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A Whateley Academy Tale

Insanity Prerequsite

Part 1: Status Quo


By Dr. Bender

Prologue

Wednesday, 18th October 2006 01:56

Darkness was not a deterrent to the tiny beasts that crawled between the cracks of reality. The idiotic parasites chanted inaudibly the names of the elder gods who had long forgotten their least creations in a pocket realm of twisted space. Each of their lives was a battle to escape their prison, lives which could be lost in a moment as time itself fluxed and shuddered about them. Some lived eternally, trapped in the crack, others died only to return moments or years later.

It was through this chaotic vortex that something else strode, somehow immune to the warp and weave of reality. It was a dark and tattered thing, alive and breathing yet as dead as the eldritch stone of the endless tunnel between planes. The vermin made way for it, knowing the Old One’s scent, worshipping in their silent chant, “Iä! Iä! Gg’gorsch’a’bha egurtsa’ar’ug d’ Dalhor! Cthluhu fthagn! Cthluhu fthagn!”

It ignored them, leaping up through the hole in the roof and into the freezing night, uttering only a single, painful, word.

“Kim-ba.”

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The black clad girl eased with ninja-like stealth through the small window into the basement. It was a weird room, the walls scrawled with some rune thingies that really creeped her out. But they certainly weren’t as creepy as the dead white little girl that sat cross legged in the middle of the room. She wore black make-up around her eyes and lips (at least, it looked like make-up), her fingers and toes tipped with dark, razor sharp, claws.

She was only a half-pint and slender as a sapling, wearing a disturbingly short dress for her age and a singlet that left her shoulders exposed. Her eyes were closed and she sat completely still, steady as a rock, even her small breast failed to rise or fall like a normal girl’s. The ninja took off one of her gloves and held her hand in front of the kid’s mouth. No breath.

It was strange for a vamp to be sleeping at night, but the ninja shrugged girlishly and pulled out her best stake. She took aim and plunged it into the Goth’s back, straight through the centre of her spine, then stepped back.

Nothing happened.

She pulled out the stake and watched the wound close by itself, catching only a momentary glimpse of wriggling grey-green tendrils underneath white skin.

Growling to vent her anger, she rammed the stake back in.

Nothing happened again.

“Aren’t you, like, supposed to disintegrate or something?” She whispered, tapping one foot impatiently. Still there was no response. So she reached over her head and drew her blessed sword from the sheathe on her back. One cut severed the undead thing’s head from its unholy body.

There was a sickening crackle, very similar to frying bacon, as it’s spine pushed its way upwards from the bloody, purple, neck stump, writhing tentacles twisting themselves around bone. Flesh weaved and interlaced, forming a translucent membrane over the wound as the head expanded like the head of a pulsating pimple.

Her eyes were still closed as the head finished regenerating, hair and eyelashes pushing out while the skin clouded, returning to its former china white complexion. In a moment, the only indication that the head had been severed at all was a ring of purple around her neck and a thin layer of slime that was already in the process of drying, flaking off with the smug sense of a job well done.

The ninja girl stamped her foot in frustration, then jumped head first out the window and back into the darkness of the night. She needed a good night’s sleep before class tomorrow, and an Asprin to get rid of her migraine…

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Chapter 1 – Status Quo

Sunday 15th October 2006,00:00

Sara threw herself down onto her bed, letting the packages under her arms drop to the floor, her mind still reeling from the onslaught of the last twenty four hours. The rest of Team Kimba had staggered or floated (literally) up the steps, bushed. Even Jade had to be carted up the stairs in the arms of her alter ego. Poe was dark and quiet, only the faint electric hum from the maintenance area beyond Sara’s room was clearly audible.

Rifling through her packages, the Demon Princess lay her purchases out on the bed. Books such as ‘An Expurgated Necronomicon by H.P. Lovecraft’, the featureless and unattributed ‘Black Book of Salem’, ‘Zagig’s Comedicon’ and the slender volume called ‘The Folio of True Names’ were stacked next to the likes of ‘Stephen King’s IT’, ‘The Lovecraft Omnibus’ and ‘Michael Waite’s Incongruity’. She didn’t really know why she had bothered to buy the last one, she could almost recite it from memory. Maybe to make my room feel more like home, she pondered.

She threw the bundle of old clothes in a corner, leaving them for later. Rifling through the DVDs, she fished out the new expansion pack for GEO out of the bag, ripping through the plastic with her claws while checking the time.

“Nine hours,” she sighed.

The wait for her laptop to power up was mercifully quick, the spinning ARC logo barely visible in a blur of motion, the animation linked to the status bar at the bottom of the screen. Quickly, she tapped the keys with the tips of her claws, careful not to scratch the plastic.

User Name: Honeytrap

Password: ***************

Mr. Babage, her teacher for Hacking Theory, had been adamant in drilling into their heads the need for security in all aspects of their lives. From random, case sensitive, passwords to the proper disposal of personal waste, even the basics required discipline and dedication to detail that only half the class was capable of achieving.

The alias ‘Honeytrap’ had been an easy, she had always had a fondness for the nickname given to the seductive female spies of the World War era, and later the Cold War. It was a beautifully constructed word, bringing together two disparate sounds into a single, silken, phrase that rolled off the palette yet forced a bitter snap from the end of your tongue. Pity she couldn’t take it as her code name anymore, though it just did not have quite the feel she was looking for.

Purchasing the original GEO on its inception had been the brainchild of Dr. Bellows, who claimed that the RPG used fascinating psychological profiling software to tailor the game to the needs of the individual. “Playing games,” he had said after dropping the suggestion into her lap during their first session, “has been proven to relieve stress, giving the brain time to come to grips with a wide range of problems. GEO is perfect for this, it allows never before seen compatibility with the player. I’m not asking you to retreat from your problems, I’m asking you to let yourself go for a while and have a bit of fun.”

Sara had to admit, it worked like a charm. Not only did she have something to occupy the dark, quiet, hours of the night after she had finished her homework, she had something to talk about with the other students in Hacking Theory.

Her character was one of the most popular on Whateley’s GEOFAN forums, and elsewhere across the world. Marala had started life in the GEO world as a lowly Temptress, the evil equivalent of the Enchantress. Unlike any other class in the entire game, however, the Temptress did not earn experience for killing monsters and looting tombs, she could only become more powerful by luring another character and absorbing their abilities.

This meant that the Temptress was one of the most feared, reviled and hunted of the classes in GEO. One of the few times one would see the Light and Dark sides working together is to slay a Temptress before the battle began in earnest, leaving no room for treachery. To avoid ending up like this, Sara had immediately launched a campaign of disguise, bluff and misinformation on the entire world, both light and dark.

The first step was to disguise herself so that no-one would recognize her for what she was. Where other Temptresses died quickly for wearing skimpy silk gowns and transparent harem outfits, Marala wore studded leather and carried a longsword, shield and bow. Her second act was to escape the Dark Lands as quickly as possible before she became the love slave of an Orc warlord in the Black Cap Mountains or worse. Travelling in the lands of light alternately as a wandering bard, rogue or low level fighter allowed her to pick off worthy opponents by lulling them into a false sense of security, luring them away from civilization individually and sucking out their souls when the moment was ripe.

Her hit and run tactics, moving between the Borderlands and the DarkTerritories were now the stuff of legends. Some said that Marala had manipulated an adventuring party into hunting down a shapeshifter in order to absorb its powers while it was weak, which was how she was able to operate in the Light for so long undetected by Guardian Priests. In truth, she hadn’t been able to gain that ability via soul sucking, it had come much later when The Darkness transformed her into a Succubus. For the first few weeks, she’d just been very good at disguise and deception, gathering every item, spell and ability possible to evade physical and magical detection.

At the height of the campaign that had earned her the honour of becoming a monster in her own right, players were terrified to the point where no-one travelled in any group less than three. Word had reached her that inns in the borderlands no longer took in lone visitors. Somehow, Marala’s likeness had been posted on every notice board, her name on the lips of every town crier. Even the usually stoic NPCs cringed at the mention of her name. Adventuring parties would tear themselves apart simply on the suspicion that one of them may be her in disguise. And they were right enough of the time that their fears were well founded.

At some point, however, she had either gotten too tired or too powerful for these games to amuse her anymore, so she switched tactics. Moving back into the Lands of Darkness, she struck a bargain with a Warlord calling himself Torg the Undying, a Death Knight raised from the eternal sleep by an old friend turned Lich who he in turn betrayed for a trinket or two. Torg was dumb but powerful, jumping at the chance to ransack a city deep within the Lands of Light. With her help they gathered an army of misanthropes eager to participate in the evil version of tomb raiding and dungeon crawling: Invasion.

The fools had left the black ops section of the army in her care, giving her control over a small guild of Assassins called by the uncreative name of The Black Hand. Her twenty operatives were a start, however, working as a unit the group razed and plundered farmland, ambushing key individuals during the build up to the full scale assault. Bullying and seducing some Alchemists had been the most successful and useful move of the campaign, the Black Hand managed to poison half the army sent to oppose Torg’s invasion force, leaving the City of Yuthgar vulnerable to siege. What had happened next was a matter of controversy on the forums.

It is known that The Black Hand perished to the last man trying to assassinate Lord Yuthgar in his own keep. It is also well known that Marala rode with Torg during the final march on the City. What is not known is how she managed to single-handedly attack and destroy the Grove of the World Keepers, killing the Grand Druid in single combat, more than a thousand leagues to the south, returning to annihilate and scatter the preoccupied Torg to the four winds just after he had successfully razed the city to the ground. The rumour mongers whispered of secret magic in the wild lands or deep under the earth. Hardly any even suspected that the success of the Black Hand was due to the skilful application of combat drugs and Necromancy.

Her audacity earned her powerful friends, enemies and allies. Her new powers and form gained her a small kingdom of her own under the Black Cap Mountains where she allowed several evil clans to lair under her protection. And it was, in fact, all due to the creative use of existing spells and abilities. Not even her closest underlings knew of her ability to teleport throughout the land using her stolen rune magic. Adventurers still puzzled at the waves of feral, rabid, beasts that roamed their lands or the encroachment of carnivorous vines in the Lands of Light.

All in all, Sara was quite pleased with herself. She felt a tiny glow of achievement as she slipped the first DVD into the drive in the side of her laptop.

