Sunday, April 1, 2007 - pre-dawn
There were disturbances around the edges of my dream space, but a discussion with Fubar had assured me that they were either the inexperienced or undisciplined students on the Dream Team who were curious about my bubble of dream space in the astral plane, or it was some nuisance astral creatures that wandered around. There _were_ some astral entities that might be dangerous, but after dealing with the snake demon, Fubar had no doubts that I could defend myself. Still, it was hard to focus on what Wakan Tanka was teaching me now that I was aware of the minor interferences.
"You are having trouble concentrating, Wihakayda," my teacher said unnecessarily.
"Yeah," I replied. "Last night was pretty ... intense."
"Yes, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka agreed. "But you did well. You used your magic wisely. You were concerned for your teammates as you battled."
"They're my friends," I said to justify my actions, not quite understanding what Wakan Tanka meant. "I couldn't let them get hurt."
"That is the trait of a warrior - defending his tepee and village and protecting them from harm," she said quickly to allay my concern that she disapproved. "But you are still troubled."
I nodded. "I still cannot fight boys," I explained. "I ... I can't."
"Wihakayda, you were once a boy," she said patiently. "Are you troubled by what you were, or by not knowing where you fit in?"
"You said I was accepting my female self," I countered quickly.
"Have you? Completely?" she asked with a weary smile. "And if you have, that doesn't eliminate your old self, your original spirit."
"My ... original ... spirit?"
"You cannot turn your back on your male spirit," Wakan Tanka explained. "It was your core being, and it is still present."
I shuddered. "But that means ...."
"There's nothing wrong with recognizing your two spirits. You are special to have two spirits." She began to brew some tea as she spoke. "In older times, before the white man and his religion, the People respected those with two spirits. Winkte, two-spirits, knew more of themselves than those with only one spirit."
"I don't understand," I replied. "What does it mean to have two spirits?"
"You are learning to accept your female spirit, who you are now," Wakan Tanka explained patiently. She paused to incant over the drink, and then handed me a gourd filled with the steaming beverage. "Even if at times you deny that part of you."
"You sound like my counselor," I said, frowning. "Hearing that once every day is enough."
"And yet you haven't taken the lesson to heart," Wakan Tanka smiled. "So we must repeat it until you accept what it means." She sipped from her own gourd. "But there is more to being winkte, two-spirits," she continued. "What has become of your male self, your man spirit?"
"It's ... gone," I answered hesitantly, confused.
"No, Wihakayda," she answered. "It is _not_. It is still part of you."
"But ... that part ... is like ...." I couldn't continue with the horrid thought. Boys with male spirits had violated me horribly. Did that mean my male spirit was capable of such brutality, too? That my male nature made me instinctively an animal, controlled only by a thin veneer of social rules?
"Your male spirit is part of you, and always will be. You cannot lose that which was part of you for so long." She sipped her tea again. "Why are you afraid of your male spirit?"
I lowered my gaze. "It ... it's ... that part ... scares me ... after what ... they did."
"What was done was _not_ because of their male spirits," Wakan Tanka said firmly. "When you were a boy, did you even _think_ of doing such a disgraceful, brutal thing?"
"No," I answered quickly. I had once been a little pushier with a girl than I should have been, but when she had said no, I'd stopped. The ... animals ... that attacked me hadn't.
"Your male spirit has the honor of the People," Wakan Tanka said with a smile. "I've watched you, and you always did credit to the ways and morals of your tribe."
"You ... watched me?"
"Of course, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said. "You were always destined to be the Ptesanwi."
"You mean, you chose me ... to do this?" I sputtered angrily.
"No, Wihakayda," she said easily. "You are of the blood line of the Ptesanwi. Your clan was destined to be the Ptesanwi again."
"And you're saying I'm ... winkte? And that's something special?"
"Winkte are gifted because they see both sides, male and female. Long ago, winkte were often visionaries and healers, medicine people and nannies. They were care-givers and interpreters of dreams."
"How can I have two spirits?"
"You have the male spirit, which you were born with. And you have the female spirit, which you were _reborn_ with."
"That's confusing. I should be one or the other."
"Is it a female spirit who learns to fight, or to work on the machines of the white man?" Wakan Tanka asked.
"There are many scientists and engineers who are women. And soldiers."
"You sometimes hide from your female spirit," Wakan Tanka said gently. "That is why you see the black deer in your dream world - it is telling you to accept and embrace your female side."
"I don't know _how_!" I cried in response. "I feel ... lost sometimes, caught between two worlds."
Wakan Tanka scooted beside me and pulled my head onto her shoulder, wrapping me in a comforting embrace. "I can't tell you how to do that," she said soothingly, "but I know you _can_ do it, if you want to."
Crystal Hall, breakfast
"What'cha got?" the familiar voice called curiously over my shoulder.
I turned, groaning; across the table from me, Laurie and Naomi smirked. "Morning, Pally," I said without enthusiasm. As expected, Abra and Clover were with the junior high trouble-maker.
Irene's face clouded, and I could tell she really, really wanted to say something to me because she _hated_ that nickname, and I think she could tell I was tweaking her with it, but as she already owed me a couple of favors, I think she was a bit intimidated.
"No, I'm not making you girls tea this morning," I continued without pause.
"Please?" Abra and Clover intoned. "You make it better than we do!"
"Yeah," Clover continued. "We couldn't get one kind of leaves, so Pally said we should try using sage."
Abra nodded. "It tasted awful!"
I groaned again, shaking my head slowly.
"Wakan Tanka," I called to my spirit mentor as I strode into the village. "I have a question."
Wakan Tanka was sitting, making some soup or something. "I heard. No, it won't do anything, except maybe upset their stomachs."
I chuckled. "I doubt that'll teach them anything."
"They are young and rash. They will learn." She smiled. "In some ways, they remind me of you when you first changed."
"Me?" I asked, dumbfounded. "You're comparing me to those ... three little witches? Those trouble-making, obstinate, rash girls?"
My mentor chuckled. "For a while, you were stubborn and rash, too, but you grew out of it quickly. It will take those three many moons, though, before they learn as you did."
I saw the three staring at me. "You might get a tummy-ache from that little ... experiment," I told them. "But nothing worse."
"I told you it was that stuff that made my stomach hurt last night!" Abra complained, whining.
"Yeah, mine, too!" Clover said.
I glanced to one side and saw Tansy standing a ways off, watching the three and smirking. No doubt, she found it amusing that they were pestering me instead of making her life miserable. I sighed - because I'd given them the recipe, I had a moral obligation to help them not poison themselves.
"Okay," I sighed, "I'll tell you what. You make a list of what you don't have, and how much you'll need, and I'll have my grandmother send me some more."
"Does your grandmother make tea, too?" Clover asked, doe-eyed.
I nodded. "She practices Lakota medicine, so yes, she makes a variety of herbal remedies."
"Okay," Irene said. Her eyes narrowed. "What's it gonna cost us?"
I watched her squirm uncomfortably as I acted like I was thinking for an extended period of time. I'm sure she was expecting something like a sorceror's contract and many favors. "Based on having two cups a day for each of you, I figure it'll cost you each about four dollars a month for supplies." I saw the relief on their faces. "Plus ...." I added.
"Plus ... what?" Irene asked nervously. "You aren't going to make us do something nasty, are you?"
"Pally, I don't want to owe her _more_ favors!" Abra complained.
The girls fidgeted as I smiled at them. "Well?"
"Plus what?" Clover asked, looking like the words were distasteful.
"How many spells do you know?" I asked with a mischievous grin.
Abra frowned. "I know a bunch, but I can't use them 'cause we haven't lit our own essence."
"Then how do you know that you learned them correctly?" I asked with a knowing grin.
Irene started to answer, but even as her mouth opened, my question worked its way through her brain, and she was left open-mouthed and stumped. "But ... we get a LITTLE essence!" she finally protested.
"Here's the deal. I know _some_ spells. You three will teach me at least one spell per week. Each."
"But ... you're like really powerful and stuff!" Abra protested. "What can we teach you?"
"I know a few Native American spells, but I've only been learning for a few weeks and my mentor has only taught me a few critical spells. Oh, and the spells have to work correctly, so you can't foist off faulty spells." From their reactions, I saw that I'd just taken away a loophole in the bargain. "So, deal or no?"
The three little witches huddled, and from their periodic suspicious glances as they deliberated, I could tell they were trying to figure out if _they_ could benefit more from the bargain than I would. "Well, girls?"
Clover nodded for the group. "Okay," she said.
I extended my hand to them. "Done," I said as I shook hands with Clover. She looked nervous; she was now the one stuck with the Sorceror's contract since she'd been the one who'd shaken on it.
After I gave them enough ingredients to hold them off for a couple of days, they left. Palantir and Abra looked rather pleased with themselves, but Clover looked like she'd sucked on a lemon, and was noticeably less enthusiastic than her companions.
"You should have given them more, so they wouldn't bother you again so soon," Laurie noted as I brewed my own tea - and then started a cup for Mindbird, who had spotted me and was wandering my way.
"I was serious about learning spells from them," I chuckled. "If they had more ingredients, they could try to weasel out of the deal. As it is, if they want the fixings, they _have_ to come to me, and I can learn the spells."
"Oooh," Naomi purred. "Clever."
"You might want to see what you can extort out of Tansy for keeping them out of her hair for a while every week," Adrian chuckled.
"Yeah, right!" I snorted. "Like I'd ask _her_ for anything resembling a favor!"
My tea made, I buttered my English muffins, and then took a small jar from my purse.
"What's that?" Evvie asked as I opened the contents and took a slow, enjoyable sniff.
"Mom's home-made chokecherry jelly," I said reverently, spreading some of the jelly onto the halves of the muffins.
"And you were going to offer some of that to us when?" Adrian asked.
"Maybe later," I grinned. "Except some of us who forgot to tell me that Mrs. Horton was holding a package for me," I added, looking pointedly at Evvie and sticking out my tongue at her.
"Hey," Evvie protested, "I _said_ I was sorry! Besides, you weren't exactly around a lot yesterday, were you?"
With a grin, I uncovered a few English muffins that my napkin had been hiding, split them, and spread on some jelly, distributing them to the team. From the looks on their faces, I was pretty certain that the jelly was a hit.
"Tea, and now special jelly," Vasiliy said appreciatively. "Are spoiling us."
"Wait until you try mom's home-made sweet pickles," I replied with a grin.
"Pardon me, Kayda," I heard Adalie's voice from behind me as I took another bite of my muffin. "Are we going to practice sparring this afternoon?"
I quickly gulped down the food in my mouth, a little upset that I didn't have time to properly appreciate the sweet jelly due to the interruption. "Yeah. I'll come by after lunch. Is Alicia going to spar with us, too?"
"Oui," Adalie replied. I could see her staring at my jelly jar curiously. "She is looking forward to the practice."
"Okay," I relented. "I gather that you'd like to try some of my mom's home-made jelly?"
"May I?" she asked shyly. I spread some more jelly on one of the two half-muffins left and handed it to her. Taking a bite, her eyes rolled back and she seemed to be purring. "Tres delicieux," she said, her expression blissful. "It reminds me of the jellies my mama used to make." She took another bite.
"See you around one?"
"Oui." As she headed back to her table, I heard her say, "C'est merveilleux!"
"First, you're a tea pusher. Now you're going to get us hooked on jelly!" Evvie giggled.
"Psst," Naomi picked up her thinking, "hey kid! Wanna try some jelly? It's _really good_!"
"Hi, my name is Laurie, and I'm addicted to Kayda's tea," she intoned. "It started out with just a cup now and again, but before I knew it, I was hooked on four cups a day!"
"You guys are so bad!" I giggled.
"You're sparring - voluntarily?" Evvie asked once the chuckles stopped. "It's a sign! A sign of the apocalypse!" she said in a tone reminiscent of an evangelical preacher. "Repent, before it's too late!"
"I'm not that bad!" I protested weakly, but from the expressions of my friends, I could see that they didn't believe me.
Laurie was the one who brought sanity back to the table. "After last night," she observed, "I can't say that I blame you for training harder."
Adrian nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "You've got some nasty enemies."
"Are you talking about the snake thing?" I heard from over my shoulder.
"Sheesh!" Evvie exclaimed. "I thought this was breakfast, not Grand Central Station!"
"Sorry," Ayla apologized. "I didn't mean to interrupt."
"Yes, you did," I chuckled, looking at him. "Otherwise you wouldn't be here."
"Point conceded," he acknowledged.
"First, the three little witches. Then tea for Mindbird. Then Charge. Now you. So what would _you_ like?" I said, feigning exasperation. I couldn't act that well, and my attempt ended in giggles.
Ayla winced a tiny bit. "I was eating with the Berets," he explained, "when Charge came back to the table. She was quite enthusiastically ranting about the jelly you had, and that it was the best she'd eaten here." He shrugged. "If it's that good, I thought I'd ask if you'd be willing to sell a jar as a gift to her and the other girls in the Berets."
"And you'd like to see if it meets the demands of your sophisticated palate," Evvie chuckled.
"Well, yes," Ayla admitted. "But I want to be fair ...."
"Sit down," I said firmly while I began to slather some of the precious - and apparently rapidly gaining in popularity - preserves on the last half muffin I had. "Here." I said as I shoved it at Ayla.
Ayla looked at it, and then at me, as if uncertain, but then he took a small bite. "Hmm," he said as he sampled, his eyes half-closed in concentration. "A bit tart, but not overly so. Not cloyingly sweet like many jellies are. And the berry flavor is quite unique."
"I take it you approve?" Evvie asked sarcastically.
"It's certainly better than the mass-market, overly-sugared, misbegotten apologies for jelly that they serve here."
"Thanks," I said, only semi-caustically. "I think. I'm sure Mom will consider that a ringing endorsement."
Ayla shot me a curious glance, as if he wasn't quite sure how to deal with my response to his commentary. "I can see why Charge likes this. It's quite good." He paused, thinking. "It would nicely offset the slightly sour taste of a proper sourdough bread, and with slightly sweet butter ..." He thought a bit more. "Would it be too much to ask for you to bring your jelly and a cup of your tea? I know someone who could use a special treat this morning."
Ayla didn't have to say more, and I could tell that Evvie understood just as quickly as I did. After quickly brewing a cup of tea, I excused myself, and following Ayla, went up to the third floor to the Team Kimba table.
As we walked up the stairs, I couldn't help asking, "What's up with you and Vanessa?"
"In what way?" Ayla asked cautiously.
"I noticed that things seemed kind of ... awkward in the bathroom," I replied.
"She's not talking to me," Ayla said glumly. "I'm not quite sure why. I think she's over-reacting to ... something." Ayla obviously wasn't going to tell me more.
"Have any of your teammates talked to her?"
"She won't talk to them, either. Or if she does, she studiously avoids the topic of the two of us."
"Oh. Well, if she's like all the girls I've known, she'll get over it soon enough," I tried to reassure Ayla.
"I hope so," Ayla replied unconvincingly. We wove through the tables to the Team Kimba table, which was relatively crowded - as usual.
As the others talked, Nikki sat quietly; the sparkle that I'd first noticed in her weeks ago was missing from her eyes. She looked up at me and tried to smile, but not entirely successfully. "You did well last night," she said simply.
"It was a pretty ugly win," I said self-disparagingly. "We took a pounding, and it was kind of dicey for a bit."
Nikki exchanged glances with her friends; from what I'd heard, they'd had their fair share of close calls and ugly victories. "A win is a win," Toni said with a shrug. "Especially when it's an ugly mutha' like snakey."
"You had a pretty nasty enemy," Nikki added.
"Say, you dont suppose I could get some of his hide tanned and made into a pair of calf boots, do you?" Toni asked out of the blue. "And a belt. Gotta have a cool belt. That'd be tres chic!"
"Don't forget a matching purse," Ayla added with a sly grin.
I shook my head in disbelief. "He's a Class X entity," I said, dumbfounded by their casual attitude. "Not exactly something you want to be wearing around."
"Bet he'd clean up nice, though," Toni replied. "Then get him tanned. There's enough hide that the whole team could have matching black leather cat-suits!" She was grinning directly at Ayla.
"I am _not_ wearing a black leather cat-suit!" Ayla said firmly. He looked quickly at Jade, whose eyes were widening. "And you cannot embroider a 'Hello, Kitty' logo on a black leather snake-hide purse!"
