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Disclaimer

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

To The Mountain
Part 2
By Heather O’Malley

assisted by the rest of the Whatley Gang

Whatley Academy Universe<

The Tao doesn’t take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. The Master doesn’t take sides; she welcomes both saints and sinners. - Tao Te Ching, Chapter 5

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Chou was warm and comfortable as she drifted awake. It felt nice to have someone spooned up behind her. Chou couldn’t figure out when Molly had gotten into her room and had climbed into bed, but she was okay with it. She could feel her girlfriend’s breasts pushing against her. It was nice. But they felt…fuller than they had before.

Chou’s brows pulled in as she tried to figure out what was going on. As she thought about this question, she felt something sort of hard pushing up against her butt. It wasn’t hard like a rock and it felt like it had a rounded point. It was poking against her nightshirt and then there was some slight, rhythmic thrusting that started. Chou awoke fully and scurried against the wall, away from whoever was in bed with her. It certainly wasn’t Molly.

Chou turned to face whoever was in bed with her and was ready to kill them. She turned and saw Ayla, naked, with an erection, still asleep, thrusting slightly against her pajama covered butt. Chou freaked out some, but managed to keep from being too traumatized, mostly. She fought down the urge to punch and instead she reached over and shook Ayla’s shoulder. “Ayla…wake up.”

Ayla mumbled as she woke up, her eyes fluttering open. She looked at Chou with a little recognition but it was obvious she wasn’t all there yet. It was clear as the other girl looked at her blearily. “Hunh?”

Chou took a deep breath to center herself. This was a little too surreal and she was trying to figure a way out of this situation that wouldn’t result in a fight. She really, really hoped there was a good reason for this. “Ayla, why the hell are you in my bed…naked?!”

Ayla looked at Chou as if she were confused about what the Asian girl was saying. Then what the girl was saying seemed to register with her. Ayla looked down at her unclothed self and her erection. She blushed all over a deep red and covered her crotch with her hand. She stuttered. “I…uhm…uh…I…uh…”

Ayla scooted out of the bed and stood shuffling over to her robe, her hands trying to provide some modesty, mostly from embarrassment. She pulled it on and it did nothing to hide her blush. Chou sat on the edge of her bed and watched Ayla cover herself, still working on calming herself, her breaths deep and slow. Ayla started to nervously babble out her apology, obviously flustered. “I’m sorry Chou. I guess I must have phased during the night. I am so sorry.”

Chou nodded and then thought of something, the realization of it and it’s connotations soundly falling on her. The shock and fear of that realization clear on her face. Ayla could have killed her rather than just ended up naked in her bed. “Wait…you can shift density while you sleep? Why didn’t you tell me? What if your density changed upwards and you crushed me?”

Ayla blinked in surprise, as if she had never even considered such a thing and then her eyes went wide in horror. “I…uh…hadn’t thought of that. Oh God, I am so sorry. You can have the top bunk. Please. I don’t want to accidentally kill you in my sleep. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to put you at risk.”

Chou shook her head. Things were certainly odd here at Whateley. She went from being pissed off about finding her naked roommate in bed with her to needing to comfort her obviously shaken roommate. She hugged the girl briefly and forced a smile, which was difficult as she was also freaking out about the whole possible death thing. “Can we just get some sort of reinforced bed that you can use?”

Ayla thought about it. She actually looked really worried about this whole situation, her eyes watering, close to tears. Chou felt bad about waking her up with this, but a naked girl in her bed was rather unexpected, especially when it wasn’t Molly, not that they really had been naked and all. Ayla’s voice shook as she spoke. “Not that I have heard of. If I had thought of it maybe I could have gotten one from Hawthorne. Chou, you do know that I hadn’t planned on putting you at risk? I am so sorry.”

Chou nodded, hugging the girl again. Ayla was really getting worked up about this, actually shaking. She wanted to say something but Ayla continued. “Maybe it would be better if I just got a single, that way I couldn’t accidentally crush anyone and since we are on the first floor, I can’t crush anyone under us.”

“Ayla, relax. We can work this out.” She tried to keep her voice calm, but it wasn’t working so well, she was far too freaked out herself. Ayla’s phasing power was something the girl couldn’t totally control at times.

“No, I’ve got to do something to avoid killing a friend accidentally. I don’t think I could live with myself after that.” The growing determination was obvious from the steel in her voice. “I am going to talk to Mrs. Horton and see what I can do. In the meantime I am going to switch bunks with you. That way I can’t possibly hurt you if my density increases while I sleep.”

With that Ayla stormed out of the room on her way to Mrs. Horton, hugging herself tightly. Chou knew enough to get out of Ayla’s way if her roommate was determined. When that girl set her mind on something it wasn’t good to get in her way, she would just steamroller you flat. Chou wondered if that had to do with her crazy family situation, but it really wasn’t important enough to follow up on right now. Maybe the bed thing was a good idea?

She changed into her Tai Chi clothes and headed out for her morning exercise, hoping that would help her calm down some. It was raining softly as she left the building for her practice. The feel of the cold rain on her body felt good and her form shifted some due to the rain. Chou could feel herself almost tingling from the flow of the Tao through her body. The other two were also smiling as they did the form along with Chou. Nikki looked perfectly comfortable in the rain, almost as if she were a tree drinking up the energy. Boudacia looked solid and sure, moving with the deadly grace of a wild animal. The energy they all built was almost intoxicating. Chou was actually sad to reach the end of the exercise.

After the wonderful feeling of her morning routine Chou and Nikki headed back up to their rooms to change. Nikki smiled and turned her head to Chou as they entered Poe. “That was a really good practice. I always feel more alive after a session and I think it might be starting to help with my magic. Thank you for letting me join you.”

Chou smiled back. “Not a problem Nikki, what are friends for?”

“I just wanted you to know I appreciate this.” Nikki looked like a creature of legend when she smiled, her glamour almost making her shine. Chou was faced with a sort of doubled image of Nikki and this otherworldly super beauty. She shook her head and ignored the effect as best she could. When Nikki turned it on, it was difficult.

“It’s okay. Really. It’s been good for me to teach it. I have loved sparring with you and your scimitar.” It really had. Her form had drastically improved as she had begun to teach the two who had joined her. Her skills were developing rapidly and she knew that her skills now were many times better than they were when she had arrived at the campus. Those definitely made her feel better. She had her first combat teaming coming up and she wanted to at least not suck.

Chou cleaned up and got dressed quickly in her school uniform. There was an assembly of all freshmen that morning. It had all been very hush, hush, no one really knew what was going to happen. She had heard some really wild rumors about it but had discounted all of them. She had too many other things to worry about to spend any time dwelling on something that they were going to be able to experience shortly. Besides it was here all ready.

The group of them filed into the auditorium and headed for seats. They all sat together forming a Kimba and friends horde. It was nice to have friends, despite everything else that had happened. Chou was just trying to wait patiently for this assembly to happen while the others were busy chatting. She sighed and wished the other girls were quiet as their chattering was giving her a bit of a headache. Headmistress Carson took the stage and the various conversations faded to near-inaudibility, and then died out completely as she dimmed the lights and projected the first slide of her presentation.

Projected on the screen behind her was the famous Brooklyn bridge, with both ends barricaded or smashed and a full load of commuters trapped in the middle of the suspension bridge. In the air above, a titanic battle raged. The image had become such an icon over the past decade and more that it no longer had a single, simple association. Heroism? Evil? The plight of the normal man caught up in forces beyond his control? A metaphor for the planet? Chou realized that she was now caught in that equation, caught up with people about that powerful and potentially dangerous. She shuddered at the thought.

“I hope none of you have trouble recognizing the images of the terrible events of April 1, 1991.” Mrs. Carson clicked to another slide, showing Entropy, as he created the trap, blocking off the rush-hour traffic. “The famous ‘Fools Fight.’ While Entropy’s minions threatened civilians, Entropy finally got his face-to-face battle with his eternal nemesis.”

Another famous slide clicked into place, showing the battered hero as he delivered the final blow to Entropy. “Of course, Entropy perished, along with most of his minions. As did Battery, and the First City Irregulars were never reformed as a team.”

