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Disclaimer

This is a work of fiction. There should be no way that these characters are like anyone else, but if that isn’t the case, it has definitely been unintentional. The pictures used are those of Ziyi Zhang, used without express permission. Quotes from the Tao Te Ching are from the Stephen Mitchell translation. Also, if you happen to find that your life is represented in these pages, I’ll be impressed.

Five Elements Dancing

By Heather O’Malley

assisted by the rest of the Whateley Gang

Whateley Academy Universe

All things have their backs to the female and stand facing the male. When male and female combine, all things achieve harmony. - Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42

Book of the Wood

Thursday 18 January 2007

Chou saw Caitlin heading into the line to grab food, her attention abruptly drawn to the painfully obvious angry force of nature that was the Artificer. She looked hungry and was giving the gimlet eye to some of the idiots surrounding her, which made Chou think she had not gotten enough coffee into her. Chou could understand the need for the girl to be at the school but she couldn’t imagine that made dealing with some of these kids any easier, such as the nimrod in line ahead of her.

Iron Star was one of the Capes and a bit of a tool in her opinion. The few times she had met him he had looked down at her as some lowly freshman that had no business breathing his air. He was full of himself and Chou wanted to strangle him. That made her wonder what Caitlin would do. He was holding forth on some sort of bullshit about Saladin, as if the idiot had a fucking clue what he was talking about. He then turned and asked the Artificer, “So what do you think of Saladin coming out?” The guy wasn’t even bothering to be quiet, and Chou and the other Kimbas could clearly hear every word, the whole dining hall could hear him.

“Why the hell should I care?” growled Caitlin. Chou was kind of surprised that Caitlin’s voice carried as well as it did in the rather abrupt silence, as homophobia met hostility in the food line.

“We don’t need any of his kind here.” spat Iron Star.

Caitlin cocked her head, looking at him as if he were some sort of bug, which made Chou smile. “You stopped me from getting my food for this? Please, enlighten me numbnuts, tell me why it matters.”

“Of course it matters! He’s gay!”

She just looked at him, irritatedly rolling her neck just a little. Chou could hear her measured, and surprisingly calm response, along with the tension underlying her voice that promised a lot of pain if the issue got pushed too far. “Of all the things you could interrupt my life with, you had to pick the one that no one who matters really gives a shit about.”

Iron star boggled, clearly taken aback by this, “No one gives a shit? We got a fag claiming…”

“Look, you got your attention now shut up. Anyone with half a brain and secure in his manhood wouldn’t consider it worth his attention, bright boy. Here… have a cookie.”

Caitlin reached over and grabbed one of the plates of cookies that were almost always out, due to a number of people needing the calories. She handed him the plate and smiled, patting him on the head. “Are you done now?”

Iron Star growled and looked as if he wanted to punch her but could feel all of the eyes in the school on him. Caitlin smirked at him. “Now unless you have something worth my time and attention, please move. I have important food to meet with.”

Chou covered her mouth to hide the unconscious smile. If that jackass wanted to be in charge of the Future Superheroes of America next year, he would have to not hit her right now. Gritting his teeth seemed to help the poor boy, which only added to her smirk. He turned and walked away, forgetting to get the rest of his breakfast. Chou was glad the Jackass had been embarrassed like that.

“Oh yeah, she’s pleased with herself. For a moment there I thought Iron Star was going to get his teeth relocated.” Fey reached over and picked up the sugar to add a little to her tea while Caitlin went over to the Devisor pot and filled a mug. Chou had little reason to doubt that Nikki could feel the emotional storm she’d heard described in Eldritch. The girl did seem to be a maelstrom of issues.

This event certainly did not go unnoticed throughout the old dining hall. Chou smiled to herself after hearing that and it made her think of something. Did her being in a lesbian relationship really matter to these people? Caitlin really came across with it being a non-issue and that people who had issues were idiots. What about her dating Dorjee as well? What response would that get? Chou chewed on her lip in thought.

Molly looked over at her girlfriend who was clearly thinking about something and asked, “What’s up?”

“Nothing, just thinking.” replied Chou distractedly.

“About what?” asked Molly, quite interested in what her girlfriend was thinking.

Toni chimed in, being anything but helpful. “Probably wondering how some of Jade’s Hello Kitty panties ended up in her drawer.”

Chou rolled her eyes at that. Toni was always good for distraction. Maybe she could be like Saladin and be out? Maybe. The idea kind of scared her but had some decent appeal as well. There had been too many times where she had just wanted to hug Molly, or hold her hand or something, but hadn’t in order to not draw attention to the two of them. What if she were more like Caitlin and didn’t care about what other people said or thought? Would that be a help or a hinderance?

“Maybe she is calculating the mass of Billie’s meal?” threw in Hank.

“Like you’re one to talk there Slim.” retorted Toni.

“What? I’m a growing boy.” defended Hank.

“Oneesan doesn’t eat that much.” chimed in Jade playfully. “And I am fairly certain none of my underwear ended up with Chou’s.”

“I think Chou would look cute in Hello Kitty underwear.” stated Molly, smiling happily at the very clear image in her head.

“You would think she would look cute in just about anything.” countered Toni. Fey chuckled at that.

“Well, she would.” harrumphed Molly.

“Could we stop talking about Hello Kitty underwear please?” asked Ayla, clearly disturbed by both the topic of the discussion and the food in front of him.

“Why?” asked Jade, unsure why anybody might not want to talk about Hello Kitty. It was a great topic, almost as great as her Oneesan. She turned a gimlet eye on the hyperactive martial artist and stated, “Besides… I think Toni stole my Chococat panties.”

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Molly stretched out, wanting to be ready to go on the run. This class hurt sometimes and made her sore but she could already tell the differences in how she was feeling. She had more endurance at this point and was starting to understand some of the concepts that Mr. Anderson was always talking about. It was kind of strange, never really running in a straight line, but it seemed to work. She was glad of the information and did like being in better shape. Chou seemed to like it as well.

“Okay, let’s start the obstacle course.” There was a somewhat non-traditional obstacle course to help teach the ideas of Free Movement and Parkour. Molly actually kind of like it as running it made her feel like a superhero, like she was able to chase a villain, like Jobe or maybe even Peeper.

She was fifth in line and started her run after the person ahead of her hit the first wall. She sprinted towards the ten-foot wall that was the first obstacle and ran up it, grabbing the top with her fingers. With a grunt of exertion, Molly pulled herself up and rolled over the edge, dropping to the ground. She jumped over and under several barriers, rolling under a few in such a way that she did not loose too much speed. She was breathing hard and her muscles burned with the exertion.

The last two obstacles were all that were left in the course, the Tic Tac and the jump across the gap. Those two moves were the two things that were really causing her the most trouble in this course and she had been working on them. Following some advice she had gotten from Chou, she let go of her worry and just focused on her run. She could stress about the other stuff later.

She hit the first wall at a good speed, managing to get good height on it with her first jump. She shoved off with her legs towards the other wall, to gain even more height and then reversed herself, propelling herself even higher, so that she could grab the edge of the wall and pull herself over. Molly’s arms burned as she pulled, almost screaming with the effort but she made it up.

Once on the wall she took off running towards the gap. It was a twelve-foot gap and she had cleared it several times before with problems with the landing. She was gaining speed and was almost ready to jump when she tripped on something, stumbled, and launched herself into the air rather ugly. Molly started wincing in the air before impact, knowing that this was going to hurt. She stretched out her arms, trying to keep from falling even further down.

The mousey haired summoner slammed into the corner of the other platform, slamming breast first into the edge. While she felt the urge to vomit, she managed to grab hold of the edge to keep from dropping. Molly fought back against her desire to vomit and tried to pull herself up. She could hear someone coming to grab her hand but before they got there, her fingers slid off the edge and she fell.

When she slammed into the ground, landing on her back, her wind knocked from her and her head slammed into the ground, making her see stars. This time she couldn’t stop from vomiting, barely turning her head to the side, not all of it missed her. Everything was blurry and dark at the sides.

Suddenly, Mr. Anderson was there, holding her down. “Don’t get up Molly; we don’t want you to hurt yourself more. Help is on the way.”

That was the last thing Molly remembered.

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“I wonder where Molly is?” wondered Chou aloud for the seventy-fifth time since lunch had ended. Chou was clearly a bit anxious, and her back and head ached a little, her breasts also ached as well, like they did during her period, which had thankfully passed. She was playing with the ring on her finger nervously.

“Don’t stress Chou. Maybe she was busy catching up on Summoning homework.” said Ayla logically.

Chou frowned. Somehow, that didn’t seem right. She was sure that there was something more to it. “That could be it.”

They entered the locker room and Ayla immediately departed, heading to the Instructor’s Locker Room to change in private. Toni and Chou changed, with Chou still fretting over Molly. They exited the room and saw Dyffud leaning against the wall, dressed in his usual jeans, white t-shirt, and cowboy boots. He grinned at them and said, “Ah, just the two I was looking for.”

Toni and Chou looked over at each other and then back at him. They hadn’t been expecting another class with him yet. “Why?”

“I am pulling you from class in order to do something with you. I had an idea and you two are the ones tapped for it.” He replied smiling happily. “So get your costumes and get back out here.”

“Costumes?”

Dyffud rolled his eyes. “Could you stop with the one word answers? Now hurry up. We’re wasting time.”

“Okay.” With that, the two girls went into the room and grabbed what they would need to be in their uniforms. As they were changing, Toni turned to Chou and asked, “What do you think is going on?”

“I think we might be doing something with fighting, maybe in one of the Arenas. This might be a practical thing, to see if we were paying attention to what he was saying.” replied Chou as she pulled up her yoga pants.

“That would be cool. I would like to get a better hang on this idea of his. I think it might help.” agreed Toni. “You think we’re going to need masks?”

Chou shrugged noncommittally. “Might as well bring them.”

Soon the two girls were back outside standing in front of Dyffud. He looked at them, nodded at their hero uniforms, and said, “Ready.”

The two girls replied with, “Yes.”

Thomas chuckled. “One of these days you’ll have to answer with more than one word.”

Chou and Toni looked at each other and grinned mischievously. “Okay.”

He led them to Arena 99, through the tunnel complex. Before they stepped out into the room, he stopped them. “Since I am sure this room has video surveillance on it for the fight cams in Vegas and other places, it might be best to put on masks and use code names while we are in there.”

As the girls pulled those on, Chou asked, “What about you?”

Dyffud shrugged. “I don’t have a secret identity. I have the codename because one of my friends thought it fit me when I was talking about going on walkabout. So my MID card has just my name and the codename, but it’s a very open secret as to who I really am.”

“Are we going to see your MID?” asked Toni, curious about their teacher and wanting to know more.

“Sure. Maybe today. Let’s go.”

They walked out to an urban setting, similar to what they had faced in the Combat Finals a month ago. They looked around, to try to get their bearing. They walked in a short distance and entered a park area. Dyffud stopped in a soccer field and stood there. “Okay. Today we are going to do some combat application practice. I want to see if you have been paying attention and have practiced any of this.”

Two human males dressed in martial arts gis came up. “These two will be your starting opponents. As you move up through one level to another things will change. If it is clear that you have paid attention and have practiced, then you get to spar me. Any questions?”

Both girls shook their heads no and set themselves. Chou was pleased because more of what the Tao provided her was there, as opposed to when she was in the Sims. This looked like it could be a lot of fun.

“Oh… Bladedancer? No using your sword in this exercise unless they have a weapon.”

“What?” Chou dropped her guard and turned to face Dyffud.

At that moment, the simulated martial artists attacked. Toni easily countered the very straightforward shotokan karate attack with ease, using water to counter fire. Caught flat-footed, Chou had slightly more trouble in dealing with hers. She glared at Dyffud who just smiled. The Ants got back and this time they attacked differently, using another element in their attack. The Ants got better and better and the attacks stronger and stronger, until the girls couldn’t just use the straight elemental counters, but had to work through several of the elements until the sim enemy got into position to be taken down with a singular element.

Dyffud nodded and pulled out a remote, making some adjustments and soon two more opponents arrived. The girls sighed and got to fighting, trying to make adjustments to their techniques in order to be ahead of the game. Chou got hit more than Toni who was simply grinning larger and larger as the intensity of the fights grew. Then suddenly there were three opponents and Chou moved as fast as she could, but lost the thread of whose element was whose and just went into straight fighting. Soon Toni did the same.

The opponents stopped and pulled back. Dyffud nodded. “Not bad. You both did fairly well, but you lost track of the elements fairly soon into three opponents. It takes more practice but you’ll get it. I am really impressed with how you did.”

The two girls nodded as they tried to rub out some of the sore spots they had. Their muscles burned with the work out they had gotten. “So, want to go up against me? I can tell you it won’t be as easy as the exercise.”

Chou shook her head, “That was easy?”

Dyffud held out his hand and rocked it, “Eh… sort of. It depends on a number of factors. So, what do you say?”

Before Chou could say no so she could go find a hot shower, Toni chimed in with, “That would be great.”

Chou frowned at her friend when Dyffud replied, “Sure. Just let me load up a few things and we can go. Head to the entrance and we can get started.”

Chou hissed out as they walked, “What are you doing? I hurt all over from that.”

“Come on ‘dancer, when do we ever have a chance to spar against someone as skilled as Dyffud? It’ll be good for us.” Toni’s argument made a lot of sense but Chou was still not pleased. She frowned as she walked, irritated with her friend.

When they got to the entrance, they heard his voice. “Okay, you can use anything you want. Bladedancer, please don’t cut my arm off. Other than that, feel free to do whatever you want. Here we go.”

Toni and Chou’s MID displays came up and shined for a moment and then Dyffud’s came up. Both girls both yelled, “Holy Crap!” at the same time.

Code Name: Journeyman/ Dyffud Harraz

Ratings: Baseline human, Five Grand Arts Founder, Ki Master, Multiple Black Belts or equivalent in 25 arts (see hard copy), Weapons Master (Melee and Firearms, see hard copy), Pilots rating (Fixed wing and rotary, hours see hard copy), EMT and Field Surgeon (see hard copy),

Techniques: Power Shifting, Weapons of Opportunity, Ki Manipulation (self and others, see hard copy)

Weak Versus: Normal Human vulnerabilities, no powers of note

Backup/ Team affiliation: None

Chaka looked at Bladedancer and said, “Baseline? Like you?”

“I guess. We are screwed, aren’t we?”

Chaka shrugged, “We can do this. Trust me!”

Bladedancer sighed, knowing what doom that last sentence meant.

“Begin!”

Chaka took off running, which made Bladedancer curse. She activated her spot and said, <Idiot, we need to fight him together, with a plan if we hope to win.>

Bladedancer thought through her options and reached into her satchel and pulled free a spell sheet. This was similar to the one she used when fighting Nex and should remove her from view, at least for a while. She then moved quickly into some of the shadows, wanting to stack her coverage.

The sounds of combat filled the air and Bladedancer moved quickly in that direction, but remembering to stay safe. Chaka was a bit on the reckless side, as she really had met very little that could truly stop her or slow her down. Chaka’s skills now would have made the earlier fight against Montana even easier. Bladedancer peered around the corner and watched Journeyman throw Chaka into a wall.

Bladedancer grabbed a prayer sheet and launched it at Journeyman, coming out of concealment and moving towards Chaka to help support her. The spell sheet hit Journeyman and there was a large blast. She moved in to exploit the disorientation to find him standing there grinning at her, waiting. Before she could check her movement, he was on her throwing her towards Chaka. The dark skinned girl managed to avoid her friend and rejoined the fight against Journeyman.

The older man flowed around her attacks, occasionally helping Chaka to over extend herself into Bladedancer, who was trying to bracket him between them. He just laughed and Bladedancer began to feel as if she were in some sort of dance that would end with something bad happening. As the fight continued that feeling grew until she and Chaka slammed face first into each other.

The two girls fell over, hitting the floor rather hard, and rolled out of the way, but Journeyman did nothing as a follow up, merely stood there passively, a slight smile on his face. Bladedancer hissed out, “Stop attacking using fire idiot, it’s too easy to counter with water.”

Chaka shook her head, “Yeah, my bad. Let’s go.”

With that, Chaka tried attacking less directly, moving for throws while Bladedancer came in with some water based attack moves from Tai Chi. Journeyman used wood moves to completely evade their attacks, simply dodging and weaving around everything. Chaka launched back into fire and rushed in with some punches.

Bladedancer dodged the tumbling Chaka who had been launched her way and then stood there, waiting for him, one hand reaching into her bag for a prayer sheet. Journeyman came at her and drove a sidekick into her midsection faster than she had a chance to react to that launched her through the air. Despite the need to vomit from the power of the kick, the Asian girl was able to tumble back to her feet. Chaka had rejoined the fight and was landing blow after blow on him. Suddenly, he grabbed and yanked her into a powerful clothesline that spun the girl through the air. She landed hard but came to her feet, struggling to breathe.

Bladedancer closed and tried some fancy handwork. Right as her wrist was grabbed and the throw into Chaka had begun, the prayer sheet connected with him. The burst flung her away and rocked him back some, tearing his t-shirt. Journeyman chuckled and commented, “Nice.”

Chaka came in quick and threw a blindingly fast sweep, using her ki to accelerate herself about as fast as she could. He nimbly jumped over it, moving back from her. She launched a random mix of punches and kicks interspersed with sweeps, hoping to catch him. Bladedancer took that chance to come at him from behind with another spell sheet and maybe some nerve strikes. Neither expected him to dive over Chaka just in time for her to powerfully sweep her partner, slamming her into the ground.

Their opponent slid in and tossed Chaka into the nearest wall with a wristlock throw, causing her to tumble in more than one axis. Bladedancer just lay there, blinking at the ceiling, catching her breath and trying to get the world to stop spinning. Chaka stood but stumbled into some trashcans that had been by the wall, still dizzy from the throw. Journeyman stood there and asked, “Want some more?”

Chou raised her hand and said, “I give.”

Toni groaned, “Okay. You win this time.”

He walked over and helped both girls to their feet. “Excellent work you two. You both did better than I had thought you would.”

The two girls took that as cold compensation as they limped out, muscles complaining the whole time.

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Becca looked worried as Chou limped into the room. “Chou, are you okay?”

“I hurt. Dyffud kicked our butts.” grumbled the teen.

“Was it a good fight?” Her mentor asked, grinning at the sore teen.

Chou pondered that for a moment. She and Toni had been stomped on, that was certainly for sure, but she had learned a lot by fighting Dyffud. He was amazing and seemed to move better than any other instructor here, including Sensei Ito. That might explain why they lost then. They had been so utterly outclassed that it was ridiculous. “Yeah, it was a good fight and I did learn a good deal in it.”

Becca smiled, “Good to hear. Want me to do some Chi Gung in order to make you feel better? It can’t hurt.”

Chou had to agree with that. For all that Becca was an okay combat instructor, she was an incredible healer, which made sense, since that had been her interest since the beginning. Chou had to agree with Caitlin’s appraisal of her mentor to a degree, she was better when she stayed out of the whole combat arena. “Please.”

Becca clapped her hands together, to help bring the rush of Chi to her hands as she rubbed them together. Then she closed her eyes and moved her hands about, focusing on the sore areas in order to help relieve some of the muscle pain. Chou sighed as the warmth and the energy seeped in and helped with her hurting less. This was a nice thing and a skill she was still trying to develop. Chou had only basic skills at Chi Gung Healing while Becca could do most anything with her Chi, acupuncture, or herbs. Maybe she should bring up Becca with Jade? While she was not quite able to help, she was sure Becca might be able to find a way to help the girl. It would certainly be less screwed up than having some doctor cutting her up, despite the fact that it seemed to be working.

Once the healing had finished Becca sighed, shaking her hands to clear them. “Okay. I wanted to talk to you about energy today, not just Chi but all three of the body’s energy sources.”

“I remember you talking about them before. Jing, Chi and Shen?” Chou thought that was right but she wasn’t sure.

“Yes. Jing is your personal life energy. Chi, well you do know that one and Shen is your spiritual energy. Now, having all of those strong is very important. Each energy has a different way to gain strength. Cultivation is important for building your energy reserves. Therefore, we will talk about that, as building your energetic reserves is very important.” Becca took a sip of tea and sighed, content.

“Isn’t jing one of those things that cannot be changed any?” asked Chou. “Didn’t you say earlier that you only have a set amount of personal life energy?”