The GEO: EPOCH expansion pack had only been released two days before and the net was already abuzz over some of the rumoured new features. Sara doubted that there were now monsters the size of mountains or wizards who could control the flow of time, however the graphical and interface enhancements were too good to pass up. So was the free microphone and speech recognition software, just thinking about the ability to talk to her minions and victims made her hot and bothered. Of course, she always seemed to be hot and bothered these days.

Quickly agreeing to the conditions of use, she opened her top drawer and heaved out a thick, red, ring-bound folder to work on while the new features loaded. Flipping through the first fifty pages, which merely contained old homework sheets for algebra and physics anyway, and past her crude drawing of the Yellow Sign (sketched with fluorescent yellow highlighter), she finally came to the real purpose of the compilation.

Notes on Team Kimba, by Sara Waite, Sara unconsciously labeled the work, despite its lack of an official title.

Continuing to scan her previous notes, she underlined her first point: NEED COMMUNICATORS URGENTLY. The point had been proven yet again down in Boston’s sewer system. Lack of funds and enthusiasm for the project was proving to be a sticking point, she made a mental note to talk to Bunny ASAP.

With that, she turned further along to her pet project, scooping her new books up onto her desk while pushing her laptop over to one side, shifting her desk lamp into a better position to pour over the books. The Jade Project took up much of her time, the problem so complex and fundamental that hardly any of the regular resource material even touched on it.

Recessive or Obstructed Body Image Templates were not as common as one would think, though most were curable with a combination of regular physical therapy and hypnosis, or even psychological therapy in mild cases to push the BIT into action. There was an interesting section in the ‘Encyclopaedia Aberrant’ on the Popeye Syndrome, a psychological affliction occurring in mutants where their powers form a psychological dependency on an object which must be consumed or acquired for their abilities to assert themselves, even causing physical changes in rare cases involving Exemplars. Sara added that to her list of possible causes, which was already a page long.

Sighing again, Sara opened the top book on the pile and flipped to the index in the back of the book, “Body Warping of Gorgoroth, page 187, sounds promising…”

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Sara had just finished getting dressed when the ARC Warper literally popped into the room. Terrance was a sandy-haired, all-American, boy, though you could hardly tell when he was wearing his Light Armoured ARC-80v power suit. The black, carbon fibre, carapace fit like a glove. Aside from the nose and mouth, he was covered from head to toe in the suit. “Ma’am, are you ready to depart?” He was also very serious and uptight for a twenty year old. Despite his powers, he refused to take a code name, believing them to be frivolous and melodramatic.

“Sure, just let me get my shoe on…” Sara fiddled with her new black sneakers, one of the few items of clothing she’d purchased in Boston. Explaining her claws to the salesman had been murder. Finally, she secured her nametag to the breast of her shirt, “Ok, lets go.”

The reason that ARC Warpers were the principle method of travel for the corporation’s VIPs became obvious once Sara had used the service for two weeks, the instantaneous trip being only one of the obvious benefits. Security only had to be assured at two points, the point of origin and the point of destination, making transport of valuable personnel far more cost effective than a car ride.

So, one minute she was standing in her room at Whateley, the next she was inside arrival cell 16, ground level of Arkham Sanitorium, a loud pop of displaced air the only herald to their arrival. Sara nodded her thanks to Terrance, exiting the large glass booth quickly to let the next passenger through. Dr. Otto was waiting for her at the desk, “Morning, Sara. Ready?”

“As I ever will be,” Sara sighed, following the balding research scientist up the antigravity lifts and into the testing labs, assistants hard at work calibrating the scanning equipment. Otto ignored them, pulling a chair out for Sara while taking his own seat on the other side of the cold steel desk, “I heard that you got a good workout yesterday.”

Sara bushed, “Yes… and no.”

Otto slid the papers out of the way for a moment, “Want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Sara shook her head, “Nothing new to report. I’m fast, but I lack control. I’m strong, but it takes too long for my strength to take hold. My psychic abilities just… suck, for lack of a better word. I can lift a grand total of five pounds, sense thoughts and emotions at five feet and create a spark of fire that lasts an hour. Speed’s my only saving grace.”

“Sara, you’ve only been doing this for two weeks…”

“I know.”

“…you can’t expect miracles overnight…”

“I know.”

“…it takes concentrated effort over many years for most psychics just to get to your level of proficiency. Personally, I wouldn’t even try to copy your time and speed tricks.”

Sara smiled faintly, staring at the ground, “I think I broke the sound barrier yesterday. It ruined my clothes, though, and left everything around me a right mess.”

Otto blinked, picking up a pen to scribble a note in his ever-present paperwork, “So, your speed and reaction times are improving, but your other powers remain unchanged?”

Sara nodded.

“Have you been using your time compression techniques often during classes? How about outside classes?”

“Only during Martial Arts. Aside from my tentacles, it’s my only real draw card in a fight. Particularly against bricks, the only way I can hurt some of them is by accelerating my punches to add momentum. I’ve got to be careful, though, I break my hand sometimes.”

“So the stress of your powers is taxing to your body. What about your mind? Having any hallucinations? Disorientation? Blackouts?”

Sara shook her head, “No, nothing.”

“You’ve been doing your exercises?” Otto stared at her over his glasses.

“Every night. Meditation doesn’t seem to be helping me at all. I’ve been reading up on advanced focusing techniques like you suggested, nothing seems to be helping. My best results are still occurring when I’m under stress.”

“How are your classes going?”

“Good and bad again,” Sara sighed, “science is great, I’m already far beyond the other students in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Principles of Magic is really interesting, even if they do treat me weird since they found out that I eat mithril. Martial Arts is… strained.”

“Oh?” Dr. Otto raised one eyebrow, lapsing into his ‘psychotherapist’ tone.

“Well, Ito Sensei and Chaka Sempai can sense Chi, they tell me that I draw all the Chi around me and inside me into a black hole in my chest. Ito Soke and Tolman Sensei say that they can’t train me because my body works nothing like a normal human’s, they don’t even know where to start. So, I’ve sort of been fed to the wolves for the last two weeks, all I seem to be doing is giving everyone dodging lessons.”

“Are you winning any bouts?”

“All the time, though that’s part of the problem,” Sara drew more breath in, feeling her last few words drain her oxygen reserves, “I seem to divide the class into two groups, those who beat me and those who don’t. Either they’re not fast, strong or invulnerable enough to stand up to me or they’ve got the edge over me in spades. Take Tennyo, for example. She’s strong, fast, can fly and use energy bolts. She runs rings around me, cuts away all my tentacles, then finishes me off by flinging me into the cage. Chaka Sempai’s just too good for me to hit, though we tend to have the longest bouts. Hank’s just a fuckin’ tank… a flying tank, no less. Totally invulnerable, absolutely no way to hurt him, strong as an a herd of oxen. Ayla, Jinn and I are on the same level, though Jinn presents her own set of problems, at least I can manhandle her into the cage about half the time.”

“And Ito Sensei has no advice for you at all?”

Sara shook her head, “He doesn’t want to contaminate my thinking by placing human boundaries on me. He gives Jinn and I the same advice, find what you do better than a human. So, I’ve been trying to use my tentacles and flexibility to my advantage, but everything tends to end up in a tangled mess. Chaka Simpai even hogtied me with my own tentacles once, I had to bite them off.”

Dr. Otto grimaced, “So your shifter abilities haven’t improved either?”

Sara shook her head again. She was getting sick of doing that, “I feel so stupid. The only thing I’m good at is storing up useless information. I can quote to you the entire periodic table, explain and expound on the Palliver Equations or advanced Dimension Theory. But what good is all that if I can’t apply it?”

“Give it time, Sara, you’re starting your training two weeks late, remember? It sounds to me like you’ve only just caught up with your friends, it’s unreasonable to expect you to do any better than you already have. In the last few weeks, you’ve foiled several attempts on your life and fought a real, live, supervillain to a standstill. Isn’t that enough?”

“That wasn’t me,” Sara scowled, more at herself than anyone else, “that was Team Kimba. I stopped one of them, but that was more like swatting a gnat. I couldn’t have engaged the Necromancer in spell combat like Nikki. I couldn’t even handle Lycanthros when he jumped me from behind. Chaka Sempai did.”

“Sara, you’ve done better than any normal girl your age could ever hope…”

Sara slammed her fist into the table, leaving a dent, “Second best isn’t good enough! I can’t accept that from myself, what’s going to happen the next time The Necromancer comes calling? We caught him by surprise yesterday, everyone seems to forget that!”

“SARA! Pay attention to me, because this is very important,” Dr. Otto stood up, lending his bulk to his already considerable charisma, “if you push yourself too far, too fast, even you could quite possibly burn out or drive yourself insane.” He pushed the paperwork into the bin next to his feet, “That’s it, no tests today. You and I are going to have a long talk.”

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Screech hugged her legs close to her chest, sitting amid the broken black candles on the altar of Cauldron Hill. She stared at the depression at the base of the cliff, where Bloodworm had fallen through the very earth, or so Romulus and Remis said. Despair welled up as the small girl fiddled with the straight razor in her left hand, trying to build up the courage to use it again.

The scars on her wrists crossed her arms the wrong way, the doctors had been able to just sew her up and keep her sedated. Then the psychiatrist had tricked her into believing in something again. Underneath the make-up, she wasn’t strong like the other mutants, or smart. She wasn’t particularly good looking, no matter how hard she tried, she was too bony and skinny.

And she could never become a witch. One word from her mouth could peel the skin off someone’s face or shatter brick walls into dust, but she could never prey out loud to Mother Earth or raise her voice in praise of Astarte. She was cursed, anyone who became her friend or even came close to her died. Bloodworm wasn’t the first and he wouldn’t be the last.

“I thought I’d find you here,” Romulus sat down beside her, staring pointedly at the razor, “What are you doing with that?”

Screech shrugged, still fiddling with it.

“You promised us, remember? No more. Come on, hand it over.”

Screech withheld her sigh of disappointment, folding the edge over into the handle and slipping it into his pocket.

“You’ve been skipping classes,” he accused.

Screech didn’t bother answering.

“How is torturing yourself going to help? Bloodworm isn’t going to come back, no matter how deep you cut yourself or how much you bleed. I know you miss him, but he’s gone and he won’t be back.”