I sighed, shaking my head. "Anyway," I changed the subject, "someone thought you might like some of my tea, and to try some of mom's chokecherry jelly."
Nikki glanced at Ayla, and then looked at me; she was touched by the gesture. "Thanks. I ... guess I could try it." I slathered some jelly on a slice of toast and handed it to her, while she took a sip of tea, which she savored with half-closed eyes. "I wonder," she said, "if this would work to calm down a hyper roommate?"
"Hey," Toni objected sharply, "I'm not hyper. I'm just full of energy and ready to do things!"
As soon as Nikki took a bite, she purred. "This is good," she said.
I glanced at Ayla, who had an, 'I told you so' look, and then I pushed the rest of the jar to Nikki. "If mom's jelly can put that big a smile on your face, keep it." I hadn't seen her smile in days, so if the chokecherry preserves would brighten her day a little, it was worth the sacrifice.
"I can't take your jelly!" she protested.
I chuckled. "When mom makes a batch, she makes between fifteen and twenty pints because we have so many chokecherry trees on our property. And she sent two jars, so I'm good. I'll pick up more if I make it home for spring break, which is looking more likely now that snakey is dead."
"How much is that jar worth?" Ayla asked, clearly intent on making sure he wasn't taking advantage of me.
"You try to pay me for that," I said with a hint of menace, "and I'll let you take it up with Tatanka!"
Nikki actually chuckled at that, while Ayla nodded reluctantly. "Okay. Message received."
Laird Hall, afternoon
Evvie and Naomi went with me to meet Adalie and Alicia in the gym. We hadn't been warming up for more than three minutes when Mr. Two Knives came in as if he'd been expecting us. I was more than a little surprised, because I hadn't told him that we were going to practice.
"A warrior practices whenever possible," Mr. Two Knives said with a grin. "Especially after a battle, when the memories of what went right and what went wrong are fresh. That allows the warrior to correct the things he was doing wrong, and improve the things he was doing right."
I frowned. "I hadn't had a chance to tell you about the fight yet. How did you know?"
Mr. Two Knives grinned. "I make it a point to know what my students are doing. In this case, Chief Delarose gave me a briefing this morning. And if he hadn't, it's pretty much all the staff - and I assume other students - seemed to be talking about this morning."
"Oh. What did he say?"
"He gave me the report you and your friends filed," he answered.
"I 'eard something about your fight," Adalie said, her eyes wide. "It sounded quite exciting."
I glanced at Evvie. "Exciting isn't the word I'd use," I replied. "It was scary."
Mr. Two Knives smiled. "A warrior who is not scared becomes complacent, or reckless. A reckless or complacent warrior is soon a dead warrior."
"Igmu Taka," I said with a knowing grin. I saw the puzzled looks on the other girls' faces, while Mr. Two Knives just nodded, smiling. "Igmu Taka is the mountain lion. His spirit teaches patience and planning rather than fighting with reckless abandon."
Evvie snorted. "Yeah, like we had time for planning and patience last night!"
Naomi nodded her agreement. "And having Vasiliy shoot his RPG at the snake when you were too close - that seemed more than a bit reckless!"
I scowled at her. "Rushing in to get my knife wasn't exactly a cautious thing," I rebutted. "And using your PK shield to block tail smashes was rather risky!" I added, looking at Evvie. Adalie's and Alicia's eyes got wider as we traded jabs about who had been the most rash during the fight.
Mr. Two Knives chuckling surprised us; he had a broad grin. "I was going to wait to do a post-mortem after we sparred, but since you're already doing an analysis of the fight, we might as well spend a few minutes now." He glanced at Charge and Alicia. "We'll get to sparring soon enough, but for now, you can listen and learn from the mistakes they made last night."
Thereupon, we proceeded into a grueling, twenty-minute detailed dissection of the battle, focusing very intently on every move and decision we did wrong. It was a long list of faulty tactics and decisions, and by the time we finished, I felt as if we'd lost instead of won. Evvie and Naomi had the same crestfallen expressions.
Mr. Two Knives noticed, of course. "Now let's go over what you did right." The list was longer than I'd have thought, given the preceding discussion of our faults. "You had pre-warned teammates of the power of his gaze," he said. "And you reminded them during the fight. You used your shield spell well to protect yourself. Calling the energizer to hit the snake-demon while you were in range was a calculated risk, assuming that you could protect yourself from the blast with your shield. It was an effective use of your teammate." He turned to Evvie. "Once you knew that he couldn't penetrate your shield, using it to shield your teammate was a wise use of your power," he observed. "And your flier did well to distract the demon, and to use his speed and flight to rescue when needed."
"Gloriana and Pendragon charging in wasn't exactly smart," Evvie noted. "They turned into a distraction."
"Yes, but you took advantage of the girl's power against the snake-demon," Mr. Two Knives countered. This discussion went on for several more minutes before we began to spar.
We all started with Krav Maga, but after almost forty minutes of that, Mr. Two Knives began instructing me in the tomahawk and knife, while the others continued sparring. By the time we finished practice two hours later, we were all tired and sore.
No sooner had we gotten back into Poe than we bumped into Rosalyn. She stared at me, looking concerned, and immediately came to my side. "You look tired," she said, but the playful tone seemed to be missing from her voice.
"Yeah," I admitted warily. "We just got back from practice with my tutor."
"We'll see you in a bit," Evvie said. "Laurie's room for pizza?"
"Yeah," I agreed. Evvie and Naomi headed up the stairs to shower and clean up.
"I heard about your fight last night," Rosalyn continued.
I shrugged. "It wasn't pretty, but we won."
"Against some kind of demon?"
I nodded. "Yeah. He was kind of tough."
"When they first told us that you'd been in a fight and were over at Doyle," she said, an odd tone to her voice, "I was ... er, we ... were all worried about you."
"Is this where you try to guilt me to going to the hot tub party for making you worry?" I asked a bit sarcastically.
Rosalyn looked hurt by my comment. "No," she said softly. "I ... was just worried."
The guilt part worked. "Sorry," I apologized. "I ... was expecting you to push to get me to go to the party."
"Well, I'm still hoping you'll go," she said, "but right now ...." Without warning, she wrapped herself around me in a tight embrace. "I'm glad you're safe." A moment later, she let go, and backed off a bit, looking a little embarrassed.
"Not half as glad as I am," I chuckled.
"But you would have been safer at the movie with us last night," she said, finally venturing back into the flirting territory I expected from her.
I shook my head, chuckling softly. "I guess I _did_ promise to go to a movie, didn't I?"
Rosalyn's confident airs returned with a vengeance. "And since you stood me up once, I think I'll call Debra now to get permission to take you on a real date - as payment for making me wait."
I gulped nervously, which made her chuckle. I knew she was serious about calling Debra. And with the mischievous streak in my girlfriend, I had no idea of what the two would cook up. I had to pre-empt that if I could.
Instead of going to the caf for dinner, we got together in Laurie's room and ordered pizza, and then watched a movie in the common room in Laurie's cottage. We couldn't stay late, though, since we all had some homework to do before classes the next day. Still, it was nice way to unwind for a couple of hours after a tough training session.
Kayda's Hometown, Eastern South Dakota
Scott Hollings glared around the group, seated around the back patio at JJ's house. "I'm getting tired of this shit," he snarled, taking a sip of illicit beer JJ's parents had unknowingly provided.
Rich nodded. "This is too weird," he said nervously. "I ... I can't take this anymore, guys," he stammered, looking down at his nearly-empty beer bottle.
"You're not quitting on us," JJ snarled. "We're all in this together." He glanced around the group of boys and girls. "We've got to stick together."
"Yeah?" Rich asked, staring at Scott and Shelly, seated close beside him. "How did that work for you two?" He shook his head, glancing around the nervous group. "Whoever is doing this is ... is like a bunch of ghosts!" he declared. "There's _no_ evidence for the sheriff to go on!"
"Quit being a candy-ass!" another of the guys snarled.
"Yeah," JJ agreed. "You heard Doc and the sheriff - there's no evidence we did _anything_ wrong, so even if you talk to the sheriff, he's not gonna do anything!" He looked around defiantly. "It's our word against that filthy mutant!"
Scott nodded in agreement, and then guzzled the rest of his beer. "I've been talking with the other guys," he announced, "and everyone pretty much agrees that whatever is happening is because of Brandon. So they're all backing us. We got an army, practically."
"Yeah? So how do we stop them?" Rich demanded. "'Cause there's no evidence of anything so far, and if we don't do something, then someone's gonna get hurt because of this."
Scott nodded sternly, an angry frown on his face. "And I know just who that someone is," he declared. "C'mon guys," he announced as he got up. "Time to go pay a visit to get rid of that mutant once and for all."
The mob walked around to the front of the house, to where their cars waited. Slowly, to their utter shock, they realized that something was wrong with their cars.
"My tires!" Rich declared angrily. "They're all flat!"
JJ frowned, spying the piece of paper under his windshield wiper. "What the hell?" he said softly.
You can't hide. For every eye watching your back, there will be five watching for an opportunity to punish you for what you've done wrong. You will find no strength in numbers. You'll never know from whence the blow will come, but you can be assured that it WILL come. Your only hope is to confess. _Maybe_ your law enforcement will be able to protect you from our vengeance.
Scott angrily crumpled the paper and threw it to the ground. "That does it!" he screamed.
"Wait," JJ said suddenly. "We've got evidence this time! The security cameras!"
Gleefully, the kids ran into JJ's house, only to emerge twenty minutes later looking totally defeated. "That's impossible!" Scott and Rich muttered.
Shelly was white as a ghost. "One frame, there's nothing. The next frame, there's a note on the windshield. Like ... a ghost."
"Uh, guys?" Rich muttered, looking at the others from beside his car. He was visibly pale, even in the dim moonlight. "Look inside."
After a moment's thought, the guys raced to their cars, and they became either red-faced with anger or flushed with fear as they beheld what Rich had first seen - a pair of severed testicles hanging from each and every steering wheel.
Scott flared with anger, "This ends tonight!" he bellowed. "Get your dad's truck," he ordered JJ. "And get your dad's gun."
"Where are we going?" Shelly and Rich stammered nearly simultaneously, both fearful of how things were escalating beyond anyone's control.
"We're paying a visit to that mutant scum to put an end to this whole thing! Like we should have done the first time."
Fifteen minute later, trailing a cloud of dust, a pickup full of teenagers skidded off the gravel county road into the Franks' driveway, and then slid to a stop. As angry kids piled out, a light inside turned on, followed quickly by the porch light. Before they could all disembark, Mr. Franks stood on the porch, both of his .45 pistols in hand.
"Kind of late for a social call, isn't it boys?" he said gruffly.
"Bring it out here!" Scott demanded, lifting his rifle to cock the bolt.
"What?" Mr. Franks asked, his voice deceptively calm.
"That mutant of yours! The one that's been fuckin' with us all! We're going to put a stop to all the bullshit it's doing!" JJ answered angrily, his own gun at the ready.
"You know good and goddamned well that Kayda isn't here," Franks said angrily.
"We _know_ it's around," Scott snarled. "From all the shit it's doing to us and our cars." He cocked the rifle and began to raise it.
The sound of the bolt of a semi-automatic rifle slamming closed got the boys' attention. To one side of Mr. Franks, a rifle barrel was pointed toward the group, followed almost immediately by the sound of a companion rifle and the appearance of a second barrel on the other side of the porch.
"You boys are trespassing," Mr. Franks said calmly. "And threatening a family with firearms. Now I suggest you put down your guns, get back in that truck, and get out of here before the state police show up." He made a show of glancing at his watch. "Which should be in about four minutes." He looked back at the group of kids. "They won't be nearly as forgiving of your activities as the sheriff would be."
The standoff lasted for five or six seconds, until the boys sensibly backed down and lowered their guns. "This isn't over," Scott snarled.
"You're right," Mr. Franks agreed solemnly. "I intend to see to it that your assaults and rape are eventually prosecuted, and that you get the punishment you have coming to you. In the meantime, I would caution you to stay the hell off my property."
Outside of town, twelve eyes in two parked SUVs watched a truck drive away from the Franks' farm. One of the men, his face painted half-gray and half steel-blue, pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. "Hello," he said when the other person answered. He put the call on speakerphone.
"Did things go as planned?" the recipient of the call asked.
"Yes," the painted-face man replied. "But they are not getting the message."
"Patience," the voice said from the phone speaker. "A warrior is patient, and none more-so than a ghost-warrior."
"After what they've done, and what they continue to do, the time for patience is at an end," painted-face snarled. "A warrior does not hide in the shadows when his lodge is attacked."
"The impudent children dare not move, for fear of an investigation uncovering their crimes," the speaker said calmly.
"Crimes for which they must pay!" another man, with bars of paint on his face, said angrily.
"And they will pay," the speaker answered. "They are getting nervous. It is only a matter of time until one of them cracks."
"We will need more ghost-walking charms," painted-face said.
"And you shall have them. It is time to take this to the next level. When you get the charms, I will also give you a special phone that cannot be traced, and which will disguise your voice. Call their families at all hours, accusing them of their crimes. Leave messages so that their parents hear. Promise retribution for what they've done. Call their classmates and teachers."
"It shall be done, Gray Skies."
"Be patient. The time for war is almost at hand. When it comes, you must be ready, for we shall win a great battle. The omens show it to be true."
"We will wait for your direction." Painted-face hung up the phone and turned to his compatriots, grinning. Vengeance would be theirs.
Monday, April 2, 2007
I hated Mondays, and apparently, they hated me. I was late for Avatars because I'd forgotten that I left my book in my locker, and I had to run back to Schuster to get it, then back to class in Kane. I could have sworn that it had been in my backpack, though.
I strongly suspected that Ito had learned of the battle on Saturday night, because he and Sensei Tolman were paying extra attention to me, having me spar with some of the toughest students in the class. The toughest female students, that is. I was exhausted and rather battered when we finished that class, but at least my regen would heal me quickly.
I was late to mystic arts because my locker door was mysteriously stuck. Once in that class, instruction was diverted to the use of magic in combat situations, which made me suspect that word of my Saturday evening adventures had spread. Ayla kept smirking at me, like I was now experiencing some of what he'd gone through in the past. I felt rather embarrassed when Ms. Grimes had me go through the battle, spell by spell, describing what I'd done and why. When I told about using my shield spell to protect me from Vasiliy's RPG blast, she stopped me. "Did you know that the spell would protect you?"
"I ... wasn't sure," I answered sheepishly, certain that I was going to get a lecture.
Ms. Grimes lived up to my expectations - in spades. "If you weren't sure your spell would protect you, you were taking a huge - and unacceptable - risk. Your team needed your magic - and your knowledge of the snake-demon - to win. If the spell failed, you would have been seriously injured or even killed. That would have left your team with no magic ability. Further, no-one but you could look at the snake demon without risking insanity."
I shrunk in my chair as she lectured me, wishing I could hide. Her commentary was unusually blunt, and quite judgmental - even acerbic, and every eye in the room was fixed on me.
"At the end of the fight, you drained _all_ your essence through your knife into the snake demon. What would you have done if that hadn't been enough to kill him? At that point, you were of no use to your team as a magic user. And you left yourself with no defensive capability"
I listened to her continuing critique; fighting back tears, until I couldn't take any more. I fled the room and all the accusing, critical eyes. At that moment, I didn't feel like we'd won; instead, I felt like I'd lost.
"Wait up, Kayda," Nikki called chasing me down the hall.
I don't know if I _wanted_ her to catch up, hoping she'd be a little more sympathetic than Grimes had been, or if she was just faster, but when she put her hand on my shoulder, I stopped. "Are you going to tear into my tactics, too?" I asked bitterly.
"Come on," she said, leading me out of the hall into an out-of-the-way corner, where I just slumped to the ground. She sat down beside me.
"Ms. Grimes was evaluating your use of magic in the fight," Nikki said plainly. "That's her job ..."
"To make me feel like shit?" I asked angrily. "To make me feel like a total fuck-up?"
"No. To help you improve by observing mistakes and correcting them."
"Couldn't she do that without making a fool of me in front of everyone?"
"I think you're reading more into her criticism than is really there," Nikki observed. "To me, it sounded like she accurately pointed out your weaknesses and possible errors in the fight."
"The way she was talking, you'd think I lost, or that my mistakes had hurt my friends," I complained.