Becca nodded. “I did and for the most part it is true. However, this is not exactly an absolute. There are various herbal mixtures and such that can help support your jing and even reenergize it. You can also use you Chi to help, though that is not the best of options. Some of the tea you were given helps with your jing. This is a good thing for you and your friends, as from what I have seen, many of your classmates burn a lot of their jing early on and that doesn’t help them in the long run. So this cultivation will help your health overall and help with your longevity.”

Chou nodded, as what Becca was saying made sense.

“Chi is one of the easiest things to cultivate, as it is a matter for breathing and using your Yi or intention to move the energy in a way to build your energy rather than dissipate it.”

“What kind of breathing?” asked Chou.

Becca smirked mischievously and said, “The in and out kind.”

Chou groaned. “No jokes please.”

“Sorry. The breathing technique I had in mind for the Chi cultivation is called Turtle Crane Breathing. Here, stand up.”

The two of them got to their feet. “Now, get your feet shoulder width apart. As you breathe in, rise up on your toes. Once you have air, you’re your breath and lower your heels to the ground. When you exhale, sink just a little. That’s the breathing part. While you are holding your breath, move your hands clockwise, as if your Dan Tien is the clock face. Imagine that this stirs the subtle energy in your Dan Tien. When you cannot hold yourthe breath any longer, push the rest of the air out with your hands. Then you relax, and rise up on your toes as you breathe in.”

Chou ran through the exercise in her head. “Okay.”

“You want the whole cycle to take a minute or longer per breath but that is something to build up to. Shall we try?”

The two of them began the exercise and Chou copied her movement until the exercise began to feel like second nature. She could almost feel the energy in her Dan Tien moving when she did this. It was a really different feeling from normal breathing and in felt a little funny.

After ten minutes of doing the exercise, Becca stopped them. “Good job. Now, do you think you can add that to your daily exercises, starting at ten minutes but working your way up to thirty?”

Chou bit her lip in thought. Did she have the time to add a thirty minute exercise? Maybe, in the evenings. “Sure. I think I can manage this.”

“Good. Now Shen is the most rarified of the energies. Spiritual energy is mostly intangible and is the hardest to develop. The Turtle Crane breathing is a good step, allowing the lower Dan Tien to fill with energy and thus it moves upwards to the higher Dan Tiens. When the upper Dan Tien is filled with Chi, the cauldron transforms that energy into Shen, basically rarified Chi. Until you are really on the path of the Immortal then this rarification process is not of much use. It will help deepen your connection to the Tao and allow you to better read the weave of energy. You don’t need to worry yet about the development of the subtle body just yet.” explained Becca.

This was starting to make sense. “So all of these energies are important but Chi is of most importance?”

Becca nodded, “At this point in your life, yes. The serious cultivation of Shen can wait, and developing your Chi and having more of that tea will strengthen your Jing. Does that make sense?”

With a nod, Chou showed her understanding. Becca smiled and said, “Don’t forget the Turtle Crane Breathing.”

“I won’t.” said Chou as she collected her stuff and left.

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Chou was frowning, which was no longer her usual emotional state. Not seeing Molly after classes added to her stress over the weird energy that permeated campus and simply bugged her as she missed her girlfriend. She shifted inside her red coat and frowned. She had covered the area in the direction that the whatever was along but she had found nothing that set off her senses. This thing that she was after was out in the forest. As it was getting dark, she decided that she really did not want to wander into the woods alone at night. There might be Voodoo Wolves, monsters of various types or maybe even something scary. She did not need the grief.

Chou shook her head. She didn’t have what she needed in order to do this thing. She had a rough direction and a sense of the thing but it felt strong so maybe backup might be in order? She would have to think about that. That Winnie girl seemed to be able to find the energy easily enough so maybe if she came along they could pinpoint the source. That was the best option she could come up with. This whole thing was making her want to scream.

The energy flickered and faded from her perception again and Chou groaned. This was getting ridiculous. As she kicked the snow in frustration, she spotted one of her least favorite people heading her way. Nightbane.

Sarah waved and asked, “How are you doing Chou?”

Chou shrugged. “Not too bad. It’s been a crazy day. Got my butt kicked today by one of my new instructors. How about you?”

“Same old, same old. Oh, since you are from Tennessee and stuff and I was thinking that you might be missing getting all churchy or something, do you want to come with me to church this Sunday?”

Chou smiled that fake smile she had been getting so good at thanks to this girl, “Sure. I could use some good churching.”

“Great. The service is at nine. See you then.” Sarah headed off, waving bye.

Chou waved and then kicked the snow again. Maybe she should just call in dead for church instead of actually having to go there? It seemed, according to Sara and the Pack, that most of the supposed members of the Goobers strike team went to that service, since Reverend Englund was the minister. Well, it couldn’t hurt… right?

She turned back to campus and headed towards Crystal Hall. Maybe some hot chocolate would make her feel better.

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Molly was lying in her bed; a little groggy from the pain meds she had been given. She was glad she had not gotten a concussion but she hurt and wanted her girlfriend there to pamper her. Lindsay had come in and was watching Hannah Montana, with the volume somewhat low. Right now, all she wanted was for the pain to fade and her girlfriend to show up and make her feel better. She was even hoping for some kissing and making certain spots feel better, but that would need Lindsay to leave.

She sat up a bit more and winced. Where was Chou? She was fairly certain that her girlfriend was out of classes by this point and should be heading over here. A sigh of long suffering got Lindsay’s attention, “Are you okay? Do I need to get you anything?”

“No. I’m fine. I just wish Chou were here. She has some healing skills and made the greatest sore muscle balm like ever. All of Team Kimba uses it. Well maybe not Chaka and Tennyo, because what could make them sore?”

“That’s pretty cool. The only one in the Seeds with any skills like that is Jobe and who would want his help?” commented Lindsay.

Both girls laughed at that.

“Yeah. It would be nice if she came over and gave me a massage.”

“She knows how to do that?” Her roommate was some what wide eyed in surprise.

Molly nodded, proud of her girlfriend. “Yep. Apparently, it is part of the crazy Taoist healing arts she learned. She even knows Acupressure points. She can turn you into jello in nothing flat.”

“I don’t want to be Jello. I like the way I look.” whimpered Lindsay.

Molly gaped at her and then began to laugh at the joke. Lindsay joined in. They were still laughing when there was a knock at the door. Molly groaned and held her ribs, as it was hurting her to laugh but it felt nice. Lindsay asked, “Was that the door?”

Another knock confirmed it was. Molly yelled out, “Come in.”

Jadis and Nacht entered the room. Jadis was smiling and Nacht had her usual Wednesday Adams. “Afternoon Lindsay. Molly. We just came over to talk to Lindsay for a little while, if that’s okay?”

Molly groaned. “I suppose. Will you be long? I got banged up in class and need the rest.”

Jadis shook her head no. “We shouldn’t be too long. Sorry we are chasing you out of your own room.”

“Just one of the hazards of having someone awesome like Lindsay as my roomie. It’s fine.” Molly stood and headed out. She turned in the doorway and asked, “Be back in what fifteen? Twenty?”

Jadis just shrugged, “Something like that.”

Molly nodded and pulled the door shut behind her. She headed down the hall and spotted Anna. “Hey Anna!”

The Squirrel girl stopped and turned to face Molly. “Hey there, what’s up?”

“Not much. Just wandering. Oh… I heard you do Parkour?” asked Molly, definitely wanting to find out more about this.

Anna blushed. “Yeah, I do. I am okay at it I guess.”

“Cool. Do you do anything with the Holligans? I have heard that they are the ones to talk to about this.” asked Molly, a bit nervous to be asking this, especially after her accident this morning.

Anna nodded. “Yeah, I go on runs with them every once in a while. They’re really nice. And sometimes we go to Boston to do runs with some friends of Mr. Mahren who are really good at Parkour. I don’t know if we are still going to do that since he is gone, but maybe. I like them.”

“Do… do you think I can join?” Molly looked at her hopefully. “I need to be able to move around better in combat and this seems like a great way to do that.” asked Molly.

“Maybe. I can ask. If Mr. Mahren were here, he would have said yes, but now… I don’t know.” Anna looked a little worried and sad, when she was thinking of the range hand who had taken her under his wing. “Our new Traceur might let you though. Caitlin Bardue. She is really kind of gruff but nice.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate that.” Anna nodded and continued on her way. Molly headed down the hall and knocked on Winnie’s door. Charmer opened it up and looked quite irritated. “Are you ‘ere to taunt my roommate as well?”

“Uhm… no. I was just coming by to talk to her.” said Molly, somewhat confused by the question.

Charmer let her in and Winnie was on her bed, covered by a blanket with occasional sniffles coming out. Molly came over and sat on the bed. “Winnie? It’s me, Molly. Are you doing alright?”

“N-n-no. S-s-s-stupid F-f-f-flick-k-ker.” stammered Winnie.

Molly turned to face Charmer, her eyes questioning.

Charmer growled, “Zey made disparaging remarks about ‘er weight and body. Bitches.”

Molly nodded. “That they are. Come on Winnie. You are cute. It isn’t our fault we live in the one place in the world that is filled to the gills with the beautiful people. Us normal girls need to stand up for each other. Don’t let them get you down. They just say that to make them feel better about themselves, at least that is what my mom always says.”

Winnie peeked out. Her eyes were red from crying and tracks of tears were visible. She sniffled and then asked, “Wh-wh-what did I-I ever d-d-do to th-th-them?”

Molly sighed. Flicker, Fade and Solange were raging bitches that had even taken shots at her before. Thankfully, she had Chou to make her feel better. Who did Winnie have? “You are one of the nicest, kindest people here in the school, Winnie. They pick on you because they can’t be like you.”

With a snort, Winnie replied, “Y-yeah, r-r-rr-right.”

“Well… you know how I am friends with Team Kimba? What if I got Tennyo to eat them? Would that make you feel better?”

Winnie giggled at that and it seemed to have done the trick of getting her mind off what had happened. “Th-th-they s-s-scare me, even Ch-chou. D-did you s-see th-the cut s-she gave B-b-bombshell? Sh-she c-could have k-killed her!”

“Yes Winnie, I saw that and heard Bombshell complain. Bmbshell hurt Chou earlier in the year and Team Kimba was only paying them back for what they had done. Chou really is a sweetheart and only hurts people if she has to. She is actually very nice. You’ll like her… honest. You know, she is actually really impressed with you and your power?”

Winnie emerged even more from the blankets, her head completely visible, “R-really? S-someone in T-team K-kimba th-thinks my p-p-power is n-neat?”

Molly nodded. “Yep. Your power is pretty incredible Winnie, really, when you sit down and think about it. You know, Chou might be able to help you. I think she knows this whole Feng Shui thing.”

“D-d-do you th-think she could? Th-the t-teachers h-here are o-only so so, as th-this isn’t s-something most of th-them kn-know about. I-i-it is h-hard w-w-working with both th-the Powers people and th-the M-m-magic school. Th-they argue a l-l-lot.” admitted Winnie, her stuttering calming down, with the gaps between stutters shrinking until it was much easier to understand.

“Sure. And if Chou doesn’t know we can always ask her mentor. Becca is sure to know something about this if Chou doesn’t.”

Winnie looked excited at the prospect of more teaching that worked with her power.

“How much can you do with it?” asked Molly.

Winnie shrugged. “Some.”

“Can you pull power from mages tapping into the Ley Lines?” asked an excited Molly.

“I-I-I don’t know. I nev-ver tried.” Winnie looked thoughtful at that. “Th-that might b-be fun.”

“Chou told me to think outside the box for uses for my power. So I figured that might be useful for you. Just think of any ole crazy thing you can and that might be something you can do. Generator is kind of like that, far more general than specialized.”

Winnie smiled, pleased with the advice. “Th-thanks.”

“No problem. I just want us to be friends. Is that okay, ‘cause if I had joined the Underdogs before I met Chou we would be friends now anyway.” explained Molly.

“O-okay. I’d l-l-like that.”

“Good. So, how has your course work been?” asked Molly, wanting to get to know the girl better and wanting to stay far away from any topics that might remind Winnie of the jerks who teased her.

“O-okay. Th-they got a t-teacher who k-knows Feng Shui but not h-how my power af-f-fects it. It’s b-been int-teresting. Makes me w-w-want to know more.” Winnie did seem excited. “I-I’m also t-taking a class on painting. It-t-t’s nice.”

“Really? A painting class. You paint?”

Winnie shrugged. “I’m o-okay.”

“I think art is pretty cool, but I can’t do it well. I’m impressed that you can do it.”

“Th-thanks.” Winnie leaned forward and nervously gave Molly a hug. The pressure on her ribs made the summoner gasp in pain and wince. “Ohmygodohmygod! A-are you o-okay?”

Molly smile was a bit strained. “I hurt myself in class today. I’m really sore. I came down to see you because Lindsay had guests and I figured you needed the company.”

It made Molly feel good to see Winnie smile.

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As Chou was almost to Dickinson, Dorjee sprinted up to her and said, “Chou, I need your help. The Dragons and Tigers are getting ready to fight and nothing I have said has helped with calming them down. You have to help me.”

The Asian girl groaned and sighed. “Fine. Where are they?”

“Down in one of the older danger rooms. We have to try and stop this fight. Given the tensions, they are going to hurt each other, badly. Please.” Dorjee looked a touch frantic, which only spurred Chou into action.

As she ran alongside Dorjee, she activated her Spot. <Toni! I need your help.>

<What is it?> asked Hank, concerned.

<The Dragons and Tigers are fighting and I need her help to fix this.> explained Chou, as she kept pushing her chi in order to keep up with Dorjee.

<On my way.> replied Toni, sounding excited and apparently pleased about the idea of combat. Chou groaned.

They raced into the tunnels, occasionally yelling make a hole to get past a few others using the noticeable warmer tunnels to get around. <We are heading towards Arena Seventy-Two.>

<Seventy-two? Gotcha!>

Chou and Dorjee raced together through the corridors and Toni joined them soon and slowed down her chi powered running to stay with them. It did not take them long to get to the room in question. When they opened the door, the room was filled with chaos. There were people fighting everywhere, fighting with martial arts skill and with powers. The trio paused a moment, looking at the sight in awe and confusion as to what the hell they could do.

An idea hit and Chou smiled. It just might work, if she did it right. She pulled out a prayer sheet, knelt, and quickly brushed on what she needed. The prayer would hopefully work, as she had never really tried using this particular spell before, having memorized it a short while ago. She empowered the sheet with her chi and launched it towards the center of the fray. She turned away, and tugged on the pants of the others to make them follow suit.

There was a massive flash that lit up even Chou’s closed and covered eyes as well as a massive roar, as if a mighty dragon had come forth. She then turned, tugged on Toni and the two of them moved into the center as the others were reeling from the magical equivalent of a massive flash bang. In the deafening silence after that, Chou drew Destiny’s Wave, felt a rush of Tao fill her. Toni seemed to pull her energy in and she bellowed out, “What the hell is going on!!”

A number of members of each group flinched away, as it seemed as if the two girls in the center had appeared out of nowhere. N’Dizi and Zhong Lau came forward, each clearly upset with the interruption. The head of the Tigers, screamed as he walked towards them, “What the fuck do you bitches think you are doing!”

Toni glared at N’Dizi and growled out, “Shut it cucumber boy.”

Chou suddenly stood with great dignity, and for a moment, Toni thought that Aunghadhail had filled her, given the sheer raw power that poured from her. The girl did not look like she was in simple clothes any longer but rather robes that were a rich Imperial Red. Destiny’s Wave glowed with the power that now filled it, almost incandescent. Her voice seemed older, far more refined and somewhat like Carson’s. “What is the cause of this disturbance?”

Zhong Lau looked a bit wide eyed as he stared at Chou in wonder, the dragon within immediately recognizing her for what she was. His eyes roamed over her body, and he was clearly disbelieving what his eyes were telling him. “We are fighting over you and Chaka here, to see who gets you in their group.”

N’Dizi growled angrily, “We don’t need this shit. Shut up and get out of the way slope before I hurt you!”

It looked like he was going to say more but he froze when he felt the blade at his neck. The Handmaid of the Tao frowned at him and said, “Do not give me cause to separate your head from your body.”

N’Dizi swallowed nervously, as this was unexpected. The other Tigers, who were taking their cues from him stood back, waiting, poised to move.

The Handmaid turned her head and glared at Zhong Lau, “So Little Dragon, are I and the Panther here merely chattel to be fought over like dogs over bones?”

Zhong Lau clearly wasn’t pleased by this event and looked uncomfortable in the position he found himself in. Given what he was seeing and the power rolling off her surviving this might be a real challenge. He swallowed hard, prostrated himself, and replied, “No your Holiness.”

“Holiness? What the fuck is that about?” N’Dizi paused, as he seemed to notice something wet on his face. He reached up and touched himself and when his hand came away, there was blood on it. N’Dizi glared at the freshman standing before him and was poised to move when Zhong Lau hissed loudly at him, “Stop you fool. She’ll kill you!”

When N’Dizi looked into the girl’s eyes, he saw a cold compassionateless death awaiting him. He rocked back on his feet and kept his hands in a neutral position. It was clear that he realized this was not the girl he was used to dealing with. This was not the girl that hung out with the Kimbettes, this girl oozed competence and death, and through his body language, it was clear that N’Dizi did not want to fight her. There was only one outcome there and he wanted to avoid that at all cost.

Chaka spoke up, her fists clenched, “Why the fuck do you think I haven’t already joined you bastards? Either of you? Because you are both idiots. Look at you, fighting over little ole me. I know I am all that plus a bag of chips, but give me a break. I am not joining either of your little gangs.”

Zhong Lau visually bit down on his tongue, not wanting to get the Handmaid focused on him again. N’Dizi apparently didn’t care. “Listen, you are a sister and we should band together against the man.”

Chaka rounded on him, her eyes blazing. “I am not your sister and I am not into this whole Black Power thing you have going on. News flash moron, color isn’t as big a topic as it used to be. I don’t need to hang out with people of my same skin tone for safety, I have my friends for that. So shut up and get the hell off my case!”

N’Dizi was about to say something else when the Handmaid spoke up. “You have offended me and mine.” Zhong Lau went white. “However, I will give you a chance to spare your miserable lives. Send forth your champions, either singularly or together, it matters not. If they should win, your lives shall be spared, yet if I win, I shall remove this disturbance once and for all.”

Zhong Lau bowed and asked, “Your Holiness, may N’Dizi and I fight this?”

“Nay. Send forth your proxies.” The Handmaid of the Tao stood there, as immovable as the mountain, shining with an inner light that made her seem otherworldly.

N’Dizi turned and looked over the Tigers. He scanned everyone and then called out, “Sledge, come up here.”

The six-foot plus boy stepped hesitantly up towards the girl. He towered over her by almost a foot and his sledge was longer than the glowing jade blade. This seemed like a very unfair fight.

Zhong Lau looked over his members and paused when his eyes crossed over Chain Lightning. He smiled, “Chain Lightning, step forward.”

The Handmaid of the Tao looked over the two warriors. “Which shall step forth first.”

Sledge stepped forward. “Me.”

There was a pause, as if waiting for another voice. When there was none, she nodded her head. Sledge slammed his weapon forward, and the far lighter blade deflected it quite easily. With a twist of her wrist, the Handmaid of the Tao disarmed the larger man and a sidekick flung him backwards, where he slammed into the back wall of the arena, about fifteen feet away. The girl stood there, waiting.

Sledge hit the ground with his fist, frustrated. He moved back into the fray, cautiously circling to pick up his fallen weapon. The girl’s radiant eyes followed his movements closely, but she did not turn. Suddenly, Sledge zipped into range with his weapon, holding it with both hands, controlling the sledgehammer’s movements utterly. The weapon swung through the air, connecting with nothing and then the sword hit the inside of his arms, making them go numb, causing him to drop his weapon. The Handmaid of the Tao leapt lightly into the air and drove one foot into his chest, causing him to fly backwards, to skid along the floor, bouncing a few times. He looked up at the girl, standing there serenely as if she had done nothing.

It was clear that this was not going well. Zhong Lau moved over next to N’Dizi and whispered, “There is no way either of them can win this alone. Let us call a truce and join forces against her. If we can manage to get Bladedancer back, we win. Truce?”