It was the brutal truth, Screech knew that, but she couldn’t help hating herself. She couldn’t bring herself to blame Sara, what the Cult had been doing was wrong, but as long as it was what Bloodworm wanted, everything felt so right.

Romulus gently eased her chin up from her knees, turning her face to look into his, “You know that we…”

He just trailed off. Screech smiled, kissing the sweet twin on the cheek, knowing that his brother would feel it also. Then she shook her head. It was not to be.

He turned away quickly, “Remis is still in hospital from what that little bitch did to him.”

Screech suppressed a chuckle. She was very good at doing that, she had to be. Still, she knew that a projectile wound down there could seriously scar the boy for life, but she had to admit it had its funny side. Romulus, of course, could never see that.

Romulus sighed and walked off, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Promise?”

Screech nodded.

“Thank-you.”

Screech listened to his footsteps as he descended the staircase, turning his back on the sun.

Sara watched Dr. Otto sip his tea, staring out over the grey countryside from the cafeteria window, “So, absolutely no improvement in control of your powers? At all?”

“Nothing,” Sara confirmed, “I’ve been concentrating on Telepathy and Empathy at night in my room. It’s not like a wall, really, more like everything just fades away, like turning the volume down on a stereo.”

He nodded, “That’s normal. Does meditating help at all? Are thoughts or emotions louder or quieter? Is there any time when you can feel nothing at all?”

“No, on all counts. Everything that comes within five feet, no exceptions. I can’t even turn it off.”

He squinted, taking off his glasses to clean the lenses with a handkerchief, “That’s bad, psychics who can’t turn off their extra senses tend to go mad or be driven into the most remote and desolate places on Earth just to get away from the ‘noise’. In the worst cases, they go mad from overstimulation.”

“I’ve been reading about that,” Sara nodded dejectedly, shivering slightly, “in fact, the statistics show that 98% of all unlimited Telepaths have severe personality disorders. The worst cases don’t know the difference between their own thoughts and others, according to the California Institute of Parapsychology.”

“I know. We keep a few of those unfortunates in warded rooms downstairs. I doubt that you’ll end up like them, however. The problem of overstimulation doesn’t apply to you, not having a regular human brain does have its advantages.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Sara sighed, “I’ve been a little worried. Of course, that brings us to my next problem. I’m not respirating anymore, I have to tell myself to keep breathing. If I needed to breathe, I’d be a little more upset…”

Dr. Otto chuckled at her weak smile, “I did tell you that normal human functions would begin to shut down after your pores sealed off…”

“I know, but it’s… annoying now. I just wish I’d either breathe, or not. Having to talk to people gets frustrating sometimes. And then there’s… er…”

Sara’s cheeks bloomed purple. Dr. Otto didn’t have to guess, “The Lust factor. How are you dealing with it?”

“I’m not, not really,” Sara sighed, “it’s getting worse and worse, the more I deny it the worse it gets. I’ve had to resort to… er… you know... a few times.”

“Sara, it’s a perfectly normal thing, particularly in someone with your hormone level, not to mention your ancestry. Has your father contacted you at all?”

Sara shook her head.

“I’m sure he’s busy organizing something. Gothmog’s not one to do things by half measures.”

“Do you know him?” Sara gasped, surprised.

“I know of him. His reputation is mixed, depending on who you talk to. Most of my colleagues agree that he’s relatively harmless.”

“Relative to what?” Sara snorted, “No, you don’t have to answer that. I already know.”

Otto was silent for a long time, staring up into the grey monotone sky that stretched off into the horizon.

“Mom used to tell me stories when I was a kid… well, before,” Sara whispered, scratching the polished wooden tabletop with her claws, “about elder things that roamed the Earth before mankind, about aliens that sailed through the gulf of space between worlds on streams of time. About weird gods without form who consumed and were consumed even as they gave birth to themselves in places beyond human understanding. The books in the Waite Collection described strange and unnameable places, I thought they were just remnants of ancient devil-cults, after all, there’s always someone willing to do a deal with a devil, even before Christianity reared its head. But it’s all true, isn’t it?”

Dr. Otto nodded, “Most likely. You know why you got stuck with me here, don’t you?”

“I can guess.” Sara didn’t blink. She didn’t need to anymore, the nictating film over her eyes protected them from dust and particles.

“I met Lovecraft once. Before his final death in the late sixties…”

“I thought Lovecraft died in ’37?” Sara interrupted.

Otto shook his head, “He faked his first death to throw Thule Gemeinschaft off his trail. Hitler turned the tables on us later on in ’45. For a long time, he was our only real link to the worlds of the Great Old Ones and the Mythos itself. His constant flitting through time and space was… disturbing. Near the end we weren’t sure wether he was even human anymore, constant exposure to the Mythos was turning him into something else, but the mutation was uncontrolled. Perhaps he knew more about how the universe really works than any human in all of history, and nobody would listen to his warnings. When I met him back in ’62, he was confined to his bed in the old Sanitorium. Sometimes he insisted on being called Randolph Carter, at others, Abdul Al’Azrad.”

“The Servant of the Destroyer.” Sara supplied.

“Quite. Now I’ve got another writer on my hands, only your mutation is entirely controlled.”

“Tell that to me once you’ve tasted it from the inside,” Sara scowled, “I don’t want to be this way, but I do. When I give in and just follow my nature it just feels so good, like the whole universe is at my feet. B-but the things my body wants to do… I’m so screwed up inside.”

Otto face twisted up, “Sounds like Deidrick’s Syndrome… no, wait, that’s too simple an explanation.”

“Oh, I know what it is,” Sara shivered, “it’s my nature. I’m not human anymore, remember? And I’ve got the cat-scans to prove it.”

“I thought you two ‘d be chained to a desk all day.”

Sara’s face lit up as she hugged her foster mother around the waist, leaping into the embrace with enough force to stagger her.

“Woah, hold on there, sugar,” Donna chuckled, smoothing Sara’s raven hair, “not all of us are invulnerable, you know. Mind if I take her for a drive, Otto?”

“I think that would be a marvellous idea,” Otto stood, downing the last of his tea, “I’m afraid that as a conversationalist, my skills are rather rusty. I fear that in my trade, talking shop is rather more depressing than normal. I’ll see you girls later.”

Sara gave the older man a peck on the cheek before he could leave, standing on the tips of her taloned toes to reach. He gave her a fatherly smile before sidling away with a spring in his step.

“Come on,” Donna took her by the shoulder, jangling her car keys, “it’s a little grey out, but the countryside’s quite picturesque coming up to winter.”

It was nice being ensconced in the black leather interior of Donna’s BMW a few minutes later, almost drifting through the damp green hills of the Miskatonic.

“It’s good to see you again.” Donna smiled warmly.

“It’s only been a week, you know,” Sara chuckled, “how’s Nathan?”

A shadow seemed to pass over Donna’s face. “Oh, ah, I haven’t seen him for a while,” She muttered darkly, “he’s on assignment in New York already.”

Sara looked at her foster mother from the corner of her eye. Her aura pulsed green and red, with purple permeating throughout. The colours clashed, creating a disgustingly insipid pattern. “Bad parting?”

“Not entirely amicable, no.” The doctor said, face deadpan.

“Want to talk about it?”

Donna glared at the road for a moment, “He… I… we argued.”

“It seems that I spread good cheer wherever I go,” Sara grumbled.

The blonde snorted, poking her glasses back into place, “It’s nothing to do with you, Sara, just unfortunate circumstances. Nathan wanted me to move in with him, I… wasn’t ready for that. So we had a fight.”

Sara was silent for a long time. “You’re lying. Neither of you are that shallow.”

After that, the silence became palpable. Finally, they came to their destination, a lonely lookout point high in the mountains that overlooked the valley, Dunwich visible in the distance while Arkham was even closer, the lights of Berlin airport also visible between the two townships.

Sara waited for Donna to build up the courage to speak. It didn’t take long.

“You’re right. Sort of. Nathan did want me to move in with him, and I didn’t want to. That wasn’t what started the argument, though,” She unhooked her slender arm from her jacket, undid the cufflink on her shirt and rolled up the sleeve, “This did.”

Holding out her wrist, Donna revealed a red birthmark on the tender flesh of the inside of her forearm. It would not have been peculiar except for its distinctive shape, that of a stylized inverted triangle. “It’s the same symbol that’s on your forehead.” Donna accused, “What is it? What does it mean?”

Sara gently took her guardian’s hand, running her fingers up the arm, careful not to touch the rune, “It’s my demon mark. I’m so sorry, Donna, I didn’t know what I was doing…”

“What does it mean?” Donna repeated, desperation growing in her voice.

“It’s a mark of ownership.” Sara sighed, “It creates a psychic link between us that is very hard to break. If it’s any consolation, you have to be willing to accept it on some subconscious level for the mark to appear… Donna?”

Donna was shaking, turned away from Sara, one hand over her mouth. She looked like she was sobbing, only her already sickening aura sparkled with lemon yellow amusement. It took Sara a moment to recognise the muted laughter for what it was.

“I-I did… I do…” Donna’s voice shook as she clutched her shoulders, attempting to warm herself with her hands as if she were cold. Sara shifted in her seat, moving slightly away from her foster mother, afraid of what was going to happen next.

“Sara, I… I… you should know that… Sara, I’m not homosexual,” she stammered, bottom lip shaking, “b-but I, lately, I’ve been having these dreams and, well, ever since that night I… I’ve been thinking about you a lot and I don’t know why or how to explain it but…”

The Demon Princess resisted the urge to reach out to the crying woman, tendril clenching bone. If she’d met this girl back before the change, he would have reached out to hold her delicate shoulders forever in his arms, whispered into her ear to reassure her. Now, while her resolve was strong, her heart and loins were screaming at her to do the same, as if nothing had occurred in the intervening month. They were about the right age, she would have been a little older but she didn’t look a day over 20. She was smart, beautiful, caring, loyal… Sara squashed those thoughts. She couldn’t let Donna get involved with her… but wasn’t she already involved?

“I’ve been… doing things in the last few weeks that I haven’t, that I’ve never even thought of,” Donna stared glassily at the steering wheel, “I-I went and bought a DVD from this place in Dunwich. I think Nathan saw it, maybe that’s what started this, it was right after the mark on my arm became clear. Tentacle porn. The clerk gave me a really weird look.”

