Whilst Any Speaks (Chapter 4)
A Whateley Academy Story
Whilst Any Speaks
By E. E. Nalley
Too much corruption and crime in the streets
It's time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground
Send 'em all to their Maker and He'll settle 'em down
Beer for My Horses, Toby Keith
March 22nd, 2007
The Minds of Cavalier and Skybolt, Red Level, ARC
And the Witches fought.
Before the first blasts of eldritch fire lit the facade of the castle, The Kodiak snatched Fey by the scruff of her neck and forced his way with her through the man sized doorway of the guard room. She was deposited, none too gently in front of Wyatt and Elaine who had been bowled backwards by the force of the Spirit's entrance as he slammed the door shut. “Hey!” protested Nikki as she recovered her footing. “I have to help...”
The Kodiak turned from baring the door shut and snarled at her, baring his impressive collection of fangs. You want nothing to do with what is happening out there, little Princess, the Spirit ordered. If Aunghadhail cannot deal with the spell fragment out there, none of us can. You will come with us to help the children.
“Spell fragment?” demanded Elaine, “It looked like...”
That isn't the human girl you think of the Kodiak replied. It is pure magic, magic of things more powerful and more deadly than any ambition of the little girl who put it here. And it is beyond all of you.
“Mythos Magic,” whispered Fey with a shiver.
“Get on the roof of the moat house and zip line over?” asked Wyatt, scratching his chin.
There is hope for you, beamed the Spirit.
“No buts,” Elaine told her, taking her arm and leading the way over to the staircase that led up into the tower. “For once, Ah agree with tall, dark and hairy, if we fix Cavalier and Skybolt, our side gets bigger anyway.” It was obvious Fey didn't like the idea, but hitched up her skirt to mount the stairs that went up one wall, only to be restrained by a hand on her shoulder to let the Kodiak and Wyatt pass first, putting the fiercest of the fighters up front.
Which turned out to be a good thing as there were several more of the pig men from the sounds of things before the reached the top of the gate house. The sky was lit by the lightening and magic as the witch queen fought the knot of magic; flashes of arcane energy in a rainbow of colors that washed across the buildings, foretelling the direness of the battle on the bridge below.
“Where to?” asked Elaine as she readied the arrow that had a stout looking rope attached to it. “Straight to the portcullis is asking to get killed,” she said, casting a glance at the battle below.
“There!” Wyatt pointed. It was a large open window on the ground floor, above the moat. It was too high to reach by swimmers or even a boat and there was no ground to steady a ladder.
Fey announced a heavy sounding word and the wooden shutters over the window burst to kindling, leaving a nice gaping target with plenty of window lintel for the arrow. Elaine drew the arrow back, a finger clicking off the safety strap of the claws that made up the arrow head and let fly. The arrow sank deeply into the wood and finished pushing back the safety strap she'd started. Freed of both the leather and wood of the lintel, the arrowhead sprang open on springs, creating a trident claw that grabbed the lintel and refused to let the arrow be pulled back out the same hole.
Elaine pulled on it with all her might to make sure the claws were well set, then tied off the line to the parapet itself. “Ah'll go first,” she declared.
“I weigh less,” protested Fey.
“You're also a light weight in hand to hand and there's no telling what's waiting,” Nalley snapped back, her face given a fierce contortion because of the mask of woad. “Ah will go first, and y’all will wait for mah signal. Wyatt, give me a thirty count and if no signal you come a-running.”
“Will do,” the big senior replied.
“Otherwise Fey, you next, then Wyatt, then Fuzzy Britches.” She turned to leave, but Wyatt grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him before laying a passionate kiss on her surprised lips and releasing her before she could protest.
“For luck,” he told her with a grin.
Loophole ground her teeth, but said nothing as she laid the bow over the line and zipped down it into he window below.
March 22nd, 2007 (Earlier that day)
Headmistress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
The silence drew out like a blade as Elaine sat and withered under the unblinking stare of Elisabeth Carson. The cornflower blue eyes speared the red head to her seat while the silence grew, broken only by the soft whisper of air moving through the duct work. Finally, a soft, rhythmic tapping of the pen she was holding against her finger tip brought the young inventor's eyes back up to the head mistress until finally, slowly, deliberately, the educator blinked. For the first time in a very, very long time, Elisabeth Carson had been struck speechless.
“Say that again,” she ordered softly. She didn't need volume, she could have commanded the parting of the Red Sea in the same tone of voice, and with as much authority. And the Sea would have parted.
“Ah present mahself for discipline due to having committed multiple expulsion offenses,” Elaine repeated with a sigh.
The silence fell again as once more the teacher stared at her student as though for the first time realizing she was some imposter, robot, alien or all three at once, with only the AC and the tapping of the pen between her fingers as accompaniment. After a long space of what felt like geologic time, the fleshy metronome ceased it's beat and the Headmistress blinked again. “Trish,” she said at long last, taking her eyes from student to house parent, “I am glad you're here to witness this. I don't think I'd be believed otherwise.”
“This isn't a joking matter, Liz...!”
“Am I laughing?” Carson drawled, over riding the house parent's ire through sheer force of personality. “Miss Nalley,” she went on, “I am about to ask you a deceptively simple question, where upon you may be tempted to respond to in a flippant manner, either attempting to crack wise, or quote the regulations you so love thwarting. I advise you most strongly to resist such urges, and answer in the most succinct and truthful manner you can. Do you understand me, dear?”
“Yes ma'am.” the student replied softly.
“That's good,” Elisabeth affirmed. “Trish, give us a moment, will you?”
A war raged in the mind of Patricia Savage, urge to protect her surrogate daughter and the knowledge that her superior was keeping her formidable temper very tightly in check. Finally, the adventuress stood and caught her employer's eye. “I'll be just outside,” she declared. “Don't make me come in here,” she warned. Carson blinked twice, processed the threat, assessed her own posture and relaxed ever so slightly. Savage nodded and withdrew.
With the door closed once more, Elisabeth asked, “What has happened that you come here and say this to me, Elaine?”
The sophomore sighed again and held up a hand asking for patience. “That's a long story, ma'am, the reader's digest version is that Ah...well, there ain't a nice way to say this, Ah had a lot of sex last year and Ah couldn't deal with it and...”
“With Songbird,” Carson stated flatly. “Yes, we know.”
The teacher’s words obviously shocked her, but Elaine got her mouth closed and returned to the listless manner in which she'd entered. “Of course you know,” she muttered. “Ah asked Songbird to block mah memories of it. Because Ah couldn't handle that mah world wasn't so black and white, so Ah hurt someone that truly loved me. But she did it. And the first person Ah ran into after Ah broke Maria's heart was Kodiak.”
Carson licked her lips before she stood, came around the desk and sat down in the chair next to Elaine's. She took the girl's trembling hands into hers and gently forced her to meet her eyes. Gold flecked emerald met cornflower blue. “What did Wyatt do to you, Elaine?”
A tear welled up in her eye and slipped free to roll down her cheek. “It wasn't Wyatt,” she whispered. “He really wanted to help. He thought that Songbird had...had used her powers...” A second tear joined the first before her eyes hardened. “That beast inside him, that’s who did this. Ah could feel him lying to me, making me think that Maria had raped me, but somehow he kept Wyatt from seeing what he was doing. I tried to fight him, Mrs. Carson, honest Ah did! He just kept on and on at me, wearing me down… Then, when he was done, Ah was so angry Mrs. Carson...!”
Elisabeth effortlessly pulled the girl from her seat and enveloped her in the most reassuring hug she could. “Ah've done something really horrible,” she whispered into the teacher's shoulder as the dam broke and the tears became a flood. “Ah hurt Maria, made her think that Ah had stolen her soul and that Ah could kill her whenever Ah wanted!'
“Elaine,” Carson consoled her while stroking her hair, “I'm not going to expel you for an error in judgment! You made a mistake! I'll invite Maria up and...”
“Freya has her!” Nalley cried out around the sobs. “Ah...Ah got an email, something about Freya put together a team to go after some stupid artifact and that she press-ganged Maria into helping her because Maria thought...thought that Ah would...”
“An artifact?” Carson demanded sharply, lifting the girl off her shoulder and the doubtlessly ruined Armani silk blouse she was wearing. “What kind of...?”
Loophole sniffed mightily and did her best to regain control of her emotions. “Ah...Ah don't know, she wasn't very clear about it. Some kind of necklace Ah think...” Elaine leaned back as the Headmistress stood and returned to her side of the desk. “Why? Is it important?”
Elisabeth slapped the intercom. “Amelia? Cancel all my appointments for the rest of the week. While you're at it, put everyone next week on notice I may have to cancel as well. Mark me on a leave of absence starting at...” She glanced over at the clock behind her. “Three.”
“You,” she ordered her recalcitrant student. “Go to your dorm and pack...”
Elaine's normally ruddy face drained of color. “Ah'm expelled?” she whispered.
“No,” Carson replied with much derision. “When have I ever let you or any student have the easy way out?” Elaine sagged into the chair in relief. “Up! Up!” the Headmistress ordered. “Go to your dorm, pack a bag with whatever clothes you'll need for several days and whatever toys you'd go to Powered Combat class with. Come straight back here and not a word to anyone, you understand?”
“Where are we going?”
“To make this right,” the other replied with a grin. The kindly, but stern teacher was gone, and so was the administrator with the nerves of steel. In their place was a fury wearing the dangerous grin of justice just waiting to be dispensed.
March 24th, 2007
Superbad, just outside Hell's Kitchen, New York, NY
“Maria?” laughed Freya at the look of consternation on her face at dropping the bottle.
“I need a drink!” Songbird exclaimed as she hooked an arm into Wicked's. “And so do you! Let me get you one!” The raven headed criminal didn't resist as the dusky skinned college student who was in far over her head and had the sense to know it, pulled her over to the bar, much to the general of the large, bad man behind it.
“What can I get for you girls,” he drawled, his emphasis letting both know they weren't fooling anyone.
“Sam Addams Alpine Spring,” Wicked replied, pointedly looking at Maria. “She'll have a Perrier on the rocks with a lemon wedge.” Big George grunted, scooped up the twenty Wicked provided and pointedly didn't give change as he set about completing the order. “So, Maria, how have you been? Obviously not staying out of trouble.”
“Are you mad?” the other hissed. “The moment Freya recognizes you...”
Wicked shook her head and pointed at the mirror behind the bar with her newly arrived bottle. “Now you see me,” she said with an evil grin. Maria followed her gesture and blinked in astonishment. In the mirror was the sharp looking brunette she'd seen come in the door and walk over to the table. The vague feeling of attraction flared up again, and just a hint of the feeling of familiarity.
“It's magic...” Wicked drawled with a grin. “Freya can't recognize me, just you.”
“But...” the Latin lesbian stuttered. “How...?”
“Well, that's a long story, isn't it?”
March 22nd, 2007
Jadis' Room, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
"I'm in trouble, aren't I?" Jadis asked quietly.
“Stop me if you've heard this,” Mrs. Carson replied as she ushered Loophole into the dorm room and closed the door with out ceremony. “Brilliant young daughter of a notorious super villain is humiliated at the Alpha pledge party her freshman year by the psychopath that had taken over the group, much to the dismay of the beautiful, but over worked and under appreciated headmistress of the school. Thirsting for revenge, the brilliant daughter manufactures an overly complicated scheme, creates an illustrated manuscript that fools two separate subject matter experts who aren't well read enough to realize that Arne Saknussemm is a fictional character, all describing a fantastic artifact that would be irresistible to the aforementioned psychopath, thus insuring she would be humiliated not only the tiny bubble of high school but on a world stage she would never live down. How am I doing so far?”
What color there was drained out of Jadis' face. “I'm in trouble.”
“Only the psychopath in question didn't find the oh so subtle clues before she left high school like she was supposed to, did she, Miss Daibliku?” She-Beast's eyes found her shoes imminently fascinating and admired them as she shook her head.
Elaine cautiously raised a hand. “Um, pardon me, Mrs. Beautiful...”
“Your stock with me isn't high enough for that trade, Miss Nalley,” the educator shot back, but there was a twinkle in her eye Elaine hadn't noticed before, a gleam of mischievousness denied far too long.
“Well, Ah haven't heard this before, can Ah get the 'for those who came in late' sum up?”
“You were there,” Jadis snapped. “You don't remember?” Elaine played with her fingers while her skin blushed crimson to put her hair to shame.
“Ah remember,” she whispered.
“Not that you lifted a finger or said a word!” Jadis shot back. “And I suppose the whole time you were thinking 'better her than me,' right?” The red head continued to fiddle with her fingers and refused to meet her fellow sophomore's irate gaze. Finally Jadis sighed. “You got your taste of what they're really all about this year, so I suppose we're even,” Daibliku admitted softly.
“Jadis wasn't one to let an insult of that level stand, so she manufactured an illuminated text by a figment of Jules Verne's imagination that told of him discovering the fabulous necklace Brísingamen, signature jewelry of Miss Larssen's name sake Freya. An object she would spare nothing to possess.” The headmistress rubbed her chin. “Laying aside the difficulties in producing a manuscript that would pass historical scrutiny, how did you manage to plant it in Iceland?”
“Oh, I didn't” Jadis replied quickly. “I FedExed it to one of my father's operatives in the British Historical Trust and he planted it in the crate of artifacts from the dig.”
“Ah,” Elizabeth said, more to herself than to her students. “At least you've learned some of the KISS principal.” Turning back to Elaine, she continued, “Miss Daibliku then created a series of dummy news articles, false websites and double blinds that would lead Miss Larssen to believe that Brísingamen had been broken into its component pieces through various collectors of antiquities. One of which was supposedly in the trophy vault of the Emerald Tower.”
Elaine scratched her head as she thought through the implications until she finally said, “So, she was supposed to humiliate herself breaking into the Emerald Tower...?”
“And get the crap beaten out of her over something they didn't have, that didn't exist,” Jadis finished with a smile that was only a little cruel. She felt the other two women staring at her and rolled her eyes, “Yes, I admit it was both overly complicated and overly dramatic! What's the point? It didn't work!”
“Oh but it did,” Mrs. Carson replied. Jadis' face lit up in the way only someone who's been bullied and about to see her bully get her comeuppance can. The Headmistress let her savor the moment and brought it all crashing down. “And now it's entrapped a largely innocent girl and is undoing four years work that Mrs. Horton and to a lesser extent I put in, prying Songbird who was savable from away from Freya who isn't!”
