Whilst Any Speaks (Chapter 3)
A Whateley Academy Story
Whilst Any Speaks
By E. E. Nalley
Now they see me, now they don't, I've come and gone.
And Oooh, I love to sweep around the wide step
Cut a little swath and lead the people on...
The Sidestep, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
March 24th, 2007
Superbad, just outside Hell's Kitchen, New York, NY
Maria sat morosely at a small table in a darker corner of the bar that Freya had picked to have their little get together. The hard regulars of the place sent shivers down her spine. They were hard and Maria had the good sense to recognize the professional variety of thugs and killers from the normal New York garden variety desperate type. They watched the young people in their midst with a certain detached amusement that bordered on disdain. The women smiled at Freya's easy touch with the male members of the team she had assembled, a team she had dubbed The Omegas, and the men had the grace to keep their ogling of her discrete and their glances passing. And if the bartender was worried about a group of mutants who might look mid-twenties but were doubtlessly all underage, drinking in his bar, he didn't show it.
For herself, Freya was in her element, moving from member to member, making sure every drink was topped off, a smile on every face, leering, calculating or lustful, she had promises for all. But then, it was no surprise to Maria how Freya moved, this was in large part how she had dominated Whateley and for all that everyone said about her, to her face or behind her back, no one could say that Friedeslinge Larssen didn't know how to throw a party.
"Not that there's anything worth celebrating," muttered Maria to herself as she took another drink of her Shirley Temple and wished she could just fall into a bottle that would somehow make this nightmare go away. Not for the first time she wished that her power worked on Freya and wished absently that she'd paid better attention in Powers Theory to find out why it didn't. It would be a simple thing then, a command to forget and then Maria Gomez would never have to worry about the psychopath her erstwhile best friend from high school had turned into over the course of school.
No, that's not true, she thought, not for the first time being brutally honest with herself. You knew she was damaged goods the moment she siced Wildman on Kodiak. Sooner, you had suspicions and you should have listened to them. But she was so fun to be around, wasn't she? And you really hoped she might switch hit just for you...
"What are you drinking?" demanded Freya, startling Maria out of her reverie as she suddenly appeared, pulling the glass from her hand. "A Shirley Temple?" she demanded in disbelief. "Maria, we're here to celebrate!" A bottle of Dos Equis appeared as if by magic to take her previous beverages place. "There! Much better! And don't look so sour, Maria, we're on the verge, the veritable dawn of a golden age. That's worth smiles and good cheer."
Maria stared at the bottle for a moment before she gave in and tossed back a long swallow. She didn't know if getting drunk would help her situation, but at this point she wasn't sure if anything could do that, so why face it sober? "You keep saying that, Freda," she growled in a sudden spate of liquid courage, using the shortened version of her name that she'd gone by her first year when they'd met, before she came to use her codename as her new identity. "What and when exactly do we get to know will start this golden age of yours?"
"Yeah," agreed Odinson, the biggest of the Omegas Freya had assembled. He was a mountain of a man, obviously meant to take Kodiak's old place as her bad right arm. He was obviously a slab of prime cut beef cake, muscles on muscles, blonde hair, blue eyed and a jaw that could cut diamond. Maria wondered vaguely if Freya had actually had to sleep with him as she had Kodiak, or if just leading him along was working. "I mean, I'm as excited as everybody else, but some details would be nice."
"And that time is now, my handsome fellow," Freya purred. "For as we speak, the final member of our soiree is on her way here with the first part of our New Genesis."
"Big words," purred LeFaye as the British sorceress in her Armani power skirt suit as she joined the more intimate clutch around Maria's table. Gomez wondered if Freya had cleaned out every college age mutant in Europe to put this team together. Certainly they all hadn't been attending the University of Oslo. "I trust the goods will live up to the billing?"
Freya's smile turned evil, not that any of the Omegas noticed. "Oh, more than!" she declared with a light, silvery laugh. "This came to my attention some months ago and it's taken me this long to establish their veracity."
Maria snorted. "That couldn't have helped your studies."
Larssen was nonplussed at the rebuke. "Such plebeian concerns are behind me. Those doddering darer will regret the errors of their ways soon enough," she promised, cold blue eyes flashing in revenge fantasy. But the cloud passed quickly. "You all know that I took my 'professional' name from the ancient hearth goddess, wife of a half blind gelding who served only to deny her the greatness that was her right and due. This goddess, Freya, possessed a fantastic artifact, the necklace Brisingamen."
"Isn't that what you call your power?" demanded Monteur as the spindly German tinkerer listened with one ear while fiddling with some side project he'd pulled from his belt.
Freya nodded with a smile, and though she was very subtle, Maria felt the light wash of her power as she projected it at her new team. Their faces lit up just a touch in adoration of being recognized and appreciated. "Even so, Bjorn, although the Necklace Brisingamen and my power actually do two very different things. Freya, the goddess, was in part the mistress of the Viking afterlife, taking half the dead of the Valkyries, fresh from the field of battle, the other half being taken to Odin. However, this understanding of this powerful figure is somewhat misunderstood. Freya's underworld was not a realm of the dead, but rather a race of powerful dark faery, the Trow."
LeFaye frowned and the British Public School accent slipped a bit and a decidedly East Ender twang entered her voice. "Oy, the Trow aren't lightly saddled, Freya!"
The blue eyes only burned brighter. "Oh indeed, even Freya, for all her power could ill control them without Brisingamen."
"Well, we don't have this gewgaw, so how does it fit into anything?" puzzled Odinson.
Larssen only smiled and patted him on the cheek causing him to beam like a puppy being noticed by it's beloved mistress. "Like so, my strong friend! We learn from both the Codex Nordic and the Prose Edda that Loki stole Brisingamen and hid it on Midgard, this very world and realm! From the Prose Edda Brisingamen passes out of human history until the Codex Nordic written by the medieval alchemist Arne Saknussemm..."
Maria couldn't keep in a snort of derision. "Arne Saknussemm?" she demanded. "Freda, Arne Saknussemm was a fictional character! He is supposedly the man that Otto Lidenbrock followed in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth!"
For all the condemnation of her outburst, Freya was calm. Nothing really ever got to her, and she wasn't prone to outbursts or fits of rage. That's what made her so dangerous was that she didn't rule the groups she dominated with threats or fear. Freya understood instinctively that such arrangements are doomed to failure and fracture. So when someone objected she listened and explained, or persuaded or cajoled. And there were times that she altered her course based on what her subordinate said. Thus she formed a power base of terrifying efficiency and loyalty, for those she ruled served her willingly. "And so I thought as well, Maria, before I researched," she replied with a smile. "And the fruit of that research was that there was a historic Arne Saknussemm who served as the model of Jules Verne's spear carrier. And our historic figure not only found the hiding place of Brisingamen, but through his research discovered how it was used and what its powers are."
"And...you've found this thing?" breathed LeFaye.
