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Have Yourself a Monkey Little Christmas

Or

The Uncanny X-Mas

By Heather O’Malley and Bek DeCorvin
assisted by the rest of the Whateley Gang
edited by Joe and Diane, who didn’t run fast enough

22 December, 2006, 11am

Sara shook the little box curiously. “Okay, I’ll bite- what is it?”

“You bite, and I’m telling Reverend Englund!” Bugs shot back. “Chaka said that no one was to leave until they got their presents, and no one is to open their presents until she gets back.” She finished with a pert nod. All the presents were wrapped black-on-dark-yellow leopard print paper, so there was no mistaking who they were from.

A few minutes later, Chaka came through the door and ran up. “They didn’t open them, did they?”

“They wouldn’t dare,” Bunny said ominously.

“Okay, the reason that I asked you to wait, is that some of these things are gonna take a little explaining. Okay… Erin, you’re the noob, you go first.”

Erin shrugged and opened her package. Inside was something that looked like two stuffed pillows sewn onto a strip of black cloth. Erin looked at it every which way. “Aaahhh… very… nice… Toni. What IS it?”

Toni smiled enigmatically. “Shift over to wolf form.”

“But-”

“Just DO it!”

Erin shrugged again, shifted to canine form and walked out of her clothing. Toni attached the rig so that it fit like a service dog harness.

“What’s this?” Sara asked lightly, “You’ve sold her to the Seeing Eye?”

“Ha, ha, very funny,” Chaka not-laughed. “Okay, it’s on securely. Now, shift back to girl form. Just trust me on this one.”

Erin gave an unsure whine, but shifted back to her human form. As she did, the packets on the harness began to shift and shrink, and a Whateley Academy girl’s uniform stretched into place. Erin stood up and held out her arms.

“It works!” Toni smiled broadly.

“Where did you GET this?” Erin said as she walked around.

“Oh, I cut a deal with a girl over in Hawthorne whose, like, this nano-tech genius. She worked out a similar rig for a friend.”

“Whaaoowww, Sempai…” Jade breathed, “How did you get her to make that for Erin? Something like that…”

“She paid her,” Bunny said snippishly. “Do you remember that to-do you had last month down in Boston with the Necromancer? Well, she told me that Silver wrapped some of that mithril stuff around her hand, so she could hand that Arch-Fiend guy his ass. When she rubbed the mithril off her hand, she got a golfball-sized lump of it. The devisors down in the workshop have been going nuts over this stuff ever since a sample of it showed up a few months ago. Chaka wanted some kick-ass Christmas gifts to pass around, so we cut a deal.”

“Oh, thank you ever so much, little miss tattletale!” Toni snipped back. “Anyway!” she said much more brightly, “Gifts!”

She handed Nikki a small box. Nikki unwrapped it to find a jewelry box. Inside the box on a cushion of black velvet were two simple loop white metal earrings. But Nikki’s big lavender eyes shot wide open at the sight of them. “Ooohh… she cooed, “Mithril…” She wrapped her arms around Toni in a big hug. “Oh, they’re perfect! They’ll go with anything!”

Toni returned the big hug and joked, “Yeah, well, now you don’t have any excuse to go fondling my bracelet anymore.” Toni disentangled herself from Nikki, who pulled the earrings from her lobes to replace them with her gift.

Toni sorted through the boxes and found another small box. She handed it to Riptide. “Rip, God knows, you put up with a lot from me. This is to show who’s my Number One girl.”

Rip opened the box, and there was a pale metal ring that displayed a heart shared by two hands. “I couldn’t wear the ring that you gave me, because Silver coated it with so much mithril that it wouldn’t fit my finger anymore. This ring is pure mithril, and I give it to you, to show how much your friendship means to me.”

Rip gave a squeak and gave Toni a big hug. Then she pulled away. “Number ONE girl? You have a number TWO girl? How many girls you got?”

Several of the other girls laughed at Toni’s discomfort as it was clear there was no good answer to that particular question. She closed her mouth with a snap and sighed.

Now that Toni had finished, it was Chou’s turn to hand out gifts, but she was getting a bit shy. This was more friends than she had ever had as Alex. It was making her a bit uncomfortable. “Uhm…so Nikki…I got you this.”

The Sidhe took the package and opened it. “Oh, wow…”

Inside the box was a replica of the Lothlorian broach from the Lord of the Rings movies. It glistened in the light and Nikki could feel the tingle of magic within it. “Wha…”

“I got someone to place the same sorts of spells on it that they had in the book. It will never come loose accidentally or break. I figured that you might enjoy that, since her Highness likes cloaks.” Chou smiled at the obvious pleasure that her friend was having.

Nikki grinned widely and hugged Chou to her. “Thank you. This is pretty cool. A Magical Brooch. Who did the spell?”

“Becca. Taoists are big on Talismans and this is effectively a Talisman. I’ll be getting to those in a while.”

“Very cool.”

“I have something for Tennyo, but I guess that’ll have to wait. Jade, could you put this on her bed?”

“Sure Chou. What did you get Onee-san?” Jade was all wide eyes and disturbingly cute.

“A pair of goggles that have anti-fog coating, anti-glare, and can stop anything less than a .45 caliber round. She probably would have liked to have those for her jaunt.”

Jade grabbed Chou and hugged her tightly. “I am hugging you for Onee-san until she can do it herself.”

It was so cute that no one could really argue with her. One of the more popular discussions they had over the semester was how to rate Jade’s cute. What kind of power was it? They had narrowed it to some sort of psi or glamour effect. Now they just needed a better idea of how powerful it was. Field testing was planned for spring.

“Thanks Jade. Oh I got you something as well.” The box was wrapped in pink and had poofy pink bows on it. There were Hello Kitty faces all over it. This got Jade’s eyes really wide, making more than one person wonder if she had some sort of shifter trait that took her to anime.

“What is it?” Jade asked in a near whisper.

“You have to open it to find out.” Everyone watched with smiles on their faces as Jade tried to decide if she wanted the presents more than the box. Finally, the girl carefully opened the wrapping, to avoid tearing the pretty paper.

Once into the box, the girl’s eyes almost popped, and she squeed in excitement. “Thank you thank you thank you!”

“Yo, sugar shock, what did she get you?” asked Toni.

Jade pulled out the Hello Kitty shoulder holster, the modified Hello Kitty grips for her pistol and four boxes of ammo.

A few people glared at Chou for that. She could just imagine if Ayla was here. Ayla would be loudly grumbling something like, “Like any one really needed to encourage her obsession.”

Chou got hugged again from Jade, and she hugged the smaller girl back. When she let go of the slight girl she turned to face Bunny, turning and handing her the box she had grabbed which was wrapped in Bugs Bunny wrapping paper.

The Devisor opened the box and then squealed in excitement, quickly slapping the pair of Bunny ears the same color as her hair onto her head. Once they were on everyone started to notice that they were moving slightly. When Bunny looked confused and rolled her eyes upward, as if she might actually be able to see them, one of the ears flopped over making it even more obvious that the girl was confused. Everyone started laughing at the sight.

“Oh my God Chou, where the hell did you find those?” asked Hank, watching the ears move.

“Well…I came up with the idea of getting her some ears back in October, before Halloween. After the whole Monkey King debacle I actually had one of the teachers put this together, for some of the alchemical mixes I use. And some gold. But they sense mental states and respond accordingly. And Bunny, just so you know it’s a teacher you have.”

Both ears went straight upright in surprise, “What?!”

This got people laughing again. Even Sara looked amused by this.

Chou grabbed another gift and walked over to the Demon Princess. “I had a hard time with this one, as what do you get the Demon who has everything they want. But then it hit me. Enjoy.”

Sara quirked an eyebrow at that and looked at the blood red paper wrapped gift as if it might explode. “It’s not going to attack me is it?”

Chou found this inordinately funny, and when the Goth girl opened it up others joined in. Sara was holding the special boxed set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and rolling her eyes. Between snickers Chou said, “I figured you might like to study your opponent.”

Everyone else joined in. Sara hugged Chou but used one of her tentacles to give her a noogie.

“I sent Ayla hers already as a surprise.” said Chou. “And I’m taking yours with me Toni, so don’t ask.”

“What about me?” asked Hank, trying to look all pouty and failing miserably. The expression just didn’t work with his masculine looks.

“Well, I wanted to get you a subscription to Mutant Hotties but I just got this for you instead.” She picked up a box and passed it over, grinning mischievously.

He opened the box and then blushed a bright red. Fey poked him in the side, “Come on share.”

“Uhm…no.”

Toni looked over at Chou and raised an eyebrow. “What did you get him?”

“A Superman jockstrap.”

The result was immediate. All the girls were laughing and Hank’s blush got brighter and brighter. “Actually Hank…that’s just a teasing gift. Here is your real one.”

Hank opened the wrapping and pulled out a t-shirt that said ‘I saved the world and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.’ Now Hank was laughing.

Lily smirked and said, “You know…you could wear those together.”

Hank blushed again.

The girls enjoyed their laughs and headed off to start their various trips back home. While some people were taking the van to the airport, a few were heading to the train station. Chou and Toni were among that crowd, already tired of the trip, thanks to a few Dickinson girls talking shit on the drive.

The two girls escaped the van and soon were waiting for the 12:30 train, one patiently, one a bundle of energy practically vibrating. The girls looked nothing alike despite the fact that both of them gave off a similar vibe of martial competency if you knew what to look for. The calm one had a document tube hanging over her shoulder and the other was doing cartwheels over their luggage.

“This is going to be so fun. Trust me Chou, you will love my family, well most of my family.” Toni stopped moving and stood next to the Asian girl.

“I’m just worried, this is my first Christmas without my Dad. I miss him and wish he were here.” Chou started tearing up at the thought of her father, trapped in the Hell of Fiery Immersion by that bastard.

Toni gave her a tight hug. “It’ll be okay. Think about all of the things you have faced so far this year. This is not as tough. You said he’s alive and being held. Once we get strong enough we’ll go get him. No one can face of the awesome might of Team Kimba!”

Chou had to smile at that, as Toni posed all heroically. It was just silly and helped to calm her down a little. “Thanks. I’m also worried that I might get jumped by someone else with a grudge against my sword. I don’t want to get your family in some sort of problem.”

“No worries. You and me, we can take on pretty much anything, hands down. Besides, you haven’t seen my Grandma angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.” This set both girls off, laughing softly.

The train arrived shortly thereafter. They climbed on with several other students and hunted down some seats. They both plopped down uncontrolled, but to any other observer it would have looked utterly controlled. The two of them had some of the highest-level martial skill at the whole school, something that irritated people of all grade levels and even some of the staff. It’s not like it was their fault or anything, but it certainly didn’t help.

It didn’t surprise them when nobody tried to sit with them, as Team Kimba was notorious in a way that the actual members found amusing. No one was really sure what to make of them, since they seemed to defy a number of the high school conventions, being an eclectic mix of girls and one boy with attendant hangers on, who all fit different molds.

Their being alone suited the two of them though, as it allowed Toni to pull out a copy of the stone they used in Crystal Hall to mask their conversations from the outside. They really saw no reason not to talk freely on the train ride down to Baltimore.

Once they had touched the stone they sat back, relaxing. “It is good to be leaving. Man that was a screwed up semester.”

Chou nodded in agreement. “So much happened that I am looking forward to some time to just relax and think about everything that has occurred.”

“Think? Girlfriend, you don’t need to think, you need to talk. Now tell Auntie Toni all about the big bad school.”

Chou rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at the other girl. This got Toni laughing, which didn’t really help the situation. Her voice was still somewhat tense when she said, “Toni, you are such a dork, you know that?”

“Dork? I’m awesome. What do you mean dork?”

“Dork, as in someone with pudding for brains.” Chou sighed, a bit despondently. She didn’t really feel up to insulting Toni, but she had sort of started it.

“Pudding? What kind of pudding?”

“You’re hopeless.” Chou groaned and put her face in her hands.

“Now Chou, relax. No need to get your panties in a twist over anything. I’m just teasing you. What sort of things have I missed this semester?” asked Toni.

“Well, nightmares, attacks from demons, the usual.” grumbled Chou, saddened by the fact that these things were actually becoming the usual.

“Was that the whole end of November thing?” asked Toni softly, aware that Chou had pretty well lost it then, even going so far as to beat the bitch Sharisha into the Infirmary, which couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl.

The Asian girl nodded. “Yeah. It was horrible. Just thinking about those nightmares still makes me shudder. They were not normal nightmares either, something was fueling them. Then you have the fact that I have seen more of Ayla more often than any of the rest of you. I told you I woke up one morning with her naked in the bed and Mister Happy was poking me in the back, right?”

“Yeah…you did, and it gets funnier every time I hear it. So that’s why you spent the money on the pajamas?”

“Well, wouldn’t you? I mean, that was way too close for my comfort. And besides, I like Ayla. She’s a good roommate.”

“Ah, you just like the stuff.” teased Toni.

Chou shrugged. “Like you wouldn’t. But Ayla’s nice and has really helped me through a lot of stuff this semester. I’m not sure I would have made it through these last few months without her, hell without all of you.”

“Duh, you’re our friend. We’re not going to just abandon you because your life is getting crazy. If that were the case we would have dumped Fey the first time she had PMS. I still shudder thinking about that. Thunderstorms in the hallways.”

Chou smiled some and looked at the moving countryside. This train was going to take them to Boston, where they would change trains for the trip down to Baltimore. It was certainly less stressful than having to deal with the MCO in airports, even though the two of them could usually get away with things. Chou’s MID was the truth, from a certain point of view, as she knew she wasn’t just a normal baseline human, but no one was planning on sharing that information anytime soon with the Mutant Cops. If they were happy to let the fact that she was ‘normal’ slide, than who was she to argue?

Things turned to talk about the Young Turks and what assholes they had been. How cool it had been to school them as totally as they had. One thing the whole incident had taught them was the value of surprise and the value of intelligence. When they had faced them in a stand up battle, the Alpha wannabes had suffered a humiliating defeat. So far that seemed the best way for anyone to take out the group, total surprise. They were working on that, but it would take a while for their teamwork to get to the point that they could take surprises like that in stride. And that was assuming that Chou even stayed with the team.

She had been feeling like she needed to try something different and wasn’t sure what it was. It might be her needing to be in her own group, but she wasn’t sure. She liked the girls of TK and they were her best friends at this totally insane school and only an idiot would give that up. She knew that even if she left the group she would stand with them against anything, as she was their friend and so long as the Tao had no issue with any of the members there would be no need to ever face off against them. This thought had been growing in her mind for a while now and she wasn’t sure what to do with it. When things really got to a point where she could talk about it, she could share things with others, but for now it was something that just ran through her thoughts.

Toni broke into her introspection at that point. “So, what’s going on with you and Molly? I mean, you guys vanish all the time and seem to be very, very close. What is it you do exactly in the Library all the time? Inquiring minds want to know.”

“Uhm…don’t worry about it,” stammered Chou.

“Oh, come on, tell me! Tell me!” The girl began to hop up and down excitedly, almost as if her movement would knock the words loose from Chou.

“Ohh, all right, Toni. Just sit down. And stop hanging from the ceiling.”

“I'm not hanging from the ceiling! ... Hey, you think I could hang from that light fixture? Maybe get it to spin with me spinning under it?”

“I think that YOU could, but the conductor would have a coronary.” said Chou, hoping that this conversation might distract the girl.

“Oh yeah, he definitely looked like he's keeping the Dunkin Donuts Corporation afloat all by himself.”

“Been taking snide lessons from Ayla?”