N’Dizi looked at the Dragon for a long moment and then out to the match, where the Handmaid had dropped Sledge again, almost casually with a wrist flip. He looked back and whispered, “Deal.”

They shook hands and Zhong Lau called out, “Your Holiness, we are going to join forces for this.”

The Handmaid of the Tao nodded slightly.

Chain Lightning called forth his weapon and spun part of the chain in a circle, giving it basic momentum; he looked hesitant but moved forward. Sledge stood and got to the other side but not directly in a line. When Sledge closed, Chain Lightning launched his weapon, going for an entanglement of the sword arm. The Handmaid of the Tao rotated away from the chain, but was unable to block the sledgehammer as effectively, this caused her to step back, out of her earlier pose. Chain Lightning went for a leg entanglement, while Sledge went for a torso shot with his sledgehammer.

The Handmaid of the Tao jumped and tucked, causing the chain to go harmlessly underneath her and she curled up enough that the sledgehammer went over her head. She then kicked Sledge in the thigh, causing his knee to buckle. Before she could capitalize on this, the lightning chain snaked forth and wrapped around her waist and she was tugged backwards, giving time for Sledge to regain his footing.

The glowing jade sword swung through the air, severing the chain and the Handmaid of the Tao moved towards Chain Lightning. The chain reformed and it was launched directly at her face. She rocked backwards, directly into the oncoming sledgehammer, knocking her past Chain Lightning. There were cheers from the two sides, both groups calling out encouragement for the two warriors.

Bladedancer found herself in unfamiliar clothes and the Tao telling her to duck. She did that, avoiding a strike from a very familiar weapon. She spun to her feet and faced both Sledge and Chain Lightning. Given that Sledge had managed to stand toe to toe with Toni, she was not pleased by that development. Moreover, she really did not want to fight the boy she liked, at least not as hard as this was. She began dodging and leaping her way closer to the two, hoping to subdue Sledge and then try to stop Chain Lightning. The chain wrapped around her and the jolt of electricity shook her body. Somehow, she managed to not drop her sword. What the hell was going on? She remembered moving in to yell at people and then this.

She cut the chain, ducked and dodged a few hammer strikes and worked to get herself some distance from the two warriors. This was not going well for her. Bladedancer blocked the sledgehammer a few times, struggling to deflect it into the onrushing chain, which was behind her, making her plan fail. The chain grabbed her ankle and again the charge ran through her. Her muscles spasmed and she fell, twitching uncontrollably. Sledge pulled his blow towards her head at the last moment and slammed into the floor next to her.

The clothes faded and there was Chou, in her school clothes, still twitching from the electricity, her eyes rolled up in her head. A cheer went up from the groups and Zhong Lau and N’Dizi looked at each other, smiling faintly. “Truce?”

“Truce.”

Toni ran over to Chou and helped her as tremors still rocked her body, “Chou! Chou! Are you okay?”

The Asian girl gasped out, “Y-y-y-y-yes.”

“I don’t know what you did girl, but it is truce time in these here parts.” Toni’s John Wayne impression was terrible.

“I don’t know what I did. I remember the flashbang thing going off and moving to the center. Next thing I know I was getting my ass kicked.” complained Chou, struggling to sit up, twitching occasionally and feeling drained.

“Well what you did was scary awesome and seemed to put the fear of God into them. Nice job.” replied Toni, helping her sit.

Chou replied weakly, “Yay me.”

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Chou walked up to Dorjee in the cafeteria, still sore from all of the fighting she had done that day. He looked like he had fared better, however part of that had to be the Exemplar healing ability kicking in. It kind of bugged her and she wished she had that. “Can I talk to you?”

He nodded his head and smiled at her. “Certainly.”

He dropped off her tray and headed off to catch up with her at the front of Crystal Hall. “What’s up?”

“Come on. Here isn’t a good place to have this conversation.”

“Are you okay? I didn’t mean to hurt you earlier.”

“I’m fine. Really, just sore and tired.”

Chou walked towards the library. Molly had gone on ahead and was waiting for them in their spot. Dorjee remained quiet as they walked content to just be walking with her now that he had made sure she was okay. Chou would normally have been content as well, except that she was really worried about how this conversation was going to play out. There was a lot riding on this conversation and she was a bit uncomfortable because of it. Part of her wanted to bite her finger nails.

They entered the library and she led him towards where she and Molly usually made out. That in itself made her a touch uncomfortable and Chou smiled weakly. When they entered the area, Dorjee looked at Molly a bit confused and the summoner looked coolly back at the Tibetan boy. She activated the privacy spell and nodded to her girlfriend.

Now Chou was on the spot and she had to figure out how to make her way through this morass of relationship hell. She took a deep breath to settle herself and let it out slowly, as if preparing to do her form practice. “Dorjee, I asked you here to tell you something and I hope that it won’t upset you. You see, I am in a very serious relationship with Molly.”

The dark haired Tibetan boy looked at her and blinked, confused. He asked, “You’re a lesbian?”

“Not exactly. I guess you could say that I am bisexual as I am also attracted to you, just not as intensely.” stated Chou awkwardly, really interested in her feet.

Dorjee looked over at her intently, then over at Molly. Turning back he asked, “What exactly was the deal with you and I then? Why were you dating me if you were in a committed relationship with her?”

Both the women looked a bit embarrassed at that question. Chou answered, “Well, it started because… well… if I was publicly dating you no one would think that I was dating Molly. You were our cover.”

“So you have no interest in me?” Dorjee sounded a bit upset at that and this worried Chou.

“No, I didn’t say that. I… I am attracted to you but things are even more complex than it seems.”

“So you are attracted to me and are seeing her?” It seemed as if Dorjee was trying to make sense out of this whole thing. It didn’t sound like he was doing a good job of it. “Do I have that straight?”

“Yes. I love her and she is my soulmate.” admitted Chou softly.

“Then what am I?” demanded Dorjee, growing angrier as this continued.

Chou bit her bottom lip nervously. This was starting to look more and more like a train wreck. “The first guy I have ever been attracted to. I really feel close to you but just not as close as I do to Molly.”

Dorjee nodded his head sharply, ending that line of discussion, clearly agitated. “You said things are more complex, what did you mean?”

“Uhm… well… you see… I sorta… well…”

“Oh for God’s sake Chou.” said Molly. “Honestly, this isn’t that big of a deal. Just tell him.”

“Tell me what?”

“I used to be a guy, back before I got the sword.” Chou blushed hard at that point and was discovering just how interesting the flooring was in this section. They really had done interesting things with wood back when this building had been built.

“A guy?” Dorjee sounded incredulous. “You have got to be joking.”

Chou shook her head.

“You’re not joking? So, what, are you a transwhatsit?”

“No, well not exactly. I was transformed by the sword into this form. However, the thing that allows me to change back to my old form is gone, held by a demon.” replied Chou, clarifying things.

“Are you really a guy then?”

“I guess that depends on how you define things. I started out a guy when this first began but now I am a girl. I’m not exactly sure what that all means, but I am a girl right now. I have no idea if I will ever be able to change back, so…” Chou shrugged.

“Why are you telling me this?” Dorjee was growing somewhat angry as things were going. This was clearly not what he had expected this conversation to be about.

“Because… because I like you and it is freaking me out and I want to keep seeing you and it is only fair that you know the whole deal. I don’t mean to hurt you.” Chou looked contrite and was feeling miserable inside. This conversation was not going anything like she had planned.

Dorjee took a deep breath in and let it out slowly, using the centering techniques he had been taught. He was visibly calmer when he said, “So, what do you have planned now?”

“Well, I kinda wanna date you both.” admitted Chou, still blushing.

Dorjee turned and faced Molly, looking her in the eyes, shifting his glasses slightly, “Are you okay with this?”

Molly shook her head. “Not really. She is my soulmate and I love her unreservedly. I understand the reasons I said yes to start with but neither of us expected her to actually develop feelings for you. I am not a fan of this particular plan, but how can I really say no to her?”

Dorjee nodded. “I see. And you have no issue with us dating?”

“At the moment… no. However, if you hurt her so help me God I will summon something to tear you limb from limb. Got that?!” Molly stated angrily.

Dorjee pursed his lips and shook his head. He put his hands together and bowed politely. “I need to think about this. I will talk to you later.”

He left the energy field and Chou felt sad about it. She had hoped for a resolution to this issue but only got limbo. She was not happy. Molly still looked ready to jump after him and tear him apart. Chou sat back in her chair, pulling her legs up to her chest.

Molly came over, sat on the arm of the chair, and ran a hand down Chou’s hair, making soothing sounds, trying to comfort her love and ignoring her own pain for the moment.

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Saladin was sitting in his room, reading the Qur’ran, when there was a knock at the door. He marked his place and answered the door. His eyebrows raised in surprise when he saw who was standing in the hallway. “Salaam Alekum Hippolyta.”

“Wa Alekum Asalaam Saladin. Can we talk?” Hippolyta did not look too comfortable being here in the men’s dorm.

“Certainly. Where would you like to go?” Hippolyta turned on her heel and Saladin followed her out, locking his door behind him.

“Not here.” She led him away from the men’s dorm and into the snow. They stopped in the middle of the snow between buildings and the tall girl turned to face the broad chested man. “This will work. From what I was told, we are protected.”

“What can I do for you Hippolyta?” asked Saladin, curious as to this event.

“Why did you come out?” There was tension in her voice and this caught his attention.

He raised an eyebrow as he looked at her. “Why? I explained why, which you heard twice as I remember.”

“Fine, so you did this knowing how the Islamic world views our kind?” She asked, staring him straight in his eyes.

Saladin sighed. “Yes I do and I am aware of how Allah views us, you in a far better light than me.”

Hippolyta laughed, but there was little mirth in it. “Isn’t that presumptuous, knowing how Allah views us? The Qur’ran and the Hadith are not the last words you know.”

With a scoff, Saladin shook his head. “Given that the Prophet was the last and that the Qur’ran is the word of Allah I do not quite see how your statement could be true.”

“Really? Let’s look at things then. Not even counting the Hadith, how many fatwas have changed the faith? How many different groups have claimed to have the proper interpretation of the Holy Qur’ran? How many different revelations have there been since the death of the Prophet? No living faith is untouched Saladin. I thought you of all people would know that.”

Saladin pursed his lips, somewhat irritated. “Okay, I cannot argue that but things are quite clear on the question of homosexuality.”

“So you mean to tell me that you fully and completely expect to spend eternity smelling of shit in hell?” asked Hippolyta, smirking.

Saladin growled in growing anger at her for pointing this out, “If that is the will of Allah.”

Hippolyta chuckled, “So if a fatwa were declared that allowed this, would you still be so down on yourself?”

Saladin refused to answer.

She waited a moment and then continued, “You know… if you were Shia, you could use the Ayatollah’s fatwa to fix things.”

“What fatwa?”

“The one that said that if you became a woman that it would be allowed.” Saladin could tell that the woman was teasing him.

“Like that is an option.” He growled out.

“Then perhaps you need to relax and think instead of acting like a damn Martyr. You came out for a reason, why?” demanded Hippolyta, glaring at the man.

“I came out because it was the right thing to do.” Saladin came back with heat.

“Oh? What makes it the right thing? I fought for you so you owe me.”

“I didn’t ask for your help.” countered Saladin. “I don’t owe you.”

“You are such an idiot, you really are. You are right out of the fucking Middle Ages, like your namesake.” Hippolyta was growing angry.

“It is the word of Allah, Hippolyta.”

“No, it is not. Anything that comes through a human being is not the word of Allah. Prophet or not. In addition, remember anything that came through the Prophet was filtered through who he was and when he was from. He passed on some incredible truths that were surely touched by the Divine. But the world is not the same as it was then Saladin, or had you missed that?” Hippolyta stood before Saladin, moving closer, angry.

“Some things don’t change Hippolyta!”

“Bullshit! You sound like the Allah bedamned Taliban, all fundamentalist and trapped in the past. Those bastards wouldn’t know the touch of Allah if the Angel Gabriel himself came down and revealed the sacred plan to them.” shouted Hippolyta.

Saladin paused and jerked his head back as if she had slapped him. “I… I…”

“Shut it boy. I don’t even know why the hell I even bothered. It is the last time I let Sara talk me into reaching out to fucking worthless men.” She turned and began to walk away.

Saladin reached out and grabbed her shoulder, “Wait, please.”

She spun and slapped his hand away, snapping angrily, “What?!”

“I… I am sorry Hippolyta. I am so stressed over what is happening with me and what this could do to my boyfriend. Please. I was raised fairly fundamentalist and getting past that is going to take some work.” said Saladin quietly.

“If you believe that Allah the Compassionate and Merciful could condemn a man of faith that way then you doubt the compassion and mercy of Allah. Get that through your thick skull and cope. Fucking idiot men!” She turned and walked away, leaving Saladin to stand there in the snow watching her go. His thoughts were awhirl at her words. It was becoming painfully clear that he needed to pray some more on this matter.

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Chou slapped her hands together, which made Molly jump slightly in surprise. Her girlfriend rubbed her hands vigorously and then rested them over the areas that Molly had informed her were hurting. A warmth and comfort seeped into Molly and she sighed happily. This was happiness.

After Chou had spent some time working on her head, she then pulled out a vial of her healing balm that all the girls in Team Kimba raved about. The massage helped as well and the balm was also warm. Molly began feeling better, especially after Chou had worked on her front. Molly tried not to get too aroused, since Lindsay was in the room as an unwitting chaperone. Thankfully, she had bought the whole ‘ancient Chinese secret’ line about things.

Once that was taken care of, Chou looked at Molly and asked, “Is there anything you need?”

“I’m fine Chou, really. I am just a bit sore and if this balm is as good as Toni and Nikki were making it out to be I should be fine by morning. Just sit down. I want to play some Katamari, okay?” said Molly, trying to get her worried lover to relax.

Chou snapped her eyes over to Lindsay and then back, nodding. “Okay.”

“Thank you.” Molly started the game and rushed about, trying to make Cygnus, with all the flapping birds.

Chou took a turn next and went after the huge number of Gemini twins scattered about. Molly snickered as Chou bit her lip in concentration. She did manage to get 74% of all the twins, which was a higher percentage than Lindsay had ever gotten which was impressive.

After that, the girls watched the Hannah Montana episode, singing along with the songs where they could. Molly felt much better after that, especially when she pounced on Chou to kiss her greedily when Lindsay headed off to the bathroom. In some ways, it had turned out to be a good day.

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Nex reviewed the surveillance that Nephandus had collected for him. It was clear from the footage that she often headed towards a specific portion of the campus and looked towards the trees. That was an excellent spot to strike her, as the cameras didn’t cover that area as well as they should and it was far enough away from other things that the snow should swallow up the sound when the girl screamed. This would be perfect. Now if only she stayed to her pattern and went there tomorrow all would be just right.

He would strike when invisible and go straight for the kill. He would make sure that all the eyes would be blind and he would strike with all the violence he could manage. He was tired of playing around with his kill, especially with prey as dangerous as this.

Chou Lee had proven herself to be a dangerous opponent and one Nex would no longer underestimate.

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Chou was lying back on her bed while Ayla was still working at his desk. There were things running around her head and she needed to get them sorted. “Ayla?”

Ayla replied without looking up. “Yes?”

“I have something going on that is making me a bit crazy.”

“You mean crazier than you having to deal with being a girl?”

“Yeah. I’ve actually pretty much come to terms with that. Mostly. It’s about my love life.”

Ayla stopped what he was doing and turned to face his roommate. “What’s wrong.”

“I like Dorjee and this is making me crazy because Molly has issues.” grumbled Chou.

“Can you blame her? You are her soulmate and yet you want to date someone else. This doesn’t ring warning bells in your head?” Ayla looked stunned at the thick headedness of his roommate.

Chou groaned. “It does, but I don’t have any clue what to do. I want both of them damnit!”

“Chou… I think they call that greedy.” teased Ayla.

“Ayla…” whined Chou, “I need help.”

“Okay. Okay. Sheesh. Fine, so you want to see both.”

“Yeah. I don’t know if it is a permanent thing but it certainly a now thing.” stated Chou.

Ayla was quiet for a moment, clearly thinking, “Chou, if you want to do this and they are okay with it, fine but if they aren’t, don’t ruin things with Molly just to be able to date a boy. If she is your soulmate then you really, really don’t want her mad at you.”

Chou thought about that and frowned. “That makes sense. Thanks Ayla. I’ll try to get this sorted, somehow. Night.”

With that, Chou rolled over, facing the wall. “Night Chou. Pleasant dreams.”

Friday 19 January 2007

Molly stood up and stretched again, trying to work the stiffness out of her muscles. The balm that Chou had used on her had helped a lot but she still had some aches that made her glad that they were now moving on to the stealth portion of the class. Right now, they were moving around one of the Arenas talking about sight lines, shadows and the use of environment to be able to move without being noticed. Molly was not the only one taking frantic notes.

They moved into one of the buildings and things changed, “Hiding in buildings is a bit difficult. People know the majority of places where you can hide, but there is one that most people forget, up. If you can find a place where you can brace yourself against the ceiling and walls most people will not spot you. It is the reason why flyers can often hit people in complete surprise, since they are coming at you from an unexpected angle. While the mind wants you to crouch down when hiding, that only works in tall grass or behind large obstacles. Remember changing levels can be a major help in this.”

Molly realized how the Parkour skills she had been learning could be mixed with hiding skills to really open up a number of options she would have in a battlefield. There would be places she could reach that others couldn’t. That might give her an edge, which she most desperately needed. She didn’t want to do badly in the next combat final and she didn’t want to be a drag on Chou.

“All right, now that we have discussed this, let us begin the practical exercise. You will go into the building in small groups and have a few minutes to hide. I will come in and judge how well you have achieved this.” Mr. Smith called out some names and then waited.

Molly vowed that she would get better if it was the last thing she would do.

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Toni and Fey joined Chou as she entered the classroom to see Dyffud. He was currently doing a one-hand handstand, balancing on a teacup. He smiled at the girls and folded his body until his feet touched the ground, then he stood, holding the teacup, taking a drink from it. “Good afternoon girls. Ready for some fun?”

“Your fun and our fun might not be the same thing.” quipped Toni.

“An excellent point Miss Chandler. Well, to let you know, this class has to do with balancing your Yin and Yang energies. As changelings, there is an overabundance of Yin energy inside of you. What you need to do is to balance these energies out more, to stop being so one sided in things. An excess of energy on one side can lead to a number of problems.”

Toni started giggling, as if something about the topic amused her to no end. Everyone looked at her and raised an eyebrow. The girl was giggling too much to explain and it took a bit to settle down. When she could breathe she tried to say with a straight face, “I have heard how that could be a problem.”

She managed to keep her giggles down as Dyffud rolled his eyes and continued. “What we are going to do is to talk about dynamic balance and how that can help shift the energies to where you need them. For example, Nikki, since you have Aunghadhail within you as well as your own transformation, that gives you excess Yin energy. Toni has an excess of Yin because of the nature of her power heterodyned with the energies of her transformation. Chou here has an excess of Yin energy that is battling heavily with the Yang energy inside her. Those issues can cause you a number of problems and effect how successfully you can utilize your own powers. It is also a weakness that can be exploited.

Nikki’s posture changed, becoming clearly more regal, “Explain yourself.”

Dyffud smirked and threw in a bow with a flourish, “Certainly your majesty. Attack me with no weapons if you would please.”

The other two girls backed off as Fey got set. She launched forward, throwing a punch at Dyffud. All of a sudden, the Queen sort of stumbled and she was suddenly on her back after being thrown by the instructor. She blinked up at him, clearly confused, “What happened?”

“I increased the amount of Yin energy inside you. That caused you to loose your balance, creating a perfect opening for me. If your energies are in balance then you have no opening like that which can be exploited by an enemy.”

The girls nodded at that, following what he had said. Chou asked, “So how do we fix this?”

“Well… there are several ways in which to do this, and the easiest one to do would be a variation on the move Gathering Celestial Energy. You see Yin and Yang are a matched set. They are known in Chinese as the Supreme Ultimate, or Tai Chi. This pair includes all manner of things, hot and cold, tall or short, male or female, shade and sun, things like that. So to reach a dynamic balance we need to be able to draw our energy from balanced sourced. Nikki, as a Sidhe, you draw a lot of power from the natural world around you, or what is called Earth Energy. It is very Yin and thus is Receptive. It’s Yang pair is Celestial Energy, or the power coming from the Sun and Stars.