The final slide showed the craters, along with the hundreds of bleeding, weeping civilians. “We, rather, we mutants at Whateley, tend to focus on Battery and Entropy, and what happened with the various teams. We examine the strategies and morality, we even re-run the battle in our simulators. What we often fail to appreciate is the impact that battle had on normal humanity.”

“Of course, that was just one battle. There are hundreds of others, I dare say, that have had similar casualty levels. But the Fools’ Fight was unique because of the still and video images it generated, because of the live news coverage, and because it has become such an icon, particularly among groups such as Humanity First.”

Chou heard a lot of muttering and some mild boos throughout the crowd. She even heard something coming from Nikki’s direction, “They should have named themselves ‘Baboons First.’”

The Headmistress continued. “What many of you have not realized until now was how those events, which took place before some of you were born, will affect your lives. Mutants have always had a prominent position on the battlefield. Terrorist mutants and even mass civilian casualties have been a fact of life since the Mystic Six first fought Gasman back in 1919. But the Fools’ Fight brought mutants into a new and frightening prominence in the public eye. It was a key issue in the United States presidential campaign of 1992, and led to promises to track and monitor mutants. Initially this was restricted to foreign mutants entering American Soil, but the Frankfurt train derailment in 1993 and particularly the Indonesian tsunami in 1994 made this an international issue.”

The next slide was a publicity shot, showing the MCO’s Deputy Director Kenneth Loman, standing behind him of the MCO’s well-known “intervention squads” – overhead was the distinctive powder-blue dropship that also served as a mobile command center, while crouched in front of him were a half-dozen troops in powder-blue power armor, as well as the medics and observers that had such a welcome reputation with the non-mutant public.

“Most of that armor comes from Darpa research,” Nikki whispered. “My dad worked on it for a while.”

Chou shushed Nikki. She was really trying to follow this. She could feel that it was important for some reason and not just because the Headmistress of the school was giving it. There was information here that could help her stay alive. She knew it.

Headmistress Carson continued, her voice calm and even. “Despite the superb reputation of many heroic mutants such as Champion, the events of the nineties changed the world. The public was left with a renewed fear of rogue mutants. This combined politically with a growing international need for mutant supervision. It culminated more than a decade ago, in 1995, when the various national bodies ceded authority to the MCO, which incidentally stands for Mutant Commission Office, not Mutant Control, as so many of you have dubbed them. In late 1996, it was made an international law that mutants must report themselves when crossing national boundaries. Identification records became standardized, and the process has continued to evolve until the present day.”

A number of the freshmen started putting the pieces together. Chou had already gotten there and wasn’t pleased. The upperclassmen, who’d all heard this before, watched with grim satisfaction as their younger counterparts lost a bit of their innocence.

“Traditionally this talk is given shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday. When you came to Whateley, you fell under a carefully crafted exemption. But with the long holiday weekend ahead of us and the winter break approaching, many of you will be traveling by plane as you go home, or visit other destinations.” Her voice turned suddenly grim. “Let me be clear about this. US law is rock-solid on this point: Any mutant must carry and present their identity card before boarding any commercial aircraft. The Mutant ID card, or MID, must also be presented at any border crossing or customs station. It’s something of a convenience, actually, since it’s better than a passport, and will get you expedited processing.”

“Yeah,” Toni muttered darkly, “no point in having an underground railroad, when the slave states are everywhere.”

In a lighter tone, Carson added, “Of course, Whateley maintains an aggressively neutral stance toward certain elements of social order.” She paused, not getting the reaction she’d expected. “We coddle lawbreakers,” she explained.

“I even sympathize with a bit of that,” Carson admitted. “While I have no tolerance for killers or terrorists, society sometimes needs its rebels and iconoclasts. I am sure that more than a few of you will be tempted to travel without a MID. First, let me say that everyone who intends to stay at Whateley will be issued a MID. That means that we will measure and record all your biometric parameters, staff members will negotiate with you to determine an official summary for your powers and abilities; we will condense certain other records, and obtain official clearances with both your own national governments and the MCO.”

Behind her the screen switched into a live display, illustrating a wealth of measurements. The headmistress herself was shown, along with displays of fingerprints, retinal prints, DNA identifiers, Kirilian signature, height, weight, age, bone structure, medical statistics, and a wealth of other data. Just before the display changed, Chou noticed the “age” category.‘What? She’s seventy-five years old? That can’t be right!’

“None of this has been done yet! The process begins this week, prioritized for those of you who will need to travel over the Thanksgiving weekend. It is voluntary, but if you refuse, you will not be returning to Whateley.” She held up her hand to forestall the murmurs. “I understand your reluctance, but this is not a negotiable point. That’s why we’re telling you now, to give you a chance to think this over. Even if you plan an eventual career in world domination, I think the education you will get at Whateley will more than compensate for the downside of having a public record.”

She gave an ironic smile. “After saying all that I have to tell you, having a MID is not the same thing as using it. Some of you will always stand out. Changes due to your mutation will make it difficult or impossible to pass as one of the ordinary rabble. For you, a MID will often be a godsend. It is literally your passport to interact with mundane society. Others, however, can pass as normal if they choose. They could board a plane without showing their MID. Of course, you’d need falsified ID documents, since the airline computers always cross-check with the MCO. And often, they’ll take biometric scans and cross-check those with the MCO. And it’s a felony in the US to board a plane or cross a border without showing your MID – you’d be looking at six months for a first offense, more once you reach your majority. Any situation of ‘covert mutant activity’ is immediately relayed to the MCO, and you may be looking at a dropship on your head with no warning at all.”

The Headmistress spread her hands, as if in apology. “So, you have a lot to think about over the break. The first Thanksgiving at Whateley represents a significant right of passage for every student. You have many options. You can drop out, hide from the MCO and the world, and keep a low profile. This won’t protect you from the legal consequences – every one of you in this auditorium are legally required to carry a MID, whether you stay at Whateley or lay low. If you’re spotted, you’ll still have to comply. But you may choose to hide.”

“You can follow the straight and narrow path. In which case your MID will evolve into much more than just an ID and passport. As your record of good activities grows, the MID will grant a variety of privileges – sky Marshall authority on even international plane flights, expedited border and custom privileges, connections with Interpol and other police organizations, and discounts at many restaurants and clothing outlets.” There were laughs at that last.

“Finally, if you chose a life on the other side of the law, your MID will become the first entry in your case history. This is why Supervillains are so quickly tied to a codename – it’s the quickest reference to their MID file. Don’t worry about that part too much, your first codename is only temporary; you have until spring to finalize that. After that, it becomes a paperwork nightmare to change your codename. As an example, the villain ‘Wrecking Ball’ changed his name twelve years ago, and he’s still being referenced under ‘Power Pork.’”

As the lights came up, the headmistress stepped away from the podium. “That’s all. You’ll all find information in your mailboxes, and counselors will be available to answer questions. You have a lot to think over. I know these are big decisions, but I hope to see all of you back here, following the break.”

The students headed off to classes quietly, some digesting what they had heard, others indignant, and still others clueless as to what it all meant. Chou slipped through the crowd towards her first class. That had been chilling, thinking of just how much power the MCO seemed to hold. Was it even safe to have powers with them around? Did she really want them if that was the cost? What could she do? With the Box being gone this whole thing was moot anyway. She was just a little girl surrounded by supermen and women. The Tao had a strange sense of what was right.

It was occupying her all through the day. She was hoping to discuss it all with everyone at lunch, to get everyone else’s opinion.The whole crowd was there, with even some of their more distant friends like Harry Wolfe who dropped in to sit beside Billie.They had to push three tables together, and made a fair-sized crowd, but it was a little too big for an intimate and serious discussion.Everyone looked at each other too calmly, discussing trivia and silly campus events, rather than dealing with the looming issue that they all feared to broach.Then Harry’s girlfriend arrived and plopped into the open seat next to him.

Things were still light and going no where. Chou really didn’t know what to do or say in this. Then Harry started waving at some girl. Everyone at the table stopped their conversations to watch her approach. She took a seat down at one end near Harry. He grinned broadly and said, "Samantha Everheart, allow me to introduce you to my friends.”

That process went fairly quickly, though it did take longer than usual, given that everyone else was there as well.

"Hello everyone," She replied. There was something about her that seemed odd to Chou, like there was some sort of cloud around her. It made no sense to her so she discounted it as her simply being out of sorts.