Her chuckle held little mirth, “I watched it and I was thinking of you so I started… I’ve been buying them off the net ever since, I can’t seem to get enough, then one night he found me and we had this big fight and I told him how I felt about you and he… he just went white and left. God, why did I give him a key? I shouldn’t have, but I thought we were… God, I think he loves you too. Oh, God, how did we get to this?”

She really was weeping now, tears cascading down the black plastic of the steering wheel as she rested her brow on the handle. Sara couldn’t hold herself back anymore, reaching over to hug her foster mother, letting her body grow inside her bodysuit, stretching the spandex-like material while her wrists crept further and further away from the sleeves. At her touch, the psychologist launched herself into Sara’s breast, howling her despair as if trying to expel it. Sara froze, not daring to even twitch.

The kiss took the Demon completely off guard. Sucked together by the air pressure, Sara found herself trapped between the steel-hard grip of her foster mother and her own desire. Gently, she pushed her away, stroking the woman’s cheek with her fingers, “If I’d met you more than a month ago, I would have told you to go away. You’re too good for someone like me, Donna. Now I’ve gone and ruined it all with that thing on your arm.”

Donna looked at the mark again, felt it throb in time with a heartbeat that was not her own. They hugged for a long time, the older girl resting her head in Sara’s lap, black claws stroking blonde hair. At that moment, the Demon Princess felt infinitely old, the weight of the universe bending her back, dragging down on her hand as it ran along each silken chord, all 892 of them splayed out over tanned skin.

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Both girls were too choked up to talk for most of the drive back to Whateley. Donna made a call to Dr. Otto to inform him of the change of plans. Sara noted mentally that more than 2000 white lines had been painted on the road before she could stop herself. It wasn’t that she was counting, her brain just automatically knew. Revs, kilometres, miles, metres, feet, wind speed, temperature, everything that could be measured and classified, she found the numbers and patterns lying with easy reach of her brain. Heartbeats. Donna’s heartbeat was elevated. Her blood pressure and slight increase in temperature were normal effects of a heightened state of arousal…

She didn’t want to think about that. “I need you to do me a favour.”

“Anything.” Donna smiled.

Sara sighed, “I need information on Dad. I’ve tried libraries, I’ve re-started obtaining books for my collection, but there’s only so much available to me as a Freshman. If you could nose about for me, let me know what you can find.”

She nodded pensively, “Shouldn’t be a problem. It’ll have to be outside work…”

“Whenever you find the time,” Sara waved airily, “Dad hasn’t been in any rush to talk to me.”

“It is hard to reach someone across dimensional barriers, Sara. I’m sure he’s…”

“Donna,” Sara interrupted, “I’ve been a Demon Princess for almost a month now and I already have one friend who I can entrust with any task, no matter how enormous or trivial. How many do you think my father has by now?”

They were quiet for a very long time.

“Is that all I am?”

Sara looked over at her, watching the renewed tears streak down her face.

“Am I always just going to be a friend?”

“No ‘just’, Doctor Donna Bell, Disciple of Kellith, Daughter of the Eternal Void,” Sara whispered, “I am so sorry that I got you involved, I can’t begin to say…”

“Haven’t you been listening? I want to be involved. What was I to you? Just a Foster Mother? A step along the road?”

“You don’t mean that.”

They were silent again for a while.

“Make no mistake, Donna. I love you. I loved you enough to try to keep you away from what I’m going to become in the end. But it was… too much to let you go completely. I think that’s what brought us here. I am a Demon Princess, Donna, for better or worse I am on the wrong side of natural law. I will be hunted by the good and by the evil. The only thing that will keep me alive in the end is the love of people like you. I know your attracted to me, everyone is. Gay, straight, as far as I am concerned all distinctions fly out the window. Demons of Lust are built to break down those barriers in your psyche, as am I. I’ve already… I…”

Sara turned away from Donna’s glance as she felt her air run out. Taking a deep breath, she started again, “I’ve made love once since my transformation, with a girl who’s problems seemed so similar to mine that we shared a bond greater than just the one night. Afterwards, I panicked. I started thinking, what if I make love with someone and they get pregnant? You said it before, in this very car, who knows what can happen in the interactions of mutants? And I’m not even human. I have a feeling, a deep and abiding feeling, that if I chose I could impregnate someone… or become pregnant myself. And if I did, if in the heat of the moment I did… what would it be like? Would it even be human? Of course it wouldn’t. Who on Earth could know what my offspring will look like? That’s why I can’t… not to you, not yet. Maybe, one day. When I know… when I know my baby wouldn’t kill you.”

Donna reached out and put her hand on Sara’s knee, sharing her warmth. Sara was grateful that she was there for her now, and would be for the rest of her life. The warmth lessened the pain.

“One other thing,” Sara grinned, “be sure to make up with Nathan, ok? He’s a good man.”

Neither girl could stop themselves from laughing for the rest of the journey home.

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Monday 16th, October 2006, 11:36

Groaning with frustration, Sara threw her bag onto the floor, startling her caged dog. It started on a barking jag, padding round and round in circles trying to find a way out of its cage. As always, people stared at the Kimba table, mainly because of her. The sight of bricks and other mutants eating amounts as copious as Tennyo or Hank were normal, heck some even had to chew on mineral deposits to keep up their intake. Live food, however, was generally not on the menu. Live food that barked before it was eaten was even rarer, so far she was the only gourmet.

“Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!” Jade smiled with relief.

“It wouldn’t be so hard if they could get my timetable straight. I had to haemorrhage Genetics and Bio this morning so I could keep Powers Theory and Costume Design. Shugendo says it’s lucky I’m taking the night classes, because I’ll have enough credits not to have to repeat. It seems that, while I may be the best student the science department’s ever had, there isn’t enough time for me be spread over so many topics. I wish I had your power, Jade, I really do. What I could do if there were two of me running around.”

The little girl’s eye twitched, “Um, my power’s not that great.”

That made Sara pause. She patted the little girl’s shoulder and took her hand, squeezing it under the desk, “You’ll be just fine, you hear me? Now, come on, I’ve had enough doom and gloom today… speaking of the remedy for that, here’s Chaka.”

The black girl hopped over the chair, trey held in one hand, “Someone order a pick-me-up?”

Jade was smiling again, distracted for long enough that she barely noticed Sara disintegrate the dog. It was better that she get it over with before Fey turned up, the elfin mage was very sensitive when it came to the destruction of souls, even those as small as an animal’s. Her wincing and gagging would have been more than Sara could stand at that moment.

As the group gathered, Sara found herself doing what she usually did when the group was together, blending into the background and watching events unfold at their own pace, letting the conversation sweep her up while remaining a spectator to the proceedings. Crystal Hall was, as always, a riot of lights, colour, activity and noise. There was so much going on that, for a moment, all the data was jumbled up in the confusion.

Chaka was having 1457 grains of sugar in her coffee, boosting herself up after a late night studying English.

Thousands of such useless facts assaulted Sara’s mind if she even spared them a moment’s indulgence. 1457 grains, for example, was twice the sugar intake Chaka had indulged herself in yesterday. Several days before, she had used a teabag with 562 ground leaves in it.

I am so fucked up, Sara thought to herself as her friends re-fortified themselves for the difficult lessons ahead.

After lunch, as usual, Sara walked with Jinn and Fey to Powers Lab, dreading another 45 minutes of psi testing. The Demon Princess kept quiet as always while Fey and Jade nattered on about inanities that teenage girls like to talk about. Mentally, she slapped herself. That wasn’t the way she wanted to think. They were her friends now, and in case you haven’t noticed, you’re not exactly mature yourself anymore.

It was so hard to believe that just two days before they’d been fighting for their lives in the streets of Boston. Or that yesterday Donna had confessed to her. Time was just flying past, would she wake up one day and wonder where the time had gone and the little girl next to her would be nothing but dust and ashes? It wasn’t a pleasant thought.

“HEY! Sara!”

Sara shook herself, “Sorry?”

Jinn twirled around her twice before landing back to the earth, “You’re not still letting this morning get you down, are you?”

The demon put on her best false smile, chuckling, “No, no. It’s a bit of a relief, really. I’ve just got a lot of things to think about.”

“How’s powers training going?” Fey inquired.

Now, why would you like to know that? Sara thought sarcastically. Out loud, she said, “Not as well as I’d like. I’m up to five feet on Telepathy and Empathy and 5lbs on Kinesis, which is putting me on Psi 1 for the moment, on the other hand, my saving grace is control apparently. Ms. Bohn’s amazed that I don’t have the raw power I should. Other than that, despite being rated at Shifter 4, I can’t seem to do anything big other than form these darn tentacles yet. Besides, she’s stuck me on Telepath training for the foreseeable future, apparently I can’t do anything else until I get my Psi stuff under full control. Forty minutes of trying to guess what stupid shape’s on the card the other guy’s looking at.”

Sara jumped as she felt a hand grasp her shoulder tightly. Turning her head, she found Fey looking back at her, “It’s ok. I know your frustrated, but these things just take time.”

Nodding silently, Sara stepped into the auditorium, steeling herself for another game of ‘Guess the Card’.

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“And this afternoon’s subject, Divination.”

Sara groaned, holding her face in her hands as Mrs. Chulkris scratched and squeaked the topic onto the blackboard with chalk. Unlike the Science dept., the Department of Thurmaturgy occupied an old wing in which the blackboards had not yet been replaced with whiteboards and ink markers. They claimed that it was because of a lack of funds that the blackboards hadn’t been replaced, but Sara suspected that the teachers were just sadistic.

“What’s up?” Chaka lent back on her chair.

“Ten to one we’re doing the Tarot,” Sara whispered back.

Chaka grinned, “No bet.”

Mrs. Chulkris turned back to the class, “We’ll start out with the Tarot…”

“You must be psychic,” Fey teased.

Sara had to fight the urge to say ‘bite me’. Actually, she sort of wished Fey would.

“…Sara, what can you tell the class about Divination?”

Sara blinked, “Uh, me, Miss?”

“Yes, Ms. Waite. You. If you could tell the class a little bit about how it works, please.”

Stunned, Sara closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to gather her thoughts. “Divination is the ability to tell the future or to find a person or object using items that resonate with the subject or by manipulating energies connected with the subject. Divination is different from Precognition because of its reliance on these energies. Divining Rods are a good example of this, not just any forked stick will work, the rod must be specially prepared to find water and a mystically sensitive individual is required to use it successfully.”

