It's All In The Timing
It’s All In The TimingBy Bek D. Corbin
December 21st, 2006
“I’m game, but I want to know why you’re challenging me, Mace.” Not that I really needed a reason to kick Mace’s ass, after his fuhrer N’Dizi dissed me (or at least tried to diss me) in front of my family on Parents’ Day.
“Do I NEED a reason to teach you a lesson, bi-, er- kid?” Oh, he was still sore at me for taking him out with one kick, back when I had my first date with Scotty. Still, gotta give the shithead his props for admitting to himself that I one-punched him, not T-Bird. Still, he was right behind N’Dizi with the other tigers when Bowlin’ Ball looked like he was getting ready to pop Grammy one, so one minor bit of class isn’t getting him anything.
Mace adjusted the fit of his red dogi (the tunic used as a uniform in Chinese martial arts) with its fancy gold embroidered tiger on it. I noticed that the Tigers all wore red dogis on the mat, but that was pretty much it as far as uniformity went. Alakazam was on the benches, cheering Mace on in a satin dogi that looked like she was going for a chiamsong. Oh come ON! A satin dogi? And Ito-soke lets her get AWAY with this? I mean, the offense to good taste aside, have you ever tried to grab satin in any real way? N’Dizi was sitting next to Alakazam, wearing his plain red dogi. I guess it was a ‘I’m the leader, I don’t NEED a fancy uniform’ statement. While Kaz was bopping around in her seat, N’Dizi was quietly seated, intently watching us over fingers steepled in front of his lips.
“Chaka, the true point of these matches is not to resolve spats or prove who’s the toughest,” Ito-soke said from the sidelines. “It’s to improve the training of both students, in a way that is immediate and meaningful, and ignores the usual tricks of the mind to avoid learning. There is nothing like strenuous effort, physical pain and public humiliation to open a student to new ways of thinking.”
“Hear that, Chaka?” Mace jeered, “You gonna get schooled!”
“I already know how to hold a mirror, Mace.”
Ito-soke clapped his hands, and we set aside the badinage. We took our positions. He barked, “Hajime!” and we began. I’ll have to give Metro-boy his due, he was slippery. Normally, I have a pretty good idea of what my opponent’s going to try, by feeling how they apply their Ki. I wasn’t getting that. Somehow, Mace was able to do some pretty major marital arts stuff without using his ki- AT ALL! Now, everyone- okay, not everyone, as Mace has just proven- uses their ki a little. Just not very effectively. But he wasn’t.
Okay, Chaka, it’s time to get your Ranma on, and figure out what pretty-boy was doing. Now Mace is what T-Bird called a ‘Paragon’. From what I remember (and I have eidetic recall), a Paragon is one of those ESP specialty things. Mace uses a form of intuition to just ‘know’ what the very best thing to do at any time. That implies that he’s not really thinking about what he’s doing, directing his blows, so I’m not picking it up with my power. He’s just weaving around, sort of feeling around with his ESP and letting that guide his moves. So he’s not focusing his ki, and he slips past my ki. BUT, something I remember from what Sahar and Zenith let slip- using ESP to know EVERYTHING is almost fucking impossible. Power isn’t the issue; the human mind simply isn’t built to handle that much information. Especially a yutz like Mace. Now, given the way that he acted the first time I met him, he’s not a telepath (or terribly smart, for that matter). And from what happened the next time we met, he didn’t see my kick, which knocked him head over heels backwards, coming. But he was concentrating on pissing me off, which he did magnificently. From which I deduce that he can only ‘Paragon’ one thing at a time, and he needs to concentrate. So, if I can rattle him, his ass is mine.
Unfortunately, I’m not exactly immune to that bit about paying attention to one thing myself. Y’see, while I was being all slick and doping out what the big dope was doing, he was getting’ on with the gettin’ on. In other words, he took advantage of my being distracted figuring all that out, and got a hold and threw me. No big deal. I’ve been thrown on the mat before. And thrown off the mat. And thrown into the wall. And damn near thrown through the wall. But Mace was making sounds like he was the very first one and he’d proved something.
Fortunately, it was best two out of three. And I had his number. Mace, on the other hand, from the whooping that he was doing, hadn’t learned a damned thing. Advantage: Chaka.
We faced off again. But this time, I knew both Mace’s advantage and the weak spot. His weak spot being his ego. I knew that he would be able to block any grab, kick or punch that I made, and I knew that he was at least as fast as I was, and probably stronger. But I also knew that if he was using his Paragon intuition the way that I thought he was, then he was pretty reactive, rather than active. Which meant that I could set the tone of the fight. So, I made a few feints to set him up, and then put everything that I had into a barrage of power punches aimed right at his face. Mace blocked them all, of course. I expected that. So, I used my Ki to project force past his blocks, and smacked him right in the face. And Mace is nothing if not a ‘Not the Face!’ type. He reacted to protect his male model mug, and then I had him. He went down like a sack of wet oatmeal.
Better, Mace reacted to my little love-taps in the most self-sabotaging way; he was thinking. And he’s not very good at that. And it distracts him from using his Paragon talent. I just feinted at his face, he reacted, and I took him down without sweating about it. Mace was up immediately, trying to argue his way out of it. Alakazam, Shuttle, and Spinner were by Mace’s side, but N’Dizi, the guy that I’d assume would have been there yapping louder than any of them, just got up and walked out, like he’d gotten what he wanted.
I was having one of those days. had to go back to Poe to get my Intro Mystic Concepts class notes. And there, on my bed was another little ‘gift’. I wondered what nasty little prank my ‘gift-giver’ had in mind. The first one was a box of chocolates that were laced with laxatives. Whoever it was couldn’t be a Poe girl; they didn’t know that I can’t eat refined sugar or (*sob!*) chocolate. I’m just glad that Sharisha got to it when I put it out for the other girls before Rip or Vanessa or Bunny did. At least this one didn’t stink up the room, the way that ‘gift’ of fifty pounds of catnip had.
I mean…. Catnip?
I gingerly picked up the box, checking for booby traps. There hasn’t been one yet, but one’s overdue. I carefully opened the box and… Chocolate mice? What could chocolate mice mean? I got my books and notes, and took the box of mice down to Mrs. Horton. Hey, for all I know, some sicko may have actually dipped dead mice in chocolate.
