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There’s an Angel in Dickinson Cottage (Part 2)

By Bek D. Corbin

“HE DID WHAT?” Reverend Englund shouted at the top of his lungs.

“Darren, please!” Headmistress Carson said gently but firmly. “Sebastiano Valensuera didn’t attack Miss Reilly, Hekate did. He may or may not have known about it, or the Enslavement curse placed upon Cavalier and Skybolt, but the simple fact of the matter is that Hekate was the person actually doing all the dirty work.”

“STILL!” Englund insisted, “He had to have known that Cavalier and Skybolt were under some sort of compulsion! We are talking about rape and slavery! He HAS to be expelled from the school in abject disgrace! And handed over to the MCO as a prelude to prosecution on felony charges!”

Carson let out a heavy sigh. “I wish that I could agree with you, Darren, really I do. But, yet again, there are complications that keep me from taking him by the scruff of the neck and chucking Sebastiano out the gate. Have you wondered why no one thought to check whether Cavalier and Skybolt were being mystically influenced?”

Englund paused. “No, it wasn’t my department… Though, now that you mention it, it does seem odd that you didn’t take such a basic step…”

“That’s because we DID. There was no sign of any mental tampering, and no sign of any mystic coercion. From what we’ve been able to piece together from Reilly, Sinclair, Cardan and Shroepfer’s testimonies, Hekate’s spell was working on principles that aren’t found in any of the known mystical traditions, not even the Infernal ones. It literally left no sign that our examiners knew to look for.”

Englund stopped, totally nonplussed for a while. “But… but how would the Thessellarean girl have learned such advanced techniques?”

“Well, Miss Reilly did mention that just before she left for Christmas vacation, she and her roommate were lured into X-Hazard 24. There they were subjected to an odd effect that appears to have been designed to set them at odds with each other, and in particular to make Reilly susceptible to Sebastiano’s charms.”

Englund’s face clenched in a mask of mortal outrage he was about to say something (no doubt loud and incensed), when another thought crossed his mind. “But that would be a Class X effect… WHERE would she…?”

“Precisely,” Carson said cooly. “Her Mystic Arts tests show no signs of her researching anything even remotely at that level, and we keep the texts that she would have needed for either working locked and triple-warded in the Ultra-Secure vaults. The only way that she could have learned that is if she had a mentor. A mentor of whom we know noting about, save that he or she knows FAR too much about Things Best Left Alone™. And, that he knows far too much about hiding his activities from us. And, as the Belmont Stakes in this Triple Crown from Hell, according to Miss Reilly, she was privy, through some very ODD circumstances, to hearing Sebastiano discussing a scheme to steal Avatars’ spirits, to place the spirits into other Avatars.”

“What? That’s impossible! There’s no way to sever the Avatar bond! And there’s no known way to induce an Avatar to release a spirit that they’ve bonded with, especially if it’s a harmonious bonding!”

“No known way,” Carson pointed out.

With a scowl, Englund nodded, acknowledging the point. The problem with dealing with the very cutting edge of technological and mystical developments was that you could study all your life to master a skill that could become obsolete the moment you mastered it. There was no way of severing the Avatar bond- YET. He looked at Carson, following the train of logic. “And Valensuera is far too dense to have come up with that wrangle himself. So, it had to be Hekate.”

“Or her mentor.”

“And since Hekate has no doubt gone as far underground as she can get and still breathe, Señor Valenseura is our only lead to Hekate’s mentor. And since we can safely assume that after going through all the effort of building up the means of keeping in contact with her here in the school, he’s not going to shut his operations down just because he lost this ONE pawn.”

“Exactly,” Carson said gravely. “We can’t assume that Hekate and The Don were his only assets in Whateley. And until we figure out what the other ones are, we NEED Don Sebastiano here in school, where we can keep an eye on him. We need to find out who Hekate’s Mentor is, how he can operate here on school grounds, and what his exact intentions are. Because from the three meager examples that we’ve seen of his work, we know that his general intentions are of the absolute worst sort.”

A steely gleam entered Englund’s eye. “Have you considered the possibility that the Kellith is behind this?”

“YES. We have. There are several contra-indicators, but nothing that a subtle and clever operator couldn’t fake, so they’re non-factors. My current thinking is, that it’s not a high-probability case, but still quite possible. But it would have to be a long-term project, far preceding either Hekate’s enrollment or Sara Waite’s conversion. Which means that there are other players involved. Which means that if Sara Waite were killed, they’d simply shift to another agent in place. Which means that killing Sara would simply mean that there was one less thing that we could keep track of. Which means that we keep her alive.” Englund silently ground his teeth in frustration. “Darren,” Carson said consolingly, “look at it this way- if Sara Waite ISN’T Hekate’s Mentor, then it means that she’s probably the best weapon to use against him when we do figure out who he is.”

“And if she IS?”

Carson’s eyes narrowed. “Then she’s violated her compact with the school, and we’ll back you up with everything we’ve got to destroy her. IF she’s Hekate’s Mentor. We make sure, absolutely sure, first.”

 

“It’s not obvious at the moment,” Wilson said as they walked down the hallways crammed with students in very individual civilian clothes, “but we do have a uniform that has to be worn to classes.” A chubby black guy with dreadlocks that had blinking LEDs woven into them was walking past, wearing a ruffled paisley ‘poet’s shirt’ with a loud plaid tartan kilt, complete with ‘Furby’ sporran, argyle socks, tam o’shanter, and bowling shoes. Somehow, despite- or because?- of being obviously blind, he had somehow contrived it that the colors of everything that he wore clashed, not only with what was next to it, but everything else. “No matter what he thinks,” Wilson finished.

“And exactly what sort of uniform are we talking about? Thorn asked.

“Oh, It’s not that different from school uniforms that you may have seen on TV. NO, not THAT show!” He snapped at Thorn, who was suddenly wearing the ‘Sailor Moon’ outfit, complete with pale blonde hair done up in elaborate pigtails and ‘Magical Girl’ wand. Thorn shrugged and the cosplay outfit vanished. “You’d better be careful with the drag, kid,” Wilson warned. “You looked too good like that. It could get you in trouble.”

“Oh, trouble? Perish forbid!” Thorn murmured.

“Are you sure that everyone has to wear a uniform?” Froggy asked, watching as another student, who was almost as tall as he was- and even broader- with glossy black skin and a neck that disappeared completely into his shoulders walked down the hall wearing cargo shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt that said ‘Acapulco’.

“Yes, Froggy, you have to wear a uniform. And don’t worry about getting a uniform that fits you. Whateley’s been doing this for almost 40 years now. You’re not the first odd fit to come down the pike. They’ll have uniforms for all of you. They won’t be the best fit, but you can get them altered. If you’re picky about the fit of your clothing, you can go to Mrs. Rogers in Dunwich, the nearest town. She is, hands down, one of the best seamstresses working today. Not in Dunwich. Not in New Hampshire. Not in the Northeast. Not in America. Not for the money. One of THE BEST seamstresses, PERIOD.”

“Can she fix the sleeves so that they don’t get ripped to shreds by these every time I get dressed?” Froggy held up his hands, showing the spurs.

“Yes.” Wilson said with utter confidence.

“And on that note,” Thorn said, creating a whirl of dark red mist in front of him, “Joanne, there’s no reason for you to go wandering around looking like a war orphan.” The mist resolved into a wine-red hooded cloak with a black fur trim.

Joanne blushed and allowed Thorn to drape the ectoplasmic cape over her shoulders. Then she took a hit of coffee, just to be sure. She hoped that they ran into a coffee kiosk or cart or vending machine or something before she drained the thermos. “There you go!” Thorn said, stepped back to admire his handiwork. “Pretty as a pict-YYYAAGGUH!” Thorn had stepped back and blundered into two girls. He whirled around to apologize, and stared into two delicate lovely startled faces- green faces, with three blinking eyes in each face, with horns poking through their hair. Thorn was gripped with a freezing terror, and he immediately reacted by screaming and climbing up the nearest tall and protective structure- namely, Froggy.

Kerry turned to see what Thorn was reacting to, and got a double-barreled load of pure terror, right in her face when she wasn’t shielding. She immediately locked up, and fled into her ‘safe room’.

Suddenly every locker for about ten feet in every direction started swinging open and shut in a raucous din. The two reptilian girls looked around bewildered, but Wilson stepped between them and Joanne. He snapped in a voice that a drill instructor would have envied, “She’s a Mangler! Move!”

The two girls understood immediately, turned and ran as quickly as their cloven hooves would let them. Wilson looked at Joanne, handed her the thermos of coffee, and firmly said, “DRINK.” Joanne obliged, and the hatch rattling stopped.

The nine students pulled their composure together. “Nice show, tough guy,” Konrad said derisively at Thorn. “Things ever get rough, I know where to find you- under nearest bed.”

“Oh, and you were a pillar of strength,” Froggy defended Thorn as he helped the smaller boy get down. “You just stood there and turned invisible.”

“That not fair!” Erzebet protested. “I have seen Konrad be very brave!”

“Chill out, Kids,” Wilson said. “Those were the Fury twins, Phobos and Deimos. Besides being very nasty in their own right, they also have the absolutely useless ability of empathic projection, specifically fear. What you all just felt was a full-blast projection of pure terror. Worse, they both project it, and when they’re together- and they’re usually together- it synchs and there’s a synergy effect, making the fear even more powerful. Welcome to Whateley, kids. We should be grateful that Erzabet wasn’t scared out of her clothing again. eerrr… Lambert, would you pull yourself together?”

Gina did something where she sort of fell together with her other self, joining. “Wow! That was, like, TOTALLY!” she said, trying to get her wits back completely. “Kerry, I’m surprised that you didn’t… Kerry? Kerry?” Gina looked into Kerry’s face and didn’t see any reaction whatsoever. “Kerry? Something’s happened to Kerry!”

As the kids gathered around Kerry and tried to get her to respond, Wilson looked into Kerry’s face and peered directly into her eyes. He muttered something and pulled out a cell phone. “Psychic Arts? Wilson here, you got anyone on duty? Carstairs! Wilson. I have the Ellison girl here with the Orientation tour, and she ran face first into the Fury Twins. Yep, total surprise, took it in the face, both barrels. She’s shut down, and her pupils are contracted. Uh-hunh. Okay, I’ll try that, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll bring her over to you. ‘Kay.”

He put his phone away. “Okay, we have to get her to an infirmary. The people at the Psychic Arts program told me to see if smelling salts work first, before doing anything more extreme.”

“Smelling salts?” Eddie asked.

“Salts of ammonia, carried about in days of old to revive ladies when they felt faint,” Thorn explained as he reached inside his coat and produced an elaborate silver filigree phial (which shouldn’t have fit in the folds of his coat). Wilson took the offered phial with a look at Thorn, which Thorn returned with the most innocent of smiles.