"Samantha is moving in to the tower in Kane Hall. She'll be a floor or two below the observatory. She hired Fran and me to help turn the empty room into an apartment," Harry explained to everyone.

"How is it you rate an apartment when all we have are dorm rooms? You look like a senior to me. Is one of your parents on the board to the school?" Toni asked.

"Actually, I'm going to be working here." She looked a little young for that, but then again it was Whateley. If Mrs. Carson was over seventy then who knew how old this girl was. Hell, even Becca looked barely over thirty and she was well over a hundred years old.

"Teacher's assistant? What do you have that got you a job here at Whateley?" Toni prompted again.

"I have a lot of military experience. I start working in security Monday." said Samantha calmly.

"Oh man! It's the cops!" Toni said in a stage whisper. A few people laughed.

Just then Heyoka walked up to the table. He, or she, was wearing the typical Whateley boy's dress shirt and tie with the girl's skirt, socks and shoes. He also had on a red headband that covered the ears, though the ears underneath seemed a bit longer than they should have been.

"What's this?" the kid said. "Oh, don't tell me...look, that bully thing happened a couple weeks ago, and none of those guys have dared to come near me since then. Really! You can tell Ms. G that I'm fine and I really, REALLY, don't need a babysitter at school!"

"What?" blurted Samantha, looking a bit confused by the outburst and appearance of Heyoka.

"Oh, you're not for me? Nikki?" said Heyoka, as if the question was the most natural thing in the world.

Fey shook her head, her red hair shifting. "No, Jamie, this is Sam. She's working for security."

Jamie cast a wondering look at Tennyo and Sara. "What happened?"

Tennyo scowled. "Nothing happened. Harry was just helping her move in."

Jamie pulled up a chair and sat down, relieved. "Oh."

"I know it's not something asked in mixed company, Samantha, but how old are you?" Nikki asked.

The girl opened a bottle and the nose clearing smell of moonshine filled the area. She replied to the question before taking a huge swig of the bottle. "I'm forty-seven years old."

"You're forty-seven? I find that very hard to believe; and if you are that age, if you keep drinking like that you won't make forty-eight," Nikki said.

"I guess it is origin time for me. Up until about a week ago, I was working at a research lab in Washington State. There was an attack. After I had taken care of some of the guards, I went into the lab to check on a doctor friend of mine. She had died. I started coughing and went home feeling sick. Later I woke up looking like this. After some things happened, I ended up here with a job to work in security and a chance to work on some personal issues. Any of you interested in earning some extra cash?" Miss Everhart seemed to have money to spare, if she was trying to hire all of us.

"Most of us have already gotten jobs through student services or are on a scholarship with living allowances," Toni said.

No one else really seemed all that interested. Chou had no interest as the Immortals had given her more money then she even knew what to do with. Quiet Jade spoke up, “I’ll be busy today but can my sister help?”

“I can always use help. Would she be available after classes?” She asked.

“Yes, and she’ll be able to work as long as you need her. She could even skip Powers Theory if you need her earlier.”

“I don’t want to get anyone in trouble for skipping classes. Looks like it will just be the three of us, Harry. I hate to eat and run but I need to get back to work on it," She said.

Nikki got up too. "I need to get something from my room before class. I'll walk out with you."

The two of them walked from Crystal Hall. Something was going on, Chou was sure of it.

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Chou looked at the group she had been assigned for this exercise. She wasn’t impressed overall. She was the generalist in a group with a shifter, a Package Deal Psychic, an exemplar and an energizer. They were Lupine, who was a level 3 shifter; Miyet, a Catgirl Paladin of some Egyptian God; Spooky the package psychic and Selkie, some water based energizer. Apparently Lupine and Selkie knew each other, but Chou really had no idea how. They had been tasked to play the Hero team and they would find out who they were battling as things commenced.

They were given ten minutes to get a feel for each other ad to build a command structure. They had all gotten dressed in whatever costumes they had at this point. Chou had put on the robe that Becca had given her. It would look good and maybe help her out some. As far as she knew it couldn’t hurt. The first trouble started after they all told a little about each other and their powers.

“What do you mean you don’t have any powers? Oh-my-god! We are so screwed.” complained Spooky. “How could the teachers do this to us. I don’t care if you do know Saladin and Hippy, don’t fuck this up for us.”

“I dinna see any reason tae be gettin yer panties in a twist. If’n she’s here she’s got somethin’ .”replied Selkie in an Irish Brogue.

Spooky glared at the redhead and looked ready to say something. Miyet stepped forward. The catgirl was not an overtly imposing figure but she easily stared down Spooky, who was three inches shorter. “Are we going to just sit here and bicker or figure out what we’re going to do? We are going to get graded on this exercise afterall.”

The shorter girl turned away and started muttering to herself. Chou could hear that the girl was saying something but it was too low for her to hear. Miyet sighed. “I heard that Spooky.”

Chou spoke up, hoping to diffuse things before they got even more out of hand. At this rate they were going to fail before they left the locker room. She felt like she needed to do or say something. “Hey. Let’s figure out what we are going to do. We are the hero’s in this and we have to protect civilians and get the bad guys. Now let’s pick a leader and move on. We don’t have time for this.”

Lupine spoke up. Chou had almost forgotten about the girl, as she had been keeping herself apart from all of this. Her voice was soft, but stood out in the awkward silence that had followed Chou’s outburst. “I nominate you.”

Miyet shrugged her indifference. Spooky looked ready to argue, took one look at Miyet and then looked away grumbling. Selkie looked at Lupine and then agreed with her. “I guess you are our leader fer this. Now what?”

Chou blinked a few times to really process things. What was she supposed to do in this situation? The last thing she had expected in this whole mess was to be chosen leader. She thought back to things Hank and Ayla had said and thought back to her vision. She really hoped that the information she had gotten from them would help her in this. She took a breath to center herself. She calmed quickly. “Okay. Spooky, you’ll be our Intel. You figure up who we are up against and then use your TK to protect the civilians. Uhm…Miyet and Lupine, you two are our hard hitters. You go in after them and Selkie and I will flank them. Sound good?”

The others nodded. Even Spooky had to begrudgingly agree that the plan did have some merit. Chou took heart from that. If they agreed on the plan then maybe they could pull together enough to win this. This was the best that she could manage on this short notice and with this little information. Maybe they could actually make this work?

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Reverend Englund winced as he watched Chou bounce off a wall and then over a metal rail. It was amazing that the girl had been able to get up after that amount of damage. He had been interested to see how she would do against Negator and it had indeed proven interesting. The hero/ villain exercise had been short and brutal. Negator had basically leveled the field to Bladedancer and the villain side.

Chou had been able to stop three of the others before getting beaten pretty heavily by the exemplar who had been held in reserve. She had used that sword of hers to drop several light poles and even to destabilize a section of an abandoned building before the tide of battle turned. And even then she had done incredibly well, until the odds were simply too great for her to win. For fundamentally a normal, she was magnificent.

She would be a great addition to the Goobers. After a few more months of getting her on his side he could move her into the core group and then he could get rid of the demon bitch once and for all. He couldn’t do anything openly yet, as he was still in a great deal of trouble over what had happened on Halloween. Once people cooled off over that he could again actively work towards getting rid of that abomination. He really wouldn’t be comfortable again until he would be able to eliminate the demon spawn that infected his campus.

Nightbane and Bladedancer would make a lethal pairing indeed. He couldn’t wait to see both of his girls in action together.

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“We need to do something else to those Nighty Nimrods. They’re getting uppity again.” growled Bombshell, as she paced through the room.

Shadowolf sat there watching her pace. He had to admit she was attractive, any guys wet dream. A total pain in the ass, but definitely attractive none the less. The same with Sweetheart, but he considered her the more dangerous of the two. She was the one who could really hurt him as he wasn’t too sure how he was against her power.

He had managed to turn their various activities into a bit of a connection to the Alpha’s, his eventual goal. The team had turned over, with only five of them from the original group still there. He was still the leader, but he was wondering if it was only because neither girl really wanted to exert the amount of work that being the leader entailed. He thanked any one who would listen for their laziness as it did make him look good to the Alphas. Leaders got noticed.