"And they could have." She patted my arm gently. "I've been there. I've had the same type of post-combat analysis, only it was Gunny Bardue analyzing how my mistakes could have hurt my teammates and friends." She chuckled softly. "If you think Ms. Grimes is tough, you haven't had your fights analyzed by Gunny!"
"She didn't even say I'd done anything right," I added.
"She did, but you weren't listening," Nikki corrected me. "She pointed out that you'd pre-charged your knife to maximize your available essence in a fight. She pointed out that you'd been careful to warn others about the danger. She pointed out how you'd used your ghost-walking spell to hide the others to protect them from the snake demon."
I stared at her in disbelief. When had she said those things? I didn't remember.
"She said that after she listed your mistakes," Nikki explained. "Only, by that time, you were feeling pretty crushed, I bet, and you were hearing everything as criticism."
I stared at her for several seconds. "When did you become a psychologist?" I asked, wiping at the moisture on my cheeks.
"There's something else bothering you, isn't there?" Nikki asked. "Is this partly that you're frustrated at how different your Native American magic style is from the way she's teaching it?"
"No!" I denied strongly, but then I paused to think. It was difficult to reconcile the two different styles, and it was causing me trouble. "Maybe. Yeah."
Nikki grinned at that. "Now that you recognize the source of your problem, you can work to eliminate it. That's going to include recognizing the differences between how Wakan Tanka is teaching you and how the class is teaching you, and it'll be something you have to do every day as part of your homework."
"Fun," I groused. "More homework. Just what I need."
Even though all eyes were focused on me once again, I followed Nikki back into the classroom and slumped in my chair. Ms. Grimes looked at me momentarily, and then continued her lecture. I stayed after class to talk with Ms. Grimes about what Fey had suggested, and was thus late for lunch, missing my group entirely.
Ito continued his torture of me in fourth period martial arts; he explicitly told the girls tutoring me to not hold back at all when sparring with me. As a result, my body, already bruised from second period BMA, was more thoroughly battered. At least nothing was broken. Then again, I found myself thinking, if I _did_ break something, I'd get out of martial arts for a day or two. It was almost tempting. Except that I'd heal very quickly and not get any respite.
French was more of the same - languages and I evidently didn't get along, at least not without magic help. Powers Lab turned into another session of combat analysis, focusing on how I had and hadn't used my particular powers fighting snakey-poo. If someone had been lying comatose in Doyle, they would have heard every detail of the snake-demon fight by now. If I didn't feel conspicuous enough walking around campus, the Dunwich battle had exacerbated that for me.
Crystal Hall- dinnertime
"Hey, Buffalo Gal!" some obnoxious guy called out, easily heard over the milling throng queued up for the serving lines. I spun toward the general direction of the sound, feeling my cheeks flashing with anger.
"Hey, will you autograph a picture for me?" It was one of the upper class jerks with a smug grin calling to me.
I turned away quickly, which evoked laughter and even more calls from several of the guys' buddies around him.
"Ignore them," Evvie said to me as I stood in line fuming. "It's just that asshole Gauntlet and his buddies. Everyone knows they're total dumbasses."
"Easier said than done," I said, fuming. "And that's ... Cagliostro! The asshole that got me in trouble my first day here!"
"Don't look at him, then," Evvie recommended.
Gauntlet had stirred up the guys, and I heard my hated handle, Buffalo Gal, bandied about freely by guys that I _knew_ were staring at me as Evvie and I checked out and went to our table. I sank into the seat at our table, glad to take a load off my feet.
"That sigh sounds like you had a busy day," Adrian observed, a forkful of food halfway to his mouth.
"You could say that. Two martial arts classes and my private tutor after electronics class. And then tutoring Ayla, which turned out to be the easiest part."
"Oh?" Laurie asked.
"Yeah. Ayla is a good, very motivated student." I sighed again. "I wish I didn't feel so lost in French class. And I could do with a lot less martial arts during the day."
"And I hear you are winning sparring matches in martial arts," Vasiliy commented. "Extra training is working, da?"
"Ito is a sadistic little ... person," I said angrily. "He added Jobe to my tutors in fourth period. Do you have _any idea_ how annoying Jobe can be?"
"Yes," most of the table responded in unison.
"She's the most arrogant, self-absorbed person in the entire advanced technology program. Condescending, demeaning ...." Naomi started.
I nodded glumly. "Yeah, well now I'm on the receiving end of her arrogance every fourth period."
"Wasn't Mrs. Carson going to let you out of fourth period martial arts when you got caught up?" Evvie asked.
"That's what I thought," I said wearily. "But I think Ito is having too much fun torturing me, so he's trying to keep me around."
"At least you got through Gunny Bardue's gun safety course unscathed."
"Have you ever had a verbal flailing from Gunny?"
Vasiliy grinned. "Da. Is like spetznaz sergeant. Tough, mean, exacting." He shrugged. "Is no big deal. Trick is to blend into class, not stick out."
I snorted, "Now you tell me. I missed one word ... _one word_ ... on his gun safety rules, and I thought he'd never finish screaming at me - while I was doing pushups!"
Naomi, who'd been looking down at her plate, looked instead at me without lifting her head, but rolling her eyes upward instead while cocking one eyebrow. It was precisely what Mom used to do to signal disbelief or trouble. "Are you sure about that?"
"Okay," I conceded, giving in out of habit to that facial expression, "maybe not pushups. But he _did_ harangue me verbally for at least five minutes."
"Now when you qualify on the firing range, you can carry a pistol," Adrian said. He chuckled. "I'm not sure that would have been helpful the other night."
Vasiliy nodded. "Da. Snake was tougher than T-90 tank. One blast takes out tank, even with best composite armor. Snake takes round and gets up to fight more."
I nodded. "I really, really appreciate everything you guys did to help in the fight. He was very dangerous ... and tough." I took a bite of my lasagna, and nearly choked as I spat it out. "Yuck!" I swore softly.
"What?" Evvie and Naomi were instantly concerned.
I poured water down my throat. "Too salty!" I explained, looking more closely at my food. "It's like someone ... poured salt all over it!" I frowned deeply. "This shit is getting old."
"Pranks. Something has been tripping me and scattering my books. Books go missing from my backpack. My locker door is stuck. Lots of little stuff like that, and it's happening too often to be coincidence." I shook my head, glaring at the salty food on my plate. "And now this."
Muttering angrily under my breath, I bused my tray, and then got in line for more food - hopefully less salty. That proved interesting when the cashier chewed me out because I'd already used my day's meal allowance, and she wasn't listening to any excuses, like someone had pranked me and over-salted my food, or that even with seconds, I was eating only a tiny fraction of what many energizers ate.
Frustrated with the lack of understanding or common sense in the cashiers, I slumped back in my chair. Before anything else, I had something I figured I should do.
Wakan Tanka was sitting at the fire, her eyes closed in meditation. As I sat down next to her, she smiled. "Greetings, Wihakayda. You are looking well today, but a little tired."
"I had a tough day training," I explained.
"The way of a warrior is never easy. A warrior must constantly train, to improve battle skills so he is not defeated."
"Yeah, I know. And my magic class is sometimes confusing."
"You have much more to learn than a warrior, Wihakayda. You must learn to be a shaman as well. But you are doing well."
"That's why I'm here," I explained. "I need to know if my shield spell will keep magical energies away from me."
"No, but there _is_ a spell that will help guard against magic."
"Good," I said with relief in my voice. "I need it. Someone's been pulling a lot of pranks on me, and I suspect they're magic."
Wakan Tanka quickly taught me the spell - it was another variant of the ghost-walking and shield spells - and I bade her goodnight.
With everyone watching me, because I'd zoned for a few seconds, I quickly incanted the new spell, and was rewarded with a mild tingling coursing through my body.
"What was that?" Evvie asked suspiciously.
"I had Wakan Tanka teach me a spell that hopefully will help protect me from pranks, if they're magic-based."
Another guy came up and sat down near me. "Hey, Kayda," he said in a syrupy voice.
I looked warily his way, and noticed his shit-eating grin immediately. "What do you want?" I snapped. "I'm trying to eat."
"Not much," he said, unrolling a magazine he was carrying and flipping it open to a tabbed page. "Just an autograph."
My jaw practically hit the floor. "Where ... where did you get that?" I stammered, gawking wide-eyed at one of the pictures that I'd taken at the Sioux Falls League headquarters that was in the magazine.
Adrian frowned deeply. "You know the rules, Keystone" he snarled. "Illicit photographs are violations of personal property and copyright."
Keystone grinned. "That only applies to illegal copies. This magazine is published with properly assigned rights and payments. It's perfectly legal for me to buy and possess this."
"How ... did you get that?" I demanded, taking the magazine from his hands. It was a Lakota magazine, highlighting promising Lakota girls and their career ambitions and achievements to serve as role models for other girls.
"I bought it on-line," Keystone said smugly. "So how about it? Autograph a picture for me?"
"Like hell!" I snapped. "You ... can't have that!"
"It's perfectly legal. If you don't believe me, ask Loophole!"
My jaw clenched at the name of the Gadgeteer Goddess. "I am _not_ autographing any pictures," I said through clenched teeth. "So go away!"
"Technically, any student is free to sit in any open seat in the cafeteria," Keystone said. "And I feel like sitting here." He thought a moment, and then pulled something out of his book bag. "And while you're signing things, can you autograph this?" He plopped a calendar in front of me. "August, please. That's my favorite."
Stunned, I slowly took the calendar. It was quite intimidating to see myself in a skimpy buckskin bikini, with Tatanka, on the cover of a calendar. "This ... this wasn't supposed to come out until this fall!" I flipped through a couple of pages, my jaw dropping further with each picture. At least Dad had vetoed anything really racy. My jaw flapped as I struggled to think of what to say about this stunning turn of events.
"Well, I'm glad they released a summer and fall calendar. Worth every penny, if you ask me!" Keystone gloated. "Now, about that autograph ...."
"Where. Did .You. Get. This?" I demanded as soon as I could form words.
"The bookstore," Keystone said. "If you want a copy," he said as an aside to Adrian and Vasiliy, "you better hurry. They're selling fast."
"At least the magazines are a niche product!" Laurie offered hopefully.
"Yeah, not so much. I ordered a hundred copies, and I've already sold out - and made a healthy profit!" he gloated.
Exasperated, I buried my face in my hands, knowing my cheeks were burning from a combination of humiliation and anger.
"Is there a problem here?" It sounded like Mindbird behind me.
I looked up in time to see Keystone flinch. "Uh, no. I'm just sitting here talking," he said very quickly.
Mindbird looked at me. "Kayda?"
"He's ... harassing me about autographing a calendar and a magazine he bought."
"And he's reselling the magazine!" Naomi added. "It's got a photo spread of Kayda, and it's embarrassing her."
"And it's perfectly legal," Keystone said defensively. "Look it up - they're legal, purchased copies!"
As Keystone spoke, Lifeline and another girl were striding quickly but gracefully toward us. "Kayda, we need a word with you, please," Lifeline said as soon as she was close enough.
Keystone realized that he was being surrounded and was hopelessly outnumbered. "I can always get my autograph _later_," he said. "It's in the school rules - you can't stop me from asking!" He snatched up the magazine and calendar and, head held high, marched off.
Mindbird watched him go and they put her hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry," she said, "but he's right. There's not a lot we can do about this."
"Hi, Kayda," Lifeline's companion greeted me, extending her hand. "I'm Poise."
"Hi," I answered hesitantly. "Just a sec," I added quickly. "Mindbird? Your tea?"
"Oh, yeah," Mindbird said, turning back. I quickly got the ingredients out and incanted over the tea, producing a cup of piping hot tea for her in seconds. "Thanks," she said as she took it, taking a sip as she turned to walk away.
"Sorry. She's a fan of my herbal tea," I explained.
"No problem," Poise said with a smile. "The word going around the grapevine ..."
"Very quickly," Lifeline interjected.
"... is that a calendar featuring you is on sale in the bookstore."
I nodded. "Yeah," I said with a snort. "So I've discovered."
"We'll give what help we can provide," Lifeline offered. "But under the circumstances, it won't be much."
Poise nodded in agreement. "The problem is that the copyright belongs to whoever produced the calendar, not to you or a group like Venus Inc., so students are within their rights to buy and display the calendar."
"The Sioux Falls League made the calendar as a fundraiser, and I'm getting paid royalties. Probably the same thing for the pictures in the magazine." I shook my head. "Just fuckin' great!" I snorted. "I didn't want to be a pinup girl!"
"The best we can do is to ask the headmistress to stop the autograph requests. But she can't stop the verbal ... sexual ... harassment," Poise explained.
"Shit," I swore. "Debra didn't tell me about _this_ part!" I said, shaking my head.
"Cornflower," I explained. "She's my ... best friend back in Sioux Falls. She recommended Whateley, and she told me about Venus, Inc. She said she was in it."
Poise was smiling. "Ah, yes. Cornflower was an exceptional model. She wasn't the most glamorous, or the sexiest with her strut, or the prettiest, but she had the best all-around combination of every aspect of modeling that I've ever seen."
I caught myself before I started grinning stupidly at the mental imagery that Poise was causing. "Yeah. She's really ... attractive."
Poise exchanged a glance with Lifeline before continuing. "What's she doing now? Modeling, I hope?"
"No," I said, smiling at the thought of what modeling she _had_ done - with me! "She's part of a superhero group."
"Pity," Poise said sadly. "A waste of beauty and talent."
"I, for one, am glad she is," I said, defending my girlfriend. "She saved Mom and me by risking her own life, and she got seriously hurt in the process."
"Oh, so you're the ...." Lifeline blurted out, before her voice tailed off.
"I'm the what?" I asked, my eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Nothing," Lifeline stammered. "Hey, look at the time. I've still got to finish dinner so I can get to my homework," she said very quickly. "If you need any help, let us know."
I watched them walk away, and I could see that Poise was frowning as she directed some words at Lifeline. There was something that she wasn't saying, and I was bugged by the increasing number of mysteries around this campus - many of which seemed to revolve around me.
I turned my attention back to my meal, and I'd barely eaten a third of it when Ayla came to our table. "What now?" I asked with a heavy sigh.
"I take it you had a long day?" Ayla asked in a friendly, conversational way.
"That's an understatement," I replied.
"Then I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think you should come upstairs with me," he replied hesitantly.
I let my head droop down for a moment, closing my eyes and shaking my head. "Watch my stuff," I told my friends as I stood up. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Team Kimba was seated at their table, talking with smiles and a fair degree of animation, and as we neared, their topics became audible - and quite inane. Fashion, makeup, celebrity gossip - subjects that I couldn't believe they were discussing. Nikki still had a sad look in her eyes, and she wasn't nearly as active in the conversation as I would have thought.
Ayla gestured to a seat. "Touch the crystal," he directed, pointing to an egg-shaped crystal in the center of the table.
The moment I touched it, I felt magic coursing through me, and the conversation became something else entirely. As soon as I'd done so, I automatically began to make a cup of my special tea for Nikki. Seeing what I was doing, a faint smile came across her features.
"There's a ... problem," she said as I mixed up the tea.
"What kind of problem?"
In answer, the group glanced among themselves, and then Ayla pressed a few buttons and handed me his cell phone.
The picture he showed me was my poster. "And?" I asked, baffled.
"A ... friend sent this to me," Ayla said grimly. "It's from a room in Twain Cottage."
I nearly knocked over the tea. "What?" I stammered, shocked and nearly speechless. "How ...?" I looked at the picture again. "Are you sure?"
Ayla nodded. "The source is pretty trustworthy. And this is only one of a dozen that my source knows about."
"How ...?" I began to ask, and then I paled. "The poster ...."
"What about it?"
"The other day ... I thought the poster looked ... crooked." The implications were not good. Either someone had gotten into my room and had 'borrowed' the poster to make a copy, or worse, someone who had regular access to my room had done this. I turned white as I realized something else. "The ... the note from Debra!" That made the betrayal so much worse; any gay-bashers on campus would have a field-day with that knowledge.
Nikki shook her head after taking a sip of tea. "I already did a scrying," she said, having obviously sensed my emotions - a fear of betrayal. "Punch and Naomi didn't do this."
"Then ... who?"
Ayla shook his head, and so did Nikki. "The one good thing is that the note from Cornflower didn't copy."
"Huh?" I looked more closely at the picture, zooming in. Ayla was correct; the highly personal autograph from Debra wasn't there.