Wilson waved the phial under Kerry’s nose and she immediately recoiled. Indeed, she recoiled so much that she had to hold her hands over her mouth to keep from vomiting. She pushed away the phial, which Thorn took back with a muttered, “Don’t ask.”

“What happened?” Kerry blurted, once she was sure that she had a firm grip on her breakfast. Wilson spelled out what had happened. “Why were they broadcasting?”

“Believe me, they wish that they didn’t,” Wilson assured her. “And as for the double-team… Well, that ‘Terror Field’ of theirs sort of makes having friends hard. All they really have is each other.”

Froggy and Thorn both looked after the corner that the two girls had skittered around. Froggy’s body language was… odd. “Yeah, nothing like seeing how bad someone else’s life sucks, to knock the thumb out of your mouth, hunh?”

Wilson waited for the kids to pull themselves together. “By the way, Joanne, you might want to look those two up and get to know them.”

“Why?”

“Because they live in your cottage.” Joanne flashed on the ‘Gargoylette’ who’d almost barbecued her and saw his point. “And from what we just saw, you’ll have to get used to their Terror Field, or Whitman may very well collapse into a black hole.” Joanne straightened up and gave him a chipper thumbs up (which was totally at odds with her wan expression of dread).

From there, Sgt. Wilson took them to the Homer Gallery. Eddie copped a pose next to the Madam Tassaud wax figure of Champion. “Still, I gotta say, that is a day-um GAY lookin’ outfit,” Eddie commented, looking at the bared-leg design with high white boots with matching white gauntlets.

“It was the Seventies,” was all that Wilson had to say about it.

“Ah!” Konrad said, “Finally! Someone shows fitting respect for a great man!” he gestured triumphantly at the large painting of Lord Paramount.

Froggy leaned in an examined the portrait. “I get the impression that I’m supposed to recognize the bust on the mantle. And it does seem a tad familiar, but I’m not placing a name to the face.”

“THAT,” Konrad said with authority, “is Prince Vlad Tepes Bessarab, a great Rumanian hero, who has been grossly slandered by the West, and had the glorious name of ‘Dracula’ associated with a blood-drinking fiend.”

“Oh, RIGHT!” Eddie said, “I remember seeing a show about him. Big deal prince who fought the Turks in the Balkans, and had a thing for impaling people.”

“Stories vastly overstated,” Konrad said pettishly. “Vlad Tepes was great leader, and great bringer of Law and Justice to Wallachia and Moldavia. He brought fear to the hearts of the Turks! Stupid Stoker dragged the noble name of Dracula through the mud!”

Rather pointedly turning the conversation in another direction, Froggy looked at the pile of Guzman’s Gold, and wondered aloud, “I wonder what the ‘lesson’ we’re supposed to learn from this is? All that I’m getting is ‘Look at me! I’ve got money to spare’.”

“Really?” Erzabet asked. “I was thinking that she meant, ‘Money is power’. With Money, you don’t need to have super strength- you can buy someone to do the lifting.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think so,” Jamal said, carefully looking at the pile of gelt. “Remember what Sarge here said- this Guzman chick started out dirt poor, but now she owns like, big chunks of north Mexico and like that. I think what she’s sayin’ is, ‘I didn’t buy into the whole Superhero- Supervillain thing. I didn’t go out and do the big “I’m not in it for the money” thing, but I stayed inside the Law. So, now I’m rich and really powerful, and now the System works for ME!’” he finished with a flourish, and looked around. “Well, that’s what it says to ME.”

“Possibly,” Buck allowed. “But I think that it’s more that she’s making a statement about achievement. ‘Behold, I am Ozymandias, King of Kings! Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!’”

“’Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away’,” Gina finished the quotation. “I think that maybe she’s saying that the obvious combat powers aren’t really as important as we think. She’s supposed to be an ESPer. She’s not super strong, she can’t blast down walls, or anything like that. But she makes a difference in the world.”

“Maybe,” Thorn said pensively. “Though I can’t help but think that maybe she’s making a rather cynical comment about the world. That, in the long run, money is all that matters. That truth, justice, kindness, hope- they all are washed away by the tide of events, but only money remains firm. Look at all these trophies of heroism. But what’s the first thing that everyone notices when they walk in? This big lump of gold.”

“I think that you’re over-thinking it,” Kerry offered. “I think that it’s like one of those Zen things, like ‘what’s the sound of one hand clapping?’ You’re not supposed to figure it out. There isn’t really an answer. It’s just supposed to make you think about things you don’t normally think about.”

“Maybe,” Eddie allowed her. “But what’s getting’ me, is that that thing is a TON of gold. That is a LOT of money, just sittin’ there, not doin’ anything.”

“Oh, it’s doing something,” Konrad growled. “It’s saying ‘look at me! I can afford to leave big heaps of gold lying around, just to say something. Don’t mess with me. Mess with me, and I can just SPEND you into a coffin’. Just another American, trying to brag the world into doing what she wants.”

At this point, they all looked at Joanne, who was worrying her lower lip. She turned her eyes up to them from the pile of gold. “Well, it’s like a goal- I think. She was real poor, right? So, this big pile of gold is a lot more’n she could ever really expect to SEE, let alone own, or, omigawd, GIVE AWAY. I mean, think of what you could DO with this much money! You could go anywhere, you could buy almost anything!”

Jamal had turned his attention from the truncated pyramid of gold and was looking at a piece of electronic equipment that must have been very advanced- back in the 1940s. “That reminds me,” he said with a negligent scratch on his left sleeve, “I need to get my regulator fixed or replaced or something. Miss Mojo,” he gave Joanne a nasty look, “totally fucked this unit up.” He raised his sleeve to show off the burned out contraption on his wrist.

“Oh?” Buck looked at the unit with curiosity. “And what IS that?”

“Well, part of my mutant power is that I build up this big electrical charge and then dump it, all sparks and arcing electricity and like all that. I didn’t know what was going on at first and I almost wrecked the join when it hit. I dunno exactly how it works, but this thing slows down how fast I build up the charge and it bleeds it off somehow. It also lets me know when I’m getting fully charged.”

“You think that you’ve built up a charge?” Wilson asked.

“Nah,” Jolt said, pulling his sleeve back in place, “but I don’t really have my jolting under wraps yet, and it don’t exactly strike me as particularly safe, walkin’ around without the regulator.”

“You’re learning, Jolt, you’re learning.” Wilson locked up the Homer Gallery, and showed the lot of them the doors down to the tunnels. “Now, you’ll find tunnels like this going from one building to another in a lot of old hotels, hospitals and schools in this part of the country. Besides letting people get from one building to another when the snow’s high, they make maintaining the steam, water, power and other systems easier. The main tunnels were here back when the Founders bought the place back in the 1960s, but the kids in the Workshop keep expanding them.”

“Workshop?”

“Yeah,” Jolt, who had already seen it, said, “they got tech labs here like Emm-Eye-Tee only wishes they had!”

Buck didn’t believe it, and loudly denied such a possibility all the way down the corridor. And then, when he actually saw the main work area, he squealed like a little girl.

“That is joke, no?” Konrad asked looking up at the giant robot that dominated the large bay. “No way that thing works, right?”

Buck looked smugly at Sgt. Wilson. “No, he’s right, Buck. They CAN’T get ‘Tiny Tim’ over there to work. But it’s not a joke-” Wilson told them about the principle that the kids learned more about real world engineering and physics by trying to get the robot to walk and failing, than they would by building devisements that only worked because their makers told them to work.

“Still say just stupid American joke,” Konrad muttered.

Wilson had called ahead, and one of the Workshop supervisors was able to get the parts that Jolt needed to fix his regulator. Buck watched with intense interest and started to kibitz. Jamal just cut him off with a terse, “Buck, just let the man do his job!”

Since a tour of the Workshop was on the agenda anyway, Wilson showed them around. Buck was like a kid in a candy store- a hyperactive kid, who needs a massive injection of Ritalin ©. He was everywhere, in everything, and overrunning everyone else’s questions with a blur of techno-babble. Finally, Wilson had to grab him by the back of the collar and drag him out to finish the rest of the tour.

After showing them the gyms and martial arts areas, Wilson took them to see the Crystal Hall. Kerry and Jolt had both not only seen it before, but had eaten there. The others, however were just as blown away by the vaulting dome, the tropical waterfall and the spacious layout of the cafeteria as Kerry had been. Now that she was getting used to it, Kerry thought that it was a little much for a high school cafeteria. Still, it was one of the ‘legacies’ that Senior classes built to show off for the classes that would follow, and a certain measure of bragginess was inevitable. The cooks were beginning to lay out the dishes for lunch, and the aromas started to fill the air. Erzabet took a deep whiff and said, “Oh, that smells delicious!”

Konrad grumped, “Ah, is just-” he stopped in mid-curmudgeon as his nose picked up the scent. “Oy, that does smell good!”

“Oh, you are not going to believe the food they got here!” Jamal exulted. “The cooks they got here are, like, off the HINGE!”

Konrad and Erza worked over ‘off the hinge’, as Wilson explained that Whateley had a tradition of attracting some of the best and brightest new cooks. “Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, having Whateley on your resume is very big in some circles. Maybe it’s like going to a really tough boot camp. Seeing their hard work just inhaled by uncultured louts who’d be just as happy with mac and cheese must be hard on them.”

“Well, all RIGHT!” Eddie said as he rubbed his hands together. “They let’s get us in line, before everyone comes and gets all the GOOD stuff!”

“Hold on, chowhound,” Wilson said. “Lunch isn’t for a few hours. You’ll just have to hold on till then. We have the rest of the Orientation to get out of the way.”

“Aw, man, that is COLD!” Jamal sulked, “Showin’ us all that primo chow, and then tellin’ us we can’t have none?”

“It’s part of my job description,” Wilson replied lightly. “As a drill instructor, regulations state that my job is not done until I’ve made at least one of you cry.”

“Doesn’t dragging Buck out of the Workshop count?” Thorn asked.

But before this discussion could go any further, a stout bearded man of Mediterranean cast, who wore lots of tweed with a fez, bustled up. “Ah! There are you, Miss Ellison!”

“Mister Al-Feyez?” Kerry said confused, “Is there something the matter?” She hoped that he didn’t want to go through yet another of his mind-bending associative tests with mandalas; she always felt really out of it after those things and tended to see things in the corner of her eye for hours.

“Oh no! But Miss Chandrasekhar has come back, and it is imperative that the three of you meet as soon as possible.”

“Why?”

Al-Feyez waved his hand irritably. “Not in front of the Profane.”

“ ‘Profane’?” Eddie said, drawing himself up and crossing his arms defensively. “Are you saying that we’re vulgar? ‘Cause if you are, then I assure you, I can be pretty f-”

“PROFANE, in the context that I’m using,” Al-Feyez glared at Eddie, holding his ground, “merely means ‘not initiated into the occult mysteries’. I am an instructor in the Mystic Arts Program, and there are things that those outside the program are left innocent of.”