The joy fled Jadis' face to be replaced by confusion. “I don't understand, what's Songbird got to do with...?”
“Maria has been putting herself through NYU,” The Headmistress said, laying a hand on Jadis' shoulder, “while also working at a Rape Crisis Intervention Center. And while I deplore both Miss Nalley's methods and her motivations, it did finally succeed in getting Maria away from Freya.”
Daibliku turned to face the other rules lawyer in the room. “You did that? How...?”
Elaine sank onto Superchick's bed and played with her fingers again. Jadis realized it was a fairly blatant tell that the other girl didn't want to admit to something she was about to say. “Ah...Ah convinced Maria that Ah stole her soul and that Ah could kill her whenever Ah wanted by pressing a button.”
“You stole...?” demanded Jadis with deep incredulity. “You?! You're no mage! Why, just to separate a single aspect of the animus from the body, without instantly killing the subject would require sorcery of a level that I...”
“Ah didn't say Ah stole her soul,” Elaine corrected peevishly. “Ah said Ah convinced Maria that Ah had. No, Ah'm not a mage, but neither is Maria. Ah rigged up a TASER and a special effects show that played on her also being groggy from the anaesthetic Ah used.”
A nervous snicker escaped Jadis despite the gravity of the situation. “Wait, so you're telling me it was all literally smoke and mirrors?”
“It's not so funny when you think you're beholden to a vengeful psychopath who can kill you with the press of a button,” Elisabeth corrected her. Jadis was instantly contrite. “So I have given Elaine the opportunity to make this right and she has accepted. I am giving you the same opportunity, Miss Daibliku, are you willing to clean up part of the mess you helped make?”
Jadis looked up into the Headmistress' face. Elisabeth Carson was a remarkably tall woman to start with and like most beautiful women of her generation she had a fondness for high heels that took her from remarkable to imposing. “How can I? How can you without violating Whateley's Neutrality?”
A perfectly sculpted eyebrow rose up Mrs. Carson's face. “While the auto shop does have its little annex out in Bonneville, and the mystic arts supplies warehouse is...” she trailed off and rubbed her chin in thought. “You know, I don't know exactly where the supply warehouse is in a three dimensional sense. I'll have to have a chat with Ms. Grimes about that. In any event, there are no Whateley Facilities in or around New York. And while the Headmistress might be far more restricted than she would like, Elisabeth Carson started a leave of absence at three o'clock. More to the point, Lady Astarte is a free moral agent and a licensed super heroine with New York privileges. And, best of all, Friedeslinge Larssen, bane of my existence, thorn in my side for four years, graduated on the ninth of June, two thousand and six.”
A smile spread across Elisabeth Carson's face that sent chills down the spines of her students. Elaine Nalley had seen it on any number of screen villains, but Jadis Daibliku had seen her father wear it first hand and intimately knew the kind of carnage that could follow. “That makes her fair game,” finished Lady Astarte with all the relish of a Greek Fury who had found her prey.
The two girls shared a look in equal measures of fear, excitement and dread. Jadis swallowed and forced herself to look back at Mrs. Carson. “What about us? We don't have any reason to be in New York...”
“Why wouldn't you go home, Jadis, when you'd been suspended?” The Headmistress wanted to know. “And being such a good friend, you offered up your spare bedroom so Elaine wouldn't have to go all the way back to Atlanta.”
Jadis crossed her arms and tried desperately not to be jealous of the two other women in her room. “What about the kid sidekick laws...?”
Mrs. Carson smirked. “Everyone knows Lady Astarte works alone, Jadis. Now, are you going to finish what you started or...?”
The She-Beast smiled a smile to match Mrs. Carson's. “I just wanted to make sure you had all the angles covered! Pass up the opportunity to see Little Miss Perfect finally get what's coming to her? Not on a bet!”
March 22nd, 2007
Student Casting Lab 4, Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Steve felt the hairs on the back of his arms stand up as Maggie's chanting began to reach a crescendo. A faint yellow nimbus of something glowed around her and even though her eyes were closed, the lids glowed as though she was seeing with some other sense. Despite his fascination with mutants and the paranormal in general, his flesh crawled to see his sister's best friend altering the basic fabric of reality.
It was one thing to accept on an academic level that something like magic could exist, nor was it such a great leap that once you admitted the possibility to go to proving its existence. It was very much something else to be present in the same room when it was happening. Lifeline’s hair fanned out as if in a heavy breeze, even though the room's air was still. She threw her head back and shouted a command and something in the pit of Stronghold's stomach told him something about the universe was different.
Lifeline sagged within herself, once more just a very pretty teenage girl and shakily got to her feet. Despite her obvious fatigue, she was very careful to avoid disrupting the diagram of salt she had laid down. She made a few odd gestures then carefully stepped out of the diagram and began to greedily drink the bottle of orange juice she'd brought with her just for this. “It's done,” she gasped. “Elaine will know the truth the next time she sees whoever hurt her.”
“Lanie?” demanded Stronghold. “The spell was supposed to tell me who hurt her!” Maggie nodded from downing the juice.
“So you can run off and get into a fight, yes I know. That's exactly why I made Elaine the target. What she does with the knowledge is her affair, not yours, Steve.”
“We had a deal!” thundered the outraged Southerner. Maggie's eyes narrowed.
“Did we?” she drawled. “I told you that I would cast a spell that would tell you who hurt Elaine? Is that what you heard? Because it's not what I said.” Steve's eyes darted as he thought back over the conversation they had had in her room and his face flushed scarlet from his realization that she had mislead him. He began to stutter as his temper flared but the sorceress drew herself up to her full height and even drained from casting her spell was a daunting sight. “Meddle not in the affairs of witches!” she paraphrased. “For we are subtle and quick to anger!”
The would be superhero stormed out in a flurry of rage and frustration, cape billowing dramatically behind him as he left. The door to the lab slammed shut and Maggie sank back into herself in exhaustion. “You owe me, Elaine!” she muttered to herself.
March 22nd, 2007
The Minds of Cavalier and Skybolt, Red Level, ARC
There were many things that Elaine was prepared to see as she tumbled off the line, through the window and into the room beyond. She'd been prepared for monsters, intimate memories of Cavalier and Skybolt in better times, even steeled herself for memories of how they'd been abused by Hekate and the Don.
What she wasn't prepared for was a dark, empty space as if the castle were a movie prop exterior, but that's exactly where she found herself. Off to her left was the pair, tied to a love seat, bound and gagged and trying to call out to her. Loophole snatched an arrow from her quiver and swept the room, but there was only darkness, an infinite blackness, lit only by the light through her window and the open portcullis in front of Cavalier and Skybolt. She returned the arrow to her quiver and gave the high sign out the window before she trotted over to the captive Alphas and pulled the gags from their mouths.
“Mon dieu!” exclaimed Cavalier as his mouth was freed. “Loophole? Is that you?” Elaine scowled at the young Frenchman as she busied herself cutting the rope he was bound with. “Sorry, I...What are you supposed to be in that get up?”
“It's mah inner bitch,” she growled back, gesturing with the dagger she was cutting the ropes with at the white haired figure of Aunghadhail doing battle outside beyond the portcullis. “Courtesy of the bitch queen outside, so don't push me.”
“Just let me out of here and at Hekate,” growled Skybolt. “I'll join your bitch club!”
“The club isn't on a membership drive,” Wyatt announced with finality as he and Fey walked up. The last of their bonds free, Cavalier and Skybolt stood and rubbed their wrists glaring at the big senior. To their immediate and unmitigated shock, Wyatt sank to one knee and bowed his head. “Elaine, Jean-Michael, there really aren't words to frame just how badly I fucked up last year. I should have found some way to protect...”
As one, both reached out and touched a shoulder of the Alaskan. “Ce ne était pas votre faute , mon ami,” Jean-Michael told him then shook his head and continued in English. “That you came for us, we will not forget, Kody. But this...” he sighed and looked into the eyes of his lady love.
Elaine Schroepfer repeated his sigh and reached down and pulled Wyatt's face up by his chin with her finger. “We...you große Nase, we did this. It's our fault, Kody. We stepped into the Fool's Circle, we thought we could trust Hekkate and we both really knew better.”
“That doesn't change...” Wyatt protested. “Nobody deserves what they did...!”
“Deserve?” asked Jean-Michael with something approaching humor in his voice. “If I ever do something to deserve that, I don't think I'll be human any more. But Wyatt, there was nothing you could have done! You couldn't break the spell once she'd cast it and while we were under it...” he paused and shook as though a chill had run down his spine.
“While we under it, we would have fought you,” Skybolt finished quietly. “We were stupid, romantic children not realizing the monsters we were rubbing shoulders with.”
Well, rumbled the Bear spirit as he approached. Looks like my work is all but done for me.
Being the only mage in the room, only Fey saw the flash of eldritch power around Loophole's eyes as she looked at the big bear spirit. Only she saw the rune of Truth lay over where the heart of the half man, half bear spirit would be in it's body. But even she wasn't really prepared for the words that floated out in the bear's deep spirit voice. Too bad, I would liked to have enslaved you the way I did the Pict-daughter. You'd have had use to my host, but there's always next time.
Wyatt stood slowly, his hands clinched into massive fists as he saw Nalley's jaw drop in shock, saw the heartbreak on her face and once more felt the white hot rage of an ultra-violent run though his veins. “What did you say, you unimaginable bastard?”
What? Sneered the bear. You didn't enjoy the present I gave you? It was a simple matter to frame a new context on the blanks in her mind. Keep her forgetting that she'd wanted to be with the beautiful Latin girl that made her feel so good, planting a suggestion that she'd had no say in it. It's an odd phobia to be afraid of not being in control, but it certainly helped. The spirit snorted and looked away. Songbird did most of the work for me. She did use her power on you, girl, just not the way you thought. She only released that strangle hold you had on realizing you were starting to like girls the same way you were starting to like boys. Such wonderful self loathing to work with, the blocks I built you practically wrote for me! Oh, sweet little Loophole fought once she realized what I was doing, but... The spirit shrugged and bared it's teeth in a horrible mockery of a smile. She had no chance against me.
“What kind of monster are you?” Cody growled, drawing his sword and staring down the spirit. “What other evil have you worked through me without my knowledge?”
Evil? The Kodiak sniffed. Good and evil are words for the powerless, boy. They don't apply to us. I do what I please, because her feelings, or those children's feelings or your feelings don't matter Wyatt Cody! You will fight the enemy of life that is coming and so I indulge you but you have no say in how or why what power I choose to share with you is used!
“That's where you're wrong,” hissed the senior as he launched himself at his Avatar. The two fought with a rage and fury that matched the magic being slung outside. The two juniors and the sophomore stared, slack jawed, not really believing what they had heard. Fey knew a Truth spell when she heard one and shook her head. Few people even considered the Truth of things and most were never ready to have it spoken to their face. Fey reached out and touched Nalley's shoulder. Green eyes, met green eyes as a tear rolled down the inventor's cheek.
“Ah've been a puppet,” she whispered.
“Elaine, spirits of this magnitude...”
“Now Ah know why normal people hate us. They should!”
Finally! The girls eyes were drawn back to the fight between the boy and his spirit. Cody had the Kodiak in choke hold, biceps bulging with the strain, his eyes wild and enraged. In contrast, the Kodiak seemed serene, almost happy. Finally! The spirit repeated then, with a horribly wet snap, his neck was broken and the Kodiak fell limp. For a long, but brief moment, human stood triumphant over beast, ironically, the Kodiak seeming more human than the shaggy, enraged man-beast that had slain him. Then a glow encompassed both that banished the dark nothingness of the castle as what seemed to be a second sun right next to them.
Even outside, the remnant of Hekate's spell and Aunghadhail were forced to shield their eyes against the burst of magic and spiritual energy. The Amazon recovered first snatching up a discarded spear from one of the Orks, she hurled it. It flew straight and true with uncanny accuracy and pierced the queen through her heart. The force of it knocked her backward and pinned her to the wall of the castle. Wood, steel and stone, elemental powers united against the fay queen. “Aunghadhail!” screamed Nikki in shock and rage.
The queen sagged against the spear that pinned her to the stone wall. “Peace, child,” she managed, her pale face ashen. “All things end.” Then her eyes rolled back into her head. The wind rose, pulling her hair from the circlet and seeming as it blew there was less and less of her until only the spear remained, stuck in the stone wall.
Thus ended Aunghadhail, Daughter of the Burning Oak, Paramount Queen of the West, Chatelaine of Tyr-na-Baine, who at long, long last, succumbed to Death.
March 22nd, 2007
Twain Cottage, Rm 104 Whateley Academy
For the ninth time he'd rung her line Stephen Nalley found himself listening to voice mail. The first time her strange love of quoting motion pictures was cute. The problem being that every time, Stephen thought just for a split second he'd actually gotten his sister. “Hi there...ha ha fooled you. You're talking to a machine. But don't be shy, it's OK, machines need love too. So talk to me and Ah'll get back to you. Wait for the beep!”
“Damn it, Lanie where ARE you!?” he shouted into the phone. “Call me back! It's Steve!” With a great effort of will, Stephen returned the phone to his carrier and resisted the urge to fling it across the room. He breathed deeply for several seconds and then made a decision. He snatched up a small over the shoulder gym bag and began to pack. He was so intent on this he failed to notice someone enter the room behind him until the soft voice that was too high for tenor and too low for contralto and lit by a working class New York twang accent.
“Just where are you going?”
Steve spun to find Marty Penn leaning against the door frame of his room's door. She wasn't in her school uniform, but a pair of jeans that were just shy of being painted on and a midriff top that some how made her already generous for her age C cups seem bigger. “I...” he started, then had to swallow to get his emotions under control and began again. “I can't, Megs, I'm sorry, my sister is in trouble.”
The flirtatiousness left Marty instantly. “What's wrong?” she asked, coming into the room and shutting the door. “Where is she? How can I help?”
Nalley turned back to his packing. “I don't think you can, Megs, thanks for...” He would have continued, but she crossed the room and took him by the shoulders. For having his dreams come true and gaining powers, Steve didn't have much experience with them, certainly not as much as Marty did with hers. She spun him around, despite being two inches shorter.
