Whateley Academy, class of 1981, Class One Exemplar, Class One Energizer, code name there, Firefly, class secretary and treasurer. No MID on file…” the question was left hanging.
“How…how did you get that information?” whispered Roland through the cold sweat that took hold of him.
“I like to know with whom I deal. I’m certain you at least browsed through the rather thick folder the Secret Service keeps on me. Now I think we understand each other, Mr. Atley. You keep secrets, and so do I. Secrets that you cannot possibly begin to imagine and if you could, the mere fact of them would destroy the sanity you cling to. I am not your enemy, Mr. Atley, but, if I were,” and the dragon for the first time turned and faced his guest, his gleaming emerald eyes freezing the human in place with the terrible fullness of Tywyswyr’s entire attention.
“If I were your enemy, you would find me a terrible and implacable foe whose wrath would be as complete and horrific as that which was visited upon the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Sodom and Gomorrah. Do we understand each other, Mr. Atley?”
It took every iota of willpower Roland Atley possessed to keep from soiling himself. “Yes,” he managed from his very dry mouth. “We understand each other.”
The dragon’s eyes didn’t blink. “I am pleased.” He pressed the button once more without turning away. “Buy twelve thousand shares, Boeing Aerospace and margin call another five thousand.”
“What is it you want from me?”
“Leverage,” the dragon replied, finally turning back to his wall of information. “Something has begun to stir that I must have help with returning to sleep. That help consists of certain students at Whateley Academy. For our beloved Mrs. Carson to allow them to assist me, she will want something in return. That something I plan to get from you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing in this world is free, Mr. Atley. Nor should it be. Commerce is the engine by which this world spins around its sun just as surely as the so-called laws Sir Isaac defined for us. She has needs and a supply which I require. I intend to have an answer to one of her needs and thus have my own requirements filled. For that you have needs. Now, what will your assistance cost me?”
“Are…are you offering me a bribe?” puzzled Roland after a long moment.
“Not in so many words,” the dragon managed around one of his growling chuckles. “What I want is an endowment you might say. Nothing neither Mrs. Carson, nor any of the students need know about, but sufficient to persuade her to see things after my fashion. What I want from you, Mr. Atley is a certain level of hostility to develop between the Department of Mutant and Paranormal Affairs and the MCO.”
“To what end?” squeaked Roland. “I don’t have the authority to set a policy that sweeping…!”
“To the end of punishing a group that feels its oats sufficiently to launch a raid on a church in my domain,” the dragon hissed in tightly contained anger. “To the end of re-establishing a bit of sovereignty in what should be a sovereign nation! The MCO is a tentacle of the United Nations, Mr. Secretary. A tentacle I want pruned. Your department is the custodian of all MID records of mutants who hold US Citizenship. As for authority it is specifically the authority of the Secretary of the Department of Mutant and Paranormal Affairs to set policy on how his agency will interact with other departments of the federal government as well as international agencies, saving on the direct order of the Commander in Chief.”
“I’m not…” Roland started softly.
The dragon pressed the button again. “Susan, would you connect me with President Bush please? I believe he’s at Camp David this week.”
“Right away, Mr. Tywyswyr.”
“Do we understand each other, Mr. Secretary?”
Roland licked his lips carefully while the he considered the dragon’s one eye that was regarding him sidelong. “How are you on relationship counseling?”
“I’ll have my people get in touch.”
Thursday, November 23rd, 2006
There are many strange noises from things that go bump in the night, to the full on comic book battles that sometimes wage across this campus. Frequently the school is rocked by an explosion and the only note it gets is a vague wondering of which devisor would spend the rest of the day in the nurses office looking like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Despite this built in manner of indifference to sounds that would normally summon the law and order folks in other parts of the world, everything has its limits.
Blood curdling screams were Mrs. Horton’s.
Before I had truly mastered myself, despite Hank’s best efforts, my door was kicked in by the aforementioned house mother, her hair still in last night’s curlers, what looked like a cucumber face masque and a twelve gauge side by side that had some rather extensive after market modifications. “What in God’s name is going on in here?” she shouted, nickel plated steel maws seeking a target. “Hank?” she demanded; confusion at the scene before her creeping into her eyes. “Rosalyn? What are you doing in here? And where is Lily?”
“It’s not what you think, Mrs. Horton!” started Hank hastily, his arms carefully kept around his shoulders.
Before Mrs. Horton’s suspicions could get the better of her, I managed to get control of myself sufficiently to form a small bubble in my hand. “I am Lily!” I shouted at her. “I woke up like this, Mrs. Horton, you have to believe me!”
The barrels of the shotgun wavered for a moment before they were removed to point at the ceiling. Before Mrs. Horton could say anything, the susurrus of the other student’s on the floor, being roused by the commotion crept into her awareness. “Everyone go back to your rooms and stay there for ten minutes,” she called loudly down the hall. The noise was overwhelmed by the sound of doors closing before silence fell once more. “Make the two of you invisible and follow me down to my apartment,” she ordered me. Mrs. Horton started to walk out then, called over her shoulder, “Don’t even think of changing the itinerary, Miss Turner, or we’ll have a lot of time to get to know each other better in detention.”