“It’s a Magic thing,” Wilson explained. “And he’s right. Mundane people, mutant or not, are generally happier off if they don’t get involved in magic stuff. Seraphim, you don’t really need to go on the rest of the Orientation. A big part of why we had you and Jolt do the Orientation was so that you’d meet the rest of these new guys.”

“Why’d that be so important?”

Wilson gave Al-Feyez a ‘gimme a minute here’ look, and started, “Well, the fact is that like most American schools, Whateley tends to be very cliquish, with groups forming by cottage, or training groups or program or some kind of mutual interest. Thing, as with cliques in most schools, if you don’t click with a clique pretty soon, you’re pretty much out in the cold for the rest of the year. And coming in at the mid-point, you’re sort of pre-frozen out. BUT. But, it’s not as bad if the kids coming in have someone that they can hang with, if only each other. You don’t get quite as freaked out about being all by yourself, if you have a set who are in pretty much the same fix. And, ironically, the less desperate you are to be accepted, the more likely you are to be accepted. And, if you have options, then you’re less likely to hook up with some of the, ah,-”

“Hoodlums?” Al-Feyez offered puckishly.

“More predatory sets on campus,” Wilson finished. “I’m not saying that you can’t make friends on your own… just remember that you DO already know some people,” He indicated the Orientation class with a sweep of his hand.

“See you at lunch?” Gina peeped.

“Sure,” Kerry called back as Al-Feyez steered her off.

“I’m glad to see that you’re fitting in,” Al-Feyez as he lead her back down into the tunnels.

“Okay, why is it so important that I meet this Chandrasekhar chick ASAP?”

“Not just Silver, but Eldritch as well.”

“Silver? I’m going to meet the Lone Ranger’s horse?”

“Silver is her code name; it will make immediate sense when you meet her. But, it’s imperative that you three meet all that the same time.”

“Wait a minute,” Kerry said, things clicking. “Silver? Is this that girl who produces that weird magical metal?”

“Yes, you grasp the concept.”

“And Eldritch is the smith-guy?”

“Well, she’s a girl, who chose a common male name as her code name for some reason, but yes, Eldritch is the Artificer.”

“So? What’s the big deal? Silver makes the silver, Eldritch bangs it into whatever, and I charge the whatever. What’s the big deal?”

Al-Feyez paused and considered. “Kerry, you’re thinking mechanically, not alchemically. The first thing that you must understand, is that what the Artificer is doing is not mechanical. It is a form of Enchantment. And Enchantment and Alchemy are not just magical engineering and chemistry. Engineering and chemistry are impersonal processes. You can make machines to stamp out parts and assemble them, or mix things together and heat them the proper way. But you can’t make a machine that can create an amulet or talisman, or brew a mystic philter. This is because both Enchantment and Alchemy are very personal processes. The Alchemist isn’t just a person who mixes the chemicals and heats them. No, the Alchemist is a part of the process. A personal, intimate and crucial part of the process.

“Ideally, the enchantment should be a single, fluid, unbroken process. Unfortunately, as you so acutely intuited, the intrinsic natures of you three mean that there are, in fact, three separate and distinct acts. However, if you three all act in conjunction, the three can be blended into a single act.  Ideally, you and Eldritch should draw the moonsilver from Silver. You and Silver should assist Eldritch in working the moonsilver. And Silver and Eldritch should assist you in charging the resultant artifact. Each being a part of each act, the primary actor passing the focus, with one of the assistants becoming the primary actor, and the former primary actor becoming an assistant. Thus, the three become one, and unity is achieved.” Al-Feyez finished with a flourish.

Kerry looked at him blankly.

“Trust me, it will work better,” Al-Feyez said in a flat voice. He pulled out a cell phone and talked with someone named Grimes for a bit. It sounded like he was trying to time something perfectly. Al-Feyez came to a door and had Kerry wait a few minutes without explaining. Then he did the countdown thing, opened the door, and all but threw Kerry through it.

 It didn’t look like Kerry thought a big deal mystic artificer’s workshop would. To Kerry’s mind, a wondersmith’s workshop should be festooned with chains- even if they weren’t really holding anything up, with a ginormous anvil, a huge roaring furnace, wooden racks of antique-y tools with a big-ass hammer the foremost instrument, and everything would be arranged according to some mystic pattern. Instead, it was just another spare room with a few shelves and a workbench. Instead of a forge, there was a very prosaic electrical kiln, there was a single dinky-looking anvil, the place was littered with dental tools, Dremel rotary tools, soldering irons, and like that, and there wasn’t a single dang chain hanging anywhere. 

Looking up from a piece of metal that she was fooling with was a very tall, sort of buff, yet still very pale teenage-looking girl in a tank top, jeans, and big clunky work boots. Her hair was long and pulled back in a ponytail, but it looked like… metal?

She had some very weird looking neon-blue tattoos that framed her face and went down the sides of her arms and covered the backs of her hands. She spared Kerry only the briefest look with a pair of flat gray eyes. Then she turned to face the other side of the room, where two other women had come in.

Kerry recognized Miss Grimes, but the girl with her was really worth mentioning. She looked Indian- Hindu Indian, that is, with large doe eyes, But what really got you was her hair- it was a pool of liquid metal. It moved and bobbed like natural hair, but it was all silvery.

Mr. Al-Feyez beside himself with giddy expectation. He waved Grimes and the girl in and stood there, looking from one to the other. Kerry looked at the Artificer, who was sort of zoned out looking at the silver-haired girl, who was giving the Artificer a sort of ‘Oh crap, not this again’ look.

There was a long moment, as Al-Feyez stood there, waiting for something to happen. The moment lasted, then faded, and then got stale. “Ah, well…” Al-Feyez floundered. He looked at Grimes, who shrugged.

Grimes waited, than then sighed. “Sakti, allow me to introduce first Seraphim, or Kerry Ellison, better known as the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen.”

The girl, Sakti, looked at Kerry. “I do remember hearing on the news that there was noise from New York, something about an angel? Were you involved in that?”

“Aaaa… Yeah.” Kerry admitted. ‘Wow. Starting the Indian Century a little soon, I see.’

“Ah, yes,” Grimes tried to keep the conversation going. “And this is Caitlin Bardue, or ‘Eldritch’, who is the only known living True Artificer.” Sakti uncertainly held out a hand, which the Artificer grabbed, and closely examined. “Caitlin?” Grimes asked, “I think that Silver would like her HAND back? Caitlin?” The odd girl looked completely zoned out, leaning into Sakti like something fascinated her, staring hard at the girl's quicksilver hair, touching it with a hand, completely unresponsive to anyone, like she was in a trance.

“Does… she do that a LOT?” Kerry asked.

“I get it a lot,” Sakti said with a martyred tone. “Especially from magic users and devisors. At least the devisors offer me things that I can actually USE. Which reminds me… Miss Grimes, is there any news about my pending Restraining Order against Nephandus?”

After a few moments, Caitlin shook back to reality, realized how deep she was in the poor girl's space and jumped back a bit, looking chagrined.  "Sorry."  She apologized rather weakly.  "I've never done that before."

“Yeah, that’s what they always say, just before the ritual stalking begins.”

“Yeah, and here I was thinking that'd be my line.  Talk about a turnaround."  She walked up and held out a hand.  "Sorry.  I'll try not to do that to you again."

Silver rather pointedly pried her hand from Caitlin’s and said, “Good to hear it.” She turned to Kerry. “So, exactly why do they call you the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen? Do you do charity work?”

Al-Feyez interrupted, “Kerry has the amazing ability to harness the raw mystical potential within emotion and use it to breach the malkuthic veils to-”

“I create angels,” Kerry interrupted his spiel.

“Angels?”

“Well, they’re sort of these…” Kerry tried to find the words to describe them, but they just weren’t there.

“Why don’t just you show them?” Al-Feyez offered.

“AGAIN?” Kerry asked aghast. She gave out a big disgusted sigh, and focused yet again. There weren’t as much emotional energy in the room, and it took her a while longer to work up a decent ‘angel’. When she opened her eyes, Silver was looking at her with a ‘well you don’t see THAT every day’ expression. But the Bardue girl was looking at her like Kerry was a watch that she was going to take apart and fix. Kerry let the ‘angel’ unwrap itself, and the Bardue girl reached out and took it in her hands. She calmly analyzed it, running her fingers through the energy, and turning it over this way and that. The tattoos on her face and arms flashed with energy, and there was an electric snap and the smell of ozone in the air.

Eyes popping, Kerry watched the Bardue girl unravel the angel like a piece of knitting. She pulled the ‘strings’ of energy out and examined them closely. Then she re-knit them all together in a new pattern that was sort of like the ‘angel’, but not quite. Then she handed the reassembled mass back to Kerry. Then she seemed to snap out of the trance that she'’ been in. She collected herself, and said to Al-Feyez, “I can work with that.”

Kerry tried to absorb the angel, but it was like trying to eat a sloppy joe without a bun, it sort of got all over the place and was just very clumsy and messy.

After that, there was another long awkward pause with nothing really to say. Needing something to talk about, Kerry asked what ‘Silver’ did that was so special. Silver held up one hand, and sort of silvery daggers formed at the tips of them. It turned out that she somehow ‘sweated’ (“Don’t ask me how”) a strange silvery metal called ‘Maiden’s Silver’ (and True Silver, Moonsilver, and Mithril, and several other things) that was supposed to be a real big noise. So, that was what Al-Feyez was nattering about by ‘drawing the moonsilver’. Kerry had really been wondering.

There was another yet long awkward pause. “WELL!” Al-Feyez said brightly, “It IS the first day, and the important thing is that you’ve all met! We will arrange periods where you gather and learn how to cooperate, until you actually start working. Still, Whateley DOES have a list of requests…”

“Give the list, and I’ll look at it,” ‘Eldritch’ said peevishly. “Can’t say if I’ll actually DO any of it, but I will LOOK at it…”

They were spared another awkward pause, and Grimes took Silver off to talk with the Advanced Technology program overseer, and Mr. Al-Feyez lead Kerry back through the tunnels.

 

The Orientation class had broken up by then. Erzabet had tagged along after Konrad, Jamal went off with Eddie, Joanne went off on her own, and Buck was pestering Thorn about something having to do with one of his gadgets. For some reason, Froggy found that Gina had attached herself to him. “Well, have you read any Coleridge?” she asked him.

“Coleridge?”

“Samuel Taylor Coleridge! He wrote Kubla Khan?” Froggy looked back at her blankly. “You know?

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.’”

“Okay, I’ve heard that one,” Froggy admitted. “But to be honest, I didn’t go to one of those posh Public Schools with a Poetry Master and all that. I went to a normal Primary school, and to be honest, I think that they were keener on getting us to read at all than they were with us reading the Classics.”

“But you NEED to read Coleridge!” Gina insisted. “Your voice was MADE for the Lake Poets! Oh, what you could do with Byron! Or Ashbless! I mean, everybody quotes Wordsworth or Pope, but nobody cites Ashbless anymore.”