"Be calm," Wakan Tanka commanded me. "There is no need to worry!"
"But ... when everyone reads what Debra wrote ...."
"They won't," she assured me. "Do you not remember? The writing is enchanted, like ghost-walking. It can be read only by those who live in your lodge."
"Poe Cottage is hardly a lodge," I snorted.
"Nevertheless, Wihakayda," she continued, "you asked me to teach you an enchantment on the writing to keep the secret safe."
I shook my head as memories came back. "That seems like so long ago."
"You've had a busy time here. It is no wonder that you forgot. Now do not worry about the writing being copied."
The entire group was eyeing me cautiously. "Wakan Tanka had me put a spell on the poster. She said that it's sort of a ghost walking spell on the writing. It can't be copied or even seen outside the magic wards of Poe.
"But that still doesn't answer the question of how someone would have gotten it. Or who is responsible," Ayla said.
"That explains all the comments I've been getting from guys about wanting me to autograph a poster. I thought someone had gotten a picture of me and had made posters."
"It gets worse," Hank said, his voice carefully neutral. He put a calendar on the table. "This is ... _was_ ... on sale in the bookstore. It's sold out by now."
I nodded wearily, my eyes half closed. "Yeah, I know. Keystone tried to get me to autograph one for him."
"Probably the August picture, if he has any sense," Hank blurted out. Lily, sitting beside him, punched him, and he realized that he'd spoken aloud. "Sorry," he said, blushing.
"The prime suspects for copying and selling the poster would be Peeper and Greasy," Ayla continued. "They've done it before. But they can't get into Poe, so they may have had inside help."
I suddenly had a bad feeling. "How difficult would it be for some devisor's robot to get through a window?"
Nikki shook her head. "The wards would ...." She stopped mid-sentence. "With a little help from a mage, it might be possible to enchant a small robot to get in and out," she admitted with a pained expression. "But you would have had to leave a window open."
"In the springtime, when it's nice outside," Ayla finished the thought. "And during the day, a lot of people are doing just that.
"I better have a word with Mrs. Horton and check the wards, and maybe strengthen them," Nikki said.
"What can I do about the posters?"
Nikki and Ayla both sadly shook their heads. "Unless you can prove who removed it and made the copies, there's not much you _can_ do," Ayla said.
Nikki smiled thinly. "Welcome to the real world of modeling."
Poe Cottage, evening
The romantic movie was making me think of Debra, and every time the two lovers kissed, I wished I was kissing Debra. Beside me, Rosalyn had her arm draped loosely over my shoulder, and since I was wedged in the corner of the sofa, she could scoot closely against me because I couldn't move away.
"Doesn't that make you feel really good inside?" Rosalyn whispered in my ear.
It was time to turn the tables on her. Debra had told me a thing or two about her, and now those tidbits of information would get her to back off. Slowly, I let her pull me closer, until my head was on her shoulder, and I let my arm drape across her lap, halfway hugging her. Around me, a few girls started to stare and whisper. It was all I could do to keep from giggling, because while they thought I was falling victim to her seductive ploys, she was walking into my trap.
Without warning, my hands attacked her sides vigorously, aiming for the spots where most people were ticklish, and she convulsed as she laughed aloud. All eyes were on us as I tickled her relentlessly. "Say uncle," I demanded, "and quit asking about the hot-tub party."
I expected her to capitulate quickly, but she didn't, and her laughter got so intense that I feared she was going to pass out. I paused momentarily to allow her to breathe, ready to resume my attack.
As soon as I paused, I was wrapped tightly in Rosalyn's arms, and she kissed me deeply, surprising me completely.
After a rather passionate kiss on Rosalyn's part, she leaned back, a very hungry look in her eye. "What ...?" I asked, baffled. "You're not supposed to ...."
"You enjoyed that, didn't you?" Rosalyn said in a sexy, seductive voice.
"No!" I protested.
"You didn't fight too hard," she purred. "And you were the one who started the foreplay."
"Foreplay ...?" I stammered.
"Didn't Debra tell you? To me, tickling _is_ foreplay! It makes me so ... hot!"
I was totally confused. "She didn't say anything except that you were ticklish!"
Rosalyn had the smile of a cat about to pounce on its prey. "Now, about that hot tub invitation."
"You were _supposed_ to cry uncle and stop!"
She licked her lips in an extremely exaggerated, sexy way. "Now, since you tried to prank me, it's only fair that you give me a chance to get back at you."
"I'm _not_ going to the hot-tub party!" I said firmly.
The other girls had forgotten about the movie. "Yeah, Kayda," Shove agreed, "turnabout is fair play."
"Here's my challenge. Since you were teasing me, I get a free kiss."
"Ooohh," a lot of girls said together.
"If you can resist kissing me for sixty seconds, I'll quit asking you to the party. But if you respond in any way, you'll agree to go."
"Chicken?" Angel asked, eliciting some mocking laughter from the other girls.
"No. There's just no point."
"Bwawk, bwawk, bwawk!" several of the girls began to call out to me.
Okay, so I never liked being called chicken. That had been my downfall many times in the past.
"Fine!" I said angrily after nearly a minute of being called chicken, a coward, and other such things. "Anything to get you to stop pestering me."
Without warning, Rosalyn swung herself over me, straddling me, as she leaned forward and kissed me, one hand behind my head to keep me from moving away. I smelled her perfume, the same intoxicating scent that Debra wore, and her lips pressed eagerly against mine. Slowly, her tongue parted my lips.
I was not going to give in. No matter how sexy and seductive she was. No matter how good a kisser she was. No matter that her passionate lip-lock was making me feel all warm inside. No matter how much I was starting to want to kiss her back. No matter how my lips tingled, and my tongue wanted to fence with hers in a deep, passionate French kiss. No matter how wonderful it felt to be held so tightly and kissed with such depth of feeling. No matter .... I wasn't going to reciprocate her French kiss. I wasn't going to let my hand drift to squeeze her perfect ass. I wasn't going to close my eyes like I was enjoying a passionate moment. Oh, shit. I suddenly realized that I _was_ doing all of those things.
She completed her kiss, and leaned back, grinning. "Well?" she asked.
Angel smiled. "She made it thirty-eight seconds," she chuckled.
"That's about as long as anyone has resisted her," Shove added with a giggle.
"I'll see you at the hot-tub party," Rosalyn said triumphantly.
After the movie ended - without further incident, fortunately - as I was getting ready for bed, several girls made interesting comments or giggled as word of my failed prank spread. It seemed most of the floor was enjoying my embarrassment. Even Evvie had heard of the incident, and she was trying her best to not giggle at my plight.
Debra snuggled next to me as we sat by the fire, but I felt incredibly guilty, and wasn't nearly as cuddly as I usually was. She noticed. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I tried to lie.
"Kayda," she chided me gently, "something's bothering you. What is it?"
I couldn't _not_ tell her, but I was sorely afraid that she was going to be disappointed in me. Once I started, the words and tears gushed forth as I explained my failed attempt to prank Rosalyn, and the fallout of that.
Debra chuckled. "Yeah, that's Rosalyn."
"You told me she was ticklish!" I shot back. "You didn't tell me she treated it like foreplay!"
Debra shrugged. "You didn't ask, nor did you tell me you were going to try tickling her. If you had, I'd have warned you. Her tickle spots are very erogenous zones for her. If someone tickles her long enough, she actually has orgasms!"
I buried my face in my hands, feeling humiliated. I'd brought all that on myself.
Debra put her hand on my shoulders comfortingly. "How long did you last? When she kissed you, I mean?"
"Thirty-eight seconds," I mumbled, ashamed. I felt like I'd been unfaithful to Debra.
"That's impressive!" she said. I looked up in disbelief, and she was smiling. "Most girls give in - I heard even hetero girls - within twenty-five to thirty seconds. She's _that good_ a kisser."
"But ... now I have to go to the hot-tub party."
"Don't worry. It's before your birthday, so you're technically still jail-bait. Rosalyn knows better than to push _that_ line." She smiled. "Right now, I suspect that she's just having fun teasing you."
After her little talk, I felt a lot better, and we were able to get some quality snuggling time, which further improved my mood.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Rosalyn had a smug smile on her face when she escorted me to class, still flirting, but she didn't mention the hot-tub party until just before she left, when she told me where the group was meeting and what to wear. Her gloating was almost as bad as her flirting, especially since I'd brought it on myself by trying to prank her - and she knew it.
Basic Martial Arts was somewhat of a disaster. Ito was staring at me. "We're going to learn to break a rear hold today," he said firmly. "Kayda, since you've already learned this in your afternoon class, you will help demonstrate the technique."
I gulped. "Yes, Sensei," I croaked as I scrambled to my feet. I glanced at Sensei Tolman, who had a worried expression. I was trembling by the time I got to center mat.
"Frequently, when fighting inexperienced opponents, they will grapple you from behind," Ito explained. "This is an easy hold to break, as Kayda will now demonstrate."
I tried to cooperate. I really tried. But when he grasped me from behind, I had a panic attack. The next thing I knew, Sensei Tolman, Adalie, and Alicia were huddled around me.
"You're okay, Kayda," Adalie said soothingly. "Everything is okay."
"What ...?" I mumbled. My cheeks were wet from my tears, and I was curled up in a little ball, clutching my knees to my chest. "What happened?"
"You had a panic attack," Sensei Tolman said. "Can you sit up?"
I slowly unclutched my knees and straightened up a little. "I ... I think so," I said softly. With Alicia's help, I rolled up to a sitting position, and then wiped my face.
Ito had the other students to one side of the gym, where he was instructing and watching them practice the technique. Some of the students were glancing my way, making me feel quite self-conscious.
"You girls go back to instruction," Sensei Tolman directed Adalie and Alicia. "Are you okay now?"
I nodded slowly. "Yeah, I think so."
"Okay, I want you to sit here and take some deep breaths. Sensei Ito wants to talk with you a bit." She saw me starting to tremble again. "You need to listen to him, Kayda."
I nodded, and she walked over to the instructional group. As soon as she had the class under control, Ito strode over toward me, his inscrutable features giving not the slightest hint of emotion. As he squatted down beside me, I looked down, away from his gaze. "Kayda," he said firmly.
I slowly looked up at him.
"You have got to get your panic attacks under control," he said simply. "In the real world, an attacker is more likely to be a man, and you cannot permit yourself to become catatonic every time a man lays a hand on you."
"I know," I whispered, letting my gaze drop once more. "But ...."
"I'm not going to pretend that I know what you went through." I looked up again, surprised. "It was clearly very traumatic for you, and it left its scars. But you _must_ learn to put that pain aside when you fight. Or you will lose, and then possibly be killed. Or worse."
I gasped; I understood what he meant. If I was incapacitated in a fight, there was nothing to stop attackers from violating me.
"After break, you _are_ going to start sparring with boys. Are there any that you trust to start sparring with, to build your confidence?"
"I guess maybe ... Lancer," I replied. I knew him well from Poe. "And ... Harrier." Adrian was a very good friend, and so into Laurie that he wouldn't do anything untoward. Vasiliy? I wouldn't put it past him to sneak a feel if we grappled. He wouldn't go beyond that, I was certain, but even that ....
"I'll get them to class for your sparring." He got a wicked grin. "And since Lancer has a practically invulnerable PK field, perhaps you can demonstrate the Native American techniques you're learning from Billy Two Knives." I goggled at that suggestion. "Billy tells me that you're picking up skill with the tomahawk very quickly."
Magic Arts was confusing again, as I tried to interpret Wakan Tanka's native magic in terms of the course material, and vice-versa. Ms. Grimes and the class tried to analyze my ghost-walking spell, but the textbook terminology and theory didn't fit the style of magic that Wakan Tanka was teaching me. The difference was not pleasant for me because some of the students acted as if my magic was a huge distraction because it differed from the tidy little theories in the book. Ms. Grimes and Nikki could tell I was getting upset by the grumbling, so Ms. Grimes firmly reminded the class that there were many, many different styles of magic, and that it was impossible to describe them all with one neat, grand unified theory. With a little one-on-one help from Ms. Grimes while Nikki supervised the others, I managed to find the commonality between textbook and Wakan Tanka's style. Ms. Grimes cautioned me that because Native American magic was different, the rest of the magic arts curriculum wasn't going to be easier. That was just the sort of cheery news I needed to end my morning with.
Kayda's Home - around noon
June Franks scooted her chair back when the doorbell rang. "I'll get it," she told her husband, strolling from the kitchen table. She opened the door, and was surprised - startled, actually - to see the sheriff and deputy sheriff standing on the porch. "Sheriff," she said, both in greeting and to alert her husband. "What brings you around here?"
The sheriff's countenance was not pleasant to behold. "I have a warrant," he growled, holding up a piece of paper that looked legal, "for the arrest of your child, Brandon Franks, and to search the premises on suspicion that you are harboring said child."
Mr. Franks was quickly up from the table and at the door. "Let me see that, please," he said as he stepped to the door. He took the proffered document and scanned it. "It seems in order," he said.
The sheriff stepped to one side, showing that his deputy had his gun drawn. "In accord with the law and as duly authorized sheriff, I must ask you to surrender your firearms," the sheriff said, looking pointedly at the holsters on Mr. Franks' hips, "to ensure the safety of law enforcement officers."
Franks glowered at him. "That's bull, and you know it," he said. Nonetheless, he slowly withdrew his pistols, one at a time, and placed then in the outstretched hands of the sheriff.
"Please sit at the table," the sheriff ordered, his use of the word 'please' failing to mask his contempt or glee at the circumstances. As the deputy sat the two down and stood guard over them, the sheriff stomped into the master bedroom. The sound that followed was less like a search and more like a vicious ransacking.
Mr. Franks' expression hardened, and he exchanged a glance with his wife, who sat, shocked and worried. He turned back to glare at the deputy, angry that the sheriff would use the pretext of a lawful search to be so utterly vindictive and nasty. Unseen to the deputy, his hand slipped into his pants pocket, and he slid out his cell phone, handing it to his wife.
June knew what was expected of her. She rose defiantly, ignoring the nervous look from the deputy. "I have a pie in the oven," she announced sternly, "and after all the work I put into it, I'm not going to let it burn." She marched to the oven, leaving the deputy gawking at her, glancing back and forth between husband and wife, unsure quite what to do. He fixed his wary gaze back on Mr. Franks, whose expression was extreme ire as the sound of destruction from the other side of the house continued.
Unseen by the deputy, June flipped open the phone and tapped a quick text message, then sent it. That done, she fussed over the oven, checking its contents and extracting the pie as she shut the oven off.
"I would offer you a piece," she said through clenched teeth at the deputy, "but as this is hardly a social call, you'll understand if I don't feel like being too friendly."
"Your pie is safe. Now sit back down," the deputy commanded harshly.
Five agonizingly long minutes later, after listening to the continued rampage the sheriff was doing through their personal belongings, the door burst open. Surprised, the deputy spun in his chair, his gun raised. He started when he recognized the uniforms of the two large men who were entering the house.
"Mr. Franks?" the state trooper asked, seeing Mr. Franks sitting at the table.
"Sheriff Clarkson is executing a search warrant for my daughter," Franks said, straining to control his anger.
The state troopers nodded. One looked at the deputy. "Be seated," he commanded, gesturing at the table. The other trooper turned toward the noise. "Come with me, please, Mr. and Mrs. Franks." The trio followed the noise back into the master suite.
Mrs. Franks gasped, stopping in the door. "My lord!" she cried, looking at the complete mess that had once been a tidy bedroom. All the dresser drawers were upended, their content strewn about, The bed had been hurled yanked violently from its frame, and the bedding was scattered, one sheet even torn. From atop her dresser, her jewelry box had obviously been tossed; it lay in pieces, her jewelry scattered.
"Sheriff Clarkson," the trooper barked impassively, even though his jaw was clenched.
The sheriff emerged angrily from the master bath and closet, his hand on the butt of his gun. He froze in the doorway when he recognized the uniform of the state trooper. "I'm executing a search warrant," he snarled.
"Let me see the warrant," the trooper demanded.
Obligingly, the sheriff handed the document to the trooper, who scanned it. "It seems to be in order."
Sheriff Clarkson nodded, sneering at Mr. Franks. "I told you."
"But your search constitutes abuse of power and reckless and unnecessary destruction of private property in the execution of a warrant, excessive in terms of the object of the search," the state trooper continued.
"I have a warrant!" Clarkson snarled.
