The Gray Guardian hadn’t shown up at school yet, Lugwrench was chatting with some other tech geeks, and Swordmaiden was with her boyfriend Hexbreaker at the Capes table. So, when Mesmer went off with the Lone Gunman to try and chat up the Spy Kidz, the elite core ‘Goobers’ heaved a collective sigh of relief. It wasn’t that their friends weren’t nice people, it was just that, well, they thought that monster hunting was like on old cartoons. The ‘Goobers’ knew better, from bitter experience. “So, you think that Jilly’s ready to step up?” Silvermoon asked.
“Nah,” Beacon grunted back. “She’ brave’n all, I’ll give her that. But if she ever saw a real ghoul, let alone one of those ‘diseased werewolf’ things that we been gettin’ wind of, her brains would probably turn to oatmeal and come dribbling out of her ears.”
“Maybe,” Ecto-Tech said from his side of the table, “but we’ve still got to step up our power level. We need some serious muscle.”
“We have some serious muscle,” Beacon said. “And, more importantly, we have quiet muscle. And that’s important when you do what we do. By the way, Eck- speaking of muscle, how’s that ‘Slayer-Bot’ coming along?”
Ecto-Tech sighed. “Same problem as always. The hardware’s the easy part, the heuristics are the bitch. Every basic IFF system that I try to load always reacts to the Ethereal Input Emulation data the same way. It just can’t seem to accept the data. And don’t get me started on the Class X Input Emulation data!” He finished off with an explosive noise followed a hiss mimicking static. He paused for a moment. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you- who came up with that Supernatural Input Emulation software?”
Beacon and Silvermoon traded significant looks. Beacon shrugged. “His handle was Cybergeist,” Silvermoon answered, her voice heavy with something. “He, ah, sort of had your job in the outfit last year.”
Beacon cut in. “Look, we don’t like talking about Ernst, because, well, we don’t know what killed him.”
“Like we said, Cybergeist was our tech guy last year,” Beacon continued. “He was a Soph, and really knew his stuff. He had a kind of a bee in his bonnet about using the stuff that ghosts were made of for some kind of advanced technology. But you expect that kind of thing from devisors. Thing is, he knew his stuff and he could go out where the action was and hold up his end, like you. He was a right guy.”
“Like I said- we dunno. That’s the really annoying thing, the not knowing, the not being sure. We were out by way of Randolph, checking on a report that their local ghouls were digging up the components for yet another summoning of something that shouldn’t be. Ernst went off-line and didn’t show up for the big show. When we found him, he was dead.”
“Not a mark on him,” Silvermoon said with a hollow voice.
“Just… Dead, Jim.”
“Autopsy didn’t turn up anything, there was no sign of any kind of violence… Reverend Englund even allowed a séance to contact him- nada. He was gone. Period.”
“Think about it- Reverend Englund? Séance? HELL yeah, we took it seriously.”
“They, that’s MY line.”
“We suspected that She-Beast might’a had something to do with it for a while,” Beacon continued. “But she had an iron-clad alibi.”
“The Spy Kids were watching her.”
“Sure, the Bad Seed? Doctor Diabolik’s kid?”
“Oh, you mean Techno-Devil’s older sister?” Ecto-Tech asked. “Why would she have anything to do with it?”
“Some of Ernst’s family died when Dr Diabolik raided Dresden in ’99. Ernst had a woodie out to there to get something, ANY thing, to nail She-Beast with.”
“Never even got near her,” Silverwolf sighed.
Then Sara ‘Nightbane’ Gardner walked up with her tray heaped high with food. “Hi, Crew! Welcome back to Horror High! Hey, what’s with the long faces, amigizoids?”
“We were just telling Ecto here about Ernst.”
“Ew. Helluva way to start the new year.” She bucked up and said, “Still, I have some good news, people! I just got the word from Rev. Englund. Y’know how he was always skipping down to New York just before Ex-Mas vacay? Well, it seems that he was up to his eyebrows in that ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ mess. The good news is that he got tons of brownie points from what went on there, and he managed to talk Mr. Lodgeman into going to bat for us. So, I think a lot of the stink from that Halloween cluster fuck has washed off of us.”
All three of her ‘Goober’ compadres brightened up at the sound of that. “All RIGHT! Now we can go after those sicko wolves that-”
“NA-AH!” Sarah cut Beacon off. “I’m with you, we should try and find what the fuck is going on with that, but the Rev says that Security’s already got a special team on it. And we don’t wanna spoil it, now that we’re out of the doghouse, by crashing Security’s private party. We keep our eyes and ears open, lay low for the moment and wait for the Rev to say that it’s cool to start hunting again.
“And it’s not all good news- according to the Reverend, there’s a down side to having Mr. Lodgeman pitching for us. If Mr. Lodgeman is on our side, then that means that Miss Hartford is suddenly on our asses.”
The Goobers wilted a little at the mention of the fearsome Headmistress’ assistant. “Ew,” Silvermoon moaned, “Hartford plays serious hardball… I’d rather face a Shambler than Hardass!”
“All it means, is that we make sure that we’ve got the green light before we go out monster hunting,” Sarah assured her. “One of the reasons why we survived that fiasco on Halloween is that Carson knows how much the Rev- and WE- have done to make this county safe. Just… don’t give that bitch Hartford any ammunition, hear?”
There was a general nodding of acceptance. “AND, now for some more good news!” Nightbane beamed. The Goobers perked up a bit. “Like I told you, the Rev was down in New York, handling that ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ mess. Guess who he brought back to Whateley with him?” She gave a Cheshire Cat grin.
“No. Fucking. WAY!”
“WAY!” she sang.
“YES!” Beacon exulted, “Now we have some REAL firepower on our side!”
“Yeah!” Ecto-Tech agreed, “Did you see what she did to that big ice giant in New York?”
“With her and that ‘Bladedancer’ chick on our side, the Creepizoids won’t have a fucking CHANCE!” Silvermoon gushed.
“Aaah… not so fast, Sunshine,” Sarah cut him off. “It’s not that simple. The Rev says that we gotta take it slow, let her get to know us first, before we rush her.”
“This have something to do with that scam the Catholics ran on her down in Saint Gregory’s?” Silvermoon asked.
“Bingo. The Rev says that she’s real touchy about getting used right about now, and he doesn’t think that she’d react very well to getting recruited for anyone’s crusade.”
“But we’re trying to save people in this area from horrible monsters!” Ecto-Tech complained.
“The Catholics were healing people with cancer and stuff, and see how THAT turned out for her,” Sarah pointed out. “So, right about now, she’s got a pretty nasty reaction to people trying to tell her that it’s all for the greater good.”
“So… what do we do?” Beacon asked.
“Just… take it easy. I’ll get to know her. And when the time is right, we make sure that she knows what we’re facing up here in quaint little backwater Dunwich. The Rev says that she has the instincts, she’s just got to realize that there are things that just HAVE to be done!”
Throughout lunch, Kerry couldn’t shake the feeling that people were talking about her. As lunch dragged to its end, Kerry left with Gina and Erza to head back to Dickinson to get some paperwork for the next round of bureaucratic musical chairs. Eddie and Buck were about to head off themselves, and Eddie asked Jamal, “So, where you headed?”
“Me? I’m headin’ over there,” he jerked his head in the direction of a female-heavy table of freshmen. “I just spotted someone I promised myself that I’d look up when I got here.” Jolt gave Eddie and Buck a chipper salute-off and strolled over in the direction of that table. He strolled up and the Orientation kids could just make out Jolt’s voice saying, “Heeeyyy, Ladies… Howy’all doin’?”
“Hey Chou!” they heard a female voice say, “It’s Cousin Curtis! Howya doin’ Cousin Curtis?”
“ ‘Cousin Curtis’?” Buck asked, perplexed. “I thought his name was Jamal.”
“As did I,” Thorn agreed. “But his method does seem to be working. Since the direct approach seems to work with the local lovelies, I think that I’ll try my luck with someone that I saw a while ago.” He swept the entirety of his lunch dinnerware into a sack, which changed into his high silk hat with a metallic crash. He handed Buck a plastic tray with a few dishes. “If you’d be so kind.” He put on his hat with a sound of metal shifting. “I’m off! But then, you knew that.”
Thorn strolled over to the table and addressed a boy his age with an odd red ‘mullet’ of sorts. The boy had shaved the sides of his head, apparently to display the cybernetic implants, some of which had cables running down to devices on his fire engine- red lab coat. The young man had a matching obvious cybernetic implant in one eye, and a pair of horn-like locks of hair made him even more distinctive.
“And what do you want?” Nephandus asked in a chilly tone.
Thorn pointedly ignored the blonde mageling and addressed the boy in red. “Good Afternoon, my good young sir. Allow me the privilege of introducing myself! I am Robert Robespierre Renfield Ruthven Richelieu Ratcliffe Rose, though practicality forces me to accept the nom de guerre ‘Thorn’. My Card, sir.” Thorn handed him a calling card, which accordion unfolded down into his lap.
“Ah… Hello,” the boy responded, taken more than a bit aback by Thorns’ introduction. “I’m Malachai Diabolik. My handle’s Techno-Devil. What can I do for you?”
Thorn’s reply was cut off from behind by, “HEY! Hey, you! New Guy!” Malachai groaned, and Thorn looked around to see three young men approaching. The leader of the grouping looked like a bad ‘All-American Hero’ cartoon, come to life, with blonde hair done up with a curling forelock, massive biceps, barrel chest, and a chin of caricature proportions. He wore a blue T-shirt with a gold foil B appliqued to the front. “You don’t wanna talk to them! They’re the BAD GUYS!”
Thorn looked at the leader with rapt fascination. “Good LORD! Your chin!”
“What about my chin?” the boy asked, shaken.
“It’s HUGE! Why, I feel unworthy of this moment! Oh, for Cyrano, or at least Edmond Rostand, to be here! A prominence! A Cape! NAY, a Peninsula! Why, cleaning out the gunk in the cleft alone must take you most of the morning!” Thorn paused and gave him a glare. “You DO clean that thing out, don’t you?”
“Look, PAL, my chin doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re sucking up to the Bad Guys!”
“The ‘bad guys’?” Thorn asked superciliously, “I wasn’t aware that this school had a Villainy program. What have they done, prithee tell?”
“What have they DONE? They’re the kids of SUPERVILLAINS?”
“Well, Jenna and Barbara Bush aren’t being punished for their father’s deeds, so-”
“Hey, don’t you talk about the President like that, you FRUIT!”
“Fruit?” Thorn responded dangerously. He doffed his high silk hat, revealing a Carmen Miranda headdress of fruits, and there was a flurry from his top hat. When the blur passed, Thorn was in full Carmen Miranda drag, down to the strappy high-heeled sandals, maracas, and heavy makeup.
‘Captain’ Bravo (for who else could it be?) and his two buddies were wrapped up in, respectively, a giant pineapple, orange and banana. As they rocked back and forth trying to free themselves from the ‘fruit’, a jaunty Samba number struck up in time to their rocking, and Thorn started a shimmying dance, shaking the maracas. Then Froggy walked up, drooling at the ‘fruit’. “OOOhhh…” he said in a hungry voice, “Desert!” Bravo Company let out cries of fear as the hulking GSD boy picked them up and carried them out of the cafeteria.
There was another swirl of a cape, and Thorn was back to normal (or as normal as he ever got). “Ah, let’s see, where were we, before we were so rudely interrupted? Ah Yes! My good young master Diabolik, might I presume upon our very brief acquaintance to beg an introduction to this fair young maiden to your left?”
“That’s very sweet of you,” Winter said, “but I don’t date freshmen.”
Thorn smiled tautly. “I do crave your pardon, my lady. I should have been more specific- I meant the fair young maiden to his IMMEDIATE left.”
Winter squeaked in slighted outrage, but Jadis leaned in with a shark’s smile and purred, “Well, Mister Robert Robespierre Renfield Ruthven Richelieu Ratcliffe Rose- hey! Rose! Thorn! Hey, Romeo, it looks like he missed one!”