“What do you suggest? Another attack? We tried that and it didn’t quite work the way we wanted it to. Maybe we should pick them apart? Go after one of them at a time. We can prune the weakest first and then move onto the more powerful while they have no more support. The strongest will be alone and easier to beat. Any objections?” Shadowolf stared at Bombshell.

It looked like she was going to object when Sweetheart rested her hand on the other girl’s arm. She then looked over at him and smiled faintly. He stiffened his will power to fight off any possible effect from her. “I think that might work well. So the full team versus one of them? That might be a good plan. So, against whom?”

He made sure he didn’t smile at that. So, Sweetheart was the one that was really pulling the strings, which did make sense. He needed to work more on his protections against such effects then. He turned on the projector and pulled up the files he had prepared earlier. Two Asian girls appeared on the screen. They all knew them on sight. “Generator and Bladedancer. They were both at the last assault and neither of them is of sufficient level of power for us to be worried. Bladedancer is, of all things, a normal human with a great deal of Martial Arts training. Which of these two do you want to go after?”

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Chou rubbed her neck as she headed towards Crystal Hall. She was going to meet Saladin at the cafeteria. He was just casually standing against a wall. Chou had to admit that he was very handsome. With his dark wavy hair, his deeply tanned skin and his strong features, he looked like he had just walked out of a poster for strong, manly heroes. As Chou neared he turned his head and looked over at her. “Saalam alekum. Shall we head off for the group room?”

Chou nodded and Saladin headed off. She had to move a bit faster than normal as Saladin certainly had a longer stride than she did, since he towered over her. She felt tiny and weak next to him. True, she figured that her beating from earlier had something to do with it as well but she was mostly okay.

Once they were inside the Cape Squad’s group room, Saladin introduced her around. She already knew a few people there, like Megs and Hippolyta. Megs was being her usual bouncy self and Hippy was a bit less sullen until Saladin neared, when she tensed up again. Chou decided to talk to Hippolyta, as she knew the girl more than anyone else there. “How are you doing?”

“Fine. What do you want?” Hippolyta was her usual gruff self.

“I was wondering what was the deal with you and Saladin.” replied Chou. “I mean, you usually are fine until he gets around and then you tense up. So I was wondering what the reason was.”

“What do you know about the Arabic culture?” She seemed to be on edge, as if the mere thought of what was being talked about really upset her.

Chou thought for a moment, trying to remember what she knew of Arabic culture. It was really guy centric and had a tendency to stone women over various stupid things. That was about all she really knew. “Uhm…really male centric, very religious, and not nice to women.”

Hippolyta snorted in derision. “Not nice to women, now there’s an understatement. If you are a woman you are less than an animal in many ways. Your body really isn’t your own and they…do things to you. And if you are accused of any violation of their precious honor code they stone you to death. They are vermin and I just want to exterminate them all.”

Chou was shocked, she had never heard that tone in Hippolyta’s voice before. She was serious. “Did they try to do that with you?”

Hippolyta’s eyes narrowed, as if she were lost in some memory. She seemed to be looking far away. He voice was soft and almost inaudible. “No, not to me? My older sister.”

Chou really had no idea what to say and the Tao wasn’t helping her think of anything. Hippolyta returned from wherever her memory had taken her and looked down at Chou. “Why am I even talking to you about it? How I treat Saladin is my business, not yours, you got that?”

Chou wisely did not follow the tall Amazon as she stalked off. She thought about what Hippy had told her and it certainly explained a lot. The whole idea of stoning was horrible. She wasn’t sure what to do since Saladin was talking with a few other people and talking to Megs just hurt. Maybe she should just go. A voice rang out just then. “You stupid bitch, how could you let us get creamed like that?”

Chou turned, as did everyone else, to see Spooky storming towards Chou. The girl was obviously really pissed off, and Chou was fairly sure why. She sighed and waited for Spooky to reach her, hoping it didn’t come to blows as she hurt too much to fight back well. “How could I have known that they had Negator on their side? Our plan was sound and we all agreed to it. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is that you made me look bad. I have worked really hard to have a broad range of skills so I could do my job, but you waltz in here and fight on while the rest of us were sapped of our strength. You had to have been working for them.” Spooky was actually growling.

Just as Chou was about to respond someone else intervened. “Spooky, what have we told you about getting angry in the group training scenarios?”

Both Chou and Spooky turned to look at Pendragon standing there staring down at her calmly. “It’s no ones fault if the team fails. But she…”

“Spooky.” With that Spooky shut her mouth and stomped away. “So you are the one that Saladin has told us all about.”

Chou actually blushed and stammered a little. Pendragon was very attractive and she was feeling an interest for a guy, both of which tripped her words. “I…I guess.”

“Well, as long as you are interested in becoming the best hero you can be, you are welcome here. Just please don’t bring anyone else with you until you become a full member, that is if you want that.” Pendragon smiled at her. Chou almost went weak at the knees. “And don’t mind Spooky, she is a great kid and is on her way to becoming a really powerful hero, once she gets over her anger problem.”

With that he turned and left, heading back to his seat. There was just something about him and Chou had no idea what. She felt dirty somehow and like she betrayed herself by finding him really handsome and being attracted to him. She was uncomfortable with that and wasn’t sure what to do. She looked up at the time and realized that she had to start getting ready for the play tonight. She and Molly were going and Chou couldn’t wait.

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Chou met Molly at the lobby of the theatre. They were both dressed fairly nice, in skirts and blouses. Chou thought Molly looked really cute and smiled at her girlfriend. Chou was sore from the days exercise but tried not to let it show too much. They milled around in the lobby and got a bottle of water to share. There were a number of other couples there dressed a good bit more fancy than either of them had. There were some really beautiful dresses there.

They looked for a while and then they headed into the theatre and found their seats. Whateley had a really good stage and theatre that had been a gift from one of the many successful graduates of the school, who had gone on to become an Action Movie star who could do all of her own stunts. As a result they were able to offer ticketed seating to the various performances that the drama department put on.

The seats they had weren't the best but they could see the stage well from where they were. They chatted about classes until the lights flickered twice and more people came in to the theatre and took their seats. The lights soon dimmed and the curtain rose.

Chou had never seen any Shakespeare except the Baz Luhrman Romeo and Juliet. She really wasn’t sure what to expect. She had never been to a play before, truth be told. She was really looking forward to this. Chou knew Lily was going to be playing Desdemona, but the character didn’t really look like Lily. With all the makeup and the costume she looked like a totally different person.

They held hands as the show kept going, gripping tight when the tension of the play grew. It was amazing. While it wasn’t the best performance of Othello by any stretch of the imagination, it was so much better seeing it performed on the stage than to watch it on the TV. And the themes really hit her as well. She knew that she wasn’t as jealous as Othello but she certainly had his overly strong responses to some things, like she had with Sara.

Maybe she needed to work on that, just like she was supposedly working on her grief and her issues with her transformation. She was doing her best to avoid these things since they hurt too much to think about. With classes and everything she didn’t really have the time to sit down and think these things through. And they made her uncomfortable, or cry, or really depressed. She didn’t have time for that either.

She and Molly walked from the theatre and Chou escorted her girlfriend back to her dorm. They hugged, said goodnight and Chou headed back towards Poe alone. She wasn’t worried about getting jumped as she didn’t have Destiny’s Wave with her. That should stop that idiot from attacking her. Maybe she should go and talk to the head of the Dragons and get the whole thing worked out? It couldn’t hurt, could it?

She made it back to her room and changed into her pajamas. She really saw no real reason to make her self anything but comfortable at this point in the evening. She headed out into the hall to talk to the other girls, some of whom hadn’t gone to opening night. Toni and her playfully hand slapped sparred against each other for a little while. It was certainly a lot of fun. Nikki was about to say something about that when Billie and Billie walked down the hall towards them.

“Jade?” Nikki asked, her jaw hanging open. Everyone else had the same expression of pure surprise on their faces.

Jade bounced around like she only weighed two pounds, things were jiggling everywhere.It was definitely a disturbing sight. “Yep yep yeppers!”

“Is that you?”Toni traced an hourglass shape in the air.

Jade did a front flip followed by a back flip, bounding off the ceiling both times.“Me, me, all me, in the fabulous FLESH!”

“Dragons and immortals,” Chou swore, “she actually did it!It worked!”

Chou was stunned. How in the hell had this happened? With everything she had learned about Chi this shouldn’t have been possible. Jade’s energy was too tangled for something like this to happen.