“You just give that up right now,” she scolded him. “We might not be officially an item or anything, but you helped me realize what a dork I was being throwing myself at Iron Star. For that alone I owe you! But Loopy's Kevra saved my father's life, so, I'm going to help you, whether you like it or not! Besides, with out me and my connections to the FSHA, how are you planning to find Loopy?”
“What do you mean...?”
“If she's on campus, I can find her,” Marty told him with a wink. “And if not, I can find out where she went. We have access to a number of restricted systems, helps us keep an eye on the trouble makers. So, am I in, or what?”
Stronghold slipped his arms around her shapely waist and pulled her to him. Marty didn't resist. “When have I ever been able to tell you no?”
Marty smirked. “You are a keeper!”
“When this is dealt with, I'd kinda like to have talk with you about official statuses and how to go about setting them,” he told her. Southern boldness stared down New York sass. Marty swallowed, vaguely wondering when his blue green eyes had gotten so incredibly big and inviting and...
He kissed her.
It wasn't a thing of romance novels or the searing heat of a porno, just the awkward, tentative first kiss of teenagers just beginning to discover who they were. Marty clung to him, because he was strong and manly and exalted in feeling more like a woman than she ever had up to this moment. For a while, she could even quiet the fears of being discovered, of having her PK Shell fail and being found out. She stepped back, licking her lips and still tasting him there and gave a little shudder as her emotions ran in a thousand different directions while she tried to wrangle them. “Yeah,” she breathed, “I...I'll definitely be looking forward to it.”
March 22nd, 2007
The Minds of Cavalier and Skybolt, Red Level, ARC
With a wordless howl of rage, Nikki Reilly screamed.
She screamed for revenge of the death of her spirit, who's loss was a hole within her, like a pain filled empty socket of a tooth knocked loose. She screamed in fear of being alone because for nearly a year the spirit had dwelled within her, becoming a part of her, minding her even when she wasn't actively aware of it. But now, terribly, finally, Nikki Reilly was alone and that lack diminished her in a way no one who has never hosted a spirit can ever really know.
And while the Fay Queen was gone along with her knowledge and skill, Nikki found her own abilities had not lain dormant under the queen's tenure. So Nikki screamed, reaching deep inside herself, past the place Aunghadhail had resided, past the bottom of her own soul where her rage caught and focused with laser intensity on the image of her tormentor, she who would have enslaved her, on the face that had become all that was evil to her.
Reality answered and the portcullis exploded away from the sound of her rage, then the stone around the gate house and the arch of the castle with it. A wall of iron and masonry and pure, boundless rage flew into the spell fragment that wore the face of Kallysta Thessellarean, that slammed in her, buried her and destroyed her. The image of the castle melted away into the Sylvan wood the adventure had begun with as Nikki, spent, collapsed to the ground unconscious.
“What just happened?” demanded Skybolt in shock as Loophole rushed over to the freshman and took her pulse. It was weak under her fingertip, but steady.
Not knowing what else to do, Elaine gently rolled Nikki over into the recovery position and shook her head. “Damned if Ah know. Ah didn't know she could do that!”
“Death brings out great, often unknown strengths,” growled a new voice. Nalley looked up to see a figure approaching from the direction her mind said Cody had fought his own spirit. It was a strange voice, ringing undertones of power with the clear baritone of the senior above it. The figure stabilized and finally seemed to come into focus. It was the ferocious visage of the man-bear form Wyatt sometimes wore when the Kodiak spirit was particularly strong within him. But, also not, for the boys' wild unkempt mane of brown hair was on the bear's head and he was dressed in Wyatt's signature open flannel over an A style undershirt and jeans.
“Wyatt?” breathed Jean-Michael from beside Skybolt. The creature turned to look at him and nodded.
“Yes, yeah, Cav, I'm here.” He shook his head as if he was having trouble thinking. “But, there's more of me. Oh, God, so much more!” His hands reached up and held his temples. He looked up and it wasn't the Kodiak's dark eyes he locked with Loophole's, it was his own blue ones. “Elaine, I...I'm so sorry...!”
“What have you done?” the red head whispered. “Wyatt, what have you done?!”
The creature stumbled over and sank to it's knees before her. “I...I don't know. I am him,” he muttered and shook his head again. “I'm Wyatt, but I'm Kodiak...”
“Mon dieu!” exclaimed Jean-Michael. “He has subsumed his avatar! They are the same being now!”
The man-bear's eyes filled with tears. “What he...what I did...God, baby, I am so sorry...!”
“Did Wyatt know?” she whispered. “God, do I even care about him or did you do that too?!”
“There was a crush,” Cody rumbled. “Fantasy. School girl stuff, he...I...made it more. I...I don't know if you would have grown like this or not...I...Wyatt didn't know...I feel...for you...” He reached up and took the dagger from it's sheath on her thigh and put in her hand and then aimed the tip at his throat. “Take your revenge. I am guilty.”
For a long moment, Elaine stared at the knife. Her eyes hardened and she pulled her hand free, with the knife and returned it to it's scabbard. “Ah'm sorry too, Wyatt,” she whispered. “Ah don't know who Ah am, because of you. Ah don't know what Ah feel, because of you. Ah want to love you, Wyatt, God save me, Ah do. But Ah don't know what's real and what's fiction that...that thing you're wearing put in me. Now you tell me there's no difference between you and it?”
She stepped back out of his reach, tears flowing down her face. “Ah don't know if Ah'll ever forgive it, Wyatt. Ah don't know if Ah can take the two of you. And, until Ah know who Ah am, don't speak to me. Don't touch me. Don't come near me again.” She dropped her eyes, her shoulders racking with sobs before she faded away.
March 23nd, 2007
The Diabolik Residence 116W 71st Street, NY, NY
You wouldn't think a super villain lived at 116 West. It was a nondescript kind of building, upmarket, uptown to be sure, but not the kind of place that commanded people with that kind of money. Most of the tenants in the surrounding apartment buildings were professionals, double handfuls of doctors and lawyers, several dozen movers and shakers with the City who headed committees that no one was really sure what they met on.
But, for that it was a quiet, respectable building in quiet, respectable Lincoln Center, and was, in fact, the only townhouse on the street. Sandwiched as it was between larger apartment buildings and condos, it was easy to miss. As for the occupants, you were more likely to run into a want to be actor, between Broadway on the other side and Julliard just down Columbus Avenue. Perhaps there was some kind of hidden message there that Dr. Diabolik wasn't the faceless A-List villain he was perceived as, but something deeper.
Maybe it was just a better way to hide in plain sight.
In any event, Mrs. Pierson's cart had the girls luggage put on and inside before the taxi driver could start complaining about the wait. The Cabby even tipping his hat, and not looking at the bill Mrs. Carson discretely palmed him in their sight.
Inside the building was a warm, gently decorated space, large on homy feel, while still staying sufficiently cosmopolitan to avoid Martha Stewart from leaping out from behind a planter with a new decorating on a budget idea. “Again, you're welcome to stay, Mrs. Carson,” Jadis offered once the door was firmly closed against prying ears. “I'm sure Elaine wouldn't mind sharing my room.”
“Not at all,” the redhead affirmed, but the striking blonde teacher just shook her head.
“No, thank you, Jadis. My room at the Empire is already paid for, and while my 'chaperoning' you here can be covered in the suspension, staying here might raise eyebrows.” She smiled a winning smile. “So, I don't have much time, let's get to work. You have secure internet here?”
The grin on Jadis' face was predatory. “I have secure everything here.” She led the way to her room. The computer was obviously a custom job, with a number of little extras that weren't available commercially. Within moments it was booted and up.
“What's your wifi password, Jadis?” Elaine asked from the bed where she had her laptop out.
“Little green FBI men,” the mage replied. “I see the stories we planted in the Times did make press,” she said, pulling up a news site. “New item to be displayed, increased security, yep, all of it.”
“Got a hit,” Elaine returned. “There's already several views on the Rogues' Resume profile I put up. And it's a New York IP, good chance it's Freya.” She looked up at Mrs. Carson's deep blue eyes. “Who knew super villains had job recruiting sites?”
“Whatever is out there for legitimate business, you can bet there's an underworld copy,” Carson told her looking over her shoulder. She read through the site then gave her student the gimlet eye. “You can do all of this? You've actually gone skydiving?”
“Mah youngest uncle is an Army Ranger.”
The eyebrow ascended the Headmistress' fore head. “That's neither a yes or a no.”
“Alright, yes, once, but...” Mrs. Carson rubbed the bridge of her nose.
“No time to change things now,” she muttered. “Jadis, you have a place to cast?”
“I have a formal circle upstairs.”
March 22nd, 2007
Red Level, ARC, Whitefield, NH
Cody woke up to a two alarm hangover. Surprisingly, despite the pain, which was considerable, he was grateful as it had been downgraded two alarms from when he'd somehow conquered his avatar and subsumed it. It was still very difficult to think, but the clouds were beginning to part. He looked up, hoping he had caught Elaine but the red headed nerd of his dreams was not in the room.
His anger flared at the frustration, but somehow it was easier to master now, as if his temper had far less of trigger than it had. He looked down, relieved beyond measure that his hands, though still massive were human. Cody reached up to feel his face to find his trademark stubble was much more filled in and stretched from ear to ear and not just on his chin, but his face didn't have a muzzle.
“Oh, my back!” a female voice complained, followed hard by a male's.
“My legs! Mon dieu! My legs!” Cody got to his feet to see Skybolt and Cavalier trying to separate themselves from the chair and were stiff and sore from holding that position far too long. He got to his feet and picked up Skybolt, much to Jean-Michael's relief as he began to rub feeling back into them. Chris Summers looked up from his checking on Nikki and a huge smile spread across his face.
“Elaine! Jean-Michael! Welcome back, kids!” He stood and assisted Cody in letting Skybolt down. “You were successful, obviously! Excellent! How are you two?”
“Humbled,” Jean-Michael admitted after a long glance at his love.
“It is a difficult thing to accept your own mistakes,” Schroepfer added. She shook at some memory and clinched a fist. “If I ever lay eyes on Kallysta again she better hope someone will stop me! God as my witness I won't stop myself!” She sighed and looked up into the Doctor's face. “But, we're ready to heal, Dr Summers. I'd like to go back to school if you don't mind?”
“What about this Don Sebastiano?” Summers asked.
Jean-Michael smiled a private smile. “I think I can be satisfied with what we've done to him already. And you my dear?”
Skybolt's grin was evil. “Oh, I look forward to making every female on campus aware that no matter how big a dick The Don is, his penis doesn't measure up!”
Summers pulled at his chin. “I think we'll want a little observation, but we can probably do that at Doyle.” He reached over and pressed a button, causing the door to open and a nurse to stick her head in. “Nurse Paula will take you to your rooms to pack. Cody, could I have a word?”
“Where's Elaine?” the big senior asked once Cavalier and Skybolt had left the room. Summers shook his head.
“She came to crying. I tried to ask her what was wrong, but she jumped up and ran to the door. I tried to stop her, but...”
Wyatt nodded. “She's a lot stronger than she looks.”
“She went straight into Mrs. Savage's arms and they took the elevator up to the surface.” Wyatt turned to give chase, but was stopped by the Doctor's casual grip on his arm. “Son, what you've done here, it's impressive.”
“Whatever you think you didn't do, Elaine and Jean-Michael are closer to normal than I've seen since they arrived. Healed? Obviously not, but they are healing and that, son, is amazing. What do you plan to do with your life? Have you considered a career in mental health?”
Kodiak couldn't answer because at that moment Fey awoke, clasped her head and then began to scream in hysterics.
March 22nd, 2007
Clubhouse of the Future Superheros of America, Under Schuster Hall
Being something of a classic hero look aficionado himself, it was hard for Steve to work out how to suggest that Marty drop the cape from her costume. After all, he wore one himself and you just couldn't beat a cape for instant drama and theatricality. Of course, the problem was that as he was following her out of the lift they'd ridden together into the clubhouse of the FSHA, that damned cape she was wearing was doing a perfect job of interfering with his appreciation of her posterior.
But then there was nothing like a cape for covering your ass.
She'd grown a bit distant since their first kiss, distracted you could say though over what he wasn't certain. She wasn't acting like she hadn't wanted him to kiss her. Indeed, she would stand closer than one could consider polite for couples who weren't on intimate terms, but everything else about her manner was distant. Steve wondered if it was she was still carrying a torch for Iron Star, despite what she said, or maybe the New Yorker was hesitant to get serious with a Southern Boy.
He snorted softly in suppressed disdain. I'm not a hill billy, he thought angrily to himself.
She called a computer on the big screen which was displaying a list. “What?” she asked herself, in obvious confusion. “This can't be right.”
“What is it?” he asked.
She pointed up to the row of columns. “Loopy was marked on a medical appointment at nine this morning with Dr. Bellows. Then at nine forty five she's signed into the Head Mistress' office.”
“How do you get into that kind of trouble that fast?” he asked, confused.
“You don't,” she shot back, pulling up another sheet. “Check this out. Mrs. Carson goes on a leave of absence starting at three, but it's entered into her engagement book at nine fifty eight! Next entry is Elaine signing out to a field trip to ARC at eleven, and her house mother and Cody is on that trip...”
“Bastard,” growled Stephen.
“Reign it in, cowboy, everybody is innocent until proven guilty,” she told him, then smiled to soften the rebuke. “Now look. That field trip comes back at two twenty seven, but Loopy is marked as being suspended at three! Unspecified transgression, head mistress' prerogative and my, my! Look who else is suspended!”
“Jadis?” read Stephen over her shoulder. “Who's that?”
Her fingers danced across the keyboard and a set of photographs came up. “Jadis Diabolik, AKA She-Beast, only daughter of the infamous Dr. Diabolik, A list Super Villain!”
“What the F...udge?” exclaimed Nalley in surprise, which his cleaning up his language brought a giggle out of Marty who just shook her head at the young man's peccadilloes.
“Fuck it, Steve, you can say it!” she said with a laugh, but Nalley's attention was on the photographs.
“Lanie is mixed up with an A-List super villain?”
“His daughter, anyway,” Marty replied. “There was something of a melt down at the Alpha pledge party last year. Freya really laid into Jadis, called her out basically. The way I heard it, Jadis left in tears.”
Stephen frowned. “What does that have to do with Lanie?”