“He did?” Romeo ‘Rosethorn’ Laclavar asked.
“Yeah, he didn’t get YOUR name- or at least not all of it.”
“Romeo?” Thorn asked with the note of dawning amusement in his voice. Then he got a look at Romeo. “Good GOD! You are GORGEOUS! Your mirror must be the envy of every reflecting surface within a hundred miles!”
“Don’t remind me,” Romeo grumbled. “Girls hate not being the pretty one in a relationship.”
“You have my condolences, sir. Young lady, you were introducing us?”
“Ah, yes. Mister Rose, this is Katrina Margya Joszinya Tvardowski, feared far and wide as ‘Nacht’.”
“But of course!” Thorn responded.
“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”
“You’re SURE that you weren’t looking for an introduction to ME?” Winter asked.
“What?” Malachai asked softly.
“ ‘Nacht’ is German for ‘Night’, remember?” his sister prodded him.
Thorn cleared his throat. “I am here to declare my intention to woo the fair Katrina, and win her heart,” he said in his best declamatory manner. “Let the winsome maid take heart, let her friends and chaperones make note, and let those who keep us apart take warning!” With a flourish, he was clad in elaborate shining armor, and he fell to one knee to present a single perfect red rose.
“NACHT?” Malachai, Nephandus, Render, and Thrash all said in unison.
“Okay, now I KNOW that you’re really talking about me,” Winter said.
“You sound surprised,” Thorn noted. “Surely there must be regular lines at this table of impassioned petitioners for the lovely Katrina’s smile.”
“They don’t dare,” Kate said with her trademark glower.
“What? In a school for superheroes, no one has heard that ‘faint heart ne’er won fair flower’?”
“They’re not blooming idiots, they know better than to try and make a fool out of me.”
“A fool?” suddenly Thorn was all in jester’s motley, complete with fool’s cap and a wand with a copy of his head with cap at the end. “Me?”
“Is this going to turn into a stalker thing?” Kate gave a feral grin. “I LOVE playing with stalkers.”
Thorn was back to his usual seeming. “Stalker? Please! I would never be so crass! There is a thin but telling line betwixt perseverance and preoccupation. If you tell me to go away, I will simply go away. But you DO have to tell me to go, and once you do, it can’t be unsaid. If you say ‘Go’, then I am gone, and gone for good.” He bowed deeply.
“You’re SURE that you’re not here for me?” Winter asked.
“What exactly is your game?” Kate asked with narrow suspicious eyes.
“Tennis.” Thorn was suddenly in a natty set of Edwardian era tennis whites, complete with visor and racquet. A wooden ball then hit in him in the head with a loud *clock!*, landing in one hand “Though, I play a mean set of croquet as well.”
“Are you trying to be funny?”
“If you have to ask, then I guess not.”
“If I say ‘Beetlejuice’ three times, will you disappear?”
“You want to play ‘Beetlejuice and Lydia’?” Suddenly, Thorn was dressed in a black stocking with a red, spider web pattern poncho over it, his face made up (rather nicely) as a girl with long dark hair pulled up into a topknot/ponytail. “Well,” he said in a sprightly feminine voice, “I was hoping that we’d do the ‘courtly romance’ thing for a while, you know exchange long passionate looks, write poetry, that sort of thing… But if you want to get into the KINKY stuff, right away I don’t hold out a lot of hope for this relationship.”
“Aw, c’mon, Kate!” Jadis chided her friend, “How many guys our age even know who Byron was, let alone can quote him?”
“Ah, an aficionado of the poets!” Thorn said gladly. “Then let me essay this-” His clothing changed yet again, this time into something out of a bad RenFaire.
“You are called plain Kate,
And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst;
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom
Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation.”
“Though, truth be told, while I appreciate his rhyme, I do think that Petruccio’s courting style was a tad heavy handed. Even with someone named Kate.”
Kate smiled archly. “I think that you should look up Jadis’ boyfriend Trevor. He’s a nancy-boy like you and Jay-Arm, and he enjoys quoting dead poets too.”
“Not ‘dead poets’,” Thorn gently corrected her, “GOOD poets. Unfortunately, in any age, the number of good dead poets outnumbers the good living poets considerably. And, alas, the BAD poets outnumber them both by a thousand to one.”
“Ah… literary analysis. How boring. Well, I have things to do, idiots to persecute…” Kate started to get up as to leave, but Thorn held up a hand, returned to his normal state of dress, doffed his hat and left.
As he walked away, Thorn heard Jadis sing, “Katie’s got a boyfriend, Katie’s got a boyfriend, Katie’s got a boooyyy- friiieennndd…”
“Jealous?” Kate sniped back.
Froggy met Thorn at the door to the cafeteria. “Well, that went well.” Thorn said with a smile.
“Well? But you heard what she said.”
“I disregard what she said. What she didn’t say was far more illuminating.”
“ ‘Go Away’.” Thorn gave a victorious grin. “And so, flush with victory on the romantic front, I look about me for fresh triumphs. So, tell me, Frogmanikov, of this blaggard who accosted you whilst you were promenading with the fair young Regina…”
Sergeant Wilson watched as Thorn walked off with Frobisher. Well, it was nice that the big GSD kid had already found some friends, but at Whateley, well-intentioned helping could have some nasty repercussions. He pulled out his cell phone and checked his call history. “Yo, Psych Arts? Wilson here, is Carstaires still there? Yeah, you knew that I was gonna call, ha-ha, very funny, now put him on.”
After a moment, Dr. Carstaires was on the phone. “Is this about Kerry? You didn’t call back, so I assumed that the smelling salts did the trick. Did they?”
“Yeah, Doc, we found a, ah, substitute. But that’s not why I called. I think that you might wanna have a nice long talk with Kerry about telepathic ethics, starting like, right now.” Wilson spelled out the situation with Frobisher and the incident in the corridors with Bloodwolf and his pack of Ultraviolents. “Anyway, Frobisher does the smart thing and doesn’t let them sucker him into a fight, and as per uze with that ploy, he felt like a wimp for doin’ it. He went to lunch feeling like a dog’s breakfast. Then Kerry went to work on him, and by the end of lunch break, he was up to helping a friend pull a stunt on Bravo Company. Now, Kerry was very up front about the fact that she’s an empath, but I don’t think that she’s really wrapped her head around the fact that it’s not a good idea to go around tidying up other people’s heads. I’ll snag her and get her over to Psych Arts, so you can spell it out for her.”
“Wilson? Are you quite through showing off how psychically correct you are?”
“Wilson, while we will talk with Miss Ellison, I think that you should be aware that she’s not a projective empath.”
“But she said-”
“She’s a receptive empath, not a projective one,” Carstaires assured him. “It’s like she has a radio receiver, but not a transmitter. She can pick up others’ emotions, but she doesn’t broadcast hers.”
“Those ‘angels’ of hers were broadcasting pretty dang loud,” Wilson said firmly.
“Totally different mechanism,” Carstaires said. “The emotional overtone of the ‘angels’ is a side effect of its basic magical nature. If she’d used one of her angels at that table, she would have known it, the boy would have known it, you would have known it, everyone at that table would have known it. Gad, the people in the next room would have known it.”
“Then how did she talk Frobisher out of that funk that he was in?”
“Well, I will have to have a talk with her, but I already have a theory.”
“I’m all ears, Doc.”
“What I think that she was doing was what we call ‘steering’. As you said, Kerry is an empath. When she deals with others, she’s dealing with their emotions as well as everything else. Kerry’s omnipath rating-”
“A rather dubious classification that some hack writer came up with. It means ‘gaining power from emotions’. Yes, yes, but without a better term, we’re stuck with it. Her omnipath talent was keyed at first heavily towards positive input, or ‘good vibes’, and her experience at Saint Gregory’s only honed that bias. So, unintentionally, she responds in terms of attention, facial and body language, and language subtexts in a way as to promote ‘good thoughts’ in others.”
“So, you’re saying that she ‘steered’ Frobisher into feeling better.”
“Probably. It could be a lot worse. We get a few ‘steerers’ in every class, and with teen angst thrown in, it can get very sticky. Compared to some of the messes that we’ve had to cope with, Kerry’s ‘good vibe’ bias is an absolute blessing. Miss Ellison is sharp enough, she’ll pick up on what she’s doing when we discuss it in her Intro Psychic Disciplines class. No need to make it awkward for her.”
“Okay, but what about the kids around her?”
“They’ll just have to cope with someone who’s perennially upbeat and positive, and lifts moods reflexively. I should have had it so rough in high school.”
Jay-Arm had goals in life. Wealth. Magical Power. Respect in the Magical Community. Magical Power. Political Power. Magical Power. A lifestyle and love life that Hugh Hefner would be jealous of. Magical Power. Revenge against the mental pigmies who tripped him up.
Oh Yes, and Magical Power.
But one of his greatest ambitions in life was to bridge the seemingly irreconcilable breach between magic and technology. And then to use that to gain wealth, respect in the Magical Community, Political Power, a lifestyle and love life that Hugh Hefner would be jealous of, and revenge against the mental pigmies who tripped him up.
One of the – many- things that annoyed Jean-Armand ‘Nephandus’ St. Michel du Chantraine was that despite the fact that he was a master of both Sorcery and Technology, there were times when his two disciplines simply looked at each other and said, ‘What?’ Oh, you could use technology to handle some of the ‘pull this lever, open that slot’ aspects of some workings, or you could enchant or curse a piece of technology. You could even bind a demon into a robot. But you couldn’t really get them to mesh well. It was always one thing on top of the other. There was no integration, no synergy. Which was the reason that as he was standing in line, furiously doing calculations by hand instead of using a calculator.
He was hampered by having to do very complex, very nuanced calculations while doing the inchworm step in line and keeping an eye on the Angel and her two friends as they were discussing their options for classes. Jean-Armand knew that casting a spell on the Angel was against the rules, no doubt extremely difficult given the nature of her powers, and just asking for it to boomerang on him. Still, he wasn’t the son of the Hexmaster, one of the most feared and respected brokers on the infamously dangerous black market for supernatural relics and artifacts, for nothing. Once in place, his spell wouldn’t affect the Angel-girl; rather, it would surround her, and detect any avaricious intent directed at her. That way, he would know who had intentions on her, and he could turn their efforts to his own advantage. Some might think it predatory, but as his father was fond of saying, it was God’s way that the clever should take advantage of the foolish; why else would God make so many fools?
As he finished the calculations and used a compass to set the circle of definition, he had to let the girl behind him cut in front, so that he wouldn’t get to the counter too soon. Timing was of the utmost. He hastily inscribed the sigils and glyphs inside the circle with a ballpoint pen (for some reason, felt tip pens weren’t as precise), and ‘invisibled’ the ink. He then scrawled a rather crass proposition on the paper and quickly folded it into a triangular paper ‘football’. The point was to get her to accept the paper, preferably voluntarily, but unwitting worked fine as well. Then realizing that it would look suspicious if he waited in line all that time without actually applying for the class. He grabbed the form and filled out his information without really reading it. Perfect! Angel-girl laid her stacks of books on the counter and Jean-Armand snapped the ‘football’ neatly into them. Mission successful. “Excuse me,” the lady at the counter asked, “but are you sure that you want to take this class?”
“Well, of course I’m sure!” Jean-Armand huffed. “Why would I wait in line all this time, if I didn’t want to take this class?”
The clerk just shrugged, said, “Okay,” and stamped the application.
Jay-Arm watched with supreme satisfaction as Angel-girl picked up her books and the spell clicked into place. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Jadis’ face when she learned that he’d managed to get one over on the Angel, despite her abject lack of faith in him! No, he wouldn’t tell her- let her and the other Bad Seeds go on thinking that he was an ineffectual buffoon. After all, the seeming of incompetence was a time-honored mask for the truly superior mind…
Smug satisfaction filled him as he strolled over to the line and waited to apply for the Elective class in Advanced Applied Heuristics. “Sorry, kid, but you’re already booked for that time.”