"Oh it wasn't easy," Freya replied. "Nor will be securing the rest of it. The first piece however, first of three, will help us find the other two and that is what our final member is bringing us tonight!"
Odinson blinked. "How will this bring us a golden age?"
Freya's smile was light and easy. As she started to answer, the door to the bar opened and drew Maria's eye. Framed in it was a tall woman, with remarkably long, ebony black hair that was both loose about her head and yet loosely held in a pony tail behind her where it must fall nearly to the small of her back. She was dressed in an expensive suit, tailored to her impressive frame and the blood red Prada heels she wore clicked on the parquet floor as she minced, heel to toe over to their table, a designer shoulder bag lightly clutched as she did. Maria forced herself to blink and tried to examine the sudden, irrational attraction she felt.
Yes, the woman was gorgeous, confident, chin high and proud, eyes hidden by large, designer sunglasses, but if she was associating with Freya, Maria was certain this was a woman who, no matter how beautiful, she wanted nothing to do with. "Because, my dear boy," Freya told him, smile widening with each step of the new comer. "When Brisingamen is complete once more and around my neck, I will become a goddess and you all, with our clever friend Wicked here, will be my priests and priestesses, who will rule over this world in my name and guide it to the paradise we will form!"
She turned to the newcomer. "Wicked, you have it?"
The bag settled onto the table with a thump and settled around some kind of canister that had been put into it. A canister that had recently been removed from a vault up town with much damage to the building the vault had been installed into. "I didn't get the reputation I have by failing," Wicked purred as she removed the sunglasses and locked her eyes with Maria.
The bottle of Dos Equis slipped from Maria's fingers in shock and shattered on the floor.
March 22nd, 2007
Dr. Bellows Office, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
"Come in, Miss Nalley, please!" invited Dr. Bellows as the young girl paused in his doorway, stunned like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car at seeing more people than she expected in the office. "Won't you sit down?"
Her movements were jerky as she obeyed the request, starting a bit as the door closed on its own and the noise surprised her. "Dr. Bellows, am Ah in trouble?"
"Goodness, no, child," Alfred replied. "Why would you think so?"
The fear in her eyes only lessened slightly. "Well, Ah wasn't expecting..." She made a vague gesture at the other two faculty members that were already in the office. Dr. Bellows kept his attention focused on the young woman, not following her gesture so he could better focus on her emotional state and for the subtle cues he was looking for. He was instantly certain that Elaine recognized both the dark haired woman in the chair next to her that wore a vaguely amused expression at her nervousness, and the shade standing behind Alfred, despite the fact that she had classes from neither. "And then Mrs. Savage walked me over here, which, that's only happened once before, and Ah was in trouble then..."
No, he was certain; here was a young lady who did her research. Despite that, Alfred cleared his throat and carried out the introductions out of politeness. "Nothing to worry about, Miss Nalley," he soothed her. "This is Louis Geintz of our psychic department and of course, the legendary Circe, the department chair of our Magic Studies, I don't think you've had the pleasure of meeting either?"
"Charmed," the girl replied. "Of course, Maggie talks about you, Ms. Circe, a lot and with great reverence."
The teacher smiled a private smile. "It's just Circe, Miss Nalley. When you get to my age titles become both cumbersome and melancholy."
Dr. Bellows cleared his throat again as he stood and poured himself a cup of coffee while holding up the pot in offer. Elaine nodded eagerly. "I asked both of them here because of some serious concerns that have come up about your health, Miss Nalley. So, are you in trouble because of something you did? No, but, you may be in trouble because of something done to you. That's what we're here to determine."
"Ah don't understand?" she said after a fearful sip and an unconscious smile at the beverage.
"Elaine, may I call you Elaine?"
"Elaine, it's come to my attention that you may be suffering under some kind of psychic compulsion. Sadly, that's been something of an issue over the last year or so and we in the faculty are extremely upset that this happened."
"If Ah were, wouldn't Ah know it?"
"I suppose Cavalier and Skybolt might have been aware of their compulsions," Bellows allowed softly. The eldest Nalley child flinched at the mention of her fellow Alphas. "Not that they could tell anyone, could they?"
"Ah appreciate..." she started, but the Chair of the Mystic Arts silenced her with a casual gesture from a glowing hand.
"That's enough from you, spirit," the teacher growled and uncorked a small vial while her dark, endless eyes locked with the emerald orbs of the young student. "Out!" she commanded.
The coffee cup fell in slow motion as Elaine flinched; every muscle in her body locking up as they all fired at once. Louis's own power righted the cup and returned the spilling contents to its previous container before anything could hit the floor. A hazy film, not smoke, not mist, not anything natural flowed out of the girl's eyes and with a soundless wail of anger was trapped in the vial.
The redhead sagged into her chair as if the burden of Atlas had been lifted from her. "Bucket," warned Circe, marveling at how well the projected shade of the Mentalist could read her mind. A plastic container floated from a cabinet just as the young girl's skin flushed to a pale green and she emptied the contents of her stomach into it.
"Elaine..." started Alfred but the girl, fresh from her sickness, curled into a fetal position in the chair and burst into near hysterics. Tears streamed from her face and her wails of horror shocked the psychologist, rooting him to the spot in amazement as she held her hands up as though to ward off blows. Before the startled psychologist could react, the door to his office was thrown open and Mrs. Savage entered, fire practically dancing from her eyes.
"Out!" she ordered. "All of you!"
Circe merely handed the House Mother the bucket as she passed and nodded. "Let us know when she's better," she told the younger woman. "It's a common reaction and should pass quickly." She produced a chocolate bar from her jacket. "If she can eat, give her this, slowly." Dr. Bellows followed, pulling his office door shut as Trish knelt by her charge and began to comfort her. For his part, Fubar had merely moved his shade by ceasing one projection in favor of a new one in the outer office.
"Banned Aides," Alfred told the young receptionist at his desk. "Would you excuse us, please for a few minutes? Why don't you get a soda or something?"
"Sure Dr. Bellows. Text me when you're done," the young man said with a smile as he left, pulling the outer door shut.
Dr. Bellows sighed and turned to Circe. "Alright, first, what was that? More of what happened to...?"
"No," the sorceress replied quickly. "This is merely a compulsion. Think of it as a projection of will from another spirit. A bit of that spirit's essence, tied to Miss Nalley as a Hallow with a very specific mission."
"But what spirit?" pressed Bellows.
"My student, Mark, said he saw something that looked like tremendous animal, maybe a bear," added Louis. "Elaine is involved with Kodiak, is it possible...?" Circe gazed at the jar in her fingers and brooded.
"The form of a spirit usually can have nothing to do with what it actually is," she said finally. "It would be wrong to blame Mr. Cody based only the form this compulsion took, which, honestly could have more to do with your student's impression than any kind of link with Mr. Cody's Avatar. I'll know further once I've analyzed the compulsion." Finally satisfied with her examination of the vial, she slipped it back into her jacket pocket and sighed. "What did you learn when her memory was released?"