It was Finals week, and we were taking our Intro to Mystic Concepts exam. It wasn’t like last week, with great fights and the chance of having a real blowout of a fight- without getting any detention for it! But to look at everyone, they were relieved that the Combat Finals were over! MAN, I don’t get people some times! Still, I wasn’t sweating that much over it. I mean, there was a logic to the problems that Mrs. Chulkris was giving us. Now, English on the other hand…
Anyway, even the longest test form finally winds its weary way to an ending, and I was able to put the minor purgatory of word problems behind me. At least until tomorrow, when I would face yet another set of abstract tormenters. “So! Nik-KAY!” I called out to my ever-lovin’ copper-topped roomie, “What say we head on over to the Fish Bowl and get some serious blow-out going on?”
“Toni, we have finals tomorrow to study for!”
“Exactly! Blow off some of the pressure, and review without all that stress making you crazy.”
“And since when have YOU ever had problems with pressure?” She responded, arching her eyebrow and holding herself very primly.
“_I_ am not the issue here, gurlfren’, YOU are. These voodoo wolf yahoos are freaking you out major. And don’t tell me that they aren’t getting to you, ‘cause they are.”
“I’m doing better than some,” Nikki hedged.
“Just because you’re not drooling, doesn’t mean that you’re all right with it,” I countered. “They’ve attacked how many times? That’s got to be wearing on your nerves.”
“I take it that you’re talking about those… diseased… werewolves that have been giving Security such a hard time lately?” came from behind us. We turned, and Miss Grimes, the witchy-looking Mystic Arts teacher who had escorted us down to Boston for the Arch-Fiend’s ‘Banner’ hearing was standing there, just inside the classroom door. She pointedly shut the door and walked closer.
Nikki flushed and said, “You’ve heard about that?”
Grimes nodded. “And, as usual, instead of coming to the Mystic Arts department, Security is trying to tough it out alone.” She speared Nikki with an icy look. “Not that you and your cohorts are making that easy for them.” Nikki started to fluster, but Grimes cut her off. “Not that I’m blaming you. You’re doing your duty, especially to the Mediwallah, as you see it. And forbidding you to do anything would only force you to resort to sit-com antics to get around the ban.” She gave a gusty sigh. “No, the best thing to do would be to embrace it and try to ensure that you survive this thing as best you can. Miss Reilly, the Mediwallah have many secrets. One, they have entrusted unto us. On the edge of school grounds there is a cave that is sacred to the Mediwallah. It is a place of great power and great mystery. We have put in a sturdy gate which we keep securely locked, and there are signs posted warning people off. Once a year, we take the Junior year Mystic Arts students there on a field trip. Miss Reilly, there are signs and pictograms carved into the face of one wall that simply reek of power, but no one has been able to decipher them. The Mediwallah claim that those runes hold some powerful secret from their most ancient past that relate to some prophesied crisis to come. Given the way that the Mediwallah are reacting to these ‘Voodoo Wolves’, it’s quite likely that that prophesied crisis has come in our time. And given the circumstance of your arrival, and the Mediwallah’s reaction to THAT, it doesn’t take a genius to guess that there might be some connection.”
“So, you think that I might be able to learn something from these carvings that might be helpful in dealing with these ‘Voodoo Weres’?”
“The only way to be sure, is for you to go there and look at them.”
Nikki perked up at the chance to get one up on The Bastard. Just waiting around for the other guy to make a move is SO not Team Kimba’s style. “When can you arrange it?”
Grimes shook her head. “It’s not that simple. That cave is very powerful and very taboo. Miss Carson won’t authorize allowing students to endanger themselves while violating a Mediwallah taboo. We instructors in the Mystic Arts department have discussed this with Miss Carson, and she hasn’t given her okay to allow you into the cave.”
“But I HAVE to get in there!” Nikki insisted, “The Mediwallah are being targeted by The Bastard’s forces! We’ve managed to beat his plague dogs back so far without losing any of the Mediwallah, but we can’t count on that! It’s my sacred honor to help defend them against this!”
Grimes nodded. “Well, Carson hasn’t given her okay…” she reached into her tweed blazer and pulled out a set of keys and a laminated map. “But then again, she hasn’t forbidden us to tell you about the cave, either.”
Nikki snatched the keys from Grimes’ hand. “Toni, go get the others. If it’s that dangerous, we’ll need everyone.”
Grimes held up a finger. “NOT a good idea. Plausible deniability is crucial here. If you find something that helps, then I doubt that the Mediwallah will mind. But if you don’t, Carson will have no choice but to come down severely on all of us, myself included.”
“She’s right,” I told Nikki. “I mean, if we tell everyone, what are the odds that Bunny or Rip or Lilly or Stalwart will try to get in on the action? I mean, how discrete is ten girls and guys all trooping over to a hidden cave?”
Grimes nodded. “Also, there’s the very real fact that most of your team would be more of a liability than an asset. Lancer and Phase would be almost useless against what might happen in that cave. Generator might be of some use, but I shudder to think what would happen if Tennyo cut loose in that cave!”
“What about Chou?” Nikki asked. “She’d be perfect!”
I leaned over and whispered in her ear, “She’s, ah, probably hooked up with Molly by now…”
Nikki nodded and sighed, “And it probably IS best to keep it simple. Are you game, Toni?”
“A nice cozy cave in the middle of a New England winter? Y’couldn’t keep me away, sugar!”
“Very good,” Grimes said with obvious satisfaction. “Chaka is the best defense that you could have, dear- save except for your own power, of course. Still, I must warn you that you should go before too long. It’s a good walk, and I really wouldn’t recommend that you be in – or even near- that cave after dark.”
Reilly and Chandler bustled off in an all-too-girlish buzz of relishing a special little secret. ‘Grimes’ watched them walk down the hallway from just inside the doorway of the classroom. When ‘she’ was sure that neither Reilly nor Chandler was coming back, her form flowed like molten wax for a moment, and her clothes also changed. The shifting form resolved into the buff, blonde, ‘All-American Boy’ features that Bogus, the Alpha’s resident shapeshifter, used as a default. His clothes settled into a Whateley boy’s uniform. He reached into a pocket, pulled out a cell phone, and hit a number on his speed-dial.
“Very good, Bogus,” Hekate said absently into her cell phone. “And how long before you think they get here? Ah, you made sure that they knew to get here before sundown. VERY good. Yes, Bogus, I’m absolutely sure that nothing bad will happen to either of them. Well, nothing TOO bad, anyway. It’s just a prank, Bogus, a simple prank, nothing more,” she lied smoothly. She shut the cell phone and sneered absently, “Tool.” Yes, Bogus was a tool. Worse, he was Sebastino’s tool, and not hers, and therefore contemptible with no need for any maintenance.