“Yeah, AAH is the same time as your Exemplar Grace class. Now out of line, there are only five more openings and at least fifteen people in line after you.”
“What?” Jean-Armand looked at the sheet for the class that he’d applied for, only for appearance’s sake. ‘Exemplar Grace. Instructor: Lillian Dennon. Formal Dress required.’ Exemplar Grace? But that was a CHICK class!
As the vicious Tansy and the other Alphas left his room, Don Sebastiano felt a minor warm glow of revenge as he sent them off to recruit Reverend Englund’s pet, Seraphim. Well, he wasn’t the Alpha Alpha anymore, so HE couldn’t be held responsible for what they did anymore, now could he?
And after that, he was pretty much alone.
For a long time.
If there is a single redeeming thing to being nearly paralyzed, and left alone in traction without any form of distraction or amusement, it is that an excellent inducement to reflection.
After trashing in his imagination Sky, Cav, Hekate, Tansy, Kodiak, the rest of the Alphas, Rev. Englund, Fey, Chaka, the rest of Team Kimba, Stormwolf, Mindbird, the rest of the ‘Betas’, and everyone else who had annoyed him in recent memory, Sebastiano came unavoidably to consider how he could have avoided his current situation. And as he reviewed his performance during the Fall Term, he increasingly came to the conclusion that he had NOT been on his ‘A’ game. The problem with succeeding too much is that you get sloppy. He’d ‘gooned out’, as the Americans would say, badly. He had been too sure of his own position, too convinced of his own invincibility, to really take into account the consequences of his actions. It had been hella fun while he’d been doing it, but now he was faced with a gigantic bill to pay.
He’d have to be much smarter from then on.
There was no question in his mind that he would return to his rightful place of power in the school. It would simply be harder, he’d have fewer resources and allies, and he’d have to be far subtler than he’d been in the past. The only gambit that he’d played in the last term that had been worthy of him had been getting the Yellow Queen to send her little sister after Chaka in that tricked out power frame. And while it had put Chaka in the hospital for a few days and tarnished her reputation some, it hadn’t quite managed to achieve its desired end of getting the mouthy little negrita expelled or jailed. And the Yellow Queen was very wary of him now; influencing her would be difficult and dangerous.
But he had far more pressing problems than regaining his rightful position of social supremacy. Sky and Cav turning on him that way, coupled with Hekate’s absence could only mean one thing- Kallista had blown it, big time. And while Skybolt and Cavalier were too over-wrought- if not positively psychotic- with rage, they MUST have told Carson far too much about his dealings. Which raised the question- why wasn’t he being roasted on a spit over an open pit of hellfire by Reverend Englund, with Señora Carson fanning the flames?
There had to be something going on that he wasn’t aware of. They must have had enough evidence on him to have an entire squad of MCO goons waiting for him with anti-Psi helmet at the gate. But if they had, why did they wait long enoug to let Englund play his repressive hand out by the pond? Or let Cav and Sky escape to muddy up their case by attacking him? Legal niceties aside, there had been enough questions about Cav and Sky’s ‘change of heart’ last year to bring the full weight of suspicion of the Psychic Arts department down on him. He should have had every authority figure at Whateley at his bedside, trotting out their righteous indignation for everyone to see. But he hadn’t heard a single word from the nurses at the Infirmary.
That meant something. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but it meant something.
He turned it over in his mind for a long while, and then he came to a realization that chilled him to the core. The only thing that would put what he’d done to Cavalier and Skybolt on the back burner was the Avatar hijacking scam. Somehow, he had no idea how, they’d found out about it. And, while it wasn’t technically illegal in any legal system that he’d ever head of, it threatened far too many powerful people and suggested a material shift in the power equation. Things like that never went to court; the people involved were simply taken to abandoned mines, buried in tons of concrete, and pointedly forgotten.
But if they knew about that, he wouldn’t be in the Infirmary; he’d be in that abandoned mine with the cement hardening. They must know enough about it to know that he, Don Sebastiano wasn’t the key player. Hekate had already bolted, and was probably learning how to pass herself off as a Muslim in some benighted Mid-East hill country. So, they weren’t watching him to get to her. Which meant that they knew that Hekate and he had a patron, and that they were watching him to get to their patron.
Yes. That worked. It fit the facts. It also meant that as long as the Administration thought that they could gain any kind of information about Hekate’s Patron- for he was in truth more Hekate’s patron than The Don’s; he’d never even met the man- Sebastiano was safe from reprisals. And not a second longer. He was bait for a very big shark. And who keeps bait around after the fish has been landed?
Worse, Sebastiano had no false hopes that his ‘patron’ would protect him in the slightest. No, the second that El Patrone thought that The Don was more a threat than an asset to him, The Don would disappear into the night and fog. And, if he were very lucky, he would only die.
So, El Patrone was his true enemy in all of this. Running away wasn’t an option. And between the formidable assets of Whateley and the unknown assets of El Patrone, Sebastiano knew that he didn’t have a ghost’s chance of hiding. And while Carson wouldn’t do anything to Sebastiano’s family, El Patrone would. So, it was a matter of Sebastiano or El Patrone. It boiled down to this- Sebastiano had to hand over El Patrone to the Administration in exchange for absolution for all crimes. To know your true enemy and to know the terms of the conflict is the first step in winning a battle.
But Sebastiano didn’t have the slightest idea as to who El Patrone really was. So, that was his first step. But he couldn’t just ask around or conduct an investigation into finding out. El Patrone would be watching him as closely as the Faculty. And he second that he did anything other than mooch around campus acting like a deposed monarch, one or the other of them would act against him. So, he had to figure out how to conduct an investigation without looking like he was doing so, under close observation.
The problem with winning easily is that you start taking things for granted. Faced with the greatest challenge of his young life, Don Sebastiano realized that he could take nothing, absolutely nothing for granted. He may have been a poor excuse for a ruler, but if he wanted to live long enough to graduate from this hellpit, he’d have to be a GREAT spymaster.
“This will be easy,” Tansy gloated as she pranced down the halls with Kodiak at her side and Flicker and Fade in tow. “She’s a newbie, this is her first day, she’s used to having all kinds of attention paid to her, and now she’s just another frosh at a new school. She’ll jump at getting into the cool set, they all do. Hell, the only problem will be not having her gush too much.”
“I hope you’re right,” Kodiak grumbled. “After The Don crapped all over the Alpha’s cred all Fall Term, we need a shot in the arm.”
“Not to worry, Fuzzy Wuzzy!” Tansy breezed, “Little Solange has it all under control!”
“There she is!” Flicker said, pointing Kerry out in the hallway. “She’s the blonde.”
“Of course she is!” Fade snickered. “I mean, would anyone mistake either of those two losers for an Angel?”
“Are you sure that that’s the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen?” Tansy asked.
“Well, sure!” Flicker said. “I asked around, and she was the only blonde sitting at the table where that new big blue freak was. Howcum you don’t recognize her, Tanz? She’s in your cottage, you should’a been introduced or something.”
“She is?” Tansy looked at the threesome and drew a blank. “Well, I WAS very busy… Ah Well, nothing to it, but to do it! Watch and learn, Gentle Ben, and I’ll show you how it’s done!”
Kerry stiffened. She was sure that she was the focus of someone’s attention again. But this was more focused, and more… reptilian, like that blonde French guy, Jean-Armand. Then she saw that girl from the morning at Dickinson, the rude one with the cell phone, coming her way with a plastic grin plastered over her face.
“Well, Kerry!” Tansy gushed, “I’m so sorry that we weren’t able to meet back at the dorms, but-”
Suddenly, the ‘angel’ thrust the palm of her hand into Tansy’s face, almost but not quite mashing her nose, in the ‘talk to the hand’ gesture. Kerry mimed putting a cell phone to her ear with the other hand and gushed in a broad ‘jersey girl’ accent, “GEEE-NAH! Howya doin’ Hunny? It’s ME, Joisey Goil!”
Gina paused for a moment, wondering what Kerry was doing, but then Erza poked her and whispered, “Mean girl on stairs, remember?” Then Gina remembered, got the joke, and started blithely yammering away into her own ‘cell phone’, bringing Erzabet into the act.
Tansy reeled in confusion as the three girls started nattering at each other over imaginary cell phones. Blithely ignoring the girl at the other end of her hand, Kerry traipsed off with the three, none of them looking at each other (or Tansy) or really SAYING anything, either.
When the three disappeared around a corner, Kodiak walked up to a baffled Tansy, and said mildly. “Oh. So THAT’S how it’s done.”
“I wasn’t too mean to her, was I?” Kerry worried her lower lip.
“Naw, naw, it was perfect!” Erza breezed. “Bitch reminds me of my sister Duci’s friend, Borsca. Give her an opening, and she’ll be running your life to suit herself.” She looked at Kerry and Gina. “You really think I need to take English as Second Language class?”
“Your English is great, Erza.” Gina assured her. “But most Americans need to take English as a Second Language.”
Jean-Armand knew that he was a genius. Indeed, he took his own genius for granted, even as most others dismissed it. But this was truly a work of genius. The three components of his trap were invisible in the hallway. On the floor, blending seamlessly with the checkerboard pattern of the tiles, was a mesh net. Directly above it was a 3-ton strength magnet and an essence flux detector, concealed in an overhead light. Only the most powerful of Wizard classification mutants- or the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen- would be potent enough to trigger it. He had learned that she was due to pass this way in a few minutes. When she passed under the detector, she would imbalance the flow of essence in its range, which would trigger the magnet. The magnet would pull the netting up, trapping the ‘Angel’. But that wasn’t the ingenious part of it. The genius was that she would reflexively use her ‘angel’ manifestation to free herself. The Etheric Entity Capture unit, which was on the same circuit as the magnet, would turn on after a three-second delay, and capture the angel manifestation before she could apply it. The EEC would transmit the ‘angel’ through the wires around the corner to the Ghostbusters-style ‘ ghost trap’, where Jean-Armand would remove the entire trap and be away before anyone realized that anything had happened. The Angel-girl would free herself of course, but it would be too late, he would already be in the tunnels and half way to his lab by that time.
It was a work of pure genius.
He positioned a mirror in the corner, so that he could set the trigger just as the Angel-girl and her entourage were coming down the halls. He didn’t want to capture some powerful Wizard who just happened to be walking down the hallway at the wrong time, like, say, Majestic. Not after the last time.
Then he spotted them coming down the hallway. He almost missed him, as his view of them was almost blocked by that big, all-too-well-named Slab who was in the way.
DRAT! A pair of hallway lovers got between him and his mirror! He triggered the snare, and waited for his ‘ghost trap’ to light up, indicating that he had bagged his angel.
And he waited.
And waited. Then the three girls walked around the corner, whispering intently among themselves. Stricken with curiosity as to what went wrong, Jean-Armand followed the cable from his ghost trap to the snare-
- where Slab glowered at him through the mesh of the net that he dangled from the ceiling in. “You’d better have a DAMN good explanation for this, Pretty Evil Boy,” Slab said gruffly.
“WHY do we have to go running all over the place?” Kerry griped. “Why can’t they just have the Winter Term remedial classes in one place?”
“Please! Even in Hungary, first rule of bureaucracy is ‘system does not have to make sense. System only has to make sure that Boss gets coffee while it’s still hot’.”
Suddenly, a pair of boys were up in Kerry’s face, shoving a microphone almost up her nose. “WARS radio here, bringing you live and direct, an interview with the notorious ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’!”
“Who the hell are you two guys?”
“Like I said, WARS radio! Well, not much upstairs, but what a staircase! Well, Angel, it’s time to answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind- you can cure cancer, you can cure blindness, you can cure leprosy… But can you cure VIRGINITY?”
"Virginity! The thing Greasy has and you don't!"
She heard a horrified gasp. "Boss!"