“Yes ma’am,” I managed, wrapping a bubble around Hank and myself. Of course I didn’t bother to make her aware that several other bubbles were frantically pulling Hank’s discarded clothes from the room. My flight made it possible for Hank to get dressed by touch just in time for us to arrive at the House Mother’s apartment. She stood by the door for several seconds to let us precede her before she followed and firmly closed it behind her.
I’d never been inside Mrs. Horton’s domicile before now. It was a very comfortable looking set of rooms; this first was a living room that was decorated with expensive furniture that probably came with the job. They were early colonial in style, solid, darkly stained wood with richly textured fabrics. There was a long sofa and love seat that formed a box around the breakfast bar into her small kitchen with a matching overstuffed chair that Mrs. Horton sank into.
To be honest, I’m not sure what happened to the shotgun.
The room was covered in photographs on every surface that would hold them, usually of our House Mother in various exotic locations. It seemed that once upon a time she’d been quite the world traveler. I was pulled from further musing on her past by her telling me, “You can be seen now, dear and I’m certainly interested in hearing this.”
“There’s really not much to tell, Mrs. Horton,” I told her, pulling my robe as tight as I could around my suddenly curvaceous form and mentally kicking myself for not thinking to grab some of my own clothes on the way down. “When I went to bed last night, I was me and when I woke up, I was Rosalyn!”
“And at what point did you arrive, Mr. Declan?” she asked, the sardonic expression on her face somewhat spoiled by the masque.
“Uh…about two hours before lights out last night…” Hank admitted after a brief moment of thought.
“Well, at least you’re honest about it,” she chuckled to herself. “I trust that won’t become a habit I have to talk with the two of you about. Now, I would not have figured you for a shape shifter, Lily, neither of your parents have that power and your own…” she trailed off thoughtfully for a moment. “Yes,” she told herself after a long moment before standing with purpose. “I’m going to make myself presentable. Miss Turner, I want you to do the same to the best of your abilities. If you don’t have anything that will fit, borrow something of Miss Goodhope’s. You two look to be about the same size now. I suppose if needs be…no, on second thought I’d rather not involve Rosalyn in this.”
She nodded at us, evidently pleased with her decision. “Meet me back here in ten minutes, Miss Turner. You may go, Mr. Declan.”
Hank and I shared a glance of confusion. “Where are we going, Mrs. Horton?”
“I have a theory that needs testing,” she answered. “Shoo! You’ll find out when we get there.”
After such a dismissal, there wasn’t really anything Hank and I could do except ‘shoo.’ We made sure we were on the same page as to where and when we were meeting my parents and I made my way back to my dorm room. The door wouldn’t stay closed from where Mrs. Horton had kicked it in, but I could prop a chair against it while I tried to find something to put on.
Fortunately, my costume had a fair amount of give to it and, evidently Rosalyn and I had the same foot size. It was an odd coincidence, but as it was in my favor I was inclined to ignore it just then. I had nothing in the way of a bra of course, my little ‘A’ trainers would be at a loss to contain Rosalyn’s veryfull C. Not that the ‘girls’ had anywhere to go in the tight confines of that white and black body suit. I didn’t feel like putting on any makeup so the mask stayed off.
I was only about three minutes late when I got back to Mrs. Horton’s as she lead me at a brisk trot across the campus towards the nearest underground lab access point. On the way she had a rather barbed conversation across the Nextel with Facilities maintenance about my door needing to be fixed. When they pressed her a bit much on why the door needed fixing was when it got barbed and I saw the reason a normal or what passed for it these days, middle aged woman was the house mother for a group of super powered teenagers.
Let’s just say the maintenance guys would be right over with a new door.
She also summoned Dr. Hewley, who, poor soul, was evidently not going anywhere for the holiday either. It didn’t take us long to end up in the powers classification lab where I’d first met the kindly Doctor; him looking the decidedly worse for wear and nursing a cup of coffee against the early hour. “What can I do for you ladies?” he asked in his good natured voice that didn’t at all seem forced. “Coffee?”
“Please,” chimed in Mrs. Horton and then proceeded to utter a long, somewhat baffling collection of consonants and vowels that managed to not sound like English at all. I contented myself with some of the Doctor’s passable coffee and trying not to let my odd situation get to me.
“Really?” he asked after Mrs. Horton had made some particular point. That brought him over to me. “I imagine we old fuddy duddies haven’t made a bit of sense since ‘coffee’ have we?” he asked with a kindly smile. “Miss Turner, bear with me for a bit as I clarify a point or two in Mrs. Horton’s thesis. Are you warm enough?”
“The coffee helps,” I managed, trying to sound more confident than I actually felt.