Gina was about to say something more, but some instinct warned her and she looked away from Froggy. Standing in a phalanx that blocked the hallway were four large burly boys. Their style of dress was almost as obnoxious as the sneers on their faces.

Gina knew exactly what was going to happen, but what scared her was that she had absolutely no idea of how Baird was taking this. His face was as impassive and immobile as ever. The lead boy, a tall, lean, dark-haired boy with lean, predatory features and strange, hungry lupine gray eyes leaned forward with a wolfish grin on his face and started sniping at Baird. The words didn’t really matter. The facts were patently bogus, the logic was a joke, the context was ridiculous. It was all in the tone and the posture. They were egging Baird on, trying to get him to do something, so they could beat him up. But they didn’t know how strong Baird was. He could seriously hurt them! Or even KILL them!

Froggy, on the other hand, had a much better understanding of what was going down than Gina did. Yes, they were deliberately provoking him. But he understood that it wasn’t that they weren’t afraid of him because they didn’t know what powers he had. No, they weren’t afraid of him because either they thought their powers were more than up to handling him- and in this school, they might be right-, or they know that there was a teacher or other staff nearby. They were too smooth, too practiced in their bullying. Shitheads like that did not pull something like that unless they had a dodge they were working. Oh, he knew this game. Bait the big guy, get him steaming. If he takes the bait, he’s the bad guy, the brute who tromped on a smaller boy. If he held off, then he was the big coward who let himself get pushed around by someone smaller. He knew the game, and he hated it.

If they’d pulled this on him when he was alone, he would have gladly taken his chances and handed the toffy-nosed twit ragging on him his head. But Gina was here, and he couldn’t ignore that one of those creeps wouldn’t drag her into it somehow. The oaf taking the lead was leaning in, badly invading Froggy’s personal space. Froggy was just about to give a loud, fragrant belch in the bully’s face when Gina stepped between them. “Who do you think you ARE?” she snapped up into the tall boy’s face, her normal timid attitude cast aside. “Why do big JERKS like you think that they can go around spitting in people’s faces?”

“Because we CAN,” the boy grinned down at her.

“OH!” Gina squeaked. “WHY do you DO these things? Do you think that it’s FUN or something?”

“Oh, HAIL, Yeah!” the boy kept grinning, “Hella Fun!”

“WHY? What are you, five years old or something? We’re in HIGH SCHOOL, we’re supposed to be more mature than that!”

“Hey, fun is fun is fun, shrimp.”

“The quote is, ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’,” Gina countered. “If you read anything more challenging than bubble gum wrappers, you’d KNOW that.”

The lead bully didn’t have a comeback for that. Instead, he glared down at her and started growling animalistically. His eyes turned red, and he balled his hands into fists. Gina just glared back up at him, setting her face. Sensing that the scene was about to get a lot uglier, Froggy put a hand on Gina’s shoulder, and set to shove her aside, to take the brunt of the bullies’ assault for her.

But the lead bully just threw his head back and let out a barking laugh. “You got guts, shrimp!” he said with admiration, and ruffled her hair. “Unlike some big bad monsters who gotta hide behind a girl’s skirt!” he added with a sneer in Froggy’s direction. “Let’s go, crew,” he said with a flip of a hand. “Maybe there are some other new kids who’ll be more fun.”

The four slouched off, shouldering aside those other students who were in- or near- their path. As he watched them go, Froggy knew rationally that this was the best outcome that he could reasonably expect. They knew the school, its layout, rules, personalities and politics far better than he could, and they wouldn’t have pulled it if they didn’t have an excellent shot of getting their way, whether he fought or not. Still, deep down in his gut, he couldn’t help but feel that they’d scored one on him. Again. And he hated it. “Baird?” Gina asked, worried. “Are you okay?”

 

Sgt. Wilson watched Frobisher and Lambert walk away from the scene. He’d come along too late to do anything about the scene, and coming along just afterwards to offer condolences would only make things worse. The best that he could do was keep an eye on the big GSD boy and watch how he handled it. He’d offer some advice when he had a better idea as to how Frobisher was handling it. The worst thing that he could do would be to infantilize him by trying to make him feel better at the wrong time.

 

Kerry spent the rest of her time before lunch getting information about classes available during the winter term. It seemed that the school was very big on electives during the ‘Cabin Fever’ term. Kerry spent about an hour looking through the catalogue deciding what classes she’d like to take- only to be told at the counter that since she was a mid-year transfer, she’d have to take the catch-up classes in the main curriculum. And individualized classes that were dictated by her powers. It seemed that she was unusual, in that she’d have to take both the Introduction to Psychic Disciplines and the Introduction to Mystic Concepts classes.

When she was finished, she got the distinct impression that some of the other kids were heading for lunch. It had been a full morning, and Kerry was more than ready to stoke up, and she knew from experience that the Whateley cafeteria wasn’t to be missed. She also knew from experience that the best food always went first, so she put some speed to her heels. She wasn’t first, but the Crystal Hall was nothing if not huge, and the cooks were doing their best for the first day back.

It was strangely comforting, after a couple of months of undiluted weirdness, to do something as simple and everyday and unexceptional as going through the lunch line. She got shoved, some kids tried to cut in front of her, people yelled at their friends, a guy made inappropriate remarks, and she had to fight for the stuff she wanted. It was just like being back in Glassboro. Well, except for the kid who levitated the piece of chocolate cake out of her hands. The roar of emotions was there, but it was muted, not as sharp and battering as it was when it was focused on her personally. It was more like being in a stadium with a noisy crowd than being on stage at that stadium being yelled at.

She piled a tray high with what she hoped wasn’t too much food and looked around for a table. School for mutants or not, where you sat at lunch, especially on your first day, was a very touchy thing. One on hand, sitting near an established group would be like going up and begging for a handout. On the other hand, sitting alone struck her as sort of asking for trouble. So she perked up when she spotted Gina and Froggy from her Orientation class sitting off to one side of a table from another group of kids.

Perfect! Sergeant Wilson had said that they should look to each other in this sort of situation, and while it wasn’t anything major, it was something. Kerry hated the kind of social situations where she had to go up against people. Of course, that was the reason why she’d spent most of November and all of December giving herself twenty different flavors of cancer and having everyone and their kid brother making all her decisions for her. She just hadda toughen up, let other people take their own lumps, and get over, like Mom was always telling her. Then she went and sat with the kids that she was reasonably sure wouldn’t tell her to get lost. “Gina! Baird!”

The two of them looked up from their plates. Kerry needn’t have worried that she was hogging the food- Froggy had two trays with plates heaped high, and another plate that was already empty. Kerry could tell that they weren’t happy. “You’re sitting with us?” Gina asked.

“Sure!” Kerry sat down. “Why not?”

“Because we’re freaks,” Froggy said bleakly.

Kerry blinked. “Well, yeah, we’re ALL freaks, that’s why we’re at this school.”

Gina glared daggers at one table where a group of giggling girls, some of whom were wearing skimpy cheerleader outfits (in January, in New Hampshire), were sitting. “Maybe. But some people seem to think that not all freaks are created equal.”

“Oh.” Kerry felt a pang of mixed anger and frustration that muted an undertone of despair. “The local ‘Heathers’ jump on you?”

“They dissed Baird!”

“They weren’t the first ones, Gina,” Froggy said reasonably. Not that his forced reason managed to hide a resonance that Kerry couldn’t quite peg.

“But those were just jerks!”

“Jerks?” Kerry’s mind sort of went blank. “Are you telling me that someone picked on Baird?”

“Just because you’re bigger than someone, doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways that they can pick on you,” he said in a voice that suggested a wealth of experience.

“Oh. The old ‘don’t you dare hit me, ‘cause I’m smaller’n you, you big wussie’ game.”

“Spot on.” Froggy’s posture changed slightly. “You can change tables now. You don’t have to put up with being associated with the big freak.”

 Kerry tucked in without batting an eye. “Why do you call yourself ‘Froggy’?”

“What?” Baird said, surprised by the non sequitur.

“You don’t like it, so why did you insist on people using it?”

“Well, it was given to me at school, before I changed. And, well, it wasn’t the kindest name, but at least they were even-handed about it. They called me that because of my name. They tried ‘Frobby’ at first, but it didn’t stick. I knew a boy called ‘Sticky’ because his last name was Strickland, and a girl that they called ‘Swampy’ because her last name was Marsh. There was nothing malicious about it. It’s that it’s sort of my name now, and now I’m… well… sort of a frog.”

“I know how you feel,” Kerry said.

“How would you know how I feel? Froggy snapped.

“Hello? I’m an empath?” Kerry shot back. “When I say, ‘I know how you feel’, I’m not humoring you- I mean that I know how you feel.”

“Oh. Quite.” Froggy said rather shamefacedly.

Kerry rummaged around in her pockets and found her wallet. She wasn’t quite ready for a purse, just yet. She opened the wallet, and showed them a picture of what looked like a classic devil with red skin, horns and a long face. “See this? This is Jorge Cascardero, or El Penetente as they call him down in New York.”

“Don’t I remember something about a guy like that helping you out when you were stuck down in that church basement?” Gina asked.

“He didn’t just help me out. He saved my life. More, he saved my SOUL.” Kerry related how Father Carmody had misled and exploited her. “When I went to St. Gregory’s to face Carmody, he stopped me. I was going to KILL Father John, but he stopped me from doing that. I couldn’t stop myself, but he kept me from killing Carmody. More, he literally walked through FIRE to save me.” Kerry looked fondly at the picture. “He’s a better man than I am. He has every reason to hate God for what’s happened to him, but he never gave up his love of God. I don’t have his faith or courage. Baird, he has a DEMON, an honest-to-God demon stuck inside him! But he’s probably the best argument for Christianity- let alone Catholicism- that I’ve ever met. He’s a freak- but he’s a freak with a heart the size of all outdoors. Baird, I can tell that you care about others. Give me a freak with a big heart over a mean-spirited pretty boy, any day.”

“How wise,” Thorn said as he walked up with a tray, with Buck tagging along right behind him. “And might I prevail upon that great heart, Frogismundo, to implore you to GET BUCK OFF OF ME?”

“But Thorn!” Buck pleaded, “I’m telling you that your ectoplasm-” from there he hared off on a fantastically dense techno-spiel.

“Buck?” Froggy cut in, “We’re EATING?”

“But-”

Eating.”

Buck sat down with his lip out.

“THANK you, Frogirello,” Thorn sighed as he sat down. Then he reached into a commodious carpet bag (which he hadn’t had before) and produced an elegant dining setting, including no less than twelve pieces of silverware, dainty porcelain dishes, and a candelabra with twelve candles (already lit). He finished with an elaborate silver construction with bunches of grapes with vines and leaves attached wound through it, which he placed centrally on the table.

“What’s that?”

“THAT is an epergne.”