The boy leered at her. "So, how about it? Feel up for a little on-air test with the little man? I assure you it'll be easy; he comes pre-lubricated..."
“What? Why you-!” Kerry was reflexively cocking her fist to smash the pimple-faced little buttwipe, when a hand from behind the two grabbed the microphone from Peeper’s hand, and there was a buzz of energy. Smoke started issuing from the remote transmitter.
Greasy moaned, “Not AGAIN! These things are expensive, y’know!”
An older boy who was, even by the amazing standards of physical beauty at Whateley, classically gorgeous with a powerful physique that his black turtleneck sweater displayed, rather than concealed, reached over and pulled the two up off their feet. They were both over a hundred pounds (especially the pudgy obnoxoid who’d shoved the microphone up her nose and talked smack), but he hefted them like they were puppies. And not Saint Bernard puppies, either. Continuing the analogy, he looked at them like they were puppies who’d just soiled the good carpet during an important cocktail party, and said, “Don’t you two have anything useful to do?”
“This IS important!” The pudgy one said, utterly unimpressed by the larger boy’s show of power. “The public has a RIGHT to know if she swallows!”
“Thomas Jefferson didn’t have this sort of sleaze in mind, when he drafted the First Amendment,” the glorious vision of masculine perfection said as he knocked their heads together. “And NO, I don’t care if this is fascist or communist or repressive or whatever verbal diarrhea you planned on saying. You get away with enough as it is, but that was well over the limits of acceptability. Now run along. And if you’re thinking of complaining to Hartford or Carson, just remember that they’ll expect to listen to the recording that you made, and wonder WHY you erased it…”
The boy with the Exxon Valdez spill on his face grabbed the chubby one and dragged him off vigorously as the other one complained loudly. Kerry’s rescuer watched them leave with a look of utter contempt on his face. Then he turned his head with just enough force to impart a toss of his long white locks so that they framed his face just so as he smiled dazzlingly into Kerry’s eyes. “Really! With all the so-called ‘superheroes’ running around, you’d think that the halls of this school would be safe from that sort of thing.”
While he was biologically a mutant with an Exemplar trait and a high Energizer trait, ‘Jason Stratholm’ was still Zeus Pater, Greatest of the Gods of Olympus. He was famous for his trysts with mortal women, spawning demigod after demigod. In the old days, the merest glimmer of his divine aura would have the most prim and proper of noble ladies tearing her chiton off. These days, there were ‘feminists’ who might argue that this was a form of undue coercion. But then, these days they said that getting a woman drunk to have sex with her was the same thing. Yet you didn’t hear women passing up on free drinks.
He smiled his glorious smile and let that feeble reflection of his former grandeur shine through. But instead of melting into a giggling mass of adolescent lust, the girl just stared at him, glassy-eyed. “Hello, my name is Jason. And who are you?” he prompted.
The girl said nothing, and just stared back at him.
“ah… Hello?” he tried again. Was he losing his touch? No, her two friends were just as flabbergasted by his raw male presence as usual.
The pale, sleek-featured girl snapped out of it, and looked at her friend. “Kerry? Kerry?” she waved a hand in front of the angel-girl’s face. She muttered something in Hungarian. “She’s out of it again. Gina?” she jostled her shorter, dumpier companion in the shoulder, bringing her to her senses. “Kerry’s gone la-la again.”
“AGAIN?” the smaller one squeaked. “What set her off this time? Mister Wilson said that the last time was some kind of psychic intrusion that she wasn’t able to cope with.”
Zeus hemmed mightily, realizing that the school had very strict rules about psychic meddling, which was made worse by the fact that he’d neglected to tell the school about this particular asset of his.
Just around the corner, where Peeper and Greasy were still waiting to be paid for their part in Imperious’ gambit, Cytheria handed Majestic a dollar. It had taken ‘Father’ Zeus less than an hour to put his foot it in.
Smugly reveling more in the victory than the money, Majestic waved Judicator into action. With a nod, Athena walked around the corner and acted as though she was stumbling upon the situation. “Oh! What’s this?” She bustled up and peered into Kerry’s eyes, all benevolent concern. “Oh. Yes. An elementary ‘safe room’ technique. But apparently, she hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it just yet… Let me just ‘knock on her door’…”
As Judicator coaxed Kerry out of her mental seclusion, June wafted in, took Jason by the arm and gently escorted him ‘off-stage’ before it occurred Kerry’s two friends that he might have had something to do with her shutdown. After some coaxing, Kerry finally blinked and looked into the smiling face of an utterly gorgeous slightly older girl with olive skin, long wavy black hair, sleek Hispanic features, and large arresting gray eyes. “Welcome back! I’m Theresa. And you are?” From there, Judicator gently but firmly led Kerry and the others away from Imperious, Majestic and Cytheria. Oh, and away from the idea that Kerry’s shutdown had been caused by a subtle but powerful psychic assault by Imperious.
“Well done, my lord!” Majestic cooed. “Well played. You set up our dear Athena wonderfully. Now she is perfectly placed to become a trusted figure by our altar-girl. And, since Athena is in Whitman, Aphrodite is well-placed to keep track of her in Dickinson, without seeming to be keeping her under any sort of surveillance. That would only cause to make our lovely young angel- girl suspicious and paranoid. But instead, Athena will always be there to offer wisdom and guidance, as is her nature. Normally, I’d say that Athena is too forthright and direct for use in such a subtle ploy, but I think that works in our favor in this instance. She needs only guide the altar girl in the direction that is best for everyone- namely, the return of the Dodekatheon to Olympus. Aphrodite or myself would be suspect, but who could suspect your loving and trusty daughter, Athena?”
Imperious smarted under the patently obvious face-saving that his ‘better half’ offered, but accepted the polite fiction. Cytheria, no slouch at connivance herself, nodded appreciatively at the way that Hera ground Zeus’ face in his own dirt, while managing to avoid setting off his legendary temper. The ancient poets wronged her, when they recorded all the times that Hera resorted to overt measures. But then, when Hera was on her game, there was nothing to connect her and the horrible fates that befell those who provoked her.
While he’d been tempted to give them a tongue-lashing when he noticed those three little pains in his behind laughing at him almost being mashed by Slab, Jean-Armand was now grateful for their attention. He figured that they’d been following the Angel-girl around. But now their attention was on him, as he’d made a special effort to be as suspicious as possible. They were doing a reasonable job at following him without being seen. But he was watching them watching him, using a cunning little surveillance micro-drone that he’d designed. Or, at least, that he’d modified from that annoying little snoop, Kew of the Spy Kidz at least. And he had every right to adopt the technology. The Spy Kidz knew that they weren’t supposed to use those things in the cottages, and he’d found one in his room, anyway. He could sense the ‘eye’ of the effect that Palantir was using through that ridiculous ball of hers, and he saw them peering through the ball, watching him. And from the vantage ‘over his shoulder’, they could see everything that he was reading and writing, but not the headset that he was using to keep tabs on them. Perfect.
[What’s he doin’?] he heard one of them ask.
[He’s researching something. I think that it has to do with capturing an angel] that was probably the little know-it-all.
[Why would he be doing that?]
[Same as us, he wants the power of one of those angels]
[Can he do it?]
[He seems to think so]
Carefully, remember that he was dealing with novices, Jean-Armand laid out his tools, even using an abacus for clarity, and began laying out the workings for a minor summoning that he believed would ‘summon’ and bind one of the angels- IF you get the Angel-girl alone, undefended and unawares. He started by using his compass to define the First Circle and slow but methodically, worked his way, step by step through the working.
It took him five times.
The little nitwits kept tripping up and missing essential stages, so he had to start all over again.
[WHY is he doing this over and over again?]
[He wants to get it perfect. He only has one shot at it, and he knows if he blows it, he’s screwed. THERE! I got it!]
Jean-Armand patiently completed his final ‘practice’ diagram, and carefully began checking his chart of the flows of essence in and around the school.
[HEY! Hey, that’s like our ley line chart! But it’s different! Howcum HE gets a chart that shows nexuses that aren’t in out-of-bounds areas?]
[He probably stole it]
Well, actually he HAD made an unauthorized copy, but it rather rankled that she hadn’t allowed that he might have worked out the chart on his own. Using an astrology chart and astrolabe, he worked out which of the available nexi would be most auspicious for a working for that night. After all, it wouldn’t do to give the little ninnies too much time to think about it.
[HEY! That’s Tonight! He’s gonna go for the Angel some time today! We gotta beat him to it!]
Jean-Armand felt the ‘eye’ over his shoulder close, and watched his three dupes bustle off to do his dirty work for him. For once, dear little Clover’s luck was going to rain good fortune down on HIM. Let them do the work and shoulder the blame. Dear old Papa would be proud.
“Ah, Pythia,” Judicator said. “Yes, I know her. Most of the ‘fixers’ in the cottages know each other; makes it easier to get things done.”
“And there’s a fixer in each cottage?”
Judicator waggled her hand in a ‘sort of yes, sort of no’. “It doesn’t really work that way. Fixer isn’t a job, it’s more of a niche. Things need to get done, and some people get reputations for getting them done. Some cottages only have one fixer, some have two, and your has three- or, at least, you have Pythia and her two friends. Well! Here we are! The Kirby Complex for the Mystic and Psychic Arts.” Theresa made sure that Kerry found the offices for both her Mystic Arts and Psychic Arts ‘catch-up’ classes, and hurried to see if she could get into the classes that she wanted herself.
After muddling through the paperwork, Kerry paused by the door of the Mystic Arts office. A vaguely familiar girl with long dark hair and icy blue eyes paused as she was going in. “Wait a minute,” the girl said. “I saw you coming out the Psyche Arts office as well. Are you taking Myst Arts and Psyche Arts at the same time?”
“Yes,” Kerry said, sensing nothing from this girl but simple curiosity. “Is that a big deal?”
The girl shrugged. “Not that big a deal. I’m doing it myself. But it’s pretty rare.” She leaned in confidentially. “Word to the wise- the two departments don’t get along very well. Psycho Arts is convinced that Myst Arts has more rooms, better equipment and a bigger budget. Myst Arts ain’t sayin’ shit, either way. Expect to get pumped for information.” She sighed. “I think we’ll be taking Intro to Mystic Concepts together.”
“You’re new here, too?”
“No,” the girl said in a martyred whine. “But someone keeps fucking with my term final project and-” she waved that aside. “Nevermind. I’m Witchcat.”
“I’m, ah, Seraphim,” Kerry said, remembering her codename, which seemed proper with someone from another cottage.
“Seraphim?” Witchcat mulled that over for a second. “OH! The Angel that all the buzz is about!” She patted Kerry on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Kiddo. You’re just the flavor of the week. It quiets down as people get used to you, and the weirdness goes away. Last term it was this bunch of Poe kids who caught those ninjas trying to steal their- oh, wait, bad example.”
As Witchcat mulled that over, they left the Kirby Complex. Kerry was just about to ask a few of the usual questions, when she heard her name being called. Looking over to where it came from, she saw Eddie flying up to them (literally). “Hey, Kerry! Whereya been? Where’s Gina and Erzabet?”
“They had to get classes in other buildings,” Kerry replied. “So, what are you doing?”
“Ah, Jamal hadda go make sure that Buck didn’t completely destroy that giant robot thing in the Workshop, and I dunno where Thorn or Froggy are. So, you done getting your classes? Maybe you wanna hang out or sum’thin’?”
Something zipped up to them. “Hey, if she wants to hang out, she can do it with someone who’s worth her time.” The zip was a powerfully built guy who looked like he just stepped out of a ‘fashions for high schoolers’ spread. He had THAT dark hair cut just right, he had THAT set of angular good looks, and he had THAT look of smug confidence that for some reason girls seemed to like. He was wearing a ski sweater that was just thick enough to be warm while still showing off his studly physique, and dark trousers with the same design philosophy. He shoved Eddie aside and stepped up to Kerry, towering a good six inches taller than she was. “Hey. I’m Powerhouse. I’m in the Cape Squad.”