It was clear that this was a very different way of looking at things for two of the girls and Chou thought of this as simply as a review.

“What you do is this. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend the knees and relax. Now raise the hands, palms facing outward and your fingers forming a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers. When your hands reach your eyes, follow them upwards, bending your head back. Now, this action is on an exhale, which is a bit opposite from the usual way Chi Gung in done. As you inhale, you bring the hands back to the start position, but scoop the air, imagining pulling this radiant energy inside yourself. Now bend you knees a bit more, reach your arms down, as if you were scooping the earth. You bring the arms up, elbows bent and if you were carrying something and you go up to the level of your eyes. When you inhale, turn your hands, palms down, and imagine pulling the soothing energy inside yourself. Do this several times in a row, paying attention to your energy levels as you do so.” finished Dyffud.

The girls tried it and Chou was noticing that she felt more powerful the more she did it. The mix of energies were almost tangible and she could feel the energies settling the usual discordant waves in her Chi. She really liked that. The looks of surprise and pleasure were interesting to note on her friends. After a few minutes of this, Dyffud stopped them, “Good, good. Now what you need to do is get used to that feeling of balance that the exercise gives you. That is what you are aiming at and what you need to work on. It will take some work, but your imbalances will sort themselves out in a couple of weeks. But knowing you lot, you should be fine in a few days, maybe a week.”

“This really works?” asked Nikki, clearly trying to make sense out of what was being done.

“Yep. And it can make you stronger. Don’t do too much at once, because it can cause an overload in your system, so no more than five to ten minutes. It also works as a settling move in martial arts. There are faster ways to do the move and the best way to learn them is own your own. Any questions?” Dyffud smiled, clearly pleased with his students. This class was going well.

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“Okay class. Get into your protective circles. We will work on summoning one of the lesser elementals. Remember no Salamanders, as the room isn’t fire proof. If you are all ready, begin.”

While the rest of the class began chanting the summoning spell, Molly reached out and made the connection between herself and an Undine, a water elemental type of creature. Then she opened a gate for it to travel out of and into the physical world. The Undine appeared in the circle, which had filled with water. The creature flowed into a more humanoid form that looked kind of mermaidy, very attractive upper half that was thankfully covered. Molly smiled.

A few students stopped their spells and stared, awed by the speed with which Molly had done this. Molly ignored them. “Greetings, child of water.”

“Summoner. What do you ask of me?” The voice sounded strangely distorted as the voice burbled from the water itself.

Molly remembered the assignment. “I wanted to know some of your powers.”

“I am an Undine, child of Water. I can move through any liquid and affect any liquid. I can wear down mountains, drown people on dry land, I can help someone breathe under the waves. There are other things I may do if asked.”

“Thank you. I did want to know that. You have been very helpful. I release you.”

The Undine paused, looking at her with her watery eyes and then vanished. The instructor came over and said, “Excellent job. You did that so easily.”

Molly was a bit intimidated by the closeness of the teacher. “Uhm… thank you?”

“Do you think you can summon any other elementals?”

Molly blushed and looked down. “Uh… yes.”

“Let’s see.”

Molly tried to center herself and ignore the feeling of being stared at. If she was going to do this, she needed to clear her mind. She repeated the process with both Air and Earth, getting answers from them as well. They all gave her that same slightly confused, slightly thoughtful look as well. Molly turned to face her teacher, “Uhm… since this is going so well, can I try a salamander?”

He smiled at her. “Certainly, just don’t hold it long.”

Molly nodded as he went off to help other people with their spells. So far, she was the only one to have summoned different elementals. She liked the fact that some of the more powerful magic users in the class were not able to do this with the ease she could. It was a good thing in her opinion.

She shook herself and settled herself, doing the exercises Chou had taught her to calm and center herself. She then reached out and summoned a salamander. The creature burned and writhed, ever moving. It’s eyes were brighter flames. “Greetings, child of Fire.”

The creature giggled. “You are the Summoner?”

Molly and the instructor were confused by this. Molly replied, “Yes…”

“You burn brightly.”

“Thank you. So do you.” Again, the giggle filled the air.

Then the creature stopped its movements, it’s eyes boring into hers. The creature’s voice deepened and echoed through her, the magic trapping the noise in the protective circle so the words were for her alone. “Hear me well Summoner. There are those who pose threats to you and yours. There are allies who you have not met. There are actions you must take that you have not conceived of. There are roads that stretch before you that you should not take. There is a fire inside you that needs more wood. There is a darkness that looms that must be brought to light. You are the Summoner and it must be so.”

Molly stood there, dumbfounded, unsure what the hell was going on. “Uh…”

“Summoner, I share with you my name, of my own free will, for we of the Fire can see what the others do not. You are the Summoner and I, Igniarli, am yours to command.” With another lighthearted giggle, the salamander disappeared in a flash.

Molly stood there in the protective circle, eyes blinking slowly, trying to make sense of the revelations that the creature of Fire had just given her. Try as she might it made no sense to her at all.

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The trees were calling to Chou and she moved in that direction yet again. This situation was making her crazy and she was tired of it. She could feel the draw of the whatever it was pulling her and at the same time there was that feel of something holding her back, keeping her within the safety of the campus. She was chomping at the bit to take care of whatever this was and just wanted to know what she needed in order to do this. The Tao was strangely silent on this one.

She cursed, suddenly changing directions, and headed off the paths and into the snow, moving towards that disturbance she could feel. Screw this; she needed to do this now. She needed to remove this problem once and for all and she didn’t want to have to wait.

What she hadn’t expected was to feel someone move past her in an attack, just missing her. Bladedancer cursed again, drawing Destiny’s Wave in one smooth motion, slashing outwards. She moved deeper into the snow, and waited, looking all around her for her attacker. There was a soft crunch to her left and she parried with her blade, feeling the edge catch on something that made her step back. She pivoted, spotted the footsteps of whoever was attacking her invisibly. That would let her track the enemy through their mistake. Her awareness expanded, as the Tao filled her and she suddenly knew who was attacking her.

She activated her Spot as she twisted to avoid a lunge that cut her coat. She called out just before a sidekick folded her over, <Emergency! I need Security to where I am, NOW!>

<What’s going on?> asked Fey worriedly, being the first to respond.

<Nex!>

Chou dodged to the side again, the Tao giving her the muscle strength to move a bit faster through the thick snow. It was still dragging her, slowing her movements but not as much as it had been. Nex was still invisible and his attacks were coming at a near constant flow. Her fighting became instinctual, shifting to water in order to defeat the very fire orientated attack that Nex was using. She flowed around several attacks and even managed to throw him once, despite all the kicks she had taken. She smirked and said, “Is that the best you got Nex?”

There was a growl and Nex exploded into attack again. A kick to the head tumbled Chou, but she managed to deflect the follow up strike with the Psi Blade into the ground, just barely knocking her shoulder. An elbow strike to the head was followed by another slash that Chou barely managed to avoid. She flipped backwards to get some distance and time for her head to clear.

Her coat was cut again when she rolled her body back out of another slash and she went for a sweep, catching nothing. Nex kicked her knee and she buckled it into the snow to ride the damage out. A horizontal slash bought her the room to get back to her feet and move in towards him. She hurt and she was angry and she was going to get him.

She blocked a kick to her ribs with her left knee, which was turned into a leg hook throw, slamming her into the snow again. She barely managed to grab Nex’s wrist to stop the Psi Blade coming down towards her chest. She extended her Chi into him, felt his, and could begin to feel his every movement. It was far clearer than when they had fought weeks ago. She grinned ferally. She was tired of this shit. First Colin and now Nex, did she just have a kick me sign hanging on her? As energy flowed through her, making her faster than the assassin, blocking yet another slash with his Psi Blade, one hand went into her bag and pulled out a spell sheet.

Dodging under a slash, she slapped the sheet against Nex’s abdomen. She then flipped backwards as her chi activated the spell. There was a white flash, thunder rolled across the field of snow and the smell of ozone was heavy. Nex became visible, blackened around the edges a little, his hair standing on end. She moved forward quickly and the hand that hand used the spell sheet shot out and struck several spots on Nex’s body. She could see him struggle to move through the paralyzation but his body was no longer obeying his commands.

Chou smirked, limped slightly as she walked over, and rested the tip of Destiny’s Wave alongside his throat. “Stop struggling bitch, or I will end this permanently.”

Nex glared at her angrily, his hate rolling off him, as he stood there immobile. He tried to talk, to curse her but even his mouth would not work, muffling the sounds he was making. His eyes widened in panic as he spotted the Security running their way, weapons drawn and ready.

The Security team arrived and surrounded them, guns trained on Nex. One of them tried to move his arms behind him, to cuff him, but his arms didn’t move. “What the hell?”

Chou lowered her sword and smiled, “Sorry. Let me fix that.”

She hit a series of different nerve points and Nex could move again. As his hands were hauled behind him, he screamed, “You fucking cunt!”

Chou slapped him so hard he spun and landed face first in the snow. All of the officers were pretending to be looking somewhere else. The officer who bent down to help him to his feet casually mentioned, “You went after one of our Junior Officers dumbass and you know just how cops feel about that.”

Nex blanched and looked surprised. “Wha?”

Chou sighed and shook her head, “Have fun.”

As he was being dragged off by Security, Chou sagged and sighed. For a short fight it had been one of the most intense she had ever gone through, as Nex hadn’t slowed down even remotely through the whole fight. If it hadn’t been for the training she had been getting from Dyffud this fight would have ended differently. She really needed a hug right now. She used her Spot to call out, <Everything is taken care of. Thanks.>

Now where was her girlfriend? She reached out for her and located her energy in the Library. Chou changed directions and headed that way, sheathing her sword as she went.

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Saladin held his phone close to his head, listening to it ring. He sighed happily, just needing to hear the voice of the man he loved. The phone was answered with a rich bass voice, “Hello?”

“Richard? Hi.”

“Sayyid? How are you?” The voice was warm and Saladin could hear the slight rumble of the voice in Richard’s chest.

“Better now. It’s been a bit rough but I guess that is to be expected.”

“Coming out is never all that easy. I am proud of you for doing that but I am worried about the repercussions of us on you.”

Saladin nodded, “I know. When it finally trickles back to the Arab community, this might get ugly. I am just glad I am hard to kill.”

“And I am all squishy? Is that what you are saying?” asked Richard playfully.

“Not always.” replied Saladin with a hint of sexual pleasure in his voice.

“Look, Sayyid, you be careful. I don’t want to loose you to something stupid. Promise me?”

“I promise you. I won’t do anything stupid, enshahallah.” promised the Exemplar.

“Good. Now what with this with me not always being squishy?”

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Molly rushed to the Library, slowing down when she entered to avoid getting glared at by Mrs. Henderson. Chou had told her to meet in the Library, in their special corner to discuss something. Molly’s heart was racing and not just from the running around she was doing. She was worried about what her soulmate might be wanting to talk about and it kind of made her nauseous.

Chou was sitting in a chair, reading something when Molly got there, her red coat hanging over one of the arms. Molly threw her far warmer lavender coat over a chair and sat quickly. She then sighed, stood and activated the privacy spell. Once that took hold, she sat down and breathlessly said, “What?”

The Asian girl muttered something that Molly really couldn’t hear. Molly leaned forward and asked, “What did you say?”

“Can I get a hug?” softly asked the Handmaid of the Tao.

Molly moved over and took the girl in her arms, holding her lovingly. Chou shook a little and sniffled a few times before she sat up, pulling out of Molly’s arms. Her eyes were red rimmed and she smiled gently, “Thanks. I really needed that.”

“What happened?” worriedly asked Molly, getting distressed at the state Chou was in.

“Nex tried to kill me… again.”

“WHAT!!!” Molly’s eyes went wide and she rocked back to her feet, her heart racing. Chou was glad for the privacy spell as it stopped that yell from really going anywhere.

“Well, given what he tried to do with me in the final, which I think was cripple or kill me, combined with this… he should be in plenty of trouble.” related Chou calmly, since she had let the tension and worry out in Molly’s arms.

Molly growled out, “Chou Lee, you had better tell me what the hell happened or so help me…”

Chou cringed back a little, as a mad Molly was a scary Molly. She related the events and Molly was clearly bristling with anger. Chou needed to change the topic before Molly exploded, stormed over to Security, and tried to beat on Nex for the next day or so. “So, I need more help going after the whatever it is that is creating the oily stuff.”

Molly let out a long breath, seeing what her love was doing. “Sorry. Uhm… what about Winnie? She can help you find the exact spot.”

Chou nodded. “That would be good. Are you coming?”

Molly nodded vigorously. “It is the only way I can make sure you are okay.”

Chou smiled at that. While it would be more like the other way around, the sentiment made her feel good. “What about Dorjee? He would be good backup if something happened.”

Molly frowned, “I don’t know Chou. He didn’t seem all that happy with you last time you talked. And why not someone like Toni or Nikki or hell, even Tennyo.”

Chou shrugged, “I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right? I don’t think this will be that big of a deal, just going out and killing a spell, Destiny’s Wave can do that easily. I just thought a few more people would be good company and help if something crazy happens.”

“That makes some sort of sense I guess.” admitted Molly. “Okay, ask him, but don’t be surprised if he says no.”

With a nod and a smile Chou said, “Great, let’s email them and we can go tomorrow after breakfast.”

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Dorjee exhaled, measured and precise. Then after a pause, he breathed in. His body was perfectly still, legs folded into the lotus position. His hands were cupped together, thumbs touching and his mind worked on the problem that was Chou Lee, the Child of Earth. His thoughts swirled in a maelstrom over the girl and what she had told him. She and another girl… and she was still interested in him? The whole matter was too confusing for words. His thoughts were a whirlwind that would not be tamed.

He decided to focus on small things first. Did he like Chou? Given everything that had been revealed… yes. That settled a few things down. What about her being with Molly? He had to admit the image of the two women together in his head was enticing, but could he deal with the fact that the girl he was interested in was soul bound to another? It made him feel so inadequate. He frowned.

Could he deal with that? Maybe. It depended on a number of things, like how much they would rub his face in it and such. It seemed clear that Molly did not like him, for one thin. The best he could do here was might. He needed help and this meditation was not helping.

Dorjee got out his cell phone and dialed a long distance number. After a few rings it was answered, “Tashi dele.”

“Tashi dele. Khenpo Tenzin.”

There was a short pause and then another voice came on line. “Khenpo Tenzin.”

“<Teacher, how are you?>” asked Dorjee.

“<Ah Dorjee, I am fine. How are you?>”

“<I am good. Teacher I have a problem and I need your advice.>” explained Dorjee.

“<On the same issue?>”

“<No teacher, something different.>”

“<Very well. What is your question?>” said the slightly amused voice.

“<I find myself in a strange situation and I have no idea what to do.>” Dorjee fretted.

“<Calm yourself. Now what is it that is unsettling you.>”

Dorjee blurted out, “<She’s a guy!>”

“<Pardon?>” asked the clearly confused Khenpo Tenzin.

“<Before she got the sword she was a guy.>” explained Dorjee, still fretting over this.

“<And yet she is now a woman, correct?>” asked Khenpo Tenzin.

“<She is. Completely.>” confirmed Dorjee.

“<So if she if a complete woman, then is she a boy?>”

There was a pause on the phone as Dorjee blinked a few times as that settled into his head. “<Okay. That isn’t the only issue. She is also in a relationship with another woman. They are soul bonded.>”

This did cause Dorjee’s teacher to pause. “<And yet she still is interested in you?>”

“<She is. And I am. But isn’t that wrong. Isn’t that a violation of part of the eight fold path?>” Dorjee was really concerned with this fact.

“<I am not sure that it is a violation. If you live according to the eight fold path the nature of your relationship is not much of a concern. People have many ways to join together and a number of them are like this. This relationship is not a violation in and of itself.>” explained Khenpo Tenzin, with a smile clear in his voice.

“<Are you saying that if I am in a relationship with both girls I would not be violating the path?>” Dorjee sounded stunned by that assertion.

“<Dorjee, you were sent to that school because of the prophecy about the return of the Daughter of the Earth. She is here to fix things mortals cannot fix. You were sent to be in a relationship with her. I am aware that there are greater complexities involved now, but the words of the prophecy still hold. When Lightning joins the River the Path becomes visible and the Hands of the Bodhisattvas are known. Should that happen, blessing falls on all the Land. You are clearly the Lightning and she is clearly the River. This was your task, given to you by his Holiness. Do you refuse?>”

Dorjee was quiet as he remembered the meeting with his Holiness at the monastery. He remembered the charge and the task. “<I do not refuse. I am just not sure if I am comfortable with this.>”

“<I understand Dorjee, it cannot be an easy path you walk. Be true to yourself and true to those feeling you have for the girl, the ones you shared with me over the break. Those are the truths you need to follow.>”

“<Thank you teacher.>”

“<That is fine. Oh… as to your other problem, his Holiness said to share something with you.”

“<What?>”

“<He said that on need for violence: Bullies do not have the capacity for dialogue as they only speak and think violence. Using force to stop them is allowed, to subdue them so that dialogue can occur. You are fighting villains or agents from the Chinese is allowed so that peaceful dialogue can occur. Maybe not from you, maybe the legal authorities, but someone could then speak to them once their violence has been stopped. He added that you are to help stop bullies so that many, many others have the chance to achieve enlightenment. You doing this is another version of the monks Bodhisattva Vow.>” said Tenzin calmly.

“<I… I… I need to think about this.” stammered Dorjee.

“<Very well. You choose the path you walk Dorjee. We have told you what we can but only you know the Truth you follow.>”

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Since Crystal Hall was closing for the Senior Project, Chou decided that she wanted to have take out with Molly instead of trying the food out of the old dining hall. Her girlfriend had followed her back to Poe, making this an easy plan to follow through on. When they were in the lobby Chou asked her, “Do you want the usual order from Wok and Roll?”

Molly nodded. “Can you add the garlic wontons to that? I have sort of been craving them.”

“Craving? Is there something you need to tell me?” teased Chou.

Molly swatted her arm, “Bitch.”

“Garlic Wontons it is. Head on up to the room and I’ll be right there.” Chou used the phone in the lobby and called in her order, chatting briefly with the owner in Chinese. She hung up and got out of the way, as it seemed as if several people had the same take out idea. Taking the stairs two at a time, she quickly reached her floor and headed towards her room.

Molly was sitting on Chou’s bed when she got back up there. She was watching something on TV but not the Disney channel, because Ayla had put her foot down after having listened to Hannah Montana, Zack and Cody and an episode of Kim Possible, the only one he didn’t utterly oppose, because, in his own words, ‘Shego is hot’. The rule was that it was his TV and nothing he considered soul suckingly evil should ever be played on it. He had even gone so far as to ask why the Handmaid of the Tao hadn’t destroyed them for the good of the world. Apparently, Nick was at least acceptable, in small doses.

Chou kissed Molly and smiled at her. She was fighting the urge to talk about Dorjee with her, as she was sure that was not going to end well. Thankfully, an episode of DeGrassi came on and helped her fight the urge. Once that was over, they had gotten their food and had eaten a good bit of it. Molly savored the garlic wontons and had actually been convinced to share a few of them, for which Chou was grateful.

Ayla came in and smiled at the two. “Hey there Molly, Chou. How are you doing?”

“Not too bad.” answered Chou. “Is it okay if Molly stays the night?”

Ayla shrugged and said with a grin. “That should be fine. Just don’t keep me up.”

Molly stuck a tongue out at her, which made the boy laugh some. She then excused herself and left for the bathroom. Chou sat up quickly and said, “Ayla, could you set up dinner for Molly and me again for Sunday night?”

He nodded and then said, “It would have to be an early dinner you know, as we are watching Shaolin Soccer with Sara, Hippy, and Vox.”

“Crap, I had forgotten that. Uhm… early dinner would be good then.”

Ayla smiled and said, “I think I can set something up. Want me to see if Jade will waitress it?”

“Really? That would be cool.” Chou was kind of excited about this as she had heard that the young girl had actually done a good job of waiting.

“No problem. Anything else?”

“Chinese New Year. Do you think we can do something for it?” asked Chou.

“When is it?” asked Ayla, opening the date book he had on the computer.

“It is on the 17th of February. It is the year of the Fire Pig.” Chou added that last bit in an attempt t be helpful.