Carefully consulting her notes, compass, astrolabe and calculator, Hekate arranged the cards precisely on the stone altar outside the cave. Normally, she’d rather rip her own eyes out and chew on them than even think of dealing with what was inside that cave, especially on a solstice. But this was really a minor working, and she wouldn’t have to actually go INSIDE the cave. No, the redheaded bitch and her darkie slut roommate would take all the risk, while she, Hekate- through her pawn Sebastiano- would reap all the benefit. As it should be. Besides, she wasn’t using her own power for this one. And she was sure that HE wouldn’t mind her using his power for this, given the outcome. Once the cards were arranged exactly the right way, she lit the candle. The candle didn’t resemble a rigid man’s phallus; it WAS a petrified man’s penis. Don’t ask how she got it. Then she placed the large hourglass on the stone altar. The hourglass was filled with the pale blue dust that was all that was left of a living being when Sara Waite was finished with them. Damn nice of the Kellith to leave it laying about all over the place. The pale dust of passed mortality slipped through the narrow mouth, beginning the time when time loses its rigid grip.
Cutting her right forearm with her long knife, Hekate let out a barbaric yawp that echoed through the glade and began a five-minute litany. As the blue ‘sand’ ran out, Hekate made the sacrifices. She reached into the basket and pulled out the sleeping puppy. She rubbed its tummy and let it lick her face in a show of spontaneous love that only a month-old puppy can be capable of. Then she snapped its neck with practiced calm. The Price of Unconditional Love paid, Hekate proceeded with the Price of Squandered Lifetime. Fortunately for her, that price was easy enough. The bio-devisor’s botched experiment was technically still viable, though if it were allowed to come to term it would be an unwarranted kindness to call it an abomination. Hekate placed the glass jar on the altar, and almost immediately the jar began to shake. It shattered as the embryonic figure inside grew to its full potential, a massive 15-foot tall, misshapen monstrosity that stretched out its ill-made arms and screamed an primal protest of outrage at its own existence. But even before it could come to terms with its own being, the aberration passed its allotted span and fell into instant decrepitude, then death, then decay, and finally dust, all in less than a minute. That price paid, Hekate calmly pulled a bottle from her basket, and with a dropper measured out precisely nine tears of genuine regret onto the stone. That bothered her; not for the grief that she’d caused to inspire someone else to shed those tears, but rather for the bother she’d gone to in collecting them.
The last ‘tear’ fell well before hourglass emptied the last sands from the upper chamber into the lower chamber. Hekate looked about the glade for any sign that her working had gone awry. The glade was as still and serene as a cathedral. She knew that in this place, at this time, one of her scryings would be worse than useless. Well, she’d done all that she could; now all that was left was for the two victims to come into the trap, all of their own free will. If it worked, then Sebastiano would have half of his problem nicely dealt with. If not, then she’d just have to pick up the slack later. Hekate picked up all the pieces of her working and tucked them away in her basket. She left with a light-hearted feeling of a job well done.
“So, Nikster, any clew from Unga-Dunga about what those runes might be?” I asked as we trudged through the snow. Nikki couldn’t help but do the ‘ethereal Elven beauty’ bit in a long draping white coat with a flared skirt and a fur-lined hood. Though, I gotta admit that I was pretty fetch m’self in a white ski outfit with a big floppy white felt beret. Not that we were competing in a ‘Miss Ski Queen’ contest or anything, we were just trying to blend in with the snowy backdrop, while not being obvious about the fact that we were going camo.
Hey, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
“Sorry, Toni, but I can’t just call up Aunghadhail any time that I feel like it. She pipes up when she feels like she has something to say.”
“Oh? Have you really tried? Like, maybe something snazzy like, ‘Though I resent this half-assed possession/ Still I have a stupid question/ Annoying personage I regale / Aunghadhail! Aunghadhail! Aunghadhail!’” Nikki shot me her, ‘Very funny, now shut up’ look. I let out a disgusted noise. “Pscha! It’s not like getting her to talk is the hard part; the hard part is getting her to shut up!” Nikki quirked a smile at that one, but tactfully stayed quiet.
After about a half-hours walk through the winter wonderland, we got to where the map said the cave would be. The cave was at the foot of a very steep cliff which ran into hills that might have been part of a mountain for all that I know. I looked around, and while there was nothing that I could pick out that struck me as wrong, the place just gave me a bad vibe. Nikki unlocked the door, which was set in poured concrete- not cinderblock or brick, but concrete, which was probably reinforced with rebar- and get this: there was another, even THICKER door inside, all done up with runes and like that. Not painted on runes, but runes worked right into the metal of the door. There were major locks on the handle, and on bolts for the top and bottom, and there was a lock for the alarm.
Gee, y’think that maybe they were trying to keep people out?
The ‘Do Not Enter Without Authorization’ signs inside the first door weren’t very welcoming, either.
The cave didn’t open out immediately, and we had to go in at least a hundred feet. Nikki created one of those magical lights of hers and set it floating while she got her sketching pad and pencil ready. “Couldn’t you just, y’know, snap pictures of them with your cell phone digital camera?” I asked.
“Can’t be sure that they’d show up in digital imaging.”
Yeah, that jibed with what we’d just taken an exam on. Doesn’t say much about the grade that I’ll probably get, though.
The cave was narrow, but after a few yards, the roof went WAY up, and while it wasn’t Carlsbad Caverns, there was some definite subterranean architecture goin’ on. Stalactites and stalagmites, whichever is which, and-
-and no bats. Odd, as I recall, the reason that they discovered Carlsbad Caverns was they went into the caves looking for bat guano, and they found the huge caverns. I know, they sealed up that entrance to this cave, but there should be some… mess… on the floor. But it was clean.
Nikki’s ball of faerie light flickered for some reason. It must have, ‘cause the shifts in lighting did really weird things to the sense of depth, width and height in the cave. We finally came to a set of seven columns where the stalactites and stalagmites merged. Someone had carved spirals of writing going around the columns and filled the carvings with a green crystal that glowed in a sinister way in the faerie light. The crystals on one particular column glittered in a way as though the light was lighting up one set of runes in order. Nikki noticed it and tried to follow the lights as to get a better idea of where the lights started and stopped.
As she wrote down the markings, I got this really odd feeling, like things were moving. It wasn’t wind, which would have just been the air, but somehow, I got the weird impression that reality was pulling and stretching somehow. I had this sensation in my bones like somehow things, strange, formless and very slippery things, where scraping against each other, and I was caught in the middle between them. The ‘rubbing’ produced a weird sound that was somehow a low monotonous piping and a echoing chittering, like the sound of locusts chirping in the empty halls of a lost city-
Whoa! Where did THAT come from?