“Elaine was at that party,” Marty explained. “And now she's high up in the Alpha pecking order and brought low Freya's would be replacement, Tansy.” It was obvious by the look on his face, Stephen wasn't connecting the dots, so Marty sighed and continued. “Elaine was offered Alpha Female and turned it down,” she said. “That sounds like she would rather be the power behind the scenes, that could very well mean that Elaine was Freya's chosen replacement for the Alpha's and it took her until January to unseat The Don.” She paused, a cold shiver going down her back.
“That's crazy!” Stephen exploded. “Lanie hated Freya! Went on and on about what a psycho bitch she was!”
Marty reached out and put a hand on his arm. “Steve, if Jadis thinks that Elaine is the Alpha power and she's decided to take her revenge on her since she can't get at Freya, your sister is in deep, deep trouble.” Stephen snatched his cell phone from it's keeper, boggled for a moment that it had reception this deep underground and made a frantic phone call.
“Mom said Lanie wasn't coming home to her knowledge.”
“Jadis signed onto the shuttle to the Dunwich Train Depot at three.” She pondered for a moment, rubbing her chin. “Mrs. Carson, Jadis and Loopy all out around three. I don't like it. But at least we know where they're headed.”
He frowned, confused. “Where? And how do you know?”
“Per the DPA charter, a student who is given out of school suspension must return to their residence of record except a student with the Headmistress' permission. Jadis is going to New York. And so are we, handsome!”
March 22nd, 2007
Red Level, ARC, Whitefield, NH March 22nd, 2007
Wyatt couldn't be sure later what spurred him to rush to the young freshman's side. Raw magic was rolling off her in odd shapes that became misshapen little creatures that immediately ran around and started destroying things. The big senior took her by the shoulders and forced her to look at him. Tears were streaming from her eyes and her incoherent babble with an audience to focus on finally settled into, “She's gone!”
“Death is a part of life, majesty,” Cody told her softly, not entirely sure why as the words came out. “We both know the Great Queen defied it far too long.”
“I can't be alone!” Nikki wailed, “not now! I have to get her back!”
“You aren't alone, Nikki,” he scolded her gently. “You won't ever be truly alone.” She buried her face into his shoulder and sobbed, balling her hands into fists to beat against his chest.
“I have to go back! I have to find her!”
“She isn't there to find, little one,” he soothed, trying to reason with her. Her fists beat onto his chest harder, with all the force of an ant trying to move the Rock of Gibraltar.
“No!” she wailed. The magic washing off her increased and now the hobgoblins were focusing on Wyatt, gnawing at his legs as he gathered up the queen into his arms and stood. A few exaggerated stomps and the hobgoblins burst back into the nothingness they were created from.
“We have a containment cell...” started Summers, but Wyatt shook his head.
“No, I will take her to her friends. She needs familiar faces and environments...”
“I can't let you...” the Doctor started and immediately regretted it. Wyatt had no trouble holding the slip of a girl one handed while his other hand shot out and caught the hapless telepath by the throat.
“Don't make the mistake of trying to stop me,” The creature who was both The Kodiak and Wyatt Cody growled in Cody's voice. Dr. Summers tried and failed to pry the boy's hand from his neck, eyes bulging in fear, but thus far he could still breath. “I don't want to hurt you, but don't think I won't because of that. I am leaving, with her and you're going to work the elevator.”
“And if I refuse...?” he gasped.
The last of the vestige of humanity flowed off the senior's form. “Don't.” The Doctor's hands came up in sign of surrender and the creature was a young man again. “Open doors and summon the elevator and do not fuck with me.” Wyatt removed his hand from the Doctors' throat and followed him out into the hall. Neither Mrs Savage, nor Elaine were there. He sighed and jerked his head at the elevator at the end of the hall as he effortlessly carried the sobbing elf girl along.
“We have excellent facilities,” Dr. Summer said softly as he turned his key in the lock to call the elevator. “Easily the best in the state...”
“Doctor Summers, I appreciate your second opinion, but I've made my diagnosis,” Wyatt replied. “There are only a handful of physicians that even know Sidhe biology and the only ones in the State are at Doyle Medical Center. So I have to tell you I'm growing a little weary of this subject. I wouldn't want to get angry as I'm sure you understand.”
Never let it be said that Chris Summers couldn't take a hint. The only sounds on the ride up were the whisper of air through the fans and the sobbing of the elf in the young man's arms. As the doors opened, he gently placed a hand on the senior's shoulder and said, “I'm sorry, we're only trying to help.”
Wyatt was still very serious, but he allowed a smile to tug at the corner of his mouth. “Get Jean-Michael and Elaine back to Whateley, that's the best way you can help right now. Thanks, Doc and sorry for the rough treatment. Nothing personal.” He walked out and through the doors into the sunshine. That seemed to immediately help Nikki and her sobs turned to whimpers.
“What happened?” demanded Mrs Savage as she rushed up.
“Her spirit, the elder queen,” he told her and then drew a finger across his throat. “We need to get her to Dr. Bellows.” Mrs. Savage wasted no time ushering him up onto the shuttle bus and it sped off before he'd finished getting her settled. Nikki only looked out forlornly through the glass of the window and muttered,
“Where is she? I've got to find her...!” She took no further notice of anyone around her. Finally, Wyatt stood up, stretching until he'd gotten the kink loose and looked around.
“Where's Elaine?” he asked.
March 22nd, 2007
Dr. Bellows Office, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
“I see,” Dr. Bellows drawled once Wyatt had finished informing him of what had transpired at Arkham Research. He looked back at the young elf girl, looking so forlorn, staring off into space in the chair before his desk that the senior had carefully lowered her into. “And...no chance the spirit is simply temporally dispelled or something...?”
“No,” Wyatt said flatly. “I felt her pass into infinity. Aunghadhail is gone for ever. All that's left is...” he gestured vaguely into the office.
Dr. Bellows shook his head. “Unfortunately, I have some experience with avatars who've lost their spirits. I would appreciate it greatly if you'd be a friend to her, Wyatt. You went through this with her. She likely won't be over this quickly and having some one that shared the experience, that would help her.” The senior nodded slowly.
“If I can help, give me a shout, Doc. And, say, when you've got a second some time, maybe we could talk about what you do. I'm kinda interested, career wise, maybe.”
“I'd be delighted. But, for now,” he trailed off as he entered his office and carefully shut the door. He put a bright smile on his face as he sat down behind his desk. “Hello, Nikki, I'm Doctor Alfred Bellows. I understand you've just gone through a terrible ordeal. I would like to try and help you come to grips with what's happened, help you as much as I can. Would you like to talk about it?”
“Will you help me find her?” Nikki asked plaintively. “I need to find her!”
“Of course I'll help,” the Doctor told her.
March 23nd, 2007
The Diabolik Residence 116W 71st Street, NY, NY
Like everything else about the townhouse, Jadis' formal area was tasteful, well supplied and was stocked with items that were obviously well made without being showy or self aggrandizing. Leonides Daibliku may not be a mage himself, but he understood that his daughter was and spared no expense for her needs. Mrs. Carson nodded in appreciation. “Very nice,” she complimented. Jadis only smiled and resisted the urge to be sarcastic.
“Miss Nalley,” the Headmistress said, “I'm about to ask you to step into a formal casting circle. These have many names, but they are most accurately called Fool's Circles. I cannot force you to enter it without whatever magic I attempt to cast on you reflecting on me. You should never, ever enter such a circle without trusting the mage who is going to use it to cast on you not just implicitly, not just with your life, but with your soul. You are a Christian, you understand just how permanent that is.”
Elaine nodded, warily looking at the circle.
“As you know,” Lady Astarte continued, “Elaine Schroepfer and Jean-Michael Cardan entered such a circle and you know what happened to them.”
“Why are you telling me this?” she asked with a mouth that was suddenly very dry.
“Magic is sort of like karma,” Jadis interrupted. “One of the reasons Fey could cast such a powerful revenge spell on Hekate was the Rule Of Three. 'The good thy doest, the harm thou dost commit returns unto thee three fold.' But that didn't save Cavalier or Skybolt.”
Mrs. Carson put a hand on her shoulder. “As your teacher, you will always be safe with me, Elaine. As a mage, I must hold myself to the highest of ethics and standards. But as your friend I want you to know all the dangers involved with something like this. Never look on magic as a quick or easy solution, there is always a price to be paid. Do you understand?” Elaine steeled herself and nodded. “Good. Now, if you still want to go to go through with this, step into the circle.”
The young red head swallowed and screwed her courage to the sticking place and carefully walked forward into the circle. Mrs. Carson made a gesture and she was suddenly wearing her Lady Astarte uniform. Jadis bowed her head to raise her PK shell and became the She-Beast. The demonic female clapped her hands like a thunderclap and the candles at the cardinal points of the inscription and other, magically significant directions leapt to life and lit themselves.
“Strip,” Lady Astarte commanded, then she and Jadis began to chant. Hesitantly, Elaine did as instructed, vaguely wondering where her clothes went as they disappeared as each was removed. Finally she stood nude, arms twitching slightly as subconsciously they tried to come up to cover herself and she forced them to stay at her sides in a vain attempt to show she wasn't ashamed.
The chant took on a singsong quality as if it began to vibrate in time with the very atoms that made up Elaine Nalley. A tingle across her scalp and her bright red hair washed out to an inky black that flew out of her head in waves to now hang just above her buttocks. The tingling on her scalp sank into her brain and suddenly all of the doubts and fears washed away. She didn't care who saw her, as she cocked her hip and dropped a hand on it, she knew she was beautiful. Beyond that she knew down to the roots of her hair and the tips of her toes that she was hot, capable and supremely confident. Perhaps even just a tad cocky, but she had no doubt of what she could do and was aware as when she breathed exactly what she was and wasn't capable of doing.
A glow surrounded the pile of equipment she had gathered and left in the circle at one of the other cardinal points. It vanished, piece by piece to reappear on her, becoming hers in a way that mattered far more to the universe that the mere formality of ownership. The armored body stocking, the torso in dull red, the legs and arms clear to give the illusion of a leotard, the gloves with their gauntlets, the black belt around her waist that cushioned a second, tactical belt of pouches. The Wolverine operator boots, well broken in but with plenty of hard rubber tread for traction, the additional plates of armor and wrapped Kevra fabric that protected her calves and thighs and gave the illusion of thigh high boots. Finally the weapons, the bow, the quiver and the claws hanging in their keeper.
She sniffed at the sniveling little coward she had been. Now she was bold, now she knew; knew her limits, knew her potential, knew she was desired of every man that saw her and a good chunk of the women and that excited her in a way she'd never experienced before.
But she liked it very, very much.
She came aware of the chanting have stopped and looked up at Lady Astarte. “Elaine?” the Super Heroine asked. “How do you feel?
The girl in the formal circle, still glowing slightly with magical energy smiled a lurid smile that had no business being on the face of a seventeen year old. “Wicked...” she drawled with out of a trace of her signature Southern accent.
March 24th, 2007
Superbad, just outside Hell's Kitchen, New York, NY
“So, here I am,” Wicked finished with a pull on her beer. “Only you can see me and recognize me for who I am. As far as the Psycho From Oslo knows, I'm Wicked, professional criminal and master thief.” Maria shook her head.
“I can't believe Mrs. Carson would pull something like this! I mean, hearing Jadis dreamed it up? Now this over elaborate crap makes sense, but Mrs. Carson?”
Elaine's eyes narrowed. “Think she's kinda taking things personally for four years of epic fucking with her school. And even without that, I got two words that snaps it all into perspective, 'cavalier' and 'skybolt'.”
“Don't hang that shit on me!” Maria snapped back.
“You stood by and watched...!”
“Like you or Kodiak did any different!”
“NO!” The dismayed shout from across the bar interrupted the brewing fight and brought both girls attention back to Freya. She was at the table still and had finally worked out how to open the canister. From it she'd removed a sheet of paper. “No!” she growled again, only just keeping her temper and composure. “I will not be defeated! Not when I'm this close!”
Elaine and Maria shared a glance and walked over to the table. “Problem?” asked Elaine.
“They sold it!” Freya seethed, brandishing now what was obviously a receipt. Elaine took the paper from her and pulled absently on her left earring as she considered it.
“Anybody heard of the Ty West Foundation?” she asked after a long moment of study.
“Look!” Odinson exclaimed, pointing at the television in the corner.
Freya trotted over to the TV and turned up the volume. “...of the most breathtaking examples of the jewelers art for one night one at the fabulous Metropolitan Museum of Art! For one night only! See au cœur de la mer from James Cameron's master piece, Titanic. See the legendary Hope Diamond on loan from the Smithsonian and, by special arrangement wonder what power may lurk inside the fantastic necklace Brisengamen assembled for the first time in centuries, never before put on public display. Sunday, March 25th, at the Met! Tickets available through Ticket Master!”
Freya stared, enraptured until the image changed and the set began to advertise orange juice. “It's true,” she whispered. “All in one place, in this city! Tomorrow!” She whirled back to face the group, her eyes on fire with something that wasn't avarice and wasn't lust but a generous combination of both. “Wicked! Here is your chance to shine...”
“Hold on Blondie!” Elaine drawled, obviously enjoying the role. “I asked if anybody had heard of the Ty West Foundation for a reason! You're new to bad guy business, so let the professional clue you in. You do not fuck with the Ty West Foundation. This sort of thing used to be civilized, you'd hit a guy, he'd whack ya, done! But with West? At the end of this, he better not know you're involved, not know your names or think you're dead, because he'll kill ya, and then he'll go to work on ya! You want me to pinch something from the headquarters of the Empire City Guard, that's one thing. There's no way I'm going in there by myself!”
Larssen was all smiles again with her unnerving speed. “Of course, of course. Everyone has their limits and doubtlessly security will be extremely tight. Yes, you're exactly right, Wicked, this will take all of us! Let's all retire back to...”
“I have to go feed my cat!” Songbird protested. “You promised me, Freya!”
“I have a car,” offered Elaine nonchalantly. “I could take her.”
Freya sighed nosily. “Fine, fine, we wouldn't want your cat to suffer so close to paradise on Earth! Put Wicked up for the night and meet back at the warehouse by noon tomorrow. We'll have to plan quickly.”