Toni paused and considered. “I would have to go with ‘yes’ for two hundred, Alex. Now…back to the topic at hand. You, Molly, what is it that you two do at the library?”

“Well, uhm…we…uhm…frolic?” replied Chou nervously, unsure how to answer the question and grabbing any word she could to not admit to making out with the girl. It was a bad choice however.

“You frolic? Skipping hand in hand through the stacks? You guys prance about?” This only got Chou to blush painfully, even the tips of her ears going red with Toni’s words.

“I’m never going to hear the end of this am I?” grumbled Chou.

“Not likely girlfriend, not likely. So besides frolicking, what else is going on? You guys getting more serious?”

Chou nodded. “Yeah, we are. I just can’t imagine spending the rest of my life without her. She just sort of…completes me I guess. I don’t know. I just know I feel better and stronger whenever I am around her.”

“Sounds like love to me.” replied Toni. “Have you two gone beyond frolicking?”

Chou blushed again and looked down. “No, and I am kind of scared to. We’ve kissed and made out some, but only through the clothes and only above the waist. It scares me some Toni. What if I like it so much that I don’t want to go back to being a guy? What if I turn back and she doesn’t want me anymore?”

“Chou, stop trying to what-if yourself to death. Just accept that your life is your life and move on from there. The future will take care of itself at this point. So just frolic away and enjoy yourself.” The black girl grinned at the Asian girl.

“Could you just stop with the whole frolic thing?” pleaded Chou.

“Not likely.” quipped Toni. “The others are going to be sad they missed this. Maybe I should text them?”

Chou groaned and looked out at the Massachusetts countryside. The snow covered landscape, broken with trees, was something for her to look at besides the hyperactive martial artist. Sometimes Toni’s upbeat nature and sense of humor got everyone annoyed with her, but it never lasted long.

“So, what about you and your harem?”

“Well, you know…we frolic,” smirked Toni.

Chou reached over and swatted her friend. “Bitch.”

Toni grinned widely. “What can I say; I like a lot of different people. Unlike you, I didn’t find my soulmate so why not play the field and see what makes me happy?”

Chou had to give her that one. She had sort of lucked out in that area, meeting someone who fit her in all ways possible, though Dorjee really did complicate matters, which didn’t help in any way. She knew she loved Molly with everything inside of her. “I guess that it makes sense. I take it you don’t want me to tell our folks about your life of debauchery?”

“Well, I would appreciate it that’s for sure. So, what’s the deal with Dorjee and that kiss?”

Chou blushed. “I have no idea. I have no idea why he did it and I have no idea why I liked it.”

“Maybe you aren’t all lesbian?” offered Toni unhelpfully.

Chou shuddered at that thought. Toni saw that and continued on. “There is nothing wrong with being bi. It works for me, Fey and a bunch of others.”

“You know Toni, just the thought I was a lesbian has kept me from freaking out when guys have looked at me. If I really am Bi how is that going to help me?”

“I have no idea. But if you are attracted to both Molly and Dorjee than maybe you need to expand your sexual world view.” Toni sat back and smiled. “I mean look at all of us. We’re all changelings with a wide array of interests in partners, from Hank being fairly het to well, me, to Jade the asexual wunderkind. We cover about every point on the spectrum. If kissing him made you happy then live with it.” Toni seemed really wise… and then spun in a circle. “Besides, we’re pretty, pretty princesses!”

Chou dropped her head into her hands and groaned. This trip was going to be hell.

Changing trains in Boston was fairly easy and the two blended in with the other passengers, not even looking out of the ordinary, since Toni was wearing sunglasses to keep the color of her eyes from being seen. That would keep down the types of issues that could come up with people being afraid of the mutie. It was not something that they were looking forward to and were taking steps to avoid confrontation.

The rest of the trip they chatted about Toni’s harem and what other crazy Ki based moves she was working on. They also were talking about the surgery on her hips, and what the two of them were planning on doing after the bones had been broken and reset. It was sure to be fun. Chou had worked with Becca on Chi Gung healing, and Toni was looking forward to seeing the techniques so she could add them to her vast and growing repertoire of tricks.

When they reached the station in Baltimore, the two were more than looking forward to getting off the train and doing something else. Toni wanted to flip around like she usually did up at the school, but that might be a bad plan out here amongst all these normal people. If they wanted to blend they had to stay low profile. She wasn’t sure she could do low profile.

Thankfully for them, the Chandlers were waiting for them at the station. Toni happily hugged her parents hello and Chou stood off to the side, feeling a bit out of place. “Mom, Dad this is my friend Chou. Chou, my folks.”

Chou bowed politely to them. “Pleased to see you again.”

Toni’s father looked at her, “Toni didn’t say why you were coming down with her.”

“My parents are dead, my father earlier this year.” Chou sighed and could feel tears form in her eyes. Toni gave her a hug, knowing how hard this was on her.

Toni’s father looked a bit embarrassed at this, “Uhm…okay.”

Toni’s mother looked somewhat upset upon hearing this. “Oh, you poor thing, with no where to go for Christmas. There is absolutely no problem with you staying with us.”

Toni chimed in at this point. “Oh…I also invited her Guardians over for Christmas dinner. Was that okay?”

“How come they didn’t come here or you go to them?” Toni’s father was still trying to figure this whole thing out, as he was a bit unsure about having another mutant in the house.

“They live in China and the travel time there and back would actually eat up most of my vacation.” explained Chou, certain that Penglai Shan wasn’t a hop, skip and a jump from Hong Kong.

“Ah…well. Okay then. Come on then.”

The two girls carried their bags to the car and climbed in.

“So girls, how was the trip?”

“It was pretty nice Mrs. Chandler. Very uneventful.”

“That’s good to hear. Toni, Chou will be sleeping in your room and Matt is doubled up with Vince. Your grandmother is in Matt’s room. And Chou, I’m sorry that we don’t have a bed for you. We have some of our camping stuff. Will that work?”

“No problem Mom, we’re used to living in close quarters and besides, Chou hiked to school from Tennessee.” Toni was actually a little envious of that fact. It had to have been beautiful.

“I’ve slept on the ground for a few months so camping gear will work just fine,” replied Chou, not wanting to cause any trouble.

“Really? My husband and I have always wanted to follow the leaves south in Autumn along the Appalachian mountains. Was it beautiful?”

“Very much so. The trail may have been long but it was nice.”

“What was your favorite part?”

“Well, New Jersey was lovely, as was Pennsylvania. Connecticut was also gorgeous. Parts of Maryland and Virginia were also nice, really easy hiking.”

“That’s lovely. You hear that Joel, maybe we can hike part of the trail?”

“Might be a nice fall trip.”

“Mrs. Chandler, thank you for having me.”

“You’re welcome.”

The house was fairly nice and larger than the one Chou lived in when she was in Knoxville. It was pretty cool, and Chou felt just a little bit jealous of her friend. She started to tear up slightly as she remembered her father and their house back in Tennessee. It had been a nice life until she had found the sword.

The first person they ran into was Cindy, Toni’s older sister. Before Whateley, Chou would have easily given her a nine. Unfortunately, Whateley wasn’t like the rest of the world and it had certainly skewed the scale.

“Who’s this?”

“Cindy, this is my good friend Chou from school.”

Cindy sort of sniffed at her, as if she was dissing her for something. “She another mutant, like you.”

“Nope. But she has mad Kung Fu skillz…booyah!”

“Toni! Keep it down.” called out Toni’s mother from the kitchen.

“Sorry mom.” Toni shrugged. “Yeah, Chou’s cool.”

Cindy smiled at the Asian girl then. “It’s nice meeting you.”

“Nice to meet you.” Chou bowed to the girl, who seemed to be at a loss for how to reply. Thankfully, she was saved by her brother Vince.

“Yo, freak, who’s this?” The reject from a Snoop Dogg video came over, staring down at his former younger brother. The look was just sad, as it obviously didn’t fit who he was. He also looked like he was a bit stunned with Chou’s looks, his mouth hanging open after he got a good look at the girl. “Dayum…”

“Really classy there, Vince, glad ‘ta see you really got stylin' while I was gone. This is Chou. I think you met on Parents’ Day?”

“One of the hotties you hang out with? How could I forget? Good to see you again.”

Chou’s voice was flat, which made Cindy and Toni giggle, “Hello Vince.”

“You wanna spend some time alone with me?” He said suggestively.

“Sorry. I’m in a relationship.” Chou tried to deflect things gently, aware that going off on the boy might be a step too far.

“Vince, don’t hit on your sister’s friend,” Toni’s father called out from the couch where he was sitting and reading the paper.

“Yes dad.”

The younger siblings ran into the room and all but tackle-hugged Toni. “Toni! Toni Toni Toni!”

“Didja bring me anything?”

“Of course I did. A big can of Vince repellent.”

The two kids giggled at that while Vince called out, “HEY! I heard that!”

Lucy looked at her a bit wide eyed. “Can I call you Chou? Is that okay?”

“Yes, it is more than okay,” replied Chou.

Matt asked a bit worriedly, “Umm, I don't have to call you your superhero name?”

“No, Chou is just fine.”

Matt cocked his head, as if trying to figure something out. He turned to look at Toni and asked, “Did she bring me something for Christmas?”

“Matt, stop trying to guilt people into buying you more presents,” called a growingly familiar voice.

“Yes dad.”

Toni handed the bags over to the two of them. “Could you guys take these up to my room? Chou has to meet Grammy.”

They nodded and lugged the several bags up the stairs. Toni led her friend into the family room, where Grammy Evadne and Uncle Carl were watching a program on the television. It seemed to be a news report about things going on in New York.

Toni went up and gave her Grammy a big hug. “Grammy! I missed you.”

The elderly woman hugged her most recent granddaughter and kissed her on the cheek. Carl turned and looked over at who Toni had brought with her. “What’s this chink doin’ in our house? Does she speeka de English?”

Grammy rocketed to her feet, stalked over and smacked Carl in the back of his head. “Carlton Morris Chandler! You apologize to her right this instant!”

Chou was struggling to remain calm, still not used to the racism that she was forced to deal with because of the change she had gone through. Was it always like this for non-whites? “Yes I speak English. It’s my native language since I come from Tennessee.”

Toni rolled her eyes at her idiot uncle who was so self-important, “Yeah, Uncle Carl, you've heard of Tennessee, haven't you?"

Mr. Chandler called out from the other room, his voice clearly full of amusement, "Yeah, Carl. You know. The football team you bet forty bucks against? The ones who stomped the tar out of your alma mater? I'm still waiting for that forty."

Carl grumbled some at that but said, “I’m sorry Miss.”

“Thank you.”

“Now dear, I am sorry for my son.”

“No problem ma’am. I’ve heard worse growing up in Knoxville.” lied Chou, not wanting to make things any more uncomfortable than they actually were.

“Now have you girls heard anything about this Angel of Hell’s Kitchen?”

“The who in the where?” said both girls, in synch.

“Now Mom, this is probably just some sort of hype. I mean listen to some of the commentators. It’s probably all fake.” stated Carl.

Chou and Toni shared a look. “Actually with finals and stuff, we’ve been too busy to pay attention to the news.”

Grammy Evadne smiled at them, “Well, apparently an Angel appeared at some Catholic Church in Hell’s Kitchen, healing the sick and blessing everyone. No one is sure what is going on, if they’re an actual angel, a mutant or some sort of hoax.”

“That’s pretty wild.” said Toni. “I wonder what is actually going on up there?”

“Toni, I know that look. We are not going to New York to poke around!” adamantly stated Chou, well aware that Toni would do that without blinking.

“But Chou, it’ll be awesome. How much trouble could we get into?”

“One word, Boston.” That well chosen word took the wind out of Toni’s sails.

“Fine. You’re no fun,” pouted Toni.

“Why am I the voice of reason here?” lamented Chou.

“Well, I guess that’s because no one else is here to take up the slack,” teased Toni, poking Chou in the side.

Toni’s mother called out, “Besides Toni, you have surgery tomorrow afternoon. They’re breaking and resetting your hips…remember?” Toni looked even more downtrodden at that reminder.

“Yeah…I remember. Fine we’ll just stay here is boring old Baltimore where nothing interesting ever happens.”

23 December 2006

“Come on Chou. You have to meet my instructor. He’s awesome. He’s responsible for me getting to be who I am today.”

“So you’re letting me know who to blame?” quipped Chou.

“Come on. He’s awesome. Hell, we can even do a short demo of the stuff Sensei Ito taught us,” bounced Toni, almost too excited for words. Chou felt like she was dealing with a hyperactive toddler on sugar.

“Fine, we can meet him. Okay?”

Toni looked smug in her victory and didn’t even try to hide it. Chou might have been upset if this was an unusual response. But it wasn’t. That smug look almost seemed to be the girl’s usual look. Toni succeeded far too often for her own good.

They got a ride to the studio and were just in time to witness the eleven o’clock class. Things stopped when the instructor noticed who was standing there at the edge of the mat, grinning. “Hey there. How have you been?”

“Fine Sensei. This is my friend Chou. She goes to the same school I do and is also an awesome martial artist, like myself. She just doesn’t have my personal flair.” Toni seemed to be eating this up.

“Really Chandler? This I have to see. Have you gotten any better?”

“There’s a rumor to that effect. If you want, Chou and I could spar for the class.”

The Asian girl groaned at that. The instructor looked between them amused. “It doesn’t look like your friend wants to play.”

“Okay…how about you have your best student fight Chou and then I’ll fight the winner?”

“Toni…you know what Mrs. Carson said…” hissed Chou.

“Relax. I was doing my Ki tricks here before I headed up to the school. They’ve seen them. And there is nothing overly odd about you if you don’t use the sword.”

“Sword?” The instructor raised an eyebrow at this, obviously intrigued. “What kind?”

“A jian.”

“Not a katana? How original. Nowadays kids all want to use samurai swords to hack things up. I told this one that I wasn’t going to let her touch any sharp weapons until she was at least fifteen.” He replied happily. “So… want to show these people what you can do?”

“Honestly no, but Toni would find some way to have her way,” grumbled Chou, positive that this was a bad idea.

“So what art do you study?” He asked politely.

“Wudan Tai Chi.”

His eyebrows raised in surprise. “Really? That is also pretty rare outside of China. This should be interesting.”

Chou took off her shoes and threw them at Toni, who caught them and set them down on the floor alongside hers. “Come on Chou…you can do this!”

With great effort Chou restrained herself from flipping off Toni. But it was a close call. Chou bowed onto the mat and then walked to the center of the circle. The students had all moved to the sides to better watch the demonstration. She stood relaxed and centered her breathing, trying to forget that she wanted to stuff Toni into a trashcan.

“Class, you may remember Toni Chandler. She has come back to visit and brought her friend along. Michael, you get to fight Chou here and the winner spars against Toni. Any questions?”

A few hands went up, especially from the younger kids. One little girl with blond hair asked, “Does she do Aikido too?”

“Sorry Sarah, she does Tai Chi which is an internal art from China. It is quite a bit different from Aikido, so this should be interesting.”

Michael, who looked to be about seventeen or eighteen, took his stance. Chou just relaxed and let her Chi flow out from her. She caught the quirked eyebrow of the instructor and was wondering if he had sensed her chi moving out and around her. The man just smiled and said, “Hajime!”

It almost seemed as if the guy were moving through molasses as he came towards her. As he moved in she reached out, took his hand and threw him to the floor, using Grasp the Swallows Tail, making the boy go ass over teakettle. He landed well and Chou let his hand go rather than follow up. She stepped back and waited. The whole thing had taken a little more than the blink of an eye.