Louis shook his head as though the vision was still in pain and trying to clear it. "I'm still going through it myself. It was like standing in the flood gate of a dam being opened and being washed down stream. This poor girl has been horribly used, though the real villain I'm still unsure of..." Geintz trailed off as the voices behind Dr. Bellows office door steadily became louder until it was snatched open, a wild eyed Elaine Nalley framed in it.
"Elaine, Honey..." pleaded Mrs. Savage from behind her, but the young girls gaze was fixed on the three faculty members in front of her.
With great force of will, she stood a bit straighter and wiped the last traces of her sickness from her mouth with a handkerchief in one hand. "Ah want to see the Headmistress," she announced with all the dignity a wronged Southern Belle can muster. "Right now."
March 22nd, 2007
Twain Cottage, Rm 104 Whateley Academy
Stephen Nalley paced in the short space his room allowed and snarled obscenities as only the son of working class Red Neck can. "Ah knew it, Ah knew it!" he bellowed, his accent becoming stronger and only further enraging him. "Ah hated that son of bitch on sight and now Ah know why. He is a dead man!"
"You don't know," started Mark but the youngest Nalley would have none of it.
"Oh right, 'cause this campus is just lousy with bear spirits who all seem to take an interest in mah sister!"
"Steve, you need to calm down!" cautioned his room mate, Mechno Man. "Attacking Kodiak isn't going to help your sister, even if, and it is still if, he's responsible! And from what I've learned in Powers Theory, even if the Kodiak spirit is responsible, an Avatar can act independently of its host. Wyatt could still be innocent!"
"Ah don't care!" thundered the red head. "He's gonna pay for what his pet did to mah sister!"
"And exactly how is that justice?" demanded Mark icily. "Or is hero what you call yourself just when you're looking to stick your dick in a girl?"
Stronghold flinched and visibly tried to master himself. "I...I'm sorry," he muttered finally, sinking into his bed and running his hands through his hair. "I should have been here! I should have protected her!"
Mark looked helplessly at Tupolo, being an only child, but the olive skinned young man was of Italian descent while from a Catholic family to boot; he had two brothers and three sisters. Stephen only nodded while moving from his bed to his room mate's and draped an arm around his shoulders in comradely affection. "What could you have done? One, you don't even know what, if anything, happened. And if the teachers didn't know, how could you?"
"She's my sister!"
"Si, il mio amico," Tupolo consoled him, slipping into his mother's earthy Italian for a moment. "I know. But starting a war with a senior, and getting yourself hurt, maybe killed, won't help her!"
"Hey, I can..."
"Land in Doyle medical if you're lucky," snapped Mark. "Or go home in a box if Kodiak isn't careful. That man went ten rounds with Champion as a Freshman! He all but killed a junior that same year. Beat his brains into mush and the brain that grew back was blank. Might as well have killed him! And he's only gotten better! The three of us together couldn't take Kodiak!"
"Yeah but that kid Lancer..."
Tupolo snorted in disgust. "Lancer was lucky that Kodiak didn't want to fight and took a dive. I was there." The red head gave his room mate a questioning look. "Hey, my Uncle runs a gym back in Philly, I know when a fighter takes a fall. Kodiak could have and still can eat Lancer for lunch and wonder what's for dinner after."
"Didn't you say you punched him?" asked Mark softly. "How'd that work out for you?"
Steve sighed. "He laughed and offered to buy me a beer for having the balls to stand up to him."
Tupolo nodded. "Yep, that's Kodiak. I don't think he would do something like to your sister, amico. His avatar, maybe. I heard some bat shit scary stuff from some of the mystics about something that happened in Mrs. Grimes office a couple of months ago. Said that they felt strange even walking by it for a couple of days. Like something powerful and not exactly nice had been in there."
Nalley's eyes were red with suppressed tears. "How do I get at the Avatar then?"
Mark shrugged expressively. "I don't know that you can, hoss. I mean, a mage, maybe..."
Stronghold's eyes narrowed. Had either Mark or Tupolo known him better, like the sister he sought to avenge, their blood would have run cold. Elaine could have told them volumes about that look, the look of a merry prankster whose practical joke work had taken a turn for the vicious hatches a plan of ultimate revenge. For all his Southern Brash and brimstone, Stephen Nalley was remarkably intelligent, devilishly cunning and his family honor was at stake. Indeed, had they known better, both boys would have feared for the absolute worst. Nalley's head turned to the wall in the direction where Whitman Cottage lay. "Yes," he agreed softly. "A mage."
March 22nd, 2007
Jadis' Room, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Jadis read back the report she'd been working on, typing diligently at her laptop and tried to contain a snicker. Even she had to admit, this was shaping up to be some of her best work. Misty was out somewhere, doing something, and that suited her fine. The blonde wasn't the worst roomie she'd had in her time here, far from it in fact. But she had a rather inconvenient sense of curiosity at times.
That and, let's be honest, it's like rooming with a five year old, she thought to herself as she made a minor correction and tried to contain her own annoyance. Yes, Misty usually had dearth of simple questions to subjects that were obviously beyond her, Who, what and especially why? Still, she was her own person and not looking for either revenge or to ingratiate herself onto Jadis and for She-Beast that made her the best room mate ever.
Jadis looked over at her wall locker that was currently open to The Shrine; the collection of images and dolls and newspaper clippings. When alone, she usually had it open, it was the only real 'quality time' she got with the woman who she desperately hoped was her mother. Her eyes locked with the picture and she felt a pang of regret. The report she was writing was a complete lie. She knew it, had set out to do it and what was more, it might even get Aquerna into trouble. Maybe real trouble if someone actually bought into this drivel of a report and thought to use Aquerna against her.
Was it her imagination, or did a hint of disapproval flicker across the picture's face?
"Don't look at me like that," she scolded the picture softly. Jadis sighed heavily and saved the document to a thumb drive and placed it into the shrine before erasing it's master from her laptop. "Alright, I'll come up with something else," she muttered. "But don't think I'm going to give that cow any ideas about Loophole!"
The White Witch's face remained implacable as it stared serenely out of the poster. Who's asking you to? Jadis imagined the picture replied. Honesty and stupidity are not synonyms after all.
Jadis contemplated the image for several moments before sighing again. "I'll, come up with something," she muttered. Now she was behind the proverbial eight ball and the report would be due in the morning. "Still, if I work fast," she told herself, wracking her brains for some new nemesis she could drop a dime on and not feel guilty about, when her brain storm was interrupted by a polite, but firm knock on her door.
Without thinking about it, Jadis closed the wardrobe and softly kicked the bottom which reset it back to it's default configuration. Her secret safe, she opened the door and her heart leapt up in her throat as she looked at her visitors, standing in the hallway. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?" she asked quietly.