Feeling boo-koo nervous, I looked around, and my jaw almost hit the floor of the cave. Something was bubbling down from the roof of the cavern. No, now that it was clearer, it wasn’t bubbling, it WAS the bubbles. It was only a congeries of iridescent globes, yet stupendous in its malign suggestiveness.
Whoa! Where did THAT come from?
“Niiiik-eeee…” I whined, tugging at her shoulder.
“What IS it, Ton-EEEE!” She started to say, but finished with a shriek. She pulled me by the shoulders, spun me around and clapped her hands over my eyes. “Don’t look, Toni! For the love of GOD, don’t LOOK!”
“I already looked!”
“Then… just don’t look anymore!”
Even though I didn’t look, I still heard that bizarre carol of sound that wasn’t sound and felt that loathsome ickiness wash over us. It never seemed to stop, it just went on and on and on…
But then it did stop.
The ghastly bubbles resolved themselves into two groups that moved to far sides of the cavern. Nikki Reilly found her gaze irresistibly drawn to one of the bundles of globes. The glittering spheres shifted and a figure strode imperiously through them as though through a gaudy bead curtain. The figure was a tall, strapping African female wearing close-fitting leather armor. Her armor was dark saffron with ‘stripes’ of dark metal studs that Nikki instinctively recognized as cold iron. In her left hand was a large naginata with a large blade of gleaming True Gold at one end and an eight-sided tetsubo with plates of cold iron fasted on. Her right hand was gone, replaced by a wicked three-pronged claw of cold iron. She had a functional looking utility belt around her waist and smaller versions around her right thigh and left biceps. Talismans and amulets against faerie magic- most of which were actually functional- festooned her neck. But the thing that drew Nikki’s real attention was her face. It was Toni’s face. But it wasn’t the smiling, joking visage that she’d come to know. This woman was older and many years harsher. Her face was set in the sort of permanent scowl that only comes from decades of spite and loss. Her cheeks were striped with ritual scarring and three small rubies where set on her left cheek, as though three red dripping tears. Her eyes weren’t the sparkling golden disks of her friend and roommate; they were hard amber stones without feeling or warmth. The amber eyes fixed on Nikki, and the stone-like visage broke a smile- not a welcoming smile, but the smile of a tiger that has spotted her prey. “You…” she hissed through clenched teeth.
Nikki dropped her hands, and I just couldn’t help but look, to try and get an idea as to what was up. There was this bunch of glowing bubbles all clustered up together; pretty, sort of, but God’s own creepy too. Then a woman marched through. She was wearing silvery plate armor over green robes that covered every inch of her, except her head and, well, her front. Her boobs and her tummy were only covered by a wispy layer of lace, which wouldn’t have left much to the imagination of a Xerox machine. She had a slender sword unsheathed in her hand that looked like it was made of spun glass. It was long and curved, more than a saber, less than a scimitar. It took me a second to recognize her.
It was Nikki.
It was Nikki, but all grown up, and it didn’t look like she’d had a single second of fun doing it. I mean we are talking at least three decades of hard road, people. She had one of those perennially pissed looking expressions that can sour the sweetest face. Her right eye- the left one looked like it had been clawed out by three long jagged scars that hadn’t healed well at all, and replaced by a bionic optic implant- burned with rage. She looked at me and fire literally erupted from her bionic eye. “Well,” she snarled, “you finally decided to crawl out from whatever rock would have you.” She gestured with her left hand, and I barely managed to duck out of the way of a truly wicked spell-bolt.
Nikki blinked incredulously and bleated, “Toni?” The woman just screamed in pure rage and spun the unwieldy naginata with the speed and light touch that only a ki mistress can manage. She sprang forward and nailed Nikki squarely in the stomach with the tetsubo end. Nikki was painfully aware of the affect of the cold iron as the mace mashed her soft tissue.
Ignoring the feeling that her kidney had possibly been burst, Nikki barely managed to duck out of the way of the gleaming golden blade as it came down as a fluid part of the single stroke. She hastily managed to erect an eldritch shield, but the whirling naginata alternately smashed and slashed away at it, reducing the shield to splinters.
The woman with Chaka’s face paused with the naginata set at the crest of a swing, poised to strike. “Finally,” she purred, her voice velvet soaked in acid, “it’s just us two. As it should be. No children as hostages to confuse things. No Sebastiano mixing things up. No Alphas getting in the way. No Mediwallah dying for their false queen. No Syndarien with his lies and lures. No Tribunal of Nine. No Nimbus. No Jade dying to try to mend a feud that can only end in last blood. Just you. And Me. And Justice!” She started the finishing stroke.
I was bouncing around like Spiderman, trying to stay away from this Not-Nikki’s spell-bolts. For all the good it did me. The bitch was hammering away at me like she was Mike Tyson and I was Robin Givens. Worse, I got the distinct impression that she was herding me. Now, normally when I face someone who leans on ranged attacks as much as Nikki does, I try to force the fight into close quarters. But she was expecting me to do just that, and she had that sword spinning around like a weed whacker. A long, razor-sharp, apparently indestructible weed whacker.
I managed to get out from between the sidhe-devil and the deep blue sea long enough to throw a handful of dress pins into her face. This annoyed her long enough for me to unlimber the manrikigusari that I had stashed in the sleeves of my jacket.
Yes, I keep a chain weapon with me whenever I can. If you could handle chain weapons the way that I can, you would too.
As I started whirling the chain, Not-Nikki started laughing in this insane, high-pitched near-hysterical giggle. “See? Even without Aunghadhail- whom you tore away from me!- I’m more than a match for you! I don’t just have the power, I AM THE POWER!”
“What… the hell… are you talking about?” I managed to get in edgewise.
“It’s ALL YOUR FAULT!” She shrieked at me, tears in her eyes. “ALL OF IT! You were jealous of my beauty, so you ruined my face! You SUNDERED me! AGAIN! And by all the blood that’s fallen, you will finally PAY for it!”