The boy came to his feet and set his position again. He was waiting for her, and given the way Aikido was a receptive art it made sense. Chou reached her chi up and separated the boy’s arms, just slightly, with a flowing movement of the arms making a full circle, as she slid in and used a double palm strike to his torso. He was flung back and hit the ground hard. Michael just lay there and tapped out on the mat. The class was quiet, stunned by the brevity of the fight.

The sensei looked over at Toni and asked, “Is she…?”

“Nope, it’s all training.” This seemed to impress him even more.

Chou meanwhile moved over and helped the boy to his feet. She smiled shyly, “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about that. It was amazing. I’ve never seen anyone move that fast. How did you do that?”

“Well, if you use precise movements with very little wasted motion then that speeds you up. And your chi can give you a boost as well. Anyone can learn how to do it,” replied Chou.

He smiled, rubbed the back of his head and then bowed deeply to her. She blushed and bowed back.

Toni came out to the mat and smacked Michael on the shoulder. “Isn’t she awesome?”

Now it was the boy’s turn to blush and he stammered out, “Uh…yeah.”

The instructor got the classes attention. “Okay. Now for those of you who weren’t with us this summer Toni here developed a tremendous control over her chi which has allowed her to do so much more than she had been able to. These two ladies have promised us a demonstration of what they can do. Toni is one of my students so let’s see how they both do. Whenever you ladies are ready we can start.”

“Toni.”

“What? I’m getting psyched to beat you.”

“Let’s not get overly aerial this time. Don’t need Carson after us.”

“Fine. Can we get down to the beatings now?”

Chou chuckled at this, “Sure.”

Out of all the match ups during Sensei Ito’s class, other students looked forward to these two sparring the most, as Chou was one of the few people who could somewhat counter the hyperactive Ki monkey. It had gotten to the point that the two of them thought of it as a game. It had morphed from fighting to win to fighting to bring out the best in the other. And certainly there was no one who wanted to face the two of them together.

They exploded into a frenzy of motion not seen by these kids since the first Matrix movie. Both of them were grinning at each other as they threw a blinding array of kicks and punches, elbows and knees, using their internal energies to turn the tide of battle back and forth between them. Occasional hits got through, and the person often rolled with the attack, coming back to their feet and back into the match instantly.

Toni was slowly turning things in her favor and Chou could feel it. In any fight between them, Toni had the better Ki control unless the Tao filled Chou, since even the tiniest bit helped. But without a sufficiently strong boost, the fights almost always ended the same way. After a complex series of hand strikes Toni slipped her hands around and got Chou into a classic Aikido arm bar that she couldn’t get out of. The Asian girl tapped out, her smile undimmed.

There wasn’t a sound in the studio.

The two girls looked around nervously, unsure what to do when all of these kids were staring at them all wide eyed. The moment broke and the class erupted into a clamor, kids rushing the two of them to ask the forty million and one questions they had about getting that good.

Chou realized that she needed to do something to mess with her friend. “So are you ready for your fight against your instructor?”

Toni looked surprised at that, and her teacher just started laughing. “Come on Toni. It’ll be fun.”

Toni looked ready to agree, but then her mother came into the studio. “Come on dear, we have to get to the hospital”

Her instructor looked over worriedly to Toni. The girl just shrugged. “It’s no big deal. They have to break and reset my hips. Easy.”

Chou just shook her head.

The two girls headed out to the car and drove off to the hospital. Toni was quickly admitted and wheeled into the back for surgical prep. Now all they had to do was wait.

linebreak shadow

It was planned as a short operation, considered outpatient surgery because she was a mutant. They were going to be breaking and resetting Toni’s hips so that she would be able to move better, not that Chou thought that had to be done. Having that girl be able to move better might be a problem for the rest of the school.

It had taken a huge amount of meds to knock the girl out, and she was only a little groggy. They kept giving her the pills like they had been told. Supposedly they would help reduce the massive amount of pain the girl had to be in from what had occurred. Once they got to the house and wheeled in the goggle-eyed Toni, who was obviously stoned out of her gourd, a problem occurred to them. Getting her upstairs without hurting her.

Vince didn’t want to get involved, since he seemed to think that he could catch mutie-ness by touching her. That made Matt offer to help. Carl and Joel were busy trying to figure out who could carry the girl the easiest. Chou sighed and rolled her eyes. Sometimes people chose the dumbest things to stress over. “Oh no, don’t worry about it. I have her.”

Chou took a deep breath, filling her body with Chi in order to enhance her strength, taking care of moving the girl, as she was stronger than she looked, and shifted her until she was carrying her like a baby, trying to keep any pressure off of her hips. Vince moved out of the way, while she just stood there waiting for him. Vince so far had done nothing to endear him to her in any way, shape or form. Not that Chou actually cared about him.

Carl watched open-mouthed, as the little Chink kid carried Toni up there like she was weightless. Mr. Chandler smirked, poked his brother in the side and said, “Oh, did I mention that she can probably bench-press your car? You might not want to get her too pissed at you.”

Toni tried to say something, and slurred words past the point of comprehension. Chou laid her friend on her bed, getting her under the covers. When she saw Toni wince, Chou grabbed some water and more pain killers. It required a great deal of help to get Toni positioned so that she could take the drugs without wincing. She swallowed the four Darvocet and flumped back down onto the bed.

“Are you good Toni?”

Her friend simply nodded weakly.

“If you need help getting to the bathroom or need anything else, just use the Spots.” Chou smiled down at her friend a bit worried. Breaking and resetting hips couldn’t be comfortable. “Want a little Chi Gung healing?”

Toni nodded again, hating the fact that she was so drugged up that there was no way she could learn the technique. Maybe Chou would share later, when the blue squirrels were no longer singing and dancing in the room.

Chou clapped her hands together loudly, pulling the Chi to them, and rubbed them, the friction generating both heat and Chi. She placed her hands on Toni’s hips and began to see warm, relaxing energy entering the girl. She pictured the swelling reducing, the bones mending, the blood flowing normally, the meridians of her Chi repairing. It would take a while for things to calm down, but Toni should be feeling a great deal better by the morning, between this and Toni’s own rapid healing.

Once Toni was settled into the bed, Chou headed downstairs where the rest of the Chandlers were. She smiled, still a bit nervous to be around so many people she really didn’t know. What did she have to talk to them about?

When she got down there both Lucy and Matt were waiting for her. Matt tugged on her shirt and asked, “Do you really have a sword that talks?”

Chou smiled. “I do. Why, want to talk to it?”

Lucy’s eyes grew really big, “Can we?”

“Sure. Let me just go get her.” Chou hustled upstairs and brought out the document tube. When she was downstairs she opened the tube and pulled Destiny’s Wave free, with the kids all wide eyed at the scabbard. Chou drew the sword and the jade blade seemed to glow under its own light.

Carl watched open-mouthed, as the little Chink kid pulled free a fairly intimidating looking sword. Mr. Chandler smirked, poked his brother in the side again and said playfully, “Oh, did I mention that she uses a sword?”

Grammy and Mrs. Chandler chuckled at this and went back to the TV.

Destiny’s Wave sensed the other people around her and asked, “Ni hau.”

Lucy and Matt gasped, stunned that a sword could actually talk. Lucy looked over at Chou and said, “What’d it say?”

“She said hello.”

“Greetings to you both.” said Destiny’s Wave, after talking to Chou mentally for an update.

“Wow.”

“So…like are you smart?” asked Lucy, too nervous to reach out and touch the blade like Matt did.

“I am fairly smart.”

“How? Are you like some sort of mutant devise or something?” Matt was fascinated with the carvings on the flat side of the blade.

“I was made like this, and imbued with intelligence,” replied Destiny’s Wave.

“Huh?”

“She means that someone else made her smart,” helpfully added Chou.

“Do you know if we’re going to become mutants like Toni?”

“The Tao flows as it wills and no one can know all of its twists and eddies.”

“Huh?”

“She doesn’t know. You might or you might not.”

Matt leaned in closely and whispered, “Will I turn into a…girl?”

Chou smiled and chuckled some, whispering back. “No one knows Mattie. Being a girl isn’t that bad, just different.”

Both Lucy and Matt’s eyes grew wide and she asked, “You?”

Chou nodded. “So you never know. Just live your life and don’t worry about it. If you change your sister will be there for you. And if you change, well, who listens to Vince anyway.”

As the group of them started laughing Vince looked over and gave his most charming smile. This actually set off the other three again. What did he have to do to impress this babe?

A voice spoke over the Spots. “Chou?”

“Just a second.” replied Chou. “I’ll be right back you two. Don’t bother Destiny’s Wave too much.”

As she headed upstairs to help Toni with whatever she needed she could hear the two of them start asking the sword more questions.

24 December 2006

Toni was feeling infinitely better in the morning and had walked downstairs on her hands, since her hips hurt too much to move. She was taking half the amount of pain killers as she had been taking last night, and so wasn’t as groggy. When she started hopping around with her wheelchair like she was competing in the Paralympics X-Games it was decided that they could head out to the mall, so Toni could move a lot more and calm down some.

“So Vince is driving us?” Chou asked as she helped Toni get into the family van and folded up the wheelchair, a bit concerned that they had to go somewhere with the idiot. Having Matt and Lucy with her was one thing. Vince was another. He was watching her way too closely and oozed smarm.

“Well, yeah,” Toni answered. “Sorry. I told my folks that we’re fine on our own but the bus lines aren’t geared to load wheelchairs, and it’s WAY too far to walk, especially in this weather.”

“You know I can hear you, right,” complained Vince, who was not pleased to be transporting the freak and its friend. Granted the Asian girl was hot but did she have to be friends with Toni?

The two girls smiled at each other, amused by things. They were both looking forward to this trip to the mall, as they both needed a few things now that they were in civilization. Chou for one had been ordered by the other Kimbas to buy more clothes that did not consist of Yoga pants and mandarin tops. It bugged Chou but she did yield grudgingly. Toni had offered to guarantee that this fashion exchange would take place as soon as possible. When the other Team Kimba girls agreed, Chou had blushed. She hadn’t thought what she had been wearing was all that bad.

So now they were on a fashion rescue mission, according to Toni. That description annoyed Chou, more for its truth than anything else. She was still having trouble accepting the fact that she was female now in every way possible with no chance of returning to being a man anytime in the near future. She was stronger in the Tao and her skills had increased greatly, but she was nowhere close to what she needed to be able to take on the Demon Lord of Fiery Immersion.

Toni seemed pretty happy for someone who had their hips reset and broken the day before. Chou had shown the girl a few Chi Gung methods for rapid healing and worked on her friend as well, with some of the healing tricks that Becca had shown her. The girl seemed fine for the most part, and she was moving around really well in the wheelchair she had been given. Any normal person would still be trying to deal with learning the intricacies of using it, but she had already gotten to where she was doing flips in the thing.

Vince finally got them there and pulled into a normal spot, as they hadn’t gotten a handicapped placard, since Toni was sure that she would heal in no time, between her power and Chou’s healing skills. The two of them walked and rolled in front of Vince who wasn’t sure if he wanted to watch Chou’s ass or to scowl at the freak. It was a tossup as far as he was concerned. Matt and Lucy walked next to the girls which only served to further confound the boy as to who he needed to keep his eyes on.

They got in to the place and Matt took off like a rocket. Vince yelled after the boy, “Hey!”

“Vinny, chill out.” chided Toni. “We all know where he’s going so it shouldn’t be a big issue. Chou, do you think the Tao can keep an eye on him?”

Chou looked at her friend like she had gone insane. Wasn’t that a bit of an overly obvious question? “Well, yeah, is that what you want me to do? Keep track of him through his chi signature?”

She nodded. Chou just shrugged and stopped walking, taking a moment to connect to the Tao and find Matt’s thread. Once she had a good connection to it she opened her eyes and smiled. “Got him.”

Toni smirked at her brother. “See Vince, all covered.”

Her older brother growled. Stupid mutie brother acting all smug. The day would be better if he could just spend it with Chou, getting her to see what a wonderful guy he was. If she knew how dope he was, she would want to hang with him instead of the freak. So far nothing he said or did had gotten through to the oriental hottie. He would just have to try harder.

Toni meanwhile, was steering Chou and Lucy towards one of the more popular clothes places. “Come on Chou. Time to expand that wardrobe.”

“Do I have to?” whined Chou, not really wanting to buy more clothes, despite what she had been forced to promise the others back at Whateley. It had just barely stopped short of Fey putting a geas on her.

“Yes. I don’t want to get into trouble and you so totally do not want Nikki to be the one dragging you around clothes shopping. I won’t force you into dresses. She would. You’ll have to buy at least one or two, and some skirts, but I am not going to make you dress all floofy.”

Lucy chimed in at this point. “I think you would look really pretty in a dress, Chou.”

The Asian girl sighed and gave up. There was no way she was going to win in this and she knew it. It might be best if she just gave in and accepted that she was going to have to change her style.

Toni and Lucy ran amok grabbing different things for her to try on. Lucy seemed to have a fairly good fashion sense and half the time it seemed like Toni was messing with her due to the overly girly nature of some of what was being picked. This was not endearing Toni to Chou. Vince stood there awkwardly, not sure what he should be doing, as he was in chick country and completely out of his element.

Chou picked up a couple of things from there, mostly a couple of really nice blouses and a few pairs of slacks. They went from store to store until Chou had amassed a sizable collection of clothes, including a few dresses and skirts. This seemed to mollify Toni, as she had done her job of herding the Asian girl through the shopping extravaganza.

On the way between two of the stores this African-American teen came over and tried to turn on the charm towards Toni, “Hey baby, are you tired? Cuz you been runnin' through my dreams all night long.”

Lucy giggled with how dumb that sounded while Toni smiled back at the boy. “No, I’m fine. I’ve been training for the New York Marathon. Want to run with me?”

The boy looked nervous at this and tripped over his own feet as he was trying to get away from the crazy hot chick.

The three girls looked over at each other and began to giggle. Vince frowned. So, pick up lines were out. How was he going to manage to hook up with the freak’s hot Asian friend?

Now that it was time for lunch and the girls realized that Matt was still nowhere to be found, they needed to collect him. Chou led them right to the boy, who was in the toy store, slowly going through things item by item, trying to decide what was better.

“Matt, what are you doing? We were supposed to stick together.”

“I was gonna, but check this out! It’s SO COOL!” Matt held up one of the boxes. The box proclaimed in large, luridly-colored lettering, ‘KNIGHTS OF PURITY!’ with ‘Defenders of Humanity’ in smaller letters under it. The picture on the box showed a large, rather clunky looking suit of off-white power armor struggling with a bulked up, muscle-bound misshapen figure in tattered clothing in urban ruins. The power-armored figure was wielding a long bat-like weapon with six flat sides and sharply defined edges. The lettering along the cellophane window that showed the actual figure said, ‘Batter’.

“ ‘Knights of Purity’?” Chou read over Chaka’s shoulder. “What next, ‘Ku Klux Klan’ cabbage patch dolls?”

“KKK?” Toni said, “Nah. The KoP is obnoxious enough, but they’re not KKK. We got Humanity First! for that sh- stuff.”

“They’re NOT?” Chou hooted. “I mean, I keep hearing about the Knights, but I always assumed that they were like H1!, but with assault rifles.”

“And who says that Aitch-Wun doesn’t have assault rifles?”

“What ARE they, then?”

“Would you believe they’re mercenaries?”

“Mercenaries?” Chou said, eyes popping open, “Are you telling me that there are MERCS running around the country in power armor killing mutants, and not only isn’t the FBI tracking these bastards down, but they’re making and selling DOLLS of them?”