March 22nd, 2007
Red Level, ARC, Whitefield, NH
The Arkham Research Consortium was odd collection of buildings, in the same way that the wild mishmash of architecture of the Academy itself was both jarring and comforting at the same time. The grounds were immaculate, of course, trimmed with the precision of a metronome, and the ordered wildness of a golf course. Everywhere little brooks and streams ran giving a gentle white noise the call of animals that made this most artificial landscape their home.
The centerpiece of the complex was the rambling, 18th century gothic sanatorium that had originally sat on the site. It had been expanded over the years in a wild array of styles, mostly steel and glass, with very little thought to the sensibilities of the original design. For all that, at least, the iron bars that had made the structure seem more like the prison it technically had been were no longer covering the stone windows.
Of course, the security was also far tighter than it had been in the 18th century. And bars or not, getting out of the facility was far more a matter of being let out rather than forcing the issue. Despite that mental chill that went down several spines, the little group of students from the Academy, chaperoned by the indomitable Mrs. Savage, were greeted with the kind of smiles and official presence that might have met any school field trip.
That facade had only lasted until they were safely inside and handed off to other tour guides, with more interesting looking ID cards and swept into an elevator that had keyholes instead of buttons on its panel. Their guide turned a key next to a little placard that was marked Red and the lift began to descend. Nikki Reilly pulled a bit at the collar of her blouse and muttered, "I hate going underground."
Chris Summers, their 'guide' and the chief telepathic therapist of the Red Section smiled at the diminutive girl's unease. "You get used to it," he murmured. "Though, I have to say I'm not sure how much help you'll be able to do. Since the end of January they've been all but catatonic. They'll eat, use the bathroom, but they don't acknowledge anyone else, and they will not be separated. I warn you!"
He sighed; obviously bothered by his own impotence at failing to help the two young people he desperately wanted to. "They haven't spoken since February."
A growl rumbled up from Wyatt's toes that snarled out as, "Fucking Sebastiano."
"Mind your language," snapped Elaine, her ire drawing Nikki's attention more fully. The tall inventor had been positively taciturn on the ride over from Whateley. Nikki considered what she knew about the sophomore and how that didn't seem to sync with the woman in front of her. She knew that Elaine and Wyatt were involved; indeed, anyone in the school who didn't know had gone out of their way to keep from discovering it. But Elaine had not sat next to her paramour on the shuttle bus ride, but instead had sat in the back of the bus with Mrs. Savage, her gaze out the window the whole way while the House Mother of Whitman Cottage had cast worried glances at her when she thought no one was watching.
Wyatt gazed at his toes, then back at the elevator's control panel.
Nikki felt her eyes narrow at the odd response and couldn't help but perceive both of their auras. While Mrs. Savage and Mr. Summers were both bronze with worry, Cody's aura was swirling between the emerald green of frustration and the banana yellow of fear. And if Nikki was surprised that the big senior could feel fear of anything, Elaine's own aura was even more surprising. As she watched the inventor's astral echo flared red with anger, and then swirled into the pea green of horror to fall into the deep blue of sadness, only to flare back to red and start the cycle over again.
And while Cody frequently stole a glance in her direction, she seemed intent on not looking at the rugged Alaskan she had been so happy with not so long ago. It was obvious he was as puzzled by her attitude as Nikki herself was, but his pride kept him from asking her what was wrong with others about. That also was out of character for the cocksure senior.
Finally, nearly a mile underground, the lift came to a stop and the doors opened. Save for the lack of windows, it might have been any hospital above ground. There weren't as many nurses or patients wandering about as you might expect, but the air was heavy with the smells of disinfectant and chemicals. Nikki couldn't imagine an environment less suited to healing.
Tell me once more, Child, how far humanity has 'advanced', sniffed Aunghadhail in disdain.
They're trying to help, Nikki thought angrily back at her Avatar.
Chris led the motley group through the corridors to a window whose blinds he pulled aside. It looked into a large room that was actually quite pleasant. There was a table and chairs made of rich maple and the blonde wood became a theme throughout the room. Two walls were lined with books, the third held a stone fireplace that had a merry fire burning in it. That wall looked to be made of stone and the remaining chairs and painting gave the room a very European feeling. "This is one way glass," Chris said softly. "On the other side, they see a projected image of Domremy, France, Jean's home town."
Nikki stepped up to the window and looked in. She should see the two teens and for just a moment, she might have thought they were just having a romantic moment. Jean-Michael was sitting in one of the over stuff chairs that faced the fireplace and Elaine was curled in his lap, her head against his shoulder. But the touching moment quickly passed when it became apparent neither was moving as much as a pair of teens in such a situation should be. Indeed, their stillness was eerie, and there was a vacant, haunted look in both their eyes. Nikki fought her instinctive urge to recoil in horror, seeing the result of the evil Hekate had planned for her.
"We'd hoped the familiar surroundings would help pull them out of this," the therapist made a vague gesture of frustration. "Whatever this is; when they got here they were upset, obviously considering..." Summers shook his head. "We had a couple of sessions and they seemed to be making progress, then they just shut down."
Kody crossed his arms over his massive chest. "Doc Bellows said they were getting better."
"Doctors aren't normally in the habit of discussing confidential patient information with unconnected third parties," Loophole told him, tartly. "When you ask somebody how they are, do you really give a shit about the real answer or do you just want to hear 'fine' and go about your life?"
"Elaine!" snapped Mrs. Savage. The sophomore glared at her House Mother.
"Well, it's true!" she replied testily. "And since when do ya'll coddle stupidity?"
The former Marine Drill Instructor hooked her hand onto Elaine's arm and promptly drug her off to a discrete distance. Their conversation was brief, quiet and entirely one sided. The young woman nodded her submission and followed Mrs. Savage back to the group, obviously miffed, but no longer defiant. Mr. Summers chose to smooth over the altercation by ignoring it. "I'll go in first. Sometimes they will respond when they're spoken to, not much, eye contact mostly. They only get violent if you try to separate them. When I think it's safe, I'll motion you inside. If I order you out, you leave that instant. Any questions?"
He looked each teen in the face before nodding to himself and entering the room through the door by the window.
March 22nd, 2007
Rm 216, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
When Lifeline opened the door of the room she shared, she was more than a little surprised. True, with Mrs. Savage off campus chaperoning a field trip, a number of the other girls were taking advantage of the situation with visitors that doubtlessly shouldn't be alone with the girls they were visiting. Still, Maggie doubted that much beyond a bit of necking and perhaps some really heavy petting was going on.
Despite that, she hadn't expected a boy to be waiting for her when she opened the door. Maggie hadn't dated anyone at school yet, nor was it from a lack of interest. It was not that she wasn't noticing the exemplar boys around the school. You couldn't be alive and red blooded on this campus and fail that, but despite her work as a model she hadn't really settled on anyone to try and attract. It was a large buffet after all, no reason to gorge on the first steam table, but wander a bit and see what struck her fancy. So Maggie had not expected to find a boy outside her room's door, least of all the red headed bane of her roommate's existence, her younger brother.