“It worked!It worked!” the hyper girl sang.“And now I need more money than ever, so I can buy new clothes!I mean, look at how this blouse fits!”She yanked open her blazer.

Bunny had come into the hall now trying to figure out what the commotion was, and got a goofy grin on her face. Chou wanted to look away from the train wreck and Toni just gave Jade a blank look.“Yeah… I see your problems, there.”

Jade suddenly had a manic gleam that practically unnerved the whole group. “I’ve got to go try on some clothes!Oneesan, can I borrow one of your bras?After all, we’re the exact same size now…”

Billie looked back with a look of terror on her face, before she was pulled into the room. She looked like she wanted to ask for help before she was snatched away to her doom. After the door slammed, the other girls were left staring at each other in stupefaction.

Chou finally broke the silence and said, “Well, she seemed pleased.”

Toni nodded, as they all continued to stare at Jade and Tennyo’s door.“I never thought it would happen quite that quickly.One moment she’s little and … uh … not so feminine.Then an hour later, BOOM.”

“They should package that and sell it in salons,” Nikki suggested.“They’d make a billion.”

Hank wandered up to them, with Sara following not too far behind. “Hey, did you see the new girl? Must be another mid-term transfer.I only caught a glimpse of her, but she looked typically stacked.Not that you ladies have anything to fear.”

Nikki scowled at him.“Your transition seems just about complete.You’re acquiring the classic pig behavior, right on schedule.”

“I like to be surrounded by beautiful women.Sue me.So who’s the new girl, and where’s she staying?Aren’t we just about full up?” Hank really seemed to want an answer to this question.

Sara quietly joined them, leaning forward to hear the answer. It was clear that she had questions about the identity of the “mystery girl” as well.

“That was Jade,” Chou said calmly, though she wasn’t calm on the inside. “She seems to have…how to put it?”

“Blown away her little problem?” Toni suggested.

“Undergone some new ‘developments’?” Nikki offered.

“Grown herself a huge pair of hooters!” Ayla said, from behind them.

“Oh, delicately put,” Toni moaned.

Ayla shrugged.“It’s an art.”

Oddly, Sara seemed less pleased, sharing Chou’s discomfort.“Are you sure about this?From my research…”

Whatever doubts she might have expressed were silenced as Jade burst back into the hallway. “Arg!What am I supposed to wear to bed now?”

She was dressed in her old “Hello Kitty” nightgown.Not only had she grown six inches taller, but her expanded measurements at chest and hip also used extra fabric.So where the nightgown had formerly reached nearly to her knees, it was now within an inch of being completely indecent.“See?And if I have to reach for anything overhead—”

“Don’t look, Hank!”Toni moved to cover his eye, while Hank moved to avoid Toni.

“Oops,” Jade said, suddenly dropping her arms.

“Well, that answers that little question,” Bunny decided, smugly.

Jade quickly ducked back into her room, emerging a minute later wearing one of Jinn’s outfits: a black halter and extremely abbreviated black miniskirt. “Did you know thatI have almost no clothes of my own that I can fit into?”

The crowd just stared at her. There really no words to describe what they were seeing. Their little girl had exploded into womanhood in under a day. It was over the top, even for Whateley.

“Funny, I’ve worn this outfit as Jinn, plenty of times, but I guess I never realized how…exposed…it was.I mean, when I’m Jinn I don’t actually have any skin, and it’s not like I could feel the air on me anyway.”

“Takes some getting used to, doesn’t it?” Nikki asked, sympathetically.

“Yeah.Even the halter.I never used to have anything to halt, you know?”

Toni nodded.“Been there, done that.It’s kind of cool, isn’t it?”

“Well, yeah, it is a touch drafty.The weather’s definitely getting too cold for an outfit like this – Oh!You mean the whole…”Jade’s grin, which had never entirely vanished, blossomed again into full force.She suddenly threw her arms around the black girl to hug her.“Why didn’t you tell me how great it was?And hugs are so much better, with boobs to squish!It’s like you’re putting an extra bit of yourself into the hug, isn’t it?”

Toni tried to pull the enthusiastic arms off her neck.Everyone seemed at a loss for words. “Uh, yeah, sure.It’s not something we talk about very much.”

“Congratulations, Jade,” Sara said it quietly, but there was a note of regret in her voice. Chou looked quickly at Sara and then had to agree that there might be a good reason for regret.

Jade looked at the pale white sex symbol and blew a raspberry.“See?I did it, and I didn’t even need to carry your child.”She grinned.“Not to say that I don’t plan to have babies someday.”

Jade moved forward and embraced the surprised demoness who was slow to hug back.“Do you forgive me?”

Sara was dumbfounded.“Forgive you?”

“For being mad at you.For saying… really horrible things that I never meant.I didn’t mean them, you know, not even when I was saying them.It was just…”

Sara patted the back of the new girl.“It was just that sometimes your needs are so strong that you’ll do almost anything.”

The Japanese girl nodded silently, while squeezing harder.

“Believe me, I always understood.There’s nothing to forgive.” Finished Sara.

“In any case,” Nikki decided, “welcome to puberty, even if it was on fast forward.And now that your body is simmering with the good old feminine hormones, you’ll be as vulnerable to her as everyone else.”

Jade let go with one arm and leaned back, to get a better look at Sara.“The whole sex thing?”

“Exactly,” Nikki confirmed.“That’ll definitely perk you up, once li’l miss wet dream sends her lust rays your way.”

Sara scowled.“That’s under control now!It’s been weeks since I leaked any of that stuff.Has anyone here met me in a wet dream in the past three weeks?”

Several hands went up, and Sara gasped. Chou chuckled as Sara protested.Thankfully the demon princess had been no where near her dreams at all. “No, I swear, it’s under control.”

“Uh, I don’t think it was due to psychic powers or anything,” Ayla offered. “Cause it didn’t feel that different from the dreams with any of the other girls in them.”

Billie looked up in alarm.“What?”Then she shook her head.“No.I don’t want to know.It’s times like this that I’m glad I’m not a telepath.”

“I have to admit being curious about that,” Jade admitted, one arm still around the pale demon princess.“Everyone gets so wigged out by that whole lust thing.What’s with that?”

Sara winced.Chou could tell that even she was trying to find the right words. “Well, like Nikki said, now that you’ve zoomed past puberty, you’re bound to begin finding out.”

“Aw, give me a clue!I know you can do it.”Jade gave her friend a pouty smirk.

“You can find out the natural way.”

“Aw, come on!Just a little zap.”She squeezed her breasts together like a porn star.“Does it fill my bosom with sensual heat?”

Billie winced, and covered her ears.“I do not know this person!She’s just a stranger!”

“I don’t think I should…” Sara said.

“Dare you!Just a little zap.”

Sara sighed.“Just a little.”

Jade leaned forward eagerly.“Okay, give it to me.”

Behind her, Toni moaned.“So many straight lines!”

Sara paused, as if expecting a reaction, then frowned, as she saw Jade was still waiting.“Maybe I’m shielding too tightly.Well then…”

Behind, Jade, Toni wobbled for a moment and then slammed her knees together.“Woo!”

Nikki just waved a hand in front of her face and scowled.

Ayla was showing prominent points beneath her blouse, and now the front of her pants began to strain, as well.“I just remembered that I hadn’t had my cold shower yet this morning…evening…whatever.”She raced off.

Chou could feel her panties grow moist and her nipples tightened. She blinked really slow, trying to get back to her equilibrium.

Jade shrugged.“Maybe it’s too subtle for me.”She gave Sara another innocent squeeze.“Still friends?”

“Always.”

As Jade turned away to join her roommate, she missed the perplexed glances that passed between the demon princess and fairy queen. No one really knew what to say. They split off and went their own separate ways to think about this.

Chou went outside, into the cold November night. Jade found a way to become who she always wanted to be. It had actually worked. Maybe, just maybe she could go back to being Alex, to playing with his collectable swords, going to gun shows and doing all the nothing he had been doing before this had happened. She bought one sword and it permanently changed her life. It was nice that she could do all these really cool things, but why couldn’t she just be back in her house with her dad? Why was she stuck like this?