Nikki barely managed to get Malachim’s Feather unsheathed from its extra-dimensional ‘sheath’ in time to parry the naginata’s blade. Multi-hued sparks flew as the Mithril scimitar grated against the True Gold blade. Even as she felt the other woman shifting her balance and gathering her forces for another blow, Nikki tried to weave a Bewildering Seeming, which would confuse the situation long enough for her to get an idea as to what was going on. Her fingers danced as she wove a delicate chain-
-and then she remembered that Aunghadhail wasn’t there to guide her hand, as she usually did when Nikki was working magic on the fly. And without Aunghadhail, Nikki didn’t really know that much magic…
The naginata cleaved through the mystic chain as though it where smoke. Nikki caught the blade, but quickly discovered that the stroke was a feint to cover the older woman’s rush, which was quickly followed by a trip and a throw. Nikki landed hard, and the Not-Chaka rammed the haft of the Naginata hard against her throat, almost throttling her. Pushing her face into Nikki’s, the older woman hissed, “I want you to know that there is no peace at the gate… I want you to remember… I want your last memories before you go to whatever HELL your kind rots in, to be the names and deaths of my children…” She tapped at the ruby inset highest on her cheek with one iron claw. “THIS is for Chisulo, my oldest son, who never saw his manhood ceremony, thanks to you…” She tapped the second ruby. “THIS is for Ashante, who you kidnapped and tortured…” She tapped the last ruby. “And THIS is for Razina, whom you stole out of my very arms even before she could WALK! WHAT DID YOU DO TO RAZINA, YOU ELF-WHORE?”
Okay, in retrospect, it may not have been the smartest thing to do, but wiseass humor is sort of a defense mechanism of mine. “So, Nikki, are you still going by the handle ‘Fey’? Or, from the looks of that outfit, is it ‘Stripperific’ now?”
Well, it got her mad, and it got her mouthing off. Unfortunately, I get the impression that she’s gotten used to fighting while monologuing. The worst of both worlds. She started yapping about how her down-to-the crotch décolletage was a gift to her champion, her bulwark, her inspiration, her reason for being, the man who had stood by her in during the very worst, including Bunny’s death (which I was apparently also responsible for), blah, blah, blah, Sebastiano…
“HOLD IT!” I screeched, “Sebastiano? Are you seriously telling me that you hooked up with that greasy, smarmy, egomaniacal dirtbag SEBASTIANO?”
“Who are YOU to talk? You shacked up with that idiot N’DIZI!”
I stopped short. “Okay, fun’s fun. I can tell that you’re riffing on Nikki’s look, and this whole ‘you’re to blame for a horrible future’ is one thing and hooking up with Sebastiano’ is another- but me hooking up with N’Dizi? That’s just insulting my intelligence.”
Nikki struggled through the pain and summoned up a whirlwind that blew the spitting mad not-Chaka off her. The woman landed ready for battle and was on Nikki before the girl was completely ready with Malachim’s Feather. The leather-clad virago worked the melee with cold fury, and after a brief flurry of clashing blades, she twisted the mithril scimitar out of Nikki’s hands. In a near-panic, Nikki tried to erect a protective wall of eldritch force. Not-Chaka beat her to the punch- if that’s the word- with a liver-mashing tetsubo-blow to the stomach.
Nikki felt the magic come out of her in a poorly managed gush. The magic congealed into a mass of pastel-pink and green snakes that overwhelmed both of them. ‘I don’t even wanna THINK what this says about my subconscious’, Nikki thought to herself. Not-Chaka struggled furiously with the snakes for a moment. A few of the serpents dissolved when they touched the cold iron on her weapon and armor, but there were still enough of them to wrestle the naginata from her grasp. Not-Chaka started to collapse under the weight of all the snakes, but then she centered herself and gave out a teeth-rattling Kiai shout that literally blew the snakes off of her.
The big-ass whoop came from out of nowhere and caught both of us by surprise. Looking over to the sound of the scream, I saw Nikki- the REAL Nikki (accept no substitutes), who was pressed against one of the cave walls by this big, stack black broad in orange leathers.
Orange leathers. Yeah, I said, ORANGE LEATHERS! Jeez Louise, what kind of complete and utter LOSER wears ORANGE LEATHERS?
After getting the horror that was this new bitch’s wardrobe out of my head, I was getting set to go help Nikki. Unfortunately Not-Nikki had other ideas and I barely had the opening to parry Not-Nikki’s thrust with the glass sword. I wrapped my chain around the blade and started to try and break it. Then, for some reason, I noticed that the basket hilt of the sword was of some golden material that was formed into the shape of an oak tree. The trunk of tree formed the finger guard, and the main guard was made of the branches of the tree, which seemed to be on fire. Don’t ask WHY I noticed that.
Snapping my attention back to my own life-or-death struggle, I tried to snap the blade with the chain. You’d think that that was a good idea, hunh? I mean, it’s a glass blade, even if it’s shot through with some bogus artsy Venetian glass type streaks of amber. It should snap if you give it a harsh look, right?
WRONG! Instead of snapping, the stupid sword started cutting through the links in my chain!
And then the bitch does something, and this pale green fire sort of runs through the sword.
Green fire. This can NOT be good. I mean, have you ever, and I do mean EVER, heard of a situation where green fire was a good thing?
I looked over to Nikki, maybe for, y’know’, a little help with this? Then I saw Miss Bad-Ass-Worse-Fashion-Sense do a rapid-fire burst of atami on Nikki and send her sprawling.
You do NOT pull that shit on my roomie, no-how.
I gave miss ‘Oh, I can show off my hoo-hahs in combat and now worry about it’ a snap kick right in her advertising campaign, and got out of there. “NIKKI!” I yelled as I ran in her direction.
Nikki turned briefly at the sound. Not-Chaka started to move to exploit her distraction, but a handful of sewing needles mysteriously sprouted in the side of her face, distracting her even as she gathered her Chi to strike. Sparing a glance, Nikki saw Chaka- the real Chaka, not the psychotic poser that had been trying to rip out her heart and dance on it with iron boots- charging in their direction, whirling a chain that looked worse for the wear. Right behind Toni and closing on a storm cloud full of lightning was this… bizarre… woman in chivalric plate armor that somehow had her boobs hanging out. She had a glittering glass sword that was raised to strike Toni down. Just as the bitch on the cloud was about to bring her sword down, Nikki lashed out with a bolt of disruptive power, ‘popping’ the cloud like a balloon. The swordswoman went sprawling with an outraged squeal.
Toni lashed out with her chain, snaring the naginata as her older counterpart was just about to reach it, and pulling it away. “So!” Not-Chaka snarled (in apparently unintended chorus with Not-Nikki), “You’ve learned a new trick!”
“So, you’ve made a new friend?” I asked blithely, trying to keep things light.
“Toni,” Nikki whispered, “I think that that’s… YOU! From the future!”
“Oh God- I’m going to wear orange leathers? Where people can SEE me?”
“Toni, they’re US! And they want to kill us! How do we fight them? They have all our powers, and they know everything that we know, and MORE!”
I looked at my doppleganger, and then at hers. “Then why aren’t they double-teaming us?” I kicked that over-built naginata-thing up into my hand and used it to deflect a flight of throwing irons that Miss Fashion-Challenged chucked in Nikki’s direction.