“Action Figures!”

“Thank you, Mutt,” Toni said. “It’s not quite like that. By ‘mercenary’, what I mean is that they’re a *ahem!* ‘private security company’ that offers ‘Crisis Intervention’ services to city governments when their police and SWAT units aren’t up to –quote- ‘putting down dangerous super-powered berserkers-”

“Quote?”

“Yeah, that’s what it says, right here on the box.”

“How do you know about all this?” Chou asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Mom sent me an e-mail a couple of weeks ago about them,” Toni replied. “It seems that the Knights are lobbying to set up shop here in B-more.”

“Oh, joy,” Chou groused, “Just what you wanted from Santa.” She peered at the boxes. “ ‘Batter- pitcher- catcher- runner- shortstop… What, someone got a baseball fetish?”

Chaka picked up one of the boxes. “Nah. The names are kinda goofy, I admit, but they’re based on basic close-quarters combat rules. The ‘Batter’ is the hand-to-hand specialist, with a big, powerful- but slow- heavily armored frame.”

“Armed with a club,” Chou sneered. “How high-tech.”

“Nothing wrong with sticking to the basics. A big-ass club will beat you just as dead as a plasma cannon will. And speaking of plasma cannons, the ‘Pitcher’ is a long-range specialist and has a flight pack. The ‘Catcher’ is the capture unit- duh!” Toni pointed to the large padded area on the front of the unit, with its four matching ‘Dr. Octopus’ tentacles. “The ‘Runner’ is the fast-action unit- dunno how they handle the speed, but it’s a harasser, like Nightgaunt or you, keeping the bunny off balance. And the ‘Shortstop’ is the utility unit. There are too many different kinds of mutants- Oh! My Bad! ‘Supervillains’!- to build a different kind of armor to handle them, so they have this unit which has all kinds of sockets and things, so they can just slap on whatever they need. Well, as long as they have it in stock, I guess.”

“And so they can keep selling ‘upgrade’ kits for the dolls,” Chou said acidly. She raised an eyebrow at Toni. “And how come you know all this?”

Toni grinned. “My boy T-bird and his crew, Barricade, managed to lay their hands on a suit of KoP armor, and they’ve been analyzing it down in the Workshop.”

“You’re kidding! HOW did they get their hands on a suit of KoP armor?”

“Gee… I… guess I forgot to ask…”

Chou looked closely at the action figures. “These things can’t be accurate. There’s no way that they’d let anyone actually SEE how those things are put together.”

“Got that right,” Toni agreed. “They left out the secondary sensor suites, the light machine gun backup and that recharge plate.”

“Recharge plate?”

“Yeah, all the units have this large diamond-shaped black plate on the back, right about here,” Toni pointed at point just between where the plastic figure’s shoulder blades would be.

Rack thinks that it’s some sort of broadcast power receiver, ‘cause the batteries these things carry are too frickin’ small to power a suit for any real fight.”

“Where would they be recharged from?” Chou asked.

“The drop ships!” Matt answered. “The Knights fly around in these rilly kewl airships, and the ships have guys in ‘em who tell the Knights what’s goin’ on in the fight!”

“It’s called ‘Tactical Overwatch’, Matt,” Chou told him. “But that doesn’t make any sense - why would they TELL people about that, if it was obvious that the best thing to do would be to duck under cover where the ship couldn’t beam down recharge energy, or tell them what was going on?”

“I dunno… Oh My Gawd, will you look at THIS?” Toni pulled a box from a shelf. As G.I. Joe™ had Cobra©, and the Transformers™ Autobots© had the Decepticons©, so apparently the Knights of Purity had their own line of enemy toys, the Vanguard of Superiority©. The figures were uniformly deformed, disgusting and vile looking- which was guaranteed to make them popular with 8-to-13 year old boys.

“Are those supposed to be mutants?” Chou looked at the box. “Yep, Abominax©. Apparently he shoots some sort of goop out of his mouth.”

“OH COOL! Can we get it, Toni?”

“Mutt, do you really think that mom would let you get that gunk in the carpet?” Toni turned her attention back to Chou. “No, that’s not the point! I recognize this! This is Vrithlarg the Dissolver© Alien Invader©, from the Galactic Rangers™ toy line! They just changed the paints from purple and green to ‘flesh tone’ and red! They didn’t even change the molds! See, he’s still got the plasma whip, and everything?”

“I take it that you were a fan of this franchise?”

“Hell yeah! I had as much of their junk as I could get away with!”

“And now the Galactic Rangers are hunting down mutants. How does that make you feel?” Chou teased.

“Not as bad as hearing that the Knights have a decent record of capturing non-mutant supervillains alive, but for some strange reason, mutants just seem to keep getting ‘killed resisting arrest’.” Toni said seriously.

“Is it that bad?” Chou relented.

“Chou, honey, if real cops had the arrest casualty rate that the Knights do, half the cities in the US would go up in riots.”

“That’s disgusting!” Chou said gravely. “Can’t we DO anything about this crap?”

“Ask your roomie.”

“Ayla? What does she have to do with this?”

“Don’t you know? The Knights of Purity were founded, and are run by Herbert H. Goodkind, Ayla’s father’s brother.”

“You’re telling me that the Goodkinds are running armored anti-mutant death squads?”

Toni picked up one of the KoP dolls. “Not only that, but they’re making money doing it.”

Matt chimed in at this point. “So, can I get them?”

Both Toni and Chou looked at each other and then back at Matt. Toni wheeled herself a little bit closer to her brother, leaned in and gently asked, “Matt, who do these people fight?”

“Mutants.” replied Matt clearly but then paused, and he set the action figures down. His eyes looked like they were ready to fill with tears. Toni hugged him.

“Hey, it’s okay. They are cool action figures. Just don’t think that your big sis is a bad guy cause of them. Okay?”

Matt nodded, sniffling just a little.

“Come on, let’s go get some lunch.”

Lunch was fairly tame. There had been a moment of misadventure, when the teen boy at the ice cream place was so busy staring at Toni and Chou that he drove the scoop through a few of the sugar cones. One of the girls working there nudged him to the side to finish the order before the line got too long. Again the girls laughed over the boys’ actions.

They were just exiting the food court when all hell broke loose. Three adults with bats charged Chou, looking to beat her severely. Chou used a back hand spring to get out of the way, putting some distance between her and the attackers. Vince was ready to charge in, thinking that he could protect her, but Toni stopped him and the others, gesturing for them to simply look on. From what she could tell this wasn’t anything she needed to get involved in. Three guys with bats? Please. Chou could take them in her sleep. Who would be stupid enough to attack the girl with only three morons with bats?

One of them screamed as he charged, “Damn Mutie.”

Chou slid into the inside of the baseball swing, scissor blocked the bat and threw him with the upward motion of her right arm, disarming him with her left. The man slammed into the Dead Sea Salt Scrub cart, sending the red salty oily mess everywhere. She spun to face the other two, holding the bat one handed, like she would Destiny’s Wave.

The other two seemed a touch smarter, moving to flank her on both sides. She held her position, using her peripheral vision to keep track of their movement. Toni smirked at her and she returned the look.

Something was bothering her, why was she being attacked as a mutant? She was the only one on campus right now who wasn’t super powered and had the MID to prove it. There was an uncomfortable itch between her shoulder blades and she expanded her perceptions, using her own Chi. She needed to move, now.

The girl spun towards one of the guys as a whup of compressed air shot two taser cables out through the air where she had been standing a moment before. This dropped the other guy with a bat, leaving him convulsing on the floor. She really hoped that it wasn’t one of the tasers geared towards Bricks, or the guy was as good as dead.

She blocked a strike with the bat, continuing the spin and bringing her elbow into the back of the guys head, slamming him to the ground face first. She completed her move looking towards where the taser attack had come from. Two guys stood there, one lifting his taser and aiming it towards her. He fired before she had a chance to react.

With a quick turn of her wrist, the wooden bat got between her and the darts. She dropped it before they had a chance to release their charge. She leapt into a dive roll, coming up into a straight punch on one of the guys, who seemed flabbergasted that the tasers hadn’t worked. He stumbled back and slumped against the glass wall keeping patrons from falling into the open air above the floor below.

The fifth guy dropped the taser and snapped out an ASP collapsible baton. Bladedancer looked at him as if she couldn’t believe that the idiot would come at her after the damage she had already done to his buddies. “Fucking gene filth, I’ll show you what a human can do.”

It was obvious that the man had some training by the way that he moved but the training given to the Handmaid of the Tao by Destiny’s Wave was worlds better. She reached out with a hand and accelerated the man’s strike towards her head and she bowed backwards, so the weapon passed through the air harmlessly. She then snapped into Ward off Left, snapping the back of her hand into his diaphragm, causing him to start gasping for air. She then used Wave Hands to spin him through the air and onto one of his buddies.

She remained in the ready position as the men groaned painfully. It was clear that this plan had not gone off well. Two mall cops huffed their way to the crowd and took custody of the men and questioned everybody about what had happened. The general consensus had been that Chou had been attacked by these men with no provocation. When Chou was reaching into her purse to get her MID, Toni was trying to usher her family away from the scene.

“Sir, here is my MID. I’m not a mutant as these men claimed but I do fight against some mutants when I have to. The MCO thought it might be prudent that I have an identification that backed up my claim to be a baseline human with a great deal of martial arts training.”

This surprised the mall cop. His buddy, who wasn’t as overweight, called in the police to take care of the mess. Chou just stood there calmly and in an unthreatening manner, using her Chi to send out a calming energy, hoping to defuse the situation. “May I please return to shopping with my friends?”

The Mall Cop looked at his paperwork and at the MID. Everything seemed to be in order. “Sure Miss Lee. Let me have the phone number where you are staying at so that the officers can call you if they have any questions. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Chou smiled at him and headed toward where she had seen Toni and her family heading. Everybody but Toni was wide eyed in surprise. This made her a bit self-conscious, “What? Do I have something on my blouse?”

Matt gushed, “That was so awesome.”

Chou blushed at that. “Uhm…thanks.”

Vince was even more in love after that. She had moved like she had been on rails, smoothly gliding from one move to another like a choreographed fight in the movies.

Toni rolled up. “Any idea what that was about?”

“Nope. I got called a mutie several times, so I guess it has something to do with Humanity First or something. Who else could it be?” Chou really was trying to figure out just what had been going on and nothing was connecting.

“I have no idea. But guys with bats, tasers? It was obvious that they had no idea who you are or what you could do to them. If they had they would have brought more people and had more weapons.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Well, it’s true. I mean you stomped those guys.”

Toni’s grin was pretty infectious and Chou joined in. Suddenly, the Tao filled her with a rush and she shoved the girl away from her, rolling back herself. A line of crossbow bolts were hurtling her way. Toni looked at her siblings and yelled, “Move!”

Bladedancer spun to her feet, trying to find where the next set of attackers was coming from. A figure dressed all in black, with a splash of red across the chest came rushing up with a Dao in their hands. The Chinese board sword was a dangerous weapon in the hands of someone skilled, and the person charging didn’t seem like a fool. She spun out of the line of attacks, wishing she had Destiny’s Wave with her right now. That sure as hell would have evened the battle.

A slash she hadn’t moved away from fast enough caught her left arm, a thin cut on her bicep. It burned and Bladedancer realized that this was a much more serious assault on her than earlier. This needed a lot more from her than a bunch of Humanity First idiots. They also seemed familiar which was a bit maddening.

The pressure of the attacks was such that Bladedancer couldn’t get her mask on or do anything to disguise who she was. This was certainly something she was going to get in trouble over. She was using Repulse the Monkey to keep the guy off of her, letting the Tao help her with knowing where everything was. That was the only warning she got.

She ducked and spun away under another sword attack. Now she had two people attacking her with sharp pointy objects and some sneaky crossbow-using fool to worry about as well. She had no idea if there were more attackers as well. She would call for help if only Chaka wasn’t in a fricking wheelchair.

When the third attacker popped out of almost no where, using a Ji, a weapon with a spear point that had a crescent shaped blade on one side of it, Bladedancer began to get really worried. She was already moving as fast as she was able, using their Chi to warn her of attacks. She needed a weapon, or something to help turn the tide of the battle. With a wrenching twist she flung herself into the air and a crossbow bolt flew through the air where she had been. “Chaka! I could use some help here!”

Toni meanwhile had herded her family back out of the way. Bladedancer was getting overwhelmed and needed her help. She started to roll forward in her wheelchair, when Vince grabbed the handles and pulled her back. “What are you THINKING, girl?” He hissed in a whisper, pulling her further into the cover offered by the Bolgren’s™ drug store. “What, you were gonna go out there and do some Blackie Chan bullshit with that wheelchair, usin’ it to whup those scumbags’ asses?”

“I hadn’t thought of it, but thanks for the great idea, Vince!”

“Hey! If you go out there, everyone’s gonna know that you’re some kind of big shot superpowered mutant, and then all that shit is gonna come down on all the rest of US! Or do you LIKE the idea of Humanity First! jumping Lucy or Mutt on the way to school?”

“Vince, I gotta…”

“Toni, how many black teenage girls in fucking wheelchairs do you think there ARE around here? Remember what happened at lunch? The first thing that’s gonna happen if you go out there, is Security’s gonna ask for that Mutie ID you got! And after that, it might as well be on the Ten O’clock News!”

Toni snarled for a moment, but allowed that her brother’s point was valid. For once. Then she sped the wheelchair down the aisles grabbing things off the shelves, seemingly at random. Less than a minute later, she strode stiffly out of the Bolgrens™ wearing a white ski parka and a black knit ski mask, with a load of various products stuffed in her pockets. She handed Vince the price tags. “Pay for this!”

Chaka’s grimace of utter pain was mostly hidden by the ski mask, and she balanced herself as best she could on a hip that was broken. She hefted the circular tin of Lithuanian© butter cookies and chucked it like a discus at the head of one of Bladedancer’s attackers, caroming it off his head and ricocheting it off two more of his compadrés. Chaka growled at herself - she figured that shot was good for at least two more hits.

Bladedancer took that moment to pluck the Chinese broadsword out of one of their hands and used the back ridge to slam into one of their heads, knocking him to the ground instantly. Another figure dropped from Chaka’s tin of cookies and then the thing clattered to the ground. Several of the attacking figures turned and headed toward Chaka.

The Handmaid of the Tao was fighting faster now that she had a weapon, just irritated that she didn’t have her sword with her. It would have made short work of these weapons. They were getting surrounded and overwhelmed and she was frantically trying to figure out a way to even things up some without resorting to killing. It was looking less and less possible.

Chaka managed to catch a glimpse of one of the figures heading towards Bladedancer, the Ki around his hands growing blacker by the second. “Dancer, behind you!”

Bladedancer spun under the incoming Dim Mak attack and sliced deeply into the man’s thighs. The man fell over as blood scattered everywhere. Bladedancer frowned. She hadn’t wanted things to get this deadly, but given the fact that they seemed like they wanted to kill her, maybe she should return the favor?

Chaka was busy using a couple of umbrellas as makeshift weapons, to sort of maximize things. The pain she was in was excruciating and it was difficult to fight without moving. Anytime she shifted her weight or dodged an attack the pain of her hips flared. It was almost so bad that she wanted to vomit in pain, but that would result in her death so she avoided that. She was doing the best her body could under the circumstances, but it was not enough.