When Chou finally came in from outside, Ayla was already asleep on the bottom bunk. This saddened her. What was she supposed to do? She didn’t see Ayla as a threat and saw no real reason to change things. She didn’t want things to change. The common and normal was comforting as so much of her life was in turmoil. Try as she might things were just a bit too different. Hell, even the food was off. The cornbread served here was more cake and less bread and the tea just wasn’t sweet. Adding sugar to in never seemed to work right. She felt so cut off from normal that even little things were her only handholds to normality.

She drew Destiny’s Wave and sat on her bunk. Thankfully her head wasn’t brushing the ceiling but it wasn’t by much. Destiny’s Wave asked, “Are you okay Chou?”

“No, I’m not. My father is dead, I’m a girl and I just want to go back to normal. But there really isn’t a way to do that is there?” The bitterness was clear in her voice.

“No there isn’t, not without the box, not unless the blade passes on.” Destiny’s Wave said this slowly, with meaning clear in each of the words.

Chou nodded and began to cry again, the tears running down her nose and dripping onto the jade blade. “What can I do? All of this is killing me. I just want to die.”

“What about Molly? Your friends?” asked the sword, patiently.

“They can’t help end the pain. When I am with them I just burry it. This is mine and I don’t want to burden anyone else with this. Everyone else seems to be coping with their transformations so well. It makes me crazy. Doesn’t this bother them at all?” Chou was trying to keep her voice low, to avoid waking Ayla.

“Then why tell me?” asked Destiny’s Wave.

“Because you are the only real connection to my old life. I bought you at that gun show. I first drew you in my own bedroom. You were what kept me alive long enough to get here. You have been the only thing helping me stay sane through all of this insanity.” Chou hugged the sword.

“What brought this up? Why is this hitting you now?” The sword sounded worried. Chou sounded like she was starting to lose her reason for staying alive and this was obviously of concern for the blade.

“Jade found a way to transform herself. She isn’t incomplete anymore. And I hoped that it would work for me, but it won’t will it? I’m just going to be this guy trapped inside a girl’s body with no way out.” Chou wept for her losses, hugging the sword until she fell asleep.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Chou awoke to a rainy Turkey Day. She lay in her bunk and listened to the rain against the window. She really didn't want to go outside and practice, but she wasn't sure where else she could do it. The lobby would be big enough, but would the three girls be allowed to practice there? Then Chou remembered that Boudacia had gone home to have Thanksgiving with her parents. She couldn't remember if Nikki had gone or not. If Nikki was outside then she obviously stayed here.

Chou dragged herself out of bed and dropped to the floor. She pulled herself into her exercise clothes. She really didn't want to do this but it was part of her training. Some times, she really wished she could have the luxury of just resting. When she walked out of the room however she took one look and turned right back around, shutting the door. Seeing Jade wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes at the end of November was just wrong on so many different levels that she decided to do a few Chi Gung exercises in her room before she headed off to breakfast. She was going to meet Molly there and stay with her until her parents got there.

After about twenty minutes Chou carefully cracked open the door to avoid being spotted. Thankfully Ayla’s snoring managed to cover the noise. The coast was clear, with no bootylicious Jade anywhere in evidence. Chou hustled to the showers and got ready. She hurried so that she could get to breakfast on time. She made it easily.

“I’m going to miss you sweetie.” said Molly, after then had both sat back down with their trays.

Chou smiled faintly. She was already starting to miss Molly. “Hey, that’s okay. It will only be four days. We can do that…right?”

Molly smiled back at her weakly. “Yeah, but I am going to miss our…study sessions. I just wish there was some way that we could share a room. I hate being so far away from you.”

“I know. I feel the same. I just feel so much better when you’re around. I just wish we could manage that. So, when are your parents arriving?” Chou sipped at her tea. She had only gotten tea and toast as her stomach was acting up.

“Almost any minute now. We are heading over to my Grandmother’s house in Vermont. Every year we have gone and the food is incredible. I wish I could have gotten you to come with me.” replied Molly, adjusting her glasses.

“Maybe next year.” said Chou wistfully.

Molly repeated that and then added quickly and nervously. “I…I am going to try and tell them about us.”

Chou perked up a little when Molly said that. She wasn’t going to be a secret any more? “Really?”

“Yeah. My cousin Andrew just came out and there were no fireworks, so I’m hoping that it will go well. I’m just so nervous about it.” Molly trembled a little. “I just don’t want my parents to be upset with me.”

Chou nodded. She definitely understood. She was still trying to be good for her mom, let alone her dad. “I hope that everything goes well, for both of us.”

Molly reached over and took Chou’s hand. “It will be okay. Honest. I know you miss your dad. But you have a lot of great friends, me and a pretty cool Mentor. I know it hurts. I lost my Grandmother two years ago. She was one of the most important people in my life. I thought I would never get over the pain, but I did. I talked to people and I knew that I was loved. That was what got me through. And I do love you.”

Chou smiled. Molly loved her. Every time she said it Chou got a warm fuzzy deep inside. “I love you too.”

After they finished Chou and her went back to Molly’s room. Molly seemed to be fully packed and her roommate was already gone. Molly closed the door, activated a spell and threw herself onto Chou. She was crying. “I’m gonna miss you. I love you and wish we didn’t have to be apart. It always hurts when we’re apart.”

Chou brushed Molly’s hair back out of her face. Her heart went out to Molly, as she was feeling the same way. She leaned in and gave her a soft kiss on the lips. She murmured gently. “It’ll be all right.”

They kissed some more before there was a buzzing sound. Chou looked up, confused. Molly cursed under her breath. She tidied herself up and made a gesture which stopped the buzzing. “My parents are here. Wipe your lips.”

Chou did so, smiling at Molly. They sat down on the bed and waited. To make sure they would be covered they both started talking about classes. Molly was telling Chou about some of the painful things that had happened in Survival class. Chou winced at the appropriate times.

Shortly there was a knock at the door and Molly’s parents opened it. Molly ran forward and hugged her mother and father. They both said hi to Chou, grabbed the luggage and then they all left the room, with Molly locking her room up behind herself. They walked to the parking lot.

Chou watched Molly walk to her parent’s car. Molly seemed so happy with them. Once they got into the car and drove off, Chou turned and headed back to Poe and her room. She just wanted to lock herself away from the world. Her heart ached, knowing that her beloved was gone.

Chou lay on her bunk, looking up at the ceiling. She was alone. Molly was gone. Basically everyone else had plans and she was stuck here in her room. It really sucked but with her father gone, this holiday would suck. After all, this was supposed to be the big family holiday. She struggled to keep from thinking about her father, from thinking about the way he died. She worked to hold in her tears. She took deep breaths, wiping the slight tears from her eyes. She wasn’t going to let that get to her. Not today.

She stood and moved to her desk. She had school work that she could catch up on. School was easier than before but she wasn’t as brilliant as Fey or Molly. This was work for her, just like it had always been. She pulled out her Powers Theory paper and started working on it. She hated writing all these papers on theoretical aspects of powers. The whole topic made her head hurt. She sighed and started going through things.

Becca knocked on Chou's doorframe, looking through the open door. Her Mentor was dressed casually, like normal. She smiled at the girl as she stepped in. "Chou, I wanted to take you out for Thanksgiving dinner. Want to go or do you have other plans?"

Chou nodded and put down the school work she had not been doing. That idea was awesome, and it would get her away from school work and her thoughts for a bit. "Sounds good to me."

Chou changed clothes quickly and was ready to go quickly, anything to get out of Poe Hall and to get off campus, even if only for a little while. She was feeling a little boxed in by things and it would be good to see something besides the same walls. “Where are we going?”

“Boston.” stated Becca, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“Won’t that take some time?” asked Chou, a bit worried. She really didn’t want to be in a car that long.

She smiled her smile of tremendous knowing, which irritated Chou.

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“I thought we were going to take a train or, you know, a car.” Chou was talking loudly, to be heard over the wind.

Becca laughed and replied. “This is something you get later, probably next semester. Sun Wu Kong got it for you. He said you might really enjoy something that could get you around places without having to walk all the time.”

Chou groaned. Of course the Monkey King would give her a cloud she could fly with. Stupid effing chimp. Why did he have to like her? It would be easier to simply be beaten on every day, like she had yesterday, rather then put up with the arrogant chimp.