"You are looking for a person, not a mouse," the state trooper replied. "Your search is unnecessarily destructive." He turned to Mrs. Franks. "Get your camera and document any and all damage."
"Now since you have a legal warrant," the trooper continued, "you may either allow us to supervise your search, within the constraints of reasonable search, or I will place you and your deputy under arrest for at least three felony counts relating to abuse of your lawful authority."
Clarkson seethed, his face beet red with anger. "Very well," he conceded.
Forty minutes later, the troopers escorted the sheriff and deputy to their cars after completing a search of all of the farm buildings.
The larger of the two state troopers stood by the open door of Clarkson's car. "As of this moment, the state trooper's office, under the authority of the State's Attorney General, is assuming jurisdiction over any and all law-enforcement matters related to these premises. The State's Attorney General's office will be notified of the abuse of power that may have been exercised here, and will be contacting you regarding investigation of this incident, including the possibility of termination of your service in public office, and possibly criminal charges. Do you understand, sir?"
Clarkson sat in his car, hatred burning in his eyes. "Yes," he said through clenched teeth.
"If you or your deputy set foot on these premises, it will be considered unlawful trespass, and you will be prosecuted. Do you understand?"
"Very well. Leave now." The two officers and the two Franks watched the sheriff and deputy angrily drive from the farm.
"He'll be back," Franks commented. "His kind never gives up."
"No he won't," the trooper assured the couple. "By this evening, he and his deputy will be relieved of duty and will be under arrest." He smiled. "The AG has been waiting for something like this for three years. He wants to squash any anti-mutant officers who abuse their power committing unlawful acts against mutants."
After documenting the damage, the two troopers drove off to file their reports, leaving Mrs. Franks the task of cleaning up the mess in the master suite and the two kids' bedrooms that Sheriff Clarkson had wrought. In Kayda's room, as she squatted beside the dresser, a tear rolled down her cheek as she looked at the remains of a clock mechanism that Brandon had made when he was seven - all of wood. Clarkson had smashed it indiscriminately as he used the warrant as an excuse for his own personal vendetta. She looked around Brandon's - Kayda's - room, crying at the torn pictures, the broken mechanisms that had been her child's pride and joy.
Overwhelmed momentarily, she went back to the kitchen, to something that seemed normal and sane and unbroken. As she pulled out a chair to sit for a moment, the phone rang.
"Franks residence," she answered, trying to sound like her usual chipper self.
"Mrs. Franks?" a frightened girl's voice sounded in her ear. "I need your help. Please!"
Melville Hall, Room 407 - after dinner
"You cannot begin to know 'ow 'elpful you are with your assistance," Adalie said as she closed her algebra homework.
I blushed, shrugging. "I'm glad I could help. Especially after all the help you've been giving me in sparring."
Alicia laughed. "It wasn't 'til Adalie got a letter from her friend back home that she decided to get a mite serious about learning to fight."
Adalie's cheeks reddened. "Oui," she admitted softly. "Madam Rousseaux told me of 'ow she started 'ere at Whateley, and 'ow she was determined to never fight, like me. And then she became a super-'ero almost by accident."
Alicia nodded. "We'll have t' be on a training team next year," she said. "So both of us were thinking that we should get better at fighting."
"Oui," Adalie added, a mischievous smile on her face. "And if we can learn from your tutor, none of the senseis will know 'ow much we can fight, so we can surprise everyone in the combat finals this spring."
"And not get beat up so bad," Alicia added with a grinning glance at Adalie.
"Oui," Adalie acknowledge with another blush, "that, too."
"As long as Mr. Two Knives doesn't object, I don't mind you two learning with me." I shuddered inward a tiny bit at the thought of learning without someone accompanying me. "In fact, I kind of prefer having company."
Adalie glanced at Alicia, and then looked at Kayda. "Is there some reason we should know? Some reason why you only spar and train with girls?"
"Yes," I said, letting my gaze drop to the floor so they couldn't see the anguish on my face. "But ... it's personal."
Adalie moved to one side of me, and Alicia to the other, like they instinctively knew that I needed support. "Were you ... you know?" Alicia asked softly.
I sat for a few seconds before nodding slightly. "Yeah. That's why I had problems today. Sometimes ... just bumping into a guy is enough to trigger it."
"We promise we won't tell anyone," Adalie said, and Alicia echoed her agreement.
"One time, I was training, and ... I had a flashback ... and I kind of ... lost control." I shook my head. "If I'd have been fighting real people, I might have killed them."
"From what Ah heard of y'all's fight," Alicia drawled, "y'all should make your own training team, 'cause everyone said you fought pretty well together."
I chuckled, drawn out of my momentary funk by her comment. "I'm in no hurry to start or join a training team."
"You should think of it," Adalie said, "before the administration assigns you to one, with people you don't like."
"That's something I've thought of more than once," I admitted. "But I'm not ready. Not yet." I smiled at them. "Besides, with the kinds of enemies I have, who'd want to be on a team with me? It'd be too dangerous."
Adalie bit her lip for a moment. "If you wanted, I would fight on a team with you," she admitted softly.
"So would Ah," Alicia echoed.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," I chuckled. "I'll keep that in mind."
"And thank you for your math help," Adalie added again. "Without it, I probably would not pass this term."
"I'm a TA for math, so I might as well help," I said, smiling.
Adalie's eyes lit up as a thought crossed her mind. "If you are still behind in French, I could 'elp you in exchange for your 'elp in Algebra."
"Swapping tutoring?" I asked, surprised.
"Sure," Alicia said. "Adalie's helpin' me so Ah sound a little more sophisticated," she grinned. "Mah ma'll be plenty pleased."
"You mean it?" I started to extend my hand for a handshake to seal the deal, but instead, I wrapped my arms around her. "Deal."
Between Poe an Melville, near curfew
I barely noticed a movement in my peripheral vision, and at the same time, the sky spirit was disturbed. Those two things made me hesitate slightly and turn toward the motion, with the result that the blow hit me square on my jaw. Before I could even react, or fall, a second punch hit my lower rib cage.
Why is it always the ribs, I asked myself as I crumpled.
Almost automatically, since I'd done it so often, I called up my shield spell, in time to block the side-kick that my assailant was trying to deliver. Whoever was attacking me was quick, but at least not a speedster.
I rolled, as I'd been trained, and came up on my feet in a ready stance. In the dim light of the walkway lights that were a ways off, my attacker was a shadow, a dark-gray, wraith-like figure with a flowing cloak and some kind of headpiece covering all the figure's features and hair so that all I saw of the face was mouth, chin, and the whites of eyes through eye-slits. Based on the size and what I _could_ see of the face, I was reasonably certain that it was a girl attacking me. She was shorter than me, and a little more slender, and I could see her pull something from her belt.
Holy shit, she had a knife. My hand dropped to my side, pulling out Wakan Mila, as she swung her knife at my shield. My certainty that she was about to be disappointed was short-lived when sparks flew and a fractal pattern radiated outward from where her knife hit the magical barrier. I stood, stunned momentarily at the realization that my foe had some type of magical weapon that had just collapsed my spell, but I moved again as she slashed downward toward me.
My shoulder exploded in an unnatural pain as her knife poked through the fabric of my shirt and light jacket, and my entire arm went limp as I cried out in pain. Wakan Mila fell to the ground out of my useless hand.
This was as real as the snake-demon, I realized belatedly. My attacker swung again, but this time, I blocked the arm holding her knife while closing and bring my knee up and around, into her side. She staggered momentarily, so I followed up with a side kick to her stomach, causing her to double over. I reminded myself that I had to fight like Hoka.
We traded blows - her kicking and punching with her free hand, while trying to stab me with her weapon, while I had to use my one arm to block her stabs. The result was that I was getting hit a lot more than I was hitting, even though I'd avoided her knife.
She was tough, that was certain. I got a good kick which stunned her, and I followed up with a side kick in her abdomen, which knocked the wind out of her. Even with that, she managed to bring the knife down into my kicking leg, and again, agony coursed through my body from the entry point. As I regained my balance, I realized that she might not be using a knife, since my wounds felt like puncture wounds and not slashes or cuts.
Struggling to keep my balance on my injured leg, I stepped toward her, my palm moving upward with a quick thrust into her chin. She staggered, and not wanting her to recover the initiative, I kicked again, this time at her knee. A loud pop sounded as she collapsed, and as she crumpled to the ground, I staggered on my injured leg and fell down.
About that time, I heard the sounds of boots running. Please, let it be security! My assailant, getting back to her feet, looked at me, nearly helpless, and then down the path where the sounds were coming from. After a brief hesitation, she turned and fled into the darkness from whence she'd come.
"Not again, Kayda," one of the officers said wearily.
"Yeah. Some girl attacked me without provocation, so I had to defend myself," I explained.
"Where is she?"
I pointed. "She ran off just before you got here."
"Breen, Wilkinson, go check the area." The officer clicked a microphone on his shirt. "Dispatch, student was assaulted with a weapon at our location. Attacker apparently fled. Victim is injured."
"Harris," his radio blared in response, "do you have an identity for either?"
Sergeant Harris looked at me. I shook my head. "She was wearing a hood so I couldn't see her features."
"Negative ID on the assailant. Victim is Kayda Franks."
The officer on the other end of the radio groaned aloud. "Again?"
"Yes. At least there's no sign of the buffalo this time," he snorted.
"I didn't have time to manifest him," I answered.
"How bad are you hurt?" the other officer asked as he examined me.
"She used some kind of knife or weapon," I noted, having sat up and holding my good hand over the wound in my right shoulder. "She stabbed me twice."
"Do we need to get you to medical?"
I could feel the tingling in the wounds. "Probably."
Harris glanced at me. "Can you walk?"
I stared at him in disbelief, and then looked at my leg. "I don't think so," I replied, trying not to sound snarky. "Not with a hole in my leg."
Sergeant Harris heard. "Dispatch, we need transport to take the victim to Doyle."
"Copy. We've got backup and medical transport are enroute."
"I dropped my knife," I added, "when she stabbed me the first time. I think it's over there," I tilted my head in the direction I thought my knife was.
Doyle Medical Complex
Once more, I was lying on a hospital bed in Doyle, bleeding still from the wounds. They tingled oddly. "My wounds ... aren't healing," I noted to Dr. Guitterez, who'd just finished examining me. "I can feel it.
Dr. Guitterez frowned."I noticed that."
"It feels like ...." My eyes popped wide open. "Like when I got shot. By Matthews."
"The bullets - they were tainted by a snake-demon, so my wounds weren't healing." I forced myself to stay calm, because I suddenly realized what my attacker had used. "She had ... my copper spike," I said.
"What? A copper spike?"
"Where's Sergeant Harris?" I practically demanded.
"Right here, waiting for the doc to finish so I can get a statement," he answered.
"You should have reports of a missing copper spike, right?"
Harris frowned. "I don't recall ..."
"Check with the duty officer! It's very important!"
Within a minute, Harris confirmed my story about the spike. "What's so special about this copper thing?" he asked.
"It's from a Native American water panther, a Mishibijiw. One attacked me when Mom and I were driving here. It was ... insane because of the snake demon, the same one that infected Officer Matthews. The same one we killed in town this last weekend."
"Okay," Harris said slowly, not quite comprehending.
"The spike - it's got the same taint on it that was on Matthews. And on the snake demon. She ... got the missing spike and used it to attack me." I glanced at the doctor. "That's why my healing isn't working - the wounds are tainted."
"Should I call for someone from magic arts?" Dr. Guitterez asked.
"No," I said firmly. "I ... think I have enough magic to clean my wounds."
I had them leave while I prepared the solution. It was worse-tasting than I'd remembered, and I nearly gagged. When I finished it, I could feel my healing at work.
While I lay on the bed healing, Sergeant Harris questioned me about the attack, any clues about the attacker, any known enemies I might have, and what seemed like a thousand other small details.
By the time the questioning was done, my leg was healed enough that Dr. Guitterez allowed me to go back to my cottage instead of spending the night in the hospital - after I insisted very strongly. Some might say I had a fit, but that would be an exaggeration - a bit.
While Sergeant Harris and another officer walked me back to Poe, I slipped into dream-space for a moment
"Wakan Tanka," I began as I walked to the fire circle.
"What is it, Wihakayda?"
"I don't understand something. How is it that I can hold the copper spikes, but others can't without being tainted?"
Wakan Tanka smiled wearily. "The Ptesanwi is magically attuned to the energies of spirits of the People, as well as the People's enemies and friends."
She nodded. "And many others that are part of the People."
"Does that mean I can handle Class X energy or spirits?"
"No, Wihakayda!" she said firmly. "Other such energies or spirits could easily shatter your mind and your soul. You must not even think of trying to do such a thing."
I nodded solemnly. "I have heard of the results," I said. "I have _no_ desire to try that out for myself."
"Good." She smiled and handed me a piece of jerky. "It's very difficult to train a new Ptesanwi, and I don't want to have to start over." I gaped at her, and she chuckled. Sometimes, she had an odd sense of humor.
Mrs. Horton was waiting for me when I got back to Poe. Not surprisingly, Evvie and Rosalyn were also waiting for me. I had to answer a barrage of questions, and then, exhausted, I dragged myself to bed. I didn't remember my head hitting the pillow.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Laird Hall, 2nd Period
As soon as Senseis Ito and Tolman walked into the gym, I knew I was in for a long class. Ito had a smug expression, and he looked directly at me as he went to the center, pausing long enough to shoot me an unmistakable know-it-all smirk. Oh, freakin' joy. I dreaded what was going to happen next.
Ito called Alicia and me to the center mat to demonstrate what we'd learned the previous day - only she got to use her powers, and I didn't. On top of that, because I'd really drained myself late into the night removing the taint from myself and my attacker, I was physically exhausted and almost out of essence. Without any magic to boost it, healing had gone very slowly, and my wounds still hurt like hell.
As soon as Sensei said 'hajime', Alicia concentrated, and I felt the room wobble a little. I knew what her power was - she was dropping my blood pressure to make me woozy. Staggering slightly, fighting off the headrush as well as residual pain from last night's injuries, I dashed toward her to break her concentration.
It was exactly what she wanted. As soon as I was within range, still a little unsteady, she quit using her power, which was taking most of her concentration, and punched right at my face. I only partially blocked it, and I staggered back stunned, narrowly missing a follow-up roundhouse kick. I shook my head to clear the last effects of the headrush, still not quite focused enough to go on the offensive, which was okay with Alicia; she was attacking with great vigor.
The three rounds were not fun; she was getting better control of her power, and she used it effectively on me. In the first round, she had me dizzy enough often enough that I was mostly on the defensive, and she threw me out of the ring. In the second, I charged at her too quickly for her to get her power active, and after a vicious flurry of kicks, jabs, and blocks, I drove her out of the ring. The third round was just as frenzied, but when I got her in an arm bar, rather than resist, she used her power, and as I wobbled unsteadily, unable to stay focused, she pulled out of my hold and gave me a side kick. I tumbled, and landed outside the ring - again.
Then I had to spar against Adalie, once more without my powers. Once more, I won only one of the three rounds, the first, when her speed worked against her. It wasn't so much skill on my part as luck; I ducked at just the right moment when she zipped in to attack me. That left her off balance just enough that she wobbled as she fought to regain her balance. She almost was too quick for me; but I was lucky to hit her just enough that she stepped out of the ring. Barely. But it counted. After that first round, she was much more careful, and against her speed, I could do nothing without my magic, so I was pretty sore by the time she beat me into submission in the second round because I couldn't stop any of her strikes. In the third round, as soon as Ito said 'hajime', I turned, and deliberately stepped out of the ring, glaring at him as I did so.
"At least you didn't give up without fighting last night, Pejuta," he said sternly.
"I could use my magic last night," I shot back angrily.
"But magic in your assailant's weapon neutralized your shield spell, and you were subsequently injured."
"Yeah, and then you decide to make me fight again this morning, when I'm not healed, and you probably know it from the reports?" I snapped.
"The point is that you fought to win last night. Unlike your last match. What does that demonstrate?"
"That I can fight," I acknowledged glumly. "When it's important."
"Yes. And perhaps that this class is more useful than you thought? Back to your position."
I shot him one more angry glare, and then I limped back to the edge of the mat. "Sunkce!" I muttered angrily under my breath. I seriously doubted anyone would be able to translate the Lakota term for dog-shit, but the sentiment was still perfectly clear.