“What does an epergne do?”

“DO? An epergne doesn’t do anything- it simply IS.”

 

At the Bad Seeds’ regular table Jean-Armand was still waxing wroth about his perceived failure over the holiday layover. “Jadis, I hold you completely responsible for that debacle in New York!”

“So, Malachai, is there a reason for the sparkle in your eye?” Nacht asked, as if Jay-Arm had said nothing.

“YEP! Dad gave it to me for Christmas! It’s an IG Hasselblad™ 3.5 Hertz band optical upgrade with flare suppression, AR marquee, multi-target tracking, thermograph pattern recog/ID-”

“The mystical acquisition of the new MILLENIUM was mere few miles away, but you couldn’t be bothered to help!”

“Fascinating. I knew that it was too much to hope that you met a girl.” Nacht turned to Jadis. “So, and what did Santa bring YOU for Christmas?”

“Noooo… you had to go running around trying to catch that idiot who was leaving your name all over the city!”

She-Beast smiled a smug smile. “A photocopy of the Prado copy of Ortalius’ exegesis on the Emerald Tablet.”

“Do you have ANY IDEA of the kind of power those ‘angels’ represented?”

Kate’s eyes popped open, impressed, her trademark frosty façade slipping. “The non-pretentious idiot version! Any chance that I can get a look at it?”

“After I’m through with it. And what did YOU get for Christmas?”

“Who cares WHAT she got?”

Nacht’s face dropped. “Festive sweaters.”

“Hey!” Thrasher ignored Jay-Arm’s kvetching as much as everyone else was. “My dad got me the absolutely most totally slice skateboard!”

“What a shock- a skateboard.”

“Hey, we’re talking a Ess-Oh-Tee-Ay nano-tube plank, polycarbonate wheels with frictionless ball bearings, and a cling surface that they don’t even have a NAME for yet! My dad had to break into Jay-Pee-Ell to get the materials! It is just SO TOTALLY! YEAH!” Thrash did a punch and clutch to show how passionate he was about this board. “AND, he got Tony Hawk to personally sign it! Yeah!”

“How thrilling,” Nephandus muttered through clenched teeth. “So, what did everyone ELSE get for Christmas?”

“Why, I’m glad you asked,” Jobe said in a bright yet flat sarcastic voice. “Dad got me a Pocket Plasma Cutter!” Jobe held up one hand, as if displaying it for a phantom camera and put on a patently false smile. “Gee Thanks, Dad!”

“What’s Jay-Arm going on about?” Lindsay asked Jadis.

“Jay-Arm?” Jadis answered ingenuously, “Say, where IS Jay-Arm, anyway?”

“Don’t ask me,” Ray said, catching on immediately. “I haven’t heard from him since we got back.”

“That’s ODD,” Jadis said drolly, “normally, he’d be here, chowing down and chewing our ears off about some trivial little slight…”

Jay-Arm beetled his brow in aggravation and made a face like he was chewing glass.

“Ah, guys…” Lindsay said, worried that Jay-Arm was going to burst a blood vessel or something. “You’d better stop, or I think that you’ll hurt his feelings…”

“OH! There you are, Jay-Arm!” Jadis said, feigning just having spotted him. “We were wondering where you’d gone off to.”

Tres Amuseant…” he drawled back snidely.

“Okay, I wanna know what’s going on. Why is he so upset?”

“Apparently Pretty Evil Boy here had his mouth all set to capture one of those ‘angel’ things that were floating around in Hell’s Kitchen while he and the others were on standby in New York,” Nacht answered. “But Jadis and Ray weren’t playing ball.”

“We had more important things to worry about,” Jadis insisted.

“Well, that IS how YOU would look at it,” Jay-Arm said with a curl in his lip. “Now, the Angel has disappeared, and no one has the slightest clue as to where she’s been spirited off to!”

“Oh, you mean the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’?” Lindsay cut in. “I know where she is!”

Jay-Arm stopped as though he’d been poleaxed. “What? Your father found out, so SOON? Where? Where IS she? I’ve GOT to know!”

“Slow down, Speed Racer,” Jadis cut in. “She tells you, and what’s in it for HER?” This devolved into a quick round of cutthroat bargaining, with Nephandus agreeing to pay Dragonrider three cultured power gems for the information.

“Well? Where IS she?”

“The power gems?” Jadis insisted.

“You know that I’m good for it!”

“No you’re not! And I know that you’ve got them on you- you asked Jobe to hold them for you, as we went through Customs, remember?”

“But-”

“A deal is a _deal_,” Jadis said intently.

Jay-Arm gave in with a snarl. “She’s right over there.” Lindsay pointed over to a table where several unfamiliar students were seated, including one very large bluish GSD case.

“WHAT?” Jay-Arm yelped.

“She’s in my cottage,” Lindsay told them. “Her name is Kerry Ellison, and she seems very nice. She whipped up one of those angel things for us, right there in the common room.”

“What? I’m supposed to trade THREE cultured power gems for THAT?”

“I saw it coming,” Malachai said disinterestedly.

“It WAS pretty obvious,” Jobe muttered, not looking up from the January issue of Applied BioSciences Monthly.

“Everyone knows that Lodgeman and Rev. Englund were involved in that Hell’s Kitchen mess,” Winter said in the tone of pained logic. “Where ELSE would they send her?”

“Besides, Lindsay’s father never tells her anything about his business, if he can help it,” Jadis added.

“Yeah, that’s pretty basic, Brah,” Thrash agreed.

“Should have known better,” Cheese said as he toyed with his Christmas present, an odd gelatinous mass with unexplained properties.

“Precisely,” Silver Serpent agreed. “You have the background and experience, you should have made that deduction on your own. Now pay her.”

“Like Jadis said- ‘a deal is a deal’,” Render said in a very final tone.

Jay-Arm grumped but passed over the valuable (but not quite precious) crystals that focused magical energies over to Lindsay. He drew himself up in pained dignity. “My Friends and Colleagues…”

In near-perfect unison, the other Bad Seeds asked, “Where?”

“Well then!” Jay-Arm straightened himself and dusted himself off. “The Hand of Providence has brought her here into my very grasp. Who am I to say No to Providence?”

“What does Rhode Island have to do with this?”

“You’re going over there?” Jadis asked.

“Watch and learn, little girl.”

“My brand-new copy of Ortalius’ exegesis on the Emerald Tablet says you won’t get anywhere.”

“You’re ON.”

“Your bet is those five power gems that you still have in your pocket.”

“You’d better start speed-reading that Exegesis, She-Beast, because you won’t have it for much longer. You are SO on.”  Jay-Arm girded his loins and gracefully made his way toward the Angel’s table.

The Bad Seeds watched as Nephandus made his way over to the table, and bowed before the blonde ‘angel’. Nephandus spoke, there was an exchange, a few of the other kids at that table added questions or statements of their own, and then Jay-Arm bowed and left.

As he neared the table, Nephandus beamed. “Well! I’ll just take that book-”

Cheese held up a digital hand recorder and played it. “I warped this over to under that table.”

Well, I’m very flattered, but it would be RUDE-” said a musical female voice.

“Now, now, please! I INSIST!” Nephandus’ recognizable voice pled.

Look, Jack, she said ‘NO’- DEAL with it,” urged a masculine voice.

LEAVE,” urged a glorious golden baritone voice.

“Pay up,” Jadis said, hand stretched out. Jay-Arm mulishly dug into his pockets and produced the five gems.

“I just don’t GET why she was so reluctant!” he pouted. “I pulled out every trick I know!”

“You never had a chance, Jay-Arm,” Lindsay said as she held one of the gems in front of Pern’s nose for the dragonet to examine.

“Why ever not?”

“She’s an Empath. She told us so. You didn’t bother to shield, so she knew just what you were up to.”

“She’s an Empath?” Jay-Arm yelped, seeing all chances of making a better impression fleeing like rats from a sinking ship. He looked at Jadis. “And you knew this?”

“No,” Jadis admitted as she examined the quality of the gems. “I was expecting some Cape Squad wannabe to come and spoil your pitch.”

What? Why?”

Jadis looked at him scornfully. “Dude, you’re a Bad Seed, and she’s the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’! Do you honestly think that the word hasn’t gotten out? Look around! Every White Hat Wannabe and Sir Galahad-in-training in the joint was just drooling at the thought of riding on his white charger to rescue her from you. Just look at the Capes table! And the Betas! And the Goobers! They’d sooner leave a toddler alone with Jeffery Dahlmer in a butcher shop than let you anywhere near the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen.”

Nephandus plopped down in his chair, his brow furrowed, his mouth set in a pout. He hated to admit it, but the She-Beast had a point. And even if the various do-gooders would leave him to his business in peace, there was no way that he could convince her to part with one of her priceless angels if she was an empath. Any chance of fooling her with an emotional overlay had been wasted on a bad first impression. And now, all the other predators would be sniffing around her, trying to get the prize first.

Of course, if he’d ever learned anything from his father, it was that competitors often made the best pawns.

 

Erza watched the blonde boy’s retreating back. “Well, I admit that his timing could have been much better, but I think that he deserves a little more courtesy, even if he DID walk face first into your ‘freak with a big heart over a mean-spirited prettyboy’ remark.”

“Actually, he walked into my ‘epergne’ comment,” Thorn corrected her. “And, while I simply adore his tailor, I have to side with Kerry on that one- I felt a pricking in my thumbs.”

“Hunh?” Eddie grunted, not catching the reference.

“ ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’,” Gina recited. “Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I.”

“I agree,” Kerry said. “His timing was absolutely perfect, I couldn’t have picked a better example. He’s perfect looking, physically, but…” she shuddered and made a sour face. “The vibe I got off of him!”

“It’s called ‘lust’,” Erza said roguishly.

“Oh, I know what that’s like.” She gave Eddie, Jamal and Buck a sharp look (they returned it with expressions of shocked and wounded innocence- that wouldn’t fool a five-year-old). “No… this… I don’t know what it was… I’m just a beginning empath, I can’t say exactly what it was. But it was cold, and clammy, and grasping…” she mouthed a ‘yick!’ again and shuddered.

“Still, I want to thank you guys for backing me up there.” The guys perked up noticeably. “Especially you, Baird. Nicely done. Y’know, you really should start thinking about how you can use that voice of yours.” From there, the girls focused on how Froggy could use his voice to its greatest effect.

 

Normally, Victoria ‘Cytherea’ Gaudin would have skimmed through the thoughts and emotions of her fellow students as she glided through the seats and tables of the cafeteria, savoring them like the aroma of fine cuisine. As the incarnation of Aphrodite, Hellenic goddess of love, passion and beauty, the snares, twists, turns and foibles of human romantic politics were as meat and drink to her. Especially teenage romance- adolescents always felt everything so acutely.