As though that was all that need to be said. ‘Powerhouse’ sort of reminded Kerry of Jeff O’Connell, the Senior class BMOC/ Badass/ God’s gift to women back in Glassboro. They had the same ‘here I am, oblige me’ attitude. Still… “The ‘Cape Squad’?” Kerry asked, trying not to let this yutz overawe her. He really pushed those ‘accommodating doormat’ reflexes in her that she was trying to get rid of.
“The ‘Cape Squad’ is the local bunch of superhero wannabes,” Witchcat explained. “You may have noticed them in the lunch room. They were the ones wearing- what else?- capes.”
Powerhouse turned to Witchcat to say something, and Kerry had a sense of a stinging retort, but Eddie stepped up and said, “Hey, who do you think you are? We were talking here!”
“Yeah. Like anyone cares?”
Powerhouse had a good four inches on Eddie, and he was obviously older and more in control of his powers. But Eddie still set himself between the older boy and Kerry. “Hey, why don’t you go and peddle this bad boy act somewhere where they’re buying it?”
“And who do you think YOU are?”
“I’m Captain Power,” Eddie said squaring himself for a fight, obviously trying out his code name for the first time.
“Captain POWER?” Powerhouse guffawed, “Oh, GAWD, I love putting snotty little froshes in their place!”
“Big talk, big man,” Eddie snarled back. “You got the cojones to back it up?”
“Oh, I got stones like you wouldn’t believe, little boy,” Powerhouse said stepping up a little closer.
“Oh, Will You Two Just Get ON With It Already?” Snapped a voice from behind them. “What IS it with people today? They all need to TALK each other to death before they get down to the simple business of HITTING each other!”
That drew all their attention to a young man standing off in the snow about ten to twenty feet away. He was tall and athletically trim in a black motorcycle jacket over a thin red turtleneck. He was a paragon of masculine beauty, with longish black hair framing perfect Mediterranean features in perfect proportion to his physique. But there was something about the cast of his features that suggested that he was born to laugh at the slaughter of innocents. “Oh Crap,” Witchcat said in a near whisper, “Counterpoint.”
“What was the point?” Kerry murmured in numb response.
“HEY!” Powerhouse said, turning his head but keeping his footing in relation to ‘Captain Power’. “Stay OUT of this, Frosh- boy! This is none of your business!”
Counterpoint smirked and pulled down his mirrored sunglasses.“Gee… that sounds kinda like… A CHALLENGE?”
“Take it any way you WANT, punk!”
Counterpoint did the ‘come and get it’ gesture. “I think that somebody needs to be spanked, capey-boy.” With that, he sent a bolt of energy that whizzed past Powerhouse’s ear.
Powerhouse erupted in a burst of speed, charging at Counterpoint at incredible speed, fist cocked for a strike. Counterpoint weaved around Powerhouse’s blow with the barest of motion, lashing out with a backhand blow as the would-be superhero passed, and clipped him on the back of the head. The blow combined with Powerhouse’s own speed, and deflected his path, sending him into the trunk of a snow-covered tree. As the collected snow fell on Powerhouse, Counterpoint muttered, “Pathetic” in a disgusted tone. Eddie took advantage of this to fly at Counterpoint and pegged him with a fly-up punch to the jaw. The force of the blow knocked the shades off Counterpoint’s face, but beyond that, all it got Eddie was the comment, “Better.”
Unfortunately, Eddie’s punch was a fly-UP punch, not a fly-BY punch. He hovered there long enough for Counterpoint to grab him by the parka and unleash a powerful jolt of energy that stunned him. “Not GOOD enough, but better.”
Witchcat grabbed Kerry by the arm. “Come ON, we can get out of here while he’s busy with those two!”
“Counterpoint is a PSYCHO!”
“I HEARD that!” Counterpoint snapped as Powerhouse erupted out from under the blanket of snow to try another charge. Counterpoint grabbed him on the fly and turned his inertia against Eddie, using him as a club to batter the boy mercilessly. “You run away, and I’ll just slit their throats, and then come and FIND you!”
“I can’t leave Eddie to get crippled by this asshole!” Kerry gasped.
“Good for you!” Counterpoint exulted as he dumped the unconscious Powerhouse on top of the stunned Eddie. “I didn’t want them anyway. And for your bravery, I’ll only hurt you a little, after I get what I want.” He started to move towards the two girls.
Witchcat opened her mouth and what looked like a large black bird flew out of it. It winged away in the general direction of the other buildings. Then Witchcat stepped forward, hand stretched forward and energy blazing from her eyes. “BACK! Back! We don’t have any problems with you…”
“That’s all right,” Counterpoint jeered. “I’m all the problem you’ll ever need.” Then he faltered in his step. “What’s this? The Evil Eye?” He chucked, amused. “You’re using the Evil Eye on me? On Me? ON ME?” By the third iteration, he wasn’t amused anymore, and seemed to be working himself up into a fury. “I can’t copy that… What ARE you? A Vrykolas? An Empusa? Strygoi? Lamia, maybe? Some pathetic Avatar, housing some wretched little darkling that doesn’t know its proper place in the cosmos?” With that, he charged at Witchcat, but was deflected at the last moment by some unseen force.
He bounced off Witchcat’s PK force field, but was immediately back on it, doing something strange with rapid fire, almost sewing machine action, strikes of his hands right on where Kerry could just make out a vague something between Witchcat and Counterpoint. Okay, this was officially way out of control. Kerry quickly summoned up one of her angels, charged it to full power and let Counterpoint have it, point blank.
Counterpoint went flying, but he was up on his feet almost immediately. “Oh Yes,” he exulted, “THAT’S what I want…”
Kerry had the distinct impression that she’d not only hit him squarely, but done more damage to him than Powerhouse, Eddie and Witchcat all together, but he wasn’t just coming back for more, he was eager. She pushed herself, and formed both an angel-shield and an angel-sword, and hoped that it would be enough.
Counterpoint stopped and looked at her with an amused disdain, as though a kitten was trying to scare a lion away from a gazelle carcass. “Oh? THAT’S how it is, eh?” He made the slightest motion, and suddenly a classic Greek sword appeared in his hand, as if from nowhere. “Well, might as well have a little fun with this, so it won’t be totally boring…” And then he went at Kerry with a speed and surety that reminded her uncomfortably of the Anti-Paladin.
No, this psycho would hand the Anti-Paladin his armor-plated ASS.
Kerry traded a few blows with Counterpoint, and got beaten badly. She managed to keep off his sword with her shield, but he was pegging her pretty hard with his off hand. And he was enjoying it. Then, suddenly, the lawn sprinklers for that area shot up and sprayed Counterpoint with icy cold water for a minute or so before they froze up (literally). Counterpoint reacted to the water just long enough for Kerry to strike at his sword, shearing the blade off just before the guard. Counterpoint looked at his sword aghast. “My Sword! You cut my sword! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO FIND A SWORDSMITH WHO KNOWS HIS ASS FROM A HOLE IN THE GROUND THESE DAYS?”
Kerry lifted off, hoping that height would give her some advantage. It didn’t. Counterpoint went after her, and if anything, he seemed to be enjoying himself more. He bashed into her repeatedly, caroming off her shield as she tried ineffectually to get anywhere near him with her sword. Eddie got up and tries to enter the fray, but Counterpoint just did… something… where some sort of noxious spew came from his very mind, sending Eddie reeling.
Counterpoint finally nailed Kerry cleanly on a downward strike, sending her crashing down onto the ground. “Well, fun’s fun, but it’s time to get down to business,” he said as he touched down. He walked over to where Kerry lay stunned in the snow. He pulled her up and joked, “LOOK! You made a snow angel…”
He laid his hand on her forehead and did something. Then, holding her head by her hair, he cocked his fist in preparation of battering her face in. “HEY!” Witchcat shouted, “I thought you said that you weren’t going to hurt her!”
But before he could throw his punch, a flame-burst erupted on the ground, throwing him off his balance. Before he could alight and get his footing, a vortex of wind carried him up to where a 30-foot giant in a blue armored bodysuit with gray trim and a stylized ‘bear’ helmet hit him with a haymaker. The knockback from the haymaker pitched him into the batting zone of a curvy female in similar armored bodysuit with dark red trim and ‘fox’ helmet, who was waiting with a power-bat. The power-bat knocked him over to a male in a bright red suit with a stylized ‘tiger’ helmet, who was wreathed in flames and blasted him. The blast carried Counterpoint over to a flying muscular guy with blue trim and a ‘wolf’ helmet who body checked him over to the lithe female with pale purple armor and ‘bird’ helmet, who simply threw him down face-first into the ground. As Counterpoint reeled on the ground, the giant landed on top of him in a sort of ‘cannonball’.
And yet, for all that, Counterpoint was merely fazed, not stunned.
Still, it gave the Mediterranean woman in tweeds a chance to walk up and attach a strip of paper to his back. As Counterpoint shook his head, Circe murmured, “Lord Ares, a pleasure, as always.” In a louder voice she said, “I’ve placed a spell on you that prevents you from using the mental patterns that trigger the use of mimicked powers. This spell will last for at least an hour. Which should be more than enough time to get Mister Lodgeman or Reverend Englund to come and deal with you. That is, unless you’d like to just walk over to Security and receive your punishment?”
Counterpoint shook his head clear and was immediately his cocky self again. “Why not?” he asked with a sneer, and walked jauntily off between the guys in gray and bright red, his bully’s arrogance not dimmed in the slightest for the contretemps.
As Circe helped Witchcat get Kerry up out of the snow, and the teacher felt Kerry for serious injury, Stormwolf took his helmet off. “Really! A fight on your first day? I expected better from the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Fight? That wasn’t a FIGHT!” Kerry snapped, despite the worrisome pain in her ribs, “I got JUMPED!”
“You could have just run away,” he said severely.
“We TRIED,” Witchcat said, “He said that he’d cut their throats if we did.” Witchcat gave a bare-bones rundown as to what happened.
“Give it a rest, Stormwolf,” Circe said. “That’s exactly what Counterpoint would have said, and it’s exactly what he would have done if they hadn’t held their ground.”
“She could have gone for a teacher or a Peacemaker or Security.”
“I DID.” Witchcat said, and as if to illustrate the point, the black cat on Circe’s shoulder leapt over to Witchcat, where it sort of melted and flowed up into her mouth.
“I think that you owe the young lady an apology, Stormwolf,” Circe said. “I’d say that she has a few cracked ribs. Get her and her two valiant defenders over there,” she indicated Eddie and Powerhouse, “to the Infirmary. But with her metabolism and powers, she should be fine by tomorrow. I’d say that all she really needs to do is sleep it off.”
“She’s in my cottage,” Dale offered. “I’ll see to it that she gets back to Dickinson.” She elbowed Stormwolf savagely in the ribs. “And Adam here has something to say, don’t you, Adam?”
“Sorryaboutjumpingonyourcase,” he ground out.
“See? He’s not a bad guy- just in desperate need of a Rectal Stickectomy.”
“But… but my classes…”
“Most of your schedule is pretty basic, covering the topics that you missed during the messier parts of your manifestation. They’ll be there tomorrow.”
When Dale got Kerry back to Dickinson, several of the girls were absolutely aghast. “Who’d jump Kerry?”
“Counterpoint.” Dale answered.
“Oh. Counterpoint. Yeah, he’d jump the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Are you okay, Kerry?” Vera asked.
“She can’t answer,” Dale informed them. “She’s a little out of it from the pain killer that they gave her. That’s the problem with mutants and drugs- the ones that can affect us tend to be real whoppers.” As Erza and Gina helped Kerry up the stairs, a small tousle-headed blonde scurried off to tell her two friends of the stroke of luck.