Molly came in just as Ayla was saying, “So how big do you want this?”

Chou shrugged, “I kind of thought TK and associates, but did you have something else in mind?”

“Well, from what I have heard, the Asian kids sort of get the shaft here in terms of holidays and such. I figured that maybe opening it up to some of the other Asian kids would be nice.” replied Ayla, seeing the possibility for some new business contacts dancing in his eyes.

Chou thought about that for a few seconds. That sounded good and like it might be a decent idea. Hopefully they could even manage to keep any fights down to a minimum. “Sure that sounds good to me.”

“Okay. I can get this sent out. Want formal invitations?” Ayla was completely in her business mode and it showed.

Chou nodded. “We will also need red bags prepared with spirit money and such.”

Ayla made a note. “I think I can manage this. Any decorations?”

“Sure. That might be cool. If we could get statues of the three luck gods that would be nice.”

Ayla grinned happily. “Okay, I will get more stuff looked into, so expect more questions. I’ll try to get the invitations out pretty soon once I figure out a space.”

Chou got up and hugged her roommate. “Thanks Ayla. This will be great.”

Saturday 20 January 2007

Chou and Molly sat at an empty table after having eaten with the rest of Team Kimba and their friends, drinking their hot chocolate. They were waiting for the other two who should be here shortly. Winnie was the first to arrive, looking very nervous to be near any one of the Kimba crew. “I-I-I’m here.”

“Thank you Winnie, your help will be very valuable. You can help us pinpoint where this thing is coming from. Once we do that, then we can stop it.” said Chou, smiling nicely to calm the girl.

“O-okay.” Winnie smiled back and sat on the bench, clutching her backpack nervously. Molly moved over next to her. The two chatted as Chou scanned the room for Dorjee.

A few minutes later, Dorjee walked up looking a bit nervous, with a slight frown on his face. “Hi.”

“Hi.” replied Chou, biting her lip nervously. “Are you ready to do this?’

He nodded his head. He then looked over at the girl sitting next to Molly. “Who is this?”

“This is Winnie, codenamed Geomancer. She’s the one who is going to guide us to where this is happening.” stated Molly.

“Okay. So what is this we are going after again, because you didn’t make a lot of sense earlier.” asked Dorjee, taking a seat.

“I can sense this weird sort of energy that is permeating the valley, covering the school that seems to want to magnify the tension between groups. It has been affecting everybody in the area and it is subtle enough to not be sensed by anybody else. I barely caught it. Winnie here was sort of able to get a rough fix on the energy and so she is going to lead us there and we are going to stop it. See, easy.” Chou grinned as if she had just made some sort of sense.

“And you needed four of us to do this?” asked Dorjee, a bit confused.

“Well, I kind of figured that it might be protected by something, as it feels like a type of dark magic and you and I can fight with Rythax, Molly can figure the damn spell out and Winnie might be able to weaken it so it can be destroyed. Mostly I am being cautious. I really am not expecting anything to happen.”

Dorjee turned to face Winnie, who flinched back a little, being face to face with one of the toughest Sophomores in the school. “And you are okay with this?”

“M-m-molly t-t-t-told me th-that w-we should-d-d be f-f-fine.” stuttered Winnie, clearly intimidated by the Tibetan boy.

“Okay. I’m ready to go.” Chou smiled and gave him a quick hug. Dorjee’s frown vanished and he blushed a little.

They all stood and headed outside in the direction of where the energy was felt. Once they reached the sight of Chou’s fight with Nex, Winnie pulled out her three dimensional Lo Pan compass. She got everything set and concentrated. The needle moved and then locked on a point. She opened her amber eyes and looked towards the tree line. “A-are y-you s-s-sure th-this is ok-kay?”

Chou nodded. “This should be fine. Besides, if there is a problem I can call Team Kimba for backup. Besides no one messes with Tennyo and Fey. We should be just fine.”

“I-I-I m-m-meant w-w-with S-security.”

Chou thought for a moment. There were rules about going past the barrier line and into the woods proper, but she had never listened to them and as a Security assistant surely she could do this. “We should be. And if something happens, I’ll take the blame.”

With that, they set off towards the trees, Dorjee in the lead with Winnie right behind him, then Molly and Chou coming up in the rear. Once they hit the tree line, Molly called forth Rythax. He had been briefed earlier about the plan and had come out a little larger than panther sized. While the others crunched through the snow, he padded softly on top and didn’t leave a print. Chou growled about that and earned a chuckle from the Shadowcat.

Winnie stopped them several times and their direction changed a few times, as it was as if the spell site was resisting the compass’s needle. She rested her hand on Chou a few times to better feel the oily energy and they continued into the woods. They were almost to the barrier when Winnie led them into a small clearing of trees. They stood just outside of the clearing and could almost feel the malevolence coming out of the space.

Chou looked at it and drew her sword. Winnie started a little to be so close to the sword that had almost cut Bombshell in half. The Handmaid frowned at the clearing. “I wish the snow wasn’t there, so we could see what is on the ground.”

Molly smirked and said, “I think I can handle that.”

With that she centered herself and reached out with her power, “Igniarli, come!”

The air shimmered and the bright fire red salamander appeared, hovering in the air. It spotted Molly, giggled and said, “Summoner! You called?”

“Yes. Could you melt the snow here? We want to see the ground.” asked Molly politely.

“Certainly Summoner. I can do that. There is heavy magic here.” The creature replied, slowly turning in a circle.

“We know that. Thank you.”

The salamander danced above the snow and the flames coming from his body increased in heat and brightness, until the others had to shield their faces. The snow melted as did some of the dirt and leaves covering things. The salamander came in front of Molly when it was done and giggled. “Done Summoner!”

“Thank you Igniarli. You have been a great help.” The salamander vanished and the group looked into the clearing.

Chou frowned as she couldn’t see anything, but Molly and Winnie were whistling their amazement at what they were seeing. The two girls moved about, trying to get a better angle at what they were looking at. The spell they could see was incredibly complex and sigils wove around the lines of the seven-pointed star at the center of the circle. They were trying to figure out what it was that they were looking at.

“Well?” asked Chou a bit impatiently.

“Bladedancer, hush. This is very complex and Geomancer and I are trying to figure it out. Rythax, do you have an idea?” snapped Gateway.

“Sorry.” replied Bladedancer, properly chastised by her girlfriend.

“Well, this spell looks like something from before the Sundering. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with this type of magic. I can tell that two mages worked this spell, one male and one female.” commented Rythax, sitting back and looking down at the spell.

“Th-th-there is a l-lot of en-n-nergy going i-i-into th-this.” said Geomancer.

Gateway looked closer and they said, “Wait, I have seen that symbol before. I think it is Hekate’s seal, tying her to the spell.”

“What?!” blurted Bladedancer, clearly surprised at that revelation.

Gateway kept peering at the spell, trying to make the symbols make sense to her. “I have no idea what the spell is supposed to do, but I think the oily energy effecting people is a secondary or tertiary effect. I don’t know what the main thing is but it can’t be good.”

Bladedancer looked into the clearing and asked, “How much power is in that thing?”

Gateway frowned, “A lot.”

“It is true Bladedancer, I am afraid your usual method for dealing with this might cause a massive backlash right into you.” stated Rythax. “I am sorry I can tell you no more detail on the spells construction.”

Bladedancer pondered this. She tried to activate her spot, to call Fey but all she got was static, which confused her. She frowned and looked at where the spell should be. “Geomancer, can you pull energy from the spell?”

“I th-th-think so.” Geomancer used her compass to find lines of power that had been shifted to this spot. Once she did that she stretched out a hand and sort of grabbed the ley lines. She was using her power to move the lines away from the spell, to weaken the magic. She could tell things were working but then the circle flashed.

The other spun to see what had just changed, as the air had grown noticeably colder instantly. Six humanoid creatures rose from the earth, creatures with unnaturally long muscular arms ending in claws that glistened wetly with ooze. The wide head had evil looking solid red eyes and the pointed ears had tufted hair coming off them. The wide mouth held several rows of sharp teeth. Their legs were not as long or as muscular as the arms, but they had spines coming out of the knees. They all roared out a challenge and rushed in.

Chain Lightning snapped his power out and wrapped one creature’s arms, binding them together. Its body shook convulsively as he pushed at full power, ozone filling the air with the smell of burning flesh. It screamed, a truly inhuman sound.

Geomancer froze at the sound, her eyes wide with fear. She was tackled to the ground by Gateway, who screamed as a claw from a near by creature slashed her back. With a roar of his own, Rythax leapt and dragged down the creature, jaws locked onto its throat.

Bladedancer slashed through one creature’s arm up by the shoulder, black ichor pouring out instead of blood. It still rushed her and Bladedancer felt claws tear at her left arm, the cut burning unnaturally. She kept moving, trying to dodge the one remaining arm and to get a good shot to drop this thing. Gateway’s scream of pain spurred her on, ignoring a few more cuts on her body to lop the creature in front of her’s head off.

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“So the class is going well?” asked Ito, sipping some tea.

Dyffud nodded. “Yeah. All of them seem to be getting something out of this, not only Miss Lee, but the Chandler girl and Miss Riley as well. The other classes are going nicely as well. This has been fun so far and I have been enjoying myself. A lot of them are opening up, which is good. The fewer students that blow up the better.”

“How is Tennyo doing?”

“She is doing much better since that Sim disaster. She has a number of issues to deal with, but things are helping. Don’t worry about her. Mostly I am worried about Miss Lee.”

“Oh… what about Miss Lee?” asked Ito, leaning forward interestedly.

“She has amazing potential I am just a bit unsure about what I can do to help draw it out of her.” Dyffud had some of his tea. “She seems to have a number of things holding her back and those need to be dealt with before she will truly shine.”

Ito sat back, pondering the issue. “The problem is that she is being pulled in differing directions. The Tao has asked her to kill someone and that is pretty heavy for a fifteen year old. She has lost her father and has been struggling to cope with being a changeling. It is no wonder that she is fighting herself most of the time.”

Dyffud nodded. “I am just worried about what might happen after I leave. I have talked with her mentor and she said she is working on things but has a much longer view of things. I am worried now about what she is going to do is she does not really get the help she needs to get her body, mind and spirit to work in concert with each other. If she doesn’t fix this problem something or someone is going to kill her.”

“She is more than a Baseline, like yourself, both of you fitting into your own categories. There are good reasons for both of you to have been here.” replied Ito.

“I know, trust me I know. She kind of reminds me of myself, only not as serious.”

“She is more serious than you would think. She has actually calmed down since she has been here which is a good thing. Back in late November, a number of us were worried that she might be getting suicidal, but she has improved and is a great deal calmer.” informed Ito, smiling in recollection. “She needs help, to be sure, but not as much as she needed it.”

Dyffud shook his head, thinking abut the complicated puzzle this girl was. He needed to make his way through to ensure she was doing better before he left.

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Geomancer kept wrestling with the lines of power, as she tried to move them away from the spell. They needed this spell to be weakened when they destroyed it or it might hurt them, much like it was now. Gateway turned on Geomancer’s back to face the other monsters and shouted, “Igniarli! Come!!”

With a giggle, the creature of elemental fire spun into existence. “Summoner!”

“Help!!” The scream was filled with need as she was knocked off Geomancer by one of the creatures with a blow to the head. Gateway tumbled to a painful stop against a tree and vomited from the pain. She had to get back there to protect Geomancer. She stumbled forward towards what was becoming a blurry pillar of flame as the salamander danced over and through the monsters body. A swipe from Rythax dropped the thing to the ground.

The creature Chain Lightning had bound burst from his electrical bonds and dove at the Tibetan boy, bringing a clawed hand down at his head. He threw up a hard block and there was a snap as the arms met. Chain Lightning dropped to one knee, still holding back the clawed hand and lashed the creature with lots of electricity, the sparks dancing all over the creature again, making it scream out. Its body began to smoke and then it toppled to the ground.

Bladedancer turned to face another attacking monster, blocking claws with Destiny’s Wave. She flung out a prayer sheet that hit the creature in the face right as she felt this burning sensation bore through her ribcage. As the chi empowered spell exploded into its face blasting it backwards, a claw pulled free from her chest. Her breathing became labored as she heard a faint wet whistling from her side. She gritted her teeth and followed up her attack, throwing another explosive prayer sheet at the creature. It dodged and moved back towards her, hissing.

Geomancer rose to her knees and pulled at the minor ley lines that were fueling the spell, screaming in frustration. The exertion was making her muscles tremble, as they seemed to be actively resisting her. She gritted her teeth angrily, sweat beading on her forehead, and yanked one of the lines clear right as a tree exploded on the other side of the circle.

The creature leaping for Chain Lightning shuddered for a moment and then was dropped back by the lightning bolts the solidly built Tibetan boy launched at it. It fell onto it’s back and Chain Lightning cast his chain around a leg, lighting the creature up with his power, though he held it one handed, cradling his broken left arm against him. The thing rolled up and lunged for him.

Gateway turned from the burning creature that was giving off a foul stench, staring around, trying to figure out which creature was which, but it was difficult, as her glasses were broken and had fallen somewhere in the snow, small lacerations from the glass around her eyes. She looked at the two remaining fighting forms and had trouble discerning them. She pointed at one and called out, “Igniarli, attack that creature.”

Bladedancer was gasping for air, trying to take a full breath and only half of her chest was responding. She coughed, spitting up blood, but she held her focus to the creature in front of her. Where was the Tao? Where was her mystical boost? She was getting her ass kicked all because she didn’t have that power behind her. Bladedancer dodged another swipe, getting another slash on her thigh that was bleeding freely. She managed to take an arm off the creature but it still moved in, looking to grab and bite her head off.

A backhand from the creature slammed into Chain Lightning, slamming him back into the trees. It stunned him and as he looked up at the rushing creature he knew that there was no salvation for him. He calmed his soul and awaited his death. Suddenly the monster burst into flames, the salamander dancing through its body. The screams were terrible.

A black blur moved through the air and knocked the creature from Bladedancer, with Rythax yelling, “Kill the spell!”

Not wasting any time, the Handmaid spun, faced the spell, which she could now make out and pulled her energy into perfect alignment. She breathed in as deeply as she could through the pain and felt power fill her. She focused it into Destiny’s Wave and slashed through the spell, breaking the structure that was keeping it in place. Once the lines of mystical energy snapped there were a huge flash of darkness and a roar as the power blasted them all tumbling from the clearing.

Gateway had managed to get behind Geomancer, and so hurt extra from the additional body weight slamming into her when she impacted with a tree. Rythax stood firm through the blast, finishing off the creature he faced while Bladedancer and Chain Lightning slammed backwards into trees. Bladedancer fell to the ground, the pain whiting out her senses. Chain Lightning remained standing, as a broken branch had pierced his side.

Then the clearing was silent. Geomancer shifted the other energy lines away, making sure there was no residual energy there for anything to make use of. She stood and checked with her compass. “Y-y-you d-d-d-did it-t-t!”

Chou vomited in response. Molly got to her feet and rushed to her soulmate, feeling phantom pains of what Chou was dealing with. She helped her to a sitting position. “Are you okay?”

The Asian girl gasped out, “Fine. Help Dorjee.”

Molly bit her lip, unsure but then nodded and rushed over to her rival. Dorjee was white faced when she reached him. The wound to his side was trickling blood and his left arm was clearly broken. Molly bit her lip and tried to figure out what to do. He looked at her and said through gritted teeth, “Cut the branch at the back. Leave it in.”

Molly ran over and grabbed Destiny’s Wave. “Come on lady, help me cut this.”

The blade cleanly severed the wood with little shock to Dorjee. He remained standing, leaning heavily against the tree. Winnie stood wide-eyed at the damage that the people had come with her had. She had never seen so much blood.

Chou activated her Spot, having been completely unable to do so earlier and hoping that it worked now. <Uh… help.>

Several voices at once jammered on the line. Hank yelled out, <Quiet! What’s wrong?>

<Need medical help. Now.> gasped Chou, part of her body refusing to give her air.

<Where are you?>

<Towards boom. Unh…> Chou winced as she struggled to her feet. “Come on.”

Rythax supported Dorjee as Molly helped Chou. Winnie followed behind, clutching her lo pan compass, shocked by what had occurred. Chou smiled faintly when Nikki’s voice came over the spots, saying, <Help is on the way.>

Chou grumbled. “You know, we really need to learn how to do this right before next time or we could really get hurt.”

Rythax chuckled some, “Actually, you did better than I expected. Those creatures are known as Vendahl. There were creatures tainted by the Great Old Ones into monstrous killing machines. If you were any less skilled you could have all died.”

“D-d-d-d-d-died?!” stammered Winnie.

Molly glared at the Shadowcat and growled out, “Way to be helpful Rythax.”

“Sorry.”

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Chou was lying on the bed, hooked up to a number of things, that were monitoring her health, grumbling about the need to suck blood from her lung. That was really irritating. She had made it out of that fight with a punctured lung, three broken ribs, a sprained ankle she didn’t remember getting, lots of cuts and maybe a concussion. Dorjee had a broken arm, ribs, and lots of cuts as well, not to mention the puncture in his side. Molly was mostly bruised and dealing with a minor concussion, on top of aggravating earlier injuries. The cut was new but it had been thankfully shallow. Winnie only had bumps and bruises and had already been sent back to her dorm room. Anna had apparently come by to collect her.

Cascade was in another room, healing Dorjee and she was last on the list for healing. She sighed and tried to relax, as the pain killers she was on held most of the pain at bay.

The door boomed open and in strode a very angry Chief Delarose. “What the fuck were you doing?!”

Chou blushed and looked away, “Sorry. I was just trying to figure out where this weird energy source was coming from. I found it and was working on taking it apart when all hell broke loose.”

“Slow down and start from the beginning. What exactly happened?” said Delarose, glaring at the girl in the bed.

Chou explained about finding the energy, what it felt like and what it was doing and how she followed it to its source. She explained everything that happened there, from the identification of the signatures to the creatures to the aftermath. By the time she was finished, Delarose was pinching the bridge of his nose for relief from the headache that was building.

He sighed and muttered, “You will be the death of me.”

In a louder voice he replied, “Okay, so you found this. Did you ever think of telling Security? Did you ever think, once you found it that maybe, just maybe someone on staff might be able to figure out what the spell did and be able to identify more than Hekate’s sigil? Did you think that we might just be interested in what was going on?”

Chou was crying softly from the realization that she had screwed up and had put the lives of those she loved in danger as well as Winnie who had almost no business being there. She sniffled out, “No, I didn’t.”

“No you didn’t. That was evidence that you destroyed and we could have learned a great deal about that spell if you had just left it alone. I am not taking you off Auxiliary status but you have to think. You were leading those people right into something you all had no business dealing with. They could have died, and so could have you. Think Miss Lee, you aren’t an idiot.”

He stood and straightened his uniform. “I am going to inform the Headmistress of this and Circe is already trying to sift through the magical residue for clues. Rest up.”

Chou lay back, tears still falling. She had screwed up but everyone had been so amazing in that fight. Molly had actually managed to protect Winnie. It was impressive. Things had felt right while they were working together and that was a good thing. Maybe things had not been as bad as she had thought.

An orderly brought her in some lunch and Chou smiled weakly. They had screwed up but there was hope for them yet.

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On the walk back to Poe, Chou could already feel the change in the atmosphere. She felt far better than she had when she had left that small clearing. I was a little after two in the afternoon and she just wanted to go back to her room and fall over. As she was nearing the building the girls of Team Kimba bustled out, hugging her en mass. Chou groaned in pain and the others backed off, all apologizing at the same time.

Chou chuckled, “Can I just get up to my room before you kill me?”

Hank picked up the tired girl bridal style, as she weighed pretty much nothing to him. Chou eeped and grabbed on to him, “Hank, what are you doing?”

“Relax. This isn’t going to hurt.” Hank rolled his eyes. “You looked almost ready to fall over. Rest up. Besides, Molly told us all what happened, so come on hero, just accept it.”

Chou sighed and relaxed into Hank’s arms sort of wishing they were Dorjee’s instead. He was Exemplar enough to do this as well and she would have enjoyed it. Unfortunately for her, Toni noticed the blushing, “Aw… you’re blushing. I know that Hank is a hunk, but are you attracted to him as well?”

Chou flipped Toni off as they made their way upstairs. After she had been put on her bed, everyone packed into the room to hear things. Chou related the story again, from her point of view and people looked rather stunned. Fey grumbled, “So that bitch had something sitting here this whole time?”