“Mrs. Horton tells me that last night everything seemed fairly normal, is that correct? Alright, and then this morning we have a rather interesting surprise. How do you feel?”
“I have a weird itch all over that’s faded, but it was stronger this morning.”
He picked up a classic horseshoe magnet and held it up. “Can you identify the poles for me?” he asked, keeping the labeled side away from me.
I grinned at him a bit lopsided. “Haven’t we been down this road, Doc? The end to your right is north.” He grinned as he motioned me to follow him and led the way to a rather large machine that had a sunken, circular depression in it. By the size of the power cables that fed it, I got the feeling it was a good thing the NRC had allowed a private high school to have a nuclear power plant on site.
“In a way, Miss Turner, I have the feeling we’re traveling it now. It’s truly amazing what we can do with electromagnetic fields these days. Have a look at this.” He threw a disturbingly large breaker that required both hands and set his coffee cup down on a flat space of the machine. I felt the local ‘flow’ of the Earth’s magnetic field shift rather forcefully in the direction of the sunken well in the machine. The field coalesced into the shape of his coffee mug before a series of projectors ‘painted’ the image of the cup onto the field. “Holograms have come a long way from the days of shiny foil stickers. Take this little toy for example. I’ve given it a sample, my coffee cup and it’s generated a focused electromagnetic field in that shape. The projectors fill in the details optically, though I’d be willing to bet you ‘saw’ the field before then. Am I right?”
“Yes,” I replied a bit in awe of what this thing was doing. It just felt wrong to be standing next to it. “But I still don’t see…”
“Light is another form of electromagnetic radiation, Miss Turner. The fact is what Mrs. Horton and I believe is that you’re doing the exact same thing this machine is. You haven’t suddenly become a shape changer, Miss Turner. We need for you to come out of your ‘shell’ as it were. We think you’ve surrounded yourself with an electromagnetic field in the shape of Rosalyn Dekkard. The visual cues Mrs. Horton and I, and you as I understand it, see are simply your remembrances of having seen Rosalyn. I’d be willing to wager you won’t have a birthmark in an odd place or such.”
I felt my skin burn with embarrassment. “That’s a bet you would lose, Doctor. I’ve…um…seen all of Rosalyn.”
Doctor Hewley had the grace to blush himself. “Ah yes, the showers and such. Shame on you for taunting an old man, girl!” he exclaimed with no real venom. “In any event, Miss Turner, all you need to do is turn off this shell.”
“But, I don’t know how I turned it on, Doctor!” I protested. “I just woke up this way.”
He turned back to Mrs. Horton and shrugged. “This isn’t a science issue any longer, I’m afraid. I hate to say it, but Miss Turner’s issue is all in her head. You may find it helpful to have a chat with Dr. Bellows.”
Mrs. Horton nodded as she collected my elbow. “Come along, Miss Turner; let’s find out if the good Doctor is in.”
It turns out Dr. Bellows had left late the last evening so it was beginning to look very much like my future as Rosalyn’s stunt double was becoming more and more assured. Mrs. Horton was consoling of course, but my mood was very much in the process of a Hollywood epic crash and burn. So I sat on the steps of Schuster Hall under the foreboding gaze of Noah Whateley and had myself a good cry while Mrs. Horton rubbed my shoulders and did her best to convince me everything was going to be fine.
I was only peripherally aware of her best efforts, as my mind was in a very near panic over how I would explain my situation to my parents. I couldn’t keep in a rather macabre chuckle when my mind called up my wistful envy of Rosalyn and using her to do exactly what had happened to me in Jade’s BIT-slicer gizmo.
“What’s funny?” asked Mrs. Horton in confusion.
“Eh…long story,” I hedged, not wanting to add to Jade’s long list of problems by ratting her out to the house mother. “Suffice to say I should have been more careful of what I wished for.”
“Lily,” she chided me softly, “You haven’t been comparing yourself with Rosalyn have you? She’s two years older than you. More to the point, it’s your mother’s genes that will have their way with you and for all her charms; Rosalyn really can’t hold a candle to Tabitha.”
I sniffed mightily to try and clear my sinuses. “That’s what I’m afraid of, Mrs. Horton! What happens if I have to go through the reverse of what happened to my mom?”
“What makes you think you will, dear heart?” she responded with a most welcome motherly hug. “Let me put this another way, you know why you’re in Poe, and of all the students there, how many do you think have had that happen to them?”
“Why is that relevant?”
“Statistics are always relevant, dear, just not always understood. My point is this, Hank, wonderful young man that he now is, is a statistical rarity. By that, I mean, winning the lottery rare. For every one female to male changelings that go through these hallowed halls, there are ten making the reverse journey.” She hugged my shoulders again. “Lily, you’re not in Poe because we think you’ll make that journey. As a matter of fact, I have the results of your powers classification that I’ve been meaning to go over with you for a few days now, but with the holidays and the end of term craziness, I’d forgotten to mention them to you.”