Bladedancer was thinning out the enemies around her, using the weapon and nerve strikes to drop the attackers as fast as she could. Her blood ran cold however when she heard Chaka scream in pain. She snapped her head around and brutally cut through anyone in her way as she headed towards Chaka. The martial artist moaned, the pain white hot and overwhelming her senses. She hadn’t been able to react fast enough and had taken a staff attack against her lower back and hips. Tears poured down her face and she could hear the sound of her family screaming.

Bladedancer exploded through the figures surrounding Chaka and she felt something rush up her spine. She snapped her free hand down onto the girl’s back and sort of pushed with her Chi, sending a massive wave of energy through her body and into Chaka’s. Her Yi, or intention, shaped the energy, and the Chi mingled with the black girl’s own Ki, causing bone to knit, muscles to repair and pain to recede. Chaka gasped as the wave of healing energy flooded into her, supercharging her own system.

With a shout, Bladedancer then returned to the fray, using her Chi to enhance some of the strikes she was making to drive them back from her fallen friend. She grew less worried however when another tin of Lithuanian© butter cookies flew past her head and right into the face of an attacker. Chaka struggled to her feet, feeling better, not hurting nearly as much as she had earlier. “Dancer, let’s get these bastards.”

The two girls drove a powerful counterattack into the forces, leaping about in a deadly ballet of attack and defense. Chaka wove through the center while Bladedancer harried the figures along the outer edges, each holding to their specific skill sets. The tide of battle turned as the two threw the attackers about, with Chaka doing most of the tossing. Though squirting them in the eyes with dishwashing soap and binding them with extension cords, both from the drug store, helped.

A quick glance showed Bladedancer that a lot of cops were headed their way. “Chaka, we need to get the hell out of here, or preferably you do. I can handle the cops.”

Chaka was about to reply that she was going to need a distraction to make that happen when the attackers obliged them, several of them throwing down smoke bombs, filling the area with gray smoke. Toni stripped off her makeshift disguise and sprinted back to her wheelchair, settling into it before things cleared enough to show the Handmaid of the Tao standing there, light trickling through to illuminate her, sword in hand and bodies surrounding her.

It was something right out of a Kung Fu movie and all the Chandlers oohed and ahhed at that, including Toni, who quickly snapped a few pics before the moment could pass. Maybe these might make a cool poster that they could sell, like the Nikki ones had? She’d have to ask Ayla.

The cops hustled up, weapons drawn and yelled “Freeze!”

Chou stood there a moment and looked up at the officers. “May I grab my ID since I was the one attacked?”

“Slowly, with one hand.”

“Thank you.” Chou pulled her wallet from her purse and tossed it to the feet of the officer who was talking to her. He bent down quickly and saw the MID. He scanned the material quickly and then moved up to the girl. The other officers held their weapons where they were, still aimed at the girl.

“Okay. You are the girl the mall cops called about, who had gotten jumped earlier?”

“Yes sir. I think it may have been to distract me from this.”

The officer harrumphed. “You know this kind of thing is bad for Christmas Eve.”

“I know officer. I had no intentions of doing anything of the sort. If I may borrow your cellphone I think I can get a hold of someone who could help straighten things out.” Chou was sending out calming energy, hoping to make them stand down and deal with the actual threats that were scattered around her.

The man looked at her and then nodded. Toni took that moment to add to things, rolling up. “Chou, are you alright?”

Several of the officers turned to look at the black girl in the wheelchair. Seeing this, they dismissed her as a danger or a suspect. The other officers lowered their weapons and started zip tying the attackers.

The cop in front of her handed her his cellphone. “Make it quick.”

Chou dialed the number for security quickly. It rang twice before someone picked it up. “Security.”

“I need to speak with the Chief. It’s rather urgent.”

Delarose picked up the phone shortly. “Yes, this is Chief Delarose.”

“Uhm…Chief, this is Bladedancer. I got into an altercation and I would like you to let the nice officer know that I’m not a threat.”

Delarose sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Fine. Give him the phone.”

“This is Officer Rankin.”

“Officer, this is Chief Delarose. Bladedancer is one of my auxiliary Security officers. If you want I can pass along the various security codes you can use for verification.”

“That would be great.”

“First off my badge number is…” Delarose rattled of his federal badge number from memory. The officer wrote it down and recognized the pattern as being federal, having worked with various governmental agencies before.

“Thank you. So she poses no threat?”

“Her MID states she is simply a highly trained regular human like you or me Officer Rankin. If she didn’t start things than I am quite sure she only did what was necessary to end them.”

“Thank you.”

“May I please speak with her again?” asked Delarose politely.

“Certainly.” The man handed back the phone to Chou who did not look overly pleased.

Meanwhile, Toni was giving her statement, talking about how awesome her friend had been. “She was just amazing, right guys?”

Her family backed her up, following her lead with saying nothing about her involvement.

“Did you see the second figure?”

Toni nodded. “I couldn’t see her face, but yeah. Someone jumped in there and helped the girl out then disappeared in the smoke.”

“And that’s what you all saw?”

The others agreed. The officer wrote the last few things down and then headed off to collect more witness interviews. Toni hissed to Vince. “We need to get out of here.”

“What about Chou?” Vince was clearly worried about the Asian girl, as he really wanted to go out on a date with her.

“I’ll go and try to get her out of this, but if not we can get her later from the police station.”

When she rolled over there again, she came as close as she could. Chou looked worried which made Toni feel like there was a swarm of butterflies moving about her stomach. Chou was currently talking about the chain of events. “Uhm…excuse me…Officer?”

Officer Rankin turned to look over at her. “Yes miss?”

“Do you know when my friend will be free to go?” Toni smiled nervously.

“I just want to finish up with her statement and then she can go.”

“Thank you.” Toni sighed and talked to Chou subvocally with the Spots they were both wearing. “We’ll be near the exit.”

Chou nodded slightly, acting as if she hadn’t heard anything. She continued with her story about what had happened. Thirty minutes later they let her go, having had her run through things three times to different officers. It had been frustrating but Chou could understand the why of it all.

When she was let go, she hustled towards the exit and caught up with the others. “Can we get out of here now?”

Everyone nodded.

Chou, walking alongside Toni grumbled, “Are we ever able to go shopping without something happening to us?”

Toni chuckled, “I doubt it.”

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“Are you two all right?” worriedly asked Toni’s mom, as she watched her injured daughter stand up and carry her wheel chair into the house.

“Yes mom, we’re fine. Just a couple of little fights.”

“Little?” gaped Vince, unsure about how what he had seen even remotely constitute a ‘little fight’.

Chou shrugged. “Sadly, that really was a little fight for us. At least it wasn’t Necromancer and his pals.”

“Necromancer?” squeaked Vince. Even he was familiar with the name and reputation.

“Yeah, we fought him twice and kicked his butt,” replied Toni, justifiably proud at the achievement.

“Young lady, language.”

“Sorry mom. This fight was no big deal, really.”

Uncle Carl decided to get involved at this point. “Now Toni, getting into fights in the Mall is not a good example for Matt and Lucy.”

“But Uncle Carl, it was awesome. They were amazing!” Matt gushed, and Lucy nodded her head in agreement.

“I’m sure they were, but the fight could have put you guys in danger.”

“The first thing I did was move everybody back and away from the fight.” objected Toni.

“And besides, sir, it’s not like either of us were given a choice to avoid those fights. We were attacked and had to defend ourselves. Are you saying that was wrong?” asked Chou, spinning things.

“Now, now I’m not saying that.”

“Then what are you saying Uncle Carl?” Toni could see the particular tack that Chou was taking and decided to join in.

“You just shouldn’t have been fighting, that’s all.” Carl did not look like he was comfortable with the direction of things.

“But sir, we were only defending ourselves. Toni made sure to disguise who she is rather effectively and I had already been carded. We took every precaution to keep people safe. What could we have done differently?”

Uncle Carl looked like he had been trapped into a corner and had no idea how to get out. Toni thought it amusing that the self-proclaimed head of the Chandler family was out-foxed by two teenagers. Thankfully for Carl, Toni’s mother joined back in. “Toni honey, how come you are able to walk now?”

Toni seemed to blush and look down. “Well, I got hit pretty bad in my lower back and Chou came in to save the day. She then did some crazy ancient Chinese Healing things and all of a sudden my hips felt great. They’re still sore but not as bad as before.”

“That’s good. Now sit back down in that chair and rest them. I am happy you were healed a lot but you need to take it easy. If she didn’t heal everything then it means you still need to sit down and rest. Do I make myself clear?”

Toni slunk into the wheelchair. “Yes ma’am.”

“Good. Now I want you and Cindy to come help me with dinner.”

Toni and her older sister sighed. “Yes ma’am.”

Chou snickered slightly and headed upstairs for a short break. She needed to meditate after all of that. The relaxation would do her good.

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“Dude did you see that fight today at the Mall?” said Thomas excitedly. “It was totally awesome. One of them was kicking ass with cookie tins. Awesome.”

“Of course we saw it moron, we were there with you. But yeah, I mean how did those girls do those things?” asked Fred, who was looking up from his comic book.

“I bet I could do better.” bragged Russell, flexing his noodly arms as if he were actually buff or something. The others just ignored him, like always.

Jamal was a bit quiet. He had watched the whole fight. I wonder. Those two girls had moved so smoothly that it had almost had seemed like adults fighting toddlers in a martial arts movie. They had both done several moves that he was sure defied the laws of physics, like some of the leaping about. He would love to be able to do that, but there was like no way. “Where do you think they learned how to do those things?”

“Probably Mutant School or something.” replied Russell.

“What…like Hogwarts?” asked Thomas.

“No, you dumbass, like the X-Men. Don’t you know anything?” Fred rolled his eyes and smacked Thomas on the shoulder.

“Look, fuck you. I’m not a geek like you,” retorted Russell.

Fred moved quickly and got Russell in a headlock, giving him a painful noogie. “Take that back!”

“Did anyone else feel like we were watching the Matrix or something?” asked Jamal. “I mean, they moved like they were on wires.”

“You know I liked the way they moved.” said Thomas suggestively. “I mean, that was one fine ass sister.”

“Amen!” shouted Fred and Russell back. Jamal just shook his head. Sure she had been hot but there was no reason to say those things.

“That Asian chick was pretty hot as well; man that was a nice ass on her.”

“Fred, you into Chinks?” asked Thomas.

“Boy, I’m into some fine tail, whatever its color.”

“Man…some of those moves…Hah…damn…that was some cool ass shit. I can totally do that.” Russell bounced around getting into what passed as a fighting stance.

Jamal was feeling hot. He headed over to the window of the abandoned apartment, hoping to cool off. The others were still talking smack about the two girls, about how they were manlier and that they could take them. Not likely, one of the girls had kicked a guy ten feet. Ten Feet!

He opened the window, wishing that he could just cool off. Why was it so hot in here, and why wasn’t it bothering the others? The lights flickered in the room and the three others didn’t even shut up. Jamal threw off his jacket, as sweat began to bead on his forehead. He was so thirsty but they didn’t have any more 40s. What was going on…why was it so hot?

He looked at the glass of the window and noticed something…his eyes weren’t brown anymore. They were light blue with silverish streaks in them. He just stared at them, confused. He reached out and grabbed some of the snow from the window sill, putting it against his forehead. It melted quickly.

“Yo Jamal? What’s up? You letting in the cold Dog.” called out Fred.

“Hot…” gasped out the teen.

The others laughed at that. Thomas shook his head and said, “Dog, compared to those fine ass women you’re just fugly.”

“Shut Up,” growled Jamal. His head was pounding and he was so hot. Why couldn’t the others just shut up already?

“Whatever.” With that the other three turned back to each other and started talking all big again, about how they were going to join a gang and get some respect.

Jamal felt his legs grow weak, the voices loud, his head pounding, everything hurt. He dropped to his knees and shouted out, “Shut Up!!”

All the lights and electrical sockets in the place blew at once, sparks flying everywhere. The other three screamed in surprise and fear. Bolts of electricity flickered around Jamal, licking the walls, floor and ceiling with the power. A few stray bits stung his friends. The smell of ozone was filling the air as well as the smell of smoke. The boys screamed in fear and hauled ass out of there, not caring a whit about the boy who had fallen to his knees with bolts of electricity dancing around him, his screams of pain filling the air.

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The patrol car spotted the three kids fleeing the building and saw the smoke filling the air. He was about to give chase when he noticed the sparks of electricity filling the air as well on one of the upper floors. He snatched up his radio and said, “I have a fire on Baker near Huntington. Possibly mutant related. Backup requested.”

“Fire units have been dispatched. SWAT is enroute.”

The officer stopped his car and turned off the engine, the lights still flashing. He went to the trunk and pulled out the assault rifle that was kept there for mutant emergencies. This certainly counted as an emergency.

The officer took up position that would allow him to keep an eye on the front door. This was all he even wanted to do until there was backup. He had witnessed a few superhero battles and had been involved in the cleanup of several others. There was no way he was willing to get involved in that.

It didn’t take too long for several other units to arrive which made him feel better. The sparking began moving down the inside of the building, the blue white light flickering in the stairwell. A few local news crews pulled up and began filming, trying to figure out what was going on at the same time they were recording. The sparking light was almost at the ground floor when the SWAT van pulled up and people piled out. They moved into position and were ready to take out whatever walked through the door.

What they didn’t expect was the massive blast of electrical bolts that tore into the vehicles and seemed to reach out to any piece of metal in the area. The officers dropped their weapons and hustled back as one of the vehicles exploded. The noise of the bolts of lightning and the explosion made it impossible for them to hear the boy calling out for help.

When one brave cop pulled his sidearm and started shooting, the boy turned and fled, but not before a bolt slammed into the cop, dropping him instantly, his body smoking from traumatic electrical burns. The man groaned as he awaited an ambulance.

Jamal simply ran.

When the Mayor was called about the incident, he smiled to himself. The Knights of Purity had wanted to get more involved with the city and had offered to assign a few units to the city, if the mayor wanted it. He nodded grimly and made the call. The mutant menace had to be stopped.

25 December 2006

Sure enough, first thing Christmas morning, Matt and Lucy were downstairs to finally open their presents. The carefully folded colorful wrapping paper was turned into so much confetti before the two youngest Chandlers got to see their loot. The older Chandlers watched indulgently as the young ones dug in with materialistic glee.

“Hey, Tony!” Vince called out, “What, you don’t want any of what we got you?”

“Coming!” Toni called down the stairs. A moment later, she and Chou came down the stairs carrying armloads of presents wrapped in the same black-on-dark-yellow leopard print paper as the presents that she’d given to her Kimba teammates. Toni watched and cheered along as her family gave each other presents, and received her own presents with a certain smug grace.

She waited for last and then handed her little brother a package. “Here y’go, Bro! Merry Christmas, and all that!” Matt tore open the leopard-print paper to reveal an unmarked box. Curious, he opened the box to reveal a set of three headsets, three things that sort of looked like Wii controllers, a single thick plastic disk rather like an oversized CD player, and a set of twelve CDs.

“What is it?” Matt asked. Chaka’s hands were a blur, and suddenly it was all set up. She put one of the headsets on Matt’s head and pushed a button. Suddenly, Matt found himself in the middle of a very realistic jungle. There was a rustling in the underbrush, and suddenly a raptor dinosaur came out of the jungle and charged at him. Matt gave a scream, and suddenly he was back in his living room, but all the images of the jungle, including the velociraptor, were still there, but ghostly.

“It’s a video game,” Toni explained. “The visor is a total immersion display. You use THIS,” she pressed the Wii rip-off controller in his hand, “to shoot the baddies.” She demonstrated how to use the very elegant system, and Matt was off, eagerly zapping dino-nasties. “There are three visors, so three people can play at the same time,” she explained to the rest of the family.