“Very good. Now, in this framework, how do you explain the Tarot or Palmistry?”

“Both require the person to be present when one does the reading,” Sara sighed, “astral energies expand out into ‘strings’ or ‘threads’, forming an extremely complex pattern of connections and relationships that ignore space and time. Theoretically, when one draws a card from the Tarot, their life pattern resonates with the card connected to that particular fate, thus predicting the event. Unfortunately, the Tarot cannot give specific details on what will happen or when, only gross generalizations, which is why it is mostly used as a tool for con artists.”

“Excellent, Ms. Waite. Now, we are lucky to have in this class a skilled Diviner who may be persuaded to give us a demonstration. Gypsy, why don’t you come down the front here. Sara, you too since you’re doing so well so far.”

Chaka and Nikki gave the demon a sympathetic glance. Sara cursed herself inwardly as she walked up to Earth Mother’s desk for breaking the golden rule: Never stick your neck out.

Because it will be chopped off.

Glancing back at her companion in torment, Gypsy only bore the most superficial resemblance to her flamboyant namesake. Obviously of European descent, her hair, dull black and lifeless, curled very slightly as it feathered her shoulders, full lips pulled into a tight, flat, spurious smile as she hugged an antique wooden box to her chest, which might have been ample if it wasn’t concealed by the baggy sweater she wore under her blazer.

The girl avoided meeting anyone’s gaze as she sat at Mrs. Chulkris’ desk while Sara took a chair opposite. Chulkris motioned for the others to come closer and gather around where they could see while Sara watched Gypsy unpack her Tarot deck carefully and lovingly, trying to ignore the noise around her.

“An ancestral Tarot,” Sara identified the deck of cards, “handed down from mother to daughter for, what, hundreds of years? You are the real deal, aren’t you, my dear?”

Gypsy blushed, her voice creaking out in a low whisper, “H-how do you…”

“I read a lot.” Sara winked at her, then raised her voice, “Anyone here know what the true test is of wether a Diviner is the real thing or not?”

The answer came back as a general ‘No’ from the crowd, Mrs. Chulkris watching intently from the sidelines.

“Gypsy,” Sara tried to flash her a friendly smile, but it’s hard to do when you have fangs, “I would like an open draw, one card only.”

She nodded, focusing as she shuffled the deck, then carefully placed the deck in the centre of the table. Sara smiled and reached out, sliding the top card off and flipping it over. The crowd gasped as the face was revealed, a lurid design of intertwined bodies bound in lust and pain, ruled by a goat-headed puppetmaster on a throne of skulls and blood.

“The Devil,” Gypsy echoed the card’s caption, “a sure sign of demonic influence and dark magic. Disaster follows you like an asp ready to strike… NO!”

Sara had reached out and just touched the next card when Gypsy came halfway out of her seat. It was too late, Sara flipped the next card. Then the next, then the next, then the next. Each time, the Devil’s leering face stared back at her. Gypsy started wringing her hands, “Please stop, you’ll make it mad…”

Sara smiled, apologizing to the deck as she replaced the cards face down on top, then turned to the boy standing next to her, “Care to take the card off the top, pretty please?”

Under the intense pressure of her smile, the boy reached out and flipped over the top card without thinking. The crowd’s shout of surprise was almost deafening as the card came up as the Three of Wands. It took Mrs. Chulkris a moment to settle them all down, shouting over the din. Gypsy grabbed the deck and clutched it to her chest again, stroking and soothing it as if it were a live animal.

“Sorry about that,” Sara lent forward to apologize, “but I had to know if you really were the real thing.”

“I… er…” Gypsy stuttered, shoulders shrinking inward.

“I was talking to the cards.” Sara grinned.

The other girl blinked.

“All right, all right, enough games. Gypsy, do you think you could do a spread for Sara?”

The quiet girl shook her head, “Ah, no… no. Maybe later, when the cards have calmed down a bit.”

The snort of mirth was short lived, Earth Mother’s glare whipping everyone back into line. The damage was done, though, Gypsy’s face had turned bright red. Sara thrust her hand out quickly before the skittish girl could bolt, “Palmistry then. If you don’t mind, that is.”

“Very good idea, Sara,” Mrs. Chulkris brightened, “Gypsy, if you would.”

“Um… ok, I guess…” Gypsy gingerly took the demon’s hand in hers, running her finger over the palm. “Um… you don’t have any fingerprints…”

The crowd tried to crane their necks closer to see. Sara ignored them, cocking her head curiously to one side, “Do you need them?”

She shook her head, “No, no I shouldn’t. Ok…”

Gypsy put her hand, palm down, on top of Sara’s, and closed her eyes, focusing on the task.

Everything went quiet for a second, nothing moved, not even the wind outside. Sara’s eye twitched. Then again. “Ah, Miss, something’s wrong here.”

The diviner started to tremble, her hand shaking at first, then the tremors crept up her arm and into her shoulders. Sara pulled her hand back, but they were attached somehow, as if their flesh had been pasted together with superglue, “I-I… we’re stuck…”

The tremors were getting worse, Gypsy’s head suddenly snapped back as her whole body arched in shock or pain, nobody could tell. Mrs. Chulkris was at her side in a flash, screaming into Gypsy’s ear for her to let go. Kids panicked, girls screamed. Chaka grabbed their hands and tried to pry them apart, but it was useless, whatever bond that had decided to manifest was a force stronger than anyone there.

“Mathwil gigablortch’de deelo ulu fyzen! IÄ! IÄ KELLITH! DAKEIT-CTHO AGNA’NACHA HAZOI Z’WLLI! IÄ!”

Sara did the only thing she could think of, slamming her eyes shut to concentrate on letting go with all her might, “DON’T SAY THAT!”

The two girls fell apart, the bond broken all at once. Sara found herself on her feet, looking down on an unconscious Gypsy, Mrs. Chulkris trying to wake the girl while Sara scanned the room, too stunned to do anything else.

The crowd was staring, bug-eyed, except for one. Fey was glaring at her.

“I didn’t do anything,” Sara protested at them all, “you have to believe me, I didn’t!”

“I believe you, Sara,” Mrs. Chulkris picked the unconscious girl up in her arms as if she were a rag doll, “now, I have to get her to the infirmary. All of you, go over your notes, I’ll expect a 2000 word essay on Divination Techniques by next week. Sara, if we have need of you, you will be sent for. What class to you have next?”

“Martial Arts. We also have detention at Hawthorne tonight.”

Chulkris nodded then left, walking briskly down the corridor.

Sara flopped back into her seat at she crowd dispersed into their usual groups, grousing and muttering under their breaths.

“What the hell happened?” Fey asked in a hoarse whisper, leaning back on her chair while Chaka straddled hers backwards.

“Like I said, I don’t know,” Sara murmured back, “all I did was touch her.”

They were silent for a while, then Chaka let her breath out, “Fine, have it your way.”

“I’m telling the truth.”

“What was all that mumbo-jumbo she was spitting out then? Don’t tell me you have no idea about that, you jumped up so fast you left your shadow behind. Whassup?”

“I don’t know exactly. All I really caught was ‘Hail Kellith, Daughter of the Eternal Void. It’s an ancient language, pre Sumerian. Nobody really knows where it comes from, Gypsy shouldn’t even know about it…”

“I know what she said.” Fey whispered.

Sara stared at the elf.

“Go on then, spill it!” Chaka bounced.

“She said ‘I pledge all of myself to you.’ I’m surprised you didn’t catch that part, Sara. Or should we start calling you Kellith now?”

“Ergh, please, no,” Sara rubbed her temples, “I admit that Kellith is my Demon Name, sort of like a use name. It’s not my True Name, so don’t start getting ideas. But I didn’t ask for her allegiance…”

“Maybe she just volunteered.” Chaka mused.

Sara and Fey glanced at each other. “Possible,” Sara winced. Fey nodded.

“Great.”

It felt like an eternity for Sara before the bell went, feeling the snide sidelong glares of her classmates piercing her back. She wanted to be alone for a while, so she hung back as Fey and Chaka squeezed their way out of the room, letting the crowd separate them in the hallway.

“Ah, hey, you’re Sara Waite, right?”

Sighing ruefully, Sara turned to glare at the newcomer. It was another girl from class, a tall-ish girl with a light chocolate skin, black hair braided and fastened with hairclips to create an ‘artfully dishevelled’ look that left her long, slender, neck exposed, the wide-necked collar of her shirt accentuating the line of her shoulders. “And you are?”

The girl flinched slightly, catching a glimpse of the red eyes behind Sara’s opaque sunglasses, “Ah, Wakanda. I, er, need to talk to you. Do you have some time?”

“I’ve got Martial Arts now, then detention.”

“Oh! Cool, I think I’m in Martial Arts too, we can walk together.”

“Uh, ok…” Sara trailed off, turning back to make her way down the hall while Wakanda jogged forward to get beside her.

“So, uh, you’re pretty good at this magic stuff, right?”

Sara glanced at her, “Not that good. I’ve had some experience. I’m a psychic, though, it’s a slightly different system.”

“Oh. Oh, sorry, I thought, well you seem to know everything Chulkris asks you.”

“That’s different. The theory is one thing, practice is another. I’ve just got some advantages in that department,” Sara tapped her temple for emphasis.

“Oh, cool! Um, er, actually I was just wondering if I could ask you something?”

“No autographs.”

“What? Oh, ha-ha,” she laughed weakly, “um, actually, it was about you and wether you really are a Demon Princess? Is that true?”

“Guilty as charged.”

It took a moment for that to sink in. “Wha… I mean, just like that? You just go and say yes without, you know, trying to cover it up or nothin’?”

Sara sighed, pushing her way out into the sunlight to cross the field towards the Eastman Annex, the open space welcome despite the cursed glare, “What would you have me do? Everyone knows how I eat, figuring it out is only a matter of time. Besides, the Faculty knows, it’s in my school files. Ten bucks could get you everything down to my shoe size. So what of it?”

“Um, well I have a problem.”

“Look, if Peeper sent you here to try and get me to buy your soul or something…”

“No, no!” Wakanda shook her hands, as if warding off the accusation, “Nothing like that. Its just… a problem. It’s a long story, but I think there’s a demon after me, and I was wondering if you knew anything that could… help.”

Sara stopped, considering. “Who?”