“Good question,” Nikki allowed. “It’s like they don’t know the other one’s there,” she mused as she whistled up a killing frost that smacked down the swarm of glassy hornets that her counterpart was sending at me.
“Now that you mention it,” I mused as I used the naginata to tear out of her hands the chain that my counterpart was using to snatch the naginata out of MY hands, “they don’t seem to see US, either. Miss Carrot-pants over there can see YOU, but not Me.”
“And- dear GOD, what is that woman WEARING?- that one over there can see YOU, but not me, and it’s driving her nuts how you’re countering her spells with your back turned!”
“You think that it’s the old Justice League ‘Perfect Enemy for ONE character’ bit?”
“Toni! That only happens in the comic books!”
“eennhhh… yer right- it’s not like simple, everyday stuff like attacking ninjas, infectious werewolves, giant robots, and reincarnating Elven queens, now is it?”
“Good point, good point…” she allowed. “And in the comics, the perfect solution for that is-”
Nikki was cut off when my hopefully-never-future self was rude enough to throw a small concussion grenade at us, just as Nikki’s skanky future self sent a winter wind that tore at us with razor-sharp shards of ice.
“Toni…” Nikki said in a panicked whisper, “I think I’m bleeding inside…”
“Good to hear it,” my future self said, readying her claw with a feline grin.
“Nikki, I’m coming!”
“Bring it, bitch…” the redhead in the armor hissed as she unlimbered that freaky sword.
Nikki reached her hand out to me and I managed to grab onto it. As I pulled us together, the dopplegangers, somehow knowing that we were doing something, both screamed and charged. I swung us around so that we were each directly facing our alleged future selves.
Nikki gave a martial scream and brought up Malachim’s Feather to strike. But the woman in armor was already striking, and the crystalline sword neatly cut Nikki’s hand off her arm at the wrist, sending the severed hand and the mithril scimitar flying.
I launched myself at the fashion disaster and tried to block her, but apparently those extra decades of practice really do matter. She slipped past my block and slashed across my face with that fucking garden tool she has strapped to her wrist. I felt something tearing at my face and the mother of all pain erupted in my left eye. I stopped and reflexively clapped my hands to my eye. Miss Klaw just stood there, flat-footed, looking at me like I’d just popped out of nowhere. “What? What trick is this?”
I was about to give the idiot bitch ‘what trick’, when I heard a scream like Nikki in pain. Looking around with the eye that I still had left, I spotted Nikki on her knees, her face scrunched up in pain. She was holding her right wrist in her left hand- just the wrist, which was gushing blood. Her doppleganger was just standing there, sword drooping in her hand, gawping at Nikki and not doing shit.
“Omigawd!” I gasped and sprinted over to Nikki. “Nikki! Nikki-hon, are you all right?” I applied pressure to the wrist and stopped the blood as best I could. I turned back to Nikki. “Nikki, hon, can you hear me? Are you faint? Dammit, Nik, TALK to me!”
Nikki managed to open her eyes and look at me. She gasped when she saw my face, forgot all about her own pain and said, “TONI! Toni, what HAPPENED to you?” Nikki, being Nikki, immediately tried to do something for my eye with the stump of her hand, almost starting it bleeding again.
“I zigged when I should have zagged,” I grated through my own pain. I snapped at Miss Playboy Centerfold Paladin, “Well? Why didn’t you DO anything? She could have DIED!”
She (the idiot in plate) just barely managed to bleat out, “How? What IS this?”
“That’s MY question, shithead!” I snarled, “What do you think you’re DOING?”
“What IS this?” my equally shitheaded counterpart blithered. Now I knew she couldn’t be me- I never blither. “Where are we?”
“WHEN is more the question,” Nikki snarled at them. “And who the HELL are you idiots supposed to be?”
“I… I am CHAKA!” the broad in leathers said as if she was trying to convince herself of that.
“_NO_,” I loudly disagreed, “_I_ am Chaka! YOU are an idiot who doesn’t have the good sense to not wear orange leathers! I mean, orange leathers? What could POSSIBLY make you think that orange leathers would be a stylin’ fashion statement?”
Taken aback, she blubbered, “My, my armor is to show that I stand with the Tigers!”
“And with N’Dizi, my leader, my husband and the father of my children!”
“N’DIZI? You had KIDS… with N’DIZI? Oh, BARF! There’s never a bucket around when you really NEED one!”
“And YOU!” Nikki snarled at the bimbo in green and silver, “What do you think you are WEARING? What could possibly make you go into actual COMBAT wearing something that leaves your tits hanging out that way?”
“This?” Not-Nikki paused, really confused, “I wear this… to honor my lord and love, Sebastiano…”
“Sebastiano?” Nikki screamed, “You hooked up with that sleazy, lecherous, underhanded, slimebag Sebastiano?” Nikki sounded almost as sickened as I did.
“This… this is the cave… the cave at Whateley…” Not-Nikki looked around as if in a haze.
“Give that woman the Sybil Fawlty award for stating the bleedin’ obvious!” I snapped as I wrapped some cloth over the real Nikki’s bloody stump.
“I… I came here… to study… to find a way to fend off the Bastard’s minions…”
“Oh REALLY? How FASCINATING!”
“But you- but Chaka- was jealous of my beauty and power… she attacked me and clawed out my eye… She sundered my connection with Aunghadhail… I was dying… But Sebastiano rescued me… he protected me…”
“Lying WHORE!” my Never-to-be-future self snapped. “YOU ambushed ME! You lopped off my hand and left me here to DIE as you ran off with your scumbag lover, Sebastiano!”
“Oh you mean THIS hand?” I held up my right hand.
“Sebastiano SAVED me!” Not-Nikki wailed, not so much to convince us as to convince her self.
“Sebastiano set you up,” Nikki said in a disgusted voice. “I can’t believe that I grow up to be a simpering chump like YOU! This has a Don Sebastiano setup written all over it! He just HAPPENS to be right there, right outside a cave that no one’s supposed to know about, with no real reason, just in time to save someone who he is not supposed to know is there, from someone who’s just had her HAND sliced off, and is in serious danger of dying from lack of blood? Did getting cut off from Aunghadhail rattle your brains or something? All it COULD be was a Don Sebastiano setup!”
My counterpart gave a bitter laugh of vindication. “And don’t YOU start!” I shouted. “You! You hooked up with N’Dizi? N’Dizi? HE’S supposed to be the man that you look to for support and leadership? Please! Don Sebastiano can run rings around N’Dizi and not work up a sweat! You had some kind of war going on with Nikki and Sebastiano? And you were DUMB enough to let N’Dizi run it? Hell, I’ll bet that Donny was pulling N’Dizi’s strings all along, keeping the Tigers a threat, so he’d always have you and your feud going, to keep Nikki in line! Everything that you say happened, happened because you let Sebastiano lead N’Dizi around by the nose!”