True to Circe’s word, the spell wore off in about an hour, and two hours after that, Counterpoint was strolling with nary a care down the halls. He’d gotten the expected MONTH of detention, but so what? He’d gotten what he wanted, and now the world was his oyster, with a ‘R’ in every month. He idly wondered if he should start his new reign by setting off a war between India and China, or if he should instigate a civil war in the United States, or if he should start small, say in the Balkans. There were seven BILLION people in the world; it really was way past time that he culled a few billion of them.
Then there was sense of something passing, a blurring, then a sense of movement, and then he was somewhere else. “Well, here he is,” he heard Hermes’ voice say.
Then he knew where he was- the meeting room in Melville that the ‘New’ Olympians used, with the faux marble and pillars. Most of the Olympians were there- Zeus was standing there with a face like a storm. Hera was there, strumming her fingers on the table impatiently. Athena had that look of amused superiority that she always had when she tried to cheat him out of something. Aphrodite, Hades, and of course Hermes. But not Apollo or Hephasteus or Artemis- they could never get Artemis to show up for anything, ever, even back in the good old days. And of course, Poseidon and Dionysius were still MIA. “Ah! How convenient!” Ares said, adjusting the fit of his jacket. “Now I don’t have to bother rounding all of you up.”
“WHAT! DID! YOU! THINK! YOU! WERE! DOING!” Zeus raged in the voice of thunder that echoed through the chamber.
“I thought- no, I knew that I was winning,” Ares said calmly. “I knew that mother and dear little Athena were going to pussyfoot around like they always do, and they were going to waste time being all subtle and trying to make nice-nice with the altar-girl. I just did the simple, obvious thing.”
“We need to take the Altar as a UNITY!” Hera said in a way that suggested that she thought that he was a little boy who needed things spelled out to him.
“NO, we don’t need to take the Altar-girl at ALL,” Ares said snidely. “You see? You overcomplicated everything from the get-go, just like you did with this ‘reincarnate in the bodies of children’ idiocy. And THEN you went and FORGOT where you sent Poseidon and Dionysius!
“But I, being the only one here who still has what it TAKES, have solved everything! I just went to the little bitch, slapped her around a bit to put her in her place, and then I COPIED her precious ‘altar’ power. See how simple that was? Now I am the key to returning to Olympus-on-High! Now I am the one with the power! Now, things are going to start to be done the RIGHT way! MY WAY! First thing we do when we get back to Olympus- we start taking out the ‘A’ players. Dominus? DEAD! The Keeper? DEAD! Verdigris? DEAD! Gog and Magog? DEAD! Professor Reaper? DEAD! Madam Terror? DEAD! The Purifier? DEAD! Baba Yaga? DEAD! The Savage Six? Hhmmmm… I think we’ll keep them around as hounds; I like their style. Deicide? Hah! HIM we keep around, on a leash! Let him make his little trinkets for US!” He stopped and grinned. “Or, at least, for ME.”
Hera raised an eyebrow. “And what are the superheroes going to do as we’re removing all these threats?”
Ares waved a superior hand. “That’s the beauty of it- if we go after the superheroes first, the villains will scatter like rabbits. But if we take out the supervillains first, the heroes will come to US, like lambs to the slaughter. And then-” he started to really get into it. “THEN it really starts. First, we destroy New York, just to get the world’s attention! Then, we destroy Mecca! Either Mecca or Rome, I’m not sure which one first… Anyway! War after war, on every continent of the globe! It will take a while, but I figure that after we’ve culled maybe two or three billion of them, we’ll have weeded out the real weenies, and toughened the rest of them up. Then we take away their technology, make them farm by hand and hunt with bow and spear. Then they’ll be able to wage war that it should be done, with fire and iron, rage and honor, instead of all this cold-blooded mechanized warfare. And then! Then it’ll be like the old days, with constant feuds and war and raiding and banditry! Welcome to a new age, Olympians! The Age of Ares, God of War! No! ARES, GOD OF ALL!” With that, Ares wreathed himself in a corona of coruscating energy as he laughed viciously.
Then he noticed something off. “What? That’s not the primal Malkuthic energy that I saw her using, it’s just electricity…” he shut off the electricity and seemed to be switching between several options. “Wait, I’m sure of it, that’s the power that I copied from her… But nothing’s happening? Where’s the primal energy that I should be channeling?”
Athena stepped forward with a puckish smile on her face. Which was even more unnerving than the lack of primal energy. Athena didn’t DO ‘puckish’; it wasn’t really in her nature. If Athena was amused, it usually meant that he’d stepped in it badly. “Might I offer a solution, oh mighty ‘Lord of All’?”
“And what would YOU know about it?” he snarled.
“Hello? Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy here? Strategy? As in ‘looking where you’re going, and finding things out BEFORE you go charging in and killing everything in sight’? But then that never WAS your strong suit, now was it?”
“I PREFER to take things as they come,” he grated out.
“You PREFER to take things laying on your face with your well-lubricated keister in the air.”
“And what’s your point?”
“The POINT is that the Altar’s power isn’t entirely genetic. The base root of her power is more or less an amplification of the mechanism that allows humans to apply emotional energy to piercing the veils between this and the higher realms, apparently coupled with a minor manifestation or magical trait.”
“What? Then how could she-”
“Somehow, she managed to spend a couple of months stuck in a Roman Catholic church, being the constant religious focus of more people than there were citizens of the Roman Empire under Augustus. She made daily communions to the higher realms to perform healings for almost a month, frequently doing multiple healings per day. She was involved in multiple major workings, including two that involved breaches to a level that I suspect was even higher than Olympus-on-High. The result of all that is that she’s established a permanent personal connection to one of the higher planes. You can’t steal that or copy it.” Athena finished with a smug smirk.
“And how was I supposed to know that? How did YOU find that out?”
“Oh, very, very mysterious,” Athena said, rubbing the salt in with glee. “I asked her. A few leading questions, some discreet telepathic poking, a few careful phone calls to the Research department… But then, that’s sort of beyond you, isn’t it? Not the telepathy- the intelligence.”
“Daddy’s little girl.” Ares sulked at her
“Momma’s Boy.” She shot back.
“Then what am I copying?”
“The base genetic trait. Basically, a sort of souped-up empathy linked to some magic trait or another. Which pretty much means that you can feel how others are feeling around you.”
“WHAT? What good is THAT? Why should I care how others feel? All I care is if it hurts or not, and I can tell that by the way they SCREAM!”
“That’s not the real question,” Zeus said as he picked Ares up by the scruff of the neck and glowered up into his son’s face as his eyes crackled with electrical rage. “The REAL question is ‘What’s this crap about ‘Lord of All’?’”
“Okay Buttons, this is important,” Clover told the wriggling bundle of button-eyed white fluff in her hands. “I want you to stand guard in the hallway, and let us know if Flex or Charmer or Dragonrider come along to check up. Got that?”
Buttons gave a chipper yip and waggled his tail happily. Clover set him on the floor and he romped off to fulfill his task. She looked around the hallway and saw no one. “Okay guys, the coast is clear!” she whispered back into her room. Abracadabra and Palantir carefully snuck out, Abra carrying a binder full of notes and Palantir carrying a basket full of equipment. Clover paused, crossed her eyes and sucked her finger for a moment. "I think I’m forgetting something…” she mused. She looked around her room and she thought she had it. “Oh! Of course! My Witch Hat!”
She got her black pointed hat, settled it on her mop of blonde curls and scurried to catch up with Pally and Abra. Pally opened the door to Flex and Kerry’s room and peeked in. Flex was out, and clothes and books and stuff were everywhere, half-unpacked. But, most important of all, there was the Angel-girl, laid out in bed and dead to the world. Jackpot. She even had a blanket over her, making everything easy.
Abra pulled out compass and Palantir used a pendulum to get a sense of the flows in the room. “Are you Sure that we ought’a be doin’ this, Pally?” Clover asked.
“Sure!” Irene assured her. “We gotta ignite our essence somehow, and those angels of hers are just the trick! And it’s not like we’re stealing anything- she just makes those things and throw’s ‘em away. And best of all, it’s safe, not like that cluster fu-”
“Like that mess with Hellfire Sheba.”
“Sure,” Abra agreed as she carefully arranged the cards in a circle on top of the sleeping girl. “From what I heard on the TV, one of these angel things landed on someone in New York in the street, and not only didn’t it hurt her, but it cured her cancer. It saved her life! How could one of these things be dangerous?”
Clover paused. “I keep thinking that I’m forgettin’ something.”
Palantir spared a look at the angel-girl’s face. “Woof! What happened to HER?”
“That butt-face ‘Counterpoint’ got to her.”
“Well, I guess she ain’t so tough after all.”
“I dunno, Pally. Counterpoiny-head’s plenty tough. One time, he was pushin’ me and Abra around, and Button’s got big and snarled at him, and he just LAUGHED!”
“Still, the point here, is that she’s tanked to the gills, so she won’t wake up while we do this,” Abra said as she traced the patterns on the cards. The cards were ‘flash cards’ for mystic runes, with arrows on them to show the proper direction and sequence for drawing the glyph, like a First Grade handwriting chart, but Abra found that she could use them as functioning enchantment tiles quite nicely by just pumping essence into them. That was, after all, the entire jist of her mutant trait. She finished up powering up the cards forming the conjuring circle that she’d copied over Nephandus’ shoulder, and then powered up four more cards. “Okay, Pally, we need one of your balls.”
“Don’t call me that,” Palantir said out of habit. Still, she formed one of her trademark spheres around the four cards. The result was that the glyphs were worked into the very fabric of the sphere.
“Perfect,” Abra said. “Now for the main event.” She handed out printed sheets with the conjuring spell that Nephandus had written out, broken down into syllables and spelled out phonetically. They made sure that Clover understood how all the words were pronounced and got the cadence down. When they had it letter-perfect, Abra powered up the last card, setting it all into motion. Standing around the drowsing girl, they recited the conjuring spell over and over.
Just when Clover was getting tired of chanting, and Palantir was about to lose her patience, a glow appeared over the girl’s midsection. Heartened, the three witches resumed their chanting, urging the spell into full fruition. The glow resolved into a golden ball in the girl’s tummy that rose up into the circle of glowing letters.
The experience of bringing forth an angel against her will overcame the sedation (though the nature of her power may have had something to do with it), and Kerry gasped and opened her eyes. “Oh Crap!” Pally yelped. She rammed her floating sphere around the golden ball, but Kerry couldn’t seem to snap out of whatever spell had her bound. The golden ball unfurled into an ‘angel’ inside the ball. The three girls cooed as it hung there.
Then Clover said, “Okay, what now?”
“Uhmmm… rats!” Abra started checking her notes.
As she shuffled through the paper, their attention slipped, and Kerry was able to fully rouse and sit up, scattering the cards. “HEY!” she roared, “What do you three @$$#o!*$ think you’re doing?” at the top of her lungs.
“Oh Crap!” Pally yelped again. “Plan B!”
‘Plan B’ appeared to be ‘get while the getting is good’ as the three girls scrambled out of the room with the sphere, not bothering to pick up their basket. Kerry followed them out into the hallway, yelling, “HEY! Come back here with that!”
Several Dickinson girls were in the halls, but they weren’t quick enough to stop the trio. Erza ran up to Kerry and asked, “What happened? Oh Kerry! Did they attack you?”
“No, this happened earlier. No, somehow, don’t ask me how, but they called up one of my angels and they have it in that ball they were holding!”
“Oh No!” Charmer gasped. “Those three, they’re in the Mystic Arts program, and they want to ignite their essence- I won’t go into that now- but remember what Mrs. Nelson said? If they use one of your angels, they could fry themselves trying to do it!”
“You’re kidding!” Erza said. “After what Mrs. Nelson said?”
“Oh, Vera’s right!” Dragonrider agreed. “Those three are in the Junior High program, and they don’t have a lick of sense between the three of them! Last term, they tried to hijack Pern!” The little dragon-thing squeaked an annoyed affirmative.
“Oh, Christ, we gotta stop them, or they’ll freaking kill themselves!” Kerry moaned.