Wakanda gulped, taking a deep breath. Sara could smell the sweat as she lent closer to whisper into Sara’s ear, “He Who Does Not Walk.”

“Ok,” Sara glanced at some bushes next to the sidewalk, “lets go over there for a minute and have a talk, just over here.”

The girl followed Sara’s wave into the bushes. A second later, she was being held, feet dragging across the ground, by the lapels of her blazer, Sara scowling into her face, “What the hell do you mean, He Who Does Not Walk? Talk!”

It took several shakes to get the startled girl talking again, “I don’t know who he is, but he’s been after my whole family for generations. My Mom, my Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, for as long as anyone can remember, he killed them all. First, a dead raven alights on your doorstep. Then a rain of serpents proceeds his passage…”

“Yeah, yeah, and a black cat crosses your path, a sick man guides you, the poor wife mocks you, etc, etc, etc, I know all that stuff. How does he manifest?”

“I-I don’t know,” Wakanda started to choke, “nobody ever survived to tell me.”

Sara let her go. The frightened girl collapsed into a heap on the ground, looking up at the little girl who suddenly towered over her, the shadow of the sun blotting out her features.

“How did they die?”

“They were… hollowed out.” She gasped, chest heaving. “Some sort of acid melts the skin away within a few hours. I was living in an orphanage in Haiti when I saw the signs Mom taught me. I ran, but everywhere I went, the signs started again. Finally, I came here. The wards here keep him away, somehow, I haven’t seen a new sign for months. But I can’t stay here forever, as soon as I walk through the gates, it’ll start again. Please, you have to help me, you’ve got to help me!”

Sara sighed as the girl got up to her knees and bowed her head into the grass, very glad she’d decided to do this in the bushes rather than out on the footpath. Reaching down, she grabbed the desperate girl’s arm and hauled her to her feet, “Never bow to me again. A person should stand proud on their own two feet. Come on, we’ve got to get to Martial Arts.”

Wakanda blinked, running after the Demon as she walked briskly out of the corpse, “Does that mean you’ll help? Hey, Sara!”

Fortunately, they weren’t late for practice, Wakanda shadowing Sara into the change rooms, quickly donning their Gi for training. In the last few weeks, Sara had stopped wearing the bodysuit. The advantage indoors compared to the inconvenience for her tentacles was far too minor to worry about it. Impatient, the black girl grabbed her shoulder and spun her about. Sara grabbed her wrist before she could blink, “Yes, I’ll help you if you want me to, but there are rules that I have to follow if I am to render you aid. Foremost is that I have to exact a price from you for my services, do you understand?”

“Er, how much? I’m not loaded you know…”

Sara shook her head, “I’m not talking about money, Wakanda, I’m talking about something more valuable. Perhaps, before you make your decision, you better think about how much you’re willing to pay.”

The Demon Princess left the girl with that and took her place next to Chaka and the others on the mat, returning Jade’s smile and playful punch on the shoulder. Ito and Tolman Sensei stormed into the Dojo in their usual brisk manner, getting straight down to business.

Ito Sensei took the floor, “Very well. As you all should know, Parents Day is fast approaching and some of you may be selected for a kata performance in the auditorium, so I would suggest that you start practicing for the selection now. Otherwise, this class’s performance so far this year has been terrible, however, due to the constraints of time we will be starting basic weapons training sometime this week. SO! Back to the mat! Amanda.”

They all waited patiently for Tolman Sensei to pair them off.

“SARA! CHOU! OVER THERE!”

The two girls blinked, then turned to look at each other.

Sensei wasn’t impressed, “Did I stutter, girls?”

Sara hopped to her feet lightly and padded across the mat, the Taoist close behind. At their corner of the mat they stopped, the demon waiting for the hunter to finish her stretches before facing off. Chou reached for her sword, then stopped. Sara noticed the hesitation, “Don’t stop on my account.”

“You sure?” The Taoist asked, her eyes betraying her uncertainty.

“Positive. I wouldn’t dream of fighting you with a handicap like that.” Sara smiled as uncertainty turned to hostility. The girl was no fool, however, drawing her jade sword before taking up her stance with a swift and elegant flourish, sword pointed towards her opponent’s chin, held low in line with her shoulders, feet wide, the opposite arm above her head. Sara now recognized it as a basic Wu Dan defensive stance, replying with a stance of her own, arms raised, fingers slightly bent but loose, legs apart, balancing on her toes.

The stance was based on Jeet Kun Do, Bruce Lee’s style, the punching forms of which allowed her more versatility with her claws, choosing what type of blow to inflict in the moment of the strike. She preferred the stance because it allowed her to remain light on her feet, taking advantage of her speed and grace. Still, she was definitely at a loss for how to combat Chou’s Wu Dan blade techniques.

Even after Soke yelled “Haijime”, the two considered each other a moment before moving in concert. Sara kicked upwards with her forefoot the moment Chou whipped the sword back, then up in a circular slice, the demon twisting so that the stone blade swished a mere inch from her flesh.

Sara brought her leg down swiftly onto the exposed forearm, locking onto it with her knee while leaping into the air onto the other foot, catching the back of the Taoist’s neck with her foot.

Rather than being locked into position, Chou rolled with the momentum of the kick, reversing the throw, wrenching her hand out of Sara’s grasp and springing lightly to her feet, leg raised and sword level in another Wu Dan stance.

Though prone, Sara took the opportunity, whipping a tentacle out of her hand to snag the foot that remained on the ground, heaving Chou over onto her butt. Sara felt the sting as Chou severed the tentacle wrapped around her foot, but ignored the pain, jumping on top of the girl on all fours.

Chou found herself grappling with the demon over possession of the sword, the inhuman strength in her opponent’s limbs forcing her arms apart and onto the mat. With a sharp “YA!” she kicked upward, flipping Sara over her head and onto her back. A moment later and Destiny’s Wave pressed against the centre of the demon’s chest, keeping her pinned.

“This match is mine.” Chou smiled, flicking her sword up, holding it underhand behind her back as she stepped away.

Sara punched the mat, then hopped to her feet, glowering, “We’re not done yet.”

Smirking, Chou glanced at the severed tip of the Sara’s tentacle, the missing piece disintegrated into black ash long before. It was taking far too long for the tentacle to heal.

“Do you really want to stand against Destiny’s Wave again, Sara?”

“Just get ready.”

Smirking, Chou stepped back up to the line, still holding her blade behind her back in another Wu Dan stance that was intended to hide the blade from an opponent. It took a moment for the other bouts to finish before Soke gave the command again.

Chou blinked as something connected with her face right between the eyes, sending her reeling back. In the next moment, she felt as if five needles were digging into her throat.

Opening her eyes, she was transfixed, Sara’s claws wrapped around her throat, pointing inward towards the demon’s palm. Sara blinked slowly once, then lowered her hand, “One for one, right?”

In the next bout, Sara let Chou attack first, stepping inside the reach of a horizontal slash, grabbing the sword hand and kneeing the girl in the stomach all in a single, blinding, move. Chou panted, curled over on the floor while Sara stepped back.

“It’s all about stopping the first move,” Sara advised, “if you can keep up with me, you’ll win.”

The Taoist snorted, “I did all right the first time.”

“I wasn’t amplifying my reflexes the first time.”

Chou raised one eyebrow, then slowly uncurled herself from the floor, stretching her aching abs, “Ok, again.”

The next bout was harder, Chou levelling her sword straight at Sara to keep her at bay, which worked at first before Sara got behind her and into a grapple, controlling her sword arm. Even a solid kick to the face didn’t discourage the Demon Princess from pinning the girl to the mat.

By the time the lesson was finished, Chou was covered in small bruises from head to toe, while Sara eventually recovered from even the most savage slashes from Destiny’s Wave. “It’s her staying power more than anything,” Chou groused to Chaka and Jade in the showers, “Bout after bout after bout, I’m getting weaker while she’s fresh as a daisy! It’s not fair…”

Sara wrinkled her nose, “Natural talent? Sure, I’ve got that. Skill’s something else. I wouldn’t even have thought of kicking an attacker in the face over my shoulder, and I’m more flexible than you are. And I’ve probably watched more kung fu movies too… nope, I’m nowhere near good enough yet.”

Chaka sighed, nudging Jade over towards Sara, “You take that one, I’ll take this one. We’ll meet them in the middle by the time detention’s over and we can all get some chow.”

They all giggled at that, like only teenage girls can, though Sara winced inwardly at the mention of chow.

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Sara gulped, taking in a deep breath as the hoverchair-bound housemistress of Hawthorne whirred to a halt before the group, “Ah, you’ve managed to rope in some newbies for me to corrupt this time, girls?”

“Unfortunately so, Ms,” Fey smiled, “I hope you can find jobs for us all.”

Ms. Cantrel’s lips split into one of the most wicked toothy grins Sara had ever seen, “Oh, I have just the perfect assignments for all of you. You’re Sara, right?”

Sara nodded, not sure what to say.

“Good. Third floor, dear, second door on the right. Puppet’s been leaking something horrid, you’ll have to replace some of the tubes and mop up the excess. Once you’re done there, come back here and I’ll point you towards the disposal facility downstairs. Chop-chop, girl, mustn’t dawdle.”

Sara nodded briskly and headed up the stairs in the lobby, circling twice before reaching the third floor. Unlike Poe, the halls seemed to be inordinately quiet, very few people walking hither and fro, and those that were kept well away from all the others. Knocking on the door indicated, Sara found it slightly ajar and badly oiled, creaking eerily on the hinges.

“GO AWAY!”

“Um, sorry, I can’t,” Sara called back, “I’m on detention, Ms. Cantrel asked me to change your pipes and mop the floor.”

“Ohhhh,” the voice snarled, winding up to the snap, “VERY well. Come on and be quick about it!”

Sara pushed the door inwards. The floor was covered with cheap linoleum, over which several pools of dark green liquid stagnated. Tiles covered the lower half of the walls while the upper half was simply painted white, the overall effect being something like a cross between a bathroom and a hospital. In the centre of the ceiling, hanging above the light from a steel hook, was a collection of glowing green cylinders grouped around a pump. Slender metal tubes ran from the undercarriage of the device to a girl sitting at her plastic and steel desk, scribbling into a homework book. The tubes were attached to her all over her body, down her back, arms and legs. Her body rocked slightly in time with the pump, red fluid sucked out while green fluid was injected in.