“Hey, Luce, here you are,” Toni handed her younger sister a larger box. When the wrapping paper was removed, Toni insisted that Lucy open the box with her back to the wall, facing the family. Lucy opened the box, and discovered an absolutely adorable brown stuffed rabbit, apparently ‘asleep’ in a bed. “Tell it to wake up,” Toni said as she touched a remote.

Not getting it, Lucy said, “Wake up.”

The rabbit twitched, sat up and opened a pair of big gray eyes. “Hi!” it said in a high sweet voice. “Who are you?”

“I… I’m Lucy!” she said with a delighted squeak. She gave the bunny a huge hug, which it sort of melted into. Then they started talking to each other in a rapid-fire sort of way.

“The rabbit’s only a remote drone,” Toni explained to her parents quietly. “The unit’s real intelligence and power supply is in the ‘bed’. It has a range of only a couple of hundred yards. If its past that range, the bunny’s pretty basic, so we don’t have to worry about it wandering off and getting people upset.”

“That’s nice,” Uncle Carl said with a huff. “Does it do anything USEFUL?”

“Oh, it has dozens of practical uses!” Toni shot back with good cheer. “But why bore Lucy with that now?”

As Lucy and the Bunny, which was apparently overjoyed to learn that its name was ‘Wiggles’, chatted away together, Toni handed her grandmother a much smaller box. “Grammy, they say that grandparents’ greatest treasures are their memories.”

Evadne carefully opened the paper and box to find an elaborate panorama Easter Egg, the sort with a picture window in the side. “I think that you have my present for the wrong holiday,” She said with a laugh.

“Bunny, the girl who made that,” Chou explained, “has sort of a thing for eggs and bunnies.”

“Just look inside and think about your wedding.”

With a ‘what the hell’ shrug, Evadne peered into the window in the side of the egg, and there was a sort of gray haze inside it. She tried to recall her wedding bouquet, the thing that she remembered most about that moment - besides the knot in her stomach - and then, suddenly, there it was! It had white lilacs and violets… she remembered the lilacs, but she’d forgotten the violets.

And there she was, walking down the aisle of the First Gethsemane Community Church GIC, with her Uncle Fred in his good suit. And she could see all the rickety but well-maintained pews, and the 1960s-vintage decorations and everyone that she knew in their Sunday-go-to-church best and Reverend Porter… and…

And there was Louis, standing there with his best friend Jack, looking happy, tense and terrified, as only a man about to get hitched can look… Louis, who had died of a heart attack, only two weeks after their 42nd anniversary… Evadne took her eye from the panorama window with tears in her eyes. She looked up, and there was a hazy image of her in her ‘Swinging Sixties’ wedding mini-dress and Lou, hand in hand, showing over the top of the egg. “HOW?” she asked, her voice thick with remembrance and emotion.

Toni just leaned over and kissed her. “It’s magic. Let’s leave it at that. It’ll show you any memory that you have, no matter how old or forgotten. But do everyone a favor- stick to the happy memories?”

Evadne wrapped Toni up in a big hug. “Fair enough. I got enough of those to spare.”

Toni shared the hug and then went back to handing out her presents. “Cindy, when Bunny showed me that ‘Memory Egg’, the first thing that I thought was that you’d bug the heck out of Grammy, wanting to use it to remember all your lessons.” Cindy started to complain, but Toni overran her. “So, I decided to run with that.”

She handed Cindy a present, which she carefully unwrapped. Inside was another elaborate panoramic Easter egg. “Now, this is part of one of Bunny’s experiments in teaching. It won’t show what you remember, but it will help you remember specific things. AND, it will help you get, y’know, ‘in the zone’ for learning and studying and like that.

Eagerly, Cindy put her eye to the little window and focused intently. Then she yelped, “YES! I GET IT! I am SO gonna rock that next calculus exam!"

Vince and Uncle Carl leaned forward with keen interest. “Oh, and just for everyone’s information,” Toni said carefully, “most of these things are what’s called ‘Devises’- not devices, but devises. Which means that if someone takes them apart and tries to figure out how they work, all that’ll most likely happen is they’ll break and they won’t be worth anything to anyone… Vince!” she handed her brother his box.

Vince was a little more discreet than Matt and Lucy, but not much. He was a little confused when he opened the box- not to mention a lot disappointed. “A SCARF?” he said as he lifted the thick strip of white cloth out of the box. He shot Toni a look that said, ‘What? They get high tech wonders and I get a stupid scarf?’

“Not quite, Bro, it’s a headband- y’know, like on Naruto?” As Vince tied the cloth around his head, Toni wadded some excess wrapping paper into small balls. She walked across the room and made a ‘hoop’ with her hands. “Make a basket.” Vince shot her a ‘you gotta be kidding me’ look and casually threw the paper wads at the ‘hoop’. The first one missed entirely, the second one bounced off, but the next one flew unerringly through her fingers. So did the next two.

“What?” Vince looked at his hands.

“It’s a variant on Lucy’s learning egg,” Chou explained. “The egg puts you into the ‘learning’ frame of mind. That headband gets you into ‘the zone’ physically. When you wear that, and you sort of shift into ‘the zone’, and your body does what you want it to, without a lot of distractions.”

“Are we talking just basketball?”

“Nope!” Toni said. “Any form of whole-body discipline: basketball, baseball, football, tennis, jogging, you name it. Though I think you’d look kinda silly wearing it in the swimming pool.”

Vince experimentally hopped from the floor to the back of the sofa in one smooth, sure move. “YES!” he exulted, “Now THIS is what I call a CHRISTMAS PRESENT! Woo!

“Hold on, Bro,” Toni said with a warning tone. “This is strictly for practice, y’unnerstand? You can learn with it, no prob. But if you wear that thing during an actual game? Then that’s cheating. And, yes, they have ways of checking for crap like that.” Vince gave a ‘whatever’ shrug, but he still looked exceedingly pleased, and didn’t take off the headband.

“Okay, Mom, Dad, I got one each for both of you.”

Joel and Valerie each opened their box, and in each was another egg. Joel picked up the plain off-white egg and held it in the palm of his hand. “What does it do?” Then a surprised expression crossed his face, and he sort of melted with an odd grin into the cushions of the sofa.

“Joel?” Valerie looked at her husband and picked up her own egg. The same expressions crossed her face, and she joined her husband in a near-liquid state on the couch with a coo.

“What?” Cindy asked, looking at her parents’ odd expressions of satisfaction.

“Well, both Mom and Dad have high-stress careers,” Toni explained, “not to mention raising all five of us, and putting up with the stress of having a mutant in the family. So, I figured that the best gift I could give them was a little relaxation. Those eggs trigger a relaxation response in the muscles when you hold them.”

With obvious effort - and no small amount of reluctance - Valerie put her egg back in its box, and only the fact that his fingers were too relaxed to put up a real fight got Joel’s egg away from him. She gave her daughter a big ‘thank you’ hug.

“Aaannnd?” Uncle Carl was on the edge of his seat, looking eagerly at the last leopard-print box in Toni’s stash.

“And, I didn’t forget you.” Toni handed over a box. Under her breath, she added, “Or last year’s tube socks.”

Carl ripped open the paper and opened the box. He pulled out a particularly ugly tie with a hula dancer painted on it. He started to say something harsh, but he looked at the headband that Vince was wearing. “So? Does it do anything?”

“Of course it does!” Toni hit a switch on the underside of the tie, a cheesy hula melody played and the dancer moved. “See? It dances!”

Everyone enjoyed a good laugh at Carl’s expense. He just put the tie back in the box and glowered at the girl.

Toni looked at the box she had gotten from Chou with some trepidation. She knew that the Asian girl had an odd sense of humor especially given the gifts she had given Hank. So, she opened the box and looked at the pair of black, durable looking fingerless gloves. There was a Chinese character on the back of them done up in Imperial Red embroidery thread. “Hunh?”

Chou smiled. “I figured you wouldn’t mind some gloves like these and they have the added bonus of having a talisman in them.”

“Talisman? You mean sort of like what you got Nikki?”

“Yeah, but with some differences. Yours is a bit more active. You see this will enable you to increase the force of up to two strikes per day by a factor of four. That’s the best I could get done. And you have to call out the strike name to activate it.” Chou grinned widely at her friend.

“What’s the strike name?” This did make Toni a bit nervous.

“You can pick it. The first punch you throw wearing them needs to be one of the powered ones. So you get to think of something yourself.”

Toni leaned over and hugged the girl. “Thanks Chou. This is pretty cool. Here, open yours.”

Chou took the gift and started unwrapping it. She pulled out a belt buckle that was obviously made of mithril, based off of the shine. The cool part was that it was in the shape of a winged cat curling around as if taking a nap. It reminded her of Ambassador Rythax, which in turn reminded her of Molly. The buckle was just the right shape and design to securely hold her sash that kept the Robe of Midnight closed. “Oh my god, Toni…this is beautiful. It looks just like Rythax.”

“Yeah. I paid a little extra for that, but I think it will look good with your stuff. Besides, Molly will like it as well.”

Chou grinned and hugged her fellow martial artist. “Thanks.”

Once that was taken care of they headed downstairs to hang out with the rest of the family. While they were all sharing the joy of Christmas specials the local news broke the mood. “This is a special news flash brought to you by News 2. Police have been trying to deal with a rampaging mutant who seems to be heading towards the Pleasant Oaks Mall.”

The screen showed a scrawny kid giving off sparks and power arcs occasionally flying off of his body. He looked scared and was running as fast as he could. “Police have tried to isolate the area but the mutant has used its electrical powers to escape. The Mayor has issued a statement calling for all residents to stay inside while the Knights of Purity come in to bring the rampaging mutant down. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.”

The Chandlers all started talking excitedly after the announcement. Toni and Chou simply looked at each other and sighed. Mrs. Carson was going to kill them. They turned to face each other and Toni said, “Chou we have to do something.”

“I know Toni. But we also have to do it in such a way that we don’t get caught. I mean think about this, two superpowered martial artists, one with a magical sword. Does that sound like anyone we know?” admonished Chou. “I mean, we are pretty obvious to anyone who knows what to look for, and we know Carson knows us by name already.”

“I can’t sit by and let some idiots hurt some poor kid who’s probably just manifested. We can fix this.”

“What about the local heroes?” asked Chou.

“What about them? They might not get involved because the Mayor authorized the use of the Knights. This kid is going to get stomped on just because we didn’t have the courage to do something.” It was obvious that Toni was getting all worked up over the issue.

Chou just sighed, resigned to get into more trouble. “So what do we need to do?”

“We need to find the kid, rescue them and get the hell out. Easy, right?”

“Sure Toni, the two of us take on a group of power armor jockeys who know what they’re doing. We’ll be outnumbered.”

“So?”

“Why am I the voice of reason?” whined Chou.

“Because no one else is here to take up the slack. Ayla could solve this with a phone call. Fey or Tennyo could solve this with the power of OverKill, same with Lancer. Jade would defeat them with the power of cute. Sara would sex them silly. It’s left to us and our dishing out of Impact Trauma. Sorry.”

Chou groaned. “Fine, let’s get changed.”

The two headed up to the room they were sharing and slipped into their uniforms, choosing to go for their school ones rather than the ones that Jade had designed for them for Boston. This way no one would have any clue who they were, which would be what they needed in order to pull this off. The other costumes had been seen and that might arouse too many questions. After strapping on their weapons they headed downstairs to be met with Toni’s mother. “Where do you two think you’re going?”

“We’re going to save that boy.” stated Toni.

“But you’re both kids.”

“Yeah, and we fought Necromancer and his band of Merry Men twice and beat them. The two of us can take on a bunch of Knights no problem. I have my knife and Chou has her sword and they have nothing we can’t deal with.” Toni sounded like her usual cocky, overconfident self, but Chou had to agree that the girl was right. They could do this.

“We’ll be safe Mrs. Chandler, honest. I won’t let Toni do anything too stupid.”

“Thanks a lot Chou,” grumbled Toni, glaring at the Asian girl.

“We can do this. So we need to get going. Can we get a lift closer to the mall?”

Mrs. Chandler nodded. “I’ll drive you.”

Once they were in the car and on their way Chou closed her eyes to meditate in order to find the boy. As her breathing deepened Toni said, “Use the Force Luke.”

“Be quiet Toni,” chided Chou as she reached for the Tao. She could feel the conflict in the distance and how it was jangling the flow. She could tell where it was happening and sense where it was going. “We need to be dropped off near the south side of the Mall.”

The police hadn’t quite reached that area so Mrs. Chandler was able to drop them off where Chou wanted. “Good luck girls. Remember to be home in time for dinner.”

“We will Mom,” replied Toni.

Once she drove off the two looked at each other. “Game plan?”

“What if I dazzle them with my brilliance and you use that overgrown can opener of yours to open them up?” offered Toni, grinning happily.

“That sounds like a plan. We need to head over there. With the Robe we can hide in the shadows until they get close. Then we can jump them. First target is taking out the Catcher. If they can’t catch him that just leaves us dealing with the fighter types.”

Toni nodded. “I think we can do this. Oh…I just figured out the activation phrase.”

“What?”

“It’s a surprise.”

As they moved into position, Chou got this weird look on her face. “Uhm…Toni?”

“I thought we were supposed to be quiet now?”

“Whatever. Look, when you fight the Runner you need to break his left leg, preferably shin.”

“What?” Toni just stared at the Asian girls as if she had grown another head.

Chou rubbed her eyes. “I don’t know. The Tao is saying for you to do that. There could be a billion reasons for that as far as I know. I’m just the Tao’s messenger girl sometimes. It is just really clear that you need to break his left leg.”

“Through the Armor?”

Chou nodded.

“Have I told you recently what a pain in the ass the Tao is?” grumbled Toni.

“Tell me about it. I’m still getting used to being prodded by it. In combat it’s fine but outside of that…it sucks.” Chou didn’t look all that happy either.

“Okay…I’ll break the leg. But let’s just do this quick and get out of here okay?”

“Sure. But remember…this was your bright idea.”

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The team was busy herding the kid towards the capture site. It was always easier when dealing with kids, as they tended to panic easier and not think things through as much. An adult would probably have realized that they were being herded by now. Too bad they couldn’t just off the brat, but that wasn’t in their job description. They would capture the mutant and turn it over to the MCO. What happened after that they didn’t really care about. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

The tactics they were using for this particular hunt were very fairly straightforward. They were harrying him towards the capture sight, which the Catcher and Runner were heading toward. This would block the kid in and make the take down easier. It was a tried and true tactic. There was an alleyway between two buildings that would be the pickup spot. The Pitcher would fly overwatch, the Catcher and Shortstop should almost be on site and the Batter and Runner would plug the gap. The mutie would have nowhere to run.

The Batter was harrying the sparking teen towards the pickup spot, making sure to stay far enough back that the kid might think he had a chance to evade them. The Runner had swept around and would be coming from the other direction to flush the Energizer into the alley. Then there would be the relatively painless capture, at least painless for them.

Jamal, or Jolt as the news services were calling him, was running as fast as he could, which was a hell of a lot faster than he had been able to before. The problem was the fact that he wasn’t losing the armored people chasing him. They always seemed to be a step ahead of him and he couldn’t think of what else to do. So far, none of the electricity he had sent their way had done all that much to them.

When he turned into the alleyway near the Mall, he was hoping he might get a break, but by the time he reached the middle of it two other suits appeared, one looking like it was ready to catch him. He was boxed in now. “Leave me alone!”