March 24th, 2007
Penn Residence, 142 Pitt St, Lower East Side, New York, NY
The Lower East Side was a firmly working class neighborhood of New York. But for that, there was no place in the city that could be considered truly affordable. Even with seniority and over time and side jobs, the fact that the building gave the Penns a pretty sizable break on rent to have a Cop in the building made the difference many a month. Being a sergeant meant that Mike Penn had a cruiser issued to him to drive his beat as well as a drive home benefit. It kept the cruiser on the road longer and having a car was a nice incentive to attract and retain officers.
It also meant that the Penn's had to stay in a building that had a garage, a luxury most in their tax bracket avoided in New York.
In fact, the cruiser was the first thing Marty saw as she got out of the cab she had shared with Stephen from Grand Central. “Shit!” she swore.
“What?” asked Nalley over his shoulder from paying the cabbie. “Twenty dollars for a three mile ride?! That's not a fare, it's highway robbery!”
“Tell to the mayor, pal!” the cabbie shot back. “You want a receipt or not?”
“Does it cost more?”
“Welcome to New York, ass hole!” the cabbie replied as he drove off, making an obscene gesture out the window.
“Jerk,” the young man muttered under his breath, turning back to the object of his current interest. “Sorry. What's up? Something wrong?”
Marty sighed. “My dad is home.”
Stephen blinked, subconsciously evaluating the statement in his mind. The hesitance in her voice was obvious, but she was a mutant. Abuse probably wasn't the source of the hesitation, but Marty was a beautiful girl and there were all kinds of abuse. “Is that a problem?” he asked softly. She picked up on his concern by the change in his tone of voice at once, forced a smile and patted him on the cheek.
“Put that shining armor away big man, nothing like that,” she assured him. “I was just hoping we'd have some time to work on Mom before Dad got home. If that transfer in Boston hadn't taken so long...”
Nalley shrugged. “Water under the bridge. You want me to wait outside...?”
She frowned. “No, no, it's not like that, just kinda brace yourself. I'm gonna catch some hell at first, just let me deal with it, k?” He shrugged again and picked up his bag and hers.
“Your family, lead on beautiful.” An odd smile pulled at the corner of her mouth as she turned and led the way into the building. Only two of the five locks on the back door that she'd led him to were locked, but she'd still had to go down the list to be sure so they was a bit of a wait before it finally opened. That done, it opened to have them staring into the barrel of a Glock twenty two being held by a man in his late thirties or early forties with Marty's butter yellow hair wearing an NYPD uniform shirt that was mostly open.
“Dad!” complained Marty who diligently remained very still.
Mike Penn blinked, lowered his service pistol and scowled. “Marty! What the fuck are you doing here? Did you get thrown out of that damned school we're paying God knows too much money for?!”
“Who's the hayseed behind you? What are you, the fucking door man?”
“You kiss your wife with that mouth?” growled Stephen.
“You got a problem with my language, professor? Wanna take me to school over it?”
“DAD!” shouted Marty. She turned back to Stephen and held up a finger. “I will handle this!” she ordered. “Dad, I'm not expelled from school, if you'll put your gun back in the safe, I'll explain it. It's important!” Sergeant Penn stared down the young man in his kitchen, then turned back to his daughter.
“He knock you up?”
Stephen didn't need to see Marty's face to know her cheeks were probably burning red with embarrassment. “NO, I'm not pregnant, still a virgin, thanks and you might want to be a little nicer to our guest...”
“Guest?! Who said anything about....”
“Seeing as his sister,” she shouted over him, “invented the fabric that saved your life a couple of months ago and we're here to try and help her! She's in trouble!”
The elder Penn blinked and his weight shifted ever so slightly. “No shit?” he asked after a long moment. “Your sister invented Kevra?”
“Elaine,” Stephen replied. “Her name is Elaine, and yes, she did.”
He wiped his long face, then carefully removed the magazine from the pistol and cleared the chamber. “That...that's some good shit she made,” he said, moving the pistol to his left hand and extending his right. “Saved my life,” he said quietly. “Took two twelve gauge slugs, right to the chest and I barely felt it. Only had a bruise for a day. Far as I'm concerned she's family. What's your name, son? I'm Mike Penn.”
Stephen took the proffered hand and gave a firm handshake without using his powers and met the policeman's eyes. “Stephen Nalley, sir, it's a pleasure to meet you.”
“She's in trouble?” he asked. “How can I help? Come on in. You kids eat yet?” The phone rang drawing his attention. He waved them down to the small round table in one corner as he went hunting the cordless handset. “Sergeant Penn. Yes Captain. Hey, you know me, Captain, I can always use some over time. The Met tomorrow? Yeah, that diamond show. Sure, sure, count me in. See ya then.” He disconnected and sat down himself, pouring a cup of coffee from the maker that was situated so he could without getting up. “Now, what's going on?”
March 24th, 2007
Songbird's Apartment, 220 Sullivan St Greenwich Village, New York, NY
The ride from Hell's Kitchen to the Village had been a silent one.
It was late enough that the traffic wasn't so bad, the single rented BMW M3 Elaine was driving and a sea of yellow cabs. Finally truly alone with the girl she had so many mixed feelings about, Elaine found herself more than a little tongue tied. The 'Wicked' personality Mrs. Carson had crafted was most dominate around Freya herself, where it needed to be. As Maria was immune to the disguise spell, Nalley found herself almost 'normal', whatever that was. She'd asked a few general questions, but Maria had responded with monosyllabic answers.
It was obvious she didn't want to talk.
So Elaine drove, following her sparse direction until they arrived at a less than attractive building in a less than attractive neighborhood. Nalley chirped the car alarm and wondered if the car would be there in the morning and walked with Maria into the building with her hand in her purse.
A hand that was wrapped around her father's .45.
Despite her nerves, they got in the building and her loft without incident. It was said that New York perfected the concept of the loft and Maria's apartment was probably as far from that perfection as could be and still be considered a loft. The only walls in the space were those separating her from her neighbors, creating a single room that wasn't much bigger than the dorm room Elaine shared with Lifeline. A cat not much beyond a kitten informed her owner of her displeasure of her protracted absence from the sleeper sofa that was still out as a bed. Even the 'bathroom' was only separated from the rest of the space by a draw curtain. “Well, this is...” started Elaine.
“A dump,” Maria interrupted as she opened a can of cat food in the corner that passed for her kitchen. The purring from the cat rubbing up against her jeans seemed to imply that all was forgiven. “But it's all I can afford.”
“All you can afford?” demanded Elaine. “Your trust fund alone...”
Maria snorted as she scooped the food out of the can into a plate. “And here I thought you'd tracked my every move. Hell, for a while I thought you did it. Well, allow me to enlighten you. See, I've had a really bad year, that started with getting home from my horrifically ended last year of high school to find my key didn't turn the lock. And when I knocked, I find complete strangers living in my house. Seems my glorious mother had been planning to ditch her freak daughter for years. Sold the house, no forwarding address, cleaned out my accounts and vanished.” She put the dish down and the cat began to greedily devour it.
“I called the school, but as I had graduated there wasn't much they could do. They set me up with this dump, got me a job and enrolled in NYU. But hey, it's better than being homeless, right?”
Elaine's mouth moved several times without sound coming out.
“They've got a lawyer and an accountant chasing the money, but...” she trailed off, her voice thick with emotion. The dusky skinned Hispanic young woman leaned against her sink and crossed her arms over her breasts. “I just want to be clear, I didn't rape you,” she declared flatly. “After...” She swallowed her anger, letting her press on. “After what happened to me, I could never do that to someone else! And I don't give a shit if you believe me or not. I'm done worrying about what you think. I just want my soul back, you bitch.”
Elaine sighed and forced herself not to play with her fingers, but to look the other woman in the eye. “Ah know now that Ah did to you was really wrong, Maria. What happened, it wasn't really mah fault, but Ah'm still sorry...”
Her dark eyes narrowed. “You stole my soul you...you monster! How was that not your fault?”
Nalley sighed, deeply, trying to gather her thoughts. “After you erased mah memories of...of us...the first person Ah ran into was Kodiak. His spirit got into mah head, he wrote all these lies about the blank spots in mah memory. Spun this story that you used your power on me.” She trailed off and looked away. “It's mah fault because Ah asked you to...and Ah never should have, but Ah didn't... That wasn't really me that... All that shit Ah said...Ah'm so sorry.” Maria blinked and was half way to sweeping her old lover into a hug before she remembered she was supposed to be angry.
Still, cautiously she asked, “He can do that?”
A tear escaped Elaine's eye and rolled down her cheek. “Ah never, never would have done what Ah did on mah own, Mary. Ah swear to God...!”
Maria slowly closed the distance between them and reached out to touch her arm. “If, if I hadn't been hanging with Freya, if I hadn't been helping her, it wouldn't have been so easy for that shaggy man whore to lie...”
“It wasn't Wyatt, Mary,” she told her earnestly. “It was the spirit, the Kodiak, Wyatt didn't know.” She sighed and went over to the window and looked out. It wasn't a classic New York vista of lights and buildings and streets making arteries and veins. The next building over was taller than this one and blocked whatever view there might have been, only letting the window look out onto an alley. “God, at least Ah hope he didn't know. He says he didn't.”
Maria flopped down on her bed and gathered up her cat from it's grooming to hold and pet in her lap. “And you believe him,” she spat with venom.
“Not every man is...”
“My stepfather raped me!” she snarled. “The way you thought I violated you! And my mother may she burn in hell, knew it and let him! Over and over from when I was twelve! Twelve you coño pelo de llama! You stole my soul over it, bitch! Don't you dare stand there and lecture me that I ought to let some other asshole with a penis use me!”
Elaine turned back and shook her head. “Ah didn't steal your soul, Mary. It was a lie, all of it. Just a light show and special effects and...and a TASER. Ah'm sorry.”
Her mouth moved up and down several times but no sound came out. She fell back on the bed and sobbed. “Dios de la alabanza!” she cried. “Thank you, God! The nightmare is over!” Elaine walked over to the sofa bed and sat next to the sobbing young woman, stroking her hair absently. “I was so afraid! I couldn't believe you would do something like that to me!” she sobbed. “I know you were hurt when we broke up but I never thought...”
“It wasn't me,” Elaine consoled her. “Ah'm so sorry, Mary. As soon as Dr Bellows and Circe freed me from the spell Ah went straight to Mrs Carson. Ah knew Ah had to make it right!”
Maria was crying so hard she got a case of the hiccups. Elaine got her a glass of water and patted her back as she drank it. She put the glass down and looked back into Elaine's eyes. “After...after it happened. Kodiak cornered me out in the woods between Laird and Doyle Medical. I'd never seen him so angry. I...I pissed myself I was so scared. Nothing I could do affected him, God, I couldn't even out run him.”
“What did he do?” Nalley whispered.
Songbird looked off into space. “I won't ever forget his hand around my throat.” She shook as she relieved the memory. “I didn't understand what he was so angry about at the time. All I knew was I was in the woods, with a man, and no one could hear my screams. He told me if I looked at you wrong he'd kill me. Not bluff, not bravado, not bull shit, a murderer making a promise to his victim; that's who you're lusting after, Lanie.”
“He thought that you...”
“Don't make excuses for him!” Maria shouted. “There's no excuse for what he did!”
She hung her head. “Ah can't ever make it up to you, Maria. Ah wish...”
Maria tisked her teeth and put her arm around the younger girl. “Ah, my mujercita, you poor thing, I should apologize to you. You've been everyone's puppet. First Freya and to a little bit even me. I know I kind of overwhelmed you. But I didn't...and then Kodiak...” She shook, but forced a smile and rubbed Elaine's shoulder. “But you came for me, mujercita and I won't forget it.” She sighed again, then leaned over and brushed her lips against Elaine's. “I forgive you.”
“Maria,” she breathed with that delightful mix of awkward arousal and self consciousness that had attracted Maria in the first place. “Ah...Ah'm not ready...”
Songbird kissed her nose. “Before you make any broad declarations, dulzura, I point out to your attention there is only this little sofa bed to sleep on, or the floor. It's just a night, and we are friends once more.”
“That doesn't mean we have to...”
“Spoilsport. Are you still ticklish here...?” Elaine squealed, much to the displeasure of the cat who had been interrupted from it's grooming yet again.
March 25th, 2007
Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 5th Ave, NY
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art sat almost exactly on the east side center of Central Park, right where 82nd street dead ended into 5th Avenue. It was a mash of neoclassical and Greek Revival architecture in white concrete that imposed itself on the park, somewhere between eight and ten stories tall. The front columns were draped with banners advertising the Ty West Foundation and the whole facade was bathed in lights, making it apparent no expense had been spared making it a gala evening.
A steady parade of limousines was disgorging the rich, the powerful and those who desperately wanted to be taken for both. It was a marching legion of old men in tuxedos, trophy wives in dresses just barely appropriate and society matrons hoping the dignity they wrapped themselves in covered up the envy.
Wicked looked like a million dollars as she oozed out the limo Freya had rented, Prada heels first in a silk Versace strapless sheath dress that showed off two country miles of leg, her long black pony tail rapped around her shoulders like a stole. Of course the diamonds on the necklace that glittered over her decolletage she'd made herself in the chemistry lab and Shove had put together for her on promise of favor owed, but it still set off the image she was trying to project perfectly.
Despite looking this good, and feeling twice that, the flash bulbs didn't start going off until she'd reached back into the limo and helped out Maria. Fortunately she'd kept her last prom dress from Whateley and it was up to the task of keeping up the appearance. While Wicked was in a midnight black ensemble that set off her pale skin, Songbird wore a much more modest dress in white that played well on what she showed of her dusky skin. More to the point it was doing a fine job of covering her costume she was wearing underneath it.
The two beautiful women linked arms and began to slink up the stairs and that's when the flash bulbs started going off. “That's right you perverts, nothing like a pair of lesbians to sell newspapers,” she growled through a clinched smile that was official issue.
“Well,” purred Wicked through her own smile. “This is sure to get us on the front page.” She firmed her grip on Maria's elbow and pulled, this spun the siren clockwise, into the hip Wicked threw out to intercept her. Maria spun in a complicated maneuver that was part hip toss and part dance twirl to fall into Elaine's arms, bent over backwards across the disguised girl's body in a faux 1940s dip. Maria only just held in a squeal of surprise as Elaine hovered over her. “Gimme some sugar, baby,” she whispered and then planted a passionate kiss on the surprised young woman.
Under the prevailing wisdom, a moderately high exemplar will command the attention of all around her. Part of this is her exceptional beauty, part, it has been speculated to be some kind of hormonal or pheromone that is exaggerated with exemplars to show them as the ultimate mates and this acts on a subconscious level in the human brain.