"Hi Steve," she greeted, marveling how the slightly nerdy, skinny fast kid she'd met on vacations spent with Elaine and her family had blossomed into the young Adonis before her. "Uh, Elaine isn't here just now...:
"I know," he replied softly. "Actually, I came to talk with you, if I could please."
"Uh, sure," Maggie replied, standing off to one side and letting him in. Almost instinctively, he went to his sister's bed and sat down on it. It struck Maggie as funny as it was nearly the exact same way Elaine would have done it, but she chose to be diplomatic and refrained from pointing out the similarity. "What can I do for you?"
"I need you to cast a spell," he replied without preamble. "On Kodiak."
Maggie felt her knee jerk refusal die unspoken on her tongue. While she didn't know Steve anywhere near as well as Elaine did, she had to admit that, as little brothers go, he really wasn't so bad. Indeed, Maggie felt that most of Elaine's gripes about him were 'showing the flag' of sisterhood against male siblings. From what she did know, she knew from the expression on his face and the firmness of his tone of voice that this was neither a prank, nor some fit of pique; the young man was deadly earnest. Licking her lips, Maggie sat down on her bed across from him and asked, softly, "What kind of spell, and why?"
The tale that tumbled from the young man was convoluted, only in the way that a teenage male could be, full of innuendo, suspicions and circumstance. Still, Maggie possessed a remarkably analytical mind, like most practitioners of magic, and she had to admit that this version of events did make certain things Elaine had done, things that she'd wondered about at the time, make more sense now. Maggie sighed and stood while she considered what she was being asked and walked over to the little poster that hung over her desk.
She'd placed it there so that when ever she was working at her desk, she'd be reminded of the Ethics of Magic. As she looked over them once more, considering what she was being asked, her eyes fell on the one item she had added herself to the rules, borrowed from the Oath of Hippocrates. "I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment," she told herself quietly. "And never do harm to anyone."
She sighed again and considered the ramifications only for a moment. In the end, she was helping her friend, her best friend, come to it and that would surely satisfy the Law of Intent. "Alright," she said at last. "I'll need a few minutes to prepare. And you get to do the fetch and carry, because I won't cast here. Come with me."
March 22nd, 2007
The Minds of Cavalier and Skybolt, Red Level, ARC
Despite his personal misgivings about mentalists and telepaths, Wyatt sat down in the little circle of students around the chair that held Cavalier and Skybolt. The therapist was in front of them, closest to the fireplace so no one would get too uncomfortable. Then Loophole to his left and Fey to his right leaving Wyatt to be directly behind and rounding out the circle.
Both of the girls and Chris already had their eyes closed, their minds joined by the power of the therapist and Wyatt took a moment to look once more at his intended. For a change, her face seemed serene and relaxed as she sat in the Indian style and her breathing slow and regular. She'd flinched and shied away when Wyatt had arrived for the bus and any effort to ask what she was upset about had been firmly rebuffed by her House Mother.
And from the way she looked at him, Wyatt was almost certain she knew what they'd been up to and she very, very much disapproved. Maybe I'll be getting that visit from Mr. Donner after all, he thought finally as he took a deep breath to clear his mind and place a tight control over his thoughts and memories. Being linked to another mind when you had secrets wasn't something you did lightly. Satisfied he was as comfortable as he could be, Wyatt closed his eyes and yielded to the slight phantom pressure that had been pushing against his fore head.
At once there was a disconcerted feeling of being in a gray limbo, neither sitting nor standing, aware and yet nonexistent, that thankfully passed quickly. Wyatt found himself standing in a lovely forest glade; it was a peaceful, natural place that made him feel almost immediately that all would be right with the world again. As he gathered his bearings, Wyatt realized he was no longer dressed in his trademark open flannel over a T-shirt, but rather a heavy leather jerkin over a dark, rough woolen shirt and leather trousers. Thick looking cavalry boots replaced his beloved Red Wings, his massive forearms were encompassed with a pair of lovely leather bracers that had an intricate knot work design tooled into them. A sword, a big, heavy one hung at his waist that was not a delicate, filigreed sharp toothpick for twirling, showy ripostes or In Quartata, no, this was a brutal, direct weapon of war, as subtle as a club and many times more deadly.
"Ok," Cody muttered to himself, "Someone has been playing too much GEO."
You have no idea, growled a familiar voice from beside him. He turned to take in his Avatar, but not as he'd ever seen him before. The Kodiak was not the bestial, primal spirit he saw in his hallow, nor the cartoon like 'Baloo' from when Wyatt had first become aware of the other consciousness inside him. Now, he wore a form halfway between the two, more man like than the character from the TV Show Talespin that Wyatt had so loved as a child. He stood upright and was far more man shaped, even wearing a purple silk peasant's shirt under a matching doublet and breeches and a baggy, shapeless beret with a massive ostrich feather plume. But for all the ridiculousness of the clothing, the bear was every inch the killer, primal and fierce despite his courtly attire.
"Nice shirt," Wyatt complimented as they stepped a bit further into the glade. There, Wyatt found himself face to face with the realization that he definitely had a thing for red heads. There were two waiting for him, being led, ruled was perhaps the better word by a third woman.
Mind your manners the bear retorted.
The queen, for she could be nothing else, was a tall, sharp featured woman with milk white hair worn combed back from her high forehead to fall to the small of her back and held in place by a circlet of what Wyatt took for platinum at first glance, but was likely the much more valuable Mithril he'd heard of but never seen. A single, perfect amethyst hung from the circlet, which lightened her pale complexion and lit a fire in her icy blue eyes and for all her cold and imposing regal nature, the woman was still very beautiful in a distant, unobtainable way. She was dressed in a white linen gown with a waist cincher she didn't need of a gold and white brocade pattern and held a knurled wooden staff that was as white as the rest of her wardrobe.
Next to her was the smaller of the two red heads, the freshman, Nikki. Like the queen she stood beside, her clothing and manner were more regal than had come across in the Catholic school girl uniform the academy preferred. And if the Queen could have been conquered by some fearsome king, this princess might have been the result. Where as the Queen was white and gold, Fey's gown was emerald green with silver threads and a more subdued coronet to contain her own fiery hair.
But it was the final member of their little video game party that truly took Cody's breath. Loophole turned to face him as he entered the glade and was frozen in place by her hard, green eyes hidden behind a blue mask of Woad that ran across her face from temple to temple. The queen and the princess were unapproachable by station and rank, but the green eyed archer that faced him was unapproachable by threat of violence. She wore a fur bikini top to which crude iron cups had been attached to protect her impressive bust and from the bottom edge of it, also attached by a leather cord was a tube section of chain mail that had been scavenged by some previous owner who doubtlessly no longer needed it, or anything else. A pair of rough sewn buckskin pants were held up by a leather belt from which hung a wicked looking dagger and a pair of fur boots completed the barbarian look. Her skin was dotted with geometric and Celtic tattoos around her arms and navel and what wasn't tattooed was covered in blue mud.