The trip was going fast and somehow they were not really cold or being buffeted by the wind. She figured it was some sort of field effect that the magical cloud radiated. Chou sighed, even in her thoughts she was going through more school work. But she had to admit that some way of flying would be useful. It would make it easier for her to do different things.

Chou could see the glow of the city lights first and then managed to zip around, mostly covered by clouds. The two of them landed in an alleyway downtown and they walked out as the cloud fled away. “Come on. I have heard about a great place that serves really good food. Some of the teachers were talking about it.”

Chou shrugged, it wasn’t like she knew much about Boston. She had been there once and it had been really crazy. That fight had been really insane and she was glad they had survived it all. This time she didn’t have her sword and that felt weird. Without some sort of way to mask the blade she really couldn’t keep that with her unless she wanted to constantly answer questions about it. And without the blade she was just a highly trained little girl. She sighed and frowned. Life sucked sometimes.

Becca stopped and opened the door to the restaurant. Chou hadn’t seen the name of the place and really didn’t care. It would be nice to eat something that was different for a change. The cooks at Whateley were great and all, but it was still group meals which were either too cold, warm or very rarely just right. This resturant was warm and inviting and drew Chou out of her melancholy.

They were seated quickly. Chou noticed that they weren’t given menu’s which was odd. This confused her, nothing was cleared up as the waitress came up. “Hi, I’m Sarah. What can I get you to drink?”

Becca asked for hot water with lemon and Chou shrugged and ordered the same. Her mentor smiled at her. “I have another tea that will be good for us both. It tastes really nice and the stevia in it makes it sweet.”

Chou shrugged. “Sounds good.”

“Yeah. And I figured that being out here, in a crowd we could talk without the monitors that are all over the school over hearing us. There are some things I can say here and some things I will have to say somewhere really safe. Which will be soon.”

Chou’s attention was definitely caught by that. “What do you mean?”

“Well, for one, how about the fact that sometimes you have more or less power than others?” stated Becca calmly.

Chou looked shocked. She hadn’t told anybody about that. It had been bothering her but she had no idea who to talk to about it. “Wha…How…?”

“I’m your mentor. I do actually happen to know a few things.” Becca chuckled a little.

Their drinks arrived and after the waitress left Becca plopped two tea bags into the glasses. The rich red color of the tea was really interesting, and it did smell wonderful. Chou was really looking forward to drinking it. The smells in the whole place were getting her mouth to water.

“What you have to remember Chou, is that you are a tool of the Tao, not the other way around.”

Chou tried to figure that one out but wasn’t sure what Becca was really saying. It didn’t seem to make that much sense to her. “Hunh?”

“Simply put, the power is you, but you are not the power. Unless the Tao flows behind you, you are simply a regular person with some irregular training. The power of the Handmaid lies in acting in accordance with the Tao. Only in such cases will your power be truly known.”

“So, if it isn’t part of what the Tao wants, I have no power?” asked Chou, concerned, trying to make sense of things.

She nodded at the Asian girl. “Yep. Keeping you alive is part of the plan, but if there is no danger or it isn’t part of the flow…”

“Okay…I think I can cope with that. I think.” It seemed to make sense and it wasn’t as scary as the idea of holding that much power inside all the time was.

“Good. Well, enough teaching. Here comes the food.” Becca smiled and Chou felt the genuine warmth of it. She just couldn’t figure out why Becca was trying to be so nice to her. She was just a teacher, right?

Dinner was incredibly awesome. The food was really good, though it was different than what she had eaten back home. The seasonings were a bit different and their dressing wasn’t made of corn bread but it was actually delicious. Chou wholeheartedly enjoyed the meal.

After a piece of pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream, Chou sat back, sated. She felt like she was going to burst. Becca smiled. “You look pleased.”

“It was very good. Thank you Ms. Stone.” Chou still remembered her manners. Time at Whateley and away from her father hadn’t changed that.

“It’s Becca. You don’t have to call me Ms. Stone.” Chided Becca gently. “So, you ready to head on home?”

The trip back was still just as interesting and just as wild as the trip out had been. After they had landed Becca hugged Chou and headed off to her place, flying away on the cloud. Chou walked upstairs.

It was late and Poe hall was oddly quiet. It was quite different than normal. Chou walked up the stairs, thankful that the trip back had given her time to let her stomach settle. She turned at a slight sound.

The shadows moved, reminding Chou of what she had sort of seen when her father had died. She shook and felt her dinner coming back up. She hustled to the bathroom and managed to make it into a stall before she hurled. For a couple of minutes, she vomited, her excellent dinner coming back up and out, splashing heavily. Thankfully, her hair was up and didn’t get hit. She felt her insides throwing themselves out.

She slumped to the bathroom floor leaning against the bowl, exhausted. She sat there against the comfortably cold tile waiting for her stomach to settle down enough so that she could get up and crawl into bed. She cried, shaking from both the vomiting and her fear that had come back as if it never had left.

Friday, 24 November 2006:

It was cold and icy as Chou went outside to do her forms. Maybe this was a bit insane but doing the forms outside seemed to make them richer and more fulfilling. Thankfully one of the Chi Gung tricks she had learned early on enabled her to do this without needing a coat beyond a simple windbreaker. She focused on her breathing, trying to lose herself in the well practiced movements of the form.

Once she was done, Chou headed inside for a warm shower. Since she was up before anyone else, she cranked up the hot water as far as it could go, enjoying the steam that filled the room. It was nice. After a short while with the steam heating her body, she lowered the temperature some and showered. She was feeling a bit dirty from vomiting last night. She had wanted to shower then, but she barely had the energy to get into bed after that, let alone to take a shower.

She got dressed and then sat on the bottom bunk. It had Ayla’s sheets on it and Chou still was a bit upset about that. She just wanted to curl up and avoid everyone today. Unless she had to, Chou would prefer to be left alone. She missed Molly and without everyone here she wasn’t able to get her mind to shut up. She wanted to do something to clear her mind.

She lit some incense, letting the familiar scent of it relax her and clear her mind. Chou crossed her legs into full lotus and slipped into a deep meditation. It was quiet and she let herself feel the web of connections that linked her to everything else. Her breathing deepened and she drifted with the flow.

There was something new in the web. There was a thread that seemed to shove itself into place in the weave violently. The feeling was angry, painful and intimate. Its arrival would not be in a pleasant manner. It was someone new that hadn’t entered her life yet. She hadn’t done this recently enough to notice Becca’s thread arrive but she was paying attention to this one. Just as she was getting a better hold of the thread, it slipped as she spotted her father’s thread.

Again that threw her out of meditation. She wanted to go back, to figure out the mystery of the new thread when her stomach growled. Chou looked at the time and realized that she would have to hurry if she wanted to get any breakfast. She picked up Destiny’s Wave and headed off.

The Asian girl realized that she really didn’t want any company today. She just wanted to be away from people, any people. Maybe she could go off to the library and sit? She felt off, like something wasn’t right inside herself. She wished she knew what was going on but she really had no clue as to what was off. After she finished her breakfast, Chou walked over to the library and found a quiet, out of the way corner that didn’t remind her too much of Molly. They had their favorite corner, opposite of the area Molly said was used by the Lit Chix, whoever they were. Molly had said they were a bunch of girls who wrote lots of stories mostly for each other. The whole thing sounded stupid to her.

She sat in a comfy chair and tried to not think. That only made her think more. She just wanted to avoid all of this and the situation wasn’t allowing that. Chou didn’t have any other life, any other release. She had no game system to play and no one to talk to and occupy her time, at least no one she really wanted to deal with. She had nothing that could help her avoid things.

There was so much that she didn’t want to deal with: her father, her gender, being a superhero, all of it. She was fairly successful for the most part. It was only bad in the quiet moments when she had nothing to do, that’s when they rose up in her thoughts. Maybe she should take a walk through the forest. If she was lucky she might find another thing to hack to pieces. That would certainly give her a bit of distraction. She had really learned a lot since then, so it wouldn’t be as close as her last fight had been.

Chou had to admit that she was definitely very restless. She had lost her cool, her calm. Standing still seemed only to make her think about things more. So moving it is.