To her credit, Sara just shrugged, looking about for the things she would need. Luckily, a mop, bucket and a box of spare parts sat casually in one corner. Without further words or even a glance, Sara rolled up her sleeves and got to work, uncoiling one of the steel chords from the box. The device on the ceiling could be lowered by a powered winch near the door, bringing it just above Sara’s head height before coming to rest. Identifying the damaged cables became the biggest challenge, as well as shutting them down and replacing them one by one.

“There’s a cybernetic clip in my skin,” Puppet announced, leaning forward to give Sara a better view of the ones in her back, “just squeeze gently and pull, there’s an inch long needle attached to each one.”

Sara just ground her teeth together and did it, trying not to let any trace of emotion get to her face as she went about the grizzly task. Finally, it was done, and all that remained was mopping up the floor, which only took ten minutes at most. Puppet just waved her off in reply to her goodbyes, too engrossed in her work to care. Hauling the bucket full of toxic green blood, the mop and the soiled tubes was another challenge, but by the time she got to the base of the stairs, no-one was around.

She waited a few minutes for Ms. Cantrel to swing past before a hideous, hulking, monster rocked into the corridor accompanied by an eight year old girl. Both stopped to stare at her before the hulk decided to speak, “You just from Puppet’s?”

“Yep, that’s me.” Sara nodded.

“Don’t keep that crap here, you could kill someone. Disposal’s down in the fourth basement bathroom. Just dump it down there.”

The little girl giggled, holding her cheeks in her hands and making funny faces. Sara shrugged, not sure exactly what to make of the mismatched pair, “Thanks.”

“No problem. Have a nice stay.”

Dragging the bucket down another four flights of stairs was murder, but the fourth basement level was surprisingly simple, being only a short corridor and a single door, a grease-smeared sign portraying a man, a woman and several other indistinguishable figures with the word ‘Unisex’ emblazoned underneath. Exactly what sort of toilet would be this far down, Sara didn’t know, but at least she could get rid of the damn bucket.

Stepping forward, she shouldered the door open and slipped inside, the door slamming shut behind her on spring-loaded hinges.

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“YOU WHAT!” Ms. Cantrel had her first heart attack of the day.

Team Kimba and the housemistress was gathered around a giggling little girl, holding her hands over her mouth, “Ba-ba and me sent gothy-girl down to basement bathrooms. Way down…”

“Angelina, listen carefully. Did Bubba send her down to the fourth basement bathroom?” Ms. Cantrel leant forward, hovering over the girl.

“Yaaaah! It was a cool trick!”

The chair-bound woman whipped around so fast that the younger girl’s heads were spinning, pelting down the stairway two steps at a time just to keep up with her.

“Bad, bad, this is very bad…” Tennyo was chanting. Fey had turned slightly green at the thought of being trapped, not only in a Hawthorne toilet, but the lowest, most disused toilet of all. At the top of the third basement landing, Cantrel jerked to a halt, her bulk almost slipping out of her chair. “Quiet… I thought I heard something.”

It was laughter. Faint, but definitely laughter.

They burst into action again, zipping down the steps just in time to see Sara close the door, waving through the crack into the darkness, chuckling. It took a moment for the scene in front of her to sink in, the group staring at her from above. She grinned, “Hey, Ms, I got rid of Puppet’s stuff and managed to get myself cleaned up. What’s up next?”

It took another moment for her to realize that they were all staring at her in horror, “Er… guys? You all ok? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Fey collected herself first, “B-but you were in there! There are things beyond those doors beyond… I mean the horrors…”

Sara perked up, “Yeah, real fun guys. I fed them all the toxic waste and they even ate the bucket. Tentacle lickin’ good, as they said. They did ask that if you have anymore toxic byproducts, if you could sort of slide them their way, they’d much appreciate. Haven’t had a party like that for ages. I guess Puppet’s tubes don’t leak that often…”

“The stench, girl,” Chaka sniffed at the air, backing away as the fumes went to her head, “can’t you smell it?”

“Oh, that. Nah, it’s not that bad. I used to clean up after my Mom’s basement parties, you should have seen the mess they made, makes this place look tame by comparison. I mean, heck, I didn’t have to chase one puddle of slime here, usually they try to crawl up your leg and take a chunk out of you.”

They were all backing away, looking at the Demon Princess as if she’d just given birth to the seven-headed dragon of the Apocalypse.

“Ah, guys, come on, it’s not that bad,” Sara turned back to the door, “here, let me introduce you. A few of them even have names, I’ll tell you it can get pretty confusing after you meet the thirty third nameless abomination… uh, guys?”

There was no-one left on the stairway.

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The Demon Princess set the cage full of blue dust aside. The rest of the group chewed slowly, staring at her as they devoured their meals. Nobody spoke, as if by mental communication they had agreed to maintain the silence at all costs. It was certainly the mother of all pregnant pauses.

Finally, Sara could stand it no longer, “Ok, ask. Whatever it is that’s on your mind, ask. You’re all driving me nuts!”

The flood of questions turned any comprehensible language into unintelligible babble.

“ONE at a time. Please.”

Fey shook her head, “No, forget it. To be honest, I don’t really want to know what’s down there. I smelt that stuff and I really don’t want to know what makes a stench like that. I thought my brain was going to crawl out my ear just to try to get away.”

“What I wanna know is,” Jade put her hand up as if asking a question in class, “Are there really monsters down in the basement? I mean, I know there are monsters in the sewers, but do they really come up that far?”

“I wanna know how the basement toilets got that way and why they’re there in the first place! Who puts four levels worth of toilets in a basement?” Tennyo grumped.

“I wanna know wether all that stuff about your Mom was true,” Chaka added.

“I wouldn’t mind knowing that either,” Ayla agreed.

“Do you have any idea where these things come from?” Hank inquired.

Sara raised her hands, calling for silence, “Yes.”

Team Kimba looked at each other, “Yes, what?”

“I’m afraid that’s something you’ll have to work out for yourselves.”

Sara ducked under the table to avoid the various foodstuffs flung at her.

“HEY, HOLD UP!” Chaka stopped, half a tomato poised over her head, prepared for launch. She turned to Jade, “Did you just say that there are monsters in the sewers?”

Jade looked up at her sempai and smiled, “I’m sorry, but as a Junior Waste Management Technician, I am not authorized to discuss this issue.”

For a long time, the whole group stared at the little girl in horror as she licked the custard off her plastic spoon.

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Laughter was good for the soul, and Sara’s soul felt well served by near to an hour’s constant giggling as she and Jade had tag-teamed the rest of the team in what could only be described as feeding their paranoia. Despite the jocularity, Sara felt as though half of Jade’s ‘off hand’ comments had a real spark of truth behind them. As had hers.

Still, death, taxes and evening classes wait for no student, and woe betide any student lacking in a course credit. Fortunately, Music class was a blast. Most of the students were Divas, Sirens or Banshees, students who could control the modulation of their voices to achieve a variety of effects that were often magical in their application.

Taking a seat in the King Auditorium, an older brick annex to Kane Hall, soundproofed and earthquake proof just in case one of the students happened upon an undiscovered talent for sonic destruction. In a pinch, the room could seat a hundred students, though a more realistic appraisal was probably 75.

“Hey, babe, wazzup?”

Sara smiled. Axel was probably the only boy in the whole school who could call any girl ‘babe’ and retain his manhood. It was just how he was. His uniform was universally rumpled, the buttons of his shirt undone to leave his hairless chest bare underneath, black trousers, school blazer tied around his waist and a long leather jacket over it all. At his feet was his prize possession: a Fender Stratacaster, lovingly kept and restored, handed down to him by his father, he claimed.

“Not bad, hows yourself?” Sara brushed his wavy locks aside to give him a quick peck on the cheek before taking the seat beside him. There were several cat calls and snorts from the upper galleries.

Axel snickered, giving them all the finger, “Just jealous, creeps. Ready to blow these turds right out of the water, Sara?”

“You bet,” Sara smiled, raising her voice, “all your bases belong to us!”

“Keep dreaming, techno-nerd… yeah, that an’ two bob… eat me, liver lips…”

Chuckling at their feeble jibes, Sara almost didn’t notice the lights dim. Then, one of the speakers cracked to life, a voice much like Darth Vader’s booming through, “Yes, he’s back. The host with the most, the flim-flam in the jim-jams, the teacher who is no creature, I present to you… THE KING!”

Bursting through the red curtain on stage and leaping the gap onto his desk, Mr. King, an giant afro-wearing Elvis impersonator, rose to his feet as the fake jewels sparkled on his white suit, speaking through an oversized microphone, “Thank-you very much for your kind words, Big Daddy. Now I see that attendance is full tonight, so we can dispense with the paperwork.”

He kicked the clipboard with the roll on it off his desk contemptuously, slipping one hand down the front of his pants as he strutted back and fourth across his desk, “I know you must have heard the rumours by now. And I am here to tell you they’re all true…”

A shivering freshman but his hand up, “You mean you REALLY keep your dead mother in that haircut sir?”

The crowd’s chuckle failed to echo through the room, deadened by the wall-to-wall carpeting and curtains. Mr. King chuckled along with it, as he always did, “He-heh, no, son. I keep her in my top drawer. No, what I’m talking about tonight is All Hallows Eve, night of the devil. When demons rise up from the grrrr-aves to plague the living. And I’ll tell you son, ‘ol Wizard Whateley, he’s got one hell of a party planned. We like to take this night and let the young talent loose on their unsuspecting schoolmates. Only the best need apply, and you all better be ready, Freshmen and Sophomores ONLY.”

He hopped off the desk, only slightly twitching his feet to achieve the effect, “So lets see wh-atch you got, Tina and the Turbines… hit it hard.”

Despite Mr. King’s enthusiasm, it took ten minutes for ‘Tina’ and her ‘Turbines’ to get set up. Tina was another freshman without a codename, mainly because her chosen and favourite moniker ‘Diva’ was not only taken, but in copyright. Still, for a freshman, she had real curves and, despite being far whiter and far blonder than the famous singer she was named after, she did have a lovely singing voice. Her backup band was an assorted collection of die-hard musicians, one Dylan (the smokers group, people who did enough weed to permanently liquefy their brains), one Beret Mafia goon (wannabe euro-trash with too much attitude) and two friends from the Literary Club.