"Is this your idea of a joke?" she snarled. "Or just some sick fantasy...?"
"Peace, Pict-daughter," the queen commanded, stepping forward with a measured regal stride. "Here all pretenses are stripped away and the essence of yourself is revealed. Did you think the fire that burns within you had no root or cause?"
"Are you telling me Ah'm a savage?" Elaine snapped back.
"I am telling you that you are descended of a fierce people, whose passions were legendary and yet for that," and the queen reached out and tugged at the metal that had been added to her attire. "Your rage is tempered with intelligence and you have taken the technologies of your foe and used them against their creators." The queen locked eyes with the ever so slightly taller barbarian who finally conceded and looked away. "And you, Wyatt Cody see your own Saxon and Irish roots, killer, son and grandson of killers, and poets, and drunkards. Your sword and your paramour's bow shall protect us as we complete this quest."
"Should I be insulted?" Wyatt growled as he crossed his arms over the jerkin and tried to over awe the queen who cocked her head up at him and smiled a cold, cruel smile.
"Only at your own peril," she replied icily. Then her eyes slide to the Kodiak next him where she inclined her neck ever so slightly in recognition. "Your Grace."
Majesty, the bear replied sketching a bow his anatomy should not have allowed, but he managed with surprising grace. Would that beholding you once more did not herald such dire times.
"Such is the wish of all who live in them and have the wit to see them for what they are," Aunghadhail replied softly. "But it is not for us to curse or lament the times we serve in."
As always, the bear replied sketching another bow. Your Majesty is the mirror of wisdom.
"I don't mean to be the dumb redneck," Wyatt drawled, "But exactly where are we? I mean, I get that you're Fey's spirit she talks about, the fairy queen, like old Baloo here, but what is this?" he demanded, making a general gesture of the forest they stood in.
Surprisingly, Aunghadhail didn't seem to be insulted and answered in the detached way that royals had when giving needed information to those beneath them. "You are in a context, Wyatt Cody. Your body is where you left it and this is merely a way for your true self your 'soul' to use the vulgar term, to interact with the rest of us as we make our way to the Seat of Self for the two children we hope to save. Yonder castle," she pointed and for the first time Wyatt noticed the building standing above the trees on a commanding hill. "Are the defenses we must over come to reach that Seat."
"In other words," Elaine told him with a smirk, "It's all in your pointed head."
Wyatt considered that for a moment and nodded. "Ok, I'm cool. Just asking." He loosened the sword in it's scabbard. "And I'm guessing since we have weapons there will be imaginary beasties or what not to fight trying to keep us from that seat?" Aunghadhail nodded regally.
Cody drew the sword and grinned an evil grin. "Shiny, let's go be bad guys."
March 22nd, 2007
Dunwich Train Depot, Dunwich New Hampshire
Jadis squirmed in the somewhat battered leather seat as the older coach pulled out of the Dunwich Depot. This spur line would connect her to Dover where the main New England Amtrak line would let her transfer to the Downeaster Limited that would take her to Boston and thence further south. And while this 'spur' ran through the better part of the state, Amtrak spent little money on it and thus it's rolling stock tended to be in ill repair. It was a bit longer than the normal service through Concord, but it had the advantage of leaving sooner and being less expected.
At Dover she would change to one of the new Acela trains that had many amenities, such as power for her laptop and fold down tables that were actually capable of working. In the meantime, there was nothing much to do but bear the ride and try to relax. She had the car to herself, for a wonder and tried to puzzle out if the FBI had finally tired of tracking her every move or were they just being more discreet about it. As she got the laptop settled on her knees, not trusting the rickety tray to stay up for anything other than force of habit, she got her phone out and dialed. "Mrs. Pierson? Hi, it's Jadis. I just wanted to give you warning I'm going to be home for a couple of days...What? No, nothing is wrong really. Just a favor for...a friend. Yes, we'll have two guests as well. I'll see you then."
The WWAN card embedded in the laptop connected and a new page opened, more secure than what was in use by most governments. Jadis shook her head at the strange arrangement she found herself in before trying to clear her thoughts to start work, but, unbidden a memory forced itself into her focus.
September 24th, 2005
Ground Floor Common Room, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Although it was called the 'common room', the fact of the matter was it was anything but. Easily the largest of the rooms on the open floor of Melville Cottage, whenever the Alpha's threw a big party, common went out the door and it was RSVP only. Despite that, being rushed by a group like the Alpha's was a pretty major deal. Not that her resume needed padding, indeed, college was a decision the Freshman Jadis Daibliku had not yet put a great deal of thought into, but better to have too many arrows in your quiver than too few so she had made the difficult decision to try out for the exclusive group.
She did have the advantage of already being assigned to Melville had to be a leg up and it allowed her to find out when the pledge party was to be held and be ready instead of hoping for an invite or trying to gate crash at the last minute. So Jadis chose a nice, if somewhat conservative outfit and wandered into the room just as the party was getting into full swing.
Despite her own well developed sense of self, and one did not have the father Jadis had without developing a strong sense of self, being around the complete roll call of the campus' movers and shakers was a bit daunting. So Jadis contented herself to hover on the edge of the clutch of freshman hopefuls and sip some of the really excellent punch and wait to see how things would pan out. They were a motley looking group, a mixed bag of budding exemplars with a handful of obvious techies and a complete lack of anyone with anything remotely considered GSD.
Indeed, a tall red head stood out, despite the cocktail dress she was wearing, she was a flat and straight as a Nebraska highway and Jadis smiled a private smile. At least she wasn't the ugliest girl in the room. That in itself was promising.
She found the conversation of the freshmen tiresome, all speculation about what was needed to make 'the grade' and obviously by poor students who hadn't done their homework. Jadis had actually read the handbook and questioned her father extensively before she'd left for the school a few weeks ago. Fortunately, 'Dr. Dad' had been between jobs and in a positively loquacious mood, for him anyway. While he'd never actually attended the school himself, having graduated from college before the school was founded; he had offered some input to the science programs and had endowed several scholarships.
This allowed him a certainly level of access by which he was able to instruct his only daughter how to proceed. However, as she had found out, his 'official' version of the Alpha Council, the central meeting body of all of the school's leaders, and what it actually was when she arrived were two entirely different things. And, she noted with some concern, the chief cause of that difference, a blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe herself would have been envious of was coming her way, a clutch of her hangers on behind her.
"No, no, Lorenz," she scolded laughingly which caused the boy, a devilishly handsome Spanish Casanova to frown. "My dear boy you simply do not understand the nature of power. Let me show you."