Lighting arced off of him, but the insulated suits were able to ground the power without serious system damage. Before the flash faded however, all hell broke loose.

The Catcher dropped, as if his strings were cut, falling to the ground in a heap. It looked as if something had sheared off the power units and cut through some of the movement cables.

The Batter was actually rocked as this small figure slammed into its chest with a massive punch yelling, “It’s clobberin’ time!

The suit rocked back, and the pilot of the suit could tell there was some denting to the chest piece. Then the figure actually did a hands-free cartwheel over a swing of the bat, avoiding the attack entirely. There was a flash of silver and one of the hands fell off. “Pitcher, what the hell is going on!”

Bladedancer slide-stepped over to the Shortstop, grinning fiercely. Some of the power of the Tao was filling her, making her just a bit faster and just a bit stronger and letting her Chi feel the attacks much clearer. Chaka was on the other side of things waling on the other suits. The Asian girl slashed with Destiny’s Wave at chest level, opening a huge gouge in the power armor.

“I’ve got you covered. Two attackers.” The Pitcher aimed and fired at the one with the light green sword who seemed to be causing the most damage.

Bladedancer smirked and back flipped away from the Shortstop, the shot slamming into the suit of powered armor, dropping him.

“We have two men down! We need immediate back up! Two unknown assailants!”

Bladedancer called out, “Hey, I’ve got two. You still playing with yours?”

“Shut up. One just stood there and let you. We agreed that the Catcher didn’t count in this.”

“You keep telling yourself that. I took down one then and you’re still behind,” teased Bladedancer.

“Alright, that’s enough!” Chaka used her Ki to seriously up her speed and she slashed all of the control cables making the arms droop uselessly. She then bicycle kicked the bat into the legs of the Runner who was starting to move towards Bladedancer.

The speedster stumbled over the huge chunk of metal and fell to the ground face first, falling painfully onto his left leg. She leapt over and slashed those movement cables before it could get up. She then kicked really hard into the left leg, denting the frame and lifting up the suit to spin through the air and crash into the wall.

As she was spinning back towards the Batter, who was priming the machine gun, Bladedancer was dodging shots from the Pitcher. The guy was at least twenty five feet in the air, taking shots at her, feeling safe at his distance. She focused her Chi and bounded up the wall, letting the Lightfoot Kung Fu take her up there, where she could take a strike at him. The surprised figure was able to move backward, avoiding the strike, but only barely.

Jamal just stood there as the carnage raged around him, wide eyed. It was the girls from the Mall, and they were even more awesome than before. And that sword was awesome.

Chaka called out to Bladedancer, after disabling the weapon and dropping to attack the legs of the Batter. “Come on slowpoke, I already took down both of mine. You should be ahead of me.”

"Did yours fly?"

"Only after I hit him!"

"Then shut up!" said the Handmaid of the Tao as she bounced off of the ground and moved toward the tree line where she might be able to get some better height. “I’m gonna try to draw the Pitcher away! Get the kid and scramble before backup arrives.”

The Pitcher did follow Bladedancer over to the trees, sure that the kid was going to duck under the bare branches which wouldn’t impede a shot at all. What he didn’t expect was for the person to land lightly on the tops of the trees and to leap into the air after him again.

He brought up his weapon to block the sword and was stunned when the barrel was cut in two. He backed off as Bladedancer fell to the tree tops again, balancing there, which was taking more focus than the fight was.

Chaka ran up to the boy and held out a hand, and in her best Schwarzenegger voice said, “Come with me if you want to live.”

Jamal took the kid’s hand and she pulled him up. The crackling energy amped down and they took off running toward Bladedancer. “What are we doing? Shouldn’t we be running away?”

“I’m not leaving my friend with her back uncovered. Let’s go.”

The bursts from the light machine gun were making it difficult for Bladedancer to close the distance. And if she couldn’t close, she couldn’t fight him. The few throwing daggers she had did no serious damage to the system, mostly lodging into joints which slightly impeded movement. Something needed to happen to turn the tide of the battle or she might be in trouble. All she needed was an opening.

A manhole cover spun through the air and slammed into the side of the Pitcher, ringing the armor pretty well. Bladedancer took that moment’s pause to flit in and cut the power unit and flight pack from the armor’s back. Once that was removed, the armor plummeted to the ground, bouncing off of a few trees on the way down. The figure lay there, unmoving for a moment, before the Handmaid of the Tao hustled to catch up with Chaka.

“So I get an assist for that one right?” asked Toni sweetly as the three of them ran back towards the Chandlers’ house, with Chou scanning for any watchers.

Chou rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Fine. You got an assist.”

“So that means I won…right?”

Chou did the sigh of long suffering and turned to look at the other Team Kimba martial artist. “You won. Happy now?”

Chaka just did the Happy Dance.

After they had made it out of the cordoned off area, Jamal paused to catch his breath while the two girls stood there calmly, breathing easily. They were so hot that it almost took his breath away. Maybe one of them might be interested in dating him? “Who the hell are you guys?”

Chaka grinned mischievously at the question. “I’m Batman.”

Chou swatted her and said. “I’m Bladedancer and this is Chaka. We’ll answer the rest of your questions when we get you safe.”

“Wait…you guys have a secret lair?”

Toni smirked, “Something like that.”

Chou looked over and saw that the boy was still unconsciously sparking. “Want me to take care of that for you?”

Jamal looked at the sparks and blushed. “Uhm…please?”

Chou drew Destiny’s Wave and held it in her left hand. “I need to know which nerve points will disable his power.”

Jamal’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when the sword said. “I’ll indicate them. After you hit them, turn your hand counterclockwise.”

Jamal whispered over to Toni. “The sword talks?”

“Listen, this is actually one of the least freaky things about our school.”

Chou spotted the points and quickly struck the points, turning her hand at impact just the way the sword had indicated. The sparking went out instantly. “That should help. We need to get going. A police cruiser should be by here in a moment.”

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They walked through the back gate and headed for the kitchen door. Jamal was a bit surprised to say the least. “This is your secret lair?”

Toni just grinned and walked in. “Mom, we’re home. We have a guest with us.”

Jamal was even more surprised by this. Mrs. Chandler came into the kitchen smiling. “You girls were on TV. That was very impressive, dear.”

Chou groaned, sure that Carson was going to hurt them over this. But it wasn’t like they really had a choice. They had to save the kid or else he would probably be dead now. It was their duty to help. Maybe she could blame it on the Tao?

Toni just ignored her friend’s groans of dismay. “Mom, this is Jamal, who we’re calling Jolt for safety reasons. We need to keep him out of sight while we get a hold of the school.”

“No, that’s not Jamal, that’s your cousin Curtis.” replied Grammy Evadne said gently but firmly. “Cause if it were someone else we’d be harboring a fugitive,” she added sotto voce.

“Oh.” was the only response from the two girls to this revelation.

“So, cousin Curtis?” asked Toni to clarify.

Grammy nodded.

“Well, welcome to our humble abode cousin Curtis.”

Jamal just stared at everyone rather confused.

“And you’re sure he’s safe?” asked Mrs. Chandler.

The two girls nodded. Chou smiled at her and said, “I sort of blocked his access to his powers for a little while.”

Jamal looked down at his hands. “Yeah, it kinda’ worked. But I can feel it, building up. Slower’n before, but it’s still there. I dunno how long, but I think that I’m gonna start zapping again.”

Evadne stepped forward. “This… zapping… the TV said that you start sparking. It is electricity, or something else?”

Jamal shrugged. “I… dunno…”

“It was definitely electricity,” Toni said. “I could smell ozone in the air all around him.”

“Good girl.” Evadne reached into a cabinet under the sink and pulled out a large toolbox. “I don’t know if this will really fix anything, but it should slow things down a bit.” She pulled out a pair of electrician’s gloves and some bits and pieces of electrical wiring. She asked some technical questions as she assembled a patchwork thing and sent Joel out to the garage for an old car battery. She fixed some of the wiring to Cousin Curtis’ ankle and wrist, and arranged a sort of cap on his head. When she was finished, she said, “Well, from what you children describe, it sounds like he builds up a big charge until he can’t hold it anymore, and then he discharges it all until it’s spent, like a capacitor. Now, I can’t stop you from recharging, though whatever this girl did does look like it’s slowing that down. This rig should bleed off what charge you do build up.”

Jamal looked at her like a second head had grown from her shoulders. “How’d you know to do this?”

Toni draped a proprietary hand on Evadne’s shoulders. “Grammy here helped Grampa run his TV and Stereo repair shop for THIRTY YEARS, and helped turn it into the one of the first Black-Owned franchises in Baltimore, with three stores in the general Maryland area!”

Evadne looked at Toni. “Are you sure that you’re studying martial arts, and not Public Relations?”

Mrs. Chandler wasn’t quite sure what to do with this boy; this sort of thing was a bit outside her regular territory. But she put the best face that she could on it. “Okay. He can stay with Vince and Matt. But don’t let me catch him sparking anybody or you know who will be to blame.”

Toni bowed her head, already sure she might be getting punished for this somehow. “Yes Ma’am.”

“Good. Now take the poor boy upstairs and get him into the shower. He can borrow some of Vince’s clothes.”

Since the word had been spoken from on high no one in the family dared to argue with it.

The girls took him upstairs and showed him where the bathroom was and where Vince and Matt were sleeping. As the boy went in to start his shower, Toni stuck her head into her brother’s room. “Yo, Vinny, Mom said to let the new guy borrow some of your clothes. He’s staying in here with you until we can deal with him.”

“Man! That’s whack.”

“Whatever. Just take care of him okay. As far as you’re concerned, he’s our cousin Curtis, dig?”

Toni turned around and saw Chou just standing in the doorway of the room they were sharing, looking stunned. This worried the girl and she hustled over quickly. “Everything okay?”

Chou just sort of blinked, as if things weren’t quite registering correctly.

Toni stuck her head in and saw what was going on. On the bed was this really pretty girl, with golden brown hair and bright blue eyes. There was something familiar about her but Toni couldn’t quite figure it out. Then she spotted the monkey tail, the same color as her hair with a small jade key hanging off of it. The girl was grinning at them like a toddler on a sugar high. “Ni hau.”

Toni just glowered at the young monkey-tailed girl who was grinning at the two of them like a maniac. This was actually a bit odd even for them. Maybe Chou might have a clue. “Who’s this?”

Chou shrugged, unsure herself, even though the feel of the Chi was familiar in a way she wished it wasn’t. “I have no idea.”

The girl smiled brightly at them and smirked, as if she realized what she could do in order to get through to them. “Toni, I’m surprised at you, especially since you have a fondness for leopard print. Remember?”

Toni couldn’t follow… but then something clicked and she blushed as she blurted out, “What!?”

Vince took this time to chime in, as he had heard the slight commotion and wandered over. He looked into the room and spotted the girl instantly, liking the look of the other girl that was there quite a lot. Yet another hottie that the freak knew. Why was life so unfair? “Yo, freak, like leopard print what?”

The girl’s grin got even wider. “That’s a lovely shade of red Toni. It looks good on you.”

Chou had been following this when everything sort of clicked at once. She knew who this girl was. Chou looked at the ground, shaking her head while she groaned, “Sun Wu Kong.”

The look on the girl’s face was one of pure joy, like Chou had just won a prize or something. “Just Sun, you know, like on Lost.”

Toni goggled at the female version of the Monkey King. “You watch Lost?”

Vince was getting confused by this conversation and decided to throw his two cents again, hoping that he might just be able to move the discussion somewhere he felt a bit more comfortable. “I don’t get Lost.”

Toni and Chou looked over at each other and snarked at the same time. “We know.”

Sun Wu Kong giggled at that and Vince decided that a hasty retreat might just be in order. Things broke out into full blown laughter as the boy scampered away. The Monkey King smiled at them and then hugged them both, “I missed you two.”

This statement did not make either of the girls more comfortable.

“Do you want your presents?”

The two girls stared at the Monkey King in his girl form, and were a bit astounded by that. Toni was the first to find his voice. “Uh…okay?”

The girl handed Toni a fairly good sized package. “I thought about what sort of things would be appropriate for you and here’s what I came up with.”

Once she opened it there were several DVD’s, which further confused things. Toni pulled them out and looked at the titles. One was Circle of Iron, an old movie with David Carradine in it which was about discovering your truth of something and the others were film footage of O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido doing demonstrations and talking about the art.

Toni’s eyes grew wide. “Wow. This is cool.”

Next the Monkey King handed Chou a package. “I thought long and hard about your biggest problem, which I realized is that people don’t wear swords anymore. Destiny’s Wave stands out far too much right now and you need to have some way to hide this fact.”

Chou opened the box and there was an eight sided metal talisman with various characters written on it. She could feel the power thrumming in it. She looked up questioningly.

Sun Wu Kong smiled brightly. “See, you attach this talisman to the scabbard and the whole thing goes invisible. Only you will be able to see it, or other Immortals. But otherwise, it will be utterly imperceptible to anyone else. Now you can keep her with you, as was always intended.”

Chou hugged the Immortal mischief maker. It really was a thoughtful and perfect gift. “Syesye.”

“No problem Mei-Mei. I may tease you and give you grief but I will watch out for you when I can. And I promise, if I make another panty raid at your school I will leave both your and your soul mate’s panties alone.”

Toni sounded affronted. “Hey, what about mine?”

“But I like yours Bao Ni. They fit you. And you look cute when you are irritated.”

Toni gritted her teeth. She remembered her last fight with the Monkey King and decided that her parents would kill her if she started fighting inside. There would be lots of damage and she would undoubtedly lose. “One of these days, chimp.”

Sun frowned, “I am not a filthy Chimpanzee. I am a noble Monkey from Stone Mountain.”

Toni didn’t know how to respond when the girl stuck out her tongue, so she just chuckled. She had to admit that the Monkey King was pretty funny. So long as her underwear was safe maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

Jolt got out of the shower, dried off and walked out the bathroom door. He could see the group standing in the door way to another room. “Uhm…where can I get some clean clothes?”

A pointed hand led him to Vince, who turned away from the TV, introduced himself, and led Jamal into his bedroom. The girls could hear Matt excitedly asking if Jamal could turn him into a mutant as well, so he could be cool like his older sister.

It was almost dinner time, for which both Toni and Chou were thankful, as all that work had built a powerful hunger inside them. Jolt was hungry as well, but they had made sure to stop on the way to the house and buy him several Double Royales with cheese, three large fries, and a drink. They both knew from experience that Energizers burned a lot of calories.

The two girls headed downstairs with Sun Wu Kong, each trying to figure out what to say in order to explain the trickster’s presence to the parental units. Some things were almost too difficult to explain.

“Toni, who’s this? Am I running a boarding house now or something?” Her mom was a bit surprised by the appearance of yet another person in her house, especially when this one had a monkey tail.

Sun Wu Kong walked over to Toni’s mother and held out her hand. “My name is Sun and I know your daughter from the school. It is a pleasure to meet the mother of Bao Ni.”

That caused Mrs. Chandler to raise an eyebrow questioningly. “Bao Ni?”

“Yes. It means Leopard Girl.”

Toni blushed furiously which did not escape notice. Perhaps it was something she should ask the girl about. Toni needed to do something quickly to change the topic or she would never hear the end of this. “Uhm…Mom? We need to call the school and let them know about Jamal here, so someone can take him up to the school.”

“There’ll be someone at the phones?” asked Mrs. Chandler.

“Sure, in case something happens and the students need support, like now. Supposedly it’s Security, but occasionally you get an on-duty teacher,” explained Toni as she grabbed the phone.