“I…” she gasped, “I am Chaka…”
“No, you’re not,” I stated as a matter of cold hard fact.
“She cut my hand off…” she lamely held up her claw as if to be absolutely sure of it.
“How? With what hand?” I held up the stump of Nikki’s wrist.
“My eye…” Not-Nikki whim pered, laying her hand on it. “She clawed out my eye…”
“With what claw?” Nikki asked, holding up my flesh and blood hand. “She didn’t hurt you,” she said simply, as though spelling it out for a little- and not very bright- kid, “YOU hurt ME. And all of this only happened because you both came back to this time and made it happen. And THAT only happened because Sebastiano made it so.”
The glass sword dropped from Not-Nikki’s hand, which suddenly wasn’t there. Not-Me looked at her hand, which suddenly WAS there. “But…” she whined in confusion as she felt at the eye patch that covered her left eye, “HOW can I claw out my own eye, if I don’t have the claw to do it with?”
“And HOW can I cut off my own hand, if I don’t have a hand to hold Winter’s Promise?” Not-Nikki said in equal confusion.
“You didn’t,” Nikki said with a voice that was blurry with lack of blood. “She didn’t. It never really happened…”
Not-Nikki looked across the cavern at Not-Me. They looked at each other with looks of heartbreaking tenderness. They rushed at each other with arms outstretched, saying as one, “Oh, I’m so sor-” But before they could finish a really WAY over due apology to each other, just as they touched, they dissolved into a mass of glittering bubbles.
Nikki recoiled at the sight of the bubbles, so I grabbed her and hurried her out. “C’mon, Nikki! We gotta get OUT of here! We gotta get you to a hospital!” We ran out of the cave as quickly as I could, me towing Nikki along to speed it up. When we got to the warded door, Nikki rushed through locking every lock- just in case.
“Nikki…” I said with dread in my voice.
“What?” She looked around in near panic.
“My hand?” She looked down at her right hand, which was still attached to her wrist. She’d been using it to turn the keys in the locks. She looked at me. “Your Eye!”
“My Eye?” I took my hand away from my left eye. My hand wasn’t bloody anymore. And I was looking at it with my still-good left eye. Then I looked at her. “Your sketch pad… How did you pick it up?”
She looked at the sketchpad tucked under her arm. “No… I know that I dropped it when… when all that started…” I staggered over to an outcropping of rock near the door and thew up in the snow as Nikki lustily ripped her sketches to bits and threw the bits to the winds. I sat down and cradled my ribs.
My ribs didn’t hurt. “Nikki?”
“What?” she looked around.
“You… you said that you felt like you had internal bleeding. How does it feel?”
She dropped the sketchpad and felt all around her torso. “I… I don’t feel… I feel fine! Like it never happened!”
“There’s no blood on our clothing,” I checked, “And I know that she zapped me real good.” I looked at Nikki. “I’m confused… Does this mean that we WON’T grow up into that pair of idiot skanks, or that we WILL?”
“It will not happen, and it would never have happened, unless and until you allowed it to happen just now.” Nikki’s voice changed, but I recognized the voice.
“Oh, look who finally decided to show up! Little miss ‘knows-all-but-don’t-tell-SQUAT’! What the HELL just happened in there, Unga-Dunga?”
“You danced with shadows, things born of the eternal question, ‘What If?’”
“So, you’re saying that we weren’t really in any danger, then.”
“Quite the contrary, Chaka. You may never have been in greater peril, and rarely have I.”
“But you just said that they were just shadows; shadows can’t hurt you!”
“Chaka, every instance, every decision, every event casts a thousand shadows of what might happen as a result. Even gods would go mad trying to calculate the outcome of every possible decision that they make, and would lose themselves in an eternal kaleidoscope of possibilities that never occur. All but the most likely of those shadows, or those that are MADE to occur, last more than the most fleeting of instants before they vanish completely. The vast majority have almost NO chance of ever coming into being. Remember that possibilities exist in a state of undefined potential. BUT, in places like inside that cave, time can be folded back on upon itself. These shadows can harvested in their undefined potential, and have their potential given definition. And they can be brought back to the instance of their conception, to make that conception manifest.”
“Possible futures, no matter how improbable, can be brought to the present. They affect the present in such a way that they make the very future that they come from, come about.”
“Okaaayyy… so, what you’re saying, was that for Miss Claw and Miss Armor-plate to ever actually BE, they had to come back in time, and cut off my hand and gouge out Nikki’s eye, so that we’d think that the other one did it?”
“But that doesn’t make any sense! We’d KNOW that those weirdoes came out’a nowhere and did it!”
“Would you? Think back to everything that the Nikki-that-never-was said. Can you remember everything that she said?”
“Yet, you have perfect recall- of things that happened in the past. Still, the precise words that she spoke slip through your recall like beads of quicksilver. The Nikki that would have severed your hand exists in the future; only her act would have been in the past. It would be like trying to remember those fragments of dream that you have as you wake, the memories of events and people that never were, yet are so real to you. But when you reach full waking, they slip away from you- as would the memories of people yet to be. Your memories of her and of the real Nikki would merge to the point where they were one and the same. And, in truth, by that time- they would be one and the same! The horrific outcome, with all its pain and tragedy, that forged those two people would become fated to happen, for they would have to become, so that they would exist to go back in time and set the entire cycle into effect. The Ouroboros would swallow its own tail. Once you stepped into that cavern, your only escape was to break the cycle before it was forged- as you did.”
“Well, dammit, why didn’t you warn us?”
“Chaka, I am not what I once was. It will be centuries, mayhap millennia before I am more than the merest reflection of my past glory. Once, I was as unto an Elder God, and could look upon the face of the Great Old Ones without flinching. But even then, at the height of my glory and hubris, I would have bowed down before the power that is reflected, e’er so faintly, within that cave. That one is the Gate and the Key, the Riddle and the Answer, the Plague and the Cure, the Mystery and the Revelation. It is as beyond Me, as I and mine are beyond mere humans, and as they are beyond ants or roaches. Its gospel is written in letters too vast and sublime to be transcribed even by those whose lives are measured in tens of millennia. Simply stated, I wasn’t aware of it, until it was too late.”
“Why didn’t you help us?”
“I couldn’t. That trap was well wrought, well laid and well sprung. The moment that Nikki was inside that cave, I was separated from her.”