Freya stopped and smiled a smile with all the warmth of crocodile. "Now, everyone, allow me to introduce Jadis Daibliku, the only daughter of the infamous Dr. Diabolik." Jadis swallowed nervously and forced a nod of greeting to the very beautiful upper classmen who she found herself the center of attention of.
"Hello," she managed, proud of herself that she didn't stutter.
Freya reached out and relieved Jadis of her punch, handing it off to someone else. "Now, Jadis believes, interestingly enough, that the strength of who her father is will be sufficient for her to be admitted to the Alphas!" Larssen smiled her cold smile again. "As if we would lower ourselves to admit an ugly, self indulgent, cheap, knock off like you," she said, still smiling.
Jadis jerked, stung by the insults and the humiliation of being so insulted in front of the entire party. She reared up to her full height, wishing she was taller than the blonde that suddenly had become every pretty girl child that had ever tormented her throughout her life. "How dare you?" she hissed. "When my father..."
"When your father what?" drawled Freya without losing her smile. "When you run home and admit to Daddy dearest that you couldn't hack high school? Well, he will be disappointed in you, won't he?"
"You think you're brave...?"
Freya just shook her head as if she was taking pity on a mental defective. "I have nothing to fear from you, little Jadis, or your father. He won't ever find out about this because the only way he would is if you admit you can't hack it on your own." She leaned down and leered into Jadis' face. "And you'd rather chew glass than admit that, wouldn't you? I think it's time you left, want-to-be."
Jadis felt her eyes water but furiously applied all her will power to keep the tears in her eyes as she straightened her back and walked from the party with all the dignity she could muster. As the Alpha's parted before her, she couldn't fail to hear Freya's aside to Don Sebastiano, "There, you see that, Lorenz? That is power."
March 22nd, 2007
The Minds of Cavalier and Skybolt, Red Level, ARC
It helped that the creature was not really alive.
It is one thing to play a game that calls a green skinned humanoid with pig-like features an Ork, in many ways it is simply a game mechanic; walking experience points or imaginary chessmen dancing to the orders of a game master to be over come. It was how the player proved they were a hero. In a game, it was an amusing, slightly comical past time. In motion pictures, the comedy became more real, more brutal, but however horrifying, for all practical purposes they were merely cannon fodder for yet another hero, not beings with wives or mothers, hopes or fears. Just monsters to be hewn down like wheat to prove the valor of the lantern jawed hero on his heroic quest.
It did not help that when the arrow struck the creature in the throat and sailed past it severed what served the creature for it's carotid artery and black, foul smelling blood fountained out, turning his cry of agony into a drowning gurgle. The creature fell, clutching the wound while drowning in his own blood and exsanguination fought with each other to see which would kill the creature first.
What did trouble Elaine was the fact that for the horrifying method of the creatures' death, there was no horror in what she'd done, no pause of self doubt for the taking of a life, and if anything this forested fantasy they fought their way through was as real as any thing she had ever experienced. She felt the tremble of the muscles of her arms and shoulders as she drew the bow and released death to fly the through the air, she smelled the shit of the corpses as they soiled themselves in death throes, and she could taste her own sweat through the muddy Woad that hid her eyes as it rolled down her face to her lips.
What she felt was elation as her heart raced, dancing through the melee using her bow when she had a moment, and blooding the dagger at her hip when close pressed, looking the foul smelling creatures in their eyes as she took their lives and watched those same eyes dim and fade until they were no longer eyes, just parts of a corpse that had no further meaning.
She watched Wyatt disembowel the 'captain' of this little band of cut throats, intestines and feces flung wide from the power of the stroke as the Ork dropped his weapon and clutched his split belly in a vain attempt to hold himself in before the follow up stroke severed his head and sent it sailing. Elaine pulled her dagger out of the Ork from having driven it into his brain through his chin and wiped the blood and sweat from her face with the back of her hand as she panted, from the physical exertion of the battle or from raw sexual attraction of the killer across the battlefield, she didn't know, nor for fear of her immortal soul did she examine the feeling too closely for the result.
"What did you do to me?" she panted at Aunghadhail as the Queen stepped into the road from the protection of the trees where they'd been ordered by the two warriors as the ambush was sprung. "I'm a scientist! An Engineer for the love of God! And you..."
"I have done nothing to you, Pict-daughter," Aunghadhail returned sharply. "It is you that limits yourself. You drape yourself in learning and fanciful words, cover your eyes with spectacles you do not need and call yourself civilized. It was not the mouse you hide yourself in that conquered the warrior across the road, it was this," she declared reaching out and catching the girl by her cheek and forcing her to look her in the Queen's cold blue eyes. "This is who you are, Elaine Nalley, daughter of killers, footpads, scofflaws and hooligans! For all your trappings of the civilization you claim to love so, your blood has fought against it from the time of what you appear to be to your so-called present. Lie to yourself if you like, but not to me. I know you for who and what you are and you have worth to me. Take pleasure in that and do not again question me for your own shortcomings!"
Aunghadhail released her chin, none too gently and strode off, picking her way carefully through the carnage so that her gown would not be stained. Staring daggers at her back, Elaine crossed to her nearest arrow where it had pined one of the soldiers to a tree. As the creature was still moving feebly, she stepped to the creature's right side and grabbed it by the hair. With a jerk its throat was exposed and slit, blood dribbling weakly from a heart on its last beats, but the shock of the cut had done its job and the Ork was dead. She snatched her arrow from his guts, letting the corpse fall as she turned and locked eyes with the freshman who had watched her with pale, sick fascination. "Your friend is a bitch," she muttered angrily, cleaning the arrow carefully before returning to her quiver across her back.
"She's not my friend," Nikki replied curtly. "She's my Avatar." The princess made to follow her queen before stopping and turning to meet the barbarian's gaze. "And I know." she said softly.
"What was that about?" asked Wyatt as he walked up, cleaning the blood and gore from his sword with a rag as he did so.
Elaine spat in the dirt and accepted the handful of arrows he had gathered and presented to her. "Girl talk," she deadpanned as she saw he'd already cleaned them and returned them to the quiver.
Suddenly she was enveloped in his massive arms and his mouth was nuzzling her neck, one of the few places of bare skin on her. "You know, I don't care how you dress, you'll always be beautiful to me. But I gotta say, baby, you look damned hot in..." He stopped, feeling the razor sharp point of her dagger pressing just hard enough into his groin that he could feel it without it doing damage.
He opened his arms and she stepped out of the embrace, not removing the dagger. "What did Ah tell you would happen if you hurt me?" she whispered in a quiet rage. The blade turned slightly. "Did you think Ah was kidding?"
"I have no fucking idea why you're pissed with me, Elaine, but God as my witness I haven't done anything to hurt you on purpose!"
"God!" she hissed, eyes narrowing as the point pressed in further, passing awareness and flirting with the threshold of pain. "You want to bring God into this, lover boy?"