Chou stood near, just in case she needed to tell whoever was on the phone something important. Toni dialed quickly, clearly still covering up. The phone rang twice before it was answered. The voice on the other end chilled Toni to the bone and her face grew pale.

“What did you do this time, Miss Chandler?”

“Uh…uhm…uh…” Toni couldn’t figure out anything to say when confronted with the irritated voice of Mrs. Carson. This call had initially been planned as a distraction, not an actual conversation.

“Miss Chandler, if you are unable to speak, hand the phone to Miss Lee,” ordered the Headmistress of the school.

Toni, who was usually much better with these things and able to roll with pretty much anything, was tongue tied because this was the last person on earth she wanted to talk to. She would rather talk to a Voodoo Wolf than Mrs. Carson, especially after what they had just done. “Uh…”

“Miss Chandler?” Mrs. Carson liked manning the phones on Christmas, as it was usually quiet, so when the caller ID had told her that it was one of her troublemakers she had decided to play a little hardball. The stammering Toni Chandler made her night.

“Erm…” Toni then handed the phone to Chou, who looked at it as if her friend was handing her a hissing viper.

Chou took the phone, and cautiously asked, “Hello?”

“Ah, Miss Lee, what did you two do now?”

Chou swallowed hard, her mind racing for something to say that wouldn’t get them in as much trouble as she kind of knew they were in. “Uh…well…we…uh…is it okay to talk now?”

“Miss Lee, you are aware that we have the best devisors on the planet here…right? The call has been rerouted so many times that only Mrs. Hartford would be able to track it. So, you can tell me what you two did this time.”

“Uhm…we…sorta got into a fight with a Knights of Purity team and won.”

“You what?!” Mrs. Carson’s voice rose sharply. Of all the stupid things for a student to do!

“Well, there was this boy who manifested as an Energizer and it didn’t go well. He ran from the police and the mayor called in the Knights. We saw this on the news and decided to rescue him, since he was nearby. So we beat them, saved the boy and hurried here. And now we’re letting you know.” Chou decided that embellishing things would not be in their favor. And hopefully she hadn’t heard about the battle at the Mall. She was praying that Chief Delarose had kept that to himself.

“I see. And whose bright idea was this?”

“Uh…well, uhm…”

“So it was Miss Chandler?”

Chou cursed inwardly. Was Carson a Psi? “Uh…”

“Give the phone to her now, Miss Lee.” Chou handed back the phone, wide eyed and trembling a little.

Toni gulped and put the phone to her ear. “Yes ma’am?”

“Miss Chandler, are you normally this big of an idiot?”

“Uh…”

“Was there anyway that either of you could be identified?”

“I don’t think so. We were wearing our costumes,” replied Toni, glad that they had remembered to do that at least. Well, Chou had remembered at any rate.

“All right… but were they the costumes on your MID’s?”

“Uh…”

“I see. You and Miss Lee are this close to getting detention over this, Miss Chandler. Can you try to restrain yourselves until classes start up next year?”

“Uh…yes Ma’am.”

“Now hand the phone to the boy you rescued.” Mrs. Carson smiled happily. That certainly had been a nice treat. She’d have to remember to use that same tone again whenever she managed to get a call like this from Miss Chandler again. At least she knew she still had it.

“Uhm…Hello?” Jamal was worried, as it had been clear that the two girls who had saved him had gotten chewed out.

Mrs. Carson put on her polite voice and helped deal with the emergency needs of this boy. Meanwhile, the two girls headed out to the living room and slumped onto the couch, drained. Sun Wu Kong was smirking at the two of them. “Are you two all right?”

“You knew. How did you know?” muttered Toni.

“We are so screwed,” muttered Chou.

“I knew because you can feel it in the weave,” Sun giggled, which looked unbearably cute, but neither girl cared in the slightest at the moment.

“She’s gonna kill us. All we ever do is cause her trouble.” Chou continued to mutter, realizing that Team Kimba had yet another target painted on them. Carson was probably after them now as well.

“That’s not true,” countered Toni trying for perky and not even making herself believe. “We also make her have other fun and exciting experiences.”

They both groaned unhappily.

“Toni! Toni! Look…I’m a mutant!” Matt leapt in front of them, with a towel wrapped around his neck like a cape, and a Lone Ranger mask on his face. He posed dramatically. It was adorable.

The two girls looked up at the boy and smiled. Toni smirked and lunged for her brother, beginning to tickle. “No capes!”

“Eek…Edna Mode…help me!”

Chou and Sun just laughed. The other Chandlers who had been looking on as well started laughing at the sight of the tickle fight.

There was soon a knock at the door. Mr. Chandler got up to open it, once they were sure ‘cousin Curtis’ was out of sight. He opened it and there were two people standing there, dressed nicely but wearing no coats. They weren’t even shivering, as if the weather had no effect on them.

“Mr. Chandler, it is a pleasure to see you. May we come in?” asked the androgynous one.

“And you are?”

“My apologies, I am Lan Caihe Ho and this is He Xiangu. We are Chou’s guardians. We were invited for supper.”

Chou hustled over when she heard Caihe’s voice. “Ni Hau?”

“Hau. We have missed you.”

Mr. Chandler stepped aside so that the two could come on in out of the cold. They bowed to the girl and then they hugged Chou. “It is good to see you little one.”

“Thank you for being here. It’s been rough.” Chou was still being held by those two, happy to be held by two people that she knew cared for her.

“It’s alright. We have presents for you and Miss Chandler.”

“And me?” Sun Wu Kong hopped closer, looking hopeful.

The two Immortals smiled at the Monkey King. “No.”

She frowned and the two were amused by that. Chou made the introductions and the Chandlers were astounded by the two, dressed quite nicely in silks. Once that was taken care of and they had chatted politely for a few minutes, Toni’s mom called everyone over to the table, which had all the extra leaves in it.

Mr. Chandler stood and said grace. “Heavenly Father, thank you for your blessings. Your grace has kept us safe this year. Thank you for the fruits of the bountiful harvest that are here before us. Thank you for the friends who have joined us for this meal in your honor. In your name, Amen.”

Most everyone else said amen, with the exception of the three Immortals. Then they got down to the serious eating. Sun was happily consuming a little of everything while the other two were eating all the non-meat dishes. The Chandlers seemed a touch confused at this but figured different strokes for different folks.

The conversation was light, with the Chandlers trying to figure out Chou’s Guardians and Sun busy teasing the girls and Vince, which she found quite amusing. Toni’s brother was not quite sure how to take things. After the meal, people left the table to have coffee in the living room and tea for those who preferred.

Xiangu helped to make the tea, using some she had brought with her. The green tea didn’t quite taste quite like any other. The Immortal just smiled in response, not really explaining.

Caihe grinned at the girls. “So, you have managed to fight off more minions of the Tong?”

Chou nodded. “Yeah. It was pretty touch and go there for a while, especially as the power didn’t fill me as much as it has before.”

“Then that means that the Tao believed that you were in no special danger. Your skills have grown greatly since this whole thing began. And had you Destiny’s Wave in hand you probably would not have gotten the bit of energy you did get.”

Chou sighed. “I kind of figured. It was scary however.”

“Well, fear is not the same as skill. Great warriors feel fear when they enter the field of battle. It’s what you allow the fear to do that determines everything.”

“Personally I’ve had enough fear lately,” grumbled Chou.

Toni piped in at this point. “Don’t you guys have some sort of way to keep things from screwing with her dreams?”

“When her meditation deepens, such attacks will be impossible. They did those when they could, as there is only so large a window. I figure that Chou will be safe from such attacks in two months or so, depending on her meditation, possibly faster.”

Toni looked intrigued. “Is this the kind of thing anyone can learn to do?”

“Can anyone learn how to meditate?”

Chou smirked. “For the most part. There are some people who are too out of it to really meditate. Like Megs.”

Toni giggled. Sun chimed in, “You mean the boy who wears girl clothes?”

Toni and Chou started giggling.

Caihe and Xiangu smiled at that. “We have gifts.”

Chou looked up, eyes wide in surprise, as she had forgotten. “Really?”

Xiangu nodded. “Since this holiday is about the giving of gifts we thought it would behoove us to bring some.”

Caihe reached into his bag and pulled free a package, wrapped in decorative rice paper. “This one is for you.”

Toni took the gift, rather surprised. “For me?”

The girl opened the wrapping and pulled out a yellow silk top, the same color as her costume. There was a brocade pattern in it of leopards hunting that took her breath away. “This is so cool.”

Xiangu smiled at that. “We figured that you might appreciate it.”

Toni put it on immediately and smiled happily. “It feels awesome. Thank you both so much.”

“You are most welcome.”

Caihe pulled out several things for Chou, whose eyes grew wider. Xiangu laughed lightly at that. “All of these are not your gift. We have some more scrolls for your study, some of the tea I made for you, some of the green tea we just had, various supplies we figured you might need. Things of that nature.”

Chou nodded. Caihe grinned and pulled free a rice-paper wrapped bundle. “This one however is your gift.”

Chou took the present and opened it, revealing what looked like some cool patchwork bag. The various bits of fabric all appeared to be some sort of rough spun silk that was very dense. “Thank you. This is pretty cool.”

Xiangu smirked. “Ah…but we didn’t tell you the best part. This bag can store a great deal more than a bag of that size normally can, with pockets you can put specific things into to retrieve later. You can easily put everything you own into this bag and if it will fit through the opening it will fit in the bag.”

Toni looked a bit jealous at that. “That’s just like the purse Stephen got Jade. How cool is that?”

Chou smiled, obviously pleased by this. “I have my own purse of holding. How cool is that?”

Everyone laughed at this. Toni smirked. “So you have a Mary Poppins bag. That’s pretty awesome.”

“Now I can have all of my gear with me, all my herbs, spell sheets and the whole nine yards. This is awesome. Thank you both so very much.”

“Ah…we have one other thing for you. From Master Lao Tzu.” Caihe held out a letter, folded neatly with her name written on the outside in Chinese.

Chou’s hands shook nervously as she took the object. She opened it nervously.

Reading the Chinese was easy for her now, as it was practically her native language now and the one she thought in almost exclusively. The writing was precise and flowing, she was impressed by the level of skill that Master Lao seemed to have.

Greetings Handmaid,

I would have sent this earlier but you were not quite ready. The task ahead of you is perhaps greater than any other Handmaid has been called for. I am sure that you will face it and overcome that issue successfully.

I apologize for the way you had been led into that lesson, but alas we are all not free to make certain choices in the flow of the Tao. We must follow where it flows.

More missives will be sent to you to help you prepare for your task.

Lao Tzu

Chou blinked for a few minutes. She really had no idea what to say. She folded the letter and slipped it into her bag. Seeing the look on her face Toni knew better than to pry.

The evening wound down at that point, with all three of the Immortals leaving. Sun Wu Kong hugged them tightly, and promised to come up and visit them soon. Toni and Chou groaned unhappily at that. They could picture the carnage that would result. Maybe they needed to warn the rest of Team Kimba when they got back? The only question was where could they safely hide their panties?

26 December 2006

“Uhm, so…are you or Chou seeing anyone right now?” Jamal was nervous. He really wanted to see if one of the two amazing girls who had rescued him might be interested in dating him.

Toni shook her head sadly. The boy was cute to be sure but she had a full plate and there really was no more room on her dance card. “Yeah, I’m seeing someone. Well a few someones actually.”

Chou shifted her feet uncomfortable with the turn this conversation had taken. “Uh…well, you see…it’s complicated.”

Before Jamal could follow that up Toni chimed in with, “Dude, she is so totally taken you have no idea.”

Chou shot her friend a sharp glance for her to shut up but Toni just smiled blissfully at her.

“Well, okay then.” Jamal seemed a bit downhearted by that.

Toni moved over and put an arm over his shoulder, “Don’t worry about it. There are lots of incredibly hot girls at school. Never fear.”

Jamal grinned weakly but did take some consolation from that piece of knowledge. Things quieted down and they went back to playing Tekken. Toni was naturally winning.

The doorbell rang at the Chandler House and several people were not comforted by this, especially as they had a supposed renegade mutant in their house. Toni decided to bite the bullet and open the door. She broke into a broad grin when she saw who was there. “Ito Sensei, what are you doing here?”

“Getting frostbite apparently, Miss Chandler. I heard that you and Miss Lee were up to your usual antics. I am here as well to pass on a message from Mrs. Carson.”

Toni let him in, smiling happily, even though the last bit was worrisome. Even Chou smiled when she saw who it was. She bowed politely to him in greeting. Toni then looked a little worried and lowered her voice, “I thought that the school couldn't pick, ah, Cousin Curtis up."

"They're not. I am merely accompanying these compassionate souls.” Ito’s eyes sparkled with a familiar mischief. "I am not here as a representative of some hypothetical school that may or may not have an interest in this young man. I am merely bumming a ride to New Hampshire, and I have been informed by a third party that these kind people are driving that way."

Toni and Chou shared a look at that. “Would you like some tea, Sensei.”

“Dozo.” Ito sensei took a seat while Toni bounded into the kitchen to get her favorite teacher ever some tea.

Chou sat down next to him. “How has your holiday been Sensei?”

“Quite nice, thank you. And yours?”

“Busy and quite chaotic.” replied Chou.

“I do hope you have stayed out of trouble.”

“Well, besides the call, I got attacked by some H1 goons, and some ninjas while we were in the mall. I just wanted a simple vacation and I got this.” Chou lowered her head and sighed.

Ito chuckled. “You and Miss Chandler do have a talent for things.”

Toni handed over the cup of tea. “Here you go Sensei.”

“Dozo.” He took a sip of the tea. “Ah…nice.”

Once he finished his cup he stood. “Well, I must get going. The ride will be here momentarily.”

Toni ran off and grabbed Jamal and said goodbye. “See you up at the school.”

“You too. Thank you both for saving me.”

“You’re welcome.” said both of the girls.

Once the door closed Chou turned to Toni and asked, “So now what?”

“Well, I did get a few films we can watch.”

The two girls hustled off to get some popcorn before they started the DVD player. They were looking forward to watching David Carradine play several different parts. It certainly looked like it would be a fun movie, after all Bruce Lee had written the story.

28 December 2006

“So you’re really going?” asked Toni.

“Yeah. I promised Molly that I would be there for her before New Year’s. We’re going to tell her parents.”

“Really? Girlfriend, you are just walking into danger, you know that, right?”

Chou shrugged. “I promised. And besides, it was Molly’s idea.”

“What about Dorjee?”

The Asian teen groaned, putting her face in her hands. “I have no idea. I like him and it’s creeping me out. I don’t know what to do. Molly and I are going to talk about that as well.”

“Well, good luck with that. I’m just glad that no one is fighting over my hot bod.”

“They don’t have to fight over you. You fling yourself at them.”

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” countered Toni, for all the good it did.

“Very true.”

“Nervous?” asked Toni.

“Terrified. Talking to her parents and telling them we’re in love is not going to be fun. What if they kick me out of the house?” It was clear just how worried Chou was of this trip.

“Then come back here. You know you’ll always have a place to stay with any of us.” The two girls hugged. “You go and frolic with your girl.”

Chou stuck her tongue out at Toni and smiled. She grabbed her luggage and headed towards the train. It was time to head off to Boston, where Molly lived, and start the Inquisition. She only hoped that she would survive the process. Walking backwards she called out. “See you back at school.”

“See you. Take care girlfriend.” Toni watched until the Asian girl was on the train. It had been a crazy week but fun, lots of good memories of fights and conversations. So…what kind of trouble did she want to get into now?