This dependence on scent or pheromone cues is disputed, scientifically, as mere photographs of exemplars are also preferred over attractive, or even beautiful but non-exemplar women. However it is accomplished, humans are drawn to exemplars and one will always stand out in a crowd. Two will be the center of the crowds attention and a pair of exemplar women kissing means the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man could walk down Fifth Avenue and no one would notice.
Only the sound of flashbulbs filled the air for several minutes as every eye was on Elaine and Maria. This allowed Freya and the rest of her Omegas to walk unnoticed into the museum. “You are a despicable tease,” hissed Maria as Wicked let her up.
“You weren't complaining last night,” the other shot back as the girls edged their way through the now very disappointed photographers and breezed into the main lobby.
“Last night you weren't trying to have me swallow your tongue!”
“Yes, you were too busy thinking about it doing other things,” Nalley purred as she deftly relieved a passing waiter's tray of a pair of champagne flutes and handed one to her partner. “So predictable,” she muttered, taking a sip of the amber bubbly. “Straight for the prize, how the mighty have fallen.”
Maria looked and picked out Freya's coiffed blonde tresses leading her crew directly to the display case at the center of the exhibit. “She thinks she's about to become a goddess, can you blame her?”
Elaine arched an eyebrow. “Are we cutting Freya any slack?”
“No,” admitted Maria quickly as she reached into her purse and took out the small device Monteur had given her. The young German looked particularly uncomfortable in his tuxedo as he followed Freya to the display of Brisengamen in the center of the rotunda. It had been draped over an artistic representation of the goddess Freja wearing a collection of armor and linen that was heavily influenced by Wagner. The necklace itself was a simple thing of spun gold wires from which hung two uncut stones, one yellow, the other blue and below these on a drop chain of the same wire was a third stone this one a deep, ruby red.
Freya walked right up to the display, a smile of triumph on her face where she admired the object of her desire for several minutes before turning and nodding at Lefaye. The British sorceress made a gesture and the seemings of magic that the group was wearing washed away. Monteur took a pair of something from his belt and tossed them into the air where they hovered, promptly revealing themselves as a pair of speakers that amplified Freya's voice. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?”
Between Songbird's whisper command of calm into her own microphone and a blast of the Brisengamen Effect from Freya, silence fell on the room. Songbird, now in her blue and white armored body stocking took her domino mask from her clutch purse and pressed it into her face while Elaine finished her champagne and pulled her own mask, gathered around her neck like a mock turtleneck over her face.
“Thank you,” purred the blonde as she basked in the sea of faces all turned her way. “You have all come here this evening in the hopes of seeing something incredible, something amazing, and you will not in fact be disappointed! You have the privilege of being the first worshipers of a restored goddess!”
A murmur began to run through the crowd but was silenced by another blast of Freya's power and again they crowd's adoring faces reverently turned to her. “Yes, my children, I am your goddess, the goddess Freya! Once!”
Odinson, now in a minimalist take on a viking armor with just enough changes to avoid lawsuits from Marvel and the owners of He-Man, shattered the glass separating him from the necklace. There was no blare of alarms, no Hollywood dropping of steel bars over the doors and windows, but Elaine did hear the electromagnetic lock on the door next to her click on. “Now!” shouted Freya as she raised her arms, blasting out the Brisengamen Effect while Odinson carefully removed the necklace and turned back towards her.
“And always!” she shouted as the heavy necklace settled around her neck. “Bow!” Freya screamed. “Kneel before your goddess on Earth!” The sea of tuxedos and bleach blondes rippled out to one knee from those closest to her and out to the walls. But, in so doing, three islands became apparent in the sea.
First was the antithesis of the would be Norse deity, blond haired, blue eyes and all but radiating everything good in the world stood Lady Astarte, arms over her impressive chest, a slightly coy smile pulling at her lips. Next to her, towering over the firm standing icon of justice a female devil, red skin, horns, hooves and eight feet of demon from the deepest pits of the unspeakable. The grin plastered across the Demoness' muzzle wasn't nearly as pleasant as Lady Astarte' as she rubbed her massive hands in glee, itching to claim the Devil's Due.
But the final member of the island chain was the least, and therefore the most imposing. Next to these two intimating women stood a kindly old man in a white tuxedo leaning on a cane nobody thought he really needed. His white hair was brushed back and a mustache and long soul patch dangled from his chin while endless green eyes stared out in a gaze so direct and intense as to rival a laser in its focus. “That doesn't belong to you,” the old man drawled, breaking the dramatic silence.
“I am a goddess!” screamed Freya at the old man. “All the Earth is mine! Bow down old man, and worship me!”
“No,” he replied calmly.
Freya looked down at the necklace around her neck and back at the source of her frustration. She frantically tried to feel for the power she could sense in the stones around her neck, to push her power through it to amplify it, but no matter what she tried, the necklace refused to do more than buzz against her skin. “No, you're not a god,” the old man continued. “No, I won't bow down to you and no you will not be getting away with this.”
Larssen's face contorted in rage and frustration until she shouted, “Where is it?” She snatched the necklace from about her neck and threw it on the ground. “Where is the real Brisengamen?”
“In your delusional mind!” snarled Jadis. “You've been chasing a figment of my imagination! Lied to by Jules Verne's character, dancing to the beat of my drum!” Freya's eyes snapped to the demon, her face flushed with rage.
“No! I did my research, he was based on...” she started, but the demon shrank and folded in to itself and became a kindly looking academic in a tweed jacket with leather patched on the elbows holding a pipe.
“...an eccentric alchemist in 16th Century in Oslo,” the professor said. “That's what I, Dr. Vanover Helsing exposed on Hidden History dot com, wasn't it? I even had a long video taped lecture that was supposedly delivered to the Helsinki Institute of Applied Thaumaturgy.” The professor blurred and was Jadis in her black leotard with a utility belt of some kind over it and a black domino mask. “Really, Freya I realize computers are completely beyond you but Van Helsing? Dr Van Helsing? There are things called books, you know, have you ever read one?” The young woman's form shimmered again and once more was wearing her demonic beast skin. “You flunked out of college because I put my fingers up your oh so perfect nose and walked you right where I wanted you to go! How's that for power, bitch?!”
Freya's pale face flushed with rage until another wave of her power washed over the crowd. “Minions! Kill them!”
“Now!” Songbird's voice reverberated from the speaker. “If you move quickly and orderly to the exits right down the demons can't hurt you!” Wicked's claws raked across the mag locks holding the main doors shut. Seeing an exit the crowd rose as one and in surprisingly excellent order rushed out.
As they did, Freya locked eyes with Songbird, the weight of the betrayal sinking in such that she didn't notice the crowd leaving. Freya only had eyes for who she thought was her best friend. “Maria?” she whispered.
“You need help, Frieda!” Songbird cried, using her friend's old name. “I don't know if it's Hercules Syndrome or what, honey, but you're sick. Let us help you!”
The look of bewilderment slowly gave way to a mask of pure, rancid, murderous rage. “Wicked!” she snarled. “Kill that traitor!” Elaine pressed a well concealed button and with it's usual bright flash, her Wicked costume was replaced with her armor. Mrs. Carson had also tied the spell she and Jadis had cast to the same button so, the spell broken for everyone to see, Elaine Nalley took off her helmet and gave Larssen the solo finger salute.
“Fuck you, Freya,” she growled. “Ah don't do your dirty work any more!”
“Loophole...” She hissed, turning back to her team. “What are you waiting for?” she shouted. “Kill them! Kill them all!”
March 25th, 2007
Marymount School Rooftop 2 East 82nd Street
Across 5th Ave from the Museum stood a red and white building in the French Provencal style from whose roof Stronghold and Mega-Girl were watching the proceedings. Thus far they'd seen nothing but a parade of limousines and trophy wives with no hint of anything out of the ordinary going on. Security was tight with lots of visible police cars, officers directing traffic and wandering discretely through the crowd, but there was a noticeable absence of any kind of paranormal security.
“Why isn't the Empire City Guard here?” asked Marty for the fifth time that hour.
Stephen rolled his eyes from his scanning of the facade with binoculars and quipped, “Maybe the Guard from Earth Two accidentally opened an inter-dimensional rift and required our Guard to seal the breech?”
“You read too many comic books,” she groused. “Everyone knows the alternate Earths are letters, not numbers.” They shared a chuckle as he went back to scanning.
She sighed explosively. “How many times are you gonna ask, Steve?” she demanded, arms flung wide. “It all makes sense. Loophole is in New York to take down Freya. You said yourself how much she hated her. Freya's in New York because of this Brisengamen necklace. Rumors were the Guard had a piece of the necklace, the Emerald Tower is broken into and none of the papers say what was taken...”
“No,” the Southern boy corrected. “They all agree nothing was taken...”
“And now,” she countered, “the whole necklace is on display at the Met. Tell me I'm wrong.”
“How do Jadis and Mrs. Carson figure in this?”
Marty shrugged. “Jadis is probably looking for payback for the Alpha Pledge Party. Hell, it might be Jadis and Loopy are working together! Mrs. C...” She sighed and leaned back against a roof top AC unit. “OK, I admit it, I don't have Mrs. C figured.”
“You were also sure that Jadis was after Lanie...” he reminded her.
“That was before we knew about the necklace!” she pleaded. “Come on, this is what Freya called her power! If she isn't after this thing I'll...I'll...”
“That can't be good,” Stronghold growled as the hoi polloi of New York's upper crust began to stream out the main entrance of the Met in a tuxedo and evening gown flood. He quickly put the binoculars away and turned to his companion. “You ready to rumble?”
She grinned a grin that pull a thrill down his spine and set his heart to beating. “You sure know how to show a girl a good time, Stronghold! Let's do this!” The pair launched themselves into the sky and streaked across Fifth Avenue.
March 25th, 2007
Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 5th Ave, NY
LaFaye, desperation obviously in her eyes, leapt forward, shouting magic and flung a devastating spell. The old man just raised his cane, it's gold top roundel glowing as it siphoned the essence out of her spell, yet left the scaffold if you will hanging before him. LaFaye's pale complexion turned ashen as she watched her spell die, but the old man just chuckled darkly. “What a fascinating take on a death spell!” he remarked. “Usually it's just a simple jolt to stop the heart or arrest the breathing, this actually burns out the entire nervous system! I might even spare you,” he said as both he and the British sorceress faded away.
“She-Beast, Gadgeteer,” ordered Lady Astarte as she advanced on Freya. The demon snarled defiance, but obeyed, launching herself at Monteur. Mrs. Carson made a tossing motion with the Rod of Astarte and it went sideways somewhere else. “I want to thank you, Frieda,” she said, cracking her knuckles. “While I, of course, would have preferred to have you mend the error of your ways, as you've chosen not to I can finally deliver the beating I've wanted to give you for four years!”
“Traitor!” shouted Odinson. He wasn't sure what else he could do. The plan hadn't gone much further than get the necklace around Freya's neck, become god-priests, party. Or, at least, his understanding of it. But loyalty and betrayal were concepts even he understood, and seeing as the great light of his universe had just been betrayed, that as all he needed to know. He launched himself at Songbird, intending simply to reduce her to red paste on his fists.
She was shouting something, he could see her lips moving as he arched over the intervening space. He couldn't make out what she was saying. He didn't realize that Freya didn't trust anyone. He didn't understand the words that LaFaye had said in the circle Freya had asked him to stand in last night. He didn't hear or see or know anything other than Freya had to be protected, and if that wasn't possible, to avenge her.
So of course he didn't see the black and white suit of power armor that slammed into his side and knocked him off course. A convenient marble pillar stopped him, wrapping him around it backwards with sufficient force that his L5 vertebra snapped from the strain and severed his spinal column. For most, that would have been the end of the fight, and their ability to walk, but Odinson was a regenerator as well as being an exemplar. And because he was regenerating, LaFaye's spell silently activated and began it's work.
Freya gave ground before the menacing advance of Lady Astarte until something stopped her from behind. “You can't do this!” she exclaimed! “You're violating neutrality...”
The Super Heroine backhanded her former student with a slap that reverberated like a gun shot in the museum. Blood flew from Freya's broken nose, mixing with pain filled tears of surprise. “That's for Snapshot,” Lady Astarte told her grimly. The hand swooped back in another thundering flat palmed slap the ended in a split lip, more flying blood and a knocked loose tooth, but for the ferocity, it was clear Mrs. Carson was tightly holding herself back. “That was for Wildman,” she declared. “You think I didn't know who sicced him on Kodiak?”
From the light in Freya's eyes, she realized that Lady Astarte was playing for keeps. She unleashed a furious barrage of punches and kicks, digging deep and calling to mind everything she could remember from the time she'd been forced to kowtow to that smiling little sadist Tatsuo Ito. The first dozen, Lady Astarte actually blocked. She didn't reverse them, she didn't follow up on the attacks, she just stood and blocked, then as if to add insult to injury, she stopped blocking them, put her hands on her hips and let her former student hit her.
This was worse for Freya as from her point of view she might as well as be hitting a brick wall and just as implacable as she was unable to move the icon of justice that just stared at her, obviously getting angrier and angrier. Finally Lady Astarte's hands snapped up, catching both of her hands in a one handed grip that would be impossible for anyone who didn't have super strength. “You always were a poor student,” Carson drawled. “And for this combat final, you get an 'F'.”
With her free hand, she extended her index and middle fingers and rammed them into Freya's abdomen, just below her rib cage. The air was painfully expelled from her lungs and she was launched backwards into a display case. She clung to the glass and gulped air to try and get her breath back.
In desperation, Freya focused all her concentration on the older woman in front of her and lashed out with her power with everything that she had. “Worship me!” she screamed, her voice harsh from lack of breath, but Lady Astarte only shook her head in disgust and boxed Freya's ears. Larssen's eyes rolled up in her head and she passed out from the shock to her brain and crumpled at the sorceress' feet. The Heroine looked down at the vanquished girl, daring her to rise, to rejoin the battle and when it was obvious she would not, Lady Astarte knelt, flipped the wanna be goddess on her stomach to handcuff her and cover her head with a mage hood.