“I thought I already had the results of my classifications,” I managed around the slow ebbing of my emotions. She smiled a somewhat coy smile and dug out a PDA from a keeper on her belt.
“You know the gross results, Exemplar 1 Energizer 3, that’s not what’s important. You’ll be happy to know that while you were born a hermaphrodite your actual chromosome pairing is XX. Further, Dr. Hewley speculates that your hermaphroditism is a kind of a birth defect that shouldn’t bother you for the rest of your life. Your hormone levels are all normal for a young woman of your age.” She smiled at me again and passed me the PDA which was full of blood chemistry results I didn’t really understand.
“Then, why…?” I started, becoming a little angry over the fears I’d dealt with during my first term.
“Oh, there was a bit of concern from your mother that you might go through what she did, and on the off chance of it we put you in Poe. Let me be clear, no one in the faculty thought there was more than a remote chance of your mother’s fears being realized.”
I shot to my feet, angrier than I think I’d ever been in my life. Mrs. Horton followed me as I began to pace in my frustration. “You mean you all let me think that…?”
“How could we possibly know what you were thinking?” she demanded crossly. “If you were so worried, why didn’t you talk to me? That’s what I’m there for!”
I winced as her logic landed on a particularly barbed place that took the wind from my rant rather quickly. “I guess I’d just made up my mind that if it did grow back I was going to deal with things, surgically.”
“Yes, I wish you hadn’t made quite that forceful a comment to Jade,” she said sadly as she shook her head. “If she wasn’t an amazing regenerator her little attempt at self-surgery would have killed her.” Mrs. Horton sighed as her eyes drifted off in the direction of Poe before turning back to me. “That, Lily, is the reason you’re in Poe.”
“Jade?” I asked, confused.
“Jade, and Jay-Jay, and Ayla and a couple of other of the more unstable freshmen,” she said with a rueful chuckle. “Your mother told us in detail about your personality and how it was your influence that kept your friends out of most of the trouble they would normally have gotten into. You’re a good listener and you have a level head on your shoulders. We want you in Poe because you and the others like you tend to balance out some of our more ‘exuberant’ residents. That you were a legacy was the perfect cover, and should the worst happen, you would be with friends who were going through the same thing and could help you deal with it.”
I stared at her, nearly mind boggled. “You want me to be a councilor?”
“Not in so many words,” she said, and would have continued but she caught sight of something coming up the drive. I turned to follow her gaze and saw a very nice, but sedate limousine winding up the driveway. “Turn invisible, now!” snapped Mrs. Horton as she interposed herself between me and the approaching car. “Stay close by and do nothing without my say so.”
I could do nothing but obey as the limo came around the circle and finally came to a stop. A smartly uniformed driver got out and tipped his cap to Mrs. Horton on the way to the passenger door. He opened it and a grandfatherly looking gentleman laboriously got out, much assisted by the driver and a walking stick.
He was more than a little portly, possessed of a pleasant, oval face with a pair of glasses perched on his nose; balding, but long white hair was matched by a mustachio and chin beard. Between that and the sting tie he wore he rather put me in mind of the chicken merchant from Kentucky. His suit however was dark, conservative and obviously extremely expensive. He smiled at Mrs. Horton and waved, but Mrs. Horton didn’t return the greeting, nor seem in any way happy to see him.
Behind the elderly gentleman, a mousey little forty something man with a receding hairline and wrinkled suit got out, struggling with a briefcase. The two of them climbed up the steps to where our house mother stood doing a very good impression of the last few minutes of the life of Samson. “Mrs. Horton,” the elderly man greeted without offering a hand shake. “This does bring back memories.”
“We’re always happy to have one of the Board of Trustees drop by,” Mrs. Horton replied in a tone that said the exact opposite. “I regret to say that Mrs. Carson and the other senior staff have left for the holiday. You’ll have to come back…”
“No need, no need,” the man repeated in an accent I couldn’t quite nail down. “I believe the good Reverend is still here and as you had a young girl with you who is now invisible, the likelihood of her being the young lady I came all the way from DC to visit is rather high.”
The two matched glares for a long moment in a manner that made both me and the mousy man extremely uncomfortable. Finally, without taking her eyes off the old gentleman, Mrs. Horton said, “Wallflower, "Go and fetch Reverend Englund and join us in the conference room, would you please?”
I'm sure you'd all like to know what happened in the big, secret meeting after I fetched Reverend Englund, well so would I. As luck would have it once I brought the Right Reverend as instructed, who I might add was remarkably unconcerned I was now the double of another student, I was politely, but firmly told to amuse myself somewhere else. Now, granted I was not having what they'd call a stellar day, but when the as yet unknown gentleman protested my being sent elsewhere, Mrs. Horton and the Reverend closed ranks and I got to admire the conference room door as it was closed in my face.