“Someone, tell Mrs. Nelson, she’ll tell Security,” Flex said.
“I’ll do it!” Gina said, and she split herself off, with one scampering down the stairs. “Let’s go!” the remaining one said.
As they gallumphed down the stairs in a mass, Charmer said, “Lindsey, you go find Miss Grimes, I’ll go find Mrs. Chulkris- between the two of them, they should be able to find those three before they do anything foolish. Or, at least, before they do anything suicidal! The rest of you, keep on them! Don’t give them a chance to USE that thing!”
En masse, the girls ran out into the early winter gloaming, and immediately regretted not stopping for their winter coats. “Keep going!” Gina said, “I’ve got an idea!” She concentrated intently, while still running, and a few minutes later, there was a blurring, and she had an armful of coats. “My other self picked them up from the hallway,” she explained. Then the ‘other self’ budded off again, slowed down to a trot and headed off in the direction of the cottage. “In case we need to talk with Mrs. Nelson,” she explained.
Sitting in comfort in his lair (well, one of the secret labs that he was leasing from She-Beast), Jean-Armand watched his dupes’ efforts, courtesy of the surveillance drone that had attached itself to that ridiculous ‘witch’ hat the little blonde insisted on wearing. He had to give his father his due- collecting relics of power was SO much easier when you let others do the grunt work for you. But, while according to their heading on his GPS and the comments that he overheard ‘Plan B’ was to go to the ‘secret place’ that he’d suggested in the notes that they’d ‘stolen’, from their heading on the GPS, the little ninnies were going the wrong way! Still, he had a ‘Plan B’ of his own.
The redhead was riding the ball with her angel inside it, the blonde was riding a huge white dog like a pony, and the brunette girl was running on top of the snow without being slowed down any. But Kerry finally remembered her wings and took to the sky. “STOP, you idiots!” she shouted as she swooped in front of them to slow them down. “You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Yeah, Right!” the redhead said with a growl, “How many times have we heard THAT?”
The chase was taking them closer to the buildings, and Kerry hoped that they might steer the little nitwits into the arms of Security. But Flex, who knew the campus far better than Kerry did, said, “They’re trying to get into the tunnels! If they get down there, we might never find them!”
“Oh, Come ON!” the redhead yelled as Kerry tried to block her, "You got lots of these angels, we only want ONE!”
“They’re DANGEROUS!” Kerry yelled back.
“So? What isn’t?”
Kerry set herself between them and the door they seemed to be heading for as the other Dickinson girls fanned around for a capture. Some students stopped and watched the scene with interest. Then the door behind Kerry slammed open and sent her sprawling. Kerry got a brief glimpse of something out of a dinosaur movie, a ‘raptor’ like lizard in a tyranno posture with spines running along the crest of its head and down its back. She heard someone gasp, “Crap! It’s Razorback! What’s got HIM in up in a roar?”
As if in answer to that (rhetorical) question, the raptor opened its fanged maw and let out an ear-bleeding screech that rattled everyone’s skulls. It leapt over Kerry, went trait for Palantir, and pushed her off the globe. “HEY!” She squealed, “That’s MINE!”
As Flex warp/reached the sphere away from the raptor, Kerry let fly with one of her angel-blasts to drive the beast off. The blast deflected off the raptor’s hide and went off into the sky. “Oh, Crap,” Kerry said. There weren’t a lot of things that could stand up to one of her blasts, point-blank, let alone just shrug it off.
“Gina!” Flex said, “Remember your trick?” Gina nodded and split in two, each going off in a different direction. Flex dodged the raptor with uncanny ease and then warp/reached the orb over to Gina, who ran with it. The raptor was after her with blinding speed. But just as it was on her heels, ‘Gina’ disappeared, and the orb appeared in the other Gina’s hands. As Gina did this, Erza did something and sort of shrank into her clothing. A moment later, a dark pantherish creature with weasel-like features struggled out of her clothes and jumped on the raptor with claws and fangs outstretched.
As the cat-weasel struggled with the raptor, Kerry heard one of the rubbernecking students say, “Are you gonna get in on this?”
“Why?” the other one said. “I dunno what’s goin’ on. You know what’s goin’ on?”
As Erza and Kerry were busy with the raptor, the three witches jumped Gina and were busy tussling with both of her for possession of the orb. Kerry had shifted to using her sword, when a dark red blur appeared out of nowhere and crashed into the raptor, sending it sprawling. As he stopped in mid-air to gauge how well he’d done, Kerry recognized Eddie in his Chicago Bulls parka.
Erza skittered away from the raptor, which recovered and was opening its mouth, when a flare of electricity hit it, and it spasmed. As the raptor shuddered like an epileptic, a sphere of an odd amber-ish substance appeared over its snout, keeping it from screaming again. Eddie kept the raptor off balance as Baird came charging in, and started ripping into it with his spurs.
“Won’t do you any good, Blue-boy!” one of the bystanders yelled, “He regenerates like a mo’fo!”
“Whoa!” One of the other bystanders commented as Baird’s slashes revealed metallic struts, bio-plastic musculature and electronic circuitry. “Who’d make a robo-Razor?”
Now that they knew they were dealing with a robot, it took no time at all for Baird, Eddie and Jamal to reduce the meccha-raptor to scrap. “Erza!” Gina yelled as her other self gathered up Erza’s clothing, “Let’s go find a girl’s room!”
Kerry walked up and pointedly yanked the orb away from Clover, who yelled “HEY!” Buttons grew to his large, intimidating Gyrtrash form and growled at Kerry. Kerry flared her halo at him and growled back. Buttons shrank back down and cowered behind Clover.
Kerry turned to the scene around the wrecked automaton. “Eddie! Baird! Jamal! What are you guys doing here?”
As if in answer, the bizarre figure of two boys stuck together wobbled into sight. Kerry recognized Powerhouse from earlier, and Gina recognized that the werewolf that Powerhouse was stuck to was wearing the same football jacket that the main jerk who’d razzed Baird earlier. They were stuck together in a way that prevented either one from getting on balance. They were covered in pink sticky goo that stuck to everything, especially the ground, which made moving even harder. And to top it off, small bubble-gum pink toy poodles with the silly poofy haircuts were hanging on to every inch of both of them by their snarling teeth
As the weird figure staggered past the crowd, Thorn strolled out in an antique English Bobbie’s uniform, complete with helmet and ‘VR’ crest. “Move along, move along, nothing to see here,” he said in a gruff faux-British voice, waving with a truncheon for emphasis. “You all act as though you’d never seen a superhero and a werewolf etherically bonded together, covered in tutti-frutti and savaged by vicious toy poodles before!”
Buck walked up, holding a large contraption with bottles and tubes and valves, his trademark grin, if anything, even wider. “I thought they made you turn in all your guns,” Kerry said, looking at the gadget.
“Only the firearms,” Buck answered. “This isn’t a firearm- it’s a capture device!”
Kerry was about to frame a question, when the staggering semi-Siamese twins stepped erratically over to the wrecked raptor-robot, and finally fell over. But, they fell onto it, and there was some sort of reaction and the wreck exploded, tossing both of them in the air. While they absorbed most of the blast (and shrapnel), the blast had enough force to knock most of the people there off their feet, including Kerry. Palantir made the most of the opportunity by calling the orb to her and taking to her heels.
“Stop them!” Kerry said as she struggled to her feet, but by that time all three of the little pests was out of sight. “Dammit, how can they be so slippery?”
Then Lindsey came trotting up with a tall slender, very dark woman with long angular features in tweed. “I think that you’ll find that they’re even slipperier than you think,” the woman said. “Clover- the little blonde- is a luck pole. Unfortunately, even luck can’t save her from abject idiocy.” Then Powerhouse and Bloodwolf came crashing back to Earth on top of the wrecked robot. “And what does this have to do with them?”
“Questions later!” Thorn said hurrying the faculty member away from the scene of the crime. “Now is the time for action! Come! The chase is on!” he sounded an English horn in a tantara. “Yoicks and away!”
As if in answer to the horn call, white smoke billowed up from the ground, revealing a large ornate art nouveau red sleigh with four rows of seats, lanterns hanging from the side, and four large caribou in harness. Thorn climbed into the driver’s seat, and looked at his handiwork. “Oh. Right. Not quite in season anymore, is it? Well…” He concentrated, and the smoke billowed over the caribou, revealing four large polar bears in the traces.
“Much better,” Miss Grimes agreed.
Eddie helped Miss Grimes into the sleigh, and the rest piled in and pulled the furs over their laps as Kerry and Buck took to the skies. Lindsey had Pern grow to his full size, climbed on his back and followed them airwards.
“This way!” Kerry called down, “I can feel my angel this way!” Thorn snapped the reins and said, “I’m sorry, but I wasn’t expecting to be carrying ladies of quality, so I’m afraid there’s no hot toddy. We’ll just have to rough it! HO! On Frank! On Frazetta! On Boris! On Vallejo!”
As the sleigh drove off, the other students went back to their own businesses. After all, on the Whateley Scale of Weirdness, that barely rated as ‘interesting’.
Jean-Armand glowered at his readout. He genuinely thought that the daring of taking the orb that close to the quad would have paid off. Worse, his Razorback-framing drone was trashed. Still, he had confirmation that the attack deflecting charm that he’d used on the droid worked against the Angel’s powers, that was a bonus. But, best of all, those three little nitwits were back to ‘Plan B’, or, rather, his ‘Plan A’. Still, with the Angel and her friends chasing after them, he couldn’t be sure that the little nitwits would actually get to perform the rite. Still, the difference between a true mystic and a bunch of blundering dilettantes like them was that he didn’t just a have a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’; he had Plans A though Z! And, given her spectacular lack of loyalty or ethics at lunch, the plan that he brought up would be particularly gratifying. He reached for his cell phone. Now, the crucial matter was timing, always timing…
Eddie joined Buck, Lindsey and Kerry in the air. In the middle of looping around in the air, Eddie got a call on his cell phone. Checking it, he informed the others, “It’s Jamal! He says that Miss Grimes says that the best idea is not to corner them, just keep them busy and running until they tire themselves out! Just don’t let them stop long enough to try to USE the angel!”
“Sounds like a well-though out plan!” Buck called out. “Lindsey, your dragon is most at risk in among the trees, so you stay up here and keep an eye on what’s going on. The rest of us will harass them from the air and keep them heading for the sleigh!”
This was more easily said than done. The three little witches had speed, luck, distraction charms and an abject disregard for obvious consequences on their side, and they kept slipping out of one cornering after another. They made their way to a copse of trees in a hollow between some of the hill, and in there, to a small clearing with a stump in the middle. Abra threw spell slips at the trunks of five of the trees marking the clearing. She started to say something, but she was cut off by the sound of a blood-curdling scream.
Kerry just barely managed to avoid the protective screen that Eddie and Buck bounced off of. But her concern was all for the three girls that she’d just been cursing. She could barely see them, by the glowing of the orb in the dark of the clearing. They were cowering and screaming in abject terror of a huge demonic figure that loomed over them. It was huge, with black skin, a fanged bestial head with forward-sweeping horns, powerful muscles, large breasts, and hooves. It was reaching for them- or the orb- Kerry couldn’t say which.
Kerry battered through the warding with her sword and threw an angel-blast at the demon. But a wide cone of light suddenly snapped up from the floor of the glade, captured the angel in mid-flight and drew it down. Then the light snapped off again just as suddenly. This drew the demon’s attention to Kerry, and it started to gesture at her. She beat it to the punch with a panicked angel-blast. This one wasn’t snapped up, and blasted the demon clear off its hooves. It went careening back and smashed into the trunk of a tree. As it hit, it sort of ‘popped’, revealing a slender girl of maybe 16 or so, with tufted white hair, wearing a long padded jacket, ski pants and snow boots. She dropped to the floor of the clearing, quite unconscious.
As the three witches gathered what wits as they had, Kerry stepped forward, utterly baffled by the events and what she was sensing. There had been a palpable sense of the demonic about the girl before, but there was nothing now.