Despite his small stature, Monteur didn't panic when the eight foot tall demon rushed him. He leapt backwards to allow a power assist frame of some kind to fold out of his backpack. A piece of the frame came loose in his hand and flipped out to be a ridiculously sized sword with a two foot tall blade like something out of a Japanese Animation. He struck a kind of kung fu ready pose and yelled something unintelligible in German.
Jadis neatly dodged his first wild swing and pulled back to regroup and reassess the threat. The little German tinkerer took that as weakness and so further demonstrated he had no concept of swordsmanship. Flailing wildly with the improbable blade, telegraphing his strikes so badly that Jadis couldn't help falling into a minimalist side step dodge to show boat a bit at how ineffective his attacks were.
This further enraged Monteur which cost him what mastery of English he had and continued to shout in German. From the frothing, Jadis was certain the inventor was likely in the grip of a full on Diedrick's Rant. That made things simple. Using her dodging, she maneuvered the fight to one of the tables that she snatched up and used to parry one of his swings. She presented the table long ways and as she'd hoped, the blade didn't cut all the way through, but became entrapped.
One handed she turned the blade out of the way and with her other hand deftly pulled a spell slip card from the dispenser on her belt, activated it and with a flick of her wrist sent it flying. The card landed and stuck right on Monteur's forehead, sticking flat side out with a glowing glif of power while it robbed the inventor of control of his voluntary muscles. “My, these look important!” growled Jadis as she reached around the human statue she'd made and began to pull wires and hoses out of their couplings on the power frame. Sparks and a large puddle of hydraulic oil promised the frame would only move again with the help of a fork lift.
Monteur's face was red with repressed rage and frustrated rant, unable to give it voice because of her spell. Jadis smiled, an imposing sight in her beast skin and patted his cheek. “Don't fret, the men with badges will be along any minute to haul you off.” She turned to check on the others and was greeted with a terrifying sight.
Glowing with magic, Odinson got back on his feet a bit shakily due to having just regrown his spine. As luck would have it, he wasn't that far from the original display of the Goddess Freya and so it gave She-Beast a point of reference, just as someone else realized what was happening.
“Miss,” whispered Carmen in Elaine's ear, “Odinson is nearly a third of a meter taller than his recorded height and twenty kilos heavier with no sign of slowing down.”
Loophole took a fearful step backwards as the muscle bound giant's gaze fixed on her. “That's not possible, Carmen...”
“We can debate possibilities vs demonstrated proof of fact later, Miss, I can only report what my sensors tell me...” The computer was interrupted by the shattering of a plate glass window and a pair of blue streaks that flew past her, one into Odinson's stomach and one into a tremendous hay-maker as the giant folded over his gut.
“Timber!” shouted Stronghold as the body of the strongman was launched from his punch, teeth flying and Odinson was propelled back into the marble column. This time it broke under his weight the sound of bones breaking lost to the thunderous destruction of the marble.
He and Mega-Girl high fived each other as they floated in mid air.
Loophole's attention however was focused their target, that her laser rangefinder was informing her was now a full meter taller than he had been. “No, no, no, no,” she muttered to herself, “That's...”
“I don't think magic cares about the square cube law, Miss,” Carmen told her. “Based on the rate of growth over the last minute I'm not certain any measure short of lethal force will solve this.”
Odinson came up swinging and caught Mega-Girl and Stronghold in one pass, knocking them into each other into the far wall. “You'll all die!” the growing giant roared. Lady Astarte appeared by Loophole's elbow.
“We have to control the damage. We'll throw him out the window those two already broke into the park. Help me!”
The teacher and her student lunged forward, dodging flaying limbs and grabbed the giant by his own harness and armor. Grunting with effort, the two heaved, launching Odinson through the broken window caused by the new arrivals. He only widened the hole slightly in the tumble. Lady Astarte was after him like a shot, a white and gold streak of justice. Elaine watched her go for a moment, certain she could almost hear some patriotic music in her wake. “Lanie!”
Elaine turned to take in the masked face of her brother. “You're OK! I've been so worried...!”
Loophole turned to Mega-Girl who was walking up. “Mega-Girl! You have contacts with the NYPD, don't you?”
“Ah, yeah, sure,” she replied, catching the uptake.
“Do whatever you have to convince them to evacuate as much of this area as they can! Five blocks good, ten better! We have a Class 3 Rager who's a level five or six regenerator, you understand that?”
“Don't use mah real name, damn it!” she shouted at him.
“I want to help you!”
“Help Mega-Girl! Get the innocents out of the way, you haven't trained enough to help with this!” Her flight kicked on and she followed Lady Astarte out the window and into Central Park. The trail of destruction was easy to follow, knocked down trees and scattered craters that hopped over areas in vaguely L shaped path up town. After a few moments she saw Lady Astarte fling the monster that used to be a man down, impaling him on a tree. Her instruments told her he was almost fifteen feet tall now, a quarter of a ton of muscles on muscles with a childlike head perched on top. “Shit, shit, shit,” chanted Elaine to herself. “He's already bigger than Titan, Carmen what can we do to stop him?”
Odinson awkwardly snapped the tree he was impaled on at the trunk and pulled the rest through himself before tossing it away in contempt. “I...I don't think we can Miss,” the computer replied. Loophole arrived at Lady Astarte who was noticeably winded and had an ugly bruise on her left cheek.
“Whatever spell is doing this is stripping the essence out of any magic I throw at it and making it worse,” she said. “And hitting him is just doing the same thing!”
Elaine stared at the fleshy monster below them who was shouting taunts in a rage, daring them to descend and fight. Finally she turned back to Lady Astarte. “Request permission to...”
“Do whatever you think will work!” Elizabeth snapped.
“Carmen, tell me that armor is ordinary steel...?
“440c Stainless, Miss.”
“Extend the magnetic field of the primary lifter around him and grab on!” Elaine dove before her program could tell her Odinson was out of range. She had to almost be in reach of him before the lifter that gave her flight grabbed onto the bands of armor, now deeply and painfully submerged in the muscled hulk of Odinson. She arched up and began to rise, taking the monster with her. He was getting heavy and gaining mass at an alarming rate. It wouldn't be long before he would be beyond the lifter's max rating.
There was nothing else for it.
Elaine over rode the safeties and dumped as much power as she could into the lifter. The armored engineer and her captive shot skyward the thunderclap of a sonic boom in their wake well after they were higher than the tallest building in New York. “Mach One,” Carmen dutifully reported.
“Estimate top speed,” she ordered, feeling his finger tips brushing on her boot tips. Odinson might be dim, but even he was smart enough to figure out what she planed.
“At current increase of mass estimated top speed will be Mach 1.9 and will fall quickly. I calculate we will be subsonic in fifty seconds and will be forced to recall the field in one minute twenty seconds.”
“Time to Kármán line altitude?”
“Three minutes forty seven seconds.”
“Recalulate if all power is diverted to lifter, override Nalley 1070 Echo Echo November.”
“Top speed raised to escape velocity. Kármán line in forty two seconds. Percentage chance of burn out...”
“Make it so!”
Carmen didn't argue. The displays in the suit went dark, the fans pushing fresh air turned off, even the computer the program ran on shut down, everything pushed into having that magnetic lifter climb up Terra's Magnetic field. There was no gradual fade from blue to black this time into space, it was already night, but more and more stars became visible through the yellow tinted lenses of the mask and it became obvious that the Earth was curving away at the edges.
Elaine could only hear the sound of her own breathing as she counted silently to herself one hand hovering over the manual control to the lifter. As she reached forty two seconds, her finger decended on the button and the lifter cut out leaving her 'floating' faster than the Earth was actually spinning.
At the same moment, Odinson's hand closed around her foot.
Panic stricken, Elaine looked down, the form was hideiously bloated from decompression, blood streamed from every opening. There should have been no way for Odinson to be conscious, but he was, and he had a hold of her foot. The systems were booting back up, but slowly and the combat utilities would be last. The two were locked in a life and death struggle, Elaine frantically trying to free herself and Odinson determened to take her with him to oblivion.
Finally the monopole came back on line and Elaine focused on the steel she had hauled the monster up here with. With his back to deep space she spiked the drive, pushing him with everything she had. The two seperated somewhat violently, but either through some amazing fluke or purposeful design, Odinson's foot struck Elaine hard across the back. It nearly knocked the wind from her, but more importantly, it knocked the TAPS off her back, severed it's connections and launched it away from her.
Once more, Elaine was plunged into darkness with only the sound of her own breathing, her suit without power and drifting further and further from the Earth with each passing second. “Oh, this is bad,” she whispered.
March 25th, 2007
The North Meadow, around the 97th St Transverse, Central Park NY
“Stronghold!” growled Lady Astarte as the recalcitrant pair of students landed. “Mega-Girl! I should have known! Do I even want to know why you're here?”
“The police have cleared an eight block radius so far, Mrs...uh, Lady Astarte!” Mega-Girl pronounced, trying to change the subject but Stronghold gently, but firmly edged her aside.
“I came here to help my kin!” he told the super heroine with remarkable poise. “And I don't need your permission to do that! Never mind Mega-Girl, she came because of me, you want to be pissed, be pissed at me, I can take it!” Lady Astarte blinked and stepped back, only just keeping a smirk off her face.
“We'll see,” she retorted coyly. “All in good time I suppose.” She turned back to Mega-Girl. “Do the police have my captives in custody?”
“Yes ma'am,” the younger blonde affirmed. “Freya is on her way to Bellevue's Criminal Paranormal Wing, but they're taking the Devisor to Rikers. Sergeant Penn wants to know where the rager went?” Elisabeth Carson couldn't help looking up, but no power she possessed could sense her student so far away, drowned out by the massive echo of life around her.
“The Rager...I believe the Rager has been dealt with,” she said.
With a flash of blue and white, Songbird settled to the ground, Jadis in her arms. Immediately the Bad Seed launched her beast skin and shook her head. “Flight spell, next project is a flight spell.”
“Where's Loophole?” asked Songbird after she looked around.
“Outer space I presume,” Lady Astarte replied. “She grabbed the Rager and took off straight up.” She-Beast took a small pack of cards from her belt and cut them, starting as she looked at the card she'd drawn. She held it up.
The Super Heroine's eyes narrowed. It was good that Jadis had a sense of history, the artistry of the Rider-Waite deck of 1909 was a classic, the same deck Mrs. Carson used herself. Her mind dwelled only for a moment on the lines of the artist's representation of God striking down the Tower of Babel on the card, a pair of figures, falling in fire down to earth before her hand had produced a cell phone from somewhere. “Langley, Lady Astarte, how quickly can you get into orbit? Over New York. I believe Loophole is in trouble. No Langley, bad trouble...”
“What is that?!” exclaimed Stronghold pointing out to the north where a glowing sliver streak was racing skyward.
“The cavalry, I hope,” Lady Astarte whispered. She sighed before she turned and demanded, “Where is LaFaye?”
The teens started, no one having noted the approach of the kindly old man suddenly in their midst. He smiled an inscrutable smile. “Suffering,” he replied.
Lady Astarte set her fists on her hips. “Do I really need to remind the being who planted the seed of the Bill of Rights into the ear of James Madison of his 'suffering' prisoner's rights?”
“Oh, you can come down here, endanger these children, break a library's worth of laws, snatch open my purse to pay for it and now you're going to have the gall to take me to task over Miranda violations?”
“Where is she?” Growled Astarte, but the old man wasn't impressed with her bark and had no fear of her bite.
“LaFaye is my price for hushing all this up, paying the damage bill and making sure no one looks too closely at these new heroes who just happen to be working with Lady Astarte...”
“I work alone!”
The old man rolled his eyes. “Have no fear, she'll preform a penance for her transgressions and then she'll be free to go her way. Although, I may offer her employment. She's quite handy with a spell.” He sighed and shook his head. “You've earned your revenge, Astarte, enjoy it now that it's accomplished. Just remember you aren't immune to Hercules or Galahad Syndrome.” He waved off her protestation and turned to Jadis whereupon he paused for a moment. “Very clever,” he complimented and then he was gone. Simply there one moment and gone the next.
“Who...?” the students asked in chorus.
“A trustee,” Lady Astarte replied as she led the way towards the street. Something caught her eye and she sharply raised her arm and let out an ear splitting whistle. A minivan New York yellow cab pulled over, the driver nonchalant as though he was hailed by para-normals every day. “In,” she ordered. “She-Beast...”
“Yes, I know,” Jadis replied, shrinking back down into her black cat suit.
“Empire Hotel, 63rd Street,” she ordered.
“Certainly my friend!” the cabbie replied.
“What are these Syndromes?” asked Stronghold softly. “Hercules? Galahad?
Lady Astarte arched an eyebrow. “Jadis?”
The young woman sighed. “Galahad Syndrome is the 'Diedricks' of exemplars. It describes the mental phenomenon of Exemplars to fixate on a problem until they determine a solution and then to pursue that solution with a single minded intensity until forcibly turned aside, or they accomplish it or they're killed. It gets it's name from the Knight of King Arthur's Court who devoted himself to the Quest for the Holy Grail and was one of only three knights, or the only knight, depending on which poem you read to achieve it. Hercules Syndrome on the other hand is a result of the BIT interaction of Exemplars. While our minds drive our bodies to these forms, our bodies also drive our minds. While a normal teenager is swimming in hormones that makes them liable to make poor choices, we exemplars are drowning in them. Our tempers are notoriously short, our teen pregnancy rate is double the national average and our impulse control is all but non-existent. It's why Exemplars are considered selfish, arrogant, impulsive, nasty, and very physical.”
“So...teenagers on steroids?” Steve asked. Jadis smiled knowingly.
“Teenagers on steroids. The disease gets it's name from the Greek 'Hero',” and she made air quotes over her face with a sardonic smile, “who annihilated his entire family, killed a poet who gave a snarky review of his harp fingering technique, and otherwise was a walking disaster movie.”
Stronghold became contrite. “I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't realize you had...”
Mrs. Carson found that funny and couldn't keep in a chuckle. “Yes, Mr. Nalley, I have Hercules Syndrome and Galahad Syndrome. And so do you, Miss Penn, Miss Daibliku and Miss Ricardo; in fact, all exemplars suffer from these particular disorders in varying degrees of severity. Why else would people put on tights and run around on roof tops absolutely certain they could make a difference that way unless there was some kind of mental disorder? Or, say, leave the school they're supposed to be studying at on hare brained schemes at the spur of the moment?” Stephen fidgeted uncomfortably and started to object to the use of his name, but found he was sharing the cab with four ordinarily dressed women, just as he was in his normal jeans and a T shirt. “Miss Ricardo?” the teacher asked.