Even I can figure out when something that major was up so, as I hadn't been expressly told not to, I decided to do some learning. Hey, I was in school, right? Learning is how I'm supposed to be spending my time.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
So, cloaked in my own personal magnetic field, in more ways than one for a change, I drifted downstairs to see what I could find out. Now, most schools and Whateley is no exception to this rule, have lovely paintings of famous personages throughout the school's administrative buildings.
The two largest were in the atrium, one of Noah Whateley himself and, opposite it the previous school's most prestigious student, H. Henry Powers, Representative from Vermont for the fifty second to fifty sixth Congresses. However, throughout the building were other paintings and, later, photographs. Some of course were in the Homer Gallery, but those would all be Alumni. Everyschool has glad shots of the Trustees and Regents and I aimed to find out who this Colonel look alike was.
More importantly, why he was so interested in me.
So I floated aimlessly around the building, checking every picture on the wall and trying to put a name to the face. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pictures in this building. I'd spent most of my time in here ignoring them as part of the decor, and I was getting the uneasy feeling that's exactly what I was supposed to do.
Of course the central administration offices on the second floor were locked, but their large window gave me a good view of the photos that lined the wall of Mrs. Carson's office. Unfortunately, I discovered this was President's Wall, having a photo of the current Dean of the school with every president since Johnson.
I couldn't keep in a chuckle at the somewhat glassy eyed look in W's eyes while I wondered for a moment what that visit must have been like.
Not having that much time to waste I let myself drift on and I even learned quite a bit about the history of the school. I mean, who would expect people as varied as Stephen Hawking and Donald Trump to be on the Board of a private high school for mutants?
Frustration was setting in as I crisscrossed the building, still not finding my mystery gentleman. I sat down on a bench and struggled not to cry. This day was certainly not one of my best. So I sat, feeling sorry for myself, I'll be honest, in the extension of the building that connected Schuster Hall proper to the geodesic dome of Crystal Hall.
"Can this day get any worse?" I asked of Fate as my eyes drifted up to the one painting that hung in the extension. This was the odd ball, and part of me had always wondered about it, but here was a painting of a huge red dragon, regally atop his hoard, serenely looking out at the viewer, neither threatening, nor aloof, but strangely pensive. I had never understood why it was here, but like most of the student body I'd noticed it, and then promptly forgot about it.
"It's stronger this way," I heard a female voice say, actually the last female voice I wanted to hear in the world just then; the voice of Tabatha Allen-Turner, my mother. I looked up to see her and dad round the corner, mom leading. While my invisibility was handy in a number of ways, it would never let me hide from mom.
My eyes were drawn back to the eyes of the dragon as I thought frantically about fleeing, but the exertion would increase my scent trail and, worse, mom would know I ran from her. As my mind went round and round in circles, that's when my eyes fell on the small brass plaque at the bottom of the painting. It was identical to all the others I'd been seeing all morning, reading simply;
Whateley Academy Board of Trustees
1964 - Present
"What the hell?" I breathed, astonished.
"Lily?" demanded Mom, who, of course had heard me. "Lily you become visible this instant and don't you think of flying off!"
I sighed and cursed myself for tempting fate. "Mom, this really isn't a good time..."
"Lily," Dad interjected in that fatherly tone I knew better than to argue with. "Your mother told you to become visible."
"Alright, just don't freak out," I warned them.
"Why..." started Dad as I let my invisibility drop and settled back to the ground. "Would we freak out?" he finished, puzzled.
"Look, I know it's a hard to swallow, but I just woke up like this," I told them quickly, trying to get it all out in a rush. I would have said more, but mom and dad just looked at each other and then back to me.
"You slept in your uniform?" asked Mom slowly. "Honey, we didn't mean you had to keep it on 24/7..."
"No!" I yelled, gesturing wildly, "this! I don't know what's going on, I just woke up and I was someone else! Dr. Hewley thinks it's some kind of electromagnetic field I'm trapped inside and somehow I'm projecting Rosalyn's skin tones and such onto it..."
They were looking at each other again in that confused parent way that told me they had no idea what I was talking about. I directed my gaze to the dark glass of the window into the Chef's office that was next to me to see my familiar reflection staring back.
I was myself again and I'd just freaked out the parents. Could this day...no, let's not tempt fate again...! "I'm...guessing you developed a new power?" asked Dad slowly.
Atlas himself couldn't have passed a heavier sigh. "Yes," I admitted finally. "I'll tell you all about it over a cup of coffee, lord knows I need some."
Schuster Hall Conference Room A
"Alright, Mr. West," Reverend Englund began in his most cordial tone as he made sure the door was firmly closed behind him. "To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?"
The man in the white suit sat laboriously in one of the chairs at the table shaking his head slowly. "Now, Darren," he chided, "I thought we were all friends here?" Englund's eyes darted between the two men on the far side of the table as he took a seat at the head of the table. Mr. West followed his gaze and chuckled. "Oh, don't worry about Roland; an Alumnus is always one of the family, right?"