Somewhere over a thousand miles away, a pair of golden eyes snapped wide open, torn from task by a sudden sensing. A sensing as of something precious yet somehow unknown or forgotten suddenly made itself known. Yet, now that she realized it, it grew maddeningly faint. She had no context, no basis for it, and the sweet, desperate need faded into a bittersweet memory. She reached out and gathered only wisps of familiarity which melted in her grasp, leaving only a need to know, to understand.
Thorn came into the clearing bearing an antique lantern, followed by Baird and Jamal. “Kerry? Eddie? Buck? Are you okay in there?”
The three younger girls dived for the glowing orb, but they suddenly found themselves wrapped from head to toe in pink satin ribbon, with big bows on their heads.
“I don’t think that ‘okay’ covers what you’re about to be,” snarled a voice in tones of icy wrath. With a start, Kerry looked over to see a slight dark girl who looked to be her age, but trumped her in pure intimidation. Dark rage spat from her eyes and shadowy wreaths of power coiled around her form. “What have you done to Jadis?”
“Katrina?” Thorn said in tones of confused surprise.
“Thorn?” Katrina replied in precisely the same tones.
“Kate!” Lindsey yelled as she came in with Miss Grimes.
“Lindsey?” Nacht peeped. “Miss Grimes? What’s going ON here?”
“Wait a minute,” Thorn said leaning in and shining the lantern in Jadis’ face. “I recognize this girl. She’s the one who was sitting with the two of you at lunch.”
“Jadis?” Lindsey said coming closely. “What happened?”
“That DOES seem to be the question of the moment,” Grimes said primly. “Miss Ellison, why don’t you start, and we’ll finish with YOU, Miss Tvardowski?”
After Kerry finished her version, with Lindsey, Grimes, and Baird all confirming their parts in her story. “So, we came here to prevent these three-” she poked Palantir, who struggled and gave a muffled squeal of outrage in her ribbon bonds “-from committing suicide by stupidity. By the way, very nice work- remind me to come to you for wrapping presents, next Christmastime.”
“Valentine’s is next month,” Thorn said with a roguish leer, presenting Nacht with a large quilted satin heart.
Nacht popped the heart with a lancet of darkness. “Jadis got a phone call from Jay-Arm. He said that it was a screaming emergency and made it sound like something was trying to eat him, but he didn’t say what. We rushed down here, and heard what sounded like a little girl screaming, which we decided HAD to be Jay-Arm.”
“Jay-Arm?” Kerry asked.
“Nephandus,” Nacht replied, “the guy who came to your table at lunch today?”
“Tall, slender, disgustingly good looking, better tailored than raised, long blonde braid down the back?” Thorn said.
“Thorn, do you know this girl?” Kerry asked.
“Oh, my manners! Kerry, this is Katrina Tvardowski, the girl who’s accepted my invitation to take tea next Wednesday. Kate, this is Kerry Ellison, a friendly acquaintance of mine, since this morning.”
“What? I never accepted any invitation!” Nacht sputtered.
“Oh?” Thorn pulled out his big ‘datebook and flipped through it, with leaves of paper scattering about. “EGAD! You’re RIGHT! Then, shall we say 4 post-meridian, at some cunning little tea shoppe?”
Katrina glowered at him, and resumed. “ANYWAY, we came down here, heard a scream, and Jadis ‘got beastly’ and came to deal with whatever it was. Then Miss Wings over there bitch-slapped my best friend!”
“What do you WANT?” Kerry said with hands outstretched. “It was dark and spooky, and there was screaming, and they were screaming, and then there was this big scary DEMON thing… What would YOU have done?”
“Handled it with the utmost grace and panache,” Thorn said smoothly. The entire assembled company moaned. “Still, I DO think that you owe the young lady an apology.” He reached into his coat and brought out that elaborate filigree silver phial, which he gingerly waved under Jadis’ nose.
It took a bit, but Jadis jerked back to waking, murmured “Momma?” and shoved the phial away.
Thorn looked at Nacht and quietly asked, “Her mother wears eau de gym socks?”
“Wouldn’t know; we don’t know who Jadis’ mother IS.”
Jadis struggled back to full waking, and Kate helped her up. The inevitable ‘what happened?’ question brought the necessary update. “Then what was that light?” Jadis asked. “The one that swallowed up that first angel-blast?”
Kerry blinked. “That’s RIGHT! Something stopped my first blast! A light that came up from the floor!”
Clover mumbled her agreement through her ribbon, but was growled down by Palantir.
“Ah, I think that _this_ might have something to do with that,” Jamal lifted up a metallic device that resembled a shoebox with a handle-grip on one end. “Kinda looks like one of those ghost-traps that the Ghostbusters used in the movies. There’s a cable attached that goes off that way.” He indicated a quarter-inch thick metal spiral-wrapped cable that lead out of the clearing.
“That looks like one of the traps that Jay-Arm was waving around, during Christmas.” Jadis said with a growl. “He had a boner a mile long to bag one of those angels, when we were down in New York, waiting for our connection down to Karedonia.”
“There’s a speaker here, too.” Jamal pointed out.
“Mister ‘Thorn’, would you undo the snare on this one?” Grimes asked. “Thank you. Now, Irene, exactly where did you find the enchantments to create this very impressive containment?” she indicated the orb with the glyphs worked into it.”
“Uhm, we sort of saw Nephan-dork tryin’ to bag one of those angels, and we kinda, y’know, copied some of his homework and used that,” Palantir admitted.
“Indeed…” Grimes said with heavy emphasis. “And that ‘homework’ also suggested this clearing as a good place to use the angel, right? And, aside from looking a trifle creepy, there’s absolutely nothing mystical about this clearing. Except for that trap. And Nephandus was the one who lured you down here in the first place, wasn’t he? My, it doesn’t look good for M’sieur DuChantraine, now does it?”
“JAY-ARM!” Jadis snarled as she clutched her hands into claws before her. She erupted into an odd wavering field that covered her and streamed off of her in purple, pale blue, and silver streaks, turning her into a silhouette. “HUNH?” she hooted, looking at her hands, “What happened to the beast?”
“Indeed…” Grimes made a ‘triangle’ with her thumbs and forefingers and peered with one eye through the hole. “Interesting… it appears that that troublesome devil that your father bound into you isn’t defining your power anymore.”
“Her father bound a devil into her?” Froggy asked no one in particular, with a note of nausea.
“It’s NOT?” Jadis responded in tones of delight. “You mean that fucking etheric little bastard is GONE?”
“I’m sorry, dear, but No. My guess is that Miss Ellison knocked it for a loop, and it’s simply not imposing that, er, imposing image upon how your power works. The ‘beast’ should return the moment that the devil recovers.”
“NERTZ!” Jadis’ rage was back. “This is Jay-Arm’s fault! I’m gonna-”
“Now, now,” Grimes chided her, “while I agree that something has to be done about M’sier DuChantraine, I suggest that we focus on getting that angel out of his hands first.” She leaned in and whispered to Jadis, “Besides, it will give you some time to come up with something really good.”
Jadis managed to fish her telephone out of her pocket and checked it. “Jay-Arm is using one of the hidden labs that he rents from me. He’s had the power working in it for a couple of hours, but the power spiked about ten minutes ago. Let’s go!”
“You keep tabs on your *ahem!* ‘tenants’?” Grimes asked.
“I just rent to them, I don’t necessarily trust them.”
“This way to the sleigh!” Thorn said. He leaned over to Kate and murmured, “You know, it will be rather cramped with everyone. But I’m sure that I could make room for two on the driver’s seat.” Kate simply retreated into her habitual icy calm and walked after Jadis and Miss Grimes. “Pity.”
They made a strange parade through the tunnels. All the way there, Palantir adamantly refused to release the ‘angel’ from the orb, and was stridently negotiating some sort of compensation for doing so. When they reached the hidden door, Jadis reached into the cracks that concealed the jam of the door, but paused. “Nertz! I don’t have any idea of how to use my powers without the beast!”
Froggy gently set her off to one side. “Not.” He sliced up one side of the door with his spurs. “To.” He cut across the top of the door. “Worry!” He slashed down the other side of the door, and Eddie helped him remove the door from the doorway.
“JAY-ARM!” Jadis shouted into the lab. “You miserable backstabbing nancy-ass little momma’s boy FUCK!” Thorn clapped his hands over Clover’s ears. “Come OUT here and get your ass handed to you like a MAN!”
The darkened lab was lit by the glow of the ‘angel’ kept prisoner within several rotating circlets of circuitry. The array was connected to many bits of dissimilar equipment, obviously all cabled together quickly. Jean-Armand stood at the far end of the lab, his hand on the obvious master switch for the entire configuration (not so obviously well protected by a thick plate of blast-proof glass). “You’re too late, She-Beast!” He gloated. “I finally have the angel, and now, I will finally get the respect that I rightfully deserve!”
“I’m supposed to respect you setting me up to take an angel-blast in the face?”
“You had it coming, Jadis! You should have helped me get this back in New York, as you said you would!”
“I never promised anything, and you know it!”
“It doesn’t matter! Because now I have the POWER!”
Seeing a cliché coming at her like a freight train, Jadis muttered, “Don’t say it, don’t say it, for the love of God Jay-Arm, don’t say it…”
“SOON, I WILL BE INVINCIBLE!” He roared, and with standard supervillain laugh #4 (the maniacal cackle of triumph) echoing through the lab, he threw the switch.
“Annnddd… cue the disaster,” Jadis said as she ducked out of the lab.
Kerry jerked and spasmed in sympathetic response to what was happening in the lab. Energy crackled out of the containment array into all the linked-up equipment as Jean-Armand watched feverishly. Then the cables from the array started crackling with too much energy, and smoke started billowing into the lab.
“Never, EVER say ‘soon I will be invincible’,” Jadis said to the group that she was restraining in the outer corridor. “It’s just spitting in the eye of fate.”
Jean-Armand looked around him in abject horror. “NO! Not my Mega-Golem! NO! NO! Not my Immortality Chamber! I was going to USE that! Not my Karmic Justice Redirector! I NEED that! NO! Not the Macrocosmic Cube! NO! Not the Eternity Gauntlet! NO! Not the Numina Synthesizer! Not the Chakra Crown! NO! Not the Godslaver! Not the Mimir Well! NO! Not the Total Subjugator! Not the Casket of Infinite Power! Not the Apotheosis Throne! Not the Cyber-Oracle! NO! Not the Hellmouth Generator! Nooooo… not the Multidimensional Power Armor!” Then his horror was complete. “NO! NO! NOOOOOO! Not the SEDUCTION RAY!” But it was to no avail. The phallic-shaped projector melted and drooped in a depressingly Freudian way.
As the assembled onlookers peered into the lab watching the impromptu fireworks display, Clover said in a tone of enlightenment, “Oh, THAT’S what I was forgetting!” Palantir looked at her friend aghast, and handed the orb over to Miss Grimes, dismissing her bubble as she did so. Kerry seized the angel, shifting it into a sword as she strode toward the lab door.
Jadis held up a hand, holding her back. “Hear that sound?” she jerked a thumb into the lab. Jean-Armand just stood there, looking at the smoking, crackling ruins of his works, his jaw limp, his face wracked with pain and futile tears streaming unchecked down his cheeks. He was making a weird keening noise that was a strange combination of screaming, sobbing and choking. “That is the sound of ultimate suffering. Jay-Arm isn’t just an inventor, he’s a devisor. His projects are like his children to him. He just wiped out months if not years of hard work and planning. And, worst of all, he did it to HIMSELF. I’d like to maul him as much as you would, but nothing we could do would be half as painful as what he’s putting himself through. The worst any of us could do would just distract him from his suffering."
As Jadis leads them off, Kerry moaned, “MAN, I have been having SUCH A DAY! Is it like this all the time?”
“Good Lord, No!” Jadis assured her. “Some times, it gets weird!”