"Do you have something to add, Pejuta?" Sensei Tolman demanded.
I turned my head to her, and saw the frown on her face. "No, Sensei," I said quickly.
We practiced more, all the while my shoulder and leg throbbed painfully. I was using my essence as fast as it was accumulating to fight the pain and keep from collapsing, so there was none left to fuel my healing.
Outside the locker room, Sensei Tolman was waiting for me. "A moment please, Kayda."
"After the break, you'll eventually be sparring with all students, in both classes."
"What?!? You _know_ I can't do that because of ...." I didn't need to remind her of my PTSD.
"If you can't get past that weakness, your opponents will use it against you," Tolman said firmly. I knew she was correct.
"When we spar, the boy will ... grab me ... in ways they shouldn't," I protested.
"And you're no different in that regard from any other girl in class. And like all the other girls, if a boy does something inappropriate, you are justified in applying a corrective lesson. Or in letting Sensei Ito or me know of the behavior."
Just before lunch, the Native American group charter committee met with Mr. Lodgeman to review our presentation. Apart from a few minor changes, he was satisfied, so he made an appointment for us to present our proposal to the administration on Thursday. It happened to coincide with second period, so I would get out of Ito-torture for at least one day. After the other two left, Mr. Lodgeman let me know that I was scheduled for power testing starting at eleven on Thursday as well. With the meeting, I would be excused from most of my classes. After the testing that had been done in Sioux Falls, I wasn't really looking forward to repeating the ordeal, especially the dodge-ball thing with cannonballs being shot at me from all directions. At least that's what it had felt like. And lucky me - I got to do it again.
Because of the meeting, I was late to lunch, which began as a disaster and got worse. Stormwolf noticed me walking alone through Schuster toward the caf, and he decided to escort me, which drew a lot of notice that I'd have rather done without. That, in turn, drew a number of comments, catcalls, and requests for autographs, which had me red from embarrassment and anger. And if that wasn't bad enough, in my haste, I'd sometimes been forgetting my magic shield spells, and the pranks would hit me. My food wasn't affected that day, but when I was bussing my tray, an indoor wind gust blew my skirt up, just like the famous Marilyn Monroe screen clip. In my haste to push my skirt down, I dropped my tray, which clattered noisily and drew more attention my way. The cheering and hooting from the guys was utterly humiliating, and I cast a ghost-walking spell and ran from the caf.
And if that wasn't bad enough, somewhere in the mess someone swiped a book again. I expected that I'd find it in my locker - again - which practically announced that someone was using magic to harass me. I was going to have be more diligent about keeping my anti-magic spell active nearly all the time, I feared. Unfortunately, that burned essence that I needed to keep Wakan Mila charged and to cleanse the rest of my copper spikes. I was eager to get that task done because Wakan Tanka wanted me to make some charms from them to hold spells for me. With the magic of the Mishibijiw, a shield charm would be far stronger than one cast by my magic alone.
Electronics Lab, Beneath Kane Hall
I was starting to have fun in Electronics after finally getting all caught up. We were building a power amplifier circuit from scratch - no voltage regulators, no integrated circuits. Just discrete components, our notebooks, and occasional hints and help from our instructor. As usual, other kids from other gadgeteer and devisor labs would come into the classroom and wait until Ms. Merenis wasn't occupied with us so they could talk with her about more advanced labs and projects.
One girl who walked in caught my attention for some reason. I watched her march determinedly across the room and stop with almost military precision by Ms. Merenis' desk. She was short and a tiny bit stout, not at all like an exemplar, and quite nerdy-looking. Her brown hair was frizzy and unkempt, in a style that even I knew wasn't attractive. There was something in her appearance that fairly screamed "arrogant attitude". Was this girl more typical of the labs than Bugs and Delta Spike?
After getting something signed by Ms. Merenis, she turned with Teutonic precision and started to march back out of the room, but as she passed one lab bench, she stopped abruptly.
"Vat are you doing?" she asked in a clipped German accent.
"I'm building a power amplifier," Delwin answered. His voice had a hint of nervousness that I'd not heard from him before.
"I can see zat," the girl proclaimed arrogantly. "Except you are only going to make smoke and sparks. You are doing it all wrong!" She leaned over the bench. "Look here," she lectured, "the feedback circuit picking up at the wrong point. It is inadequate, ja? Und without proper feedback, the drive circuit will respond by trying to force more current through the transformer, ja?"
"Okay," Delwin said hesitantly. "But it's got to have feedback to ...."
"Pay attention here," the girl snapped. "Zis is all wrong! You vant to pick up feedback _here_!" she said very sternly.
" I've got this feedback circuit here," Delwin protested mildly.
"Ja," the girl nodded. "But the placement is wrong."
"No," Delwin argued. "It divides the output voltage with this resistor network and drives this transistor to be the current limiter."
"Nein, nein," the girl countered sharply. The two began a rather one-sided debate, where she sternly and unrelentingly corrected Delwin's circuit design, which he had tried to optimize but had apparently made a mistake in.
Delwin finally shook his head, frowning. "I don't see what's wrong."
"Ach!" the girl snorted. "You have the filter backwards," she exclaimed. "The way you have it wired, the high-frequency ripple will bias the limiter off, and poof!" She threw up her hands dramatically. "It will be like everything Delta Spike makes!"
"But ... I ...." Delwin started to protest.
"It is wrong. Versteh?"
'Oh, God,' I found myself thinking, 'please don't let her come over here!' My impression was that she was an arrogant, condescending, rude, pompous, know-it-all. Then I had a horrifying thought - if she was poking her nose into other people's business, was _she_ the Gadgeteer Goddess that I'd heard so much about? Was this Loophole, the one I'd heard so much of and was beginning to fear meeting?
Delwin nodded as I watched, horrified. "Okay, I see it," he said after studying the circuit diagram again. "Thanks, Wundy."
"Try not to fry too many components," she added curtly. "Some of us need them for our own projects." She turned abruptly and walked out of the room
Wundy? I puzzled for a moment. Oh, she must be Wunderkind, one of the Berets who Adalie had mentioned. Then I had an even worse thought - if Wunderkind was _this_ arrogant, how bad was the _real_ Gadgeteer Goddess?
Bugs came by after my class to walk with me to Laird. She didn't have to, but I enjoyed her perky, bubbly-happy company. I wouldn't mind at all if _she_ was the queen of the labs; she was just so darned nice. As we walked, I heard a faint sound, like "vtt, vtt, vtt, vtt" in the distance, but growing closer quickly. Around us, students scrambled to clear the tunnel, and Bugs pulled me aside only a couple of seconds before a powered anti-grav chair barely able to get underneath rolling folds of fat from the extremely obese occupant.
"Slow down, you asshole!" one guy shouted after the rapidly vanishing chair. His words were the most polite of all the commentary.
"Who ... _what_ was that?" I stammered.
"Belphegor," Bunny spat. "He's a thieving, self-absorbed, egotistical, miserable excuse for a human being." I'd never heard her so upset at anyone. This Belphegor must have been a total asshole to get her that spitting-mad. " I thought Mrs. Carson barred him from using his chair!" she added angrily.
"She didn't have a choice," another guy who'd overheard us chimed in. "Belfatso got a stress fracture in his foot, so the administration had to let him use it until his foot is healed."
"He probably got it because he's not used to lugging around all that lard!" a guy with Anna spat. " If someone were to have time to carve all the blubber off of him, all you'd find in the middle is a big, stinky turd!" Like nearly everyone else in the tunnel at that moment, they'd had to dodge the menace in the chair, and the boy wasn't happy about it. From the way Anna was clinging to him, this had to be the boyfriend Jerry she talked about all the time in martial arts.
Anna frowned at him. "Be nice, Jerry," she said, swatting his arm lightly.
"Sorry," Jerry said unenthusiastically. His distaste for Belphegor was plain to see. "It's just that my foamed palladium hydrocarbon trap turned up in his lab."
Anna shrugged. "You can't blame him if you didn't see him take anything, because someone else could have taken it, and it ended up in a lost-and-found, and he didn't think it belonged to anyone, so he could have taken it by accident, and ...."
"Like the seven other registered items that were found in his lab, too?" Jerry asked a bit sarcastically.
"You're always so grumpy when you're hungry," Anna chided him jokingly. "Let's go get something for a light snack, but not sugary, because sugar makes me kind of hyper, especially in the afternoon, but maybe some fruit or something, so you're not grumpy, and then we can go to the library and you can help me with my homework in chemistry, because we're learning about organic molecules, and since you're so smart in chemistry, you can ...." Her voice faded off as they two walked, arm in arm, around a corner in the tunnel.
"She's always so perky," I observed as Bugs and I resumed our walk.
"Yeah, and she really likes you," Bugs said, in her own bubbly-happy style. "She really likes sparring with you in martial arts, too."
It took a second for me to recall that Bugs knew Anna from Wondercute, and that's how she would have heard about me sparring with Anna. I chuckled. "She's a good sparring partner. Unlike Jobe."
"Nobody likes Jobe," Bugs said, her voice betraying her exasperation with the arrogant Drow. She paused at a doorway. "I need to talk to someone quick. It won't take but a moment."
"Okay," I shrugged, following her into one of the general-purpose labs, a chaotic room with eight or ten work benches, all of which were occupied. Hunched over one bench was a large, hairy person in a lab coat - looking more than anything like mad-scientist Chewbacca, at least from the rear. Off in one corner, a girl was working, but as she turned, I could see that she seemed a hybrid of sexy girl and Godzilla - in a cute way.
At another bench, a trio was gathered around some project. At least, it _had been_ a project. The wisps of smoke wafting up from the bench and the mild cursing indicated quite clearly that something had gone wrong.
"I told you it would fail," one of the two boys said. He was short, thin, and had dark hair and a round face adorned with coke-bottle glasses. And his clothing beneath his lab coat looked like something only a style-impaired mother would pick out for her son.
The owner of the project looked rather dejected. "Yeah, I know Smokey," he said. "And I asked you to check it for me. But I thought I had that problem fixed."
"Looks like you didn't," the third student said. She was half a head taller than the one called Smokey, tall and thin with red hair and freckles. She looked the part of a girl who was either a tomboy, or was so secure in herself that she didn't feel a need to make herself look pretty.
"Yeah, I figured that part out by now, Maddy," the first guy said, his word dripping with sarcasm. Shaking his head, he continued. "When I get a new version designed, I'll give you a call to check it out, K?"
"Sure." Smokey and the girl Maddy and left the lab, with Maddy practically bouncing everywhere and talking nearly as non-stop as Anna. The contrast between them was striking; where he was walking slowly and steadily, unconcerned, she orbited him like a little bouncy superball. With ADHD. On speed.
"Who are those two?" I asked Bugs.
She looked. "Oh, them? Smoke Test and Madskillz."
"Does his name have anything to do with him frying a project over there?" I nodded my head toward the bench they'd been at.
Bugs wrinkled her nose. "I'm not really sure _what_ she does. She has to have some kind of skill to be in the labs, but no-one really knows."
In the hallways, we came across a rather foppish-looking guy dressed like he was straight out of the Victorian era. Early Victorian. With his cane. He seemed quite out of place by a century and a half. Worse, he had noticed us, and changed direction slightly.
"Good evening," he said pleasantly with a polite half-bow. "I don't believe I've had the pleasure." He extended his hand in greeting.
I glanced warily at Bugs, and then extended my hand; I could be polite enough to shake hand with him, although my hand was doing a good job shaking all on its own. But instead of shaking my hand, he bowed deeply, raising my hand and kissing it. Shaking furiously with fear, trying to control myself, I snatched my hand back and retreated a couple of steps from him. I'm sure my eyes were wide with horror as I fought back panic.
The boy looked oddly at me. "Funny," he commented warily. "Most girls don't react so ... strongly to making my acquaintance."
"Back off, Jay-Arm," Bugs said in a stern tone. "Kayda has more sense than most girls."
He tilted his head toward me. "Kayda, eh? I've heard of you. You and your buffalo have made quite a stir." He smiled. "I'm sorry if I ... startled you. Most girls, it seems, aren't used to someone behaving like a gentleman."
"I'm ... sorry ... I overreacted," I stammered nervously. I clutched Bugs' arm. "I need to get to Laird. My tutor is waiting." Without a glance over my shoulder, I tugged Bugs down the tunnel away from the boy. "Who ... was that?"
"Nephandus, also known as Jean Armand, or Jay-Arm," Bugs explained. "He's one of the Seeds." She shook her head. "Thinks he's God's gift to women."
We continued for a couple of dozen yards before we met a guy who was obviously staring at us. Bugs acted like it was no big deal, even when he walked into the frame of a security door because he was too distracted watching Bugs. Or me. _That_ thought wasn't exactly cheery.
"How can you giggle when guys ogle you like that?" I asked, puzzled by her lack of reaction.
"It's no big deal," she answered perkily.
"But, you're ...."
"It creeps me out."
Bugs wrapper her arm around my shoulder. "I understand," she said. Like all the girls in Poe, she knew _why_ guys frightened me.
"Is it always like this in the labs?" I wondered aloud as we rounded a corner.
Bugs laughed. "No. Sometimes it gets weird."
What I saw _wasn't_ considered weird? It was a normal day? And I wanted to get on the tech track so I could fiddle around with machinery like I used to? I suddenly wondered if my sanity had taken a vacation.
Instead of sparring, Mr. Two Knives had me put on my gi and then we walked past the groundskeeping buildings to the stables, where the school kept a few horses. According to some stories I'd heard, one of the students had ridden a horse to Whateley from Kentucky or Tennessee. I suppose that if the story was true, she kept her horse at the stables. I found that a little hard to believe, though.
Mr. Two Knives led me to a roan horse in a corral, separated from the other animals. Without waiting, he climbed over the fence, and speaking softly, walked to the horse. At first, I thought that he was going to spook the horse, but he walked up to the animal and stroked its neck. The horse seemed to accept him without problem, and after he'd moved to its side, he swung himself up on its back. At first, the horse started, surprised at the sudden load, but as Mr. Two Knives continued to talk to the horse and stroke its neck, it quickly calmed.
He shot a smile my way, and then he got the horse moving, guiding it using pressure on the horse's ribs from his knees, augmented with light tugs on the horse's mane. For several minutes, telling me what he was doing, he guided the horse as if the two were of one mind. It was impressive, but I feared that he was going to have me try. I was right.
He dismounted, and then called me over. I was very nervous about riding without a saddle; even getting up onto the horse was a trick, since there was no stirrup to use. With my exemplar strength, though, it turned out to be no problem to leap onto the horse's back, but as soon as I landed, he skittered a bit, which caused me to nearly fall off. Apparently my knees clamped tightly on the horse, which confused him and caused him to skitter some more. Fortunately for me, Mr. Two Knives held the horse and whispered to him, calming him, and after a bit, I was actually riding the horse bareback. Of course, he was leading the horse to keep it from getting away, because I'd just started, and it took a while for horse and rider to become accustomed to one another. Even with that, I was thrown three times, and I ached as we were finished.
As we walked back toward Laird, Mr. Two Knives explained that he'd been spending time at the corral every day when he wasn't teaching me, so that by the time I was ready to start riding, the horse would be used to being ridden Native American style. And by spending time with the horse and talking to it, he'd gotten it used to his presence. I would have to do the same. And then, lucky me, I bumped in to Rosalyn as I came out of Laird.
"You're stalking me," I said unhappily.
She smiled sweetly, a saccharine-laden smile that made me want to barf. "Why would I do that?" she asked. "You're going to the hot-tub party with me, so ..."
"I'm not going _with_ you," I countered, interrupting her. "That sounds like a date or something. I only agreed to go."
"If you say so," she continued her syrupy sweetness. "You're so cute when you think you're in control."
I sighed, and then groaned at a pain in my rear from being thrown off the horse. On top of that, my injuries from the previous night were still tender, and the training with the horse hadn't helped soothe those aches.
"Are you okay?" Her voice changed in a split-second from flirtatious to genuine concern.
"Mr. Two Knives started me doing horse training. I ... got thrown a couple of times." I could practically hear the gears turning in her mind. "I'm learning to ride Native American style. Bareback, with no bridle."
"Oh. That sounds ... challenging."
"Yeah. A lot harder than riding with a bridle and saddle, like I did back on the farm."
"You rode on your farm?"
"Yeah." I wasn't going to say more.