"What brings you out here, Mr. Under-Secretary?" demanded the Reverend.
"Business," the former student replied as he made a point for holding the chair for Mrs. Horton before sitting himself at the foot of the table. "Business I think perhaps, that will be beneficial to all concerned."
"Another lackey to add to your collection?" Englund whispered icily. "Well, neither this school, nor its students are for sale."
"'No prophet is accepted in his own country,'" replied West without mirth
"Don't you dare quote scripture to me...!"
"Have I not laid out and acted in accord with The Agreement?" West demanded angrily. "Have I not been generous in bequeathment and scholarships? Have I failed in any way to act with honor and decorum as member of this board? Could I even set foot on the grounds if my intentions were not pure of heart towards this school and those who dwell within?"
"No," the Reverend admitted finally. "And to be completely fair, you have indeed kept the letter and spirit of The Agreement." The two men sighed almost as one and looked away from each other. "And you know what has happened that has earned you our enmity, Ty."
West stood and walked heavily to the window that over looked the oval shaped balcony over the front doors of the building. "No one regrets what happened more than I," he said softly. "Don't you think if I could have traded places with them I would have?"
An uncomfortable silence fell on the room before Mrs. Horton choose to break it. "How have you been, Roland?"
"Sharon and I separated last July, but I'm hopeful we'll get back together. She, well, she didn't take it very well when I told her about myself." Mrs. Horton sighed and shook her head as she patted the man's hand in comfort.
"I wish you hadn't waited so long," she told him. "But I do hope you and she can work things out."
"Well, one of the things I'm here about may help some of these kids avoid some of the troubles I've had."
Englund's ears perked up. "What do you mean?"
"President Bush is incensed about the raid the MCO launched on Hell's Kitchen. In addition to making me Secretary for Paranormal Affairs, he's given me cart blanch in reigning in the group here on US Soil. As of February 1st, all MCO operations in the US must be overseen by a federal agent of either my department, or the TSA. Further, we are going to limit their access to information on US Citizen MID holders to a simple verification of identity and warrant status worldwide."
The Reverend chewed on this for a moment before turning back to the man still staring out the window. "What is it you want, Ty?"
"To save the world, Darren, the same as always."
The Crystal Hall
So I gave the 'rent's the carefully edited version of how I'd spent my night and morning. As you might imagine, Mr. Declan's participation was rather heavily glossed over. They were, of course, concerned and as puzzled as I was about this turn in my short life, but they perked up the most when I described my parting with Mrs. Horton. "So, Reverend Englund basically told me to get lost and I started flying around the building trying to find out which trustee this was, but he must not be on the Christmas Card list as nobody seems to like him and his picture isn't anywhere," I finished.
"I wouldn't say that," Mom growled with a sharp glance at dad.
"Who is this guy?" I demanded, more than a little peeved at being the last to know. "And why is he so interested in me and why doesn't anybody like him?"
"That's a complicated question," Dad replied around a sip of his coffee. He grimaced at the tepid temperature and refreshed it from the air pot we had on the table. "If he's who I think he is, his motives are always a gorgon knot. As for why no one here likes him, well, that's a long story. The short version is he put together a team from the class of '78. Not what you'd call the A list types, either, there were dozens in that class singularly more powerfully rating wise than all of them put together. They started traveling all over the world, chasing down obscure artifacts and what I'd call trinkets. Sort of a Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. "
"None of their so-called finds were worth half the cost of their jetting around," Mom put in with a heaping of surly tone in her voice.
"Then their 'benefactor' sent them into Afghanistan right in the height of the Soviet occupation. None of them made it out alive," Dad finished softly. "It was never really clear how they died, the Soviets blamed the Afghanis, the Afghanis blamed the Soviets, there was a lot of back and forth. I was a sophomore at the time and the only time I ever saw Reverend Englund cry was during the memorial service."
I chewed on this for a moment while I warmed up my own coffee and watched the milk swirl around and mix with the darker beverage. "Is that why he doesn't have a picture?" I finally asked.
"Oh he's got a picture," Dad replied. He pointed with his cup back towards the hallway into Schuster Hall. "You pass it every day coming in here. Tywyswyr, the Dragon."
It is with great dexterity that I didn't drop my cup. "What?" I demanded. "You mean that's not some...there are realdragons?"
It was Mom and her quirky sense of humor that brought me out of my shock. "You're a super hero in training, Lily and you don't believe in Dragons?"
To say I had a parade of questions running around in my head is a massive understatement. But, then, lots of things I'd come across here were even stranger. I mean, come on, I live upstairs from an honest to God Fairy Princess. And an honest to God demon come to that as well. I opened my mouth to let some of them loose, but my throat closed as I caught sight of the Colonel making his way to our table with Reverend Englund at his elbow. "Dad..." I squeaked.
"Mind if we join you?" the dragon posing as a man asked pleasantly.