But today, her mind was on higher matters. While Aphrodite was a creature of passion and whim, any scholar of ancient myths could also tell you that she was a crafty, calculating creature who enjoyed intrigue almost as much as Hera did. She’d thought the matter over carefully from the second that she realized what had fallen in their laps. Her first instinct was to grab the precious treasure and hide her away where none of the other Olympians would ever find her. But she was shrewd enough to know that that was never going to happen. And after a thorough review of several devious schemes, she came to the conclusion that none of them were workable. There was no way that she could get the altar on her own, and it was only a matter of time before Zeus and the others found out. So, the best tack was to bring it to Zeus’ attention and reap whatever benefits came from doing so.

In the old days, she would have regarded such risks as being all part of the game. But then, she was a goddess, worshipped by millions as a fundamental part of a full life. Those days were over. Now, to most people being a ‘god’ just meant that a superhero or supervillain was being either pretentious or crazy. Even Ares’ bastard son, Bellarius, who was a major player in a major superhero team, only got rolled eyes when he proclaimed who he was. But then, he had been a rather minor godling of the Roman period. Still, if being incarnated in a human form taught you anything, it was that there were certain risks you shouldn’t take. And with the altar, the risks- and potential gains- were enormous. Better to be a ‘team player’ on a winning team, than a long-shot running solo.

As she approached the New Olympian’s table, Cytherea got the distinct impression that she was too late, they’d already found out. Everyone was huddled around, avidly discussing something with hushed voices. Jason looked up when Victoria sat down. “Ah! Cytherea! A rare opportunity has presented itself!”

“Yes, I know,” Cytherea sighed. “I was coming to tell you about it, but the news seems to have preceded me. Stupid salad bar!”

“Why would YOU be coming to tell US about something that happened in Melville?”

“Melville?” she echoed. “Something happened in Melville?” Jason and June traded off relating what happened to Don Sebastiano. At first, Victoria relished in tale of the Alpha Alpha’s downfall, but she then remembered that she had news that trumped this into nothing. <Pfui!> “You call that NEWS? Oh, it’s interesting, in a juvenile, high school sort of way, I suppose…”

Imperious raised an imperious (what else?) eyebrow. “And what could be more important that the power structure of the entire social world here at Whateley?”

Cytherea smiled victoriously. “Well, how about the power structure of the entire world? Period?”

“What are you talking about?”

Cytherea leaned forward avidly, a look of predatory glee on her exquisite face. “I. Found. An. Altar.”

“Oh? Some minor sacred ring that the Foreigner managed to miss, because it was so minor?”

Aphrodite grinned evilly. “No. I am talking about a altar of true power, reaching up to the higher heavens, maybe even back to Olympus-on-high itself.”

Jason leaned back and took it in. “How? Something of that caliber would have been suborned either by the Catholics or by some cabal of wizards ages ago.”

“It wasn’t around years ago. It only just happened last year. Do you remember that big to-do in New York just before New Years? The ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ to-do?”

“Yes? So what? I’m not interested in the problems of the so-called Lord of Hosts and his-”

“NOT the Lord of Hosts, though the Catholic Church was admittedly at the center of it. No, the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ is a mutant who seems to be able to breech the veils between this and the higher realms, and use that to empower those ‘angels’ that she throws around.” Cytherea leaned forward and whispered intently, “She performed a minor conjuration in a minute, right off the cuff with no equipment, that would have taken a skilled mortal conjurer hours to perform, using planned and practiced procedures and a ton of equipment! She just reached up through the veil, grabbed a handful of energy, and spun it into a simple form. Just like that! A parlor trick!”

Judicator shook her head. “So, she’s some sort of priestess, showing off-”

“Athena,” Cytherea cut her off, “I know that it’s been a while, but I can tell the difference between a priest and an altar, and this girl is an altar, a living ALTAR. By Styx, Lethe, Phlegethon, Cocytus and Acheron all together, she’s Olympus, Parnassus and Delphi all lumped together with perky tits and big golden eyes!”

Imperious looked at Majestic, and then at Judicator. Cytherea could be a ditz at times, especially since she incarnated in the body of a teenage girl. But still, none of them dared invoke the five rivers of the Underworld lightly. Imperious paused to consider her statement. “Pfaugh! If you don’t believe me, just LOOK!” she pointed at one table, several tables over.

“So? Just a bunch of rather average looking- for here- students. Well, except for the big blue GSD freak. What’s-” Then the blonde girl, seeming to realize that she was the subject of intense scrutiny turned around, and Jason stopped and gasped. “By the maw of Kronos…” Everyone except for Cytherea was openly gaping at the girl, using their diminished godly awareness to view her. Even the normally morose Stygian was awestruck.

 

Kerry whipped around and ducked her head. “Why are those people STARING at me?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Thorn said, as halos appeared around the head of everyone at the table.

 

“Jason! June! Snap out of it!” Cytherea hissed, “You’re drooling!

The Olympians came to themselves, and Counterpoint reflexively started to get up. “SIT,” Imperious snapped, as though bringing a dog to heel. Ares was a god of Storms and Violence and Bloodshed, and War at its most vicious; he would have told ‘Jason’ to shove it, if he could. But ‘Jason’ was the form that Zeus wore in these degenerate days, and it was an integral part of Ares’ ‘wyrd’, or essential mystical nature, that he was totally subject in all ways to Zeus’ will. Though it galled him on every level, Counterpoint sat, like a good little dog.

“No one does anything,” Imperious said sternly. “YES, this is a windfall of staggering proportions. But simply going up to her and seizing her is the act of foolish mortals, not the Gods of Olympus. This needs to be done properly, with all due care and all proper measures covered. Cytherea, what do you know about her?”

“First year student, just came in with the latest crew of new students,” Cytherea reported. “I assume that’s who she’s sitting with. She’s in my cottage, Freshman floor, rooming with a girl called ‘Flex’. She came in with Lodgeman, and if my sources are correct, she’s also connected with Englund. That’s all I have, but then it’s been a busy morning.”

Imperious gave a ‘see?’ gesture. “There. Lodgeman, Englund, and no doubt Carson are all interested in her. And as weak as we are now, we can’t afford to cross any one of them.” He paused, in deep consideration. “And what of Circe?”

Cytherea shook her head. “I wasn’t able to get in touch with her. Not that I’d go to her before telling you, my lord,” she added hurriedly. “Besides, the way that Circe is these days, getting a straight answer out of her is like trying to get Medusa to get a makeover.”

“Damn all Prophets, Oracles, Seers, Soothsayers and ‘psychic friends’ anyway,” Jason muttered. “Nothing they ever say ever makes any sense, even to those who hold the highest prospects.”

Majestic sighed. “Even back in the Old Days, getting Circe to toe the line was a chore. Now? She’s the teacher, in more ways than one.”

Jason Stratholm, Imperious, Father Zeus, Lord of High Olympus, cradled his beardless chin in his hand as he mulled it over. “Too complex, too many variables, too many powerful players.”

“And the most powerful players are US,” Counterpoint said sharply.

“Exactly,” Imperious said. “Remember that thrice-bedamned golden apple? If we all go after her in a mob, it’ll be that mess all over again. We’ll expose ourselves completely fighting over that altar, and it doesn’t take a Python to see that some third party will probably take her over our battered bodies. No. In order for us to resume our rightful place in the Cosmos, we must take that altar as the Dodekatheon, the Twelve of Olympus. The Foreigner managed to seal us up because we were too busy competing with each other in trifles. That’s NOT going to happen this time! This time, we operate as the Twelve Gods of Olympus.”

“Which is far more easily said than done,” Majestic purred. “Especially seeing as how there are only TEN of us.”

“And ONE of them is Poseidon, your own brother, father,” Judicator pointed out. “Not that I’ve any clue as to where Dionysius got to.”

“Even so, we acquire the altar-girl AS A UNITY. If anything, having the altar girl working for us will make finding Poseidon and Dionysius easier. And while it will be harder with just the ten of us, it is imperative that we take her as a unity. No one makes a move on her without my say-so. Is that understood?”

Even as everyone at the table agreed, Cytherea got a page.

[JUD: you know that hes going after her don’t you?]

[MAJ: of course he will- and hell make a hash of it]

[CYT: weve got 2 do something or hell louse it all up]

[MAJ: let him play- we can use his screwup to our adv]

 

Kerry looked around. “By the way, where’s Joanne, the girl with the bad luck powers?”

“Don’t jinx it,” Konrad said sourly. “I am enjoying lunch too much to have Bad Luck Betty screw it up.”

“She said that she hadda take care of some things at her dorm,” Gina said.

“There she is,” Erza pointed over to table near the center of the cafeteria. Joanne was sitting there, dividing her attention between several heaping plates of food, an open jar of something, and a notebook that she was furiously scribbling in.

“Should we invite her over?” Jamal asked.

Before anyone could say anything, two people who had the whole ‘we rule the school’ vibe going, walked up. Kerry recognized the girl of the pair as the nasty piece of work who’d snubbed her on the stairs back at Dickinson. The jazzy blonde said something, and Joanne replied in kind, and then some- or at least as far as they could tell from where they sat. Judging by their expressions, the exchange had started nasty, and had gone downhill at a rapid pace.

“Hmmm…” Thorn said. “Frogerovski, I think that the fair maiden is outnumbered. What say we rescue those two from Joanne’s considerable wrath?”

But before either Froggy or Thorn could get up, Joanne seemed to come to some sort of understanding with the large, flannel wearing boy. He sat down next to her, speaking amicably while scarfing something from Joanne’s jar.

The blonde didn’t seem to like it, so the big guy steered Joanne away from the table, and took her over to another table where a group of girls were seated together. There was another exchange, which started off tense but got more amicable. The flannel-clad giant left Joanne talking with the girls at the table, and returned to the jazzy blonde, who was still simmering for some reason. Other, suspiciously attractive people joined them, and there was a lot of hurried discussion.

“WELL!” Konrad said brightly, “It appears that Jinx-girl has found new friends. I will take that as cue to see if I can do as well.” He picked up his tray and walked over to the far side of the cafeteria.

“But… Konrad…” Erza called plaintively after him.

 

“Happy New Year!” the exquisite French blonde called out to the Spy Kidz (sorry, ‘Intelligence Corps Cadets’) as she and Harley Sawyer walked up to their table.

“And a happy New Year to you too!” A-Plus replied, scooting over. “And what has you brimming over with joi de vivre?”

“She told me that she met an old school acquaintance over the holiday,” Harley answered for her. “A girl named Jeanne-Antoinette Montespan.”

“Oh? You hooked up with a close bud and had a blast in Nice?” Kew asked.

“Hardly,” Genevieve said with a malicious smirk that suggested volumes of revenge without so much as a word of evidence.

“So, Harley, what’s with the long hair?” Rez asked.

Harley shook out her hair, making the most of it. “Hair extensions. Aunt Connie said that short hair didn’t suit my face. You like it?”

“Yeah, I do! Hair extensions? Why didn’t just stretch your hair out?”