"Would you like to soak in the hot tub to help with those aches and pains?" Rosalyn asked. I couldn't tell if she was being suggestive or concerned.
"No. I've got to get back and tutor Ayla in math."
Rosalyn stutter-stepped at that. "You're tutoring ... Ayla?"
"Yeah. He's trying to get pre-calc and calc 1 done this term, and since I'm way ahead of those classes ...."
"You continue to surprise me."
I chuckled. "Here's another surprise - the hot-tub party? It's not a date."
Melville Cottage, Room 407 - after dinner
I gathered up my French materials so I could get back to Poe before curfew. "What are you guys doing for spring break?" I asked, making conversation.
"Ah'm going to New York City," Alicia said happily. "Pa has some business there, so Ma wants me to see some museums and stuff. Probably a play on Broadway, too."
"That sounds like fun," I commented.
"Yeah. Ah haven't seen mah folks since Christmas, and I kinda miss 'em."
"How about you?" I asked Adalie.
She sighed heavily. "Non, I am not traveling. It is too long a journey to go to France for one week, and with the difficulties I 'ad with my 'ometown, it would not be wise." She sounded rather sad. "'Ow about you? Are you going 'ome?"
"I hope so," I replied wistfully. "I'm at least going back to visit my friends in Sioux Falls, but ... I may not be able to go to my home. There are complications."
"What type of complications?" Adalie asked, her curiosity piqued.
"Severe mutophobia," I said after thinking of how to innocuously say what happened. "It might not be safe for me."
"I understand that," Adalie said sadly. "My 'ome has the same thing, despite Madame Rousseaux and Soeur Justice trying to convince people that mutants are not evil."
"And it's possible that Mrs. Carson might not even let me go."
"Oh?" Alicia asked. "Why not?"
"You know that snake-demon my friends and I fought the other night?" They both nodded. "He has one or two brothers back in South Dakota. And I suspect they're going to be a bit pissed that I killed their brother."
"Well," Alicia grinned, "y'all killed one of 'em. Ah'm sure you won't have any problems killing another."
I shook my head, exhaling slowly. "I couldn't have done it alone," I explained. "So if I have to face another snake-demon alone, I'm not sure I could handle it."
"Sure ya can!" Alicia said enthusiastically. "Then y'all will have two trophies."
"Well, I hope Mrs. Carson lets me go, and I hope I can go home. I miss my parents." I fought a bit of emotion at that one; it was hard to admit that my parents were that important to me, a teenager. As I recalled the stereotype, we were supposed to be rebelling against parents. "Heck, I even miss my little brother," I added with a chuckle.
"It's too bad Adalie is goin' to be stuck on campus," Alicia commented, sad for her roommate. She gave her friend a brief hug. Suddenly, her eyes lit up. "Unless ...."
"Unless what?" the two of us asked in unison and warily.
"Well, y'all are going t' South Dakota, and Adalie isn't. I was just thinkin' that it'd be neat if y'all both went there."
"What?" Adalie asked, surprised at the idea.
"Yeah. Y'all could spend time workin' on y'all's math, and Kayda could work on her French some, plus y'all'd get off campus for a bit."
"Non," Adalie said quickly. "I would 'ate to impose."
"That's a good idea," I countered, immediately warming to the concept. "Maybe we could get a side trip to the Black Hills," I added. "They're absolutely gorgeous, and there are some neat attractions like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. And there's a mammoth site in the southern Hills." Okay, I was waxing enthusiastic about my home state. Who wouldn't?
"But ... to impose on your parents and your friends!" Adalie protested. From her tone, I figured her objections were weakening and that she really wanted to get off campus.
"Let's find out." A quick call confirmed that not only didn't Mom object, but she thought it was a wonderful idea. A second call confirmed that the Sioux Falls League, and Debra in particular, were happy to host Adalie if she wanted to come. I think Debra was relieved that I'd have a traveling companion.
"And don't worry about the cost," I added I'd ended my conversation with Debra. "Mom and Dad will cover the tickets."
"I don't know," Adalie said nervously. "I still feel like I'm imposing. And my papa can pay for my travel."
"It's settled. You're coming to South Dakota with me." The thought of Adalie coming with me made me feel more comfortable; I hadn't realized how nervous I was about traveling home until I felt the relief of a travel companion.
Thursday, April 5, 2007, 2nd period
Lifeline, Thunderbird, Slapshot, and Mr. Lodgeman sat on one side of the conference table, while Mrs. Carson, Ms. Hartford, and Mrs. Shugendo sat on the other. I, unfortunately, stood at the head of the table, with my presentation displayed on the wall behind me. There was no podium for me to hide behind, so my wobbly knees and shaking hands were on display.
I didn't know quite what to think, because there had been almost no questions during the presentation. Instead, the three women sat stony-faced and quiet, making me more and more nervous that they were hostile to my idea.
"Any questions?" I asked as the last slide of my charts displayed. I was certain that my voice was quavering and they all knew how uneasy I was.
"Interesting proposal," Mrs. Shugendo was the first to speak. "What percentage of the students would be interested?"
I was hoping that Mr. Lodgeman would save me, but he didn't. Instead, Lifeline spoke up. "According to the data we have, between eighteen and twenty-two students are fully-enrolled tribal members, and the estimate is that there are at least another dozen students who have Native American ancestry but aren't enrolled in any tribe."
"And we estimate that there would probably be another ten to fifteen students who would be interested in Native American culture."
"So your estimate is that from between twenty and forty-five students would be interested in this group?" Ms. Hartford asked pointedly. "Far less than ten percent of the student body?"
I started to respond, but Mr. Lodgeman beat me to the punch. "Less than five-percent of the student body is involved in the Future SuperHeroes of America," he said, his voice deceptively calm, "and yet that's a recognized and _funded_ organization."
"That group is closely aligned with the goals of Whateley as a service to the general mutant community," Ms. Hartford shot back.
"Have you given any thought to incorporating part of these interests into coursework?" Mrs. Shugendo asked carefully. "For example, Native American history, or religions?"
Lifeline picked up the ball. "We discussed it, but didn't focus on it right now because that would require more work to propose and initiate courses on these topics." She smiled at Mrs. Shugendo. "We figured it was more appropriate for the administration to handle that aspect."
Give her credit - she knew how to not ruffle feathers.
"It is very late in the scholastic year," Ms. Hartford commented acidly. "It's unrealistic to expect that we could approve and fund such a group this late. In fact," she continued, not allowing Mr. Lodgeman to reply, "we're nearly completed with budgeting for the next school year, so it's not likely that we could fund a new group next year, either."
"We're not asking for funding this year," I interjected, a little upset at the hostile attitude of Ms. Hartford. "We're looking for recognition as a student organization so we would have access to resources like the simulators and ranges for Native American-specific activities."
"The simulators are heavily booked," Ms. Hartford interrupted again. "With the mandatory training that has to occur for legitimate academic purposes ...."
"And yet groups like ROTC and FSHA use significant simulator time for activities and training for which they get no academic credit," Mr. Lodgeman interrupted her, his tone belying his inscrutable expression.
"But the simulators can't accommodate every group ...."
"Enough," Mrs. Carson halted the argument with her command voice. "Are there any other questions?" she asked, glancing at Mrs. Shugendo and Ms. Hartford.
Both shook their heads 'no'.
"Okay. What's your recommendation? Mrs. Shugendo?"
"Approve. It could be a very good cultural asset. And it may be possible for Mr. Lodgeman to pursue some Bureau of Indian Affairs grant money to help fund the group."
"Interesting idea. So noted. Ms. Hartford?"
"Disapprove. It's too small a group, and it's not clear that it fits our mission statement."
"Your recommendations are noted. As headmistress, it's my decision, and I believe the new group will be an asset to the school. I further believe that there is potential to offer some unique cross-cultural coursework based on the group, and it has potential to improve our relations with and deepen our ties with the Medawihla tribe. Mr. Lodgeman, I recommend strongly that you work with the history and religion departments to see if courses can be developed." She smiled at him. "Assuming that you're willing to take on that task."
Mr. Lodgeman nodded. "It'll be my pleasure."
"Very well. The group is approved. I believe you want to call it 'The Nations'?"
"Yes, ma'am," I answered, stunned almost beyond words that our proposal was going to be implemented. "Oyate in Lakota, meaning nations or tribes."
"Very well. I'd like Ms. Hartford, Mr. Lodgeman, and Kayda to remain after for a few moments. You students should get back to your classes. Thank you for your excellent work on the proposed charter and presentation." She waited for Mrs. Shugendo, Slapshot, Scott, and Maggie to leave, and then she gestured for me to sit.
"We're having a few problems here, and I want to get them resolved," she said, her voice firm and unyielding.
"What sort of problems?" Ms. Hartford asked suspiciously.
Mrs. Carson's expression was rock-hard and unemotional. She was more frightening that way, because there was no visible clue as to what she was thinking. "Kayda encountered difficulties in registration. Her transcripts were not sent to her advisor. She was placed in classes that she had already taken, and she was not placed in a key class that she should have taken." She saw Ms. Hartford start to object, and she held up her hand. "Further, her power testing has been delayed due to paperwork snafus. Some of the reports from Security have been falsified, making it appear that Kayda is a significant threat."
My jaw dropped at that last bit of news. I hadn't heard that. Things were worse than I'd thought.
"The delay in in-processing made her first few days very inconvenient, to say the least." She looked at Ms. Hartford and Mr. Lodgeman. "I want to know why."
"Some of the other students I advise have had similar difficulties," Mr. Lodgeman commented levelly, eyeing Ms. Hartford, "when their paperwork goes through a certain administrative office."
"Are you accusing me of ...?"
"Stop it!" Mrs. Carson snapped, half rising out of her chair, wearing her expression of 'Supreme Executive Authority'. "Both of you, stop!" She waited until both were looking at her. "Now, Ms. Hartford, if you didn't do anything with Kayda's records, then I strongly suggest that you look at the computer systems, because _someone_ did!"
"That's not possible," Ms. Hartford protested.
"Somebody altered her records," Mrs. Carson retorted. "If it wasn't you, I would think you'd be very interested in finding out who and how." She glanced back and forth between the two. "Now you two, knock it off! I know you don't exactly like each other, and I don't expect you to become friends, but I _do_ expect you to not use students as pawns in your personal feud. Is that clear?"
Ms. Hartford glared at Mr. Lodgeman. "Yes," she said.
"If necessary, I will ensure that neither of you handles any paperwork associated with students being advised by the other. I hope it won't come to that." She waited until both shook their heads no. "Good. Ms. Hartford, you need to look at the computer records to see if you can find out _who_ altered Kayda's records. We don't want such things happening again."
She gestured for me to remain seated a moment while Ms. Hartford and Mr. Lodgeman left the room. After the door shut, she turned to me, her expression stern. "The goings-on in this office are not to be the subject of campus gossip and rumor. Do I make myself clear?"
I gulped at the implied threat. "Yes, ma'am. To quote Sergeant Schultz, 'I hear nothing!'"
Mrs. Carson smiled. "Very good. Now I believe you are scheduled for power testing - finally. You better get going so you're not late."
Testing was even less fun than the arduous day I'd spent testing in Sioux Falls, if that was possible. The labs and power testing folks had a _lot_ more resources than the Sioux Falls League, and I was quickly convinced that they wanted to use every one of their devises and gadgets as often as possible - in this case, with me as the guinea pig.
Within the first few minutes, it was pretty well confirmed that the League's assessment of me as an Exemplar 2 was accurate; despite that, I spent a lot more time testing, including mental tests. I managed - barely - to keep from laughing aloud when their verbal tests were above normal, the memory test was very good, and the math test was off the scale. That set of results inspired a huge debate as to whether I was really a higher-level exemplar with more of a mental package than a physical package. Eventually, I convinced them that I had a good memory and had a talent for math. The down side of those awkward results was that I was going to be scheduled for a full set of IQ tests after break.
Because of the late start, they continued to test me until I complained that I hadn't had lunch, and then I sarcastically suggested that at the current pace, they wouldn't finish testing until around eleven at night and I'd miss dinner, too. One of the assistants got lunch - which consisted of a half-cold cheeseburger and some mushy, greasy fries - and then we continued more testing.
After too short a lunch break during which I only managed to eat half of my burger, the testing continued. I got hit with the dodge-balls, I still had no danger sense, and I couldn't even begin to sense anyone's feelings or thoughts, nor project any. I had no telekinetic powers - despite every effort on the testing crew's folks to 'inspire' me to do something telekinetically.
Apparently, they'd added a few new tests for devisors and gadgeteers; not only was I expected to reassemble parts strewn about a table, but I also had to discern the function of several mechanisms from incomplete blueprints or parts. Another aspect of that was to try to understand the system behavior of a mechanism from merely examining it - in deference to the power Loophole had.
Loophole, Loophole, Loophole! Nothing but Loophole! When it came to gadgeteers and labs, the one name I was getting sick of hearing was Loophole! No matter where I went, I couldn't escape the constant chatter that very strongly suggested that I'd be considered an also-ran when it came to mechanical ability. Maybe it was a _good_ thing that I was on the magic track; at least Nikki was friendly and helpful, unlike what my imagination was conjuring up about this Gadgeteer Goddess. I could easily imagine her - a geeky-looking girl with glasses and messy, mousy hair, probably with an unremarkable figure hidden in her grease-stained labcoat as she puttered around the labs at all hours, adored by the other geeks in the labcoat crew, and at the same time, feared by all, lest their work be deemed inadequate in the eyes of the Lady of the Labs. A girl full of herself, arrogant and snotty, looking down on lesser lab creatures disdainfully.
And if my imagination wasn't running wild enough, Dr. Hewley had the audacity to suggest that I should _meet_ this Mechanism Maestra! That she might be able to help rate my powers! That would be all I'd need - to have my own abilities shoved rudely in my face by some snooty, self-important wunderkind. I hastily reminded them that my primary powers were magic related to my spirits, and fortunately that derailed the attempt at what I was certain would be a humiliating meeting. Every time someone mentioned her, I could feel my shoulder muscles tighten in dread of being compared to Loophole, which if I wanted to exercise my passion for mechanical things, would inevitably happen. And I was so dreading that.
I was going to _have_ to talk with Dr. Bellows about those feelings, because I knew, from past sessions, that it tied in with my sense of self-worth and my sense of fitting in. In our last meeting, he'd mentioned that many, many kids at Whateley suffered the same anxiety; they'd been top students in their schools, but compared to so many exemplars with mental or physical packages, they were average. It could be devastating to fragile egos - like mine. I knew that I was subconsciously catastrophizing about comparing myself to Loophole, as he'd suggested, and that logically there was no reason to assume that she was a threat to my self-worth, but emotionally, my reaction was far different. My ego had taken so many blows in the past two months that it was probably a defensive attitude. In my fragile emotional state, I didn't think that I could handle such a comparison.
The testers deliberately inflicted cuts, starting very small and progressing, so they could time the rate of healing. They were going to put me down as a regen-3, but they weren't certain what power was naturally mine, and what came from my spirits. That led to testing for magic, and finally for avatars.
Once again, I had to convince Tatanka to allow a psychic into my head to meet my spirits. Then I had to manifest Tatanka, and he did the usual number on a PK brick. We had to repeat that because Tatanka's manifestation took energy from me, so I was hooked up to many, many instruments and Tatanka gored another pair of PK brick volunteers, one of whom was Hank. I felt bad about that, but he shrugged it off. Odd jobs like these in the testing labs earned him a little bit of spending money.
The security reports of my numerous incidents led to another set of proposed tests - while Tatanka was manifested, they wanted to hook me up to a wide range of sensors to measure my energy, pain, psychic output, magical potential, and other things, and then deliberately hurt Tatanka to see what it did to me. I objected, but they said it was important and continued to set up their equipment. Then it came time for me to manifest Tatanka, but he refused to manifest. He was not going to allow himself to be deliberately hurt to see what affect it had on me. They tried to trick him into manifesting, but were unsuccessful. Finally, they called in a telepath who, after being psychically head-butted for the notion of the cockamamie test, allowed Tatanka to explain - pretty explicitly - that he could _not_ participate in anything that would deliberately cause pain to Ptesanwi. It took almost a half-hour of whining, wheedling, arguing, cajoling, and attempted bribery from the powers testers before they gave up on that notion.