“Well, not anymore. It is taken care off.” She winced slightly as she moved.

“I guess. Whatever you have done certainly released something. The air feels clearer some how. It is kind of hard to explain. The air seems… less oppressive.” commented Nikki.

“Then I guess I did my job. My biggest worry was that when we were fighting, the Tao didn’t help me at all.” complained Chou and she shifted a bit more, to get comfortable.

“And you still beat them?” asked Jade worriedly.

Chou nodded. “Yeah, and I got really hurt in the process. Without the Tao supporting me I am just a plain old baseline.”

Hank looked at her funny. “You’re joking right? Please tell me you are joking? Chou, think of all we do in the sims. The Tao doesn’t help you there, does it?”

“Well… no.” admitted Chou.

“Then you are not just a plain baseline. You keep up with all of us and are a valuable member of this team, with or without the Tao. Dn’t dump on yourself because you don’t have powers. Sensei Ito doesn’t have any and look what he can do.”

Chou looked thoughtful. “I guess you’re right. I just feel so outclassed all the time, that’s all.”

“Girl, you are crazy, you are the only one who can really keep up with me.” chided Toni. “And here I was going to get you a coke.”

“Don’t be mean.” groused Jade, frowning at Toni with great displeasure.

“Thanks Jade.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Get some rest. Want us to bring you something from dinner?” asked Hank, being responsible since no one else was really doing that.

“Check on me first, please.” asked Chou.

“Will do. Relax and rest up.”

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Molly came back with Ayla, bringing her dinner. Ayla was carrying his and Molly’s food and was frowning. When Molly handed her a container with the spaghetti with meat sauce, she looked happy. Ayla did not look as pleased and complained about it. “Pasta needs to be _al dente_, not cooked into a starchy mélange! And that red sauce. Ugh! You'd think they'd never cooked garlic before. Is that ground beef in there? No ground pork? Nothing else? Gah!”

“So, you got the spaghetti?” teased Chou.

Ayla shivered as if someone had just walked over her grave. “No. If you must know, I got what passes as a salad. Everything else looked nasty.”

Molly laughed. “He disparaged the salad on the walk back. It was great. He used wilty several times.”

“Well, the salad was wilty at spots. And the dressing clearly has too much oil and…”

Chou laughed and then groaned, as her ribs were still hurting massively. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“Sorry Chou.” apologized Ayla, grabbing a drink for Chou from the fridge. “I just really hate poorly prepared food.”

“Then just be glad you never ate at a regular school. It would kill you.” teased Molly. “The greasy pizza slabs would do it by themselves.”

Ayla shook in disgust. “Please stop.”

Chou smiled. “Thanks for this.”

Molly smiled back. “Well, I wanted to make sure you were okay. I’m not gonna stay over as too much cuddling might hurt you.”

“Well, there is that.”

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Chou was startled awake by the sound of Ayla waking up from what had to be a nightmare. She frowned and wondered if she should get up and talk to him about it. She wasn’t sure so she just lay there as Ayla moved about, obviously calming himself down. From the sound of things everything was alright. With a soft sigh that wasn’t loud enough to hear, Chou wished her roommate well and went back to sleep.

Sunday 21 January 2007

Chou frowned at her reflection. She looked stupid.

Ayla came in from the shower, looked over and smiled, “You look all nice and dressed up. What’s the occasion?”

“Church.” Chou’s voice was flat. She looked so strange in the dress and felt like a guy in a dress more so than the young woman she was. The hose and flats felt awkward as she was so much more comfortable in her yoga pants and mandarin shirts than this stuff, though she was getting used to skirts after the fall semester. The shopping trip had helped as well. Now she tended to look more girl than tomboy. It was a bit weird, but it wasn’t like she had any choice in the matter.

“Church?” asked Ayla. “Why?”

“Nightbane wanted to take me to church to listen to the Reverend. I think it is some sort of Goober test.” groused Chou, as she made sure everything was ready.

“Well, don’t let it make you too insane, besides we have the tea party today so that should help.”

“Thanks Ayla, that helps. Well, wish me luck.”

“Good luck and don’t kill her yet.”

Chou chuckled as she pulled on her lightweight jacket, Destiny’s Wave, and her magical bag. Too many screwy things had happened since she had arrived here to make her do much of anything unarmed. Apparently, paranoia was on the curriculum.

By the time she reached the first floor, Sarah was just arriving. Chou smiled, “Shall we?”

“Great.” Sarah was excited, as if they were going to the best thing ever.

They walked the short distance to the schools chapel, a seldom used building on the outer ring that had been part of the original campus before it had become a school for supers. Chou walked to it nervously, almost as if she were walking into a trap. This just didn’t feel right.

There were not a lot of people there, maybe forty or fifty students and Chou recognized several of them. It also looked as if the majority of the Goobers were there as well, near the front. They went, took their seats and shortly the service started.

Chou had to admit that Reverend Englund was a good preacher. He was better than the minister that had been a her church back in Knoxville and he had been fairly decent, not to anti anything for her. There had been a few visiting ministers that had been there for revivals and such that had really been a pain, one even going so far as to irritate the organ player, who had stood up in the middle of that service and said, “I have tattoos, I have piercing, I’m gay and God loves me.”

That had been an exceptional service. The organ player stayed and the visiting minister had been asked to leave. It had been a nice church. But this service, this was a lot different than what she had expected.

“We are sinners in the hand of an angry God. Jonathan Edwards had that mostly right. The mere pleasure of God does keep us from falling into the fires of Hell, a place very real as many of us know and demonic forces walk the earth and prey on the innocent, evil fills men’s hearts and they turn on each other, onto their brothers and sisters without regard. Humanity First claims that mutants, like all of you here today, are the very spawn of Satan himself, but is that the greater truth, is that the truth that Christ brought us?

Chou squirmed in her seat. This was not what she wanted to hear. This felt like some sort of an attack, though no powers were being used.

“It is true that ghosts and monsters haunt the land. They have been here as far as the memory of man goes and even as far as the memory of the reborn Sidhe. There are forces out there that are not merely content with corruption of souls but the destruction of all creation. We, we are the souls that are trapped here upon this good earth in the midst of a war between titanic forces. There are mutants on both sides of this war, some fighting for the greater good, like Champion and there are others, who are clearly fighting for a greater evil, such as Professor Reaper. There are regular people on both sides of this as well. No one is immune in this war.

“We are here, sinners that we are, flawed human beings pulled by these forces. Our choices shape who we are and it is through our poor choices that we turn away from good, like Eve did, like Adam did, like we all do. Now, some of the students here will go on to side with the forces of darkness, some with the forces of light, but most will not choose sides and instead fight the fight they want, never committing themselves to any true noble purpose. In the book of Matthew, chapter seven, verses thirteen and fourteen it is said, ‘Enter through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to damnation is wide, the road is clear, and many choose to travel it. But how narrow is the gate that leads to life, how rough the road, and how few there are who find it.’ This fight has been with us for all time and Jesus abhorred us to join in that battle, to walk that rough road and reach the kingdom.

The Reverend was looking at her when he said that and she squirmed a little more in her seat. She felt as if she were being attacked. And did the Bible really say that? Did it really imply what was being said?

“All of us have the power to fight this evil, to turn away from our sinner’s nature and fight for God and to turn his wrath to those who deserve it and not at us poor souls who are struggling to get past the temptations of daily life. If we try, if we struggle to turn away from bad choices and to embrace God, everything will work out. In this battle we should always be mindful of Matthew seven, verses one and two where Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ And also in John eight, verse seven where Jesus said, ‘So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’

Chou almost had to laugh at that as the Reverend had clearly cast his stone at Sara, just because she happened to be a demon. This man had turned the campus into a war zone and injured many people, even costing one teacher’s death. Was that action the action of someone following these scriptures?

“It is not an angry God that we serve. This God offers us salvation as a gift. In Acts two, verses thirty-six through thirty-eight it is said that, ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ Does that gift sound like the act of an angry God? If we repent our sinner’s ways and as reborn in the blood of Christ, the light shall fill us and strengthen us.

This didn’t sound right to her. This was not about reaching a balanced harmony within yourself, this was about moving completely into the Yang and neglecting the Yin. This was not right. This was something that only added to the chaos. But hadn’t she believed in this before? Hadn’t this been a blessing and a heart warming truth before?

“To attain Heaven a soul must be washed clean of their sins and then strive to be worthy of Heaven. They must fight against the forces of evil in any way they can, they must fight to protect their fellow man from the darkness that walks the earth and most difficult of all they must fight to keep from falling back into sin. So what can we do, to reach the state of Grace necessary to be taken up into the loving hands of God? We must follow the laws of God, which are listed quite plainly in scripture. We must love God with all our hearts and souls and we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Sounds easy… right? But it is not.

“The Chinese Philosopher Confucius said, ‘Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it. The same is true for evil. Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon or star. Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.’ Everything and everyone has its evil. That is simply a fact in this demon haunted world. God knows the temptations we face, God knows the trials before us, knows of the deceptions of Satan. ‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do’. We will fall into sin, time and again, it is a fact of being alive, but if we get up, let God know we are still trying to live the good life, than that is indeed our greatest glory. If we turn away from evil and strive for the light we can say that we fight the good fight. We are on the course, and we are keeping the faith.

The fact that he had quoted Confucius made it clear that this sermon was for her, that he was trying to pull her closer but it only made her want to run. This was not what she had expected. She shifted again, as her sore ribs ached. This didn’t sit right with her but she wasn’t about to walk out. She had been taught better than this.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and in this case, that step in to find our strength to strive for good, for the light. Paul said, in his letter to the Philippians, ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ That strength is there to help all Christian to act in the name of God’s Love.

Chou gaped openly at his use of the Tao Te Ching. How could the man be so audacious. What the hell was his problem? Had this literally been written just for her?

“Jesus asked us to love or neighbors as we love ourselves. Love is shown in any manner of ways, devotion, caring, compassion, but also through action. If your neighbor does not have the strength to fight off evil, to fight against these demonic forces then you must fight for them. There is no greater love than to give your life for your fellow man. It is the reason that soldiers, firefighters, police officers and the like put themselves in harms way for the greater good. Those of us blessed with powers also put ourselves in harms way for the greater good. The choice before all of you is what you are fighting for.”

Again, this was directed directly at Chou. She swallowed dryly and wished she were somewhere else entirely. She could agree with that particular sentiment but this felt so unbalanced, so one sided. It made her skin crawl in discomfort. She did see the value of the Light but it needed its Balance to keep from being too much. Couldn’t these people see that?

“We can choose, like some of the students, to fight for the encroaching darkness or we can join with it, taking its mark upon their soul or we can choose to fight for the light, to drive back the dark, to make the world safe for your neighbor and to show your love for God in your actions. If you do not choose, but rather stand there in the grey area in between, you ultimately have chosen to turn you back on the forces of good and side with evil. Edmund Burke said, ‘All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.’ If you do nothing to stop the spread of evil, you are helping it succeed.”

“You know… Confucius also said ‘To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness.’ These are all things that would do us well in our struggle for the light. God asks no less than this of us. We are our brother’s keepers. We are here to look out for each other and to serve God. That service towards each other, that devotion to the Almighty Creator is what can make us poor sinners worthy of God’s love and embrace. God’s Anger will turn to Love and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This is the task before us, before us sinners and you must ask yourself… are you worthy? Let us pray.”

Chou shook a little, shaken by that sermon. It felt so wrong, so dirty as if it were missing something important, something vital, and something that was true. She tried to clear her head, she felt dirty, and she felt like a stranger in a house that was no longer her’s. It was a struggle to maintain her calm until the end of the service.

Once it was over, Chou turned to Sarah and said, “Thank you for inviting me but I don’t think this is what I need right now.”

“Why not? You don’t agree?” Sarah was looking at her curiously, as if trying to figure out how Chou could be so unhappy.

“I agree with some of that but not all of it. I used to be okay with some of this stuff, as I did go to a Baptist church back home in Knoxville, but now I’m Taoist and I have a different point of view.”

Before Sarah was able to come back with something, Reverend Englund walked up. He smiled genially and asked, “Sarah, who is your friend?”

“Reverend Englund, this is Chou Lee. Chou, Reverend Englund. He is the faculty advisor to the Goobers.”

Chou held out her hand, grounding herself, “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise. What did you think of today’s sermon?” The Reverend asked charmingly.

“Not my cup of tea, so to speak. I am Taoist and the imbalance of what you spoke of resonated with me. Sorry.” Chou shrugged and looked at her feet.

The Reverend laughed at that, “That is quite alright, young lady. My sermons are not everybody’s cup of tea, to borrow a phrase.”

Chou smiled weakly. “Thank you for having me. Sarah, I will talk to you later?”

“Sure thing Chou. Bye.”

Chou walked away, trying to keep from running. She had to stick to her part to the bitter end. She felt a shiver of disgust run up her back as she headed back to Poe. She had to get clean before that dirty feeling went to her soul. Thankfully, she had given a good excuse for avoiding church with the Reverend again.

Chou had to admit parts of the sermon were nice and talked about good things, but it’s over all effect on her had been downright bad. Sara had better be appreciating this.

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Chou was very glad that there was a sound dampening function Bunny had rigged on the new showers so she could scream her release several times, shuddering there at the end. She was so pleased by the new showers that Ayla had arranged for them that she could just kiss him. Would Vox kill her if she kissed Ayla? Probably. But it might actually be worth it, as she was more relaxed than she had been in a while. It was nice and something she could stand getting used to. Maybe just a big hug? A big hug should be nice. However, would that really be just enough thanks for this?

She turned off the shower and dried herself off, sighing happily, content with the world, the sexual buzz still rolling through her. Yes… a big hug for Ayla was definitely in order. She wrapped her towel around herself and pulled on her robe. Her eyes had that blissful glaze over them and she was mostly in her own little world. She entered the room and headed straight for her roommate. She hugged the boy from behind and sighed happily, “Thanks for the showers Ayla.”

There was the sound of someone clearing their throat and Chou began blushing when she realized that Vox had been sitting there the whole time. “I… uh… that is… thanks… showers.”

Vox just ignored her as other girls left the bathroom demo of the new showers and had to show their appreciation to Ayla as well. Chou collapsed bonelessly onto her bed and sighed happily. Life was so much better after that many orgasms. She heard Jade talking to Ayla and realized that she probably should inform her roommate of the other addition to the bathroom. With some effort, she lifted her head from her pillow and said, “Go check out the new signs in the bathroom.”

After that, she closed her eyes and fell asleep, truly relaxed on of the few times since she had left Knoxville.

Forty minutes later Ayla woke her, so they could get everything ready for the tea party.

Chou took a deep breath of the fragrant steam, letting the herbs calm her down after her uncomfortable morning. She had used to like church, back when she had been Alex, but this… this was something else. The sermon made her feel very uncomfortable and as if she wanted to leave. She had endured because she had to. Figuring out what the Goobers were up to was part of her task in protecting Sara. She took another breath of the steam and relaxed.

Once the cups were passed out the conversation wandered all over the place, including teasing Ayla, Chou decided to talk about something with the others. Ayla was gone, talking to Bunny about something but that was fine. It wasn’t like she hadn’t talked to him about what was going on with her. “Okay, everyone, I wanted to talk about Hua Mulan.”

“Like from the Disney movie?” asked Jade excitedly.

“Kinda. The real Hua Mulan was one of the Handmaids.” This got everyone’s attention. “The sword she took wasn’t her father’s but Destiny’s Wave. Apparently, she has the ability to mask her appearance. Anyway… she succeeded in her task by working together with others. You guys know Buffy right?”

Toni smirked and replied, “Not personally.”

“Or Biblically.” tossed in Hank, smirking as well.

Tennyo smacked Hank, who only chuckled. Fey rolled her eyes and said, “Go on.”

“Well, in a way the Handmaids and the Slayers have a lot in common. Tough jobs that most tackle alone, which often results in their death. The reason Buffy lasted as long as she did was the fact that she had friends helping her, backing her up and keeping her grounded. Hua Mulan had that, in the friends she had made in the Unit. This helped her to succeed in her task. I found out that my task, as the Handmaid is kind of open ended. From what I have gathered I have a lot of things to handle and the scope of it is pretty scary. I want to survive this, so I am going to need you all.” Chou was looking down into her half empty cup at the end; feeling nudged by the Tao and had no idea why.

Toni reached over and rested a hand on Chou’s shoulder. “It’s okay Chou, we are your friends and we’ll be there for you.”

Chou’s voice was almost a whisper when she said, “Even if I have to kill people?”

This brought a couple of people up short and they stared at each other wordlessly.

“Uh…” Jade was sounding suddenly worried, as she looked around at people. “You guys wouldn’t stop being our friends, just because we… just because some people died around us… would you?”

Chou was momentarily puzzled and cocked her head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, back in Kansas City? When Nikki and Cav and Sky and I took off, the base blew up behind us. The death toll was supposed to be like eighty or ninety people. I mean, they were all trying to kill us, but still…” Then she looked over at Billie. “And in Colorado, the knights of whatever it was – there were a lot of them. And none of ‘em got out alive.”

“I wasn’t really talking about that,” Chou said, quietly. “I didn’t mean by accident, or collateral damage. I meant up close and personal.”

“Oh, sure,” Jade agreed, understanding. “You mean, like the guys I sliced up with that blade. Or the guys I chewed through.”

“Exactly.” Chou nodded, then turned to look sharply at the smaller girl. “Chewed through?”

“Four of those ‘knight’ guys, in Colorado,” she admitted. “And in KC, the blade was Hekate’s athamé, and I went kind of nuts while I was inside it. I took out maybe three teams. That was fifteen guys.”

Chou looked alarmed, not having realized the full extent of the ‘adventures’ on the first telling. But sadly, “Those were all self-defense, weren’t they? What I meant—”

“I’ve been talking to Dr. Bellows,” Jade interrupted. “I’m thinking that maybe you should, too. At first, I was all, ‘Who cares? They were bad guys, and they deserved it.’ But he says I need to work through it, all the way through it. Whether or not it was justified.” She looked right into Chou’s eyes. “Maybe you should talk to him, too.”

Finally, Chou nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

She still felt the weight of the cold, premeditated murder. She wasn’t sure if her friends were ready to hear of the burdens the Tao imposed. But she felt a little more confident that they’d at least hear her out, once she was ready to speak to them about it.

Fey sat there calmly through all of that. The voice the came out was not her’s, but rather Aunghadhail’s, “You are linked to something that even the Five Fold Court only hesitantly tapped into. It is an old Force, Primal and chthonic, perhaps as old as or older than the Great Old Ones. It has always had reasons for its actions, but no one has really known why it does what it does or even what it is. There were people in the Courts who used to be somewhat connected to this force, who did various things but before the cataclysm they were all killed. Thus, this task of yours is filled with danger and it makes sense that you would have to kill. This is fine.”

Chou shook her head and chuckled mirthlessly. “Thanks. I am still trying to accept the fact that I might have to kill things besides monsters. Killing things like the Voodoo Wolves or ghosts and demons is one thing, killing a person… that’s another.”

The silence was filled with several people drinking their tea, to help them center themselves. Tennyo said, “I kind of understand. I mean, I have so much power that I can kill people accidentally, including you guys. That really isn’t a good feeling.”

“Don’t worry Chou, we will still be your friends.” stated Jade definitively.

“Absolutely.” said Jinn. “We won’t abandon you.”

Chou smiled softly. “Thank you. I just really needed assurance that my friends would still be there. I was worried.”

Molly hugged Chou and kissed her on the cheek. Chou blushed and drank her tea.

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Chou sighed as she walked through the cold, feeling her muscles stretch happily. Caitlin had given her a lot to chew on and of course more things to buy. It was getting to the point where she felt she was going to end up like Ayla with all the crap in the world at her disposal. Things were changing in her life and a lot of them felt good but others she was unsure of.

Without any conscious choice, Chou headed to the one place in the surrounding area where she was positive she could have the time to think to herself without being interrupted by roommates, psychotic upperclassmen, demonic forces, or anything else that might choose to plague her. The Grove did not mind her presence and it would feel nice to be there again, surrounded by that warm natural force. It soothed her.