“I thought that you and Nikki were one and the same.”
“We are, but not entirely. It was… distressing… and all too familiar. At the great battle where we formed the Celestial Convocation for the last time, we called upon that one to send the Great Old Ones into the Not-Sleep, Not-Death exile that binds them outside what we know as Time and Space. But the Bastard turned the Convocation against us.”
“Yes. If I had intruded into that place, it would have been as if I had been sundered again. I would have lost Nikki for her entire lifespan, and I would have had to search for her for millennia more.”
I shuddered at the implication of that. “Good GOD! Whoever set this trap must have… incredible power!”
“Incorrect. The trap was well-laid, but not that powerful.”
“NOT POWERFUL? Are you KIDDING? They were messing around with TIME in there! Not ‘slow down’ or ‘speed up’ like Warpers do, but messing around with fucking DESTINY!”
“Not destiny,” Aunghadhail insisted. “I think that a useful analogy might be tricking someone into walking off the top of a tall building; the sum effect is massive, but the working is all in the timing and the victim’s willingness to be a victim. If they don’t consent to step off the roof, they are safe. The second that they allow themselves to be gulled into stepping off, they are lost. Power isn’t the issue, deception is. You both refused to be victims, so the working failed even before it began. Also, I suspect that whoever is behind this has been using those accursed disruptions to the ley lines that have been happening all over the place to make this happen. Once those have been stilled, this place should be safe.” She paused. “Or, at least… as safe as this place ever gets.”
I looked at the door that we’d just come out of. “I can’t believe that they just leave something like that here, near the school!”
Aunghadhail burst out laughing. “Child, WHY do you think that they chose THIS school for their academy in the First Place?”
It was getting dark, so we collected ourselves and were about to head back to school, when we spotted a light coming through the woods. I started to move to hide, but Nikki stopped me. She looked toward the light and called out merrily, “Why HELLO, Sebastiano! What brings YOU out here?”
Sebastiano stopped just at the edge of the woods, looking every inch the romantic rescuer, wearing a lush dark cashmere overcoat and a flowing white scarf tied around his neck. He was bareheaded, all the better to show off his luxuriant long wavy dark locks. He stood there, blinking, unsure of exactly what to do. Besides the flashlight, he was carrying a nice thick, very warm looking blanket over his forearm and a basket that probably had a medical kit and a thermos of something nice and hot (and if I know Donny, drugged). He paused, and for want of anything better to say, he asked, “So… what are YOU doing here?”
“Oh, ah we came here to do a little research,” Nikki said blithely with a wry smile that suggested that we knew exactly what Donny had been up to and why he was there. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get in. The key Miss Grimes gave us didn’t work.”
“Can’t say that I’m sorry,” I said with a sniff. “I mean, LOOK at this place! Kuh-REE-Pee! And the signs over there say that it’s dangerous! Whew! I’m glad _I_ didn’t go in there!” I speared Donny with a hard look. “Hey, we hadda come all the way out here for research, but what’s a tropical bird like YOU doing way out here in the cold?”
Give him his due, Donny was quick on his feet. “I felt a psychic cry for help in this general area. I grabbed what I could and came as quickly as I could.”
“All that, but you didn’t think that it was worth bothering Security about,” Nikki said with bland facetiousness. That one, Donny didn’t have a ready answer for. As he searched for a plausible excuse, Nikki got up and said brightly, “Well, we’ve rested enough, time to get going, if we want to get back for dinner. Well, good luck, Sebastiano! I do hope that you find whoever you’re looking for!” And she added under her breath, “and get what’s coming to you.”
When we were well into the woods and out of Sebastiano’s earshot, Nikki said, “This isn’t fun and games anymore. We have got to start thinking about ways of dealing with Sebastiano and Hekate.”
“Hekate?” I asked, then the penny dropped. “Oh yeah. Donny couldn’t have pulled off a heavy duty working like that himself. It had to be Hekate; he wouldn’t farm it out to anyone else. Hey, I’ve been saying that ever since he sicced Little Bee on me, and tried to get me sent to jail for defending myself! It’s WAY past time that we sent Mister ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’ the message that he is playing with dynamite!”
“That’s the problem, Toni!” Nikki hissed. “He IS playing with dynamite! What happened back there was worse than just vicious! It was totally reckless! They were playing with forces so vast that even Aunghadhail is scared to death of it! And he had that done on a whim!”
“I agree, I agree! But what do we do? Check it out, it’s classic Donny-boy. We can’t prove that either he or Madam Hex actually DID anything. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that the person who gave us those keys wasn’t Miss Grimes. I’d be amazed if both Hekate and The Don didn’t have armor plated alibis for the times in question. We can’t PROVE that anything actually happened! Hell, we can’t even say that we went IN there, because it’s off-limits and we went in without authorization- yes, I know that we thought that we did, but prove it!”
Nikki fumed a little, so I tried to cheer her up. “Hey, look at the bright side! Donny and Hexie took their best shot and got absolutely bupkiss for it! Think about what they did! Even Hekate can pull a major stunt like THAT out of her ass! She just blew a whole wad of magical credit for nada! We took their best shot and walked away, free and clear, just you an’ me! Not even Don Sebastiano and his evil queen of the Alphas can keep pulling shit like that without someone catching on!”
Nikki nodded and smiled. “Right.” She let out a lot fluttering breath of relaxation. “Still, it will be good to go home to Kansas for a while, get away from all this craziness, and just relax! Hey, nothing ever happens in Kansas!”
She looked at me a bit with a mild smile on her lips. “What?” I asked.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’.”
“Oh, just being there. Coming to help me like that. Everything.”
“Psshhht… Tain’t nuthin’. You’d’a done the same, if it was me on the line, and don’t say that you wouldn’t. Sides, I knew that this time, there was no way that I’d get in trouble.”
“ ‘Cause, not matter what happened, I knew that I could get off, if I pleaded Elf Defense!”
Next thing I knew, I was face down in a snow bank.
Unseen by Fey or Chaka or even Don Sebastiano, something wormed its way through a faded circle of mystic runes drawn on the stone by an amateurish yet empowered hand. The chalk markings were almost- but not quite- worn away, and the glyphs were still viable. Due to a minor yet crucial error in the markings, the circle still afforded a means of escape, if the being had enough power. Between Chaka’s Ki and Nikki’s blazing Essence, and the disturbances within the cavern proper, the entity had enough power to escape. Part of it was still firmly bound into the stone by expert hands, but part had been separated by an inexpert hand, and was finally free, after centuries. More by primal hunger than by rational design, it followed in Nikki and Toni’s wake toward the school…