Ms. Grimes did the magic testing, and fortunately, that was short and sweet. At least one test wasn't an ordeal! She seemed to know that I was tired and frustrated by the day's testing, and that my power was weakened from overexertion the night before.
When all was said and done, they collected the data in a report, with notice that I would have to correct my MID. My new, more accurate ratings, were: Wizard - 2 (without my spirit). Gadgeteer 5. Exemplar-2. Avatar-5 - channeler/manifestor. The new rating also had a note: with spirit, Wizard-3+, Healer-4.
Good grief - the new ratings made it look like I was a major mutant menace. Then again, I recalled that Nikki was a Wizard-7 and Billie was a Regen-7.And wasn't Stormwolf an Exemplar-7? In comparison to the general student population, I was probably average, or only a tiny bit above. I felt a little low walking out of the testing labs. I wanted to be special in some way. I _needed_ to feel special in some way. I _used_ to have my mechanical ability, but now? Nada.
I was walking with Tatanka, on a starry, moonlit night. The prairie, washed in pale silver, stretched out before us like an endless sea.
"Why are you feeling sad, Wihakayda?" Tatanka asked.
"I ... I guess I'm realizing that I'm not very special." I looked up, and pointed at a star. "See that star?"
"Which one?" Tatanka asked, a bit puzzled.
"Exactly," I replied morosely. "There are so many stars, and all are alike. No star is special enough to stand out from its neighbors. Thats how I feel - lost in a sea of stars."
"Wihakayda," Tatanka chided me, "you _are_ special. You are the Ptesanwi, the White Buffalo Calf Woman. Who else among all these students can say the same?"
"Nikki is the Sidhe queen of the west. Billie is the Star Stalker. Am I more special that they are?" I shook my head sadly. "I don't think so."
"Nevertheless," he said, "you _are_ special. You alone are the Ptesanwi. You alone have the power to defeat the enemies of the people. And if anyone says you aren't special," he paused, and his image blurred for a moment. When it solidified, he was back to his Mohawk and gold chains look. "I pity the fool!"
Standing Rock Indian Reservation, South Dakota
The second son of Unhcegila lay in a large culvert under a road waiting for sunset. He now had a clue about the sacred sphere from the Hunkpapa shaman he'd consumed, and now he was frustrated at lying still waiting. It was difficult to wait idly, since he needed no sleep, but he couldn't move during the day, and the time required to burrow took time that he could otherwise spend moving.
The shaman's knowledge had told him where the sacred bundle lay, but he had no interest in that. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps once he located the sphere, taking the sacred bundle of Ptesanwi from the people would annoy them to the point that they'd hunt him. He relished that thought; it had been long since he'd met a worthy foe, and the challenge of battle appealed to his evil instincts.
The shaman's brain also held a clue, the first he'd found. According to the lore of the Lakota, a family who'd traditionally been chiefs of the Sicangu tribe had kept a sacred object that was unrelated to the sacred bundle, and legend held it was a gift to the Sicangu from an ancient ancestor of the Canotila, the wood elves of the Great Plains. The Sicangu tribe now dwelt in a place called the Rosebud Indian Reservation, which was, according to the shaman, far to the south. Because of the terrain and the lengthening days, it would take four or five more nights of travel to reach the main town of that reservation, a place called Mission. He'd find a Sicangu shaman to devour so he'd obtain knowledge of the location of this family. If the stories were true about the keeper of the artifact, the shaman would know, and he'd find them. Then he'd retrieve the object, just as his father had directed. It was only a matter of time.
Evening, Schuster Hall, Nations meeting
Word spread pretty quickly about the results of the meeting, because as soon as I walked into the room, almost all conversation ceased, everyone turned toward me, and the room erupted in cheers. I felt my cheeks burning with embarrassment; I hadn't done the presentation to get accolades. As I looked around shyly, blushing, I noticed that there were far more students at the meeting than were normally present. I'd heard that one of the ROTC students called Mule _never_ attended, and yet he was present, as were Stormwolf, Stonebear, and Pristine, among others.
"Well," Mr. Lodgeman interrupted, "it seems that news has already spread, so there's no need for an announcement."
"Good job, Kayda!" someone from the back of the room - I think it was Skinwalker - shouted, to renewed cheering, and my blush deepened.
"And you'll be pleased to know that I've already had some preliminary e-mail exchanges with the art, history, and PE departments about setting up courses or course credit based on things we do in the group," Mr. Lodgeman added. "The art department was receptive to setting up an entire class on Native American arts and crafts."
There was no mistaking the fact that Wind Runner was extremely unhappy; she was not cheering, but instead was giving me the evil eye.
"Since we're a formal group," Stormwolf said, coming to the front of the room where Mr. Lodgeman and I stills stood, "we will need to elect officers and start more formal organization of activities and planning."
Mr. Lodgeman nodded. "Since we have such a large number of students here, it would be a good time to take care of some basic organizational principles. Kayda, would you outline the charter proposal?"
I noted that Wind Runner was still glaring at me, but decided to ignore it. "First, there are two classes of membership. Voting members must be enrolled in a tribe, which means they must be one-quarter Native American or more. This group will elect leaders and approve planning and eventually budgets. The leaders are the Chief, assistant chief, scribe, and treasurer, and these officers must be voting members. The other class of members will be regular members, open to anyone interested in Native American culture and history, regardless of tribal affiliation or ethnicity. These officers and three more members will constitute our governing 'Tribal Council'. Mr. Lodgeman and Mrs. Carson suggested that we allow any members to be part of the Tribal Council." I paused a moment. "I guess I don't need to summarize, because Mrs. Carson accepted the proposal as-is, and you've all seen all of our working drafts, so ...."
"Are we getting any funding?" Lupine asked cautiously.
I shook my head. "Not this year, but Mrs. Carson said we should get a request in for next year."
"And the simulators?" Stonebear asked hopefully. He'd been intrigued with the suggestion that we could do skirmishes and fighting in the sims.
"As soon as we have an organized group," Lifeline reported, "we can get on the request list for sim time."
"It'll probably take a while to design some simulation scenarios," Mule added.
"I hope we can design some that drive Bardue bat-crap crazy!" Hard Sell, another who was reported to rarely attend, said gleefully. Mule's reaction to that was rather puzzling, as if the thought of antagonizing Bardue was improper to him, and yet, he had a little gleeful anticipation at the thought.
"One suggestion that the Headmistress thought was good was an application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a grant for a cultural and educational center," Mr. Lodgeman added.
"Cultural ... and educational?" Skinwalker stammered, not liking the sound of that.
"Our very own lodge," Mr. Lodgeman explained with a grin. "A clubhouse." That got a round of cheers. "Let's go ahead with elections, then, so we have at least an interim Chief to help us organize. Since this is informal right now, I'll run the elections. Nominations?"
"Since she was instrumental in getting us to be a formal group, I nominate Kayda," Lifeline said almost immediately. That was followed by a number of seconds.
"I accept," I said when Mr. Lodgeman looked at me to see if I wanted the job.
I could practically feel Wind Runner's eyes boring into my skull. "Kayda isn't enrolled in a tribe," she objected. "By the rules she's not ..."
"Yes, I am," I replied, interrupting her.
She frowned. "That's impossible. You only talked about it a couple of days ago."
"Grandmother Little Doe has some high-powered connections. She told me last night that the paperwork was approved by the tribe, so I'm now enrolled as a Sicangu Lakota." Wind Runner's expression clouded while others congratulated me on my news. Seeing how angered she appeared, I cut short the congrats. "Since she was acting leader, I nominate Wind Runner." No harm in trying to defuse tension by acknowledging her contributions.
There ensued five minutes of attempted nominations, all of whom declined, which left, at the end, me and Wind Runner as candidates.
"I have two bins of small stones, one painted blue, and one painted red," Mr. Lodgeman explained. "Each of you will get one of each. When it comes time to vote, you will drop your rock corresponding to your choice into this container one at a time. At the end, I'll count the rocks to see who won. The blue stone will represent a vote for Kayda, and the red stone for Wind Runner."
I was nervous. On the one hand, I wanted to win, because I didn't think Wind Runner would look for dynamic and exciting activities but would continue the boring, lightly-attended activities I'd seen in the previous meetings. On the other hand, if I won, Wind Runner would undoubtedly think it a huge slight and blame me, which would probably alienate her further. If that was possible.
When all had voted, Mr. Lodgeman went to a corner and counted the 'ballots'. When he returned to the center of the room, he said simply, "We have a Chief. Congratulations, Kayda."
Nervously, I took over running the meeting. "I hope I can live up to your expectations," I said in a very short, very nervous acceptance speech.
"Since the Alphas have returned to following the rules," Mr. Lodgeman continued, "and since we're now an official group, you'll be expected to represent The Nations to the Alpha Council."
I groaned; I'd heard many stories about the Alphas, and they weren't flattering. Better to just continue the meeting and worry about that later, though. "Now for the rest of the officers and the Tribal Council."
In a slap to Wind Runner, though nominated for the position of Assistant Chief, she lost to Pristine. The other nominee for Assistant Chief was Stormwolf, who was a lot more gracious about losing than Wind Runner. Flux was our recorder, and Stonebear was elected as scribe. The final positions, the three Tribal Council positions, were filled by Wind Runner, Mule, and Thunderbird.
We spent the rest of the meeting brainstorming on ideas for activities for the rest of the year, and settled on a tentative plan. A subcommittee was formed to work with Mr. Lodgeman on grant proposals from various tribes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and as soon as we got back from Spring Break, the Tribal Council was tasked with visiting Elise Donner about being one of our advisors and the Medawihla representative to our group.
As I walked back to Poe, I had a very bad feeling about Wind Runner. I understood how she could view my presence as an unwelcome intrusion, taking away what she thought she was running. If she was unhappy before, I suspected she was going to be highly pissed at me now.
I was distracted walking down the hall, and I bumped into Ayla. "Oops," I apologized quickly. "I'm sorry. I wasn't really paying attention."
"Yeah," Ayla replied, "you look like you have something on your mind. The fight the other night?"
I winced. "Kind of. But it's more about ... two spirits." I didn't expect him to understand the Lakota concept.
"You would be referring to the Native American concept of a person with a male _and_ a female spirit?" he asked, astonishing me.
"How did ...?" I started to stammer, but then I saw his smug smile. "Oh, yeah. Rich kids' prep school."
"Actually, no," he admitted sheepishly. "When Heyoka moved in, I made a point of studying Native American culture to understand if there were going to be any unique ... challenges."
I chuckled. That sounded like Ayla. "Know your friends and enemies?" We stopped near his door.
"Yeah." He opened his door, and the din of multiple competing conversation fragments spilled out. "Come on in," he gestured to the open door of his room.
Not having anything better to do, I went in. Billie floated near the ceiling. Nikki was stretched out in one hammock, while Jade floated on her blanket. Toni was ... well, Toni. Her version of sitting still was equivalent to a Mexican jumping bean - on speed. Ayla gestured to a beanbag if I wanted to sit. "Snack? Soda?"
I shook my head as I sat. "What's the topic this time?"
Toni grinned. "Planning our next epic battle that starts innocently, but ends with us doing detention in Hawthorne."
"We dont need to look for trouble," Billie noted. "It tends to find us."
"Yeah, and we whoop its ass, too!" Toni beamed as she did a one-armed handstand on a chair, while eating popcorn.
"Kayda was just thinking about her two spirits," Ayla mentioned as he sat down on his bed.
"Walkie Talkie and the cow?" Toni asked.
"Wakan Tanka," I corrected her. "And Tatanka is a bison, not a cow."
"Yeah, Tonka Trucka. That's what I meant."
"He's Mr. T!" Jade countered with vigor. "It's easy to remember, and he can manifest the right look! It's so kyoot!" She turned to me and activated her Big Sad Puppy Dog Eyes. "Make him manifest like he did the other night at Wondercute! That was so awesome! Please?"
"No!" I said, trying to be firm, but those eyes were devastating. "That's not ... what he's supposed to look like."
"Please?" she begged again, her lower lip quivering and begging with those irresistible eyes.
I sighed, while Ayla and Nikki chuckled softly. No doubt they had experience trying to say 'no' to Jade - and failing. "Oh, all right. Just for a minute," I reluctantly agreed.
A moment later, Tatanka was manifested in his Mr. T getup, to the delight of Jade.
Toni groaned. "Oh, great. Now we've got a cow who thinks he's Mr. T."
"I pity the fool that don't like how I look," Tatanka growled at her.
Toni rolled her eyes, doing a backflip right over Tatanka. "Great. Now we got us a white buffalo that talks like a white girl tryin' to do Mr. T," she commented sarcastically. "Ya ain't got the right 'tude!"
I had Tatanka manifest himself St. Bernard sized - without the Mr. T accoutrements - and Jade lowered her blanket to pet him. That little menace was going to spoil him. "I was talking about the Native American concept of a male spirit and a female spirit, and when a person has both of them."
"Yes," Ayla agreed. "And from what I know of the beliefs, we're all uniquely suited to understand what Kayda is talking about."
"I don't have a male spirit," Jade said defensively.
"But you grew up as a boy," I said. "Have you forgotten everything you learned about being a boy?"
Before I knew it, they'd invited Megs and Zoe down to join the discussion that was unique to us changelings.
"My ... spirit mentor ... tells me I have to embrace both spirits," I explained when Zoe asked what the problem was. "But ... I don't know how to do that. Or even what it really means."
Zoe laughed. "Have you accepted your transformation? Really accepted it?"
"I have," Toni said firmly. "I never _had_ a male spirit!"
"Neither did I," Jade chimed in.
"Maybe," Ayla observed quietly. "And maybe not."
"I ... _want_ a female spirit," Megs said softly. "I'm ... just ... in between."
"Yeah, me, too," Jade said, her voice a little sad. Billie swooped in and hugged her like a big sister.
"What about you?" I asked, looking around.
Zoe shrugged. "It's no secret that I had problems accepting that I was female, and would be forever. But I didn't really think in terms of losing a male spirit or gaining a female one." She shrugged. "I've fully embraced being a woman," she said.
Toni nodded without hesitation. Billie kind of shrugged, as if she didn't know or didn't care. Jade was another hesitant one, but I knew that was because of her stuck anatomy. Nikki thought a second before nodding, and Megs also hesitated.
"I'm not sure what it means to give up my male spirit," Megs said. "It sounds ... scary."
"Yeah," I nodded. "Just like it sounds scary to me to fully accept a female spirit. I _think_ I have, and then something happens and I'm not sure again." I shook my head. "Maybe that's why I keep seeing a black deer in my dream space."
"A black deer?"
"It's a symbol that a person hasn't accepted their female self," Tatanka said in his gruff voice.
"Like you, Ayles," Toni said with a sly smile.
"I'm not _going to_ accept a female spirit, or self," Ayla said defiantly.
"And I don't want a _male_ spirit," Jade added.
Tatanka chuckled. "You cannot simply push away a spirit you don't like," he said reprovingly, but gently, to Ayla and Jade. "It is part of you that you cannot ignore." He looked squarely at me. "You have to accept that you are winkte, two spirits, and embrace both halves of your being." He looked around. "All of you are winkte. And to the People, those who are winkte are very special, and held in high esteem."
We continued the discussion late into the night, long enough that Jade fell asleep and her wanagi-blanket carried her back to her bedroom. I didn't know about the others, but I felt a lot better about myself by the time I slipped between my sheets. Maybe we should have a periodic talk-session of all of the winkte in the cottage. Maybe it would be helpful to at least some of us. I'd have to mention it to Mrs. Horton to see what she thought of the idea.
Friday, April 6, 2007
Friday's classes seemed to drag on interminably, especially martial arts in second and fourth periods. The one surprise in fourth period advanced Aikido is that Ito Soke informed me that I'd be continuing personal study on Tuesday and Thursday, so I could work with Dr. Quintain on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I know he heard my groan of displeasure, because he grinned and told me that it was my tutor's idea to help me learn a variety of styles more quickly. He was clearly taking pleasure in torturing me, and he added to my anxiety by reminding me that I would start sparring against boys after the break. That statement alone nearly caused a panic attack, and it took Anna and Sensei Tolman to help me calm down.
Electronics wasn't meeting, and Mr. Two Knives had graciously cancelled tutoring, so I would be able to leave at the same time as everyone else. So when the Powers lab was over, I dashed back to my room to pack. I couldn't wait to see my family and Debra again, even though I'd only been away from them for three weeks.
Spring Break had finally begun!