The difference was felt immediately and her step lightened. As she moved deeper into the ancient woods her thoughts turned to deeper things, now that she was assured the time to work things out. She began to talk to herself, “What the hell am I doing? I am surrounded by people who can kick my ass and even kill me without too much effort if the Tao doesn’t decide to step in. The Sims have shown me just how woefully prepared I am to deal with this crap and it isn’t like I can just give the sword back.”

“No, you cannot. But haven’t you learned yet that power isn’t everything?” asked Destiny’s Wave.

Chou sighed. “You know, that is so hard to believe at this school.”

“I know the school is all about powers and such, but look at it honestly, when you fought that spell yesterday it was the one whose power seemed useless that prevailed and saved you all. You had the skill to fight Nex. Dyffud has learned some amazing things and that has helped him to become just as powerful as basically any other mutant or other person out there. It is never just about the power. Look at Ito, he routinely beats much more powerful students. Skill trumps power.”

“What do you mean?” asked Chou.

“If you look in terms of power, Toni should have beaten Dyffud. She can do some amazing things with Chi, things that take people years to learn. However, the truth is, people have taken years to learn these things can sometimes be more effective with them.” explained the sword.

Chou had reached the center of the Grove and she sat down on the protected ground, smiling and patting the earth lovingly. Destiny’s Wave continued, “Toni, sees everything as a Chi trick and so that’s what she uses to solve everything. Dyffud uses something appropriate to each moment. He has a number of tricks up his sleeve and that is why he wins. He has the skill and the experience to do more with less. That is how you can beat these powers, with skill and experience.”

“I guess. I just don’t feel all that skilled.” muttered Chou.

Chou was surprised to hear the sword snort. “If you are not skilled, how did you manage to survive the Simulator incident removed from the Tao or the fight yesterday?”

Chou was about to retort but then she paused thoughtfully. “Okay… you have me there.”

“Think about this, in the Sims, the other Kimba people all work with their powers but you do just as much as they do yet with skill and determination alone. That is what you have to remember. And they all said this to you as well.”

With a nod, Chou said, “Okay. You win.”

“Naturally, I have the experience.” This got both of them laughing. “One thing I have noticed is that you might have a chance to gain experience where few other Handmaids have been able to.”

Chou sobered instantly, “What do you mean?”

“There have been times that some Handmaids have failed because they did not learn fast enough. You are in a unique position, that of having people who will support you in your role and time to learn what you need to. That may help you succeed where so many others failed. I know of no other Handmaid who had the kind of support you could marshal if you needed to.” mused the sword.

“So you think I should maybe keep my little team together?” asked Chou a bit nervously.

“Certainly. After all, if you do not need to leave here for several years, you could become a formidable force. It is at least worth considering.”

Chou bit her bottom lip. “I’ll talk to Molly.”

Chou sighed and relaxed in the silence, away from all the people on campus. She had missed the silence that she had gotten on the road up from Knoxville and girls seemed to talk all the time. She was still not utterly used to that. Even the changeling girls tended to talk all the time. Some, like Toni, never shut up. This was a nice sanctuary from it all.

Destiny’s Wave broke the silence saying, “You know… I was thinking about something that might help you?”

“What’s that?”

“Maybe a dream quest will help you figure out what is in store for you. Those can help you see what is before you and know where to go from there.”

“I’ll think about that. I would like to know what the deal is with me. Now shhh…. I’m going to meditate and enjoy the silence.” said Chou quietly, enjoying the fact that she had shushed an ancient magical weapon.

“Certainly. And good luck figuring out what to do about Dorjee.”

“You know… you’re not much of a help right now.” grumbled Chou, lying back onto the ground. “What the hell should I do?”

“What does your gut say?” asked the sword.

“To have both of them.” admitted Chou, blushing. She breathed in deeply. The Chi of the Grove was incredible and always made her feel better after each visit.

“Then be with both.”

“But that is a bad thing. You are supposed to be with only one person.” protested Chou, arguing against herself.

“According to who? Chou, you make your own choices. You are the Handmaid, you can do most anything you want. This is an easy one so don’t worry. Love both of them if you can.” The sword sounded quite normal and that helped Chou relax.

“You really think I can do this?” worriedly asked Chou, playing with her red coat.

“Yes Chou, you really can. This is not a good thing or a bad thing. This is about Love and that rarely follows rules.”

Chou nodded. “Thank you.”

The sword’s voice was very maternal when she said, “No problem Chou. It is what I am here for.”

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Chou and Molly walked down one of the tunnels, back to the room where they had dinner before. Molly was quite excited to be doing this again. “Do you know what Ayla got us?”

Chou shook her head. “I have no idea. I guess that we will find out soon.”

They reached the door in question and knocked on it. Jade was there and she opened the door. “Hi guys.”

Molly looked confused. “Jade, what are you doing here?”

“I will be your wait staff tonight. So right this way.”

The table was set and looked really nice. A pair of gloves with Jann or someone in them pulled out one seat while Jade pulled out another. They then put the napkins into the two girl’s laps. Jade then stood next to the table, “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“Water please.” said Molly, smiling at Jade with a touch of amusement.

“Water as well.”

“Very good. For tonight’s meal we start with a spring greens salad with a roasted walnut and raspberry balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The soup is a vegetarian pasta e fagoli with herb foccacia on the side. The main course is Blue Hubbard squash ravioli with a vegetarian puttanesca sauce, with a round of cheese polenta on the side. For dessert, we have a lovely pumpkin crème brulee and decaf cappuccino.” While Chou and Molly blinked in surprise with the tastiness that had been mentioned, Jade and Jann brought over the salad.

The sounds of eating and moaning in pleasure with the taste of the foods filled the room. When they had finally reached the entrée, they were served a sparkling white grape juice that went well with the food they had. There was very little conversation, as the two girls were too busy enjoying the meal that Ayla had arranged for them.

When it was over, the two walked through the tunnels to an exit spot that would take them to Poe, where they were having couples movie night with Ayla and Vox as well as Sara and Hippy. It sounded like it would be fun. Halfway to the dorm, Chou stopped and turned to face Molly. Chou looked at her nervously and said, “Molly, I wanted to let you know that I don’t want to choose between you right now. I want to give us a shot first.”

“You and I us or us us.” asked Molly, a bit worried.

“Us us. If it doesn’t work out, then it is goodbye Dorjee and just the two of us. I just want to give it an honest try first. Okay?” Chou looked at Molly nervously, smiling faintly.

“Well, I can’t say that I am happy with that but I will give it a shot. I just don’t want to loose you.” fretted Molly.

“How could you loose me? You are my heart and soul. I will always be with you, come what may.” stated Chou, with honest belief in the absolute truth of her words.

Molly smiled at her, remembering the bit from Moulin Rouge about the secret song. She replied, “Come what may.”

The two entered the dorm together, holding hands as they went upstairs.

Monday 22 January 2007

The large man walked directly to the office he was headed towards, not even bothering with little trifles like talking to the receptionist. He was a man with a purpose and nothing would stand in his way. A swift knock on the door brought a look of surprise from Hartford, who hadn’t heard anybody walk up and a loud ‘Come!’ from inside.

Guan Yu walked in, dressed in a nice Hong Kong cut three-piece suit all in shades of deep blue. “Miss Carson, I have come to talk to you about my charges training.”

Amelia stood and walked over swiftly. “Now see here sir, what gives you the right to barge in here and…”

Miss Carson raised a hand to stop Amelia. “It’s okay Amelia. Thank you.”

As Miss Hartford headed back to her desk, Guan Yu stood there as immovable as a mountain. Just looking at him made her wonder if her power as Lady Astarte would even faze him. “How can I help you sir?”

“I came to speak with you concerning the training of Chou Lee. It has been pointed out that her current Mentor is not as well versed in the Martial Arts as expected and I was wondering what you were doing to ensure that she is being properly trained in the Arts of War.” Guan Yu’s deep voice rumbled some.

“I assure you that she is being properly trained and educated…”

“She has not been as her first teacher was a pompous fool and now her Mentor tries but lacks a true understanding of the warrior’s Art. How are you going to handle this?” challenged Guan Yu, glaring right back at the heroine.

It was Lady Astarte that stood up from her desk, eyes blazing in mounting anger. However, before she could say anything Gunny Bardue stormed into the room, holding a clipboard filled with papers. “Elizabeth, I need your signature on several of these range supply issues.”

He pulled up short, noticing both the massive body standing where he had been heading and the tension that filled the air. He quickly put two and two together and reached eight. “Excuse me, you are standing in my spot.”

The two glowering individuals turned and faced the Gunny. “I said you are standing in my spot.”

Guan Yu raised an eyebrow as he looked at the tall well built man.

“Is there a problem, or are you blocking my path to correcting issues with my training ranges on purpose, sir?”

Guan Yu looked at him, as if he were appraising the individual standing behind him. “I am merely here to discuss the training of one of my charges.”

Bardue didn’t risk a glance to look at the Headmistress, but he had seen enough when he had come in. He had been aware that something was up when Hartford’s worried look turned to one of relief when he had walked up. That change only occurred on the few times things were not going well. “And who is your charge?”

“Chou Lee.”

Bardue didn’t react to the name visually, but he was familiar with the girl. Ever since she had beaten Nex and then freed Caitlin from the magic circle, he had kept an eye on her. She was a bit of an enigma to him as she seemed to be comfortable in a wide range of areas and was now training with Caitlin in firearms. He admired her skill and was looking forward to what she would be able to do in a few years, however there was no need to share that with this interloper. “So what's the problem? She's talented, but she's got hurdles to overcome. This is normal in case you've never actually taught children before.”

“Bah, like that is a problem, her earlier instructor failed her and I wish to ensure that she is given training that helps and not hurts.” Growled Guan Yu, looking down at Bardue.

“I'm going to give you a chance to explain, since you see fit to step into my house and insult my family, I will indulge you. Use small words, for I am old, and impatient.” Bardue came right back at him, not giving an inch.

“Very well. Her first instructor was not teaching her as she fought but rather as he fought, not caring about what she knew. We sent someone here to help but she is not a warrior. This has me worried. I had hopes but they have not been realized. The other Immortals say this place is excellent but I have yet to see that.” Guan Yu crossed his massive arms and continued to glower.

“If this pertains to general combat, I believe your charge has found a competent training partner among the student body, my God-Daughter in fact. Or were you speaking of a more specific discipline set?” asked Bardue, trying to find some way to deal with this that would cut Carson some slack.

“Her sword skills need development, but if she if being taught in the Art of War by someone skilled and experienced than I would be fairly pleased. What is their training?” asked the God of War, relaxing some as he recognized the military air of Gunny Bardue.

“That's between them, if Miss Lee or my God-daughter chooses to discuss it with you, that is their business, but I'm fairly sure swords have no part of it.”

“If the Handmaid chose her in order for her to learn the Art of War, than that speaks well of your God Daughter. I was inquiring as to her training and I would like to know yours as well.”

“Very well, what exactly are you seeking in an instructor, Sir, I understand you are picky, but there is such a thing as impossible standards. If you expect her motoring her way through the 101st Airborne any time soon, I'm pretty sure you're in for tragic disappointment.” commented Bardue.

“I am merely looking for someone to help her learn her sword work technically and in combat as well as to learn some of the true Art of War, so that she has skills that others of her line did not. I do not wish her to die before she can achieve what she was summoned to do.” stated Guan Yu, shifting slightly in order to relax more.

“I'm the primary rifle instructor and Simulation Crisis manager. I set up the killboxes where kids practice using their skills and powers in a controlled, realistic setting.”

Guan Yu nodded at this. “And your training?”

Gunny Bardue narrowed his eyes at that. He pointed to the rank on his uniform and the Smokey the Bear hat he was sporting as if it were patently obvious. “I am a Marine Corp Drill Instructor, please, tell me you've never heard of us.”

Carson lowered her head and groaned, “Please don't tell him that.”

Guan Yu smiled in realization, “Ah... yes, the United States Marine Corp, you kind fought valiantly in what you call the Second World War. You did this as well in Vietnam. I was impressed by your military units tenacity.”

“And we only get meaner and saltier each year.” finished Bardue. He turned to face the Headmaster and said, “Boss, I got this. I’ll get your girl a proper teacher, so long as he or she gives her the technical skills you and yours are to stay off the campus except on designated family days. Comprendé? You coming in and telling us how to run our school is beginning to wear thin on our collective patience. And no more poking my combat instructors! You're pissing me off!”

Guan Yu smiled slightly. “I like you. You remind me of Brother Zhang Fei.”

Headmistress Carson suddenly realized that she had found a way out of this mess. Gunny was taking the bullet for her. She was going to see to it that he got all of his range needs for a while. “I see you two have a fair handle on this problem, why don't you two discuss this somewhere not in my office?”

He dropped the clipboard on Carson’s desk. “End of the week due date Liz, and I'm taking this bullet for you.” Turning back to the huge man in front of him he said, “The boss asked us to discuss this elsewhere, shall we?”

“Lead on and I shall follow. Ms. Carson, I take my leave of you.” Guan Yu bowed and then turned to follow Bardue.

The two of them walked in silence through the snow. There were some appraising looks from some of the few students out and about. The two men paid them no mind as they walked. Guan Yu’ height and build made several of the Exemplar boys jealous and wishing they looked that imposing.

The two entered Eastman, heading down into the tunnel system. Gunny Bardue took him straight to the control center for Arena 99 and the Simulators. “This is where I do a lot of my work.”

“Ah... a full tour of the facilities?” asked Guan Yu.

“Nope, just mine. This isn't actual cannon and martial arts training areas, those are scattered around the school. And I'm not interrupting classes because you're feeling curious.” stated Bardue firmly.

“No need. I merely wish to ensure that the Handmaid has the training she needs to accomplish what she must.”

“Have a look for yourself at some of the training.” Bardue gestured to some of the monitors. “Ahhh, Outcast Corner, my favorite Band of Belligerents.”

“Oh?” Guan Yu sounded interested. “Why so?”

“Because unlike so many belligerent students, this lot is actually creative, quick-thinking, and as much as they like to back-talk, they listen closely to the teacher and learn from their screwups. Not my favorite students overall, but the best of the more obnoxious.”

Guan Yu nodded, “That is very good. Few young warriors learn that. Listening is a great skill for the young.”

The monitor closed in on the team in question. Bardue pointed to a figure on the screen. “That's Caitlin. She's Chou's training partner.”

Guan Yu hummed to himself, but otherwise remained silent.

“Jericho's the team leader here, he's the one in the white armor with the red crosses. Diamondback's the girl slithering, and Razorback's the speedball ripping faces.”

“Hrrrmmm... she does not move like the others... this body is not quite hers but her skills far exceed the others. She is still learning it parameters.” Guan Yu stroked his beard in thought.

Bardue turned to the giant Asian man and looked at him oddly, as if trying to make sense of what he had said to himself. “That's why she refused to take the lead of the team. Otherwise, the others would only learn to do what she says when she says.”

Guan Yu nodded his head, as if he had expected such answers. “Wisdom. Then she is not so young as she seems.”

“She had to grow up very fast before she came into my charge.” explained Bardue, sticking to the cover story that had been created to protect Caitlin. “She's also an exemplar, so her body's shifted to an ideal somewhere buried in her brain, rather than what it would have been naturally.”

Guan Yu turned to face Bardue face on. He gave him a look and said, “We are men of war Bardue, lies do not become us.”

“It's not a lie, it's the most information I'm going to give you. If you want more, ask her, and be prepared for her to try and tear your face off for prying.” countered Bardue with some heat.

“Ah, so you are protecting her secrets then? Very well. You say she has the training to teach the Handmaid in the Art of War?” Guan Yu nodded and the changed the subject.

“I DO know that she has a knack for slamming lessons home hard, especially ones related to mortality and the fact that anything can die, including the kid with invulnerable superpowers.”

“That is good and again you edge around her secrets. I take it you would prefer that I no longer inquire about her past?”

That question went unanswered as Bardue growled softly to himself and turned to watch the Outcasts run through an “unknown Soldier” assault scenario, while the Outcasts were the ones defending. It was rough going but the small four person team was working as a unit.

Guan Yu pursed his lips briefly and then asked, “So, Bardue, who do you have in mind that can assist the Handmaid with her sword skills?”

Bardue turned from the screen and led Guan Yu from the observation room. “I have a few people in mind, but I need to run them past Anderson. He's my go-to guy for vetting prospects.”

“Ah, well let me meet this Anderson or perhaps should I bring someone in for that?”

Bardue turned and growled out, “Dammit I'm getting sick of people bringing in their own contractors when we have people PERFECTLY suited to the job already.”

“I can understand that. I meant no offense or slight against your training methods, just that it was an available option.”

“This does not comfort me. Come along, and meet my talent headhunter.” They entered the Survival training area and Bardue scanned the area. He spotted who he was looking for and yelled out, “YO ANDERSON! I wanna jaw with you! I got a high-probable for early funeral that needs attention!”

Mr. Anderson nodded and grabbed one of the students and set them to watching for safety. He then turned and headed their way.”

“I'm pretty sure you won't like Mr. Anderson, our survival instructor. But he's damn good at finding what is needed.”

“Having great skill allows you a great deal of leeway.” commented the big man.

“You will politely explain to him the criteria for Bladedancer's instruction.”

Guan Yu chuckled at that and Gunny Bardue reached up and Gibbs slapped the big man in the back of his head. “I said politely.”

As Anderson reached them, he stopped, looked at the two, and asked, “Yes?”

Guan Yu nodded. “Gunny Bardue here seemed to think you would be able to find a sword instructor for my charge Bladedancer. She uses a jian and fights in the Wudang style of sword, incorporating several differing styles of Tai Chi and Wudang Kung Fu. Fitzgibbon’s was a bit of a failure in that task.”

Anderson narrowed his eyes slightly and then nodded. “Let me think on it. I will get back to Bardue with my suggestions.”

“A moment more if you please.”

Anderson looked over at Guan Yu again. The man continued, “I have heard that Gateway is a student of yours. Could you tell me about her training?”

Anderson looked at him quietly for a moment and then responded with, “Are you her parent or guardian?”

“I am not.”

“Then I cannot legally disclose personal or educational information pertaining to her to you.” He said with a note of finality.

Guan Yu narrowed his eyes and something inside him seemed to shift which the other men both noticed. This was now a General standing next to them, a man well used to commanding troops. “I care not for her personal information, which I already know, or the grades she is making. It is her skill at protecting herself is what is in question. If you are training her well and she is learning well than that is what I need to know.”

“She has a lot to learn, but she's a child, it's to be expected.”

Guan Yu chuckled, “You did not answer the question. But she is doing well?”

Mr. Anderson seemed to consider the situation and then nodded. “If you wish I can show you some of the escape and evasion examples I have used as training aids.”

“That would be most appreciated.”

As Anderson walked off to set that up, Gunny Bardue growled at Guan Yu. “I thought I said politely.”

Guan Yu raised an eyebrow. “That was politely.”

As they followed him into his office, Mr. Anderson clicked on the projector and began showing the training videos, showing both the skill and the safety involved. Then at the end something different came on and Guan Yu watched the video of Maharen running from Wilson. He watched the whole video silently, making no noise. “And you are teaching her this skill?”

Anderson looked over. “Parkour? Just the very basics. The man who taught parkour on campus died rather unexpectedly of burnout, though I understand his students keep the art burning.”

Guan Yu seemed to relax some. “That is most excellent. True combat is something she is not suited for. It is best for her to stay from the din of battle. Has she gone to these other students for more training?”

“If Molly were to approach them, and have the gumption to follow through they'd be unlikely to refuse her but she will have to push herself of her own accord. This is something she can only do herself through trial and error. One cannot standardize parkour as each person's body is wildly dissimilar from another.”

“I believe she has such a drive.” said Guan Yu as he stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I have fought several who move like that, it was most frustrating.”

“That is, rather, the idea.”

“Only Sun Wu Kong had the skill to continuously evade. It is a powerful skill.”

“Well, I will suggest the course of action to Molly. While Mahren's students are not to the level he called Traceur, they are talented, and I believe they have friends in Boston when they occasionally plan for Parkour jams there.” added Anderson.

“Thank you for informing me of her training. It does give me hope for the future.”

“Good day sir, and I do believe I already have an idea of whom should be asked to train Chou.” stated Anderson.

“I do hope that she takes you up on that. If she wishes the training it will be all to the good.” The Immortal added to the retreating Anderson.