Dad got to his feet and even through he was head and shoulders taller than the older man, somehow, now that I knew who he was, Dad seemed smaller. Nevertheless, my father lived up to the unquestioning awe that all daughters have for their fathers as mine didn't even flinch. "Actually, we were just leaving, I'm afraid," he stated in that classic hero voice. "Our daughter has to get her things as we're headed home for the holiday."
"Wonderful," Tywyswyr replied. "I believe we could all use some fresh air."
So, it seemed we'd have some company on our walk back to Poe. My folks and I put our dishes in the pit and we took the side door out onto the green. Once we were on the path back towards Poe, Dad set a rather brisk pace that I know an old man with a cane couldn’t match, but then, he wasn't really an old man with a cane, was he? I have to admit, it was rather confusing in my head. Finally, well out of sight of the other buildings I stopped and turned on the old fellow. "You are Ty...Tywst...."
"Tywyswyr," the old man corrected absently. "It's Welsh. If you would like, Miss Turner, you may call me Ty."
"Ok," I replied, feeling Dad place a comforting hand on my shoulder. "And you're a dragon?"
"Yes, and no," he replied smiling.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"The creatures upon whom your legends of Dragons are based are actually spirits, without any corporeal form, though the one they pick most often is the mental picture you have of them. So no, I am not a dragon. However, as I am a four legged saurian with wings and a tail I bear a striking resemblance to them, so, for practical purposes, yes, I am a dragon."
"What?" demanded Mom and Dad in unison.
"Show me," I said as I screwed my courage to the sticking place.
Now, I haven't taken any of the magic classes so far. To be honest, I'm not really sure I could wrap my head around them. But I have been in a number of study halls with Hank's friends in Team Kimba and a number of them are into magic. It's rather hard to follow some of the items they discuss in the studies, but the one thing I picked up was this. Magic is evidently the ability to affect the universe through force of will.
Magic, real magic, isn't about hocus pocus, or flashy effects, or dazzling light shows. One moment the universe was one way, you work a spell and then the entire universe is different.
I say this because I blinked. One second I was having a surreal conversation with Colonel Sanders twin brother, and the next I was sharing a brick path I had walked countless times with a creature of legend. Now, forgive me my blond moment here, but I had to ask, "So, if you're not a dragon, what are you?"
"My race is called the Sthri," the dragon told me. "I come from a star orbiting a planet some eighty light years from here."
Ok, the dragon was really an alien. That I could wrap my head around. "So, are we being invaded?" Yes, I know it was a dumb question, but you slip on my day and tell me how eloquent you are. Tywyswyr only laughed for a moment before shaking his triangular shaped head.
"Well, you have been, but not by my people. I'm an anthropologist by training and some 600 hundred years ago I came to Earth working on what you might call my doctoral thesis. Unfortunately, it seems I was a better scholar than pilot and, well, I walked away from the landing, but it was obvious I wasn't going home any time soon."
"Why haven't we heard about any of this before?" demanded Dad.
"Two reasons," the dragon replied taking up a more sedate pace towards the cottage. "One, I enjoy what privacy I can eek out in my current situation."
"And, by Agreement, on the grounds of the Academy Tywyswyr cannot lie," filled in the Reverend sardonically. "Or, rather, he cannot lie without facing the consequences of breeching of a Sorcerer's Contract."
"We all have our crosses to bear," Tywyswyr shot back. Englund's face pinched into deeper frown but he remained silent. "Mine has been an effort of centuries to raise humanity from the barbarism of the Iron Age when I landed. First, yes, I admit with the intention of going home. But, slowly I realized I was home. And, like any good neighbor, I endeavor to make my home better than it was. That is where you come in, Miss Turner."
The dragon looked at me side long. "Yes, you. I need your help to save the world." Well, honestly, I think this is going to end up being a red letter day in my diary. As it was, Mom, Dad and I traded glances while the dragon looked at us. It was, ironically enough, Mom who broke the resultant silence.
"What exactly does this entail?" She demanded, hands on her oh so shapely hips. There are women all over the world who live in fear of turning into their mothers, but with mine, I can't help being jealous.
"Some rather bad men have come into possession of a magical relic that is quite beyond them. One that I was, myself, searching for with hopes of getting it into safe keeping. I want your daughter to steal it."
Now, when you get a bomb dropped on you like that, you can deal with things in one of two ways. You can listen to your emotions, or you can listen to your logical side. With my parents I got a healthy dose of both, but not the way you'd expect. See, it was dad who got nine different kinds of upset that the big red alien dragon wanted to use his little girl to swipe some piece of mystic bling. Mom, oddly enough, seemed to feel that if this was important enough that it brought Tywyswyr all the way from some penthouse lair in DC, something end of the world might just be up.
So, like any sensible teenager, I let them yell at each other for a bit.