“Can’t,” Reach said clinically. “I can only stretch living tissue, for some reason. Never noticed it before.”

“So, you’re staying a chick?” Interface asked.

Reach shook her head. “I bounce back and forth every so often. I turned back into a guy a couple of times over the holiday, but only for a day or two at a time. Dunno what that means.”

“That’s all very nice, but you’re avoiding the real issue here- you have crucial, need-to-know information about what happened with Don Sebastiano this morning at Melville. What happened?”

Reach spread her hands out imploringly. “You probably know as much as I do. I wasn’t there. When Jenny and I got there, the whole cottage as buzzing about how Cavalier and Skybolt jumped The Don.” From there, she went onto a reasonably complete breakdown of the scene.

Ace stopped her at one point. “How many, if any, of the Bad Seeds were there?”

“Oh, the entire Melville contingent. They had just come in as a gang from the van from the depot when The Don came in, sopping wet.”

“Wet?”

“Soaking wet, from hand to foot, don’t ask me why, nobody knows, and Yes, I asked. The Don comes in drenched and shivering. She-Beast says something snarky- details differ from version to version, I’ll ask her specifics later- he sneers back and goes up to his room. A few minutes later, he comes back down the hard way.”

“How long had they been back?”

“Still in line to check in with the concierge.”

“Why does Melville get a concierge?” Kew asked the air.

“Volume,” Jenny replied.

“Any chance that the Seeds arranged it?” Ace kept on topic.

“Feasible,” Harley admitted, “but unlikely.”

“Why?”

“Eyewitnesses state that right after Mr. Forrest broke up the incident, She-Beast offered $500 right then, right there for anyone who caught it on video. She got nuthin’. There’s no way that the Beast would let an opportunity to make money AND humiliate The Don just slip through her fingers, if she knew that it was coming.”

“Fair enough. What about the others?”

“From what the Alphas I spoke to said, Render, Nacht and Silver Serpent are the only other Seeds with the chops to pull it off. Render doesn’t have those kinds of contacts, the Serpent doesn’t care enough about Whateley politics to try, and Nacht would have just disappeared him, if she wanted him gone that much.”

A-Plus nodded. “It sounds like they put some thought into it. Wonders never cease. So, what do the Alphas think happened?”

Harley shrugged. “From what I got, the Alphas are sort of surprised that The Don lasted this long. Hekate is MIA, and theories are starting to float that The Don wasn’t the one who put the kibosh on Cav and Sky after all, that he was just taking credit for her dirty work.”

“Yes,” Jenny sighed, “and the horrible things that Cavalier and Skybolt said that The Don did to them!” she gasped and shuddered.

“That’s just rumors,” Interface said. “Where’s the proof?”

“The POINT,” Holdout said carefully, “is that the Alpha Alpha has fallen from grace. What happens now? Who’s going to step up? And what are other people going to do, to make that happen- or keep it from happening?”

Jenny quirked a smile. “I thought that you ‘Spy Kids’ were going to be professional intelligence agents. And here you are, gossiping like a bunch of old biddies.”

“Genevieve, Gossip is half of what an intelligence agent DOES,” Ace said with authority. “Knowing what’s going on is what we do. And even if ninety percent of gossip is pure hot air, we’ve got to know what the buzz is. After all, gossip is most of what most people ever hear about what’s going on. And knowing what the gossip is helps us guess what people are thinking- and planning.”

 

Eddie and Jamal had joined them, and the discussion drifted from a discussion of how to use Baird’s voice to his best advantage to various forms of poetry, the relative coolness of Rap vs. the more classic forms of poetry, to the ways that people would use any criteria at all, no matter how obscure, to hit someone over the head. Then Thorn noticed two figures who had a large ‘safety zone’ between them and the other people in the food line. “Pardon,” he said getting up. “Please do watch my food, would you?” He squashed the epergne down, molded it like putty and turned it into a walking stick, which he twirled merrily as he toddled off in a Charlie Chaplin exit.

The two girls that Wilson had called the ‘Fury Twins’ walked over to a table, where the boy with the Day-Glo kilt and tam-o-shanter was sitting with a girl who looked half snake and someone who looked more like a movie velociraptor than was really plausible, and joined them. Thorn took a deep breath and manfully waded through the palpable sense of mortal dread that the girls exuded. As he approached the table, one of the girls glared at him, sending daggers of terror through his soul. “Yeah? Whadday you want?” she snarled.

“Pardon, but you might recall that we met rather memorably this morning? The, ah, incident with the locker doors?”

“Oh yeah- you were the one who climbed the big blue guy like a tree.” Phobos stuck out and wiggled her tongue with annoyance. “So, what do you want? You wanna yell at us for upsetting your wacko odds-mangling girlfriend?”

“Quite the opposite,” Thorn assured her smoothly. “I’ve come here to offer my most abject apology for what happened. The whole incident was entirely my fault. I don’t know what got into my head.” He swept his high silk hat off, revealing that the upper portion of his head was a large, stinking, fly-swept turd. “I’m afraid that I simply lost my head.” His head, turd and all, toppled from his neck and landed in the hat with a splash. There was a flushing sound, and Thorn’s head (sopping wet) re-appeared out of his empty collar.

Blinking with disbelief, Phobos and Deimos were taken utterly aback. “Ah, not a problem. It’s not your fault. Y’see, we sorta project this ‘terror field’ that scares the piss out of most people.”

“You are far, far, too kind and forgiving,” Thorn insisted, as he dried his head with a handkerchief. “No, my behavior was appalling! I am a lowly wretch, come to beg your forgiveness!” In a trice, he was a version of Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame (the Lon Chaney version, not the Charles Laughton version, or, perish forbid, the Disney version), down on one knee. “I am a worm!” Then he was a large worm, wearing his usual clothing. “I am a cur!” He changed into a scruffy looking humanoid canine, wearing his usual clothing again. “I am a CAD!” He was back to human, but wearing a very loud set of vintage 1920s golfing clothing, and was carrying a very large golf bag.

Jericho pulled his optical camera from its socket in the side of his head, knocked it a few times, blew into the prongs of the jack, and looked at it critically.

“WHAT can I ever do to assuage your pain?” He rummaged around in his golf bag, producing a large red squid, a model of the Eiffel Tower, an inflated life raft, a bat that flew off, a huge lambent blue diamond, the Maltese Falcon, the Holy Grail, Aladdin’s lamp, a green lantern, a sword that might have been Excalibur, a sled with ‘Rosebud’ painted on it, and he finished off by pulling the Ark of the Covenant out with great effort. “Ah!” He dug deep into the bag and pulled out two perfect white roses. He handed the roses to the twins. When the girls took the flowers, they erupted into a glorious shower of glittering white butterflies that wafted up and disappeared. “A moment of whimsy, in the hopes that it might lighten your heavy hearts.”

He straightened up and adjusted the fit of his Edwardian clothes, which were back to *ahem!* ‘normal’. “A gentleman never wittingly gives offense. But fear not, I have learned my lesson, and I shall strive to never repeat my odious blunder. In the future, I will deport myself with grace, decorum and refinement.”

And then he roller-skated off.

 

Clover looked around the cafeteria and managed to spot her two friends, Palantir and Abracadabra, seated at one of the tables, intently studying a map and some books. She walked up with her tray and said, “Hey, Guys! Wha’cha doin’?”

Palantir looked up from the map, with a pencil between her teeth. “Hey, Clo. Abra found a map of the school and just around it. This place is lousy with Ley Lines!”

“Ley Lines?” Clover asked as she sat down and decided what to eat first.

Without looking up from her calculations, Abra said, “Ley lines are sort of like currents of magical force that flow through the Earth. The Chinese are very big on them, and they have an entire art called ‘Feng Shui’, which studies how things like rivers, mountains, roads, buildings and like that affect how auspicious a place is.”

“Aw-suspicious?” Clover peeped.

“No, ‘Auspicious’- it means ‘lucky’.”

“Oh!” Clover noted the word happily. It was a good day for her, when she learned a new word for ‘lucky’.

“The point here, is that if we can find a place where two ley lines cross, we can tap into the power of the line for essence!” Palantir dragged the conversation back to the topic at hand.

“REALLY?” Clover said.

“Sure, we gotta replace that essence that we lost when YOU gave away the essence that we took from Hellfire Sheba,” Pally said repressively.

“It was for Buttons,” Clover said with more grit than was her usual wont.

Palantir shifted uncomfortably and said, “ANYWAY, we lost all the essence that we saved up, so we gotta find some more, or we’re back to square one.”

“AND, best of all,” Abra said not taking her nose from her charts, “the teachers can’t bust our chops for this. At least not as long as we don’t try to tap into the power of the nexus in a place that’s they’ve declared out of bounds.”

“Nexus?”

“That’s a place where the ley lines cross. They’re a LOT more powerful when they cross.”

“Oh.”

Aaannnddd… All the nexuses are in places that are off-limits.” Abra did a disgusted face-plant into her charts.

“Bummer,” Clover sighed as Palantir grit her teeth. Then she bucked up. “So! Guys! Wanna hear what happened over at Dickinson?”

“Why not?” Palantir groaned.

“The Angel of Hell’s Kitchen is staying there!”

Abra perked up. “Y’mean, they’re keeping her here at Whateley until they figure out where she’s gonna go from here?”

“No, I think that she’s gonna stay here, and take classes and stuff. They put her in with Flex.”

Palantir grabbed Clover by the lapels. “Are. You. Telling. Me. That the most powerful magical person on the fuc-”

“PALLY!”

“-Flipping planet is staying in your cottage?”

“I dunno if she’s all THAT powerful… I mean, she’s just a kid, like us.”

“Y’mean, she’ll be in Basic Mystic Concepts, like us?”

“No, I think that she’s old enuf to be in high school.”

Palantir looked eagerly at Abracadabra. “Can you imagine what we could do with one of those angels that she makes?”

“Are you kidding?” Abra shot back. “I heard that one of those things cured fricking Cancer, when it just landed on this one lady! And did you see the footage of what she did in New York, when that big frost giant thing, Ymir, was ripping up the place? It took down both the Amazing Three AND the entire Empire City Guard! And she just zapped it ONCE and blew it away!”

“Oh, if we can’t light our essence with one of THOSE, then we might as well just throw in the towel!” Palantir gushed. She turned to Clover. “SO? Where IS she?”

“Oh, she’s right over there, at the table with the big blue GSD guy.” As one the three little witches turned to gaze upon the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen.

 

Kerry stiffened. “What’s the matter?” Eddie asked.

“Oh, I just got the strangest feeling… Like a disaster was headed my way.”

“Oh, you think that another guy like that blonde creep is checking you out?”

“No…” she hedged. “I don’t sense anything, well… malevolent? No, nothing, y’know… evil… just… like there’s trouble headed my way.”