"Settle your private affairs in private!" Aunghadhail called from across the clearing. "We are here for others!"
Elaine backed away, the knife point not wavering, held out in guard until she judged herself far enough then turned and walked toward the Queen, sheathing the dagger as she did so. And you thought Kipling was being clever, The Kodiak chuckled as he walked by. Cody reached out and collected a handful of the doublet to halt his avatar.
"If I find out you had a hand in whatever she's pissed about," he told the bear softly, "I'll spend the rest of my life making you regret it."
March 22nd, 2007
Student Casting Lab 4, Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
The various philosophies and general practices that went into making a school as complicated and down right odd as Whateley never ceased to amaze Maggie. At first, it had seemed incredibly strange that the school would just make and provide formal casting workshops for teenagers that they could simply sign up for and use. Of course, there was some credit to the line of thinking that teaching teenagers magic at all amounted to a noted lack of cognitive thought. Until one stopped to realize that, like everything else that went into the school, it was obvious that considerable attention had been placed here as well.
That some mutants possessed the talent for magic was not something the school could shut down, even if it wanted to. Such a stance would only drive the practice underground where it could not be regulated or even the most basic attempts at control could be attempted. But, by embracing the teaching instead and providing areas where formal magical rites could be cast, the amount of extra-curricular magic was cut down and concentrated on Kirby Hall.
Which meant that magic taking place outside the school's magic department would stand out like a beacon and give the faculty a much better idea as to what was going on and why. More to the point, there would be signatures of the casters left in each of the labs as well as residue of the workings, which also let the staff keep tabs on what the kids thought they could get away with by being clever. She had to admit as she signed for the lab she was going to use and checked out the components her spell would require from her locker it was far smarter than most would give the school credit for.
She laid down a circle of rock salt and with a finger dipped in red ochre began to inscribe the sigils of power she would call upon for the working. For his part, her unwitting assistant slash employer had borne all the heavy lifting without protest and had been silent the entire time she'd prepared herself for the coming spell. "Once I begin to cast," she instructed him finally, "do not under any circumstances cross the circle, or allow anything or anyone else to."
He only nodded; his expression unreadable. Maggie made a mental note to challenge her best friend's notions about who and what her brother really was as she sat, became as relaxed as she could and began to chant. "Sit verum dicetur," she commanded, "Sit verum audietur. Sit verum sciri."
March 22nd, 2007
The Minds of Cavalier and Skybolt, Red Level, ARC
The landscape was a study in contradictions.
The castle itself was impossible, spires, minarets and towers like something out of the fevered dreams of Mad Ludwig, or Walt Disney, completely impossible without steel I-beam construction, and modern materials. More to the point, the forest they had come through stopped only twenty yards or so from the moat house of the fortifications on this side of the draw bridge. In any kind of period setting the woods would have been cleared a mile or more back from a castle. "Cinderella's guards have gotten uglier," muttered Cody from where he and Elaine crouched in the cover of the primeval forest, looking out at the castle they intended to storm.
"Maybe they're step sisters," Elaine fired back and they shared a brief smile before she remembered she was angry with the boy and turned away.
Cody opened his mouth to renew his attempts to try and get from her the reason she was so aloof, but was stopped by a firm squeeze of his shoulder by the Queen. She had a very strong grip. Aunghadhail shook her head briefly to forestall any protest from Wyatt as she turned back to the group's archer. "You can hit them at this distance?"
Elaine was in the process of drawing the bow back, the arrow for the follow up shot in her hand. "Watch me," she purred, loosing the first arrow and sending its fellow after it before the bowstring had even stopped thrumming. The first arrow pierced the eye of the Ork and sliced through the creature's brain without being appreciably slowed before it shattered out the back of the creature's skull and pinned it to the wood of the door it stood in front of.
The brain damage was so severe the guard was dead before it could feel the pain of the strike and so died silently. His partner's head turned, drawn to the sound of his friend's skill being opened by the arrow and it embedding itself into the door. This had the effect of his arrow traveling through both ear canals and severing the brain from the spinal cord. Cut off from the normal flow of electrons, the Ork's muscles convulsed slightly in a shaking, whole body spasm that loosened the halberd from his grasp where it fell nosily to the cobblestone below. "Shit," hissed Elaine as she quickly snatched a third arrow from the quiver and began to charge the moat house, Wyatt hot on her heels.
As she had been afraid of, the side door to the moat house door opened and the Captain of the watch stuck his head out to see what the racket had been. There, stunned into immobility, he saw a blue skinned, tattooed woman rushing him, drawing a bow on the run with what appeared to be a very doughty warrior behind her. The moment it occurred to the Captain he was in danger it was the last thought that occurred to him as his brain was quickly filled with a gray goosed shafted arrow and all thought left his head.
What was left of the guard rushed out to avenge their Captain but the confined space favored the attackers and the guards were slaughtered in short order. "Ah think Ah prefer mah carnage of the table top RPG variety," Elaine opined as she cleaned her dagger before returning it to its sheath. "It's less messy."
"You do this for fun?" demanded Wyatt from his own wiping.
Elaine shrugged and as it affected her body, came to the realization that she'd have to invest in a fur bikini as it was really quite sensual. "You didn't suffer under the delusion Ah was a cheap date, did you?"
Wyatt rubbed his jaw in memory of a punch that had fallen like a freight train and he was surprised after he wasn't spitting teeth. "No," he admitted softly. "Not at all." He would have said more but the mages had crossed over into the guard house, Fey having even less color than her normally alabaster complexion as she treaded around the bodies.
"Do you do all your decorating in carnage?" she asked, fighting down the bile that was rising in her throat.
"Red is mah favorite color," Elaine told her with a savage smile and held up her Woad covered and blood spattered arm. "It's the new blue."
So much for the preliminaries, The Kodiak observed as he hovered at the doorway, deciding that squeezing himself into the guard house was probably too much work. Majesty, is it just my wishful thinking or do I detect the Seat of Self just beyond the Portcullis?
Aunghadhail's sharp features pulled into a frown as she stepped out of the guard room and looked across the drawbridge. The gate stood open but the grated portcullis was lowered, covering the dark maw of the castle, making determining what was beyond impossible. "Yes, your Grace, you are not mistaken."
"What? That's bad?" demanded Elaine.
"It's too easy," Fey told her as she joined her Avatar in the breezeway. "Why have all this fortress if what we're after is just beyond the gate?"
"Because there is a gate keeper you will not pass," purred another voice, dripping malice. From above an Amazon slowly floated to the drawbridge. Her magnificent form was draped in bronze armor that exaggerated her bust and figure, long ebony hair spilling from under a Spartan helmet, spear and round shield completed the period ensemble. Their foe reached up to remove the helmet and smiled a cruel smile as she tossed it aside, ready for battle.
Fey's breath whistled through her teeth as she snarled out the name of the woman who had earned her hatred for all time. "Hekate."