Finally the music started up, the band hit their groove and Tina drew in a breath to sing.

“I feel like I’ve been locked up tight,

A century of lonely nights,
Waiting for some-one… to release me…”

 

“NO! NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!”

The music ground to a halt as Mr. King stormed up the stairs, forgetting to strut in his frustration, “What on God’s green Earth was that?”

Tina looked small, “Um… Genie in a Bottle?”

“Maybe, but what were you doing? The Robot?” Mr. King turned to face the audience in a parody of her stance, muscles clenched tightly, gripping his mic with both hands, knuckles white, “I feel like I’ve been locked up tight, for a century of lonely nights… no wonder you’re locked up, you look constipated! You’re probably in hospital for a ruptured bowel. THIS IS A PERFORMANCE! MOVE! You’re a girl, for God’s sake, move that ass, baby!”

Mr. King span and wiggled his ass at the audience for emphasis, “Strut that stuff, girl! If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Sex sells. If you think Christina got where she was on her voice alone, you are sadly mistaken. Now, do you think you can do that in about five seconds?”

Tina wavered, curling in on herself while the class chanted ‘Do it! Do it!’ at the top of their lungs. Finally, Tina caved, “No.”

Mr. King just looked at her for a moment, then nodded, “All right, maybe another time. Next, we haaave, Vanilla T. Hammer! Get up here boys.”

Vanilla T. Hammer turned out to be a Rap quartet from the Bad Boyz clique, black and white men who fancied themselves as gangstas and thugz. As their boombox started up, they started to sway as if dodging and weaving through a hail of rotten vegetables. Which if any of the audience had thought to bring them, they would have been.

“This is fo’ my Thugz,
Lookin’ fo’ mugz,
Gang-banging muthas an’ the holes in teletubberz!
Yeah, this iz life,
And I’m the teacher…”

“STOP! STOP! STOP!” Mr. King stood up, holding his arms wide, “WHAT WAS THAT?”

“Yo’, man, we’re improvin’,” the leader, ‘Big Motha’, slouched. They all did.

“Really? I call that Brownian Noise. Get off my stage and come back to me when you obtain rhythm, rhyme and lyrics. NEXT! Silver Dame! You’re up.”

Silver Dame, as the group was called, was NOT slow to get on stage, the entire group with instruments at the ready teleported onto the stand with a thunderous ‘KA-WOMPH!’ of displaced air. Sara sighed, sinking into her seat as Bluejay smiled at her, raising his saxophone in salute.

KA-WOMP!

He was standing in front of her, bowing, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, “My fair lady, may your knight take a token of your favour into battle?”

Axel stood up, almost too fast, “Who the hell are you?”

“Ah, you must be the illustrious Axel of the Wailers clique. I would be Bluejay, of the Alphas.” Bluejay introduced himself, extending his hand. Reaching for it, Axel was surprised as the blue-haired boy disappeared with another ‘KA-WOMP!’ just before their skin touched, reappearing in his place in the band.

Sara sighed as Axel cursed the trickster, blistering the air under his breath. In the back of her mind, she wondered if Fey often felt like this.

The Silver Dames were good, with two Divas for lead singers and a decent backup band consisting of bass, guitar and brass, they did a respectable version of ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ in their own style. Finally, Bluejay winked at her before teleporting the entire band off the stage and back into their seats. Mr. King silenced the cheers, “Very good, very good. Work on your performance a bit more and remember, shake that booty! Guys too, Horns, don’t be afraid to really give it to the audience, ah-huh!” He thrust his hips forward, displaying the sock-filled cavity in his crotch, “All right. SARA AND AXEL! Show ‘em how it’s done.”

Sara went a slight shade of purple as she uncurled herself from her chair. Axel lifted his guitar out of the case gently, kneeling before it for a moment like a knight before his sword as the fluorescent white coating gave off a dove-like radiance in the dark. Well practiced at their show, Sara lowered the lights with her telekinesis as they took the stage, Axel slinging his guitar over his shoulders, taking up position directly behind her.

“You ready?” Sara whispered the question as she turned her back from the audience, loosening the buttons on her shirt and unzipping her bodysuit halfway down her torso to expose more skin.

“Babe, I may love you,” he replied as he always did, “but sound is my bitch.”

It wasn’t coincidence that brought the two together. Axel’s two older brothers were big shots in the Wailers and his own father was, apparently, a famous instructor somewhere, though Axel was always tight lipped where his history was concerned.

Axel’s power was total control of sound and sonic energy. Frequency, tone, energetics, waves, harmonies, all fell under his spell. As long as he had his guitar, he could mess with a crowd’s sense of balance, nauseate them to the point of emptying their stomachs immediately or even, he claimed, cause them to orgasm out of control. Of course, he’d never managed to actually do it.

It also allowed him to play his guitar like a one-man band, synthesizing a full orchestra from a single string. It had also been Axel that had noticed that she had perfect pitch, able to memorize and reproduce any note as long as she could hear an example first. It was this ability that had drawn him to her as a musical partner, her talent and inhibition lending her a very real advantage as a lead singer.

Truth be told, Sara found the music more cathartic than GEO could ever be. As Axel began to play, she took in a deep breath and let loose.

“I wish I had an angel,
For one moment of lust,
I wish I had your angel tonight!”

White light flooded the stage as Sara flicked all the lights on at once, exploding the stage to life. Leaping, spinning and landing on the teacher’s desk at the same moment, her curves silhouetted from behind as she continued to sing.

“Deep into a dying day, I took a step outside an, Innocent heart, Prepare to hate me fall when, I may, This night will hurt you like, Never before,”

Sara strutted across the desk, waving her hips from side to side as the light died, giving the crowd a full view of her body as she threw her hooded blazer aside, skipping forward onto the tables across the front row to give Mr. King and the other boys a good look at her spandex-clad legs as she stalked past, then back, taking her next lines slow.

“Old loves, they die hard, Old lies, they die harder.”

Flipping back onto the desk, then cartwheeling across the gap to dance with Axel during his guitar solo, she reached one clawed hand up his well-formed chest to caress his cheek, seeming to implore him as she sang.

“I wish I had an angel,
For one moment of love,
I wish I had your angel,
Your Virgin Mary undone!
I’m in love with my lust,
Burning angelwings to dust,
I wish I had your angel tonight!”

Finally, she flashed the lights again along with the beat, hitting her final pose with Axel just as the last note boomed from the speakers. The crowd cheered and hollered, at least those who didn’t look like they were eating their own livers in a sweet lemon sauce.

“And THAT, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. King shouted joyously over the roar, “is how you put on a show! Sara, Axel. You’re in. I don’t need to see your audition, you’re in! Now, the rest of you, that’s the sort of stuff I want to see for the rest of the night. I only need three more acts, so you better come up with your best by the MONDAY before October 31st! All right! Murphy and the Magictones… by god your act better not justify your name…”

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The path back to Poe was dark, shadowed by the trees scattered around the grounds. Sara was quite pleased with herself. Morning Sciences with Mr. Matthews started at five, going ‘til breakfast at seven. With a bit of studying tonight, she’d be ready for the confirmation tests in the morning at Kane Hall, which she was a shoe in for anyway.

Wandering towards Poe, Sara failed to notice the girl in black stalking her, moving from tree to tree cautiously, sword secure in a black sheathe on her back, a bandoleer of wooden stakes slung over one shoulder, her mask an impassive visage surmounted with glaring eyes that burned with righteous fury.

Sara grinned all the way back to her room, still high on the success of their performance.

“Things,” she said to herself, “just might be looking up.”

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Deathlist stormed down the hallways, letting the assorted minions that roamed the halls step out of his way as he proceeded towards Chessmaster’s comms chamber, a crumpled piece of paper skewered on one cybernetic blade. The Chessmen at the door saluted him as he walked inside, not even pausing to acknowledge them.

“…Whateley is under my protection, Chessmaster. No, I will not allow your lackeys to overrun our valuable commodity and training centre for your own whims.” The darkened individual that took up the screen in the centre of the semicircle growled.

“Mister Chairman,” Chessmaster addressed the figure directly, “I believe that, for reasons unknown, a precognitive is interfering with the processes that our agents in Whateley have painstakingly set in place to protect ourselves from unusual and even unknown threats to the organization’s existence.”

“Which Precognitive?”

“Mrs. Potter, Chairman.”

There was a general murmur across the assembled council.

“Mr. Chairman,” the figure at the very end of the semicircle, the youngest and least experienced member, spoke up, “May I speak?”

“What do you have to add, Nimbus?”

Nimbus cleared his throat, “I do believe that Senior Chessmaster has a point. It may be prudent to eliminate these unusually powerful and precocious mutants before they decide to oppose us as a matter of course.”

The Chairman raised his voice to cut through the sudden explosion of disagreement, “No, Nimbus, Whateley represents a serious investment of time and energy for this organization. An invasion on the sort of scale that Chessmaster is suggesting is unthinkable.”

“Then at least allow me to carry out a surgical strike,” Chessmaster implored, “at the very least, Sara Waite and her friends must be pacified.”

“I may have some toys that would be of use in this situation,” Nimbus added, “I can assure the council that any strike force would not be in danger from mutant powers.”

“NO.” The Chairman scowled, “And that is my FINAL word. Meeting terminated.”

The screens went blank all at once. Chessmaster sighed, turning to Deathlist, “Fools. They don’t understand the level of power we’re dealing with here.”

Deathlist stepped forward, welcoming Chessmaster into his arms. The slighter, effeminate, man leant his cheek against the giant cyborg’s cold, hard, steel-plated skin, reaching up to caress the remaining flesh on the monster’s face, “What have you brought me, my love?”

The murder machine plucked the fax delicately from his claw, unravelling it as the blades slid back into his arm, “A communication from our agent in Dunwich. He says that Dunwich Printing Supplies are about to ship one hundred of these…”

The fax showed a digital photograph of a poster, an advertisement for a concert party in Whateley on Halloween. Deathlist lent down to lick the side of Chessmaster’s face, “This is our window of opportunity. We know where, we know when. All of the kids will be there…”

“Mmmmm, a masterful plan, killer. Pack your bags, my queen, and make your plans. The council only needs a little more… convincing. An object lesson that I will be quite happy to provide, oh yesss.”

Chessmaster lost himself in the pain of his lover’s kiss as blood dripped down his cheek.