Then, once they had it out of their systems, I took everybody back inside Schuster Hall and made a bee line for The Closet. Now, The Closet is many things, storage bin for the various custodial engineers in maintenance, dreaded locker substitute for freshmen and, in my case of a specific closet, entryway into the club house of the Future Super Heroes of America.
Ty got back into his chicken merchant disguise to help with the size constraints and, as the elevator that was cleverly disguised as the floor of The Closet began to drop, mom looked about quizzically while dad was obviously lost in a wave of nostalgia. When we arrived in the meeting room of the club house and mom got an eyeful of the symbol on the table, she just rolled her eyes and snorted, "A closet. I should have known..."
"Well," placated dad, "Being a hero is all about cleaning up after the mess making of some or other mastermind."
Mom's cat's eyes narrowed. "You are sleeping on the couch tonight."
I just traded looks with Ty, who was equally confused, and then Reverend Englund, who dryly pointed out, "In their time here, Wallflower
, your mother was a member of the Master Minds and I'm sure that Pendragon has bored you to tears by now talking about the Glory Days of your Father in FSHA."
"Eh, something like that," I admitted, thinking of a certain picture in the trophy vault I'm certain mom should never, ever know about.
"Now," the Reverend commanded, leading the way out into the club house and logging into the computer that controlled the Situation Screen on the back wall. "Exactly what is this all about?"
Note to self, let Pendragon know that the Reverend has full admin rights to the clubhouse server.
Tywyswyr produced a USB thumb drive from his coat, handed it to the Trustee and shortly the screen behind him filled with a somewhat grainy photograph of a Star of David once the Reverend plugged it in. "Some time in your past, most likely three thousand years ago or so, there lived an extremely powerful sorcerer that history remembers as Solomon the Wise. You may have learned of him in Sunday school as King Solomon. What little we know of this remarkable man is shrouded in mystery and legend, what we do know is that he was without question the most powerful sorcerer of his age. His chief pass time seems to have been binding demons that were getting loose in the world into whatever was handy at the time."
"Like the Genie in Alladin's Lamp," I asked softly.
The Colonel beamed at me. "Head of the class. Now, the principal magical tool he used was this, The Seal Of Solomon, commonly known as the Star of David."
"Hogwash," snorted the Reverend.
"Fact," Tywyswyr replied evenly. "What you are looking at is a photograph of the actual Seal that Solomon the Wise used to work these containments. Thought to be made of Platinum, the seal is doubtlessly an alchemical mixture possibly mithril or some other more expensive alloy. I have been searching for it for the better part of one hundred years. It popped up here and there a few times, generally in the hands of ex-NAZI hold outs and 'theme agents'."
"Why is it important, other than being valuable?" Dad asked pointedly.
"IF," the Reverend answered him, "it is the actual magical tool that King Solomon used, then there is a mystic link between it and every demon and devil it was used against."
"That link could be used to trace down all those objects, anywhere in the world," Mom thought out loud.
"And humanity could be looking at a plague of freed devils on a scale not seen since the expulsion from Eden," Tywyswyr finished softly.
Ok, that sounded bad, and one look at Reverend Englund's face which had gone from 'gaunt' to pasty horrified white told me it was probably far worse than I could imagine. "Who has it?" he whispered.
The image changed to a slightly less grainy photograph of a man in the process of getting into a taxi in a major urban area. "This is our threat to life as we know it," Ty went on, back in his lecturer mode. "Lucius Jacobs, also known as Malus; he’s a mid to high level Mage and an up and comer in the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom. Friends of mine inform me he acquired the Seal last week in Antwerp."
"So, I have to go to Antwerp?" I asked softly. "I don't have a passport..."
Tywyswyr chuckled softly and shook his head. "While your MID would be sufficient, Wallflower
, that won't be necessary. Lucius has hidden himself in New York where he's rented a Syndicate base to figure out how to use the Seal."
"The Syndicate? The group of henchmen for hire in the database?"
Reverend Englund sniffed in disdain. "Thugs for hire is more like it. But, the answer to your question is yes. However, why would Lucius not take the Seal to the lodge hall in New York?"
"He's probably worried they'd expect a cut or use time of the Seal and he doesn't feel like sharing," opined Dad. "Why haven't you gone to the authorities with all this, Tywyswyr?"
"Cracking a Syndicate Fortress is tricky. By the time any group of 'authorities' breech the upper levels, Lucius will be long gone. No, this requires something of a black bag operation, one your daughter is uniquely qualified for."
"I can't be the only heroine that can become invisible...?" I demanded in disbelief. However the human shaped dragon shook his head.
"No, however, you are to my knowledge the only heroine whose invisibility is complete to both science and the arcane. Your power, Miss Turner, is so perfect that you can make your way into the facility, secure the Seal and be out and they will never know what happened. Believe me, I would rather not involve a student, however the risk is great and time is very limited." He sighed and locked gazes with Dad. "What say you, Falcon?"
Dad sighed as he looked at me and I nodded. "Saving the world, Tywyswyr is what STAR League does."