The forest was quiet, the cold wind broken by the trees. She wandered between the trees, running a hand over the bark. It was nice in the forest. Quiet. Peaceful. And unfortunately there didn’t seem to be anything freaky that she could kill. She shrugged, the walk was still worth it. She had grown to love the solitude of the forest on her way up to Whateley. It had been very comforting.

She stretched out her senses, feeling the life that surrounded her and the touch of darkness underneath it. She could feel the barest traces of the Regens and of course The Grove. It was nice. She drank in the feeling, letting it sooth her. It was helping Chou cope better. The forest would enable her to reconnect with her calm, to regain her equilibrium.

Suddenly, Chou felt something rip through the weave of the forest and thrust itself into the world. It was between her and the school, blocking off her escape route. She drew Destiny’s Wave as she spun, looking for the source of the disturbance. She did not have to wait long.

“Farshine, so nice to see my favorite she-male without its keepers.” Up walked the large and steaming form of the Demon Lord of Fiery Immersions. The leer was broad and his fangs showed. The air wavered around it. “I missed you that whole time I was trapped in Hell. Maybe you should come for a visit? You might like it there.”

The first thing to go through Chou’s mind was ‘CRAP!’ She held her ground, ready and waiting for the Demon Lord to attack. She had grown in skill and power a great deal since their last encounter. Maybe she could do this, or at least manage to get back to the school grounds. It was either that or die. “What do you want?”

Its chest rumbled as it chuckled. It was obviously amused with what Chou was saying, how she was trying to act all tough. “What I have always wanted, boy, the Sword. Just give her to me and your life can change.”

“Bullshit! As long as I live I’m stuck like this. You destroyed the storage box that cuts off the change.” spat Chou angrily. She could feel herself growing angry. She needed to remain calm if she was going to be able to utilize the power the Tao granted her.

‘Chou, don’t engage. Just get out of here.’ stated Destiny’s Wave, the voice of reason. ‘He’s just doing this to make sure you don’t think clearly.’

The Demon Lord shook his head, as if saddened by the stupidity of men. It looked odd to see the massive creature do that. “Farshine, you have it all wrong. I didn’t destroy the box, I have it right here.”

Chou went numb as the box she so desperately wanted was held up. She remembered everything about it, the covering, the closures, everything. It was obviously the box that the sword had come in. She knew it. She was stunned into immobility. Her grip on the sword weakened and the blade started to slip from her hand.

With a roar or triumph, the Demon Lord lunged at her. Chou instinctively reacted, leaping backwards, out of range. She opened her combat awareness, feeling the Demon Lord’s Chi, reading his movements. She was ready for him now.

She blocked a strike with the box with the flat of the blade, but the Demon’s strength was such that she still flew backwards. It was only due to her training at school that she was able to twist around the tree she had been flying at. Chou landed on her feet and watched as the Demon Lord strode purposefully towards her. “Give me the sword, boy. Drop it and you can go back to your pathetic life.”

Chou was torn. She wasn’t sure what to do. It was so tempting. She could be free, could be a guy again.

‘Don’t listen to him Chou.’ The sword’s voice resounded in her head. ‘If you do that he will kill you any way. What he wants is to use me in a ritual that will allow him to have his full power in this world.’

Chou went white, thinking about the fact that this thing wasn’t even at full power. The Demon plucked up a tree and flung it at Chou. She spun behind some other trees, using them to absorb the attack, splinters shredding the air. The Demon was moving that way as well, anticipating her move. It was moving faster than she had ever seen it move before. And the box was now gone.

She swallowed hard and resolved to do something other than run. This thing had killed her father. She was stronger now, she could hurt it, and she knew she could. With a flick of her wrist, Destiny’s Wave cut through a tree and with an explosive shout she used her Chi to power her palm strike enough to send the tree flying towards the Demon Lord.

The Demon grinned and caught the tree in both of its hands, sliding back a step from the force she had generated with her blow. “So, you have learned something other than running, boy. It’s nice to see.”

Chou stood her ground and pulled in the energy around her, her energy building and building, spiraling higher. The air crackled around her, the air whipping about. The Demon Lord grinned at what she was doing, and then tossed the tree at her. It crashed through other branches and sped closer to where she stood.

Chou slide stepped out of the way of the tree and closed with the creature in one smooth move. She shifted the energy within her and her sword began to weave a pattern of attack. The energy crackling around her shifted to the blade.

The Demon lord plucked a flaming dao out of the air, to counter the jian’s attack with its wide blade. He worked to absorb the flood of strikes that she had launched. The Demon worked fairly quickly, shifting his sword about, occasionally shifting to a counterattack. Chou’s attacks finally began to slow, and then slowed some more and Chou’s attack shifted to defense, as the Demon Lord shifted onto the attack. He chuckled as she wavered and then took a step back from the counter attack he had launched. She was weakening, her strength seeping out of her.

Chou felt drained, she had given that attack everything she had and the Demon still kept coming. Tears streamed down her face, hot and salty, tightening her skin. Her heart pounded quickly as she started to panic. She was going to die.

‘Run, Chou!’ yelled the sword in her mind. ‘Run!’

Chou broke and ran, shifting instantly from combat to escape. The Demon Lord was a bit surprised by that and it gave Chou some time to use her Lightfoot Kung Fu to get past him and to start speeding towards the campus on the lower branches. She could hear the crashing as her foe followed behind, bellowing in frustration.

Chou wanted to fall over. Never in her life had she felt so drained, so exhausted, so unable to go on and yet she did. It was either keep going or die at the hands of a Demon Lord who would probably burn her down where she fell, or tear her apart like it had done to her father. Chou screamed and wept in frustration as she ran on.

Ahead, she could sense the energy wall that delineated the magical barrier that surrounded the school. Her only hope was if she could make it there and across the barrier. She wobbled a little, moving as fast as she could. She felt the chi rush towards her just before the attack hit her. She didn’t have anything left in her to dodge.

A large branch slammed into her, flinging Chou into another tree. She was falling, stunned. Her training was all that managed to keep her from dying, as she landed properly to absorb the impact. She raised her head in time to blearily watch the blade of the burning dao rush towards her head.

Though her arm felt like jello, Chou managed to get her blade up enough to deflect the dao into a nearby tree, which fell towards the Demon Lord. Chou didn’t hesitate, thankful that the Tao provided this moment for her to act.

It took everything she had but she made it across the barrier, tumbling from her desperate leap to avoid another sword strike. She tumbled to a stop and came up on one knee, gulping air. The Demon Lord chuckled, standing at the edge of the barrier. “Farshine, just had to run like a scared little girl, didn’t you.”

“I hate you, you bastard.” She tried to yell, but it wasn’t very loud. She had no air to really yell with. He heard it though.

“Hate me? Why? I gave you a chance to give me the sword. You didn’t comply.” The creature sounded offended.

“You killed my father you prick!” Chou tried to stand but her legs gave out under her and she collapsed, face down into the mud. She lifted her face, glaring hate and death at the Demon Lord.

The laugh that the Demon Lord of Fiery Immersion gave her was cold, cruel and full of malice. It’s eyes gleamed happily at crumpled form of the Handmaid of the Tao. “Kill? Kill? No boy, I didn’t kill your precious father. He’s simply my guest in the Hell of Fiery Immersion. Your daddy misses you, boy. Want to join him?”

Chou again froze in shock. She whispered, “No. You lie.”

The Demon Lord snorted in derision. “Lie? I don’t think so boy. No Farshine, I don’t ever bother to lie. I’ll give your regards to your father.”

The Demon Lord vanished in the blink of an eye, the grass smoldering where it had stood just a moment before. Chou howled out her pain, fear and frustration, shaking and weeping there on the muddy grass. She wanted to destroy things, to hide, to do something. She wept, shaking from the exertion and surprise. What the fuck had just happened?

After a while, she was able to calm down enough to make it back to Poe. She was numb from both the cold and the shock. It was either luck or misfortune that allowed her return to her room without Security or Mrs. Horton seeing her in her bedraggled and bruised state, tears staining her face.

Chou crawled into her room, dragging Destiny’s Wave behind her. She weakly shut the door with a foot. She crawled into a corner, letting the sword slip from numb fingers and pulled Ayla’s comforter over her filthy body. She wept over all of her losses, inconsolable regardless what the sword tried. Words were useless to reach her. Drained beyond endurance, Chou dropped into a deep, nightmare filled sleep.

To be continued…