 

Martine ‘Marty’ Penn, a.k.a. ‘Mega Girl’, carried her tray to the ‘Cape Squad’ table, pointedly ignoring the fact that people were making snippy remarks about the fact that she was wearing a superhero costume. After all, the way that superhero outfits fit, you had to get used to the fact that they showed off practically everything, even the more modest ones; the fact that it showed off that she was all girl, and then some had nothing to do with it! Especially since, though she’d rather open a vein than admit it, she wasn’t entirely a girl under her PK shell.

When she got there, for once, Amy ‘Lady Liberty’ Tang wasn’t there, hogging Iron Star between herself and Steffi Zink. She sat down before ‘Miss Red-White-and-Blue’ got there, and smiled at Iron Star. “Hey, Tony! So, how was your Christmas?”

“It was okay,” Iron Star allowed. “But we don’t have to guess what your Christmas was like, do we?”

“Yeah,” Scintilla smirked across the table with her boyfriend, Upgrade. “So? You got all the snow out of your bra yet?”

“HEY!” Marty sniped back, “At least I was there, saving lives, instead of safe at home, watching it on the tube!”

“Yeah, and from what I hear, the Guard was tellin’ you to get outta their way every second,” Powerhouse sniped.

Marty was about to respond when Magni-Girl cut in. “Please! I thought that this was supposed to be the table for the Future Superheroes of America, not the Alphas! We’re supposed to be better than that. And God knows, between the Alphas and the Bad Seeds, I get enough of that at Melville. Megs, you were very brave, and you really didn’t deserve to get dismissed by the Guard that way.”

“Yeah, Megs,” Upgrade said. “I mean, if you’re so hot to be a New York superhero, why don’t you sign on with the Cadet Crusaders?”

“The Cadet Crusaders?” Marty almost spat. “Please! Everyone knows that the Kiddy Krusaders are just where the New York DA sticks teen paranormals where they won’t get into too much trouble, hoping that the kids will get sick of it, and go off and do something besides being a superhero!” She looked around. “Come on! How many superheroes got their start in the CC? Think about it! You hear about how they’ve got this GREAT future ahead of them, you hear about the change in the roll call, but when they leave the CC? Pffft! Nuthin! I think that the NYPD just sticks them with all the piddly-shit crap that nobody else wants to cope with, until they’re just sick to death of the whole capes-and-masks routine, and quit while they still got what heart they got left.”

“Maybe,” Steffi allowed. “Or maybe they just realize how dangerous being a superhero really is? I mean, I think that the New York Mayor’s Office is just trying to keep those kids from getting into something that’s too dangerous for them to handle, like that mess at Rockefeller Center.”

Marty shot a look at Steffi. The worst thing about Steffi- aside from the fact that she had practically welded herself to Tony’s side- was that she was just so fucking nice that you just couldn’t work yourself up to getting a good bitch on at her. Obviously, her comment about Rockefeller Center hadn’t been a dig at Marty, but it still stung. And worse, if she called Steffi on it, she’d only be calling attention to it. “LOOK, everyone at Rock Center was playing out of their leagues,” Marty defended herself. “I mean, they’re calling that big ice thing ‘Ymir’, y’know, like after the Frost Giant that’s supposed to be such bad news in Norse myths? I mean, everyone got slapped down by that thing, Paladin, Heavyweight, Junkyard, the A-3… And I was the last one standing, I was the one who kept flying up and-”

“And getting swatted like a fly,” Powerhouse smirked.

“And then the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ blew the big bad snowman away with one blast,” Scintilla snarked.

“Hey, I held up my end of the fight,” Marty said defensively.

“Then why did they make HER an honorary member, and just tell you to go play with your dolls?”

“Powerhouse!” G-Force snapped, “That was out of line!”

“Why are you even sitting here?” Powerhouse shot back. “Shouldn’t you be sitting with the dopers over at La Carny?”

“That was uncalled for,” Gloriana said severely. “I’ll have you know, Powerhouse, that LaShawn agreed to let Nigel here,” she indicated ‘Mr. Mystic’, the group’s resident telepath, “read his mind. Nigel can’t find any memory from that night where LaShawn knowingly took any drugs. AND, we asked around, and he wasn’t alone at any time from when he left us to when he jumped Jimmy T, when he could have bought and used the drugs.”

“So, you’re saying that someone slipped G-Force a Mickey?” Saladin asked.

“Yes.” Gloriana looked over to the Alpha table, where, despite her disgrace in getting the Alphas sent to Detention and her lack of any redeeming accomplishment (or virtue) Solange was acting very much the queen of the school. “And we have a pretty good idea as to who did it.” She turned to G-Force. “LaShawn, I apologize that we couldn’t back you up before, but we all got blindsided on that one. Now that the stink has died down a little, we can look into finding out what really happened, and clearing your name.”

“Why don’t we put the Spy Kidz on it?” Iron Star asked. “It’s their gig anyway, so they’ll do a better job of it. And it won’t be quite as obvious if we did it personally. And, coming from them, it won’t look like a whitewash job.”

“Good idea!” Marty chirped.

“Why bother?” Powerhouse said, barely pausing as he chowed down. “Gee-Eff did the time, why kick up dust about something that nobody really remembers anymore?”

“HEY!” LeShawn snapped, “Just ‘cause YOU forgot about it, doesn’t mean that everyone else has! If I just roll over and let this happen, then I’m pretty much letting whoever did this brand me a back alley doper, which I am NOT! If I don’t set the record straight, every time that I try to DO anything, someone’ll pull this out of the drawer and beat me over the head with it!”

“Besides, it puts us in the position of either condoning drugs or turning our backs on LaShawn,” Steffi pointed out. “Neither option does LaShawn or us any good. G-Force is a stand-up Cape, so we do right by him.” She held up a fist and LaShawn bumped it with his own.

Powerhouse chewed his food for a bit, and then said, “Yeah, that’s nice an’ all.” He swallowed. “But there’s only so much that you can blame on being wasted. I mean, you jumped Jimmy T. Jimmy T has a lot of people backing him. ‘Specially after Halloween. AND, you did it as a fag bashing. NO WAY Carson or Delarose gonna let you slide with that.”

“Okay, I admit it,” LaShawn said, “I got issues with gays. I don’t defend it. I got buttons, and gays push a lot of ‘em. Who doesn’t have buttons? But I realize that just ‘cause I got this reaction doesn’t mean that it’s right. If I see something and I want it, that doesn’t mean that I got a right to take it. And I know that. I got a reaction from gays. But I know that beating the crap outta them ‘cause they’re gay ain’t right. But at Halloween, someone dopes the hell out of me and aims me right at Jimmy T. And hey, he fucking ATE me alive! Now tell me that you wouldn’t have issues with THAT! And, later, I find myself getting into it with that Goodkind chick- guy- whatever- I didn’t go looking for that! But suddenly I find myself talking smack to the Goodkind. SOMEBODY is pushing my buttons, and I do NOT like it.”

“Not as much as Jimmy T and the Goodkind didn’t like it,” Saladin said. “But finding out who it was and letting them know would be a good way of making it up to them, right?”

“WHAT EVER,” Powerhouse sighed dramatically. “How did we get on this, anyway? What were we talking about?”

“The Angel of Hell’s Kitchen,” Scintilla answered.

“WOW!” Amy ‘Lady Liberty’ Tang said as she walked up. “I can’t believe that you guys already heard about that!”

“Heard about what?”

“That the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen is at my cottage!”

“WHAT?” Megs blurted out, almost, but not quite, doing a spit take.

“She’s here,” Amy finished as she sat down. “What, you guys hadn’t heard? Then why were you talking about her?”

“We weren’t,” Scintilla said drolly. “We were discussing Megs’ ‘star take’ down in New York.”

“The Angel of Hell’s Kitchen is at Whateley?” Pendragon asked, finally taking a real interest in the conversation.

“Yes, Mrs. Nelson, our house mother, made a point of introducing her to everyone, so people wouldn’t bug her about stuff she doesn’t know about- like the nature of GOD.”

From there, the conversation shifted to the possibility of rushing the Angel into the FSHA; after all, she WAS already an honorary member of the Empire City Guard. But Marty barely heard any of it. What rushed through her mind was, “I’m getting my chops handed to me as it is, and now I gotta complete with the fucking Angel of Hell’s Kitchen?

 

While in the comic books, superheroes don their masks and tights in pursuit of Truth, Justice and Decency, in real life many people become superheroes for far less lofty reasons. Some, unfortunately, become superheroes for pretty much the same reasons that some guys go out for sports in high school, but not for team spirit or love of the game, or others, who don’t really care that much about music, join garage bands. For money, chicks and glory. Mostly, for the chicks.

Powerhouse was almost a textbook example of the ‘Rock Star’ type superhero that puts on the cape because they think that with their powers, they won’t get hurt. He was out to kick ass, look good and get superbabes.

But Superbabes were harder to get than you’d think.

What most guys don’t get is that when you’re in a school that’s full of hawtcha Exemplar babes, you were also in a school that was full of buff Exemplar guys. Which meant that even for a buff, hawt macho- but not Exemplar- guy like him, all the really mega-hawt babes were panting over some exemplar guy. Look at Iron Star. He wasn’t that great, but look at him! He had two babes like Amy (Lady Liberty) and Steffi (Magni-Girl) fighting over him, and he didn’t even notice Mega-Girl drooling in his direction from the sidelines! And don’t even start on Thunderbird and his personal harem!

So, what’s a guy gotta do to get some action going in this school? Not that Powerhouse didn’t get action. He just didn’t get Superbabe action, which was where it was at!

But this looked promising. Yeah, she was cute. Hella cute. Nice bod, the whole works. And, Angel or no Angel, she was a frosh, which meant that she’d be only too blown away when a real, live Junior came and paid attention to her and offered to help her get into the swing of things at this school. Oh yeah, there was some definite poontang coming his way. And not just poontang, but ANGEL poontang! And whoever nailed the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen had bragging rights, like, forever!

 

The conversation had worked its way to Gina, who was rather squirming in the limelight. “Okay, okay, so, I know that I should be more assertive,” she whined. “But it’s not easy! I mean, I must have the wimpiest, most useless power EVER!”

“Power isn’t the point,” Kerry said. “I mean, look at Baird! He’s got power to spare! And those guys that gave him the business just didn’t DO anything that he could use his strength on! They just gamed the hell out of him. You could do that. Not ratass Baird, I mean, you could just figure out ways of getting over that don’t involve your powers.”

“Oh, that’s easy for YOU do say, your powers kick ASS!”

“No it’s NOT easy for me to say that!” Kerry insisted. “If anything, I’m the poster kid for ‘powers don’t make you tough’! I’m a total WIMP! Anybody can talk me into anything, even if I know that it’s a horrible idea! I try to say No, but they just keep at me, and before I know it, I’m helping them do something that Yogi Bear would know was stupid! I’m a total pushover!” She turned and glowered at Eddie, who was just opening his mouth with a puckish look on his face. “NO, I’m not THAT kind of pushover.”



TO BE CONTINUED...