Anderson turned to face him again. “She will require some convincing, but otherwise I believe she will be amenable.”

Guan Yu bowed at that. “Thank you.”

As Anderson walked away, Gunny smirked at Guan Yu. “Happy?”

Guan Yu chuckled and the sound rumbled in his chest. “Yes. I am most content. You are a good leader of Warriors Bardue.”

“Good. Look, you can come back in one month to evaluate, after Chou and her instructor have had a chance to work up. Until then and after, go away and stay out of my school's business.”

The God of War smiled down at Gunny, clearly both amused and pleased. “I am glad to see you have the fire that Fitzgibbons did not. I will return in a month and a half, to give the instructor proper time with the Handmaid. You have been most helpful Gunny Bardue.”

As the Immortal left the area alone, Gunny said to himself, “Why do I feel as if I have just been played?”

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Molly sat down and casually touched the stone, joining in full swing. “I told you Jade I didn’t take your Chococat panties.”

“I know you did. I saw how you looked at them and thought they were cute.” complained Jade.

Molly just started chuckling, which got peoples attention. The girl blushed when she realized that everyone was now looking at her. “What?”

“That was what I was going to say.” said Fey.

“The spell has you two arguing over eye shadow colors right now and so hearing about Hello Kitty panties was just funny.” admitted Molly.

Hank just groaned. “What does that thing have me say?”

Molly looked up with a glint in her eye. “Do you really want to know?”

Hank looked at her and then shook his head. “No good can come from this.”

Several of the girls giggled over that. Chou just smiled at Molly, happy to be next to the girl she loved.

“Oh… Chou, I was thinking about it and I was really impressed with how well our little group did. I didn’t think that it would be possible to work like that with someone without training together a lot.”

“The fight Saturday?” asked Fey.

Chou nodded. “Yeah, it was really strange. We were anticipating each other correctly and worked like a seasoned team for a while. It was actually kind of awesome.”

Toni looked over at her friend, “So are you going to stay a group?”

With a shrug Chou replied, “I have no idea. I might, as it was a rush to work together. I found out that most Handmaids didn’t have support and that might have been a problem. I kind of grown fond of living.”

“I can understand that.” said Ayla dryly, smirking a little as she said that.

“But you know I will always be a Kimba, right?” stated Chou nervously, wondering if staying as a group was going to ruin her friendships.

Nikki shook her head, amused a little by her friends fretting, “Chou, we all know that. All of us are getting pulled in different directions but our friendship is what has helped us all. So don’t worry about this.”

“It’s kind of hard not to. I mean, I didn’t really have too many friends until I got here and now I almost have no idea what to do with them.”

Jade impulsively hugged the girl. Chou smiled and hugged the younger looking girl back.

“Uhm… I have another thing that might have some repercussions on us.”

Hank looked worried when she said that. “What?”

“I… I have been thinking abut things, with Molly, Dorjee and me.” Chou looked down at her plate of food and bit her bottom lip.

“Now that is kinky.” quipped Toni.

“Toni!” snapped Molly.

Toni just gave her this innocent look, as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

“Thing is, she’s not far wrong. I can’t give up Molly and I don’t really want to give up Dorjee, so I was kind of thinking of staying with both.” Chou was blushing furiously at that point.

Hank nodded, “So why is this a problem?”

Chou looked up at the nominal leader of their group. “I’m not sure I want to hide it from anyone. I want to be happy and to hell with what other people think.”

“Wait, you are going to be dating both, like at the same time?” asked Toni, trying to see if she was following things correctly.

“Yeah.”

“A threesome?”

“Yeah.”

“Publicly?”

“Yeah.”

“For real?”

“Yes. Honestly Toni, you are almost as bad, same with Fey.” Chou was getting upset over this.

“Yeah, but we keep part of it in house as it were.” stated Fey.

Chou’s resolve firmed. “Well, I am tired of hiding. I would rather be open with those I love than hide it. It isn’t fair to either of them.”

Tennyo jumped in at that point. “Wait, you love Dorjee?”

“Yes, no, I don’t know but I want to find out.” sputtered Chou, clearly flustered.

“What do you think about this Molly?” asked Ayla, watching the reactions of the sometimes quiet girl.

“I am not sure how I feel about this, as I kind of want Chou all to myself, but I am willing to give it a shot.” Molly was looking down, embarrassed by what she was admitting.

“Hunh.” said Toni, sitting back some. “Well, I guess we’re just going to have to make more room at the table.”

“Maybe there will be room in the new Crystal Hall?” mused Ayla. The others could almost see the wheels turning and money flying.

Chou looked around the table. “You guys aren’t freaked out by this?”

Hank chuckled, “Chou, the majority of us have changed genders because of our powers manifesting. How could you in a threesome even begin to compare?”

A number of people laughed. Chou shook her head, amused by things. “Thanks guys. It means a lot to me.”

“Does this mean that you are going to be kissing Molly and Dorjee in public?” asked Jade, curious of how this thing was going to work.

Chou blushed and Molly smirked. The girl with glasses said, “It probably mean I am going to be kissing her.”

The others laughed at that. Chou’s face was warm, clearly blushing quite a bit.

Chou and Molly both turned their heads when they heard a familiar voice say, “H-h-h-hey, th-th-that’s my l-lunch.”

Winnie was standing there, looking helplessly on as Buster had her tray. “Thanks for getting my seconds Princess Stutter.”

Chou and Molly stood and moved swiftly over to the scene and noted that Dorjee was coming as well from where he had been sitting with some of the Dragons. Chou glared at Buster. “Give her back her food.”

“Ooohhh scary Asian girl with a sword trying to scare me. Fuck off.” Buster glared at Chou.

Dorjee cleared his throat. “I don’t think it is just her.”

Buster turned and spotted Dorjee standing near Winnie. “So what? I have back up as well.”

There was a sound of movement and Buster looked a bit worried then, as it had not come from his table. Hank walked over to stand next to Chou and said, “You sure you want to do this?”

Chou walked up and took Winnie’s tray back from Buster. She handed it over to the shy girl and said, “Here you go Winnie.”

Winnie, wide eyed and looking at the people standing up for her, namely the scary Team Kimba people and said, “Th-thanks Chou.”

“You’re welcome Winnie. Any time.”

Buster stormed off, glaring at the whole group of them. Winnie scampered quickly to the Underdogs. Dorjee and Chou shared a smile and Dorjee smiled at Molly as well. As people returned to their meals the tension of the room was fading.

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Chou came into the room and Dyffud was doing some other martial art form. Just how many of those arts did the man know? His MID had said Black ratings in twenty-five arts but it was clear he knew more than that. How could anyone have learned so much in such a limited span of time? There was just something otherworldly about Dyffud that was a bit intimidating, like how had he stopped Malachim’s Feather? A Baseline shouldn’t be able to do that.

“Troubled Chou?” asked Dyffud as he came to a stop.

“Yes. I don’t get you.”

He chuckled. “What the Baseline thing?”

Chou nodded.

“Okay, take a seat, this works with what I have in mind to discuss anyway.” As Chou was taking a seat on a cushion, he continued, “When I was young, at about five or six, my parents thought that my getting involved I Martial Arts would be a good thing. As luck would have it our town had a small Martial Art studio that had really small classes. The Sifu there was an actual Shaolin Monk, who had come over here to teach and to follow some of the ideas that the other monks sort of frowned over. So imagine his pleasure when he gets a five year old eager to learn.”

Chou nodded. This sort of made sense and helped explain the training.

“Sifu Yei Hua had been a historian of sorts and had studied a lot of histories in both Shaolin Temple and at Wudang. What he had been looking at were stories and tales of famous martial artists, including their training methods. There had been whole arts that had existed that had vanished because no one had passed them on. Before he left for the states, he had actually robbed Shaolin Temple, Wudang and more importantly a Library that the Communist Government held that had many of the training manuals. He made it here with a glut of information and by the time he had absorbed it and processed it, there I was.”

“You learned vanished arts?” asked Chou, awed.

Dyffud nodded. “Yep. I learned things like, Lightfoot, which you and Toni use; Iron Body, which is a more powerful version of Iron Shirt; and a whole host of other arts. He also taught me to realize things that had been more common in the past, such as the fact that you can step on the air or swim through it, so long as you believed that it was possible. By the time I headed here for high school, I did a number of things casually that should be impossible, according to the way most people think and especially here in the West. Imagine the testers surprise when I came up normal in a few of their tests, but could do some things only high level exemplars could do and some things they had no idea how to measure. Therefore, I was allowed to go to school here and between visits with my Sifu, training here, meditation and a few other things, I began to create the Five Grand Arts. They are different styles that incorporate the Five Elements I have been teaching you with some other stuff.

“The problem was that I was still missing something, which is why I started planning on going walkabout, even before I started High School. I needed to learn and know things that were not available here. On the road, I would be able to learn and experience things that no other method of teaching could ever teach me. I had to work to find my path. You, you had your thrust on you.”

“Yeah, and it sucks.” grumbled Chou.

Dyffud laughed at that. “Are you aware that your style of Martial Arts may be the only art that can beat mine? It was created thanks to Immortals, where as mine is my own exploration and discovery. When you master your fighting style there is not much on this planet that could stop you, and that isn’t even taking into consideration your sword, magical practice, Chi Gung skills or the Handmaid. That one thing, that martial art, makes you a force to be reckoned with. You just need time and training.”

Chou rocked back from that. Surely he was joking. “Really?”

“Really.”

“But I feel outclassed all the time and I survive by the skin of my teeth most of the time.” complained Chou.

“Chou you just turned fifteen a little while ago. You only have a certain level of training that Destiny’s Wave gave you; of course you are getting beat. If you keep working at it at the rate you are going, by the time you leave here, few people will want to fuck with you. Realize that you are a kid with a whole life ahead of you and relax. You need to find your path, find what you want to do, what you want to learn and take charge of your Journey. That is what is important, becoming awake and aware, like the Buddha said.” Dyffud grinned.

“But that’s the thing; I have no idea where I want to go, except back to being Alex.” Chou frowned, as she began to think about all she had left behind.

“Are you sure?” asked Dyffud. “I mean your life has changed dramatically and you have skills and power you might not have in your old body.”

“I… I… I don’t know.” admitted Chou, not pleased with this realization.

“Then maybe you should look forward and figure out what you want t learn. From what I have been able to learn, being the Handmaid is a job that will call you every once in a while. You have a whole life ahead of you, so think about what you like and what you want to do with yourself.”

“I have no idea. Really.”

“Well, things to think about. What topics do you like to study, what sorts of things interest you, what sort of activities do you have fun doing? Those things can help you figure out what you are interested in and what you should probably learn more about. You don’t necessarily need a walkabout, but that is also an option.”

Chou looked thoughtful at that. “I guess I should think ahead. But I have been so busy trying to cope that I haven’t really done anything else.”

Dyffud shrugged. “Well, now you can take the time. You need to figure your self out first before you can really help others. That gives you a solid place to move and speak from. You need to work on that. Like I said earlier, getting to know yourself and accepting yourself for who you really are, are great ways to get stronger in all the ways that matter.”

“I think I can work on that.” said Chou.

“Good. I expect you to know something you wouldn’t mind studying or learning before the next class.”

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Molly, sat on her bed, thinking. She had to admit that Dorjee had been really helpful in that fight, taking on a couple of the Vendahl himself. He had endured a broken arm and an incredible beating to help them. And she had to admit, that he seemed to be taking the whole situation better than she thought he would. He was even cute, much to her annoyance. If only her were a jackass so he could hate him like she sort of felt she should, rather than having him grow on her.

This was maddening. There was really no reason that she should actually be willing to do this but she loved Chou with everything she was and if this made her love feel better than who was she to argue. And she had to admit to a little bit of a growing interest in the boy as well, which kind of made her want to pull her hair out. This whole thing was so very weird and she honestly had no idea what to do. She had looked in her lesbian books but there was very little in there. There was some stuff that mentioned polyamory in The Whole Lesbian Sex Book that she had bought in Boston but that was it. She needed more information.

She logged onto the Internet and began searching for stuff on Polyamory. After an hour of reading different things from different sites she had a far better idea about what it was that Chou said she wanted. Hell, she probably knew more about it than Chou did. The way Molly saw it was that she and Chou were the Primary relationship and that Dorjee was sort of a secondary relationship. Given her luck, she had to admit there was a possibility of him becoming a third. She sighed in annoyance. This situation was getting out of hand. Maybe she should have agreed to talk to Chou about this earlier and come to better terms about it before hand?

She thought about what Chou had said, that they had needed more practice to make this work better next time. Things had gone better than expected, even when faced with something clearly overwhelming. They should stay together as a team. It would give her a team to be on, which was often a helpful thing in terms of dealing with bullies. Then there was the fact that they all seemed to have a nice mesh. They had worked like a team out there and that had been exciting. Molly really liked the idea. She would have to convince Chou to make this a permanent thing.

That brought to mind Winnie. Molly bit her lip and then nodded, her face firming into determination. She exited her room and headed over to Winnie’s room. She knocked and Winnie came and opened the door. “Y-yes?”

“Hi! I just wanted to come by and talk a while, if that’s okay?” asked Molly.

“S-s-sure.” The door opened and Molly entered the room. There was a small easel set up on a desk and it looked as if Winnie were doing some sort of watercolor picture based off a magazine picture she had taped on the top of frame. The picture only seemed partially done but it was still pretty good work.

“That is so cool. Where did you learn how to do this?”

“M-my f-f-family d-does a l-lot of c-c-crafts. I-I-I h-have al-lways d-done s-stuff l-like th-this.” replied Winnie, the stuttering very close together so it sounded more like a brief pause between sounds.

“Wow. Oh, I came by to ask you something.” stated Molly.

“O-okay?” Winnie seemed both worried and confused.

“I want to make our little group permanent, you know like a team.”

“M-me? On a t-t-t-t-team?!” squeaked Winnie in surprise. “B-but I don’t h-h-have an-ny sk-kills.”

“That is untrue Winnie and you know it. What you did out at the site was incredible and helped a lot. Just think abut how bad Chou could have been hurt if you hadn’t cut the sites power. And I know you can feel the change in the school. We found that and stopped that thanks to you. So, what do you say?” gushed Molly, honestly pleased with how well Winnie had done out there. It was a hell of a lot better than the girl’s failure of a combat final.

“I-I-I…” stuttered the blond girl, clearly at a loss for words.

“I promise you won’t regret it.” stated Molly, hoping that she was speaking the truth.

Winnie was biting her lip nervously, looking around the room nervously. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm down. She raised her head, looking straight at Molly and then nodded nervously. Molly, for her part, squealed happily and glomped Winnie, hugging her tightly saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

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Chou bit her lip, worried about what she was about to do. She knocked on Dorjee’s door and waited patiently, ignoring the looks from the other denizens of the floor. After a few moments, Dorjee opened the door, looking a bit surprised. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes. I just wanted to talk to you.” said Chou.

A few of the guys in the hall made some cat calls, teasing Dorjee about his girlfriend. The two of them sighed heavily as she entered his room. He didn’t shut the door all the way, as that was a rule that was supposed to be followed with a member of the opposite sex in the room, but Dorjee thought that he might be the only one who did it. The two teens sat in awkward silence for a moment. Finally, Chou said, “So… do you think you can give this a chance?”

Dorjee blinked slightly in confusion. “Uhm… your sentence is missing a valuable noun.”

“Oh.” Chou blushed and looked back down at her boots again. “I meant us, can you give us a chance?”

“I don’t know Chou. This is a lot to take in and I am still not sure what to think. I do like you, very much, but this thing with Molly is… unexpected.” stated Dorjee hesitantly.

“Well, my interest in you was unexpected as well.” returned Chou. Her hands clenched her coat in irritation.

“Sorry. That was rude. I am not sure what to say Chou. You want me to give all of us a try, not just you and I?”

Chou nodded, blushing brightly. “Yes. It feels right and I want to do it. I like you and am drawn towards you but also to Molly. I don’t want to fight this but rather go with the flow.”

This caused Dorjee to snicker. “Okay. I think I can agree to giving it a try. I won’t say things will be fine, but I will try. For you.”

“Thank you.” Chou stood and walked over to Dorjee and hugged him, then kissed him softly on the lips. Dorjee sighed happily.

“That is cheating.” He said, as his eyes focused on her.

“Well, they do say that all is fair in love and war.” teased Chou, running her hand over his hair and enjoying the feeling of the short hair under her palm.

Dorjee hugged her, resting his head on her upper abdomen. “Well, I want to avoid war if we could.”

Chou giggled at that and kept running her hand over his hair. “Now that we have that settled, you want to form a team?”

He let go of her and sat back, clearly surprised. “The three of us?”

“The four of us,” corrected Chou, grinning widely.

“Ok. That makes sense. What else can Geomancer do?”

Chou shrugged. “I have no idea. We can learn though. That compass can apparently help her find anything and she can manipulate lines of magic. That right there will be a great help.”

“That makes sense.” Dorjee nodded. “I guess more training could help her be a back line person. If she can yank magic lines from magic users, the looks on their faces will be priceless.”

“Won’t it.” Chou smirked happily at him and he continued. “I guess we can give that a try and maybe keep our eyes out for anyone else who might fit in. Someone with tech skills might be nice and would complement everything else.”

“That sounds good. Now… where were we?” Chou quirked an eyebrow and moved in to kiss him. Their lips touched and Chou enjoyed the roughed feel of his lips and the stronger pressure. It was nice.

When they broke apart, Chou looked at the time and her eyes widened in surprise. “Eep! Dorjee, I gotta go. See you later?”

Dorjee nodded, a stupid grin on his face.

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Chou came in, yawning, tired from everything she had done that day. It had been an emotionally draining day all in all but good for the most part. Dorjee was mostly okay with things as far as she could tell and the small group was starting to form. If only they could manage to get Winnie to learn some basic combat skills things would be good.

Molly had mentioned that Winnie had not done well in the Survival course and that was something that needed to be considered if this group idea was going to work. There really was no reason to set Winnie up for failure if they couldn’t think of something to help her. Then she had gotten in trouble from Caitlin for being late, which had sucked a great deal. That had not been a good thing for her, as Caitlin took it out n her like a Drill Instructor and most of her current bodily aches came from that. Nevertheless, she was getting better with both pistols and rifles and that made her happy. Soon she might be able to get a permit and start arming herself.

She unslung Destiny’s Wave from across her back and set her in the sword stand on her desk, followed by the rest of her stuff dumped in her desk chair. She went and grabbed a Coke from the fridge and sat on her bed, sighing with exhaustion. She turned and noticed something sitting next to her pillow on her bed.

It was a section of paper, folded like a traditional Chinese missive with a black wax seal on it. Her name was written in blood red ink across the front and just looking at it made her feel unclean. A chill ran down her spine when she saw that. What the hell was that? There was no way that what she was seeing could be here.

She cautiously moved over to it, her Tao enhanced senses feeling the item out for any residual magic. There was nothing there, just blood and pain and death tied to the wax and the ink, though there was some of that residue in the room itself, which bothered her.

Picking the mysterious letter up carefully, she broke open the seal and began to read. Her eyes widened in shock and the letter fell from her fingers, lying face up on the floor. She spun, snatched her blade free, and grabbed the room phone, quickly calling the one person she could think of to help her in this. There was an answer after one ring, “Security.”

“I need to speak to Chief Delarose, now!” She snapped, as she was fairly unnerved. Chou’s heart was racing and she scanned the room nervously, hand never leaving the hilt of her sword. How the hell had they gotten onto the campus let alone into their room? What the hell was she going to do?

The letter in question taunted her from the floor with letters of brownish red ink, the color of dried blood:

 

Greeting to you, True Handmaid of the Tao, from the Tong of the Black Madonna,

You have proven yourself through the trials and have fought against us in both the physical and dream realms. We acknowledge your skill and this has proven to us that you are indeed the Handmaid and that you wield the blade we seek. However, the time for games is over young lady. Turn over Destiny’s Wave or you and your loved ones shall pay.

We know where your girlfriend’s parents live, as well as where Miss Chandler’s parents live. As you read this missive, they are being watched. Our demands in this are quite simple, you will give us the sword, or they shall die a most horrible death as sacrifices to our Dark Mother. The choice is yours.

We shall give you a day to think this over. Deliver the sword to the front of the school by noon day after tomorrow or they shall die.

Preceptor

Tong of the Black Madonna