“When we got in the cab, we were all dressed this way,” she told the cabbie.
“How else would you have been dressed?” he demanded.
“There was nothing about us to stand out in your memory from any other fare today.” She paused for a moment as the cab pulled to a stop by the hotel. She waited for Mrs. Carson to pay the fare, give a generous tip and then, her voice reverberating with power ordered, “Forget.”
March 25th, 2007
658 kilometers east of Central Park at 551 kilometers high, Low Earth Orbit
“November Alpha 1 Sierra Sierra this is Sierra Lima Papa 04 on 144.49MHz how do you read, over?” Langley pushed himself, he was already well past the Kármán line, but as has been noted, space is big and his target was very, very small. He needed all the help he could get. “NA1SS this is SLP04 on 144.49 I am declaring an emergency, how do you read, over?”
“Papa zero four this is November Alpha One, say again emergency, over?”
“ISS, this is the...eh...paranormal Tin Man. I paint you at two zero zero miles and yes, emergancy. Astronaunt in distress, crew over board, I need your radar assistance in location, do you copy, over?”
“Oh shi...! Uh, roger, Tin Man, I have you on our screen now. One second while I filter out the tracked objects.”
“Seconds count, ISS, I have no status of the Astronaunt and she is not responding.”
“Roger, roger, Tin Man, waiting on the computer,” the voice replied, his voice noticibly excited and frustrated. “Ok, Tin Man, I've got three unknowns on your vector, the big one I'm guessing is the ship. There's a man size track at two eight one by zero two one eight five miles, confirm?”
Langley focused and just caught a glint of light in the area of space the ISS indicated. “Roger, ISS, I think I see something. Stand by.” He pushed his flight as far as he could. She was moving fast, well above escape velocity. Slowly, ever achingly so slowly the speck of light became a figure, tumbling at a lazy half rotation a second. There was no EM radiation from her at all. Then he knew why, her power pack was not on her back. Finally he was able to get a hand on her wrist to arrest her tumble. Instantly she jerked and that was a good sign. He willed a line to grow from his arm and connected it to her air lead. “Elaine, can you hear me?” he projected into the flow of air he was making for her.
“Ah don't want to go to school mom,” she mumbled, her voice was badly slurred and only just cohearant.
“Shit,” he muttered. “Hang in there, honey.” He looked out and painted the smallest of the tracks. It wasn't so far away. He flew out in a broad arch, hoping it was her power pack and breathed a sigh of relief when he realized it was. He caught it and flew back to intercept the ISS as fast as he could. He de-pressurized and opened the personnel air lock so as to let themselves in. Once the outer hatch was secure, he yanked the emergency handle and felt pressure return to his outer most layer quickly.
Then a face appeared in the inner door window and a started voice demanded, “What the fuck?!”
“Avon calling,” the silver man retorted with a smile.
March 26th, 2007
Amtrak Downeaster, North of Boston headed to Concord, NH
It was an odd ride back to school.
For a group that had triumphed, there was precious little celebration. Stephen had tried to sit next to his sister, only to have her whisper, “Leave me alone,” and continue to stare listlessly out the window. Marty had tried to celebrate with Jadis who was in fine spirits, but Mrs. Carson's dour expression had put a damper on that as well. The Headmistress had been on a long phone call with She-Beast's father and while she hadn't so much as raised her voice, it had been a decidedly frosty conversation.
Stephen had chosen to sit with the two girls who were more than a little surprised to have been on the same side, the Cape and the Bad Seed. Marty had been shocked to find out she had quite a bit in common with Jadis with as far as over bearing fathers went. Not on the same scale, perhaps, but there was plenty of similarity. Finally Mrs. Carson finished the call and tucked the phone back into her purse.
She sighed, and for the first time, Stephen saw the facade of the unflappable Head Mistress crack just a bit as she sighed as though the burden of Atlas was across her shoulders. Mrs. Carson stood from the quartet of seats and stretched until something popped. “Truth,” she told Marty with some weight, “is the foundation of any lasting relationship, Miss Penn.” Then she walked over to where Elaine sat by herself and sat down, somewhat to the chagrin of the red headed inventress. The male Nalley looked back at the Headmistress with his sister, then back to the current object of his affection.
“What was that about?” he asked softly.
Whatever joy Marty had felt was obviously gone from the Headmistress' statement as she stood and indicated a direction with a toss of her head. “Come with me, Steve,” she said softly. “We have to talk.”
The second level of the observation car was deserted as there was nothing particularly scenic about dirty New England snow. Fortunately there were not many people on the train and the few there were where huddled in the smoking car or the dining car with it's bar. The two teens had the observation deck to themselves. “Something wrong?” the young man asked. “I haven't offended you have I?”
Marty snickered, but her body language was all morose and sullen as she slid into a seat and indicated the one across the way for him. “You've been everything good they say about Southern Gentlemen, Steve,” she assured him. “I'm the one who owes you an apology.”
He sat down, a frown on his face. “I'm not sure I follow you, Marty.”
“I...uh...” she shuddered, not able to meet his gaze. “Look, I haven't meant to shine you on or anything. We just happened so fast and I haven't had a chance...” she bit off her statement and leaned back in the chair and looked out the window at the landscape. It was more melted through here, brown grass and brown mud and brown trees as though the world would never be beautiful again. “That's not true,” she whispered. “Hell, the truth is you came and damn near swept me off my feet, and damn it I've really been enjoying it. Being noticed and having someone chase me it...it was really awesome. I didn't want it to end.”
Nalley rubbed his chin and scratched the back of his head. “Marty, you're not making a lot of sense here.”
She met his eyes and hers were filling with tears. “I...I've been kind of lying to you. I didn't mean to, it's...” He reached out and took her hands in his.
“Hey, calm down,” he ordered softly. “What ever it is, let's just talk about it, get it out in the open and we'll deal with it, right?”
“This isn't me,” she whispered. “Not...not yet anyway.”
He blinked. “Your PK shell? This isn't how you really look?” She nodded, a tear escaping and roll down her cheek. He reached out and caught it. “Seems real to me,” he declared.
“Dr. Hewley says my shell is what I'll look like when I'm finished manifesting. I just,” she looked away out the window again, unable to meet his gaze. “I stay with it up all the time because it moves the change along faster. Last year I had to really work to keep it up, but now, now you could knock me out and it won't drop.”
“I don't consider myself vain, or shallow,” Stephen declared softly. “Your shell caught my eye, but that's what covers of books are supposed to do. However, you don't love the book for the cover. But you are a wonderful person, Megs, giving and selfless and laughing and happy, and that has nothing to do with your shell.”
“There's a reason I'm still a virgin,” she whispered. “I...I can't...yet. I...” she swallowed and forced herself to look him in the eyes. “I don't have the parts to lose my virginity the way I want to. And I won't, they say, for like another year. And it'll be like 2011 before I could even think about having kids.”
She grabbed onto the hand he was holding hers with and leaned forward. “But I'll be able to! And I want to! I want you to know...”
He shook his head, obviously confused. “Megs, I'm getting pretty confused here. Look, I get that you don't exactly match your shell, and I guess there's some medical stuff too, I don't honestly see how it's any of my business, other than I'll be glad to help you through things as much as I can.” He looked away out the window and then back. “Look, you don't have to, but maybe if you showed me what you're trying to say...?”
There was terror in her deep blue eyes. “Are...are you sure...?”
“Megs, you do whatever you're comfortable with. I like you for who you are, and that doesn't have anything to do with your shell.”
He blinked and missed it. There hadn't been any showy flashes of light, no thunderclap of the gods, no yelling of acronyms made from the names of Greek mythology. One moment, he'd been sharing the seat quad with Mega-Girl in her secret ID, the next, his seat mate was Marty Penn. Marty was noticeably shorter than Mega-Girl, and her clothes hung loose and unkempt no longer the form fit she preferred. The C-Cups where gone, replaced with a sagging bra and a slight swelling of the pectorals that might, on a good day, fill an A.
The perfect face was gone, but it's echo could be seen in the oval that held the same endless blue eyes that stared at him, filled with fear, framed by the same yellow blonde hair that was not quite as long as the shell had been.
And of course, it was obvious that Marty was a boy. A very 'delicate' boy, a very effeminate boy, but a boy none the less.
Stephen sighed noisily and shook his head. “Now, now it all makes sense. Hell, maybe the universe is trying to tell me something,” he muttered and looked out at the landscape.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered. “I didn't want to lie to you...”
He turned back to face her, his eyes hard. “Is this about me? Are you afraid that because I'm Southern that I'm automatically some kind of bigot and that I'm going to beat you up over this?”
“Like I wouldn't have it coming?” she asked.
Stephen snatched his hands away and shot to his feet. “Nobody, nobody 'deserves' a beating for what they have no control over! You can't help you're this way, any more than a gay boy or a lesbian can! Mah best friend from middle school is gay! Just because Ah come from the South don't mean Ah'm...”
“No, Steve! I swear! I never thought that of you!”
“Good!” he shouted. “Cause this don't change the way Ah feel about you and anybody at that school that lays a finger on you 'cause you're turning into a girl is gonna have me on them like sweat on a hog! Ah won't tolerate that shit!”
Marty's eyes went wide. “You want...I mean, you and me...?”
“You want to be a girl, don't ya?” he asked. “And from what ya said, sounds like that's what gonna happen anyway.”
“Yes, I want to be a girl,” she swore.
He shrugged. “Then what's the problem? So you don't have the right plumbing now? It's coming, and the best things in life are worth waiting for.” He sat down and sighed. “Ah...I'm sorry, I probably didn't make that any easier for you. I just...everybody thinks just because...”
He was cut off because Mega-Girl was back and had wrapped her arms around him and pressed her lips against his. She sniffed mightily to clear her sinuses of tears and smiled a grin that would melt the snow outside if it was directed that way. “I think you are a wonderful, charming, brilliant man, Stephen Nalley and I don't give a tinkers damn where you're from. If you can put up with my Nuw Yawk, I sure won't give you shit about hoop skirts and Rhett Butler.” She pulled back and turned her head to smile sardonically. “Besides, you'd probably look pretty dashing in gray.”
March 26th, 2007
Devisor Lab (Vehicle), Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Despite all his bluster as a dedicated MOPAR man, Melvin Donner knew which way the wind was blowing. The days of muscle cars and carburetors or mechanical anything were coming to an end. Every year there were fewer and fewer of them on the roads. Fewer and fewer of them in barns and back yards and garages that could be bought for a song and with enough sweat and busted knuckles turned into something only a gear head could really, truly understand, but anybody with eyes and ears and a pulse could love.
The time of MOPAR vs Ford vs Import was coming to an end. Now it was a war between Real Cars and little boxes of plastic with wheels that were designed to disintegrate like a Pinto at the slightest touch. What there was had to be preserved, living museums to pass down the torch of knowledge, shining examples of the original flame brought by Prometheus to light the way to freedom. So when he'd read in the Berlin Daily Sun that a 34 Ford flat head V8 had been found in a barn just out side of town, he didn't pause. He didn't click his tongue about it not being a Chevy, he'd headed to the address in the paper the moment class had let out and bought the car for three times the best offer the little old lady who'd owned the property, and thus the car had received.
Like most barn finds, it was pretty far gone.
The interior upholstery was a rotten, chewed up loss. He'd had the wrecker drop it off outside the shop and convinced Earthmother to come and coax the rodents that had destroyed the seats making their homes out. The wiring was all doubtlessly worthless, and the barn had been open enough to the elements that the paint was gone and most of the body panels had surface rust.
But the motor had compression, the transmission and differential were both free and the car would roll, the clutch even still was grabbing the fly wheel, which was how he knew the motor still had compression. Wonder of wonders, the brake system was even working.
It was the same year, make and model of the car Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow had been murdered in by so called lawmen that had appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner. He rolled it gently to a stop in the center of the ship, setting the parking break to hold her still while he turned back to the roll up door to close it. He turned back once the door was secure to find his favorite student admiring the car. “Shop's closed, Doc,” he rumbled as he walked up. “After curfew on a class night.”
She didn't turn from lifting the driver's side engine door and looking into the compartment. “Y’all gonna turn me in, Mr. Donner?” she asked in a morose tone.
The big teacher took a red shop rag from his back pocket and ineffectively wiped at the grease his hands were coated in. “I suppose that depends on the story I get for why you're out after curfew.”
She snorted a laugh despite herself. “Oh, it's a dozy.”
Donner smiled a cockeyed smile. “No, it's a Ford,” he said as he walked up. “But you knew that.”
“Flat head V-8,” she observed, still in her listless voice. “Salvageable?”
He shrugged. “Motor's got compression, perhaps if we offer up a sacrifice of skin and bruises and profanity to the gods of the forge, steel and octane we might breathe life into her again. We'll start with the summer school kids and then make a project of her next year.” He took a hold of her shoulders and turned her to face him. Her eyes and nose were red with tears and she had tried and failed to cover up the puffiness with foundation. “Who hurt you?” he demanded, the jovial teacher was gone and for a moment Hot Rod the Super Villain peeked out from his prison inside him.
She forced a smile that was so pitiful his heart ached to see it. “You were right, Mr. Donner. Ah just wanted to say Ah'm sorry Ah didn't listen.” For a long moment, Mel was lost at her meaning, then a conversation they'd shared over a beverage he'd only admit to being coffee popped into his photographic memory. Warnings he tried desperately to have her heed about bad boys and broken hearts.
“Oh, honey,” he gathered her into his arms and whatever force of will that was holding her together broke and she bawled into his shoulder. He let her cry for several minutes, biting his tongue to keep his temper and his mind from the fantasies of how he would murder a certain senior.
“It wasn't all his fault,” she mumbled, sniffing mightily and trying to come to grips with her emotions. “It was his avatar. Oh, God, Mel, Ah don't know who Ah am! Most of last year, all this year, that spirit was controlling me!”
He stroked her hair and nodded. “I knew something was wrong, Doc, I...”
She looked up at him, tears streaming down her face. “Who am Ah, Mr. Donner? Ah haven't been me for so long Ah've forgotten!”
“I haven't,” he assured her. “I know who you are, Lanie. Come on, get your coveralls. We'll get started on the old girl, and I'll remind you.”